A Travellerspoint blog

Budapest - Day 12 Monday February 19

And just like that, our trip is coming to an end.


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While all good things must come to an end, we have one last day in beautiful Budapest. Sadly, it is a chilly and rainy day, but we cannot complain because it could easily have looked like this everyday.

Here are a few photos from the breakfast buffet and menu items at the hotel.

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We said goodbye to Bojan, our incredible cruise manager, just in case we do not see him at 4 AM tomorrow morning.

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We started our day by trekking to the Central Market, also known as the Great Market Hall, located at the Pest end of Szabadság Bridge. There are three floors of market space here. We purchased some paprika, sausage, and gifts for the girls.

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Back to the hotel to drop the purchases before heading to the city’s 19th-century Moorish-style Dohány Street Synagogue / Great Synagogue. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The building was severely damaged and used as a stable during World War II but, after the fall of Communism, it was restored to its grandeur.

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We then walked over to the area of "Ruin Bars," which are bars and eateries that have been opened in abandoned buildings in the former Jewish ghetto. They are extremely popular in Budapest and offer lots of outside seating. Unfortunately, they do not open until late afternoon and the weather will not be ideal for a visit. Next time?

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Along our walk to the hotel, we continued to admire the architecture...

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...and to smile at some of the details in the facades.

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My final quest was to sample a glass of wine from the Tokaji wine region. Their sweet wine is world famous, and the bartender at our hotel let me taste it. While delicious, it is VERY sweet (think dessert wine), so I enjoyed a less sweet Tokaji white while Charlie had a beer. I must be getting tired because I only remembered to take a photo when our waiter delivered a few complimentary sweets.

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Back upstairs, we got the suitcases organized and weighed and then took a well-deserved rest.

Today's fun fact: Who was Matild of Matild Palace? Well, the story here is that she was a beautiful and strong-headed 19 year old from a wealthy family who set herself ablaze while trying to hide a lit cigarette under her dress when she saw her father.

We planned for an early meal tonight, as we have a super early wake-up call tomorrow. Dinner was at Hungarian Hell’s Kitchen, where we enjoyed the regional specialties. Charlie had a bowl of goulash, followed by a braided sausage platter, while I had chicken paprikash. A musical ensemble played regional songs. It seemed a fitting last evening.

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We took a little stroll to walk off some dinner on Váci utca , a pedestrian-only shopping street in Budapest. We walked down to historic Vörösmarty Square, which is the site of Budapest's Christmas Market. The rain had stopped, and the street had plenty of foot traffic. Two violinists were playing the theme from "Game of Thrones." Such a vibrant scene!

So...our opening question was whether we were insane or brilliant in booking a winter river cruise. Our vote is brilliant. It was never unpleasantly cold...you know the saying, there is no bad weather just bad clothing...and I only put on thermal underwear one day and probably did not need it. Yes, we had rain, but nothing that stopped us from doing anything critical. Enjoying these places without the crowds was a gift. Cruising on a magnificent boat that was half full was amazing. The upgrade from lower level window cabin to a balcony suite was unexpected and divine. We got so much value for our travel dollars. And AMA Waterways was wonderful with their planning and execution of our trip.

We are happy and grateful people....but ready to come home.

Photos are tagged Magna and Budapest_2024

Posted by Cybercsp 19:44 Archived in Hungary Tagged magna budapest_2024 Comments (1)

Budapest - Day 11 Sunday February 18

Goodbye AmaMagna


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After our final breakfast onboard, we disembarked the AmaMagna at 9:30 AM. We, along with our luggage (which is heavier than when we arrived and we may be too), were loaded on a bus to be taken on a “Hidden Budapest” tour, promising "fascinating sites lesser-known to the average traveler." Here are a few of the sites we passed along the way:

The Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd)...Budapest’s magnificent suspension bridge connects the Buda (West) and Pest (East) sides of the city, arching over the River Danube. The bridge opened in 1849, and was destroyed in January of 1945 by the retreating Germans during the Siege of Budapest; fortunately, the towers remained. The bridge was rebuilt, and reopened in 1949, guarded by the lions.

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The haunting "Shoes on the Danube" continues to be one of the most moving tributes to the victims of the Holocaust.

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Our first stop was the Aquincum Museum of Roman ruins.

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On the outskirts of Budapest, in the area that was Obuda, are the remains of a former military garrison of the Roman province of Pannonia. Since the ruins of a three-level aqueduct were discovered here, archeologists have unearthed evidence of a large complex, that included markets, homes, public baths, and even central heating!

