Viking's Grand European Tour
It was time (last year) to decide on this year's holiday. We had been on a sea cruise to St Petersburg but didn't like days at sea seeing nothing but water – and it wasn't the kind you could mix with scotch. Then we read about Viking's “Grand European Tour”. Fifteen days calling in at fifteen ports, with organised trips and walks in each port, each day. That, we thought, would be less boring than a sea cruise.
So we booked. The total price was £8,549, certainly not cheap. And this was for a smaller cabin! But we were only going to sleep in it, so we decided to spend the money we saved on a larger cabin (or Stateroom as Viking calls them) on an extended stay in Budapest at the end of the trip.
We had read that it was all inclusive, so took the plunge. The following daily details have been taken from their brochure, with a few additions, and I will give much more information on how we found the trip at the end of “Day 15”.
We caught our BA flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam around 11am, but by the time we got through Customs and were met by the Viking representative who took us to the boat, it was about half past two. We left our luggage at the boat's reception and, although we were invited to wait in the boat's lounge, we walked along the river to the rail station where we withdrew some of our Euros from our CaxtonFX Card. On returning to the boat at 3pm we were told we could go to our cabins where our luggage was already in place. A good start and a favourable impression of Viking River Cruises, afterwards we'll refer to the company simply as Viking.
Day 1 Amsterdam
|Our boat, taken near Melk|
You might visit P.C. Hooftstraat, the popular upmarket shopping street often referred to as “Amsterdam’s Rodeo Drive.” You might also want to visit the Anne Frank House, which is open late most nights, where Anne wrote her famous diary chronicling her experiences while hiding from the Nazis.
A concierge was available with information and suggestions about how to spend your time in Amsterdam.
Day 2 Kinderdijk
|Guess what this is!|
After breakfast, we went on an organised excursion in the picturesque Dutch countryside of the historic Kinderdijk area. Built in the mid-18th century, the collection of 19 windmills that we visited here (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). They provide an intriguing glimpse into Holland’s past. We were allowed inside one of the working windmills. Families that live in these mills are required to keep them in working order. As we crossed the dike from our boat to the windmills, we noticed these were in fact at a lower elevation than the vessel: much of this part of the Netherlands is below sea level. We then returned to the boat and began sailing towards Cologne.
We gathered this evening to get acquainted with our Programme Director and travelling companions at a Welcome Reception before the Welcome Dinner aboard. The boat sailed through the night.
Day 3 Cologne
|Cologne’s magnificent Gothic cathedral|
The rest of our day was at leisure for us to explore this lovely city on our own. Cologne was once a Roman settlement called Colonia Agrippina. You can still see fragments of Roman ruins in some parts of the city, and the Roman Tower near the cathedral was once part of the medieval town walls. The city also boasts Romanesque churches, a Renaissance city hall and the remnants of an ancient Jewish mikvah (ritual bathhouse).
There are many popular museums in Cologne including Museum Ludwig, devoted to modern art, which displays one of the largest collections of works by Pablo Picasso. Here you will also find museums catering for many interests including the Fragrance Museum Farina House, which claims to be the birthplace of Eau de Cologne, and the Schokoladenmuseum, dedicated to chocolate-making.
The boat remained docked here until late in the evening, so we went ashore for an evening stroll after dinner.
There was an optional tour to visit a beer house but, as Pam couldn't drink alcohol, we decided against it..
Day 4 Koblenz & Middle Rhine
We arrived in Koblenz and began our tour of Marksburg Castle. Set high above the hill overlooking the town of Braubach, the castle is the best preserved on the Rhine. Built with remarkable fortification, it was never besieged by enemies and therefore appears much the same as it did when it was built approximately 700 years ago.
|Our German guide pretending to be a British Aristocrat|
We set sail during lunchtime. The Programme Director pointed out the little towns, castles, ruins and other sights along the river, from the famous Katz and Maus Castles to Pfalzgrafenstein fortress that sits on a rock in the middle of the river.
We learned about the famous robber baron from Katzenelnbogen, which intriguingly means “cat elbows.” and cabin number Enjoyed scenic cruising as this is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine. We passed the Lorelei, a legendary rock formation rising 440 feet above the river.
Just after dinner that night, our boat left the Rhine River and begin its journey up the Main River, a tributary which flows into the Rhine at Mainz. We then sailed through the night to Miltenberg.
Day 5 Miltenberg
We spent a relaxing￼ morning aboard enjoying the passing scenery as the boat sailed along the meandering Main River.
