Hello! We are very happy to share our Danube River cruise adventure with you! The post is long (sorry!) but it was very hard to cram 13 days, 11 cities and 5 countries into one post. Plus I had a few technical difficulties which caused a wee delay. In an effort to save time, I have used the tour company’s itenary for a base of this posting, but massaged it to make it our own story. We were busy!! And it was fantastic!
Saturday, June 20 – Sunday, Jun 21 – Hungary
We spent 2 days in Budapest, Hungary on our own prior to our river cruise. Got upgraded in our apartment hotel!
Budapest is a grand old city hugging the banks of the Danube. ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest’ were separate cities until 1873 and to this day, still have two distinct identities. We stayed on the ‘Pest’ side, where we found incredible architecture, the Jewish quarter, food markets and countless restaurants.
This is the Jewish Quarter where the ‘memorial’ erected by the government is being criticized by the public as inaccurate. The Jews say Hungary welcomed the Nazi’s, not protected the Jews and the public wants it to be known:
A Ronald Reagan statue, of all people:
We crossed the Elizabeth Bridge to Buda and climbed the hill to the citadel and area:
And a wonderful view of Pest:
We spotted our river boat from the bridge which added to the anticipation!
Buda is also home to many royal palaces and Ottoman-era spas; these thermal baths are a big tourist draw. You can play chess while you soak or even join an evening laser disco party. They had cool lions here:
We only had 36 hours in Budapest and that was definitely not enough time. We have put Budapest in our ‘to return to’ category. What a fantastic city!
This is palace was massive! And so was the nearby square:
Sunday we boarded our boat, ‘The Sound of Music’ and met several of our fellow passengers. Two ladies from Vancouver and a couple from Niagra Falls were our Canadian counterparts. We shared many meals and travel stories with our friends from the coast. Lounge entertainment the first evening was a group of Hungarian opera singers / dancers and a violinist. Very entertaining! We moved to the upper deck as the ship embarked from Budapest and sailed down the Danube past the glorious city lights.
June 22 – Slavakia
We continued sailing all morning and into the afternoon, to Bratislava. It was very enjoyable to watch the scenery as the boat sailed along the Danube. We passed through our first of 25 locks, the Lock of Gabchikovo. It was fascinating to watch the lock fill and see the boat rise 50 metres on the water. Entering the lock, in the lock, ready to exit:
Joe as measurement in a 30 minute span:
We arrived late afternoon in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. This country is one the youngest in Europe, even though its history dates back more than 2000 years. The peaceful split from the Czech Republic was only in 1993. After missing a chance to join NATO in 1997 because of political misdoings, Slovakia joined both the EU and NATO in 2004. Statues:
We walked along the cobblestone lanes of the historic town center and toured St. Martin’s Cathedral, coronation site of the Kings of Hungary. We visited the 13th century Old Town Hall and the Franciscan church and explored the shops.
Tuesday, June 23 – Austria
Austria is a German-speaking country, with lovely mountain villages, baroque city architecture, Imperial history and rugged alpine terrain. Vienna, its Danube River capital, is home to the Schonbrunn and Hofburg palaces. Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss lived in Vienna which is why the city is often referred to as “The City of Music”. Another nickname is “The City of Dreams” because it was home to Sigmund Freud. Our tour of Vienna introduced us to this Imperial city with its legendary opulence and elegance. We drove along the famed Ringstrasse, Vienna’s main boulevard lined with with magnificent Baroque palaces, parks and monuments. We saw the lavish Hofburg Palace, and the impressive Vienna Opera House.
Lots of shopping!
We stopped for coffee and a pastry – some of the selection. The shoes and purses are made of chocolate!
We toured the majestic St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Parliament building.
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is a traditional riding school for Lipizzan horses. Sadly they were not in school the day of our visit.
During our freetime in the afternoon we strolled through a park that had as many statues as trees.
We did a little window shopping on the boulevard and stopped for some great people watching and a local beer. The streets were crowded; bus and van loads of police officers were driven into a cornered off lot below the cathedral. We figure it was graduation day for some police cadets – so cool to watch!
