Viking Rhine River Cruise – Part 2 Rollin’ on the River

by Bob Sparrow

Rhine map     Let’s get the itinerary out of the way first, because rather than focus on the places, which you can look up on the Internet if you’re so inclined, I’ll focus on the people – the crew of the ship, the people cruising with us and the people we met at our ports of call.  After leaving Amsterdam . . .

    First port:       Kinderdijk – Lots of windmills

    Next port:      Cologne – Gothic Cathedral

    Next port:   Koblenz – Marksburg Castle

    Next port:      Rudesheim – Quaint German town

    Next port:      Heidelberg – Famous castle and university

    Next port:      Speyer – Another quaint German town

    Next port:      Strasbourg – Quaint French town

    Next port:      Breisach – Quaint German town in the Black Forest

    Last port:       Basal – probably a quaint Swiss town, we only saw the airport

river cruise     Our ship was the Viking River Cruise Ship, Jarl. Jarl was a mythical Norse god who was the grandson of Odin and a symbol of strength and intelligence – characteristics with which I am unfamiliar.  We had a full ship at 186 passengers and 52 crew members.  River cruising provides a much smoother ride than ocean cruising, provided the water level isn’t so high you can’t get under the bridges or so low you can’t move at all, or you don’t run into all the other traffic on the river, and you are able to negotiate the tight walls of the many locks along the way.  So on the surface, while river cruising may seem rather benign compared to ocean cruising, it is actually filled with a lot more variables.  However the Captain did reassure us that if the boat sank and was sitting on the bottom of the river we could all stand on the top deck and be higher than the water level.  So we had that going for us.

     I must admit that when I first went aboard the Jarl and saw my shipmates, I had the same reaction as when I arrived at my 50th high school class reunion – “What are all these old people doing here?”  I wondered if I had mistakenly stumbled onto a ‘Prunes for the Prostate’ cruise?”  However, like the high school reunion, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was ‘one of them’.


     As we introduced ourselves to our new shipmates, I found that the first three men I met were two engineers, and a research scientist and the first three women I met were two authors and a Stanford graduate.  I then met a group of 18 Filipinos – all doctors from Chicago.  I was wondering if we’d mistakenly been booked on a Mensa Cruise – talk about miscasting!


Me, Linda, Liz, Cathy, Gary, Kathy, Mark, Bill

     We then met Gary and Cathy and realized that this was no Mensa cruise.  I promised them that I’d mention them in my blog so there you are!  Just kidding, they were delightful people that we hung with for the entire trip and laughed our way up the Rhine.  They are from Tennessee by way of Michigan and Buffalo and said if we ever wanted an NFL team to have a losing record that they would just need to move there.  We also met and hung with a father and daughter, Bill and Liz, traveling together – both cigar smokers.  He looked hauntingly like my late best friend, Don Klapperich and she looked like . . . well, she just looked drop-dead gorgeous.  And we also hung with three ladies from San Antonio, the Stanford grad, Krista, also a cigar smoker, and her friends, Carla and Dez.  We met a lot of other very nice people, all from the US or Canada (Viking separates their cruises by language so they don’t’ have to translate everything into 5 different languages throughout the cruise), but these three groups helped us close down the piano bar every night.

DSC00736     We became good friends with Lazlo, our delightful Hungarian piano player, who encouraged people to get up and dance as well as come up and sing.  We were told that one of the doctors from Chicago was a contestant on the Filipino version of American Idol, I guess that would be Filipino Idol, and he was very good.  One of the female Filipino doctors, specializing in internal medicine, wanted to do a traditional German dance, the hula, and asked if anyone knew how to sing ‘The Hawaiian Wedding Song’.  Having had enough rum to cause the ship to stop in the first port and on-load another couple of cases, I lied and said, “As a matter of fact I do.”  In retrospect I knew of the song and vaguely remember Elvis singing it back in the 60s.  Undaunted, I got up to sing as the ‘Dancing Doctor’ performed a quite authentic version of the hula.  In my enthusiasm I even included a verse in the Hawaiian language – or at least my interpretation of the Hawaiian language, which included a few swear words and several unmentionable (in English) body parts.  Little did I know that there was a native Hawaiian in the audience, so when I was finished and walked past him he looked at me and slowly shook his head in disgust and said, “Really?”


