Kathi Madison is from our DePere office and just recently had the opportunity to travel on a Viking River Cruise through Europe. Kathi is excited to share her experience on the river cruise and the amazing sites she was able to see!
We flew out of Chicago on April 1st on Lufthansa (operated by United). The non-stop flight to Amsterdam was about 8 ½ hours. We had an hour delay due to windy conditions in the windy city! We arrived in Amsterdam and proceeded to the train for our transfer to city center (4.90 euro per person). A friendly young man was sitting across from us and heard us talking about being able to hear the conductor tell us when our stop was coming up. He was so nice and said he was getting off at the same stop and he would show us from the train to the tram (2.80 euro per person) to take us to Rembrandt Square. When we got off the tram, I asked a local artist working on the square where our hotel was and we were a block away! We stayed at the Hampshire Rembrandt Square.
It was in such a great location for walking or catching the tram to many of the attractions. Since we arrived early, they checked us in and told us our rooms would be ready at 3pm. The concierge was so helpful in guiding us to a canal cruise close by. We walked a few blocks down and had lunch at a corner pub across the street from the tour. The hour cruise was $10 euro a person, and very relaxing. I was amazed at the number of canals winding through the city. We were so lucky to have great weather. After the cruise we walked back to our hotel and rested a bit until venturing out to try to get into the Anne Frank House. Again the concierge gave us good advice to go at about 6pm and stand in line. He tried for tickets online and it showed all tickets sold out. When we got there we found only 10 people in front of us. We got in at a cost of 18 euro per person. It was such an emotional tour. They went through so much in a two year period of hiding from the German Nazi’s. After the tour we walked back to the hotel and went to bed after a very long day!
The next morning we decided to go to the Keukenhof Gardens. OMG…….the flowers were in full bloom!! The weather was about 70 degrees with beautiful sunshine. Again our concierge arranged for a taxi to take us to the gardens so we didn’t have to waste the time going back to the airport and taking the bus to the gardens. The cost of admission was 15 euro per person. We stayed there 3 hours walking around the 60 acre garden. They had fields filled with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. I wish I could have bottled the fragrance of the hyacinths!! We made arrangements with the same taxi driver to pick us up and we asked him to drop us off at the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. The tour was 18 euro per person, and was really cool. They walked you through the process of brewing and then they had you become the beer!! You stood on a platform which rocked you, sprayed you with water, and also blasted you with air showing the different stages of the brewing process. After all that they gave us free beer to sample. We then started walking to the Heineken Brand Store for our “free gift”! We were getting hungry so we found a little pizzeria on the way with an outdoor eating area. We continued on our mission for our free gift. Low and behold the store was located right next to our hotel!! The free gift was a little 8 oz. glass to pack in our luggage for the rest of the journey.
The next morning we got up and walked to a restaurant in Rembrandt Square for breakfast before heading to the Flower Market 4 blocks from our hotel. I couldn’t believe all the different kind of bulbs you could buy to bring home. They even had cannabis starter sets for 6 euros. I would have loved to bring one home, but I thought for sure I would have been thrown into jail! We headed back to the hotel to take a taxi to our ship; the Viking Ingvi which was 12.50 euros for all four of us. We checked in about 12:30pm and went to the lounge for a light lunch. We got into our room about 2:00pm and unpacked quick and headed out with a guide for a walking tour of a different part of the city we missed……the red light district! Well let me tell you, it was an eye opening experience for us. They have a whole different way of life. Our guide did also tell us about other historical things along the way! We got back to the Ingvi to get ready for our first night of delicious food and drinks! Our ship set sail for Kinderdijk at 11:30pm.
We arrived at 8:00am. Our included walking tour to the Kinderdijk Windmills started at 9:15am and went for two hours. Granted World Heritage Site status in 1997, the windmills of Kinderdijk are used to pump water from the polders using internal or external scoops into reservoirs, on two levels. At one time there were more than 150 in the Alblasserwaard and Vijfheerenlanden areas. Today the total is only 28, of which 16 are in the Kinderdijk area. It was so interesting learning the whole process. We walked back to the ship to set sail for Cologne Germany at noon. Our program director Lutz had a presentation after lunch on Dutch cheeses and jenever, which is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved. Tonight we had our Captain’s welcome dinner. After dinner our on board musician George was in the lounge for dancing and having a bedtime cocktail!
