Checking Out the Czech Republic

Good Morning Linz

Good Morning Linz


The city of Linz provided our starting point for a bus trip to the Czech Republic.  I woke up to this lovely landscape, complete with Ferris wheel – a pleasant surprise.  Breakfast was early, because the bus boarded at 8:30.  Our cruise buddies were assigned to the same bus as we were.  I think one of them had done the legwork to see that this happened and I appreciated it, because it make the excursion a very special day.

First Things First

If you’re headed to Cesky Krumlov, don’t call it Cesky.  Cesky means something like ‘bend in the river’ and apparently the Czech Republic has a lot of crooked rivers, because there are a lot of Cesky Thises and Cesky Thats.  Perfectly fine to shorten it to Krumlov, because that’s unique.

Our Czech Guide

Our Czech Guide

Next up, we loved our guide – a young hip guy who grew up in Cesky Krumlov and loves his little city.  We were half in love with it too before we even arrived.

A funny part of the bus trip was the stop at a service station.  I was never quite clear why we did it – something about changing money, but we just stretched our legs and took a stroll around the convenience store.  It reminded me of a roadside stop in the Bahamas with Josay, the worst tour guide we’ve ever had.  All the tour buses stopped there, but it was certainly no Buc-ee’s.

Sneaking in the Back Door

One thing you’ll discover if you sail with Viking – they’ve got this cruising thing down pat.  I’ve cruised with a number of different lines, both river and ocean, and I never have seen anybody who has the logistics of things figured out so completely.  They park their boats in the best places, their tour buses are just steps away from the gangplank each morning and their guides are without a doubt the best-dressed and most professional of any I saw.

Cesky Krumlov certainly qualifies as a tourist trap.  By the time we hit the castle proper, there was a deluge of folks standing around listening to a guide.  I can only imagine the parking nightmare somewhere around that town, but Viking had it’s own parking lot somewhere on the garden end of the castle grounds, away from the nightmare.

Because of  Viking, we stepped off the bus and into a Renaissance garden.  Fountains danced, the sun was shining and I was a happy camper.  Our guide allowed us a few Kodak moments and then led us down the hill and through a back gate to the castle proper.  There we were treated to some of the most charming vistas of the day.

The Castle Proper

Cesky Krumlov Castle is a UNESCO site and they do a pretty good job of attaching their name to the best places in the world.  You may never have heard of the Lords of Krumlovs, but their castle grew into an architectural history lesson.  Rather than rush you through it, the way my tour did, I’ll invite you to come back next week, but in the meantime, enjoy this video of our day in Cesky Krumlov.

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Myrtle Beach SC in the Good Old Days


Sorry to leave you hanging.  It was almost two months ago that I shared my sad tale of woe about my embarrassing day in Williamsburg, VA.  The worst thing about it was the knowledge that my busted lip and scabbed-up arm and leg were going to really sting when I got into the Atlantic Ocean.

Back to the Beach

After Williamsburg, we were headed to Myrtle Beach.  I’ve already talked about how much my family loved visiting the Lide’s beach house.  This trip was much the same, but this time Ann didn’t come.  Her brother Bobby was there and I admit I crushed on him in an embarrassing way, but hey, I was 14.

The highlights of Myrtle Beach include:

  • the carnival with a ride called The Scrambler
  • seining the ocean
  • dinner at The Captain’s Table
  • putt putt
  • driving to Calabash NC for flounder

Nothing Stays the Same

Myrtle Beach was the icing on the cake of a great vacation.  It was the last time we stayed in the beach house.  The Lide family sold it and bought a condo.  I never stayed in the condo, but my mom and dad returned year after year to play in the sand with their good friends.

These visits back to Myrtle Beach were something my parents cherished.  The guys would play golf and the ladies would shop.  Then they’d make the required visits to Calabash and The Captain’s Table, but they’d also try out everything else on the strip.  I was a little jealous that my younger sister got to go along on many of these return visits.  I was away at school or out being a career girl, so I was not supposed to mind – but I did.

In later years I would take mom back to Myrtle Beach for one more visit.  We rented a condo in a high-rise building and it was very nice, but it wasn’t the old beach house.  The carnival with The Scrambler was gone, but the main drag had become one long garish carnival with three million putt-putt courses.  The Captain’s Table was still there and the line was still long, but either the food wasn’t quite what it should have been or my tastes had changed.

