Day 6—Port in Linz, Austria–tour Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
I will admit, of all the reading and research I did to inform myself about this cruise, I completely missed the part that said we would be driving over the Austrian border into the Czech Republic! As a tiny bit of a travel nerd, I was so excited to add another country to our list as well as use another form of currency, the Czech koruna.
Our tour guide grew up in a time that the country was still behind the Iron Curtain, and it was so fascinating/saddening to hear her stories of how they lived under Communist rule, but also what their lives were like once their borders were opened and they were liberated. She told us stories of how her family would take turns standing in line to buy a freezer (it turns out the whole town only received 2), or a bicycle. She made the bus ride go by so quickly!
One we reached our destination, we toured the grounds and tower of Cesky Krumlov castle, as well as the small, historic town around it. We were given more free time here than any other place to explore, making this one of our favorite stops on the entire trip.
Day 7—Passau, Germany
Our last stop on the cruising portion of our Viking trip was the small port town of Passau, Germany. We arrived in the middle of the night and were ready to begin the walking tour of the town after breakfast. Our guide took us through the beautiful cobblestone streets of the port town, and walked us along one of the three rivers that intersects through Passau. After the short tour we shuttled back to the boat for an early lunch and then set out to explore the city on our own. We toured what I think has the most opulently decorated cathedral ceilings I’ve ever seen, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (yes, another one). Although the outside is not much to speak of, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the ornate ceilings the entire time we were inside.
After St. Stephen’s we took the shuttle that runs from the river level part of the town to the top of the hill, where the fortress, Veste Oberhaus, over looks all of Passau. The fortress was founded in 1219 and visitors are free to roam the grounds and climb to the highest lookout point. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
After our exploring, we returned to our Viking ship for the last dinner and evening on board. We were sad to leave our crew, whose friendliness and personalities made the cruise portion even more special.
Day 8—En Route to Salzburg, Austria
We had one final breakfast on board the Viking Ingvi and then loaded up on Viking’s large charter buses to begin our journey towards Salzburg. This bus ride was all about the scenery and “Sound of Music” sites, and less about the destination. Our first stop was in the colorful little town of Mondsee, Austria, where the town’s basilica was used as the church in the wedding scene in “The Sound of Music”. This is a town that is in the middle of nowhere but would be fun to spend more time just enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery!
After a few moments of free time we all gathered back with our tour group and drove through beautiful mountainous terrain to another small town, St. Gilgan. Other than this town once being home to Mozart’s sister, I think we stopped here mainly because it was on the way and is set on a picturesque lake, Lake Wolfgangsee. We had time to eat a delicious lunch of wienerschnitzel and walk around the small village without having to rush back to our bus to continue the tour towards Salzburg.
I’ll admit I didn’t stay awake for the entire bus ride, but I know that we drove over an hour to reach Schloss Helbrunn on the outskirts of Salzburg, which is where the famous gazebo scene from the movie was filmed. Apparently this is not the exact original filming location of the gazebo, because we were told it was moved from another spot on the grounds after filming was complete. And don’t expect to run around the benches, the glass doors are locked to prevent any scene recreations!
This was the end of our long bus ride. We reached our hotel, Hotel Alstadt, which is part of the Raddison Blu chain. The building itself dates back to 1377, and each room is uniquely historic and beautiful. The hotel is situated right in the heart of the old town pedestrian area, with Christmas shops and lovely restaurants just steps from the door. By the time we threw our bags down, walked around for a bit, and grabbed a bite to eat, it completely slipped my mind to take a photo of our room before we destroyed it with our belongings! Follow the link above to see how great these rooms are!
Day 9—Salzburg, Austria
I know I’ve said this about most of the places we visited on the cruise, but I REALLY wish we would have had more than two nights in this wonderfully charming city! Our day started bright and early with a two-hour walking tour. Our guide pointed out more places from The Sound of Music movie, and also let us in on a secret. When the movie was shown on TV in Austria, it was cut off after the wedding, they didn’t show any part of the Nazi occupation. I thought that was interesting! We went inside Salzburg Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the city and also where Mozart was baptized as a baby.
We then crossed the river and walked over to Mirabell Palace Gardens, where the famous “Do-re-mi” steps are from The Sound of Music! After patiently waiting our turn we managed a quick snap on the steps!
This is where our guide concluded the tour, and we were left to our own devices. We decided to make our way back across the river and ride the Festungsbahn (funicular) up to the Hohensalzburg Castle, which is a large fortress. This monstrous building has been part of Salzburg’s skyline since 1077, and boasts as being the largest fully preserved castle in Central Europe. We had a blast touring the castle and walking around the grounds, and also grabbed a quick bite to eat in one of their overpriced (but yummy) cafes!
