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Day 1 Basel: After an event filled week of everything Mercedes-Benz on a fantastic tour put together by the Mercedes-Benz Club of America and Daimler AG, it was time for the next leg of our adventure, a cruise down the Rhine River with Viking Cruise Lines. Fourteen members from our Mercedes tour group had booked the river cruise, so our tour organizer arranged for a van to drive us from Stuttgart, Germany to our first port in Basel, Switzerland. We left the hotel at 9:30 am and reached the Viking Sun about 1:00 pm, just in time to have a quick buffet lunch on board and then hop on the tour bus for a city tour of Basel with a local guide. The City Hall had just been restored and stood gleaming in the center of town. Since it was Sunday, the shops were closed and the city was very quiet. Our guide Kim was able to take her time to explain the history of the city and to point out quirky little facts regarding artwork along the way. My favorite was the story of the two sets of statutes in front of the cathedral representing good and evil. She said that you could tell the set that represented evil by looking for the snakes and toads running up the back of the cloak. Sure enough! A vendor was roasting chestnuts just outside of the cathedral; a sure sign that fall had arrived. There was a beautiful view of the river behind the cathedral and we could see the Rheinfahre, the ferry that takes people across the river attached to a cable from either side. Apparently it is another enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in Basel. We strolled back through town to the tour bus. Though the shops were closed, we were able to get a little taste of Switzerland when our guide offered us chocolate covered dates and Swiss chocolate bites. Delicious! We chilled for a bit when we got back on the boat then met in the lounge for a glass of wine and a review of the next day’s events before dinner. There were about 180 people on board the Viking Sun, just small enough so that meals could be served in one dining room at the same time. Several tables were large enough that we were able to enjoy dining with a group of our new Mercedes trip friends throughout the cruise. One of the differences we found with Viking Cruise Lines versus other cruise lines is that beer and wine were included with meals at no charge. They also have an option to purchase all on-board drinks, including specialty wines ordered with dinner and drinks ordered in the lounge before and after dinner, for $150 euros per person for the week. Not being heavy drinkers, we were happy with the cruise line’s selections of the various locally produced beers and wines. The German Rieslings were my favorite. And yes, you can have beer and wine with lunch! Just remember to bring your stretchy pants to wear home at the end of the trip. Speaking of attire, it was perfectly acceptable to wear your comfortable day time travel clothes in the dining room for breakfast and lunch. Most people chose to spruce up for dinner mainly because the service and the setting for dinner was like dining in a fine restaurant, but formal attire was definitely not necessary. There are menu’s prepared for each meal usually with a meat, a chicken or fish, and a vegetarian dish. Special requests are handled with grace and ease. A special thank you goes to the servers who artfully cut our friend’s meat for her after a slip and fall had put her arm in a temporary cast. For our Mercedes friends who are wondering, Leeanne had surgery when she returned to the states to remove a bone chip from her elbow and to reset her wrist and repair it with a plate and screws so that it would heal correctly. She will be in a cast for a while, but she is so glad that she was able to finish the trip! We took off from Basel during dinner and quickly found ourselves inside one of the sixteen locks that we would go through during the week. It was a bit unnerving to be staring at a blank concrete wall while the water level went down, but each transfer was handled quickly and smoothly. Day 2 Breisach: We arrived in the town of Breisach, Germany before dawn. Note: Do not be surprised to open up your curtains in the morning and find yourself looking directly at another Viking river boat. It happened twice on this cruise. It’s really not a big deal if you are aware that it can happen; it’s just that the first time was kind of a shock. The river boats tie up together for short periods, usually in passing from dock to dock going in different directions. There was one time that we actually walked through one boat to get on shore. Viking Cruise Lines includes a daily scenic tour at each, with the option of several other tours throughout the week. Today’s tour was to the Black Forest and we hopped on comfortable tour buses at 8:30 am. We drove on the back roads through several sleepy, small villages while our local guide provided a description of life and history in the area. We stopped on a high plateau overlooking the hills with St. Märgen church highlighted in the distance. Life was hard and isolated in many parts of the Black Forest. People learned to make cuckoo clocks during the long winters, and glass blowing was very popular at one time. In fact the original glass Christmas ornaments were first made in Germany. Our