The Viking River Cruises promotion for this 8-day cruise states, “Visit Budapest’s Castle District and cross the famous Chain Bridge. Explore Göttweig Abbey, one of Austria’s most revered monastic centers, and make dumplings with Wachau Valley apricots. See Europe’s largest pipe organ in Passau, or travel to Salzburg. Celebrate Vienna’s musical heritage at a concert featuring works by Mozart and Strauss. With medieval towns, grand cities and stunning scenery, this 8-day journey on the “Blue Danube” is one you are sure to love.” The cruise covers 8 days, with 6 guided tours in 3 countries.
EUROPEAN TRIP JUNE 2017 By Fritzi (Arizona)
June 2/3 – Four of us (my husband Bob, sister and a friend) began our trip with a 10-hour plane ride from LAX to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Our KLM flight was uneventful, although we didn’t have a lot of leg room. The dinner and breakfast served were quite good, however.
The time difference between LAX and Amsterdam is nine hours, so when we arrived our watches said it was 12:30 p.m., June 3, but our bodies said it was 4 a.m. We staggered through Schiphol Airport — the size of a small city – and found an exchange booth to change dollars into euros, then walked what seemed like a few miles to our departure gate for our flight to Nuremberg, two hours later.
We arrived in Nuremberg at 6:30, cleared immigration (which meant that no one stopped us on our way out of the terminal), and met our Viking representative who escorted us to the bus which would take us to our ship, the Viking Egil.
We were taken on board immediately and shown to our cabins. We took a little time to unpack before going upstairs to the dining room for dinner. Wine and beer are included with lunch and dinner on Viking river cruises with no shortage of either. We were entertained by a German oompah duo dressed in lederhosen and colorful suspenders, playing and singing traditional songs.
June 4 – After breakfast we met our guide for a bus trip through Nuremberg. . (All shore tours are included.) It was drizzling, enough for rain jackets and umbrellas, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm. We passed by the area where the Nazi party held its rallies and stopped at the castle at the top of the hill, where we got a good view through the mist of Nuremberg, a 1000-year-old town.
We made our way down the cobblestoned-hill to the city center, with its ornate fountain and town clock, fashioned like a glockenspiel, with various characters popping out of crevices on the hour. We were lucky enough to be there at noon for the entire show.
We returned to our boat for lunch and a 2 p.m. departure. We sailed through two locks (we will traverse 29 before reaching the end of our cruise). Each lock raises or lowers the level of the river some 30 meters. At the end of the lock, instead of the gate opening inward or outward, it simply slides down into the river or rises up, depending on whether we have gone up or down in the lock. Our stop for the night was Regensberg.
The Egil is about 10 years old, one of several Viking long ships that ply the rivers of the world. The boats are called long ships after the boats that the Viking explorers used many centuries ago. There are two floors of cabins, the lower with windows at water level, the upper being verandah staterooms. The ship consists of three decks: the lower deck with the water-level cabins; the main deck with the verandah cabins, an information desk, a small library, a gift shop and the dining room and kitchen; and an upper deck with the lounge and bar and an outside seating area. An elevator connects the upper and main decks. There is a flight of stairs from the lounge deck to the sun deck and the wheelhouse. The wheelhouse moves up or down hydraulically as needed to go under some of the bridges. If it descends it actually drops down until only about 1/3 of it is above deck level; at those times, the sun deck is closed as all the outside railings fold down onto the deck and the deck chairs are stowed.
Our cabin is small but comfortable with a king-sized bed, plenty of storage and closet space, a functional bathroom, a small refrigerator, a 32” television with a choice of movies, news (BBC or CNN International) or music. WIFI is available throughout the boat. Adjacent to the lounge is a 24-hour coffee bar with espresso and lattes as well as regular or decaf coffee and hot chocolate; we often found a tray of cookies on the counter. Unlike large ocean liners, there are no additional food service facilities and we didn’t find towels on our bed in the shape of animals!
