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Castles on the Rhine!!

The 2015
Rhine River Cruise

March 28 -  April 4

A Seven Day river journey through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. 

Germany's legendary Rhine River takes us through
the most incredible scenery imaginable!!

The Swiss Alps
The Black Forest
Vineyards Galore
French Wine cities
Valley of the Castles
Amazing Cathedrals
The Mermaids of Lorelei Rock

Beer Gardens and German Polka
The Lost World of the Rhine Gorge
Medieval German towns of Rheinland
The Amazing Canals of Amsterdam

 

  
2015 Castles on the Rhine Itinerary 
 
   March 28: Day 1  Saturday Basel, Switzerland
   March 29: Day 2 Sunday Breisach, Germany
   March 30: Day 3 Monday Strasbourg, France
   March 31: Day 4 Tuesday Heidelberg & Rüdesheim, Germany
   April 01:    Day 5 Wednesday Braubach & Koblenz, Germany
   April 02:    Day 6 Thursday Köln (Cologne), Germany
   April 03:    Day 7 Friday Kinderdijk, Netherlands
   April 04:    Day 8   Saturday Amsterdam, Netherlands
  After the trip concludes, why not extend your trip with a stay in Amsterdam,
  the beautiful capital of the Netherlands famous for its canals, windmills, and tulips?
 
  For more information about our trip, be sure to read About Germany
 


An Insider's Look at our 2015 Castles on the Rhine Itinerary

Day 1: Basel
Switzerland

Basel Highlights:

Embark ship mid-afternoon.  A light lunch buffet is available
Your stateroom will be available at 3 pm
Free day to explore Basel at your leisure
Enjoy dinner aboard and relax

About Basel:

It is at Basel that the mighty Rhine bends to begin a 350 mile journey towards the North Sea. 

Basel is located in a spot where the Swiss, French and German borders meet. While the main part of its city is situated inside the Swiss border, Basel also has suburbs in France and Germany.

This exceptional location makes Basel the heart of a three-country-triangle that joins Germany, France and Switzerland.  

It also makes Basel the answer to an interesting trivia question: What city is so large that it spreads its city limits to three different countries?

This mix of three worlds seems strange to an outsider, but the people of Basel adapted long ago.  Today the main language of Basel is German, but practically everyone speaks French and Swiss as well.  The allegiance of the people is shared almost equally between France, Germany, and Switzerland.

To safeguard its position among much stronger neighbors, over the centuries Basel has avoided war and sought out alliances. In so doing, Basel managed to develop a remarkable reputation for mediation between conflicting states, cantons (Swiss districts), and communes. 

Over time, Basel seems to have gained many friends and few enemies, an enviable position for any city to maintain.  In the process, the citizens of Basel have an open-minded attitude towards all differences.  This cosmopolitan perspective extends to all visitors. Basel is a visitor-friendly city.  The people of Basel seem quite accepting of many customs and many cultures.

Basel owes its unusual past due to its unique location in the upper left corner of Switzerland. 

Packed into a small amount of space, there are numerous treasures to discover. Basel has a lot to offer: Stroll through history. Delve into art and culture in one of the excellent museums. Be transfixed by a dance or theatre performance. Wine and dine on recommendation of Gault Millau. Or go on an extended shopping spree.

Like many European cities, Basel abounds with culture and entertainment. Contemporary architecture shapes the cityscape. Independent theaters clamor for attention with first-rate productions. Basel offers stages plays, opera and ballet.

Forty museums devise fascinating exhibitions on topics as varied as modern painting, musical instruments, comics or the ancient world. The city's forty museums display visual arts from antiquity to the present.

The prestigious exhibitions hosted by Fondation Beyeler, the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Art) and Antikenmuseum (Museum of Ancient Art) draw international attention.

Basel is known for music.  Music lovers will appreciate what Basel has to offer: From classical concerts and operas to jazz, rock and pop concerts, there is something to suit everybody's taste.

For example, there is the internationally renowned symphony orchestra, the chamber orchestra and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (an institute of the Musik-Akademie). These account for Basel's reputation as a center for classical music.

Lovers of jazz, rock or pop will also find something to suit their taste at the many concert venues.

Shopping in Basel can be an adventure. In the small city centre, lots of great brands such as Bally, Burberry, Fogal and Swarovski offer their products for sale, many of them in the pedestrian zone, where shopping and sightseeing are pleasantly combined. In the alleys leading off from the main shopping streets, little boutiques invite visitors to enter and explore.

For shoppers who prefer to find everything in one place, two shopping centers offer their services: St. Jakobs park and Stucki in Kleinhüningen.


Schwarzwald!   Germany's Black Forest

Day 2:
Breisach
Germany

The Black Forest!

 

 


Highlights:

Black Forest Excursion
Cuckoo clock-making demonstration
Free time in Breisach
Optional excursion to Colmar
Optional World War II excursion
Welcome Reception & Dinner

About Breisach:

Situated along the Rhine River on the French and German border lies the city of Breisach.  Breisach is more village than city. It has approximately 16,500 inhabitants.

The "Breisach" name is Celtic; it means 'breakwater'.  There is a story behind the name.  There was a huge flood in the 19th century. Breisach, being located high on the hill, broke the flood's surge.  Thus its name came to be.

Here's an interesting piece of trivia for you.  About 42 miles to the east in the midst of the Black Forest lies the little town of Donaueschingen, population 20,000.  Can you guess the significance of this town?  The answer in a moment...

Breisach's most prominent landmark is the Gothic Cathedral of St. Stephanus. The Cathedral is visible from any part of the city, and towers high above the Rhine. The Cathedral houses numerous treasures and outstanding artworks. Both Roman and gothic elements can be found in the cathedral.

Breisach is located in one of the warmest parts of Germany, next to Alsace, which is famous for its wine-growing. It is home to Europe's largest producing wine region.

The history of Breisach dates back over 4000 years.

Since the early stone age people have settled on the plateau which is today the Cathedral hill. During the Celtic age this area was the residence of a prince who held trade connections up to the Mediterranean.

The Romans built a fort on the hill because of its strategic location.  Around 400, the fort was conquered by the Alemanni and in the following centuries, Breisach emerged to be one of the most important towns on the Upper Rhine.

In 1273, Breisach became a free imperial town and its boom years began. During this time, St. Stephan's Cathedral was built and the town became an aspiring community.

During the regime of emperor Maximilian I in 1500, Breisach became one of the strongest forts in Europe.

Breisach was captured during the Thirty Year's War, by Duke Bernhard von Weimar in 1638. After his death in 1639, the town fell under French rule for nearly 60 years.

There was almost complete destruction of the town by the French in the Coalition War in 1793. After the devastation, Breisach's glory days were over.

In the 19th century, Breisach was rebuilt. The center of town shifted from the Cathedral hill to the lower town. Breisach was now a country town that belonged to the grand duchy of Baden. Following the German-French war in 1871, Breisach boomed again. After the end of World War I. the boom stopped.

Breisach was not spared Nazi cruelty.  During the Nazi regime, the 700 year old Jewish community of Breisach experienced massive prosecution and then annihilation. In 1938 their synagogue was destroyed and in 1940 what were the last remaining Jewish citizens were sent to an extermination camp.

During World War II Breisach was evacuated several times.  By the end of the War, 85% of the town was destroyed through artillery bombardment.  

After the war, Breisach became the seat of a French garrison from 1945 to 1997.

Oh, about that trivia question concerning the little town of Donaueschingen.  "Donau" is the German name for a certain river.  Have you ever heard of the Donau River?  Probably not, but surely you have heard of the mighty Danube River.  

The Danube originates in Germany's Black Forest.  In the little town of Donaueschingen, two small streams known as the Brigach River and the Breg River merge to become the starting point for the Danube River.

The Danube is Europe's second longest river after the Volga.  It is definitely the longest river in central Europe.  After flowing 1,776 miles due east, the Danube passes through several Central and Eastern European capitals before emptying its water into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.

Hmm.  So the Danube starts in the Black Forest and ends in the Black Sea. So why is it called the Blue Danube?  Ah, well, that one is easy to answer.  The northern slopes of the Alps send their melting snow to the Danube.  At this point, the sparkling Alpine waters give the river the purest imaginable color of blue.

It is fascinating to note that the two most important rivers of Europe are located so close together.  In fact, at the city of Schaffhausen on the northern Swiss border, it looks like only 20 miles separate the Rhine and Danube as they run parallel in opposite directions.  How strange is that?

The Danube first became known to history as one of the long-standing frontiers of the Roman Empire.  After the fall of Rome, it played a vital role in the settlement and political evolution of central and southeastern Europe.

In a fashion similar to the Rhine, the banks of the Danube are lined with castles and fortresses.  And, like the Rhine, the Danube has served as the boundary between great empires while its waters acted as a vital commercial highway between nations.

The majesty of the Danube River has long been celebrated in music. The Blue Danube, a famous Viennese Waltz  ("An der schönen, blauen Donau", 1867, by Johann Strauss), has become the symbol of imperial Vienna.

About the Black Forest, Danger and Fairy Tales!

Over the centuries, the Black Forest has given birth to countless foreboding legends.  Time and again, there have been people who have gone missing in the forest.  This is no surprise.  Think about how easy it must be to wander aimlessly into the forest and lose one's way.  After all, the Black Forest goes on for endless miles and miles.  

Once you are inside, it is simple to get lost. The forest is like a giant maze with fog and thick brush and trees that disguise the way back.   The forest has countless oak, beech and fir trees growing together so thick that they gave the overall appearance of 'blackness'.

Even more mysterious, for some strange reason maps or compasses do not work.  If you get lost, you could be in real trouble. Those who enter the forest unprepared may never have a chance of getting back out.

What makes the Black Forest, or the "Schwarzwald" as the Germans refer to it, interesting are the countless dark legends associated with this dense forest.  Over the ages, with all those people disappearing, it doesn't take much of an imagination to wonder if supernatural creatures might be responsible.

There are all sorts of Black Forest myths which involve witches and wolves, wizards and fairies, ogres, trolls, and dwarves.  

