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

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.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Cruising the Wachau Valley

Cruise Buddies on the Sun Deck
Cruise Buddies on the Sun Deck

TRAVEL THERE: FROM DURNSTIEN TO MELK ON THE DANUBE

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.

 

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Durnstein, Gateway to the Wachau Valley

3D Tor (35)TRAVEL THERE: DARLING LITTLE DURNSTEIN

Going on a cruise, in some ways, is like travelling for dummies.  All I had to do was show up for a spoon-fed itinerary.  Sometimes that was great, like Budapest and Vienna.  Then again there were the Bratislavas out there, where things were not exactly the way I  wanted it.  Had I been planning a road trip through Austria, I doubt Durnstein would have made the cut, but having been there on a cruise, I found it a perfectly charming place to spend a morning.

3D (7)On Your Own or By Shore Excursion?

I knew less than nothing about Durnstein and what research I was able to do didn’t tell me much else.  Alone, I may have taken a hike up to the craggy ruins of Durnstein castle, but instead, I reserved spots for Bill and I on the Optional Shore Excursion.  I figured after Vienna he’d be pretty well done with me and my explorations – and I was right.  Even though we had to pay extra for the escorted walking tour, Bill was happy to do so.

The town is so tiny that it would be impossible to get lost, so we didn’t really need a guide.  In addition,the town has exactly one significant historical fact associated with it – Richard the Lionhearted was held for ransom in the castle on the hill.  The only other item of any interest was Princess Di and Dodi Fayed meeting there for their romantic trysts.  It’s funny the only claims to fame for this charming little place on the Danube River were both related to the British throne.

While I can’t exactly recommend the escorted walking tour as a good value, you absolutely must walk through the winding cobblestone streets and get a feel for the place.  I wished for a little freedom to check out the shopping opportunities, but the tour trotted right past them – perhaps because it was so early.  The walking tour began at 8:30 AM and that’s just about the time all the lorries were making their deliveries.  There was actually a traffic jam!

3D (25)The Crown Jewel of Durnstein

The tour ended at the church where we were delivered for an organ concert.  On the outside, the church, with its blue and white tower, looks much like other churches in the area.  What sets it apart is the interior.  During the 1700’s, it was renovated by one of its abbots.  Our day would be book-ended by abbey churches and Melk Abbey is, without a doubt, the most over-the-top religious edifice I have ever seen.  Still Durnstien, while smaller, gives Melk a run for its Baroque money.

Before the organ concert we were guided through an odd hallway along a series of alcoves filled with scenes from the Bible.  That was a little weird, kind of like window-shopping for a Bible story, but the guide who attends the church was quite proud of them.  Then we were seated in the pews and the organ concert began.

Organ concerts are an acquired taste and this organ had a sort of wheezy, high pitched shrill to it.  We were informed of the uniqueness of the small organ and the talent of the organist. I’m glad to have heard it, but would have been happier with a smaller taste of its product.

3D (41)Should you go to Durnstien, skip the escort and wander the enchanting lanes on your own.  Do see the interior of the church and if the concert is available, by all means take a seat and listen.  Then tighten up the laces on your hiking boots and head up the hill to the castle.  We didn’t have time for it, but those who went there, instead of taking the escorted tour, raved about the view.

From the church we strolled along the river’s edge and enjoyed the beautiful morning.  This seems to be a different Danube than the one we enjoyed earlier in the cruise.  It actually is the same river, but so quiet and so bucolic, that you can’t imagine it is also the lifeblood of vibrant cities like Budapest and Vienna.

I’ll leave you with various scenes from the lovely little town and next week we’ll visit the Wachau Valley,  a UNESCO Heritage Site.

 

 

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL

A Stroll Through Vienna

Now where was the boat?
Now where was the boat?

TRAVEL THERE: MILKING THE SHORE EXCURSION FOR ALL I CAN GET

So, after a morning of museums, Bill was done with Vienna and ready to go back to the boat for lunch.  However, if we went back, I knew he wouldn’t be getting off the boat again, so I convinced him to at least have some lunch in the city.  I told you how that went.  Shame on you Rick Steves!  Now I’ll tell you about the balance of the day.

A Drizzly Walking Tour

Because he loves me and maybe a little bit because he’d loved the architecture he’d seen so far, Mr.Bill agreed to a stroll around the Hofburg environs for awhile.  I was able to show him on the map that I didn’t plan to get more than a block or two away from the palace, so he set his teeth and headed off with me.

