Budapest at night is a sea of lights. Budapest is noted as the City of Lights and this is especially true at the Chain Bridge on the Danube River.

Budapest at night is a sea of lights. Budapest is noted as the City of Lights and this is especially true at the Chain Bridge on the Danube River.

River cruise great way to see Europe

Tired of back packing or bus tours to see Europe? Then try a river cruise. It’s a great way to see various parts of Europe and you don’t have to sleep in a different bed each night.

Tired of back packing or bus tours to see Europe?

Then try a river cruise. It’s a great way to see various parts of Europe and you don’t have to sleep in a different bed each night.

This was my first venture on a boat cruise of any kind.

I had been interested in the possibility of a river cruise since friends went on river trips on the Danube and the Rhine.

My wife had always wanted us to go on an ocean cruise, but there was no way I was going on a ship that stops every day in a different port with several thousand passengers.

Besides, I’m prone to sea sickness. So the river cruise was definitely the way to go.

The trip started in Prague, a very upscale, modern city with high fashion districts, lots of historical churches and castles and thousands of tourists.

“At first it was mind-boggling seeing all the different tour groups following their guide, who held up a placard or umbrella high in the air as a means of guiding their group around the square,” said Joy Wilson of North Vancouver.

“But after a while you just got used to it.

“Looking back, Prague was our favourite city. There were many fine restaurants, a beautiful river walk, and very interesting cathedrals and castles. The main feature in the town square is the astronomical clock on the old city hall.

The clock dates back to the 15th century and not only tells the time but also shows the date, the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon.

At the full hour, the figures of the 12 apostles appear in two windows and a rooster crows and the bells in the tower begin to ring the hour.”

Our group was bused from Prague to Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria on the banks of the Main-Danube Canal waterway. Nuremberg was heavily bombed during the Second World War and was the venue for the trials of the Nazi war criminals. Today, the city has been rebuilt and the historical buildings restored.

Along with 140 fellow passengers, we cruised on the Avalon Imagery, a ship that was 140 metres long and 11 metres wide.

There are about 100 ships that sail the various rivers in Europe and they are all basically designed the same, to allow them to pass under low bridges and navigate through the canal and lock systems.

On this seven-day trip to Budapest, the ships have to go through 26 locks to get over the European Continental divide and on down to Budapest.

It was a dream of the Romans to link the Rhine and Danube river systems but only in recent time has this international waterway been possible with the building of the canals and locks.

For the first two days and nights, we travelled on the canal, stopping at Regensburg and Passau, Germany, and Linz, Austria.

The canal banks were heavily forested with deciduous hardwoods so there could be glorious fall colours if one did the trip in the fall (you might have to book well in advance to go during the fall colours).

Each day, the ship stopped near the centre of a city.

Usually the oldest part was the most interesting area.

There were local bus and walking tours with local guides included in the trip, or you could take optional tours at an extra cost to travel into the countryside.

The region had a similar climate to southern Ontario, with lots of rolling grass and grain, corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beet fields in addition to numerous maple, walnut, and pine trees.

On the dairy farms, the house and barn were built as one unit as the heat from the barn would help keep the house warm in winter.

The countryside is noted for flowers and every home had window boxes full of greenery. In the higher elevations, there is snow in the winter.

More than half of Germany’s 1,250 breweries are located in the region of Bavaria and all beers are governed by the world’s oldest legislation relating to food, going back to 1487. This specifies that German beer may contain only water, hops, malt or other grain. Pil lager is the most famous beer of the area.

“This part of Europe was the birthplace of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss and on our visit to Vienna you could really see why it is called the City of Music,” said Al Robertson of Brandon. “One of our big highlights was touring the opera house.”

One visits central Europe to see Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style architecture.

Gothic architecture, with it soaring churches with pointed arches and flying buttresses, was prevalent from 1130 to 1500s.

It was followed by the Renaissance style of Leonardo da Vinci, from 1420 to the 1600s.

Renaissance means “rebirth” and the buildings are of classical style with columns, triangles and cupolas. The detailed painted cathedral ceilings were of importance in this era.

In the 1600 to 1780 era, the Baroque style was to “glorify God in all things” and churches of this period were lavish and extravagant in their gold-coloured decorations.

In most towns that we visited, we would see examples of these different styles of architecture and one had to ponder how the early craftsmen built these structures with the hand tools of the time. The Cathedral of St. Stephen’s in Passau, Germany, has the largest organ in Europe with 17,388 pipes and 231 stops.

Our trip ended in Budapest, a city of lights. Budapest is basically two cities on either side of the Danube. Buda, on a magnificent hill, and Pest, on the opposite side of the river, were united in 1873 and since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Budapest has become one of the most desirable destinations of Eastern Europe.

It is also noted as the city of spas due to the abundance of natural hot springs. The Roman legionaries 2,000 years ago established 14 baths in the city and some of the walls can still be seen today.

Most of the current open-air baths were established by the Turks and are still operating after 500 years. The waters are noted for their rheumatic and circulatory healing powers.

If you go

• We travelled on the Avalon Waterways Imagery ship with three meals a day, city excursions each day, special local speakers and entertainment at happy hour each day.

• There was complementary wine and beer with dinner and no fixed seating at meals, which helped passengers to mix.

• In our state room, we had patio windows to look out and since we spent most of our sailing days on the huge sundeck, we felt we really didn’t need our own balcony in our room.

• Prices are approximately $4,000 per person, not including air fare for the three days in Prague and the seven-day cruise, and there were extra optional tours at an extra charge.

• Several companies offer river cruises in Europe, as well many other regions of the world. Avalon, Viking, Uniworld, Scenic tours are some of the cruise companies operating in this part of Europe. It’s advisable to compare prices and look carefully at what each offers for the price, and check online reviews before making your decision.

Duane McCartney is a retired forage beef systems research scientist with Agriculture Canada, Lacombe. He is a freelance landscape photographer and agricultural and travel writer. Stories and photos have appeared in the Western Producer, Canadian Cattlemen magazine, Saskatoon Star Phoenix and national calendars.