If not now, when? Many people love to travel, but finding the time, money and company can sometimes put a strain on making a dream a reality. On my recent trip to Europe my mom, Karen, and I decided to experience a river cruise for the first time together. Both fans of cruising, we were excited for all that we would see during our 15-day trip starting in Budapest and finishing in Amsterdam. Traveling through 3 rivers, 5 countries and 68 locks, it was the trip of a lifetime that we will cherish forever. Check out the video below!
Budapest is where the journey began and with two days at the port, there was plenty of time to see the city without necessarily having to arrive earlier. Upon arriving to the ship my mom and I loved the feeling of being settled into our cabin knowing we didn’t have to ever change rooms or carry our luggage until the end of the journey. Docked on the PEST side of the city, traveling around by foot in the city is very easy, just be sure to bring a map with you as the streets do not run like a grid. Public transportation is also just a few steps from the ship if you decide to travel longer distances, such as to the Parliament building (pictured above). Don’t worry about trying to get over to the BUDA side because Viking has an included tour that will show you everything you need to see. On the PEST side, I suggest a visit to the market, which is the perfect place to buy souvenirs. My mom and I loved buying fresh paprika for our family members back home. My mom and I are also obsessed with churches and so we make an extra effort to go inside each one we see. St. Stephen’s Basilica is the biggest Cathedral and worth a visit while you are exploring. Now to get to the grand finale of Budapest and what I would have to agree was the best part of the entire river cruise- departing Budapest as it was lit up. The buildings were glowing, lights sparkling and all who observed either had tears in their eyes or their jaw dropped. Budapest- you are so romantic.
“Night Budapest from the river was one of the most beautiful city sights I have ever seen. We had lightening in the background and I was trying to take a photo that would include a lightening flash. The beauty was like a beautiful song- definitely will give you goosebumps!” – MOM
I’ve spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe traveling through the years and it has become one of my favorite parts of the world. The hospitality, charm and “realness” that I discover in this part of the world warms my heart. I knew I would love Bratislava, in a way it felt like a home away from home. Bratislava, to me was amazing. I like the passion of the people to develop tourism and to still appreciate tourists. My mom and I went on a homestay to a local family about 45 minutes outside of the capital city. Welcomed with warm cake and fresh juice, we gathered in a family’s home and asked questions about the culture, politics, and day-to-day life. The family had a small store where they featured their handmade and painted pottery where my mom and I purchased a vase that we will remember forever. After the home visit we still had plenty of time to explore the city. We enjoyed cruising the cobblestone streets, feeling safer than ever and snapping photos around every corner. When we reached the main square we were surprised to find a festival happening so we decided to sit and have a homemade cake and coffee as we observed locals dancing, singing and enjoying life. Of all the places on the tour, this short trip to Bratislava fascinated me so much, that I am anxious to return and explore this country more in the future.
“I had told Ashley that I wanted to sample pastries in ever port so we enjoyed a chocolate cake while we listened to the festival music in the square. Our “taste” of the town of Bratislava made us interested to visit the country again.” – MOM
Of all the places on the tour that impressed my mom and I the most, it would have to be Vienna. The architecture is breathtaking and the city is clean, artistic and welcoming. The history of Vienna was fascinating and I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to learn so much on the tour. Viking’s tours and guides are professional, entertaining and full of knowledge to share. After the tour, my mom and I had an interest in visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum), which held some of our favorite artist’s works such as Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir and more. My mom and I just finished watching “Women in Gold” to reminisce about our time in Vienna and it’s a great look at the art world and its importance in Vienna. In the evening my mom and I signed up for Mozart’s Symphony at Vienna’s National Theater. With front row seats, we were again lost in the fascination of Vienna and all that it holds as we recognized songs from the world’s best composers.
