2012 GLOOMY FOGGY DREARY GRAY DANUBE

AMA Waterways

Hungary, Slovak Republic, Austria, Germany

I'll take the cruise only, not the optional pre-cruise stay in Budapest, or the post-cruise stay in Prague. I've been to both. As for the cruise, the only Danube cruise I've done was the lower Danube from Budapest to Bucharest. I've also done the upper Rhine to Amsterdam but this is a different area of the rivers system. Another reason for taking the trip now - NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT.

I hadn't thought about it when I signed up for the cruise, but the expected temperature range in November for both Budapesht and Vienna is 46-37. It's that time of year when sunrise is a bit after 8 and sunset is about 4 giving really only about 7 hours of gloomy, gray daylight. Due to the dark, foggy, gloomy weather, and also having two of the most interesting incuded tours at night in the darkness; I didn't get any usable pictures of my own. I shot several and deleted all of them so I just stopped carrying my camera. Those in these notes are all downloaded from the Internet.

Day 1, Wednesday, Nov 21 DEPART FOR EUROPE
Flying out on the day before Thanksgiving would probably be a huge hassle if I were making a "domestic" flight, but since I'm heading overseas, it shouldn't be that bad - except for the very long lines at the security checkpoint. I have the usual very long overnight flight to Budapesht. One problem: after AMA couldn't come up with a decent air schedule, I had to book my own flights below. With the late departure from Houston, there's no problem with the StuporShuttle - I booked it for noon and it was actually here a couple of minutes early. Both flights are actually AlwaysLateHansa; also the first of the return flights.

At the airport - is this really Thanksgiving? Where are all the crowds? I guess they are all flying domestic, not interenational. There was no line to drop off my bag at the LateHansa desk, and only 3 people in line ahead of me at Security. Total time from Shuttle pickup to being at the gate: 1 hour. Of course, AlwaysLateHansa was, as usual, late taking off.

United UA 8867
LateHansa LH 441
Houston - Frankfurt4:10 P - 8:55 A9:453:00

I had a "preferred" seat on an exit row so it had very nice leg room, but in this case means that you should "prefer" not to sit there. Being an exit row, they had taken out one of the three seats, but still, in order for the emergency exit door to open, the remaining two seats were 2/3 width.


Day 2, Thursday, Nov 22 BUDAPEST - EMBARK
On arrival in Frankfurt, the weather was 40F and extremely foggy. Even with schedule changes I made the 3 hour connection with no problem since the second flight, also LateHansa, was late. However as expected, getting through the Frankfurt (renamed Hot Dog) Airport took over an hour from arrival gate to departure lounge. And this is where the idiots at AMA couldn't come up with a decent flight plan - they gave a connections less than 1 hour so if a similar occasion had happened, I would have missed the second flight. NEVER let AMA book your air schedule. The second flight is actually a commuter flight - I couldn't book my seat in advance but did draw a nice seat - in fact, better than the "preferred" one on the first flight. This one was a nice, normal width and a bit more than normal leg room; a BIG improvement.

United UA 8742
LateHansa LH 1338
Frankfurt - Budapesht11:55 P - 1:30 P1:3514:20

Weather on arrival in Budapesht: similar to Frankfurt - 40F and foggy. (It's THANKSGIVING at home.) I paid extra to get an "included" transfer to the ship and made the connection at the airport very quickly. Board our ship (another greatly over-done barge), the AmaCerto (Deserto?), in Budapesht. After the mandatory safety briefing, meet 108 fellow passengers at the "Welcome Crock-tail," a brief orientation (Cruise Manager: Csaba Tamas) and then a long "DinDin" (Done-Done?). As a "courtesy" to US passengers, they did offer as one of the dinner options, a "Traditional Turkey Dinner." This is the only dinner I'll have onboard during the cruise.

MEALS / DINING: Contrary to the documentation, all meals will be in the main dining room - or a special, reservations required one. The "Bistro" where I had planned to eat most if not all of my meals no longer exists, and the "Early Worm" breakfasts ("early worm" since they definitely wouldn't be enough for an "early bird") wouldn't satisfy a hungry worm. In the lounge they have a 24-hour coffee machine (free) but nothing like hot chocolate. BAD!!! After dinner the first night, I'll skip the dinners - too much food.

