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Through the Heart of Europe in a Viking Longship: The Romantic Danube

Viking Kvasir in Budapest
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Viking Kvasir in Budapest, Hungary

We recently spent a week traveling through Hungary, Austria, and Germany. We traveled from Budapest to Nuremberg, with stops  in Vienna, Melk, Passau, and Regensburg and unpacked only once.

towel animal aboard the Viking Njord
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the evening’s towel animal, a moose with a menu for the upcoming Captain’s Dinner, in our stateroom aboard the Viking Njord

In August we cruised aboard Viking River Cruises’ longship Njord, named for the Norse god of the wind and sea. Our voyage, called The Romantic Danube, was along some of the river’s most scenic stretches.

Part of the trip was along the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. It  was completed in 1992 and is one of the world’s largest engineering projects. The rivers for which it is named are connected through a series of  twenty-six locks and a nearly thousand foot difference in elevation. This enables ships to navigate through the heart of Europe from the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea.

view of a barge from our veranda on the Viking Njord while in a lock on the Rhine-Main-Danube
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view of a barge from our veranda on the Viking Njord while in a lock on the Rhine-Main-Danube

approaching a lock of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal by night aboard the Viking Njord
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approaching a lock of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal by night aboard the Viking Njord

approaching a lock of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal by night aboard the Viking Njord
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approaching a lock of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal by night aboard the Viking Njord

The Viking Hlin passed by as we waited to enter a lock of the Rhine-Main-Danube
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The Viking Hlin passed by, headed in the opposite direction, as we waited to enter a lock of the Rhine-Main-Danube

We walked in the footsteps of Popes, Holy Roman Emperors, and prince-bishops from a time when politics and religion were one.

Palace, Castle Hill and Chain Bridge, Budapest
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Royal Palace of the Habsburgs, Castle Hill and the Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

statue of St. Stephen outside St. Matthias Church, Budapest
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statue outside St. Matthias Church, Budapest, of St. Stephen, the Hungarian king who was made a saint when he converted the county to Catholicism

We visited places that survived floods and fire, world wars, dictators, occupiers,and genocide.

heights of flood waters in Passau
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heights of flood waters in Passau

Nazi Parade Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany
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Nazi Parade Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany

photograph of Adolf Hitler, Documentation Center, Nuremberg, Germany
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photograph of Adolf Hitler, Documentation Center, Nuremberg, Germany

Plaques in sidewalks denoting former homes of Jewish people who were victims of the Holocost
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Plaques in sidewalks denoting former homes of Jewish people who were victims of the Holocost

We strolled and browsed shops along the cobblestone streets of preserved and restored medieval towns.

We were overwhelmed by the gilded and jewel-encrusted splendor and finest of art and treasures inside palaces, cathedrals, and abbeys.

chapel, Melk Abbe, Melk, Austria
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chapel, Melk Abbe, Melk, Austria

Melk Abbey
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Melk Cross, a relic of the Holy Cross and a gift from Duke  Rudolph IV,  Melk Abbey

We explored some of the oldest and grandest cities on the Danube and were captivated by  the music of Mozart and Strauss in a Viennese palace.

Smooth sailing

People tell us that they would love to travel the world and experience these things but can’t find the time to plan or do not know where to start. Researching destinations, arranging point-to-point travel, packing and unpacking, navigating local transportation, and finding the most compelling places to see, stay and dine within a travel budget can be overwhelming. Moving from one hotel to the next, whether on your own or with a group tour, can be exhausting.

departing Budapest aboard the Viking Njord
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The Viking Njord departing Budapest aboard the Viking Njord

River travel is a way to travel in comfort without concern about the details of getting there. Once we boarded the ship we sat back and enjoyed the ever-changing scenery aboard our floating hotel. No need to carry along formal clothing. The dress code is casual.

view of the 12th Century Schonbuhel Castle from the Viking Njord
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view of the 12th Century Schonbuhel Castle from the Viking Njord

along the Danube aboard the Viking Njord
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along the Danube aboard the Viking Njord

view of the Danube’s Wachau Valley from the Viking Njord
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view of the Danube’s Wachau Valley from the Viking Njord

a view from the Viking Njord between Melk, Austria and Passau, Germany
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a view from the Viking Njord between Melk, Austria and Passau, Germany

All the details — airline transportation, transfers from the airport, and luggage handling —  are taken care of, from beginning to end. Excursions, aside from a few optional supplementary ones, are included for each port. Information is provided for independent exploration. And with just 95 staterooms, longships do not overwhelm a port.

