So, two decisions had been made, we would go to Europe as we had the Schengen Visa and that we would be cruising. Now it was time to decide and act on how and when.
Once again, we decided to go through a travel agent for a couple of reasons. We had been scammed by an airline company a few years ago and, when we claimed a refund for the allocation of incorrect seating on a flight, we were told that it could only be done through an agent. We were very grateful that we had done all those bookings with an excellent agent and received our refund in full within two months. For those who may believe that it costs extra to use an agent, it does not as they are paid by the airlines and hotels.
We have special friends in Basel whom we had not seen for a number of years and a cousin in Portugal, so we agreed to work around that. We had not visited The Netherlands either, giving us three must go to destinations. Now to decide on River Cruises to fit in with these and, with our agent we came up with a wonderful plan.
This was how it looked: a week in Basel, cruise from Basel to Amsterdam over 8 days, spend a few days in Amsterdam, board another boat to travel from Amsterdam to Antwerp over 10 days and then fly to Portugal for a week. It is a very special feeling when one has made the decision to travel and see new places, or those places one has visited previously, but see them from a different angle.
The dates of the cruises would decide our dates for travel and these turned out to be 20 -27 April from Basel to Amsterdam and then 01-10 May from Amsterdam to Antwerp. This gave us 4 nights in Amsterdam, with which we were very happy as we had not visited there before. We agreed to spend a week in Basel first and another week in The Algarve, Portugal at the end.
We left Durban on the evening of 13 April and arrived to a freezing Basel mid-morning the next day. Basel borders both France and Germany and, in fact, has a small section in France. The airport is actually in the town of Mulhouse and, when leaving the airport, one has to follow the directions to either France or Switzerland. Although we have friends there, we chose to stay in an hotel which is in what is known as the New City, maximum 200 years old, as opposed to the Old City which dates back to the 14th century.
On booking in we were pleased to discover that we received a voucher for free travel on all public transport and half price to enter all of Basel’s museums, of which there are almost 40. You name it there is a museum in Basel for it. Not surprisingly it is known as the City of Museums.
Our young friend, Nadia, who had spent time with us as an exchange student in 2005, had requested that we let her know when we were at the hotel and she and her 2 girls would come to meet us. It was agreed that they would arrive at our hotel at 14:30. We were really excited to see them just as Nadia was to see us. We were meeting the girls, aged 4 and 7, for the first time and they were very shy. Added to which they only spoke German so everything relevant had to be translated. Nadia had told them about us but it was still quite daunting for them.
We walked down the road called Clara Strasse and then turned left and walked towards the Rhine River and the bridge across which the trams also transversed. All along the riverbank are restaurants and we selected one where the girls could order ice-creams, or ijs (pronounced ays) as they call it. Still very shy, the younger one chose to eat only a little and then to follow the pigeons and dogs being walked. There was also a guitar-playing busker who took her interest.
After about an hour of non-stop catch up we walked back with them to the tram station near the hotel and arranged to see them the following day when Nadia’s partner and the children’s father, Ronnie, would join us.
It had been a long 2 days and so we had an early night.