On the eleventh day we stopped at Vienna which is a beautiful city of two million people. Fortunately we spent two days there and were given some opportunities to do different things while we were here. We were initially given a bus tour of the city which allowed us to get our bearings in this large city. We were shown the opera house, museums, parliament, city hall and the Votiv church. Unfortunately while you are in a bus you really can’t take good pictures so we went off on our own on foot to relook at some of these sights and take some good pictures.
After catching a couple of sights we stopped at Café Landtmann. This is a century old coffee shop frequented by many famous people over the years. This was Sigmund Freud’s favorite café and Tom Cruise stops in when he is shooting Mission Impossible movies. Coffee in Vienna is a big deal. It was originally introduced to the city when the Turks invaded and ended up having to leave thousands of pounds of coffee behind when they were kicked back out of the city. There are about nine different types of coffee you can order with regards to how it is served. Most of the variations are based on the amount of expresso shots or hot milk added although other more fancy types have whipped cream and brandy. You can’t just drink coffee at a real Vienna cafe. You really need to order something with it such as Sachertorte which is a rich chocolate cake that Vienna is famous for. Our waiter told us though that Landtmann’s was most famous for their apple strudel so we decided to try this. Once again there were options on how they served you the strudel. We took it with both whip cream and ice cream! We ended up staying at the café for over an hour while we let the weather improve a little and used the great wifi they had there. We were told on the ship that sometimes people come in and order one small cup of coffee and stay for hours reading newspapers and no one in the café will ever get upset.
After we got back on the road we visited a few gardens and saw the statue of Mozart and Haydn. Austria has so many famous composers and musicians but Mozart’s life story is the most interesting. He was a child prodigy and was able to play the piano like a true artist when he was only 3 years old. His father, who was also a composer, was so impressed with his son’s unusual talent that he took him to Vienna to play. His abilities were so well appreciated in Vienna he ended up touring all major European cities over the next 3 years. From there he started writing his own music compositions where he ended up writing over 600 compositions until he was 35 and died expectantly of an illness he had picked up while traveling. Such a remarkable talent to die so young!
We walked over to the palace to take some pictures and marvel at the many buildings that composed of this magnificent complex. While walking through one of the buildings we were treated with a view of the famous Lipizzan stallions. These amazing horses were imported from Spain but they have a very special training school called the Spanish Riding School for these horses to learn to perform in the palace. We were able to take several pictures of these stallions poking their heads outside their stalls and watched a group of our Viking passengers walk in to the stalls on a tour they had arranged of this Spanish Riding School. It was interesting to find out they were told they could not take any pictures of the horses during the tour and yet we were able to snap away at the horses while they were having a great time in the stalls.
After leaving the palace we went to St Stephens Cathedral which is a really amazing church. We went inside and were amazed to see so many statues that were plated in silver. Up until now, it seemed like all statues in other European cities had all there church statues plated in gold. The cathedral is located in the very center of town and shops line all the roads around it. The streets were packed with people and this certainly was the busiest city we had seen. Many of these shops are very high end (Tiffany’s, Armani, Dior, etc.) and the buildings that these shops were in were as old as the 12th century cathedral we had just visited. We assume the affluent people of the city lived above these shops in very nice apartments.
On our way back to the ship we stopped off at a very old carnival that has a giant Ferris wheel built over 120 years ago. It was amazing how large this Ferris wheel was and it contained about 18 “cabins” that are carried around by the wheel. Up to 15 people can get into these large cabins and you can rent one out for 1.5 hours for $350 if you want to have some private time with a few friends. We were told that this is a popular way for someone to propose while up in this Ferris wheel. They also said that they had actual wedding ceremonies in these “cabins” as they went around.
Vienna is truly a remarkable city and everyone should get an opportunity to visit it.