Indeed, this menacing forest is said to be the origin of stories such as Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood.

With all these scary stories in one's imagination, no one dares enter the Black Forest at night.  Beware the Black Forest. These thick woods have frightened nearby residents and visitors for countless years.  Those who enter may not return. 

Or at least that's how the legend goes...

Today the Schwarzwald is a wonderful destination to visit.  Nor is it quite as dangerous anymore.  The once neverending forest has been largely tamed.  At this point, the once deadly forest is lined with meadows and farms, villages with half-timbered homes.

Other attractions of the Black Forest include beautiful and historic towns, traditional half-timbered houses, foreboding castles and palaces, unique churches and monasteries.

While the Black Forest isn't quite so deadly anymore, everyone agrees it is still one of Europe's most beautiful destinations.

B
road valleys, narrow gorges, sprawling mountains and towering summits create breathtaking views.  The natural surroundings shift from sunny vineyards to shadowy forests. The gentle hills in the east, the Kaiserstuhl in the west, moors and lakes, climbing rocks and orchards all contribute to the Black Forest experience.

In Germany's Black Forest, the Rhine and the Danube pass
within 20 miles of each other heading in opposite directions

 

Day 3: Strasbourg
France
 

Highlights:

City tour of Strasbourg including European Parliament, Old Town and Cathedral Square
Free time to explore Strasbourg--free shuttle bus to city center
Optional Alsation Wine Tasting in Obernai

About Strasbourg:

Strasbourg is small city that borders the edge of the Black Forest and the legendary Rhine River. Strasbourg may not be a well-known European city to Americans, but it turns out to be a very lovely town complete with vintage wines and Old World Charm.

Is it Germany or is it France?

Strasbourg has flavors of both France and Germany, and sits right on the border of the two countries.  Although the postcards will say you are in France, the architecture is distinctly German. Not surprisingly, Strasbourg has changed hands between the French and Germans many times over the centuries.   As a result, many of its citizens have a shared German and French heritage.  Practically everyone speaks both languages.

There are times when it can be hard to discern exactly which country you are in while visiting.  For example, the signs are in both languages.  German beer and French wine are equally popular. The food goes back and forth. It is common to find German dishes like sauerkraut with French names ("choucroute").

The Ill River

The strangely named "Ill River" winds a Venice-like path through the city.  Over the centuries, this lovely river has become the centerpiece for Strasbourg.  One constant theme of European cities is the care they take with their waterways.  The Europeans take great care to landscape the banks of their rivers and streams and make them postcard pretty.

The Ill River is the perfect example.  It is so pretty that everyone loves to admire it.  The Ill River plays host to many cruise tours of the city.
 

Strasbourg Cathedral

Strasbourg Cathedral is another example of Europe's gothic architecture. The stunning pink sandstone facade is quite unique and breathtaking. Be sure to wander inside, where intricate carvings captivate. Each day at 12:30 p.m., visitors can see the circa-1800s astrological clock with its lengthy show.

The cathedral serves as a hub of activity, with shops and restaurants nearby.

The courtyard outside hosts the city's immensely popular Christmas market.  Victor Hugo declared it a 'gigantic and delicate marvel'; Goethe professed that its 'loftiness is linked to its beauty'; and, no matter the angle or time of day, you too will be captivated by Strasbourg's centerpiece Gothic cathedral. At once immense and intricate, the red-sandstone cathedral is a riot of filigree stonework and flying buttresses, leering gargoyles and lacy spires.

The west facade, most impressive if approached from rue Mercière, was completed in 1284, but the 142m spire - the tallest of its time - was not in place until 1439; its southern companion was never built.

On a sunny day, the 12th- to 14th-century stained-glass windows - especially the rose window over the western portal - shine like jewels.

A spiral staircase twists up to the 66m-high platform above the facade, from which the tower and its Gothic openwork spire soar another 76m. As Hugo put it: 'From the belfry, the view is wonderful. Strasbourg lays at your feet, the old city of tiled triangular roof tops and gable windows, interrupted by towers and churches as picturesque as those of any city in Flanders.'

La Petite France

La Petite France is easily Strasbourg's prettiest and most enchanting neighborhood. It is so perfectly preserved from medieval times that it seems like it was taken from a fairy tale book.  This is the perfect place for one of those long walks!

Stroll along its winding streets and over the many bridges that cross the Ill River.  Breathe in the scent of fresh-baked gingerbread or the inviting aromas from the restaurants. Gaze at the timbered buildings that feature beautiful blooming plants.

When you get tired of walking, you can shop and people-watch at Place Kleber, a bustling square lined with popular shops and a hub of activity.

Memorable cuisine

This is one of the best areas in France when it comes to delectable cuisine, and that's saying quite a bit considering this is, well, France. The dishes here have a boldness that is reminiscent of the German roots, while there is attention to quality and detail that is the epitome of the French gourmet philosophy.

There are local cuisine experiences you shouldn't miss.  For example, enjoy visiting a local winestub for the ultimate France/German experience.

The wines that are most popular here are white, light and tart, such as Reislings and Gewurztraminers. The Alsatian beers are also wonderful.

Be sure to sample the local "eau de vie." Literally meaning "water of life," this is fruit liquor to the extreme. Unlike American liquors that are typically made with sugar, the Alsatian eau de vie is sweetened entirely by fruit.

Definitely taste the baeckoffe and coq au Reisling, some of the fabulous local specialties. Baeckoffe consists of a stew of meats, potatoes and spices. Coq au Riesling is much like the better-known coq au vin, but is made with Riesling (and, in my opinion, tastier). It is usually served over fresh-made spaetzle, a German noodle. There are many other local dishes that are divine as well, so be sure to experiment! The Alsatian desserts are among the world's best

It goes without saying that the food and drink on this trip will be just as memorable as the castles, forests, and flowers.

 

   Day 4:
Heidelberg, Germany

Rüdesheim, Germany

Heidelberg Highlights:

Tour of Heidelberg including Heidelberg Castle and Old Town
Scenic Cruising

Note:  France and Germany share the Rhine as a common border for approximately 100 miles.  30 miles after leaving Strasbourg, the Viking longboat Kvasir will leave this shared border.  The next 250 miles of the journey will take place exclusively in Germany. 

Day Four will be a busy day.  The first part of the Day Four will take us to the lovely town of Heidelberg.  Heidelberg is 70 miles north of Strasbourg. 

We will be taking something of a side trip to get to Heidelberg.  Heidelberg is located 15 miles to the east of the Rhine on the Neckar River, a Rhine tributary.

We will tour the Old Town, then visit the Castle.  This should take up the entire morning.

In the afternoon, the ship will sail back to the Rhine and travel some 70 miles north till we reach Rüdesheim, a famous wine-making town.  In the evening, we will go into town to explore.

About Heidelberg:

Germany's oldest university town, Heidelberg is situated in the Neckar Valley just east of the Rhine. Known as the cradle of the German Romantic movement, it also boasts beautiful baroque architecture. Heidelberg is most famous as the site of the imposing ruins of Heidelberg Castle, a magnificent red sandstone ruin perched 330 feet above the Rhine. It was the home of the Palatinate princes until it was destroyed by fire in the 1800s.

Heidelberg is filled with unusual museums, and most of Heidelberg's historical buildings and artifacts have been preserved, allowing visitors the ability to learn about German culture and architecture, and experience first-hand one of the many reasons that makes Heidelberg such an interesting place to visit.

Heidelberg is also a great place to be active - there are many parks located throughout the city, and the cycling and hiking paths are numerous, giving anyone who wishes to enjoy the outdoors plenty of opportunities.

Heidelberg Castle

One of Europe's most famous landmarks, the romantic ruins of Heidelberg Castle have attracted visitors since the 19th century.

It is the paradox of seeing something so magnificent in a state of such beautiful ruin that gives Heidelberg Castle and its park such a captivating aura. The epitome of German romanticism, it's like something from another world. Even the majestic ruins, overgrown with ivy, still reflect the power and magnificence of the castle's former residents, the Wittelsbach dynasty.

Built as a fortress with towers, casemates and moats in around 1300, this castle perched high above the town developed over four hundred years into a symbol of the feudal power of the Palatinate Electors of the time. The oldest still discernibly residential building is the Ruprecht wing with its magnificent Renaissance fireplace.

The Otto-Heinrich wing was the first castle building in Germany to have elaborate exterior decoration. The best-preserved building is the Friedrich wing whose facade with statues of the electors is like an ancestral portrait gallery. On the ground floor is the castle church, still intact, with residential rooms above. Particularly enchanting is the Hortus Palatinus pleasure garden, an earthly paradise created by human hand during the reign of Friedrich V. For a long time, this was considered the eighth wonder of the world, even though it was never completed.
 

Rüdesheim Highlights

Free time in Rüdesheim
Optional Rüdesheim Evening Tour that includes mini train ride into town, dinner and a folkloric performance

Dancing and Drinking in Alt Rüdesheim

Rüdesheim is a town perfect for tourism. Its omnipresent oompah bands and sprawling hillside vineyards tickle all the right notes of "quaintness" for the river cruise traveler looking for a picturesque German village.

You have come to the right place. Rüdesheim and its environs have preserved the quintessential look of Old Germany. 

Drosselgasse

The biggest tourist draw in Rüdesheim is the Drosselgasse, German for "choke alley".  The Drosselgasse is a narrow, cobbled lane that runs through the heart of the town.  It connects the main street -- Oberstrasse -- to Rheinstrasse, the street alongside the river. 

The Drosselgasse is full of beautifully decorated restaurants full of music and laughter.  It is easy to allow yourself to be swept along.  The festive currents of music, the tempting aromas of grilled meat, the free-flowing Rheingau wines and large quantities of fine German beer attract huge crowds of travelers. 

Indeed, tourists seem to find their way to the town's narrow Drosselgasse year-round.  The pedestrian-friendly lane is crowded with restaurants, wine taverns and open-air biergartens that feature live music almost year-round.  This is the place where both entertainers and tourists gather to dance the German Polka.

