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NOTE: Clicking on the dates will take you to the blog entry (later on this page), while clicking on the place name (if it is a link) will take you to the track for the day. Clicking on the activity will take you to the corresponding photo page.
Note that the link to the track for the day will download a file. You will need Google Earth to open this file. The track is not always complete due to technical problems in following the GPS satellites, and in some cases (due to overnight cruising) includes data for the previous day. So if a day appears missing, click the next day and follow the track backwards.
|0||03 May 2014 Saturday||Melbourne||Packing and Leaving||Dinner: with Pam and Grant, at the Barkers Hotel|
|1||04 May 2014 Sunday||Singapore||Arriving, Fairmont, Walking, Merlion, Marina Sands, Garden on the Bay, Singapore Flyer||Breakfast: on flight SQ218, and Executive Lounge, Fairmont; Lunch at Supertree Dining, Casa Verde; Dinner in Executive Lounge at Fairmont|
|2||05 May 2014 Monday||Singapore||Cafe Dome; Fort Canning; Botanic Gardens (Evolution Garden); Brewerk; Singapore Airport||Breakfast: Executive Lounge in Fairmont; Lunch: Brewerkz; Dinner: on flight SQ324|
|3||06 May 2014 Tuesday||Amsterdam 1a , 1b||Arrival, Hotel, New/Old Churches, Cheese and More, Amstel Hoek, In de Waag, Happy Hour, Strolling||Breakfast: on flight SQ324; Lunch: Amstel Hoeck Dinner: pizza in bar at Convent Hotel|
|4||07 May 2014 Wednesday||Amsterdam (Keukenhof)||Keukenhof Gardens; Belhamel Restaurant||Breakfast: Convent Hotel; Lunch: Beatrix at Keukenhof; Dinner: Belhamel|
|5||08 May 2014 Thursday||Amsterdam||Rijksmuseum; Diamond Museum; Concertgebouw Dinner and Concert||Breakfast at Rijksmuseum; Lunch: Dinner: Concertgebouw|
|6||09 May 2014 Friday||Amsterdam||Van Gogh Museum; Steidelijk Museum; Nemo||Breakfast at Steidelijk Museum; Lunch at Nemo on roof; Dinner at Fogata|
|7||10 May 2014 Saturday||Amsterdam||In de Waag (not); Rembrandt's House; Canal Cruise; Oude Kerke; Lord in the Attic; Neue Kerke; Utrechtsedwarstafel Restaurant||Breakfast at t'Loosje; Lunch at Oude Kerke; Dinner at Utrechtsedwarstafel|
|8||11 May 2014 Sunday||Amsterdam||Rijksmuseum; Tram Route 2; Embarkation on MS Amadante||Breakfast at Rijksmuseum; Lunch (skipped); Dinner on Amadante|
|9||12 May 2014 Monday||Zaanse Schans and Rhine||First day out; Zaanse Schans; cruising the Amsterdam-Rhine canal and the Rhine||Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner all on Amadante|
|10||13 May 2014 Tuesday||Cologne||Cologne; Mark; Cathedral; Archaeology; Burg Namedy||Breakfast and Lunch on Amadante; Dinner at Burg Namedy|
|11||14 May 2014 Wednesday||Rüdesheim||Rudesheim||Breakfast; Lunch; Dinner all on Amadante|
|12||15 May 2014 Thursday||Miltenberg||Glass-Blowing; Miltenberg; Talent Show||Breakfast; Lunch; Dinner all on Amadante|
|13||16 May 2014 Friday||Würzburg||Residenz; Dom; Lunch in Wurzberg; Marienberg Fortress||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch at Sternback, Wurzburg; Dinner on Amadante|
|14||17 May 2014 Saturday||Bamberg||Lightning Walking Tour of Bamberg; dinner in Erleibnis||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch on Amadante; Dinner at Erleibnis|
|15||18 May 2014 Sunday||Nuremberg||Nuremberg; Mediaeval Town; World War II||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch on Amadante; Dinner on Amadante|
|16||19 May 2014 Monday||Regensberg||Regensberg; Cruising the Danube||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch on Amadante; Dinner on Amadante|
|17||20 May 2014 Tuesday||Cesky Krumlov||Cesky Krumlov||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch in Cesky Krumlov; Dinner on Amadante|
|18||21 May 2014 Wednesday||Melk; Durmstein||Melk; Abbey; Durmstein; Walk and Wine Tasting||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch on Amadante; Dinner on Amadante|
|19||22 May 2014 Thursday||Vienna, A Royal Invitation||Vienna; City Tour; Mozart's House; Opera House; Palace Lichtenstein Concert||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch (skipped); Dinner on Amadante|
|20||23 May 2014 Friday||Vienna; Bratislava||Vienna; Bratislava||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch in Hotel Perugia, Bratislava; Captain's Farewell Dinner on Amadante|
|21||24 May 2014 Saturday||Budapest||Budapest; Opera House; Heroes Square; Fishermens Bastion; Night Cruise||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch on Amadante; Dinner on Amadante|
|22||25 May 2014 Sunday||Budapest to Prague||Budapest, Disembark Ship, Velké Bílovice, Prague||Breakfast on Amadante; Lunch at Velké Bílovice; Dinner at Kolkovna Restaurant in Prague|
|23||26 May 2014 Monday||Prague||Prague Castle; St Vitus Cathedral; Doug Newberry; Walking Tour of Prague; Charles Bridge; Farewell Dinner||Breakfast at Alcron Hotel; Lunch at Kolkovna Restaurant in Prague; Dinner at Alcron Hotel|
|24||27 May 2014 Tuesday||Prague; Kutna Hora||Kutna Hora; St Barbara's Church; Italian Court; Town Square; Sedlec Ossary||Breakfast at Alcron Hotel; Lunch (skipped); Dinner at ???|
|25||28 May 2014 Wednesday||Depart Prague||Train to Vienna||Breakfast at Radisson Alcron; Lunch on train; Dinner at Hotel Am Konzerthaus|
|26||29 May 2014 Thursday||Vienna||Albertina; Haus der Musik||Breakfast at Hotel Am Konzerthaus; Lunch at Cafe Nozart; Dinner at Figlmuller|
|27||30 May 2014 Friday||Vienna||Schloss Schonnbrun; Fidelio||Breakfast at Hotel Am Konzerthaus' Lunch at Cafe Schonbrunn; Dinner at VolksOper (light)|
|28||31 May 2014 Saturday||Vienna||Spanish Riding School; Volksgarten; Riesenrad; Gmoakeller||Breakfast at Hotel Am Konzerthaus; Lunch at "Meiserei Cafe in Volsgarten; Dinner at Gmoakeller Restaurant|
|29||01 Jun 2014 Sunday||Train Vienna to Salzburg||Vienna; train; Salzburg; Mirabellgarten; Monchsberg Autzug; Augustinerbrau||Breakfast at Hotel am Konzerthaus; Lunch at Salzburg Markt; Dinner (skipped)|
|30||02 Jun 2014 Monday||Salzburg||Salzburg: Bavarian Mountains; Eagles' Nest; Saltmine; Berchtesgaden; Konigsee||Breakfast at Hotel am Mirabellplatz; Lunch at Berchtesgaden with bread roll and sliced meat; Dinner at Die Alte Fuchs|
|31||03 Jun 2014 Tuesday||Salzburg||Festung HohenSalzburg; Salzburg Old Town; Mozart Concert||Breakfast at Hotel am Mirabellplatz; Lunch bread rolls in Festung HohenSalzburg; Dinner at St Peter's Keller|
|32||04 Jun 2014 Wednesday||Train Salzburg to Lucerne||Salzburg; train; Zurich; train; Lucerne||Breakfast at Hotel am Mirabellplatz; Lunch on train (scratch); Dinner at Hotel Europe|
|33||05 Jun 2014 Thursday||Lucerne||Walk to City; Old Town; Petit Train; Wilhelm Tell floating restaurant||Breakfast at Hotel Europe; Lunch at small Italian Restaurant near Lion Square; Dinner at the Wilhelm Tell floating restaurant|
|34||06 Jun 2014 Friday||Lucerne||Bus; Boat; cog Railway; Pilatus; Gondola cable car; Bus||Breakfast at Hotel Europe; Lunch at cafe on top of Pilatus; Dinner at Seecafe|
|35||07 Jun 2014 Saturday||Train Lucerne to Paris||Lucerne; Train; Basel; Train; Paris; Walk along the Seine||Breakfast at Hotel Europe; Lunch Bretzel on train; Dinner at Cafe Tarmac|
|36||08 Jun 2014 Sunday||Paris||Walk along Viaduc des Artes; Tuileries; Place Concorde; Batobus; Notre Dame; St Chapelle; Cafe Chez Leon||Breakfast at Hotel Marceau Bastille; Lunch at Tuileries Cafe; Dinner at Cafe Chez Leon|
|37||09 Jun 2014 Monday||Paris||Galleries Lafayette; Angelinas; La Defense; Batobus; Jardins des Plantes; Chez Papa||Breakfast at Hotel Marceau Bastille; Lunch at Angelinas; Dinner at Cafe Chez Papa|
|38||10 Jun 2014 Tuesday||SQ333 Paris to Singapore||Flight SQ333 Paris to Singapore||Breakfast at Hotel Marceau Bastille; Lunch on SQ333; Dinner (scratched)|
|39||11 Jun 2014 Wednesday||Singapore||Singapore; Supertree||Breakfast on SQ333 and top-up at Hotel Fairmont; Lunch at Supertree; Dinner at Fairmont Executive Lounge|
|40||12 Jun 2014 Thursday||Singapore||Singapore; Botanic Gardens; Pool||Breakfast at Hotel Fairmont; Lunch at Botanic Gardens; Dinner at Fairmont Executive Lounge|
|41||13 Jun 2014 Friday||SQ237 and Home||SQ237; Home||Breakfast on flight SQ237|
(Adapted from http://www.aptouring.com.au/Trips/Europe/EUMCAP18)
Since departure was scheduled for late at night (so late it was in fact tomorrow), we had time to do our usual Saturday morning coffee club, at which we said goodbye to our friends. The afternoon was then spent in finalising our packing, and in John's case, furiously copying data from one computer to another so that we had sensible backup systems in place. He was particularly worried that because we were taking two different computers (one Apple, one Ubuntu) the opportunity for things to go belly up was exacerbated. Time will tell!
Pam came and collected us about 5:30pm, and we headed off to her place, and then (by car, as it was threatening to rain) to Barkers for a beer or two and dinner - the pizza special. John and Grant talked about football, history does not record what Barb and Pam discussed.
Time to watch "Death in Paradise" with Pam and Grant before heading off to the airport, where we strolled around and had a cup of coffee before saying goodbye and thank you to P & G before heading through the pearly gates.
The flight was somewhat eventful - Barb fainted about 2 hours into the flight! Fortunately for us, the plane was full of surgeons and anaethetists, and the bloke sitting next to Barb was able to do more than I could, since Barb fainted into my seat, and I was forced to stand by in the aisle until things calmed down, when the steward found me a spare seat at the other end of the cabin, allowing Barb to stretch (!) out across our two seats until she was feeling better. As I write this, Barb shows me her reminder of the episode - a 50c coin sized bruise on her armm, where she hit the armrest as she fell.
We landed in Singapore pretty well on time, and caught the train into the CBD, and trundled our cases and back-packed our backpack from City Hall station to the Fairmont in Raffles Plaza, where they didn't have our room ready (slack! it was at least 7:30am!), so they showed us to the "hospitality suite", where we were able to have a shower and change, before gtting a call an hour or so later to say that our room was ready, and because we had been mucked about, they had upgraded us to the Executive Lounge!!!
We did not complain - indeed, to show our gratitude, we immediately took advantage of the (all included) breakfast bar in the Executve Lounge itself, and dined very well. It was Barb's first breakfast for the day, since she had passed on the in-flight breakfast, so John just had to keep her company ...
After breakfast, we felt we should go walking. John thought he knew where the Dome Coffee House was, and set off navigating to the place he thought it was at, only to be wrong - yet again! We found instead ourselves walking around the harbour, past the Merlion which was spouting away, much to the delight of the assembled hordes of people, and ended up at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf place in Marina Sands, where we had iced coffees each. Iced coffee it was, because although it was still early in the day, we got quite hot in the Singapore weather, and could not quite face the dilemma of having to have a coffee fix in 30+ degree heat.
Then on to the Gardens on the Bay, which we had seen from a distance in the past, but as they hadn't been finished and at the time we were exhausted from walking (nothing really had changed), we decided to check them out ths time. They are quite beautiful in an Asian-enhanced existence kind of way, with ponds that were larger than life, and the camoflaging of bio-waste recycling stacks as huge trees, planted with wall-plants of diverse kinds, including air plants, broumeliads, and the like. We traversed the "sky walk" (cost us $S5 each), and then went for lunch in the Supertree Cafe, a collection of various franchise fast-food places. We settled on the Italian Casa Verde, and had a salad and calamari between us.
We wlked back via the Helix Bridge and the Singapore Flyer, which we had to go on. It took 30 minutes for the round trip, and goes slowly enough that you can just step into the gondolas as they glide past, a sort of a circular pater noster! The view from the top is impressive, but it is more the engineering that entranced John, so many of his photos are taken inwards towards the hub of the wheel, rather than Barbara's, which were taken looking away from the wheel.
A small gelati refreshed us both back on terra firma, then back to the hotel for a bit of a snooze - we hadn't really slept much the previous night, after all!
Dinner was enjoyed in the Executive Lounge - a buffet of all sorts of goodies, including bubbly, red and white wines. We did enjoy being upgraded!
Breakfast again in the Executive Lounge, and very pleasant it was too. We took off in the right direction this morning to find the Cafe Dome, where we had our fix of coffee, hot even! Then we headed for Fort Canning, and climbed lots of stairs before finding the right path through the gardens and the fort. Much of it seemed to be closed for restoration. But we saw lots of interesting trees and plants, and the house that Raffles built.
