Bratislava, Slovakia

This morning we went on a walking tour of Bratislava’ a small town but the largest in Slovakia.  They used to be part Czechoslovakia but were separated only 25 years ago.  Most here are Roman Catholic.  We visited the large cathedral of St. Martins with a statue of St. Martin.  The main square has 4 styles of architecture, baroque, gothic, renaissance and art nouveau.  The most photographed statue in the city is the one of the man coming out of the manhole in the sidewalk.  We also saw a statue of Hans Christian Anderson who visited the city and when asked to write a fairy tale about Bratislava replied “No!  Your city is already like a fairy tale!”  We did some shopping and then returned to the ship to have a grilled lunch on the sky deck and my hamburger was raw in the middle again.  We met 2 Canadians from BC who work for Inglobus.  We sat on the sky deck and read all afternoon.  The supper was the farewell gala special chefs supper.  We had beef tenderloin.

Melk Abbey and Durnstein

We were able to sleep in a bit longer today because our first tour to the Melk Abbey was not until 9:30. Melk is a UNESCO site and there are also 900 students going to school there. There are 7 courtyards and a garden with fountains.  The large mural in the hallway is of St. Benedict who is the patron saint of Europe. It was a 50 minute tour and we could not take photos inside.  There are 5 libraries, and we saw 2 of them. The town of Melk has 5600 people. We could have walked back to the ship but it was our hottest day so far, over 30 degrees, so we took the short bus ride back. We both were so hot in the Abbey we thought we would pass out.

After lunch, we sailed through the Wachau valley which is famous for growing apricots and saffron. The apricots are smaller but much sweeter. We went to sit outside,  as it started to pour rain. But it only lasted half an hour, then the sun returned just in time for the tour to Durnstein.

Janet decided to stay onboard on the sky deck.  I went on the one hour walking tour of Durnstein.  The church tower was blue, and I went in some of the shops and put my feet in the Danube. I joined Janet on the sky deck until supper.

Janet had the roast beef dinner, I ordered sole but it was not cooked properly and was too salty, and was all skin, so asked for roast beef too. We had apricot dumplings for dessert

Salzburg and Mondsee, Austria

The ship arrived in the town of Passau in Austria this morning.  It is situated on the crux of 3 rivers and is about 1 hour from the Czech border.  The big forest between Austria, Bavaria and Czechoslovakia was No Mans Land until 1989 when the Iron curtain fell.  You can now enter it but there are no houses or anything.  Austria was occupied in WWII and split into 4 pieces until 1956.  Austria’s population is 8.5 million.  The German autobahn’s don’t have any speed limits because fast cars like BMWs (Bavarian Motor Works) and Porches are produced here and they want you to be able to drive them at high speeds.

We took an optional excursion to Salzburg which means fortress of salt.  Salzburg was one of the wealthiest cities in the country in the 16th century.  It is the birthplace of Mozart and parts of The Sound of Music were filmed here.  We walked through the Mirabel Gardens.  The scene where the children are singing around the fountain was shot here.  Then we walked over the bridge to the old town, saw where Mozart lived and continued through to St. Peter’s Basilica etc.  We were then given free time so Janet and I entered the Italian basilica and sat and listened to the service with beautiful organ and choir music but didnt stay too long as it was in Austrian.  Next we saw the Franciscan cloistered garden and then went in St. Peter,s Basilica which was dark and quiet.  Next to this was St. Peter’s Cemetery with the large gates that were in the Sound of Music film when they were hiding from the Nazis.  The cemetery has many wrought iron markers instead of stones, some fairly new.  We wandered around looking for somewhere to get a drink and ended up at McDonald’s for an Ice Cappacino and a cookie for lunch.  We walked back early to the meeting place to wait for the rest of the group.

Another half hour drive and we arrived at the town of Mondsee where the church that the VonTrapps were married in, in the movie is (not where they were really married).  This is a minor basilica, one of 24 in the world.  There are only 6 major basilicas and they are all in Rome and Assisi.  On Sundays, it is customary for. Austrians to go to church, and then to to for beer afterwards.  in the afternoon, they sit and drink coffee and eat cake.  After looking around here, we walked back to the lake and sat in the shade.  Lake Mondsee is a beautiful turquoise lake with the Alps in the background.  The water is so clean you can drink it.  We would have liked to have stayed here longer but it was time to go back to the bus and drive back to the boat which is now docked at Linz.  I had the salmon for supper and Janet had pasta.  

Weltenburg Abby and Regensburg

At 8:30 a bus took us to Kelheim where we boarded a boat to take us through the narrowest part of the Danube River.  This part of the Danube Gorge is a UNESCO site and the boats are only allowed to go 6 km an hour.  We passed the Liberation Centre up on a hill built in 1863 with 18 statues of goddesses around the top representing the18 Germanic tribes.  We passed a pale green Franciscan church and limestone cliffs.  Once through the gorge, we came upon the Weltenburger Monastery founded by monks in 620 a.d.  The Abby was constructed in the baroque style in 1750.  Originally there were 26 monks but now there are 5 plus an Abbott.  Inside there is a statue of St. George on a horse slaying a dragon on top of the main altar.  The organ is from 1729 and is in active service.  The large fresco in the “dome” ceiling is actually flat.  The monks have the oldest monastery brewery but only make one kind of beer now, a dark lager which is what we were given along with a large salty pretzel in the beer garden outside the church but still within the walls of the monastery.  

