Following our Swiss rail tour we decided to take a Viking river cruise. It’s a mighty long airplane ride across the Atlantic so we thought we should do more than one thing. When Viking offered free air and they would fly us whenever and wherever we wanted that clinched the deal.
Viking is the largest river cruise operator with over 80 boats. We chose Viking’s Rhine Getaway. It’s an 8 day cruise from Basel Switzerland to Amsterdam Netherlands with stops in France and Germany.
Viking cruises include a tour at every port and ours started with a tour of Basel.
We cruised at night to our next port and traversed several locks which our boat just barely fit into. It was pretty interesting to look out our window at night and see a the concrete wall of a lock. Breisach Germany is the gateway to the Black Forest. The weather was very rainy and cool so hiking was out but we did see a cuckoo clock making demonstration and taste Black Forest cake. The weather was better in the afternoon and we toured Colmar on the French side of the Rhine. We really like this quiet Alsatien town. The medieval Gothic and Renaissance buildings contribute to the storybook character of the place. Turns out the sculptor who built the Statue of Liberty was from Colmar.
Strasbourg France is home of the European Parliament and a city that has flipped from France to Germany and back again several times. This town presents strong influences from both countries in its food and culture. It is built on many islands in the Ill River, a close tributary to the Rhine. We loved the medieval architecture, the food and coffee. We toured the Alsatien Museum. This is a great city to visit.
The next day we visited the small city of Speyer Germany. The Romanesque cathedral here is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the largest in the world until St Peters was built in Rome. Eight German kings are buried here. Later we also visited Rudesheim a town in the heart of Reisling wine country. It was another lovely place to walk and explore.
For many the next day’s cruise through the Middle Rhine was the highlight of their cruise. This is another UNESCO World Heritage site known for its turreted castles and fortresses overlooking the Rhine from their steep hillsides. Most of the castles here were built in the 10th to 13th century to collect tolls on the heavily trafficked Rhine. On the steep banks of the Rhine grapes are still harvested by hand for their world renowned wines. Our day started out cold and foggy but turned into a spectacularly clear beautiful day.
Mid morning we passed Lorelei Rock a narrow and deep part of the Rhine where legend has it a maiden betrayed by her lover committed suicide and became a siren luring sailors to their death.
Koblenz Germany was our next stop the same afternoon. There we had an excellent tour from a young man who really shared a personal story of his town and country. Koblenz is a beautiful city built at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers where the 1871 unification of Germany is celebrated at the German Corner with a huge statue of Wilhelm I. Later we took a cable car over our ship and the Rhine to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress towering above the city. The fortress is the largest in Europe where construction began in the year 1100 on the hill where Romans had a fort in 400 AD. There has been a settlement here since the 4th century BC. Another great place to visit.
Our last stop in Germany was Cologne known for its spectacular 14th century Gothic cathedral. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site the cathedral survived World War Two while 95% of the city was destroyed. Viking had the finest dock location in the heart of the city. Our guided tour showed us many highlights of the city and we were able to see the inside of the cathedral on our own. We enjoyed a virtual reality tour of 1926 Cologne. This was one night we had dinner on our own with street food in a plaza. Later we enjoyed the sun deck of our boat at dusk when thousands of green parakeets came screaming in to roost nearby.
Kinderdijk Netherlands was our last port of our river cruise. Its another UNESCO World Heritage site celebrating the windmills that keep the Netherlands from flooding. We enjoyed a tour of a traditional operating windmill and toured an electric pumping station. By now we are in the flatlands of the Rhine delta on our way to Amsterdam.
Viking does an excellent job on their river cruises. Our boat held a maximum 190 passengers and the restaurant dinner is the only option. Dinners take 2 hours every day and all tables seat at least 6 so it is a very social cruise. The included tours are very good quality and while we only opted for one optional (extra charge) tour it was excellent as well. We met many interesting people.