Tuesday, 16 April, 2024

Leaving home: We enjoyed an nice leisurely day of packing and preparation before getting into the limo at 1pm, and a smooth trip to Pearson Airport. For some reason, Larry’s passport didn’t scan in the kiosk, so check-in took a little while, but security was quick. [Later note: made quicker, apparently, by not retrieving our laptop. More about that later.] We were soon enjoying lunch near our gate. So far, so good, until Air Canada/Lufthansa started making garbled announcements about meals and vouchers. Turned out the catering company had a labour disruption and hadn’t delivered any meals yet, and wouldn’t be delivering any special meals. Mainly, this meant that the flight was delayed about 45 minutes. The next garbled announcements seemed to indicate that we should not inquire about missed connections until arriving in Frankfurt, and that they’d be automatically re-booked. And another 30 minute delay.


Wednesday, 17 April, 2024

 Frankfurt to Basel: The overnight flight was quite comfortable, though the food was nothing to brag about. Unsurprisingly, we were too late for our train to Basel. Because we had asked for assistance, we expected a smooth transition, but that was not to be. Someone met us with a wheelchair, but took us only as far as the nearest pick-up point for an electric transport cart. Then the driver of that wouldn’t take us because we were going too far. The next person to offer help assured us that there was no train station in the terminal -- that was certainly reassuring! Next was a guy with a wheelchair, who told us we needed the electric cart. He did check that one was coming for us, and eventually it did. Phew! The long ride to baggage claim was a bit like an F1 race, and from there we were back with a wheelchair, which meant that I was hauling 2 big suitcases, and Larry was stacked up with carry-ons. First off was a very quick pass through Customs/Immigration in some side corridor. Next up was the issue of our missed connection and train reservation. A special assistance agent spent awhile on the phone and eventually gave us boarding passes for a train leaving about an hour later. The wheelchair lady could only take us as far as a waiting area by an elevator to the platform listed on our tickets.

While we waited, Larry noticed a sign board that indicated a different platform. I checked with the information booth and verified that our boarding passes were wrong and the board was right. So we went to the other platform. Close call! The trains are so tightly scheduled that 2 others left from that platform in the 15 minutes we were there, but eventually we got onto the one to Basel. It is quiet, smooth and fast -- generally about 150kph, [but there were some peeks]

so the very comfortable trip to Basel took about 3 hours. Looking at our information, we discovered that our hotel, the Hyperion, was very close to the Basel Bad station, one stop before the main Basel one,  so we disembarked there and walked to the hotel. We arrived about 1:30 and couldn’t check in until 3, so we had lunch and relaxed in the lobby. Once into our room, we rested and napped until 5:30 or so. On the advice of a Viking host, who happened to have a desk in the lobby, we decided to simply board one of the beautiful city streetcars and ride its entire loop.
It is free to hotel guests, and while there was no narrative description, we saw a lot of this wonderful city. Public transit is obviously excellent and we saw very few cars and lots of bikes. Back at the Hyperion, we enjoyed wiener schnitzel for dinner and retired to our room.


Thursday, 18 April, 2024

Basel to Grindewalde and then to Triesenberg, Liechtenstein: After sleeping really well for many hours, we flung open the drapes on our full-wall window across from the bed,

so we could enjoy the great view. Disappointingly, rain was hitting the window and mist shrouded the nearest mountains. As we lay there, I had the sudden feeling that an alien invasion had begun, but it turned out to be window washers lowering their apparatus from the roof. So we re-closed the drapes and prepared for our big adventure. After breakfast at a little cafe across the way, we taxied to the airport to pick up the rental car. Avis was easy to find, but it turned out to be the Swiss one, while our arrangements were with the French one. What’s the difference? About 75% of the price apparently.So the Swiss staff showed us the way to the French part of the airport and warned us to be sure and have a Swiss highway permit on the car. The French staff were most helpful and we switched to a Kona that had a permit, so we didn’t have to buy one. Then off we went. Google Maps took us directly to Grindewalde, though that involved some rather basic and mountainous roads. Once in the town, though, it took us awhile to track down the gondola base, and nearby parking. It was snowing/raining/snowing all the way there. Interesting weather -- the crops were well-advanced, lilacs, wisteria, fruit trees and spring flowers in full bloom, and snow on the very nearby hillsides. In Grindewalde, the tulips were surrounded by snow and looked unhappy.

Although it was misty, the gondola ride was spectacular. We waded through snow half-way to our knees to get to the beginning of the cliff walk,


but quickly realized it would be too much, so we found the restaurant and had lunch. Outside there was the end of the cliff walk so we went out, but really could see almost nothing. 


