Thursday, June 30, 2011


What a beautiful city is Prague! We left Passau and drove by bus through the deep Bavarian (German) anbd Bohemian (Czech) forests for about 2 1/2 hours, and into the city... Our hotel was right off the Old Town Square, which provided wonderful opportunities for "hanging out" and people-watching: the square is surrounded by outdoor cafes where you can have a beer (cheaper than water!) or a coffee or ice cream or a meal and just enjoy the weather and the "happenings" - one afternoon we saw open air markets, street theater, musicians and musical groups, a photo shoot of about 20 Chinese brides in full bridal regalia, and, of course, tourists/tourist-groups/locals... The Old Town Hall at one edge of the square has a medieval version of the Small World Clock Tower at Disneyland: every hour two small windows over the clock open and the twelve apostles make their way past! And, because we're so far north, we have many hours of daylight in which to stroll and otherwise enjoy our people-watching: it gets dark about 10 p.m. and light again about 4:30!

And now, it's time to say good-bye! It's been a great trip!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


We were on the sundeck early this morning to watch the ship complete the last of its 11 locks, and as the water rose to the requisite level and we were about to sail out of the lock, the Captain suggested that those of us "over the height of 3' 4"" might want to get on our knees... they lowered the bridge and we sailed under the bridge, clearing it by - well, 3' 4"! Fun to experience!

What an unexpected delight it was to get to know Passau! We had a wonderful guide who wove fascinating stories into his commentary, including a possible solution to church stewardship challenges: Germany has a "church tax" opf 8% of one's tax - payable directly to the government and then refunneled to the churches as government support for the churches. (Interestingly, it was a law passed by HItler as a means of getting people to LEAVE the church - something which is happening today as people don't want to pay the tax!) Wonder what kind of "administrative cut" the government takes from that 8% for services rendered?!!

Photos here of a "plague door" in a building - whereby people could pass food into a plague-ridden home - and opne of a mailperson, delivering mail along the cobblestone streets of the town. During our town wanderings, the church bells (8 of them) peeled loudly and long (10 minutes at a time) at intervals... quite impressive, as the sound seemed to engulf the whole city! We arrived at the church in time to see three newly ordained priests emerge from the cathedral (proud families in tow!), and then entered to hear an organ concert on an organ with almost 1,800 pipes! Very impressive! (I took a picture of the pulpit in that church - imagine how intimidating to have to preach from that pulpit! Yikes!)

One of the buildings here contains a date: 1(4)99... Our guide explained that for a brief period of time they had no numeral for "4" but the reasoning was as follows: If the Roman numeral "5" (V) is the top half of "10" (X) then the number for four should be the top half of eight (never mind that they were no longer working in Roman numerals!)... thus the way the date is inscribed on the building - 1, top half of 8, 99! Interesting... (I hope it shows up in the photograph!) It was quite a lovely day!)

Linz, Gmunden and Steyr

We spent a lovely day meandering through the hills at the base of the Alps and visiting a cople of small medieval villages in the Lake Country. A lovely open-air market and lots of yummy breads and cheeses for the tasting!

Wachau Valley and Melk Photos

After the frustration of not being able to get online the past couple of days, FINALLY I get internet connection (at the Imperial Hotel in PRague)... Here are a few pictures that go with my last post...

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cruise, Day Seven: Wachau Valley and Melk

We arrived in the medieval town of Durnstein (a walled "city" of 600 souls with a main street three blocks long) early in the morning, and after breakfast walked out to explore the town before our scheduled train trip to the winery... Ray decided to use the time to climb the hill (very steep) behind the city to see the ruins of the castle in which Richard III had been imprisoned. (When he returned, hot and sweaty, he said the spectacular views of the valley in all directions made the climb worth it, and he truly hoped that RIchard hadn't been imprisoned in the "cage" he saw carved into the side of the rock at the castle: an enclosure measuring about 10 x 12 feet, with about a 4 foot square opening covered with an iron gate!)