During our tour we also saw the town gates and caught a glimpse of the castle, perched high over the roofs of Miltenberg. During our free time, we visited a local wine shop and saw the local Franconian vintages and stopped at a bakery for a Bavarian pretzel. In the old town, many businesses operate in much the same way as they have for generations. We arrived at our boat in Wertheim where it had sailed during our excursion. The boat then set sail during dinner to Würzburg.
|Glass blowing about our boat|
The exhibition continued for over an hour and had us spellbound.
A lot of his work was for sale and I purchased a set of six schnapps shot glasses, beautifully made, with a hole for your finger towards the bottom of the glass.
The schnapps flowing around the hole.This has been tested many times since we returned and they are holding up well!!
Day 6 Würzburg
|One of the many residencies|
This former residence of the Würzburg prince-bishop was designed by architect Balthasar Neumann and built over a 70-year period, beginning in 1720. Both the massive reception staircase and overhead ceiling are considered to be masterpieces of design, made even more impressive by the Venetian artist Giambattista Tiepolo’s stunning “Four Continents” ceiling fresco. We saw several of the building’s ornate rooms, each representing a different style and highlighted by the Mirror Cabinet, painstakingly reconstructed after falling victim to massive bombing during World War II.
We spent the rest of our day at leisure exploring Würzburg on our own. This Bavarian city holds a wealth of sights and we saw some of the countless churches built in a range of architectural styles, and visited the municipal art museum that exhibits fantastic regional paintings and sculptures from 22 different European countries.
We enjoyed dinner aboard the boat and cruised through the night.
Day 7 Bamberg
We relaxed and enjoyed the river in the morning as we cruised along its many turns and passed by many small towns. We eventually arrived in Hassfurt around lunchtime and disembarked for a tour of Bamberg with its medieval city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|Ve vil walk, watch and enjoy|
Day 8 Main-Danube Canal & Nuremberg
Tragedy, of sorts. We had been warned earlier that the water levels where the boat entered the Danube were unusually low and our boat couldn't get through. There was a sister ship further down the Danube at Passau, travelling the other way which couldn't get through either. We were told to pack our cases but leave them in the cabins and our cabin numbers would be the same on the boat at the other end. When we finished our tour in Nuremberg and travelled by coach to Passau, our luggage was in our cabins when we returned. As it was an “Act of God” there was nothing to do but wipe the sweat from our brow.
We spent the early morning cruising through the Main-Danube Canal. This engineering marvel stretches 106 miles from Bamberg on the Main River to Kelheim on the Danube. Begun as Charlemagne’s dream in 793, it was completed in 1992 with 16 locks that raise the water to 1,332 feet. Connecting the Main and Danube Rivers, today it enables continuous river travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
|Hitler held his infamous rallies here|
Day 9 Regensburg
We had breakfast aboard and some people caught a coach back towards Regensburg, normally the boat would have docked at this town at lunchtime if the water wasn't so low.
After lunch, they met their guide for a walking tour through one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saw the gleaming spires of Gothic St. Peter’s Cathedral with its stained glass windows, the Old Town Hall and the 12th-century Old Stone Bridge, Germany’s oldest bridge.
They had time to take a stroll through town, admiring the many notable buildings, churches, and 13th- to 15th-century homes. Visited Schloss Thurn and Taxis, the residence of the Thurn and Taxis family that was once known as St. Emmeram’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 739. Others sampled Regensburg’s signature dish, sausage and a roll with sweet mustard, at the 800-year-old Alte Wurstküche (Old Sausage Kitchen), Germany’s oldest restaurant before catching their coach back to our boat in Passau.
|On board our river barge|
Day 10 Passau
We saw the impressive Bishop’s Residenz, 14th-century Town Hall, and the town’s magnificent 17th-century St. Stephan’s Cathedral, containing Europe’s largest pipe organ.
After the tour, we attended a thirty minute organ concert before lunch.
The rest of our afternoon was our own; we explored the narrow streets and quaint shops in Old Town. Our boat departed in the late afternoon.
After an enjoyable dinner aboard we cruised through the night.
Day 11 Melk & Krems
This morning, the boat sailed through a beautiful untouched stretch of the Danube called the Strudengau.
|The Abbey's main hall|
The interior of the abbey’s church is a kaleidoscope of red, orange and gold, with a magnificent carved pulpit and shimmering ceiling frescoes.
We also saw the imperial rooms, which are now home to a museum chronicling the Abbey’s history from its inception to modern times.
