Wednesday May 28
At 9:00 a.m. we cast off from Rudesheim for Koblenz on the Viking Tor. We were going to cruise the Middle Rhine. This part of the trip was the reason Mark and I chose this particular cruise, as my father had pictures of some of the castles along the Middle Rhine when he was in the army in Germany in 1954. It was the part of our trip I had most looked forward to. It turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more. Through this section of the Rhine’s course as it makes its way from Switzerland to Amsterdam, the river is wide and the landscape is rugged.
Vineyards line the river’s path, some at water’s edge
but many terraced up the steep hillside.
Trains glide along the bottom of the hillsides, coming and going on both sides of the river like some gigantic real-life train display,
Boats and ships traverse
and at times cross the river.
Some dock at ports.
From medieval times, castles guarded the river’s route, for financial gain through controlling the river with tolls or for defense from invaders. Along this section of the Rhine, a traveler is rarely without a distant or close view of a castle as the ship passes by.
Church steeples rise in the villages below the castles at water’s edge.
From the comfort of the Viking Tor’s top deck, which was invigorating at times with the chill of the wind,
we watched the scenes slide by like a 360 degree slide show. I took 500 photos on our 3-hour ride to Koblenz, attempting the impossible task of saving the experience through digital photography.
To select photos for this post, on my initial pass-through I culled the 500 photos down to 132, and then to 92—still way too many for a blog post. You can imagine the difficulty I had.
What follows is an abbreviated, and yet still rather lengthy, representation of our Middle Rhine Cruise.
As we cruised along the Middle Rhine, our program director Sharon spoke on the ship’s intercom, reading information about the sights we were seeing. I don’t have any record of what she told us, but I did find this excellent Loreley info site online that has a map of the Rhine with the castles noted and links to a photo and historical, as well as visitor, information about each castle. It helped me identify many of the castles we saw. Most of my information about the castles below is from Loreley info.
I hope you enjoy seeing the castles, and some of the villages, along the Rhine. If you click on individual photos you can see a larger version of it, or another view of it. Clicking on a photo in a 2- or 3-photo gallery will show you an enlargement. You can navigate using arrows to see the other gallery photos’ enlargements. A click or two of your mouse should return you here.
Klopp Castle in Bingen houses the city council today. It is presumed to have been built on Roman foundations with a well that likely dates to Roman time. Destroyed in 1689, it was rebuilt between 1875 and 1879.
The Ehrenfels Castle, along with two others formed a northward barrier to protect the territory of the archbishopric of Mainz.
This is one of the larger villages we passed. Click on it to see an interesting feature in larger detail.
My father took this photo in 1954 with his 35mm black and white camera. Dad developed the film and printed the pictures himself. He wrote a caption on the back of it before he sent it home from Germany to my mother. It read, “The prettiest castle.”
I cropped and enlarged it so you can see how it compares to the photo I took of what I believe to be the same castle, from a slightly different angle. You can see that the little white building has been added since the 1950s.
Another view of what I now know is the Rheinstein Castle. It was built in the beginning of the 14th century as a princely summer residence. “In 1975 the opera singer Hermann Hecher bought the castle. It’s due to him that Rheinstein Castle became again one of the centres of attraction in the Rhine Valley,” (Rheinstein Castle).
This castle is the Reichenstein Castle, also called Falkenburg. It was built in the 11th century and owned by a robber-baron. As a result it was destroyed twice, in 1253 and 1282. It decayed since the 16th century until Friedrich Wilhelm von Barfuß started reconstruction in 1834. Baron Kirsch Purcelli bought the castle in 1899 and continued the reconstruction.
The Sooneck Castle, probably built in the 11th century was originally part of an abbey defense system. It has a sordid history of raids, and arbitrary toll-raising leading to its destruction in 1282. It was rebuilt and again destroyed in 1689. Friedrich Wilhelm IV ordered to convert the ruin into a hunting seat in 1842. It was finished in 1861.
The Village of Niederheimbach with its connected row of buildings sits at the base of the hill.
Fürstenberg Castle, built in 1219, was built by order of an archbishop, the bishop of Cologne, to protect his estates and levy tolls. The castle was destroyed in the course of the Palatinate Succession War, and remains in ruins. It is privately owned today.
This village has a dominant church, and behind the church up high on the hillside stands what looks like a small chapel.
