Viking Baldur arrives in Heidelberg and Rudesheim
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Viking Rivers’ Viking Baldur was already in Mannheim, Germany this morning when I woke up, preparatory to another morning of exploration – this time, in the nearby town of Heidelberg.
Located in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Heidelberg is renowned for its naturally-romantic setting that includes the baroque Old Town area and the alluring Heidelberg Castle. Words like ‘storybook’ and ‘fanciful’ come to mind when strolling through the streets. But this city is also renowned as a University town; Heidelberg University was founded in 1386, making it one of the oldest in all of Europe.
Heidelberg survived World War II largely unscathed, and even went on to become the main base for American operations in Germany. The Americans are still here, but are transitioning operations to Wiesbaden by 2015. The former barracks and infrastructure utilised by the Americans will be returned to the state for civilian use.
Our day in Heidelberg started with a visit to the bombed-out remains of the imposing Heidelberg Castle, which sits perched high atop the ridge overlooking the town. It was destroyed in part by the French and by a devastating lightning storm that caused fire to race through the Castle. Today, you can still tour the exterior of the castle, which is remarkably intact for the most part.
Of course, the highlight of the morning was a stroll through the Christmas Markets of Heidelberg where, again, I indulged my passion for Gluhwein and local specialties by purchasing a ½ metre-long bratwurst.
A reader asked me yesterday if I bought things at the markets, and if so, what? I have to be honest: I do buy things at the market, but they tend to be consumable in some way. I love hard candies, so I purchased some handmade candy from Alsace yesterday in Strasbourg. Other than that – a lot of Gluhwein and the associated mugs.
I do enjoy looking for anything unique or interesting, whether it be an ornament or decoration of some kind. My only criteria: it has to be made locally, and it has to be something that I couldn’t buy elsewhere.
I am sort of regretting not getting a chocolate pencil crayon yesterday. Last year in Regensburg, I bought chocolates shaped, cast and even coloured to look like old bolts and rusty pliers. Super cool!
There are things I’d love to buy, if money was no object. Frankly, that €18,000 watch I saw yesterday in Strasbourg looked pretty snappy. Never in a million years could I afford that. But – someone can. Maybe that’s why I like the Christmas Markets so much: there’s something for every taste and budget.
Even if it’s just a ½ metre bratwurst!
Here’s what is happening today onboard Viking Baldur:
- 2:00 AM: Viking Baldur arrives in Mannheim
- 6:00 – 11:00 AM: Café Breakfast. Coffee, juice, and pastries are served in the 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 in the Restaurant.
- 8:30 AM – 1:30 PM: Shore Excursion – Heidelberg
- 1:30 PM: Lunch is served in The Restaurant
- 1:30 PM: A Taste of Germany: If you prefer, join us in the Viking Lounge for a buffet-style lunch with a selection of German specialities.
- 1:45 PM: Cast off! Viking Baldur sets sail for Rudesheim, Germany.
- 2:30 PM: Nautical Talk. Join us in the lounge for a nautical Q&A with our Captain, Rainer Lembck.
- 3:30 PM: Presentation – Rudesheimer Kaffe, Gingerbread and Christmas Cookies.
- 4:45 PM: Daily Briefing with program director Anita Jaric.
- 5:00 PM: Viking Baldur arrives in Rudesheim.
- 5:30 – 7:00 PM: Cocktail Hour in the Viking Lounge.
- 5:30 – 9:30 PM: Optional Excursion – Rudesheim, Mini-train, and dinner.
- 7:30 PM: Dinner. Chef de Cuisine Roderick Serrano and Maitre d’ Gabor Simon invite you for dinner in The Restaurant.
- 9:00 PM: Dancing Night. Join fellow passengers in the Viking Lounge to listen and dance to some music.
This afternoon was an eventful one aboard Viking Baldur. Kicking off with a special German-themed lunch in the Viking Lounge, our five hours of scenic cruising down the Rhine included a technical talk on the construction and navigation of our Viking Longship, the latest such one to hit the water, having just been delivered in August.
