The Viking Rhine River Cruise
We Corinthians are never still. Loading our boats we cruise the Florida coasts–North to South, East to West–island hopping in between. But this time we flew over an ocean to our destination, Basil, Switzerland, and the starting point of our Viking River Cruise.
Twelve couples arrived just in time for a buffet lunch on board the Kvasir. We stowed our baggage and hoped we had packed the right clothes for the predicted temperatures. But, alas, the fickle weather turned warm and some of us had to buy extra shorts or repurpose the bathroom sink into a washing machine.
As we snaked our way along the Rhine River, we glided by the medieval towns dotting the banks passing through parts of four countries in one week: Switzerland, Germany, France, and The Netherlands. Our first docking was in Breisach, Germany where we traveled by bus into the Black Forest. And the forest isn’t black, but covered with evergreens where the fairy tales of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood were born. We learned how cuckoo clocks are made and watched demonstrations on baking a Black Forest Cake–samples passed around. Some took the World War II tour visiting the sites and museum in Colmar.
Arriving early the next morning in Strasbourg, we piled into buses for different destinations of a city tour, wine tasting and winery tour, and the Mercedes Factory. Needless to say, the factory excursion was quite popular with the men offering a unique and fascinating opportunity to witness state of the art automobile manufacturing. It was the highlight of the cruise for many.
Germany is famous for its castles and our next stop was Worms and a tour of the Heidelberg Castle, a lovely ruin surrounded by green woods, sitting high above the city seeming to float among the clouds. It was abandoned over 300 years ago and still houses the world’s largest wine barrel made from 130 oak trees once holding 50,000 gallons of wine. While we were at the castle, the Kvasir cast off to pick up the group at Mainz. Then, after lunch, moved again to Rudesheim where we finally roosted for the night. Many of us boarded a mini-train for dinner and entertainment at the Rudesheim Schloss located on the Drosselgasse. The energy of the oom-pah-pah band encouraged some of our group to throw inhibitions aside and simultaneously down shots of schnapps without spilling a drop. After this rowdy dinner we returned to the ship in time for a glassblowing demonstration. The fun never stopped!
At the junction of the Rhine and Mosel, lies Koblenz, another (surprise!) Roman settlement. We wasted no time piling on the buses again for a visit to the Marksburg Castle, headquarters of the German Castle Association which protects and preserves castles and stately homes. Walking through the gates and over the drawbridge of this 700 year old structure, we realized this was a castle of fortification and protection, not a princely palace. We visited the bed chamber, kitchen, wine cellar, and the armory featuring over 2000 years of weaponry and amour. The requisite torture chamber and privy drew the most interest. The privy contained an outhouse type of seat and hung from the side of the castle wall over the grounds. It also posed a threat to the safety of the inhabitants with sneaky alien soldiers able to climb up through the hole into the castle. To thwart this maneuver the privy door was always bolted shut from the outside. The guide also told us that, when in use, the door was left open so the occupant inside wouldn’t miss any of the dinner conversation.
The Romans established a major settlement in Cologne and their stamp is everywhere. Some visited the Roman Germanic Museum where the centerpiece of its collection is the 220 AD Dionysus Mosiac, a floor in amazing condition discovered in 1941 by workers building an air raid shelter. Great treasures are often discovered with the turn of a shovel. Of course the greatest treasure is the Cologne Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece taking six centuries to build. The massive interior, capably seating 20,000 worshippers, was illuminated with candles and streams of light filtering through the stained glass windows. It is a World Heritage Site and houses the shrine of the three wise men. Outside, flanking the cathedral is a large work pit where the stone masons are kept busy with continual repairs and renovations.
Another treasure was the discovery of the world’s oldest fragrance company. Over 300 years ago, Italian perfumer, John Maria Farina, created the first modern perfume which reminded him of an Italian spring morning after the rain. The shop was adorable and bustling with shoppers. There was a list of previous buyers including Queen Victoria, Voltaire, Mozart, Napoleon, Mark Twain, Princess Diana, and Bill Clinton. With those recommendations, we knew we had to buy a few bottles.
Our last port of call before disembarking in Amsterdam was Kinderdijk, land of the windmills. The day was full with tours of the windmills, an excursion to a Dutch cheese maker, and a Dutch Masters presentation in the ship’s lounge–with a farewell dinner to top it all off. From the ship we could see the flat landscape dotted with these “ground sailors” lined up along the canals. They’re still used to pump the contained water, held in by dykes, into the reservoirs. Built from brick, their large slow turning sails come within one foot off the ground, a testament to Dutch ingenuity.
All too soon we arrived in Amsterdam and the rush to collect baggage and a mad dash to airports or other destinations. We came away with “camaraderie” on our lips–surely that was the best thing about our cruise–the strengthening of friendships and bonds. We had a lot of laughs, many toasts with glasses filled with fine regional wines, and a few blisters on our feet. We talked excitedly about where our next adventure might be–the Royal Clipper in the Med or maybe Cuba. But we’re a travelin’ bunch with itchy feet. I know it won’t be long till those feet begin to itch again telling us it’s time to get movin’. There is no doubt we will.