Beginning Viking’s Newest River Cruise Itinerary in the City of Light

Everything they say about Paris in the springtime: totally true. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Sunday, April 9, 2017

It’s true what they say about Paris in the springtime.

That’s the conclusion I came to after a day and a half in Paris as part of Viking River Cruises new Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour. Beginning here in the City of Light, this 12-day cruise tour includes a two-night stay in Paris, followed by a weeklong cruise down the Rhine aboard Viking Longship Hild, and finishes up with a two-night stay in Zurich, Switzerland.

Welcome to Paris! Viking provides each guest checking into the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel with a need-to-know welcome package. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

For me, this is the ideal itinerary: it focuses on different ports along the Rhine, like the gorgeous hamlet of Bernkastle-Kues, while also calling on larger municipalities like Strasbourg, France. That it also includes a two-night stay in both Paris and Zurich isn’t to be taken lightly, either: being guided around by Viking (and having hotels in both cities rolled into the purchase price of the tour) is a real bonus.

I arrived yesterday at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport’s Star Wars-ian Terminal 1, where I was met by a private driver and whisked to the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel; a boutique luxury hotel located ridiculously close to the Eiffel Tower. How close? It’s a block and a half away, and can be easily seen just by stepping out the front doors.

Viking includes a two-night stay in the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel as part of its new Paris to the Swiss Alps itinerary. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The hotel is comfortable, modern, and reflects a unique French style. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Inside, Viking Program Director Emma introduced herself to us and immediately made a great impression by delivering an entire welcome package. She didn’t go over it in detail, but instead encouraged us to look it over at our leisure, while at the same time running over some key points. Bonus points for this as well: I was able to look over the package in my room, at my own pace. It’s such a smart idea, given that usually when I arrive in a destination, all I want to do is take a shower and get everything sorted out.

The rundown was quick and concise: Saturday would be at our leisure, while on Sunday Viking offered a complimentary “Panoramic City Tour” in the morning with a stop at Notre Dame Cathedral. In the afternoon, a series of three optional tours could be purchased at an additional cost. We had until 6:00pm to submit our requests for those tours.

It’s also hard to beat the hotel’s location. On the left: the Eiffel Tower. On the right: the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This will be your first stop in Paris – I guarantee it. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The schedule for Monday showed us placing luggage outside the room at 6:15am, and meeting down in the Lobby for the departure of Transfer Group Blue to Luxembourg City and, finally, the beautiful Viking Hild.

36 Hours In Paris

A gorgeous weekend with unseasonably-warm temperatures awaited us in Paris. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I opted to skip the included morning tour of Paris and do my own thing, riding the Metro to various points around the city based on the recommendations of friends. But I did sign up for the optional afternoon tour to Montmartre Hill.

At a cost of €49 per person, this four hour-long tour included a guided walking tour of the romantic area of Montmartre, located in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. But I was also planning to use it as transportation: I wanted to have dinner in Montmartre at a place a friend recommended, and the chance to visit Montmartre for a walking tour and then stay behind for dinner sounded like an excellent opportunity.

Mornings at Notre-Dame…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and the nearby Shakespeare Book Company. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Viking also offered two other optional tours this afternoon: a 4.5-hour visit to the Palace of Versailles for €149 per person; or a Parisian evening of dinner and cabaret for €219 per person.

With spectacular weather that had blue skies and temperatures soaring past 24°C on this unseasonably warm Sunday, a guided tour of Montmartre turned out to be the perfect end to a day that had begun with visits to Notre Dame Cathedral and its surrounding areas.

Getting around on the Paris Metro was very easy…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…thanks to great signage at most stations. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I made heavy use of the Paris Metro on this trip and found it surprisingly easy to navigate. In fact, the most confusing part of the entire journey was the ticket machines – they don’t accept cash, and only take coins or credit cards. But directional signage is excellent and as long as you’re equipped with a map of the city (you did get a map at the front desk of the hotel, didn’t you?), you should have no problems making your way around Paris like a local.

My memories of the Paris Metro – from a visit when I was a teenager, I might add – are of a stinking, dangerous, subterranean rail network. While there’s no doubt that crime does happen, the stations seem to have been substantially cleaned up for the most part. There is also a heavy security presence near and around most Metro stations, and near major attractions like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Cour, all of which have very polite but heavily armed guards checking backpacks and wanding folks down with metal detectors.