Back in town, we set the GPS for our hotel in Liechtenstein, the Kulm.  Most of the trip was easily-navigated, though we did some interesting side routes to avoid road closures and they were twisting and up-and-downy.

Once we neared the area of the hotel, though, the GPS lost its mind and took us through a ridiculous number of tiny, climbing, twisting, dead-end roads until it finally declared that it gave up. A passing local directed us to the underground parking for the hotel and we made our way in, just barely in time to have dinner in the restaurant. The only other person there eating was another Canadian, who now lives in Germany.

Great conversation ensued. When we got to our room and went out on the balcony, we discovered that the hotel is right on the town square and several bus routes have stops right in front. Obviously there’s an easy way to reach it. We went to bed hoping to find that easy way out in the morning.

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Friday, 19 April, 2024

Liechtenstein to Zurich and then back to Basel:  What a -- well, let’s just say “full” day! The hotel was really nice, but the room was too warm and had only all-or-nothing duvets, so there was some wakefulness. Night came to an official close when the church bells 

right across the square clanged constantly for 5 minutes at 6 am! I had read for awhile and just fallen back to sleep, so was disappointed to be awake again. We took our time getting started, enjoyed breakfast overlooking the wonderful valley below,

then went for a walk. I realized that I didn’t feel well, so we spent some more time in our room and I tried out ginger gravol, which happily worked well. Larry drove to Zurich on much friendlier roads than the day before, although there were countless twists and turns. The pouring rain didn’t add to the pleasure. Our GPS got us to the computer store, where Larry picked up our new laptop (hence this blog going up). That took much longer than expected, so we dashed off to the meeting place for our tour, arriving just in time.  Of course, we couldn’t park there, so Larry left me and drove off to park. Luckily, he made it back quickly and we caught the tour. It was interesting, though nicer weather would have been welcome. It was chilly as well as raining. We drove around Zurich and walked through the old town,

drove along the lake and took a ferry across, then drove to the base of a cable-car ride. It was a very different experience from the day before, and it was snowing and dropping ice pellets and very windy at the top. We had a quick snack, then went down on the lift and back to Zurich. The drive back to Basel involved a broad detour off the main highway, then we had to get to the airport. Finding a gas station, then getting into the airport turned out to be challenging. Eventually we parked, unloaded the car and went into the airport, only to discover we’d parked in the Swiss area, rather than the French one! The kind Swiss attendant programmed the complicated directions into Larry’s phone and I hauled our luggage to the French area. After a very long wait, I decided he must be lost and was using the staff person’s phone to try and call him, when he appeared, soaking wet. He had gotten to the gate with no problem but then spent a very long while trying to get the gate to open, which it finally did, thank goodness. Something about codes and keypads. We finally got into a taxi at about 9pm, with a driver who showed a few symptoms of insanity, but knew right where our hotel was -- no more drama and a comfortable room to flop in.

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Saturday, 20 April

 Boarding the Viking Tialfi: The Hotel Diana or “D” is in a very different part of Basel from the one we were in on Wednesday night.

Our view was of very old buildings, with tiled roofs and interesting architecture. Our first morning adventure was with the coffee machine in our room. Very different from any we’d encountered before with no instructions. Once we figured it out, though, it made really nice coffee. We still didn’t know where the boat was docked -- there were three very different possibilities. Why hadn’t they just emailed us? On the tour in Zurich, we had met several other Canadians who were also booked on Viking for the Rhine cruise. They had left all their arrangements to Viking and were staying in Zurich. I think they doubted the sanity of our approach but they were kind about it. Our instructions to phone the boat for directions didn’t work and they hadn’t answered our email inquiry. Luckily, we remembered the Viking agents at the Hyperion Hotel, so we called there and they gave us the answer. Feeling more relaxed, we had breakfast at the hotel and walked to a nearby computer store for the few bits and pieces we needed for the new computer. On the way we stopped at a pharmacy for eyedrops. There was only light rain falling, but it was still chilly. We finished packing up and got a cab to the dock.
 Soon we were being well-cared-for by Viking hospitality staff. Meanwhile, we did receive an email reply, so that would have been OK. As we boarded, the sun came out for a moment. Our stateroom wasn’t ready, but we relaxed with a cappuccino in the lounge and watched life on the river. Right after the pleasant buffet lunch, we were shown to our stateroom, which is small but very well-designed and comfortable, with a wall of window that opens to give us a sort of Juliet balcony. Unpacking was followed by rest -- I wondered why I felt that I needed it and Larry suggested that I think about the last few days! We did see some patches of blue sky through the afternoon, so we know it’s still up there behind all those grey and black clouds. Before we left Basel, we were briefed on all services and introduced to the senior staff, then participated in a safety drill. At dinner, we met a group of 4 women from Nova Scotia and sat with a couple from Virginia. It was fun and interesting to share some stories.

