LINZ, MELK ABBEY & VIENNA

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 11

Thursday May 20, 2010

The Austrian city of Linz was founded by the Romans (they called it ‘Lentia’), became a big-time trade centre, then an even bigger-time home of the Hapsburg Emperor Friedrich III. Linz was also big-time home to little Adolph Hitler, who was born in the border town of Braunau am Inn, but spent most of his younger days here.

In persistent rain late yesterday afternoon, we explored the historic Old Town, main square and Mozarthaus, and got to taste the region’s famous Linzer Torte (cake) at a local bakery.

Then, late last night, following a ‘pirate dinner’ on board, the Amadeus Elegant cast off its mooring ropes and glided downstream in the direction of the Wachau Valley – a stunningly beautiful chunk of Austria smack in the middle of a world-famous wine-growing region.

We woke up this morning to find the ship docked in Emmersdorf, and drove out after breakfast for a whirlwind tour of Yet Another Church – the magnificent Melk Abbey, one of Europe’s largest baroque monasteries. Following which we wandered down cobblestone streets in the 16th-century town of Duernstein, located below the castle where Richard the Lionheart (one-time King of England) was imprisoned in 1192.

Finally, we continued sailing through the afternoon to Austria’s gorgeous capital: historical, musical Vienna! And, after dinner on board, we enjoyed a special excursion – ‘Vienna At Night’ – which included views over the vineyards and city, plus a pub visit in the village of Grinzing, where we sampled some local wine, bread and dips, and listened to a couple of old guys playing ‘Heurigen’ music on accordion and guitar.

A lovely, laughter-filled evening was had by all – by the end of which some very sleepy Kiwis were more than ready to collapse into cosy beds aboard our floating hotel. 

TOMORROW: We’ll explore more of gorgeous Vienna in daylight, and visit Schönbrunn Castle. So don’t change channels …

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!

WEATHER UPDATE

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 10

Are you wondering if the sun is shining yet in this part of Europe? Well, wonder no more. We did see a few glimpses of blue sky earlier this week, but we’re back to rain (mostly light and drizzly) … temperatures ranging from 7° to 9° … and umbrellas, coats, and long underwear.

These photos tell it all …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

REGENSBURG & PASSAU

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 09 

Tues, Wed May 18/19 2010

These trips (I’ve often explained) are not holidays – they’re learning experiences, adult education, like being in a travelling university. Many of our guides are highly qualified people (like the delightful lady who showed us around Passau two hours ago: she has a doctorate in art-history). And there’s so much to take in, it’s not just your legs that feel tired at the end of a busy day: it’s also your brain!

I mean, for starters there’s geography: getting your head around the countries, continents, rivers, cities and landmarks of the places we visit – in this case, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Then there’s history – in this case, masses of it, with glimpses back beyond the Roman Empire … a major focus on the Middle Ages (with 600-900-year-old medieval castles and walled towns littering the landscape) … and frequent references to World War 2 (Hitler, the Nazis, Allied bombing raids, etc).

And there’s art, architecture and religion everywhere you look – especially in the countless cathedrals that Europe’s founders were addicted to building.

Yesterday morning, for example, we got up-close-and-personal with the oldest monastery in Bavaria: Weltenburg Abbey in Kelheim, founded by Irish or Scottish monks in about 620 AD. Above the altar is a giant sculpture of this region’s patron saint, St George, slaying the dragon. And next to the abbey is the oldest monastery brewery in the world – where we got to sample a glass of their dark Dunkel beer.

Next, we enjoyed a small-boat ride through a windy stretch of the Danube Gorge to Regensburg, one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities, where we eyeballed the huge, ornate St Peter’s cathedral – and an equally huge stone bridge (which has spanned the Danube since the 12th century, and was the starting point for the 2nd and 3rd Crusades).

Last night, we were treated to a noisy, energetic performance by a Bavarian Oom-Pa-Pa band – before demolishing a yummy four-course Bavarian dinner.

Then, shortly after breakfast this morning, we arrived in Passau, where the rivers Inn and Ilz join the Danube. We went ashore for a guided wander, which included the impressive St Stephen’s Cathedral (home of the world’s second-largest organ: 17,974 pipes), before sailing downriver again, en route to Austria …

PEOPLE NEWS: Nominations continue to roll in …

* The ‘Magical Tea-Bag’ Award goes to Ruth who got terribly excited last evening at dinner when she discovered her tea-bag could stand up on its own – thanks, she informed us, to its action gusset. (You had to be there …)

* And the ‘Konnichi Wa (Hello)’ Award was imposed on Caith, who mistook a passing Japanese group for his fellow-Mad-Kiwi-Midlifers, and wandered off in hot pursuit.  