tour included a tourist stop at a shop that had an interesting cuckoo clock, a glass blowing, and the infamous Black Forest Cake making demonstration. We also sampled Kirsch, a dry, clear cherry brandy made in Germany and a required ingredient in the traditional Black Forest Cake. Yum. In case any of us planned to return to the area on our own, our tour guide provided a few tidbits of information. He said that the small villages can make an excellent and inexpensive home base for traveling. If you are looking for a home cooked meal made with local grown specialties, he said to look for the houses with brooms hanging out front, indicating that the home is open for dinner. The June asparagus harvest is especially celebrated. He also said to watch out for towns that have radar where speeding can mean a 50 euro ticket. Back to the ship in time for a quick lunch, we then chose to take their optional tour to the Alsatian town of Colmar, France. Just across the Rhine River from Breisach, Germany is Colmar, France! Apparently it is no longer necessary to check passports between countries that belong to the European Union and the bridge checkpoint place in Breisach is now a McDonald’s. Along the way we discovered a replica of the Statute of Liberty installed to honor Frederic Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty who was born in Colmar. We discovered that 13th Century Colmar was relatively untouched by the war and the medieval section of the city was intact. There were great examples of the half-timber framed architecture favored by the Germans right alongside the sandstone block houses favored by the French. The town was full of small bakeries, chocolatiers, cookie shops, shops with dried fruit and everywhere the white stork. The stork is seen as a good luck symbol in Germany and they return to the same nest every year amid much fanfare. Many of the nests are set up with video cameras to keep an eye on the newborns. Others in our group chose to take the alternate tour to visit the World War II Colmar Pocket Memorial. They experienced an emotional tribute to Audie Murphy. He was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WW II and only 19 years old when he received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. Both excursions gave our group a lot to talk about over dinner that night. Day 3 Strasbourg: We cruised through the night and arrived in the town of Kehl, Germany in the morning. We were on the bus by 8:30 am and crossed the bridge into France on our way to Strasbourg. Our guide, Veronique, was born and raised in Strasbourg and provided a personal recount of her family’s recollection of Stausbourg under Prussian, French, German, and then back to French rule. Our bus tour took us past the European Parliament of the European Union and past the University of Strasbourg currently the second largest university in France. The Port of Strasbourg is the second largest on the Rhine. Our bus driver dropped us off just outside of Strasbourg’s historic city center because motor vehicles are not allowed. Located on an island, the Grande Île, we walked across a bridge just outside of Tanner’s Road, also known as the Petite France district. Veronique provided an entertaining history of the infamous area known more for its seedier inhabitants as a result of the smell from the urine that the tanner’s used to cure the hides that they hung high in the building rafters to dry. We crossed another bridge and walked to the Strasbourg Notre-Dame Cathedral. The beautiful sandstone Gothic cathedral is famous for its enormous astronomical clock and incredibly tall spires reaching to the heavens. The stained glass windows were taken out prior to the German offensive, were hidden, protected, and then reinstalled after the war. Our guide recommended that we watch the movie Fury and Monument Men for further perspective of the period. We had some time on our own after the tour and set out to find a small café that we had read about on Cruise Critic prior to our trip. The Bistro du Chocolat is located just down the street to the right of the cathedral. We had the most delicious hot chocolate that I have ever tasted made with real bits of creamy white chocolate, hot milk and topped high with fresh whipped cream. Magnifique! Upon return to the boat we had lunch and decided not to take the optional wine tasting excursion. Instead we headed out to rent bikes in Kehl. Our ride took us on a path along the Rhine River. We then crossed the Rhine to the French side on a beautiful pedestrian bridge and back to Germany again where we spent time exploring the small, very bike friendly town of Kehl. We came across a German WW II Cemetery with thousands of markers with dates of death in 1945; nearly all were 18-30 year olds. Nearby we came across a small river with families feeding ducks, geese, and baby nutria. The stark contrast in a short, 70 year period is unimaginable. Again, our day provided interesting discussions over dinner that night. Day 4 Heidelberg & Rüdesheim: We woke up in the town of Worms, Germany where we boarded our buses for a tour to Heidelberg. Our guide, Gila, pointed out the well-known Heidelberg University as the bus climbed the narrow, twisting road up to Heidelberg Castle. Gila told the romantic story of Frederick V, a 16-year-old Duke who