An uneventful flight today from Budapest to Amsterdam, but sitting around for flights then standing around waiting for our luggage is getting a bit old. At least this is our last internal flight!
Arrived in Amsterdam about 5pm to board our river ship, the "AMA Venita" which should have been the "AMA Reina" but she is stuck in Budapest due to the low water levels on the Danube so we will have to swap ships about half way. Even a week without changing beds etc. will be heaven!
Once on board we made ourselves comfortable with about 140 others, a mix of a few New Zealanders, Aussies and Brits, and I think they may have outnumbered us.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded from the middle deck to the upper deck; I don't think the cabin is any bigger but we do have a small balcony.
We certainly won't starve over the next 2 weeks, everytime we turn around we are offered food, be it breakfast, lunch, high tea, dinner and you can line up again at 10.30pm if you want.
Still in Holland today and we have been offered the choice of 3 activities - staying on board for a Dutch waffle making demo, a canal boat ride or a visit to Zaanse Schans, a quaint village showing different aspects of Dutch life. My decision was easy - I'm not likely to want to make waffles; after many visits to Amsterdam I think I could pilot the cruise boat on the canals (and give the commentary); so for old times sake I chose the village. But it was rather disappointing. John and I had been here many years ago and it was great, however it is too commercialised now. Sometimes you just can't go back!
While we've been sightseeing the ship has sailed to Utrecht so we rejoined it there and cruised along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal towards Cologne in Germany.
Tonight we joined the rest of the passengers for the Captain's Champagne Reception; introduction to the crew and shipboard life before enjoying our 4 course dinner in the restaurant and after dinner entertainment in the lounge.
We docked in Cologne about 10 this morning and while some stayed on board most of us disembarked for either a walk around the city or a walk around the city and a visit to a local brewery. We all started from the magnificent Cologne Cathedral where we were told the remains of The Three Wise Men are housed and after a visit inside were whisked off and shown other city sights - where the 4711 cologne originated, some Roman remains and other things that for the life of me I can't remember right now!
While talking about 4711, it was suggested that only "old ladies" used it - well I took offence at that, I've been using it in the summer for about 40 years and while I would be referred to as being of "mature age" now, I certainly wasn't back then.
Somehow I finished up with the group going to the brewery, not my destination of choice, but the snacks they served with the beer were tasty and they didn't point and laugh at me when I asked for orange juice!
Again the ship sailed without us so we rejoined it in Bonn. Some of the travellers chose to cycle the 30klms from Cologne to Bonn, but those who know me will know that would be a recipe for disaster - I can do enough damage on two legs, without adding two wheels!
Tonight we were the guests of Princess Heide Von Hohenzollern in her castle. Apparently she isn't always in residence, but for us she was! We were given free reign to have a sticky beak through lots of the opulent rooms before dining in the ballroom. Don't think I would like to live there - I didn't see a comfortable chair anywhere!
During dinner the princess gave us the history of the castle (Namedy Castle, or more correctly Schloss Burg Namedy) and later on she spoke to me - she said "sorry" when she bumped me in passing! It may not have been much, but I can now claim to have been spoken to by a real life princess!
Cruising today took us through the Rhine Valley and we had to be up early to see all the old world castles on the hilltops along the way. This area is famous for its wine production (but you all knew that) and the vineyards cover every available inch of the hillsides, right down to the river - how they pick the grapes is beyond me. Needless to say I didn't see all the castles as I wasn't up that early. To see them all you would have to have a neck on a swivel as we were kept busy checking out both sides of the river. Our afternoon stop today was at Rudesheim but I decided to stay on board for a break.
From the Rhine we have moved onto the winding River Main and this morning we were treated to a glass blowing demonstration by one of the local craftsmen. I have forgotten to mention that travelling these rivers includes passing through over 40 locks and the visitors to the ship are called "lock hoppers" - they come on at one lock and hop off at another further along the way. Today's visitor was very talented and entertaining, even if he did get a bit political at times, but it was good fun.
Today's land excursions comprised a visit to a wine cellar in Miltenberg or a hike up to the castle on the hill, needless to say I didn't undertake either but I did take myself off for a meander through the pretty picture book town.
I mentioned the plentiful array of tasty offerings, I don't eat three full meals a day so am content with breakfast in the restaurant some days, a light lunch in the lounge, sometimes a taste at afternoon tea time and dinner in the restaurant at night - but most of the passengers avail themselves of everything offered as well as unlimited beverages of all kinds.
Along the river today where the vine covered slopes of the hills and church steeples surrounded us. We docked in Wurzburg where we had the choice to go to the Residenz Palace, the former residence of the Wurzburg Prince Bishops or go further afield to the medieval walled city of Rothenburg which is what I did. I refer to it as a city because once it was one of Germany's largests. Now this
village, full of original buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, is full of character and charm and even though the cobbled streets are darned hard to walk on I thoroughly enjoyed my walk with stops along the way to visit the christmas shop and the patchwork shop which I happened upon in my wanderings, as well as a look at other places that took my eye.
An on board day for me today and this evening we were entertained by a lovely lady who sang beautifully in numerous languages. It was a nice way to end a very relaxed day.
We left the AMA Venita this morning to visit Nuremberg which is a beautiful city despite its WWII history. First of all we had a drive around the city then a stop at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds where Hitler spouted his propaganda, and saw the Palace of Justice where so many Nazi war criminals were tried and convicted in Courtroom 600. Leaving these stark reminders of the atrocities of war we arrived in the nicer part of the city where we had time to spend in the city square where I strolled through the market, bought the most delicious raspberries for lunch and then at 12 noon stood with many others to watch the "Mannleinlaufen" a mechanical clock on the church in the square that commemorates the Golden Bull of 1356. A bell rings and figures of trumpeters and drummer appear with a procession of electors and they all do their thing. In this case the "Bull" isn't an animal but a decree issued by the Holy Roman Empire. For more details ask Mr Google, the font of all information.
