The Blue Danube 2013

June 22, 2013 - Orangeville, Canada

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Now that re-hab is over, it’s time for the Danube debrief. Oh My! ♫♫♫ Wasn’t that a party! ♫♫

Prague, here we come!  Meeting my always spirited Mom at Pearson Airport in Toronto, was the beginning of a 10 day fun packed excursion, never to be forgotten...notice how she’s not afraid of colour, either!

An 8 hour flight is always an experience, but showing Mom how to listen to my iPod, stood out as one of the more memorable moments. Adjusting volume and skipping songs for the iPod newbie was challenging enough, but when Mom couldn’t get the ear buds to work, I started to think this is just way too much technology to tackle at 30,000 ft. Trouble shooting the problem, I notice the ear buds were oddly lying on the seat and not in her ears! So, what pray tell was she "listening" to??  Lo and behold, she had somehow twisted and crammed her ball-shaped earrings snugly inside her eardrum!! Did the Apple product testers ever foresee that occurrence??

Frankfurt flight connection went well, and after we overpaid for the taxi, we found out our room wouldn’t be ready until 5:00. How to kill 6 hours when all you want to do is sleep??

We had a swim in the pool and told stories to each other to keep awake in the hope we would ward off jet lag...it seemed to be working until I happened to glance over and see mom sleeping through one of my riveting convos!

A lovely buffet breakfast featuring the most exquisitely delicious croissant ever...

and then it was off to a pre-arranged organized grand tour.  Tours were something we soon developed a definite aversion to and only mitigated by resorting to the mocking of our guides and other such childish behaviour!

Meeting up with our soon-to-be good buddies from our boat, we took a bus to see what this dream-like fairy tale place was all about. Prague castle, St. Vitus Cathedral, and so much more, characterized by twisty cobblestone streets, red-tiled roofs and art nouveau architecture. Walking through passageways in Old Towne, several drinking dens, quiet riverside cafés and a stroll along Petrin Hill and Mala Strana, we fell out onto  the Charles IV Bridge and all it’s glory! “Where even the crush of tourist traffic hardly takes away from its magnificence” – is how it is described in Lonely Planet. Hardly time to take in the 1357 structures, Saintly statues, Czech bands, Man and his monkey, beautiful classical music played by a violinist, …and St. Francis of Assisi Church!! That’s the only thing I remember of grade 10 history class! And what about that clock? Wasn’t that cool – a mechanical marvel that still chimes on the hour! Why was it astronomical?? Missed that part…something about antique technology and religious symbolism. Very cool. Having landed in Old Towne Square and set free to explore, off we went with Linda and Marty to find some wine, beer, and Prague food…in that order.

Mom and I did a lot of exploring  the next few days – finding shops with crystals and markets with laughing witches! We found the Jewish section, a food festival, (loved the Trdelnik - Rolled Pastries in Prague)

but we really enjoyed the Old Towne Square and its cultural festival.

We did tons of walking, but managed to sit and enjoy a concert performance of Bach and Mozart in the Church of St. Nicholas – a relatively "new" baroque monastery built in 1735. Some goulash and a coffee to tide us over and then back to the Square to enjoy the music and entertainment. Two tired girls finally decided to pack it in at 9pm. Mom grabbed my arm on the way out and exclaimed, “I’m having so much fun, I could stay out until 11 o’clock!!”.

Very full days and a long walk back from Imperial Café the next night and Mom’s hip is starting to get cobblestone cranky. But nothin’ will dampen that old girl…after a steam, a hot tub, and a sleep, we were ready for some Legend time!!

Memories...

  • Look at that crane!
  • “Postcard for Thurman and mom gets into domestic with stamp lady”
  • and...coming out of Sex Machine Museum (which we never went through), two American girls heads swivel as they overhear Mom saying, “I’m definitely going to buy one of those”

 

The drive was beautiful, stopping for the eventual pee break, arriving at the Viking Legend cruise ship at 4pm for appies and champagne. 

Passau - OK, this is where we start to notice the rain…and where we had the choice of a "leisure" or regular walk. We opted for the leisure walk which really should have been called "a crawl with crazy eyed lady"…we quickly ditched her in the downpour and headed to lovely St. Stephen's café.  St. Stephen's church had the largest (almost) organ (…and you can well imagine the innuendos & tomfoolery elicited by that one).  Concert was impressive, … trying to take in every spiky, Gothic spire, religious stories carved in marble, stained glass still in tack after a few wars, and OH MY, the ceiling!  The afternoon was spent aboard the Legend, gazing from our arm chairs at life strolling by along the Danube.

Each of  the evenings began with David, our program director, describing the next day’s itinerary.  With drinks in hand and boundless humour, Dolly, Bill, Eileen, Ned, Ann, Nick, Margaret , Dick, Marty, Linda, Ma and I would find the biggest table (someone must have tipped them dearly) and indulged ourselves in fine food, plenty of wine, enlightened conversation… but above all; plenty of chuckling.  All until the wee hours of 10:00 or 11:00pm!  Actually, Mom usually out lasted & outshone most of us!

Memories...

