Review: Vltava River
Cruise - River Cruise
Prague, Czech Republic
Christmas on the Vlatava
20 people found this review helpful
I had never heard of a river called the Vlatava. That is, not until I received a flyer from Noble-Caledonia concerning a week on the river Vlatava over Christmas. The Vlatava is the river that flows through Prague in the Czech Republic and then joins the River Elbe on its way to flow, eventually, into the North Sea. The itinerary appeared very interesting and included visits to a couple of castles, some sightseeing in Prague itself and a visit to Dresden, in what was East Germany, where we were to see the famous Christmas Market.
I was somewhat apprehensive about the MS Florentina which was classed as a “comfortable three star” vessel. In many years of travelling with Noble-Caledonia I have become spoilt with four-star hotels, ships with very spacious cabins and tip top catering. My cabin on the Florentina, one of four single cabins on the upper deck was, as I thought it would be, very small. But there was sufficient storage space as I had, for once, packed sensibly with only a small suitcase. Several very large passengers with very large suitcases might have found their twin cabin somewhat restricted but there was still adequate hanging and storage space.
On the first evening we were introduced to the Noble-Caledonia Tour Manager, the Cruise Director and the Captain and crew. The captain spoke no English (he didn’t really need to) so his wife translated on his behalf and we received a warm welcome. Everyone else spoke English and the crew with whom we associated, dining and cabin staff were all very charming and helpful. Out of a maximum of 88 passengers there were 62 of us, many single, or rather solo as they seem to call us nowadays, travellers occupying twin cabins so probably all the cabins were occupied.
We had two local guides with us for the duration of the cruise, both of whom spoke very good English. On our first morning we took a walking tour of both the old and new town of Prague finishing at the Christmas Market in the old town. There were many stalls selling Christmas gifts and trinkets and others selling drinks and local food and snacks. It was all very colourful. Back on the boat, after tea, the guest lecturer on board, Nicholas Merchant, gave the first of his three very informative and humorous lectures.
Sail away the next morning was at 6.30 a.m. I snuggled under my duvet to watch the lights of the castle as we passed by. Most of the day was spent cruising along the River Vlatava and negotiating six locks; each time taking us to a lower level. In all, during the whole week, we passed through 20 locks, ten each way. The steps up to the sun deck were closed at several points along the way as we passed under very low bridges. The whole wheelhouse, together with whoever was at the wheel, disappeared down into the deck! In the afternoon we left the boat at Melnik and met our buses for a short drive to Nelahozeves Castle , belonging to the Lobkowicz family, and to visit the house where the composer Antonin Dvorak was born. For all our excursions we were issued with a “quiet box” with an earpiece, which meant we could hear the guide talking into a small microphone but we did not have to stand huddled around her trying to hear what she was saying. While we were on our excursion the boat sailed on to Roudnice nad Labem, a further 44kms where we caught up with it to sail on to Litomerice and moor overnight.
Next day was Christmas Eve and we were to have a full day excursion by bus to Dresden, 1 hour 15 mins away and just across the border into Germany. We had plenty of time to wander around and admire the buildings, the most important of which was the Frauenkirche. Originally built in the 18th century it was almost totally destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War. It was originally left as a war memorial but was rebuilt after the reunification of Germany. This was finished in 2004 with the magnificent interior in 2005. The golden cross and orb on the top of the cupola was made by a British goldsmith whose father was one of the aircrew who took part in the bombing of Dresden in 1945.
There was plenty of time to visit the famous Christmas Market, the Striezelmarkt, dating back to the 15th century! Taking up a large part of the centre of Dresden the many stalls and stands sell everything from wooden toys and figures, candles, ornaments and carved objects to a massive variety of food and drink, especially the renowned “stollen” cake and mulled wine. After dinner some of us went to midnight mass at the Cathedral of St Stepan in Litomerice where we were moored overnight. It was quite interesting, for a non-Catholic, and I managed not to nod off during the 20 minute sermon. In Czech.
Christmas Day ! The weather was fresh, sunny but a cold wind, which drove me back downstairs when I ventured up on deck. For lunch we each were given a whole turkey leg. I have heard people on trips complain about not having enough food but this time they complained about have too much! It did seem a shame that so many left so much. No chance of sleeping off the turkey as we were on the buses again in the afternoon to drive 28 kms to Melnik Castle for a wine tasting and museum visit. The cellars were very atmospheric but the four wines we tasted were not so good. The museum part of the castle was very interesting with items collected by the family over the years. When we came out it was dark and the main square by the castle looked stunning with a Christmas tree and floodlit houses. There was no traffic and no people about (presumably at home with their families) so it was very quiet and eerily beautiful. We moored at Melnik overnight and a local band came on board to play at dinner. I skipped the meal, the turkey had defeated me, and listened to the band from the reception area. They weren’t very good. But one of the passengers took over the drums and he was brilliant! We did have an excellent keyboard player, Vladimir, who played on a couple of evenings on the boat and at the Captain’s Farewell dinner a Dixieland band came on board who were also very good.
Next day we sailed back to Prague, a distance of 52 kms, and a final lecture by Nicholas Merchant on Dresden, known as the Florence on the Elbe. In the evening about 20 of us went to the Opera in Prague to see Rusalka by Dvorak, not an opera I was familiar with and, to be honest, will not rush to see again. But the opera house was magnificent and it was good to see many young people and children in the audience.
On our final day we were taken to see Prague Castle an area of 18 acres including St Vitus Cathedral, the Royal Palace and the Golden Lane. I stayed on after the tour to see the Lobkowicz collection – William Lobkowicz was brought up in Boston USA but returned to the Czech Republic at the end of 1989 to reclaim his property, no fewer than ten castles and palaces which had earlier been confiscated by the Communists. The Collection within Prague Castle showed an amazing amount of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and original manuscripts by Mozart, Beethoven and Hayden, which were dedicated to William’s ancestor, Prince Josef Franz Lobkowicz. I spent an interesting and informative hour or so before walking back down the hill and through the old town, for a mulled wine at one of the stalls at the Christmas Market and back to the boat
And so ended the week on the Rivers Vlatava and Elbe. We had sailed 244 kms, seen castles, palaces, countryside houses, riverside activities, cities, churches and traditional Christmas markets. It was a thoroughly enjoyable week. This was my second river cruise with Noble-Caledonia; the first one was the Brahmaputra River in Assam, India which I highly recommend. River cruising is so easy, no rough seas, just gentle meandering through the countryside and easy getting on and off for the less able passengers to go on excursions or to wander round the towns. Now I wonder where to go next?
20 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.