Europe

Day 17: Sailing the Danube from Bratislava to Budapest

Since we left Bratislava early, most of the day was focused on sailing the Danube.

During the day the sailing is not the most exciting at some points of time. There are a lot of swans along the Danube at some points, which I did forgot to take a picture of. One thing I noticed along the Danube is the amount of logs and sometimes garbage floating along in areas. It is amazing at times there is no damage from the large logs floating in the water to the riverboats.

2015-05-29 13.20.05 2015-05-29 12.58.19

One thing though I really want to note is to be careful of the sun along the Danube. I actually got really burned this day and my arms were bright red for only being in the sun for such a short time. I was a bit surprised since I got the worst of the sun out of my Mom and myself. This probably was not the best way to end a trip to Europe I will say since I had no aloe with me!

This evening we did bring one of our own bottles of wine we had bought in Passau to dinner. There is no issue on Viking bringing your own wine, which is a good thing since there wine was pretty below average. We of course had another bottle of Gruner Veltliner with us that evening, which we had bought a few days back in Passau.

2015-05-29 18.57.22

During dinner the view along the Danube was fantastic. The most amazing part of the day was the evening sailing towards Budapest. At one point we passed Esztergom and Visegrad during dinner.

10991255_10155584457220324_4637694675291171640_n

Around 10pm was when the Viking Baldur started to see the lights of Budapest. This is definitely not to miss and I recommend getting up on the Sun Deck before everyone else does. We lucked out and got a prime spot on the front of the Sun Deck. Viking did serve schnapps up on the Sun Deck that evening, which was a bit different tasting. Not really sure if it was schnapps or something else all together!

The almost Chuck Norris or Colbert bridge!

The almost Chuck Norris or Colbert bridge!

11391362_10155584458035324_769784263488287266_n11209581_10155584461280324_2990539729177381737_n

11391541_10155584459135324_222318308030096988_n 11329850_10155584459775324_6678649327865203912_n 11247080_10155584461695324_2570822170664688130_n 10385405_10155584461990324_534723694684354627_n

11127714_10155584461815324_3287478597038049215_n

10356138_10155584458445324_3736257530598638062_n 10397819_10155584459330324_7260771167797201849_n

Day 17: Bratislava, Slovakia

11257211_10155582451020324_8944071834838544621_n

Bratislava was the last stop of our river cruise before Budapest. Our time in Bratislava really was too short, which made it disappointing since Bratislava seemed like a really neat city. The few hours we had really were not enough time to see what Bratislava had to offer.

This day we actually took the tour offered by Viking. There actually turned out to be two separate tours offered this day: the first tour included a bus tour up to the presidential palace (also known as the white house) and then this tour included the walking tour of Bratislava; the second tour was only a walking tour of Bratislava, which was supposed to be a faster paced tour (yeah right…). Since we were really tired of taking buses, we decided to go with just the walking tour.

I have slightly mixed feelings about the tour because some moments felt extremely dumbed down. I did really like Bratislava though even with the bad tour.

The tour started out with a long-winded explanation of the Schengen Agreement because no one on the tour really knew what it was, which amazed my Mom and myself since this agreements is well known among travelers. Once the explanation was over in the former Passport Control building, the tour finally headed out into the city.

The tour took us throughout the streets of Bratislava where we saw some of the monuments and then later went to St. Martin’s Cathedral. During the tour though a lot of focus from the tour guide was on unnecessary items. At one point the tour guide even explained what a wheel clamp was, which I can’t figure out why she did since wheel clamps certainly are not unique to Bratislava. Also a lot of focus was on the embassies around the city for some reason, which the other passengers were obsessed with.

11393207_10155582422030324_4421953475297363362_n

11391132_10155582421050324_9065287379220825258_n 11351211_10155582421285324_4845904928619196173_n

11144792_10155582425100324_5465948303927657065_n

One of the major sites we visited was St. Martin’s Cathedral. The cathedral was interesting since there were a lot of different things to look at inside. The cathedral is the oldest and largest church in Bratislava. From the 1500’s to 1800’s the cathedral was actually used for coronations.

