Viator

Rhine Runaway – Zurich Part II

Other parts of this series so far:

Rhine Runaway – Booking Process
Rhine Runaway – Houston to Amsterdam
Rhine Runaway – A Short Visit to Amsterdam
Rhine Runaway – River Cruise Part I
Rhine Runaway – River Cruise Part II
Rhine Runaway – Zurich Part I

We’d pre-purchased a Viator half-day city tour for the next morning. The meeting location was very convenient, just around the corner from the main train station. We took the tram to the train station and walked the couple of blocks from there. We’d hoped to find a place to eat breakfast in the train station but didn’t find anything to strike our fancy.

There are a couple of small kiosks there that sell tours and we went to the one that indicated they were a Viator supplier. But it turned out that it was the other kiosk offering our particular tour. With tickets in hand we went across the street to Starbucks for breakfast. Starbucks is usually kind of wasted on the two of us as neither of us are coffee drinkers but we found museli, fruit and hot chocolate, plenty to start the day off right.

Our tour actually started off at the park beside Lake Zurich and it was just as beautiful as it had been the day before. We were really very fortunate with the weather on this trip! Our motorcoach then dropped us off at the Dolderbahn, a rack railway that runs up the side of the Adlisberg mountain. (If you’re familiar with the Incline Railway in Chattanooga, TN, it’s similar, though not nearly as steep.) Once atop the mountain we had lovely views of the region including both the lake and the city. The Dolder Grand Hotel is atop the mountain and there’s a large park/recreation area up there as well, though we didn’t spend time at either place.

While we’d been riding up on the Dolderbahn, our motorcoach had been wending its way up the mountain so we were able to ride it back down. Kudos to the driver because some of those roads were very narrow and lined with parked cars!

Back in town we stopped at Fraumünster, one of the three main churches of Zurich, which is known for its five large stained glass windows designed by the artist Marc Chagall. They were just lovely but unfortunately no photos are allowed. That was the end of our tour and we were left to explore Aldstadt (Old Town) on our own.

Fraumünster

Fraumünster

One thing our tour guide had mentioned was that each spring there is a holiday that celebrates the end of winter. Called Sechseläuten, it’s usually held on the third Monday of April but apparently was a week later this year. The high point of the holiday is the burning of Winter in effigy in the form of Böögg, a snowman figure filled with explosives. In preparation for the festival a large pyre had been built and we could see the back of the Böögg figure. There were lots of folks willing to pay the charge and climb up to see him up close however! It had been a tough winter in many regions and apparently the good folks of Zurich were ready for it to be over.

The Böögg figure that will be burned to celebrate the end of winter

The Böögg figure that will be burned to celebrate the end of winter

Aldstadt Waterfront in Zürich

Aldstadt Waterfront in Zürich

We spent the afternoon and evening wandering through Aldstadt and collecting a couple of souvenirs. We ended up dining at Ristorante Toscano, a small Italian place. The meal was excellent and it felt more like a locals place than a tourist place though they spoke English very well.

It’s worth noting that everywhere we went in Zurich we had no problems with people not speaking English. Although my friend’s parents are from Germany and so she does speak and understand some German, it was nice that it wasn’t a struggle.

We were quite full from dinner and decided to walk back to the hotel to get in a little exercise since we knew we’d be sitting for hours during the flights home the next day. By the time we reached the Park Hyatt we were ready for dessert so we stopped in at the cafe there. As we perused the menu we didn’t see our favorite but found other options that would suit us. As the waiter answered our questions about one of the menu items he described something that sounded supiciously familiar. With a bit of clarification we realized one of items we’d overlooked was, in fact, chocolate melting cake! It was the perfect end to the trip.

Categories: Europe, Switzerland, Viator | Leave a comment

Rhine Runaway – Houston to Amsterdam

Other parts of this series so far:

Rhine Runaway – Booking Process

My trip from Memphis to Houston was on a regional jet with no first class, so nothing special to write about.

It was my first time to transit IAH so I was most concerned about getting to where I needed to be.  I got to Terminal E in plenty of time and had a chance to visit the United Club.

It was quite large and quite busy.  Still less hectic than the terminal, obviously, but not a quiet oasis.  I found some empty high top tables to the right of the bar and set up shop there.  After picking through the measly food offerings (basically cookies and a bit of carrots/celery & dip) and getting some water I went back to the tables.  I then realized why nobody was sitting at these tables despite their being next to electrical outlets – the outlets didn’t work.  I tried two or three different outlets and had the same result with all of them.  I finished up my cookies & carrots and moved to the business area, where at least I was able to recharge my phone and plug in my laptop.  I don’t recall hearing any gate announcements so I left of my own accord.

I arrived at the gate about 5 minutes before boarding started and was promptly allowed on once boarding commenced.  The business class cabin is divided into two sections.  I’d selected 10B, an aisle seat in the second cabin.  When I was checking the seat map in the club there were still tons of empty seats in my section and I naively thought I might get an empty seat next to me.  Of course that was before they’d processed all the upgrades and there wasn’t a single empty seat in the cabin by the time we took off.  We boarded via door 2L which meant I turned right for my seat – and all the folks in economy streamed past me.  Next time I’d either go for the forward cabin or at least for a seat on the other side of the plane.

