Avalon Imagery’s Magnificent Europe itinerary, sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest.
Day One: Left from home on Saturday afternoon and arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 am the following day. We were met at the airport by the Avalon representative and transferred to a hotel in a central location in Amsterdam. They had coffee, tea and sweets available to us and had representatives there to guide us and to answer questions. There was an optional excursion offered to a working Dutch farm, but since it was our first time in Amsterdam, we decided to pass on it. We could have returned to the hotel to be transferred on to the ship, but we opted to just explore and find our way to the ship on our own, which was very easy. It was a beautiful day and we walked past pretty canal scenery, the Dutch palace, the flower market, St. Nicholas Cathedral and other sights. When we arrived at the ship early, the hotel manager arranged for us to go to our cabins before the actual boarding time so we could relax before the welcoming activities began. Later on we were introduced to the officers and managers with a toast, we ate a great dinner and followed our cruise director, Nancy, on a impromptu tour of Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District.
Day Two: After a wonderful breakfast, we went on a canal boat tour of Amsterdam (included in the cruise fare) and saw just about all there was to see in Amsterdam! We passed the house where Ann Frank and her family were hidden from the Nazis during WW II, we saw houseboats, “dancing houses”, museums, cathedrals, the historical houses of Amsterdam’s upper class residents, warehouses steeped in history, historic bridges and so much more! Then we returned to the Imagery and, after a wonderful lunch buffet, we began our journey down the Rhine. On the way we passed real Dutch windmills out in beautiful fields, gliding between the dikes and the pastureland that inspired Rembrandt and the Dutch masters. Our tour director planned a musical guessing game in the evening for teams of 2 so I teamed up with a woman that sat with us at dinner and we tied with 2 couples for 1st place! (She is still disputing one of the answers and is claiming that we should have won first place all alone! – Too much fun!)
Day Three: When we woke up this morning we were in Germany, nearing our first port – Cologne. On the way, I attended an on-board lecture about the canals and locks that we would be traveling through. It was very interesting and helped us understand so much about the cruise experience we were about to have. After lunch we arrived in Cologne, which, overall, was not my favorite port. There was some interesting architecture, including the Cathedral, which was very impressive on the outside, but surprisingly plain on the inside. It had more of a “big city” atmosphere than what I had hoped to experience on this trip. The walking tour was included in the cruise fare and there was time for shopping afterwards. Being docked right in the city, we were able to stroll through the streets and return to the ship at our leisure. In the evening, we were treated to a concert on board by a trio consisting of a violinist, a cellist and a guitarist. It was very enjoyable and capped our day off nicely. During the night we passed the Remagen Bridge, well the pillars that remain from it, which was the subject of the famous WW II film, “The Bridge Too Far”.
Day Four: How can today not be the best of the entire trip! We sailed through the Rhine Gorge and it was so much better than I could have hoped with the river winding between high mountains dotted with castles and vineyards. It was even more beautiful when the morning fog gave way to a beautiful blue sky. Our next port, Rudesheim, also did not disappoint us. We visited Zigfried’s Magical Mechanical Music Museum which was very entertaining! It was in an old castle, which in itself was worth a tour, but the musical machines were really a treat. And there was even a hometown connection – a very elaborate machine which was handcrafted in Buffalo! After that we went to a very beautiful winery for a wine and cheese tasting. The setting was very Bavarian and the wine tasting was both informative and entertaining. We sampled wines and cheese and enjoyed it very much. With some time on our own to shop on the Drosselgosse, which was picturesque, too, we enjoyed our day in this beautiful village. We got back to the ship in time for coffee, tea and cake, served in the lounge with music. In the evening we relaxed on board. Soon we left the Rhine and began to sail up the Main River, passing Dusseldorf, Mainz and Frankfurt along the way. This area is a lot more industrial and not as scenic as what we have been seeing up to this point.
Day Five: This morning we had a concert by a professional zither player, of which we were told there are only 5 in the world. It was very entertaining. After lunch we were in Miltenberg. We had a tour there and then went by bus to Wertheim, a small and charming village of mostly shops. We had only a little over an hour here so we really didn’t kill our budget! We were supposed to spend more time in Miltenberg, but the tour director thought this arrangement was better so we could beat the crowds the next morning so we saved time by letting the captain take the ship through some locks while we toured.
Day Six: Well, the plan worked. We were the first group to be at the Bishop’s Residenz in Wurzburg this morning. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and we could see why! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures here, as is the case with most of the UNESCO buildings and I wish I could have captured some of what we saw to take home and see again and again. The ceiling of the main hall was unbelievable with frescoes, trump l’oiel and relief art all blended together. The mirror room was also spectacular. The rest of the town was pretty much just city, but the Residenz is not to be missed. The 2 cathedrals in town were architecturally interesting, too. Back on board, I went for the galley tour, which was given by my favorite chef, Uwe (the pastry chef!) Then I sat at the french balcony in our room with a book on castle gardens that we bought today and relaxed watching the scenery along the river. We had a nice dinner and then went to bed since we were tired from our very early day.