11392796_10155582424085324_614138884883917663_n

11204411_10155582426285324_8975528019382402254_n 11391773_10155582434720324_2201982970562431389_n

11079682_10155582432020324_1908083794523165859_n 11329803_10155582441875324_200023874754969386_n 11391773_10155582433920324_7900243469010598522_n

The cathedral was also built over a cemetery dating back to the 11th century. Since then three crypts have been discovered here. One crypt is actually accessible to the public and can be entered from the inside the cathedral. Also some of the cemetery underneath the cathedral has been revealed as well.

11295597_10155582433640324_7214966609404311818_n 11350655_10155582443515324_2398951603853448870_n

The tour was really disappointing I thought and I felt like we missed out on seeing Bratislava. Before going to Bratislava I did not know it was an easy city to walk, so we just stuck with the tour offered by Viking. If we had known this was an easy walking city, we would have skipped the Viking tour because a lot of time was wasted on this tour with longwinded explanations. Plus the tour guide wasted 15+ minutes on a bathroom break. When the time is limited to begin with and the tour is less than 1 and a half hours, a bathroom break really eats into the tour time. I’m starting to think catheters or adult diapers may need to be a requirement for Viking on some of these tours to avoid the forever and a day bathroom breaks.

We did ditch the tour after the forever bathroom break. We walked around the main square area on our own and then walked into some of the little shops on the way. There looked like a lot of unique shops in the area plus lots of little sidewalk cafes too.

11215163_10155582452315324_4357351928448201216_n 11119303_10155582451260324_9167292123530073489_n

One thing I thought was amazing is a lot of people onboard did not like Bratislava. One person complained of graffiti, which is ironic since Germany had a lot of graffiti as well. According to Caitlyn (program director), Bratislava is a love or hate city for a lot of passengers. I can’t figure out why people dislike Bratislava since it is easily accessible and offered a lot to see. I really would like to go back to Bratislava one day to better explore what the city and Slovakia has to offer.

Day 16: Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

Now that I’m back home, I wanted to finish the last few posts that I ran out of time to complete.

On May 28 we were in Vienna and this day we skipped all the Viking excursions. Viking does offer a variety of excursions in Vienna. The included excursion had two options, one was more of a bus tour and the other tour was walking only that utilized public transportation. Additionally, an alternative excursion was offered by Viking for no charge that was on Art Nouveau. During the afternoon there were two optional excursions offered, one to Schönbrunn Palace and the other a market tour with the chef. In the evening Viking offered two additional excursions, the Mozart concert or a backstage tour of the Vienna boys choir (both tours were very popular, though neither interested me at all).

Instead of taking the included tour in the morning, we had planned before to go to Schönbrunn on our own that day. I didn’t feel like the optional tour offered by Viking included enough time at Schönbrunn. A couple days before we arrived in Vienna we mentioned to Caitlyn (program director) that we would be going out on our own. She offered to go over the transportation with us to Schönbrunn. Even though I had looked at the transportation beforehand, we really appreciated her willingness to help us. When we sat down with Caitlyn she went over exactly how to get there and actually gave us tickets for the metro in Vienna.

2015-05-28 11.56.54

This is where we validated the metro ticket we were given. Each station has one near the entrance.

Before leaving on the river cruise we purchased tickets ahead of time for Schönbrunn at the palace website. We actually purchased the Sisi ticket for €28. The ticket was valid for one year from the date of issue and provided a fast-track into the museum (which skipped most of the major lines). The ticket provided access at Schönbrunn to 40 rooms, which are part of the Imperial Tour and the interior rooms of Maria Theresa. Additionally the ticket does provide access to Hofburg and the Imperial Furniture Collection, which we just did not have time to go to.

How to get to Schönbrunn from the riverboat docking location:

Once you disembark your riverboat, you will take a left and walk towards the bridge. When you get to the bridge you will walk up the stairs and take a right towards the city, not the water. You’ll then walk along the path until you get to the first street light. At the streetlight you’ll see two entrances to the metro station, one on the left and one on the right. This metro station is Vorgartenstr. (Vorgartenstraße). Stay on the same side of the street you are on and take the metro on the right side, if you go to the entrance on the left you will be on the wrong line direction to get to Schönbrunn. Once you head down the metro stairs you can either buy your ticket or validate one you may already have.

