River cruising in Europe, charming and quaint

Many readers will have enjoyed river cruising in Europe and during June, so did I.

All of my friends recommended the experience. They said “Marg, you’ll love it” and I did.

I am part of the St Helens, (Tasmania) travel club — a loose title used by the travel company Franklin’s Tasmania that operates out of our small town. Travellers can number anywhere from 25 years to 70 years and Franklin’s have vehicles to suit. Most of us have known each other for a very long time and enjoy both extended and brief holidays on mainland Australia, trips to special events, mystery tours, day trips, shopping excursions and bush bashing. Believe me, this club travels outside the box and have about 10 or 12 trips to choose from each year. Every second year Franklin’s arranges an overseas holiday and this year it was London, Europe and the Danube plus Dubai. Needless to say my friend Bev and I were first to book!

Cost was $8,299 for three weeks and I allowed A$150 for spending each day. Bonus for me was that I had interpreted ‘half board’ as bed and breakfast, but it turned out to be dinner, bed and breakfast, so I had plenty of spending money and came home with leftovers. I only had to cover lunches and two dinners.

Bev and I read about London, Europe, the Danube and Dubai in advance, so by departure time, we were fully in the mood for adventure.

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Our first taste of a small Danube town was Passau, our place of embarkation and we were drawn under its spell. We were entranced with the winding cobblestoned streets and squares, charming shops and cafes and as we were about to discover, an amazing cathedral. Almost without exception, every river town we visited had grown up during medieval times around a cathedral, abbey or castle. No doubt the river was key to trade and traffic at that time. Bev and I were wide-eyed and didn’t know where to look first as we wound our way up the hill towards Passau’s cathedral. We ducked in and out of tiny flower decorated shops and chose our lunch cafe along the way. Exploring towns and villages beside a river involves lots of uphill because the river will always be at the lowest point. Think of the calories we burned!

This was our first European cathedral and as you might expect, we were astounded by the elaborate and rich decoration inside — so much gold-leaf, statuary, carvings, ancient paintings, amazing lighting – not to mention the mosaic tiled floor and plenty of marble here and there.

This particular cathedral was home to the biggest pipe organ in the world and we remarked that we’d love to hear it played. Next thing you know, sound filled the cathedral. Sadly, only one tremendous chord of the scale now and again. The organ was being tuned!

We lunched at our delightful cafe which was housed in an old, old building — the walls were so thick that our table’s window-sill was home to a greenhouse full of plants and flowers. This was our first experience of the Danube’s town’s and village’s ancient buildings and we were wide eyed.

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The ‘Select Explorer’ — passenger capacity 170 — was moored on the river no distance away and was most comfortable and well appointed. Bev and I were travelling standard and our cabin was spacious and very tastefully decorated.

  • Bunks folded into couches. Our cabin steward dealt with bunks-into-couches and back to bunks during breakfast and dinner.
  • Plenty of shelves and ample drawer space.
  • Suitcase storage under the couch.
  • The loveliest dressing table with two mirrors, shelving and tiny pigeon holes.
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  • A dear little bathroom which was perfect for our needs.
  • The half-window was at water level and gave us tremendous views across the water to the riverbank whilst sailing along.
  • Public areas were inviting with picture windows, wood panelling, armchairs and side tables giving a ‘club’ atmosphere.
  • Sundeck up top was a great place to view the passing scene, sunbathe and exercise.
  • The food was gourmet and gala dinners were exceptional six course affairs. Always plenty of choice and even a flaming Bombe Alaska! Ice-cream was outstanding. Specialties of the area were included. Local wines were well matched.
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We had seven nights in seventh heaven.

The adorable town of Melk intrigued us; this time, the town sprawled around a massive monastery — a huge complex of buildings. Naturally, we climbed and climbed up narrow steep steps and winding streets to reach the monastery. Most of the large monasteries, cathedrals and castles we saw were beautifully set back from an imposing, paved open square or forecourt which gave an aura of grandeur and importance to the building. We loved taking our ease on a seat in the square and admiring the facade. This particular forecourt was enclosed by substantial and important abbey buildings. We spied a set of steps under an arch so went through to see where they led. They led to steep steps, more steep steps and up, up, up to a turreted lookout. Up we climbed thinking of the calories and enjoyed a glorious vista across the medieval town to the countryside and down to the Danube. What a treat, Then down, down, down to the riverbank and the ‘Select Explorer’.

The flower bedecked streets of Durnstein resembled Melk and Passau — all reasonably close together along the Danube. We wandered uphill from the cruise boat — up many steep steps once again and pottered among the cute shops and cafes, winding our way to where the main street ended at an ancient wall on the edge of a cliff overlooking the fertile Wachau Valley and beneath the brooding ruins of a medieval castle. This castle is famous for holding Richard the Lionheart — a prisoner of Duke Leopold V in the year 1100 AD. The weather was overcast and the scene was painted with a delicate mist, so it was easy to imagine Richard’s mood whilst waiting for his ransom to be paid.

Whilst in Durnstein, we popped into the local church and, being Sunday, a service was in progress. We stood at the back and admired the pretty church and noticed how well attended the service was.

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Many of Durnstein’s delightful shops stocked local crafts as distinct from mass-produced souvenirs, so lovely gifts were purchased here, including a beautiful string puppet.

Durnstein boasted several small, private hotels operating out of large old homes. These hotels were, without exception extraordinarily inviting and beautifully presented – often tucked away, secretly, under an arch or through a tunnel in their own private court. I vowed to return to Durnstein, my favourite small town of all, and stay in one of these hotels whilst I explored the fascinating Wachau Valley.

Bev and I were spellbound by Durnstein and both voted this small village overloaded with atmosphere, beauty and wonder. We could live there!

Tell us, have you ever visited the cities on the Danube?


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