2022-D-tours

Basel to Amsterdam

In March 2022, we sailed the Rhine River from Basel to Amsterdam, again with Viking Cruises. With an extra three days in Amsterdam, we were able to see early tulips at Keukenhof Gardens.

Here is our travel diary...

Basel

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DAY 1

We are in Basel! We had time to grab a late lunch and join our Viking hostess Julia as she gave us an introduction to the tram system. Tomorrow we have a walking tour of Old Town, but for now these weary travelers are going to get some rest.

DAY 2

Our first full day in Basel on our pre-cruise extension included a two-hour walking tour through Old Town with our Viking hostess Julie. Afterward, she guided us to the Walliser Kanne restaurant, where we ate cheese fondue and drank wine until we just couldn’t eat or drink any more. So far, it’s been a wonderful start to our Rhine Getaway, which officially begins tomorrow afternoon. The weather is sunny with a high in the low 60s — perfect for exploring!

DAY 3

We were on our own for our second and last day in Basel. After breakfast, Dennis and I walked to the lovely St. Albans area to visit the Paper Mill Museum. We each made a sheet of paper in a mill that’s hundreds of years old. As former journalists, we really enjoyed the history lesson.

From the museum, we headed to a restaurant recommended by our Viking hostess Julia. At Gifthultti, we had the potato rosti, a Basel specialty, along with a great pint of beer. More walking along the Rhine, and we arrived at the Viking Lofn — our home for the next eight days. We were shown to our room, did a “spit” test and answered a health survey, but then we were free to go to the restaurant for dessert. People were sitting together at tables, which I found a little surprising since our tests haven’t come back yet. We are asked to remain masked except when eating or drinking.

We dropped in on the wine tasting at 4, the welcome aboard talk at 6:15 and the safety check at 7. We avoided the dining room, where there were no tables for two, and ate in the Aquavit Terrace instead. Tomorrow, buses leave at 8:30 am. I’m so glad we arrived two days early so we could acclimate to Basel time.

Breisach

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DAY 4

Our Viking Rhine Getaway begins in Breisach, Germany with a 1.5-hour bus ride up into the Black Forest mountains. We stopped at Hofgut Sternen, which was once a medieval horse station and now a little commercial village. We heard about cuckoo clock-making and ate Black Forest cake while a chef showed how to make it. In the afternoon, we walked up the (steep!) hill in Breisach to the cathedral in the old walled city. It was so beautiful! We love to wander around our port cities, so we rarely book an afternoon excursion.

Strasbourg & Alsace

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DAY 5

On our second full day aboard the Viking Lofn, we woke up with Germany on the left bank and France on the right. At 8:30, with a temperature in the mid 40s, we gathered for our morning walking tour of Strasbourg. It took a 10-minute walk and three flights of stairs to get to our bus, which then drove us across the river onto France.

We rode past modern buildings for the European Council, the European Court of Human Rights and the EU Parliament. Our tour guide was excellent in explaining the history of Alsace, wavering between German and French annexation.

We set out on foot in the Grand Ile and its old town of half-timbered buildings. On one street, merchants came out to offer a taste of cheese, coconut macaroon or gingerbread. Try them all!

We ended the tour at the gothic cathedral, which is absolutely breathtaking. We only had 20 minutes on our own before heading back to the ship. By noon, the temp was in the mid 60s and we had walked about four miles.

After a quick lunch, it was back on the bus for a ride to Mittelbergheim for the Alsace Wine Tasting. We stopped at the Albert Seltz winery for a tour led by Albert himself — a 14th generation winemaker. Yes, you read that number right. The winery dates to 1576.

A very personable Albert, who spoke fluent English, took us into the wine cave and explained his philosophy of winemaking. We concluded in the tasting room, sampling four of his white wines. On our way back to the ship, our tour stopped in the medieval village of Obernai, where we had 30 minutes of free time but no additional wine tasting. By the time we returned to the ship around 6:20 pm, we had walked 7.3 miles during the day.

