Tuesday, May 10, 2016

May 10th - Final Travel Blog

Hi, it’s Christina –

After all the elaborate ornate cathedrals
we've been seeing, I almost didn't notice
this tiny church in this village. I think 
it's charming. It's one of maybe thirty-
five buildings in the village.
Greetings from HOME. As predicted, I crashed when I got home on Sunday, and I was pretty much in a coma all day yesterday. I screwed myself up with a nap yesterday afternoon. I would have been fine if I had set an alarm, but dummy me figured, I never nap for than more than 1½ - 2 hours, I’ll be fine. 4½ later… UGH! I went to bed around 11:30 and was up by 6:00, so I think I’m back on track.

One thing I loved about the cruise was
when you come around a bend and all
of a sudden, there's this castle built into
the side of a mountain, or a picturesque
village appears. I wish pictures did the 
views justice, but sadly they don't.
There are no pictures from my final day in Europe and the trip home, because honestly, there wasn’t much to see. The shuttle picked us up at 3:20 in the morning from Passau, so the two hour trek to Munich was completed totally in the dark. We had very little time in Munich airport before we were on our plane to Heathrow.

A random couple walking
down the street in Passau
I did sit with an uncle and niece who were off on a three week adventure. They were headed to Peru (via Miami), off to visit Machu Picchu and several other places in the South American rain forest. On their return trip, they are staying in NYC for two nights, so I shared what I thought were “must sees” and where they should be careful. I wish I had gotten their names. They were so nice and I would have been interested in hearing about their journey.

We landed at Heathrow forty minutes early, but by the time we got to terminal five, hiked for miles to get to the gate for security, made it through security, and got to our new gate, we were only waiting for a little bit before we boarded.

On the plane I was wired for sound, and couldn’t sleep, so I watched three movies – The Intern, The Martian & Steve Jobs. I enjoyed all of them. By the time they finished, we were approaching Newark. It was strange, I was watching the flight map as we entered US airspace, and the flight pattern had us come in over Massachusetts, we made it over Lys’ school in Burlington, Vermont, then hung a sharp left to head to New Jersey.

The only turbulents we hit the entire flight were upon approach, and let me tell you, we came in at such an angle, and were bouncing so much, I was sure our right wing was going to clip the tarmac, and it came pretty dang close, but we landed without incident. An hour and a half after landing, we were in my van with Paulie driving and Dani Rose, headed home. Dropped of my mom, came home, gave Dani her gift, Paulie one of his, and then I went to bed. See, nothing photo worthy.

All the photos in this blog are from my last day in Passau, Germany. All of them have comments near the photos, so they really don’t need much more explanation. There are just a few things I would like to add.

If you visit St. Stephens Cathedral (which is absolutely gorgeous) in Passau, and you decide to partake in the organ concert (which is terrible, I swear at some points he was just hitting random keys to make noise, and I did not recognize a single thing he played – so either he was just an awful player or he chose the most obscure pieces of music available), bring your jacket. It was in the high seventies outside, but inside the cathedral it was maybe in the low forties. I was shivering so bad, (plus I couldn’t stand the noise any longer), I got up and left.

I was a little naughty when I was there. The only reason I went to the concert was because mom had signed up for it, but she got sick and went back to the ship, so I took her spot. I would have been happy to just go in, get my photos, and leave. Anyway, I knew she would have been disappointed she missed it, so I did a quick video of the church, while he was playing, before I got caught and had to stop. It’s just a snippet, but here it is. CLICK HERE

The reason I climbed all the way up to Veste Oberhaus was because I was told that from there you can get a picture of where the Ilk, the Danube & the Inn rivers converge. Now you might say, who cares, but the one cool thing is the rivers are three distinct colors, and when they meet, for a very short span, they retain the colors. This was something I thought you would want to see (I would have been happy with a post card, so yeah, I did this all for you.)

There are 300+ steps to get up to Veste Oberhaus, however, at the 130 step, you have a choice as to whether to turn right and climb the remaining 170, which would take ten minutes, or turn left and take the path which takes twenty minutes. It was a warm day, and the stairs were almost completely in the sun, and the incline was pretty fierce. I chose the path, which in the end wasn’t much of a picnic either, and had close to 100 steps as well, but they were spread out. Oh, and by the way, the 300 steps sis not include the steps in the tower (which cost 1€). I hope you like the photo…

I said I only missed taking a photo of Cezar, our bartender, but upon further review, I realized I missed a few more people – Cruz, another waiter, Alexandra, another cabin steward, and the four guys who were always running around making sure everything was functioning on the ship – I guess they are called engineers. They were all nice, but I didn’t catch a single one of their names.

