Archive | July 2017

Day 14: The Last Day (and Night)

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Our last view of the Viking Skirnir from the Chain Bridge.

While some passengers aboard the Viking Skirnir were off loading luggage and boarding buses at 3 a.m., we slept in until 6 a.m.  But our turn comes tomorrow when we (hopefully) board a bus from our hotel in Budapest at 3 a.m. for OUR trip to the airport and the beginning of a long day that should end in Maggie Valley sometime before midnight.

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The chain bridge.

After being dropped off by our surly Hungarian charter bus driver three blocks from our hotel because he said his bus wouldn’t go down the street and dragging our luggage the remaining distance, we only had to wait about 30 minutes for a room to be ready.  Once our luggage was stowed in the room, we took one final stroll through Budapest, walking all the way from Pest to Buda and back.  (It’s actually only one step on the Chain Bridge because the river separates the two pseudo cities.)  We really did walk across the rusting 7i00-year old bridge and then walked for several hours through the city.

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Looking back at the Chain Bridge from the Buda side.

I wanted one last look at the Parliament building, which, as it turns out is far more impressive from a ship in the river.  There was one site though that I did want to visit not far from the Parliament.  About 12 years ago, the people of Budapest commemorated a memorial to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and developmentally challenged individuals slaughtered by the Nazis as part of the Holocaust.  The memorial is simple:  100 iron shoes on the edge of the river, each shoe symbolizing 6,000 innocent lives.  The story we heard is that many of them were marched to the river and, after removing all of their belongings and valuables, including shoes, they were cast into the river.  When their relatives went to find them, all they could find were shoes.  Very touching.

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After lunch of a traditional Hungarian kabob and a beer at a street cafe near the shopping district, we headed back to our room for a short nap before going to dinner one more time with friends.

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Last night, after the blog was posted, we cruised down the river to see Budapest after dark.  I will let the following pictures speak to that experience.

This will probably be the last post for this trip.  I don’t think I’m going to be up for it after flying all day and half the night.  Budapest to Paris to Atlanta to Charlotte.  Hope everyone who’s still with me at the end enjoyed our trip.  I know we did.

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A few more from Budapest.

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Detail from the Parliament Building.  Multiply these by about 1,000 sculptures.

 

Day 13: Budapest: Buda and Pest

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Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion as seen from the deck of our long ship on the Danube.

Split by the Danube River, Budapest is two cities joined by seven bridges.  Buda, the city of the hills, rises on the south side of the river featuring such monumental architecture as the Baroque Royal Palace on Castle Hill, 700-year -old Gothic Matthias Church, and next to Matthias Church the 100-year-old Fisherman’s Bastion with it’s seven tent-like spires symbolizing the seven original Magyar tribes that settled Hungry more than 1,000 years ago.

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The world-famous Chain Bridge with the Royal Palace in the background.

 

Pest (pronounced Pesht), on the north side of the Danube, is much flatter, but also has a rich architectural past.  Most obvious is the Parliament building, at one time the largest in the world and currently ranked third  But there is also Hero’s Square, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Baroque Széchenyi Baths.

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Agnes, our guide for the morning.

On today’s bus/walking tour, we managed to visit all these locations and a few more that I forgot quickly as the tour bus whizzed by and the guide hurriedly described in accented English (“Hunglish” she called it).  Our first walking stop was Hero’s Square where we had a brief lesson in Hungarian History, beginning with the Magyar tribes, going through the relationship with the Hapsburgs, the growth and shrinking of the country over the centuries, its role on the losing side of WWI and WWII, the occupation by the Soviet Union and the installation of a communist government, and democracy (limited as it may be under the current authoritarian leader).

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Just before docking we sailed under the Elizabeth Bridge.

Our tour took us over two of the important bridges (the Catherine Bridge and the Elizabeth Bridge) with nice views also of the world famous, 700-year old Chain Bridge that first linked Buda and Pest.

But we also had time to walk around one of the historic shop and residential districts and take in some of the local Sunday-morning flavor of the Buda side of Budapest.

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That meant another visit to another coffeehouse/bakery, this one recommended by our excellent guide Agnes (aka Aggi).  Starbucks and even local coffee shops in the states just don’t have the atmosphere of these small coffeehouses that have histories, including recipes for their various cakes, pastries and chocolates, going back hundreds of years.   Today’s cake to go with my cappuccino and Marilyn’s coffee Americano was made with the same recipe the same shop developed more than 200 years ago.  It was easy to see, after only one delicious bite, why the recipe was a keeper.

