A Touch & Taste on the Captivating Danube River
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
Picturesque scenes capture the magnificence of the Danube River with elegant cities, rolling hillsides, lush vineyards, and medieval castles. A romantic river that captivated musicians, artists and poets throughout the centuries. After traveling Europe a few weeks on our own, we gladly begin our Viking River Cruise and have the Viking experts orchestrate activities to assure an historical and local experience. Our cruise promises a glimpse of beguiling Budapest, the imperial architecture and gracious culture of Vienna, riverside towns in Austria’s Wachau Valley, a high-baroque abbey, and captivating German towns.
SATURDAY: Welcome Aboard the Lif Under bright blue skies, we are graciously welcomed aboard the Lif for a one week cruise on the magical Danube River. Our Cabin 311 features twin beds, plush bedding, a small balcony, built in dresser/desk and upscale compact bathroom. We enjoy a tasty Hungarian lunch in the lounge. Docked by Budapest’s Chain Bridge, it’s easy to explore this scenic city on foot. Strolling the streets vendors are setting up for the Christmas Market. St. Stephen’s Basilica is elegant! Dedicated to Stephen, the first king of Hungary, it has massive red marble columns, ornate architecture and glitters with gold. Taking the elevator and stairs to the exterior dome, we are rewarded with expansive views of Budapest. Back on the Lif, we join fellow passengers for a Welcome Reception. Vlad, our Program Director, gives insight into the agenda for the week and details of our cruise. Sailing in November avoids the crush of tourist and heat of summer but adds the challenge of low water levels. The trip to Vienna will be by bus. The Viking staff extends every courtesy to overcome this blip. Dinner is delightful as we make new friends while the complimentary wine and beer flow.
Afterwards we walk to another boat for a cruise on the Danube with the enchanting sights and twinkling lights of Budapest at night.
SUNDAY: Budapest City Tour and Off to Vienna:
Morning arrives with cloudy skies. After a scrumptious buffet breakfast, we grab umbrellas and board the bus for a City Tour of Budapest. The capital has two sides, Buda and Pest, stretching along the banks of the Danube. Our guide gives details into Budapest’s 1,000-year-old-culture. The dynamic Pest boasts the largest Parliament building in Europe, riverside promenades, flea markets, antique stores, and café’s while the enchanting Buda features an historic castle, medieval, houses, museums, caves and Roman ruins. On the Buda side, we stroll Fisherman’s Bastion. Views are limited on this rainy day.
We pop into a few shops with local handcrafts, then attend Sunday mass at Matthias Church with its florid Gothic architecture. Back on the bus, it’s a quick stop at photo stop at Hero’s Square. Lunch is at Gundel, a premier restaurant known for traditional Hungarian cuisine served in exceptional ambiance. We savor our Hungarian lunch of Paprika Chicken with Noodles and a Gundel Pancake. Now, a relaxing bus ride to Vienna and an afternoon nap.
Welcome to the Vienna and the Viking Njord! Sipping the hot toddy on arrival, we make our way to our room. Hurrah, it’s Cabin 311! (Viking ships have the same room plans). Vlad, accompanies us for the entire cruise, and tonight he updates on our schedule and activities in Vienna. Dinner in the main dining room is a multicourse meal with plenty of conversation along with lots of wine and beer. Later we go to the top deck but the rain deters any views of the city.
MONDAY: Vibrant Vienna! Vienna hails with blue skies and sunshine! After breakfast, it’s a City Tour of Vienna. Our guide shares the history of the Hapsburg Family, the Holy Roman Empire’s rise and fall, the city today and the music of Vienna. A true music city noted for composers of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms, and many more. Today Vienna boasts 2 million people! It proudly promotes parks having 51% of the city as green space. Our bus tour takes us by parks, government buildings, palaces, and churches. On foot, we visit the stalls of the infamous Lipizzan Stallions, the winter palace, and other buildings. At Pestsäule, a Holy Trinity column in the inner city, our guide gives an intricate description of this high baroque column. The Great Plague epidemic in late 1679 devastated Vienna. Emperor Leopold I vowed to erect a “mercy” column if the epidemic would end. The base depicts the “triumph of faith over the disease.” The middle figure is Emperor Leopold I praying. Gleaming in the sunlight is the gilded top of golden cherubs and other religious figures, including the “Holy Spirit.” Next is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a Gothic style church that was severely damaged by fire in the last days of the World War II. The community rebuilt the cathedral in only seven years. The roof dazzles with colorful tile. We do a self-tour of the cathedral, visit a few shops then return to the Njord for lunch and a respite.