Our dinner companions tonight were a wonderful couple from New Jersey. Their travel stories included Africa and India, elephants and lions. They were inspiring and planted little seeds of future adventures. A lot of passengers went to a concert in Vienna after dinner but we had opted out. Instead we watched a movie in the lounge (Shakespeare in Love) with popcorn and the sun setting in the background.
Wednesday, June 24
This morning we woke up docked a few steps away from the picturesque, Bavarian village of Durnstein. We strolled along the medieval cobblestone streets with 16th century town houses and wine taverns. This village is in the heart of the Wachau wine district and vineyards snuggled the town. We sampled apricot schnapps, a specialty of the village.
We climbed the hill with our new Aussie friends Sue & Paul, for a view of the region from the hilltop castle. The morning was cool and it felt good to workup a sweat again. The castle is only a shell, but stands overshadowing the village and river below.
Further up this riverbank village, we saw the five-star hotel that allowed Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed to keep a low profile and escape from the paparazzi.
We returned to the boat and continued cruising for a few hours. We finally had time to sit on the top deck as we cruised the Danube through the scenic Wachau Valley. So wonderful to see the lovely storybook views of vineyards, castles, hilltop ruins and monasteries. We loved river cruising!
After lunch we disembarked in Melk for a guided tour of the historic Benedictine Abbey. This Abbey is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Europe. We toured the Abbot’s chambers, the Kaiser’s walk and the lavish library.
The cathedral was out of this world:
The gardens were immaculate !
When we retuned to the ship for dinner, the group of 35 passengers from Boston began their murder mystery party complete with very eleborate costumes. Unbelievable that they had them in their suitcases. They had a great time and were their usual boisterous selves. While we can see how fun it would be to travel in a group like that, we found them to very loud at every meal and it was impossible to carry on a conversation at tables surrounding them.
Thursday, June 25 – Austria / Germany
We went on an optional tour today to Salzburg, a 3 hour bus ride. This was a gorgeous pit stop and I believe our guide said in the area of where ‘the hills are alive’ was filmed:
Salzburg, is the fourth-largest city in Austria, with views of the Eastern Alps. It is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and was the setting for the film “The Sound of Music.” This fountain is from a scene in the movie:
Building where Mozart was born:
Salzburg has three universities and of course a large population of students. The city is divided by the Salzach River, with medieval and baroque buildings of the pedestrian Altstadt (Old City) on its left bank, and 19th-century Neustadt (New City) on the right.
‘Stumbling Blocks’ – markers in front of homes where a Jew lived prior to being sent to the concentration camps:
We toured Salzburg’s “Old Town” (Altstadt), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We loved it! The Mirabell Palace, the Abbey, Salzburg Cathedral, and St. Peter’s Cemetery.
We had a traditional lunch of weinersnitchel in Europe’s oldest restaurant, (dating back to 803 AD!) and then had free time to explore the tiny streets.
Cheese and fish vendors; the scampi were huge!
Traditional yet modern fashions that the locals (sometimes) wear; LOVED these!
Drove through the birthplace town of Hitler:
Some farmers are ripping out their crops in favour if these solar panels that produce more income and are less work:
Friday, June 26
We docked in Regensburg this morning, one of Germany’s largest and best preserved medieval cities and another UNESCO Site.
Our guided walking tour highlighted the city’s stunning architecture. We saw the Old Town Hall, the Dom St. Peter, and the Porta Praetoria, gateway to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 AD.
Regensburg had many beautiful churches and a 12th century stone bridges crossing the Danube. The buildings were towering, making the lanes dark.
We stopped for a traditional Sausage lunch at a riverside restaurant. Handmade hats, locals wearing traditional clothes to a wedding and baked goods:
Saturday, June 27
The boat cruised through the Main-Danube Canal today. The canal is 172 km long and it took 32 years to build at a cost of 250,000,000 €. The locks were so cool! Each of the 16 locks was 190 meters long 12 metres wide; just barely enough room for our boat to squeeze in! After lunch we bused into Nuremberg, a city with medieval architecture, including the fortifications and stone towers of its Old Town.
