Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ending a Christmas April!

Salzburg Market
Spending too much time on social networking sites can be an impediment to actual communication.  I realized this when I looked over my blog and was startled to find I left our Christmas trip down the Danube dangling unfinished more than four months after finishing the trip itself.  Too much Facebook time!  Back to work.    
One of the Salzburg markets

Salzburg castle
Our "Christmas Markets Along the Danube" river cruise was our first cruise as well as our first organized tour of any sort.  Grand Circle Tours was the tour company, and we had heard good things about them from family and friends who had taken their cruises and land excursions in many different parts of the world.  Our itinerary was Nurnberg to Vienna on the MS River Concerto in early December 2010, and we added a 4 day pre-trip in Munich so we could see more of Germany and allow a little time to deal with jet-lag.  It also gave us the chance to become acquainted with our program director, Jutta, and several of our fellow travelers.   
The Abbey at Melk
Weather presented us with some challenges, even before we arrived in Germany.  Flights were delayed or rescheduled and we were beginning to wonder about the wisdom of trying to travel to Europe in the winter.  Once we arrived in Munich and Jutta took charge, we put our worries behind us.  The Munich part of our trip went perfectly, and the optional trip to Neuschwanstein was everything we had hoped for.  My wife and I have since agreed the brief time we spent that day in Oberammergau, walking the quiet streets and the rustic Christkindlmarkt, was the high point of the entire trip for us. 
Linz Christmas Market
As we came closer to joining the ship for the actual cruise, it became clear that our trip was not progressing according to the original plan.  The early rains and lots of snow continued to cause the river to rise, making it impossible for the Concerto to reach Nurnberg.  Jutta was in constant contact with the ship, and even though there were many changes in our itinerary to cope with weather related problems, we didn't miss anything which had been planned.  More time was spent on buses than we liked, but we also found we were seeing more of the German towns and countryside than if we had simply sailed down the river. 

Metal ornaments - only in Linz.
Once aboard the Concerto, we quickly fell into a routine and the Captain and crew took extremely good care of us, welcoming us back from each shore excursion with warm cider and hot towels.  The Chef and kitchen staff outdid themselves and I wondered if I would ever be hungry again.  Our trip down the Danube through Austria went smoothly.  Linz and Melk slipped past much too quickly and we found ourselves wishing we had signed up for the Vienna post-trip extension.
Last stop - Vienna
Very little of our trip wasn't affected by the weather.  Many plans were changed, adjustments made, times altered.  All without sacrificing any part of the trip.  As we left the ship in the early morning hours to go to the Vienna Airport, we kept chuckling to ourselves as we remembered Jutta’s oft repeated words…”Anyone can take a Christmas trip, you get to have a Christmas Adventure!”  
Vienna market

The Wiener Rathaus
So now the question is raised, should we take another organized cruise/trip?  Or do as we did before and strike out on our own?  Mike and I discussed this as the cruise was winding down, and we both agreed it was very nice having someone else doing the planning and handling the logistics, especially when plans have to be altered because of weather, etc.  But it would be nice to have more flexibility to allow for more time when a really interesting town is discovered, or a special museum is missed because it isn't open until the next day.  Or just really not feeling like doing much of anything except rest for a day to recuperate.  No decisions yet, but I'm looking at a GCT tour of Tuscany and the Amalfi coast which sounds really interesting.  But then I've always wanted to spend a couple of weeks in the north of Spain wandering along the old pilgrims' path to Santiago.  Decisions...decisions.