We wandered along Clark Quay, stopping at a cafe to share a bottle of fizzy water to refresh us from the heat. Then we thought, good idea! Catch the hop-on, hop-off bus, and relax while taking in the sights. After several false starts, due to bus companies painting their buses in conflicting colours (The "Red Line" was painted orange, the "Orange Line" was painted purple, and the orange bus was not a hop-on, hop-off), we caught the Orange line bus and headed west. One of its many stops was the Botanic Gardens, so we alighted there, thinking we had an hour to spare, and took in the delightful "Evolution Garden", a section of the gardens setup to show how plants had evolved over the history of the planet.
We just missed the next bus, so decided to kill time with another cool drink - lime juice, very refreshing - and had plenty of time to catch the next bus back to Clark Quay, where we headed to Brewerkz for a rather late lunch at 15:30! (and a couple of pints). Then caught the HOHO bus back to the hotel, collected our luggage, and caught the (very crowded) train to Changi with plenty of time before our flight.
However, the plane was late arriving, and at the wrong gate, so it was well after takeoff time that we finally boarded, and took off at 0050, some 45 minutes late. Add to that the very strong head winds we encountered, and it was a long flight in front of us.
Breakfast: on flight SQ324; Lunch: Amstel Hoeck; Dinner: Convent Hotel
11 hours and 15 minutes is a long time to fly, and 12 hours and 34 minutes half hours is a bloody long time to fly. We were slowed down by 100+kph head wind most of the way, which added those extra 75 minutes to our flying time. Fortunately, Barb held together better on this leg, although John did have his own troubles. We zoomed through immigration and customs, and headed straight for the train. Oh, how nice it is to be able to board a train from the airport so easily, and be delivered almost to the door of one's hotel! The Google Earth instructions for the 10 minute walk to the hotel worked well (for a change), and the hotel had a room ready for us - shower and a relax on the bed, wunderbahr.
We then set off for a walk about 10, first stop a small "coffee house" for coffee. A word or two about "coffee houses". The Amsterdam custom seems to be that this is a euphemism for hash houses, where mariuana (sp?) is freely available - in some cases, openly advertised outside. Whether this one we chose was of this ilk, was either not an issue, or we were too naive to notice. But the coffee was good!
Then to the New Church, which we tried to visit on our Prinsendam tour, but on both occasions, was closed.
Across the road, visited Marna Plaza, a big Escheresque shopping mall, mainly fashion, comestics, etc., but it did have a small shop called "Cheese and More", and in which we had a lovely time browsing, and then striking up a conversation with the sales person, and Italian woman, who proceed to ply us with free samples of their licquorice wares. She did well enough - we bought two boxes, some chili licquorice, and some chocolate licquorice. They're for Ron.
Then we searched for the Old Church, the "Oude Kerk", which wasn't far from the New Church, but which obviously others had found difficulty in finding. We paid E15 to go in, but it was worth it (lots of photos), and we had coffee and cake in the the little cafe off the side.
Then on to the Amstel Hoek Restaurant, of which we recalled the location from our previous visit on the Prinsendam for lunch. John had "bittergarnituur", a local Dutch dish of fried sausage, chicken, fish and potato, with cheese, cornichons and dips on the side. Barb had "geiterkaas", a "warm cheese sandwich" according to the menu, but really a hamburger with a warmed chunked of chevre cheese.
Then coffee at a different place, the "In De Waag", or Weigh House, which is an old 15thC gatehouse, being restored, and which served very nice coffee, and very smiling, helpful young staff. From there we wandered along the Zeedijk through the old ChinaTown to the Central Station, where we looked in vain for SIM cards, and across the tram lines in the Tourist Bureau where we looked in vain for information about package deals for attractions. However, we did buy 2 City Cards, valid for 3 days, and which gave us free (or discounted) access to heaps of museums and attractions.
Back to the hotel for a bit of a snooze, and then "happy hour" in the hotel bar - Barb with a Mohito, John with a beer "La Chouffe" (no accent). We had a bar snack "flammkuchen", aka Tarte Flambeau, aka pizza, then wandered to a local cafe the "Buona Appetito", for coffee. The we wandered the streets, almost back to the railway station again, where we found the "A-Train Hotel" which Geoff Willis had told us about. With the owner's permission, we strolled around inside for a look - lots of Victorian Railways memorabilia (with photos of J and classes). Looked in vain for an ATM - do the Dutch actually have such things? We got back to the hotel without finding one, and pretty well collapsed into bed.
We had breakfast in the hotel: $E23.50 each - and then headed to Centraal to catch the train to Schipol, where we change to a bus that took us out to the Keukenhof Gardens, aka tulips. While the tulips were past their best (spring came early in Europe this year), there were still many beautiful beds of tulips (and other things) to take our breathes away.
We organized our walk around te gardens to take in judicious coffee stops, mazes and flower shows, and had lunch at the Beatrix Cafe (all the cafes are named after members of the Dutch Royal Family).
The maze was interesting, being a double singly-connected hedge, which meant that using the left hand on hedge rule took you to the middle, then to the alternative entrance. Repeating that from the other entrance then took you through the other half of the maze back to the centre, and then back to the original entrance. We didn't get lost at all!
After we were gardened out, we caught the bus/train back to Centraal, and the hotel. We asked at the hotel where was a good place to eat, and were directed to the Belhamel Restaurant, just on the Brewers Canal (Brouwersgracht), and looking down the Emperor's Canal (Kaisersgracht). It was good: John had the seafood plate, followed by duck, and then white chocolate cheesecake, while Barb had asparagus for both entree and main (cooked different ways!) and then the cheesecake. Then back to the hotel and bed.
We set off bright and early by the simple expedient of skipping breakfast, planning instead to have it at the Rijksmuseum. We got there a few minutes before 9, after a quick tram ride in tram no.2. We had to wait in a queue of about 20 people, but the queue evaporated quickly once the doors opened at 0905. We made a bee-line for the cafeteria, where we had coffee, and shared a cheese and cold meat plate (see photo) which was yummy.
Then we wandered all around level 0, which was probably a mistake, as the museum filled up very quickly after 10, and all the tourists had got out of bed. When we got to level 2, where all the Rembrandts are, the place was packed! One thing that was nice was that photography was allowed, but that was a definite hindrance, as every (asian) man, woman and child wanted to be photographed in front of The Night Watch.
So we skipped all that, had another coffee, then tackled the 3rd level (modern art) and worked our way down, skipped the heavy traffic areas (more of which later). By 1430 we were museumed out, and we decided to skip lunch. Across the road was the Diamond Museum, so we went to that on our City Card. From there we decided to explore the no.2 tram route, which was described in the City Card guide as "the most beautiful trm route in the world". Well, it was nice, but the best in the world? Nup! Besides which, it poured with rain!
Then we went back (on tram no.2, of course) to the hotel, where we changed for the special treat: dinner and a concert at the Amsterdm Concertgebouw. The dinner was held in the "SpieglZimmer" (Mirror Room), very roccoco, but the food and service was excellent.
As was the concert that followed: the first half being two works by Richard Strauss, the first "Macbeth" opus 23, and the second, "Til Eugenspiel" both well known tone poems of Strauss; and the second half being Brahms Symphony No.2 (to go with the tram!) Wunderbar!
Then home (on a no.5 tram) to the hotel and bed.
Raining again today, so we repeat yesterday's plan of skipping breakfast, and zooming out to the museum belt, this time stopping at the Stedelijk Museum Restaurant for breakfast. We were the first there, and dined on the package "Stedelijk Breakfast" of coffee, orange juice (freshly squeezed), granola and yoghurt, and a croissant. Very Good!
Then to the Van Gogh Museum, where we spent a couple of hours looking - unfortunately, no photographs! After that we went back to the Stedelijk Museum to look at the museum proper, which I found very interesting (and very Rachel), although Barb was not so impressed. She said "as soon as I see a room full of coloured lines, I'm outta here!", and guess what? We did see a room full of coloured lines, at which point we left! Well, I was a bit museumed out myself at that stage.
Then we caught a tram back to Centraal, from whence we walked across to Nemo, the museum that is built like a ship, and which is basically a ScienceWorks by another name. Lots and lots of children! including little botys who wanted to play everything, hogging just the things the older boys wanted to try out. We had lunch there on the terrace, but it was a bit windy and occasionally raining, so it was cold. Took lots of movies of things going whirr, clonk, pfutt!
Then walked back to the hotel, warmed up a bit, and decided to try the local cafe/restaurant, where we had (savoury) pancakes, which were surprisingly good, considering that the exterior of the cafe had made us go past it several times in the previous days! Then a short walk around the block, back to the hotel and bed.
It was pouring with rain as we got up this morning, so raincoats were a must. We planned on doing lots of indoor things, but we still had to walk between the places. And we did not start well, as we caught a tram, the right tram, but got off two stops early, and had to walk (in the rain) further than if we had just walked from the hotel!!
We found what we were looking for, the "In Der Waag" restaurant, and wandered in on the dot of 9, to be told that because of restorations, they would not be opening until 10! So we wandered around locally and found a nearby cafe, the "tLoosje", where we had a bagel and 2 cups of coffee each. A stop in the local market and an Almond Cake and demi-baguette helped us on our way, again in the rain, on to Rembrandt's House, arriving right on the dot again at 10am to walk straight in, after flashing our City Cards.
Rembrandt's House was very interesting, and we had little handsets which gave a commentary on each room as we visited it. A particularly nice touch was the live demonstration (in Rembrandt's studio!) of how to make paint, as R. himself (or his pupils) would have done each day before painting. They did not have convenient tubes of paint in those days! No wonder it took so long to make The Night Watch!!
We spent a bit over an hour at RH, concluding with a visit to the shop (a T-shirt for John, a shopping bag for Barb) before catching the 11:35 No.9 tram to Centraal. We paused for coffee at the Smit's Cafe,, where a kind German family allowed us to share their table, since the place was absolutely packed. Then we wandered around the harbour looking for the Blue Line, and not finding, and getting tickets instead from the Holland Canal Co., these being the two canal cruises that we could obtain on our City Cards.
The next hoour was pleasant enough in that we did not have to put up with the rain, but instead sat back and watched the Ammsterdam scenery go by. These canal trips are a delightful part of Amsterdam, so much so that we have done one everytime we have been to Amsterdam (which is twice!)
On returning to Centraal, we walked (in the rain) to the Oulde Kerke, where we had soup and apple pie in the cafe,, very restorative, and then backtracked slightly to the Lord in the Attic, a fascinating clandestine Catholic church built in the late 17th C across the tops of 3 ordinary houses. We spent quite a while in there, because it was so fascinating.
On to the Nieuwe Kerke, which was not. Neither new, nor fascinating. It was built also in the 17thC, but is no longer used as a church, and in fact was full of a photographic exhibition, which a) we did not want to see, and b) cost us $E3.50 extra each! So we spent less than half the time there that we had spent in the Lord of the Attic place, in spite of it being Protestant v Catholic.
Dinner was meant to be special. However it did not start well. On Chris Avram's advice, we had booked a table for 2 at the Utrechtsedwastafel, and had sought directions from the Convent Hotel staff. Well, they were directions, but not quite accurate enough to find the place.
But once we were there, our frustration quickly vanished. Our host sat us down, explained the menu, and poured us a glass of champage "Montre-Cul" (between the bums). We had an amuse bouche of "pulled duck", duck that was cooked very slowly, and then the meat carefully teased ff the bone, followed by a wonderful lobster tail in angel hair, with raw slices of marinated tuna around it, together with a Pieropan "La Rocca" 2011 white made from soave grapes. Then the main course was veal slices together with red cabbage, and a red wine "Prado Enea", a muga rioja from Spain, with a very heady taste and plenty of finish.
The last curse, dessert, was a strawberry mousse, and the wine that went with it! Well! It was strawberry flavoured, but made from soave grapes (the same as the first white wine), and went with the mousse sooo beautifully! We were most impressed.
John had several conversations, if not to say (pleasant) disagreements about the choice of wine, that the maitre d' brought out a bottle of Don P X (Pedro Ximenez) 1982 that was so intense, that we first mistook it for a port - but not so, said the Maitre d'! If we were flabbergasted by the dessert wine, this was again a step higher. We left the restaurant in much better spirits than we arrived!
Board your luxury river ship and, after dinner aboard, perhaps step out for a stroll on the iconic cobbled streets that run alongside the canal and experience Amsterdam’s famous nightlife at your leisure. Stay: 14 Nights: one of APT’s luxurious Aria or Concerto River ShipsWhat we actually did
Up somewhat more slowly this morning, but we still managed to check out and catch the No. 2 tram and arrive at Rijksmuseum on the dot of 9. John made a beeline for the Night Watch painting, while Barb checked in the coats at the Garderobe. We were early enough - only about a dozen people at the Night Watch, so we were able to view and photograph it in relaxed manner.
We then repaired to the cafe for coffee and breakfast and coffee. After that fortification, we tackle the 3rd floor, and worked our way downwards visiting most of the areas we had not seen last Wednesday. See the photographs for more detail!
We were museumed out by about 1:30, so we left the museum, and caught the No.2 all they way to the terminus, just to check out "the most beuatiful tramline in the world". It was nice, but I would not go as far as saying "the best". Anyway, it was raining, so it could have been better.
Then back to the hotel to collect our bags, and set off for the boat. We had checked the web site for the berthing details, and it said that until 3:50 pm, we could board at the Veemkade, or Passenger Terminalm and then after 4pm at the Ruijterkade. So we set off for the Veemkade. Two tram rides later, we were at the Passenger Terminal, but there was no boat! Some enquires at the Movenpick Hotel revealed that they had moved the boat earlier in the day to the Ruijterkade Wharf, where we had expected to board in the first place! So a cup of coffee while waiting for the rain to ease, and then we set off for the 600m walk to Ruijterkade - only to have it start raining again!
So it was a slighly grumpy John that arrived at the MS Amadante, but a welcome aboard and a free beer soon fixed that up. We explored the boat (I don't feel I should call it a ship, since it is not nearly big enough!), and then settled in the lounge to hear about the excursions for tomorrow and Tuesday. Then it was dinner time.
We sat at a table for four sharing with Janice and Tony from Rockhampton, and with whom we had a great chat. We had prawn cocktail (John) and salad (Barb), then cheese soup (both), followed by pork loin (John) and asparagus (Barb). Dessert was a Dutch Apple Cake. After dinner, we just collapsed into bed.