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Matthias Church up close

During our free time we walked to the edge of the Royal Palace (currently empty of furniture while its interior is being renovated) just in time to see the changing of the guard at the President’s Office next door.  Not a big or long ceremony but still interesting as the guards went through their gun slapping routines while a loan drummer provided a steady beat.

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Changing of the Guard

Tonight, the ship will loose its moorings for a 90-minute night time cruise on the Danube to allow us to marvel at the city as it lights up.  Maybe more pictures tomorrow.

More from Budapest

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Only 100+ years old, the Fisherman’s Bastion is a popular spot for tourist photos.  Like this one.

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Two tourists take a photo with the Parliament Building across the Danube in the background.

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St. Stephen is the patron saint of Budapest and its first king who was crowned by the pope.  He is almost always portrayed with the Apostolic Cross.

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The primary monument in Hero’s Square.

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Day 13: Another Day in Vienna, Another Sachertorte

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Viennese street scene.  Outdoor cafes everywhere.  And clean.

After yesterday’s full day in Vienna, I needed a day with a little less activity and a little slower pace.  Consequently, after writing and posting yesterday’s blog, I relaxed a little this morning, had a (relatively) light lunch aboard ship, then jumped on the subway for a 15 minute ride to the center of Old Town again.

We visited the same area we spent part of yesterday in, but at a much more relaxed pace.  I noted a few days ago that I would drink a little less wine and a little more Viennese coffee these last two days.  At least I managed the latter.

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Properly served at Cafe Hawalka (pronounced HaValka)

In addition to strolling leisurely through the crowded Saturday shopping district, looking again in the windows at mammon I will never have, I visited two more local landmarks that I’d read about and had put on my Vienna bucket list.  Neither one was a castle or a fortress or a palace.  Rather, they were the sites of local social interaction and relaxation.  The first was Cafe Hawelka, a traditional Viennese coffee house and one famous as the gathering place for struggling and upward bound artists, who often paid their tabs in artwork rather than coin.  Once again, I ordered Grosser Brauner and Sachertorte and once again I was not disappointed.

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Enjoying Kliener Brauner and torte.

I had read that not only is their a closely guarded recipe for each coffee house’s liquid brew and its torte, but there is a standard and accepted way of serving it.  The photo below depicts that.  The coffee should be served on a silver platter, with a small glass of water with a spoon upside down on the top, and extra sugar.  That’s exactly the way it came.  And the Sachertorte was as good at Cafe Hawelka as it was at Deml’s.

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Sandwich spreads and bier at Trzesniewski’s

The second stop on my culinary tour of the Innere Stadt was Trzeniewski’s, a unique cafe that serves open faced sandwiches on rye bread made up of more thanks 50 different spreads.  I opted for carrot and cream cheese, pureed tomato and red pepper.  With a very small beer to wash each one down, it was the perfect mid-day snack and very affordable.  While tourists visit Trzeniewski’s, most of their trade is probably conducted with locals who work in the inner city.  It was a brief visit, but a real treat.

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Back at the ship, I enjoyed a 45 minute lecture on Austrian history from a professor at Vienna University.  Entertaining and informative, the talk covered more than 1000 years in less than an hour, focusing on the Hapsburg Dynasty and the dissolution of that dynasty in the 20th century following WWI and WWII.  Very nice.

We are now sailing down the Danube again on our way to a wake up call in Budapest.

More from Vienna.

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A picture of my stateroom and some of my souvenirs.

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For those who tired of castles, fortresses, cathedrals and palaces.  These two lovelies were at Cafe Hawalka and had their waiter take their picture.  So I joined in.  Then they ran away from the old man with fuzzy face.

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A baby church, only 150 years old.  Just across the street from our ship.

Day 12: A Full Day in Vienna

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Empress Maria Theresa, the most important woman in Austria’s Hapsburg past.

For those who looked for a blog post yesterday, my apologies.  After a full day in Vienna, I didn’t feel up to writing a post at 11 p.m.  This morning (Saturday), I hope to write a little more cogently and post a few pictures.  At any rate, here goes.

