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Viking Eir – Rhine Getaway April 2017

 

My wife and I have recently completed a one week river cruise along the Rhine between Basel in Switzerland and Amsterdam in the Netherlands…

 

Welcome aboard the Longship, Viking Eir…

 

This was our sixth occasion of cruising with Viking and I am continually impressed with their pre-cruise organisation including documentation…

*****

…and the ease of use of their equivalent of the ‘Cruise Personaliser’ for making advance excursion bookings…

 

Flights were included in the package and we flew from London Heathrow on a British Airways scheduled flight to Basel. On arrival we were met by Viking representatives and, with the usual Viking efficiency, transferred to our waiting ship berthed in the heart of Basel.

In Norse mythology the name ‘Eir’ is the Valkyrie and Goddess of Healing

For this cruise we had chosen a Veranda Suite (AA) on Deck 3…

…however, we were upgraded, as a “recognition of our loyalty to Viking”,  to one of the two ‘Explorer’ Suites at the stern of the ship, Suite 340...

*****

The Explorer Suite comes with a massive sitting area…

A perfect sized writing desk…

More than ample storage drawers and coffee maker…

A well stocked complimentary bar and fridge…

Separate bedroom with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, known as a French Balcony…

A spacious ensuite with shower and heated mirror & floor,…

*****

…with Freyja toiletries…

The icing on the cake for this Explorer Suite had to be the wrap around balcony…

*****

Viewed externally…

Additional features included a complimentary Silver Spirits Beverage Package, laundry  & room service for breakfast…

Other nice touches included welcome champagne, a  fruit basket replenished daily, premium bathrobes & slippers, binoculars, cashmere blanket & complimentary shoe shine service.

We arrived at the ship at 11.30am and embarkation was immediate while there was a selection of light snacks and drinks available on the Aquavit Terrace. For those who wished a complimentary guided walking tour of Basel was scheduled to commence at 1.30 pm – more about that in the itinerary section later.

Viking Eir is classed as a ‘Viking Longship’ and as such follows a similar layout to other longships that we have sailed on. The main hub of the ship and general embarkation position centres on the two decks encompassing the  Foyer…

The lower of the Foyer Decks, Deck 2, is home to the main reception area...

The Guest Services Desk…

…and a  small shop…

The higher of the Foyer Decks, Deck 3, supports some comfortable seating areas…

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A small library and internet facility…

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…and two coffee, tea and snack stations, one on either side…

Access to the Sun Deck is also made from the Deck 3 Foyer area.

Forward of the Deck 3 Foyer is the Main Lounge…

…and Lounge Bar…

Light and airy,  and with floor-to-ceiling  windows, the lounge provides a comfortable observation area during the day and an entertainment venue in the evenings.

Further forward of the lounge is an area known as the Aquavit Terrace…

An innovative indoor/outdoor viewing area at the bow of the ship with access to the ships galley and where lighter lunches, al fresco dining and private functions are taken.

The following view gives a perspective of the Aquavit Terrace’s al fresco area on Viking Eir…

A large proportion of passengers are from the USA which probably accounts for the positioning of ice machines on the three accommodation decks…

The Sun Deck on Viking Eir is quite massive. Seen here looking forward…

…and looking aft…

The central area in a little more detail, in particular the very generous shaded seating area…

*****

The ship’s bridge is a retractable affair, necessary while navigating under low bridges and locks…

I was delighted to be given the opportunity of a private visit to the bridge…

*****

On the subject of the retractable bridge, it is not only the bridge that  needs to be lowered to clear bridges, but some of the superstructure as well…

One of the real joys of the Sun Deck was being able to enjoy a cup of tea  and a biscuit after returning from an active shore excursion…

But the real advantage of the upper deck is the views as the ship ‘scenic cruises’ between destinations with ever changing vistas…

(More about this in the later Itinerary section)

Dining is an important part of river cruising and Viking Eir’s Main Restaurant can be found on Deck 2, forward of the Foyer…

Once again a light and airy contemporary restaurant  and with floor-to-ceiling  windows, the Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner on an open seating basis.  Breakfast and lunch  are on a semi-buffet basis…

…while dinner is a more grand ‘full’ service affair…

The evening dress code onboard is officially casual and relaxed, though it was noticeable that some passengers stretched their imagination on ‘relaxed’. Meanwhile, complimentary wines, beers and soft drinks are served with both lunch and dinner.