Meals are served in the main dining room and there is continental self-serve breakfast and lunch available in the lounge area; beer and wine are available in unlimited quantities for lunch and dinner with other drinks on order from the bar near the lounge. There is no formal entertainment in the evenings, however a pianist played before and after dinner, and there were game-shows on a couple of nights. Each evening before dinner our cruise director gave a short summary of what was happening the next day and any other announcements we needed to hear.
June 5 – At 8:45 we met Hubert, our guide for our walking tour of Regensberg. We had signed up for what was called the Jewish tour. At one time, there were about 1500 Jews living in Regensberg, however, that number was greatly reduced during WWII. We walked along the riverside quay, stopping at a sausage restaurant near the old stone bridge. Hubert pointed out a line about two feet over his head which represented the level of the Danube during one major flood.
A stone bridge connects present-day Regensberg with an old town that had existed on the other side of the river.
The Jewish tour included seeing the home where Oskar Schindler (of Schindler’s List fame) had lived.
We also saw several stones from an old Jewish cemetery which had been implanted in the sides of the buildings as decorative pieces.
Our tour ended at St. Peters Church, a typical Gothic style building with many gargoyles and other carvings on the outside; this church has existed in some form or other since 700 CE.
Regensberg’s Jews lived through most of the war, many housed in a building run by the Red Cross, however the Jewish Quarter no longer exists. After lunch we headed back into town to find some things we learned from reading the daily newsletter provided by Viking. Specifically, we were looking for a carving on the outside of St. Peters facing the former Jewish Quarter, depicting a Jewish man suckling on a large pig, intended as an insult to the town’s Jews.
A few facts about the Danube: it is Europe’s second longest river, after the Volga, running 1,785 miles from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. It flows through or along 10 countries and travels through four capital cities (Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade). The Danube delta is the second largest in the world and is still growing. As far back as the 7th century, Greek sailors were navigating the Danube.
June 6 – After cruising through the night and traversing several more locks on the Main-Danube canal, we arrived in Passau, known as the city of three rivers, as it sits at the confluence of the Inn, the Danube and the Ilz rivers. Historically, it was the center of the salt trade until 1707 when all salt imports to Passau were forbidden and the city lost its valuable trade. Today Passau is an economic, cultural and communications center of southern Bavaria.
We met our guide Jeffrey, a local law student, for a tour of the town. Jeffrey told us that because tuition costs are so low, it is possible for almost anyone to get a higher education. He told us that the study of law takes seven years in Germany because nothing is computerized and everything must be learned from books. He has one year more to go and hopes to become a judge.
As we wandered through the narrow streets I noticed graffiti on several buildings, saying “F— Nazis”. We also walked through a lovely garden outside a restaurant where we got a nice view of the harbor and the city on the other side of the river.
Our tour ended at St. Stephens Cathedral, a magnificent baroque edifice.
At one time there was a controversy about some of the statues in the cathedral; these were unclothed and caused quite a stir until they were eventually given the stamp of approval by none other than the pope!
Across the river and atop a hill (reached by 214 steps or a local bus) is the former home of the prince-bishop. Although he had this magnificent home, he was essentially a prisoner as he was totally dependent on contributions from the townspeople, who were not always forthcoming with their money until their demands were met.
St. Stephens is also home to the largest cathedral organ in the world with 17,974 organ pipes, 244 stops and four carillons.
We enjoyed a concert played on this magnificent organ as part of our tour.
June 7 – This is our morning to cruise through the Wachau Valley (the W is pronounced like a V). This is a World Heritage Site and is filled with vineyards climbing up the hills from the river.
We docked at Krems, our first stop in Austria, where we boarded a bus for a trip to the Gottweig Abbey, famous for its library containing more than 130,000 volumes. But the highlight was the magnificent ceiling fresco over the grand staircase. The painting almost appears to be three dimensional. The centerpiece features the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV as the Greek god Apollo in a chariot.
Today the Abbey is best known for its 50 hectares of apricots which are made into numerous products including wine, mustard and candy. About 50 monks currently live in the Abbey and minister to the local population in offsite churches.
