Germany

Danube Trip: Passau, Germany

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Due to the low water levels, Regensburg was as far as we’d be able to travel on the Njord.  Fortunately, this type of circumstance is something Viking knows exactly how to handle. To reach our next stop they brought in motorcoaches for the two-hour drive to Passau, the last major German city on the Danube before reaching Austria.

Passau is known as the City of the Three Rivers because the Danube, Inn and Ilz Rivers all come together around the city’s peninsula.  In medieval times Passau was known for the salt trade.  The salt was so valuable in these pre-refrigeration times that it was known as “white gold”.

Fire ravaged the city in the 17th century and it was rebuilt in the baroque style of the day.  That style is what is still seen in the city today.

St. Stephan’s Cathedral is located on the highest point in Old Town.  Since 730, there have been many churches on this site.  The current version dates to the mid-17th century and the interior underwent a major renovation between 1972 and 1980.

pas-st-stephans-exterior

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

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Categories: Cruises, Europe, Germany, River Cruise, Viking | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

After the tour of Weltenburg Abbey, we returned to our longship for lunch.  Then we boarded the motorcoaches once again, this time for the short drive into Regensburg, where we met our guide, Hubert.  He was quite memorable as his name was on his hat and, as he was part of a men’s choir, every now and then he’d sing a little song for us. He led our tour of the medieval city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We began our tour along the river by the Stone Bridge.  While Charlemagne had built a wooden bridge near this location, by the 12th century a bridge that could handle more traffic was needed.  This one was built circa 1135-1146 and was used by the knights of the Second and Third Crusades to cross the river. Indeed it was the only bridge in the area across the Danube for 800 years.  It served as a model for other European bridges including London Bridge and the predecessor of the Charles Bridge in Prague.

The Stone Bridge of Regensburg

The Stone Bridge of Regensburg

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Categories: Europe, Germany, River Cruise, Viking | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Monday morning our longship docked in the town of Regensburg, Germany.  I found it interesting that native German speakers pronounced “burg” like “bourg”, making the name sound almost French.  No matter, we docked there and some folks took the city tour in the morning.  We’d take that tour in the afternoon, after our optional excursion down the Danube Narrows to Weltenburg Abbey.

We boarded motorcoaches that took us through the countryside, past the retirement home of Pope Benedict XVI, to a dock where we set sail on the day cruiser that would take us through the scenic Danube Narrows.  As it was still morning and somewhat cool, the first part of the trip was spent inside, with many folks sampling some of the different kinds of beer brewed at our destination, Kloster Weltenburg.  As I don’t drink alcohol I enjoyed a non-alcoholic beverage and the pretzel that came with it.

In some places either side of the river was flat for a bit before hills rose behind it.  In other places, I guess the true “narrows” portion was where the rock walls rose high on either side of us.  The landscapes where the morning sunshine shone seemed especially cheery.

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Categories: Cruises, Europe, Germany, River Cruise, Uncategorized, Viking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Our first port of call was Nuremberg, Germany.  It seems a little odd to refer to it that way since we’d had to take a train out of Nuremberg to Erlangen, just so the boat could float back to Nuremberg overnight.  The cruise has a number of tours that are included with the price of the trip.  In this case a city tour was included.  While my friend and I would have enjoyed that, we decided to pay for the World War II tour.  We had no trouble following our guide as he was a 7′ 6″ former basketball player at Davidson College.

Our first stop was the Nazi party rally grounds. Six party rallies were held here between 1933 and 1938. The grounds encompass 11 square kilometers and include a number of buildings. We exited the bus at the Zeppelinfeld, a deployment area that still had the grandstand or Reichsparteitag where speakers – including Hitler himself – would rally the troops.  During its prime a massive Nazi swastika was mounted above the central part of the stands but after the war explosives were used to remove it.

