Tag Archives: APT

On board the Amalotus

The Amalotus in the middle of the river

We set off from our hotel in Siem Reap at 8:30am for our five-and-a-half-hour bus trip to Kampong Chan, where we would board RV Amalotus. It’s a long drive through Cambodia’s countryside on the M1, which is a two-lane road. I always feel for the guides on these journeys. They’re supposed to tell us things about the country and he did his best, pointing out houses built on stilts to protect against wild animals and rising water, and indicating rubber plantations and the like. But to be honest, after a while it tends to go in one ear and out the other.

Taken from the bus

We made a major stop at what you might call a roadhouse situated near the long lake that starts near Siem Reap and feeds the Mekong. It was about the only place on the road that could accommodate buses and large numbers of people, and the place was crowded. The toilet facilities were adequate, if pretty basic. Inside, travellers could buy food, ice cream, cold drinks, souvenirs etc. We were warned to get back on the right coach – there would be more than one APT blue bus in the carpark because passengers from the Amalotus were going to Siem Reap. That also explains why the driver was taking his time rather than driving at the speed limit. Staff would be cleaning up and resetting everything for our arrival.

We scrambled down that slope to where the man is standing bottom right.

I suppose I was expecting the Amalotus to be moored at a wharf. She wasn’t. At this time of year, the river is low and we had to negotiate our way down a steep slope to a narrow gangway onto the ship while balancing our carry-on luggage. A number of our less mobile friends found the task somewhat daunting to say the least. Staff were on hand to help guide us across the gangway, no more than two at a time. On board we were a little too enthusiastically welcomed with a squirt of hand sanitiser, a cold towel, and a cold drink, all offered at the same time, while we juggled hand luggage. We were immediately ushered into the dining room for a late lunch, the hotel manager fending off any requests to go to rooms. (I suspect that was to give Housekeeping time to finish setting up.)

Lunch was excellent, with a wide selection of items on the buffet and extra choices on the menu which were served at the table. In fact, the food was excellent on the whole trip. Breakfast was also buffet style but eggs were always freshly-cooked to your liking – fried, poached, scrambled, omelette. Dinner was full service, with a good selection on the menu and a handful of staples (like Caesar salad) if nothing else appealed.

After lunch we found our room. It was nice, with anything you’d need as well as a narrow balcony so we could sit outside and admire the view – and use the two chairs for drying hand-washed knickers. (One of the nice features of this tour was that it included two pieces of laundry per cabin per day but we left that for our shirts and shorts, and hand washed smalls.) We did need to contact Housekeeping on our first day, though, because our bathroom sink was blocked and the floor hadn’t been cleaned behind the bathroom door.

APT had organised a short afternoon tour, a tuk-tuk ride to a nearby island (they drove over a bridge). Pete and I stayed on board and joined everybody else on the sundeck that evening for the rather perfunctory safety drill. After that it was time for a pre-dinner drink. On APT’s European cruises all alcohol except the absolute top of the range offerings were free. We’d assumed that was the case here, but the fine print (which we hadn’t read well enough) stated that ‘local spirits’ were free. One glass of the house whisky was enough to have me revert to house wine from then on.

As the ship sailed we noticed a Scenic vessel – moored at a wharf just around the corner from where the Amalotus had been tied up to the river bank. Interesting.

Phnom Penh just up there

The following morning saw the Amalotus again tied up on the river bank with the towers of Phnom Penh visible in the distance. The two tours that day were a visit to Angkor Ban, a village of traditional stilted houses which the Khmer Rouge had not destroyed in their reign of terror. Later, passengers went to Oknhatey Island, known as silk island, to see the traditional process of silk weaving.

By this stage of the trip Pete and I felt the need to pace ourselves, so we stayed on board. It was entertaining just watching life on the river from up on the sun deck.

A mosque and a fisherman

A temple

Fishermen preparing their nets

Bringing in a catch

Hand fishing

There was one highlight – I was on our little balcony late in the day when a local farmer brought his cows down for a drink and a bath. He stood in the water washing the calf. It all looked suitably bucolic – until the farmer started to hit one beast to get it out of the river.

A farmer brings his cows and a calf down to the river

The following day we’d be hitting the bright lights of the big city.