Day Seven: We got to sleep a bit later today, which was very nice. After breakfast, we had a lecture on the European Union given by a local professor. It was interesting, especially given the state of things in Europe these days. I must say, though, that the German perspective was different to that found in many of the other EU countries. This afternoon we visited Bamberg. I didn’t find Bamberg as interesting as some of the other places we visited, but that might have been because it was a rainy day. The town hall was pretty in that it was built in the middle of the river. There was also an attractive fountain. The highlight was to be tasting the smoky beer for which this area is famous, but, not being a beer drinker, I passed on that. While the architecture was typical of this area of Germany, the buildings were pretty much shops that were for the local population. I did hear people saying that got some good deals on leather. Maybe I should have looked!.
Day Eight: Our tour in Nuremberg was so worth the wake-up call! We toured by bus with a few stops in key locations. First we saw the Nazi sites – Zeppelin Field, The Documentation Center and the Courthouse where the Nazis stood trial for war crimes. Then we saw the brighter side of Nuremberg – the castle and the walled old city, and then the the market square. In the market square we saw the Cathedral with its wonderful glockenspiel which played for 3 minutes and had characters on several levels. Also in the square was the “Beautiful Fountain” which lived up to its name, being so ornate with gold and enamel, not to mention very VERY tall. Unfortunately, being Sunday, there weren’t any merchants set up on the square and most of the shops were closed, except for a few cafes and the tourist information center, which, as we found, is a great place for souvenir shopping! This afternoon, we had a lecturer on board who spoke about the Main-Danube Canal and its locks. During the lecture, we passed through the first of three 81-foot high locks. We went to the Sky deck to watch as we went through the second one and then watched the third one from our cabin. It was absolutely amazing to see how quickly we climbed to the top of each of these locks and the feeling from within was pretty incredible, too, like being in a deep canyon. Our lunch today was Bavarian and dinner took on a German taste, too. But the highlight was celebrating my husband’s birthday that evening when the so many of the staff and the cruise director came with sparklers and a cake to our table. Such a fun night! There was a beer-tasting event on board tonight, but having had so much of the wine (complimentary with each evening’s dinner) we passed on it.
Day Nine: Some people took an optional tour to Weltenburg Abbey, but since it was our first time here, we decided to just go with the included tour of Regensburg (and sleep in, too!). We strolled a little bit in the morning at our leisure, checked out some of the shops and then took the walking tour in the afternoon.
The highlight was the magnificent White and Gold Church – definitely a must-see. We could have gone to a sausage factory that has been making sausages for over 600 years for a complimentary BROTZEIT, a mid meal snack of sausage, sauerkraut, a roll and beer or soft drink, but somehow we managed to run out of time, between the tour, a cuckoo clock demonstration and, oh yes, shopping! I probably spent too much time trying to find the best deal on the local sweet mustard. I didn’t even allow myself enough time to visit the local TJ Maxx (there it is TK Maxx)! Tonight we had the best entertainment of the cruise – a local music teacher that is really quite a character. He performed both traditional Bavarian music and light classics on several different instruments, clad in lederhosen and suspenders and sporting a waxed mustache that must have spanned at least a foot on either side. He involved the audience in some hilarious pieces, leaving the rest of us laughing to tears. If you even have the chance to see Hans O Marusch, don’t miss it!
Day 10: We decided to skip the morning walking tour of Passau, our last stop in Germany, but we did walk around the town on our own after the morning fog cleared. The cathedral was beautiful and we are glad that we didn’t miss the opportunity to go inside. The we were back on the ship heading towards Linz, our fist Austrian port. The stop was basically to pick up our fellow passengers who had taken one of 2 optional tours, but we did have time to follow the cruise director for a brief walk around town to see some of its highlights. Then back on board. There was an electric violin concert, but we missed it as we had had a full day already.
Day 11: Today was another full day filled with wonderful sights. In the morning we took a tour to Melk Abbey, which at first, seemed hardly worth the trouble and then we were pleasantly surprised by the rest of the enormous complex. The view from the balcony of the Abbey also was a must-see. Definitely worth the short bus ride from the ship to see inside. Then it was back to the ship and sailing through the Wachau valley. The mountains, castles and vineyards were, once again, breathtakingly beautiful. This is river cruising at its best! Two PM we arrived in Durnstein. We decided to take a little train designated for gentle walkers and it was really relaxing and enjoyable, weaving through beautiful vineyards and into the town. After a quick walk through the town and its little shops, we took the downhill walk back to the ship. Tonight after dinner, the crew performed for us. This was not the typical cruise talent show. This was more of a variety show and it was very entertaining (and amusing!). Looking forward to Vienna tomorrow!
