Category Archives: Europe 2016

Vienna -Day 1


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While most took a bus into the city centre on our first morning in Vienna, we jumped at the offer of an optional walking/transit tour.   The ship was just a five minute walk to a subway station and, from there we took a 10 minute ride into the city centre.

We walked from the Vienna Opera House (built in the mid 1800s), past beautiful Baroque style buildings as our guide oriented us to the city and its history. He  suggested we try sacher torte or various other delicacies in the Viennese coffee houses, pointing out the famous Demel Cafe with its amazing sugar sculptures in the windows.   He even recommended we check out the 19th century public toilets. Since each large cubicle was replete with tiny washbasin (similar to that in a sleeper on a train) – I couldn’t help but take a photo.

In the Jewish quarter the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (or “Nameless Library”) was in stark contrast to the historic  buildings surrounding it.   A steel and concrete box, the walls resemble library shelves filled with books with their spines turned inward.  The books represent the vast number of Holocaust victims and the concept of Jews as “People of the Book”.  I found it very moving.

That afternoon we went to the Naschmarkt and then to the Belvedere Palace to see the Klimt collection.  Built in early 1700 as a palace of two buildings and garden for Prince Eugene, the complex now serves as an art gallery.  The most impressive group of paintings is that of the Austrian, Gustav Klimt.  They provide an interesting chronology of his work and the changes in his style over the years.   We were sorry not to have realized earlier that the Belvedere also had a special exhibition of Ai Wei Wei.  There was not enough time to take advantage of it but we could see one of his installations, called F Lotus, in the entrance park.  Composed of 1,005 life jackets arranged in the shape of the letter F and floating like lotus blossoms,  it is the artist’s statement about the current refugee crisis.

That evening we went to a spectacular concert by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (VSO) in the beautiful Wiener Musikverein.  Inaugurated in 1870, the hall is of neoclassical design and the acoustics are outstanding.  Thankfully, we lucked out with good seats in the first row of the balcony which gave us an excellent view of the orchestra (people just one row behind us would have had limited visibility).  With a history of conductors such as Joseph Krips and Herbert Von Karajan, it was no surprise that the orchestra was superb. We were treated to a return performance of 92 year old Georges Prêtre, conductor of the VSO from 1986-91, who was obviously a favourite of the audience.  Viennese pianist, Rudolf Buchbinder, played an arrangement of Die Fledermaus and conducted as well as played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1.

We had anticipated to wind up the evening having dinner in a quaint little Viennese restaurant but were disappointed to find very few places open for a meal.  We ended up in a rather funky American-style restaurant called Sparky’s!

Wachau Valley Winery

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After returning to the ship (finally docked in Melk) around mid-day, we set off again towards Krems through “the Wachau” (another UNESCO World Heritage site).  Reputed to be a lovely stretch of the River Danube, it was cool and rainy so I don’t have too many photos of the medieval villages and ruined castles in the hills. I popped out occasionally to the open deck at the bow but I’m afraid shivers make me shake the camera, so I have deleted most 😉

The winery in the Wachau Valley was the one “optional tour” that we took (i.e. paid extra for) and we were very pleased we did.  The winery is a cooperative for the multiple small growers throughout the valley and, although they produce just 3% of Austrian wine, it is reputed to be amongst the best in Central Europe.  As we toured the cellars and saw the various production tanks and barrels, we were treated to 5 tastings in all and we were pleasantly surprised at each – all were dry and very good.  We were also treated to an excellent 4-D movie which highlighted the region, its terroir, the viticulture and processing. The 3-D photography was beautiful and it was enhanced by the smells of the apple blossoms, the earth, the grapes, the musk, and finally the wines themselves.

Sadly, I doubt we can get any of their wines in BC. But – I will definitely check for that Riesling!


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A friend of ours was born in Melk, so we were particularly interested in visiting this small Austrian town, significant because of its beautiful abbey.  Once again, the ship was held up by locks and could not get to Melk on the expected schedule, so we were bused directly up the hill to the abbey from a nearby town, .

