After a two hour delay into Vienna due to fog, we were met outside baggage claim by a very friendly representative who, as we had missed the scheduled coach transfer by now, whisked us straight to the VIP Transfer counter and minutes later on to a private Mercedes mini-van for the 30 minute transfer to our home for the next 10 days – Crystal Mozart.
Immediately as we boarded, we were greeted by name and taken directly to our Penthouse with French Balcony Suite, conveniently located a few short steps from the reception area, to complete our check-in in comfort, with our luggage being taken care of.
Check in is done using an iPad, and is completed in minutes. The friendly crew member quickly took our photos for security purposes, and took a swipe of our credit card in case we wished to charge anything to our onboard account (not that there is much that is an additional cost onboard) and we were done! Whilst we were waiting for our luggage, she quickly ran through some of the amenities in our room, things like heating controls and in-suite refreshments. Our key cards were already printed and ready and waiting on the side for us.
Our luggage arrived 5 minutes later. In our suite there was plenty of storage space with drawers beside the bed, under the desk, under the vanity and also in the walk in wardrobe. There is also short and long hanging space in the wardrobe, and space for our empty cases under the bed. In the bathroom, there were shallow drawers in the vanity also as well as space next to the sinks for cosmetic bags – and as all the toiletries you could need are provided for you, you won’t have bulky toiletry bags. No sooner had we unpacked than our butler Paulo came to greet us. He talked us through the in-suite iPad as lots of room controls are on there – such as the temperature control, the lighting, the TV control, and the ability to switch on the Do not Disturb sign without having to get out of bed! Fantastic! Don’t worry those of you who are not very tech savvy, the iPad is very easy to use, and if you really don’t get on with it, all of the regular controls are there in your room still. He also explained about our personal Crystal Clear Listening Devices which were for us to use on all of our tours. They could also be used during any sailing time on our trip, as any interesting sights would be pointed out through a commentary that we could tune into through the device.
We decided to head to the Mozart Bistro for a coffee before doing anything else. Such a beautiful space onboard, this became one of our favourite spots. It is decorated in black and white with copper & gold accents. As onboard Crystal’s ocean ships, it is open all day offering breakfast first thing and light snacks and cakes throughout the day. In addition, it is also open for casual dining in the evening, something I can’t wait to try. The coffee and hot chocolate is also out of this world!
The cruise we are on is a Christmas Markets voyage, and as we head into the festive season, the ship has been adorned accordingly, with beautifully decorated trees, gingerbread houses and nutcrackers dotted about alongside other fun festive ornaments, including a particularly fun ‘dancing’ Santa that we couldn’t resist bouncing every time we walked past.
After our quick refuel, we decided to take a tour of the ship, and we were blown away. From the luxurious Palm Court and Cove Bar to the relaxing indoor pool; from the elegant Waterside restaurant to the spacious Vista deck – Crystal Mozart is absolutely beautiful.
When we got back to our suite, our stewardess Krisztina came to say hello, explain what she would do each day for us, and see if we needed anything. We ordered an extra pillow each, which was on our bed when we returned from dinner that evening.
Time for a quick freshen up before our muster drill, which, as the weather was a bit inclement, was moved from the outside Vista Deck to the Palm Court – very civilised. We were issued with a life jacket as we entered the lounge, and the safety briefing was given over the address system. Once finished, the crew came around to collect the life jackets from us, and we could remain in the lounge where they would shortly be hosting a welcome cocktail party. Whilst we were waiting for the party to start, the onboard Entertainment host, Mark Farris came around the room to say hello to everyone and the waiting staff came around to see if we would like a drink – a champagne cocktail? Why not… During the cocktail party, we were introduced to the Captain as well as the different heads of department who would be looking after us for the duration of our voyage.
The party finished around 7pm, which is when Waterside, the main restaurant, opens for dinner. Onboard all Crystal River yachts, dining is open between 7pm and 9pm, so you can go in any time, at your convenience. We were greeted at the entrance by the Restaurant Manager and Maître D and escorted to our table – a lovely table for two by window. Waterside is decorated in black, white & grey with jewel coloured seats and copper highlights – very chic. As today was Thanksgiving, the menu of course included turkey and pecan pie as well as dishes such as blackened cod and staples such as steak and salmon. Each night there would be a selection of chef’s specials, local cuisine from the region we are sailing as well as classic options.
I had a starter of iberico ham with asparagus, Hollandaise sauce and a soft egg. Then steak with rosti potatoes and creamed spinach – Absolutely delicious, and a great start to our onboard dining experience!
Time for bed after a long day, and there is absolutely nothing better than sinking into the beautiful beds on Crystal, surrounded by soft cotton bed-linens and fluffy pillows. Heaven!
