Finding Creative Inspiration in a Romantic European Cruise

photo of the Hungarian Parliament building at night with lights reflecting on the Danube River

European Travel is Inspiring

I am not a big cruise person but so much of my creative inspiration comes from travel and the gorgeous scenery, architecture and culture of Europe makes it one of my favorite destinations. Add to that the visually mesmerizing videos advertising Viking’s European river cruises I’ve been watching for years and it makes perfect sense I’d want to go.

I first developed romantic ideas about European tours reading Georgette Heyer romance novels as a girl, then authors like Jane Austen and Henry James. When I was shipped off to a private girls’ boarding school in South Africa on a scholarship, some of my peers travelled to England and Europe for biking holidays. I remember wanting to go so badly but since we had no money it was never an option. I think these two factors are part of why I appreciate being able to travel now so much.

chess players in the warm waters of Szecheny Thermal Bath, Budapest.
selfie on the balcony on our Viking River Cruise

Traveling feeds my Creative Inspiration for my Art and my Life

After school I saved for a few years then booked my tickets and packed my bags and my already-worn copies of Backpackers’ Guides – remember those books? Since then, I’ve travelled from Africa to Thailand and so many places in between and immigrated to the United States. And I still have that travel bug. I love the thrill of experiencing new places for the first time – the different scenery, architecture, food, culture, people and experiences – so different from my regular life. It’s one of my favorite ways to replenish and get fresh creative inspiration for my life and my art.

Since my first notions of European travel came from romantic novels my ideas of travel on that continent and steeped in romance and history.

Mostly I have no interest in the modern parts of cities unless there is an art museum involved. That’s because I’m a country girl at heart. So I make a bee-line for the old town of wherever I am, soaking in views of ancient architecture and natural beauty, and stopping at local café’s.

Matthais Church on Fisherman's Pier in Budapest
Inside Matthais Church, Budapest, with the organ playing

Side-stepping my Cruise Doubts

The Viking River Cruise people really know their visual advertising stuff and they hit all my romantic Europe triggers, so for our wedding anniversary last year Barry and I booked a cruise down the Danube from Budapest to Passau. It was incredible, and here’s why:

The ships are so small compared to the huge ocean liners the staff knew us by name after the first day. We had a safety drill but no crazy long lines and waiting around that drives me nuts. Our room was small but comfortable with a fabulous shower, super-comfy bed, and private balcony. There were dining options for enjoying company or keeping to ourselves, the food was excellent, and the staff were helpful and friendly.

historial village surrounded by vineyards in the Wacchau Valley
Golden green vineyards in the Wacchau Valley in the Fall
passing a small village in the Wacchau Valley on our Viking River Cruise boat

Highlights of our European Cruise

I loved Budapest – I have to go back! What an incredibly beautiful and interesting city. So much history and architecture reminiscent of Paris along the Avenue of Pest. And I never knew the whole country is a complicated system of natural hot springs. We spent a relaxing afternoon wallowing in the warm waters at Czecheny Therman Baths and locals play poolside chess. I want to go back to visit the Museum of Fine Art, the State Opera theater, some of the gorgeous café’s, and the shoe memorial to Jewish captives shot by the Nazis on the side of the Danube that I could only see from our tour bus as we zipped past.

My favorite part of our time here was cruising out of the city at night. It was just after dinner and all the bridges, the Hungarian Parliament buildings, and the whole city was lit up, a visual feast of lights as we cruised slowly by on the dark, rippling waters of the Danube. I will never forget those moments.

Watching the Wachau Valley sail by from the deck chairs of our Viking River Cruise

Biking through the golden vineyards (we were there in the Fall) of the Wachau Valley and stopping to explore a medieval town is another experience indelibly etched in my mind. Later, sitting on the deck, bundled up because the temps had dropped, we sipped hot chocolate and watched farmlands, vineyards, villages, churches and monasteries slowly drift by and dissolve into the dusk.

I could drift in this memory forever.

Walking through the old part of Passau in Germany we saw the highwater mark where the flooding convergence of rivers has submerged the ancient windy cobblestone streets and old stone buildings. Further up we came across the magnificent baroque St. Stephens cathedral perched on the hill. It’s home to three huge organs billed as Europe’s largest. The church is open for organ recital concerts during the summer so there you go – another reason to go back.

A reflection of books from a store in Passau, Germany
St Stephens baroque cathedral in Passau, Germany
Baroque ceiling details from inside St Stephens Cathedral in Passau, Germany

A Platter of Creative Inspiration

The whole experience was romantic Europe on a curated platter. Delicious and surreal. I have so many beautiful moments, images and experiences stored in my memory, my sketchbook, and my camera. So much inspiration. Lots to keep me dreaming through the cold Connecticut winter that followed. And now of course, I’m planning my next adventure.

Enjoyed this writing and want to read more?

Read about my trip to South Africa here:

(Don’t miss the video from my trip below.)

Reasons why I don’t like cruises:

  1. I like the kind of travel I can plan but then make changes to on the spur of the moment. You know, take an extra hour to sketch and write in a coffee shop, turn up a different street to visit the church I just caught a glimpse of, stop everything and take a siesta!
  2. I hate crowds, standing in long lines, and being told what to do. (Anyone relate?)
  3. I don’t want to take the same photograph as everyone else. I want to walk around on my own without anyone telling me to stay with the group, and take pictures from whatever vantage point catches my eye in the moment.
  4. You can’t stop the tour bus and get off when you see something interesting.
  5. Basically, I just like doing my own thing, going where I want, and taking my time about it.

Reasons why I loved this cruise:

  1. Only one hotel room to check in and out of so no dragging heaving suitcases around. (No, I don’t like to travel light.)
  2. No rushing to catch trains, planes or automobiles during the cruise. All trips and travel was taken care of and everything is in walking distance (or travel options are provided.)
  3. Loads of excursion options and everything is done for you.
  4. It feels safe traveling with a group.
  5. The staff were helpful and friendly.

Cruising the Danube

Visual Inspiration from Budapest to Passau sailing on the Danube with Viking River Cruises.

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