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Regensburg & the Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt
The spirit of Christmas was alive and well this morning aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Freya as she came alongside in the wonderfully Medieval town of Regensburg, Germany. Docked next to the stunning Viking Embla, the temperature was so cold that the glass windscreens on the outside of the Aquavit Terrace frosted up.
Regensburg was first settled around 90 AD, and the town was able to retain a remarkable amount of its historic architecture thanks to the fact that it was never targeted during World War II. It did, however, play host to an important figure in the history of the Second World War: Oskar Schindler resided here for a few years after the conclusion of the war, and his residence can still be seen to this day.
Our scheduled call today was a short one: 9am until approximately 12 noon, which is far too short to experience all that this excellent Bavarian town has to offer. But although Viking Freya had to sail up the Danube to Kelheim, Viking gave those wishing to stay in Regensburg longer the option of signing up for a complimentary motorcoach transfer to join the ship at Kelheim. With a departure time of 4:45pm, it gave guests the ability to spend an extra five hours ashore; time that was well-spent!
If you have never been here before, there are a few reasons why, particularly in December, you will want to spend as much time as possible ashore in Regensburg.
To start with, the town is a maze of historic streets that criss-cross and intersect. Filled with clothing shops, boutiques and cafes, you can’t walk more than a hundred meters without discovering something worthy of a pit-stop. It’s also widely recognized for one of its most iconic features: the Stone Bridge constructed between 1135 and 1146. Literally across from the bridge is the Wurstkuche, a small restaurant that has been serving up superb Schweinsbratwurstl vom rost mit sauerkraut (bratwurst & sauerkraut) for the past 700 years.
But the real draw here is the beautiful Christmas Markets. The most commonly-visited one, located in the shadow of the imposingly gothic Dom, is your standard attractive Christmas market. But here in Regensburg, you can step back in time completely with a visit to the Romantischer Christkindlesmarkt, or Romantic Christmas Market, which takes place at the elegant Schloss Emmeram – a splendid Palace on the outskirts of Regensburg’s historic town centre.
Taking place on the grounds of the Palace, this market is without a doubt one of the finest you’ll ever experience. It costs €5.50 admission Monday to Friday, or €6.00 € on weekends. It also opens at 12 Noon – something to keep in mind if, like me, you rushed there thinking it opened at 10am!
I could go on and on about how cool this experience is, from the lit torches to the crackling wood-pit fires to the one-of-a-kind wares found within the walls of Schloss Emmeram. But instead, I’d simply like to show you: the stunning atmosphere created at this event, which this year until December 23rd, speaks for itself.
After strolling back to the staging area to catch the motorcoach (okay – a few Gluhwein stops were made along the way, but only to chase away the cold!), we departed Regensburg for Kelheim and the Viking Freya, which had sailed up the Danube in our absence. Darkness had fallen by the time we arrived there, and fresh snowfall had made the gangway and dirt path down to the ship quite slippery. But crew members from the Viking Freya, including Hotel Manager Cornelia, were on-hand to help and assist each and every guest in any way they could. Onboard, hot chocolate was served to warm up guests after a very cold day ashore.
While the motorcoach transfer was a total success and well worth it to enjoy more time in Regensburg, it would have been nice to have had the ship stay docked. Half the allure of river cruising is its accessibility: you can hop back on, drop your purchases, grab a bite to eat, and get back off again for some exploration. But that option floated away at Noon, bound for Kelheim. It’s not a huge inconvenience- rather small in the grand scheme of things – but one that was necessary in order to ensure we arrive promptly in Nuremberg tomorrow morning.
Our navigation takes a bit of a different turn tonight: when we departed Kelheim at 6pm, we also left the Danube and entered the engineering marvel that is the Main-Danube Canal.
This entirely man-made Canal will transport us to Nuremberg by way of 19 different locks that stretch between Kelheim and Bamburg. But this engineering marvel didn’t exist until 1992; it’s a startling thought to know this voyage aboard Viking Freya would have been impossible just twenty years ago. Today, river cruise ships can sail from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to the Black Sea without issue.
I love watching the locks; in fact, I am endlessly fascinated by them. And even at night, the Canal is quite scenic, with the shoreline running only mere feet from the hull of the Viking Freya. But for those who need to stay connected, take note: the Canal infrastructure means that nearly all connectivity – from cellular phones to the ship’s internet connection – will be pretty much a wash during your transit of the Canal.
On a related note, I want to point out that Viking Freay has had the fastest internet of any ship I’ve been on, both river and ocean-based. It’s far faster and more responsive than I would have expected based on my past experiences with onboard wireless. It’s also complementary, and who doesn’t love that? If you forgot your laptop, never fear: there are two computer workstations onboard for passengers to use.
Tonight, we had our Farewell Dinner here onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Freya. It’s done a day early to ensure that people can stay in Nuremberg longer should they choose to, and so those with early connections can get to bed at a decent hour.
Of course, the Farewell Dinner means the Farewell Parade, and tonight was no exception as Viking Freya’s crew was introduced to us properly. There were high-fives, applause and shouts and hollers as the crew, who come primarily from Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the Philippines were brought out for a round of applause. And they deserve it: the service onboard has been warm, welcoming and personable throughout. In fact, it’s one of the most consistent aspects of river cruising: all three of my journeys down the Danube have had crews that approach the level of caring and professionalism I have seen on ultra-luxury lines.
Tonight’s special Farewell Dinner Menu:
Salmon Caviar & Crisp Potato Cake
Champagne Risotto & Grilled Shrimp
Red Oak Leaf Lettuce & Caramelized Pear Salad
Roasted Forest Mushroom Veloute
Grilled Fillet Mignon & Pan Sautéed Foie Gras
Baked Lobster Thermidor
Crisp Celery Root “Piccata”
Warm White Chocolate and Cherry Pudding & Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream
Personally, I find it hard to believe that tomorrow is my last day onboard the gorgeous Viking Freya. Seven days, it seems, go far to quickly when you’re enjoying yourself. But who couldn’t? I have said it before, and I will say it again: everyone – absolutely everyone – needs to experience river cruising.
Next year, that will become more accessible than ever, as Viking launches 10 more Longships. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what they tweak and alter on these new vessels, which will mark the most ships ever launched in a single year in the company’s history.
Viking Freya has turned heads everywhere we have gone, with her nonstandard design and beautiful rows of floor-to-ceiling windows. She has a feel that’s similar to that of a luxury ocean liner, with thoughtful nautical touches like wooden railings instead of metal rollbars, elegant signage, and mosaic artwork that connects guests with the sea.
But as I discovered, these new Viking Longships are all about the unexpected little details: lights that come on when closet doors are opened. Heated bathroom floors. Bookmarks on nighttables, hand-carved wooden bread bowls in the dining room, and custom-designed Aquavit decanters in the Lounge.
None of these details are necessary to offer a good river cruise – but they go a long way to make the Viking Freya and her sisters truly special.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Freya continues tomorrow from historic Nuremberg, Germany!
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