Friday, July 17, 2009

Scenic Tours River Cruise Scenic Emerald

Scenic Tours River Cruise, June 29 to July 13, 2009 on
Scenic Emerald
Patty and Dennis Calvert, Hosts for 14 guests for America, including US!

The best way to experience the Rhine Gorge and the gorgeous little towns along the waterfront of the Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers is by ship, and our ship was exceptional! We traveled with 12 close friends/clients, and we were the only Americans onboard this Australian Line. Many Aussies and guests from the UK, Canada and one couple from Aruba were happy to be aboard with us, as they know of Scenic Tours for their 30 years of Land Tour business.

America hasn’t really discovered this jewel of a River Cruising Tour Company, yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long. They are represented by Moira Fitzpatrick ( in America and my opinion is that Scenic Tours is Virtuoso member quality. George Priester represented them for a short time, but George says, “They are so “sold out”, there isn’t much to sell!” Ha, a nice problem to have, I suppose. My contact is 1 866 689 8611 and Debra in the Canadian office was very helpful providing advice and counsel after we were all booked.

Just about 3 years ago, Scenic Tours, decided to get into the River Cruising Business in a big way building 4 ships at once from a remote shipyard in East Germany. Built to their specifications allowing balconies outside on the two top accommodations’ decks, this line boasts the ONLY real balconies on the Rivers. The décor is beautifully understated and contemporary with fine fabrics, linens, furniture coverings, etc., in tones of grey, black, cream and taupe. The feel is slick and elegant but very comfortable.

On board our ship, we met the owner, Mr. Glen Moroney, who was present along with his VP’s from Scenic offices in Europe to Christen the Emerald and the crew and passengers all participated in a white-tented shore side affair with the Wine Queen and Mayor and Village Priest in Rudesheim, on July 10, 2009. They were all present to christen the ship and bless the Emerald, her crew and passengers for safe travels. It was our first time to witness a christening and quite a delightful, serious service and celebration with lovely canapés, wine, champagne, beer and almost anything desired. I particularly loved the oysters and champagne glasses with cream cheese and crudités. We watched from the ship and shore the all day preparations for the event and local press and Scenic photographers was there to cover the event. This was definitely a highlight of our trip. The VIP’s were headed to Vienna to christen another of their ships.

Back to the beginning arriving into Budapest:

We arrived into Budapest two days early and I had arranged for private transfers from the airport to our Intercontinental Hotel on the Waterfront with River views of Buda on the far side of the Danube. All of us were not flying together, so we had several transfers to our Hotel Intercontinental Intercontinental overlooking the Danube and the Hill.
1800 ICHotel (1 800 424 6835)
Hotel Address is Apaczai CSER J.u. 12-14
Budapest Hungary H 1052 36 1 3246333

The Club Lounge service is always a treat, as there are breakfasts, snacks, appetizers and drinks at various times throughout the day and there is a private concierge there who was helpful interpreting for me when I located a non-English speaking contact. The views from the lounge which had large glass windows is quite nice. We understand this new Club Level Lounge is part of a rather recent total re-do and makeover.

Mesi Konzc, was our tour guide for Budapest. She arranged the transfers, took us touring the city, arranged for dinner at the finest restaurant in Budpest, Gundel, and transfers to and from the hotel for dinner. She also invited us to a private lunch with her family ($28 per person) at their lovely home and garden outside Budapest which turned out to be a highlight of our whole trip. Mesi has a an identical twin sister, Krisztina (pronounced Christina) and handsome brother and her mom and dad cooked for us and waited on us, serving a traditional meal for Hungary with the freshest, softest bread and a special Hungarian Brandy. They sang to us and we returned the favor along with Ole Miss cheer!

She also took us to the little city outside Budapest, Scentendre, which is a popular place to visit for cobbled stone streets, quaint shops and a marzipan museum which was rather unique extraordinary. In Budapest, Mesi arranged a private champagne experience with singing at the Opera House for just our group. But, frankly, that experience was over-priced and a little canned, so I don’t recommend it. The private Opera House experience in Vienna is much better and more personal with 4 or 5 chamber musicians and a tour of the backstage bar with a guide who has been at the opera house for over 50 years.

