We had enjoyed our Rhine Cruise in 2019 so much that we looked forward to doing another river cruise with Viking, and this time picked the Danube River for our destination. Our particular itinerary is called The Danube Waltz, and is one of 2 possible cruises you can do on the river. They differ by one city. Our cruise included Linz, Austria, and the other included Regensburg, Germany. Otherwise they are the same. We like Viking for a few reasons. First, we have very particular requirements for food, and they do a great job of meeting them with individual attention. Second, it is a smaller group, maybe 150 people on each ship. This gives you a chance to meet people and make some friends. Third, no children. We don’t dislike children, but it is more comfortable for us old folks to be in an adult crowd. Finally, you have at least one one included excursion, usually a walking tour, at each stop, and they are led by experienced local guides. And the optional paid excursions are not too bad either. The downside is that they are expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Viking usually offers what they call “extensions” on either end of a cruise that let you add a few more days to your trip. So even though the cruise itself was only 7 nights, we had closer to two weeks of sightseeing when you added it all up. So we actually started our trip in Prague, which is not on the Danube, but is a place we’ve wanted to see. I have heard a number of travel writers say it is the best place to visit, and in hindsight I think it was my favorite stop on the trip. And on the other end, when we arrived in Budapest we stayed there for a few more days before coming home. It was quite a nice trip, and this is our story.
Wednesday, June 22
Jo drove us to the airport in plenty of time. We had several hours to kill, in fact, but because we had heard so many horror stories of understaffed airports we were cautious.Our flight to Frankfurt was delayed about 50 minutes, but we still had plenty of time. The Lufthansa plane was very comfortable.
Thursday, June 23
In Frankfurt, we got our connecting flight to Prague with plenty of time to spare, and had a one-hour flight to Prague. We sat in the Baggage Claim area for a few minutes before Cheryl realized we had to go out to find Viking, who were waiting for us just the other side of the exit door. We were whisked off to the hotel, had a brief orientation, and then took a nap. Neither of us got much sleep the night before, so we needed a short rest. Three hours later we got up and started investigating. We found two supermarkets within a block of the hotel, so we can get the provisions we need. There is a lunch provided tomorrow on the tour, but we can’t tell how much of it will be food we can eat. Then we took a stroll down the street to look at restaurants for dinner, then came back along the river. Prague is really hot today, so getting back to the air-conditioned hotel seemed like a good idea. After resting for a bit, we went back out for dinner and went to a Chinese restaurant. That may seem strange in Prague, but the national dish here seems to be dumplings and we don’t do that. It was a nice dinner, then back to the hotel and an early bedtime.
Thursday, June 24
Up at 6 for breakfast, and then our Panoramic Prague excursion. Sadly, the hotel does not seem to understand the concept of decaf coffee. We met our guide, Dagmar, in the lobby and took a coach to the Old Town, where we got out and walked. We started out by the old Jewish Ghetto, which we’ll see more of on Sunday if the weather cooperates. The forecast for Saturday already has rain in it, and we had a thunderstorm this afternoon. We got to see the famous astronomical clock, which does a 30 second show every hour on the hour until 10pm. We saw some places that referenced Jan Hus, a protestant reformer who was burned by the Holy Roman Emperor, helping to kick off the 30 years war, which was mostly fought here and in Germany. But the Czech Republic remains largely Catholic, so Hus didn’t accomplish a lot here.
We went to the Charles Bridge, the oldest bridge in Prague, named for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles (not the famous Charles V of the Hapsburg dynasty, another one), which is lined with religious statues, including one with a halo of 5 stars for a priest who heard the confession of the wife of a king. When the king demanded to know what she had confessed, he was refused, and put the priest to death. They did a number of executions on this bridge, and then threw the bodies into the Moldau river below. Then we went to a park on an island below the bridge.
