Cities of Light Viking Cruise on Main-Danube Canal, Rhine, & Moselle Rivers
~~~ Prague, Czech Republic – Friday, November 20 ~~~
Today has been our second day here in Prague, Czech Republic, the starting point for our “Cities of Light” Viking River Cruise. Tomorrow (Saturday) we will journey by bus to Nürnberg, Germany, for our day’s tour there, and then on to Bamberg, Germany, where our riverboat, the Viking Odin, is docked on the River Main.
The weather today was COLD with a slight wind and light rain, making our city tour of Prague a real challenge. We went by bus from the Hilton Hotel to the Prague Castle complex where we departed the bus for a walking tour of the Castle grounds.
Passing through the Castle’s entrance, guarded by two diligent formal guards in their guard houses, our first stop was in a gigantic court yard, ringed with portions of the Castle now used for government offices. Then it was through another passageway to the St. Vitus Cathedral, an enormous Gothic structure, soaring into the sky; it dates back to the early 1400s. We were able to enter the Cathedral and observe the lofty, vaulted ceiling and admire the beautiful stained glass windows. It is hard to imagine the size of this magnificent church.
Then we passed through yet another archway into another courtyard to the side of St. Vitus Cathedral with government buildings on the other sides; it is here that on one of the balconies the new president of the Czech Republic appeared when inaugurated.
As I mentioned, the weather was quite cold, making my wearing of a hooded sweatshirt beneath a leather jacket very appropriate, especially having the hood over my head and ears.
Back to the bus, we then proceeded through New Town, down to the Charles Bridge, an ancient structure spanning the River Vltava. Our walk to the base of the Bridge and our stroll across this historic structure was most interesting as well as crowded with the surprisingly many tourists.
Across the bridge, we entered the Old Town and proceeded to the Square where is located the famous Astronomical Clock housed in its ancient tower. The hourly performances of the Clock are well viewed by the hundreds of tourists crowding into the Square.
It was here that Jim and I decided to depart our tour and stop at the same restaurant at which we had dined twice on our previous visit to Prague in July. The tour continued through the Jewish Quarter before coming to an end at around 1 PM. Due to the cold weather we sat at an inside table this time and enjoyed goulash - Prague style, along with a glass of red wine for me, of course.
After some difficulty in locating an available taxi, we returned to the Hilton Hotel and enjoyed another afternoon at leisure, napping and trying to make up for the lost sleep in transit from Los Angeles on Thursday and Friday.
Once again we flew KLM from LAX to Amsterdam, experiencing some moderately rough air over the Labrador Sea between Canada and Greenland. Again, I thought KLM’s service was excellent and the flight turned out to be enjoyable, despite my failure to achieve much sleep during the 9+ hour flight.
The flight was an hour late leaving LAX, making our 2 hour layover in Amsterdam before our flight on to Prague all that much shorter. However, the 1-hour Prague flight went well and clouded skies and brisk temperatures greeted our arrival. Viking personnel greeted us upon exiting baggage claim and soon we were bused on to the Hilton Hotel, arriving around 3 o'clock local time. Hotel check in was speedy and efficient, thanks to Viking, and we were soon in our room 1074 that overlooks the interior atrium in this modern hotel. Then it was time for sleep!
Later Friday evening we again walked across from the Hilton to the nearby restaurant where we had twice dined in July. This time the Dvur Restaurant was quite full, although being a rather small place, and the ONE waiter was quite busy. Our meals were quite good, as usual, and afterwards we fought the slight sprinkles returning to the Hilton. It was good to be back in our warm room and continue with our sleep. Of course, with the difference in time zones, we awoke several times during the night. Perhaps after tonight’s rest we will be back to normal with the 11-hour time change.
Tonight we again plan on returning to the Dvur Restaurant for dinner; perhaps it won’t be as crowded as last night.
~~~ Nürnberg, Germany – Saturday, November 21 ~~~
The bus ride from Prague to Nürnberg took over 4 hours along nice expressways in the Czech Republic and the autobahn, of course, in Germany. Our only stop was a rest stop just short of the Czech/Germany border where we were given the opportunity to use the bathrooms and grab a quick coffee – AND to spend the rest of the Czech money we were carrying; it is not acceptable anywhere out of the Czech Republic.
