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Grand European Tour March 21 - April 18, 2016

Day 1, March 22, Dallas

Today was travelling to Dallas for Sister time with youngest sister.  The trip takes about 4 hours.  Sister lives near DFW and would be our shuttle on Wednesday.  Dinner out and just feet up time was really nice after days of packing.  Thanks to a relaxed evening and morning we started the trip in good shape.

Day 2, Wednesday, March 23, Flight to Heathrow and The Netherlands

Our flight day, departure time was 5:40 PM, CDT, 10:40 PM, London.   The British Airways personnel could not have been nicer. From beginning to the end in Amsterdam.  Our bags were checked through to Amsterdam so no baggage to deal with on Heathrow. We arrived early at DFW anticipating longer waits due to enhanced security.  It took only about 25 minutes.  It took almost longer for us to get our shoes back on ­čśâ.  Of course both airports had to do pat downs as metal knees do set off the scanners.  Heathrow even picked up the hooks in my bra!  Hubby has a metal knee so pat downs for him, too. We thanked them for keeping as safe as possible.

Once we boarded the plane, we settled into our seats.  Since we are king sized folks I had upgraded out tickets for the wider seats.  Hubby is 6'2" so the 5" of extra leg room was a real plus, too.  There were just our two seats in the row so louve visits were much easier.  Dinner, a movie and an attempt at a little nap.  After all there is nine hours on the plane.

Day 2, March 23, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We landed at Heathrow slightly ahead of schedule, about 7:10 AM, London time.  We were both a little anxious about navigating Heathrow having heard a few horror stories of getting lost and such.  The areas were well marked so we did well, almost.  We took one wrong line and had security slightly excited.  As noted we did have to go thru security again.  This trip was just two days after the Brussels airport had been bombed killing several dozen people.  I was glad for the extra safety.

A three and a half hour layover gave us plenty of time to stretch our legs and have a bite.  Hubby could make certain we were just where we needed to be.  Internet access allow him to send a text letting folks know we made the first leg fine.  After a slight delay in takeoff, we left Heathrow for Amsterdam.  Time of arrival was 7:30 AM, CDT, 2:30 PM, Amsterdam time. Another hour was lost upon arrival in Amsterdam.  As we waited at the baggage pickup, the Viking representative found us.  There were stickers for us to wear to help the Viking folks identify us.  A second couple was, also, met by the rep. Four young women assisted the four of us with our bags. Eight people and each had two bags of some sort.  Remember we were on a trip lasting almost 4 weeks.

We climbed into a van and were transported to the M├Âvenpick Hotel.  Once more everyone was beyond kind and helpful.  A quick visit with the next Viking reps to register our arrival to the hotel.  Leave a few more items in our room, then to the concierge to purchase tram tickets.  The tram was about a block from the hotel so we were off to the canal cruise.  That's right, no sitting around for us!

Oh, what a terrific adventure.  We made so many photos of the beautiful architecture throughout the canal area. We hopped off to visit the Anne Frank Haus. The line was over two blocks long in a cold, windy rain. We just took photos of the door, the sign and headed for a warm place to wait for the next canal cruise boat taking our tickets.

The canal cruise ended near the Central Station where it started.  It was nearing 7:30 PM, Amsterdam, 1:30 PM, 31 hours since Hubby had slept in a bed.  I napped on the Amsterdam leg of the flights. We had not had a meal since arriving, just some trail mix. We grabbed the #26 in the direction of the hotel. A thus began another adventure...

We had a good deal to learn about the tram system.  One was to log on and log off as one exits.  To stop one pushes the red button, then to exit, the green button opens the gate.  If one does not push the green button the doors close and one stays on the train till the end of the line!  And watch the last train back to Central station leave before Hubby is able to get off the end of the line train.  The driver is telling us to get off as it is the end....  Not sure if it was desperation in our eyes or what but he called the dispatcher and was allowed to make one more round for the day.  He made certain we exited at the correct location! Hope he made some overtime. Of course we tipped him extra!

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Day 4, March 25, Amsterdam, Delft and The Hague

Up early and we were back on #26 tram one more time.  We were heading for #26 Damrak for our city tour. And we handled the events of getting on and off quite well this time.  The address where the tours started was actually three different tour companies in one small area.  After locating the correct one, tickets were printed and we gathered under the 'city tour' lollipop.  This was our first of many experiences with lollipop signs held high by tour guides.  Outfitted with umbrellas, raincoats and backpacks, we followed the group to the waiting bus.

The tour did include some of the sights from the night before. Looking at the many houseboats on the canals was so different on a bus than in the canal boat.  We saw many more places from the bus than the shorter canal tour.  And everywhere are bicycles, bicycles and more bicycles.  There is a three level parking garage for bikes! One guide said there are 600,000 folks in Amsterdam with about a million bikes. Do not doubt that the bikes have the right of way or you will surely be injured.

One of the stops on the day tour was a visit to one of the oldest diamond cutting businesses in Amsterdam.  The process was explained and workmen were doing the cutting on front of us.  In one room we were allowed to handle some of the diamonds and review jewelry for purchase. None for either of us.  Yes, the room was locked before any of the diamonds were shown. The guide emphasized the monitoring cameras around the room. He kept a close eye on me. Guess he noticed my lack of adornment!

With views of all the major Amsterdam attractions completed we had free time before our afternoon tours.  Being lunch time we found a nearby pub. We enjoyed local beers, Heineken on tap for me. Ln a cold, rainy day, soup followed by grilled steak was perfect.  Made all the better by the banter with the locals.  One lady currently living in Amsterdam was from New York. Another pair were father visiting his son who was studying in Amsterdam. And of course the wonderful lady bartender/waitress made us feel at home.  The atmosphere was delightful but we felt the need to move toward the bus stop. Nature called Gene so he was back to the pub.  He lost me and she helped Gene find me­čśë.

Time to board the bus and we were off to Delft, The Hague and a miniature village. We saw city as well as countryside. First stop was THE Delft factory. The tour inside allowed us to see the bisque being formed, painted and fired.  One small tile to hang in the apartment on a small wall somewhere will come home with us. Next was a short ride to the city hall square. I am sure it has a fancy name but there have been too many to remember. A church stood at one end of the square facing the city hall. Again, monks, priests, blah, myth, blah....  Back on the bus and on the road.

From Delft we went to The Hague. Due to road construction we had a few detours that the guide nor the coach driver expected. We saw many embassy locations and ambassador's homes. Neither are shacks. The US ambassador's home appeared to have the most security. The Peace Palace was plain by most of the palace standards. The previous day Radovan Karadzic found guilty of genocide in Serbia. Being so near the International Court of Justice made it seem more real to me.

The last stop for our Friday bus tour was the miniature town of Madurodam. That was about an hour which was 45 minutes longer than my body wanted to spend. We found a bench inside to rest our weary bones. It was 8:30 PM before we returned to Central Station in Amsterdam. Back on # 26, off at the first stop, a little dinner at the hotel and plopped into bed. The end of day 3 on the trip.

More to follow. I am writing this as we pull away from Nuremberg. Sort of creepy to be in front of a stadium where Hitler did his ranting.  Made me think of Trump Tower......

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Day 5, March 26,  Flowers And Boarding, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It was the end of day three.  Day four began early as we needed to get back to the tour bus office for our trip to Keukenhof.  We, also, had to gather all our luggage for transfer to the longboat to begin the river cruise in the evening.  We had to hurry, again, and made it just fine.  Into the bus, bottom floor today as yesterday's upper deck stairs left us both sore.

The ride was quite pleasant seeing more of the beautiful countryside.  Canals on either side.  Dairy cattle, water fowls and modern buildings  make for an interesting mix.  Even the sound barriers along the highways were different than the States.  I revel in the differences and being able to see them!  We arrive near the flower fields and the driver diverts from the highway.  He drives us between the soon to be fully blooming tulips fields.

The bus arrives at the parking area. A meeting place is set, tickets distributed and we were off to enjoy the beauty of the kitchen garden.  It was chilly and wet so we started the tour at the coffee shop.  A general direction is decided over the steaming cups of coffee.  We would cover only about 1/2 of the gardens as we keep a slow pace.  Of course there have to be lots of picture stops, a few souvenirs and potty visits.

