Thursday, December 1, 2016

Danube Waltz, Viking River Cruise, December 2016

Packed and ready to go!

Thursday 12-1-16
Travel day.
Passport - Check
Boarding Passes - Check
TSA Strip Search - Check
Waiting for flight from Phoenix to Dulles.
My flight was a little early from Phoenix to DC. Connie arrived shortly thereafter from Denver.
Connie says "look who I found in Dulles"
BTW - Connie on the left, me (Patti) on the right
We shared a spinach salad with grilled chicken then waiting for our flight to leave for Munich.  The flight was on time, we zipped through passport check and our bags were waiting for us in baggage claim.  Yes!  

Friday 12-2-16
The Viking Welcoming Committee was waiting for us as we passed through the Customs doors. Hello Munich, Germany! 

Pastry at the airport.  Looked yummy but we didn't try any.  
While we were waiting for a few others in our group to arrive I tried to log on to the airport wifi with no luck.  I’m not loving Verizon's international travel plan.  It doesn’t auto connect to wifi.  I’m spoiled. 
Our pilot (shuttle driver) was Sebastian and he was very informative. He pointed out every BMW factory along the way!  Connie and I sat in the front row and he chatted with us most of the two hour drive to Passau where our ship was waiting.
Viking Vili - Passau Germany
The staff was very friendly and we were escorted to our Veranda Stateroom.  Its small but nice (as most ship cabins are). 
[photos added at end of blog]  
After we unpacked we had lunch on the indoor terrace.  I had “build your own soup” and a salad.  Connie had salad with salmon.  There may have been wine and beer involved! ;~}
They announced a Street Tour of Passau so we went on the that.  Our guide was Alex. 
Alex showing us how similar German is to English.
I'm not convinced! 

But of course - there is a construction zone in the background!
And a shoe store over my shoulder...
(I work in the building industry AND I have quite a collection of shoes!)
His Tip of the Day: when we get to Hungary don’t change euro for forint.  They accept euro almost everywhere and if you have forint left over at the end of the trip it’s very difficult to exchange back to dollars.  Good to know.
ETA - This was not exactly true.  There are places you can't use euro, like the thermal baths, a pubic restroom and public transportation. You can however use a credit card for the baths and transportation.  Restrooms, not so much.  
The Street Tour was a walking tour that started at our ship and ended at our first Christmas Market!!!  We wandered around there for a while but didn’t buy anything yet since we’re going back there tomorrow as part of the City Tour. 
Typical Vendor Booth at the Christmas Market
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the background.

Hangin out with the locals (a foil covered bull, no idea)
Back to the ship and now we’re sitting in the Library enjoying a hot beverage while I blog and Connie reads.  Soon there is a Wine and Cheese Party and then dinner is at 7.  I wonder what’s for dinner?  

We kind of missed the Wine and Cheese party but did get to snag a glass of wine and a couple of pieces of cheese as they were putting everything away. Before dinner was a little orientation and off to the dining room where four people joined us.  A man and woman with their adult daughter and a family friend.  Very nice people from, guess where? Arizona.  Small world.
We started with chef’s recommended salad then Connie had the Char and I had a Ribeye.  The chef also recommended the Mascarpone Sour Cherry Cake for dessert which was very good and so was the service and the company.
We went to bed early because we had been up since the morning before.
Sauteed Fillet of Char and Poppy Seed Sauce with Pea Puree, Baby Corn, Tomato Concasse and Cauliflower
Ribeye Steak with Cimichuri, Fresh Veggies and Fries
Mascarpone and Sour Cherry Cake

Saturday 12-3-16
We got up early so we could grab breakfast before heading out on our City Tour at 8:30. This was also a walking tour. Our tour guide was Andrea.  She was born and raised in Passau and she was very good and easy to listen to. 
History Lesson De Jour: Passau is one of the oldest cities in Bavaria.  It is where the Three Rivers meet: Inn, Ilz and Danube.  It is the home of St. Stephen’s Cathedral which is home to the largest pipe organs in Europe.  It is also where the German and Austrian borders meet.  Andrea says the Danube runs from the Black Forrest to the Black Sea. 
We strolled through the shopping area and the beautiful streets.

A tidbit of current history: In 2013 they had a great flood which the government paid to restore because you can’t get flood insurance if your building/home is on the river.  
We passed by the Bishop’s Residence and the beautiful Town Hall.
We went inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  It’s hard to capture it’s splendor in photos but reminded me a wee tad of Vatican (although not nearly as big).

According to our travel info, the Pipe Organ concerts are not available November thru April but as luck would have it, they do one per week and it just so happened to be on our day in Passau!
Oh I almost forgot about the Gingerbread Men!  We went to the bakery where we were greeted with hot punch and saw a demonstration on how they make gingerbread.  Traditional which was sweetened with honey because they didn't have sugar available in Germany.  Then sweetened with molasses and eventually sweetened with sugar.  They passed around samples of each and we both preferred the molasses version.  The recipe is an old family secret handed down generations.  The older gentleman's (on the left) grandfather handed down the business to his father, then to him and he has now handed it to his son (on the right). The grandson will be waiting in the wings. They showed how they use molds to make the cookies, not cookie cutters.

