We all have a bucket list. Mine is kept in a box packed full of mementos and notes that help to remind me of the snippet views and impressions made about special places I visited on rushed business trips. These trinkets are sufficient inspiration to plan re-do trips back to these areas on my terms and allow plenty of time to enjoy and explore.

One of the re-do stops on my recent trip to Europe was Amsterdam, a great vacation city with a festive atmosphere and a frequent embarkation port for Viking River Cruises. My cruise actually left from nearby Rotterdam because its departure coincided with Sail Amsterdam, a major festival that resulted in the city’s harbors and docks being closed for river cruises.

Amsterdam’s streets and waterways are easy to navigate and most of the historic sights and districts are located within its main canal area. In addition to visiting the Anne Frank House and infamous Red Light District, there are hundreds of fun and interesting things to do. Check out some of the 50 museums offering collections ranging from Dutch Masters to wooden shoes or stop at a tasting room for Dutch beers, vodka, cheese and other treats. Shopping is abundant, offering everything from souvenir and gift shops to flower and bulbs markets or the antique-art and fashion districts. Amsterdam’s cuisine spans the globe, and its lively arts and entertainment venues are found on street plazas and in concert halls.

Sail Amsterdam, an extravaganza held every five years, is the largest naval celebration in Europe. More than 600 historic and new ships, including participants in the North Sea Tall Ships Regatta, were moored at the harbor for a week-long schedule of activities and entertainment. The public was welcome to tour many ships and participate in onboard festivities.

Floating Through Europe

Over the centuries Europe’s major rivers have defined territorial and country boundaries as well as being active commercial trade routes. With the advent of river cruising, many rivers are now also tourism destinations.

River cruises combine the best elements of ocean cruising with motorcoach touring. These includes unpacking once, enjoying on-board amenities and services, constant up-close scenic views of changing landscapes and shore excursions where you step directly from the boat into the historic points of town centers.

The vessels used to navigate rivers and locks are long and narrow with only three or four deck levels. Typically, they accommodate 150 to 300 passengers in outside cabins, and the top level serves as an open-air lounge and viewing deck.

There are several companies that operate river cruises on the Rhine, Main and Danube. While they all travel the same route, there are differences. Some operate only a limited season and itinerary route; others travel year- round and the full distance between the North Sea and Black Sea. Other differences are defined by onboard styles, services, amenities and included features.

I traveled with Viking River Cruises on its 15-day “Grand European Tour” between Rotterdam and Budapest. The company caters to a discriminating active traveler; its style is casual and comfortable. Ships are well-appointed, offering good-sized cabins, large lounge and dining areas, interesting enrichment programs, yummy meals, and gracious, well-trained and accommodating onboard staff and shore host-guides. The itinerary introduced a new destination every day. At every stop, Viking hosts led groups of 10-15 travelers on a two-hour guided walk through the town. Each walk is offered at different ability levels, from slow walkers to the Viking rugged adventure level. Plenty of onshore leisure time is scheduled for added personal explorations, and add-on packages are available. In the evening, passengers gather in the main lounge for a comprehensive briefing on the next day’s destination and, in the dining room, the chef’s menu always include a featured culinary treat indicative of the area we just enjoyed.

 

Re-Do Vacation Journal Highlights

These are just a few of the journal highlights from my “Grand European Tour” itinerary: Windmills at Kinderdikj….Ancient timber-frame buildings in Mittenberg and the medieval city of Regensburg….A heroic climb up and through Marksburg Castle (one of the “Roughing It” walks)….The leisurely mid-Rhine cruise with view of old castles perched high on the hillsides…. Traveling the Main-Danube Canal between Bamberg and Kelheim and traversing its 16-lock, 1,600-foot climb from one river to the next…. Nuremberg’s contrasting sights and historic relics from its 11th century founding to today….Wine centers of the Rhine and Danube….Passau’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral organ concert….The evening arrival in Budapest to witness the spectacular lighting of the city.

To learn more about Viking River Cruises and its 2011 cruises and packages, contact www.vikingrivercruises.com

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