Live band entertainment, brass instruments and dance music play all day and all night during the summer in the many wine taverns and open-air garden taverns along the 144-metre-long narrow cobblestone pedestrian street. Since The Drosselgasse is Rüdesheim's most famous attraction, it is always crowded with tourists. 

Rüdesheim is small, but that makes it easy to access the entire town.  The nice thing about Rüdesheim's small size is that you can make a quick exit from the melee if you wish.

Within minutes, you can find yourself wandering through row upon row of ripening grapes to an uncrowded vista over the Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- or relaxing in one of the more quiet beer gardens.

So, indulge yourself. Take a gondola ride, taste some Rhenish wine, enjoy the sunshine on the Rhine Valley.

Besides Drosselgasse, there are other things to see in Rüdesheim.

Bromserburg Castle, a more than 1,000-year-old structure that is the oldest castle in the Rhine Gorge World Heritage site, ranks as perhaps the most notable building in Rüdesheim. The town bought the castle in 1941.  It has since turned it into the Rheingauer Wine Museum, which houses a collection of wine presses, glasses and other wine-themed pieces.

The Niederwald, which means 'forest clearing' or 'coppice', is a broad hill that rises to the east behind Rüdesheim and is carpeted with vineyards producing some of the best wines in the Rhine Gorge region. Trails run through the vineyards and lead to a variety of sights within the Niederwald Landscape Park.

The beautiful Heidelberg Castle


Into the Valley of the Castles



 
 
Day 5:
Braubach & Koblenz
Germany

Braubach Highlights:

Scenic cruising along the Middle Rhine
Our day to see an endless series of Castles, little towns, ruins plus the famous Lorelei, the legendary rock formation
Tour of Marksburg Castle and its museum.

This day will be a major highlight on our trip.  This day will take us up a 40 mile stretch known as the Rhine Gorge that features one amazing German castle after another.  In other words, it is a "Castle Festival" of sorts.

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is one of the most magnificent and oldest cultural landscapes in Europe. It is seen as the epitome of the Rhine legacy as a seat of power in medieval Germany.

The great richness and beauty of the central Rhine has been honored by UNESCO and the 65 km long section between the old Roman town of Koblenz and the towns of Bingen and Rüdesheim were taken into the list of world heritage sites in the year 2002.

This section has long been an inspiration for the Rhine's painters, poets, philosophers and musicians and no wonder: the narrow breakout of the Rhine through the Rhine slate mountains with its constructions, memorials and the string of settlements which line the banks like a row of pearls together with the vine slopes.

It is hard to find something similar in Europe. The exceptional thing is the number of castles, mansions and fortresses: around 40 of these constructions between Koblenz and Bingen prove the strategic importance which the Rhine had in the early centuries.

Marksburg Castle

Rising high above the town of Braubach on a hill overlooking the Rhine, Marksburg Castle has survived time to be one of the best examples of mediaeval architecture in Germany. It holds the distinction of being the only hill castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. Over time it was added to, so what we see today is a compilation of centuries of building.

Built in 1117 and expanded and renovated over the next 400 years, Marksburg Castle is near the German village of Braubach. The castle was built as a fortress to protect Braubach and to reinforce the collection of duties from ships sailing on the Rhine River.

The castle was never a royal residence. In the Napoleonic era, it was used as a prison, and the castle suffered from lack of repair before it was sold in 1900 to the German Castle Association, whose goal is to preserve castles such as Marksburg.

The Association bought the castle for the symbolic price of 1000 German marks. Although heavily damaged by American artillery during World War II, today the castle is a centerpiece of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rhine Gorge. It's the only hill castle on the Rhine to never have been completely destroyed.

Marksburg has a tall and slender keep. The keep rises from a small courtyard (one of the smallest in Germany) to a height of 40m. Parts of the keep date to the beginnings of the castle. It has an entrance that is 10m above ground, which made it hard for attackers to reach. The original castle was gradually added to and it expanded with the need for defenses.

The earliest part of the castle was constructed by the Lord of Eppstein, with a triangular layout built in the Romanesque style. By 1283 the castle was bought by Count Eberhard II of Katzenelnbogen, whose family was one of the wealthiest in the Rhineland. The castle was expanded in the Gothic style which gives the castle its unique present day style.

One interesting feature you can still see at the castle is a medieval herb garden containing 160 plants. The garden is a showcase of plants ranging from medical and seasoning to toxic deadly nightshade and hemlock.

In 1479 the castle passed to the Landgraves of Hesse with the marriage of the heiress Anna to Heinrich of Hesse. It became a fortress with artillery batteries. The cannons were used during the 30 Years War. Aimed at the Rhine, with a reach of 1000 meters, they guarded the valley below. After the introduction of firearms, strengthening the castles defenses became urgent. The added defenses saved Marksburg from ever being seriously attacked.

In 1803 the German empire broke up and the Duchy of Nassau gained control of Marksburg. It was during this time that the castle became a home for disabled soldiers and also a state prison. The castle was taken over by Prussia in 1866 during the Austro-Prussian War. It fell into decay after being used as apartments.

It was purchased in 1900 by the German Castle Association with the help of Kaiser Wilhelm II, for 1,000 gold marks. Marksburg Castle is now the home for the offices of the German Castle Association (DBV) who work to protect and preserve castles and stately homes in Germany. The offices and official residence of the general secretary of the German Castle Association (DBV) are now part of the Romanesque Great Hall, the oldest main residential building of the castle.

Koblenz Highlights:

Free time in Koblenz
UNESCO world heritage site - Upper Middle Rhine Valley

About Koblenz

One of the most beautiful and oldest towns in Germany with over 2000 years of history.

Situated in the picturesque landscape of the Rhine and Moselle and surrounded by four low mountain ranges is the 2000-year-old town of Koblenz. Its abundance of cultural monuments and historic buildings, its cozy lanes and narrow alleyways, the relaxed and happy atmosphere of its squares and river promenades make Koblenz a friendly town where its guests feel right at home.

The town owes its name to the Romans who named the 'castle' they constructed here around 9 B.C. "castellum apud confluentes." This means "castle at the confluence of the rivers". Visitors on the trail of Koblenz' past, find themselves caught up in the history of a town which over the centuries was captured by the Franks, chosen as a place of residence by German prince electors, conquered by the French and fortified by the Prussians. A truly European place.

Discover Koblenz with its spectacular castles, former mansion, and grand town houses, the beautiful places of interest and its historical heritage; enjoy the beauty of its narrow streets and romantic corners.

Fortress walls and towers, castles and palaces, monuments and parks paint a vivid picture of the town's eventful past. Koblenz was conquered by foreign armies and has received princes, kings, emperors and presidents within its walls. Today visitors from all over the world enjoy discovering the history and rich cultural heritage of this old town.

While strolling through the town's historic centre with its narrow lanes and romantic squares you may choose to go shopping, or just to have a break in one of the many sidewalk cafés.

A walk from "Florinsmarkt" (St Florin's Market) to "Münzplatz (Old Mint Square) and "Jesuitenplatz" (Jesuits' Square) will take you past historic monuments such as medieval churches (St Florin's Church and Our Lady's Church) and beautifully restored historic house fronts as well as attractive shops inviting you to shopping in historic surroundings.

In the evening you may choose to wine and dine in an indoor or outdoor restaurant or go for wine tasting in a typical "Weinstube" (wine tavern). Nowhere in Old Koblenz is far from the banks of the Rhine or the Moselle. Here you can stroll leisurely along the rivers watching barges and boats passing by...

This map helps to convey the amazing stretch of the Rhine known as "Schlossreihe", aka "Castle Row".   It is hard to believe, but this 30 mile expanse features practically one new castle every mile!

This is truly an amazing sight to behold.  The ship starts out from the small village of Rüdesheim and slowly cruises past one castle at a time.  Towards the end of the 30 mile journey, the ship stops at Braubach, home of Marksburg Castle perched high above the Rhine atop a mountain crest.   Our group will be escorted up to the castle where we can indulge all sorts of fantasies. 

Reichsberg Castle on the Moselle River, about 30 miles west of Koblenz.

 

Day 6:  Köln (Cologne)   Germany

 

Cologne Highlights:

Walking tour including Old Town and Cologne Cathedral
Optional Evening Beer Culture Tour to the Brauhaus
Free time to explore Cologne

About Cologne:

Cologne offers seemingly endless attractions, led by its famous cathedral whose filigree twin spires dominate the skyline. It's regularly voted the country's single most popular tourist attraction. The city's museum landscape is especially strong when it comes to art but also has something in store for fans of chocolate, sports and even Roman history. Its people are well known for their liberalism and joie de vivre and it's easy to have a good time right along with them year-round in the beer halls of the Altstadt (old town) or during the springtime Carnival.

Cologne is like a 3-D textbook on history and architecture. Drifting about town you'll stumble upon an ancient Roman wall, medieval churches galore, nondescript postwar buildings, avant-garde structures and even a new postmodern quarter right on the Rhine. Germany's fourth-largest city was founded by the Romans in 38 BC and given the lofty name Colonia Claudia Ara Aggripinensium. It grew into a major trading centre, a tradition it solidified in the Middle Ages and continues to uphold today.

Kölner Dom

Cologne's geographical and spiritual heart - and its single-biggest tourist draw - is the magnificent Kölner Dom. With its soaring twin spires, this is the Mt Everest of cathedrals, jam-packed with art and treasures. Its loftiness and dignified ambience leave only the most jaded of visitors untouched.

Construction began in 1248 in the French Gothic style but proceeded slowly and was eventually halted in 1560 when funds ran out. The half-built church lingered for nearly 300 years and even suffered a stint as a horse stable and prison when Napoleon occupied the town. A few decades later, a generous cash infusion from Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV finally led to its completion in 1880. Luckily, it escaped WWII bombing raids with nary a shrapnel wound.  It has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1996.

