Last December I traveled aboard Kvasir from the gateway city of Basel, Switzerland to Strasbourg, France; before continuing through the Black Forest of Germany and embarking in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. Floating along “Old Father Rhine” as the Germans affectionately named their vast river, past impressive stately ancient castles and their ruins on a day shrouded in thick fog, brought Goosebumps to my flesh. Yet, I was never cold as the crew of the ship delivered, with dispatch, piping hot chocolate, coffee and local libations like German Glühwein (“glow wine” – a traditional hot mulled red wine with spices, citrus fruits and sugar) to the deck.
On vacation I like to indulge in an afternoon nap, but the stretch of the Middle Rhine from Mainz to Koblenz was so captivating that the thought of closing my eyes for a catnap seemed a blasphemy. As the morning fog cleared, giving way to glorious bright blue sky, I snapped photo after photo of engaging villages with brightly colored homes, rooflines askew from centuries of wear and tear, and the remnants of imposing protective fortresses strategically built above for protection. Program Director, Nina, pointed out historically significant details of the towns, castles, ruins and cloisters from her perch in the Captain’s bridge ensuring I was camera-ready for the next portrait perfect landscape.
Port calls offered an opportunity to collect one-of-a-kind, handcrafted Christmas decorations, incredible edibles and lasting memories of bygone Nöel traditions in enormous, well-established markets like the ones in Strasbourg and Cologne. Shopping for intricate wooden ornaments proved quite fruitful, and I found the charm of the smaller markets most endearing. Perhaps it was that I visited Rüdesheim at night, seeing the spirit of Christmas aglow with strands of white lights bowed above my head and makeshift beer gardens filled with locals reveling in the magic of the season that made it my favorite of the market stops.
I spent most of the evenings onboard partaking in activities that ranged from a sophisticated wine tasting to the educational with a glass-blowing demonstration. Nightly Happy Hour tasting grand Swiss and German wines while listening to the entertaining piano player created a convivial atmosphere. Legendary Bavarian hospitality was at every turn as evidenced by Chef Goerg and Maître d’ Darko who made sure that our meals were authentic to the areas we traveled in and readily offered recipes of the food while suggesting helpful wine pairings at every meal. The fact that I remember their names after so many months proves that they made quite a favorable impression on me.
Daily tours can be exhausting. I wanted to press on and see as much as I could, never turning down the opportunity to experience something new most days. However, there are times when the mind is willing, but the body is just too weak. Thankfully Viking understands this too; the flexible itineraries and guides allowed me to “break off” a few times from the beaten path and make my way back to the ship at my own pace. On one occasion, I actually made it back well before the rest of my shipmates and I indulged in watching a movie in my comfortable, state-of-the-art cabin. This was pure luxury while propped up on my freshly starched pillows overlooking views of an enchanting village astern made for a heavenly late afternoon retreat.
A well-organized crew saw to it that my overstuffed luggage, carefully packed with Christmas booty in tow, made it safely into the taxi for an on-time departure. As the driver pulled away I turned my head around for one last look my home away from home vessel and sighed. I was anxious to be homeward bound and begin Christmas decorating in earnest with newfound treasures. Back home, pleasant memories of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the areas visited came flooding out with each item unpacked, ensuring that Christmas’ to come would be extra-special for having had the experience aboard the Viking Longship Kvasir.
Tips to Make Your Cruise Even Better
• Dress is casual during the day and particularly during the tours, comfortable shoes a must.
• Evening dinner in the main dining room is business attire or smart casual. Most men wore jackets and ladies dresses (short) or pantsuits. No long eveningwear is necessary. Dining on the Aquavit Terrace is very casual day or night.
• There is an option to upgrade the wine and spirits while aboard and I highly recommend that route. The beverages included were top notch, but the premium package significantly better.
• It can be bitterly cold, especially on the decks at night so bring your warmest coat for after dark and layers for the daytime with a medium weight jacket.
• Look over the itinerary as soon as it arrives. Remember to sign-up for optional activities, and request private tours when practical.
• The concierge can arrange anything your heart desires with enough notice. Do walk the back streets of Strasbourg to find extraordinary patisseries like Lenhardt on rue Woerlé.