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Spitz an der Donau, a market town in the district of Krems-Land/Austrian state of Lower Austria, on the left bank of the Danube River

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Food, Wine, Castles and Christmas

My grandson Oliver is passionate about Germany and the history of the country, so I’ve committed to one day soon taking him there. I’ve had some great experiences in Germany and all of Europe that I would like to share with him.

Berlin was my first trip to Germany. The history in this robust city is almost overwhelming. We hired a driver to tour us around the city in a Trabant. The Trabant is a tiny car that was used during World War II. Our driver was over 6 feet tall and watching him squeeze into the tiny car was like watching someone try on a pair of jeans that were way too small. Bentley and I are short, so we had no problem.

After a few tries, the little Trabant started and off we putted with puffs of lawnmower engine exhaust following us. As the conversation began, he asked where we were from. Oklahoma City, we said, and he turned and looked so excited! He had been an exchange student in Ada, Oklahoma, and watched on his Oklahoma family’s TV when President Reagan told Gorbachev “To tear down that wall.”  When our driver/guide was finally able to get through to his parents in Berlin to see what they thought, they didn’t even know that it had happened. To say the least, we had a very special VIP tour of Berlin in the little Trabant.

The cross between the new architect in Berlin and the beautiful facades to resemble the original buildings with all modern interiors was so interesting. The surrounding courtyards provide entertainment on every corner. During this trip, we took a train journey to Antwerp to explore more of the area’s history.

My next visit to Germany included a visit to Hamburg prior to taking a cruise to the North Cape and The Norwegian Fjords. We enjoyed der wiener schnitzel every afternoon. Hamburg is officially the Free and Hanseatic City; Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany after Berlin. To me, it was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been in, with the charm of old country to a modern tech center. I’d love to go back there to explore more of the parklands and canals.

We love to cruise the rivers of Europe. A great time to cruise is during wine season. To quote Amawaterways: “Uncork local traditions and savor intense flavors during one of our more than 60 exclusive Celebration of Wine River Cruise through Europe.”

We had a great experience during a wine-tasting visit and tour of the vineyards and the winery. The smell of the wine being fermented and being made ready for the aging barrels at times to me was much better than the taste of the wine. Let’s not forget the great cheese sampling that goes along with the tasting AND the wine paring each evening at dinner. 

On one of our rivers cruises, we departed from the walled city of Nauenberg, Germany, during the Christmas season. So much fun! The open-air Christmas markets all through Europe require bringing an extra bag to bring home one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted Christmas decorations and treasures.   

Prague, Czech Republic, is a great place to visit during the Christmas Season as you gather under the twinkling lights that adorn the markets. You can enjoy hot mulled wine or hot chocolate and sample cinnamon dusted almonds and gingerbread as you go from vendor to vendor. Yes, it does get cold there in the winter, so bring your warm boots and clothes.

I have a fondness for Prague; we were there right after the 2013 tornado here in Oklahoma City. They were having fundraisers for the Czech families in Moore that lost everything.

On our journey through Europe on the Danube River, we made a stop in Vienna, Austria, where we went to mass at St. Stephens Cathedral. The pipe organ player was a master at making the organ resonate throughout the cathedral. Our stop in Vienna also included a visit to Schulenburg Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg rulers. That evening we went to a Mozart Concert at the Palace. BUT without a doubt, my favorite part of Vienna was being invited to the arena to watch the training of young Lipizzaner stallion.

As we continued our voyage, we visited Melk and toured the Benedictine Abby. Imagine this… a demonstration of a rent-a-casket! That made my eyebrows go up.

Our river tour concluded in Budapest—Buda on one side of the river, Pest on the other.  We didn’t have the time to really explore the country. We did enjoy walking around the city. I will go back! 

Traveling to Europe by train, motor coach or on a river cruise on the Rhine, Danube, Sein. Moselle or Rhone rivers, seeing castles, visiting wineries, tasting the foods of the countries, which offers flavor beyond compare, will create memories you will never forget but leave you yearning to go back.

At Travel Leaders/Bentley Hedges Travel the agents can prepare a short five- to seven-day tour of Europe—or if you are retired or looking for a longer vacation, a Seven Rivers, Fourteen Countries Epic Journey.  You can call 405.237.3333 to set up an appointment, or just call!

  • The Hedges toured Berlin in a Trabant similar to this one on Bonnie's first trip to Germany.
  • Bonnie Hedges calls the city of Hamburg, Germany, one of the most beautiful cities she has ever been to.
  • In Vienna, the Bentleys got to view the famous Lipizzaner stallions.
  • Spitz an der Donau, a market town in the district of Krems-Land/Austrian state of Lower Austria, on the left bank of the Danube River
  • Photography Donna Cheek