Thursday, June 18, 2015

Danube Cruise

Hungarian Parliament building at night
Kali and I couldn't agree on a domestic destination for our summer vacation.  So, when Viking River Cruises offered free airfare to Europe as part of a deal, we jumped at the chance.  We decided to cruise the Danube from Budapest, Hungary upstream to Nuremberg, Germany during the last week of May.  Temperatures were around 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) and the first two days were rainy, but the remaining days were generally  just overcast.  East-central Europe had received a lot of rain before we arrived, so the Danube was running high, fast, and muddy.
Hungarian National Library on Castle Hill and famous Chain Bridge (oldest suspension bridge in Europe) linking Buda and Pest
Neither Kali nor I had been to Hungary, and I hadn't been to Austria; Kali's dad was in the Army and had been stationed in France twice, so Kali's family had traveled extensively in Europe when she was younger, so she had been to Austria previously.

Heroes' Square and the Millennium Monument in Pest
The first day, we got a guided tour of Budapest in the rain.
Matthias Church rooftop in Buda
After our city tour, we cast off from the dock and cruised all afternoon and overnight, arriving in Vienna in the morning.  Kali and I took the "Explorers' Tour" of the city, hopping the subway from our ship into the center with our guide.

Cafe in Vienna
After the tour, Kali and I stopped in a pastry cafe and had espressos and Sacher torte, a Viennese specialty.  Then, Kali and I took the subway back to our ship just in time for lunch.  (We ate and drank way too much on this trip.)  After lunch, we got on a bus for a guided tour of Schonbrunn Palace, the obscenely ostentatious Hapsburg palace and gardens built to rival Versailles (though it's considerably smaller).
The Hapsburg's Schonbrunn Palace and gardens, Vienna
After we returned from Schonbrunn, Kali wanted to take a nap, so I tucked her into bed and then took a vigorous 1-1/2 hour walk out along the Danube promenade and back through a huge wooded city park particularly favored by runners.  I needed an antidote to sitting on board the ship, eating and drinking too much, and taking slow guided walking tours.

The next day we spent mostly cruising along the Danube through the Wachau Valley, a region of Austria renown for its dramatic scenery and its white wine vineyards.
Church and vineyards in the scenic Wachau Valley section of the Danube
The Danube valley hosts many historic buildings from the Baroque era, but few medieval (or earlier) structures.  So, while we saw some ruined battlements and fortresses on the tops of strategic hills, such ruins were far more common sights along the Rhine when we cruised that river about a decade ago.
The incredibly ornate Baroque Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria
In the afternoon, we docked at Melk, Austria, a small town with an opulent abbey perched on the hill above.  After we toured the abbey, we walked downhill back to the ship.  While we were waiting to embark at a cafe and ice cream shop, we talked with Tommy, a young fellow from Berlin who was riding his bicycle as far east as he could get accompanied his golden retriever in a towed buggy.  His goal was central Asia.  We wished him well.

During our overnight cruising, we passed from Austria into German.  We docked in the morning at Passau, where the weather improved.  We took a (poor) guided walking tour, sat for a half-hour organ recital in the Passau Cathedral (which boasts the largest pipe organ in the world), and then enjoyed lunch with another couple from our ship who we found wandering the narrow streets like us.
Narrow street in Passau, GermanySunny skies!
Kali and Scott lunching at a Passau cafe
The next day, we cruised to Regensberg with its famous Stone Bridge over the Danube.  Much of the bridge is being rehabilitated and is shrouded with scaffolding and tarps, but I did manage to find a section that was exposed in order to take a photograph (below)

Above Regensberg, the Danube becomes too shallow and unnavigable for ships the size of ours.  In order to proceed further "upstream," our ship left the Danube proper and entered the Danube-Main-Rhine Canal, a modern (1992) engineering marvel that links the Danube and Rhine Rivers.
A portion of the famous Stone Bridge in Regensberg, Germany
Since this blog is "It Just Comes Naturally," I had to add something natural.  This Blackbird (actually, a species of thrush like an American Robin) was singing from its lamppost perch in a Regensberg city park.  Its song was varied, melodious, and strikingly beautiful. 