Stahleck Castle, which was first mentioned in 1135, was owned in series over time by the diocese of Köln, the emperor Barbarossa and later his brother Konrad, and the Bavarian dynasty as one of two important bases of the Wittelsbach rulers. “In 1689 the castle was blown up by the French. In two construction phases (1925-27 as well as 1965-67) it was rebuilt,” ( Stahleck Castle) Today it is a popular youth hostel.
This fortress built in the middle of the river is the Pfalz Castle or toll station. Built in the 1300s, it was used to collect tolls from ships sailing on the river. The Gutenfels Castle, now used as a hotel, sits above it on the hillside.
This is my dad’s picture of the Pfalz Castle in 1954.
The Gutenfels Castle.
This shows a ruin of a Roman wall.
In 1149 Schönburg Castle was temporarily an Empire Castle and came into possession of the Schönburg dynasty. Destroyed in 1689, it has been rebuilt since 1885 into the famous hotel that it is today.
One of the enduring myths of the German Rhine is the maiden Lorelei. The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine that rises 440 feet above the river. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there over the years.
The legend goes that a beautiful maiden sat on top and sang songs luring sailors who passed the rock at nightfall to their doom against the rock.
I think this may be Rheinfels Castle, although I am not certain. “The only military complex arrangement on the left bank of the Rhine River it withstood the troops of Louis XIV in 1692″ and then was blown up by the French revolutionary army in 1794. Now it is owned by city of St. Goar, has a hotel known for its excellent kitchen, and visitors can roam through the gigantic area of the fortress. (Rheinfels Castle)
Sometimes referred to as the cat and mouse, the Katz (left) and Maus or (lower right) castles reflect one of the many power plays on the Rhine in the Middle Ages. “Territorial supremacy and the privilege of collecting tolls fueled the fires of rivalry. In response to the construction of Burg Rheinfels, the archbishop of Trier erected a small castle north of St. Goarshausen to protect his interests. In turn, the masters of Rheinfels, the counts of Katzenelnbogen, built a bigger castle directly above the town. Its name was shortened to Katz, and its smaller neighbor was scornfully referred to as Maus. Both castles are closed to the public.” (Quoted from Fodor’s.)
Throughout the cruise down the Rhine, the small villages with half-timbered, colorful buildings, and steepled churches continued to decorate the landscape.
An unidentified castle.
I’m coming now to the final castle I photographed. And it turns out my dad photographed it too, although I couldn’t identify his pictures until I went on the cruise and compared his photos to mine.
Dad’s caption said “Castle on the Rhine” and “Enlargement of castle on the Rhine.”
I know now that it is the Marksburg Castle, the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that was never destroyed. We would be touring Marksburg Castle shortly after the Viking Tor docked in Koblenz at 12:00.
The Middle Rhine was declared a World Heritage site in 2002 by UNESCO.
I don’t know that I’ve ever loved any sightseeing event more than this cruise up the Middle Rhine, following my father’s path.
Next up – The knights of Marksburg Castle
After our morning in Heidelberg, we returned to the Viking Tor in time for a late lunch at 1:00, which Mark and I enjoyed on the Aquavit Terrace. Our ship was sailing, for four hours this afternoon, to Rudesheim.
During the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the wheelhouse to see how the ship navigated Europe’s rivers. Mark and I didn’t choose to do that, but we heard from other travelers, especially the grandparents accompanied by a young granddaughter and grandson, that it was an interesting thing to do. We also had the opportunity to see a presentation on Rudesheimer Kaffee made with coffee, brandy, sugar, whipped cream and dark chocolate.
Mark and I preferred our seats on the top deck, chilly though they were. The staff of the Tor were kind enough to deliver us samples from the Kaffee presentation which warmed us up nicely.
The Viking Daily newsletter provided us with information about the views along the river, which I am sorry to say I cannot match to the photographs I took. Perhaps you can. We passed by the former Platinate residential town of Mannheim; the junction of the Neckar River; Lamperheim, most likely founded during the Frankish settlement and first mentioned officially in the year 832; Nibelungen-Bridge connecting Rosental and Worms; Worms, among the oldest cities in Germany where the Liebfrauenmilch grape is grown; Mainz, where the Romans had a military encampment as early as 38 BC because of its strategic location at the junction of the Rhine and Main; Schierstein Bridge; Winkel, an old winegrowing village; and Rudesheim, whose excellent wines and varied landscape have turned it into one of the most lively tourism centers of the Middle Rhine (from the Viking Daily, Viking River Cruises).
