There was a time, not so very long ago, when Eastern Europe was the jewel of the continent. Arts, commerce and culture flourished — even as The Renaissance was a fleeting memory. This was the land of Mozart and Beethoven; Vienna was Paris, and Nuremberg a medieval center of high civilization. The Danube was a dream and these urban centers bespoke of a classical Europe that would ultimately be vanquished by the stigma of horrific war.
Eastern Europe, home of my ancestors, a land spoiled by battle and mired in shame for half a century, now has a renaissance of its own. My great-grandparents fled the shtetls their families inhabited for centuries, the cities they admired, in the violins they played, the stories they shared, and the trades they relished. And now, as the majesty of Eastern Europe ascends the scars of the 20th Century, I imagine myself soaring along the Danube — clinging to the rail of an intimate ship, were I, a Viking, or an explorer — to return to my native homeland.
I am standing before the organ at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, mouth agape at the architectural splendors that rise in every direction, from fortress to castle. All but two days later, my feet touch cobblestones once traipsed upon by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and I am spinning above the city, ever so slowly, by the spoke of its ferris wheel. I catch my breath and realize that this is not a hallucination, even in the City of Dreams.
The next evening, I am a guest at the Captain’s Gala Dinner — donning a jacket and tie to dine upon this gentle river — to savor gourmet cuisine once served to the monarchs of these mighty nations. As I prepare for our sumptuous feast, with the tap of a button the wall dissolves into a sea of stars. I know that I am truly present and those suffering faces and aching voices from the past do not leave me, but propel my journey forward — for it is their struggle that has made me stronger.
Following a fulfilling supper, I am suddenly at an outdoor cinema as my floating sanctuary reinvents itself to showcase my favorite films. I return to my spacious quarters that offer a unique coziness. Only Emerald Waterways can meld the medieval and the modern; nourishing my passions for history on land and tranquility on the water with its Danube Delights.
Morning has broken as I gaze upon a sunrise rising above Budapest. I am still in disbelief as I inch forward on my lounge chair. Our adventure has carried us from Germany to Hungary; never did I imagine I would be standing at these shores, sailing in the comforting knowledge that the world has healed and we all deserve a second chance to experience the wonder of this life beyond the pain of the mundane — that a vacation truly is an escape from one’s environment and mind. This grandeur, this fulfillment, can never leave me because it was always an integral part of who I am; and this vessel has carried me to where I was meant to stand tall in the footsteps of those who came before me.
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Scott Josephson is a native New Yorker who is passionate about travel, food, and technology. He has visited 47 States (with plans to complete all 50 by August 2014), Western Europe, the Caribbean, and Scandinavia. Scott enjoys rocking out at concerts, attending cultural events, and discovering new wineries.
All Photos Courtesy of Emerald Waterways