Sunday June 9, 2013

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These trips (I’ve often explained) are not holidays – they’re learning experiences, adult education, like being in a travelling university. 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, rivers, cities and landmarks of the places we visit. 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 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.

Take the ‘bergs’ and ‘burgs’ we’ve been visiting. Back a few centuries, it seems, every German town worth its salt was given a name that ended with one or the other – and the country is littered with them. A ‘berg’ (in case you’re wondering) is a town on a hill. A ‘burg’ (on the other hand) is a town with a castle.

Yesterday, for example, after our non-weight-watchers hearty breakfast aboard the stationary Amadeus Classic, we drove through the countryside in search of Nuremberg ­– the big city (second largest in Bavaria) where Hitler held his huge Nazi Party rallies (from 1933 until 1938) … and where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946. We didn’t have time for the WW2 sites – but we did get to clamber around the massive, 900-year-old ramparts and the storybook Imperial Castle that looms over the old walled town.

Then, in the afternoon, we checked out the lovely old city of Wurzburg – guarded by the hilltop Fortress Marienberg, and famous for its Residenz, the vast Baroque palace built for the prince-bishops in the early 1700s. We climbed the great marble staircase … got all stiff-necked ogling the stunning ceiling frescoes by the Venetian master, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo … and traipsed through the gloriously decorated rooms (no photos allowed inside, bummer).

This morning we rode endless German autobahns to the town of Kelheim, then embarked on a pleasant small-boat trip through the lovely Danube Gorge to Weltenburg Abbey – founded by Irish or Scottish monks in about 620 AD. We lunched hugely on German dumplings and the famous dark beer that’s made here in the oldest monastery brewery in the world. Then we enjoyed a quick look-see inside the mind-bogglingly ornate chapel – which features a giant sculpture of this region’s patron saint, St George, slaying the dragon.

Finally, this afternoon, we weary-footed it across one of Europe’s oldest stone bridges (which has spanned the Danube since the 12th century, and was the starting point for the 2nd and 3rd Crusades). Then we did some more traipsing – this time down narrow lanes in magnificent Regensburg, one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities, inspecting, en route, its impressive gothic cathedral and architectural highlights.

Tonight, regrettably, we’re in a Regensburg hotel. I say ‘regrettably’ – not because the hotel’s not nice, but because, thanks to ongoing fallout from the awful floods that have swept Central Europe, our river-cruise has turned into a coach-tour. But that’s nobody’s fault … we’re still seeing heaps … the weather has, ironically, been fantastic (it was actually stinkin’ hot today, and we were all hunting for shade) … and our Mad Midlife Kiwis are still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

TOMORROW: We’ve got a long four-hour drive, crossing the border into Austria and visiting the magnificent Benedictine abbey of Melk. Each kilometre will bring us closer to Austria’s gorgeous capital: musical, historical Vienna! So watch this space …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Friday June 7, 2013

I hope you’re enjoying these riveting accounts, because our watery saga continues! We and the Amadeus Princess actually left Coblenz this morning, and spent four oh-so-luverly hours cruising up the flooded brown Rhine … ogling vine-cloaked slopes, forested cliffs, hilltop castles, and quaint riverside towns (some of them seriously underwater) … while being served a delicious Bavarian lunch (with free beer, wine and music) on the sunny top-deck.

But when we got as far as Boppard, we did a u-turn and headed back to where we started. How come? Well, despite our highest hopes and urgentest prayers, the floodwaters further east (on the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube) are still way too high, and we’d run the risk of getting our boat stuck under one of the many ancient bridges.

Time for Plan #B: What we’re doing right now is packing our bags and disembarking. And what we’ll be doing in a couple of hours is travelling by coach to the German city of Wurzburg where we’ll board the Amadeus Classic (which disembarked its passengers earlier and has been stuck up there for the week).

The reason for all this is simple: with hundreds of cruise-ships stranded on these rivers, hotels in the regions are full to overflowing – and finding enough rooms for 130+ passengers (let alone 23 Kiwis) is nigh impossible. And splitting everybody up would be even more chaotic.

So, it seems likely that we’ll have sightseeing in Wurzburg tomorrow, then do whatever necessary to get to the next place – which might even be Vienna (where other Amadeus ships are parked-up). In this fashion, then, we will eventually leapfrog our way to Budapest, arriving there as planned next Wednesday, with time still to do the planned sightseeing, etc.

There are (as you’d expect) a few grumpy types on board – threatening to sue the ship, demanding refunds, declaring they’re going straight home. But most people (Kiwis and Aussies especially) are taking it well and remaining positive and cheerful.