Europe 2016 – a river cruise with Scenic

AMZU1-2017MAINWe joined Scenic’s Scenic Jade at Amsterdam along with one hundred and nineteen other passengers for a fifteen day cruise on the Rhine and the Moselle, back to the Rhine and up to Basel in Switzerland. It’s seven hundred and forty-two kilometres as the crow flies, but the rivers wind around a bit. Most of the passengers were Australian, but there were a few Americans, Canadians, Brits, and a couple from New Zealand. The crew was mainly Eastern European. I don’t think anybody lives in Romania anymore. The captain, the cruise director, and half the hotel staff were Romanian.

You might recall we did a European river trip last year, on APT’s Amavenita. You’ll find the blog posts here. Given that, it’s pretty obvious we’ll be comparing ships ‘n trips. So let’s look at the ships. Here’s Scenic’s explanation of their ships and here’s APT’s. As I explained last trip, the size of the river boats is dictated by the locks, so Scenic Jade is the same size as Amavenita, and the two ships are set up in a similar way – three decks, most passengers on deck two and three, sundeck above with collapsible fittings for getting under low bridges, restaurants and bar up the front. We’d made a last minute change to our booking, moving from the second deck up to the third, because we’d get a better laundry service. I can see you rolling your eyes. Laundry is just about the only extra you have to pay for on the ships. And it costs. Washing a t-shirt will set you back €4.20. That’s around AU$6.30.  You can hand wash your smalls of course, but drying them is not always easy. We had a special deal last year, where we could have two items each washed and pressed each day for free, which was great. We expected to get a similar deal from Scenic, but we misread the T&Cs. There are some advantages to being on deck three, but not all cabins get free laundry.Scenic Jade

Anyhow, we ended up in the last cabin before the really posh suites on deck three, above the engines. We figured that if the really posh suites were directly above the engines it couldn’t be too much of an issue.


Not much room between bed and chair

However, we did have a little less room than in the normal balcony suite. If I sat at the desk posting pictures to FB on my laptop, it was a very tight squeeze to get between the chair back and the bed.


A very fancy shower

Apart from that, the room was perfectly adequate, with a great shower where you could wash under coloured lights, using a variety of nozzles. I suspect we might have appreciated it more when we were younger. 🙂 Certainly the location forced a bit of exercise. It wasn’t too much short of a hundred metres from our room to the public lounges, a trip done around six times a day.


Scenic Jade’s lounge

We both preferred Scenic Jade’s dining room, set up with tables and chairs, whereas Amavenita had cubicles with couches around tables. It looks nice, but it’s not so practical for older folks and buffet meals. All food and drinks are included in the price of the cruise, the only exceptions being a few special beverages like Johnny Walker blue label. We had to settle for JW black, or Chivas, or a single malt. Breakfast and dinner are served as a buffet spread, supplemented with specials if required. Dinner was ala carte. Not that anyone went hungry on either trip, but for us APT offered more variety, and the food was better quality. APT’s chefs matched menus and wines to the region in which we were travelling, and the ‘light lunch’ options (soup and sandwiches sort of thing) were more to our taste.

The trip to Europe from Australia is no picnic, so it’s a good idea to break the journey, or to arrive early to acclimatise to the change in time zones and seasons. We arrived early, and took the opportunity of seeing a little more of the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. I tell you a little about our trip to Leiden.

So – on to the journey.  Next time.



Day 14: The end is nigh

IMG_2231 (1)We cruised along the canal that connects the Rhine to the city of Amsterdam on the Ij. The overcast weather threatened rain and there wasn’t much to see, but it was very green and there were cows. We tied up at docks just behind Amsterdam’s central station, right in the heart of the old city. Back in the day this would have been the harbour, where the 17th century merchantmen would start and end their journeys. Four of them sank in Australian waters – but that’s another story. (Small plug – I wrote a book about the Batavia shipwreck – check it out here).

We’d been given three options for today

  • a canal tour and tour of the city
  • a visit to the outdoor museum at Zaanse Schans
  • a visit to the Van Gogh museum

Pete and I had done the canal tour several times, and the weather looked a bit bleak for Zaanse Schans so we opted for the van Gogh museum. We’ve been to Amsterdam several times before and never been to the van Gogh. I’m not a great art connoisseur. I do like the Dutch Golden Age painters – Rembrandt, Vermeer and the like – and their maritime painters were magnificent. I also like impressionists like Monet. But with a very few exceptions I’ve never been especially attracted to van Gogh’s work. Still, his work is prized by many. Maybe I was missing something.