Our arrival in Nürnberg was just before lunch so we sought out the recommended restaurant by our tour guide to enjoy the wonderful “Nürnberg Sausages”; the standard order was 6 sausages along with sauerkraut but I increased my order to 8, and thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. For those of you not familiar with the Nürnberg sausages, they are smaller, finger-size sausages, grilled before serving, and DELICIOUS! Of course, a couple of pints of lager accompanied my lunch.
Our first stop was at the Zeppelin Parade Grounds where Hitler staged all of his colossal events, and crowds in excess of 250,000 attended one such event. All that remains now are the stands and the podium; the columns forming the background behind the stands which were destroyed by the Nürnbergers in their attempt at “de-Nazi-fication”. The large stone swastika behind the podium was blown up by American troops immediately following their capture of Nürnberg. Also the ringing podiums along the sides and rear of the field are still there; these were used as toilets for the masses attending Hitler’s events.
Aboard the bus, we next drove INTO the center of the Congress Hall – still unfinished; it was designed to hold 50,000 under a dome but its completion was delayed by the beginning of World War II, due to shortage of funds. Also as part of this gigantic hall is a permanent museum displaying much of the Nazi era documents and photos, called the “Document Center.” We did not have the time to tour this museum although I had done so on a tour during my previous visit to Nürnberg in 2007.
Then it was a drive by of the famous courthouse where the Allies held the Nürnberg Trials of Nazi war criminals; we did not have the time to enter the courthouse; this I had also visited in 2007.
With this abbreviated tour of Nürnberg finished, we next headed toward the town of Bamberg where our riverboat, the Viking Odin, was docked. By then it was getting dark as we boarded our home for the next 7 nights.
With the terrorism events in Paris, there had been many cancelations of our cruise and I had inquired about the possibility of an upgrade in cabin to a Veranda Suite. Long story short, we WERE so upgraded and are happily enjoying the spaciousness of Veranda Suite 328.
This suite is roughly twice the size of a regular Veranda Stateroom, has three separate rooms – living room, bedroom and a big bath, and has two large flat screen TVs. A bottle of champagne greeted our entrance to the room as well as fresh flowers and live orchid plants. There is a standard veranda off the living room as well as a French balcony off the bedroom. We were similarly upgraded to one of these Veranda Suites on our “Pathway to Eastern Europe” river cruise back in 2014, that time without solicitation. So we are understandably happy with our accommodation.
After boarding the riverboat in Bamberg and settling into our room, we later enjoyed our first dinner aboard before falling into bed – exhausted; it had been a busy day.
~~~ Bamberg, Germany – Sunday, November 22 ~~~
Our riverboat, the Viking Odin, remained docked in Bamberg overnight and our first evening aboard was highlighted by a special “Welcome Aboard” reception and dinner, hosted by the Captain and his staff. My menu choice was a cut of Chateaux Briand, served medium rare: delicious! Then it was off to bed in our luxurious Veranda Suite.
Breakfast aboard is always a delight on Viking cruises; there is an “egg station” in the center of the dining room where custom-made omelets are prepared – my choice, along with a selection of bacon, sausages, potatoes, and grilled mushrooms. Breads consist of the standard toasts as well as delicious pastries, croissants, etc. Fresh fruit – honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, and watermelon - is also offered. It one can’t fill up on breakfast, then there is something wrong!
At 8:45 AM we loaded aboard buses for the short trip into downtown Bamberg for our city tour that lasted until 11:45 PM. As mentioned before, the temperature was COLD and we dressed accordingly, with earmuffs, scarves, and gloves. Off the bus, we were then led on a walking tour of some of the city’s highlights, including the old Town Hall built in the center of a river, and the cathedral and palace high on a hill overlooking the town. It was with no regret that our time outside soon ended when we re-boarded our bus for transfer back to the warmth of our riverboat.
Once back on board, there was a mandatory Safety Drill in the Lounge, requiring each passenger to don his/her life jacket, and be identified; that was it! I was expecting a bit more.
Lunch aboard is most enjoyable, as wine and beer are complimentary for both lunch and dinner. The dining room is ringed with large floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a panoramic view of the river. This is a beautiful boat!
