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Christmas Markets Virtual
Day 1: Embarkation at Nuremberg
Day 2: Nuremberg and Danube cruising
Day 3: Regensburg
Day 4: Passau
Day 5: Salzburg
Day 6: Melk, Durnstein and Danube cruising
Day 7: Vienna
Day 8: Disembarkation
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Day 7: Monday, Vienna
ViennaWeather Report: Nippy again...another fur hat day.

It's our last full day of the cruise, and we docked at midnight last night in the beautiful and elegant city of Vienna. I received an unexpected wake-up call just about that time -- a combination of the city's bright lights and the surprisingly loud noise of the ship going through some locks.

Our walking tour, which basically focused on orienting us to the city, started at 8:30 a.m. Our first stop was outside of Vienna's famous St. Stephan's Cathedral. We weren't allowed in as a group; visiting the cathedral is free to individuals, but there's a charge for tour groups. The tour finished up at the Hofburg -- also known as the Imperial Palace -- in the heart of old Vienna, where most of the national museums are located. The tour left us with an hour and a half of free time before we were "supposed" to head back to the ship for lunch.

But in glorious Old World Vienna, we wanted to prowl around on our own. First observation: Everything about Vienna is elegant; even the Gluhwein stands and the gingerbread cookies in the local pastry shops are more elegantly decorated than those we have seen elsewhere. Expecting an elegant Christmas market as well, we walked through the Hofburg and Volksgarten gardens to the main Christmas market at the Rathaus or Town Hall, only to be disappointed. Aside from the world's largest advent calendar decorating the windows of the Rathaus, the offerings at the market were definitely mass-produced and on the tacky side, rather than the elegant handmade goods we were expecting.

Disenchanted and hungry, we found a terrific coffee house/pastry shop called Cafe Lehmann on Graben place between Stephansplatz and the Hofburg and enjoyed a Viennese lunch (little meat sandwiches and salads), coffee and, for dessert, the Viennese classic -- Sacher Torte, a sumptuous chocolate cake. We also found a European gourmet food store nearby on the corner of Graben and Kohlmarkt which had virtually every European delicacy we were looking for and couldn't find at home (fabulous mustards, teas, French cookies). Then it was back to the ship in time for the optional excursion to Schonbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Habsburgs, which is modeled after Versailles (albeit on a much smaller and more manageable scale). We toured about 25 of the magnificent rooms, all of which are a beautiful cream white decorated with gold leaf. Many of the original furnishings and paintings remain, giving us a taste of royal life.

In front of the palace was yet another Christmas market, and this one was more along the lines of what I was expecting. Elegantly decorated booths, illuminated by festive Christmas lights, lined the palace courtyard and offered a nice selection of goods, many of which were unusual handmade crafts. St. Nicholas arrived and handed out small gifts to the children while Christmas carols played, and the backdrop of the palace made for a romantic setting. The market was a manageable size and not too crowded, so I enjoyed my shopping experience there -- a nice ending to our Christmas markets tour.

Tonight's highlight was a Viennese concert, the second of the two optional shore excursions. The classical music (along with some opera), played by a small ensemble, was as exquisite as our surroundings -- a lovely setting in the private residence palace of the family of Augsberg. It was a perfect way to end our day in Vienna and our cruise down the Danube.
Day 6: Melk, Durnstein and Danube cruising red arrow Day 8: Disembarkation

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