Crocus, daffodils and other early flowers are in full bloom.  A few beds of tulips are coming into bloom which is what was expected with our early arrival date.  An ancient watermill is on edge of the garden.  A children's area provided some fun bunny and chicken photos.  An exhibition hall was filled with row after row of flowers.  The air was filled with the most splendid smells.  Of course a few poor folks could nor enjoy due to allergies.  Needless to say, I felt as if I was already in heaven.

flower beds in the shape of tulips
Bunnies for Easter

pictures cannot do justice
It seemed only minutes before we had entered but it was time to head for the bus.  Unfortunately a left turn instead of a right had us all the way across the park from where we needed to be.  Once again we are hurrying.  Now let me put this in perspective.  Hurrying for us means we almost keep up with the average person.  Still it gets the heart and lungs pumping on us TOFs.  We are the first to the meeting place even with the extra hike across the park.  We have time to visit with the guide and driver.   This gives us time to ask for directions to get to the longboat.

The guide leaves to check for more returning folks.  The driver calls a friend who is a taxi driver.  We cannot believe this good fortune.  The taxi driver will be waiting at the bus stop for us.  What a relief.  We sit back and enjoy the sights along the way.  Sure enough, there the young man sat.  He took our packs and with a little help from a GPS took us to the loading ramp of the Ingvi, our ship.  The rate was quite reasonable, 20 euro.  Hubby was calm again with one more hurdle behind us.

Checked in on the ship was easy.  Our baggage was in our room.  We unpacked, stored the luggage under the bed and lay down for a bit of a rest before orientation then dinner at 7 PM.  We returned to our room to find our bed turned down and replenished water.  Thus began our next phase on this Grand European Cruise!
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Day 6, March 27 Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

It is Easter morning.  This is our first full day on the cruise ship. The day of rest, did starts with the sound of nearby church bells ringing.  The Kingdom of Netherlands went on daylight savings time this day. Now we have lost a total of 7 hours. We were up and about for a walking tour that started at 8:30 AM.  We met the miller in charge of caring for this functioning windmill.  Fascinating technology.

This is an UNESCO area containing centuries old windmills.  The technology was pretty amazing.  We were guided to a functioning Dutch windmill built in the 1600'a. People were definitely smaller then.   A wooden shoe attired man, who is a volunteer, guided the tour which lasted for about one and half hours.   Our volunteer guide is a homicide detective in his other life.   We were able to go inside the windmill and meet the miller who currently cares for the mill.

After learning how the windmills were constructed and functioned we were given a tour inside and around the windmill. These things were huge! 

sail at rest
 Each position has a meaning such as paused. dead miller and not running this day.  There were special settings during WW II to let the Allies know it was safe to fly into Germany.

gears inside of mill

Inside the living quarters.  

master bedroom

And now the more modern wheels.

That was the end of our time in the Netherlands.  We set sail  on the Rhine of Waal as it is in Dutch.

No more activities except eating and resting for us today.  

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Day 7, March 28, Cologne, Germany

On our arrival in Cologne we were greeted with cool temperatures and threats of rain.  Layers and umbrellas resolved issues for the 3 hour walking tour on this Easter Monday.  Crowds have been heavy up to this point in the trip due to Easter Week school break.

We learned so much history starting with the Romans to current day.  This is the city referred to in the phrase 'eau de cologne'.  4711 was the original fragrance created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709.  He name it in honor of the city, K├Âln, his home at the time. We did not purchase any of this rather expensive water of K├Âln.

The Cathedral of Cologne has so many stories and myths.  It has the relics of the magi.  The well of Mary is below the cathedral.  It was begun in the 1100's.  Completed in the 1800's and under constant renovation.  An on site workshop employs some 40 workmen full time.
workshop area

repair pieces

 The Dom of Cologne

A side entrance.

The dark portion is not cleaned while the lighter colors have just been cleaned.
From the church we walked a couple of blocks to visit the monument to the pixies.

The walking tour was complete and we were ready for some lunch, a wc and a chair.  A person, Deanna, from Boston joined us for the afternoon time.  We ate at the Fr├╝h am Dom.  Wonderful red cabbage, sausages and beer.
Next we three visited the  Roman Germanic Museum.  There were relics for the time of Roman rule.  At one point we were in front of a cross section of a garbage dump.  I was almost kicked out for using a flash!  Oops.

portion of a tile floor

We had to head back to the boat as I was tiring.  As we stepped out the clouds burst open. Thankfully there was a large covered courtyard for us to await the rain to slow down. It actually stopped rather quickly after we started back.  The open air vendors along the walkway were closing up due to the chill and dampness.

Back on the ship we went for a hot cup of coffee. I went for a bit of ice on knee time before cocktail hour.  Hubby headed out for the better wifi reception in the library area.  Then it was time to change into dinner garb.  The food and service are delightful.  Soon bodies are saying it is time for bed.  We have been walking between 3 and 4 miles most days.  But just a couple of photos of the now sleeping Easter Carnival.


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Day 8, March 29, Koblenz, Germany

We awoke this morning nearing Koblenz.  Another wonderful breakfast buffet in the restaurant.  The food is lovely, fresh and untouched by my hands during preparation.  Only during consumption do I have contact of any kind.  A person could become accustomed to this lifestyle.

We are meeting so many folks from places we have visited in Canada.  Calgary, British Columbia, Toronto, Ottawa and two couples from tiny Owen Sound area.  And the couples did not know each other.  And should we ever visit the area again we have a place to sleep other than our car!  Mr. Flynn of Calgary was in shock when we properly pronounced Kananiskis.  I share this to say we are enjoying the other passengers as well as the countries.

It is now 65 days post knee surgery.  We will be visiting a medieval castle today.  There will be at least 500 steps to climb and descend.  Cobblestones for pathways, but we have already been on cobblestones for days. So we climb onto the tour bus and are off to Marksburg Castle. The villages along the way are filled with half timber homes and buildings.

First view from the bus shows why this location was chosen for a fortress.  Even with a blacktop switchback access for us to walk it took a while and many were quite winded by the climb.  Me for sure!

Rob, the program director, hands us over to our guide.  The keys to the castle open the gate to allow our entry. And now there is no turning back .. and very few hand rails....
These are our first set of stairs.......


After viewing the cannons we walk the path by the edge of the castle.  It has a kitchen garden.  There were presses for wine making in past centuries.  As most know even children drank the brewed beverages as water was contaminated.

We see the outside of the toilet and later the inside which was just off the main dining hall.  By the way it was considered rude to close the door while on the 'throne' as you would not be able to carry on a conversation. This made me remember going to the outhouse as a child.  Since it was a two 'holer' friends would go together.  Yep, we had a Sears catalog for cleanup.  There was no catalog in the castle..

out house bottom, eeewwww

There were stables within the walls in the past, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, a great hall, private chapel and in a level we did not visit, a torture chamber. Some of the torture equipment was on display in the former stable. One room held a collection of armor through the years of the castles existence.

The last 'flight of stairs' is just the same worn rock slope we first climbed as 'stairs'.  I work cautiously down the slope only to be greeted by the horror filled stares of another tour group.  Most of that group stood with out stretched hands trying to help Hubby and me!  Talk about a torture chamber!

The tour ended with the blacksmith's shop.  We miss that as it took us that long to get down the 'stairs'.  Back out the gate and it is time for shopping while the remainder of the groups complete their castle tour.  A few more photos and we begin the descent to the buses.

This is my first castle fortress to visit and it does not disappoint.  Each area of the castle had its own multiple stories of use through different occupations.  Some areas remained used the same through the centuries.  Others, as we folks do, changed as the times demanded.

The ship had moved through a lock or two during the tour.  It has not arrived at the meeting point.  We have a few minutes to wander around dockside park.  A few more photos and the ship arrives.  We eventually are able to board.  It is lunch time so we must eat.

Afternoon cruising on the Middle Rhine is a welcome relief to our legs. Vineyards climb hill after hill.  Small villages with church steeple nestled in the valleys and river edges.  Remains of long abandoned fortresses can be seen.  There are castles with modern additions.

Time for dinner with all the trimmings.  And it is bedtime for us old folks.  After all we did walk about 3.7 miles today.

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Day 9, March 30, Miltenberg, Germany

Think fairy tales.  Think Swan Lake.  Think cobblestone streets.  Medieval timbered houses on narrow streets.  All of this is set against a background of Mother Earth awakening from a Winter's Chill.  Now, add in the aromas of your grandma's kitchen.  If you can imagine these things, you have an idea of the beauty we experienced this day.

The morning is passed by sailing along the springtime shores of The Rhine.  All nature is alive with the spirit of springtime.  With mild weather the sliding window is open in our stateroom.  The sounds of water and bird calls mingle in my ears.  These are interrupted by my camera clicking.

Birds are collecting nesting materials while the geese preen and parade.   A single egret watches over one of the thousands of rows of grape vines.

