Europe River Cruise with Stephen

Agent Name: Stephen
Trip Location: Budapest to Amsterdam with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises on board The River Empress

StephenThis was our fifth river cruise, our third with Uniworld, and if there was only one negative to remark on, it was that we found 15

days on board a little too long. Our previous cruises were seven and ten days and they were just the right length

From the moment we boarded until the time we disembarked, the staff on board The River Empress were unfailingly polite and friendly. Nothing was too much trouble for them and they appeared to have been empowered to handle anything without having to refer to a superior.

Our cabin was small but adequate. The English handcrafted Savoir bed was draped in 100% Egyptian cotton linens, European duvets and cashmere/wool blankets. The bathroom was also small but nice and stocked with L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products.The shower was done in floor-to-ceiling marble tile. The two hanging closets with shelving and the drawers in the bedside cabinets provided ample storage space, and suitcases are stowed out of sight under the bed.

We found the food, this time, a little disappointing as it was lacking the flair, elegance and flavour that we had experienced previously in France. However, beer and wine are now complimentary with lunch and dinner.

The walking tours in each port were informative and entertaining, and the local guides, for the most part, were excellent. There were also a number of optional tours available at reasonable prices of between €39.00 and €59.00 per person.

River CruiseFree Wi-Fi was available in the Main and Patio lounges, but was often slow and spotty, however this seems to be a constant problem whether it be on a river or sea cruise.

As the cruise was advertised to English speaking countries, there was an assortment of Canadians, Americans, British, Australians and New Zealanders on board.

Cities Visited:

Budapest: Budapest is an enchanting city that presents a vibrant mix of East and West, Medieval and modern. Made up of two parts – Buda (the hills) and Pest (the flatlands) – divided by the River Danube, Hungary’s capital city is an architectural dream. It is full of beautiful classic buildings and bustling streets full of shops and sidewalk cafes especially on the main pedestrian shopping street called Vaci Utca.

We stayed at the brand new 5 star Buddha-Bar Hotel. This luxury hotel features contemporary-modern Asian-Colonial interior designs, a signature blend of restaurants, bars and lounges to create the ultimate in comfort, entertainment and services. This compelling hotel is located right on Vaci Utca, the famous shopping street of Budapest, within the one hundred year old Klotild Palace, a unique historic building. Enhanced with four beautifully renovated facades from the early 1900’s, the hotel features 102 luxurious rooms, suites and event rooms.

CountrysideSightseeing musts: The Chain Bridge, Heroes’ Square, Dohany Street Synagogue, Hungarian State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, The Hungarian Parliament Building, Castle Hill, St. Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, The Great Market Hall.

Among the most popular items to buy in Budapest are the exquisite hand-painted Herendi and Zsolnay porcelain, intricately carved wooden boxes, embroidered tablecloths and shirts.

For local treats, the most famous are the chunky beef gulyas (goulash) made of beef, onions, red peppers and paprika. Another favourite is chicken paprika served with little pinched dumplings. The best-known wines are the white dessert wine Tokay (Tokaji) and Bull’s Blood (Egri Bikaver), a full-bodied red wine.

Vienna: For centuries the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Vienna is still the great cultural capital of Central Europe with about 1.7 million inhabitants. It remains a city of wonderful music, elegant manners and sublime pastries.

Sightseeing musts: The State Opera House, The Albertina Museum, The National Library, The Ringstrasse, The Hofburg Palace, The Spanish Riding School, St.Michael’s Square, The Cabbage Market, The Plague Column, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, St.Charles Square, The Schonbrunn Palace.

museumVienna’s main shopping area is located around St.Stephen’s Cathedral on the Kartner Strasse and Graben where shops and cafes abound. For department stores, head to Maria-Hilferstrasse. Also well worth a visit is the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s most popular market, a unique blend of Viennese culture and oriental flair.

Sachertorte, Vienna’s world-famous chocolate cake can be enjoyed in any of the cozy cafes throughout the city.

Melk: Once a fortified Roman post, the little town of Melk today is a charming jumble of old towers and cobblestone streets. The main attraction, however, is the grandest of Baroque monuments, the 900-year-old Benedictine Melk Abbey. The massive yellow structure towers on a hill at the entrance of the Wachau Valley.

On the main pedestrian area, Hauptstrasse, you’ll find shops selling local handicrafts, hand carved wooden items, ceramics, and porcelain. There are also cafes with appealing Austrian pastries on display and a guarantee of good coffee to enjoy with them.

Passau: One of Bavaria’s oldest cities sits at the confluence of the rivers Danube, Ilz and Inn. With this location, Germany’s eastern-most port of charming cobblestone streets and graceful arcades has been called one of the seven most beautiful cities in the world.