MY CABIN / CLOSET: The spiral staircase down from the Reception area to my "Steerage Class" deck is actually dangerous. It's strictly "one way" since the "inside" of the steps are so narrow they are actually unusable, and even the outer part of the steps are a problem.The "closet" I'm in "looks nice" but is horribly arranged. There is a desk where I can put the computer, but no chair (that will fit in the tiny area) which is one of the reasons for the Deserto rename; I have to put up with this for a week?? I'm ready to Desert. Unlike the first Danube cruise (Budapest to Bucharest) which I renamed "A Fishes' Eye View of the Muddy Brown Danube" since my cabin porthole was usually half underwater, this time the porthole is at least a bit above the waterline (barely) though the cabin deck itself IS well below the water line. This makes for lots of water noise at night.

We are supposed to have wireless internet, but the signal in my closet is so weak that my computer can't make the connection but I'm told this may improve later (but probably won't).. More grumbles, etc. This will almost certainly be my last river cruise!!! The only one that I've taken, and really liked, was the Columbia River trip with Cruise West although the Rhine and Moselle cruise was nice also.

Note: Between the San Antonio trip, this trip, and the Caribbean cruise, I'll be "traveling" for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years and probably enjoying it more than if I were at home.

Day 3, Friday, Nov 23 BRATISLAVA
Weather today: 40% chance of light rain later but it turned out to be just heavy low overcast and lots of foggy/hazy viewing. The temperature today: 37 - 42F which turned out to be quite reasonable. The morning (very low overcast, so low it almost seems to be just above the boat) is spent threading our way through fog and intermittent light rain towards Bratislava. During the morning we have some more of our (dis-)orientation sessions, and (mis-)information about upcoming tours and optional excursions.

This afternoon, arrive in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, aka Slovak Republic. We have our choice of two tours today. The first is a walking tour of the city's major sites, including the Old Town Hall and other major historical buildings. This is the one I took, and we had a really excellent young lady, Eva, as our guide. The only photos I took have all been deleted for being too dark and gloomy It was much too foggy/hazy for anything to come out, even of nearby buildings. Also there was almost no place to get a decent view of any entire building.

Others chose a "Communist History Tour" that includes architectural landmarks such as the Radio Building, Liberty Square and the Soviet War Memorial. Late tonight, the ship cruises to magnificently boring (after 5 previous visits) Vienna which for me will be a wasted day. . (BLD)

Bratislava Walking Tour, 1 ½ hours, all walking. This tour brings history back to life. Our visit to Bratislava reveals the city's major sights, including the Old Town Hall, the stunning Rococo style Mirabach Palace and Gothic St Martin's Cathedral, the dominant structure of the city. As we walk through town, see some of the unique sculptures lining the streets of the Old Town, Main Square, and the historical National Theater. See the preserved Michael's Gate, the only surviving example of the original four entrances to the city.

Day 4, Saturday, Nov 24 VIENNA
Weather in Vienna: 37 - 40, cloudy, 40% chance of light drizzle all day. We had intermittent medium rain all night - it could easily be heard hitting the side of the boat however it stopped by the time of our morning tour. This morning enjoy (yet another packaged) guided tour of romantic (not after 5 previous trips) Vienna including drive-by-shootings of many of the best scenic sites in Vienna. I've been here several times before and don't need to do it again but since I don't want to just sit around in my "cell," and since the local tour is mostly by coach, I took it anyway, very boring or not. Since this is most likely my last trip to Vienna, I guess I'm glad I did take the tour.

(Interesting sight on the tour this morning: a "floating swimming pool" in one of the waterways. It looked like someone had taken an open cargo barge and remodeled to turn the cargo area into a "nice" swimming pool. Supposedly it's very popular during the summer since swimming in the waterways isn't such a great idea.)

Although the afternoon is free to stroll along the Kärtnerstrasse, or sample some of Vienna's famous pastries in the historic city center, I skipped that due to almost continuous drizzle. There are a couple of optional tours this afternoon: the Imperial Schönbrunn Palace (Not Again!!) and Gardens, a famous example of baroque architecture. Tonight (don't) enjoy an optional Mozart and Strauss concert (earlier trips say rip-off.). I also skipped an extra mini-tour back into town tonight to see the lights - we're threatened by that blasted drizzle. I could very easily have skipped this day. There was still no chance for pictures today; far to dark, gloomy, etc. I'm probably going to set a new minimal pictures record for the trip since so far in 4 days, I haven't shot and kept a single picture. The weather has been VERY uncooperative. (B,L,D)

Vienna Coach Tour 3 ½ hours, mostly by coach. Savor the Baroque elegance of Vienna during today's guided drive-by-shooting tour which takes us past the city's most famous and beautiful locales, including the Vienna Opera House and the inspiring St. Stephen's Cathedral The historic center of Vienna is rich in architectural marvels, Baroque castles, and lush gardens, all radiating out from the Ringstrasse, Vienna's famed central circle lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.There is a brief walking section.

