Monday, September 10th — We stayed aboard the ship in Budapest for our first night. Today, like other days, we have a choice of a continental breakfast on the terrace, or a breakfast buffet in the Viking Treya restaurant — we chose the buffet. Every breakfast starts with a shot glass of a fruit flavored smoothie — this morning it was peach. Very good. They serve fruit juice and coffee at the table. Plus you can order eggs/omlette (cooked how to like them), pancakes and/or french toast, and then go to the buffet to get a variety of cheese, sausages, cereal, potatoes, pastries, fruit and more.
We took the 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM Budapest City Tour (free) via bus – four buses were used for the up to 190 passengers that went on the tour. Budapest is Hungary’s lovely capital. The Danube, which goes into the Black Sea 1650 KM below Budapest, cuts through the heart of the city, separating the Buda Hills and the Old City from the elegant boulevards of modern “Pest”. We started in Pest with a ride along the Andrassy Ut where we saw the National Opera House, Hero’s Square and other highlights including the Parliament before crossing the river to the more traditional “Buda” side of the city. A highlight was the massive hilltop castle complex with its turret Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. We also saw the famous Chain Bridge (ship was parked very near it) and Elizabeth Bridge, two of many that connect the two halves of this vibrant city.
We returned to the ship for lunch, and then skipped a couple of optional tours (extra $) in the afternoon, and elected the “leisure time” option by staying on the ship!
We had a wonderful dinner. The beautiful lights of the city were magnificent as the ship departed Budapest at 8:45 PM.
(pictures to come)
Sunday, September 9th: Today we moved from Prague to Budapest. We arranged for a private driver to take us the 550 km (341 miles). If we had booked the Prague portion of the trip with Viking Cruise, their bus trip would have taken eight hours, but our driver safely drove us on the divided road sections at up to 150 km per hour (up to 93 mph) and we made it in 5.5 hours (7:30 AM to 1 PM)!
We were able to board the Viking Freya river boat at 1 PM and get into our room at 3 PM. The Viking Freya is 425 feet long, 35 feet wide, holds 190 passengers and 50 crew members.
In addition, we will be traveling 1,000 miles through seven countries, on three connected rivers, and 67 locks.
There was a 6 PM orientation, followed by a wonderful dinner at 7 PM — wine and beer is free with both lunch and dinner!
(watch for pictures soon)
Saturday, September 8th: Getting into sync with the nine hour time difference. Another great hotel breakfast. Today we toured Old & New Town Prague with our personal tour guide. Little need for lunch, but we did stop for a mid-afternoon snack of a small scoop of ice cream with cookie wafer at a restaurant that was frequented by Albert Einstein.
We stepped into the Old Town Square in Prague and journey back in time, 600 or 700 years. As you stand in awe, the dramatic history of Prague permeates the air. The Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) is one of two main squares in Prague (Wenceslas Square is the other, just 5 minutes walk away).
With its ancient buildings and magnificent churches, this is one of the most beautiful historical sights in Europe.
Dating from the 12th century, the Old Town Square started life as the central marketplace for Prague. Over the centuries buildings of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic styles were erected around the market, each bringing with them stories of wealthy merchants and political intrigue.
The Old Town Square’s most notable sights are the Old Town Hall Tower & Astronomical Clock, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn and St. Nicholas Church.
At the center of the Old Town Square is the Jan Hus statue, erected on the July 6th, 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of the reformer’s death. The groundswell of supporters for his beliefs during the 14th and 15th centuries eventually led to the Hussite wars.
To fully appreciate the beauty of the Old Town Square, we climbed the Astronomical Clock Tower for a stunning view over old town.
The New Town in Prague has a misleading name – it was actually founded by Charles IV in 1348, following his coronation as king under the Holy Roman Empire. Consequently, the New Town (Nové Město) has historic buildings and squares, around which much of the modern development of the city has taken shape.
Wenceslas Square lies at the heart of the New Town, and is a vibrant area of hotels, shopping, commerce, restaurants, entertainment and nightlife.
Charles Square and Republic Square are other notable areas in the New Town.
The New Town covers a sizeable area. It wraps right around the Old Town on one bank of the River Vltava (across the river is the Lesser Town and the Castle District. Together these 4 areas form the city centre of Prague).
