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.
My parents worked hard all their lives, lived frugally, and saved money. When they died in January of 2013, they left everything behind—all their clothes, their keepsakes, their prized possessions, and their money—for my siblings and me to divide among us or otherwise dispose of. I know my parents loved and appreciated my husband Mark, so I chose to do something for him with a bit of my parents’ hard-earned money that came my way. Mark loves to travel, so I took us on a Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River from Basel to Amsterdam. My father served in the army in the early 1950s and was stationed in Baumholder, Germany. During his time overseas he went on a short cruise up the Rhine, on what they call the Middle Rhine.
In a drawer where Dad kept photos and cards and other keepsakes I found a letter from him to his parents dated August 15, 1954, in which he wrote, “Last Sunday Rothacker and I took off on a trip along the Rhine. It sure was nice except that the weather was pretty bad. I am enclosing some pictures to give you an idea of what it is like. There is a castle every mile or two along the river. At least it seemed that way. It may be a bit further between them, but not much. It would be a beautiful trip during nice weather.”
On Day 5 of our cruise, we traveled along the Rhine and saw all the castles like Dad did all those years ago. We had nice weather and it was a beautiful trip.
From Basel to Amsterdam – Overview
I took over 1800 photos on our one-week cruise along the Rhine and two-plus days in Amsterdam. It’s going to take me a while to sort through them all. Over the next weeks I hope to share a few of them with you here. Today I want to give you the overview of our Viking River Cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. At the end of this series of posts I plan to give you my review of our Viking River Cruise experience.
Day 1 (Saturday, May 24) – We arrived in Basel, Switzerland and settled into our stateroom on the Viking Tor. The ship left dock in the evening for our first stop in Breisach, Germany.
Day 2 (Sunday, May 25) Morning – We docked in Breisach and went on an included bus excursion through Germany’s Black Forest, making a stop at a church and one at a small square with shops and restaurants where we could take a short hike into the forest, or watch a cuckoo clock-making demonstration.
Day 2 (Sunday, May 25) Afternoon – Mark and I went on the optional afternoon excursion to the restored medieval town of Colmar, in Alsace, France.
Day 3 (Monday, May 26) – Overnight we traveled to Kehl, Germany where we docked across from Strasbourg, France. In the morning we took a bus and walking tour of Strasbourg. In the afternoon, Mark and I spent time on our own visiting Strasbourg and caught a Viking bus back to the ship about 3:00.
Day 4 (Tuesday, May 27) – Again we traveled downriver overnight to Worms, Germany where we docked and went on an excursion to see the Heidelberg Castle in the morning. We took the bus to meet the ship that had sailed on to Gernsheim while we were touring Heidelberg. In the afternoon we traveled downriver to Rudesheim, where we spent the evening. Mark and I went on an optional excursion for evening entertainment and dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 5 (Wednesday, May 28) Morning – This was my favorite day of the trip, and the one I had most looked forward to. Our ship sailed for Koblenz, first thing in the morning, along the middle Rhine where we saw many castles up on hillsides and small villages along the water’s edge.
Day 5 (Wednesday, May 28) Early afternoon – We docked in Koblenz and took a bus ride to tour the Marksburg Castle just north of Koblenz, and way up on top of a hill. This was the best-preserved castle I have ever, in my limited travels, visited.
Day 5 (Wednesday, May 28) Late afternoon – Mark and I walked around the town of Koblenz and stopped to have a refreshment or two.
Day 6 (Thursday, May 29) – Our ship left dock early in the morning while we were still sleeping and arrived in Cologne at 9:00 a.m. Right after breakfast we left on an excursion to visit the Old Town and the cathedral.
Day 7 (Friday, May 30) Morning – We cruised through the Netherlands past grazing cows, sailing yachts, and the occasional surprising windmill on our way to Kinderdijk.
Day 7 (Friday, May 30) Afternoon – We arrived in Kinderdjik in the afternoon for our shore excursion to tour the Kinderdijk windmills.
Day 8 (Saturday, May 31) – We were docked in Amsterdam when we woke in the morning. Mark and I had arranged for transportation to our hotel in Amsterdam at 8:30 a.m. We disembarked after breakfast and began our two-plus days on our own in the Venice of the North.
On the evening of May 10th, Scoot and Shoot visited the Roller Derby at Cincinnati Gardens. This was a particularly challenging photographing venue. There was low light and high action. I used a high ISO from 1600 to 3200, and had my lens wide open at an f-stop of 5.4. In some cases I tried to pan with the jammer. Mostly, I wanted to share with you the excitement of the Cincinnati Roller Girls.
