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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Passau, Germany

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We boarded the riverboat named MS Amadeus Queen. It was a brand new floating hotel that holds 162 passengers. It was clean and luxurious, had a large restaurant on one floor and a bar on another. There were large windows to take advantage of the views.

I was surprised to find that the Danube River is not blue at all. The river is actually green and was said to be shallow enough to walk across. I had high hope that things were going to get better. But, next day was yet another day of disaster.

We went to the little village of Passau, one of Germany’s oldest cities with a history dating back 2,000 years. It had primarily two major things to see: St. Mark’s Cathedral and another large pink-steeple church with a clock and bell tower. Unfortunately, the streets were all very rough cobblestones.  I could not walk on them and had hard time trying not to fall.

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Our local guide was a Chinese-American guy with a soft voice. We could not hear what he was saying about half the time. Upon request, he did walk slower at first and only ran off and left me once. He totally blew the walking tour at the end, though, by giving his big ending speech at noon while every bell in town was tolling and echoing through the streets.

Geez, anyone with any sense would know to wait until the noise stops and then talk. I raised my hand and said, “We can’t hear you,” but I guess he couldn’t hear me either with all the commotion. If he worked for me, I would fire him. We also had not been able to hear the local guide in Munich when not on the bus. The problems were getting as old as Passau.

After that was over, we had free time or time “at your own pace” as they called it. The tour herd went charging off to a restaurant recommended by the guide, who by coincidence, was in the restaurant business. I had eaten a large breakfast on the boat and was not hungry, so we decided to take our time getting down the mountain and back to the bus. I had already tripped at least 3 times during the tour and only kept from falling by holding onto Morris’ arm.

Back at the river, we saw an ad for cuckoo clocks. I really wanted a Black Forest German Cuckoo Clock and had looked up various types before we left home. We figured out where the clock shop was, but I did not feel like climbing back up the hill on the cobblestones. I asked Morris if he would go back up there and see what they had. I already knew exactly what I wanted: a cuckoo, music and dancers, a moving woodchopper, and an 8 day movement. He found a clock and bought it on the spot without consulting me again. Fortunately for him, I really liked what he picked out, so I did not have to kill him.

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On the boat that evening, we had assigned tables and sat with two couples we had not met previously. We talked, laughed and had a really good time — the most fun on the trip at that point. Some people came with groups and sat only with people they already knew. I couldn’t help but think it would have been better to break them up and have them sit  with others so they could meet new people.

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(Left) Morris & Sheila – Steve & Glenda (right) – (back) Tammy & Todd

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Munich, Germany

Where to begin? Germany is very modern and at the same time very traditional. The people are friendly and cultured. Much of Munich was destroyed in World War II, but has been restored.

We are divided into three groups by the tour director, blue, red and orange. Our blue group was first to leave early in the morning so we were supposed to eat and be ready. However, this didn’t go over well, so the tour director, with the soon to become familiar lack of planning, told everyone to go ahead and eat early if they wanted. This meant the groups leaving hours later crowded the lines at the buffet almost preventing us from meeting the deadline to leave.

After breakfast, we went on another hour-long bus ride getting back to Munich. Then we toured the city by bus. The local tour guide was knowledgeable and pointed out sites, most of which were behind a tree, another building, or a bus. There were no photo ops except what you could grab through the window as the bus whizzed by. We saw only a small sample of the architectural treasures and historic sites.

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We left the bus at the New Town Hall and waited for the glockenspiel to chime.  The glockenspiel is a chiming German clock with life-sized wooden figures that dance around in the clock tower while music plays, a giant-sized cuckoo clock without the bird. The plaza was crowded with tourists waiting to gawk at this silly clock, us included. The New Town Hall building was beautiful, however. It had elaborate architecture and resembled a baroque church. In fact, almost all the historic buildings in Europe seemed to resemble churches.

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Next, we went to eat at a local restaurant which was a “famous beer house.” It might be famous for beer but not for food and especially not for service. Someone (wonder who?)decided to make it easy for those of us who had difficulty climbing stairs and let us use an elevator. We had to go outside and through a storage area to a freight elevator. We all packed on but the elevator wouldn’t work. And so they walked us through the entire beer hall packed with people to use a different freight elevator. By the time we got to the table, everyone else on our tour was already seated and had beer. Being late didn’t matter, though, as we soon found out.

We waited for the food, and waited and waited some more. Finally at last, the food came out a few dishes at the time — three servers for 160 people. When we finally had food, it was pork roast and a tennis ball. Okay, the ball was supposed to be a dumpling, but not what Americans expect dumplings to look or taste like. No one could eat it. I didn’t try, but I’m sure if I had thrown it on the floor, it would have bounced. The pork tasted good, though, and most people had thick slices. Mine, of course, looked like the pork butt and was two big hunks of meat covered with tough skin — lucky me. If I complained I would probably never eat, so I just did my best to consume some of it. There were no sides or veggies at all and the drink was your choice of beer, water, or nothing.

As soon as my Jewish partner saw the pork he went numb. When they had asked about special dietary needs ahead of time, he had specifically told them no pork or shellfish. Anyhow, he sent it back and they gave him a dish of mac and cheese that actually looked better than the greasy meat I had to eat.

The only good thing about this place was the bathroom, which you had to stand in line to use but didn’t have to pay. Most restrooms in Germany are pay toilets and you must have a Euro coin to use it.  You get a coupon when you pay, and you can use that to buy something, a twist on “restrooms for customers only.” If you didn’t have change, you could buy something to get it, then pay and get the coupon. Two purchases to pee? What a place. I became very good at holding it. I though they made pay toilets illegal in the U.S. but we stopped at a truck stop on the Interstate the other day, and guess what? Apparently, they are illegal some places, but a few are still around.

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The blue spot is not a flying saucer. It is a reflection on the bus window. Sorry.

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These are some of the buildings of interest that we saw on our bus tour. I wish I could remember what they are, but I was too busy looking to listen, much less take notes.