AUF WIEDERSEHEN!

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 16

Fri/Sat May 28/29, 2010

All good things come to an end … and our delightful Mad Midlife romp through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary along the Rhine/Main/Danube Rivers (with Oberammergau providing the icing on the cake) is just about over.

We spent most of yesterday driving north through scenic Bavaria, with time for a brief photo-stop at Heidelberg, its famous half-ruined castle (built in 1214 out of red sandstone) looming over the Neckar River. Then it was back on the autobahn – to Frankfurt and the Steigenberger Hotel.

We had time this morning for one more on-foot look-see city tour. (Frankfurt straddles the Main River, and has been Germany’s financial centre for yonks). But finally, this afternoon, it was OUR turn to pack our overflowing bags for the very last time and check out of the hotel.

Some of our group have STILL not had enough, and are heading for London, Paris, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Perth and parts unknown. The rest of us are transferring to the airport, where a Singapore Airlines jumbo will be waiting to return us (eventually) to New Zealand.

Phew, what an adventure we’ve had! And what stories we’ve got to tell!

 

“Auf wiedersehen!”  

 

Goodbye Europe, hello Godzone …”

IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?  YOU BET YOUR LIFE WE ARE!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If following this travel diary has whet YOUR appetite and got you thinking, “Hey, I’D like to go on one of these Mad Midlife adventures!” … click on the TOURS list/logos on the right of this page, and read all about our upcoming schemes and dreams. Or go to our website: http://www.johncooney.co.nz. Or phone our travel colleague and booking agent, Roger Glynan (Lion World Travel) – tollfree 0800 277 477.

OBERAMMERGAU & THE PASSION PLAY

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 15

Wed-Thurs May 26/27, 2010

We crossed the Austrian/German border yesterday and drove through Bavaria (Bayern). Germany’s largest state is well endowed with natural riches: its snowy peaks, rushing streams and velvety forests stirred our romantic hearts … and it’s yummy tortes (cakes) filled our rumbling tummies. The cake shown here was eaten at our lunch-stop by two ladies who shall remain nameless (beginning with Heather and Vivien).

We had time en route for a visit to the magnificent Lindenhof Castle (built high in the alps by crazy King Ludwig). But at the end of our visit it suddenly bucketed down, and our entire Mad Midlife group got soaked to the skin – with the result that we arrived at the village of Oberammergau looking like drowned rats!

Not that it mattered. Because (i) we quickly dried out in our rooms at the Wittlesbach Hotel (smack in the heart of town) … and (ii) we were quickly captivated by beautiful, magical Oberammergau. Located about 100kms southwest of Munich, this small alpine centre is surrounded by majestic mountains – and is famous for its peace and quiet, its gorgeous scenery, its wood carvings and frescos, and (of course) its once-a-decade Passion Play.

We had time (last night and this morning) for a wander-around, a photo-feast, and some shop-shop-shopping. Then, after lunch, we claimed our first-class seats in front of the giant outdoor stage where some 2400 locals re-enact the dramatic final days in the life of Christ – before a packed-out audience of 4700. The dialogue was in German (not that we had any difficulty following the story, with the aid of our “textbooks”). And the play lasted throughout the afternoon and evening – with a nice, long dinner break.

The Passion Play (in case you don’t know) dates back to the year 1633, during the Thirty Years War. After months of suffering and death due to the Plague, the villagers made a vow to God that, if they were spared, then every 10th year thereafter they would perform a play about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. There were no more lives lost to the Plague … the villagers have kept their word for more than 375 years … and the 2010 Play will continue to be performed five-times-weekly through until October – with over 500,000 visitors expected from all around the world.

You’ve gotta believe me when I tell you that our attendance at the Passion Play today was a moving, inspiring, unforgettable TREAT! And we’ll all be talking about it for a long time to come …

Oh, one final excitement: a couple of us on the Mad Midlife team were interviewed tonight by BBC radio for a backgrounder they’re doing on the Play. So waddaya know about THAT?

TOMORROW: With just a couple more days to go, we’ve got one more long drive through Germany – to Frankfurt, via Munich and Heidelberg … so don’t hang up yet! 

