Wrapping It Up

I loved Germany, the German countryside, the small, neat and clean villages, always with a tall steepled church in the middle. Although I liked everything we saw, the trip was physically difficult for me due to my back problems.

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Marienplatz in Munich

Cities developed around villages and have “old town” city centers. Everywhere you looked you find quaintness and charm. Castles and churches are everywhere like a fairytale. The way to tell the difference in a castle and a church is that churches usually have clocks on the tower, castles do not.

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Castle along the Danbue River

If I never see another cobblestone street in my entire life, that will be soon enough. They look charming, but trying to walk on them is very difficult, especially when you can’t walk well anyhow.

Europeans have very efficient public transportation with an efficient train and subway system. They refer to it as the underground.

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The people of Europe are more environmental conscious than we Americans. Glass cola bottles have a deposit that is refunded when it is returned, like in the U.S. when I was a kid. We saw numerous solar energy farms, especially in Germany. Roadsides are clean and billboard scarce, mostly seen in town. Sometimes, however, ads are found in strange places, like on historic buildings.

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Morris at Roland’s Fountain, Old Town, Bratislava

Some graffiti is seen on walls, or under bridges, but it is fairly minimal and often of the artistic type. Beggars and peddlers are few and not annoying. I was only approached once by a young man with a cup for coins. Street vendors do not get in your face to the point you can’t enjoy seeing things like they do in some countries.

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The Danbue River was very low causing steep gangplanks and deboarding difficulties. Steps on the riverbanks were minimal, though, and had bannisters which helped a lot. The city tours were either on a large new and comfortable motor coaches, where you see things the best you can out large windows, or were long, difficult walking tours.

Meals were mostly onboard with not much opportunity to sample local cuisine. The one meal we ate on our own after first arriving was delicious. There were two other meals off the ship, the one with the purple sauerkraut, and the one with the rubber dumplings. If there were others, I don’t recall them and it is probably just as well. Guides sometimes suggested cafes, but why pay out of your pocket for food when meals on the riverboat are included and you have just eaten onboard and are not hungry.

The Oktoberfest segment was false advertising as far as I am concerned and some other people were quite upset about it. The few hours we spent there were a major selling point of the tour. It was a total disaster. I was so dead from walking up the hill that I just sat and waited and didn’t get to do anything. Some people tried to go into the beer halls, but were rushed and by the time they found a spot at a table, they could only swig a quick beer.

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Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

Germany and Austria were both picturequesque and quaint. Slovakia was a surprise to me. I had no expectations, but found it quite interesting. Budapest was fabulous. I had no idea how beautiful it would be. It is suppose to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and I must say it is truly the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I’ve heard that Paris is also beautiful, but have not been (yet).

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Budapest, Hungary

The water of the Danube was not polluted according to locals, but foam floating on the surface of the water, especially downriver, could only be cause by pollution. There are many large and modern suspension bridges, which are feats of engineering, as well as older ones across the river.  I was surprised by the number of locks we went through [16, more or less] an ugly little detail not mentioned by travel agents.

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I thought I would be able to view the Alps in the distance in Austria, but did not see them. That was disappointing as I’ve always wanted to see the Alps. I could swear I saw a picture of mountains in the travel brochures, but I can’t find it now. I either imagined it, or we passed this area at night or in the fog.

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Cruising to Vienna

As I have mentioned several times, the tour seemed loosely planned and was not efficient. On the riverboat, everything was perfect. The food was tasty, the entertainment good, the crew and staff spoke English and were friendly. The tours off the boat were a problem. We seemed to spend a lot of time just waiting and then zipping by things without time to fully appreciate what we were seeing. While it is not possible to control every detail, there were obvious problems. This was not a bargain or discounted tour.

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The Blue Danbue Cocktail – I had to try one.

The local currency was Euros, which I found user friendly. Euros are worth more than U.S. dollars, which you have to keep in mind when shopping. The bills were marked and different amounts were different colors and sizes. The smallest denomination was five Euros. Smaller amounts, such as one Euro and two Euros were coins. Most places prefer currency and some places will not accept a credit card. Thank goodness I planned ahead.

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Photo Public Domain

Language was not a problem. All staff on the ship spoke English, tour guides, of course, airport personnel, and shop keepers. Even the general public could switch easily to English. It seems English has become almost a universal language. Europeans are much more versatile with communication than we are. Americans tend to think our own ways of doing things are the best, but the rest of the world does not view  us as we view ourselves. Many brochures advise you to try not to act like an American in mannerism or dress.

I liked everything I saw. I would have liked it better from a tram or in a smaller tour group. Hopefully, I will eventually forget the pain I endured and mainly remember the things I saw. As an inexperienced traveler, I did not check out the travel agency carefully enough to be sure it had been in business a long time and had guides that were experienced with our agenda. There are many hidden expenses, such as extra tours and services and tips.

