A review of the Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam

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Overall, I have to give Viking high ratings for the Basel to Amsterdam cruise along the Rhine.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t also say that Mark and I did not feel this level of enthusiasm the first day or two on the cruise. We got off to a slow start.

Arrangements:
But let me start at the beginning. The Viking staff was very helpful and accommodating as we made our plans, and changed them, over phone calls in the weeks before our trip. The flights and trip were scheduled with no problems. Viking was also very efficient at providing us our luggage tags and itineraries before the trip. I was impressed by how they met us at the airport and whisked us away to the Viking Tor.

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Accomodations:
Our room was very nice. We had a veranda state room on the third deck. It was largely occupied by a king-sized bed, but we did have a large counter that ran the width of the room with dresser drawers underneath, a closet, and room for a chair between the bed and the sliding glass doors to the veranda. We enjoyed sitting on the veranda when we docked and had time off in our room, or were cruising. We had a small, but adequate bathroom. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you understand the space limitations. Our room was equipped with a wall-mounted television. The room staff did a wonderful job of replacing towels and freshening up our room every day. They left candies on our bed at night.

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Dining:
The food was delicious and varied. There were a couple of dining options. The main dining room contained tables for six, eight, or ten people. Some of the tables lined the walls that were ceiling-to-floor windows. Unlike our ocean cruise many years ago, Viking did not assign seating at meal times. This was nice because Mark and I were able to meet a lot of interesting people as we shared a meal with them. It was also a little uncomfortable at times for two introverts like Mark and me when we had to find a place at a table or  join another party. This was more of a perceived problem, however, than a real one. Everyone was friendly. Many people were traveling with another couple, other family members, or a group.

The second dining option was the Aquavit area on the front deck. This was a more casual, buffet-style meal, and there were options of a table-for-two. Mark and I enjoyed several meals, with others and by ourselves, in the Aquavit.

A coffee bar outside of the lounge was stocked with hot drinks and donuts in the morning followed by cookies or other treats throughout the day. Although the food wasn’t provided in the excess that we had on our ocean cruise, it was more than adequate. We enjoyed it. Our favorite meal was the Taste of Germany night where a buffet of Germany delicacies was set up in the main dining room. Among the variety of foods were amazing soft pretzels, sausages, sauer-kraut, sliced baked meats, German potato salad, and desserts. We also were invited to tour the galley where the food was prepared everyday and where more food was served as we walked through. I think I picked up a cream-filled pastry or two and luscious strawberries on my way through. The kitchen staff prepared special foods from the local area throughout the week. One thing that stands out in my mind was a white cheese soup with grapes and walnuts from the Netherlands.

The food on the cruise met or exceeded our expectations.

The serving staff, however, on the first two evenings of the trip were a bit of a disappointment. We felt like we had to wait an excessive amount of time to be served, even simply to receive a glass of water before the meal. There were problems with things. The salt shaker was clogged and didn’t work. We had to ask several times for something we had ordered. The staff was even a bit rude, or at least not pleasant. I felt like for the amount of money we had paid for the cruise, we should be at least able to get a glass of water when we sat down. So we were disappointed at first, and we were not alone in this. I’m happy to say that the problems with the serving staff got sorted out and the remainder of the cruise we found no fault with anything.

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Excursions:
The other problem with the cruise the first day was the excursion. I was disappointed with the Black Forest excursion, and I felt like the excursion and, at this point in the trip, perhaps even the entire cruise had been oversold by the commercials I had seen of couples leisurely enjoying a glass of wine on a scenic hillside vineyard. We were moved onto a bus, driven through countryside, and deposited at what I could only think was a tourist trap. My expectations for what I thought we would see and do on this excursion were not met. But as I mentioned in my Journey into the Black Forest post the Black Forest cake that Mark and I shared somewhat redeemed the excursion.

Now, even though I spoke a bit disparagingly about being moved onto a bus, one of the things I liked very much about the Viking cruise was the way they managed moving the tour groups. They were extremely well organized. We stopped at the front desk every morning and received our group assignment and our on-board cards. The group assignment identified which bus we were to get on. At times they had up to four buses taking groups from our ship. On smaller optional excursions they had only a single bus or two. The on-board cards were to be turned in upon our return to the ship. They were filed under our names and used as a sort of roll-call so the staff could quickly check to see if everyone had returned to the ship. They actually did check this. One day Mark forgot to turn his card in and the staff phoned our room looking for him.

The other problem with the excursions in the first couple of days was that Mark and I felt we didn’t have enough time to explore our surroundings. This was frustrating initially. But as the trip progressed things improved. Some excursions had more built-in free time to explore on your own. Also, as we started adding up our experiences, we came to grips with our expectations and really enjoyed the convenience and ease of travel provided by Viking.

