Cruising the Danube from Budapest to Prague

After too long without travel, we finally have a new trip to Europe coming up. Soon we will be embarking on a Brand G river cruise, sailing up the Danube from Bucharest to Budapest. Planning for this trip got me thinking about the first Danube river cruise we took many years ago, so I thought I’d share some of the highlights from that trip.

Our very first river cruise was with Avalon, from Budapest to Prague. Like the one we have coming up it was a gay cruise; that time we were with RSVP. We had a fabulous time, and this set the stage for us booking several other river cruises since (such as the one I wrote about in my Portugal post).

Budapest

We started the trip with 2 days in Budapest. Budapest hadn’t been on my travel bucket list, but after visiting there I’m telling you that it should be on yours. What a beautiful city with such a fascinating history! I learned that Budapest was separated into two sides, which had in the past been separate cities. The Buda side is the more historical of the two, dominated by Castle Hill. We spent time exploring the 18th c Buda Castle and Matthias Church then moved on to my favorite, the Romanesque Fisherman’s Bastion. With its seven towers (to symbolize the seven chieftains of the Magyars) it looks like something right out of a fairy tale. We whiled away the best part of an afternoon taking in the panoramic views from the terraces.

Pest is more modern and home to the third largest parliament building in the world, as well as the Opera House and Hero’s Square. I loved the statues in the square, again representing the original seven Magyar chieftains as well as many other national leaders. Be sure to also visit Central Market Hall. The building itself is architecturally interesting, and you can find an amazing selection of food and souvenirs to bring home.

Also on the Pest side, you shouldn’t miss the heartbreaking “Shoes on the Danube Bank”. This memorial honors the Jews who were massacred by the fascist Hungarian militia during WW2. They were ordered to take off their shoes and stand at the waters edge where they were then shot. The installation represents their shoes, left behind on the riverbank.

While in Budapest we stayed at the lovely Intercontinental Hotel. It’s right on the river with fabulous views of the Chain Bridge and Castle Hill. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to try out any of the thermal baths, but I heard from some of our fellow travels that they were awesome.

Budapest really comes to life at night, so be sure to make time for a nighttime stroll. While Paris may be the “City of Lights”, Budapest gives it a run for its money.

Budapest to Vienna

After a peaceful cruise down the river admiring the view, we docked in Vienna. Our first tour was to Schoenbrunn Palace, the historic summer home of the Hapsburg rulers. A Rococo masterpiece, the palace has over 1,400 rooms and rivals Versailles in its opulence. The gardens are fantastic and enormous, so be sure to give yourself ample time for rambling.

Shonbrunn Palace

Our next stop was St. Stephan’s Cathedral. A marvelous gothic cathedral with a richly decorated roof, it is as spectacular on the inside as it is on the outside. I loved the statues and the variety of stained glass. It’s also worth spending the time taking in the exhibit of the cathedral treasures. While you’re walking around, be sure to search for the statue the builder put of himself, half-hidden behind a little door on the base of the pulpit.

We spent the afternoon seeing the rest of the city on our own. We walked to The Hofburg, admiring the exterior without going in. We did the same with the majestic Opera House, then spent time shopping in Vienna’s pedestrian zone, only stopping to treat ourselves to a delicious Sachertorte.

The Wachau Valley

We said goodbye to Vienna and spent much of the next day cruising through the Wachau Valley. This UNESCO World Heritage site is Austria’s wine country, with beautiful rolling hills on both sides of the river. I enjoyed seeing all of the fortresses on the hillsides as we cruised past, and was particularly thrilled to see the ruins of the castle where Richard the Lionhearted had been imprisoned. We also visited the 18th c Baroque masterpiece, Melk Abbey. The opulent interior is full of beautiful frescos and sculpture, highlighted by the magnificent Marble Hall and ornately decorated church.

Day Trip to Salzburg

Going to Salzburg on a gay cruise takes your Sound of Music experience up a notch. How many Marias can descend upon a town at one time!? Along the way we stopped in the picturesque little town of Mondsee to admire the basilica where the wedding scene was filmed. Once in Salzburg we toured another Sound of Music locale, the Mirabell Palace, spending time strolling through the lovely gardens where the song “Do-Re-Mi” was filmed. We finished the day on a walking tour through the Old Town, stopping to admire the surprisingly plain facade of Mozart’s birthplace as well as St. Peter’s Cemetery, where the evil Rolfe betrays the Von Trapp family.

