This year Dave, Bob and I did our first European river boat cruise together. Last summer Viking River Cruises was having a 2-for-1 sale so we decided to venture out from the usual university trips and try something new. The Viking River cruise ships are much bigger than anything we have done before, our trip had 188 guests on board. Although the ship accompanies a lot of people the layout is the same, two levels of rooms with the dining room and bar/lounge on those levels as well. There’s a third bottom level where the staff sleeps, and there’s a rooftop deck that spans the whole boat. The rooftop is covered in turf and has lounge chairs, tables and chairs, a life size chess set, and a shuffleboard court.
With this group we had at least four coaches for daily excursions instead of the one or two that we’re used to. There’s too many people on board to meet everyone, which makes the trip less intimate. Also, many of the daily activities, like a music concert and bike riding costs extra; and alcohol is not included in the price. All our previous trips have been all inclusive, but they have also been much pricier so I can’t complain.
We did a Danube River cruise from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary. The three of us took the train from Munich to Passau. Here we got a taxi which was driven by an older Bavarian woman. She drove us down the river to the far port where we boarded the ship. About an hour later the ship moved ports to be in the Old Town in Passau. After dinner Dave and I left the ship and walked through the town. It turns out it’s a university town full of young people. The Old Town is incredibly cute with a bunch of cobble stone streets. There is a long pedestrian shopping street and in general everyone looked very cheerful. It was a Monday night and the Irish pub the boat staff recommended to us was closed, so instead we just wandered.
The next morning we did a walking guided tour of the Old Town. A lot of the windows have painted trimming instead of the usual stonework which was a bit odd.
That afternoon the boat cruised down towards Linz. Dave and I went to the roof deck and played shuffleboard; it was my first time playing and I loved it. The scenery was amazing. Deep greens hills, wooden country houses along the lake, and random bike riders peddling along the river road. The sun was hot and the drinks were cold. The boat had to cross two locks on the way down and I was able to touch the bridge as we passed under one.
After dinner Dave and I walked through the the downtown city area of Linz. It was a Monday night and the city was pretty quite. We found ourself on an endless shopping street. We ended up in Sax bar, which ended up being a gay bar. There was a drunk dog owner and I took the leash to play with the dog. We got back to the ship and finished watching The Sound of Music which we had started earlier.
[After Salzburg the next day Dave and I walked back into Linz and got haircuts. We went to a nice place but our hairdressers seemed untrained and we both walked out with German-looking hair. My girl did not know how to properly layer or angle and my hair is stiff and dead straight across in the back.]
The next morning we took a two hour bus ride to Salzburg. Along the way we had a rest stop at a restaurant overlooking a lake. The alps were in the background and it was the most amazing view. We sat and sipped coffee taking it all in.
We were dropped off in the New Town of Salzburg and with our audio tour walked across the bridge and into the Old Town. The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg and I was incredibly excited to see many of the places they filmed. We saw the fountain and arbor where Do Re Me was filmed, as well as the hotel Julie Andrews stayed at while filming.
Mozart was from Salzburg. We saw his birthplace which is a yellow apartment building on the main shopping street in the Old Town. We also walked past his residence which is a pink house in town. Many places in Salzburg are named after him. There’s the Mozart Hotel, the music school, the restaurant, the bar, the park, a statue, etc.
Each of the stores in the old town has an iron sign that represents what the store originally sold. Many people used to be unable to read and therefor pictures were useful. There’s a key for key store, dressed women for the clothing shop, a Lion for Lions den bar (which is now McDonald’s,) etc.
After walking with the group we set out on our own and took the tram up the mountain to the fort. We had lunch at the outdoor cafe on the top overlooking the city. We tried to do the interior tour but the wait was too long so instead we walked around the exterior. Back in town we met up with the group at the square where Cafe Tomaselli Seit 1703 is. It’s the oldest coffee shop in Salzburg. Before getting back on the bus I stopped at the farmers market and bought tomatoes to snack on.
In the morning we took a walking tour of the Stift Melk abbey. The exterior of the abbey is traditional with great views of the Danube River and the town below. The interior of part of the abbey has been turned into a museum with neon lights.
The tour stopped at the library which had floor to ceiling bookshelves which reminded me of the library in Beauty and the Beast. Then we went through the church and were able to stand in the back and observe the end of a prayer; locals sat in the benches. When the priest was finished speaking Bob walked all the way down the aisle and asked the priest if he knew where the toilets were.
There was an optional 30km biking excursion from Melk port to Durnstein port which about twenty of us younger-ish folk opted to do while the boat cruised down. Dave and I started last and went to the right, which we saw the group do as well but we were no longer with them. About fifteen minutes down the river pathway we went onto a bridge that crossed over the Danube. We decided to stop and take a photo on the bridge, and then also to check google maps to make sure there would be another bridge eventually so we could get back onto the right side of the river. It turns out we were going in the opposite direction, we were going towards Linz and not Vienna. We also realized that neither one of us knew which town our ship was docking at. We peddled back to our ship and discovered that it had already left. Luckily there was a different Viking ship there so they called and found out all the details for us, and gave us directions how to get onto the river path going in the right direction, towards Vienna.