  • funny and informative presentation on UNESCO, the European union; Mozart presentation... & we went through our first lock!!

Salzburg - Lovely view of the Alps as we coached into "the stage of the world"– on a beautiful sunny Tuesday!!  The home of Mozart and the Sound of Music!  And, these are definitely a few of my very favourite things!  Alex, our enthusiastic tour guide, “prattled on” FOREVER!  Oh, but we derived such great material as he went on and on, ad nauseam and ad infinitum for the entire tour...“you probably don’t want to know about Hitler, (ha-ha) but interestingly enough he was born in a small town……blah, blah, blah..”  "Quiet box", my ass.

Up the hillside train tracks (thought to be one the oldest operational railways in the world) to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Mom and Dolly had a beer with an Alp-view and Eileen, Ned, Bill and I wandered up the 103 stairs to puppets, artillery, cannons – you know circa 1077/1495 kinda stuff.  Such a beautiful city to wander about in… looking out over the rolling hills, wending our way through fellow tourists along with the other150,000 home-grown…honestly – I know we tourists bring in over 2,000 Euros for each person living in Austria…but enough already! Ya, we definitely took up most of the quaint, cobblestone-rich urban fabric of this historic town-scape, adorned with architectural monuments, like the Cathedral and the Nonnberg Convent, etc., etc. Time for a breather!  Yes…perhaps a beer would be in order! Thank you Elephant Hotel! 

Memories...

  • Mozart balls, shared schnitzel and sauerkraut, Schmuck Passage
  • martini on the sundeck, dinner with Tom and Judy from Washington & lovely Maria, running into Bette Midler, Alison and Barbara from England – Josh Groban & Dancing with Peter

Wednesday morning was an interesting one…well not for me, post sleeping pill... but apparently at 3 in the morning the Viking Legend, with it's allegedly drunken Captain at the helm, slammed aground into an island.  Like Mom, most passengers were alarmed and curious.  However, Mom was quick into her emergency swimwear, definitely topping out Dolly and Bill, who had donned their life jackets! :)

So having left Linz and attempting to get to Melk and Durnstein, we were towed to port while the crew inspected the faulty part.  Many meetings later, we are on the coach to the Abbey of St. Benedictine in Melk – a mere 900 years old… beautiful gardens of the Wachau Valley.  Some went into Durntein, most napped (in light of the 3am start).  Great entertainment with David singing and Peter on the piano…. And, Bill gets everyone up dancing! 

Memories...

  • Happy Anniversary Nick and Ann
  • Marty the wine connoisseur
  • Lovely Linda and our remedy/health talks

Vienna was literally a washout.  That’s all we can say about that -  a sea of red umbrellas, over-enthusiastic tour guides, and lunch at the beer hall.  We were drenched but nothing dampened our spirits, as we continued the tour with our new found guide, Ned.  “Marrriaaaa Tarrresssa, who had 16 children and was a bit of a drinker, could be seen jumping from the window onto her horse”.  Thank you Ned and Eileen for buying and sharing MT’s favourite wine!  Mom and I ventured over to the Vienna State Opera House for a tour.  We were very brave and persistent on finding the entrance through torrential rains – even though Mom’s dollar store umbrella collapsed half way there!  Viennese Opera House is without a doubt one of the leading opera houses of the world and has experienced a lot during its “life” (built in 1861-69). Hosting many of the great opera stars and renowned conductors, the building's history had a tragic beginning as the construction of monumental building located on the “Ringstraße’” became a calamity for its two architects.
This is without the rain!!!


Due to the deep foundation, the building resembled a “sunken crate”. Such criticisms finally made Eduard van der Nüll commit suicide and two months after, August von Siccardsburge died of a heart attack. Unfortunately they did not live to see the big opening with “Don Giovanni” in 1869. The imposing building is characterized through its “Renaissance elbow style”.  And as many historic buildings, this one did not go without damage in the World War. They have done much to encourage and promote opera - A giant 50 sq m screen was placed on the side of the opera house facing Kärntnerstraße. In four months live broadcasts of over 60 of the most famous operas were transmitted in this way, including stellar performances of Madam Butterfly, The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni.

Barely dried out, we head back to the bus, looking forward to another fine meal.  Not too much time to doddle, though – off to the Vienna Residence Orchestra Concerts, housed in the what used to be the Vienna Stock Exchange, where we thoroughly enjoyed an 8 piece ensemble.

Due to our “grounding” troubles and extra travel by coach, we all were rewarded this concert free of charge by Viking.

Memories...

  • crazy Brit lady remarks on the way out of this shabby (1877) typical Viennese style Palace, with the clean, austere lines of the Renaissance era “Lovely, but don’t you find it a bit busy?”
  • rack of lamb – fab meal;
  • eggs benedict – meh…

We were welcomed back to our ship with goulash soup…. and nestled down all snug in our dry beds, while visions of a precipitation-less Slovakia danced in our heads.

