Friday, January 24, 2014

Danube Christmas Markets Cruise 2013-2

Gingerbread at Thurn and Taxis Market
Regensburg is one of my favorite little cities, easily navigated on foot, and Ben and I couldn’t wait to return to the Regensburg Sausage Kitchen, the oldest sausage restaurant in the world. 

We chose an optional walking tour that included a quick sausage sandwich at the Kitchen and then beer tasting at a local brewery.  This is a great little city for shopping, too, which is what we did after visiting the Thurn and Taxis “Royal” Christmas Markets.  From Regensburg, some opted for a tour of the local Audi factory and gave it high marks. 
Our cruise ended in Nuremburg, steeped in history and home to one of the largest Christmas Markets in the world.  The Ama afternoon walking  tour takes guests to the Imperial Castle and other city sights, ending at the Beautiful Fountain, the centerpiece of Market Square now filled with vendor after vendor selling goods, food and beverage.  The best!  And if you don’t find the perfect nutcracker in the square, there’s always Kathe Wohlfahrt’s famous store at the edge of the square.   

After disembarking the final morning, our final tour led us to the Zeppelin Field where Hitler held his infamous Nazi
German Nutcrackers
Party rallies, and the Justice Palace where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946.  On our previous Danube cruise we were able to go inside and see the courtroom since we visited on the weekend; alas, the courtroom was in use on this weekday.

Now it was on to Prague.  When you consider all of the great cities in Europe, perhaps your list beings with Paris, Rome, and London.  In that same breath, you must include Prague.  Already steeped in history from its earliest Paleolithic tribes through the Medieval Bohemian days and glorious Renaissance transformations, Prague entered the 20th century as part of the short-lived Austro-Hungarian Empire.  World Wars I and II brought oppression and destruction, not to mention lack of upkeep on some the city’s buildings.  

Old Town Prague Market with
Tyn Church
Now, however, Prague has become part of all that it has met, to paraphrase Lord Tennyson, and offers visitors more history, architecture, and culture than can be absorbed in only a short visit.  Built on nine hills along the Vltava River, the landscape is dominated by the 9th century Prague Castle,  State Opera, St. Vitus Cathedral, the Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock, and the Church of Our Lady that is home to the venerated statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague.  We spent a half day on a walking tour past many of these sites and ending at—of course—the Old Town Christmas market.  The photo says it all.  Most of our group took advantage of the lively Czech folk concert and dinner offered one evening, enjoying a traditional meal and the local Czech beer and wine.  
Concert Ensemble
Klementium Mirror Chapel

Mirror Chapel Detail From A Biased
Former High School Timpanist!
Concerts abound in this city.  In Old Town Prague where we stayed you can hardly walk a few yards without seeing another concert poster or being handed a flyer about one.  Most are small, but some draw larger crowds and always feature wonderful musicians...and the price is usually very reasonable at under $50 per person.  After going to three different concerts during our 2007 summer cruise on this same itinerary, I wanted to spend my last night in Prague at another.  Upon perusing all the options, I chose not just a concert, but one in a beautiful venue, as well—the Mirror Chapel of the Klementinum.  Performing a program of Christmas selections from Silent Night and favorite Czech songs to Bach and Mozart was an immensely talented ensemble of vocalists and musicians.  Bravo.  

Since Ben and I were the only ones in our group interested in the concert, we took advantage of this final evening for just the two of us.  After the concert we walked back toward the market square, and a street hawker talked us into dinner at the restaurant she was promoting upstairs overlooking all the market activity.  We took the bait and it was a good decision.  We shared a bread bowl of hearty goulash soup and downed it 
with a glass of the local beer, soaking in for the last time beauty of Old Town Prague lit up for the holidays.   

I really must write a bit about our ship, the AmaPrima, that just made her debut last spring.  She is a new design for AmaWaterways, sister to the AmaCerto and two others slated for completion in the coming months.  These ships not only offer staterooms with a French balcony, but also those with an actual balcony for sitting, similar to ocean-going vessels.  It was too cold for us to make much use of it on this trip, but I can only imagine the serenity of watching the world go by as you sail Europe’s rivers in the privacy of your own little space. 
AmaPrima Sailing through Lock
Staff, as always, were helpful and attentive, and our cruise director, Canadian-born Kriss Stallabrass, never failed to have an answer or find the answer to the barrage of questions guests threw out at her.  She was an excellent presenter, too, with both her informal talks on the coming day’s activity to more formal slide shows of key places of interest along the Danube and the many locks en route.   

The next big travel dates on Ben’s and my calendar are to Italy in April, followed by a Mediterranean cruise visiting two ports long on my list—Istanbul and Ephesus.  Watch for more blogs then!

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