Our Ship-Swapping Adventure In Nuremberg
Monday, July 20, 2015
This morning, we sadly said goodbye to Viking River Cruises’ Viking Vidar on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany. Because of low water levels, we have to perform what’s called a “ship-swap” today, changing from Viking Vidar in Nuremberg to Viking Lofn in order to continue our 15-day Grand European Tour to Budapest.
Viking Vidar and Viking Lofn are both Viking Longships. Nearly identical in style and appearance, only the most eagle-eyed observer will be able to tell the difference between these two vessels. We’ll all occupy our same staterooms onboard Viking Lofn that we had aboard Viking Vidar, and our Program Director Henrietta and Concierge Sandra will both make the change with us in order to ensure continuity.
The most obvious difference between the two ships: Viking Vidar is docked in Nuremberg. Viking Lofn is 200 kilometres away, in the city of Passau.
In order to make the switch as effortless as possible, guests were asked to place their luggage outside of their staterooms at 7:00 a.m. this morning. The luggage was then offloaded by hand by Viking Vidar’s amazing crewmembers, where it was placed onto a truck and sent out ahead of us to Passau.
While we had to settle our accounts by this morning so that the crew can “close out” this voyage, our touring program would continue with only minor modifications – though I think everyone would agree that saying goodbye to the fantastic crew of the Viking Vidar was hard to do.
Other than that, our morning started out as most mornings did: we grabbed our assigned group number from the Reception Desk, took our QuietVox audio systems, and boarded our numbered coaches for a morning city tour of Nuremberg that would include a walking tour of the historic city center, followed by free time and lunch. Then, at 2:30 p.m., we’d reboard our coaches for the three-hour journey to Passau and Viking Lofn.
I have been to Nuremberg several times now, and I have to admit I love this city. I admire the dedication with which it was rebuilt after the war, the friendliness of its citizens, and – of course – the fabulous Nuremberger sausage that the city is famous for.
Because of this, I chose to skip the walking tour and simply re-join the group at 12:45p.m. at our assigned meeting place in the city’s main Hauptmarkt square. I wanted a coffee, a bretzel, and some free time to get a few necessities that I had run out of, and to go exploring places I hadn’t been in the past.
From the Hauptmarkt, I walked south along Koningstrasse, which is part of Nuremberg’s main shopping district. It’s not all North American stores, either: fans of European clothing and accessories would do well to spend some time here.
About two blocks up as the hill crested, I came to the Lorenzkirche, or St. Lawrence Church. This imposing cathedral anchors the heart of Lorenzerplatz. All you need to know about that is this: platz refers to a city square. So, anytime you come to a clearing or an opening, that’s what English speakers would call a “square.” And in German, that’s a “platz.”
From Lorenzerplatz, I hung a left…and stopped at a Starbucks for a coffee Frappuccino to beat the heat and humidity. I know: I’m going to travel hell. But they have cold drinks, free Wi-Fi and free bathrooms – and I’m not made of stone.
The cool thing about my little Starbucks Stop-off is that I found myself in a district of Nuremberg that was entirely new to me – and this is my point: it’s good to lose yourself in a city sometimes. Maybe it’s not as touristic as the major sights – which you should definitely do if you’re a first-time visitor – but if this is your repeat visit, do something different.
From Starbucks, I walked west along Karolinenstrasse to Hefnersplatz, with its cute little cafes and sidewalk seating areas that were already filling up at ten in the morning. Don’t assume Nurembergers are having coffee at this hour; this is, after all, Bavaria, and beer is king here.
Going west still, I came to the magnificent Weisser Turm, which is actually a U-Bahn (or subway) stop now. In front of the U-Bahn station is a curious fountain, though. Set up in a circular fashion, it is called the Marriage Merry-Go-Round Fountain – and it’s very tongue-in-cheek. Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour!
I then looped back and took a series of side-streets back towards the Hauptmarkt. How did I find my way, you ask? Viking always places maps of the city at the front Reception desk, and I always grab one when I get off. Having a map is invaluable. It lets you explore with confidence, and allows you to properly see where you’re going – and what is around you.
I grabbed a bretzel on my way to the square to meet for lunch. A bretzel is really just a pretzel made of dough. They’re also incredibly delicious. Make sure to get the salted ones; they’ve got a distinctive taste all their own.
