Our European Adventure – Part 2

Here we pick up where Our European Adventure – Part 1, left off:  Chris and I had been bouncing around Europe on our own for a week. But now, we were about to meet other passengers to board a ship in Budapest and begin an eight-day Danube River cruise.  

A Problem

That was the plan, anyway.   But a few days prior, we had started receiving emails from the cruise company informing us of a problem:  Because of the long, hot summer, water levels on the Danube River were low – too low for the ship to make it to Budapest.  And perhaps too low for it to even reach Vienna.

It was almost certain, they said, that we would spend the first three nights of the cruise in hotels instead of on the ship.  And instead of sailing, we would be going by bus.

I was very disappointed.  I had been looking forward to cruising the Danube River, not riding a bus.  But every cruise company on the Danube was facing the same problem.

So we checked out of the hotel where we’d been staying in Budapest and into the hotel that the cruise company had booked for us to replace our first night on the ship. 

Good News!

The hotel that the cruise company had booked for us was the Hilton on Castle Hill.  It was a five star hotel.  And once I saw the location and stepped inside, I started feeling like this was a pretty darn good replacement for our first night on the ship.

Not only was it nicer than anywhere we would stay on our own, it came with a fun history:  Although constructed in 1976, it was built around the remains of a 13th century church and cloister.

So little pieces of ancient history were sprinkled all over the public spaces of this hotel.

Hilton Budapest
An ancient wall is incorporated into a hallway at the Hilton in Budapest.

Next we met our cruise director, Alex, who gave us some good news:  Conditions on the Danube had improved.  And, although we would travel by bus to Bratislava tomorrow, we could board the ship when we arrived.  No second night at a hotel!

No More Going it Alone

From this point on, we were firmly in the clutches of the river cruise staff.  I don’t particularly enjoy traveling in a pack or being told how I will spend my day.  But we’d been on our own for a while now, so it was actually nice to let someone else do the thinking for us.

And one thing I do enjoy is being pampered.  And on a river cruise, that definitely happens!

That evening, all of the ship’s soon-to-be passengers boarded a bus for dinner at a restaurant out in the Hungarian countryside.  There, we were entertained with traditional Hungarian music and dance.

I was even pulled from the crowd to mix it up with the dancers!

River cruise experiences

Luckily they kept it simple for me.

The next day, we headed by bus to Slovakia.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, or Pressburg as it was once called, had been the capital of the Hungarian kingdom.  Later, it was under the rule of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian empire. 

St. Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava
St. Martin’s Cathedral, where Queen Maria Theresa, from the House of Habsburg, was coronated.

Since Bratislava is fairly close to Vienna, it has a strong musical history.  This is where Mozart performed as a professional when he was only six years old.

Bratislava, Mozart
Mozart was here.

Later, Bratislava fell in (under duress, as our local tour guide explained) with the Nazi regime.  And, of course, it fell under Communist rule. 

More recently, it saw the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, which split into two separate countries: Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

And Slovakia chose Bratislava as its capital city, making it currently the youngest capital city in all of Europe.

Now, Bratislava is enjoying a bit of independence.  And, because of a strong auto industry, it is thriving.

To me, the city was a fun mix of old and new. 

It has a vibrant and user-friendly old-town district with charming shops and cafes.

Bratislava

 

 

Bratislava artist

And its own UFO (with a restaurant inside) atop a bridge.

Bratislava's UFO bridge and tower.
Bratislava’s UFO bridge and tower.

Vienna

Next stop:  Vienna!  Chris and I had spent several days in Vienna on a previous trip.  Since we only had a day here this time, we skipped the guided tour and revisited our favorite place:  The Museum of Natural History.

This is where science meets stunning interior architecture.

Museum of Natural History, Vienna

 

Museum of Natural History, Vienna

The displays are interesting and unique.  (They even have a coelacanth – that rare fish previously thought to be extinct.)  But between the architecture and the Edwardian-era display cases, this museum always makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. 

And speaking of time, we never seem to have enough of it when we visit here.

Museum of Natural History, Vienna
The coffee shop in the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

 

That evening, we joined other passengers to  attend a concert in a small venue.

Vienna concert

We would sail on later that night and wake to a very charming small town.

But let’s stop for a moment here and talk about the cruise ship itself.

Life Onboard the Ship

We were on one of the more budget-friendly cruise lines.  In fact, as I mentioned in Part 1, the whole reason we’d decided to do this was that we’d found such a great deal on a river cruise.   

Since it was a budget cruise line, I didn’t really know what to expect.

But we were pleasantly surprised.  The deal we’d found came with an upgrade to a “balcony cabin” – although the balcony was really just a huge window with a slider.  Still, I loved the big windows and fresh air.  The cabin was larger than we’d expected and nicely appointed with lots of storage.

River Cruise Experiences

Every evening, the schedule for the next day would be waiting for us in our cabin.  The schedule made it clear that we would not go hungry:  There was early breakfast, breakfast, lunch, tea time, happy hour, a four-course dinner, and a late-night snack.

