Within an hour of arriving in the spa capital of Europe, Budapest, my sister and I were indulging in the soothing thermal waters at Széchenyi Baths. Its massaging jets seemed to peel away our exhaustion.
These Turkish baths are one of city’s top attractions and for good reason. The Széchenyi Baths, housed in splendid 19th-century massive, yellow, copper-domed buildings in the middle of Budapest’s City Park, are worth a visit even if to just take in the historic architecture. Dubbed the Paris of the East, Budapest was everything and more, with elegant architecture and sophisticated scenery.
We were embarking on an eight-day Viking Cruises excursion along the Danube River, which began in Budapest and ended in the small German city of Nuremberg.
From the launch, the river cruise captivated me. I had been on ocean cruises before, but compared to huge liners with a few thousand guests, Viking long ships are a more intimate way to travel, with typically no more than 190 guests. Throughout the comfortable journey, Viking Jarl provided a new perspective of classic destinations.
As the ship flowed along the Danube, we navigated past abbeys and fortresses, castles and palaces, mountains and moonlit cobblestone boulevards. We also drifted by UNESCO World Heritage sites in timeless cities, including Passau, Germany and Austria’s Krems and Vienna. (An interesting tidbit that was shared with us about Krems — it is home to the oldest grave in Austria, a child’s resting place that is more than 27,000 years old.)
In Passau, after hiking to the top of St. George’s Hill, where we explored the mighty fortress, Veste Oberhaus, we walked over to the 17th-century St. Stephan’s Cathedral, home to Europe’s largest pipe organ. Imagine for a moment the thunderous timbres of 17,974 pipes! Impressive yet booming.
In Krems, the Gottweig Abbey was a high point. Founded in 1083, the abbey includes impressive baroque interior that is swathed with heavenly ceiling frescoes. We spent a couple of hours meandering and eventually made our way to the garden terrace and restaurant. While overlooking the sweeping vistas of the vineyards and the Danube below, we sipped foamy coffee and quite literally inhaled the abbey’s signature apricot strudel.
Wonders of River Cruising in Europe
Each day brought with it an itinerary dubbed the “Viking Daily.” This newsletter outlined the planned excursions, onboard entertainment, weather, and a little history about the places of interest during that day’s port stop.
In Nuremberg, we participated in the Second World War half-day tour that explored the rise and fall of the Nazi regime. This fascinating glimpse into the Third Reich — both from the perspective of its propaganda and war crimes — took us along a journey to the Zeppelin Fields (the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds), where 100,000 Nazi members saluted Adolf Hitler in blind adoration, before heading to Courtroom #600 in the Palace of Justice, the venue where the famous Nuremberg war trials took place. It was chilling to be in the very courtroom where some of Hitler’s high-ranking leaders were sentenced to death. Our expert guide relived for us the pivotal moments from a series of trials that gripped the world.
Another tour, which we spontaneously decided to join, led us into the belly of the Nuremberg Second World War bunks, dark, dank spaces deep down under Castle Hill. These shelters were used to hide the most important and valuable art treasures of the era. They survived the many air raids because of the security of the bunkers.
A Worthy Port Call in Nuremberg
Like many fellow passengers we met, we added an extra day in Nuremberg. As the second-largest city in Bavaria, it is perhaps best known for its haunting association with the Nazi party, but it has moved on from those despicable days. Rebuilt after it crumbled against the British bombers in 1945, this medieval metropolis is one filled with Gothic churches, arched stone bridges, cobblestone streets, and half-timber buildings. Its gilded Gothic fountain in the town’s market square is a monolithic sculpture that features, among other religious figures, Moses and the seven prophets.
Its residents are extremely proud of Nuremberg’s famous culinary delicacies. Sausages and lebkuchen (a Christmas treat resembling gingerbread) take centerstage. So much so that bratwurst and lebkuchen are protected under European Union law, meaning they can’t be labeled “made in Nuremberg” unless produced within the region using time-honoured traditions. The bratwurst was absolutely delicious.
By the end of our luxurious waterway voyage, we had climbed to the top of castle ruins in Austria’s spectacular Wachau Valley, sat in on a strudel-making course in Vienna, saw the historic highlights of one of Germany’s most chilled cities, Munich, and attended a Mozart & Strauss Concert of the Vienna Residence Orchestra in the birthplace of opera. It was a whirlwind of culture and gastronomy, highlighting Europe’s history and delights with the modern splendor you expect from a five-star experience.
MORE ABOUT VIKING CRUISES
Getting There: Viking looks after everything, including booking of flights. Once we arrived in Budapest, we transferred from the airport to the long ship at no additional cost. On the way home, we flew from Nuremberg to Frankfurt and home.
Cost: Pricing for a veranda suite on the eight-day Romantic Danube cruise (departing in April 2020) will cost $5,420 USD (plus airfare). On board meals, wine and beer with breakfast, lunch and dinner are included (gratuities are extra). I also recommend upgrading to the Silver Spirits beverage package, which offers premium wines.
Rooftop Sun Deck: Besides offering a front-row seat to Instagram-worthy panoramas, the rooftop deck was also the perfect locale for a brisk power walk or to practice my golf swing on the putting green.
Tours: I strongly encourage travelers to choose their tours prior to departure. The tours occur daily and include knowledgeable local guides. Guests have their own interactive headset to easily follow tour commentary. There are also fabulous optional tours for an extra fee.