March 30, 2016 – Day Before: All is packed and sitting in the dining room waiting for tomorrow morning. Bills and taxes paid. Leftovers consumed. Lots of anticipation. Everyday life will be put on hold for three weeks.
March 31, 2016 – On the Way: The transition continues. Last night, when I undressed, it was like shedding the skin of everyday as I placed all my clothes in the hamper. Laid out were trip garments, part of the three-week array packed in my duffel. Then this morning I donned clothes that will cover me as I fly from here to Paris.
Small annoyances. Marian’s boarding pass did not allow for TSA pre-check while mine did. Luck of the draw, but this is the second time it’s happened to Marian. Barb came at 7:00 sharp. Sabrina was overjoyed to see her. Barb fed and walked her and then we talked camera gear while Marian dressed. About 9:00 we left for the airport, arriving maybe 20 minutes later. 270 in the opposite direction was clogged for miles due to an accident. We were lucky.
Bags checked in and passports verified, we went down to security. I zipped through and waited about 10 minutes for Marian to come through the regular line. We sat at the gate for a hour or so and then off to Atlanta, a flight of a bit over an hour, Delta First Class. Got in on time, went down to the subway and over to Concourse E for our flight. Boarding was about 15 minutes later. Both in STL and ATL, having Priority Boarding is great. We’re on an Airbus 330-300 in Business Class.
Paris is six hours ahead of Atlanta, seven from STL. So taking off at 3:30 PM is 9:30 PM in France. After around an hour, they fed us. Lots of food. And good food as well. I could not eat it all. Now it’s time to figure out if I can sleep for a few hours before they wake us up for breakfast! And didn’t. Was in and out but never really asleep. Know I will suffer for that after we land. Did watch most of the new Star Wars again. Fun.
April 1, 2016 – Paris: Ah, some April Fools pranks today. While we arrived on time, the walk from the gate to immigration was really long. I mean really long. Took about half an hour to traverse. Then long line at immigration since lots of flights seem to come in around 6 AM. Finally through, we went to the luggage carousel and waited and waited and waited as bags poured out. None of them were ours. After it was clear all the luggage from our flight had been offloaded, we checked with an official who called Delta/Air France and found out neither bag was on our plane (they keep track of them with their computer code). Best guess is that they will come later today. We went to the baggage assistance office and filled out a lengthy form on a computer screen with ample help from one of the people there.
Went out and found our driver who, gladly, had waited well beyond the norm for their service. Long drive into the center of Paris. Stop and go all the way. And it’s cold. In the 40s today. And gray. Got to the AirBnB we’d arranged for and went inside. Both of us were depressed by the apartment overall, the bathrooms, and the steps up to the second level bedroom are downright dangerous (each step only about 4-5” wide and deeply set). I called Hotel Saint-Louis Marais, where Robin and I had stayed in 2008, and booked two rooms. Now we need to make sure we get in contact with Jeff and Donna who are expecting to meet us at the AirBnB It was about a ¾ mile walk from the AirBnB to the hotel. Used good old Maps on my iPhone for the route.
Checked in and have rooms (12 and 14) in a different building right down the block from the one R and I stayed in. Called Air France to tell them a different delivery address for when they find our bags. Stuck what stuff we had in the room and walked down to the Seine and over the bride to Ile St. Louis and down their main street. Went into a brasserie where I think Robin and I had a final meal in Paris back then. Maison H. Moniet. Nutella crepe and Nutella waffle! Onward up the street until the end of the island and then back along the right bank of the Seine and over to our hotel. Now just exhausted. Marian is napping and I want to stay awake to not get any more out of whack than I already am.
Have emailed J and D as well as called the van service they are using to get fro CDG. Hope they get the message and come here! And they came. Call to the van service did it. They are also pooped from the long flights. We will all regroup to go out for dinner.
Chez Janou was all it was supposed to be. Got there at 7:00 and by about an hour later, it was jammed full. Glad Sandy made a reservation for us. I had the faro risotto, like last time. And then the chocolate mousse. OMG squared. The waitress put a plate with four spoons in the middle of the table and a tub/tureen of the mouse by it. A whole tureen! And a big spoon to keep putting more mousse on the center plate. Yes, it’s still the best ever.
Got back to the hotel about 9:00, still no word on the luggage, and to bed. Ended up I got a full night’s rest getting up with the alarm in the AM.
April 2, 2016 – Paris: Alarm went off at 7:30 and I got up, showered, and got in … well the same clothes. Marian the same. I joined J and D for petite dejuner in the basement of the main hotel building. Called Delta Baggage, but they didn’t have anything more than the bags were loaded on Flight 84 which got into CDG yesterday at 2:00.
Left hotel around 7:15 and walked across to Ile Saint Louis and down the main street and over the bridge to Ile de Cite. Walked by Notre Dame and onward to stand in line to get in Sainte Chapelle. Line moved nicely. Had to go through metal detector and I kept having something that set it off again and again. I emptied everything. Off came my belt, my watch, etc. Finally, I was through and put stuff back in my pockets. Getting outside, I realized that my money clip with $$$$ was missing. We went back into security, but it was nowhere to be found. After looking again and again, a guard took me over to the police station in front of the Ministry of Justice. There they could talk to people who could review the video files of the security station we had gone though. After some time where I had to tell the person on the phone my full name, date of birth, place of birth and then stand where another camera could record my picture, I outlined what was lost. Ah, around the corner came the other three of our group with my money. A guard inside finally found it in a security tray that had been stacked quickly as we went through. Naturally, I was shaking all through this. And now happy.
