Grand European River Cruise Part 3 – Austria

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Melk Abbey

This is the third installment of our European river cruise:

  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 1 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 2 click here
Vienna State Opera

Historic buildings here are marked with a plaque and a City of Vienna flag

We left Budapest and headed for Vienna, the capital of Austria.  During the cruise program director’s port overview, we were intrigued enough to purchase an optional tour, a classical concert in Vienna.  Steve and I are not known to be highly cultured folk, but being in Vienna we decided to broaden our horizons, if only for one night.  We were after all in the center of European classical music, where Mozart and Strauss composed many of their masterpieces.

Wiener Konzerhaus

Concert hall where the Vienna Residence Orchestra played at Wiener Konzerthaus

We were not disappointed, as we enjoyed the beautiful strains of Strauss waltzes and selections from Mozart by a small orchestra of talented musicians.  The evening was topped off by opera singers and ballet/waltz dancers accompanying some of the pieces, and some added humor.  Being cultured for a night wasn’t so bad after all!

Vienna Residence Orchestra

Vienna Residence Orchestra

I managed to record my favorite waltz of all time, the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss.  It is my favorite for it reminded me of my high school days when I danced the waltz.

Watch and listen…it gives me goosebumps each time I replay it!

An included walking tour of the city was a must for us first-timers.  It was then that we got the sense and taste of Austria’s opulent past.  For centuries Vienna was the seat of the Hapsburg Dynasty and center of the Holy Roman Empire, but I won’t bore you with all that.  Our glimpse of the city focused primarily on buildings that still reflect 18th- and 19th-century elegance from when this place was at the forefront of the arts and sciences.

We walked around the area known as the Ringstrasse, a boulevard of grand and elegant architecture encircling the historic center of Vienna that was built in the 19th century.

Hofburg Neue Burg section, seen from Heldenplatz

Hofburg Neue Burg section, seen from Heldenplatz

Hofburg Neue Burg section, seen from Heldenplatz

Getting a history lesson

One of the many gigantic drinking fountains around Vienna.  They are proud of their water which is fed by alpine glacial meltwater

Winter Palace of the Hapsburg Dynasty

A Lippizaner horse

Lipizzaner Stallions ready for their exercise at the Spanish Riding School

Vienna

Pot growing right along main street

Vienna, Austria

Shopping district at the Gaben

Vienna, Austria

Not sure who I am holding hands with, but he’s quite a hunk (of metal) 🙂

St Stephans Cathedral

Mesmerizing multicolored mosaic roof tiles on Gothic-style St. Stephens Cathedral

St Stephan's Cathedral

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the background

A sampling of marvelous head-turning architecture:

Vienna, Austria

Modern buildings on the east side of Vienna, including “DC tower 1”, are more current distinctive landmarks for the Austrian capital

On another optional excursion we joined a tour of the sprawling summer home of the Hapsburg Dynasty, the Schönbrunn Palace.  We were forewarned this was the most visited tourist attraction in Vienna, and yes, the crowds were there!  Thankfully our group got to skip the line and moved right along.

At the back of the palace

Our guide showed us just a few of the palace’s 1,441 rooms, as we heard rich stories of its former residents.  We were free to take photos outside, but not in the 12 imperial apartments that we toured inside.

Schorbrunn Palace

Front of the sprawling Schönbrunn Palace

Gloriette

Lovely view of the hilltop Gloriette and the palace gardens, sort of reminded me of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina

Melk, Austria

Our next stop was a charming city set amidst an important wine-growing region at the confluence of the Danube and Melk rivers, and at the base of the Wachau Valley.

This was a memorable stop for Steve, as some very nice people at an eyeglass store fixed his glasses for free!

Melk, Austria

A narrow busy street in Melk

The renowned Melk Abbey, rebuilt in the 18th century, was the main objective for our stop along the Danube at another UNESCO World Heritage site.  Since we’d never been to an abbey, we didn’t know what to expect.  This one is perched on a dramatic hilltop overlooking the Danube.

Originally a royal palace, this abbey was gifted to Benedictine monks in the 11th century. Since 1089 the monastic community of Melk and black-robed Benedictine monks have worked and lived in the restored abbey.  What we saw is an 18th-century Baroque considered one of the famous abbeys of Austria.  The institution currently relies on agriculture and tourist fees to support its existence.

Melk Abbey

The interior of the church is a kaleidoscope of red, orange and gold with colorful ceiling frescoes – the highlight of this tour

Melk Abbey

Incredible spriral staircase leading to the church

Melk Abbey

Abbey courtyard

Melk Abbey

Garden pavilion at Melk Abbey

 Wachau Valley, Austria

About 24 miles of the Danube as it makes its way toward Vienna is locally known as “The Wachau.”  This stretch has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding example of a riverine landscape.  Our program director complemented the passage with a commentary about the region’s history and culture.

The dining room was a great place to sit, look and listen on the chilly mornings

Our timing for this trip was good, as the fall foliage added much beauty to the terraced vineyards on the hills:

Wachau landscape.

Man-made stone terraces help facilitate cultivation – despite the steepness of the terrain – and are typical of the Wachau landscape

There was a story about this nose sticking out of the ground, but I forgot it 🙂

Schönbühel Castle sits on the Danube’s south bank between Melk and Willendorf

So many castles, churches and little villages dot the landscape here

As expected my camera was in overdrive, and now I find it challenging to choose which pictures to include in my post!

Note: In every port, guests may choose to join the included tour, purchase an optional tour or go out on their own.  The ship provides a map of each city, along with contact information and the ship’s location so folks can find their way back.