The afternoon is a tour of the Schönbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Hapsburg family, an optional excursion. Our guide carefully walks us through 20 rooms sharing the fantastic insight into the lives and times of the imperial family in the days of Empress Maria Theresa. The mother of 16 children, she is a prominent figure in the Empire. This baroque palace’s rooms are largely in their original condition. Gold glitters and reflects everywhere in the Halls of Ceremonies with expansive walls of mirrors. Our guide adds intrigue with the uniqueness of each room, as well as the stories, history, and tales of the Hapsburg family, including how marriages were arranged to grow the empire or stop wars. We are transported to a different era, when Austria was a powerful empire. Afterwards we stroll the massive gardens which are bare in November.
It’s an early dinner, then off to the opera, The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To compensate for the inconvenience of ship changes all travelers are invited to this optional excursion. On the bus, a cast member entertains us with tales of Mozart and insight to the opera. The Viking opera version is enhanced with some English wording and cues. A comical tale of love and lovers, the abbreviated version is 90 minute instead of the 4-hour opera. Afterwards, it drinks and piano music in Njord’s lounge. Later, nestled in our cozy beds, we feel movement. Hurrah! We’re moving! It’s the first time our ship has sailed!
TUESDAY: Austria’s Scenic Wachau Valley & the Magnificent Melk Abbey This morning, we sail Austria’s Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wachau is described as “an outstanding example of a riverine landscape.” Chilly winds preclude being outside. Luckily, our balcony provides delightful views of the scenic countryside. Vlad gives an excellent commentary of this medieval landscape with delightful tales of the quaint towns along the shore, vineyards literally carved into hillsides and ruins of castles. At the charming town of Durnstein, we spot the blue and white colors on the church steeple that represent heaven and earth. Cruising past Spitz, we see the “Hill of a Thousand Buckets,” so named because of the many grapes that grow there.
After lunch, we hop on a bus for an excursion of the spectacular 900-year-old Melk Abbey, the most famous Abbey in Austria. Walking through this massive Abbey, our guide shares the abbey’s fascinating history. Originally a royal palace it was presented to the Benedictine monks in the 11th century. Room after room our guide unravels a new layer of history from the Hapsburgs to the Benedictine monks to the Abbey today. The massive library houses countless medieval manuscripts. Stepping into the spectacular high baroque Church is a “golden experience.” It literally glitters with gold! Surprise, the huge gleaming marble columns and walls are “faux marble”. From the Abbey, we stroll through Melk with its delightful cafes and shops. Then, it’s relaxing walk to the Njord. Low water levels continue to impact our cruise as it will be another bus ride tomorrow. As always dinner is scrumptious. With suitcases packed, we have a peaceful night’s sleep, while the ship sails to Linz and through several locks.
WEDNESDAY: Germany Awaits! After breakfast, our bus ride is along a scenic countryside of rolling hills and vistas to Passau. Passau is known as the “city of three rivers,” the Inn, the Danube and the Liz Rivers. Our guide thrills us with the historic tales of this Bavarian city that was influenced by the Holy Roman Empire and later Bishops and Dukes attempt to maintain control of the city. Fires ravaged the city in the 17th century, the community rebuilt it in the baroque style of today. Flooding is a continual challenge, so living accommodations are on higher stories, while businesses are on the lower levels. Our tour takes us along the rivers where we see Innstadt Brewery started in the 13th century. A highlight of the tour is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the town’s foremost landmark boasting the worlds’ largest pipe organ outside the US. Our guide educates us on baroque architecture of the Cathedral explaining a church must welcome the common people. Incense gives the smell, the organ and choir brings sounds as a home would welcome with smells and sounds. Artwork has people who look real. Images in a baroque painting that emit light are holy, depicting someone to follow. Now, for a traditional German lunch. With time to explore on our own, we roam some shops and pop in other local churches. Back on the bus we arrive at the Viking Freya. Again, we have cabin 311 so it is a simple transition. Dinner, as always, is delicious as we share laughter and tales with our new friends. The evening is festive with music and dancing in the lounge, as the Freya sails along the Danube and through numerous locks. Sometimes the walls are only inches away from the window. A 24 hour virus making the rounds on the trip caught up with me in the early morning. Yuck!
