As an avid golfer since learning to play golf in San Diego, California at the age of 10, when considering vacation possibilities I try to think of how I can work in a round of golf. As a person who loves traveling to new and different locales, when I think of a vaca¬tion I look for opportunities to see and experience foreign countries and cultures. As someone who enjoys cruises, I continually review cruise itineraries when considering vacations. I recently found a way to enjoy golf, traveling and cruising while on vacation…a European River cruise. My wife and I took a Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands during which we enjoyed days and nights of comfort, culture and camaraderie on board one of Viking’s new Longships, and had the opportunity play golf on an outstanding course in Lucerne, Switzerland.
In 2014 Conde Nast Traveler’s readers named Viking River Cruise’s Longships “Best River Cruise Ships” and in 2015 Travel & Leisure Magazine named Viking River Cruises the #1 River Cruise Line. After our week on the one year old Viking Longship Viking Idi, we can understand why… outstanding staterooms kept organized and immaculate; excellent food served in the outdoor Aquavit Terrace or in the casual but elegant main dining room; free Wi-Fi in our stateroom; wonderful all-included daily shore excursions lead by extremely knowledgeable local guides; staff and crew members that made every moment enjoyable; and complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine at every lunch and dinner on board. In addition, we enjoyed soothing tunes by an on board pianist and listened to talented local musicians and singers who came on board to entertain the 186 passengers. We enjoyed the daily patter of Nick Hale, Viking Idi’s Program Director who was omni-present, a fountain of information about the ship, sites and ports along the Rhine, and was witty enough to be an extremely successful stand-up comic.
When you take a Viking Longship on the Rhine, you are in a hotel that glides effortlessly from town to town and city to city on one of Europe’s busiest and most famous rivers. You pass barges carrying coal, oil, wheat and all types of freight. You pass vineyards on steep hills. You pass castles that sit high above the river, some of which date back to the 13th century. Some of the castles are in ruins, some have been converted into private homes and some are now very, very expensive hotels. All are sites to behold. In addition to our daily shore excursions, Viking offered other tours which were included in the price of the cruise. We had a drive through the Black Forest where we learned about the history of Cuckoo Clocks and how they are made, and had a demonstration on how to make a Black Forest Cake. We visited famed Heidelberg Castle, took a tour of 13th century Marksburg Castle near Koblenz where we had a look at what life in a castle was really like; and toured the Kinderdijk Windmills near Amsterdam, A UNESCO World Heritage Site. Optional tours available at an added charge included a tour of the medieval Village of Colmar, a tour of a Mercedes Factory, a wine tasting and winery tour, a World War II Museum tour, a dinner of sauerbraten, red cabbage, apple sauce, dessert and lots of wine at the Rudesheimer Schloss in Rudesheim, and a Pub Crawl in Cologne.
If you decide to take a Rhine River cruise and add on a pre or post cruise extension to play golf in Lucerne as my wife and I did, enjoy a round at Golf Club Kussnacht. In 1995 four farm families went together to develop the course located just 20 minutes from downtown Lucerne. It has wonderful scenic views of green grassy rolling hills, colorful flow¬ers decorating flowerboxes on wooden farmhouses, gently clanging cow-bells on cows grazing in nearby pastures, and “Kodak moment” views of the Alps and Lake Lucerne. You may in fact have trouble concentrating on your golf game as the dazzling scenery will make you feel as if you are in a theater watching an IMAX movie.
Golf Club Kussnacht isn’t a long course. It ranges from 4300 meters (about 4700 yards) from the forward tees to 5470 meters (about 6000 yards) from the back tees. However, it isn’t a pushover by any means even with the extra distance Kick X balls we play which give us greater distance on our shots. Kussnacht’s hilly terrain, eleven doglegs, and five holes where water comes into play combine with elevated tees and greens to make the Par 68 course quite challenging. With one Par 5, 12 Par 4’s and five Par 3’s it carries a men’s slope rating of 121 and a ladies slope rating of 115. Kussnacht’s manicured fairways, smooth fast greens, fast BMW golf carts, friendly employees, and a wonderful lunch on the outdoor patio of the clubhouse restaurant made our day of golf truly enjoyable.
Although we only scheduled ourselves to play golf at Golf Club Kussnacht in Lucerne while on our trip, there are many golfing opportunities along the Rhine. A few that were suggested to us were: Near Koblentz/Boppard- the Jakobsberg Hotel and Golf Resort. In Cologne - Golf Club Gut Larchenhof e.V.- a Jack Nicklaus course, one of only a few Nicklaus courses in Europe, and Golf - und Land - Club Koln e.V.- where Bernard Langer won his first pro event at age 17. In Amsterdam there are 31 courses within a few miles of downtown. The best way to secure a golf tee time and arrange for rental clubs if you don’t wish to take your own, is to contact the courses directly by email. Once on the ship, the Concierge can reconfirm your tee times and arrange for transportation to and from the courses.