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.P.S. If you want to leave one lucky-last message for someone in the Oberammergau Gang, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want a better look at our map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!

SALZBURG’S SOUND OF MUSIC

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 14

Mon-Tues May 24/25, 2010

There’s fewer of us now – 29 to be exact – but the fun and adventure is still full-on as we make our way slowly (by road rather than river) to the tiny Bavarian village of Oberammergau where, come Thursday, we’re gonna witness the famous once-every-10-years Passion Play.

But more on that later …

Yesterday, after disembarking from the Amadeus Elegant in Budapest (Hungary) and bidding goodbye to the rest of our Mad Midlife friends, we piled onto our private coach and spent a chunk of the day being driven to Linz (Austria) by the very capable Steve (Istvan, actually).

We visited Linz briefly on our cruise – Austria’s third-largest city, with its elegant Old Town and Hauptplatz (main square). It was raining back then, but yesterday was sunny and hot – and we had time to do some more exploring before we grabbed dinner at a local eatery and headed for bed at the Courtyard Marriot Hotel.

Today, we continued our scenic journey today through Austria’s Salzkammergut region, enjoying stunning views of lakes, mountains and villages like Hallstatt and Mondsee, before arriving in Salzburg and the Achat Zum Hirschen Hotel.

Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart (1756-91), and you can hear year-round performances of Wolfgang’s famous compositions. But the tunes you’re more likely to recognise come from a 1964 movie that made Salzburg a household name. And if the Mirabell Gardens, the Pferdeschwemme fountain, Nonnberg Convent and the Residenzplatz all look kinda familiar, that’s hardly surprising – because this is where Maria and the von Trapp children sang their hearts out in that beloved Hollywood extravaganza The Sound of Music.

How about that?

We enjoyed an afternoon walking tour of this magnificent smallish city – including the Old Town (a World Heritage site) and the prominent 900-year-old Hohensalzburg Fortress.

And then … guess what? We shouted ourselves to a night-on-the-town: ‘The Sound of Salzburg Dinner & Show’, with famous melodies from the composers, plus the best of those lovely songs from the Julie Andrews movie – all performed in an intimate local theatre.

It was a BRILLIANT evening! We sang along at the top of our lungs – and several of our Mad Midlifers ended up on stage!

Some new careers in the making? Watch this space …

TOMORROW: We’re on the road again, visiting yet another very old fortress (Lindenhof Castle, built high in the alps by crazy King Ludwig), en route to Oberammergau … 

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in the Oberammergau Gang, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want a better look at our map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!

BEAUTIFUL BUDAPEST

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 13 

Sunday May 23, 2010

We sailed this morning (under warm clear skies at last!) into Budapest, the famous capital of Hungary – and what a sight-for-sore-eyes it was! The elegant Chain Bridge, the glorious Parliament buildings, 500-year-old Matthias Church, St Stephen’s Basilica, the distinctive Fisherman’s Bastion, the marvellous Elegant Palace: they were all there, on grand display. And we couldn’t wait to get ashore and explore these twin cities, Buda and Pest, spread over both banks of the Danube.

Then, come the afternoon, while some of our group stayed in town, the rest of us drove out through lush green countryside to Castle Gödöllö (“Ger-der-ler”) and an unforgettable performance of Hungarian horsemanship at a Csarda (horsefarm).

The crew of the Amadeus Elegant served up a Hungarian feast for dinner tonight (goulash anyone?) – followed by one final highlight: an illuminated evening cruise along Budapest’s stunning waterfront. 

It’s midnight now, and, like the rest of our group, we Cooneys have just finished packing. You see, our Midlife Madness cruise is pretty much over. And tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll be disembarking, disbanding and heading off in different directions:

  • 15 of our Kiwi group will transfer to Budapest airport for their outbound flight – via Frankfurt and Singapore to (eventually) Auckland
  • a handful of others are extending their holiday, taking some extra time in Eastern Europe
  • the rest (nearly 30 in total) are coming with us to the Oberammergau Passion Play, in Bavaria, Southern Germany.