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Sunday, 21 April

Breisach & the Black Forest: The buses loaded at 8:30 from a little way along the docks. [We met our guide who was dressed in local costume as an 'available lady'].

There was a fairly heavy mix of rain and snow falling, but what else is new?

We headed up toward the Black Forest, passing through villages and towns along the way. The valley has lots of farms growing fruits, vegetables and grain, and a thriving wine industry. As you get into the higher, steeper areas, there’s more grazing of animals including dairy cattle.
 The Black Forest was very white today, with a very significant accumulation of snow and it was still falling, along with sleet, hail and slush. As we’ve seen all along, spring had been well along before this snowfall.

Our destination was a complex of businesses,  where we saw two interesting demonstrations: the construction of cuckoo clocks and the assembly of Black Forest Cakes.
There were showrooms and sales areas, and a huge clock that took up the side of one building. This site has been operating since the 19th or early 20th century, serving merchants who lived in or travelled through the area, and is making great strides to become totally green. Conditions prevented us exploring the property, but the main area was interesting to visit. Of course, we had some of the cake, which was delicious and not very similar to what I used to make. Maybe I’ll try again with the recipe I brought home.

The trip back took us first through a very narrow valley whose name is something like “Hell’s Canyon”, where we saw Stag’s Leap and heard that legend, and then into an area known as Heaven. The canyon was a favourite place for bandits to attack passing merchants.

 We also passed through Freiburg, which is a very old, very interesting city, but we only saw it as we drove through. Back at the Tialfi, we were greeted with hot chocolate, which was most welcome. A very nice lunch followed. We decided not to brave the weather again, so rested and worked on the blog all afternoon. The Captain’s welcome reception preceded dinner. 

 We met a couple of new women at the reception and a group of four women friends at dinner, then rejoined last night’s group for trivia. That was a riot of laughter, but clever as we were, we didn’t win the bottle of champagne. Sadly, we were told that there will be no more opportunities to show off our trivia skills.

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Monday, 22 April

Kehl Germany & Strasbourg France: We awoke to clear blue skies! It was still chilly, but much more pleasant to walk around -- and walk we did! We met our guide at the gangway, then walked for about 20 minutes along the river to the bus.

 It’s parkland, with views of the river and 3 bridges across it and the path is lined with trees, most of which sport brightly coloured birdhouses. We took the scenic route into Strasbourg after crossing the bridge from Germany to France. 


It’s a very old city, dating from Roman times and has passed back and forth between Germany and France several times. The result is a mixed French-German culture. Along the way we saw many storks’ nests on top of trees, with storks in many of them. They’re recently back from northern Africa and soon will be raising chicks. We walked through the old town, along canals where people used to dispose of all their waste, wash all their clothes, swim and fish.
The very old buildings are fascinating and the streets all seem to curve rather than running straight. Passing along one street, we were offered cheese and macaron samples. I’m sure lots of people went back later to buy more. Eventually, we arrived at

Gutenberg Square, which has a lovely old carousel and a statue of Gutenberg. Apparently it’s unclear whether he printed the first Bible here or in Mainz, so they share credit. Or so we were told (Google tells a different story.)  

 Onward, then, to the cathedral -- Notre Dame. What an amazing place! The original stained glass is mostly still there, having been removed and hidden elsewhere during Nazi times, then returned after the war. The organ dates back many centuries. But the most amazing thing is 

the clock. It takes up one whole large wall and is all mechanical, but extremely accurate and tracks and displays all kinds of information. We saw it on the half-hour, when a cherub hit a bell twice and a man also hit something twice and walked across in front of a skeleton, representing the 2nd stage of life. Other figures move in different ways at different times. By the time we left the cathedral, clouds were rolling in again and it was windy and cold. We had already walked a lot, so we opted for the first bus back. Today the chef welcomed us back onboard with macarons. We chatted over lunch with some of our acquaintances of the day before and eventually retired to our stateroom for a rest. It’s interesting watching the river from our stateroom. Lots of traffic, including cruise ships, freighters and barges with loads varying from gravel to garbage. Waterfowl. And in the trees -- stork nests. Foot and cycle traffic along the banks. Dinner was a wide variety of traditional German dishes, with beer, wine and schnapps. Delicious and fun. The staff were all dressed in traditional German clothing,  some in dirndls or lederhosen and the tables were set in a traditional German way, with pretzels hanging in the middle. Delicious and fun.