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The Imperial Palace

A riding and walking tour occupied our morning hours as we oriented ourselves to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Vienna.  I’ve never been a fan of bus tours and yesterday’s did nothing to change my mind.  For about 30 minutes, we drove in and around Vienna with a guide who described historic buildings usually hidden behind trees or trucks outside the bus or heads inside the bus.  I was anxious to get off and start walking.

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The “Plague Statue” took more than 20 years to complete in the 17th century and became a model for similar but smaller statues throughout Austria.

When the bus parked and we departed, the real tour began and we spent the next hour and a half admiring beautiful–though not terribly old–buildings.  Most of the buildings in Vienna that give it a special character were built in the mid to late 19th century (old, I guess by American standards), though some, of course, are much older.  In 1860, the old and now useless city wall was torn down and replaced with a road, the now famous Ringstrasse or Ring Street.  Along or near this street, many new public buildings were erected, including the National Art Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Parliament building and scores of others I can’t identify.  The Imperial Palace had been in place for centuries before the 19th century building boom, as had St. Stephen’s Cathedral and other still standing structures in the Old City.

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Shopping?  I don’t think so.

As our tour wound through the city, we moved easily from one century to another, even to a site where second century Roman ruins were visible in an excavation pit.  We passed through an “elite” shopping area where names like Gucci, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and others whose names I didn’t recognize but whose window prices on merchandise testified to a clientele that will never include me.  We drooled as we strolled past window displays of chocolates and pastries at the iconic coffee houses for which Vienna is famous.  We admired great statuary in the middle of crowded shopping streets.  And we craned our necks to look to the golden top of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of Vienna.

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Sachertorte and grosser brauner at Deml’s

When the guided tour ended, we had about 40 minutes in which to explore on our own and I knew where I wanted to go.  Deml’s, an historic coffee house in the elite shopping district, where sachertorte (so much more than just chocolate cake) was first created and which is now copied all over the world.  A cup of grosser brauner (coffee) and a slice of sachertorte at Deml’s and my morning was complete.

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An icing display at Deml’s

But the day was only 1/3 over.  After lunch back at the ship, we joined the ship’s executive chef on a subway trip to the Green Market back in the heart of Vienna, where food stuffs, fresh vegetables, fish markets, cafes, wine bars, and an assortment of other stands stimulated all the senses.  Chef Jhonny had arranged several tastings while we were in the market, including wine and cheese at one stop, fresh strawberries at the next, and a selection of wonderful pastries at the final stall.  A short walk back to the subway and a quick ride back to the ship completed the afternoon.

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Wein und Käse (Wine and Cheese)

But there was one final Viennese treat slated for the evening.   No one should go to Vienna without experiencing its most memorable commodity:  Music.  In the evening we went to the Auesperg Palace for two hours of Mozart and Strauss performed by the Vienna Residence Orchestra, two singers and two dancers.  In a beautiful pale pink and green marble performance hall lighted with large crystal chandeliers, (reportedly the room where six-year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart jumped into Empress Maria Theresa’s lap) we listened to the inspired music that made Vienna famous.  The music was the perfect end to our first day in Vienna.

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Ahh, Mozart.

But as I said, it had been a full day and I was ready to call it quits and start again today.  After this blog is posted, I will be back on the subway for a return trip to town and more Viennese coffee, tasty treats, and people watching before the ship pulls out at 5 p.m. on its way to Budapest.

More from Vienna

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This shopping stall sold nothing buy vinegar.  Who knew there were so many kinds?

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Marilyn admires deserts next to Chef Jhonny.

Day 11: Melk & Krems: A Benedictine Abbey and LOTS OF WINE (Not at the same time)

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The Austrian countryside from Melk Abbey.

If there is a mathematical formula that determines the inverse ratio of wine consumption to blog length, this will be a very short blog.  With some nice pictures.

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Melk Abbey Courtyard

The Benedictine Abbey at Melk was the first stop of the day and, as are all the medieval and baroque structures we’ve seen, it was amazing.  Benedictine monks have lived, studied, worked, prayed and taught at this site at Melk on the Danube for a thousand years and the recently restored but still active monastery stands as a tribute to the faith and hard work of these devoted men.

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No photography was allowed in this UNESCO World Heritage site, so there are a limited number of pictures, mostly from the exterior.  But touring the building and gardens was a great way to spend the morning.   In particular, the library, which has one of the best print and manuscript collections in Germany smelled like history.  The old, leather-bound books and manuscripts were multi-sensual.

