Viking River Cruise

November 28, 2015 - Nuremberg, Germany

When I left Belgium early Sunday morning it was to fly to Budapest, Hungary. I was off on Viking River Cruise's “Romantic Danube” with my grandmother Molly (Nannie) for a week from Budapest to Nuremberg! I wasn't sure what to expect from the cruise, and since Nannie had never done a river cruise we were both ready for anything. I was especially excited to see European cities I'd always heard about but never visited: besides Budapest and Nuremberg, we stopped in Vienna, Melk, Passau, and Regensburg. A big highlight for me ended up being the Christmas markets – we visited six different markets in three different countries during the cruise! Of course a big part of the fun was Nannie, with her love and optimism and enthusiasm, and a huge thanks to her again for letting me share the cruise.

I landed around noon, and waited in arrivals for either Nannie or a cruise representative. Unfortunately it was quite a while before they arrived, because there had been a mistake with my transfer. There wasn't another word about it once Nannie insisted she'd paid for it, though, and I can honestly say that first mistake was the only one we had to deal with the entire week! When Nannie came through the arrivals gate, I hugged her very tightly and we spent the coach ride to the ship catching up on anything and everything. I was SO happy to see her!

When we got to the ship, our stateroom was immediately available, which was lovely. They have so many little luxuries, from a small terrace to a flat-screen TV to a heated floor in the bathroom! The ship itself is small compared to ocean cruisers, but seemed plenty big enough to me! For food and drinks, there's the terrace (for drinks), the lounge (where there are often buffet options), and the restaurant (for fancy dinners). There are also comfortable chairs in various places, tea/coffee and snacks, three floors of rooms, and a sundeck including an herb garden and a minigolf course! We weren't able to take much advantage of the terrace since it was November, and one morning there was snow on the sundeck, but the weather was still just about comfortable. The food was absolutely wonderful, and I have never had better service in my life. It was especially nice to be catered to as a vegetarian; every time I came into the restaurant, the staff greeted me by name, and almost every meal either the Maitre d' or the Head Chef would come over to ask me if I needed anything. There were usually vegetarian options, but if there weren't they would make something specially for me, from pasta with cherry tomatoes to tomato, mozzarella, and pesto plates. Besides those two, some of my favorite dishes were carrot and ginger soup and basically every single dessert they served. The organization was perfect, with a talk every evening about activities the next day, few delays, and ample warning of any changes. It made a welcome change from the travel I've gotten used to in the past two months, and I absolutely recommend Viking – it was definitely worth the cost!

Nannie brought me a duffel from my parents in one of her suitcases, which was extremely exciting! I had asked for a few things (leggings, more pairs of socks, etc.) but I was surprised to find much more! There were pajamas, more toiletries, some of my favorite chocolates, a coat, my mom's own bathrobe (since mine was in England), and even (to my shock) my first smartphone ever!!! :)

After lunch the first day we arrived on the boat, Nannie took a nap while I went on a walk to the Budapest Christmas market. When I got back it was time for a welcome talk, and then dinner. After dinner I hurried back to the Christmas market, after learning we would leave before it opened the next day. I had decided to buy an ornament at every one we visited, and my first was a little cloth-and-wood baby in a walnut shell cradle. I also got some apple, walnut, and marzipan strudel. I got back to the boat in time to catch the end of a concert by a local Hungarian choir: some songs from The Sound of Music, a song from a Hungarian musical, and some popular Christmas songs.

In the morning, I got up early enough to go see the shoes memorial, which is 60 pairs of iron shoes on the edge of the Danube as a memorial to the people who were shot into the river at the end of WWII. People had put flowers, stones, candles, and other things into the shoes, and it was really nice. Then it was time for the included tour of Budapest; we drove through the city and then walked around the oldest area of the Buda side. We saw the Matthias Cathedral and the Fisherman's Bastion, a stone lookout over the city. We got a slice of traditional Dobos cake to share and Nannie bought a beautiful Hungarian doll. In a big covered market, she also got some souvenirs, sausage, and foie gras, and then we shared a fresh-squeezed pomegranate and orange juice.

After leaving Budapest and rejoining the ship, we spent the afternoon going upstream, watching the river pass by as we ate lunch. The right bank of the river was Hungary and the left bank was Slovakia, and they were only a few hundred meters apart. That afternoon, while Nannie was taking a nap I went to several events in the lounge: a talk by the captain about how the ship works, a demonstration by the chefs about how to make apple strudel, and a talk from the Program Director, Chantal, about coffee in Vienna. In the evening, we crossed into Austria and went through our first and our largest lock, which Nannie and I went up on deck to watch.

