BERLIN - DRESDEN - MEISSEN - POTSDAM - DANUBE CRUISE - SALZBURG - VIENNA
We flew from Tampa to Washington DC on July 12 to catch a Lufthansa flight direct to Berlin, Germany. It was because we choose direct flights that I had to book Business class service on the International portion, as there was no availability on coach. I made the reservations through the Viking Tour Agency since they were the agency for the Danube River Cruise. Because we had Business class we were permitted to use the “Red Carpet Lounge”. That was very helpful as we had a 7-hour layover in Washington unless we wanted to take a later flight that only allowed us one hour to catch the Lufthansa flight. I did not want to take the chance that we would miss the connection.
The wider seats and additional legroom and the excellent service made the flight from Washington to Berlin more comfortable and time passed faster. It would be a hard decision to say it was worth an additional $5800, but it was nice to not have to wait in check in lines and to be able to stretch out in our seats. The flight was almost 10 hours but it was worth it not to have to change planes and have it take 13 hours.
The tour did not begin until the 14th but I wanted an extra day in Berlin and the direct flight was only on the 12th [and not on the 13th] ] to arrive in Berlin a day later. We did arrive about 9AM so it gave us an extra full day.
We arrived too early to check into a room At the Berlin Hilton, but fortunately I had obtained a Hilton VIP Silver card which allows special privileges, and they cleared a handicap room for us in less than an hour.
Tel - 030/20230 ~ Fax - 030/20234269
Email - email@example.com
502 rooms/suites with bath/shower/toilet, TV, A/C, radio, phone, minibar
Indoor pool, Whirlpool, Squash court, Sauna, Solarium, Tennis, Bowling Alley
Bar/Lounge, Room Service, Garage, Fitness Room, Massage Service, Laundry Service
Breakfast buffet - 35 DM
In our optional tour to Berlin we were
joined by 3 other couples and we became: "The Gang of 8".
We were in the room just a short time when Cornelius Friedsam called us,and said he thought we were arriving on the 12th and had gone to meet us at the airport. A very nice gesture on his part. He said he had planned a cruise around Berlin for us if we could meet him at the boat in about an hour. And, so began our whirlwind tour of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
The Cornelius local cruise started in drizzle that soon ended and we had a most enjoyable 2 hours that introduced us to Berlin and showed us the most important sights. Lorraine was in her glory when birds would fly onto the rail of the ship and would feed out of her hand. The tour guide spoke in German but Cornelius gave his own guide rendition of the sights, in English. It made it very nice for us to have a personal friend and guide.
That evening Cornelius called and said he had arranged for us to eat at a very special restaurant and that he would pick us up at the Hotel in an hour. We ate in an old German fortress in the dungeon restaurant. Onion soup was served in a large cast iron bowl along with a large round loaf of freshly baked bread.
Our soup bowls were of cast iron with a handle that you drank from the bowl. I liked it so much I bought one and have it on my stove at home. They served an excellent dinner accompanied by a strolling accordion player. Naturally we had several glasses of locally brewed beer.
The evening ended with our taking a
cab back to the hotel so that Cornelius would not have the long drive. It was a good introduction to Berlin and
to Cornelius. He offered to show us all of Berlin in detail if we would come back and spend a week. Thank you Cornelius
for being so gracious.
We joined the tour the following day; July 14. Our guide until we began the cruise was to be “Conrad”, with local guides as we visited each city he was not familiar with. [Don’t end a sentence with a proposition, or is that pre position?]
One side trip from Berlin brought us to Potsdam where we toured the Sansouci Palace, where the Potsdam Conference was held during WWII among Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Major decisions were made here on how to split Germany and Europe. We visited the rooms each leader had to do his homework and reside. The Palace was built by King Ferdinand the Great. [One of many]. It is a beautiful expansive Palace with magnificent gardens (actually a Park) and I would guess several hundred acres.
Germany places great importance to past emperors, Kings, rulers, palaces, and buildings.
We visited the “Wall” built by the Russians and dividing Berlin. What remains is covered with graffiti, as are most fences, walls, and buildings. Conrad said it is a way for the younger generation to express themselves. We visited the Brandenburg gate and “Checkpoint Charlie”, The opera house and the “Wall” which encircled the city for 103 miles during the Russian occupation.
We left Berlin for Meissen where we visited the famous porcelain factory. We expected to see the inner workings but only saw a movie and some demonstrations of how the molds were made and pieces formed. One man was throwing clay and women were painting plates and figurines. They spoke in German but supplied earphones that provided English translation, similar to the Nuremberg trials. We were disappointed we did not get into the factory itself as we had in Valencia for Lladro. Meissen is very expensive. A small figurine for about $1000. They manufacture vases, dinnerware, chess sets, and figurines. The showroom was extensive and walking fast takes about one hour. To stop and view the pieces and prices would add another 2 hours minimum. I frankly did not think it worth the time but that may be by comparison with the Lladro factory visit. The showroom had hundreds of items for sale but much too expensive for me. Lladro has me spoiled.