During the afternoon I attended a lecture in the Lounge on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal that was most interesting in explaining its long-term plans and eventual completion in the late 90’s. Charlemagne first envisioned such a canal way back in history, which would provide a waterway connecting the North Sea with the Black Sea. Two of our river cruises have completed such a transit; Budapest to Amsterdam back in 2007, and then Budapest to Bucharest in 2014.
Dinner that evening was as usual, enjoyable and delicious. Tomorrow we are at dock in Würzburg.
~~~ Würzburg, Germany – Monday, November 23 ~~~
Cruising overnight down the Main River, our riverboat arrived early in the morning of Monday, November 23, at Würzburg, Germany, where we were scheduled for a full-day tour to the nearby town of Rothenburg, starting at 9:15 AM. So, after our usual big breakfast onboard starting at 7 AM, we loaded on buses for the hour-long ride to this historic, ancient walled city of Rothenburg.
Arriving in Rothenburg, we exited our buses required to park just outside the city’s walls; our entrance into the city was through gates in the wall. It was another walking tour and our route lead us up one of the main streets to the Green Market Square. We then observed the old Town Hall, prominent on the Square as well as many of the classically designed old buildings. Reminiscent of buildings in Amsterdam, there was a hoist located at the very top center of the building, used to hoist up furniture, etc., into the interior rooms, necessary due to the very narrow staircases inside.
Lunch was included on this “optional” tour and we soon proceeded down another main street to a very nice restaurant where our group was seated in a separate dining room. Soup was the first course, followed by a generous serving of bratwurst, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes. Desert was a cheesecake drizzled with a berry sauce. Wine or beer was also included; my choice, of course, was the nice dry white wine of the region.
Free time was then given for shopping – NOT me! I found a convenient coffee shop near our meeting spot and grabbed a window seat from which I could observe the comings and goings of the many tourists. After two glasses of Müller Thurgau white wine, a local offering, I was ready to rejoin our group for the continuation of our tour.
Next on our agenda was a visit to the Bishop’s Residenz Palace in downtown Würzburg. Having visited this magnificent “palace” on our previous trip in 2007, I knew what to expect, but even at that; I was still amazed at the splendor of this place. The first attraction is the grand staircase winding up to the upper level, beneath spectacular painted ceilings. The immensity of this ceiling and the task of painting the murals there is really mind-blowing!
Then we entered the main reception hall, equally resplendent with statue-decorated walls and ceiling. The next room was a “waiting room” for guests to see the Bishop, and was splendidly decorated as well. Each additional room seemed to outdo the previous one, leading to the most ornate of the rooms; the “mirror room”. Covered with mirrors edged in gold with engraved “paintings”, this room was ablaze with reflections from the ceilings and walls. A truly spectacular scene.
With the sun now down, our group finally exited the Bishop’s Residenz and reboarded our buses for the short drive back to our riverboat. It had been a very full and interesting day.
~~~ Wertheim (Heidelberg) - Tuesday, November 24 ~~~
The stop in Wertheim was primarily to disembark and embark buses for our full-day tour to Heidelberg, a journey of about one hour and forty-five minutes. The weather was again COLD with evidence of snow flurries on the fields and in the trees. It was rather beautiful to observe – from the warmth of our bus!
Arriving in Heidelberg, our first site of interest was the old Castle, high on the hill above the city, which we reached by a steep street with many switchbacks. Disembarking the bus, we had a walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the Castle, already crowded with tour groups such as ours. It amazes me how the local guides succeed in keeping their groups together.
Our guide was a middle-aged redheaded woman named Katja and she turned out to be an excellent, albeit humorous, guide. She must have had some theatrical background to perform for us the way she did. Her favorite color was obviously red because of her attire with a blazing red coat. Very easy to find in a crowd!
We paused at a gate near the entrance while Katja told the story of it, a present to a princess by some king. Then it was into the Castle itself, passing over a dry moat and through the gated entrance, equipped with large wooden doors. Above could be seen an apparatus to dump boiling oil on unwelcome entrants.
Inside the courtyard of the Castle, we were informed about each of the separate buildings ringing it, some partially in ruins, others in good condition. The Castle was built in many stages that could be observed due to the differences in design, construction and condition.