Finally we went inside Sainte Chapelle and its wonders taking plenty of photos. And I heard my mobile phone ringing. It was Air France telling me our bags had indeed arrived and would be delivered to the hotel this afternoon. Pant pant pant … or pants, pants, pants and other stuff. And there seems to be no Eddie Bauer here that I could have quickly replenished my wardrobe.
We stopped at a corner café, Le Deux Palais, across from the Ministry of Justice for coffee and shared Marian’s croissant and buttered baguette. We walked back to in front of Notre Dame, and after losing Donna for awhile, we were all found and got into the fast-moving line to go inside. Again, lots of pictures.
We headed back toward the end of the island where the monument to the deported Jews is. On the way, the girls bought scarves and I bought a red beret. Stopped at a restaurant where a man was making crepes outside, Café Esmeralda. J and D had a Nutella and banana crepe and the man told me I should have the Gran Marnier crepe, which I did and it was delicious. Marian nibbled on both.
The monument to the deported was closed (also in 2008 when here with Robin). Walked over to the Left Bank and down to Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Fascinating, wonderful. Never seen so many books in a shop. Next, we went over to Blvd. Sainte Germaine and headed back toward the hotel stopping to look at shops along the way. Got back a bit after 3:30 to recharge our bodies and electronics. Baggage not here yet. Did pictures. Baggage came about 6:15!!!
It’s a bit rainy, so we are going to take a taxi to the river boat, Calife, where we are having a dinner cruise. Well, Uber, I think since taxis are hard to come by. Around 7:30, a Uber driver picked us up and deposited us at the stairs down to the boat. Lovely dinner and cruise. Went way up and down Seine well beyond the center city to areas with tall buildings. Big Ferris wheel near Eifel Tower and the tower itself had a display of strobes. Sat at a small table with limited foot room on the upper level of the boat and had their higher price menu and a nice Haut Medoc wine … see the pictures. Eifel Tower was foggy and DP and I both went on deck to take pix. Lovely ride from about 8:45 to near 11:00. Drizzling all night. So we asked where a taxi rank was … two bridges down. Walked over Seine and two bridges down. Did not see a taxi rank, but could hail a taxi coming across the bridge and back to our hotel around midnight. I worked on the computer until after 1:00 and then to bed.
April 3, 2016 – Paris: Got up around 7:30. Marian slept in and we linked up about Noon back at the hotel. After breakfast in the basement of the main hotel, we got our gear and headed across the Seine and down Ile Saint Louis, over the bridge to Ile de Cite and then in line for Notre Dame tower. Glad we got there about 9:30 since when we came down around 11 something, the line was the length of the church. Had a full bell concert at 9:45 for 15 minutes. Glad we were not in the tower then! We were the second batch to ascend. We talked a bit with two young women from Kent who took the car ferry over and were only here for a day or so. Nice to be so close.
It was 420 steps up altogether and 375 down (difference is side trip up to see the bells themselves). First you go up some steps to the gift shop/ticket area. Then it’s up and up to the first viewing point. Great warm sunny day with sweeping views. Side trip up wooden steps to see the bells. And then up and up and up to the top level. There’s Sacre Coeur and the Eifel Tower and very tall buildings beyond the central city. And the Seine below.
Today was a marathon and we saw ribbons of colorful people jogging down by the Seine off in the distance. It ended up that the group we ascended with had gone down, so we had the upper level all to ourselves until the next group came up. Then down down down down 375 steps to the street emerging at the front of the church. Huge crowd as there had been yesterday in line to go in.
We tried again for the Jewish Monument to the Deported, but it was closed. Not sure why. Rested a few minutes in the park by its entrance. Then back down Ile Saint Louis to get ice cream at Berthillon … I had pineapple with basil and praline! Wowzer.
Back to the hotel to get Marian. Had to dodge through the runners in the marathon to get across the street. Dodged again on our way out. Walked up the right bank of the Seine. Took lots of pix of the runners. Cut over to Rue Rivoli and made our way to Angelina. OMG again. The hot chocolate there is thick enough to stand a spoon in … and it’s served with thick whipped cream on the side. It was about 2:30 at this point, so we all had lunch as well finishing it all off with a Mont Blanc … look it up!
We crossed over to the Toiletries and walked back toward the Louvre to take pictures mainly of the pyramid. Fun shots. Then back to the Seine and a leisurely Batobus cruise for about an hour and walked back to hotel getting there around 6:30.
At 7:30, we went around the corner to Vins des Pyranees. They we’re quite ready for us, so we went to a bar for some wine and came back around 8:00 for a terrific dinner. Very cute waitress, lots of energy. Nice cat there, too. Everyone was wiped out from the day. Jeff figured over 15,000 steps from his iPhone app. Worked on pix and went to bed after 11:00.
April 4, 2016 – Paris and Train to Zurich: Got up about 7:30 and joined J and D for our normal hotel breakfast about 8:30. Afterwards, we packed up all our gear and took it to the lobby of the main hotel building and checked out. We walked up the Seine to the Batobus stop and took it to the Champs-Élysées stop. Walked over to the Champs-Élysées by the Gran Palais and Petite Palais and then up the boulevard to the Étoile and the Arc de Triumph. Ended up walked on the left while I think I’ve only walked up and back on the other side. Hmmm.
Looking at the time, we decided to take a taxi back to Notre Dame and go from there. Nice driver and it was not that expensive. Walked past Notre Dame. I got a ham and cheese sandwich on baguette and then we got Gran Marnier crepes from same place we had gotten crepes earlier, Café Esmeralda. Across the bide to Ile Saint Louis and some light shopping.
