Amsterdam to Budapest
The A and B of Christmas – Amsterdam to Budapest – started when we set foot on this luxury Christmas Cruise aboard the Emerald Sky- forget about rushing around the shops for Christmas gifts, sit back and relax and watch this wonderful world go by on the Emerald Waterways premier ship – well you could do, but this is such an interesting trip with so many beautiful places to see it is a shame to miss them. The beautiful cabins will give you a time to relax, the heated swimming pool that turns into a cinema in the evening is an on board oasis to help you unwind,relax and enjoy.
Our ‘A’ started in Amsterdam when we joined our fellow passengers from all over the world – the flights are all inclusive in the price of your holiday – our smooth transfers by the Emerald Sky’s excellent staff took us to our cabins see the ‘on board’ reviews for details on the ship. Amsterdam is an exciting, cosmopolitan city and if this is your first visit this is a good way to see the highlights. After our welcome dinner and a good nights sleep we toured Amsterdam on Emerald’s coaches that pick you up from the ship and take you to the meandering canals to do a tour on a glass top canal boat. After this unique way to visit a city, the coach takes you to the many interesting sights also giving you plenty of time for you to have free time to explore this lovely city.
Next stop was Cologne – Germany’s oldest city. Cologne is a Christmas markets paradise, hot Gluhwein, long, long Bratwurst, music and a wonderful way to start the Christmas holiday off. My suggestion is take a bigger bag than you need, you will certainly be bringing lots of lovely Christmas gifts home but how many baubles does anyone need! and leave room for the Lintz chocolates from the Chocolate Museum.
Cruising the mighty Rhine Gorge has you spell bound from morning to night – but remember this is December and the weather is cold, no sun bathing on the Sun Deck – take your warm clothes, hats, scarves, thermal anything as believe me you will need them! The classic village of Rudesheim was our next stop famous for its narrow Drosselgasse Lane with cosy taverns that sell the best known Germany brandy Asbach. The town is also famous for its Christmas Market and Beer Festivals. The mini train takes you from the ship to the Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Instrument Museum, its cable car will take you up the hillside over the vineyards where at the top a welcome coffee or local wine can be purchased at a cafe with wonderful views of the Rhine.
Miltenberg is another historic, interesting village on the River Main, yes this trip does go through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary over 1,800 km and three rivers and a canal. The Emerald Sky’s mooring is so good that you can walk into the town and wander around looking at the village with it’s timber clad buildings. If you are feeling fit walk up to the Castle and look at the stunning views and gardens. We only had a short stop here but the walking tour was included as are all the walking tours on Emerald Sky, all interesting and full of little ‘tip bits’ that only the local guides can know.
Wertheim only a short visit here but a lovely little town with yet another castle and historic buildings. Our ship ‘followed’ us this time negotiating one of the locks – the ship on this trip goes through 68 locks as we had this short hop on a coach very pleasant and one of our fellow passengers cycled from Miltenburg to Wertheim – it can be done and he got there safe and sound but not for the faint hearted, remember the cold does get to parts you don’t expect!! Wertheim is an attractive town with narrow lanes and cosy inns.
Wurzburg was our next destination a visit to the Bishop’s Residence it is one of Germany’s largest and most ornate Baroque Palace and a UNESCO World heritage site definitely getting up a little earlier to see it. I must say the Emerald Waterways tours are planned so well by the excellent cruise directors with no really early starts. Wurzburg is a typical Germany village; sit with the locals for a coffee and cake or just wander around this town.
Bamberg a city of ‘seven hills’ and a beautiful town. You will have heard of the Three Musketeers, well the bridges and the Rat Haus (Town Hall) was used whilst filming this programme for TV. The Church of … is set on one of the hills but isn’t a difficult walk, but do take care as the roads are cobbled. Another Christmas Market or two and by this time we where really in the Christmas mood.
Nuremberg – as you sit in on of the many welcoming taverns it is hard to remember the rise of Hitler or the enjoyment found in Nuremberg before the Second World War. Our visit took us to the site of the Nuremberg Rallies, a haunted area as you remember the scenes of Hitler stood addressing his troops. The famous Transport Museum and Documentation Centre are excellent museum that covers the Third Reich and the subsequent trials of war criminals, the tour is excellent and very interesting. Our free time was also a pleasure. Nuremberg is at Christmas time a vibrant, cosmopolitan city and very busy, the main square has the ‘Beautiful Fountain’ a spire-like Gothic construction about 55 feet high containing about 40 figures. The Church of Our Lady is from the same period with moving figures (at noon) you can ‘shop till you drop’ here.
Sailing this morning takes you through the final stretch of the Main-Danube Canal to Kelheim. This was the first stop on our second week, a Bavarian town with a visit to the Beer Keller, a typical Bavarian Lunch and a visit to Ludwig’s memorial. On to Regensburg which is on the northernmost point of the River Danube and this is one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities. The ship docks at Passau for a short visit or a optional trip to Obendorf and Saltzburg. We took the wonderful trip to Saltzburg. It was definitely worth the extra cost of 80 euros each including lunch and transfers.
Melk with its amazing, opulent Baroque Abbey and church towering over the town, this attractive place is within easy walking distance from the ship. You do see a lot of churches and historic buildings and sometimes your brain goes in ‘overload’ with all the facts and figures, this is an abbey not to miss and as you leave the church turn left and look at the wonderful gardens that surround the abbey, call for a coffee with the locals and see how the people live in Melk. The two rivers the Danube and Melk join here, the gateway to the Wachau area of Austria. The views from the sun deck are stunning,the landscape of steep wooded hills dotted with castles and chapels interspersed with vineyards and orchards, standing with hot gluhwien watching castles and small villages go by is such a treat on a winter’s day.
Our afternoon visit to Durnstein intrigued us with the stories of King Richard the Lionheart who was said to have been captured and held in the castle of Durnstein. Some is historical fact, some a fable but the village has its own quaint charm, many fruits flourish and among them the apricot it is put in jams, liqueurs, cakes and chocolates even soaps.
A coach tour from the ship touring the wonderful sights of Vienna is a must, this is a large city and to get any sense of the area it is best to see it from the coach. You can not ‘see’ this city in a day but just a taster was enough to want to make me come back. We had a tour of the city centre which was fascinating with good guides and the walking tour did not disappoint, from the grandeur of the buildings to the city centre full of exclusive shops. In the evening an optional trip to the Sound of Vienna is an unforgettable experience and lots of fun.
A walking tour of Bratislava was fascinating, the Old Town full of character, you experience the pedestrian plazas and 18th century Roccoco buildings. This was my favourite Christmas Market – that may sound strange after visiting so many on this trip – it was busy with a lovely family feel to it, locals out enjoying the food stalls and the entertainment, old fashioned swings and an ice skating rink, not commercial, just fun.
We sailed from Bratislava to Budapest through the night and in the morning woke up to the wonderful sight of the sun shining in our cabin and the view was of the outstanding Budapest Parliament Building. Budapest, another city that needs more time – our coach took us on a very comprehensive tour, free time can be had but my advise would be to get a taxi from the ship to the city centre of Pest if the ship is moored on the opposite side of the river to the Parliament Building. It is a long walk in the cold over the Chain Bridge but well worth it for an excellent cream tea at the Sofitel Hotel!
The end of a magnificent trip full of luxury, friendship, excellent service a ‘feast for all your senses’. If you want to visit more than one Christmas Market then the A-B of River Cruising with Emerald Waterways will put the ‘sparkle’ into any Christmas.
Glynis Sullivan travelled with Emerald Waterways. Read more information
• Read more about Emerald Waterways Christmas Cruises.