Through an archway we found ourselves on a large terrace overlooking the city of Heidelberg and the River Neckar with the famous bridge crossing it. From this bridge is an excellent view of the Castle, looming just above.
Back in the courtyard we were then led down into a room containing a gigantic wine barrel, and we are talking BIG! We were told that when full, it could contain somewhere around 50,000 gallons of wine! We climbed a stairway to the top of this barrel, walked over its top and down another stairway to the bottom. It was B I G!
Thus completing our Castle tour, we walked back to the bus for transit on down into the city for our included lunch. After getting off the bus we had a fair walk down the main street, now crowded with preparations for their “Christmas Market”, and everywhere you looked there were signs of Christmas: lights, wreaths, trees, ornaments, etc. Passing the cathedral, marking the city center, we soon came to our lunch spot, the Hotel zum Ritter.
Inside we were ushered through several dining rooms until reaching the one assigned to our group. Seated at tables for 6, we were joined by students from Heidelberg University, an idea from Viking that turned out to be quite a success. Drinks were included so I had a glass of good white wine (and also that of Jim who doesn’t drink.) A very nice salad started lunch followed by a delicious entrée of a rolled pork loin served with wonderful gravy, accompanied by vegetables. Dessert was an ice cream cookie drenched with a berry sauce. Needless to say, it was a most enjoyable lunch!
Our conversations with the two girl students seated at our table proved to be a good experience. We chatted about their studies, their progress, their background, and many other items. They in turn inquired as to our own travels and lives, families, etc. Their names were Marie (23) and Becky (22); really fine young women.
After lunch we were given “free time” with which to traverse the rest of this very busy pedestrian street, lined with shops, restaurants and coffee shops, a shopping “Mecca”. Instead, I found a nice coffee shop, planted myself at the window where I could observe the comings and goings along the street, and enjoyed two glasses of a local white wine.
Then it was time to return to our bus and travel back to the riverboat. It had been another full day.
~~~ Mainz and Rüdesheim, Germany - Wednesday, November 25 ~~~
Today we made our first stop on the Rhine River at Mainz, Germany, near the confluence with the Main River, and our riverboat docked just adjacent to the modern city hall which is located right on the River. We then just walked off the riverboat for our short walking tour of the city, our first stop being at the Gutenberg Museum. Having been here before, we still enjoyed seeing the ancient copies of the Bible, first printed by Gutenberg and stored in a vault. We then viewed an informative demonstration of Gutenberg’s printing process including a discussion of the type sets and page construction; very rudimentary but revolutionary at the time.
Then it was over to the big cathedral of the city; we entered the very dark chambers and were surprised at the austerity of this cathedral. At one time, there were NO windows in this cathedral, so it must have been like a dungeon! Interesting never the less, and with it the conclusion of our short tour of Mainz. We then walked back to our riverboat, just in time for lunch aboard, as we departed Mainz going down the River Main towards our next stop, Rüdesheim.
Docking in Rüdesheim for the night, I chose to take an optional wine tasting tour in the late afternoon that turned out to be a sensational experience. Our small group of around 20 departed from the dock in a bus, going up, up and up the hill to the Schloss Johannesburg that housed the winery. Located high above the city of Rüdesheim, we first ventured to a lookout point from which we viewed the City below and surrounding vineyards in the fading light.
Back in a courtyard of this classic castle (“schloss”) we were given our first wine to taste, a nice dry Riesling. It turns out that ALL wines made in this winery were from the Riesling grape. We were told to hang on to our glasses as we entered and made our way down old, worn stairs into the wine cellar below the Schloss. A true wine “cellar,” the floors were covered in a small gravel, the walls and domed ceiling were of stone, and the lighting was by means of hundreds of candles. Very romantic! We then received our second wine sample, also another Riesling, and VERY good!
Proceeding through the wine cellar until reaching its end, we were given yet another wine sample. But we were not yet to the end of this wine cellar for we entered and descended yet another set of worn stairs in candlelight, down to the very bottom where we enjoyed yet another wine sample. Inside a caged room in this deepest of the wine cellar we observed bottles of wine dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. The oldest bottle was once desired for purchase of a rich Russian who offered $1 million, but was refused.
