Some people look at the world through rose colored glasses. Johann Straus may have been looking at the Danube River through sepia toned lenses.
The composer of the Blue Danube Waltz may have been putting his own spin on a river that could have been blue on Feb. 13, 1867 when it made it debut but today’s river is a calm and smooth flowing brown.
But that does not take the romance away from the famed waterway.
Several noted cruise lines have trips that go up and down the river. Our host was Uniworld Cruises, leaving Vienna, home to Strauss, and doing downstream to Bucharest over a very relaxing and gentle two-week period. Most of the passengers on board were seasoned travelers who had chosen Uniworld because of its reputation for affordable luxury.
The trip started smoothly at Vienna International Airport with quick passage through customs and immigration. Just outside the doors was a young man holding a large sign proclaiming “Uniworld.” Luggage was quickly taken to a comfortable bus and, literally, within minutes the transfer to the ship took off.
Cabin assignments and shipboard welcome were handled efficiently as well and it wasn’t long before all were able to stretch out in bed and relax for a few minutes.
The following morning an included tour took most of the passengers following a sumptuous breakfast to see the beautiful city of Vienna. On tap were visits to Mozarthaus, where another famed composer lived and worked. An alternate tour gave passengers the choice of seeing the city through a fine arts lens.
Perhaps the most interesting tour of all was an optional trip to the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace, home of the Hapsburg dynasty and its most famous member, Maria Therese. The grounds are immense and still as beautifully groomed as though Austrian royalty was still in residence.
A walk through the palace brings to life quite vividly the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
There were secret passages so that the Hapsburg’s would not be disturbed or have to look at servants as their every need was catered to. Empress Maria Therese’s bed is indicative of the huge lifestyle they led.
The grounds are huge and a visitor could easily spend an entire day going through the schloss (palace) and the surrounding gardens. You can even take a quaint horse-drawn carriage ride.
For those who enjoy the old classics, Uniworld offers an optional evening tour, The Vienna Concert-The Sound of Vienna.
Dinner on board the Uniworld Princess is always a sumptuous and leisurely affair. Service is prompt and the wait staff ranks amongst the friendliest and most efficient either on land or afloat.
While you are at dinner the ship will gently slip its moorings and head downriver to its next port of call. The downstream current is rapid and the water smooth, combining to produce a gentle ride from Vienna to Bratislava in Slovakia.
While there are numerous tours and entertainment options on shore, the same holds true on board ship. Local ethnic entertainers board for an evening’s entertainment. A word to the wise here is to make it to the lounge early because seats fill fast for these shows.
Bratislava is at once an ancient city and one creeping into the 21st century. There are castles and palaces, apartment buildings that are falling down and modern structures.
Most Eastern European cities are faced with replacing what has become known as “Communist chic.” These are buildings put up under Communist rule from the end of WWII until freedom was restored in 1989 with the falloff the dictatorships.
The apartment complexes were devoid of any character and were poorly constructed. Slovakia, as is most of Eastern Europe, working feverishly to replace these buildings. It while take a while, but their efforts are succeeding.
One of the most interesting tours in Bratislava is on board what is commonly called “The Little Red Choo-Choo,” red wagons hitched together that brings guests through both old and new sections of the city. It passes along a boulevard of quaint little cafes and boutiques with a grassy and flowered median displaying amazing modern sculptures. This is definitely worth a return once the tour has ended.
Although Bratislava’s once thriving Jewish community has all but dissipated since the Nazi horrors of WWII, there is a preservation movement afoot and a memorial to the victims adjacent to the old synagogue now represented by a painted façade.
A word of caution as you go through Eastern Europe; although most of the countries have joined the European Union, some of them prefer their old currency as they slide into modern commerce to eventually making the Euro the common trade factor.
In Slovakia many merchants hang on to the koruna instead of the Euro and dollars are rarely accepted. Be careful about exchanging your money because these local currencies often cannot be exchanged again outside of the country and you could be stuck with “Monopoly Money.”