This community of Benedictine monks is over 900 years old, presented to the monastic order by Leopold II of Badenberg; however the existing fortified palace was built between 1702 and 1736.  Monks are still in residence and they also run a prestigious non-residential school for 700 girls and boys.

The highlight of our tour through the numerous rooms was the multi-storey library. Comprising 8 rooms in all, it contains over 80,000 medieval manuscripts. We were not allowed to take photographs indoors, so I had to make do with a postcard.

The twin-spired Abbey Church was resplendent with plaster statues, angels and saints, amazing frescoes and a painted octagonal dome. Baroque architecture at its best.

We could, however take photos of the courtyard, outer buildings and the garden “Baroque Pavillion.  The garden was adorned with some strange cut-out animals – I couldn’t help but capture the monkey in the arbour!

We walked down into the town and thought how the town centre had probably changed little since Gary had spent his early years here in the 1930s.

Thanksgiving (Oct.10)

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We couldn’t let our Thanksgiving go unnoticed, so Tony and I approached the ship’s Program Director early on in the trip to see if we could have some sort of gathering. The response was lukewarm but she suggested the concierge could possibly send something (we wrote) out to all Canadians.  We drafted a notice to meet in the lounge a few nights hence and it, supposedly, went to all cabins of Canadians.  About 7 couples showed up and we discussed asking for a turkey meal (although we were not optimistic) and, at the very least sitting together in the dining room Monday the 10th.  Over the next few days the word had gotten out and we found more Canadians, some of whom had not received the first notice.  All in all we had a list of 34 people even though the ship had only 26 on their roster.

During the week before we found various little things like gourds of different shapes and colours and wooden leaves resembling maple leaves to adorn the tables. We found  red cardboard from which Tony cut out many more maple leaves and I even found a little wooden moose to use as a prize for a quiz.  In Nuremberg we were delighted to find a store that sold flags, team scarves, etc.  A Canadian flag was procured!

That evening the ship’s crew surprised us with a cocktail party in the lounge before dinner and they had also decorated the tables with red and white napkins for the occasion.  Turkey was not on the menu (we enjoyed the same menu planned for all) but that didn’t dampen the spirit. Tony and I had enjoyed putting together a Canadian quiz earlier that day and, although many had met each other prior to the dinner, it really added some merriment to the evening.  Not only was it a Canadian holiday – but Oct 10th was also the birthday of two of our group.

All in all, a very memorable Thanksgiving!


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That afternoon we ventured by taxi into Austria (just across the river Inn) to the quaint little town of Scharding. It was the destination of a Viking optional tour by boat but, agreeing that we really didn’t want to pay to go on another boat, Donna and Norm suggested we share a taxi to the town.

The driver was also a good guide, explaining how Germans from Passau and area would often go into Austria just so that they could smoke while they drank and….even use their phone while they drove (both barred in Germany)! He drove a more picturesque route into Scharding (checking out a park with a centuries old well and rather cute sandbox) and then took the highway back.

We walked around the pastel-coloured buildings in Scharding, checked out the stocks in the town square, then wandered into a pub (took photos only) and a great home décor shop that had a special Christmas display in their basement caves.

Once back in Passau, we just had to check out another pastry shop before returning to the ship 🙂


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Our visit to this lovely city, at the confluence of three rivers (Danube, Inn, Ilz) was capped with a concert in its 17th Century St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The diocese of Passau was founded in 739 by an Celtic monk and it remained the largest of the Holy Roman Empire for many years. “White gold” (salt) was the economic foundation of the town – it was transported from the Alps to Passau for processing – until they lost their monopoly in 1707. Most of the original buildings were destroyed by fire in the 17th century and were rebuilt in Baroque style.

While waiting for the concert we followed friends from Britain through the narrow streets to find the recommended place for strudel and a coffee. With Canadian Thanksgiving plans in the works, we were surprised to see that they had a special “Thanksgiving Strudel”!

