Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cruising on the MS AmaCerto: The Main-Danube Canal and the Wachau Valley

Two of my favorite cruising experiences on the MS AmaCerto were the Main-Danube Canal and the Wachau Valley.

Completed in 1992, the Main-Danube Canal is an engineering feat that allows traffic to flow between the North Sea and the Black Sea, a distance of 2,200 miles that connects 15 countries. The canal itself is 106 miles long and runs from Bamberg on the Main River to Kelheim on the Danube River. Although the canal has a total of 16 locks, we cruised through only 10 of them since we began our river cruise in Nuremberg. Our charming Cruise Director, Cheri Coll, told us that it costs €1,400 for the AmaCerto to go through the canal.

From Nuremberg to the Continental Divide, we experienced three of the deepest locks at 81 feet. We crossed the Continental Divide at 1,332 feet over the Swabian Alps during Happy Hour, snapped photos of the Watershed Monument and celebrated with a Blue Danube cocktail (sparkling wine with a bluish tint). The Danube isn’t really blue, but it wouldn’t be nearly as appealing to drink a greenish-brown cocktail! With all of the congratulatory clinking of glasses going on that evening, you would have thought we had just reached the summit of Mt. Rainier.

Lest you think that our lock experience ended at the end of the Main-Danube Canal in Kelheim, think again. After Kelheim, we sailed through 16 locks over the course of five days and nights on our way to Budapest. I remember waking suddenly to a grinding sound during one of those nights only to discover that we were in the middle of a lock.

The Wachau Valley is truly stunning. I enjoyed sitting on the Sun Deck in the crisp afternoon air soaking up the sun and listening to Cheri’s interesting commentary about wine, life in Austria and legends of days gone by.

Over 3,500 acres of terraced vineyards abound throughout the valley and in Spitz, the Tausendeimerberg (Thousand Bottles Mountain) can produce 1,000 bottles of wine in a good year. The Wachau Valley is best known for its world-class Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners and the three classification levels for Wachau wine include Steinfeder for wines up to 11.5% alcohol by volume, Federspiel for wines between 11.5–12.5% and Smaragd for wines with a minimum of 12.5%. After hearing Cheri talk so much about wine and the fact that few Wachau Valley wines are exported, I was disappointed that we didn’t have the opportunity to take a tour and do some wine tasting at a local winery. Although we didn’t visit any wineries in Austria, our servers on the MS AmaCerto served us many fine Austrian wines over dinner.

Above the vineyards loomed some impressive castles. I was most fascinated by the tale Cheri told about Kuenringerburg Castle in Dürnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was held captive in 1192 by Leopold V during the Third Crusade. According to legend, Richard the Lionheart’s faithful minstrel Blondel found him in Dürnstein by singing outside every castle until he came to Kuenringerburg and heard Richard join the chorus. The captive was released after the payment of 23,000 kg of silver. Could this legend be the result of indulging in too much Wachau Valley wine?

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