Monday, August 10, 2015

The Romantic Danube…overview

Just had the chance to look through the almost 1,000 pictures I took during our Viking river cruise down the Danube! I added a few more pictures into the posts I wrote along the way and thought I'd put the links, in order, in one spot! 

Overall, I'd say river cruising is a wonderful way to travel. Our experiences on board the ship (well, ships, actually, since we had to swap midway) were wonderful. We had a great staff, really nice rooms, spectacular meals and good company. The daily excursions at times felt a little rushed, but we were covering quite a bit of territory in a short time. (This was a very active trip -- not a relaxing vacation! But when you travel all the way to Europe, you kind of want to see everything you can!) We did all of the included daily city tours and added an occasional optional excursion. The city tours were usually a combination of a bus ride and walking tour, but some were strictly walking. The walks were usually an hour and a half in groups of 10-15 with really good local guides. I think we agree we would've enjoyed just a little more free time in most of the cities and towns, as well as a little more time to just enjoy cruising the river. If I ever do another river cruise, I'd probably plan accordingly -- maybe venture on my own into a town or two (the concierge can arrange transportation if you need it) and build in a little more free time into the schedule.

(Sidenote: According to my Fitbit, we took 91,321 steps during the week for a total of 39.4 miles!)

A warning: We had to swap ships due to low water conditions but we learned of several others on similar cruises who were unable to cruise but a couple of days. They were bused to various destinations (sometimes for over four hours -- one way) and others had to eliminate certain parts of the cruise altogether. We heard that some cruises might be canceled. So, be aware, a river is a living thing, subject to weather conditions! Also, we were expecting much milder weather, based on the literature we received about average temperatures. It was HOT. So you may want to do your own research when it comes to planning a time of year for your cruise.

The Viking company did a good job of informing/preparing on things such as currency and shipboard expectations. With very few exceptions, the crew and staff were absolutely top-notch! (Sidenote: I think the Hungarians may be the most fun!)

So for the photo-heavy recap of our adventures on the Danube, here are the posts in order:

Day One…the Beautiful Danube

Budapest to Vienna

Engineering bonus! Lock and Load...

Lovely Vienna...

Gorgeous countryside...

Hello, Germany!

A taste of Bavaria…

Our last day! 

Thanks for traveling along with the Young girls!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Final day!

Well, our last day started leisurely, which is good because we are tired! We docked in Nuremburg just before lunch and headed out on a city tour right after.
Our guide, David, was from Scotland. As an art student he came to Nuremburg on an exchange program. He said his father was actually captured by the German army in WWII, but he was captured by a fräulein -- now his wife -- and he's been here for 26 years. 

Our tour took us past the Nazi parade grounds where up to a million people would descend on Nuremberg for rallies. We also saw the remains of a coliseum-like structure, built with elements to resemble a cathedral -- including a "pulpit". For the so-called messiah, Hitler. There were plans to build "cathedrals" to the National Socialist party. It was eerie seeing the grounds where we've all seen grainy black-and-white footage of goose-stepping troops filing past Hitler on his grandstand.

We also saw the scene of the international tribunal where, for the first time in history, individuals were held accountable and charged for crimes against humanity. 

But in addition to its troubled history of Nazism and war crimes, Nuremberg is a medieval city with beautiful ancient streets and neighborhoods. 

(Give June Jennings a map and she can navigate anything!)

(When I picture Germany, I picture storybook streets like these)

The temperatures topped 100, so a lot of our free time in Nuremberg was spent ducking into shady spots and cafes. 

It's a German shepherd! In Germany! 

These chucks have logged some miles this week!

We got back to the Freya to this greeting by our fun crew...

And as always they were ready with cold washcloths, a little snack and a cold drink! We had just a few minutes to freshen up a bit for our farewell dinner. We snapped a few pictures with some of our favorite crew members...

Cruz, our maître d, took the photo above, then selfied himself in to the photo below!

Peter - the waiter we wanted to adopt and bring home! (He called this his James Bond selfie)

And his lovely fiancé Ildi...

Y'all. This food. Tonight's five-course meal included: 

A little amuse bouche of shrimp and gazpacho. (I forgot to photograph the first appetizer - a crisp tandoori chicken and Parmesan foam with tomato salad!)

The best soup of the cruise (and maybe my life!)! Roasted forest mushroom velouté with crisp bacon, mushroom chips and truffle sabayon. Yum.
(Peter: "I went today into ze forest and I picked zeez mushroom for ze soup. Only I don't know which is poison. Good luck!" What a goofball!)

Pumpkin mousse ravioli with lamb loin and sweet chili sauce. 