married the English King’s daughter Elizabeth Stuart. In addition to having a significant influence in the castle’s design, he commissioned the Elizabeth Gate and a full English garden that still stand today. The castle was destroyed and reconstructed many times in the nearly 800 years since it was first documented. Restorations and historical reconstructions have created a tourist destination with sweeping views of the village and the Neckar River with its arched stone bridges below. In addition, the courtyard is still used for public theatre performances, parts of the castle can be rented for events and we were able to view their enormous wine vat made from one hundred and thirty oak trees and guarded by the ghost of Perkeo, the King’s court jester who was charged to watch over the castle’s wine stock. A dance floor was built on top of this enormous wine barrel. We watched as an older couple from our ship carefully climbed the stairs to the dance floor and embraced as they reminisced that they had stood in that exact same place as young newlyweds more than 50 years earlier. Very sweet! We had some time after the castle tour to walk through the village below with an explanation of the effects of its seemingly endless historical conflicts along with a fire which devastated all but one building. The Old Town was completely rebuilt in the 18th century in the romantic baroque style. A Gothic church was built in the center of town which at one time served both the Protestants and the Catholics with a wall built to separate the two. The wall was removed when a Catholic church was constructed. The church’s courtyard still serves as a market place for the city. We hiked up the 208 steps of the stone spiral staircase to the top of the church spire and were treated to a beautiful view of the city and its overlooking castle. We crossed the Neckar River on the town’s arched stone bridge, and then it was time to head back to town to meet up with the tour bus. The boat had moved along the river while we were in Heidelberg and we met up with it again in Gernsheim. We sat on deck as we continued along the river to the town of Rüdesheim. The Viking Daily newsletter provided a nice list of the sights we were passing along the way. Large kilometer signs with tall painted number are easy to see along the river banks to cross-reference to the list. Several people from the ship went to the nearby Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett, a 250 year old mechanical musical instrument museum that they said was really interesting and then took the optional excursion into Rüdesheim for dinner. Instead we attended a delightful cocktail party hosted by the tour company who arranged our Stuttgart travel, and we met fellow enthusiasts, John and Roger, who had taken the Mercedes-Benz tour in 2009 and were traveling with us on this cruise. They wished that they had taken the opportunity to go on the cruise after their 2009 MB adventure, but were happy to join us six years later. We heard that dinner in town was very fun, but dinner on the ship was as fantastic as always and we were glad to have had the opportunity to meet John and Roger. Day 5 Braubach & Koblenz: The next day was one of my favorites. We were able to sleep in a bit as we would be sailing most of the morning. We left Rüdesheim about 8:30 am and sailed along the most beautiful part of the Rhine River. There were century’s old hilltop castles around every bend, and our program director sat on deck with us and provided commentary about the history and current status of each one. Surprisingly, several of them have been repurposed into boutique hotels; an interesting option for future trips perhaps? The steep hills along the river banks were also filled with vineyards. The angles of the rows followed the lay of the land and made the hills look like they were covered in intricate patchwork quilts. We had lunch on the boat, docked in Koblenz about 1:30 pm, and then headed out by tour bus back to Marksburg Castle in the village of Braubach, one of the many castles we had seen on our morning sail. Marksburg Castle is the only hill castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed and has been lived in for over 700 years. We were able to see vignettes of life in the Middle Ages. The castle entry was well fortified with its multiple archways, high stone walls and cannons pointing towards the river. We saw the huge kitchen hearth set up with antique cooking tools, a bedroom with a surprisingly short canopy bed (apparently it was considered unlucky to lie full length on your back in the Middle Ages and it was customary to sleep sitting up), the great room where meetings and feasts were held, the “throne” room, the armory with a great display of the changes in armor over time, a wine cellar, a blacksmith shop used to make all of the tools needed in the day, and, most unusual, a room filled with torture instruments. All of the rooms held actual articles and reproductions from the era, bringing history to life. A very cool exhibit! We returned to the ship which was docked at the Deutsches Eck, the convergence point of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. We explored the park with its huge equestrian statute of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The original statute was built in 