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Viking River Cruise’s European Adventure

Perhaps it was our Scandinavian heritage that drew him to the Viking River Cruises  name, but when my husband, Roger, was looking for a way to celebrate my 50th birthday, he came upon a trip including Austria, Germany and the Netherlands that seemed ideal. Travel was a perfect gift, and a cruise meant no driving, carrying suitcases, or concerns with travel logistics.

Little did he know that this journey would become one of our most cherished memories. “Country club casual” was the norm for dinner. With no formal nights, packing was a snap. In addition, nearly every shore excursion was included in the price of the trip. All we had to do was to show up, sit back, and enjoy.

Our European Adventure, as it was then named, cruised the Danube, Main Canal, and Rhine from Vienna to Amsterdam on the Viking Europe.

The Benedictine Melk Abbey, Austria
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The Benedictine Melk Abbey, Austria

It was not until 1992 that a canal system of navigation locks was completed and it became possible to travel by river all 2000 miles between the North Sea and the Black Sea. The Viking Europe took us along a picturesque portion of this route, stopping along the way to get a closer look at awe-inspiring cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys, palaces, and castles, as well as major cities, quaint villages, and vineyards.

The Benedictine Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria
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The Benedictine Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria

Unlike ocean-going ships sailing the coast, river ships venture through Europe’s interior to places inaccessible to larger vessels. Our comfortable hotel moved with us, and we had to unpack only once. The Viking Europe accommodates around 150 passengers and never felt crowded. There was a large open-air sundeck, and a lounge area serving many functions: a place to gather for evening entertainment, meet with new friends, or just relax and enjoy the views.

view from Veste Oberhaus, Germany
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view from Veste Oberhaus, Germany

Mornings we had the option of joining walking tours of areas where we were docked. To accommodate the range of passengers, there were usually two walking groups, one for those enjoying a brisk pace, another for those preferring leisurely strolls. Viking River guides were well-informed and land tours were time well-spent.

Tours gave an opportunity for orientation to new ports, to gain a historical perspective, and to enjoy local anecdotes. Afterwards, we might continue on our own or go back to the ship for lunch and to plan our afternoon’s activities. We were provided with maps, descriptions of the area, and cell numbers to reach our cruise manager, Harry, if a problem arose. Nothing was left to chance. At the end of the day, we returned to the ship for a delectable open-seating dinner with opportunities to sample a varied local cuisine or familiar standbys such as chicken or steak. This was also a time to share the day’s insights and discoveries with new friends.

view of our Viking River Cruises ship from Wertheimer Berg, Germany
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view of our Viking River Cruises ship and the circus from Wertheimer Berg, Germany

We looked forward each day to simple pleasures like opening our stateroom curtains. Once we awakened to see a mother duck watching carefully as her ducklings bobbed up and down just outside our window. Another day, we saw — could it be? — an elephant flapping his ears. The circus was in town! We were immersed in the real Europe.

By day, we could climb castle walls for breathtaking views, admire a museum’s treasures, stroll village lanes, or enjoy sidewalk cafés. The choice was ours. By night, we would return to our floating hotel to glide to our next destination while we slept and dreamed of adventures awaiting us.

River cruises are for destination-oriented people wanting to combine captivating scenery with Europe’s history and culture. Onboard, there would be a daytime lecture or demonstration, such as strudel-making, and there was nightly entertainment, not of the Las-Vegas style of the mega-liners, but appropriate to daily activities. It might be local talent, such as the minstrel playing his unique collection of medieval musical instruments, or the Regensburger Spatzen Quartett, or lively tunes by Otto, our resident musician. Anything more would have been too much distraction from the wonders that were just outside our stateroom window.

Our voyage began in Vienna, where Viking provided a city tour by bus, and then a walking tour of the historic center of the city. Later, we toured the Baroque Schönnbrun Palace, summer residence of the Habsburgs. What a sense of history as we stood in the same Hall of Mirrors as the six-year-old Mozart when he played for the Empress Maria Theresa and is said to have met Marie Antoinette!

A Benedictine monastery, the Wachau wine region, and little towns —- so much to see! Viking River Cruises provided specially-prepared booklets that described the landscape and its history, noting distances corresponding to markers along the banks of the rivers.

cathedral and organ, Passau, Germany
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cathedral and organ, Passau, Germany

Passau, well-located at the confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers, showcased its prosperity in a cathedral housing the world’s largest cathedral organ and a sanctuary whose beauty has set the standard by which I will measure all others.

Nuremburg had its somber moments at the Hitler’s rally grounds and stadium and the Justice Palace, site of the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal. On a lighter note, we toured the medieval fortress and heard the touching love story associated with the beautiful Schoner Brunnen, a fountain showcasing the fine metalwork for which Nuremburg is known.

Bamberg was an idyllic and historic stop. It was not complete without a local Rauchbier, or smoked beer.

Riemenschneider altar, Rothenburg
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Riemenschneider altar, Rothenburg

gate in Rothenburg, Germany
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top of gate in Rothenburg, Germany

We continued along the Romantic Road to the delightful and touristy Rothenburg, Germany’s best-preserved medieval walled city.

Cruising along the Franconian wine country was a feast for the eyes, and palate. The resplendent Würzburg’s Residenz of the Archbishop rivaled any palace we had seen – awe through architecture at its best.

Little Rüdesheim with its taverns and unique museum charmed us all. Each port seemed more special in its own way that the last. Then we were on to the Rhine to capture legendary castles and fortresses on film.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
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Amsterdam, Kingdom of the Netherlands

The finale was nothing less than Amsterdam, where Viking River Cruises organized our time to experience the best of the city.

Floriade, Kingdom of the Netherlands
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Floriade, Kingdom of the Netherlands

A morning bus tour ended with an introduction to Dutch masters paintings at the Rijksmuseum, and the afternoon featured magnificent horticultural displays at the Floriade, held just once a decade. After dinner, with Amsterdam’s bridges illuminated, we reflected on our trip during a romantic canal cruise. How much better could it get?

Those who have yet to discover Europe’s river cruises should experience the romance at least once. Viking River is the largest river cruise line in the world and has won our confidence and that of friends to whom we have recommended these vacations.  I can hardly wait to cruise again. Come to think of it, Roger is approaching a special birthday, too…

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