Decorations in the Gingerbread Tent
(gingerbread cookies as ornaments)
We left there and walked down to the Christmas Market where our tour ended and we had 45 minutes to explore prior to meeting a representative from Viking to get our organ concert tickets. Luckily we had browsed around there the day before so we pretty much knew what we wanted to buy.
We had our first cup of Glüwein (hot mulled wine) and we shared a ½ meter sausage which apparently is a “must try” and only available at the Passau Christmas Market.  
We figured since it was a skinny sausage we could each handle 9"!
Connie recalculated and said each half was technically almost 10”.  It was very good.  The bun was more like a baguette.  After that we headed over to the Cathedral to get our tickets than around the corner to the get our seats.  The concert was very nice.
As soon as that was over we had to go directly back to the ship as it was sailing at 1:00 p.m.  I grabbed a hot cup of tea and then we went up to the deck as the ship sailed away.
Connie got this beautiful shot of where the 
Danube and the Inn meet as we were sailing out of Passau
When it got too chilly we went back inside and had a hot cup of broccoli soup.   Then the server came around with complimentary hot wine.  That one tasted more like hot apple cider to me.  Connie said this is the "booze cruise".  Then it was time for the cookie making demonstration.  They made Lubkucken (gingerbread), Coconut Macaroons, and Vanillekipferl (crescent shaped vanilla cookies).  I think the Christmas Cookies were in lieu of strudel making because in Viking's trip intro for the Danube Waltz it said "find out how Austrians make their apple strudel."  Personally, I would have rather watched the strudel demo but the cookie demo was entertaining.  
I watched that while Connie stayed out on the indoor terrace and read.  After the cookie demo they had Christmas Tree Trimming which we both skipped. Interesting concept though.  They had silver balls and red markers.  People decorated the ornaments before hanging them so they were all unique. 
We are sailing to Linz, Austria and should be there around 7 p.m.  Hmmm, what’s for dinner tonight?
Wait, more booze - complimentary champagne with black current and a shrimp shooter.  I could get used to this!  
Linz, Austria
Super short history lesson: Linz is the second largest city in Austria, the largest being Vienna. It is also a UNESCO City of Media Arts. It is home of the Linzer Torte.  I’m sure it has a lot more history but if you want more you’ll have to consult Mr. Google because I'm a little busy... ;)

We joined four people for dinner, a couple from Buffalo and two girlfriends from Seattle.  Dinner was great and again, so was the service and the company.  I had the chef’s recommendation of Chautebriand and Connie had Mahi Mahi with a Thai Curry Sauce.  The pictures from the entrees did not look nearly as good as they were so I'm leaving those out. The Chocolate Torte dessert was worthy of a photo op:  
Everything was great.  After dinner they had a Saltsburg trio who sang and danced “Sounds of Europe; Salzburg”.  They were entertaining and did a couple of sing-alongs of familiar songs from the Sounds of Music and a couple of Christmas Carols.

Sunday 12-4-16
Today there were two tours offered.  A two hour walking tour of Linz or and 8 1/2 hour day trip to Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic.  We picked the day tour.  It was a two hour bus ride up to the Český Krumlov Castle.  
Up early and off to the breakfast buffet before our beautiful scenic ride. It had snowed so the trees we passed on the ride up looked like perfect Christmas trees.  The brochure said it’s a fairy tale town on the Vltava River. 
But first a pit stop before crossing the border.  It was 0*c (about 30*f).
History Lesson de jour: It’s the town’s highest point and keeper of the Český  Krumlov Castle.  It’s Renaissance style with a stone bridge and a Bear Moat!  It used to be a water moat but bears have called it home since the early 1700s. 
Between Pic 1 and Pic 2 is the bridge where the bears hibernate.
Lukas said he hadn't seen bears in about 3 weeks.
Click on pic to read sign.  Proof that bears really DO live there.

Sweet village. People really DO live there too!

After crossing over the Bear Moat is a quaint little town that felt like walking into the pages of a storybook.  
Our guide Lukas explained our way through the streets and to the town square where the Christmas Market is held then let us loose to explore.  First stop was the sausage being grilled outside the vendor’s food booth. 
Not a half meter this time, just  your standard 6-inches!  We split one and it was delicious.  Then we had a cup of hot wine and wandered around the market.  We waited for Trdelník (aka Kürtöskalács in Hungary and Baumstriezel in Germany).  A rose by any other name…
Its dough wrapped around a cone shaped form and baked over hot coals then rolled in cinnamon/sugar (or nuts or poppy seeds).   Super good and worth every carb!  Then we wandered in and out of the little shops up and down the street. We went back to the Bear Moat but still, no bears.  We saw a lion though!
Here are some cool street pics:
Angels amongst us

Another beautiful door

Can you see the hatchet man? (wall mural in center)

Puppet Museum
We saw an Aquarium sign but it was closed on Sunday
We went back to the market to see if we missed anything.   
Check the Czeck Chocolate
Dark choc covered cherries, cranberries, blueberries.
Gotta get my antioxidants! 
Then we waited for our group to head back to the bus and back to the ship.  Lukas said as long as 90% of us were there he could leave!  We didn't want to be a 10%'er... Yes, he was kidding.  We all made it back. As soon as we got back we dropped off our goods and headed out to the Linz Christmas Market.  We had a couple of hours before dinner and the ship sails tonight at midnight so it was our only chance to see this one.  
We walked down the river and up the stairs and around the bend and then…  

More Angels
A little back flash but still beautiful
What an amazing site of twinkling lights everywhere.  Its difficult to get good pictures of the lights with my non-pro camera.  We really enjoyed walking around the booths and we both bought a couple of things.  Then we HAD to find a place to try the famous Linzer Torte.  None of the market booths had it (although they had other pastries).  I asked a man at a walk-up coffee window and he stepped outside and pointed us to a coffee house a few doors down.  We ordered one slice to share and it was worth the hunt. 
It’s almost gingerbread-ish cake with jam in the center topped with slivered almonds.  Hey, we’re on vacation. We can have dessert before dinner!  We walked back to the ship and got ready for dinner.  We sat at an empty table and the four people we joined the night before came over and joined us (Seattle ladies and the couple from Buffalo).  The food was fabulous. Connie started with the White Asparagus Soup and I had Tomato Mozzarella with Balsalmic which was really good.  We both had the chef’s recommendation of Orange and Soy Marinated Grilled Pork Tenderloin.  Super tender and flavorful.  For dessert Connie had a Crème Cake and I had the Cheese Plate. M-M-Good.
Tomato Mozzarella with Balsalmic
so pretty

Pork Tenderloin

I love the cheese plate for dessert.  Take note America.
The entertainment tonight was the Quiz Show but we had a super busy day so we decided to skip it. 
Connie already fell asleep and I will attempt to do the same as soon as I finish posting this and updating some photos. 