Scentendre was a little half day trip from Budapest, then lunch with Mesi’s family, then back to Budapest to board our ship by 2 PM. We hated to leave Mesi behind, as she became like a sister to all of us with her cheery disposition, great sense of humor and extraordinary knowledge of her country and wonderful English. Virtuoso uses her services, too, it turns out. Contact information for Mesi Koncz is Her phone # is 3620 5316102. Mesi has to charter a small bus for transfers so the cost is $l50 for the transfer. That’s ok, IF you have several traveling together, but high if you only have two people. The hotel can also arrange transfers for about $40 per trip or perhaps contacting another tour company for transfers would be best, or ask Mesi, if she has an alternative to the little charter bus. Cabs to and from the airport are NOT recommended, however. Mesi has a website:

Mesi was recommended by Lado, who led our Virtuoso A&K group to Prague, Budapest and Vienna on a prior trip. Lado’s email contact is He was very helpful to me in finding Mesi and of course, a great guide in his own right.

In Budapest, I had met a hand-painted silk artist on a prior trip with Abercrombie and Kent. She was being honored at an art opening at the Kempenski Hotel and she has a contract to make silk scarves for Kempenski and other commercial companies. I contacted her and invited her to come to our hotel and bring her scarves. Several of us brought beautiful scarves from her. Her contact information is: +36 20/964 7227 and her website is Her name is Ester Ujhelyi (pronounced OO EE HAY EE). She works in silk, pongee, crepe de chine, satin and muslin and she makes table clothes and curtains and textiles for clothing for designers. Quite a little “extra” for us to meet a local, recognized artist and to have a scarf with this provenance. And, when we went to Gundel, there were her scarves made especially for that famous, best restaurant. The dinner was just the BEST!

Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest Barna Kovesdi, Concierge at the Kempinski, was very helpful to me to find Ester. His contact information is He even offered to arrange for us to all meet at the Kempenski, but it was more convenient to meet at the Intercontinental in the Club Lounge. Barna also informed me of the Light Festival on the Bridge which would be happening while we were in town, so several of us were able to walk across the bridge to see the vendors and musicians performing. On a previous trip to Budapest, we were hosted by the Kempenski for a reception and dinner and I would highly recommend their hotel for very special stays.

An unfortunate incident occurred. One of the couples in our group was scammed and lost about $800 in cash. They were stopped on the street by a uniformed “officer” who showed them his badge and he told them it was illegal to change money on the streets. They said they had not changed money on the streets. He asked to see their $$ to check to see if they had foreign currency or counterfeit bills and he also asked to see their passports. When the “officer” sorted through their $ and looked at their passports, he distracted them by warning them to be careful of money-changers. In that process, he by sleight of hand, stole their $l00 dollar bills and of course, quickly disappeared. Our friends quickly realized they had been “taken”, so they called the police station and the insurance company to see how to handle the loss. They will file a claim to try to recover their loss. Be warned. And, of course, our friends felt so betrayed and vulnerable and have replayed many times how they should have reacted to the inquiry on the street.

We were supposed to arrive at 2:30 PM at the Marriott for our transfer to the ship, the Scenic Sapphire, but we found out that we would have to overnight again in a hotel in Budapest because of the flooding upriver which would prevent our ship from getting under the bridges (high water). The Intercontinental was sold out, as were many of the major hotels because of high water. So, we were told to go to the Sofitel. Early that morning, we all pulled out luggage (with help) across the street from the Intercontinental to store our luggage until we returned from touring that day and we checked out luggage there so when we returned we could just check in.

June 29, 2009 When we returned to the Sofitel in the afternoon, we were told they had no rooms for us. After sorting out the details, we were taken by 7 taxis to the Hilton West End and checked in for our overnight before leaving the next morning for Bratislava to board our ship (hopefully). I was assisted by Craig with API who was in the lobby shuffling 600 of his guests onto buses to take them north. I was very grateful for his assistance, as the Sofitel was NO HELP!

We had a lovely dinner that evening at the Hilton, and we were given details of our next day’s travels and we met the Cruise Director, Tadej Peric, mobile 0038641472989 or, whom I had been talking with by cell phone for a couple of days to sort out our dilemma. I was told the Sofitel did not honor a written signed contract for our rooms, so hope Scenic can sort that out. Crazy. It was a new experience to have the Cruise Director’s cell # and email, so we could communicate. He actually became like a younger brother to me on the trip…The email on the ship is Marianna at the front desk was a great help in all we needed and she was fun and knowledgeable!

We noted a little cultural difference in this crowd. The dinner venue at the Hilton was very nice with local musicians and dancers to entertain us on our first night and the large dining area was specifically designed for conferences and well appointed. But, there were several long buffet lines and the crowd was aggressive in those lines, people reaching over you while you were serving salad, breaking lines ahead of you, and not the usual “waiting patiently we are taught from childhood in the USA South. I was alarmed by it at first as I was jostled about, but came to learn that was pretty common behavior throughout the trip as well as LOUD noise levels for lunch and dinner.

