We rejoin the intrepid couple…
We awoke to the ship docking alongside a park in Speyer, Germany, in the rain.
After what had become my typical breakfast of muesli, yoghurt, and fruit, we set off for a walking tour of the town.
A small section of the ancient city wall still stands.
Our tour guide, Ernst, a retired military man, was a font of architectural knowledge, particularly the history of the construction of the 11th century Romanesque Speyer Cathedral.
We delved into the old Jewish quarter and had the opportunity climb down into a ceremonial bathing chamber, the Mikveh – brrr.
We walked back to the ship for lunch before returning to town on our own. We explored a residential area where everyone seemed to have orchids in their front windows. I could see myself living in Speyer for a few months.
I must disabuse you of the notion that we were in Europe just for fun. Oh, no. Aside from collecting plot and character ideas for future books, we were on the Great Hat Hunt! Mr. S. has long been searching for the perfect chapeau and he found it in Speyer at a hat shop called Beisel Hüte. Started in 1951, it is now run by the founder’s granddaughter. She told us, “hats are my life”.
Once we had hat in hand, we continued our strolling and shared a warm pretzel – yum!
We returned to the ship for a German lesson. Ha! In one ear and out the other, I’m afraid. I did learn that saying prost as I raise a glass is incorrect – it should be prosit.
Following a delicious supper of consommé, German-style spinach ravioli, and an ice cream and cookie parfait, we all retired to the lounge for an evening of music and dancing. Too much fun!
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We re-join the grand European adventure as our ship glides into Strasbourg. Not actually into town, since the rivers that flow through that lovely city are too narrow and shallow to accommodate a cruise ship, but you get the gist.
We were still chugging along as we went to breakfast, after having passed through several locks over night, with a few more to navigate. Traffic on the Rhine was especially heavy and so we were running behind schedule.
As soon as we docked, we boarded busses for a brief driving tour of Strasbourg, after which we met up with our walking-tour guide, a feisty French woman who, stereotypically but authentically, said “ooh la la” at moments of crisis. Unfortunately, because of the travel delays, the tour was abbreviated. But we’d been to Strasbourg before and so were happy for the extra time on our own.
We strolled around town, along the river, through quaint squares, scoping out a potential lunch spot. We made our decision based on the long line that had formed at L’Atelier 116, a sure sign of good food.
After more strolling (good, comfortable shoes are required for traversing cobblestone streets) we stopped for a pick-me-up at Poids Plume Bistro Viet. We enjoyed a chilled glass of panaché, a yummy mix of beer and lemonade, just like a shandy in the UK.
We made our way back to the ship in time for a demonstration on how to cook Flammküchen – a delicious thin crust, topped with onion, cheese and ham – yum! We had our safety drill and then another enjoyable dinner – roasted pumpkin soup, Chateaubriand, potatoes, steamed veggies, molten chocolate cake with ice cream. Mathias, the cruise director, joined us for dinner and we chatted about his life and career (from the Netherlands, married, kids, started working on big sea-going vessels, prefers the rivers, 28 days on a ship, 13 days off).
Then back to the lounge for an evening of Klezmer music provided by a quartet (violin, bass fiddle, two guitars) from Strasbourg. Great toe-tapping stuff, lots of Django Reinhardt.
About fifteen minutes after we returned to our cabin we drifted away from shore and I drifted off to sleep.
This next installment of our grand European adventure records the beginning of our river cruise aboard one of the Viking River Cruise longships.
A lovely bus ride through the Swiss countryside took us from Zurich to Basel.
We enjoyed an informative walking tour of the city - old-world twisty cobbled streets, quaint shops, intriguing restaurants, and trams and bicycles posing a risk to pedestrians.
Interior courtyard of a government building.
After the tour we boarded our ship, the Viking Hild, checked in to our stateroom, freshened up a bit, unpacked a few things, then headed to the restaurant for a buffet lunch. We sat with and got to know a foursome of women who travel together regularly. The food aboard the ship was divine from beginning to end. I’ll probably mention the food several times, but it was delicious and so deserves mentioning. I can’t fathom how the chefs created those feasts in their tiny kitchen.
