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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

The ICU….


Day 11/15 2023 Viking bus trip from hell through Germany! On our way through Wurtheim to a burger joint and eventually the Viking Ve which is docked in Mainz, Germany. Our 3rd…yes that is right…3rd Viking longship we have been on in 11 days!


We got up at 6:45am with an alarm!!! If you’ve read my blogs for long enough you know I hate waking up early with an alarm. We are on vacation! I do not feel like anything is a vacation when I have to wake up with an alarm! Anyway, we put our large suitcases out in the hallway before going to breakfast because I had everything packed, except for the clothes we would wear today.



After a pretty quick breakfast I went back to the cabin to finish my toiletry and pack up the last roller board suitcase. We take our two roller boards and two knapsacks with us on the bus and let Viking move our large suitcases to the Viking Ve, on the luggage truck.

We learned from our Program Director Daniel that our ship was going to be docking at another pontoon dock across the river from where we had been tied up to another ship called the Belvedere for the past two days. We were wondering if the Bragi would be moving because we could not figure out how Viking expected us to drag our rollerboards and ourselves up and down stairs and over the other ship. At least that worry was now behind us. It also made it much easier for our crew to unload the Bragi if they could walk off the pontoon bridge directly to a waiting truck to load the truck for the journey with all of the Bragi’s food etc to the Viking Ve.


We were assigned bus 4. Richard put the rollerboards under the bus and I found us two seats four rows from the front. There was no room to put Richard’s knapsack up over our seats, so he had to sit the entire journey with it between his legs. Not ideal at all but since it had our iPads in it, we didn’t want it bouncing around under the bus.



I put my mask on as soon as I go on the bus. I wish other people had been as considerate. It sounded like we were in an ICU ward with the amount of coughing and hacking that was going on as we made our way onto the Autobahn towards Wertheim. I do not know how people have so quickly forgotten about the fact that we all wore masks during the pandemic to prevent the spread of germs, and that Covid hasn’t gone away. Neither have colds, flu and RSV either so why can’t people be considerate if they are sick, in closed quarters and wear a damn mask? The man behind me was coughing. The man across from me was coughing. The woman kitty corner from was coughing up her lungs and couldn’t stop coughing. Every minute on the bus someone was coughing and it didn’t stop! I never signed up for long bus rides with coughing sick people although I knew I would be wearing my mask on the bus and Richard too, to protect us on this trip.



After 1.5 hours on the bus we finally stopped at a roadside convenience stop for the WC and to get a bite to eat and a coffee. We went to the restaurant right away to get a warmed ham and cheese sandwich on a fresh rosemary bun. Richard had a coffee and I had a smoothie. The WC cost €1 cash or we could use a credit card. Richard gave me the coin and he went and used the WC in the bus by mistake. The toilet was not functional and he did not know that before using it!


Back on the bus for more and more ICU coughing. After 45 minutes we arrived at Wertheim to meet our guide in group ‘A’ for our walking tour of the old town.



As soon as we got off the bus we could see the Main and the Tauber River had flooded across the road completely closing the road to the other side of the town.


The village of Wertheim dates back to the 7th or 8th century. The town is famous for being at the confluence of the Main and Tauber Rivers. The city is also famous for their half timber homes but all we could see were medieval or stucco homes. The city is overshadowed by a beautiful castle built by the Counts of Wertheim which was first mentioned in 779.




Wertheim also has its own leaning tower which our guide called “the famous leaning tower of Wertheim”, but is actually called the ‘Lazy Tower’. Built in 1170 as a watch tower and used for 800 years for defence purposes, the tower is built on sand and with all of the flooding in the town, over time the tower has developed quite a lean to it! Our guide Ursula had a wicked sense of humour and we were really enjoying her commentary as she walked us through the old medieval town of Wertheim.




Ursula took us into the old town of Wertheim where our first stop was to show us some homes that had symbols on them. In olden days when people did not read and write, the symbols on the building let people know what their profession was. We saw a butcher shop with axes crossed and a bakery with the symbol of a pretzel on it.



We saw where a house had been demolished in the old town and the people had received permission to tear down the home. From looking at the wall of the house next to the demolition sight we could understand what Ursula meant when she said “half timbered” homes. Besides timber and cement people also used dung to fill in the cracks and act as insulation for their homes.



In the Middle Ages property taxes were assessed by how much of your home touched the ground. As you can see from this clever homeowner he saved some money by building his home larger on the upper floors than the ground floor! This home is known for being the skinniest house in Germany!



Ursula’s husband was born in the town and she showed us the home where he was born which had a very unique, kind of ugly creature on the side of the home. Ursula had us look from the side at the creature. She said “Guess what I call this creature? The ‘Mona Lisa’ of Wertheim!” She said the sly smile on the face of the creature was just like the Mona Lisa or her mother in law!


