Except for the fact that it isn’t blue, there were few disappointments when I recently set sail on Viking River Cruise Line’s “Romantic Danube” river cruise this past month.
Landing in Budapest, Hungary, accompanied by my lovely girlfriend, we were greeted and immediately whisked from the airport to our ship, the Viking Njord, docked in the shadow of Budapest’s famous Chain Bridge.
While our luggage was expertly handled and stowed in our state room, we explored our new floating “hotel.” For the first time, after flying throughout the night through five time zones, we began to relax.
River cruising is remarkably different from ocean cruising in so many ways. For one, the ships are MUCH smaller, most accommodating only 200 guests or so. Second, there’s no room on board today’s modern river boats for casinos, large entertainment stages, pools, or shopping arcades, but it’s the lack of those same amenities that makes river cruising so appealing to experienced travelers. The intimacy of close, personal interaction with the ship’s crew and the attention to detail that ensues throughout your journey makes many guests feel that they couldn’t travel on water any other way.
Being a chef, I’m always interested in weaving a few culinary adventures along the way, one being making friends with the kitchen staff on board and taking a tour of their small but highly efficient galley. It’s amazing to see the high quality of food they prepare being made in such a small space. From breakfast to dinner and small delights in between, my food experiences on both Avalon and Viking Cruise Lines has been stellar. They even find the time to occasionally offer a “themed” culinary demonstration in the lounge as the ship’s chef demonstrates how to make authentic Apple Strudel as we sail through the waters of Austria and Germany.
On shore, both the complimentary and exclusive tours that I took the opportunity to enjoy, offered their own culinary adventures. In Budapest, it’s their colorful food stalls, where you can purchase anything from exotic groceries to their famous Hungarian paprika. In Melk, Austria, it was visiting a Benedictine Abby, where they also produce wines and brandy, and in Nuremburg, Germany, it was the small cafes.
Two of my culinary highlights, however, happened in Vienna, Austria, and Munich, Germany.
Vienna is known for many things. Among them are music (Mozart, Strauss, and others) and Viennese coffee, which begets the many dozens of famous cafes, where some of the world’s most notable (and notorious) citizens discussed everything from human behavior (Freud) to human domination (Tito, Lenin, Trotsky, and Hitler).
Of course, great Viennese coffee deserves a great partner, and one of THE most famous desserts in the world was created in Vienna at the Hotel Sacher. It’s the Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake with apricot filling and a chocolate coating. Served with whipped cream, it’s one of the most classic recipes in any pastry chef’s repertoire, and it’s one that I also learned to make early in my career. I had to have one.
Of course, I couldn’t resist shooting a video of my experience…and, well, if you’re interested in a good chuckle, here it is:
Later that week, it was on to Munich, Germany.
Munich, among other things, is notable for its beer gardens and is a central location for Germany’s Oktoberfest celebration, which begins in late September and runs into early October. Just as coffee in Vienna has its pastry partner, Munich’s beer has its go-with, which is the famous (and huge) Bavarian Soft Pretzel.
For 3 Euros (about $3.50 US), I noshed on a pretzel as I wandered Munich’s historic streets and was entertained by its famous Glockenspiel in town square.
I also enjoyed an authentic German lunch of roasted pork and sauerkraut in the Rathskeller beneath.
To learn how you can make your own Bavarian-Style Pretzel at home, click here for my recipe.
If you’re considering a river cruise in the future, I’d highly recommend them. They are a relaxing and very personal way to explore Europe. They also have itineraries on other continents, including Asia, Africa, and even North America.
To view a bit of what my experience was like on my Avalon Rhine River cruise in 2013, click this link.