European Queen

Uniworld cruise allows clients to view historic sights while en route to Vienna and Amsterdam

By: Meg Van Winkle

In June I boarded Uniworld’s River Queen in Vienna to discover the joys of river cruising.

I unpacked only once to enjoy 13 days of spectacular scenery and delicious food, including special ethnic meals served by charming, attentive staff. Open seating afforded the opportunity to meet all of the other American passengers during buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Built in 1999 in contemporary art-deco style with floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounges and restaurant, the 335-foot boat has three decks of cabins to accommodate 142 passengers.

Its 35-foot width allows it to clear by 1 foot on either side of the smallest of the 66 locks it passes through along the Danube and Rhine rivers, which are linked by the Main River and canal.

Shore excursions, included in the cruise fare, are generally bus or walking tours led by well-informed guides.

After a half-day sightseeing tour of Vienna, we sailed overnight to Melk, where the 18th century Benedictine Abbey and its twin spires, overlooks the town from its cliff top. Monks have lived there above the river bend for more than 900 years.

Along the 19-mile Wachau Valley are wine-producing villages with apricot orchards and imposing fortresses, usually above and alongside each lock. One stop was at the industrial town of Linz, the boyhood home of Adolph Hitler.

At the confluence of three rivers at the border of Austria and Bavaria, we visited the picturesque old town of Passau and explored the baroque St. Stephan’s Cathedral, which houses the world’s longest pipe organ.

The Main-Danube Canal is between Kelheim and Bamberg. The important link 106 miles long and 13 feet deep was completed in 1992, linking the two main European waterways, the Danube and the Rhine. Most of the canal passes through a nature reserve in Bavaria and Franconia, the Southern principalities of Germany.

Along the banks of the Danube and Main rivers we could see picturesque villages with multicolored, red-tile-roof houses and churches with spires and domes. Along this waterway, we celebrated on deck with champagne as we crossed the 1,332-foot-high Continental Divide.

Although practically leveled by Allied bombing during World War II, most of the walled center of Nuremberg including the castle and three old churches where works of art had been stored has been restored.

At the confluence of the Main-Danube Canal and Main River, we visited Bamberg, a 1,000-year-old World Heritage City that contains Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture.

We visited Rothenburg, one of the oldest, best-preserved walled cities in Europe. Its ancient houses, fountains and narrow cobbled streets are encircled by ramparts constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries. Also on the itinerary was Wurzburg, on the banks of the Main, which is dominated by Marienberg Castle on a vineyard-covered hillside.

A short tour of Miltenberg preceded a midnight sail toward Frankfurt, and, the next day, a walking tour of Heidelberg, which is dotted by ancient castle ruins.

The group joined the boat in Rudesheim and the next morning sailed to Amsterdam, enjoying spectacular scenery along the Rhine.

Passing through flat rural pastures of Holland in the morning, the River Queen berthed in Amsterdam alongside the railroad station. A coach tour and a boat ride along the many canals afforded sightseeing of this cosmopolitan mix of cultures.

Famous for its tulips in the spring, Amsterdam also is home this year to Floriade, an international flower show held once a decade.

After parting with our tour leader and the River Queen, I headed for six nights in Brugge to explore the scenic towns of Belgium.

April-through-November rates including shore excursions, meals and air from New York are $2,568 to $3,668.

Call 800-733-7820. Web site: www.uniworld. com.

Meg Van Winkle is a travel consultant with Travel Travel in San Diego.