Amsterdam to Budapest Aboard a Viking River Cruise

KinderdijkThis chapter of “Travels of a Wine Blogger” is a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest that began on August 23rd 2015 and very briefly describes our adventure along the way with an emphasis on specific wine related activities.

We started the trip with great trepidation…after landing at the Amsterdam airport we were told the trip was not going to begin in Amsterdam as planned, but would have to get a train and make our way to Rotterdam to catch the boat because of the congestion caused by the tall ships event in Amsterdam. In the end we were bused to Rotterdam to meet the boat. We left the dock at Rotterdam at 5:30 am and proceeded to Kinderdijk that was a collection of windmills built in the mid-18th century. It turned out to be VERY interesting and educational as we learned about the water management dating from the 1400’s and the workings of a dutch windmill…A super interesting morning.

From a wine perspective we sampled both a German white and red (both Viking River Cruise house brand) the night before that were fair (at best) but at lunch we had Gruner Veltliner (Viking River Cruise house brand) that we both rated “pretty good”. However, tomorrow we’re in Cologne, Germany and have the name of a wine store that Russ Anderson at the Caviste Wine Shop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina gave us, so we’re hoping to really turn-up the wine quality and with no corking fee on the boat are planning a GREAT wine experience for the rest of the trip!!!

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Cologne Cathedral
Cologne, Germany. Interesting city…poor wine experience. We were only in the city for the morning so we took the city tour that ended at the cathedral. The largest one in Germany and quite impressive, but everyone’s comment was that it needed to be cleaned. It’s located near the train station and is covered with black soot. However, the interior lives up to the European cathedrals and was very impressive with its soaring vaulted ceilings.

Our Cologne wine experience was not nearly as good. The recommended store was closed, the second choice was a 20-minute car ride and we couldn’t find a taxi to get us there and back in time to be on board when the ship was casting off. So we found a wine shop near the river on my phone and made the 20 minute walk only to find it had a limited selection of inexpensive German wines. After we made our selection we found they didn’t take Visa cards. Out of desperation and help from a local we made our way to the nearest grocery store, and found they had a two-isle section of wines. Unfortunately most were less than $5 and we couldn’t read the labels or recognize any of the grapes. Out of desperation we bought two bottles, a white and red and headed back to the ship just in time as they were getting ready to pull up the gangway.

That night at dinner we had the Riesling, which was dry and turned out to be a whole lot better than the ship’s dry Riesling. We paid $12 for it and in the end it was clearly what we would call “Not Bad”.

Our next stop is Koblenz, where we’re going to go through a castle that’s along the Rhine so there will not be a chance to find a wine store until we get to Miltenberg.

Marksburg Castle
Koblenz, Germany. Today was a quick stop at the hilltop fortress of Marksburg castle. A cobblestone walk took us to the top of the mountain to a beautifully preserved, 700-year old castle complete with a “castle garden” that Vicky has written up for a post on We both enjoyed seeing how different the wine cellar was, with not a single bottle anywhere. Actually the barrels were tapped and the wine served in large wooden pitchers.

Since the castle was located along the river and no town was in sight we had to go another day drinking the bottomless bottles of the ships wine. At this point the quantity of Riesling makes up for the quality!!!

Marksburg Castle wine cellar

Rhine Valley vineyards
Miltenberg, Germany. Today was a beautiful cruise down the Rhine Valley. Along with castles there were vast hillsides lined with grapes. What surprised us most was that the rows run up and down the VERY steep hills. Between the vineyards were ourcrops of rock. It was very, very difficult terrain to farm, even when doing everything by hand.

The town of Miltenberg was exactly what everyone thinks a German village should look like. Old buildings and cobblestone streets, but the best part was the wine shop that had a cellar that went back into the mountain. It was everything you would want in a wine cellar…damp coolness, musty aromas, and lots of wine. They only had local wines and were selling them at what we thought were ridiculous low prices. We talked with the store owner, who only spoke very spotty English about what we wanted, and as he gathered our wine for us we began to have second thoughts about the quality of the wine…the prices were between 6.50 and 8.00 Euros and came in squat bottles!!! However, at dinner that night we blind tested one of our newly found bottles with the ships house wine and it was clear we really made a GREAT find. Even our non-wine drinking friends said the difference was astounding.

Typical street
Entrance to the wine shop/wine cellar

A vineyard overlooking the Main
Wurzburg, Germany. If it’s Friday it must be Wurzburg…and, a visit to Wurzburg’s Bishops’ Residence, one of Germany’s largest and most ornate baroque palaces. It truly gives the term gaudy a whole new meaning, but it was interesting and the garden quite spectacular too. We explored the old down town area in search of a wine shop and found a very nice wine bar/shop located on one of the bridges that cross the Main River. It was another great find because they too had only local wines and cost between 6.50 and 7.50 Euros/bottle. Again we bought all I could carry so our personal cellar is growing large enough that we had a bottle of Grobheubaher Bischofsberg Muller-Thurgau trocken at lunch with shrimp po’s-boys…delicious pairing and great wine!!!

