Sunday, October 4, 2015

River Cruising in Europe (Part 4)

Sorry to have left you hanging in the last post! 

Budapest to Amsterdam
In case your just joining this blog, a quick recap: We started our trip to Amsterdam on the Viking LongShip Mimir in Budapest, Hungary, and from there have travelled the Danube making stops at Bratislava in Slovakia, Vienna and Belk in Austria, arriving at Passau in Germany.  The ship has been "stuck" just out side of Passau. We have visited the city of Regensburg and Nuremberg (on our itinerary) via bus trips, returning each evening to the Mimir in Passau.

Low River Levels
I ended the last post with Viking announcing that because of low water levels on the rivers between Passau on the Danube and Bamberg at the end of the Main-Danube Canal, the ship would not proceed any further. However, they announced that Viking had a plan!  (A little advanced notice: that plan actually worked out pretty well.) We needed to pack up our belongings during the course of the evening - an inconvenience - but not major (especially if you have ever taken a motor coach tour with multiple hotel stops...) and have them outside our cabin doors...with appropriate tags in the morning.

Auf Wiedersehen
Simply, the plan was that we would meet a sister ship to the Mimir in Bamberg, our next itinerary stop, that was coming from Amsterdam on its way to Budapest and was as "stuck" as we were. We would swap ships with the Budapest bound passengers who would join the Mimir in Passau as we joined our new ship in Bamberg. The ship we were joining was brand new and put into service virtually the same time as the Mimir (May of this year, 2015).  It's name was the Viking Vili.  For continuity sake our Cruise Director and his assistant would accompany us for the balance of the journey to Amsterdam.

Motor Coach to Bamberg
So, for the third day in a row, we boarded our motor coaches for the three hour drive to Bamberg.  The drive provided glimpses of the famous Main-Danube Canal, begun as Charlemagne's dream in 793 and completed in 1992 with its 16 locks that raises the water 446 meters and provides for a complete connection, vie navigable waterways, between the North Sea and the Black Sea.

After a brief stop along the way to refresh and get refreshments, the
motor coach took us directly to our new home - the Viking Longship Vili. When we boarded, we were directed to our "new" cabins - which had the same designation and looked exactly like the ones we had left three hours earlier.  Our suitcases were not just in the cabin, they were on the bed ready to unpack.  Also there was no standing in line to get new room keys as these were already in the cabin.  

I have to give Viking a lot of credit for the way they handled the logistics of the move...making it truly as smooth as could be possible.  The one thing that I do fault them on, however, is communications.  I am positive they knew, well in advance, that this ship switch was going to be necessary.  I think it would have eased everybody's mind if they had told us sooner.  If so, there would not have been almost three days of uncertainty/anxiety as to why we seemed "stranded" in Passau.

After all the motor coach ride and wanting to get settled in, Dianne decided she would skip the afternoon tour of Bamberg and leave me on my own. We had lunch on board and Dianne headed off to unpack.

Kayak Slolom
Back on schedule, shortly after lunch, we met our guide in the heart of Bamberg. This German city is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 2000 buildings recognized as historical monuments. Our walking tour covered the entire town, from the historic buildings in the city center to the citadel atop a hill overlooking the city.  A small river flowed through the center and it was used for multiple purposes, the most interesting being a kayak slalom run right next to the Rathaus (City Hall). Some of the buildings were incredible in the amount of detail and workmanship. They were extremely lucky that Bamberg was not a target of Allied bombings and destruction during World War II, so much of the historic architecture was original.

The Rose Garden
Robin Hood in Open Air Theatre
The most interesting part of the tour took us up to the top of the hill overlooking the town and the citadel.  It consisted of the Historic and Diocesan museums, a State Library, a Cathedral, a State Art Gallery, and a low-income immigrant housing facility.  It also contained an outdoor theatre (where Robin Hood had recently been performed - in German, and, uh, without Kevin Costner) and a gorgeous rose garden.  All of this overlooked the historic rooftops of Bamberg.  When the tour concluded, we had a fair amount of free time available so I decided to do some wandering on my own. I found a
The Rooftops of Bamberg
great little market with a stand that served tasty crepes (chocolate, for me). I'm not quite sure why, but at the entrance to the market there was a 3 meter, or so, high statue of Poseidon with his trident plated in (what looked like) gold...interesting being so far from the sea?

Fine Bamberg Smoke Flavored Beer
Before heading back to our new ship, I had to try something that our guide had talked about and for which Bamberg is famous - a distinctive smoke-flavored beer.  It did have a very smokey flavor unlike any beer I had tried before - and I have tried a lot of them from Belgium to Japan to Mexico, in almost any country in the world I have visited.  If you get to Bamberg, try it!

The Crew's Welcoming
We got back to the ship to a very warm welcome from many of the crew who were standing at the rail holding individual letters that spelled out "WELCOME BACK".  I was great to see their enthusiasm at having us aboard. But it also reminded me that we now had a whole new crew to "break in" J
The Bishop's Residenz

We settled back into our routine of a cocktail, dinner and a night cap...with much conversation and introduction to the new crew as we departed for our next port of call, Wurzburg, Germany.

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site
We boarded busses for our next tour as the ship would meet us in Wurzburg later in the day. Our tour this morning was another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of Germany's largest and most ornate palaces, the Wurzburg Bishop's Residenz. Built over a 70 year period starting in 1720, this home to the prince-bishop was designed by Balthasar Neumann with the Italian artist Giambattista Tiepopo creating its famous and absolutely stunning "Four Contintinents" ceiling fresco. (Unfortunately, photos inside were not permitted...) A grand staircase with its surrounding balcony provided the best views of the fresco.

Closer View of the Entrance
But there were other wonderfully ornate rooms to behold as well, most in very different styles.  Most impressive was the photo display on exiting the Residenz.  The pictures depicted the devastation that had occurred as a result of the Allied bombings during World War II.  Seeing how it was after the war and how it had been restored pointed to me the great respect and pride the German people have for their history.

One of Many Churches
Another Wurzburg Church
The tour continued through the old town area with it's multiple churches, impressive Rathaus, only "Blue" mail letter drop (there is a story behind that but too long to tell here), and finally down to the  river bank where we awaited the arrival of the Vili.  Across the bank was an impressive hill-top castle and a church at its foot on the banks of the Main River. 

View from the Old Bridge across the Main
"Blue" Letter Box
As we waited for the ship we enjoyed some of the local hospitality with coffee, pastries, beer and/or wine...depending on your leaning.  I had a glass of German weiswein (white wine) standing on the old bridge that crossed the Main River in the enjoyable mid-afternoon sun. The ship arrived, we board and head off for our next adventure.

In the evening, however, we did have a treat as a local artisan, a
Beautiful Glass Bowl
glass artist, showed off his creative skills -  while providing an informative, and often very humorous, commentary.  His art would be available for purchase the next day as we headed for our next stop, the city of Wertheim.

But that is for the next, and final, episode of this continuing blog on River Cruising in Europe.  Amsterdam is getting closer...enjoy and comment if you care!

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