The most disappointing thing about that final return to Myrtle Beach was Calabash.  In my memory, Calabash was a tiny town with a main drag peppered with the best seafood restaurants in the world.  I can still taste the fried flounder, hush-puppies and cole slaw.  We, of course, had our favorites, but you would have been hard-pressed to get a bad meal anywhere along the street.

On our final return, there was only one seafood restaurant.  Every other restaurant was a member of the usual chains you see everywhere.  The one seafood restaurant that remained was devoid of ambiance.  It was a huge barn of a place with formica-topped tables, while my memory clung to white tablecloths, impeccable service and flickering candles.

But that trip was long after my return in 1969.  I’ll tell you about it someday.  In 1970 we went to Corpus Christi for our family vacation, but I have only fleeting memories of it that wouldn’t make for much of a blog post.  We also visited cousins in Oklahoma City.  I remember a remarkable roadside tribute to Native Americans on that trek, but we didn’t have any pictures.  Though I’ve researched it in hopes of making a return, it has apparently disappeared, which is really sad.

In 1971, we moved into a new house – the one I always think of as home, so vacations took a back seat.  In 1972, we took a trip to South Texas with some friends from church.  Come back next week and I’ll show you around.


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Cesky Krumlov and the Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic


“Go” is an important word in my vocabulary.  Whatever the destination, I want to go.  I want to go to Tucumcari and Timbuktu.  I want to go on safari and I want to go shopping.  I want to go on a boat and in a plane.  However, I confess, given the option, I’ll go for the exotic every time.  Maybe not the inconvenient and uncomfortable, but exotic?  I’m all over it.

That’s how I ended up on a cruise visiting Budapest, Bratislava and Cesky Krumlov.  These aren’t cities the majority of American travelers visit, so they were ever so much more interesting to me.  I was particularly interested in Cesky Krumlov.

I Remember Czechoslovakia

Though there is nothing new under the sun, this old world has changed a lot since I was a kid.  I grew up thinking of gray-suited Soviet bureaucrats, each with a finger on the nuclear red button, as the bad guys.  Nowadays the bad guys wear turbans and are more likely to have dirty bombs than an ICBM.  I also grew up with a country named Czechoslovakia being mentioned on the nightly news.  That’s back when a guy in Poland, named Lech Wałęsa, was causing a lot of headaches for those guys with the red button.

In my twenties I was a regular visitor to West TX on Labor Day.  This charming little town, which is actually in Central TX, has a festival that celebrates all things Czech – especially kolaches and polka music. I crushed on one of the local folk dancers, lived from year to year with dreams of potato pancakes with brats and thought Brave Combo was one of the coolest bands ever.  (I’m over my crush, but I still love Brave Combo.  I still love the kolaches, too, but rarely allow myself the indulgence.)

When I first read Viking’s Danube Waltz itinerary, the inclusion of the Czech Republic gave me pause.  The last time I checked, the Danube didn’t visit Czechoslovakia  the Czech Republic.  Closer inspection revealed Cesky Krumlov would be reached by a bus trip from the dock in Linz.  That made more sense.

3l-x-6Other Viking Options

Perhaps exotic is not your thing.  If so, Viking has you covered.  If bus trips don’t do it for you, then cruisers are welcome to enjoy a walking tour in Linz.  I must warn you however,  if you take the walking tour, someone could get a picture of you on this obnoxious yellow tram.  I think it’s important for you to realize this.  The memory stick of photos we purchased on the cruise included a series of these tram pictures, some of them with close-ups.  Tourists beware!

If bus trips aren’t your problem, but you’ve never wandered around Austria, then there’s a shore excursion touring  the countryside around Linz and I would heartily recommend it.  Austria is gorgeous, especially when you get away from the big cities and wander the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches.  Having had the opportunity to do that, I knew I had to hit Cesky Krumlov.  On the other hand, having wandered the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches, it was very tempting to enjoy it again.

Let me tell you about the third option which was enjoyed by a number of my fellow cruisers.  I think they are crazy, but perhaps you’ll like their option.  We were on the boat with people who never never disembarked between the embarkation in Budapest and the final destination.  One of them was a delightful lady in a wheelchair and I got her.  She had no desire to maneuver her very cool motorized wheelchair through the streets of Europe, but she was so happy for her husband to have the opportunity.  She was petted and cooed over by the staff, and it was apparent she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

But she wasn’t alone with the crew on the boat during the day and the rest of her tribe wasn’t wheelchair-bound.  They just didn’t like all that shore excursion stuff.  They were having the time of their lives.  They’d gaily wave adios to their disembarking traveling companions in the morning and I have no idea how they occupied themselves while we were gone, but come lunch time they had the best seats in the dining room all filled up.  If there were afternoon shore excursions, they’d repeat the fond farewell of the morning and when we came back in the evening, they staked out the Aquivit Terrace as their own.  Fat chance having a drink on the bow if you didn’t have friends among the these shore excursion dropouts.