I noticed the swan after I took this shot,
I thought I got him, but I guess I either
missed or deleted the photo by accident.
Oh, and I did find the photo of the lock we went through where you can make out the two water levels. Here it is –

So there you have it, my almost two week adventure through Europe. I hope you enjoyed coming along with me as much as I enjoyed having you.

Until next time, have a WONDERFUL day & happy writing.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

May 7th - Travel Blog

Hi, it’s Christina –

Greetings from somewhere between Austria & Germany. I tried until eleven o’clock last night to post the blog highlighting the events of day 7, but between computer issues and satellite issues, I wasn’t so lucky. I did manage to get it posted around 6:30 this morning before the satellite went down again.

I am hoping when we get into Passau the signal will be strong again. As for tomorrow, I’m not sure how long my layovers are going to be at each of the airports or if I will have an internet connection, so the post for today’s city, the meet the crew and the journey home post you might not be getting until Tuesday. Notice I didn’t say Monday… I plan on being in a coma then.

I know I said I was done posting pictures of us going through locks, but if you would allow me just one more, this time the wall behind us was not solid, so you can see the height difference in the river. We climb roughly 12 meters – almost 39 feet. We also had an added guest on this lift, a swan swam in with the ship when we entered the lock, so he rose with us. Boy is that going to be a disoriented bird. LOL - Well, it looks like I deleted the picture somehow because I can't find it. Sorry.

Yesterday we, or should I say I, bypassed Linz for a nine hour excursion back to the Czech Republic to visit Český Krumlov. Upon our return, mom did venture in to Linz, but I had a blog post to finish and my feet were barking, so I stayed on the ship.

I wish I could tell you what the history was of Český Krumlov, but I have absolutely no idea. Our guide Oli, was very nice, but not very informative. Luckily Renada, the program director, was in our small group,
so she heard first hand. So, if you happen to go on this Viking Cruise, and you happen to choose to visit Český Krumlov, stick with Sylva, she was born in Český Krumlov, and knows her stuff. Perhaps if I had stayed with her, I would have enjoyed my visit more. Instead, I spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for 3:00 to roll around.

Sylva was our guide on the bus, and she was wonderful. (Our group was a little too large for one guide, so they called in Oli at the last minute to split off ten of
us.) On the trip over, Sylva did explain a bit about Český Krumlov, the politics, how it fared during WWI, but she was leaving the details of the palace to Oli.

On the bus ride, Sylva also mentioned a local mushroom soup, Kulajda, which sounded wonderful. It has wild mushrooms, dill, and potatoes, with a poached egg in the middle, and a touch of cream. It sounded wonderful – well except for the egg which sounded a little strange – so for lunch, I decided to try it. It was wonderful. Paired with two bottles of the best tasting iced tea (Aquila - it tastes like you are biting into a fresh peach), and my whole bill was 6,60 €.

After lunch I strolled around the city a little more. Bought an ice cream for 20 Krn ($0.08) and then waited to go back to the bus. Oli was gone by this time, so Sylva got the whole group. She told us they had already started setting up for the next day festivities, and we’d be able to catch a glimpse if we wanted because they were set up by our buses.

You see, 71 years ago, the American forces liberated the Czech Republic, freeing them from the German invaders, and they were grateful. So, every May 7th is their sort-of independence day. There are American flags everywhere. There are parades with US military vehicles, and reenactors. It was cool seeing the old Army stuff, but the best was the motorcycle.

Funny story before I close for the day. When we pulled into Linz, we were greeted with a comical sign. Most places we’ve stopped, there was a sign saying “welcome to ______”, so the Linz sign should have said “Willkommen!” but instead it said “Auf Wiedersehen! Good Bye!”. It was a “get your $h[} and get out” moment. LOL. I pointed it out to Dennis, and he said he’d never noticed it before, and we had a good laugh.

Okay, I seriously doubt there will be another post until I get home. The transport to take us to the airport is coming at 3:20 tomorrow morning, so right after dinner tonight I have to pack and then I’m going to bed so I can get at least a few hours of sleep.

Now, I am going to arrange the photos for this blog post, keep my fingers crossed that the satellite connection stays strong enough for me to post it, get it posted, and then I am off to explore Passau on my own.

Until next time, have a WONDERFUL day & happy writing.