The Dom is Germany's largest cathedral and must be circled to truly appreciate its dimensions. Note how its lacy spires and flying buttresses create a sensation of lightness and fragility despite its mass and height. This sensation continues inside, where a phalanx of pillars and arches supports the lofty nave. Soft light filters through the dazzling stained-glass windows , including the spectacular new one by Gerhard Richter in the transept - a kaleidoscope of 11,500 squares in 72 colours, Richter's abstract design has been called a 'symphony of light' and, in the afternoon especially, when the sun hits it just so, it's easy to understand why.

Among the cathedral's numerous treasures, the pièce de résistance is the Shrine of the Three Kings behind the main altar, a richly bejewelled and gilded sarcophagus said to hold the remains of the kings who followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The bones were spirited out of Milan in 1164 as spoils of war by Emperor Barbarossa's chancellor and instantly turned Cologne into a major pilgrimage site.

Other highlights include the Gero Crucifix (970), notable for its monumental size and an emotional intensity rarely achieved in those early medieval days; the choir stalls from 1310, richly carved from oak; and the altar painting by local artist Stephan Lochner from around 1450.

For an exercise fix, climb the 509 steps up the Dom's south tower to the base of the steeple that dwarfed all buildings in Europe until Gustave Eiffel built a certain tower in Paris. A good excuse to take a breather on your way up is the 24-tonne Peter Bell (1923), the largest free-swinging working bell in the world. Views from the 95m platform are so wonderful, you'll forget your vertigo.

Cologne is justifiably proud of its Domschatz-kammer, whose reliquaries, robes, sculptures and liturgical objects are handsomely presented in medieval vaulted rooms. Standouts include a Gothic bishop's staff from 1322 and a 15th-century sword.

Old Town

Old Town is in many ways, the heart and soul of the city. It's near the Köln Dom, surrounded by "the Ring," a ring of streets, botanical space, and promenades following the path of the old city's walls. Inside the ring and along the Rhine is a vibrant scene of bars, pubs, and restaurants. While it can get crowded, Old Town is known for its hustle and overall friendly vibe. Beyond the rhythm of the bars and shops are seemingly innumerable small streets and alleys that wind through the old buildings. It is sectioned into several squares, providing visitors with ample opportunities to explore and soak in Cologne's culture.

Museums

Being an internationally renowned cultural metropolis, Cologne boasts 36 museums and far more than 100 art galleries. Whether municipal, ecclesiastical, company-owned, or private museum - the wide array of displayed exhibits ranges from Roman, medieval via non-European to contemporary art.

Waterfront

The newly designed, restructured Rheinauhafen waterfront complex is a young and attractive district of Cologne. The 210,000 m² development, which is located right on the Rhine, not far from to the city center, has quickly become established as one of Cologne's popular attractions. The waterfront district features a mix of modern residential and office buildings interspersed with many cafés, restaurants, and galleries. And visitors with a passion for architecture and culture will also find points of interest in the Rheinauhafen.

The centerpiece of the new Cologne promenade is the trio of buildings called the "Kranhäuser" (crane towers), which rise to a height of about 60 meters. The buildings, which are shaped like hoisting cranes, are defining elements of the skyline on the west bank of the Rhine.

Cable Car

The Cologne cable car has been in operation for over 50 years and was the first cable car in Europe to cross a river. Since 1957 more than 15 million passengers have experienced the unique panoramic view of the city of Cologne from the air and enjoyed unforgettable impressions. The crossing with the Cologne cable car is definitely the right high point of a wonderful day tour of the city.

Historic Town Hall

Among natives of Cologne and art historians all over the world, the town hall in Cologne is famous for its loggia, the Renaissance façade built by the Kalkar master builder Wilhelm Vernukken. Erected between 1569 and 1573, it served to replace the run-down mediaeval entrance hall in front of the main hall. Today, almost every major art history encyclopedia in the world pictures the loggia as one of the most typical buildings of the Renaissance era.

The loggia originally functioned as a link between city council and citizenry and in many respects continues to do so to the present day. In the past, the council would use this prestigious setting to hold a "morning address" at set times to inform the citizens gathered in the town hall square of their latest rulings.

Today, the loggia acts as a more informal link between the council and the citizens of Cologne, for example as a place where fans can cheer their idols as they look down from the open façade on the upper floor following an official reception in the town hall.

The parapet on the upper floor is decorated with a sculpture depicting the tale of the struggle between the mayor Gryn and the lion, symbolizing the power of the council. The legend tells of the fight between citizens and the church for leadership over the city.

The town hall tower has similar symbolic value, erected by the Cologne guilds between 1407 and 1414 as a symbol of their leadership over the city following their victory over the nobility in 1396 when they introduced a charter defining the new constitution of the city. With five floors and a total height of 61 meters, the town hall tower became the first secular "high-rise building" in Cologne.

The late Gothic style tower with three tetragonal lower floors and two octagonal upper floors boasts an impressive 130 stone statues and the famous "Platzjabbeck", a wooden grotesque face sculpture which opens its mouth and sticks out its tongue when the tower clock strikes the hour.

The excavations during restoration work revealed the remains of the Roman praetorium which acted as a base for the Roman governors of Germania Inferior and later the Kings of Ripuarian Franconia. The praetorium is now accessible again following the restorations. The fate of the city of Cologne has therefore been determined in the same place for 2,000 years.

The center of the historic town hall is the "Piazetta", a 900 sqm large, 12.60 metre high open space with a view of the tower through the north wall and containing the striking if somewhat controversial monument "Wolke" by Hann Trier. The "Hansasaal" (Hanseatic League hall) and the loggia are to the west, the tower and the "Löwenhof" (lion courtyard) to the north, reception hall and office rooms of the mayor and chief municipal director to the east and the administrative wing to the south.

The Hansasaal forms the heart of the historic town hall. The room dates back to the 14th century when it was used as a meeting room by the Hanseatic League and later went on to be used by the council as a courtroom and reception hall.

The Hansasaal was restored to its high Gothic design after the war. The south wall is of particular interest, displaying the "Neun guten Helden" (nine good heroes) sculpture in its Gothic pinnacle structures. The north side is decorated with the eight prophet figures dating back to around 1410, which previously adorned the adjoining "Prophets Chamber" room.

Today, the most impressive examples of artwork in this room are the two wood inlay doorways by Melchior von Reidt (around 1600) leading to the Hansasaal and "Senatssaal" (senate room). The impressive council chairs by Melchior von Reidt are also worthy of special mention here.

Birthplace of the Eau de Cologne Fragrance

"Eau de Cologne" or simply cologne is the French translation of  "Kölnisch Wasser".  In English, that translates to “Water of Cologne”, a fragrance originating from Cologne, Germany.

The original Eau de Cologne is a spirit-citrus perfume launched in Cologne in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina (1685–1766), an Italian perfume maker from Santa Maria Maggiore Valle Vigezzo.

In 1708, Italian-born Johann Maria Farina wrote to his brother Jean Baptiste: "I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain".

Farina named his fragrance Eau de Cologne, in honour of his new hometown.

   
   

Day 7: Kinderdijk
Netherlands

 

Kinderdijk Highlights:

Scenic cruising through Holland's maze of waterways
Tour the windmills of Kinderdijk
Dutch cheese & jenever tasting
Captain's Farewell Reception and Dinner

About Kinderdijk:

Kinderdijk is a village in the Netherlands in the province South Holland just 15 miles east of Rotterdam. Its claim to fame are 19 pristinely preserved windmills.

Kinderdijk is situated in a polder in the Alblasserwaard at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers.

The system of 19 windmills was built around 1740. This group of mills is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. The windmills of Kinderdijk are one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites. They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

There is of course a legend known as the 'Hero of Haarlem' which tells the tale about a little boy who saved Holland by sticking his thumb to stop a dangerous leak in a dike.  Interestingly, the name "Kinderdijk" is Dutch for "Children dike".

In 1421, during the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1421, the Grote Hollandse Waard flooded, but the Alblasserwaard polder stayed unflooded. It is said that when the terrible storm had subsided, someone went to the dike between these two areas, to see what could be saved. In the distance, he saw a wooden cradle floating on the waters.

As it came nearer, some movement was detected. A cat was seen in the cradle trying to keep it in balance by jumping back and forth so that no water could get into it. As the cradle eventually came close enough to the dike for a bystander to pick up the cradle, he saw that a baby was quietly sleeping inside it, nice and dry.

The cat had kept the cradle balanced and afloat. This folktale and legend has been published as "The Cat and the Cradle" in English.

In Alblasserwaard, problems with water became more and more apparent in the 13th century. Large canals, called "weteringen", were dug to get rid of the excess water in the polders. However, the drained soil started setting, while the level of the river rose due to the river's sand deposits. After a few centuries, an additional way to keep the polders dry was required.

It was decided to build a series of windmills, with a limited capacity to bridge water level differences, but just able to pump water into a reservoir at an intermediate level between the soil in the polder and the river; the reservoir could be pumped out into the river by other windmills whenever the river level was low enough; the river level has both seasonal and tidal variations. Although some of the windmills are still used, the main water works are provided by two diesel pumping stations near one of the entrances of the windmills site.

   
   

Amsterdam - Canals, Windmills and Tulips

Day 8: Amsterdam
Netherlands

 

Amsterdam Highlights

Disembark the Viking Kvasir
Proceed to airport or explore Amsterdam

About Amsterdam:

Amsterdam, the beautiful capital of the Netherlands, has a 17th century historical atmosphere combined with the contemporary character of a modern metropolis. This creates a friendly and relaxed environment. The small scale of the buildings and the intimacy of the streets, canals and squares create an atmosphere that visitors find unique.

It is a treasure chest of superb architecture and is famous for its canals and extraordinary museums. Highlights include the towers and steeples, considered to be some of the city's loveliest features.

The city has the highest museum density in the world and is home to cultural highlights, such as the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, Hermitage Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum with Rembrandt's world-famous Nightwatch. Other well known places of interest in Amsterdam are the Palace on the Dam, the Artis Zoo, Jewish Historical Museum and the Rembrandt House.

