Our first look at the Danube River in Budapest. It was a grey, cold day but the twists and turns of the river through the city were still impressive. Unfortunately, the boat we were spending the week on was docked in Slovakia, instead of Budapest, due to record low water levels on the river. That meant less time to explore the city and more time riding a bus back and forth to the boat. Not what we had hoped for so we will need to return to Budapest some other time to experience the thermal baths and Fisherman’s Bastion.Our second full day was in Vienna and we were able to take the metro to the city center and be on our own schedule. The morning began with a walking tour of the heavy hitters, such as the Hofburg Palace, the Opera House and St Stephen’s cathedral and gave us a good overview of this beautiful city.We visited the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Nameless Library, that depicts shelves of books with their spines turned to the inside. The names of the concentration camps in which Austrian Jews were killed are engraved around the base.Our guide told the story (and couldn’t hide her displeasure at the outcome) of the Gustav Klimt painting Adele Bloch-Bauer I that was removed from the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and returned to Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann in LA after a lengthy legal battle. If you are curious about the story, watch the movie Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds
Vienna was also cold and grey so we were happy to find a cafe and try the famous Sacher Torte. Our guide had suggested that if there was a long wait for a table at the Hotel Sacher (there was) that you could have excellent Sacher Torte anywhere in Vienna. She also suggested that we order our Sacher torte with whipped cream since it is fairly dry and that her favorite was the apple strudel. We tried them both!
From Vienna the boat cruised through the night making it fun to wake up in the morning and step on to our balcony to see where we were!The rising sun gave the town of Krems in Austria a warm glow. We skipped the included tour and went on a bike ride instead and loved seeing some vineyards and villages up close, and getting some exercise!We rode to a picturesque little village called Durnstein, charming but felt a little like Disney with a mini train driving around the narrow streets and tons of tourists.Apricots are grown in the valley as well as grapes so we bought some apricot vodka that we enjoyed on the sun deck later in the day!The afternoon that the boat traveled from Krems, Austria to somewhere near Passau, Germany was exactly what you picture when you hear river boat on the Danube. Known as the Wachau Valley, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site as both banks of the river are dotted with ruined castles, medieval towns and terraced vineyards.Passau was our next stop and it is known as the ‘City of Three Rivers’ since it is where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers converge. Passau was an important medieval center for the salt trade, known as white gold. Salt has become one of my favorite things to purchase when I travel and despite trying to find some in the grocery store to bring home, the only salt I could find was on top of a pretzel!
Another day, another charming town…Regensburg, Germany is a medieval town on the Danube that was virtually untouched by World War II bombing.
Notice the little statue tucked into the green wall below…it is a sculpture of someone kissing their butt and it was aimed at their neighbor…who knew the expression has been around for so long!
Our walking tour in Regensburg included some Jewish history and we learned about a memorial to victims of Nazi persecution. German artist Gunter Demnig has created over 60,000 brass-plated stumbling stones (stolperstein) in 22 countries so that the victims of the Holocaust are never forgotten. The stones are placed in the pavement in front of the victims home and include their name, date of birth, date of deportation and the place of their death.The final stop on our river cruise was the city of Nuremberg. Despite its history, it was a beautiful city that appeared to be working very hard to find the right balance between remembering the atrocities of war without glorifying them. Nuremberg was the site of fanatical Nazi party rallies and ultimately the site of the Nuremberg Trials. It also has a toy museum, delicious lebkuchen(spice cookies), a lively pedestrian market area, regular citizens,and some interesting statues and fountains. The Beautiful Fountain pictured below is a highlight of the central market square. It was designed in the 1380s by Heinrich Beheim and is an impressive 62 feet high and dripping with gold. Only a copper ring on the north side of the fence is accessible and local folklore says you should rub the ring, turn it full circle and make a wish! Oops, I forgot to do that!
This was our first experience with a river cruise. In theory, it sounds ideal. Unpack once and float on the Danube in your stateroom sitting on your balcony watching the scenery go by. When the boat docks, walk off and in to a charming town to explore. Our experience wasn’t quite like that! When we did dock, it was usually outside the city center which required another bus ride. Mid-week, due to the low water levels, we had to pack our bags and switch boats. Everything was well-organized and went seamlessly but it just wasn’t what we were expecting, however, that is what traveling is about!
Despite that, our rooms were very comfortable and well-designed with thoughtful touches like a heated bathroom floor and plenty of outlets and lighting options. The food was delicious and abundant, and the scenery was what you would expect to see in a movie! Every night there was a regional special on the menu so we had the opportunity to try goulash or weiner schnitzel, Oktoberfest sausages and local wines and beer. Depending on your tolerance for (or interest in) traveling with a group, a river cruise can be a great way to see a slice of life from a different perspective. It’s a peaceful, calm way to travel off the beaten path.