We set sail and soon went through the first of many locks that control the water level along the Rhine. We barely skimmed below the ginormous gate and got sprinkled with river water as we passed under.
The incredibly young-looking captain and a crew member making sure we were headed in the right direction.
The river is a veritable highway for all manner of cargo and we encountered many barges.
Quite often, a husband-and-wife pair of captains live on board, and need a vehicle for when the ship is docked. We even saw barges with a small playground – the children would be homeschooled.
We freshened up and joined the other passengers in the lounge for Happy Hour, the toast to Captain and crew, and the presentation by our cruise director, Mathias.
We found a table in the dining room, no set seating arrangements, and enjoyed getting to know two couples – one from Florida and one from California. Our menu choices were always varied and each evening included a special regional dish. That night it was veal ragout – I can’t bring myself to eat veal, so instead I enjoyed the Thai green curry. Yum! I started with the white bean soup and it, and all the soups I ate onboard, was delicious. My dessert was a plum tart. Lots of wine accompanied dinner and we were almost the last group to leave the dining room, hehe.
May I just state for the record that long-ass flights are horribly uncomfortable when flying economy? And since that’s what we fly, the start of our recent European holiday was awful. Cramped seats, hardly any legroom, and fighting over the armrest were one thing, actually three things, but then add in “jimmy legs”, and drowning my sorrows in that liquor cart looked mighty tempting. Too bad booze on a flight gives me a massive headache.
Anyway, we landed in Zurich, were met by the lovely people from Viking River Cruises, and were transported to our hotel in the Techno Park. At first glance it seemed we were in a dismal business park – all glass and concrete and steel. But once we got settled in our modern hotel room - the Europeans really do have cool hotels – we ventured out for an exploratory walk and to find lunch. Many of the businesses were only on the ground floor, with apartments on the upper levels. There were shops and restaurants, only they were difficult to identify because the signage was uniform.
A few blocks from our hotel, we happened upon a Bike Expo – pedal bikes. Biking is huge in many European countries and this fair had all sorts of displays of cool bikes, demonstrations of the latest gadgets, and competitions between bikers with mad skills. And food, lots of yummy food.
We both had bratwurst and fries – oh my goodness, so good. We sat at a picnic table surrounded by families of all ages and people of all ages, and watched humanity do its thing.
We continued our exploration and entered the Viaduct Market area.
The arches of a former viaduct had all been closed in and converted into shops and restaurants – fun and funky clothes and furniture and artwork – a real “happening” place. A bit further toward the city centre we came to an area of apartment buildings surrounding a park that was bustling with families picnicking and playing.
After supper at Toscano, an excellent Italian restaurant located in Techno Park, we returned to the hotel, which was observing Earth Hour, and so the lobby bar was quiet and candlelit – lovely.
The following day, our group toured the Old Town, the old part of Zurich. I love old architecture, particularly the frills and adornments.
We stayed in town on our own after the tour and rode one of the ferries on Lake Zurich. Part of the public transport system, it’s also a great tour of about a third of the lake. We shared an excellent ham sandwich on board, and chatted with a local woman who sat at our table. She’d lived in one of the smaller towns on the lake most of her life and pointed out a few sights as we cruised past, including the chocolate factory.
After the boat trip, we continued to wander, and climbed a hill to the site of ancient fortifications, now a park, and watched a game of bowls. And enjoyed a lovely view of the city.
Then once back down the hill, we paused for a pick-me-up at a café alongside the Limmat River, people-watched and enjoyed the gorgeous weather.
We took the recommendation of our morning tour guide and stopped for supper at Zeughauskeller, a classic hofbrauhaus with giant beer mugs. I enjoyed a slightly smaller mug of the house beer, or maybe two, and the most excellent zwillig sausage and rosti – a large potato pancake. Followed by a delicious chocolate soufflé.
A short twenty-minute tram ride on the #4, not the #2 as shown here, took us back to the hotel. A fabulous start to our adventure.