The cultural scene in Amsterdam is rich and diverse. You can enjoy classical concerts at 'Concertgebouw', one of the best concert venues in the world, and jazz at 'Bimhuis'. 'Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ' is a cultural melting pot with different shows every day of the week. Theatre and cabaret blossom at 'Carré' and City Theatre Amsterdam.

Dam Square

Dam Square is Amsterdam's beating heart. Nowadays Dam Square In contrast with the old days it is now a very peaceful square which is home to scores of pigeons and street performers.

Dam Square has had a turbulent history. Around 1270 a damn was constructed in this spot in the river Amstel. Dam Square was once the central marketplace of Amsterdam where literally everything under the moon was sold.

In 1535 the square was the scene of the Anabaptists' riots. Less than a century later the loot of the silver fleet was the reason for a revolt. The troubles that erupted because the employment benefits were decreased in 1935, also focused on this square. Towards the end of the Second World War German soldiers killed innocent citizens here during a gruesome shoot-out.

In the 1960s and the 1970s students protests took place here, as did the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. It has been quiet on Dam Square in the past few decades. The latest riots were as long ago as 1980 on the occasion of HRH Queen Beatrix' investiture in Nieuwe Kerk.

The National Monument on Dam Square was unveiled on 4 May 1956. It was erected in remembrance of those who died during World War II. Each year on 4 May many dignitaries, including representatives of the royal family, commemorate the victims of the Second World War here.

The Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam are also situated at Dam Square. Other nearby highlights are the Red Light district, the narrowest house in Amsterdam at Singel 7 and the shopping mall Magna Plaza.

Vondelpark

The central park of Amsterdam is the Vondelpark. This national heritage monument attracts thousands of people of Amsterdam every day of the week. Whether you want to sport, relax, dine and wine or are in search of culture, the Vondelpark is the place to be.

There's much more to do than enjoying the winding paths, rose garden and ponds of this English landscape park. The Vondelpark has a tea house, restaurant, bar, and an open air theater, where you can witness great performances during the summer. On King's Day the park turns into the greatest unregulated market you've ever seen.

The park attracts approximately ten million visitors a year. Why don't you give it a try too? It's a great spot to relax, sunbath and watch other people

Architecture in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a fascinating architecture mixture of 17th century canals with UNESCO status, works of Dutch architect Berlage and the architectural movement Amsterdam School and innovative new projects in the business district The Zuidas and the neighborhood Eastern Docklands.

The Oude Kerk or Old Church is not just the oldest building in Amsterdam; it is also one of the most beautiful buildings. In the 13th century, when the Amstel discharged into the IJ in this location, fishermen established a small chapel devoted to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. Through the centuries the church evolved into an imposing monument.

About one hundred years later, when the population of Amsterdam had grown significantly, a new church was founded on the Dam. It was called the Nieuwe Kerk or New Church so the old St. Nicolaaskerk became commonly known as the 'Oude Kerk'.

This area was 'Amsterdam's living room' for centuries. Rembrandt registered his intention to marry here (known as 'ondertrouw'), fishermen repaired their nets and Sweelinck played the organ.

Today church services are still held in the building but it is also used as a wedding venue and regularly hosts exhibitions. It is a real attraction for tourists, who combine it with a visit to the less sacred 'Wallen' red light district

'Het Scheepvaarthuis' (the Shipping House) was built as a joint office for six Amsterdam shipping companies. Architect J.M. van der Mey designed a building that would resemble their power. The Shipping House was completely finished in 1928.

Highlights of the Shipping House

The Shipping House is one of Amsterdam's best-known monuments. The reasons are:

The Amsterdam School: the Shipping House was the first completed building of the Amsterdam School. Characteristics are the profuse masonry along the chimneys, ridge beams and frames and the design of the corners.

The decorations: the building is richly decorated with sculptures and wrought iron, which refer to the history of shipping in Holland. Symbols include seahorses, dolphins, waves and anchors.

The mighty entrance: The four oceans (the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean) are represented around the entrance. The windows illustrate Neptune with a globe, the V.O.C. (United East India Company) and the W.I.C. (the trade with America and Africa).

The incredible stairwell: The most remarkable feature of the interior is the central stairwell. The staircases have been richly decorated with shells, octopuses and other figures.

Today the Shipping House is a hotel, which preserved the monumental aspects of the building. Walk in and discover all the beautiful details of the building.

Anne Frank Museum

The Anne Frank House is a museum with a story. It's situated in the center of Amsterdam and holds the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II. Anne Frank was a normal girl in exceptional circumstances. For more than two years she described the events of her daily life in hiding in her diary.

Anne's original diary along with some of her other notebooks are on display as part of the Anne Frank House's permanent exhibition. The collection and temporary exhibitions focus on the wartime persecution of Jews, contemporary fascism, racism and anti-Semitism.

See for yourself how Anne, her family and other people were living while hiding from the occupying Germans. Take into account, that visiting the Anne Frank House is a moving experience, which has already touched millions of people from all over the world

Van Gogh Museum

Vincent van Gogh was a 19th century Dutch post-impressionist painter. His works were of great influence on 20th century art. During his life he was little appreciated. He only sold one work of art. Today the Van Gogh Museum attracts around 1,5 million visitors a year.

No other place in the world has so many paintings of Vincent van Gogh under one roof. The collection consists of more than 200 canvases, 500 drawings and 750 written documents. Together these provide a fantastic insight into his life and work.

Absolute masterpieces of the Van Gogh Museum are:

Van Gogh's self-portraits,
The Sunflowers,
The Potato-eaters,
The Bedroom in Arles.

Apart from the works of Vincent van Gogh, the museum has a collection concerning Van Gogh's history and works from artists he befriended or influenced.

Let Van Gogh overwhelm you with his amazing works and find out how he influenced the art history. Take into account that the museum is less crowded in the morning.

Rijksmuseum

If you're in Amsterdam for any length of time, you must visit the National Museum of Holland: the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. The National Museum is located at Museum Square, which is situated in the city center of Amsterdam. The National Museum, the Rijksmuseum, is home to a wonderful collection of Dutch art and history. After a visit to the Rijksmuseum you will have more historical and cultural awareness and you will have seen some of the greatest Dutch cultural highlights.

All together the collection of the Rijksmuseum presents the history of the Netherlands in an international context from 1100 to present. These are a few historical and cultural Dutch icons you cannot miss:

Rembrandt's Night Watch (de Nachtwacht) is one of the most famous works by a Dutch master and will steal your breath away.

Rijksmuseum has one of the finest collections with paintings by great masters of the 17th century, such as Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn'.

The Rijksmuseum presents beautiful, luxury dolls' houses, furnished in the finest detail, dating back to 1676.

If you can't make it to Royal Delft than you can always enjoy some of the finest Delftware from tea-sets to vases at the National Museum.

Whether you're planning a short or a long stay in Amsterdam, you must visit the Rijksmuseum. Make sure you come early to avoid the crowds. Combine the Rijksmuseum with one of the other nearby cultural highlights, like the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Coster Diamonds.

The Heineken Experience

It is not a museum, it is the Heineken Experience. The former Heineken brewery is equipped with the latest multimedia to make you see, hear, smell, taste and enjoy Heineken.

The Heineken Experience starts at the base: the ingredients and 150 years of brewing craftsmanship. Then you'll get a 4D-experience what it's like to be brewed and bottled. More interactive fun is followed by a Heineken show. Finally, you'll end the experience with a well deserved beer.

The Heineken Experience is a fun way to get to know this world famous Dutch beer. It only takes one and a half hour and is a great activity if you're with friends.

Canals of Amsterdam

A visit to Amsterdam isn't complete without enjoying the canals. They are a symbol of Amsterdam and of great cultural and historical value. In 2010 the World Heritage Committee decided to submit the 17th century canal ring area in Amsterdam to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Though every canal is beautiful and unique in itself, there are some absolute musts:

The Golden Bend: the canal from 'Leidsestraat' to 'Vijzelstraat' has the most beautiful and magnificent stretch of canal houses of Amsterdam.

One view, fifteen bridges: the bridge on the corner of 'Reguliersgracht' and 'Herengracht' has a unique view over fifteen bridges. Make sure you stand on the side of the street with the odd numbers.

Magere Brug: the 'Magere Brug' (Skinny Bridge) is one of the most picturesque bridges of Amsterdam. At night the bridge is romantically illuminated.

Canal tour: enjoy the beautiful canals and canal houses from the water with one of Amsterdam's many canal tours.

According to UNESCO, the canals are cultural heritage of "outstanding universal value". The city of Amsterdam also does its utter best to maintain and protect the canals. Enough reasons for you to discover the Venice of the North: the canals of Amsterdam.

Red Light District

While most major cities in the world have a 'Red Light District', none are quite as touristy as Amsterdam's or its Red Light District. Amsterdam has three of these districts, however, 'De Wallen' in the city center is the largest and best known. This quarter of Amsterdam is one of the oldest parts of the city.

Since the 14th century the former inner-harbor of Amsterdam has slowly grown into an area of sex shops, brothels, gay bars, coffeeshops, peepshows and window prostitutes. The fluorescent red lights are characteristic for this area.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam attracts many tourists. This is also stimulated by a tour offered by the local VVV (Tourist Information Office). The presence of police and security cameras ensure that 'De Wallen' is one of the safest areas of Amsterdam.

Shopping

Amsterdam is a great source of inspiration for every visitor: it has museums, architecture and culinary addresses and there is always something to do. Amsterdam also draws a lot of fashion talent, which means you can find a lot of extraordinary fashion shops here. From alternative budget shops to big chains and exclusive couture, Amsterdam is the place to visit for some serious fashion shopping!

City centre: This is where you find the big shopping streets, like the Leidsestraat, Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk. There are many well-known (international) fashion chains as well as less well known fashion shops. This is also the district to go for shoe shopping.

Jordaan: This eternally cosy 'people's neighbourhood' harbours countless small designer shops, ranging from alternative to exclusive. If you have sophisticated tastes, the Jordaan is definitely the place to visit. You will be spoiled for choice!

