Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bratislava

Photos to come later. Internet is being a pain.

After so many mornings of getting up at 7 or earlier, today was our morning to sleep in – and that I did. What finally awakened me was the shuttering of the ship as we departed from Vienna at 9 am. I somehow could not get myself awake. It seems to me that it happens when you get too much sleep. I wandered down for a late breakfast and before I knew it we were approaching the one lock that was left that we would pass through during daylight hours. The first thing I noticed when going up to the sun deck is that the temperature had dropped about 20 degrees from yesterday. It wasn’t too bad in the sun for the 15 minutes or so that I was outside, but I knew I would have to dress warmly for the walking tour. I think I can safely say that once you’ve been through a lock, you’ve pretty much seen it. I am fascinated how they work, but it’s a bit like watching paint dry. We cruised along the Danube for several hours and passed some pretty towns and castles. We had lunch about noon time. I have to say, one of today’s desserts, an apricot dumpling with vanilla sauce was the absolute best dessert of the trip, and I think Rena agreed. I would love to have that recipe – or maybe not! We had just finished our tea when they called us to the buses to depart for the town of Bratislava. I feel like I have been living European history for the past week. I was not familiar with this city, so I’ll just give a quick background. Slovakia is Europe’s youngest country achieving independence in 1993 from the Czech Republic. It joined the EU in 2004 and only adopted the Euro as the official currency earlier this year. It used to be a part of Hungry about 1000 years ago and has a very complex history. Bratislava is the capital. We spent the first hour taking the bus up a “hill” through very narrow streets to visit the WWII monument that overlooks the city. It is a very impressive view, though we did have some haze today. In the distance you could see the Bratislava Castle which was our next stop. I forget the year it was initially constructed, but as with many castles it was left in ruins, and then all of the wooden parts were destroyed by fire about 150 ago. Recently, it has been restored and turned into a museum. There were certain elements that were found in the debris that were incorporated into the new design. From here one also has sweeping views of the Danube and the valley below. We took the buses back down and started our walking tour. It is really a beautiful city with many different types of architecture. We did see a house that is extremely run down and according to our guide most buildings looked like that until about 15 years ago. We passed by St. Michaels Tower and went into the Old Town Square. A funny side note – back after Napoleon had shot cannon balls into the city, the government decided to give money to any homes that were affected by the cannon balls. Here you will find buildings who took the cannon balls and incorporated them into the building so that they could get this money from the government. Unfortunately we did not have a great deal of time in the city for free time. Rena and I went up to the pedestrian shopping area to look around for a bit and I decided to see if I could find wifi. One strange thing about the city is that there are not any benches in the shopping district – they only have them in one particular area by the tram tracks, but there were a ton there. Anyway, this meant that I had to stand with my computer, leaning up against a building. Turned out there was an excellent signal so I was able to upload some Vienna photos and a video. I decided to try Skype since cell phone is way too expensive here. I called mom and dad and we were all able to talk, Rena included. I am sure the passersby were wondering what the heck I was doing there with my computer talking to it with Rena. I didn’t let it bother me! We headed back to the ship as it was already 5 pm and very dark and cold. I made it back just in time for the reception for past Uniworld travelers. It was very nice, they had champagne and hors d’oeuvres for us. I think we had only 9 of us onboard. At 6 pm they had a local duo come on board and entertain us with classical music with a “fun” twist. I wish I would have had my video camera for the performance. It was most enjoyable. Dinner was next and I sat with a couple from England, actually the only people from the UK on board, a couple from Texas and another from California. We had a very nice dinner and managed to chat until 9:30. I tried internet tonight, but we were already in another lock, so I know that means no internet. This is the largest drop that we experience on the trip, so I went up top in the cold and mist to check it out. The ship did drop very quickly, but again, it was just another lock. I gave it up once the gates opened and we are on our way again. It is time for me to call it a day – only one day left and it’s Budapest! Where has this week gone??