The exhibition followed van Gogh’s journey as an artist, from the very early self portraits, paintings like the potato pickers and then on to Paris and the south of France. We each had head sets so we could listen to commentary on the various works. Sorry, but van Gogh doesn’t do it for me. It’s always a matter of choice, of course, but I think I probably should have gone to the nearby Rijksmuseum instead, and stared at Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

IMG_2249That evening a few of us popped out after dinner to take a look at the famous Red Light district. We weren’t very good at following directions, but when we reached the Royal Palace I knew we weren’t too far away. From there we just followed the groups of young men. It’s just as you expect. Near naked young women displaying their wares in windows. It’s even more fun watching the people looking at the girls. Prostitution isn’t going to go away. At least in Amsterdam it’s controlled, health checks are enforced and crooks who force girls into the trade are put in jail. In contrast cannabis is not ‘legal’, but it’s tolerated in ‘coffee houses’. You can get dizzy just walking past those places.

IMG_2248And then it was back to the boat to pack, ready for disembarkation the next day. 137 people would go their separate ways. We were spending two nights in Amsterdam. Some folk went to Paris, others for a stopover in Dubai before heading home. We’d made new friends we hope to meet again, and shared many experiences. The cruise is great, but you never stay anywhere long enough to get more than a glimpse. Highlights for me were the Wachau Vally, Durnstein, Miltenberg and the wonderful concert in Vienna.

I’m glad we went – and I want to single out APT’s Cherie Cooper, our head mistress/governess/cruise director. She did a fabulous job of making the whole thing run like clockwork. Cheers!

Day 13: Down the Rhine to Cologne (Köln)

IMG_2056Back to the big smoke today. We were well and truly on the Rhine and a parade of barges passed us, going upriver from the Netherlands and Germany. I have no doubt we were just one of many vessels heading down river. It’s a very busy waterway. Because the Rhine’s water level was so low the barges passing us rode very high in the water, even if they were carrying cargo. Not too much profit there. We heard the next day that the water levels were the lowest they’d been in 130 years.

IMG_2199 IMG_2197There are some pretty impressive houses along this stretch of the river.



Cologne city. That’s not the cathedral

And then we moored at Cologne, confronted with a formidable flight of stone steps to get to dry land. Had the river been higher, the trip to the top would have been shorter. It was enough to actually prevent some of the less able-bodied among us from going ashore at all.

Original frescoes from Roman times

Original frescoes from Roman times

Cologne has many claims to fame – its fabulous cathedral and its 1477 eau de cologne being the best known. But maybe not everybody knows it was a very important Roman stronghold, more of which is being dug up as they expand the underground train system. As we walked towards the cathedral following our lollipop, the guide told us the main station had been built next to the cathedral to join the old with the new. But in fact the vibration from all those trains rumbling past have put a strain on the cathedral. We did wonder about the fabled German engineers when we heard that.


Then we walked up some steps to an apparently empty square being guarded by a bunch of official looking men behind simple barricades. The guide explained that the square was above the roof of a music auditorium, and the sound of feet crossing the square could be heard during recitals. So the area was fenced off in those times. Uh-huh. Well done, engineers.


Typical Gothic knave

Typical Gothic knave

Original stained glass window

Original stained glass window

We took a look at the cathedral, a majestic Gothic building which seemed to have been spared the allied bombs, although some of the stained glass had been replaced with inferior modern panes. If we’d had more time we would have visited the Roman museum.

That evening it was time for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail & Gala Dinner. The end of the trip loomed, but much laughter and fun was had by all. We were introduced  to ALL the staff on the Amavenita – captain, crew, hotel management, room attendants, chefs, wait staff. Everyone except the second-in-command, who (as usual) was up in the wheel house as we headed for Amsterdam.

Day 11: Glassblowing, mind blowing scenery and Miltenberg


Swans in a misty landscape

Today was a little bit different. We gathered in the Amavenita‘s lounge to watch a demonstration of glass blowing. This wasn’t the sort of bending of glass into animals that you see in Venice. Hans Ittig and his family make glass instruments such as pipettes, test tubes and precision instruments in their workshop. As well as fun items like sparrows, glass bowls and so on. He told us a little of his family’s history, how his grandfather had escaped from East Germany and settled in Wertheim. The bitterness of being seen as refugees in their own country shone through several times.