1897 to celebrate German unity with the translated inscription “Never will the Empire be destroyed, so long as you are united and loyal”. Badly damaged in WW II in 1945, it was taken down. In 1949, Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall into capitalist west and communist east. In order to express the deep wish for a united Germany, the statute and its inscription were replaced and Deutsches Eck became a monument to German unity once again. When the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, three concrete parts were installed next to the monument in tribute to a unified Germany. The ship didn’t leave Koblenz until 4:00 am so there was plenty of time in Koblenz to shop, explore the museums, take the cable car over the river, have dinner in town or join stay on board to enjoy the ship’s special German Buffet and local entertainment. Our traveling companions from Seattle had a friend who lived in Koblenz and we met them for dinner at a nearby local restaurant, the Deutscher Kaiser at Kastorstrasse 3. While the company, the dinner and the wine were excellent, the pumpkin seed ice cream really made an impression! Yum! Did I mention the stretchy pants? Day 6 Cologne: We reached Cologne just after breakfast the next morning and hopped on the bus to the Old Town for a guided walking tour and a visit to the Cologne Cathedral with its stunning Gothic architecture and exquisite stained glass windows. We then had some free time to explore the city. I will admit to spying a Starbucks coffee shop and staring wistfully into the window. Next thing I knew, I had lost Ian and he turned up a few minutes later with a Café Mocha in his hands. We then picked up some warm pretzels from a nearby shop for a wonderful early afternoon snack. Just off the church square were blocks and blocks of international shops. We are not big shoppers and since we had Rick Steve’s Germany book with us, we decided to follow his Cologne walking tour, parts of which were included in the ship’s tour earlier than morning. It took us away from the shopping mall into the more genuine and historical parts of town. My favorite part of the tour happened in front of City Hall where there were several entire wedding parties waiting their turn so that the bride & groom could get their public license prior to heading to their private ceremonies. Apparently the public license ceremony is a requirement. It was a very festive and fun atmosphere with brides in their wedding gowns, guests carrying beautifully wrapped gifts, champagne toasts, confetti, and even a groom performing a traditional ceremony by carrying his bride through a heart cut into a large bed sheet. Behind the City Hall was a large square with several outdoor cafés and shops. We stopped in Schroeder’s Chocolatier where we sampled and bought souvenirs including some chocolate liqueur, most of which made in back home. Rick’s tour then took us down to the riverside and we headed back to the boat along a beautiful path along the Rhine, about a 2 mile walk. It felt good to be out for a walk in the sunshine. Day 7 Kinderdijk: We had left Cologne at 1:00am and woke up to a morning of sailing. At some point we had left the Rhine and were traveling along a canal towards Amsterdam. We arrived in Kinderdijk, Netherlands sometime after lunch and docked right next to a series of 19 windmills built in 1740. Ian and I hopped off the boat right as we docked and found a nearby shop that rented bicycles. We spent an hour and a half riding the flat dikes along the canals and stopped several times to take photos and talk to the locals. We got back just in time to catch the tour off of the boat and were able to hear the history and workings of the windmills. I had always thought that the mills were used for grinding grains, but these mills were specifically developed to move water out of flooded areas to maintain farm and home sites located on land that is below sea level. This is done electronically today with massive turbines, though the windmills came in use not that long ago when a huge storm knocked out electricity to the area for days. Some of the windmills are still inhabited and one was set up for touring. We saw the working mechanisms and the living arrangements inside the windmill. It was very cramped inside and the living quarters were on several levels; obviously not an easy life to live in the mill. We regretfully boarded the ship knowing that this was the last tour of our adventure. The chef prepared a special menu for our Farewell Dinner that was absolutely delicious (as were all the meals!). We said our goodbyes to our newfound friends because we would be leaving the ship at 8:00 am in order to catch an early flight. Svetlana, our wonderful concierge on board had arranged a taxi van to the airport and we arrived in plenty of time to check in. Unfortunately, an unusually thick fog had rolled in over Amsterdam and all morning flights were cancelled. This being the first time that we had been negatively affected by weather on our entire two week adventure, we could not complain. We managed to catch a flight that landed just one hour before our flight from London was scheduled to leave! We arrived home safe and sound, several pounds heavier, and with wonderful memories and photos to share with old and new friends and family.