June 8 – We arrived in Vienna, and after breakfast boarded a bus for a city tour. We drove along the inner ring, along Andrassy Avenue (one of the most expensive shopping venues in Europe), winding up at St. Stephens square, home to St. Stephens Basilica, an incredible building which took several hundred years to complete.
We joined the several thousand tourists mingling in the square and wandered through the interior.
That evening several ship officers entertained us with a version of Liars Club, where players, with elaborate story-telling, attempt to define an obscure word from the dictionary. Only one of them is telling the truth and the audience gets to vote on which one they think that is.
June 9 – Our next to last day on our cruise was spent in Budapest (the second syllable is pronounced “pesht”). We sailed into the harbor early in the morning and the buildings on both sides of the river were unbelievably beautiful. Especially impressive is the Parliament building, the largest in Europe.
The city is divided into two sections by the Danube: Buda (hilly) and Pest (plain). Our morning bus tour took us on a trip around the Pest side, with a stop at Heroes Square and its magnificent statues.
Then we crossed the river on one of the four major bridges to the Buda side and wound up at Matthias Church at the top of the hill. Named for King Matthias, this consists of a church and several terraces and balconies overlooking the entire city.
That evening we were provided with one of the highlights of our trip: a nighttime cruise along the Danube to see the magnificent buildings and bridges of Budapest lighted up.
June 10 – This was disembarkation day, so after our final breakfast (as our program director said, Viking had no intention of sending us on our way
hungry), we packed up and waited for our pre-arranged taxi to take us to our hotel. Right on time he arrived – a Mercedes taxi no less! Our hotel, The Budapest Center Residence, is in the center of Budapest, about 1/3 of a mile from a major street. Our apartment is a two-story unit with a queen-sized bed on the 1st floor and two twins upstairs. The main bathroom (with the toilet) is on the 1st floor; upstairs is a sink and the shower. The upstairs room also has a balcony. Across the street was a mini-mart where we could stock up on supplies for breakfasts and lunches.
Next door to the synagogue is a museum with a fascinating assortment of relics and memorabilia.
We had lunch at the Blue Rose, then walked to the National Museum. We walked through two wings, year 0 to 1000, and 1000-1945 (when Hungary was liberated from the Communists).
June 11 — After breakfast we walked to the old synagogue, the second largest in the world; only Temple Emanuel in New York is larger. Inside there were guides giving descriptions of the synagogue in several languages (all at the same time which made for a bit of “Tower of Babel” feeling)
At the conclusion we walked out to the memorial garden. During WWII, the Budapest Jews were pretty much left alone; however, in 1944 as the Nazis were preparing to withdraw there were so many deaths from cold and starvation that not everyone could be identified, and the bodies were buried in unmarked graves in the garden.
There is a memorial tree consisting of aluminum leaves with names etched on them.
June 12 – We took the Hop-on-Hop-off (now named HOHO) to the Grand Central Market. This is a farmer’s market on steroids. The stands on the first floor sell fruits, vegetables and meats; the second floor shops feature clothing, linens and several stand-up restaurants and one sit-down establishment which we chose for lunch. We were escorted to our table; soon after we were seated, our waiter was showing two ladies to the table next to us. After he placed their tray on the table, he took one of the ladies by the hand, led her to an open space and began waltzing with her to music played by a violin and piano duo!
After lunch we visited the Gellert Baths, located in the Gellert Hotel across the river from the Market. These baths are one of several in the city which are heated by thermal hot springs. After “breaking the code” for working the lockers in the dressing room (they work on a chip in the key fob), we splashed around in the outdoor pool, then wandered up to the upper terrace to soak in the hot tub. We then explored the four indoor pools, soaking in the delightfully warm water. There is a steam room, but with the door frequently opening and closing as people came and went it was hard to maintain any consistency in the temperature. At 4:30, after enjoying a delightfully cold fresh orange juice, we walked back across the bridge, dodging bicycles as this was the start of rush hour and rode the HOHO back to our hotel
June 13 – We rose early, packed and met our taxi to take us to the train station for our trip to Vienna. Our 2nd-class reserved seats were 4 of 6 in a private compartment. We managed to cram all our bags onto the overhead storage racks, and went to the dining car for breakfast. The train had originated in the Czech Republic, so the prices on the menu were in crowns, but euros and credit cards are accepted. The train ride was pleasant and gave us an opportunity to see some of the countryside.
