Our Romantic Danube Viking River Cruise

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August 8th 2018
Published: August 9th 2018
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Romantic Danube Viking River Cruise

Viking had a sale on this voyage offering $300 airfare so I booked it in late 2017 and saved over $2,000 on airfare. I also decided not to spend extra for an extension before or after since this was just one of three vacations we had planned this summer I was trying to lilmit spending a little. The total was $7,800.

This was a cruise that I had been wanting to take because it goes to Vienna and Budapest. Viking shows an amazing aerial view of the parliament building in Budapest in most of its advertisements and that caught my eye. It is an eight day and seven night cruise. Once again we chose a French balcony cabin because we feel like we want to be able to watch the countryside go by but we don't feel the need for a real balcony.

The cruise includes stops in Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau, Krems, Ybbs, Vienna, Budapest.

Sadly, we received notice one week before departure on Friday June 22, 2018 that Air France had gone on strike and that our flight was switched to Delta. We were concerned about this, not being fans of Delta. Our concerns were borne out. They were late leaving Houston and as a result an already short layover in Detroit became one that made our connection seemingly impossible to make. After running literally a mile from gate to gate with carry-ons in tow, we got on the plane only to sit there twenty minutes due to another delay. As an aside, we flew Delta again in July and all four flights were late at least 30 minutes. The flight from Detroit stopped in Paris where once again it was late leaving to get to Nuremberg. Fortunately, Viking is very good about keeping tabs on flight delays so they were aware of the issues and were there to pick us up at the Nuremberg airport.

On the bright side, during our ordeal we got to know a nice couple from College Station also going on the same cruise and we became fast friends throughout the trip.

Upon arrival in Nuremberg around noon on Saturday we were able to enjoy lunch while waiting for our room to be ready. As always the food on Viking is amazing. However, as the cruise progressed we decided that it wasn’t as good as the last Viking cruise we took on the Rhine River. On the first night you get the usual Viking welcome briefing which is basically orientation. Our cruise director, Oliver, was delightful and reminded us of John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” fame on HBO.

We did not purchase any of the optional tours this time as we felt a bit rushed when we did so on the last cruise. This was meant to be a more leisurely vacation.

Sunday morning they took us on a tour of Nuremberg, Bavaria’s second largest city, which is distinguished by medieval architecture. The city has an interesting background from two major eras of world history; World War II and the Holy Roman Empire. The city had to be reconstructed after WWII but has preserved many of its 15th and 16th century buildings. Nuremberg was a center for Nazi activities but is most famous for the Nuremberg trials after the war. The Hauptmarkt (central square) contains the Schöner Brunnen, the gilded “beautiful fountain” with tiers of figures, and Frauenkirche, a 14th-century Gothic church.

Artist, Albrecht Durer, is probably the city’s most famous resident. His home and art are still on view. He was an artist of the Renaissance period during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. You might have seen his paintings of a pair of praying hands or a rabbit which have become in large use even today.

While we were gone on the excursion the ship traveled to Roth where we met it in time for lunch.

Much of the early part of the trip we traveled through canal locks. The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal is a little over 100 miles in length permitting river traffic to flow between the North Sea and the Black Sea. Completed in 1992 it traverses 11 countries and two time zones. We are always amazed by how tight the fit is on each side of the ship. Clearly the ships are built specifically to navigate the locks and get under the bridges. At one point while we were walking around on the sun deck one of the ship hands asked us to sit down because we were coming up to a bridge. I asked if we should go down below but he said that it was ok to stay up top as long as we sat down. Sure enough when we went under that bridge I could see why he had us sit down. Although it would probably take a much taller person than I to hit his head on the bridge I wouldn't want to test that theory.