Our walking tour started at Kaiserburg Castle.
The Hauptmarkt (central square) contains the Schöner Brunnen, and Frauenkirche, a 14th-century Gothic church.
Nuremberg is also famous for its gingerbread. It was SO good!
We saw the historic Palace of Justice where the War Crimes Tribunal met between 1945 and 1946. German officials involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity were brought before an international tribunal in the ‘Nuremberg Trials’.
Nuremberg held great significance during the Nazi Germany era. The Nazi Party chose the city to be the site of huge Nazi Party conventions – the Nuremberg rallies. The rallies were held annually 1933-1938 in Nuremberg and after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Nuremberg rallies became huge Nazi propaganda events, a centre of Nazi ideals. A number of premises were constructed solely for these assemblies, some of which were not finished. We drove in and around this rally structure that is now used for storage. It was massive.
At the 1935 rally, Hitler specifically ordered the Reichstag to convene at Nuremberg to pass the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws which revoked German citizenship for all Jews and other non-Aryans. The beginning of some horrific history. Our final night of sailing we spent some time on the upper deck watching the fairytale villages go by. Magical!
Sunday, June 28 – Czech Republic
This morning we had to disembark from the river cruise and say goodbye to the fantastic crew of The Sound Of Music. We are still missing the pampering!
We must say we now prefer river cruising to ocean cruising. It is just more relaxed, casual and very informal. Our limited wardrobe was never an issue. Travelling with 100 fellow passengers feels a little less like a herd than with hundreds or thousands. We sailed 475 miles, went through 25 locks and 7712 gallons of diesel fuel! Just a view of our new found friends:
We shared more than a glass or two with these lovely ladies from Vancouver – Barbara and Marlene team up at least once a year for some incredible adventures:
Sue and Paul are from Brisbane, Australia; also experienced travellers and were fun to be with on our yellow bus adventures:
Joyce and Phil (Morgan Freeman’s double) were from New Jersey and had been on 11 tours with Gate 1 Travel. They had so many stories:
Steve and Louise were from Sydney, Australia and had been on the road for six weeks!
It’s a small world new friends! We shall meet again….
We traveled by bus to the “Golden City” of Prague. Oh, how we loved Prague too! Our local guide was fantastic and gave us a great overview of this magnificent city.
We visited the 1000-year-old Hradcany Castle grounds, former residence of the Bohemian Kings. It was massive!
The views were breathtaking of the Charles Bridge and Lesser Town below:
We walked though the elegant courtyards and saw the St. George Basilica, the St. Vitus Cathedral and the Prague Castle:
Then on to the Jewish Quarter:
The Old Town Square to see the world-famous Astronomical Clock and the Town Hall:
Monday, June 29
Today we were free to explore Prague on our own. We wandered along the banks of the Vltava River, people watched on Wenceslas Square, enjoyed one of the many charming cafes, and explored this city of domes and spires:
This is appeared to be a graduation; all the beautiful girls with their bouquets:
Antique cars were everywhere to rent or tour in:
Ugly love lock bridge but cool shot through the bars:
Multiple pics together of the John Lennon wall…a bar in his name was just down the street:
Statues on the Charles Bridge:
Swans! They were all coming home after a long day of work (of being photographed):
Sun setting – so beautiful!
Tuesday, June 30
Our last optional full day tour was to Cesky Krumlov. We drove through the picturesque landscape of Southern Bohemia to the magical town of Cesky Krumlov, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This medieval town has earned an international reputation for its State Castle and Chateau, one of the largest in Central Europe:
During our guided walking tour along the cobblestone lanes, we saw many fairytale Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance homes:
We had a hearty lunch at an old-fashioned tavern (former prison) :
Store front windows:
Wednesday, July 1 - Happy Canada Day!
We missed our family and friends today and the themed red coloured food we all prepare to celebrate this special birthday. We departed the Czech Republic for Venice, Italy. Italy is the last European country on our itinerary and July 4th marks the completion of our tenth month! We hope you have enjoyed rolling down the Danube!
Paula and Joe