On to Dresden and the “Green Vault” where precious antiques and gems were displayed that had been hidden during the bombing. Jewels, paintings, porcelain, and a cherry pit that when magnified one could see 120 faces. [That was the highlight and we couldn’t find it]. It was said that 90% of Dresden was destroyed in 15 minutes of bombing by 1600 planes. It was in retribution to the Luftwaffe having destroyed Coventry, England. It was bombed only a few days prior to the end of the war. It was Britains last chance to get revenge. Some building exteriors remain but the roofs and interiors were burned out. Our bus stopped at the Elbe River so that anyone who wanted to go to waters edge could do so. All the cities we visited had their share of castles and palaces and Dresden was no exception. In this area of Saxony you start to get into the hills and vineyards where white wine is the specialty.
Most homes have small gardens. The Russians occupied Dresden for many years and left their mark with the basic, drab, box shaped architecture. Our guide told us; “These are now being torn down to build OLD buildings”. Organ grinders and musicians line the squares as they do in Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and other European cities. They provide charm and entertainment.
Berlin and Dresden were both badly damaged during the war and the reconstruction was uncoordinated. Now they are rebuilding to match the pre-war architecture with some interspersing of modern.
It seemed that each of the cities we visited had many emperors, rulers, kings, and each built palaces and opera houses, Cathedrals, parks. The residents are very proud of their architecture and history of their city. At noon cathedral bells chime the hour; both loud and beautiful.
Eating in outdoor cafes is the thing to do in Europe, and we did our share, normally starting out with a beer and having a few beers in between. Some cafes have live entertainment with guitar, violin, accordion, or other combinations.
We stayed at the Bellevue Western Hotel in Dresden.
Grosse Meissner Straße 15
Tel - 0351/8050 ~ Fax - 0351/8051609
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
339 rooms/suites with bath/shower/toilet, phone, TV, minibar, A/C, coffemaker
Non-smoking rooms, Indoor pool, Sauna, Solarium, Fitness room
2 Restaurants, Bar, Café, Car parking, Babysitting, Room Service
We had a hot bath and ate at the Hotel.
Had a nice chicken dinner and retired early and arose at 5:30AM. We had a tour of the city and lunch in a Biergarden.
I bought a Whirl-a-gig, a hand carved wooden man with incense inside and the smoke comes out of his mouth.
At 2PM we left for Prague in the Czech Republic. We were stopped at the border and it took 20 minutes for the bus driver to get clearance. His Chauffeur license was not what was required. We checked into the “Renaissance Hotel” in Prague in the pouring rain.
Renaissance Prague Hotel
V Celnici 7
11121 Prague Czech Republic
Tel - 420-2-2182 1000 ~ Fax - 420-2-2182 2200
Email - renaissance_prague@compuserve
314 rooms/suites with bath/shower/toilet, A/C, TV, radio, phone, minibar, hairdryer
Car parking, Lobby Bar, Restaurant, Babysitting, Pool, Room Service, Fitness room
Elevators, Laundry Service, Travel Agency available, Solarium
We decided to eat at the Hotel and
had Beef Goulash with dumplings. Very tasty and to be enjoyed in many places hereafter as was Wienerschnitzel.
I finally got my “Manhattan” [a soft drink for those of you who don’t drink alcohol]. I had had sufficient beer
that day since I had bought a six pack on the way to Prague. The Hotel was very clean, centrally located and the
staff was very courteous and helpful. But, be careful of Taxis. Negotiate a price before you enter the cab, and
if you have luggage be certain they will not charge you extra as they did us in Vienna.
In Prague we joined the Cruise tour and our luxury days on a bus were over, We now had about 34 people to share the bus. All of the Hotels on the tour were 4 star hotels, clean, centrally located, good service, and good food, wine and beer.
Prague; as were Dresden and Berlin are the old Europe. Buildings date back centuries and statues, memorials, fountains, squares, parks, museums and libraries are everywhere. Some cities had 10 to 12 museums. Prague is rich in historical monuments and churches. It is known as the “City of a Hundred Spires”. Prague has always been a magnet for musicians such as Mozart, Beethoven and Listz. Prague was thankfully spared during the war. Prague is a city you have to take time to explore but unfortunately we did not have sufficient time. Our city tour brought us past numerous historical edifices, but there was no time to enter them all.
In 1365 the “Charles Bridge” was built and is a landmark in Prague. Painters line the bridge and paint very small 2”x 2” pictures and frame them to sell to tourists.
Prague has a magnificent Castle perched on a hill and many palaces lining the streets. Bishops had palaces, princes had palaces, and kings had palaces, so seeing 10 to 15 palaces on a street is not unusual in Prague.
The tour provided a city tour of Prague but I was told there were a number of steps to climb so I decided to not go. Instead I found a Martin Tour with little walking and I went on it. The Martin tour went around the city by bus with narration in English and included the Palace and St. Vitus Cathedral. I spent 45 minutes there and purchased books on the palace and the Cathedral. I would approximate the Palace to exceed the size of a NYC block. The tour ended at the “Old Market Square” but I asked the driver to return me to where I got on and he did. But the square looked so interesting that Lorraine and I returned in the afternoon and did some shopping. I bought 2 candles, and 2”x2” paintings framed. The taxi ride was from 200 to 400 Kronins. Since we came to market for 200 I wanted to return for 200. But, it was raining and all the taxis at the stand had gotten together and raised the price to 400 Kronins. It was a little damp but I walked around the corner and flagged down a taxi. I asked him the price to the Hotel and he quoted me 100 Kronin. I tipped him 100 Kronin for being honest. In the evening we went to the “Cerberus restaurant about 3 blocks from the Hotel where I had an Ostrich filet. When in Rome??? Czech wines are not that good.