Got back to the hotel a bit after 1:00. The girls went hunting and foraging for wine, bread, cheese while the boys sat in the lobby. A bit after 2:00, our van came early an took us to Gare Lyon. We waited in the main hall four our 4:23 train to Zurich. At one point, the departure board showed our train would come into Hall 2 (we were in Hall 1). So, about a half hour before train time, we trooped over to Hall 2 – many steps from where we were – only to discover that our train would now depart from Hall 1. So, we went back and shortly thereafter it was time to board on track “I.” Our first-class car was the first one past the engine and we have a two-and-two facing each other with nice tray table between.
As First Class, we got snacks (dried fruit, savory pastry, cookies, soft drinks ... and we had the server open one of the bottle of wine the girls had bout which we drank with great cheese and bread. It’s four hours between Paris and Zurich on the TGV high-speed train. Donna knitted. Marian napped. Jeff and I worked keyboards.
Got into Zurich on time. Could go to the Swiss Rail club given our first class tickets. It was only open until 9:00 and we got there about 8:40. Used the facilities and went back down into the station to find the track for our train. Track 9 and we were in car 319. Ended up that the roomettes were a tad smaller than we thought, only had a sink (and non-potable water), and the beds were really narrow. We did discover that there was water (still and sparkling OJ, and packaged tiramisu behind the sink mirror.
I decided that the upper bunk was way too high (the cabin is designed for three tiers and the top and bottom were open for us). So we slept and didn’t spooning and then at opposite ends of the bed. Left the window open so the lights of passing stations blinked in all night. Lots of stops, some of them long. I got up around 7:00 and Marian about 7:45. Oh, the potty room was at the end of the car, so an interesting trek in the middle of the night. Around 8:00 or so, the car attendant brought us boxed OJ, half cup of coffee, and a packaged croissant (not very good). Jeff brought us in some chevre from yesterday and bread. Better.
April 5, 2016 - Budapest: Got off train at main station and our driver was waiting for us. Nice man who is also a guide and gave us information on the city as we drove to the Sofitel Chain Bridge and checked in. Waited for our rooms and the girls had coffee while J and I keyboarded.
We went to our rooms to wash clothes, freshen up, settle in. Only was about an hour’s wait for rooms to be ready. And we both have rooms looking right out at the Danube, the Chain Bridge, Castle Hill on the Buda side beyond. Really nice hotel and rooms.
About 12:30 we asked for where to have lunch and the concierge recommended Dunacorso along the river. Sat outside in the shade for a great lunch. You will have to see the pictures. From there, we walked along the river and went to the Great Market Hall, which is much bigger than the one I was in when in Florence. Huge array of meats especially. First floor is mainly food and the second floor balcony is clothing, linens, crafts. Wandered around taking pictures mostly. Bought paprika, of course, some local wine. Walked back to the hotel around 3:30 and are in our rooms until meeting in the lobby for dinner.
Very nice dinner at Spoon, a restaurant on a boat moored on the Danube right below the hotel. Lovely service, drinks, food and more food. Then back to hotel for whatever before bed.
April 6, 2016 – Budapest: Got up at 7:30 and met J and D for breakfast at the buffet at 8:30. Funny mix up when I told the head waiter my room number and one of his records showed a different name in 310 and then they thought breakfast was not included and then saw it was. Gorgeous buffet with anything and everything you can imagine and nicely presented.
Went to front desk and made a seamless exchange of room keys as we transitioned from us paying to Avalon. The key cards are used for the elevator (will only let you go up to your floor) and to open your room door. Then you stick it in a slot to get electricity into the room. Also checked in with Avalon desk and met Istvan Pinter, our cruise director. Found out that while the ship can hold 150 or so, there are only 80 on our cruise. Great for us, not so much for Avalon!
At 10:00, we were met in the lobby by our Milk & Honey Tours guide, Csetneki Csaba, who was wonderful. Great historical, architectural, cultural information. And lots of details about the Jewish community across time. We highly recommend this company and this guide. Had a similar experience in 2013 in Berlin with this company. Good people and great guides.
First we toured Buda and Old Buda and were told detailed and interesting background information, context for what we’d be seeing. Stopped at Frankel Street Synagogue, which sits right in the middle of a courtyard of an apartment complex. Could not go inside, but could climb to the fourth floor balcony of the apartments for some nice shots downward.
As we went along, we passed by Roman ruins including a amphitheater that seated 20,000. Roman soldier areas were much bigger than where civilians were. Next stop was Óbuda Synagogue. Style of outside of building was sort of like the old Temple Israel in STL … columns, Corinthian capitals, etc. Inside they were in the middle of renovation. So all the pews were piled in the center. The ner tamid was one and ark protected. Interesting designs on the arched ceiling, fairly plain walls.
We drove around a bit more looking at different parts of Old Buda and then headed to Szentendre. While it’s billed as an artist town, it has Serbian history and many, many churches. Lovely little town. Had lunch at Muvesz etterem es bisztro. The paprika chicken with noodles was devine.
We walked around the town including two long uphill climbs on stairs for better views and also to end up at both the Christian cemetery (which we could walk through) and the Jewish one which we could only see from outside the fence. We were picked up by the driver and went back into the center of the town for ice cream! Plum with pieces of plum and walnut with pieces of walnuts. Yum. And back to the city by Parliament and to the hotel about 4:20.
Went to dinner at Aszu about three blocks from here. Excellent fare, service, and music with a man playing a hammer dulcimer accompanied by a man on bass. When we got back, Jeff and I want over to the Chain Bridge and shot pix of it as well as shots of cars coming and going on the bridge. Then walked over it and shot some cars coming around a traffic circle. Afterwards, we headed to where we had a clear shot of the front of the Parliament building. Great fun. Nice shots. Got back around 11:30, downloaded pix, and to bed.