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vienna



City street with black plague monument (left) and Roman ruins on the right.
Hofburg Imperial Palace


This morning we were in Vienna and had a VERY full day ahead. Our included tour started at 8:30 am with a trip into Vienna around the “Ring Road”. There are so many sights to see that we really just glossed over many along the bus ride. After a brief overview of the city we arrived at the statue of Maria-Theresa, wife of Franz Joseph I. Since most people know about Vienna I will not go into all of this history of the city. We could see that the Christmas Market was set up and opened at 11 am. We started our walk to the Hofburg Imperial Palace which was the winter home of the Habsburg family. We did not go inside, but rather walked through the courtyards and looked at the gorgeous architecture. We also saw where the current President’s offices are located and noted that he is in the country since the flag was flying. We went by the Spanish Riding School where the Lipizzaner horses are trained. I didn’t have time to see them practicing, so perhaps on another trip. We did get a glimpse of one or two of the horses. From there we went on into the city and even saw some Roman ruins that were discovered as they were building the metro system. Two things I discovered about Vienna, there are a ton of cathedral spires and LOTS of green domes. It makes it a bit difficult when using those as landmarks when trying to get back to a location (as I found out later). We made our way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, again not going inside, but observing the very Gothic architecture and noting where the second spire was not completed, but merely capped off. We then made our way to where
Mozart lived for two years and where he composed his Figaro. This concluded our guided tour and we were on our own. I went with Rena to the Spanish Riding school, but decided we really didn’t have enough time to go and see the rehearsal. I left her and went over to the small Christmas market that we had seen earlier. They were just opening so I wandered through there looking at all of the different vendors. I bought a really neat etching from the artist – I just love it! I decided to not catch the bus back, but spend some more time in the city. I ran in to Rod and Dawn (friends from the ship) and they mentioned that there is a much larger market across town. I finally made my way over there and walked around for a while and had their version of a hot dog (brat) and some Gluhwine.
Time was running out since I had to go to Schönbrunn Palace. Needless to say, I got a bit lost trying to find the U-Bahn stop I needed. I finally realized that I went most of the way around the ring (a mile or two), but finally managed to get on the U-Bahn, and get back to the ship at 1:20, just in time to get on the bus to the palace. I was exhausted. We took the 30 minute trip across town to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg family. Maria-Theresa made major changes to the palace during her time. It is very reminiscent of Versailles and certainly as ornate.
We couldn’t take pictures inside, but the rooms are truly beautiful, but certainly “over the top” in terms of decoration. We spent free time in the gardens which have been winterized already. I hiked up the hill to the Gloriette, but only made it part of the way since I needed to get back to the bus. I made it, but was the last one on. After getting back to the ship it was time for an early dinner of Weiner Schnitzel and some more yummy desserts. We boarded the bus for the concert at 7:30 and went back into town.
video
The concert was at the Koursalon, where Strauss played his first concert. I have never had and hour and a half of music go by so quickly. They also had singers and dancers accompany some of the pieces. There was a brief intermission with champagne then the final portion of the concert. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the concert. When we arrive back at the ship they had Goulash and more sausages waiting for us. I have yet to be hungry! I decided to call the folks from the cell since service will be way too expensive once we get into Slovakia. It was great to talk to mom, but unfortunately dad was not home. Tomorrow we depart Vienna and sail to Bratislava. Looking forward to sleeping in because I am beyond exhausted!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wachau Valley and Dürnstein

There was a huge spread for lunch today on board the ship, but I opted for a cheeseburger. I think all of the rich food is getting to me. We left Melk and cruised the Wachau Valley. It is a very narrow portion of the Danube with very steep hills up either side where the grape vines are ubiquitous. It reminded me a lot of the trip along the Rhine, but the leaves weren’t as pretty this time of year. We also passed a number of small towns and castles along the way. It was a pretty short trip down to Dürnstein. It is a very small town with only 1002 inhabitants. There are the ruins where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned back in 1192. I would have really liked to hike up to he ruins, but I had signed up for the wine tour (I guess I’ll have to check out the ruins on the next trip). There is also a monastery here that looks like it’s done in Jasparware.



We took the “train” up through the vineyards to Domäne Wachau where we toured the small castle and the winery. It is a cooperative so grapes come in from all different vineyards along the valley. The cellar was extremely aromatic since they have just harvested the grapes and they are working. The walls are covered in a type of mold that is actually quite beautiful – it’s extremely cool and humid down in the cellar. We eventually made it to the tasting room where we tried 4 different white wines. They were all very good. I hope to find some of them back home since I really didn’t want to put any in the suitcase (as if I had room!). We returned to the ship through town on the little train and it had already cooled off quite a bit.