Today, perhaps take a canal cruise and admire the city from a glass-top boat as you glide past 17th-century homes, churches and 16th-century merchant houses. Then wander through Amsterdam’s famed flower market along the banks of the canal. Alternatively, visit the Van Gogh Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh paintings. Another option is an excursion to the picturesque village of Zaanse Schans, famous for its traditional Dutch buildings and windmills. Return to your ship and set off along the Rhine River. Enjoy the Captain’s Gala Welcome Dinner as you cruise towards Cologne.What we actually did
We were up and going by 7, as we had an excursion organized,, starting at 8:30. This was to Zaanse Schans, a small park with various activities: clog making and museum, cheese making and shop, and windmills, the one which we saw was grinding limestone. All very interesting, and occasionally the sun did shine - briefly!
TThe bus then took us for an hour or so's drive to the little town of Wijk bij Duurstede, where we re-boarded the boat in time for lunch - but not in time for our 1pm passage through the lock, because one Mr Sywak forgot to hand in his boarding pass! So we lost an hour from our itinerary before we even got sailing!
Spent most of the afternoon dealing with photographs and blogs, and I am still behind. At least I managed to get all my photographs onto backup, so that I could free up sace on my memory card - I was down to under 600 photographs spare.
Attended the information session on the coming excursions, and made some decisions about what we would see. Unfortunately the weather has been just rotten, and that has meant a few plans have had to be changed, and not just ours.
At 6:30pm, we attended the Captain's Welcome and cocktails, and then to dinner, where we shared a table with Helen and Doug from Brisbane. The food started with a smoked salmoon praline, then a red wine poached pear with blue cheese and proscuitto roulade, followed by cray fish bisque, and pink roasted sirloin with caramelised shallots (John), and poached halibut (Barb). Dessert was a white chocolate almond flummery.
Sat in the lounge listening to Kalin playing the goanna, and watching darkness decend over the Rhine.
Arrive in Cologne today and enjoy a choice of included sightseeing options. Perhaps select from a range of walking tours, including a historic architecture tour or a chocolate tour. Alternatively, take a bicycle tour from Cologne to Bonn. Later, cruise to the 2,000 year-old town of Andernach. Disembark and head to the Burg Namedy castle for a decadent evening of royal delights. Burg Namedy was built by the Hausmann Knights of Andernach in the 14th century. Today, Princess Heide von Hohenzollern has opened the doors of her turreted home exclusively for APT guests. Enjoy free time to wander about the castle’s opulent rooms, hidden nooks and manicured gardens. Later, savour a lavish banquet in Burg Namedy’s ballroom, prepared especially for APT guests.What we actually did
An early start in terms of getting out of bed at 0530 and being ready for breakfast at 0700, but not so much an early start for the boat - which was an hour late into Cologne. Some tie for taking photographs as we cruised into Cologne. We caught the bus for the walking tour of C., but under instructions from Herbert the Cruise Director, we abandoned the bus once in town, and met up with Mark very quickly, and yakked away as we headed into the cathedral.
The cathedral is very famous, being the biggest in Europe (but not the tallest, that is Ulm), and is very perpendicular gothic. Words cannot do it justice, nor can the photos we took, so we shall just have to keep the sense of wonder and affinity with both the makers and The Maker to ourselves. I think Mark was impressed, too, and he admitted that he hadn't previously been inside, either.
It was pouring with rain whe we went outside, so a hurried dash to a coffee shop which Mark knew was good, and we were able to have a more relaxed conversation of a huge mug of "latte machiato", which seemed to be lots of hot milk, stained with coffee - you had to stir it first or you got a strong coffee hit, then it was just milk!
The rain had eased by then, so we headed off walking again, coming across a small(er) church that Mark knew, which had been almost completely reconstructed since the war, and which was quite post-modern inside - with a wonderful tiled floor.
Further walking took us to an archaeological dig that showed continous occupation since roman times, but was rather hard to photograph since it was surrounded by a small-mesh steel wire fence. They did not seem too fussed that people would not be able to get good views of the diggings.
At 1245 we had to take our leave of Mark, back at the cathedral, and board the bus to take us back to the boat (which did seem to be moored a good ways away from the city), and lunch.
The afternoon saw us cruising up the Rhine, with lots of attendant photographs. One highlight (apart from yet ABC) was the remains of the bridge at Renmagen, on which the file "A Bridge Too Far" was based. Seems that they are not allowed to replace it, because the site is now heritage listed, so the poor local burghers have to use car ferries to cross between banks.
We moored at Andernach, and caught buses to the Burg Namedy, and old manor house, where the lady of the house (Lady Kate) opened her house, allowing us to stroll around the gardens, and then sit down to a delightful dinner, accompanied by a talented young pianist playing Chopin, Listz, Brahms and Beethoven. Not necessarily out of the goodness of her heart mind you - she did tell us that the house was 99% enjoyment and 1% nightmare, and reading between the lines, that nightmare was maintenance. So I guess we were really paying customers helping her to make ends meet. Not paying on the night, of course, that would be too vulgar, but it does partly account for how expensive this cruise is!
Then back on the buses, back to the boat, back to bed, while the boat motored us on to new destinations.
Today cruise through the Rhine Gorge on what is known as the Rhine’s most beautiful stretch. Arrive in Rüdesheim, and ride the Winzerexpress mini-train to your selected sightseeing activity. Perhaps tour Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, home to one of Germany’s most beautiful collections of automated musical instruments. Or take a ride in a gondola for views over the Rhine Valley. Alternatively, explore the Rhine Valley wine region during a tour and wine tasting at a local winery. Later, your ship enters the Main River.What we actually did
The morning was a John's paradise! There were railways, double track, on both sides of the river, and a train passing every 5 minutes or so. Lots of train and scenery photos were taken, just the stuff for model railway modellers!
In the afternoon (well, actually, about lunch time) we docked at Rudesheim, where we had booked to go and see Seigfried's Mechanical Musical instruments Museum. It was fascinating, with lots of pianolas, Jacquard cards, and barrel organs, as well as many things of which I cannot possibly remember the names.
On the way back to the boat we stopped at a cafe to have some of the special coffee, a " Rudesheimer Kaffee", the making of which was theatre in itself. It consisted of brandy, poured into a warmed cup, then set alight, then doused with a shot of coffee, then topped with a dollop of whipped cream, or ??schaube(?) in German. Needless to say, it went down a treat,
Then back to the boat, stopping to take photos of trains going past. Back on the boat we cruised past lots of other river boats tied up along the side of the river before a delightful "Winegrower Dinner", and then a trip through yet another lock, before retiring to bed.
After an onboard glass-blowing demonstration this morning, disembark in Miltenberg, a pretty Franconian town spared from the destruction of the Second World War. Today, you’re invited to discover the local way of life on a unique village experience. Explore quaint shops and mingle with the locals on a day to remember.What we actually did
The glass-blowing demonstration was surprisingly good, and the bloke knew his stuff. I was rather scepptical about how much glass blowing woud happen, bearing in mind the various fire-risks and sprinkler systems, but it all went smoothly. He even got Tony with the crook leg up to do some glass blowing, and Tony did very well, making a Christmas Tree ornament.
We cruised until after lunch when we moored at a little mediaeval town called Miltenberg which was so small and unimportant that WWII passed it by, and it remains today much as it did in the 14/15th centuries. It is too small to expand, and the local villagers are very jealous of its role, so I guess it will stay that way a bit longer.
We did a walking tour of the town, and they gave us various samples of local ware at various places: a bottle of schnapps, some cheese, some cold meats, and a bretzel (like a pretzel, but spelt with a 'b'). There was also a big maypole in the town square, the first of many we were to see along the cruise. We stopped in a cute pub to have a "Faust" beer: Barb ordered a pilsener, John a dark beer, but when they arrived, we agreed that we each preferred the taste of the other's, so we swapped, and all was good!
In the evening after dinner, there was a 'talent show', and our new friends (Natasha, Sarafina (Natasha's mother), Samatha (Natasha's daughter) and Daniel (Natasha's nephew)) joined with us to put on a little mime show about a hobo on a park bench. Samantha was the hobo, and was put out as several people stopped by to sit on the bench. I played the part of a priest, and each visitor after sitting next to the hobo started scratching until all realized that the hobo had fleas, and left of their own accord, leaving the hobo in peace! It was well received.
In Würzburg, you may like to embark on a tour that will take you to the Residential Palace and past churches ranging in styles from Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance to modern. Alternatively, travel to Rothenburg on the Romantic Road for a tour of this medieval walled town.What we actually did
Somehow we got bumped in our prime choice of mooring sites, and had to moor a few kilometres downstream from Wurzburg, and we had to bus somewhat further than originally planned to get to the "Residenz", or the Prince Bishop's Palace. We had an entertaining guide, which somewhat made up for the "photografieren verboten" constraint, which in the context of some fantastic roccoco decorations was a little disappointing. But we learnt a lot - including the rather helpful analogy that roccoco is to baroque in art as a harpsichord is to an organ in music. When put like that, it made a lot of sense.
After the tour of the palace, we had 10 minutes to look at the garden, which was not nearly enough! Then on to a wine tasting in the Palace cellars, which were also most impressive. We had three wines, a Muller Thurgau, a Silvaner, and a Riesling. All very drinkable, but since they don't export any, not very helpful in terms of possible searching back in Oz.
After the wine tour, we had free time until 1615, so we decided to have lunch in the town at the Sternbach Cafe, where Barb had a mixed salad and a Distelhauser pilsener, while John had the Brotzeitbrettle (mixed sausage and cheese plate) and a Distelhauser dark wheat beer. But of course, we shared!
Then we walked up to the Festung Marienberg, also a seat of the Prince Bishops. We walked around it, but did not go in, as we didn't have enough time. We walked down from the fort a different way, back to where the ship was now moored, and made it with 30mins to spare.
We then chugged off through Wurzburg proper, negotiating the lock and taking lots of photos of the city, the fortress, and the thousands of churches.
After dinner, a film was shown in the lounge: "The Three Musketeers", which was a bit of nonsense, but notable for being filmed at the Residenz, which we had just seen today, and Versailles, which we had seen back in 1986. We had trouble hearing it at the start because of some noisy woman talking and laughing at the back, but some stern words from "formidable" John (as one of them was overheard to say) shut them up.!
Today you’ll travel to World Heritage-listed Bamberg, another of the few German cities that wasn’t destroyed during the bombings of World War II. After exploring the city on a walking tour, visit a traditional beer haus, soak in the atmosphere and perhaps enjoy some of the local brew, compliments of APT. Later, rejoin your ship to cruise onto the Main-Danube Canal. Having taken 32 years to construct, the canal links the North and Black seas and is recognised as a great feat of modern engineering.What we actually did
After cruising through a lock or two in the morning (passing kilometre 366 at 105900), we had lunch (sausage and bread, called "fr...(? check daily cruiser)" and then embarked on buses in the afternoon for a walking tour of Bamberg. It is a cute little town (also escaping WWII damage), and walking it did not take long.. There was a market in the central square, which gave a bit more life to the place, and the town hall was buit on an island in the middle of the river (not the Main)
After some free time wandering the streets, we met up with the tour group again for a free beer before rejoining the boat. We had booked the "Erleibnis" fine dining restaurant in the evening, and it was quite delightful. We shared a table with John and Yvonne, who were good company, and Gail, who was not so good, as she was feeling rather under the weather. She left early, after the main course, but the two Johns, Barb and Yvonne pressed on.
The menu was fairly fixed, a choice only for the main, although as John and Yvonne were vegetarians, they did provide alternatives for them. We started with an amuse bouche of goose liver mouse, followed by lemon-pepper crusted salmon for entree, soup of cream of carrot and ginger, and then Barb and I both had the grilled tenderloin of beef (fillet), which was done sufficient rare that we were very pleased with it. Finally we had an 'Apricot Trilogy', three different sorts of apricot: dumpling, liquer and sherbet. A cheese selection finished a very good meal!
On arrival in Nuremberg, take a historic tour of the city. Discover World War II sites, including the Reich Party Rally Grounds, where six Nazi Party rallies were held between 1933 and 1938. Discover the city’s spectacular medieval architecture, including the 900 year-old ramparts that surround the city, the Imperial Castle and much more. Back on board, enjoy the opportunity to sample some freshly baked gingerbread before continuing along the Main-Danube Canal and across Europe’s Continental Divide.What we actually did
Our now usual routine of breakfast at 0730, followed by boarding of buses ready for 0900 departure. However, this time we departed from the routine and we each did separate tours - Barb the mediaeval town one, John the WWII one. Since this is John's blog, you get his version of events. Well, you do anyway, but that's beside the point.
The guide that did the WWII tour had an MA in Sociology, and he knew his stuff! He gave a very well informed analysis of the sociology surrounding the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, and linked all that to the modern Gen Y thinking and current educational philosophies. We saw the various Nazi headquaters, billets, the massive parade ground at (??), and the Nuremberg rally site (name ?).
But the highlight was undoubtedly the Palaiz Justice (?) where the (in)famous Nuremberg War Crimes trials were held. We were led through the whole story of the trials, including why Nurenburg was chosen (most secure prison, close to court house), what the prosecution cases were, the various defences used, and the outcomes. It felt very much like being part of the history.
Back to the ship for lunch, followed by cruising on the Main-Danube Canal. Around 1700 we went through the first of the three highest locks on this canal (they are all 27 metres!). Because of the huge height difference, the lock gates are of a special design, and the ship has to sail underneath the riased lower gate, and over the top of the submerged upper gate. Confused? Well, I was going to point a pointer to WikiPedia here to help you out, but I could not find the type of locks discussed, except in an indirect way, so you will have to stay confused.
After dinner we had some entertainment in the form of two Austrian gentlemen, dressed in lederhosen, playing an accordian and guitar, and singing lots of Austrian songs. A bit of fun, and fortunately, not too much yodelling!