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Tuesday, 23 April

Speyer, Worms & Rudesheim:  Amazing bright sunshine for the whole day! It was still very chilly, but very little wind, so much more comfortable.

It was a long walk from the ship into Speyer, but our guide was an amazing storyteller who kept us rapt as he unfolded the history of the area, and Europe more broadly at the time of the Reformation and the events leading up to it.

The cathedral in Speyer is the result of a disagreement with Pope Leo X (?) and was built in the 11th century to be larger than St. Peter’s Basilica. It contains relics of St. Stephen, the 1st Christian Martyr, and became a place of pilgrimage. It’s also on the Compostela de Santiago. Speyer was the site of meetings and events that led eventually to the establishment of Protestantism. 
Outside the cathedral is a huge carved depiction of Jesus praying at Gethsemane, complete with sleeping disciples and gathering soldiers. In front of the cathedral is a huge bowl,
where wine is served during celebrations. We visited the Jewish museum and ancient mikvah dating from 1126, that has miraculously survived many wars and bombardments, including WW2.  Sadly, the Jewish population was annihilated in that war.
Then we went into the cathedral. It seems plain compared to most others we’ve visited, but has amazing carvings of
the stations of the cross and some beautiful paintings. Unfortunately, the lovely organ pipes hide the interior of the rose window. We had a slightly shorter walk to the buses, then rode to Worms to re-board the Tialfi. [ To digress a bit: In history, I remember hearing about “the Diet of Worms” which was NOT a way to lose weight. We were told today that it was a meeting at which Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic. It didn’t hold, because many powerful people agreed with him. ] Along the way, we passed many fields of asparagus, mostly the white variety. It is in season right now, though so far we’ve not had any. There were also vineyards on the hillsides. In Worms (pronounce more like Varms) we walked through a lovely park area,
where we were warned to keep off the grass because undercover agents would photograph us and report our transgression to the ship. We were greeted with hot towels this time. Lunch followed as we continued downriver. Larry went to a talk about the ship and its operations, then I watched a demo of making Rudesheim coffee -- which is mostly brandy and whipped cream, followed by high tea. We docked at Rudesheim around 5 and walked into town. We browsed a few shops, hit an ATM for some euros and enjoyed the view of the river. There were many people sitting out in parks enjoying a glass of wine in the relatively warm weather. The walkways are lined
 with plane trees. They’re really ugly right now, but apparently when they leaf out they look like huge umbrellas. We debated having a wine in a park,  but ran into one of our acquaintances and all decided that a bench by the water was a good place to be. We had dinner on board and retired for the night.
We enjoyed watching the geese and ducks along the banks with their little ones and one majestic swan sailed by.


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Wednesday, 24 April

Castles and Koblenz -- We had a peaceful beginning to the day, watching the geese and ducks beside the ship in Rudesheim, then enjoying the

views of the town as the ship turned around. Eventually, as we neared the part of the river with many castles, we bundled up and moved to the sun deck. No sun, of course, but great views. We saw many castles and heard their histories and then saw the statue of Lorelei,
the river nymph, who lured sailors onto the rocks. Almost as amazing were the nearly-



vertical vineyards and somewhat terraced fields. By lunch we had emerged from that part of the river and sailed peacefully onward. In Koblenz we docked right in the city, so there were no buses, just a guide leading us, first to the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm then into the old city and the

Basilica of St. Castor. Once again we had a great guide who shared the history of the city with humour and a way with a good story or poem. There are strange carved animals guarding the church, which apparently were meant to be lions, but have the body of beavers, coincidentally matching the name of the saint. Much of the city was destroyed in World War II, but not the basilica and some of the area around it, and some has been restored to be like the original, but most of the city is 1950s and 1960s construction. The old city
is very nice and we enjoyed walking through it to the river’s edge and back to the ship. The weather for the morning cruise through the castles was cold and windy, with rain from time to time. It had brightened by the time we left for the walking tour, but clouded over again and rained as we returned to the ship. When we went to the lounge later, there was a beautiful rainbow, but we didn’t have a camera to capture it. The Captain’s reception for returning Viking travellers (featuring shots of aquavit) was followed by the port briefing for tomorrow, dinner and a concert by a local classical string quartet. Of course, there are some in every crowd -- a table of people played cards through the concert, loudly shuffling and dealing -- honestly, there are several other places to play cards if that’s what you prefer to do! Just ignorant and rude! But a good concert anyway and nice evening.