No, I’m just standing in front of a fountain!

   It wasn’t the first time I’d publicly embarrassed myself and it wouldn’t be the last.

Thursday’s post: Viking Rhine River Cruise – Part 3    More Rhine Ramblings 

Viking Rhine River Cruise – Part 1 Three Daze in Amsterdam

by Bob Sparrow

amsterdam     It’s raining as we (“we” is wife Linda and me along with long-time friends and traveling companions, Mark & Kathy Johnson) arrive and complete the stringent requirements for passage into the wild and crazy city of Amsterdam, which consists of a stamp on the passport and a pat down to insure you have enough Euros to enjoy all that this ‘Venice of the North’ has to offer.  Actually there aren’t enough Euros to enjoy ALL that this city has to offer, but we enjoyed the pat down.  The rain doesn’t dampen our spirits, which have been buoyed by a sampling of that famous Amsterdam spirit – Heineken beer.  OK, perhaps more than a sampling, but we were just trying to be good guests and help erase that ‘ugly American’ image.

ann frank

Lines around the block we avoided

  Our train from the airport arrived at busy Central Station, which sits at the north end of town and right next to the busy ‘Red Light District’, but since we’d just come from the ‘Red Eye District’ – our 7½-hour overnight flight from Chicago – we thought we should be a little more rested before we tackle ‘the meat’ of the city, so to speak.

  First stop is the Ann Frank House. As instructed, we got there early to avoid the lines to get in that extend around the block.  Reading ‘The Diary of Ann Frank’ before going will enhance your experience, but the tour through their living quarters does an excellent job of telling this amazing story.  I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer, as the rooms are small and the stairways are narrow, so being herded through the house shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of tourists in need of a shower could alter the experience significantly.

van gogh

Don’t look for this in the Van Gogh Museum

     It’s a short walk along a canal from the Ann Frank House to the Van Gogh Museum.  Van Gogh was many things – hard to understand as an artist, hard to categorize as a post-impressionist painter, hard to understand his relationship with Gauguin and hard of hearing – what with that cutting off of the ear incident and all.  The museum is great, but don’t go there expecting to see one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, Starry Night, as it is owned by the Museum Of Modern Art in New York.  You couldn’t even buy a replica of that painting, as all rights are owned by MOMA.  I almost got thrown out of the place for even mentioning the painting.

  It was another short walk from there to the Heineken Brewery – where the highlight of the tour is at the end – not only is it over, but that’s where you get to drink a few Heineken beers, which we could have done at home.  The low-light of the tour was a Disney-like ‘ride’ where you are an imaginary grain of barley or a hop or some yeast or something and they put you through the beer brewing process.  We might have been better off and certainly many Euros ahead if we’d just gone to a café next door and ordered a Heineken.

Red Light

Sorry, no photos were allowed

  The ‘Red Light District’ made up for it.  All this time I thought Las Vegas was the ‘Disneyland for adults’.  Goodbye Vegas, hello Amsterdam.  Prostitution is not only legal, but also quite uniquely advertised.  We walked down the street and there in store window after store window are attractive young ladies dressed rather scantily just standing there ‘selling there wears’.  I did feel a journalistic obligation to stop and interview a few of these working girls, but Linda failed to see the literary value in that pursuit.  Between shop windows there might be a drug store – no, not the kind of drug store we’re used to, but a place to buy a sampling of various cannabis leaves, without a doctor’s prescription.  The reality is that you really don’t have to buy it, just walk down the street and inhale deeply.

2013-10-10 07.41.03

A couple of not-so-famous Dutch painters

I know we did some other things over that three day period, like canal rides, other museum visits, visits to great restaurants and bars, but it’s all a little foggy right now, perhaps I was inhaling too deeply as I wandered through Amsterdam.

Next post: Viking River Cruise – Part 2   Rollin’ on the River