ADRIATIC COAST: PREFACE

After returning from our three-week Mississippi River cruise around the same time last year, it seemed to take forever to get all of my pictures edited and blog posts written.  September starts our busy fall craft show season for Bruce’s fused glass jewelry, so my blog took a back seat to our business and associated travel. It wasn’t until December when I concluded my blog posts of that trip.

In retrospect, there was a wonderful silver lining to what at first seemed unthinkable, especially since I am the opposite of a procrastinator!  (Since I had previously posted to my blog during my travels back in the early days, it seemed so strange to me to have my trip posts take so long to complete.)

That silver lining?  First, enjoying every minute of the trip without the distraction of editing pictures and writing.  It was fine during our seven-week road trip, since evenings were mostly spent unwinding and relaxing in our hotel room.  Bruce would study the map and travel info. I had researched, while I worked at the computer.  On the riverboat trips with my mom, evenings were mostly quiet on the boat after dinner, so there was plenty of opportunity to pop open my netbook in the lounge and write while others read their books or conversed with other passengers.

This time, there was too much going on that I didn’t want to miss.  The writing could wait!  Instead, I took a lot of notes during our walking tours and lectures, filling up an entire spiral notebook.  (Being able to read my scribbled notes will prove to be a challenge, I’m sure!)

Most of all, though, I discovered how much I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the trip again and again throughout my three-month photo editing and writing process.  I caught myself smiling, laughing, and remembering things that had slipped my mind, each time I edited a new batch of pictures and wrote about what we had experienced.  Every time I sat down at the computer, I felt exhilaration and happiness; I was in the zone.

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Happily swimming in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Bled Castle is behind me.)

It is for those reasons, my dear readers, that I make no promises as to when my next post will appear on this site, and when my last one will be completed for our most recent trip.  I will at least cut to the chase, though, and tell you that each and every day was thoroughly enjoyable and breathtaking.  Hopefully, my pictures will do justice to the beauty of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro; the former Yugoslavian countries we visited during our 19-day Vantage Travel land and yacht tour.

If you wish to read on without having to keep checking my site for my next post, sign up to receive e-mails notifying you when a new post has been added.  Who knows?  I may even get them all written before the December holidays arrive!

 

RIVER VOYAGER IN REVIEW

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The previous three Vantage Deluxe World Travel river cruises I had taken in Europe were with my mom, and they were on boats that have since been retired from their fleet.  Vantage had three new boats built, and we boarded the newest of the fleet in Budapest.  Introduced into service this year, we were about to embark on the 14th sailing of the River Voyager.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the new, modern feel of this boat; but, once we had a good look around, it was love at first sight.  The jazz theme of the décor definitely hit a soft spot in my jazz-loving heart, and the additional outdoor seating in front of the forward Blue Note Lounge as well as behind the Cotton Club café was a nice surprise.  (In retrospect, given the high water level in the rivers these extra outdoor lounge areas on the lower decks were a huge benefit, because the captain had to close down the top sun deck of the boat while cruising under low bridges.)

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Aft deck of Cotton Club Cafe

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Cotton Club Cafe

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Mid-ship stairway

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Along the wall leading into the Blue Note Lounge

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At the far end of the lounge, there were floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the forward deck.  The drapes were closed at this moment in preparation for a lecture.

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The top deck of the ship was closed during portions of the cruise due to low overhead bridges.

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The cabins were wonderfully appointed, and the bathrooms were actually larger than those on the older boats.

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I didn’t photograph the cabin; however, I did get this (distorted!) shot of the bathroom.  The lower right is a very large drawer with a pull-out trash can beside it.  There was plenty of counter space  (on the left), and a shelf full of wonderful toiletries.  There was plenty of room in the shower, and I loved the adjustable shower head and glass door.  The toilet was to the right, and towel racks were located on the walls to the left.  It was actually quite roomy in there!

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This is a public restroom located mid-ship.  Nice!

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The other side of the same public restroom.

Technologically, the River Voyager was very modern, and a great WI-FI system was accessible from anywhere on board.  The front desk staff even loaned out iPads at no charge as well as brand new bicycles with saddle bags and helmets.

The staff on board was fabulous!  Not only were they unfailingly friendly and warm, the service was outstanding.

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Captain Ziggy & Hotel Manager, Enio (and Renata’s husband)

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Concierge, Renata (Enio’s wife) & Tour Director, Vicky

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Our cabin steward, Bowo.  We named our towel dog after him and kept him throughout the cruise.

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The dining room had open seating, so we always gravitated to Robert’s section, because he was our favorite waiter.

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Our favorite assistant waiter, Halil

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A well-deserved break for the crew!  That’s the head chef on the far end.

The food?  Fantastic!  Our Balinese chef did a wonderful job with his staff in his surprisingly small kitchen, and we found ourselves raving at every dinner over the food and presentation.

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Chef Ketut (“Chef”) had a great sense of humor, too, as well as a wide, cheerful smile.  Later in the cruise during the galley tour, when asked how long it took to cook the whole pig they brought out during our traditional Bavarian lunch buffet, he replied, “Cooking the pig wasn’t the problem, it was catching it!”