Big day again tomorrow start off in Melk with a tour of the Abbey and then moving on to Durnstein.  Stay tuned…

Monday 12-5-16  
Melk, Austria
I had a sleepless night. I think I just don't want to miss a single thing so who needs sleep?! I finally gave up and went to the coffee bar about 6 a.m.  I ran into Lisa, one of the ladies from Seattle.  We sat in the lounge and talked for a little while and then I went to get ready for the day since I was still in my PJs. Hey, they said "make yourself at home".  Connie and I went to breakfast then back to the room to grab our jackets to catch our shuttle bus.  As soon as we got outside I realized I still had my flats on and had forgotten to put my boots on. I had to run back to the room.  That made us a couple of minutes late which did NOT go unnoticed by our program director Mieke.  She got over it pretty quickly though. Whew.  This was part bus, part walking tour.  We went to the Melk Abbey. 
History Lesson of the Day:
Melk, Austria.  Welcome to Wine Country. 
Saint Coloman was the son of an Irish King.  He was mistaken for a spy, tortured and hung.  The tree he was hung from started to bloom in the middle of winter.  His hair and nails continued to grow.  They saw those as miracles and declared him a Saint. The sign to the right says "As he fell victim to predjudices, the saint's legend should stand as a warning against xenophobia".   He is the Patron Saint of the Town of Melk and the Melk Abbey Church. 
Hangin out with the locals
The Abbot who rebuilt the abbey from gothic to barouche was charged with rampant building lust.  He was the friend of the emperor so the charges were dropped.
"Rampant building lust!"  Ha!
The courtyard was pretty but once we got into the abbey no photos are allowed. Monks still live there.  They use it as a school now. I wasn’t really all that impressed (practically everything was under glass as we moved from room to room) until we went into the Library which was amAZing.
I found two pics of the Library on Pinterest and cropped them side-by-side:

Connie bought some postcards so here's a pic of the larger room in the Library which also shows the painted ceiling:

And an aerial view showing how huge it is:
I think it looks magical at the edge of the river
surrounded by trees on one side and storybook houses on the other
The Church was also very pretty.
Another one from Pinterest
(since I couldn't take photos inside)
Instead of taking the bus back to the ship we decided to walk through the town. 
Me with a map.  Now THAT's funny!
Note to those who haven't traveled with me - I am NOT the navigator!  
Melk is so small that the Christmas Market is only open on weekends so we missed it.  
By the time we got back it was almost lunchtime.
Beer? Who me?  
I'm not a beer drinker but I had to try it.  It was actually nice and crisp and not heavy and bitter like I find American beer to be. We both had Fish and Chips which was cod and very good.  Then we cozy’d into a spot on the indoor terrace for the scenic cruise through the Wachau Valley, 18 miles to Durnstein, Austria.
Me and Lisa - Flashing our crazy leggings.
Durnstein Austria, well known for their wineries. Durnstein means "dry stone" in German. The castle Burgruine Durnstein is where King Richard the Lionhearted was held captive in 1192.  Our Arizona friends hiked up to the the dark...
The optional wine tour was sold out but we were on a waiting list.  They ended up organizing a private wine tasting tour at Domane Wachau, a local vineyard and winery that was walking distance from the ship.  There were 12 of us in the group and it was quite nice.  We walked about 10-15 minutes to the winery where we sampled five wines.  Mieke, our program director went with us. She originally was just going to walk us there and go back to the ship but she decided to stay for the sake of “research”.
Our "mini-wino group"
as opposed to the hard core wino group that went on the big tour
It was really nice so we weren't disappointed that missed out on the other tour.  We got back with time to relax before dinner.  Dinner was Taste of Austria.  The tables were set with pretzels, rolls, cheese and sausage, various spreads.  
The food was set up buffet style (typical dinner is served plated) with dumplings, sauerkraut, pork, schnitzel, soup, various salads and desserts.  After we ate there was a tour of the kitchen.  Chef Johnny explained how they move the food so quickly and answered questions from the group. 
Friendly Kitchen Crew
Chef Johnny
Connie is congested so she turned in early.  I went to the Library to update the blog and have some chamomile tea.
Tonight we sail at midnight to Vienna where we have a super busy day.  City Tour, Christmas Markets, early dinner then Mozart and Strauss Concert.  Maybe I'll try to get some sleep tonight (thus the chamomile). 

Tuesday 12-6-16
At 5:30 a.m. on my way to the coffee bar I stepped outside the lobby onto the chilly deck to admire the view and was greeted by a Viking employee who said “Welcome to Vienna”!  We were about 10 minutes from docking so the shoreline was still passing by.  So beautiful.  Next stop the coffee bar for a cappuccino then back to the room to shower, fluff and puff and get ready for a busy day.
Vienna is the capital of Austria and largest city in Austria.  Known as "the City of Music" and "the City of Dreams".  It was home to Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud.  I'm going to call that your History Lesson of the Day.
Later that day:  Just a quickie recap while I have some tea in the Library because it’s already 11 p.m.  Today was Christmas Market after Christmas Market after Christmas Market.  Seriously, we went to four.  That might sound like a lot but considering Vienna has 100 we only hit a small percentage!  We started off with the Vienna City Tour, which was part bus tour, part walking tour, part free time to wander and explore. Our guide was Sylvia.  She had crazier leggings than I do, pink animal print. Oh my. Vienna is very much a *BIG* city compared to the quaint storybook villages we’ve already been to on this trip.  The old mixed with the new and lots of traffic.   No matter which direction you look there is amazing architecture. And traffic.  

AND we saw Lipizzaner Horses!
We passed by the Spanish Riding School and were able to see a few peeking out the stable doors. 
When the tour was over we went into St. Stephan’s Cathedral.  A little dark but so beautiful.

