A Danube River Cruise
The Danube flows from Germany to The Black Sea, a journey of 2860 km through 10 countries. The river carried us some of the way in June 2006, when we sailed from Vienna to Bucharest as spoilt passengers on the riverboat Victoria Amazonica (Beatrice).
On the way we visited small and big cities in Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. This is the diary from 11 days of cruising through a part of Central and Eastern Europe.
Friday June 16th 2006
The plane lands in Vienna Friday before noon, and a tourist bus drives the company into town. A cruise on the Danube seems to attract the older clientele, and with one exception we are the youngest of the 36 - I guess. I whisper to Helle that we'll blend in better if we buy two walking sticks.
Sights and Draught Beer
Before we go to the ship we are taken on a tour in Vienna by a local guide who speaks Swedish. The first stop is at the Hundertwasser house. It is pretty with its happy colour combinations, roof garden and distinctive architecture.
I can see why it is a tourist attraction with a café and souvenir shop just across the street. However it must be strange for the residents to see turned up faces whenever they open a window to the street.
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Belvedere castle is pompous, but I wonder why the guide lectures under the blazing sun, when there is shadow a few metres away?
Helle and I seek the shadow where the view over Vienna is just as good. We cannot hear the guide from here, but her Swedish is difficult to understand anyway, and we shall remain happily ignorant of deceased Austrian princes.
Back in the city centre we get 1½ hour on our own. Lunch or explore? Neither, it turns out. We walk a bit in the vicinity of the Albertina square.
We are not hungry, but the heat has made us thirsty, so on impulse we drop into an Australian pub. Instead of getting sights for our money we settle for local draught beer. We were up early and need to relax.
M/S Victoria Amazonica
The pub is very close to Albertina square, where we are picked up and taken to the ship, M/S Victoria Amazonica ("Beatrice"). The ship is docked in Nußdorf 30 minutes drive from the city centre and will be our home for the next 10 days.
The ship's orchestra (2 men) plays on the jetty and the crew carries our luggage to the cabin. The cabin is small (8.5 m2), but very practical. The ship was overhauled recently and is very nice.
There is a reception, restaurant, lounge with a bar, and a sundeck with optional shadow. There is room for 90 passengers, and there are 23 crewmembers to cater for our needs and do the practical stuff.
At half past four there is an info meeting, where Best Travel's tour guide, Søren Wormslev, gives us the necessary practical information. He is kind, calm and clear and makes a good impression.
After Søren's introduction the other passengers enter the lounge. They are all Americans and for most of them youth is but a memory - in that sense they are like the Danish group.
While we sip a Danube-blue bubbly the ship's cruise manager presents the crewmembers. They all wear ironed uniforms and give an impression of style and efficiency. After the presentation we relax on the sundeck until dinner is served at 18:30.
The menu is fish terrine, asparagus soup, rolls of veal, and fruit salad. There is a salad buffet, but the vegetables served with the main course are canned. So is the fruit salad. We are a bit disappointed, but luckily the kitchen later proves to be much better, and the Serbian white wine (Chardonnay) is excellent.
There is a nice breeze on the deck and after a pipe it is time to explore the bar. We study the list of drinks. Prices are reasonable, and "Plane water" will probably be served when we leave for the airport. The ship's orchestra (electric organ and violin) plays evergreens. We are exhausted after a long day, and when the girl starts to sing we find the cabin.
Second Day in Vienna
Saturday June 17th
We do not sleep well. Even with the air condition running the cabin is hot and humid. I am on deck before 7 to have a pipe and a cup of early bird coffee.
Many riverboats and barges pass on their way to or from Vienna. Some are East European rust heaps, while others are passenger ships like our own or bigger and even more luxurious.
Morning Exercise on the Chess Board
An American lady puts cushions on the sundeck and does her morning workout - right on the big painted chessboard, which is usually a field for intellectual exercise. She is shielded from our curious eyes by the big box with chess pieces, but from time to time we get a glimpse of red toenails castling in the air.
I noticed her last night when she toured the deck with tightly crossed arms. Round and round she went climbing over the chain that is supposed to keep passengers away from the fore deck. A nervous type. She is small and thin with a chaotic 'morning hair' that must take forever to disarrange. The enormous glasses cannot hide the telltale signs of age.
After breakfast Søren helps everybody buy tickets for the tram in a kiosk and get us into town. Some visit The Spanish Riding School, but we will not pay 2 x 12 € to see horses practice. Instead we find the neighbourhood around Stephansdom.
There are many special shops and stately buildings. It is impressive, but almost too pompous and mundane to be cosy - despite the many street cafés.
We look for a supermarket, but in this neighbourhood it is easier to find palaces, fashion clothes, fashion shoes, jewellery and antiques. In a side street we get a good espresso, and at last we find a Spar-market where we buy some treats to sweeten the lazy hours. At half past eleven we take a tram back to Nußdorf. We have walked enough and it is getting hot.
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On the way to Nußdorf we pass the colourful district heating plant by Hundertwasser. As we pass through the suburb with its teeming life, houses and useful shops, we agree that this would be more fun to explore.
But it is too hot now, and we spend the time after lunch on siesta and relaxation on the deck. One should not forget to relax when on holiday! We could have joined an extra tour to the Schönbrunn castle, but preferred the sundeck.
Dinner is cauliflower gratin, Madrid soup, schnitzel and banana with whipped cream. With 3 courses for lunch and 4 for supper this could become a 3-kilo-trip.
At 19:30 the bus leaves for a concert in Palais Auersberg with the Wiener Residenz Orchester. The palace is beautiful with marble and busts of Roman emperors. A broad staircase with a red carpet leads to the first floor and the salon.
The program is Mozart and Strauss - popular music. However to the pieces by Mozart in particular there are too few strings (3 violins, a cello and a bas). The impression is charming, but there is too much icing and too little cake.
On the way back the bus follows a scenic route through the illuminated Vienna. Søren guides simultaneously in English and Danish. His knowledge about Vienna is impressive.
After a couple of drinks in the bar we go to bed and say hello to another hot and humid night as the ship sails for Bratislava in Slovakia.