In Part 1 of this blog series, I described our activities while traveling to our departure port and on board the Viking Star. As promised, I’ll move on now to describing our shore excursions. In this installment, I’ll cover our first four stops as shown on the map below: Cozumel, Mexico, Belize City, Belize, Roatan, Honduras, and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.
Cozumel, Mexico (Friday, March 10, 2023)
After two days of sailing covering more than 600 miles, the ship docked in Cozumel, Mexico, a 250-square-mile island located off the southeastern shore of the Yucatan peninsula, about 40 miles south of Cancun. The name is derived from the Mayan “Ah Cuzamil Peten,” which means “the island of swallows.” Cozumel has become a hot tourist spot and a snorkeler’s paradise since the discovery of the world’s second largest coral reef system by Jacque Cousteau in the 1960s. The Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park was established in 1996 to protect the resource. Though Pat would have loved to go snorkeling, I’ve demonstrated my ineptitude at that several times in the past (comical to her, near fatal to me), so we opted for a different activity. We departed the ship and walked through a touristy area in the port of San Miguel before boarding a bus for a 10-mile drive through the Cozumel countryside to the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio.
The structures at the San Gervasio site date to around 1000 to 1200. The Mayan people there were flourishing when the Spaniards first travelled to the island in 1518 and established good relations, but were soon decimated by smallpox brought in by subsequent explorers. The population today is still almost entirely of Mayan descent, including our tour guide, Paco.
The Mayan settlement was a hub of worship of Ix Chel, the goddess of the moon, childbirth, fertility, medicine, and weaving. Pre-Columbian Maya women from the mainland would try to travel to the site and make offerings at least once in their lives. Paco pointed out several pieces of obsidian, which is not native to the island but was brought to the site by these pilgrims as gifts to the goddess.
The Mayans built a stone road through the jungle from the northern edge of the island all the way to the site, where visitors entered through a stone arch. Remains of the original road can still be seen. The altar in the central square and most of the structures are laid out so that the sides face precisely to the north, east, west, and south.
The site also features a sinkhole, networked to others on the island through underground aquifer, that was used to obtain potable water. The sinkhole apparently had been dry during periods of drought since remains of an altar were found well below the normal water level.
The building called Las Manitas, named for the red-colored handprints on the interior walls, was the home of the Mayan ruler.
One of many interesting anecdotes that Paco shared was the origin of the name “Yucatan” for the nearby Mexican peninsula. Apparently, it is derived from a Mayan word that was given in response to Spanish explorers who asked, “What is this place called?” Later scholars learned that what the Mayans were actually saying was “We don’t understand you.”
After our tour, we returned to the boat for activities described in Part 1 before sailing off into the sunset.
Belize City, Belize (Saturday, March 11, 2023)
We awoke the next morning in Belize City, or more precisely, anchored 2.5 miles off shore, since the Belize City harbor is too shallow for ships at only five feet deep. Belize is the country formerly known as British Honduras until its independence in 1981. (Many people seem unaware of where Belize is – as one of our guides told us, they changed the name but forgot to tell the rest of the world.) It is the smallest and least populous of the Central American countries (23,000 square miles and 440,000 people) and the only one that does not border on the Pacific Ocean. The official language is English, but the natives also speak Belizean Creole, a mixture of broken English, French, and who knows what else.
For the second day in a row, we opted for a tour of Mayan ruins. We left the ship on a small tender boat (capacity about 80 passengers) for the trip into the Belize City harbor, where we boarded a bus for a one-hour trip to the ancient site of Altun Ha. Two Creole “sistas” served as our guides, describing the sights in the city and the Belizean countryside. They also had fun trying to teach us some Creole. When they spoke very slowly, we could almost understand what they were saying, but when they spoke at their normal speed it was completely unintelligible.
The Altun Ha site was much more extensive and more accessible than the one on Cozumel. It was first inhabited during the Pre-Classic Period of Mayan history with the first major construction beginning in about 100 BCE. The site reached its peak during the Early Classic Period, from 200 to 600 AD and began to decline thereafter. The most impressive structures are large pyramids that served as ceremonial and civic centers as well as tombs. The impression I got was that the lower floors initially served as residences for the rulers and upper classes, then as tombs when they died. New residences were then built on top of the tombs for the new rulers. One interesting aspect of the construction is that the Mayans had no pack animals or wheels, so transport and erection of the huge stones must have required enormous amounts of human labor.
The guides told us that, while human sacrifices occurred at other Mayan sites, the rituals at Altun Ha were limited merely to bloodletting and non-fatal piercings and mutilations. Those “lucky” enough to be chosen for these rites were given allspice to induce a euphoric state and deaden the pain. A number of large allspice trees are still growing on the site.
The stepped pyramids acted almost like a magnet, drawing us to climb. Pat went first, on the building called Structure A1, an important temple and tomb with a wide, tapering staircase, while I thought about whether my arthritic knees could handle it. Eventually I succumbed to the lure, and found that going up was not too bad but coming down was terrifying. I managed it by going sideways and, for the final half dozen large steps, easing down on my butt.
Emboldened by this success, I had to climb the largest structure on the site, which had some scary access stairways on one side and in the rear. Pat opted to stay on the ground for this one and serve as the photographer.
On the bus ride back to Belize City, we passed through what is called the “dead center” of town. The main highway actually runs directly through a cemetery! The guides continued to regale us with information about Belize. One odd fact they proudly told us is that there is no welfare system in Belize. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” one of them said, claiming that this wisdom comes from the Bible. I’m no Biblical scholar, but this struck both Pat and me as the antithesis of what Jesus stood for and seemed at odds with the guides’ claims that Belize is a religious and compassionate country. Since tourism is essentially the only industry, it also seems rather difficult to sustain. Mahogany exporting was the first major industry during Spanish and British colonial rule, with slave laborers brought in to harvest the trees. However, mahogany trees are now essentially nonexistent, despite being the national tree of Belize, since they were literally all taken away.
On the tender boat back to the ship, I snapped the picture that I used as the “featured image” for Part 1 – just in case you were wondering how I got a picture of the boat in the middle of the ocean.
As we settled in for the evening and the boat set sail again, we decided that we had had an “Un-Belizeable” day in Belize.
Roatan, Honduras (Sunday, March 12, 2023)
When we left the ship on Sunday morning, we found that it was docked at a very modern cruise ship port called Mahogany Bay, on the island of Roatan. We were told that our ship would be one of the last to visit the island for several months as the rainy season would be starting shortly, running from Late March until early September. Roatan is located about 40 miles north of Honduras in the Bay Island archipelago, also very popular for snorkeling due to the same reef that runs south from Cozumel. We boarded a bus for a one-hour trip to Gumbalimba Park a private history and eco-adventure park founded in 2003.
We first learned about the island’s history by visiting an exhibit near the entrance to the park. Needless to say, Christopher Columbus is not a revered figure here, where the indigenous people first welcomed him only to be sold into slavery, infected by European diseases, and subject to brutal treatment. The island became a haven for English, French, and Dutch pirates before eventually being populated by Garifuna natives deported from the island of St. Vincent by the British in 1797. Britain then ruled the island until ceding it to Honduras.
Another exhibit included an impressive collection of butterflies, moths, and other insects native to the island.\
We then went on a walk through the park where we encountered iguanas, agoutis, macaws, and capuchin monkeys as well as lush tropical plants and trees. We even crossed a river on a wobbly suspension bridge, which added a bit of excitement. The macaws and monkeys had been trained to interact with the visitors and were very friendly, as you can see below. However, all of the animals roam freely in the park – there are no cages.
All in all, I think the Gumbalimba tour may have been the best shore excursion of the entire trip.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica (Tuesday, March 14, 2023)
After two days of sailing, we docked in Puerto Limon. Columbus anchored his boat in this bay on his fourth voyage in 1502. As we were told by our guide, the native people welcomed him and brought various gifts in his honor. Columbus remarked that it must be a very “rich coast” – i.e. “Costa Rica” – if the people could afford such gifts. In fact, Costa Rica was not rich in gold and silver, consisting primarily of dense jungle and volcanos. Who knows if this story is true.
Our shore outing for the day included a bus ride to a nearby river and a peaceful boat ride where we observed the lush vegetation, multiple birds, a caiman lolling in the water, and howler monkeys cavorting in the trees. I’m posting some pictures, but you can barely make out any of the wildlife as the background vegetation seems to drown out the animals. Trust me, the experience was wonderful, even if I don’t have the photos to prove it.
Back at the Cruise Ship dock, we checked out some of the usual touristy stuff …
… before returning to the ship, where we attended a lecture entitled “The Stupendous Story of the Panama Canal,” by historian John Freedman. By this time we had sailed about 1600 miles, drawing ever closer to the principal attraction of the cruise. I went to bed that night with visions dancing in my head – not of sugarplums but of the amazing canal.
OK, that’s it for Part 2. In Part 3, I’ll cover our stop in Panama (including Colon and Gamboa), our transit of the Panama Canal locks, and our final stop in Jamaica.
As past readers know, I’ve been documenting our travel experiences through a series of blog posts. (The most recent of these was Pat and Dave’s Post-Covid Continental Caper, describing our travels in September of 2022, from Geneva to the Rhine River, the Mosel River, and on to Paris with Viking River Cruises.) Having just returned from our first ever Ocean Cruise, I’m posting yet another chronicle. Speaking of chronicles, I almost titled this one Pat and Dave’s Caribbean Cruise Chronicle, but somehow that didn’t seem to have the right panache. I probably could have come up with something better, but didn’t want to waste too much effort on the title, given my atrocious alliterative ability. Having now set the stage, let me begin the blathering.
In my introduction to the Continental Caper, I explained that we had originally booked that trip in 2020 but had to cancel due to Covid, rebooked it for 2021 but again had to cancel, and finally made the trip in September of 2022. The Tropical Trek was similarly plagued by Covid, this time not only postponing it twice but also changing the destination. We had originally decided to take a trip with Viking Ocean Cruises to Greece and Turkey in fall of 2021, rebooked that for January of 2022, then cancelled again as the omicron variant blossomed worldwide.
The deciding factor regarding the second Greece/Turkey cancellation was the requirement to have a Covid test in Athens before being allowed to return to the US. What if we tested positive? We’d be quarantined halfway around the world for two weeks in some Covid prison with a pile of dirty laundry, scrambling to make flight arrangements. As we contemplated this unsettling proposition, we decided that maybe a tour starting from and returning to the US would be a safer bet. Thus, on our third try, the Ocean Cruise to Greece and Turkey morphed into an Ocean Cruise to the Panama Canal!
We had several reasons for deciding on Viking Ocean Cruises as opposed to Norwegian or Carnival or one of the other major cruise lines. First, we were very impressed with Viking River Cruises on our two trips with them (the Danube River back in my pre-blog days of 2014, and the aforementioned Geneva to Paris trip). Second, we get a catalog from Viking at least every other month, so we often spend time salivating over the potential itineraries when we are not actually travelling. Third, the Viking ships are much smaller than those of the other cruise lines. Pat and I are rather introverted souls (I blame my Finnish heritage and genes for that, which seem to have leaked and spread to Pat during our 44 years of marriage) and have no interest whatsoever in the social aspects of cruising. Simply put, we presumed it would be much easier hiding away from some 900 guests on a Viking ship than 6,000 on another line.
At any rate, after more than a two-year wait, the date for embarking on the Panama Canal cruise finally drew near. Our flight to Fort Lauderdale was scheduled for 7:35 AM on March 7, so we had booked an overnight stay at the Intercontinental Hotel at the MSP airport for March 6, to avoid a 4 AM trip to the airport on travel day. I was in Grand Marais delivering copies of my latest best-seller wannabe, Watery Grave, to the local bookstores on Saturday, March 4, so I was a bit behind the eight ball as far as preparations go. By Sunday evening, I was back in Minneapolis but still hadn’t started packing, even though Pat had her things all ready to go. I finally got going on Monday morning, loading our large, worn-out suitcase to the brim with my CPAP, travel junk, and enough clothes to cover the entire trip without doing laundry. As we prepared to head down to the condo lobby to wait for our Lyft driver, I stuffed my moccasins into the outside pocket, zipped it up, and watched in shock as the entire zipper disintegrated. I frantically dredged through the utility room until I found some duct tape to slap it back together before we rushed down to catch our ride.
Once at the airport hotel, we looked at the sad, old suitcase, with the duct tape peeling off and the outside pocket beginning to gape open again, and decided there was only one thing to do. We jumped on the light rail to the Mall of America and bought a new suitcase. After repacking our stuff, we trundled the decrepit old suitcase down to the front desk and bid it farewell forever. As we readied ourselves for bed, I pulled out the cords we had packed for charging Pat’s iPhone and watch and my iPad. “That’s nice,” I thought, as I attempted to plug the USB-C connectors into the USB-A ports on the adapters we had brought along. “Now we need to buy adapters with USB-C ports, since we left those at home.” Which we did after checking our bags at the airport on Tuesday morning, paying about twice what they would have cost anywhere but at an airport. Adding up the costs for the hotel, the suitcase, the adapters, and a couple of meals, we were nearly $700 in the hole and hadn’t even left town yet!
But things began to go better once we finally got on the plane. The direct flight to Fort Lauderdale was a breeze compared to the marathon of getting to Geneva for the Continental Caper. We were met at the FLL airport by Viking representatives and boarded a bus for a fifteen-minute drive to the cruise terminal where our ship was waiting. We got out of the bus and checked in at a reception desk in the terminal while porters delivered our luggage directly to our room. Excitement building, we boarded the ship to begin our adventure.