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Thursday, 25 April

Cologne: We had been told that, in the middle of the night, we’d be passing the remains of a famous bridge that played a pivotal role in the last months of World War II, and in the movie Saving Private Ryan. We decided to go out and see it, along with perhaps 25 others. It was very cold on the sundeck, but after awhile the floodlights came on and we saw what simply looked like a wall with a sign on it.

 Then it was back to bed for a few hours until breakfast and our walking tour of Cologne. Another old, fascinating city, with a colourful past. The centrepiece of the tour was 

the beautiful cathedral, which miraculously survived almost intact, the heavy Allied bombing during WW2. It’s easy to see why most damage is on one side, since the huge central railway station is only a stone’s throw away. I felt like I could study the inside for a very long time and still not understand, or even notice, everything. It was wonderful to just walk around and
absorb what I could. Larry went back to the ship, but I stayed with the guide through the old town before returning for lunch.
Not surprisingly, one stop on the tour featured a famous cologne that has been produced here for hundreds of years. Then I went to the Chocolate Museum but skipped the tour and spent quite a while in the shop. After dinner we watched Monuments Men on our TV and called it a night.

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Friday, 26 April

Kinderdijk: A nice leisurely morning with lovely scenery passing by and a shore talk along with disembarkation instructions for tomorrow. Late in the afternoon we had a long walk to the windmills of Kinderdijk,

which were originally erected in the 17th century to drain the area. We learned how they work and saw what the living quarters were like inside them. Millers still live there and run them, though they are no longer the way of keeping feet dry, as our guide expressed it. After a Captain’s farewell reception and dinner, a couple of terrific musicians entertained with music to which I knew every word -- so old stuff. Then to bed for the last time aboard the Tialfi.

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Saturday, 27 April

Amsterdam on King’s Day: We left the Tialfi by taxi and drove a very long way to the Q-Factory Hotel. Along the way, the driver told us a bit about King’s Day and how it’s celebrated. It honours the king on his birthday and is one big street party in residential areas like the one we were in. Anyone can set up a place to sell anything or to entertain in some way. So we left our luggage at the hotel and set out in the rain to see what we could see. On a nearby square
we found a group watching a singer on a sort of small portable band shell. He was good and we found shelter and listened for awhile until he left the stage and no one replaced him. We walked around for an hour or so, passing many informal stands and stuff spread on the ground,
that seemed more like yard sales than anything, as well as street food vendors. The crowds were light and it was fun to see the various get-ups people were wearing. Orange is the colour of the day, honouring the King’s family name, and people also sported the colours of the flag -- red, white and blue. Anything goes -- from orange tutus (on men, women and kids), to pants, shoes and fascinators.
In the early part of the day, it was mostly families with young children who were excited and happy. We decided on lunch in the café at the hotel. There were very few people there at 11:30, unlike all the other eateries in the area.
We discovered that lunch isn’t served until noon, so we got comfortable, shook the rain out of our clothes, and waited. No one said anything or asked us for our order, so eventually I went to the counter, only to be told that they were “closed" and only serving beer and non-alcoholic beverages. So we had coffee and went out again, walking in a different direction. By then the rain had stopped and the crowds were thickening rapidly. Many people were carrying glasses or cans or bottles of beer.

Entertainers were performing anywhere -- a group of young violinists playing classical music, 




a guy in a boat singing and telling jokes, 



a guy with several cuckoo clocks and a slapstick routine, a guy with a turntable and very old records. Others were joining in the fun and the street stalls were doing better business. We found a seat on one of the bridges across the canal and watched the passing scene for awhile before finding a grocery store to stock up on enough food for the rest of the day, having a beer and checking into the hotel. It’s a unique one, apparently in an old factory, as its name suggests. From the front desk, we took an elevator, walked through a lobby and a couple of corridors, then another elevator that needed precise button work to line up with the door. The whole building is industrial in feel, with patched-together, worn, mismatched rugs carpeting the halls, and old furniture.

 The room is long and narrow with 1 high window and sparse furnishings. The beds are comfortable (though awkward to get into and out of), the shower quite luxurious and it’s clean, so just fine. The building is a centre for music, so has studios and concert halls as well as offices, restaurant and hotel.

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Tuesday, 16 April, 2024

Leaving home: We enjoyed an nice leisurely day of packing and preparation before getting into the limo at 1pm, and a smooth trip to Pearson...