La Serenissima

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Magical Christmas and New Year cruising the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers; Part 2

Vienna to Passau

Vienna, Austria

We sailed overnight to Vienna to arrive on Thursday 23rd December; just in time to spend a relatively hot day – min. 3 and max. 6!!! Almost beach weather …

 Because the Danube does not run through the city centre, the boat docks a 15-20 minute bus or tram ride away, but that enables you to see some of the outskirts. Our tour included a coach drive past Prater Park and the famous Ferris wheel, driving the full circle of the Ringstrasse and glimpsing the elegant grand homes, and then on foot, St Stephen’s Cathedral (including the horses beside it),  and the pedestrian streets of the Graben and Kohlmarkt. 

From here, we walked through the archway of Hofburg Palace and through to another major facade of the Palace which faces in to.Heldenplatz

Then on to the Christmas Markets at the City Hall – “Rathaus” in German – and at Maria Theresienplatz. At both, there was a mixture of decorations, food of various types – most importantly strudel, which we discovered also came as a drink! – and gluhwein of course. At the Rathaus, we shared an old fashioned paper cone of hot roasted chestnuts, in memory of Julian’s mum and dad, who used to talk about having them in the winter in the European section of Alexandria.

The architecture along the streets of the old city centre was beautiful. In the centre of the Graben there was a huge area devoted to selling live and cut Christmas trees, including lots of Blue Spruces no less, and one stall had a large bunch of mistletoe – so of course we shared a kiss under it, much to the amusement of the stall owner!

That night, I took the optional tour to a concert by the Vienna Residenz Orchestra, one of the world’s finest chamber orchestras, who played Mozart and Strauss music. The venue was Auersperg Palais, said to be one of the best venues to enable a large group (of about 120 people would be my guess) to experience a very personal and private concert. Ama and APT regularly book such places, which are otherwise quite expensive and booked out considerably in advance. We were also treated to a fine ballet performance and beautiful singing by a tenor and a soprano. A delightful evening, capped off by a night ride on the Ringstrasse so we could see the Christmas lights.

Melk, Washau and Durnstein

We spent the morning of Christmas Eve cruising from Melk, through the Wachau valley, a major wine region, to Durnstein. Quite a few people got off the boat in Melk to tour the beautiful Abbey there. We decided to stay on board, enjoying the scenery floating past us. The vineyards looked beautiful in the soft, misty light, the pruned winter vines tumbling down the terraced ground. A real photo opportunity!!

We decided that, it being Christmas Eve an’ all, we would opt for a completely lazy day and view Durnstein from the boat as well! I might say that you can experience the beauty of the countryside easily from the boat, as you are gliding through it. What’s not to like??? And besides, we could breathe the air on the deck (somewhat chilly air with a low of zero) or take in the local sights from the comfort of the lounge. So we did!

 My “Daily Cruiser” says “the Wachau Valley is one of the most beautiful regions in Austria”. Durnstein, situated on the Danube had “an ideal loation in the Middle Ages, it’s steep rock river banks gave protection from floods and gave ample space for settlement and fortification. It was in Kuenringer Castle, whose ruins overlook Durnstein, that the English King Richard the Lion heart was held prisoner from 1192 to 1193. We had a clear view of the castle as well as the beautiful blue spired Augustine Abbey Church, apparently one of the most photographed places in Austria.

That evening, we enjoyed a Christmas Eve dinner with turkey and all the trimmings. There was also Christmas tree decorating – an Austrian-German tradition where all of the family gathers for dinner and then decorates the tree together ready for Christmas Day. We had wondered why there were 2 huge but bare Christmas trees in the lounge area … ah, mystery solved! And the trees were indeed looking very good on Christmas Day. There was of course a very nicely decorated tree in the foyer, giving it a very festive and homey feel.

Linz, Passau and Salzburg

Merry Christmas!! It was December 25th and we arrived in Linz at around 8 am. Many people got off the boat to take the full day tour to Salzburg and rejoin us in the afternoon at Passau. By all accounts, those who did the Salzburg tour were delighted with it.

We decided to enjoy the gorgeous views as we continued down the Danube into Bavaria, arguably one of the most scenic states in Germany, and towards Passau. Known sometimes as “the town of the three rivers", Passau lies in the frontier between Germany and Austria at the junction of the Inn, Danube and Ilz rivers.

For those who are not sufficiently diverted by the scenery, there is the Aft Lounge, where you get uninterrupted views and also comfy chairs, tables and board games. There is also a small library with a range of books from novels to travel books mainly focussing on the areas that the boat sails through. There are also visits to the wheelhouse with Captain Henk and some fun activities in the lounge run by the Maitre D. If that wasn’t enough there was an endless supply of goodies to eat – between meals, that is!! Heaven knows we were all starving!! (not).

I might say the Danube is an interesting spectacle in itself. Like all of the major rivers in Europe, it is a “working” river, so there is an endless array of tugs and barges plying its waters, carrying containerised and manufactured goods, such as cars, shown below.

En route we enjoyed more splendid riverscapes, villages and snow covered country.

We got off the boat in the afternoon in Passau, and had a wonderful walk through the old town. At one point, the snow drifted down softly in light flurries. Many families, spanning three generations, all rugged up and possibly still walking off Christmas Eve dinners, were strolling about too. Wonderful. 

There are many classical buildings in the old town, with some medieval structures and even some ancient Roman ruins. The city itself is some 2000 years old.

We decided to have a coffee in one of the few places that were open – it was, Christmas Day after all. It turned out that the café was run by a very exuberant Italian man who was not only dispensing espressos, but also much joy and laughter, chatting animatedly to patrons he obviously knew. Before too long we got talking to him, Julian speaking in Italian of course. Great excitement all round; he had a cousin who lived in Sydney!

Just a little post-script: Somewhere between Linz and Passau, we were treated to a very strange yet rivetting scene …

Apparently a very weathy aristocrat from the area had a great liking for the Parthenon … so, what else could he do but build his very own?! Pictured here is the Parthenon “too” in a setting that we don’t believe you would ever see in Athens!!

No comments:

Post a Comment