The road to get out of Melk was very confusing. We thought we finally figured it out and then we ended up in an army area and had to turn around again. Eventually we made it to the scenic bike path along the river. Along the 30km we drove past a castle, a few small villages, and through a lot of forest. On the other side of the river there were ruins of castles, farming along the mountains, and a few slightly bigger towns. The last hour or so of the trip we rode through vineyards, specifically the Gruner vineyard which is the wine we’d been drinking frequently on the ship. We also passed many apricot and peach farms but they weren’t ripe yet.
Luckily our GPS worked because there were absolutely no signs for Durnstein. We reached a playground near the waterfront and immediately realized we were on the wrong side of the river and there were no bridges anywhere nearby- we saw our Viking ship on the other side. Luckily there was a motorboat ferry that we were able to take across. We saw the group of bikers approach the ship and it turns out we made it (sort of) before they did. I played in the playground and we admired the view of Durnstein before we took the ferry across. The captain of the ferry was a British guy from London; we chatted with him for a while.
We dropped off the bikes then headed for a stroll through Durnstein, a tiny village on the hill. Many of the shops made their own apricot schnapps, so we made sure to try a shot. We wandered around and discovered that one man owns almost all of the property including the five star hotel.
We came back to the ship and played shuffleboard. We even got Bob to play with us and it turns out he’s great and be beat both of us. He did injure himself once by banging his thumb against his hip- OPP (old people problems.)
We woke-up in Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Almost every single building is old and ornate. We did a bus tour along the famous Ringstrasse. We passed the Opera House, which is famous for Mozart performing there, the Imperial garden, Parliament, Town Hall, the last remains of the city wall, a votive church with a double tower facade, and more.
We then got out of the bus for a walking portion. We walked into Place Maria-Theresa, then Heldenplatz. We saw the Archbishop of Vienna giving a speech outside; it happened to be a religious holiday that day.
We walked past the city horse stables, and down the high end shopping street to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the cathedral but we did sit at Do&Co coffee shop across and watched the procession with the archbishop go by.
That afternoon we went to Schonbrunn Palace, a UNESCO site. It is a former summer residence, most recently decorated during Maria Theresa in the 1740-50s. It has 1,441 rooms and we were able to see about ten of them. The palace is compared to Versailles and although the interior and exterior of the palace is vast, rich and beautiful, it cannot compare.
Later that evening we went to a Mozart and Strauss classical music concert in a Viennese palace, wiener borsensale, in the city. The musicians were occasionally joined by a ballet couple, and an opera singing couple. It seemed that all the performers were has beens, or just never made it; not to say they weren’t talented.
The next morning we woke-up in Bratislava and had a bus and walking tour. We first went to a palace on the hill, then into the old town. A few buildings were run down but it still looked like many other old European towns with small streets and tourists shops. After the group tour we walked on our own down a tree lined plaza and stopped at Good Mood coffee shop where they gave us creamy coffee topped with ice cream when we ordered iced coffees.
That afternoon we spent on the roof deck of the ship playing shuffle board and sun bathing while we travelled down the river. We entered into a massive lock and another Viking boat came in next to us. Together we sank at least 60 feet before the opposite lock doors opened.
That night was the Captains farewell cocktails and dinner, then at 10:15pm the whole ship gathered on the roofdeck to watch our entrance into Budapest. We were all decked out in jackets and blankets although it ended up being warm enough to walk around. The entrance was magnificent. The city completely lights up and sitting near the Danube is the Huge ornate Parliament building, as well as many grand churches and a palace. The view from our cabin that night was of the old Chain Bridge and the Buda Castle.
We woke up to the same great view of Buda from the Pest side of the Danube. In the morning we did a bus tour of the Buda side of the city, then did a walking tour through the old town. We stopped at Matthius Church which is one of my favorites of all time. The exterior and interior is decked out in different patterns. The exterior roof is decorated with colorful tiles, and the interior with bright colorful paint.
We then did a bus tour around Pest. After lunch on the ship we drove out into the country to Lazar Equestrian Park for the Puszta horse show. We sat and watched a performance and then rode on a carriage, I got the front seat. There was also a small farm area which had lambs with antlers and rainbow colored chickens.
After our last dinner on the cruise we watched a traditional Hungarian dance show. The men and women who performed wore traditional ballroom dancing outfits- tuxedos and princess gowns. When all the adults went to bed a few of us went out. Along the waterfront local teenagers and adults drank bottles of wine and/or vodka; this seemed to be the place to hangout. There’s no railing along the edge of the water and people get pretty smashed.
We walked right under the Chain Bridge to an outdoor bar. The bar was a mix of tourists and locals, and it drew a nicer crowd. We drank rose spritzes and took a shot of traditional Hungarian flavored liquor, which a lot of locals were drinking. We danced and I met a bachelorette group where the bridal party all wore white and the bachelorette wore red.
Budapest continued on next post…