Sunday, July 19, 2015 Viking River Cruises’ Viking Vidar spent the morning sailing along some of the narrowest stretches of the Main River we’ve had yet as we continued our 15-day Grand European Tour. The Main – pronounced mine – is barely wide enough here for two ships to pass. Even then, just barely. You certainly wouldn’t want to meet another Viking Longship on some of the sharper corners. Of course, thanks to advances in modern navigation technology, the Officers in the wheelhouse can see other vessels in the area on their radar, along with their heading and current speed. That helps eliminate “chance” meetings on tight corners.
Aside from being relaxing and beautiful, this morning was also a time to begin to pack up our staterooms so we can “swap ships” with Viking Lofn tomorrow. The change is necessitated because of low water levels between Nuremberg and Passau, which is currently making the stretch of water near Regensburg completely unnavigable. Having just arrived here four days ago after an unexpected delay en-route, it’s odd to be taking clothing off hangars again and emptying drawers out. The few purchases I’ve made here barely fit in my suitcase, and I am forever trying to come up with new ways to squish it all in. The winter clothes I had brought for the Arctic last week are the problem; parkas and sweaters don’t compress down so well. Nor are the needed here: it’s another 30°C scorcher outside.
After a relaxing casual lunch in the Viking Lounge – which is more popular on this voyage than on any other Viking trip I’ve been on – it was time to go explore the nearby city of Bamberg. Bamberg is famous for many things. It brews a smoked beer known as Rauchbier. It features a surprising collection of underground tunnels from sandstone mines that exist under the town, and which were operational until the 1920’s. Witch trials during the 17th century saw as many as 1,000 victims in Bamberg, and Adolf Hitler tried to whip up Nazi party dissent at the Bamberg conference of 1926.
Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its well-preserved medieval architecture. Our full-day tour would include an extensive walking tour of Bamberg’s most historic sites, coupled with a generous amount of free time. But we were warned about two things: the fact most shops are closed in Europe on Sundays, and that Bamberg would be crowded due to a magic festival being held smack in the center of the city’s historic center.
After disembarking the coach, things didn’t get off to a good start. Though no fault of her own, our guide’s QuietVox seemed to be acting up. So she swapped it out, but put the new one on the wrong channel. So everyone had to change channels, which for some guests is akin to programming a VCR: it’s hell on earth. We then stood on the sidewalk – next to the coaches – while our guide explained the history of Bamberg. Which, again, I appreciate. But I’m eager to walk. So when the Gentle Walkers group passed us 15 minutes later, I started getting antsy. In 15 minutes, we hadn’t moved an inch. The Gentle Walkers group is now two blocks away from us and disappearing around the corner. People with canes and walkers are passing us. The coaches have long since driven away. And here we are.
We finally began moving at a decent pace, slowed only by traffic lights and the odd crowd milling around the various street acts scattered throughout Bamberg. That ended once we hit the grand bridge that serves as Bamberg’s Rathaus, or City Hall. We stopped there for 20 minutes while our guide showed us pictures in a binder of places we could see with our own eyes. Jostled by the crowds and melting in the heat, I made the decision to leave the group and explore on my own. About 10 minutes later, I passed the Gentle Walkers group; they’d beaten my group handily.
Now, I have nothing against our guide. She was doing a good job. But I had to wonder why the pace was so slow. I looked at my watch: in nearly an hour, we’d succeeded in walking about 500 metres from the coaches. I think out guide would have made a great Gentle Walker guide. The reason I mention this is because I think Viking has a great opportunity to spend more time focusing on their landside operations now that the Longships have been sorted out. The yards at Neptun Werft in Rostock and Meyer Werft in Papenburg all know how to build these beautiful ships. The crews known how to run them, and run them damn well.
But Viking’s famous consistency sometimes falters when it comes down to the local guides. One group may have a fabulous guide, while another may have a lackluster one. And I think there’s an opportunity there for Viking to really dazzle people in terms of their on-shore operations and excursions. In my case, I think it was just a mismatch between what I was expecting and what I got, which really was a very slow, Gentle-walker-style stroll. Still, it did not detract from my experience. Bamberg is a very beautiful city. A very busy city. A crowded city, particularly with today’s magic show. Moving across the city’s bridges became impossible due to the sheer numbers of people standing still on them to watch one of the many magicians work the crowd.
To escape the crowds in the afternoon, I sat down to have a beer. I ordered. I waited 20 minutes. Still no beer. The girl comes back and asks, would I like another? I say, well, I’ll tell you when I’ve had the first one! She apologized profusely and brought the beer out, but that’s how busy Bamberg is when there’s magic in the air. Some photos of our day in Bamberg:
Back at the Viking Vidar, I took the opportunity to walk around the ship fully one last time. I tried to remember every detail and photograph places I hadn’t been to yet. And I realized as I was doing so what beautiful ships these are. Tonight, I ate dinner in the Aquavit Terrace. It was quiet, intimate, and enjoyable. I watched as we passed tree-lined canals, small towns with cars zipping lazily in and out, and – of course – locks of all shapes and sizes.
It reminded me of my first river cruise, back in December of 2011. I could barely sleep for the first three days: I was so entranced with the scenery we were passing. Every sign, lock, and tree held me captive in its grasp. If it weren’t for that cruise, I wouldn’t be here at all. That cruise changed my life; it’s like the sun came out and shone over all my hopes and dreams. I’d never been to Germany before. I discovered Austria and the beautiful city of Vienna. I walked the streets of Budapest. It was total stimulus overload. Now, I can say – with confidence – Guten Tag! Ein bier, bitte! I can talk about wandering the Ringstrasse in Vienna, or exploring the Hauptmarkt in Nuremberg. I’ve seen Freud’s old practice, and Lenin’s old haunts. I’ve seen where a young man named Adolf Hitler tried – and failed – to become an artist. I think we’d all have been happier if der Fuhrer had continued a career in landscapes.
In the process, I discovered who I was – what I’m all about. What my hopes, dreams and desires are. Desires that had long been buried in the depths of my soul, locked away – as most are – for fear that they someday may be turned loose. I am Canadian, yes. But I consider myself to be European as well. I’m trying harder every day of every trip to be less of a tourist and more of a local. I carry a backpack, sure, but I try my hardest to blend in with the European culture. I’m proof that not all those who wander are lost.
Tonight, I said goodbye to the crew of the Viking Vidar. I’m sure that the Viking Lofn will be spectacular, but I find myself upset nonetheless. The crew here are second-to-none, and the best crew I’ve sailed with since Viking Forseti in France last November. They say home is where the heart is; it’s not just where you go to rest your bones. If that’s the case, Viking’s Longships have become my European home. And I know tomorrow I will write from another wonderful Longship. I know the crew will be exactly as I expect them to be; and the food will be as I hoped it would. But I will still miss the Viking Vidar.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Vidar’s Grand European Tour continues tomorrow from Nuremburg, Germany – and the Viking Lofn in Passau! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.