Zuid: Amsterdam-Zuid has chic shopping streets like the PC Hooftstraat, Van Baerlestraat and Beethovenstraat. Here you will find a wide selection of international top brands. If you have deep pockets, you can fill your wardrobe to bursting here.

De Wallen: This old district - which is mainly known as the 'red-light district', boasts several special designer shops concentrated around the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The district is called Red Light Fashion and shops like CODE come highly recommended.

The Begijnhof

The 'Begijnhof' is one of the most beautiful places in Amsterdam. It's an inner court that dates from around 1300 with typical Amsterdam-style houses. The Begijnhof has a fascinating history with many historical events, the sisterhood of Catholics and even miracles.

The women that joined the sisterhood of Catholics were called 'begijnen'. These were women who lived like nuns without ever taken an oath to God. This sisterhood of Catholics cared for the sick and gave education to the poor. They had their own set of rules and were for instance allowed to leave the sisterhood to get married.

The Begijnhof is open every day between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Take into account that the Begijnhof is private possession and a place of silence. You can join a tour at the local tourist information office (VVV) and learn more about the miracles that have taken place here.

The ring of canals in Amsterdam is dotted with several unusually narrow houses. One of the most famous is the building at Singel 7, which is often labeled as the narrowest house in the world. With a width of only one meter (about 3 ft., 3 in.), the house is barely wider than its own front door.

In all fairness, it should be said that this is actually the rear façade of a house; the front is a bit wider. A better title for the house at Singel 7 would be the house with the narrowest façade in the world.

At Kloveniersburgwal 26 stands a house with a beautiful cornice gable, about 8 ft. wide. This house is known as the "Kleine Trippenhuis," or "the House of the Mr. Trip's Coachman". Oddly enough, this house is right across the street from the Trippenhuis at number 29, a building that, with its width 72 ft. 2 in., is the widest house in Amsterdam.

It was built in 1660 by the very wealthy brothers Lodewijk and Hendrick Trip. As the story goes, one day Mr. Trip's coachman proclaimed, "Goodness, I would even be happy with a house that is as wide as my master's front door." Mr. Trip heard this and made sure that the coachman got his wish.

For even more "narrow" experiences, visit the narrowest house in Europe, located at Oude Hoogstraat 22. This tiny house features a typical Amsterdam bell-gable. The façade is a mere 6 ft., 7.5 in. wide, and the house itself is 19 ft., 8 in. deep.

Measuring only 3 ft., 3 in. in width, the Trompettersteeg is the narrowest street in Amsterdam. The street is located in the Wallen districts, and prostitutes pose behind their windows on both sides of the street. Tour guides love to take tourists down this street, thus making it one of the most crowded streets in Amsterdam.

Keukenhof Gardens, the Tulip Paradise

If you can bear to rip yourself away from the Red Light District, you might consider flowers instead.  How about a visit to Keukenhof ("Kitchen garden")?  Known as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof is the world's largest flower garden.

Springtime is the best time to visit.  You won't believe the colorful display of tulips and other springtime bulbs in bloom at the magnificent Keukenhof Gardens!

Keukenhof is situated near Lisse, a suburb of Amsterdam 17 miles outside the city. According to the official website for the Keukenhof Park, approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares.

Stroll down winding paths lined with millions of blossoming tulips, narcissis, daffodils, hyacinths and bluebells and dotted with lovely greenhouses, brooks and shady ponds. Bring a picnic lunch or grab a bite from a refreshment stand for a relaxing lunch among the flowers.

Amsterdam is known as Waterworld. It features the most extensive canal system in the world

Vondel Park

Vincent Van Gogh

Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam's answer to the Louvre

Amsterdam Gardens

Heineken Brewery

Have boat, will travel

Amsterdam is said to have the world's most famous Red Light District

This tulip castle was part of the Amsterdam Tulip Festival

Keukenhof Gardens

Post Cruise Trip:

Amsterdam

 

Marla's Note:

To be honest, I haven't decided what I want to do about Amsterdam yet.

For the moment, you can assume Rick and I are visiting Amsterdam at the tail end of our trip. 

Give me some time to research hotels to stay at and places to visit.  I am fairly sure one of our days will be spent at Keukenhof Gardens to see the tulips!

Perhaps those of us who want to continue on can stay in a hotel together and take it from there.  We can all scatter through the city by day and regroup at night to do things together.  More info to come.

About the Viking Kvasir

Cruise Critic Editors chose Viking as the Best River Cruise line in 2013. 

"Viking River Cruise Line’s Longships are the best new river ships.  Sixteen new Viking Longships were launched in March of 2014.

They
are identical, so all win for their sleek lines, stunning atrium, balcony cabins with full-sized verandahs, and hotel-style suites.

The Aquavit Terrace, an indoor-outdoor casual eatery, is a dedicated alternative restaurant.

And the ships are state-of-the-art when it comes to engineering, with hybrid engines, solar panels and even an organic herb garden. "


Marla's Note:
The Kvasir is a brand new ship. It sets sail in March of 2014.

Viking names its ships after Viking Gods. In case you aren't current on your Norse mythology, Kvasir was the Viking God of Knowledge.  Extremely wise, Kvasir traveled far and wide, teaching and spreading knowledge.


Review of the Kvasir:

The Kvasir is a super sleek ship. It has large windows that bring in an abundance of sunlight. Its design is contemporary with classic Scandinavian touches that maximize light and space. Accommodates 190 passengers at full capacity and a crew of 45.

It has quiet, environmentally friendly hybrid engines, solar panels and an organic herb garden on the large sun deck.

The all-new Aquavit Terrace—an indoor/outdoor area at the bow of the ship for viewing, relaxing and casual dining.

The Aquavit Terrace’s indoor/outdoor configuration has glass walls that open to reveal scenic views on warm days. On cooler days, the expansive windows still provide spectacular views. The adjoining Observation Lounge has expansive windows that showcase the river views and plenty of comfortable couches and cozy chairs. While the lounge is large, it can feel crowded at times and it is advisable to get there early for a spot during lectures and briefings.

The Middle Deck lobby is a striking, light-filled, welcoming area with colorful artwork and a staircase leading up to the Observation Lounge. The concierge desk and a small boutique offering Viking River gear and books are in the reception area on the Middle Deck along with coffee and tea stations open 24 hours a day, with cookies served in the afternoons. The ship’s library had a great selection of itinerary-related books and two computers with free Internet access

Accommodations: The 95 outside rooms and suites aboard the Viking Kvasir have a functional modernity and neutral color palette. The spaces are targeted to today’s traveler, with plenty of plugs (including American outlets), reading lights, a hair dryer, a telephone and a refrigerator.

Each stateroom on the ship features plenty of storage, from the typical large space under the bed for luggage to a spacious closet and eight separate additional drawers. Extra pillows are available. Bathrooms are small but comfortable, with L’Occitane amenities, a bowl-style sink and plenty of shelf space for toiletries. There’s also a large vanity and mirror

French balcony staterooms featuring floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors

Turndown service is offered each night in addition to morning housekeeping, and printouts of the next day’s itinerary and other important information. The flat-screen TV provides a sizable selection of included entertainment, from itinerary-themed movies and documentaries to Hollywood hits

Fine cuisine, exemplary service and immersive, culture-rich itineraries.

Al fresco dining aboard Viking Kvasir-- Imagine waking as the mist rolls off the river, stopping in the lounge for a frothy cappuccino, and heading out to the Aquavit Terrace to silently cruise through the early morning light. That is one definition of a Viking happy hour.

Another one is in the more traditional sense: unwinding in the late afternoon with a pint of beer or glass of wine, chatting with friends and enjoying a delicious light bite. With the Aquavit Terrace equipped with grills and plentiful seating, each of these al fresco “happy hours” will be yours to indulge in.

Fine dining aboard Viking Kvasir:

The chefs create a variety of tasty offerings for you, with freshly prepared seasonal local vegetables, European specialties adapted to satisfy the tastes of the passengers, and homemade soups prepared daily. For breakfast, choose from selections of pastries, cereals, breakfast meats, egg dishes, fresh fruit and selected cheeses. At lunch, select from the soup and sandwich bar, or a choice of entrées and dessert. And for dinner, you are treated to a five-course gourmet menu with regional specialties. You can also select from regional wines to perfectly complement your meal.

There are two main dining areas: a large traditional restaurant and the Aquavit Terrace, which serves a more casual breakfast and lunch buffet daily. Seating is open

All meals aboard are prepared by local chefs under the guidance of Viking's European management team

Service is lighthearted and seamless, with a wait staff that remembers individual preferences. The dinner menu has a large selection of rotating daily specialties from the region, though simple chicken and fish are always an option, as well as several dessert choices. A buffet is always offered at breakfast and lunch, with hot items to order

All meals, coffee, tea, soft drinks, house wines and beers with lunch and dinner are included. A Silver Spirits beverage package can be ordered for those desiring a wider selection of premium wines and beers. Complimentary bottles of water are available in each stateroom and refreshed each day. There also is no corkage fee for those who find a great bottle of wine ashore.

On embarkation day, while the crew is preparing staterooms for the arriving guests, you can relax in the ship’s lounge or leave your luggage with the staff and explore Avignon on your own. You will be given access to your stateroom around mid-afternoon, at approximately 3:00 p.m. If you arrive during lunchtime, a light lunch buffet will be available in the lounge


2015
Rhine River Cruise at a Glance

Included Features:
 8 day cruise with river-view stateroom
 6 guided tours with audio headset
 All meals: 7 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 7 dinners, featuring regional specialties
 Welcome Cocktail Reception and Dinner
 Captain's Farewell Dinner
 Visit 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
 Old World Highlights: Dutch cheese and jenever tasting, Alsatian
    Flammkuchen cooking demonstration
 Culture Curriculum:  German language lesson, The Dutch Masters, Travelers
    Along the Rhine, The European Union

Group Pricing is as follows:

Category A:  Veranda Upper Deck 205 sq. ft. full-size veranda $3480.50 per person
Category B:  Veranda Middle Deck 205 sq. ft. full size veranda $3280.50 per person
Category D:  French Balcony Middle Deck 135 sq. ft. $2930.50 per person
Category E:  Standard Riverview Main Deck 150 sq. ft. $2330.50 per person
Category F:  Standard Riverview Main Deck 150 sq. ft. $2230.50 per person

 

Marla's Special Note:

For any of our 2014 Rhone River Cruise guests, there is a $200 per person discount on top of our group rate.