From there we were picked up by a coach which took us to the castle complex overlooking Prague. This was the residence of Czech kings, and is now the official residence of the President, but is mainly used for offices. In the middle is the Church of St. Vitus, which was started in the 14th century (?), but not completed until the 1920s. It is in several different styles therefore, and different colored stones were used in different sections. There is a mosaic outside made of 36 million individual pieces. Then we had our special tour of the Lobkowicz Palace, which is in the castle complex, but is not owned by the state, instead by the Lobkowicz family, who has opened it for tours. When the Nazis took over in 1939, they looted everything and took away property, and families like the Lobkowicz family were hit hard because they were known to be enemies of the Nazis.
After the war they only started to regain property when the Communists entered in 1948 and took over. Finally in 1989 Communism ended here, and the government passed a law returning people’s property. Like many aristocratic families, they had properties but not a lot of cash. So the Lobkowicz family sold most of their properties, keeping 4 properties only, and looked to generate income to maintain what is left. I’m sure the Viking excursions help in that. The family does not live on the site, but they have offices here and are active in managing the property. The big draw for me were the music manuscripts they had, including Beethoven’s 4th and 5th Symphonies, and some Mozart, as well as some other composers. Our tour included lunch on the site, and they accommodated our dietary needs very nicely with grilled chicken breast and roast vegetables. Our tour also included a short concert by a string trio doing works from Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Dvorak. On the tour of the exhibition we had audio guides, and they included music selections from Smetana’s Moldau (from his symphony My Country, and referring to the river running through Prague) and Dvorak’s Symphony from the New World, thus covering two of the best known Czech composers. By the end of our tour the thunderstorm started, and we were glad we brought our rain coats since we had to walk back to the coach in the rain, and then back to the hotel. After such a long day we stayed in and got to bed early.
Saturday, June 25
Today is a rainy day. We canceled our E-bike ride because of the rain, and instead went to the National Museum, just opposite Wenceslas Square. It is a general museum with exhibits that include paleontology, natural history, Czech and Slovak history, and an exhibit about the resistance in WWII. We walked, which was OK going there, but we got soaked coming back. We did walk through Wenceslas Square on the way back. I think this was where the proclamation ending Communism in 1989 happened. We did get back to the hotel, changed into dry clothes, and had lunch.
In the afternoon we had the Operation Anthropoid excursion. This is a story about WWII. As the Nazis successfully stole the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, they then approached the Slovaks to support a separate Slovak-Nazi state, and were successful there. This made it very easy to then absorb the rump of the Czech country into Germany as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Many Czech military fled to the allies, first to Poland, then France, and finally Britain, where they fought the Germans as allies. The Czech President-in-exile, Benes, who was in England, wanted to impress on the allies that supporting Czechoslovakia was a good idea. So the British SOE worked with some Czech soldiers on a plan to train them, send them into Czechoslovakia, and they would assassinate the German Governor, Reinhard Heydrich. They were flown into Czechoslovakia, parachuted out, and made contact with the local resistance. They moved into safe houses in Prague, and scouted the route Heydrich took every day. Unlike Hitler, who always traveled in a highly armored car surrounded by soldiers, Heydrich drove in an open convertible with just the one driver. The Czechs found a spot where the car would have to slow down for a curve, and waited. As Heydrich’s car came around, one man drew a Sten gun, but it jammed. Heydrich then did something stupid. He stood up to draw his own gun, and told the driver to stop. Had he instead said “hit the gas and get out of here”, he would have lived longer. As it was, the other Czech soldier threw a bomb, and Heydrich was injured by shrapnel. He was taken to a hospital, but died after about 10 days from septic shock.
The soldiers were successful in their escape initially, but one of the group turned traitor. The group of soldiers was holed up in an Orthodox church, 4 in the basement crypt, and 3 upstairs in the choir loft. The Nazis found where they were, and a gun battle ensued, in which a number of German soldiers were killed, but the Czechs all saved their last bullet to commit suicide before they could be captured.
The Germans retaliated by destroying an entire Czech village, Lodice. They killed all of the men with bullets, sent the women and children to the gas chambers, and burned the village to the ground. They carefully documented all of this on film, which was pretty standard for the Nazis.
After this, we returned to the hotel, and then went back to the Chinese place for dinner.