The next morning found our boat moored in the town of Tournon-sur-Rhone. We began the day by hiking up the side of a mountain to see some ruins before our first excursion.
The Ardache, in which Turnon-sur-Rhone is located in a traditionally impoverished part of France. The cruise director downplayed the area during the previous evening’s port talk, but I found the town nice and quite picturesque. When we got into the country during our excursion, the region had a bit of an Appalachian feel.
Our morning excursion featured a steam locomotive ride through rural Ardache. Duncan, Betty, Candy, and I went on this excursion while JJ and Karen went on a hike through a vineyard.
The afternoon was spent sailing down the Rhone until we reached the small town of Viviers. Viviers was founded in the 5th century. It was a former Roman settlement that became a Bishop’s seat—centuries of conflict required the town to be fortified. The Renaissance was a more stable period and wealth—many buildings in town date back to Middle Ages. The commanding feature of the town is St. Vincent Cathedral.
During the morning excursion on the train, our guide was Frances. I thought her British accent made her sound like Haley Mills. She was outstanding. When we got to Viviers, Viking organized a late evening walk through Viviers. Frances told us that she lived in Viviers. Our cruise director told us we could just pick any of the three guides for the walk. We glommed onto her since we already knew that Frances was good and lived in town. She had some interesting anecdotes about the town and its people that made the walk fun.
After the evening walk through town, we said goodbye to Frances, and the Hermod set sail down the Rhone again.
Day 15 (Friday) – Arles
In the last days of the Roman empire (back when Candy was in high school), the city of Arles was the capital of Roman Gaul. Arles has a Roman arena that seats 20,000 and still hosts bullfights and plays today. Farmers from Provence come to town for the market. Van Gogh lived in Arles and painted some famous artwork there.
The amphitheater was built in the first century and seats 21,000 people. It has large tunnels containing wild beasts and gladiators. Spectators could also watch chariot races.
After our walking tour of Arles, we took an optional excursion to the Medieval town of Baux and the Carriers de Lumieres. Baux is a Medieval town (imagine that!) atop a mountain. We spent about 40 minutes exploring on foot.
Evening entertainment on the boat was the group The Gipsy Kings. I have some of their albums. While the entertainment on the Viking ships is quite good, this was the first time I had heard of the group coming on board.
Day 16 (Saturday) – Avignon
Candy and I began our day in Avignon with a short canoe trip on the Rhone. This was an optional excursion. None of the others in our group were interested. In fact, of 180 people onboard, only four of us chose this excursion. It was a relaxing and quiet experience rather than another walk through a Medieval town.
Avignon was the home to seven Popes between 1309 and 1377. Avignon remains encircled by Medieval ramparts and fortifications.
While we were canoeing, Duncan, JJ, Betty, and Karen took the included walking tour of Avignon and the Pope’s palace. Candy and I had planned to walk around Avignon by ourselves in the afternoon. It was a scorching day. During the morning excursions, one of the people on our boat was pickpocketed. Those returning from the walking tour spoke well of the Pope’s palace but described Avignon as a hot, dirty, crowded den of thieves. At the last minute, Candy and I decided to take the optional excursion to see the Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct.
Our visit to Lyon began with a walking tour through the city. The included excursion was a bus tour with occasional stops; however, we spent five hours in a bus the previous day, so JJ, Karen, Candy, and I elected the optional “trek” tour. We did not regret our choice.
Lyon is located at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. The Saone ends here, and the Rhone continues. Lyon was originally built in 43 BC by Julius Caesar and was called Lugdunum. It later became the starting point of a Roman road and, for a time, was the capital of Gaul. During the time of Louis XI (1461-1483), annual fairs were held here that drew merchants from great distances.
The Croix-Rousse district of Lyon was the heart of the 19th-Century silk trade. Silk merchants used covered and enclosed passageways between buildings for safe passage to the markets.
During WWII, approximately 4000 citizens of Lyon were killed, and another 7500 deported to concentration camps by Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon.” Barbie was sentenced to death for war crimes in 1952 and 1954 but wasn’t extradited from Bolivia to face life in prison until 1987. Lyon is reputed to be the heart of the French resistance movement that sprang up when the Germans invaded Vichy after the Allied landings during Operation Torch in North Africa. I asked one of our guides if the Resistance movement conducted active military engagements or focused on intelligence gathering that later aided the Allies, but the answer was unclear.
