|Life onboard the Viking River Cruises Longships. All photography is the property of EuroTravelogue™ unless noted. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
Have you ever wondered what life is like onboard a Viking River Cruises longship as you cruise from one splendid destination to the next? I invite you to savor the journey as well as the destination on this voyage, and you'll find that the time onboard can be just as sublime as the exciting destinations you visit along the way. These are the highlights of my recent voyage with Viking last December, my "Danube Waltz" from Germany to Hungary—with unforgettable moments, sneak peeks behind the scenes and connecting with new friends and cultures.
|The sun sets upon the Viking Odin in Volendam, Netherlands.|
I'll never forget my first voyage in the Netherlands. Just as I was about to retire one evening, I stepped outside on the veranda for a glimpse of the sights along the river. As we glided through the idyllic landscape under the velvet cover of night, I heard the only sound to break the silence—the distant pealing of bells and soon, an enchanting village aglow with a dreamlike quality suddenly came into view. My gut reaction was to run inside and grab my camera but I soon realized that the amount of time the task would take would jeopardize this moment and it would be gone forever. Instead, I gazed out into the landscape and wondered what life was like in this tiny Dutch village along the river banks. From then on, I knew I was hooked on river cruising and my appetite grew more insatiable. This was just one of many fleeting moments I experienced on that first river cruise two years ago so I had high expectations for my December voyage. Needless to say, it lived up to and exceeded every expectation I had! Welcome to my Danube Waltz!
|Cruising along the Danube River in Austria.|
During our first few days until the time we visited the Melk Abbey, our river cruising was limited to the nighttime hours in between the places we visited so I was really looking forward to the afternoon cruise from Melk to Dürnstein. We had about two hours onboard which proved to be one of the highlights of my voyage. It all started with lunch—an enriching cultural immersion into the tastes of Austria. While Austrian music filled the air, we made our way down the buffet line brimming with scrumptious bratwursts, hams, pretzels and more!
Here's a short video from one of my colleagues, Veronica of GypsyNester.com who embarked on her voyage a week after mine, but starting in Budapest and ending in Passau. She does a brilliant job showcasing the Austrian luncheon including interviews with my favorite hotel manager, Wilhelm!
When we finished, we were invited up to the top deck for a fantastic voyage through Austria's striking Wachau Valley replete with quaint villages, towering castles, pastoral settings and imposing fortresses whose vestiges evoke images of grander times—all the while our cruise director providing the commentary for each of the sights along the way. Plus, we were able to follow along with our Viking River Cruises book "The Danube" that guides you along the river kilometer by kilometer so you know exactly what village, ruin, vineyard, etc. is just beyond the banks of the river.
|The village of Melk as seen from the Abbey, 200 feet above.|
Some of the sites we saw along the way ...
Schloss Schönbühel (Scholbuhel Castle)
|The Schloss Schönbühel or Schonbuhel Castle dates back to the 12th century.|
Dating back to the 12th century, the Schloss Schönbühel rises 40 meters (130 feet) above the Danube, making it a favorable as well as formidable location overlooking the river for this one-time medieval fortress. Originally started by Marchwardus de Schoenbuchele in the 12th century, it remained in his family until the middle 14th when it fell under the ownership of the Melk Abbey for a short time until the Starhemberg family purchased it. The castle remained in their family for 400 years!
|Willendorf is mostly known for its "Venus of Willendorf," an artifact discovered here that astonishingly dates back to 22000 B.C.|
The tiny village of Willendorf is renowned for its discovery of the "Venus of Willendorf," a sculpture, 4" tall, of a woman that dates back to circa 22000 B.C. That is not a typo. ;)
Saint Michael Church
|Saint Michael's is the oldest of all of the churches in Austria's Wachau Valley.|
Ruine Hinterhaus (Hinterhaus Castle)
|The ruins of the Hinterhaus Castle tower above the Wachau Valley and Danube far below.|
Located near the village of Spitz in Austria, the vestiges of Hinterhaus Castle evoke more prosperous times in history when this medieval fortification was erected in the middle of the 13th century.
