Day 145: From Switzerland to the North Sea with Viking River Cruises

Day 145 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent recalling our time on board the Viking Lofn. For the past few days I’ve been reviewing my previous Viking voyages in an effort to share the good news and to prepare myself for my upcoming British Isles Explorer ocean voyage next week. Come along as we travel back in time to May 13, 2016, the day we embarked on Viking’s Switzerland to the North Sea journey.

We flew from Orlando to Amsterdam with Lufthansa. Their premium economy was a treat and we were able to easily and rather inexpensively upgrade from the basic economy seats that were included with our Viking cruise fare. Viking collected us, and some fellow guests, at the airport and transported us to the ship, the Viking Lofn, where we were warmly greeted by staff before being escorted to our standard cabin (112). The ship was very similar to the Viking Lif which we had traveled on previously. The shipped was docked in a location (Ruijterkade Oost) that was an easy walk to the heart of Amsterdam, making it simple to hop on and off to explore the city. On that first day and night we roamed through the winding streets of Amsterdam taking in its unique energy. We toured the Anne Frank house and museum with the tickets I had purchased online well in advance of our visit (thankfully). It really is a place unlike any other, the infamous red light district notwithstanding!

We stayed docked in Amsterdam for our second day of the voyage and joined the Amsterdam Canal Cruise and Walking Tour with our fellow passengers. Bikes and boats are most definitely the preferred means of transportation in Amsterdam, adding to its allure. We, like many of our fellow passengers, skipped dinner on board again to enjoy our final night in Amsterdam. With so much to see and do just steps from the ship, we were back on board just shy of the 11:30pm sail away.

On day three of the itinerary we arrived in Dordrecht, Netherlands. After a full breakfast in the restaurant (oh, the sautéed mushrooms…) we skipped the Kinderdijk Windmills Tour to wander through the town. We were still able to get our fill of the majesty of the windmills while exploring the quaint village. There was a lovely park with roaming deer and several cute shops and pubs rife with dutch flair. The ship sailed for Zons at noon, so the remainder of the day was spent on board where the staff went out of their way to keep everyone full and entertained with cocktails, trivia games, language lessons and Appelflappen cooking demonstrations. The dinner served as a “welcome aboard” celebration, focusing on regional favorites.

We arrived in Zons on day five of our journey. Our time in Zons was short and we didn’t really see much of the area. We, along with most other passengers, boarded a bus in Zons headed for Cologne, Germany. As soon as the bus left, the ship sailed for Cologne as well. Cologne is a remarkable city and the tour highlighted its historical, architectural and cultural nuances on foot. After the tour, most passengers headed back to the ship after the tour to sail for Wesseling. We decided to spend some additional time in Cologne before our optional Cologne Beer Culture Tour. This evening tour was a delight as we walked the streets with a local beer aficionado, popping in to many of the famous breweries as we went. We met up with the ship in Wesseling at around 10pm, just in time to sail for Koblenz.

Tuesday, May 17 began in Koblenz, Germany and ended in Rüdesheim. After another full breakfast (more of those amazing mushrooms) we joined the included Marksburg Castle excursion. The tour of the well-preserved castle was long, but very fascinating and we were glad we did it. While we were on the tour, the ship was heading for Braubach which served as a meeting point for all passengers who had taken excursions. We jumped on the ship in Braubach at noon and sailed for Rüdesheim, arriving at 5pm. We spent the evening at an historic pub in the small German town before reboarding at midnight to head for Mannheim.

At the one week mark on our journey we awoke in Mannheim which basically served as a gathering point for the included Heidelberg excursion. Heidelberg is one of the larger cities in the area and still has the distinct feel of a college town. The lengthy tour included the university, the castle and the old town areas. After Heidelberg, we opted to join another group headed for Speyer which is a cool town with great outdoor cafes and lots of shopping. We met the ship in Germersheim in the evening, just in time for a very German dinner in the restaurant.

The eighth day of the voyage took us to amazing Strasbourg, France via Kehl, Germany. Strasbourg was probably my favorite destination on this voyage. It is a bustling historic city that is unique in that it is very French and very German at the same time. The food and wine in this region (Alsace) are incredible, unlike anything else in the world. Once again, we chose to explore Strasbourg for as long as possible, boarding the ship shortly before it sailed for Breisach, Germany.

Day nine of the voyage was spent in the fabled Black Forest of Germany. We hopped on a bus shortly after breakfast and wound our way through the mountains of the forest. The bus stopped along the way for a few photo opportunities, eventually parking in a touristy spot rife with Black Forest Cake and Cuckoo Clocks. This tour was a lot of riding and very little exploring, which was a bot of a struggle for those who like wandering. The bus brought us back to the ship in the evening for dinner and a team trivia challenge. We sailed for Basel, Switzerland, our final destination, at 10pm.

