Monday, April 1, 2019 (flight from Des Moines to Prague)
I have become accustomed to taking early morning flights. This would allow me to reach my destination during the day and have time to orient myself. Our flight for this trip was not until 5 pm, but would end up fine as we would not arrive in Europe until the following day. Passing thru seven time zones also sped up the evening. The leg from Des Moines to Detroit was uneventful and smooth. The main flight was from Detroit to Paris.
The seven-hour flight and passing six time zones would put us into Paris at 10 am on Tuesday. We were fortunate enough to be assigned the first-row seats in the plane, so had plenty of leg room. We were not in First Class, but did have the opportunity to see the arrangement of First Class as we exited the plane. For long overseas flights, the First Class option should be given serious consideration if you have trouble sitting for long periods of time or need your rest at night.
In Paris is where we went thru our first customs entry. There was a significant wait at the stations, but only due to the airport having a single agent on duty at 10 am on a weekday. Once we passed that station, we again went thru a screening station.
The flight from Paris to Prague was also uneventful. I had decided to get my currency for the trip at the airport exchange stations (there are plenty in the airport). It was a learning experience for me to find out that Prague does not use the Euro currency, but Crowns. I asked for a certain dollar amount in Crowns and trusted that they gave me the correct amount. There was a sign in the window that disclosed they do have a 13% commission on all transactions.
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
On the bus to our hotel, I discussed the currency use with my travel friends and quickly realized that my bills were a much larger denomination than I would need to use. I probably should have been clearer in my directions at the currency station in the airport. Lesson learned to study the currency recognized by the country you are going to be visiting and not presume that all countries in Europe accept the Euro (more on this later).
The cruise line had staff waiting for us at the Prague airport and took us to our bus. One of the staff stayed on the bus with us. She gave us an introduction of the city during our trip to the hotel in the center of the city. It was very helpful and informative to have this person with us.
After we checked into our room, the cruise director was waiting for us at a table in the lobby. He gave us some additional city information and invitation to an orientation meeting that afternoon.
At the orientation, we were briefed on the schedule for our pre-cruise days in Prague. The four of us in our party then took a short walking tour around the hotel to find some dinner. The hotel was nicely located about a block from an open air market that is operated daily. We decided to wait on that shopping until after dinner. We walked a couple blocks and randomly stopped in a restaurant with many tables empty. Later the restaurant was busy and realized that Europeans eat later in the day than Americans. While most of us are done with our dinners back home by 7-8 pm, that is the time most Europeans are starting to go out to eat.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, our group of pre-cruise passengers boarded a bus for a ride to the Prague Castle. The complex known in general terms as the ‘Castle’ includes a sprawling group of buildings and squares. You can still see the large remains of the moat structure around a portion of the building. From the castle complex, our group walked the steep streets down to the Charles Bridge. This is a pedestrian bridge with statues along the sides. It is lined with vendors and usually full of people.
From the Charles Bridge area, we continued our tour by walking thru a few more streets to an open square and the Astronomical Clock. We made it at the top of the hour, so were able to take in the spectacle of the ringing in the next hour. Afterwards, our guide explained how to make the short remaining walk back to our hotel and left us with free time.
We did return to the Charles Bridge area that evening to eat at one of the diners and enjoy the sunset from the bridge. A note of caution when dining in Prague, be sure to ask first if they accept credit cards. We learned this lesson the hard way. Our group thought that the ATM machine at the front of the building should have been our first clue.
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Our excursion today was a trip to Terezin, about an hour north of Praque.
This is the site of one of the concentration camps during World War II. The visit was a sobering experience reminding us of the thousands who lost their lives due to their beliefs. We ended the day with a traditional Czech meal and accompanying music.
Friday, April 5, 2019 (transfer and board the ship)
Our group checked out of the hotel and boarded a bus to make the drive to our cruise ship. There was an excursion on the way to the ship at Regensburg. This quaint village was a very nice break from the bus ride, as well as a beautiful setting. The buildings and architecture was impressive and well maintained. We had our lunch across from another giant cathedral. Even though major parts were under renovation, it was an amazing tribute to the community’s faith.
After finishing the bus trip, we arrived at our ship in Vilshofen, Germany. The boarding was very smooth and quick. In the evening, we enjoyed a presentation by the local officials and an Octoberfest celebration (in April).
Saturday, April 6, 2019
We spent this day in the “City of Three Rivers”, or Passau, Germany. The walking tour of the city was impressive and as expected, the cathedrals are large and amazing. We were able to view the world’s largest organ housed at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. While the Cathedral is under construction it was still a sight to see.
Sunday, April 7, 2019
Sunday was a full day of activities for people in Linz, Austria. We spent the morning on a city walking tour, while others took in the sights on a bike ride. The city is home to the Museum of the Future, which is quite unique. The guide shared that one of the features inside was the ability to put on a pair of virtual reality (VR) goggles and you will be able to see how your own brain is actually processing information. The afternoon was filled with a bus excursion to Cesky Krumlov, back in the Czech Republic. The quaint village environment was out of a story book setting. However, the castle was extremely impressive alongside the village.
Monday, April 8, 2019
We arrived in Durnstein, Austria for a walking tour of the village. This is in the heart of the Wachau Valley, known for many wineries. We were impressed by the vast number of vines along the slopes of the hillsides and in the valley before the Danube River. We ended the day with a wine tasting in one of the many wineries. It was interesting to hear the history of why the region produces apricots in addition to grapes for wine.
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
We started the day with a bus excursion to the Melk Benedictine Abbey. This complex provided a wonderful display of artifacts from the past, as well as the preservation of the cathedral area. The complex also is still an active school with students coming from around the area.
After a short cruise at mid-day down the Danube, we arrived at Krem. This took us from the western edge of the Wachau Valley (Melk) to the eastern edge of the valley.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Our time in Vienna was packed with walking and bus tours by day. Then in the evening, we were treated to a concert in one of the music halls of Mozart and Strauss compositions. The music hall was the very traditional setting of individual chairs in a large open room. There was a stage in front for about 12 musicians. Depending on the song, they also had vocalists or dancers at the front of the stage. A very well-done performance in the classical manner.
Thursday, April 11, 2019 (my birthday and final day on ship)
We docked at a port just before Budapest and boarded buses to take us into the city. The ship would be waiting for us at a dock in the city, following our daily excursions. We entered the city thru the Buda (hilly) side and enjoyed a walking tour of the Presidential Palace in the Castle Hill district. Then the bus took us over the 19th-century Chain Bridge into the Pest (flat) portion of the city. We then were dropped off at our ship near the downtown portion of the city.
As it was my birthday, we were treated to a special Chef Table dinner on the ship. Each guest is allowed this meal once during the cruise. We saved our turn until the end for my birthday. The seven-course meal was delectable and the birthday cake for dessert was special. We then joined other guests on the top deck as the ship cruised along the Danube River past the Parliament Building and all of the other buildings glowing from the lights at night. I have never seen such an elaborate and magnificent display of building grandeur.
Friday, April 12, 2019 (disembark and flights from Budapest to Des Moines)
The process of leaving the ship to start our trek back to the USA was just as smooth and efficient as the boarding. While we have been on large ship cruises in the Caribbean, Alaska and Hawaii, this process for a smaller group of guests was much different. Our flights back to the midwest went without a hitch and we now have very fond memories of our European river cruise on the beautiful Danube River. Thanks to AMAWaterways for a wonderful experience.