IMG_1929 IMG_1930As Hans worked the river glided past. The autumn colours and the mist reflecting in the still water made its own kind of mind blowing magic. I admit I ducked outside for a few photos. But I did notice that Hans had hauled up our mate Bruce to help him make a glass bauble. Vicky and Bruce now have a wonderful souvenir, not quite perfect but absolutely unique.


A bird takes off from the river



After lunch we went off to visit another medieval German village! They do all start to blur into a continuum, but once again, this one gave us something a little bit different. We could walk into town, so we met our guides near the bridge. Just pick your lollipop colour. Our group’s guide spoke impeccable English with a London accent. Yes, a London girl who had married a German. Pete actually picked her accent as being from Camberwell. She was pretty astonished – but Pete has relos there.

For this visit each of us had been given a sheet with questions on it, a sort of treasure hunt. Our guide would tell us the answers as we did the village tour. We walked along while she told us the history of Miltenberg. You can find the gist here. There is a castle, of course. But no cathedral.

IMG_1963 IMG_1947 IMG_1949We were led through the main street lined with houses from the 17th century, the sort of half timber buildings of Tudor times.

On the way, we visited a restaurant for a taste of pretzels and a shot of schnaps. We would have been taken to the bakery, but it was closed, being a Sunday. The pretzels were interesting. I’ve always thought they were the little crunchy things you eat with beer, but this was a bread roll sprinkled liberally with salt, but shaped in that knot pattern. The schnaps came in a little bottle and we were encouraged to throw it down the hatch. Very warming on a coolish day.

We stopped at the butchers’ too, where we were offered slices of various German smallgoods. Just the thing for someone with my upbringing, and what I sampled was delicious.

See that white castle above the town in the large picture? It was there that the baby who would become Queen Victoria was conceived. How ’bout that? The Germans could claim that she’d been made in Germany 🙂

Then it was free time. I climbed up the wet cobbles up to the castle and was rewarded with a lovely view of the Main with the bridge reflecting in its waters. Here’s one more to finish today’s visit.  PS. All the treasure hunt entries were placed in a barrel and Cherie picked the first entry with all correct answers. There was a prize, but I don’t remember what it was.

Next time, we’re back to the big cities.


Day 10: Kitzingen and Rothenburg


The old bridge at Kitzingen

The 7th November was a busy day. We went to two quaint medieval German villages! First stop was at Kitzingen, where the ship was moored a short waddle from the heart of town. Yes, cobblestones.

Flood levels and the mayor

Flood levels and the mayor

At 9:15am the town’s mayor greeted us, accompanied by the Wine Queen, who arrived late in a Jeep, wearing a black duffle coat over her dirndl. No crown, not even a tiara. Oh well. The mayor conducted the passengers on the short walk to the oldest wine cellar in town, to enjoy a glass or two of the local brew. We passed. It was a bit early in the day, even for me. We had a big trip to Rothenburg that afternoon, and it wouldn’t do to fall asleep on the bus. However, I was interested in the flood levels marked on the building. Nothing for 2013, which surprised me. Maybe they had some flood mitigation in place.

The old wine cellar

The old wine cellar

Main street on a Saturday morning

Main street on a Saturday morning

This place had kerbs and footpaths and everything

This place had kerbs and footpaths and everything

We could use a few of these toad wranglers for the cane toads

We could use a few of these toad wranglers for the cane toads

As with so many German towns, there had been a settlement here centuries before any of the present buildings were constructed. We wandered around, took pictures, bought a tee shirt and were back on the boat for lunch before the hour long drive to Rothenburg.

The view from the town walls

The view from Rothenburg’s walls

The walled town of Rothenburg is perched on top of a hill in the mountains and the usual bus tour of the main sights wasn’t an option. You walked or you saw nothing. The place was bustling with tourists. In fact, crammed with the blighters, especially in the Christmas shops.

IMG_1864 IMG_1866Rothenburg is home to the first original Christmas shop where you could buy Christmas tat (sorry, my bias is showing) all through the year. These days there are eight such establishments in the town. Our new friend Vicky was beside herself at the prospect of all those shops, all those baubles.