Back up from the deepest cellar, we gathered around in the main cellar where two more wine samples were offered – all very good. Then it was time to go; back up the stairs to the courtyard and then back to our waiting bus. By then it was dark and the spectacular sunset we had observed earlier had gone.
Our bus trip down the mountain, back to the dock and our riverboat, was in total darkness even though it was only a little after 6 PM. I had relinquished and purchased a bottle of wine before leaving the winery; for 7.20 Euros, it was one of the least expensive.
It was the absolute best wine tasting I have ever experienced in all of my travels.
~~~ Cochem, Germany - Thursday, November 26 ~~~
After remaining at dock overnight in Rüdesheim, this morning we continued cruising down the Rhine River viewing the most scenic portion filled with ancient castles high on the hills overlooking the River along with hillsides covered in vineyards. From the Lounge I observed the beauty of the passing scenery through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Diana, the Program Director, gave a running narrative from the bridge. We passed by the Lorelei Rock, famous in myth for luring sailors to their watery death in this narrowest part of the Rhine where the water is over 80 feet deep. The “Middle Rhine” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As we departed the most scenic part of our cruise and entered the city of Koblenz, it was time for lunch in the dining room, just below the Lounge. Soon the riverboat made a sharp turn to the left, past an impressive monument the “German Corner”, and entered the Moselle River. After only a short time, we entered the first of many locks, this time lifting the boat UP several meters, as we would be cruising UP the Moselle River as far as Trier.
At the village of Alken, the Viking Odin briefly docked long enough for us to disembark and load aboard buses for the drive on to Cochem and our included tour of this lovely town, dominated by the Reichsburg Castle on a hill overlooking the town. Originally built nearly 1,000 years ago, with its mighty rectangular keep and many small towers, it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the last being in the 19th century. Today it is owned by the town of Cochem and maintained as a tourist attraction.
Following a brief walking tour through the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Cochem, we loaded onto smaller minivans for the ride up to the Castle where we enjoyed a surprisingly lengthy and complete tour, visiting many of the recently restored rooms, loaded with antique furnishings. From the outside balcony of one such room, the view down to the Moselle River and the town of Cochem was absolutely breath taking.
Our return by minivan back down the hill into the town dropped us into the Market Square where the Christmas Markets are in full swing. We then had to cross the nearby bridge and walk a fair distance to reach the location where our riverboat had docked. The many locks on the Moselle River are quite time-consuming and were the reason for our earlier disembarkation and bus ride up TO the town of Cochem while our riverboat transited the river and locks. In fact, the riverboat was 30 minutes late in arriving in Cochem for our 6:00 PM embarkation; knowing this lead us to seek out a warm café for hot chocolate while waiting for the arrival of the Viking Odin.
Back aboard our riverboat, there was only a short time to dress for the Captain’s Reception at 7:00 PM and Farewell Dinner at 7:30 PM, preceded by the usual pre-dinner talk by the Program Director, Diana. I had brought along my blazer and tie for this special dinner - our Thanksgiving Dinner, complete with roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie for dessert! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
It was the end of a most enjoyable, interesting and FULL day aboard the Viking Odin.
~~~ Bernkasel and Trier, Germany - Friday, November 27 ~~~
After enjoying our full breakfast aboard the Viking Odin, complete with custom-made omelet, crispy bacon, sautéed mushrooms, fresh-squeezed orange juice, croissant, fresh-brewed coffee and fresh fruit bowl, we departed our boat docked at Bernkasel and began our optional walking tour of the city, also including a wine-tasting stop.
We strolled along the narrow cobble-stoned streets lined with half-timbered houses in this 700-year-old town, coming into the market square with the renaissance town hall and splendid town gate. As we have seen in other German towns, the Christmas Markets are already in full operation, with their many shops and cafes.
Then we crossed a bridge to reach the Vinothek in Kues that was the location of our wine tasting. Very different from any other wine-tastings I have experienced, we were lead into a hall and given glasses and directed downstairs to a lower room with a series of chilled barrels each containing a dozen or so numbered bottles which corresponded to detailed descriptions along the walls. We were told to select a bottle of our choice and pour our own sample, and to repeat this process as many times and with as many different bottles as we wanted.
