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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Serendipitous Christmas!

Day 10/15 2023 Viking Bragi Grand European Christmas Markets River Cruise. Christmas Day,Bamberg, Germany

Yesterday after our port talk and the announcement by Program Manager Daniel about another ship change to the Viking Ve on Boxing Day, we made our minds up to ditch the included bus ride for the included tour of Wurtzburg. The bus ride to Wurtzburg was to be 1.5 hours. The walking tour of Wurtzburg was 1 hour and then of course the 1.5 return bus ride to the Skadi docked in a Bamburg, Germany. Since we have a full day of bus rides and tours on Boxing Day it was a pretty easy decision to stay in Bamburg for the day.

While we were eating a leisurely breakfast at 9am Christmas morning Daniel announced if anyone wanted to go to church for Christmas there was church services in Bamburg and we could inquire at Guest Services on the timing and location of the church service. Ah ha! Something to do in Bamberg today!

Viking was not running any shuttle buses into Bamberg because the buses were being used for tours to Wurtzburg. I used google maps to determine that the walk into town Bamburg would take us about 24 minutes. We are used to walking 4 hours in a round of golf, so we got our coats on and started walking.

We had picked up a map of Bamberg at Guest Services, but since we had been on the shuttle bus to Bamberg the day before, it was a pretty easy and straightforward walk to town following the river.

We saw some bridges over the river in Bamburg and recognized the bridge we had walked to yesterday at the end of the pedestrian shopping street. Perfect! Richard calls me his “human GPS” because I am really good with directions and can navigate well with landmarks, especially if I’ve been to the place before. As I had been taking photos of the clock tower in the distance the day before from the suspension bridge, I judged the distance from the bridge to the clock tower to know we had reached the correct bridge to get to town. There was another bridge further up the river, but it looked too close to the clock tower to take it. I certainly did not inherit my sense of direction from my father. He would get lost, my mother couldn’t read maps or navigate and of course he wouldn’t stop and ask for directions. His comment when asked “Where are we?” Was “We are going in the right general direction!”! Of course he was lost and my mother would get angry knowing that he did not know where he was whenever he used that line on us. I use the line on Richard from time to time and he laughs because he knows that I’m making a joke and I really do know where the heck I’m going!

Talk about a dystopian Christmas scene! We walked down the main pedestrian street of Bamburg and there was not a soul in sight. It was a strange sight to see but we knew that everyone was probably home enjoying time with their families on this early Christmas morning.

Yesterday on our walking tour of Bamburg our guide had told us where to go to take the iconic photographic shot of the Bamburg ‘Rathaus’ or old City Hall. Yesterday we had a feeling we would be spending another day in Bamburg, so we didn’t walk to the bridge to take the shot of the Rathaus.

Today though that was my mission. Walk to the small bridge up river from the City Hall.

Rathaus Bamberg, Christmas Day 2023.

Was it worth it?!! You betcha!! (I’m super happy with this shot after editing it too!) And today was a much better day to take the shot since there were a lot fewer people wandering around Bamburg to get in my shot. A photographers dream is to have an overcast day with no people around to be able to get the perfect shot and that’s what I had today!

Richard took this photo with his iphone. You can tell the quality of the image is not as good as the image with my Fuji XT-4 camera.

I found the Rathaus in Bamberg on this model of the town!

After taking my photos from on the bridge and seeing which angle of the City Hall I preferred, we walked a bit further over the bridge and found a metal model of the town of Bamburg. I’m glad we made the walk today or we would never have known this model was hiding in plain sight for only the people who took the time to make the trek to the bridge. Talk about a feat of engineering, great ingenuity, and determination by the citizens who wanted a Rathaus in their town and built an island to build it on!

We saw a very cool restaurant just beside the bridge with a fountain, heaters and a nice outdoor patio. We imagined how busy this spot would be in better weather. Richard calls those special little places for drinks “dreamy spots”. Today though we could only dream about warmer weather because the restaurant was not open for business on Christmas Day.

I could see Richard wanted me to move along after getting my shots because the church we were supposed to be going to at 11am was back in the main pedestrian shopping area and we needed to walk there still.

We walked by a man who was setting up his tables for lunch outside his restaurant. We didn’t think anything would be open today so we were surprised to see the restaurant would be open. The crowds were now starting to pick up at 10:45am with the sleeping city starting to come alive with tourists with nothing to do in Bamburg but walk around and see the sights.