 

It’s been a BLAST … this combination of luxury-on-the-river and discovery-on-shore! For the moment, most of us are castled-out, cathedralled-to-bits, and well-and-truly over medieval towns. But we’ve seen so much, done so much, learned so much, gained so much and laughed so much that we don’t know where to put it all!

We’ve had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience – and we’ve got memories and photos to prove it!

PEOPLE NEWS: Two final nominations squeaked in before closing …

* Noel won the ‘I left my heart in the Blue Danube’ Award after receiving a passionate, public, full-frontal kiss during dinner last night from a handsome Viennese lady on board. (Noel’s still pink with excitement …)

* And Geraldine won the ‘I left my photo in the Blue Danube’ Award for buying a lovely pic of herself from the quick-fire photo-booth set up on the dock, and then promptly dropping her purchase into the current where, by now, it’ll be halfway to the Black Sea.

TOMORROW: The Oberammergau Gang will travel by coach back into Austria (Linz) en route to Salzburg and Bavaria. And, as soon as we can put fingers to keyboard and go online, this remarkable travel diary will continue! It ain’t over yet … 

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If following this travel diary has whet YOUR appetite and got you thinking, “Hey, I’D like to go on one of these Mad Midlife adventures!” … click on the TOURS list/logos on the right of this page, and read all about our upcoming schemes and dreams. Or go to our website: http://www.johncooney.co.nz. Or phone our travel colleague and booking agent, Roger Glynan (Lion World Travel) – tollfree 0800 277 477.

 

P.P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in the Oberammergau Gang, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want a better look at our map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!

VIENNA & BRATISLAVA

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 12

Fri-Sat May 21/22, 2010

Having just spent   two days in two capitals of two European countries, and knowing that we’ll spend tomorrow in a third, this is probably a good point at which to warn you: don’t bother coming to this part of the world if you can’t stand castles, hate cathedrals, and have been known to die of boredom in medieval old towns. Because that’s mostly what you get to see on a river-cruise like this through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Yesterday was a BIGGIE! Leaving the Amadeus Elegant safely parked in the Danube Canal, we started with a Vienna sightseeing tour that took us along the majestic Ringstrasse, through the Schwarzenbergplatz, past Charles Church (Karlskirche) and the stunning Opera House – ending up at the awe-inspiring St Stephens Cathedral. Oh, plus time to stroll along Kärtnerstrasse and sample Vienna’s famous pastries!

Then, in the afternoon, we were up-and-off to the Schönbrunn Castle, one of Vienna’s most gorgeous buildings and a World Heritage Site – centre of courtly and political life under the reign of Empress Maria Theresia (who died in 1780).

And, as if that wasn’t enough for one day, we all got dressed up in our finery and headed out after dinner to a marvellous ‘Sound of Vienna’ show at one of the city’s countless concert chambers. There we were treated to a charming, cultured evening of classical Viennese waltzes, polkas, arias and operettas – “a living firework display for all senses” – by musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers.

Fantastic? Oh yes! And an unforgettable evening, for sure …

Sometime during the night our ship must’ve left Austria and entered Slovakia (used to be part of Czechoslovakia, now an independent sovereign state) – because we ate breakfast this morning in Bratislava. Unlike neat-as-a-pin Germany and sparkling Austria, this one time communist state looks a bit tired and beat-up, but that didn’t stop us enjoying a tour of the city’s major sights, including some take-your-breath-away views from the 13th-century Bratislava Castle.

This afternoon, some of our Kiwis roamed Bratislava on their own – while others of us visited Schloss Hof, an Imperial Festival Palace built in the 18th century by the ruling Hapsburgs.

Then, tonight, our second-to-last evening on the Amadeus Elegant, we attended the Captain’s Gala Dinner – prior to casting off and cruising along the Danube Canal, Bratislava’s magnificent castle looming high and all-lit-up above us …   

PEOPLE NEWS: Another one bites the dust …

* Jean wins the ‘Happy Hour’ Award for showing younger travellers how to do it by engaging in some late-night partying with some Scottish folk on board!

TOMORROW: We reach out final port-of-call – beautiful Budapest in Hungary

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want a better look at our map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!