A 40 minute coach into Bratislava, followed by a bus tour of this beautiful clean capital city (large fines if you are caught littering).  The tour guide was informative, with a lovely cynical prospective on this newly democratic society...a result of the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Known for building VW cars, the town spreads like a fan on both banks of the Danube River.   Many beautiful monuments survive in the old town, a reminder of its past under Austro-Hungarian rule.  The old city and the castle built above the Danube, was a frontier post of the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 5th century. Canada was still under ice??  Since the 9th century it has been rebuilt several times, most recently in 2008.  Doesn’t it just blow you away Ma??? 

Memories...

  • mini white house

With the announcement that our boat was fixed, we set sail for Budapest at 2 that afternoon.  Naps for some, but we were all fresh and purdied up for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner.  Expecting to eat with the usual clowns, Mom and I (& 3 other folks) were commandeered to the Captain’s Table!!  (Apparently, the invitation was on our bed, which we unknowingly shoved aside for the afternoon nap.) Tomas, the captain, fluent in "ob-sessional" beer drinking and the First Officer, Gerhert, confident in his efficient, no nonsense style of German humour (Mark Twain once observed that a German joke was no laughing matter!) quipped in a thick accent “We chose people who are not stuffy, ... we would not want stuffy people, no ya?”  So it soon was rumored that I slept with the captain, but it was actually Mom who did!  The meal was a bit painful, given the language challenge, but we drank enough to make it work!


Saturday saw us up early AGAIN, (thank God I’m young…I don’t know how you old folks did it!)  We got into Budapest very late thereby missing out on the lights of the "Little Paris on the Danube"; however, we got our chance the next evening...and what a beautiful sight it was!

As the sun peeked out, we coached into Hero’s Square, and then up to the Bastion.  Wonderful and breathtaking are the beautiful panoramic views of the older “Buda” and more cosmopolitan “Pest” sides of the city.
This castle-like Fisherman's Bastion was built in 1905, mainly for decorative purposes.

The bastion is located right behind the Matthias Church in the Castle District. 
The Fisherman's Bastion was built at the site of an old rampart that, during the Middle Ages, was defended by the guild of fishermen, who lived nearby in Vízívaros (Watertown), at the foot of the hill. Thus, the name of the bastion. An old fish market also sat at this location during medieval times.

Beautiful views of the Parliament Building. 
Back at the ship for a goulash lunch, Mom decided on an afternoon in the Viking lounge enjoying  the gift of the grape, while Eileen, Ned and I swung back into this amazing city.  We attended a wedding at the St. Stephen's Basilica, but couldn’t get into the reception because Ned didn't measure up to the dress code.  So, we carried on walking through the wide and automobile-less cobble stoned, pathways lined with quaint cafes/shops and ended up at the Opera.  The absolutely stunning Hungary State Opera House…this little beauty is richly-decorated in Neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Baroque. The vaulted ceiling of the foyer is covered in magnificent murals and the grandeur of the foyer, with its marble columns and chandeliers must have made Ferenc Erkel and Franz Liszt wiggle with excitement as they performed back in 1884.  There are 1271 seats and with current prices running at about $10US for standing room; it is great value for an opera. Queen Elizabeth, who once attended without her husband (triggering scandalous rumours), had her choice of many rooms in which to hold her audience and other such royal minglings.   The hallways have huge wrought-iron lamps, which give it a “Phantom of the Opera” feel.  We were delighted to have the tour end with a mini concert!! 

On way back, just before another downpour, we detoured into the recently transformed Four Seasons Hotel, from the Gresham Palace – it was pretty funky!! 

After packing, as it was our last night, we wandered up to join Dolly and Bill for a game of crib – something they did almost every night! Which was abundantly evident, as we narrowly missed a skunking!  Dinner was wonderful...our waiter Alexander never steered us wrong on the choices.  We suffered through an Hungarian Folk dance/show, which would have been surely skewered, a la Simon Cowell, for not only the lack of talent but assuredly for the dreadful blonde wig!

Memories...

  • thank you Mom for your American/Canadian toast

Saying our goodbyes, sharing one more drink, exchanging emails and promising not to share too many pictures with each other, we tiredly but happily hit the pillow. Tomorrow would be a long day, as well.

I only have one story to share from the trip back, as it was seamless (except for the near grounding of the plane due to an epileptic attack...and a German passenger beside us cracked open his just-purchased, duty free 1.5 liter bottle of rye and proceeded to pound it back! We were too scared to report him!

So, airport security at Frankfurt pulls out these souvenir witch marionettes that mom found in Prague. Apparently, all her grandchildren are getting one...they hideously hang from a hook and are motion-censored...so who wouldn't want one, right!  I’m staying calm for Moms sake, thinking she will panic as she struggles to explain what these things are.  There is now several security officials gathered around listening with interest to Mom’s frenzied explanation 'til finally, one incredulously exclaims “Really? You clap and they do what??”  “It dances!!” Mom proudly retorts. It is at this moment she is hauled off to the interrogation room.  And, I haven’t seen her since...lovely lady though and I wish her well.


Pictures

Coffee Bay
Coffee Bay
 
 

1 Comment

Chris:
July 17, 2013
Annie, Your a wonderful storyteller!!!
Thanks for sharing!!!
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