Warning! This is lengthy, but in-depth. My husband and I vacationed with another couple (all in our 50s). Our flight arrived in Basel, Switzerland after a very difficult day trying to coordinate flights on British Airways. Out original ... Read More
Warning! This is lengthy, but in-depth. My husband and I vacationed with another couple (all in our 50s). Our flight arrived in Basel, Switzerland after a very difficult day trying to coordinate flights on British Airways. Out original flight was supposed to take off in the morning but ended up leaving at 6:00 P.M. We travelled from the mid-atlantic region of the U.S. to Basel, by way of London. Lots of red tape and over six hours of waiting in London, but we made it!
After most of the guests had boarded the ship, our flight landed and we were shuttled out of the airport - whereabouts unknown. It was after we were settled on the motor coach that we found out the following: Due to much rain in previous days, our ship could not dock in Basel, so we took the bus to Breisach, Germany. Okay, Basel. It was nice seeing you for five minutes.
We arrived just in time for dinner. The friendly food crew takes your order using iPhones. The menu is heavy with meat dishes, so as a healthy eater I found it to be a bit of a challenge. However, the food I could eat was tasty and reflected the region. The others on board (who eat meat and poultry) enjoyed every bite. Food and drink is plentiful. Your wine glass was never empty!
We were exhausted, but after dinner listened to a brief welcome from crew. Afterwards, we went right to bed.
The cabin was more spacious than I expected. The comforters are interesting and different. There are two on each side of the king bed. The windows opened only a little from the side, rather than in the center, and were not floor to ceiling, but rather in the center of the wall. You had to move the chair and curtain away each time you opened the window. This wasn’t a problem, but was not what I expected. It wasn't a bad thing and we were used to it in no time. The bathroom was also roomier than I thought it would be, and had very nice amenities. The crew freshened up the room practically every time we left the cabin. Great service!
After a nice night in our comfy bed, we looked out the window to find lots of swans in the river. Very pretty. After a buffet breakfast, we left at precisely 8:30 for our first tour. Before every tour, on your way out, there is a basket filled with giant, sturdy red Viking umbrellas - enough for every passenger. This is a great idea! They also provided you with an individual bottle of water to take along. Each and every tour, lecture, meeting, and meal was exactly on time.
It was about an hour ride from Breisach to the base of the Black Forrest. We hiked up the forrest and had some views of a waterfall. It was raining, and the trail was a little slippery, but nice. The town was a little bit of a tourist trap with a few shops selling cuckoo clocks and local items. There was both a glass-blowing and Black Forest cake-making demonstration.
We went back to the Helvetia for a delicious lunch (which always featured a few light menu items as well as a salad-making buffet and nice cheese selection). Lunch and dinner always included a never-ending glass of wine or beer. Afterwards, we had a brief muster-station demonstration.
Then, we went on a 50-minute-long bus ride to Colmar in the Alsace Region. WOW!!! Think: The Brothers' Grimm meets Disney World. This is one of the most picturesque places I could've imagined. Every turn, down every cobblestone street, brought a unique and beautiful view. The homes and shops looked like they jumped right out of an ancient fairy tale. Words cannot describe the colors, textures, and variety of design in this architectural mecca. We drove through the village in a modern choo-choo train with a local guide. He explained the history of the city and pointed out various sections (such as Little Venice).
We then had an hour to walk around and explore the city on our own. After 30 minutes the sky opened up and we went to our meeting place, damp with rain. Then, it was back to the ship for dinner.
We set sail (for the first time) at 10:45 P.M. to our next destination. The send-off was noisy, and a lot of people woke up during the night when we passed through several locks.
I did not sleep at all. The noise of the ship was disturbing. I finally got out of bed at 4:30 A.M. and went to get some coffee in the lounge. We were already docked. The weather was chilly, and it was raining heavily. A lot of people were awake due to the noise and jet lag.
Our trip to Strousburg, France began early. We took a motor coach to the city center and drove for a while. We passed by many stork's nests, the Jewish section, and government buildings, churches, etc. We also toured Notre-Dame Cathedral. It had a fascinating astronomical clock inside.
Afterwards, we decided to walk around the city for a few hours while shopping, drinking wine, & eating an onion tart at one cafe - and ordering champagne and the most amazing cheese plate at another. The cheeses were displayed in a huge dome which was in the Guinness Book of World Records. What a remarkable city!
We returned to the ship and had dinner. Afterwards, we played a trivia game in the lounge It was fun! I sleep quite well that night!
We woke up refreshed & ready to take on Heidelberg! Early in the morning, we took a tour of the city's Louis XIV castle on the Nektar River, and were given a talk about Germany's education system, religions, and politics. Interesting, but just a short 45 minutes in town before our next cast-off to the town of Rudesheim.
