Author Archives: Greta

Off to Eastern Europe

Leaving Budapest

The last night of our Amsterdam to Budapest cruise was awful. My throat felt like I’d swallowed a bucketful of rusty razor blades. Breathing hurt, swallowing was excruciating and sleeping was impossible. We had our bags packed and standing outside the door, ready to be on our way for the Eastern European leg of our tour, but frankly, I would just as soon have gone home. But that’s easier said than done – flights, hotels etc. Apart from that, I didn’t fancy the prospect of a long-haul flight feeling the way I did. I consoled myself with the knowledge that it was going to be a big bus with only sixteen passengers so we could spread out, and all but two of our fellow travellers had already been subjected to the lurgy doing the rounds on the ship. A few of them still had vestiges. Besides, what I had was a throat infection, not a virus. If nobody tried kissing me they should be fine.

Our new tour director, Tomas, was informed of my situation and arranged for a doctor to call on me when we reached out hotel in Cracow. With something to look forward to, I did my best to enjoy the drive.

The town square where we stopped for lunch

On the way through the Hungarian countryside, Tomas explained a few things about being on this side of what used to be the Iron Curtain. One of the most important issues for us was that everybody became so accustomed to drinking crappy coffee that they persuaded themselves they liked it, and that was how it came. When we stopped for lunch in a small town, he was proved right. Being a Sunday, not much was open, but we snared a couple of take-away sandwiches in the equivalent of a 711, and then bought coffee at an ice cream shop (as you do). We opted for a latte, and Tomas was absolutely right. It was horrible.

Hang-gliders like confetti in the sky

The roads were packed on what we were told everyone assumed was probably going to be the last sunny weekend before Autumn took hold. The skies were packed, too. This is just a small number of the hang gliders floating around up there in this area. It’s a national forest, and bears and wolves live in there. We also passed by Orava castle, perched on a rock above the river of the same name. It looks a bit like Bran castle (Dracula’s castle) but that’s in Romania.

Orava castle

Eventually we made it through the thick traffic to our hotel in Cracow, across the road from the Vistula River, next to the castle and not very far at all from the Old City (as we would soon discover).

We passed on the city orientation tour, more interested in the arrival of the doctor. She was escorted up to our room, a pleasant young woman who spoke good English. We still had to resort to a bit of body language every now and then, but there was no doubt she understood. My lungs were clear (good) my throat was inflamed. She wrote out a note for me, explaining how I was to take the medication she would prescribe. Then on a second sheet she wrote a prescription for the pharmacist, and then she wrote out the bill for us to give to the travel insurance people. We paid her in cash. The visit cost around $60AU, which we thought was pretty reasonable for a house call on a Sunday evening. She said yes, we could fill the prescription tonight, provided we made it to the pharmacy before 8pm, ask at the desk for the closest shop.

It was around 7:30, so after she’d gone, we grabbed our coats and headed for the lift. Pete asked if I had the script. “Of course,” I said, patting myself down. Shit. I didn’t have the script.

We went back to the room. I’d had in my hand, I was sure. We found the sheet of instructions and the bill. No script. We looked everywhere, but it had vanished, evaporated into thin air. You’ll have to imagine how we felt. We were both sure (weren’t we?) that the script had been here when the doctor left. But maybe not. We didn’t have too many options. We went down to the desk and asked the clerk to ring the doctor, who insisted she’d left the script on the table. The clerk suggested one of the staff come up with us to take another look. That was fine by us – a fresh set of eyes. As it happened, Pete sat on the bed and bent to look under it – when a piece of paper caught his eye, shyly trying to hide behind the leg of the frame where you put your luggage.

Everybody sighed with relief, the staff member gave us a map with directions to the nearest pharmacy (look for a green cross) and we were off. It was in the old town, so think crooked streets and cobblestones, but we made it before closing, and joined our fellow travellers for dinner.

I’d love to say I got some sleep, but while an antibiotic will do the job, it isn’t a silver bullet, so I endured another uncomfortable night. We were up late and missed the walking tour of the castle and the old city in the morning. Pete went on the tour of the salt mine, though. The salt deposit reaches down to 327 meters and has been mined since the thirteenth century. Here’s the website. But the Wikipedia entry might actually tell you more. Pete said it was great, and I was sorry to have missed it.