Day 2 – Vienna, Austria
We had stayed docked in Vienna overnight, and today we were booked onto the ‘Vienna & Its Magical Christmas Markets’ complimentary shore excursion. The tour wasn’t departing until 9, so we headed to Waterside for breakfast. Breakfast is very relaxed, buffet style with hot and cold selections, and freshly cooked eggs. There is also a Pantry onboard, open 24hrs a day, where you can get takeaway hot and cold drinks, as well as snacks, such as pastries, cookies and fruit if you don’t want to go to the restaurant.
Announcements are made onboard in the public areas only for the departing tours. As they are only in the public areas, they are not intrusive at all if you have decided to enjoy a lie in instead, and these are the only announcements made onboard.
Just before 9:00, we disembarked and got straight onto the waiting Crystal coach. The coaches are very comfortable and roomy, seating only 36 people and are equipped with a coffee machine, as well as plug sockets so you can charge your phone/camera en-route! (Sockets are for European two-pin plugs)
Once onboard, our two local guides introduced themselves to us, before splitting the coach in two for our tour. This means that each tour group only consists of a maximum of 18 people. It was a short drive into Vienna city centre during which the plan of the morning was explained to us and our Crystal Clear listening systems were tuned into our particular guide’s channel so we could hear them on our tour without having to stand right next to them.
We get off the coach just on the outskirts of the city centre, which is mostly pedestrianized, and started our short introductory walking tour of Vienna. During the tour we see St. Stephens Cathedral and the Pestsäule (or Plague Column), built in the 17th Century to try and ward of the plague. In Neuer Markt Square, we stopped by the Donnerbrunnen Fountain a baroque fountain built to celebrate the name day of Emperor Karl VI. It depicts Providence, surrounded by representations of the four main rivers of Austria, however under the rule of Empress Maria Theresia, the fountain was suddenly considered to be too risqué for public display so a local artist was ordered to remove and melt down the naked statues. The artist, instead of melting them down as instructed, just stored them and the originals are now displayed in a museum in Vienna, with replicas now in place on the fountain. Our tour also took in some beautiful baroque squares and small Christmas markets as well as some of the 2200 coffee shops dotted around Vienna – including a stop outside one of oldest coffee shops – Café Central.
Our last stop today was at the Christmas market by the Rathaus. This beautiful gothic town hall is opposite the People’s Theatre and the grounds are home to one of the largest Christmas markets in Vienna – it even has an ice skating track! When we arrived, we were given a voucher for a complimentary mug of mulled wine or Christmas punch that comes in a decorated mug, specific to that Christmas Market – it was a lovely little touch and nice to be able to keep the mug as a souvenir. We had orange rum punch, it was a bit medicinal tasting, but it did warm us up!
After a little free time to peruse the market and buy some obligatory tree decorations, we were whisked back to Crystal Mozart in time for lunch and to enjoy a restful afternoon as this evening, we were off to a Crystal Signature Exclusive Event. Crystal host one of these exclusive events on every river cruise, in a selection of different cities and venues. Our event was being held at the Belvedere Palace.
We all know Vienna as the capital of music, with Strauss, Mahler and of course Mozart all calling it home, but has also produced some wonderful artists including Gustav Klimt who’s artwork we were going to be lucky enough to have a private viewing of this evening.
We were welcomed with a champagne reception in the entrance hall of the Upper Belvedere Palace before being guided on a tour of the “1900” gallery which houses the world’s largest collection of Klimt artwork including the famous ‘Kiss’ and ‘Judith’. With only my fellow Mozart passengers in the gallery, it was lovely to be able to spend a bit of time and really get up close to this iconic artwork which looks simply stunning “in the flesh” so to speak. Following our gallery tour, we were seated in the marble gallery for what would be a fantastic concert featuring compositions from Mozart, Strauss and Strauss Jr. The programme included classical pieces, as well as operettas and ballet pieces, the last two accompanied by two wonderful opera singers and two members of the Viennese ballet. I absolutely loved it!
Day 3 – Melk, Austria
We were not due to arrive into Melk until later this morning so we had decided to make the most of our morning onboard and check out the pool and Jacuzzi…however, our beds were just so comfortable that even when we woke up, we stayed snuggled under the covers watching the scenery of the Wachau valley sail past. As much as I love just looking out to sea when ocean cruising, I really loved being able to see the landscapes, villages and mountains from the comfort of our suite on a river cruise.
But we couldn’t languish in our beds all day so we got ourselves up and went for a Late Risers breakfast in the Bistro. Late Risers offers a selection of cereals, pastries, and toast – or continental favourites of meats and cheese – all available for you to choose from, or you could order a freshly cooked omelette or eggs if you wanted them.