May I back up and say that the Palace was enormous and every time you went through the palace to the courtyard, there was another building of the Palace, and in the center of one courtyard was St. Vitus Cathedral. It was beautiful inside and outside with colored glass windows, archways and marble columns that are stunning, but I’ve seen so many that they are now not as impressive as the last 20.
July 20, Friday was a rainy day so we went back to the “Old Town Square”. I wanted to see the “Jewish Cemetery” which is what one should see in Prague - I was told by Bill & Carol who had been there the previous day. But it was raining hard and I did not want to stand in a long line for tickets, so I bought a postcard and decided to do our final shopping in Prague. Lorraine didn’t want to go back to the Hotel and sit around so she continued shopping. I was concerned about leaving her to the mercy of cab drivers, but when she returned she told me she had walked back and it was a very short distance on foot. I guess one way streets require taxis to take a diverted route.
For dinner the group dined in a fieldstone basement of a Palace; very picturesque and captured in my camcorder, if I didn’t leave the cap on the lens - again. This was followed by a Mozart concert with actors portraying the life and loves of Mozart; - chamber music with actors. . [Word “actors” used loosely]. I decided I was not a Mozart fan [and I could have used a fan in the non air-conditioned theatre]. The performer portraying Mozart had his pinky (little finger) in the air and pranced around on tiptoe waving a fan most of the time. The tenor was good but the soprano was close to screeching and I would not sit through it again. The Mozart - Strauss recital in Vienna was far more quality and more entertaining. At least I can write in my autobiography that I saw a MOZART CONCERT IN Prague.
The Palace on the hill gives a good view of Prague. Rigid guards stand at the entrance of the Palace and they don’t move a muscle. You would not believe they are alive. What good Mimes they would make.
The square is a place to go even if you have only one day in Prague. There are picturesque shops, horse and carriage tours, stalls selling souvenirs, stores selling fine crystal and garnet jewelry at reasonable prices. My favorite places in Prague were the Palace, St. Vitus, and the “Old Town Square”.
As I have said, there were only eight of us for the Berlin extension optional tour. Bus travel was very comfortable as the bus had 35 seats.
As you cross borders you are many times asked to show your passport. When I looked at my picture on the passport I realized I needed this trip. Our bus driver did not have the proper papers at one crossing and we were delayed 45 minutes. At others Conrad would say; AMERIKANSKIS and we would pass right through. At times I think cash changed hands. As you drive through the countryside, improvised markets still exist, a throwback to the former Iron Curtain period.
River traffic on the Danube, Elbe, and Rhine and train traffic throughout Europe is heavy. Trains run promptly and often. For example, trains run every hour from Salzburg to Vienna from 7Am to 11PM. I luckily paid an extra $20 for first class from Budapest to Salzburg and from Salzburg back to Vienna. The trains were not crowded so we had the compartment with six seats to ourselves. They had a dining car but we were so comfortable that we waited for the food cart to come to the door and bought sandwiches and beverages. I had my beer. We had our own little picnic watching the scenery whiz by us. Other means of popular public transportation are bicycles, horse and carriage, trolleys and busses. But wait, I’ve gotten off schedule. Back to the tour.
At 8:30 AM we met the tour bus and drove through beautiful countryside to Pilsen where we toured the Burgher beer brewery which still produces the world-famous Pilsner Beer. Then on to Nuremberg where at 5PM the cruise ship Heinrich Heine was docked and awaiting our arrival. We went on board and were assigned our cabins, ours being mid-ship and reserved upon booking the tour. We put our luggage in our rooms and we had our first dinner on board and all were tired so we retired early.
At the beginning of the cruise Viking gave each cabin a “Danube Route Information” booklet. It told what we would see as we cruised from Nuremberg to Budapest. It showed the river markers and what city was associated with that marker and the distance. It then gave a history of the city or region we were passing. I wish I had paid more attention to it and I would have learned much more. It told about occupying armies, locks, villages, palaces and castles, trade and economics etc. A great reference book that would be handy if one decided to drive the same route by auto.
At 8:30AM, Sunday we took the city tour of Nuremberg, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Germany before the war. Nuremberg is filled with Gothic churches and half-timbered houses and was nearly destroyed in WWII. At one time Nuremberg was regarded as the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire of German nations. The enormous Kaiserburg Castle [Imperial Castle] sits high above the old city. Emperors from the 12th to 16th century maintained their residence in the Castle. It is surrounded by double walls and an outer moat completed in the 15th century and has survived the bombardment of WW II to a great extent.
