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.
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.
After our day at Linz, the next morning we set sail along the Danube toward Bratislava. This was meant to be a relaxing day absent a bunch of excursions. The morning was foggy, but along the way, I was able to capture some pictures of some castles and the countryside. Violeta, our program director, was providing a narration during this porting of the trip, but for some reason, it was difficult to hear and understand her on the top (sun) deck. As a result, I don’t have a lot of details about these various sights, other than they are picturesque.
As is typical on Viking cruises it seems, much of the staff is from Central Europe. Violeta was from Romania. She recognized my name immediately as we came on board as being Romanian. In Romanian “Surdu” means the deaf. One evening, Violeta gave a presentation about what life was like under the communist regime in Romania that all Americans need to hear. It was long and suffered from a little meandering, but the content was good.
The next day was in Linz. We elected to take the excursion to Český Krumlov, a quaint mediaeval village back in the Czech Republic. This town was largely untouched by WWII, so the castle and town are like they have been for hundreds of years. After a walking tour of the town and castle grounds, we all sat down for a traditional Czech meal and then had some free time to spend money on stuff we didn’t need. We also climbed the tower of the castle and looked at the museum inside the castle tower during our free time. Despite the hour and fifteen minute drive in each direction, we arrived back in Linz in time to walk around the town a bit and get some Linzer tortes.
After a little shopping we boarded the bus and headed back to Linz. I don’t fee like we missed anything in Linz by spending the day in Český Krumlov. It is a largish German city with a handful of churches to see. We had a couple of hours to walk downtown and shop for Linzer tortes to bring home. The shopping area in Linz was just a city street and was not really unique or quaint.
After our time in Prague, we boarded a bus for along ride to Passau, Germany, where we boarded out boat. Arriving a little before dinner, we received out orientation and unpacked in our rooms. We stayed in Passau at the dock the first night. The next morning, Duncan, Dave, and I took the “Hiking the Hills of Passau” walking tour, while everyone else took the normal walking tour of town. Our tour covered the same downtown (Old Town) area of Passau, but we also saw a monastery / church overlooking Passau from one side of town and the castle on the other side of the river. The tour was billed as “strenuous,” but it really wasn’t too bad except for the climb up the hill to the castle.
Overnight we docked in Linz for our tours the next day.
Well, it finally happened. After our Viking river cruise of the Rhine in 2019, we scheduled a cruise along the Danube in 2020, which was postponed to 2021, and then 2022. Along the way, we encouraged several other couples to participate: Greg and Nicole with whom we took the Rhine cruise, Duncan and Betty, Dave and Brenda, Eric and Vickey, and JJ and Karen. Our journeys began seven days ago with our flights into Prague for the “pre show,” three days in Prague.
Our first night in Prague Greg had identified a pretty neat restaurant called “the skewer.” All of the food had a skewer stuck in it. Some had two skewers. The food was self-serve, and at the end you paid for the number of skewers you had eaten.
After a stroll around downtown Prague (Praha), we all returned to the hotel to try to get some sleep despite the jet lag.
The next morning, we all took the included “Panoramic Prague” walking tour through the city. The guide, Radick, did a nice job of showing us the highlights of downtown Prague, despite some heavy rain.
The tour continued by taking us up to the castles, which includes a church and the President’s offices.
That night Duncan, Betty, Dave, Brenda, Candy, and I attended a traditional folk dinner in a rural area outside of Prague. This included dancers performing traditional folk dances and a three-piece band playing traditional music. The food included some kind of cheese spread on bread, soup, meat, cabbage, and potatoes. It was a fun evening.
The next morning, on our own, we went to find the History of Communism. I don’t know how anyone can support Communism, Marxism, and Socialism after visiting this museum. The Czechs know first hand the evils of these philosophies, and they are not afraid to oppose them.
Our last morning we had to drop off our bags by 1000, but the bus wasn’t scheduled to depart of Passau until 1300. So, Karen, Candy, JJ, and I walked across the river and along it to the Charles Bridge. We stopped at a couple of shops to look at stuff we didn’t need, then we crossed the bridge and made one last trek through Old Town Square back to our hotel.