Shortly after our 5:00 arrival in Rudesheim, Mark and I left on an evening excursion where we took a motorized mini-train ride into town and enjoyed dinner and lively entertainment in a restaurant along Rudesheim’s Drosselgasse.
Mark and I did not participate in the shot-drinking game, where shot glasses are attached to a board and participants have to lift it and drink together. I’ve been told you don’t want to be one of the shorter people in the group. But after the wine with dinner, no one seemed to mind if they literally got dumped on in this game.
Mark and I did, however, join the dancers snaking their way through the restaurant.
This excursion cost us 59 euros each. I thought it was enjoyable, and gave us an opportunity to experience a local meal.
Although we had taken the mini-train to the restaurant, we really weren’t all that far away from our dock. The way back was all downhill, so Mark and I opted to walk back to the Tor, past the small shops and restaurants that make up Rudesheim. We were at liberty to stay in town as late as we liked since our ship wasn’t sailing until 9:00 a.m., but Mark and I are not as young as we used to be. We opted for our comfy bed back in our cabin and a good night’s rest. We were going to do what I had most looked forward to in the morning – cruise past the castles of the Middle Rhine and repeat the trip my father had made.
Next up – Castles on the Rhine
We arrived in Worms, Germany at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday to take an excursion to Heidelberg, one of Germany’s oldest cities.
Fortunately, for me and my arthritic joints, the Viking tour bus drove us to the top of the hill.
While we stood and enjoyed a panoramic view of the Altstadt and Neckar Valley from the castle grounds,
our tour guide, who was a native German, explained the history of the Schloss and surrounding area. He explained how much of Germany was damaged during WWII. One of the most touching moments of the trip, for me, was when he specifically addressed the Americans and Canadians. He looked us in the eyes and very sincerely thanked us for getting involved in the war and for our help in bringing Hitler’s reign to an end.
This is a very large tower that provides entrance to the castle. In the late 17th century, French incursions totally destroyed medieval Heidelberg, including the castle. The ornate sculpture was one casualty. The family shield, made of some kind of valuable metals, was removed from its prominent place between the two lions.
This is a closer view of some kind of time or season dial. I really need to look it up and find out what it’s all about.
And this little window really appeals to my romantic sensibilities. Who might have stood there? What were they watching? What was the idea behind building this onto the side of the castle? So many things to wonder about.
Here’s a close-up view.
We left the castle on top of the hill and took a short ride down into the old town. The city was left in ruins by French troops in the 1600s under Louis XIV. It was rebuilt during the 18th century.
Today it’s something of a tourist attraction with its shops and restaurants. Rick Steve, author of many travel books, does not recommend it in his Germany guide book. We thought it was charming and might have enjoyed wandering around a bit longer. We had less than an hour to spend before we had to meet the bus to take us to our ship.
Next up: Tuesday, afternoon – Cruising up the Rhine to Rudesheim
Mark and I were still waking up early in the morning on the Viking Tor, allowing us to see the sun rise in Germany over the Rhine River.
We arrived in Kehl, Germany, across the river from Strasbourg, Alsace, France at 8:00 a.m. and we were on our buses, headed across the Rhine by 8:30.
Our shore excursion in Strasbourg consisted of a guided bus tour of the European Parliament and a walking tour of the old town that included the Petite France area and the Strasbourg Cathedral. But first we drove down a street to see the storks.
This was actually my second trip to Strasbourg. We stopped there for a couple of nights on the WWII tour I took with my daughter and her high school in 2004. On that trip we stayed in a bed and breakfast near Petite France and were able to explore the old town’s canals, shops, and cafes at our leisure for a few days. Anna and I rented bikes one morning and rode around the old town, stopping for a memorable breakfast croissant in Petite France. It was my favorite place we visited on that trip.
This time around we had a tour guide on our bus who explained the European Council to us. Our guide was a French woman from Strasbourg which made the whole tour more interesting as she spoke in English, but with a French accent or cadence, yes? She explained to us how the council worked and it felt a little bit like a lesson in American democracy. It was fascinating to hear the pride and enthusiasm in her voice as she spoke about how all the different countries came together to work on common issues through the council, that was located in her hometown of Strasbourg.
