For the past several years the holiday Scrooge had been visiting my house. There has been no smell of pine needles, cookies left for Santa or even a cup of eggnog.
The crotchety miser who invaded my home has been me.
I was not in the Christmas spirit, by a long shot. There was alway too much to do. Between writing a holiday gift giving post for this blog to planning a holiday feast to preparing the seasons bonuses for the employees at my restaurant there was no more jolly left, not even a Ho, Ho, Ho.
This year was going to be different, Viking River Cruises and my traveling friend Cacinda of Points and Travel invited me to cruise along the Rhine River to visit festive European cities and almost a dozen Christmas markets throughout Germany, France and the Netherlands. Plus, we’d have time to sneak one special market in before our embarkation in the town of Basel, Switzerland.
Instead of flying directly into Basel, I opted to land into Zurich, because frankly I never miss an opportunity to spend time in this Swiss city. With it’s friendly people, traditional gooey fondue and eclectic water fountains, it is easily one of my favorites, even when I don’t step out of the hotel. Plus, taking the train straight to Basel from the Zurich airport was an easy hour and forty-five minute ride and cost only 37 Swiss Francs with tickets purchased from the information desk in the arrivals area.
Upon arrival to the Basel train station, there were a couple of options to get to the Viking Tor ship that would be home for the next eight days, we could have taken a taxi which was estimated to cost about 40-50 Swiss Francs or, the cheaper route, a tram. We opted for number two, I’ll be saving all my money for drinking glühwein and eating schneeballens.
We took tram #8, which comes every few minutes, to the end of the line which was the Kleinhungen stop. There were three potential positions for the boat to be docked and we decided to try position (A) first which was about a fifteen minute walk from the tram stop. Wrong one. Then we walked about a mile to position (B). There was a Viking Cruise boat there, just not the right one. Damn. By process of elimination dock (C) must have been where our embarkation was going to take place. Looking the approximately half mile in that direction, we opted to call a taxi to take us there which cost 27 Swiss Francs.
In this case, we probably should have just taken a taxi from the train station in the first place saving ourselves sore backs and blistered feet. The smarter cruisers had actually called Viking River Cruises prior to heading out to get the letter of the proper dock. Genius. Lesson learned.
We arrived to the boat at eleven in the morning and our veranda stateroom was all ready for us. It was much roomier than the ones on any other cruise line I’ve been on; there were six dresser drawers, ample storage underneath each of the beds, bathroom shelving and a small closet. Also, the bed pillows were cushy, the cabinetry modern, there was a flat screen television against the wall and luxurious L’Occitane products at our disposable.
I don’t even buy pricey L’Occitane products for myself at home.
Most importantly, there was a bottle of champagne with two glasses waiting and a small veranda to sit on while drinking it. A fresh fruit platter was refreshed daily in the room, and there was a sweet treat each time to balance out all that healthy fruit.
photo credit Viking River Cruises
The Food & Dining
No matter what meal hour it was, there were always dining options on the Rhine River cruise. If you weren’t feeling particularly social or like having a full-on sit down meal at the restaurant, you could opt for lighter fare in the lounge. This mostly came in to use at breakfast time for me, since I am not a huge morning eater.
Just give me a cup of coffee and a croissant. Which they did.
When I did feel like the full dining experience, which was most evenings, chef Mark Anthony (no, he doesn’t sing – I asked), had a creative menu. For dinner we dined on dishes like pumpkin mousse ravioli with lamb loin or crisp sautéed striped bass with ricotta gnocchi.
Lunch featured items like a muffalletta sandwich or fusilli genovese. My favorite thing at the afternoon meal was the tiny metal basket of french fries. I may or may not have been guilty of ordering an extra serving of these.
There was something on the menu for everyone; the picky eater, the vegetarian or the meat lover.
You will not leave this trip hungry, probably return home a few pounds heavier.
Dining at the restaurant was open seating and every night I enjoyed the company of new people from all over the United States. On one evening, the couple to my right were an elderly pair who had been married for 60 years (what was their secret?) and the two to my left were newlyweds, only having been married for a mere two weeks and I landed right in the middle with my 17 years of marriage.
