Rivers of Culture, Pleasures of Cruising in Europe

TRAVEL & UNDER SAIL

 

Anyone who has been watching public television, and Viking River Cruises' alluring messages,  knows of the ascendance of river travel, and the interest of travelers, as both a cultural, inspirational and relaxing vacation.

 

If one loves exploring diverse locations, but is searching for a sybaritic way to do it without constant unpacking and navigating confusing roadways, consider an indulgent river cruise, during which you literally glide from one city to the next. As one of the fastest growing travel trends, many respected companies such as Tauck Tours, Aberchrombie & Kent, Viking River Cruises and River Cloud, among others, offer countless world-wide choices.

 

When a recent business commitment in Vienna, meant traveling to Austria’s capital, we checked European river itineraries that would culminate in or near our destination. It was a Eureeka! moment when we spotted a delectable Viking Cruise option called "The Grand European Tour," a 15-night, five-country itinerary that plies the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, from Amsterdam to Budapest.

 

The trip glides through Holland’s windmill studded rurality, past Germany’s fairytale hilltop castles and Austria’s verdant-vine clad hills. On the way, guests experience the astounding intricacies of the Main-Danube Canal, a 106-mile long engineering feat conceived by Charlemagne in the 8th century and completed in 1992, that effectively opened river traffic from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Its 16 stair-step locks dramatically rise to a watershed 1,332 feet above sea level to the highest point on any European waterway. The journey continues into the Danube and concludes with the crescendo of romantic Vienna, a glimpse of Bratislava and the imperial zest of Budapest.

 

Our particular adventure began with an optional pre-cruise sojourn in Amsterdam where a smartly-uniformed Viking driver picked us up in a spiffy Mercedes-Benz at Schiphol Airport and whisked us to the Hotel Movenpick, a contemporary, businessy hotel on the water, not far from the Central Station. As Viking’s home base in Amsterdam, its location is not far from the ship, but is about twenty minutes minutes from the historic canal intersected part of town everyone associates with the charming city. That means you need to learn to navigate the user-friendly and spotlessly clean public transportation system or be prepared to shell out expensive taxi fares to get to this picturesque part of town.

 

Clustered along more canals than Venice, the city of flower-hung, arched stone bridges, cobble-stone streets, curving canals, tall, narrow houses and plethora of fine museums, including the famed Rijksmuseum, can entertain visitors indefinitely. With only two and a half days before sailing, visitors need to plan their time judiciously.

 

Around noon on the third day, guests are shuttled to the Jarl, the commodious, year old Viking Longship for check-in and lunch. Inviting public spaces include the Dining Room, Observation lounge and bar that leads to the open air Aquavit Terrace where casual meals are served. Up top, the Sun Deck offers ample shaded and unshaded sitting and dining areas as well as an organic herb garden the chef visits frequently.Three types of staterooms range from spacious suites and rooms with full balconies, and rooms with French balconies, (floor to ceiling sliding glass doors), to water level accommodations with a port hole windows.

 

In late afternoon, the Jarl slid away from the dock and headed into Amsterdam’s busy waterways, alive with vessels including massive barges hauling freight from John Deere tractors to mountains of coal and containers of oil. Dodging these serious working vessels and sturdy tooting tugs, are cruise boats, ferry boats, sail boats and sightseeing “day” boats filled with waving tourists. Before dinner that night and every other evening thereafter, guests enjoyed drinks, hors d’ouvres, piano music and an informative talk by the cruise director who discusses routes, schedules, tours and each destination’s insider information.

 

The next morning, the Jarl left Kinderdijk’s winsome-looking dykes, canals and windmills somewhere in the gauzy distance and headed into Germany. Eventually, Cologne’s church spires appeared beneath a cornflower blue sky. A group of local guides met us at the dock in the Aldstadt or "Old Town", and lead small groups along narrow thoroughfares lined with handsome gabled townhouses, to spacious flower-bedecked squares. Today, in the peaceful fountain-splashed cafes, it is hard to imagine that 90% of the city was destroyed in WWII’s Allied bombing.

 

Boasting history that dates back to around AD 50, the former Roman river port called “Colonnia” showcases its ancient history in the Roman Germanic Museum (Romisch-Germanisches Museum), steps away from the Dom (Cathedral.) The second largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe, distinguished by slender columns, flying buttresses and large windows, was started in 1248 and not completed until 1880. As we mingled with throngs of visitors (approximately 25,000 come through daily), the largest bells in the world - pealed sonorous tones.