April 7, 2016 – Budapest: Got up at 6:45. Met Jeff and Donna for breakfast at 7:30. Marian joined us later. Met at the lobby at 8:30, got our headsets and listening devices for our tour, and left on buses at 8:45. Morning tour with our guide, Agnes, was mostly driving around the city and getting history and context. First stop was Heroes Square and then over the river to the Buda side and up to top of Castle Hill where we were given background and history and then had about 30 minutes on our own. We spent most of that around St. Matthias church with its wonderful towers and mosaic tile roof. Back in the bus around 11:15, we headed back to the hotel.
We had lunch in the Paris Budapest restaurant in the hotel. First menu we were given had dinner main courses and prices. Got the bar menu and had wonderful open-face sandwiches (tartines). At 1:30 we picked up the listening devices and left with our guide, Szilva, who we liked better than Agnes. First stop was the Alexandria Book Shop and Café where, on the top floor, was an elegant belle epoche café. We had coffee drinks and traditional cakes. The ceiling is a large painting by the same artist who painted the ceiling of the Opera House.
After food and drink, we were driven to a drop-off point near Parliament. From there we walked and the guide talked as we went through the city ending up at the Art Nouveau Museum, a very interesting place filled with furniture and fixtures from the art nouveau period here. Walked back to the bus and were driven to the Opera House where we had an extensive tour. Gorgeous place. Super to have the tour. Got back to hotel around 5:00.
Traffic is a headache here. Lots of time spent bumper to bumper on a bus both this AM and PM.
Met Jeff in lobby before 7:00. Donna needed rest and stayed here. We walked up to Evidens for dinner. While the host was great, the food was delivered cold and had to be redone (we were given free schnapps). And there was a hassle when the bill arrived since “the credit card machine doesn’t work.” We told them we didn’t have the cash, were advised to go to an ATM. I went inside with a waiter who, amazing, ended up getting the credit card machine to work. We advised the concierge desk at the hotel of our experience.
So, we will pack up our things to leave for transport to the ship and go on a Jewish Heritage tour until midday and then some free time until we go to the boat about 4:00. Amazing that over a week has passed with a night getting to France, three days in Paris, a night on the train to here, and three days here. Good trip. Wonderful to be with Jeff and Donna.
April 8, 2016 – Budapest and Embarkation: Got up around 7:00 and met for breakfast around 8:00. Got all our stuff packed and ready to go. After breakfast, put our duffels outside the door tagged with our stateroom number and put our hand luggage with the bell hops.
At 9:45 we left with our guide Szilvia for the Jewish Heritage tour. First stop was the Jewish Museum and Dohany Grand Synagogue. It’s the second biggest in the world and biggest in Europe. Interesting history including its being bombed in WWII since it was a Nazi radio post. Also, there is a cemetery where 20,000 people are buried in mass graves … they died of starvation or were executed by the Nazis in the few years they were in Budapest and Hungary before the Soviets defeated them. The guides both in the museum and the synagogue were local and good. The first guide’s grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.
From there, we walked and toured the orthodox synagogue. Interesting that we could walk onto the bema and nobody complained. Along the way both before and after, our guide pointed out buildings from the art nouveau period, which is also called the Hungarian Secessionist period.
Then a bus ride down to the Danube to the Shoes on the Danube Memorial, “which comprises 60 pairs of metal shoes set in concrete on the Danube embankment, was set up in the year 2005. It commemorates the Hungarian Jewish victims of the killings committed by the Arrow Cross militiamen, the pro-German, anti-Semitic, national socialist party members of Hungary in 1944-1945. The killings usually took place en masse - the victims were lined up at the embankment, and shot into the Danube, execution-style. At three separate places of the memorial, cast iron signs read in Hungarian, English and Hebrew: "To the memory of victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45". This is a very simple but very moving memorial.”
We had free time from about 1:15 to 3:45. Went into a nearby square for a nice lunch at Bistro restaurant and then shopping in the booths in the square. Lots of good street food was also available. We finished with ice cream and then back to hotel to wait for being taken to the “Panorama.”
We were greeted in the lounge and then checked in and were taken to our cabins where our luggage awaited. We’re in one of the two Royal Suites, Cabin 310, which is large and luxurious. On Avalon boats, the bed faces the window so you can look out while there. We have a sitting area with couch and two chairs as well as a nice desk. Lots of storage space for our clothes. J and D are in 316, which is the largest regular cabin. Both are on the third deck, with only the sun deck above us.
Around 6:00 we were summoned to the lounge for a fire/disaster drill, introduction to the main part of the crew (captain and heads of each section). Were given sparkling wine and canapés. Tour director told us more about our schedule for the nest few days.
Dinner was at 7:00 with starter, soup, main course, and dessert, but all reasonable portions. Tasty. Boat departed the dock at 9:00. I went up on the Sun Deck and took pix of Parliament and the bridges as we headed north.
April 9, 2016 – Bratislava: We did not arrive in Bratislava until about 1:00. After a lovely buffet breakfast, we gathered to hear Inga Auerbacher, born in 1934, survivor of Terezin where she was from age 7 to 10. She had a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from birth through liberation by the Russians and some other later pictures as well. Stirring story. Sobbed a lot, as you can imagine. Her parents and she survived, a very very small remnant from her village. They ended up emigrating to the USA where she became a research chemist until she retired. This is her fourth Jewish Heritage trip with Avalon. She is a gem.
By the time she was done, it was lunchtime. Another nice buffet. We congregated around 1:15 around the reception desk, got our receivers for the tour, and departed around 1:30. It was cold, in the 40s, and cloudy. Dagmar was our guide and it was a walking tour around old Bratislava and dealt with city and Slovakia history and politics and religion and, of course, special attention to Jewish history. Last part of tour was visit to the synagogue. Interesting since it had no Star of David decorations and was pretty square inside. Other thing for me that is interesting is that we’re allowed to take as many pictures in all these synagogues as we want, to wander down to the ark, to climb the bema in the center, etc. Having just been in Florence where absolutely no pictures are allowed, it’s different.
