I have spent most of my life reading about European history. My great-aunt once gave me an enormous picture book about the customs of different countries. It was much too advanced for my six-year-old prowess, but I poured over those exotic photos for years, so I was indoctrinated early. My life-long reading habit took me from the courts of Britain to the peasant huts of Russia. Research for my Regencies, including the Napoleonic Wars, immersed me in the histories of most of Europe. But reading about palaces and medieval towns isn’t the same as actually standing in them.
We’ve visited the UK frequently because of my research, done quick trips to the usual tourist destinations of France, Italy, and Greece, but we never had time to delve deeper into the interior. After being told by so many people that we really needed to cruise the Danube, we finally booked a Viking River cruise. (Image is from boat–the castle where Richard the Lion-hearted was imprisoned)
The company came highly recommended for good reason. The service was incomparable. One very small example—we were notified our flight out was delayed by three hours on the morning we were to depart, meaning we’d miss the boat—instant panic at six in the AM! One call to Viking had us on a different flight so all connections were made. It was this kind of preparation that made every minute a pleasure, even when the Danube unaccommodatingly emptied and we had to stay on land—in a five-star hotel overlooking Budapest, one of the most beautiful cities we’ve ever seen.
We started out by bus in Bavaria, Germany, which was made a sovereign kingdom in 1806 for supporting Napoleon. All the Heidi images of gorgeous mountains dotted by houses dripping with flowers and woodwork are even better in person. We explored the Alpine mountain where Mad King Ludwig (or Ludwig the fairytale prince) built his magnificent palaces. Disney’s princess castle very much resembles Neuschwanstein Castle probably Ludwig’s most grandiose attempt to live out his fantasies.
Ludwig was essentially a gay, narcissistic hermit who wished to be surrounded by the beauty of kingdoms he once visited without leaving home. I’m not sure that made him insane, but he did manage to bankrupt himself, get condemned to an insane asylum by his power-hungry uncle, and either commit suicide or be assassinated depending on whichever theory one prefers.
From rural Bavaria we traveled to Munich, which was much too large to explore in our limited time. Created the capital of Bavaria in 1806, currently considered a major international city of engineering and science, Munich is home to BMW headquarters (image is small part of exterior) and other major industrial and research centers, but of course, it’s the history that interested me. As a center of Nazi power (the building with the lions is where Hitler and his Nazi party first took a stand and was pushed back by the police—only temporarily), the historic city center was almost 90% destroyed during WWII, but it’s been beautifully restored. I’d need an album to show all the magnificent architecture. To me, the city is a symbol of all the wonders man can create, as well as the evil of power.
So we saw the beer halls around the city center (pictured is a beer garden on Sunday morning—later, we walked through the hall and Sunday choirs had the place echoing with music). We watched the clock perform its charming dance, then enjoyed the musicians and the cafes around the square. We finally boarded the boat at Passau, on the border between Germany and Austria, at the confluence of three rivers. First settled by the Celts, Passau is one of Europe’s oldest cities (image is the executioner’s house—now a restaurant). We visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its 17,000-pipe organ (the towering cathedral image), considered Europe’s largest church organ. If you follow the Viking link above, you can see photos we couldn’t possibly take.
I’ve just spent 600 words describing the first few days of our journey! I can’t possibly fit in the wonders of Cesky Krumlov (image is of restored medieval castle abandoned during the Russian occupation), Linz, Salzburg (my very favorite of all the cities—image of one of the main medieval shopping lanes), Vienna, and Budapest without a few more blogs. The cultures, the medieval architecture, the stunning palaces and churches. . . I can only post a few images and hope one day you’ll have a chance to take this journey too, if you haven’t already.
Would a tour like this interest you? Why?