River Cruise

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.

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sailing past Durnstein

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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.

Day 14: Passau, Germany

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Today we actually disembarked from the Viking Baldur and now at the hotel in Budapest, which made for the easiest time to update the end of the blog for the river cruise. Meant to do this sooner but the last few days have been a bit busy at times or poor Internet connection. Four days ago we were in the river cruise port of Passau, Germany. This was actually our last German port of the river cruise before heading to Austria.

In Passau, the Viking Baldur was docked right in town near the main little shopping area. Passau is known as the City of Three Rivers, where both the Inn and the Ilz join the Danube. We were actually docked next to an AMA boat at one point during the morning and later on we were next to an Avalon boat. Today there was a walking tour offered by Viking, though we decided to skip this. The tour basically just walked around the city and saw the main sites from the outside. At noon there was a free organ concert as St. Stephan’s Cathedral through Viking. To go you had to sign up for tickets the night before and since we did not know our timing for the next day, we did pass on the concert.

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Passau is very easy to walk around on your own to see the sites. We headed off the riverboat right after breakfast and walked past the Church and stopped inside for a bit. We luckily avoided running into any tour groups during the day. St. Stephan’s Cathedral actually contains the largest pipe organ in all of Europe. From here we headed towards the location of the town hall of Passau, which is from the 14th century.

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After walking around for a bit we did a little shopping in Passau since there are a few unique shops here besides the couple junky tourist shops by the river. One thing to note in Passau is many of the shops did not take credit cards at all. This actually was our first place coming across this the entire cruise, so definitely have cash on hand if you plan on doing any shopping in Passau.

One of the first places we stopped at was a spice store called Gewurz Depot. The store actually was recommend by Viking but was interesting to walk through. There were a lot of unique spices, which I can’t find in Miami. I did buy a bruschetta and African spice mixes. These probably weren’t the typical things to buy in Germany but something I will use at home. Next we headed to the other recommended shop right next door, which was a marmalade and jam shop. Here there were a few samples to try of some locally made and imported jams and marmalades. I did end up buying a kirsch amaretto jam to take home that was absolutely delicious.

After looking at a couple shops we headed back to the boat to drop off our purchases but on the way stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant since the riverboat was redocking after the AMA ship left. We lucked out on our timing at the restaurant since it wasn’t busy and it started to rain. We were able to eat outside since some of the restaurant had a covered glass patio. I ordered their hefeweizen, which I believe was made on site while my Mom had a glass of Gruner Veltliner wine. We both ordered the same meal of the wiener rostbraten, which is basically a Vienna steak with braised onions. The meal came with a salad and pommes frites. The lunch was good but I will say the meal was rich due to the sauce and was a bit salty.

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Once we dropped off our purchases we did head out again to walk around. We found a couple wine shops near one of the bridges and bought two bottles of Gruner Veltliner (currently one of our favorite white wines right now). This style of wine is primarily from Austria, but is actually starting to come out of the Unite States as well right now. To me it is a drier white that can sometimes have flavors of apple to grapefruit, depending on the vineyard.

After buying a couple bottles of wine I found a really unique liquor store where you could get bottles filled of liquors and spirits from around the globe. Of course being the typical pattern of the trip, I did end of buying a small bottle of cherry flavored vodka to take home. This actually was relatively inexpensive for about €7. From here we headed back to the riverboat and called it a day.

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Day 13: Regensburg, Germany

Sailing on the Danube

Sailing on the Danube

Yesterday we were in Regensburg and had planned on skipping the tour and walking around the city. Well best plans did not happen due to a delay in transiting locks. The Viking Baldur was not able to make it to Regensburg in the morning since there was a delay in transiting a few locks due to a high amount of traffic on the Main River.

Since there was a delay, Viking arranged for busses to meet up where the Viking Baldur would temporarily dock to allow for tours to go ahead to Regensburg. Well we really did not feel like taking another bus ride so we decided to stay on the boat, which actually turned out to be the best option. First off yesterday was a national holiday in Germany, secondly the transit of the Main and Danube was gorgeous, and third it absolutely poured in the late evening and everyone was then soaked who went on the tour!

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One of the low bridges!

One of the low bridges!

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It was nice to have the Viking Baldur to basically ourselves for the day. At one point in the afternoon we decided to have a couple glasses of wine and sit out on the open deck during the transit. This was a nice relaxing way to spend the afternoon away from people. Even though we really didn’t see Regensburg we really needed a break from touring.

We are really enjoying Gruner Veltliner. It is a fantastic white wine.

We are really enjoying Gruner Veltliner. It is a fantastic white wine.

About 5 hours, the Viking Baldur arrived in Regensburg. Now this was rather interesting since it started to pour and everyone who went on tour had to walk back to the boat. Since it was pouring everyone was soaked from head to toe. Now it did become entertaining to watch people trying to get on the boat since there were a lot of men trying to cut the line and get on the boat before others. This was rather comical way to spend the evening. Also the piano player made it more entertaining by playing Stormy Weather, Singing in the Rain, and Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head.

Heading into Regensburg before the rain started

Heading into Regensburg before the rain started

Even though we missed Regensburg, it was nice spending time on the riverboat and having time to relax.

So one additional thing I wanted to note was about the television in the cabin. On the television you can access both the bow cam and lounge cam. The lounge cam is interesting since any talks in the lounge are then transmitted live into the cabin. Also it is more interesting since the camera is always on and people on this boat seem to forget it is live. Well this is a good way to people watch, especially sometimes in the evening. Last night was probably one of the most entertaining evenings on the cruise since it felt like an episode of the Love Boat, though I don’t recall a 30-year age difference on the Love Boat. Definitely some handsy moments and smooching were caught on the cam last night!