Even though we got off to a slow start, we enjoyed the other excursions. Some more than others. You can see links to detailed descriptions and photos of the excursions, if you missed them, on my Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise page. If you’re only going to check out one excursion, choose the Castles on the Rhine or The Knights of Marksburg Castle from Wednesday. This was my favorite day on the cruise.

Programs:
In addition to the excursions, the program director, who I thought did an excellent job, presented programs in the lounge throughout the week that included a Flammkuchen, Rudesheimer Kaffee, and glassblowing demonstrations, to mention a few. Typically there was entertainment in the lounge in the evenings from musical ensembles to quiz games.

Special touches:
One of the reasons I really liked the Viking Cruise was all the small details or special touches they put into each cruise. They provided a bottle of water to each guest whenever we left the ship for excursions. Umbrellas were available and within grasp. Each night in our room we were provided with a Viking Daily, a four-page publication with information about the next day’s activities including a detailed itinerary and helpful and interesting information about the location. A convenient hand sanitizer station outside the dining room door to use before entering, not very glamorous but a definite must in light of the potential problems cruises can encounter.

Thumb’s up:
Overall I have to give Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam a big thumb’s up. It was an expensive trip, but I think it was worth it. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Mark feels the same. We saw a lot of amazing things in a short period of time and came to understand that area of the world that the Rhine runs through much better than we would have likely been able to do on our own. It was a relaxing way to travel with everything taken care of for us. All we had to do was show up. Viking knows its stuff and is a pro at conducting these cruises. I would absolutely do another Viking River Cruise.

Now I’ve got to go find my piggy bank and start saving up.

 

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have stayed with me through this lengthy discourse of Viking Cruise posts. And to my fellow bloggers, I hope to get back to reading about what you’ve been up to soon.

 

 

 

 


Windmills in the Netherlands – last day of Viking River Cruise

Kinderjidk-04- 20140530The Viking Tor cast off from Cologne for Kinderdijk, Netherlands at 11:00 Thursday night. In the morning we were cruising through the beautiful and peaceful landscape of the Netherlands.

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Mark and I bundled up in towels that doubled as blankets on the top deck

Kinderjidk-05- 20140530as we sailed through pastoral scenes with cows grazing or

Kinderjidk-08- 20140530sunbathing on the sandy beaches beside the river.

Kinderjidk-09- 20140530Sheep relaxed and fed on the verdant river banks while farmers worked in the distance.

Kinderjidk-10- 20140530We passed by cities where the river provides recreation for the human species.

Kinderjidk-11- 20140530It wasn’t long before we spotted our first real-life Netherlands windmill in a rural area

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and then another near a residential area.

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All that sitting, cruising, and watching the world go by generated a healthy appetite, and a bit of a thirst. It really doesn’t get a lot better than this—lunch on the top deck of the Viking Tor.

Kinderjidk-14- 20140530We floated past a miniature replica of Noah’s Ark, complete with a giraffe look-out.

Kinderjidk-15- 20140530At 3:45 we arrived in Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for our 4:30 tour.

Kinderdijk is a village that has 19 windmills dating from the 1500s. (http://www.kinderdijk.org/ ) They were built to help with water control in this peat region of Holland. The cultivation of peat changed the drainage of the region and resulted in the farmlands lying below the level of the streams that had previously drained the peat. Dikes were built and canals were dug to prevent flooding of the land. The windmills were added a few centuries later as the drained soil settled and the river rose due to sand deposits. The windmills pumped water into a reservoir where it could eventually be pumped out into the river whenever the level was low enough due to seasonal and tidal variations. Today most of the work is done by diesel pumping stations. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/818 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinderdijk)

Kinderjidk-21- 20140530Our tour included an inside look at an operating windmill. This is a view out of a window on an upper floor.

Kinderjidk-22- 20140530We climbed a narrow, winding stairway to the very top where we were able to see the massive gears that basically turn the wind into energy.

Kinderjidk-23- 20140530The windmills were not rotating during our visit. I don’t know if that was due to lack of wind, or the fact that they were anchored or tied in place. They can be dangerous, and have been responsible for injury and even deaths for the unwary adult, child, or perhaps unsuspecting tourist who wandered into their path when they were fast at work. They are powerful and, like lighthouses, are the stuff of legends. You can feel it in their presence.

