Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, May 2019
Getting There and Day 1:
As we had global upgrade certificates available thru Delta, we flew from Atlanta to Amsterdam in Delta One; absolutely love this product! The seats are roomy and comfortable, you have your own little “pod”, big screen video, blankets and pillows. We had a lovely dinner (me Chili crusted Salmon and hubby had the Chicken Piccata with mashed potatoes). Top that off with a fruit/cheese tray and a Tawny 10 year port, and I was able to sleep for a bit 😊
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We landed in Amsterdam at 6a, and after a bit of a backlog in immigration, finally got thru the process of passport review and then re-entry into the airport for our flight to Basel. We had a total time of 2 ½ hours in Amsterdam and this seemed sufficient- we had time for another coffee and a bit of a walk after the long red-eye. Our flight to Basel was short (just an hour), but beautiful sunny skies above the clouds. I do love that KLM airlines served us a nice litle breakfast with yogurt, breads, fruit and a boiled egg.
As we had not been to Basel previously, we opted for the Viking escort service- they were waiting just past baggage claim and directed us to the Viking bus just steps from the airport. It is pricey to take this transport (60 Euro each, but as we hadn’t been to Basel before, and there were three different spots on the river where the ship could be, it felt like the safest choice. MAKE SURE you put your bag tags on your bags when you get them from luggage claim, as when you hand them over to the bus, they are now checked in to your room. We were a little tired and didn’t do that, so we had to wait until all the bags were pulled from the bus and then put them on. My mistake!
It was about a 15 minute ride to the port- again- note that there are three different spots where the ship could be depending on a variety of factors. Since we were arriving close to 10:30am, we didn’t expect our room to be ready, however, “some” people were given access immediately and the rest of us were directed to the restaurant, which was offering lunch and snacks- which was quite nice when you’re a bit jet lagged. We managed to get access to our room around noon, which was fantastic, considering it did not have to be available until 3p- Viking is gracious this way. We were able to at least take our showers before the 1:30p optional walking tour of Basel (this was free). The tour took us into the “old town” area of Basel, where our tour guide explained the many museums of Basel, pointed out buildings of significance and then landed us in a town square where we were given about 20 mins “break” to do some shopping, etc. We opted for a Kronenbourg beer in the sunshine because that’s how we roll. Note that Viking is pretty easy about excursions.. if you decide you want to go off and do your own thing, they don’t mind, as long as you know how to get back to the ship and you get there on time.
Once we returned to the ship, the ship had scheduled a wine and cheese tasting so people could acclimate to the house wines, and a sample of those with the Silver Spirts offering. It was quite nice to enjoy some wine and cheese, a sampling of Chardonnay and the rocking chairs on the front of the ship (Aquavit Terrace). This little area is one of my favorite on the Vikings ships; particularly when you don’t want a “sit down” lunch as they will serve finger sandwiches and snacks here instead. It’s also a fun spot to enjoy going thru a lock- fascinating 😊
Next, we had a bit of time to freshen up before dinner. Note that Viking is pretty relaxed attire- they do suggest a resort elegance for dinner dress, but they’re not picky and there were people in shorts and jeans, as well as those who dress up. The evening started at 6:30p with a briefing from all the ships officers; safety review, rules, etc. and then you spend a bit of time walking thru the schedule for the next day, timelines, etc.
After this is finished, then everyone retires at the same time to the restaurant for dinner. Seating is open- and this is the time to make new friends. The dinner offering typically includes a dish or two from the region, as well as a few staples that you can order instead (like steak, salmon, etc.) My husband opted for the full Swiss meal (Salad, Veal and potato stew and a tart for dessert), I went with the Thai chicken soup, crab crusted Salmon and fruit and cheese for dessert. They have a very nice 20 year port that goes nicely with the cheese plate. After 20+ hours of travel however, we had to call it a night.
Day 2, Breisach, Germany:
The captain said we went thru 4 locks last night- we wouldn’t know, slept like a log! The beds are super comfortable and the rooms are very quiet. We did wake up in Breisach, and had another Viking ship “attached” to us, Viking Hildi. This happens quite often on the rivers, and you never know when it will be your side of the other, so just be prepared. I’ve taken a picture of what you see from your window when you have another ship attached- close your curtains before you go to bed.
We opted out of the included excursion to the Black Forest as they told us it was 90 mins each way of bus ride, on hillsides, and I get quite motion sick on buses. So… we opted to do our own thing today and explore the town of Breisach, and I am SO glad we did. It was such a peaceful Sunday morning! We started off with a leisurely breakfast on the ship (check the breakfast hours on your guide each day so you know how long they serve, it does vary by port). Breakfast is buffet style, but they do have an omelet chef and he’s fantastic; also note you CAN order from a breakfast menu that includes eggs benedict, French toast, etc. if you’d prefer.