Day 5, Sunday, Nov 25 DURNSTEIN / MELK
Weather today, 30 - 40; cold this morning, and cloudy. The overcast this morning is so low that it's not OVERcast. As it is now at or below freezing, I think I even saw a few flakes of snow. Early this morning reach the Wachau Valley for a walking tour of Dürnstein, known as one of the prettiest towns along the Danube, and has many beautiful buildings. Durnstein is a much smaller, traditional town and for me, is MUCH more interesting than Bratislava and Vienna. A while after we leave the boat for our tour, the weather suddenly clears and turns very nice - but based on the earlier weather, I had left my camera on the boat. I could have gotten some great pictures. Grumble!! There is another wine tasting at a local vintner (skip).

The ship arrives in Melk late this afternoon, where I planned to tour the spectacular Melk Abbey, one of Europe's largest baroque monasteries. See the library that inspired Umberto Eco while writing "The Name of the Rose." However, it's down in a deep valley and a very late afternoon arrival so it's already getting dark. In fact within a few minutes, it's really dark and cold. There's no chance for seeing much of anything. This was NOT a good excursion, and of course, no pictures. (BLD)

Durnstein Walking Tour 2 ½ hours, mostly walking. Due to the weather, I chose to take a somewhat shorter tour by "trolly" but it was still very, very nice what we could see of it) and interesting. The trolly didn't give us that much time to stop and enjoy the view, but we did, I think, see more of the area. Situated in the heart of the magnificent Wachau Valley, on the banks of the Danube, the charming town of Durnstein offers a unique combination of breath taking scenery, traditional architecture, and places of historic interest. Our tour through the medieval cobble-stoned streets reveals 16th century town houses and wine tavers. Marvel at the luminous blue façade of the Baroque Stiftskirche, Durnstein's famed church cloister tower, considering the most beautiful of its kind in Austria. High above town, we can spot the spectacular ruins of the castle where Richard the Lionheeart, King of England, was imprisoned in 1192. Finish the tour with a wine tasting - I could have skipped this since I don't drink. Other than the wine tasting, this has been a really great tour. I wish I were coming back here sometime for another visit, but it's not in the schedule.

Melk Abbey Visit 2 ½ hours including ½ hour bus ride. Unfortunately, it's quickly getting to be pitch dark even as we start (it's well after sunset). By the time we get up to the Abbey, it's almost impossible to see any details. This (picture on the left) is what we couldn't see in that dark: Located above the town of Melk on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river Danube, Melk Abbey, or Stift Melk, is one of Europe's largest Baroque monasteries and one of the world's most famous monastic sites. It would have been spectacular to see in daylight but this time of year it gets dark very early. Originally founded in the 11th century, this historic Benedictine Abbey now houses both a museum chronicling its history and a famous library which contains countless medieval manuscripts. It also served as the inspiration for Umberto Eco while writing his classic "The Name of the Rose." The interior rooms of the Abbey are truly very ornate and beautiful. I just wish we could have seen the exterior architecture as well and also the view across the valley and river, but that was impossible.

Day 6, Monday, Nov 26 (LINZ) / CRUISING / PASSAU
This morning the ship arrives in Linz, where we have an optional excursion departing for Salzburg (No - re-re-repeat). The stop in Linz is just to let people off who are going to Salzburg, then we continue with the cruise with no visit ashore. In Salzburg, they take a walking tour of the historic center, famous as the setting for the "Sound of Music" and as the birthplace of Mozart. The Salzburg tour includes a visit to the Mirabell Gardens, Salzburg Cathedral, Mozart's Square, and more. They will be back about 6::30 to rejoin the ship in Passau.

Preferably, we can remain onboard and cruise through rarely scenic Upper Austria to Passau. Located where the rivers Inn and Ilz join the Danube, this 2,000-year-old city is noted for its Gothic and Italian baroque architecture. A walking tour of Passau takes us along the cobblestone streets of Old Town. Unfortunately since this is a 4:30 or 5:00 PM tour, both of which are after sunset, it is a repeat of the Melk tour conditions: dark and cold - and I skip it. (BLD)

Passau Walking Tour 1 ½ hours, walking, getting dark and cold When we arrive, there's still enough (grayish) light to see that this would be a really nice place / town to visit … if we could see it. What we can see along the river shore looks VERY interesting and what we can see of the riverside fortifications is fantastic. I really do wish that we were arriving at noon instead of right at sunset. I just selected a sailing date that was too late in the year.

