Denial. No, I wasn’t making a joke about “Da Nile” whilst being on a Viking River Cruise down The Rhine. I was truly in denial. The seven-day cruise was drawing to an end far too quickly. First, Holland has swept me off my feet with its cobblestone streets, bicycles parked aboard houseboats and windmills hard at work in Kinderdijk. Germany brought on sighs of its own with rainy-day discoveries, Christmas market delicacies and lots of toasting with Kölsch.
And now, France. Ahhh, France…
France let its sex appeal be known right off the bat with an early morning flurry of snow. As if unable to tear themselves away from the charming city, several of Strasbourg’s national birds could be seen shivering (okay maybe it was the tourists shivering), yet holding out on migrating, in their overly large nests. The relayed story of a newly betrothed Marie Antoinette having to cross the bridge between Kehl, Germany and Strasbourg, France, naked, leaving everything Austrian behind prior to her nuptials to Louis XVI, caused additional goosebumps.
Groups from the Jarl marched past Christmas market vendors with promises of free time. First, there was the Rue Mercière, a World Heritage zone, to traverse en route to Strasbourg Cathedral. Yes, there’s the majestic spire, stained-glass windows and impressive pulpit. What made the cathedral truly stand out in my eyes — its astronomical clock with sculpted figures that launch into motion upon certain hours. Not to mention several paintings on its exterior of naked people, which I refused to believe had anything to do with the end of the world and everything to do with frolicking happily.
The 332 steps up to the cathedral’s platform were bypassed in lieu of joining France’s coffee culture and attempting to resurrect high school French. Wait staff kindly acted as if they understood every word when we attempted to order flammekueche in their native tongue. There were numerous Strasbourg sites to take in, from the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art and Museum Œuvre Notre-Dame (Medieval and Renaissance Art Museum) to a Batorama canal tour.
Wandering through Petite France brought with it a charm all its own. Here, holiday décor was being lovingly placed on half-timbered houses. Idling lazily past, the River Île elicited sighs. Au revoir.
That evening, en route to Schwarzwald, Germany’s Black Forest, I awoke in the middle of the night to see an endless concrete wall outside the stateroom balcony. Reassuring myself this wasn’t some crazy nightmare; I realized the Jarl was making it way through one of the Rhine’s many locks. Unable to resist watching the entire process, I remained wide-eyed at a spectacle that seemed nothing less than magical as the ship was curried through one level of the river to another by this intricate system.
The following day, Jarl passengers found themselves in a winter wonderland also known as the Black Forest. All chattering aboard the bus taking us up the mountain came to a dead silence as we took in the beauty of this pristine region.
The quiet was broken as the bus pulled into a wonderland of a different sort – a tourist shopping area. There was glass-blowing and Black Forest gateau construction demonstrations to be seen, cherry schnapps to be imbibed, last-minute gifts to be purchased. I stood outside the cuckoo clock factory, eyes riveted to the giant clock on the building’s side. Its arms were moving too fast in my estimation — signaling the end of the Rhine Getaway.
Yes, that evening was the final night onboard the Viking Jarl. The crew had prepared a Thanksgiving dinner, observing the U.S. tradition. Staring at the turkey and pumpkin pie, I wasn’t ready to re-embrace home quite yet. This was a night to stay up late and store up every last minute of Rhine romance. A getaway to revisit via my memories.
Read Bekah’s Entire River Cruise
Travel writer Bekah Wright spans the globe experiencing everything from fly fishing to sheep herding. She recently wrote about traveling to Zambia for First to Know, and upcoming articles include a journey to Edinburgh with Sir Richard Branson, spending a night at an observatory, and night finds in Carmel, CA. Her writing has been featured in GOOD, Bon Appetit, National Geographic Kids, Los Angeles magazine and TV Guide.