After an evening in Dürnstein and our visit to Bratislava, Slovakia, the following morning; we were underway yet again and sailing to Budapest, Hungary. That afternoon, I had no idea of the unforgettable, awe-inspiring and quite honestly, the most magical moment would occur that night. But first, it was an afternoon of "behind the scenes" tours onboard the Viking Skadi.
Behind the Scenes of a Viking Longship
Have you ever wanted to visit the captain's bridge? We got our chance that afternoon so up to the captain's wheelhouse we went. When I opened the door, I couldn't believe the myriad 21st-century technology that enveloped the captain's chair—panels filled with controls and graphic-displays monitoring the ship's exact location upon the river. Expecting to see a giant wooden wheel, only kidding, the captain navigates the ship with the help of a tiny joystick mounted on the one of the panels that he slides back and forth to steer the ship left or right. If all of this isn't enough to impress, the entire wheelhouse installation can sink below deck to pass under low-lying bridges—an impressive engineering feat in design from the inside out!
|Inside the 'Wheelhouse' of the Viking River Cruises Longships.|
Next, we descended below to Deck 2 where the main dining room is located. For the first time ever, we were invited to venture beyond that wall in the back where waiters disappear and reappear with our delectable dishes! Our head chef welcomed us to the Galley, a blinding sight of shiny chrome, and much larger than I thought it would be. He explained all of equipment and then explained how his staff is divided into many chefs who focus on their specialties: from the appetizers and salads to the main courses and desserts.
|Our tour of the Viking Skadi's Galley.|
That night after dinner, at about 10:30 p.m., we were invited to the top deck once again for our arrival into Budapest. Thank goodness for my cup of glühwein to warm my bones because it was a frigid night on the Danube last December. As we imbibed our steaming libations, suddenly, emerging from the darkness, the golden city of Budapest aglow and spread out before our eyes—an illuminated sight so splendid, it was almost poetic in its grandeur. I believe every one of the guests on deck were awe-struck as we endeavored to take it all in. Despite any weather conditions you may encounter while sailing the Danube, I urge you to head up on deck to behold this glorious sight!
|Cruising into Budapest, Hungary, by night revealed a contrasting panorama of gold against the darkness of night. This photo only: WikiMedia.org.|
Throughout the Viking river cruise, every day just before dinner, we gathered in the Viking Lounge for the "Daily Briefings" delivered by our lively and entertaining cruise director, Joey, who regaled us with the highlights of the following day. Each night was a treat as well. From the talented Sylvia who played our musical favorites to the special cultural performances and presentations including the "Sounds of Salzburg," the European Christmas markets, Vienna coffee houses, Mozart and so much more, you are never without anything to do onboard, even a gingerbread-making demonstration where guests cut and decorated their own Christmastime confections. And then there were my favorite times in my corner of the lounge, day or night, nestled in my chair alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows writing in my journals as the splendid scenes along the Danube passed me by, or perhaps swapping stories of the day with newfound friends.
|Gingerbread making onboard the Viking Skadi proved to be great fun had by all, including the chefs!|
And so these are but some of the unforgettable memories onboard my Danube Waltz. As I write this, I smile as I reflect upon those wonderful times. What has become my personal philosophy still rings true here and in all of my travels, and so I leave you with this bit of advice, "savor the journey as well as the destination!"
If you want to read more about Viking River Cruises:
- In search of Christmas: A Viking Christmas river cruise down the Danube
- Making new friends on my Viking River Cruise
- Highlights from Passau, Germany, with Viking Cruises
- The voyage continues to Salzburg, Austria
My heartfelt thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting me on this Christmastime voyage through Europe. Of course all opinions and thoughts reflected are mine and mine alone. Thank you Viking Cruises for a magical Christmas holiday!