Dinner is taken at one sitting and when it is considered that upwards of 176 passengers descend into the restaurant almost simultaneously, the chefs and waiting staff do an excellent job. Here’s a selection from our dining experience…

A typical dinner menu…

*****

…and some of the dishes we experienced…

A Salmon Tartar appetiser…

Surf & Turf main course…

Grilled Perch main Course…

a Cheese Taster and Valrhona Chocolate Tart dessert…

From the above sample menu it can be seen that a number of alternative dishes are always available at dinner. One evening I decided to put the Prime Rib Eye Steak to the test…

…and was not disappointed.

On the earlier ship’s tour mention was made of ‘light’ lunches being served on the Aquavit Terrace. A selection from the Aquavit Terrace …

*****

*****

Nothing too light about this then…

 

Life onboard.

The daily life onboard follows a reasonably set pattern following embarkation. Each evening around 6.45 pm there is a ‘Port Talk’ presented by the ‘Programme Director’ when the following days activities are clearly explained with the aid of slides. Any general information regarding the ship is also disseminated at these meetings.

On two evenings the ‘port talks’ are preceded by the Captain’s Welcome and Farewell parties when senior officers on board are also introduced…

During periods of ‘scenic daytime cruising’ a number of varying presentations are given in the lounge. One particularly talk, given by the Captain,  was on the ship itself and contained some very interesting slides on the ship’s propulsion system…

Eight propellers and NO rudder...

The Captain also explained the significance of the ‘Blue Square’ that often appeared on the roof of the bridge. Now you see it…

Now you don’t…

It is basically a navigation aid when the area of the Rhine you are in is busy with other ships. On navigable waterways vessels normally pass each other on the port-side,  so the display of the blue sign and flashing white light signal intention to pass each other on the starboard-side. This process is known as blue boarding and the vessel travelling upstream has decision and priority.

…and others blue boarding...

 

 

After dinner  entertainment is not a high priority, indeed, on this particular cruise we had three evenings in port. However, on two occasions local musicians and singers did entertain us and their performances were most enjoyable…

As past travellers with Viking we were invited one evening to their…

An enjoyable function…

…where we even got to meet our neighbours from the other Explorer Suite…

These functions always end with a special toast of a largish tot of Linie Aquavit…

Aquavit is a flavoured Norwegian spirit that is matured at sea in oak barrels and is now synonymous with Viking Cruises.

Another nice Viking touch is that on the evening of the Explorer’s Cocktail Party there are always two souvenir glasses delivered to one’s accommodation. We appear to be building a collection…

The major activity onboard, indeed, in many cases the highlights of the time on the river,  are the excursions at the various stops and ports of call.

Generally there is one complimentary excursion at each destination and this is supplemented by a number of optional ones, each with a differing theme, that are paid for.

The organisation of these excursions is particularly good and they are invariably  led by locally employed guides. Passengers  are  allocated into groups…

…that correspond to both a guide and, if the excursion requires transportation, a nominated Viking coach…

*****

*****

Viking also have a great system of encouraging those passengers with a ‘degree of mobility’ issues to join excursions that cover a similar itinerary but at a more leisurely pace.

The Itinerary

Day 1. Basel

As previously indicated, our adventure on the Rhine started immediately after lunch, on the day of embarkation,  in the city of Basel.

We were coached to an area adjacent Basel Cathedral…

…and given an orientation briefing of Basel and  where the major sites of interest were. There was an option of transport back to the ship after this short excursion or, as in our case, the chance to continue on one’s own, discover more of the city, and return to Viking Eir by following the river bank.

