Tag Archives: Austria

A Little of Linz

Happy on the Hauptplatz

Happy on the Hauptplatz

TRAVEL THERE: HANGING ON THE HAUPTPLATZ

Once the bus returned us to the boat from our excursion to the Czech Republic, we only had about forty-five minutes before it was time to get ready for dinner.  Having had the chance to rest up on the bus ride, we were raring to visit Linz, so we dropped off our junk in our cabin and hit the gangplank again.

Lovely Afternoon in Linz

In Cesky Krumlov it had been a tad bit chilly, so I’d been all layered up to keep warm.  Linz was a whole different story.  There we regretted our long sleeves.

As with most of our stops, our boat was docked adjacent to exactly what we wanted to see.  We stepped off the boat and into the Hauptplatz, one of the largest main squares in Austria. You can see the plague column behind us in the photo above and the Old Rathaus is nearby.  In fact, I had a map showing this square is the center of sightseeing, but it was late and most things had closed – not to mention that we barely had time to walk down the street a bit and then get back to the boat. So we kept to the main thoroughfare.

received_1074321999293611The architecture along the venerable main street is gorgeous.  Churches butt up against chic boutiques and everything looks as if a modern day Hapsburg is coming for inspection.  The one thing I really wanted to see was the Mariendom. The “new” cathedral can accommodate 20,000 people.  I figured that would be worth seeing.

We didn’t get very far down the street until we ran into our cruise buddies.  They’d hit the streets directly from the bus and were already headed back to the boat.  We wanted to explore a little more.

3l-5Finding a cathedral to accommodate 20,000 isn’t all that hard if you’re anywhere near it, so soon we found a side street that took us right up to the big church.  We were only there for a few minutes, but I have to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed the respite from tourism.

All the other churches we’d been to were definite tourist destinations.  We’d gotten to Mariendom late enough for the tour buses and their occupants to be gone.  A few parishioners were spread among the sea of pews and were obviously praying.  This was a church that was really a church.  It felt like God was there, so I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the wonderful trip we were enjoying.  Then I couldn’t resist getting the panoramic picture above!

Though we hadn’t really taken much time at all, we had to hurry back to the boat.  Bill still managed to grab a few shots along the way.  I’ll share those with you and then I hope you’ll be back next week, because it was a favorite night of entertainment.  Enjoy Linz!

 

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Checking Out the Czech Republic

Good Morning Linz

Good Morning Linz

TRAVEL THERE: SHORE EXCURSION TO CESKY KRUMLOV

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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Cesky Krumlov and the Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

TRAVEL THERE: SOME PLACES SEEM FURTHER AWAY THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE

“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!

 

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Marvelous Melk Abbey

3m-41

A peek at the Wachau Valley from inside the Abbey walls

TRAVEL THERE: THE GLORIES OF BAROQUE IN SPADES

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.

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