During WW2 the Nazis had set up an airbase outside of the town of Wertheim. The castle in town had a bunker available to the citizens which only held 4,000 people though. The population in Wertheim and surrounding areas was 14,000 and the citizens were always worried that the Allies would come and bomb Wertheim because of the Nazi air base. The townsfolk had heard the Allied bombers coming towards them at one point, but since the town is in a Valley and the two rivers often have fog, the village was saved because of the fog.



Ursula showed us an amazing place to take a photo without any signs or cars in the way of the castle ruins. She really was an excellent guide and I’m so glad we got her as our guide today.



We walked up a slight incline to see the Evangelische Stiftskirche church in Wertheim. The clock on the church tower only had two hands because it only showed the aristocracy who lived in the castle above the town the hour and not the minutes. Apparently they had no need of an exact time! When the town square was completed the town government had to add a little building on top of the church steeple to accommodate the minute hand for the clock in the town square, which showed both the hour and minute hands.



When the Evangelische Stiftskirche church was completed they needed a place to house visiting guests, so the Catholic Church at the time had a building built just up the street from the church. The stone mason who was conscripted to build the building carved a a stone monkey on the railing, holding a mirror with one hand and scratching his behind with the other hand. The lesson the church wanted people to learn from the monkey holding a mirror was that only vain people look in mirrors all day. The stonemason made rather large genitalia on the monkey to reflect the fact the monkey was male. In fact the stonemason was thrown in jail as a result of his attempts at humour and was only released once the reformation took place with Martin Luther and the Catholic church became a Protestant church. What a funny story!


Wertheim is also known for its glass works. The production of glassware and beaded jewelry started in the medieval times and continues today. A Glass Museum was actually open today when we walked by it, but we had no time for stopping on our tour today of Wertheim.



Our guide showed us all of the high water marks on the buildings around the town. One of the buildings shows a flood mark dating back to 1595! Our guide said the worst flood was in 1985 because while the water only stayed 5 days in the basements of the homes, all of the homes were oil heated and the furnaces were in the home’s basements. The oil smell was everywhere and the environmental mess took a very long time to clean up from the two rivers. Now all homes must be heated by natural gas in the town.


One of the interesting things about the town when it floods is the parking garage near the river becomes the ideal place to fish! The rivers flood the streets and the water gets trapped in the underground parking garage where the locals go and have a hey day fishing for all kinds of freshwater fish! What a hoot!



Our guide was quite clear that the floods they have in Wertheim have nothing to do with climate change. How they handle floods every year is to have the police and the national guard come to town when they are flooding. If granny needs to get to the doctor’s office they just call the national guard and a boat will come pick her up. This is not their first rodeo, so to speak, and they know how to handle the flood waters and life goes on. The flooding we saw today in town with roads being closed and footpaths overrun with water, basements being pumped out with sump pumps was just their normal way of life in this small town of Wertheim. An interesting perspective for us to understand.


We tipped Ursula generously and then got on the bus for our 20 minute ride to the burger joint for lunch. Our bus and our Program Manager Daniel’s bus got lost and went into some small town about 10 minutes out of our way. As a result our bus which was supposed to be first to the restaurant, ended up last to the restaurant.


We were one of the last people to get off the bus so by the time we got into the burger house with the Gluewein and Kinderpunch that we were served in the restaurant’s back patio, we were not able to find a table to eat inside. The three rooms of the restaurant were completely packed so we decided to head outside instead.



The employees of the restaurant who were serving the Gluewein from two tables on the back patio offered to give us one of their two tables to sit at while they figured out what to do with us for our lunch. They gladly ran to a storage barn in the courtyard to get us some chairs to sit on too. At 13C it was cool, overcast but not bad to sit outside for a picnic lunch. Another couple from Sydney, Australia came to sit with us too because they couldn’t find anywhere to eat inside either. Richard and this Aussie had spoken before of their love for airplanes, so the two of them started swapping stories about planes and they were having a good old time.



Daniel our Program Director came to see if he could seat us inside but there were no seats together. He said he had ordered meals for 174 which included 4 bus drivers and himself. Originally we had 175 guests on the Skadi and we were picking up one guest in Nuremberg so we were 176 guests. If I do the math right we should have been 181 people including Daniel and the 4 bus drivers having lunch today, so that meant since he announced we would be changing ships two days ago we have lost 7 people who originally boarded the Skadi in Budapest. Interesting. It sure feels like a very long time ago since we boarded the Skadi for this Grand European Christmas market river cruise. I mean we know what long trips are like having gone 138 days on the Viking Neptune for the World Cruise, but this trip with its 3 ship changes, change of plans, change of plans, pack, unpack, pack etc is feeling a lot more exhausting and just really LONG!