Our hotel in Vienna, the Bergwirt, located at one end of the Schoenbrun Palace grounds, could not be more convenient with a bus stop across the street and an on-site dining room. Our suite consisted of two bedrooms, separated by a glass door, one room with a queen-sized bed, the other twin beds; an en-suite bath is down a short hall. We were on the 1st floor (actually the 2nd floor because in Europe the lobby floor is 0), but there is an elevator. We rode the bus four stops to the transit center where we purchased public transportation passes. We rode on the underground to St. Stephens square (still crowded), then walked to the Opera House and the main tourist office. We had considered purchasing a Vienna Pass which would give us discounted admissions to many of Vienna’s attractions. However, after considering how long we would be in the city and what we wanted to see, we decided that we didn’t need the Vienna Pass (for 100 euros) as it made sense to use our transportation pass and pay for individual admissions. We marched across the street to the Café Mozart for delicious ice cream treats, then took the underground and bus back to our hotel.
A word about Viennese transportation – it is very thorough and efficient and easy to get anywhere in the city. Underground stations are clearly marked with a large white “U” on a green background. Many entrances/exits to underground stations have escalators or elevators (good for aging knees). All underground lines are color-coded and route maps are easy to read. And the law in Vienna is that if an old person, or one who is infirm or pregnant boards, they are immediately offered a seat.
June 14 – This morning we visited The Time Travel Museum near St. Ann’s Church. We were fortunate enough to get discount coupons from a street vendor. The 55-minute presentation featured computerized holographic characters appropriately costumed from Vienna’s past speaking about the city’s history.
Among other things we learned that Viennese coffee actually came from the Turks who left vast quantities of the beans when they were forced out of Austria.
That afternoon and evening we visited the Schoenbrun Palace, the summer home of the Hapsbergs during the 17th century. Each room was more elaborate than the last, with furnishings matching draperies, elegant carpets, huge canvasses on the walls, Meissen ceramic stoves in the corners of each room (with behind-the-wall piping to avoid any dust or ash getting into the rooms). The mirrored ballroom heavily decorated with gold was an amazing sight. Our tour, booked through Viator, included several rooms not on the regular public tour, a total of 30 rooms of the more than 450 in the palace. Following the self-guided tour, which took about two hours, we adjourned to the café for refreshments before making our way to a restaurant in the palace where we enjoyed a gourmet dinner. After dinner we were escorted to one of the salons where we listened to a Mozart/Strauss concert played by the Schoenbrun Palace Orchestra (including, of course, The Blue Danube Waltz) and featuring performances by baritone and soprano singers and a fantastic dance pair. This was a terrific treat and certainly one of the highlights of our trip.
June 15 – Three of our group decided to visit the Opera House and the art museum while I took the day off and decided to wander the tourist shops near St. Stevens. My shopping completed, I was sitting at an outdoor café enjoying a sparkling elderberry soda and people-watching when suddenly there was the sound of drums and the church bells began to ring. Then a procession came into the square led by a band, featuring all the personnel from St. Stephens (priests in black and white cassocks, altar boys, nuns, a man waving an incense burner). At the end of the procession six men carried a canopied platform on which sat a church elder (archbishop?), followed by many citizens all carrying small leafed branches. I learned later that this was the Festival of Corpus Christi.
For dinner that evening we rode the bus to an outdoor beer garden restaurant at the bottom of the hill. We sat at long picnic tables with several other groups. The menu was in German but with some pointing and a waitress who spoke fairly good English we made our wishes known. Two of us shared a bbq platter (good thing we shared because it was a huge amount of food that would have been way too much for one person).
