Vienna!

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

The third port on our recent Danube cruise was Vienna.  This was to be our most activity-packed day and it all worked out perfectly!   The day before we arrived, we were given the option to change our included city motorcoach tour to an ‘upclose tour’ via subway.  As we’d planned to stay in town after the tour to visit the Christmas market and we prefer walking tours, this seemed perfect for us.  Our group of 14 was met at the gangway to the ship by our tour guide, Erika, then we walked a couple of easy blocks to the nearest subway station.  Once at our stop, we began our walk past the fascinating and classic architecture of the streets of Vienna.  The temperature was quite brisk, but not cold enough to create any problems, nor deter our enjoyment of this wonderful city!

The Opera, Hofburg Palace, the Lipizzaner stallions (who were in their stalls, on break at the time), St Stephan’s, and everything in between, seems we saw it ALL and in a very short time.  At the conclusion of the tour, we parted ways with our guide and made our way to the Christmas Market at Rathausplatz (which is City Hall).  Here we carefully went from stall to stall, careful to miss nothing.  Half way through our Market adventure, we stopped for lunch in the adjacent park.  The Markets usually have great selections of wonderful smelling treats (OK, maybe not too healthy, but delicious none the less!).  We shared a braut, some roasted sliced potatoes, a chocolate covered pretzel, and of course, some glühwein.  We had looked forward to the Christmas Markets on this trip for months and, I’d have to say, this one was excellent.  It was very well laid out, it was very clean and not cluttered, and was in a super setting with the historic hall as the backdrop.  Once we concluded our stay, we asked the information desk about the closest subway station, then we easily found it about a block away and made our way to the station.  Our routing required one change of trains, which we figured out and executed all on our own, arriving safely back at the ship before dinner.

Speaking of dinner, it was offered earlier on this day to accommodate those who had signed up for the evening Mozart & Strauss Concert, which included us.  After dinner, we boarded our motorcoach for about a 20 minute ride back through the streets of Vienna to the former Stock Exchange building.  Seems this building has great acoustics and it is used for concerts these days.  The performance was thoroughly enjoyable and the experience of a lifetime; I recommend it to anyone on a stop here.  Once it was over, we headed back to the ship in a very light rain and enjoyed the buildings lit up in their Christmas & holiday lights.  To summarize, I found Vienna to be a delight from beginning to end, from outside to inside, and all in between!

 

Vienna Opera House

The Vienna Opera House (note the ‘winterized’ fountain in the foreground)

 

Vienna Mozart statue

Mozart statue

Vienna

Fall in Vienna – beautiful !!!

Vienna Lipizzaner stallions on break!

Lipizzaner stallions on break!

Vienna Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace

 

Vienna St. Stephan’s Cathedral

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

 

Vienna Christmas Market Rathausplatz

Christmas Market Rathausplatz (City Hall)

Vienna Christmas Market collage

Christmas Market close ups

Vienna Mozart and Strauss Concert

Us at the Mozart and Strauss Concert

check back for our next post on Durnstein & Melk!

First Stop: Bratislava

by Don McCann

Viking River Cruises – Danube Waltz – onboard Viking Magni, November 19, 2013

Marek in local Bratislava costume

Marek in local Bratislava costume

After sailing from Budapest, we were treated to a “Bratislava preview” with our Onboard Tour Director, Marek.  He is originally from Slovakia and he even dressed in traditional ‘costume’ to present his talk on the homeland.  Many are unaware that, after the fall of the iron curtain, Czechoslovakia actually split into two separate countries: The Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Marek told us that they simply parted ways with a friendly divorce!  Bratislava is one of the capital cities featured on this Danube itinerary.  He then ended his presentation by suggesting that we all “spend our money” in Bratislava!

