A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Ready for Takeoff

After talking to a lot of friends about river cruising and hearing little but superlatives, we decided on this adventure last fall. We did the usual research, read the brochures and cross checked with Tanja, our wonderful Travel Agent. We decided on the Viking tour line and will be on the Prestige - which went into service in 2011. We also decided on "The Grand European Tour" which is a 15 day tour from Budapest to Amsterdam.

Many of you have already been on one of these cruises, many have not. We will try to give you a flavour of life on board one of these facinating riverboats as well as the countryside and its history through which we will be travelling. We will try to put in LOTS of pictures. We look forward to sharing our adventure with you. It all starts July 1, 2012.

Posted by DavidandHazel 12:36 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Docked on the Danube in Budapest

An eventful start

sunny 39 °C

It may have been an omen at the very start of our trip when we found that our airline, KLM, had had its world wide passenger system go down. As time passed the airline started to manually create boarding passes and luggage tags. The end result was that we were an hour and a half late departing for Amsterdam. Then as our big 747 was being pushed back from the gate and towed out to the runway the tow bar broke which further contributed to our delayed departure.

We made it to Amsterdam in good time, making up nearly an hour of our delayed departure. We made our connecting flight to Budapest with not much time to spare. Unfortunately our luggage did not. After that unpleasant discovery we filled out all the lost luggage forms and joined the Viking Representative to travel to our ship. We were assured that the luggage should arrive in the evening with the next flight from Amsterdam.

We have a lovely cabin which you can see in our photo gallery. The very slow internet connection on the ship has been making it very cumbersome to write this blog particularly related to downloading and inserting pictures. I have managed to upload some pictures but have been unable to insert them in this blog.

Our ship, the Prestige, was built last year and is a long, lovely and low ship so it will fit under the low bridges over the rivers here. Interestingly the wheel house and other high structures on the top deck have to be lowered in order for us to pass under some of the bridges. The atmosphere on board is relaxed and friendly. We are full with 180 passengers so you get to know people quite quickly.

Dinner aboard was lovely. They have one seating with everyone choosing their own tables. The same goes for lunch and breakfast.

The Prestige is docked right in the center of Budapest very close to the lovely Chain Bridge. We look across the Danube at the Castle on the hill. The beautiful Parliament Buildings are just up river. Again, you can see photos of these in the photo gallery

The luggage didn't arrive so we had a shower and went to bed after a very tiring and stressful day.

The next morning brought a tour of Budapest after breakfast. Again we were told that our luggage should arrive while we were away. The tour was a guided one both on a lovely new bus and a walking tour with headsets which received the comments our our guide. They are neat rigs and work quite well.

Budapest is a beautiful city with the Danube running through the middle. The old or "Buda" side has the Buda hills and many gorgeous old buildings including the Buda Castle and the centuries-old Matthias Church which was the site of the marriage and corronations of some of the Habsburgs. The "Pest" side is more modern with Heroes' Square and many more lovely churches and buildings.

When we returned from the tour - again no luggage but they had been calling the airport and had determined that it had indeed arrived and would be on the ship by 1 pm. We had lunch and checked back periodically over the afternoon. It finally arrived at 6 pm just 2 hours before the ship was due to depart for Bratislava in Slovakia.

We showered again and jumped into the first change of clothing we had since Saturday evening (it was now Monday evening). There was a Captain's welcome reception and another wonderful meal. We relaxed for the first time and started to enjoy this great adventure. The only real challenge is the heat. It hit 40C today with high humidity. Even the folks from southern US are complaining about the heat.

Posted by DavidandHazel 07:30 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Bratislava and Vienna

Amazing Beautiful Old Cities

sunny 38 °C

Our ship left Budapest during the evening and sailed up the Danube and out of Hungary into Slovakia (the Slovak Republic) which is a newly created country about the size of West Virginia. On the way to our destination of Bratislava, (the capital) we went through one of the 68 locks that are part of our voyage. This was a really big lock at a hydro generating area with a length of over 900 ft and a width of over 110 ft.

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We had the mandatory safety drill and docked in Bratislava during lunch.

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We were rafted against another large river boat and simply walked over a very short gangplank onto their deck then right through their main lobby and up their gangplank to the city dock and into our waiting coach for a tour of the city.

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Prestige rafted against another large river boat.

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Dave in tour bus

Bratislava is a very old city with many beautiful buildings and a population who really seems to enjoy their recent release from Communism. You can see evidence in their architecture of buildings built during different parts of their history. Under Habsburg Rule in the 1500 to 1918 time frame they built large ornate buildings around central courtyards. During the communist era they built large tracts of very plain and inexpensive apartment buildings. They resemble rows and rows of boxes.

