River Cruise

Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria

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 penultimate stop was the place I most wished we could have spent more time.  Of course, that just gives me a reason to return to Vienna.  Included with our trip was a morning tour of the city and the afternoon brought optional excursions to the Schönbrunn Palace, the Fine Arts Museum or accompanying the chef, Marcus, to the Farmer’s Market.

The first part of our tour was a motorcoach ride along the Ringstraße, the boulevard that encircles the city, and gaze at the gorgeous architecture.  From our bus windows we viewed many of the city’s famous buildings, like the Opera House and the Parliament building.  We also cruised by the Hotel Imperial, the grande dame of hotels in Vienna.  Its presidential suite is typically the home of visiting US Presidents.  However, in 2006 the Rolling Stones had that suite booked so when George W. Bush came to visit, he had to stay elsewhere!

We eventually stopped at Maria-Theresien-Platz, named in honor of Maria Theresa, who was the last of the Austrian Habsburg line.  Though she died in 1780, her influence is still widely felt.  She reigned for 40 years and was the ruler of 10 regions on her own and by marriage was the Holy Roman Empress.  Naturally there was a statue of her at her namesake plaza.

Maria-Theresa Statue

Maria-Theresa Statue

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Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey

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

When you’re cruising on the ocean or a large sea, it’s common to have a “day at sea” which gives you a chance to catch your breath between ports of call.  A river cruise typically doesn’t offer one of those but may offer a day with fewer planned activities, which can be welcome in the middle of a busy trip.

By Wednesday we were a bit tired so it was rather refreshing to have a morning where we could take it easy.  Of course since our longship could not move to the next town, we had to take a bus for a couple of hours to Melk, where we boarded a sight-seeing boat for a lunch cruise through the scenic Wachau Valley, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A church in the Wachau Valley with vineyards in the background

A church in the Wachau Valley with vineyards in the background

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

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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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

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 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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