Cruising the Danube!

Last week, I flew to Germany to embark on Viking’s “Danube Waltz” River Cruise from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary (visiting Austrian cities Linz, Salzburg, Melk, Durnstein, and Vienna PLUS Bratislava, Slovakia). Experiencing a European river cruise had been on our Mom’s bucket list for quite some time and so getting the opportunity to do this with her, Rita (my sister), and Karen was AWESOME!!

Our table "family" along with our head waiter, Jahz.

Our table “family” along with our head waiter, Jahz.

Camaraderie
With only 189 guests aboard the ship, the atmosphere is much more intimate than traditional cruises. For meals, you can sit at any table. While we randomly chose to sit at our table the first night, the 2 other couples who chose the same table ended up joining us at that same table all week. By the second day, we had invited another couple to join us and fill the table. As the week and meals went by, the 10 of us became our only little family.

Our waiter said our group of 10 was louder than the biggest group on the ship (which was 31 people). Yep, we took some pride in that.

Vivian-Mike

Vivian and I dancing together. I think this was right after I spun her around. The look on her face says it all.

The PEOPLE
One moment, you’d meet someone while you were hanging out on the top deck as the boat sailed through the beautiful scenery surrounding the Danube. Later you’d meet someone while singing along and dancing with the wonderful pianist/singer, Peter. Often you’d meet people during your daily tours provided by the ship in each location. The picture here is the spunky and fun Vivian.

FAMILY
Speaking of the people, getting time with your Mom, your sister, and your awesome partner ROCKS!! Time with my Mom is time I am ALWAYS grateful for. She is fun, brilliant, energetic, and must keep moving. One of my favorite times during this trip was my Mom and I going for a morning walk along the Danube in Budapest. Having that time to spend one-on-one was great. Of course dancing with my Mom is always special and we got to dance at least once on most evenings. My Mom is an inspiration.

Rita and I leading the room with the YMCA.

Rita and I leading the room to the “YMCA.”

While my sister, Rita, and I work closely together with The DATE SAFE Project, getting 10 days away from work to be together is something I will always be grateful for. Rita knows how to let loose and have FUN, especially in the evenings on the dance floor. While I wasn’t on the dance floor as much as she was, I enjoyed watching her have a blast! By the end of the week, everyone knew who Rita was. Her energy was contagious. Best part? She is my sister!

Speaking of having fun watching someone else, do you have someone in your life who you love to watch being happy? Your kids, your family, your friends, your partner? Maybe it is a “Yes” to all those people – as it is for me.

Yes, I asked first. This location is one of the scenes from "The Sound of Music."

Yes, I asked first. This location is one of the scenes from “The Sound of Music.”

ROMANCE
Watching Karen have fun every single day of this trip was wonderful. The smiles on her face were never ending. Seeing her completely relaxed while reading and taking in the beautiful sights along the Danube as we sat next to each other on the top deck was precious. Having time where we were just being goofy together was soooo much fun.

Sitting next to each other on bus rides and gazing into each other’s eyes …..okay maybe that sounds a bit gushy. Either way, it felt great! Knowing we still have that spark and passion for each other makes each day even more fulfilling. Getting to travel with Karen is a definite bonus.

When I’m gone for work, I love having pictures of Karen to look at. This trip provided me sooo many moments to reflect on via photographs.

THE CREW
Salzburg-MJD-iPhone-4730Wow! I can’t say enough about the phenomenal crew aboard Viking’s “Prestige” vessel. Anthony, the Program Manager, was funny, engaging, and completely present for every guest. Sometimes he’d be on your bus for the tours and you could hang out and learn about each other. In Bratislava, 4 of us went for a 5 mile run together: Anthony, Marie (another guest), Rita, and me.

Andras, the Executive Chef, would swing by your table to see how everything was going. Nenad (who studied Culinary in Budapest) made the best omelettes – exactly how you wanted them. The food was SCRUMPTIOUS!!

The Wachau Valley Wine Region is gorgeous for biking.

The Wachau Valley Wine Region is gorgeous for biking.

Thanks to the Concierge, Ivana, Karen and I got to bike from Melk, Austria to Durnstain, Austria – instead of being aboard the ship as it cruised that section of the Danube. Ivana did a fantastic job of putting this together for us, especially on only 1.5 days notice. Karen and I getting 2.5 hours of biking along the river, through tons of small towns, and vineyards covering 22 miles was magnificent.

Nicole, the room attendant, felt like a friend by the end of the week. She works hard and cares deeply about her Mom who she helps take care of.

Jahz and Renee, our waiters, were fantastic – providing awesome service, lots of humor, and whatever someone wanted. Dragan was a delightful bartender who always had a smile on his face. As you can tell, I could go on and on. The setting is so intimate that everyone felt close to the Captain of the boat. You saw him every day and probably shook his hand each day.

