The Hills Are Alive With the Smells of Gluhwein
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
December 5, 2014
Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur arrived in the city of Linz, Austria early this morning as our weeklong Danube Waltz river cruise slowly winds its way down Europe’s most famous river towards Passau. Guests wouldn’t be staying in Linz long, though: nearly the entire ship was setting out on a full-day journey to Salzburg.
What’s particularly interesting to note is that when I did this run two years ago aboard Viking Freya, this excursion was offered at an additional cost of about 100 Euros. In fact, nearly every other river cruise line stopping in Linz also offers an excursion to Salzburg – at an additional per person cost. Viking, however, has begun offering the full-day excursion to Salzburg complimentary.
This is particularly noteworthy for several reasons. Guests must be bussed to Salzburg from Linz on four separate Viking-branded coaches, and the journey takes roughly two hours there and two hours back. That’s a lot of driving – and a lot of expensive diesel fuel for the coaches. Then, a guided tour of this historic city is offered, followed by free time. It’s the kind of thing Viking really could still charge 100 Euros for and it would be completely understandable.
Instead, the Salzburg tour is now offered completely free of charge, except for lunch on your own. Needless to say, this was an incredibly popular option with our almost-exclusively American passenger base, for one key reason: everyone loves The Sound of Music, which was filmed on-location in and around Salzburg.
Now, allow me to present my own personal bias early on: I hate The Sound of Music. I hate it not because it’s a bad movie (it isn’t), or because the songs are terrible (they’re not). I dislike it because to me, Salzburg is so much more than some 1965 movie with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Salzburg is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the leading cities in the Renaissance and Baroque movements, and even the birthplace of Josef Mohr, who co-wrote Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht – or “Silent Night.”
On the other hand, The Sound of Music exposed an entire generation to the beauty of both Salzburg and Austria, and I have to admit that’s always a good thing. It also brought into North American consciousness the devastating effects of the Anschluss, or the occupation and annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, on March 12, 1938.
Still, I had some reservations that perhaps the entire coach ride would turn into one two-hour non-stop sing-along that would have me grappling for the emergency exit release. That turned out to not be the case at all; instead, beautiful Austrian music was played through the coach’s admittedly amazing sound system. Well done, Viking!!
Halfway through the journey to Salzburg along the Westautobahn, we made a short pit-stop at a gas station next to the Mondsee Lake which, naturally, you’ll recognize from The Sound of Music. It was enough time to grab a cup of coffee, take some photos, and use a washroom, though there is a (small) one on the coach that can be used in an emergency.
Less than an hour later, we were strolling the streets of Salzburg.
Our guided tour hit all the major highlights, focusing mainly on the historic city centre that’s recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every street and corner seems to have some relevant connection with history; indeed, our meeting place to return to at the end of our free time was the square adjacent to Mozart’s Birthplace, a canary-yellow building that’s now located diagonally across from a Starbucks.
Salzburg also has numerous Christmas Markets of all sizes, and our guide took the time to showcase the major ones to us. I also appreciated that he invited guests to peel off at any point if they saw something they liked or were interested in, and informed them they could either continue to listen in on the QuietVox audio systems to his commentary or simply go off and do their own independent touring provided they return to the meeting point at the scheduled time. It’s nice to have that kind of flexibility because once I smelled the sweet spicy aroma of the Gluhwein, I was ready to go exploring!
One thing our guide did recommend, however, was the Sauerkraut Burgers available at the Christmas Market located in the Residenplatz adjacent to the University of Salzburg. That sounded like a pretty good lunch to me, and it was easily the best burger I’ve ever had – sauerkraut, grainy mustard, and what tasted like a pork patty. That and some Gluhwein – delicious.
Some photos from our afternoon in Salzburg:
The coach ride back to the Viking Baldur was positively funereal, as everyone had run themselves ragged in Salzburg. But I don’t mind that; it was a good chance to pop the iPod in and listen to some music while the Upper Austrian countryside rolled past us.
With just two more nights to go on our Danube Waltz voyage, our Captain’s Farewell Dinner was held this evening in The Restaurant, followed by the traditional crew celebration up in the Viking Lounge. This year, Viking surprised me by doing something different: guests were provided with printed lyric sheets for popular Christmas carols, and guests and crew alike joined in and sang.
The evening ended, though, on a very touching note: the guests badgered Program Director Oliver (who bills himself as ‘the only funny German’) into singing Silent Night the way it was originally written: in German. He said that no, he wasn’t going to do this. Everyone pleaded with him to do so, and he finally did. Silent Night sounds much more beautiful when sung in its native German, and to hear that was a very special, very international experience. Many guests didn’t even know the song was German in origin. It’s also a song that has the power to unite many people; German, French and English troops fighting during World War I had sung the carol during the Christmas Truce of the winter of 1914 as it was the only carol that all three nationalities knew.
The guests and crew of the Viking Baldur have come from many different countries. They speak many different languages. Yet all know the carols that were sung tonight. It’s a nice touch – and exactly what I have come to expect from Viking River Cruises.
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.|