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Posted by on Jun 15, 2009 in *Hot*, Europe, TripJournals | 1 comment

Reminiscence of Christmas Past – Our Christmas Time 2008 River Cruise aboard the MS AMAcello from Nuremburg to Budapest with Christmas Markets.

Join PRIDE Travel as we reminisce of cooler and more festive times this summer, about where many of our signature holiday traditions—Christmas trees, gingerbread, nutcrackers, St. Nick, and candy canes—come to us from in Germany, Austria, and the heart of Europe.

Come discover the medieval atmosphere of Nuremberg’s Christmas Market with us, and sample its famous holiday gingerbread or hundred-year-old secret recipe Gluhwein. Stroll through Regensburg’s romantic Christmas Market, savoring dumplings with vanilla sauce. In Passau, shop for unique crafts like hand-painted porcelain and Bohemian glass ornaments. In Melk, visit the awe-inspiring Abbey whose library is legendary. Come with us this hot summer’s eve as we wistfully recall the spirit of the Holiday Season…

December 20th: Embarkation in Nuremburg

Marc and I have been in Germany for a few days now and were really looking forward to boarding the ship today; we’re anxious about starting our first river cruise, and have high expectations of AMA Waterways from all we’ve been told and seen. We are both very experienced cruisers, Marc has sailed 58 times and this is my 43rd cruise, so we have to start by saying that today’s embarkation had to be the swiftest and most stress free that we have ever experienced.

We arrived at the MS Amacello independently by taxi and before we had the opportunity to pay the driver, our luggage was already being unloaded and prepared to be delivered to our stateroom. Arriving at the reception area was quite an experience as it only took about 30 seconds to board the ship…we just walked up the gangplank, onto the ship and up to the front desk. No worry about long lines and metal detectors. After 2 minutes we had the Room keys in our hands and were on our way to our cabin.

The MS Amacello is the newest ship in the AMA Waterways fleet and is she ever a beauty. Upon entering the room the first thing that that you see is the lovely and inviting bed, which unlike others holds up to scrutiny when slept upon. Gradually you begin to see the details, the pattern on the wallpaper, the infotainment system and then to top it all off the floor to ceiling glass, with sliding door and French balcony.

Storage for our clothing was adequate. The bathroom was in line with what you would see on any of the large ocean going vessels, with one exception: the shower was large, and heavenly…. No words can describe the ‘euro-spa’ feeling of the multiple showerheads that gently while away the tentsion after a day of exploration. Another nice touch was high-end contemporary toiletries in small containers instead of the large bulk dispensers on the walls.

Tonight is the Captains welcome aboard dinner and for those of us who had not taken the Prague portion of the trip a chance to meet our cruise director Marion. Dinner was excellent and the local wines being served were the icing on the cake. A note, the wine stewards are not at all reserved when it comes to refilling your glass, and it is done so often that it is easy to lose track of how much you are drinking.
Tonight, we are moored in Nuremburg with our first excursion tomorrow morning. Our expectations far exceeded, we drift to somber sleep on one of the most comfortable beds afloat.

December 21st: Nuremburg and the Continental Divide

The day started early this morning, and we wanted to get an unsually early breakfast (for us) before heading out… no procrastinating here, we don’t want to miss our first excursion. Although breakfast was mainly buffet style, there were a few made-to-order stations available with omelets and the like. Fresh juices were abundant as was champagne for mimosas. Marc is a pastries kind of guy and he fell in love with the baked goods onboard, all made fresh by, as he called her “the Pastry Chef that fell from heaven”.

At 8:30 AM we picked up our ship boarding passes and headsets at the reception area and boarded the buses for our trip around the city and into the Christmas Market. The guide was very good at pointing out sights as we passed them on the bus, explaining a lot of the history of how the city came into being, how the Second World War changed it and how the modern Germany was looking forward into the future.

