I was looking forward to my Danube river cruise with Viking but I hadn’t realised when I fixed the date that it departed on Easter Saturday. Concerned about possible delays on the way to Heathrow I booked the efficient meet-and-greet parking service through Holiday Extras. At terminal five the car was driven away, I was quickly through security and settled in to the short flight to Munich where Viking’s staff put me onto their coach to Erlangen, just outside Nuremburg, to join the ship. I was on board in time for a late lunch and a glass of wine – a good start to the trip.
My home for the week was Freya, one of the Viking longships hosting 190 guests. The well-equipped balcony cabin had all the things I needed with a large comfortable bed, excellent shower with good quality toiletries which, along with towels and bottled water were replenished without me ever having to ask the very efficient cabin steward. In addition to the main dining room there was a terrace with outdoor space for al fresco eating. The whole of the top deck was available for relaxation and even sported a large chess set, shuffleboard, miniature golf, and a herb garden that kept the kitchen well supplied.
Viking offers an included tour each day as well as other optional tours which can be booked on board. On tours, each group had its own guide who carried a small Quietvox radio device with a small microphone. Guests had a similar device with an earpiece. This clever technology allowed me to hear the guide without having to be close by, and provided the flexibility to stop and take photographs or examine things in more detail without missing a word of the information being given. It was particularly effective in churches and other places where guides didn’t wish to raise their voices.
My first test of this useful technology came the next morning when I joined fellow guests on a tour of Nuremberg. It’s probably best known for links to the Nazi movement; huge party rallies were held in the Zeppelin fields. Later, the war crimes trials were held in Nuremberg. However, there is far more to this delightful Bavarian city than its links to that dark period for German history. It was for many years the toy-making capital of Europe, was home to Albrecht Durer and is also renowned for its gingerbread making. Three miles of the medieval city’s wall are still intact and include watch towers and gates. There are also a number of attractive bridges over the river Pegnitz which flows through the city.
The hilltop Imperial Palace was impregnable until the advent of gunpowder and the city contains many half-timbered houses. The market square is a lively place to visit and towards the end of the year holds one of Germany’s best Christmas Markets.
World Heritage Site
The following morning I joined a group on a walk through our next destination, Regensburg. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to many well-preserved patrician houses as well as Germany’s oldest restaurant, the Alte Wurstkuche or Old Sausage Kitchen. Bavaria is big on beer and sausages! The 12th Century stone bridge is a great example of early engineering and stood for hundreds of years. However it was built for horse and cart, not motor traffic, and was undergoing sympathetic restoration with stones being shipped in from other countries to ensure a proper match. After lunch and with some free time, one of the major benefits of river cruises became clear. Ships often dock in city centres, so I hopped off and enjoyed wandering round this intriguing place on my own.
Our next stop was Passau on Germany’s border with Austria and again Freya moored in the city centre. It was founded by the Celts over two thousand years ago and the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers meet here, earning the name of ‘City of Three Rivers’. Our guide admitted that Germans were not very creative when it comes to naming things. Passau’s significant economic and political importance gave rise to many well-preserved magnificent buildings. These include the 17th Century St Stephen’s Cathedral which boasts one of the largest organs in Europe with over 17,000 pipes.
The following day Freya moored in sleepy Krems in the Wachau valley which, during the 12th Century, was an important centre for iron, grain, salt and wine. Today its vines produce grapes for some of the best Riesling wines. My morning was spent visiting a nearby hilltop Benedictine monastery, Gottweig Abbey. After lunch back on board Freya, I wandered round the small peaceful town just a minute’s walk away.
By contrast, the next morning found us in Austria’s capital Vienna, probably best known for its waltzes, coffee houses and the renowned Sachertorte chocolate cake. It is also home to the well-known Spanish Riding School and it’s where Mozart and Strauss composed many of their famous works. There’s so much to see here, but the city is not large and with some planning visitors can see most of the key places on foot or perhaps take a horse-drawn carriage tour.
After a cold start to the week the temperature had risen to over 70º and when I returned to Freya for lunch a barbecue had been organised on deck. Cold Austrian beers were the order of the day as I basked in the warm spring sunshine.
I left Vienna late afternoon and admired the scenery as Freya sailed across the border into Hungary and the Siamese-twin city Buda and Pest, still with links to its eastern European way of life. I even saw an old Russian Trabant – Jeremy Clarkson would have been in raptures!
Freya moored right next to the famous chain bridge that connects Buda and Pest and is a larger copy of the bridge that spans the Thames in Marlow. I enjoyed the view of the city from Fisherman’s Bastion in hilly Buda and visited the Matthias church next door. I toured many places of historic interest on the flat Pest side of the river and admired the stunning parliament building on the river just a few yards from where Freya was moored. It was inspired by our own Palace of Westminster and it’s easy to spot the similarities. At night many of Budapest’s buildings and bridges are beautifully lit up and Freya was docked in just the right position to see the sites.
After a final overnight stay in Budapest I was sorry to say good-bye to Freya and my many new-found friends before heading out to the airport and the flight back to Heathrow. Little did I know at the time that I would soon be back to spend another week sailing along the lower Danube from Budapest to Bucharest.
Viking River Cruises offers a seven night river cruise, discovering one of Europe’s most romantic rivers, the Danube, from £1,795pp full board including all meals, drinks with meals (wine, beer & soft drinks only) and 6 included guided tours. Price includes flights and is based on 2 people sharing a cabin.
For more information on this and other Viking cruises go to www.vikingcruises.co.uk or call 0800 319 6660
Holiday Extras offers airport hotels with parking, lounges and more. Go to www.holidayextras.co.uk or call 0800 1313 777