I had gone through Nuremberg [thanks to Uncle Sam] and my time in the occupation forces. The city tour included the Ministry of Justice where I had been a spectator of the Nuremberg trials in 1946 that tried the Nazi leaders. It was moving to realize I had been here when history was being made. We then took a smaller boat through a portion of the Danube Gorge [Main-Danube canal] a 100-mile trench through the mountains with dramatic scenery and 400’ cliffs, while the HH proceeded down the Danube to meet us in Muhlhausen. [This is not the kind of Gorge that I was doing with the food]. We stopped at the Weltenburg Monastery founded in 620 by Benedictine monks.
We reboarded the HH and went to Riedenburg arriving at 9PM and left at 6AM the following morning to proceed to Kelheim. At 8:30PM we had a short excursion around Kelheim and return to the HH about 9PM.There are many locks on this river cruise and arrival at these locks has to be timed to meet the schedule. The locks either raise the ship or lower the ship to meet the level of the Danube at the far side of the lock. Our next stop was Regensburg.
Perhaps now is the time to review the Danube River. The only major European River that flows from west to east. It is formed from the Black Forest and extends 1795 miles down to its delta in the Black Sea. It crosses 8 countries and has played a crucial role in the history of people and until the 20th century, separated cultures of the west and east. It has served as transport and trade artery for nearly five centuries. It has some of the world’s loveliest landscapes.
Ah, 1PM, Regensburg, where I was stationed for 6 months in a barracks that adjoined the Bishops Palace. I tried to find out if the quarters I had stayed in were ever occupied by nuns. I want to be able to say that I lived in a nunnery for 6 months. But, I could find no one old enough to give me the information. I will try to find out on Internet after I finish this paragraph.
Regensburg was originally a Celtic colony and later became a Roman garrison town guarding the natural frontier of the Danube at its most northerly point. It developed into an important trading post. The stone bridge constructed by the Romans in 1100 is a masterpiece of early engineering art. Many a night I walked home over that bridge after leaving the girl I was dating at her apartment. For old times sake I walked across that bridge again. It still has traffic crossing it today.
The “gang of 8” followed me to the Dom of St. Peter which adjoined the room I stayed in. I became the unofficial guide to the Dom and shopping. It amazes me that while I lived next to the Dom for 6 months I had only entered it once and have entered it twice since. Once last year with Ken and again in 2001. I suppose this is why the Bishop had his palace where it was, to be close to the Cathedral.
Anywho, after our tour through the Dom everyone separated and went shopping. Me? I went to the Café across the street from the Dom and enjoyed a few glasses of beer waiting for the gang to return and go back to the HH.
We departed Regensburg at 1AM and arrived in Passau at 11AM. The Inn River coming from the Black Forest in Bavaria meets the Danube and the Ilz River in Passau. From the castle you get an excellent view of the 2 rivers joining and the docked cruise ships on the Danube, and another city hall and cathedral. Passau has a 2000 year old history, its walls still stand as proof of the Roman armies and the presence of the Crusaders, the Avars, the Turks and Napoleon.
We visited St. Stephan’s Cathedral that has the largest organ in the world with 17,774 pipes and 233 stops and 4 carillons; all 5 parts of the organ can be played from the main keyboard.
Passau is known for its religious festivities with plenty of music, beer for the men and hot chocolate for the ladies. Historically it is a city of love versus fighting. It prospered from its trades in wine, wheat and salt.
We listened to an organ recital. [I think Mozart’s requiem]. A beautiful piece of music that had everyone nodding off to sleep. I have VCR tapes to prove it. Glen and Rich pretended they were in deep concentration with their eyes closed, but they were asleep with chin on chest. That afternoon we had a city tour and at 6PM departed Passau and arrived in Melk about 9AM.
Melk is the beginning of what is known as the “Wachau”, a delightful stretch of the Danube about 19 miles long. It is the land of wines and apricots which flourish here. There are castles from which robber barons used to prey on merchant ships passing on the Danube. Just below Melk is “Durnstein” the city where Richard the Lion Hearted was held prisoner as he returned from the Crusades. He was held in the castle Kuenringerburg’s grim dungeon. Beyond Durnstein is Krems considered the most beautiful town in lower Austria.
The crew of HH put on a marvelous humorous show, which had all, doubled up laughing. It gave us a closer association with the Captain and crew. I would have enjoyed it if they had performed the same show every evening.
The d’Wadlbeisser folk dance music group entertained us another evening. Good um-pah pah music. Audience participation was encouraged and Lilian took advantage of the bumping bottoms number.
We were in cabin 114 a very nice but small room [all rooms are the same size except the one suite (unoccupied)]. I know it was 114 because I have the key to prove it. I forgot to return it to the purser before we went to train station.
The crew was superb. There was always someone to help and answer any questions. The food was very good and although it seemed like there was not much on the plate I was always full at the end of dinner. Perhaps that was due to the many courses. Wine and beer were extra but all else was included. Each night we listened to the music of Janos in the lounge and sometimes at dinner.