The metro line you will want is U1, which is the red line. You will take the metro line that says Reumannpl. not Leopoldau. You will only take the U1 line for three stops and get off at Schwedenpl. At Schwedenpl. you will switch to the green line, U4, which is easy to find from the signage provided. You will want to get on the green line headed to Hutteldorf. You’ll stay on the metro for 9 stops and get off at the stop called Schönbrunn, which is right near the palace. For the metro, you just need to know the last stop on the line to figure out which direction to take.

To get back to the riverboat docking location you will take the same metros., but instead of the U4 line to Hutteldorf, you’ll take the U4 line to Heiligenstadt. Then the U1 line to Leopoldau, instead of Reumannpl.

It took us around 30 minutes with the metro to get out to Schönbrunn and once there it was about a 10 minute walk from the metro station. Now one thing to note, it is better to get out there early. We were about an hour later than we had planned since we did not get moving fast enough in the moring. By 10am Schönbrunn was already packed with numerous tours and was getting busier by the time we left. (Just a side comment, we were told by someone that May was busier with tourists than previous years. Even the Wall Street Journal wrote an article about a massive increase in tourists to Europe this year).

11377239_10155579766595324_894475299311974894_n

Schönbrunn Palace is the former imperial summer residence and has 1,441 rooms. The design of the palace is in a baroque style and is considered an important architectural monument in Austria. Originally the grounds were a hunting estate for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II, when he purchased the grounds in 1569. From 1638 to 1643, Eleonora Gonzaga added a place to the former Katterburg mansion on the property that then became known as Schönbrunn, though the present form of the palace did not exist until later. The palace was built in remodeled in 1740 to the 1750s by Empress Maria Theresa, whose influence is seen throughout the palace.

Going through Schönbrunn on our own was very easy and an audio guide was included. We passed on the audio guide and took the reading material instead, which made it easier to get through the palace since it was wall-to-wall people already and hard to hear at times. Inside the palace you are not allowed to take photos and this was strictly enforced. We saw a few tourists being told off a couple times who had taken photos.

Once we finished touring the castle we walked around the gardens. One garden has a fee to enter so we did skip it. We probably spent around 40 minutes looking at the gardens. One odd thing we noted was the gardens were full of weeds and the grass desperately needed trimming. I was a bit surprised by this since the gardens are such an important feature at Schönbrunn.

11164764_10155579765570324_8202095393665328065_n

Just one of the garden sections filled with weeds and the grass needing to be cut

11255020_10155579768640324_4508841073967310462_n

  11052427_10155579765860324_7319767725994981078_n

11350890_10155579769700324_317236190886309596_n

After leaving Schönbrunn we headed back to the metro. Instead of heading back to the ship we took the metro to Karlsplatz and switched lines to the red line and got off at Stephansplatz. This area has a lot of shopping and restaurants, and is considered the center of Vienna. The main site to see here is Stephen’s Cathedral.

11216575_10155579773535324_7437829264708434716_n

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is influenced by both Romanesque and Gothic design and was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV. The cathedral actually stands on the ruins of two earlier churches. Construction commenced in the 12th century and the cathedral is considered to be the most important religious building in Vienna. Many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history took place here.

10955522_10155579774945324_2668673968145874839_n 10487174_10155579774580324_8615373505077005196_n

Originally I had planned on taking a catacomb tour here, but would have had to wait for the tour for awhile. I figured I’ll be back to Vienna one day and will do it then. Instead we paid around €5 to take the lift up to one of the towers, which provided fantastic views of Vienna and of the architecture of the cathedral.

11295587_10155579778635324_6255666270123831429_n 11257571_10155579778400324_7531092579173149633_n  10933747_10155579770640324_2493718697248588731_n 10502028_10155579778280324_2016938463613178940_n

After leaving the cathedral we stopped at one of the nearby cafes and had a dessert and coffee. We then walked around the area and shopped at a neat market that surrounded the church. Both my Mom and myself ended up purchasing some glass jewelry, which was very unique. From here we headed to the chocolate store that sells Mozart’s balls, well chocolate balls with Mozart’s face on them. After this we then headed back to the riverboat for the evening.