On this, our last evening of the cruise, we joined the ship’s captain and crew in the lounge for the Captain’s Cocktail followed by the Farewell Reception and Dinner. In the morning we would be in Amsterdam. Although we could have arranged an extension of the cruise in Amsterdam through Viking, Mark and I decided to stay in Amsterdam a couple of nights, but made the arrangements on our own.

 

Next up – Review of the Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 


Cologne Cathedral – Viking river cruise day 6

The Viking Tor left Koblenz for Cologne at 4:00 a.m., or so we were told, being fast asleep at the time. We arrived in Cologne, locally known as Koln, at 9:00 a.m.

Cologne-2014-05-29  01We left the ship and walked along the river to where buses were waiting to take us the short distance to the cathedral that you can see in the skyline above.

 

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The cathedral is situated right smack in the middle of a downtown business district where the nonstop daily loading and unloading of tour buses created a bit of confusion with their traffic disturbance.

 

Cologne-2014-05-29  03Construction on the Cologne cathedral began in 1248 and took over seven centuries to complete in 1880. It is a symbol of the city and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. During WWII 95% of Cologne was destroyed by allied bombs, but the cathedral survived. According to our guide, bombardiers were prohibited from hitting the church’s spires as they were a clear landmark by which to navigate. Cologne-2014-05-29  04Many people were gathered on the cobblestones surrounding the massive structure.

Cologne-2014-05-29  07Our tour guide, who accompanied us on the bus, explained what he could about the exterior of the cathedral. Then a deep, loud, gonging started erupting from the bell tower of the cathedral as believers were called to Mass. As luck would have it, we were visiting on a high holy day and the church was closed to tour groups as masses were being celebrated all day. Our guide suggested we come back after the tour and try to gain entrance between the masses.

The bell continued to gong, reverberating through my body. I’d never heard anything like it. And it lasted for what seemed like a half hour, calling all to Mass. Although I was sorry not to be able to visit the inside of the church, I felt lucky that we were able to experience this amazing sound. The bell we heard only rings on the few high holy days in a year, so it is a special occurrence.

Cologne-2014-05-29  13As we left the cathedral, we passed a construction crew erecting what looked like a stage for an entertainment of some sort. The ancient cathedral rising behind the modern-day band shell made an interesting juxtaposition of styles.

Cologne-2014-05-29  10We continued on a walking tour of the old city. A Roman-Germanic museum is just across the walk from the cathedral. Inside are Roman artifacts and archaeological finds from Koln and the Rhine Valley.

Cologne-2014-05-29-mosaicThe fine mosaic floor can be viewed from outside the museum. According to Rick Steve’s Germany 2009, this was once the floor of a rich Roman merchant in its original location. The museum was built around it.

Nearby is a section of a Roman stone road beside a Roman fountain.

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Our guide took us into the Jewish section of the old town that was under construction as an archaeological zone and Jewish museum.

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In all honesty, I was having trouble paying attention at this point because we had not yet had a toilet break and I was beginning to wonder if our guide was ever going to realize we needed one.

 

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I had pretty much given up on the guide to solve this personal problem and started looking around for an open restaurant where I might find a public toilet.

Cologne-2014-05-29  16Since it was a high holy day, most places of business were closed. And although I had finally asked the guide if he planned on giving us a comfort break, he was not having any luck finding an open business with a public toilet. Finally, another tourist in our group pointed me to a building where I and several others took advantage of the kindness of the proprietor to allow us use of their facilities.

Too much information? I just want to say, travelers beware of holy days.

Cologne-2014-05-29  21We passed by several inviting restaurants near the waterfront or on Fischmarkt.

Cologne-2014-05-29  22These seats come with warm blankets for the brisk weather.

Cologne-2014-05-29  23The colorful houses on Fischmarkt are picturesque, although I don’t know what the numbers mean.

Cologne-2014-05-29  27Our guide left us with about an hour to spare before the first bus returned to the ship. Mark and I walked back to the cathedral with the hope of seeing inside.

Cologne-2014-05-29  24A street artist was busy at work on the cathedral plaza.

Cologne-2014-05-29  25We entered the cathedral as the earlier mass let people out. A rope was set up to keep tourists at the back of the church, so we were not free to walk around.

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But I managed to see enough to realize that the Cologne cathedral was equally impressive on the interior as on the exterior.

Viking had a shuttle running from our ship to the downtown area of Cologne leaving at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 p.m. and returning at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. giving us ample opportunity to shop in or further explore Cologne. Had Mark and I been thirty years younger, we might have spent the afternoon there, but we were tired, and walking on the cobblestones of Cologne had worn out my knees for the day. We returned to the ship and relaxed.