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Richard the Lion Hearted was held captive in this fortress along the Danube on his return from the Crusades.

In the afternoon, we sailed on the Danube through the Wachau Valley wine country.  Vineyards lined the river and old castles and picturesque towns made frequent appearances as we headed toward the day’s destination at Krems.

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Typical village view along the Danube.

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Erhard Mörwald, the vintner, Trinka, our guide, and Thomas, the ship’s Austrian Hotel Manager.

At Krems we debarked and traveled a short distance to the winery chosen to supply much of the wine consumed aboard the Viking Cruise Line’s 50 long ships.  We met Erhart Mörwald, the owner of the winery and our special guide for the afternoon.  This energetic Austrian took us through the winery, showing us the pressing process, the fermenting process, the bottling process and, most importantly, the tasting process.  We sampled six of his award winning wines, then a shot of apricot schnapps.  Oh, and then a glass of cherry cordial.  I don’t know whether it was the delightful wine or the significant buzz, but we left with three additional bottles and an appreciation for Austrian wine.

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This evening, celebrating our first day in Austria, the ship’s chef prepared an authentic Austrian dinner, complete with Austrian beer, Austrian wine and, of course, more Austrian schnapps.  Holy Crappen.  We had a good time.

Tomorrow we head to Vienna, and, I think, less wine and more Viennese coffee and sacher torte.

Gros Gutte.

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Returning to the long ship Skirnir

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Day 10: Passau: Organ Concert on the World’s Largest Cathedral Organ

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The north bank of the Danube from Passau.  Please click on image for larger view.

After sailing calmly down the lovely River Danube all night, we awoke this morning in the border town of Passau, Germany, only one kilometer from Austria, which we can see in the distance and which is visible from several vantage points in town.  Today’s docking is the closest we’ve had so far to a town center.  Disembark, walk about 200 yards up hill, and you’re there.

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View from the sun deck of the Viking Skirnir.

Our tour guide for the morning was Konrad, a professor of international relations at Passau University and a native of this town.  He started our walk with a discussion of the city’s history, which can be traced to more than 7,000 years ago, thanks to its location at the confluence of three rivers:  the blue Danube that originates in the Black Forest of Germany, the black Illz that originates in the Bohemian Forest of northern Germany and the green Inn that originates in the melting glaciers of Switzerland.  The three rivers give the city much of its character, but they have also contributed to its unfortunate past, namely a series of devastating floods, the depth of which are documented on the photograph below.  The most recent, and the second worst in history, occurred in June 2013 and reached the second story of all the buildings on the banks of the Danube and left behind more than three feet of mud when the waters receded.

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The Inn River a few hundred yards from where it merges with the Danube.

After pausing briefly on the banks of the Inn River and noting the milky color caused by the suspended sediment scraped and crushed from the sides of Swiss mountains by massive glaciers, we climbed the hill to town center and St. Stephens Cathedral.  Unlike Gothic cathedrals we saw in other cities, Passau’s cathedral was different.  The original Gothic structure, which had stood for hundreds of years, was destroyed by afire in 1683 that also destroyed or damaged much of the town.  Italian baroque architects and craftsmen were hired to build a new church, a project that too more than a decade.  The resulting edifice was very different from the older Gothic cathedrals that pepper the German landscape.

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The rear of St. Stephens Cathedral with scaffolding that seems to be a permanent part of all German cathedrals.  The photo that follows shows the intricate detail at the top of the tower.  The attention to minutia at more than 200 feet in the air most people can’t really see is amazing.

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The interior of the cathedral was as striking as the exterior, perhaps even more so.  The Italian fresco painters and especially the stucco artists who finished the interior out did themselves.  Once again, just as the exterior of the building was striking in it’s attention to the most minor details, the interior in itself could easily result in a multi-hundred page art book. Below are two photographs that show only a minute fraction of the thousands of detailed stucco sculptures and ceiling paintings.  Neither my pedestrian writing nor my inadequate photographs do them justice.

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This shows a close up of the right middle portion of the photo above.

