My wife and I recently took a riverboat cruise on Scenic Cruises' brand-new Scenic Jewel from Budapest to Amsterdam, cruising through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. We departed from Budapest and sailed up the Danube past tiny Austrian villages of stucco villas painted mustard and ocher, then to the Imperial House of Hapsburg, Vienna, justly celebrated for its architectural treasures and musical riches.
Farther upstream found us sipping wine on the observation deck as the ship glided past the terraced vineyards of Austria's Wachau Valley. After that it was on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Regensburg, Germany, and then we took a side trip into the foothills of the Austrian Alps to Mozart's Salzburg. Back in Germany we went through the 16 locks of the 106-mile engineering marvel of the Main Canal and later cascaded down the twists and turns of the Main River, ground zero for Bavarian beer and wine. We wound up on the castle-adorned Rhine and then went north to Amsterdam.
Although we never tired of the endless panorama of castles and monasteries perched atop distant prominences, we also took note of the local cuisine.
Of all the quaintly named coffeehouses in Vienna, it came as a surprise to me that there isn't one simply named "1683." That was the year the Ottoman Turks packed their bags and left Vienna for home, thus abandoning their quest to take over the city. Legend has it that in the process they left their coffee beans behind, whereupon a crafty local by the name of Kolschitzky (one of the few who thought the stuff wasn't camel dung) told the Viennese not to worry, he'd take the stuff off their hands. He opened the first Viennese coffeehouse, and the rest is history. Today Viennese coffeehouses are known around the globe as oases of congeniality that feature delicious pastries and a variety of coffee drinks.
My wife is a lifetime history buff who isn't easily lured away from museum excursions, but she bolted big-time when she got a whiff of the aroma of bratwursts wafting in the air. We made a beeline for the Wurstkuche, the historic brat house next to the 12th-century Regensburg Stone Bridge. The story goes that when the first bridge across the Danube was built in 1151, a resourceful entrepreneur opened the world's first wienerwurst kitchen to accommodate the workers. On this trip we each had a plate of greasy sausages on a bed of sauerkraut, washed down with a mug of Bavarian beer. Sehr gut!
Although each twist and turn of the Danube and Rhine revealed a new experience, it was the Main River, which connects the Danube and the Rhine, that most captured our fancy. The river is rich with UNESCO World Sites, such as at Wurzburg (with the Prince Bishop's Palace harboring the world's largest ceiling fresco), and at Bamberg, where a stroll through the Old Town takes visitors for a journey through the centuries. This part of the city looks so medieval that several scenes from the 2011 movie "The Three Musketeers" were filmed there.
"My boyfriend got a five-second part in the movie as a medieval juggler," our Bamberg guide, Andrea, told us, laughing. "They decked him out in medieval garb, then made him wait all day before filming the juggling scene that took five seconds."
One of our days on the Main found us making a side trip to the Engelberg Franciscan Monastery in the Miltenberg area, where local monks make some of the best beer and wine in all Germany.
"I think I see Hansel and Gretel," my wife said later that night, peering out the window of our cabin into a brooding, impenetrable forest that edged up against the river. We were nearing the town of Hanau, the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who published a collection of German folktales about the region, including that childhood tale, in 1812. The Main River region is steeped in fantasy.
After savoring more than a few wines along the Danube and Main, it was only fitting we savor a distilled wine, and there is no better place than in Rudesheim, Germany, where the famous Asbach Brandy was founded. And to bring the drink full circle, it's married to that Viennese favorite, coffee.
And so at the Rudesheimer Schloss hotel in Rudesheim, Susanne Breuer , family matriarch of a long line of winegrowers and owner of the Rudesheimer Schloss hotel, prepared a mug of Rudesheimer coffee for us.
"Here's how it's done," she said. "Let me tell you how the Rudesheimer coffee is prepared."
She put in three sugar cubes and an ounce of Asbach Uralt Brandy. Then she stirred for one minute before adding a cup hot freshly brewed coffee and garnishing with whipped cream and chocolate flakes. She told us to drink it without stirring.
"What can I say?" my wife toasted after finishing her drink and lauding our time with Austrian and German coffees, beers and wines, and now, brandied coffee. "And we still have three more stops to go."
WHEN YOU GO
Many companies offer riverboat cruise on the Danube and/or Rhine rivers. Information can be found at the following websites.
Scenic Cruises: www.us.scenictours.com
Viking River Cruises: www.vikingrivercruises.com
Tauck River Cruising: www.tauck.com
Emerald Waterways: www.emeraldwaterways.co.uk
Jerry Farlow is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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