As time marches on and the COVID-19 vaccines become more widely given all over Planet Earth, international travel is slowly going to begin once again, after about a year of virtually grinding to an absolute halt. As previously stated, I certainly hope my bride, Ms. Debbie and I, will be part of those hopeful visitors, traveling to many exciting locations far, far away.
One of the more traveler-friendly (in terms of minimal effort) forms of international travel available is the classic river boat cruise. Once you disembark (i.e., board) one of these luxurious vessels, your common hustle/bustle/worry issues are gone for the length of the time you are on the rivers. The particular adventure I will expand upon in this installment, is the first one my bride and I experienced several years ago, appropriately named the Grand European Tour. Our vendor was Viking River Tours, but many vendors, Uniworld, AMAWaterways, Scenic, Tauck, Crystal, Avalon, etc., are experienced, and will all provide the traveler a memorable trip. This itinerary is usually 15 days in length, either direction, from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Budapest, Hungary.
This route travels through five countries on three rivers; the Rhine, Main and Danube. Our particular cruise, which we enjoyed along with our dear friends, Barb and Bob from Indian Rocks Beach, FL, was the north to south route, so we began in beautiful Amsterdam. We spent a couple of pre-cruise days in this jewel of a world city, getting acquainted with the area, including the thousands of bicycles everyone rides everywhere! The sight of people riding them, or seeing the masses of bicycles parked in every conceivable location, was truly mind-boggling. Engine-powered vehicles are definitely in the minority in their city center.
We took an extensive tour of their incredible canal system, seeing the vast array of houseboats from the inside and outside, the beautiful Rijksmuseum displaying the Dutch masters’ work, and the famous Van Gogh Museum next door. We had a outstanding visit to the historic Anne Frank house, too. For sheer beauty, we visited Keukenhaf, just outside the city. This area is popularly known as “the spring garden of Europe” where over 6 million tulip bulbs were in bloom, displaying brilliant colors as far as your eye could see! Working windmills dotted the beautiful area landscape, too.
Next, we were off on the Viking River Boat, heading south on the mighty Rhine River, with our first stop in iconic Cologne, Germany. Here we toured their famous Gothic cathedral, the iconic central city, and finished the day tour at a traditional German beer garden. Even though this city is heavily populated, it serves as a perfect
example on how easily we stopped there, as our vessel docked only a short distance from the main section in the city. This feature is MUCH different than most ocean-going cruise ship’s abilities, distant docking/anchoring at their various ports all over the world.
For the next few days, our ship cruised by many historic German castles along the upper/middle Rhine, while we always enjoyed easy port stops. We leisurely saw sights in several ancient German towns; Koblenz (Marksburg Castle), Wertheim (glassblowing tradition), Wurzburg (Bishops’ Palace), Bamberg (Town Hall), Nurenberg (Hitler said was “the most German of all cities”), Regensburg (a UNESCO site), and Passau (patrician houses). Our adventure then took us on the Main River, and its many lock systems to raise or lower our ship. That “locking” experience was incredible, with only a few inches to spare, as we looked out our windows in our suite, only to be able to see the concrete sides of the locks immediately in front of us!
Our water trip then took us on the Danube River into Slovakia, then Austria. In Slovakia, we stopped in colorful Bratislava, and enjoyed all their unusual street sculptures. In Austria, we toured the renowned Benedictine Abbey in Melk, before spending a full day in spectacular Vienna. This is an enchanting city full of music (attended a private concert), saw the iconic Hapsburgs’ Schonbrunn Palace, and ate a famous chocolate tort in an outdoor central city cafe, during an ideal weather afternoon.
Off to our final country to visit, Hungary. We cruised into Budapest (twin cities of Buda and Pest on opposite sides of the Danube) at night, and the way the cities were brilliantly lit, it appeared we were entering “Disneyworld” from the water. Our entrance was certainly impressive! When we docked, we were positioned on the far outside of 3 other parked river boats. That necessitated us having to walk across all three other vessels in order to get to the shore. That was a strange experience for sure!
After spending the next full day touring Budapest, we were taken to their airport early the following morning, boarding our international flight. We then flew across the large European continent, next the vast Atlantic Ocean, and finally, half way across America to Our Town.
All the way home and all the time since then, we have had the memories of our first river boat cruise experience, What a personal happening!