The "Elegant Elbe" cruise, Prague to Berlin, on the Viking Fontane was our eighth river cruise with Viking. It was without doubt the best so far largely due to the expertise of Program Director, Christian Goßmann who was outstanding. From the warm greeting as he boarded our tour bus on our arrival in Decin to the final farewell in Magdeburg, he was superb; going out of his way to ensure the cruise was not only a great learning experience but also a unique journey through the former GDR.
The holiday started with a night in the Hilton. As we'd stayed in Prague before we opted out of the Sunday morning excursion to explore on our own. In the afternoon we left for Decin; low water levels prevented the Fontane from travelling to Melnik, the usual embarkation point.
The Fontane is one of the smallest vessels in Viking's fleet. It has a very shallow draft, 80cm, and is propelled by water jets rather than propellers so is suited to the shallow Elbe River. We were told in the safety briefing if the ship should start to sink just make your way up to the sun deck and at the worst you might get your feet wet!
Our cabin was light and spacious, 200 sq ft, with a comfortable hotel-style bed, a French balcony with sliding glass doors and with more than adequate storage.
The food was excellent, beautifully prepared and presented under the guidance of chef, Christiaan Schmidt. The impressive choice included both regional specialities and traditional favourites. Christiaan took great delight in explaining how menus were put together and how the food was sourced. The skill of Christiaan and his team became all the more remarkable when we visited the galley and saw the limited amount of space they had to cater for 100+ passengers.
The service from all members of staff was exemplary. Every crew member was friendly, helpful and eager to please.
On board entertainment included: a first rate classical music concert by the Dresden Allegria Ensemble; a Czech folklore musical performance; a light hearted music quiz; a "Question and Answer" session with senior crew members; a German class; a 'flower' painting and poetry competition; lace making; wine tasting; cookery demonstration; wheel house and galley visits; two round table discussions the "Velvet Revolution" and "Living through the Reunification"
Christian gave four very informative lectures: "The 2002 Flood" appropriately given whilst we were berthed in Decin due to low water levels! "Martin Luther" which prepared us for our visit to Lutherstadt Wittenberg. "German History" adeptly condensed into one hour. Finally "Reunification". Christian included personal recollections of the Reunification and the 2002 Flood. All the talks were confidently presented, informative, interesting, entertaining and well illustrated.
We were able to explore ports of call at leisure or on fascinating guided tours. All the guides were brilliant, each eager to share their intimate and specialised knowledge. The VOX system allows you to wander around to take photos whilst not missing what the guide is saying. There was free bottled water on every trip, and on our return a welcome back of an iced drink, fruit shoots or ice cream plus cooling towels.
The ports of call included:
Litomerice a pretty Czech town where we also visited a small brewery.
Decin where we were moored for the first 2 nights. A morning stroll took us past the castle and round to the town centre.
Saxon Switzerland, a beautiful area of sandstone hills 'Elbsandslteingebirge' carved out over the centuries into narrow gorges, bizarre rock columns and table mountains by the Elbe and its tributaries. A scenic coach trip up to the Bastei high up in the hills afforded breath taking panoramic views of the Elbe winding its way through Saxony.
Dresden is a perfect blend of Baroque architecture and high tech infrastructure. The highlights of this trip were the 'Green Vault', the treasure chamber of Augustus the Strong, the Zwinger Palace, the Semper Opera House and the Frauenkirke. Dresden's stunning waterfront is complemented by numerous paddle steamers.
Meissen with the gothic Albrechstburg Castle and cathedral perched on a hill is home to the porcelain Museum where various stages of the manufacture of the famous hand made porcelain can be seen also some 3000 priceless exhibits from the Meissen collection.
Torgau; an evening stroll took us by the Hartenfels Castle, the Market Square and the riverside monument commemorating the historic 1945 meeting between Russian and American troops.
Lutherstadt Wittenberg a charming town made famous by Martin Luther who nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door precipitating the Reformation. The Marketplatz is the focal point with its magnificent 16th century town hall (rathaus) and statues of Luther and Melanchthon.
Dessau famous for the Bauhaus and Wörlitz Park with its castle and English style gardens. Having visited the castle in 2007 we opted for the 'Gondola' trip, which was brilliant.
Magdeburg and disembarkation. We travelled to Potsdam to visit the New Chambers built by Prussian King Frederick the Great in the 18th century.
Finally we drove on to the Berlin Hilton. Unfortunately a late afternoon arrival left too little time to explore Berlin for many of our fellow passengers who had early flights the following morning. On our first Cruise on the Elbe in 2007 the itinerary included 2 nights in both Prague and Berlin which was far better.
The Elegant Elbe cruise is a memorable journey through time and culture as the boat slips gently past lush green riverside meadows speckled with wild flowers; wooded hills and vineyards; fairy tale castles, river banks studded with picture postcard villages allowing tantalising glimpses of what lies ashore. There is considerably less traffic on the Elbe compared to the Rhine and Danube and only 4 locks, all between Litomerice and Melnik.