The next morning, we did the tour of Vienna, including St. Stephen's Cathedral and the Spanish Riding School, with some free time at the end for hot chocolate, coffee, and cake in a nice cafe. In the afternoon we did the optional excursion to Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburgs. It was beautiful and the guided tour was very good. We had a bit of time to visit the Christmas market at the end, which was large enough for us to need the map we picked up at the information booth! My ornament this time was a snowman made from the spiky shell of a chestnut or something similar. After dinner, Nannie and I joined another optional excursion to the opera The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. Since it was a special performance just for us, we had a meet and greet with the performers beforehand and there was champagne and biscuits. The show itself was very well done; I thoroughly enjoyed my first opera!

The next day we were running a bit behind schedule, but that gave Nannie and me time for a proper breakfast before we came to the Wachau Valley. This section of the Danube River is known for its beauty and its wine, and Chantal gave us information about it as we sailed through. At Melk in the afternoon, we toured the famous abbey; highlights were the beautiful church and extensive library. I walked back through the town and along the river to the ship while Nannie opted for a taxi.

The next day we were in Germany, with an included tour of Passau. This city is characterized by its three rivers: the Inn, the Ilz, and the Danube, and our guide shared a lot of information about floods. We visited St. Stephen's Cathedral, which houses the largest cathedral organ in the world, and the Christmas market, where I bought a wooden manger scene ornament. At the end of the tour, we went to Cafe Simon for a gingerbread demonstration. The current owner and his father showed us the technique and let us taste three versions of gingerbread: an old-fashioned honey-sweetened one, a molasses-sweetened one, and a modern one with marzipan. After lunch we went on the optional “Bavarian Cruise” on the Inn River. It was on a beautiful reconstructed barge, and we were served tea and delicious chocolate and cherry cake by a young man in lederhosen as we sailed. That evening, back on the boat, there was an option of turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce for dinner, since it was American Thanksgiving! Nannie and I tried to do a Google Hangout with family at home, but the internet connection was too slow.

The next morning we arrived in Regensburg, Germany. I did the regular city tour while Nannie chose the leisure option, and we met up at the cathedral afterwards. On our way back to the boat, we visited the Christmas market where I bought a beeswax Christmas tree candle, stopped for a Regensburg sausage sandwich for Nannie at the Old Sausage Kitchen, and popped into the famous cuckoo clock shop opposite. In the afternoon we took a tour of the Thurn and Taxis Palace, which I found even more interesting than Schönbrunn Palace. Around the palace and in its central courtyard was the best Christmas market we saw during the whole cruise. There were small fires and stoves everywhere for warmth, lots of rustic wooden decorations, and evergreen branches draped across everything. The market was huge, with stalls selling everything: baskets, candlesticks, giant pretzels, fake tools made of chocolate, teas, supplies for manger scenes, statues, pasta, silver jewelry, soap, carved wood, and of course ornaments. There was even a blacksmith stall with a small forge! I bought lots of different ornaments, since I had a hunch we wouldn't see a market that was better, and I was right. While I wandered around the market for nearly two hours, Nannie explored a bit and then enjoyed the circular benches set up around a fire, since it was extremely cold! Back at the ship, there was a special “taste of Austria” dinner. The crew dressed in traditional clothes, and the meal started with pretzels and finished with an extensive dessert buffet including a flaming traditional pancake-type thing.

On our last day, it was snowing when we woke up, and we arrived in Nuremberg after lunch. We went on the tour, which was mostly by bus; we saw the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and I took a short walk to the Nuremberg castle. At the end, we had some time in the Nuremberg Christmas market, which would have been nicer if it hadn't been absolutely packed with people! There was hardly even room to move. But there were lots of interesting things for sale, an international section, and a concert happening by a small orchestra. Nannie bought one of the characteristic prune dolls and some gingerbread, and I got a walnut shell mouse. That evening was the farewell dinner, and the chefs went all out: five courses with special options for me whenever they weren't vegetarian. I even got to choose anything I wanted for my first appetizer (I picked mozzarella and tomato of course)! It was a lovely ending to what turned out to be a wonderful whirlwind of a tour, and even though I was excited for my next activities I was very sad to say goodbye to Viking and especially Nannie.


St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest
Budapest Christmas Market
Chocolates in the Budapest Christmas Market
Apple, Walnut, and Marzipan Strudel


December 13, 2015
Wow, what an action-packed week!! And sounds like the Christmas festivities made up for the cold weather. And most importantly endless delicious food!
December 13, 2015
Beckie-- I really enjoy reading your blog so much. What an amazing time you are having. So glad you enjoyed the river cruise with Molky. She was in to the church this week and said the time shared with you was priceless.
Happy Advent,
December 13, 2015
Sounds like a great time. So glad Nannie behaved! Sorry it was cold but not surprised. What is surprising is how warm it is in Vermont.
December 14, 2015
I love the number of different ways of preparing sweet and pretty things that you could find on even such a short tour! And I'm glad everything is going smoothly for you.
December 14, 2015
The Christmas Markets sound amazing! Glad you were able to do some shopping as those ornaments will be wonderful reminders each year!
Love, Aunt Barbara
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