We collected a map from the front desk, checked out our boarding cards and off we went exploring. It was only 9a on a Sunday so we were pretty much the only people around- a few dog walkers, but for the most part, very sleepy Sunday. We climbed the steps to St Stephens Minstrel and I am so glad we did! Such gorgeous views. The city map will highlight all the historical sites for you- as well as there are key signage on buildings of interest, and most had an English paragraph or two to give you context. Note there is a Water close here by the church (indicated with a WC), which was free, and clean.
We then window shopped, as not much was open (probably good thing for my bank account) and then had coffee and a fantastic “Krispie”, pretzel roll and sat in the sunshine. Around 10a, people started to head to church and the streets came alive with children. We lingered awhile longer, and then headed back to the ship for some quiet time on the rooftop deck.
By the way, so far, both ports have had small café’s right next to the dock serving a variety of beers and wines – cute!
We also noticed “cigarette” vending machines all over Germany- just found it interesting!
In the afternoon, we opted for the Colmar war museum tour today. It was a very somber afternoon as we learned about the 1945 Colmar pocket campaign to free this area of France. We learned all about the hero Audie Murphy (the most decorated US soldier ever), visited the battlesite, the memorial and the museum. The museum included many dioramas- definitely worth the trip to understand what happened here.
Day 3: Kehl, Germany
Today we docked in Kehl, Germany (Strasbourg, France is on the other side of the river). The included tour was to Strasbourg, but we opted to wander Kehl as I was not feeling well and wanted to try to see a doctor. We talked to the front desk team, and they suggested that we just go to the hospital and see if they could take a listen to my cough- anyway, long story short, we waited two hours and gave up. We decided to just take it a bit easy today; so we wandered Kehl, very cute little town!! We found shopping areas and cafes, and sat down to a lovely lunch of pizza, a sandwich and had our first real Kolsch beer!
In the afternoon, we decided to go on the Mercedes Benz factory tour- this was sold out, and we were doing this along with another Viking ship. It was about a 40 minute bus ride out to the Mercedes Benz retail area- and then the buses took us another 10 mins or so to the actual plant. The facility is HUGE, however, pictures are not allowed around or in the plant. If you are nerdy like us, you may enjoy watching all the robotics and process as a car comes together. We were impressed with the “custom” aspects of each automobile and how Mercedes incorporates your wishes into your vehicle. They produce 1200 cars a day and for the most part, no two are alike.
We then returned to the ship for a “German Picnic” for dinner… the pretzels were amazing.
As it had rained this evening, we were treated to a very QUICK rainbow- light double there too if you can see it! We enjoyed sitting on our verandah quietly sailing this evening.
Day 4: Heidelberg and Rudesheim
Today, we docked in a town called Mannheim (yep, Mannheim Steamrollers come from here); and the included excursion was a bus ride into Heidelberg. If you opted out of this excursion, you were to stay on the ship as the ship was going to move to a different location. The bus ride was approximately 40 minutes into Heidelberg, then straight to the top of the town to visit the Castle; bus logistics were quite impressive as we wound our way up to the parking area. Today was a very popular day to visit the castle however, many tour groups from other ships, as well as tour companies caused a bit of congestion in the main areas. Due to the difficulty in moving around, we went to four different areas as our guide explained the history. It would have been nice to settle with a coffee and listen to the history, but none of the concessions were open at this time in the morning. There are plenty of restroom facilities available. The entire area is cobblestone and they can be quite slick if wet as well you are also climbing fairly steep areas on these cobblestones, so make sure to wear good walking shoes on this one. We spend about an hour and a half at the castle. The buses then took us down to the Neckar river port, and we had another 20 minutes or so with the guide explaining the market square area. We were given just an hour of “free” time to explore on our own and make our way back to the bus. I would have liked to have a bit more time here on our own as there were quite a few shops to browse, cafes for coffee or pizza and beer. Definitely good exploring here!
We then made our way back to the bus, and then drove about 40 minutes to Gernsheim at which point we all boarded the ship (they had arrived not too long before us), and we immediately left to cruise to Rudesheim. Very peaceful afternoon cruising the Rhine.