You can dine down there – even stay

This gives you an idea of the scale of the place

It’s all carved out of the rock salt

But that’s life. My throat was starting to feel better and tomorrow we were off to Warsaw. Via Auschwitz.

Rottnest – Perth’s holiday isle

Perth city from Rottnest

You can see Rottnest Island from Fremantle – in fact, from most of the beaches from Freo to Hillarys. It’s a low ridge just on the horizon. The photo above shows the view looking the other way. When I was a kid those towers in the CBD weren’t quite so prominent, but I expect you could have seen them if you looked.

Just one of the beautiful beaches

Here’s another one, just around from the main pier where the ferries berth

Rottnest is Perth’s holiday island, popular for families, weekends, ‘schoolies’ celebrations and no excuse, really. Private boats stream over there on a fine weekend to enjoy the delights of the local pub (the Quokka Arms), maybe pitch a tent in the camping grounds, or hire one of the cottages dotted around a few of the bays. Or hundreds come for a day trip, zipping over on a twenty-five-minute ride on one of the several ferries.

Bathurst lighthouse. The island has two.

Going down from the lighthouse

The Lodge. We stayed in the apartment closest to the left

Beth and I headed over there for a couple of nights to savour the calm. We stayed in what had been (I’d guess) an officer’s apartment– kitchen, lounge, two bedrooms and a bathroom – at the Lodge holiday resort. It’s heritage accommodation, so a long way from 5-star, but it was more than adequate for our needs. The imperfections (like creaking floorboards) added to the charm.

The only cars on the island are maintenance vehicles, so everybody else uses shank’s pony, or they hire a bike. It’s actually quite amusing watching the pudgy middle-aged folks throwing a leg over a bike for the first time in twenty years and more. It’s not a very big island, a chunk of limestone jutting out of a reef that follows the WA coastline, so it’s not what you’d call mountainous. But the wind can blow hard, and riding up those ancient dunes isn’t as easy as it looks. Believe me, I know (past experience). Walkers have to be careful, too. It’s wise to step off the road when confronted by a gaggle of inexperienced cyclists hurtling down a slope toward you. The island is only 11km long, so it’s not a huge walk/bike ride for the fit folks. But there are hop on/hop off buses for the rest of us, and the ferry companies offer a few boat cruises for snorkeling and wildlife viewing.

A quokka

Rottnest is known for its crystal-clear water, great snorkelling, laid-back lifestyle and quokkas. Quokkas are what gave the island its name. In 1696 William Vlamingh, during his search for the missing VOC vessel, Ridderschap van Holland, landed here and came across these cute little critters. To his eyes they looked more like large rats than anything else, so he named the island Rott Nest. Rat’s nest. In fact, quokkas are little marsupials, so not at all related to rodents. I was interested to discover, on a visit to the island’s museum, that when Vlamingh visited there would have been far fewer quokkas than there are now. The island was uninhabited – the aboriginal people haven’t lived there for thousands of years – and the vegetation consisted of thick-trunked low scrub with a heavy canopy. This provided good cover, but because of the heavy shade, the amount of plants the animals grazed on was limited. When Europeans arrived that all changed. The trees were cut down for fuel and to clear land for agriculture, and the quokka population thrived. Although conservation bodies list the species as ‘vulnerable’ that’s because there are only two populations – one in the southwest of WA, and the other here on Rottnest. They’re doing just fine here, thank you very much. But if something like the terrible disease that decimated Tasmanian Devil populations in Tasmania happened here on Rottnest, it could have a devastating effect. Needless to say, Quokkas are protected by law. However, they’re not welcome everywhere. They are nocturnal, and there are lots around the tiny township in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon, but measures have been taken to stop them entering the shops. Quokkas don’t read very well, but the signs are clear enough. It seems to work.

Taken on our sunset walk

The full moon rises in the East as the sun sets in the West (that’s afterglow on the high clouds)

Rottnest is a beautiful place. I stayed there several times in my youth and it was fun to observe the changes that have been made since my last visit. The dreadful old bungalows with their tatty, pest-ridden thatched roofs have all been consigned to history’s scrap pile. Small, discrete settlements have appeared in a few other places around the coast to accommodate the increased tourist numbers.