 

Next up – Windmills in the Netherlands

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 


The knights of Marksburg Castle – Viking River Cruise

Marksburg is the only castle on the Middle Rhine to remain intact and undamaged during the years of wars and conflicts the area suffered. It maintains much of its medieval character.
Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-2-sm Buses are not able to navigate all the way to the top of the hill where the castle stands. Our bus dropped us off at the point where I took this picture.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-1 copyThen we had to walk a zig-zag uphill path to the castle.

 

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Once inside, we met up with our tour guide. Visitors are not allowed to wander about on their own and are required to go on a guided tour.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-6 copyAlthough many of the Rhine castles have been rebuilt, according to Rick Steve’s (Germany 2009), Marksburg remains nearly completely the original structure.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-7-smAt various places you can see where a doorway or window was made smaller and therefore safer from enemies, or easier to defend.

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We were told that knights rode their horses over these stone walkways just inside the walled entrance to the castle.

 

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-9-sm You can’t walk within these walls and not have your imagination fly to tales of the past about kings, knights, and princesses.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-10-smI don’t know what the reality was for people who lived and worked within these walls from 1283 to the late 1800s, but I believe that at their core people have not changed all that much through the years. Young men and women fell in love and felt passion, parents found joy in their children, and people lived with heartbreak and loss. A lot of living occurred through the years in this place.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-11-smThese canons date to about 1640. According to Rick Steve’s, they could hit targets across the river,

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-12-smwhich was quite a distance away. From their location on the hilltop, the canons were largely aided by gravity I suspect.

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Another view of the river from the castle, and what must have been a look-out point on a lower level.

 

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-15-smIf you walk along an outer wall of the castle that overlooks the river, you arrive in a garden where plants used for cooking and medicine were cultivated.

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It is a gardener’s delight. The wall to the left of the photo overlooks the river from a great heights.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-17-smOne of the halls is set up as a kitchen and supplied with artifacts from the time period.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-18-smThe walls in the master bedroom are covered in wood paneling. Tapestries decorate several of the walls in the castle. I don’t know whether they are original to the castle, or have been provided to furnish the rooms for tour groups.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-22-smThe dining hall was not as large as I might have imagined it should be, although the number of people in our tour group appear to fit nicely in the space.

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The far wall of the dining hall is decorated with paint or frescoes.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-20-smWindowed alcoves branch off of the dining hall’s main room. Perhaps they provided extra seating.

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I thought the iron work on this door’s hinges was interesting. It is also a very small door. What it’s purpose was, I cannot say.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-23-smThe ceiling of the dining hall is paneled and painted with detail.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-25-smOur guide explained the function of this small door in the dining room, and I truly wish I could remember what he said. I do remember that the small door in the chapel was made that way to limit the ability of heavily armored knights to gain access from below during an attack. This door in the dining hall may have served the same purpose, although something in my memory leads me to believe it may have had more to do with accessing necessary facilities. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-24-smThis is the dining hall table that I managed to snatch a photo of sans people, which was no small task. The table top is an unattached plank. After each course the servants could pick up the entire thing, and replace it with another plank, pre-set with the next course. I’m still having trouble visualizing how they actually accomplished that while large men were seated there.

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This is the chapel, and you can just make out the small, rather narrow doorway in the corner behind our tour guide. Although you can’t tell it from this photo, the chapel was actually a very small room that we crowded into, but it was beautifully decorated.

 

A good castle was never without a dungeon or torture chamber, although truthfully, we did not see anything that remotely resembled a dungeon.

 

But we did see a room where instruments of torture were on display. I always find this unsettling as they bring to life the horrific things portrayed in Hollywood movies.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-31-smMarksburg has a fascinating collection of armor from 2000 years beginning in the days of the Celts.

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Along with the suits of armor and collection of pointed weapons, this room contained an example of a medieval lady’s armor and a chastity belt. Contrary to popular belief, chastity belts were used by women when traveling as protection against rape. Talk about making an uncomfortable trip, in a stuffy carriage bumping over rough terrain, worse.

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The keep, which served as an observation tower with a dungeon below, was also a last resort refuge. The only access to the keep was across a wooden bridge. When all was nearly lost, defenders would go into the keep and burn the bridge denying their enemies entrance. I don’t know what happened after that.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-52-smWhen the bus returned us to Koblenz after the tour of Marksburg, we had free time to enjoy the 2,000-year-old city. Once again, Mark and I opted for a liquid refreshment before we started wandering. It’s really hard to resist all the outdoor cafes.

 

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-54-smOriginally an outpost of the Roman Empire, Koblenz became a city in the 13th century. It was a safe haven for French refugees during the French Revolution. I really like this architectural feature of building an alcove, or little bay-type area at the corner of a building. If you look closely, you will see that all four buildings at this intersection have this feature.