Mallards swim together near the swans along the shores as the ship waits its turn to advance through the locks.  The locks are quite entertaining at this point in the trip.  Inside the locks there is a world of water, water dripping, motors roaring as water is pumped and mossy walls.  Those walls are close enough to reach out and touch.

We will now sail toward the heart of Bavaria on the Main as we just changed rivers.  A gentle rain further moistens the earth.

Another lovely lunch in the observation lounge. And soon it is time to go ashore in the old rivertown of Miltenberg.

The skies are still heavy with moisture and the temperature is cool enough the Hot Blooded Hubby wears a light hoodie for the walking tour.  And the umbrellas are carried along as a light rain begins to fall.

The small museum on the hill will not be visited during the guided tour but we can do the walk up if we want to later.  With D, our new friend, and Hubby we determine that we will probably not do that trek.  There is coffee to be drank and strudel to sample.

The tour guide tells the history of this old river town. Its location made it very pleasing for the Romans to make a settlement.  Portions of the wall are still intact.

One can see that folks were smaller at the time of the Romans as Hubs is standing by a walled up door.  A change in stone color will help you see the difference.  Hubs is 6'2" shrunk to 6'1".

As we walk the cobblestone streets and walkways the guide notes the chalk marks on buildings.  These are blessings placed there by youths during different religious holidays.

 One of our group asks for what were these stairs use?  They were access to the water supply in centuries past.  There was a saying that was credited to this sight but my memory fails me >: (

There are butcher shops, coffee shops, bake shops and a fabric store.  After the completion of our guided tour we three avail ourselves of some of these wares.

First a stop at a cafe with lovely pastries in the front window.  And a sign for toiletes.  A warm cup of coffee, a little rest for tired feet and a pastry for energy to finish the free time is perfect.  D needs postcards.  I need to get to the fabric store and Hubby just is willing to do anything so long as we go slow.  D and I even pop into the butcher shop for a little of this and that.  All that when sampled are quite tasty.  A small bag of a bit of 'this and that one' fits nicely into my backpack.

I select a bright floral sort of '60's looking fabric.  It is 100% cotton that feels almost silky with its high thread count.  Much nicer that fabric found at most stores in the US.  Of course 3 meters should make a pleasant lounging garment for me.  My happy suit from Germany.

One must be cautious on the sidewalks as they are seen as parking places.  We walk wherever just constantly being aware of autos.

A few more photos of the half timber buildings.  One yellow building with its intricate carvings and half timber shapes is amazing.  I have always been drawn to the half timber look in homes.

But we cannot linger long as the time nears to return to the long ship.  We bid goodbye to this little river town with Roman roots.  That was not bombed out during WWII.  That holds firm to the local butcher, baker and possibly a candle stick maker or two.

The ship had locks to pass while we are in Miltenberg.  We board a tourbus for the short ride to catch up to the boat.  This gives a chance to see a little of the countryside.

We arrive in Wertheim am Main.  A short stop and a chance to wander around for a few photos.  More of the lovely half timber architecture.  And there has to be a castle/fortress to protect this Roman outpost, too.

Sweet Tamyra, Ingvi concierge  

Now it is time to board our Viking Ingvi and sail on to another day peeking into a full size and functioning fairyland.  Even if the roofs are a little crooked.

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Day 10, March 31, W├╝rzburg, Germany

The Fortress Marienberg
The cloudy skies of yesterday persist as we approach W├╝rzburg in the morning fog.  More locks last night.  I know for sure as there was one pretty good bump as the captain must have steered a bit too close.  Not sure how they do as well as they do.  Anyway, it was fun to sail through the night with the curtains open to see what can be seen.

Hubby's legs are needing a day off from walking.  I will go on today's walking tour with D and her friend, Marygail.  Hubs and I go to breakfast while the ship is still sailing toward W├╝rzburg.  Richard, the morning chef, cooks the usual 2 eggs over easy for Hubby.  The eggs have the most beautiful, deep gold yolks.  I forgot to mention that on Easter Sunday there were Easter eggs everywhere.  Some were chocolate while others were brightly colored boiled eggs.

And then there were rabbits, Chocolate rabbits.  Some of the folks we met from Michigan and us decided they were multiplying....  That's what rabbits do.  BTW the vase is from Keukenhof and has been crying for flowers.  Have not had a chance to stop at any of the markets so far.

Alte Mainbr├╝cke or the Old Bridge 
The call comes over the speaker to begin boarding the buses for transfer to the Bishops' Residenz and a Walking Tour of the city.  It is 9:30 AM.  And we are off and running.  Well, actually sitting on a bus driving through a city.  So much to see that it is difficult to get the best photos.  So I settle for blurry with window reflections cause I want to record everything possible.  I can always google the names of things the lady with the accent is saying.  Blah, blah church, fortress, lions on a bridge?  I could only get a lion's rear and not the lion bridge.
K├Ąppele Church in W├╝rzburg

Lion on the Ludwig Bridge.
A couple more glimpses of the fortress and then we arrive at the morning's focus.
The Bishops' Residence
Interior photos were not allowed.  The interior was stunning.  A bishop wanted a place to rival Versailles.  With a big inheritance he started his dream.  He died and his replacement completed the project.  For perspective of the composite photo, the main opening is behind the statue.  It is large enough for carriages to enter.  Would not want a guest to get wet after all!  The stories of the way the original bishops would manipulate kings was not news.  But this particular diocese managed to be declared Prince Bishops.  How?  Well, simple.  Did the what the king needed, performed the marriage to a 13 year old girl.  That is what the guide said so it must be true.

An aside, W├╝rzburg as with many of German towns and cities we visited were destroyed by 80 to 96%.  This particular palace was saved by the leader of the Monuments Men, John Skilton.  There is a nice exhibition in his honor in the Palace.  The next room is the souvenir shop.  I spend a little on post cards and a book to be able to share the interior with Hubby.  Then it was time to gather my backpack from the storage area and head for the tour bus.  I felt like Cinderella after the horses had all turned back to mice.  But I knew my Prince Charming was already mine, just lounging around back on the ship.

St. Kilian Cathedral (Dom St. Kilian)
Saint Mary's Church
We road the short distance to the old part of town and de-bussed.  Is that a word?  We walked around the outside of a group of churches and entered a courtyard of sorts.  There we find sculptures that are surprisingly modern.

Gothic Marienkapelle Church

Now I really do appreciate all the wonderful architecture and art pieces.  The stories of what, when and how certain churches, chapels and cathedrals were built is very interesting.  My brain is full.

Apparently the tour is a little ahead of schedule so the guide takes us to an area of open air markets.  I spy flowers.  Tulips for 5 euro.  I can still hear the guide so that means she is within 150 feet.  I select the bouquet, pay and am back with the group before anyone even misses me.  And on a leg that is 9 weeks out from surgery with cobblestones for sidewalks.

Then the group has one last thing to do, walk to the middle of the Old Main Bridge.  The tradition is to have a glass of wine while standing in the middle of the bridge.  I forgo the wine and just snap a few shots.  Then it is to the meeting point to board the tour bus to return to the ship.

The ship sets off for the next docking.  We pass under a very low bridge then sail past several of the sights we visited on the walking tour.

Trailer park, Romo style

Before I go on deck to get photos of the passing lives I take a few minutes to arrange the tulips in that vase that has been begging for flowers.  I even add the postcards to the ledge so Hubby can enjoy the sights I have seen.  Later we go to bed with the smell of fresh tulips in the air.  And one less chocolate bunny.

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Day 11, April 1, Morning Cruising and Bamberg, Germany

Most mornings so far have been like this: up, dressed, breakfast and on a tour by 8 to 9:30 AM.  this morning is a little slower.  Our four hour tour of Bamberg will not begin until 1:30. So we relax in our room and take photos of the passing scenery.  I take note of the wind farms and solar panel on many homes.  The homes are painted in colorful choices.  Set against the bright, new grass makes for great photo opportunities.

I was fascinated by the many stairs leading down to the river/canal.  The stairs are about every tenth of a mile in some areas, even in rural settings.  Some are moss covered.  Others are well worn.  Wonder what government decision led to these steps to the water?  I guess that is one thing that comes to me with the different countries, a different culture exists here.  Buildings, etc. seem to be viewed for long term use.  I do not mean the 20-50 years of the US mentality but centuries.

This is a working river with barges moving by often.  Almost every barge has one or two autos and a small boat on the deck.  One even had a Playskool playset on the deck.  We were told many of the folks basically live on the barges.  Bet they do not have the great service we are getting on this cruise!

Aquivit Terrace lunchtime

The wonderful crew on this cruise are great fun as well as excellent in service.  Not to even mention how efficient, helpful and just plain fun!  Hubby and I each are falling in love with crew members.