This was a casual and sometimes boisterous crowd and as someone from Australia told us, “Formal in Australia means a t-shirt and a jock strap”. But, we came to enjoy the free pioneer spirit and great sense of humor and friendly, sweet attitude of all the guests. We were invited by many to visit Victoria, BC, Sydney, Melbourne, Aruba, etc. Well, it wasn’t universal that many were what we considered underdressed, but we did notice that we were much more dressy (country club casual and sport coats on 3 occasions) than many on our cruise. We should have been forewarned when we received our documents along with two backpacks which none of our group took along on the trip. The boat had very nice bikes which some of us took to town in the small ports, but we had fanny packs, so no need for the backpacks in OUR group, but my grandchildren will have them all their lives, as they were beautiful and very sturdy and quite nice and surely appreciated.

The crew was noticeably younger than the guests, of course. But, all ages were present including 5 young girls with their parents who became the sweethearts of the ship. They performed on talent night for everyone and improvised their cat-like costumes using toilet paper streamers. It was a hoot and we were impressed that the young girls got all that together and were brave enough to perform. We Americans rehearsed and sang some favorite songs accompanied by Jim Eoff, our resident musician, and Dennis, my husband, did a short Elvis impersonation before we began. Everyone commented on our performance and thanked us for “performing” long after “talent night” was over. I’m so happy we had that bonding experience!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Our motor coach this morning was quite new and lovely. We had a city tour of Budapest and we set out for a 2 l/2 hour trip to Bratislava. Arriving there, we were taken to our ship, the Scenic Emerald, which truly looked like a jewel to US. Boarding was so easy and there were no long lines at all. They were ready for us with the crew dressed to meet us with champagne. Dennis and I had booked the Junior Suite on the Rhine Deck, which was the first stateroom from reception and we came to love this location and our beautifully appointed room with a little extra space for two chairs and a BATHTUB. The regular veranda staterooms did not have chairs in the room and were about 3 feet shorter, but our crowd was very comfortable we were told. One of our group had the Royal Suite which sported higher level Butler Service (which included complimentary laundry) and a little couch in the room, appetizers before dinner and little petit fours after dinner.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
We toured the young and vibrant capital of Slovakia, Bratislava. We toured the Old City with Town Hall and Mirback Palace and the Gothic Cathedral of St. Martin.

Thursday, July 2
Today we toured Vienna, Austria, including the Hoftburg Palace, the Vienna opera House and the Ringstrasse. We had a guided tour of Schonbrunn Palace, the former residence of the Royal Family.

This was a great evening. We had a private Viennese concert in a beautiful palace which is now a museum housing a reknowned fabulous art. The concert was about an hour long and featured piano, opera and ballet and was quite lively and entertaining.

Friday, July 3

Today, we reached Durnstein, one of my favorite stops which is a most enchanging village in the Wachau wine region. We took a little time to find two lovely hotels and met the priest of the monastery who has converted some of the monastery to luxury apartments which are leased for a minimum of 5 years. There are many vacant! But, it is nice to have his contact information. He called a resident of the apartments down to meet us and Fred gave us even further information about short term rentals. Since Durnstein is about an hour from Vienna, it is a nice little quiet place to see the surrounding area. One to Melk and the Melk Benedictine Abbey, so gorgeous, full of gold leaf walls, ornate decorations and frescos. Amazing.

Saturday, July 4
Today is Passau. We had a choice of (1) a guided tour of the graceful arcades and cobblestone streets of Passau; or (2) visit to Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart and setting for The Sound of Music; or (3) a full day excursion to southern Bohemia to explore the town of Cesky Krumlov, a Unesco World Heritage site. We chose to stay in Passau, as we had visited the other cities. So, we wandered the streets, bought little souvenirs and had a relaxing time without motor coach rides.

Sunday, July 5
Regensburg. This is one of Germany’s finest preserved cities and its architectural gems are a testament to its long history and past grandeur.

Monday, July 6
Nuremberg is a lively 950 year old city with a medieval feel. We had a guided orientation tour which included old town. We saw the Justice Palace, Imperial Castle enclosed by thick walls punctuated with 80 towers and the site of the infamous Nuremberg Rallies. Dennis took the tour to the Third Reicht Museum and saw films of Hitler’s reign. The Germans are now proud of this history.