It was "Corpus Cristi Day" and all of Austria comes out to celebrate - schools and shops are closed, and there are costumes and street processions. Durnstein was no exception, and the cobblestoned main street had been covered with grass clippings and rose petals and either side of the street lined with tree branches for the big procession. People were emerging from their homes, dressed in traditional costumes, and church bells pealed as people headed for Mass. I fell into conversation with a woman and asked her why Corpus Cristi was such a big holiday in Austria. She was somewhat startled by the question and started to explain to me that "Corpus Cristi" meant "the Body of Christ," which I assured her I knew. "But why the big holiday?" "Well, because we have a lot of Catholics here. Don't you have Catholics in America?" "Well, yes, but we don't celebrate Corpus Cristi..." "Then I suppose I should ask you - why do YOU NOT celebrate Corpus Cristi?!" Well said!

Mass lasted too long for us to see the procession, as our train was leaving and we had to go to the scheduled winery tour and wine-tasting... (Some very tasty wines, hand-cultivated-and-picked from the steep terraced slopes of the valley!) Back at the ship we had a nice barbequed lunch and then spent a restful afternoon cruising north along the Danube (lots more castles!), enjoying the sunshine and the scenery. It was so peaceful and pleasant you could almost feel and residual stress just fall off!

We arrived at Melk in the late afternoon, the site of a 1,000 year old Benedictine Abbey, still in active use with 3 monks, and headed up the hill to visit. (I was so naive I thought it would be a REAL functioning Abbey, and perhaps it is - where we didn't get an opportunity to see! What we DID have was a huge tourist-as-consumer experience, which was a real disappointment to me! Two redeeming things: the library, full of very ancient manuscripts, including one by the Venerable Bede; and, the unexpected summer thunderstorm which caught us unawares and far away from ship or bus! However, the ship takes its job of guest-care-taking very seriously, and before we knew it, a cab arrived bearing umbrellas for all of us drenched souls! It turned the late afternoon into quite a (wet!) adventure! Back to the ship for an "Epicurean Pairing" - a five course meal with wine pairings from the local area. Fun! (But much more than I normally drink! They don't let your glasses get empty!)

The blog won't post pictures for some reason, so those will have to come later! Tomorrow is our last day in Austria, and we'll be going into the Lake District and exploring some small towns at the base of the Alps. Should be fun!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Cruise, Day Six: Vienna

We have been steeped in Hapsburgs! Spent a long time at the Imperial Palace - which covers ten blocks (Maria Theresa needed a lot of room for those 16 kids!) and now houses government offices, museums, symphony and opera venues, a Piltzner (?) horse training arena, the national library (pictured here - it was amazing and I could have spent hours there!) as well as apartments for the well-connected! Vienna is a beautiful city, and I only wish I had time to explore it more in depth... The evening ends with more music (of course!) and tomorrow we will be once again cruising up the Danube...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Cruise, Dav Five: The Unexpected!

We started the day leisurely, cruising north on the river, sitting on the sun deck, enjoying the weather, the view - and our books! - when we were summoned to the Lounge for an "important announcement." It seems that two ships - a barge and a cargo ship - had collided somewhere between where we were and Vienna, which is where we were heading - and one of them had sunk, closing the river. We were basically stranded, so the captain pulled into port at Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, a city not on our itinerary, and they hastily arranged for a walking tour of the city for us. Soon we were like a bunch of baby ducklings waddling along behind our tour guide, having been imprinted with the #2 placard she waved above her head... Batislava is quite small and old, and was an interesting (and an unexpected) opportunity!... Seems that all their statuary, their heroes, are writers and intellectuals because, as our guide told us, historically they have always been the conquered people - the ones submitting, not the oppressors, and so they have no kings or generals! THey have become a free republic simply by surviving, and they are very proud of that fact!

Then - quickly - we learned that a portion of the river had been dredged to allow us through, but the window of time was very short, so we hastened on-board and started north again. Our "activities director" (or whatever she is called) pulled out all the stops, had a bus come to meet us along the way so that those of us who had concert tickets could make the concert at the Imperial Palace in Vienna, and then the ship carried on without us, telling us they would meet us after the concert (and in fact, they did, although we arrived at the dock about ten minutes ahead of the ship!)... The concert was "Vienna Lite" but it was fun - full of cheerful music and good humor.

We have begun to pass castles along the way, and I took this picture of castle ruines for Alex, although she may be disappointed that it's not pink!