Since we were arriving in the afternoon, that left time in the morning for an Apple Strudel Demonstration in the Lounge.  It was actually quite interesting to see the chef, with her two volunteers, roll out the pastry dough, work it into the right shape and thickness, and then to add the filling mixture.  Of course it looks to me as if it is one of those classic “do not attempt this at home” type of exercises.  I mean they made it look easy enough, but I doubt it would work out quite as easily in our own kitchen.  Regardless, the best part is that they passed out finished product samples during the demo and then gave us nicely printed recipes to take with us.

Arriving in Bratislava we were reminded just why we brought those umbrellas with us; yes, it was sort of rainy; not really ‘coming down’, but enough to warrant the umbrella, none the less.  Because of the weather, Bratislava was not nearly as enjoyable as it would have been with more favorable weather.  Don’t get me wrong, we made the best of it and we really liked it, but the first stop on the tour was at Bratislava Castle, up on a hill which overlooks the town down below.  This would have been a lovely view on a clear day, but for us it was a bit misty.  Regardless, we enjoyed seeing the restored exterior of the castle (which looks a bit more like a stylish fortress) and the very impressive gates at either entrance.

Once back in town, our tour continued on foot, through the cobblestone streets of charming Bratislava.  Even with the light rain, we found the old town to be delightful and interesting.  Since the Christmas Markets here were only just being set up for opening a few days later, we opted for some browsing in a few local shops.  One shop in particular converted our ‘browsing’ into ‘buying’:  ULUV Slovak Folk Art & Crafts.  Our few handicraft souvenir purchases may not have been enough to Marek truly happy, but we were quite pleased with them.

A short walk back to the ship included a few moments of confusion about how to cross the busy street using the foreign crosswalk lights, but some cars eventually stopped for us and we were back on the ship in a jiffy.  We freshened up, went in for a talk on our next port, Vienna, had some fantastic chateaubriand for dinner, then finished the evening with a folkloric show onboard in the Viking Magni’s Lounge.  So a day with a little rain, yes; an enjoyable day, ABSOLUTELY!

Apple Strudel Demonstration

Apple Strudel Demonstration

 

overlooking Bratislava

overlooking Bratislava

 

Bratislava Castle gates

Bratislava Castle gates

 

Bratislava - getting ready for Christmas Markets

Bratislava – getting ready for Christmas Markets

Bratislava streets decorated for the holidays

Bratislava streets decorated for the holidays

Bratislava Folkloric Show onboard Viking Magni

Bratislava Folkloric Show onboard Viking Magni

check back for our next post on Vienna!

Christmas in June

by Don McCann

We often host client presentations, which our business calls “Cruise Nights”.  Last week, we had a cruise night called “Christmas in June” featuring Viking River Cruises and their Christmas Market cruises in Europe.    This event was great fun to plan and easy to decide how to decorate.  However, the most enthusiastic of our planners was my daughter, Rachel, who just moved back from Germany, after having lived there for 3 1/2 years.   While there, she LOVED the various Christmas Markets and she had TONS of ideas for our event.  Not only did she bring in some of her market purchases, but she baked authentic heart-shaped gingerbread cookies with ‘Merry Christmas’ in German, French, and Hungarian, as well as some cookies with the Viking River logo, AND she agreed to be one of our guest speakers!

Vikings great 3minute video was an effective visual introduction to the Christmas Markets, then Rachel added her personal experiences about the Markets, with some wonderful “show ‘n tell” items.  Next up, our local Viking River Representative, Carolyn Szekeres, did a great presentation on the cruises themselves and the fantastic new river ships the line is adding.  All in all, it was perhaps our most fun, and certainly our most festive, cruise night yet!

If you were not able to join us, take a look at some of the photos (click on each to enlarge):

Brats & cheese with pretzel bread

Brats & cheese with pretzel bread

Christmas in June lights and seating

Christmas in June lights at Cruise Escapes

 

Carolyn Szekeres of Viking Cruises

Carolyn Szekeres of Viking Cruises

Christmas in June CE staff

Cruise Escapes staff at one of our Market ‘stalls’ with Viking cookies!

 

Have any Christmas Market stories, or photos you’d care to share? – We’d love your reply!

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