The Danube River is the 2nd longest river in Europe after the River Volga. Of course, we didn't travel the entire distance of the river on our cruise as it tends to be broken up with 2 different itineraries for most of the river cruise companies, including ours. We traveled the Western portion from Vilshofen, Germany in the Black Forest region through to Budapest, Hungary. The Eastern segment of the river runs from Budapest to the Black Sea although most cruise companies tend to end their itinerary in Bucharest, Romania.
The Danube flows through or along the borders of 10 different countries. We happened to be able to experience just 3 of those countries including Germany, Austria, and Hungary with our particular itinerary. We also cruised along the border of Slovakia on our way to Budapest, Hungary. Plus, of course, we had our pre-cruise tour in Prague, The Czech Republic. (Depicted below)
Vilshofen is located at the southern edge of the Bavarian Forest and is considered one of the "Three Rivers City" since this is where 2 other rivers, the Vils and the Wolfach, meet the Danube. It's a very pretty area and the one excursion that we took the time to do was to visit The Benedictine Abbey of Schweiklberg.
We were astounded at their ability to be self-sufficient here and also be incredibly eco-friendly with their own hydropower plant. Sadly though they have only 20 monks now living there with only half of them capable of doing all the required chores and no new younger upcoming prospects to fill these roles. They certainly have done a lot of great work over the years all over the world with their serving of others without expecting anything in return. They even had a fabulous African museum located there with some great artifacts brought back by the Monks who spent time there over the years. I was truly impressed by this great monastic order and learned a lot about them with this experience.
Our next stop was Linz, Austria. Now, you might say, we missed some great parts of Germany along the Danube heading east, but in fact, we ended up doubling back to Passau, Germany after Linz, Austria. It's interesting how some river cruise itineraries are created this way.
Linz was where we were able to visit the lovely Salzburg, Austria, known as the "Rome of the North". The word Salzburg also translates as 'salt castle or fortress' and got its name from charging taxes to the salt barges that traveled along the river in the 8th century.
Our excursion enabled us to see the place that inspired one of my favorite movies of all time, The Sound of Music! It was definitely one of my highlights for the trip being able to pass through the beautiful Mirabell Gardens where so much of the movie was filmed - it was so much fun for me! Salzburg is also the birthplace of Mozart and has one of the largest medieval fortresses, Hohensalzburg, dating back to the 11th century. It also happens to be a very pretty city with a lovely "Altstadt" (old town) with beautiful architecture.
All in all, Salzburg was well worth the visit in spite of the rain and it does rain a lot there!
The following day we doubled back to Passau, Germany and decided to visit Medieval Regensburg for our chosen excursion and it was absolutely fascinating! It's the best preserved medieval city in Germany and was founded by the Romans in 179 AD. The Porta Praetoria is a well preserved structure from this medieval Roman time.
The famous Old Stone Bridge has spanned across the Danube since the 12th century and St. Peter's Cathedral is one of the finest Gothic churches in the Bavaria region of Germany from the 14th century.
The city of Regensburg really was so picturesque everywhere we turned with the river, the buildings and we even had a wonderful lunch alongside the river in a typical Biergarten!
Here in Regensburg was the first time for me to learn about The Stolpersteine Memorial Project, utilizing 'stumbling stones' to create the largest decentralized memorial in the world. We came across 5 such plaques on the road here. It was very touching and sad to note that they were all for individuals who were deported from here in 1942... There are now more than 75,000 of these stones around the world across 26 countries. "Because we can never forget. Never. Ever."
I felt I had to end Part 1 on this note, since the fairly recent history of Germany and Austria was somewhat prevalent with this journey although not a huge part of it. We were reminded though of these horrid times every now and again and could feel with both the German and Austrian guides how much they wanted to forget this part of their history or at least certainly, wish it had never happened.
I'm publishing this the day before "International Day of Peace" which seems rather befitting. Let's just hope we can constantly work towards keeping as much peace as we can around the world...