Viking Rhine River Cruise; September 27 to October 4, 2015

Viking Sun (Retired) Cruise Review by 2stopsunder

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Trip Details
Day 1 Basel: After an event filled week of everything Mercedes-Benz on a fantastic tour put together by the Mercedes-Benz Club of America and Daimler AG, it was time for the next leg of our adventure, a cruise down the Rhine River with Viking Cruise Lines. Fourteen members from our Mercedes tour group had booked the river cruise, so our tour organizer arranged for a van to drive us from Stuttgart, Germany to our first port in Basel, Switzerland.

We left the hotel at 9:30 am and reached the Viking Sun about 1:00 pm, just in time to have a quick buffet lunch on board and then hop on the tour bus for a city tour of Basel with a local guide. The City Hall had just been restored and stood gleaming in the center of town. Since it was Sunday, the shops were closed and the city was very quiet. Our guide Kim was able to take her time to explain the history of the city and to point out quirky little facts regarding artwork along the way. My favorite was the story of the two sets of statutes in front of the cathedral representing good and evil. She said that you could tell the set that represented evil by looking for the snakes and toads running up the back of the cloak. Sure enough! A vendor was roasting chestnuts just outside of the cathedral; a sure sign that fall had arrived.

There was a beautiful view of the river behind the cathedral and we could see the Rheinfahre, the ferry that takes people across the river attached to a cable from either side. Apparently it is another enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in Basel. We strolled back through town to the tour bus. Though the shops were closed, we were able to get a little taste of Switzerland when our guide offered us chocolate covered dates and Swiss chocolate bites. Delicious!

We chilled for a bit when we got back on the boat then met in the lounge for a glass of wine and a review of the next day’s events before dinner. There were about 180 people on board the Viking Sun, just small enough so that meals could be served in one dining room at the same time. Several tables were large enough that we were able to enjoy dining with a group of our new Mercedes trip friends throughout the cruise.

One of the differences we found with Viking Cruise Lines versus other cruise lines is that beer and wine were included with meals at no charge. They also have an option to purchase all on-board drinks, including specialty wines ordered with dinner and drinks ordered in the lounge before and after dinner, for $150 euros per person for the week. Not being heavy drinkers, we were happy with the cruise line’s selections of the various locally produced beers and wines. The German Rieslings were my favorite. And yes, you can have beer and wine with lunch! Just remember to bring your stretchy pants to wear home at the end of the trip.

Speaking of attire, it was perfectly acceptable to wear your comfortable day time travel clothes in the dining room for breakfast and lunch. Most people chose to spruce up for dinner mainly because the service and the setting for dinner was like dining in a fine restaurant, but formal attire was definitely not necessary. There are menu’s prepared for each meal usually with a meat, a chicken or fish, and a vegetarian dish. Special requests are handled with grace and ease. A special thank you goes to the servers who artfully cut our friend’s meat for her after a slip and fall had put her arm in a temporary cast. For our Mercedes friends who are wondering, Leeanne had surgery when she returned to the states to remove a bone chip from her elbow and to reset her wrist and repair it with a plate and screws so that it would heal correctly. She will be in a cast for a while, but she is so glad that she was able to finish the trip!

We took off from Basel during dinner and quickly found ourselves inside one of the sixteen locks that we would go through during the week. It was a bit unnerving to be staring at a blank concrete wall while the water level went down, but each transfer was handled quickly and smoothly.

Day 2 Breisach: We arrived in the town of Breisach, Germany before dawn. Note: Do not be surprised to open up your curtains in the morning and find yourself looking directly at another Viking river boat. It happened twice on this cruise. It’s really not a big deal if you are aware that it can happen; it’s just that the first time was kind of a shock. The river boats tie up together for short periods, usually in passing from dock to dock going in different directions. There was one time that we actually walked through one boat to get on shore.

Viking Cruise Lines includes a daily scenic tour at each, with the option of several other tours throughout the week. Today’s tour was to the Black Forest and we hopped on comfortable tour buses at 8:30 am. We drove on the back roads through several sleepy, small villages while our local guide provided a description of life and history in the area. We stopped on a high plateau overlooking the hills with St. Märgen church highlighted in the distance. Life was hard and isolated in many parts of the Black Forest. People learned to make cuckoo clocks during the long winters, and glass blowing was very popular at one time. In fact the original glass Christmas ornaments were first made in Germany. Our tour included a tourist stop at a shop that had an interesting cuckoo clock, a glass blowing, and the infamous Black Forest Cake making demonstration. We also sampled Kirsch, a dry, clear cherry brandy made in Germany and a required ingredient in the traditional Black Forest Cake. Yum.