June 16 – We woke to a light rain (only the second time on our trip where we had rain), but it had stopped by mid-morning and cleared up nicely. We took the bus to the main street at the bottom of the hill where we had breakfast at McDonald’s (same as McDonald’s breakfasts all over the world). Three of us took the U to the museum quarter where we elected to visit the Hofberg museums.
We walked into the national library but saw only a reading room; military and other exhibits would have cost an admission fee so we passed. At the Imperial Treasury we paid the 9- euro senior rate admission. On the tour we saw crowns, scepters, coronation robes, royal cradles, swords and many other relics from a time when royalty had such elegant accoutrements
We had lunch at the Hofberg Café, then paid 13.50 euros to visit the Imperial Residence. The first part of the tour included household items (gold centerpieces, elaborate carved candlesticks, silver serving pieces, sets of elaborately-decorated dishes).
We saw a special way of folding napkins to wrap around breadstick-shaped rolls; the technique for folding the cloth was only known by a few and was passed down verbally and is still used to this day. The second half of the tour took us up to the second floor which was the city residence of Empress Sisi (Elizabeth) – a miniature version of the Schoenbrun with elaborate furnishings and decorative pieces including some of her gowns. She had been married at the age of 16 to the emperor who adored her but it was not clear if that feeling was returned. She traveled extensively for long periods of time, which probably allowed her marriage to survive as long as it did. Alas, no pictures were allowed.
At dinnertime we took the bus to the bottom of the hill to the Schloss Café, a hotel restaurant we had spotted across from the U station. If the menu is any indication, this is a 4-star restaurant, but since this was our last night in Vienna we figured what the heck. We ate outside, and the food was excellent (I had wiener schnitzel and enjoyed apple strudel for dessert). We waddled to the bus stop and boarded our bus just in time to avoid a light rain.
June 17 – When we went to check out of the Bergwirt Hotel, we discovered that there was no extra charge for the three breakfasts we had eaten there – another benefit to a very good hotel experience. We took a taxi to the train station, and enjoyed breakfast in the station café before boarding. Our train ride from Vienna to Prague was just over 4 hours, in comfortable airplane-style seats with lots of leg room.
When we arrived in Prague we headed downstairs to the tourist office to check out transportation options and learned that people over 70 ride all public transportation in Prague for free! However, we decided to purchase a HOHO pass anyway. We arranged for a taxi to take us to our hotel. Paul, our driver, was very informative and we got his card so that we could contact him to arrange for transportation to the airport later that week.
Our hotel, Habitat 16, is quite a distance from the city center but considerably less expensive than more centrally-located properties. Here is one of the little episodes that happen when one is not on an organized tour. The front door to the hotel needed a code to be opened, and while we were standing on the sidewalk with our luggage, trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to decipher it, a man and his dog came walking by. He saw our predicament and said that he knew the owner of the hotel and had his telephone number in his cell phone at his home around the corner; he returned (without the dog) five minutes later. While waiting for the owner to arrive, our savior told us that the building across the street from the hotel was a combination elementary school and brothel! We asked if brothel meant the same thing in Prague as it does in the US – it does! At least we would have been able to secure rooms if we had been unable to reach the owner!
Our rooms were on the first and second floors with no elevator. Although small, our en-suite rooms were very well equipped with an electric kettle for heating water, tea service, a rattan hanger attached to the wall for hanging clothes (no closet), a roomy chest of drawers, a shelf with extra towels. The bathroom has both a shower and tub. There is also a fully-equipped kitchen on the first floor which is shared by guests in all six rooms. There is an assigned shelf in the refrigerator for each room so we can refrigerate our food. On the outside patio is a table with six chairs overlooking a lovely garden, a nice place for breakfast.
We decided on a local restaurant within walking distance for dinner. Although the manager spoke limited English, she was able to understand that we wanted separate checks. The food was simple but delicious (roasted duck breast with fresh green beans and French fries and a mixed salad). We ordered apple strudel to take back to the hotel for breakfast.