The Rhine River Cruise Itinerary
DAY 1 | BASEL, SWITZERLAND
The Viking Cruise embarkation started in the town of Basel, on the Rhine River in northwest Switzerland. After boarding, there was a little time to explore this quaint town and we took the opportunity to squeeze in the Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz Christmas market, known as the largest one in Switzerland. A perfect introduction to what was to come.
DAY 2 | BREISACH, GERMANY
We arrived in Breisach on the morning of day two, which is the gateway to the Black Forest. This forested mountain range, in the state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany, is renowned for its rolling meadows and dense forests. We took a short hike through the mountain landscape, passing a cute little Christmas market on the way.
After visiting the Black Forest we opted to participate in an optional excursion ($41 usd) to Colmar, a quaint Alsatian medieval town in France. And we weren’t disappointed, as they had a whopping five Christmas markets.
DAY 3 | STRASBOURG, FRANCE
This morning we went on an included guided tour of the charming town of Strasbourg, France where we visited the stunning cathedral, walked over medieval bridges and explored winding streets. Later, we were given time on our on to see one of the most famous Christmas markets situated in front of Strasbourg’s majestic cathedral.
DAY 4 | HEIDELBERG & RÜDESHEIM, GERMANY
Today we disembarked for a tour of Heidelberg to see beautiful sandstone ruins of Heidelberg Palace. Of course, there was a Christmas market right next to the castle. Why wouldn’t there be?
Later that evening, instead of dining on board, we decided to take the optional excursion ($72 usd) into the town of Rüdesheim for a German dinner. Though, with dozens of cruising tourists in the restaurant, it didn’t feel like a truly authentic German dining experience we had so much fun chatting, dancing and taking too many shots of schnapps.
DAY 5 | KOBLENZ, GERMANY
This morning, we sailed along a scenic stretch of the Rhine, acknowledged as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, where an abundance of castles overlooked the river. We arrived in Koblenz in the afternoon for a tour of 700-year-old Marksburg Castle and its museum.
DAY 6 | COLOGNE, GERMANY
Today we arrived in Cologne, Germany and were taken on a guided stroll through Old Town, past St. Martin’s Church and the Gothic Cologne’s Dom cathedral, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
That evening, we did another optional excursion (my favorite one), a pub crawl through Cologne to taste a few of the Kölsch beers exclusive to the area. Though there are 24 Kölsch producers in the city, we only visited four brewhouses.
DAY 7 | KINDERDIJK, THE NETHERLANDS
Day 7 brought us another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kinderdijk windmill network. The 19 windmills are an ingenious technology for handling water and we were able to enter a working mill for a tour of its mechanisms and living quarters.
DAY 8 | AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS
After breakfast on board of the Viking Tor ship, we disembarked in Amsterdam. Though the Rhine River cruise was over, my travel through Europe was not. I took the opportunity of my first time being in Amsterdam by having my husband meet me there so we could explore seemingly endless canals, indulge in stroopwafel and marvel at the countless bicycles.
This is just a very brief summary of the days we spent exploring the storybook European towns and festive Christmas markets with Viking River Cruises. More stories to come.
Life on Board
While on board the Viking Tor you could be as busy as you want to be. The program director made sure that there were always optional events to occupy your time while at sea. One afternoon we learned the art of making Rudesheimer, an alcoholic coffee drink that requires a flame and special serving cup. Another time we were given a lesson on making gingerbread and the cruisers even got to try their hand at decorating.
One of my favorite scheduled on-ship fun was spending the morning sampling Dutch cheeses and jenever, a distilled juniper liquor. Hurrah to cheese and liquor before noon!
When I was onboard and not eating or attending a scheduled event, I opted for lounging in the sitting area enjoying internet access which was intermittently strong, depending on which part of the Rhine we were traveling along. Also, I enjoyed strolling on the sun deck, even though most of this trip it lacked any sun. But, the views up there were incredible.
Though the Viking Rhine River cruise was centered around the joyous Christmas markets, and they were jubilant, there was so much more. There was also delicious eating, informative city tours, onboard activities and the building of lasting friendships.
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Disclosure: I was a guest of Viking River Cruises, but all the words I write come straight from my, sometimes distorted, mind. Just as it should be.