The governor’s residence

The summer house (now the pub)

The parade ground at Kingstown Barracks. These days Kingstown Barracks is hostel style accommodation – although its seems the Governor’s Circle area (presumably for the base big wigs) is to be done up for the more well-heeled tourist.

The island also has a history. Its governor had a residence built near one of the salt lakes in the interior. It’s easy to pick – just look for the highly inappropriate palm trees. What is it with Europeans and palm trees? The governor also built a summer holiday house near the beach. These days, we call that the pub. The military built a base here in the thirties to man a number of artillery pieces set on Oliver Hill, one of the island’s high points. They were installed to protect the port of Fremantle from approaching enemy ships. Tourists can visit the artillery installation via Rottnest’s only train (or you can ride your bike – it’s steep). It’s well worth a visit, although for me that’s a memory from the past. You can see pictures of Oliver Hill here.

The settlement

The central point for Rottnest tourists is the Settlement – the distinctive ochre-painted buildings which comprise the shopping centre, with the Lodge a short dawdle away. Over the years the Settlement has expanded, but the essence is unchanged. Large trees overhang a mall area where bikes should not be ridden. The bakery was always famous, and the first port of call on a day trip. It’s larger now, with more offerings, and probably a different baker. The same for the general store, which used to stock bare essentials. Everything costs that little bit more because it has to be imported from Fremantle, but the range rivals anything you’ll see in a mainland supermarket, and they sell liquor. As it happens, we’d brought our own wine, but we stocked up on nibbles.

Quokkas aren’t the only animals on Rottnest. It used to be part of the mainland and a few species have survived in this harsh, dry climate. I noticed a number of pink and grey galahs, but no other parrots, and several small bird species. There is one snake, the dugite, which is right up there with the poison. But like most snakes, make some noise and they’ll run and hide.

Dugite – taken with a telephoto

Rottnest has 2 peacocks. No ladies. Here’s the story.

He showed off just for me.

Beth and I walked many kilometres, avoided quite a few bikes, met a few quokkas, drank some excellent wine and ate some good food. We also learned about Rottnest’s darker side. We visited the small (white) cemetery on Rottnest, with its markers, some still legible, others eroded by time and weather.  Many were children. Life was harsh in those days.

The (white) cemetery

One of the headstones at sundown

But while life was harsh for the Europeans, it was much harder for the aboriginal prisoners brought here in the late nineteenth century. The Lodge where we stayed was built as a prison. In the museum we watched part of a documentary about Rottnest as a prison, and recalling what was said, the prisoners were not necessarily native to the Perth area (the Noongar). Some were brought from the deserts in the North, sentenced in some cases for the crime of killing a sheep. These people didn’t understand white man’s law, and some had very likely never seen the sea. They were brought to Rottnest in neck chains. This site tells the story.

I don’t want to go into details, that’s not what this blog is about. Suffice to say hundreds of aboriginal men died on Rottnest. In time the prison was closed, the cells and warder accommodation were turned into holiday rentals, and the island became a holiday playground. When I was young we knew aboriginal people had been brought here, that it had been a boys’ reformatory, and an internment camp for Italians in WW2, but it wasn’t important, not something you thought about.

Not long before I left Perth in 1996 I remember talk of human bones being found on Rottnest. Naturally, that caused a stir, and people went looking for more. And found them. The  remains of hundreds of aboriginal men were buried in an area being used as a camping ground for holiday makers. Today, the aboriginal burial ground is at least  marked, although the individual graves are not, and people are asked to respect the area (which is no longer a camping ground). Moves are underway to develop the site into a historical feature which people can visit.

Acknowledgement of the 370+ aboriginal men buried in unmarked graves

The burial ground, not far from where the men were imprisoned in the Lodge

There was a stunning piece of artwork in the museum – I regret not taking a picture, but I guess that’s a copyright issue, anyway. It showed a curved surface. Across the top of the curve were a bunch of smiling white people – men, women, and children – waving, looking happy, against a blue sky. Under the curve against a black background was a thick scattering of simple images of people curled in a foetal position.

One last observation. Aboriginal people lived on Rottnest thousands of years ago, before the sea levels rose and cut it off from the mainland. I didn’t know that. This rather good article tells you a little more about the aboriginal connection with Rottnest and its Noongar name, Wadjemup. I found a number of different meanings for the aboriginal word, some claiming it has something to do with the buried people – but that happened comparatively recently, and I think ‘place across the water’ is more plausible. Here’s a reference. As I said in the beginning of this post, Rottnest is visible from the mainland, a ‘place across the water’.