In some ways, I suppose, this is the Washington D.C. of Europe.
Because of its central location on the Rhine between France and Germany, Strasbourg and Alsace in general have had a rocky past. Initially settled by Rome in 12 B.C., Strasbourg was bounced back and forth between Germany and France many times through the years primarily as a result of the wars that intervened. As our guide explained, because of this the Alsatians have their own language that incorporates both French and German words.
It always feels a bit incongruous to me to see a modern streetcar zooming past historic buildings. But it’s a regular site in many parts of Europe where the citizens keep up with the modern world against a backdrop of medieval structures and fascinating architecture.
After our tour of the European Quarter we got off the bus and walked a short distance to get to the canal district near the old town.
Like Colmar, Strasbourg is a town made up of many half-timbered buildings, and looks a little like it belongs on a giant Christmas Village display.
A remnant from an embattled medieval past, this square tower is one of over 80 towers that used to form a chain of fortifications. Four towers remain today. Using a guidebook Mark bought in the afternoon, I think we must have been at Pont Couverts where the river Ill branches into an oval that surrounds the center of Strasbourg before joining back together on the other side. This might make more sense to you if you take a minute to view the map of Strasbourg I found online. I’m now wishing I had studied the map of Strasbourg before we began our tour. It might have all made more sense to me too.
Right after the Ill splits, it further branches into four (if I can trust my map) smaller canals that run through Petite France. (More on Petite France later.)
Canal boat tours are a good way to see the town. On my first trip to Strasbourg, we took a ride on one. This time we didn’t. We were going to spend a couple nights in Amsterdam at the end of our trip and decided to ride in a canal boat there. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the canals in Strasbourg were a lot less crowded and more amenable to sightseeing than those in Amsterdam. But we missed the boat on that opportunity.
We stopped at a park across the canal from Petite France, formerly the tanner’s quarter, and a place in the town interwoven with canals. The area was named Petite France because of a hospital located there that treated patients who had syphilis or the “French disease.”
If you click to enlarge the above photo you can see the large opening in the roof of the pink building. Rooftops such as this in the tanning quarter, aided the airing of the attics or the drying-out of the skins.
When Anna and I visited Strasbourg, we spent a lot of time in Petite France with its shops, cafes, and general charm. But on this tour, we continued forward. We would have time afterwards to wander around on our own if we desired.
Our ultimate destination was the Strasbourg Cathedral, but we passed through the Place Kleber to get there. The square at Place Kleber is a main public entertainment location. The building you see above is the Aubette originally designed to house the Corps de Garde. It was later converted into an academy of music.
Medallions commemorating famouse musicians decorate the exterior walls. This is Mozart’s. I also got quick photos of Beethoven’s and Haendel’s as we passed by.
I regret that you can’t see this very well, although clicking to enlarge helps. I was trying to show you how narrow some of the buildings are. The third building from the left that is a darker pink or peach is only two narrow windows wide. The variation in width is just one of the features of Strasbourg’s buildings that make it such a beautiful and charming town.
Still enroute to the cathedral we passed through narrow streets that reminded me of the medieval towns we visited in Italy.
Then all of a sudden the narrow walkway opened into a wider path or square and the cathedral rose in majesty above the shops and homes.
Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral stands on the foundations of a Romanesque basilica built in 1015 by a member of the Hapsburg family. When it was destroyed by fire, the new cathedral was built in its place in 1176, taking nearly four centuries to complete. The height of the spire made it the highest building in Christendom until the 19th century.
We entered the cathedral just in time to witness the famous astronomical clock‘s automated figures parade before Christ.
I can’t recall why we weren’t able to see more of the interior at the time. I don’t remember if there was a Mass being celebrated, or whether we were just running out of time on our tour. I thought perhaps Mark and I might be able to return during the afternoon that we planned to spend in Strasbourg, but that never happened.
The first time I went to Strasbourg we visited the Musee de l’ Oeuvre Notre Dame that housed statues from the cathedral as well as all types of art. That was a highlight of my first trip and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Strasbourg with a few hours to spend. Mark and I had neither the time nor the energy to do so.
I just wanted to show you one of the bustling streets with the many signs and banners, again reminding me of medieval towns in Italy. Our tour guide walked us to a main street with lots of shops and then directed us to where our bus would be waiting for us at the predesignated times between 2:00 and 5:30. Following that, we gave her a Euro or two for a tip, as we had been advised by our Viking Tour materials, and wandered off alone to enjoy the sights and tastes of Strasbourg.