May 6th - Travel Blog

Hi, it’s Christina –

Greetings from somewhere between Melk & Linz. Today our excursion is taking us back to the Czech Republic. It runs between 9 and 5, so I will be gone most of the day, so I need to hustle my bustle if I plan on getting you a blog post today.

Dürnstein was adorable. It’s a tiny mountain village with around a thousand inhabitants, and the ruins of the castle where Richard the Lion Hearted was imprisoned. I tried making my way up to the ruins, but half way up the mountain I must have made a wrong turn, because I ended up in someone’s back yard with nowhere else to climb. So, sorry, the only pictures you’ll have of the ruin are from very far away.
Shopping around yesterday was a bit of a challenge because it was a holiday – Ascension – and most businesses were closed, and yet I was still able to purchase my first souvenir for myself. Yes, I do realize I did pick up paprika in Budapest Market, but that’s not really a souvenir now is it? I got myself a Christmas ornament. It’s a little moose, and when you pull on the string, his arms and legs go up and down. He’s so cute.

We were only in Dürnstein for a few hours, and then we started making our way to Melk. I cannot remember what the region was called, but they weren’t kidding when they said it was the most picturesque on our voyage. 

Add caption
I was in the library, which is in the stern of the ship, working on yesterday’s blog, and then I’d look up, and there was something wonderful to photograph, so I would go above deck. I’d stay out there for a few minutes, snap as many pictures as I could, then go back to the library. 

Did I mention it was cold and windy yesterday? At least it was until the mid-afternoon, just in time for us to go and explore Melk.

I didn’t hear everything they were saying about the towns, villages, settlements we were passing, but I did get a little bit. One of the villages was called Krems (yeah, that’s all I heard – LOL). 

St. Michael’s was built in 980 ad by a man with the last name of Seibenhase, which directly translates to 7 rabbits or hares, and they believe that is why, on the roof of the church there are seven rabbits – you have to look close, but they are there.

I was seriously debating forgoing the Abbey tour, because quite frankly, I’m getting tired of visiting churches, but I caved to peer pressure and went. My favorite part, hands down, the frescos on the ceilings. It’s funny, one of the ceilings is a curved ceiling, the other is not. Can you figure out which is which?

From the Abbey we wandered our way through Melk back down to the boat, but not without taking a little break on the way. Janet decided to take the bus back, but Trevor hung back and walked with mom, Jennifer, and me. 

We stopped at a café for a bit of refreshments. I had the best iced coffee, we seriously should make them this way in the states. Picture an old fashioned root beer float glass. In the bottom a double shot of espresso, then a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then a mountain of whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate, and two of those cylinder cookies stuck in the cream to look like straws. Oh my!

The absolute highlight of the day was the dinner last night. The crew dressed in lederhosen. The chef outdid himself with the authentic German cuisine. We were entertained by a man with a accordion and another with a guitar. We ate, we drank (yup, even me), we sang, we laughed. It was a roaring good time.

After dinner we climbed to the lounge on the third deck where we played a music trivial game. Again, another roaring good time – even though all we were drinking was water. You see, your team got points, not only for correct answers, but also for dancing, so… we danced…

Okay, now it’s time to put the photos together to go with this blog. I’m still hoping to get this finished and posted before we have to leave, but no promises. You may be getting it around dinner time.

Until tomorrow, have a WONDERFUL day & happy writing.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

May 5th - Travel Blog

Hi, it’s Christina –

I'm sure these looked really cool at
night, but I fell asleep before the
lights came on.
Greetings from Dürnstein; we just docked. We are here for a few hours, then we are off to Melk, so today’s blog of yesterday’s adventures will be coming in snips and snaps. Hopefully I’ll have it finished before dinner (lunch time for you).

Just so you know, I’m not one to hold a grudge. The woman who I was so annoyed with upon our arrival, Renata, I have been talking with, and it turns out she is a lovely woman. Our initial meeting was unfortunate, but all fences have been mended.
Unless there's something really cool
at one of the next 9 locks, this will be
the last one you'll be seeing.

We went through another lock yesterday, which I found out was number two of eleven. I took a few pictures, but I was not going to bore you with detailed accounts of all eleven locks. The one difference between the first lock and the second lock was we had another ship in there with us. It was a little scary watching them try to squeeze our long narrow ship alongside of their fat one, so I snapped a couple of shots, then went back inside, trusting the captain knew what he was doing.
Sorry, no clue what the middle left
one is, but it was pretty.