Day 12: I am so disappointed that I was under the weather today and was not able to go on the tour this morning of beautiful Vienna. Those who went were very impressed. Still others went on optional tours and were equally happy with what they experienced. Because of the schedule today, dinner was buffet, rather than the usual 5-course sit-down meal. After that, I was well enough, thankfully, to go on the optional excursion I chose, the Vienna Waltz Concert. When our bus arrived at Kursalon, the concert hall, I sensed the tradition of the place. Mozart actually performed there, and I believe that Johan Strauss did as well. The concert hall was very elegant and the concert itself did not disappoint me. The orchestra was great as were the opera singers and the ballet dancers. They played all the songs one would expect and want to hear in Vienna. It was well worth the cost. On the way back to the ship, we had a ride around the Ringstrasse, the main street circling the city, and with all the beautiful buildings illuminated, it completed a truly magical evening.
Day 13: Today we arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia (Slovak Republic, formerly part of Czechoslovakia) and found a totally different atmosphere than that which we had experienced so far on the trip. Vestiges of communism were still visible, even though the country has had a democratic government for several years now. I suppose the large square gray building just across from where we are docked set a tone for the day. There were some charming aspects, though, not the least of which was our tour guide, George. He was not only very knowledgeable and informative, but he has a great sense of humor which made the tour entertaining as well. Among the sights were the castle, which we visited from the outside only, the cathedral, the Russian military cemetery, St. Micheal’s Gate and the sculpture of Bratislava’s “working man” (you just have to see that one). The market square, surrounded by some of the embassies, was smaller than the ones in the other towns we visited, but I did manage to buy some nice souvenirs, like some necklaces made from semi-precious stones, as this had been part of the Amber Route and the Gem Route. Once tourists catch on to this city, I am sure it will become very cheerful and cosmopolitan, however, it is also nice to see now that it is not a typical tourist destination. Overall, I was happy to have visited this city. Back on the ship, we were treated to local entertainment, a musical performance of pop tunes by a local girl group. I spent too much time ashore shopping so I missed it, but heard it was a nice afternoon treat. Tonight was the Farewell Gala Dinner, complete with surf (shrimp) and turf (beef) and the customary baked Alaska parade. Now I need a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is our last day and I have an early flight on Sunday, so this is my last chance to sleep well.
Days 14 & 15: Our last day was spent in Budapest, Hungary. We started the morning out on the Sky Deck for a harbor tour. The ship made a quick trip along the Danube between Buda and Pest so we could see the magnificent buildings lining the river. This is a definite “must see”. After a quick breakfast we joined our tour, which was a bit hampered by the fact that it was a huge national holiday and some of the streets were closed due to a marathon race, a bicycle race and some peaceful demonstrations and gatherings. But we did see some of the historic buildings, a few of which remain in disrepair as a result of the past communist occupation. Liberty Square was very picturesque, but the highlight was Fisherman’s Bastion, a beautiful complex set high on the bank of the river. It is a place I would love to visit again on an ordinary day so we were not hampered by any holiday restrictions. But all in all, I am happy that we were able to visit.
At night we said our good-byes to the many friends we made during the course of the trip. The intimate setting of the ship was a great environment for friendship. We made friends with people from Texas, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Canada, Australia, Columbia, England, New Zealand, and other parts of the US. It was fun to hear about different places, but nice also to learn how we are the same. We got most of our packing done before dinner, and then finished up after dinner. For our last dinner, there was genuine Hungarian gypsy music performed by a strolling trio of gypsy musicians who went table to table for our entertainment. It was a fitting end to our cruise. Bedtime was early but not early enough for me. I booked our return flight very early since we had to work Monday morning. Budapest airport was a little behind in technology, but it only resulted in a minor inconvenience. I was very impressed with Milan where someone met our incoming plane and escorted us (not personally, but all who had connecting flights) to the proper gate. I only wish it had gone that smoothly at JFK in NYC. Anyway, we are now home with our souvenirs, our laundry, videos (which I hope I can make some still photos from) and good stories and fond memories. And of course, we are asking ourselves where we will go next! Maybe Bermuda again to relax, or maybe back to the Caribbean where we haven’t been for a long time, or maybe Alaska or Hawaii, or back to the Mediterranean to see things we missed or maybe Scandinavia, or maybe………….. Oh, there are so many places and we plan to see them all!