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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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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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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The Arrival

We arrived in Munich. I met the tour guide and we were transported by bus to a hotel in Timbuktu. We are out in the German countryside in a new hotel an hour from Munich. I don’t know how much they pay the travel company to come here, but it must be a very good deal for someone. It doesn’t look like the promised Bavarian village to me, just some shops built for tourists.

For some reason, I already think this is not very well planned. We cannot get in our rooms until 4 a.m., so we leave suitcases in a meeting room. We are now supposed to go eat on our own. Some people have no Euros and the hotel restaurant doesn’t take credit cards. They can’t get Euros as it is a holiday and banks are closed. Thank goodness, I thought about currency ahead of time. But, I’m not hungry — I’m tired. Besides, I can’t get up steps with no banister to get to the pizza restaurant where the tourist herd is going.

Oh, wait! I see Morris who came yesterday. Good news! He already has a room, so I retrieved my suitcase and checked in. I wanted to sleep, but he is hungry, so we decided to eat. It is cool and windy, but we walked about a block or two to a German restaurant. I figured I could eat pizza at home. I had Cordon Bleu and he had steak and potatoes. The food was delicious and not much more expensive than a moderate priced chain restaurant at home.

Tomorrow, we will go on a walking tour of Munich. The capital city of Munich is located in Bavaria a state in Germany with picturesque villages and medieval towns. We will begin with a Munich City Tour and see the glockenspiel, a famous clock thingy in the town hall with life-sized wooden figures that dance around. The New Town Hall is supposed to have cool architecture.

After that, we will spend about 3 hours experiencing Oktoberfest. Not sure 3 hours is much of an experience — but, oh well, I didn’t come to drink beer anyhow. However, the wine at dinner was very good and I had a taste of Mo’s beer. I don’t like beer, but it was not bad. Guess I’ll try one tomorrow as beer is what the festival is about, that and King Ludwig’s wedding a few hundred years ago.

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On the bus we had passed a lot of fields with strange posts and wire cages. We found out it was where “hops” for beer is grown on vines that love to climb. The hops have already been harvested for this year, however. The little villages we passed were interesting — clusters of red-roof houses and always a church with a tall steeple, like a Christmas snow globe. Bavaria is what most people think of when they think of Germany.

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These photos were taken later, but are so typical of the scenery that I wanted you to see them.