A couple of ducks enjoying the beach

Australian Pacific black ducks splashing in the shallows

I loved the couple of days we spent on the island. It’s sad that it has become an expensive place to stay, out of the reach of ordinary folk. It wasn’t like that when I was young. If you go, make sure you visit the museum, a little white building near the Settlement. It will tell you a few things you didn’t know about the island’s flora and fauna – and its human inhabitants.

 

Perth – funky bars and street art

Every nineteenth (or earlier) century city has lanes. There had to be room for the night carts, delivery vehicles and so forth. They were often dirty, dingy, places where homeless people dossed down for the night, served as outdoor toilets and were generally unsavoury places to be – especially when night fell.

Melbourne was, I think, the first Australian city to turn its laneways into a cultural experience. Other cities followed suit, and so has Perth. People are living in the city now, so there’s a vibrancy in town which wasn’t around when I lived there. Funky little bars have sprung up in unused spaces (not just lanes). The Aviary is one such, very noisy and filled with youngish people, even at 4pm on a Thursday.

A lot of these places have polished concrete floors and use whatever’s around for seating – metal stools, benches, packing crates – all of which do nothing for this old lady’s back, or for her throat as she shouts to make herself heard over the music and the din of conversation. They offer nibbles-type food – a charcuterie plate, or tapas to eat with your drink before you go out for dinner, or a movie.

But some of the bars are quirky and interesting. One such is Wolf Lane. I’ll let the website do the talking. It’s a fun venue.

Wolf Lane bar interior

The other aspect of the lanes thing is street art. It’s everywhere, livening up blank walls and even imparting a bit of history, illustrating what that area used to be about.

This particular lane is behind a block of apartments that used to be a bank where I worked. It didn’t look like this then.

You don’t need to be the sharpest scissors in the drawer to work out what they used to make in Prince Lane. I reckon I made a few dresses using that pattern myself, in the late ’60’s.

They’re not all bars. This place is the Secret Garden Cafe in the heart of Wolf Lane.

The differences in street art design is striking – anything from a kid directing robots to native animals to Mary Poppins to funky weird stuff. And all these were in quite a small geographic area.

The area is still functional – but at least the bins have a pretty setting

It IS Wolf Lane, after all.

This piece of art was over in Northbridge, livening up an otherwise ugly, utilitarian concrete block

This one was in the inner city, using a drab brick wall as a canvas

I loved it all. It’s vibrant, welcoming and generally fun. And this is just in the Perth CBD. That’s just scratching the surface. There’s Subiaco, South Perth, Fremantle, Northbridge, Leederville and a heap of other suburban restaurant-bar hubs. Here’s a list to try.

Perth’s a great place to visit. Put it on your bucket list. If you need ideas of what to visit, just let me know.

Perth – a mix of the old and the new

It’s fascinating wandering around a city you knew very well twenty years ago. Life goes on and that snapshot in your head is a time capsule. Parts are still accurate, other aspects have changed. Beth and I strolled around the CBD in Perth, sometimes deliberately looking for items I remembered (eg the shish kebab – explained further down), sometimes it was a chance encounter.

The best way to cover some of the visit is to annotate photographs. Please join me as I revisit the past. But before I do, let me show you what the City of Perth has provided to keep women safer – a special parking area, near the lifts and the lights. I think it’s wonderful.

We’ll start off with the convict-built old town hall, set off against one of the towers. They’re starting to put up the Christmas decorations. It has been cleaned and repaired.

Likewise the old Treasury building which is now an hotel

London Court is still there, nestled between two office blocks

This is what it looks like inside – unchanged

A church in the heart of the CBD (there’s another one, too) on St George’s Tce

The Weld Club is a couple of streets closer to the river, in a leafier part of town

I wondered if Paul Ritter’s monument to the mining industry (affectionately known as the shish kebab) was still there. Yes, it is.

This sculpture of kangaroos livens up what used to be (still is) a line of bus stops on St G’s T near the corner of Barrack St and adjacent to Supreme Court Gardens. They still use the old court for criminal trials, although there’s a new building over the road in the Terrace. And the gardens are lovely, leading down to the river precincts.