The highlight of the walking tour, and something not in the included bus tour, was a stop at a silk shop. The guide said that one of the French kings wanted to create silk production in France and permitted Lyon to start the business. Italy had been previously the European producer of silk in the West. These are the only silk looms in Lyon that are open to the public. The look used punch cards to control the weaving. The looms still work. The owner, a descendent of the inventor of the Jacquard loom, said it takes a skilled worker all day to wave 4cm of silk. The process of drawing an image on graph paper, creating the punch cards, and using the cards to weave intricate images was fascinating.
This concluded the walking tour. We returned to the boat for lunch and then departed on our bus journey to Peroughes, a medieval walled village about an hour outside Lyon.
We took a bus ride to the medieval town of Peruges in the afternoon, about an hour outside Lyon. The guide walked us around the village and gave us a little time to explore on our own.
There is an old church in the center of town. Our guide said that some famous opera singer really likes the acoustics in the church and has recorded two albums there. Our guide then proceeded to sing a medieval tune that was masterful.
Day Twelve (Tuesday) – Beaujolais Wine Country
We boarded buses to head to a nearby vineyard to learn about the product of Beaujolais wine, the prevalent wine in this part of France.
The next morning we again boarded buses to head to a vineyard. Along the way, we stopped in the town of Beaujeu for a rest and an “opportunity” to shop in a gift store. In town was a very nice little church that was surprisingly ornate inside.
That night, Phillippe and Caroline provided the on-board entertainment covering Edith Piaf’s songs. About a year ago, I discovered Edith Piaf on Pandora on the French Cooking Music channel. Caroline sounded just like her.
Day 13 (Wednesday) – Vienne, France
We arrived in Vienne, France, after dark. I took these pictures from the top of the ship.
In 47 BC, Julius Caesar transformed Vienne from a Celtic city to a Roman colony. Vienne sits at the confluence of the Rhone and Gere Rivers and was an important trading outpost for Rome. Many of its Roman monuments remain, including the Temple of Augustus, two amphitheaters, and some portions of the Roman circus.
JJ, Karen, Candy, and I walked up to the top of Mont Pipet above Vienne. It was a bit of a climb, but not too bad. From there, we had excellent views of Vienne and the Roman amphitheater.
Our next stop on the Rhine and Rhone cruise was in Speyer. Like many of our stops along the Rhine, Speyer is a medieval town with a large church in the center.
Speyer’s Imperial Cathedral, a Romanesque-style church, was built between 1030 and 1061 by Emperors Kongrad II, Henry III, and Henry IV. It was restored in the 1950s.
Other than the church, Speyer is famous for giving the Protestant Reformation its name. The name comes from a letter of protestation signed by six princes and fourteen representatives of Free Imperial Cities during the Diet of Speyer in 1529. In 1521 the Diet of Worms condemned Martin Luther as a heretic, banned his teachings, and criminalized actions supporting Luther or his beliefs. This proved difficult to enforce, but in 1529, Charles tried to reassert the Edict of Worms without the benefit of a general council. Still, the six princes and fourteen representatives protested, demanding religious (and political) self-determination.
Day Eight (Friday) – Strasbourg
When Strasbourg was a free city of the Holy Roman Empire, the Grand Magistrate isolated the sick in the tanner’s district on this island. French soldiers were sent to the hospital there to be treated for syphilis, which they had contracted in Italy. The locals referred to syphilis as the French Disease and called the hospital area Petit France.
The walking tour of Strasbourg included visiting the Cathedral Nortre-Dame de Strasbourg. This church was built between 1015 and 1439. It is the world’s sixth tallest church and the highest existing building constructed entirely during the middle ages. Until 1874 it was the tallest building in the world.
After the walking tour, we had time to walk around the old town area a bit and do some souvenir shopping.
Day Nine (Saturday) – Colmar and The Black Forest
This was a busy day. It began with the guys taking a tour of the fighting in the Comar Pocket while the girls took a tour of the historic parts of Colmar city. This was probably my favorite day of the cruise.
The fighting around Colmar is not well known, partially because it doesn’t give British historians a chance to criticize Americans and partly because the Battle of the Bulge gets all the press.
