The focus of The Daily Meal, is, of course, food. And so everything I write for them is about Food Events, Wine Touring and Culinary Travel. I’m proud of my work and have acquired quite a portfolio of stories. But many of my trips are about so much more than food. And so today, I am posting an expanded view of my most recent Viking Adventure or as the hashtag says: #myvikingstory. Interspersed is the actual article from The Daily Meal. If you’d like to read that separately, here’s the link: https://www.thedailymeal.com/travel/viking-river-cruises-turns-its-rhine-river-getaway-culinary-adventure. But if you want to go along for my whole ten day trip, this is for you. In two parts. Here’s the first:
As river cruising grows and grows in popularity, Viking River Cruises, the industry giant and its most award-winning cruise line, has added something new. Its world-wide itineraries now feature Culinary Tours, Wine Tastings and multiple opportunities to sample local cuisine on board and ashore, at virtually every port. We went along for the ride on Viking’s “Rhine River Getaway” to sample what was on offer. Miraculously, we didn’t gain an ounce but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Viking’s part. Fortunately, there’s a lot of activity with along with a lot of delicious food.
|Appetizer Course, Air France Business Class|
Day 1: New York to Europe. I flew out of New York on Air France. I have a fondness for this airline as I have an incredible track record of upgrades. This was no exception. Business Class on Air France might as well be on a different plane from the one you in the back. The service, the lie-flat seats, the comfort and the perks –like use of the Air France lounge—all contrive to make this a flying experience to, believe it or not, look forward to. The Business Class menu is by Daniel Boulud, the Lyonnais Chef who is now the pride of New York. I have to say that catering out of New York does not compare to catering out of Paris. Chef Boulud’s dinner was not up to his standards. Flying from Paris to Budapest, I once had a cheese sandwich which was far tastier than my dinner from New York to Paris. But dinner was fine, the wines were even finer and oh, that lie-flat bed.
Day 2. Basel, Switzerland. I arrived in Paris at a ridiculous hour of the morning with a 3-hour layover for my flight to Basel. It was a Sunday morning so the airport and the plane were empty. The flight to Basel lasts just over an hour and in the best thing you can say about air travel today, it was ‘uneventful’. Basel’s airport serves three countries: France, Germany and Switzerland. There are two exits from the airport. One leads to the European Union countries of France and Germany, the other into Switzerland. One wrong turn and you’ve entered the wrong country. Fortunately, I didn’t. Once outside the terminal, one of Viking’s familiar Mercedes buses awaited and we were soon at our destination, our sparkling white ship.
In Basel, we joined Viking Hlin, one of Viking’s fleet of Longships. “The Rhine River Getaway” can be taken in either direction from Basel to Amsterdam or vice-versa. While we waited for our staterooms to be readied, Viking offered an Introductory Walk which took in parts of the old city, its cathedral and landmarks. Quite a few of our fellow passengers opted for the walk. The rest waited aboard ship until the cabins were available.
|Balcony Stateroom about Viking Longship|
Viking Longships staterooms are amazing feats of Scandinavian design, somehow managing to encompass a King-Sized bed, an in-room refrigerator, a bathroom with a heated floor, a balcony with space for two chairs, plenty of space to stow a week’s worth of clothing, a 40 inch television and multiple outlets for the endless number of electronic devices we travel with– all in 210 square feet of space. The blond wood accents keep the staterooms light and bright as well truly well-thought out lighting with bedside controls. Aside from an occasional swoosh from the adjoining bathroom, the Longship’s staterooms are miraculously soundproofed so your neighbor’s television never interrupts the quiet.
