Monday, December 14, 2009

1. Danube River Cruise - Vienna (12/12-14/2009)

Saturday, December 12, 2009
We just could not pass up a 2-for-1 deal! Kent & Tamiko started the trip in Jacksonville, flying to Atlanta to take their overnight flight. Brynne and her grandmother, Yuriko, started in Buffalo, flying to Dulles in DC for their long flight.

Sunday, December 13, 2009
We all arrived within 15 minutes of each other in Wien, Österreich (Vienna, Austria). A luxury motorcoach took us from the airport to the Viking Pride, a river cruise boat. The boat was long and skinny, in order to fit in the river locks, and it was only three decks high, in order to fit under bridges.When said with a German accent, the name of the boat sounded like "Wiking Bride."
Viking Pride docked in front of the St. Francis of Assisi Church
Yes, as with any cruise line these days, they take your photo!
Tamiko, Yuriko, Kent, Brynne
After checking in and taking advantage of the light lunch provided in the lounge, we took off on our own tour of Vienna. The U-Bahn (underground railroad, as in subway) station was only two blocks from where the boat was docked.

Vienna is a huge cosmopolitan city, and they were ready for Christmas. Lots of large, light-strand-covered decorations.
Huge Christmas ornaments
Down a cobblestone alley, we found the Griechen Beisel (Greek Eatery, as in restaurant) where long ago, dear Augustine played his bagpipes for a meal, and first sang "Ach, du lieber Augustin," a popular folk song. He is immortalized in a wood sculpture:
Lieber Augustin
The ornate Griechenkirche zur heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (Greek Church of the Holy Trinity), with a façade embellished by architect Theophil Hansen in 1858, stood next door.
Greek Church of the Holy Trinity
Our walking tour focused on the Jugendstil (Young Style, as in Art Nouveau), dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Although we passed Ruprechtskirche (St. Ruprecht’s Church, 1161), the oldest church in Vienna, our next goal was the Ankeruhr (Anker Clock, 1914).
Anker Clock
Designed by Franz Matsch for the Anker Insurance Company, each hour another historical figure marches by to organ music, and a procession of all 12 figures marches at noon.
We stopped in at the Uhrenmuseum (Clock Museum), with everything from the workings of a city hall clock tower, astronomical clocks, Grandfather clocks, to clocks built into paintings, pocket watches, and wristwatches.
After passing through Am Hof (In the Court), one of the oldest squares and the largest enclosed square in Vienna, we found the Engel Apotheke (Angel Pharmacy) with its Jugendstil frescoes (1902) of winged women collecting the elixir of life in chalices, painted by Oskar Laske.
Angel Pharmacy
Made a detour to Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church, 1733), to see a display of Nativity scenes. Jesus was born in the stable of a German wood-beamed house in the Alps! Actually, there were many types of Nativity scenes, from large to tiny, old to modern.
We need to mention that it was freezing here! Temperatures started out in the upper 20s F. It was lightly snowing off and on, and we tried some Maroni (roasted chestnuts) to warm up.
We took the U-Bahn to our next stop at the Secession Building (1898).
Secession Building
Designed by Josef Maria Olbrich in Jugendstil to showcase the works of the Secession Movement, a group of artists who broke away from traditional art.
Over in Karlsplatz (Charles Square), stood two pavilions (1899) designed by Otto Wagner.
Karlsplatz pavilion
Also in Jugendstil, they were formerly Stadtbahn (street railroad) stations for an underground system (precursor to the U-Bahn).
Because we still had time, we headed uphill past a Soviet memorial to Schloss Belvedere (Belvedere Palace, 1714-1733), a princely summer residence, and now an art museum exhibiting art from the Middle Ages to present day. We came to see "The Kiss" (1908) by Gustav Klimt:
"The Kiss"
(The picture from Wikipedia does not do it justice, as it is richly colored and includes gold.)
Took a streetcar and the U-Bahn back to the boat, settled in to our cabins, and dressed up for the Captain's Welcome in the lounge.
Welcome by the captain and crew
Free champagne!
We had a Safety Briefing telling us where the life vests were located, but no drill was necessary. Every evening on the boat we would have a daily briefing to tell us what was happening the next day.
We had the Welcome Dinner in the boat's dining room, that can accommodate all 150 passengers if the boat was completely full. (There were several single passengers, so not every bed was taken.) Dinner always began with an hors d'oeuvre, then soup, today an "In Between", choice of main course, and dessert. Except for today, we had choices for all courses, mostly regional cuisine.
The Danube River is 1,775 miles long, but we would be traveling only 307 miles of it. It flows west to east, and we were traveling east to west. We would go through 14 locks as we rose in elevation.

