Atlantic and Europe

April - May 2015
We crossed the Atlantic aboard the Royal Princess, then went with Viking River Cruises along the most historic and beautiful waterways of Europe.
  • Day32

    Flying Home

    May 26, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 57 °F

    We woke early and went to check out. We were given a box breakfast, which we ate in the hotel restaurant that was still officially closed. While our names had been included on the board in passes and luggage manifest, the driver had not been notified that he would have two extra passengers. He had to call for a larger car, and that delayed us somewhat. We had a furiously exciting drive to the airport, where a Viking representative took us to the proper gate and made sure that we got on the right airplane. Glenda wants to make sure that Shane, our travel agent knows that not even Uniworld gave us such attention. I had no metal on my person, but still I was frisked, and was required to remove my shoes.

    It is 11:30am and we have landed at Düsseldorf. Glenda is unhappy because the agent in Prague would not agree to check her luggage through to out final destination at Raleigh. We had a sandwich and started on the chocolate we brought.

    Upon boarding the flight at Düsseldorf I was called aside for another, very thorough security search. I had to empty my pockets, turn on my camera and iPad, get frisked again, and have both bags searched thoroughly. We are in the air now over Belgium.
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  • Day31

    Boat Tour of Prague

    May 25, 2015 in Czech Republic ⋅ ⛅ 64 °F

    We worked our way to the dock where a riverboat took us on an hour long cruise. On the way we happened to pass John and Dawn Mach, Canadian friends from the Viking Ingvi. They said they might meet us at the boat but we did not see them there. Before the cruise we had lunch at the Manes Restaurant, an outdoor eatery on the riverside. I got a bull mozzarella sandwich and a Czech beer. We took some more good pictures on the boat then took a bus back to the hotel. We rested in the afternoon. The cleaning lady came, so we went to the cafe and had coffee and a wonderful raspberry chocolate cake for about an hour. John and Dawn Mach joined us and the Swims for dinner at the Italian restaurant in La Corte. We had a wonderful time together and promised to keep in touch. We returned to the hotel, finished packing, and went to bed.Read more

  • Day31

    Morning On Our Own in Prague

    May 25, 2015 in Czech Republic ⋅ ⛅ 61 °F

    After breakfast we went walking with James and Marcia to the old city, taking photos all the way. The highlight of my walk was finding the home of Johannes Kepler. Another high point was a marker noting the location of a former monument to King St. Wenceslaus.

  • Day30

    Walking Tour of Prague

    May 24, 2015 in Czech Republic ⋅ ☁️ 59 °F

    We met our group at 8:20 am on the lower lobby and a Viking representative told us that the trip would be delayed for a few minutes. When the Viking representative reappeared one Chinese-American man was furious that Viking did not do what they had promised. He had raised a stink a couple of days ago on the ship because we were told that it would be a good idea to buy water when we arrived in Prague. The rest of us thought the Chinese man was being a bit extreme. We were surprised to learn that the bus would be taking us to the historical sights. Our guide's name was Anna. We were led to believe that we would be walking for about five and a half hours. We went to the old fortress and palace, then to St. Virus Church. We could've go inside because Sunday worship was about to begin, but the outside was beautiful. The bus brought us down to the old historic center of the city. We crossed the Charles Bridge and saw another beautiful old gothic church adjacent to the old town square. It was badly damaged by the Germans in World War II. I was pleased to find in the center of the square a big monument to John Huss, a pre-reformation reformer. One large Catholic Church on the square had been converted to a Hussite church until the Hussites were declared illegal after the Thirty Years War. After that all Protestants had to leave the city. The large emblem on the church was exchanged for a large ornamental chalice, a symbol of the Hussites, while the Protestant group controlled the building. Large storks nested inside the cup of the chalice, and would often deposit upon people standing below. Our guide thought this was especially horrible because storks eat frogs. She also mentioned that the Czech word for frog is "Jabba" and the word for snake is "hut." It is from these two Czech words that a villain the the Star Wars trilogy is named "Jabba the Hut." While we were there a jazz ensemble was playing such favorites as "Dinah," and "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary." When they played Louie Armstrong's " What a Wonderful World," Glenda teared up. It is a wonderful world, and this has been a wonder trip through it, both for the last thirty days and for the last sixty-five years. Next we walked through the Jewish quarter, with a thorough explanation of the history of Jews in Prague. Anna, our guide, was cheerful and had a wonderful dry sense of humor. However, her English was so heavily accented that she was difficult, and sometimes impossible to understand. Our guide on the bus from Budapest, Judith, was even more difficult to understand, but she admitted that she had learned English during the Soviet regime, and that the learned English from books and in a classroom without ever hearing any movies or broadcasts from the west by actual native English speakers. We got back on the bus, and returned to the hotel, where we ate lunch with the Swim couple. I enjoyed a bowl of onion soup and a Reuben sandwich with fries. Glenda and I came back to the room to rest before going to the Italian restaurant for supper. As it turned out, at supper time neither we nor the Swim couple were hungry, so they went shopping and we went out people watching. I got a few shots as the sun set. As we passed Smetana Hall we were given brochures about a concert. I didn't pay much attention until we got back to the room, but by then it was too late. At 8:00 pm there was a concert of Dvorak, Mozart, Rubinstein and others, but by the time I read the brochure it was already 9:00 pm. We went to the little grocery near the hotel and got some chips, bread, cheese and a Coke, and called that supper.Read more

