Cruise Review. Danube to the Black Sea
The Journey Begins: Vienna has always been the city of musical genius ... a gathering place of culture where east meets west. Mozart, Beethoven, and the Strauss family lived and worked in Vienna. The Danube River plies through Vienna on its western route toward Passau, and Melk — but looking east ... yes, east ... what mysteries await on the Danube?
We broke a cardinal rule we had established for ourselves — never fly into a city on the same day as cruising. Time constraints forced this issue, but even with moments of anxiety about flight connections, we landed in Vienna, Austria on schedule! We were meeting Viking Europe for her inaugural voyage east on the Danube river. Vienna is a city where you can see Emperor Franz Joseph's Schonbrunn Palace — a spectacle of opulence. Vienna lets you enjoy wonderful concerts, historic areas, world-class museums and you can walk into Mozart's home near St. Stephen's Cathedral. Luckily, we had toured Vienna previously for there are too many treasured delights in Vienna for you to miss.
|CASTLES ALONG THE LOVELY IRONGATE GORGE PORTION OF THE DANUBE ARE INSPIRING. THE BEAUTY ISINSPIRATIONAL.
Viking Europe, built in 2001, is 375 feet in length, and explores European waterways with 150 passengers aboard at capacity ...Cabins: Seventy five cabins, 63 deluxe and 12 standard (a bit smaller) present a well-designed European feel of both space and comfort, with television, and huge viewing window. Many cabin windows open for the pleasing sounds of nature and fresh air comfort. Each cabin has individual climate controls, and the option for a twin bed arrangement can be accommodated.
Dining: Open seating and resort casual dress are welcomed features of Viking River Cruises, (Open collared shirts and slacks for men). We met four additional people on the second night that matched well and we stayed with them for evening meals. During breakfast and lunch we switched around meeting new people every day, and that was fun.
The meals were well-presented with quality preparation pleasing most passengers including our own wishes. Always available were off-the-menu standards of beef tenderloin or chicken breast with accompaniments to suit. This year and last we felt the menu lived up to its high reputation for excellence and client satisfaction.
Itinerary: Last year we had made the almost perfect voyage called ‘A European Adventure' from Vienna to Amsterdam or the reverse is available. This was a superior memory and experience. That cruise was our initial discovery of river cruising. This year Chairman Torstein Hagen keeps the Viking traditions of exploration alive with the opening of the Danube route east from Vienna. This was a new adventure and we wanted to explore with Viking River Cruises!
"River cruising is better than an ocean cruise or bus tour. Our river cruises show you the best of Europe from large cosmopolitan cities to small quaint villages ... you come aboard, unpack just once, and see it all." Torstein Hagen, CEO
|THE TWIN SISTER SHIP OF THE VIKING EUROPE, THE VIKING SPIRIT, IS ALSO SLEEK AND LONG AS HER PROW SLICES THE DANUBE ON THE COURSE EAST ON THE DANUBE.
Eastern European Odyssey: Just a few short years back the countries east on the Danube were part of the former Soviet alliance, and even more recently they were areas that were blocked due to NATO bombing of bridges in the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic for humanity war crimes.
Yugoslavia was once a dominent Eastern European domain, now it has divided into many smaller countries. As of January 2003, what remained of Yugoslavia became Serbia and Montenegro under one capital of Belgrade for at least the next few years.
The Danube is open this year, and river cruising and commercial traffic are normalizing ... thus Jeffrey Dash, President, and Torstein Hagen, CEO of Viking River Cruises are able to complete a dream of having a water route for vacationers open from the North Sea (Amsterdam) to the Black Sea at Romania. We participated on this opening voyage on the Viking Europe — it was superior adventure!
We were cruising off into current history, and also days of Vlad Tepes III, the historical character on which Bram Stoker based his novel Dracula. Viking River Cruises would, in fact, help us make a Viking exploration to the Bram Castle where Vlad the Impaler had stayed and even made war. What a thrill exploring the nooks and small stairwells of this well-preserved 1300's castle in the Transylvania region of Romania.
Before Romania, we explored Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro. We would sail through Croatia, and extensively explore Romania and Bulgaria. In our wildest imagination we thought these former Soviet-style communist states would never be on our vacation venue ... but what a magical memory and cultural expose they have created for us. Hungary proved again to be a delight! Slovakia and its capital, Bratislava, plus Romania and Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro awaited.
At a Glance: With a little imagination, you can visualize that countries closer to Austria are more up-to-date, with countries further east being less advanced. Slovakia and Hungary and even Serbia (aside from bombing remains of the NATO attack) look quite like many areas of Europe, with Hungary being the most up-to-date and lovely in our opinion.
Romania is a country with a wide mosaic of haves and have-nots. Romania has either great areas of development, or areas with a complete lack of it. The capital city, Bucharest, has many remaining tattered Soviet-style tenaments; tall, crowded, and poorly constructed. The city also has its areas that look like Paris. The city is home to the second largest government building on earth, and displays wide boulevards and fountains.
If you travel into one of the less developed areas of Romania, you will quickly find horse carts, gypsy caravans, and people toiling from dawn to dusk with hand tools in their fields. We noted only one tractor in our trek from the Danube many miles up to Transylvania. The land, however, is so fertile that it would make any agricultural student envious. Romania is perhaps just a few years from economic prosperity. Romania has good land, hard-working people, friendly atmosphere, and resources ... plus many areas are picture-post-card lovely!
Bulgaria, once a strong military state, is now the most meager of the countries we visited on this adventure eastward. Over one million people have vacated this lovely land in search of work, but again, here is a country with rich land awaiting a fervent plan under some able governmental direction to propel it into the 21st century. Bulgaria has many ancient treasures, and lovely countryside.
Our final trek east was our bus outing to Constanta, Romania, where we were able to dip our feet into the Black Sea and view the seaside resort area. At this point we were perhaps 90 miles form Turkey, 90 miles from the Ukraine, and likewise close to Greece.
What a fascinating journey eastward on the Danube this had been ... but unlike many of the new shorter voyages on the Danube going east, our Viking Europe cruise was going back to Vienna with many new and exciting stops along the way. This ‘Eastern Odyssey' would be a 17-night adventure of a lifetime to remember.
What awaits those who purchase European river cruises are castles, pristine scenery, quaint villages, forests of birds singing to celebrate your arrival ... and you are easily granted large doses of complete serenity.
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