We arrived at the boat in time to unpack our rooms and have dinner.
We had some miles on Southwest we need to use by the middle of August or lose them, so Candy planned a four-day weekend to Colorado and Utah to see three National Parks. There are 63 National Parks, and we plan to eventually see them all. We have seen well over half after this trip. I will have to check the exact count when we get home.
Our trip began poorly. Our flight from Orlando to Denver was delayed several times by lightning. We eventually left three hours late. Then when we landed in Denver, they didn’t have a gate for us, and when they found a gate, it took a while to find someone to drive the jet bridge to our plane. We ended up driving three hours in the dark through unfamiliar mountains to get to our hotel for the first night. We arrived at 0200 local time, or 0400 Florida time. Ouch.
The next morning, we got going early. Interstate 70 was closed due to mud slides, so instead of a three hour drive to get to our first destination, it took over seven hours. Along the way, we saw some interesting scenery.
Canyonlands National Park
Finally we arrived at Canyonlands National Park. Due to the long detour, we only had about four hours at the park, so we only took a small number of hikes to various vantage points and overlooks.
Our consistent disappointment on this trip was that the visitors centers at the national parks were essentially closed. All the interior displays that described the park, its formation, what to do and see, etc. were all covered, or the building was closed. (They did have the gift stores open for people to spend money — the hypocrisy of that is hard to ignore.) Part of the enjoyment of the parks for us has been spending an hour in the visitors centers to LEARN something before going on hikes. In many cases, there weren’t even any hiking maps or other propaganda available.
To me Canyonlands had the feel of both the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. While the Grand Canyon is certainly deeper, there was a majesty to the wide vistas of Canyonlands.
We took a hike out to Mesa Arch, which was not too strenuous, and the view at the end was well worth the walk.
That night we stayed in Mesa, Colorado. We stayed in the only hotel and restaurant in town. Friday night was karaoke night. We enjoyed a drink and some local color. Everyone was friendly. The karaoke varied from excellent to awful, but everyone was having a good time.
Grand Mesa National Park
Our destination for the next day was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, or “Black Canyon.” We could have taken two routes to Black Canyon. We elected for the slightly longer route that took us through Grand Mesa National Forest.
After a day of desert, a forest was nice. Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It was wild to see lakes and creeks on the top of a flat mountain. Unlike the national parks, the visitor center at Grand Mesa was open and fully staffed. There were displays and rangers to show us the high points.
Pioneer Town, Cedaredge, CO
From Grand Mesa National Forest we headed toward Black Canyon. We stopped at a roadside attraction, called Pioneer Town, in Cedaredge, CO, which was surprisingly nice. There were a number of buildings, a frontier street, and many historical artifacts.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Finally, we arrived at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, named after the railroad engineer who first explored the area looking for a place to lay a bridge. He eventually determined that it was impassible.
As with all the national parks, the gift store was open, but the visitors center with all the educational displays were closed. Sigh.
That night we stayed in the GG Ranch bed and breakfast run by a German expatriate couple. I was looking forward the the German breakfast during the whole trip.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Four hours from our bed and breakfast was Great Sand Dunes National Park. Again the visitors center was essentially closed, but from what we could gather, there is an ancient lake bed across the valley that left a “sand sheet.” The prevailing winds have blown the sand into dunes, because the tall mountains stop the sand from going farther. Apparently these are the tallest sand dunes in North America and some of the tallest in the world.
We rented a sled to use on the dunes. The guy warned us about going too fast, because the sleds can achieve 50 miles per hour. As we were entering, an ambulance passed us, and when we got to the dunes, they were putting a guy in a cervical collar into the ambulance at the base of the dunes. We were starting to wonder if this was a good idea.
Watch these video clips of us sledding on the dunes. It was hard to make sure the the sled didn’t turn around while going down the dunes despite how much we waxed them. By the end, we were getting the hang of it.