In addition to the lovely scenery along the river the waterfowl are prolific.  I would like to share a little bit of a heron doing a fly by.  Also, a bit of swan preening one morning as we were waiting for our turn at a lock.

After a delightful 'light' lunch on the Aquivit terrace, it is time to board the bus for Bamberg.  We are told to try to experience the smoked beer.  Seems this is one of the many claims to fame for this picturesque little town.  Its historic city center is a listed UNESCO world heritage site.  Unlike so many German cities, Bamberg was not targeted for bombs by the Allies during WWII.  That means there are buildings and walls dating from the 10th century.  

We manage to be the first to the bus so we pick the front seats!  Great for shots out the front window as we travel through the countryside.

Hubby noted that all the semi-truck tractors were snub-nosed.  He wondered why and I had no answer.  Maybe one of my readers will have an answer.....

 This flat land girl was interested in the tunnels.  Not something you run across on the plains of Texas.  Oooooooo, look what the lights look like in a tunnel.

And how does one pronounce this word?  My dirty mind can only think of one way to pronounce it.  And my nephew would laugh.

We arrive in this old city and it is really something to see.  Colorful, unique buildings line every street onto which we turn.  This becomes even more exciting as we enter the old town area.

We learned the smoked beer was sampled by a few of the group during free time.  BTW look at the insignia hanging on this sign. Jewish star?  That is what we all thought, too. Wrong, Ole Great Beer Breath!  It was a six point brewers star used as a symbol hung out in ancient days to say the beer was fresh and pure.  That symbol became universal as a way by beer makers even today to say their beer is fresh.

More of my beloved half timber buildings.

Random antique stores.  Even more random tongue in cheek statues.

The Roman Catholic root connection is evident everywhere.  Then one turns a corner and is confronted with the Holocaust by a simple plaque.  The city in memory of the lost Jewish population installed stumbling blocks.  A small rise or indention to make you stumble and remember the Holocaust victims.

And as life moved on from WWII, we move to the next part of the tour.  Views of the City Hall from the 'little Venice' fisherman's village.

 As just a reminder, real people live in this real, old city.
Front view of the city hall from a different location.
There was just so much to love about this city.  I have about 300 photos of just Bamberg.  It is really hard to decide which to share.  But this post is getting too long.  I'll finish with what we were greeted at our boat when we returned:

And if you wish to see more photos of Bamberg ......

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Day 12, April 2, Nuremberg, Germany

As we considered booking this trip back in January of 2014, Nuremberg was a stop on the adventure.  It would be about the trials, etc., after WWII along with some scenery.  Neither of our minds recalled the fact that this was the Nazi party's rally location in 1923.  Ten years later Nuremberg parade grounds served as the location for the Nazi Rally for 5 years straight.  It was the sight where several of Hitler's propaganda speeches were filmed.

How would an ancient  city that had once served as an unofficial seat of the Holy Roman Empire remove this black spot from its history?  The city is accepting it.  The schools teach of the heinous crimes of the Nazi party.  The Rally  Grounds are left in the ruins and unfinished state that the end of WWII left them.

It was creepy to sit in the bus at the rally grounds and think of the minds filled with hate.  To think of how easily swayed we humans can be by a megalomaniac's voice.  How easy it is for non believers to just stand by and let it happen.  We say never again only to watch a new generation fall victim to that siren voice of hate.

We drove by the SS barracks that is now a migration processing center.  The Palace of Justice where the war crimes of the Nazis were held.

This city with its Imperial Palace fortress  and surrounding central city that had never been penetrated by an invading force until the bombings of WWII was about 90% destroyed.  According to the guide, only one complete house was standing undamaged within the city wall after the Allied one hour bombing strike.

I was standing in the area of the right side of the bombed out city below for this composite.

The proud old city center has been rebuilt with the flavor of the original old city by using the original stones when possible.  One of the other folks wondered aloud why would they want to spend so much money to rebuild as it was before.  My answer was what if the 9-11 plane had reached the White House or Congress would we want to have built something different or replicate our heritage?  She responded that now it made sense.  Sometimes we just need to walk in the other person's shoes the best we can.

Our guide had us imagine trying to capture the fortress as we walked across the bridge and up a jack leg ramp.  He tells us all the ways we would be hampered, beaten, or killed.  If we make it to the next area we will have hot oil, trash and sewage dumped on us along with rocks and arrows.  We will now be either dead or captured 'cause this place was never overtaken.
The different color of rock on the wall is
where new rock had to be used after
the bombings of 1944 and 1945.

We are inside the walls and well protected by the many watchtowers used to sight the enemy.  But us old tourists are far more interested in the nearest WC!  It is housed in the courtyard of the Imperial Castle.  Four stalls for the women which are lined half way down the hill.  Once all bladders are relieved we head downhill.  For me it is a slow descent as it is quite steep.... and more cobblestones.

The Old City is beautiful and interesting even though some folks say it is little more than a Disney Nuremberg, not being original.  There was still a feeling of the old.

A feeling of what it was like in this city before Hitler, before Nazi rallies, before the bombs and genocide.  Just a city started at the intersection of water trade routes.  Of course these were a couple of purges of the Jewish community as the they were charged with crimes.  The first was desecrating the host in 1298.  The second in 1300's as the Jewish community was accused of causing the plague.  A pogrom decimated the Jewish population. A marketplace was built over the former Jewish quarter.  The tour guide did not talk about those purges......

The churches are rebuilt.
A market if full of flowers, food, fresh vegetables and all sorts of vendors.

So I move on through the old city.  I finally find my husband and we head back to the long ship.  Tired legs and a swollen knee calling for a little down time.  Before dinner we enjoy watching the waves on the river as we sail away from the city that was only captured once....

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Day 13, April 3, River Cruising and Regensberg, Germany

Prunn castle,  5 miles from Kelheim, Germany
After a busy day of walking on lots of sloping cobblestone streets yesterday we were glad for an easy morning.  We sailed all night and arrived at Kelheim around 8 AM.  From this city an optional excursion to Munich was available.  We choose to stay on board, see if we could get on the internet and just chill.  Of course there were meals and snacks to be consumed.  I am not sure how the kitchen can stay caught up with the dishes.  Or how there are so many clean table cloths and napkins.

Peeking out from
our room wearing
his pj bottoms! Don't
take that, he said.
wood available for purchase
We enjoyed the views along the river.   Rob, the cruise director would give information via the speaker system so we could stay in our room and relax privately.

Wood cut and piled along the shore is ready to be purchased or picked up for use in heating according to Rob.  We saw lots of curling smoke from chimneys as well as plenty of solar panels!
The morning sailing was quite and relaxing.  A thin fog filled the air giving the beauty of the river canal a mystic feel.  Birds were singing and strutting again this morning. I saw a lifer in the Eurasain blue tit.  And some gaggles of Egyptian geese.

Even watching the progress through the locks continued to hold interest at this point.  Good thing as there are about 67 locks the ship will use during the course of the trip.  The bolt in the photos was about 10" in diameter.  The series of photos were taken from our stateroom sliding door as the boat was lowered in the lock.

 Overnight we had reached the peak height of 1332' above sea level. Remember we started below sea level in the Netherlands!  We have been traveling against the current. The water is now heading down toward the distant Black Sea so we are going with the current now.  We could follow the trip on the TV in our room, which was fun, too.
The Old Stone Bridge build in the 1200's under repairs in 2016.

About lunchtime we arrive at Regensburg.  We pass under The Stone Bridge first constructed in the 1200's.  In order to have clearance to float under the bridge the wheelhouse is dropped down inside the longboat.  The bridge, as so many buildings, is undergoing maintenance and restoration.

Food must be eaten as it has been prepared with care.  Around 2 we leave for the walking tour of the Old City.  I want to mention that many of the cities we toured so far had thriving, modern sections in addition to the old city parts of the towns.  But why look at something new like we see all the time when we can see 1000 year old buildings and 2000 year old walls......  The city, while bombed during WWII, received almost no damage to the Old City portion.  As a result it is an UNESCO site.

Around 2 the walk begins heading back toward the Stone Bridge.  There are two viking longboats docked together causing a human traffic jam!  It must be crazy in the peak of tourist season.  But we all eventually find the popsicle with our leisure group number.  Headsets are tested and we are off to see this unique little Old Town.

We are greeted with a Quack then on to the Wurstkuchl, a 500+ years old tavern serving charcoaled, homemade sausages and sauerkraut.  The same menu provided to the builders of the bridge!  We were still full so passed up the sausages.

a composite of the Bridge tower clock

Following the popsicle guide we check out the clock tower then turn into the Old City.  I could not even begin to tell you which streets we walked, but it was a bunch!  We passed The Old City Hall, multiple churches and a home occupied for a time by Schindler of Schindler's List fame.  He and his wife lived here after WWII.  He had lost his fortune by then.

