Monthly Archives: June 2016

Viking River Cruise – Day 17

Cologne. Koln in German parlance. Known in the US for Eau de Cologne 1477 perfume. Only the female readers will know anything about the 1477 notation. At least none of the men on the cruise had a clue. But, the real attraction is the Cathedral, standing about 157 meters, one of the tallest cathedrals in the world and a great example of the Gothic style.

image

Bigger yet are the (alleged) bones from the The Kings (Magi) that were either acquired, or stolen, depending upon who you talk to. This was a huge money maker for the church as pilgrims came to touch the remains and brought a lot of money into the city.

image

Further, the cathedral has beautiful Roman mosaic floors, and wonderful stained glass.

image

The cathedral was spared in WWII though 95% of Cologne was destroyed. The possible reason was because the cross shape and orientation of the church served as guidance for bombers heading to either Frankfurt or to Berlin. Sixteen bombs did strike the church but damage was minimal due, in part, to the fact that the Windows had been removed and the concussion of the bombs didn’t blow out the walls.

The history of the city is very long, extending back to 4500BC and also including a rich Roman Empire history. We visited a museum next the cathedral to see the artifacts. One is a mosaic that was mostly intact. This is a close-up of one section with Bachus trying to seduce a maiden.

image

The glass artifacts from the century around the birth of Christ were the most interesting.

Speaking of interesting, Cologne also boasts a chocolate museum. We had to go. Three floors of exhibits about the agronomy, politics, economy and geography of cacao production. Quite interesting, and some free samples.

Fortunately, we were in the chocolate museum when the heavy rain came through, raising the Rhine up over the sidewalk by our ship.

image

We were fortunate as the docks were closed after we departed.

Two more days, Kinderdijk and Amsterdam.

Viking River Cruise – Day 13

Bamberg! Famous for their Rauchbier, smoke beer. The story goes that 200 years ago the malt used to be roasted over open fires causing the smokey flavor. Our tour director described it as liquid bacon. Of course, that meant I had to try it.

But first, we had a walking tour of… wait for it… a cathedral and castle. Bamberg escaped bombing in World War II and the cathedral is one of the best preserved and oldest (original built in 1003 , but destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1237) in Germany. Heinrich II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor there and is entombed there with his wife. He was sainted based upon the miracles of surviving surgery and of not having any children…

image

There is also the only Pope entombed north of the alps here. You could only see the tomb if you stood on your tippy-toes and craned your neck but we were assured it was there.

After the tour, time for beer. My assessment of the rauchbier was that it tasted like smoked gouda, not terrible but not something I’d drink more than the 1/2 liter we split.

The other attraction was the Old Town Hall, which was built on an island to spite the bishop who wouldn’t allow the town to build it on “his land”.

image

It was quaint and quirky at the same time.

Tomorrow, Wurzburg.

Viking River Cruise – Day 12

Nuremberg. Every time I hear that I can’t help but associate the city with the post- WWII trials of the Nazi war crimes. The old city center was heavily bombed by the Allies and was 92% destroyed. not because it was militarily significant but because of the psychological value. That is a sobering statistic.

Our morning was spent on the approach to the city via the Main Canal. The canal was built to be 20 meters wide, our ship is over 19. It barely fits through the locks. The first three locks drop something like 258 feet. We get extruded out of the locks.

image

The locks are designed with holding terraces to the side which hold the water instead of releasing it downstream, saving 60%.

image

The canal actually goes over the roads/streams. Imagine going under an overpass and seeing a 430 foot ship going over you. It’s hard to tell from this photo but we are passing over a road.

image

We docked and caught our buses for the city walking tour. First we drove past a couple Nazi relics, a parade ground and stadium Hitler built to hold rallies and to diefy himself. Another somber thought.

This is the inside of a Colliseum replica structure he was building which was never finished before the war started and construction was stopped.

image

Into the city, we had a tour of the Imperial Castle. It was built up on a hillside and had a deep moat which was not intended to be water filled but to funnel attackers into kill zones where China could be trained on them. It also had the entrance gate built on an uphill curved ramp so a battering ram would be ineffective.  If they made it in, there was a tunnel with openings to pour hot oil on them. Pretty well thought out.

The view of the city from the castle.

image

The steep roofs, designed to shed snow, were mandated to be included in rebuilding to maintain the pre-war look.

Of course there were churches and Cathedrals… The largest of which had stained glass windows painted by hometown artist hero, Durer. This church is Lutheran. 65% off the parishioners in Nuremberg are protestant. Carol wanted a picture as she said it must be the biggest Lutheran church on the world

image

It was a great city to visit, if nothing else, as an example of how a city could be rebuilt in it’s original splendor after a tragedy.

Viking River Cruise – Day 11

Today is Regensburg. However, we still are fighting strong currents. The morning was cruising a very meandering path along the Danube and, unfortunately, a bus ride to Regensburg in order to keep our tour on schedule.