UA 58 IAH-AMS
Departs: 15:40
Arrives: 08:20 + 1
Boeing 777-200
Seat: 10B (Business Class)

Knowing it never hurts to stay on the good side of the flight crew.  I’d brought a rather large baggie filled with chocolate & candy for the flight attendants.  I had several of them thank me for it and was always treated with great courtesy at every interaction.  To be fair they seemed to treat everyone that way.  They seemed to enjoy their jobs and working together.  I don’t know for sure but imagine this was an ex-Continental crew and if they’re typical I’ll be happy to fly with them any time.

Seat 10 B

Seat 10 B

On the seat were a pillow, a blanket and the amenity kit.  Headphones were conveniently stored up over my left shoulder (between the two seats) next to the headphone jack.  I liked that by storing them up there the cord was out of the way.

The amenity kit contained a pen, a comb, an eyemask, lotion, a cleansing pad, tissue, compression socks, toothbrush & toothpaste and a flosser.  The kit bag itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy but I can forsee it having great use as a place to store electronic cords, adapters, etc. while traveling.

Business Class Amenity Kit

Business Class Amenity Kit

We were served beverages while on the ground.  I just had some ice water.  I don’t drink alcohol so can’t report on any of the offerings there though I will include the wine pages from the menu.

Not long after takeoff we were served dinner.  The menu (click any photo to enlarge):

United 58 Menu Starters

United 58 Menu Starters

 

United 58 Main Course

United 58 Main Course

United 58 Dessert & Breakfast

United 58 Dessert & Breakfast

United 58 Beverage & Bar Service

United 58 Beverage & Bar Service

United 58 Featured Champagnes

United 58 Featured Champagnes

United 58 Featured White Wines

United 58 Featured White Wines

United 58 Featured Red Wines

United 58 Featured Red Wines

United 58 Regional Selections 1

United 58 Regional Selections 1

United 58 Regional Selections 2

United 58 Regional Selections 2

 

I had the short ribs and they were quite good!  I didn’t take photos (hey, I’m still new at this whole blogging thing) but finished off the meal with ice cream & chocolate sauce.  That’s one of my favorite desserts anytime, anywhere.

I’ll admit to hurrying through dinner as I wanted to get as much sleep as possible.  There’s only a seven hour time difference between Houston and Amsterdam and the flight was only a bit over 9.5 hours.  Discounting the time for dinner and breakfast that only left about 6 hours for sleeping.  I felt fortunate to get about 4 hours of sleep.  It wasn’t great quality sleep but that flat bed was terrific in comparison to sleeping in coach!

I woke up in time to get cleaned up and awake before the breakfast service started.  I had the Swiss Cheese Omelette with broccoli-potato gratin and turkey sausage.  I’m not much of a sausage person, except when it’s on pizza, so I skipped that but the rest of it was pretty good, if not especially memorable.

Upon arrival in Amsterdam I stopped at an ATM to get some Euros.  I used my Charles Schwab account which meant I didn’t have to pay any ATM or foreign transaction fees.  I highly recommend their product!

Not knowing when I might have a chance, I stopped to use the facilities while still airside so by the time I arrived at Customs there was a bit of a line.  But my bag arrived fairly quickly and soon I was moving through the final checks and into the arrivals area.

I’d booked my transport to the ship via Viator. I’d booked a group transport but I was the only one.  Though I could have checked two bags free on my business class flight, the Viator terms & conditions state that only one bag + one carry-on per person is allowed.  Not that I needed two checked bags or more carry-ons but I was glad I had noticed this before I packed!  I met up with the driver and we walked out to my ride – a pretty black Mercedes.  I’m not a car geek so I’m just happy to remember what brand it was.  He was quite courteous and answered my questions about things we passed along the way.

Since it was after 9 am at this point, traffic was not bad at all and we pulled up to a building in the port area about 40-45 minutes later.  It was awfully quiet – even the driver thought so – so he offered to go inside with me.  Sure enough, we were at some sort of administration building for the port area and not where we were supposed to be.  He had a chat (in Dutch) with the person at the front desk.  There was much gesturing and pointing and finally we went back to the car, turned down a side street and across the bridge until we saw a Viking longship.  The river cruise boats were actually stacked about 3-4 deep but the one closest to the parking lot was a Viking so I felt sure we were in the right place.  I sent the driver on his way and approached the ship, which had several staff members standing around as passengers were disembarking.  I asked how to get to my ship, the Bestla, only to find it was not docked here – and I’d already let my driver go.

In various reviews I’d read to be sure not to let the driver go until you’re sure you’ve found your ship so I’ve no one to blame but myself.  However I admit I was disappointed that the driver (or his company) hadn’t done further research ahead of time to find where the ship was docked.  The cruise company cannot tell us in advance as it’s up to the harbormaster on any given day to determine where ships will dock. I had assumed (my mistake) that the car company would have done that.  I didn’t save that much money over buying my ground transport through the cruise line and I think that next time I will book through the ship, because they will definitely know where to find the boat!

The cruise director of the other Viking ship did call a taxi for me and direct him to where my ship was docked.  I was so glad I’d grabbed some cash from the ATM as I exited the airport – because it didn’t appear he took credit cards.  All in all, several lessons learned from this experience!

The Bestla’s cruise director was waiting at the drop-off point and warmly greeted me and other arriving passengers.  I was glad there were porters for my luggage as we had to get to our boat by boarding another boat, climbing up and down stairs before finally arriving at what would be our home for the next week.  It was going to be a beautiful, cool day in Amsterdam and I couldn’t wait to get started.

 

Next up: Amsterdam and cruise highlights

Categories: Europe, Star Alliance, United, Viator | Leave a comment

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