  • Day29

    Transit to Prague

    May 23, 2015 in Czech Republic ⋅ ⛅ 63 °F

    We woke early, finished packing, ate breakfast and prepared to leave the ship for the bus ride to Prague in the Czech Republic. On the bus we passed through Slovakia and glimpsed the fortress we visited a couple of days ago in Bratislava. Now it is 2 pm and we are finishing lunch at a restaurant near Brno, from where the Moravians came to North Carolina. This is also very close to the site of the Battle of Austerlitz. We are very close to the battlefield at Austerlitz. While I was in the restroom I heard Dolly Parton's recording of "Nine to Five." I had a crusty roll, a bowl of Czech cabbage soup, and a big glass of Czech beer, all for about three dollars. I am listening to "The Moldau" in honor of Bedrich Smetana. When I get home I must download the Prague Symphony by Dvorak. The roads here are remarkably rough. At 2:50pm the bus was stopped by a policeman. We arrived in Prague about 4:30 pm and were quickly assigned a room at the Hilton hotel, then given a brief walking tour of the area around the hotel. It is an ultra modern facility with terraced balconies inside. James and Marcia Swim from Arkansas joined us on a walk to Republic Square. We reconnoitered the area, got some Czech koruns in exchange for dollars, and had a traditional Czech meal at a restaurant fairly close to the hotel. We actually saw some others down near Republic Square, but they were too expensive. A very personable young waiter took our pictures and brought us an excellent meal of schnitzel, potato salad, steamed dumplings and a huge tankard of Czech beer. We came back to the room and crashed.Read more

  • Day28

    The Beauties of Budapest

    May 22, 2015 in Hungary ⋅ 🌧 55 °F

    In the morning we took a bus tour of Budapest, ending in a walking tour around St. Stephen's Cathedral. The city is beautiful. We drove by the old palace and the ornate Parliament Building. I was especially impressed by the fact that the left side of the nave (the worshipper's left) was formerly an Islamic mosque that was incorporated into the fabric of the cathedral when it was enlarged at the beginning of the nineteenth century. After lunch Glenda went to see some performing horses. The presentation evoked the horse culture of the Magyars, who settled Hungary in the ninth century. I walked downtown with Heather and Don from California. Once we got our money exchanged, we visited the House of Terror, a museum showing the horrors of both the Nazi and the Soviet occupation of Hungary in the twentieth century. Next we went to the 4:00 pm tour of the Budapest Opera House. Picture-taking cost an extra five forits, and a mini concert consisting of an opera singer performing one five-minute aria to recorded music cost an extra ten. I opted out of both offers. After supper Heather and I went up to St. Matthias Church with our tripods and cameras to photograph Budapest by night. We had a great time using all our toys to capture some truly wonderful images.Read more