The New Town is an ideal area to stay in. It has an intriguing history, but is graced with more modern hotels and amenities than elsewhere in the city. It also has excellent metro and tram connections.
And as Prague is a compact city, walking from the New Town to the Old Town or Lesser Town is easy. Indeed Wenceslas Square is only 5 minutes from the Old Town Square, the centre of the Old Town.
Back in the 14th century, with the construction of the New Town, Prague became the third largest city in Europe.
Wenceslas Square was laid out to serve as the city’s new horse market, Charles Square as the cattle market, and a hay and straw market was set up at Senovážné Square – the modern day Vodičkova and Jindřišská streets still interconnect these three squares.
Residents of the overcrowded Old Town and the areas surrounding Prague, flocked to the New Town to build houses and establish businesses.
Great churches were erected, the New Town Hall was constructed, and more large squares laid out – all within a period of just fifty years.
As part of the construction, at the end of the 14th century the Royal Court Palace was built next to the Powder Gate, one of the original 14 entrances to the Old Town.
King Wenceslas IV even made the Royal Court Palace his main residence, and the city’s rulers continued to live there for another one hundred years, before transferring to Prague Castle in 1483.
In 1911, Municipal House was built on the site of the Royal Court, and today forms the centre piece of Republic Square.
We finished up the day, our stay in Prague and our September birtbdays with a meal at a five-star restaurant, followed by a long walk along the river back to our Hilton Hotel — dodging marathon racers at some road crossings!
(watch for pictures soon)
Friday, September 7th, 2012: We enjoy a wonderful breakfast in the hotel — hotel rate include breakfast — and caught up on email.
We then met our guide in the lobby at at 9 AM, and talked about what we would like to see today. Our adventures for today will be the Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge — estimated to be about three to four hours. Prague has a very extensive transportation system — a subway system (Metro) that we did not use and a very interlaced system of electric trolly cars (trams) running on tracks in the cobblestone streets. We took two trolly cars for 24 Kc ($1.20) per person to get to the castle about 5 km away.
The Prague Castle has been a seat of Czech rulers, kings, Holy Roman Emperors and later presidents since the 9 th century. It is the largest ancient castle in the world. There are many important historical buildings in the area of the Prague Castle – such as the monumental St. Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, the originally Romanesque St. George´s Basilica, aristocratic residences and many more. The Prague Castle has been rebuilt many times through the centuries, so it is a splendid mix of architectural styles. It is situated on a hill on the left bank of river Vltava and it makes the typical beautiful Prague panorama.
Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is a 14th century stone bridge linking the two sides of Prague. This magnificent structure is one of the city’s finest attractions, and is the main pedestrian route connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town (Mala Strana) and Prague Castle.
From Charles Bridge visitors enjoy fairy-tale views of the Prague skyline. The wide expanse of the river flows beneath it, flanked on both sides by elegant buildings. Prague Castle towers above in its eminent position. Here you are truly in the centre of the city.
Charles Bridge throngs with people during the day. Street artists sketch and musicians play; look out for the jazz band, who are particularly entertaining. But for a truly romantic and less crowded stroll, try early morning or any time in the evening.
King Charles IV commissioned the bridge. The foundation stone was laid in 1357. Charles IV’s favourite architect and builder, Peter Parler, oversaw the majority of the work. The initial idea was to build a functional construction for knight tournaments, and for many years the only decoration on the bridge was a simple crucifix. Later, the Catholic desire for ornamentation resulted in 30 statues being erected between 1600 and 1800.
There are now 75 statues on Charles Bridge, but most are copies, as floods and catastrophes over the centuries damaged the originals. Perhaps the most interesting, as well as the oldest, is that of John of Nepomuk (8th from the right as you cross towards Prague Castle).
Near the bridge is “Locks of Love” where lovers attach a padlock to a wrought iron fence and throw the key into the river below to signify that their love for each other will never be broken. We have seen similar “Locks of Love” on a staircase railing on the China Wall.
The tour concluded after we crossed the Charles Bridge and walked to the Bellevue restaurant to make reservations for Saturday evening dinner.
We walked back through Old Town Square when we had a snack and beer, RESTED OUR FEET from 5.5 hours of walking, and walked to the Republic Square, where we decided to treat ourselves to a cab ride back to the hotel (otherwise another 20 minutes of walking). At the hotel we soaked in the hot tub, then crashed from 4-7 PM.