I wish we had more time here, but it was time to leave. It doesn’t help that the sun sets just after 4 pm. I came back and tried to get on the internet, but no luck. We had our daily “port talk” about 6:45 and I was just tired hearing about all we have going on tomorrow. It’s going to be non-stop from 8:30 am – 10:30 pm. I met a couple from Atlanta and we ended up having dinner together. We also sat with a couple from Tasmania Australia. We had a fascinating conversation about the island of Nauru and their involvement with the refugee camps there. I want to do more research about that one. It’s a crazy story. We had a really great dinner tonight with pork and sweet and sour cabbage followed by a delicious melting chocolate cake. At 9:00 pm, they had a Christmas market set up in the lounge with more sweets and gluwine (hot, spiced wine). I managed to refrain from buying anything since I don’t know what I’ll find in Vienna tomorrow and I’ve already bought a few items. Internet is very slow tonight and I have a lot of pictures to upload. The captain just passed by and asked me to pass on “greetings to all of the folks at home”. We are going through our second lock of the evening. Gute nacht.

Melk

Clip from the Organ concert...

video




This morning we arrived in Melk and went up to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine abbey which has been in use continuously since it's founding in 1089. Here are some pictures from this morning's outing. We are traveling down through the Wachau Valley, so I thought I would go ahead and upload some photos. We will arrive in Durstein at about 2:30 then it's off to a winery! Good times.


View from Melk Abbey and pictures of the courtyards and gardens.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Salzburg












Photos from Saltzburg - will write later. Had to upload while at a Cafe in town!
Salzburg

Today we woke up and were docked in Linz. There was heavy fog, but you could see that there was blue sky behind it. Considering they were calling for rain again today, this was a wonderful surprise. I managed to get up about 7:15 and head down to breakfast. The buses were departing at 8:30, so we had to get going. We had a 1 ½ hour trip down to Salzburg through some beautiful country. Along the way we stopped for a “convenience break” that overlooked “Moon Lake”. This is where the wedding in the Sound of Music took place. After this brief stop we arrived in the town of Salzburg which literally means Salt City. Here we met our guides who took us on a 2 hour walking tour of the city.
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We started in the Mirabellgaten, another site from the Sound of Music. It is a beautifully kept garden with statues and a fountain. We then walked across the river into the old part of town. The fortress atop the mountain is very impressive as you approach it. I call it a mountain, but here it’s only a foothill. As we entered into town we saw the birthplace of Mozart (it’s the yellow building in the picture). He was born there in 1756 and it’s called the Geburtshaus. There are large areas of the city that are only open to pedestrian traffic. We walked through to an area called Old Town which is similar to a farmers market. Vendors come there with their vegetables and the most amazing flowers and arrangements. I wish I could have bought one of the wreaths I saw there, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t make it through customs! From there we went into St. Peter’s cemetery, a very old and unusual cemetery – it’s hard to describe, but is very elaborate and many headstones are behind gates (like in the Sound of Music at the end when they’re escaping). There is also a monastery located near the center of town. From there we went to St. Peter’s Cathedral.
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It is the first Baroque church North of the Alps. Since it is the first of it’s style in this region it is very unique – you do not find the gold leaf that adorns many Baroque-style churches, rather they have painted black behind the carvings to make the white stand out. The church was originally built in 774 but has had a long history including being bombed during WWII and had to be restored. The oldest/longest running restaurant is also located in Salzburg. It was started in 813, and though the building where it is now wasn’t built until the 15th century, it was continually run in this location until today. The Christmas markets are being set up, but will not open until Friday – very sad! They are also getting ready to film a movie with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, so they have this huge square blocked off. I saw a pile of snow leftover from a week or so ago, so I made a snowball! At the conclusion of the tour we were given free time to visit the fortress, shop, have lunch, etc. I managed to find wifi, so I spent an hour uploading some photos. The videos were taking forever, so I might have to do that another time. It was almost two, so I went by a sandwich shop and grabbed a quick bite. I did a little shopping and it was almost time to leave. I had to go and try a Mozartkugel which is a chocolate and praline truffle, quite good. I also grabbed this apple pastry before heading back to the bus. It was going to be a long trip back! We did get stuck in traffic, so we arrived back at the ship about 6pm. We had our “port talk” about 6:45 discussing tomorrow’s trip to Melk Abbey and the optional tour to the Krems Vineyard. We had dinner, more beef for me! I wasn’t a big fan of the lemon tart, so I only had one bite of that. Very strange for me. They have a Dixie style band up in the lounge right now. I guess I will hear some of it when I go up to post this to the blog (okay, so I’m up here and they are singing Dixie, but with an Austrian accent – it is quite amusing, but they are really good!). We will arrive in Melk tomorrow at 7 am, tour at 8:45, then we sail through the Wachau Valley and arrive in Dürestein around 2:30 then off to the winery. It’s going to be another long, but fun-filled day. I have met a bunch of really interesting people. I guess one of the benefits of traveling alone is that it forces you to extend yourself and meet new people! Until tomorrow…