Staterooms are confirmed and cabin numbers are assigned when a deposit of $500 per person (plus travel insurance, if applicable) is received.

I encourage you to confirm your cabin as soon as possible. The pricing that I am offered will be recalled when the the ship occupancy level within that category is classified as "sold out".

All bookings must be made through Marla Archer.

Marla@ssqq.com

713 862 4428

Aquavit Terrace

Main Lobby

Main Dining Room

French Balcony

Dance Area

Outdoor Dining Area


A Chance to See the World from a Very Special Point of View

Rick Archer:  As I wrote this article about the Rhine, I could not help but remember of a humorous exchange I once had with a former girlfriend about a cruise trip to the Alps.

This story took place five years ago.  I began when I received a request to help a couple named Richard and Mary learn the Viennese Waltz in preparation for their vacation trip to Austria.

I never revealed this, but teaching that lesson turned out to be a bad mistake.  At the time, I could barely contain my envy.  Listening to Richard and Mary talk with excitement about their trip drove me absolutely nuts. 

The thought of NOT seeing a place like Austria, one of the most spectacular countries in the world, was more than I could bear.

Tyrolia, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna, the Austrian Empire, the Sound of Music, the Blue Danube, the Viennese Waltz.  OMG!

Just thinking about it all made me feel sick.  I decided the only way I could deal with my frustration would be to share my pain in the SSQQ Newsletter.  So here is what I wrote.


The May 2009 SSQQ Newsletter
Issue Three
Written by Rick Archer
Thursday, May 14, 2009

DANCING THE VIENNESE WALTZ IN AUSTRIA

From: Mary
Sent: Wednesday, May 06, 2009 4:27 PM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: Private Lessons - Austrian type of Waltz

Rick, after enjoying our two months of East Coast Swing lessons at SSQQ earlier this year for our daughter's wedding, my husband Richard and I could be considered advanced beginner or intermediate level swing dancers.

Now we are traveling to Austria in mid June of this year.  We wanted to have some private Waltz lessons to get us up to speed in short order. Is there anyone who can help us out in this regard?    Thank you for your help, Mary & Richard

RICK ARCHER'S NEWSLETTER NOTE:

Now doesn't that sound like fun?

Richard and Mary are going with a group to Austria.  On one of the nights, they are supposed to have a class in "Viennese Waltz" with a dance to follow.  

As you can see, Richard and Mary decided the smart thing to do was to get a head start.

I enjoyed helping them get ready to Waltz, but now I am really envious!

Marla needs to schedule a cruise to Austria. Please pester her to do so.


I was just teasing about Austria of course.  I was fully aware that Austria is a land-locked country in Europe. 

I never expected anyone would bother to reply, but I was wrong.  Indeed, someone did reply. 


From:
Janet
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 12:11 AM
To: dance@ssqq.com
Subject: get out your atlas, dodo

A cruise to AUSTRIA???  Are you out of your mind?

Did you know that Austria is landlocked and not a cruising destination?????  Get out your atlas, babe, because you made a slight blunder on that one!

Hint to Rick....here's a word for you: IMPOSSIBLE.

Cruise destinations all have large bodies of water associated with them...you know, so that a REALLY big boat can dock there.  

Even Noah's Ark isn't going to make it to Vienna !!

So who is this 'Janet' person who takes delight in taunting me?

Janet is my former girlfriend from 25 years ago.  We parted friends and have stayed in touch over the years. 

Back when we dated, Janet and I had fun matching wits.  Janet never could resist giving me a hard time.  I remember Janet was exceptionally good at finding ways to tease me.  Now, as one can see, Janet hasn't lost her touch.

At this point we resumed our verbal sparring for old times sake.


From:
Rick Archer
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:18 AM
To: 'Janet'
Subject: RE: get out your atlas, dodo

Dear Janet,

Regarding the cruise to Austria, why do you have so little faith in me?   I just said that to provoke people and have some fun.  

I never thought you of all people would believe I was that stupid.

I not only know where Austria is, I know that it is surrounded by Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic and a couple Balkan countries… but with a skeptic like you I doubt I will convince you of anything.

I assume you believe me when I say I know where Austria is?

On the other hand, knowing you, maybe not.  ;-)

 


From:
Janet
Sent: Monday, May 18, 2009 10:31 PM
To: Rick Archer
Subject: Re: get out your atlas, dodo

Okay, okay okay, I'll give it up. I was only trying to yank your chain anyway. However, a wee bit of me still suspects that you momentarily mistook Vienna for Venice or Austria for Australia.

Not that I doubt your geographic brilliance, but we all make mistakes sometimes...especially as we get older.  And God knows you are getting older.

So any time you want to come clean on that, let me know. I won't think any less of you. (I hope you are laughing here)

Very good on the knowledge of Austria's surrounding countries... but we all know you could have checked it out a bit on any map.  Therefore it does not count as real genius or any conclusive measure of your geographic intelligence.  You will have to blow me away with something better than that.

By the way, did anyone else call you on this glaring error or did everyone just think you knew what you were talking about given your superior abilities at naming capitals of the world?

And is anyone pestering your wife for a cruise to Vienna?

 


From:
Rick Archer
Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:05 AM
To: 'Janet'
Subject: RE: get out your atlas, dodo

No one to my knowledge is pestering Marla for a cruise to Vienna.

That said, Janet, I promise you if Marla ever figures out how to schedule a cruise trip to Vienna, I will get down on my knees and worship her even more than I already do now.

 

The sparkling waters of the Blue Danube

The Danube stretches all the way from Germany's Black Forest to the Black Sea.


Here's a Word for You:  "Impossible"

My exchange with Janet took place back in 2009.  As one can guess, I had never even heard of a 'River Cruise' in those days.

That changed in early 2013 when Viking Cruise line began running Sunday morning commercials on CNN. 

Those ads showed a long, slender ship sailing down a lazy European river amidst stunning scenery.  A picture is certainly worth a thousand words; I sat up and took notice.  That vision opened my eyes to possibilities I had never imagined before.

Unbeknownst to me, from her comfy chair four feet away, Marla was watching those same ads with an equal amount of interest and curiosity.

One day I finally couldn't take it any more.  I had to say something or go crazy.  "Marla, have you ever considered taking us on one of these river cruises?"

Marla smiled and nodded.  "I think about it all the time!"

Marla said the problem was the cost.  Most of these long ships carry 150-200 passengers, not the same as the 3,000-6,000 ocean-going behemoths.  Marla had no idea if our cruise customers would be willing to support this new concept. 

Then Marla added, "But I am more than willing to give it a try!"

Marla had just committed to a new gamble.  Now I smiled too. I deeply hoped she would be as successful with this new feature as she had been with her cruise intuition in the past.  I really wanted to go on a river cruise!
 

One Step at a Time

One of my favorite sayings is the Chinese proverb "Journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step".

I have watched with pride as Marla has taken one cautious step after another towards increasingly ambitious cruise destinations.

In my opinion, Marla has consistently made the right moves.  However, that doesn't mean she was always sure she was doing the right thing.  I am the only person who has seen the fear.  I would watch Marla worry herself sick that this 'next step' might be biting off more than she could chew. 

We took 101 people on our first big cruise in 2001.  I was the one who organized that trip, but I haven't organized one since.

Why not?  Well, I met Marla on that cruise.  Once I realized how sharp her business instincts were, I had the sense to step aside.

Marla's first big decision came in 2002 when she decided to expand our next cruise trip from 4 days to 7 days.  To do this, Marla had to book the more expensive Royal Caribbean cruise line over a cheaper Carnival cruise.  This decision was risky.

Over the years, Carnival has carved out a 50% market share using an obvious technique - they undersell everyone.

It is a source of great irritation to all travel agents that "price sells".  The travel agents have known for some time that people get what they pay for, but the general public had no idea. Carnival's cost-cutting tricks were largely hidden from the public eye.  Besides the travel agents, only the most experienced cruisers knew the truth. 

That came to an end in 2013.  As we all know, 2013 was the year that Carnival's tendency to cut corners finally caught up with them.  There had long been rumors in the industry that Carnival sacrificed 'quality' for 'quantity'.  However it wasn't until the neverending headaches of 2013 made headlines that Carnival's cutthroat business practices finally came to light.

None of this was known in 2002.  All Marla knew was that her Royal Caribbean cruise cost people several hundred dollars more than Carnival would have charged.  How would they react?

To her relief, Marla's more expensive 2002 cruise sold well.  Even at the higher price, she still managed to get 80 guests.

Still Marla worried about the price difference.  Some of her customers pointed out that Carnival seemed like a much better bargain.  So in 2003, Marla booked a shorter, less expensive trip aboard Carnival.  As Marla expected, the lower price got good results. The group responded well with 144 passengers.

The Big Stumble

In 2004, Marla took a new gamble.  Why not try a slightly different trip than usual Caribbean Jamaica-Cayman-Cozumel Triangle?  She noticed a Royal Caribbean cruise trip to Mardi Gras.  The trip sounded interesting.  We could use our cruise ship as a floating hotel. 

Unfortunately, Marla got mixed results.  Although we had a blast roaming the crazy streets of New Orleans, we only got 40 people for the trip.  Marla was disappointed more people didn't join.

Marla believed the 2004 Mardi Gras numbers were lower due to cost.  Marla took a long look at the numbers.  Carnival 2001: 100Royal Caribbean 2002: 80Carnival 2003: 144Royal Caribbean Mardi Gras: 40

Carnival had delivered 244 people while Royal Caribbean delivered 120, a clear 2 to 1 edge.  Marla reacted accordingly.  Marla decided to book a less expensive Carnival trip for our 2004 summer dance cruise.

