Budapest – Day 10

After the spectacular lights the night before I rose early (30 minutes prior to sunrise) to see if some of the magic was still there. It certainly was. Here is the Budapest Castle which is now home to the state museum. The second image is of the Chain Bridge. 

This was the nicest part of the day weather wise. We received some rain as we toured St. Mátyás (Mattais). Unfortunately the rain obscured nice views of the city of Pest below. Tomorrow’s forecast looks pretty good.

Arrival in Budapest – Day 9

We were warned no less than ten times that the arrival in Budapest on the Danube at night is spectacular. We were scheduled to arrive at about 11 so we scheduled and planned accordingly. As our arrival time neared we staked out places on the deck and assumed our positions. Here is Marty acting as sentry as we approached the lights of Budapest.

Wow. I don’t know what to say other than wow. I have seen notable night scenes on the Thames, on the Seine and on Potomac. They don’t hold a candle. Just wow. Here are some examples.

Bratislava and the float to Budapest – Day 9

We awoke just a short walk outside Bratislava. It is a fairly small capital city with a population just over 500,000. It is the only capital city that borders three countries – Slovakia, Austria and Hungary. That partially explains its many years of integration into Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Since WWI the history has been somewhat tumultuous with periods of sovereignty, combination with the Czech Republic, occupation by the Nazis, a Soviet Socialist Republic and finally independent again in 1993. It has only been 21 years since they’ve had democratic rule. It shows.

They are making strides but they openly (VERY openly) talk about having to dig out of the hole left by the paradise of Communism. One interesting example is the Breslau Castle. While the Soviets did try to repair some of the damage done by the Nazis, their utilitarian approach eliminated much of the original components of the architecture. Here is an example of the castle seen from town, and a close up with restoration underway. You can see part of one of the original gothic windows peeking out from the “modern” windows installed in its place.

The town squares and pedestrian malls are open and inviting. There are lots of other examples of buildings in significant disrepair. They have a lot of digging out to do. Fortunately the people we met have a lot of grit and determination. It is also becoming somewhat of a manufacturing mecca with many auto manufacturers bilding or expaning locations in town. Their low labor rate makes this attractive.

We left at noon and started the long ride to Budapest (ETA was 11PM). Shortly after we left we hit a nice rain shower that you can see one of the sister Viking ships is about to experience in this photo.

More pictures will be added to this post later. Internet connectivity from a boat can be challenging. 🙂

Wien (Vienna) – Day 8

Our day in Vienna started with a bus tour of the ring around central Wien. Franz Joseph realized that expanding beyond the old fortification wall would help promote significant growth in the city. He was certainly right.  We traveled past many of the city’s cultural landmarks including the opera house, parliament, the University, etc.

We followed this with a walking tour and free time which allowed us to explore the Presidential palace, the shopping district and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There were a wide variety of architectural styles. Interestingly many were quite young) less than 200 years old – including the Boroque churches.

Tonight we are going to a concert in town featuring Mozart, Strauss, and Lehar.

Melk and Durnstein – Day 7

As we travelled down the Danube we had a two stop day. The morning stop was is in Melk with a visit to the Abbey. It was founded in 1089 when the King donated a castle. In the 12th century the school was formed (today they have about 900 students from nearby attending classes there). It was beautiful. Here are a number of shots from the Abby.

The town of Melk is dominated by the Abbey and sports a nice local market with the standard local fare; a fabulous selection of artisinal breads and cheeses, olive oils, produce and trinkets. After lunch as we ventured east through the Wachau valley we saw terrace after terrace of vinyards. They are known for their white wine varietals.

Next we stopped in Durnstein. After wandering/exploring the city for a while, we stopped at the Hotel Schloss Durenstein. We had no idea what any of the wines were like so we threw a dart and tried the Gruner Veitliner from Domaine Wachau. It was quite tasty, almost a sauvignon blanc.

Durnstein is also known for its castle ruins in which Richard the LionHearted was imprisoned after he was captured returning from the Crusades. You can see the castle is at the top of the hill above the Cathedral.

Finally, the town also has more products derived from apricots than you can imagine; jam, chutney, schnapps, likeur, cosmetics, candy, etc.

Salzburg – Day 6

We boarded our bus at 8:30AM in Linz headed for Salzburg. We took a break halfway there in Mondsee. There is little more here than a rest stop but Mondsee is an absolutely beautiful lake with mountain backdrops. I would guess that more often than not, those on their way to Salzburg stop here if only for a photo op. I’ll admit that it was worth it.

We arrived in Salzburg about 11:00 and had a nice guided tour. So far all of our guides have been locals and really know their area. We toured the Mirabell Gardens (with the fortress in the background), saw the birthplace and adolescent homes of Mozart and visited a variety of churches from the Gothic to the Baroque eras. We also visited the Abbey and its cemetery which inspired the cemetery scene in the Sound of Music.

The tour ended and we had a wonderful lunch of local brews, Snitzels (+one chicken) at the Stieglkeller. As you can see we enjoyed ourselves. The Steiglkeller had two additional features, the view and proximity to the funicular.

From there we took the Festunsbahn (a funicular train) to the Festung Hohensalzburg which means – High Salzburg fortress). This was built mainly between 1077 and 1519. I say mainly because every local power would modify it or add on to it during their reign. The views from the fortress were awe inspiring. 

This view of the standalone house is interesting. It is where the hangman lived. No neighbors!