There is the mural that has been maintained since medieval times depicting the David and Goliath story.  It was to remind those that might attack the town that might does not always win!

A hidden courtyard with beautiful wooden walls.  These were homes built for trade merchants families.  It helped avoid taxes.  Nothing new under the sun, I guess.

Narrow street after narrow street filled with cobble stone pavements and colorful houses.  Shop windows full of merchandise we can only yearn to touch.  It is Sunday and there is hardly an open store in sight.  Not the image of socialist European cities I normally envision.
And every turn or two there is a chapel, church or cathedral.

Statues, spires, gargoyles and all manners of medieval icons were all over the place.


We reached the end of the tour in front of the main cathedral.  It, too, was in the midst of renovation.  Removing the black gunk that forms on all these old buildings.  We hung around to rest a bit before we headed back to the ship. We took a different route at my insistence.  Between the map and our two minds we made it fine.  And saw more lovely sights.
This was a delightful Old City.  Definitely worth the time to stroll through with my fav travel buddy on a Sunday afternoon in April!  Yeah, I'd go back again if I had the chance.  Let's do it during the week.  After all, we were not able to get any souvenirs!  And that is why Hubby is smiling, I did not spend any euros!

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Day 14, April 4, Passing Up on Passau

Monday, April 4 was the day that the leg with the new knee said enough!  Our first day in Austria and I wimp out of the walking tour.  Knowing there were many more walking tours ahead, wisdom won out this morning.  Hubby would not consent to go on the tour without me.  Instead he brought me breakfast and lunch served to me in bed.  He kept the ice bags cold when I asked.  I lay with my legs elevated above my heart as the PT guy had told me to do to help reduce the swelling.

Hubby did sit topside on the deck.  He played on the internet and checked on me on and off through the day.  As the day wore on I became restless to exercise the knee as it was feeling stiff by now.  A warm shower got me going.  I dressed for dinner and we went on one of the small decks.  We arrived in time to get some parting shots of Passau as we were sailing toward our stop in Melk and Krems on the 5th.

I really liked the pastel beauty of these buildings in the evening sun.  We sailed toward a bridge and I realized I would see the fortress after all!

Veste Oberhaus is a fortress that was founded in 1219 with different parts being completed through the centuries.  That is a strange concept in this instant gratification world.

The former fortress was spread out over quite an area on a cliff above the river.   Along with the towers and walls the complex is around 2300 feet in length.  There are parts of the fortress from the river's edge up to the 344 foot hilltop.  The fortress was built by the first prince bishop of Passau.  It is now a museum, restaurant, youth hostel and theater.  So it has a new life.

 After snapping photos of scenes along the Danube we headed inside the lounge for evening cocktails.   By now we have made acquaintance with a couple of the crew.

Chaba is the cocktail chef so the cocktail and dinner time could be quite fun.  Add in Nebo and the evenings were very delightful.  This evening the view through the lounge windows were beautiful as the sun set behind the Danube Valley hills.  The perfect ending for a restful day.....

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Day 15, April 5, Melk Abbey, Krems and Wachau Valley Cruising, Part I

The day starts early with boarding the tour bus by 8:45 AM.  There are so many of us Viking tourists, the Abbey has requested the groups come at two different times.  That is great as it makes it a little easier to lag back and get photos without a bunch of people in the way.  It did not quite work that way but we still managed some pretty good shots.

Physic!  That was a wrong button post ; )  Let's give it another shot.

That's the one!  Entrance to a Benedictine Abbey named Melk Abbey or Stift Melk.  In 976 Leopold I began using the castle as his home.A little over 100 years later Leopold II gave (thus the Stift word) to the Benedictine monks from Lambach.  The monks have lived and worked here ever since.  Who wouldn't, nice digs.

Actually, it is quite beautiful but parts of it are not stuck in the baroque past.

As part of the experience of the abbey, one is reminded this is an active monastic sight.  Monks will be in prayers at times.  A word is whispered over the sound system to remind us to listen.  A breathy voice says,  'h├Âre'.  This is in addition to some extremely creative visual and physical effects.

We walk through a series of up and down sloping areas.  A violet light gives a feeling of the need for silence and respect.  A second room has a video being shown on the walls in a way that makes one feel you are in the center of the scene.  Add to this the sculptures of what appear to be mummies protruding from the walls and not your usual monastery.  The modern turn may be a result of the monastery having a school since the 1200's.

It was so interesting seeing the juxtaposition to all the artifacts of the monastic museum to the modern settings in these series of rooms.  The guide assured us there were only about 4 kilo of gold leaf used within all the monastery.  There are relics, which are bones, of saints on display.  Robes weighing about 150 lbs still used in ceremonies to this day.  Crosses and all sorts of other golden goblets, staffs and things pertaining to rituals.  And then the reusable coffin to save money at some point in the past.

If there is not enough glimmer already there are mirrors to reflect all the beauty of the museum pieces.  Under lying all this is the beauty of wooden inlaid floors.  One display has the humble tools used to build Melk.

And that is the first 20 minutes of the tour.  There are lavish rooms with beautifully gilded areas, fresco covered ceilings and the word, 'h├Âre' to remind us of the monks.

I made multiple, successive shots in an attempt to get at least a portion of the vaulted ceiling.  And the magnitude of the room.  And BTW the sloped portion is an artistic illusion.  Only about 4 or 5 feet of the ceiling is sloped, the rest is flat.

This doorway is about 12 ft. tall
 Each entrance was flanked by faux marble pillars.  Only because real marble was too heavy.  And the faux finish was more expensive than the real thing. From this room we step onto the balcony that bridges to the library wing.
Regular folks below....

Before entering the library all cameras are put away as well as cell phones.  No photos due to the sensitive in on all the ancient books.  A few are opened in sealed boxes.  I cannot read a word.  Some I do not even recognize the lettering.  The ceilings are again covered in frescoes.  No photos, but there was a picture of the ceiling outside the room so snap!

We go through a doorway to descend a flight of stairs.  Someone with a sense of humor tried to make us think it was about 1000 ft of stairs.  You can see Hubby n me in the mirror at the bottom : /

Now it is just past prayer time as we enter the chapel of the monastery.   But out come the cameras and quitely the scene is recorded.

Another stunning room.... with this in the center of the entrance to celebrate the natural world:

We have time to visit the interior courtyard outside the chapel.  A couple of shots and it is off to the loo and gift shop.  Back to the bus to eliminate too many slopes and stairs.  Riding back to the river to meet the boat.  We had left the boat at one location so once again we are waiting for the boat to arrive.  I am going to close this part of the day's events and have a second post as there is still more to see sailing and in Krems.
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Day 15, April 5, Melk Abbey, Krems and Wachau Valley Cruising, Part II

approach to Melk from the Ingvi stateroom
As I am feeling much more rested these days the posts about the trip are getting longer.  It is hard to condense an experience like the Melk Abbey with all the beauty we could photograph.  Most of the palaces did not allow photographs so forgive my exuberance with the Melk post.  I am adding a few additional shots cause we had like 400 from this day.

front courtyard seating
Abbey entrance

Ceiling details.  It was a palace

heater accessed from the rear
by the servants of old

more ceiling detail
Tapestry showing the size of the Melk Abbey

staff in Melk museum 

small window to show wall thickness

squash drinking vessel of St. Ulrich
later silverplated
'eternal stairs' is only 2 flights with
a mirror at the bottom

As a counter dose to all the gilt and glitz we returned to meet the boat at a different dock.  While we were at the abbey the boat was in line at the locks.  Evidently quite a backup as we had an extended bus tour of the small city of Melk.  Once at the dockside we had a while to enjoy the riverside area before the arrival of  the boat.

 And there was lots of nature to enjoy with all the spring flowers and plants emerging.  Birds were feeding nearby with little regard for cameras snapping.   And of course the Rock Lady needed to get a photo of some of my favorite subjects, rocks and flowers.