We arrived to Rudesheim about 5p; there were two different dinner excursions; one was to a local restaurant and the other was to a monastery that included a tour, dinner and wines from their vineyards. We opted to explore the town on our own and have dinner in a Biergarten. There were many choices, and the town was easy to maneuver. There were about 8 cruise ships in port tonight, so it was very, very busy for this little town. The streets are quaint, narrow cobblestone, very walkable, but hilly- pretty little town square areas with benches to relax and enjoy the evening. There were many cafes, shops and restaurants down the alleyways, make sure to explore. The little biergarten we chose had live music tonight, so we enjoyed our meal and serenade. The shops close pretty early, so do your shopping before dinner- they had really pretty embroidered doillys and table runners at reasonable prices. We didn’t arrive in time for the Skytrain, but if we were here longer, we would love to see those views.
The ship was staying all night in this port, so you were free to do as you wish – just be back on board by 8a!
Day 5, Sailing and Kolblenz
Today was our first day to “sleep in” as a ship as we were leaving port at 8:30a to head north to Koblenz. Here is some video of our trip today. This Upper area of the Rhine is a designated UNESCO site and it’s well worthy of this distinction.
Our cruise director Claudia, narrated the history of each little town, and today we saw the Loreley and heard her story. https://www.deutschland.de/en/the-siren-song-of-the-lorelei
There are so many castles along this route! RV parks as well, and for those of you who know us, we do a fair amount of RV’ing as well, so this was fun to see all the places you can camp along the Rhine. Wait until the end of the video 🙂
Some of the “castles” were actually hidden railway tunnels, as the Allies said they would not bomb castles in WW II, so this was strategic camoflage.
Once we arrived in Koblenz, we hopped off to walk around a bit. The front desk provides maps and we asked to be pointed to a market square. This city is a little larger than the others so far (to us anyway), so we needed to use our map (actually google maps worked quite well here) to make sure we stayed oriented to the return to the river.
Our tour of Ehrenbreitstein Fortress departed the ship at 2:30pm and we walked a short distance to catch the Gondola ride that would take us to the other side of the river and to the entrance to the Fortress. There was to be a big festival this upcoming weekend, so the place was quite busy with lots of vendors setting up their displays. Quite impressive! Our tour guide, David, played “in character” role for us and he was wonderful! We spent about an hour and a half touring the different parts of the fortress and ended up at the highest peak, check out the view!
At this point, our guide stated we could return to the ship with him, or depart on our own, so we decided to enjoy the view a bit longer, and ordered a Flammkuchen, which everyone told us was a “must have” in Germany. YUM! It’s a pizza (very thin crust), with Onion, bacon, sour cream and chives and nice cold bier. Perfect.
Eventually, we took the gondola ride back down and meandered around the park area by the ship. We discovered the 3 sections of the Berlin wall and reviewed several of the stories of the heros that led the revolution. There is also a 9-11 tribute of a US flag to show Germany’s friendship to the US and remembrance of the victims.
We then returned to the ship for our dinner and tonight was a fun night of “music” game night and then an evening full of dancing and laughs.
Day 6, Cologne
We arrived early in Cologne, and the included tour was for a walking tour, which began at 9a with a short shuttle bus over to the Cathedral area. We met our guides here and started the two hour trek around the historic sites, which also included reviewing pictures of how damaged this city was during WWII bombings- quite sad. The massive Cathedral is one of the most iconic sites of Cologne- it took over 600 years to build according to our guide.
The other impressive finds include Roman artifacts that are being restored, some you can view from above (they are protected with glass), as they start about 20’ down from the current city floor.
Our guide also told us a bit about Carnival and German culture- and showed us numerous squares that were filled with shops, cafes and biergartens.
He also spent time explaining the German economy, politics and answered any questions we had about local life. As today’s was “father’s day”, the city was full of rowdy men in big groups; as well as there was a wine festival- everyone was in a festive mood and it was fun to enjoy it.
After our tour, we decided to sit Riverside in a small café and enjoy some Kolseh and Pomme Frites and people watch 😊
Our dinner this evening was an excursion planned by the ship, that included dinner at a local Brauhouse that brews Peters Kolsch. We had a four course meal that included all traditional German food- salat a variety of meat/cheese plate- including blood sausage; and then two mini portions of Beef and dumplings (the beef was marinated for 3 days and was super, super tender), and then Pork knuckle (which is better than it sounds) and potatoes and sauerkraut. Dessert was a traditional ‘cake’ that was a bit like Tiramisu but had a sour apple layer and combined with your Kolsch leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Our tour guide then took us to two more pubs for tasting different brands of Kolsch (two of our favorites below). The bus then returned us to the ship as we were to set sail tonight around 10p.