Hotel meal prices (other than the free breakfast) are pricy. We walked to a nearby McDonalds to check it out, then onto KFC another half block away. We found it interesting that KFC charges for ketchup (7 Kc or $0.33 for each small pouch to go with the fries)! Our two KFC meals was still cheaper than only one bowl of soup at the hotel.
Melitta hit the sack around 11 PM and I was prepping info for the Blog until 1 AM.
Wednesday/Thursday, September 5th/6th, 2012: With Stan and Ester along with us, we drove to San Francisco Airport for a United flight departing at 2 PM. To avoid long term parking, they returned to Roseville with our car, and will pick us up on Sept 23rd. On United, we had Economy Plus seats which offered seven inches more leg room. It made the flight more comfortable. Nine and a quarter hours later (30 minutes early) at 9:15 AM EST (that’s European Summer Time), we arrived in Frankfurt Germany, where we deplaned on the tarmack and were bused to their International terminal. Strange, for such a large airport. Our carry-on bags were inspected again for our Noon departure to Prague on a one hour flight. No need to take off shoes, but I did have to put remove my iPAD and place it in the plastic bin separately. Oh, yes, in SFO, the full body scan required me to be patted down and my money pouch under my shirt was found. I had to take it off, and hand the pouch with $1,000 to them for rescanning. On the other hand, the walk through a “dooor frame” type detector in Frankfurt didn’t detect my under the shirt money pouch. Prague, while it did have an International baggage claim area, did not have any active customs for “checking into the country” — just like our China trip last year. Our driver was waiting for us with a “Strandberg” sign.
It was a 30 minute ride to the Prague Hilton. Checked in and crashed for a three hour nap (since it now was late Thursday afternoon). Then we walked 20 minutes into town (Republic Square) where we ate at Kolkovna in their non-smoking section downstairs. Herb ate Pilsen Goulash made from tender beef shin with onion and fresh chili peppers, serve with bread-roll dumplings and potato pancakes (169 Kc = $8.50). Melitta had Moravian Sparrow made with pieces of pork roasted with garlic and onions, served with bread and Carlsbad dumplings, white and red sauerkraut ( 150 Kc = $7.50).
Imagine 15 magical days along the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. From Holland’s windmill-studded tulip fields to Germany’s fairytale castles, from the engineering marvel of the Main-Danube Canal to the picturesque vineyards of Austria’s Wachau Valley, this epic voyage presents the highlights of Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Savor a decadent Sachertorte in a Viennese café and panoramic views of imperial Budapest—and along the way, discover the legend of the Lorelei, the ancient art of glassblowing, the music of Mozart and more.
Day 1 Budapest (Sept 9th)
Arrive in Budapest, capital of Hungary, and transfer to your ship.* After boarding, the afternoon is yours to explore the city on your own—or join our “welcome walk” to stretch your legs and start getting oriented. (D)
Day 2 Budapest (Sept 10th)
The Danube River divides this Hungarian capital city into “Buda” and “Pest.” Explore both parts, starting with Pest’s National Opera House and historic Heroes’ Square. In Buda, stroll Fishermen’s Hill to Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Enjoy lunch aboard with the rest of the day to explore on your own. Return to your ship for a traditional Hungarian dinner. (B, L, D)
Day 3 Bratislava (Sept 11th)
After an afternoon arrival, you embark on a walking tour of Slovakia’s charming capital to see attractions like the medieval fortifications at Michael’s Tower, baroque Jesuit Church and Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral. You also pass by several baroque palaces from the Habsburg Dynasty before you return to your ship and depart late tonight. (B, L, D)
Day 4 Vienna (Sept 12th)
Ride along Vienna’s Ringstrasse, which replaced the city walls in the mid-19th century. You will also see Vienna’s world-famous Opera House, St. Stephan’s Cathedral and Hofburg Palace. Return aboard for lunch. The rest of the day is yours to further explore—as always, your Program Director can help you plan your free time. After dinner, enjoy an optional classical concert. (B, L, D)
Day 5 Melk (Sept 13th)
Today, visit the abbey at Melk, a 900-year-old Benedictine monastery featuring Austria’s finest Italian baroque architecture. See its wonderful frescoes and admire the comprehensive collection of medieval manuscripts in its library. Rejoin your ship and cruise through dinner. (B, L, D)