Benedictine AbbeyTypical Bavarian souvenirs like beer mugs, lederhosen and dirndl can be found along the banks of the Danube where there are several souvenir stores. You will also find some on the Residenzplatz. A variety of German and international shops can be found in the pedestrian area of Ludwigstrasse and Grabenstrasse.

Regensburg: This fourth largest city in Bavaria, one of the best preserved and historic cities in Germany, still has a romantic medieval feel. Perhaps that’s because it suffered no major damage in World War II. It’s also known as the city of churches because of the unusually large number of places of worship.

Regensburg offers great shopping for typical German souvenirs including cuckoo clocks, beer steins, teddy bears, and hummels throughout the Old Town. The best selection is at “Drubba” close to Steinerne Brucke, the Stone Bridge. In the old historical part there are many small art galleries.

Regensburger Sausages are a must. At the Stone Bridge, along the river you have the 900 year old “die Historische Wurstkuchl” perhaps the world’s oldest hot dog stand, probably the first fast food restaurant in the world. When ordering the sausages, you can only order an even number of sausages either with sauerkraut and/or bread.

Nuremberg: From once being the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, today Nuremberg is the principal city of Franconia and the second largest city in Bavaria. With about 5,000,000 inhabitants, it is one of Germany’s most historic cities, with a recorded history stretching back to 1050.

No one can visit Nuremberg without acknowledging a dark chapter of the city’s 20th.century history, when Nuremberg was the reluctant regional headquarters of the Nazi Party. The city was the stage for Hitler’s most grandiose rallies at the seven square mile Reichsparteitagsgelande (Nazi Party Rally Grounds). Nearby is the folly to Hitler’s inflated ego – the unfinished Congress Hall known as the Colosseum of Nuremberg. After World War II, Nuremberg was also the site of the famous trials in which nearly a dozen Nazi leaders were condemned to death and others sentenced to life in prison.

Nuremberg’s main shopping district is the Lorenzer Altstadt, part of the Old Town south of the river Pegtnitz. There are three main shopping streets – Breitgasse, Karolinenstrasse and Kaiserstrasse. Also worth a visit is the Handwerkerhof (Crafts Court) near the railway station where you are sure to find one of a kind gifts in medieval-style shops. You’ll observe craftsmen working in traditional crafts creating wooden toys, stained glass, pewter pieces, and leatherwork. Bockwurst

What weisswurst is to the Bavarians, rostbratwurst is to the Franconians. A genuine Nuremberg bratwurst is about the size of your little finger and tastes better when cooked on a griddle. Depending on their size, you can eat upwards of half a dozen at a time. They are best served with hot sauerkraut or potato salad or simply as take away in a bun. What is not so well known about Nuremberg is that it was once the “gingerbread capital” of the world. At one time, gingerbread was not baked in the home, but only by master bakers known as the Lebkuchler. Now lebkuchen or ginger bread can be found in any of the small bakeries throughout the city and is often sold in beautifully decorated tins.

Bamberg: Bamberg is a city with an original character and very special atmosphere. 1000 years of history are in an Old Town that is a cultural and architectural site of European rank. This is why UNESCO added Bamberg to the world heritage list. Like Rome, Bamberg was built on seven hills – but in Bamberg a church sits atop each hill. Today, the city’s economy is based on engineering and the production of cotton textiles, leather, carpets, and electrical goods. Another distinction is that the city boasts ten operating breweries and beer consumption per head is higher here than in any other city.

The shopping area is divided into two areas, separated by the river Regnitz. One part is near the Maximillianplatz and the other is on Dominikanerstrasse, on the way to the Cathedral. If you are looking for antiques, stroll through the old quarter as it accounts the greatest concentration of antique shops in Germany.

Wurzburg: The geographical location of this pleasant city is the centre of Germany. In the heart of Europe. Culturally speaking, for centuries it has been a center of the arts with beautiful architecture. The magnificent Residenz, a baroque masterpiece by 18th century architect Balthasar

Neumann, is on the UNESCO cultural heritage list. In 1945, just before the surrender of Germany, Wurzburg was all but destroyed by allied bombing. It lasted only 20 minutes, but more than 87% of the city was wiped out and some 4000 inhabitants killed. Fortunately, many of the city’s famous buildings have been restored to their former splendor.

Wurzburg is the main shopping town for the whole Main-Franconia region. The shops range from vast department stores to exquisite designer boutiques. Those on Domstrasse and Schonbornstrasse in Wurzburg’s extensive pedestrian zone are mostly department stores and fashion chains. Smaller shops with exclusive ranges are located on Julius promenade. When you need a break, there are numerous cafes, wine bars and beer gardens.

