Saturday, November 29, 2014

Day 5 AM - Dürnstein, Austria

We spent the morning of our 5th day in Dürnstein, Austria. There was no tour there, just some free time to wander around the town which was where Richard the Lionheart was held captive in 1192. While not open to visitors, we did get to walk around the outside of the beautiful, baroque style Dürnstein Abbey.

Chris, next to the flood markers. He's as tall as the flood of 1881.

The best part of Dürnstein was the store full of apricot based booze and treats. We scored some amazing apricot liqueur and chocolate bars infused with apricot schnapps and single-malt whiskey. Oh, and don't forget about the apricot liqueur infused gummy bears I found. To help soak up our tasty libations we picked up a slice of apricot strudel in a local bakery. Based on all of the fruit flies in the place we knew it must be good!

Once back on the boat we got to sick back and enjoy some scenic sailing along the Danube through the early afternoon before arriving at our next destination, Melk.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 4 - Vienna, Austria

Our first stop in Austria was in the capital of Vienna. Vienna is broken down into districts, much like Paris. The old town being in District 1, Innere Stadt, which was not where our boat was docked so we did have to bus in for our morning walking tour. As part of our tour we saw the Hofburg Imperial Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Roman Catholic churches like St. Stephen's Cathedral and Karlskirche (St. Charles' Church).

What we learned about Vienna is that they are passionate about their coffee. There are specialty coffee and pastry shops everywhere. When we were done with our walking tour we visited the coffee shop that our tour guide recommended, Aida. One thing we noticed in all shops in Europe is that they are in love with their heaters, as in they're not happy unless it's at least 80 degrees inside. Aida was no different. Even though it was only 55 degrees outside, it was like a sauna inside. As such I ordered my new favorite, Eiskaffee (iced coffee). Their iced coffee is not like ours, to them it means ice cream in black coffee topped with whipped cream. Ahhh-mazing.

After our walking tour we took the bus back to the ship, had lunch, and then decided to head back out on foot to explore. On our drive earlier we passed an amusement park that had the world's oldest, still operating, ferris wheel which, after walking a dozen blocks or so, we found.

The ferris wheel ride was about 15 minutes long during which we had some pretty amazing views of the city. They were enclosed wooden box cars with windows all around. We had a nice gentleman from somewhere else in Austria in the car with us who, like most Austrians, spoke perfect English.

So, impressions of Vienna - I thought it would be more historic and grandiose looking. But really, unless you were in the Innere Stadt, it just looked like you were in a big city and you wouldn't even necessarily know you were in Europe. Even the graffiti (chock-full of curse words) was in English! Yes, the old town was beautiful, but it wasn't my favorite stop of the trip....that wouldn't be until two days later.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 3 - Bratislava, Slovakia

After breakfast on the third day we sailed into the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. Slovakia had previously been part of Czechoslovakia, occupied by the Germans in WWII, and taken by the Soviets. The history of this country was evident in their skyline where large Communist residential prefabricated panel buildings stuck up amongst the historical architecture. Our morning tour started with a visit to Bratislava Castle.

After visiting the castle we spent time in the Old Town where we had tickets to an organ concert at the Franciscan Church which dates back to 1297.

That evening we went back out to the old town and had dinner in, of all places, an Irish Pub. I know, I know...but Slovakian food looked a little sketchy for my tummy. On our way back we picked up some local honey mead to enjoy on the ship while we watched the evening entertainment of local singers and dancers.

Bratislava was a lovely city, though I was disappointed in how the old Communist buildings kind of ruined the look of the place, but there was still plenty of amazing places to see.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 1 & 2 - Budapest, Hungary

From November 9th thru November 16th we enjoyed our second Viking River Cruise in Europe. This year we spent time in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Our Hartman Family adventure started on Saturday the 8th when we flew out of Chico to San Francisco. In true Chico fashion, the flight was late leaving and therefore when we arrived in San Fran we literally had to run to our gate to catch the plane to Amsterdam with our names being called over the PA system as a final boarding call. I was pushing people out of my way all while cursing like a sailor. When we arrived at the ticket gate, the workers started clapping for us and then got us on the plane so the plane could taxi off. Flying to Amsterdam was 11 hours of awesomeness tucked in the last row of the plane in the middle of the middle section of seats. Our original plane reservations were with Delta with whom we made seat reservations for 2 seats on the side, but 24 hours before the flight left we found out we were really flying out on KLM and none of previous seat reservations were honored so we basically ended up with the crappiest seats on the plane. 17 hours later we arrived in Budapest, Hungary to the news that our luggage had not made the trip. I had my coat in my carry-on, but Chris was just in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. We filed a claim with KLM customer service and exchanged info as to where our ship would be, but odds were not good that our luggage would meet up with us in the next day. With all the times changes, after leaving Chico at 12:00 pm Saturday, we didn't arrive to our ship until about 5:00pm Sunday evening. Our first order of business was to file our luggage info with the ship's concierge desk so they could keep in touch with the airline. In the meantime they loaned Chris a staff jacket and offered to do our laundry each evening free of charge until our luggage arrived. After our welcome talk on the ship, we hit the shore and did a little evening exploring of Budapest which is one of the most beautiful cities at night.

The next day we had a walking tour of the city which included entrance to a large cathedral, a visit to both sides of the shore (Buda & Pest), and an impressive memorial in the city center.

When our luggage hadn't arrived by lunchtime on day 2 we found an H&M store in Budapest and stocked up on clothing essentials like underwear and skinny jeans for the boy (so tight he couldn't even bend over to put his shoes on!). Once properly attired, we stopped by one of our favorite European stops, McDonalds. In Europe, McDonalds have "McCafe's" which are in the same business as a regular McDonalds, but it's a whole separate counter with a menu of fancy coffees and cakes. And thankfully Cappuccino is the same in English as it is in Austrian.

By the time our boat sailed off at the end of the second day for Slovakia we still didn't have our luggage and knew that the soonest we could reunite with it would be on day 4 in Vienna, but at least we weren't in as dire straights as when we arrived. And despite our rocky start, Budapest was a wonderful surprise.