With 17,974 pipes, the beautiful baroque St. Stephan’s Cathedral boasts the world’s largest pipe organ. The pipes are spread throughout 5 areas of the church – three sets at the back, one set at the front behind the altar, and the other set in the extremely high ceiling – stereo at its best. The first bars of Bach’s Toccata, Air & Fugue in D minor gave me goosebumps – it was such a magnificent sound. It’s not surprising that Liszt was inspired to write his Hungarian Coronation Mass here!

Since our boat was held up by a boat literally stuck in a lick, we were offered lunch in town by Viking. Planning an afternoon excursion with Donna and Norm, we sat with them and had some photos taken (including our menu and the history of the 600 year-old restaurant).



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This is one of the few cities that escaped much damage during WWII. As one of Europe’s most preserved Medieval cities, it is no wonder that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The 12th century stone bridge, with its 16 arches, is beautiful and still carries traffic from one side of the city to the other. St. Peter’s Cathedral is another example of a church built over a 600 year period. A few parts are Baroque architecture, while the majority is Gothic.

We strolled around the city, enjoying the holiday-like ambience of a Sunday. Evidently this was the one Sunday in the year when shops were open in the town and local families were taking advantage of it. There was also a band playing in the square and beer was flowing. Tourists and locals alike tapped our feet and swayed to 60s American rock tunes (somehow incongruent in Bavaria but…it was fun)!


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This was an interesting day: starting out with evidence of the absolute megalomania of Hitler, followed by the beauty of the old fortress, and then to the amazing amount of work done to save the works of art in and around the city from being destroyed during WWII.

The bus from the ship took us around the area where Hitler held his massive rallies once a year. 10,000 shouted their allegiance to “The Fuhrer” in the massive Zeppelin Field during the Nazi regime and he had plans to build a new Congress Hall to rival the Roman Colosseum but only 2/3 of the outer structure was completed before the end of the war. It is now used as a documentation centre (in one small part of it) and the rest of the structure is used for storage of Christmas market stalls. Since we were driving around and through it in a bus, I could not hope to get an adequate picture of the size of this complex. It was fitting that, immediately afterwards, we drove by the Palace of Justice, the venue of the Nazi war trials.

The 13th century walls (3 miles in all), gateways, and 80 original watch-towers are still intact around the old city of Nuremberg. Amazingly, most were not destroyed during WWII (some were reconstructed). We walked around the medieval Palace within the walls, and then ventured down into the town which is still highlighted by half-timbered houses, Gothic fountains and churches. The market area was busy with many stalls and various street performers, including a musician whose dog sat on a cushion on top of his accordion – a great draw for tourists and, surprisingly, the dog seemed to be enjoying himself as well!

After the tour Tony and I found a traditional restaurant that served Nuremberg bratwurst (by this time we had learned that each town has its own speciality). Nuremberg sausages were a specified width – thin enough to be stuffed through the keyhole after forced closing time of an establishment (although we didn’t find out how they got the requisite beer through that same keyhole!). The standard fare is 6 sausages and either sauerkraut or a rather sloppy potato salad on a traditional v-shaped plate. We shared both.

Then we did a tour of the art bunkers of Nuremberg. Originally built as beer cellars, these underground caves were fortified with insulation and air conditioning to enable the preservation of centuries-old artifacts from Nuremberg and further afield. The displays throughout the rooms show how priceless statues, stained glass windows, and paintings were taken down, crated, and stored in these caves. The “Monuments Men” (art historians in the US army) managed to prevent the looting and theft of many pieces of art stored here during the Battle of Nuremberg. Photos were discouraged but I could not help but take a photo near the end of the tour of an exhibit showing a few of the bombs that fell on the city.

In the final few “rooms” there were two fascinating videos showing the major buildings after the battle and what they looked like after reconstruction, and then the plan for the city after the war and how they decided what to restore and what to tear down and start over. From what we saw – the reconstruction effort was immense and incredibly well done. We went into St. Sebaldus Church after the tour, having seen how the stained glass windows were saved and somehow they had much greater significance than they would have otherwise.

As we wandered through the town square afterwards, there was a party atmosphere – a number of people were dancing and there was wine and beer as well as bratwurst and other delicacies to purchase. An Italian fair was taking place on the bridge on our way back to the bus – it was tempting to try some wine and pasta but…dinner awaited on the Bragi.