We went by the headless Centurian bronze again as we crossed back to the pedestrian shopping street to walk to St Martin’s church. The public washrooms were also open down the steps and under the Centurian so that was good to know!

As we walked to the pedestrian street we saw the Gluwein booth was open too. Good to know! We will save that for possible future reference!

We tried a couple of doors at the front of St Martin’s church and couldn’t find one that was open. Another man was with us and he was trying to open the doors too. One of the doors had a ‘handicapped only’ sign on it but the man opened the door and ushered us in behind him.

When I walked into St. Martin’s gothic church I was in awe! The church was so beautiful! I didn’t know where to look because it was so distracting! The church was consecrated in 1693 and has a close affiliation to the Jesuits as the church was originally constructed as the university church and the church of the Jesuit College.

We found a pew fairly close to the front of the church and we were not sure whether the church was Catholic or Protestant. Richard thought it was Catholic so we went with that for now.

At the front of the church they had candles for sale so Richard went and paid for a candle and lit it in memory of his father.

Soon the pipe organ at the rear of the church started to play. And then the angelic sounding choir joined the pipe organ in a heavenly sounding chorus. It was so surreal and beautiful to be in such a beautiful church on Christmas morning.

It was quite cold in the church so I breathed out to see if I could see my breath and sure enough I could see my breath. I’m not sure what the temperature was inside the church, but I’m sure you can imagine how cold it was if we could see our breath. I had only worn my goretex jacket because it was +9C outside so there was no need to get hot as we were walking around Bamburg; but sitting in a cold church for an hour was a different story!

The priest, who it turned out was the man who ushered us into the church, and his lay ministers entered with the incense bomb thing and then the church had a unique smell to it. Richard likes the incense as he says it is not used at every service in the Catholic Church but only on ‘high holidays’.

Of course the only language spoken or sung during the entire service was German! I was able to sing the hymn “Gloria” on the chorus because “GLORIA, in excelsius Deo” is not translated to German. So at least for the chorus of this hymn I sang at the top of my lungs!

As the priest gave his homily I could pick up words like “Joseph and Mary” and “Bethlehem” so I knew he was telling the Christmas story. While he was speaking I was looking at the lack of symmetry to the baroque architecture. I really wished I had a guide with me to explain the iconography of the cherubs and the sculptures at the front of this beautiful church. Everywhere I looked I saw something new, even if I had looked there before. I would look left and see something and then look right to see if the same sculpture was reflected on the right side of the church, and it was not. Everything was different on both sides of the church. Admiring the beautiful gothic architecture during the homily kept me entertained, as well as interested,. as it was freezing sitting in the cold church.

The priest had us greet each other and soon after that the service was over. What a beautiful, serendipitous Christmas! Making plans on the fly and stumbling into a glorious church on Christmas Day. We are so glad we didn’t go to Wurtzburg and spend time on buses to only be able to see the outside of buildings because everything was closed on Christmas Day.

When we got outside I was very chilled though so we walked over to the Gluewein stand and Richard bought me a Kinderpunch and he had a green hot steaming rum concoction. The very hot grape juice beverage was perfect to warm up my cold hands and tasted pretty good too. All of the other Kinderpunch I have enjoyed so far were apple cider based drinks and not mulled grape juice.

I tried to get artsy positioning with the bokeh (out of focus Christmas tree and lights) and the hot drinks beside the Christmas tree in Bamburg. I’m not sure it worked but with no one around at least I had the chance to try it!

We decided to walk back to the Bragi while enjoying our hot drinks because we knew lunch would soon be served. I thought about staying for lunch in town, but we decided instead to head back to the ship.

We walked a different way back to the ship seeing some more beautiful Christmas shop windows we had not seen the day before. Bamburg is probably my favourite town so far on this river cruise. It is such a quaint, small charming town and has such interesting architecture. Also having the chance to see Bamburg without lots of people in it today on Christmas, was a big bonus for me!

We had a nice bowl of cream of tomato soup when we got back to the Bragi as well as unique Mediterranean falafel and hummus bowl salad. A nice light lunch! We knew Christmas dinner would probably be heavier later in the day.

We headed back to our cabin so Richard could send Christmas greetings to people back in Canada now that it was 9am or so back home. While Richard napped I worked on finishing the blog from yesterday in Bamburg.

