Tag Archives: Cruising

A Lovely Afternoon in Passau

5p-oooTRAVEL THERE: GLADLY GUIDELESS IN GERMANY

After lunch Bill and I ventured into Passau on our own.  While we’d been frustrated by our guide’s demeanor during the morning, he had led us through a shopping area and shown us a nice riverside walkway.  Passau is no Vienna and we’d had lunch, so Bill was amenable to hoofing it around on our own.

 

A Marvelous Afternoon

While our morning tour had left a bad taste in our mouth, it had not besmirched the charming little town.  The first item on my agenda was to find some tokens for my friends.  A thorough search of the room did not turn up any of the darling gingerbread ornaments I bought in Cesky Krumlov, so I needed to get busy.  I wanted to get something for my Bible Study girls and then I had a couple of other friends for whom I wanted to buy something more substantial.

Ludwigstrasse

Ludwigstrasse

Passau has a significant pedestrian area with shops called Ludwigstrasse and nearby are a couple multistory of enclosed malls.  My patient husband wandered through all of these with me, hunting down the appropriate souvenirs – only I wasn’t finding much that I thought was appropriate.  Finally, we wandered into a knick-knack store and while most of the items were tacky bibelots   with the words “Passau, Germany” emblazoned on them, I found a shelf populated with charming ceramic cherubs molded into a variety of poses.  I’d found the trinkets I wanted for my Bible Study girls.

5p-ooo-3Strolling Along the River

I was still baffled about what to get for my best friend and my next door neighbor, who is truly the best next door neighbor in the world, but Mr. Bill was ready to roll.  We headed toward the river and were hugely rewarded.

The morning had been chilly in more ways than one.  Yes, our guide had been Mr. Rude, but the weather was overly crisp, also.  I’d layered up with a denim jacket and a wool cape, but had still been uncomfortable.  The afternoon weather was so glorious that we might have been in Dallas on one of its best days.

We discovered it was the first really warm day for Passau that spring and the whole town had turned out to enjoy the river.  Children tossed balls into the air.  Lovers ogled one another on shared blankets.  Giggly girls shared secrets strolling along the river.  Another girl sat on a stairway leading down to the river captivated by a book.  Beer drinking students toasted everyone that walked by.  It was like a movie set!

Once More to the Ludwigstrasse

Armed with a map the rude guide had provided, Bill and I maneuvered around the finger of land pointing to the confluence of the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube.  When we got back to the boat, Bill agreed to hit the Ludwigstrasse with me one more time.  I was in a tizzy.  I had to finish packing and dress for dinner soon, but I just didn’t want to head home without something for my friends.

As I bounced from storefront to storefront appalled at the pricing, Bill came to the rescue.  One of the clothing stores was having a bit of a sidewalk sale and Bill pointed it out.  I doubted anything would be affordable, even marked down, because all the prices I had seen were pretty steep.  Bill helped me figure out the exchange rate and the discount.  Suddenly, I was all smiles.  Not only had we found exactly what I’d love to get for Deb and Sherry, but I wasn’t going to break the bank!

It was a quiet night on board.  The evening happy hour was devoted to disembarking instructions.  Dinner was delicious, but sad.  We’d made wonderful friends and we didn’t know when we’d see them again.  Then there we had to be out early in the morning.  For all practical purposes, the cruise was over.

Come back next week and I’ll get you back to Dallas.  In the meantime, enjoy this video of our final stop.

 

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A Great Night of On-board Entertainment

Cruise buddy Deb hams it up with the talent

Cruise buddy, Deb, hams it up with the talent

TRAVEL THERE: RODGERS, HAMMERSTEIN AND MOZART

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did!

Back to Elegant Dining

I’d been disappointed by the over-hyped Taste of Austria dinner.  Visually, it had been lovely, but the culinary experience couldn’t beat what we’d already been enjoying.  Quality not quantity is my interest.

After my trot around Linz, we scurried back to the boat and I jumped into my evening attire.  This was the penultimate evening of the cruise and the captain was throwing a cocktail party.  That included a toast, which meant champagne would be served.  So I was janie-on-the spot in the lounge.  I didn’t want to miss any champagne.  The captain didn’t try to labor through another bout of English, thankfully.  Instead our cruise director translated for him.

After the toast, the lederhosen, dirndls and oom-pah-pah were gone from the dining room- much to our relief.  We waxed nostalgic about our service throughout the evening as if we’d been living on the boat for years, instead of a matter of days.  The Viking Daily had promised Mozart and the Sound of Music as our evenings entertainment and we wondered how that mixture would pan out.