In case any of us planned to return to the area on our own, our tour guide provided a few tidbits of information. He said that the small villages can make an excellent and inexpensive home base for traveling. If you are looking for a home cooked meal made with local grown specialties, he said to look for the houses with brooms hanging out front, indicating that the home is open for dinner. The June asparagus harvest is especially celebrated. He also said to watch out for towns that have radar where speeding can mean a 50 euro ticket.

Back to the ship in time for a quick lunch, we then chose to take their optional tour to the Alsatian town of Colmar, France. Just across the Rhine River from Breisach, Germany is Colmar, France! Apparently it is no longer necessary to check passports between countries that belong to the European Union and the bridge checkpoint place in Breisach is now a McDonald’s. Along the way we discovered a replica of the Statute of Liberty installed to honor Frederic Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty who was born in Colmar.

We discovered that 13th Century Colmar was relatively untouched by the war and the medieval section of the city was intact. There were great examples of the half-timber framed architecture favored by the Germans right alongside the sandstone block houses favored by the French. The town was full of small bakeries, chocolatiers, cookie shops, shops with dried fruit and everywhere the white stork. The stork is seen as a good luck symbol in Germany and they return to the same nest every year amid much fanfare. Many of the nests are set up with video cameras to keep an eye on the newborns.

Others in our group chose to take the alternate tour to visit the World War II Colmar Pocket Memorial. They experienced an emotional tribute to Audie Murphy. He was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WW II and only 19 years old when he received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. Both excursions gave our group a lot to talk about over dinner that night.

Day 3 Strasbourg: We cruised through the night and arrived in the town of Kehl, Germany in the morning. We were on the bus by 8:30 am and crossed the bridge into France on our way to Strasbourg. Our guide, Veronique, was born and raised in Strasbourg and provided a personal recount of her family’s recollection of Stausbourg under Prussian, French, German, and then back to French rule. Our bus tour took us past the European Parliament of the European Union and past the University of Strasbourg currently the second largest university in France. The Port of Strasbourg is the second largest on the Rhine. Our bus driver dropped us off just outside of Strasbourg’s historic city center because motor vehicles are not allowed. Located on an island, the Grande Île, we walked across a bridge just outside of Tanner’s Road, also known as the Petite France district. Veronique provided an entertaining history of the infamous area known more for its seedier inhabitants as a result of the smell from the urine that the tanner’s used to cure the hides that they hung high in the building rafters to dry. We crossed another bridge and walked to the Strasbourg Notre-Dame Cathedral. The beautiful sandstone Gothic cathedral is famous for its enormous astronomical clock and incredibly tall spires reaching to the heavens. The stained glass windows were taken out prior to the German offensive, were hidden, protected, and then reinstalled after the war. Our guide recommended that we watch the movie Fury and Monument Men for further perspective of the period.

We had some time on our own after the tour and set out to find a small café that we had read about on Cruise Critic prior to our trip. The Bistro du Chocolat is located just down the street to the right of the cathedral. We had the most delicious hot chocolate that I have ever tasted made with real bits of creamy white chocolate, hot milk and topped high with fresh whipped cream. Magnifique!

Upon return to the boat we had lunch and decided not to take the optional wine tasting excursion. Instead we headed out to rent bikes in Kehl. Our ride took us on a path along the Rhine River. We then crossed the Rhine to the French side on a beautiful pedestrian bridge and back to Germany again where we spent time exploring the small, very bike friendly town of Kehl. We came across a German WW II Cemetery with thousands of markers with dates of death in 1945; nearly all were 18-30 year olds. Nearby we came across a small river with families feeding ducks, geese, and baby nutria. The stark contrast in a short, 70 year period is unimaginable. Again, our day provided interesting discussions over dinner that night.

