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Cruising down the Rhine

Posted: March 16th, 2018 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Travel | No Comments

Seven days, 10 cities from Amsterdam to Basel with Viking Rivers Cruises

By Ron Stern

Viking Longships are floating luxury hotels offering all the amenities and service of a five-star resort. Our seven-day itinerary on the Viking Longship Vidar traversed four countries from Netherlands to Switzerland and featured the cities of Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Speyer, Strasbourg, Breisach and Basel.

Day 1: Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you decide to extend your stay, the Doubletree by Hilton is perfectly situated close to the Amsterdam Centraal station for train and tram service. From here, you can explore the Museum Quarter, Anne Frank House, shopping areas, restaurants and pubs as well as 100 kilometers of interconnected canals.

The town of Strasbourg (Photo by Ron Stern)

The Iamsterdam City Card provides access to many museums and transportation as well as discounts on food and other services. Don’t miss the free canal cruise.

Our Veranda Stateroom was surprisingly spacious (205 square feet), bright and modern with two beds, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors opening to a veranda, and many amenities.

We were greeted by two staff members, who already knew our names, at the pre-sailing lunch on Aquavit Terrace. This is one of the great things about Viking — the service! The Vidar has a maximum capacity of 190 passengers, which evokes an intimate river-cruising experience. The international crew members really go out of their way to make you feel at home, doing their best to satisfy any request.

The adjacent bar lounge is an open and comfortable space. Beer, wine and soft drinks are complimentary during meals. However, guests can choose to add on a Silver Spirits Package ($150 per person for a seven-night cruise).

The Vidar also has a library, internet-connected computers, coffee and tea stations, and an onboard concierge service. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the ship’s restaurant, although you can opt for a bar-style menu in the Aquavit Terrace.

Guests can choose from a daily selection of entrees or pick something off the menu that’s always available.

Day 2: Kinderdijk, Netherlands

After sailing through the night, our ship docked briefly at Rotterdam and then sailed onto Kinderdijk.

The windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands (Photo by Ron Stern)

This small village in south Holland, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, features 19 windmills dating from the 18th century. Optional tours also included a visit to a Dutch cheese factory.

Day 3: Cologne, Germany

With a history dating back 2,000 years to the Romans, Cologne is one of Germany’s four cities along the banks of the Rhine River. After being bombed heavily by the allies in World War II, the city has been rebuilt with a mixture of various types of architecture.

Don’t miss a UNESCO World Heritage Site that escaped destruction during World War II, the 1880 Kölner Dom, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.

Other sites include the Hohe Strasse — or pedestrian zone with shopping, restaurants and boutiques as well as the chocolate museum, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, and House of 4711 perfumery.

Day 4: Koblenz and Rüedesheim, Germany

Our ship gently slid into dock in the 2,000-year-old city of Koblenz right at the famous German Corner, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.

Not to be missed is the cable car excursion to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. From there are sweeping views of Koblenz and both rivers.

The city of Koblenz, Germany (Photo by Ron Stern)

From a large city to a small town, Rüedesheim is cozy, charming and picturesque. Located in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the area is known for its vineyards. There are also many excellent and scenic hiking trails that overlook the Rhine, ancient castles, and some of the finest Riesling and pinot noir wines in the region. Plan on stopping at Bruer’s Rüdesheimer Schloss for dinner.

Day 5: Heidelberg and Speyer, Germany

Heidelberg, located south of Frankfurt, is our next stop. Old and modern might be a good way to describe Heidelberg, and they are both integrated into the town’s infrastructure. Pedestrian paths with cobblestone streets line the main shopping areas with church steeples and a towering city gate still majestically guarding the entrance to the town.

The 12th-century Heidelberg Castle is a great place to view the entire town. The castle was destroyed in earlier days, but the ruins are well preserved. A tour bus and local guide escorted us to the most interesting parts of the fortress, including the world’s largest wine cask, which was apparently enough to keep 5,000 guests and castle dwellers in, shall we say, good spirits.

Other sights that should be on your must-see list include the Old Bridge spanning the Neckar River as well as the Student Prison.

The Vidar moved down the Rhine to Speyer where we met up with her via our bus. About a 30-minute walk from the river will take you to this town and its most impressive landmark, the Imperial Cathedral (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the final resting place of eight emperors from the Holy Roman Empire.

Other noteworthy areas of town to explore include the Jewish quarter, German baths that date from 1126, and a modern Automobile and Technology Museum.

Day 6 : Strasbourg, France

Truly an international city, Strasbourg was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity Site and is an amazing place to visit. The pièce de résistance is the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg.

Day 7: Breisach, Germany

This small German town is the docking point for a foray into the Black Forest, which lies to the east across the Rhine.

Viking offers a couple of excursions including an optional World War II tour to revisit historic battles fought here. We opted for the combination visit to the Black Forest and the medieval town of Colmar.

Sometimes called Little Venice, Colmar is picture perfect with lovely pastel-colored half-timbered houses, Gothic churches and canals intersecting the cobbled lanes. The Black Forest — or Schwarzwald (Black Woods, as it is known in Germany) — is somewhat of a misnomer since the entire area is a rich green tapestry. We visited a cuckoo clock factory, sampled authentic Black Forest ham, and learned how they make their famous Black Forest cake.

Day 8: Basel, Switzerland

This is the final stop along Viking’s Rhine Getaway and the disembarkation point. You can choose to extend your trip here or go to another wonderful city — Lucerne, Switzerland.

One of the things that is very impressive about Viking is the organization. From the tour buses to local guides to the program director — ours was Nicole and she was fantastic — everything has been perfected down to a science. You will know when to get ready and leave, what to bring, and how you will be fed throughout the day.

The service is also impeccable. Every crew member is trained to put the needs of the guests first and it shows. I badly sprained my ankle at the beginning of my trip and couldn’t find a suitable bandage to wrap it. Once the staff saw me limping, they scoured the local town and delivered just what I needed to my room — with a smile, of course!

— Contact Ron Stern at travelwriter01@comcast.net or visit his blog at globalgumshoe.com. This was a sponsored visit; however, all opinions herein are the author’s.

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