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The "Painter's House" recreates what might have been the typical home of a Roman officer.

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And....WAIT FOR IT.. they found remains of two amphitheaters, one that held 1,600 spectators! Now we can go home, for there is no European adventure without an amphitheater. The theater section of the Aquincum amphitheater is actually larger than the Roman Colosseum.

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Fun Fact: Our guide told us that the Hungarian language is different from any other European language, as it is Euro-Mongolian based. Perhaps only the Finns could understand a few words.

This square commemorates the assassination site of the Hungarian Prime Minister who attempted a revolt against the Communists. The building nearby bears shell damage from the Communist response.

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Returning to the historic center of Budapest, we visited Liberty Square. Our guide did an amazing job of helping us to understand the history and the political contrasts in this area. For example, when the Hungarians threatened the removal of this Russian memorial (which not coincidentally had been erected like a middle-finger salute in the sightline of the American embassy), the Russians stated that they would exhume and desecrate their war dead in Russia. Not wanting that consequence, they instead planted trees to block one side of the monument and placed statues of American presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan nearby. In addition, this is the only memorial that is unlit at night (the ultimate insult).

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Another artist placed Kermit the frog outside the Communist controlled broadcast company, as if he had escaped the iron gates.

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Here is a memorial to victims of the Holocaust.

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We passed St. Stephen’s Basilica...

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...and so many other beautiful buildings.

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After our tour, we checked into Matild Palace, which will be our last home on this journey. This place is stunning and has a fabulous location.

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As our room was not ready, we went around the corner and shared Hazi Lecso, a vegetable stew with sausage while we waited.

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Here is our room for the next two nights:

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After a little nap, we went to dinner with Chad and Brianna from our cruise at Beerstro 14, a three-minute walk from our hotel. Amazing food: Foie Gras, steaks, and a shared dessert. YUM!

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Photos are tagged Magna and Budapest_2024

Posted by Cybercsp 13:58 Archived in Hungary Tagged magna budapest_2024 Comments (1)

Budapest - Day 10 Saturday February 17

Back to Beautiful Budapest!


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Welcome to a morning of scenic cruising! Past Slovakia, and about 25 miles north of Budapest, the Danube abandons its eastward course and turns abruptly south, cutting through the Börzsöny and Visegrád hills. We traveled along what is said to be the most scenically varied part of Hungary. I have to admit that I did not take many photos.

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We enjoyed lunch in the Al Fresco dining venue. Charlie had a parma pizza and I had a baguette sandwich with salad and fries and a very delicious Eszterhazy cake.

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Welcome to our final river cruise port, Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. Budapest was “born” in 1873, when three formerly separate towns, Buda, Pest, and Obuda were unified. Fun facts: Budapest has the oldest metro system in continental Europe, the second largest Synagogue in the world, and the third largest Parliament building in the world.

Here are some photos from our entry to this beautiful capital.

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We left at 2 PM for a three hour rainy tour of Budapest. Our excursion took us to the Buda side of the Danube, where we visited the Buda Castle complex.

We had a climb to the National Palace. The Royal Palace is now home to multiple museums.

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The Matthias statue decorates the western forecourt of the palace, and displays among other things, four hunters led by King Matthias, hunting hounds, and a killed deer.

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Of course, there is a plague column.

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Here is Matthias Church. It was named in honor of a good king, who was not a particularly good religious role model. The church has an amazing roof. On our last visit, we went inside and it is stunning. Sadly, we did not get inside today.

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The seven stone towers of Fisherman’s Bastion honor the leaders of the seven tribes that united to form Hungary in 895.

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The bastion affords some great views of the city.

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During our free time, we walked through the castle complex, admiring the architecture and history.

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Back to the ship at 5, and at 5:30, AMAMagna repositioned to a berth on Margaret Island to allow for an easier disembarkation tomorrow. This afforded us a magnificent evening sail, as viewed from our balcony.

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We were treated to a spirited Hungarian Folklore Show for our evening entertainment.

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This is our last dinner onboard AMAMagna and we ate at the Chef's Table, which offers a fixed menu. We had an heirloom and ricotta welcome, followed by King Prawn Ceviche, Coconut and Curry Soup, Pan Fried Halibut, Cassis Sorbet, Argentinian Beef Sirloin, and a dessert medley.

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It was a quiet evening as some folks are disembarking as early as 3:30 AM, and we needed to pack. Because we are staying in Budapest, we do not need to have our luggage out until 8:45 AM and we will leave the ship at 9:30 AM.