|Tasting in Strasbourg|
While Viking includes a complementary guided tour at every stop including our Basel walk, many of its culinary offerings require an extra fee for extras including meals, samples, instruction–ranging from $49.00 to $199.00 for a day-long Culinary adventure. But even if you don’t spring for these, there are many great food opportunities along the way. We’d barely had time to unpack before the first (complementary) Wine and Cheese tasting took place in the ship’s airy Lounge. Here we sampled the wines we were to drink as our Longship traveled through one of the world’s great wine-growing regions. Included in our fare, these wines were selected to be served at lunch and dinner. Reislings predominated, not surprisingly since they account for 80 percent of the wine grown on the banks of the Rhine. Also on the list were several
|Reislings in Germany, Pinot Noir in Alsace|
Rheingau Reds. Lighter than their Spanish or French counterparts, these German wines were wonderful complements to lighter items on the Chef’s menus. As to the cheeses, every country we passed through was represented from Swiss Comté to German Munster to France’s Tomme d’Alsace and Tomme de Savoie.
The first night aboard ship, we got a look at our thoroughly International passenger mix. Past Viking trips had been overwhelmingly American, spurred to travel on Viking when the ship sponsored “Downton Abbey” at the height of that TV series’ popularity. Aboard this trip were 26 Brits, 10 Canadians, 2 Australians, 2 Mainland Chinese and the rest Americans including 48 Chinese Americans. And among all those passengers, 21 of us were Journalists. There were Travel Writers from Canada and all over the US, Bloggers who specialize in Fitness Travel, 50 plus Travel, River Cruise Travel, Instagram wonders with thousands of followers and just 2 Public Relations people to stir us all in the right direction.
|Remind you of anything?|
Day 3. Breisach Germany for the Black Forest and an optional side trip to Colmar, France. The culinary event for today was held in Germany’s Black Forest. And you can likely guess what was served. It was a Schwarzwderkirschtorte. And I’m giving you five seconds to figure out that that must mean “Black Forest Cake”. This four-layer chocolate sponge cake is flavored with Cherry Schnaps (Kirschwasser) which is also added to its mounds of whipped cream, cherries and chocolate shavings. The recipe is thought to date from the 16thcentury. There’s even the quaint suggestion that the cake got its name from the traditional costume worn by women in The Black Forest. See what you think: Their dress was black (think chocolate flakes, their blouse white like the cream and their hat, pictured here has red pom-poms that look for all the world like cherries.
|Proud Cake Demonstrator and Electrician|
On our Viking tour to somewhere called Hofgut Sternen, a kind of un-Viking like ‘theme park’, a Black Forest cake was put together before our eyes. Layers of chocolate sponge cake were covered in mounds of whipped cream, while sour cherries occupied a single layer and the local Kirschwasser moistened the surprisingly light and not-too-sweet cake. A young man took us through each step. At the end of his demonstration, wanting some background, I asked where he had
|Back aboard Viking Hlin, a contemporary take on a classic|
gone to Culinary School. He hadn’t. Instead, he was an electrician in his native Croatia. Welcome to the European Union. His cake, however, was no match for the contemporary version created by the Hlin’s on-board pastry chef. Served that night, it was the first of many exquisite desserts on board. These are all created by a chef whose background clearly did include culinary school.
|Hotel de Ville, Strasbourg|
|Strasbourg’s moving War Memorial|
Day 4. Kehl, Germany, the port for Strasbourg, France. For a passionate foodie, today’s All-Day excursion, “Taste the Best of Alsace” was sheer nirvana. The “Grand Ile” of Strasbourg is the first of 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites on this itinerary. And what a splendid place it is! Viking prides itself on the quality of its guides and here in Strasbourg, ours was top drawer. She’d been the President of the local guides association and it showed in her ability to share her city with us. The city has a tortured history. Strasbourg alternated between being part of France and part of Germany, often within the same war, as was the case in World War II. A very moving War Memorial in front of the Hotel de Ville, shows a grieving mother. Her two sons, one facing France and the other Germany, hold hands, united in death in a city divided by war. The Monument makes no mention of either country– just the years of the wars that consumed Europe for generations.