Whereas Mr. Bill was trying to be cooperative, the weather was not.  The sun played peek-a-boo (more boo that peek) with us and whenever the sun disappeared, the drizzle would return.  Was is miserable?  Yes!  Was I going to let it deter me? NO!

The Gang at the Opera
The Gang at the Opera – a bit damp but quite happy!

Our first stop after lunch was the State Opera House.  I would have dearly loved to go to one of their productions or take a tour of the interior, but that didn’t fit into our  schedule.  I have to confess that the exterior of the venerable old lady was not one of my favorite edifices of the day.  It really pales in comparison to surrounding buildings.  However, that’s where we ran into our shipmates and that was a bright spot in the day.  I have to admit they pranked me.  They pretended they were lost and asked me to show them how to get back to the boat.

After that Bill trudged along behind me snapping pictures of the sights along the Ringstrausse.  I got him all the way down to the Rathausplatz before he mutinied and demanded to be taken back to the boat.  So we strolled through the Volksgarten towards the Grabenplatz.  I reminded him of the Dortheum, an auction house he’d shown some interest in during my days of research.  Rick Steves redeemed himself, because that was quite interesting.  Maybe not as interesting as Rick made it sound, but interesting – and dry.

3V Walk (60)The Dortheum is about half a block from Grabenplatz and from there we entered the underground at Stephanplatz.  We had a little difficulty purchasing our return ticket, but the problem was with the machine, not us and a nice subway attendant lady came and helped.  Soon we were back on board the Tor – just in time for our afternoon tea break.  Bill was once again a happy boy.

Dinner was a little later this evening than it was during the rest of the cruise, because they were serving a special meal to those heading out to a night shore excursion.  Had I known how the day would go, I would have probably opted for one of them, but part of the adventure of traveling is not knowing.  Sometimes that’s good and sometimes you end up having a quiet evening on the boat.  Since our friends were on the evening shore excursion, we had a quieter than usual evening, but a good one.  We still very much enjoy each others’ company.

I’ll share our pictures from our walk about, then I hope you’ll come back next week for The Wachau Valley.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Hofburg Palace Treasury

3V T (14)TRAVEL THERE: HOW DO YOU SPELL EXCESS?

Exiting from the Hofburg’s Imperial Apartments in Vienna, we discovered it was still raining on our parade.  A little morning precipitation had been disheartening.  To discover drizzle still dominating the day was downright frustrating.

Mourning the Loss of Plan A

I know my husband.  It’s all well and good to spend a few hours in a museum and the Imperial Apartments were extraordinarily fine museums, but I’d better have something else besides museums on the agenda.

Plan A was designed with just that in mind.  Next door to the palace is the Volksgarten.  We’re talking European next door, not American.  That means right across a small street from the exit of the Imperial Apartments is this popular garden.  We were supposed to catch our breath from all that royal grandeur in a lovely garden which just happened to have a coffee kisok right there.  It was perfect or at least it should have been.

The glorious Volksgarten is not so inviting in the pouring rain.
The glorious Volksgarten is not so inviting in the pouring rain.

Instead, the main thing we wanted to do was get out of the rain.  I half-heartedly offered up chocolate at Dremel or a visit to the Dortheum, an auction house he’s shown an interest in.  I know either one would have been a good choice, but right then all he wanted to do was get out of the rain.  Well, he’d probably have been perfectly happy to take a taxi back to the boat and see what kind of pastries were available at the free coffee bar.

Because he loves me, he wanted me to see the most important things on my very long list of must-see attractions, but he wasn’t thrilled about it.  A part of me whispered that I should get this man back to the boat and let him browse the coffee bar, but I was afraid that if I did, I’d miss everything else on my list.  He doesn’t approve of me wandering around strange cities without an escort of some kind and once he was back on the boat, I’m betting dynamite would not have gotten him off it for yet another subway ride and more stomping around in the rain.

As I stood there with all of this floating around in my mind I mourned the possibilities I’d wished for.  I’d imagined Bill in the Volksgarten, with his cup of coffee in hand, oooohing and aaaahing over all the wonderful options we had to choose from.  Instead the chill of the mist was invading our crevices and Bill became impatient with my list of attractions.  “What are we closest to that’s inside?” he wanted to know.  “The Treasury,” I replied,”but it’s a museum.”  He said, “lead the way.”