Hangin' out with the locals
We went to Aldi’s for coffee and dessert.  Who needs lunch? I had a Chocolate Torte and Connie tried the Apple Strudel.  
The coffee was amazing.  As good as my favorite coffee bar in Rome. Shhh, don't tell anyone but I think it might have even been better.   I don't think they know the coffee is amazing because they don't sell it there.  I would have definitely bought some to take home. 
We were ready to head to the Christmas Market.  Connie bought a map and unfortunately, not only was it in German but it was not very legible. Tip of the Day: don't forget to grab a map from the front desk before leaving the ship for the day. I asked a security officer which direction to City Hall Christmas Market and he said go left then straight.  We showed him the map to point out "you are here" and make sure we were heading the right direction.  He looked at the map, turned it, turned it again, and said “this map is shit”.  We laughed.  Connie said that comment was worth the 5 euro for the map!  Along the way to the big market by City Hall we went through three other Christmas Markets.

Hey, someone needs to compare the Glühwein!  At least we didn’t start drinking until after 12 today!  

Beautiful Christmas Ornaments (typical display)
At the fourth Christmas Market we finally found a sausage we wanted to try. 
Vienna Sausage, hot off the grill
Don't even try to compare real Vienna Sausage Hot off the Grill to the stuff you can buy in a can in America.  Sorry Libby.  
We split one and it was sooooo good.  They drill a hole through the bun, squirt in some mustard and then drop the sausage in.  The buns here are nothing like hotdog buns in America.  They are more like a crusty baguette with a soft center.  De-lish.  We wandered around, had some special Christmas version of Glühwein then wandered around some more until it was time to catch our shuttle bus back to the ship. 

Wait - Photo op before we leave the Vienna Christmas Market!  
We relaxed a wee tad before changing clothes for the concert then headed to the dining room for early dinner.  This time we sat with the Newlywed Honeymooners.  Cute couple from Florida who had just gotten married in Ireland.
Shrimp Appetizer

Steak with Onions and Corn Mash
After dinner we got on our shuttle bus and headed to the Auersberg Palace for the Mozart and Strauss Concert.  Coats not allowed by order of the "Fire Brigade". 

It was very good.  Added bonus: Viking gets VIP treatment so we sat in the front row and had complimentary champagne during intermission!   On the way back we took a little detour to see the beautiful city lights. I was expecting Christmas lights and was a little disappointed it was the commercial district city lights but that was really beautiful too.  It was a lovely evening.
Back on the ship they had a steaming pot of Hungarian Goulash Soup waiting for us.
The sandman will be here shortly as its time to sail away from Vienna and head to Bratislava, Slovakia. Tomorrow we sail mid-day so I should have time to catch up with some great photos.
Night all.

Wednesday 12-7-17
5 a.m. Verizon sent me a notification that I had crossed into Slovakia.  Thank you for the wake-up call but I really wasn’t ready to get up.
Welcome to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  
After breakfast was the usual M.O.  Catch our shuttle for our City Tour.  There were two offered today.  One was bus/walking tour combo.  The other was walking only.  We did the combo because you see more of the City.  We went up to the Bratislava Castle which was pretty but not as impressive as some of the older castles we’ve seen because it burnt down and was rebuilt.

A little foggy but still a beautiful view 
Our tour guide Jenna said they redo the castle every 100 years.  Last was 12 years ago.  Before starting the walking portion of the tour she warned us to be aware of our belongings because they have pick-pocket-ladies.  She said they try to blend into the group, taking pictures, etc.  She caught one once who had her hand in the pocket of a man in her group.  She hit her on the head with her “lollipop” (Viking Group sign).  Pick-pocket-lady had the man's wallet in her hand so he grabbed it.  The police came and the pick-pocket-lady told him that THEY assaulted HER.  He knew better but they can’t arrest them unless you go to the police station with them to press charges.  She can’t leave the group and the tourist wouldn’t make it back to the ship on time therefore they get away with it.  She said the officer fined p-p-l 700 euro.  P-p-l reached in her pocket and paid the officer cash, 700 euro! Just be cautious.  
On the walking portion of the tour we came to the bronze statue in the street with the Men at Work sign above.  The man is not working but said to be watching the legs of the ladies walking by.  Jenna pointed out a shinny spot on the top of his head and said if you rub his head it will bring you financial luck (I don’t recall her exact words but something about not wanting for money).  Then she said for the ladies only, and these words I *DO* remember, if you rub his nose you can “change your husband”!  His nose was VERY shinny from all the rubbing!
We ended our walking tour at one of the Christmas Markets. We ran into Mieke who was eating a Placky (potato pancake) that looked really good.  She pointed us to the "best" Placky stand.

We got one to share. It was very thin and crispy deliciousness. 
Animal Style
Lady Like
We also tried the hot wine. Connie got berry and I got honey.  We mowsied around the two Christmas Markets until it was time to head back to the ship at noon.
Hangin out with the locals
This was a charming little town that I felt we could have spent a couple of more hours exploring.  
Back to our usual spot on the indoor terrace.  This afternoon they are doing a gingerbread some-thing-or-other and then later is a Hungarian Tea.

We didn’t really eat lunch today since we were still not hungry after the Placky.  Before they took the food away I tried a couple of chicken wings and Connie tried a little Cuban Sammy.  We skipped the Gingerbread Cookie Decorating.  
Shortly thereafter they put out the Hungarian specialties for the tea party which included finger sandwiches and desserts.  Yum. Good thing we had skipped lunch. Then they brought around a shot of schnapps. Schnapps in America is typically sweet. Schnapps in Austria is more like a shot of vodka, not sweet at all but very warming on its way down the hatch. Then they did the disembarkation briefing followed by the Captain’s toast.  They passed around the champagne.  The staff came out in Christmas hats and reindeer ears and sang a couple of Christmas songs.  It was pretty funny.  
We weren’t really sure why they do the captain’s farewell tonight instead of tomorrow night but someone said its because some people will leave tomorrow evening so it was the last night to have us all together. Dinner time already? For the farewell dinner appetizer I had the Roasted Forest Mushroom Soup.  Connie skipped the app.  Then they brought Pumpkin Mousse Ravioli with Lamb Lion.  That was really good.  Entrée was choice of Beef Wellington or Crispy Sea Bass.  We both ordered the bass.  Dessert was Tokay Wine Mousse and Carmelized Walnuts with Grand Marnier Saboyon.  