Naturally, the key attraction on the Castles and Cathedrals River Cruise is a cathedral, St. Peter’s. This is a prime example of Gothic architecture.

image

The official tour ended at the cathedral just before noon. We were preparing to leave and start our exploration when there was announcement that they would be starting their noon prayer with organ music. We voted to stick around. Good choice as they turned up the lights, illuminating the gold gilded altar. There was about five minutes of organ music followed by five minutes of prayer (I can only assume since it was in German) and then five more minutes of organ music. We actually appreciated the organ music better than the concert in Passau. It was more melodic and ended with a great low note crescendo which resonated so loud that you could feel it. Way cool.

By then, the ship had docked in town so we stopped back for lunch and then headed right back out on a stroll to the far side of town. This included public parks, the Palace, another church and a continuation of Carol’s quest for a non-garrish t-shirt. The ship was docked right next to the historic wall surrounding the old city center.

This was just inside the wall next to our ship.

image

This was one of the most walkable, scenic, colorful cities we’ve visited. The streets are narrow, the buildings interesting, and the shops were not touristy, complicating the quest. It pleased me that everyone, from grandmothers to children, get around on bikes as driving is not practical in the streets of the old town.

Back to our ship to relax on the upper deck.

image

Tonight we enter the Main canal which stretches 106 miles, connecting the Danube with the Main River and the Rhine. The engineering marvel allows commerce to flow from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Tomorrow, Regensburg and guess what? More churches.

Viking River Cruise – Day 10

The river levels are having an affect. Because we are behind schedule, in order to make it to Passau in time for the organ concert and our walking tour, we stopped a few km’s short and were loaded onto buses to scoot us into town. We were told two ships had hit the bridges while trying to pass under. It crew has lowered the umbrellas, folded the chairs and dropped the railings on our sun deck. no sunbathing for us.

There were three or four other Viking ships at the docks and the town was crawling with groups of senior citizens following tour guides holding Viking lollipop signs with our ship/group numbers. After an abbreviated city tour, we were ushered into the cathedral for the organ concert. Passau has the second largest pipe organ in the world with 17,000 pipes! The whole cathedral was filled with Viking tour groups. The concert lasted about one half hour with no music recognizable by me. It was interesting, but I’ll admit to nodding off…

image

We hooked up with a different tour guide after the concert who took us through some narrow back alleys to the other side of town (about four blocks). Passau is built at the junction of three rivers, the Danube, the Ilz and the Inn. The Inn comes down from the higher elevations and has a distinctive lighter color than the brown of the Danube. It is also flowing high and up over the sidewalk.

image

After the tour and lunch, we decided to catch the glockenspiel at the town hall (rathaus). not even as impressive as New Ulm.  The interesting sight was the high water history on the wall, about ten feet up in 2013, the biggest since 1850-something. You might be able to see it on the lower right.

image

The other attraction in town is the fortress overlooking town, Veste Oberhaus. There is a bus, but why? We climbed up. I counted the steps, 240, but there was a long pathway that must have added the equivalent of another 100 steps. From the fortress, there was a great view of the city and you could see the different colored water at the confluence of the Inn and Danube rivers. Unfortunately, those pictures are on my camera, not my phone…
The view from the bottom, the overlook in the top left.

image

The rest of the afternoon was spent having a German beer on a terrace, reading and relaxing (we’re now in Germany)

Tomorrow, on to Regensburg, presuming we can get under the bridges.

Viking River Cruise – Day 9

Today we cruise the Wachau Valley and visit Melk. The Wachau (vah-cow) Valley is where the Danube changes from the relatively flat terrain to the Bohemian Plateau, which means high, wooded banks on each side of the river, small towns and vineyards. This region produces white wines and most of the apricots consumed in Europe.

The scenery was great so we sat on the upper deck and listened to a running commentary from Sonya, our Tour Director most of the morning as we fought the strong currents.

image

image

Melk, and the Abbey was our stop for the day. The Abbey is a huge complex on a hillside of a small village.

image

It houses a library of 100,000 books, all categorized and bound in a similar manner. It is still a working Abbey and has a school with 900 youth. The cathedral isn’t as ostentatious as some of the others we’ve visited, but precious nonetheless. As has been our fortune, we had time to walk the gardens before the rain came in which lasted until we finished the tour.

It only took a half hour to see the whole town on our way down the hill back to our ship. I bought some apricot mustard as it was touted as a specialty.

We pushed off and headed up river as we had a number of locks to pass and we were making slower than expected progress. We squeezed into a lock alongside two other barges. We had about four feet between them and us and six inches to the wall. While we were navigating into the lock, the captain was drinking in the lounge with the returning cruise guests leaving a junior guy to handle the duties. Here he is checking our clearance…

image

Tomorrow, out of Austria, into Germany, and the town of Passau. Gud nicht.