  • Day27

    Evening Arrival in Budapest

    May 21, 2015 in Hungary ⋅ 🌧 55 °F

    We arrived in Budapest at 10:05 pm. All the buildings were lit up like Christmas trees. We stood in intermittent rain up on the sun deck snapping photos furiously for two hour. The Captain was so thoughtful. He cruised through the city, then turned around and cruised back through to reach our anchorage. The result was that we got two good opportunities to photograph every one of the beautiful illuminated buildings we saw. I had heard once from an airline attendant that Budapest was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. She was right.Read more

  • Day27

    In the Wheelhouse

    May 21, 2015 in Slovakia ⋅ ⛅ 55 °F

    There was an opportunity today to visit the Captain in the wheelhouse to see how the ship is run. There is not a big ship's wheel but rather a little joystick. There are GPS, depth finder, and other equipment to assure that the driver knows exactly where he is on the Rhine.

  • Day27

    Beautiful Bratislava

    May 21, 2015 in Slovakia ⋅ ⛅ 52 °F

    We did a quick bus tour of Bratislava this morning, and finished it with a walk through the old fortress and the downtown area. The Czech Republic is really trying hard to make self government work. Katerina our guide had a wonderful wit, and was frank, humorous yet cynical about the ability of government (any government) to fulfill its promises. From noon until 1:30 pm I had a long talk with John and Dawn from Canada. He enjoys photography, and is finding great satisfaction in his church. It has a Mennonite heritage, but a contemporary format.Read more

  • Day26

    The Splendor of Vienna

    May 20, 2015 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 63 °F

    In the morning we took a bus tour of Vienna, driving by the concert hall of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the opera house, the city hall, the coffee shop frequented by Sigmund Freud, and many other places. As we walked to St. Stephen's Church, we toured the HofburgPalace, and went by the house of Franz Josef Haydn, the court musician to the Hapsburgs. Although the cathedral was magnificent, it had been decorated with ultraviolet light, and garish blue modern art. We took a few photos just to prove that we had been there. We happened to find Sacha in front of the church and asked him if there were a good coffee shop nearby. He mentioned one a couple of blocks away. We went there and enjoyed a good apple streusel and a cup of coffee. The streusel was not much different from good pastries I have eaten at home. The coffee, though, was magnificent. It was not as strong as espresso, but much stronger than any other "American" coffee I have ever tasted. When we had been there just a few minutes Sacha joined us. He and I got into another discussion on Mithraism, a subject in which he seems passionately interested. After lunch on the ship, I went to tour the Schoenbrunn Palace, the summer palace of Maria Theresa, (or "Theresia," as she is known here). Again, the magnificence of the palace was overwhelming. Another tourist and I kept wondering where she actually lived, this is to say, where did she spend her private time. There were two relatively small rooms near the corner off from her bedroom. Our best guess was that these smaller rooms may actually have been her "nest." Afterwards we had an hour free to ourselves. Since we could not take photographs above stairs, I got some shots out in the garden. Glenda cared more for the excursion with Chef Denes into Vienna to shop in the food markets. She brought back several goodies for me for the market, including a kind of Austrian cheese called "bergkase," or "mountain cheese." It was stinky, strong and delicious. After supper we went back to the palace, this time to the redoubt room for a concert of Viennese music by yet Vienna Residents Orchestra. Most of the pieces were by Mozart and Strauss, with a flute duet accompanied by orchestra by Doppler, and a movement for the unfinished symphony by Brahms. I had to pinch myself to believe that I was in Vienna, in the Hapsburg Palace, listening to the music of Mozart and Haydn. The room was recently restored after a fire destroyed it. It is the same hall in which John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev met for the Vienna Summit in June 1961. The man seated next to Glenda insisted on stomping his feet in time with the music, shaking the floor and disturbing all of us around him. On this, trip wonder follows,wonder. My "wow meter" pegged out a long time ago back in Cologne. After the concert it was raining as we headed for the bus. When we returned to the ship about 11 pm, Chef Denes had prepared for us a nighttime snack of Hungarian goulash, and champagne.Read more