An onboard concierge is available to make individual reservations or special arrangements. Tours before and after the cruise can be arranged, as well.

concierge desk aboard the Viking Njord
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concierge desk aboard the Viking Njord

Along the way we dined on regional foods, beer, and wines and traditional favorites.

Local entertainers came onboard to perform.

Hungarian dancers came aboard the Viking Njord in Budapest
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Hungarian dancers came aboard the Viking Njord in Budapest

passengers dancing with Hungarian dancers aboard the Viking Njord
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passengers dancing with Hungarian dancers aboard the Viking Njord

Bavarian musicians performed aboard the Viking Njord
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Bavarian musicians performed aboard the Viking Njord

There was commentary in the public areas of the ship when we passed significant sights. Other times we sipped wine or a cappuccino on our veranda while referring to a book Viking River Cruises sent us weeks before our trip. It identified points of interest by kilometer markings along the Danube.

map charting our course aboard the Viking Njord
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map charting our course aboard the Viking Njord

Mornings, we awaked to a new port of call, ready to make the most of the day. Weather information was available throughout the ship.

weather information, Viking Njord
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weather information, Viking Njord

Umbrellas were available for those who wanted one.

umbrellas aboard the Viking Njord
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umbrellas aboard the Viking Njord

Water was provided for anyone who wanted to take some along on an excursion.

Water bottles were available for all excursions.
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Water bottles were available for all excursions.

And local treats were offered when we returned to the ship.

Activity level

In some ports we opted to do everything possible. In others we enjoyed a few favorite spots or just relaxed onboard.

When we looked at our photos after returning home we were impressed by all we experienced in such a leisurely way.

Dining

Open seating means passengers can opt to meet new people or dine with familiar ones. Dine while enjoying the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

dining room aboard the viking Njord
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dining room aboard the viking Njord

There is a bountiful breakfast buffet. Other dishes, like Eggs Benedict, are made to order.

omelet station of the breakfast buffet aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord
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omelet station of the breakfast buffet aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord

breakfast menu and a copy of the Viking Daily
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breakfast menu and a copy of the Viking Daily

Prost! Lunches and dinners include a selection of artfully presented local specialties and traditional favorites along with complimentary regional wine and beer. The lunch buffet area offered an array of foods in addition to the menu selections.

appetizers at the lunch buffet aboard the Viking Njord
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a few of the appetizers at the lunch buffet aboard the Viking Njord

The snack station has a variety of coffees and teas Baked treats are available beginning at 6 a.m.

snack station, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord
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snack station, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord

Early breakfast and light lunch buffets are available on the Aquavit Terrace, also the site of special treats, including afternoon tea with regional desserts. Dine behind glass or al fresco.

Hotel Manager Doris Neger noted that one of the cakes was just like the one her Austrian grandmother used to make.

One afternoon  a reception was held to honor past passengers. Linie Aquavit was served and souvenir glasses were delivered to our staterooms. This spicy Norwegian spirit matures in an oak cask under a variety of weather conditions while on a sea voyage across the globe.

aquavit for Past passengers on the Aquavit Terrace aboard the Viking Njord
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aquavit for Past passengers on the Aquavit Terrace aboard the Viking Njord

Linie Aquavit was served onboard the Viking Njord at a special reception for past passengers.
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Linie Aquavit was served onboard the Viking Njord at a special reception for past passengers.

Days 1 & 2

We boarded the Njord by the Chain Bridge on the cosmopolitan Pest side of Budapest, Hungary.

chess board on the Sun Deck of Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord, docked in Budapest, Hungary
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chess board and putting green on the Sun Deck of Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord, docked in Budapest, Hungary

Since we had flown in early to explore Budapest on our own, we were among the first to board the ship. We enjoyed the lunch buffet and joined a walking tour that went to several places we had not seen on our own.

A daily briefing outlined the next day’s activities. Dinner was followed by a performance by a Gypsy violinist and Hungarian traditional dancers.

Hungarian dancer and Gypsy violinist aboard Viking River Cruises Viking Njord
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Hungarian singer and Gypsy violinist aboard Viking River Cruises Viking Njord

Then we joined fellow passengers on the sun deck to enjoy the moonlit night and illuminated bridges and buildings reflected in the Danube.

Chain Bridge and Castle Hill by night, Budapest
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Chain Bridge and Castle Hill by night, Budapest

A Budapest city tour was offered the next morning, but since we had already taken a similar excursion we decided to take a leisurely stroll, relax in the sunroom, and simply enjoy the view from the ship.