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As it turned out, that lunch was quite a highlight!  Complete with soft pretzels graciously handed out by Chef, flowing beer served by the staff, and a buffet of sausages of every description (with sauerkraut, of course!); it was fabulous!  (Thinking back, I don’t think I had eaten sausages and sauerkraut since my last cruise in 2011!  Meat isn’t a normal part of my daily diet, but as they say, “When in Rome…”)

Although the previous river cruises were on ships with a maximum capacity of 145 and the River Voyager could cruise with 175 passengers, I would say that is the only negative of the newer river boats.  I like the intimacy and quaintness of small boats, but the trend is going towards larger boats (and larger ships) for economic reasons.  Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a cruise on this very same boat again!

As for the passengers, in general, I have found them to be much more experienced travelers than mega-ship cruisers.  Conversations over meals or around the ship were always lively and interesting with plenty of travel stories to go around.  I especially enjoyed hearing about other river cruise experiences, and the advice we received about itineraries was very helpful.

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Marg & Wendell, our dining partners for lunch in Heidelberg, and a few times on the ship.

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We first met Betsy and Mary on our pre-cruise tour, and then in Vienna, Betsy and I ended up going to the hospital together with Renata as our escort and interpreter.

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Betsy, Renata, and Me at the hospital

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Partying it up during the Captain’s farewell cocktail party.

Over all, I can’t say enough good things about our experience.  The best part?  Seeing Bruce enjoy it so much that he already has our next Vantage river cruise picked out!

 

KICKIN’ AROUND KELHEIM

One of the advantages of booking a tour with Vantage Deluxe World Travel is that when they say their river cruises are “all-inclusive,” they mean it.  Most tours are included in the price, whereas with other river cruising companies, more of the tours are optional.  Once our cruise and air were booked through Vantage, the only thing Bruce and I had to budget for was tipping, because even beer and wine were included with our dinners and a few cocktail parties.  Vantage also made it convenient for us by registering our credit card for the tips to be billed automatically at the end of our cruise.  We could make adjustments to the amount or allow them to charge their suggested rate to our bill.

Although we chose to book one of the optional tours (it was fabulous!), we decided to pass on an optional tour to a monastery when we arrived in Kelheim.  Having some time to kick around independently and at our own pace was a nice alternative for the day, and we thoroughly enjoyed it (even though it rained at times).

The River Voyager was tied up on the riverbanks just a fifteen-minute walk from the town center, so we enjoyed the casual walk through the neat and tidy residential neighborhood, admiring the gardens along the way.

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In town, we were delighted by the colorful buildings and enjoyed just poking around.  It was also the perfect opportunity to stock up on Milka chocolate on sale at Edeka.  As an extra bonus, we scored an awesome money-saving coupon somebody had left behind on the shelf.  She scores!!!

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Once again, Bruce was my willing “Sherpa” to carry the haul back to our cabin.  In the end, between Milka (Germany), Boci (Hungary), Figaro (Czech Republic), Clever (Czech Republic), and a bunch of other miscellaneous bars I purchased along the way, he counted an embarrassingly abundant load of 66 bars (many of them HUGE) that I loaded up in my roll-aboard, along with my laptop and other essentials, for the flight home.  Lifting the hefty suitcase into the overhead compartment was not Bruce’s idea of fun, as I surmised by the look on his face…

…But, I digress.

Kelheim!  (Chocolate has a way of getting me off topic.)  This cute little Bavarian town is small— just under 16,000 residents.  It is situated at the confluence of the Danube and Altmuhl rivers, and we found it to be quite charming and attractive.

Here are some scenes from our (at-times) rainy walk around town:

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Next up:  Nuremberg

 

WATCHING THE WACHAU

Having a “relaxing” day on the ship to recuperate after receiving the injection for my raging hip tendinitis was a good thing—and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.  Although, as you can see by the quotation marks above, relaxing is relative; it depends on who the person is doing it.

Me?  I never stay down for very long, especially when I’m traveling.  The River Voyager cruised past photogenic scenery too beautiful to pass by without jumping to my feet to snap a few photos from time-to-time.

While making our way to Vienna, we cruised the Danube which is Europe’s second-longest river at 1,770 miles long.  It passes through ten countries, including: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

The 20-mile long Wachau Valley, between the Austrian towns of Melk and Krems is (in my opinion) the most scenic section along the Danube, and we took in the beautiful scenery along the way.

There were many charming towns as well as gorgeous castles, monasteries, and terraced vineyards we passed along the (at-times narrow) Wachau Valley section of the river.

The following are scenes we enjoyed along the way:

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Durnstein, a very upscale village that was visited frequently by Princess Diana, is also known for its wine.

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Spitz, “Land of 1,000 Buckets,” is known as a wine-producing region in Austria.

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Melk Abbey, in the town of Melk, is a Benedictine abbey that was built between 1702 and 1736.

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It was beautiful to see the sun finally shining!  As we cruised through Austria, their nation’s flag was flown with the Vantage Deluxe World Travel flag.

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Next up:  Passau