The next day we sailed along the beautiful Rhine arriving in Cologne at noon. The weather again was to die for. Our included walking tour started at 1:00pm. We visited the Kolner Dom, known locally as The Dom, Germany’s largest cathedral, the Fragrance Museum, Farina House, which is the birthplace of Eau de Cologne, we learned about the locally made beer Kolsch, and we had free time to explore the Museum Ludwig which has the largest collection of works by Pablo Picasso. After the tour we walked back to our ship with a stop at the Schokoladen Museum, a shrine to the art of chocolate-making located a short walk from our ship. After dinner we walked back into town to try some of the local beers! We sailed for Koblenz at 11:00pm.
We arrived in Koblenz at 8:00am. Our included bus tour took us to the 700 year old hilltop fortress of the Marksburg Castle. It sits atop a steep, isolated hill on a bend in the river. In the past, formidable terrain so discouraged enemies that the castle was never attacked during the countless wars that raged around it through the centuries. The Ingvi picked us up in Braubach, and then we enjoyed the scenic cruising along the romantic Middle Rhine with commentary by our Program Director Lutz. This river valley with precipitous cliffs, has a castle perched on virtually every hilltop, and has quaint villages lining the river banks. Myths and legends abound in this area, such as the story of the Lorelei, the beautiful siren on the rocks that lured sailors to their doom. Our next port along the river was Rudesheim. We opted to do an optional excursion to dine at the Rudesheimer Schloss. We boarded a mini-train that took us into town. We strolled the 15th century Drosselgasse, a pedestrian street originally built so boat owners could easily deliver imported items to residents. Our full-course German dinner included live musical entertainment, food delivered by local farms and wineries, and local schnapps after the meal. When we returned, our sister ship Gullveig was docked next to us. A local German glassblower was doing a demonstration on board. We had plenty of time to browse and buy beautiful glass vases, jewelry, and Christmas ornaments! Our ship sailed at midnight heading to Mannheim.
We arrived in Mannheim at 9:30am and we boarded buses to take us to Heidelberg to visit the castle, do a walking tour, and have some free time to walk in the city. Then we boarded our buses which brought us to the town of Speyer to catch up with the ship. We got a quick snack, before venturing out with Lutz for a leisurely walk to Speyer. We visited a Romanesque cathedral which was unscathed by WW II, and then had free time to explore the town or walk back to the ship. The dinner theme tonight was A Taste of Germany. We had lots of good German food along with really good Riesling wines!! We sailed for Kehl/Strasbourg during dinner.
We arrived in Kehl Germany at 8:00am, and then we boarded buses to take us across the river to Strasbourg, France. We did a walking tour through old town and headed to the jaw-dropping spectacle that is the Strasbourg Cathedral. This immense Gothic mixture of filigree stonework and lacy spires, leering gargoyles and flying buttresses is situated at the center of the city. It took over 600 years to construct the building. A fascinating blend of both French and German influences, of traditional past and progressive present, is revealed in Strasbourg’s charming architecture, magnificent art and renowned cuisine. We had free time to go to a museum, shop, or enjoy a fresh made crepe! After a wonderful day of enjoying time in France, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with a French flavor. We then went to the lounge for a French Chansons evening entertainment by Cecile. The ship set sail for Breisach at 10:30pm.
We arrived in Breisach Germany at 8:00am. Our excursion this morning took us on a bus up to the Black Forest (which is really not black!). In Germany it is known as Schwarzwald meaning “black woods”. The scenic drive took us through mountain landscape, rolling meadows and dense forests. We stopped to tour a church along the way, before arriving at the Black Forest where cuckoo clocks are made. We watched a demonstration of how the clocks were created. It wasn’t until 1738, however, that the first cuckoo clock emerged for the forest region, attributed to a local clock-maker called Anton Ketterer who had no doubt taken inspiration from the European “artist clocks” that featured moving figures and ornate decorations and carvings. To make the “coo-coo” sound he used twin bellows to send air through small pipes, like a miniature pipe organ, and an icon was born. We also shared a piece of the world famous Black Forest gateau cake. It was to die for! It was such a beautiful day up in the mountains. We returned for lunch on the ship, and then headed out for an option tour of the medieval city of Colmar, which is a quaint Alsatian town back in France with its 13th century Gothic churches. The bus brought us to meet up with our ship in Kembs. Tonight we joined Captain Thoms Schlee for a farewell toast to celebrate our Viking journey, saying goodbye to new friends and memories made. We arrived in Basel, Switzerland at 9:00pm to dock for our last night on board.
Viking was very organized with the departure times for the following morning. They gave us colored luggage tags, and had us put our checked bags by our door one hour before departing. I thought they did an excellent job from start to finish. I can say that Viking is a very good value. Both my husband and I enjoyed the Danube better than the Rhine River. We found the Danube to be much more scenic where the Rhine is very industrial and the major water way from the North Sea. Contact Kathi to plan your next river cruise!