We were two of 911 passengers booked on the Viking Star, nearly at its full capacity of 930. It looked pretty big when we first saw it, but it was dwarfed by some of the larger ships we subsequently encountered. Here are some photos of the ship I captured during the voyage:
We spent the first couple of hours on board wandering around the nine decks and finding the various amenities, and I was surprised that it didn’t feel crowded at all. That was in part because not everyone had yet boarded, but also because the various restaurants, bars, libraries, pool, theater, and so forth are spread out throughout the ship so large crowds don’t accumulate in any particular location. I’ve posted some schematics and some photos of various parts of the ship below.
When we rebooked the trip to Panama after canceling the Greek cruise, we found that we had chosen a somewhat less expensive journey, so we ended up with a little more to spend on the trip in the form of a credit we had to use or forfeit. As with the Rhine/Mosel trip, we elected to use some of the extra credit to upgrade our room from the basic option to a fancier one. We ended up with a nice room with a balcony on Deck 6. Here are some photos of our stateroom, number 6083:
The room upgrade wasn’t enough to use up all of the credit, so we also ended up getting what Viking calls the “Silver Spirits” package. This allowed us to get so-called premium wines and bar drinks at no additional charge throughout the trip, with a limit of $100 a day. This is in addition to the house wines and beers and various special drinks available to all guests at any of the restaurants. We weren’t able to drink as much as we could have, and the Silver Spirits option wouldn’t have been worth it except that we needed to use up the credits. Even so, the trip felt a bit like a booze cruise, and we came back wearing most of the extra calories around our waistlines.
Of course, alcohol wasn’t the only contributor to those extra pounds. The food on board was excellent and plentiful. There were four main restaurants:
The World Café is a self-serve smorgasbord with a huge variety of foods available during breakfast, lunch and dinner times. I estimate that 200 people could eat there at any time. While the food was self-service, friendly servers brought beverages as requested, including water, juice, wine, beer, coffee, tea and who knows what all. I liked this place the best because I could wear my jeans and hat and select any eclectic combination of food that struck my fancy. We ate most of our meals here.
The Restaurant is a classic eatery with servers who take food and drink orders and deliver to your table. The menu offered fewer options than the café, but the food was perhaps a bit better. I could wear my jeans and hat for breakfast and lunch, but at dinner they have a silly no denim and no hat policy. Collared shirts only, of course. Just because of this policy, I brought along the only non-denim pants that I own, which I bought some ten years ago and hadn’t worn for at least five years. I did manage to get them on, buttoned, and zipped, but I felt like an overstuffed sausage as I waddled off in them for the first time. We ate at The Restaurant three times, once with my jeans and twice with the fancy pants.
Manfredi’s is a rather fancy Italian restaurant that accommodates about 60 people and requires an advance reservation. The menu offered fewer choices than The Restaurant, but the food was excellent, and we ate there twice.
The Chef’s Table is the fanciest of all, accommodating around 40 people and also requiring reservations. A meal consists of five courses, each but the palate-cleanser paired with a suitable wine. The menu is fixed and based on a specific ethnic cuisine which changed every third or fourth day during the voyage. We ate there twice – the first time with a Mexican menu, the second time Xiang Chinese. The food and wines were divine. As Silver Spirits guests, we got the premium wines, which may almost be enough to make that option worth it.
So, I was forced to wear my fancy pants (which are actually just a pair of Dockers, but non-denim) and collared shirts for a total of six meals. I was always out of the pants within five minutes of returning to our stateroom. The funny thing is, they seemed to fit better as time went by in spite of my expanding waistline, probably due to stretching of the fabric. They didn’t rip, however, and if we ever go on another Viking Ocean cruise, I’ll make sure I can still fit into them – heaven forbid that I might buy some new pants.
In addition to the main restaurants, there were also several other places to eat and drink:
The Pool Grill, near the pool, as you might guess, which served hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and salads. We ate lunch there several times. The hamburgers may be the best I’ve ever had.
Mamsen’s, named in honor of Viking CEO Torstein Hagen’s mother, of all things, served excellent waffles, soups, open faced sandwiches, fruits, and dessert tarts and rolls.
The Wintergarden served a British-style tea every day at 4 PM, including several sandwiches and desserts, accompanied by either a pianist or a violin/cello duo. We partook of this delightful event six or seven times. Pat always had tea, but I opted for Prosecco. (I had to try to make that Silver Spirits thing worthwhile, you understand.)
There were also bars all over the ship, including the Viking Bar, the Explorer’s Lounge, the Aquavit Bar, the Pool Bar, the Atrium Bar, and my favorite, the Torshavn. Why was it my favorite? Because the other ones only carried one or two single malt Scotches, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, even though they showed some others on their menus. I was growing tired of the same bland ones every day until I discovered that the Torshavn also carried Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, and several others, but by that time there were only four days left in the journey.
In addition to all the great food and drink, there was some sort of entertainment going on almost all the time. In the large Theater, we attended an ABBA review performed by an earnest and talented quartet that just didn’t quite manage the desired vibe, I think mainly because either the Agnetha clone or the Anni-Frid clone (I couldn’t tell which one) had too much vibrato. We also attended a hilarious comic magician show, and we watched the Oscars broadcast live in the Theater. There were all sorts of shows we didn’t go to, though we occasionally overheard some of them as we roamed the ship, including a Beatles revue, the Viking Band, a couple of Broadway-style singers, a guitarist, the aforementioned pianist and classical duo, and the Irish cruise director with a lovely accent who, as we heard other guests saying, sang like an angel. They even broadcast Puccini’s Turandot by the Metropolitan Opera.
Other activities on board included line dancing, trivia contests, enrichment lectures, discussion groups, and all sorts of things that I can’t even remember. There was a spa, a sauna, and a snow room, which Pat walked through and said were quite nice. And, of course, there was the pool, where dozens of people lounged for hours at a time, and maybe 50 deck chairs which were filled constantly from early morning until dinner time. The pool crowd might have provided some enrichment of another sort, except that the average age of the guests had to be around 65 or 70.
In short, there was plenty to do on the ship. While many of the guests seemed to have formed into social groups that did everything together, Pat and I, true to our natures, pretty much just kept to ourselves. We chatted occasionally with other folks during meals, but we didn’t actively socialize at all. This was one difference from the River Cruises, which had far fewer dining venues. As a result, people tended to sit at the same tables for dinner every night and even we curmudgeonly folks struck up friendships wit a few other people. To reiterate, while there were 907 guests on this trip, it never felt overly crowded, and we were happy just being there by ourselves. We especially enjoyed sitting on the balcony with our books and various beverages.
Here’s a map of the journey indicating the various stops that we made along the way.
In Part 2, I’ll finally get around to talking about our shore excursions, including stops in Cozumel, Belize, Honduras, and Costa Rica.
In Part 3, I’ll cover our stop in Panama (including Colon and Gamboa), our transit of the Panama Canal locks, and our final stop in Jamaica.
Welcome back to the travel blog describing our recent Viking River Cruise journey from Geneva to Paris. Part 3 of the story concluded as we were sailing up the Mosel River from Cochem to Bernkastel, Germany – our last segment onboard the ship. (The original itinerary called for us to be docked in Trier, Germany, at that point, but alternate arrangements had to be made as the river was temporarily closed to ship traffic following a collision between two ships.)
Sep 26 (Monday): After breakfast, our final meal aboard ship, we boarded our bus at 8 AM for the trip to Paris. There were two stops along the way, which helped break up the journey as well as provide more interesting things for us to learn about. The first stop was the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, near the site where the famous Battle of the Bulge (also known as the Ardennes Offensive) was fought in World War II. The cemetery was established on December 29, 1944 by the 609th Quartermaster Company of the US Third Army while Allied Forces were containing the final German offensive of the war. It was formally dedicated in its current state in 1960 and is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. It contains the graves of 5,074 American soldiers, including that of General George S. Patton, as well as tablets listing the names of 371 missing in action. The grounds are immaculately tended, with the graves arrayed in an arc so each one faces toward the US, and there are many informative plaques commemorating the soldiers and providing historical information, such as maps illustrating the major battle movements. I found the place to be very moving – a solemn reminder of the costs of war.
Next was a stop in Reims, France (pronounced “Rhas,” where “Rh” represents that unique, throaty, cough-like French “R” sound). We had some free time to explore the market square and find lunch before taking a brief walking tour with a local guide. The major attraction on the tour was the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rheims. The cathedral was originally founded in early 5th century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary (or “Our Lady,” thus “Notre-Dame”) and was the traditional site for coronation of French kings, at least before the French began cutting off their heads. Clovis was the first king baptized and crowned in the cathedral and is still entombed in the present-day church. Construction of the present church was begun in the 13th century, on the site of an earlier church destroyed by fire, and completed in the 14th century. It is a beautiful example of high gothic architecture, undergoing extensive restorations in the 19th century following minor damage during the French revolution and in the 20th century following major damage during World War I.
Two of the guests travelled on their own during the free time to visit the site in Reims where Eisenhower had his headquarters after D-Day and where Germany surrendered to the Allies to conclude World War II. As we boarded the bus again for the final journey to Paris, they showed us some interesting photos of the place, inspiring me to mark it down as a site to visit if we get back to Reims someday. After an hour and a half or so of driving on the bus, we began to get bogged down in the traffic entering Paris. As we neared the heart of the city, progress slowed to a snail’s pace as the streets were jammed to capacity. We caught a glimpse of the iconic Arc de Triomphe as we turned onto Avenue de Wagram, turned onto Rue de Courcelles, and spent what felt like another half hour crawling along the final half mile. At 5:30 PM, we arrived at the Hotel du Connectioneur, our home for the next four nights, which claims to be a five-star tourist hotel.
On first impression, the hotel appeared to live up to the claim, with a very attractive lobby, a lovely garden in the rear, and attractive furnishings and paintings in the corridors. We were given what were purported to be keys to our room, but when we got to the fifth floor and found the room, the “keys” did not work. Upon further examination, we realized that they were merely plastic cards bearing the name of the hotel, with no magnetic strips. Back down to the lobby went Pat, returning after ten minutes with actual keys. (We later learned that several other members of our tour group had the same problem.) Once in the room, we found it to be a bit “tired,” with a scratched banquette with doors that didn’t quite close properly, drapes that were difficult to close, and other signs of wear and tear. I don’t want to give the impression that we were unhappy with the hotel – we and many other guests merely thought it didn’t quite live up to its five-star billing.
At any rate, once our luggage was delivered to the room, we set off on foot to explore the area around the hotel. We were quite impressed with the hustle and bustle of the city and the many fashionably dressed women – I suppose the men were also fashionably dressed but somehow, they didn’t make an impression on me. (Am I a chauvinist pig? Perhaps a bit …). Our walk took us to the Arc de Triomphe before we found a restaurant called La Flamme, where we had lovely Parisian dinner.
On the way back to the hotel, my phone died again. Since Pat had left hers at the hotel, we had only our semi-functional memories to guide us as we tried to retrace our steps. Being a couple of old farts who were rather tired by that point, we became slightly disoriented and had to stop into a bar to ask directions, but eventually we made it back for a nice night’s sleep – with visions of Parisian sugar plums dancing in our heads.
Sep 27 (Tuesday): After a complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel, we boarded a bus for an introductory tour of Paris. Shortly after departing, we noticed a nice-looking Boulangerie called Le Pain du Faubourg and made note of it as a potential place for lunch. The bus then made a circuit around the rather amazing traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe – it has some seven or eight lanes of traffic, all unmarked, and connects to a dozen avenues which radiate out like bicycle spokes. Somehow the Paris drivers manage to safely negotiate it while weaving across multiple lanes to reach their desired avenues, but we were extremely happy to be riding the bus rather than trying to drive on our own. The bus tour took us to the central city and along the right bank of the Seine River (after very briefly crossing to the left bank and back again) while our guide pointed out various landmarks. Most notable to me was the Louvre, the former royal palace which now houses the word-renowned art gallery. I could not believe the size of it – it was simply impossible to capture it in a photo.
The bus crossed to the left bank again and dropped us off near the Square Rene Vivani, a scenic park on the left bank, which offered a view of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris. The cathedral is located on an island in the river called Ile de la Citie, the strategically located site of the original city of Paris. It is currently inaccessible as work continues to restore the cathedral following the major fire in April of 2019, with scheduled completion in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
After a brief talk by our guide, we were given some time to wander on our own with instructions to be back in no more than 40 minutes. We set off across the river onto the island, where we passed by the central police station located on a street known as the Quai des Orfevres, which immediately brought back memories of the books I’ve read by George Simenon featuring Chief Inspector Maigret – his office was located in that very police station. We enjoyed ourselves immensely as we wandered aimlessly westward to the end of the island, then across to the right bank and back eastward, snapping photos in every direction.
As I began to wander off again in who knows what direction, Pat reminded me that we needed to get back to the Square Rene Vivani quickly so we didn’t get left behind by the tour group. After again becoming momentarily disoriented, we eventually negotiated our way back to the right bank and were literally running (although I was lagging well behind my young whippersnapper of a spouse) so as not to be late. But all was well, as we arrived in plenty of time to rejoin our guide, although I was huffing and puffing a bit from the mad dash. As I strolled around the square, waiting for the group to depart again, I was approached by a young woman brandishing a petition and gesturing in a manner so as to indicate that she was deaf and collecting signatures for some important matter related to aid for the deaf. Reluctantly I began to fill in my name and country of residence, but I stopped when I got to the column stating how many Euros I was going to give her. Since I didn’t have any, I went to find Pat and ask her for some money to donate, but she told me I was an idiot, and luckily the tour guide summoned us to start moving along at that point. Later, I learned that the woman was part of a large, well-organized group of scammers who are nor deaf at all but work the crowds for money at many popular Paris tourist spots. Harrumph.