Known as one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities, Regensburg is home to one of the oldest bridges spanning the Danube River. On arrival here, take a tour of the city’s architectural highlights, including the Old Town Hall, the World Heritage-listed city centre and the ancient Romanesque Porta Pretoria. Alternatively, take a bicycle tour to the 18th-century temple of Walhalla. Tonight, enjoy ‘Oktoberfest’ in Vilshofen, a charming 1,200 year-old Bavarian town. Indulge in local beer and snacks accompanied by Bavarian folk music, song and dance.What we actually did
We were fog bound on arising this morning, so it was a little chilly as we came into Regensburg, and the junction between the Main-Danube Canal, and the Danube itself. Here we disembarked for a walking tour of the city. We did see a rather odd statue of one of the city's famous sons, a Don Juan von Austria - who was in fact the illegitimate son of one of the kings, who dallied with a pretty young maiden called Barbara. Barbara kept Don Juan's paternity a secret from him until her deathbed, and he moved to Spain and went on to become a war-hero in some battle or other (I sort-of lose a lot of the detail of such stories, but I suppose one can look them up later).
Anyway, they put up a statue to him, but hid it in a corner of the city, a) because the Spanish became less popular with the Austrians in the 30-years war, and b) he suffered from what appeared to be a wardrobe malfunction. You will have to inspect the photo to see the nature of this wardrobe malfunction, but suffice to say, the ladies of our tour group did have a bit of a giggle.
Back on the boat for lunch, and we cruised on down through a very picturesque part of the Danube. We passed a pseudo-Greek temple, erected in the 18th century, which looked very imposing. We also had a tour of the wheel-house, organized by Herbert our Cruise Director, which was fascinating to even the most technically challenged old ladies in the passenger list.
Dinner was again in the Erliebnis Restaurant again, this time for a special occasion! Did you notice what the date was today? Yes, my birthday! 21 today! We sat with Alicia and Milan, and just as dessert was about to be served - ta-ra! (Well, here's what I put on FaceBook:)
I have to tell you one story about the day - Barb booked us into the "fine dining" restaurant on the boat, and while I had an inkling of what might happen given what has happened to others on board, when the wait staff all processed in with cake and sparklers, AND the Oom-pah Band played "happy birthday", I thought, "wow, this is it!"
But it was not. It was the table next to us! Then, a few minutes later, they repeated the process, and I thought, "wow, this is it!"
But it was not. It was the bloke sitting next to me at our table! So when, a few minutes later, this whole rigamarole repeated itself, I thought, "wow, this is it!"
And it was. Three birthday cakes on the one day. There was plenty of cake to go around, much back-slapping, hand-shakes and kissing all round, and a jolly festive atmosphere. Three jolly festive atmospheres, in fact!The evening had even more icing on the cake - the restaurant was at the stern of the boat, with a view out the back, and we were sailing eastwards. We had the most glorious sunset to polish off the evening, and I took a lot of photos of it. You'll have to check them out.
Arrive in Passau this morning and board the Majestic Imperator for an enchanting journey to Linz, offering a privileged insight into the luxury and grandeur of imperial rail travel. Enjoy morning tea and refreshments on board as you traverse stunning scenery. Upon reaching Salzburg, disembark for a tour of the city’s ‘Sound of Music’ sights. Later, re-board the train and delight in canapés, drinks and entertainment en route to the pretty city of Linz, where you’ll rejoin your ship.What we actually did
Boarded the bus at 0900 for a 2hr trip to Cesky Krumlov, inside the Czech Republic. Along the way, we saw the transition from a very organized Germany to a somewhat run-down Czech Republic, explained by the relatively recent emergence from the oppressive Communist totalitarian regime, and the fact that most town had had very little money both during and after the Communist rule. Indeed, Cesky Krumlov was a miniature of all this - still extant mighty buildings from the days of Prince Leopold the I/II/III/IV/..., the best of which had been restored, to a range of urban buildings, most of which had been restored (and now in private hands), but several of which were clearly in need of a little TLC.
We took two tours, one each, due to a misunnderstanding, and discovered that on meeting up after the tours that we had seen different things. John took the "slow" walk, and saw more, while Barb took the "quick" walk, and did not see as much, but had more time afterwards to see other things. Because of the misunderstanding, we had not arranged to meet anyway, so John headed back to the town square. Fortunately, Barb, who was at the top of the castle tower, spotted John as he walked across the bridge, and was able to hurtle down the stairs, belt up to the town square, and find him before he decided to go looking for her!
We had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river. John had garlic soup served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread, while Barb had a caprese salad. Oh, and of course, a beer each.
We had time for a bit more exploring, so we walked around the tow a bit more, checking out the Church of St Vitus (a bit "dark" catholic, and the attendant woman got very cranky when someone started taking pictures - "no fo to"). It was a very nice day, and since we then discovered that we had in fact seen different things on our walking tours, we had to revist the things that the other had not seen. Then we bumped into Samantha by the river, so we sat and chatted with her for a while. So the time passed very quickly until we had to rejoin the bus at 1630 for our journey back to the boat, which by this time had motored on to Linz. We stopped on the way to view some castle or other (Another Bloody Castle), but it was worth it, as John spotted a replica steam train in the local hotel grounds. What it was doing there, we were not quite sure!
We didn't get to see much of Linz, since the bus dropped us back at the boat, and we boarded and motored off almost immediately. Barb did get a bit excited, as we could see the Alps as we drove down into Linz, and there was snow on the top of themm. John got a bit excited, as we saw lots of trams while driving through the town.
We had a most delicious lamb shank for dinner.
Cruise through the delightful Wachau Valley today. Disembark for a guided tour of Melk Abbey, one of the world’s most famous monastic sites. Enjoy an organ recital before embarking on your selected activity. Either take a guided bicycle ride along the banks of the Danube to Dürnstein, or cruise to Dürnstein, where you’ll enjoy time to explore this picturesque medieval town.What we actually did
We moored at 0730 at Melk, close to the city, and assembled onto buses at 0915 for a short trip to the Abbey. There we met Gerde, our guide for the Abbey, which was beautiful. We got separated towards the end (in the church, the last stop, actually) and Barbara went through the shop before me - but we bought different things, Barb some place mats, and John some postcards. Then a coffee in the local cafe before heading down to the town itself.
There was a market on in the town, so we wandered around looking at the various produce. We bumped into Sally, who was looking for a bank, which reminded us that we needed money as well. So a quick scout around to find a bank, which delivered money on the second attempt, and we were able to return to the market to buy some dessicated fruits, very nice, but probably OD'ed on sugar.
Then back to the boat for lunch, then John started on his photos and blogs (but did not get very far), while Barb enjoyed the sun deck, and the very welcome sun that was shining.
A few kilometres downstream we arrived at Durnstein, where we both alighted for an organised walk of the town, followed by a wine-tasing (gruner veltliner, riesling, schnapps and apricot liquer). We wre impressed enough to buy a bottle of both the schnapps and the liquer.
Back on board in time for dinner, followed by "The Sound of Salzburg", a musical act (baritone, soprano, and pianist) singing a) Mozart, b) Lehar, and c) The Sound of Music. Enjoyable enough, especially as we were invited to sing along! Then bed.
Disembark in the Austrian capital of Vienna this morning. Enjoy a walking tour of the city, and delight in its striking architecture, classical music culture and vibrant cafés. After dinner on board tonight, visit the newly renovated City Palace, a magnificent aristocratic residence in the heart of Vienna. Bask in the masterpieces of one of the world’s leading private art collections. Be welcomed at a Cocktail Reception, then enjoy a private concert including an orchestral performance of Strauss, music from members of the acclaimed Mozart Boys’ Choir and an operatic recital.What we actually did
After breakfast at the usual hour, and the usual docking manouvres, we were ready at 0900 for the short bus ride into the city, which gave us a bit of a Cook's Tour of most of the city sights, and a very useful orientation, we were dropped at the Albatini (an art gallery). We did nnot go in there, but headed off towards the cathedral (St Stephan's), checking out things of interest on the way. At St Stephan's we had 15 minutes of "time out" (which was intended as a loo stop), so we did a quick lap of the cathedral, and a very quick visit inside, since you had to pay to go into the nave, and we didn't have time to do all that!
Then we walked down the Graben to St Michael's, where the tour officially ended. Barb and John the made tracks for the Oberlaa Cafe, where we had a latte machiato (Barb) and a verlaengerter (John, equiv to long black). Then we walked to St Peters to try and find the Ankeruhe (some sort of musical clock) by 12 noon when it was supposed to play something, but we had no luck at all. We gave up looked after 15 minutes, had a look in St Peters, and headed back to Stephansplatz, where we decided to look for Mozart's House - which we did, after a bit of a search.
Mozart's House was fascinating, mainly because of the very informative audio commentary that went with it. We spent over an hour wandering arounnd inside.
Then down to the Opera House, where we had time for another coffee, before joining the queue for the tour of the opera house itself. That was very disappointing. Firstly they tried to deal with 16 or so groups simultaneously (instead of staggering them), so each group was continuing bumping into each other and getting confused, and we all seemed to arrive in the auditorium together, so that there were many groups all talking away together, all in different laguages, and our group had a softly spoken woman who talked too fast, with the result that you could not hear her at all unless you were within a metre of her. It was a schemozzle!
We caught the underground train U1 back to the ship, in time for 1730 dinner, an early dinner because at 1900 we were bussed off to the Palace Lichtenstein for a concert of Strauss and Mozart. It was delightful, and we had 2 pieces presented by boys from the Vienna Boys Choir, who looked so cute! The concert finished with the Blue Danube Waltz and the Radetsky March, which was a great hit, and had people humming all the way back to the boat. Time for a quick "late evening bowl of soup", then bed.
On your second day in Vienna, perhaps tour the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the imperial family and one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palace complexes. Alternatively, visit Vienna’s famous Spanish Riding School, headquartered within Hofburg Palace, or join an excursion to Bratislava, the capital of nearby Slovakia, and see some of the city’s key landmarks.What we actually did
Another early rising to catch the bus, this time to Bratislava, which is some 62km from Vienna, and notably for being the two closest capital cities in all Europe. It took us an hour and ten minutes to get there, with commentary from Monika, our guide, who told us in no uncertain terms what she thought of the Slovak politicians, who "haven't changed anything" from the communist era. Perhaps a little over the top, but I read a certain grain of truth into it.
Once in Bratislava, we had a coach tour of the town, including a trip up to see the castle (but we didn't go in, because all the things to see had been taken away, according to Monika). Then down to the city itself, for a walking tour, finishing about 1240, giving us nearly two hours of free time.
We had lunch at a pub recommended by Monika, the Hotel Perugia, where we had a beer each, and gnocchi with cabbage (John) and gnocchi with cheese (Barb), each swapping half way through. Both agreed they were good, although we felt that the cheese one was a little heavier than the cabbage.
Then we tried to visit the local church, which was originally built as a Protestant church, but annexed by the Hapsburgs as part of their flexing of muscle. They erected a statue of the Virgin Mary as a snub to the Protestants, but all it succeeded in doing (in my view) was that it showed how stupid they were to think that Jesus would have approved of it.
So with no church to visit, we just had to look (briefly) at the Town Hall, and then we repaired to the Cafe Mayer for coffee and cake. John bought a special menu item of espresso, strawberry cake and a glass of (slightly) fizzy white wine, while Barb bought a cappucino, simply because she didn't want the espresso. So the cake and wine was shared.
By then it was time to gather for the bus trip home, so with a few postcards under our belt, we joined the waitng throng in front of the opera house, and then walked to the buses to reboard and return to Vienna, slightly faster (1h5m) to arrive back at the boat in good time for a 1600 rendezvous.
Barb went to the briefing to hear about disembarkation, while John stooged around on the sun deck photographing trains, container depots, and our passage through the second last lock. Then we had the Captain's Farewell Cocktails, at which we were introduced to the complete crew, followed by the Captain's Farewell Dinner, consisting of 7 courses (!), abd which we shared at a table with Natasha, Sarafina, Samantha and Daniel. We had a ball! After dinner, John had a quick espresso in the ounge before joining Barbara to tidy up some blogs and photos, and prepare for bed.
Arrive in Budapest today and enjoy a city tour, visiting Fisherman’s Bastion, the Royal Palace, Buda Castle and many more. Afterwards, visit the Hungarian State Opera House. Absorb the grandeur of the building then venture inside for a tour, a glass of champagne and a private opera recital of two or three ariettas. Tonight, enjoy a Farewell Dinner, then set off on a twilight cruise through the city and enjoy the lights of Budapest sparkling around you.What we actually did
Our final full day, and we were up early to get the boat arriving into Budapest, as Herbert had told us there was a good "picture moment" as we sailed into the city. Well, you can judge for yourself whether we capitalized on the picture moment.
We docked in a "ship sandwich", which had boats on either side of us, all Ama.. ships, so to get off we had to walk through one other. But we didn't get off in the morning, since we had free time, and Barb wanted to make sure all the packing was under control, and John wanted to get his computer photos as up-to0date as possible.
After lunch we had a walking tour of Budapest. Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, and Buda is the castle side, Pest is the business side. Well, less castle-y side, put it that way. We went on a guided tour through the Opera House, which was much better organised than the equivalent Vienna one, right down to the glass of champagne afterwards, and some (live) tenor arias from Don Giovanni and Carmen!
Then on to Heroes Square, a massive monument to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian rule (1896), and over Margaret's Bridge (by bus) to the castle side. We walked up to Fishermen's Bastion, which offered spectacular and commanding views of the river and the (Pest) city. We bought a "mohito" ice cream as we walked back to the bus (past the bullet-hole-riddled guard house), and returned to the boat. Dinner finished early so that we could cruise up the river as far as Parliament House, to admire the illuminations. John did go a bit made trying to take arty-farty time exposure photos from a moving boat. Again, you be the judge! Last-minute packing, then bed!
Travel by coach to the historic town of Velké Bílovice for a light lunch in a traditional Czech winery cellar. Afterwards, continue to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Stay: Three Nights: Prague, Radisson Blu Alcron HotelWhat we actually did
Up early to finish packing, and a quick breakfast so that we could checked out (off?) from the Amadante and board the bus for an 0845 departure. We said farewell to Natasha and her family, and Herbert came to the bus to say farewell, getting us all to sing Waltzing Matilda to him!
The bus trip took 7 1/4 hours, with three stops along the way. It was comfortable enough, and the stops certainly gave us a break from the tedium. Our new tour director, Helena, gave some commentary on the way, bt she did not talk all the time, and we had relaxing music at other times - like Smetana's "Ma Vlast".
The first stop was interesting as it was still in Hungary, and the loos were pay loos. However, Helena gave us all a 100 hungarian crown coin to pay for it! Such is the APT attention to detail, and I was impressed by that.