The bass wasn’t my favorite but Connie and Deb really liked it so, two out of three, it must have just been my fussy palate.  I still give Viking a high rating on the food.  Now we have a little wind down time before reaching Budapest at 11 p.m.  Mieke is going to do a Welcome to Budapest spiel as we enter the city because it’s supposed to be quite dramatic at night.  

Budapest Hungary!!!
The first look at Budapest took my breath away.  It is seriously the most beautiful city lights I've ever seen. Photos just do not do it justice. This is the Parliament Building on the Pest side of the Danube. 
My photo
Lisa's Photo
Connie's photo
Another of Connie's capturing the Chain Bridge

We were so mesmerized by the Parliament that we didn't get photos of the amazing view on the other side of the ship. Dang it.
Snatched from the web
St Matthias Church on the Buda side of the Danube
Thursday 12-8-16
I really can’t find the words to express seeing Budapest last night as we floated into the City and got the first glance of the city lit up at night.  It was the most amazing site like not even real, more like a movie set. I felt like I stepped into a Disney movie.
First a little history: Budapest is the Capital of Hungary.  The 19th century Chain Bridge connects the Buda side to the Pest side (1853). There are other bridges now but that was the first.   Pronounced Budapesh by the locals.  The Buda side is on the west side of the Danube and is hilly and more suburban.  the Pest side is a little more modern and filled with touristy things like more hotels, shopping, restaurants, etc. Both have their share of castles and old historical buildings.  

Such a busy day today and now it’s late so all I can say is “I LOVE BUDAPEST”. The end...

Okay, a quick recap just so I won't forget what we did!   
We started out with our typical morning M.O.  Breakfast then off to the shuttle for our City Tour (bus, walking, free time).  Our tour guide this morning was Oliver.  As usual we got a nice little history lesson on the drive up to St. Matthias Church which was really beautiful.  Then the walking tour portion leading up to and including entrance into the Church. He warned us of the Gypsy Peddlers. Ladies selling "hand made" sweaters and fur stoles and "fur" hats. Buyer beware.  Not all their goods are real/authentic.  This was the only place we saw the Gypsy Peddlers.  We had a little free time to wander around Church Hill before heading back to the ship. 
Fisherman's Bastion
St. Mathias Church

In the afternoon was our Grand Market Tour and Tasting which was really amazing.  Our tour guide was Vivian, local farm girl.  This time we took public transportation.  
Connie admiring the building
Inside the Grand Market

First stop - Strudel
Apple, Cherry, Cheese, even a savory Cabbage Strudel

Paprika Vendor where we sampled Honey
Three kinds of salami and crackling (the crackling was goose fat)
Fresh Goat and Cow Cheeses

Cabbage, Plum, Garlic, Corn, Watermelon, Cucumber, Peppers and Mixed "Leftovers"
Vivian also showed us some Pálinka (Hungarian Fruit Brandy) but no tasting.  She said after they harvest the men always want to make Pálinka and the women want to make jam.  "We have very little jam! The men always win."
We had free time to explore the Grand Market.  
We looked at embroidered lace but it was crazy expensive so we decided to leave it behind.  
If you click on the photo above you will not only see how beautiful the hand embroidery is, but you'll see a label that says "50,000".  That's forint which would have been $170.00 (exchange rate at the time) for a small runner. 
On the way back we broke off from the group before reaching the ship to see if we could find the Harley Davidson store.  Mario and Sue from our group were standing behind us when we asked Vivian where it was.  Mario said "there's a Harley store?!"  Mario and Sue went with us to see if we could find it.  The directions I received from Buzz who said go down the street, turn left then left again "you can't miss it" were not exactly as easy as it sounds. For a few minutes there I thought it was going to be mission impossible but we found it!  During that little adventure we accidentally found the Christmas Market!  We wandered around a little then went back to the ship for dinner.  Then we had to pack.  Oy!  Tomorrow we leave this beautiful ship, our home away from home, for the past week. 

Here are pictures of the friends we meet on the Viking Vili.
Our new friends from Arizona
Sandra, Lynn, Stacy and Susan
The people from Arizona I mentioned who we had dinner with the first night then several breakfasts or lunches thereafter including time just lounging and chatting.  Sandra and Lynn live in Safford AZ and their daughter Stacy lives in Boston. Standing is Susan who lives in Mesa AZ.  We really enjoyed spending time with them.  We are going to plan a post-trip Arizona connection, meet you in the middle or something sometime.  
Our new friends from Seattle and Buffalo
This is the group we joined for dinner with the second night and they joined us the third night.  They saved us seats every night thereafter.  Lisa, Sue, Deb and Richard.  Lisa and Deb live in Seattle and have been friends for 30-ish years.  Sue and Richard live in Buffalo.  We're talking about planning a girls trip sometime with Lisa and Deb, maybe Vegas Baby!  I adore both of these lovely ladies.
Me with Deb
Then there were our servers Ivan and Buzz.
Me, Ivan, Lisa
Lisa, Buzz, Me and Deb
Hmmmm. where's Connie?  On the other side of the camera.
Buzz called us the Spice Girls.  ;~}

Our favorite pic of today that a lady in our group took of us at the Grand Market using Connie's phone. She held her finger on the button a little too long so there were plenty to choose from! 
It's midnight here and we have lots of plans tomorrow. Private tour then the opera!  
Night all.  Don't worry, I'll Be Back (channeling Arnold).  

