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  • Barbara Baumgartner

Adventures on a Viking Rhine River Cruise



As luck would have it my friend Starr Wlodarski is a travel advisor. When she invited me to take this trip, I was so excited that I barely thought of anything for months.


One thing I knew is that I had no clue how it all worked, what were the details that needed to be attended to, how much did it cost, what did I need to take, how would we get from airport to hotel to ship??????


Good grief! Let’s just say my naiveté was breath taking!!!!


My concerns were all set aside when Starr sat me down with the Viking pre-cruise materials and walked me through all of the questions I had.


One major thing we did, and something Starr always encourages her clients to do, is leave the day before when traveling internationally. Our flight left at 6:00pm EST and arrived in France at 8:00am local time. We got off that flight, got on a flight to Zurich Switzerland and arrived at 10:00am local time. A driver was at the airport to take us to our hotel in Zurich. Once checked in we walked the city, bumped into a huge parade celebrating spring, shopped and went back to the hotel going to bed at a normal bedtime. Ta-da, no problem with exhaustion. (note; when we got on the ship we saw the evidence of why Starr believes her formula works, travelers who had arrived on the day of the cruise, their rooms not yet ready, were sleeping on the deck on lounge chairs.


All the while Starr and I had taken a direct morning train from Zurich to Basel, had our luggage attended to by Dominque, the cruise director, and were off on a walking tour of Basel rested and oriented to the local time.

[SW1] Starr- I always recommend flying in early for any cruise. Good thing as Air France picked our sail date as one of their strike dates in April, so we did sail later waiting for a few people connecting via Paris. Showing up in a taxi from the train station did surprise Dominque, as I think she assumes most passengers do one of their pre cruise trips or flies in day of cruise and take the Viking transfer from the airport.


The Breisach, Germany and the Black Forest was our next adventure. Off on a motor coach with a local guide, we went on a forest stroll (well it was uphill and rocky so wear your walking shoes!) and the guide stopped part way up but said anyone who wished could continue on up to the waterfall. Of course we were up for the challenge!


We went on up and were rewarded with a spectacular waterfall on a warm sunny day surrounded by trees, birds and the other shipmates who took the challenge with us. We chatted; we stopped to take in the fresh air and beauty of the Black Forest and the sound of the cascading waterfall. That same day Starr and I had chosen to do an additional tour, The Colmar Pocket World War II Museum and Memorial. Our Guide, from New Zealand, was a fantastic and passionate story teller. American and French troops pushed back the Nazi troops from this key region. The most fascinating was the account of Audie Murphy, a young American soldier, who held off German soldiers alone from a tank that he was unable to move. Murphy fired the gun and communicated with his superiors asking for reinforcements. At one point they asked Murphy how close the Germans were. Murphy replied would you like me to put one on? The movie to Hell & Back, starring Audie Murphy, was made after the war portraying this battle.


Strasbourg, France a beautiful city to stroll and have our guide pointing out the history, in particular the Strasbourg Cathedral. A gothic cathedral with spires reaching 465 feet, the tallest medieval building in Europe. Truly remarkable sight.


A Wine tasting and tour in Alsace, with a fourteenth-generation wine maker who was passionate about his wine. An education in appreciation for the wine, the soil the grapes are grown in, and the nuances of aging wine. Starr and I each bought some to bring home! Will crack open sometime soon and bring back that warm sunny day in a courtyard in Alsace with the winery’s old blind Golden Retriever at my feet. One of the most enjoyable days ever!


Starr-The additional excursions we did made the trip, we were on the go a lot. This is one of the differences between river cruising and what most people think of cruising. You do a lot of walking, even if we just took off on our own to explore, we were pushing 20,000 steps per day.


Off to Heidelberg, so beautiful that American forces avoided bombing it. We strolled along with our guide, stopped in shops, and enjoyed another beautiful sunny warm day. Home of Germany’s most romantic castle, built in the 13th century above a medieval town which was the center of the German Romantic movement.


Starr-Well Louis XIV beat the WWII Allies to destroying Heidelberg Castle. Our guide was excellent, and I totally forgot this castle ties to the Thirty Years War and the British Royal Family.


By the way, one tip that Starr had, well it wasn’t so much a tip as it was her idea that I have stolen, was buy magnets! They’re beautiful, inexpensive and make a great collage on a door or on the refrigerator.


Rudesheim, Germany exploring the cobblestone streets taking in the city on our own. The next morning, the ship departed for the highlight of any Rhine cruise, the Rhine Gorge that starts in Rudesheim and ends at Koblenz. We were taken back in time to Marksburg Castle. Built in the 13th Century, it remains in original condition and is the only castle in the Rhine Valley to have never been destroyed. Seated on a 550’ foot perch, it is today home of the German Castles Association, which works to preserve medieval fortifications all over Germany.


Starr-Having been on this part of the Rhine a lot, all I can say is you really need to be up on the top deck and not sitting on your balcony. Castles are on both sides of the river! Really not that many people were up top for what is the main reason for sailing on this river.


On to Cologne, Germany. Old and new combined in a charming mix of ancient ruins, a 14th Century Cathedral (Northern Europe’s oldest) and shops, restaurants, and pedestrian plazas. A walking tour with a guide pointing out the hidden gems found everywhere. Of course we went to Farina, the originators of cologne (1709) and bought a bottle of the original cologne in Cologne.


Starr- The Jewish Quarter Museum here is going to be amazing, they found houses from the 13th/14th century while excavating and are going to incorporate into the museum.


Cruising into the Netherlands, beautiful panoramas seen from the ship, windmills, farm homes, cows grazing, out on the deck, chatting with friends made on the trip, taking pictures and watching the world go by.


When we docked in Kinderdijk, Netherlands the much-anticipated optional tour to a cheese maker was next! The cheese farm, run by a charming young woman who had lived her entire life on the property, was wonderful. Her parents and grandparents making the famous Gouda and also a goat cheese for many years. The rounds of Gouda each weigh 25 pounds. And they were delicious!


On to the windmills, the signature Dutch symbol. All operating and housing a family who keep the mechanics of the windmill in working order. The Dutch have learned to survive and thrive in a below sea level elevation. Their skill at managing their land is remarkable.


Our voyage comes to an end in Amsterdam, charming elegant and super busy! Starr in her wisdom had a hotel room in Amsterdam where we stayed the night, had a chance to unwind, ate at an Indonesian restaurant, strolled the streets and got a good night’s sleep before flying home. Believe it or not no significant jet lag.


We met some fantastic people on the ship. One group we ate with most often, all exchanged email addresses and have been in touch since.


Bring your walking shoes, a good attitude and an adventurous spirit. We spent minimal time in our rooms (leave the book you’re reading home) pack light (no formal night) leave your worries at home. Immerse yourself in the history of Europe. Most importantly call Starr to book your trip!


Starr-We really lucked out with the weather in mid-April, 70-80 degrees. I was very impressed with Viking, the staff, food, excursions and the ship. The maître de arranged for a birthday cake for Barb, the desk staff made sure we didn’t miss an excursion, too busy chatting with one of our new friends. Last night we danced with the captain and the head chef. Is a Viking River Cruise right for you, let’s talk.

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