We arrived in Prague just around 1600, and had time to settle in and be ready for a 1700 orientation walking tour. Again, Helena's attention to detail was good. She pointed out where to change money, where the post office was, where there were good restaurants, and showed us the main city centres (the Old Square, and Wenceslaus Square). She then left us to our own devices for the rest of the evening.
Barb and I bought a beer with John's remaining $E10 note (the local currency is Czech Krons, but most restaurants take euro). We then went back to the hotel while we thought of what we might do for dinner, and eventually settled on one of Helena's recommendations, the Kolkovna. We met Diana and Sally on the way there - they had just been to the Kolkovna, and were very enthusiastic about it.
We found it without much fuss, and order a Pilsener Urquelle each, and a meat hot pot to share. We were glad we only ordered one - it was huge! It had a 1/4 roast duck, kanksy sausage, pork steak, and roast pork pieces, together with 3 kinds of dumplings and generous amounts of red and white cabbage (sauerkraut). That, together with a side plate of a most beautiful mixture of beans, was more than enough, and we rolled back to the hotel and bed.
Your tour of Prague begins with a trip to World Heritage-listed Prague Castle. The largest coherent castle complex in the world, it is home to the Bohemian Crown Jewels and has housed the offices of ancient Roman Emperors and the Kings of Bohemia. Visit St Vitus Cathedral then stroll over Charles Bridge to the city’s Old Town Square and see the Prague Astronomical Clock. Tonight, a memorable dinner at the award-winning La Rotonde restaurant awaits.What we actually did
Breakfast made a bit if a change from the Amadante, the same, but different. John was delighted that they had smoked fish on the menu, so he had that, which was one thing better than the Amadante. Howeveer, the coffee was worse, so it was a bit swings and roundabouts.
We caught the bus at 0845, and headed off to Prague Castle, where we walked around the grounds for a bit, the wandered across to St Vitus' Cathedral. We had some time to look inside, and admire the stained glass windows, and the third largest rose window in the world. While wandering around the exterior of the church, whom should we bump into but Doug Newberry, from Glen Waverley Uniting! We were both surprised, since neither of us knew that our paths would be so close while we were away, let alone actually cross! As many people have since observed on FaceBook, "it's a small world"!
Then on to see the changing of the guard at the front gate. While waiting for that to happen, who should drive past tha the President of the Czech Republic himself! It was a day for seeing lots of important people we had not been expecting to meet.
We walked down from the castle and across the famous Charles Bridge, to be back in the old town and familiar territory. We had some free time until the afternoon tour, so Barb and I, together with Sally, headed back to the Kolkovna Restaurant for lunch. John was brave and elected to have the "Carman's roast brisket with beer cheese", as described "golden roastedd pork in garlic and onion, pickled in delicious cheese, served with baked bread". It was nice - but I'm not sure I'd order it again. "Very strong" is how I'd describe it. "Phew" was Barbara's comment.
OK, once lunch was finished, we walked across to the Municipal House (town hall) for another walking tour. I'd have to say that this was the highlight of nearly the whole trip - it was a beautiful art deco style, and where it had been damaged by the Nazis and the Communists (but mostly the latter), it had been very sensitively restored so that it seemed like it was built yesterday. Barb and I both loved it.
In the evening we had the Prague extension farewell dinner - in the hotel dining room,, which apparently has won awards. The hotel (Radisson Blu Alcron) is itself very art deco, and the restaurant was no exception. Phyrne Fisher would have been very impressed. John had goose liver pate, salmon fillet (beautifully cooked) and a chocolate and cheese "pyramid" which also was delightful. We sat at a table with John and Yvonne, and Sally and Diana, and their company rouded off a most wonderful evening.
Today, enjoy a full day to explore Prague. Once the capital of the Roman Empire and home to two Holy Roman Emperors, the city features a plethora of fascinating historic sites and beautiful architecture. Perhaps explore the city’s extensive World Heritage-listed historic centre, featuring a host of medieval, Baroque and Gothic architecture. From the Charles Bridge to Prague Castle; and Lennon Wall to the Jewish Quarter; every inch of Prague has something to offer. With numerous museums, galleries, theatres and other historical exhibits, there is plenty to see in one of Europe’s most intriguing and beautiful cities.What we actually did
Delightful breakfast again - so hard to pass over that smoked fish! But we had to get going. The bus left at 0830, and it was pouring with rain! The early going through the suburbs of Prague was all water logged, so there was little point in trying to take photographs. But after 30mis or so, the rain started easing off, so that by the time we reached Kutna Hora, it was actually clearing up, and the sun was trying to shine!
Our first stop in Kutna Hora was St Barbara's Cathedral. Barb was very excited at seeing HER church! And it was quite beautiful inside. Started in 1388, and finished in 1905, it took 517 years to build! The architects/kings/bishops/town people all changed their minds several times, and/or ran out of money, and the final form is quite different from that originally planned. It is UNESCO Heritage-Listed, and has many beautiful stained-glass windows inside, the lastest one only finished last week! So we were among the first to see and photograph it. And of course, we had to take some photos of St Barbara!
Then on past the old Jesuit College to the Church of St James (closed for restoration) and then the Italian Court. This was the place where they refined and minted silver coins in the 13/14th centuries. There were silver mines nearby, some as deep as 500m, and it took the miners 30mins to slide down - yes! slide down! they had special leather bum seats to slide down the mud slides to the working face, where they worked for 10-12 hours, then climbed back to the surface, taking another 2 hours!! No wonder some of them slept in the mines!
We saw a silversmith hammering out the coins using original style tools, and Barb even got to keep one of the coins made, thanks to our friend Sally, who was on the end of the queue as the coins were passed around, and when she went to give them back, was told that she could keep them. So she kindly gave one to Barbara!
From the Italian Court, we walked on to the town square, where we had a coffee break. It was almost lunch, but we restrained ourselves to just coffees. Then we walked down through the rest of the town to reboard the bus, and journey on a short way to Sedlec and the Cemetry Church of All Saints, which is noted for its ossuary. The bones of some 40,000 people are preserved there, in curious mounds and macabre friezes. I took lots of photos, for those intrigued by such things.
Then back on the bus, and we returned to Prague and rain, and a free afternoon. Because of the rain, and because we were so far behind in such things, we spent the afternoon catching up on photos and blogs, interrupted only by a beer/coffee for afternoon tea.
In the evening we went by bus to some remote location in Prague, sufficiently challenging that the bus driver got applauded twice for his skills in negotiated tight squeezes. We did actually collect a parking sign, but it was not his fault - the road works he was trying to negotiate were very poorly thought through. Once at the location (wherever it was), we had a very interesting dinner. The wine came in two long necked bottles, which the waiter dispensed by taking his finger off the throat, and squirting the wine into one's glass from a long range. There was a general feeling that the beer was the better option, but it took a while coming.
After the first two courses, we had entertainment from a Czech band, consisting of a hammer dulcimer (somewhat out of tune), a bass fiddle, a clarinet, ad a violin. With various dancers and singers. Talk about loud! John was squashed in right next to the double bass, so he heard lots of deep plunging. They did get people up and dancing, but fortunately, we were sufficiently hemmed in that we were not invited. We were summoned to the bus at about 2200, before it was all over, but frankly, Barb and I had had enough!
The bus took us back by a less hazardous route, and we were back in the hotel by 2230. John did some photos, while Barb zzzed off.
After breakfast, your holiday comes to an end as you are transferred to the airport for your onward flight.What we actually did
There was no particular rush this morning, but we woke up at the usual time of 0600 and slowly made our way towards breakfast. By then, I think most of the APT fellow travellers had left - I recall that the transfers list had a lot of them registered for a 0615 early breakfast. But we saw a half dozen or so familiar faces.
No transfer to the airport for us. We did debate as to whether we should get a taxi to the station, and Helena and the hotel staff suggested that that would be what they would do, but it wasn't far, and we had plenty of time, so we decided to walk. Well, it immediately started raining, and we had to shelter in the patches of heavier rain, but we sort-of made it to the station. I say "sort-of", because it wasn't at all clear that we were in a railway station. Yes, there was the sound of trains rumbling overhead, and pointers to various platforms, but there was nothing like the usual big destination boards saying what time the trains left and from which platform. The best we could find was a single destination sign at each platform, visible only when you were at the platform, and no following train information. Barb spent some time wandering up and down trying to find further information. It was only when we found the "first class lounge" that we found future train information, so we sat and waited there until 20 mins before departure, when the platform number appeared, and we knew where to go!
Some photos of trains and locos later, and we were rolling smoothly out of Prague. We had comfortable seats, and the coffee trolley soon came round with quite reasonable coffee, so we sat back and relaxed. We got the computers out to catch up on the backlog. We watched the little villages shoot past, and took pictures of the rolling fields. This is what railway travel should be like! Incidentally, it was clear that the Czech authorities were investing heavily in railway infrastructure. All along the line there were per-way slacks for workmen, new bridges being built, new track being laid, new overhead wiring being installed. Now if only we could get Australia politicians to visit countries by train, mmaybe we in Oz might see something like this! But, I fear, not in my lifetime.
We arrived in Vienna about 1530, and found the underground stations and lines, making our connections easily. Slight problem in finding the hotel, because we did not look at the other side of the street! For some reason, perhaps because the name of the hotel was Hotel Am Konzerthaus, and the Konzerthaus itself was obviously on the side of the street we were walking on, we did not think of the other side. So when we got to the end of the street and had not found the hotel, we did a rethink. And looking across the street, there it was! "Duh" comes to mind.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in "free time", again catching up on computing and emails. We decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, and settled on having just one course. That was "wiener schnitzel" obviously enough, and it was delicious. But the service was lousy, and we almost had to walk out without paying to make our presence felt. I doubt that we will eat there again.
We collapsed into bed and John went out like a light, but Barb found it harder. She says it was John's snoring, but he does not remember snoring at all.
It was pouring with rain today, so we decided to do museum things. We set off for the Albertina, which we had seen on our previous vist to Vienna a week ago, but did not have time to visit. I recall Herbert saying how we must visit that, as they had an exhibition of Albrecht Durer drawings, the first time they had been exhibited in ten years.
But first things first - we stopped at the Konzertkaffe Spratzenburger, where we both had a revelation. Barb had a "Vienna Coffee", which they call a "Ubersturzer Neumann", and John had a long black, which is locally known as a "Verlangerter Kaffee". So we were both happy. The Uberstrutzer comes as a cup of whipped cream, and a small pot of double espresso, which you pour over the whipped cream, and drink. Bliss!
Now back to the Albertina. Unfortunately, they don't allow photographs inside (but I did sneak one or two), so you cannot see the huge range of stuff they have. But it is all onlie, and I have copied the famous hare of Durer's into (my album. It is called the Albertina because Prince Albert (son of one the Habsburg emperors) spent his life collecting works of art, and in his will he bequeathed that it must not be split up, so that the whole collection (some 55,000 works are on-line, and there's lots more than that that are not). We spent ages looking at the Michelangelos, the Rubens, the Rembrandts, the Monets, the Picassos, and of course, the Durers.
But eventually we got museumed-out, and left the place around 1400. We found the Mozart Cafe nerby, so decided to have lunch there. John did the whole Mozart thing - Mozart sausages, Mozart coffee, and Mozart cake. Yum!
Then on to the Haus der Musik, another of Herbert's recommendations. It was most entertaining, and we worked our way through all the great (renaissance) composers (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms Strauss, Mahler, ... But the highlight was undoubtedly an interactive conduct-the-Vienna-Philharmoniker-yourself. You stood on a podium, waved a baton, and the orchestra followed your beat (sort of). Barbara tried it out,, and got to the end, but it was not without a great deal of hilarity that threatened to derail the performance at times!
We had planned to go to the Gmoakeller restaurant tonight, but it was shut. So we trekked halway across town to get to the Figlmuller, recommended by Pam. It was a little different from her experience, and we did have to queue to get in. But the wiener schnitzel were something to die for, or die in trying! They were so big that they hung over the edge of the plate! Both Barb and had trouble finishing them, and we certainly did not want any dessert afterwards!
So we staggered back to the hotel, this time using our three day train/tram/bus tickets, and it was very easy to navigate. Boy, do Australian politicians have a thing to learn about how to run public transport!
In another of our crowd-beating moves, we got going early today to travel by the Green Line (U4) directly to Schonnbrun, from where it was a short walk to the Schloss Schonnbrun, a place which I remember my Mother raving about when she returned from a visit to Vienna in 1968 (IIRC).
Our place worked beautifully. There was NO queue for tickets, and we walked straight through into the palace for the audio guided tour of the staterooms - which we pretty much had to ourselves for the first half of the tour! Halfway along, the odd tour group started appearing, and we lost the feeling of specialness as we gazed at all the lavish decorations and furnishings, perhaps as the Habsburgs might have felt (though somehow I doubt it) when they were living in the palace.
I'm not sure what it is, but there's probably a PhD in sociology in studying the behaviour of tour groups. I think it's a bit like road behaviour. The anonymity of being a member of the group (tour, or road users) makes people lose some/a lot of their social inhibitions, and they start to behave like they are the only people on the planet - except, of course, in the tour group, for their guide. Trying to take photographs one comes up against this behaviour in spades. People will quite happily walk into your photo, and will often just stand there looking at you even when you are pointing a camera at them. Yes, of course I want to take a photo of you with the Schonnbrun Fountain in the background. It's why I came to Vienna, after all! On the other hand, if they want a photo of themselves with the fountain in the background, then they have a licence to fiddle about, chat, adjust their hair, anything to make sure that their photo comes out well, and of course, you will have to wait your turn if you want a photo of the fountain without them preening away.
After working our way through all the palace rooms (which took just over an hour), we decided it was coffee time, so we went to the Cafe Schonnbrun, where Barb lashed out to have an Erdbeer Stinlitz (sp?) - or a strawberry mousse waffle cone. It was huge (see the photo), and she (of course) needed help to finish it. You can see the fresh strawberries in the photo, and under them was a light strawberry mousse mixture, all in a dark chocolate coated waffle cone. Wow! That's Barb's coffee in the photo, too - a "latte machiato", which seems to be an Austro/German invention. It is a nearly full glass of hot foamy milk, and a shot of espresso poured in at the end. You do have to mix it before drinking, otherwise you end up with just "latte"! Whereas we (Australians) think of a machiato as coffee stained with milk, clearly the germanics think the other way round - milk stained with coffee.
