Saturday, September 22, 2018


Cruising the Danube: Part 1 of 3

The Danube River originates in Germany’s Black Forest, courses through ten European countries and past several UNESCO World Heritage sites before tumbling into the Black Sea.  

Some of these photos may be worth clicking on to expand for a bigger view.

Catholics and Protestants warred here, as did Russians and Nazis.  In between Mozart and Strauss found inspiration.

On the other hand, some may not.
I’d only visited Europe once before.  There’s so much yet to see in the United States and the west, I have often averred.  Yet, when the Viking Cruise Line long boat river tour catalog somehow arrived in the mail, within minutes that thought was forgotten.  And it’s a good thing that it was.

Here are a few photos and thoughts:

Days 1 and 2:  We arrived in Budapest (pronounced BU-da-PESCHT) Hungary a day or two early in an effort to combat the nine-hour time difference.

The city is really two cities with the historic Buda part on the hilly west side of the Danube and the flatter, larger Pest portion on the east.

The historic Chain Bridge links the two sections. Bombed to destruction during the pitched battle between the Russians and the Nazis in WWII, the span has been rebuilt in a manner that captures its historic beauty.

Dominating the western portion is St Stephan’s Cathedral, also refurbished since those dark days.

Of note: Franz Lizst (Hungarian Rhapsodies) lived and worked here, founding a school attended by Bela Bartok who inspired Richard Rodgers – or was it Oscar Hammerstein? – to produce at least one song nearly all school kids in the world probably know.

Heading upstream to our next destination, we find ourselves sharing a lock with a ship sailing for another company called the Vivaldi. Viking, I know, operates on this river nine months out of the year.  I am left to wonder if the Vivaldi runs all Four Seasons.  (Pause for rim shot.)

Day 3: Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, the tiny country formed when, as a result of the bloodless Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia split in two.  We would visit the Czech Republic later in the week.

Bridges crossing the Danube can be graceful, historic or simply utilitarian.  Through this example, we see Bratislava’s signature historic castle.

A walking tour introduced us to monuments dedicated to those who won and those who lost through time…

… and those who ridiculed those in power.  

(What about this tribute to Hans Christian Andersen’s tales looks painfully familiar today?)

Day 4: We arrive in Vienna, Austria in the morning: a new port with new things to explore.

Viking offers many bus and/or walking tours of the ports of call.  Our touring Vienna, we visited the opera house wherein the works of Mozart and Strauss likely premiered.  Under renovation, its exterior was cloaked in canvas.

This historic European capital houses embassies from countries throughout the world, with only the US embassy dramatically encircled by steel barriers and fences and with an imposing modern checkpoint in front of an 18thcentury facility.  Unlike the diplomatic posts for Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Italy and so many others, I didn’t feel I could just walk into my own and say “Howdy.”

We could, however, visit one of the many Hapsburg Dynasty castles that dot what used to be the domain of that family.

Evening found us swept away by the music of Mozart and Strauss, incredibly in the very city where these two accomplished much of their work.

In the darkened hall, my right hand’s hidden orchestra conductor began to direct this talented group of classical musicians until Candi gently grabbed it and slipped it under my seat.  (I must admit that I direct the orchestra often from the front seat of the Subaru while listening to the local classical station.  It’s a curse known as D.U.I.M. with the M standing for Mozart and it is not a vehicle code violation, but it should be.)

Day 5: Krems is a delightful village located in the Wachau Valley.  

Towering above is the 900-year-old Benedictine Gottweig Abbey.  

The view from the abbey is astounding and its presence reminds us of the long history of the Catholic Church along the stream course of the Danube.

While most of our river travel occurred at night so we could fully enjoy each next day’s adventures, we disembarked Krems at 2:00 in order to enjoy a scenic cruise through a pastoral stretch of the Danube.

History abounds, but I must admit that I was wearying of castles and churches.

Commerce along the river is interesting and I wonder if the captains of the tugs that push barges up and down the river realize how beautiful the place is where they work.

Or is this simply an early iteration of what we now refer to as an interstate?

Day 6:  Linz would be our jumping off point for a bus excursion behind the Iron Curtain. Imagine that!  As a child of the Cold War era, to me, it still seems impossible.

Crossing from Austria into the Czech Republic was as easy as crossing from Butte County into Glenn, and easier than passing from Placer County into El Dorado because there’s less traffic.

Just a single strand of wire paralleling a dirt track.

Our destination would be a 13thcentury village the name of which spell check won’t let me type.

Nestled along a river bottom with a castle atop a nearby hill, Cesky Krumlov was spared during WWII due to its dearth of economic or strategic value.  Falling under the fist of post-war Russia, development – at least in the western sense – was stunted.  

Strolling the streets, we get a little more genuine feel for pre-westernized Europe may have felt like.  But development is on the way, we are told.  Not sure whether to cheer that.

Day 7: Passau, Germany is our terminal port.  The city rests at the confluence of three rivers.  We are shown that in years of heavy rain, flood waters can rise to incredible heights and have since the mid-1500s.

First floors are routinely flooded although most low-lying building have flood control panels that can be inserted into window sills and doorways to prevent water from entering.

The high ground church has nothing to fear in this regard.

What we did have to fear, however, was a drought that hasn’t allowed meaningful rain in the Danube drainage since last April. An unheard-of record.  Mid-summer voyages along this route found the river too shallow for navigation and had to be bussed from one long ship to another.  Certainly, just part of the adventure, but one we gladly did not have to realize.

Ironically, the about 175 of the 192 of passengers on the Viking Hermod this trip were citizens of the only country in the world not to sign on to the Paris Climate Accords.  Woulda served us right if we’da had to walk.

Day 8:  With an early wakeup, we are bussed from Passau to Munich where, after leaving an iPad at security by mistake, we embark on a 20-hour journey home.  Note to self:  See if this travel can be broken in half if there is a next time…

I do not consider myself a world traveler.  There’s so much to see right here at home. But stumbling onto that Viking Tour catalog and settling on this trip proved to be a most delightful experience.  The cruise line plans every detail.  The accommodations are clean and comfortable.  The staff seems never to tire.  The number of fellow travelers is relatively small.  The food is terrific.  They never let you run out of wine.  And you only have to unpack once.

Viking’s Danube Cruise may be the trip of a lifetime. Or, it could just be one of many more similar trips to come.


Part II of this little series will be a retelling of the dramatic transitions through which citizens of the Czech Republic were drawn from about 1938 through the early 2000s as shared by two lovely and strong women we met along the way whose families lived it.

Part III may be a US/Europe compare and contrast essay.  

Thanks for visiting and stay tuned.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. So I'm not the only one conducting while driving my Subaru! Good to know I'm not alone driving and conducting in all Four Seasons.

  2. You brought back fond memories of our Viking cruises. So glad you enjoyed your cruise. We often go a few days earlier and then stay longer or do a back to back cruise!