John and Elizabeth Lucas
Except where noted, all text and photographs are copyright 2018 by
John A. and Elizabeth B. Lucas. All rights reserved.
In 40+ years of friendship with Debbie Heath and Kevin Kelley,
we had never taken a vacation together. The Kelleys had taken
Viking river cruises in recent years and wanted us to join them
for a voyage. We agreed if it would be a substantial one -- in
the event, the Viking "Grand Tour" from Amsterdam to Budapest by
water with a extension by bus to Prague. We chose a late
September sailing to avoid the summer heat. What we didn't take
into account was the extremely hot and dry summer that Europe
experienced in 2018. Some locations had not had rain since
And so, the answer the question posed by the subtitle is -- a
river cruise isn't a river cruise when there's not enough water
in the rivers to permit the ships to move. Viking and all the
other cruise ship operators had ships stuck all over Europe in
patches of rivers deep enough to float the ships. The fleets had
become something like chains of floating hotels. We did
manage to sail up the Rhein and down the Danube, though we had
to wait a half day or so for rain in Switzerland to arrive in
the Middle Rhein, enough to let us pass the Lorelei with but 3
inches (8 cm) of water under the keel. We knew before we left
that we would be using a different ship than the intended one
(as it couldn't get to Amsterdam and we never did see it). As it
turned out, we had to change ships in mid-voyage as the
Rhein-Main-Danube canal was impassable. We also couldn't sail
the Danube from Vienna to Budapest so we had to be taken by bus.
Of course, none of this was anything that the tour companies
could control. Viking did a tremendous job redefining
pickup/dropoff times and places for each day's coaches and local
guides -- long hours on mobile phones and internet each night
for the people responsible for logistics.
A very small sample of typical Amsterdam
Yes that brownish building above is tilting!
(Left) Many of the major museums are located in the same area called the Museumplein. The Concertgebouw is also there, one of the great concert houses of the world. We didn't attend a concert there on this trip, but and his father did attend an all Brahms choral concert here in 1970; (Right) The Van Gogh Museum did not exist in 1970. At that time, its collection was housed in the Stedelijk Museum (of modern art) and much of the Van Gogh material was on tour in the US!
The Rijksmuseum focuses on the arts and history. It is the most visited Dutch museum and the largest art museum in the Netherlands. It is most famous for its collection of Rembrandt and Vermeer paintings. Because of the low light levels and the number of visitors (sometimes 10 deep in front of the most famous paintings), we could not make acceptable photographs.
The following four photographs of paintings are from Wikimedia
Commons. (See articles on Rembrandt and Vermeer and their
respective galleries of photos.) There were too many heads in
the way and the light level was low enough that hand-held
photography of acceptable quality was impossible.
The ship left Amsterdam in the late afternoon of September 28th and we awoke on the 29th already docked at Kinderdyck, a group of still-active windmills. As with many of the sites visited on our tour, Kinderdyck has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With the exceptionally dry summer in 2018, there wasn't any
excess water to remove so all the windmills were inactive at
And this is what Kinderdyck looks like in early morning.
Cologne is on both sides of the Rhein River with a population of more than a million inhabitants. It was founded in the 1st Century AD by the Romans. IT was almost completely destroyed by British and US bombers during WW2.
Cathedral has several distinctions:
During the Second World War, the cathedral was bombed but
survived (chiefly because it served as a landmark for flattening
the rest of the city).
Koblenz is situated on both banks of the Rhein at the confluence with the Moselle River. Like Cologne, it was founded by the Romans and almost completely destroyed during WW2.
We docked at Koblenz after cruise during the night from Cologne and past Bonn, the former capital of West Germany. While we waited for the buses for our morning excursion, we strolled to the nearby park at the confluence of the rivers.