They had small tourist buses waiting for us near the synagogue since it was the furthest point from the ship. When we returned, they had damp face towels and warm tea for us in the reception area. Later, the man who had given us the tour and background at the synagogue came and make a presentation about the community.
7:00 was the “welcoming dinner.” Amuse bouche, salad, soup, an intermezzo, main course, dessert. Sounds like quite a bit, but the portions are quite reasonable overall. Now we’re counting the time until snacks are put out at 10:30! We watched part of a Minchin concert on the TV in our room with J and D and then did check out the snacks, but didn’t eat any.
Tomorrow AM we leave dock here around 5:00 AM and get into Vienna after lunch. Supposed to be a marathon there … didn’t we do that in Paris? Must be the season for them.
April 10, 2016 – Vienna: Had breakfast with J and D around 8:45 and then spent most of the morning in the aft lounge. I went up to the Sun Deck when we went through a narrow lock to get around a hydroelectric plant/dam. Really neat to see the captain doing minute adjustments to keep this very long vessel right next to one of the lock walls.
I bit chilly and windy when we docked in Vienna and it’s a double berth so that we are parked right next to another river boat. Gotta keep our curtains drawn when we undress and hope the cabin opposite ours does likewise or not.
Had buffet lunch around Noon. At 1:30 we got on a bus for the Fine Arts Museum. Had to take a circuitous route since over 40,000 people were in the city doing a marathon. Spent several hours at the museum with our guide, Nina, taking us through the Kuntskammer Vienna collection. Unbelievable museum altogether, riches beyond normal comprehension. Gorgeous building, recently fully restored. Our pictures can only give you a glimpse of the scope and grandeur.
Got back to the ship around 5:00, went to Happy Hour, and to Austrian buffet dinner at 6:30 (to accommodate those who are going in for a concert tonight). Nice buffet. Way too much to eat and, even though there were “courses,” we ate faster than if we had a regular dinner. Back to our cabins. Up early tomorrow for 8:30 departure for city tour including the orthodox synagogue, back for lunch, and then out for special tour to Schonbrunn Castle.
April 11, 2016 – Vienna: Long day today Up at 6:45, breakfast at 7:30 and then off the boat at 8:30 for a tour of the city that began at the orthodox synagogue, Stadt Temple. Security was really tight there with a full metal detector and policeman who looked through everything you brought with you. The synagogue, Ruth, was terrific. This is the only synagogue in Vienna that was spared by the Nazis since it was too close to apartments and the oldest church in the city … so they didn’t want to set it on fire. And it ended up there was a full record of the city’s Jews there, too, which they used to their advantage.
Of the 170,000 Jews that were in Vienna pre-war (about 10% of the population), only 7,000-10,000 Jews are in the city today. And this is the only synagogue around as compared to some really small ones and prayer rooms.
After our tour there, we went over to the square where St. Stephens Cathedral is, did some light shopping, and went into the cathedral. Of course, impressive. Reboarded the bus and went on a driving tour of the Ring Road with its elegant buildings before returning to the boat for lunch.
At 1:30 we were off again to Schonbrunn Palace, the summer palace of Maria Theresa and her heirs. It’s 1,440 rooms … we got to see the most elegant of the special rooms. Ballroom is patterned after Versailles. After, we walked around just a small part of the extensive gardens … they are huge. Schonbrunn means “beautiful spring” or “Beautiful fountain” after a tale of a lost hunter who prayed to God for water and a spring appeared on this spot. And back to the ship.
Sat in the lounge before a really nice dinner. Then we had an hour’s concert by the Vienna Klezmer Band, a real treat. Now it’s after 10 and time for bed.
Vienna is an interesting mix of old buildings in one section and around the Ring Road and modern buildings with interesting architecture.
April 12, 2016 – Weissenkirchen, Wachau Valley, Melk: Up a bit after 7:00, breakfast at 8:00, and off the ship for a walking tour of Weissenkirchen at 9:00. The name of the town is “White Church.” Nice walking tour including 70 steps or so up to the church, which is quite elegant inside denying its simple exterior. Saw the vineyards that produce the wine the town is famous for (bought a bottle). Also, area famous for growing of apricots so there is jam, schnapps, etc. from the fruit. It was a short tour and we were back on the boat by 10:30.
Spent the next hour or so on the Sun Deck taking photos of towns along the Wachau Valley as we head to Melk. Lots of churches. A castle ruin in Spitz. Vineyards climbing up almost impossible hillsides, bluffs. Some apricot orchards.
After lunch, we came to Melk and took a bus to the abbey. The Melk Abbey is magnificent, huge, ornate, unreal. Our tour took us through only some of the rooms of the abbey and most were really transformed by modern audio-visual additions. The main dining hall was as original. The library contained over 100,000 volumes and manuscripts and is an active library. And the church? Wowzer. Gorgeous. All of it really over the top.
Walked downhill from the abbey through the town of Melk and back to the ship where there was a wine tasting going on presenting three local wines. We wandered back to our cabins for a few minutes before 7:00 dinner, good as always. While there is entertainment tonight, we’re all tired from the day and have retreated to our cabins.
April 13, 2016 – Grein and Linz: Got up after 7:00, breakfast with J and D and two folks from Brooklyn, Bill and Reese. Left boat around 8:30 for walking tour of Grein. After some historical background while we stood in the town square (it’s a very small town), we went into the State Theater. The Stadt Theatre in Grein, Austria was founded in 1791 and is the longest continually used community theatre in the entire German speaking world. Very small and wonderful. Only 120 seats can be sold out of perhaps 130 given fire regulations.
