Returning to Europe’s Christmas Markets aboard Viking Baldur
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
It’s difficult for me to believe that, two years ago at this time, I had never been on a river cruise before. Nor did I really want to.
But then I discovered both European river cruising and Europe’s storybook-esque Christmas Markets all in a single go. I was hooked – not just on river cruising, but on the kind of Christmas I thought had disappeared from North America forever: a place where people say “Merry Christmas” without fear of reproach, one where friends and families still gathered in historic town squares to enjoy their company.
In December, I hope my recurring holiday tradition will become yours as I set sail from Basel, Switzerland on Viking River Cruises’ Christmas Rhine Getaway voyage aboard the brand-new Viking Baldur.
The full itinerary:
Viking Baldur Rhine Getaway
|December 10, 2013||Basel, Switzerland||Arrive Basel and embark VIKING BALDUR|
|December 11||Breisach, Germany||Black Forest scenery tour with clock-making demonstration; optional vineyard tour or Colmar excursion|
|December 12||Strasbourg, France||Walking tour featuring Strasbourg Cathedral; afternoon at leisure.|
|December 13||Heidelberg / Speyer, Germany||Half-day tour featuring Heidelberg Castle / Evening at leisure to enjoy cobbled streets & Speyer Cathedral.|
|December 14||Braubach / Koblenz, Germany||Marksburg Castle excursion; free time along the Drosselgasse.|
|December 15||Cologne, Germany||Walking tour & Gothic Cathedral visit; free time to visit a local brewery and sample some Kolsch.|
|December 16||Kinderdijk, Netherlands||Tour Kinderdijk Windmills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|December 17, 2013||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Disembark VIKING BALDUR & onward journey.|
Viking Baldur was launched just this past August, joining the fleet of 10 brand-new Viking Longships that the line christened just this past March in Amsterdam. Next year, Viking will break their own Guinness World Record for the most vessels christened in a single day by a single operator with an astonishing 14 new Viking Longships.
Since the christening of Viking Odin – one of the very first Longships – last year, I’ve seen a succession of small yet important changes that have been made to the Longships. Some of the most noticeable improvements were made to the latest class of ships, which sport an entirely new atrium design that emphasizes Scandinavian woods and subdued lighting in the ship’s spacious Atrium and Dining Room.
There’s also a connection to the sea aboard each Viking Longship, with Nordic-inspired symbols, insignias and wall treatments accenting different works of art aboard, all bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows in every public space.
Last year, I sailed on Viking Freya on Viking’s Holiday Romantic Danube itinerary from Budapest to Nuremberg. There’s nothing quite like sailing down the waterways of Europe with flakes of snow drifting softly past the windows, or walking up on the Sun Deck and hearing the sounds of snow crunching underfoot.
Is it cold? Sure – it’s December, after all! But the Viking Freya was always nice and toasty inside. The line always had hot drinks on-hand, and even made a darn good batch of my favorite drink, Gluhwein – mulled, spiced wine that can include cloves, orange peel, cinnamon, and can also be generously spiked for a little extra kick.
Viking’s Rhine Getaway itinerary calls on 10 different locales in just seven days, including visits to five different UNESCO World Heritage Sites and four separate countries. With the exception of Amsterdam, every single port of call is brand-new to me. Yet, I know what I am most looking forward to.
The opportunity to visit a different Christmas Market in each port of call.
These markets are a veritable attraction in their own right. Some cities, like Strasbourg, actually have more than one Christmas Market – though the most famous still remains the historic Christkindelmärik situated in Place Kléber, anchored by a massive Christmas tree.
Even in places with only a single Christmas Market, each one is almost always different from the last, with vendors serving up a variety of alluring foods and beverages designed to ward off the December chill.
It’s a far cry from fighting over the last parking space at the Wal-Mart.
What’s more, this itinerary offers the unique ability to experience the Christmas traditions of Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands – all in a single week.
If you’ve always wondered about Europe’s Christmas Markets, the Rhine, or River Cruising in general, come along with us as we spend a week in Europe exploring Basel, Strasbourg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne, Kinderdijk and Amsterdam; a week that I can only hope will come accompanied by white, fluffy snow.
But regardless of what the weather does, it’s nice to know I can always look forward to relaxing in the Aquavit Terrace aboard the Viking Baldur as she sails down the Rhine!