We docked in Melk at 11:00am, but as our “Melk Abbey: Baroque Architecture at its Finest” excursion wasn’t starting until 1:30pm, we had some time to take a brisk (read: cold) walk around deck. The Mozart is fabulous in that you can do a full promenade around the outside deck (mostly undercover, so you can even walk in the rain or snow), and you also have the top Vista deck to walk around, or if you are lucky enough to be cruising in summer, you can sunbathe or relax in one of the giant coloured deck chairs up there or grab a drink from the pop-up bar. It was actually really nice to be out in the crisp air, and we took a seat for a while on one of the benches conveniently located just outside the entrance doors on each side of the promenade deck. Whilst there we chatted to quite a few of our fellow passengers who were also having their daily constitutional – cruising is always very social, and we have found river cruising to be no different, with people always stopping for a chat. When it was time to warm up, we headed back to a delicious hot chocolate in the Bistro before lunch
Just before 1:30pm, we disembarked and had a short walk along the riverside to meet our waiting Crystal coach, for the short drive to Melk Abbey. It was only 5 minutes up to the top of the hill (which in fairness we could have walked, but you don’t want to tire yourself out too much on holiday do you…) and we were at the entrance of the spectacular abbey. Our Crystal guide took us as far as the entrance where the abbey guides take over for an hour long tour of the exhibition rooms, marble hall and library. The abbey was originally a castle, donated to the Benedictine monks by the Babenberg family in the 11th Century. It was completely re-designed in a baroque style 300 years ago and was regularly visited by members of the Habsburgs when they were still in power. The exhibition we saw included lots of religious memorabilia dating from 1200 years ago to more recently. It was really interesting, and some of the bejewelled artefacts were spectacular, but my favourite place was the library. Split over 12 rooms, there are approximately 100,000 works stored there. Obviously they don’t allow any fire in the room, such as candles, so when the library was built, the architect built reading nooks all along the walls, hidden behind the bookcases that the monks could access, to read using the light coming through the windows – genius! We finished our tour at the abbey church. This really was spectacular, with huge marble columns and beautifully painted gilded ceilings. It is also home to an impressive organ with 3553 pipes! Well worth a visit.
We decided to walk back to the ship through the small town of Melk – and what a fab decision that was. It’s a typical Austrian town with lots of little shops selling local goods as well as bars and restaurants, and is currently decorated with trees and lights for Christmas. There was only really the high street to walk through before you were already back at the river, but we were so glad we didn’t just jump on the coach, it is absolutely beautiful.
There was an optional vineyard tour this afternoon which we decided to skip, instead we joined the onboard lecture on the Austro-Hungarian dynasty which was really interesting.
This evening we saw our butler Paulo on the way to dinner in Waterside and he asked my mum if she would like him to put a kettle in our room for her to use, as he had noticed that she liked to have hot water with lemon every evening before bed. We were very impressed, as we didn’t even know he was aware she was ordering it through room service.
On the menu today was a starter of shrimp cocktail, followed by traditional Wiener schnitzel. Dessert was a soufflé with marinated berries and strawberries on the side – delicious!
During the short walk back to our suite we ended up seeing both Paulo and Krisztina, and had a nice chat with both of them. It was lovely that they took the time to talk to us, even though I am sure they both had work to do, but they were both so friendly.
Day 4 – Linz/Lake District, Austria
Today, we had booked onto the first of two full day tours from Linz – “Traditional Christmas in St Gilgen & St Wolfgang in Austria’s Lake District”. The journey to the Lake District would take around an hour and a half, so we had a little rest-stop along the way at a lakeside restaurant, overlooking Mondsee – Moon Lake. There was time for a comfort break and a quick coffee if you wanted it, but most of us took the opportunity to go to their viewing area to take some snaps of the lake and the beautiful mountains that surround it. Our guide Sylvia had told us that the lake has been privately owned by the same family for centuries. The current owner had recently been trying to sell it for €14m, however, as she only wanted to sell the water and not any of the surrounding land with it, she had surprisingly not had any offers…
Another highlight of the town of Mondsee is the twin spired parish church in which the wedding scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed, as the film crew had not been given permission to film inside the original convent.
After a further 20 minute ride, we arrived at our first stop, St Gilgen. This small village on the shores of Wolfgang Lake is the birthplace of Mozart’s mother and incidentally, the house that she was born in was later lived in by Mozart’s sister when she was married. The village itself is beautiful – as is the surrounding scenery and most excitingly – it’s SNOWING!!! Ok, so only a few flakes are flying about, but it has clearly been snowing in the region for a while as the mountains are blanketed in white and look beautiful – exactly what you want to see on a Christmas Markets holiday, I couldn’t be happier. St Gilgen has a small Christmas market, as well as lots of lovely little shops to peruse. We had an hour to look around, so after taking some pictures of the lakeside scenery we strolled around and bought some gifts for those at home of some beautiful lambs-wool gloves and socks.
Our next stop was to be St Wolfgang am see (on the lake). This town is a bit larger than St Gilgen, but still on the shores of the same lake. There are several nice hotels and restaurants in the town as well as the Christmas market which is spread around the village and church. We took a look inside the church, which is a little dark and dingy – from the years of candle smoke I presume – but is home to an amazing altarpiece that is almost 600yrs old. As I said, the town is on the lake, so again has beautiful views to the snowy mountains and in the summer months and during the Christmas Market season, there are pleasure boats that take tourists out on the lake too. There were lots of tourist coaches here when we arrived, but the little town didn’t feel crowded, instead it felt very festive with everyone enjoying a hot drink around the fire-pits dotted around the market – it felt very jovial. There were lots of little shops selling Dirndl (traditional ladies costumes) as well as Lederhosen…all beautifully made, but a little out of our price range with some costing upwards of €200 for the skirt alone! We stopped in a konditori for a coffee and snack before wandering back to the coach for our journey home.