In fact, as we sat in the sunshine an hour ago enjoying our Bavarian lunch, we couldn’t help agreeing: “It doesn’t get much better than this!”

To demonstrate what I mean, let me tell you about yesterday …

For our alternative morning shore-excursion, we were driven out into the countryside along the gorgeous green banks of the Moselle River. En route, we passed through some of the prettiest townships you could imagine (each with its required pointy-roofed church) – and, at one point, we drove up onto a vast flat plateau of wall-to-wall crop-fields, a perfect patchwork of greens and browns and yellows that stretched from one horizon to the other.

Then, after a detour through steep-sided hills thick with lime-green woods, it suddenly appeared wedged in a hidden valley atop a high rock outcrop: the fairytale, pinch-me-please, spired-and-turreted Castle Eltz! This remarkable example of medieval architecture is fully 850 years old … has been in the same family for 33 generations … is still lived-in today … and has somehow managed to avoid the ravages of time and the destruction that invading armies (like the French) managed to inflict on so many of Germany’s castles.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. And, as we were shown through some of its 100-plus rooms, including a treasury and an armoury and a ‘knights-in-shining-armour’ dining room (all with original furnishings) it was vaguely kind-of spooky – and oohing-&-aahing reached record levels.

As castles go, this place was the real deal … as good as it gets, I reckon. And here’s the irony: If it wasn’t for the flood, we would never have seen it!

Eat your heart out, folks!

PEOPLE NEWS: Another quacky yellow duck was proudly earned this afternoon:

  • Janet took away our ‘So-Long Lingerie’ Award – for leaving her sexy black silk nightie under her pillow on the recently farewelled Amadeus Princess. Malcolm, for his part, can’t see what the problem is.

TOMORROW: We’ll be in Wurzburg, I think, and maybe Nuremberg – but we (like you) are just gonna have to wait-&-see. So don’t change channels, whatever you do …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Wednesday June 5, 2013

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To further put your minds at rest:

  1. In contrast to what you might have been watching on TV news, the weather where we are on the flooded River Rhine has been fabulous – no rain – just clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Elsewhere in Central Europe (apparently) the rain has been falling, but not here. We’ve been truly lucky.
  2. While our planned itinerary is somewhat up the wop (thanks to the flooding), we’ve still been going ashore each day and visiting gorgeous places.
    1. Yesterday, for example, we explored the marvellously restored Reichburg Castle in the stunning medieval town of Cochem – along the beautiful, vineyard-smothered Moselle River Valley. (We also enjoyed some very generous wine-tasting in an underground cellar.)
    2. And, today, we drove through southwestern Germany to the famous university centre of Heidelberg (on the Nekar River) where we toured the gigantic castle that looms silently over the town and dates way back to Roman times.
  3. River levels are definitely dropping – YEEHAA! – and we hope that, by Friday, we’ll be cruising again … doing some catch-up kilometres aboard the Amadeus Princess.
  4. We feel very sorry for people (locals and tourists) caught on other, worse affected parts of Europe’s big rivers. But we’ve grown very fond of the pretty town (Coblenz) where we’ve been docked for the past few days – it’s hard to think of a nicer place to be marooned! In fact, overall, despite the flooding, we Mad Midlife Kiwis have been having a ball!

There’s lots more to come, of course. So don’t change channels or go away.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Monday June 3, 2013

You’ve probably heard by now that Central Europe (in particular the countries we’ve come to visit: Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, etc) is being swept by extensive flooding – on a scale, according to some reports, not seen in 500 years! And, as I mentioned in the previous blog, both the Rhine and the Danube are currently closed to shipping – thanks to water-levels that are too high to allow river-boats like ours to pass safely beneath the numerous bridges.

We sure chose the right time for this Mad Midlife Adventure – right?!?

In case you’re worrying on our behalf, losing sleep, and stressing that we’re caught up in these events, I wanted to reassure you and put you in the picture:

