(This is a recent post by Claudia and Bill Perozzi who live in California. I have done this same cruise and thank goodness when we did it the water was not that high and we did not have to transfer to another boat)
It pays to advertise. As frequent travelers, it would be hard for us not to be captivated by the commercials for Viking River Cruises. Seeing the televised long boat glide on a ribbon of blue water past glorious sights convinced us to book our own cruise. We chose the Romantic Danube cruise, eight days from Budapest, Hungary, to Nuremburg, Germany.
This experience was definitely different from an ocean cruise. The Viking long boat was just that, a much longer than wide boat with rows of cabins on both sides of hallways. Two floors of cabins above us had balconies but our cabin was on the lowest level with a small porthole just above the water’s edge. We could see the rising water which became an important factor later.
Our cabin itself was clean, compact and comfortable. It had everything we needed and nothing more. That statement goes for the whole ship. There was no theatre, no shopping area, no casino, no workout room, no pool–and we didn’t miss any of it. Like a cruise ship, the food was excellent.
The number of passengers on ocean cruise ships is about 1800 but on this ship we passengers numbered about 180, all English speaking. Seeing the same people day after day, it was easy to get acquainted and find that we had much in common. After all we were with others who probably liked the same commercials.
We gathered as a group in the dining area for our first and subsequent briefings by our program director, George. Most days we had an included excursion in the morning and options in the afternoon. George’s level of enthusiasm was perfect for our group with, I guess, a median age of 65. He was upbeat, entertaining and answered endless questions.
I’m not sure anyone could adequately prepare us for our first stop, Vienna, Austria. Everyone took the same first tour of this magnificent city with highly decorated buildings, flourishing fountains and heroic statues seemingly every where. The predominant architecture was gothic but some of it was converted to baroque as styles changed. Green domes atop white stones structures gave a majestic effect throughout the city.
Vienna was the seat of the Hapsburg monarchy for several centuries. In the eighteenth century Maria Theresa ruled, had 16 children and arranged for most of them to be married to royalty in other countries. Franz Joseph, who had the longest and last reign ending in 1916, was born and died in Schonbrunn Palace, which we toured in the afternoon.
One could easily get lost in this huge palace, I thought as we wandered into the oversize Rococo ballroom. Our guide explained the importance of ballrooms as the places young eligible royals and aristocrats could mix, mingle and maybe eventually marry. Making a good match mattered immensely and networking has been going on for a long time.
The palace itself was imposing and its gardens flowed equally majestically. Stylized mazes decorated acres, followed by massive fountains, followed by a “gloriette,” a series of archways with statues of heroes set on a hillside.
That evening we returned to Vienna again, this time to hear delightful operatic performances from very talented students in a small venue set up just for our ship. We all reveled in the music, the culture, the beauty of Vienna. We left wishing we could have stayed longer.
As we continued on the cruise, it became apparent that water in the river was rising to such a height that soon our boat would not be able to pass under some of the bridges ahead of us. We passengers were told to pack our suitcases and leave them in the hallway. Then everyone was booked on day long excursions.
In an amazingly smooth feat, the crew from our ship transferred all of our belongings onto a practically identical boat on the other side of low bridges. Our new cabins looked just like our former cabins. In fact everything looked just the same but we had a new captain and crew. Happily our constant was our program director, George, who stayed with us the whole way.
Along the way, we visited churches and monasteries in valleys and on hills. The most memorable church was St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, Germany. With 17,774 pipes, it boasts the world’s largest pipe organ. Our tour was timed perfectly to coincide with a short recital on the booming instrument as the setting and the sound enhanced each other.
Some days we sailed during the day. While nibbling on snacks such as the omnipresent chocolate chip cookies, we watched the world pass by. Green hills, rows of fertile vineyards, red tiled roofs on stone buildings and little grottoes amid fields gave us memorably scenic views.
Now would be a good time to answer the question: Is the Danube really blue? No and yes. Most of the time the river shimmers silvery green-gray, like a sophisticated celadon Asian vase. But once in a while, when the sky is very blue, the water reflects the sky and becomes azure, pure blue, just like in the Strauss waltz, The Blue Danube.
One theme that ran through the optional excursions we chose was the terrible treatment of Jews. In Regensburg in particular our attention was called to Jewish headstones that had been desecrated and reused as building blocks. A sculpture of a sow on a church was a derogatory statement toward Jews. Now some towns have inscribed the names of Jews on sections of pavement where they had lived before being sent to extermination camps.
Our most comprehensive tour was provided in Nuremburg. Our guide took us to a gigantic unfinished amphitheatre where Hitler had delivered his diatribes to huge adoring crowds. His ego was larger than the largest theatre and he seemed able to mesmerize his audience. In the adjacent museum we saw photos of many of the atrocities of World War II.
Then we wound up at the Nuremberg Hall of Justice where the trials were held after the war. Germans had expected the Allies to simply sentence all the indicted military to death but all were given fair representation and some were even exonerated. Just being in the hall where history took place made a powerful impact.
We all gathered again back at the ship for our last night together. After dinner, as a special treat, opera singers came on board for a musical farewell. And then we all joined in singing “Edelweiss.”