For many years we have dreamt of cruising down the Danube in one of those river cruise boats that one sees on the pages of travel magazines and newspapers.
In April 2016 we turned the dream into reality, using as an excuse our upcoming major anniversary to treat ourselves to a special trip.
The cruise was an eight-day, seven night cruise, starting from and returning to Passau in Germany with the furthest point reached being Budapest in Hungary and traversing 4 countries along the way.
Embarkation in Passau
Thursday 21 April at 16h00 was the time for embarkation, according to the info we had been given. We had played it safe and had the pre-booked shuttle pick us up at 10h30 from our hotel in Prague to make sure we would be in good time. We travelled through Czech countryside for a couple of hours, then through twisty mountain passes into Germany and reached Dock A13 in Passau some four hours later in comfortable and safe style (CK Shuttle are highly recommended).
Our home for the next week, the Amadeus Royal, awaited us in all its splendour at the dockside.
We were too early to board, but fortunately the cruise boat accepted our luggage, so we were able to go and find a relaxing cup of tea at a nearby café, where we sat outside and soaked up the atmosphere until 3 pm at which time we were allowed to board.
The cabin was similar to the one we had during our Alaska cruise – on a large cruise ship – but with no balcony, just a sliding door. However we saw the reason for that when we went through some of the locks, with just enough space to squeeze the boat in. The afternoon on the boat was taken up with relaxing in the forward panorama lounge and a briefing by the cruise director in German and excellent English.
We were curious to find out whether the dining experience would be as good as anticipated and were not disappointed – the first meal set the standard with a four course dinner including starter, soup, main meal and dessert, all nicely presented and quite delicious, fortunately in fairly small portions, so that we never felt bloated.
Our waiter Ivan, from Croatia, was excellent, looking after our every whim and he was quick to get us into a routine of deciding on our main course for the next meal in advance, so that he was always fully prepared. The wine waiter Zi-zi , also from Croatia, made sure we had our share of the complimentary wines at dinner, a happy situation for South Africans paying in our weak Rands.
The Maitre’d had placed us in a section of the dining room amongst two groups of other South Africans, which was a pleasant surprise and made for a convivial atmosphere for most of the trip.
Friday 22 April
Our first full day on board and, as it turned out, a busy one indeed! After breakfast and docking at Emmersdorf, a small town in Austria (Population 1731 according to Wikipedia), we were collected by bus, taken across a nearby bridge and for a short drive to Melk Abbey, a magnificent example of Baroque architecture, with curves in all the right places.
The abbey guide was a demure looking young lady, who turned out to have a mischievous sense of humour and a full complement of informative and interesting facts as she led us through a series of rooms, each depicting an aspect of the history of the Abbey and the religious beliefs of the time. Many of the displays were done in a modern way using lighting and projection to add to the impact.
We were guided through the abbot’s chambers, along the imperator’s walk, through the marble hall, the balconies and the library.
The abbey church was last on the list and the opulence of it was astounding, with so many gilded statues and decorations it was hard to take it all in.
The history of the abbey goes a long way back – all the way to the 10th century to be inexact – when it started out as a castle, later being handed over to the Benedictines. Over the years it was variously sacked and burnt by succeeding marauders, but survived until it was rebuilt in the early 1700’s, since when it has stood as a supreme example of the Baroque period.
In case, like me, you are desperate to know more about Baroque architecture, here is an extract from Wikipedia :
Baroque architecture is the building style of the Baroque era, begun in late 16th-century Italy, that took the Roman vocabulary of Renaissance architecture and used it in a new rhetorical and theatrical fashion, often to express the triumph of the Catholic Church and the absolutist state. It was characterized by new explorations of form, light and shadow, and dramatic intensity.
So now you know……….
This is what I think of it –
After the abbey tour there was time for a tea and (wait for it) apfelstrudel at the restaurant, which was superb.
The tour rounded off with a stop at a wine-tasting venue and a sampling of the local Wachau wines – the wines were not particularly memorable, the venue was crowded and the presentation rather too “touristy” for our liking, so we were happy when it was done and we could walk the short distance back to the boat.
We were just in time for lunch, while our boat headed east towards our next stop at Vienna – the day was not yet done!
By late afternoon we had docked in Vienna, a city we last visited as newly weds some 44 years ago, so our memories were faded at best, totally absent at worst and it was like visiting a new place. We had pre-booked a package of tours which included a “Sound of Vienna” evening tour so, just after an early dinner, we were once again taken by bus into the city and to the Kursalon Wien for a concert in a large “salon” – a hall packed with about 500 straight-backed chairs.
The music and accompanying performances by singers and dancers was beautiful and good for the soul, just a pity they find it necessary to pack in so many people, 99% tourists, into a venue that is not designed for it.
More to Come………
While in Vienna we visited Schonbrunn Palace and I had a walk along the river – more about that and the next stop in the next post