Passau is also known as the Dreiflussestadt of "City of Three Rivers," because the Danube is joined at Passau by the Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north. The town has many notable Baroque buildings and cobblestone streets, especially in the Old Town where we see the city fortifications and St. Stephan's Cathedral. The Cathedral is home to one of the largest church pipe organs in the world with 17,774 pipes and 233 registers. I really wish that this tour had been in the daylight so we could actually see these sights. As I've noted, due to darkness and cold, I chose not to take this tour.

Day 7, Tuesday, Nov 27 CRUISING / REGENSBURG
Weather for Regensburg: 34 - 39, cold, damp, and cloudy. It's extremely foggy this morning - hard to see both shores at one time. After a morning of cruising down the river past more dreary brown scenery, we finally arrive mid-afternoon, about 2:30 or 3, in Regensburg, one of Germany's best preserved medieval cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We have our choice of three tours here. The first is a walking tour, where we see the city's architectural highlights, including the Old Town Hall and the Porta Praetoria - gates to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 A.D. Other options are a bike ride to Walhalla, or a trip to the Audi Factory Factory about 100km away in Ingolstadt. Those taking that excursion won't get back onboard in Regensburg, but at a lock further up river. (B,L,D)

Regensburg Walking Tour 1 ½ hours walking. We get in early but the weather is really dreary: cold, gloomy, foggy, gray, etc. The history, sights and landmarks of Regensburg are so densely packed that they are best discovered on foot, in fact, it's about the only way due to the narrow city streets. Throughout the centuries, patricians and priests, saints and sinners, citizens and craftsmen have left their mark on Regensburg's colorful history. Hear vivid stories about the people of Regensburg throughout the ages, seeing the Old Town Hall and Porta Praetoria. The old Stone Bridge, see the picture, is still considered a masterwork of medieval construction and it is an emblem of the city. It is perfectly located nest to one of the oldest restaurants in the world, the Regensburg Sausage Kitchen, notable for its role in catering for the workers who built the bridge. We stop there and get a tasty demonstration. It's again getting dark by the time the tour is over and we get back to the boat. This has been a nice excursion but would have been much, much better if the weather had cooperated. Grumble, grumble!!

This afternoon is about the last chance for decent internet usage except in very spotty places. The ship system (3G) is not compatible in Germany. At least, they warned us about it.

Day 8, Wednesday, Nov 28 CRUISING / HILPOLSTEIN (Continental Divide) / NUREMBERG
It's COLD out there this morning. The deck crew are all wearing heavy wind and rain resistant parkas. Of course, they have a lot to do as we go through so many locks. We don't actually stop in the town but this is where we cross the "Continental Divide" at Hilpolistein and start downhill.This is the highest point on the river. Going upriver, it has taken 16 locks on the Danube, 5 on the MD Canal, and now 4 more to get down to Nuremberg - a total of 25 locks. From Budapesht upwards, the total vertical change is 785'; the vertical change down to Nuremberg is 307'. Enjoy a morning of scenic dreary cruising through the Main-Danube Canal and a leisurely cruise through the beautiful gloomy, gray Altmühl Valley.

<-- Hilpolstein Castle ruins.

In Nuremberg, the weather is 36 - 41 today with showers forecast. This afternoon, we have a choice of two excursions in Nuremberg. On one, we explore the medieval history of Nuremberg, and see the 900-year-old ramparts that surround the city, the Imperial Castle and Old Town Hall. The other tour focuses on Nuremberg during World War II as the center of the Third Reich. Visit the infamous Zeppelin field used to hold rallies and the Justice Palace where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946 but the walking tour is much more interesting.

Medieval Nuremberg Tour 3 ½ hours, including a 1 hour bus ride. Explore medieval Nuremberg and see the storybook ramparts that surround this historic city and the Nuremberg Castle. Walking through the Castle, we stop at the "Big Balcony" for an amazing view of the old city below. Previously one of Europe's greatest trade towns, see some of the original medieval city walls and towers constructed around Nuremberg. Visit and learn the legend of the Beautiful Fountain, the centerpiece of Market Square. Later spend any free time discovering more of the culture in the town if the weather permits. It's long since dark before the tour is over wasting over an hour seeing almost nothing.