It was a 2 hour trip back, mostly sat in the traffic surrounding Linz, after which we were welcomed back onboard Crystal Mozart by the smiling waiters offering a cup of hot spiced tea, and there was cheese and crackers waiting in our suite – fabulous!
Our guide today was from Linz, and had recommended that we head back out into town this evening to see the town square market. As we were going to be on another full day tour tomorrow, we didn’t want to miss the chance to see Linz so took her advice.
The main town square was only a 10 minute walk from where our ship was docked, and was bedecked in lights. The market was very busy with all the locals out to meet their friends for a drink or some food, and it was fun to walk around for a little while and stretch our legs after our coach journey this afternoon.
This evening, we had reserved a table at the Mozart Bistro for dinner. Whilst it is a self-service restaurant during the day, in the evening it is waiter service, offering world tapas dishes, family style for the table to share. Our waiter suggested that we order three dishes for starter and another three for main for the two of us to share, so we chose to have Truffled Air Dried Pork Filet & Fourteen Months Aged Vulcano Proscuitto, served with fig & apricot jam; Caesar Fondue; and Lemon Marinated alpine Salmon to start. The prosciutto and pork filet dish was absolutely delicious and presented beautifully, decorated with fresh flowers and my mum absolutely loved the salmon. For main course we shared Roasted Jumbo Shrimp which came with paprika-lemon butter and grilled baguette; Herb marinated beef medallions with roasted sweet potato and rocket salad and Pulled Pork sliders. My word, the beef was melt in the mouth and the sauce on the shrimp was divine. I think the three dishes were a little too much for us though as unfortunately we didn’t have room for the Banana Foster dessert on offer! We really enjoyed our evening in the Bistro, the whole evening was so relaxed and the restaurant wonderful and peaceful. The menu offered was really varied, and as always, the waiting staff were exceptional.
Day 5 – Salzburg, Austria
So today we had another full day tour booked from Linz, this time to the city of Salzburg on the “Full Day Adventure to Salzburg’s Christmas Markets” excursion. Our departure time was 9am, so we had plenty of time for breakfast before grabbing our listening devices and heading out to the awaiting coaches.
When we got outside, we saw our guide from yesterday waiting so we made sure we got on her coach as she had been so friendly and knowledgeable on our tour to the lakes yesterday, and as she had promised to our tour group yesterday, she was wearing her dirndl and looked fantastic!
Salzburg is around 1:30-1:45 hours from Linz and the whole way Sylvia was telling us interesting facts not only about the areas we were passing through, but also about the history of Salzburg, about Mozart – possibly the town’s most famous resident – and also, of course, about the Sound of Music film – we even got to have a little sing-a-long to some of the Sound of Music tracks, although it seemed that the front of the coach was a bit more enthusiastic about this than the back. Apologies in advance to those of you who are not fans of the film as there will be several more references to the Sound Of Music or “The Film” before our day in Salzburg is through!
When we arrived, the coach driver had to park just outside the historic part of Salzburg so Sylvia said she would be walking us to our meeting point so that we all knew where it was for later in the afternoon and then from there we had a choice – we could either leave the tour there and go off for some free time, or we could stick with her for a short orientation tour of Salzburg before our free time. We decided to stick with the full tour so made our way with Sylvia firstly through the Mirabell Gardens and past the Mirabell Palace – built by one of the town’s Prince Bishops in the 17th Century for one of his mistresses and her children. The Mirabell gardens are also home to the “do-re-mi” steps. There was a large tour group getting some souvenir pictures on the steps so unfortunately we couldn’t re-enact the scene (which in hindsight was probably a good thing). From here we crossed the river into the oldest part of Salzburg. We headed down the high street and into the courtyard of one Salzburg’s breweries – Sternbräu, or Star Brewery, which offers tours and also has a restaurant. The courtyard was home to one of the smaller Christmas Markets in town.
There are lots of little alleyways and shopping arcades linking the streets of Salzburg and it was lovely to walk down them and soak in the atmosphere of the town. We passed Café Tomaselli which used to be frequented by Mozart and his contemporaries as well as chocolatier Fürst which was the original creator of the Salzburger Mozartkugel – the little marzipan, pistachio and chocolate confections that Austria is known for. Sylvia continued our tour through the main street where she pointed out the house where Mozart was born, and the other house that his family moved to later in his life. The main street also has lots of ornamental signs hanging over the street that were used to depict the wares that each particular shop was selling. We passed through several squares, and saw the fountain Julie Andrews dances around in the opening sequence of “The Film” (unfortunately mostly obscured by the Xmas market stalls). She took us past several small Christmas markets and pointed out the shopping areas before we arrived at the Cathedral. From here you can see the fortress which has a funicular you can take to reach it and from where you have great views over the city. You can also see the mountain portrayed in the film as the escape route for the Von Trapps, when in reality, they got a train to Italy. In fact the mountain pass depicted in the film actually leads to Bavaria…not the best direction for them to go! Our orientation finished by St Peters cemetery which was the inspiration behind the look of the escape scene in the film, and where we started our 3hrs of free time.