Back into the Hofburg

Thanks to my friend, Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe guide book and DK Eyewitness Travel’s Top 10 Vienna, I knew my way around the palace.  I led Bill through a tunnel to the In der Burg courtyard, through the Swiss Gate to the Schweizerhof which held the Treasury.  Part of me whispered I was making a big mistake, but this was number two on my list of must-see’s and it was out of the rain, so I didn’t know what else to do.  I think this was one of those lose-lose situations and there had not been a correct answer to the drizzle dilemma.

We were wowed by the Treasury.  Bill’s fatigue was dispelled as he began photographing everything in sight.  I kept trying to put it all together.  This was the fourth day of the cruise and all four days had been dominated by the Hapsburg Dynasty.  We’d already seen so many remarkable sites associated with their wealth, grandeur and power.  I couldn’t get over the fact that the Hapsburgs toted all this stuff around with them wherever they went.  I’d assumed that each of their many castles had it’s own set of china and flatware, but instead the emperors and their entourage packed it all up in velvet and silk lined leather boxes to carry it with them.  After all, an empress never knows when she might need several hundred silver charging plates.

As if the Silver Collection of the Imperial Apartments had not held enough treasures for any dynasty, we were now in a treasury which was chockablock with more golden, silver and jeweled wonders.  At some point my disbelief checked itself out and I just wandered around awestruck.

I’ll share some of the pictures Bill took.  Then you come back next week and hear how my dream day in Vienna continued to disintegrate.

 

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

The Rest of the Imperial Apartments

In between the wonders of the Imperial Apartments
In between the wonders of the Imperial Apartments

TRAVEL THERE: COMING DOWN OFF MY DECORATIVE ARTS HIGH

So we’re in Vienna on Viking’s Danube Waltz Cruise.  I’ve just been through the Silver Collection of the Hofburg’s Imperial Apartments and my excitement level is at about 27 out of 10.  The Hofburg allows you to take all the photographs you want in the Silver Collection, but you have to put your cameras away for the Sissi Museum and Imperial Apartments, so you’re imagination (or the internet) will have to provide the visuals.  

The Sissi Phenomena

Austrians love their Empress Elizabeth and I can’t exactly figure out why.  Her story starts out pretty well.  Beloved daughter of obscure Bavarian royalty enjoys an idyllic childhood.  In her early teens, she tagged along on a trip with her big sister, who was being checked out by the Crown Prince of the Hapsburg Dynasty as a potential mate.  Once old Fredrick laid eyes on Elizabeth, big sis was toast.  Within days, Freddy and his “Sissi” were engaged, to the extreme joy of everyone in Europe, with the exception (perhaps) of big sis.

A few days later, the story changes.  Sissi is a drama queen.  She starts wringing her hands and emoting all over her diary.  Poor pitiful princess finds being adored a real challenge.  The rest of her life is one big panic attack.  I’m sorry.  I’m not suggesting panic attacks aren’t serious, but Little Miss Sissi makes a career out of them.  Pretty much her whole life can be summed up by the famous Garbo line, “I want to be alone.”

Now the woman’s life was punctuated by tragedies, but she’d already cast herself as the Queen of Melodrama long before any of them occurred.  By the time her son committed suicide, mama was already far along down the road to nutcase.  This is a woman who spent three hours on her hair each day and she thought her most important duty in life was to keep her eighteen inch waist.  No wonder her son was desperate for female affection and committed suicide when his mistress was going to be taken from him.

In spite of her complete failure in the wife and mother department (she did give birth to several children, but then promptly ignored them) she was adored by her rather stick-in-the-mud hubby and idolized by her subjects.  I just don’t appreciate all her hand-wringing.  I prefer somebody like Empress Maria-Theresa, who gets out there and does something more with her life than fix her hair, watch her waistline and write dreadful poetry.

So, with the opinion I have of the woman, you can imagine I was not thrilled with the “Sissi Museum” section of the Imperial Apartments.  It was interesting to see some of her clothes and other personal items, but I would have been happy with a small sampling, instead of room after room of Austrian swooning.

The Imperial Apartments at the End of the Trail

By the time we actually reached the Imperial Apartments I was worn out.  We’d been through the excitement of finding our own way to the Hofburg from our longship via Vienna’s underground and Graben Strasse.  I’d exulted over every item in the extensive Silver Collection and then been held hostage by the Sissi Fan Club, but we weren’t finished.  Now we entered the actual Apartments all tricked out as they had been during the reign of Emperor Fredrich and his tragic Empress Sissi.

