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 On the Danube with Viking River Cruises

Danube Cruises with Peter Deilman
Waltzing along the Danube with Viking River Cruises

by Roger Allnutt

If you were to believe Johann Strauss you would expect the River Danube to be blue.

Despite the fact that it is many decades since it was other than a rather muddy grey – author Anthony Burgess described it as like “dishwater” - a cruise on the River Danube is a very pleasant and relaxing way to see and experience some of the loveliest scenery in eastern Europe together with plenty of time to include short sightseeing trips to historic capital cities along the way including Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.

There are numerous companies offering cruises along the Danube and I recently spent a week on one of the ships of Viking River Cruises.

Their ships usually start from the German town of Passau close to the border with Austria and include a number of stops at places along the Danube, the itinerary being slightly different for each ship. My seven-day cruise included Melk, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Durnstein before returning for disembarkation at Passau.

Some trips can be done one way; for example Nuremberg to Budapest or vice versa and there are trips right through to the Black Sea.

The ships used on the Danube, for example Viking Danube and Viking Sky, are a well-designed ‘catamaran’ style with the highest standards of safety and comfort. Due to the number of bridges that the boat has to go under and also the locks that have to be negotiated, the cruise ships are long and low to the water. The ships have spacious outside cabins; the two upper decks have large windows that open. The ships have one restaurant (meals are served at one sitting), a panorama lounge, sauna, whirlpool and swimming pool, bars, small library and souvenir shop and a selection of DVDs for use in cabins, internet station and a sun deck. All meals are included and the amount and range of food is quite daunting. There are some cabins suitable for disabled passengers.

I joined a cruise where the passengers were mainly German speaking apart from a group of Australians. Commentary was in both German and English – many passengers prefer the multi-language cruises given the mix of passengers. Some ships on the Danube are English-speaking ships only (popular with Americans, British and Australians).

On the Danube with Viking River Cruises

During the warmer weather of summer and early autumn the sun deck is a popular place from which to watch the passing scenery – the other boats on the river, people fishing on the river bank, the many cyclists on the bike path alongside the river, the lock system, the vineyards stretching up the hillsides, and the old castles perched on rocky outcrops above the water. Compared to the Rhine and some other major rivers in other parts of Europe the amount of river traffic is relatively small especially once you get downstream from Vienna.

Our first stop was at Melk for a tour of the imposing monastery-fortress with its amazing library, collection of religious artefacts, ornate chapel and reception hall. The old town below the monastery is an attractive mix of narrow alleys and small shops. Melk is the start of the beautiful Wachau region of the Danube, past hillsides covered with vineyards and forests and old castles on many vantage points, to the old medieval town of Krems.

The city tour of Budapest included a visit to the Heroes’ Square and Millennium Monument, Opera House, and famous St Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion high on hill overlooking the Danube from the Buda side. The Grand Market was full of fresh produce, a dazzling array of salamis, cheeses, fruit and vegetables and packets of paprika from Kalocsa. This quaint town is south along the Danube from Budapest and the best-known centre for the production of paprika in the world.

Bratislava is the beautiful capital city of Slovakia close to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and only a stone’s throw from the border with Austria. The highlights of the tour of the compact old town include Bratislava castle, the art-nouveau Reduta Palace (now the city’s concert hall), Primate’s Palace with its Hall of Mirrors where Napoleon signed a peace treaty in 1805, and lovely Michael Tower. If you are lucky your schedule may coincide with an opera performance at the Opera House; prices are ridiculously inexpensive compared to nearby Vienna.

On occasions the amount of water in the Danube can preclude the ship going downstream beyond Vienna or Bratislava and if this occurs buses are used for the visit to Budapest.

The city tour of Vienna highlighted the major sights including St Stephen’s Cathedral, Opera House, Hofburg Palace and other imposing mansions on the Ringstrasse. For those in need of a calorie fix there was time for a quick coffee and a rich cake at one of Vienna’s many famous cafes. There was also time for optional visits to Schonbrunn Castle or an evening at Grinzing.

It is worthwhile arriving a couple of days early at the embarkation port of Passau (or allow time at the end of the cruise) as this German town, at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz Rivers is a most attractive place. The view over the town from the fortress Veste Oberhaus high above the confluence of the rivers is spectacular.

Dominating the old medieval town, with its narrow streets and alleyways, is the baroque cathedral Dom St Stephan that has one of the largest church organs in the world – all 17,388 pipes. Regular organ recitals are held there during the summer season and the internationally renowned ‘European Weeks’ is regarded as one of the best festivals in Europe. Among the many museums the Passauer Glasmuseum has an amazing collection of over 30,000 pieces of Bohemian glass encompassing the styles, designs and techniques of the glassmakers between 1700 and World War II.

Photos courtesy Viking River Cruises

Viking River CruisesViking River Cruises, the world’s largest river cruise company, offers scenic cruising along the rivers of Europe, Russia, China and Egypt. The company has been honored multiple times as the top river cruise line on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Gold List” and Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” Awards.

Roger Allnutt on the Danube with Viking River Cruises
Roger Allnutt is a freelance travel writer based in Canberra, Australia, and a long-time member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. He travels widely around the world researching material for publication in newspapers and magazines in Australia, New Zealand, US, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Roger is happy to accept commissions and can provide material on many parts of the world. He can be reached at [email protected]

His other interests include food and wine, classical music and theatre and playing tennis.

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