While I did this tour three years ago, I had forgotten that Himmler personally directed the German operations in the area since many of the German units were part of the SS. I didn’t realize that Himmler ever got this close to the fighting.
After visiting the museum, we took the bus to the US war memorial on the hill where the Allied attack on the Colmar pocket began.
From there, we took the bus down to the memorial for Audie Murphy at the site where he earned his medal of honor. On the way, we stopped for a quick rest in a village with another war memorial.
The guide provided excellent historical details throughout the tour that made this trip worth the extra cost.
We returned to the boat for lunch and then took a bus tour into the Black Forest. We did this tour last time we were on this cruise, so Candy and I elected to skip the cuckoo clock and Black Forest cake demonstrations and instead take a hike through the Black Forest.
Day Ten (Sunday) – Transfer Day
Our cruise was two cruises, one along the Rhine and a second along the Rhone. On Sunday, we transferred from Basel, Switzerland, to Lyon, France, by bus. Five hours in a bus, even with a short stop for lunch in the scenic town of Beaune in wine country, was not a fun day. Even though we had just gotten off one Viking ship, we had to go through the capsize drill, safety briefing, and obligatory welcome briefing a second time.
After over a year of planning (and paying), we embarked on our two-river cruise with Viking. This cruise began in Amsterdam. We are traveling down the Rhine River to Basel, Switzerland. We will transfer to another boat to travel down the Rhone through France.
No air travel is complete without drama. Our flight left Orlando two hours late because of thunderstorms near the airport. I am consistently disappointed in how the airlines seem unprepared for Florida’s rain. Imagine that! We had a 90-minute layover in New York, JFK, so we didn’t think we would make our flight. The Viking people, however, booked us on a flight leaving JFK two hours later. When we arrived at JFK, we were booked on our original and later flights. Since the original flight was also delayed an hour, we kept the earlier reservation—a big mistake. The later flight left on time, but the “earlier” flight was delayed four hours. At one point, we were stuck on the tarmac in a pot-hole that required them to round up a “super tug” to get us unstuck. Instead of six hours in an uncomfortable seat, we could enjoy ten hours. Thanks, Delta/KLM.
On Viking River cruises they generally offer what I call a “pre-show” and an “after party.” The pre-show is helpful in getting acclimated to the time zone before the cruise begins. We decided to take the pre-show in Amsterdam.
Having arrived later than we expected, after checking into our room, we walked around the downtown area of Amsterdam to do some sightseeing. We also stopped in a place called FEBO, which featured hot Dutch food in vending machines.
The six of us finally linked up around dinner time. The various restaurants the Viking people recommended required reservations we didn’t have, so we eventually found a German restaurant for some delicious schnitzel at the train station. Our hotel, the Moevenpick, was a short walk from the train station. After dinner, we decided to get some sleep and be ready for the next day.
Our first full day in Amsterdam began with a guided walking tour arranged by the Viking people.
In the afternoon, we sought out the Rijks Museum. Amsterdam is the home of many of the Dutch Masters. While I am not big on art museums, we wanted to see some famous artwork, including a few Van Gohs and Vermeers.
That evening we were scheduled to take a boat tour along the canals of Amsterdam. After a bit of a death march through the city, we purchased sandwiches and drinks to take on the boat (at the recommendation of the boat people). There are several boat tour companies. We used the “Dam Boat Tour” outfit. The tour was excellent, and our guide was very informative.
Day Three – Arnhem
On day three, Sunday, the girls walked around the city to do some souvenir shopping and visit the famous Red Light District, but we guys got on the train to Arnhem to see the museum commemorating the fighting around the Arnhem bridge during Operation Market Garden in WWII. Figuring out the train was relatively easy, but then figuring out the bus to the museum in Hartenstein (Ooosterbeek, near Arnhem) proved tricky, so we just took Uber.
The museum was small but well done. A multi-projector moving map presentation did a nice job laying out the fighting for the bridge step-by-step. The highlight, however, was the “Airborne Experience” presentation on floor -3. The presentation began by sitting in a room watching a video of glider troops preparing for battle. Then a door opened, and upon entering, we found ourselves in a mockup of a Horsa glider. We were sitting in the seats of the glider, feeling the bumps, and looking through the front window as the glider detached its tow cable and landed (with more bumps). After leaving the glider, we were treated to a scene of paratroopers landing and animated vignettes depicting the fighting. It was good enough we all did it a second time.