The cemetery is filled with very ornate tombstones, and gated crypts. The whole setting is actually very picturesque with the mountains and fortress in the background. From there we headed to the first of two large Christmas markets next to the cathedral. As it was lunchtime by now, we enjoyed a traditional bratwurst with mustard in the market, before heading in to take a look at the cathedral. It was here in Salzburg Cathedral, at 8 years old, that Mozart played one of four small organs before progressing to be employed as the main organist on the larger instrument by the age of 16. It’s a beautiful cathedral and well worth a look around.
From here we walked back to the main shopping area. There were lots of lovely shops and little alleyways leading to different squares and Christmas markets. All of the windows and streets are decorated for Christmas and looked very festive. We stopped at Cafe Mozart for Apple strudel and hot chocolate – absolutely delicious – from where it was just a short walk to Mozart’s birthplace which is now a museum. There are lots of artefacts from his life, pictures and memorabilia, including his first violin from when he started playing at 4 years old.
We just had a bit of free time left to visit two of the smaller Christmas markets where we picked up a traditional wooden tree decoration for our collection before meeting Sylvia back at the meeting spot. We walked back to the coach stop all together and then had a smooth ride back to Linz and the waiting Crystal Mozart.
After quite a long day seeing all of the Sound of Music sights we wanted a relaxing evening so decided to have room service whilst watching a film – what film did we choose? Well, there was really only one option…*sings* “The Hills are alive with the sound of music…”
Day 6 – Passau, Germany
After two days of long tours, we decided to skip the full day excursion into Munich today from our dock in Passau, so instead we booked ourselves onto the morning’s “Passau Walking Tour & The Glass Museum” excursion. We were not docked in the centre of Passau, so had a 10 minute coach ride in. Once there, those of us on the coach were split into two small groups before we headed out on our walking tour. Starting in Höllgasse, literally translated as Hell Alley, we strolled through what is now a centre for artists, housing lots of galleries and showrooms. Passau is situated at the confluence of three rivers – the Danube, Inn and Ilz – so is unfortunately prone to flooding. The highest flood water recorded was well over 13 metres, and there are lots of water height recordings on buildings throughout the town. After the last flood a few years ago, the local council decided to paint some of the cobbled streets in this area in bright colours, to cheer people up once the waters receded.
This part of Passau is known as the old town, and is filled with gothic architecture. Most of the buildings date from around 1680 after the town was re-built when a large fire destroyed most of it. We walked past the town hall as well as St Stephen’s cathedral. Most prominent over the town is the 13th Century castle – Veste Oberhause (upper castle) and Veste Niederhaus (lower castle). The upper castle was founded as a fortress originally and was continually added to throughout the centuries with the lower fortress being added in the 14th Century.
We finished our tour at largest glass museum in Europe. Connected to the Hotel Wilder Mann, the museum was opened in the 1980’s by Neil Armstrong (yes, the astronaut) and houses 30,000 pieces of glass from Bohemia and Silesia. Some of the glassware was absolutely exquisite, but there was quite a lot of it…I will admit that we looked at about half of the exhibits and then made a swift exit
It was just a short walk from here back to the coach stop where we caught the shuttle back to the ship for lunch.
We decided to spend a lazy afternoon in the Spa area, which was handily situated just a few steps from our suite. This meant that we could run straight down there with our cossies on under our robes. The spa area is such a haven; I could have spent all day there! There is a small pool that has a resistance jet that you can switch on if you want to do some serious swimming, and a wonderful hot tub, and then there are four comfortable loungers at the front, facing towards the floor to ceiling windows where we happily laid for a while reading our books. There is bottled water available and herbal teas for you to help yourself too, and it is also where the entrance to the spa treatment rooms and changing rooms is. After a wonderful lazy couple of hours, we headed back to our room to take advantage of the in-suite entertainment again with another film. The in-suite television service is great. There are the usual news channels and small selection of TV channels to watch, but there is also a whole catalogue of films available, from new releases to old classics, and the great thing is, if you are watching a film and then want to go and sit on deck, you can take your in-suite iPad with you and continue to watch your film on the move!
Tonight, we had some local entertainment organised for us in the Palm Court. So after dinner we headed there to grab a seat ready for the show. The waiter kindly brought us our usual drinks order, and before long, Mark, the entertainment host, was introducing us to a talented duo of Opera singer and pianist. The singer actually came from Wales, the pianist from Italy and they were fantastic. They performed a mix of operatic music and popular musical songs. We really enjoyed the evening.