Then we trotted off to the "Privvy Garden" or "Kronprinzgarten", only to find that the tickets which we bought, the "Grand Tour" ticket, would not let us in. It was a grand tour of the palace, not of the entire estate. So we went back to the ticket office to "upgrade", only to find then that the queue(s) were out the door! Some enterprising bypassing of the queue by John (he asked the future bookings clerk, who was sitting idly at her desk) gave us the lead we needed. She said to just go straight to the same cashier from whom we bought the tickets in the first place, and ask for an upgrade - which we did, and for an extra $E8 we then had the right ticket (phew).
Back to the Privvy Garden. It was in two sections, owing to renovations (which seem to be going on everywhere). First, the citrus garden, full of oranges, mandarins, qumquats, grapefruits, lemons, kaffir limes, ... We puzzled over how all these would survive the winter, but the answer was obvious - they were all in pots/tubs, even the very large trees, and they were moved to the huge glasshouse which we could see when we moved to the next part of the garden, the knot garden. There was a little lookout one could climb to get a better view, and it was worth it, as one could then see all the knots in the garden.
Then we walked up to the Gloriette, passing the famous Schonnbrun Fountain. Unfortunately, the place had been used for an open air concert the previous night, and they had lighting stands everywhere and a huge temporary pavilion that were all being dismantled, so finding uninterrupted views was challenging. There was only a tiny spot to do it from, and of course all the young Asian couples wanted to take their photos there (see above). But with patience ...
The gloriette was at the top of a long hill (that's why it's a gloriette), and provided a panoramic view of not only the schloss, but much of Vienna as well. So we schlossed all that down, and then walked down the long hill again (well, not down again, but long hill again, if you see what I mean).
We digressed to the maze. Now John read about mazes somewhere in his distant past, and most physical mazes, that is, the ones you walk through, are built on the single-connected principle. That is, the goal and the entry have hedges that are connected to each other. There may be island hedges, but they don't count - except if you get lost! To avoid getting lost, and to find your way to the goal in such a maze, all yoou have to do is walk along with your left hand (or right, it doesn't matter, as long as you donn't change halfway!) touching the hedge. If you never cross your hand across a gap, you will reach the goal. Mind you, you won't find the shortest path, but you won't get lost. This method has the advantage that if it isn't singly-connected, you might not reach the goal, but you certainly won't get lost.
This method worked in Keukenhof, and it worked here, too. At the goal there was a raised platform allowing you to see the whole maze, and it was fun watching other people puzzle their way through - we took pity on one bloke who not only seemed to be lost, but he had become separated from his wife!
There were other interesting mazes there as well, more for the kids thatn adults, since they had low hedges and you could see where the choices led. But the interesting thing here were the goal activities - a mirror maze, a water jet that you activated by swinging on a platform, platforms on springs that were impossible (for us - kids could manage them) to stand on, and a xylophone that you played by jumping on the keys.
Then it was lunchtime - by now, 1315 and we had been in the palace and grounds for nearly 5 hours, so we went back to the Cafe Schonnbrun, where Barb ordered a goat's cheese salad, and John had a sausage and sauerkraut. No erdbeer stinlitz this time! After lunch, we wandered our way slowly out of the Schonnbrun, and towards a number 58 tram. John had worked out that a number 58 tram took us to Westbahnhof, from whence an orange line U3 train took us to Stefansplatz, where we had to find the Vienna Ticket Office to pick up the tickets for tonight. With all that Viennese culture in the morning, we decided that we would keep up pretences, and go to the opera in the evening. It was only the "Volksoper" (people's opera), but it was Fidelio, and we were in the city where it was first performed, so it seemed like a good option.
Well so it turned out. We didn't really have time for tea, but bought a light sandwich at the opera house (which took a green and a brown train to get to it) and that tided us over for the evening. The opera was set in contemporary surroundings, with minimalist sets, but the singing was excellent, and we enjoyed it greatly, despite not understanding much/all of the words.. Having the supertitles in German helped us to understand what they were singing, but did not help us to understand what they were singing about! But a knowledge of the plot sufficed to follow the plot, so it wasn't all double Deutsch to us.
It finished about 2145, and a brown and green train going in the same clockwise direction as before got us back to Stadtpark and a short walk to the hotel and bed.
Breakfast at the Konzerthaus Hotel, and then we set off for St Michael's Square, where we found a cafe to enjoy some proper coffee (the coffee at the hotel was indescribably weak!) before tramping across to the Spanish Riding School to collect our tickets, and wait for the performance to begin.
We had wonderful seats, right at ground level in the front row, and I have to admit that it was a bit of a pilgrimage for me, because my Mother went to see the riding school on that same stay in Vienna in 1968 that I mentioned yesterday, and she and Dad went across to Vienna for some conference or other (thanks to Elinor for the date information). She came back raving about how beautifu these horses were, and I must admit, whe I saw the first act of the young 4-6 year stallions showing off all the gaits they had learnt, it brought tears to my eyes, remembering how Mum so loved the show.
The whole thing was very moving and impressive - the discipline that the horses showed and their obedience to the merest twitch of the reins was a pleasure to behold. I'm tempted to say just Wow! and leave it at that, but that added dimension of the nostalgia just has to be recorded. It left me much moved.
All too soon it was over, but we unwound a little with another cup of coffee and an applestrudel each at the riding school cafe. Then we walked across the the Volksgarten nearby, where they had an impressive display of roses on show. It started raining, but not very much, and we were able to shelter under a tree. After roses, we repaired to a little cafe "Meierei" where we had lunch - Barb a Greek Salad, and John some "wurstknopfel" or sausage dumplings and sauerkraut. The dumplings were a little stodgy, but John soldiered on to the end.
Back to the hotel to offload various acquisitions, then we caught the underground to Pratenplatz, where the famous Riesenrad, or giant ferris wheel, made famous by the movie "The Third Man", is situated. We rode that wheel, and then the "Lilliputbahn", a miniature railway. By then it was time to return to the hotel, as we had booked a table for 1839 at the "Gmoakeller" restaurant (yes, I spelt it correctly!). It was a quaint, very Viennese sort of place, and Barbara had one of the specialties of the house, a potato strudel, or "Erdappfelstrudel" served on a bed of pureed spinach. She liked it. John had beef tartare, and his comment was that it wasn't the best one he had eaten, but it did serve a long standing desire.
Back to the hotel to start packing for tomorrow.
Woke up early this morning, Barb could not sleep because of the need to catch the train at 0930. But we had everything under control, and got to the station (Westbahnhof) almost an hour early. So we had time to have a cup of coffee, and go looking for an ATM, because we were low on cash. Barb found the ATM, but it would not spit any money out, so we travelled to Salzburg without the extra cash. The trip itself was uneventful - John took a few photos through the window, with general (but not complete) success! It only took 2 1/2 hours, so we were in Salzburg by midday.
A short(ish) walk to the hotel, and we settled in. Some quick perusing of the travel brochures suggested that we should do a whole day trip to the salt mines and eagle's lookout tomorrow, so we booked that through the reception desk. Then set off for a town explore.
The first thing we came across was a market, just across the high street. So we poked around in there, buying a few interesting things, and then saw a delicatessen sort of stall that did plates of antipasto. A bottle of wine from the Missio wine stall (turns out that all the stalls were Italian - it was some sort of Italian festival), and we had a delightful lunch of salami, ham, olives, fish and semi-dried tomato rolls, cheese, and bread. In fact, more than we could really eat, but as it started rained, we had a good incentive to sit under the shelter and finish off the bottle of wine between the two of us!
Then a stroll through the Mirabellgarten, full of roses, and with great views to the castle, and a delightful bastion of quaint mediaeval stone figures. Across the river to the old town, here we spotted a great lookout on top of a sheer cliff. But how to get up there? I said to Barb, let's just walk up to the foot of it, and see what wee can see. As luck would have it, we saw a lift to the top! $E1.20 each was really well spent, as the view was spectacular, and the sun was shining! There was a cafe up there, too (of course), so we had a cup of coffee and a cake (Barb, sacher torte, John, and almond pastry). Then it started to rain again!
We headed inside, and decided to have another coffee and wait until the rain stopped, which it did after 20 minutes or so. So we paid for the coffees, and headed off along a cliff walk that wound its way down through the 17th C fortification to - the Augustinerbrau! Mark Johnson had suggested that this was a good place to go, and it was a fascinating iinsight into why the Austrians drink more beer per head of population than any other country in the world! It was a factory set up to brew the beer, and deliver it by the truckload, not to pubs, but straight into the mouths of thousands of Austrians! Fortunately, it had been raining, and that probably put a lot of the locals off, or we would never have got near the place. Even so, the car park was full! I'd hate to see what it was like on a pleasant summer's day!
The system was that you collected your preferred size of beer mug (small = 0.5l, large = 1.0l), paid for it (small=$E3, large=$E6), and then they filled it up! Barb had a small (the largest beer she's ever had!), and John had a large. Now you have to remember that we had already polished off a bottle of Italian wine for lunch, so we were pushing our luck. But we managed, and then staggered back to the hotel.
While we were recovering from our strenuous walking and drinking, John suddenly had a bout of Durchfall. This had been brewing (sorry for the pun) for a couple of days, but this time the shit hit the fan. Well almost. As if. My German is not much chop, but I believe that "durchfallen" translates literally as "falling through", and it was just that. "fail completely" is another meaning, which pretty much describes the effort my sphincter made. Not much I could do about it. Anyway, you probably don't want to know any more, even if you have read this far.
So that was the end of today's adventures.
Bright and early start to the morning, in spite of last night's unpleasantness. We were ready for the small minibus that picked us up at 0835, and dropped us at the church square, a block away! Given the traffic, we could have walked there faster. No matter, we got away a little after the appointed hour, and immediately got stuck in traffic. But the bus driver was good and eased us through several tight squeezes until we were on the open road.
Our first stop was at the Salt Mines, to drop off 8 people who were just doing that trip. The the rest of the bus went on to Eagle's Nest, a holiday house built for Hitler's 50th birthday. Completed before the war, it interesting only saw Hitler visit a few times, a) because he was acrophobic, and b) because he was claustrophobic! The first is relevant because it is built on a peak 1800m above sea level, and with a narrow, steep, windy road to get to the top. The second is relevant because even when you reached the end of the road, you had to go 124m along a narrow tunnel to reach a lift, which went up 124m to the actual Eagle's Nest building. The lift was as big as they could make it in those days, and it currently is allowed to carry 44 people at a time. Hitler only allowed 5 others to accompany him when he used it, otherwise he felt too Heinz Hemmlered in. It was beautiful inside, in a metallic sort of way - all polished brass, to do a steam dome proud!
We had an hour at the top to wander around, take photos, and just generally be blown away, sometimes physically, sometimes metaphorically. Then down again to catch the next bus to the base station where we re-boarded the tour bus. They have an interesting systemm of bus convoys to ferry people to the top, since the road is so nnarrow, and the buses only just get round the corners as it is. Four buses go up, cross four buses coming down at te halfway point, and the reverse the procedure for the downwards trip. Walter, our tour guide, emphasized most vigorously that we should not leave anything on these buses, as we would not necessarily get the same bus back, and even if we did,, other people would have travelled in the bus in the meantime. He had a number of stories about how people (a woman only yesterday) leave their cameras, etc., on these buses, and there was nothing he could do to help them, since these buses were run by a separate group. John took great care of his camera!
The bus took us to Berchstesgaden for lunch. We were free to choose what to do for lunch - we chose to buy a bread roll with some interesting cold meat in it, from a butcher of all places! I suppose we would call it a delicatessen, but it was selling mainly meat, and the buns seemed to be an enterprising addition to their offerings! We sat and ate them in the town square, and they were yummy. Then coffee in a nearby cafe, the Forstner. As we left, John decided to buy an icecream, a Himmbeer icecream, which turned out to be raspberry, and verra nice too!
Back to the bus, and the next adventure was the salt mine. What to say? Barb and John both dressed up in overalls, and very cute we looked, too. We entered the mine on a small mine train, which took us to a big cavern where we had to slide down to the next level on a long slippery dip. They take a photo as you reach the bottom, which is on record somewhere,, and from the look of terror on John's face, he must have been exceeding the threshold of terror, which is about 167.8 kph. Barb on the other hand was behind him, and could not see the terrorising slopes in front, so the photo shows her obviously enjoying herself, oblivious to John's concerns.
The rest of the mine was less terrorising, and indeed, a boat trip across one of the salt lakes was very tranquil. It wasn't until we were actually on the boat that we realised it was a lake, so perfect were the reflections. Most of us thought it was a sheet of glass! John took a movie of the lighting effects that were played, but not knowing what was coming, it only starts (erratically) once we were on the lake and chugging across.
We bumped into a woman from Montreal on the mine tour, by the name of Nicole, and she proved to be a good travelling companion for the rest of the day. She was French speaking, but her english was better than our french, so she took pity on us and her language, and we spoke english!
Then to Konigsee, a lake nearby which was most scenic, and very touristy. Barb, John and our new friend Nicole headed for a cafe for a beer. It was actually Nicole's suggestion, to which Barb exclaimed, "John! a woman after your own heart!" So John had no trouble sipping a beer, in the sun, overlooking Konigsee, with two beautiful woman at his side.
All too soon both beer and time ran out, so back to the bus, and after picking up other salt mine visitors (the bus was cunningly organized so that you could do it as a morning or afternoon half-day tour, or a whole day - which we did), we returned to Berchtesgaden for afternoon tea! (coffee, actually). Then back to Salzburg after a brilliant day of sight seeing.
In the evening, went to a small but packed restaurant around the corner from the hotel, called "Altes Fuchs" (old fox), where we both had "Fuchs Gordon Bleu", a slight typo from Fuchs Cordon Bleu. A bit more typo-ing, and it could have been "Fuchs Gordon Bennett", but that might have been a bit too much. Anyway, it was a pork schnitzel with goat cheese and pumpkin seeds, with cranberry sauce, and it was De-Li-Ci-Ous. Better than all those wiener schnitzels put together! Then to hotel and bed.