1780689_10155579770840324_871118825285058527_n

Day 15: Melk & Krems, Austria

Before the river cruise we had received an itinerary change noting we would not be stopping in Krems. Once on board though the itinerary changed back to the original itinerary with a stop at Melk in the morning and Krems in the afternoon. The best part of the day I think was sailing through the Wachau Valley.

The first stop at the day was for the abbey in Melk. Really I’m not a huge fan of churches, cathedrals, or abbeys, so for me I could have easily just skipped the tour. The Melk Abbey is about 900 years old and was rebuilt in the 18th century after the original building was destroyed in a fire.

IMG_0378 IMG_0386 IMG_0407

Now the end of the tour was a bit odd because the tour guide left the tour in the library and didn’t walk us to the chapel. The tours actually can’t be conducted in the chapel, but she never showed us where to exit the abbey or when to be back to the bus to the ship. Later we did talk to one of the main people on the Viking Baldur who did say the guide pretty much screwed up and should have walked us to the chapel, told us the bus schedule, and showed us the exit before leaving. There definitely were older people confused and lost here because of a couple poorer tour guides. Overall this was a bit odd since nothing was ever said about time schedules. Once we found Caitlyn, the program director, we were given the opportunity to either walk down to Melk or go back to the riverboat.

Once at the riverboat we still had to wait out the time for the Viking Baldur to start heading down the Wachau Valley. I felt like we were in Melk for hours since we didn’t leave until around 2pm. A lot of people arrived back to the boat quickly after the abbey tour or free time in Melk.

In the late afternoon we finally started down the Danube through the Wachau Valley. Along the way we passed a lot of small towns and vineyards. Finally we were able to sit on the Sun Deck since this had been closed throughout most of the cruise. Before arriving in Krems, everyone actually had to sit down on the Sun Deck due to a very low bridge. The bridge actually could be touched easily if standing up.

535945_10155572736005324_3416348570195533994_n

11377310_10155572736730324_6885600510785705673_n

Sailing past Durnstein

11200825_10155574155290324_8710210458718194562_n

Around 3:45pm we arrived in Krems where shuttle buses were offered to the town center. We did hurry off and got the 4pm shuttle, which filled very quickly. A shuttle was offered at 4pm, 4:30pm, and 5pm to the center with a shuttle offered back to the Viking Baldur at 5:30pm, 6pm, and 6:30pm.


After arriving in the center we walked the main shopping street and were probably done within 30 minutes. I don’t know if we missed something, but there literally wasn’t much to see or do. Some stores were already closed by 4:30pm and some were completely empty for lease. I did end up buying a scarf I thought was cool from a store that reminded me of typical stores geared towards my age at home. While walking back to the shuttle bus stop, we did come across a schnapps store that we hadn’t notice before that sold apricot schnapps. The schnapps was pretty tasty and both my Mom and myself were compelled to buy two bottles to take home. Instead of taking the shuttle back we did walk back to the riverboat. The walk probably took about 15 to 20 minutes from the town center. The boat did stay in Krems until late in the evening.

Just an additional note, dinner on the Viking Baldur was Austrian themed that night. The dinner was partial buffet and then you ordered the entrees. None of the food items excited me so we decided to eat in the Aquavit Terrarce. Well you can’t escape Austrian night on Viking! The same meal was served there too. The presentation was very nice and I will give compliments to the chef for making an interesting dinner, but I will admit German and Austrian food really doesn’t excite me. I was able to order a steak from the anytime menu and I do believe I was the only person to do this that night. Actually the anytime steak on Viking was really good and I’m happy I tried it. It was much better than anything I’ve been served on anytime menus from other cruise line.

Overall this day was pretty uneventful and rather on the boring side. Some people were thrilled by it while both my Mom and myself agree the ports could easily be skipped. I personally felt Melk and Krems were a waste of time that could have been spent elsewhere, like an extra day in Vienna.