I had researched a number of places I would have liked to visit so my wife and I took this latter option. First on our list was to be the first of three scalings of cathedral towers on this trip. For a 10 Swiss franc  fee we  climbed  the 250 narrow steps of one of the Münster’s two Gothic towers and enjoyed the beautiful view of Basel and the river Rhine…

The bridge at the centre of the above photograph is the famous Mittlere Brücke which has come to symbolise the city of Basel and is one of the oldest Rhine crossings dating back to 1226. Here it is taken later from a different angle…

During the course of the afternoon we covered a lot of ground in Basel but probably one of the best places we stopped at was the colourful Basel Rathaus…

with its even more intriguing, the lavishly decorated  inner courtyard…

 

Late evening we sailed from Basel on the start of our journey along the Rhine…

…where we arrived at Breisach in Germany at dawn the following morning…

Day 2. Breisach

While Breisach is itself home of Europe’s largest wine cellars, on this cruise it was for the purpose of this trip a convenient stopping place for a number of excursions: todays included excursion was to the Black Forest…

This was a full morning scenic coach tour exploring parts of the fabled Black Forest and included a stop at Hofgut Sternen, one of the most beautiful areas of the Black forest and a taste of Black Forest culture . Here we were given a variety of activities to witness including the making of cuckoo clocks and Black forest gateaux and a demonstration of glass blowing.

The military historian in me had decided it a must to sign up for the afternoon’s ‘optional’ tour.This was entitled ‘Colmar World war II Tour’ and centred on an area of France – Alsace – most bitterly defended by the Germans against the US 6th Army Group and known as the ‘Colmar Pocket’.

During this excursion, which was led by a most amazing informative guide, we visited the excellent Colmar Combatants Museum…

 

The Colmar Mt Sigolsheim American Memorial…

…and the Audie Murphy Memorial north of the town of Holtzwihr…

*****

Once again we sailed late evening for an overnight sailing to Strasbourg…

Day 3. Strasbourg

The day’s included excursion included an hour long coach tour of the sites of Stasbourg before we were dropped off with a dedicated Strasbourg  guide to make a walking tour of the city.  This took in Strasbourg’s historic and most picturesque district – ‘Petite France’  – with its half timbered houses, the famous  Covered Bridges…

…that have kept their name despite the fact that they lost their roofs back on the 18th century. They are overlooked by four towers dating from the 14th century, which are the remains of the former ramparts that once guaranteed Strasburg’s independence.

Other places visited on the tour included Place Kléber and Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral…

…which was to be the second cathedral tower that was mastered  on this cruise…

 

 

…all 332 steps. And what a great view over the city, especially looking down on the Rohan Palace…

Options  remaining were to take one of the regular ‘shuttle’ coaches back to the ship or continue independently to tour this historic city. We chose the latter and included visits to the Place de la Republique with its ‘Monument to the Dead’...

…and, in complete contrast to its historic sites,  the European Parliament…

Day 4. Heidelberg and Rüdesheim 

We had left Strasbourg early the previous evening  and continued our northern passage along the Rhine…

…where we stopped in the early hours at the town of Mannheim.  Following breakfast we boarded our coaches for the included morning excursion to the university town of Heidelberg and, in particular one of Germany’s most impressive historical landmarks, the dramatically positioned Heidelberg Castle, that dominates the town…

Here’s the view from the castle back over the town, the River Neckar and the Karl Theodor Bridge

Following our guided tour of the castle, which included a visit to the Great Heidelberg Tun…

..the world’s largest wine barrel contained within the castle cellars. Check out the size…

 

On completion of the castle visit we were given free time to wander around Heidelberg during which  I managed to cross the  250 year old Karl Theodor Bridge

(note the white towers of the old bridge gate on the opposite side)

While we were visiting  Heidelberg, Viking Eir had continued its journey north and we rejoined it for lunch at the town of Gernsheim.  Once all aboard we continued our journey towards Rüdesheim…

…where we arrived on schedule at 5.00 pm.

Rüdesheim  is generally known for two things: winemaking and the Drosselgasse. The former is pretty obvious but it was the second that attracted our attention. It is a lane lined with beautifully decorated taverns and restaurants and  one or two shops…

…which comes alive every evening with live band entertainment, dance music and general revelry.