We walked with the guide for several blocks and through some lovely parks to the famous Sorbonne University, where our bus returned to pick us up again. We drove through the Luxembourg Garden, back to the left bank, and past the Hotel des Invalides – a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments relating to the military history of France, originally constructed by Louis XIV as a hospital for wounded soldiers – before stopping briefly at the most iconic landmark in Paris.
The bus returned us to the hotel shortly before 1 PM, and we walked to Le Pain du Faubourg to buy a nice sandwich for lunch. After devouring the sandwich back at the hotel, we once again headed out to board a bus at 2 PM, this time for a tour of the famous Palace of Versailles. The bus ride took a half hour as we drove 11 miles to the southwest, passing directly by the Roland-Garros Tennis Center. This caused a brief pang of regret for Pat, as we had originally planned to take this Viking trip in May of 2020, at which time the French Open tennis tournament would be ongoing and she might have been able to attend some matches. Of course, not only was the Viking trip cancelled due to Covid but the French Open was also delayed for five months, but we have vowed to return some year during a future French Open.
Getting back to the tour – I can only say that Versailles is simply stupendous. It was built by Louis XIV between 1661 and 1715 on the site of a hunting lodge and chateau built by his father. In 1682, he moved the seat of his court and government to Versailles, making the palace the de facto capital of France. This continued during the reigns of Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI, who primarily made interior alterations to the palace, but in 1789 the royal family and capital of France returned to Paris. For the rest of the French Revolution, the Palace was largely abandoned and emptied of its contents. Napoleon used Versailles as a summer residence from 1810 to 1814, but did not restore it. Following the Bourbon Restoration, when the king was returned to the throne, he resided in Paris and it was not until the 1830s that meaningful repairs were made to the palace. We first toured the gardens, then entered the Palace itself for a guided tour – tour groups are limited to no more than twenty people and set for specific time periods. I won’t try to say anything more about the Palace, but leave you with the following photos that don’t fully convey the beauty and magnificence of the place.
Despite the efforts made to limit the number of people inside, as the tour proceeded the crowds became overwhelming. I began to feel very uncomfortable with the close contact and donned my mask about halfway through. As we rode the bus back to the hotel, I also began to feel as though I were catching a cold. I felt relieved to get back to the hotel, and we set off again for the Restaurant Morny, about a half mile south of the hotel, where we had a nice dinner. (I had flank steak and a Lagavulin single malt Scotch, only my second dram of the entire trip.) On the way back to the hotel, we stopped into a grocery store so I could by a couple of Cokes, which had become my morning go-to since Dr. Pepper seemed to be unavailable anywhere.
Sep 28 (Wednesday): Wednesday was the first day of our so-called Post-Cruise Extension, and we had no planned activities until 5 PM. We decided to spend the day just gadding about, visiting some new places as well as some of the places we had seen on yesterday’s tour. So, we went to the nearby Metro station and purchased an 8-pack of tickets for 16 Euros. Each ticket was good for one trip, for as many trains and transfers as desired until physically leaving a Metro station.
Our first trip was to the Montmartre district, where we rode a little tram up Montmartre hill (which we were each able to board using one of the Metro tickets) to visit the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica and have some nice views of Paris from the high elevation.
As we walked down the Montmartre hill, I was again approached by a supposedly deaf person soliciting money, and she became rather aggressive when I failed to produce any money. She eventually walked away and I saw that she joined a group of about a dozen women of similar age, all wearing what was essentially a uniform of a gray jumper over a white blouse. Harrumph again. We then walked to a restaurant recommended by a search on Pat’s phone, but it required reservations. Luckily, we found a nice, casual place called the Brasserie Flotte nearby. After lunch we set off for the Louvre, not actually to visit the museum, but to see the famous pyramid at the entrance and to explore the nearby Tuileries Garden.
Then we crossed the Seine to visit the Musee d’Orsay on the left bank, an art museum housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900 for the World’s Fair. We strolled around the building looking at paintings by Monet, Renoir, and other French artists and briefly entered a special exhibit of works by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Unfortunately, the crowds were rather large, and I again began to feel uncomfortable with the close contact and wore my mask during most of the visit.
We used the last of our Metro tickets to return to the hotel, arriving shortly before 5 PM, and began to get ready for what was to be a highlight of the trip – dinner and a cabaret show at the Paradis Latin, which claims to be the oldest and most legendary cabaret in Paris, located in the Latin Quarter. The building was initially built by Napoleon as a theater where bourgeois and intellectuals mingled with merchants, workmen, and students. It was rebuilt by Gustave Eiffel in 1889 and has served as a popular cabaret ever since.
Unfortunately, my “cold” was starting to feel worse, and I worried that I shouldn’t be going to an indoor cabaret show if I was contagious with something. So, we took out our home Covid tests, and instead of the Paradis Latin, we discovered trouble in paradise. I was positive. Despite my five vaccinations and previous careful avoidance of people, I had become infected by contact with someone, either a fellow cruise patron, someone in the crush of visitors at Versailles, the deaf scammers – who knows? The bottom line was that my vacation was done and I needed to begin isolating immediately. Pat was negative, so after some discussion we decided that she should go to the show and I would stay in the room with my mask on. She returned later in the evening with a glowing review of the show, as well as some photos and videos. Here’s one for your viewing pleasure:
She was only allowed to use her camera during the pre-show while dinner was served. The real show was apparently spectacular, including multiple lithe and attractive performers, multiple costumes – in some cases rather minimal – and multiple sets. I would have loved it, Pat told me, and I felt really sorry for myself.
Sep 29 (Thursday): I put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and stayed in the hotel with my mask on all day. Pat brought me up some breakfast from the buffet and left for a walk to a nearby park, the Parc Monceau. She again returned with photos, several of which I’ve included below.
She then went off to get another sandwich at Le Pain du Faubourg, but she returned with a surprise for me. Somehow, she took a wrong turn or something and couldn’t find the place, but she found a similar place whose name she doesn’t recall and bought a sandwich there. And, wonder of wonders, the place had cans of Dr. Pepper! She bought two for me, and my previously flagging spirits soared! Then she was off again, this time for a walking tour called “Flavors of Paris” to the St. Germaine neighborhood in the 6th Arrondissement. She visited four local shops and sampled Parisian foods, including olive oil, chocolate, cheeses, and macaroons. She also passed by the oldest café in Paris, Le Procop.
And again, she brought me a surprise – one of the establishments had too much cheese for the Viking guests on the tour, at least in part because I didn’t show up. So, they packaged it all up and sent it home for me!
Sep 30 (Friday): At last, it was time to go home. Pat again brought me up a plate for breakfast, and we headed down to the lobby at 9 AM, both of us wearing our masks, and boarded a bus for the airport along with two other couples. I was already feeling much better and was able to reassure the others that I was not seriously ill, though did not tell them about my positive Covid test. I was afraid that if anyone found out, I would have to stay in France for 10 days according to their travel policy. I am confident that the risk of my traveling was minimal as both Pat and I wore our masks all the way home (except for the brief time we were eating on the plane). In my defense, I will say that the only reason I even took the Covid test was out of concern for others whom I could possibly have infected, and I suspect that many people are travelling these days while unaware that they are positive, because most people probably are not self testing unless they feel quite ill.
Viking again showed their commitment to excellent customer service as we were accompanied on the bus by a Viking agent, who escorted us all the way through the confusion of Charles De Gaulle Airport directly to the Delta check-in counter. The airport proved to be very clean and modern, with automated passport scanners and face recognition cameras for a hassle-free exit from French sovereign territory into the International Airport space. Here’s a photo I took from our boarding gate.
During the flight, I watched two movies (including Maigret, starring Gerard Depardieu, inspired by our sighting of the Quai des Orfevres police station). In stark contrast to Charles De Gaulle, when we disembarked at Dulles International in Washington, DC, we found an old, grungy-looking place. We took a weird looking bus to an enormous customs hall, where we had to shuffle along in line for half an hour to reach one of the entry gates with an actual person in attendance. (There were about fifty gates, but only ten or so were in service.) After passing customs, we took a tram to the Delta check in counter to drop our luggage, then went through the TSA screening line with shoes and belt removal and all that because Delta failed to note that we are approved for TSA PreCheck, had a mad scramble to find my phone and vest, and ended up literally running to our gate as we were being paged: “Passengers David and Patricia Saari, report to Gate xx for immediate boarding.”
Back at MSP, we summoned a Lyft ride, only to discover that the driver had left and charged us a $5.00 no-show fee, all because we were waiting at “Zone B” instead of “Zone A,” some fifty feet away. Live and learn. But we did eventually arrive safe and sound at our condo at 9:49 PM CDT after summoning a second Lyft ride.
So, there you have it, dear readers – all in all an amazing and thoroughly enjoyable journey. Here’s a map of our travels through Switzerland, down the Rhine, up the Mosel, and on to Paris.
Final Thoughts: I’ve been thinking a lot about the trip during the three weeks since we returned, and I’d like to leave you with a few last updates and thoughts:
Regarding the Covid situation: On Saturday, I contacted Health Partners for instructions on what to do. I was prescribed a regimen of antiviral drugs and instructed to continue isolating for five days and masking for five more after that. The “cold” symptoms disappeared in a couple of days, and I never got a fever or any sort of aches or pains. After several days of negative tests, Pat also had a positive test and followed isolation and masking instructions per her Allina Clinic. She felt crummy for a few days but also had no fever. We are both fine now, with no carryover whatsoever, currently at our summer place in Grand Marais.
If we had it to do over again, we would have worn our masks in all crowded areas during the trip. We were not vigilant enough, lulled into complacency by being vaccinated and boosted and having avoided infection throughout the worst of the pandemic. However, we believe it is safe to travel if proper precautions are taken.
We highly recommend Viking to anyone considering overseas travel. As I have described in the blog, their planning and service were excellent. We met several people on the trip who have travelled five or six times with Viking, and one person who was on her tenth Viking trip. All agreed that the trips are well worth the price.
We learned a lot on the trip about European history and culture. We found people everywhere to be friendly and welcoming of us as American tourists. I visited Paris nearly fifty years ago and had a very different feeling – at that time I perceived many as snobbish and disdainful of the American tourists. I hope my observations on this point are correct and that things have changed for the better and forever.
Nearly all of the guides on the trip expressed serious concern about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which they perceive to be the worst crisis for Europe since World War II. Let us remain committed in our support for Ukraine, as we are supporting all our European allies by doing so.
I’ll close with an observation one of the Viking guests made that summed up the differences between Europe and North America very concisely: In North America, 200 years is a long time, and in Europe, 200 miles is a long way. Let’s continue to cherish both cultures and learn from each other.
Welcome back to the travel blog describing our recent Viking River Cruise journey from Geneva to Paris. Part 2 of the story concluded with a shipboard lecture about the relationship between Germany and France, after which we spent a quiet night while still docked in Mainz, Germany. Then we were ready to once again sail downriver on the Rhine.
Sep 23 (Friday): The ship departed Mainz at 8:45 AM to begin a four-hour trip through a region that I can only describe as a fairy tale land, with some thirty medieval castles dotting the hills on both sides of the river. The cruise itinerary was structured for this sailing to be done during the day precisely for this reason. The only problem was the weather – it started out chilly and foggy, and while the fog dissipated fairly quickly it never warmed up to the comfort level we had previously enjoyed throughout the entire trip. Despite the chill, I spent the morning up on the sun deck of the ship, gawking and snapping photos as we went along and listening to the commentary by our Viking cruise director. Virtually all of the castles were sacked and destroyed by French forces in the early 1690s as Louis XIV made war against the Holy Roman Empire. Most have been rebuilt at least to some degree, but some remain as mere ruins. Today, the castles make for picturesque backdrops to the quaint villages and steep vineyards lining the banks of the Rhine.
As we approached the famous Lorelei rock (spelled “Lorely” by the locals) we were told that the river was very shallow, with only 0.7 meters (27 inches) clearance below the ship’s keel. Luckily, this was sufficient for sailing; earlier in the season the river had been closed to cruise ships in this region, so we were very grateful for recent rainfall that had restored the water level and allowed our cruise to proceed. As we passed around a bend in the river, revealing the large rock formation on the east bank, I thought I could hear the siren song of the Lorelei enticing the captain, but he remained steadfast as we passed by. Imagining an earlier time in history without engines or navigation aids, before the modern road was built along the river bank, perhaps with a fog like we had in the morning, I could easily imagine ships crashing into the rock and spawning the legend I first learned of in German class as a teenager.
My last photo during the morning sail was of the Rheinfels Castle, just past the Lorelei rock in the town of Sankt Goar, which was built in 1245 by the local Count for his personal residence and tax collection headquarters – and incidentally was the only castle in this region of the Rhine able to defend itself against Louis XIV’s troops. As I was snapping away at the castle, my phone gave up the ghost – dead as a doornail. Was it the magic of the nearby, seductive siren that crashed the phone? Nope, I had simply taken so many pictures that it needed a recharge. So, I had to settle for a mere 150 photos during the morning sail, rather than the 300 I probably would have had if I’d fully charged the phone ahead of time. (Just be thankful I’m not putting them all in this post!)
By the time we reached Koblenz, the phone was back in business again, just in time for a walking tour of the city after lunch. Located at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, Koblenz was first established as an encampment for Julius Caesar’s troops in 55 BCE and became an important trading settlement. Naturally, our walking tour stopped first at an ancient church, the Basilica of St. Castor, first established in 836. It was redone in the Romanesque style in 1208, and a gothic vaulted roof added in 1498.
Near the Basilica is a public square with some modernistic sculptures, including this one which the guide told us was a human thumb representing something or other that I can’t recall, but which Freudian types seem to think is actually representing another part of the human anatomy.