Photos are tagged Magna and Budapest_2024

Posted by Cybercsp 07:09 Archived in Hungary Tagged magna budapest_2024 Comments (1)

Vienna and Bratislava - Day 9 Friday February 16

A new country for us!


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The countries of Slovakia and the Czech Republic were formerly known as Czechoslovakia until their amicable separation (known as the Velvet Divorce) on January 1, 1993.

Although we sailed through Slovakia on our 2016 river cruise, we did so at night...therefore, we are counting this as our first visit. We departed Vienna at 8 AM, so it was a lazy and sunny morning of cruising.

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There were occasional scenic views.

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During the morning, we caught up on blogging, attended a few logistical meetings (regarding disembarkation and our post-cruise time in Budapest) and an enrichment talk on the Danube. Notes from Charlie with his Nerd Alert: The 'Blue' Danube begins in the Black Forest of Germany and ends in the Black Sea; south of Hungary, it is often referred to as the Black River. The Danube passes through ten countries with Moldova being the last country before the Black Sea. It is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga, and the only river flowing east.

Today’s lunch included: appetizers, cauliflower soup, bouillabaisse, and a curry medley. And, of course, desserts.

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After lunch, we disembarked in Bratiislava for the “Coronation City” walking tour. Bratislava is one of the youngest capitals in the world, having been Slovakia’s just since 1993. Nicknamed the “Beauty on the Danube,” Bratislava's history spans centuries; it was once the capital of the kingdom of Hungary.

On our walking tour, we viewed Bratislava's Old Town Hall.

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This statue lurks over the bench in the Town Hall square. When the fountain was unveiled, it caused quite a stir with its four little boys peeing (sadly, the water is not yet flowing).

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Here is the magnificent Slovak Philharmonic.

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On the promenade are statues of Pavol Hviezdoslav, the "Shakespeare of Slovenia"...

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...Hans Christian Anderson (with details from a few of his famous stories behind him)...

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...and Bratislava's plague column.

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Beethoven lived at this palace for a year, working as a music tutor for the young daughter. He left abruptly after it was discovered that they had been practicing more than music.

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Bratislava has some unspoiled areas that are making it an attractive area to film period pieces.

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St. Martin’s Cathedral was the coronation church of the Hungarian empire from 1563 to 1830. it was rebuilt in the 18th century with a Baroque appearance. The cathedral housed the coronation of Queen Maria Theresa and contains the remains of St John the Merciful.

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While the interior is impressive, this church appears small to hold coronations. Yet, these markers preserve the coronation route...

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...and the golden crowns mark St. Martin's as a coronation cathedral.

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Of course, inside St. Martin's Cathedral, you will find this impressive statue of St. Martin as well as Charlie Pashley.

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We enjoyed the whimsical sculptures that are scattered throughout the city. Here is Cumil, who pops up from a manhole. The "Man at Work" sign pokes fun at the Communist regime, where everyone "worked" but few were actually busy.

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Here is the preserved Michael’s Gate, the only surviving example of the original four entrances to the city, and the bridge that leads to it.

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The Communists completely ravaged the Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue to build a highway. The "UFO" is a restaurant built on the modern bridge pylon.

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This memorial to the Holocaust marks that area today.

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The architecture here is stunning.

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And we'll end this tour with a bit of whimsy.

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Back to the ship to prepare for the Captain's Gala. After a champagne toast, the crew marched through the lounge to boisterous guest appreciation.

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We posed for a photo with the captain and cruise director, Bojan, before heading to dinner.

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Charlie and I bought some Slivovica (plum brandy) for a pre-dinner toast with this lovely group of new friends.

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We ate at Jimmy's, where we were served family style all the dishes from the Main Dining Room:
two salads, Sea Bream, Scallops with Risotto, Beef Tenderloin, and Vegetarian Benedict. Dessert was fabulous chocolate mousse with ice cream.

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Then up to the lounge for a night of drinks and dancing!

Ending comment: Our guides in Czech Republic and Slovakia have been so grateful for the fall of Communism in their countries. Their stories of life during the regime have been eye-opening for us. To return to the ship and learn of the heartbreaking death of Alexei Navalsky is such a reminder of the importance of preserving our rights and freedoms in the United States.

Photos are tagged Magna and Bratislava

Posted by Cybercsp 11:40 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bratislava magna Comments (1)

Vienna - Day 8 Thursday February 15

To quote Billy Joel, "Vienna waits for you"


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This morning, we participated in the “City of Waltzes” Vienna city tour. We got off to a very rainy start.