Actually, I almost got lost. Yes, I did. There was an old lady running one of those shops who had lived in Australia when the Snowy Mountain scheme was being built. She’d been everywhere, telling detailed stories about Perth, Albury, Melbourne… about then I realised the rest of the walking tour had disappeared. I’d turned off my headset. The tour guide on this one occasion drove me bonkers. She talked to us as if we were mentally retarded three year olds and she spoke in a monotone that droned in my head. Anyhow, I was on my own. There were tourists everywhere, so I took a punt at where I thought they might be. I was wrong a couple of times, but eventually I saw this rather flustered white-haired man looking this way and that, so I waved. Fortunately he was the right white-haired man. Frowning, he shook his head at me. Meh. I have no sense of direction, and he knows that. He should have kept an eye on me.

IMG_1902 IMG_1901 IMG_1900 IMG_1897 IMG_1876 (1) IMG_1868We left the tour guide to it as soon as we knew where the meeting point would be and strolled through the pretty little town admiring the window displays – especially the food. All tuckered out, we drank a coffee in the main square watching the good burghers setting up for a marathon.

It was dark when we left. We couldn’t see a thing out the bus windows. Even so, the guide persisted in pointing out the “yellow building on the right” which was a cow shed or something.

Hey ho. Tomorrow we’re in Miltenberg.

Day 8: Crossing the locks to Nuremberg

The old town at Nuremberg

The old town at Nuremberg

I mentioned before that the size of these river boats is very much dictated by the locks. There are 68 locks between Budapest and Amsterdam. Going from Budapest, the locks raise the boat. The lowest rise is 8.4 metres, but in the Main-Danube canal three of the locks EACH take the ship down 27.4m. That happens after we cross over the European watershed, where the rivers flow into the Atlantic instead of The Black Sea or the Mediterranean. The smallest locks on the canal are 12m wide and 144m long. The Amavenita is 11.4m wide and 135m long, which is a pretty cosy fit. The vessel has 3 decks, with a sundeck and the wheelhouse. All the fittings on the top deck – including the wheelhouse – can be lowered to allow the ship to slide under the low bridges.

The history of the Main-Danube canal is fascinating. Cherie brought a guest speaker on board to tell us all about it. (Guests come and go at locks – we had entertainment every evening, but I haven’t said much about it because it’s not my thing.) Anyway, history shows that the first person to think it might be a good idea to join the Main and the Danube was – Charlemagne! It took another thousand years before the project was finally finished and although commercial traffic hasn’t been boosted all that much, riverboat cruising has. Which I think has rescued many of the charming little villages we visited. Here’s a series of pictures showing the Amavenita going through the Eibach lock – one of high ones.

20151105_102742 20151105_103410 20151105_102958 20151105_103459 20151105_104223 20151105_104656

The canal also crosses over roads



And here’s a look at one of the really low bridges. Captain Zoltan is in the lowered wheelhouse, with his head sticking out of a hole in the roof. Look under the central bridge support.

IMG_2000 (1)


This place is built like a colosseum. The architect was Speer

Nuremberg is famous these days as the starting point for the Nazis. The bus tour took us to a couple of the only surviving arenas. We were told it would have cost too much to demolish them, so they remain, mouldering like ancient temples in an urban jungle. Pity the allied bombers didn’t finish them off as they did to so much of the city. You can see these places aren’t maintained. The Germans are ashamed of them and don’t want them to become Meccas for the neo-Nazis.


Stage at Zeppelin fields

Zeppelin fields where the Nazi party conducted some of their largest displays used to have columns in the Greek or Roman style but they were removed so there was no vestige of beauty left. Hitler used to appear on that platform in the middle.

One fascinating snippet was that after Rudolf Hess, the loony Nazi who flew to Scotland, finally died in Spandau prison in the ’90’s, his body was buried in his home village. But it became a rallying point for the neo-Nazis since everybody else’s body was burned and the ashes scattered. So they dug him up and threw his remains into the Atlantic.

We also drove past the courthouse where the Nuremberg trials were conducted, a building in the distance. Nazi Germany was my field of study at university. A lot of things came flooding back. I just hope we haven’t forgotten all the lessons of the past.

20151105_161450Nuremberg’s history goes back much, much further than the 1920’s. The last bus stop was a very brief visit to the castle. The gates close at 4pm and the staff quite literally shooed us out of there. “Ve are closink at 4. Raus! Raus!”