Confession, I was underwhelmed.  Yes, they were beautiful apartments exquisitely furnished, but it just wasn’t my taste.  I much prefer Schonbrunn Palace or the delightful Linderhof.  Maybe if I had liked Sissi more or hadn’t been so overwhelmed by the Silver Collection, I might have enjoyed the Imperial Apartments more, but that’s the way it goes.  All three sections are included in the price of admission, so check them all out, but if your time is limited and you love Decorative Arts, spend your time at the Silver Collection!

So where did we go next on our rainy day in Vienna.  Come back next week and find out.

ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Hofburg’s Imperial Apartments – A Real Must-See

Here's a place you need to see to believe!
Here’s a place you need to see to believe!

TRAVEL THERE: MORE GOLD THAN YOU CAN COMPREHEND

Let me make one thing very clear, if you are in Vienna, don’t miss the Hofburg.  If I had gone there on my very first visit to the city I don’t know if I would have ever gotten to anyplace else in Vienna, ever.  Chances are, if I ever do get back to Vienna, I’ll be making a beeline the Hofburg and the first thing I will do is go visit the Imperial Apartments – again and again and again.

Getting There

The Stephanplatz is a good starting point for all things Vienna.  When you land there you are moments away from the Hofburg.  Enjoy those moments.  Gawk at the goods in the designer stores, people-watch and stop in Dremel for some chocolate.  Spend some time at Michaelplatz, the grand entrance of the Hofburg.  As if to prove this has been always been the center of activity in Vienna, you’ll find an archaeological dig with Roman ruins right outside the entrance to the palace.

Don’t hurry through the Michaelplatz.  Along with the Roman ruins you’ll see spectacular sculptures.  If architecture is your thing, turn around and gaze at the very plain bank building across from the palace.  A persnickety architect, built the building as his home to act as affront to what he considered the very gaudy palace.  Poor Bill!  I was desperate to capture all of this in photographs and he obliged me, but it wasn’t exactly the right day for great pictures.

Entering The Imperial Apartments

After enjoying Michealplatz, enter the palace and turn right.  You’ll be in the vestibule of the Imperial Apartments where you get your ticket to enter.  We had the misfortune of being there when their credit card machine wasn’t working.  Instead of being in a tizzy, trying to find out what was wrong and how to fix it like American cashiers would be, the attendant informed us we’d have to use cash in a very blase manner suggesting she really didn’t care whether we saw the museum or not.  I felt very American at that point.  I wanted her to sympathize with the fact that she’d be depleting almost the entire cache of our euros.  Euros Bill had been loathe to buy and besides that her city was raining on us.  This was all very distressing.  You’ll be glad to know I managed to restrain myself and cough up the necessary euros, but that didn’t mean I was happy about it.

Decorative Arts Heaven

My dismay was short-lived, because I was soon standing in Decorative Arts heaven.  I cannot begin to tell you how amazing and wonderful the Imperial Apartments are.  As I lay dying, with my life passing before me, a good portion of the pictures I’ll see will be from the Imperial Apartments’ Silver Collection.  Hyperbole?  Don’t judge me until you see this!

Calling this orgy of beauty the Imperial Apartments is a bit of a misnomer.  The Silver Collection is actually the first part of three very different attractions which have been rolled into one.  The actual Imperial Apartments are at the end of the line and while quite nice, they are nothing compared to the Silver Collection.

To help you better understand why I am so blown away with the “Silver Collection” you first have to understand silver is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is silver and gold and porcelain and linens and even the boxes they transported all these wonders in.  We’re talking flatware, dishes, epergnes, vases, platters, bowls, tureens, napkins, tablecloths – all in multiples like you would not believe.

I’m someone who will dutifully spend hours stomping through the rest of a huge museum for the privilege of spending time in the one small room most institutions devote to the Decorative Arts.  There are museums which have more Decorative Arts than others, for which I am grateful, but I’ve never been anywhere like this.

I think I’ll just shut up and show you the pictures Bill took for me.  Then maybe next week I’ll tell you about the rest of the Imperial Apartments.