From there we went to the cathedral. As always in this area, plain white and simple outside and ornate inside. Although this one had a simple ceiling, rib groin vaulted. Outside, the tour was over and we all had coffee and pastry. But then we went back toward the ship and followed our tour director, Istvan’s, advice and had the “best gelato in Austria.” And it was very good! All of this before 10:30 AM.
I think I have to revisit library at Melk Abbey here. There were originally bound books from floor to ceiling on all sides and really tall stairs/ladders to be able to get librarians to the top. It’s because people were using their flash even when told not to that no pictures are allowed in the library. Grrr. In the second, smaller room, there is a modern infinity sculpture with tubes containing manuscripts to show that the collection is ageless and ongoing. The whole abbey is mind boggling, but the library and the church rise even above that.
So, we rested and downloaded and wrote until lunch at 12:30. Always good food. Marian and I went onto the Sky Deck. She got in her steps; I took pictures. Stopped at the town of Mauthausen so those going to visit the concentration camp could board a bus to go there and rejoin the ship this afternoon in Linz, where we will dock overnight. I thought and thought about going, but decided it would be too sad, too much of a sensory overload. So I basked in the sun on the Sky Deck on a day with the nicest weather we’ve had on the cruise and took pictures of the passing landscape.
It’s getting to the end of the river part of the trip. Tonight is the “Gala Farewell Dinner.” Some passengers only booked the cruise and not Budapest and Prague part of the package. So they will leave us in Passau on the 15th when we board buses to go to Prague, where we will spend five nights.
It’s been a wonderful trip. Love for it to go on and on for a while, but all good things … And we’ve enjoyed being with Donna and Jeff. A real treat for all of us. And the accommodations are outstanding. I highly recommend the Royal Suite for the price difference from other 300-level cabins. The ship is great. The crew friendly and wanting to meet one’s needs. We have a waitress we try to get at all three meals. She’s Irina from Romania and her husband is also aboard and works in the kitchen. All the crew smile at you, engage you with their eyes, ask about you – sailors, waiters, cleaning staff, officers. Really nice and we also really recommend Avalon for a complete and wonderful package. Istvan, the Tour Director, is personable, humorous, and takes care of us all. While there are a few pushy folks aboard, in the main it’s a nice bunch of people and we are spoiled since the ship holds 150 and there are only 80 of us aboard, 62 to continue on the Prague for tours and hotel there.
At 4:00, we went to the lounge for cake and coffee. Guess we hadn’t had enough to eat yet. Then Jeff and I took a walk into Linz, through the main square and down several blocks. Really neat tram system. Had fun not being part of a group and stopping to take the time for shots we wanted. Then back to our cabin until 6:30. Istvan gave us our disembarkation instructions and then down to the gala dinner. All the staff were in their dress uniforms and another good dinner. Sat with Reese and Bill and learned a lot about them. Fascinating and really nice folks.
There is a brand new Avalon ship docked near us, the “Passion.” There was a band and dignitaries around the gangplank when Jeff and I set off on our walk and when we returned. At 9:40, there were brief fireworks. We had planned to be on the Sky Deck for pictures, but it was drizzling. I got a few good ones with my small camera standing under cover near the rear of our boat.
Need to get up early tomorrow for 8:15 departure for our all-day excursion into Cesky Krumlov. Supposed to be colder and rainy. Blech.
April 14, 2016 – Linz, Cesky Krumlov, Passau: Were in three countries today. Started in Austria, visited Czech Republic, and ended up in Germany. Out early for a two plus hour rive to Cesky Krumlov, a really wonderful old town in the Czech Republic. Got quite a bit of history from Barbara our guide on the bus and then from Stanislaus, our guide in the city. Really beautiful town with very old houses and a castle way above.
So we got a walking tour of the old part of town. Then we had a lunch of Bohemian food. We walked up and up and up onto the castle walls for a wowzer view of the city and its surrounding river.
“A town that reaches to the skies above a bend on the River Vltava, Ceský Krumlov is a pearl of Renaissance architecture and a place where the sumptuousness of the local castle, maze-like alleyways, richly decorated coats of arms of burghers houses, and wonderful floral gardens are harmoniously interwoven; at the same time, it boasts medieval pubs, ale-houses, galleries and graphite mines. Thanks to its unique preserved medieval core, Ceský Krumlov is included on the UNESCO list.”
Walked back to the town square then back again to find a particular story then back to town square and a walk back to the bus. In the Czech Republic, it’s a privilege to pee … costs 50 Crowns at local WCs.
Another two hours and we were in Passau where the ship was waiting. We drank some wine with J and D in our cabin and tried to eat the special gingerbread we had bought, but it was hard as a rock. More of a decoration than food. Jeff and I walked into town and found ATMs to get euros I needed since we’re moving to Prague tomorrow with Czech currency. Nice captain’s farewell toast and canapés and then goo dinner, as always. Going to watch a short film about Inga and the doll she hung onto through her years in a concentration camp and brought out with her.
Tomorrow we have to be off the boat by 8:00, bags in the hallway by 7:00. Then it’s 3+ hours from here to Prague, lunch, and then a tour in the afternoon before we can check into our rooms.
April 15, 2016 – Passau to Prague: Forgot to say that the lunch place we went to in Cesky Krumlov was named Svekj and it’s on some steps you can take as a route to go up to the castle.
Up at 6:00, breakfast at 6:45 and put luggage outside our cabin door before then, off the ship and onto bus at 7:45, left at 8:00. Took until noon to get to Prague including a pit stop about half way. Lovely rolling countryside, forests, small mountains all along the route.