The weather has, essentially, totally ruined this cruise. Again, I skip the Captain's "Good-Bye and Good Riddance" dinner tonight (it's almost all seafood or seafood based) and use the time to do almost all my packing since I have an early departure from this barge tomorrow morning. They already told us on Tuesday about disembarkation procedures and times (the sooner, the better). I did manage to print off my boarding passes onboard..(B,L,D)

Day 9, Thursday, Nov 29 NUREMBURG / SNOW / ESCAPE!!
Escape! I get up early and after a micro-breakfast, I get kicked off the boat and taken to the airport (transfer included) for the long flights home. The first flight is again actually a LateHansa commuter flight and they changed the schedule to an hour earlier departure so I'm a bit rushed to get away this morning. Although it's an early departure from the ship (7:15AM), it is a "safe" connection time in Hot Dog. Oops, the weather gods have a surprise for us this morning: about 2" of SNOW as of 7AM so our 25 minute drive to the airport takes about 55 minutes. It's still snowing (and raining) when we are supposed to take off. The takeoff is delayed since we have to have the plane de-iced. With the 3 hours in Hot Dog, I have time for a McBarfBurger (there IS one in the airport!) and some Chicken Nuggets. I have an economy+ seat on the long half-full United Airlines flight home. (~B)

United UA 8761
LateHansa LH 145
Nuremburg - Frankfurt9:35A - 10:30A0:553:20
United UA 47
LateHansa LH 7601
Frankfurt - Houston1:50 P - 6:15 P11:2515:40

On arrival in Houston, I have to a) get through "Immigration," b) wait for my luggage, c) get through Customs, d) wait for the StuporShuttle, and e) survive the long drive home, which will take a while but I get home about 8. The weather is about 60F and no rain.

For this trip, my only actual complaints about AMA are in regards to facilities: a) a very dangerous spiral staircase down to my deck, and b) the awful arrangement in the cabin, particularly with respect to the desk usage. However, the weather and the time of year are what definitely ruined the trip. The late afternoon/early evening excursions were too dark (night time) to enjoy and the cold, damp, fog or gray overcast skies ruined seeing and photography during the day. At least we were spared from the forecast rain except for Nuremberg.This is the only trip I've ever come back from with a) no pictures, and b) no actual good memories of the trip.

AIR SCHEDULE
United UA 8867
LateHansa LH 441
Houston - Frankfurt4:10 P - 8:55 A9:453:00
United UA 8742
LateHansa LH 1338
Frankfurt - Budapesht11:55 P - 1:30 P1:3514:20
United UA 8761
LateHansa LH 145
Nuremburg - Frankfurt19:35 - 10:30 A0:553:20
United UA 47
LateHansa LH 7601
Frankfurt - Houston1:50 P - 6:15 P11:2515:40


My Six River Cruises - from best/favorite to, well, otherwise:
1 2005Columbia RiverCruise West
2 2012Rhine & MoselleUniWorld
3 2008Nile(General Tours)
2006Yangtze(Globus)
5 2005Budapest - Bucharest(Globus)
XXX2012Budapest - NurembergAMA Waterways


AmaCerto

The AmaCerto (Deserto?) provides a river cruise experience with beautifully decorated and (not-so-)"spacious accommodations." Enjoy Chaîne des Rôtisseurs culinary creations in five? dining venues - lie, just 2. Passengers: 156 (only 110 on this trip), Length: 443'; Crew 49. The ship features State-of-the-art Infotainment System in all staterooms with free high-speed Internet access, & English language TV stations (I didn't check on this) Wireless internet is also available throughout the ship (lie!). Each ship is equipped with a laser printer for printing airline boarding passes. Bottled water in replenished daily. Free-flowing soft drinks with dinner on board but I'll skip most of the dinners).


My shipping container is 116 ^ on the lowest deck and back by the crew's quarters just as on the River Peasant.

SHIP COMPARISON
ShipVoyagePassengersPax DecksLengthCrewSpeed
Aegean Odyssey2011 Black Sea
2013 SE Asia
2013 Greek Islands
2013 Grand Mediterranean
378
7
461'18018k
Zuiderdam2012 Caribbean
1916
9
936'81720k
River Queen2012 Rhine & Moselle
132
4
361'??
Wilderness Adventurer2012 Inside Passage
60
3
156'2010k
AMACerto2012 Gloomy, Gray, Dreary Danube
156
4
443'4914k
Voyager2012-3 Caribbean Gems
2014 Oriental Odyssey
550
7
500'21520k
Maasdam2014 Atlantic Coast Florida to Canada
1258
7
720'43822k