June 18 – We enjoyed our apple strudel breakfast on the patio. We were sharing the kitchen with a family from Russia. While sitting on the patio, an 11-year-old Russian girl came out from the kitchen with some cookies from her mother as a gift for us – a lovely gesture. She had studied English for five years and spoke it quite well.
We had been told that the metro station was a short (900 meters) walk from the hotel, so we hoofed it. Took us a bit longer than the 11 minutes the owner had told us it would take but was still doable. Believing what we had been told at the tourist office that 70+ folks ride for free, we decided not to purchase a ticket for the metro. We rode to the Muzeum stop which also turned out to be Wenceslaus Square.
We found the HOHO stop and rode to the royal palace on the hill, arriving in time for the changing of the guard, which is more elaborate on Sundays than during the week. A band and the guard relief marched from the barracks through the crowd into the palace courtyard (no tourists were allowed in the courtyard). They went through their marching routines which were quite impressive.
There are also guards in small kiosks just outside the courtyard entrance, and there was a ritual for one guard relieving the other
After the ceremony, we took the green line HOHO back to Old Town Square. The square is surrounded by hotels, shops and restaurants. We wandered through a Bohemian crystal store, marveling at the gorgeous but expensive items. I found a lovely crystal bell in our price range. We stopped at one of the restaurants for our afternoon ice cream (I had yogurt with fruit and honey – delicious). We decided to ride the green line again to the palace gardens; there we had to go through a bag check by soldiers, probably because we were so close to the royal palace.
The gardens are small but quite pretty. We hopped on the green line again back to Old Town Square. An astronomical clock is the main feature of the square.
Two of our group had reservations for a ghost tour that evening leaving from the square, so we decided to have dinner at one of the square restaurants. We found one with plenty of seating (which should have been our first clue), because it turned out to be the perfect storm of badness (surly and inattentive wait staff, food ranging from moderate to bad, plates brought out from the kitchen haphazardly, I never did get my soup).
The two of us not going on the ghost walking tour stopped at a Starbucks and purchased pastries for our breakfast the next day. Unlike Vienna, where the metro/underground stops are clearly marked, this is not true in Prague and we had some difficulty finding the one nearest the square (we probably walked an extra quarter to half mile looking for it). When we descended, we found ourselves in a large area surrounded by shops, all closed, with no signage for our train. We found a woman who directed us to the correct platform. Again we rode with no ticket but no one asked us for one.
June 19 – Our last day of what has been a pretty terrific vacation. We e-mailed Paul, the taxi driver who had delivered us to our hotel when we arrived and arranged for transportation to the airport tomorrow. After enjoying our Starbucks pastry breakfast and chatting with the Russian girl, we walked again to the metro station, bound for the Jewish Quarter. We rode the metro to the Muzeum station, then transferred to Mustek (Old Town Square), but we should have stayed on the metro for one more stop to the next station. We obtained a map of the area and started walking. There was a long line waiting to purchase tickets to get into one of the old synagogues and museum, and we decided that, having done that in Budapest, we’d pass. However, we followed the wall which took us around the old cemetery.
I found a small metal door with a window grate which gave us a pretty good look at the gravestones. The graves often contain more than one corpse, and the headstones are placed pretty haphazardly with many tilted at strange angles.
We approached the old Spanish Synagogue with its round turret, and as we turned the corner we were greeted by a long row of kiosks with all manner of souvenirs (some nice but mostly junk).
We returned to Old Town Square and caught the HOHO to the riverfront where we were to board our sightseeing boat for a one-hour Vitava river tour (included with our HOHO pass), and we ate lunch on the boat. The tour gave us a very nice and different view of the city.
After our cruise we had about a 45-minute wait for the red line HOHO, but fortunately there was a TGIFriday’s nearby where we could enjoy our afternoon ice cream while waiting.