This freedom to do as much or as little as you please is but one of the pleasures that comes with a river cruise.

We noted that the bar in the Aquavit Lounge was clinker-built in the historic style of a Viking longships and Hanseatic cogs. We experimented with the button in our bathroom that made the glass walls clear for a spacious look or opaque for privacy.

We were fascinated by the onboard buzz of activity as the staff meticulously cleaned and shined the ship while the other passengers toured the city.

Later, as Viking River Cruises’ motor coaches approached, we watched the staff line up with welcoming trays of Hungarian sausage canapés and a refreshing beverage. Our Hotel Manager, Doris, was always right there pitching in.

Hotel Manager Doris with canapés of Hungarian sausages.
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Hotel Manager Doris with canapés of Hungarian sausages.

Activities that afternoon included a Wheelhouse Tour.

wheelhouse, Viking River Cruises' Viking Njord
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wheelhouse, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord

There was also a presentation on Mozart’s life and Vienna’s coffee houses, an Austrian Tea with an apple strudel demonstration, a pre-dinner welcoming toast, and a daily briefing on the next day. For those ready for more, there was music and dancing after dinner.

 apple strudel demonstration,, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord
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apple strudel demonstration,, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord

Staying informed and keeping in touch

The Viking Daily is delivered to the stateroom each night. This printed program includes the next day’s activities, helpful tips, and the port’s highlights and history. An additional page from the concierge serves as a guide to touring independently. In-room videos offer more information. A morning newsletter provided a synopsis of world news and events and there is in-room satellite television.The computers and free wifi throughout the ship make keeping in touch with friends and family a breeze.

computer center, Viking Njord
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computer center in the library, Viking Njord

Day 3: Vienna, Austria

There is much to see and do in Vienna, the capital and largest city in Austria. We filled our day with a morning city tour and the optional afternoon visit to Schönbrunn Palace, former summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty.

Schönbrunn Palace and gardens, Vienna, Austria
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Schönbrunn Palace and gardens, Vienna

gardens, fountain, and gloriette at Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna
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gardens, fountain, and gloriette at Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

The evening’s optional classical concert of Mozart and Strauss music was in a Viennese palace.

After the concert, gulaschsuppe was served in the Aquavit Terrace.

Day 4: The Wachau: Krems to Melk

There was bridge commentary in the morning as we cruised the UNESCO World Heritage landscape of the Wachau Valley, which runs from Krems to Melk.

“The Wachau” is known for its terraced vineyards, picture-perfect villages, and medieval castles and ruins.

terraced vineyards along the Wachau Valley of the Danube
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terraced vineyards along the Wachau Valley of the Danube

a view of Hinterhaus Castle from the Viking Njord
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a view of Hinterhaus Castle from the Viking Njord

The Wachau Valley viewed from the Viking Njord
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The Wachau Valley viewed from the Viking Njord

view of the 12th Century Schonbuhel Castle from the Viking Njord
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view of the 12th Century Schonbuhel Castle from the Viking Njord

That afternoon we visited one of the most famous abbeys in Austria. A fortified Benedictine community began in Melk in 1089 when Leopold II gave his royal palace to the monks.

The 18th century baroque monastery survived the Reformation and Napoleonic and Nazi occupation. It was restored with funds from the sale of a Gutenberg Bible to Harvard.

Inside was an array of treasures.

 gold and jewel encrusted cross containing a fragment from the Holy Cross, Melk Abbey
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gold and jewel encrusted cross containing a fragment from the Holy Cross, Melk Abbey

chapel of Melk Abbey, Austri
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skeleton of St. Coloman in a sarcophagus, chapel of Melk Abbey, Austria

Afterwards, an onboard German language class set the mood for what was to follow.

Taste of Austria night aboard the Viking Njord
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Taste of Austria night aboard the Viking Njord

Bavarian beer, regional wines and liqueurs flowed as we feasted on regional specialties throughout the ship’s observation lounge, terrace, kitchen and dining room during the Taste of Austria dinner.

Pretzels, sausages, sauerkraut, schnitzels, Sacher Torte, strudels and more were served by a staff in dressed in Austrian style.

Bavarian musicians, Taste of Austria dinner, Viking Njord
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Bavarian musicians, Taste of Austria dinner, Viking Njord

A pair of singing and strolling Bavarian musicians added to the lively atmosphere. Everyone agreed it was a highlight of the trip.