Even the Moselle showed some signs of the drought. There was a statue of Emperor William I (1797-1888), a member of the Prussian Hohenzollern dynasty and the first head of state of a unified Germany. Until that time, the region was highly fragmented by small principalities, duchies and the like, leftovers of the Holy Roman Empire. With the reunification of Germany in this century, William I has gotten more recognition. He was the grandfather of "Kaiser Bill" of World War One.
Ehrenbreitstein Fortress sits on the east bank of the Rhein across from the Rhein-Moselle confluence. It was built by Prussia 1817-1828 after its predecessor had been destroyed in the Napoleonic Wars. Many of the fortifications face away from the river, guarding a much easier approach. It was never attacked.
South (upstream) of Koblenz and Ehrenbreitstein, the river runs through a gorge with towns, two railroads and networks of highways as well as dense river traffic. On the heights every mile or two is a castle or palace. Most were constructed 1100-1300 and served two purposes for the local nobility:
Castles may be ruins, private homes or hotels (burghotels).
While we were still docked in Koblenz, we took an excursion to
Castle, about 10 kilometers upstream on the eastern side
of the river. The castle was built c. 1117 and was never
destroyed, although heavily damaged in World War Two. It is the
headquarters of the German Castle Association.
The parking lot is at the ridgeline at the left. Touring the castle includes ascending 100 feet or so by stairs or a lane and then confronting difficult walking conditions in the lower parts of the castle. But the effort is well worth it.
Arms and armor; medieval string and wind instruments
At Mainz, we turned away from the Rhein and began to ascend the Main River past Wiesbaden and Frankfurt am Main. Although we were able to make good time between locks, the time it takes to go through a lock drastically lowers the average speed. There are a lot of locks, but they helped to keep the water level close to peak levels on the Main.
At Würzburg, we did not have a city tour, but did visit the Würzburg Residence, a palace built 1720-1744 for the Prince-Bishops. We could not take pictures inside so to view the opulent-to-excess interior, including the world's largest fresco, see the link for the residence in this paragraph.
Rear facade and gardens:
The city has about 11,000 inhabitants (2000 in the old town) and is one of the best preserved medieval towns. It was founded in 1170, and besieged in the 30 Years’ War, 1631.
Several films have used Rothenburg: parts of Chitty Chitty
Bang Bang, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm,
and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 and 2. It is
said to be the inspiration for village in Pinocchio. It
was a must-see feature of our trip.
Klingentorturm and town wall
Central market square and an obvious spiral staircase
Fountain showing St. George and the dragon; town gate and road leading down to the river
Panoramic view along the town walls; the view down to the Tauber River and the medieval bridge
Bamberg is situated on the Regnitz River, and like many cities, it controlled the trade on the river (the principal highway at the time). It was first mentioned 902 AD.
(Left) The neighborhood on the right bank was called Little Venice, as it was the home of fishermen and watermen. An 20th century entrepreneur acquired a Venetian gondola to capture tourist euros.
At this point we had to transfer to another ship in the Danube River basin as the Rhein-Main-Danube Canal was impassable. So packed our bags (which went by truck to Passau, Germany) and left the Viking Lif, having a city tour of Nuremberg and lunch before continuing on to Passau and boarding the Viking Embla.
Although notorious for the pre-WW2 Nazi rallies and post-war
war crime trials, Nuremberg has a long political and cultural
history. It was a major medieval trade center. Most of city was
destroyed by Allied bombing during WW2 (including the castle)
but has been rebuilt and reconstructed where there were
sufficient plans of what had stood.
The bus tour of the city did not stop anywhere until we reached
the castle, but we saw parts of the city including the surviving
structures. The picture below is the inside wall of the
Congress Hall, a semicircular domed structure that was never
finished nor even roofed. We also saw the Zeppelin Field where
the massive rallies took place, but the bus didn't stop to allow
Nuremberg Castle had its origins about 1000 AD and went through several periods of construction over the next 300 years. It was ruined in the Second World War and took 30 years to reconstruct. The photo on the right shows the view from the castle over the city. Almost everything in the view has been (re)constructed since WW2.