Our first order of business was food, drink, and rest for my weary legs. We stopped at a restaurant or cafe in Petite France beside a canal. And I am not, as you might suspect, checking my email while we sat in this enchanting place. I was frantically trying to find my camera’s manual that I had uploaded to my phone. Here’s a word to the wise—don’t buy a new camera shortly before a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I had inadvertently flipped one of many dials and switches on my new Olympus OMD Em-1, a mirrorless digital camera. The camera was changing the ISO every time I tried to change the f-stop, which I use often. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it with the camera alone, and then I remembered I had the manual on my phone. Isn’t technology grand? I fixed the problem, breathed a big sigh of relief, and proceeded to enjoy the meat, cheese, bread and wine we had ordered for lunch. A perfect French picnic.
After lunch we walked around without any particular goal or destination in mind, which might have been our shortcoming. We came upon this carousel, which I remembered from not only photographs, but from my previous visit. I can’t tell you of its significance or lack thereof. Update—One of my kind readers named Rob has left the following comment below: “Strasbourg is my home town. The carrousel is on Place Gutenberg, and the guy on the statue is Gutenberg, aka Johann Gensfleisch. He invented printing in Strasbourg.” Thanks, Rob, for clearing that up for us.
I had to put this picture in here because I absolutely love this feature of architecture where a bay window of sorts juts out from the upper floors of the corner of a building. We would see a lot more of this later in Cologne.
and stopped at a restaurant for a bit of something sweet. And this is one of the disadvantages of going it alone. Sometimes you just don’t know where to find what it is you want. We sat for a few minutes, looked at the menu and decided this particular cafe wasn’t what we had in mind, so we left. It happens.
Mark and I headed to where we could catch our bus back to the boat some time in the middle of the afternoon.
The optional excursions for this day that we did not take advantage of were a wine-tasting tour and Mercedes factory visit. We had no regrets. We wanted to be able to experience Strasbourg a little longer. I suppose my criticism would be that with only an extra couple of hours, there’s really not a lot you can do, especially if you are not well prepared like us.
Back on board the Viking Tor, live music was scheduled for the cocktail hour in the lounge from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. and a demonstration of how to make the flammkuchen was presented on the Aquavit Terrace at 5:30. I don’t remember exactly how Mark and I spent our time, but I suspect we retired to our cabin for a nap as we were still adjusting to the time change and were both rather exhausted from the touring.
That evening in lieu of entertainment, at 9:15 p.m. the program director Sharon talked about different Viking cruises. I suspect she had a lovely slide show. We didn’t choose to go to that. We may have called it an early night. We cast off at 11:00 p.m. for Worms.
Next up: Tuesday, Day 4- Heidelberg
Although Mark and I could have spent Sunday afternoon, after our Black Forest tour, walking around Breisach, we decided to go on the optional Colmar tour. Although many excursions are included in the package price of the Viking River Cruise, one or two optional excursions are offered most days. On our cruise, the optional excursions ranged in cost from 29 to 59 euros per person.
Colmar is in Alsace, France and across the Rhine from Breisach, Germany. It is a beautiful, restored medieval village with pedestrian-friendly streets and canals. It is known for its half-timbered houses. Colmar is also the birthplace and hometown of Frederic Augusta Bartholdi, famous sculptor and designer of the Statue of Liberty.
Some number (and I think it might be about 19 if memory serves, but don’t hold me to it) of small copies of the Statue of Liberty exist throughout the world. Of course one would be located in the hometown of its designer.
We exited the bus with our tour guide and walked to a town square where the famous Unterlinden museum is located. (As an aside, I found out at the end of the tour, through idle small talk with him, that our tour guide was Andy Locke, once member of Edison Lighthouse, the band who wrote and sang Love Grows Where my Rosemary Goes. As that was one of my favorites from back in the day, I thought it was kind of interesting.)
The Unterlinden museum is housed in a 13th-century Dominican religious sisters’ convent, according to Wikipedia. And I believe it judging by how it looked. It was a beautiful building, but sadly for us, was under renovation at the time of our visit. We did not go inside.