Back on the ship we had one of our more memorable nights. We were graced with having the fabulous entertainer Alyssa Umphress, star of the Broadway revival of On The Town, on board with us. That night she performed a medley of songs from The Sound of Music. Since of course everyone on board knew every word to every song, it quickly became a sing-along. At the end my husband Dennis exclaimed it was “the gayest thing he’d ever seen” and everyone, including Alyssa, heartily agreed!

Regensburg

Crossing into Germany, our next stop was the Bavarian city of Regensburg. Strolling the town, we admired the stunning medieval architecture. Unfortunately we had the worst weather of our trip and thunderstorms drove us inside for much of our time. Still, the Cathedral, Old Town Hall and Haidplatz Square are worthwhile sights in any weather.

Nuremberg

Continuing through Bavaria we landed in our disembarkation city of Nuremberg. The morning was a walking tour of the Old Town, where we took shelter from the continuing storms under a portico near the Frauenkirche. In the afternoon, we had a choice between two tours which our Cruise Director characterized as the “happy tour” (Nuremberg’s toy-making history) or the “sad tour” (Nuremberg’s Nazi Party history). We decided on the “sad” tour, so our first stop was the amazing museum at the Documentation Center, built in a wing of the unfinished Congress Hall of the former Nazi party. The exhibit, with a very educational audio guide, takes you through the chronological history of the Nazi party from Hitler’s rise through the Nuremberg trials. It was both chilling and heartbreaking to see how propaganda fueled the party’s rise to power and led to the destruction of so many lives.

After the museum, we toured the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. The concrete structures are starting to crumble and we were told that there is an ongoing debate as to whether they should be rebuilt or be allowed to decay and collapse (I read here that the city of Nuremberg has since decided the site should be maintained). It was an eerie experience to stand in the stadium and recall the black and white newsreel images of the rallies that took place here. I understand how it would be important to preserve the history, however horrible, and I can also understand those that wanted the site to be bulldozed.

Prague

Off the ship, we hopped on a bus to spend our last two days in Prague. I’ve written that Paris is my favorite city, well Prague might come in a close second. It has one of the best preserved medieval town centers in the world, with beautiful buildings everywhere you look. After strolling slowly to admire all of the statues along the very crowded Charles Bridge, we spent our first morning exploring Prague Castle. We then visited the nearby St. Vitus Cathedral, which has some of the most beautiful stained glass I’ve seen. While exploring the area around the castle be sure to check out the Lennon Wall. Started in the 1980’s after John Lennon’s assassination, the wall is now completely covered with art and graffiti and has become a symbol for freedom and peace.

Crossing back over Charles Bridge, we spent our remaining time checking out the Old Town Square. The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings of many different architectural styles, and is dominated by the striking Church of our Lady before Tyn. Making our way over to the Town Hall, we wanted to be on time to see the astronomical clock in action. First installed in 1419, it’s the oldest such clock still operating. The clock presents an hourly show with moving figures of apostles and a skeleton representing Death. It gets very crowded and we were warned it’s a favorite spot of pickpockets so be sure to stay aware and not become too mesmerized by the clock’s movements. After the show we made our way along the river to see one of my favorite buildings – the iconic Dancing House otherwise known as “Fred and Ginger”.

It was a wonderful trip. While I’m excited to cruise the rest of the Danube, I’ll admit I’m also a little nervous heading back to Europe next week with the Covid situation still going on. I’m put a little at ease by the fact that the countries we’re visiting are all green or yellow status, the ship (as well as several of the countries) requires proof of vaccination for all passengers and every country we are visiting has mask mandates. So it will be as safe as venturing out anywhere can be in these uncertain times.

6 Comments

  1. Linda K says:

    I loved reading about the places…and palaces that you visited. So much history steeped in those cities and monuments. I didn’t know that about Budapest being two distinct areas…very interesting! Salzburg and Prague are definitely places I’d love to visit one day…a cruise might just be the way to do it.

    Like

    1. Ross says:

      I would definitely recommend a river cruise, it’s a great way to see the area!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cindy says:

    Have the best time! I’ll miss you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like an amazing trip. Just one of the stops sounds so tempting at the moment after a year without visiting the region. But you seem to have missed the best city along the route, Bratislava 😉

    Like

    1. Ross says:

      I was sad we didn’t stop in Bratislava. I’ll have to make sure we visit next time!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s