  1. We’re FINE, all 23 of us … warm, safe, dry and in no danger. We’re still onboard the Amadeus Princess (which is safely tied up at its moorings in the lovely German city of Coblenz) … we’re free to go ashore whenever … and we’re still being well looked after by the friendly crew.
  2. Water levels on this stretch of the Rhine are still rising (we’ve been watching the water creep higher and higher across the path that runs alongside our ship), but they’re expected to peak tomorrow – at which stage, hopefully, they’ll begin to drop. How fast? How soon? How long? No one knows at this point, but we (and the hundreds of other cruise ships that are affected) are obviously hoping for the best.
  3. Our planned itinerary has been disrupted, of course, and that’s disappointing. But alternative sightseeing is being arranged by the crew (on a day-by-day basis) – so we’re not sitting around feeling miserable or bored. Today, for example, several of our group went by coach to Miltenberg, a lovely medieval town on a bend of the Rhine – and the rest of us enjoyed a warm sunny day here in Coblenz, exploring, shopping, and cable-car-riding. Tomorrow we’re heading up into the Moselle River Valley to check out the Castle Reichsburg in the town of Cochem and do some serious wine-tasting.
  4. What’s the forecast? What might the next few days hold? We can only guess at this point. But the hope is that we might soon resume our cruise up-river – albeit shortened as necessary to ensure we get to Budapest on schedule.

There’s not much else to say right now. But we’ll keep you posted, I promise. So watch this space …

This comes with a cheerful “HELLO!” from your Mad Midlife friends!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Sunday June 2, 2013

I don’t know if the rain in Spain fell mainly on the plain during the month of May. But I can tell you it fell heavily on the countries bordering the Rhine and Danube. And I can also tell you that, although today turned out to be hot and gorgeous, it was flippin’ cold to begin with – greeting us sightseeing Kiwis with a wind-chill factor that’s had us reaching for our balaclavas. (Or we would’ve, if we’d thought to bring them!)

Summertime in Germany is obviously unpredictable. But life aboard our luxury river-boat has thus-far been LUVERLY …

We spent the past two days gliding almost silently along vast stretches of green-grey waterway … surrounded both sides by forested woods and springtime greens … interrupted occasionally by small towns and industrial zones … with tankers, barges, container vessels and passenger ferries passing us (or being passed by us) as we cruised-on-by against the current.

At some point, the night before last, we crossed the border into Germany. And, early yesterday morning, we motored past the great industrial cities of Duisburg and Dusseldorf, docking around lunchtime in Cologne. This famous city, founded by the Romans, has long been an important trading centre – and is dominated by its vast Gothic Cathedral, started in 1248 as a pilgrimage church to house the relics of the three Magi. The two teetering spires (which weren’t completed until 1880) are 157 metres high, and several of us put our necks out trying to click the perfect shot!

In the evening, we continued upstream along the Rhine. And, after passing one-time-capital Bonn during the wee small hours, we arrived in Coblenz (where the Rhine and Moselle rivers merge). We went ashore this morning (in a gusty 7°) and explored this town’s romantic streets … its Old Quarter (badly damaged in WW2) … the Emperor Wilhelm Memorial … and the Schaengel Fountain.

However, some disappointing news was waiting for us back at the Amadeus Princess: due to all that May rain (which I referred to above), water-levels on both the Danube and the Rhine have risen so high that for us to proceed any further right now would be dangerous. The problem, you see, are the numerous old bridges, many of them medieval and built so low on the water that, when the rivers flood, vessels like ours simply can’t pass under them.

Anyway, for now, the authorities have closed both the Rhine and the Danube to all shipping – so we’re in limbo, playing wait-&-see!

What’ll we do tomorrow, the day after, later this week? Watch this space! But, in the meantime, there’s still plenty of fun to be had. We travelled by coach this afternoon through what is probably the most famous and most scenic stretch of the Rhine Valley, passing castle after hilltop castle … steep (almost vertical) terraced vineyards … attractive riverside villages … and ornate river-front mansions!

In another picturesque old town, Rudesheim, we rode the Winzerexpress (tourist-train) up to the Droggelgasse (centre of town) and spent a delightful couple of hours oggling its picture-postcard wine houses and garden taverns – and marvelling at the audio-ingenuity of long-gone centuries in a unique museum: Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet

An excellent time was had by all? You betcha! And while our floating hotel isn’t going anywhere in the next day or so (at least), its gourmet restaurant and comfortable cabins still feel like home!

PEOPLE NEWS: Things have been a bit slow in the quacky-yellow-duck department, but another got claimed this afternoon:

  • Margaret V scored our ‘Loo-with-a-View’ Award – for walking into the men’s toilet in Rudesheim … declaring “There’s no-one in here!” to other women in our group … then beating a hasty retreat when she disturbed a tall male who was standing innocently at the urinal.

TOMORROW: About half our group are taking another there-&-back coach-ride to Miltenberg and Wertheim – while the rest are gonna have a day off, wandering and shopping in the streets of Coblenz, and (maybe) riding a cable-car to a huge medieval hilltop fortress across the flooded Rhine. We’ll report back later …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.