“The Strauss and Mozart concert was fabulous! I didn’t know we were having singers as well and all the musicians were very talented. It was a lovely evening in a beautiful city.” – MOM
The arrival into Melk, Austria was a preview of what the journey down the Rhine would be like later in the cruise. Melk Abbey greeted us shining brightly up on the hill over the Danube. This 11th century Benedictine abbey was adorned with painted ceilings and intricate woodwork in the baroque style. Viking bused us to the abbey for our guided tour, which was one of the highlights of the two weeks. Our guide was a young man who grew up at the abbey attending the school. While many of these young boys later become monks, he decided it wasn’t his calling. The entire group enjoyed his way of guiding and his passion for the abbey. After our tour we hiked back to the ship (all downhill), which allowed us to explore the quaint village. My mom and I got a gelato (a regular occurrence) and found some shops to spend some more money. The Abbey was definitely worth a visit.
“Melk Abbey was exceptional! I am a big fan of the baroque style so I loved the church and they had an amazing library that was priceless! My favorite part of the tour was the description of paintings that told stories from the Bible. Our guide explained that most of the peasants could not read so these pictures were used to explain God’s word.” – MOM
During my first trip to Europe when I was 16 years old, my family loaded a big Euro van and drove through Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany visiting relatives along the way. One city my mom read about in Rick Steve’s Europe guidebook was the walled city of Rothenburg. Twelve years later, when my mom and I saw that Rothenburg was an optional day excursion with Viking, we did not hesitate to sign up. It’s like a village out of a storybook- the colors, walls, streets. A great place to visit during Christmastime, the town has one of the most famous Christmas markets in the world. The good thing is that even if you aren’t traveling during Christmas, you can still visit the Käthe Wohlfahrt shop to buy some of the most detailed and hand painted ornaments you have ever seen. Another “must buy” in Rothenburg is the schneeball- a ball of dough that is flavored with anything and everything. In my case I always go for the chocolate one with the most toppings you can find. My mom and I finished our day by paying 2 Euros to climb the town tower and have the best view of the city (which you can also see in the video and my instagram) . It’s a very tight space but there are lots of views- the cherry on top of our magical ice cream sundae kind of day.
“Ashley and I loved collecting Christmas ornaments in every port. It will be so special when I decorate my tree to remember my trip to Europe and our excursion to Rothenburg.” – MOM
- You can’t leave Cologne, Germany without trying the local beer, kölsch. One of the excursions is a pub-crawl in the evening trying the best of the best. Whether you are a beer lover or not, it’s a worth a taste and the experience.
- The Viking bartenders are not only professionals, but they are also artists. Each day I would see them making their own syrups, using fresh herbs from the rooftop garden and making sure to satisfy each guest. My favorite was this fresh strawberry and basil cocktail topped with black pepper.
- Bamberg is known for its beer and whether you like beer or not (mom and I don’t like it too much), you still must try the smoked beer. People will say it tastes like bacon or an ashtray, but luckily mom and I tasted bacon.
- In Wurzburg after the tour, mom and I heard about the locals happy hour takes place on the bridge and it was worth a visit. I stood in line to where you leave a 5 Euro deposit (for the glass) and sipped with locals on the bridge taking in the scenery.
- In Germany, you must eat a pretzel and I found the best one to be in Wertheim
- The walled city of Rothenburg is famous for its Christmas ornaments, but to eat you have to try the schneeball!
- Everyone knows Germany is famous for its sausages, but Regensburg is the place to eat one…or two! Regensburg sausages are small and can be topped with sauerkraut or you can just use the delicious mustard (you can also buy the mustard!).
- In all of the cities you can find gelato, but this mint chip and coffee is one I will remember the most. Maybe it was the bridge and building paintings in Bamberg that made it extra delicious!
What to pack for your Viking cruise:
– In general the cruise is casual, so every day comfortable clothes are just fine.
– Comfortable walking shoes- Europe is full of cobblestone streets
– You don’t need to pack an umbrella (Viking has them available)
– A rain jacket- just in case!
– A small side purse (nothing too big because you won’t want to strain your shoulders on tours every day)
– Bring Euros with you – this will make things easier already having them. If you can’t get the currencies for Hungary, etc…Euros are still accepted everywhere and you will have some kind of emergency cash.
– Camera with spare batteries – there are lots of magical sites to capture
– Swimsuit…not for the rivers, but for the baths in Budapest!
– A Hat! The sun can be bright while on the walking tours so make sure to have some protection!