Breisach and the Black Forest
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Ever since I was a kid, I have always wanted to visit Germany’s famed Schwarzwald – or Black Forest – region. Today, I had that opportunity as Viking Rivers’ Viking Baldur came alongside in the quaint town of Breisach, Germany.
After a restful night’s sleep, I flung open my balcony and stepped out (see how that comes in handy?) to a brisk but refreshing morning at our Breisach berth. Enshrouded in heavy, damp mist, the conditions outside masked our true balmy temperatures, which reached as high as 3 degrees Celsius.
One thing I have always loved about Viking Rivers is their breakfast service. I can get a light breakfast in the Viking Lounge; a continental breakfast in the Aquavit Lounge; or a full buffet breakfast in The Restaurant.
I always chose the buffet breakfast because I like the variety. I also appreciate the little touches that, frankly, Viking doesn’t have to provide, but does anyway. This includes fresh-squeezed orange juice, freshly-made yogurt creations, and a variety of meats, fruits, cereals and made-to-order items that are sure to suit any palate. They even have my favorite breakfast item: capers and raw salmon.
I have to pause for a minute here to say how much I am enamoured by the carpeting aboard Viking Baldur. In the Restaurant, it seems inspired by the Norwegian flag, with shades of red, blue and white intermingled into the burnt grey tones. In the hallways, it’s a deep arctic blue with Scandinavian earthtones. It’s odd to be talking about the impact of the carpets aboard the ship, but I’ve seen the Viking Longships progress so far from when I first stepped aboard Viking Odin last year that I am continually amazed and impressed by the successive – but subtle – tweaks Viking is making to the product.
A quick look at what’s happening on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 aboard Viking Baldur:
- 2:30 AM: Viking Baldur arrives in Breisach, Germany
- 6:00 – 11:00 AM: Café Breakfast. Coffee, juice and pastries are served in front of the lounge.
- 7:00 – 9:30 AM: Continental Breakfast. Enjoy a Continental Breakfast in the Aquavit Lounge.
- 7:00 – 9:30 AM: Buffet Breakfast: Enjoy a buffet breakfast and a choice of dishes cooked-to-order in The Restaurant.
- 8:30 AM – 12:15 PM: Shore Excursion – Black Forest
- 12:30 PM: Safety Drill. Your safety is of paramount importance to us. Please follow the instructions given over the PA system.
- 1:00 PM: Lunch is served in the Restaurant.
- 1:00 PM: Café Lunch. If you prefer, join us in The Lounge for a buffet-style lunch.
- 2:00 – 5:45PM: Optional Excursion – Colmar City Tour
- 2:00 – 6:00 PM: Optional Excursion – World War II.
- 5:30 – 7:00 PM: Cocktail Hour in The Lounge
- 7:00 PM – Welcome Cocktail. Our Captain Rainer Lembck and Hotel Manager Claudia Gonzales invite you for a welcome toast in the Lounge.
- 7:15 PM: Daily briefing. Join your Program Director Anita Jaric in The Lounge to find out about tomorrow’s excursions and events.
- 7:30 PM: Welcome Aboard Dinner
- 9:15 PM: Evening Entertainment in The Lounge
- 11:00 PM: Viking Baldur sets sail for Kehl / Strasbourg
Following breakfast, I set out – along with everyone else – on the included tour of Germany’s Black Forest.
Travelling from Breisach, we drove along back country roads in four separate groups. I was in group 20D, headed up by our guide Jack and driver Dieter. Jack is a bit of an import; he hails from Wales originally, and as such has an accent that’s a curious blend of German, English and Scottish. He’s also quite witty, quipping along the way that he was glad pumpkin season was over and done with. “If I ever have to eat another bowl of pumpkin soup, ladies and gentlemen…”
In total, we drove hundreds of kilometres through the fabled Black Forest, stopping at the towns of Sankt Peter and Hofgut Sternen, the latter of which is comprised of just four buildings. The journey between Hofgut Sternen and Freiberg alone used to take three hours by horse-and-buggy; today, we covered that distance in 20 minutes aboard our Setra coach.
In Sankt Peter, I indulged in a fresh pretzel from a local bakery – and it was absolutely mouth-watering. It was also only 55 Euro cents, making it absurdly affordable.
The Black Forest is famous for its ham (Black Forest Ham), cake (Black Forest Cake), and its schnapps and brandies. In Hofgut Sternen, I sampled the local cherry brandy – all of which is made in small batches and can cost upwards of €50. At 45 percent alcohol, it packs a heck of a punch, and today, around 14,000 distilleries are located in the Black Forest region.
Our stop in Hofgut Sternen allowed guests the chance to see a Cuckoo Clock demonstration, and maybe even purchase one of their own – which numerous guests did. There was also a glass-blowing demonstration, and even the option to partake in a short stroll through the Black Forest.
The only issue with today’s excursion was this: departing motorcoaches weren’t staggered, meaning almost 200 guests tried to pack into the same monastery, cathedral, or shop at the exact same time. However, due to the distances involved with driving to these places of interest, I don’t think it would have been particularly avoidable, and I did greatly enjoy my excursion.
Back at the ship, we had a brief safety drill before enjoying lunch. I took my lunch in the Viking Lounge, which has been beyond quiet on my last voyages. No longer today; the lounge was packed with passengers seeking a casual lunch – but service was quick, efficient and exceedingly friendly, and the line moved remarkably fast. I also treated myself to a local German beer during lunch; it was well worth the wait after a morning of exploration!s
A good friend of mine says my trip so far sounds “superterrific”, and I’d have to agree – it has been exactly that. Personally, I’d love to see a little more diversity in the passenger makeup, but I then enjoy sailing with an international passenger base. As it is, Viking Baldur is almost completely full; only one stateroom remains empty. Of the nearly 190 of us onboard, almost ninety percent are from the United States. The “difference” is made up largely of Canadians like myself, with couples from the UK and Australia thrown in for good measure.
Following our tour this morning, I headed into Breisach this afternoon to stroll around the fog-enveloped town. And I had my first Gluhwein of 2013.
I began my love-affair with Gluhwein and the Christmas Markets back in December of 2011, and it continues to this day. Every vendor makes theirs slightly different, and the Christmas Market in Breisach is the smallest one I’ve ever seen, spanning just six stalls.
Still, by 5pm (or 17:00 – we’re in Europe, after all), a decent crowd of locals had assembled to enjoy the Gluhwein and Rumpunsch, not to mention the Bratwurst, kartoffelsuppe (Potato Soup), and wood-fired pizza on offer.
And I stood there, sipping my €2,00 glass of mulled wine, and just took it all in. If you’ve never been to the Christmas Markets of Europe before, I feel it is my personal mission to convince you to go. That’s how magical Europe at this time of year is. Social, convivial and even jovial.
It’s everything that the Holidays in North America aren’t.
It’s everything that they should be.
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.|