After my best night of sleep so far, and an early breakfast, we started on our three hour drive to Nuremberg. Nina was our guide again for this journey (her husband David happened to be our driver). Along with Nina and David, the six of us, and all our luggage, loaded into a Mercedes van. To break up the drive, we planned to stop in Plzen along the way.
Plzen is an old medieval town, though at first sight it looked very industrial. Of course since we were stopping in Plzen, we just had to schedule a private tour of the Pilsen Urquell brewery....with tasting....at 9:30 a.m. This was a great tour, and being the only ones there made it even better!
First we saw the brewing process, learning how the hops, barley and water are combined and fermented; then we tasted (I'm not a fan of beer, but had to admit it tasted pretty good); then we viewed the packing facility where they process 120,000 bottles per hour.
After lunch, we took the underground tour where we got a glimpse of the original underground corridors below Plzen's houses from the Middle Ages. This underground area was a labyrinth that protected the people and their food from the town's enemies. Even though the tour was guided by a docent from this museum, Nina came along too giving the entire group of about 20 some added value, as she effortlessly filled the space between lines.
Next, we were on our way to Nuremberg to board our ship. Along the way, Nina told us stories of Nazi/Czech history and how it related to Plzen; the history of marionette puppetry that took place in the market square during the 18th century; Czech life under communist rule; and the student-led Velvet Revolution. We got quite an education in that short period of time!
The road to Nuremberg consisted of rolling hills, forests, and small towns. By the time we drove into Germany, our beautiful day turned into a beautiful, rainy day. As we approached the dock, the rain slowed to a drizzle, and my excitement to begin our river cruise built.
Our ship was docked in an industrial area, and the process was night and day from boarding an ocean cruise ship. There was no line to board. Perhaps this was because we arrived later than most (3:45 p.m.). However, I'm sure even earlier would have been a breeze. We were immediately greeted by a few very helpful staff members. We were directed to the Guest Service desk just inside, while our luggage was taken to our rooms. The check in process took only one minute. We showed our passports, they handed us our keys, and then a staff member escorted us to our rooms.
As we arrived in our room, I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. The drawer and closet space was lacking, and it was SO much smaller than our suite at the hotel. However, once we unpacked, and found space for all our belongings, I felt much better.
Service onboard Viking Njord is excellent. Every staff member is warm, friendly, and quick to accommodate special requests. Just after boarding, we took a mini-tour of the ship. Mini for two reasons... first, the ship is very small and intimate... and second, because our first stop was the lounge where we met bartender, Stefan. As we debated whether or not to purchase the beverage package, Stefan poured us several tastes, so that we could check out some of the available wines. We decided against the package since the house wines, complimentary with lunch and dinner, were quite fine.
I've heard that river cruises appeal to an older demographic, and as we watched the other passengers arrive in the Viking Lounge for the afternoon briefing, it became clear that we are indeed the youngest onboard. Not a problem as far as we're concerned, just an observation. Our Program Director, Ray, gave an orientation briefing which was very informative, and (thankfully) not at all a sales pitch. We learned that there are 183 passengers onboard plus 50 service staff members, a very nice ratio.
The dinner menu included three regional options, plus a few always available items. We all enjoyed our meals -- more thoughts on the dining to come as the week progresses.
Coming next: Nuremberg and out transit through the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.