European  Blackbird

One of the most famous bratwurst cafes in Germany at Regensburg
Our point of disembarkation was Nuremberg, Germany.  We docked about 15 minutes outside town, and then took a bus into town for an excellent guided tour.  Though Nuremberg was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during WWII, there's no evidence of the damage now.  The castle crowning a hill above the city looks like it did during medieval times, and there are beautiful, historic structures scattered through the city.  Much of the central city, however, is modern.

The Nuremberg Fortress crowning a hill in the eponymous city
A Nuremberg wedding (right side).  The half-timbered building in the center of the image was renown engraver Albrecht Durer's house
We had a good vacation and Viking Cruise Lines did everything in its power to make our trip exceptional and memorable.


robin andrea said...

Wow! When you wrote that you had been on vacation, you really meant it! What a surprise it is to see photos of the Danube, cities, the countryside, the palaces. Love the photos of place I know I'll never see. Looks like you and Kali had a wonderful time.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Kali and I had a good vacation, and Viking is first-class all the way. Here's my one "beef" with the cruise (and it's not something that Viking can [should?] easily fix, or something that I shared with Kali): the vast majority of the 190 passengers on the ship were wealthy conservatives. As a result, Kali and I didn't have much in common with most of our fellow passengers. The other passengers weren't vociferous about their politics; in fact, it was all very polite, genteel, and low key. We just didn't have much to say to one another beyond the standard "Where are you from? What do/did you do? [most were retired]? What other cruises have you taken?"

After switching-up dining tables with other passengers for the first few days like musical chairs, we finally found some simpatico shipmates: a goofy, typically neurotic Jewish couple from Springfield, Illinois (hey, they described themselves that way, not me!), and two female friends from Denver who were traveling together. The six of us settled into a comfortable small clique for the rest of the cruise. In fact, one evening, Kali and decided we wanted to eat dinner in the more casual bar (rather than the formal dining room), and the two women from Denver were hurt by our absence--an indication that we were all getting along just fine.

packrat said...

Obviously a fabulous vacation, Scott. I love the photos. As far as eating and drinking too much, you're meant to do so on such an amazing trip.

Mark P said...

Very nice photos. We get mailings from Viking every once in a while. It's always looked like a good way to see parts of Europe, but I doubt that Leah and I will ever get the chance to do it. It's nice that you found some people you could relate to. We find it pretty hard to do that here where we live.

Scott said...

Packrat: Whenever anyone asks me how our vacation/cruise was, I tell them that we ate and drank too much (unlimited wine was available at lunch and dinner, and many passengers took full advantage of it), and then I always add "But that's what a vacation is for, isn't it?" So, I completely agree with you.

Scott said...

Mark: We used to get mailings from Viking about 2 times per month; now it seems like they're coming weekly--and my email inbox is full of even more offers! Aargh--stop already!

Regarding simpatico shipmates, you're absolutely right. If we hadn't found our little clique, I would have enjoyed the trip far less. In fact, even with our little compatible group, I was saying to myself by the end of the week, "I'm glad we're not cruising for another full week." Being unfailingly pleasant with a group of people with whom you have little in common can be draining.

I'm a little bit concerned about the same situation at our retirement house in Colorado. The last time Kali and I were there and were at the homeowners' association office, we ran into another homeowner. Kali and I introduced ourselves, and we talked for a while. During the course of the conversation, the other homeowner mentioned, "You know, most of the residents here are pretty conservative." Hmmm... He also said that there are two groups of people living in our area: the 4-years-and-out, and the long-time residents. He said that some people move in and then find it's just too far from Fort Collins (or they leave for other reasons), but the 4-year mark seems to be the tipping point. We'll have to see once we get out there. Even if we don't stay in the rural development in which we bought a house, we'll definitely stay our West; it won't be like moving West only to come back East.