Friday 12-9-16
Bye-Bye Viking Vili.  After breakfast on the ship we left our bags with the Viking staff and walked over to the hotel. It was just across the street from where the Vili was docked.  Balazs met us at 9 on the dot.  Balazs is a friend of a friend of Connie's.  He lives in the area and works at the Museum of Photography.  We started off walking towards the Elizabeth bridge.  He told us a few stories, like the statue of a famous painter painting the Chain Bridge is fake.  That particular painter not only never painted the Chain Bridge but he never even visited Budapest!  
Hangin' out with the locals
As we were walking along the Danube there are several little two or three seat benches.  
He said the man who bought the benches and put them there would charge people to sit on them to enjoy the view of the Danube River. "Buchwald chairs were rented for a fee, collected by uniformed women." He had some  old pictures he had printed showing people sitting enjoying the view with the woman who collected their fees watching over them.   
I like to share these types of trivial stories because it's not something you are going to read in a travel brochure. 
Oh and this little tidbit.  If you ask someone who lives on the Buda side of the Danube where they live they will say Buda.  If you ask someone who lives on the Pest side of the Danube they will say Budapest. I guess the Buda people weren't as thrilled with the merger.  

He talked about the history of the buildings and the politics of the city both old and new.  We walked across the Elizabeth Bridge. 
When we got to the Buda side of the Elizabeth Bridge we went into a medical museum.  Balazs has a friend who used to work there so had arranged for us to get in before it opened.  This little museum is a hidden treasure.  It is overshadowed by the Military History Museum right next door to it that has ginormous statues of soldiers out front.  The medical museum has a very modest sign and doesn’t even say “medical” so if you didn’t know what it was and where it was, you’d have a hard time finding it. 

There is a statue in the interior courtyard dedicated to Semmel Ignac who was the first doctor who discovered that washing hands prevented the spread of germs.  Nobody believed him.  He would tell the doctors they had to wash their hands before and after delivering babies.  Moms to wash their hands before and after changing babies.  It was a hard sell but it finally caught on.  He is credited for the practice of scrubbing to the elbows before surgery.  There were a lot of old tools and the first x-ray machine, some skulls AND a mummified head!

Military Museum
Check out the people on the street to the right

 for a reference on how huge the scale is 
of the larger than life statues.
We walked around the Buda side before getting to the center of Budapest right at the base of the bridge.  There is a huge “0” statue which everything is measured from.  
Zero Kilometre Stone
We crossed over the bridge and walked down to the Shoes on the Danube.  This is a very sad memorial to the 100’s and 100’s of Jewish people (mostly Budapest Jews) who were killed there by the Militiamen during WWII.  They were told to leave their shoes behind because “shoes were valuable”.  They would tie several people together and shoot one of them because again, bullets were valuable.  The person they shot would fall into the river which would pull the others with him.  They would die by drowning or freezing to death.  What a horrific scene that must have been.  My Dear ole Dad served our Country in WWII.  It's hard to believe that this happened during his lifetime.

Another larger than life poet statue, this one looking over the river.
(He wrote a poem about sitting and watching  the Danube River)
On to the Parliament.  There was a flagpole and circle made of cannonballs.  There were two soldiers walking together inside the circle.  Connie asked Balazs why and he said “nobody knows!”
Periodically they stop circling and one stands on each side of the outer circle at attention, then they start circling together again.  They change guards every hour or two.  He said it started a couple of years ago.  Maybe for the entertainment of tourists.  It’s a mystery!  We went to the Museum of Photography where Balazs works.  Again, we were able to get in before it opened.  We walked around there for a while and then it was lunchtime.  We wanted to go someplace local, not touristy.  He said he knew a place but it we’d have to take the tram a couple of stops.  Okey dokey then.  We got off the tram and it was very much the local area.  He said the streets aren’t as clean because the tourist don’t go there. Perfect!  We went into an adorable little restaurant.
ETA: Connie found out from Balazs that the name of the restaurant is Kádár Étkezde.  According to their FB page they have been open since 1957.   
He tried to explain the menu items.  They had a few things in English on the back side of the menu.  The server came over and in Hungarian she told him the things the Americans usually like.  I had something that translated to boiled meat with tomato sauce and mashed potatoes.  Much better than it sounds or looks.
You cut off a little piece of meat and dip it in the sauce
Connie had something that was translated to a ground beef stuffed pepper and a meatball (same as the meat stuffed in the pepper).  Same sauce on both, a little sweet, very simple and very good.
We left there and walked back towards the Hungarian State Opera House so he could show us where it was.  We decided to get a Kürtöskalacs from a year-round stationary stand instead of the touristy stands at the Christmas Market.  He said it would be less expensive and more authentic.  Connie and I shared one and he got one for himself.  As he turned around I snapped a picture of him and Connie with the stand in the background.  
A local man tapped my arm and pointed to sign and said “No photo” and even threatened to call the police!  Yikes!
Just left of the window, who would even notice it?  ;~}
As Connie said “we fled the scene”.  This will be filed under "remember the time I almost got arrested in Budapest?"!!! Balazs said he doubted the police would even care.  The only reason we could figure the vendor had a sign up was maybe when he’s the only stand around people just take photos of the Kürtőskalács and don’t buy anything.  Nobody knows.  We got back to the hotel at 3.
We took a little nap before getting ready to go to the opera.  We decided rather than going out to dinner we’d just grab something at the Christmas Market from the many food vendors.  We walked to the opera and only got a little lost but found our way.  The opera house was incredibly beautiful and La Boheme was really good.  The coat check lady frowned when we paid in euro because we didn't have enough forint. >:[  She took the euro though!  
Here are two pictures that Connie took inside the Opera House:

After the performance we took a taxi back to the hotel.

Tomorrow morning we have cooking class then we're going to the Thermal Baths.  
That will be our last full day in Budapest since we have to leave for the airport at 3:45 a.m. Sunday.

Saturday 12-10-16
Time flies.  This morning we took a taxi to our cooking class.  We are staying the Pest side of the river, the class is on the Buda side.  About a 10 minute ride.  It was a private class in a cute apartment with our chef Andrew.  He was born in Hungary but spent a few years in America as a sous chef in Jersey.  He was very nice and very chatty. He said he starting cooking to improve his grandmother's recipes! We made Goulash Soup, Stuffed Cabbage and Poppy Seed Bread Pudding.
Why have coffee when you can start your morning with Pálinka?!?!

