DUE TO THE LOW WATER LEVEL OF THE RHINE RIVER,
THE ABOVE PICTURE IS WHAT OUR CRUISE FELT LIKE.

 
         

         

We decided to do something different this trip. We decided on a "river cruise". We did some research and decided on one of the leaders in the field - Viking River Cruises. They have a very impressive selection of cruises - France, Germany, East Europe, Russia, China, even Egypt. We checked other travelers' reviews which were almost completely favorable, and decided on the "Rhine Getaway", 8 days and 7 nights starting in Amsterdam and ending in Basle, Switzerland. Here's a link to the itinerary of this cruise.

The cruise didn't quite work out the way we had expected. Due to a dry summer in Switzerland, the level of the Rhine River had fallen to its lowest level in many years and the larger boats (ours among them) couldn't navigate most of the river. Our boat, the "Viking Sun" couldn't get to Amsterdam and its sister ship, the "Viking Helvetia" couldn't leave Amsterdam. We spent 3 nights in hotels and only 4 nights (of a planned 7) on the Viking Sun, and most of our time during the day on buses. It was very disappointing. Before I go into detail, I want to list the main points regarding this change in schedule, both the good and the bad:

 
 
  • Before the cruise, Viking didn't notify any of the passengers about the possibility of limited sailing because of the low water level.

  • Viking put us up in excellent 5 star hotels in Amsterdam, Heidelberg, and Basle.

  • The Viking staff were very helpful and very well organized even considering the time we spent on buses instead of the boat.

  • In compensation for the inconvenience on this cruise, Viking offered us 40% off our next cruise with them. I don't think many of the passengers will take another cruise.

  • Dinners at the hotels were definitely of the "rubber chicken" variety.

 
 

Fortunately, before the trip we had already decided to add a few days in Amsterdam at the beginning and a few days at the end in Switzerland, one day in Basle, and 2-3 days in Lucerne, so part of the trip went just fine. Here are the details.

 
         

 
 

 
         

In Amsterdam, we stayed in the NH Amsterdam Centre Hotel, a 4 star hotel located right next to the Leidseplein Square, which is one of the liveliest areas for night life in Amsterdam. The NH chain has about 12 hotels in Amsterdam. There are plenty of trams and buses here to get you to any place in the city, and there's even a tram stop right in front of the hotel. To the right is a picture of the Leidseplein, with the pile of parked bicycles so common in Amsterdam. We understand that bike riding is very environmentally friendly, but the bike riders are aggressive and rude, and the bikes are parked all over the place and make it difficult just to walk down the street.

 

To book this hotel, I used Priceline for the first time and was really pleased with the results. We paid about $210 for 3 nights at this hotel, not including breakfast. The standard price in Amsterdam for a 4 star hotel is about $200 for one night! The hotel has a highly recommended Italian restaurant, called "Sogno", and the only problem was that the restaurant was full every night and we couldn't get in. Out room was reasonably sized and well designed.

 

Amsterdam is a fun city and we walked a lot. We found lots of unusual things, like this (very) public urinal to the left in the middle of the street.

We visited all the main attractions, the flower market, Dam Square, the museumplein, New market, The Jewish quarter,  Waterlooplein, the Jordaan quarter. and of course we spent lots of time at the Leidseplein drinking beer. We visited Rembrandt Square and the area near the central train station. We did not smoke pot or visit the red light district.

As part of the cruise program, we did a canal boat tour (recommended), and visited the Van Gogh Museum for an entirely too short visit. We didn't visit Anne Frank's House because both of us had been there before, but we did visit the Jewish history Museum which we found to be very interesting. To the left is a picture of the restored synagogue which is part of the museum

The center of Amsterdam is very compact. The best way  to get around is walking or the tram after a long day of walking around.

The tram is very modern, clean and efficient. We used the tram at all hours (most lines run until midnight) and were very pleased with it. We bought 2 strips of tickets (called "strippencaart") and that was enough for the three days. To the left is a street view of one of the trams. There are also buses and an underground, but the tram is the best way to get around.

         


LEANING HOUSE

To me the most interesting thing in Amsterdam was the unusual and varied buildings. The canal side buildings, some tilting toward the street, the buildings covered with colored shutters, or artwork above the entrance, and most unusual, the narrow buildings, some with entrances only a meter wide. To the right and left are a couple of examples.  Below are a few more pictures of typical things in Amsterdam.


