Explore On A Viking River Cruise
Where to eat, drink, and wander on a luxurious journey down the Danube
Felicity—a 20-something travel lover—has teamed up with her friends from around the world to provide readers with local, insider knowledge of today’s most awe-inspiring destinations. Through writing, photography, and video, they’ll share the best tricks and tips for experiencing a place authentically and getting off the beaten path.
I have the (unfortunate) tendency of believing that travel is somehow better if my experiences are difficult. On the first hike I ever did, for example, I carried 40 pounds on my back in steel-toed boots up the highest peak in Malaysia after having sprained my ankle at the base of the mountain. Perseverance can be a real liability sometimes.
Therefore, I never thought a cruise would be for me—it all just sounds too easy. What’s the point if I’m not likely to end up bound to a stretcher? I’m kidding! (Sort of). A few years ago, however, I set my skepticism aside and tried one of Viking’s river cruises down the Danube through Germany, Austria, and Hungary. As it turns out, there are plenty of opportunities for a 30-something to find adventure on this cruise, while also getting to take a break from the daily logistics of trip planning. I read, drank wine, explored, and napped while on Viking’s beautiful boat, because guess what this break is called? Forced downtime!
It’s a gift I do not give myself enough, and one which greatly alleviates the FOMO that can plague me while traveling and seeking the unfamiliar. Not only was it a delight to sit with a book while the ship’s staff figured out where we were going, but I also never had to carry more than a half-empty day pack (meaning I could easily fill it with pastries and other important local goods as I wandered).
For those of you who also want to combine some downtime with off-the-beaten-path exploration, here are a few of the many highlights from my trip along the Danube with Viking!
Images: Dana VanVellerEntering the old town of Nuremberg through thick medieval city walls, I found a convivial stretch of cobblestone in front of Café Bar Wanderer with people sipping Campari sodas in the sun; this was just the sort of “welcome to Germany” I wanted. After I joined them for a drink, the city began revealing itself further: I walked through neighborhood after neighborhood of colorful timber-framed houses, and stumbled upon several seasonal markets.
Images: Dana VanVeller
Walking through this city was like walking through an actual postcard. Unlike Nuremberg, which has largely been rebuilt, Regensburg was not significantly damaged during WWII, so most of the buildings date back to the Middle Ages, and some even to the Roman Empire. The pastel walls and burnt orange roofs made this town a delight to explore.
Early on, I discovered the Historic Sausage Kitchen of Regensburg which, as an older local gentleman informed me, had served as a catering kitchen for the workers building the city’s 900 year-old stone bridge that crosses the Danube. Here, I got to cast an (unofficial) vote in a centuries-old battle between Nuremberg and Regensburg, or what I like to call “The Great Bavarian War of Tiny Sausages.” Nuremberg’s small links are spiced with fresh marjoram, ginger, and cardamom, then grilled over a beechwood fire; in Regensburg, they also contain a blend of spices but are cooked over charcoal. I had a slight preference for Nuremberg’s version, but Regensburg’s quaint old sausage house definitely won for atmosphere.
Images: Dana VanVeller
Passau sits at the confluence of three rivers, so the town itself is fairly contained and easy to wander through in an afternoon (even with a lengthy stop at Altes Bräuhaus for cheese späetzle and a stein of local beer). After experiencing the town’s daily organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and strolling the eclectic umbrella-topped alleyways in the Höllgasse district, I crossed the bridge and ventured up to the Capuchin Monastery. Feeling ready for a challenge (and loving any opportunity to potentially sprain an ankle!), I opted not to take the trolley; instead, I headed up in the pouring rain, fighting big wet leaves as I ascended hundreds of overgrown stone steps to the monastery grounds. I didn’t see a single other person on the way, and was rewarded with a view of Passau’s incredible skyline.
Image: Dana VanVeller
I’ve lived through the rise of café culture in North America over the past two decades, but in Vienna it’s been an essential part of their culture for centuries. Thought of as an extension of people’s living rooms, there are hundreds of cafés in which people work, chat, drink coffee, and snack on housemade cakes and pastries. At the historic Café Schwartzenberg, I sipped Austrian wine with my goulash and finished off the meal with a decadent slice of trüffletorte. I’d have been happy just experiencing that, so visiting the opulent rooms of the Schönbrunn Palace and eating pretzels in the city’s centuries-old underground cellar network (by way of restaurant Brezl Zwölb) was all just bonus.
Images: Dana VanVeller
I elected to stay a few extra days in Budapest after the cruise finished, and was able to cover a lot of ground in this fine city. Across one of the city’s eight bridges I found the Grand Market Hall, Hungary’s largest and oldest indoor market and a place full of Hungarian spices, cured meats, crafts, and more. I also explored the Jewish Quarter, a neighborhood abundant in hidden courtyards, great food, and both historic and contemporary Jewish culture. I finished the day with a visit to one of the city’s thermal baths. My only regret? Not planning ahead to get a massage!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
With a background in Literature and Food Security, Dana began her career as a food writer by travelling to all 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada with the purpose of discovering and sharing stories of Canadian food culture, a cuisine which had previously only been celebrated with much hesitation. The endeavour resulted in the establishment of a Saveur Award-winning food and travel blog, and culminated in the creation of a Taste Canada Award-winning cookbook, Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip published by Appetite by Random House in 2017. She continues to consult and freelance in writing, recipe development, food photography, and brand communications, and is currently working with two partners to open a new restaurant, Brightside Burrito Shop, in Vancouver in the fall of 2019.