Regensburg dates from Roman times. Unlike many Germans cities,
it was largely untouched by World War Two. For about 150 years,
Regensburg served as an unofficial capital of the Holy Roman
Empire as the Imperial
Diet met there in the town hall.
Bridge is Regensberg's most famous feature. It was built
1135-1146, a thousand feet long in 16 arches or spans. The
bridge served as a model for other contemporaneous bridges in
London, Dresden, Prague, and Avignon. The Second Crusade used
the bridge just after it was built.
(Left) Crossing the Stone Bridge to the town. The building next to the clock tower is the salt store -- a medieval warehouse serving the salt trade comidown the rivers. Partly seen to its left is the tiny Regensburg Sausage Kitchen; (Right) A closeup of the Regensburg Sausage Kitchen, perhaps the oldest continuously open restaurant in the world. (This photo is by Manuel Strehl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=804637) When we were there you couldn't see the building for the hordes of people, tourists and townspeople alike. So I had to borrow a photo to show you.
(Left) A surviving fragment of the 179 AD Roman wall; (Right) The Regensburg Town Hall. The Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire met in this building.
Another street scene in Regensburg. Note the wall painting of
David and Goliath on the left.
While ship was anchored at Passau, Germany, we took an all day
bus trip to Salzburg, Austria. (Other passengers chose the
Oktoberfest in Munich.) Salzburg was part of the Roman Empire in
15 BC. Today, it's famous as the location of the story of Sound
of Music (hundreds of thousands of tourists come each year
just to visit the film's outdoor locations). But Salzburg was
also the birthplace of Wolfgang Mozart, Christian Doppler
(Doppler effect), and Josef Mohr (Silent Night, first
performed 200 years ago this Christmas Eve in nearby Oberndorf)
Palace was built about 1606 for the Prince-Archbishop and
his mistress (!) until he was deposed in 1612. The gardens were
the film location for the song Do-Re-Mi. Our local guide
told us that when she first started doing tours, she attempted
to sing and dance around the fountain as Julie Andrews had in
the film. Unfortunately, she fell in! She apologized for not
giving us a performance. (Right) The gray building on the left
is the Mozarteum
University Salzburg (a world famous music conservatory).
In the distance is the Hohensalzburg
(Left) Salzburg has a "lock bridge" like Paris and some other European cities. A newly engaged couple places a lock on the bridge and throws the key into the river symbolizing their love. Many of the locks are heart-shaped or have initials painted on them (like carving initials in a tree). Our guide said she would trust a fiance who used a combination lock! (Right) The building in which Mozart was born; during his teenage years, the family lived at another location (also a museum) before eventually settling in Vienna for the rest of his short life.
(Left) We looked in the Petersfriedhof or St. Peter's Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Salzburg. John was looking for the graves of Nannerl Mozart (his elder sister), Michael Haydn (younger brother of Joseph), and Heinrich Biber. Unfortunately, we did not have the locations of the crypts or graves for any of them. (Right) The Petersfriedhof lies directly below the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
We ate lunch in an historic inn while four students from the Mozarteum performed excerpts from The Sound of Music. They were good as expected, but John at least would have preferred Salzburger musik (Ländler, waltzes, mazurkas, polkas) rather than American Broadway.
A final view of the Salzach River, the town and the fortress.
Melk Abbey is a Benedictine monastery, founded in 1089. The monastery and school are still active. The abbey sits on a high bluff overlooking the Danube River and the town of Melk (5257 inhabitants, first mentioned in 831).
Interior photography is not permitted, so please do follow the link to the Wikipedia article for a gallery of photographs.
(Left) Melk Abbey from river level; (Right) the entranceway to
Melk Abbey. We took the bus up to the abbey, but walked back
down to the ship.
(Left) The Prelate's Courtyard; (Right) Melk Abbey gardens, the orangery or conservatory
(Left) The view back toward the abbey from the orangery; (Right) One of several groups of decorative ravens (?)