A Salzburgian Romp

A troupe of singers appeared and offered a few tunes.  Their voices were wonderful and they wore authentic period costumes.  The evening started out very high-brow and then they began the audience participation part of the performance.  I was not surprised in the least that they chose Bill.  They always choose Bill.  I’m beginning to think he must be offering bribes.  Anyway,  here’s a few photos from his appearance.

That was fun, but the next part was even more wonderful.  They switched from classical to a classic, The Sound of Music.  I can’t say I was actually yearning for tunes from the Julie Andrews movie, but as soon as the first few bars of intro wafted through the lounge, I had tears in my eyes.  The singers merely zipped through the soundtrack, hitting the high points, which was lovely, but I secretly wanted more.  I wanted to be reminded of every frame of the movie and especially Edelweiss, which is on my personal top 10 (along with Leon Russell’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and  Gordon Lightfoot’s Rainy Day People.)  I’ve never streamed a movie to my phone, but it did cross my mind that evening.

The performers were real characters.  They were hamming it up with all the guests, so Bill wasn’t the only one to garner their attention.  He’s just the only one who entered the spotlight.  After the performers left, the tempo got much faster and the girls hit the dance floor.   I have a few more photos to share below.

The boat didn’t head towards our next destination until 10:30 and I’d entertained thoughts of taking another stroll onshore, but it didn’t happen.  If you let them, Viking will fill every moment of your day and that’s what happened on this particular day, except for the visit to the Mariendom.

Next up is Passau, Germany.  Come back next week and visit this lovely little town at the confluence of rivers.

 

 

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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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Going to the Chapel (and the Buffet)

3m-44TRAVEL THERE: THE CHAPEL AT MELK ABBEY

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

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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Cafe Tirolerhof – a Rick Steves Fail

Still Raining in Vienna

Still Raining in Vienna

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE NOT TO HAVE LUNCH IN VIENNA

While many of the wonderful things I discovered on my Danube River Cruise I can attribute directly to Rick Steves,  he failed me miserably at lunch in Vienna.  Please don’t go to Cafe Tirolerhof.

Rain, Rain Go Away

When I first shared my dream day in Vienna with my husband, he balked at lunch and dinner in the city.  He couldn’t understand why we’d look for places to eat, when we had a perfectly good boat serving both meals without incurring any extra cost.  I explained how we’d be a bit of a stroll and a subway ride away from the boat in the Hofburg environs, creating both time and monetary constraints on our day.  He seemed to acquiesce to my research, but I don’t think he actually gave up on getting back to the boat for lunch.

When we exited the Treasury he was on museum overload and he really wanted that lunch.  We had a few tense minutes, but the sun was a little bit on my side and it appeared we were in for some better weather, so Bill agreed to take in some of the sites which were, by my estimation, within walking distance – but first he wanted to sit down and have a meal.

Cafe Tirolerhof

I read him Rick Steves’ description of Cafe Tirolerhof, “a classic Viennese cafe full of things that time has passed by: chandeliers, marble tables, upholstered booths, waiters in tuxes and newspapers.”  Sounds irresistible, right? And the cafe was only a block away.

Well, it’s not really that Rick Steves lied.  Everything he listed was there, but instead of being as charming as it sounded, it was creepy and somewhat disturbing.  My first complaint is that along with all the other things time has passed by, the Tirolerhof has a whole lot of dirt their staff has been passing by for a long time.  I’ve heard waiters in Viennese coffeehouses can be rude to American tourists.  Well, the Cafe Tirolerhof waiters are rude to everyone – a real equal opportunity situation.

What’s more the menu is downright weird. I pride myself on being able to pick something delicious off menus in unfamiliar places – even when the menus aren’t in English.  Well, the Tirolerhof menu is translated into English, but you want to believe something is lost in translation.  Let me tell you, it’s not.  The food is as weird as it says it is.  What’s more the cafe does not take credit cards and because the broken credit card machine at the Imperial Apartments had forced us to use most of our euros, I had to wander down the street and figure out the Viennese ATM.

The Gray Continues, But at Least the Rain Quit – For a While

Love is the only thing that saved me at this juncture.  The sun which had been on my side right before lunch had once again retreated, but it wasn’t raining right that minute.  Having already paid for lunch, Bill figured he might as well let me trot around the palace environs, especially since I promised we’d just be sightseeing, not paying fees and trudging through museums.

So we set off on the walking tour I had charted out in my head.  What else should you see when you visit the Hofburg?  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our trek.

 

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