I will admit it: I used to be one of those people that would always rush back to the ship for lunch.
Part of my rationale was that, aboard the ship, my food was already paid for. With river cruising, in most cities your ship is either within walking distance or accessible by transportation arranged by the cruise line. This made returning for my meals tempting, indeed. Plus, as I travel solo much of the time, I just didn’t want to sit down in a restaurant.
But on my recent trip along the Danube aboard Tauck’s Swiss Jewel, I made a concerted effort to have lunch ashore in many of our ports of call as we sailed from Budapest to Regensburg, with a post-cruise stay in Prague.
At first, I didn’t find this to be an easy task. I remember being in Bratislava, Slovakia, strolling down a beautiful promenade lined with trees and bars, restaurants and cafes as far as the eye could see. What to choose? How to choose? Even making a decision about where to sit down seemed to be daunting.
But then, I looked closer at each restaurant, finally settling on a brewpub that boasted some excellent Slovakian beers coupled with traditional dishes. That’s the one thing I learned about picking a restaurant: If it didn’t have local specialities, I was out.
I sat down, ordered a beer and some food, and relaxed out in the open air on an unseasonably warm autumn day. And it was everything I hoped it would be, and more.
Energized by the experience, I found myself in Vienna, Austria the next day. I knew I wanted to have coffee at the famous Café Demel, but I arrived during the lunch hour, so I found a table and plopped myself down.
A few things about dining in Europe: You rarely have to wait to be seated, and you always have to pointedly ask for the check. The other great thing is that most establishments, particularly Viennese cafes, will let you sit there for the entire day if you’d like, so long as you continue to order drinks. It’s a marked shift from many North American restaurants, which can’t wait to chase you out the door.
At the Café Demel, I sipped on hot (spiked!) juice flavored with mixed berries while dining on Viennese sausage served with horseradish and mustard, a dish that is deceptively simple yet wonderfully tasty.
Sausages and meats are a staple of many foods in this region, and those visiting Regensburg, Germany can dine on some of the best at the Wurstkuchl, one of the oldest continually operating sausage houses in the country.
Conveniently located along the river, just a stone’s throw from the numerous river cruise ships tied up, the Wurstkuchl does one thing exceptionally well: bratwurst and sauerkraut. In fact, the smallest number of sausages you can order is six and the menu goes all the way up to 12. Six sounds like a lot on its own, but these are nothing like the heavy, greasy breakfast sausages many North Americans are used to.
Instead, served over a delicious bed of sauerkraut, this quaint restaurant is an absolute must on any trip to Regensburg.
On this trip, I also discovered my love affair with Czech food. Hearty meats paired with vegetables and potatoes are on the menu everywhere, and a few dishes I tried even came with potatoes that had little bits of cured ham placed inside. It’s probably a vegetarian’s nightmare, but I found the food to be remarkably healthy: After all, nothing is deep-fried or drowned in a cream sauce.
I’m headed back to the Danube in a few weeks — and as fabulous as the food is on a river cruise, I can’t wait to go ashore and see what local specialities await me this time.