Prague Hilton (Room 1003) is a really big hotel. After leaving our hand luggage with the bell hops, we followed the concierge’s advice and went out to lunch a few blocks away at Pivovarsky Klub, which had great food and is a micro brewery as well. Walked back to hotel and got checked into our room. At 2:00,we went on a “secrets of Prague” tour while most went on Jewish Heritage tour (we’re doing a private one on the 17th). Ours was a small group of just eight. We were dropped off by the river near the Charles Bridge and walked all through that area, over the bridge, and ended up in a garden of their Senate before getting on the bus to go back to the hotel.
We were tired, but went out to dinner at Kolkovna Argentinska, where we had another great meal and drank beer. Took take to and from … about the equivalent of $4 each way. And the food/beer prices are really reasonable. Each couple only spent the equivalent of $32 including tip.
April 16, 2016 – Prague: Forgot to say on yesterday’s notes we visited the John Lennon Wall. Interesting history about it and its jammed with colorful graffiti.
Had breakfast with J and D. The buffet is the biggest of all we’ve had including Budapest and the boat. All met about 10:00.We decided to not take the city tour Avalon offered and, instead, to strike out on our own.
We have been researching David Cerny after seeing his statue, “Piss,” yesterday (two males pissing into a pool). Marian remembered there was a giant Kafka head he had here along with a Freud hanging by one hand. So seeking out some of his work was our objective. We walked into Old Town and the famous Astronomical Clock. Got there just at 11:00 and missed most of its movement, but it was neat. Huge crowds all around it, which dispersed as 11:00 passed.
Then it was onward to find the Kafka head, which we did. Fascinating. Look at the link to see it (and our images, of course.) Time was moving on and we had to be back at hotel by 1:00 for bus ride out to Terezin and a tour there. Jeff figured out the metro subway. We had bought day passes before leaving hotel. Lovely subway. Three stations later, we were right near the hotel.
At 1:00, we boarded a bus for an hour’s ride to Terezin. Inge had given us lots of information about the concentration camp where she had been as a child. And I found it to be a bit sanitized since the main town of Terezin where tens of thousands of Jews were housed in cramped quarters has now been rebuilt, repainted, clean. The small fort had more things associate with prisoners than with the Jews who were taken to this place. The museum was excellent with a great display of photos, documents, drawings by those interred, etc. And we ended with a visit to the cemetery. There is a big cemetery out front of the forts where the remains of thousands recovered from mass graves are reburied.
Got back to Hilton around 6:00 and walked over to La Republica for a great dinner and music returning to the hotel around 9:00. Late morning tomorrow and a 10-2 guided tour we arranged. Our Avalon part of the trip is over.
April 17, 2016 – Prague: This was a long and great day. Let’s say it ended with fois gras, deer, quail, veal cheeks, and lamb shank followed by a sort of lava cake with pistachio ice cream. Rainy day mostly, but not bad. Had breakfast around 9:00 and our guide, Michaela, from Milk & Honey came at 10:00 and we were with her for five hours for what was supposed to be a four-hour tour.
We walked to the Jewish Quarter and she filled us in on Jewish and Czech history along the way and in each of the synagogues. We visited the Spanish Synagogue, the most ornately decorated; the Maisel Synagoge; the Pinkus Synagogue with its inscription of the names of the Jews taken by the Nazis (saw some that were Hirsch, some that were Messing); the Old New Synagogue (the oldest continuous used synagogue in the world; and the old Jewish Cemetery with its tilted headstones. Hard to even try to give a summary of the Jewish community here over the ages.
But we did learn from our guide that Terezin was an interesting combination of good and bad. While it was an overcrowded concentration camp with deprivation, starvation, lice, transports to the death camps, the Jews tried to create a “normal” environment with music, art, theatre, etc. They were, in some ways, free to walk around the “town” to go to different events. So, when you go there and see the Large Fortress city of Terezin, it really looked like that, but was crammed with 70,000 people in a space designed for a tenth that number.
Had a light lunch on the Old Town Square at a bit after 3:00 and then back to the hotel. Dinner was at Café Imperial, an elegant place in the Imperial Hotel where we had what I mentioned above. Very great food which my pictures can only due mild justice. Walked back in the rain getting here around 10:00. Tomorrow also looks like rain, so we will do museums.
April 18, 2016 – Prague: Found out this AM that our breakfast was not included with our room now that we’re on our own and not part of Avalon. And they want around $30 per person for their breakfast buffet. Nice, but not worth that much since we’ve eaten whole meals at restaurants for dinner for about that amount. We met up with Pam and Nelson Heller (Pam is from STL, Shaare Emeth) for breakfast and settled for a place in the nearby mall. Nice visit overall. Nice people and glad we got to spend time with them.
Got our gear together and wandered around until we found the Mucha Museum, which was a real treat. Beautiful artwork, nice film about him. Next to see another Cerny, Wenceslas sitting on an upside down dead horse. It’s in the lobby of a building where the Lucerna Palace movie theater is. Great fun seeing the Cerny work. We had a light lunch at a café there … sandwiches and some Czech layer cake.
From there, we walked to where we thought the Mucha large paintings were, but they were not where we thought and where they actually were is not open on a Monday. So we walked up the street, tried to get into the Opera House to no avail, and then to the great train station for lots of photos.
Next it was back toward the hotel, but we stopped at the café on the street outside the Community House for drinks and an exotic piece of cake. Then down the street for the hot circular cones that are filled with Nutella or strawberry jam. And back to the hotel for R&R.
Had made a reservation at Kolina, but looked at the menu and decided to go elsewhere. So, concierge recommended V Zatisi. It was terrific. Lots to choose from and probably the best dinner we’ve had in Prague. Got back to hotel about 9:30.
