I wrote this article for the Atlantic Highlands Herald back in 2015 after my terrific cruise on Viking cruise lines with my friend and fellow world traveler Jane Frotton of Atlantic Highlands
PHOTO: Courtesy of Jane Frotton
It was sometime during the night when the Viking Sun sailed into the Cologne, Germany area, and once again, it was evident that the Viking Cruise ships folks strive for perfection at every turn.
They also believe in precise, on time performances, so actually, the boat first docked in Zons, a fortified wall city from the 1300s, which in actuality is part of Dormagen, a town named after a chemist form the 19th century, where the Bayer company has a business now. It was there where we passengers could disembark and head to sparkly clean Mercedes Benz buses (after all, we are in Germany!) for a half hour bus ride to meet a guide and get ready for a walking tour of Cologne.
You don’t want to miss any of these tours; they’re all included in the price of the trip, and in every case, Viking has arranged for local guides, so you’re certain of having an English speaking person who really knows the area telling and showing you all the things that make it great. Even the slight drizzle (yes, Viking again provided everyone with bright red umbrellas and a bottle of water as they leave the ship!) didn’t cloud the magnificence and diversity of the city center and its cathedral.
Cologne isn’t the prettiest city along the Rhine, but it is Germany’s 4th largest city, a major cultural center, and the home of a University, so you know there are lots of college students and locals blending in with all the tourists. It’s also the site of the Romans’ first settlement, so there are plenty of ancient ruins.
The Gothic cathedral, the largest in northern Europe, is the primary focal point in the center and for very good reason. Aside from the magnificent architecture, the sheer awe that construction began back in the 13th century and continued for another 700 years to completion, the beauty of its twin spires stretching to the sky, it is a cathedral which remained pretty well undamaged during the Second World War Traveling through this part of Europe, as through so many other countries, the ravages and impact of war are horrific reminders we better find some means and ideas pretty quickly on how to get along with each other. It was nice to see the cathedral escaped unscathed.
The Cathedral also has magnificent stained glass windows, but I was more impressed by the windows at Notre Dame of Strasburg, and that’s a story for another day.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Jane Frotton
The bus was right there to bring us back to the ship for lunch, then we had the afternoon to either relax aboard in the lounge or library, or our rooms, or go back into the city for another look around.
While Atlantic Highlands’ Jane Frotton and I weren’t traveling with anyone else, once we met up with Norman and Jean from Scotland and Trudy and Heather from Canada, we became a sextet that was quickly recognizable, a force to be dealt with, and a half dozen travelers who managed to probably be a bit louder, a bit happier, and certainly a bit more outgoing than the others among the 157 aboard.
So it was an easy decision when all made our choices for the afternoon….Jane and Trudy were opting to try out the spa (yes, the ship’s staff made all the arrangements,) Norman and Jean opted to do more visiting around town on their own, and Heather and I decided to take the taxi back into town with the spa-goers and walk around that area, arranging to meet them later.
Cologne is a city divided by the Rhine, and it appears that all of the industrial part is on one side of the river, the shops, tourist attractions, museums, on the other. The thermal bath/spa complex was on the industrial side, so after leaving Jane and Trudy there, and walking a bit, Heather and I decided to take the tramway back across the river and the short walk back to the ship. It turned out to be a terrific choice! Like everything else in Germany, the tram is efficient, on time, and clean. And for about 5 or 6 Euros, it offers a scenic panorama of “Old Father Rhine,” the nickname for their beloved river, as well as the Cathedral city, all in a 15-20 minute ride in the sky. It was just one more very pleasant surprise on a very pleasant trip.
Later on, Heather headed back to introduce the spa-goers to the tram home, and I went up on the sun deck to see how the city looked from there.