Drinking wine in the street outside the shop

The Palace of Justice
Nuremberg, Germany. This was a milestone city because the water was low in the Danube River we had to take a bus from Nuremberg to Passau and board another boat…not easy since it required repacking everything and taking a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to the new boat.

However, Nuremberg was an interesting city with all its connections to World War II. It also has a medieval old town surrounded by massive walls and an abundance of 15th and 16th-century architecture.

From a wine drinking perspective it’s a far second to all the different beers that are available and we had a fantastic lunch that complemented the beer perfectly.

Interior of the Bishop,s Church
Regensburg, Germany. We took a bus back to Regensburg from our new boat that was tied up on the Danube in Passau. It is known as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe and it sure was the nicest we have ever seen. The city escaped damage in the war and its architectural gems and half-timbered buildings are absolutely charming. Even the Roman gates built in 179 AD are still standing. A highlight was the Regensburg Cathedral that has existed since 700 AD. Fires have damaged the church several times and it was rebuilt in high-Gothic style in 1320. Another highlight was the Baroque Bishop’s Church with its VERY elaborate interior.

Again since we were in the beer capital of the world we had a great German lunch and lots of beer…delicious!!!

The Cathedral organ
Passau, Germany. Ravaged by fire in the 17th century, the city was rebuilt in the baroque style that exists today. The Cathedral, built on the highest point of land in the old city, houses the largest cathedral organ in the world and is suppose to have almost 18,000 organ pipes. We were lucky enough to attend a “practice” concert and it was fantastic even though the music was pretty heavy.

We did some shopping and found several wine stores, but they were all selling Austrian wines. We’re very close to the border and figured we would be better waiting until we get to Melk tomorrow.

A view of the countryside from the abbey
Melk and Krems, Austria. We arrived in Melk during breakfast and spent the morning seeing the Melk Abbey…possibly the most famous abbey in Austria. Situated on an outcrop overlooking the Danube and the surrounding countryside it was very sensational to say the least. In the 11th century the original palace was presented to the Benedictine monks who make it into a fortified abbey that is still used as a monastery school today.

About lunch time we entered the Wachau Valley which is the stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems. Both banks of the river were dotted with ruined castles and medieval towns and lined with terraced vineyards. The sheer beauty of the valley landscape is probably as good as it gets!!! Later in the afternoon we visited Krems, a delightful town with it’s cobblestone streets and old European architecture. For us one of the highlights was the a small wine store that had a great selection of local Wachau Valley wines.

Wachau Valley vineyards
A typical Krems street

Old-world charm that is Vienna
Vienna, Austria. We arrived in Vienna early in the morning and spend the day seeing the city and the Hapsburg’s Summer Palace and garden. It was a full day of what only could be described as “sightseeing”. That evening we had the opportunity to hear a Mozart and Strauss concert which really capped our quick visit to Vienna.

Our visit to the city was short and we were unable to find any wine stores that had anything but typical tourist selections. As we’ve found before the good wine stores are seldom found in the areas we visit when sightseeing.

Summer Palace garden

A city full of narrow cobblestone streets
Bratislava, Slovakia. This was both a city and country that we really didn’t know much about, but it turned out to be one of the places we liked the best. We took a guided tour through the city in the morning and our guide was a young economics professor at the Bratislava University. His comments provided lots of information about the city sights, but also gave us some history and perspective about Slovakia. Although the city still had buildings from the Soviet communist period it had a wonderful “old-world” charm.

Our guide was also a wine drinker and he gave us the local perspective and some pointers about Slovakian wines and where to purchase them. Visiting the “mom & pop” store he recommended for wine was like stepping back a hundred years…and we couldn’t read anything on any labels. We were a little apprehensive when he told us the good wines only cost about six euros, but if we spent 10-12 euros we would get Slovakian wine that was as good as French wine. Knowing we had only one opportunity to buy Slovakian wine we went for the most expensive we could find in the store…12 euros!!!

Sales counter at the Bratislava wine store

Budapest Parliament building
Budapest, Hungry. This was our final port so we did some sightseeing and than spent the time strolling through the city shopping and looking for wine stores…both were very successful. Our boat was docked along side the Chain Bridge so we were within easy walking distance to the city center. Surprisingly we found several very well-stocked wine stores that carried a wide range of Hungarian wines. Each store appeared to stock wines from one region so we bought wine from several shops getting a range of wines from the different wine-growing regions. We had never tasted Hungarian wines before so the whole experience of finding new wines was a special treat.

Budapest was a great way to end the trip and it’s clearly one of the great European cities, it has old-world charm, modern culture and very reasonable prices for everything…we loved it, and the Hungarian wine!!!