Monday, December 14, 2009
Breakfast was always a buffet with a few hot items, and you could order more hot items through the wait staff.
This morning we started with a bus tour. The passengers were divided among three motorcoaches, and each group had a local tour guide. The bus took us past the Riesenrad (Giant Wheel, as in Ferris wheel) and then around the Ringstrasse (Ring Street, built over the foundations of the old city wall). Passed the Stadtpark (City Park, 1863), home to the famous gilded bronze statue (1921) of Johann Straus II, forever playing his violin (he composed "The Blue Danube Waltz" in 1866). Drove past the Staatsoper (State Opera), Hofburg (Imperial Palace), Parliament, Rathaus (City Hall), museums, and churches.
Next we were dropped off for the walking tour. We had earpieces which we attached to receivers hung around our necks. The tour guide spoke into a transmitter, so that we could hear her at all times, even if we lagged behind. This is such a great idea!
Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral, 1240-1579) with its colorful tile roof (1/4 million tiles; rebuilt in 1952).
St Stephen's Cathedral tile roof
Later I made my family go and peek at the chapel where a statue of Christ has a beard made of human hair which is said to still be growing...
The walking tour took us past the Pestsäule (Plague Column, 1693), the Demel Konditorei (Demel Confectionary, 1888) with its famous coffeehouse, and to the Roman ruins in front of the Hofburg. We were then left on our own for an hour and a half. We decided to go in the Hofburg (Court Castle, as in Imperial Palace)
Imperial Palace
and marvel at the Schatzkammer (Treasure Room) Museum. Then back to Stephansdom to take the bus back to the boat for lunch.
Lunch could be eaten either in the dining room, with a salad bar, soup, and sandwiches, and a choice of entrees and desserts, or a light lunch was offered in the lounge, with salad bar, soup, sandwiches, and dessert.

After lunch, buses were available to shuttle those who wanted to go to the Christkindlmarkt (Christ Child Market, as in Christmas market). (Some passengers opted to pay for an excursion to Schönbrunn Palace for the afternoon.)
City Hall Square Christmas Market
The classic Christmas market in Vienna is held in Rathausplatz (City Hall Square). The neo-Gothic City Hall (1872-1883) was a beautiful backdrop for the market, and it becomes an Advent Calendar with 24 windows that are opened one by one showing holiday-themed graphics. We wandered through the entire market and sampled the Glühwein (mulled wine). The stalls sold Lebkuchen (like thick soft gingerbread),
ornaments, candles, items for Nativity scenes,
Nativity scenes
knitted items, toys, glass objects, etc., etc. However, the most popular stalls sold Glühwein in all sorts of flavors, sausages, pretzels, and gebrannten Mandeln (carmelized-sugar almonds).
We also visited a Christmas market in Spittelberg, a neighborhood of 18th and 19th century houses on narrow streets. Here there were more craft items.
We stayed out longer than the last shuttle bus back to the boat, so took the U-Bahn to the Sacher Hotel Cafe. We wanted to experience the Vienna coffeehouse, but the line extended out the door. We settled for purchasing a few tiny Sachertorte (Sacher cakes) to take home. This particular pastry has layers of chocolate sponge cake filled with apricot jam and the whole is covered with smooth dark chocolate.
Returned to the boat by U-Bahn in time for the daily briefing and dinner. Some passengers opted to pay to go to a concert this evening.
After dinner we went to the lounge to enjoy music by our "On-Board Musician," Randy. Although he was Czech, he sang in English and German! It was entertaining! We found a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in the library, and could work at it while we listened to Randy.
Next: 2. Melk.

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