Today: Vienna! From what I've seen (from the bus window after the concert) it's a beautiful city! WIsh I could spend more time here exploring... it feels like a city I'd like to come back to and "be in" much as we did Paris last year.

Interesting ship-fact: we are 130 passengers (refrred to as "guests") and 51 crew. No wonder we feel so spoiled!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Cruise, Day Four: More Budapest

Oh. My. Goodness.
I am going to begin with the end - we ended our time in Budapest with a 6 p.m. sailing-out-of-the-city - and a "Captain's Welcome Dinner" that began with cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres and continued through EIGHT elegant courses and lasted about four hours. It was quite a feast, including things like scallops served on a bed of spinach, pallet-cleansing sorbet, veal... and, of course, ending with an assortment of cheeses which were tempting but I was way too full to enjoy! Hopefully they'll have them on their breakfast buffet this morning!
We spent the morning wandering around Castle Hill in the city and taking in the view from FIsherman's Bastion, before heading for the Jewish section where where we spent a most fascinating afternoon. From Matthias Church (not SAINT Matthias - the church is named for the king, who was a renaissance man who did many good things for the city - but a SAINT he definitely WAS NOT we were told! I show here the music racks, stored in a corner, which I found delightful!) to the large Jewish temple (the largest in the world if you use cubic feet instead of square feet, our guide said)... The Hungarian Jews were such an integral part of Hungarian society in the 19th century that, although Jewish architects designed many of Budapest's finest buildings (including the Roman Catholic cathedral and the Parliament Building) they commissioned a gentile architect to build their synagogue. He, knowing nothing of synagogues, went to Spain, figuring he'd learn about JEwery at its hight prior to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain... and fell under the influence of Moorish architecture and came back and designed and built a very Mosquelike synagogue - with many Christian features (never used) including kneelers and pulpits! Pictured here: their Holocaust Memorial: what looks like a weeping willow (whose leaves bear the names of those lost in the Holocaust) is also an upside down mennorah).
The city-banks of the Danube have yielded to the green of trees alongside as we sail toward Vienna. We'll arrive tonight in time for a concert at the Imperial Opera House. Should be fun!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Cruise, Day Three: Budapest

To bed late - but up early, because we had a new city to explore! Two contrasting encounters with people/local culture: one, a toothless old man kept plucking at me, trying to get us to follow him so he could show us something (all communicated with gestures - no English involved on his part, and certainly no Hungarian on ours!). He wanted us to see the beautiful glass ceiling in a building (pictured here) housing numerous small shops. Then, of course, he rubbed his fingers together for a tip, and said, "for coffee..." (cost of photo: 2 euros!) Later, walking along the streets, we passed an ice cream shop with an amazing window display of - ice cream (pictured here)! Naturally Ray and I began reminiscing about the times when we were kids and would go into Kaiserslautern and eat (forbidden) German ice cream, and of course I had to taste the czech version (very similar to my memory!)... The woman at the counter handed me a small scoop - and then took the cone back and added a second scoop and gave it back to me - and wouldn't allow me to pay her for it. (Taste of ice cream and nostalgia: free) Now we're aboard the ship, having had our first "pampered meal" - which included an appetizer of pumpkin/smoked trout/caviar salad, among other things - and are about to give Ray his "crying towel" - the culmination (?!) of our pre-trip trash-talking! More Budapest tomorrow...

Danube Cruise, Day Two: Traveling

It was a relatively easy (but long!) trip: after 11 1/2 hours to Germany, our two-hour lay-over in Munich, where we met Ray and Chris, turned into four, but we were finally able to board our plane and head for Budapest! We didn't arrive at our hotel until after midnight, but the view from our window made it worthwhile! Here we see Castle Hill and the Chain Bridge. Now to sleep - tomorrow to explore!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Danube Cruise, Day One: The Waiting

My suitcases are packed; there are clean linens on my bed; the refrigerator is cleaned and the trash taken out; kindle and camera are fully charged. Now comes the hardest part of any trip: the waiting. Waiting for Deb to arrive. Waiting for time to go to the airport. Waiting for security. Waiting until we land...
I'm excited!
And I've discovered a terrific new ap for my phone: it translates in 57 different languages, text-to-speech, and, since I have no clue how to pronounce either Czech or Hungarian, it promises to be very helpful in locating such important venues as bathrooms!