Budapest at night.

Budapest at night.

THE SIGHTS & TOURS
When you are visiting places you’ve never been, its easy to just walk around in awe. Having a guided tour included in each location completely changes that experience. While still in awe, you get an understanding and great appreciation for what you are seeing (and the history behind it). From palaces to cathedrals to visiting the Vienna Residence Orchestra, the places the ship took us were continually amazing.

Choosing a single image for this part of the blog was difficult. One image did stick out. As we rode into Budapest, the lights of the city left everyone speechless.

FREEDOM of WALKING, RUNNING, & BIKING
Because we were one of the youngest people aboard the “Prestige,” you could mistakenly assume this cruise was not as active as the large cruise ships are. Just the opposite.

Sunrise over Budapest.

Sunrise over Budapest.

River cruises enable you to come and go aboard the ship MUCH easier than large cruise ships. I ran in the morning 6 of the first 7 days (sometimes with Rita, Karen, or by myself). Plus, Karen and I biked twice (Rita joined us for one of those bike rides). The final morning, my Mom, Karen, and I got up at 4am to walk up the mountain where Hungary’s “Statue of Liberty” stands – to watch the morning sunrise over the city. The time together and the view was spectacular!!

Plus, the tours and exploring we did resulted in us walking around 70 miles over the 9 days. For those who didn’t want as much walking, they had the option to take more moderate walking/bus tours. You can be as active as you want on a River Cruise.

Outside St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.

Outside St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

THE INVESTMENT
Yes, river cruises can cost more money upfront than typical cruising. We saved up for this trip, including saving lots of airplane miles to cover the roundtrip flights. Financially, river cruising has some benefits. Each location includes a tour (unless you choose additional ones you want to pay for) and all drinks are included at every meal. Those savings on excursions and beverages alone can equal a lot of money from a typical cruise. Plus, we were never being “sold to” on this cruise.

For us, the investment was worth every penny and moment in time. Memories like this cannot be replaced.

UNFORGETTABLE
In the end, UNFORGETTABLE is the word that best describes this trip with my Mom, Rita, and Karen.

If you are interested in checking out river cruising, we loved sailing with Viking Cruises at http://www.vikingrivercruises.com, In the Comments section below, feel free to ask any questions you may have.

Unforgettable and often because of the amazing family I was traveling with: my Mom, Rita, and Karen.

Unforgettable and often because of the amazing family I was traveling with: my Mom, Rita, and Karen.

 

 

 

To Celebrate

celebrateAre you like me on your birthday? Do you ever wonder if you might be getting surprised? When I was 30 years old, Karen did just that. She surprised me with a huge party of family and friends. There was music, a DJ, lots of food, and being surrounded by loving family and friends. I remember thinking, “Wow! This is Awesome!

Yesterday, Karen and I discussed whether we should get friends together to go out and celebrate my birthday (we wouldn’t be able to celebrate tonight because of an event already scheduled). As the day moved on, we heard a group was getting together and going out. They are lots of fun to hang out with. Do we join them or do we do our own thing?

We decided to celebrate by the two of us going out to dinner and then to see standup comedy. Time together – to share, to laugh, to look into each other’s eyes at the dinner table and exchange no words – the moments where you don’t have to talk. You can just sit quietly looking into each other’s eyes and feeling the appreciation for mutual love, attraction, and gratitude. Those minutes or sometimes seconds of being in the moment.

Following dinner was a nice walk in the surrounding neighborhood and then the comedy show. Laughing is sooo much fun! Watching Karen laugh is the best. Her smile rocks.

Today includes going out for a fun meal with Karen and the two youngest boys to their favorite restaurant. Eating at their favorite restaurant always leads to smiles. The two older boys are away at college and so talking to them on the phone brings smiles. Smiles make for a wonderful birthday.

While incredibly grateful for the memories of my 30th Birthday party, the party is not what I remember most today. When technology did not make it easy to do so, Karen produced and gave me a 30th Birthday CD as my gift. The CD was filled with over 30 people throughout my life leaving messages for me. In those recordings were shared life memories, insights, friendship, and love. To this day, sometimes when I’m listening to music on my iPhone, one of the tracks from that CD begins playing. Soon, I find myself wanting to listen to more of the messages on the CD.

The party was never the celebration. No party is. The celebration was and continues to be the LOVE shared.

A birthday is a great time to reflect. On this day 45 years ago, my Mom endured through the pain of childbirth as only Moms can understand – to bring me into this world . . . to experience love each and every day and to live as fully as possible.

To each of you who have come into my life since that day in 1970, THANK YOU for being you and for the love you continue to share.

YOU are what I celebrate today.