Sunday, August 31, 2014

Viking River Cruise Ends in Style with Budapest

It had been quite a week on the Viking River Cruise through the Danube. My friend Tracy and I had been discovering places Christmas Markets and visiting places we had never been. There was only one more to go – Budapest, Hungary.  It was the largest capital city on the Danube and one of the most known.

As had been the case with our other stops, the Viking Cruise line included all tours and there was a bus waiting to take us to the Buda district. Along the way our guide Nicholas told us about the city which is referred to as the “Jewel of the Danube.”

We learned about the part this area played in World War II, and how it is now a tourist destination with a large zoo, public thermal baths, an amusement park, and large hotels.

The bus let us off in the Buda Castle District. It was a bit chilly outside, but we braved the cold for a walking tour. The Square was amazing and each building was filled with history.  Tracy and I enjoyed looking around the area. 

Before we left the Castle District we stopped to take a good look at the National Monument, dedicating the area as a World Heritage site.

We also made a stop at St. Stephens Church and it was as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside.

After the tour, we had some free time to walk through the shops and pick up some of the local crafts. Tracy and I also stopped at a café for some hot chocolate and Linzer tarts.

We got back on the bus for the rest of the tour, which would take us to Pest, the more modern part of Budapest. This area included museums, government buildings, recreational facilities and Christmas Markets. 

We also passed the Jewish Quarter which was home to the largest synagogue in Europe, as well as the Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial.

The Christmas Markets in Budapest were filled with baked strudel, enormous pretzels, dried fruit, candy, pottery, gingerbread, bratwurst, and local delicacies such as goose legs and pig knuckles.

The smells coming from the market were amazing, but we had a special meal waiting for us on the ship so we just enjoyed what would be our final Glὕhwein.

Back on the ship, I had Beef Goulash for lunch. It was served over barley instead of noodles like it is in the U.S. It was delicious.  

We rested up and then we returned to the market for a bit in the evening.

When we returned, there was a farewell cocktail party before we headed to dinner.

Our last dinner with Viking was a great one. It started with a tasty Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup, followed by an Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with a red wine glaze and a goat cheese pesto.

It was served with a medley of artichoke, zucchini, and beans, and was as good as it sounds.

Before Long it was time to board the bus to Budapest airport and head home.
Dessert was a Hungarian Crepe with chocolate sauce, nuts, and raisins, along with a champagne sorbet and a small scoop of chocolate ice cream.

For my final breakfast, I chose a bit of cake, cheese, fruit, and yogurt from the buffet, a very typical European breakfast for me. The only thing different were the potato pancakes we had requested from the chef a few days before and he made them again for our final meal.

Tracy and I waved farewell to the Viking Embla and an incredible European adventure.

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until July. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Discovering Slovakia with Viking River Cruises

Our Viking River Cruise along the Danube was coming to the last two days and my friend Tracy and I were having a great time discovering a part of Europe neither one of us has previously been.

It was time for Slovakia and we were bundled up and ready to see its capital.

The ship docked right in the city of Bratislava so we could walk around ourselves, but we chose to first take the bus tour to Bratislava Castle and then on a downtown walking tour of the city.

The Bratislava Castle was quite impressive and also had a great view of the city. Unfortunately, it was a cold and cloudy day so we didn’t get to fully appreciate it.
In fact, I liked everything about Slovakia and the people we met were all very friendly.
It represented a European city in perfection, with its architecture, cobblestone streets, and craft filled markets.

Every building from the Opera House to the Court House looked like it was filled with history for me to spend a day exploring.
We spent a bit of time at the market near the church before heading back to the ship. 

The Glühwein came in quite a selection, made with different wines and a variety of fruits. I really liked the Pinot Blanc.  We also found lots of cheeses at this market, but it was something I knew I couldn’t store to take home with me.

I loved watching the children ice skating on the rink in front of the Christmas Market when the finished with school, or examining the candy in the market. I really wished we had more time here and vowed to come back some day.

I couldn’t wait to tell my friend Bibi at home how much I liked her country.

We had lunch as soon as we got back on the ship. I enjoyed a Riesling Soup, a flat bread with grapes and cheese, and couldn’t resist finishing with a hot fudge sundae.

In the afternoon, we relaxed before Slovakian Tea Time, the Captain’s Cocktail Hour, and our final Daily Briefing about our next port before the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.

When we sat down, there were spoonfuls of Camembert cheese wrapped in prosciutto for tasty bites. We then had a scrumptious salad, made with caramel, apricots, blue cheese and cornbread.

The next course was a flavorful Roasted Mushroom Soup. The entrée was a pan-fried red mullet. For the main course, we had a grilled filet, topped with foie gras.

The White Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding with ice cream was an incredible finish to the meal.

I don’t know if it was because we had only had a half day of touring or because we knew our trip was coming to an end, but this night Tracy and I stayed in the lounge a bit longer with some of our newly made friends.

We sailed away in the evening on our way to our very last stop on the Viking Embla... Budapest, Hungary. 