 

TOMORROW: Well, tonight actually … we’ll be in the Austrian city of Linz. And tomorrow, you’ll find us tasting wine (again) at Melk Abbey in the gorgeous Wachau Valley. So cancel everything and stay glued to this website!

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!

BAMBERG & NUREMBERG

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 08

Sun/Mon, May 16/17 2010

If you’ve been wondering what life is like on board the Amadeus Elegant, click on the pix below and take a peep. It’s the newest cruise ship on the river (nothing less would be good enough for us Kiwis!) and it’s a beaut!

For you technical types, the ship’s vital statistics are:

Length                          – 110 metres (longer than a rugby field)

Breadth                         – 11.4 metres

Draught                         – 1.3 metres

Height above water         – 5.85 metres

Speed               ­            – 25 km/h

Cabins                          – 67

Crew                             – 40

We’re about half-way, and have so far travelled 945kms on this truly remarkable system of waterways (71kms on the canal through Holland, 418 on the Rhine, 382 on the Main, and 74 on the Main-Danube canal). During this past week, mostly in Germany, we’ve gone under countless bridges (some of them so low the crew have to lower everything on the top deck, including the wheelhouse, to avoid a collision) … and traversed untold locks, with just millimetres to spare either side. (Some of the locks are such a tight fit lengthwise that the nose of the ship is specially engineered to fold back.)

Yesterday afternoon we turned out of the River Main into the Main-Danube-Canal (a man-made marvel), and docked in Bamberg – one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Germany, and a UNESCO World Heritage site (with 2300 historic buildings). We meandered through the old town, with its cathedral, palace, and former fishing village (‘Little Venice’) – and had a leftover hour for shopping (much to the delight of the women). However, being a Sunday, lots of the shops were closed (much to the relief of the men)!

We left Bamberg in the evening, cruised south along the Main-Danube canal while we slept, and woke up in Nuremberg – with its 900-year-old ramparts and Imperial Castle. This big city (second largest in Bavaria) was where Hitler held his huge Nazi Party rallies (from 1933 until 1938) … and where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946.

PEOPLE NEWS: After a quiet couple of days in the Awards Department, several of the people who’ve already won nominations have come back for more …

* Having destroyed her first head-set by sitting on it, Joyce now wins herself the ‘Technologically Challenged’ Award for forgetting to plug her second set in and wondering out-loud why she couldn’t hear anything!

* Olwin was spotted today making a serious attempt to leave our group by boarding the wrong bus, and scores herself the ‘Defection’ Award!

* And Sharon’s shameless performance on the coach, throwing herself bodily on top of an unsuspecting Englishman, earns her the ‘Loose Woman’ Award.

TOMORROW: We’ve got such a busy day down the Danube Gorge – Weltenburg Monastery in the morning, and Regensburg in the afternoon – that I don’t know when I’ll get time to write another gripping chapter. But I promise to try if you promise to read it …

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!

WURZBURG & ROTHENBURG

DANUBE & RHINE BLOG 07

Saturday May 15, 2010

You’ve probably never heard of a lot of these places – right? Well, nor had we, prior to this trip. Which is making them all the more surprising and delightful and photographable and unforgettable and can’t-wait-to-tell-you-more-about-them-able!

And how’s this for good news? We caught some flashes of blue sky today! The sun is doing its best to break up the grey, and the rain is getting warmer!

After sailing right through the wee small hours (with an occasional bump-in-the-night to remind us we’re passing through yet another narrow lock – with just centimetres to spare either side), we reached the historic city of Wurzburg and headed off on a Weight-Watchers walking tour. This lovely old town, guarded by the hilltop Fortress Marienberg, is home to the Residenz – a beautiful Baroque palace built for Bavaria’s prince-bishops in the early 1700s and famous for its great marble staircase plus frescoes by the Venetian master, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

From the outside, the Residenz looked like just another big, old, ugly building – but inside, oh boy! We traipsed through the gloriously decorated rooms (no photos allowed inside, bummer). And then we traipsed down into a vast underground cellar where we enjoyed the most generous wine-tasting session ever. (Sniff, rinse and swallow – we’re getting good at this – followed by some more Mad Midlife traipsing and giggling!)

After lunch on board, we then bussed for an hour or so (via Germany’s high-speed autobahn) to Rothenburg ob der Tauber – a beautifully-restored medieval walled town (500, 600, 700 years old). ‘A jewel of the Middle Ages’ with its great stone walls and towers and gates … its vibrantly-coloured houses with their half-timbered gables … and shops galore!

A feast for sore eyes? Without a doubt …

TOMORROW: There’s another one lying in wait for us – another superbly-preserved medieval city (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site this time): Bamberg (home perhaps of the original bamburger-&-fries?) So stand-by, and don’t leave the room …

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!