Kidding around one night after a big dinner, I was asked by the waiter if everything was OK. I said; “yes, but when is the main course? Within a few minutes he returned with a big smile and put before me another dinner. [I ate it all, as full as I was]. My slogan is; “Eat well, stay fit, die anyway”. Another commandment I follow is; “Thou shall not weigh more than thy refrigerator”. George, the waiter was another “Charlie Chaplin”. In the show he played a drunk waiter blowing his nose in napkins, putting out his cigarette in the coffee, spilling water, and every other thing you might have seen a poor waiter do. I bumped into him once and said; “Excuse me!” With a straight face he looked me in the eye and said; “No” and walked away. George could get away with that.
I fell in love with our waitress, Lydia. She knew me as “room 114”. Not that she ever visited my room, but to bill me for bottles of wine, [sometimes]. She was such a pretty little perky girl probably in her 20’s. She always had a smile and when she looked at you it would melt your heart. She was one of two that served spirits and both were very attractive and pleasant and qualified.
One of the events was a visit to the bridge where the Captain explained the inner workings of the ship, such as the ability to make a 360-degree turn without the ship moving from the center. The ship took on 200,000 miters of fresh water every other stop. He said that was because Americans use so much water. The ship had 3 engines in the stern and one center. The engines could push or pull. He showed us how important Radar is to navigating. He showed us ships approaching and that we had passed and locks we were to enter soon. The ship had 2 radios, one used for contacting the locks and the other to keep in touch with ships around us. Some of the barges that passed us were football field long.
When going through some of the locks. [I think he said 56] he would only have 6” clearance on each side at most. He would use the controls on the side of the ship to maneuver through. The locks were from 20’ to 30’ high. The ship would enter and the gates would close behind the ship; then water would fill or empty from the lock based on the level of the river on the opposite side. When completed the gates would open at the approaching end and we continued our journey.
One morning I woke up and looked out of the window and saw nothing but a wall. We were in a lock and 20 feet down from the top. I watched as the boat rose to meet daylight again. Another time I woke up and was looking in another bedroom window at a man getting out of bed. We had docked alongside of another cruise ship and since there was no room at the dock we connected to the ship at the dock [without a bump the captain pushed the ship to the side until we were joined] To get to shore we went through their lounge. This happed twice and one time there were 3 of us joined, we in the middle.
Dagmar was our cruise host. She was very attentive and organized tours and events not included in the cruise tour. She arranged for local guides and activities aboard ship. One night she organized a 15-minute treasure hunt and all the passengers were running up and down the halls to try to find “suspenders”, or a bow tie, or 25 other items. Sounds corny but it turned out to be a challenge and a lot of fun.
The bridges on the Danube are so low that the Captain’s bridge and the deck lounge recessed into the deck. Those on deck had to sit down or be decapitated.
From Passau we continued on to Melk, and had a tour of the Abbey. My knees were giving out and I had seen sufficient Abbeys, so I sat at the foot of the hill in a nice café and had - guess what - a beer - maybe it was two. Melk was an important cultural and spiritual center for over 1000 years. For over 900 years monks have continually lived and worked in Stift Melk following the rules laid down by St. Benedict. They are active in the schools and parishes, economy, culture, and tourism. That was the highlight of Melk and we continued on to arrive in Vienna at 7:30PM. That evening there was an optional tour to hear a concert. We did not go as we were tired and knew that we could do that upon our return to Vienna. Vienna is known as the “City of Waltzes” and the center of classical music where Mozart and Strauss composed their finest pieces. Vienna is easier going than most modern cities. There are many parks, vineyards, and farms within the city.
Viennese life is “Gemutlichkeit” meaning agreeable and comfortable. An old local joke is; “Everything in Vienna is Gemutlich except the wind,” and the answer is; “yes and the wind comes here because it’s so gemutlich here”.
The Russians occupied Vienna, and their presence did not contribute to the architecture, so the structures they built are gradually being torn down. However there is plenty of old buildings that would take you more than a week to visit.
We visited the Hofburg Palace, home of the Hapsburgs and built over 6 centuries. It is enormous. Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Bohemia and Hungary, had 36 children and she married each of them off to royalty of other countries thereby expanding her empire. As each addition came to the Palace they added to it, many times in their own style. [Clever lady huh? No war, just marriages].
We went thorough the apartments of the Palace. A mountain of stairs up to the 2nd floor and the same amount back down again.
While in the Plaza I looked for and found the Hotel Royal, which we were to return to after our trip to Salzburg from Budapest. It was next to St. Stephans and one building off the Plaza. I went in and confirmed our reservation and the receptionist asked if we would like to see the room she had reserved for us. It was a nice room on the 9th floor; very large with a sitting room and an adjoining bedroom, and a nice balcony. We decided to take it thinking it would be cooler than the lower floors. We were to learn that this was not the case. The room had floor to ceiling window doors but no screens and we had to request a fan to be half way cool. I knew I would not use the balcony, as I don’t like heights. As my Uncle used to say; “I don’t care how high I am as long as one foot is on the ground.
The cruise tour provided a city tour. We saw a lot of buildings. I wanted to go to the Schonbrunn Palace but it was cancelled for lack of interest by less than 10. [I guess everyone else had seen sufficient Palaces]. That proved to be a blessing, because along with the room at the Royal Hotel we were given a free city tour that included the Schonbrunn Palace.
