|Budapest by Night brings the city’s architecture to life.|
Jennifer Campbell, owner and travel consultant for Explorations, A Travel Agency in Atlanta, sailed recently on the Virtuoso Chairman’s Recognition Event aboard AmaWaterway’s AmaCerto. Here’s her report.
|Bratislava is another historic gem along the Danube.|
For many of us, our only cultural reference for the Danube River is its starring role in the lullaby waltz On the Beautiful Blue Danube, composed by Johann Strauss and performed regularly on the Lawrence Welk Show. As lovely as the piece of music is, its exotic origins are not as far outside our reach as we might have guessed…particularly during what many travelers consider Central Europe’s “off” season. I recently had the chance to sail on the Danube for seven nights on Virtuoso Chairman’s Recognition Event aboard the AmaCerto. The Danube is a treasure that traverses eight central European countries and provides access to historical cities, medieval castles, baroque churches and ornate palaces.
My own adventure began in Budapest, and there is really no better vantage point to enjoy the Hungarian capital than from the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, a former Art Nouveau palace with panoramic views of the Chain Bridge and the river itself. The city’s cobblestone streets wander easily past elegant cafés, eclectic art galleries, antiques shops and museums of a historic and magical city. Of particular historical significance are the Dohany Street Synagogue, the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial. The city’s architecture—ranging from Renaissance to modern—is an indicator of its diversity. One of the region’s best-kept secrets is the Hungarian wine. Among the best is Tokaj, Hungary’s answer to the Sauterne and one of the loveliest sweet wines in the world. While in Budapest, take time to visit Szechenyi Thermal Bath, set in the middle of the City Park, and enjoy the relaxing, healing medicinal waters. Be sure to pack a pair of rubber slippers if you plan on visiting the baths.
Leaving Budapest was difficult, but knowing that equally beautiful Vienna and Salzburg were waiting eased the pain. Best known as the City of Music, Vienna is just as rich in history, food, wine and culture. From Stephansdom, one of central Europe’s best-known cathedrals, to Schonbrunn Palace, a stunning example of Rococo architecture, to the Spanish Riding School where the Lipizzaner horses are trained, to the Viennese Opera houses, Wiener Schnitzel, Sacher torte, Viennese coffee and Gemischter Satz Wine, the city’s offerings are as varied as its people and its visitors. Plan to spend some time in Meinl’s Weinbar. Situated in the basement, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the market and the coffee shop, it’s filled with locals and the staff there loves to help you pick and choose unique wines to try.
|Sailing with Friends: Jennifer Campbell of Explorations, A Travel Agency, front row, second to left, sailed with Virtuoso colleagues on the AMACerto.|
From Vienna, we sailed to Wachau, a UNESCO-protected region on the Danube. Our first stop was Durnstein, “the Pearl of the River.” AmaWaterways offers a fun option to guests with a sense of adventure: a bike tour from Durnstein to Melk, about 22 miles. The trail is mostly flat and an easy ride passing vineyards, orchards and a number of quaint villages. A ferry in Spitz allows you to cross the river.
Only hours away in distance but seeming decades away in time, sits Salzburg, a jewel on the edge of the Alps. The city best known as the hometown of Mozart and the setting for the classic Sound of Music is as charming today as it was 20 years ago. The entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered by many the best-preserved city center in Europe. Add to that narrow streets, breathtaking views, beautiful gardens and courtyards, exquisite shopping, classic coffeehouses and award-winning restaurants, and your appreciation for visiting “off season” is only magnified. Book one of the gorgeous rooms at the Hotel Sacher, bundle up and explore the city. When you tire, sneak into Stiegl’s Brauwelt and enjoy some of the best beer in the world.
Cruising the Danube offers many glimpses into yesteryear through the small towns and cities scattered along its banks. Cities like Passau, home to 52 churches and one of the largest church organs in the world—or Regensburg, a perfectly preserved medieval city, are some of the notable ones. These gems interspersed with the larger cities counterbalance the sophistication and grandeur of places like Budapest and Vienna. They help us slow down and remember that sometimes a great bratwurst is really all you need for a perfect afternoon. When you’re in Regensburg, be sure to try the wurst at the world’s oldest sausage kitchen—Historische Wurtskuche. Once you’ve had your fill of wurst, take a few minutes to visit Drubba, a great little Christmas store with a wonderful selection of cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest. Or, visit Hutkonig in Krauterermarkt for a new handcrafted hat. The owner is the only person in Europe who is a master hatter and a master milliner. Regensburg is a car enthusiast’s dream—just a short drive from the Audi Ingolstadt factory. Schedule your guided tour ahead of time, as they fill up quickly and are only available Monday to Friday. Audi offers a number of different tours with some geared specifically toward children.
|St. Stephen’s Cathedral stands watch in Vienna.|
A fitting end to my time on the Danube was a stop in Nuremberg. What a wonderful city! Although much of the city was destroyed during World War II, the buildings were reconstructed using the same stones. That exact spirit of rebirth has taken a city once known as the home of the Nazi Party Rallies and the site for the Nuremberg Trials to one that is now famous for its toys, Christmas markets and Lebkuchen, amazing gingerbread you’ll not forget anytime soon. The hearty and rustic Franconian specialties of Nuremberg must be enjoyed—try Satzinger Muhle, a great restaurant and café directly overlooking the Pegnitz River. Nighttime guided tours are a fun way to see Nuremberg. With several different themes, including the Witching Hour, these torch-lit tours lasting about 90 minutes highlight not only the facts about the city but also the myths and fables that make it so interesting.
For me, the Danube River provided a watery roadmap for exploration and one that offered many surprising and charming rest stops along the way.