DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Hanging on the Balcony

The balcony, our favorite part of the ship!

TRAVEL THERE:  DO YOU NEED A BALCONY?

While I am a strong proponent of getting an outside cabin, I can’t say a balcony is absolutely necessary. It did save my bacon on our Norwegian cruise, however. Let me explain.

My Best Balcony So Far

While I had a great time with my hubby and my bestie on the Norwegian cruise, I hated the ship. The pool area was so crowded, it was like Central Expressway at rush hour.

It was a huge ship, but wherever I went on board I felt cramped, like they’d tried to squeeze two ships worth of activity into one boat. Spaces I traditionally enjoy, like a library, were laughable – cramped corners included so they could put them on the list of amenities, but too small to enjoy. To make things worse, I wasn’t feeling all that well, so I needed a quiet place to hang out.

Voila! We had three days at sea on that trip and I spent most of that time on my balcony, quietly reading books on my Kindle. The space was an escape from the hectic nature of Freestyle Cruising, which had everything in the world but what I wanted.  As we entered the ports, Bill and I would enjoy the thrill from our balcony, often sharing the excitement with my bestie, who was two balconies down.  Did I love my balcony? Yes. Did it serve my purpose on that cruise? Yes. Do I have to have one every time? Nope!

Nice, but Not Necessary

For example, we had a balcony on our Viking River cruise, but we didn’t utilize it all that much. For one thing, it was April and still a little chilly along the Danube. Also the longship had great places for relaxation in its public spaces. I liked the peaceful serenity I could find at many spots on the ship, but I also liked that I got to connect a little with humanity, without having their deck chair bump against mine.

Perhaps the main reason the balcony was not so critical to my enjoyment was how busy we were. Every morning was a shore excursion. After lunch we’d head out and do a little exploring on our own. From breakfast to bedtime we had few moments which required us to entertain ourselves, so the balcony was under-utilized.  Did I use it? Yes. I’d go out there to catch up in my journal while Bill took his afternoon nap.  I’d step out in the morning for some pre-breakfast fresh air – but I would have been fine with just a window.

I thought the balcony would come in handy as we sailed through the Wachau Valley, but an announcement informed me most of the important sights would be on the other side of the ship – something I should have more carefully studied as I planned the cruise.  I also discovered my side of the ship was on the river side when we docked.  We liked that, but if I had hoped to sit on my balcony and observe a city at close hand, I would have been disappointed.

So the bottom line is this, take some time to study the ship and figure out if your balcony is going to give you the experience you are hoping for.  You want to watch the Wachau Valley from your balcony, then learn which direction your ship will be headed and be sure you are on the side that will be on the north as you cruise through.  Want to watch the hustle and bustle in port, then be sure you are on the side of the ship which has the gangplank.  The more you know, the better you’ll utilize your balcony.

That’s our balcony experience and I hope it will help you decide whether or not a balcony will be worth the investment when you take a cruise.  Come back next week and we’ll explore cruising with a suite.

 

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Stateroom, Suite or Cabin?

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE WILL YOU LAY YOUR HEAD?

How tight is your budget?  How particular are you about your personal space?  Are you claustrophobic, acrophobic or prone to sea-sickness?  These are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself as you consider what kind of accommodations will best suit your cruise experience. 

Keeping It Affordable

Are you all about economy? Check out interior cabins on the lower decks. That’s the most economical part of the ship. Don’t plan on spending much time in your cabin though. It will have the basics, but it will be tight and you might find yourself wishing for a little sunshine. And here’s another tip. If you’re afraid of seasickness, try to get a cabin mid-ship.

For our first cruise, we had an interior cabin and yes it was tight, but we had a great time.  Not only was it our first cruise, it was our honeymoon.  Tight quarters added to the romance, but it was pretty spartan.  The tiny pedestal sink had no counters and no drawers, but I managed to brush my teeth and apply eyeliner as needed.

But that’s me.  I’m not the luxuriating in my cabin sort of person.  If you are someone who needs to see the sun when you wake up or navigating tight quarters puts you in a bad mood, then don’t save so much money you are miserable every moment you are in your cabin.  If you are really looking forward to some private time on the ship, then you should also look elsewhere.  In an inside cabin you will barely have room to walk around your bed.

