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Published: August 27th 2017
Flying on IcelandAir for the first time, after Bill and I had meandered our way south to Boston, we were underimpressed with the almost non-existent cushioning on the seats, but had been forewarned about the lack of food, wine, and beer on their flights. The staff was very polite, but they didn't have much to do except offer water occasionally. Our goal was to reach Basel, Switzerland before dinner on Tuesday, August 1, but the boat wasn't scheduled to leave until the next afternoon, so we knew we had quite a bit of leeway in getting there on time. IcelandAir does not fly into Basel, so I booked our flights to Zurich, figuring that we certainly could find our way between the two cities in such a small country. IcelandAir doesn't do Global Entry either, so I had to wait in line like everybody else, which wasn't a problem as Bill hasn't gotten his Global Entry yet anyway. We had an hour's layover in Reykjavik, then a short flight to Zurich. And then, trying to work out the train to Basel was easy, but getting to the ship was a bit trickier. I had the address of the dock, but had been given two very different sets of directions, so we asked the young woman at the ticket kiosk in Zurich and she kindly figured out a third way for us. So we headed off, optimistically thinking that at least one of the ways would get us there. We caught the first train from the airport to the train station, then fairly easily found the track for the train to Basel. Ah, almost an hour's respite from rushing from plane to plane to train to train. But after alighting from the train in Basel, luckily we missed the streetcar we thought we were supposed to take as we were on the opposite tracks. It turned out well; we caught the right train coming along, the #8 to Klybeckquai. Exiting the streetcar, I noticed the sky had turned murky and dark; as we were walking to the dock rain began to pelt down, so we took shelter under an overhanging building, enjoying our time playing with the small children of a family who was also dodging the rain. The downpour eventually stopped, and we continued our pleasant puddly walk to the dock, finally arriving just before dinner, which had been our original goal. After almost two days of travel and a night of little sleep we had made it! Once on the boat, everything is taken care of including handling our luggage, so finally we could relax.
Yesterday we spent exploring and playing in Basel, Switzerland. This morning we thought we were docked in Strasbourg, France, still on the Rhine River. Thick clouds hung above us outside, and the Rhine River was wide, reflecting back the grey skies; mallards and swans, as well as the occasional barge, floated effortlessly by our window. Bill would carry one of the ship's umbrellas for our explorations this day. But alas! Over the intercom came a mysterious message for all to meet in the lounge, that the day's schedule had been changed. What had happened was that one of the engines on our boat had failed in the middle of the night; we were not in Strasbourg after all, and might not even get there. Strasbourg was one of the main reasons I had signed on for this trip; it is my oldest brother's favorite city in Europe, so I dearly wanted to have time there. Well, perhaps that was not to be, at least for this time. But the program directors are always very hard at work, handling everythiing one could possibly think could happen (yes, everything), so they had put together an alternate day for all passengers while our boat was stuck in Breisach am Rhine, awaiting a repair engineer to arrive from Amsterday. (Would s/he bring a new engine along?) So, not knowing what the day would bring, I conviced Bill to walk into Breisach, to check it out.
Breisach am Rhine turned out to be a very pretty little town. Walking a path along the Rhine River into Breisach was very pleasant, and exploring a few streets and by-ways in town was truly fun. The tourist information center wasn't open yet as it was still early, but I was able to pick up a few pieces of literature about the town, just in case I ever wanted to return. People come to camp here as well, so there must be things to do besides eat and shop. Maybe I'll find out one day, or maybe not, but our early morning walk turned out to be a lovely interlude.
Back onboard we heard the new plans for our day: instead of having a day in Strasbourg, busses were to take us to Colmar, France, where we would have an orientation walk, then lunch, then free time to explore on our own. I wondered why they couldn't just have gotten busses to take us to Strasbourg for the day, but no one seemed to want to answer that question. Colmar turned out to be a wonderful city to explore! Our local guide said she did not ever want to guide in Strasbourg as it was so crowded, that it was difficult to move a group of people through the streets, basically fighting with other groups to find quiet places to offer information, that it was all elbow to elbow. I was happy to be in Colmar, but still disappointed not to spend the day in Strasbourg. The one thing about Colmar that was difficult for me was that no restaurant offered vegetarian anything, much less vegan meals. I thought I'd be fasting until dinner back on the boat, but finally we found a little smoothie stand that also sold small salads with local veggies and quinoa; the salad, plus a freshly blended fruit smoothie, turned out to be quite a good lunch.
Back on the bus, still driving through the Alsace region, we stopped next at the Stork Park, at the Centre de Reintroduction des Cigognes et des Loutres. Storks had nearly become extinct in Alsace; only ten couples were alive in 1975. But this center has helped to bring them back; there are over 400 pairs nesting there now. It was quite wonderful to see these huge birds up close, to hear their clacking, to see them greedily grabbing gobs of meat thrown out by their caretakers (and trying to selfishly hold the food away from other storks), to see their enormous nests relatively up close, to know that so many couples are living and thriving there. Visiting a Stork Park turned out to be a pleasureable addition to our substitute schedule for the day.
Continuing on the wine route, our large group obviously had to stop for a wine tasting at the Cattin Famille de Vignerons Depuis 1720, to enjoy their Grands Vins et Cremants D'Alsace. This was another excellent stop! Four different wines were offered, along with a delicious homemade walnut bread to cleanse our palates between the tasting of their wines. I had thought my favorite would have been the Gewurztraminer, but I preferred the Pinot Gris Gold Medal 2016 instead. Such an educational and happy visit we had there!
But what would tomorrow bring? Would we make it to Strasbourg? If we were still stuck here was it possible for us to use public transit to go on our own and still be able to meet the boat somewhere if the engine got fixed? None of the program directors would divulge this information, so we went to bed unsettled in not knowing what would happen tomorrow, or in the days to come.
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