The Reichsparteitag as used by the Nazis By Kurt Wittig (Privataufnahme) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Reichsparteitag as used by the Nazis
By Kurt Wittig (Privataufnahme) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Reichsparteitag as it is today

The Reichsparteitag as it is today

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Categories: Cruises, Europe, Germany, River Cruise, Viking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

At the time we booked our river cruise, the trip was supposed to be on the Viking Freya.  A few weeks before we were due to set sail, the Freya was involved in a horrific accident that killed two crew members.  We were informed our trip would be on the Viking Bestla instead.

Shortly before our trip we were notified that due to low water levels, we’d have to start our journey on the Viking Njord and then change ships mid-trip to the Bestla.  Sailing on the Bestla would feel like coming home as several of us had been on its maiden voyage in April 2014 while sailing the Rhine.  So we’d get to experience two different boats on one cruise.

Practically speaking, the ships were identical.  But there were a few differences too.

njord

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Categories: Austria, Belgium, Cruises, Czech Republic, Europe, Germany, Hungary, River Cruise, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

As my friend and I weren’t on Viking’s “official” pre-trip extension we were not permitted to ride their motor coach between Prague and Erlangen, where we would board our boat.  I don’t fully understand the logic in this.  We’d have been happy to pay for the trip but it was not allowed.

Moving between European cities is usually pretty easy.  Most are connected by good rail service or short flights.  But that’s not the case between Prague and Nuremberg, which is the city closest to Erlangen.  Instead we purchased Deutsche Bahn tickets for a journey by bus. Continue reading

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Trip Report: Danube River Cruise

I have a group of friends that like to travel together and one of them knew of another small group that was doing a Danube River cruise with Viking River Cruises.  Having cruised the Rhine with Viking a couple of years ago, we were excited to join that group for another European float.

One of my good friends who lives in Chicago agreed to be my travel partner for this excursion. We looked at the trip extensions Viking offered: a pre-trip extension in Prague before the cruise began in Nuremberg, and post-trip extension in Budapest, where the cruise ended.  As we looked at what was offered, we decided to do our own versions of these extensions and use our hotel points (mostly) to pay for our rooms.

Naturally we used airline miles to cover our flights in business class.  We both used United miles to fly to Prague with a long layover in Brussels.  My friend also used UA miles for a return flight from Budapest on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.  I used my Lufthansa Miles & More miles via Frankfurt, hoping to be able to upgrade to First Class as the time for our flight grew closer, but it wasn’t to be.  No first class award seat ever opened up on the FRA-ORD leg on my flight date.  Note to self: in the future, don’t fly on a Monday.  Loads of business travelers!  I saw award seats on both Sunday and Tuesday around my date but by then the rest of our plans had been set so I had to “settle” for business class.

Our outbound flight connected in Brussels and I have a Twitter friend who lives in Belgium.  Though we’d never met in person, she was kind enough to drive down to Brussels and meet us for lunch and take us on a walk around the area near the train station.  I love the way the world gets smaller with social media!

danube-flights

My flights in red, my friend’s flights in cyan, joint flights in green

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Categories: Austria, Award Travel, Cruises, Europe, Germany, Hungary, Lufthansa, River Cruise, Star Alliance, United, Viking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rhine Runaway – River Cruise Part II

Other parts of this series so far:

Rhine Runaway – Booking Process
Rhine Runaway – Houston to Amsterdam
Rhine Runaway – A Short Visit to Amsterdam
Rhine Runaway – River Cruise Part I

 

The next day we visited Heidelberg Castle followed by a visit to the town of Heidelberg. The castle was very interesting as it had once been left idle for decades but had since had a lot of restoration work, some of which was still on-going. It houses the world’s largest wine cask – large enough to have once had dance parties on top of it! – though it hasn’t held wine in many years.

World's Largest Wine Cask

World’s Largest Wine Cask

The university town of Heidelberg was a study in contrasts as it had the youth of the university surrounded by buildings dating back five centuries.

Later that afternoon we docked in Speyer and took a stroll into town where we got to visit the incredible Kaiserdom, an 11th century cathedral that’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, many of the other sites in town were closed since it was Easter Monday, which is part of the holiday weekend in Europe.