Long story short, I sampled only one wine, a dry white Riesling, which I found to be quite good; at this time of the late morning, getting wasted on wine was not something I desired. Then it was back to the riverboat in time for our lunch aboard.
Departing the dock during lunchtime, the Viking Odin cruised farther up the Moselle River, through this exquisite valley whose hillsides are covered with countless vineyards. This was my first time on the Moselle River and it was lovely.
Again because of the time-consuming passage through the many locks, we docked briefly in early afternoon at Wintrich to disembark onto buses for the further drive on up to the city of Trier; we would later reboard our riverboat in Trier after our tour.
Trier is Germany’s oldest city with much Roman influence: a gigantic Roman amphitheater and the massive Roman baths. There are also the wonderfully preserved Roman city gates called Porta Nigra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also of note are the Trier Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady. Then we were given free time for shopping; the Christmas Markets were in full operation. I chose to find a nice WARM café in which to sit and enjoy a glass or two of wine.
Back on the bus, it was time to return to our riverboat that turned out not to be so easy, because of delays it had encountered transiting the many locks on the River. In fact, we journeyed back DOWN the River to a rendezvous location where our riverboat was at dock, waiting on us. By now it was dark and we all had to walk from the buses along the riverbanks some 300 yards - in the dark - to the riverboat! Fortunately, our way was lit with flashlights held by crew members, every few feet along the way, wishing us welcome back aboard; a VERY thoughtful thing to happen!
With everyone back aboard, the Viking Odin then cruised on up the river to its dock for the night in Trier. Of course, once back onboard in our nice WARM riverboat, it was soon time for our Captain’s Final Dinner, preceded as usual by the Program Director’s talk at 6:45 PM in which Diana told us of the planned happenings for the following day when we would be disembarking for the last time and traveling on to Luxembourg.
The most unpleasant task of the entire cruise was now at hand: packing! We were to have our luggage in the hallway by 7 AM with our departure scheduled for 8 AM. Breakfast would begin earlier at 6:30 AM so it would be one last time for a fabulous omelet!
~~~ Luxembourg - Saturday, November 28 ~~~
The dining room was more crowded than usual, opening at 6:30 AM, as all passengers had to have their luggage placed in the hallway by 7 AM and many wanted one last big breakfast onboard before the long day ahead. Of course, I had my usual custom omelet along with crisp bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and grapefruit juice and coffee. It was with some regret that we would be saying goodbye to the wonderful crew who had served us so well for the past week; Mihai and Ivan were two of our favorite servers.
Gratuities for the crew collectively is suggested at 12 Euros per day per passenger, but as usual we chose to increase our tip by $20 to our room steward, Lubka, and to the two servers mentioned above. The Program Director, Diana, received 2 Euros per day per passenger for each of the 12 days of the cruise; we each gave her $30 – she was excellent, one of the best we have had. (For reference, the Euro is now valued at slightly more than the dollar.)
By the time we had finished our breakfast and returned to our room to retrieve our carry-ons for the 1 hour, 45 minute bus ride on to Luxembourg, all the luggage had been collected from the hallway and Lubka, our room steward, had already changed our twin beds back into a king bed, with new linens, in preparation for the new passengers who would be embarking later in the day. This crew had worked incredibly hard and at the same time was always pleasant and friendly. Viking does a good job with their training and crew selection.
All 143 passengers had been separated into 4 colors: red, orange, green and blue, with approximately a quarter of the passengers in each group - about 35, each color corresponded to a bus to which we were assigned. Our color was green, and we departed the Viking Odin for the last time promptly at 8:15 AM. Earlier it had been raining but at that time it had thankfully ceased. We were soon speeding along an autobahn on our way to Luxembourg.
Our first stop was at the American Cemetery in Luxembourg to pay homage to the many Americans who lost their lives during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Each of our buses had a local guide and ours was very good and informative. Inside the gate are large monuments displaying maps showing details about the Battle of the Bulge, overlooking the sea of white marble crosses amid lush green grass, a most amazing and moving sight. Most of the crosses were inscribed with the name of the fallen soldier while several were left unmarked for the unknown. The most prominent cross belonged to George C. Patton who, surprisingly, was NOT killed during the Battle but later in an accident involving a motorcycle. His stated desire had been to be buried at this location.