That decision backfired badly.  2004 would become the only serious misstep I have ever seen Marla take.  As the months passed, no one was signing up for that summer Carnival trip.  No one.  This upcoming trip was dead in the water. 

Marla was sick in her stomach.  She was also mystified.  How could we go from 144 to practically zero?  It is a terrible thing to be a leader and turn around only to discover no one is following.

Marla was operating in an information vacuum.  In a situation oddly reminiscent to the fairy tale about the Emperor's clothes, no one said a word to Marla for fear of hurting her feelings.

I remember watching Marla tear her hair out. Finally Marla couldn't take it any more.  She had to know the reason.  After some probing, Marla found one person with the guts to confide in her.  Marla's friend told her that the beautiful Royal Caribbean ship in 2002 had spoiled everyone.  Everyone agreed that the RCCL ship had been awesome. 

On the other hand, last year's 2003 trip had taken place on a truly miserable Carnival ship.  No one ever wanted to sail on that awful ship again.  That included me.  At the time, I wrote this about the Jubilee:

"In my opinion, the Carnival Jubilee lost in almost every category when compared to the ship we sailed on last year, Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody."

Now that they had a chance to compare, the cruise group decided they would much rather pay more money if it meant sailing on a better ship. Too bad they didn't bother telling this to Marla. 

Marla was absolutely flabbergasted. Why didn't anyone say something?  All they had to do was tell her. 
 

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, thank goodness, the cat was finally out of the bag.  Now Marla went into action.  Marla quickly cancelled the July 4th Carnival trip and booked Royal Caribbean for a late September trip instead.  Her move worked like a charm; Marla got 125 guests for the September 2004 dance cruise.

In 2005, Marla took her next big step.  But it wasn't easy.  Once burned, twice shy.  In addition to the popular annual dance cruise, Marla decided to book a cruise to Alaska.

This felt like a real gamble to her since last year's Mardi Gras cruise had been a so-so success at best.  Since the Alaska trip was much more expensive than our usual trip to Cayman and Cozumel, Marla was terrified. 

Fortunately, to her relief, the trip sold like hot cakes.  We took 73 people to Alaska in 2005.  Marla was tickled pink.  This Alaska trip confirmed her hunch that her customers liked using cruise trips to see the United States.  Consequently 2006 saw a trip to New England and 2007 saw a trip to Hawaii.

2008 posed a new problem.  Marla had exhausted her best United States cruise options.  Now she turned her eye to Europe.  This was a big step up in price.  The dollar was getting pounded against the euro.  Air fare was prohibitive.  Would her customers support a cruise trip in Europe? 

You betcha they would!  The response was very favorable. Rat a tat tat, in rapid order we took three straight trips to Europe.

Greece and Turkey 2008 was our first trip.  We went to the Eastern Mediterranean.  This was followed by the fabulous Barcelona 2009 trip to the Western Mediterranean, my favorite cruise ever.  Then came the Oslo 2010 trip to Northern Europe. 

Marla took a European breather in 2011.  We went to the Virgin Islands in the Eastern Caribbean instead.  However, in 2012 Marla was back with her most ambitious (and expensive) cruise trip to date: Russia and Scandinavia

That Russia trip was very special. Every place we went was spectacular.   St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm.  Marla realized the more she saw of Europe, the more of Europe she wanted to see.
 

Viking River Cruises

It was now 2013.  As Marla stared mesmerized at the Viking commercials on TV, she smiled at the name 'Viking Cruise Line'.

Our 2012 trip to Russia had led to an interesting discovery.  Marla and I had long wondered why there are so many blonde, blue-eyed Russians.  Our trip to Russia answered that question.

Marla and I already knew the Vikings were incredible seafarers.  There is mounting evidence that the ancient Vikings made it all the way to Greenland and Canada in their ocean vessels.

What we didn't know was the Vikings were absolute wizards at using rivers for exploration.  (History of Russia)

In preparation for our trip to Russia, Marla and I learned the Vikings were largely responsible for populating the northwestern regions of Russia such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg.  So how did this happen? 

The Vikings developed a special type of narrow longboat that could easily sail down Russia's spider-like network of rivers.  Known as "Dragon Ships", these vessels were perfect for navigating the many rivers of Russia.

The Vikings were not only fearless, they were really clever.  Whenever they came to the end of a river, they sent out scouts in every direction.  Sure enough, at every dead end, at least one of the scouts would return with the report of some new river 30 miles to the east or 40 miles to the west.

At this point, the Viking crew would lift their boat up on their shoulders and carry the lightweight ship 40 miles to the next river!  When you can carry your ship, who needs canals?

Once the Vikings discovered the short cut to the Volga, the longest river in Europe, they were off to the races.

One river route discovered by the Vikings took them 900 miles from the Neva River near the Baltic Sea (where St. Petersburg is located today) all the way to the Black Sea with only two short portages.  You can see this route on the map.  It shows the city of Novgorod on the Volkhov River is only about 30 miles from the headwaters of the fabled Volga River

Another route shown on the map took the Vikings 1300 miles from the Neva River to the Caspian Sea with only two portages.

Think about how brave these men were.  Using this technique, the Vikings made it all the way from Sweden to the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.  Talk about far from home!  How incredible is that? 

Taking the Next Step Forward

Now as Viking Cruise Line tempted Marla with those river cruise commercials, she felt the siren call of the Lorelei.  This river cruise idea looked like serious fun. 

However, a river cruise would be yet another big step forward.  The trip was expensive and would require air travel as well.  Would Marla's travel group support this new type of adventure?  And where would we go for our first try?

Marla chose the Rhone River in France for her maiden voyage.  The reason for her choice was simple.  Marla loved France. Her previous two cruise visits (2009, 2010) to France had been sublime.  Her desire to see the interior of this beautiful country plus an extended stay in Paris was far too tempting to resist.

But would anyone join us?  After all, this was a big step forward.

I quickly found that Marla wasn't nearly as reluctant to try this new adventure as I thought she would be.  Marla is cautious by nature, but the strength of her desire to try a river cruise convinced her to make the move.  I smiled.  Marla was right.  Yes, the time had come.  This was one gamble we both agreed was worth a try. 

Sure enough, Marla's instincts were right on the money.  To her delight, Marla's newest gamble paid off in triumphant fashion.  Marla was able to sign up 34 guests for the inaugural 2014 Rhone trip.  In fact, Marla was so successful that she sold one-sixth of all the cabins on the ship by herself.  Out of 190 passengers, one person in six was with our group.

What an amazing achievement.  I was really proud of Marla.

To be honest, Marla was actually a little shocked.  She had not expected her first initiative to create such a powerful response.  Marla took a step back to analyze why the response was so overwhelmingly in favor of this river cruise experiment. 

Marla concluded that a river cruise was desirable because it featured many attractive options unavailable on an ocean trip.

Inland Travel 

More than anything else, a riverboat could go where an ocean liner couldn't.  A river cruise would combine the comfort and luxury of a cruise ship with the chance to see incredible inland scenery that was totally inaccessible on an ocean cruise.

As the accompanying pictures have made perfectly clear, rivers like the Rhine and Danube feature a neverending series of one incredible vista after another.  Furthermore, there could be no doubt that a sleek, modern riverboat would be the perfect way to sit back and appreciate these stunning vistas.

This trip promised life at a leisurely pace.  What could be more satisfying than sailing along a river at a gentle clip with castles and churches, forests and mountains, farms and vineyards to feast one's eyes upon? 

A trip down the river promised to be a supremely calming experience.  Marla visualized her trip to France as an escape from the pressures of life in the fast lane.  What could be more enticing than lazing back in a comfortable chair with a glass of wine, good food, enjoyable company, and beautiful scenery?

Just smile and let the world pass by!!

Comfort and Convenience

Besides the accessibility of the inland highlights, there were other contrasts between an ocean cruise and a river cruise.  

An ocean cruise ship is a hustling, bustling Las Vegas hotel complete with gambling, live entertainment, and distractions galore.  A riverboat is more like a friendly European inn.

The convenience of a river cruise is hard to beat.  Whereas an ocean cruise requires tendering, waiting in long lines to get on or off the ship, long walks to town and lengthy bus rides to excursions, a river boat simply docks right in the heart of the town.  A guest can spend the entire day in one place.  This allows the luxury of coming and going from the ship all day long.

Education

A river cruise offers a significant educational element that makes it attractive to travelers who wish to learn more about a region.

Whereas an ocean cruise spends at least half of its time at sea, a river cruise is constantly in sight of land.  Thanks to the daily stops along the river, there are plentiful opportunities to explore riverside towns and cities en route. 

Each day a guide takes the guests into the city or town.  The guide will explain the history, the culture, and the importance of each spot.  The guide will make sure that language is no barrier, a huge relief. The guide will answer questions and do his or her best to help the guests understand what it is like to live in this particular part of the world.  A visitor actually gets a chance to see what it means to think like a German or to be a Frenchman.

Didn't somebody tell me a cruise trip to Austria is "Impossible"?

None of this is meant to be a put-down of the ocean cruise.  Most people who are attracted to river cruises enjoy ocean cruising as well.  At its core, an ocean cruise and a river cruise come from the same joy of a relaxing vacation on water.

The main advantage of a river cruise is the offer of a precise and highly comfortable way to see regions of the world that are completely inaccessible to the large cruise liners.  

Looking out on the world from the comfort of one's own room or an open-air deck, a river cruise gives us a chance to see the world from a very special point of view. 

Land-locked countries may be inaccessible to ocean ships, but not to river ships.  Marla has found a very special way to book a cruise trip to Austria.  I suspect after the Rhone and the Rhine, our next river cruise will take us to Austria and the Danube.  

We may not be quite as tough as the Vikings, but we certainly are just as curious about the world around us. 

The map shows the proximity of Novgorod to the Volga River

 

 
  For more information about our trip, be sure to read About Germany

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