My college sweetheart, Denise, and I have been married for more than 30 years. She works hard in the human resources department of a local school system, while I jet around experiencing some of the most amazing places on the planet. Sometimes this can lead to drama.
On a recent trip to Italy I flooded my Facebook and Twitter streams with pictures of a fabulous, multicourse meal I was enjoying. Just before I posted a picture of a tantalizing tiramisu, Denise sent me a wordless text containing a picture of her lunch. Only with enough years of marriage to the right person can one effectively communicate the need for a romantic getaway through a picture of a half-eaten chicken salad sandwich. Message received.
But where to go?
Fortunately an invitation from Viking River Cruises provided a perfect solution. Rather than traveling to a single romantic destination, we would embark on a romantic journey down the Danube River, experiencing some of Europe’s most beautiful port cities from Nuremberg to Budapest.
Our longship vessel docked at Nuremberg in what seemed to be an industrial area. After looking around, I was a little concerned this adventure might not prove to be as romantic as I had hoped, but the fruit plate and bottle of champagne that greeted us in our stateroom alleviated my fears. Though we were tired and a little jet-lagged, our travel adrenaline kicked in and we took the Viking bus into Old Town.
Prior to our visit, I knew very little of Nuremberg. I knew of the Nuremberg Trials and of its infamous Nazi history, but I had no idea that this medieval city could possess so much charm. A city wall (with a moat) surrounds Bavarian buildings. Canals dissect the city. Throw in a large market square, ornate cathedrals, and covered bridges, and visiting Nuremberg is like stepping into fairy-tale.
Regensburg is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It also happens to be the home of Wurstkuchl, the world’s oldest fast food restaurant. Eating bratwurst in Germany on the banks of the Danube at a 500-year-old restaurant is not only worthy of a bucket list, it’s downright romantic.
Viewfinder Tip: When cruising the Danube, try to see ports on your own; serendipitous exploration always is better than taking tours.
Strolling through streets of Passau, Germany, proved to be one of the highlights of our journey. We sampled fresh baked gingerbread and shared an enormous pretzel while snapping pictures of unique doors, cobblestone alleys, and the world’s second-largest pipe organ at St. Stephan’s Cathedral. The views of the city from the ship were spectacular. I shot this short video with my cell phone as the ship headed to Melk, its next port of call.
The centerpiece of Melk, Austria, is the 900-year-old Baroque Melk Abbey, which is situated on a cliff overlooking the Danube and the town of Melk. We were mesmerized by the priceless art, artifacts, and architecture in the abbey. After our visit, we were given the option of taking a bus back to the ship or hiking back through the village. Of course we chose the hike, and we were treated to more spectacular views of the abbey and of the charming village along the way.
Upon leaving Melk, we traveled through the scenic Wachau Valley, the heart of Austria’s wine region. Other than the fantastic meals, this was perhaps our favorite time on the ship. The scenery along that stretch of the river was everything we imagined the romantic Danube to be. As we navigated a winding path through the mountains, passing village after village along the banks of the river, we remarked at how special the trip had been.
Vienna was perhaps our most anticipated stop on our journey. As classical music fans, we were thrilled to catch a concert of Mozart and Strauss compositions performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Vienna State Opera. Having limited time in this wonderful city, we opted to take a couple of tours as opposed to exploring on our own (which is what we usually prefer). We were not disappointed. As we toured the opulent Shonbrunn Palace and gardens and the imposing St. Stephen’s cathedral, I’m not sure which was faster: the flutter of our hearts or the shutters of our cameras. We ended our day sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe in the city where coffee houses were in vogue three centuries before Starbucks.
Just after sunrise on the final day of our trip we arrived in Budapest, Hungary. From the Viking River Cruises commercials we had seen on television, we instantly recognized the ostentatious Hungarian Parliament Building. From our dock near the Chain Bridge, we took a tour bus across the river, high into the Buda hills to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. The views of the “Pest” side of the city across the river were stunning.
We were able to check “Eating Hungarian Goulash in Hungary” off our Bucket Lists before setting out to tour the city on our own. After lunch, Denise wanted to shop for porcelain and paprika (Budapest is renowned for both), so we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city on foot, meandering in and out of shops, snapping photos and reminiscing about our fabulous journey. The sun was beginning to set as we walked back to the ship across the Chain Bridge. It was magical!
What is your ideal romantic journey?