Viking River Cruise – Day 8

Vienna!

We have from dawn to midnight in Vienna. We’ve signed up for the “up close” tour which uses public transportation and walking the hidden back streets around Stephen’s Platz. The gem is St Stephen’s cathedral which stands 137 meters, which puts it just a hundred feet short of the IDS tower. It was once the largest structure in Europe. It is hard to get it in frame but here is a shot showing the hand painted ceramic tiles on the roof.

image

Impressive inside as well.

image

There was a service in progress (Latin and choir).

We saw all kinds of sites and historical features in four hours, including the Lipizanner horses (well, their stables) and this little room Mozart played to special clients.

image

We opted out of the return trip to the ship and headed to Schonbrunn Palace. The buildings were fabulous and the grounds were beautiful.

image

image

Tomorrow, cruising to Melk and an Abbey. I’ll be an honorary Catholic before this cruise is over.

Viking River Cruise – Day 6

Today was our “Day at Sea”, moving from Budapest to Vienna. When we had arrived in Prague I received an email that the ship had an issue and we would have to take a bus to Vienna. I’m sure glad we didn’t have to get on another bus.

We left Budapest around 6:00pm Saturday and didn’t arrive in Vienna until almost 7:00pm Sunday. To entertain us, we had two lectures, strudel and coffee. I skipped them. Instead, I walked the short path up top for exercise, read and relaxed in the sun. We went through two locks, one at night and one shortly after passing Bratislava. I think the novelty will wear off soon enough as we have about 65 more to go…

image

As required by maritime law, we also had our muster drill, putting on our Mae West life jackets and going to the top deck.

Stylish, Carol!

image

After docking, we took a short walk over the river for exercise and to get a feel for the lay of the land.

The view across the Danube from our ship ifs very nice. The tall building is the DC Building. It has a unique architectural shape meant to mimic the Danube River waves and current.

image

Tomorrow, a walking tour and free time.

Jeff

Viking River Cruise -Days 4&5

Day 4 is transfer to Budapest day. We boarded a motorcoach for an eight hour ride. Ugh. Fortunately, we snagged front seats to avoid car sickness. Of course, there was construction and an accident which brought the freeway to a complete stop. Double ugh. We finally arrive at about 5pm to our ship which is docked below the famous Chain Bridge along with four other Viking ships.

We checked into our cabin (I’ll describe it as cozy) and headed for dinner. No exploring, though a walk might have been good after sitting on the bus all day. Ready for the true cruise vacation to begin.

Day 5

I woke up about 6:00 and opened the curtains to this view.

image

A full rainbow over the former Parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion, Chain Bridge and the Cathedral on the Buda side of the Danube. I should explain that there were originally two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. I think they were only joined into one in 1873 and this was the seat of the Hungarian empire. (A quiz for you… there are four capitals of countries on the Danube, can you name them and the countries?)

On our itinerary is a bus/walking tour in the morning. Due to government intervention in controlling the large number of tour buses going to the UNESCO sites, we could have walked to Matthias Church faster. It was truly spectacular with colored ceramic tiles on the roof.

image

We had time to explore inside, see a replica of the royal crown given to King Stephen by the Pope. I wanted to take a selfie of me with it on my head but I didn’t want to be that American.

The tour had one other stop at Hero Square. Large statues of, guess what? Also the thermal baths. We learned that Budapest sits on over 60 thermal/mineral hot springs with lots of catacombs below the surface. Hard to imagine how a massive cathedral can sit atop a cavern.

After bus tour and lunch, it was “me” time. We walked along the river to the large indoor market. The building looks like a train station but inside there were hundreds of vendors for fruits, vegetables, meats, spices and l

image

ace. The view from the second level.

Our good weather fortune continued as it started to rain just as we stepped inside and it had stopped by the time we left. I bought some Hungarian paprika. Goulash in my future.

We wandered through the city towards the Parliament getting pleasantly lost more than once. The Parliament is a truly impressive structure which had to be rebuilt after WWII. On the grounds was a monument thanking the Soviets for liberating then after WWII. One of our guides noted that the Hungarians appreciated that liberation but noted the Soviets “forgot to leave” a

image

fterwards.

The Parlia

image

ment building.

We were required to board by 5:30 for departure from Budapest. We pushed off and headed up stream, barely clearing the underside of the Chain Bridge. We didn’t get two miles before the captain but the brakes. I thought our engine problems were back but it turned out a lady from the ship docked next to us had mistakenly ventured into our boat and was in a panic. We pulled over to a dock and tossed her off to the cheers and jeers of our whole ship.

The end of another day. Tomorrow we cruise all day to Vienna. A rest day.

Quiz answer: Vienna, Austria, Bratislava, Slovakia, Budapest, Hungary and Belgrade, Serbia.

Jeff