Most of Nuremberg was flattened during the war. As with so many of these old cities, the Germans decided to rebuild. Today Nuremberg has a medieval centre just like the pre-war one. You have to admire them for that. The market stalls in the town square were a fascinating kaleidoscope of food and the shops were busy everywhere. Love the cathedral against the deep blue sky.




IMG_1693 IMG_1699

Hey ho. Back to the boat. Next stop is Bamberg.





Day 7: Cruising on to Regensburg

IMG_1577This morning we made it to Regensburg. And that meant the worries over the height (or lack thereof) of the river were over. However, the vagaries of the Main-Danube lay ahead, with a very different problem. Instead of water under the keel, the captain had to make sure the ship didn’t ride too high. Some of the bridges from here on are low – very low. So while the passengers were off seeing the sights of Regensburg, the ship’s crew were busy replenishing that 200,000 litres of water that had been released at Linz.

IMG_1558On the way we passed an interesting building in the mist high up on the bank. It looks a bit like the Parthenon. It’s called Walhalla and you can read about it here. It honours Germans from all walks of life. I expect it won’t surprise you to learn it was conceived by Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig of Bavaria and is remembered for extravagant architecture like Neuschwanstein castle. (The one Disney used as the template for his fairytale castle.

Regensburg is another pretty little German riverside town with – wait for it – a cathedral. No castle, as it happens. The Amavenita tied up at the bank a mere stroll from the town itself. Pete and I eschewed the walking tour and headed off on our own, anxious to try the delicacies at Germany’s oldest sausage kitchen. Perched on the river IMG_1578bank just near the old stone bridge, the little shop dates back to 1135, when workers were building the cathedral. Move over Maccas. 20151104_112430 (1)The Germans did fast food long ago. You order sausage in a roll with or without sauerkraut and mustard. The snags are about the size of a middle finger and cooked on a grill so they get that smokey barbecue flavouIMG_1596r. You get two sausages in a roll. Yummo. And we got there before the others because they went on the tour.

As usual, there were some wonderful little back alleys and interesting shops. These were at a pottery in the old part of town. And Christmas decorations filled the shop windows.20151104_140641

And now it’s photo time.


Regensburg cathedral


Narrow alleys aplenty











We left at sunset. Regensburg turned on a magnificent sunset, just for us. And here it is for you.


Day 6: The Sound of Music and a Narrow Escape

The hills are alive...

The hills are alive… taken from the train

We were off to visit Salzburg! But not by boat, or even by bus. We’re back to Imperial opulence. The President of the USA has Airforce 1: Emperor Franz Joseph had the Majestic Imperator, a special train for carrying him and his entourage. The train has been restored (read all about it here), and we would be riding it to Salzburg, and from there on to Passau in Germany, where we’d get back on our riverboat which would cover the distance on the river while we were away.

IMG_1528As usual, we divided into factions and boarded a bus to take us to the Linz railway station, which was busy. It was important to keep that coloured lollipop in sight as we made our way via stairs, escalators and underpasses to the train. There were four carriages, one for each faction, and each one was quite different in décor and purpose. Staff offered us drinks (wine, tea, coffee) and little nibbles as we travelled through the countryside. They actually cooked croissants on the train – not microwaved. They were absolutely delicious, the best croissant I’ve ever eaten. Then we visited the other carriages to get a feel for the resplendent whole.

Unfortunately, the weather was foggy so we couldn’t see much outside until we reached a higher altitude. And there were the mountains. Our guide was already filling our heads with the sound of music. He claimed to be a die-hard fan and promised us snippets about locations etc from the 1964 movie. Oh joy. Apart from the Sound of Music, Salzburg’s biggest claim to fame is that Mozart was born here. I’ll leave you to read all about Salzburg here.

IMG_1513You’ll be surprised to learn that there are castles on crags and an old city with cobblestoned streets, and a row of horses and carriages offering scenic tours. It also has a lot of churches and their clocks are not quite in synch. We were on our walking tour at noon and the noise of all those bells was deafening.

I have to tell you that my very first teenage crush was Captain von Trapp in the Sound of Music. I was 13 or 14. But I’m a lot older now, and frankly, I couldn’t care less about where the movie was filmed, or the lane Maria danced up singing I have confidence in me. And I sure as hell wasn’t the only one. I don’t think it was just our guide, though. Everybody got the same spiel, so there must be some people in the world still obsessed with the film, and the tour guides are instructed to make it part of their patter. I will share one thing I thought was pretty funny. Remember at the end of the movie they all escape up into the mountains to get away from the Nazis? The guide pointed out if they’d kept going they would have ended up in Hitler’s backyard at Berchtesgaden. The reality was much more prosaic – they caught a train to Italy.

