July 2007

Latitude Adjustment: The Captivating Blue Danube

Author: NancyLee Honey

“What we are is where we’ve been,” sings Barbara Streisand. Certain experiences ignite our souls and nestle permanently in our hearts to become “what we are.” Such was my musical waltz down the fabulous blue (not really) Danube on Intrav’s newly built 142 passenger, Amadeus Royal. If only I could paint in words… the beautiful, quaint villages, intriguing cities, vineyards climbing green slopes and the dancing melodies that unforgettably escorted us back in time.

On a flight nearly missed due to inclement weather, we gratefully sipped champagne, and dozed happily, awakening to a city, which saw its beginning in 1158. Munich, Germany, “the place of the Monks,” as the name depicts, is hearty and Bavarian. Its immaculate streets sport attractive gardens and efficient hotels, such as the Hotel Kempinski. We were greeted graciously, and as we gazed at the mirrored Atrium reaching for the sky, we felt Captain Kirk had whisked us off to another planet. Just as amazing was our dinner at Trantris Restaurant, enchanting us with its superb, imaginative menu. Filled to perfection, a few hours later, we were oblivious to the speed with which our taxi driver delivered us (safely) back to the hotel.

The next day, we embarked the sparkling Amadeus Royal, docked in the three rivers city of Passau, the Venice of Bavaria. A hub of trade and travel for centuries, an educational and cultural center, Passau offered a charming old-town square, surrounding St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Nestled within its stunning golden walls is the world’s largest church organ containing 17,974 pipes and 233 ringing registers, with three of its five cases dating from the first half of the 18th century. Sailing at twilight gave us a last glance of the atmospheric old town, filled with romantic alleyways and riverfront promenades. Our first evening was enchanted by an onboard concert, performed by a famous Viennese orchestra.

Nothing sings romance more effectively and identifies with the Danube’s charm as Vienna, Austria’s amazing capital. Shrouded in 18th century charm and 19th century grandeur, Vienna creates its own permanent spot deep within the heart. The Baroque majesty of the Schonbrunn Palace was overwhelming. It was such a thrill to visit the striking Spanish Riding School where Royal Lipizzaner stallions are trained to perform their gravity-defying “airs above the ground.” The versatility of Vienna means the day might begin with the angelic voices of the Vienna Boys Choir and finish, as ours did, with a frivolous operetta at the stunning Maria Theresia’s stunning Schlosstheater (palace theatre), opened in 1747. Musical miracles continued the next day with a classical Masters Tour and a marvelous afternoon concert at the famous Palace Lobkowitz. Of course, we stole an hour or two for lingering in a cozy sidewalk café and losing ourselves in Vienna’s beautiful shops.
Budapest, the Queen of the Danube, rivals Vienna with its history and graceful charm. The Danube flows through the heart of this cosmopolitan capital city, dividing it into “Buda” and “Pest. Another part of my heart was captured by an extraordinary evening concert followed by a surprise cruise through the illuminated miracles of the city. The next day the glories of the church of St. Matthew and the Fishermen Bastion carried us into historical bliss.

In Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia we found Baroque palaces, elegant residences and charming pedestrian markets. We discovered beautiful St. Martin’s Cathedral, Michaels’s Gate, and marveled over a phenomenal violinist, playing with his talented associates in a miraculous mirrored hall. We made it to charming Eztergom, Hungary, but because of high flood waters nearly missed the most amazing example of Baroque Austrian architecture. A masterpiece in beauty where monks have lived and worked for over 900 years was out of reach for our riverboat. Not to be defeated, our captain managed to battle the rising waters and dock us an hour’s drive away from the famous Melk Abbey. No words, paintbrush or camera could capture the emotion evoked by this monastery and the special organ recital we experienced. Commanding the hilltop, this receiving room of God will be forever a rainbow in my heart, and a spot I truly plan to visit again.

A celebration of yesterday land, our enchanting musical cruise ended with a farewell concert that left us tearful, yet blissfully enlightened. We waltzed the night away and reluctantly waved goodbye to the rich musical heritage of the legendary blue Danube. Legend says it was so named because artists and composers climbed to the top of surrounding mountains, and as they gazed at the river below, the reflection of the blue sky made the scenic waters appear so. On its waltz past storied castles filled with romantic truths, Cathedrals steeped in gold through central Europe to the Black Sea, the Danube’s heritage inspired the musical genius of Mozart, Strauss and Shubert. It may not be blue, yet the Danube wastes no time in conquering our hearts with historical reveries and replenishing our minds with the richness of yesteryear. Experience the Danube… it will always linger in your heart and soul.

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