We continued on our walking tour of Colmar with Bertholdi’s home and museum as our final destination. You don’t have to be very far into the town to understand why it is known for its half-timber homes. I believe our guide Andy explained why the bottom floors were built out of brick or stone and the upper floors out of timber, although I can’t recall the details. I think it had something to do with fires and the ease of rebuilding the upper levels. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me right now, but it did at the time. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered the art of simultaneously taking photographs and making notes. And my memory in these situations is next to useless.
Here is a close-up of the timber detail.
This was also interesting, yet remains a bit foggy in my mind. The second or upper floor of some of the buildings in Colmar was built to jut out over the wall of the lower floor. Andy explained this to us. Mark remembers it had something to do with individuals who wanted to pray at home. The Catholic church was upset that people were not coming to church to pray, so they made a rule that you cannot pray if you are above another room that may not be holy. Homeowners got around this problem by building little corners on the second floor that had no room below them for their home chapel. I looked it up online with no success. If you know something about this I hope you’ll let me know.
The architectural detail in Colmar really is beautiful and interesting.
We gathered on the cobblestone walk in the business district of Colmar while Andy talked. I strayed to the edge of the group and tried to shoot photos.
Around the corner, Andy stopped at this bakery to show us the Kougelhopf, a traditional Brioche bread or cake from Alsace. My google search returned primarily French sites that I couldn’t read, but I did find this English recipe on a blog. Our mouths were watering as we stood outside the bakery looking in the window. Shortly after, a young woman came out carrying a tray of coconut macaroons for us. Prearranged, I’ve not doubt, but a nice touch.
We continued on past Saint Martin’s Church.
Originally constructed for a college in 1234 – 1365, St. Martin’s is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. The patterned, colorful roof tiles are striking, and can be seen in one of the below photos. If you click on the above picture and look up at the top right of the church, you will be able to see a stork’s nest, also more clearly visible below.
You can see the colorful roof tiles more clearly in this photo, as well as some of the gargoyle-type sculptures on the church. If you think these storks are cool, wait until you see what we saw in Strasbourg.
The flying buttresses, visible in the second photo of the montage above, are important structural supports found in Gothic architecture.
I was glad Mark and I had opted in for this tour. The architecture was beautiful and interesting.
Our final destination on our tour was the courtyard of the home of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, now a museum.
I can’t really say for certain, but I think this may be one of the last sculptures Bertholdi created. Again, no luck with Google. Our guide Andy left us here for free time to explore or shop on our own until we rejoined the group and returned to the bus about an hour later.
Mark and I used the time to take more photographs. Isn’t this building with its decoration amazing? I think those might be frescoes.
We also stumbled upon a memorial to those who died serving the Resistance during WWII. Evidence and stories of destruction from WWII accompanied us through the entire trip.
I’m pretty sure we stopped at an outdoor cafe for a glass of wine before meeting our group, but I can’t recall where. It might have been here. Then we loaded back on the buses and returned to the Viking Tor for cocktail hour followed by dinner. The evening entertainment was a visiting ensemble with a mixture of music from ‘From Rhine to Seine’ in the lounge. Mark and I were too tired to enjoy it so we went to bed early.
The Viking Tor set sail for Kehl, Germany across from Strasbourg, Alsace, France at 11:00 p.m.
I’ll leave you with a slide show of photographs that Mark took in Colmar of the many, varied signs we saw.
Next up: Day 3- Strasbourg
On Sunday morning we woke up at Breisach, Germany. We had arrived there at 1:00 a.m., unbeknownst to us as we were sound asleep.
We had a pretty view of a park across the river where the swans were gathered.
Mark and I hadn’t fully adjusted to the six-hour time shift in Germany from our home in the Midwest USA. We woke up in plenty of time for the 7:00 a.m. breakfast. With time to spare before our 8:15 departure time, we climbed to the top deck to view our surroundings.
St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Breisach perched on the hilltop beside our dock.. Had we not elected to go on the optional afternoon excursion to Colmar, we might have spent our time touring Breisach and St. Stephen’s Cathedral on our own.
We boarded our motor coaches at 8:15 and headed out for the Black Forest. I think overall, Viking did a good job with people management. In the morning, sometime after breakfast, we went to the reception desk where we were given our group number and our personal cruise passes. Our individual cruise passes were to be turned in upon our return to the boat so that Viking staff could make sure everyone was aboard before we left a port. They did, in fact, check. One day Mark neglected to turn his card back in and they called our room looking for him.