So proud of my perfect little cabbage roll!
Connie making "pinch noodles"
One of my favorite pics of Connie

Goulash Soup

Stuffed Cabbage with a dollop of  Sour Cream
Poppy Seed Bread Pudding

Everything was easy to make and very good. The soup was completely delicious.  The Stuffed Cabbage was good.  Bread Pudding was yummy too.  If you are in Budapest and are interested in a private cooking class I highly recommend Culinary Hungary.
ETA: Permission has been granted so I have posted their recipes I've made in my FoodPornBlog with my notes and photos.

Hungarian Goulash Soup
Poppy Seed Bread Pudding
Hungarian Cucumber Salad  
(We did not make the cucumber salad in class but I found it on their website and have made it few times. So good.)

Taxi back to the room and Connie is taking a quick nap before we venture out to try to find our way to the Thermal Baths. 

We walked down to and across our third bridge.  It’s directly across from the Grand Market and it’s green.  We don’t know the name.  Connie looked it up but it was in Hungarian so who knows.  
Across the Bridge on the Buda side (view to the right)
Castles, Castles everywhere
Directly across the bridge on the left was the Gallert.  The building also is a large hotel.  We paid the piper for a changing room where you can lock up your belongings, therefore we have no photos. I snatched this one off the web of the main indoor pool:
We walked through the indoor baths to find the outdoor baths.  Found this pic on Pinterest.  The large pool in the middle was closed.  We were in one of the side pools but I'm not sure which side (maybe the one on the right).  You get the idea though.  Pretty amazing!
Yes, it was cold outside but not as cold as it had been and the sun was out.  We walked up several stairs and there it was.  The pool was nice and warm.  It’s  surprisingly frequented by a lot of locals and the 20 to 30-something crowd.  There was a sauna and right outside was a cold plunge tub so people would come out of the steaming hot sauna, dunk into the cold tub, and immediately rush out.  It was pretty entertaining.  No, we did not partake however we did people watch for quite a while.  Then we headed back inside and that was a VERY cold walk. Thankfully it was quick.  We went to a warm indoor pool and sat there for a while.  We were going to get into the cool pool after that but it was too cold so we decided it was time to head back to the hotel.
We walked back across the green bridge of the unknown name and went to the tram stop by the Grand Market.  Connie figured out how to buy us tickets with the help of the security man standing by the machine.  We hopped on the tram which was super crowded, then had to figure out how to squeeze through the crowd to get to the machine that validates the tickets. If you don't validate your ticket you can get a big fine.  A couple of young girls were standing by the machine and showed Connie how to do it.  Thank you very much.  There is a tram stop right at the corner of our hotel so that was easy.  We had time to shower and get ready to meet Lisa and Deb in the lobby to venture out for a farewell dinner with our new friends.  We went to a restaurant just around the corner and sat outside on the patio.  There were space heaters so it was nice, however they went out about half way through dinner.  By then we had wine so it wasn’t noticeable that it got cold out!  Our server was fun and helpful explaining the menu.  I couldn’t decided between a beef dish which was like stewed meat with gnocchi or the “Gypsy Meat” which he said was grilled pork with garlic.  He directed me to the beef and it was super tender and delicious.  Connie tried the Chicken Paprikash which she said was good but not as good as the food we had at the local restaurant with Balazs.  

After dinner the four of us went back to the Christmas Market for a quick pass through then called it a night because we had to pack for our journey home.  We had to have our luggage outside our room by 3 a.m. and meet in the lobby at 3:30 for our 3:45 transport to the airport.  Such mixed emotions.  I'm not ready to leave but I'm ready to be home.

Sunday 12-11-16
We found Lynn, Sandra, Susan and Stacy in the lobby.  We hadn’t seen them since our last breakfast on the ship.  We compared notes on our adventures in Budapest. We had to identify our luggage then get on the bus for our 30 minute ride to the airport.  
The line to show our passports and check our luggage was super long.  Then we went through security and they wanted to search my carry-on bag.  My bag was mostly full of souvenirs so he was digging around through my treasures and finally pulled out a bag.  I had bought a snow globe in Vienna and did not even think about the fact that a snow globe is liquid.  Duh.  I was really worried he wasn’t going to let me take it but he did.  Whew.  Did you know that the snow globe was invented in Vienna? After that we went through passport check again and then waited for our flight.  It was only an hour flight to Munich.  
Munich is one bigggggg asssssss airport.  We felt like we had walked for miles to get to our gate.  We had a few hours to wait but thankfully our fight was on time.  The flight from Munich to Denver is 10.5 hours.  Ugg. Lufthansa was great though.  They even offer wine with your meal and an after meal baileys or brandy. The booze cruise continues! 
Upon arrival in Denver we got through passport check and then through customs. 
PSA - Did you know there is a passport app now? If you have that you can take the express line through passport check. Note to self: check that out before the next trip across the pond.
Since I had to recheck my bag and go through security check again, I took a minute to move the snow globe from my carry-on bag to my checked bag. I'm not sure I would have been so lucky again. Connie went home and I had a few hours to wait for my flight to Phoenix. Bye Bye Lufthansa, hello United. Thankfully my flight was on time.  
As soon as I we arrived I received a text from United that my checked bag had arrived on an earlier flight so I had to contact a baggage service rep.  I text'd my sis to let her know I landed and told her I'd have to track down my bag.  She asked if I had the luggage ID number so I text'd it to her.  She got my bag before I even got off the plane!  I love it when a plan comes together (all though that was not part of the plan). I missed her terribly.  
Look at these two cuties who waited up for me:
Josie and Romeo, my little munchkin love bugs
Monday 12-12-16
 I feel so blessed and fortunate to have been able to take this trip.  I have some more pictures I'm going to post of the Viking Vili (eta: posted below) because it was really a lovely ship as well as an overall impression of the Viking River Cruise experience.  I'll do that when I get settled in but now it's time to get back to the real world.  Work!  
Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho...  
Gotta do the "working" thing so I can pay for the "traveling" thing.