Traveling makes you want to travel more. It broadens your horizons and expands your knowledge and understanding of people different from you. You learn to appreciate how well off Americans are and to see our shortcomings in greater depth. Others do not view Americans as well as we view ourselves. I will not plan a long trip again until my back improves and I can walk without pain, but I hope at some point I can travel again. There is a whole world out there and what most of us have seen is only a fraction of the diverse cultures of the earth.

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Glokenspiel, New Town Hall, Munich

In spite of the inconveniences, some of which can be expected, and my petty complaints, I still am grateful to be able to take this trip and see how other parts of the world live.  What’s next? Well, I mentioned Paris and Switzerland. Thailand, China would be interesting, as well. I am open to suggestions if you have any.

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Buda & Pest

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We finally reached Budapest, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities — much larger than I expected. It was once two cities, Buda and Pest, on opposite sides of the river, but was combined into one city. Hungary has not won a war since the Ottoman Empire, but has nevertheless survived and developed into a stunning city. The architecture of the buildings was, without a doubt, the most exquisite of any city we saw. Especially spectacular was the Parliament Building, one of many amazing sights.

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The most gorgeous scene of all was the way the city lights up at night. All the building and antique architecture have flood lights that show them off in a spectacular way and are reflected in the river. The numerous bridges from one side of the city to the other also have lights. All in all, it is like a fairyland, most impressive. I was mesmerized by the spectacular light show as the boat cruised up and down the waterfront at night. It was a perfect ending to the cruise.

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Finding German Roots

Dachau entrance

My partner, Morris, was born in Germany, but came to the U.S. with his parents as an infant when they immigrated. Ever since I’ve known him, he has wanted to see where he was born (Föhrenwald, Wolfratshausen, Bavaria, Germany) now called “Waldram.” This is his story, not mine. He should be the one telling it, but I doubt he ever will, at least not on the Internet.

His parents were Jewish and fled all over Europe trying to escape the Nazis during World War II. They were successful in evading capture and were in a displaced persons camp near Munich when the war ended. When they had an opportunity to come to American and escape war-torn Europe, they took it and moved to Pittsburgh. There they raised Morris and his two younger brothers that were born after moving to the U.S.

His mother was Ukrainian, his father Polish. We were trying to figure out how many languages his father spoke and came up with 5-7. Morris speaks German and had been attending meetings with a German-speaking club prior to our trip to brush up on the language. He spoke Yiddish as a pre-school child, took German in high school and college, but has forgotten much of it.

When we first planned the tour, he had the idea that he could leave the tour long enough to see the city where he was born. That turned out not to be the case and the travel agent recommend he leave a day ahead, which he decided to do. Because of the different schedules, we had to travel separately. It was a lot of extra expense and trouble, but we both felt he needed to do it anyhow. He might never have an opportunity like this again.

Using the Internet, he was able to find a private guide to meet him at the airport and drive him around.  His guide first took him to the city where he was born, and he saw the hospital where he was born, which is now a bath house. They went to the Registry Office in Waldram where he obtained copies of his original birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license. His grandparents names were recorded in the documents. He didn’t know their names before as his parents would never talk about the past. As far as Morris knows, his father’s relatives all died in the war. He believes his mother may have family in Israel, but doesn’t know who or where they are.

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Former Hospital in Waldram

After seeing the village, which he said was a typical German village with narrow streets lined with houses and shops, he wanted to go to see Dachau Concentration Camp, now maintained as a memorial to those who died there during the Holocaust. Many of the cities we visited later on the tour still have low Jewish populations as so many died during the war. Our tour guide in Austria said there is deep regret for the atrocities of World War II. The Nazi party is now non-existent and even drawing a Nazi swastika as graffiti or giving a Nazi salute can cause you to be arrested. Morris said he looked at each room of the camp and that only two barracks were still standing. The site appears so peaceful now. It is hard to believe the atrocities that happened there.

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Site of former barracks

So, he was successful in finding his roots. I cannot image not having an extended family as I have so many relatives, down to second and third cousins even. But everyone needs to know where they came from in order to know who they are. It was a worthwhile endeavor.

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Guard Tower at Dachau

Bratislava, Slovakia

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Today we went to another town in the small country of Slovakia. According to our guide, the country is half of what used to be Czechoslovakia. The other half became the Czech Republic. “They split the country in half and no one knew they were doing it until we woke up one morning and it was done,” the guide told us. [Tour guides like to make jokes.]