Day 7 – Passau, Germany
We had stayed docked overnight in Passau and this morning had booked onto the “Vilshofen Walking Tour & Aldersbach Abbey” excursion.
Our first stop of Vilshofen is a very typical Bavarian town, with just one main street and the church. It also has a beautiful City Tower. From Vilshofen, we had just a 15 minute ride or so onto Aldersbach. Aldersbach Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery that was dissolved after the reformation in the 19th Century. The buildings were sold, with the monk’s brewery being sold to Johann Adam von Aretin in 1811. The brewery is still owned by his descendants today. I have to admit, I am not a beer fan, but when in Bavaria, you can’t pass up a tasting in a brewery (we would probably be thrown out of the country if we tried…) and it was actually very interesting. After the tour we got to taste three of the beers they produce – a “weiße” or blonde beer, a double fermented craft beer and a dark beer. All accompanied by sausage, mustard and pretzels which were delicious. Not forgetting those at home, we bought my Dad a nice new beer glass for his Christmas tipple!
Our excursion was finished by lunchtime so after a quick lunch back onboard, I decided to take the shuttle back into Passau to look around, as we hadn’t had much time yesterday. I headed to the main shopping area of the town. There were lots of coffee shops and small boutiques as well as a large shopping mall near to the train station. I bought some traditional German gingerbread and then headed to the Christmas market that was just opening today. Unfortunately I was not going to be able to stay late enough to see the Mayor’s official opening ceremony, but the stalls had opened already so I treated myself to a nice hot chocolate (in another souvenir mug) to warm myself up whilst I waited for the last shuttle back to the ship.
Day 8 – Krems, Austria
Today we have woken up to more snow – absolutely thrilled. I am like a kid at Christmas waking up to see it snowing out of the window. I immediately open the French doors to try and take some pictures (much to my mums annoyance at the cold) and am eager to get up on deck to see if I could make a snowman – I couldn’t unfortunately, not enough snow settling.
This morning we are sailing onto our next stop of Krems. It was still snowing and the forested mountains we are passing looked like something out of a Victorian Christmas card. We are sailing past lots of little villages and vineyards terraced down the mountainsides all looking absolutely postcard perfect! We also sail past the town of Dürnstein, notable for the medieval castle ruins on the top of the hill – supposedly where Richard the Lionheart was held captive by Leopold V, Duke of Austria after a dispute in the Crusades – and for the blue and white coloured church tower that you can see from the river side.
Our venue for lunch today is Blue. Blue is a lunchtime restaurant right at the back of the ship with wonderful floor to ceiling windows offering a fabulous view as you dine. On the menu are burgers, toasted sandwiches, flat breads and Austrian sausages with pretzels. I decided on the cheeseburger and fries which were absolutely delicious!
This afternoon’s excursion was “Krems Highlights & Christmas Market”. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be many highlights to see in Krems and we had arrived a day before the town’s Christmas market opens, so we didn’t stay long.
Day 9 – Bratislava, Slovakia
We were cruising what we had been told was the most scenic part of our journey this morning, so to make sure we didn’t miss out on any points of interest on our route, we took our listening devices out to breakfast with us. Handily, the devices vibrate when the commentary is going to start so you don’t have to have your ear piece in all the time.
It is gloriously sunny today – absolutely freezing, but beautiful – a perfect day to be sailing this stretch of the Danube. A mist is rising from the river in the morning light as we pass little log cabins on stilts and riverside villages with their parish church steeples puncturing the clear blue sky, my pictures do not do it justice.
There was a lecture this morning on Mozart, but I just couldn’t leave the beautiful scenery, so, wrapped up warm, I tried to stay out on the Vista deck as long as possible taking pictures. I did occasionally pop into Palm Court to thaw out a bit, and as they have lots of chairs facing the windows I could still see the scenery and could jump outside if something interesting came up.
Just before lunch, the executive chef put on an Apple Strudel demonstration, which finished with an all-important tasting – delicious – we also got a recipe sheet to take away with us, so we can try and re-create it at home.
We were just arriving into Bratislava but before our tour we headed into Waterside for lunch, where I had the freshly made pasta and some salad.
Our afternoon tour of Bratislava – “Panoramic Bratislava & Christmas Market” began at 1pm. We boarded the Crystal coaches a short walk up the dockside and met our guide Juraj, a native of the city.
To start our tour, we took a drive up to where the city castle is – now home to the Slovakian parliament – it was a scenic drive with viewing points of the city popping up along the way, as well as lots of embassy’s including the American Embassy that looks like a mini White House! Once we stopped at the castle, we could get out and look around the grounds, as it is now the seat of government we couldn’t go inside but the views over the river and city were fabulous. There has been a fortress or castle on this site for many centuries, and although a recognisable castle wasn’t built until the 9th Century, remains from the Celtic settlers have even been found on the site and during a recent refurbishment, they uncovered some of the gothic architecture that they have left partially for you to see.