 

A short walk away, the ultramodern Museum Ludwig showcases 20th century and contemporary art from Dali to Warhol, as well as one of the world’s largest Picasso collections, and a perfume shop still sells the Eau de Cologne first made here in 1709 by Gioavanni Maria Farina. On the stroll back to the ship, Haxenhaus, (Knuckle House) a 13th century eatery features local delicacies such as pork knuckles, dumplings and cabbage

Unlike the Rhine, the Main River is no super highway. In contrast it veers left and right; and doubles back on itself, which is why it is often described as “a crooked snake.” Within its utterly sylvan setting, travelers experience it like the Celts did, as a river in no hurry. Along the way, Wurzburg enjoys its reputation as a great shopping town. Here, shops that range from large department stores to exquisite designer boutiques in the pedestrian zone. While there join a guided tour of the Wurzburg Residenz Palace of the its magnificently restored interior of five grand halls, 300 bedrooms, a mirrored gallery and a recently renewed ceiling painting by Tiepolo.

Bamberg, called “the Franconia Rome” because it was built on seven hills in the Franconia district, is a pristine fairytale city, bisected by flower-festooned bridges, winding streets and a city hall that perches on an island in the middle of it all.

 

Its history-laden center is dominated by the magnificent 11th century Bamberg Cathedral where devout visitors tarry, worship and appreciate the artwork in every ancillary altar.

 

Nuremberg, Bavaria’s largest city, attracts visitors for its 15th and 16th century architecture, Kaiserberg Castle, Albert Durer House, The Germanisches National Museum (Germany’s largest museum of cultural history) and Toy Museum as well as its ties to the Hitler and the Third Reich. Don’t miss the dramatic half-day tour of the of the Third Reich parade grounds and The Documentation Center. Here thought-provoking exhibits, films and original artifacts expose the manipulative nature of Nazi propaganda as well as the horror of those years. Although 90% of the city was flattened by allied bombing raids, painstaking reconstruction using original stones returned the city to much of its former glory.

 

Unlike Nuremberg, Regensberg, a UNESCO site was greatly spared. The stunning oldest city on the Danube is a medieval vision anchored by the 12th century stone bridge that leads through a sturdy tower into the Old Town. As the wealthiest and most populated in southern Germany, it featured architecture not found anywhere else north of the Alps. After touring, enjoy more excellent shopping in boutiques featuring high-quality “Trachten moden” or typical German style clothing.

Farther south, Passau’s beauty is augmented by stunning painted houses hung with flowers. Marvel at the gold slathered statues in baroque St. Stephan’s Cathedral where daily concerts (from May through September) are played on the largest pipe organ in Europe.

 

 

This unique baroque vernacular, littered with grandiose buildings can be appreciated in town centers like Durnstein (where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned) and flamboyant abbeys such as Melk, which rises up majestically from the rock above the river. The dome of the church dominates the landscape from afar and the Benedictine Abbey’s lavish library is a hushed but unforgettable but unforgettable space.

 

Once the sprawl of Vienna dominated the view, the Danube seemed to take on a busier, more sophisticated persona. Even after several days in this engaging city, memories of wispy willow-lined river banks, stopped-in-time villages and castle-crowned pinnacles dominated our thoughts. We had sampled regional delicacies, tasted wonderful wines and lifted steins of local beers; met interesting fellow travelers and marveled at every bend of the waterways. Veteran river cruisers claim that’s why there is such a surge in this mode of travel. If it appeals - consider the popular December itineraries that visit the glittering German Christkindl Markets for a remarkable experience.


                                                                                -- Marion Laffey Fox

 

For Information: Viking River Cruises: 1-855-707-4837

 

 

 


 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Headlines

Lights, Camera, Antiques! PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” Comes to Newport

Waiting for ... more »

Car as Carriage, Conveyance, Sculpture, Work of Art, Batmobile and Heart’s Desire

Antique cars ... more »

Baby Steps, Early Childhood Program, Holds Fundraiser at Newport’s Chinese Tea House

"Early childhood education is the key to the betterment of soci ... more »

 

 



 

NEWPORT SEEN:  "Best Online Media Creation"

-

"Best Online Writing" 

                         -- CT Press club & National League of Press Women