Taking It Outside

If you can’t stand the thought of a windowless week, but still want some economy, look for an exterior cabin. At the very least you will get a porthole.  Some some lines have huge picture windows in the exterior cabins. We’ve had these accommodations, too.

A porthole graced our first outside room.  To be honest with you, that small spot of sunshine was not the best part of the upgrade.  Suddenly we had more space.  That’s what made the extra dollars worth it.  With a little more space the ship can start throwing in exciting extras like counters, storage and perhaps someplace to sit besides the bed.

Our next outside room was actually on a river cruise and instead of a porthole, one wall of the cabin was a huge picture window.  That’s been one of my favorite cruise experiences.  It was a treat to open the curtains and watch the banks of the Nile pass by.  The space was light-filled, airy and even roomy.  That cruise is what turned us on to river cruising and we have become solid fans.

But back to ocean-going ships.  These outside rooms can come in a wide variety and what’s there makes all the difference.  Usually there are pictures or drawing of the room online, but that’s still only going to give you a hint of what to expect.  For instance, on a Carnival cruise, we were in the last room on a hallway and our huge window faced where we had been, rather than where we were going.  None of my research told me how much we’d enjoy that window.  We loved looking out at the wake of the ship and if my memory serves me right, we could actually open the window a bit for fresh sea air – something that  big picture window did not allow.

Interior and exterior cabins are the easiest ways to watch your cruise dollars, but if economy is not your first concern, then have you ever got a world of opportunity to relax in.  Come back next week and we’ll take it to the balcony.

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, TRAVEL

Cruise Afterglow

dsc_0496
Cruising the Wachau Valley

TRAVEL THERE: VIKING’S DANUBE WALTZ – WHAT A TRIP!

As I sit in my office on an October Saturday afternoon in Heath TX, listening to the fountain that dances in my pond and writing a post you will read in December, I have nothing but kudos for my  April cruise on Viking Cruise Lines.  My travel agent, Sandra Rubio at CTC set up everything perfectly for us and Viking Cruise Lines is amazing – simply amazing!

What I Liked Best

  • 20160421_210026Wonderful new friends!  Deb & Mike Radcliffe and Gwenne & John Penkert were the best cruise buddies you can imagine – and they live in Oregon, which gives me an excuse to return to one of my favorite places.
  • The inadequately named “Silver Collection,” a part of the Imperial Apartment Museum in the Hofburg in Vienna.  Decorative Arts overload! I will never forget it.
  • Pretty much everything I ate and drank on the Viking Tor, but especially the bottomless wine glass at dinner.
  • Budapest – yep, the whole thing.  Can’t wait to go back someday.  And Rick Steve’s is right about the Baths.
  • Lunch in Cesky Krumlov
  • A sunny afternoon stroll in Passau

What I Liked Least

  • 2b-castle-tor-7
    The Faux Castle

    The non-stop Lufthansa flight from DFW to Frankfurt.  Worst flight EVER!!

  • Not having more time in Budapest.
  • Bratislava, Slovakia – didn’t feel good, didn’t get the shore excursion I wanted, the guide was iffy.  Other than that it was a great stop (tee hee.)
  • Being in Vienna in the rain on a Monday, which is when the Lipizzaners don’t perform and some of the museums are closed.  Loved Vienna, but after three visits there, I have yet to see the Lippizzaners and I could have done without the rain.
  • Anything to do with Empress Elizabeth, otherwise known as Sissie.
  • The guide in Passau.

On Our Way Home

Viking got us home as smoothly as they did everything else.  While we were at breakfast, our bags were whisked away.  We boarded a bus and after a pleasant drive were at the Munich airport.

While not awful enough to include in my “least liked” list, German airports didn’t rate very highly with me.  They get high marks for cleanliness, but they were confusing.  We roamed in befuddled circles in Frankfurt and repeated the exercise in Munich.

Security was on high alert, because we got there just as some international dignitaries were strutting through the airport.  I think there had been some sort conference, but the airport was full of people who looked as if they were used to getting preferential treatment and security was tight.

Thankfully, the Delta flight to Chicago was much more pleasant than the Lufthansa non-stop torture chamber.  However, because customs dumped us outside the secured area, we had to go back through the TSA screening and that was a nightmare.  They were so backed-up, we had pity on some people who were about to miss their flight and gave them our spot.  What else were we going to do with our time?  Go shopping?

