13.07.2012 - 15.07.2012 21 °C
Just imagine waking up and peeking out or your window to see lush riverbanks studded with quaint old villages, majestic churches with steeples soaring above the village roofs, and up on the hill the remains of an old castle watching over the landscape – magic!
Typical River Scene
This was our experience most days on our trip from Budapest to Amsterdam.
To take a step back, the riverboats or "Longboats" as Viking Cruises likes to call their new boats, are long (125 meters), narrow (11.4 meters), low vessels built to fit through the narrow rivers, canals and locks and under the low bridges of the European river system. By ocean cruising standards they are tiny boats and carry around 180 guests compared to the 2000-3000 found on a typical mid sized ocean cruise ship. However, the cabins on the riverboats are very similar to those on an ocean cruise ship.
Dave sitting in front of the "balcony"
With only 180 guests it is a much more intimate experience and you get to know many of your fellow passengers. Often while walking in the smaller cities we would recognize our fellow passengers and wave and say hello as we passed in the street.
The Viking Presitge
As you see in the picture above, there is a top deck or sun deck as it is called, with umbrellas, tables and chairs at the front, the square Wheelhouse from where the captain steers the ship, and then further back there are two canopied areas where passengers can sit as well.
There are 3 enclosed decks below the sun deck all with guest cabins. All of the cabins on the top two decks (decks 2&3) have cabins which each have what they call a "French Balcony" which is a big patio door to the outside opening to a 3 inch "balcony". The bottom deck (deck 1) has cabins with much smaller water-level windows. Those cabins would certainly not be our first choice!
When the ship passes under a low bridge, they have to stow the umbrellas, tables, chairs and canopies. They even lower the entire Wheelhouse which is on some sort of hydraulic lift mechanism.
Wheelhouse 2/3 down
If a bridge is not too low they only lower things part way and they position crew on the sun deck to ensure that passengers get down on their knees. When the ship goes through areas where many of the bridges are low they completely close the sun deck to passengers.
Some bridges are so low there are mere inches to spare. Then all the furniture must come off the top deck and everything else is folded flat against the deck.
Ship docked under a bridge.
On those days when the ship was going under a number of very low bridges they took on 600 tonnes of ballast water to sink the ship down lower into the water in order for it to squeeze under the bridges.
We were on Deck 3 with a French Balcony. Here is Hazel waving from the “Balcony”. The aft or rear two thirds of the ship is mostly dedicated to passenger cabins. The forward third of the ship is dedicated to common areas.
On Deck 2 forward is the main dining room. One evening the waiters dressed up – here is our group of friends with Ericsson, our favourite waiter in the main dining room.
Dave, Steve, Rebecca, Jeanne, Bernie, Ericsson, Hazel, Ron, and Char
Up on Deck 3 at the front of the ship was a nice open-to-the-air seating area
Deck 3 at the bow
Just inside that was the large Viking Lounge where we met for our daily briefings, to listen to presentations, music or just chill and swill - the bar was also in the Viking lounge. Often when there wasn’t something official going on, the ship’s musician, Konstantin, played the lovely little baby grand for all to enjoy.
For breakfast and lunch, we always had the choice of a buffet up on deck 3 or the main dining room service. Dinner was served in the lovely main dining room every evening. The food was ample and of superb quality. The small galley made its own baked goods including bread and some of its own pasta. They made a real effort to use local foods which the chef sourced in our ports of call. Wine and beer were complementary for lunch and dinner and flowed abundantly.
Our Group at Dinner
Now for the final leg of our trip – from Cologne to Amsterdam.
Cologne, the 4th largest city in Germany with 2.1 million people, is considered the oldest city in Germany and is known for its churches – the most famous of which is the Cologne Cathedral which is the second tallest church is Europe.
Cologne Cathedral from the Rhine
Bottom of the Cologne Cathedral
Top of the Cologne Cathedral
It is so tall it was used by the allied bombers during WW 2 as a landmark. This was probably the reason it was only lightly bombed while the rest of Cologne was devestated with about 80% of the city destroyed.
It is a magnificent building which is in a constant state of restoration
Artist Restoring some of the gold work on a statue
Which contains many tombs including the tombs of the 3 Magi
Tombs of the 3 Magi
After our walking tour of Cologne we had the option of staying in town for the rest of the afternoon until about 6 or staying on the ship while it made a short trip to a local dry dock for some repairs. We elected to stay on the ship because it was a chilly, rainy day. Some of our friends elected to tour some of the museums in town. One couple made it to the museum of chocolate – period.
Drydock was a non event. We weren’t even aware that we were being raised from the water a little. While there they installed a new heat exchanger for one of the 4 main generators.
By 6:00 pm we were back around to the main harbour to pick up the rest of our passengers.
Passengers embarking from Cologne
As usual everything went smoothly and we quickly headed out northbound for Kinderdijk in Holland.
The next day as we cruised through the waterways of Holland we were treated to an excellent lecture by a local Dutch woman on the history and life in the windmills. Kinderdijk is a tiny village located on a strip of land between the Lek and Noord Rivers. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has the largest concentration of operational windmills (19) some dating from the 14th century.
Windmills of Kinderdijk
In 1421 there was a heavy flood that devastated the area. One legend developed about a child in a cradle which was kept afloat by a cat jumping from side to side keeping it in balance. “The Cat and the Cradle” became a popular fairytale, and the area became known as “Child’s Dike” or Kinderdijk in Dutch. To this day all cats around the windmills are protected and honored as “windmill cats”.
By late afternoon we left this magical and calm place and got ready for our last dinner aboard. As always it was a fun dinner but ended on a somewhat sad note as we bid our new found friends goodby and vowed to stay in touch. After saying our goodbys we headed off to our cabin to pack as we had an early departure at 6:30 am the following morning.
During the night the ship continued towards our resendvous with Amsterdam. We were up bright and early the following morning and our ship was already docked and lots going on. We grabbed a bit of breakfast and then headed ashore to our taxi which would take us through Amsterdam and on to the airport. After the usual airport confusion we boarded our big KLM Airbus and headed towards home at 9:30 am. We now had 7 hours to kill before we would arrive in Toronto at 11:30 am local time.
We are now home and have had some time to think about our first River Cruise. Bottom line it did in fact exceed our expectations on all fronts and we will certainly be doing another river cruise. We also would recommend this highly as a fascinating and entertaining experience in which we learned huge amounts of history (recent and ancient) and geography. We will still do traditional ocean cruising as we enjoy it too but river cruising is truly a unique and wonderful experience.
David & Hazel