Speaking of the river preceinct, the river has been made more accessible to the city with the new Elizabeth Quay development. I think it’s wonderful.

This is the old Post Office, near the railway station. I used to work there, but the building has been sold off (as have all the others in the capital cities) and is now retail space. But it has been preserved.

This is a view of the PO’s central sky light

And this is the walkway along the front of the building

The railway line used to divide Northbridge from the CBD, but now the railway has been put underground Northbridge with its museums and nightlife is much more accessible. This is the Brass Monkey pub which has been there for years. It seems the old museum is getting a serious facelift,too, but the architects have been careful to incorporate the old facades in the development.

Beth and I walked back across the land where the railway used to be. Gardens and devlopments are happening, and once again, the old buildings are being included. This used to be a grubby, rather industrial part of Wellington St that flanked the railway.

That’s just a snapshot of Perth. I loved it, loved that they haven’t destroyed the city’s laid-back character, and in fact made it more accessible to people. One bank where I used to work is now a block of apartments, and people are living in town. When I was a kid the last person out of the CBD at quarter past five turned off the lights until the next morning. That’s all changed.

I’ll go into that a bit more in my next post.

Australia from 35,000ft

The first pattern to catch my eye. So like and aboriginal painting

Yes, I know I’m not finished with Europe yet. I’ll get back to it soon. But I’m just back from a week in Perth, catching up with old, old friends and a brief visit with relos, and I want to share a few posts about that, first. For a start it was much better fun, and the weather was great.

Perth really is my “home town”. I wasn’t born there but I spent much of my life there – all my education, all my formative years. I was supposed to go back for a fiftieth high school reunion three weeks ago, but I was ill, so I couldn’t make the trip. But a few weeks to recuperate from my European sore throat and sniffle saw me back to my sparkling best. Although I missed the reunion, I got to catch up with the most important people who would have been there – friends from my primary school days – one I hadn’t seen for close on fifty years, and her sister, who was my best friend at primary school. I stayed with my BFF and her family and we went off to places I’d remembered to see the changes in the twenty years since I moved Over East. I’ll talk about that in later posts.

For now I want to share the marvellous photos I took of outback Australia as the plane flew from Perth to Brisbane. They’re not bad, but they ought to be much better. Sometimes we older ladies can be a bit… um… stupid. I was playing Solitaire on my tablet, trying very hard to avoid striking up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. Yeah, I know. But I’m an introvert and chatting with strangers doesn’t come easily. This woman and her husband were not, I guessed, frequent air travellers. She’d brought up the flight info screen that show you where you are, air speed, height, outside temperature etc, and she spent a lot of time reading these details out to her husband who (of course) had a similar screen.

“Ooooh look, Darl. We’re nearly at Kalgoorlie.”

“That must be South Australia now. About a third of the way.”

“Gosh, minus fifty outside.”

You get the idea. Anyway, I glanced out the window and saw a nice pattern outside, so I activated the tablet’s camera, pressed the device up to the window and took a photo. I did that several times, often requiring a fair bit of contortion in the seat so as not to lean on the woman beside me. Bear in mind that I had my camera bag, containing my Canon 70D with 18-200mm zoom lens, set up to take photos in raw format, on the floor at my feet. It remained there for the entire flight.

You may kick me now.

So… here are the photos. I suppose they’re not too bad.

That’s space at the top, and the edge of Australia where the cliffs of the bight give way to the beach

Sand ridges

Don’t know the name of the river

The Flinders Ranges

More Flinders Ranges

Just taken off over Moreton Bay Brisbane, heading North

Over Brisbane and a canal suburb

Nearly home. Inskip Point and the edge of Fraser Island.

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 2

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 3

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 4. And there’s a road

This is just like a painting

More Flinders Ranges

That might actually be water in the salt lake

Just like the Mandelbrot set

A river, and even some human straight lines

 

Vienna and Budapest

Schoenbrunn Palace

You might be wondering why I’m including two major cities in one post. The fact is, I didn’t get to see much of either of them. I developed a sore throat that interrupted my sleep during the voyage to Vienna. With an eye on the bus trip through Eastern Europe, starting in three days’ time, I worked on getting better by staying on the ship. Pete went on the tour to Schoenbrunn Palace (no photos allowed), but neither of us attended the concert, which by all reports, was very good.