Day 4 Heidelberg & Rüdesheim: We woke up in the town of Worms, Germany where we boarded our buses for a tour to Heidelberg. Our guide, Gila, pointed out the well-known Heidelberg University as the bus climbed the narrow, twisting road up to Heidelberg Castle. Gila told the romantic story of Frederick V, a 16-year-old Duke who married the English King’s daughter Elizabeth Stuart. In addition to having a significant influence in the castle’s design, he commissioned the Elizabeth Gate and a full English garden that still stand today. The castle was destroyed and reconstructed many times in the nearly 800 years since it was first documented. Restorations and historical reconstructions have created a tourist destination with sweeping views of the village and the Neckar River with its arched stone bridges below. In addition, the courtyard is still used for public theatre performances, parts of the castle can be rented for events and we were able to view their enormous wine vat made from one hundred and thirty oak trees and guarded by the ghost of Perkeo, the King’s court jester who was charged to watch over the castle’s wine stock. A dance floor was built on top of this enormous wine barrel. We watched as an older couple from our ship carefully climbed the stairs to the dance floor and embraced as they reminisced that they had stood in that exact same place as young newlyweds more than 50 years earlier. Very sweet!

We had some time after the castle tour to walk through the village below with an explanation of the effects of its seemingly endless historical conflicts along with a fire which devastated all but one building. The Old Town was completely rebuilt in the 18th century in the romantic baroque style. A Gothic church was built in the center of town which at one time served both the Protestants and the Catholics with a wall built to separate the two. The wall was removed when a Catholic church was constructed. The church’s courtyard still serves as a market place for the city. We hiked up the 208 steps of the stone spiral staircase to the top of the church spire and were treated to a beautiful view of the city and its overlooking castle. We crossed the Neckar River on the town’s arched stone bridge, and then it was time to head back to town to meet up with the tour bus.

The boat had moved along the river while we were in Heidelberg and we met up with it again in Gernsheim. We sat on deck as we continued along the river to the town of Rüdesheim. The Viking Daily newsletter provided a nice list of the sights we were passing along the way. Large kilometer signs with tall painted number are easy to see along the river banks to cross-reference to the list.

Several people from the ship went to the nearby Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett, a 250 year old mechanical musical instrument museum that they said was really interesting and then took the optional excursion into Rüdesheim for dinner. Instead we attended a delightful cocktail party hosted by the tour company who arranged our Stuttgart travel, and we met fellow enthusiasts, John and Roger, who had taken the Mercedes-Benz tour in 2009 and were traveling with us on this cruise. They wished that they had taken the opportunity to go on the cruise after their 2009 MB adventure, but were happy to join us six years later. We heard that dinner in town was very fun, but dinner on the ship was as fantastic as always and we were glad to have had the opportunity to meet John and Roger.

Day 5 Braubach & Koblenz: The next day was one of my favorites. We were able to sleep in a bit as we would be sailing most of the morning. We left Rüdesheim about 8:30 am and sailed along the most beautiful part of the Rhine River. There were century’s old hilltop castles around every bend, and our program director sat on deck with us and provided commentary about the history and current status of each one. Surprisingly, several of them have been repurposed into boutique hotels; an interesting option for future trips perhaps? The steep hills along the river banks were also filled with vineyards. The angles of the rows followed the lay of the land and made the hills look like they were covered in intricate patchwork quilts. We had lunch on the boat, docked in Koblenz about 1:30 pm, and then headed out by tour bus back to Marksburg Castle in the village of Braubach, one of the many castles we had seen on our morning sail. Marksburg Castle is the only hill castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed and has been lived in for over 700 years. We were able to see vignettes of life in the Middle Ages. The castle entry was well fortified with its multiple archways, high stone walls and cannons pointing towards the river. We saw the huge kitchen hearth set up with antique cooking tools, a bedroom with a surprisingly short canopy bed (apparently it was considered unlucky to lie full length on your back in the Middle Ages and it was customary to sleep sitting up), the great room where meetings and feasts were held, the “throne” room, the armory with a great display of the changes in armor over time, a wine cellar, a blacksmith shop used to make all of the tools needed in the day, and, most unusual, a room filled with torture instruments. All of the rooms held actual articles and reproductions from the era, bringing history to life. A very cool exhibit!