Speyer

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DAY 6

On our third full day aboard the Viking Lofn, the ship dropped us off at Speyer, Germany, and sailed on without us. Never fear! We were bused to Worms to meet the ship before we resumed sailing up the Rhine.

Our tour of Speyer, a UNESCO heritage site, began with a walk around the Romanesque cathedral, built in 1030, followed by a stroll through the old town. Speyer is a charming town, with flowers in the window boxes and some homes decorated for Easter.

We ended our Saturday morning at the Jewish museum, considered the cradle of Ashkenazi Jews. The Speyer ShUM community began in 1084 and lasted about 400 years. The guide told us there are less than 150 Jews in Speyer today, many refugees from Eastern Europe. It was a moving visit that took our 45 minutes of free time.

We caught up with the ship in Worms, though we did not see any of that city. During the afternoon, we were able to visit the ship's bridge. It was very interesting to see how the ship navigates those narrow rivers!

We sailed on to Rudesheim, arriving at 6 pm. We were among the first people off the ship, but sadly, we did not find much to see in this little town. We were back on the ship before dark, in time for our dinner in the Aquavit Terrace. By the way, as we left the ship three couples were returning by cab. Apparently they missed the bus in Speyer. The ship had a schedule to keep!

Middle Rhine

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DAY 7

The Viking Lofn left Rudesheim at 9 a.m. and sailed up the middle Rhine. We started out on the top deck, but it was windy and cold — even though I was wearing a heavy coat. So we moved down to the lounge, and I popped out on the third floor balconies when I needed to take a photo.

The scenery was breathtaking! But I still can’t tell which castle is which.

We arrived at Koblenz around lunchtime. Instead of the Koblenz walking tour, we took Viking’s optional trip to Ehrenbreitstein (erin-BRIGHT-stine) Fortress. Our guide was an actor who took us back in time to the 1800s and outlined the strategy for Europe’s largest fortress, which sits 400 feet above the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. The view is fantastic! I highly recommend this tour.

To get up to the fortress on the other side of the Rhine, we took a cable car. My husband is no fan of heights but he managed just fine. He is, however, a history buff, and he was very interested in the tour, which took over an hour. We had a little free time or we could split off from the group. We elected to come back, put our feet up for a few minutes, and then walk over to St. Kastor’s Basilica (because my history buff can’t resist a site that dates to 400-500 AD).

Cologne

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DAY 8

We toured Cologne this morning, one of the oldest cities in Germany which traces its history back to Roman times. Much of the city was bombed out during World War II.

Although the Gothic cathedral sustained some damage, it remained standing. The stained glass windows from various centuries had been removed for safekeeping during the war and now tell a story of survival. The most recent addition is a modern stained glass by Gerhardt Richter that looks like colorful confetti.

We did see the town hall, a Roman sewer, excavations in the Jewish quarter and a few other sites, but the walking tour was mainly around the outside of the cathedral. Once the tour ended, we were able to go into the cathedral on our own. There is no charge but we had to show proof of vaccination and photo ID.

We made our way back to the ship in time for lunch. But for dinner, we had a different plan — Viking’s Kolsch pub crawl in Cologne. Our guide Rocco made sure everyone had a wonderful time.

We started at Peter’s Brauhaus for our first taste of Kolsch with a five-course meal. It was delicious, and they even brought a vegetarian version for my husband.

After dinner, we visited two more brew houses. Rocco pointed out that these restaurants don’t have piped-in music. They don’t have TV. Rarely do you see anyone on a cell phone. It’s just a place to eat, drink beer, tell jokes and have conversation. Yes, you could go to Peter’s on your own for dinner. You could visit other brew houses. But Rocco gave us a glimpse into German beer culture, and we wouldn’t have had the same experience outside of this excursion.

Kinderdijk

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DAY 9

When we woke up on the Viking Lofn this morning, it was so foggy outside that we couldn’t see the riverbank. By the time we arrived in Kinderdijk, the fog had lifted but it was still overcast and chilly — this after a week of near-perfect weather.