Included in the admission to the museum was a much smaller museum with a short film presentation near the Arnhem Bridge.
After a short walk to the train station, we traveled back to Amsterdam to link up with the girls and board our boat in time for dinner and departure.
Day Four (Monday) — Kinderdijk
The boat traveled through the night, arriving at Kinderdijk the next morning. Kinderdijk is the most extensive collection of Dutch windmills in any single location. There are eighteen of them there. We took the included walking tour of the site. JJ and Karen took the optional excursion to a factory where they make Gouda cheese since Kinderdijk is in the Gooda region. Candy and I had done the cheese tour on our previous Viking Rhine cruise.
This was a better tour than the last time we visited Kinderdijk. More was open to see this time.
Day Five (Tuesday) – Cologne
After lunch, we shopped for a few souvenirs and then went to the chocolate museum.
Day Six (Wednesday) – Marksburg Castle and the Middle Rhine
The day began with a walking tour of Marskburg Castle, one of the few castles not destroyed at some point in history.
In the 1980s, a Japanese businessman tried to buy Marksburg to move it to Japan. The German government, of course, denied the request, but they permitted him to measure it. Today there is a replica of Marksburg in Okinawa.
After Marksburg, we reboarded and contiCenturywn the Middle Rhine, looking at castles and countryside along the way. While doing so, we also got in a game of “Tens,” a card game.
In the evening we docked in Ruedesheim. Four of us went on the Dine in Ruedesheim excursion. I have to say that this was the first time I have been really disappointed in Viking. We went to a restaurant in town. The food was okay, but not nearly as good as the food on the boat. The music was so loud, that even with earplugs (which I always carry due to tinnitus), that is was physically painful and my ears are still ringing (more loudly than normal) 12 hours later. The music selection was also disappointing. We were hoping to learn some German drinking songs, some polka, or something traditional. There was some German music, but there was no effort to teach any German songs. The playlist was from the ’80s, featuring those famous German songs: Sweet Caroline and YMCA. And then a bunch of the other passengers on our boat became loud drunks who thought they were hilarious. It was a real let-down after a nice day on the river. At least it was expensive, so we have that going for us.
I haven’t posted in quite some time. Work has been pretty busy, and my limited social media time has been focused on supporting the various Facebook pages that Sally 4th has established for Wars of Ozz and Wars of Orcs and Dwarves.
When Old Glory and I set out on the Wars of Ozz journey, Russ sought a massed battle, black powder, fantasy game to support his wonderful line of figures. I used the Seven Years’ War as general inspiration as I designed the rules. While not an expert on the Seven Years’ War specifically, I have read about tactics and grand tactics of the period. My initial goal was to eventually grow Wars of Ozz into a Napoleonic set of rules.
After releasing Wars of Ozz, Sally 4th convinced me to create Wars of Orcs and Dwarves (WOOD). Those rules were meant to be a come-as-you-are set of mass battle fantasy rules. When I started on the rules, I didn’t even have any fantasy figures for playtests. Much of the development happened during the mass hysteria of the pandemic, so play tests were done over Zoom with friends worldwide. During the WOOD development, I still wanted to eventually turn the Wars of Ozz engine into a set of rules for Napoleonic games. In addition, I had it in mind that the rules would be supported by a series of supplements for other black powder periods, such as the Seven Years’ War, the Thirty Years’ War, the Jacobite Rebellion, and the American Revolution.
In the past year, even while WOOD was being formatted for publishing, I began developing Wars of Eagles and Empires. Development is coming along nicely, I think. The rules seem to be working. Napoleonics are, of necessity, more complicated than Ozz, but I have worked hard to keep it as simple as possible without losing the Napoleonic feeling.
In parallel with rules development, I am also developing a set of scenarios. These are meant for Eagles and Empires but could be used for other lesser systems as well. Eagles and Empires are designed from division-level engagements. I recognize that the trend in the hobby is to recreate Leipzig on a card table with nine figures in 15 minutes, but I prefer those smaller engagements with up to three players on a side. I recognize that this will (once again) limit the commercial viability of the rules, but I am designing them for myself. If others enjoy them too, that’s a bonus.