After dinner before we cast off, I snapped a couple of pictures of a local fair on the river bank.

Passau – Day 5

Passau is a quaint little city of about 50,000. It is also know as the city of three rivers (the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube). That gives it lots of character and variety but also makes it subject to flooding. I am glad we didn’t try to do this tour last year. The flooding was their worst since 1505. We were told that everything on the ground floor of the buildings is movable so that in the event of a flood… (what a pain). Here is a picture that gives you an idea of just how high the flooding was.

Passau is also home to the worlds largest organ in a Cathedral. Over 17,000 pipes and over 230 stops. They have weekly concerts here which happend to nicely fit into our schedule for the day. The place was packed. It was in St. Stephens Cathedral, a great example of Baroque architecture from 1688.

We also had a chance to see the city (with a nice view up the Danube) from Veste Oberhaus. It dates from 1219 and served not only as protection for the Bishop, but also a stronghold from which to manage commerce on the river (i.e. extract taxes for the shipment of salt).

Prague – Day 3/Passau arrival – Day 4

On Saturday we took a leisurely breakfast and walked back into town. The old town square was a buzz with vendors, hawkers, and performers. The guy in the first image below did a Roundhouse Rodney impersonation (now that dates me). We explored some of the small streets and passageways filled with people. One thing that was clear from the shops was that they (or their tourists) are big into their Garnets.

At lunch we went to the Terrace on the top of the Hotel U Prince Hotel. This rooftop dining experience has been rated as one of top ten restaurant views in The world. This view gives you an understanding why.

After lunch we went looking for the bike shop we bumped into while we were lost looking for our restaurant Friday evening. Marty and I were in search of a Czech bicycle jersey. Alas it was closed.

From there we ambled to the Na Mustak, a kilometer long stretch of shopping, dining and vending. At one end is the statue commemorating St. Wenceslas. It was somewhat reminiscent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

Saturday evening we sampled some of the local fare and then attended a concert of the Moravian Philharmonic at Smetana hall at the Municipal House in Republic Square. The program consisted of a Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, a Beethoven Piano Concerto and Dvorak’s Symphony #9. It seemed fitting since Dvorak had conducted at this venue in his home country. We loved it. Marty and I rose at o’Dark 30 and caught this shot early Sunday morning.

The Sunday trip to Passau was relatively uneventful as we took the motor bus across the southeastern part of the Czech Republic into Passau Germany to board our VIking Legend River boat.


Prague – Day 2

We both LOVE Prague.

Friday was our programmed day in Prague. In some cases, things that we stumbled past last night we had a chance to explore anew. We signed up for two tours, one of the old town center city and the second one of the Lobkowicz Castle.

We started in the Jewish quarter. At its peak Prague was home to over 120,000 Jews. Today that number (at least officially) stands at 1,700. Over 79,000 were killed during WWII. We learned quite a bit about their tumultous history in this city. The WWII days we were pretty familiar with, but it became clear that this didn’t improve under communist rule.

The first image below is of the clock tower from the Jewish Town Hall in Prague, right next to the Old New Synagogue. The upper clock is normal, the lower is numbered in Hebrew, in reverse order and runs counter-clockwise or anti-clockwise as our guide explained it. 

The second image is of stumbling stones. These were placed in front of the residences of Jews who were killed during the war. An example reads: “Here lived Alois Bergman. Born 1899. Murdered 1942 in Terezina.”

From there we went back to the Architectural Clock. At the tenth hour (and every hour) the dance began. The Skeleton rang a bell, the twelve apostles appeared in succession in the windows at the top and the rooster flapped his wings. Quite an interesting sight. The dial shows the phase of the moon, daytime or nighttime, and the day of the year in the lower dial.

As we moved towards the castle we moseyed through a park with some brass statues by David Černý. He also was the leader of the group who painted pink the first soviet tank that rolled into Prague in 1945 “liberating” the Czechs from the Germans. This was prior to the Velvet revolution but was a bit of a harbinger of things to come.

Our next stop was at St. Vitus Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop. Pretty inside and out but showing its age. Construction started in 1344 finished in 1929 (that is not a typo). One image shows the interior and the next the fresco on one of the facades.

We took a nice tour of Lobkowicz Palace which was returned to its owners (the Lobkowicz family in 1991-2) after legislation was passed returning property seized by the government to its owners. The historical artifacts were amazing, especially the music. There were original manuscripts from Beethoven (the 4th and 5th Symphonies) and Mozart (the re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah). We also had a nice concert which featured works of Hayden, Dvorak, Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann. Amazing. It reminded me of the movie Amadeus which was filmed in town.

The final image is a picture from a balcony of the Lobkowicz Palace with Prague and the Charles Bridge in the background.

Prague – Day 1

We arrived at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague at about 2:00PM yesterday. Uneventful flights all around (except don’t eat the breakfast sausage on the Delta flight – I thought I was Tom Hanks in Big with the caviar).

Checked in at the Hotel, freshened up met up with Marty and Terri Wade at 5:00 for a walk and restaurant hunting adventure. Reading Czech maps are harder than we thought. We amble through old town past the famous astronomical clock and finally found the restaurant Zatisi (thanks to Jack and Lisa Hauser). It was excellent.

On our way back (we took a much more direct route) we ran into a flash mob choir, at least it seemed like it. The flash part was over, but the choir was mid stream. The three choir aficianados loved it. So did I.