Article & pictures by Kay Jones, Travel Designer with Travel Time Inc.
My husband Dave and I decided to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary on a River Cruise in Europe! We chose the Grand European River Cruise because it set sail from Budapest along the Danube, and allowed us to experience Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, followed by a short stay in Holland to photograph the tulips, windmills and spring flowers.
We arrived in Budapest late in the afternoon on March 21st. Budapest is a beautiful city, with many great architectural buildings and situated along the Danube. Budapest is an amalgamation of 3 cities, best known for 2 major cities – Buda and Pest. There are many beautiful bridges that connect the cities on both sides of the Danube and there are castles everywhere that are lit up during the nighttime!
After a good night’s rest and breakfast, we walked and saw the National Treasury, the Opera House, the Castles District and stopped for café latte and yummy ham toast. In the afternoon, we went with Miklos on a “Food Tour” – we had Hungarian sausages, pastries and Sache Cake (a chocolate cake with orange filling). It was fantastic – if I lived in Hungary, I would surely gain 2 pounds a day!
The next morning, we took the Tram to visit the Budapest market – we saw lots of cured meats, fresh produce and of course Paprika galore! That afternoon we boarded and settled into our river cruise cabin and prepared ourselves for the “sail away party” and Welcome Dinner. Goodbye Budapest – we will sail through 64 locks, along 3 rivers and a canal before arriving in Amsterdam.
We sailed past Bratislava, the capital of Solvakia and docked in Vienna on March 25th. Vienna is the musical capital of the world - we saw a concert at the Liechtenstein Palace with the Royal Orchestra – they played a little of Mozart, Strauss, Opera and Ballet – a very fun evening.
The next morning, we visited the Schoenbrunn Palace (unfortunately NO PHOTO’s allowed) and explored the old town on foot. We found a very good coffee house where we tried “Mozart Balls” – a chocolate specialty in Vienna!
We arrived in Duemstein on the morning of March 27th. This is a beautiful little town right in the heart of Austria’s wine producing region. Vineyards lined both sides of the river, along with many monasteries. We then sailed along the Wachau Valley, and docked in the early afternoon at Melk where we visited an Abby on the hill. Wow – this Abby is a live school with an eight-story library. We visited the Theology Room where Dave saw the book of “St. Thomas” - it was magnificent.
On March 28th, we took a full day excursion to Salzburg to experience “The Sound of Music”. Dave and I watch this movie every year during the Christmas Holidays and we were excited to see the movie location. We took a quick walk in the old town of Salzburg, then a coach to the Austrian Alps for lunch and to listen to a local folk show with music from the Sound of Music, some Mozart, some Strauss and were given an Edelweiss (small white Austrian Alp flower) to keep. It was a wonderful tour, and we also learned that Mozart was born in Salzburg – who knew!
Travelling by coach, we experienced the beautiful countryside of Austria and Germany and arrived in Passau where we re-boarded the ship. Very shortly, we will be leaving the Danube River, transferring through the Canals to the Maine River which joins the Rhine on our way to Amsterdam.
The ship passed through many locks during the night, and in the morning after a quick German lesson and some lunch, we arrived in Regensburg, Germany – one of the few towns in central Europe that was not destroyed during the wars.
March 30, 2016 – we are mid-way through our cruise and have entered the Europa Canal which connects the Danube to the Maine and then the Rhine. The bridges are very low along here and at one point, the canal is like an Aqua duct in the sky with the roadway passing under it. How cool is that!
We arrive in Nuremburg and enjoy Gingerbread, Bratwurst and Beer during our walking tour. Our cruise continues to Bamberg, where we will leave the canal and join the Maine River in Germany. Bamberg is home to 40% of the breweries in Bavaria, with a huge Cathedral up on a hill.
April 1, 2016 – we arrive in Wurzburg, take a shore excursion to Rothenberg and then set sail for Freudenberg. The ship is now sailing on the Maine river, a tributary of the Rhine River. Soon we will be leaving Germany and entering the Netherlands. Rothenberg is famous for its Christmas Markets and “snow ball” sweet treats!
We arrive in Freudenberg and attend the local “Spring October Fest” where we enjoyed sausages, beer and then Schnapps. This stretch of the Maine / Rhine is very beautiful, full of vineyards and small towns.
On April 3rd, after vising Ruedesheim, a romantic wine making village in Germany we sailed along the Rhine Gorge past many amazing castles which we viewed from the sun deck of our ship. We’re attending dinner in a castle tonight – so looking forward to it!
There are only a few days left in our cruise, but today we are in Cologne – a city of major trading in Germany, often famous for their Perfume shops. The ship docked very close to the old town, so we enjoyed a walking tour of the city.
In the afternoon, we continue our cruise to Amsterdam – the Home of the Windmills & Tulips! We’ll spend 2 more nights on the ship in Amsterdam and that will conclude our River Cruise. I will miss the scenery, service, food and drinks for a long time!
Kay Jones, Travel Designer Travel Time Inc.