Legendary Danube

March 30–April 10, 2015
Led by Greg Kneser, Vice President of Student Life

Join us on a European exploration on the beautiful Danube. As Europe’s second-longest river and a vital means of transportation for 2,000 years, the Danube is the only major European river to flow from west to east. The Danube river rises in Germany’s Black Forest and flows through or along the borders of 10 countries – Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, where it divides into an expansive delta, the northernmost branch of which continues along the border of Ukraine and Moldova, before entering the Black Sea.

On this magnificent cruise, we’ll explore some of Central Europe’s most splendid cities, as well as many small towns that dot the landscape along the way. We roam the grounds of majestic Hradcany Castle in Prague, and stroll through Nuremberg, once the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire and rebuilt after 90% of the Old Town was destroyed in World War II.

We wander through the lanes and alleys of Regensburg, one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities, and take a guided tour of Passau, uniquely situated at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube rivers. We have the option of a full day excursion to Salzburg to see the Sound of Music sights or to visit Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We see one of Europe’s largest and most spectacular monasteries at Melk, and we enjoy Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel in a classic Viennese coffee house. We finish our learning adventure with a guided tour of Budapest, one of Eastern Europe’s most important cities.

During evening discussions we will ask ourselves and each other such questions as, “Who did we meet today? What did we learn? What surprised us? Are we getting beyond the “tourist” experience? Can we?”

Explore Central Europe

Prague — the City of a Thousand Spires — has seen it all. Centuries of Bohemian kings, classical composers, invading Nazis, Soviet tanks and Velvet Revolutionaries have passed over Prague’s cobblestones, and the spires survived it all, creating one of Europe’s most romantic and beautiful skylines. Stroll the Charles Bridge at dusk or row a boat down the Vltava River to discover what makes this Baroque jewel so alluring.

Centuries of art and architecture have made Nuremberg a treasure. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Nuremberg enjoyed a cultural flowering that made it the center of the German Renaissance. Many of Nuremberg’s most important buildings, including some of the finest churches in Germany, have been restored or reconstructed. The old part of the city, the Altstadt, lies mainly within a pedestrian zone. Today’s visitors can see the ruins of the ramparts that once surrounded the city as well as more modern sites, such as the Justice Palace, where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946.

Regensburg is one of Germany’s best-preserved cities, relatively undamaged by World War II bombings. Despite this, it remains somewhat obscure to many foreign visitors. Even if you don’t have time to explore the city’s museums or the interiors of its many historical monuments, try to take in the view of the Danube from one of its bridges, especially at sunset.

The words of Empress Maria Theresa speak volumes about Melk: “If I had never come here, I would have regretted it.” The main attraction is the Melk Abbey, one of the first baroque buildings in the world and a magnificent piece of architecture. Its marble hall contains pilasters coated in red marble and a richly painted allegorical picture on the ceiling. Despite all the adornment in the abbey, it is still surpassed in lavish glory by the Stiftskirche, the golden abbey church. Damaged by fire in 1947, the church has been fully restored, including the re-gilding of statues and altars with gold bullion.

A whirl of gilded Hapsburg palaces and regal parks on the banks of the blue Danube, Vienna is a fine romance of a city. Tradition and innovation walk hand in hand: Strauss waltzes are still hip to 20-something ball-goers and even the imperial stables have been born again as the surprising and vibrant Museum Quarter. The Viennese love Gemütlichkeit (comfortableness or unhurriedness), so this city is to be savored not rushed, whether you’re indulging in a dark chocolate Sachertorte in a chandelier-lit coffee house or strolling the pedestrian streets in the city center.

Architecturally stunning Budapest is a tour de force of Hapsburg splendor, best appreciated over rich cream cakes in a coffee house or a sumptuous steam in a thermal bath. Beyond the grandeur of the Royal Palace and the Hungarian State Opera House, the city has its head very much in the progressive, party-loving present. Free of its communist shackles, a dynamic cultural undercurrent once again flows freely down the Danube and across the city’s grandly designed boulevards.

Descriptions adapted from frommers.com

Program Leader

Greg Kneser is the Vice President for Student Life at St. Olaf.  He has traveled extensively with students on domestic service trips,. including New Orleans, Nashville, Mississippi and Chicago.  He has assisted with St. Olaf Interim courses in London and Nicaragua and is excited about learning along with the group on this excursion along the Danube. Greg often describes himself as a “wanderer,” and has worked with students to look beyond the obvious when traveling or serving abroad, connecting their experience of the day with their lives back on campus at St. Olaf.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Greg has spent the last 25 years at St. Olaf, mostly beside his wife, Sandy Kimmes ’89, and their teenage children, Amelia and Wylie.

What to Expect

We are offering this program in conjunction with Avalon Waterways on the Impression, a brand new ship that holds 166 passengers. Take a look at the specification sheet, which also lists amenities such as complimentary Wi-Fi access; complimentary sparkling wine with breakfast, and wine, beer, or soft drinks with dinner; offering of early breakfast and late-night fare; English-speaking crew; non-smoking interiors; and more.

The weather in early April should be mild. For all the cities we’ll dock in, the average high temperature will be about 55º Fahrenheit, lows will be around 35–40, and rainfall throughout the program will average about ½ to 1 inch. Layers and a collapsible umbrella will come in handy.

To fully partake in shore excursions, you should be able to walk up to a mile at a time over possibly uneven terrain (e.g. cobblestones or aged sidewalks), climb stairs that may not have handrails, keep pace with an active group of travelers, deal with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing a different culture, and be a considerate member of the group (prompt, courteous and flexible).

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit cdc.gov or who.it.

Program Fee

The program fee varies depending on the cabin level you choose. Click here for cabin pricing levels. Pricing includes the hotel in Prague, the cruise with shore excursions and meals listed in the itinerary, shipboard gratuities, and port taxes.

Airfare to Prague and from Budapest is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses include: International Airfare • Airport transfers • Any passport and visa fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Accident / baggage / trip cancellation insurance • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities • Lunch and dinner, unless specifically included on program itinerary.