From here we boarded the coach again for the short ride back down to the town where we would have our walking tour. The whole time we were driving, Juraj was telling us all sorts of stories about Bratislava, from the history of Slovakia as the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary, to the creation of Czechoslovakia after the First World War and finally the split from what is now the Czech Republic a mere 24 years ago, making it the youngest European capital. He also told us about different traditions of Slovakia, especially around Christmastime.
Most of the town centre is pedestrianized so great for walking around. Juraj gave a great tour full of interesting facts and funny stories. We passed through two Christmas markets on a route that included Michael’s Gate, one of the old city gates; the “Peeping Tom” statue, a quirky statue of a sewage worker peeping out of a drain; reminders of Napoleon’s barrage on the city in the form of cannon balls embedded in the buildings and we even briefly visited a small museum whose entrance is preserved like an old shop.
After the tour finished we were very close to the Christmas markets and shops again so we spent some time mooching around before talking the short walk back to the riverside.
Today our sister ship Crystal Mahler is also docked in Bratislava and we were offered the opportunity to take a look around if we wanted to, so before boarding our ship we walked the short way down the riverside to Mahler for a quick tour. I had recently been to Amsterdam to see the Crystal Bach which is Mahler’s sister ship, and also a Rhine class vessel, so I knew what to expect onboard. It is beautifully decorated, very understated, chic, comfortable and inviting.
As soon as we got back onboard Mozart we headed straight to the Bistro for a hot chocolate as now it is dark it is getting very cold, so we needed to warm up before doing anything else!
We were being treated to entertainment before and after dinner this evening. Before dinner was a local musical duo, both of whom are members of the Slovak Philharmonic – one as the Lead Violinist and one as the Conductor. The gentleman who is the conductor played the piano and the other played a huge variety of instruments including, of course, the violin. They played a mix of opera and songs from the musicals as well as local folk songs. They were absolutely fantastic – amazing musicians, we had a really great evening.
Tonight’s dinner was delicious, as ever, but the Waterside chefs excelled themselves with dessert…a delicious almond and pear tart topped with a choux pastry swan!!
After dinner, we headed back into Palm Court for the Mark Farris Cabaret show. Hilariously cheesy, Mark had put together a show to tell us a the story of how he got into “show business” even accompanied by a faux video link to his father, playing piano in their local bar, where he has apparently played every weekend for something like the last 50 years. The Farris Spectacular finished with a Sound of Music sing-a-long. We were all given lyric sheets for the most popular songs in the film and surprisingly – or maybe not given the strength of the cocktails served onboard – by song two everyone was joining in! And, as much as I don’t want to admit it, it was actually quite fun.
All sung out, we retired to our suite for the evening and taking a quick peek outside the curtains saw that the ship was shrouded in fog. It was very eerie to be sailing along into the unknown, hopefully the Captain knows where he is going.
Day 10 – Vienna, Austria
Luckily, we made it through the fog and have arrived back to Vienna where it all started. We are not disembarking until tomorrow, and decided not to book any tours so we have the day to ourselves to revisit the city.
After taking the shuttle into town, we head straight to St Stephen’s Cathedral as we hadn’t had a chance to go inside on our tour last week. Now, with today being a Saturday, the whole city is absolutely mobbed and inside the Cathedral is no different. There are so many people, we couldn’t really appreciate the architecture or decoration inside because we couldn’t see it. The choir was also rehearsing and we couldn’t really hear them over the din of everyone inside – it was a bit of a shame, and we didn’t stay long.
From the Cathedral, we headed down Graben, one of the most exclusive shopping streets in Vienna where we did a bit of window shopping in Cartier before going into Julius Meinl. Julius Meinl is an upmarket delicatessen, coffee shop and wine cellar which opened as a caterer to the Habsburgs in 1862 and has remained as one of Vienna’s most popular stores. It is also the coffee supplier for the Mozart Bistro onboard, so we had to make a visit. I could have spent hours perusing the shelves of food from around the world as well as the fresh deli counters filled with fresh bread pastries and cake, pasta and sauces, meats and cheeses. They had everything any Nigella wannabe could ever need! They also sell their famous Viennese coffee, which they grind on the spot for you, and their delicious hot chocolate, both of which of course we bought to bring home.
From Meinl’s we headed over to the Imperial Palace which is now home to the Spanish Riding School and their dancing horses. Unfortunately we had not done our research, so were too late to see the days practice session and thinking €18 was a bit too much to pay just to visit the training ground and empty stables we instead headed to the coffee shop for a warm drink. Luckily enough we were sat by the window, so as the training session finished, we saw the horses being brought out and put into their automated walking machine – presumably for them to cool down from their session?
The next stop on our whistle-stop tour of missed Vienna sights was the Cafe Sacher. Don’t worry, we weren’t stopping for more cake, but we thought we couldn’t leave Vienna without seeing the home of the famous Sacher Torte. The outside was absolutely beautifully decorated for Christmas with huge garlands and lights. Think we made the right decision about not stopping for cake though as the queue for a table was as long as the block of the hotel – well it is Saturday lunchtime I suppose!