Almost right around the corner from the ticket line to the funicular is St. Peter’s graveyard, which served as the inspiration for the tense climactic scene in The Sound of Music. The story goes that filmmakers wanted to shoot the scene there, but were told they weren’t allowed to bring cameras in, so they had to do the actual shooting on a soundstage in Hollywood. Actual location or not, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll definitely understand that this was the inspiration! We walked from here to Nonnberg Abbey, which is where the actual Von Trapps were married!
The next part of the day was what I was looking forward to the most. We were finally going to see Mozart’s birthplace and childhood home! It was such a surreal feeling to be standing in the room where the Mozart family ate their meals and lived their lives. There are a couple of rooms where there are “guards” watching to make sure people don’t take pictures, but if you time it just right, you can get a few in!
Cafe Tomaselli is in the square behind the Mozarthaus, and this is a cafe where a young Wolfgang and his father would go to spend time in between writing music to drink hot chocolate. It was much too warm to drink a hot beverage, so we drank iced tea and sat underneath the beautiful green and white awning and watched the people pass in the square. We then went to Cafe Konditorei Furst, which is the original baker of the famous “Mozart Ball”, which is delicious a chocolate candy in a blue and silver wrapper. Make sure you buy some for yourself and your friends!
After a short rest we ate a small dinner and shopped in the Christmas shops close to our hotel. I was completely fascinated with the hand painted egg shell ornaments! If you’re looking for a great authentic souvenir, this is it!
Day 10—Munich, Germany
We boarded the bus again early in the morning to drive to our last stop, Munich. I was really excited to ride on the Autobahn, but I guess unless you’re driving a sports car you really can’t take advantage of the “no speed limit” rule. The drive wasn’t particularly exciting, so we took a short nap before arriving into Munich. Our guide took us on a short walking tour and we ended the tour in front of the Glockenspiel, a giant clock that plays a 15-minute show twice daily to large crowds standing in the Marienplatz below. The show depicts two riders on horseback, one a French jouster and the other a Bavarian knight, in “battle”. As expected, the Bavarian always wins!
After a short break for lunch we all met back at the buses for our final city tour of the trip. Our driver took us around the city and we stopped at BMW World for a while (honestly I think it was just a large venue with free bathrooms), which is across the highway from where the ’72 Olympics were held. We stopped back at our hotel after this tour to drop off our bags and then headed back into the Old City in a taxi for more sightseeing and dinner. We saw the Feldernhalle, which was built in 1841 but made famous by Hitler, as he used it as the site of many speeches and his annual march. We also made a stop inside the Hofbrauhaus, built in the 1500s and the oldest beer hall in Munich.
Day 11—Munich, Germany
Today was the last day of the tour, but also the one that everyone had been looking forward to! We drove two and a half hours through the Alpine countryside to get to our first stop, Neuschwanstein Castle. Our guide, Moritz, let everyone know they could either walk to the top (on a steep but paved road) or take a horse drawn carriage. We opted for the faster route, walking. Even though it was raining and slightly cool (which we were thankful for after the climb), we had an enjoyable time learning about Bavarian culture from our guide. We learned that people from Bavaria are very proud of their history and culture and have a “Texas mentality” as he put it. He told us that they sometimes feel like their own country and would rather fly their regional flag than their German flag. After our 30-minute hike uphill, we made it to the famous Marienbruck Bridge, the bridge directly across from the castle that provides picturesque views of the structure itself but also the valley below.
After taking every possible photo we could from the bridge, we hurried over to the castle in time for our tour. No photos are allowed inside the castle, but I can try and describe what you would see on a tour. The man who built the castle, King Ludwig, was never married and was extremely interested in the arts, particularly operas. Every room in the castle is themed somehow around some work of art. He even built a cave in one of the rooms because it reminded him of his favorite play. Several rooms were themed around “The Swan Prince” opera, with tapestries and murals dedicated to the show. Ludwig’s story is ends sadly, because he became a recluse and died a mysterious death in a lake near his home.
We walked back down the hill and ate lunch at one of the little restaurants. I ordered a dish called “Kase Spaetzle”, which is basically mac and cheese and fried onions on top. It was WONDERFUL and I would recommend trying this dish if you are ever in Germany! We all loaded up on the bus for our last stop of the day, King Ludwig’s father’s house, Linderhof Palace. This is a much smaller domain since it was built to house one person and no guests. He built it with Versailles in mind, so it is very opulently decorated and every room is filled to the brim with furniture and art. Make sure you don’t miss the fountain show in the front pool on your way out!
Our Viking experience ended after the bus dropped us back off at our hotel in Munich that night. I’ve never taken a trip this long or to this many places, and it was definitely one of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had. If you’re looking for luxury, convenience, and the ability to see many countries and landmarks on one trip, then Viking River Cruises are for you!