It’s an early morning start for a full day excursion to the cities of Wurzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber—two medieval beauties with the first stop at the Bishop Prince’s Palace, a baroque masterpiece of architecture listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The palace, in terms of opulence and sheer baroque charm, can easily hold its own with Catherine’s summer palace outside of St. Petersburg and Versailles in France. Next, it’s on the bus for a 1.5-hour ride through some of the most beautiful and scenic countryside you’ll find anywhere to the town of Rothenburg above the Tauber River. During the 30-year war in the 16th century, the city sided with the Protestants, but was captured by a large, Catholic army. The Catholic commander brought the city fathers together and announced his intention to sack the town and send the good citizens on to salvation a lot sooner than most of them had planned. But for some reason, he made an offer at the last minute to spare the town if anyone could quaff a huge flagon of wine all in one draught. One courageous burgher—who evidently had some experience with quaffing wine—stepped forward and took on the challenge, so successfully the town was spared and the event itself forever enshrined in the town’s main square. Three times per day, a huge town clock overlooking the square opens up and the two main characters in the drama—the burgher and the commander—totter out on either side and relive the historic event, right down to the wine quaffing.
Over the next four days, the Viking Legend hosts a bus tour to Nuremburg and makes port calls in some of the most charming riverside towns in Bavaria. Regensburg, for example, is also famous for its 1,017-ft.-long stone bridge that was built in the 12th century—truly a genuine marvel of medieval engineering because it’s still supporting traffic almost 900 years later. In the city center, the number of religious buildings attest to its early conversion to Christianity around the 7th century, while its advantageous position on the river added to its wealth and prosperity as a trading and commercial center, followed by it being named a Free Imperial City in 1245, which means it got really rich and merchants started trading with Italian merchants from Venice. Today, that history is evidenced by the Italian-designed buildings in the Old Town, with the towers and porticos borrowed from their Venetian trading colleagues. All of this history, too, has resulted in a town that has merged into a wonderful combination of the old and the new—made all the more so by the fact that it has also become a university town boasting 20,000 students amongst the population of 150,000.
The next morning, it’s time for a walking tour of Passau, “The City on Three Rivers,” a 2,000-year-old city that saw 400 years of Roman rule, followed by prosperous trade through the middle ages and through the Renaissance. Like its neighbor Regensburg, the city is a treasure trove of Italian baroque design that is both beautiful and functional. Later that day, it’s time to leave Germany and head across the border to Austria and a visit to the Melk Abby, followed by a day in the legendary city of Vienna, certainly one of Europe’s most elegant and royal cities. For centuries, it’s been a center of the arts, music and theater, as well as the center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, that elegance and architectural resplendency is still there for visitors to enjoy, as well as its pride in its favored citizens such as Mozart and Johann Strauss.
It’s a city of coffee houses, classical concerts and just about every kind of museum you can think of, as well as excellent restaurants, theater and parks that welcome just about any kind of activity from bicycling and inline skating to bungee jumping, believe it or not.
One of the major meeting points in Austria’s capital is the sprawling and enormous St. Stephan’s Cathedral—apparently St. Stephen was a pretty popular guy in this part of the world—with its 450-ft.-high tower. The structure, built between 1263 and 1511, has to be one of the most impressive churches in Europe.
The next day, it’s off to Bratislava in Slovakia, which has recently gained fame as party central for New Year’s Eve festivities, as well as its more traditional Christmas markets. According to the tourism department there, last year, around 100,000 people celebrated the New Year on the streets and squares of Bratislava, with about one-fifth of the revelers hailing from abroad. These celebrations have adopted the appropriate slogan, “Welcome to Partyslava!” and are now on a par with the New Year’s festivities of any other major European city. The city is charming with an eclectic mix of art galleries, restaurants and pubs—made all the more charming by a large selection of whimsical street art.