When I floated the idea of sharing a week-long Viking cruise down the Danube River with my longtime pal Jayne, we conjured similar takeaways: tantalizing glimpses of fairytale castles from a sun deck lounger, the chance to visit three capital cities and five separate countries in the heart of Europe, and plenty of pastries and pretzels - both on and off the ship.
What we hadn’t imagined: the balmy evening we strolled a few minutes from our ship’s dock to clamber across rooftops and snap “Alice in Wonderland on acid” selfies at an interactive art installation.
- Day 1: Meeting the Danube in Passau
- Day 2: Exploring Passau, Heading to Linz, Austria
- Day 3: A look at Linz, Austria and Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
- Day 4: Cruising the Wachau Valley to Krems, Austria
- Day 5: Waltzing through Vienna, Austria
- Day 6: Bratislava, Slovakia
- Day 7 and 8: Bidding farewell in Budapest
- Want to learn more about a European River cruise?
Though the Viking Ullur’s initial docking space was about a 15-minute drive downriver from Passau’s Altstadt, or Old Town, free shuttle buses ferried embarking passengers for an afternoon “welcome walk” among a warren of pedestrian-only cobblestone lanes and candy-colored, flower-festooned buildings. Settled more than 2,000 years ago, Passau suffered a devastating fire in the 17th century. But with wealth gained from trading in salt (known as “white gold” for its ability to preserve food), Passau’s burghers hired Italian architects to rebuild the city in a Baroque style that earned it the nickname “Venice of Bavaria.”
On the culinary front, we were told that the town’s famous lebkuchen, or gingerbread, is traditionally made with honey, and that the Bavarian white sausage known as weisswurst is customarily consumed before noon. And Dimitri, the Viking Ullur’s hotel manager, wasn’t kidding with his earlier admonition that Germans are famous for both sausages and punctuality. When we showed up at 4:32 p.m. for a scheduled 4:30 return shuttle back to the ship, the bus driver waved us aboard with a smiling rebuke: “You’re late!”
After a wine and cheese reception in the ship’s airy, window-lined lounge, we cast off for a new, overnight berth near the middle of town. On that initial twilight foray, we encountered clear evidence that “The Blue Danube” (the common English title of Austrian composer Johann Strauss’ beloved 1866 waltz) isn’t quite accurate when it comes to the river’s color. As we approached the tip of the narrow peninsula that divides the Inn River and the Danube, the milky green, glacier-fed Inn formed a sharp contrast to its much darker, gently swirling sibling.
Lesson of the Day: Consider the suite life.
But our 275-square-foot veranda suite proved to be a godsend our first night aboard, when a jet-lagged Jayne decamped to the sitting room couch for a middle-of-the-night “Downton Abbey” binge. (Viking, a longtime sponsor of the British series, includes all six seasons as part of its in-room video offerings.)