We went up to the sun deck where it was cold and windy. There was a wheel room tour given by the captain, which was short. We emerged and the sky lit up with bright sunlight - and stopped being windy. Now we were fully relaxed. As the beauty of the cruise finally began, we went past several German cities situated on the Rhine featuring rolling vineyards, monasteries, mansions, and castles. Sooooo Spectacular! This was the Viking Cruise I saw in the ads.
We returned to the cabin for a quick nap and ate an early dinner. Then, we walked the "plank" to the small village of Rudesheim. Surprisingly, most of the shops were closed. With nothing else to do, we went to a Biergarten. It was a quaint, vine-covered, open-aired pub featuring a live German band. And, it was crowded. Another fun night!
The early part of the day was spent simply sailing along the middle Rhine at its most scenic. Along the way were sheep, cows, and horses grazing near the rivers's edge - some even wading in the water! Beautiful architecture could be seen for miles and miles. We saw high cliffs with spectacular castles jutting out next to fortresses built for nobility.
After a while, we docked near the William I memorial in Koblenz. Above the river was a funicular taking passengers to the town fortress by cable car. We watched the crew expertly tie up the ship and walked right off into the town.
The shore excursion took us to Marksburg, a 700-year-old fortress, which lies above a steep hill. It was supposed to be a strenuous walk to get there from the bus and even inside the castle, but was not that bad. You can do as much or as little as you'd like each day. A lot of people chose not to do this tour. The castle was a medieval example of life in the 14th century.
Dinner on the ship was a buffet selection of Germany’s finest cuisine. It was not the finest of food for a vegetarian like me, and featured no sit-down service.
We docked in the middle of town along a lovely area in Cologne. During the morning walking tour, we learned of all the destruction that took place during World War II. Not much is still standing. We walked past the ancient synagogue and into the town square. The town castle (The Dom) was beautiful. Afterwards, we walked around the city and ate lunch at a bustling outdoor cafe.
The Kolner Zoo was next! I heard that this zoo is wonderful (it was!) so off we went. A bumpy, hot choo-choo train ride took us to the Kolner Zoo, located next to the botanical gardens and aquarium. We only had about two hours, and went to see this remarkable zoo featuring an enormous and spectacular elephant park and hippo dome. Exhausted and hot, we got back on the train and were able to see the city in-depth. Modern by necessity, it is a pretty city.
Our last day on the cruise was spent in Kinderdjik, The Netherlands. At first, I wasn't sure I was even interested in getting off the ship for an afternoon tour, as there was literally nothing in this village but a bunch of windmills. I was quite wrong! Our guide led us over the canal to the below-sea-level area where the windmills were, lined up side-by-side. We were taught the inner workings and the daily lives of the "millers” as well as the water management system. We even had a chance to step in the (huge) wooden shoes on our way out of the village. Very, very informative. Not at all a tourist trap, as we first thought. Suddenly, it was late afternoon and time for our final dinner aboard the Viking.
We woke up in perfect, sunny Amsterdam. Our trip was extended by two days, as is an option. The hotel of choice (Movenpick) was too far from everything, but was otherwise a gorgeous property. We said our goodbyes, disembarked early, and were taken to our hotel. It was an easy process. After a few minutes spent checking in, our walking tour of the city began from the hotel lobby.
Unfortunately, our tour guide was not the most informative. She was the only Viking guide who disappointed us. We had no direction from her and the city is not easy to understand. We ended up leaving the tour early, as we had to make it to the Anne Frank House for a timed tour. It was an exceptional and unforgettable experience.
Afterwards, we strolled through Dam Square and the red light district, sampled liquors at Wynand Fockink, and stumbled over canal bridges while dodging bicycles, cars, and motorcycles at every turn. There is no one on their cell phone in Amsterdam. You cannot look down for even one instant for fear you will be killed! We ended up walking for about 12 straight hours while making our way back to our hotel and into a bed which wasn’t floating.
Our goal was to find transportation, and we found it at Centraal Station. After much confusion the day before, we finally figured out the tram system enough to get us to our destinations.
The morning was spent eating breakfast at Movenpick's elaborate buffet. What the hotel lacks in location it makes up for in breakfast! We then went on an hour-long canal ride. It was fun! Afterwards, we made our way to the museum area and finally got to the Rijksmuseum! It was thoroughly enjoyable.
Hungry after so much activity, we went to Sama Sebo for an authentic rijstafel (rice table) at an Indonesian restaurant. Yummy. With no grass growing under our feet, we headed for "the 9 streets” district for some shopping.
We went back to the hotel to recharge before dining at a trendy restaurant for our last dinner on vacation. It was a delicious meal Back into bed for our last night in Europe.
I wish it could’ve started all over again...