But the real treat at the cathedral today was not the gorgeous paintings or the stunning stucco sculptures.  Rather, it was a 30-minute concert of baroque organ music on the largest cathedral organ in the world.  The St. Stephens organ is actually a system of five organs connected together and played on a single console.  The organ has more than 17,500 pipes ranging in size from more than 30 feet long to less than 3 inches long.  The quality of the organ combined with the acoustics of the cathedral inspired feelings of awe and even reverence.  The concert was tagged as the highlight of today’s tour, and it was.

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A few of the 17,500+ pipes that constitute the St. Stephens Cathedral organ.

The organ concert was the last stop on the tour and after another delicious lunch back aboard the Viking Skirnir, we returned to town for more sightseeing, some shopping, and, of course, a visit to a biergarten to sample the local brew, this time a pilsner.   More staid than the brews I quaffed in the last few days, it was a good, cold drink on a warm German day  when the sun warmed the city to about 87° F.

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We returned to the ship at 5 p.m., the crew cast off the lines, and we soon sailed past the three river confluence and into Austria.  Tomorrow, I give up beer and return to wine and a visit to a vineyard and winery.  Life is good.

More from Passau

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The front of the baroque St. Stephens Cathedral in Passau.

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A working sundial on a wall in the inner courtyard of the cathedral.  The current time on the sundial shows about 9:30 when it was actually about 10:30.  But the artists of several hundred years ago didn’t have to contend with daylight savings time.  Otherwise, it kept pretty good time.

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City Hall

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The ceiling fresco at the Bishop’s residence.

Day 9: Regensberg: A 900 year-old Sausage Shop

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Crossing a 900 year old bridge into Regensburg

About mid-morning today we left the 106-mile long Rhine-Main-Danube canal and entered the Danube River.  Along the way, we went through 27 locks, the highest of which was more than 82 feet, and near the middle of the canal we reached the highest point on earth where ocean-going vessels can go.  The canal took more than 30 years to build and makes it possible for barges and ships like ours to go from the Black Sea to the North Sea across central Europe.

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One of 26 locks, this one on the downhill side headed to the Danube

For the next seven days we will sail on the Danube, leaving Germany tomorrow night and entering Austria.  The final two days will take us to Hungary.

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The stone tower was part of the Roman fortification and built around 173 AD.  The upper room was added later and is now the honeymoon suite of a hotel inside the former Bishop’s Residence.  It represents a nice shift from making war to making love.

Regensburg, our port stop today was another reminder of the length of European history.  The area was probably settled nearly 2,000 years ago and in the first century AD it was the site of the second largest Roman settlement in Germany, hosting Castra Regina (Fortress by the River Regen) and some 6,000 Roman Legionnaires.  The city still shows reminders of Roman architecture including walls, towers and the main gate to the fortress.

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The Danube River from the Bridge into Regensberg.

It was another of those fortunate German cities, unlike Nurnberg, that largely avoided destruction in World War II and still boasts buildings built in the 10th, 11th and 12th century, including the city hall, St. Peters Cathedral, the bishop’s residence and hundreds of shops and houses.  We walked into the city across a bridge over the Danube River built in 1135-1146, though after only 900 years, it’s already beginning to show its age and is undergoing some repairs.

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In addition to the City Hall (and the nearby Ratskeller) and the Bishop’s residence, the primary historical focus of the town is St. Peter’s Cathedral, begun in the 13th century and finally completed in the late 19th century when two soaring spires were added and at nearly 350’ tall are among the highest in Germany.  We took a few minutes to step inside the massive cathedral and were confronted with brilliant stained glass windows dating from the 14th century and a nave which rose more than 100’ above us.  Beautiful.

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While not as impressive as the cathedral or city hall or the bishop’s residence, one of the high points of today’s walk through Regensburg was a stop for beer and sausages at the Sausage Kitchen (Historische Wurstküche zu Regensburg) which has been feeding workers and residents at the site since the bridge was built in 1135-1146.  The same family has been operating the current restaurant since 1803 and has grilled sausages over charcoal since that time.  I enjoyed a plate of sausages and sauerkraut washed down with a nice dark beer delivered by a surly waiter.

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Once again, the WiFi connection is slow and sometimes fails completely.  I’m hopeful I can post this tonight, but if the midnight hour comes and it’s not up, it will have to wait until tomorrow.  All this walking, eating, drinking and other tourist activities is taking its toll and there are more castles, cathedrals and concerts ahead of me.  But I’m not complaining.  This has been a great trip so far.