This development has also allowed me to get my old Minifigs on the table again. I love the new 28mm figures from Old Glory and other manufacturers, but I cut my teeth on Airfix, and Minifigs were my first metal figures. Ozz, WOOD, and Eagles and Empries are designed to provide an old-school feel but with modern, streamlined mechanics. So, there is something satisfying about using older figures, where every figure in a battalion is in the same pose.
Last weekend my buddy Mark was in Orlando for golf camp. He was able to take time from chasing a little white ball around a field to come over and play a wargame. After every playtest game, I tweak the charts a bit. I am pretty close to done with development and will begin writing soon. It has been about a year of development time. I suspect I will have them ready for public consumption in another year to eighteen months.
I hope you have enjoyed the pictures sprinkled throughout this post.
Our final destination on the cruise was Budapest. Viking scheduled our arrival at night so that we could see Budapest along the Danube all lit up. Despite years of communist rule, the palatial buildings (some dating back to the Hapsburg empire) are quite impressive when lit up.
The next morning, despite some drizzle, we took a panoramic bus tour of Budapest. One of the stops was Hero Square, including the Hungarian tomb of the unknown soldier.
After the walking tour, Nicole, Greg, Karen, JJ, Candy, and I walked a short distance to the huge indoor market near where our boat docked and not far from the downtown shopping area. We were hungry for lunch, so we stopped at a Hungarian cafeteria style restaurant for traditional Hungarian food while being serenaded by a violinist.
That afternoon Dave and I took a biking tour of Budapest. There were just two from our boat (Dave and me) and two from another Viking boat. It was a great tour. Our guide took us to places we couldn’t see from the bus tour, and we covered a lot of ground that we couldn’t have covered on foot. We even rode out to Margaret Island, where vehicles are not allowed.
We had four birthdays on this trip: Nicole our first night aboard, Candy a few days later, and Dave and Brenda the same day, our last night aboard. The Viking staff brought a passion fruit cheesecake to both our tables and sang to Dave and Brenda.
The next day we transferred off the boat to our hotel in the castle district for the remainder of our stay. Before even checking into the hotel, we were whisked away on one of our tours.
The next day, Eric, Vickey, Candy, and I took a van trip to Skanzen near the town of Szentendre. Skanzen (pronounced like the back half of Wisconsin), is like the Dutch outdoor museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. In this case over 240 buildings were moved with painstaking care from around Hungary to build several authentic villages depicting live in Hungary in different regions at different periods of history.
We only had time to visit 20 or 30 buildings of the 250 on display at Skanzen. Afterwards our guide took us to Szentendre, a real town filled with interesting shops. There were some of the tourist souvenir shops, but there were also a number of legitimate local craft shops too.
The next day, Eric, JJ, Dave, and I walked a quarter mile to the Hungarian military museum. While not nearly as ornate or extensive as the one in Vienna, there were some interesting items on display.
We all had different flights the next day, so we didn’t see each other. Travel home was high adventure for most of us with cancelled flights, delayed flights, delayed takeoffs, and lost baggage.
The next morning we found ourselves in Bratislava, the capitol of Slovakia. We took the panoramic bus tour around town and up to the castle. This portion of the trip seemed rushed. We took the quick bus tour, walked around downtown for a few minutes, and then got back on the boat. Another two hours would have been a perfect amount of time to explore downtown a little more.
We began our time in Vienna with a walking tour of the downtown area and the Hapbsburg palace with its many courtyards. After the walking tour, there was some scheduled free time for shopping. Instead of shopping, Greg, JJ, and I met Duncan at the Vienna military museum.
Duncan had found this gem while looking for things to do in Vienna many months ago. Duncan skipped the walking tour entirely to make sure he had time to see everything. JJ, Greg, and I spent over four hours there. It was well worth the time. The architecture in the museum and the artwork, but might have been “over the top” in an art museum. It is unprecedented in a military museum.
I took over 350 photos in this museum. These are just a small sample.
After seeing everything in the museum itself, we walked around the corner to the panzerahalle (Tank Hall). This included an excellent display of Russian and Cold War equipment that you rarely see.
The day of the Wachau Valley cruise, we also stopped at Krems to visit the Gottweg Abbey. They abbey was impressive. The tour ended in the gift shop for some wine tasting, as the abbey seems to be famous for its wines, and it is in the Wachau Valley, which is wine country.
We had a little time after returning from the abbey, so then Dave and I hike into the hills around Krems for an hour.