On Tuesday we visited Strasbourg, wandering its streets and visiting yet another gorgeous, massive cathedral. Some of our group took an optional tour of an Alsatian winery and brought back a few bottles to share.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg, France

Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg, France

Our final day of the cruise took us into the Black Forest where we saw rolling hills and stopped in a tiny town that had once been a place where carriages stopped. The inn there was painted with a mural of Marie Antoinette, one of the more famous guests. There was a cuckoo clock shop as well as a shop selling blown glass items. In the afternoon there was an optional tour of the medieval city of Colmar, France. We had a delightful guide and enjoyed the architecture differences that he pointed out from various eras.

It was a lovely tour and I would definitely not hesitate to sign up for another Viking tour. In fact, a couple of us have our eyes on a tour in 2016…

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Rhine Runaway – River Cruise Part I

Other parts of this series so far:

Rhine Runaway – Booking Process
Rhine Runaway – Houston to Amsterdam
Rhine Runaway – A Short Visit to Amsterdam

I must say that Viking knows what they’re doing. Our rooms were on the lower level, below the waterline and very compact, but had what we needed. A lot of forethought had been put into the design of the rooms. There were quite a few US 110-volt plugs as well as the standard European ones. That was great as it allowed us to use all of them since we’d brought adapters along.

Guided tours are included with the price of the cruise and there are optional tours available for purchase. Our longship could carry approximately 190 passengers but we weren’t quite full on this trip so they could divide us into relatively small groups which made our tours much easier. Each cabin has radios that will tune to the guide’s transmitter so they don’t have to shout. That’s great because the average age of passengers on this particular ship was probably early-to-mid 60s so I felt like a young ‘un! There’s also usually a “leisurely tour” group for folks with mobility issues so that they don’t slow down one of the other groups. I thought this was great planning on Viking’s part.

On Friday we were in Kinderdijk, Netherlands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the numerous windmills found there. When we arrived, we thought all the windmills looked the same but our guide soon pointed out differences in the ones on our side of the canal vs. the ones opposite. There was one windmill restored for touring and I was struck again at how compact everything was and how difficult that must have been for a family to live in.

Kinderdijk Windmills

Kinderdijk Windmills

Saturday we stopped in Cologne and docked right next to the city. We had a walking tour in the morning and then had the afternoon to ourselves. The cathedral there is the most-visited tourist site in Germany and it’s easy to see why. It’s a huge building with gorgeous stained-glass windows and fantastic architecture. Some of us also toured the German-Roman museum and viewed a number of mosaics that had been uncovered on the site (right next to the cathedral).

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Just about every place we stopped had a magnificent church or cathedral that was several hundred years old. It just reinforced to me how young the US is! It was amazing to think how these huge buildings could have been built 300-500 years ago!

Easter Sunday found us at the port in Koblenz where we boarded motor coaches for the drive up to Marksburg Castle. It was never invaded due to its perch high on a river bend and it’s not close enough to a major city to have been damaged during the World Wars so it’s everything you might imagine a castle to be. They’ve done a great job preserving this castle and it has lovely views out over the river.

Marksburg Castle

Marksburg Castle

Later that day was one of the highlights, cruising down the Middle Rhine. Fortunately the weather was great and we sat up on the sun deck in lounge chairs beneath an awning and watched a number of castles and towns as we cruised past. The cruise director provided narration as we passed. It made for great photos and was a wonderful change of pace.

In the evening, there was an optional excursion to a local restaurant in Rudesheim. We boarded a small tram (made up to look like a train) that wound us through the streets of the town and dropped us off near the restaurant. It’s a quaint town and I wish I’d taken the time available before our outing to walk through it.

The dinner was quite good, served by friendly staff. We were serenaded by a live oompah band and after dinner there were several audience participation activities. From a half-dozen people downing shots off the same paddle at the same time to audience members being recruited to play bass drum & cymbals as the band marched through the restaurant, the staff did their utmost to be sure everyone had a good time. All in all it was worth the extra charge for the visit.

Categories: Europe, Germany, Netherlands, River Cruise | Leave a comment

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