So, let me urge you, if your significant other is just dying to go on a cruise and the thought of enduring days and days of shore excursions makes you a little crazy, so ahead and go on a cruise.  You can go on a cruise, never leave the boat, and still have a great time.  Your cruise-loving companion will love you for it.

Well, we didn’t quite get to Cesky Krumlov, so I guess you’ll just have to come back next week.  See you then!



Filed under Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Going to the Chapel (and the Buffet)


Pretty amazing, huh? Last week I told you about my recent visit to Melk Abbey and compared it to a unique experience I’d enjoyed during a previous visit.  While the rest of the abbey suffered from the absence of my original guide, you really don’t need a guide in the chapel.  Anywhere your eye lands is remarkable.

The Chapel of Baroqueness

Though I’d spent much of the previous day gawking at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, when it comes to over-the-top Baroqueness, the palace didn’t hold a candle to the Melk Abbey Chapel.  I could wax eloquent over the charms of the chapel, but I’ll just let a few photographs do the talking.

Back to the Boat

With all of our senses beaten to a bloody pulp of Baroque over-stimulation, we had a choice to make when we left the chapel.  We could either grab a bus back to the boat or stroll to the dock through the small town of Melk.  For once, Mr. Bill was the more adventurous.  I still hadn’t thawed out from our wait in the courtyard, so subjecting myself to more punishment seemed foolish.  I hot-footed it to the buses with the other elderly and handicapped people, because I was feeling very elderly and quite handicapped.

The first order of business was a very long, very hot shower.  Cocktail hour was approaching.  Bill strolled in just about the moment I was strolling out.  The cocktail hour was preceded by a presentation about other Viking cruises available.  Bill had no desire to be enticed into booking our next cruise, so I went and wished on my own.

taste-of-austria-9A Taste of Austria

As far as the crew was concerned, this was a big night.  Instead of our usual leisurely dinner, we were having an enormous buffet of Austrian treats.  Each table was tricked out with checkered tablecloths and racks of huge pretzels.   The chic sophistication of the dining room was subjected to an oom-pah-pah polka band, while our wait staff donned dirndls and lederhosen.

I can’t say I was a fan.  While most of the food was good, the pretzels were a disappointment (much too tough by my American standards) and brats are not my favorite things.  However, what they missed in culinary quality they made up in gourmand quantity.  I will give them these accolades, the effort at entertainment was remarkable and the local wines they served were outstanding.

Time for Bed

After dinner we were offered a dose of Mozart in the lounge, but the foodfest was such an ordeal that I can’t even remember whether we made it to the presentation or not.  If we did, I didn’t gain any new insights into the eccentric genius.  I do remember crawling into bed in utter exhaustion.

I’ll leave you with a summary video of our day in the Wachau Valley.  Come back next week and we’ll visit our next stop along the Danube.


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Marvelous Melk Abbey


A peek at the Wachau Valley from inside the Abbey walls


A Return to Marvelous Melk Abbey

Of all the places I’ve traveled to over the years, Melk Abbey qualifies as one of the most remarkable.  All they need in the dictionary, to define the word Baroque, is a picture of the chapel’s interior.  But that dictionary doesn’t have enough words in it to adequately describe the wonders you will see inside the abbey.

Melk Abbey has become somewhat of a tourist trap in the days since my last visit, 3-4 decades ago.  I remember parking on the street, strolling over to the abbey and having a private tour with my small busload of tourists.  This time I disembarked along a riverside crowded with cruise boats and hordes of people heading toward the abbey.  Do not be dismayed or discouraged.  Just line up and go with it.  The abbey is worth your time and the hassle of dealing with tourists and guides.

The weather was miserably cold and damp, while my gear was sadly inadequate.  What was intended to be a pleasant stroll through a garden and a chance to visit a small outdoor cafe, was instead an overlong huddle in the abbey’s courtyard.