On excursions, we were typically divided into four groups that each went on its own tour bus with its own tour guide.
On this particular day, Mark and I were in tour group 14B. We, and most of the other tour groups we crossed paths with along the way, had what they called quiet boxes. You can see our tour guide’s red quiet box hanging around her neck. She also had a full head piece with a microphone and earpiece. We each had a quiet box with an earpiece only. At the beginning of each tour we tuned our quiet box to the same number or channel as our tour guide. That way we could be near other tour groups with quiet boxes on other channels and still hear only our own guide. The quiet boxes eliminated the loud chattering of tour guides at points of interest. I thought they worked quite well.
After a short drive we stopped to visit what I think was a medieval church. This was also a restroom pit stop. I’m sorry to say I don’t recall the name of this church, but I wasn’t paying as much attention as perhaps I might have been at this point of my jet-lagged journey. And quite frankly, I was more interested in finding the toilet. (In Europe they don’t put a fancy name on it like restroom or ladies’ room. If it’s a toilet you want, it’s a toilet you ask for.)
I did manage to get inside the church briefly where I took pictures of the church and of Mark taking pictures of the church. (If you click on the first one you can see a larger view and then use the right arrow to scan through all three photos.)
Then we were back on the bus and riding through Germany’s Black Forest, or Schuarzwald, the mountainous region in south-eastern Germany with dense forests.
This region is known for its cuckoo clocks, schnaps or Kirschwasser, Black Forest Gateau or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, and local springs. It is the setting for many of the Grimms’ fairy tales.
The Viking tour literature promoted the excursion into the Black Forest with phrases like “quaint half-timbered farmhouses in a quiet countryside peppered with fat, contented cows.” I was trying to snap photographs through the window of the bus as we drove on. I did manage to grab a blurry shot of cows by the side of the road. Since the center of the village is in focus, this makes me wonder why the cows are blurry. I suspect it may have more to do with the f-stop I was using than the speed at which we were traveling.
The Viking literature went on to say, “You’ll encounter numerous hills thick with fir trees, dramatic gorges, tumbling, misty waterfalls and winding rivers. . .” which was a bit of an oversell, in my opinion. Maybe my expectations were a little unrealistic and were based on a motor coach tour we once took through Yosemite in California where we actually did ride through the forest, and up into the hills. And where we did stop and see dramatic gorges and waterfalls.
I found out fairly early in the trip that I needed to adjust my expectations. That being said, the country side we rode through was beautiful.
Towards the end of the excursion, we made a stop at a small place where there was a Best Western, a glass-blowing shop, cuckoo-clock shop and a couple of restaurants. There was also a paved path into the Black Forest. It felt a little bit like a tourist stop. In fact, it felt a lot like a tourist stop.We had the opportunity to hike a short ways into the woods with a tour guide, and/or to watch a clock-making demonstration.
Instead of trooping through the forest with a crowd, Mark and I decided to experience the Black Forest gateau first hand and take a short hike later by ourselves if time permitted. The cake was made of layers of chocolate sponge cake, whipped cream, sour cherries and a drizzle of Kirsch, a locally produced cherry liquor. And the cake, I might add was as good as it was touted to be.
At the base of the hiking trail we saw this antique logging equipment. The Black Forest, as you might expect, was a major logging location.
The bridge is a railroad bridge and it really does shoot up high into the sky. I tried to photograph the sign on the base of the bridge so that I might be able to figure out where we were exactly, but the picture didn’t come out clear enough to read. And it was in German to boot.
Gosh, I hope you weren’t expecting this to be some kind of informational or educational post. Were you?
This paved path led into the forest. I understand there were waterfalls ahead if you walked a little ways.
We saw this little gurgling creek near the trail’s end.
But we didn’t venture into the woods any further. At that early stage of the tour we did not want to risk being left behind. Had we not squandered our time on the Black Forest Cake we might have been able to hike a bit further into the woods,
or watched a glass-blowing demonstration, or cuckoo-clock making demonstration. No regrets here.
This early on the trip, I was still disgruntled with the crowds and wondering how I ever thought it was a good idea to join a large tour group. I did that with my daughter’s high school trip to Europe where I quickly found out how frustrating it can be. At the points of interest we were always with crowds. And we were limited to a tight schedule that someone else set for us with not a lot of wiggle room to stop and look at something a bit longer. After a day or two I adjusted my expectations to the limitations inherent in touring with a large group and came to appreciate the advantages of traveling this way.
