Category Archives: Europe 2015
We made it to Prague after 8 hours on the bus. It was something like 550 km across the 3 countries, 3 stops to stretch legs and have lunch. One of the stops was at a petrol station which involved most of the gang descending down some steps to the WC. This visit costs 100 FLR (Hungarian Florins, they don’t use the Euro), about 50 cents. Now this petrol station has a neat deal, you can give back your WC ticket (after use of course) as a credit against purchases in the cafe. I’m not sure what this is meant to stimulate, the WC or the cafe. But rum balls in the cafe are 99 FLR and lo and behold everyone swapped their ticket for a rum ball! This run on rum balls exhausted their supply. Such is the APT tourist.
In Prague we have ventured off on the usual bus and walking city tour. Our guide was a walking encyclopedia on everything Prague.
Prague is a pretty big place and very cosmopolitan. By this time we are all hankering for some simple food. So we find just up from our hotel the biggest Irish pub in Prague. We actually have two dinners here of traditional Irish fare.
Day 2 in Prague involved getting on the bus for an full day in the Czech countryside visiting an old Chateau. It is owned by descendents of Czech royalty going back hundreds of years. The Chateau was knocked about by the Nazis and fell into disrepair during the communist era. The current owner got it back after the communists were removed and has slowly restored it to its former glory. The interesting thing we saw here though was a falconry display with various types of birds…….falcons, hawks, eagles and owls. A real highlight of the visit.
Back in Prague we had a late afternoon lie down to rest weary bones and get ready to pack up for the flight back to Australia the next day. Which is actually later this afternoon. I have finally caught up time in the blog! I now have an hour to pack before the bags have to be out. How is that for timing! We have had a great time away but are looking forward to returning home to do the washing.
Budapest is the last stop on our cruise down the Danube. It’s a bit of a whistle-stop. Only one day. We have an early arrival in the morning with some free time to look around the covered market area before setting off on the afternoon city tour, another bus and another walk……………well these buses and walks are starting to wear on your humble correspondent. But one must do them. So away we go seeing more buildings and monuments.
There is something special though about Budapest, particularly from up on top of Buda Hill overlooking the Danube and the majestic old buildings. We also stick our noses into the Opera House and have a young lady come out and sing to us from a balcony………….
After dinner the ship does a night-time cruise up and down the Danube with the city lights illuminating the buildings, bridges and glistening on the Danube’s surface. Really quite a marvelous sight.
One could spend a week in this city wandering around eating goulash and ice creams; sucking in the history and sights.
The next day will find us leaving the ship and starting the final leg of our journey. A full day bus trip from Budapest through Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Prague.
Wien to the locals.
And this is where you get wien schnitzel (although we tend to pronounce it with an ‘a’ on the end ‘wiena’). So what you might ask? Well one of our objectives was to have a ridgy didge wien schnitzel. And here it is. Simply enormous, filled the plate. On a recommendation we had this at a restaurant called Figlmuller, where they have been making them for over 100 years, as a house specialty. It’s a pork schnitzel, not veal so I’m still not sure whether I have had a ‘real’ schnitzel yet!
Allthego was fairly tired after the grueling eating schedule on board the ship. From inspection it appears our clothes have shrunk due to the on board laundry hot water treatment in the washing process. Hopefully they will stretch out a bit upon return to Australia. Anyway this tiredness lead him to doze off on sections of the bus trip city tour and miss some of the buildings and monuments. The walking section of the tour redressed this though and we have plenty of pictures to share at later times.
Along the way we stopped by the Spanish Riding School and by luck one of the horses was on show. We were told all the rest were off on summer holidays having a break from performances. Vienna is an amazing looking place with the old building frontages and monuments commemorating historical events and the various actors in them. The musicians haven’t been ignored and we have statues of Mozart and the all the Strausses. We also saw the ‘blue’ Danube which was a swimming pool on top of/beside one of the canals off the grey/brown river. A pale imitation I might say of South Bank in Brisbane.
There was also the obligatory visit to the massive St Stephens Cathedral in the city centre. Nearby where our ship was tied up was the impressive Jubilee Church.
The highlight here in Vienna though was going to the Liechtenstein City Palace which is owned by the princely family of Liechtenstein. This building had been significantly damaged in WW2. A plane had landed on top of it as well. After the war false ceilings and walls were installed and it was used as offices. We didn’t find out where the Leichtenstein family was at this time. Anyway they seem to have got control of it again in the 1990s and have thoroughly restored it, some of the frescos were actually covered over by the false ceilings. We had a musical recital here, mostly various Strauss pieces…………among them the Blue Danube and the Radetzky March, which got all the hand clappers going.