The gang of 8 stuck together for lunch in an outdoor café. It was hot and a good beer day. [What day isn’t a good beer day]? We visited the Cathedral; the women went shopping [what else is new]? And we walked around the square until it was time to return to the ship. We departed at 6PM to arrive in Budapest at 8:30AM July 27. When I awoke we were approaching Budapest and the city does have a charm. The Parliament building is on the Buda side of the river [the old city] and is very impressive. Pest is the newer side of the river. Budapest is a very picturesque city, especially when you are cruising the Danube. Budapest is known as the “Paris of the East” for its beautiful evening illumination and reflection along the Danube riverbanks. Budapest has an enormous variety of historic buildings and sights. It is famed for the abundance of medicinal waters. The Celts and the Romans used the hot springs on the Buda side. The best I could do was a hot shower on the ship.
There was no room at the dock so we joined to a ship at the dock and walked through their lobby to get on our city tour bus. There were all OHHH’s and Ahh’s when within the first one-half mile the guide pointed out a three level store for shopping that sold anything and everything. What a bonanza. The bus was full of smiles [women] and dismay [men with the credit cards].
The tour took us to Hero’s square which was crowded with tourists and tour buses and the little people with 3 cameras on their necks rigidly posing every ten steps. We drove past all of the important buildings in both Buda and Pest. Generations of spires punctuate the “Castle District, only 4 streets wide and easily covered on a walk. There are many interesting things to see by looking around you while walking through this area. Of course there is another St Stephens Basilica.
I think the highlight of Budapest was the Gypsy show we went to see. It was so far out on the outskirts of town that I took great care to stay with the group. A taxi would never have found us if we were left behind. They served a nice meal with meat and dumplings on a wooden table and with wooden benches. There was an excellent music group with 2 violins, flute, bass fiddle, cello, and something resembling a xylophone [perhaps a harpsichord. They played very fast music. There rendition of; “Fiddler on the roof” was great. Good hand clapping music. I was told to try Plum Brandy and I can only describe it as High-Octane petrol. Wow! It burned the lining off my stomach and made my belly button pop out.
Then came male dancers with dances resembling Russian Cossack dances. Musicians playing violin, bass, and xylophone accompanied them. The men were joined by girls also in Hungarian gypsy dress. The dancing was as lively as the music. The girls danced with wine bottles on their heads. The folk dances lasted about one-half an hour and then the six-piece group of musicians returned to complete the show which lasted about one hour. I’ll have to go on a diet when I get home. I find a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.
The dinner started with nice soup, followed by a salad, and meat and dumplings. [Meat and dumplings are favorites in these countries]. The wine bottles were replaced as they emptied. It was a most enjoyable show and evening before we returned to the ship. Budapest was all lighted up, and a beautiful sight. Parliament was bathed in spotlights.
July 28 was the end of the tour and some left for home, some stayed on in Budapest, and some took off for parts unknown and we went to the train station to catch a train to Salzburg. There were many sad good-byes and promises to keep in touch and some tears as many had become good friends.
But, on every tour there is always one more imbecile than you counted on. There are always the outcasts that are always late or antagonizing the guide, or correcting him. We had ours. I named her “Miss Congeniality” because she never smiled. I named her husband: “Romeo” because for their first two days on the bus he would be crooning to her, and then in broken English he would say; “That is for you my darling, That is for you my sweetie”.
Miss Congeniality [the Witch] insisted on being in the front row seats of the bus each time we boarded. You could be first in line to board but she would push in front and grab the seats for she and her 2 friends. It became a game for the gang of 8 to see if we could beat her to the seats. I’d put my cane in front of her but nothing stopped her, except once when Lilian got disgusted and determined and pushed her aside and told her the seat was taken. A few harsh words but Lilian stood her ground and the witch had to go to another seat. We all cheered Lilian. It was said that if the “witch” entered a revolving door behind you she would come out ahead of you. It became the joke of the ship and sarcasm reined supreme and was spoken loud enough that they could hear. I found out that if you’re too open minded, your brains will fall out.
I splurged for a first class train ticket and a reserved seat which put us into a compartment that proved to be a wise investment [$20]. There were six seats in the compartment and we were the only two so we were able to stretch out and take a nap and more importantly, our 7 pieces of luggage did not crowd us. [But I said that 5 days ago when I started typing this epistle.] The scenery was breathtaking; rolling hills, farmland neatly tailored, small villages each having it’s own church and steeple. No billboards and signs clutter up the landscape.
We stayed at the “Zum Hirschen”Hotel in Salzburg, within walking distance from the train station if you don’t have 7 pieces of heavy luggage.
Best Western Hotel Zum Hirschen
St. Julien Straße 21-23
Tel - 0662/889030 ~ Fax - 0662/8890358
Email - email@example.com
64 rooms with bath/shower/toilet, A/C, phone, radio, TV, hairdryer, minibar
Saunas, Solarium, Massage Service
It had a nice restaurant with a good
buffet breakfast included in the room rate. We sat down for lunch one day and on the table was a wooden sign “Stammtisch”.