There was also a cooking demonstration in the Viking Lounge at 3:30pm, along with a demonstration – and numerous samples – of the famous Rudesheimer Kaffe. Made with traditional Rudesheimer brandy, this sweet drink can be both energizing and highly addictive! You can even make it at home. From Viking’s recipe:
Place 3 sugar cubes in a coffee cup, pour 4 cl of hot Asbach Uralt over the cubes and light with a long match.
Stir with coffee spoon until all the sugar has melted and allow to burn for 1 minute. Fill cup with hot coffee about 2cm beneath the rim.
Top with whipped cream sweetened with vanilla sugar and sprinkle with dark chocolate flakes.
TIP: To heat the Asbach Uralt, use a microwave and heat-resistant vessel for 1 minute at 600 Watts, or alternatively use a hot water bath.
Which brings me to my next Christmas Markets Tip: don’t bother coming here on a diet, or watching your calorie intake. It won’t work. Gluhwein, pretzels, bratwurst, candies, and of course, German Lebkuchen – or ginger bread – will destroy your hopes for a thinner waistline. It’s a good thing Viking installed a jogging track on the ship’s Sun Deck!
Also noteworthy this afternoon was the scenery itself from the Viking Baldur. As we sailed the foggy Rhine, we passed ships, small towns and lonely houses that appeared and fell astern with ghostly silence. Wood smoke billows from the chimneys of older houses, and the entire river has taken on an almost mystical appearance thanks to the fog.
Best of all, you can always know where you are on the Rhine: the Rhine and Its Tributaries book Viking provided with your cruise documentation includes a kilometre-by-kilometre rundown of the Rhine. Just look for the distance markers located along the banks of the river, and consult your handy guide. It will make you feel rather smart; well, it did for me, anyhow.
Some photos from our afternoon of scenic cruising aboard Viking Baldur:
Just after 5pm this evening, we arrived in Rudesheim, Germany for an evening of Christmas Market exploration.
Located at Rhine kilometre marker 526.7, Rudesheim is arguably the most famous city in Germany’s Rheingau region. It’s known for its Drosselgasse – a pedestrian-only street filled with nothing but wine bars and taverns featuring live music and dancing.
In the winter, the Drosselgasse acts as one of the main arteries of the Rudesheim Christmas Market – a sprawling cornucopia of food, drinks, and crafts and souvenirs from countries all over the world. Just quickly strolling down one lane revealed woolen gloves from Nepal, hand-carved wood bowls from Tunisia, ornaments from Germany’s Bavaria region, and a booth from Great Britain decorated as a traditional red London double-decker bus.
This market in Rudesheim is without a doubt the most sprawling one I’ve visited up to this point on the itinerary. Perhaps not surprisingly given the city’s focus on wine, there are more varieties of Gluhwein here than you can ever imagine – all of which can be enjoyed as white wine or red wine mit schuss – with a shot of liquor.
Because of its size, I passed up dinner onboard Viking Baldur in favor of sampling the local regional specialties at the Christmas Market in Rudesheim, within earshot of a live brass band playing on a stage next to the largest Nativity scene I’ve seen in my life.
Still, it was nice to return to the Viking Baldur after three solid hours of exploration ashore and settle in to the Viking Lounge, which continues to get busier each evening as the voyage progresses.
The little tweaks and new features aboard Viking Baldur versus her Longship fleetmates continue to impress me. Chief among these is the new light mounted underneath the lowest shelf in stateroom bathrooms. This stays on at night even when all lights are turned off, and provides a subtle glow that allows the bathroom to be used without the need for the overhead lights. With the sliding door shut, no light spills out into the stateroom.
There’s another new feature in my stateroom that’s not present on other Longships, and it takes a while to figure out. The main overhead lights in the room are actually on a dimmer; instead of simply flipping a switch to turn them on, you have to press and hold the button for the lights down. After a few seconds, the lights appear dim, but strengthen in intensity the longer the button is depressed.
Once you figure it out, it’s rather clever.
Tomorrow, we’ll start the morning with some scenic cruising through the Rhine’s ‘Castle District’ before arriving after lunch in Koblenz. By all indications, it should be another exciting, festive day here onboard the Viking Baldur!
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.|