We then saw an enormous statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I, located at the confluence point of the rivers. Wilhelm was crowned as the first Emperor of Germany (beginning the so-called Second Reich after the Holy Roman Empire, or First Reich) upon conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. We learned that the Emperor was actually crowned at the Palace of Versailles in France, apparently as an act of humiliation for the defeated French. The statue was destroyed by bombing during World War II, but was later rebuilt and dedicated to German unity.
We then walked through the more modern section of the city, where we passed by a protest march led by young climate activists, which is apparently a fairly regular occurrence in many German cities. For some reason, the march seemed to stir some anger in at least one of our fellow Viking tourists; I wanted to ask him if he was a former oil company executive, but decided to bite my tongue instead. We also saw what has become the symbol of Koblenz, the “spitting boy,” officially known as the Schängelbrunnen fountain, so named for the Schängellied, the city anthem. It symbolizes the fun-loving, quick, and clever nature of Koblenz residents. The boy’s image even adorns manhole covers throughout the city.
After the official tour, Pat and I took a gondola ride across the river to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, a huge structure overlooking the city from the east side of the Rhine. The fortress sits on the site of a castle built in about 1000 before being expanded and improved many times over the centuries. Especially fortified against gunpowder weapons during the 16th century, the castle was successfully defended against sieges by Louis XIV and Napoleon’s armies until finally surrendering to French forces in 1799. The French then destroyed the castle in 1801 when forced to withdraw from the region. The current fortress was built by Prussia from 1817 to 1828 and has never been attacked. It was occupied for a time by American troops after World War I and used as a place of safekeeping for archives and cultural objects during Word War II. Since then, it has been used at various times as a refugee camp, a residential housing site, and a youth hostel, and now is a major tourist attraction offering historical displays and spectacular views of Koblenz and the two rivers.
Once we were back on board the Herja, the ship set sail again at 5:45, heading up the Mosel River a very short ways to Winningen, where we docked for the night.
Sep 24 (Saturday): The ship departed Winningen at 6 AM, winding its way up the Mosel River through the steepest vineyards in the world. We learned that the Mosel River Valley is lined with slate, which retains heat and acts as a natural tempering system to create a perfect grape-growing climate. Even in wintertime, when the regions outside the valley are covered with snow, the valley itself remains temperate and snow-free. Many of the vineyards are planted on slopes at angles of 60 degrees or more, making for very challenging, hand picking by skilled workers (many of them migrants) during harvesting season.
After lunch, the ship docked in Cochem, Germany, and we departed by bus for a shore excursion. We drove along the south bank of the Mosel past picturesque villages and lush vineyards. Along the way, we saw that a large cargo ship was essentially stuck downstream of a sharp bend in the river as a result of a collision with another ship, and we were informed that this may well require a change to our cruise itinerary. Eventually we reached the town of Senheim, Germany, where we visited the Schlagkamp Winery. The winery shop was extravagantly decorated with an eclectic collection of winemaking implements and other assorted stuff. We were entertained by the winery owner, who could easily have a second career as a standup comedian. He talked about how the family-owned winery has evolved over the centuries to incorporate new technologies with the old methods while we tasted three wines: an Elbling, a Riesling Secco, and a Red Vineyard Peach Liqueur. (He also told us the secret to a good marriage in the Mosel Valley. When courting, ask your prospective mate three questions: 1) what is your name, 2) who is your family, and 3) how many acres do you own.) We enjoyed the wine very much and bought a bottle of the unusual peach liqueur as a memento (which probably won’t last long).
After the winery tour, we boarded the bus again and drove back to Cochem, this time along the north bank of the river. As we drove by, I was able to get another view of the ship that was blocking the river, and I could see that it had rammed into the concrete barrier alongside the river.
Once back in Cochem, we exited the bus for a walking tour of the town, during which we saw two of the old city wall gates and something I’ve never heard of before – a wine vending machine. Our guide also showed us high-water marks from past river flooding events and explained how the residents and business owners near the river periodically have to deal with the impacts from serious flooding, including twice in a month during 2021 in nearby areas. So, even though the town appears idyllic, there are difficulties, the same as anywhere in the world.
The highlight of the tour was a visit to Cochem Castle, an imposing structure built high on the steep bluff overlooking the town. Luckily for us old farts, the tour included a bus ride up the hill (masks mandatory on the bus). The original structure dates back to the 11th century, but the castle was razed by Luis XIV’s troops in 1689 and lay in ruins until it was restored in 1866 by a wealthy private owner whose eclectic tastes resulted in a fascinating mixture of styles. Our guide entertained us with tales of secret passages, castle romances, and other tales as we strolled through dozens of rooms filled with beautiful furnishings and historical artifacts. (Tour group sizes were limited and masks required inside the castle.)
After the castle tour, the bus deposited us by the western city gate before strolling back through the town and across a bridge to our ship. Once back on board, we were informed of a change in the cruise itinerary as a result of the upstream ship accident – instead of setting sail at 7 PM for Bernkastel, we would spend another night docked in Cochem and travel to the German cities of Bernkastel and Trier by bus on Sunday before returning to the ship in Cochem.
Sep 25 (Sunday): So, off we went after breakfast on the bus. The extra time needed to drive to Bernkastel and from Trier back to Cochem made for a somewhat strenuous day, but we enjoyed the chance to see some of the countryside that wouldn’t have been visible had we sailed to Bernkastel during the night as originally planned. Bernkastel is a charming little town known as the “Pearl of the Mosel,” with medieval squares, narrow lanes, and half-timbered houses galore. Unfortunately, it was raining during much of our walking tour and the multitude of umbrellas prevented me from getting pictures of some of the best sights, but I did my best to capture the spirit of the place. We again saw high-water marks from the periodic floods and heard of the resilience of the local people who accept and respond to the challenges of mother nature. We also saw several statues of bears (Bern, in German) which particularly tickled my fancy.
Along the way, our guide told us of the famous “Bernkastel Doctor,” which is actually the name of a wine from one of the local wineries. According to the story, the Elector of Trier, was staying at a nearby castle in 1360 when he became seriously ill. The Elector’s celebrated doctors prescribed all kinds of medicines and remedies for his fever, but to no effect. In desperation, apothecaries and herb women from near and far were brought in to give the Elector their potions, but nothing worked. Eventually, a local winegrower brought the Elector a keg of his finest wine, declaring it to be the best medicine. The now-desperate Elector took the wine and his fever was miraculously cured. As a reward, the Elector issued a certificate awarding the vineyard the prestigious honor of “Bernkastel Doctor” from then on.
We also stopped into St. Michael’s church, a beautiful Catholic church near the river. It was much smaller than the giant “ABCs” we had been seeing in other places, and it was completely empty. Our guide explained that attendance at churches has dwindled to practically nothing, in large part to the “bad things that some priests have done,” as he euphemistically put it.
After the Bernkastel tour, we reboarded the bus and drove to Trier, where we were set free in the main market square to find ourselves a spot for lunch. Due to the inconvenience of missing lunch on the ship, which we would have done had it actually been docked in Bernkastel per the original itinerary, Viking provided each passenger with a credit of 30 Euros. Pat and I strolled through the square looking over the various delicatessens and restaurants. We passed by one called the Brgrhouse, which had as its number one burger choice the “Juicy Lucy.” (Did they copy this from the world famous Minneapolis burger?) Eventually we settled on one called Brasserie ZUR SIM, where we enjoyed some delicious Flammkuchen, which is essentially the German version of pizza. Unfortunately, we had to abandon our outdoor table for one inside when the Flammkuchen were swarmed by bees – I guess they found them as delicious as we did.
The restaurant was located adjacent to the Porta Nigra, the “Black Gate” of Trier, built in the winter of 169-170 by the Romans, who first established an encampment at Trier circa 16 BCE. The gate was damaged when Trier was sacked multiple times by various Germanic, Hun, and Frankish tribes, and eventually a hermit monk named St. Simeon took up residence inside, in 1028. He was later buried in the gate and beatified, and two adjacent churches erected in his honor. However, when Napoleon came to Trier in 1804, he ordered the churches and monasteries closed and the gate restored to its Roman form.
After lunch, we had a walking tour of Trier, starting at the immense Aula Palatina, or Basilica of Constantine, constructed between 300 and 310 entirely of brick. The bricks look very different from modern ones, being very wide but not thick, and the layers of mortar are essentially as thick as the bricks themselves, but they must be very strong to still be standing nearly 2000 years later. The building incorporates a natural circulation heating system built into the floor and the exterior walls, which seems extremely advanced for such an ancient building. This system provided a comfortable setting for the Romans in their togas even in the cold, northern climate. The interior is sparse, a far cry from the opulence we saw in our previous visits to cathedrals and churches, though it does have a nice, modern organ (it now serves as the Church of the Redeemer and is owned by a congregation within the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland).
We then walked past the Palace of the Electors with its beautiful Garden, residence of the Archbishops and Electors of Trier from the 16th to the 18th centuries, then on to the Trier Cathedral. The Cathedral was originally commissioned by bishop Maximin in the fourth century, following Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. The original building was sacked by the Franks before being rebuilt, destroyed again by the Vikings in 882, then restarted and completed around 1066. Over the centuries the church continued to be rebuilt and embellished, according to the fashions of the moment with Gothic vaults, Renaissance sculptures, and Baroque chapels, but the overall style of the building remains Romanesque with a Roman core.
Then it was back to the market square and the Porta Nigra, with a stop at an interesting model of the old city, before reboarding the bus and beading back to the ship.
As we drove, I was struck by something our guide had said during the walking tour. While relating some of the more modern history of Trier, she was speaking of the aftermath of World War II. “After the war we were lying low,” she said, looking directly into my eyes, “but you held out a hand and lifted us up.” She was obviously referring to the Marshall Plan and the US’s role in restoring Europe from the devastation. I thought back to some of the other things we had learned on the trip – Louis XIV’s utter destruction of the Rhineland, coronation of the German Emperor at Versailles after the Franco-Prussian War, the draconian terms of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. In these cases, victory on the battlefield wasn’t enough – total humiliation of the enemy seemed to be required. But then, after Hitler fell, the victorious side took a different approach. It wasn’t done simply out of altruism, of course, but to restore economies and promote strong trade, and to create an alliance against the feared Soviets – but nonetheless it was the right thing to do, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride for one of the best things my country has done in its history.
We arrived back at the ship in Cochem in time for dinner. The river now having been cleared for ship travel again after the accident, the ship sailed off toward Bernkastel at 5:30 PM. Here are a few pictures of Bernkastel and the scenery along the Mosel during the final sailing portion of the trip before docking in Bernkastel. On Monday, we would be departing from there by bus for Paris, rather than sailing all the way to Trier per the original itinerary.
OK, that’s enough for now. Here’s a map of our travels through Switzerland, down the Rhine, and up the Mosel.
In Part 4, we’ll be off to Paris for the grand finale of our trip. Stay tuned …
Welcome back to the travel blog describing our recent Viking River Cruise journey from Geneva to Paris. Part 1 of the story covered our pre-cruise activities in Switzerland. I’ll pick up the narrative where I left off last time, having just completed a walking tour of Basel, Switzerland.
Sep 19 (Monday): After reboarding our bus in Basel, we were transported to our Viking ship, the Herja. The ship, built in 2017, accommodates 190 passengers and a crew of 50. There were only about 160 passengers on our cruise, and it didn’t feel cramped or crowded at all. As I mentioned in Part 1, we had upgraded to a fancier stateroom with a little balcony as part of our 25% rebooking bonus when we had to cancel the first time. As you can see in the photos below, the ship is very long (443 feet) but fairly narrow (38 feet) and floats only about 20 feet above the water at its highest point. Shortly after casting off from Basel, the reason for these particular dimensions became quite obvious as we passed through the first of many locks we would encounter along the river. The ship was just narrow enough to pass through the lock gates and just low enough to pass underneath when the exit gate was raised. While this first lock was much longer than the ship, others we encountered later left only a few feet of length to spare fore and aft. In other words, the ship’s dimensions were specifically tailored to fit the river locks.
Monday afternoon and evening were spent sailing peacefully down the Rhine River. During this first sailing segment, we unpacked our luggage into the stateroom drawers and closets, toured the ship, were pampered at lunch and dinner by the friendly servers in the elegant dining room, and had a restful night’s sleep in the large bed. By the time we docked in Strasbourg, France, at 8 AM Tuesday, we had passed through another four or five locks, but the ship was so stable and the lock process was so smooth we were barely aware of any motion unless we were looking out the windows, sitting outside on our balcony, or up on the deck.
Sep 20 (Tuesday): After breakfast, we boarded a bus for a brief tour of Strasbourg, passing by a very large park (Parc de l’Orangerie) and the extensive campuses of the Strasbourg University and half a dozen other colleges; our guide explained that the city is a worldwide center for research in medicine, pharmaceuticals, and other major fields. It is also home to the European Parliament as well as multiple European and international agencies. In this region, the Rhine is the border between France and Germany, so anything on the west side is part of the French province of Alsace. After the bus tour, we disembarked in the old city for a walking tour.
The centerpiece of the old city is the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg, built between 1015 and 1439. The spire is 466 feet tall and was the tallest building in the world until 1874. The building is so enormous I couldn’t get a picture of the whole thing, so you’ll just have to infer its size from the photos below. The interior is magnificent, with a domed ceiling and enormous stained-glass windows. (During World War II, Hitler wanted to convert the place into a monument to the German people. In preparation for this eventuality, the stained-glass windows were removed and hidden in a salt mine in Germany, where they were later found by the famed “Monuments Men” of the US Army and returned to the cathedral.) Another amazing thing in the cathedral is the Astronomical Clock, with sculptures – the 12 apostles, figures representing the stages of life, angels, and more – many of which move about at various times of each day. The clock was originally built in 1352, but has been updated over the years, most recently from 1838 to 1842, and now shows the official and solar time, equinoxes, the date and day of the week, Zodiac signs, and the phase of the moon, among other astronomical data.