When we went out, there is pressure to use the car service from the hotel. No taxis are out front. They have to be called. But not only are the car service drivers surly to talk to, but the rates are twice what a taxi costs. So, expensive Internet, pressure to use the hotel’s cars, and expensive breakfast buffet. Not good. Trip Advisor will hear about this.
April 19, 2016 – Prague: Long, last full day in Prague and the trip. Tomorrow is planned transit home. Left here at 9:00 and returned at 4:30 walking all day with the exception of a short subway ride. Went to Café Imperial for their breakfast buffet which was less than half of what the Hilton charges and just as good. From there, we went to a subway and took it to a transfer point then walked and walked to the next train. A few stops later, we were somewhere near the castle. Somewhere near is a bit of an exaggeration since it was a long walk and uphill all the way.
Prague Castle consists of several parts. We bought a ticket that allowed us to do the parts we wanted. And, as in the metro/tram system, “pensioners,” those 65 or older, get tickets at about half price.
The main attraction for us was St. Vitus Cathedral, which we thought so great that only Sainte Chapelle was better. Tall order to fill, but true. Huge, varying light as the sun came in and out, Mucha stained glass window and many other unique ones as well. Really breathtaking overall. Our pictures can only give you a glimpse of its vast and elegant expanse. Spent quite a bit of time in there. Got pissed at some of the Asians who are pushy and disregard others around them and a tour guide for them who was so loud others around us shushed her.
From the cathedral, we went to the palace itself. Again, a huge central room and lovely side rooms as well as ways to get out onto balconies to get an overview of the city. Then the Basilica of St. George, which is quite plain, but pretty. One of the things we’ve noticed in most of the buildings is the vaulting in the ceilings. Interesting patterns that seem to do more than be structural.
Went to a café in the courtyard for hot wine with rum, hot chocolate, and some paninis. Good simple fare. And on to the Golden Lane, small shops and residences built along the inside of the castle walls. Afterwards it was a long walk down to the city. We ended up passing some places we’d been on the Secrets of Prague tour earlier and went to the Charles Bridge. On the way, we stopped for some trdelnik, one filled with chocolate and one with soft ice cream. Yum. Then across the Charles Bridge with some light shopping along the way.
Long way home, but we hoofed it. Thought we were taking a shortcut through a large and intricate indoor mall, Palladium, but it was like a maze up and down and around. But the WCs were free. And we’ve found varying prices for WCs in the Czech Republic. They can be 5, 10, or 20 crowns depending.
So, a bit tired and foot sore, we got back to the hotel at 4:30. Tonight’s restaurant is an intimate, family-owned Italian place, Divinis. Had wine and other “leftovers” with J and D in our room.
Lovely dinner, slow and leisurely, took three hours. Fast taxi back to hotel and then packing, heading for bed, up at 5:30 to get to airport.
Been really swell!
April 20, 2016- Prague to STL via Amsterdam and Minneapolis: Up at 5:30. I thought our ride to the airport was at 6:20 and, sitting in the lobby around 6:30, we wondered where the driver was. I reread our voucher and saw the pickup time was supposed to be 6:00. So, I asked at the front desk whether anyone had inquired about us. Yes, was the answer, he’s sitting outside in his car. Since we had not left our room until 6:10, I wondered why he or the hotel staff had not called our room to see where we were.
In any case, it was no problem. At this time of day, there is little traffic and it’s 20-25 minutes to the airport. Once there, it was interesting that it was almost empty at 7:00 AM. Guess not many flights go out near then. Same on the concourse once we had been through passport checking and screening. Almost empty. Our plane was not to depart until 8:50, so we had lots of time to wander, pee, get an espresso from a machine.
Flight to Amsterdam on KLM was fine. Interesting that the seats we had reserved months ago were not the seats we got when we checked in. Sat in 1A and 1C. While these are bulkhead seats, they actually have lots more legroom than the other Business Class seats. Got in on time about 10:30. The KLM City Hopper planes are parked on the tarmac. You take a staircase down to a bus that takes you eventually to a door to enter the terminal on the baggage claim floor. So we went to the KLM lounge, but only for about 45 minutes. Even though our flight did not depart until 1:00, we were advised to go through passport control and then to Delta’s D1 gateway at 11:10, which we did. Lines were not long and we were through quickly and to D1, which is where Delta checks your passport and asks security questions before sending you to your gate. Did this in October coming back from Italy.
Boarding was Noon. Boeing 767-300ER. Seats 4B and 4C, middle of plane, each on the aisle. Lots of food and drink. All good except my pork main course which could have been mistaken for a brown hockey puck. Was satiated enough from the nice breakfast on the KLM flight and all the pre-courses before the main course that it really didn’t matter.
Downloaded Marian’s pix after lunch (hmmmm, lunchtime here but about 7 AM in STL). Between Marian and me we took about 14,000 images. My high day was 800 one day in Paris; M’s was about 450 on a couple of days (Paris, Budapest, Cesky Krumlov). Lots of images to go over, edit, and choose!!! Then worked on some pictures, mostly processing HDRs and reducing noise. Need to be on iMac to really do editing and choosing. Was interrupted by a warm chocolate chip cookie, but I turned down the glass of milk that could come with it.
Later, we had an arrival snack of lobster sliders! Got into the Minnie Apple on time. Marian had trouble with her scan of fingerprints at the Global Entry kiosk but it was no big deal and taken care of quickly by a Passport Control officer. Rechecked luggage. I got the quick pass through screening at an old man (didn’t have to wait in line for body scan). My much younger wife was not so lucky, but the line was not that long. So we wait in the Delta Sky Lounge for our flight in a few hours.