A visit to Paris would be a full and memorable trip for almost anyone — including me. But the trip that brings me to Paris this time is something more: an expedition that takes me across Europe on both land and water, seeing new countries and having new experiences. It’s called a European river cruise, but this one is a little different.
When Viking Cruises invited me to join them on one of their cruises, I expected a few days on one of their famous longships, sailing the Rhine or the Danube. But things evolved, and the cruise I’m just beginning – called the Cities of Light — is an even more interesting voyage.
The cruise starts with two nights at Le Méridien Etoile, a four-star Paris hotel a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe (left). Yesterday was arrival day. Today, Day Two, started with a bus tour of the city’s highlights, from the Arc to the Louvre to Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens, Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.
Seeing the city through a moving window made me realize just how many amazing sights are packed into the relatively small area that makes up downtown Paris, from the Arc to the Bastille. And while old-style monarchy may not have been the way to run an equitable society — witness the Place de Concorde, where Louis XVI was beheaded — it did produce some of the world’s great buildings and institutions, most of which have survived the ages.
Then, a free afternoon, one last chance to visit one of the city’s famous museums, or explore one of its historic neighbourhoods, like Saint-Germain-des-Prés or Montmarte. And to end the day, a meal on the banks of the Seine, and a light show as the Eiffel Tower comes alive with twinkling lights, sending bright reflections off the water and drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowed assembled on one of the city’s bridges.
And then it’s Day Three, time to leave, as the cruise passengers – 180 strong, mostly baby boomers from North America, a few from as far away as New Zealand – board a bus bound for Luxembourg. We’ll stop in the capital for a city tour, then a visit to the nearby American cemetery, final resting place of many who lost their lives in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. The war is still fresh in the memory here, so many years later.
By the end of the day we’ll be in Trier, Germany, a fascinating historic city once known as the “second Rome”. And there we’ll join our ship, the Viking Odin, one of the first of Viking’s groundbreaking longships.
And then our cruise on the Moselle, Middle Rhine and Main Rivers,. We’ll stop in historic medieval cities like Cochem, with its fairy tale castle; cruise own the storied Middle Rhine, with castles rising on all sides; get a close look at medieval life in places like Rothenburg, Heidelberg and Wurzburg; witness the dark history of Nuremberg; and finally, spend a fun few days in Prague, one of the capitals of Central Europe.
It’s been a great stay in Paris — even better since I arrived a few days early to renew my acquaintance with the city, its great buildings, its markets, its cafés and its famous cuisine.
But it should be a great journey to come, with amazing sights, great food, some good wine, and the experience of cruising some of the world’s great rivers. Next up, our visit to Luxembourg.