We then drove back to the boat, had a quick lunch and then went on a walking tour of Regensburg, the 4th largest city in Germany built in 179 a.d.  This was a very large city in medieval times and is a UNESCO site as it has the largest cluster of medieval buildings left.  It is also called the city of towers as prominent, wealthy citizens would build a family tower on their homes.  We saw the large gothic cathedral and the old town hall etc.  When the tour finished we walked over to see a cuckoo clock demonstration in a store.   Cuckoo clocks originated in the Black Forest.  As we were leaving we realized it was now pouring rain, thundering and lightening and Janet had left her umbrella on the boat and I had left my rain jacket there also.  Any other time, we would have them!  We waited and waited for it to die down.  Finally we decided to make a run for it.  

The oldest sausage kitchen in all of Germany is in Regensburg and we had a voucher for a free sausage and beer each but we decided to forget it and raced back to the ship.  We were pretty wet by the time we got back.  We had a shower and then went to the lounge for a beer tasting.  We tried 4 different types of beer, Bright Lager, Premium. Pilsner, Dark Lager and Wheat Beer.  Janet liked # 1 best, I liked #2 best.

Nuremberg and the Continental Divide

After breakfast we boarded a bus for a half hour drive to the city of Nuremberg in northern Bavaria with a population of half a million.  As well as the Nuremberg Trials, it is famous for ginger bread cookies and finger size sausages.  Our first stop was outside the courthouse where the International Military Tribunal tried 24 of the most important Nazi leaders of the Third Reich in 1945/46.  The top right window is Court room  600 where they took place.  The prisoners were held in cells underneath, one prisoner per one cell, one guard each.  12 were sentenced to hang, 7 to long term prison sentences and 3 were acquitted.  Hermann Goring was sentenced to death but committed suicide the night before.  No one really knows how he did it.  

Next we visited the Zeppelin Field, where Nazi Party rallies were held between 1933 to 1938.  Hitler would stand before 200,000 SS and SA and Nazi youth to demonstrate the unity of the country in a propagandistic way with 3 large swastika flags hanging behind him.  The field is now a memorial but is used for rock concerts and car races sometimes.

We then drove to the Documentation Centre which is a museum that houses the exhibition “Fascination and Terror” concerned with “the causes, connections, and consequences of Nazi Germany”.    We listened to audioguides and saw original film footage as well as photo boards.  At the end we saw the unfinished Congress Hall designed to hold 50,000 people and the Holocaust railroad exhibit showing “tickets” with names of the victims and each ticket represents 100 victims.  

We returned to the ship, had lunch and were allowed up on the sky deck because at 3 pm, we passed the Continental Divide.  A large cement structure that marks the highest point of navigable water in the world that can be reached by a ship.  It is the point where water to the north drains down to the North Sea and on the other side, water drains south into the Black Sea.  Once past this, the locks start going down hill now.  They are very deep locks here too.  We had cannelloni, mustard soup, and icecream for supper. 

Bamberg

After breakfast we boarded a bus to take us to the Romanesque town of Bamberg situated on 7 hills where the Main River meets the Regnitz.  It is more than 1000 years old and has a population of 77,000.  Bamberg has the highest density of breweries in all of Germany and produces 60 different beers, including the world famous Smoked Beer that has a bacon flavour.  There are 65 churches in Bamberg and 14000 students live here.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site because so many of the buildings are originals from the 13th to 19th century.  Not even 5% of the buildings were destroyed in the WW!!.  Many of the original half timbered houses from the 13th century have baroque facades covering the originals.  The oldest brewery in Germany is situated here.  We walked along the river and up the hill to the huge cathedral and residence, admired the rose gardens and then walked down to the Main Street where the half timbered Town Hall was built in the middle of the river.  The town hall has frescos on the sides.  It was very hot so after having a look inside the cathedral, we walked back along the river To wait for the bus to return to the ship.  After lunch we sat outside in the front of the ship and read and slept.  At 3 pm we had a tour of the galley which is very small and 11 people work in it.  It was suffocatingly hot!  We went back outside until tea time and then got ready for supper.

Wurzberg

After breakfast we boarded a bus that took us to into the centre of Wurzberg, known for its baroque and rococo architecture.  We were taken on a tour of The Residenz, a palace with a large fresco on the ceiling over the large staircase depicting the 4 continents, ornate rooms with gilded trim and mirrors.  It was destroyed in WWII in 1945 but the ceiling over the staircase painted by Venetian artist Tiepolo was saved.  The rest has been painstakingly restored.  We had a look at the chapel and then toured the large garden with sculpted yews, statues, fountains and a rose garden in full bloom.  

Next we walked to the centre of town where we were free to wonder.  Janet and I walked to the bridge over the river with statues and good views of the castle (different from the palace).  On our way back we entered the large cathedral and sat for a while in the cool looking at the organ and interesting stained glass and statues.  The bus took us back in time for lunch.  We had turkey and gravy, some noodles dishes, salad and icecream.      