The dual cultures of Strasbourg are part of the city’s culinary heritage. One example: The hearty breads of Germany live side by side the delicacy of French pastries. Blending both food and history in one monumental walk, we took in bakeries and cheese shops, a wine-tasting with cheese pairings, a shop that made nothing but gingerbread and even a hands-on cooking class. There we made Tartes Flambées or Flammekeuche, a sweet or savory Alsacienne version of Pizza that gives the real deal a run for its money.
If you hadn’t signed up for the “Taste” tour, back on board Viking Hlin, Executive Chef
|Cooking Class: Tarte Flamee or Flammekeuche|
Mladen Arezina was giving a full-on demonstration of Flammekeuche himself. Menus aboard all Viking Longships emanate from Chef Anthony Mauboussin, Viking’s Executive Chef. Working out of his home in Chamonix, France, Chef Mauboussin creates menu items that reflect time and place of every Viking destination. These recipes also provide a standard of excellence for all Viking’s Chefs to follow. Vikling Hlin’s chef, who hails from Belgrade, Serbia, has some leeway if he runs out of an ingredient but overall, his dishes reflect Viking’s strict commitment to its signature recipes and their consistent quality. The chef also has the use of an entire herb garden which grows merrily along on the top deck of the Hlin.
|Heidelberg as seen from the Schloss|
Day 5. Manheim, Germany for Heidelberg then on to Rudesheim, Germany. One of our fellow press people advised staying on the Hlin if you’d seen Heidelberg before. I cannot imagine missing this city no matter how many times I’d been there. Mannheim is a good hour away from Heidelberg, by Viking Tour Bus. The site of one of the world’s most famous Universities dating from 1836, Heidelberg is still a college town. Its population is 150,000, one quarter of whom are students. It is also a scientific hub and the third richest city in Germany. You can tell how affluent it is by the glorious
|Dedicated to Elizabeth Stuart|
homes that line the banks of the river Neckar. But it’s Heidelberg’s Castle that dominates the town from its hillside 260 feet above town. The first of our Schlosses as Castles are called in Germany, Heidelberger Schloss dates from 1214 with later additions that establish it was one of the greatest Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The stories surrounding the castle are the stuff of fairytales, of an English Princess, Elizabeth Stuart, whose adoring husband added to the palace in her honor, of battles and fires and all manner of dramas. It’s a vast place with extraordinary statuary covering its facades. The place is so fascinating and its history so intriguing, the only regret is that time spent at the Palace is time not spent in the romantic town at its base. Since our Coach ride to Heidelberg took longer because of road work, all too soon, the Viking Tour ended and we travelled back to the Hlin docked in Gernsheim which quickly departed for an afternoon on the Rhine. At about 5 o’clock we docked in Rudesheim.
Overlooking this resort town, Schloss Johannisberg is considered one of the world’s premiere producers of Reisling. Wine grapes have been grown on this property for 1200 years. The Schloss itself is massive, a replacement for one destroyed in World War II. The caves of the original castle survived. Here under the direction of the winemaker, Dieter Salomon, a tasting was hel
d exclusively for Viking guests. Salomon
|Johannisberg, it’s beauty a match for its wines.|
surprised tasters with the depth of fruit flavors of the same Reisling varietal. The Gelblack-trocken had hints of sweet pears, quince and apricots. The Rotlack-Kabinett-feinherb was slightly off-dry with an apple aroma. And the Grünlack Spätlese combined pear and peach notes. All of these wines were available at the Vineyards Wine Shop. And here, as everywhere else, Viking encourages its passengers to bring aboard their ‘souvenirs’ and enjoy them aboard ship.
There are two Culinary Options. One included dinner at the Schloss’ restaurant, a forgettable meal punctuated with memorable wine. We could have opted for another local specialty: Bier. A group of Viking passengers had a dinner and beer tasting in Rudesheim itself. Again the liquid portion of the tasting outshone the food. We may well have all been spoiled by Viking’s excellent and varied menu aboard ship which a shore side chef would find to be tough competition.
At this, the half-point mark in our journey, before anyone is exhausted, I will take a break and continue Part 2 in our next post. Any guesses where we’re going next? Stay tuned.