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Music, Performing Arts, TRAVEL

Shore Excursion to Bratislava, Slovakia

TRAVEL THERE: NOT EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED IN BRATISLAVA

Bratislava is a lovely little town with the oldest surviving town gate in Continental Europe.  However, I ran into several complications in my efforts to enjoy this stop on our cruise.  The video includes the highlights of the shore excursion and I’ll tell you about my difficulties behind the scenes. 

The Walking Tour That Wasn’t the Walking Tour

I had carefully studied the available shore excursions back in Dallas and after a careful examination, decided the Bratislava Walking Tour was superior to the Bratislava City Tour.  Both involved walking around the Old City, but one included a bus trip to what I call Faux Castle.

See there once was a real castle up on Castle Hill.  However, it was nothing but a ruin when the Communists showed up.  They decided they needed to replace the castle, but all they did was build a modern building and call it a castle.  I had no desire to see their modern day monstrosity.

However, when I showed up on the dock, we were ushered to a bus and I got the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to be happy about it.  In Viking’s defense, I didn’t say anything to anybody once I feared I was on the wrong tour.  I guess the jet lag or something had finally hit me, because I wasn’t feeling completely up to par and I just didn’t have the desire to rock the boat – or the bus.  My bad.

I have no idea who this guy was, but he has pride of place on Castle Hill.
I have no idea who this guy was, but he has pride of place on Castle Hill.

The bus took us up Castle Hill and dumped us out at the Faux Castle for an orgy of picture taking.  The scenery was great, but there’s nothing that makes you feel more like a tourist than being dumped off for a photo opportunity when you don’t really understand why you are there in the first place.  The guide never even pretended the castle had any historical or architectural significance.  She just said we had ten minutes to take pictures and abandoned us.

On cue, we filed back on the bus after taking our photos and rode down the hill.  Then we went on a walking tour which was somewhat interesting, but not compelling.  That might have been because the grumblings in my stomach were getting most of my attention, but I was also wondering how the tour sans the Faux Castle would have differed.  My new friends assured me they had a great time on the real walking tour, but since Deb was the sort to have fun whatever she was doing, I don’t know if she can be trusted.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Andrew Petcher (a fellow travel blogger I highly recommend), suggested free-style wandering was the best way to see the town, but with Mr. Bill in tow, free-style can be problematic.  I think Andrew was probably right.  With my Rick Steves’ tour book in hand and no tour guide to keep up with, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed the capital of Slovakia.  The architecture was charming and the quirky sculpture sprinkled throughout the town made for some great snickering.

The UFO Restaurant
The UFO Restaurant

I think it would be a great place to spend a quiet weekend, but it’s a little far from Dallas for me to check out that theory.  My greatest regret was not getting to the UFO Restaurant atop a bridge, another gift of the Communists.  After the walking tour we were given some free time, but by then I desperately needed a little private time in my cabin.

A Slovakian Evening

By 6:45 I had gotten myself back into cruise mode and was front and center for the Daily Briefing.  We had dinner with our cruise buddies and then made our way back to Lounge for “A Slovakian Evening.”

The entertainment was delightful.  Those great big ocean liners can provide productions to rival Broadway and Hollywood, but you have to share them with your 3000 new friends.  I’m sort of over that.  I much preferred the intimate setting of the Lounge, where we gathered comfortably with 178 (give or take a few) other passengers.  The show was marvelous.  In fact, after some expensive entertainment in Vienna, our friends told us the onboard entertainment had much better performers than the Viennese show.  We thoroughly enjoyed the Slovakian Evening, because the songs were familiar, the costumes were beautiful and performers were gifted.

Below I have included some photos of the entertainment.  I hope you’ll come back next week for Vienna – the highlight of the cruise.

 

 

 

Architecture, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

A Quiet Morning on the Danube

TRAVEL THERE:ON THE DANUBE BEND

The third day of our trip began on the river.  We cruised an area known as the Danube Bend and while it is a pleasant stretch, it’s not exactly postcard worthy.  Bratislava, Slovakia waited around then Bend and a lovely evening of entertainment was in store, but our morning was quiet.

A Slow Start

This was the only day we didn’t have to be up and about for a morning shore excursion, so we took it a little slow.  I was up before Bill and when I looked out the window I saw piles of dirt along the riverbank which were similar to the piles of sand American road crews keep for icy weather.  I have no idea what the sand was for, but that’s what the piles looked like.  As I said, not exactly postcard perfect.

