The last stop on the cruise was Amsterdam, where we had booked a 2-day extension. In hindsight, we should have planned a pre-cruise extension and left immediately after the cruise to fly home. I woke up on Saturday in Amsterdam with one of the worst hangovers I have had in a long time, on top of a lack of sleep catching up with me. Needless to say, we had a great time at the Captain's dinner and the last night in the bar the previous night. We were taken to our hotel, the Radisson Blu, and while waiting for our rooms, we were taken on a two hour walking tour. The tour was great and the guide was extremely knowledgeable and helpful, especially after the tour during the rest of the day and the next day. However, nursing a hangover and needing some sleep, a walking tour was not the best way to recover, especially as the weather had turned cold. We made it through the tour and back to the hotel, where we got into our room around 2:30 pm, and were able to get some much needed rest, before tackling the crazy city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam is nice, but honestly, don't think we will be going back, other than using the airport. Amsterdam is noted for the red-light district and the availability of marijuana. And yes, there is a lot of both. However, once you've seen the red light district, you don't need to see it again. And even though marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam, a huge misconception, it is, in the words or our tour guide, "tolerated". Also, after the cruise is over, being as tired as we were, it would have been better to have gone straight to the airport, got on the plane, and slept on the way home. Oh well, you live and learn. Even though a pre-cruise extension would have worked for us, a post-cruise extension may work better for others. Some people may also want to extend the cruise at both ends; nothing wrong with that approach either. We did get to tour the Heineken factory. It was great and we picked up some presents for my son and son-in-laws there. We also did one of the get on/get off buses, which gave us a chance to see all of Amsterdam, from a distance. Also, the Radisson Blu is a very nice hotel, very well located. Our room was great. Good choice by Viking.
The airport in Amsterdam is great. Very organized and easy to get around in. Line to check in Monday morning (12/30) was extremely long, but it moved fast as they had plenty of people working the counter. I think we only stood in line for 30-45 minutes. As we kept getting closer to our gate, I kept waiting for the security lines, but they never appeared. It turns out that the security checkpoint is at the individual gate. Once we got to the gate we went to a little stand where we showed our passports and tickets and were asked the usual questions, did you pack your own luggage, has it been in your possession the whole time, etc. We then went through the scanners. Pretty easy for the most part. My wife got a pretty thorough hand search, but that seems to happen to her every time she flies. Also, the other thing that I liked about flying into Europe was once we got through customs in Frankfurt, we were done until we left Amsterdam. Because of the European Union, they have removed border checks for passports, so once you get into a country you can to everywhere else without having to be checked. Made for traveling through 4 different countries very easy.
As I said, we really enjoyed the cruise. It was pretty much what I expected based on the research I had done before we left. Let me take the opportunity, before I forget, to thank everyone who participates on these boards, allowing folks like me and my wife, to do a lot of research before any of our trips. There are a lot of issues with the internet, but the Cruise Critic website and the message boards are part of what is great about the it.
So after Strasbourg and the Black Forest, I was very happy with the cruise, because those were the two things I really wanted to see. And then we got to Cologne. Let me just say that Cologne in the nicest place I have ever been to. In fact, I am now reviewing my retirement plans to see if I can retire to Cologne. Cologne is clean, civilized, and the people are extremely friendly. The cathedral blows away every other church I have ever seen, including the cathedral in Strasbourg that we had seen just days before. Cologne, as was most of Germany, was destroyed during WWII by around the clock bombing for over a year. In the daytime, the Americans bombed it, and at night, the English bombed it. Everything was destroyed, except for the cathedral and the original brew house. Don't know how those two structures survived, but they did. Someone must have been looking out for religion and beer during those horrible times. The Germans blew up the bridge over the Rhein as they retreated when General Patton and the US Army showed up. Everything had to be rebuilt, so most of the city is around 50-60 years old. So even though Cologne has been around a very long time (founded in 38 BC, 38 BC!), it is a very modern city. As I mentioned before, we did a pub crawl that evening after dinner and sampled the really good Kolsch beer brewed in Cologne. That was a lot of fun. Also, as everywhere we went on this cruise, even after dark, I was never concerned for our safety in any of the areas we were in. During our entire 10 day stay, I only saw three policemen, and they were all in Amsterdam. I am sure there is a police presence in Europe, they just blend in very well or I didn't know where to look for them.
I was really interested in seeing Strasbourg as I have always heard what a fabulous city it is. I was not disappointed. Strasbourg is fabulous. One of the things we really like visiting in Europe are the churches. The cathedral in Strasbourg is no exception. It is incredible. At this time of year, with schools out and people getting ready for Christmas, the crowds are pretty big in the cities we visited. Especially in Strasbourg, Cologne, and Amsterdam. We were able to get into the cathedral and tour it, even with a lot of other people trying to do the same thing. They have a little gift shop right in the cathedral that we were able to buy a few Christmas presents. I found some first day covers (envelopes) commemorating Pope John-Paul II's mass he said at the cathedral in 1988. Those are some nice Christmas presents for some of my friends who collect stamps. All in all, Strasbourg was everything I ever heard about it and was great getting to see it.