Our first stops took us to the Nazi Rally Grounds then to the Justice Palace where the Nuremburg post-war trials took place. The headsets during this portion of the tour allowed you to clearly hear the guide as well as give you some freedom to wander and take photographs without missing any of the commentary. No more huddling in a group, straining to hear what was being said. After the stops we toured the outside of the walled portion of the city some more in the bus before being taken into the heart of town for the Christmas Market. Once we were walking around the heart of the Market we were given free time to explore on our own. Since Marc and I had seen the Imperial Castle the day before on our own, we focused sightseeing energy on the Christmas Market.

Words really can’t explain the Market; it is really a fantasy come true. Over a hundred booths set up in the town square to explore, with the smell of gluhwein and gingerbread in the air, lights shining off Christmas tree bulbs in many colors creating a living kaleidoscope in which to become lost, toys and gifts of every imagination to delight the senses. Nuremburg’s Christmas market, particularly, is world renowned. Tourists from Germany, Europe and the region journey out to see, smell, shop, and sing.

After our time in the Market we boarded the bus back to our ship. The ship moved down the Danube a bit so the ride on the bus was slightly longer but we had the opportunity to see more of the German countryside. Warm gluhwein or hot chocolate was waiting for us as we boarded the ship to start our journey across the continental divide and through the first series of locks. We came to learn that on EVERY embarkation, gluhwein would become a ritual of boarding, allowing us to equalize the warmth outside and around the ship with the warmth soon flowing in our veins to our rosy cheeks.

Relaxing in the main lounge, watching the canal pass by, we were greeted by today’s onboard specialist to explain the undertaking of building the canals linking the two largest European riverways, and providing details and impact on the economic and physical landscape. Surprisingly, it really was quite fascinating for a science lecture and helped put our journey into perspective.

After dinner tonight, local Bavarian entertainment provided a singing, dancing, yodeling, polka-strumming medley that left many dazed… us included; certainly an authentic cultural experience, with veteran rotund bavarian folk dancers not at all like those young actor-types in the touristy beer halls in Munich. Tonight, we sail on to Regensburg.

December 22nd: Regensburg

The water on the river was rising steadily, almost alarmingly, and rushing by at a furious pace. After breakfast this morning, the captain announced that if the ship were to stay in Regensburg, there is a high likelyhood it would be stuck as there is one more low lying bridge that needs to be passed. The sound of disappointment could be heard throughout the ship; after all, many of us had sailed on large ocean vessels before, some numerous times, and had faced the disappointment of weather or water conditions not permitting a ship to port or tender…

However, to our pleasant surprise, Marion stepped forward to explain that while the ship may not stay at the docks we would still have the opportunity to visit the town. Additonally, we would each be given 15 Euros for lunch (since our ship would be long sailed while we were out and about) and we would be transported by bus further down river to catch up to our ship. A spectacular save allowed us to see Regensburg fully, as if nothing had gone wrong.

Today, Marc and I and a few others that we had met onboard decided that we would explore on our own for a while. We made our way into the city on foot; most towns on the itinerary are very pedestrian friendly, to the Christmas market. We had to make a side trip to a department store since Marcs’ shoes had developed a crack in them and had been taking on water every with every step for two days. Our footwear chore completed, we stopped to have a gluhwein and then continued to explore the city. The Christmas market here was smaller, so it did not take a huge amount of time to see everything. Plus we also had another private Christmas market to see in the afternoon at the Thurn and Taxis Castle.

After finding a few trinkets to buy we made our way to an Italian restaurant for lunch. Our small group all sat and had pizzas and beers, sharing with each other the treasures we had found. When lunch was over, the group split apart so we could spend the afternoon on our own. Marc and I gradually made our way to the Thurn and Taxis Castle where we met back up with the group that Marion was leading to the Christmas Market.

This Market was unlike any other that we had seen, set on the grounds of a private royal residence. We learned that the princess of Thurn and Taxis set up this market each year with all of the admission fees benefitting a children’s non-profit organization. Vendors here were selling high end and hand made items.