We were joined by friends for an  evening discovery of a number of the taverns, our favourite being the accordion decorated ‘Quetschkommod’…

Viking Eir remained moored overnight in Rudesheim and early the next morning, before sailing time, I ventured ashore once again wearing my military historian hat. I had spotted on our arrival the previous evening what appeared to be a massive ruined bridge with a number of pylon stubs spaced across the river.

My pre-breakfast investigation revealed the ruins to be that of the  Hindenburg Bridge…

From August 1942 the bridge was the target of several allied air raids and on 13 January 1945, the spans of the bridge were destroyed. However, the final destruction of the Hindenburg Bridge was carried out in March 1945 by the retreating German army in order to impede the advance of the Allies…

 

Day 5. Middle Rhine Scenic Cruising and Koblenz

The Rhine has more castles along its length than any other world river  and nowhere on the Rhine is the concentration of castles so great as on the section known as the Middle Rhine…

…between Rudesheim and Koblenz. Here are a small number  that we passed during the course of our morning transit…

Ehrenfels…

Reichenstein…

 

Schonburg…

 

Pfalzgrafenstein…

 

 

Rheinfels…

 

Katz…

 

…and Stoljenfels…

 

Of course there were other interesting sites to view as we cruised this section of the Rhine. One that stood out for me was the Statue of Lorelei…

There is a good folk story behind the statue, far better described on this web page…

http://mermaidsofearth.com/mermaid-statues-mermaid-sculptures/public/the-lorelei-statue/

 

We made good time on this busy section of the Rhine and arrived at Koblenz during lunch and berthed at probably the best position possible, adjacent to Deutsches Eck  (“German Corner“)

German Corner, a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  effectively marks the position where the rivers Moselle and Rhine converge and it is watched over by a grand statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I on horseback. Needless to say this intrepid blogger just had to climb the statue…

…for the view of the actual confluence…

This afternoon’s included excursion entailed a 30 minute coach drive back along the Rhine, our destination being one of the castles we had passed in the morning, Marksburg…

Marksburg Castle sits on a lofty 550 foot perch watching over the town of Braubach and the Rhine valley. It is the only castle  on the Middle Rhine not to have been destroyed by  enemy action since it was built in the 13th Century.

Split into groups we were given a comprehensive guided tour by the castle’s own guides that included the Gothic Hall, Kitchens…

…stables, dungeons, torture chamber  and blacksmith’s workshop. Nor forgetting the battlements with their spectacular views over the Rhine…

Viking Eir remained in Koblenz until the early hours of Day 6 when it set sail for an overnight passage to Cologne.

 

Day 6 Cologne

Our arrival in Cologne,  Germany’s fourth largest city, was perfectly timed as breakfast finished and fifteen minutes later we were meeting our tour guide on the jetty. Once again our ship had moored perfectly in the heart of the city’s Altstadt (Old City) district , a stones throw from Cologne’s Great Saint Martin Church and  Old Fish Market…

Our guide was both charismatic and outstanding and had some amusing anecdotes to add to his tour repertoire. We were shown amongst other sites the historic Rathaus, Roman archeological sites, the  iconic Heinzelmännchen Fountain feature…

…and a full internal tour of Cologne Cathedral…

*****

The included excursion finished around lunchtime and, as with most visits,  we were given free time to  explore. Viking Eir wasn’t due to sail till 10.45 pm that evening which suited us perfectly.

Cologne was to be my final scaling of a cathedral tower. The south tower offers an impressive view from a height of approximately 100 metres with a climb the 533 steps.  The climb up the steps to the platform takes visitors past the bell chamber…

For those campanologists amongst my readers, of the cathedral’s eight bells, St. Peter’s Bell is the largest freely swinging church bell in the world and weighs 24 tonnes.

Needless to say I made it …

…though the mesh safety netting proved a challenge for good pictures…

*****

By the way, that’s Cologne’s Ludwig Museum just to the right of centre in the above photograph. Here it is taken from the Hohenzollern Bridge in the centre of the photograph…

On the subject of the Hohenzollern Bridge, during my research into Cologne I was constantly reminded of the iconic Cologne photograph taken on the opposite side of the Rhine and featuring the bridge and the cathedral. Now there was a challenge…

*****

Did you spot the colourful background on the footpath?

