By: Marianne Krivan, CTA, Senior Travel Consultant
Several weeks ago, we traveled along the fabled Danube River on the Danube Waltz with Viking Bragi-Norse God of poetry & music. As it turned out, this was the perfect name for the ship. The Danube Waltz itinerary was a true feast for all our senses, with its charming villages, ancient capitals, art museums, castles and amazing new food and drinking experiences. Sharing all this with old and new friends made it all that more magical.
Anticipation is part of the joy of travel and Viking delivered our cruise documents in a meaningful way. Our booklets contained all the necessary details of our Danube Waltz with Viking itinerary, cabin number and location, description of daily events included excursions, optional excursions, and additional information to help us make the most of our upcoming cruise.
Budapest Pre Stay
We stayed on our own for two magical days at the Aria hotel in Budapest before the cruise. The Aria Hotel Budapest is a music inspired boutique hotel in the heart of the city,-just a few meters away from St. Stephen’s basilica. We could actually see the domes of the basilica from our rooms’ balcony terrace.
A complimentary daily farm to table breakfast was served in the music garden. We spoiled ourselves with a couples massage in their award winning spa the day after we arrived. It was fun getting pampered and a great way to get centered for our travel journey. This was a charming hotel that has everything you would want in a hotel. Great central location, music themed hotel design, in house restaurants with amazing food, friendly and knowledgeable hotel staff as well as the High Note SkyBar. Their rooftop bar offers some of the best views of Budapest. I highly recommend this hotel as a fun way to enjoy Budapest before the start of your river cruise journey.
Welcome Aboard: Day 1- Budapest
After two fun filled days on our own in Budapest it was time to make our way down to the port to meet the Viking crew on the Bragi. As we got closer to the ship, the backdrop of the Chain Bridge and the Parliament building on the Danube was absolutely breathtaking. This was the week of Easter and the weather was a perfect 70 degrees. We made our way down the pathway to the ship and were then greeted by the cruise director and Viking crew members. Everyone was so welcoming and it made a great first impression for our Danube Waltz with Viking river cruise!
After checking in at the front desk and getting our cabin keys, we made our way to our French Balcony cabin. After relaxing just a bit and getting settled, we headed to the Aquavit Terrace for a light lunch of soups and sandwiches. From the Aquavit Terrace we admired the views of Budapest and enjoyed the weather and meeting some of the guests. There was a welcome walk around Budapest and a wine & cheese tasting. In the evening there was some live music and a casual get together to meet other guests. Shortly after was the welcome briefing and then dinner.
Day 2- Budapest
One of the hardest things about this river cruise was deciding between the included and optional excursions. They were all so good. Today we decided to start the day with the optional excursion Budapest Castle Hill City Hike. This was a four hour excursion and made for a fun and picturesque morning. We covered a lot of territory. This included taking the Buda Hill Funicular all the way up to Castle Hill. Buda Castle Quarter contains some of Budapest’s most important medieval monuments and museums and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those sites are Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the domed Buda Palace. The Fisherman’s Bastion was one of my favorite places. From our Viking local guide, we learned that it was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of the series of developments that were to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state. The architecture was inspired by early medieval times and is made up of seven towers-each one symbolizing one of the seven Magyar tribes that in 896, settled in the area known as Hungary. It offers one of the best views in the city.
The evening on the ship started with a toast to the guests. Captain Oliver and the hotel manager Dietmar lead the toast and welcomed us to the ship. What a fun crew on the Bragi! After dinner – we met on the Sundeck for the scenic evening cruise along the Danube. Our program director Dan, provided commentary while we sailed close to all the iconic sights of Budapest. This was one of my favorite moments on the trip.
As beautiful as Budapest is during the day, once the sun sets, the city is absolutely stunning. There are a million lights illuminating the Danube and the surrounding buildings and bridges that make up the city. It is truly magical.
Day 3- Bratislava
We arrived in Bratislava in the afternoon. Shortly after arrival, we decided to take the included shore excursion; Panoramic Bratislava. This was a relaxed excursion lead by a local guide. This is a pedestrian-only, 18th century old town, filled with lively bars, artist shops and cafes.
Fun fact: Bratislava is the third greenest city in the world. This is due to the bevy of parks right in the city center, as well as is location on the Danube and the proximity to the forests of the small Carpathians mountains.
Day 4- Vienna
This morning we decided to do something on our own. We both love art and museums and especially love the work of Gustav Klimt. We took a taxi to the Belvedere palace on the only cloudy and rainy day we had on the cruise. One of the famous paintings housed at the Belvedere is THE KISS.
This piece of art is considered Klimt’s most popular works and is widely considered a masterpiece of the early modern period. You could definitely spend a whole day here. There is an upper and lower Belvedere and an extensive garden-it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating back from the middle ages to the present day.