Day 7, Cruising the Netherlands & Kinderdijk
This morning was very lazy as we will be cruising most of the day. Most of the ship slept in, including us. Our first order of business was not until 10a, for our departure briefing. This ship is set to make a very quick stop to drop off a group of passengers who are doing an optional cheese tour and windmill trip. The rest of us will stay onboard until we port in Kinderdijk around 4p.
This area of the Rhine is very different- lots of farm animals, more “shore” and sand like spaces, very flat. Take a look:
Today, we opted out of the included ‘walking’ tour of the windmills, and instead chose to take the bicycle ride. We walked a short distance from the port to the bicycle rental area, donned our helmets, signed our waiver, and then headed out on our excursion. It was about 10 km bike riding over a period of two hours, but mostly flat ground, next to the canal. You do need to avoid hitting the walkers, children and animals here and there and of course, you’re riding next to the canal, so the core requirement is that you can confidently ride a bike, other than that, we stopped every little bit so we could explore the miller’s house and learn the technology behind the windmills that keeps this area inhabitable.
Tonight, we had a final dinner celebration and some fun music from a local band- fantastic talent singing music you can dance to!
The Viking river ships are all laid out the same, and their video here of the AA Veranda Suite, along with a few pictures of my own. Our room was on the 3rd floor, and has a separate sitting area from the bedroom. We did sit and read here from time to time, it’s a nice place to relax. https://www.vikingrivercruisescanada.com/modals/RoomDetail?id=tcm:28-4161
We had a stocked fridge and it was replenished once per day. This category of suite also has fresh fruit delivered- by the way, those strawberries are perfectly SWEET!
The bed was super comfortable, and you really don’t feel the ship movement at all, unless you are making a U-turn, which happens several times throughout the cruise. There are 110 and 220v outlets around the room. They do provide a good blow dryer with a very long cord- and either the plug by the bed can be used (with the bathroom mirror), or you can use it in the living room “desk” area.
Several of the internal walls are magnetized, so if you’re like me and you like to hang necklaces, etc., they do work here.
In addition, this suite class comes with laundry service, just fill out the paper and leave the bag in the room and they pick it up in the morning, and return by evening.
There are binoculars in the room as well, but with our iPhones, we didn’t find them necessary. A blanket is included for outdoor use on the Veranda, and we did put this to good use as the evenings and early mornings were chilly this time of year.
You get a fresh bottle of water every day as well. Coffee is NOT in the room, however, coffee stations are just down the hall that you can bring back to your room. They are very lenient with taking a glass of wine or cups of coffee wherever you would like on the ship; and people were courteous and didn’t leave messes everywhere either.
The Ship: Viking Tialfi
All the Viking river cruise ships are laid out the same. You enter on deck “2”, which is also where the main dining room is located. Level “3” is where the lounge and Aquavit terrace is located, and Level 4 is the sundeck.
Just a few helpful notes:
- You an order off a menu for breakfast if you wish (like Eggs benedict), or there is a buffet with the standard breakfast fare, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, potatoes, etc. There is also a staff member making to order omelets or eggs, etc. The offerings are extensive and include fruits, yogurt, breads, etc.
- If you do not want to sit down to a formal meal, the Aquavit terrace has a buffet of lighter bit offerings as well. They open early for a continental breakfast; light lunch and bites for dinner open about 15 minutes after they open the main dining room. We find it a nice change to eat lighter lunches; but we also opt to eat off the ship to enjoy local cuisine as well.
- You can hear people walking over your head; so if people get up early and are on the walk track, you’re going to hear it. The cruise director did make an announcement to all passengers of “no running” and “please don’t walk until after 7a”, but we heard people walking after about 6a every day.
- You do have to obtain a boarding pass when you leave the ship- this is how they keep track of everyone. We forgot one time and got our hands slapped 😊
- The team is here to take great care of you- we bought the Silver Spirits package as we enjoy cocktails before dinner, etc., but wine and beer is included with every meal time and you’d be fine without it too.
- The coffee stations have muffins and croissants in the morning; and cookies in the afternoon.
- There are tons of places to “sit” around the ship, so if you have a smaller room, you have many places to escape and relax. There are books, games, etc., for a rainy cruising day as well.
- They don’t necessarily remind you of your room amenities- so make sure you know what is included in your room (i.e. laundry- we had to look it up on the site to know it’s included in your room vs. an outline of included amenities card in your room).
- If you are returning to Viking, they do have a very nice reception with the ships officers one evening that included an Aquavit “shot” and they gifted you the shot glasses to take home.
- Don’t miss the daily port update or you will have no idea what to do the next day 😊
- Enjoy the swans and the sunsets on the Rhine!!