More from Regensburg

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Marilyn is flanked by Carl, the ship’s Program Director, and Brigitta, today’s guide.

 

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Flowers were everywhere, but we learned they had been banned from city windows before the 1980s.  Weird.

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Pratorian Gate built in 179 AD

Day 8: Nuremberg and Rotbier and Sausage

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The Tower Keep at Nürnburg

Old and new buildings; old and new history. That’s a petty good short description of Nuremberg (aka Nürnberg), today’s stop on the Viking River Cruise Grand European Tour.

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Well house in the castle

Nürnberg was one of the most important crossroads on the trade routes during the years of the Holy Roman Empire (12th-18th centuries) and one of the primary seats of power for the emperors who ruled the hundreds of small German states during that period.  As a result, Nürnberg has one of the finest fortified medieval castles in Germany and one that was never taken by force but changed hands occasionally following extended seiges.

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Marilyn stands in front of the oldest undamaged houses, built in the 15th century

It also has the best preserved city wall in all of Germany.  As cities grew in the 18th and 19th centuries and the weapons of war made city walls obsolete, most cities tore down their walls in order to more easily expand.  Nürnberg was an exception.  The people here (Franconians not Bavarians, they will tell you even though they live in the state of Bavaria) have long had a valuable sense of place and an enduring respect for history.

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One German leader once said that Nürnberg was the most German of all German cities.  That leader was Adolph Hitler, and as a consequence he made Nürnberg the site of the famous enormous Nazi rallies of the 1930s and the location of his never finished Congresss Hall.  Today I had a chance to literally ride into the middle of the Congress Hall in a tour bus.  It’s impossible, I think, to describe how big the building was to be, but the circular outer walls that remain and which would have supported the roof of the courtyard testify to its anticipated size.  Had it been finished, the interior would have held more than 50,000 Nazi party loyalists to hear the rantings of a madman.  Nearby, the  Zeppelin Field and the Stadium remain, while most other structures were demolished after World War II.

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View from the castle of a rebuilt Nürnberg. Most buildings in this picture would have been completely or partially destroyed by April 1945.

So, in Nürnberg you have two histories:  A thousand year history before the 20th century and a tumultuous and deadly more recent past.  Unlike Bamberg where we were yesterday, Nürnberg was nearly totally destroyed by bombs and fire by the end of the war.  The castle was badly damaged, yet its 40′ walls and deep subterrean rooms saved invaluable pieces of local art from dozens of churches and protected the lives of up to 50,000 residents during bombing raids.  The rest of the town, however, suffered near destruction.  The question after the war was should the burned out houses, churches, shops and public buildings be torn down and a new town erected in their place or should the people take on the more arduous task of restoring the town to its medeaval, baroque and renaissance glory?

The sense of place and past I noted earlier held sway and the people of Nürnberg spent the next 30-40 years carefully restoring the town as much as they could.  Even the large churches had to be nearly completely rebuilt but the artwork saved in the bunkers under the castle are in place as it was for centuries.  Many of today’s buildings are only about 50 years old, but they look as though they’ve been standing for hundreds of years.  I for one am glad a respect for the past won out.

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Drei im Weggla (Three in a bun)

Every region of Germany has the best sausage and the best beer in the world.  Just ask the fiercely proud residents in any region.  Nürnberg is known for its small pork sausages seasoned liberally with marjoram.  In most places, one or two sausages or brats would be sufficient for a restaurant dinner, but in Nürnberg you need to order at least six, eight or ten to go with your sauerkraut or warm potato salad.  Or, you can do as I did and go to the takeout window in the restaurant and order “Three on a Bun,” cover it liberally with mustard or horseradish and enjoy it as you walk though the narrow streets.  The other half of the Nürnberg culinary experience has to be the craft brewed Rotbier or red beer and the best place to get it is the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof  (Old City Brew House) where they’ve been making it the same way for nearly 300 years.  Both the brats and the beer convinced me that my German roots are real.  I think I could live here on those two things alone.  My guide, Andreas, informed me that “A man without a beer belly is not yet a man.”  I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to go, though.

