It all started in August of 2011 when Bob and Peggy visited us for a week prior to their week's Amsterdam to Basel Viking cruise:
It so happens we drove them to their Viking Helvetia and had all of about 10 minutes onboard before saying Good Bye. What I should mention is that Astrid had previously declared she couldn't ever see herself going on such a cruise. "It's so American! This isn't something the Dutch do!"
But the minute we stepped onboard, she totally changed her mind. "I think I could do this!"
On the way home in the car, while she drove, I purused the 2012 catalog for ideas. An hour later, arriving home, we had already picked the biggest European cruise of them all, IF we could swing it: it was the Grand European Tour.
That week I immediately started an online conversation with a Viking agent in California and discovered we couldn't even book a 2013 cruise until December (2011). But she would put me at the head of her list for the earliest date in the cheapest room at two-for-the-price-of-one. It pays to be quick! And to not care how cold it is!
And now, 18 months later, here we are ready to embark on the trip of a lifetime. We saved all our nickels and dimes and didn't even have to go into savings. We made it happen. And if we kick the bucket next month after we get back, we'll die happy campers...having checked off the top item on our bucket lists.
Here's a snippet of what we'll see.
(some passengers will go to Prague, Czech Republic, afterwards)
Saturday, March 16: Day 1 AmsterdamArrive in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, and transfer to your ship.* After boarding, the rest of the day is yours to relax or begin exploring the city on your own. (D)
Sunday, March 17: Day 2 KinderdijkThis morning, sail to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you tour this fascinating network of windmills and other ingenious flood management technologies. After lunch aboard, enjoy an afternoon of sjoelen (Dutch table shuffleboard) and sample Dutch cheeses and jenever, a juniper liqueur. Cruise through the night. (B, L, D)
Monday, March 18: Day 3 CologneYou have a morning tour of Cologne, including a visit to the Dom, Germany’s largest cathedral and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After your tour, spend the rest of the day and evening exploring Cologne on your own—there are Roman ruins, interesting neighborhoods and wonderful museums like the Fragrance Museum and the Chocolate Museum. As always, your Program Director can help you plan your free time. Lunch and dinner are served aboard; we depart at midnight. (B, L, D)
Tuesday, March 19: Day 4 Koblenz & Middle RhineCruise past hilltop castles along the Rhine, stopping in Koblenz to visit Marksburg, the only Rhine castle never destroyed. After your tour, continue cruising; this stunning stretch of the Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You pass the Lorelei Rock, which marks the river’s narrowest point; the rock is named for a local legend about Rhine Maidens who lure sailors to their doom. Lunch and dinner served aboard. (B, L, D)
Wednesday, March 20: Day 5 MiltenbergThe morning is spent sailing along the beautiful Main River as it winds its way through the Spessart region. After lunch, stop in Miltenberg, known for its half-timbered houses, including the oldest inn in Germany. You have a walking tour and some free time to explore. Back on board, learn about the region’s glassblowing traditions during a live demonstration; you also have the opportunity to learn some useful German words and phrases. Sail through the night to Würzburg. (B, L, D)
Thursday, March 21: Day 6 WürzburgAfter breakfast, tour Würzburg’s Bishops’ Residenz, one of Germany’s largest and most ornate baroque palaces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy scenic afternoon cruising—or instead of touring Würzburg, take an optional full-day excursion along Germany’s “Romantic Road” to Rothenburg, which features a turreted city wall and lovely Gothic and baroque architecture. Rejoin your ship for dinner and an interesting presentation about the European Union. (B, L, D)
Friday, March 22: Day 7 BambergSail through the morning; after lunch, we visit Bamberg, with its medieval city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your walking tour includes a visit to the magnificent 11th-century cathedral, reworked in late-Romanesque style in the 13th century, and the very picturesque city hall built on a tiny island in the middle of a river. Take some free time to enjoy Bamberg and perhaps try some of the town’s distinctive smoke-flavored beer before returning aboard. (B, L, D)
Saturday, March 23: Day 8 NurembergAfter breakfast, disembark in Nuremberg. Visit the ruins of Zeppelin Field, used in the 1930s as Nazi parade grounds, and see the Palace of Justice, site of the famous Nuremberg Trials. Spend some free time exploring Nuremberg’s Old Town area, or join an optional World War II history tour including the Documentation Center Museum. We depart just before dinner. (B, L, D)
Sunday, March 24: Day 9 RegensburgArrive in Regensburg in the late morning; after lunch, tour this wonderfully preserved medieval city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including structures dating back to Roman times. Discover many 13th- and 14th-century patrician houses and see the splendid St. Peter’s Cathedral. During free time, visit the Alte Wurstküche (Old Sausage Kitchen), Germany’s oldest restaurant. Dinner is served aboard before our evening departure. (B, L, D)
Monday, March 25: Day 10 PassauOn this morning’s walking tour, see Passau’s narrow streets and Italianate architecture, and pass the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress that served for centuries as a bishop’s stronghold. Then, listen to a concert on Europe’s largest pipe organ in St. Stephan’s Cathedral.† Take some time this afternoon to explore Passau before returning aboard for dinner. (B, L, D)
†Passau organ concert is only available May 1–October 31 and is closed on Sunday.
