All Things Austrian With Viking River Cruises
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
December 4, 2014
An eventful day was in store for guests aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur today. Not only would we get to visit two ports of call – the Austrian towns of Durnstein and Melk – but we’d also cap off the evening with a fabulous themed dinner onboard, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
At eight in the morning, Viking Baldur pulled up to the small town of Durnstein, Austria, tying up at Dock 21. A picturesque little village, Durnstein is anchored primarily by two things: Durnstein Abbey, with its powder blue-and-white clock tower; and the remains of a medieval castle perched high atop the hills.
Richard the Lionheart is noted as one of Durnstein’s earliest tourists. He arrived here in 1192 and was promptly imprisoned by Duke Leopold V of Austria. It was your typical medieval scenario: Richard the Lionheart had offended the Duke by draping his flags down over Leopold’s during the Battle of Acre and, to a lesser extent, by ordering the murder of the Duke’s cousin. The Duke responded swiftly, imprisoning King Richard in a gorgeous castle nestled in the middle of the wine-producing Wachau Valley.
Today, no one is being imprisoned, though you can still hike up to the remains of the castle, which is a tough-but-doable 30 minute hike from the town center. We did, however, get the Royal Welcome, as shops opened shortly after eight in the morning on a sleepy Thursday especially for guests streaming off the Viking Baldur.
Some photos of this quiet but picturesque town:
At fifteen minutes past ten, it was all aboard for an afternoon of scenic cruising through Austria’s magnificent Wachau Valley. This is, without a doubt, my favorite part of any Danube river cruise, and you’ll want to brave the elements to be up on deck to get the most out of this experience – though watching from the gorgeous Viking Lounge is perfectly acceptable, too. Program Director Oliver provided commentary from the ship’s wheelhouse as we sailed along.
This afternoon, Viking Baldur docked in Melk, Austria. Melk is a quiet little town that is lorded over by the imposing Stift Melk, or Melk Abbey. From the ship, Viking offered guests a guided tour of this magnificent architectural gem, departing in two waves so as to give guests a more personalised experience.
Groups A & B departed the ship at 1:45 p.m., followed by Groups C, D, and E at 2:15 p.m. As there are steep steps that have to be negotiated to get down to the abbey from the coach parking lot, Viking also offered to call taxis for any guests with mobility issues who wished to visit the abbey. Taxis and smaller shuttle vans are able to pull right up to a service entrance, thereby eliminating the need to negotiate 40 or so steps.
I’ve been to the Abbey many times, so I gave the tour a pass. My goal was to visit the small but enjoyable Christmas Market in Melk. Sadly, it was closed until the weekend; the market doesn’t seem to open on weekdays.
Still, I managed to have an enjoyable stroll around this pretty little town before walking back to the Viking Baldur for a quiet afternoon of reading and writing in the Viking Lounge.
If Melk was a bit of a bust, my evening onboard the Viking Baldur was not. Tonight, guests were treated to a gala Austrian feast, with different Austrian specialties available in the Restaurant, the Lounge, the Aquavit Lounge, and even the ship’s galley. The culinary offerings were different in each venue, and guests were encouraged to graze and mingle the evening away.
In all the Viking river cruises I’ve done, this was a real first for me, and a truly unique event. I made a beeline for the galley, situated at the forward end of the Restaurant, and loaded up on sauerkraut, roasted ham, sausages and – of course – a salted pretzel. I’ve seen the galley on a Viking Longship once before, but watching the reaction of fellow guests – particularly when they saw how tight space was in the galley – was a real education. Guests have a better appreciation for what the culinary team here onboard is able to create using such a small, but efficient, space.
Once I’d enjoyed my samples from the galley, I headed up to the Lounge for some more Austrian delicacies. Austrian schnapps was also on-hand, as were Austrian beers and wines.
One things I’d never realized before is that Viking has their very own dedicated winemaker that provides the line the red and white wines that are served complimentary at lunch and dinner. Hailing from Austria’s Wachau Valley, these are produced by a man named Erhard Morwald, a fifth-generation Austrian winemaker. “We are creating vintages that are truly memorable,” he says in the Viking Daily program for today. “There has to be the right combination to properly accent the cuisine. That is what we strive for: well-balanced wines rich in character.”
Indeed, the complimentary wines seem to go well with everything – but if you’re more particular, I’d recommend purchasing the optional Silver Spirits beverage package that offers complimentary bottles of wine from Viking’s premium beverage list, along with spirits and beers served throughout the day. I had it last week in France on Viking Forseti, and I have to admit I miss not having it this week.
So, full of good food and good wine, guests shuffled off to their rooms around ten this evening, as Viking Baldur sails down the Danube, bound for our next series of adventures. Events like tonight’s dinner continue to impress me; the fact that Viking is still, to this day, continuing to add new features and tweak their onboard programs is truly spectacular. This is my third Danube sailing with the line – and they still continue to both impress and surprise me.
Our Live Voyage Report aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur continues tomorrow as we travel to Linz and Salzburg, Austria! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Our full journey:
Viking Baldur - Danube Waltz Christmas Markets
|November 29, 2014||Budapest, Hungary||Flight from Bordeaux, France to Budapest, Hungary. Overnight in Budapest at the Kempinski Budapest|
|November 30||Budapest, Hungary||Embark Viking Baldur; free time to visit the Christmas Market. Traditional Hungarian dinner onboard.|
|December 1, 2014||Budapest, Hungary||City tour of Buda and Pest, including Castle District - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.|
|December 2||Bratislava, Slovakia||City tour through Slovakia's capital|
|December 3||Vienna, Austria||Ringstrasse tour or free time; optional excursion to the Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace; optional evening concert.|
|December 4||Durnstein & Melk, Austria||Free time or optional walking tour in Durnstein; tour of Melk Abbey.|
|December 5||Linz, Austria / Salzburg, Austria||Full day excursion to Salzburg, Austria; free time. Return to ship late at night.|
|December 6||Passau, Germany||Walking tour & free time|
|December 7, 2014||Passau, Germany||Disembark Viking Baldur; transfer to Munich, Germany for onward journey home.|