Finally, Dallas!  As much as I love traveling, I do love getting home.  As if to welcome us home, a full moon hung low in the sky over our pond.  It was the first trip I’d returned from without having my beloved Shih Tzu, Precious, to greet me.  I miss that white ball of fur.

I’ll give you one more look at our overview video and then I hope you’ll come back next week to see what else I’ve been up to.

Architecture, ART, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

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.

 

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

Pretty Little Passau

5p-ooo-6TRAVEL THERE: THE FINAL SHORE EXCURSION

Waking up in Passau was bittersweet.  During the night we’d passed from Austria into Germany and docked at Passau, but my research had not mined up any nuggets for my “must-see” list, in this town at the confluence of three rivers.  The overwhelming emotion was regret.  I was going to have to leave this cozy boat where they took me from destination to destination, fulfilling my every need and desire along the way. 

The Morning Rush Hour

In Viking River Cruise land, mornings were busy.  We had to get up and get breakfast before the tour started.  There were no lazy days at sea. It might have been nice to intersperse all these activities with some down time, but Mr. Bill is not a two week vacation kind of guy and on an 8 day river cruise you are engaged every single day, all day long.

Passau was no different.  The walking tour began at nine.  After a delicious breakfast we disembarked and found our guide.  We did not get the pick of the litter.

The Walking Torture

So what date do you think this is?
So what date do you think this is?

He was a Frenchman, resettled into Germany and I’ll just say it, he was rude.  He was quite knowledgeable, but so unpleasant.  He was obviously unaware that we were on a walking tour, not taking an oral exam for a PhD.  He’d pepper us with questions and then ridicule our answers.  If we dared ask him a question, he’d belittle us.  I’m not exactly ignorant of history, but the one question I asked him about a date painted on a castle, resulted in my most uncomfortable moment of the cruise.

We  put up with him for a while, but it was finally so unpleasant that we wandered off and found our own way back to the boat.  However, Passau is a lovely little town, in spite of the rude guide, so I’ll show you some of it.

Pretty Little Passau

If you’ve been following me along on this cruise, then you know the operative word for the predominant architectural style along the Danube is Baroque.  We got a taste of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Cesky Krumlov, but pretty much everything else has been Baroque-on-steroids.  Passau was no different.  The architectural highlights are the Prelate’s Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, but the whole town is lovely.  For some reason, the Rathaus has murals painted all over it which are reminiscent of the Middle Ages, but they are merely modern interpretations of that era.  Architecture aside, the three rivers are the real stars of the show.

Enjoy this gallery of shots from our walking torture.  I can’t tell you much more about them, because the only way I was able to avoid killing my guide was to ignore him.  We finally abandoned him and made our own way back to the boat.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about the rest of the day, which was a lot more fun.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

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

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!

 

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

The Quaint Town of Cesky Krumlov

4ck-townTRAVEL THERE: A TOWN IN A TIME WARP

Cesky Krumlov was lucky.  While it suffered a season of Communism, the Communists never had enough money to modernize the place.  So when they were kicked out in 1989, all Cesky Krumlov needed was a little TLC.  Tourists discovered it in the early 1990’s and the rest is history.

Entering the Time Warp

As I mentioned before, our wonderful guide was a native Krumlovite.  He grew up there and had an abiding love for his lovely little town.  We had disembarked our bus up in the castle gardens and seen a couple of lovely vistas from the castle grounds, but this charming blue, onion-domed church was our first taste of Krumlov proper.

 

City, town or village?
City, town or village?

The pace of our tour slowed down as the guide shared the highlights of his town, including his favorite places to eat and stories about his friends.  I’ve toured with guides that turned this dialog into an “ain’t-I-great” soliloquy, but the charming citizen of Krumlov did not fall into that trap.  His stories were all about the wonders in his favorite town.

By the way, while it is tempting to call it a village, rather than a town, it got a city charter somewhere along the way.  They would probably be insulted because that I was calling it a town instead of a city, but I want you to get the feel of the place, even if my terminology is not technically correct.

On Our Own

We wandered along quaint little streets until we reached the town square, where our guide released us to our own reconnaissance.  Our little group of cruise buddies hotfooted it back to our guide’s favorite restaurant and enjoyed a delightful lunch with generous quaffs of Czech beer.