June 20 – On our last morning we said goodbye to the Russian family. Paul arrived at 9:45 and our ride to the airport was pretty uneventful, although he is a fast driver and does a lot of lane-changing. Check-in at Czech Airways was easy although I had to take the cosmetics out of my backpack. My husband Bob had pulled a muscle in his leg so we asked the agent to arrange to have a wheel chair waiting in Paris. Our seats turned out to be in the very last row of the plane with no option for reclining. But since it was only a 2½ hour flight it wasn’t a problem.
We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport – but no wheelchair and no signs directing us to our connecting terminal or passport control or anything. Plus there was no Air France customer service desk in the area. We finally got assistance from a Finnair agent and 45 minutes later a wheelchair showed up. The attendant took us through a maze of hallways to passport control, then onto an elevator to a waiting area where he said a van would pick us up to take us to our terminal. Shortly thereafter, we boarded the van and were driven through the backroads of the airport past a lot of construction. We finally stopped at the
foot of a short flight of stairs leading to an unmarked door. We sat in the van for about five minutes, finally asking the driver what we were waiting for. He said we were waiting for a wheelchair. After a few more minutes, he asked if Bob could make it up the stairs into the waiting area where we would meet our wheelchair. Not a problem, so in we went. There was a row of wheelchairs locked up against the wall, but when we asked an attendant, she said that none of them were for us and someone would be there shortly to help us. After waiting in vain for 45 minutes, Bob said that if we walked slowly and he had an opportunity to rest he thought he’d be okay.
So we headed out, starting at gate #40, bound for gate #24. We found a cafeteria and had lunch which improved our attitude considerably. We came to a duty-free shop where there was a sale on Bailey’s Irish Cream — two for $25, such a deal– then found an exchange booth where we turned in our euros for dollars. Finally, we reached our gate. Since it was two hours until flight time, the Air France desk was unmanned. However, there was a message board behind the desk with passenger names, asking that those passengers contact an Air France customer service agent. Our name was on the list. We were not about to go looking for an Air France customer service desk, figuring that sooner or later someone would show up at our boarding area. That occurred about 30 minutes prior to boarding, however, the one agent was busy assisting another passenger and we had to wait almost 15 minutes. When I asked why our names were on the list, she said there was some problem with our passports, but it had all been straightened out (we never did find out what the problem was). We also requested a wheelchair in LA.
While we were standing in line waiting for the agent, our traveling companion was approached by a woman who said she was doing a survey on Air France service, and would she like to take that survey. Would she ever! Poor woman – she certainly got an earful about the lack of customer service! Now we know why some travelers call it Air Fright!
Our seats were in a three-seat row and the legroom was much better than on the KLM flight coming over. There was a very nice screen in the back of the seat in front of us offering the option of movies, TV shows, music, etc. Kosher and vegetarian meals are available.
And a wheelchair was waiting for us in LA with an attendant. We were taken on an elevator to a waiting area where we were loaded onto an electric cart along with our hand luggage. Once all the passengers were on the cart, we were taken upstairs to another wheelchair and attendant. She hustled us past all the passengers waiting in line for immigration to a row of facial recognition machines. There she fed our passports into the machine, then a camera took our picture and compared it to the passport picture (wow, did I really look that awful – oh, well, we had been up for 23 hours). Then she hustled us down to baggage claim where our bags were already on the carousel. I retrieved ours, then called our companion on our cell phone and found out that she was still in line at immigration! Then we were led to a special customs line, where the agent wished us welcome to LA and stamped our customs declaration form. After leaving customs, with Bob still in the wheelchair and me hauling both our suitcases, we had to go up two ramps to get to the terminal exit (who was responsible for that design?). We got to the curbside and were picked up five minutes later. So, all’s well that ends well.
In hindsight, we have nothing but the highest praise for Vacations To Go (our travel agent), for Viking river cruises (for a fantastic and well-organized excursion) and for Viator Tours from whom we purchased the Schoenbrun Palace package tour.
Video:A Viking River Cruise on the Danube River through Europe