Extending in Lucerne was a great decision as Lucerne is a very friendly city for English speaking tourists as almost everyone speaks English, and, it is a very walkable scenic city. It has hundreds of years of history, numerous museums, and a calendar full of concerts and festivals. Also, shopping for watches, attractive fashions and stylish accessories is available in shops along the narrow alleys and in the wide squares. Whether on your own or with a guided tour, you can visit interesting and historic sites like the Benedictine Monks church, the Rathaus (City Hall), and the world famous Chapel Bridge, Europe’s oldest wooden covered bridge dating back to the 14th century. Numerous sightseeing excursions are also available including trips into the Alps where you can ride Europe’s oldest mountain railway, the world’s steepest cogwheel train, or the first revolving aerial cable car. We can highly recommend an excursion we took…a three-hour Lake Lucerne cruise on the steamboat Gallia which takes you around the lake past lush meadows, popular resorts and small villages that dot the shoreline. Only steps from the Chapel Bridge, and it’s 18th century painted panels portraying scenes of Swiss and local history, you can enjoy both lunches and dinners at excellent indoor/outdoor cafes along Lucerne’s Ruess River.
We had a delightful meal outdoors at the Phistern restaurant. The building in which it is housed was originally the Bakers Guild dating back to the 15th century. (A Dining Recommendation: Have the ravioli starter followed by either a Caesar Salad with shrimp and chicken or a dinner of strips of veal with a mushroom cream sauce and Swiss Rosti potatoes). For another dining and entertainment treat, plan dinner at the Stadtkeller Restaurant. There you can enjoy a delicious Swiss dinner of cheese fondue, salad, entrée and dessert, and a fun and highly entertaining folkloric show featuring musicians in national costumes yodeling, doing flag twirling and playing cowbells and thirteen foot long alpine horns. During our three days in Lucerne, we stayed at the Waldstatterhof hotel just two blocks from the main train station and Lucerne’s internationally acclaimed Culture and Convention Center. It’s a tastefully renovated downtown hotel that has maintained its old European architectural charm on the outside yet inside has comfortable modern rooms and an inviting restaurant that offers a bountiful buffet style breakfast. A word of caution…don’t expect large showers or air conditioning. At the Waldstatterhof, as is the case in most older hotels in Europe, showers are small by Western standards and rooms are not air conditioned..
With a great deal of sadness we disembarked in Amsterdam after seven wonderful days on the Rhine. It wasn’t that we were unhappy to be going to Amsterdam, it was just that we had had such a tremendous cruise on the Viking Idi. In addition to our excellent accommodations, outstanding food, and terrific tours, we had the opportunity to meet and get to know fellow travelers from England, Australia, Lebanon and numerous states in the US, as well as crew members from Germany, Austria, England, France, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, and Romania.
During our two days and nights in Amsterdam, we stayed in two dif¬ferent hotels, Casa400 Hotel, a student hotel for college students when school is in session. It was quite comfortable, nothing like the hostels and student hotels I stayed in during the seven and one-half months I bummed around Europe in 1960. It was a convenient five minute walk to the metro which took us to downtown Amsterdam in 15-20 minutes and it housed the East 57 Restaurant where we had an excellent and quite reasonable dinner. Our second hotel was the Park Hotel located on one of Amsterdam’s busy canals and was just two blocks from the Rijks Museum. It also had one of Amsterdam’s newest high-energy and trendy restaurants, MOMO. Although we ate at the Café Zuylen Bar and Restaurant near Dam Square while walking through the old section of Amsterdam, we did have a to-die-for chocolate dessert at MOMO. Even though totally different, both hotels and their restaurants are now on our “places to stay and eat” when we next visit Amsterdam.
During our two days in Amsterdam we walked through the old section, took a canal cruise using an I amsterdam City Card that was good for transportation in the city, gave us free entrance to a number of museums, and a reduced price at the Rijks Museum where we marveled at Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. We also took an emotional tour through the Anne Frank House where we got a real gut check on what it must have been like for Anne and her family hiding from the Nazis. We also spent time walking through the Red Light District. No matter what you think about the “world’s oldest profession”, a walk through the district is an experience not to be missed. During our 14 days in Europe, we had a great day of golf at Golf Club Kussnacht, loved visiting all the towns and cities in four countries, and thoroughly loved our cruise on the Rhine on the Viking Idi. If you also enjoy golf, traveling and cruising, combine all three by taking both your golf and deck shoes on a Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River.
And, if you want to take along your electronic gear including your laptop, ipad, iphone, etc. and not have to unpack and place them in the grey boxes provided as you go through the ever present TSA inspections, get yourself an ecbc Lance Back Pack with the checkpoint-friendly ecbc FastPass System. All you have to do is unzip the FastPass compartment, which displays all your protected electronics and cords, lay the Back Pack flat on the conveyer belt and send the it through the checkpoint scanner. Doing so certainly made our security checks much simpler. For information about Viking River Cruises, visit their website www.VikingRiverCruises. For information about golf courses from Lucerne to Amsterdam, visit www.1golf.eu/en/golf-courses/europe and follow the prompts for language, countries, cities and courses.