The Viking Sun departed the pier at Cologne just after midnight, but not before the Viking folks brought a spectacular duo aboard for an incredible evening of entertainment in the ship’s lounge. You don’t have to be a classical music enthusiast to appreciate the excellence of Vivaldi, Gounod and Mozart played and sung by a very talented violinist and singer, accompanied by a guitarist equally talented in music. The musical interlude following another spectacular dinner under the capable hands of Chef Matthias, who frequently came out of the galley so intent was he….as his boss, Igor, as well, to please. In my constant hunt for really good beef to be served rare…or “dead and warm, as I usually ask for it…” I learned that in Europe, and apparently many American kitchens as well, the term for beef the way I like it is “blue.” Don’t know why blue instead of bloody red, but c’est la vie. Matthias rose to the occasion once we established the correct meaning, and life continues to be spectacular. Also impressive was the evening all interested guests were invited to tour the galley, a surprise in itself but almost mind boggling when they allowed us into the galley right after dinner, when I would think it would be at its messiest. Never fear. The galleys aboard Viking ships are spotless, orderly, efficient, and hot as heck from all the stoves and hot water in use.

By morning on the fourth day, we were in Koblenz, Germany, a name that means confluence since that’s where the Moselle River meets the Rhine. On deck was a scheduled trip to visit Marksburg Castle in the nearby town of Braubach. Viking cautioned the trip included rugged walking over 2,000 year old rock steps and a hike up a steep hill before entering a sandy-colored fortification built at the very top about 700 years ago, and remarkably, never taken over by enemies any time since. But before boarding the bus Viking had waiting for our trip to the castle, we learned something else about this very efficient company. Wanting to offer as much of the spectacular scenery and history along the Rhine that it could, Viking opted to let the passengers off for the Castle tour, while the boat continued to another pier, ready to receive us once again to continue the cruise along what has to be the most beautifully scenic part of the entire Rhine River. Efficiency in time and convenience.

Trudy and Heather, that stalwart couple from Canada, and I opted for that strenuous hike to the castle, (ok, I had to stop and rest twice alone the way but it was worth it!) It was fascinating. The castle tour by yet another knowledgeable local representative, included a walk through the gardens that featured the herbs and other plants used in the middle ages, then inside to the rooms on several levels of more of those cobbled steps to the very top. Since all castles were fortifications, there were lots of cannon and apertures at precise locations for their effectiveness, but also the castle’s chapel with its Madonna paintings on the walls, the kitchen with its massive hearth and ice box, the dining room complete with the “necessary room” adjacent, and large rooms with more interesting displays. One room had an array of armor and a knowledgeable person to explain how improved changes in coats of armor had emerged over centuries; another room had some of the tortures in popular use during the Middle Ages, tortures that make our present day executions and life imprisonments look weak. After a few minutes admiring the view from the top, a chance to pick up a souvenir or two or grab an ice cream, it was back down to the bus, back to the boat, and on to a spectacular part of the Rhine.

It was one of those days where you couldn’t ask for the weather to be any better, so almost all of the passengers gathered on chairs on the sundeck for a two house commentary by the program director as the Viking Sun passed small villages, more castles, wonderful vineyards growing horizontally on the sides of small mountains, and simply perfect scenery all around.

There’s much talk about Lorelei, a temptress on the Rhine, and the cause of the deaths of so many Sailors over the centuries.

In actuality, Lorelei is a rock formation, a huge hunk of earth that juts out into the Rhine, creating what is the most narrow and apparently the deepest part of the river. It’s tough for captains to navigate their craft through this winding section of the river, and any seamen’s deaths over the years most likely were caused by navigation troubles rather than a haunting melody from an invisible temptress luring sailors astray. Regardless, seamen are always filled with legends and mysterious stories and this one is as terrific as most. Besides, sitting on a sundeck, with Viking staff happily quenching your thirst serving whatever beverages you request, watching the world glide by while you soak in both breathless natural beauty and ancient ruins and architecture is an adventure never to be forgotten.

But still Viking offered more. Late in the afternoon there was a demonstration in the lounge on how to create Rudesheim coffee, a blend of coffee, brandy, sugar, whipped cream and chocolate, both the brandy, Asbach, and the chocolate, also named Asbach for the company founder Hugo Asbach, originating in this area. Heather, our Canadian friend, was invited to show her talent in creating the coffee, and while we were all served cups of the delicious beverage in the unique cups which are traditional, Heather was invited to keep hers as thanks for her part in the demonstration.

Cocktails, dinner, dancing and music, and at midnight, the Viking was off again. Next stop: Heidelberg