Then it was back on our bus for the short drive on into Luxembourg City for a city tour and lunch. Again with the same guide, we started out on our walking tour along the cobble-stoned narrow streets, many dating back to Roman days when the City was a crossroads. Today the City has both an upper part and a lower part along a river; our walk lead us to an overlook from which the lower City was laid out below. Then it was back along other streets lined with ancient buildings, leading to the main square all decked out for the Christmas Markets, as had been the case in so many previous cities.
Although the skies were clear it was still very COLD and our choice for a lunch spot was on the Square, near the point where we were to meet following our free time. Seated comfortably at a window table, I started out with a glass of Riesling wine – of course! - while Jim went back out shopping. By the time he had returned, I was on my second glass of wine, and we ordered lunch, my menu choice being a Kitsch Lorraine which turned out to be VERY good! Regrettably we had to depart this warm café and join up with our group now beginning the long walk back to where our buses were located. By this time, walking had become a real effort for my tired, sore legs.
Once back on our “green” bus we prepared for the long 4-hour drive on to Paris. Even on the modern super highways, this would be a lengthy ride with only one rest stop halfway along the way. The weather was clear and the scenery was hard to resist to our sleep tendency. We soon crossed the border into France with no fanfare or border check complications. The rest stop was at an immense truck stop for 30 minutes, time for the restrooms and a quick coffee or hot chocolate, then back on the bus.
As we approached Paris, the scenery gave way to industrial buildings and the traffic became increasingly heavy. By the time we entered the City the traffic had deteriorated into a slow crawl, continuing all the way along the Champs-Élysées, past the Place de la Concorde and past the Arc de Triomphe, as far as to the Place de la Porte Maillot where we turned off to our hotel, Le Méridien Étoile. Contrary to previous expectations due to the Friday the 13th terrorism in Paris, the Champs-Élysées was brightly lit with Christmas lights and was VERY crowded with revelers on this early Saturday evening. Christmas Markets persisted all along our route.
Finally at the hotel, parking was a problem but we were finally disembarked near the hotels entrance, our luggage to be collected and delivered direct to our rooms. Our room in the “modern” hotel, Le Méridien Étoile, was nice although not as nice as had been our room at the Hilton Prague; no coffee maker, for one thing.
After a brief rest and collecting our luggage, we ventured out to find a place to have dinner, deciding on the Chez Clement at the corner near the Porte Maillot metro station entrance. Sitting by the window we got a good view of passers-by and enjoyed our steak dinner – very good but on the expensive side. Then it was back to our room for a well-anticipated night’s rest. Our room did face the street, which was good, although we got a lot of street noise during the night, which was NOT good. Tomorrow would be a busy day with our City tour.
~~~ Paris, France – Sunday, November 29 ~~~
As usual, a breakfast buffet is included with our hotel stay at Le Méridien Étoile but what was offered was far from what we had come to expect. Compared with that offered by the Hilton Hotel in Prague, and especially the breakfast offered aboard the Viking Odin, our Paris hotel’s breakfast was just “adequate.” Since this morning would be our only opportunity to enjoy breakfast here, tomorrow’s departure being very early – before the restaurant’s opening, we had to be satisfied with what we got. At least the croissants were good.
Our half-day city tour departed at 9 AM, with the red, orange, green and blue groups each with their own bus and tour guide. It was again quite cold outside so we were dressed accordingly with sweaters, coats and earmuffs. The two main attractions on our tour were a visit to Notre Dame and a photo stop at the Eiffel Tower, but the bus tour covered quite a distance with views of other famous Paris sights. We again drove down the Champs-Élysées, around the Arc de Triomphe, and past the Place de la Concorde where a large Ferris wheel had been erected, and eventually we disembarked from our bus within an easy walk of Notre Dame.
A lengthy line of tourists was already waiting entrance but we joined the line that did move rather rapidly. Being Sunday, mass was in progress inside Notre Dame, which added greatly to our visit. We were permitted to walk along the sides of this gigantic cathedral, right up to and past the transept. Photos were allowed but only without flash. To be inside this famed church and be privy to the mass being conducted was a rare treat for me. After a while inside, we exited and were given some free time that I used to seek out a nearby café for hot chocolate while Jim went shopping. His return was just in time for our return to where our bus was parked, and we then continued our drive.
