Our last three vacations have been with the boys so Jamie and I decided to shoehorn in a vacation for just the two of us between my seminars and trials last month. Jamie came up with a river cruise on the Uniworld River Queen starting in Budapest and ending in Amsterdam (the European Jewels cruise), and giving us an introduction to Central Europe (Hungarians are very serious about not calling it Eastern Europe). We loved the ship - good accommodations, great food, and the staff as as good as I think we have ever seen. We took 823 pictures on three cameras (counting cell phones) so it has taken a while to get all this downloaded and organized.
We started in Budapest, which I've wanted to see ever since I studied at Cistercian Preparatory School in Irving back in 5th grade, where I was taught by Hungarian monks who left the country after the 1956 Communist takeover. Many, including my form master Father Mark Imre Major had been teachers or students at the university in Budapest, so it was something I'd always looked forward to seeing.
We only got a day in Budapest during which we had a bus tour, we walked to the market (and bought paprika) and toured the Buda-side buildings. Then it was off up the Danube to Vienna, where we again toured the city, including St. Stephen's Cathedral, which lit up like a crayon box due to the solid-color stained glass windows, and the Vienna National Library. While in Vienna we also saw a concert and enjoyed our first wienerschnitzel , and decided this was a place we really needed to come back and spend some time at. Jamie says that this is all she sees on our trips - me with my head in a book or my backside because I'm always walking so fast, so I have memorialized that here.
Because the ship had some engine trouble we actually had to get off for day trips at unscheduled stops, so for Vienna we unexpectedly had to get off in Bratislav, the capital of Slovakia, which thrilled many passengers because it meant they got an extra country out of the trip.
After Vienna we enjoyed the Austrian Wachau Valley countryside from the river, then stopped at the famous monastery at Melk, where we enjoyed the museum, the large marble hall and especially the library. Or maybe that was just me. Jamie helped out a tour group guide at the monastery.
After Melk we hit Passau, and then four "-berg" cities in a row, Regensberg, Nuremberg, Bamberg, and Wurzburg (okay it's a "burg" not a "berg").
Regensberg was one of our favorites because it has the best bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer there at a thousand year old brat house , but we also enjoyed the bridge and the city tour - and we got to see the pope's house from the road. (Benedict is from there and still has a little house outside town - doubt he'll get to retire to it).
During this stage of the cruise, the ship had to retract its pilot house and lower its mast and stack to make it under the bridges, and we went through most of the 160-odd locks that ships going from the Black Sea to the North Sea have to navigate. Interestingly, once you start dropping, you often go out under the downstream wall - which felt a little like leaving a bathtub through the drain. We also passed the European continental divide, which is marked by a couple of concrete wedges, which I thought was pretty neat.
Nuremberg was a beautiful city, and while we didn't do the World War II sites tour, you still see the Nazi parade grounds and one interesting site I'd never heard of - an enlarged but only partially complete version of the Roman Colosseum that Hitler built on the edge of a lake. Our guide showed up pictures of what the exterior and interior would have looked like .
We particularly enjoyed Wurzburg, not just because the Prince-Bishop's palace was really beautiful (I had to buy three books to do it justice), but because after that we went into the palace cellars for a candlelit wine tasting, which I highly recommend.
Next was a quick cruise down the Rhine, a day in Cologne, and then the next morning we pulled into Amsterdam at something like 2 am and had to be off the ship at 4:30 am for a flight at 7 am to Frankfurt, then to Dallas. The it was a leisurely drive back to Marshall to unpack - and go straight into a pretrial conference the next morning.
But we had a great time, and really enjoyed the ship and staff and destinations.