Service with a smile.
I have to say that Avalon look after you from start to finish – they are brilliant at the little things, there are three breakfast settings each day – an ‘early riser’ in the ship’s lounge, a buffet breakfast in the restaurant, or a late breakfast in the lounge. The food was fantastic (far too much of it … thank goodness for the bikes on board you could use when the ship moors!) and they even served champagne served with breakfast – how European! The staff couldn’t do enough for their guests – one day someone mentioned they felt like lemon meringue – and presto! It was in their room by that evening. Another guest had relatives in one of the ports – and sure enough, they were invited on board to join us for dinner. I love the way the staff handed you a bottle of water each time you left the ship, and a cold beverage when you returned! Each day the programme is really well organised – there is a daily newsletter, with walking tours (optional), extras, times for boarding and other info, it makes for a very relaxing experience.
Vienna - the star of the show.
One of the highlights for me was Austria’s capital, Vienna – a beautiful city next to the blue Danube River which absolutely glitters with gilded architecture. Compared to many of the other towns and cities we passed, Vienna is big – not just in terms of its size and population but also its artistic and intellectual legacy; it was home to many famous residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. Vienna is where you can see the lavish Hofburg Imperial Palace complex with its Vienna Boys’ Choir and dazzling Lipizzaner stallions, the neo-renaissance Vienna Opera House, and the awe-inspiring St Stephens Cathedral. We joined a walking tour of the city, which I can recommend – there is so much to see and it covered off most of it and still left us enough time to check out the shopping and find a coffee.
Dürnstein's heritage sites.
Dürnstein is a small town on the Danube River in the Krems-Land district of Lower Austria and a well-known wine growing area (more on that later!). We disembarked and took a short drive to Benedictine Abbey of Gottweig, a UNESCO heritage site – situated high on a hill overlooking the Danube. A local guide took us through – it’s a magnificent monastery and the fresco-decorated imperial staircase is thought by many to be a masterpiece of baroque design. We were able to wander the 16th cobble-stone streets (sampling delicious wine from some of the many vineyards in the area) and it was incredible to think of everyone who had walked those cobblestones before me over the centuries. Did you know that England’s King Richard The Lionheart was once imprisoned in a castle in Durnstein and the ruins still remain? Incredible.
Rudesheim Musical Museum - an unexpected find.
This was an unexpected find! Day 12 of our cruise took us to Rüdesheim am Rhein, a town in the Rhine Valley in Germany that is known for winemaking, especially Rieslings. In the centre of Drosselgasse is a lane lined with shops, taverns and restaurants that I can recommend for a visit. Nearby though is the fantastical x – I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy a museum like this but it turned out to be one of the most memorable things of my trip! The museum is apparently the brainchild of eccentric Siegfried Wendel, whose hobby in the 1960s was to rescue and repair 19th-century “automatic musical instruments” that were being discarded as scrap metal. His cabinets display 350 or so automatic musical instruments—prototype jukeboxes, hand-cranked carnival machines and monstrous Pianolas—all still in working order. Do not go through Rudesheim without dropping in!
Holland's sophisticated capital.
Did you know that Holland’s sophisticated and modern capital of Amsterdam has more than 60 museums, the highest density in the world? The 700-year-old city has something for everyone – elegant architecture, cafes and restaurants, and a lively market place. Recommendation: try stroopwafels, Holland’s most famous pastry – shaped like a cookie but made from baked waffle batter and filled with sugary syrup (we ate a lot of them!) I wished I could spend more time in Amsterdam, it is so beautiful and there is so much to do! The galleries and museums are seemingly endless but the stand-out for me was the Banksy and Dali exhibition at the Moko Museum – I loved it! After lunch we did a cycle tour through north Amsterdam which wasn’t at all touristy and it was a great nice way to check out some of the gorgeous old architecture and work off some of the stroopwafels.