They’re padlocks and they extend the full length of the bridge…

We packed many other sites in during the course of the afternoon including the Chocolate Museum…

the 13th century Romanesque house, the oldest preserved ‘Patrician’ house in Germany, known as Overstolzenhaus …

…and a recce to establish the distance to our evening venue, the Brauerei zur Malzmühle  – a Kölsch brewery …

A visit after which I just could not resist one final iconic shot…

We sailed and bid farewell to the amazing city of Cologne just before midnight and when we awoke the next day it was…

Day 7. Waal & Merwede Scenic Cruising

The morning and early afternoon were spent scenic cruising as we entered the Rhine – Meuse-Scheldt Delta. The River  Waal  is the main distributary branch of the Rhine as it flows through the Netherlands.

At midday there was a brief stop at the town of Gorinchem to disembark  those passengers who had opted for an optional excursion to witness cheese making, and Viking Eir then continued her way past flat dutch farmland, svelte poplar trees and the odd windmill, before we arrived late afternoon at  Kinderdijk…

 

Kinderdijk is a village that lies at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers. It is a  UNESCO World Heritage and known for its iconic 18th-century windmills. Its water-management network features 19 mills and 3 pumping stations, plus dikes and reservoirs that control flooding in the polder (low-lying land). Waterways, footpaths and bike trails crisscross the area…

Once again we were grouped with local guides and the afternoon included, amongst other things, a visit to the Nederwaard Museum Windmill…

…where we explored the inside the working windmill, the 1950s preserved family living spaces and climbing the three floors to witness the ‘Transmission Cogs’ in operation…

As with Cologne, there is always that must have iconic tourist brochure view and Kinderdijk was no different…

We sailed from Kinderdijk early evening and arrived in Amsterdam some time early morning.

 

Day 8. Amsterdam

This was disembarkation day and, as luck would have it, our flight was not scheduled till very late afternoon. Though we have visited Amsterdam on a number of occasions we took the opportunity to wander around the usual tourist haunts…

…and stock up on one or two must have Dutch treats…

One particular joy of Viking is that though you are required to vacate your suite/cabin by 9.00 am on the day of disembarkation passengers are entirely free to remain onboard with all the services that have been available during the cruise including lunch, drinks and free wifi.

Summary

Another successful Viking River Cruise with excellent service, good food and onboard facilities. All this coupled with superb organisation and high quality excursions included in the price.

Once again Viking more than met our expectations and still would have without the accommodation upgrade: that was just the icing on the cake.

Staff ethos is always amazing on Viking Ships, and Viking Eir was no different. We found all staff  enthusiastic, polite  and always  eager to please. Some of course will invariably  stand out and whom deserve additional recognition. On  Viking Eir those that we were mightily impressed by, and in no particular order, were the Hotel Manager, Luciano Alicino...

…our outstanding waiter on numerous evenings, Kristijan…

and the receptionist who, without fail, brightened my every day, Sylvia…

This cruise was typical of the standard offered by Viking River Cruises with the added attraction of a number of periods of relaxed and sedate scenic cruising between stops and with longer distances covered overnight.

Of the 176 passengers onboard the UK passengers numbered 19, the majority being from the USA. Though the UK contingent was smaller than on our previous cruises this in no way impinged on the enjoyment of the cruise.

Finally, the age old question… “would we cruise with Viking again?”

Well of course we will and we certainly took up the onboard Viking offer of a future cruise deposit…

…Madness not to with an offer like that. Indeed, within a week of our return we used that OCC  offer to book our 2018 river cruise along the Seine on Viking Kadlin.

 

This cruise was booked through http://www.cruiseline.co.uk and the excellent services of their cruise specialist, Beverley Hobbs

 

If you have enjoyed this review of  Viking Eir’s Rhine Getaway river cruise and would like to be amongst the first to hear of new reviews including a forthcoming Mississippi Cruise on The American Queen and,  something a little different, a sailship cruise on Star Clipper …

 

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