Did you miss out on an OE (overseas experience) when you were young? Do you think you are past travelling through Europe on the cheap, squashed into a van with a group of other people as you may have done in your twenties? Don’t worry about it. You can still do your OE through Europe hassle free and in luxurious comfort. Try a European river cruise. I did.
A good friend and I booked a 15-day river cruise travelling on the Danube and Rhine Rivers from Budapest, Hungary in the East to Amsterdam, Netherlands in the West. The cruise would travel through five countries – Hungary, Slovakia (not stopping there), Austria, Germany and the Netherlands with the opportunity to include a day trip by bus to the Czech Republic if desired. The trip would involve organised bus or walking tours in Budapest, Vienna, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Cologne and Amsterdam, as well as visits and tours in lesser known places including Durnstein, Melk, Passau, Wurzburg and Miltenberg. Even the names sounded wonderful. Everything was organised beautifully. We didn’t have to do a thing, but to relax and enjoy a wide range of fabulous cultural experiences.
We boarded our gorgeous ship in the beautiful city of Budapest and were warmly welcomed by our crew and the travel director – the person who organised various tours along the way, provided heaps of information and who was the general go-to person. Our ship accommodated approximately 147 paying passengers. It had a first-class restaurant providing fine dining including wine free with lunch and dinner; a large entertainment relaxation room with a bar (pay your own;, an open outdoor deck with seating on top; a small library area which also provided board games, puzzles and cards; and a reception area.
Our room was gorgeous. It had two comfortable single beds, a good closet/storage area and our own ensuite. The room-wide floor to ceiling window had a sliding door which opened to a Juliet balcony so we could happily gaze at the passing countryside and breath in the fresh European air.
Our cruise started with an evening sailing tour of Budapest. It was wonderful to see this city at night with its old architecture glowing with golden lights. Next day we were taken on a bus tour of the city with visits to a Cathedral and palace garden. It included a visit to both the new and old parts of the city. Then in the late afternoon we excitedly set sail towards Vienna and that evening there was a Captain’s Welcome Cocktail and Gala Dinner.
What were the highlights of the cruise?
I loved Budapest with its incredible history and charm. I enjoyed the quaint Austrian village of Durstein with its old shops and houses surrounded by fields of grape vines and wineries. I was fascinated by cobblestone roads and lanes in so many European cities and villages. These stone were cut and laid by Romans 2000 years ago and today people still walk and drive on them. (How come there are so many road repairs happening around the corner from where I live at home in New Zealand?). I absolutely loved the ‘home experience’ that was provided for us in Wurzberg. A very friendly, retired German couple warmly welcomed six of us passengers into their home and gave us home-made afternoon tea and small gifts. I loved visiting Siegfried’s Museum of Music in Rudesheim where a large Dutch cabinet-sized piece of engineering, designed nearly 100 years ago produced a whole mechanical band which at the turn of a switch produced a funky piece of music with numerous instruments playing all at once. I loved drinking tea in a café in Bamberg with my friend and chatting to two older (like me), elegant local women, one German and one French, both teachers. I relished relaxing on the ship as it sailed past numerous quaint villages, old castles and gentle countryside.
The cruise was crammed with activities, tours and entertainment both on ship and off, too numerous to list.
What were the downsides? Interestingly I felt overdosed with palaces and castles and particularly cathedrals. Doesn’t that sound incredible? I learned I didn’t have to go on every bus or walking tour. I could sometimes sit with my friend in cafes drinking hot chocolate and chat happily to locals or people watch. My ship was predominantly full of Australians when I had expected a more varied amount of Nationalities such as European, British and American. There are different cruise companies and the one I went on was Australian which I hadn’t realised when I booked. I would advise anyone wanting a cruise that involved a variety of Nationalities to consider the country of the travel company. I must say though that the crew were incredibly diverse coming from Hungry, Romania, Slovenia and the Balkans.
And best of all was the friendliness and kindness of so many people that I met.
If you want to experience a taste of Europe that is relaxed, organised and where you can stay in the same bed every night for two weeks, then go on a river cruise. I loved it and hopefully you may too.