We drove along the impressive Ringstrasse, Vienna’s famed ring road. If you recall, the city built what were believed to be impenetrable walls with the Richard the Lionhearted ransom money. After Napoleon pretty much waltzed right in to the "city of waltzes," the walls were removed and a circular grand boulevard replaced them. The Ringstrasse is lined with grand buildings, monuments, and parks. Here are some bus window photos.

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The top of Rathauplatz (Town Hall)

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We spied Mozart...

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...the Vienna Opera House...

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...and Goethe. The writer is seated as he always said that after his death, he did not want to be standing on a pedastal in some park. So, he is seated.

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Onto the sprawling Imperial Palace. The Vienna Hofburg was the center of the Hapsburg Empire. Today, the palace houses three museums. Here is the impressive exterior...

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...and the equally impressive interior courtyard.

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We passed...and smelled..the Spanish Riding School, which is located in one wing of the palace.

Here are some exposed ruins discovered during the renovation of the palace after WWII bombings.

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Since it is Throwback Thursday, today's treat is lifted from the Vienna entry on our 2016 blog, where I deftly summarized my understanding of our guide's presentation: "Our guide talked a mile a minute about Hapsburg history as if we could remember (or had ever learned) any of it. Here is what you need to know. The Hapsburgs had quite a run. They had lots of children. And lots of money. Maria Theresa got very depressed and very fat after her beloved husband died, and had to be carried by minions to his grave daily. Elizabeth ("Sisi") seems to have been a prototype for the Kardashians, as she was famous for being famous, and there are a number of tours in Vienna revolving around her life. That should do it."

Today's guide was much more into geography and the geopolitical aspects of Vienna. I will admit to some moments of overwhelmed distraction. That said, we heard at least three times that Maria Theresa had eighteen pregnancies and delivered sixteen children. She is said to have weighed 280 lbs at the time of her death. There is the human interest part of today’s news.

With the palace behind us, we moved toward St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

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You will note that the second tower was never completed, as funding was shifted to a war with the Ottomans.

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Here are a few interior shots of the church. Many of the statues are draped in purple for Lent.

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Right outside the church is the queue of the horse carriages that are so popular with tourists.

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Speaking of churches, we ducked into St. Peter's Church during Mass, so we took photos from the back of the church.

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I could not resist popping into Cafe Demel, where we indulged in sweets during our last visit to Vienna. This time, there was only time for photos.

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Needless to say, we had to stop in and leave some euros with a chocolatier whose name contains "Schanz."

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King Leopold erected this “Plague Column” as an offering to protect his city from further loss after the plague swept through Vienna in 1679. He made sure that his prayers were recognized quite publicly.

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More street shots from soggy Vienna.

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The shops here are decorated beautifully - they are charming and expensive! Here is an Easter tree.

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As we headed to the bus, we viewed some of the older sections of Vienna.

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My lunch choices today included consomme, Tiroler Bread Dumplings (I will diplomatically assess them as "hearty" and left most of them) and "Austrian Kaiserchmarrn", a pancake dessert with preserves. That is Charlie's ice cream. He had Tafelspitz, which tasted like pot roast (no photo).

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Since blogging fatigue has set in, I will be lazy and quote the AMA promotional literature for our visit to the Palace of Schönbrunn: "an exquisite example of Baroque architecture and opulence, illustrating the tastes, interests and aspirations of successive Hapsburg monarchs. Built as the summer residence of the Hapsburg Emperors and spanning an astounding 1,441 rooms, this Rococo palace soon became one of their favorite homes." (Whew) Our visit included a guided tour of the Imperial Apartments (the living quarters of the Emperors) which still contain their original furnishings.

We entered through the main gates...

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...admiring the beautiful fountains.

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The palace is so large that you will see it in segments.

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Our first stop was the chapel where Maria Theresa prayed for her deceased husband daily.

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Feast your eyes on the "public" palace rooms...

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...and the private rooms.

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Special shout out to the floors.

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For most guests, the magnificent gardens are the highlight of the trip; we have been told (but cannot confirm) that they feature impressive botanical specimens.

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Dinner tonight featured Austrian classics: a beef carpaccio, cream of broccoli soup, Wiener Schnitzel and Apple Streudel. Yum!

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The food consumption led to a little stroll along the river.

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Our closing thought today is that we are grateful that we spent two days in Vienna on our Viking Grand European River cruise. There is simply so much to see and do here.

Photos are tagged Magna and Vienna_2024

Posted by Cybercsp 08:37 Archived in Austria Tagged megna vienna_2024 Comments (2)

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