Our daily "good morning from" photos that we posted every morning on FB.
12-2-16 Arrived in Passau Germany

12-3 Good morning from Passau Germany

12-4 Good morning from Linz Austria

12-5 Good morning from Melk Austria

12-6 Good morning from Vienna Austria

12-7 Good morning from Bratislava Slovakia

12-8 Good morning from Budapest Hungary Day 1

12-8 Good morning from Budapest Hungary Day 2

12-9 Good morning from Budapest Hungary Day 3
Welcome to the Viking Vili

Connie took this great photo of the
Viking Vili at dusk in Durnstein Austria
as we left for our Wine Tasting Adventure
Reception Area

Our Veranda Stateroom
(sorry - forgot to take pics before we moved in)

Beds were comfy 

Bathroom had a HEATED FLOOR!
I found where they lock away the alcohol.
Just so happened to be right across the hall from our room!  

My favorite spot in the Library

I already miss the 24 hour Coffee Bar
(Coffee, Tea, Water, Cookies)
The Lounge
Gingerbread Village on display
between the Lounge and the Aquavit Terrace

Breakfast Buffet in the Dining Room

Our favorite spot on the Aquavit Terrace
(which I referred to throughout as the indoor terrace)
With the exception of our room and the breakfast buffet, I took those photos at 5:30 a.m.  That's why it looks so quiet on the ship.  
Bottom line – Viking was amazing.  
From my first contact with Tony, our booking agent.  He was incredibly patient and helpful. We spent a lot of time on the phone while trying to decide between October, December for the Christmas Markets, or going in the Spring.  I'm glad we choose Christmas Markets.
Next stop, Air Travel Department.  Our original contact couldn't figure out how to fly me from Phoenix and Connie from Denver so I was going to have to get to Denver on my own.  I called again and talked to Flora who was able to add on my flight to Denver.  A couple of weeks prior to departure I called to get our remaining seat assignments and spoke with Riley.  She said we were on the "call list" because we needed to be re-routed due to some airline schedule changes.  She was excellent!  Like Tony she was incredibly patient and really went the extra mile (no pun intended) so we could still travel together across the pond.
Finally - The Viking Vili - for our adventure.
The ship was beautiful, the staff was great and the food was fantastic. 
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided. They had a lovely breakfast buffet in the dining room which also included a few items you could order from  your server like Eggs Benedict. 
We only ate lunch on the ship once.  Most days we were out and about around lunchtime.   
We ate in the dining room every night but there was also a more casual option, a buffet on the Aquavit Terrace. Dinner in the dining room every night included soup or choice of two other appetizers; three entrees (one being vegetarian); three desserts (one was always a different kind of ice cream).  There was also the "always available" options: Caesar Salad, Ribeye, Chicken or Salmon and one of my new favorite things for dessert, the Cheese Plate. The Chef always had a recommendation for the featured app, entree and dessert. Beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner every day as well as a few other alcoholic beverages they surprised us with randomly. 
The daily included tours (some walking tours, others bus then walking) were very well organized, a super comfy bus, and always included a little free time to explore/shop on our own.  The local tour guides at every stop were excellent.  They were knowledgeable about the history of the area and included little amusing stories along the way. 
The "optionals" we paid extra for was the Mozart and Strauss Concert and the Grand Market Tour and Tasting.  The Wine Tour that was sold out was also an optional for a fee.  We ended up paying a small fee for the private tasting they arranged for our little group.  We booked the post extension in Budapest through Viking which included our accommodations and transportation back to the airport. Of course the post extension activities in Budapest (private tour, opera, cooking class, thermal baths) were on our own.  I must add, the Intercontinental Hotel that Viking set us up at was conveniently located and very nice with super comfy beds and pillows (although we didn't get much use out of them!). It also included a beautiful breakfast buffet the first morning and a breakfast-to-go box for our departure in the wee hours of the morning. 

I loved every stop along this journey.  They all felt like I stepped into a magical storybook fairytale with the exception of Vienna.  Vienna is a VERY BIG CITY and the only place we visited where I felt like I could really get lost.  Most of the cities were right where the ship docked (except the bus ride to Krumlov) so as long as you could find your way to the river, you could find your way back.  The heart of Vienna was not within walking distance.  You had to wait for the shuttle or take a bus, subway or taxi back.  Rich and Sue took the subway and said it was really easy so public transportation was a good option.  There is a mix of historic buildings alongside the newer commercial office buildings.  I kind of felt like I was in New York City or Downtown Chicago as we walked with our tour guide down the main shopping street which she said was “the Rodeo Drive of Vienna”, well, except for all the castles!  Don’t get me wrong, Vienna is beautiful and I enjoyed it.  There is so much to see and do that Connie said she could spend a week there.  And of course, they have the best coffee. :swoon:

We only ate in two restaurants the entire time, both on our post extension in Budapest.  First the local restaurant with Balazs and then our last night, final dinner with Lisa and Deb.  Both were good and reasonably priced.  The servers were helpful and friendly. 

Tip of the Trip: Always have coins to use public restrooms when you are away from the ship!  

ETA: FTM, with all the amazing food we ate and alcohol we consumed, post trip weigh-in = I'm down 3 pounds; Connie is down 4 pounds!  WoooWhoooo!  

I would do a Viking River Cruise again in a heartbeat.  I should have bought one of those  “saving for vacation malacpersely" (piggybank)!

Another ETA - The recap of the Viking experience is my personal opinion and not a paid advertisement.  HOWEVER, I did find out that if YOU book a Viking trip, call Tony and mention my name and booking number and you will receive a $100 credit for each person in your party (over and above any specials) and I will also receive a $100 credit for each person who books. Sounds like a win-win.  
Patti Schechter, Booking # 4104350

I hope you enjoyed following along on our journey, even if you just looked at the pictures. ;~} 

Next stop - dunno yet.  ❓