Main course: deconstructed beef Wellington with sautéed vegetables, pommes duchess and cognac sauce...

Marscarpone and sour cherry cake (brownie streusel with marinated berries) 
Oh - and we can't leave out the cheese plate! 

Or the delicious chocolate candies...

Okay. Stick a fork in us because 
we. are. done. 

So we are now at the Nuremberg airport, waiting to board the first of three flights to get home. It's been a wonderful trip, filled with good memories, and we are so thankful to have experienced it together! 

Friday, August 7, 2015

A taste of Bavaria...

We had a wonderful day Thursday exploring Regensburg -- the oldest city on the Danube and one of Bavaria's most beautiful and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe! The city center escaped damage in the war and its architectural gems and half-timbered buildings exude a timeless charm. (Okay, I lifted that entire first paragraph from the brochure, but it's totally accurate and succinct!) Some pictures:

Still standing are the Roman gates from 179 AD. It was completely refreshing to be in a city that had *not* been destroyed and rebuilt a dozen times over the past centuries! 

And I finally got to see some stained glass! My favorite! St. Peter's Cathedral in Regensburg. The church has existed since about 700 AD and rebuilt in its present state in 1320. 

Tiny narrow cobblestone streets lined with shops and cafes. 

The Prinzess! Reminded me of my Princess Vanny! 

Folks are very fond of their sausages around here! An ancient sausage restaurant...I think it may be the "Lunch Box" of Regensburg! 

Okay, I had an unfortunate mishap on the lovely cobblestone streets of Regensburg. We were walking along when my sandal caught a cobblestone and I went into one of those slow-motion, arms flailing, legs-sprawling falls. My sisters (and some other travelers) sprang into action, checking me for injuries and soothing my wounded pride. I was suddenly aware of June vigorously scrubbing the back of my shirt with some tissue one of the ladies gave her. 
"Ohmigosh, is my back bleeding?!?"
It was bird poop. 
Fresh bird poop. 
To add insult to injury, while I was spread-eagle on the streets of Regensburg, a bird pooped on my back. Sheesh. 
(My hands were scraped up, but overall, I'm fine. It could've been much worse. Like, for example, a dog could've pooped on me.)

(Funny signage near the river. I think we can all agree this would be a bad idea. A sign seems unnecessary.)

We had lunch on the ship then boarded buses for an excursion to the Danube Narrows and Weltenburg Abbey. 
Hey Mama D! 

The boat trip down the narrows was nice -- some of the rock formations have been given fanciful names, like "the terrified virgin."

At the Abbey we had free time before our tour, so we decided to get some refreshments at the cafe -- and there we encountered the equivalent of the classic Seinfeld character "Soup Nazi." Except that, instead of "No soup for you!" it was "No still water for you!!!" (If you don't specify "still" or tap, they will automatically bring you sparkling, which none of us like.) This waitress arrived at our table already in a huff and things went from bad to worse quickly! We were at a complete loss as to what we could've done to make her so angry but the combination of heat and exhaustion ended up making the whole thing hysterical! She finally threw up her hands (literally) and turned us over to another waitress. Some of our shipmates were sitting nearby and witnessed the whole crazy episode and not only enjoyed it immensely, they shared the story, so we've been getting a lot of teasing from our fellow travelers! 

We did take the opportunity to have a banana split in memory of Aunt Ruth Oates. We told stories and lifted our spoons in her honor! 

The Weltenburg Abbey is a Benedictine monastery built in 700s on the site of a former Roman temple to the goddess Minerva. It's the oldest monastery in Bavaria and the oldest monastic brewery in the world. (Yep, those monks and have been making beer since 1050!)

The Abbey church was ornate and beautiful, although it was odd for the altar art to heavily feature a non-biblical scene - it was huge sculptures of St. George, slaying a dragon to save a princess? Hmmmm. 

Beautiful ceiling.

Ancient organ. 

Puffy plaster clouds. They were everywhere in the abbey church. Um. Okay. 

One more cafe stop on the way back to the boat. (Germany, where the beer flows

Every evening when we return to the ship, hot and sweaty, we are greeted by crew members who say "Welcome home!" And hand us cold towels, a refreshing drink and a little snack! Thursday we were also greeted with some Bavarian music as a preview for the evening's Oktoberfest! 

(Our wonderful waiter, Peter)

(Is that you, Quentin Tarentino?) 

Chef Ronald explaining the dishes...


Floating by castles during dinner…

Meals in the restaurant were lively, but leisurely. Lingering over good food and conversation…

June joins the musicians...

And our wonderful program director Boris. 

A city tour of Nuremburg is on the agenda for Friday -- our last day!