A view in the town of Melk. Note the abbey above and behind the cafes.
As the pictures of Melk Abbey show, the day dawned dark and gray, but by the time we walked back to the ship, it had cleared nicely. The afternoon was devoted to cruising the 25 mile gorge of the Danube between Melk and Krems -- it was a glorious afternoon: clear, slanting golden later afternoon sun, warm (for October), and only a light following wind. Absolutely perfect photography conditions!
The Wachau Valley is not as precipitous as the Rhein Gorge, but
like the Rhein, the Danube does have castles (intact and in
ruins), picturesque towns, and vineyards.
Schönbühel (c.1125, privately owned?); Aggstein
Castle (c.1125, ruin)
(Left) Schwallenbach; (Right) Hinterhaus (near the town of Spitz)
(Left) Wösendorf; (Right) Weißenkirchen (German language)
Two views of Dürnstein. In the photograph on the right, Dürnstein Castle (ruin) is seen above the town. This was one of the castles where King Richard I of England (Lion-Hearted) was held for ransom by Duke Leopold V of Austria after the Third Crusade.
Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig in the distance (perhaps 12 miles, 20 km) behind Hundsheim. We think we could just see the abbey from Vienna, perhaps 25 miles (40km) away and on the horizon.
2.6 million people in the metro area, almost a third of all
Austrians. It was part of the Roman Empire, from 15 BC. It was
heavily damaged in WW2 around railway station and bridges.
Vienna is judged to be one of the most livable and prosperous
cities in the world.
is the former winter residence of the Habsburg dynasty and the
present home and office of the president of Austria. See the
article for the floor plan and description of the various wings
and buildings. (Left) Hofburg, Imperial Chancellery Wing;
(Right) Hofburg, St. Michael's Wing
(Left) A few of the 68 Lipizzan stallions. The Spanish
Riding School (an organization) uses the Winter Riding
School (a place in the Hofburg) for performances in Vienna.
There is also a summer used in July and August. We did not see a
performance, but these horses were being moved from their
stables (pictured) to the Winter Riding School.
St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna dominates the skyline of the center city.
This, believe it or not, is not a church -- it's the city hall of Vienna. The Roncalli Circus was occupying the square in front of it.
The "summer place" of the Habsburgs was the Schönbrunn Palace, a mere 1441 rooms. As for many of the other buildings, see the corresponding Wikipedia articles for the interior photographs. (Left) Schönbrunn Palace, front facade; (Right) Schönbrunn Palace, rear facade
Scenes from the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace. The Gloriette (left photo) is just an ornamental structure, akin to the idea of a "folly" in a British garden.
As with Vienna to Austria, so Budapest is to Hungary -- the
capital and home to a third of the country's population. We were
supposed to cruise from Vienna to Budapest, but the Danube was
closed on that stretch because of the water level. So we
traveled by bus, throwing the schedule out of kilter again, and
this time, Viking had no ships in Budapest so we had to be put
up in a five-star hotel, the New
York Palace Budapest. As in Vienna, one of our excursions
was canceled -- this time because of the bus travel. We did have
a city tour which did stop in several places.
Budapest started as Buda (a town mostly atop the bluffs
overlooking the Danube) and Pest (a town across the Danube
facing Buda and mostly flat). The two were finally united in
Castle was first completed in 1265 but the present
structure dates from the middle of the 18th century. It now
houses the national gallery and history museum.
Also on the bluffs near Buda Castle is the Matthias Church (Our Lady of Buda)
The Hungarian Parliament Building is probably the most famous site in Budapest. It is claimed that the building is
This view is from the Buda side near the Matthias Church
Another famous Budapest site is the Széchenyi
Chain Bridge (built 1840-1849, blown up by the Nazis in
1945, and reopened in 1949).
Looking upstream of the Danube River (blue for once), the Margaret Bridge and some of Pest.