After the tour, we wandered about the old city. It is very picturesque, with modern buildings that blend seamlessly with the old. Eventually, we found a place for lunch – the Restaurant au Sanglier, known especially for its wild boar dishes. Pat had some sort of vegetarian dish, but I had to try one of the house specialties, a wild boar ham hock (while quite tasty, it turned out to be so enormous I could only manage to eat about two thirds of it). After lunch, we returned to Gutenberg Square to catch a shuttle bus back to the boat.
Before dinner, we donned our life vests for a mandatory safety drill, which went off very smoothly. I wondered if everyone would be so calm if a real emergency arose, but luckily, we never had to find out. At 9:45, the ship set sail down the Rhine again, but not before there was a page requesting the passengers in one of the staterooms to check in – they had apparently failed to scan their keys when reboarding the ship, and Viking didn’t want to leave anyone behind.
Sep 21 (Wednesday): When we awoke, the ship was docked in the German town of Germersheim, on the east bank of the Rhine. After breakfast, we boarded a bus for a tour of nearby Speyer, Germany. One fun thing we learned along the way – the US Army sponsored a music festival known as the British Rock Meeting in Speyer in 1971 and again in Germersheim in 1972, primarily for the entertainment of the US troops. However, the organizers failed to mention the plan to the city fathers of Germersheim, who were horrified by the prospect of 70,000 Woodstock-style revelers over three days, causing a mad scramble for police and security coverage. According to our guide, the Hells Angels also stepped in to provide security, and although the event went off with no serious incidents, the Army quietly dropped plans for future such festivals in the area.
Our first stop in Speyer was at the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, a Romanesque design built between 1030 and 1061 by Holy Roman Emperors Konrad II, Henry III, and Henry IV. Originally built with a flat roof, Henry IV upgraded the building to include a vaulted ceiling, adding external flying buttresses to mimic the then-emerging Gothic style. (To me, these looked entirely ornamental, with no actual structural function. Also, I should actually say that Italian masons did the work – the emperor only gave orders, after all – and these masons travelled on to other towns for Cathedral projects once the Speyer work was done. One might say they were among the earliest migrant workers.) The purpose of the Cathedral was, through its size and beauty, to project the power of the emperor to its westernmost edges. Its four towers represent the four seasons and the idea that the power of the emperor extended in all directions. The interior of the building, though vast and impressive, is quite plain compared to the Cathedral in Strasbourg.
We also learned that the upper Rhine River no longer follows the precise route that it did up until the early 19th century – it was straightened by Swiss Engineer Johann Gottfried Tulla beginning in 1817 to improve navigability and reduce the distance by river between Basel and Worms by 50 miles. The work was completed in 1876, after Tulla’s death of malaria. As a result, the remains of the Speyer city wall no longer abut the river but are several hundred yards away from it. After touring the Cathedral, we walked to the market square, dominated by 19th century administrative buildings constructed under Otto von Bismarck after establishment of the second German Reich by Kaiser Wilhelm I. We strolled the length of the square (actually a very long rectangle) to one of the remaining gates of the old city wall, then back toward the cathedral again, stopping along the way at a small bakery for a sandwich lunch.
We had been surprised to learn that Speyer is home to a large Technical Museum which houses an enormous, eclectic collection of automobiles, aircraft, and space-related items, and that it was located only a short walk from the Viking bus rendezvous point. So, we went there and spent about two hours wandering about. Most of our time was spent in the space hall, which had extensive details of the major worldwide space programs, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and others. I was extremely surprised to learn that the Soviets were developing a space shuttle which actually orbited the earth before the program was abandoned when the USSR was dissolved in 1991. The most visible attraction at the museum is a Boeing 747 airplane mounted high above the ground and accessible by a very long staircase. The interior is populated by dummies of passengers and crew, with large sections of the fuselage opened up to reveal the construction details. There is a large chute, like a waterslide without the water, to get down more quickly, but I opted for the long journey down with my aching knees, fearing a worse outcome if I tried the quick method.
At 6:15 PM, the ship again cast off and we sailed peacefully into the night, arriving in the early morning hours in Mainz, Germany.
Sep 22 (Thursday): When we awoke, the ship was docked in Mainz, again on the east bank of the Rhine. After breakfast, we went on a walking tour of Mainz – no need for a bus since the city is so close at hand. Mainz is just downstream of the confluence of the Rhine and the Main River, and was first established as a port by the Romans in 13-12 BCE. During our tour, we strolled along lovely, tree-lined streets to the central city, where the first highlight was – no surprise – another beautiful church (ABC), in this case St. Martin’s Cathedral. This one was begun in 975 by the Archbishop of Mainz in the Romanesque style, intended to establish Mainz as the second Rome, and completed in 1009. However, on the day of its inauguration it was badly damaged by fire, and was then rebuilt and mostly completed a second time by 1037. It has subsequently been modified several times, adding elements of various architectural styles.
After visiting the Cathedral, we proceeded to the nearby Gutenberg Museum, where we saw not only replicas of Gutenberg’s history-making movable-type printing press but also exhibits providing a comprehensive history of printing up to the modern age. Below you’ll see photos of a recreation of Gutenberg’s printing shop, including the case containing pieces of movable type. Since there were fewer capital letters and they were used less frequently, these were stored in the top part of the case. The non-capital letters were used more frequently and were thus placed within easier reach in the bottom part of the case. Hence, we still refer to them as “upper case” and “lower case” letters. The most special exhibit was in the so-called “strong room,” which contained several original copies of the famous Gutenberg bible – we were not allowed to photograph those, but I did take a ton of pictures of the other exhibits and have included a few samples below. (One thing I did not photograph – much to Pat’s surprise – was a large wall containing Tabloid newspaper front pages including many pictures of topless women. Gutenberg might have been shocked by what his invention has wrought.)
After the tour, we strolled through the town, finding a sandwich for lunch at a nice Boulangerie, and then went to visit the world-famous Chagall windows at St. Stephan’s church. The church was heavily damaged in World War II, and its restoration was completed in the 1970s. The pastor wanted to include symbols for peace in the reconstructed church, and decided to hire Marc Chagall, a Russian Jewish artist, to create new stained-glass windows, thus symbolizing reconciliation between Germany and its wartime victims and international peace among the former combatants. In the design of his windows, Chagall drew inspiration from the Old Testament, evoking the common ground between Judaism and Christianity. From the outside, the windows don’t look like much of anything, but inside they emit a beautiful blue light – the photos do not capture their ethereal beauty.
After returning to the ship, we attended an interesting lecture by a history professor, learning a bit about the long, difficult relationship of the French and German people. This region has been especially volatile, with Alsace and its cities being conquered and re-conquered over the centuries by French and German rulers, somewhat like pawns in a massive chess game.
OK, that’s enough for now. Here’s a map of our travels through Switzerland and along the Upper Rhine.
In Part 3, the ship will continue down the Rhine before take a big turn in Koblenz and heading up the Mosel River. Stay tuned …
As past readers know, I’ve been documenting our recent travel experiences through a series of blog posts. (The most recent of these was Pat and Dave’s Eclectic Electric Road Trip, describing our travels in April and May of 2022, from Minneapolis to St. George, UT, and back again with our Tesla Model Y.) Now, just a scant four months later, here I go again, this time regaling readers with a totally different type of travel adventure.
First, a bit of explanation regarding the title: “Pat and Dave’s Post-Covid Continental Caper.” I think the “Pat and Dave” part is pretty self-explanatory, but new readers may not know that “Pat” is my lovely wife of 43 years and “Dave” is a world-famous writer of mystery novels, otherwise known as “me.” The “Post-Covid” part refers to the fact that we originally intended to go on this trip in 2020 but had to cancel due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We booked it again for 2021, but again had to cancel. This time we decided to go ahead with it, armed (literally) with five vaccinations each during the intervening years and a box of N95 masks. The “Continental” part refers to the European Continent, in that jaunty way that urbane world travelers such as Pat and I toss around travel terms. The “Caper” part was obviously selected to form a catchy, alliterative title, but after three years of banishment by Covid it did indeed feel like a real caper.
OK, so let’s get on with it, shall we? The trip was sponsored by Viking River Cruises, the number one rated river cruise company in the world according to their marketing materials – a claim no doubt intended to justify the rather steep prices they charge. We had taken a Viking cruise on the Danube back in 2014 (before I started travel blogging) so we knew that Viking is a quality travel company. I won’t quote the price in the article since you can go look at the Viking web site if interested, but I will say that both Pat and I feel we got excellent value for the money we spent. I will also add that Viking was very good about all the cancelling and rebooking; each time we cancelled we received a voucher for 125% of what we had paid for the original booking, so we ended up with a little more to spend on the trip as compensation for the two-year delay. (We elected to use the extra amount to upgrade our room from the lower-deck “steerage” class to a fancier one on the main deck with a little balcony, which we really enjoyed.)
The trip began with a Lyft ride to MSP International Airport at 9 AM on Monday, September 12. I won’t bore you with details of the plane ride except for a few quick observations. First, air travel sucks, in my humble opinion. After shuffling sheep-like through the TSA security line, followed by two hours of thumb twiddling at MSP, we boarded a United plane for a one-hour flight to Chicago O’Hare. Then we had another two-hour wait at a Lufthansa gate for a flight to Frankfurt, immediately adjacent to another Lufthansa gate for a flight to another German city scheduled to depart 30 minutes prior to ours. People continued to cram into the space between the two gates trying to hear the sporadic announcements from Lufthansa, which were mostly drowned out by general O’Hare announcements about parking, baggage vigilance, and other sundry issues that were mundane and irrelevant to our specific boarding instructions. Also, our tickets did not have a “Zone” indicated, so we were not sure what line to get in.
Thankfully, after all this pandemonium, we found ourselves safely on board the plane, watching movies and eating snacks, dinner, and breakfast as we crossed the Atlantic. Thankfully, the transfer in Frankfurt to our flight to Geneva on Swiss Air was much calmer. Interestingly, both Lufthansa and Swiss Air required masks on the planes, while the United flight to Chicago did not. When we arrived in Geneva, the legendary Viking customer service began, as we were greeted by a Viking representative who escorted us and our luggage (along with about ten other Viking guests arriving from various locations) to a bus that took us to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Geneva, where the “Continental Caper” officially began. So, with all this introductory stuff finally out of the way, the narrative begins!
Sep 13 (Tuesday): The first part of the trip involved travel by land through Switzerland, and the first two days were spent in Geneva. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located directly across the street (Quai Turrettini) from the Rhone River. The first thing we did upon arrival was to stroll along the river to get a feel for the city and find a place to eat lunch. We saw many interesting buildings along the way, as well as a large fountain called the Jet d’Eau that spouts 360 gallons per second of water some 460 feet in the air, a sight that can be seen from almost any point in the city. Perhaps the most interesting spot was the Brunswick Monument, a tomb built in 1879 to commemorate the Duke of Brunswick in exchange for bequeathing his fortune to the city. Nice way to cement one’s legacy, I’d say. We ate at a Lebanese restaurant before returning to the hotel via the narrow streets away from the riverfront boulevard, also discovering a local food market along the way. Our total walk covered 1.6 miles according to Google, and we were very impressed by the cleanliness and old-world charm of the area. Following a Tuesday evening briefing from our Viking hosts, we went to the hotel reception desk to obtain a free pass for riding the city trams and buses before retiring early.
Sep 14 (Wednesday): In the morning, we joined the Viking group for a bus tour of Geneva, during which we saw sights such as the United Nations European headquarters, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, and the famous “broken chair” peace sculpture. We debarked in a large park near the old town of Geneva for a 1.6 mile walking tour. Along the way, we saw a large wall dedicated to key figures of the Reformation era before stumbling into a ceremony celebrating new police academy graduates, then strolled through charming, narrow lanes before returning to the wide boulevard by the Rhone to see a lovely flower clock. After the tour, we walked back to a nice café near the Brunswick Monument for lunch, then to the English Garden along the Rhone before rejoining the Viking group for a boat cruise on Lake Geneva (officially known as Lac Leman). With a total area of 224 square miles and a maximum depth of 1020 ft, the lake is quite large, its semicircular shape straddling the border between Switzerland to the north and a thumblike projection of France to the south. Our boat tour only covered a small portion within the city of Geneva itself, but we were treated to panoramic views of the city and a close encounter with the Jet d’Eau.
After the official Viking tours were done, we used our free tram pass to travel some four miles west from Geneva to Meyrin, where we visited the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). CERN operates the world’s largest supercollider, though we were not able to visit that. We did spend an hour or so in a free museum building with several interactive displays about particle physics. These were fascinating, informative, and more than a bit over our heads, but we really did enjoy the place.
Sep 15 (Thursday): After breakfast on Thursday morning, we boarded a bus and drove east along the northern edge of Lake Geneva to Lausanne, where we stopped to visit the International Olympic Museum. I thought this was going to be a bit silly, but I was wrong. The museum is built into a hill overlooking Lake Geneva, including about five levels with all sorts of displays documenting the history of the Olympics. There are extensive details about each and every one of the modern Games from 1896 in Athens to 2022 (the 2020 games) in Tokyo. We were able to see such things as: the torches, with film clips of the torch carriers (even one carrying the torch over the ski jump in Oslo and one with an exchange of the torch between hang gliders in Australia); film clips of the opening ceremonies; Jesse Owens dominating the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, leaving the pack far behind in Paris in 1924 with five gold medals and carrying the torch in 1954 in Helsinki; equipment donated by various Olympians, including Rafael Nadal’s shoes (a particular thrill for Pat); and much more than I could ever list. The grounds are also well-kept and quite beautiful, with stunning views of Lake Geneva, immaculate topiary, and inspirational sculptures. I left the place with a newfound respect for the ideals embodied by the Olympics, the inspiration they have provided to countless athletes and fans, and the impact the games have had on human history (though I’m still a bit skeptical about the huge amounts of money spent).