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until July. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Magic of Vienna on Viking Cruises

Whether or not we’ve ever written it down, we all have a bucket list. Those lists consist of places we hope to go. Many of us dream about these places, while others make it their life’s mission to travel to them.

I’ve actually got two lists, though neither one is on paper. One is of places I wish to explore and the other is of places I just need to get to in order to see if the magic is really there. 

The latter list includes places such as Paris, Rome, and London, all of which I’ve been to. There’s one place I hadn’t visited until I arrived on my Viking River Cruise. That place is Vienna.

It was cool and foggy when my friend Tracy and I arrived in Vienna, Austria. The buses were waiting to take us on a tour of this city that played such a major part in the world war. 

Vienna had come out the other side and become a spot of history and culture, with former homes of Mozart, Beethoven, and even Sigmund Freud throughout the city.

The tour took us to some of the highlights of the city, including the Prunksaa State Hall, the Spanish Riding School where the Tribute to Vienna Horse Show is, the Palace of Justice, the Parliament, and a few of the many incredible Gothic cathedrals.

We were both impressed with the architectural displays in the city as well as the culture. Museums, music venues, opera and ballet houses were all in abundance. The city is as vibrant and impressive as Paris or London, even though it doesn’t have an Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.

We finished the tour downtown with lots of time on our own to explore. Tracy and I first headed for some shopping at the flagship Swarovski store, where I picked up some gifts that could only be purchased here.  There is certainly no shortage of shopping in Vienna, but we wanted to do more.

Tracy and I decided to spend some time at one of the many museums. We chose Albertina and it was a wonderful choice. This art museum had some of the most magnificent collections I’d seen anywhere, including selections from Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and more.  It was unbelievable to be able to see so many renowned artists at once.

We also had lunch at the Café at Albertina Museum. I had a wonderful pumpkin soup and roasted potatoes, while Tracy enjoyed salad and quiche.

Before we returned to the ship for dinner, we stopped at two of the 21 Christmas Markets in Vienna. 

This city certainly has more markets with even more items than any of the others did. In fact, there was one market dedicated to crafts alone, and another had mostly meats, fish, and cheese.

I didn’t purchase much at the markets, with the exception of one of the giant Bavarian pretzels which looked (and tasted) irresistible.

We had an early dinner back on the Viking Embla because there was a very special night ahead. 

The river cruise line had arranged an exclusive performance for us at the Vienna Opera House. It was a selection of opera, ballet, and classical with some of the House’s best performers. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience to be there experiencing something like that.

When we returned to the ship, the Viking Embla chef had prepared a delicious Beef Goulash soup for us, along with some Austrian wine that was waiting. After it warmed us up from the cool night air, Tracy and I headed to our stateroom to rest up for the day ahead in Slovenia. 

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until July. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sailing through Austria with Viking Cruises

Our third day on the Viking Embla was a much more relaxing day than the previous, though I wouldn’t trade my time in Salzburg for anything.

The first stop of the day was in Melk and Tracy decided to go visit the Abbey, which I heard was filled with beautiful art (and wine made by the priests). 

I chose to stay on the ship for a relaxing breakfast and to catch up on some work.

Tracy was back in time for our Viking River Cruise Austrian buffet lunch. It included a selection of meats such as bratwurst, as well as local wine, beer, and apricot schnapps. During lunch we were serenaded by an Austrian accordionist.

The ship sailed along the Danube River in the afternoon, arriving in Durnstein, Austria in the evening.  

We had dinner before heading out to the town. I ordered the Greek appetizer plate which consisted of perfect portions of tasty baba ganouch and hummus, followed by a wonderful Porcini Ravioli, though the beef filet was a bit two rare for me.

Tracy enjoyed the cheese plate for dessert while I had the flan and ice cream.

After dinner we were led by guides from our ship to the Domaine Wachau winery. While the guests took the tour I asked for a private tasting so I could discuss the wines in detail. 

I didn’t have a lot of experience in Austrian wines and I was very curious to see what they had.

I heard all about the winery, which has been there for more than 300 years. It had originally belonged to the monastery and is now owned by a cooperative of local farmers.

We talked about the varietals of the area, including Muscatal, Gruner, Veltliner, and Riesling. We also talked about the popularity of apricot in this area and how it was the best apricot around.

I tasted quite a few wines and I actually liked all of them. 

My favorites were the 2012 Riesling Smigel, a wonderful white peach; 2012 Gruner Veltliner, with an aroma of kiwi and honeysuckle; and the Trockenbeerenauslese, an incredible late harvest of which I purchased two bottles to take home, though I’d never try to pronounce it.

In addition to the wine, Domaine Wachau sells many other products, including jams, chocolates, and evening clothing items.

We all walked back to the ship in the moonlight. It was a chilly night, but we had a nice view of Castle Durnstein. It was once again time to retire early. I was especially eager as the next day would bring another city on the Viking River Cruise I was anxious to explore, Vienna.

*Christmas in August? Yes! I was running a bit behind and I decided to just save my Viking River Christmas Market Cruise report until summer. After all it’s a perfect time to start thinking about booking one of your own while the prices are low!