All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Following a run along the Rhine promenade, I returned to the VIKING HILD in time for breakfast in the Restaurant. Viking offers up a spectacular buffet, even for this not-so-keen-on-brekky, culinarily jaded reporter. There is a friendly omelette station with real eggs (not the stuff in a carton), fabulous fresh breads (that can be enjoyed with locally made jams and even honey scraped off a dripping comb), pastries, smoked salmon and various cold cuts, fresh fruits, good yogurts and so much more. And the staff are only too happy to bring a piping hot espresso drink, fresh juice and a daily special or two from the galley.
I joined the morning tour at Koblenz, which would take us via coach to Marksburg Castle. In the interim, the HILD would follow us upstream into the Rhine River Gorge and rendezvous with us at the end of our tour.
Dating from 1117 and built by the powerful Eppstein family, the Marksburg Castle is the only hilltop castle along the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine River Gorge that was not destroyed at one point or other. Reached via a winding, narrow road from the town that it was built to protect, Braubach, it is situated over a strategic stretch of the river.
We entered via a drawbridge and took care not to slip on the rain-soaked stone walkways inside.
Our first stop was a panoramic lookout with a view of the gorge.
We circled the exterior via a bone-chillingly cold, windswept terrace that in just a few months would be brimming over with spring blossoms. Above us, a medieval outhouse, thankfully no longer functional, hovered.
We would see it from the inside a few moments later.
After being damaged in World War Two, the castle was donated to the German Castle Association, who have since gone to great lengths to give Marksburg an authentic restoration.
The main tower hovers over the small courtyard in the center of the castle.
No castle tour would be complete without a visit to the obligatory torture chamber.
As we began our walk back to the coach, the VIKING HILD motored into view.
Sometimes, even in gloomy weather, there’s a good photo op.
We were home and dry at 12:30 PM, just as VIKING HILD’s lines were cast and the Restaurant was set to open. Those little blue porcelain bread plates would soon be getting a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar…
…to dunk those flaky, chewy, freshly baked breads in!
After lunch, I watched in a daze from the comfort of the warm lounge as the HILD meandered past the picturesque villages lining the Gorge.
The gray skies, a big lunch and those persistently nagging tendrils of jet lag lured me back to cabin 217. Unlike many Rhine River boats that rumble their way against the currents on their upstream journeys, the Longships are fitted with vibration-free engines that are set into shock-absorbing mounts. The HILD’s smooth ride invoked a deep nap that even the legendary Lorelei could not deter.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
The prior evening, as rain drenched the middle Rhine, the VIKING HILD quietly tied up at Mainz, which is perhaps best known as the home of the printing press meister Gutenberg. After a leisurely dinner and a drink in the Lounge, I called it an early night, hoping to clock in another long night of deep sleep. Jet lag worked its mysterious ways, however, and I was up at 3:00 AM. When the sun rose, I ventured out along the Rhine promenade for a muddy but refreshing run to help stir up my senses once more.
After breakfast, I grabbed a trusty red Viking umbrella, donned a convenient quiet vox headset from my stateroom and joined Viking’s included walking tour of Mainz at 9:00 AM. We walked past the City Hall, a shopping area, a university and into the old town.
From there, it was out of the drizzle and into the Gutenberg Museum.
Our first stop was the basement, where we were shown how a moveable type, wooden printing press functions.
Photos were strictly forbidden in the displays containing pages from a Gutenberg Bible or two. Later, near the gift shop, there were vitrines with tiny books the size of a microchip to ogle.
Some of our group branched off to spend the rest of the tour roaming the massive Mainz Cathedral but we continued onward.
Our walk took in the pastel stuccoes of the old city square, which was mostly vacant due to the weather.
Our final stop was the St. Stephens Cathedral, where, between 1978 and his death in 1985, Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall created nine stained-glass windows of scriptural figures to honor the Jewish-German reconciliation.
Up on deck that afternoon, the sun struggled to reclaim its dominance of the skies as the VIKING HILD quietly motored her way up to Gernsheim.
Viking had another included excursion in store for us at Gernsheim, where we were whisked off on a coach to the town of Worms for The Luther Tour highlighting the trials and tribulations of Martin Luther.
We spent a good deal of time around and eventually inside the Romanesque style Worms Cathedral.
The prodigal sun had returned in a most dramatic fashion, illuminating the restored splendor of the cathedral on a fine Rhine afternoon.
Although the off season weather often poses its challenges, it was so nice to wander empty streets and city squares in search of people-free photo ops.
We rejoined the VIKING HILD in Worms. Once aboard, I caught up on a post or two, then dined with friends before calling it a night.
Friday, March 10, 2017
Our final full day on the Rhine would be spent on tour, literally tasting our way through the beautiful city of Strasbourg. We left the VIKING HILD in Gebsheim, where she would transit a lock or two and then meet back up with us in Kehl, which is on the German shore across from Strasbourg. Our first stop was the Terasse Panoramique, with its view of the Ponts Couverts or covered bridges.
The Contemporary Art Museum beckoned on my second call at Strasbourg in less than a year, however, once again, there would be no chance for a visit. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
We headed into the heart of town, Alsatian puddles and cobblestones underfoot.
Our first stop was at local legend Mirelle Oster’s Pain D’Epices, a bakery specializing in spice breads.
And if that weren’t enough, our next stop was an equally sweet (with hints of savory) encounter at a local patisserie where kougelopf and pretzels awaited.
In a popular local restaurant, we were served escargot, which I discretely passed on to friends who are, shall we say, more appreciative of their garlic-and-butter-infused merits.
The chef then demonstrated how he prepares the flammekueche, an Alsatian specialty that is not unlike a creamy pizza.
Up next, a sweet version made with apple liqueur for dessert.
No eating tour of Alsace would be complete without a visit to a fromaggerie, where the aroma of a pungent muenster often precedes itself.
Apparently, we hadn’t indulged quite enough, so there was another stop at a patisserie for some macarons, chocolate truffles and cookies.
Did I mention that between the bites, we beheld some impressive sights, like the towering Strasbourg Cathedral, once the tallest building in the world.
The juxtaposition of German and French influences in Strasbourg is no more evident than the complementary facets of Maison Kammerzell and Notre Dame de Strasbourg, when captured in the same digital frame.
Inside the cathedral, there was time to gaze into the rafters and watch the famed clock in action.
We wrapped up our Strasbourg tour with champagne and a canal cruise. As the glass-domed boat plied the swan-fringed waters, we were plied with yet more petits sweets.
Stumbling back aboard the VIKING HILD, I dined with friends before making a retreat for the cabin. Our wonderful Viking Rhine sampling had come to its end and the homeward journey beckoned.
VIKING HILD is now well into her maiden season of 12-day Paris To Swiss Alps Cruise Tours. For more information, please contact Viking River Cruises.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."