Our guys planned to be with their ladies and their in-laws this Christmas, so Dan proposed we take Christmas on the road. Never having been on a river cruise, we chose to give it a try and for no good reason chose the Rhine River.
Our seven-and-a-half-hour flight to Frankfurt went smoothly as did making our connection to Basel, Switzerland, located at the farthest navigable point of the Rhine. Even after ironing out a little hiccup with the transfer we had pre-arranged, we were on the dock by 11:00 a.m. We were surprised to see our long ship butted up to another Viking ship necessitating boarding the first ship and walking straight through it to board ours. Very clever! Anyway, we were aboard the Viking Mani and in our room unpacking by 11:00 a.m. Our friends of almost 44 years, Walter and Cleone, knocked on our door before noon ready to take on what was left of the day. They had arrived in Basel two days early and had already done some exploring on their own.
A cautionary tale: Basel is located where three countries meet.
When leaving the Basel airport, arriving passengers
have a choice of exiting into Germany, France, or Switzerland.
Not aware of this, Walter and Cleone just popped out of the first exit
they saw and found themselves in line to get a cab into France.
They shared this story with us ahead of time, so we were careful
to pay attention and exit into Switzerland. I digress.
We four amigos grabbed a quick lunch and then joined a walking tour of the old part of the city. Nestled into town squares were two small Christmas markets with a variety of stalls: some simple (temporary wooden boxes with a pop-up front), some elaborate (windows, a door), and some charming (electric train sets, moose heads, huge polar bears). They were bustling with last minute shoppers and those stopping by for refreshments. Think gluhwein. We slowly window shopped (metaphorically speaking) our way through both markets.
We stopped at a centuries-old cloistered church, Basler Munster, with its red sandstone exterior and beautiful colored tile roof. I was intrigued by the courtyard sculpture of a death mask in memory of those worn to prevent the spread of the plague in days gone by. Near the mask was an overlook with pretty views of the river. Below us was one of four remaining old-style river crossings where passengers can still be pulled across for the budget buster of 1.65 Euro.
A traditional Swiss meal of veal stew, rosti potatoes, vegetables, and plum tart put the finishing touches on our first day! During dinner we pushed away from the dock, or should I say the other ship, and headed north toward the North Sea. We were going through the first of eleven locks as we headed to bed.
… Rhine Facts …
The Rhine flows through six countries: Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and The Netherlands.
In the 14th century there were 62 customs stations along the Rhine
making it an expensive ordeal to ship goods the length of the river.
The Rhine originates in the Swiss Alps and empties into the North Sea.
The Rhine is 765 miles long.
Many of the castles lining the shores were built by the Romans.
I can’t seem to get away from those Romans!