We drove past and through the Louvre, viewing the glass pyramid in the center, and then crossed the Seine River to the left bank where we passed by several institutions of learning, the Sorbonne for one. Then it was on to the Eiffel Tower where the bus parked for several minutes for us to get off and take photos from a prime viewing location. Contrary to our previous visit in 2010 when the base of the Tower was crowded with masses of tourists, the few people present on this day was remarkable, due to the Friday 13th terrorism events in Paris. Afterwards our bus proceeded around the Tower and crossed the bridge over the Seine River to the Place du Trocadéro with an impressive monument fronted by gardens and magnificent fountains. From there we finally returned to our hotel, just in time for lunch.
Again we chose the Chez Clement to eat lunch, our menu choice being large bowls of French Onion Soup; we were not disappointed. It was still rather cool outside and the hot soup sure hit the spot. Then we returned back to our warm hotel room for a rest and a nap, deciding that we had seen enough of Paris.
As it turned out, our decision was a good one because of the riots that broke out in the afternoon near the Place de la Concorde by groups urging actions by the 150 countries attending the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference - “COP 21” on global warming. Such protests had been forbidden after Friday 13th but these groups decided otherwise. Over 100 were arrested as a result. President Obama was one of the COP 21 attendees and speakers. Had we been out further sightseeing, we might have been right in the middle of the fracas.
Later in the evening we again returned to Chez Clement one more time for our final dinner in Paris. Being a small comfortable restaurant, this place had become our favorite and our dinner this night was again very good and delicious. We then fought the chilling wind during the short walk back to the hotel where our final packing had to be done in preparation for the next day’s early departure for home.
~~~ Departure from Paris – Monday, November 30 ~~~
Our Air France flight 66 was scheduled at 10:50 AM from the Charles De Gaulle Airport that meant that our departure from the hotel would be around 6:30 AM. Being before the restaurant opened, Viking passengers were given a special room for a quickie breakfast consisting of coffee, juice and croissants. Our luggage was to be placed in the hallway in front of our door by 6 AM for collection by hotel staff, but when we were called to board our bus, first identifying our luggage, our luggage was not present; quickly Diana went back into the hotel to investigate and very soon our luggage appeared at bus side. Another of my many complaints about this hotel, Le Méridien Étoile. With all of us onboard, including our luggage, our bus departed for the Airport, a journey of about 45 minutes.
Unlike our departure from Prague back in July, no Viking personnel assisted us at the Airport, and at first it was total confusion of where to go, as we were disembarked from the bus on the Arrival Level – NOT the Departure Level. Soon we discovered the elevator up to the Departure Level at Terminal 2L and, with the help of an Air France agent, finally found where we were to check in. The line for check in was still rather short and finally we were all checked in on our nonstop Air France flight to Los Angeles aboard their AirBus 380, the double-decker. Our seats were 31 L & K, the ones I had selected months earlier.
Air France turned out to be disappointing in service as well as food quality for meals. With an all male crew and announcements made first in French and in broken English second, there was certainly a difference from the superb service experienced on our KLM flight. We were given a treat of an ice cream bar about halfway through the 11-hour flight, however. Breakfast service was only an hour before arrival in Los Angeles, and I never did get my requested coffee. At one point, Jim actually took our used breakfast trays back to the galley, tiring of the wait for them to be collected. Not a good flight!
The 1:40 PM landing at LAX was exceptionally smooth with this gigantic airplane seemingly floating in for touch down. The wait to disembark the aircraft wasn’t too bad and soon all 500 of the passengers were streaming down the long, LONG walkway towards Passport Control in Bradley Terminal, where thousands of other passengers from other flights were packed, awaiting attention. We luckily found one of the shorter lines and were soon through this trying ordeal and on to baggage claim where our 2 pieces were quickly retrieved.
Then it was through the exit to the outside and a short walk down to the SuperShuttle dispatcher. Shortly afterwards we were on our shuttle bound for Orange County and Corona del Mar – HOME! - finally arriving around 6 PM. The first order of business was to turn on the heater and then to bed! It had been a long, LONG day!
Ron Read Less