Right after breakfast, I ran down to the cabin, changed into jeans, and grabbed my coat – if I had had a hat and mittens, I would have grabbed them too. It was so cold and raw yesterday, it was really miserable. One bonus was my sneakers seem to be waterproof, so I was not walking around with wet feet all day – YEAH!

As usual, by 8:30 I was on a tour bus. Although the sites we are seeing are lovely, and the history lessons we are getting are beyond compare, this is not a very relaxing vacation. It is going to take me several days, upon my return, to recuperate.

From the bus we were able to catch a glimpse of the Jubilee Church, it’s cool because it looks medieval. We also drove past the park with the oldest working ferris wheel in the world. It was built in 1880 (I think). If you look closely, the cars look like tram cars instead of just seats like we picture a ferris wheel. You can even rent out individual cars for special occasions. Each rotation takes 20 minutes, so if you rent a car for a romantic dinner, you make your rotation, when you stop at the bottom, the waiter brings you your next course, refills your wine, and then you are off for another rotation.
Silvia (center)

Our guide through Vienna was Silvia. She was sweet, and funny (in a much better way than Katerina), and informative. She also seems to share my sweet tooth, because she pointed out all the good pastry shoppes on our journey.

We visited the outside of Helden Platz – the Hofburg winter palace. I did snap a ton of pictures (it was a challenge cropping all the umbrellas out of the shots). Don’t ask me what’s what, because they all kinda blended together. What fascinates me is even your average building has ornate things – scroll work, statues, paintings – not just the palaces or opera houses.

I don't know why, but
this clock made me think
of Ben Franklin.
I kept this picture separate from the others because I wanted to point it out to you. This tower (I don’t know what else to call it) has 3 clocks. The clocks are all run on solar power and have been since way before I knew people even were able to harness solar power to use as energy. The ball in the middle, that is a lunar clock.

We did manage to catch a glimpse of the Lipizzan horses. We lucked out. They had had a performance at 10:00 and were being brought back to their stable while we were passing. They are such beautiful creatures. I didn’t know they were all born brown, and as they aged they turned white. No, that doesn’t mean they are old, they usually turn white within their first few years. Think of Dalmatian puppies, they are born completely white, and then develop their spots over several months.
The crown in the bottom row
is actually a cake.

The one in the stall was so funny. He was munching on some hay, not paying attention to anything much, when he noticed me, he stopped chewing, his ears perked up, his head came up, and he posed for the photo. At first I thought it was a coincidence, but then I did the same thing a few minutes later, and he reacted the same way; and I watched as he did the same for another tourist. The horse was a total ham.

Bottom right is a carousel.
Well, while in Vienna, one must stop at a coffee house, so I did. Aïda was charming, but honestly the cake was dry and the coffee was bitter. Jagna, our waitress was very good though. It was so crowded, I squeezed onto a bar stool by the window, but then noticed Janet and Trevor at a nearby table and asked them if I could join them. It was nice to get in out of the rain and just sit and chat. When the bill came, Trevor grabbed mine as well and insisted they pick up the tab for my coffee and cake. How sweet was that? Three cups of coffee and two pieces of cake was 19€! Good grief!

The one cathedral I was looking forward to seeing was St. Stephen’s in Vienna, but when I got inside, I was so disappointed. It was dark and cold (meaning sterile not temperature) and uninviting. I snapped a few photos before I noticed the no pictures sign, so I have them to share with you, but honestly you’re not missing much. The church is much more impressive from the outside.

All and all, I was not overly impressed with Vienna, but then again, I’m much more of a country mouse than a city mouse. Big cities make me nervous. For the next few days we will be in quaint country towns, so weather permitting, I’ll be a lot happier.

Unfortunately, my foray into the market with the chef yesterday was cancelled. Only one other person signed up, so it wasn’t worth the trip. That’s okay, because if I was being honest, I was bushed. I went back to my cabin and took a nap. Being outside in the rain and the cold and the wind while exploring Vienna sapped my energy.

After dinner, mom went to see the Mozart / Strauss concert, and I crawled under the covers. I think I was sound asleep by eight o’clock last night, and I pretty much slept through until five this morning. I guess I needed it. I haven’t seen mom yet today, so I have no idea how she liked the concert, but overhearing others’ accounts, I’m sure she had a good time.

Okay, I’m off to explore Dürnstein on my own, I just have to grab my coat. Until tomorrow, have a WONDERFUL day & happy writing.