Back on shore before Hubby boarded the boat he found this Gentleman selling his homemade brandy.  He sampled a little of each and purchased one to bring home.  I had purchased two bottles, a wooden box, a couple of small paintings, etc at Melk.  We were beginning to fill up that extra suitcase we had brought for souvenirs.  And we are only half way through the trip!
Melk Abbey from the river

Topside with shades down after
going through a lock or under a bridge?
The Ingvi arrived and it would soon be time to do a little sailing through the Wachau Valley while enjoying lunch and some topside sunning.  Here are some of the sights we saw in this beautiful vineyard filled valley.  A Valley filled with history including the oldest documentation of civilization in the area, a 30,000 year old well endowed Venus of Willendorf fertility symbol.
Army working on shore maintenance

random naked guy maybe looking
for that fertility symbol ; /

There was the Sch├Ânb├╝hel Castle next to the river. Further on the D├╝rnstein castle ruins. D├╝rnstein was where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned after his capture in 1193.  A statue of Richard and his mistral is near the river bank.

Lovely little villages nestled near the river crowned with hillsides of vineyards.  And always churches and chapels of all sizes and locations.

The Bunny Church.  There are bunnies statues running along the back roof line. 

As with every day on the cruise, we get to experience local customs.  This day the chef gives a demonstration for making apple strudel.  Samples follow!  

We arrive in Krems around 4 PM.  A shuttle bus takes us closer in for a short tour and then a drop off for sight seeing and shopping.  We see a few thing before time to meet the shuttle.  Most of our free time is spent in a cobbler's shop looking for the perfect width and length belt for Hubby.  Eureka!  We found one for only 25 euro.  Pure leather.  We could not speak the cobbler's language nor he ours.  But we managed a transaction and lived to wear the belt to this day. 

We catch the shuttle and grab some dinner.  While the more sturdy of the guests head back in town for more shopping and fun, we turn in for the night.  I mean, aren't you just tired reading about this day?  Two towns, an abbey, two hours of scenic views photographed, strudel demo and sampling and a rather lengthy belt buying session.  Yep, it's bedtime.  Sleep soundly cause tomorrow we arrive in Vienna for two days!

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Day 16, April 6, Vienna, Austria

St. Francis of Assisi Church
The hills are alive with the sound of ......... buses as they took us for our first look at this grand city!  The Ingvi arrived there about 6 AM.  We were up and at it fairly early as the buses left at 9 and we would not return till about 12:30 PM.  There was mostly riding on this tour so photo opportunities usually had window reflections in them.  After the shooting frenzy in Melk, Krems and the river scenes of yesterday I am a little shot out you might say.  Also, I had intensified my search for letters within structures.  'R and B are not easily found.

We travel on Lassallestra├če from the dock area passing the St. Francis of Assisi church.  It was erected in 1913 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.   Along the way we catch sight of the Wiener Riesenrad.  Several folks from the tour later made their way to the area and rode this Giant Ferris wheel.  Originally built in 1897 it was rebuilt following heavy damage in WWII.

Negotiating the huge tour bus through numerous unexpected detours we travel streets filled with beautiful architecture. The goal is to travel Vienna's Ringstrasse.  This circular avenue was built along the site of the old city wall.  Along this boulevard we saw palaces, Parliament and so many stunningly appointed buildings.

As with other cities there is the modern touch added in now and then in the older parts.  The new part of Vienna lies across the Danube.  Street side open flower markets are a delight to see.

Stadt Park - Johann Strauss Statue
Votivkirche, Votive Church
Monument to Mozart, Burggarten

Tile design on cathedral roof.
Since Vienna is so closely associated with music, there are tributes to Strauss and Mozart.  There are tributes to so many dukes, kings, generals, etc. frankly I can not even begin to remember a fraction of them.  It was like information overload.
We were sitting in the rear of the bus so I was taking photos out of the back window. The angles were such that identification of many of the buildings is impossible.  One is Hofburg Palace, winter residence of the Hapsburgs (Habsburg).  Hofburg is home to the Spanish Riding School and the Lipizanner horses. Had hoped to see the horses but they were not practicing the time we had available the next day.
Have no clue.....

Another building is the State Opera.  After several hours researching on the internet and books purchased in Vienna, I declare uncle!  Just enjoy the beauty of the detail on the buildings and call it good!  I have identified where possible from my memory.
Old city train station on Karlsplaz
Hofburg palace
Once we made the loop on the Ringstrasse the bus tour came to an end.  We began the walking part of the tour.  As with other cities on the tour, the WWII treatment of the Jewish communities is addressed.  We were led through the Jewish Ghetto.  On the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night the pogrom of Jewish communities in Germany and Austria) all the synagogues in Vienna were destroyed.  Except one.  It was behind a courtyard entry.  The Nazis did not recognize it as a synagogue.  Those photos I recognize.  Back in 1670 Leopold I had destroyed two synagogues and built Leopold Church on their ruins....  Antisemitism not just a Nazi thing.
Seitenstetten Gaffe street
signs were on the buildings!
Entrance to only synagogue to survive
Crystal Night in Vienne

backside of Anchor clock
From this heart wrenching area we wound through the narrow, cobblestone streets to the Anchor Clock.  It was past the top of the hour when we arrived at the clock location so we missed the change of statues.  Still, quite the clock for an insurance company hall way.  Wonder how many little widows did not get the pay our to build this puppy!
Anchor Life entrance
Josef or wedding fountain

The area is named Hoher Market.  Another memorial statue.  Can you see the netting over the fountain? This is how to handle a bird poo problem.  We saw it throughout the trip, netting.

The guide now has us heading out again toward the St. Stephen Church, a center piece of the old city.

St. Stephen Church
Inside St. Stephen

Poo bags are strapped below the horses
Ornate for sure but not like Melk Abbey which was a former palace.  We putz around the plaza after checking out the inside of the church.  Looking for mini beer steins for our son.  Gotta conserve room in that last suitcase.  Not being taken by anything we decide it is time for some Viennese coffee and strudel.

We position ourselves in the street side chairs and enjoy people and horse watching.  There is a series of for hire carriages directly across from the cafe.  It is soon time to meet the troop to head back to the bus.  Oops, we heard the wrong time and missed the crew but a second group is heading back so at Deanna's encouragement we join them.  I saw a truck with a fun picture of sausages, not a USA sight.  Once more by the ferris wheel and we are back at the boat.

each of those gondolas will hold 12 people for a dinner
Back on board we have lunch then time for a little exploring on our own.  Hubby wants to ride the underground over to find the coffee shop where Freud would join friends for conversations and coffee.

With a marked up map, fresh doses of advil and plenty of euros off we go on yet another adventure.  We manage to get tickets with our euros cause the credit card is rejected. (no pin # >:( )  We work our way to the trains and are immediately without a clue. Finally I approach a nice young couple and, yes, they can speak English.  The young man shows us the basics of the words that are not a language we can read.  And tell us to get off at the 4th stop. And we are off for a cup of coffee.  Counting stops and negotiating escalators, stairs and quick doors to make the connection at a different platform.  And pushing buttons as we learned that lesson in Amsterdam.

We exit the underground at the exact location our sweet Tamara had recommended.  And head in the direction I think we should go which is opposite from Hubby's pick. Two blocks later we stop a lady and her daughter.  Again, multilingual family and we are sent in the proper direction.  Hubby was right so we hike the opposite direction and there it is.  Only Hubby does not believe me cause, well, my recent track record on direction.  He asks the waiter who is dressed in a tux and it is confirmed this is the place. BTW the ladies had said the place was expensive.  Tux = expensive?  That's a story for another blog.

We choose to sit outside and do more people watching.  Espresso for Hubs and cafe au lait for moi.  A lovely pastry to share and table side flowers complete the scene.  We savor the coffee, pastry and atmosphere.  Eventually we step inside for a loo break and quick look around.  The basement area has the oldest small stage in Vienna.  Interesting how everyone seems to want to be the oldest of something or the biggest of something.

Hubs is ready to head back.  I suggest we should walk around and see if we could find those mini steins.  We can take in a few more sights of this University area.  I even convinced Hubs to take a different route back on the underground to reach the station near the boat.

More amazing architecture but no steins.  Back to the underground, elevators instead of stairs and a little shopping in the underground shops.  Still no steins but flowers to replace our faded tulips were right there calling my name.  We made all the transfers just fine and exited exactly where we wanted.  Stopped by a drug store along the way to get a few supplies like nail polish. This money thing is getting a little easier.  The check out line felt like a Walgreen's.  Now, back to the boat.

We had almost 10,000 steps when we walked onto the boat.  I was so ready for down time.  And that heated floor in the bathroom was wonderful on my tired feet.  Late dinner in the Aquivit and off to bed.  Aaahhhhh, but that ice sure felt good on one tired knee! Night now and tomorrow we visit more of the Viennese beauty.

letter hunting

How many letters can you make out of the objects in this photo?