THURSDAY: Famous Regensburg from a Cathedral to Beer & Brats
As I recuperate, Richard is off on the walking tour of Regensburg. Fascinating sight is St. Peter’s Cathedral with its Gothic Architecture. The town is known for its sausages, homemade breads, cuckoo clocks, and beer. Richard locates a good ol’ German Restaurant by the bridge for a fantastic lunch of brats and beer. The afternoon is relaxing as the Freya sails to Nuremburg. Oompah! German Oompah music accompanies “A Taste of Bavaria and Austria” dinner. The Chef goes all out with plenty of hearty German and Austrian dishes including a roasted pig. Musicians roam the dining room, having everyone singing along. While others dance the night away to Bavarian music, we opt for a quiet evening. During the night we feel the ship rise and lower as it goes through the locks. Ugh! The evil 24 hour virus snags Richard.
FRIDAY: Welcome to Nuremberg Our morning is spent aboard the Freya on this rainy day. While Richard recovers, I go on the World War II Tour, an optional excursion. Actually, the tour is really about the Nazi regime’s rise and fall. Nuremberg was flattened by Allied bombers in 1945. Later it was painstakingly reconstructed to return the city to its former glory. The Nazi’s saw Nuremburg as the ideal setting for its fanatical rallies. Propaganda and a show of power were the primary purpose of the Nazi Party Rallies. Stopping at the expansive Zeppelin Field, at one time under a huge gleaming gold swastika that could be seen for miles, Hitler delivered a speech to 250,000 people. Nazism was more a religious organization with Hitler at its center. He made the rules.
At the Documentation Center Nazi Rallying Grounds, we have an “Audio guide” of this permanent exhibition “Fascination and Terror.” The exhibits study the causes, coherence, and consequences of National Socialism. Walking from exhibit to exhibit, the description of Nazi Party Rallies and the fascination they exercised upon participants and visitors is amazing. We see what led to the National Socialists’ criminal exercise of power. It is an amazing museum that documents in a frank presentation the violent consequences that ensued for the population. A fantastic documentation of the Nazi Party from the exhibits, films and eyewitness interviews.
Nuremberg brings thoughts of the Nuremberg Trials. Arriving at the Palace of Justice, our guide explains that Robert Jackson, a US Supreme Court Justice, was influential in assuring that there was a trial for the Nazi leaders. Today is November 19, 2015, the Trial of Major War Criminals began on November 20, 1945. In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the War Trials, portions of the Palace of Justice are closed to the public. Listening to our guide we understand the significance of these trials, the criminals and their crimes and the ability to attempt to carryout justice. Later I listened to Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement, as lead prosecutor, which brilliantly outlines the trial.
Back on board, the Viking Freya has a final celebration six course dinner plus a show and music in the lounge. With each of us still recovering, we stick with a light dinner and return to the room to pack and relax. It’s been a fun week seeing the enchanting and exciting cities along the Danube. Even with the unexpected challenges of changing ships three times, it is a great cruise. Compliments to the superb Viking crews, who worked diligently to assure a wonderful experience.
- If you go: For travelers seeking to visit several countries and be able to leave all the arrangements to the experts, a Viking River Cruise is perfect. A premier river cruise, the staff assure that all goes as smoothly as possible. Many guides were professionals being able to given an even deeper insight into places visited.
- The cruise is all inclusive for all meals. Be sure you understand that you will be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on the ship, which means returning for lunch each day. With our bus transfers we had the opportunity to eat in a couple of local restaurants instead of going back to the ship. Complimentary house wines and beer are served at all meals.
- Be prepared! Mother Nature easily dominates what can and cannot be done on a river cruise. While we were the exception, changing ships three times, it may be necessary to do so on the cruise. Again, the crew and Viking really works at making up for this inconvenience.
- Utilizing the Viking team for our airfare and other arrangements was so easy. Even though we were starting on our own trip and then joining them later, they were most helpful in working with us on our flights.
- Remember, this is a river cruise, the ship can only be so big and cabins are tight.
- Viking really serves A+ service. Most impressive!
Viking River Cruises