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Rotbier at Hausbrauerei Altstadthof

Nürnberg’s most famous son was the artist Albrecht Dürer (1451-1528), known mostly for his woodcuts but also a prolific painter.  Unfortunately for the people of Nürnberghe achieved great fame during his lifetime and most of his works hang in great museums throughout Europe and not in his hometown.  They did preserve the house he lived in and created a small museum there, but, unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow time for a visit.

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Albrecht Dürer house and museum

Today we left the Main River in Nürnberg and headed south through a 150-mile long canal that will take us to the Danube and into Austria.  The canal journey will carry us through more than two dozen locks, two of which are 80′ high.  As I was writing this we sailed along an aquaduct that flows above a highway and Marilyn got to see the four-lane road below our river highway.  No doubt, it’s some shock to drivers of cars below to see a 2,000 ton cruise ship above their heads.

More from Nuremberg

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Formerly a Catholic Cathedral, this Lutheran Church is probably the only Protestant Church in the world that has a Catholic Saint buried inside!

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“Heaven’s Gate” leads to the castle if you’re heading uphill.

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School children enjoying a day at the castle.

Day 7: Bamberg and a New Career

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Enjoying Rauchbier or “Smoked Beer” in a classic Bamburg brauhaus.

A good day should include several new experiences.  Using that criteria, today was a good day.

While we cruised on the Main River to our next port of call–Bamberg–in Franconia/Bavaria/Germany,  Carl the Viking River Cruise Program Director thought we should have the opportunity to be entertained if we wanted to do something other than watch the river.  So he brought aboard a sixth-generation glass blower from Wertheim, a small town near Miltenberg, who happens to be one of the best glass artists in the world, to give a demonstration of his art.  In the course of his demonstration he asked for a volunteer to show how “easy” glass blowing is.  Of course, I volunteered when the others in the ship’s lounge hesitated to step forward.

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Karl turns me into a master glass blower.

Karl Ittig, a showman as well as a world-class glass blower/artist, started me off with a shot of Jaegermiester, which he said was essential for good glass blowing.  The Jaeger went down smooth.  After sharing shots, we moved on to the main course–glass blowing.  Karl heated the special, hard Pyrex glass tube and gave it to me to blow into, with the unnecessary warning not to inhale.  Working together, Karl and I produced a beautiful glass ball that he gave me when the demonstration ended.  It will be one of the best souvenirs of this trip.

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After docking in Bamberg and once again eating way too much at lunch, we headed into the city, another of the lucky towns to escape the wrath of allied bombers, leaving intact public buildings, shops and cathedrals that date back to the 11th century.  Today happened to be a festival day and the city was crowded with festival goers and various magicians and other performers.  Normally on Sunday, the city streets would have been relatively quiet and we wouldn’t have had to compete for sidewalk space with hordes of families and other celebrants.  But it was nice to see how the populace enjoys themselves on a special day.

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Our tour guide, Alex(andra), walked us on a one-hour tour focused mostly on old Bamburg.  The city had it’s start sometime before the 12th century and was intentionally founded with seven churches on seven hills to mimic Rome, the heart of the Holy Roman Empire.  Because it was a Sunday and the main cathedral (circa 1020) was in use, we couldn’t go inside as a group, but from the outside we knew it was an impressive structure.  We passed by the Old City Hall, decorated with colorful murals and intentionally build in the middle of a river so the town wouldn’t have to pay taxes to the local bishop.  The various cobblestone-covered plazas were enormous and even with all the crowds in town, many still seemed to be mostly empty.  Behind one of the state buildings which held the state library we enjoyed a rose garden filled with flowers and statues and providing a tremendous view of the city spread out below.

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When the tour ended and we said auf weidershen to Alex, I set course for the Schlenkela brewpub to try the talk of the town:  Rauchbier or smoked beer.  By cooking malt over an open flame, Bamburg breweries impart a smoky, bacon-like flavor to their dark beer.  We had been warned it wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but it definitely suited mine.  Joining the locals, I went to the window inside the tavern, ordered ein rauchbier, put a deposit on my glass, and went outside to enjoy the sunny afternoon.  The beer garden outside was nearly full, but we found a small table at which we could stand and watch Bambergians (?) drinking their smoke beer, eating saubraten and enjoying the day.

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Old City Hall

After a couple leisurely stops along the way at shops and a market place, we headed back to the ship, ending another great day with another great meal of regional specialities prepared by the ship’s executive chef.