Eventually the ubiquitous Viking guides, with their red jackets and numbered signs, showed up to talk us through the experience.  Since my last visit, the abbey has had some renovations and remodeling, adding several exhibit rooms displaying a wonderful array of abbey treasures.  While the exhibits are truly extraordinary, I would have easily traded them in on the opportunity to see my first guide just one more time.

bps10032016_0001The Charming Abbot Emeritus of Melk

And here’s the reason I enjoyed my first visit to Melk ever so much more than I did my return.  The sweet little man in this photo had been the abbot of this remarkable place for many years and he loved it almost as much as he did God.  He’d been retired from running the place for only a little while and had been assigned the joy of sharing it with others.  During the tour he’d come to a closed door and look around surreptitiously to see if anyone was watching.  If the coast was clear, he’d wrench open the door and say, “I’m not supposed to show you this, but I didn’t want you to miss it.”  Then he’d go on to tell us a marvelous story about something that happened in the room or a tidbit about the artist who decorated it.

I loved him so much that I wanted to bundle him up and take him home with me.  My admiration for the place was obvious and he begged me to come back some time and visit him.  He confided that when there wasn’t such a crowd, he could show me other places in the abbey.

That small busload of travelers would have been lost in the horde of  tourists on my latest visit.  I wonder what my friend would have thought about the abbey’s popularity.  The guides did a great job of sharing architectural highlights, but they were completely devoid of the affection the Abbot Emeritus displayed. I’ve always wished I could have returned for the promised private tour, but life changed for me after that trip and it was a long time before I crossed the ocean again.  Too long of a time for the Abbot Emeritus to give me a tour.

Trompe-l'œil tricks the eye into thinking there's a dome above the stairwell.

Trompe-l’œil tricks the eye into thinking there’s a dome above the stairwell.

Gorgeous Melk

Even without the Abbot Emeritus to show us around, the wonders of the abbey are apparent.  This guide was quite good about rolling off pertinent dates of the abbey’s history, but she was not as insistent about keeping our eyes focused upwards.  In every room the Abbot Emeritus told us to look up, as he described in detail the story of the ceiling frescoes.  The average tourist probably misses the wonder of contemplating the effects of  trompel’œil.

Sure the ceilings are beautiful, but gazing up your eyes are tricked into thinking you are looking up at arched ceilings and domes.  It’s all an optical illusion, because the ceilings of the abbey are flat.  There is one stairwell where the tour highlights the painted effects, but they are ignored in the rest of the abbey.

This is not a dome!

This is not a dome either!

The guide also didn’t tell us any of the enchanting tales of the artist, tales of which I’ve long forgotten the details, but I had hoped to be reminded of during this visit.  Nor did she explain in detail the meaning behind the elaborate frescoes.  She was pedantic about the many ways the features of the abbey were Baroque in nature, but I was more interested in being reminded why they were unique.  

Eventually, I gave up and quit listening to her.  Instead I recalled the chuckles of glee my first guide shared with me and I wandered about mouth agape.  I tried to jog my memory for the details of the frescoes and their painter, but they’d gotten lost somewhere along the way.  More than once I stumbled into a fellow tourist because my eyes were glued above my head, rather than at my immediate surroundings.

I’ve saved the best for last, but in the meantime ran out of words for today.  Come back next week and we’ll visit the chapel.


Filed under Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Confessions of a Busy Blogger


Yes, I know.  I dropped off the face of the earth last week – at least as far as this blog is concerned.  What you might not know is that when you don’t see me here, I still have a footprint.

See, I took on a new blogging responsibility and it’s ever so much more exciting than my own stuff that I forget to blog about myself.  Let me tell you about it!

Global Heart Ministries

20151114_204930About a year ago I attended an event at The Hope Center.  I’d been involved in the ministry, in a tangential way, for a couple of years, but at this event I took anoather step.   I handed my card to one of the board members and offered to help if they needed a writer.  It wasn’t long until I heard from them.  Nothing big, just polishing some scripts that had been roughly translated.

I liked them.  They liked me.  From time to time they’d ask me to do other things besides writing and I liked those things, too.  OK, so I was hooked.  I could tell they needed more of my time and attention, even if they couldn’t afford to pay me for it.