Since this is what our German tour group is called I asked the waitress if we were at the wrong table and she told
us the group was meeting in the outdoor café and we were welcome to use the table. I took a photo of the
The Hotel was within walking distance of the town [about one mile]. It is a pleasant walk along the river with a park like atmosphere and benches on the side of the walk to sit and rest under shade trees looking toward the fortress on the hill in the town’s center. We had lunch at the famous “Café Tomaselli” and brought back apple strudel to the Hotel. We visited the “Alstadt” [Old City], heard the Glockenspiel. The Funicular to the Fortress was closed so we did not go to the Fortress. We tried Kaffe mit Schlag and pastry, and Mozart Kugelin [candy pistachio marzipan rolled in nougat cream and chocolate] The non-fattening kind. Oh yeah?
Again, horse and carriage rides take you on tours of the city. Surprisingly the smell is not as bad as one would expect as they have pooper scupper wagons cleaning the streets.
The highlight of Salzburg for me was a puppeteer in the Alter Markt. He had a puppet playing a piano. The puppeteer always looked down but knew everything going on around him and the puppet would react to it.
The thrill was to see two and three year old children relating with the puppet. I felt like a two or three-year-old because I took camcorder pictures and when I replayed the tape I heard myself giggling and laughing without abandon. You could watch the puppet and know what the puppeteer was thinking
A suitcase lay open for donations and the puppet would offer to shake hands, throw a kiss or turn it’s head to watch a good looking girl walk down the street. He would take a bow and if he looked into the suitcase and would count the shillings and if not enough shillings were in it, he would shake his head side to side as he looked up at the puppeteer. The puppet would look at his watch as if he were determining if his performance was over. He would wave to passer by while playing the piano with one hand. I began at times to think of him as a person. I watched for over an hour. It is now one of my best moments on VCR tapes. I will make copies of it as gifts. If I had a chair I would have plopped down and watched him the full day. I’d seen enough fortresses, castles, museums, and cathedrals to last me a lifetime. This was new and different and local entertainment. I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer experiencing local customs and entertainment versus old structures and history.
We had planned to spend one night in the “Zum Hirschen” and then drive to the Hotel Schafbergspitze on top of a mountain in Lake Wolfgang. We were going to leave the largest suitcases at the “Zum” and pick them up on our way to the train station to return to Vienna. But, I chickened out. I heard that the cog wheel train that we had to take to the top of the mountain traveled over high bridges and steep fall offs. That plus carting our luggage up and down on a cog wheel train influenced me to stay both nights in Salzburg. Instead we took an afternoon tour to Lake Wolfgang. The tour went through “the Lake District” -- Fuschl; St Wolfgang; St. Gilgen; Krottenesee; Mondsee.
The scenery from Salzburg to Lk Wolfgang is spectacular with its natural beauty and exceptional landscape. When we reached the lake we took a boat ride across the lake to St Gilgen. This would be a beautiful area to spend a few weeks relaxing. The water is blue, clear, deep, sandy beaches with Austrian style hotels, and some former summer palaces. Palaces of Prince Archbishops and one being that of Emperor Franz-Joseph, related to King Ludwig of Bavaria through his wife Sissy. Mountains surround the lake on all sides. I think it is one of Austria’s most beautiful regions.
We walked through Lk Wolfgang and St. Gilgen’s historical centers and then returned to Salzburg. Early the next day we boarded the train to Vienna. This set us up for a harrowing experience. Knowing how promptly the trains enter the station, when I looked at my watch and saw we were entering the station on schedule, and seeing the sign “Wein”, we quickly dragged our 7 suitcases off the train and the doors shut as we hit the platform. Although we were in Vienna, we were 2 stations from the center of Vienna and our hotel. I quickly entered the station masters office and he told me another train would come in on track 5 to Vienna in 3 minutes. Track 5 was on the other side of track 3 where we were and I considered trying to cross the tracks but thought better of it knowing how fast these trains approach. So, down 4o steps with 7 suitcases, under the tracks, and then we faced 40 stairs going up. I had my backpack, a suitcase and one of Lorraine’s bags. I was 2 steps from the top exhausted and heard Lorraine say I can’t lift my suitcase. She had not gotten up the first 2 steps. I was about to start down when a young man seeing her dilemma got behind the suitcase and pushed while Lorraine pulled. We both got to the platform wet with perspiration when the train arrived. Guess what? We had to get 7 suitcases on before the train pulled out. I got on with my backpack, suitcase and a bag and went down the 2 high steps to take additional bags from Lorraine which still left her on the platform with her large suitcase which she could not lift. I pulled, she pushed and we finally got it on leaving Lorraine still on the platform. At this point I was tempted to leave her there. By the time she got on we both looked as if we had just taken a shower with clothes on. I heard something snap in my arm or shoulder and today, one-month later I am going to have to see a doctor as my muscle looks like a baseball and flaps around. I think I may have tore the muscle. I was not a “happy camper” and bellowed that this was the very last time suitcases of this size would go on any more trips. PERIOD!
When we arrived in Vienna center we took a taxi to The “Royal Hotel” [described elsewhere] and checked in.