A bit of a sleep-in this morning, as we did not have to catch anything or be anywhere at a particular time. So breakfast was at 0900 and once ready, we headed off to the post office to find out about posting some books and papers home so that we could reduce both weight and volume of our luggage. The man at the PO was very helpful, and we bought a big yellow box for $E2.65. That was the cheap side of things!
We dropped that back at the hotel, and walked across to the old town, wandering through laneways and looking at various shoppy things. We stumbled across the market, and bought two bread rolls for lunch, along with some other yummy looking bread/cake thingies.
We eventually did reach the funicular to the castle by about 11 (!), and bought tickets to go up and into the castle, where we wandered around, checking the views, taking photos, and generally just soaking things in. We sat at a table under a big oak tree in the courtyard and ate our bread rolls for lunch.. They were brilliant, very yummy bread, and very filling. The two iced coffees at the castle cafe - it wasn't that hot, but we both felt the need for something cool, rather than hot. Then we headed back to the old town via the walking path - which was very steep!
Back in the old town, Barb spotted a sign which advertised a Mozart Dinner and Concert, which we thought sounded interesting. So when we got back to the hotel after further photographic perambulations, we asked the reception to book us 2 seats - which they did on the spot. By now it was nearly 1500, so we went up to our bedroom and sorted out books and stuff for the big yellow posting box, and got it weighed by reception. We thought it might be about 2kgs, but the scales said 6.5kgs! Just shows how inaccurate one's intuitition is about weight! We took said box to the post office, where the same helpful man took the details and money ($E80!), and held the trolley man as he was carting off a load of parcels, just so our parcel could go on it as well! That's service for you, and they wouldn't do it at Australia Post!
We set off for St Peter's Keller in the St Peter's Kloster. This is reputedly the oldest restaurnt in the world, with records recording its existence in 803. Yes, that's right, 9th Century, there is no leading 1! The evening was pleasant enough, although we both thought the food was not as good as it was cracked up to be, and the service was pretty lousy. They charged like wounded bulls for thhe drinks - when they brought them!
We had 6 Americans sharing the table, 3 couples: Larry and Jeannie, Eric and Rachel, Walter and Pearl. Walter and Pearl were at our end of the table so we got to know them a little better - she had just finished several weeks as a clinical counnsellor for a US forces base that was being closed down. Some of the residents of the base had been there for 27 years, and were reluctant to leave! I can understand that,, but they had been having a good llife at US taxpayers expense, so it did make sense to shut them down.
The music was the best part of the evening. Each course was preceded by a bracket of numbers, instrumental and vocal, from a) Don Giovannni, b) Marriage of Figaro, and c) Die Zauberflaute. The vocalists, a baritone and sopraano, sang various arias from those works, and sang them pretty well. The evening closed rather suddenly once dessert was finished - tere was no coffee course - so we made our way back to the hotel, ready for tomorrow's adventures.
Early start again - checked out of Hotel am Mirabelllplatz at 0835, and headed off to the railway station on foot. Stopped along the way to take photos of the trolley buses, since we had not got any close-up ones before. Coffee at the cafe in the Hauptbahnhof, and then waited on the platform for the train - John taking his usual railway statio photos. Boarded train at 0956.
The train trip took just over 5 1/2 hours. The first stop, at Innsbruck, caused a lot of confusion, since several of the Salzburg-joining passengers did not have reservations, and were sitting in the wrong seats. Some passengers even claimed to have the same seats as us, so having a reservation didn't seem to improve one's chances of getting a seat all that much!
The train reversed direction at Buchs, so the last hour we were travelling backwards. This was a bit of a surprise, but it all adds to the adventure! When we got to Lucerne, it was pouring with rain, so we decided to hang the expense and catch a taxi. We did visit the ATM to extract some Swiss francs, but they came out in denominations of $CHF100, which is like $A120, so we thought the taxi driver might not like them. We paid him in euros, and probably paid over the odds, but hey! we kept dry, and that was worth a dollar or two.
We settled in to our room, and a nice big room it is too! On the corner of the buiding with 3 windows, it is very spacious. Only slight hassle is, the beds are two separate beds pushed together again, and it mmakes for dangerous liaisons during the night! John actually split the bed while rolling over, and it was nearly a disaster!
Since by this stage it was pretty late, and still raining, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. We had a three course special for $CHF45 each, and the food was good - but again we let let down by the service. The maitre d' asked us before dessert whether we would like coffee with it, or after it. We said after dessert, which was a mistake. They cleared the dessert dishes away (a nice chocolate mousse),, but never came back to take coffee orders, or indeed offer the bill. It was only when we started walking out that any notice was taken of us, and I thought that was shoddy. They missed out on a possible repeat cover because of that. Then to bed.
The weather was a bit uncertain this morning, and the front desk suggested that tomorrow would be a better day to do the Pilatus Roud Trip, and since the top of Pilatus was covered by cloud, we agreed with them, and put the Rundfahrt off until tomorrow. So we walked the old town instead.
Down at Lucerne level things were not so pessimistic. The Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge, built in 1333) looked lovely in the sunshine, and we spent some time dawndling across it, taking photos, and mourning for the pictures that were lost in the 1993 fire.
We stopped at a cafe on the otherside, just near the weir, for a coffee and toilet stop. Both of us were edgy after the Salzburg experience! The weir itself was fascinating, as it was built in 1770 (?), and is a very early example of a needle dam, in which wooden boards form the weir, and are added or removed by hand. They are not intended to be watertight. At the open end ear the cafe, there was a lovely laminar flow as the water descended to the outlet level.
From the cafe we walked downstream to cross at the other wooden bridge, the Spreuer Bridge, which also had paintings in the gables of the roof, a 17th Century (more recent than the Kapellbrucke) series by Kaspar Meglinger called the Dance of Death. Pretty macarbe these Lucernians!
Then we climbed up to the town wall, and walked along them. You could go into some of the towers - the most interesting one was the Zeitturm or Time Tower, which was full of clock mechanisms. We stayed to watch the 1100 striking, which went off a minute early (there's a stroy about that later). While waiting for this, John worked out how the bell is struck, so the villagers were treated to an extra "bong" about 5 minutes before 11. Maybe some people wondered what it was, but given the propensity for church bells to go off at all times in European cities, I suspect no one gave it a second thought (except for Meddlesome Matty)!
Then to the watch maker Bucherer's big shop in town. It had a ball operated clock, spread over 3 levels of the shop, which told the timme by home many balls in the hours and minutes containers. It was fascinating to watch, and to understand how it worked, but being spread over three floors, a little tricky to get the whole gestalt of the thing.
Then we caught the "Petit Train" to do a circuit of Lucerne and see if there was anything we missed. There was the Lion of Lucerne, which up until now, we had known about, but not the whereabouts. The train went past the Lion, and it was not far from where we caught the trai, so wgen it stopped, we walked baack to see the lion. And very sad he was, too. Well, I guess you would be too, with arrows sticking out all over you.
It was by then well past lunch time, it being 1430, so we checked out aa few restaurants, and settled for a pizza ad beer in an "Italian" one. For the afternoon, we decided to go to the Swiss Museum of Transport, which happens to be in Lucerne, and which was only two bus stops beyond our hotel.
John was happy. There was a large collection of locomotives - steam, electric, funicular, trams, railcars and assorted rolling stock. We must have been taking an erudite interest, because a gide came up to us, annd asked if we would like to look inside a few of the locos! We did not need to be asked twice!! There were some lovely old 16 2/3 Hz AC locos, with massive transformers and tap changing gear. Many of these were built for operating the Simlon tunnel whe it was first in use, because of the difficuties with using steam locomotives. So the electrical engineering is almost prehistoric in its massiveness and ruggedness.
We got there just after 1500, and left at 1800 when the place was closing, and we could have spent a lot more time there. Unfortunately, John dropped his camera while trying out an "action and reaction" demonstration of Newton's First Law, and cracked the lens filter. Fortunately, that took the brunt of the impact, and the rest of the camera seemed unscathed. So we unscrewed the broken filter, threw it away, and pressed on, walking back to the hotel.
After a beer in the bar, we decided to walk to the "Wilhelm Tell", an old paddle steamer turned into a restaurant that we had seen close to the heart of town. We had a nice sit-down dinner, with a 50cl pichet of rose, and a "fondue chinoise", which was a fondue of boiling beef bouillon,, with pieces of raw pork, beef, chicken, and sausage meat balls to cook, along with a range of condiments (Grant woulld have loved it!): mustard, chilli, mayonnaise, pimento, onion, pickles, ... together with chips, veggies, rice, all with their own little chauffeurs. It was more than we could manage, and we had to leave some of the side dishes - but we did eat all the meat pieces! Add to that a wonderful reflection in the waters of Lake Lucerne as the sun was setting, and it was a beautiful evening. We staggered back to the hotel and bed about 2200.
Today we were hoping for a nice day, and we were not disapppointed. As we got out of bed, we could see the top of Mt Pilatus, so we breakfasted quickly, and caught a bus into the city. Not early enough unfortunately- we missed the first boat (0838) by a matter of a minute or so, so we had time to kill as the next one was not until an hour later. Coffee, as usual, was the time killer, but not before we had to give up on one cafe, as it did not open, contrary to expectations, at 0900, but some 10/15 mins later. The barista must have slept in! A nearby cafe came to the rescue instead.
Chugged off at 0938 - we had paid for first class tickets, and we more or less had the top deck to ourselves, apart from some ring-ins from 2nd class, who got kicked out once the ticket inspector came around. We sat back and relaxed and enjoyed the view, not forgetting of course to take the odd occasional photograph.
All too soon we were at Alpnachstad, where we got off the boat to transfer to the cog railway. This cog railway was another John-paradise - it is the steepest cog railway in the world, with gradients up to 48%, that's nearly 1 in 2! For comparison, IIRC, the Katoomba railway is steeper with a gradient of 100% (1 in 1, or 45 degrees slope), but it is a funicular (cable-hauled) railway, so not really relevant. John video-ed most of the trip, and filled up his memory card in so doing, so any time you want an insomnia fix, just sing out!
We arrived at the summit at Pilatus Krum around 1130 after a 40-minute trip, and the views were breath-taking! Many of the lookouts had sheer drops beyond the hand-rails, and there were lots of "Oh My Guard" ejaculations from the American tourists. Pockets of snow still lay around, and every so often, there was a "whoosh" as another para-glider took off from the slopes at the peak. We climbed nearly every lookout there was, but we didn't do the long "rundfahrt", partly because we didn't recognize it for what it was.
We had lunch at the summit at 1230, and had so much wow! and fun! that we did not start the descent until 1400. Going down was by gondola cable-car, again over huge drops once we left the top station, and we descended some 700m that way, transferring at an intermediate station called Frakmuntegg to a more conventional pod-based cable car that took us all the way to the bottom. A short walk from there to the bus number 1, which then took us back to Lucerne Hauptbahnhof, a change of bus, and back to the hotel.
For dinner, we walked back towards the city, and after some discussion, settled on dining at the SeeCafe, an open air restaurant. It was very pleasant, and the food was good. Barb and John both had a salmoon steak, which was excellent, and we followed that with dessert: apfelstrudel for Barb, espresso and chocolate ice cream for John. Walked back to the hotel perhaps a few minutes earlier than we planned, as the next table of six all decided to light up their cigarettes! Cough, cough, no thanks, hope you all die of emphysema!
We went down to breakfast at 0630 to find the breakfast room half full of Trafalgar tour party people. But there was still space for us - the Europe is a big hotel! After breakfast, finished the essential things part of packing, and we were ready for the next part of our adventures.
Set off walking for the station at 0738, lugging our suitcases. It took us 25 minutes to reach the station, so we were plenty early, so early in fact that our train was not even on the information board. So we stopped to have a coffee, of course, what else do you do? But before our scheduled train appeared on the info board, we spotted that there was a train to Basel, where we had change, some 25 minutes earier at 0830. Our ticket was open, so we boarded that train.
John had to go and take a picture of the engine, of course, and as he did, he found in the next platform a historical train special, full of elderly grey haired gentlemen, just like himself. While taking photos of the engines on that train, (one on the front, one on the back, both historical electric 2-4-4-2 locos, both of which looked like they had come out of the museum we visited 2 days ago), the guard blew his whistle, so John just had to wait for the train to leave, to get a movie of its departure. This left Barbara a little bit nervous back at the end of the train in the next platform, so John almost had to run the length of the platform to get on. Well, nothing quite so undignified, I do exaggerate, but there wasn't much time between when he jumped on, and the train departing!
A pleasant trip through the hills around Lucerne, which slowly gave way to rolling fields of lucerne. Lots of cute little Swiss cottages, and the occasional white chapel. A bit like London, really. (Sheesh! Do I have to explain everything? Go on, look it up, Swiss Cottage and Whitechapel are two suburbs of London!)
We reached Basel at the appointed time 0944. Swiss trains are very like Swiss watches - they all keep perfect time. In fact, it is a matter of debate as to whether the Swiss adjust their trains to keep time with their watches, or adjust their watches to keep time with the trains. Metro, eat your heart out!
Of course, another coffee in Basel. Thanks to catching the earlier train, we had time to relax for a bit, and after finishing the coffee went an bought a couple of Bretzels from Die BretzelKonig (Pretzel King), which we planned to eat on the next train.
Which we caught at the appointed hour. It was two TGVs that had come from separate places (I never did discover where),, and joined in front of us, as we were waiting. We got talking to a woman from Sydney, who plays a viola in an orchestra in London, and now lives in London. She had just come back from a visit to Sydney to see rellies, and was returning to work. So we had a good chat with her about all the musical experiences we hadhad on our trip.
The TGV was fun. John could get a GPS signal on his iPhone, so he set that up in the window to log the trip, and see what speeds we were doing. You can see the result for yourself at when I get around to it. The waiter came around serving a petit dejeuner, and he was very impressed with it, asking about whether it showed the speed we were doing, and what applications it was, etc., etc.. He was so impressed he even came back to offer me a second cup of coffee, and talk a bit more about it!
We had two sections of high speed running, the first (15mins) at close on 320kph and the second (35mins) at 300kph. Max speed recorded was 321.5kph. Most of the rest of the time was at 100kph, and there was a long (20mins) section of 40kph! There was clearly a substantial amount of track relaying going on, so perhaps next time there will be most fast sections?