 

Next up:  Grand European River Cruise – Germany



 

Grand European River Cruise – Part 1

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Long before Steve’s cancer was confirmed in March, we had already booked our Viking River Cruise in Central Europe.  We’d heard details about Viking River Cruises from Rocky and Marsha, whom we’d met during our train ride across the Canadian rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer last year Although Steve’s treatments cut things a bit close, his doctor cleared us for this cruise and we were even hopeful that 14 days of “binge eating” might put some weight back on his bones.

Viking Bragi

Our ship, the Viking Bragi, cruising down the Danube River to pick us up

Between the two of us, Steve has always been the cruise lover – me, not so much.  We’ve been on several ocean cruises and I thought a river cruise would be just another expensive boat ride.  Wow, was I wrong!  Being aboard a Viking longship for 14 days turned me into a hardcore river cruise fan.  We took their Grand European Tour aboard Viking Bragi, one of the ships specifically designed to navigate rivers with low bridges and narrow locks.  We docked at 14 destinations along the Danube, Main (pronounced “mine”) and Rhine Rivers between Budapest and Amsterdam, visiting the countries of Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Grand European Tour

Our itinerary traced the Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam

Viking Bragi in one of our ports of call.  The ship is 443′ long and features 95 outside staterooms

The Viking longboats are much smaller than ocean cruise ships, and with less than 200 guests and around 50 crew members they are not at all crowded.  They lack the swimming pools, casinos and grand ballrooms of the ocean liners, but are plenty elegant.  Dining is casual with no formal nights and only one seating for dinner.  The setup really promotes meeting new people, as folks can sit wherever they wish for each meal.  Our stateroom was slightly larger than the ones we’ve stayed in on large cruise lines, and it had several amenities we enjoyed – how about a heated bathroom floor?  Nice!

Hanging out in the lounge.  Nice and quiet, and instead of endless open ocean there’s always sights to see on both sides of the ship as it moves along

He found a book by his favorite author to read

We spent lots of time on our veranda

We enjoyed the sundeck often – it took over 12 laps to get in a mile of walking!

The sun deck was not available when we were in the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, as the bridges were very low.  Notice how everything on the sundeck collapses flat

Our cruise included a guided excursion in each port of call, and there were other optional excursions (for a fee) to choose from to further maximize time at each destination.  We experienced organized and informative city tours with well-trained guides using high-tech wireless devices so we could hear their every word.   The way they organized groups on the buses and tours made everything easy-peasy during our time off the ship.

Synching our QuietVox devices by touching the paddle for our group

We were impressed with the QuietVox receivers and earpieces that were used during our city tours.  Before each tour began we activated our receivers by touching them to the paddle for our assigned group, which synched them to a unique frequency with our guide.  The device enabled me and other “wanderers” to take pictures up to a block away without missing a word the guide said, even in loud and crowded places.  These devices are the wave of the future for guided tours!

Listening to the guide while waiting for the ladies to complete their “WC” (water closet) stop

On cruise days Kane, the entertainment coordinator, conducted informative lectures related to historical and cultural topics specific to the current area of our travels.  We learned about the history of the 68 locks that we traversed, the Rhine-Main-Danube canal that links the North Sea to the Black Sea and other information about the water and geography of the Netherlands.  Each night before dinner he gave port talks with an overview of the next day’s port of call, as well as highlights of must-see landmarks and hidden food gems.  The master chef also participated, giving us an insight into the preparation of the upcoming dinner and what to expect throughout the meal.

Kane gives one of his informative lectures

Some of the locks were so tight that it was easy to reach out and touch them as we were raised or lowered to the next water level

At this lock in the Rhine-Main-Danube canal we were lowered 90 feet! (Photo credit: Linda)

Steve took a tour of the wheelhouse and learned how it is lowered into the ship’s hull when passing under low bridges

An exciting part of the cruise was that Steve discovered as time went on that his jaw and throat were feeling better and he was able to eat salads.  His goal on this cruise was to gain weight, and he ate everything in sight!  But because we also did miles of walking on our city tours, he gained only a couple of pounds.  On the other hand, I gained several pounds and have a lot of work to do…

Hmm, what will I have for breakfast this morning?

We met many interesting people and forged friendships on this trip.  Among them was David, a cancer survivor who’s condition several years ago was very similar to Steve’s.  He gave Steve much appreciated information and inspiration.  Another person we came across was Ivan, who shared a cell with senator John McCain as a Vietnam POW.  He had quite a story to tell about his life during and after the war.

David and Steve exchange information and phone numbers

This was our first time in Europe, and our first river cruise.  The itinerary allowed us to get a glimpse of central Europe and a good sampling of its regions and cultures.  The pace was comfortable and allowed us to relax and enjoy a part of the world we had never seen before.

There was never a dull moment as we cruised along, with lots to see and take pictures of on both sides of the river:

It was “all cameras on deck” in many areas on river days

How about this, fellow RV’ers?

An unusual bus ride in Budapest

Rock formations and beautiful homes

A blue longboat cruising under the Chain Bridge in Budapest

Folks chilling by the river on a Sunday morning

Those are vineyards on the hillsides

Cathedrals, churches and castles could be seen all along the river

Swans are considered pests here 😦

We cruised past several “parking lot” type RV parks along the river

Playing with reflection shots!

A busy port in Germany

The autumn foliage glowed in the setting sun.  The weather really held up for us during most of the trip

 

And that’s just for starters!  There is more to come about our country stops!

 

Next up:  Grand European River Cruise – Hungary