ENTRY ARTWORK

         

THE CANALS ARE FULL OF HOUSEBOATS.


CANNABIS STARTER KIT IN THE FLOWER MARKET

STREET ENTERTAINMENT IN DAM SQUARE

AUSCHWITZ MONUMENT IN WERTHEIM PARK

THE ONLY RAW
HERRING BAR
WE FOUND

TO THE RIGHT 2 BEAUTIFULLY SHUTTERED HOUSES

TO THE LEFT A BARGE USED FOR COMMUTERS TO PARK THEIR BIKES

         

We ate at 2 very nice restaurants here. One is called "De Compagnon" and was very French, and located right on the Damrak (canal), and we enjoyed it very much. The other is called d'Theeboom, which is also French and is located on Singel Street not far from the Dam. It was also very good, but the first was better.

The food at both restaurants was delicious, but the dishes at De Compagnon were far more original and interesting. Alisa particularly liked her "swimming seafood", which featured a soup which poured from a kettle over cooked seafood. See the picture to the left. The most outstanding dish at d'Theeboom was a mousse of crab and salmon wrapped in Serrano ham, with a tarragon sauce. Picture to the right.

         
 

Below are some more links about Amsterdam.

 
 

AMSTERDAM PUB GUIDE
AMSTERDAM FOOD AND DRINKING GUIDE
RESTAURANT GUIDE INCLUDING ONLINE RESERVATION
LOTS OF AMSTERDAM INFORMATION
DUTCH TRAIN SYSTEM
THE INTERNET GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM
GVB - THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM OF AMSTERDAM

 

 

 
         


THE VIKING SUN

I wish I had lots to write about the cruise, but as I said above, it was a disappointment. The weather was mostly lousy,  and because of the low river level, our ship docked in Mannheim and left for only one short sail - to Mainz for a visit which was inexplicably short - a 1.5 hour guided tour and 1 hour free. Then we sailed back to Mannheim where we and the Viking Sun spent the next 4 nights. To the left and right are pictures of the ship.

Our first activity was a canal cruise in Amsterdam, and then a very short visit to the Van Gogh museum. We had lunch at a famous restaurant "5 Vlieghen" (the 5 flies) a very atmospheric old restaurant with lots dark wood and several different rooms, each with its own motif. Then the fun started, with a 5 hour bus ride to Cologne. We got to Cologne at 9 PM, and visited the famous cathedral for less than an hour at 10 PM in the rain. We stayed at the Marriot right near the train station.

The next morning we took a 2 hour bus ride to Koblenz where we boarded a river boat for the sail to our boat, the Viking Sun. This stretch of the river south of Koblenz is one of the most picturesque, and is full of the most famous castles. We were supposed to visit one of the castles, but this didn't happen. The ride was boring and uneventful. Also the weather was overcast and drizzly, and lunch was horrible, but the beer was cold.

In Mannheim we finally boarded our ship, the Viking Sun. This anchorage became our night time home for the next 4 nights and we got to know Mannheim quite well. One evening we walked into town and found a nice bar in the center and celebrated the birthday of one of the new friends we had met on board.

The next morning we took the only real sail we had on the Viking Sun, as we sailed north to Mainz. In Mainz, the sun came out and we visited the center of town, including the Guttenberg museum where we were given a demonstration of Guttenberg's original printing press. The center of Mainz very nice, but we were there for such a short time, we really couldn't enjoy it very much. Picture to the right. After Mainz, we sailed back to Mannheim.

MAINZ CENTER

   


VIEW FROM THE
CASTLE RUINS

The next day was probably the best day we had. We visited beautiful Heidelberg. We took lots of pictures. We had lunch in a nice bar, and we bought a bottle of wine which we took back and drank with dinner on the boat.


HEIDELBERG
ACADEMY
OF SCIENCE

         

Next morning it was back to the buses for a 2 hour drive to Strasburg, France. Strasburg is the capital of the Alsace region and is full of canals and European community monuments & buildings. Here's a nice canal view to the right.