Then we headed out for shopping.  EEEK!  The prices were astronomical. I strolled into a handbag store and hurried out with my tail between my legs.  While I’m not great at currency conversion, I do know enough to figure out when I’ve wandered into a triple digit zone.  The cheapest handbag I could find was very comfortably in that triple digit zone and while my friends are certainly worth that much, I can’t afford it.

There were dozens of establishments featuring souvenirs – you know the kind, t-shirts and tea towels emblazoned with screen-printed images – but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  Finally, I found a store with darling little gingerbread Christmas ornaments.  I almost bought them out and was thrilled with my find, but unfortunately I lost them somewhere along the way.  I was broken-hearted because they were hand-made and seriously darling.

Had I anticipated the expenditure, I would have bought up some amber jewelry.  Every other store on the winding streets is an amber jeweler and I loved most of their wares.  My bestie loves amber and I desperately wanted to find something for her, but in a town where a small cloth clutch costs about $200, you can imagine what the amber cost.  Still, the prices were not unreasonable, so if you go, budget for the amber and shop until you drop!

Safely back in the pack
Safely back in the pack

Suddenly It Was Time to Go

For the final half hour or so, we abandoned our cruise buddies, because I was still desperately on the hunt for gifts.  All of sudden we looked at our watch and realized we had to leave – right then.  That’s when we figured out we were lost and Cesky Krumlov no longer felt like a quaint village, but more like the city they prided themselves on being.  Our panic only lasted a short while, but that was long enough.  They’d warned us they would leave us if we weren’t on time.

We strolled back through the town, up a path around the castle and there our buses were waiting for us.  The drive back to the boat seemed longer than the trip to the Czech town, because we were hoping enough time would be left to check out Linz before dinner.

We did make it back early enough and I’ll share that with you next week, but for now, enjoy all these pictures from Cesky Krumlov.

 

 

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Chasing Castle Intell

cesky-krumlov-69TRAVEL THERE:  RESEARCHING CESKY KRUMLOV CASTLE

Our day in Cesky Krumlov was one I will long cherish, but Museum Girl was mad at me.  My faithful followers know me and they know that as much as I love to eat, I’m willing to miss a meal in order to visit a good museum (or castle or palace or abbey etc.)  I live for museums.  I have this ever-growing collection of historical and artistic items in my head and one of my main goals in life is to expand it.  On this particular day, I abandoned my prime directive and I’m glad I did, but Museum Girl is still a little miffed.

An Absence of Good Intell

Last week I complimented Viking on their ground game, but I was a little challenged by them on the planning end of things.  Because they know what they’re doing, they don’t spell everything out.  They know things happen when you’re traveling and they don’t want to spend their days making apologies to disgruntled passengers.

This lack of information is probably a blessing to most passengers.  My husband was completely content with the absence of logistical information, but I was a crazy person.  I’m driven by that museum in my head and I carefully curate what I’m going to see.  On this trip, to a certain extent, I had to just let go and follow the guy with red Viking sign.

So in Budapest, I had no clue what spa I’d be visiting until I got on the bus with my fluffy towel.  I’m convinced I was stuck on the castle AND walking tour in Bratislava because the walking-only tour was full.  (Yes, I should have spoken up, but didn’t.)  As I planned for my day in Vienna, discovering where we would dock was like searching for the Holy Grail and even when I got someone to tell me where they usually docked, they were careful to warn me things could change.

Finding out what we’d see of the castle in Krumlov was pretty much the same sort of thing.  The UNESCO website was great, but how Viking plugged into that opportunity was like diving down a black hole.

Bravo Senor Frog!
Bravo Senor Frog!

Kudos to Norwegian

Since I pretty much hated everything about my cruise on Norwegian Epic (except going with my bestie and the day we spent with Sunny Liston, which is still one of my best days EVER) I’m loathe to admit it, but I loved their website.  Well I didn’t love everything about it, because I had some navigation issues, but they did have a section of the site devoted to passengers sharing travel tips.  (Yes, I read them all.)

Norwegian disclaims in large letters these are experiences of past cruisers and things change on every cruise, but I gained great comfort from knowing what usually happened.  I’m well aware things can change (did I hear someone say Josay?), but I like to be ready for what is probably going to happen.  The internet allowed me to research everything about a destination, but Viking kept the details, of exactly what they’re going to show you, pretty close to their vest.

Come back next week and we’ll stroll through the castle grounds.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

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.