After lunch back on the ship, we signed up for the afternoon excursion: Historic Farmers Market visit with Viking Chef Dennis. With umbrellas in hand, we left with our local guide exploring the city. The Naschmarket is a great place in the city for people watching. The market serves a variety of purposes, the local residents come here to do their daily food shopping and visitors from around the globe come to enjoy the sights and sounds of the market. The market has been around since the 16th century! The colorful sights of the market was a real treat and well as tasting the Austrian cheese, wine and pastries. Also, the sausage with cheese was a favorite with the group! This was an educational excursion and an interesting afternoon adventure.
The other highlight this evening was the Mozart & Strauss concert. This was an amazing intimate experience of classical music. A mixture of dancers, opera singers and musicians all in one concert.
Day 5- Krems
One of our favorite days was the morning optional excursion – Wachau Valley by bicycle. This was a three hour bike ride through the countryside. The excursion used electronic bikes making it pretty easy for most anyone to participate. After a short lesson on how to use the bikes – we took off on a guided tour led by a local guide. Talk about magical. This area is often described as the loveliest stretch of the Danube. Here you will find charming towns, rolling hills, vineyards and fortresses. It is also another UNESCO world heritage site due to its cultural importance and physical beauty. As I would find out several weeks later-this area has THE BEST apricot liqueur
If only I would have brought more than one small bottle home.
Later this afternoon we enjoyed an apple strudel demonstration, a regional dessert masterpiece!
Day 6- Linz
Today was an included all day shore excursion to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic led by a local guide. Cesky Krumlov is Bohemia’s quintessential fairytale town. It is a little over an hour bus ride from Linz on the Viking motor coach and gave us the chance to view the countryside. Definitely sign up for this all day included excursion with Viking.
From the town’s highest point the walking tour with a local guide, took us down castle hill. We viewed the amazing castle Garden, Cesky Krumlov castle, the Cloak Bridge, then finished in the town center. It was a relatively brief tour aimed at giving us some history and context as well as some bearings for us to explore the town on your own. The afternoon was free for us to wander around the town and enjoy a slow lunch savoring the local dishes and the famous Czech brews
In the late afternoon we returned to the ship and decided to go for a walk around Linz. What a beautiful city! It has a cool vibe and is a city I would like to return to and explore even more one day. There are public art displays and almost half of the municipal area is green space.
This evening I wasn’t feeling well and stayed in the cabin. My fiancé and the waiter brought me all the regional selections on the dinner menu! This included a second appetizer of the goat cheese soufflé. It was that good! And of course, the famous Linzer Tart. Fun fact: Linzer Tart is said to be one of the oldest cakes in the world with recipes dating back to 1653. This was definitely a desert not to miss. It worked out nicely having the first cabin near the restaurant! These are gestures you remember and cherish.
Day 7- Passau
Our final day on our Danube Waltz with Viking river cruise began in Passau, Germany. In Passau, the Danube, Inn and Ilz Rivers converge, with the historic Town Centre surrounded by water. It is known as the Three Rivers City.
We joined the included morning excursions walking around the city. On part of the tour, we came to the Town Hall wall, it is here that the water levels from all the Danube floods over the centuries are marked.
Our local guide was so humorous he could have been a stand-up comic and he also did a wonderful job of showing is the city. He encouraged us to visit Veste Oberhaus on our own in the afternoon. What a great suggestion and is a MUST DO when you are in Passau. Veste Oberhaus is one of Europe’s largest preserved castle complexes. High above Passau within the historic walls of the fortification the Oberhausmuseum presents exciting exhibitions from the Middle Ages to the present day. The Veste Oberhaus also houses a pre-World War II amphitheater, Youth Hostel, an observatory and a restaurant. From the top, you can enjoy the unique panorama of Passau’s picturesque old town and the confluence of the city’s three rivers. Fun fact: It’s most notable inhabitant is Napoleon Bonaparte who used the fortress in his campaign to take Austria, Not long after, and for almost one hundred years, Vete Oberhaus was a state and military prison, feared as the “Bastille of Bavaria.”
You can hike up to the Veste Oberhaus which would be my recommendation if you are able to. We had limited time and the weather was getting colder so we took the scheduled bus to the top.
There is also the Mariahilf Monastery that I would go back and see. Here you will find a heavenly ladder-321 steps in a covered staircase leading from Passau Innstadt to the top of the hill. Pilgrims kneel and pray at each step, approaching the place of grace in a particular memorable manner. This is why I would recommend one additional day in Passau. Next time!
Day 8- Passau
It’s a sad day when you learn your Danube Waltz with Viking river cruise has come to an end. It was a magical eight days along the Danube! After a hearty breakfast and checking out with the front desk-we made our way with the Viking transfer to Munich to catch out flight home to Houston. Thank you Viking for a memorable trip! I can see why you win so many awards and have repeat guests coming back again and again!
Marianne Krivan, CTA
Senior Travel Consultant
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