Leaving Nuremberg we travelled by coach to Engelhartszell where we embarked on the AMA Reina to continue on our way.
A cruisy day today with a lively Bavarian Music Fest after dinner. Most nights the evening entertainment is a couple of vocalists, who are ok, but nothing startling so it is great when we have something different and the visiting entertainers have been fantastic so far.
A real highlight today with a return train trip from Passau to Salzburg in Austria on the Majestic Imperator. The original train dates back to the 1800's and this replica was brought to life in the 1990's, incorporating all the luxury of the original train. A very different way to travel and with a few hours to explore Salzburg, where Mozart was born, it was a very memorable day. Looking for somewhere to sit and rest our weary legs we wandered into the cathedral on the city square only to be met by a vast expanse of emptiness! Not a pew or chair to be seen until we spied a few seats hidden away behind pillars. These benches had backward sloping backrests so you could lie back to see the exquisitely decorated ceiling. I don't know whether seating materialises for church services or if the congregation is left standing.
We are reminded often that the movie The Sound of Music was made in this area of Germany back in 1964!
The ship docked in Melk in Austria today and our choices were a tour of the Abbey or a walk around the old town at the bottom of the hill. The Abbey was originally the home of the Babenberg family but since 1089 it has been a Benedictine monastery and today also houses a school for 750 students and there are still monks in residence here. Our town walk started at the Abbey where we got to admire the Baroque architecture and then we made our way down the 80 steps to the old town which has preserved many of its original buildings, including the Council House, aptly named the Rathaus (Rat house). After a wander around I made my way back to the ship for lunch and the cruise through the Wachau Valley. Mid afternoon some of us boarded a tourist train for a ride through the pretty wine growing countryside before arriving at the tiny village of Durnstein, which I think consisted of only one street and a few narrow alleyways. Nevertheless it was nice to drop into the shops along the street before joining our train back to the ship. Some of the fitter travellers decided to hike the steep sides of the hill to the ruins of the castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned during the time of The Crusades, but I heard after that some of them regretted that decision!
Today we arrived in Vienna and unfortunately this is as far as the ship can go because of the river levels, so instead of cruising on to Budapest we get to spend more time here and will be bussed to Budapest on Saturday.
We started the day with a coach drive around the Ring Strasse, the road around the old city, and then I enjoyed a walk to St Stephan's cathedral and a stroll through the elegant Graben and Kohlmarkt with their beautiful architecture and upmarket stores. I had time for a coffee and cake (ok, it was hot chocolate) in the famed Demel cafe where John and I stopped for the same many years ago.
Another excuse to don our glad rags this evening for a visit to the Palace Leichtenstein for a private concert in one of the ballrooms. This building has to be seen to be believed - huge chandeliers, gold embossing everywhere, and the music was good too.
Because we had had an earlier than usual dinner, when we got back to the ship the chef had supper waiting for us, goulash soup, tasty German sausage and apple strudel - it was just lovely, a great way to end a wonderful day.
Happy Birthday to me, and to Helen in Cootamundra! We had a choice of three excursions today - visit a practise session at the Spanish Riding School, travel to Bratislava the capital of Slovakia or visit the magnificent Schronbrunn Palace. What to do - the Spanish Riding School won out as I'd been to Bratislava in 2012 and to the palace in 1995. While it wasn't a full blown performance at the school it was still entertaining to see the horses and riders being trained.
Another visit to Demels for lunch (it is my birthday after all) and an amble around the city streets and squares before meeting Ralph's rellies again (this was a bonus) for afternoon tea. We had arranged to meet in St Michael's Square so with our trusty map we set off to find it. Neither Cynthia nor I are terribly good map readers, so stopped to ask directions not realising we were just about there. The fellow we asked gave us directions, which would have gotten us lost, so I approached a police officer only to be told that we were already standing in the Square.
Our afternoon tea catch up was full of chat with Susanna, Katharina and Dominik wanting to know all our news. About 3 hours later Dominik put us in a cab to head back to the ship. As it turned out my birthday celebrations weren't finished - after our main course was finished at dinner the restaurant lights were dimmed and the staff presented me with a birthday cake and even sang Happy Birthday. Checking my mail later in the evening I found about 25 birthday messages on top of those I had received earlier so I consider myself a very lucky lady. I had a wonderful day, thanks to so many lovely people. A birthday I won't forget in a hurry!
Still in Vienna, so we were off the ship about 10 and made our way to the centre of town for coffee at Cafe Sacher before meeting Susanna and spending the day with her on the Hop On Hop Off buses when we saw lots and lots of Vienna.
Tonight was our last on board so there were lots of goodbyes, keep in touch etc. Some tours there are lots of people whose company you really enjoy and will maintain contact with and others not so much, and this was a not so much one!
Suitcases out by 8.30 and on the coach by 9.30 for our morning drive to Budapest. We checked in at the Kempinski Hotel just after lunch time, went up to our room, fell on the bed and slept until about 7pm. So much for our plans to have a walk. Tomorrow is another day!
Well, today we did do a bit more sightseeing. The interesting things are a long way apart so again we used the Hop On/Off bus and saw Heros' Square, the Parliament building, all the bridges across the river and all the beautiful architecture on both sides of the river. Then a stop for icecream completed the day - yummy!
Homeward bound today, but we don't fly out until about 6.00pm so I'm using the late check out at the hotel to bring my ramblings to a close. Thanks to everyone who has commented, I'm happy you enjoyed my chatter.
I've just uploaded some photos, but for some reason the computer has decided it doesn't recognise one of my USB sticks so will have to deal with later photos when I get home. Sorry about that