Grand European River Cruise – Part 1

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Long before Steve’s cancer was confirmed in March, we had already booked our Viking River Cruise in Central Europe.  We’d heard details about Viking River Cruises from Rocky and Marsha, whom we’d met during our train ride across the Canadian rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer last year Although Steve’s treatments cut things a bit close, his doctor cleared us for this cruise and we were even hopeful that 14 days of “binge eating” might put some weight back on his bones.

Viking Bragi

Our ship, the Viking Bragi, cruising down the Danube River to pick us up

Between the two of us, Steve has always been the cruise lover – me, not so much.  We’ve been on several ocean cruises and I thought a river cruise would be just another expensive boat ride.  Wow, was I wrong!  Being aboard a Viking longship for 14 days turned me into a hardcore river cruise fan.  We took their Grand European Tour aboard Viking Bragi, one of the ships specifically designed to navigate rivers with low bridges and narrow locks.  We docked at 14 destinations along the Danube, Main (pronounced “mine”) and Rhine Rivers between Budapest and Amsterdam, visiting the countries of Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Grand European Tour

Our itinerary traced the Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam

Viking Bragi in one of our ports of call.  The ship is 443′ long and features 95 outside staterooms

The Viking longboats are much smaller than ocean cruise ships, and with less than 200 guests and around 50 crew members they are not at all crowded.  They lack the swimming pools, casinos and grand ballrooms of the ocean liners, but are plenty elegant.  Dining is casual with no formal nights and only one seating for dinner.  The setup really promotes meeting new people, as folks can sit wherever they wish for each meal.  Our stateroom was slightly larger than the ones we’ve stayed in on large cruise lines, and it had several amenities we enjoyed – how about a heated bathroom floor?  Nice!

Hanging out in the lounge.  Nice and quiet, and instead of endless open ocean there’s always sights to see on both sides of the ship as it moves along

He found a book by his favorite author to read

We spent lots of time on our veranda

We enjoyed the sundeck often – it took over 12 laps to get in a mile of walking!

The sun deck was not available when we were in the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, as the bridges were very low.  Notice how everything on the sundeck collapses flat

Our cruise included a guided excursion in each port of call, and there were other optional excursions (for a fee) to choose from to further maximize time at each destination.  We experienced organized and informative city tours with well-trained guides using high-tech wireless devices so we could hear their every word.   The way they organized groups on the buses and tours made everything easy-peasy during our time off the ship.

Synching our QuietVox devices by touching the paddle for our group

We were impressed with the QuietVox receivers and earpieces that were used during our city tours.  Before each tour began we activated our receivers by touching them to the paddle for our assigned group, which synched them to a unique frequency with our guide.  The device enabled me and other “wanderers” to take pictures up to a block away without missing a word the guide said, even in loud and crowded places.  These devices are the wave of the future for guided tours!

Listening to the guide while waiting for the ladies to complete their “WC” (water closet) stop

On cruise days Kane, the entertainment coordinator, conducted informative lectures related to historical and cultural topics specific to the current area of our travels.  We learned about the history of the 68 locks that we traversed, the Rhine-Main-Danube canal that links the North Sea to the Black Sea and other information about the water and geography of the Netherlands.  Each night before dinner he gave port talks with an overview of the next day’s port of call, as well as highlights of must-see landmarks and hidden food gems.  The master chef also participated, giving us an insight into the preparation of the upcoming dinner and what to expect throughout the meal.

Kane gives one of his informative lectures

Some of the locks were so tight that it was easy to reach out and touch them as we were raised or lowered to the next water level

At this lock in the Rhine-Main-Danube canal we were lowered 90 feet! (Photo credit: Linda)

Steve took a tour of the wheelhouse and learned how it is lowered into the ship’s hull when passing under low bridges

An exciting part of the cruise was that Steve discovered as time went on that his jaw and throat were feeling better and he was able to eat salads.  His goal on this cruise was to gain weight, and he ate everything in sight!  But because we also did miles of walking on our city tours, he gained only a couple of pounds.  On the other hand, I gained several pounds and have a lot of work to do…

Hmm, what will I have for breakfast this morning?

We met many interesting people and forged friendships on this trip.  Among them was David, a cancer survivor who’s condition several years ago was very similar to Steve’s.  He gave Steve much appreciated information and inspiration.  Another person we came across was Ivan, who shared a cell with senator John McCain as a Vietnam POW.  He had quite a story to tell about his life during and after the war.

David and Steve exchange information and phone numbers

This was our first time in Europe, and our first river cruise.  The itinerary allowed us to get a glimpse of central Europe and a good sampling of its regions and cultures.  The pace was comfortable and allowed us to relax and enjoy a part of the world we had never seen before.

There was never a dull moment as we cruised along, with lots to see and take pictures of on both sides of the river:

It was “all cameras on deck” in many areas on river days

How about this, fellow RV’ers?

An unusual bus ride in Budapest

Rock formations and beautiful homes

A blue longboat cruising under the Chain Bridge in Budapest

Folks chilling by the river on a Sunday morning

Those are vineyards on the hillsides

Cathedrals, churches and castles could be seen all along the river

Swans are considered pests here 😦

We cruised past several “parking lot” type RV parks along the river

Playing with reflection shots!

A busy port in Germany

The autumn foliage glowed in the setting sun.  The weather really held up for us during most of the trip

 

And that’s just for starters!  There is more to come about our country stops!