Tel - 43/1/515680 ~ Fax - 43/1/5139698
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
81 rooms with bath/shower/toilet, phone, TV, radio, minibar, hairdryer
Restaurant, Laundry Service, Elevator, Email for Guests
Because we were staying 3 days the
Hotel rate included breakfasts, a city tour, a dinner, discount on another dinner, and a coffee and pastry [apple
strudel] at a café. As I said before, the city tour included the Schonbrunn Palace. It was the SUMMER Palace
of the Hapsburg royal family WHERE THEY HAD TO CRAM INTO 1400 ROOMS. It was the smiling, serene expression of the
personality of Maria Theresa. While we waited for our tour to enter we found a room where they were demonstrating
how to make Apple Strudel. Our tour took in the apartments used by Franz-Joseph and his wife Sissi, a beautiful
woman who never smiled in her portraits because she had such poor teeth. The gardens surrounding the Palace would
take a full day to walk.
We were lucky to see a wedding procession at the Palace. Not Royalty I am certain by the lack of security, but a happy couple and family pretending and wishing to be royalty. We also visited another summer Palace, the Belevedre Palace which was never lived in by the emperor and was used as a guesthouse.
During Roman times Vienna was an important frontier, as the barbarians lived on one side of the river. Today it is the political, economic and cultural center of the country, and one of the most favored tourists’ destinations who enjoy the nostalgic flair. The Viennese café is known all over the world so it was natural for us to use them often for lunches and afternoon coffee and pastry. The Turks tried to invade Vienna but were repulsed. In fleeing they left coffee beans which fostered the first coffeehouse. With experimentation milk was mixed with coffee and that originated “Wiener Melange”.
I enjoyed the activity in the square, more than touring more streets and buildings. The square normally had musicians and people dressed in the costumes worn at the time of Mozart. They would hand you circulars advertising the performances for the evening at different locations and encourage you to purchase tickets. There were 2 tenors in the square one day singing opera while a third man played the accordion. I felt that they had better voices than some of those where we had paid for the performance. I did get a bit of their performance on VCR and I did buy one of their tapes which I have listened to and enjoyed several times while typing this epistle.
On our last night in Vienna we went to a Strauss and Mozart concert in the Palace, music by the “Wiener Hofburg Orchestra”. No acting, just orchestra and singers. It was a nice way to end our trip.
Well, not quite the end.
Lorraine went to bed and I went to the square next to the cathedral and watched people walk up and down; sketch artists, musicians, acrobats, jugglers, organ grinders, and acrobatic dancers. [Shades of NY]. I took some great VCR of impromptu Vienna lit up and active at night
WE HAD SPENT 3 HOURS OF THE AFTERNOON PACKING AND WERE READY TO GO EARLY ON August 3. We flew out of Vienna to Washington DC. I had planned the trip to fly direct to and from Washington DC so we did not have to change planes. The flight home was on Austrian Airlines, the best service I have ever experienced.
Because I had booked our international portions on Business Class we didn’t wait in check in lines. We walked to a special check in desk [no waiting] and with all of our luggage it was a lifesaver. Austrian Air has a Grand Class service which combines first class and business class; the seats lay back into a bed and are wide with private TV screens that come out of the arm rests. You can dial several different programs and listen on earphones. When you hit the seat you are given a glass of Champagne or any other drink you want. [Don’t believe you can’t have a drink until airborne] and from there, the service gets better. Throughout the flight there are attendants offering you snacks and drinks. You get a menu for a 4-course lunch and dinner with your choice of fish or meat for an entrée.
When we arrived in Washington DC the good service ended. We were put on a shuttle and although it was fully packed we sat for 20 minutes on the runway before we went to the passport control and customs. Everyone was screaming they were going to miss their connecting flight including myself. We had only 2 hours to clear customs and get to the departing terminal. Finally we arrived at the baggage section and naturally our luggage was the last off despite being marked priority. [I guess that is a benefit of Grand Class tickets or the graciousness of the woman who checked us in Vienna].
We cleared customs with no problem except a very long line and 2 carts to carry the luggage. However that chewed up another 20 minutes. Giving credit where due, there was a United Airline employee waiting outside of customs to show us where to check our checked through luggage. That only left us with 5 pieces. We were directed to another shuttle to bring us to the United gate on the other side of the Airport. On this shuttle we waited 15 minutes, again with everyone screaming they were going to lose their connecting flight. “WHO CARES’ seemed to be the attitude of the shuttle driver, nowhere to be found. We fortunately caught our flight and went back to cramped seats and poor service. We were spoiled. Tired and sore and agitated from the shuttle experience we were gratefully met in Tampa by Lorraine's sister and brother in law and nephew who loaded our luggage and drove us back to Lorraine's house. I was too tired to start home until the next day.
It’s nice to be home but it takes two weeks to recuperate and look back to enjoy the memories.
Today I went to the Doctor about my arm and it is a torn ligament. His advice was to leave alone and lift nothing heavy for the rest of my life. The alternative is to have an operation with 6 months of therapy. The only benefit I can see to this is that I can no longer lift a suitcase or pull one. It probably ends my touring days unless I find a lackey or bring one suit of under-wear.
Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.