We sat outside on the deck reading and drifting off to sleep until 3 pm when Brum gave a talk about the optional tours available on the rest of the trip.  This ended just in time for tea.  We returned to the skydeck until supper.  I had ravioli and Janet had beef tenderloin.

Miltonberg, Bavaria

We had a pleasant cruise on the Main River, Bavaria this morning.  Most of the sky deck was closed due to not being able to fit underneath bridges when it is open, so we went to the back deck on the third floor where the smokers go but it was very hot and the fumes from the motor were bad.  We moved to the front deck on the 2nd floor past the lounge.  This was much nicer with more comfortable chairs.  We stayed there until lunch time.  A man played a zither for about an hour in the lounge.

After lunch we all went on a walking tour of the historic town of Miltonberg, population 10,000.  Our guide’s name was Heidi and she was very good.  Gutenberg invented the printing press using carved letters here in 1450.  Mainz has 20 of the 50 Gutenberg Bibles that are left in the world.  Some of the half timbered houses are 4500 years old!  The oldest hotel in Europe is here on the Main Street.  There are signs on the outside walls saying when they were built.  During our free time we walked up the stone stairs, through an archway and along a cobblestone pathway to castle where there were scenic views of the town and river below.  We kept going and found our way back down a steep cobblestone path back to the Main Street and square.  We walked back, boarded the ship and at 4 pm we had tea and cake on the front deck.  We stayed there dozing and reading and watching the scenery until it was time to get ready for supper.  We sat with a New Zealand couple, Jimmy and Elizabeth who are late 70s, early 80s and have only been married for 7 months.  We both had the watercress soup and the pork with pistachio icecream for dessert.

Rhine Valley and Rudesheim

After breakfast we sat upstairs on lounge chairs on the sky deck.  It was a beautiful sunny day as we cruised through the Rhine Valley on the Rhine River, Germany with green hills and quaint villages, castles sitting atop high cliffs, steep sloping vineyards and steepled churches on either side.  The Rhine River starts in Switzerland and ends in the Northern Sea.  This stretch of 60 miles between Koblenz and the Main River is called the Romantic Rhine and is designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The 80 castles were all built in the Middle Ages, the 12th or 13th centuries.  The villages are quaint but isolated, residents have to commute to Koblenz or Frankfurt.  Also there are lots of noisy trains passing all the time but they are essential for industry.  The river is pretty clean and people swim and fish in it.

After lunch we docked in the small town of Rudesheim where we boarded a little choo choo train which took us to the centre of the old village.  Some of the passengers went on a cable car and the rest went in the Siegfried Mechanical Museum.  It houses a fascinating private collection of automatic mechanical musical instruments.  A guide took us into different rooms of the old Bromserhof house with frescos from the 13th century and played several of these unusual instruments, showing how they work and where they were played.  Afterwards we strolled around the cobblestones streets looking at the shops, ending at a restaurant for a demonstration and tasting of a special Rudesheim Brandy Chocolate coffee made in special cups with whipped cream.  We wandered through the town and a park back to the ship.  We discovered that the sky deck will be closed for a least the next 2 days, maybe longer, as it wont fit under the bridges on the Main River unless they take down the upper deck.

Cologne, Germany

We were able to sleep in a bit today.  After a buffet breakfast, we went up on the sky deck and laid in the sun on lounge chairs, reading and watching the scenery.  After lunch we docked in Cologne, West Germany with a population of just over 1 million.  We went on an hour and a half walking tour.  Our guide lead us under the Train Bridge which has over 1200 trains a day pass over it.  The railings have been covered with padlocks put there by couples as a symbol of their eternal love.  The locks now weigh over 22 tons! And engineers have told the city they should take them off the bridge but they haven’t.  

In Roman times, Cologne was on the border between the civilized Romans and the barbaric Germanic people to the north.  Cologne has the largest Jewish community north of the Alps.  Ninety percent of the city was destroyed during WWII, however, the huge Gothic style cathedral was spared, mainly because the Allies used the cathedral as a point of orientation to bomb the rest of the city and because there were no military personnel housed in it.  Also, the foundation pilings of the cathedral go 40 feet into the ground.  The construction of the cathedral started in 1248 and was not finished until 1880, 600 years later.  This giant gothic cathedral is one of the largest in the world, a medieval church finished in the 19th century and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It has a 5 aisled basilica, 2 spires, 12 tombs, a shrine believed to hold the bones of the Magi, a black limestone slab altar believed to be the largest in any Christian church, and the largest existing cycle of stained glass windows in Europe as well as many other masterpieces.  It is very costly to maintain, approximately 20,000 Euro per day, 7 million Euro per year. 

After our guided tour, we wandered through the cathedral, walked to the train bridge, through the park with many German families enjoying the nice weather and then strolled through a flea market and ended up back at the ship.  For supper I had the sea bass with rice, Janet had pork, sausage and mashed potatoes.  A swing band came on board for our entertainment in the lounge.