Tuesday, July 7 Bamberg
This is a UNESCO World Heritage city, too which boasts one of Europe’s largest intact medieval town centers. Bamberg is bursting with original character and charm.

Wednesday, July 8 Wurzburg
We chose today from a guided tour of Wurzburg and the Prince Bishop’s Residence Palace or The Romantic Road excursion to Rothenburg. We chose Rothenburg and loved the old city.

Thursday, July 9 Miltenberg
This is a picturesque village on the Main River with half-timbered houses still standing.

Friday, July 10, Rudesheim
We enjoyed a short walking tour of Mainz and continued to Rudesheim which has the Winzerexpress mini train and Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument museum. I loved this museum and we heard ancient instruments play lovely tunes. Lovely. In the museum shop, they had all kinds of music boxes and I bought a few for presents. I discovered that the one I have which my mother gave me was made in Italy and the music box was added in Germany. They had similar boxes to mine in that shop, so I was pleased to discover it’s monetary value as well as its sentimental value.

This day of cruising was through the Rhine Gorge, gorgeous and stately castles (prior fortresses) were on every hill, it seemed. There were steeply sloped vinyards filling up every space on the mountain.

Saturday, July 11, Cologne (Koln)
We didn’t enjoy this stop very much, as it is a huge city and there was a festival of lights in town which brought so many weird characters to town, it was very crowded, so we walked about an hour and returned to our ship to relax and read.

Sunday, July 12
We arrived into Amsterdam and disembarked at 11:00 AM because we had been notified that Dennis’ mom had died, so we left a day early to return to Memphis, then Lubbock for the funeral arrangements. We have visited AMS many times, so we were glad to be going home.

The ship provided a private transfer for us from the boat to the airport. And, we bid farewell to our old friends and new friends!

Every night there was music in the lounge after dinner, a talent night, visiting artists and musicians and dancers from ashore wherever we were, a Liar’s Club night and a visiting glass blower and a lady who taught us to make traditional cookies. I have the recipe and made them when I got home. They are wonderful and crispy and will keep for two weeks in an airtight tin, except in our house, they only lasted a day or so.

Recipe for Traditional German Cookies – Vanillekipferl
1 l/2 C flour
l/8 T baking powder
l/2 C sugar
a few drops vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
7 oz butter
1 C ground, peeled almonds (or finely chopped pecans or walnuts)
Powdered sugar to sprinkle on after baking while still hot

Mix together the ingredients on top of kitchen counter (no bowl)
Knead until forms a ball
Cut ball in two pieces
Roll into two sausages
Wrap in foil and let cool to harden dough
Slice into l/4 inch slices
Roll into crescents
Bake for about 10 minutes at 350Degrees.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar

Great trip, highly recommended. Patty and Dennis Calvert July 17, 2009

Summary of Contacts and finds:

Hotel Schloss Durnstein GMBH, Relais and Chateau Property 5 Star Hotel on the River. Gorgeous, virtuoso partner.
Kuckuckuhren Cookoo Clocks

Marianna on board the Scenic Emerald or 00386.41.472989– Cruise Director on the Emerald
Emerald Phone # 0049 15222325732

Fred Sherrerd Man in Durnstein
AM Stadtor – Two nice apartments in Durstein
Brusbauer in Loiben on the Danube outside Durstein Apartments with wine tabern and vineyards
Wohning im Malerwinkl – Across from the promenade by the river. Fantastic views from windows of each apartment nicely furnished and rustic. Two apartments, one for 2 people and one for 4 people (2 bedrooms) Small private terrace 65 to 90 EU per night. for information about the area and famous wines
Frank and Jeffifer Jacobsen – Victoria friends
Regensburg Golf Museum email
Kirchenwirt Hotel in Durnstein 4 star
Hugo Raf De Vlaminck- Priest at Monastery in Durnstein
Bratislava Folk Folk Store where I bought a lovely hand-decorated table runner
Panska 2, Bratislava 811 01 Bratislave, Tatra Banka. A.s
International Services when out of the country for ATT 1 916 843 4685
Boschek Elektro, Vienna is where I bought a Valentine runner 01/512 38 51
Our guide in Vienna Giuseppina Martin
43 0 699 1039 7948
Gerbeaud Gasztronomia Budapest Coffee/Chocolate House 1051 Budapest, Vorosmarty ter 7-8, Adoszam: 13353779 2 41
Jenny Devenish Wants Micropac Coat like mine.