Quiet reflections at Jardin du Luxembourg. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

You shouldn’t let world events deter you from visiting Paris. It is a remarkable city, and I haven’t felt even remotely threatened during my entire stay here. The only real threat you face in Paris is to your waistline: the amount of butter used in the city’s legendary cuisine is extraordinary.

J’adore Paris

Cafe scene, Montmartre. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I thought a lot about what I should write about my day and a half in Paris. As the start of this Viking river cruise, it’s an absolutely spectacular kick-off. Viking could not have picked a better hotel to partner with on this journey, and the level of information and organization provided to me the second I stepped through the hotel’s revolving door has been stellar. Organization is one of the most important elements of a successful trip, and Viking managed to surpass the already high expectations I have of the company in this regard.

Tourists flock to Sacre-Coeur on a warm Sunday afternoon in April. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Also, it’s worth noting that the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel is used by Tauck – an all-inclusive tour provider with river cruises that price out substantially higher than Viking’s With Viking choosing the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel, it’s easy for me to see that the line is continuing to up the quality of its partner properties with each passing season.

Our Viking guide leading us through the crowded streets…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…of Montmartre. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tomorrow we’re off to board the Viking Hild – one of Viking’s newest Viking Longships. She’s so new, in fact, that she was christened just a few months ago, and should still have that glorious “new ship” smell. Like her fleetmates, she’ll carry just 190 guests on an adventure unlike anything Viking has offered in the past.

As for Paris, what can I say? So many writers have already described this magical place better than I ever could. People like Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, George Orwell and others have immortalized this city, romanticized her to the point where she is an unattainable object of desire. Books have been written about her. Songs composed and sung. Movies filmed, watched, remade, and filmed again. Paris has been the setting for everything from the romantic mischief of Amelie; the tense mayhem of Ronin, and the whimsical ‘what-if’ imaginings of Midnight in Paris.

Mid-afternoon in Paris. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Paris is one of those cities you feel like you know before you’ve even been here. I’ve been here before – once, 16 years ago. I was in high school then. I knew little about the world, even less about Paris, and certainly nothing about Hemingway or Miller. I know now that I didn’t appreciate Paris then. Part of a school trip, we stayed in cheap accommodations and ate the most low-cost food; usually pate and bread. We didn’t know what to make of the pate, and we certainly didn’t know you should spread it over the bread. So, we started to eat it with our forks in big, rich chunks. I’ll never forget the panicked look on the waiter’s face. “Non, Monsieur!”, he exclaimed as he raced over to us.

Paris in the springtime as an adult earning an income: very different from a visit as a broke teenager. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

On second thought, maybe I did know about Henry Miller, who famously lived a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris during the 1930’s. Miller was constantly broke and wandered from place to place, crashing in on famous literary and art figures of the time. Maybe he ate pate en-masse. I don’t know. It certainly didn’t make the cut in Tropic of Cancer, anyway.

Evening falls on Paris. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Now, 16 years later, how things have changed. I’m staying in a nice hotel so close to the Eiffel Tower that I feel I could touch it. I’m being guided around by Viking River Cruises’ always-knowledgeable guides. And I’m dining on food that I would have had no way of affording as a lowly high school student 16 years ago.

Today I learned there are many different faces of Paris – and I’ve been fortunate to have seen this great city at two very different points in my own life.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Viking River Cruises’ Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour continues tomorrow as we board Viking Hild in Trier, Germany! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Saturday, April 8, 2017Paris, France
Sunday, April 9Paris, France
Monday, April 10Trier, Germany (embarkation)
Tuesday, April 11Trier, Germany / Bernkastel, Germany
Wednesday, April 12Cochem, Germany
Thursday, April 13Middle Rhine Cruising; service call in Kaub, Germany
Friday, April 14Mainz, Germany
Saturday, April 15Speyer, Germany
Sunday, April 16Strasbourg, France
Monday, April 17Basel, Switzerland (disembark); Zurich, Switzerland
Tuesday, April 18Zurich, Switzerland; end of tour.

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