The Skoda and the Shoes
The interesting on board enrichment series continued with a talk about the European Union, very topical considering the situation with Greece. On board comics had already started quipping that in future Euros would be printed on Greece proof paper.
From the excursion options available we chose the “Nazi “Rallies”, covering the role of Nuremberg in the rise of Nazi Germany, some of the history and of course the trials. It was interesting to see first-hand the place where the rallies were held, after seeing so much video footage of the speeches and parades over the years. An informative and interesting trip, if not somewhat depressing to delve into a very dark time in human history. On a lighter note they make Playmobile close by and host the largest toy fair in the world each February. Many pencils are also manufactured in the area, so that was a good “point” for our guide to make (see what I did there).
Undoubtedly a major feature of cruising is meeting new people and we met some great people on this one. What better way to celebrate new friends than over a beer. Our beer day started with a cruise through a narrow gorge on the Danube and a tour of Weltenburg Abbey, which has the oldest brewery in Germany. Look into the eyes of your new friends (it’s the tradition) and click your glasses whilst shouting “Prost”. Our walking tour of Regensburg included a beer and Bratwurst tasting at the Old Sausage Kitchen, cheers! Back on the ship we joined in the Bavarian beer tasting demonstration and with so many Australian friends on board we proceeded to toast England’s thrashing of the Australians in the first Ashes test. The No.1 Beer had “hell” on the label, not a destination on the cruise itinerary (hell actually means it’s a bright lager).
The Danube transports us to Austria and we are whisked away from the ship for a guided tour of Salzburg. You can read about our day in Salzburg here. Listening to your guide on excursions is made easy with the radio devices provided by Avalon, so as long as you stay within 15 to 20 feet of your guide, you can hear them clearly without having to crowd in close.
Located at the entrance to the lovely Wachau Valley, the Benedictine Abbey of Melk is a place to exercise your superlatives. Lavish, beautiful, I could go on, but this latest incarnation built around 1700 is certainly one of Europe’s finest baroque constructions. Down a spiral staircase that seems to descend into the bowels of the earth, is the highlight of the monastery, the church. Here the lavish decoration is quadrupled and it contains the remains of St. Coloman, who was Austria’s first patron saint around 1014. All this magnificence just made the bag and I feel small, as you can see in the picture with Melk Abbey in the background.
After some scenic cruising along what is arguably the most beautiful part of the Danube (Wachau Valley), we enjoyed a walking tour of Durnstein. Its main claim to fame seems to be when Iam Hadmar II of Keening held Richard the Lionhearted captive and extorted a huge ransom to return him. My suggestion to capture some of the locals and see if we could get our money back was not met with enthusiasm.
My music/word association brain is back in the 80s again and Ultravox are giving their haunting rendition of Vienna as I’m guided around this most interesting of cities. A music link is apt as such greats as Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and of course Strauss have lived here, each adding to the immense richness of the music legacy of the city. Our tour of The Spanish Riding School, Cathedral (even the roof is amazing), etc, only left me yearning for more, a return visit for an in depth look is a must. Avalon temporarily satiated my lust for more with an exclusive optional excursion to the Royal Waltz Concert. A magnificent musical extravaganza held at the Natural History Museum and a fitting end to a glorious day.
Our next stop introduced me to Slovakia for the first time. Bratislava Castle has been inhabited since the late Stone Age and its museum allows you a glimpse into the history of this relatively new state. Its elevated position also allows you to get good views of the layout of some of the city and the Danube. The Baroque and Rococo architecture makes a tour of the city a delight but it was the quirky art that most caught my eye. The Man at Work sculpture is perhaps the most well-known, the workman popping up from the man hole to take a cheeky peep up ladies’ skirts, but I loved the Skoda that has been left for children to express themselves artistically. How times have changed.
Our final stop was Budapest and the impressive Hungarian Parliament building sits beside the Danube and welcomes us into the city. Like Vienna it’s hard to do it justice on the morning tour (fortunately we have arranged for two extra days here post cruise) but Fisherman’s Bastion was the highlight. Set up high and again offering commanding views of the city and river, its seven white turrets that gleam in the sunshine are not a homage to Disney’s Magic Kingdom but represent the Magyar tribes that entered the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th century. This is also a city of many unusual sculptures but by far the most moving is “Shoes on the Danube”, dedicated to the Jews, shot and thrown in the river in 1944.
What Impression do I have of Avalon Impression? Is Magnificent Europe Magnificent? Definitely! The Captain and his crew provide a luxurious and frankly pampered way to see this outstanding stretch of Europe’s waterways. Cross this off your bucket list soon, this is a great trip.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Avalon Waterways