Once 12:45 rolled around, we met for lunch, and Henrietta and Sandra both walked us to the restaurant, just a block and a half from the Hauptmarkt.
Now, I have to say this: lunch was never originally on the menu in Nuremberg until our ship-swap forced it on us. I’m impressed as all heck that Viking was able to make a reservation for nearly 200 people in one large brewhouse-style restaurant, and it was provided complimentary. So well done to Viking on that end.
The experience, unfortunately, was pretty disappointing. I found myself crammed into the back of a small, stuffy room with about 20 other guests while the vast majority were sat in the main dining area. Entire swaths of the main dining area were free, but we were told by restaurant staff we couldn’t sit there.
The German feeling of Gemülichkeit – or coziness – apparently got left off the menu here. One waiter came around and barked orders at people. His rudeness was absolutely unbridled in its intensity. He was as rude as possible, as frequently as possible.
He’d come around with a gigantic tray of beers, wine and Coke. He’d bark orders in English, and pretend you spoke some rural variant of Swahili when you responded. Want a beer? Tough schnitzel: he’d pretend he didn’t hear you. When you raised your voice, he’d slam the beer down on the table so hard the liquid inside would slosh out over the top.
The crux of this madcap performance art occurred when he smashed into one of our seated guests, knocking over an entire pint of beer which landed on this guest’s head and spilled down his back, his arm, and all over his pants.
And what does Herr Manners do? He huffs off without apologizing. It almost didn’t seem real. It looked like a Fawlty Towers caricature brought to life; like someone you’d want to smack upside the head if they weren’t so damn convincing that this kind of behaviour was acceptable.
The experience was, without exception, absolutely disgusting – and I’m not even naming the restaurant in the blog. They’re not worth the time of day. They accommodated Viking, sure, but I think in this instance Viking might have been better off giving each guest €10 and sending them off on their own. The service we experienced does not reflect typical German service, which is normally kind and prompt. I can’t emphasize that enough: this was an atypical experience!
After our lunch-and-a-show, it was time to board the coaches for the three-hour drive down to Passau. Consider again: Viking had to secure these coaches at an additional cost. This “ship swap” is costing the company plenty of money, and yet they’re doing it because it’s an alternative that is open to them – and a great one at that.
When Viking can’t secure their own branded coaches, they hire very high-quality ones. Ours were brand-new coaches manufactured by MAN and Setra. Plenty of space to spread out, and no coach was totally packed. To me, that’s a detail worth appreciating.
As an interesting sidenote: you may have seen the letters MAN on busses and heavy-duty trucks here in Germany before. MAN is an abbreviation for Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg. It is now partially owned by Volkswagen and is based in Munich, though it still maintains several large production facilities in Nuremberg.
After a short pit stop, we arrived in Passau shortly before 6:00 p.m. Except that we weren’t docked in Passau; we were docked three kilometres east in a small area called Passau-Lindau. I sort of figured this would happen; berthing schedules are arranged a year in advance, if not more, so the likelihood of us being accommodated in Passau center was unlikely.
Still, if it wasn’t so damn hot out you could walk into town, and tomorrow, we’ll be exploring Passau instead of Regensburg, which we are told we’ll visit on Wednesday in order to cut down on the time we’re spending in motorcoaches.
Tonight, the crew of the Viking Lofn welcomed us onboard in exactly the style I was hoping for. We were treated to a welcome cocktail reception with the department heads who all introduced themselves and who are all clearly trying every bit as hard as the crew on Viking Vidar to make this change an easy and effortless one.
The biggest applause, though, were reserved for Program Director Henrietta and Concierge Sandra, who made the trek with us here. People whistled and stood up and applauded, and it’s nice to see that the average guest – even the average first-time river cruiser – understands the pressure they’ve been under to deliver.
They’ve done that, and more. It’s exactly what I expected from Viking – and once again, they’ve proven to be up to the challenge. Despite their rampant (one might say ‘runaway’) growth, they’re still as focused on their guests as they were five years ago, when they had but a handful of ships to their name.
That, to me, makes all the difference. It’s why I keep coming back to Viking – and why you should, too.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Lofn’s Grand European Tour continues tomorrow from Passau and Regensburg! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.