On this cruise, I tried to vary my own itinerary and to participate in excursions that I missed the first time around. This was a tour of Austria's astounding Melk Abbey. This is the front of the abbey cathedral, but the actual complex is bigger than you can possibly imagine. Photo by Mark Baker.
The Austrian town of Melk, viewed from atop the Melk Abbey hill. Photo by Mark Baker.
From Melk, we sailed further to Vienna. Once in Vienna, we popped over to the feeding area of the Spanish Riding School. Our timing turned out to be excellent as they were just bringing back the Lippizaner horses for lunch. Photo by Mark Baker.
I don't travel to Vienna very often these days, but I've now been on the city's central Graben twice in the past two months. Pictured here is Vienna's most important church, St Stephan's Cathedral. Photo by Mark Baker.
It had been years since I'd visited Vienna's Museum of Natural History. It seemed as if when I lived in Vienna, we spent much more time at the sister museum, the Art History Museum. This is the entryway to the museum, all done up for Christmas. Photo by Mark Baker.
My nomination for the most interesting excursion on the cruise was a morning spent in Vienna's Natural History Museum. Here, the museum's curator for meteorites shows us debris that's fallen to the earth from Mars. Photo by Mark Baker.
From Vienna, we made the long overnight sail all the way to Budapest. This is a view of the Pest side of the city from atop Castle Hill in Buda. We took a bus tour to get up here. On the plus side, at least we didn't have to climb the hill. Photo by Mark Baker.
Just like in Amsterdam on the previous cruise, our last morning in Budapest brought an incredible sunrise and a sheen of yellow-pink light. Hashtag #nofilter ... I'm not sure how the folks at Scenic and National Geographic managed to pull it off, but it was the best light of the trip. Photo by Mark Baker.
For many cruise guests, the highlight of the trip was this one-man organ and piano concert held at Budapest's Institute for the Blind. The pieces included a demanding and occasionally violent 10-minute piano piece by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. It was mesmerizing. Photo by Mark Baker.
A few minutes wandering around Budapest's Heroes' Square, near the City Park on the Pest side of the river. I had never paid much attention to the statues here (of the Hungarian heroes over the ages) but they're fascinating. Photo by Mark Baker.
This was the view from our boat's lounge on the last evening of the cruise, in Budapest. The Hungarian Parliament building is clearly visible through the window. A great backdrop for an impromptu party. Photo by Mark Baker.
We had a big group of Texans on our cruise. On one of the evenings, they held their own "ugly-sweater" Christmas party on board. Photo by Mark Baker.
This is Ali (left) and Lauren (right) - two women from Texas who not only reduced the average age of the cruise by at least half but who were really determined to have fun. I think Ali took this selfie from her phone.
Part of the fun of a cruise is simpy waking up, getting some coffee, and watching the riverbank pass by through the window. This photo was relatively early in the cruise, sailing down the Main-Danube canal somewhere between Nuremberg and Regensburg. Photo by Mark Baker.