We were docked in Basel, Switzerland for two days, the first of which was spent on an included city tour. This included a lot of walking and a tram ride which allowed for a 360 degree view of the bustling city. The food market in Basel was remarkable and should not be missed! Other favorites included upscale shopping and some of the most delightful chocolatiers in the world. The ship provided shuttle service to and from the ship well into the evening, so we stayed in Basel for dinner and drinks as a sort of last hurrah.

We awoke early for our transfer to the airport where, once again, the Viking staff went out of their way to ensure that we were taken care of. Overall, this was a fabulous trip and itinerary. There was a lot of daytime cruising on this voyage which was a first for us. The Rhine is so scenic and the attentive staff narrated the many sights we were passing along the way. We marveled at the fact that we sailed by Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, Lahneck Castle, Katz Castle, Schönberg Castle, Gutenfels Castle, Sooneck Castle, Reichenstein Castle, Rheinstein Castle and Klopp Castle on May 17th alone! The food on this voyage was very good, but sausage-heavy in keeping with the regional tradition. The regional included wines were awesome. This itinerary seems to have been abandoned by Viking and I’m not really sure why as we truly loved it and would highly recommend it to those who like a lot of activity jammed into one voyage.

Day 129: Tipsy Travel

On day 129 of the Nowhere To be Project we scheduled a tour of the original Jameson Whiskey Distillery in Dublin. We’ll be visiting Ireland in a few weeks and knew that it was an essential excursion. No matter where we are in the world, one of our favorite things to do is to seek out the local vintages, brews and spirits. We usually prefer to do it in local pubs because they usually provide an intimate connection to the culture of a place, but visiting distilleries, microbrews and vineyards offers unique opportunities for connecting more deeply with the libations of a locale as well. Some of our favorite tastes along the way have been the wines of France, the vodka of Russia, the Kölsch in Cologne, Germany Related Blog Post and the gluhwein of the European Christmas markets. We’re currently abstaining from alcohol as a sort of cleanse for the liver before the storm that will undoubtedly ensue on our upcoming British Isles Explorer voyage on the Viking Sky. If traveling tipsy is wrong, we certainly don’t want to be right.

Forget #lemonade and grab a Kölsch

I arrived in the charming medieval town of Zons, Germany on a cloudy and cool Monday morning in May. Unfortunately, I barely blinked and this picturesque enclave evaporated as I hopped a lift to Cologne mere moments after stepping foot in Zons. From what little I saw, it warrants a return visit.

Image of Cologne's cathedral
The Beacon of Cologne
Image of Cologne cathedral
Night falls on Cologne cathedral

The fragrance (Eau de Cologne) that Giovanni Farina concocted in the city of Cologne in 1709 is known the world over but is, in my opinion, remarkably upstaged by a cathedral which might be described as the beacon of Cologne. It dates back to the thirteenth century and literally sparkles above this city of scents. Studying the many nuances and hidden secrets of this behemoth could likely span eons, but I managed to get my fill in about an hour. This brevity was most certainly influenced by the aromas of local cuisine rife with sausage and potatoes. If I’m being honest though, the Kölsch will be my takeaway.

Image of Kölsch

Kölsch is a light-colored beer unique to Cologne. We were told by a local that there is actually a law prohibiting its production anywhere else in the world. He described it as a sort of commandment that governs the beverage. Kölsch is produced in brauhauses, each with their own special and truly unique version. Upon entering a brauhause, patrons are quickly greeted by a köbe who carries the small glasses known as stange in a circular contraption called a crown. The beer is served fast and cold with a shout of “PROST!” preceding the initial swig and the köbe frequently imbibes right along with you. Coasters placed atop the stange are used as a signal that one has had his or her fill. This doesn’t occur very often from what I could see.

Image of a street in Cologne
The streets of Cologne

We made it to four brauhauses in a span of a few hours. In that time, a great deal of Kölsch was savored in a very celebratory atmosphere. I say celebratory because each brauhause carried a vibe similar to one that might be experienced at a pep rally. My favorite beer of the varieties I swilled was Mühlen-Kölsch, a light and refreshing brew resembling spiked non-sweet lemonade. The carbonation in Kölsch seems low which, in my case, supported copious consumption. Here’s the thing, I am not really a beer worshipper. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but grapes almost always take precedence over hops in my glass. With that being said, the people who were with me on this self-imposed crawl know beer inside and out. We all agreed that Cologne is a place of merriment and satiety, mostly due to the magical elixir that calls this place home. PROST!

Image of Cologne statue
Prost! Cologne