Rothenburg: Massive stone town walls studded with 42 towers; half-timbered houses with red-tiled roofs; cobblestone streets and flower-filled window boxes: That is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Red Fort on the River Tauber. One of Europe’s most beautiful medieval towns looks like a movie set – but it is all real!Rothenburg

Rothenberg boasts plenty of shopping opportunities for handmade crafts and souvenirs. One can’t miss destination for Christmas lovers is the original Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store, the same one that visits the Vancouver Christmas Fair every year. Here you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season all year round. In addition, the store also features a delightful museum displaying vintage toys from as early as the 17th century.

Wertheim: Located at the confluence of the Tauber and Main Rivers, Wertheim spent hundreds of years as the center of European river-based economy. Today it is full of the things that visitors love: old churches, cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and great local cuisine. Wertheim is located in the Tauberfranken region of Bavaria – an area known for its amber-coloured Landbier (country beer) , spicy bratwurst, and wine bottled in Bocksbeutels (bottles featuring short necks and flat round bodies).

In the medieval center you will find craft shops selling beautiful glassware. Local artisans are proud to keep up the regions glass blowing tradition, and many pieces are of innovative design. Also available are Franconian wines and the popular peach liquor.

Heidelberg: Heidelberg is a perfectly preserved Baroque city nestled in the Neckar River Valley along Germany’s Castle Road. The lovely ruins of its signature landmark, Heidelberg Schloss, have been impressing artists and writers for centuries. Home of Germany’s oldest university, it is still very much a university town with about 28,000 students out of a total population of 139,000. In other words, one out of every five people is in school, attending either the University, Teachers College or the Academy of Music.

In the Hauptstrasse that runs parallel to the Neckar River, there is more than one kilometer of shopping, with enchanting side streets, historical surroundings and modern living. This is where the heart of the old town beats. Try the Studentenkus (Studentkiss) a nougat and chocolate centre with a waffle base and covered in dark chocolate invented and available at Café Knosel.

Rudesheim: Like many cities along the Rhine, Rudesheim has a lengthy history that stretches back to Roman times. These days, the town is best known for its avenue of shops and wine bars called the Drosselgasse and its impressive Niederwald Monument. Although heavy bombing during World War II destroyed most of the Gothic and Renaissance timber-framed and gabled houses, some faithful replicas still suggest those early medieval times.

Along the Rhine there are plenty of shops with typical German souvenirs, postcards, fridge magnets, hummels, beer steins and so on. The main street, Dosselgasse, sometimes called “the happiest street in the world” is narrow – only 6 feet wide and 360 feet long. The name of this crowded walkway, lined with shops, cafes and many wine taverns, translates as “Strangle Lane”!

Try the Rudesheimer Coffee. Similar to an Irish Coffee but made with locally distilled brandy, Asbach Uralt, instead of whiskey. It is often prepared right in front of you and available in the majority of the restaurants and shops in town.

Cologne: From Roman times Cologne flourished because of its location on a major crossroads of European trade routes. In the Middle Ages it was more important in European commerce than even London or Paris. As a place of pilgrimage, Cologne was second only to Rome. Today, this fourth largest of German cities is still the centre of the German Roman Catholic Church. The Gothic cathedral is the largest and finest in the country. Begun in 1248, it was not completed until 1880 – still using the original plans! Although the Allied bombings of World War II destroyed almost 90% of Cologne, this “miracle of a church” survived almost unscathed. The rest of the city had to be rebuilt. The result has the look of a mish-mash of old and new with six freeways winding along the rim of the city center, only yards from the cathedral. Much of the Old Town, ringed by streets that follow the line of the medieval city walls, is closed to traffic.

Hohestrasse is the main artery of Cologne’s huge pedestrian shopping zone. Along here you will find German fashions and luxury goods and several department stores like the Kaufhof.

Amsterdam - BikesAmsterdam: In the early 1300’s, the local inhabitants built a dam in the Amstel River to protect their homes against the sea. The small fishing village of Amstelledamme soon grew rich, thanks to the discovery of a method to preserve herring longer in order to export it. The city eventually became an important center of commerce and the capital of the Netherlands.

The 17th century was truly a dynamic Golden Age here, a time when the Amsterdam Exchange Bank became the largest clearing house in Europe. The Dutch East India Company established a profitable empire based on spice trading in the East . Fortunes were made and lost. Charitable institutions were set up to care for the poor, a radical idea in those times.

Today, this small city is also one of the largest historical centers in Europe. Some 7000 houses are classified as historical monuments. About 160 canals crisscross the city; 2100 bridges span these canals, and some 2000 houseboats float on top. Not to mentions the million or so bicycles that you find literally everywhere.

Stroll along the Damrak, the street connecting the Central Station and Dam Square. Here you will find plenty of souvenir shops for postcards, fridge magnets, wooden shoes and windmills. The Museum Quarter located in Amsterdam Zuid is considered the most chic area for shopping in Amsterdam. The PC Hoofstraat and the Cornelis Schuytstraat have some of the finest designer shops in the city.