Our tour of the windmills was interesting but a little rushed because the ship was due to leave just two hours after we arrived. Our guide, Joop, showed us models of the windmill system and the parts of a windmill before we went out to see one. And then we were on to Amsterdam and our final port.

Amsterdam

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DAY 10

Disembarkation day is always a long one. From the time we set out our bags at 7 am until we finally returned to our Amsterdam hotel room at 4 pm, we had walked more than eight miles. Here’s a little of what happened in between…

After our final breakfast on the Viking Lofn, we boarded a bus for the very short drive to the Movenpick Hotel. We checked in but our rooms weren’t ready. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry about our bags. Viking kept them until about 11 am and then had them delivered straight to our rooms.

Meanwhile, we set out with our local tour guide Heleen for a walking tour of Amsterdam. We learned about the canal system and the types of buildings in the old town, but this was a fairly general tour. We didn’t see a single cathedral!

After the tour ended in Dam Square, we purchased two-day tram tickets (14.50 Euros each) at a kiosk and went straight to the Rijksmuseum. We had not purchased museum tickets online, so we had to find the ticket window at the Museum Shop across the street. Our tickets were for 2 pm so we had time to stop at the nearby Cobra Cafe for a tasty lunch. Dennis had a sandwich with Old Amsterdam cheese, fig chutney and walnuts. We shared a huge slice of apple pie for dessert.

Let me digress here and say a word about public toilets in Amsterdam. They charge 1 Euro to enter the toilet. At the toilet downstairs from the cafe, I was able to pay with my “touch” credit card. When I entered the ladies’ room, I selected a stall, shut the door and realized the door was see-through glass. Only when I locked the door did the glass turn opaque. It was definitely an experience!

The Rijksmuseum had a lot of school groups, so it was a bit noisy and crowded. Despite the relatively high rate of Covid here, the Netherlands has lifted all restrictions; hardly anyone other than us was masked. But we saw works by Rembrandt and Vermeer and many others. Spectacular! We took the tram back to Centraal Station, which we can see from our hotel room. But it’s a good little walk, dodging bikes and cars and trams and people.

Keukenhof Gardens

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DAY 11

Last call for Amsterdam! We started our day with a Covid-19 test here at the Movenpick Amsterdam hotel, arranged by Viking since we are on their post-extension. Then we decided to brave the clouds and head to Keukenhof Gardens on our own, without a tour group.

We had purchased Keukenhof tickets in advance on their website for a 10:30 to 11 am entrance time. We left our hotel around 9:20, walked across the street and caught the 26 tram to Centraal Station. We thought we could get a Keukenhof bus from Centraal, but it turned out that we had to take the M52-South metro line to Europaplein, walk out at RAI Convention Center and THEN pick up the Keukenhof bus.

The first two legs, on tram and Metro, were covered by the GVB tickets we bought yesterday. Today, we bought round-trip tickets to Keukenhof on the bus (16 Euros per person). Both on the bus and at Keukenhof we discovered they wanted a debit card that uses a PIN and not a standard credit card. The moral of this story is: if you’re familiar with public transit systems, and if you leave plenty of time, you can go to Keukenhof Gardens on your own. Figure on about 75 minutes of travel and an added transit cost of around 20 to 25 Euros per person.

If public transit isn’t your thing, book a tour, either through Viking or another vendor But if the gardens are open while you’re in Amsterdam, go! It is some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen. The tulips are just beginning to bloom, but we saw lots of daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and other early-blooming bulbs. We spent about two hours there, including a break for sandwiches in one of their cafes, and we didn’t come close to seeing it all.

Pace yourself! We walked about four miles in total. We were lucky. It didn’t rain while we were at the gardens, but the storm resumed as soon as we got on the bus.

We leave the hotel early tomorrow morning for our flight home. Thank you everyone who followed our journey. You made me open my eyes just a bit wider!

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