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First we went to Bratislava Castle built over 1,000 years ago. We practically ran to the top of a big hill where it was located. Apparently, that was the biggest attraction here. We had seen so many castles by then, we were starting to lose interest. It was extremely windy on the hill. I don’t know how the King kept his crown from blowing off. We were not there very long, thank goodness.

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After seeing the castle, we took the bus back to the Old Quarter, which is supposed to be a “pedestrian area,” but that might have been another joke. You had to watch carefully to keep from being run over by delivery trucks, street cars (called trams), bicycles, and other tourists. The tourists were like waves in the ocean, one group after another, each with a guide carrying a sign so the herd could follow and not get lost the crowd — unless the guide ran off and left us, which they often do.

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The area had many large green statues, a fountain and the unavoidable streets of cobblestone. If I never see another cobblestone in my life, I will be happy. In the middle of the city, there was a church, of course. Every city or village has a church and this one was no exception.

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After taking the obligatory photos of everything in sight, we found a souvenir shop and bought the essential cheesy T-shirts. Then we walked back to the ship, which was not too far away for a change. We could have made use of free time to shop and sightsee on our own as the town center was so close to the river, but we had to return to the ship to travel in daylight so the boat would not become grounded in shallow water.

The next day we would tour in the afternoon at 2 p.m. since the Horse Farm event was canceled. One good thing in the tour was still on, though, the “Lights of Budapest” cruise. For some reason cruising the river at Budapest was allowed although no other night travel was permitted.

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Just Cruising

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We did not take the expensive optional tour of Salzburg the home of Mozart. The people who went thought it was like a fair-tale village. I hated to miss it, but it was all day long — more walking than I could possibly do.

I slept until 10:00 a.m. as I was so exhausted and only woke up once because the ship was vibrating. I don’t know what that was all about. We were probably going through a lock. There are so many locks on this river that I lost count.

I missed breakfast entirely as I slept right through it. Lunch will be at noon. There is a light lunch in the lounge or a regular lunch in the dining room. Decisions, decisions. Actually, it was the same food, only a buffet in one place and table service in the other.

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I was enjoying the beautiful scenery from the boat. Meanwhile, back in the cabin, my partner blew out his currency converter, the thing that changes 230 electricity into 110 so American appliances can use it. He borrowed one from another passenger and blew it out too. I don’t know what he is doing. Anyhow, I am sharing mine with him. Hope he doesn’t blow it out.

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He can’t seem to keep the batteries going on his huge camera and fiddled with it through the entire tour yesterday. I don’t know why he doesn’t just take pictures with his cell phone. I have been using my cell as it is smaller and easy to carry. I will use my regular camera, when we take the night cruise as it can take pictures at night and the cell phone cannot.

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While we had a free day, I decided to get a massage. The massage was not exactly like others I’ve had, but still very relaxing. The odd thing was the masseuse did not leave the room while I undressed. I guess Americans are more prudish about such things than Europeans. I left my undies on and grabbed the sheet to cover up as fast as I could.

The boat made a short stop in Linz and we could go exploring on our own. But it rained and was very cloudy and nasty, so most people did not try to shop. There will be other opportunities. Most things are closed on Sunday in Germany anyhow. We enjoyed the lights of Linz that night and took some pictures. After dinner we went to the lounge for the first time as we have always been too tired before. They had a piano player and singer so, we relaxed and enjoyed the entertainment and dancing.

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Up again at 5 a.m. tomorrow for a 6 a.m. departure tour of Vienna. Rumor had it that some people were so mad about the disorganization that they called Premier Travel. We were supposed to get free beer and all-day coffee to make up for it, but nothing can really make it up.  I told the tour director that I liked the Turtle Group and he promised to do it again tomorrow. They are also having two dinner servings — one for people going to an optional concert in Vienna and one for everyone else. Sounds good.

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This museum building changed colors: pink, blue and green.

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Vienna, Austria

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In Vienna they appreciate the finer things of life and have many statues, fountains, and buildings with grand architecture. We were supposed to tour Vienna on a bus. For the afternoon we have “at leisure time.” I hoped this didn’t mean walking around a large city in a foreign country without knowing where you are, unable to speak the language, and with no guide. If I wanted to wander around by myself, I would not have signed up for a tour.

Much to my relief, my fears were unfounded. As it turned out, the tour was okay, more or less. The tour guide was one of the best we have had. She said she was a ballerina at one time, and she knew a lot about music as well as a lot about Vienna. We drove around on a bus and looking at historic buildings. Then we got off the bus and walked to “City Center,” which I suppose is the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of Vienna. The guide walked slow enough getting there, but on the way back she shifted gears and took off. *sigh* Nothing new.