Wachua Valley Bike Trip
On the twelfth day (second day in Vienna) we took a bike ride in Wachua Valley. Sharon had found this excursion through Viator and it was well priced for a full day tour. We had scouted out our meeting place the day before and got up early to meet the other riders. Three other couples from our cruise group went with us and there were another 9 people we met at the bike rental shop that also were signed up for the tour. We all headed off on a tram, metro and train ride to eventually get to Krems, a city on the outskirts of the Wachua Valley where we had actually made a brief stop on the cruise 2 days before. It seems amazing that you can take a one hour train ride to go the distance it took us cruise in one day. That just goes to show you how winding the river is and how the locks slow you down in a river cruise ship.
From Krems we all got assigned a bike and took off through the town and on into the country side which was very pretty and you could see vineyards almost anywhere that you look. We had several rest breaks to keep the group together since many people would stop and take pictures. These stops gave the guide an opportunity to explain the wine industry to us while we waited for people to catch up. Our first stop was a winery co-op to do some wine tasting. A wine co-op is a winery that makes wine from several different vineyards owned by different people. By having a co-op winery it is more cost effective to produce the wine so that not every small grower has to have these more elaborate facilities.
From the winery co-op we went off to Dunstein which is a small quaint town. This was a stop for lunch but we decided to do some hiking instead. We climbed the nearby hill which had the ruins of the Austrian King’s castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned while waiting for his ransom to be paid (see last blog). The views from on top of this hill were really great and we spend quite a bit of time taking some pictures up in that area. We came down the mountain on a different side (not intentionally) and had to hustle to meet our group to continue the tour. The town itself was quite quaint with many little shops that had hand crafted items. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to really look at any although we did grab a quick snack at a local bakery to make up for missing lunch.
Our bike group was split in two because we had to be back to the ship by 6:00 and we were already running late. This meant ourselves plus the other 3 ship couples missed the tour’s steamboat ride and some extra biking time but we still had a good time together in our small group. We did one other wine tasting in the town at a family owned winery. It was in their little home that was several hundred years old and is now used as a bed and breakfast. They were having a special family event, so we did not stay long and headed back to Krems to catch the train. We were able to get off the train, hustle back to the ship and board right before they took off for Budapest.
On the thirteenth day of our cruise we arrived in Budapest around 8:30 in the morning. You definitely want to be awake when the ship comes into (or out of) this city because you get some great views. After our arrival we took a city tour that took us to the Hero’s Square City Park, Opera House, Zoo, St Stephens Basilica and then on to the Royal Palace. We broke away from the main group in the bus when we got to the Royal Palace area to cover some more ground on our own. We were able to view the Matthias Church from several angles and its shingled roof was very unique. We spent some time at the Fisherman’s Bastion that has a great overlook of the city on the other side of the river.
As we were walking back towards the Royal Palace we just happened to get there when the Royal Guard was changing at noon. The changing of the guard here was as or more impressive than the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in London with a lot fewer people in the way. If you ever get a chance to see it, don’t leave just after the two guards are exchanged. Wait until the eight soldier formation comes all the way back around. When they get back in front of the two new guards they put on quite an impressive show of rifle drills. If you get an opportunity to see this, it is worth waiting to watch the procedure.
We were able to view the funicular from up on the hill top and was surprised to see a long line of people waiting to come up. Although the funicular is an easy way to get up to the top and see the palace grounds, the walk is certainly not that bad and has some great views along the way. The Palace grounds were nice but the views on the back side were really great. We took a picture of the Hungary’s Statue of Liberty at the far end of the palace and then walked back down to the river from there.
The views from the bridge we crossed were also very nice. The weather was perfect with no rain and plenty of sun. Our ship was in easy view from across the other side of the river and we were able to see a couple from our group having a little lunch as we looked down upon them from the bridge to our ship.
That night after dinner we went out to take a few sunset pictures. The sun set behind the bridge and palace making some nice views to remember Budapest before we headed out the next morning for our last stop at Prague. This was also our goodbye to the Viking Skirnir where we had made home for over two weeks.
Sharon and Greg