It gets dark so early in Germany; at around 4pm! It’s been really depressing not having sunshine since we left Vienna, Austria. I’ve been taking my Vitamin D to help alleviate the lack of sunshine. I can honestly say I will be happy to see the sun again in Florida when we return. I don’t mind the cold as much because I can bundle up for that, but not seeing sun for days on end is really a drag.

We needed to pack up once again for our bus transfer to the Viking Ve tomorrow so I had Richard haul out the suitcases from under the bed so I could at least get the large suitcases packed before we went to the port talk and our Christmas dinner.

At the port talk Daniel explained how tomorrow would work for us. Departure was to take place at 8am. We had to have our suitcases outside our cabins before we left the Bragi. We would be assigned specific buses so we could leave our carry ons bags on our assigned bus when we did our walking tour in Wertheim. The bus ride to Wertheim would be 1.5 hours. After our walking tour of Wertheim (where everything would be closed), we would re-board our assigned bus to be driven to a ‘burger joint’ restaurant about 20 minutes further up the road on the way to the Viking Ve. While we were doing this bus transfer our luggage was going straight from the Bragi to the Ve in a luggage truck, which meant our luggage should be in our cabin before we arrived at the Viking Ve.

After our lunch at the burger joint that Daniel says he has never eaten at and might not be up to Viking’s standards, we would continue on the bus to the Viking Ve which might take another 1.5 hours. He expected we should arrive at 4pm at the Ve.

Of course while we are doing our tour and transfer the crew on the Bragi has to pack their own possessions as well as pack up everything on the Bragi, transfer and set up everything on the Ve, so when we arrived the ship would be ready to serve drinks and prepare dinner for us. And this transfer was to be done at 11-2pm. Yikes! We really feel for the crew as this is their last cruise of the year and after Saturday they are off for three months. I am sure they are tired, fed up and just want to get home to their families and they have to do go ‘over and above’ the call of duty to make the third ship transfer on this Grand European River Cruise itinerary over 15 days over the Christmas Holidays.

We know of a few couples who have left the Bragi. One couple actually was on our flights from Atlanta to Paris and to Budapest and live in Knoxville, Tennessee. This trip was their delayed honeymoon! Richard spoke to them when he heard they were leaving the ship and found out that the wife gets severe car sickness and cannot do long bus or car trips so they were instead finding their way to Amsterdam and were going to get a hotel and stay there and explore until their return flights to the U.S. on Saturday. I had checked yesterday what the cost of a one way return ticket from Frankfurt to Atlanta would have cost and to leave on Boxing Day the cost was €3038 per person; a non starter for changing plans! We had overheard another grumpy man checking out at Guest Services before we walked into Bamberg this morning. You can’t please everyone and given the fact Viking is completing their contract with us- just not the way we expected on a river cruise- it’s not like they can control the river water levels! Anyway, all that to say people have bailed on the cruise and are expecting some compensation from Viking for their troubles.

Daniel also mentioned that Viking head office would be reaching out to each and every one of us to offer some compensation for the inconvenience we have had on this trip with 3 ship switches, the packing and repacking inconvenience, as well as the extremely long bus rides for excursions, instead of leisurely walk into town walking tours. People are exhausted from the disruption and our leisurely 15 day river cruise has turned into a disjointed bus tour of Germany.

Our thoughts are that Viking will probably give us a future cruise credit as they know that not everyone will take them up on the future cruise offer, so it actually doesn’t cost them as much as they will be offering everyone. We will see I guess, but since we have another cruise booked already with Viking we would look to apply any future cruise credit to the upcoming cruise we have booked or maybe even book another cruise???!!!

Christmas dinner for me was a delicious parsnip soup with chopped hazelnuts , a colourful Christmas salad with red pomegranates scattered over top of the salad and herb crusted beef tenderloin. Richard had Sea Bass as he had originally ordered lobster and duck as two appetizers instead of a main course, but they ran out of lobster, so he got the Sea Bass main course instead.

After dinner we went back to finish our small roller board packing and I also finished watching ‘The Sound of Music’ which is always an uplifting movie- especially on Christmas Day.

Making lemonade out of lemons seems to be our specialty! And today was no different on our serendipitous visit to beautiful Bamberg,

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