Our little gang of six had lunch in an olde worlde pub (sausages and sauerkraut for most of us) then wandered across the square to what was claimed to be the oldest restaurant in town for dessert. You can’t leave Austria without having apfel strudel, can you? This place had the weirdest setup for ordering. One waiter offered coffee, somebody else offered cakes – but they wanted paying separately, as if they were two franchises using the restaurant. The apfel strudel was disappointing, mainly because of the pastry, which was stodgy. Some things are simply better eaten fresh.

And then it was back to the train for the journey to Passau. To our surprise the platform where the train waited was being patrolled by a veritable phalanx of armed police. This wasn’t so much to make sure we left as to ensure nobody uninvited left with us. Austria has its share of people trying to reach Germany, and the train was taking us over the border. A small dose of World Reality even before the Paris massacre.

Train travel in the dark is boring, because you can’t see anything outside. But to wile away the hours a group of young performers in costume went from carriage to carriage singing arias from Mozart’s operettas. And there was wine and beer.

That narrow escape I mentioned? No that wasn’t the train. The water level in the Danube was dropping every day. Any boat needs enough water under its keel to keep moving and Captain Zoltan was a worried man. Just ahead was the part of the river where a ship was most likely to be trapped, so he made the decision to make a run for it. He jettisoned what he could – mainly 200,000 litres of fresh water – and headed up river. This meant that when we reached Passau in the train we had to transfer to coaches to the next port. As soon as we were all on board, the Amavenita set off again. I asked Cherie what would have happened if the ship had to stop. Sh said another ship would be brought into service further up the river, and we would all be transferred by bus. It sounded like a logistical nightmare to me, but she said it was always a contingency plan – and it worked. I’m glad we managed to avoid it, though. Mind you, it was close. During the night we were woken by the rattle of rocks on the hull. In parts of that dash upstream the Amavenita only had 15-25cm of water under her keel. The captain and his crew did a wonderful job.

Day 5 Part 2: The Wachau Valley and Melk


Here’s the link to part 1 if you missed it.

MS Amavenita pushed off at 12:45 headed through the Wachau Valley for the town and historic monastery at Melk. We were blessed with another beautiful day and quite a few of us perched on the sundeck to drink in the scenery. I’d hoped for some autumn colour on this trip and I got it.

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IMG_1463We arrived at Melk close to sundown. Melk has been a Benedictine Abbey since 1089 and because of its location and wealth it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. You can read about its history here. I didn’t take many pictures – photos were permitted but no flash. However, Pete’s tablet did a great job with the light, so I’ve added some of his shots. Even they don’t do the place justice. Everything gleams and glitters and glows.




The thing that always gets me in these places of worship is the over the top extravagance. The amount of money spent on these places is obscene. And the reason the monks had that money was that rich people thought they could buy themselves a place in heaven. For them, it was real – as real as booking a river cruise, I suppose. I studied Medieval European history at university, and one aspect of what I read came back to me with a vengeance. Some of the monks in these extremely wealthy orders broke away to set up a simpler life, where they could devote themselves to God. Here’s a link to the history of the Cistercian order, which broke away from the Benedictine abbey of Cluny in just such a way. This glittering place of worship at Melk is a graphic illustration of why the monks might want to return to a simple life, as dictated by Benedict himself.

The one thing I liked most about the abbey was the library. Sorry, no pictures allowed. Apparently this library was the inspiration for the library in Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose. To quote the website: “The library of the Melk abbey consists of a total of twelve rooms containing about 1.888 manuscripts, 750 incunabula (printed works before 1500), 1700 works from the 16th, 4500 from the 17th, and 18.000 from the 18th century; together with the newer books, approximately 100.000 volumes in total. About 16.000 of these are found in this library room. They are organized by topics: beginning with editions of the Bible in row I, theology (rows II to VII), jurisprudence (row VIII), geography and astronomy (row VIIII), history (rows X to XV), and ending with the baroque lexica in row XVI.”

Melk abbey is a magnificent place, no doubt about it. But you may have noticed my heart speeds up to a different majesty. The flow of the river, the falling leaves, clouds, swans. To each his/her own, I guess.