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You’re probably starting to think that all Mark and I did on this trip was eat and drink. But I say, how can you truly appreciate a city, location, or culture without sampling their food and drink? We stopped here in the town square to sample gelato, or some kind of fancy banana ice cream dessert. Truly authentic I’m sure.

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Koblenz is located at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. There is a nice riverside walk that Mark and I took advantage of on our way back to the Viking Tor which was docked just around the corner where the Moselle River spills into the Rhine.

 

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We made it back to our boat before the late afternoon briefing by our program director, cocktail hour, and dinner, ending what was my favorite day on the cruise.

 

Next up – The Cologne cathedral

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.


Cruising the Rhine to Rudesheim – Viking river cruise Day 4 afternoon

Cruising-2014-05-27-1After 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.

Cruising-2014-05-27-2We had been given the option to extend our stay in Heidelberg for a few hours and then take a two-hour bus ride to meet the Tor in Rudesheim. Mark and I opted for the boat ride.

Cruising-2014-05-27-3During 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. Cruising-2014-05-27-5We also had the opportunity to see a presentation on Rudesheimer Kaffee made with coffee, brandy, sugar, whipped cream and dark chocolate.

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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.

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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).

Cruising-2014-05-27-34Shortly 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.

Cruising-2014-05-27-32Mark 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

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.


On the heights of Heidelberg – Viking River Cruise Day 4 (morning)

We arrived in Worms, Germany at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday to take an excursion to Heidelberg, one of Germany’s oldest cities.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _38Our main destination was the castle Schloss that overlooks the old town or Altstadt.

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Fortunately, for me and my arthritic joints, the Viking tour bus drove us to the top of the hill.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _02Heidelberg castle was abandoned over 300 years ago and is partly, maybe even largely, in ruins. It was the residence of the Palatinate monarchy.

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While we stood and enjoyed a panoramic view of the Altstadt and Neckar Valley from the castle grounds,

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _06our 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.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27-_06aThe Heidelberg Schloss is surrounded by a moat that was used as a hunting grounds for guests. Animals would be brought in and  basically slaughtered. Not such a great sporting event if you ask me.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _14This 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.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _15We walked through the arched entryway. I suspect in days gone by, this arch was equipped with a heavy door of some kind.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _17Through the arch, the courtyard is enclosed by beautiful buildings that comprised the vast residential complex that was built and repeatedly extended from 13th to 17th centuries.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _21 Like most of the sites we toured, Heidelberg also had a nice crowd of people. You can see Mark in the foreground. I think he may be snapping a photo of the architecture

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _26which was varied, interesting, and quite beautiful.

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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.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _25And 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.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _20This may have been the newest section of the castle, although don’t quote me on that. You can’t see very clearly from here, but the wall is very ornate with lots of sculptures.

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Here’s a close-up view.

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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.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _41Heidelberg is the home to Germany’s first university that was established in 1386.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _48Today 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.

DSC_0189So we decided to take the advice of our tour guide who recommended this coffee shop

DSC_0192and used our short time in Heidelberg enjoying a sweet treat with coffee and hot tea.

 

Next up: Tuesday, afternoon – Cruising up the Rhine to Rudesheim

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.


Stopping by Strasbourg

 

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Sunrise over Germany

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.

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Viking Tor at the dock in Kehl, Germany – May 26, 2014.

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.

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Stork nests in Strasbourg.

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.

04-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25The storks return to Alsace each year to nest and have done so for many centuries. They are a large presence in Alsatian folklore.

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The Palais de l’Europe built in 1975, and the flags of all the countries belonging to the Council of Europe.

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.

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View from the bus. This might be the Human Rights building located near the Palais de l’Europe in the European Quarter.

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.

08-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25It 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.

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Our French tour guide in Strasbourg.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

 

30-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25Canal 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.

 

15-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25We 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.

16-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25You can see a very old lock, still in use with modern renovations (hydraulic arms perhaps?).

17-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25The canal water had a lot of power at this point, which I apparently did not capture very well.  I think it is interesting how the buildings are built right up to the canal.

18-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25If I recall correctly, we traveled across a series of walkways over the canal and into Petite France.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Still enroute to the cathedral we passed through narrow streets that reminded me of the medieval towns we visited in Italy.

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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.

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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.

28-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25We entered the cathedral just in time to witness the famous astronomical clock‘s automated figures parade before Christ.

29-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25I 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

35-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25We found our way back to the cathedral,

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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

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 

 


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