Pete was very interested in the Empress Maria Therese (she of Schoenbrunn Palace) and bought a book for us to look at. It’s rare to find powerful females in history and this one (unlike Elizabeth 1 of England) was a fecund mother as well as a ruler. I suppose you could compare her to Queen Victoria. The last of the Habsburgs, she managed to fend off all the boys who tried to take her dominions.

All is not lost, though. You can read the Vienna blog from the 2015 tour for more insights into the capital of Austria.

Then it was off to Budapest, last port of the river trip. I was feeling a bit better and the weather was fine, so I thought joining the bus tour of the city might be okay. Wrong. Outside the bus, walking around in the fresh air, I was pretty good. But on the air-conditioned bus it was all I could do to control the coughing fits with throat lozenges.

That said, it was nice to walk around the Imperial areas of Buda, overlooking the river and Pest.

The Danube flows through Budapest

Freedom

Our guide told us a wonderful story about the Soviet statuary, which is always rather ugly. The statue of freedom, high on the hill in Buda, is a case in point (see pic above). The Hungarians have come to terms with that one, acknowledging it’s a part of their history. But many of the Soviet era monuments were taken down. They weren’t destroyed, though. They have been placed into Memento Park, and visitors can go and see them in all their grotesque glory. It’s kind of like a cemetery for statues. (HaHa).

Monument to those who died in the independence wars

On Buda Hill our guide showed us a statue to the soldiers killed in the independence wars against the Habsburgs, commemorating the bravery of soldiers who fought in battles they lost.

On the drive through the city we passed the Jewish temple – the Dohany Street synagogue. It’s a magnificent building with Moorish influences, but it has a darker history, in keeping with the Holocaust elements of our trip to Europe. Rather than try to explain myself, this is a quote from the article about the building in Wikipedia.

“In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto for the city Jews and served as shelter for many hundreds. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter 1944-1945 are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue.

It is not customary to have a cemetery next to a synagogue, and the establishment of the 3,000 m2 cemetery was only the result of historical circumstances. In 1944, as a part of the Eichmann-plan, 70,000 Jews were relocated to the Ghetto of Pest. Until January 18, 1945, when the Russians liberated the ghetto, around 8,000 to 10,000 people had died, although, one part of the deceased were transferred to the Kozma Street Cemetery, but 2,000 people were buried in the makeshift cemetery. In memory of those who had died, there is a memorial by the sculptor, Imre Varga, depicting a weeping willow with the names and tattoo numbers of the dead and disappeared just behind the Synagogue, in the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park.”

Many of the Hungarian Jews were taken to Auschwitz – but that’s a story for another day.

Chiefs of the tribes

We made a brief stop at Hero Square to admire the tribute to the founders of the nation. I must say it does amuse me how the leaders of these tribes, who were without a doubt blood-thirty warriors, ended up becoming saints after they converted to Christianity. St Stephen (Stephen 1) is one such. But his comrades in arms weren’t really convinced. After the king died, they stuffed his bishop into a barrel and threw it down the mountain in Budapest, thereby killing him. The place is now known as Gellert Hill.

Anyway, the monuments to the chieftains seems to be popular with the local lads, who climb up there to be photographed with one or other of the horsemen.

That evening my throat was on fire, and I didn’t go on deck to see Budapest by night. Pete did, though, and took some pretty reasonable photos with his trusty tablet. This trip showed us a few features of Budapest we didn’t see last time. That’s (of course) a trade-off. We drove past the opera house, but didn’t see inside. That’s all in the previous trip blog.

The following morning we would disembark and start the next phase of our tour, into Eastern Europe.

 

 

 

 

Melk, the Wachau Valley and Durnstein

The abbey from the river

The thing about travelling from Amsterdam to Budapest instead of the other way round is that you arrive at spots at different times of the day – as well as in different weather. Whereas last journey we’d arrived at Melk right on sundown, this time we were there early in the morning, and went up to the abbey after breakfast.

I wasn’t at all surprised to find that photos were no longer permitted inside the building. I’m constantly amazed at how many people don’t understand, or maybe don’t care about, “no flash, please”. Last time we were here Peter took a lot of shots (sans flash) with his tablet and they might be a bit grainy at A3, but they’re plenty good for showing on a screen. But you’ll have to look at the 2015 post to see those.