Back aboard our vessel, tonight’s entertainment was performed by four grown-up members formerly of the boy’s choir from Regensburg’s Cathedral. This was such a treat, since the quartet does not perform commercially, and rarely get together except to remenisce with old friends and family, and by special performance for AMA ships on the Danube.

December 23rd: Passau, Salzburg, Linz

Today we awoke at Passau, a beautiful city located on an island in the Danube. We had our first experience docking next to another river cruise vessel to disembark. This only happens occasionally (since most of the towns and cities have limited docking areas and we had to be tied right next another line’s ship.) it was exciting to get to see another ship. I was quite surprised as the other ship smelled heavily of cigarettes, something that I never smelled on the MS Amacello. You could definitely tell the difference between the qualities of the décor in the lobby area. The other ship was very dark and seemed very cramped, definitely the opposite of the MS Amacello.

This morning’s tour options included a day trip into to Salzburg, but we decided to stay in Passau and on the ship for the afternoon for the sail to Linz. Our tour guide took us around Passau, letting us explore the small streets and alleys. We ended the tour at the main square to visit the main cathedral and then a chance to see Christmas Market. After our time in Passau we boarded the ship again for the 4 hour sail to Linz. It was lovely to sail along the Danube while enjoying a cappuccino in the lounge on the ship, while it was chilly outside, the floor to ceiling windows helped to move the scenery inside while keeping the cool chill at bay.

We arrived at Linz in the late evening right before dinner. After out delicious dinner we were given free time to disembark the ship to explore the city. While the Christmas Market was on the small side it was absolutely beautiful at night. It seemed as though everyone in the city was at the market enjoying the gluhwein and people watching was a great experience in itself. The “Sound of Austria” was the evening’s entertainment. I must admit that we have been quite impressed with the entertainment throughout our cruise.

December 24th: Melk Abbey, Wachau Valley, Vienna

It’s Christmas Eve and today was an incredible day. We started with a tour of Melk Abbey, a spectacular working abbey in Austria. Words cannot describe the beauty of the buildings inside and out. The bright yellow and gilt gold of the exterior welcome you as you arrive for the tour. While the main sanctuary was beautiful I actually enjoyed the library the most. If you have ever read the book or seen the movie “The Name of the Rose”, this real library is the inspiration for the library in the story.

In the afternoon we sailed the Wachau Valley on our way to Vienna. Breathtaking views were at every turn along this 15 mile stretch of river, designated a Unesco World Heritage Sight. Vineyards and castles seemed to rise out of river around every corner. Churches, chapels, even a cathedral could be spotted from the riverbank. Little towns and villages dotted the countryside, and everywhere you looked was a picture-perfect photo opportunity to delight the senses. This is what river cruising is all about…. This alone makes it all worthwhile, makes the explorer come alive in each of us, seeking to see new sights and off-the-beaten-path spleandors.

We arrived at Vienna just before dinner; passengers had the options attending a Mozart &Strauss concert at a music hall in town, or going to a midnight mass only 3 minutes away from the docking area. There was also a “Christmas Pickle” event for all of the children on board, as well as a Christmas Eve party in the main lounge.

December 25th: Vienna

What a morning, Marc and I were up late and missed the tour bus. Not a problem… on a river cruise, accomodations can be made to easily meet back up with the group. We were able to catch up with the group in the heart of the city by taking the subway from the ship to the main square. Actually this turned into a nice adventure of independent sightseeing, mild shopping, and we were in the city in no time at all. Once we caught up with the group everything moved quite well. Our tour around the city lasted for several hours; we were able to see the cathedral, the Spanish Horse Stables as well as the national library. The Austrians definitely take their libraries seriously. Between just the two we have seen in Melk and now in Vienna, we saw two variations on every bookworm’s dream. Books upon books upon books, housed in such spleandor and marvelous architecture as to be almost a shrine to the art of reading.

