Back in April, my friend Shelley got an email from Viking advertising a sale to celebrate their 25th anniversary. She texted a few of us: "A weeklong river cruise on the Rhine, from Basel to Amsterdam, for $2200 INCLUDING AIRFARE." But we had three days to decide. One friend was having back surgery, so she was a no. Another said she needed more time to think about it. But I said yes. It was really too good a deal to pass up. So Shelley and I decided to go together. We added a few things, of course - travel insurance and a two-day post-trip extension to Amsterdam and the Hague.
I knew I wouldn't be as mobile as I wanted to be. My new hip from last year was fine, but my left knee needed to be replaced. Still, I thought I'd be okay to go. If a day's tour looked too active for me, I could stay on the boat. I'd pack a cane and a pair of trekking poles.
On October 21, my husband Art and I flew from Seattle to Tucson to our winter place. The next day, Shelley and I flew to Basel, Switzerland via Denver and Munich.
We boarded a very cool longship, the Viking Hlin.
Here's what we saw:
Breisach is in the Black Forest. This mountain range was named by the Romans because the densely packed conifer trees found in the area are very dark green. A beautiful drive that day, with a stop at Furtwangen to look at cuckoo clocks and glassblowers. When I got home, I ordered a wall clock from their online store. I'd wanted to first check with my son James, who has a great eye, to make sure the clock would be a good addition to our Washington apartment, and with my husband Art, just because!
Strasbourg is a city in Alsace, in northeastern France. Historically, Alsace has alternated between German and French control for centuries, and reflects a mixture of those cultures. We had an excellent guide for our tour, but I had forgotten to charge my radio-guided device, so I couldn't hear her. I stayed as close to her as I could, but I know I missed a lot.
Speyer is a city of 50,000 people, one of the oldest German cities. Our guide was born and raised there and loves his city. The cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage Centre; the foundation stone was laid in 1030.
We made a quick stop in Rudesheim, Germany during the afternoon. Shelley and I ventured out to a shopping area and bought identical "made-in-Italy" blouses for a great price. Then on to Koblenz, where I met up with my friend Nasar; we met when I was a volunteer at the refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece, where he and his family lived for over a year. They are in Germany now.
Kinderdijk is a World Heritage site; the old windmills have since been replaced by electric pumps to remove the water from fields below sea level. Rather than a long walk, we boarded a vintage barge to the old windmills, where the millers and their families lived.
And, in a two-day extension after we disembarked:
Amsterdam is a low-lying city of about 90 islands and 1500 bridges. It's got a population of about 880,000 people. After a canal tour - including passing the Anne Frank house - our small tour group of six left from Rijksmuseum (the national museum of the Netherlands) to explore.
It took a while because (1) I had to stop and rest my knee every few blocks and (2) we had to keep a very close eye on the hundreds of bicyclists and (3) Shelley needed to use a restroom, and the only way we could do that was to order a coffee or snack at a sidewalk cafe.
The Memorial is only two years old and contains the names of all Dutch Jews who died in the Holocaust. Each of the 102,000 bricks displays the first and last name, date of birth and age at death of a victim.
We found the taxi stand after some hunting around and rejoined our group at the museum. We were then driven to The Hague (Den Haag), about an hour away.
The Hague is a smaller city, with a population of 700,000. It's the seat of government for the Netherlands and the permanent home of the UN International Court of Justice.