to Europe's Christmas Markets
my girlfriends were fighting the crowds of Christmas shoppers
in their downtown malls, I was gliding down the Danube River
along with like-minded folks who decided to spend the lead
up to Christmas differently this year. Two weeks before
Santa's arrival I left all the harried holiday activity
behind and flew to Budapest to board the fabulous M/S Amacello,
one of the newest additions to AMA Waterways river fleet.
This lovely new ship would be my floating home for the next
seven nights as I revisited European history and explored
perfectly charming Christmas Markets in Hungary, Austria,
Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic.
We were an amicable
was curious about who else would abandon tradition and
set sail for cultural and educational fun when everyone
else they knew was hard at work baking Christmas cookies,
addressing Yuletide cards and secretly wrapping goodies
to put under their Christmas trees. My cruise mates hailed
from Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Britain, Canada and
the USA and we were an amicable motley crew. We were single,
we were married. We ranged from well-behaved teenagers
to older folks travelling with their extended families.
For one week we lived together aboard our floating hotel
and we were pampered silly.
we embarked the M/S Amacello, the nautical holiday spirit
was in evidence everywhere. We found welcome plates overflowing
with delicious holiday treats in each of our cabins. Sweet
gingerbread houses and gaily wrapped gifts dressed tabletops
throughout the ship. Every cabin door had a Christmas
decoration on it, the lounge boasted two trees (which
the guests help decorate) and a large inflated Santa looked
out over the upper deck. It really didn't matter if we
hadn't sent out holiday greeting cards before we left
home. Instead we wrote Christmas greetings on complimentary
Amacello postcards which were then mailed home for us,
postage paid. This crew thought of everything and we were
the happy recipients of their hospitality.
Our ship was both
homey and elegant...
M/S Amacello accommodates up to 150 passengers. Built
in Rotterdam it boasts the luxury of more space per passenger
than any other river cruising ship in its class. The decor
is elegant but, at the same time, homey; the Eastern European
crew and staff polite, warm and welcoming. My roomy cabin
had all the amenities of an ocean going stateroom plus
a small french balcony that allowed me to open my sliding
doors to the outside any time I liked. Television and
free internet connection in each room are standard on
board however internet reception was often spotty due
to the many locks we traversed along the Danube. The upper
deck is equipped with a jogging track and comfortable
lounge chairs for relaxation in appropriate weather. In
December we used it for snowball fights celebrating the
first light snowfall we experienced sailing through Germany.
Now that was fun.
Floating down the
Danube is the second largest River in Europe and the itinerary
of this particular Danube cruise is a distinct and interesting
one. The M/S Amacello docks in Buda (Hungary), Vienna,
Melk, Linz (in Austria) with an optional side tour to
Salzburg. Then on to Passau, Regensburg and Nuremberg
(Germany) with an add-on in Prague, the city of one hundred
spires. The scenery along the way is wonderfully diverse
as you glide by village church spires, medieval castles,
the neon lights of cities, forests (sprinkled with snow),
rolling hills and a series of 16 locks that take you from
the lower Danube River and into the higher monumental
Main Danube Canal linking the North Sea all the way to
the Black Sea. At the highest point of the cruise the
M/S Amacello sailed over the invisible Continental Divide.
Always ready to party, my shipmates and I toasted the
event with sparkling champagne.
hours of every day was spent on land discovering the wonders
of each city we docked in. We never had to worry about
transportation or directions. Everything was done for
us. With the help of excellent guides we learned about
the Hapsburg family's impact on European history. We explored
the cobble-stoned city centers visiting the legendary
palaces, monuments, towers, bridges and historical town
squares. In Buda we saw the famous Fisherman's Bastion,
in Regensburg, the oldest sausage kitchen in all of Germany
and in Nuremburg, we recognized the balcony where Hitler
stood to address his followers. Melk is known for its
incredible Benedictine Abbey. We visited this extraordinary
site with a guide who was educated in the Abbey and she
happily shared her childhood memories with all of us.
In Vienna, we drove past the famous State Opera House,
in Salzburg, we saw where Mozart was born and in Prague,
we walked across the stately Charles Bridge and later
marvelled at the famous Astrological Clock.
was intriguing to see the unique ways in which each city
and town was decorated for the holidays. In Budapest,
large red and white balls were suspended from wires strung
across major shopping streets while in Prague an enormous
Christmas tree strung with LED lights gave the impression
of silver snow flakes cascading onto its branches. In
Nuremburg, two metal trees festooned with lights cast
beautiful colored reflections onto the River Pegnitz.
The photo opportunities were endless. But that wasn't