The next day we were off to the Schonbrunn Palace. This was the summer palace of the Hapsburgs who ruled over most of central Europe for 600 years. They also infiltrated the monarchies of western Europe by inter marriage. The experience here was a little different to the other palaces we have been to in that what we saw was much more connected with the inhabitants lives rather than just displays of things. The Austrians didn’t like the Hapsburgs and they were removed after WW1. The then Emperor though didn’t abdicate and went into exile. Apparantly, his descendents still claim a right to the throne. They are not wanted back. There are several hundred of the Hapsburgs around the world.
We enjoyed two quite sunny days in Vienna before leaving Austria and heading further down the Danube to Budapest in Hungary.
Leaving Lintz we head overnight for Melk where we arrive early in the morning. In the mornings we have generally had cloudy weather and a little light rain. In Melk it was no different. We are here for the morning with the main objective being the Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. Monks have lived and worked here for over 900 years.
The whole Abbey underwent significant renovation in the 1990s after it had fallen into decline and hard times. The Church is simply astounding in its glitter. Apparently, someone from the Vatican said that it was worthy of being a chapel in that vast complex. There are a number of relics in residence, including what is claimed to be a splinter from the Cross and items attributable to the early followers of Benedictine. The Benedictine monastery has 450 rooms but today there are only 39 monks in residence. A large part of the rest of the building is a secondary school serving the Melk region. There is an amazing library here with books going back hundreds of years recording the life and times of the Abbey and religious thinking during all that time. They are stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling. The Abbey imposes itself on the top of a hill overlooking the town and the Danube.
As the sun comes out we head further downstream through the Wachau Valley, about 30 km of a very picturesque waterway, and arrive at Durnstein. This is the village where way back in 1192 King Richard 11 was imprisoned in the castle on the top of the hill on his way back to England from the 3rd crusade. The castle was destroyed by the Swedes during the 30 years war in 1645, today it is mostly a pile of rocks. There is a pathway that leads to the top. Allthego had a go but only got half way up before turning back as time was running short to get back to the boat. This was a good excuse as the path was pretty steep in places and a little tiring to do after lunch.
Durnstein is a very pretty little town, surrounded by vineyards and apricot orchards. These apricots end up in a number of products, including liquors and little jars of preserved fruit. Unfortunately, Homealone was of the view that we were starting to run out of room in the luggage and so we were unable to acquire some samples to bring home.
Back on board the ship we see the sun slowly set over the valley as we lounge around on the sundeck.
The ship stays in Durnstein till around midnight before sailing for Vienna.
Maybe some of my readers have noticed that many of the names of the towns we visit end in ‘……berg’ or ‘….burg’. I’m just copying the name from bits of paper we have. So maybe I’m not correct some times and I’m getting bergs mixed with burgs. Not to worry. Today we head for Salzburg aboard the Majestic Imperator , leaving from Passau and travelling through the Austrian countryside. The Majestic Imperator is a rebuild of a famous old train from the 1890s. The old train was used by the nobility of Europe to whip around the countryside. Pretty lavishly set up it was the way to go back then. Well the new 6 carriage train was finished in 1998 and is quite impressive. We enjoyed champagne, canapes and tartlets along the way.
We have been in Salzburg before and the town is quite absorbed in Sound of Music trivia and of course Mozart, who was born here. His memory lives on through sites, music concerts and Mozart’s balls ( around chocolate coated sweet, and I will leave it at that).
One of the things we had to do was have a Salzburg schnitzel for lunch. This is distinguished from a Wien schnitzel (the ones you get in Vienna and what we normally think of ) because the Salzburg schnitzel has a filling of ham and mushrooms. It was pretty good. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it to share with you.
We had our warmest day today, no rain and some clear skies. In the late afternoon we returned on the train to Linz, where those chocolates come from. A couple of Austrian girls and a fella were on board to entertain us with a bit of folk music and gems from the Sound of Music. While all this was happening our ship had sailed down the Danube from Passau to meet us for the next section of the journey to Melk.
Continental Divide here we come
Bamberg is our last stop on the Main River before we leave it and enter the Main-Danube Canal. Bamberg’s main claim to fame seems to be beer. There are though the usual run of old buildings, medieval churches and cobbled streets. The interesting beer here is called ‘smokey beer’, our guide pointed out that it was not to be confused with ‘smokey bear’. The group found this most amusing. Anyway, Allthego and some of our fellow cruisers gave this beer a go in the establishment where it was created many years ago. It is a dark, red beer and indeed had a smokeyness to its taste, it’s also supposed to have an aftertaste of bacon. It is called ‘Rauchbier’. Not Allthego’s cup of tea. Bamberg also had a magnificent rose garden overlooking the town.