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Day 17, April 7, Sch├Ânbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria

Knowing we would be doing considerable walking on the afternoon tour we stayed on the boat for the morning.  I did take time to arrange the flowers we purchased in the underground yesterday.  Some packing of dirty clothes and souvenirs as the room was getting a little messy.  We do still have about 10 or 11 more days to live in this 135 sq. ft.
Many of the folks on the tour had developed severe respiratory problems. Folks were taken to doctors and took meals in their rooms.  So while the knee may have been slowing me down some, neither of us were ill.  Just moving slower than some but pleased to be still going.  A relaxed breakfast and lunch were followed by boarding a bus for the tour of Sch├Ânbrunn Palace.  We were first to the bus for a change so parked ourselves in the front seats.  Join me now for the drive from the river to a summer palace, cause you know that other palace was just so hot!

mass transit everywhere but still plenty of cars

typical street view
Then you look to the right

Love all the detail on buildings

A little Dutch influence on the front.

Sch├Ânbrunn Palace underground station

Sch├Ânbrunn Palace railroad crossing

more pastel houses with the onion top caps
New or Old upgraded with skylights?  Still pretty.
And we arrive to be greeted by this view:
Sch├Ânbrunn Palace as with many of the palaces and residences the interiors could not be photographed.  If you will click here you can see the interiors in 360 beauty including the ceilings.   

We did get to take pictures in the outer hall where the lineage of the palace owners was documented.  But they are too blurry to really read in my photos.

The palace was sumptuously decorated.  It is a childhood home for one Marie Antoinette of let 'them eat cake' fame.  Private quarters and other areas were beautifully adorned as you can see in the 360 tour. Opulence at every turn.  There were a couple of little private rooms that were just shy of cozy.

One of the first rooms we visited was the Grand Hall, a room in which JFK and Khrushchev met during the Vienna Summit of 1961.  Communism vs democracy trying to work out the way the world would be divided.  According to wikipedia, "Although the leaders made no official agreement, they did reach a consensus regarding the future of Laos— cease-fire and ultimate neutralization. This agreement proved to be one of the only accomplishments of the Vienna Summit."

To make certain that babies born to the ruler were legitimate, all births were viewed by the royal court.  A special room with  a king sized bed was appointed with silver and gold threaded linens and spread.  We were not told if teas were held during the labor.  No one asked, either.  I must say the Habsburg dynasty left quite a wake in their lives in this area of the world. And Vienna may be its crowning glory.

Once we had completed the interior tour we were at liberty to explore the well appointed gift shops.  Found key chains for the teen girl and boy soon to be drivers.  A book of 'Imperial Vienna' for us to be able to recall what the name of the places we saw. Now we have time to check out the amazing backyard gardens. This photo is a composite of about ten shots from one location as I turned left to right.

The building is almost half a mile from my camera.  We could have spent a full day just in the gardens surrounding the palace per se.   Click here for a map of the gardens.

This is the side garden to the right of the right wing of the palace.  It, too is a composite.  As well as a couple of a couple of shots from the opposite end.

For these gardens, alone, the trip was worth the bus ride.  These pictures do not do the garden justice.  Some folks hiked to the distant building cause they were younger or more spry.  As with any fairy tale, tine in the garden must come to an end.  Back on the bus and return to the boat for evening departure.  But a few more glimpses of the things that make Vienna a unique destination.

Unusual architecture, statues to warriors, musicians and men of thought fill this ancient city.  Across the Danube is the new Vienna.  We spent no time on that side of the river.  Telephoto lens allow the distant buildings to come closer.

This is the last night for folks on the first part of this Sojourn so there is an evening farewell dinner.  As well as time for photos with the crew.   These folks really did make this a fabulous experience!

We pull away from Vienna and have a few last glimpses of the views.  Another lock to continue our descent toward our next stop, Budapest.

Then suddenly we are out of the city and enjoying the casual views of normal life on the Danube.

farewell cocktail party in the lounge
V for Vienna

And we enjoyed the setting sun from the comfort of the lounge.  Visiting with new acquaintances that will disembark early day after tomorrow morning.

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Day 18, April 8, River Cruising and Budapest

Strange that no matter how far from loved ones I was, I awoke thinking about my life long friend, Reba Jane.  It was her birthday.  We will be the same age till my December birthday.  Then for four months and four days I will be a year older.  But there was not much time to dwell on these thoughts as we would be climbing aboard a tour bus at 8:30 to begin our first day in Budapest.  Up and out for breakfast in the restaurant.  For some of the crew this was their last day before a two week vacation.  Nebo would leave as this is his homeland.  He is looking forward to seeing his baby.  The baby is a large dog!
Buda Castle Hill and Sz├ęchenyi Chain Bridge on the Buda side of the river

We ate breakfast as we cruised toward Budapest.  The ship docked at around 8:15.  Then it was grab cameras, headsets, and umbrellas as the skies are threatening.  Then find the lollypop and climb aboard another bus for a ride up to the Budai V├írnegyed area, National Opera House and Heroe's Square.
View west toward Buda and the Fishermen's Bastion
beauty along the way

Before I go further with the day let me tell you what we learned.  Budapest was not always Budapest.  No, really.  It is Buda on the west banks of the Danube and Pest on the eastern banks.  Click here to get a better history of this area that dates back to the early Stone Age.  Gosh, I knew I felt awfully young while we were there!  Also, my gyroscope was totally off on the whole trip.  I had to look on a map to figure out the directions we were facing.  Lots of cloudy days and a slightly different angle of the sun left me clueless.  So, let's just continue on the bus tour and let the driver worry about directions.  Since this is a preview tour as we have the rest of the day and all day tomorrow to visit the city on our own, the tour covered as much as possible.

South end of Ministry building.
The driver headed out east into Pest.   Immediately we began passing beautiful old buildings with intricate embellishments.  We passed The Four Seasons that "the Hollywood movie stars use".  The Ministry Building was right next to it.   Always attentive to the needs of travelers for shopping we were shown "the" street for shopping.  Next came St. Stephen Basilica, a few more shops and the Hungarian Opera House.

St Stephen Basilica
We cruise by the House of Terror and pass Heroes Square with a nod that we will be return for a 20 minute photo op of the area.  Vajdahunyad Castle is driven by with a slow down for a photo.  In the same area is the Zoo and a city park with seasonal boats and an ice rink activities.
Terror The letters are back-
wards and missing the T

Building needing some TLC
Zoo Entrance
Heroes Square
One side from the moving bus

The 3 second photo op!
Ice rink & water park
Once finished with this loop of the places to go in Pest we are returned to the Heroes Square for leg stretching and photos.  More than just some statues to photograph as the square was surrounded with museums and interesting buildings.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Street vendors greeted us with all sorts of wares and souvenirs at reasonable prices.

Part of the heroes memorial 
Fine Arts
The Square is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts on the left and Kunsthalle (Hall of Art) on the right.  From the square we are taken across the Danube.
Hall of Arts

Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Union

memorial to the 1956 Hungarian Revolt and War of Independence
There are just so many beautiful buildings along the way.  And more of the onion tops on the churches and other buildings.  We arrive at our destination for the last of the trip, the Castle District.  Dropped at the bottom of a small hill at the bus drop off point we walk the easy incline toward the top.

Did not climb these.
Our Lady (Matthias) Church

On the street up to the top we passed this auto and it was point out by our guide.  It is an auto from East Germany built during the Communist period.  The Trabant was made of cotton waste and phenol resins.

Then just up the street was a vintage Jag.

Slightly further I looked through an arch and captured this view.  We arrive soon at Trinity Square.  This area contains The Old Buda Town Hall, the Matthias church, Turreted Fortress and the Fisherman's Bastion.  With a drop dead view of the city.

A few exterior photos of the church and we are moved to the interior for viewing.  If you click here you can visit the inside with a point and click for info about different areas.  To enter we had to pass a guard.

From the church to the Fisherman's bastion is just a few steps.  And the view is beautiful.

I stood overlooking this area after earlier hearing of the War of Independence that failed in the 1950's.  My thoughts turned to a friend from the late 1960's, Pete Holl├│h├ízi.  He and his older brother had escaped from Hungary at that time. The brother was a teen and guided Pete across fields, etc.  I cried at the horror they must have seen ... and survived.  I had not thought of Pete in decades.  Now it was so much more real..

At the base of the statue a man dressed in medieval attire had a bird of prey. For a price he would let it sit on your shoulder.  Not something we run into in our normal life back in the states.  But this was still us in a fairy tale of a trip.

With a set time to meet our bus we began heading back down the hill.  We had passed a few shops that looked promising for souvenirs.  And we were correct as we scored paprika in a lovely can and a couple of other items.
Again, I convinced hubby to try a slightly different route for our return.  He was unsure, I had a map and was sure.  This time it worked just fine!