In the above photo we are all waiting for the large (I think the largest anywhere) clock to chime.
We all loaded back onto our respective buses and left, driving down out of the mountainous area, through the college town of Freiberg, and back to the Viking Tor for a quick lunch before our optional excursion to the medieval town of Colmar.
Next up: Day 2 Afternoon- An afternoon in Alsace
Welcome to the Viking Tor, named for the Norse God of Thunder. But unlike its stormy namesake, our cruise was smooth sailing.
Mark and I arrived in the Basel airport at 2:33 p.m.; were met by Viking cruise staff; and were whisked away on a Viking bus to the port where the Viking Tor docked, just in time to gain access to our stateroom at 3:00. This transfer was handled with ease and we found ourselves and our luggage in our new home for the upcoming week without much effort or ado. For Mark and I, who had flown out of Cincinnati on Friday at 5:40 p.m. and spent five hours of the early morning in the hard chairs of a Paris airport, it felt more like 9:00 p.m. after a sleepless night. (Which it actually was for us.)
Although the trip brochures consider this Day 1 and a visit to Basel Switzerland, by the time Mark and I saw our bed in the stateroom, all we wanted to do was lie down, pull up the covers, and close our eyes. We didn’t succumb to the temptation to sleep, however. We knew we would adjust better to the six-hour time change if we could stay awake until a reasonable bedtime. Lacking the energy to spend the next couple of hours walking around Basel, we decided to settle in, acquaint ourselves with the Viking Tor, read the helpful cruise materials left in our cabin, and relax during the scheduled happy hour at 5:30 p.m.
If I were a real travel photo-journalist, I would have gotten a good picture of the Viking Tor—just the first in a long line of omissions.You can see a better picture and read more about the Viking Tor here.
The ship had four levels. (It’s possible the ship had more than one level below water, but I never ventured down there.) We entered on the second floor, at water level, which housed the reception desk, dining room, and staterooms. The first level below also held smaller staterooms.
In the center lobby on the third floor, a coffee station provided hot beverages, water, and donuts or cookies around the clock. Then, towards the bow, you entered the lounge with comfortable seating. At the far end of the lounge, you walked out to the Aquavit Terrace with indoor/outdoor seating for casual meals.
The large floor to ceiling windows you see in the above picture, on the side, near the front of the ship, are the lounge and dining room which both had generous windows with terrific views. The back half of the ship housed the cabins which also had large windows on the second and third levels.
(You can see more pictures and diagrams of the rooms here. Mark and I had a Veranda stateroom on the third level.)
Several times during the week, Mark and I took advantage of the casual, buffet-style lunch out on the Aquavit. In this photo, our table is located at the front, or bow, of the ship. Those waffle fries were delicious. So was the wine.
Each day on the cruise, the housekeeping staff left the “Viking Daily” for us in our room after dinner. This four-page daily newsletter contained the next day’s agenda, information of interest about the location and other fun facts. For example, on the day of our arrival the Viking Daily gave us the “Tip for Today” — “One of the most delightful experiences in Basel is a ride on one of the three motorless ferries across the Rhine, that run on a cable and use nothing but the current to get them from one side to the other. Ferries like these have been operating here for hundreds of years.” Mark and I were going to have to take their word for it.
At 6:30 the Viking Tor management team met us in the lounge, introduced themselves, and gave us a brief talk. Then, and each subsequent day at 6:45 p.m., Sharon, the program director, went over the next day’s schedule and excursions with us.
Following the introductory talk, we filed into the dining room where tables of 6 to 10 people were set, ready and waiting. Some people came with friends or groups. Mark and I found an empty spot at a table. Throughout the week we would share a meal with many interesting fellow passengers from around the world.
As we sat down to dinner at 7:00 p.m., the Viking Tor cast off for Breisach, Germany.
According to the day’s itinerary, there would be music and dancing in the Lounge at 9:00, but Mark and I opted to read on our balcony after dinner,and watch the Viking Tor navigate one of the many locks we would traverse over the course of the trip.Then we finally, and gratefully, called it a night. Our Viking Daily for Sunday had arrived. Breakfast started at 7:00 a.m. and we were scheduled to leave bright and early at 8:30 for our excursion into the Black Forest tomorrow.