After the downtown tour we boarded the bus and were transferred to the Schoenbrunn palace, another Unesco World Heritage sight. The palace was amazing: we could have spent days exploring its many rooms, artworks, and gardens which were closed for the season. It was almost a sin to attempt to rush through the palace with such short time allotted to us. At least we have tasted a sample, and now know we have to return on our own to explore further. An additional pleasant surprise: we found out that the on site Christmas Market was still open even on Christmas day. This was our one last chance to get more gluhwein and roasted chestnuts to soak up the last bits of this season’s festivities.

Back onboard the AMAcello, Christmas dinner was spectacular; everything you could possibly want for a traditional meal was available and far exceeded expectations. Even our Jewish friends were accomodated with their last-minute request for potato pancakes; the Chef whipped up a batch without blinking an eye. The mood was festive and cheerful throughout the evening. Being in Europe this time of year is wonderful and seems to bring all of those childhood fantasies of what the Christmas holidays are meant to be to life.

December 26th: Budapest

Our last day was filled with incredible tours. Starting at 2PM (I think everyone needed the extra sleep time after last night) we were taken around town to see many of the sights. Everyone was really amazed at the architecture seen in the city; Budapest has so much to offer in the many styles of building. Towards evening we were taken up to the castle district, at the top of this hill we were given a beautiful view of the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion. This ‘castle’ of a building features unique rooms and courtyards surrounded by stout towers and archways. At every turn, we were greeted with picturesque scenes that were unique and breathtaking. Shift the angle just a bit, and another photo would form right before your very eyes.

One last stop was at the base of the Statue of Liberty so that we could get a view of the city lights from the highest vantage point in the city. This is the ‘classic photo’ we see of Budapest at night, with the chain bridge in the distant all lit up, and the city spread before you.

When we finally make our way back to our cabin to rest on the wonderful beds, we are both filled with joy and sadness. Joy at such an amazing trip through holiday festivities and cultures, coupled with sadness at having to leave as we near the end of our journey.

December 27th: Budapest — Disembarkation

Disembarkation was early for us this morning due to our flights. Our ‘checkout’ process was seamless and felt like it only took seconds. It was such a breeze: as we handed in our cabin keys, everyone at the front desk offered us warm and sincere thanks for joining them on this cruise and wished us a safe journey home. Our transfer to the airport was waiting for us and as we made the trip to the Budapest airport we were giidy talking about the unmatched experience we had river cruising with AMA Waterways.

Later, in January of 2009: at home, California.

Just as we were starting to recollect about and billsfully remember our wonderful Christmas river cruise, a little surprise is delivered to us by US mail… A handwritten AMA Waterways postcard, postmarked from Germany! Our cruise director Marion had taken the time to write and personalize a postcard to us. She even had some of the staff sign it! What a wonderful little treat and an apt reminder of the great service and attention to detail we had with AMAWaterways! We already miss our second home aboard the AMAcelllo.

S Nathan DePetris is the Owner/Manager & COO of PRIDE Travel, in Long Beach CA, USA. (c) 2009 Pride Travel, All Rights Reserved.

About Pride Travel

Pride Travel of Long Beach, California is a full service agency specializing in cruise, tour package, villa, and condo rentals. We also offer our community the full breadth of travel products and expertise. While we cater to the needs of Gays and Lesbians in the LGBTQ community, we are ‘hetero friendly’ and frequently book many individuals, couples, and families with children on trips and vacations worldwide. Pride Travel is an award-winning agency that has been recognized for our active participation and contributions to our local and LGBTQ communities. We also hold many travel industry certifications and accreditations, as well as official certification by destination and country visitor’s bureaus; we are active members and certified by the Travel Institute, the Cruise Line Industry Association, and the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.For more details about our credentials, please visit our website at www.pridetravelonline.com and click on About Us or call at 562.432.3888.

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