While on the bus we passed the residence of the US Ambassador. The staff were madly decorating the entire building for the July 4 celebration the next day.

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Residence of the US Ambassador

We left the bus for a walking tour of the large and imposing Bratislava Castle which is the home of their Parliament

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Bratislava Castle

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Bratislava Castle Gates.

We continued through some very old sections.

This is a 15th century tower at Michael’s Gate.

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There is a joy in the city and a sense of fun. There are several comic statues and street mimes.

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We continued on past the Opera House

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and the Philharmonic

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It was a very hot (38C) and very humid day so we were glad to return to the air conditioned comfort of our coach and return to our ship for another amazing dinner. Finally at 11 pm we cast off for an overnight cruise to Vienna.

During the night we passed through another lock before reaching Vienna - this time we were sandwiched between 2 other large ships.

We docked at 6 am in Vienna and were again rafted against another ship. It is truly amazing to see them pull this 400+ foot long ship up along side another similar sized ship and tie up to them without a single bump, especially when you take into account they are pushing against a river current of 6-10 km per hour.

Our day started early with another coach and walking tour. Vienna is designed in a bit of a semi circular road called the Ringstrasse which is lined with imposing palaces and grand residences. It encircles the medieval Innere Stadt (Inner City). We saw the magnificent Hofburg Palace, glorious St. Stephan’s Cathedral with its gleaming spire and the beautiful State Opera House.

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Church of St. Charles

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Hofburg Palace

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Lipizzaner Building

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Shopping Area

We returned to the ship for lunch and stayed aboard to check e-mail, download pictures and write this blog because the internet connection is better in this area.

Posted by DavidandHazel 02:24 Archived in Austria Comments (1)

Through the Beautiful Wachau Valley to Melk

Castles, Churches and one amazing Baroque Abbey

sunny 25 °C

The ship left Vienna at 1:00 am and cruised through the night. The next morning we cruised through the Wachau Valley – a World Heritage Site. We were surrounded by lovely rolling hills dotted with beautiful old churches, ruins of old castles, and charming Austrian towns. We found some chaise lounges in a shaded area and enjoyed the views.

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This is the heart of Austria’s wine country and we saw many vineyards terraced on the surrounding hills.

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Lunch was served on the sun (top) deck and was a sampling of Austrian food and local beer. It was excellent. After lunch we docked in Melk and promptly boarded a tour bus which took us up to Melk Abbey. This magnificent building was given to the Benedictine Monks over 900 years ago by the ruling Babenberg family and they have continued to live and work there ever since. In the late 1600's it was badly damaged by fire and was rebuilt between 1701 and 1726 in the baroque style. It is a World Heritage Site.

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Melk Abbey - Stift Melk

This is a model of the abbey.

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This is the Front

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and inside those doors you find the Inner Courtyard.

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They have five magnificent libraries filled with over one hundred thousand very old books. (We were not permitted to take photos in the libraries) They also have a school there – our guide had been a student at that school.

The church of the Abbey is a working church with the most gold we have ever seen. They also had reliquaries under several of the altars in the knaves. It was the most opulent church I have seen including the chapel in Windsor castle.

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Main Altar

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Side of the church

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Side altar containing the relics of a saint.

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Pulpit

The Abbey hosted many wealthy and noble visitors and has hundreds of rooms. One of the Main Halls had interesting circular windows at the top - they opened to permit the guests to hear the orchestra which was located in a room behind those windows.

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That same room has a magnificent ceiling which is an optical illusion as it is mostly flat and not domed as it appears.

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After touring the Abbey, we walked towards the ship with our new friends, Jean and Bernie (from Vancouver) stopping on the way for some refreshemnts at a sidewalk cafe.

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We returned to the ship to view a strudel-making demonstration. The most difficult part is the careful stretching of the dough which is a bit like and extension of pizza making.

We had dinner with a group of friends we have now made and then went up on the deck to visit further as we sailed towards Passau.

Posted by DavidandHazel 09:04 Archived in Austria Comments (1)

Into Germany from Passau to Regensburg

sunny 25 °C

The town of Passau is located on the tip of a peninsula which is bordered by 3 rivers - the Inn, the Danube and the Ilz. It was originally a Celtic settlement and later a Roman one. It became an important center for the salt trade. It is where Adolph Hitler spent his youth. It is located in the Bavaria region of south eastern Germany. During the morning we attended a delightful lecture and German lesson delivered by Svenja our Cruise Manager and the woman who was so helpful when we lost our luggage. All of the small crew are very versatile often doing a variety of tasks. We have even seen the captain carrying garbage bags from the ship up to the dumpsters that they stop at from time to time.