Between the meals, the tour itinerary, and the onboard activities, we were kept busy.

River Cruise Experiences
Cocktails and scenery on the top deck.

And we were making new friends.  Sometimes we’d spend the day with them, sightseeing, and sometimes we would just meet up later, over happy hour or dinner, to share the experiences of day.

Often, the ship sailed at night, and we would awake to a  new location in the morning.  I usually left the curtains open so that, whenever I awoke during the night, I would see new scenery. 

Sometimes it was just the water reflecting the moon.  Sometimes it was a little town.

And sometimes it was a wall of concrete – because there are ship locks on the Danube.  Lots of them.  

One day while we were going through a lock, I stuck my camera out the window to catch this guy climbing out of the lock chamber. 

Going through locks on the Danube
Hurry up, guy, not much room to spare here!

Now let’s get back to that cute little town where we were headed.

Dürnstein

Dürnstein’s claim to fame (besides being absolutely adorable) is that, in the 12th century, Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in the castle here and held for ransom.  

The castle is now in ruins and accessible by a hiking trail from the village.  To us, it was definitely worth the scramble.  We started out early to get ahead of other tourists.

Durnstein Castle

 

Durnstein Castle
Perhaps Richard the Lionheart was kept in here.

Views from the castle were gorgeous.

View from Durnstein Castle

And the area was surrounded by vineyards, some of them within the old defensive walls of the town.

View from Dürnstein Castle
Vineyard in Dürnstein with the Danube River below.

Back in town, we wandered the beautiful little streets.  Old-world charm was everywhere.

Durnstein

 

I didn’t have much luck staying out of the shops.  They were all so adorable.

Dürnstein

But it was time to get back to the ship and sail along the Danube to Melk.

Melk, Austria

The big attraction here is the beautiful and impressive Melk Abbey, which sits, of course, on a hill above the town.

Melk Abbey

Touring this huge Benedictine abbey was a fun way to spend our afternoon.  We learned about all the aesthetic changes that had taken place over the ages – and why they happened.

From there, we had a spectacular view of the city and river below.

View from Melk Abbey

But my favorite part of the abbey was the garden with its lovely Baroque pavilion.

Melk Abbey Garden Pavillion

Inside was a darling coffee shop.  And although I will show you an even cuter (in my opinion) coffee shop later in this post, this one was a close second.

Melk Abbey coffee shop

We chose to walk back to the ship (instead of taking the tour bus) so we could get a quick look at the town.  It would have been nice to spend a little more time here.

Melk, Austria

But we had to sail on.

Linz, Austria

Our day in Linz was slower paced, which was a welcome change by now.  After a brief guided tour, we spent the day with a couple of our newly found friends checking out the town center.

Linz, Austria

Then we all rode a tram to the church (which is called Postlingbergkirche) that sits on the hill above town. 

The tram was filled with locals of all ages ready to enjoy their day – because up on the hill there was also a zoo – and restaurants, coffee shops, and other sweet little discoveries.

Linz, Austria

Linz is the home of the famous Linzer Torte, and near the church we found a coffee shop where we could sample this delicacy.

Passau, Germany

I have one more city to show you – Passau!  It was raining when we visited, but I still loved this city.

Passau, Germany

Passau is called “The City of Rivers” because it’s situated on a peninsula where three rivers converge.  This strategic location has been populated since at least Roman times.

Passau
Mail delivery on the narrow streets of Passau.

But the city has an old nemesis:  Floods.

The flood gauge on the side of this building shows you how bad it can get.

Passau

As you can see, the year 1501 was a humdinger.

With all this water damage, it stands to reason that Passau would have some of the quirkiest cobblestone around.  This is not the place to wear stiletto heels!

Passau Cobblestones

Passau is home to the gorgeous St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Passau

In it is the largest pipe organ in Europe.

But more importantly, just around the corner from the cathedral, Chris made a surprising discovery.  While I photographed the town fountain, he ducked into an out-of-the-way coffee shop to get some change.  And what he saw made him come rushing back to show me.

He had found it:  The most charming coffee shop either of us have ever seen!

Stephans Dom cafe

Of course we had to sample their cakes.  Research, you know.

Cakes at Cafe Stephan’s Dom, Passau

And this is where I will leave you for now – in Passau on a rainy day, enjoying cake and coffee in the cozy surroundings.

The final installment of my Europe trip is coming soon.  In it, we’ll be driving to two cities that are near and dear to my heart – and I’ll share some of my travel tips!  

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3 Replies to “Our European Adventure – Part 2”

  1. I rarely comment anymore because I’m usually on the bus when I read your fabulous blog. This time I read it at a leisurely pace and I just have to say, thank you so much for sharing your experiences in this wonderful way! Your photos are exceptional. My favorite is the white tower on the river in Passau, with the green water and deep grey sky. Makes me want to paint it or something. Maybe I will!

  2. I always pore over those European river cruise brochures with longing but at the same time knowing I would never go. And now I kind of feel like I’ve been!

    1. Jane, you never know. I never thought I would actually go on a river cruise either. I”m glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you do that painting!

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