After the museum, we set off eastward again along Lake Geneva to a village called Lutry, where we visited the Domaine du Daley winery. This is the oldest commercial establishment in Switzerland, founded in 1392 (a mere 630 years ago!) located in the heart of the terraced vineyards of Lavaux, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a bit of a challenge getting the bus in there since the winery is located on the side of a very steep hill – the grapes need to be hand-picked because mechanized equipment is not feasible with the steeply inclined vineyards. We got a brief tour of the processing facilities and then were treated to lunch and a tasting of three wines from different grape varieties: Chasselas (white), Vieilles Vignes (rose), and Plant Robert (red). All were excellent, and we left the winery with full tummies, a bottle each of the Chasselas and the Plant Robert, and smiles on our faces.
The bus made its way generally eastward, following a winding route through the beautiful Alps as we continued toward Zermatt. Zermatt is a “green city,” with no internal combustion engines allowed, so the bus trip ended in Täsch, where we boarded a shuttle train for the final few miles. As we walked from the train station to the Hotel Schweizerhof, a number of small electric maintenance vehicles went zipping by on the cobblestone street lined with modern businesses of all types. After checking in at the hotel, we joined our Viking host for a walking tour of Zermatt with its narrow lanes, beautiful churches, hotels, homes, and shops, and a lovely park. Of particular interest to me were the houses in the old town, constructed with heavy slate roofs with logs at the eaves to prevent ice or the heavy slate tiles themselves from falling off and damaging a neighbor’s property (which would require payment for damages under Swiss law). Although the town lies at the foot of the famed Matterhorn mountain, we were not able to see it due to low cloud cover. Following the walk, we enjoyed a meal of Fondue and Raclette, the famous local Swiss cheese dishes, before retiring to our hotel room.
Sep 16 (Friday): After breakfast on Friday morning, we walked to the train station and boarded the cog railroad which runs from Zermatt (altitude 5,314 ft) to Gornergrat (altitude 10,132 ft), an observation area with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. The climb is so steep that an ordinary type train could not possibly traverse it – leave it to those ingenious Swiss engineers to come up with the cog idea. The morning was foggy, and we were resigned to a cloud-obscured trip with only our imaginations to conjure up the vaunted scenery. After all, we were told, clear views of the Matterhorn happen on average only 95 days of the year. But then, about halfway up the track, the train burst out of the clouds and there we saw the Matterhorn in all its splendor! By the time we reached the top shortly before 10 AM, the sky had cleared almost completely, and we walked around with mouths agape at the spectacular views in every direction. In a small museum up there, we learned the story of the first climbers to reach the Matterhorn summit in 1865. Tragically, the least experienced climber fell on the way down, pulling three others to their deaths before the rope tying them all together either broke or was cut, saving the remaining three. (That mystery still has not been answered after all these years.) After nearly two hours of touristing, we shared an apple tart at the Gornergrat café, took a virtual hang glider trip called the ZOOOM (which was really fun), and headed down on the cog railway again at noon.
We stopped at several points on the way down for more sightseeing and for lunch. At the stop called the Riffelsee Photo Point, we got out and walked down a treacherous path to a small lake (the Riffelsee) in which the mighty Matterhorn was reflected for our viewing pleasure. We then clambered up to the train again and rode down to the Riffelhaus Hotel, founded in 1853. After greeting the local mascot at the train stop, we walked to the hotel and had a nice lunch on the veranda with yet another great view of the Matterhorn. One especially neat thing in the hotel is an old, hand-written ledger that lists all the people who have successfully climbed the Matterhorn, kept under glass for protection, of course.
After lunch, we rode the cog railway to Zermatt again, rested up in the hotel for a bit while sipping our Plant Robert wine from the Domaine du Daly, and then headed off to a local church (St. Nikolas) for a concert by the Zermatt City Orchestra, one event of the annual Zermatt Music Festival. The program included a featured trumpet player from Spain for Haydn’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in E-flat major, a string serenade by Suk, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor featuring the lead cellist. The trumpet player was excellent, and the orchestra was enthusiastic and competent (though no match for the SPCO), and we enjoyed it very much.
Sep 17 (Saturday): After breakfast on Saturday, we again walked to the train station, this time boarding the Glacier Express for our next destination of Chur (pronounced “Koor”). The train ride took approximately six hours, during which we were served a nice lunch and had a couple of opportunities to get off and stretch our legs during brief stopovers. Though there wasn’t much to actually do during the trip, it felt as though we were travelling through a fairy tale land, with mountains all around and picturesque villages nestled in the valleys. The grass was so green and the sky so blue, it almost felt fake – too beautiful to be real – making the journey pleasant and relaxing. At Chur we left the train and boarded another bus for a two-hour drive to Zurich. Again, not much happening, but the scenery was beautiful, the mountains gradually falling away as we began to follow alongside the Rhine River. We arrived at the Renaissance Zurich Tower Hotel shortly after 5:30 and, after settling into our room, walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was an odd choice – The Brisket Southern BBQ – but at least I had a Swiss beer.
Sep 18 (Sunday): After breakfast, we had a brief bus ride to Lake Zurich and then boarded a boat for a cruise on the lake. During the cruise, we saw the Opera House, a popular public park, and then – as we drew further away from the city proper – some of Zurich’s tonier neighborhoods, including the house rented by Tina Turner. We learned that something like 90% of Zurich residents rent rather than buy homes. We saw a huge Lindt chocolate factory, which stimulated my sweet glands. The lake is very scenic, and the cruise was pleasant, although it was a bit chilly due to the wind. After the boat trip, we went on a walking tour of the city, mostly on narrow, cobblestone streets. We saw some beautiful churches (naturally), several interesting squares and fountains, including one where wine is pumped through the fountain during the annual festival, and a large park overlooking the Limmat River where dozens of people were playing bocce ball. Our local guide showed us how to buy tickets for the trams, busses, and water taxis at a machine, so we got one to use after the tour. She also pointed out a nice restaurant (Adler’s Swiss Chuchi) where we could try the local specialty, Zurich-style veal fricassee, as well as fabulous fondue and raclette dishes. After the official tour, we used our transport tickets to ride the water taxi down the river into Lake Zurich and back upriver again. I especially enjoyed how the water taxi had to zig and zag from one side of the river to the other so as to fit beneath the highest open sections of the various bridges. After the taxi ride, we had a LARGE late lunch at the Swiss Chuchi before riding the tram back to the hotel, with no need for dinner.
Sep 19 (Monday): After breakfast, we boarded a bus for about a one-hour trip to Basel. Once we reached Basel, a local guide boarded the bus and provided some commentary as we drove through the city for a while; my pictures during the bus journey were quite lousy as I tried to shoot through the windows, but then we got off and had a walking tour of Basel, starting at an interesting fountain outside the Opera House designed by Jean Tinguely using pieces taken from the original Opera house before it was “modernized.” We viewed the former cathedral, now a Reformed Protestant church. I found it interesting that the Reformers modified the original statue of St. Martin cutting his soldier’s coat and handing half to a beggar – in the new worldview the church should not be “encouraging” beggars, so the man was re-sculpted into a tree stump. We had some nice overlooks of the Rhine before returning to the Tinguely Fountain and reboarding our bus, enroute to our Viking boat.
So, dear readers, I will end Part 1 of the narrative at this point. Here’s a map of our travels through Switzerland.
In Part 2, we will board the boat and begin our journey down the Rhine River, so stay tuned …
The first three episodes of my latest travel blog, documenting our recent Road Trip with our electric Tesla (carrying our electric bikes) to Utah and Arizona, described the trip from beginning (April 21, 2022) to end (May 10, 2022). In this final post, I’m adding a map with a list of our stops along the way as well as some details about the performance of the Tesla that may be of interest to those who have either considered travelling cross country in an EV or have dismissed the idea as impractical.
First, the map:
The list includes every stop we made at a Tesla Supercharger and every Airbnb or hotel/lodge location where we stayed. It does not include all the places we visited on tour buses or shuttles, but those are described in the previous posts. The highlights were the Road Scholar golf school, Pat’s biking in St. George, and our visits to the canyons – Zion, Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon National Parks as well as Antelope Canyon. The beautiful scenery during our drives as well as stops at many miscellaneous roadside scenic overlooks that I have not mentioned in the blog posts was definitely icing on the cake. We thoroughly enjoyed the Eclectic Electric Road Trip and will not hesitate to do another one with our Tesla in the future.
Here are some statistics about the electric car’s performance:
The trip encompassed a total driving distance of 3,659 miles.
We made a total of 33 stops at Tesla Superchargers and charged overnight at 5 destination chargers. Superchargers are the most expensive way to charge the car, and destination chargers are free to use. With better planning, we could have made more use of free chargers. However, the prevalence of Superchargers makes then the most convenient option for a road trip.
During those charging stops, we did not encounter a single instance where all the chargers were in use – in fact, we were often the only car charging at a station with 8 or 10 chargers.
Our total electricity cost for the trip was $452, for an average of 12 cents per mile. By comparison, the average electricity cost over the life of the car so far (including this trip) has been 5 cents per mile.
This cost difference was due in part to an estimated 25% increase in energy consumption due to carrying the bikes, as discussed in the previous posts. Without that extra drag, we would have spent about $339 for electricity, or 9 cents per mile. In other words, it cost about $113 to lug the bikes for all those 3,659 miles. Pat rode hers for about 8 to 10 hours, so we still probably saved money relative to renting – or more likely, she wouldn’t have ridden nearly as much if she had to rent a bike. Throw in my 15 minutes of riding in Williams and we were way ahead. (Yeah, right!)
However, the high electric cost was mostly due to our heavy use of Superchargers. While Supercharger costs can vary from about 28 to 35 cents per kWh, charging at our condo costs only 15 cents per kWh and at our summer cabin costs only 5.5 cents per kWh. Also, on our previous long road trips when we had both the Tesla and our RV, we were often able to charge the Tesla for free at RV parks. However, when driving long distances every day, as we did on this trip, these cheaper options don’t work, and increased Supercharger use is necessary.
Here’s a summary of electric charging costs for the Tesla and a comparison of fuel costs for vehicles powered by internal combustion engines:
The ICE fuel costs are based on driving the same 3659 miles as we did on our Eclectic Electric Road Trip and using rough averages of gasoline and diesel prices that we observed on the trip. As you can see, fuel costs for the Road Trip with an ICE vehicle would have been higher unless the car was very efficient and got 40 mpg or more. And for fuel hogs getting only 10 mpg, like the 4×4 pickups that raced past us at 85 miles per hour on the freeways or big, diesel-powered RVs, the fuel cost for this trip alone would have been significantly more than the total we have spent to charge the Tesla in its first 23,000 miles! Of course, the cost of ownership for a vehicle is much more than just the fuel costs, and gas and diesel costs are not going to remain as high as they are now forever. But other costs for an electric vehicle are also lower. For example, there are no oil changes or tune-ups, electric motors are highly reliable and require essentially zero maintenance over the life of an EV, and there is virtually no wear on the brakes due to regenerative braking. (I’ve probably stepped on the brake pedal less than twenty times in those first 23,000 miles.)
It is undeniable that an electric car is perfect for a city or suburban dweller who typically drives 50 to 200 miles per day. Such a driver can easily recharge overnight with a home charger or just the standard charger that comes with any EV. A 240 Volt Level 2 charger adds about 30 miles of range per hour, and a 110 Volt Level 1 charger adds about 5 miles per hour of charging. Many utilities also offer greatly reduced rates for off-peak charging. For example, Arrowhead Electric, the utility that supplies our summer home in Grand Marais, located 270 miles from Minneapolis, offers a fixed rate of 5.5 cents per kWh for EV charging between 11 PM and 7 AM. In that 8-hour period, I can add 240 miles of range, enough for a round trip to Duluth or Thunder Bay, ON. There are also free Level 2 chargers at many State Parks in Minnesota, so I can add a little bit of range while hiking at Tettegouche or Gooseberry State Parks along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
The complaint I hear most often from EV opponents is that, while they may be fine for city life, they are not convenient for long road trips. It takes a lot of planning to find chargers, and who has the patience to stop 33 times for a half-hour during a 3600-mile trip? And if the chargers are all in use, you’ll have to wait even longer. Stopping at a gas station only takes five minutes, and you find them everywhere, without any planning. An EV driver wastes precious hours planning and then even more precious hours just waiting for the car to charge.
I would offer three counter arguments. First, with a trip planning app such as ABRP, it literally takes only a few minutes to plan any trip, and there are enough chargers all over the country to go almost everywhere, except the most rural, little-visited areas (though this may not yet be the case for non-Tesla EVs). And, as I stated above, we did not encounter a single wait at any Supercharger. Secondly, most EV chargers are located in places you don’t mind stopping anyway – near hotels, shopping malls, truck stops, restaurants and the like. There are places to eat, shop, go to the bathroom – all things you would do even if driving an ICE car. So, you can’t simply compare a five-minute gas stop with a 30-minute charging stop. You have to think about the amount of time you would be stopping for all those things, and you’ll realize you are not wasting anywhere near as much time as you may think.
But my most serious argument is this. Whether you want to believe it or not, our precious Earth is warming, and ICE cars are one of the biggest contributors to climate change. EVs are the wave of the future – even the auto industry realizes that, and all of the car companies are making a major shift in that direction. Is saving a few minutes during a road trip a good enough reason not to go electric and help save the planet? Pat and I have shown that it is not just possible but extremely easy to have an awesome road trip in a Tesla (even when burdened by energy-sapping bicycles). I hope this will encourage more of you to ditch your ICE cars and go green!