STRASBURG

The cathedral here is incredible. We enjoyed strolling around this lovely city and had an organized lunch with the whole group at a German style restaurant where we were serenaded by  a "chanteuse", a singer with a Ukrainian accent.


STRASBURG

         


BLACK FOREST
CUCKOO CLOCK

The last day "on the cruise" was another long bus ride - this time to the Black Forest, where it was rainy and cold, but we enjoyed the ride there. We actually didn't do much. A visit to Freiberg and then to a beautiful  tourist trap in the mountains. It included a restaurant, a cuckoo clock store (where they made the cuckoo clocks), a souvenir store where they had a glass blowing demo, and a giant cuckoo clock with dancing figures. Lunch was eminently forgettable. A picture of the cuckoo clock to the left.

 

After the Black Forest, we continued south by bus to reach our final destination - Basle, Switzerland. We stayed at the Swissotel le Plaza Hotel, another 5 star hotel, and yet another forgettable dinner.

 
         
  Below are 3 pictures which pretty well sum up this cruise.  
 

OUR BOAT

OUR BUS

HOW WE FELT
AT THE END

 
     

 

 
 

 

 
 

 
         

We arrived in Basle on Saturday evening, which suited our plans well. We had intended to visit Basle on Sunday, and then take a train to Lucerne in the evening and spend 3 days there. Our flight out was from Zurich at 9 PM on Wednesday. Here's a tip - if you spend a night in any hotel in Basle, you get a free pass on the city transportation system.

 GETTING AROUND
BASLE

 

WELCOME TO BASEL

 

5 WALKS IN BASLE

Basle is the second largest city in Switzerland, with a population of about 200,000. Its center is fairly small, but our hotel was on the outskirts of the center so we took advantage of our transport pass and utilized the trams freely. We visited the Marktplatz, Barfussplatz (the town center), the Cathedral, the Tinguely fountain (picture below and to the left) and the Tinguely Museum and every other place worth visiting in the town center. The most interesting thing I saw was the river flow driven ferries which cross the Rhine River here in Basle. Here's a picture to the right.


RIVER FERRY DRIVEN BY THE RIVER'S FLOW


ALISA ENJOYING THE TINGUELY FOUNTAIN

A few words about Jean Tinguely, his fountain and  the museum dedicated to his work. Tinguely was a noted son of Basle and his artwork was mostly mobiles and dynamic artwork. The Tinguely Fountain is a major attraction in Basle. Click here to see a Youtube video because that's the only way to appreciate it. 


INSIDE THE
TINGUELY MUSEUM


RHINE
VIEW IN BASLE

The Museum is a fun place for everybody, especially kids, as everything is interactive, and moves and makes lots of noise. Here's an article about one of his most famous statues, "Chaos I" which he built in Columbus, Indiana, USA in 1971. To the left is an interesting picture of the Rhine River, with several bridges in view and several modes of transportation common in Basle. Look closely in the picture - under the main span, you can see the river-driven ferry crossing the river.

 

 

 
         
 

 
     


CHAPEL BRIDGE

Lucerne is incredibly beautiful. The town has a beautiful location on the Reuss River where it flows into Lake Lucerne. It's surrounded by several mountains, the Pilatus, the Titus and the Stanserhorn. The town is divided by the river with the old town on the north bank and the business part of town on the south bank. The river is crossed by several bridges, the most famous of which is the Chapel Bridge, a covered wooden bridge which is one of the most famous and beautiful in Europe. Pictures to the left and right. Here's a site with the some information and an absolutely fabulous picture of the bridge.


CHAPEL BRIDGE

In Lucerne, we visited the old town, the city walls, the Glacier Garden, the Lion Monument and the Bourbaki Panorama, and of course, we crossed all the beautiful bridges over and over. The Glacier Garden is a complex displaying the history of the area via its glacial geography, the technical background of glaciers, and historical exhibits dedicated to Lucerne. To the lower left is a shot of the Swish Chalet within the Glacier Garden. The Lion Monument is probably the most famous monument in Switzerland and depicts a saddened lion mourning the dead Swiss Guard who died fighting in France in 1815. Mark twain called it "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world". To the right is a picture of us in front of the lion.


