Thursday, October 1, 2015

River Cruising in Europe (Part 2)

Hungary Parliament
Last post was mostly about Budapest. The ship departed that beautiful city in the twilight as it was just coming to life, especially along the Danube.  The glowing lights of the Castle atop Buda, the Parliament on the Pest side riverfront and the Liberty Statue could be seen for miles (ops, I mean kilometers).  This was our second visit to Budapest and it certainly will not be our last.  We enjoy the atmosphere, the culture and especially the people who are always friendly and helpful.

Budapest Chain Bridge and Castle
Awaking for breakfast on the Danube, we make our way to Bratislava. But before the arrival we are required to undergo the mandatory safety drill where we all don lifejackets and gather at our assigned stations on the upper deck. (On a previous cruise, the captain joked that if you could get to the upper deck, you would have no worries.  The rivers are so shallow that even if the ship sank to the bottom, the two upper decks would still be out of the water!)
Safety Drill

Along the way we pass through the first of 20 locks on the Danube.  By my count, we are scheduled to pass through about 70 locks in total on this cruise (16 on the Main-Rhine Canal and 34 on the Main)...fortunately, most at night!

St. Martin's Cathedral
The ship is securely docked and we head off for the afternoon tour. Since we docked right in the middle of Slovakia's capital, the combined bus and walking tour begins as soon as we step ashore. A slightly cloudy day keeps the heat down as we tour Old Town with St. Martin's Cathedral, the 15th century Michael's gate tower, a magnificently detailed baroque Jesuit Church and the Rolland Fountain.  

Street Musician
"Street" Art
We also chance upon some very interesting (humorous? - probably not originally intended to be) "street" art. It was a helmeted worker, in bronze, emerging from the sewer?!?  There were, as seen in many metropolitan areas, street musicians plying their trade on street corners. However, it is not often you see a harp as the instrument of choice!

Evening Entertainment
Back on the ship for cocktails (seems to be a theme here) before dinner.  (By the way the cruise price also included beer and wine at lunch and dinner meals.  Also, if you look carefully, you can find a bottle of sparkling wine at breakfast!)

The Dancers
Shipboard evening entertainment is not the theatrical extravaganzas you find on the big cruise ships.  It is usually talent from the culture of the local community that is brought aboard for the evening. In Bratislava it was a company of local musicians, singers and dancers. You learn a lot about a culture
The Singer
from their art and the entertainers this evening were lively, talented and a pleasure to watch and hear...conveying an atmosphere of comfortable confidence and optimism.  Needless to say, Dianne and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening event! 

After a nightcap (seems like another theme here!?!) it was off to sleep as the ship made its way overnight to our next stop: Vienna, Austria.

Vienna, Austria
Inner City, Vienna
We awoke to a partly sunny day, had our excellent breakfast aboard the Viking Mimir and prepared for our included tour.  It was a combined coach and walking tour (again with local guide and headsets) that made its way around the remarkable Ringstrasse with imposing palaces and marvelous residences.  We headed  to the Innere Stadt or Inner City.  Here were the Hofberg Palace and St. Stephan's Cathedral with its gleaming spire.  But the citadel of this tour was the Vienna Opera House...the home to many of the great operas ever created (Italy may argue, but must admit to Austria's prowess in many forms of the opera, especially the operetta!)

Vienna Pastries
Coffee and Strudel
One thing that Viking offers is additional "tours" that take advantage of the local culture and habitat.  In Vienna, we were able to accompany our Program Director to a local farmer's market for a tasting of what the locals had to offer.  It was a short walk from the ship. This little side trip afforded us the opportunity to see more of the city, especially some of the non-tourist areas.

spices, spices,spices...
We tasted olives, pastries, cheeses, and local wines. The market contained one of the largest selection of spices that I have ever seen, all neatly wrapped and labeled - in German, of course! (Oh, I can still smell them now!) I bought an orange-curry spice that I have since tried with fish - and it is wonderful. 

However, in Vienna, the real local experience is coffee and cake...for me it was a great double expresso with a large piece of powdered sugar coated apple strudel!

The Piano
The Music
In the evening, we were able to discover just how good live music in Vienna really is.  Dianne and I attending a Mozart and Strauss Concert. The hall was small, but the acoustics were wonderful.  The evening's presentation included some of both Mozart's and Strauss' well known works from both Opera and Operetta.  

The Cast
The highlight of the you might expect...was the Strauss Viennese Waltz.  Not only played by the orchestra but danced on the stage by the excellent cast. Dianne and I both wanted to get up and dance...but we constrained ourselves.  

Having thoroughly enjoyed the concert, we headed back to the ship
for (easy guess!) a nightcap and then off to bed and the next step in our adventure: Cruising our way to Melk, Austria.

One More Lock
The morning cruise passed through some of the most picturesque areas of the Danube, with wine vineyard covering the hills along the river.  We made our way through a river lock (or three) docking in Melk about mid-day.  

Vineyards on the Danube
The Melk tour focused on the Abbey, a 900 year old baroque structure perched on sheer cliffs overlooking the Danube. The Abbey has a large collection of medieval art displayed beautifully. Most impressive, however, is that it's library houses some of the most important artifacts and medieval manuscripts in the world. 

In the late afternoon we head back to the ship, ready and waiting for our next stop which crosses another international we head into Germany and Passau.  But before that we have cocktails and dinner (with wine) and a nightcap before heading off to slumberland.  Our ship sails into the night with a new destination in store as we wake for breakfast!

Passau and beyond is next in episode three of this continuing blog.  Enjoy (and comment if you have the urge)! 

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