OK, I’m done preaching now. Thanks for your interest in Pat and Dave’s Eclectic Electric Road Trip! We live in a beautiful country – let’s get out there in our EVs and enjoy it.
This is the third episode of my latest travel blog, documenting our recent Road Trip with our electric Tesla (carrying our electric bikes) to Utah and Arizona. PART 2 left off as I was riding my bike around the town of Williams, AZ, on Saturday, April 30 – just to ensure that lugging it all the way out there had not been a complete waste of Tesla energy. This episode describes the remainder of the trip.
May 1 – 2 (Sunday-Monday): The reason we were in Williams was that we had booked a package deal with the Grand Canyon Railway, including a night’s stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, a 63-mile train trip to the Grand Canyon, a bus tour along the south rim, a night’s stay at the Maswik Lodge within the National Park, return trip by rail to Williams, and another night’s stay at the Railway Hotel. We’d already visited the Grand Canyon twice, once about 20 years ago with our sons, Nick and Brian, and once during our Excellent Adventure in 2019. However, we had never stayed overnight within the Park itself and thus had never seen a sunset there, and we also both enjoy rail travel.
The two hour and 40 minute rail trip on Sunday was very interesting, especially during the final 10 miles or so as the train wound its way through the pine forest into the National Park. During the return trip on Monday, train robbers on horseback boarded the train and robbed those passengers willing to play along by “hiding” a buck or two in some obvious place. A U.S. Marshall then captured them in the rear car where Pat and I were riding, but I didn’t get my money back. (The Marshall said I needed a receipt for that.) Though a bit cheesy, it was great fun. The operation was also very efficient. We left our luggage in the Railway Hotel lobby and it magically appeared in our room at the Maswik Lodge. Then, on Monday we just left it in our room and it was waiting for us in our new room in Williams when we got back.
The Sunday afternoon bus tour at the Grand Canyon covered the major viewing sites along the rim to the west of Grand Canyon Village, including Hopi Point, Mohave Point, Monument Creek Vista, and Pima Point. As I said, we had been to all of these sites before, but they were still just as spectacular and awe-inspiring as the first time. I doubt we could ever get bored with the scenery or fail to revel in the sheer majesty of this national treasure no matter how often we might see it, unlike Chevy Chase in the movie “Vacation.” After dinner, I went back on another bus tour to watch the sunset at Mohave point. That alone was worth the entire trip to the Grand Canyon. On Monday before our return to Williams, we walked along the rim trail from Yavapai Point, east of the Village, to the luxurious El Tovar Hotel where we had lunch, then along the rim trail again to a spot just west of the Bright Angel Trailhead. By the time we walked back to the Train Depot for our return to Williams, I had logged more than 12,000 steps and felt very sore, very tired, and very, very old, even though the rim trail is quite smooth and level. As we gazed down at the Bright Angel trail I recalled hiking down to the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse and back up again – back in the day with Pat and the boys – and knew I couldn’t do that anymore. Oh, the joy of aging!
But getting back to the majesty of the Grand Canyon, rather than writing a few thousand words to try and describe it, I’ll just leave you with these pictures.
May 3 (Tuesday): The Grand Canyon Railway package was the last thing we had pre-booked before leaving Minneapolis. As of April 25, we had no specific plan for our return home. Sister-in-law LeAnne had told us about an interesting place called Antelope Canyon, near Page, AZ, so Pat decided to book a tour there for 12:00 PM on May 3. We drove off from Williams at 7:10 AM, stopped to charge the car in Flagstaff, and headed north through Navajo Nation toward Page. When we were about 20 miles away, we noticed that the Tesla clock was reading 12:10 PM. What? How could we already be late for the tour? We couldn’t possibly have been traveling for five hours. Pat checked her iPhone, which also read 12:10. Had we entered the Twilight Zone? No, we were just in Navajo Nation, which, unlike the rest of Arizona, observes Daylight Savings Time. So, we had only been travelling for four hours, and when we got to Page, we were back on Arizona Time and it was actually only 11:30. Oddly, both the car and Pat’s phone were still an hour off, whereas my Samsung phone showed the correct time. Those ornery Arizonans sure know how to confuse people.
Antelope Canyon is located about 20 minutes outside of Page and our tour was run by a Navajo company. We had an excellent guide who explained the origins and the dynamics of the canyon and even took some great photos for us with Pat’s phone. Antelope Canyon was formed and is maintained not by any river but by flash flooding from heavy rains that typically occur in late summer, on average once every two years. However, due to the warming climate and severe drought, the most recent flooding occurred nearly 10 years ago, and the canyon floor has risen some four feet as sand has blown in and not yet been washed away. It was also interesting to learn that the antelope for whom the canyon is named have not been present in the area since completion of the nearby Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 and the subsequent formation of Lake Powell. The canyon is very narrow and irregularly shaped, with walls furrowed by wind and water erosion and the open top lets in sand and light, leading to spectacular and unexpected views and perspectives. OK, once again: no more words, just pictures.
After our Antelope Canyon tour, we drove to Kanab, UT, where we had booked a room at the La Quinta Inn and Suites before leaving St. George. It was a nice hotel with the added bonus of a Tesla Destination Charger on site. We also had a nice meal at a Chinese restaurant right next door to the hotel. Talk about convenience. After dinner, we discussed how far we should travel on Wednesday and where we should stay.
“You know,” I said, “we’re going to be driving almost right past Bryce Canyon National Park no matter which way we decide to go from here. It would be a real shame not to stop there for a visit.”
So, after some web searching, we booked a room at a place called Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn in Bryce Canyon City. There is a stop for the shuttle bus into the National Park right in front of this hotel and, as a bonus, it also has a Testa Destination Charger. Two free charges in two days. What a deal!
May 4 (Wednesday): We left Kanab at 8:30 AM and arrived at Ruby’s Inn at 10:00. We were able to check in right away, even though it was quite early, and our room was literally 10 yards from the Tesla charger. There were two charging stations, and there was another Tesla being charged at one of them. So, we parked the car nearby, not wanting to tie up the only remaining station while we toured Bryce Canyon. Then we hopped on the shuttle bus, and I was standing in line to buy a tee shirt at the Visitor’s Center by 10:15. There were three people in line ahead of me, one of whom was a tall, slim, thirty-something woman buying a sweatshirt. Suddenly, she decided to try on the sweatshirt for size. She proceeded to take off her jacket, slip on the shirt, and model it for a friend. After some discussion, the friend went off the get a larger size, and the buyer pulled off the first shirt and slipped on the second one. Then the two had to discuss which one was best, totally oblivious of the growing line behind them and the exasperated expression on the face of the checkout clerk. Couldn’t she have tried the shirts before getting in line? I finally got to the register and bought my own shirt, then went outside with Pat to wait for the next shuttle bus.
“The world would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for all these @#$%^ people in it,” I muttered. Luckily, Bryce Canyon is truly a wonderful place, which served to salve my frustration over the idiotic incident in the Visitors Center. We spent about four and a half hours riding the shuttle buses and walking among the major scenic highlights – Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point – sandwiched around a nice buffet lunch at the Bryce Lodge. That was nowhere near enough time to see everything; to properly tour the Park one needs to drive to the places the shuttle route does not reach. But it was an excellent introduction that left us wanting to come back again. Unfortunately, the hiking left me feeling even more decrepit than the day before. The uphill climbs left me gasping in the thin, 8,300-ft altitude and the downhill parts were like torture for my feet and knees. But all I had to do was stop and look in any direction, and take pictures of the hoodoos, the steep cliffs, the multicolored rocks, the trees … Just point and click, and the sheer beauty of it all revived my spirit.
When we got back to Ruby’s Inn, that same Tesla was still plugged into the charger. As I was backing into the one open space, yet another Tesla pulled up, but I had beaten him to the punch. After plugging in, I spoke with him and said that the other car had been plugged in for at least five hours, so must be almost done. Shortly thereafter, the owner of the plugged-in car arrived and spoke to the new arrival. As I was walking away, I caught snippets of the conversation.
“Are you staying here? So, you can maybe charge overnight after we leave …” I heard the charger hog say. Apparently that woman was not even staying at the hotel, even though Destination Chargers are only supposed to be for paying hotel guests. What did I say about all those #%^*^&* people in the world?
May 5-10 (Thursday – Wednesday): Bryce Canyon was the last place we actually visited on the road trip. The remainder of the time we were just going back home again. By this time, our Covid anxiety had faded away, and we felt comfortable enough with staying at hotels and eating at restaurants where virtually no one was wearing masks. We were pretty tired of driving by then, so we laid out a return trip with the ABRP app, stretched it out over six days so we never drove for more than a few hours each day, and booking hotels that were very close to the Tesla Superchargers for convenience – in Green River, UT, Idaho Springs, CO, Ogallala and Grand Island, NE, and Sioux City, IA.
As we drove through Utah and Colorado, the scenery along the road was spectacular, with snow covered peaks, steep, winding valleys, and tunnels bored through the mountains. We passed over the Continental Divide and through the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate Highway 70, near Dillon, CO, at an elevation of 11,150 feet. But by the time we reached Denver, we had descended 6,000 feet and the drive got quite boring – flat, brown, and monotonous – and so it remained all the way home. Even the lovely drive along the Minnesota River from Mankato to Minneapolis, with its welcome greenery, seemed dull by comparison to what we had seen in the mountain states. In retrospect, I therefore dubbed Denver as the dividing line between spectacular and boring.
We made it back to our condo at 3:30 PM on May 10, spent an hour unpacking the car, getting the bikes off, washing the car (which made all those hail dents really stand out), and starting the laundry before I collapsed into my favorite Barcalounger. All in all, it was a great trip, despite the rocky start.
That’s it for now, but stay tuned for one more blog post in which I will present a map of the trip, discuss what we learned about taking an electric road trip, and pontificate about the state of the world and some small things we can do to help. (Or maybe not that last part – I’ll have to see if I can come up with anything actually worth saying.)
This is the second episode of my latest travel blog, documenting a recent trip in our electric Tesla (with our electric bikes affixed to a bike rack on the back) to St. George, Utah and environs. The impetus for the trip was a program called “The Best Golf of Your Life,” sponsored by the travel and education organization known as Road Scholar. We have gone on two Road Scholar trips in the past and were very impressed with all aspects of the programs. (Road Scholar offers a wide array of programs throughout the world: here’s a link to their website.) The first program was a comprehensive tour of Key West, FL, in January 2020, which both Pat and I participated in. The second was a pickleball course on Hilton Head, SC, in March 2020, which Pat enrolled in; I merely went along for the ride, being less of an enthusiast than she is, and entertained myself with golfing and self-guided exploration of the island while she improved her pickleball skills. For this third Road Scholar program, only I was enrolled, and Pat came along for the road trip, similarly entertaining herself while I did the golf thing.
PART 1 of this narrative described the rocky start to our road trip, concluding in Douglas, WY, on Saturday, April 23, where we were holed up in a hotel waiting out a blizzard that had closed the highways to the west, completely derailing the plan we had so carefully laid out for getting to St. George. We left the hotel at 6:50 AM Sunday, by which time the roads were passable. As we passed through Casper, WY, less than 50 miles from Douglas, we realized that my nephew Rob Arthur had played keyboards for a Chicago concert while we were hunkered down in Douglas. I don’t know how he and the rest of the band managed to get there in the blizzard, but if we had managed to brave the weather that far before holing up, we could have gone to the concert! Alas, an opportunity missed.
The road conditions were still a bit dicey as we continued to head westward, but by the time we reached Rawlins, WY, it was pretty much smooth sailing. On we drove, and drove, and drove some more, until we staggered into the lobby of the Convention Center Holiday Inn in St. George at 10:40 PM, having covered a total of 735 miles in just under 16 hours, including six stops to recharge the car, eat, visit restrooms, and stretch our legs. (According to Google Maps, the trip should only have taken 11 hours, but that would include nonstop driving at posted speed limits of up to 80 mph, and also presumably require an IV caffeine injection system and a catheter to collect bodily fluids, none of which fits our travel style. Brother-in-law Andy Lindsay probably could have managed it.) I was a wee bit late for the 5 PM Road Scholar orientation meeting, we were dead tired, and the Tesla was pitted and scarred from Friday’s hail damage, but at least we had overcome the rocky start and arrived at our destination.
Thankfully, our week in St. George was excellent, including most enjoyable golfing (me), biking (Pat), and hiking (me again). Here is a summary.
Monday: After breakfast, the golfers were bused from the hotel to the training facility at Southgate Golf Course. We were divided into four groups; mine had lessons in bunker shots and pitch shots. (One of my first attempts at a new bunker technique caromed high off the lip of the steep bunker and hit the woman next to me on the top of her head, luckily causing no injury other than to my pride. Things got better after that.) Then we had lunch, and then played golf at a beautiful course called Dixie Red Hills. My first swing was a pull-hook into the rocks on hole one, leading to a quadruple bogey snowman. Two double bogeys followed, and I began to wonder if the golf lessons were a waste of time and money. But then I hit a nice shot on hole four and sank a ten-footer for a birdie two, and all was right with the world again. After golf, we had a nice dinner. (Our Road Scholar Group Leader told us the unofficial name of the program is “Eat, golf, eat, golf, eat,” and by Friday I was feeling like an overstuffed sausage.)
Tuesday: My two morning lessons included chipping and irons/hybrids. We had lunch at the Southgate Course and then played the back nine. It was another beautiful layout, and I started off much the same way as Monday, with two triple bogeys in the first three holes, before settling down and eventually making another birdie on the par-five 17th hole. Dinner was at a goofy place called Chuck-a-Rama, one of those all-you-can-eat buffet places, which was the only meal during the program that I found less than satisfactory.