 

Next up:  Grand European River Cruise – Hungary



 

A Tale of Two Forks, pt. 1 – Winnipeg, Manitoba

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Cool Gardens

When we arrived at East Grand Forks, MN we toyed with the idea of driving Betsy north into Manitoba, Canada.  After some research and discussion we decided instead to take a road trip by car the 140 miles to Winnipeg.  We’ve managed to visit a Canadian province at least once every summer since we began our life on the road, and we didn’t want this year to be an exception.  So off we went, and as we waited in line at the border we realized this was our 10th time passing into Canada.

Border crossing into Manitoba Canada

We had a 10-minute wait going into Canada, and no wait at all on our return trip 2 days later

We breezed across the border after being asked the usual questions: “Are you bringing alcohol or tobacco with you?  Do you have any firearms with you?  Are you visiting anybody in Winnipeg?”  An hour and a half later we arrived at our hotel and quickly headed out to do some exploring.

While looking around we noticed a common term, Forks – the hotel, the street it was on, the market, the railway road and the historic site all had the word Forks in their name.  I initially thought a Mr. Forks must have discovered or developed this place, but my guess was quickly corrected as we meandered around the area to the nearby river.

Confluence of Red River and Assiniboine River

Intersection of the Red River to the left and the Assiniboine River on the right – oh, I get it – the forks in the rivers!

Historically,  the Forks was the meeting place of great significance for First Nations and Metis people.  The area is so named because it is where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River, and there is a rich history of early Aboriginal settlement, fur trade, the advent of the railway, waves of immigration and the Industrial Age. Winnipeg was built around both rivers.

The Forks historic port. Winnipeg

The Forks Historic Port

Today, framed by the banks of the two rivers, The Forks has been Winnipeg’s number one meeting place for the past 6,000 years.  We walked around the forks and saw an array of attractions for everyone including parks, promenades, gardens and sculptures intermingled with many shops and restaurants.  We also discovered that our hotel, The Inn at the Forks, was located on a historical site.  Here are just a few of the photos I took in and around the Forks:

A collection of cool blue flags with images of people’s faces on them were displayed at the broadway promenade by the riverwalk.   A closer look revealed it’s one of the summer’s Cool Gardens public exhibitions of contemporary art.  The collection of 2,015 flags demonstrates the diversity and unity that thrives in this city.

Cool Gardens- the Forks

Citizen’s Garden – a collection of cool blue flags

Oodena Celebration Circle

Oodena Celebration Circle – this shallow amphitheatre pays homage to 6,000 years of Aboriginal peoples in the area

Bear Garden

Bear Garden near the Manitoba Legislative Building

The following morning I set my sights on the recently opened (Sept. 2014) Canadian Museum for Human Rights, built right at the Forks and an easy walk from our hotel.  I missed the guided tour but was content to discover the museum’s exhibitions, architecture and human rights stories at my own pace.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The new iconic image of Winnipeg, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

The galleries are built around human rights themes with special but not exclusive reference to Canada.  The displays interweave human rights stories of many diverse groups throughout the building’s seven levels.

Canadian Journeys, Canadian Museum of Human Rights

The largest gallery presented Canadian human rights stories told in floor stations and story niches

One of the niches was the Redress Project.  It brings awareness of the overwhelming number of missing and/or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.

While I was busy reading and experiencing different levels of emotion, I was also captivated by the architecture inside the building.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Illuminated alabaster ramps crisscrossing along seven levels

Tower of Hope

Looking up three levels

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Looking down at the office areas inside the museum

Canadian Museum for human rights

View of the Red River and the half-circle restaurant on the pedestrian bridge

While I was at the museum, Steve was doing some discovering of his own at the only museum in Winnipeg dedicated to the preservation of Manitoba’s railway heritage.

Winnipeg Railway Museum

The wannabe engineer takes a spin on an old simulator

He’s been to several train museums, but this one excelled in it’s displays of equipment used to install and maintain tracks.  It also had great stories about the incredibly tough conditions people endured to get tracks installed across hundreds of miles of permafrost in barren areas of Canada.

Railroad equipment

Equipment used to tamp gravel and assure good seating of the railroad ties and tracks

Winnipeg Railway Museum

Women were required to lift this heavy train coupler in order to be hired

The two of us met later at the Forks Market to join a guided trolley tour around the city. We learned a lot during the next 90 minutes.  At one time Winnepeg was Canada’s 3rd largest city, but it lost that distinction to Vancouver after the building of the Panama Canal, which altered the transportation landscape here forever.  We saw the childhood home of Neil Young and heard stories about Bob Dylan and Homer Simpson visiting the city.  As usual, after the tour we used the map they provided to continue on our own sightseeing adventure.

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Canadian Railway

You can really feel the trains go by from inside the railroad museum, which is part of this building

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Fort Garry Hotel

Canada’s grand railway hotel, the historic Fort Garry Hotel

The city has hundreds of murals depicting the unique history and culture of Winnipeg. The spectacular mural below (only part of which is visible here) measures 16,000 square ft. and is a continuous piece of art wrapped around three sides of the building.  It’s the largest independent mural in Canada, and its theme is Music and Railroads – a celebration of the city’s cultural and economic history.

Layin' down Tracks Mural in Winnepeg

The mural is called Layin’ Down Tracks

Below, Jill Sellers’ conceptual rendering of the proposed “Nyg�rd Village” measures 50 ft. high and 92 ft. wide, making it the second largest mural in Winnipeg. 

Nyg�rd Village

Nyg�rd Village

It was a whirlwind excursion and we packed a lot into our two-day trip, and we obviously just got a taste of Winnipeg.  We wished we had a few days more to explore.

And that’s the first half of my Tale of Two Forks, the Canadian side of the Red River, the second half will be the southern part of the Red River back in the U.S.A.

 

Next up:  A Tale of Two Forks, pt.2