Overnight the ship traveled to Regensburg. With nearly 150,000 inhabitants, Regensburg is the fourth-largest city in the State of Bavaria, Munich being the largest. The oldest city on the Danube, this is one of the few cities largely untouched by the bombing of WWII and is the boyhood home of Pope Benedict XVI. St. Peters, the largest cathedral in town, is a prime example of Gothic architecture. While the church dates back to 700 AD the cathedral was completed in 1320. Still standing are the Roman gates of 179 AD.

Tuesday morning we hopped on a bus to go to Passau, a German city on the Austrian border, which lies at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers. Known as the Three Rivers City, it is known for its baroque architecture, including St. Stephen's Cathedral, featuring distinctive onion-domed towers and an organ with 17,974 pipes. Our first stop was to St. Stephan’s Cathedral where we were treated to an incredible pipe organ concert. Afterwards we took a walking tour through what I now refer to as "surprising Passau." I say that because I had never heard of the city until this trip and yet it is a breathtakingly beautiful and historic town. We concluded the tour with lunch at the Stiftskeller restaurant where we sat under a canopy of vines and enjoyed the local cuisine with our cruise-mates.

Unfortunately, two cargo ships ran aground blocking the river ahead of us causing us to have to pack all our things, get on a bus, and transfer from the Viking Egil to the Viking Gullveig, down river from the mishap. The ships were identical though and Viking made the best of a bad situation. Losing a bit of time, this did cause us to have to choose between taking part in the Gottweig Abbey excursion or staying on the ship for the cruise through the most picturesque part of the Danube River, the Wachau Valley. I chose the Abbey tour while Dawn chose to stay on the ship.

We got on the replacement ship at Ybbs which turned out to be a nice little town to walk around. At first we couldn't figure out why it was deserted but later were told that we happened to be there during their afternoon siesta time. I got a bit lost but got back just in time to board the new ship. The excursion to the abbey took us along the river for quite a distance to Krems. The sightseeing of the Wachau Valley was spectacular from the bus as well. The abbey is as massive as it is impressive. It dates back to the 11th century and is still a functioning monastery. In the museum in the imperial wing the monumental imperial staircase with the ceiling fresco from 1739 is one of the largest and most beautiful baroque staircases in Europe. Views from its hilltop location are impressive as well. The abbey is also known for its apricots and apricot products which are grown and produced right there on the grounds. The abbey has a library of 150,000 books and manuscripts, and a particularly important collection of religious engravings, besides valuable collections of coins, antiquities, musical manuscripts and natural history, all of which survived the dangers of World War II and its immediate aftermath almost without loss in spite of the fact that it was occupied by the Nazis for a short while. The church on the grounds is small but beautiful and worth a look.

While I was very impressed with the Abbey I will say that I saw many luke-warm reviews for it on Trip Advisor so if you are considering going there you might want to check those reviews.

Thursday we arrived in Vienna. The port where the ship docked did not provide an impressive view of the ancient city. You have a view of Vienna’s central business district on one side and a not so great view of some apartments on the other side. There is an interesting little church right there near the dock which is worth the walk. I was the only person there when I went.

Viking provided both a bus and a walking tour of old Vienna. The bus tour takes the beautiful Ringstrasse. To quote the city's web site, "The most beautiful boulevard in the world is home not only to many of Vienna's best-known sights, such as the Imperial Palace, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum, the Vienna State Opera and Parliament. Magnificent palaces, extensive parks and important monuments also line the "display window" of the former Danube monarchy." Architecture is the main attraction here but we couldn’t help notice the marijuana store and sex establishments as well. It’s hard to take in all the sights much less have time for museums if you enjoy art or music if you are a classical music fan. In what I thought was kind of an odd juxtaposition, as you are walking through these beautiful ancient buildings you come across the home of the famed Lippizaner Stallions where the train and perform.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is the most notable local artist who was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. His works are very colorful, distinctive, and a bit surreal. You can buy just about anything with his work imprinted on it.