Wednesday: Morning lessons included drivers/fairway woods and putting, to complete the training portion of the course. All-in-all, I did pick up some good tips – this was the only actual instruction I’ve ever had except for two one-hour lessons (one when I was about twelve and another in my thirties, I think). Time will tell if it was worthwhile. After lunch at a nice Mexican restaurant, we played at yet another beautiful course, Sunbrook, on the Blackrock nine (so named for the lava rock formations on many of the holes). This time, I started off pretty well – two over par for the first five holes, before running into trouble with two double-bogeys and another quadruple bogey snowman in the last four. Most of the trouble was due to bad luck rather than bad shots, though, so I tried to remain positive about the experience. Dinner was at a nice teppanyaki-style restaurant with an entertaining knife-wielding chef.
Thursday: We took a break from golf and had a tour of Snow Canyon (on the bus only) and Zion National Park. Our Road Scholar bus dropped us off at the visitor center before we took the park shuttle bus to see the main highlights, all of which I had seen when Pat and I visited previously during our Excellent Adventure, but it was still just as impressive and awe-inspiring this time around. We then took a two-mile hike on the so-called moderate Kayenta Trail, with narration by a geologist using a headphone system. We made quite a sight with 26 mostly elderly folks in single file, often passing bemused hikers going the other way as they waited, and waited, and waited for us all to straggle past the narrow spots. There were no injuries, but I and many others felt challenged by the effort, and I could only reflect that my condition had deteriorated significantly since hiking that same trail in 2019. We had bag lunches at the visitor center before reboarding the Road Scholar bus and travelling to the east part of the park, which is not accessible by the park shuttle buses and which I therefor hadn’t seen before. The scenery was stunning and fascinating, well worth the visit by any measure.
After returning from Zion, friend Steve Aldrich asked me to drive him around to do some errands. Along the way, we stopped to photograph the Mormon Temple in St. George, which was the first ever built in Utah. It reminded me of the story our tour guide had told us in the morning. The temple was built of locally plentiful red sandstone, then painted white. One year, when maintaining the building, the workers ran short of paint. To complete the job, they put a very thin coat on the top of the dome. Suddenly, dark clouds appeared and a voice boomed out: “Repaint, and thin no more!”
Friday: We played at Sky Mountain, yet another beautiful course about 45 miles northeast of our hotel, near the town of Hurricane (so named after an early Mormon elder experienced such a fierce wind that he compared it to a hurricane). We played a scramble format, with yours truly as captain of our team, which also included friend Steve, a long-hitting gentleman from Georgia, and a woman from Long Island. We did reasonably well, with three birdies and several more missed opportunities and, sadly, four bogeys. That was only good enough for third place out of six teams. I hit several good shots, enough to be encouraged about the state of my game following the golf lessons.
Meanwhile, Pat was riding her bike around on the excellent bike trails in St. George every day. She described where she had gone each day, even including a ride past the Southgate practice facility one day while our group was getting our lessons. But when I asked if she could send me some pictures from her journeys for this blog, she just said, “Sorry, I didn’t take any photos. Not my thing.” She did assure me that she thoroughly enjoyed herself and did not feel abandoned as I was doing all those activities described above.
On Saturday, April 30, we packed up the Tesla again and drove to Williams, AZ, where we checked in at the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel. Meanwhile, friend Steve spent the morning playing golf in St. George yet again, with one of our instructors giving him a private lesson. He is convinced that, with the three days of instruction plus this extra lesson under his belt, he will be a formidable opponent for me this summer at Gunflint Hills in Grand Marais. We will see, readers, we will see.
When we got to the hotel in Williams, I plugged the Tesla mobile charger into an electrical outlet by the SemaConnect destination charger, which the site technician told me does not work with Teslas for some weird reason. As I stood there looking at the bikes on the back of the car, I realized we had hauled mine for nearly 2000 miles, with the associated significant reduction in the Tesla’s performance as described in Part 1, and I hadn’t even used it! So, I pulled it off the bike rack and rode it around Williams for twenty minutes, just because.
That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more blog posts as my tale of Pat and Dave’s Eclectic Electric Road Trip continues. There is plenty yet to tell!
As past readers know, we sold our RV last fall. However, that doesn’t mean my travel blogging is over. A funny thing gradually happened as I wrote all those posts documenting our RV travels from 2018 through 2021. While the initial intent was simply to document the trips for our family and friends back in Minnesota – so they would know that we were still alive and (hopefully) well – I came to realize that the blog posts also served two other purposes. First, they turned out to be good for remembering what we had actually done, which is great for memory-challenged senior citizens like Pat and me. And second, I actually had a great time writing them. So, why can’t I write travel blogs for non-RV trips? I can see no reason (although perhaps some readers can).
At any rate, as 2021 drew to a close, I was getting set to write a travel blog during our upcoming Viking Ocean Cruise trip to Greece and Turkey. But then, the Covid Omicron variant reared its ugly head and, as nightmarish visions appeared of being stuck in Athens trying to get a Covid test so we could get back home, we cancelled the trip. This led to some serious moping in the Saari household. We were still moping as February rolled around when Steve Aldrich, my friend and golfing partner from Grand Marais, sent me an e-mail about a Road Scholar program called “The Best Golf of Your Life,” a week of golf instruction and play at several courses in St. George, Utah, in late April. Just the thing to lift my spirits. But what about Pat?
“You could come, too,” I said hopefully.
“And do what?” she replied – a very logical question since she has no interest whatsoever in golf.
“There’s a one-day trip to Zion National Park included in the program. You could come for that,” I said, trying not to wheedle.
“Been there, done that,” she said, since we had visited Zion on our Excellent Adventure in 2019.
“But remember how nice the bike trails were in St. George when we were there back in 2019? You could bike your brains out while I’m golfing,” I suggested. Pat’s brow furrowed slightly as she considered this option.
“What, you mean I could rent a bike out there? That might be expensive if I did it for several days,” she said. “And I certainly couldn’t bring my own bike on a plane.”
“No, that’s not what I was thinking. We do have a bike rack, you know. And the Tesla has a hitch receiver.”
We spent a few moments exchanging meaningful glances before excitement began to build in both our minds.
“Yes!” we shouted simultaneously. “Road trip!!!”
Suddenly our lost trip to Greece and Turkey was forgotten as we began to plan a Tesla road trip. I found a great app called A Better Route Planner (ABRP) which can search out the best way to get from any point A to any point B with an appropriate set of stops for charging an electric car. We plotted a route from Minneapolis to St. George that would get us there in four days, by early afternoon on Sunday, April 24. We booked overnight stays at three Airbnb locations – renting entire premises, since we were still having a fair amount of Covid anxiety. We even bought new tires for the Tesla, since the originals weren’t rated for much more than 20,000 miles and we were already approaching that milestone. The excitement continued to build until 9 AM on Thursday, April 21, Pat’s 65th birthday, when we hauled our luggage down to the garage in our Condo building, loaded up the car, checked our e-bikes, which I had mounted on the bike rack the day before, and backed out of our parking space. That’s when the first issue popped up.
“Why is our brand-new front left tire flat?” asked Pat, noting the warning message on the car’s display screen.
“Beats me,” I said. “It wasn’t flat yesterday.”
“Are you sure?” she replied. “Did you actually check the tires yesterday?”
She had me there, of course. So, we pumped up the tire with the air compressor in the garage and headed to Discount Tire to have it checked. By the time they had discovered and repaired the problem (a leaky valve stem), we were already three hours behind the first day’s schedule, which called for 6 hours and 36 minutes of driving and two charging stops. But at least we were on our way.
As we drove through the countryside toward our first planned charging stop in Worthington, MN, we were serenaded by a melodious tone from the rear of the car, perhaps similar to the sound of those fabled sirens, the Lorelei, who enticed witless sailors to their deaths in days of yore. As an engineer who has studied fluid mechanics, I of course knew that this sound was the result of vortices formed by the airflow across the bikes and bike rack on the back of the car, known as Aeolian tones. I hate to admit that I was just as witless as those sailors, despite my study of fluid mechanics, but we were saved from doom by the Tesla itself.
As we approached within about 60 miles of our first planned stop, the Tesla Supercharger in Worthington, Gerty Google, the nice woman in the Tesla Navigation app, suddenly told us to turn south. At first we were puzzled by this, but then we noticed that a much closer Tesla Supercharger in Sherburne, MN, had popped up on the display screen as our next destination. Then the proverbial shoe dropped with a resounding thud. The bikes on the car were not only making seductive music, they were also significantly increasing the aerodynamic drag on the car, and we didn’t have enough juice left in the battery to make it to Worthington. I had failed to account for the increased power consumption when I laid out our plan with the ABRP app. (I had a sudden mental image of Professor Ephraim Sparrow smirking at the other professors on my Ph.D. oral examination committee back in 1974. “I told you we shouldn’t have passed this moron,” he was saying in his most pompous manner.)
Anyway, that was the second issue in our rocky start to the Eclectic Electric Road Trip. The entire plan was obsolete, as we were going to have to make a lot more charging stops than I had planned for. By the time we reached the first Airbnb in Winner, SD, it was 8:20 PM. We had been travelling for 11 hours and twenty minutes, including an hour and a half at Discount Tire and two extra charging stops. At least the Airbnb was a nice, four-room building with a comfy bed, and we enjoyed a good night’s sleep (though the heater didn’t work) before departing at 9 AM Friday morning. Little did we know that things were only going to get worse.
The great plan called for us to reach the second Airbnb, in Douglas, WY, at 4 PM. Having adjusted our charging stops to match the increased energy consumption due to the bicycles, we again made two extra charging stops along the way. One of those was in Wall, SD, where we took advantage of the break to have lunch at the iconic but kitschy Wall Drug. (I had a buffalo hot dog, which was surprisingly tasty.)
Our last charging stop for the day was at Lusk, WY, some 52 miles from the next Airbnb. As we headed westward, we began to notice an ominous looking cloud ahead. We had just passed the town of Manville when there was a startling clunk on the glass roof of the car. A minute later there was another, then another, and suddenly we were being pelted by marble-sized hailstones. Pat urged me to turn back to Manville, but I couldn’t see any advantage to that, though I did slow down a bit. But within minutes the road surface was thick with hailstones and driving was impossible, so I pulled off the road into a farmer’s driveway to wait out the storm. The hailstones seemed to get larger and the noise was deafening. We were certain that the car roof was going to break and that our troublesome but beloved e-bikes were going to be wrecked.
Luckily, the hail stopped after about fifteen minutes, replaced by a steady but happily non-threatening rain, and the roof remained intact. I crept back onto the road and headed toward Douglas again, but there was a thick layer of hailstones covering the entire road and we could only move at about five or ten miles an hour. Eventually we drove out of the hail-covered area and were able to resume normal speed, completing our trip to the Airbnb in the rain. Our arrival time was 5:46 PM, so our travel time was 8.8 hours, only about two hours longer than planned. Oops, there was a time zone change as we were now on Pacific time, so make that three hours late.
The second Airbnb was also nice – a stand-alone cottage with kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and two baths, located in the back yard of the owners. Once we got settled in and determined that the car and bikes were essentially intact, we drove into the town of Douglas for dinner at a decent steakhouse. As we left the steakhouse, we noticed a nearby Hampton Inn with a Tesla destination charger, which turned out to be significant as things were about to get even worse.
I woke up at 5 AM Saturday morning, which is not unusual for me, and saw a message on my phone from the third Airbnb we had booked. At 3 AM, the host had sent a message canceling our reservation, as she had to rush to the hospital experiencing pre-term labor. I then looked out the living room window and saw that our car was covered in four inches of snow, and that it was snowing heavily. As I searched for another Airbnb to book, Pat emerged from the bedroom to inform me that there was a blizzard warning in effect to the west. We spent an hour or so looking at weather maps and the Wyoming Highway Department website and trying to decide what to do. Eventually we decided to start driving west and just stop somewhere if the conditions were too bad, opting not to book another Airbnb.
Shortly after 8 AM, we began loading up the car again. I had to brush the snow and ice off with my hands because the snow brush/ice scraper was buried at the bottom of the stuff in the car. By 8:30, after about four trips from the cottage to the car, we were on the road again. Driving wasn’t too bad in town, with a few roads already plowed and only three inches or so on the unplowed ones. But as we neared the highway toward Casper, the wind was blowing and visibility was poor.
“Now bear right to take the westbound highway entrance ramp …” Gerty Google intoned.
“Do you see a ramp?” I asked Pat, as I crawled along at 5 mph.
“No,” she replied. “Do you see a highway?”
We continued driving slowly, finding ourselves creeping along on an eastbound highway, with periodic wind gusts blowing the snow and reducing visibility to five feet or less. Every so often, the left lane would have a windblown bare spot and a 4×4 pickup would roar around us and disappear again into the blowing snow. After about fifteen minutes, we came to an exit back toward Douglas. Wending our way through the blowing snow, we eventually found ourselves near that Hampton Inn. It seemed like fate was telling us something, so we stopped to see if they had a room, which they did. The clerk told me where the two Tesla chargers were located, so I drove the car over to find a large pickup truck parked in front of one and a space just wide enough to squeeze into in front of the other. After plugging in the car, I unloaded the luggage and schlepped it into the hotel, but not before chasing down my cap after it blew away in the wind.
So, there we stayed for the rest of the day, periodically checking the weather maps and wondering if we would ever make it to St. George. It was clear we would not get there by early afternoon Sunday, since we had at least 16 hours of travel time yet to go, so I was going to miss the Road Scholar program orientation meeting. But, dear readers, don’t despair. While we indeed had a rocky start, things could only get better from that point. Stay tuned for more blog posts as my tale of Pat and Dave’s Eclectic Electric Road Trip continues.