The garden

We had a different guide showing us through the buildings. It seemed to me the tour was shorter and we didn’t get to see even a glimpse of the ancient library used in the novel The Name of the Rose – which we did last time. I’m afraid I’m too cynical for talk of ‘pieces of the true cross’, or a thorn from the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head. And of course, while I saw the artistic merit of the stunning displays in the church itself, I always find myself thinking about the peasants who ultimately supported this extravagance.

Since it was daylight, we walked back through the little town at the base of the hill where the abbey sits. It’s the usual collection of houses around a cobblestoned square. No castle here – just the imposing bulk of the abbey.

Back on the ship, we went through the Wachau Valley. The Amaverde carries 25 bicycles, and guests were offered the chance of pedaling from Melk to our next destination through the valley along the river. All the bikes were snapped up. We (of course) generously gave up the opportunity to younger, fitter people. Good of us, I thought.

We sailed past castles and vineyards, until we saw Durnstein castle perched on the crag above the town. Last time, we tied up at Durnstein before dawn so I was able to take some beautiful photos of sunrise and the town, as you’ll see here. This was a very different view, from the opposite direction. We also got to see a statue against the rockface, representing King Richard and his faithful minstrel, Blondel, who (according to legend) found where Richard was imprisoned by playing a familiar tune until Richard sang along. Pssst. Apparently it’s just a legend.

Richard and Blondel

The ruined castle perched on the hill above the town

Pete and I fancied the idea of climbing up to the ruined castle. If Sandy and Col could do it, surely we could? Before we set out for the peak, we wandered around the riverside until we found an arched stairwell with a sign that said “to the town”. Sounded good to us. But it was much longer, and steeper, than we had imagined. After a last, heart-pounding scramble we stood in the main street and looked up at the old castle, far, far, far above. Maybe we’d leave that for another time.

A few gentle stairs up to the main street. Uh-huh.

A last heart-stopping scramble to the street. I felt like Sam and Frodo in Cirith Ungol

We liked Durnstein. Because it has a warmer micro-climate the farmers can grow apricots, so you can buy apricot-most-things here. Such as apricot schnapps. We don’t recommend it in coffee, though.

All things apricot

A steep lane down to the river, with vineyards on the opposite bank

Cruising the Danube

What I love best about river journeys is just cruisin’. Watching the river glide past, reflections, trees, birds, other boats, tiny settlements, distant hills, clouds. That photo up there was taken as we followed a curve in the river. The water was like molten silver, and the sun was hidden behind a thin veil of cloud. Gorgeous.

We were on our way to Passau, where most of the passengers would get off and catch the Majestic Imperator, Emperor Franz Joseph’s Imperial train, up to Salzburg. Needless to say, we’d done the trip in 2015 (all explained here) and you might say we were all Sound of Music’d out. Eight of us elected to stay on board, either because they were recovering from illness, or because they wanted a break from the relentless pace of sight-seeing. Our tour director told us that the stretch from Passau to Linz, where the Salzburg visitors would rejoin the ship, was one of the prettiest along the Danube.

Mist burning off the castle at Passau

The day dawned misty, as it had for the past week, but it burned off quickly, with a brilliant blue sky. Soon we were off, sailing between forest-clad slopes through a series of bends and curves. This probably used to be a bit like the steep slopes of the Rhine Gorge thousands of years ago. There were still some rocky promontories here and there. Unfortunately, the wind picked up, an icy blast whistling across the water, so I only ventured out to take photos a few times, and there wasn’t much in the way of reflections. A few weeks later these slopes would be a picture of gold and russet. Here and there I caught a hint of the glories to come.

That evening after our fellow travellers had rejoined us we were treated to a spectacular sunset, with the ship, and the river, in just the right place to generate a magnificent display. This would have to be my favourite picture from the whole trip.

Tomorrow we cruise to Melk, the Wachau Valley, and Durnstein.

Sunset reflections with ducks

 

 

Regensburg

 

Golden trees and the cathedral

The Amaverde had left the Main-Danube canal and now sailed the broad waters of the Danube on its way to the lovely town of Regensburg. Last time we were here work was proceeding on the city’s old bridge. This time a lot of that work had been done on the section nearest the old town, although there’s plenty more to do.

