The Rhine river begins at the foot of the Swiss Alps and passes through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, France, and Germany on it’s way to join the North Sea in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. I boarded the Viking Mani (“moon”) cruise ship (along with 189 other guests and 49 crew members) to take the 8-day journey along the Rhine from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. For much of my journey, I straddled France’s Alsace region on the western bank and Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg region on the east. Numerous bridges and locks guided our path as we cruised through the riverbank villages.
The most scenic stretch of the cruise was from Koblenz, Germany to Cologne, Germany and that stretch of the river is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During our 3 hour journey, we passed 30 castles and numerous hillside vineyards. Grapes are still harvested by hand along the middle Rhine, a tradition dating back 2000 years to when the Romans introduced viticulture to the area. In the 14th century, castle-dwelling robber barons would raise and lower heavy chains spanning the length of the river to ensure that their tolls were collected from their castles. Today, most of these castles are now run as hotels. A few “castles” were actually tunnels that were built during WWII as decoys so they wouldn’t be bombed.
Since this was my first river cruise, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Here’s my lowdown. The scenery and villages were quaint and beautiful. What I hadn’t planned on was the loudspeaker in our bedroom each morning at 8:15 AM announcing, “Goooooooood morning everyone! Time to meet in the lobby for the scheduled tour.” No room service either. All meals were served at a particular time (early breakfast) and if you missed it, your option was cookies and coffee from a machine in the hallway. As for meals…..the ship liked to promote making new friends. For the 190 guests, there were exactly TWO tables that had two chairs. All the other tables had MANY chairs. The main dining room featured tables of 8, 10 and 12 only!. Food was basically unlimited in supply, privacy, hard to come by. Did I mention that the average age of the guests was a good decade or two older than us? Yep. On one of the excursions, people kept asking the guide to slow down his walking. I think I could have crawled at a faster pace. Backwards. But, the rooms were clean, the staff was lovely, the program director was a gem, and we still had fun.