The Kelleys and we were among the 10 people from our ship (and
another 10 from another Viking ship) who chose to extend their
trips to include Prague. This was always scheduled to be an
all-day (at least 500 km) bus journey and not a river cruise.
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic,
part of the former Czechoslovakia, and earlier the Kingdom of
Bohemia. Prague is a very popular tourist destination, 8.5
million international tourists in a country of 10 million
residents. It seemed like they were all in Prague the week we
Like the Hofburg in Vienna and the president of Austria, so Prague
Castle is the office and residence of the president of the
Czech Republic. We followed the inevitable red lollipop as we
toured the courtyards within the castle but none of the
(Left) A well cover in one of the castle's courtyards; (Right) A statue of St. George and the Dragon
Within Prague Castle is the Metropolitan
Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert, built
1344-1929 (with interruptions)
The Charles Bridge has special significance in our family -- our son Alex proposed to our daughter-in-law Renee on this bridge. If he had tried it while we were there, he'd have been trampled by the hordes of people. It is a pedestrian bridge, built 1357-1402, with 16 arches (like Regensburg). (Left) The Charles Bridge and the Vltava (Moldau) River looking toward the Old Town; (Right) Charles Bridge, four of the 30 statues, Malá Strana Bridge Tower, and the St. Vitus Cathedral on the bluff behind the tree.
(Left) Status of Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378), after whom the bridge is named; (Right) The Old Town Bridge Tower (Old Town end of the Charles Bridge)
(Left) The Old Town Square with the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Old Town City Hall (partly on the left) and Prague Astronomical Clock; (Right)
Detail of the Prague Astronomical Clock, the oldest (1410) astronomical clock still operating. See the article for a detailed explanation of the clock. The crowds in Old Town Square were waiting for the hourly display, with the skeleton tolling the bell. The clock was under reconstruction during 2018 and only resumed operation two weeks before we arrived.
These towns are about 50 miles east of Prague, more or less in
the center of what is now the Czech Republic. Sedlec is a town
on the plain surrounding the Sedlec
Abbey (built 1142, burned 1421 by the Hussites, dissolved
1783, restored 1854-1857). Sedlec also contains (Left) the Church
of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist,
in its present form completed in 1706 in a unique style called
Baroque Gothic; (Right) The Sedlec
Ossuary, Catholic chapel housing the bones between 40,000
Ossuaries aren't unusual; there are catacombs under many older cities including Rome and Paris to name just two. What is bizarre, macabre is what has been done to the remains. What was supposedly a project to "put the bone heaps into order," turned into this, a chandelier made from at least one of every bone in the human body (John wonders about the middle ear and the hyoid bone). Other "furniture" and decorations as well, including the "artist's" signature! We found this mildly upsetting, not for the bones themselves but the "playing" with them in a commissioned project!
Kutna Hora lies on a ridge perhaps two miles from Sedlec. It was founded more or less at the same time as Sedlec Monastery, 1142. Within a century, silver was being mined under Kutna Hora. For 300 hundred years or so, silver was extracted, making this blue collar town a rival for Prague in wealth and political power. The boom times came to end by 1546 when the richest mine flooded. Other catastrophes were Thirty 30 Years' War, repeated epidemics of plague, and finally in 1770, fire.
Nonetheless, Kutna Hora is unusual because it is a medieval
town built in stone. Elsewhere, on the very rich could
afford to build in stone. (Left) the Church
of St. Barbara and Jesuit College (and an ancient vineyard
on the side of the hill); (Right) A figure from inside the
Church of St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners. The church is
unusual that the statues and wall paintings often portray the
common people at work and not just religious themes.
The Jesuit College
The Church of St. James
We ate our final lunch on this European tour at the Restaurant Dačický, the last of many historic restaurants we visited.
That evening back in Prague, we had a dinner with performances of traditional Czech music (violin, bass and cimbalom plus singers and dancers). (No pictures taken)
And so we flew home with more than 3000 photographs taken in
three weeks, about the weekly average for our major trips.