See Europe on a Danube River Cruise
By Victor Block
"Now we're heading toward Durnstein, one of the loveliest towns in Austria," the ship's loudspeaker intoned. "So many artists have portrayed the beautiful setting that it came to be called the Painters' Corner."
The fact is, though, that on the way to Durnstein our vessel sailed past lovely town after lovely town. My wife, Fyllis, and I joined other passengers in oohing and aahing over their beauty and that of tiny villages that also hugged the river banks. We spotted steepled churches, turreted castles, and other historic landmarks and marveled at scenery that made us wish we had the talent to capture on canvas what we were seeing along the shoreline.
It was just another day of admiring majestic cities and tiny hamlets along the banks of the Danube River as it flowed through the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
Our trip took us to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, three of the most magnificent cities in Europe, and little Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Their architectural riches and intriguing histories place them high on many travelers' "must see" lists.
For starters, each is an architectural showcase that spans centuries and styles. Many a beautiful palace, castle or cathedral, if located elsewhere would be considered a cherished gem. Here it's just another example of some of mankind's most creative accomplishments.
The settings double as outdoor art and sculpture museums. Spires of structures pierce the skyline. A museum-quality selection of statues, frescoes and other adornments adds to the scene.
Even in environments of such stunning architecture spanning multiple centuries some treasures stand out. The Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna was built between 1696 and 1712 at the direction of Emperor Leopold I for his son, Joseph I. The goal was to have the 1,441-room edifice equal the splendor of Versailles in Paris.
Prague Castle, built more than 1,000 years ago, is the largest in Europe. The castle complex stretches over 18 acres and encompasses chapels, galleries and other buildings, along with lovely gardens.
The Bratislava Castle was erected in 1430 at the place where a fortification had stood since at least the year 800. The white fortresslike structure, set off by a stocky tower at each corner, resembles a storybook castle. It houses a museum that traces the history of the area from the Middle Ages to the present.