So, I suggested I start coming into the office from 10-2 several days a week and they took me up on it.  That lasted about 2 seconds.  Anytime I show up, I can never leave at 2 and often find myself there long after 5 has passed.  And there are weekends and early morning texts and…well, I just got back from a three day conference.  You see where this is going.

dsc_0363The Other Place I Blog

One of the first orders of business when I joined Global Heart Ministries was to start blogging.  If you like this blog you might like that one (  I blog about Dallas events such as the Open Heart Tea and A Night of Dreams.  I also blog about faraway places such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.  I even blog about TV personalities like Narmin Backus and Tarana Lindsey. Haven’t heard of them?  That’s because you don’t live in Azerbaijan.  Over there, they’re as famous as Oprah!

The truth is, I reach a lot more folks over there than I do from here.  While I reach about 2400 people on social media with this blog, over 4500 folks saw one of my recent posts for GHM. But not to worry.  While I might get busy over there and miss a post or two over there, I will never be gone very long from Travel Talk.  It is my first love.

efEsther’s Friends

I wear another hat over at Global Heart Ministries.  I’m the Volunteer Coordinator.  We’ve just launched an exciting organization for women called Esther’s Friends.  If you’re looking for a place to matter where you can do things to further the Gospel in places like Central Asia and the Middle East, then I’ve got just the thing for you.

Join the Journey

I’d love to share all the excitement with you.  Follow the blog, be our friend on Facebook or love us on Instagram.  You’ll enjoy it.  I promise!


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Cruising the Wachau Valley

Cruise Buddies on the Sun Deck

Cruise Buddies on the Sun Deck


After a pleasant morning in the small town of Durnstien, our longboat headed towards Melk.  This stretch of the river is quintessential Danube cruising.  Verdant green forests, craggy hills topped with ruins, picturesque villages hugging the riverbank – what’s not to like!  The whole area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Let’s go!

I’m a Wimp and I Know It!

On that cruise I took in my head, before we boarded the Viking Tor, I planned on enjoying the Wachau Valley from the comfort of my private balcony.  I hadn’t considered there were two riverbanks to watch.  I just imagined feeling all kinds of luxurious in my own space, but I realized I needed a better plan.

Bill thought the Sun Deck would be the perfect spot for taking in the sights, but I wasn’t liking the idea so much.  While the day was bright and sunny, there was a definite chill to the air.  I’m not into cold.  Skiing is not my thing.  I can’t get very excited about an Alaskan cruise.  Besides, I had just done my hair.  I could only imagine what a few hours on deck, with the wind pummeling my tresses, would do to my coiffure.  I refer to that stuff on my head as a force of nature and you’re not supposed to mess with Mother Nature.  I thought the lounge was a better place to take in the sights.

3W (6)On My Own…For a While

Bill and I are one of those couples who do most things together, but we’re not connected at the hip.  I’m an early bird and he’s a night owl.  He heads off to the golf course with his buddies and I’m content to hang with my bestie.  In fact, I seem to operate best when I’ve had some alone time and there hadn’t been much of that on our cruise.  The Wachau Valley seemed like a good place to catch up with me.

I shooed Bill up to the Sun Deck and found a spot up in the lounge to take in the sights.  I’d gaze out the window for awhile and then spend a few moments catching up in my journal.  I was loving the scenery, but I was loving my alone time even more.

Bill showed up a couple of time to report on the Sun Deck activity.  The first time was a quick drop by and I was soon on my own again.  The next time his visit was a little longer.  He told me about the amazing view.  He let me know that our cruise buddies were on deck.  He thought I’d be interested to know the crew was handing out warm blankets and hot beverages.  I sent him on his way.

Then he was back.  This time he’d gotten it all figured out.  I could go by the room and put on some more layers.  Then I could have all the blankets I wanted.  And if I didn’t like it, I could leave, but I should give it a try, but only if I wanted to…My alone time was over.

3W (10)Alright, Already!

So I went up to the Sun Deck.  I will admit the view was gorgeous.   It’s too bad WordPress’s media feature won’t handle panoramic pictures, because we got a humdinger.  You’ll just have to trust me.

I really did try to make a go of it.  I resented having my alone time interrupted, but once I was up and out, I did try to enjoy it.  I really did, but I didn’t succeed.  After just a few minutes wrapped in the festive blanket, Bill let me out of my misery.

It was almost time for lunch, so I didn’t get back to my spot in the lounge.  After lunch we’d be touring Melk Abbey.  Our pictures don’t do justice to the Wachau Valley, but I’ll show you some anyway.  Come back next week for Melk.  It was one of the highlights of the trip.



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