Passau is a very old village and like many others was burnt and rebuilt several times during its history. Most recently it was rebuilt in the baroque style in the 1700s. Many Italians were brought in to help with the rebuilding and so there is a lot of evidence of Italian architecture and sculpture. It is very beautiful with narrow streets and ornate buildings.

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Passau boasts a vibrant shopping district and like so many of these small towns the central business area is all cobblestone streets which are reserved for pedestrians and service vehicles. We saw some very high end stores and lovely stylish clothing.

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Dave in front of Shopping Area

One of the highlights of our walking tour was a stop at St. Stephen’s Cathedral where we were able to attend a half hour concert of the massive pipe organ. It was amazing to hear in the wonderful acoustics of the huge cathedral. The organ is actually composed of 5 organs which are now electronically connected so the organist has a 5 tier keyboard to use.

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Pipe Organ in the Cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

After the concert we walked back to the ship for lunch before returning to explore Passau a bit more on foot. Our group of eight has now really come together now and we are sitting together for dinner each night now. After dinner we all went up to the main lounge for a fun team trivia game. We retired earlier than last night because we have an early morning tomorrow in Regensburg.

Our itinerary for Regensburg changed from the planned one because there was a triathlon in the area today and they were using the space between 2 of the locks to do the swimming section. This meant that a section of the river would be closed to boat traffic for several hours during the swim. The movement of commercial traffic on the river system is very strictly controlled so closing a section of the river requires significant adjustments. This meant that as soon as we disembarked, the ship was taking off to get past the swim area prior to the shut down of the river. While the ship was making its way past the swim area we would be exploring the town. The plan then called for us to be picked up by busses and dropped off at a preset new rezendevous point. We had an early breakfast and departed the ship for our walking tour at 8:30. Our guide for this tour was truly exceptional and brought the town’s history to life for us.

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Old Regensburg on the Danube

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Regensburg Cathedral and 1000 year old bridge

Regensburg is the northernmost city on the Danube and has the oldest stone bridge across the Danube – over 1000 years old and still very serviceable. The history is fascinating. The Celts were there before the Romans but there seems to be little evidence of them. The Romans were there at the peak of their power but did not build the bridge. They did stop at the Danube so this river formed the eastern border of their empire. They have found bits and pieces of evidence of the Roman fortifications but most were cannibalized over the centuries as people used the stone in subsequent buildings.

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Dave in front of the bridge.

The Italians were very influential in the building of Regensburg and it is known for its many Italian-style tower residences.

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Regensburg tower

One of the major status symbols of the early era was having the wealth to build a small tower attached to the end of your residence. For the very wealthy these towers could extend up five or six stories. Frequently the two or even three levels of these towers were completely empty and not used for anything but bragging rights. Stone was very expensive so if the owner of a tower owed money to someone, that person would require payment in terms of stone. That stone had to be removed from the tower and given as payment. It was therefore evident to everyone how wealthy a person was and if his wealth was growing or diminishing.

This is a picture of the Regensburg town square. Note all the flowers in the window boxes in all the buildings. The balcony in the building was the place where the Emperor would stand when he visited.

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This is Oskar Schindler’s house.

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This is the exterior of the cathedral
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And the beautiful altar with the stained glass behind it.
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As mentioned earlier, while we were on our tour of Regensburg, our ship left and continued its way up the river. Once our walking tour was over we boarded a bus to meet the ship in the small town of Kelheim. Well, our three bus drivers found Kelheim but they could not find the location of the ship. We had a hilarious drive through the tiny streets of Kelheim while the guides were madly calling for directions. The drivers were amazing at maneuvering the huge busses down one way alleys and doing turn arounds in impossible places. Interestingly the rear wheels on these busses also turn to some degree to help the busses turn even sharper. They finally found the ship an hour late to encounter a captain who was more than a little displeased. Half of our group had elected to have a longer village tour and were due to meet us even further up river at another meeting point. We set off quickly to reach that destination. When we arrived we found that the second bus was also late – but this time due to a passenger who "got lost" shopping. It was a bad day for our poor captain.

At Kelheim we entered the Main-Danube canal – a 166 km waterway joining the 2 rivers and 16 locks which was only completed in 1992. For the first 66 km we continued to travel upstream – against the current since the Danube flows from west to east. In the locks we continued to go up for these first 66 km. Once we reached the top of the Danube watershed the water changed direction and for the next 100 km of the canal we were travelling down stream and went down in the locks. As you can imagine, this canal was quite an engineering feat and an even greater political feat. It wasn’t until powerful pumps were invented that the canal could be designed and built. Previous attempts dating from the time of Charlemagne failed because of the problematic water levels.

Next stop: Nurenmberg

Posted by DavidandHazel 02:18 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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