I started out early this morning with my ritual of working on the blog while enjoying a pot of coffee. Many of you know that when I travel, I take my own coffee and French press with me. Since our Veranda Suite is right next to the third-floor lobby on Viking Alruna, I am just a few steps from the ship's 24-hour coffee station where I can get hot water for my French press. Very convenient! This morning I am reminded of how woefully slow the satellite Internet connections are on river cruises. I happen to be testing Skyroam™ on this sailing, a portable WiFi hotspot. Basically, Skyroam™ uses cell phone technology to create a WiFi hotspot.
When I turned on the Skyroam™, it took a few seconds to attempt to make a connection, indicated by small bars (like on a cell phone), but I could see it was struggling. I assumed it could be because there was another Viking ship parked right next to us, plus it was positioned inside my stateroom. I decided to put the Skyroam out on our balcony and, instantly, I got a 3G connection. Once I selected the Skyroam™ hotspot on my laptop, I was stunned at the difference in internet speed. I am going to be doing some more testing along the Rhine over the next couple of weeks, but my first impressions of this product are very good.
While most Alruna guests joined the 8:30am excursion to the Black Forest, Rickee and I decided that, since we took this excursion just a few years ago, we would remain on board Alruna. This gave us the opportunity to get some good photos of the ship and take a morning walk into Breisach. The weather so far has been beautiful, making this cool morning the perfect time to explore the Sun Deck on Alruna. This is definitely the place to be when the ship is sailing down (or up) the Rhine. There is a lot of seating, and guests can pick whether they want to be in the sun or not. All Viking Longships have their own herb garden (and yes, the chef does use the herbs), shuffleboard court and golf putting green.
After checking out the Sun Deck, I decided to walk into Breisach, less than 1/4 of a mile from where the boat is docked. Before walking into town, I could not resist taking a photo of Viking Alruna and her sister riverboat, Viking Hlin, moored right next to each other in Breisach. It is common for riverboats to dock next to each other in this fashion in order to share a single dock. The ships have all been constructed so that guests can easily walk through the lobby of the other vessels to get to shore.
It is Sunday, so most businesses in Breisach are closed and the traffic is very light. There are a few people walking around, but it is basically very quiet here this morning. I decide to get a closer look at St. Stephan's cathedral, an imposing structure positioned on a hill and visible from the river. Getting to the cathedral requires a walk up steep cobblestone streets, but it is well worth the effort.
The cathedral was built between the 12th and 15th centuries and reflects Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. A restoration project is ongoing to repair damage suffered during WWII.
This afternoon, we signed up for the optional excursion to the medieval town of Colmar, France. At 2pm, we stopped by Reception to get our tour ID cards (45A today) which are used to identify the motorcoach and guide with whom we will be traveling. This is a very simple and effective system. Basically, when you walk off the boat, you simply look for a motorcoach with a sign that matches your ID card, or a local guide holding a "lollipop" sign with the number, and you are set!
Once onboard our motorcoach, we are greeted by our tour guide, Jack. During the 45-minute drive to Colmar, Jack gives us some valuable information about the region. Colmar is located in the Alsace region of France, near the border with Germany. The city is on the Alsace Wine Route, and local vineyards specialize in Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines. Colmar's Old Town's cobblestone streets are lined with half-timbered houses, many dating back to the 13th century.
During the tour, Jack pointed out that many of the houses have second floors that extend out beyond the bottom floor, and a third-floor that extends out even further, as you can see in the photo above. The reason? Taxes. Back in the day, taxes were levied based on the square footage of land the building occupied. By extending the second and third floors outward, the owner was able to acquire a little more interior space without paying higher taxes. And, another added benefit of jutting out each upper level was highly evident when it came time to empty the chamber pots through the opened windows!
Jack also pointed out many businesses that were identified by "Hansi" signs designed by Jean-Jacques Waltz, a French artist and pro-France activist. The unique and colorful signs accurately identified the type of business while making a subtle political statement.
Along our walking tour, we come to perhaps the most impressive structure in Colmar: St. Martin's church dating back to 1234.
At the end of the tour, Jack gave us about an hour of free time to explore the narrow streets and local shops of Colmar. Even though it is Sunday and many shops are closed, a few souvenir shops and cafes are open. Rickee and I find a souvenir shop to purchase some gifts for friends and family back home. We cannot resist a local "biscuiterie" where we purchase a bag of delicious hand-made coconut macaroons. We meet Jack and the group at the designated time and meeting spot and walk back to the motorcoach for the drive back to Breisach. This optional tour is available at an additional cost, but in our opinion, it was well worth it!