We arrived at Paris Gare de Lyon at 1347, a bit before we were expecting, so the slow running did not affect us at all. We had some trouble finding the hotel, doing the usual trick of walking the wrong way. Not entirely our fault, as the road that we we supposed to be on changed its name without telling us, and so we missed the turn. Paris streets often do have names (well, they always have names, I suppose), but often they are shy about telling you their name, so you have to resort to dead reckoning from the map, and when the map covers the entire Paris area, the little streets that you look for are not there. The street the hotel is in, for example, is called Rue du Jules Cesar, but appears on the map as Rue J. C.. So we spent a lot of time looking for Jesus's street, but it wasn't there!
But we did find the R.J.C. and the hotel M.B. - yes, it has a sign out the front that just says Hotel M B! So you can see that oour navigation skills are not that bad, just challenged by Paris streets. We collapsed into our little room (big difference from Lucerne!) and recuperated our spirits.
Then, time to do a bit of Paris sight-seeing. We decided to walk up the Bassin de l'Arsenal, which connects the Seine with the Canal Saint-Martin, towards La Bastille, and found to our homesick delight, a stand of gum-trees, four of them, all different, some doing better than others. No information about them, just standing there in the gardens. A bit further on we came to a cafe, and both of us thought simultaneously "a beer would be nice". Fortunately, John had $E10, which was just enough for two beers - "huit-soixante" as the waiter said. So a relaxing beer looking down the Bassin de l'Arsenal at all the boats moored there, with the sun shining, but sitting in the cool shade - what could be better?
But all good things, etc., and we mooched off in search of an ATM/Bancomat to replenish our Euro funds from our Roo funds. Found such in La Place de la Bastille (with its Colonne de Juillet), and cashed up, headed off for a walk along the Seine. Back down the Bassin de l'Arsenal, we watched a pleasure boat navigate the lock at the junction with the Seine. The lock is now buried under roads and railway stations, so it is a bit hard to find and see, but we eventually emerged into the bright sun again.
We walked along the right bank of the Seine, and crossed at Pont Marie/Pont La Tournelle, across L'Isle de St Louis, and then back upstream to the Pont d'Austerlitz, and from there back along the Avenue Ledru-Rollin. Just as we got to the corner with Rue de Lyon, and our hotel, we spotted two cafes. Checking them both out, we decided on the Cafe Tarmac (not on the basis of the name!) and sat down for an early dinner, as it was now 1800, and we did not feel that we would make it to a later time. Both of us were pretty weary from the travelling and walking (we had walked 14K steps), so dinner seemed like a good option.
We both had a salmon gravlax (yum), followed by Carpaccio de Boeuf (Barbb), and Tartare de Bouef (John). They were excellent, and we commented later that you just would not expect to walk into a streetside cafe in Melbourne and get such brilliant meals - not unless you knew what you were doing, which we didn't!
A (very) short walk after dinner back to the hotel, and we were both asleep by 2030
For our first full day in Paris, we decided to do a few things we hadn't done before, starting with a walk along the Viaduc des Artes, an old railway viaduct that was in use from 1853 to 1969, and a setion has been preserved as a walkway - no cars, bike, roller skates, and ostensibly joggers only when no inconvenience to the "les promenadees". Welll that was the theory. In practice, the joggers were everywhere, and one had to dodge them every few steps.
Nevertheless, it was a delightful walk, and we walked about 1.75 kms along there - at times the viaduct was repplaced by modern bridges, or replacement buildings, but the promenade was still there, and tastefully decorated with plantings of trees, shrubs and flowers. We even saw four eucalypt trees, providing a touch of homesickness.
After 1.75kms, we left the viaduct in search of a cafe, but were largely unsuccessful. We had returned to almost our starting point before we saw anything like a cafe, and even that was not taking just coffee orders.
A quick shot of caffeine was enough to get us to test the vagaries of the Paris Metro, and we bought a "cachet" of 10 tickets, using 2 to get us to the Tuileries stationn, and a walk around the Tuileries gardens. We had in the back of our minds finding the sppot where we were attacked by gypsies in 1986, but after a complete circuit of the gardens, we were none the wiser. Both our memories must be playing tricks on us!
Lunch was a jambon baguette and beer in the Tuileries Cafe, and then on to La Place de Concorde, where they beheaded so many during the French Revolution. Some photographs, and then back towards the Louvre end and down to the Seine to catch the BatoBus for a sin along the river, as far as the Eiffel Tower, before turning back. We didn't get off at the ET, since we had seen it before, and the queues were enormous, and we were trying to do new and different things anyway.
We got off at Notre Dame, but again, the queues, so we mooched on to the St Chapelle church - where there was a short queue, but rather more manageable, and we were in within 15 minutes. What can I say to describe the interior? If you haven't seen it before, you need to know that the 14 stained glass windows at 30m high, and date from the 14th C, and put many other more modern windows to shame. We spent a good 30 minutes in there, just admiring the windows - nothing else. There are one or two statues on the wall, but no big altar, or fancy pulpit, no pews, no bleeding hearts, nothing but just beautiful windows.
We had a long wait at the BatoBus stop to collect the boat, as there were great queues there too, and it was either wait, or walk, so we waited. Back at Bastille and Ledru-Rollin, and went to the Cafe Chez Leon for dinner, where we both had a duck terrine for entree, and Barb had entrecote de bouef (bleu)m while John had les Moules a la Mariniere. Then Marcel Bastille and bed. John went out like a light.
We tried to make an early start this morning, thinking that we might get to somewhere like Notre Dame or the Louvre before the crowds, but somehow our collective hearts were not in it. So we set off just after 1000 for the Galerie Lafayette, via the Bastille metro, planning to change at Palais Royal, but the interchange was closed, so we had to go on one stop and not quite get to the nearest station. But it mattered not - the Galerie was closed (just this Monday) until 1030 - so what did we do? Dear reader, you guessed it - we found a cafe and had les tasses de cafe, in Trinity Square, as it happened, once the map was consulted. We then walked back to the Galerie, and found it overrun with Japanese tour parties! But we were not working to the same timetable as they were, so we coulld afford to wander around looking, while they shot in, took photographs of each other standing in the galerie setting, then shooting off again.
The galerie was very beautiful, and demonstrated that shopping can be a religious experience, so beautiful was the dome. We found another cafe, and had a slightly more up-market tasse, along with a macaroon wickedness. More trotting around, and while gazing out one window, a Brit sitting by himself in the cafe suggested that we would get a better view from the roof, which was accessible. So up to the roof we went, and he was right! It looked out over the Opera House, and one could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. According to a stone plaque on the roof (and I cannot guarantee that our french translation is 100% accurate) some aviator managed to land a plane on the top of the roof, back in the derring-do days!! While the roof was extensive, it wasn't that extensive, so it must have been a mean feat to do it. Anyway, I took a photo of the inscription, so perhaps someone with better french can verify this story.
We then wandered down to the Tuileries again, not to see them explicitly, but to find the cafe Angelina, which had been recommended in the Singapore Airlines in-flight magazine. It was very proper, and we had lunch there, Barb having a Scandanavian Club Sandwich (salmon, cucumber and egg), while John had semi-cooked duck liver pate. Both of us said "miam", which is french for "yumm".
Then out to La Defence by metro, simply because neither of us had been out there, and in the spirit of doing different things in Paris, it seemed like a good idea. But I'd have to say, don't bother, it is a failed 1970s (?) experiment in social engineering, and it is very much telling its age in a way that few other Parisienn buildings do. For example, there used to be lifts to the top of La Grande Arche, but none of them were working, and the ticket office that used to sell the tickets to the top was closed, and the servery tray full of cigarette butts! Sic transit gloria mundi!
So back to le centre ville, where it had started raining, so plan B was to get on the Batobus and go around until it stopped raining. But we stayed on beyond that, and got off at Les Jardins des Plantes, a nice little semi-botanical garden, which we strolled around. At the end there was a cafe (of course), so we stopped for a biere. Then back across the Pont d'Austerlitz, and had dinner at a cafe called Chez Papa, decorated in Basque fashion, and with a very Sud-Ouest menu. Barb had a Cassolet, John had Tartare de Bouef, along with confiture de pimente (chilli jam), and he was so taken with it he asked if the jam was for sale, to which the waitress gave him a jar, saying "it's a gift"! I think she was impressed by my french. Or something.
Back to l'hotel to pack.
John was up early to complete somw blogging and photo downloads, and Barb was awake by 0600, so we got going on the packing in goood time. Breakfasted early as well, and we were away from the hotel by 0830. We walked to the bastille Metro station, and used one of our carnet tickets to catch the train to Gare du Nord, where we swapped across to an RER train to Charles de Galle airport. New tickets were required for this, and this proved to be slightly difficult, since the only ticket office we could see was closed! John went lookking, and found an alternative, no thanks to RER since there was no redirection sign.
The train was pretty packed, and there was litte room for luggage. A bit like Singapore, the airport service is also a regular commuter train, so it is crowded from regular passengers, let alone airport travellers. The to cap it all, we stopped oone statioon shrt of CdG, and were told (in French, pas de Anglaise) that there was "an incident" and we all had to get off, down and up the subway with heavy bags, to the other platform, and await the next train - which was already full! To cap it all,, we could see no reason for the hiatus, as the following train breezed straight through to CdG.
But we made it, and waited patiently at the boarding gate for the appointed hour, after all the preliminaries had been dealt with.
The flight was quite uneventful. John watched two movies: RoboCop (don't bother), and Pompeii (predictable plot, but good for the Vesuvius eruptions effects). Barb read a book on her kindle, after forgetting to charge it, and being rescuied by John and his portable battery charger.
We landed at Singapore the next morning ...
... at 0630, and had a quick transit of immigration, and were on the MRT train by 0720, and in the Fairmont by 0755. As I said above, the Singapore airport train is also a commuter train, and even at that early hour we had to stand. But the Fairmonnt mre thann made amends, showing us to our room by 0830 after a quick top-upp of breakfast in the Executive Lounge. I commented on the Singapore Fairmont above, and that is why we returned there, and they did not let us down. The servce was excellent, and for one night's accomodation, we got two free breakfasts, and two free dinners, not to mention the opportunity to leave our bags there after checkout on the morrow, and a swim in the pool in the late afternoon. But I run ahead a bit.
We had a shower and changed, and by late morning headed off for the Gardens by the Bay. Boy it was hot! We made a point of going via all the shady bits we coulld see, but we were still melting by the time we got to the "Supertree" where we had planned to have lunch. Fortunately it was airconditioned, and we were able to cool down at the 16th floor, with the help of a beer. Barb had a portobello mushroom steak, but she wasn't mad on the sauce, whille John had a Cambodian seafood curry, which he loved. We even lashed out with a (single) dessert to share: Vietnamese Coffee Creme Brulee, also yum.
Despite some dalliance at the restaurant, it was soon time to leave, and rejoin the heat. But we did wuss out on walking back, and caught the train instead.
Some cooling down back at the hotel, and the we went to the evening cocktail session for free drinks and dinner. There was a good range of wines available, including a German Riesling from Nahe (?dunno where that is?), but we started with champage - Moet et Chandon, which was d*mm g**d. After dinner, we watched the light show over Marina Bay, and retired to bed at 2030.
Leisurely start to the day, and got going on the packing, interrupted by breakkfast in the Executive Lounge. Only one slight blemish in the service. The chef approached John and asked him if he would like an ommelette, to which John replied, "yes, but not just now", and the chef wandered off. When Joohn was ready for the ommelette, the chef was noowhere to be seen! Eventually, we asked the waitress what had happened, and she went to investigate. !0 minutes later, John gave up waiting, and helped himself to poached eggs. Just as he was finishing them, guess what happened? Yes, the ommelette turned up! As John said to Barb, it was worth waiting for, even if it we didn't wait for it!
Finished the packing, and checked out, leaving our bags at the hotel. We caught the bus to the Botanic Gardens, and melted some more. We could get into the Orchid Garden as seniors for $S1 each, so we did, and had an enjoyable (though hot) time walking around those gardens. Then to the restaurant for a drink (not beer this time) and lunch, BLLT for Barb, Tuna Mayonnaise for John. Suitably refreshed we wandered over some of the other sections of the gardens: the Frangipani Gardens, the Rain Forest, and we even watched the gardeners pull a tree upright that had blown over in the wind.
We paused at "Food for Thought" to have a beer - now there's some food for thought. Having beer at a food place? Surely it should be called "Drink and the Devil", or something like that? Anyway, whether it was food or drink for good or bad, it wasn't cool, as the airconditioning had broken down, so we didn't stay once the beer was consumed.
But headed instead for the bus back to the hotel, where we collected our bathers and went for a swim. Now that was cool! They ask you to have a shower before entering the pool, whuch John did, with his rather sweaty shirt on. After ll, we had been walking all day in the heat (mad dogs and englishmen come to mind), and it was very perspiry weather. 93% humidity the forecast said, and even the locals complained about the heat. So a shower to rinse down the shirt worked a treat, and we crossed our fingers it would dry in time to put it back on. After a swim, we sat around waiting for it to dry, and took the opportunity for - another beer! Leastwys, that's what John had, Barb had a Mohito.
In no time of sitting around, the shirt was dry, and we changed back to our clothes and went up to the Executive Lounge for another bout of drinks and dinner. John had Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup, Barb and John both had Coriander White Fish, Hokkien Noodles, and Beef and Black Bean Sauce - all good!
Then collected our bags, caught the East-West Green line out to the airport (again, crowded all the way to One Taren Merah where we changed to a fairly deserted airport train). More of the usual airport stuff, and we were on the plane before midnight.
But the plane did stooge around getting to the take-off position. We spent nearly 25 minutes between push-back and take-off, in what seemed to be a Cook's Tour of Changi Airport. I dunno.
Now here I am with 51 minutes to landing, and all our adventures are about to come to an end. Can't say I am terribly disappointed. All of it has been fantastic, perhaps too much "all of it". We have been on the go, every day, for the last six weeks, 41 days to be exact, and it has been very tiring. We are both looking forward to our own bed, and seeing Sylvester the cat once more. I suspect he will be pleased too.
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