As a birthday treat, my wife Angie had arranged for us to go on a river cruise on the Danube in Europe. This would be my first cruise experience and I was excited.
There are many advantages to going on a river cruise, like getting to visit several towns during your journey without having to move in and out of different hotels.
We boarded the boat in Budapest, Hungary. Our cabin was beautiful with large French windows. As we sailed out of the city, we went up to the open deck – in spite of the cold weather – to see Budapest’s famous landmarks like the Parliament building and a few palaces that were brilliantly lit up for the night.
We had a wonderful dinner spread which included mutton soup and grilled salmon. The crew surprised me with a birthday cake and song.
The next day we sailed to Vienna, Austria. We took in the breathtaking scenery along the river. We saw swans, old castles, vineyards, churches, beautiful villages and more. The river was flanked by hills and mountains with vibrant autumn-coloured forests. In the evening we attended a concert in the city by the Vienna Supreme Orchestra. They played songs like the Blue Danube, Turkish March and Voices of Spring which we appreciated. At the end of the concert I was chosen to dance with a pretty ballerina!
In the morning we went on a city tour of Vienna. Many old beautiful buildings and a gold-plated statue of Mozart were just some of the highlights. We had tasty Viennese apple strudels for tea (one of the oldest recipes around, apparently written in 1697).
I decided to borrow a bicycle from the ship and cycled for 7km along the Danube taking in the sights.
After Vienna, we went to Durnstein, a small town with many vineyards. The highlight of the visit was a guided tour of the ancient medieval Durnstein Castle, located on a steep hill.
Later, we passed by the beautiful Wachau Valley. We docked at Melk town, where we visited Melk Abbey, the largest and one of the oldest abbeys in Europe. Its library holds more than 200,000 books, some of which are several centuries old. On the boat that night we attended a talk on wine, which was followed by a wine tasting event.
At Linz, we we taken to visit Mondsee and Salzburg, made famous by the movie The Sound of Music. Mondsee, a beautiful lakeside town, is where you can find St Micheal’s Abbey, the place where the film’s wedding scene was shot. At the gift shop we saw a letter of appreciation written and signed by actress Julie Andrews.
We were shown some of the other locations where the movie was filmed in Salzburg, as well as the house where Mozart was born, and lived. For tea, we sampled the famous sachertorte, a popular chocolate cake created centuries ago.
We spent Deepavali on the boat. My wife and I prayed together in the morning before taking up a few on-board activities. We were on our way to the town of Passau in Germany, situated at the confluence of three rivers. The colour of each one is different, and it was beautiful to see.
After dinner, we were entertained by singer Lindsay Hamilton, who had flown in from London for the show. She had a powerful and beautiful voice. At the end of her show, she went around and took selfies with the audience. Hamilton got very excited when she found out we were Malaysians as she had been to Penang several years ago.
She told us that when she asked the taxi driver to take her to the best restaurant in town, the man drove her to his mother’s house for lunch! Hamilton said that she had one of the best afternoons of her life back then.
On our final day, we were at Lindau. We were taken to the town of Regensburg, where we got to enjoy Bavarian sausages or weisswurst. We also saw the 12th century Stone Bridge, also known as the oldest stone bridge in the world. It is now a Unesco world heritage site.