Are You Thinking About Taking a River Cruise?
At Long Last, Europe
I’ve always wanted to go to Europe. In High School, my Marching Band took a European tour, and I missed out because I decided to use the money to buy a new clarinet instead. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to take a trip to make up for the one I missed. After seeing the Viking River Cruise advertisements on television (over and over and over), my husband and I decided the take them up on their two for one offer.
I should say at this point that I am not affiliated with Viking in any way. They are not paying me to write this, though it may seem that way. My intent is to just give an honest review of my trip. Let the chips fall where they may.
The Grand European
We opted for the 15-Day, Grand European Tour. We started in Amsterdam, and ended up in Budapest, although the reverse was also available. It’s a bit of a long flight, but we were able to get some sleep on the way. Even so, once we reached our boat and got settled into our cabin, we were pretty much toast.
Amsterdam, Netherlands - More Bicycles Than People
Well, not literally! But Amsterdam is a very bicycle friendly place. Amsterdam is also known for the famous Red Light District, but we were not brave enough to give that a go. We did, however, receive a sample of some Dutch gin. As a World Business Class passenger I received a Delft Blue miniature traditional Dutch house, filled with Dutch gin, also known as genever.
There were welcome walking tours of Amsterdam available, but we just couldn’t muster the energy. I have to say that I regret that decision now; however, in the moment, it was all we could do to just eat dinner and collapse in bed. If you are younger and/or in better shape, be sure to go. I heard from others that it was a great orientation.
Kinderdijk – No Tilting At Windmills
Ever since I saw Man of La Mancha, I have wanted to see a windmill up close. I finally realized my wish on our Viking Grand European tour. We did a walking tour in Kinderdijk, which is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. I now know more about water management in the Netherlands than I do in my own country.
Cologne, Germany - Still Standing
Looking up at the spires on the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, I was reminded of all the bombs that devastated the city during World War II, and yet this marvel is left standing to this day. It is truly inspiring - both outside and inside. Take an hour or two to truly appreciate this landmark.
Of course, there is much more to see in Cologne. Be sure to drink some of the Kolsch beer, for which they are famous. There are even ruins of the ancient Roman settlement of Colonia Agrippina.
Braubach, Germany - 700-Year-Old Fortress
High above the city of Braubach is Marksburg Castle. It was a challenging walk, with uneven surfaces and steep steps, but well worth it. It was built about 700 years ago, and is one of the best preserved castles on the Rhine River. One of the reasons that it is so well preserved is because it was never actually besieged by enemies. That's how well it was fortified!
The Scenic Rhine River
On our Viking River Cruise, we spent hours just cruising down the river looking at castles and what not all along the way. It was beautiful and relaxing. One castle blends into another, but I did have a few favorites.
We did have the option (several times) of going to the top deck for some "scenic cruising." The Program Director will point out the towns, castles, and other points of interest along the way. Of course, having our own private balcony to do the viewing was priceless.
Miltenberg, Germany - The Inn at the Giant
As the guide says, this is one of the most picturesque towns in all of Germany. Filled with "half-timbered" buildings, fountains, shops, and Germany's oldest inn (Zum Riesen - the Inn at the Giant), it is a memorable destination. We stopped for a coffee here at Mika Kafferosterei and watched the people go by. Delightful!
Würzburg, Germany - Large and Ornate Palace
Took a tour of the Bishop's Residenz Palace in Wurzburg, one of the more impressive baroque palaces in Germany. A fresco on every ceiling, and gold and mirrors everywhere else. Some of it was reconstructed after the bombings during World War II. Truly amazing place. Well worth half a day or more to explore.
Nuremberg, Germany - Megalomania Remembered
Visited the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg's southern district. Took a tour of the Documentation Center in the unfinished Congress Hall. The permanent exhibit is called "Fascination and Terror," which is an accurate title. There is an audio guide available in seven languages. We must remember, so that history does not repeat itself.
Regensburg, Germany - 12th Century Stone Bridge
Took a walking tour of Regensburg, a very well preserved medieval German city. A highlight was the 12th Century Stone bridge, even though it was under re-construction while we were there. Lots of little shops to look through. Well worth a few hours of your time to stroll through the city and look around.
Passau, Germany - Largest Cathedral Organ in the World
In the city of three rivers stands St. Stephen's Cathedral, Passau. It is the home of the largest cathedral organ in the world. At noon each day (except Sunday), they hold a 30-minute concert that is well worth attending. The music is not only heard, it can also be felt as you sit in awe of the incredible art and architecture.
Krems an der Donau, Austria - Best Wine Tasting Tour I've Been On
The wine tasting tour we went on at Winzer Krems was probably the best I've been on. Not only did you have the opportunity to taste several different wines, you moved from room to room with different displays. One was even a "four D" film, which included scents of the various local fruits. Very fun!
Vienna, Austria - Remarkable Ringstrasse
We took a bus tour around Vienna, along the Ringstrasse, a circular road that surrounds the Inner City of Innere Stadt. We also went on foot to see some of the buildings up close. Of particular interest to me was St. Stephan's Cathedral. There were more souvenir stores than you could count. Be careful of the prices, however. Be sure you know what you are paying for when you check out, or you will be paying over one Euro for a postcard!
Vienna, Austria - Floating on a cloud of Mozart and Strauss
The Vienna Residence Orchestra delighted with a concert of Mozart, Strauss, with a little Monti thrown in for good measure. In addition to the orchestra, there were opera singers and ballet dancers to entertain and enthrall. The Adagio from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto was a personal favorite. As well as the concertmaster playing Czardas. Well done!
Bratislava, Slovakia - Quirky Statues
After viewing endless statues of famous and infamous men (maybe a few women too), it was refreshing to see the quirky statues in and around Bratislava. One of my favorites is the guy who is coming up out of the sewer. Apparently his name is Cumil. There is a sign - man at work - so you can't miss him.
Budapest, Hungary - Heart of Europe
Landlocked and bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia, Hungary is at the very heart of Europe. Budapest, Hungary's capital, is split between two sides: Buda on the east bank, and Pest (which is pronounced "Pesht") on the west bank. My favorite part was our visit of the hilltop castle complex, which included Matthias Church. Amazing views.
All Things Considered
All in all, we had an amazing trip. One that we will be talking about for years to come. There are very few things I would have changed. Mostly, I wish I had been about 40 years younger, and could have managed the walking tours with a bit more vitality. But, as they say, youth is wasted on the young. In my youth, I would not have grasped the historical significance of what I was viewing.
I carry with me dozens of memories from the trip, from physically looking at the single cathedral that survived the bombing in Cologne, or the courthouse where they held the Nuremberg trials, to feeling the deep rumbling notes while listening to Europe’s largest pipe organ. These experiences leave your with a depth of meaning that is not present in even the very best of documentaries. But don’t take my word for it. Go!