 Day 5: Southeastern Bavaria

We arrived at 9 a.m. in Passau, named “City of Three Rivers”  for its location at the confluence of the Inn, Danube, and Ilz.

and docked alongside two of Viking River Cruises other Viking Longships.

Viking River Cruises’ longships in Passau
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Viking River Cruises’ longships in Passau

Passau  was once the largest see of the Holy Roman Empire. Italian architects hired to rebuild it in baroque style after it was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1662 created a city known as “The Venice of Bavaria”. Many towering patricians’ houses remain in this medieval center of the salt trade.

The magnificent St.Stephen’s Cathedral is renowned for its 17,000 pipe pipe organ, the largest in Europe.

St. Stephen’s Church, Passau , Germany
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St. Stephen’s Church, Passau , Germany

We skipped lunch to explore on our own, the concierge’s page in hand.

Passau's Veste Oberhaus, a fortress built in 1219 for the Bisop of Passau is now the site of a museum, youth hostel, restaurant, and open-air theater
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Passau’s Veste Oberhaus, a hilltop fortress built in 1219 for the Bisop of Passau, is now the site of a museum, youth hostel, restaurant, and open-air theater

Viking Kvasir departing from Passau, Germany
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Viking Kvasir departing from Passau, Germany

German Tea Time was from 3:30 -4:30, followed by a 5 pm presentation on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, dinner, and more music and dancing.

cake at afternoon tea aboard the Viking Njord
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cake at afternoon tea aboard the Viking Njord

German Tea Time was from 3:30 -4:30, followed by a 5 pm presentation on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, dinner, and more music and dancing.
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German Tea Time was from 3:30 -4:30, followed by a 5 pm presentation on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, dinner, and more music and dancing.

Day 6: Regensburg

Our optional excursion to Weltenburg Abbey .

Look carefully in the chapel and you may spot a sculpture of one of the abbey's architects.
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Look carefully in the chapel and you may spot a sculpture of one of the abbey’s architects.

The trip included a boat ride past soaring cliffs of the Danube Narrows. A tasty german-style pretzel and award-winning dark beer from Weltenburger Kloster, one of the oldest breweries in the world.

award-winning Weltenburger Kloster dunkel beer
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award-winning Weltenburger Kloster dunkel beer

boat ride through the Danube Narrows
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boat ride through the Danube Narrows

Befreiungshalle (Liberation Hall) above Kelheim, a memorial to victories over Napoleon in the Wars of Liberation
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Befreiungshalle (Liberation Hall) above Kelheim, a memorial to victories over Napoleon in the Wars of Liberation

We had lunch onboard the Viking Njord and took the afternoon tour of Regensburg. Fellow passengers who took the optional afternoon tour of the BMW factory described it in glowing terms, as well.

Regensburg, with Roman gates from 179 A.D., is the oldest city on the Danube and one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. We crossed the Old Stone Bridge, built between 1135 and 1146, the same one crossed by the Crusaders en route to the Holy Land. It led us to Alte Wurstküch, the “Old Sausage Kitchen”, Germany’s oldest restaurant.

The Gothic Cathedral, completed in 1320, is known for its boys’ choir, Regensburger Domspatzen (Sparrows). Guided tours of the old Town Hall include the Imperial Hall and basement torture chamber.

Onboard, Bavarian Tea Time was followed by the Captain’s Cocktail party, a Farewell Dinner and a trivia quiz in the lounge.

Captain's Dinner menu, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord
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Captain’s Dinner menu, Viking River Cruises’ Viking Njord

Day 7 and departure day: Nuremberg

We docked at noon. The shore excursion included the medieval old town, castle tower, and the best Lebkuchen (gingerbread) shops.

view of Old Town from castle, Nuremberg
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view of Old Town from castle, Nuremberg

It is said that if  you turn the ring on the grille of Schöner Brunnen, or the Beautiful Fountain, three times and make a wish your wish will come true.

Hauptmarkt, the Market Square, Nuremberg
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Schöner Brunnen(Beautiful Fountain), Hauptmarkt, the Market Square, Nuremberg

The concierge listed two pages of places to explore independently, like the rooms and passages cut into the stone beneath the castle, a Renaissance merchant’s house, Toy Museum, healing spa, shopping areas, and the best restaurants and brewpubs for authentic German fare.

entrance to Toy Museum, Nuremberg
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entrance to Toy Museum, Nuremberg, a city known for its toymakers

This site of Nazi party rallies is probably best known for the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials.

viewing film of Nazi War Trials, Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg
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viewing film of Nazi War Trials, Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg

We had toured Nuremberg previously and took the optional World War II History Tour to the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds.The museum is in the north wing of Hitler’s Congress Hall which, if completed, would have housed 50,000 spectators.

Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany
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Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany

Documentation Center photo of Rally Grounds, Nuremberg
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Documentation Center photo of Rally Grounds, Nuremberg

Moving on

In just one week we had seen the Romantic Danube’s most significant sights and treasures, savored the aroma and flavors of regional specialties, delighted in traditional and classical music where it originated, shared impressions with new friends, and basked the ever-changing view. It was time for the next group of passengers to do the same.

Color-coded luggage tags in the stateroom indicated the time for airport or post-trip transfers. Luggage was picked up in the morning and delivered curbside to coaches or taxis.  With fewer than 200 passengers on a longship, disembarkation is a breeze.

Breakfast was served from 3 a.m. through 9 am to accommodate the range of flight departures and post-cruise travel plans. Those remaining in Nuremberg were invited to remain in the public areas of the ship and enjoy for lunch onboard.

Many passengers extended their time in Nuremberg or traveled by coach to Prague with Viking River Cruises. The staff reserved a taxi to get us to the rail station and we were off on our next adventure.

 

story by Linda Fasteson

photography by Roger Fasteson

© 2014 : All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced, copied, or borrowed without contacting us for written permission. Contact information is available under the About Notable Travels tab at the top of the page.

10 Comments

  1. Coming late to this party. We will be taking the VRC Budapest to Amsterdam in late July. I have been absorbing all the reviews and photos for this type of trip.
    This is the first blog that looks like the nerdy way I will approach it…..photos of barges, locks and all the other technological parts of the journey. Oh yes, we will definitely take photos of the castes, forts, cathedrals etc.

    Thanks for posting all this great info.

    • Thank you for your comments. The scenery IS spectacular. Understanding what went into making a trip like this possible makes us appreciate the experience even more.

  2. This looks like a fantastic cruise! Thank you for your thorough explanation of everything offered. I’ll be cruising with Viking in June and can’t wait! I feel much more informed now.

    • Glad to hear that you will be experiencing a Viking River Cruise, Kelly, and thanks for your comments. It IS a fantastic way to travel. Unpack once, travel while you sleep or just sit back and enjoy theever-changing view. We can hardly wait for our next one later this year.

  3. Hi,
    I enjoyed your blog post as it really helped me see what our cruise will be like this summer. I’m going to share it with my family who are traveling with us.
    I was wondering what time to book our train tickets from Nuremberg to Munich after the cruise ends. What time did you get off the boat, and how long did it take to get to the train station?
    Thanks,
    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Since we were departing from the ship on our own we were able to choose our own departure time. Passengers were even invited to return to the ship for lunch if they were staying in town. Viking takes excellent care of passengers. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then Viking staff arranged a taxi to the train station for us. We purchased our tickets to Vienna once we were at the station, then purchased tickets for the Austrian portion of our trip at the train station in Vienna.
      We visited Vienna, Salzburg, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, all of which are on Notable Travels. Our final stop, Munich, will be posted soon.

      • Thanks, Linda. Perhaps we will wait to purchase our train tickets. I’ll have to research what the price difference will be. I will read your other posts as we will be going to all of those places as well!

        • When we plan to use the train a great deal, we like the convenience of a Eurail Pass, often just the regional pass, depending on where we will be traveling. For this trip, point-to-point tickets were the more economical choice. You can check online to see what works best for you.

          I have yet to meet anyone who did not enjoy their river cruise, and this is a beautiful region to explore further. There are several posts on some of the destinations, such as Innsbruck. And if you like The Sound of Music, the 50th anniversary of the movie is being celebrated in Salzburg. Allow as much time as you can in each stop after your cruise. There is so much to see and do and it is so much better if you do not feel rushed. We often use one spot as a hub, stay in a hotel or apartment, and then take day trips. This allows a lot more flexibility along the way. Have a great trip!

  4. Hi, I really enjoyed your travelogue and pictures. We are just now planning our trip on the Romantic Danube with Viking, having done the Amsterdam to Basel trip last year. I just love Viking Cruises! And your travelogue makes me wish we were going in 2015 instead of 2016. The pictures are of perfect quality — good job! Thanks again.
    Debbie

    • Thank you for your kind comments. We have taken many Viking River Cruises and have never been disappointed. Have a wonderful trip!

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