We returned to our boat for lunch and sailed through the Wachau Valley, heart of Austria’s wine country. This area is filled with cultural and historic importance, and is of such unsurpassed beauty that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We docked in Krems in the afternoon. Our boat remained docked here until about midnight, so we were free to explore this charming town on our own. (Alas my camera battery died so I couldn't take any photographs there.)
Day 12 Vienna
|The very expensive shopping area|
We returned to the boat for lunch, and enjoyed an afternoon exploring on our own. We declined a ride on a traditional horse-drawn fiaker, but sampled some mouthwatering Viennese strudel pastry in a pavement café. Our boat remained docked until the early hours as Bratislava was very close.
Day 13 Bratislava
|A castle we later visited|
On the tour we visited the Old Town, where we saw beautiful St. Martin’s Cathedral, Michael’s Gate with its 15th-century tower, the Main Square, aristocratic palaces, the baroque Jesuit Church, Rolland Fountain representing Knight Rolland and the National Theatre.
We returned to the boat for lunch and sailed for Budapest.
This evening we gathered to toast our memories and said farewell to new found friends during the Captain’s Reception and enjoyed the special Captain’s Farewell Dinner.
|Sailing into Budapest towards midnight|
We approached Budapest at around eleven o'clock in the evening. The city was brilliantly lit up giving an opportunity of taking some lovely photographs.
Day 14 Budapest
Our boat docked close to the Elizabeth Bridge or the Chain Bridge on the Pest side of the city.
We disembarked after breakfast for a tour of Hungary’s lovely capital. The Danube 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 Andrássy út where we saw the National Opera House and Heroes’ Square. Saw other landmarks, including the Parliament, before crossing the river to the more traditional “Buda” side of the city. Here our tour highlighted the massive hilltop castle complex with its turreted Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church. We also saw the famous Chain Bridge and Elizabeth Bridge, two of many that connect the two halves of this vibrant city.
|Horses were fearless of the whip.|
On the outskirts of Budapest, near the edge of the Puszta region where the cowboys herd their sheep and cattle on horseback, we were greeted by these fearless horsemen and enjoyed a traditional Hungarian Pálinka (brandy) and Pogácsa (biscuits).
Then we were treated to a horseman exhibition where young riders control their horses with only bridles and the cracking of six-foot whips. They must treat the horses very kindly or the horses would have cringed at the loud cracks of the whips.
They use no saddles or stirrups—the horse and rider are as one in a display based on trust between the two. After the show, we visited the stables. We returned to our boat for dinner aboard.
Day 15 Depart
After breakfast, everyone disembarked and transferred to the airport for the return flight home, or carried on to wherever else they were going. We stayed in Budapest for three days, but didn't see very much as we were totally exhausted.
On the plus side
Not only was everything included – not the bar; but wine or beer was included with lunch and dinner – there were little extras which we found made life easier and/or more interesting. Every day, in the cabin, a new bottle of water was added, whether we finished the previous bottle or not.
The cabins were fully made up every morning and we had clean towels whenever we needed them.
In the evening, in case we had rested on the bed, they were smoothed down so were unruffled when it was time to retire.
Whenever we went on a tour we were all given a bottle of water and, when the weather was inclement, a large Viking umbrella. And when we returned from a walking tour we were either met by the chef with a tray of sweetmeats or the receptionist with a tray of drinks.
Every night in the cabin we were given a double page “newspaper” showing the times and happenings for the following day. In addition, a précis of what was happening in various countries were available at reception. I didn't read the UK one as I didn't want to spoil my vacation.
There was plenty of entertainment during the evenings with a resident pianist. Everyone loved Bobbie on our first boat, and his evening playing was soft and lovely. If you were still up at eleven o'clock, he would start the Rock 'n' Roll going!
Sasha, our Program Director was absolutely terrific, keeping an eye on the pulse, always where he was needed. Half German, half English, and living in Italy, he was very adept with languages.
No cheap flights, British Airways chosen. No unearthly hours, Heathrow to Amsterdam and Budapest to Heathrow both late morning.
On the minus side
Exhausting. Took us three days to recover.
Expensive laundry returned prices, during the fifteen days I paid over 200 Euros. Mainly shirts, blouses and underwear. It was handed in during the morning and returned to the cabin by the time we got back from local tours during the late afternoon.
We took hundreds of photographs
We have put all our photographs on the cloud so if you'd like to see them, send me an email (email@example.com) with your name and I will send you a link. Approximately 450 cut to 6x4.