Regensburg cathedral and the old bridge from our ship

This is the place with Germany’s oldest fast food – sausage in a bun – kept the workers fed when the cathedral was originally built. The sausage shop is still there, just near the bridge, but Pete and I didn’t partake this time (although we did last time) – too many people. But bratwurst in a bun is always available in the market square, so we went up there and ate along with a number of the locals (always a good sign), standing up at one of those high tables set up outside the food van.

The busy old town

The town has the usual cobble-stoned streets lined with a variety of architecture, some with the half timbers of the 17th century, others from later dates. Autumn is showing on the trees and the high walls festooned with Boston ivy. There are lots of little streets and alleys both around the main square, and leading up into the town from the waterside.

Don Juan of Austria

Down one alley we found a statue of a dude in the balloon pants of Tudor times. Seems he was Don Juan de Austria, illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was born in Regensburg (interesting) He commanded the Christian fleet which defeated the Ottoman navy at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. That was a Very Important Victory and marked the end of the Ottoman expansion into Europe.

We also found more of the brass plates set in the cobbles to commemorate the Jews who lived here, and were taken to their deaths. I think those plaques can probably be found in most German towns now. It always gave me a funny feeling seeing them for real, and also just looking at the photos – most especially now that I’ve been to Auschwitz and spent some time brushing up on the Holocaust.

The town gate from the old bridge

Water flowing too fast for reflections

It was nice to get to walk on the old bridge. It’s a great place to take pictures, and also to get an idea of how rapidly the water is flowing. That’s in marked contrast to last time, when the river just sat. Compare the reflections of the buildings. Here’s the post from 2015.

Next everybody else will take the train to Salzburg, while we stay on the boat and sail through one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube. See you next time.

The Main-Danube canal – and cases of gastro

Entering a lock

The morning talk from the cruise director was not good news. Our resident gremlin had struck again, and a number of the guests on the Amaverde had contracted a gastro illness. At that stage, no one was sure if this would be the dreaded, highly contagious, Nova virus, or just plain food poisoning. And if the latter, where or what from?

Jude and the hotel director took immediate steps to try to minimize the problem. All guests who were ill, or had a partner who was ill, were asked to stay in their cabins (duh). All buffet services were cancelled. No more soup and finger food lunches in the lounge, everybody had to go to the restaurant. No guest was permitted to handle food. If you wanted bacon from the hot box at breakfast time, you had to ask a staff member (wearing surgical gloves) to serve you. The same with fruit, cereal, and everything else. The public toilets in the ship were closed – if you needed the loo, you had to go to your cabin.

Most people took the measures in good grace. As Jude pointed out, if more than a given percentage of the people on the ship became ill, the cruise would have to be cancelled. I think she and the hotel director were at pains to try to ensure that none of the staff fell ill. That would have been disastrous.

After some detective work, talking with the other ships on the river, Jude was told one ship a few days ahead of us had half the ship down with gastro. Working backwards, she concluded that the culprit had been sausages from a butcher in Rothenburg. Not everyone was convinced, though. At least one person hadn’t been to Rothenburg. Others had doubts about the timing (food poisoning tends to hit within a few hours.) So everything related to food was a tad awkward for several days. Again, the main impact was on the crew. The staff did a wonderful job attending to the quarantined guests in their cabins, as well as handling the extra work of having to serve everything.

The good news was that Pete and I were not affected. Not by the gastro, anyway. At the same time, the usual respiratory infections were passing around. One in five seemed to have a cough or splutter, and Jude urged us to employ the antiseptic hand-wash dispensers often.

Going down

The tour for the day was a few hours in Nuremberg. We did that last time, so we stayed on board. That link also talks a bit about the canal. We were looking forward to the visit from Markus Urban, who would give a presentation on the building of the Main-Danube canal The concept of a waterway goes back as Charlemagne in the ninth century and although Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria (he built Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle in the Alps) had a go in the nineteenth century, a real canal wasn’t possible until after WW2. The canal was finally finished in the 1990s. You’ll find info about the canal here. We bought a copy of Markus’s book, which we should have done last time we were here.

One of the things about this cruise is that because we’re going the opposite way, we arrive at places at different times. It was bright daylight when we reached the European watershed. Apparently a competition was held to design a suitable marker for this important place. I couldn’t find a reference, but I believe it. I’ve shown the marker in the photo below.

The European watershed. With its underwhelming marker.