The names alone will make you wonder—Cherry Choke, Cincy Psycho, Candy Kickass, or Hannah Barbaric. Rough and tough names for a rough and tough sport.
I’d never been to a roller derby before. I always thought of it as a rough race. But now I know more. The woman above is a jammer for the Cincinnati JV or Varsity “B” team, the Violent Lambs. The jammer for each team is the only person who can score points, and she does it by passing opposing team members.
The jammers start each jam behind the pack. The first jammer to get through the blockers is awarded the lead jammer. The lead jammer can decide to end the jam before the 2 minutes are up if it is to her team’s advantage to do so.Once the jammers have made it through the pack, they skate quickly around the rink and then they each begin to score a point for every opposing skater they pass in a lap, including the opposing jammer and penalized skaters who are sitting on the bench. (I’m not sure what actions result in penalties, or time-outs, but they happen quite regularly.) The refs skate around in the middle of the rink, call out penalties, and keep track of the points each jammer earns.The jammer’s teammates not only try to block the opposing jammer from passing, but also set up blocking to help their own jammer get through.
Blockers often try to push the jammer out of bounds. When that happens the jammer has to go to the back of the group and try again. Unlike my previous, uneducated impression, roller derbies are not just rough free-for-alls. The young women care about the game and how their team is doing.
This jammer has decided to end the jam. Her signal to the refs is raising her bent arms up and down. The ref blows the whistle; the skaters stop. And a new jam begins. Usually, (perhaps always) a new team of skaters takes over each time the jam ends.
This jammer has broken through the blockers who turn to try to help their own jammer through.Often the jammers are the smallest skaters. If they can’t push their way through, they can sometimes squeeze through small openings and at times jump over obstructions. Maneuverability is important in a jammer.
Players get hurt.
When I was younger my life was like a bottomless basket of days to spend. Of course I always knew it was a finite amount that would eventually come to an end. But there were so very many days in that basket, that the idea of them running out was of no concern to me.
Here is one of my midlife revelations. I see now that the level of those days in that basket has dropped significantly. I don’t know how many more there are, but I can readily tell that I have already used more, undoubtedly many more, than I have left.
I think the death of both of my parents has sharpened this sense that time is running out, that time is of the essence. Since their passing, I have been somewhat preoccupied with death, and in particular with my own death. It’s not that I fear death or am even particularly sad about the idea of the end to my own life. But the thought of my inevitable death makes me consider more seriously my life.
Recently I feel like I struggle with younger people. I don’t always understand them. I don’t always understand their behavior at times or their priorities in particular. And I came to realize today that perhaps younger people still see their basket of days as an endless supply, as I did. When I was young, I had just arrived at the amusement park. I could go on the first ride that caught my eye, and then the next. But now, at this stage of my life, I’ve spent a good part of the day at that amusement park already. I’m starting to think about what rides I most want to go on before I have to leave. It’s a different perspective altogether, with different priorities.
I know. If younger people are reading, or were to read, this, I suspect they might protest. I would have too. Of course younger people know their life will come to an end. I did too. We all do.
But that knowledge has transformed somehow inside of me with the passing years. That knowledge now colors and informs decisions I make like never before. Where do I want to live? Because, realistically, how many more moves do I really have in me? The knowledge of my mortality informs daily choices I make. Do I really need another print book? How am I going to get rid of all the books we have already collected?
Most importantly, that knowledge informs the quality of the relationships I have with other people. Do I really have time for hurt feelings or disappointment? Maybe disappointment is a choice I can choose not to make.
Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. Her days ran out sometime during her 78th year. Do I have twenty more years, thirty or more, only 5? I have no way to know.
You might link I am maudlin or morose. But quite the opposite is true. I am on a challenging journey to find the light. I want those days left in my basket, however many there are, to shine. To really shine.
Walk a while among the tulips,
where a single bloom can be perfection.
See nature in all it’s majesty and intrigue.
|Tawny Frog Mouth from Australia||imitates the bark of a tree|
See nature in all its glory.
One gorilla hides behind a tree.
The other stands for all to see.
A perfect pair of lions stand side by side.
And a polar bear follows his nose with a smile.
Celebrate life in all its design.
Celebrate life in all its humor.
Celebrate a pile of sand that arrives today.
Life is beautiful. Life is good.