After leaving Bamberg we joined the Canal. This was built between 1960 and 1962 and links the Rhine with the Danube. Ships can thus sail the 3,540 km from the North Sea through to the Black Sea. There are 16 locks. They are enormous, 625 feet long, 40 feet wide and 3 are 81 feet deep (about 6 times deeper than those on the Canal du Midi, we didn’t even offer to toss ropes in these ones).
Our next stop was in Nuremberg, 90% destroyed in WW2 and now substantially rebuilt with many ‘look alike’ restorations. The former Nazi presence is still seen at the Parade Grounds where Hitler held his ‘conventions’ in the 1930s and we also drove past the Courtrooms where the Nuremberg trials were held after WW2. Nuremberg is famous for its Ginger bread and toy manufacturing. But it also strongly promotes ‘3 sausages in a bun with mustard’ , the answer to Big Mac’s. These are quite tasty and we had one each as a light snack.
Moving along the Canal in the early evening we passed through the 3 locks that mark the high point of the Canal and where it crosses the Continental Divide of Europe, a somewhat understated concrete wall beside the Canal.
The Canal section ends after 171 km of cruising at Kelheim. It is a really major piece of German engineering that had been in the planning and concept stage since the 1920s. The Canal joins the Danube River near Regensburg and we have a great afternoon here. It is the time of the Regensberg Burgerfest and the streets are filled with locals. There are street stalls of all sorts of food and drinks. Numerous entertainment band stands were tucked away in courtyards providing German folk singing and also popular music. Including some ‘Von Trapp family singers’ look a likes. All ages were out and about enjoying the sunshine between the intermittent rain showers.
That evening we set sail for Passau and on the way pass by ‘Walhalla’ (also referred to as ‘Valhalla’) which is the Germanic paradise where the gods awaited the mightiest of men. It was modeled on the Parthenon in Athens and was built in the 1830s by King Ludwig 1; after he visited Greece and thought it was a good idea to have one of these in the German forest overlooking the Danube. It is said to be full of busts and monuments of ‘none of the best known Germans’, it was a bit of a white elephant it seems.
Overnight we will reach Passau and then head off for the day on a train trip, leaving Germany and heading for Salzburg in Austria.
The River Main is a tributary of the Rhine and is navigable for 386 km to Bamburg which is our destination in 3 days. The river has been canalised and there are 34 locks along the way, most of these are 3.5 to 5.0 metres high. So they are similar in height to these that we navigated on the Canal du Midi in France. So Homealone could run up the lock steps and Allthego could have thrown ropes up to her. But we were not asked. The locks are also much longer and a bit wider because they have to take the Amabella and the other cargo ships on the River. Most of them we go through at night. And we are still going uphill.
We pass through numerous small towns on the Main including Miltenberg, Wurzberg and Kitzingen. We stop at each of these for walks around the towns. Miltenberg suffered no damage during WW2 and has preserved many of its buildings and houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.
In Wurzberg we visit the magnificent Prince-Bishop’s Residence. The Prince -Bishop ran the town, both religiously and with secular power from the emperor. The internals of this building were mostly destroyed in WW2 but they have since been reconstructed. One enormous ceiling fresco painted in 1753 was protected though and is quite spectacular in its display of the understanding of the world at the time. The 4 continents (their peoples and animals) are represented on each side of the ceiling, too hard to describe further……..
In Kitzingen we enjoy a German wine tasting in an old underground cellar surrounded by enormous wine barrels. Allthego had his picture taken with the season’s Wine Queen.
We now continue down the Main to its junction at Bamberg with the Main-Danube Canal, which links us to the Danube River.
Rhine Gorge and other things
One of the highlights of this trip is the section of the Rhine for about 50 km beyond its confluence with the River Moselle at Koblenz. Along this stretch of the river the banks narrow in and the hills rise around us. It’s not like a gorge we think of in Australia; not as steep, rugged or deep. It is also clothed in vineyards. Most of which run in rows vertically up the hills, not horizontally as you would think. Why is this so? Well it’s because the sun shines down on them longer and more directly because of the orientation of the gorge. This pattern hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. There is no mechanical harvesting. The pickers carry big baskets up and down the rows. They prefer to walk down rather than up.
Anyway, along the river there are numerous little towns and over looking them is the old ruler’s castle. These rulers taxed the boats as they travelled up and down the river. A lot of these castles were built in the 11th and 12 th centuries. In subsequent periods various marauders ransacked the region and destroyed the castles, including Louis XIV in 1689 and then Napoleon in the late 18th century. The French are not overly popular here. During the 1800s a good number of the castles were refurbished. Today they are used as youth hostels, museums, wedding venues etc.