Tomorrow we dock at Nurmburg, site of the post-WWII war crimes trials where Nazi leaders were brought to justice and go off for another tour.

Glass Blowing

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Old City Bamberg

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Bamberg is also known by some as “Little Venice.”

Day 6: Würzburg and The Residence

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The Bishop’s Residence

Waking early this morning knowing I had to post pictures to yesterday’s blog, I quietly slid open the veranda door of our stateroom and stepped into the cool river air.  In the water just below, silently swam a snow white swan, a single beautiful creature enjoying the early morning with me on the Main River.  What a great way to start the day.

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Posting pictures to blog site when most of the ship’s passengers are still abed is much less frustrating than competing for bandwidth in the evening when everyone is online emailing, sending pictures home, surfing the web and doing whatever else sucks the life out of the ship’s internet connection.  I think I’ve found my solution to posting frustration. However, as I write this now, the connection seems to be reasonably fast and I may get everything done early tonight for a change.

This morning we docked briefly in Karlstadt where buses waited to take us on a 20 minute ride to Würzburg while the ship made the same trip in about three hours.  Our first tour stop for the day was “The Residence,” the former home of eight Prince-Bishops from the early 18th century  (ca. 1720) until early in the 19th century (ca 1808). The Residence (aka Residenz) should more accurately be called a baroque palace and is one of the most extravagant and stately buildings in all Germany.  A Prince-Bishop was both a political figure and the head of the Catholic Church in this region and thus controlled power and money that made possible the building of this huge and opulent structure.

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This is not me in front of our new home in North Carolina.  It’s one end of the Residence

Pictures of the exterior and gardens are permitted, but no photography is allowed in the interior, much to my chagrin.  You can see pictures of the interior and learn more about the residence and it’s amazing structural art at several web sites, including this link to Wikipedia.

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In the Residence Gardens

The one-hour walk through the palace was awe inspiring for the art and craftsmanship on display, but also thought provoking as I considered the vast economic and social distances between the privileged few who lived in and ruled from the residence and the many whose taxes, labor and support made possible the life lived by the most exalted of the upper class.  As an artistic statement, I approve of the palace and its appointments; as a political statement I of course disapprove of the vast gulf that separated the classes.

One other note:  Near the end of World War II, Würzburg suffered the same fate as several other German cities, Dresden being the most well-known, which were fire bombed and almost completely destroyed.  In the case of Wurzburg, about 90% of the city was destroyed in the incendiary induced firestorm, including much of the Residence.  What remained was saved, in large part by Americans recently made famous by the movie “Monuments Men.”  By 2000, the residence had been largely restored at a cost of €20 million proudly paid by German and Würzburg taxpayers, and subsidized in a way by the U.S. Marshall Plan.

Following our time in the Residence, we headed out for a one hour tour of the center of Würzburg and several hours of free time walking through the city and it’s busy market place.  Our guide correctly pointed out on several occasions that churches dominate the skyline of the city and still play an important role in the lives of the people who live there.  I focused my camera on a few of the more prominent and striking examples.

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Church of the Virgin Mary

A large festival honoring the patron saint of Würzburg (St. Killian, also the patron saint of Ireland) was underway in the city and we competed with pilgrims for sidewalk space.  Large churches also competed with one another for space and every block seemed to contain several churches or cathedrals, any one of which would have made most cities proud.

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The market square has been part of city life here for a thousand years and today was no different.  Vegetable stalls, clothing tents, jewelry vendors and a endless variety of other merchants hawked their domestic and imported wares to tourists and residents alike.  It was a great place to people watch and to get a feel for the flow of life in Würzburg.

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We could have gone back to the ship early but decided to spend a large part of the afternoon in the city exploring and experiencing the local cuisine.  Every town in Germany probably has a Ratskeller restaurant/bar, which roughly translated means the place where government officials meet outside of city hall to drink.  We chose the Ratskeller because it was nearby and because it promised bratwurst, sauerkraut, rye bread and beer.  Find a table outside and a waitress who speaks English and you’re in for a Franconian treat.  As usual, I ate more than I should have, but it was delicious and the beer was cold.

Our only purchase today was another bottle of white wine for which this region is well known.  I anticipate emptying it tomorrow or the next day sitting on my veranda enjoying the river views.

It’s nice to finish the blog early for a change.  More to come tomorrow.

More Views from Würzburg

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