Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Glorious Danube - Final Day

Our epic 11-day voyage along the Danube River on Uniworld's River Duchess comes to an end in Austria... 

Vienna - Day 2 

We had finally come to our last full day on the Glorious Danube in the company of Uniworld's boutique river voyages and the wonderful River Duchess ship, with all her 82 passengers (normal full complement - 130).

We had passed right through the heart of eastern Europe and finished in The City of Music, a fitting finale to a truly memorable voyage. For my first full river-cruise, it had more than lived up to expectations, and my wife and I are keen to do more in future.

For now, our final day was one completely at leisure, to head back into Vienna and sample some more (literally and metaphorically) of this amazingly scenic city.

With a simple four-stop ride on the U-bahn (underground metro; 2 euros per person, per journey), we were at the Rathaus stop (City Hall, above) and able to enjoy a Sunday stroll of the many sights in almost complete uncrowded comfort on a beautiful Austrian morning.

City Hall itself is a stunning Gothic edifice (built from 1872-83) and is fronted by lovely gardens leading up to the main Austrian Parliament building, a Greek Revival style that took shape at the same time as the Rathaus and is ringed by fabulous statuary.
Across the street, the Volksgarten - previously a private preserve of the Habsburgs - is now the city's famous Rose Garden (right), full of magnificent blooms and more neo-classical architecture. 

It also leads into the full majesty of the Hofburg, the former Imperial Palace, which stretches across this part of the city like a vast Baroque Lego set. From 1438 to 1583 and 1612 to 1806, it was the seat of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and thereafter the seat of the Emperor of Austria until 1918 (including the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867). Today it is the official seat of the Austrian Federal President but also houses a variety of museums, public offices, the famed National Library (as visited the previous day) and the even-more-famous Spanish Riding School. 

It was warm enough to require a pre-lunch cafe stop, for which the outdoor terrace of the Hofburg's own Kaffeehaus was ideal (below) before we headed back into the city for another wander along the pedestrianised confines of Stephensplatz, including a stop at St Peter's Church and then lunch at the Wiener Stadtbrau Restaurant for some classic Viennese fare (and another beer!).
The afternoon wandering was beginning to look slightly less promising with more cloud cover, but we pressed on, determined to see as much as we could on foot. An array of street artists enlivened the weekend proceedings (helping to counter the fact that many shops were closed), and, everywhere we went, the mixture of modern and classical architecture provided seemingly endless perspectives.

Eventually, we wandered out to the Ring Road (the extent of the former city walls) and ambled along the Stadtpark, the main City Park, and home to several more eye-catching monuments, including the 1921 Johan Strauss II bronze statue, Franz Schubert Statue and Bust of Robert Stolz.

Here, we also discovered the 19th century Kursalon, the fabulous former Spa pavilion in which 'healing mindreal waters' used to be sold but is now home to a stylish restaurant, garden terrace cafe and music hall. Johan Strauss II gave his first concert here in 1868 but, this afternoon, we were more interested in sampling the local coffee and world-famous Sachertorte (below), which were, truly, world class.

After some more meandering around the Gardens, we decided the weather was beginning to look distinctly more threatening and, with the Captain's Farewell Dinner this evening back on board the Duchess, we decided it was time to head back.

Again, the U-Bahn was quick and easy to navigate and we had plenty of time to get ready for dinner, which was preceded by another typically fun and entertaining reception with Captain Michael Hofmann, Cruise Manager Christine and Hotel Manager Jaroslav.

The set menu was another memorable dinner adventure, a largely set-meal affair crowned by the typical cruise tradition of Baked Alaska on Parade for dessert. The real highlight, though, was dining with six new-found friends from our cruise, with Maitre D' Dimitar organising our eight-seater table in advance and ensuring the final evening went with a swing.

It brought down the curtain on an unforgettable cruise experience that was everything we had hoped it would be, and a lot more besides. The wonderful style of travel, the great cultural experience, the fabulous camaraderie enjoyed on board and the firm friendships that were forged were all firm highlights, but it would be hard to single any one thing out as the over-riding memory.


Suffice it to say, this River Duchess was an absolute royal treat and we can't wait to repeat the experience at some stage in future. 

Next - Danube Epilogue. 

This ‘Imperial Capitals of Europe’ voyage can be booked at www.uniworldrivercruises.co.uk, with Titan Travel (in the UK only) at www.titantravel.co.uk or, for more on river-cruising in general, seek out the luxury cruise-agent specialists of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link.