THE LION MONUMENT


GLACIER PARK
CHALET

The Bourbaki Panorama is most unusual 360 piece of art depicting an episode from the Franco Prussian War of 1870-71. This panoramic art form was very popular in Europe in the late 19th century, and is both an indictment of the brutality of war as well as a testimony to human compassion. It's hard to describe and no single picture can do it justice (in any case, photography is prohibited). For further information, check out a few web sites. Here's another good site. If you decide to visit both the Glacier Garden and the Bourbaki Panorama, buy a "Lion Pass" which provides a nice discount for visiting both.

We ate at three nice restaurants in Luzerne. The first was when we arrived on the first evening and we just picked it for the nice view. It's right on the river and it's called  "Opus". It's a restaurant and wine bar. The food was great Alisa had trout filled with mushrooms and leek (and a few other things) and I had venison, Alsatian style with spatzle, red cabbage, apple and cranberry dressing. Also, the selection of wines by the glass was excellent. That's where we learned that the best way to drink wine in a restaurant in Switzerland is by the glass. By the bottle it is very expensive. By the glass comes out a whole lot cheaper and we didn't have to finish a whole bottle. We also got to match the wine with the food.  A 100 cl glass in a good restaurant will cost around 7-8 Swiss francs.


ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL VIEW OF LUCERNE

The second restaurant was Sebastian's, at Rutligasse 2, which was right near our hotel. The hotel clerk recommended it, and he was right on. The food, mainly fish and seafood was excellent and we really enjoyed the meal. Here we had a mixed seafood dish and a whole grilled bream. 

The third restaurant was one of the best of the entire trip - an excellent Italian restaurant called La Cucina, which is located within the giant Astoria Hotel complex. Here we had tuna carpaccio (fantastic), orechietti (pasta ears) with scallops and pumpkin, and guinea fowl with pasta, balsamic and tomato sauce. Everything was superb. We also had 3 nice wines and a wonderful muscat for desert.

We stayed in the "Drei Konige" (3 crowns) hotel, a nice, simple, very adequate 3 star hotel located about 2 minutes from one of the bridges (Reuss-brucke) over the river to the old town. Across the street from the hotel was a wonderful chocolate store where we bought quite a bit hand made chocolates and as mentioned above, lots of restaurants are very nearby.

 

In Lucerne we discovered 2 things about Switzerland, one good and the other not so good. They still smoke in Swiss restaurants. We cancelled a reservation in one restaurant when we visited during the day and found that the place stank of cigarettes. The locals say that it's only a matter of time before they ban smoking in restaurants like the rest of Europe. The "good" discovery was the luggage service provided at most Swiss train stations. For 20 Swiss Francs per piece, you can ship your luggage to any other train station, and even have it checked on to your flight and complete your flight check-in and get your boarding pass. That's what we did. At the Luzerne train station, we checked our bags in the morning, took the train to Zurich, spent the day in Zurich, and boarded our flight home in the evening. We never saw our bags from the time we checked them in Lucerne until we arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv. 

         
 

 
         


ZURICH
TOUR TROLLEY

There's not a whole lot to add about our visit to Zurich. We spent only a few hours here. We took the "Classic Trolley Tour" to see the main city sights. Check the picture to the left to see the trolley and Alisa wrapped up like a panda . The day was pretty cold and windy. To the right is a famous view of the Grossmunster (formerly a cathedral) and the statue of former mayor Hans Waldmann. The Grossmunster is very photogenic. Here's a site full of great pictures. We also visited the Fraumunster, an abbey with beautiful Marc Chagal windows.


ZURICH
GROSSMUNSTER

 

We strolled the Bahnhof Strasse, the main shopping street, and on Neiderhorfstrasse, we found a nice restaurant for our last meal on this trip. It's called called "Pulcino" a really enjoyable Italian restaurant. We had some nice wine and great fresh pasta. It was a great final meal before our flight home. Below are a few more Zurich and Switzerland links.

 
 

ZURICH INFORMATION
A TOUR OF ZURICH
ZURICH CITY GUIDE
OFFICIAL ZURICH TOURISM SITE
THE HISTORY OF ZURICH
SWITZERLAND IS YOURS

 
     
 

We sailed a sail on a boat with wheels,
but no sails,
on a Viking ship with no Vikings,
and on a river with no water.

 
     
     

 

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This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

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UPDATED:  OCTOBER 2, 2011