A Fabulous Rhine River Getaway With Viking River Cruises
Day 5: Heidelberg and Speyer
Located due south of Frankfurt, Heidelberg was our next stop, although a bus took us from Mannheim to this city. “Old” and “modern” might both be good ways to describe Heidelberg, and both concepts are integrated into the town’s infrastructure. Pedestrian paths with cobblestone streets line the main shopping areas with church steeples and a towering city gate still majestically guarding the entrance to the town.
A visit to the twelfth-century Heidelberg Castle, perched on a hill above the city, is included in the Viking tour and offers a great vantage point from which to view the entire town. The castle was destroyed in earlier days, but the ruins are well preserved and colorfully lit for the holidays. A tour bus and local guide escorted us to the most interesting parts of the fortress, including the world’s largest wine cask, which apparently held enough wine to keep 5,000 guests and castle dwellers in, shall we say, good spirits.
Other sights that should be on your must-see list include the Old Bridge spanning the Neckar River and built by Prince-Elector Karl Theodor in the late 1700s as well as the Student Prison. Yes, you heard right. Any minor infraction would land students of Ruprecht-Karls University in what amounts to a modified detention for a few days — at their convenience, of course. Today, you can tour the jail and view the artwork — created by the “guests” — that adorns the walls and ceilings.
The Vidar moved without us down the Rhine to Speyer, where we met up with her via our bus. A roughly 30-minute walk from the river will take you to this town and its most impressive landmark, the Imperial Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the final resting place of eight emperors from the Holy Roman Empire.
There are other noteworthy areas of town to explore, including the Jewish quarter, German baths that date from 1126, and a modern Automobile and Technology Museum. This museum houses an entire U-boat and a full-sized Lufthansa 747 jumbo jet.
Day 6: Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg is truly an international city — its Grande Île, which constitutes the entire city center, was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity Site in 1988. With winding cobblestone streets, flower-laden bridges, half-timbered houses, and plenty of shops and restaurants, Strasbourg is an amazing place to visit.
You might be so enchanted with this town that you could easily miss one of its most feathered attractions: white storks. Long considered a symbol of fertility and good luck, the storks can nest atop trees on the outskirts of town as well as in the Parc de l'Orangerie.
The pièce de résistance, however, would have to be the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Construction of this Gothic work of art started in 1015 and the spire was finally placed in 1439. Today, this magnificent cathedral is undergoing renovation, but you can still tour the inside and see the massive astronomical clock dating from 1843.
Day 7: Breisach, Germany
This small German town is the docking point for a foray into the Black Forest, which lies to the east across the Rhine. The soil here is rich and fertile, producing wines that are shipped all over the world.
Viking offers a couple of excursions including an optional World War II tour to revisit historic battles fought here. We opted for the combination tour of the Black Forest and the medieval town of Colmar, which took up much of the day but was fascinating and well worth the time.
Sometimes called Little Venice, Colmar is picture-perfect with lovely pastel-colored half-timbered houses, Gothic churches, and even canals intersecting the cobbled lanes.
One of the unexpected sights you can find here is a 12-meter-high replica of the Statue of Liberty. This one can be found in one of the roundabouts and was created as a tribute to the life Colmar native Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the famous sculptor who created the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
The Black Forest, or “Schwarzwald” in German, is something of a misnomer, since the entire area is a rich green tapestry of verdant farmland, rolling hills, and evergreen trees, and some of your best photo ops will be here. We visited a cuckoo clock factory, sampled authentic Black Forest ham, and learned how they make the famous Black Forest cake. The key ingredient, in addition to sponge cake and real whipped cream, is kirschwasser, a cherry brandy made from Morello cherries. Watch out though as the chriesiwässerli (as it is known in the local Markgräflerisch dialect) is about 45 percent alcohol!
Day 8: Basel, Switzerland
This is the final stop along Viking’s Rhine Getaway and the disembarkation point. You can choose to extend your trip here or go to another wonderful city — Lucerne, Switzerland. You won’t want to miss the Swiss Museum of Transportation (the most popular museum in the country) and the Golden Round Trip. The latter is a three-part excursion that includes a ferry ride across Lake Lucerne and a trip up an inclined railway to the top of Mount Pilatus with a cable car descent along the spine of the mountains.
One of the things that is very impressive about Viking is the organization. From the tour buses to local guides to the program director (ours was Nicole, and she was fantastic!), everything has been perfected down to a science. You will know when to get ready and leave, what to bring, and how you will be fed throughout the day.
The service is also impeccable. Every crew member is trained to put the needs of the guests first, and it shows. I badly sprained my ankle at the beginning of my trip and couldn’t find a suitable bandage to wrap it. Once the staff saw me limping, they scoured the local town and delivered just what I needed to my room — with a smile, of course!
FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored trip; however, all opinions herein are the author’s.