Tuesday, March 26: Day 11 Melk & KremsAfter breakfast, visit the abbey at Melk, a 900-year-old Benedictine monastery featuring Austria’s finest Italian baroque architecture. Rejoin your ship; cruise through the spectacular Wachau Valley this afternoon. Before dinner, you have free time to explore the historic riverside town of Krems; see the Steiner Tor, the last remaining city gate, or sample some local vintages from this famous wine-producing region. (B, L, D)
Wednesday, March 27: Day 12 ViennaRide along Vienna’s Ringstrasse, which replaced the city walls in the mid-19th century. You will also see Vienna’s world-famous Opera House, St. Stephan’s Cathedral and Hofburg Palace. Return aboard for lunch. The rest of the day is yours to further explore Vienna’s many cafés and museums; you could visit the home of your favorite classical composer. After dinner, enjoy an optional classical concert. (B, L, D)
Thursday, March 28: Day 13 BratislavaArrive early and embark on a walking tour of Slovakia’s charming capital to see attractions like the medieval fortifications at Michael’s Tower, baroque Jesuit Church and Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral. You also pass by several baroque palaces from the Habsburg Dynasty before you return to your ship for an afternoon of scenic cruising. Late tonight, arrive in Budapest. (B, L, D)
Friday, March 29: Day 14 BudapestThe Danube River divides this Hungarian capital city into “Buda” and “Pest.” Explore both parts, starting with Pest’s National Opera House and historic Heroes’ Square. In Buda, stroll Fishermen’s Hill to Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Enjoy lunch aboard with the rest of the day to explore on your own. Return to your ship for a traditional Hungarian farewell dinner. (B, L, D)
Saturday, March 30: Day 15 BudapestAfter breakfast, disembark and proceed to the airport for your return flight.* Or, extend your journey with 3 nights in Prague, Czech Republic, where you tour Old Town landmarks and Prague Castle. (B)
Oh, and did I mention that beer/wine with meals and the daily excursions are part of the price?
Viking Embla ** (image courtesy of Viking), built in 2012...almost brand new.
EMBLA is the Mother of the Human Race!
** ADDENDUM: 3 days before our cruise our longship was changed to the Viking Idun,
a sister to the Embla and built the same year...changed due to scheduling issues.
IDUN is the Norse goddess of apples and youth.
The longships are designed for the European tours to go under the bridges.
Our room is on the main deck. Only 200 passengers total!
Do you need a bigger room than 150 sq. ft. for 15 days?
Nope. Me neither.
(image courtesy of Viking)
Here's a better idea of where we'll be living for 2 weeks!
We will sleep in our own stateroom but will live on the ship. HA!
Now you know why this is at the top of our Bucket List and why my Vision and Verb post today is about such things.
Astrid and I made the decision to do this while we are still healthy and full of life...hopefully not just before we kick the bucket. However, as Astrid often says, if we're gonna die anytime soon, please let it be AFTER our vacation!
See you in early April, God willing and the creek don't rise....
See you in early April, God willing and the creek don't rise....