Anyway, I digress. Back to the burger joint in some unknown city sitting in the back courtyard because there was no room for us in the restaurant, with the wind picking up and it starting to feel a lot cooler than when we first got off the bus!


We told Daniel we were fine to eat lunch outside. Frankly when we saw how crowded the restaurant was and knowing we would have to eat with no mask on with that ICU group of people we both thought that we would get takeout and eat outside, so it kind of worked out the way we were both thinking. We didn’t even tell each other what we were thinking until after we got back on the bus.



The staff came outside eventually and took our orders which was either a burger with salad or a burger with fries. They did offer chicken or vegetarian burgers but none of us had ordered those options .


We slowly drank our Gluwein and Kinderpunch as we didn’t know where the next WC break would be after this restaurant! We were still 1.5 hours away from the Viking Ve so watching fluid consumption was definitely something to worry about!



Finally after waiting about 20 minutes for our lunch, our food arrived and was it ever delicious! The burger had a meat patty, sauerkraut, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and a dressing like thousand island on it. The salad was so very fresh and had different kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots and radishes. Such a delicious meal and a lot better than Daniel set us up for which was as he had said at our port talks was “probably not up to Viking’s standards!”


We finished lunch at 2:25pm. We immediately got back on the bus and then proceeded to wait for everyone to use the WC at the restaurant and get back on the bus. Daniel announced that the staff of the Bragi had made it to the Viking Ve with all of the supplies and our luggage and they were busy setting up the ship for our arrival, which would take about 1.5 hours. Daniel did say that the bus would be making a brief 15 minute stop at a roadside rest area somewhere along the way and if just the people who really needed to use the facilities get off the bus please and not everyone. The toilet in our bus is not working so using it is not an option.


Daniel told us when we get to the Viking Ve our luggage will be in our cabin. We are to unpack and the port talk will be at 7:15pm. Dinner will be at 7:30pm. At this point I am too full to want any dinner. Maybe a nice homemade Viking soup might be a good option after a full day of bus travel in the ICU UNIT!!!!


We arrived in Mainz, Germany on the Rhine at 4:25pm. The bus driver said “We are here, please get off”. We never did make another roadside pit stop. Richard got the rollerboards and headed down towards what we thought was the Viking Ve, while I stopped and took some photos of the bridge over the Rhine.


As I was walking to the Viking Ve I saw some fellow passengers had turned around and were walking towards me. Apparently I needed to go down the stairs I had just passed to get access to the actual pier where the Ve was docked.



The Ve is tied up to another Viking River Cruise ship which is doing a Rhine cruise to Basel, which ends in a few days. The staff on that ship came over today to help our crew set up the ship before we arrived. That is the great thing about these identical ships. Everything is the same in each long ship so it makes it easy for the crew as well as the guests when we change ships. The Ve is actually 2 years newer than both the Bragi and SKADI which were both built in 2013.


I unpacked in 15 minutes since I had a system from having already unpacked twice before on the Skadi and the Bragi. Our cabin is slightly different with a different layout of the sink in the bathroom, one less bathroom shelf, and the shower having two knobs instead of one, but basically the cabin is the same as the last two ships.



After unpacking I said to Richard it was only 5pm so we should go for a walk in Mainz, Germany. The weather was nice outside at 14C and while it was getting dark, it gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs after a long bus riding day.




Are we ever glad we got off the Ve for an hour walk this evening. We saw some amazing parts of the town of Mainz which we never would have seen if we hadn’t seized the opportunity to see this beautiful town at night. Unfortunately the Christmas Market in town seems to be finished for the season, but the lights and decorations over the market looked very pretty as we walked by.



We went to the port talk this evening where Daniel outlined that we would be docked overnight in Mainz so that tomorrow morning we would sail at 7am to Koblenz, Germany through the Rhine River Valley seeing castles upon castles upon castles along the way! He will provide commentary during the sailing and when we arrive in Koblenz we have lunch on the Ve before heading out for afternoon excursions in town. Finally a day to sleep in and not be concerned about an early excursion or a long bus trip because our ship cannot sail due to high water levels!


Daniel did say that the water levels in Cologne which is where we are heading the day after tomorrow are cresting today, so fingers crossed the water levels recede over the next day or so, so that we can proceed to Cologne. The Christmas markets are still open in Cologne and we understand that is a pretty city to visit. Unfortunately the cathedral in Cologne has been the target of a terrorist threat this holiday season and there is a very large police presence in the town and our Viking guides will not be able to take us through the cathedral. Bummer! At least we are sailing onwards to Amsterdam with no more changes in ships, so thank goodness for small mercies.


Let’s hope those mercies also extend to not getting sick from our bus ride in the ICU unit today!


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