While we took our time, it’s not like we were lag-a-beds.  Breakfast was only served until 9:30 in the restaurant and we got there in plenty of time for Bill to order from the menu.  I stuck to nibbling goodies from the buffet.

All manner of entertainments were available on board after breakfast.  The “Safety Instructions” were mandatory, a sort of lifeboat drill for river cruisers, but the Nautical Talk, Wheelhouse Tour, Apple Strudel Demonstration and  Vienna Coffeehouse Talk were all a matter of choice.  We listened to some of the nautical information, but skipped the Wheelhouse Tour, because the wheelhouse was enclosed in glass and we could peek in whenever our hearts desired.

A Morning in the Locks
A Morning in the Locks

Our favorite entertainment of the morning was the locks.  When we were in Oregon we watched a riverboat go through the Bonneville Locks, but I assure you it was much more exciting to be on a riverboat in the locks – not to mention that we were on the Danube, not the Columbia.  It is amazing how quickly the water fills the lock once the gates are closed behind you.  Then you sail away on a part of the river that is much higher than you were just minutes ago.

We skipped the Apple Strudel Demonstration.  I’m not all that fond of fresh apples and I don’t like baked apples at all.  I knew I wasn’t going to try to duplicate their recipe and I didn’t want the promised samples.  I attended the Coffeehouse Talk, but it wasn’t as informative as I had hoped.  I would have been interested in more information about the history of the coffeehouses and I depend on Rick Steves for my tipping advice, so perhaps I should have just stayed up on deck enjoying the locks.  The bottom line of the cruise director’s chat was that Americans over-tip.  So what?  I bet the cruise director didn’t complain about overtipping when he counted his take.

In hindsight, I think I would have been better off spending more time up on deck or perhaps enjoying my balcony.  We pulled into Bratislava early and had lunch, eagerly anticipating the afternoon’s activities.  Come back next week for the shore excursion.

 

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Sail-Away on Viking Tor

Jane is ready to Sail Away!
Jane is ready to Sail Away!

TRAVEL THERE: DRAMATIC DEPARTURE FROM BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

After our shore excursion to the Szchenyi Thermal Baths we were transported back to the Viking Tor on one of Viking’s buses.  Transforming myself from a well-pruned spa goer to an elegant river cruiser was somewhat of a challenge, but I made it.

6:15, Time to Party

Each day the Viking Daily would let us know the day’s schedule.  Cocktail Hour always began at 5:30, but since they served us more wine than we should’ve been drinking at dinner, we didn’t join the die-hards ordering martinis and whiskey neat.  However, on the night of the Budapest Sail-Away, the Viking Daily announced “A Toast to Our Guests” and since that usually means champagne, we made sure to be there.  I love champagne.

We found our new cruise buddies in the Lounge.  They’d also been to the baths that afternoon.  We settled into a section with enough seats for six of us and then helped ourselves to the flutes of champagne passing by us on trays.  Our Captain was from Bratislava and while he could speak English, none of us could understand it.  I bet he hates having to do that.

Our Gang around the dinner table
Our Gang around the dinner table

Soon the Welcome Toast was over, but fresh flutes kept coming around.  Next on the agenda was the Daily Briefing.  Program Director Daniel was fluent in English and excellent at charging up the crowd for rave reviews about the day’s activities.  Then he’d fill us in on what the next day would hold, along with any logistical details we needed to know.  By seven we were released to the Restaurant.

Sail-Away on the Sun-Deck

On the evening before, Bill and I had taken a stroll along and across the Danube.  We’d seen just how dramatic the landscape looked with the major buildings all lit up and we were excited to see what it would look like from the middle of the Danube aboard our longship.  Theoretically, there was commentary being given, but what I remember was a lot of laughter and a good dose of exclamations as the dramatic vista passed before us.

1B Pano Parli (2)

We’d started the evening with a champagne toast, drank our fill of wine at dinner and then were given shots of schnapps up on the Sundeck to celebrate the Sail Away.  Definitely a case of alcoholic overload.

I assure you there was plenty to oooh and aaah about.  Budapest is a lovely city and after dark it is an absolute wonder.  With perhaps the exception of a light show at Luxor,  Budapest gleaming in the night is one of the most spectacular evening scenes I’ve ever viewed.  If you decide to take this cruise, be sure to start in Budapest.  Viking runs it both ways, but there is no way a Sail Away in Passau could compare with Budapest.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the Sail Away.  Plan on coming back next week for Bratislava.