08 – Rhine Cruise 2019

Ford Motor Company, in their infinite wisdom, laid me off along with a whole lot of other people in 2019. I didn’t mind, it just meant I could retire that much sooner. And as luck would have it, we had already put in place plans to do a special trip for our 40th anniversary, which would be on 9/15/2019. As it happened, we were slightly ahead of our actual anniversary, but it was still a pretty great trip. We decided to that Viking cruise on the Rhine that you see advertised so much, and which had become something of a bucket list item. We got a good travel consultant, Eva Drafta at Conlin Travel, who put everything together for us and gave us some good advice as we prepared. Viking cruises are generally 7 days long, but you can purchase extensions on either end and we did so. Since our cruise began in Basel, Switzerland and ended in Amsterdam, we opted to do a pre-extension in Lucerne, Switzerland, anmd a post-extension of a few more days in Amsterdam. We very briefly passed through Amsterdam in 2016 when we did the Boat and Bike trip, but because of the snafus with air flights we didn’t really see anything of Amsterdam on that trip. So with the extensions added in, it was the better part of 2 weeks we spent in Europe.

Tuesday, 8/27/19

We landed in Zurich, and were met at the airport by Viking, then had a 1 hour drive to the hotel. At the hotel, we were met by our Viking host for the Lucerne extension, and then got an orientation. We went out to find distilled water, and were eventually successful, but it took several stops and cost a lot. We took a brief nap, then we out to find dinner. We didn’t like any of the restaurants we tried, so we went into Migros, a local market, to buy some salad and vegetables, then sat down overlooking the lake to eat. Then it was back to the Hotel for coffee and a review of Lucerne attractions we might want to check out tomorrow.


Wednesday, 8/28/19

Breakfast buffet downstairs at the hotel was very nice, and we met some more of our fellow Viking passengers, Ann and Neil, from Illinois. They are also taking the Amsterdam extension, so we may spend more time with them, which would be fine. At 10am we took the 2 hour walking tour of Lucerne. Denise took us to see the two covered walking bridges. The larger one burned in 1993, but was rebuilt, and you can see charred paintings and new wood if you look closely. We went to the Jesuit church, and learned that this is one of those areas of Switzerland still strongly Catholic. During the Renaissance and later Swiss mercenaries were in demand, and they still provide the Papal guard. Swiss young men still mostly do required service (not quite mandatory, but if they fail to do it they get a stiff financial penalty, so most do it). They are issued a gun, which they keep at home, and do annual training until they are 33.

The Jesuit church is relatively recent, but we saw an older Franciscan church, then crossed the river to get to the Altstadt (Old Town). There the buildings are often painted with pictures thematic of the business. We also learned of the story that Pontius Pilate somehow managed to get buried nearby, though that is probably harmless fiction for marketing Lucerne to tourists. Nonetheless, the tallest of the big three mountains you see from Lucerne is Mount Pilatus. The others are Mount Rigi (a corruption of the latin Regina) which is referred to as the Queen of the Mountains, and Mount Stanserhorn, where we will be going tomorrow. When the tour was over we went to the local Coop City store to buy Kevin some shorts, because he failed to anticipate that hot humid weather would be his biggest problem in the Swiss Alps, and had only brought long khakis. Then we got a takeaway lunch for Kevin from the Tibits restaurant inside the train station (bahnhof).

After lunch we walked to the Funicular to take us up to Gütsch hotel. We had great views from there, but that was about it. Then we went for a walk on the battlements, which also gave us some great views, but largely wore us out. That walk took us to the vicinity of the Lion Monument, which commemorates the Swiss soldiers killed in the wars of the French Revolution. We were told that it is one of the few sculptures that moved Mark Twain. We were pretty beat by this point, walking all day, so we went for a nice one hour boat tour of Lake Lucerne, with a cold Sparkling water for refreshment. Then for dinner we went to a greek restaurant called Syrtaki, which was expensive but undistinguished. Everything in Switzerland costs twice as much as it would in the U.S. so don’t come here to save money. But after dinner we walked back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation.


Thursday, 8/29/19

We woke up to a pretty serious rain storm that made the day seem questionable, but by 11am the rain had just about stopped and we set off for Mount Stanserhorn. And that was a good thing because by the time we got there everything had cleared and the sun was out. In fact our guide, Georg, said that the visibility was better than usual. We took a funicular for the first part of the trip up the mountain, then a cable car for the rest of the trip. You go for the views from up high, and they were spectacular. We went with Georg for a hike around the top, then ascended to the summit. After many photos it was time for lunch. Cheryl had brought hers, and Kevin got a salad from the restaurant. Then it was time to go back to the hotel and get our luggage for the next leg of our trip. Actually, Viking took care of everything, but they did want to verify ownership of a few things, then they loaded it all into the bus. A one hour trip later and we met the Vidar, our home for the next week. We checked in and were shown to our cabin, and then our bags were delivered.  Then to the Lounge for orientation, followed by a safety drill.

We checked with the Maitre’d and were gratified to find that our instructions for food had been delivered, and he had already discussed them with the Chef. We clarified a few things, and then went to dinner. Cheryl’s steak was a bit overdone, but Kevin’s poached salmon was lovely. Most importantly they understood the “no carbs, lots of vegetables” instructions, and we are feeling confident we can eat the way we need to. 

Today was actually lighter in terms of activity after a very long Wednesday. It was good to get on the ship and relax, and look forward to tomorrow.


Friday, 8/30/19

Marco, the Maitre’d, came by our table at breakfast to go over the menu and make sure he had the right instructions for the chef, which gave us a great feeling. We had a good breakfast, and then boarded a bus into the Black Forest. This gets its name because the woods are so thick that little light gets through, and walking in the woods was the best part of the excursion. Otherwise, it was a bus ride to a tourist location and fairly undistinguished. Then back to the ship for lunch, which was excellent. Roast lamb with ratatouille.

After lunch we visited medieval Colmar in Alsatian France. This area witnessed heavy fighting in 1944/45, and there were more casualties here than in Normandy. We got a nice view of the medieval history of the area, and our guide Marcus was very knowledgeable. Like most Viking guides he lives in the area where he is a guide, so he knows the area quite well. We had some time after that so went to the Musee Unterlinden to see the famous altarpiece. Then it was time to go back to the ship. After dinner we went for a walk on the top deck, and got to watch going through a lock.


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