We returned to the ship which was docked at the Deutsches Eck, the convergence point of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. We explored the park with its huge equestrian statute of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The original statute was built in 1897 to celebrate German unity with the translated inscription “Never will the Empire be destroyed, so long as you are united and loyal”. Badly damaged in WW II in 1945, it was taken down. In 1949, Germany was divided by the Berlin Wall into capitalist west and communist east. In order to express the deep wish for a united Germany, the statute and its inscription were replaced and Deutsches Eck became a monument to German unity once again. When the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, three concrete parts were installed next to the monument in tribute to a unified Germany.

The ship didn’t leave Koblenz until 4:00 am so there was plenty of time in Koblenz to shop, explore the museums, take the cable car over the river, have dinner in town or join stay on board to enjoy the ship’s special German Buffet and local entertainment. Our traveling companions from Seattle had a friend who lived in Koblenz and we met them for dinner at a nearby local restaurant, the Deutscher Kaiser at Kastorstrasse 3. While the company, the dinner and the wine were excellent, the pumpkin seed ice cream really made an impression! Yum! Did I mention the stretchy pants?

Day 6 Cologne: We reached Cologne just after breakfast the next morning and hopped on the bus to the Old Town for a guided walking tour and a visit to the Cologne Cathedral with its stunning Gothic architecture and exquisite stained glass windows. We then had some free time to explore the city. I will admit to spying a Starbucks coffee shop and staring wistfully into the window. Next thing I knew, I had lost Ian and he turned up a few minutes later with a Café Mocha in his hands. We then picked up some warm pretzels from a nearby shop for a wonderful early afternoon snack.

Just off the church square were blocks and blocks of international shops. We are not big shoppers and since we had Rick Steve’s Germany book with us, we decided to follow his Cologne walking tour, parts of which were included in the ship’s tour earlier than morning. It took us away from the shopping mall into the more genuine and historical parts of town. My favorite part of the tour happened in front of City Hall where there were several entire wedding parties waiting their turn so that the bride & groom could get their public license prior to heading to their private ceremonies. Apparently the public license ceremony is a requirement. It was a very festive and fun atmosphere with brides in their wedding gowns, guests carrying beautifully wrapped gifts, champagne toasts, confetti, and even a groom performing a traditional ceremony by carrying his bride through a heart cut into a large bed sheet.

Behind the City Hall was a large square with several outdoor cafés and shops. We stopped in Schroeder’s Chocolatier where we sampled and bought souvenirs including some chocolate liqueur, most of which made in back home. Rick’s tour then took us down to the riverside and we headed back to the boat along a beautiful path along the Rhine, about a 2 mile walk. It felt good to be out for a walk in the sunshine.

Day 7 Kinderdijk: We had left Cologne at 1:00am and woke up to a morning of sailing. At some point we had left the Rhine and were traveling along a canal towards Amsterdam. We arrived in Kinderdijk, Netherlands sometime after lunch and docked right next to a series of 19 windmills built in 1740. Ian and I hopped off the boat right as we docked and found a nearby shop that rented bicycles. We spent an hour and a half riding the flat dikes along the canals and stopped several times to take photos and talk to the locals. We got back just in time to catch the tour off of the boat and were able to hear the history and workings of the windmills. I had always thought that the mills were used for grinding grains, but these mills were specifically developed to move water out of flooded areas to maintain farm and home sites located on land that is below sea level. This is done electronically today with massive turbines, though the windmills came in use not that long ago when a huge storm knocked out electricity to the area for days. Some of the windmills are still inhabited and one was set up for touring. We saw the working mechanisms and the living arrangements inside the windmill. It was very cramped inside and the living quarters were on several levels; obviously not an easy life to live in the mill.

We regretfully boarded the ship knowing that this was the last tour of our adventure. The chef prepared a special menu for our Farewell Dinner that was absolutely delicious (as were all the meals!). We said our goodbyes to our newfound friends because we would be leaving the ship at 8:00 am in order to catch an early flight. Svetlana, our wonderful concierge on board had arranged a taxi van to the airport and we arrived in plenty of time to check in. Unfortunately, an unusually thick fog had rolled in over Amsterdam and all morning flights were cancelled. This being the first time that we had been negatively affected by weather on our entire two week adventure, we could not complain. We managed to catch a flight that landed just one hour before our flight from London was scheduled to leave! We arrived home safe and sound, several pounds heavier, and with wonderful memories and photos to share with old and new friends and family.
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