Day 6 Passau (Sept 14th)
On this morning’s walking tour, see Passau’s narrow streets and Italianate architecture, and pass the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress that served for centuries as a bishop’s stronghold. Then, listen to a concert on Europe’s largest pipe organ in St. Stephan’s Cathedral.† Enjoy free time and dinner aboard. (B, L, D)
Day 7 Regensburg (Sept 15th)
Arrive in Regensburg after breakfast and tour this wonderfully preserved medieval city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including structures dating back to Roman times. Discover many 13th- and 14th-century patrician houses and see the splendid St. Peter’s Cathedral. During free time, visit the Alte Wurstküche (Old Sausage Kitchen), Germany’s oldest restaurant. Cruise through dinner. (B, L, D)
Day 8 Nuremberg (Sept 16th)
During morning cruising, you may choose to attend an interesting presentation about the European Union. Arrive late morning in Nuremberg; after lunch, disembark for a tour. Visit the ruins of Zeppelin Field, used in the 1930s as Nazi parade grounds, and see the Palace of Justice, site of the famous Nuremberg Trials. See the Old Town area as you walk down past the Albrecht Dürer House and Main Market Square. Spend more time exploring Nuremberg, or join an optional World War II history tour including the Documentation Center Museum. Enjoy free time throughout the evening; dinner is served aboard. Ship departs in the wee hours of the morning. (B, L, D)
Day 9 Bamberg (Sept 17th)
Enjoy a tour of Bamberg, with its medieval city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your walking tour includes a visit to the magnificent 11th-century cathedral, reworked in late-Romanesque style in the 13th century, and the very picturesque city hall built on a tiny island in the middle of a river. Take some free time to enjoy Bamberg and sample some of the town’s distinctive smoke-flavored beer before returning aboard. (B, L, D)
Day 10 Würzburg (Sept 18th)
After breakfast, tour Würzburg’s Bishops’ Residenz, one of Germany’s largest and most ornate baroque palaces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy lunch aboard—or, take an optional excursion along Germany’s “Romantic Road” to Rothenburg, which features a turreted city wall and lovely Gothic and baroque architecture. Rejoin your ship for dinner and an evening glassblowing demonstration. (B, L, D)
Day 11 Wertheim (Sept 19th)
Wertheim is located at the confluence of the Main and Tauber Rivers. During your morning walking tour, experience life in a typical small German town. Stop in a bakery and a butcher shop, and learn about Wertheim’s glassblowing tradition. Enjoy free time to explore before returning to your ship for lunch. (B, L, D)
Day 12 Middle Rhine & Koblenz (Sept 20th)
Cruise past hilltop castles along the Rhine; this stunning stretch of the river is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You pass the Lorelei Rock, which marks the river’s narrowest point; the rock is named for a local legend about Rhine Maidens who lure sailors to their doom. This afternoon, stop to visit Marksburg, the only Rhine castle never destroyed. Rejoin your ship in Koblenz and dine aboard. (B, L, D)
Day 13 Cologne (Sept 21st)
Arrive in Cologne during breakfast, then disembark for a tour of Germany’s fourth largest city. Stroll through the Old Town past St. Martin’s Church and visit the Dom, Germany’s largest cathedral and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Use your free time to enjoy Cologne’s atmospheric waterfront before returning aboard for dinner and evening departure. (B, L, D)
Day 14 Kinderdijk (Sept 22nd)
Sail along the Rhine during the morning hours, enjoying scenic views. You can try your hand at sjoelen (Dutch table shuffleboard). Arrive around lunchtime at Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; tour this fascinating network of windmills and other ingenious flood management technologies. Return to your ship for a dinner of Dutch cuisine, and then sample Dutch cheeses and jenever, a juniper liqueur, as we sail toward Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. (B, L, D)
Day 15 Amsterdam (Sept 23rd)
After breakfast, disembark and proceed to the airport for your return flight.* Or, extend your journey with 2 additional nights in Amsterdam; take time to explore the city’s neighborhoods, museums and exciting nightlife. (B)
On Wednesday, Sept 5th, 2012 we will leave SFO airport for three days in Prague, then down to Budapest to board the Viking Freya on Sept 9th for a 14 night river trip to Amsterdam. We plan to make daily blog postings with a couple of pictures each day and our experience. We hope you join us each day.
Herb & Melitta