From here we strolled up the Kärntner Straße, one of the main shopping streets of Vienna offering department stores, high street staples and souvenir shops. We got a few last minute gifts en-route back to St Stephen’s and the last Christmas Market of the trip.
Our final stop before boarding the shuttle bus back to Mozart is Vienna’s Manner confectioners. The Neapolitan wafers that they are famous for were invented in 1898 by the company’s founder, and the shop on Stephansplatz sells every variation of wafer as well as memorabilia.
It is now unfortunately time to pack as we debark tomorrow, and after a bit of a struggle to fit in all of our purchases, we start getting ready for our final evening. Tonight we’re lucky enough to be going to Michelin starred restaurant Le Ciel for dinner, all organised by Crystal.
Our coaches depart at 7pm, and we are driven to the Grand Hotel, and met in the foyer by a Crystal representative. The restaurant is situated on the 7th floor of the restaurant, and commands views over the city, which tonight is twinkling with Christmas lights. We put our coats in the cloakroom, and were greeted at the entrance of the restaurant by the Maître D. There were several tables we could choose from to sit at, depending on whether we wanted to sit with other guests, or just with your own party.
We had already been given a copy of the menu for this evening’s dinner whilst onboard so that we could alert the shore excursion team of any dietary requirements, however, as with every good restaurant, there were some surprises added into our experience.
As we sat down, we were served with water and bread for the table and then the sommelier came to us with the wine selections for the evening. Both of those on offer were Austrian wines and even though I am not really a wine drinker, it was nice to have a try. If you wanted a soft drink that was not a problem – everything was included.
We started our dining experience with two Amuse Bouche…one was a creamed potato, with smoked eel and crisped rice which was delicious. The second was a red cabbage macaroon, which was not so delicious – all down to personal taste though, our table companions loved it.
The starter was a cold pumpkin salad with marinated carrots and Yuzu. It was absolutely delicious, so fresh and light. This was followed by the fish course of Alpine trout with risotto and smoked “caviar”. The caviar was actually little globules of smoky deliciousness that really accented the delicate lemony taste of the trout.
Our main course was a melt in the mouth veal tenderloin with BBQ aromatics and pimentos. It was served with artichoke as well as the chilli peppers and was outstanding. We finished with a dessert of tangerine with Ras el hanout and coconut. The pieces of tangerine were served with a tangerine sorbet, creamy coconut cubes and “lego” shaped blocks of ras el hanout flavoured cream. The North African spice was subtle and really livened the dish. We of course finished with Viennese coffee and delicious chocolate truffles.
It was an absolutely amazing experience. It was lovely to try dishes that I would not have ordinarily chosen from a menu, and it felt very special to be in such a beautiful restaurant, reserved exclusively for Crystal guests. I do have to say though that the food we have been served onboard Mozart has been just as spectacular and delicious, so if you don’t get the opportunity to join the Michelin experience, you will still be thoroughly spoilt onboard!
Day 11 – Vienna, Austria
So today is our last morning onboard. Our complimentary transfer was scheduled to leave for the airport at 10:00am, so we had plenty of time for breakfast, as well as last minute packing. Luckily, our luggage doesn’t have to be outside until 45 minutes before we depart, so there is none of that kerfuffle of trying to squeeze your overnight bits into your suitcase when you claim it at the airport, we can make sure everything is in there before putting our cases out into the corridor before we head out for breakfast.
It turned out that we were only ones on the 10:00am transfer so we had the whole coach to ourselves for the short drive to Vienna Airport. We were met as we arrived by two agents who took our luggage from the coach to the check in area and made sure we had everything we needed.
We were luckier with our flight today and left on time, to arrive home and to traffic on the M25, no-one to tidy up after us and no-one to make us delicious coffees every morning – back to Earth with a bump…
I found river cruising to be so relaxing. I have been told that I would be exhausting with tours every day and such, however as we had four overnight stays during our voyage, we found everything to be much slower paced. Even when we had full day tours, they were not rushed and we always got back in plenty of time to relax before getting ready for dinner. I really liked the open dining onboard, as it made evenings much more relaxed, we didn’t have to rush anywhere and could dine with new friends easily if we wanted.
I would really recommend that everyone takes the time to look through the excursions available, as there are lots of different types of excursions on offer. We took the option of short walking tour generally as my mum didn’t want to be out all day every day, but there were more energetic options available, and even the option on Crystal Mozart to take one of the electronic bikes and do your own exploring.
My “Do Not Misses” onboard would be the pool and Jacuzzi. They are absolutely fabulous and hardly anyone uses them so they feel like a private spa – so well worth trying. Also, not to be missed is dinner in the Bistro. It is a very different experience to dining in Waterside, not just in menu choice but in atmosphere – so relaxed and peaceful, it is a must do!