Our weather was a bit overcast but later in the morning the sun appeared. The sun brightened the countryside up and the castles stood out against the sky.
Another interesting thing along this river section is The Loreley. This is the German version of the old Greek tale about the Sirens luring the Greeks to their death on the rocks. Well Lore is the daughter of Old Father Rhine and she does the same thing to boatmen going up and down the Rhine, near a rather big rock sticking out into the Rhine. They have put up a nice statue of her on the bank and Mark Twain translated the German tale into English, I wont tire you with it on this occasion. But it is a nice tale…………
Later in the day we pull into Rudesheim for the afternoon. There are two main attractions here beside the beer. One is a mechanical musical instruments museum, with all sorts of musical gadgets. Homealone finds this far more approachable than the cable car ride to the top of escarpment. This is where Allthego went.Up here one overlooks the town and the surrounding areas, with the Rhine stretching away in both directions. When Germany was unified in the late 19 th century they put a big monument up here to celebrate the event.
After 415 km we now leave the Rhine and join the Main (pronounced ‘Mine’ ) River and head for our next stop at Miltenberg.
Dinner at Burg Namedy
After our wander through the streets of Cologne we cruised off down the Rhine to Andernach, a small village where Burg Namedy is located. It was built towards the end of the 14th century. It then passed through many hands. From time to time it was renovated with bits being added here and there to improve the lot of the inhabitants. At one stage one of its towers was reduced in height as part of a tax avoidance scheme. Taxes were levied on the height of ones tower; reduce the height, reduce the tax.
In 1908 Prince Carl-Anton von Hohenzollern and his wife Princess Josephine bought the castle as a residence. Now Josephine was the sister of King Albert 1 of Belgium. Before and after WW2 the Castle fell into disrepair. Prince Godehard, the grandson of old Prince Anton, inherited the place in 1988. He set about restoration. Being the banker he was he helped pay for all the work by establishing an arts and cultural program based in the castle. Chamber Music festivals, recitals, weddings, banquets and the like all happen here.
Princess Heide, Godehard’s wife, carries on the show now that Godehard has died. She gave a little speech welcoming us and said how much she and the children loved the place and needed to keep up the cultural program to help pay the way. Our attendance at the dinner helped in this endeavor I’m sure.
It was a pleasant night and during the excellent dinner we were entertained by a classical pianist performance on the grand piano. The 150 of us fitted quite neatly into their dining room. Homealone was suitably impressed with the recital and couldn’t pick any technical problems with the presentation. Allthego found the wine agreeable.
Around 10.30 pm we were back to the boat for sleep and the next days trip through the Rhine gorge. Numerous castles to count.
Away we go on the Rhine
But not for a few hours as we first have a half day trip to Zaanse Schans leaving from Amsterdam. The idea is that the boat then sails without us and picks us up along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal which runs for about 70 km before joining the River Rhine at a place called Tiel, 50 km or so from the Netherlands/German border.
Zaanse Schans is an open air museum that has been built up over the years to show traditional Dutch skills and culture. Clog making, cheese and other handicrafts are all on display as are working windmills. All quite interesting. The cheeses were rather good. Allthego was keen to bring some back but Homealone prevailed and we settled for some mustards and a special waffle syrup. The day was quite overcast so we didn’t see the windmills set among the green pastures and blue skies. Some suggested what we experienced was the more usual weather!
Back on board the boat we set off for Cologne cruising through the Dutch countryside and onto the Rhine. Much of this section of the Rhine is done overnight and we arrive in Cologne the next morning. We have a 2 hour guided walk around the city, 90 % of which was flattened by allied bombing in WW2. The Cathedral is enormous a stands out as the landmark site in the town. Underneath the streets though are other stories. A result of the post WW2 building programs has been the uncovering of Roman and Jewish ruins dating back to the 300-400s. So a programme of digging has been going on for some time.
The big attraction though is the Cathedral. It’s main claim to fame is that it holds a big be jeweled and gold-plated box containing relics (bones) of the 3 Wise men (Kings). These were brought here in 1164 and since then the place has been a place of pilgrimage for many. Once a year the box is opened and you can get to see the relics, big crowds are present. Well whatever your views are about relics like this the box is pretty spectacular with all its engravings and symbolic representations. Allthego is not so sure about the bones so wouldn’t rush here for the opening day.
We moved on from Cologne in the early afternoon for Andernach. We are to have dinner and a musical recital in a castle.