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We were supposed to look around on our own for a while and meet the  guide back at a big clock. I hobbled along with my cane, doing the best I could on cobblestone streets. Mo had quit helping me by now. I was going to tour the old church, but it was a mob scene, so I decided to skip it and look around the souvenir shops. Then I found a bench and sat down and waited. Not much more I could do by myself.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

I think the company tour directors may finally “get it” that old people cannot walk fast. It seems that a company that specifically markets to old people and senior organizations would know this. I am not walking slow on purpose. My knees and my back hurt and I’m afraid of falling down and being seriously injured. I can only do what I can do. The amount of walking was the low point of the entire trip for me.

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Mo was fixated on getting a converter plug to replace the one he shorted out, but didn’t find one in a tourist area, of course, and wasted the entire time looking. After we got back to the boat, he decided to get a taxi and go back to town. He paid I don’t know how much to get the taxi to take him to an electronics store where he could buy a converter, even though he could share mine and didn’t need it. Then he went to the souvenir shop and bought a sweatshirt exactly like the one I bought earlier. While he was gone, I took a nap as I was worn out again.

Tonight we got the massively “good” news that the water was too low to move the boat at night, so we would have to sail tomorrow afternoon instead of having time at leisure. I didn’t really care whether I had time at leisure or not. The Captain said they were going to drain the pool to lose some weight. What next? Will they throw off all the luggage and if that doesn’t work ask for volunteers to jump? (Okay, okay, an old joke. Sorry about that.)

We got more “good news” that not enough people had signed up to the Hungarian Horse Farm optional trip and it was cancelled. It is probably because they want to move the boat during the time we were to go to the show. I am beginning to suspect everything is a ploy.

A small string orchestra entertained on the boat after dinner and that was nice. Most people liked the food the boat served. I called it banquet food. It was course after course, salad, soup, appetizer, main course, (a small portion of something with gravy drizzled on the plate and a garnish on top) and dessert. Every meal except breakfast was served with wine. I later found out the chefs were Russian. I thought it did not seem like German food, and it certainly was not American.

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Vienna Opera House

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Tribute to Holocaust Victims

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Wine Country of Austria

Today we visited Melk Abby. It is an active Benedictine Monastery, but the monks don’t come out for tourists, only for work and prayer, so we didn’t see them. We saw a big room that used to be a dining room and a huge library that looked like it was from a Harry Potter movie. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to make pictures inside.

We also toured wine country and saw the ancient village of Durnstein. It was interesting as there were ruins of an old castle as well as a small village with narrow, cobblestone streets and little shops. Unfortunately, As soon as we got off the bus, the local tour guide took off like a gazelle and I had no idea where he went.

I finally caught up and I spoke with him about slowing down. After that, he would stop once in a while for people to catch up. I came closer to falling down than at any other time on the entire trip when Morris cut in front of me and I tripped over his foot. I still don’t know how I managed to catch myself.

We walked up Main Street and down a valley into a courtyard in front of a pretty old baroque church. The steeple was painted blue and white, blue for the Virgin Mary and white for heavenly clouds, per the local guide. It is supposed to be the only blue and white steeple in Austria.

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Next, the tour herd went up a steep alley with crooked cobblestones and large terraced steps. For the first time I balked and refused to go. The guide said they were coming back to the same area in 45 minutes, so why hurt myself?

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Eventually, they all came back and we went into a courtyard then into a wine “cellar”. I always thought “cellars” were below ground level, but this one was up a few steps. One good thing about these historic old places is most of them have installed a modern convenience called a “banister.”

The cellar was set up with long tables like a beer hall except with wine glasses. A local resident gave a talk about wines produced by his family, mostly white but they also produced red wine. Then, the good part, we were given a taste.

Wine #1 was apple smelling and had a peppery after taste. It burned and I thought it must have a high percentage of alcohol.

Wine #2 was also white and supposedly had an apricot taste.

Wine #3 was red. It was the smoothest wine I’ve ever tasted, no burn or after taste.

The red wine supposedly had been hard to develop and hard to grow as most ground was devoted to the more popular white wines of the vicinity. The grape terraces were on hillsides as well as on flat land and were supposedly four times as hard to harvest on the terraced land as it must be done by hand.

That evening we went to an optional orchestra concert at a concert hall in Vienna. I chose this because it was a “sit down” event; however, it turned out to be more beautiful that I could have imagined. It was one of the best things we did on the entire trip.

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The orchestra played classical music, mostly Strauss, but some Mozart and other composers. It was sort of a mix of opera singers, ballet and well-known classical music. I couldn’t believe I was at a concert in Vienna, Austria, the place where Strauss once directed his orchestra. This was the one and only time we heard the Blue Danube Waltz played on the entire Blue Danube trip.

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intermission

Pre-concert. No pictures allowed during live performance.