While in a gift shop there we had one of those “it’s a small world” experiences. A young woman with a perfect American English accent asked Dawn where she got her hat. One thing led to another and it turned out that the woman lives just a few miles from us in Houston. I’m not done. She was there for a medical conference. Her associate was there in the gift shop with his wife and we got talking to them as well. It turned out he knows one of our new best friends on the cruise as they work in the same field in the College Station area.

During my own private walking tour I happened upon an amusement park which we had seen earlier from the bus. The Prater is a large public park in Vienna's 2nd district. The Wurstelprater amusement park, often simply called "Prater", lies in one corner of the Wiener Prater and includes the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel which claims to be the world's oldest.

On Friday morning the ship stopped in Esztergom and let us off for our excursion to Budapest (pronounced Budapesht). After our excursion the ship met us in Budapest. I believe this was done because of time constraints.

This city is breathtaking. Budapest, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the River Danube. Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly older Buda district with the newer, flat Pest. The bus and walking tour took us to both sides. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from Roman times onward. Trinity Square is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fisherman’s Bastion, which offer sweeping views. We so loved Matthias Church we went back later in the day during our free time to more fully enjoy it. There are many quaint restaurants and gift shops in the area to enjoy as well.

One aspect of Budapest that the locals talk about is there time as a member of the Warsaw Pact being occupied by the Soviet Union. Hungarian–Soviet relations were characterized by political interventions by the Soviet Union in internal Hungarian politics for 45 years, the length of the Cold War. Hungary became a member of the Warsaw Pact in 1955; since the end of World War II, Russian troops were stationed in the country, intervening at the time of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Starting in March 1990, the Soviet Army began leaving Hungary, with the last troops being withdrawn on June 19, 1991. A readily visible remnant of that time are the many stark, drab apartment building built as low cost housing by the Soviets. While the locals are happy to be rid of the Soviets they have a love-hate relationship with these old, drab buildings. While they mar the landscape, they do provide inexpensive housing for many people, particularly younger ones, who can't afford nicer accommodations.

The ship was docked right in the center of the river with spectacular views of both sides including the famous parliament building which you will recognize from many Viking tv ads. At night all the various cruise ships “cruise” up and down the river to take in the illuminated city. Words just can’t describe it. It is one of the most beautiful experiences we’ve ever had. Of particular note are Buda Castle and the Hungarian Parliament. Also visible from the river is the Liberty Statue or Freedom Statue, a monument on the Gellért Hill. It commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary. Ironically, it was built by the Soviets.

Also of some note is the "Chain Bridge". At the time of its construction, it was regarded as one of the modern world's engineering wonders. It has asserted an enormous significance in the country's economic, social and cultural life. Its decorations made of cast iron, and its construction, radiating calm dignity and balance, have elevated the Chain Bridge to a high stature in Europe.

Budapest ranks near the top of any list of most beautiful cities in the world. If it's not on your bucket list of places to see before you die, put it there. If it is, put it near the top of the list.

Very early Saturday morning, (3:30am!) we had to depart for the airport to go home. Surprisingly, there was a large crowd at the airport when we got there at about 4:30am. We stood in line quite a while to get checked in. Apparently, the Air France strike was over because that's who we flew home this time going through Amsterdam. As is always the case in the Amsterdam airport, Schipol, you have to go through Passport Control which can take quite a while so pack your patience.

This was our second Viking river cruise and hopefully not our last. While a bit pricey, it is the best way to travel. Daily excursions are all taken care of. Fees to gain entry to certain attractions are included. All you have to do is get on the bus on time. Every evening there is some activity or entertainment on the ship as well. Cookies and other treats are available 24/7 as are coffee and cocoa. You could gain a lot of weight on these cruises but if take in one of the walking tours each day you walk off the calories. When we got home we were surprised to see that we had only gained a pound or two when we stepped on the scale.

We highly recommend Viking River Cruises. They know how to treat you royally.

* Some verbiage copied from the Viking Cruise daily journal, Wikipedia, and Google. #MyVikingStory

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