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Our walk into Bamberg started at the home of the famous Bamberg Symphony. Along the way we found the first of many signs in this town stencilled onto walls and streets to welcome refugees. The old city, another UNESCO site, was founded in 902 and the streets are filled with beautiful Baroque patrician houses. Emperor Heinrich II made Bamberg the centre of the Hold Roman Empire in 1007.  Built on 7 hills, each with a church on top, it was modelled after Rome. The Cathedral dates from the 11th century and houses the tombs of both Emperor Heinrich and his wife as well as Pope Clement II.  It was rebuilt in gothic style in the 13th century.

Behind the cathedral is the old residence of the Prince-Bishop (with lovely window boxes filled with red and white flowers under each of the windows) which now houses a museum and concerts are often held in the courtyard. We gather the last 3 Musketeers movie was also filmed here. Across the street is the “New Residence” which was built to replace the old, less opulent, dwelling. Built in Baroque style, one wing was never completed because, rather than a symmetrical U-shaped, it forms an L. The rose garden at the back of the building was still beautiful even in October.

The Protestant Reformation later cut the bishopric’s territory in half and in the 17th century Bamberg became a centre for witch trials (5 of its mayors were even burned at the stake, suspected of being accomplices to black magic).

The Altes Rathaus (old town hall) is situated on a small island on the Regnitz River, supposedly because the Bishop refused to give the city land. The outer walls are covered in colourful murals. Looking over the bridge up the river we noticed a gondola – a smart entrepreneur taking advantage of the town’s claim to being the “Venice of Germany”.

We never miss a walk around the local market, resplendent with delicious looking vegetables and fruits and again we found an amazing selection of mushrooms (including lobster mushrooms that I had been introduced to by Laura and Sean). We ventured into a bookshop and upstairs found remnants of an earlier time – an ancient porcelain stove in the corner of a room. As we walked back to the bus to take us to the ship, we found the ubiquitous “love locks” along the bridge.

Tony didn’t try the local Rauchbier (smoke beer).  Perhaps it was because our guide likened it to drinking from an ashtray.


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Our walking tour guide took us along the riverbank and up steps to an historic stone bridge, first built in 1120, restored in 1476, great damaged in 1945, and restored once again. He mentioned that it was traditional to purchase a glass of the local wine in the little restaurant on the side of the bridge and take it out to enjoy the view of the Marienberg Fortress on the opposite side of the river. Despite the grey weather we and some new friends decided to do so before we headed back to the ship.

The tour took us through the town, another city with roots in the Roman Empire, built up in the 18th century, but heavily damaged from bombing during WWII. The large square has a distinctive, permanent Maypole beside the church – a tradition I attributed to Britain, not to Germany! The guide pointed out the best place to try their famous bratwurst in a bun – a small kiosk in the marketplace that Tony and I noted for a quick snack after the tour.

Then we proceeded to Wurzburg Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage site which was built over a 25 year period, starting in 1719, for the Wurzburg Prince-Bishop. A magnificent palace, it had truly stunning frescoes, some of which were saved from the bombing of the building because they were painted in ceilings that were arched. It was interesting to learn that the paintings that had survived had not been retouched at all, yet the colours were still quite vibrant. Evidently this was because the painter worked on them while the plaster was still wet, therefore permanently setting the colour. Sadly, I could not photograph the frescoes or the magnificent rooms (reminiscent of Versailles) but I could the beautiful gardens and grounds outdoors. Although most of the ceilings and floors of the Imperial Apartments were destroyed  in 1945, the furnishings and wall panelling were removed, and therefore preserved, beforehand.  Restoration was completed in 1987.

We returned to the town, had a bratwurst standing in the square, then after hunting for a few things for our Canadian Thanksgiving celebration, made our way to the bridge and some wine. We enjoyed the company of Donna and Norm from Niagara on the Lake.

On our way back to the boat we passed a park that had some intriguing sculptures. They were meant to be turned and each twirl produced a sound. How could you resist?