Add caption
At the bottom of the area the bus had not arrived so time for a couple of touristy shots.  The group decided the little cove was a good place for these type of shots.  Please, note.  That is not a red pompom on my head, just a dot on the wall!
the rock lady, petra domina

The bus arrives and is the furthest away as always!  We hop aboard and the driver returns us to the ship.  On the way back we pass Olympic rings.  More beautiful buildings and Parliament.   We arrive in time for a sumptuous lunch.  Yes, we did all this in just the morning.
 Hubby had signed up for an afternoon additional excursion.  He road through the countryside and saw the Hungarian Puszta, 'cowboys', perform.  The riders were impressive and he was full of stories when he returned.  What had struck him the most was the abject poverty of the people and villages through which the bus passed.

I stayed on board with 5, yes, 5 other people.  Curled up on the Aquivit lounge sofa with a cup of coffee, a tea cake, my tablet for writing and a blanket for more comfort.  My afternoon was delightfully relaxing!  And my sore leg appreciated no cobble stones that afternoon.

We were told when we arrived that the night view of this city was quite something to see.  I was determined to get a photo.  Around 11 pm in my jammies I sneaked up on the top deck in a drizzle and captured a couple of photos.  I'll close this post with that view.

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Day 19, April 9, Budapest, Hungary

Yesterday we said goodbyes to folks that were on the Amsterdam to Budapest portion of the trip.  On awakening this morning we found the hallways lined with luggage of those folks.  Bill and Frank from Houston who had finally been able to marry this year.  Margaret, also from Huston, and her sis who were travelling as sister time together.  Folks from Calgary that could not believe we knew how to pronounce Kananiskis.  The couple from Toronto that had a cabinet business providing some upscale hotels.  Lots of nice folks!  By tonight about half of the guests would be new faces.

This was a free day in that no tours were offered.  We wanted to get photos of the bronzed iron shoes along the river.  Also, just wanted to poke around in some of the areas we passed yesterday.  Our ship was docked within walking distance of Parliament, parks, shopping and restaurants galore.  With our tummies fortified by the excellent breakfast we sat for a bit and studied maps.  With a plan in our mind, Hubby's camera, (mine was charging) walking sticks and good shoes we set out on yet another adventure.

It can be difficult to think of the Holocaust on vacation.  It is even more difficult to hear the back story of the Shoes on the Danube.  As it was becoming apparent that the Allies would be winning WWII.  There was not going to be time for the Hungarian Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45 to ship the Jewish people to the concentration camps.  They began lining them up along the river, stripping of all clothing and shooting the persons.  The bodies would fall into the river and be swept away downstream.  As ammunition became more scarce, victims would be tied together and only the first person would be shot.  As that body fell the others would be pulled or pushed into the Danube.  At the end of each massacre, empty shoes and clothing would litter the river banks.  This memorial is a chilling reminder of just how far human hatred can go.  Hate is not new.

People have left all kinds of things to honor the people these shoes represent.  The shoes look like leather.  Shoes of all sizes and manner.  Baby shoes.  .. .. ..
Attila J├│zsef

With a prayer for the lost souls and for peace in our world today, we moved on to just being tourists.  We found the crosswalk and worked our way up to the level of the Parliament and surrounding buildings.  A statue commenting one of Hungary's great poets, Attila J├│zsef.  Because we could not read the language explaining the statue we did not have a clue.  The gaunt state of the human led me to think it was another holocaust tribute.  No, just a very poor Hungarian boy that grew up to be a wonderful poet and died at 32 years old.

Yesterday's post was crammed with photos.  We had taken almost 500 shots that day.  This day, well, my camera battery died.  So, not so much lovely architecture today.  Hubby did get this shot of the city side of the Parliament building and its grounds.
By now it was time for a coffee/loo break.  I promise I will not give you TMI.  A small restaurant, The Grey Goose, was a couple of doors down from the Parliament area.  It looked promising.  In we pop.  Hubby orders an espresso and a pastry.  It was cool enough that ear muffs felt good so I choose Dutch hot chocolate. Hubby loved his goodies.  I sat amazed as I was served a very thick, rich, dark almost pudding in a cup.  OMgosh!  It was as tasty as could be.  It was definitely not your Nestle's instant.  Later research showed this was a version of hot chocolate made in Italy.  So will I have to visit Italy to have Hungarian hot chocolate?

All refreshed from the multipurpose stop we head out again with map in hand.  Too bad we still have not figured out which way in north. That makes map reading and street choices so much easier.  I was trying to find the street with all the nice shopping the guide had told us about yesterday.  Trying to find a name on a map in a different language can be challenging.  We gave up and headed back toward Parliament and some nearby parks.

The first thing of interest is a bridge.  I am not sure why a bridge was chosen for this memorial to the leader of the 1956 Hungarian Independence uprising.  Though Imre Nagy was a Communist, he wanted an independent Hungary.  He was hung by the Soviets for treason.

From this memorial we moved down a diagonal street into the Liberty Square.  This park had families enjoying picnics and walks on that Saturday.  Spring is just beginning here as in many places along the Danube.

A couple of blocks and we were intrigued by these motorized small carriages.  One had to watch for these as apparently they have the right of way!  Now we have arrived in a restaurant and shopping district.  Just not 'the one'.  That is okay as people watching fun is more enjoyable than shopping today.

It was interesting, also, seeing how this city is reclaiming itself or renovating itself as a member of the EU.  One person commented that Germany had won the war after all since they control so much of the money.  That was a new way of thought for me.

A couple of blocks further and we moved over a street and began seeing more activity.  And we came across The Fat Cop statue.

Dad always talked about a bellican like a pelican when he would rub is sizable tummy.  So we could not pass up this photo op.  The fellow pedestrians were enjoying the photo, too.

We decided to follow the cop's advice and take this street.  It proved to be a great choice.  A few building and gate shots.  Then the best little souvenir shop!  We found t-shirts, the mini steins with Budapest Parliament and Chain Bridge on them.  A stacking doll for me as well as another scarf.  Numerous other items were purchased for future gifts.

Okay, we were nearing my knee limit on the little jaunt.  We decide to just meander back in the general direction of the boat.  In order to cross the streets one sometimes just had to dare to make it as crosswalks were no where in sight.  We walked in front of "The Four Seasons" but not stars in sight.

However, across the street in a small green space a young couple was having wedding photos shot!  Life continues all around us.  We decided if there is a green spot, people need to plant a statue commemorating something or someone.  This statue is Count Istv├ín Sz├ęchenyi.  He deserves this honor as he gave a year of his salary to start The Hungarian Academy of Sciences.  The he initiated construction of the Sz├ęchenyi (Chain) Bridge.
The Man with the Academy of Sciences just off camera to the left.  
Pest entrance to the Sz├ęchenyi (Chain) Bridge

This is a tree on the square that is reported to be the oldest tree in the city.
 With the skies trying to decide if they wanted to storm or clear, we crossed the road and headed for the ship.
A little more rearranging of clothing, admiring the new treasures and packing away for the trip.  Soon it would be dinner and with new guests we might need to look presentable. Instead of chatting with the new passengers, those of us from the Amsterdam portion of the cruise seemed to continue sitting with each other.  Oh, well, only 8 days left and energy is running a little lower.  Cocktails at 6 then dinner around 7:30.  Shot a few night shots with the recharged camera on a small tripod.  We returned to the lounge to enjoy some Hungarian dancers.  Then hung around to watch as we cast off for Kalocsa, Hungary.  And what a show this turned out to be as we cruised past the lights of Budapest.

Before the ship left the dock, Hubby stepped ashore for this shot of the bridge and Buda Castle.
Hubby's handiwork
Videos as we were sailing on the Danube.

And, yes, the building was sparkling!

The Parliament Building as we sailed past.  The music was the pianist in the on board lounge.  Man life can be pretty nice sometimes.

See you tomorrow for the next port in Kalocsa, Hungary.  Another very full morning of touring, learning and enjoying a different part of the world!

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Day 20, April 10, Kolacsa, Hungary

An overnight sailing with an early morning tour meant few photos of the Danube.  The River widened as the terrain become flatter.  8:30 AM departure found us at breakfast with Marion, my preferred waiter by 7 AM.   Marion, a Romanian, makes certain all is perfect.  Vitamin juice was very refreshing as well as the excellent coffee.  And all those pastries..... Our boat passes and guide assignments were picked up on our way back to the room.  Headsets, check.  Cameras, check.  Walking sticks, check.  Light jacket, check.  Keys to get back in the room, well maybe..

No fancy dock in a city, just a few buildings are visible as we pulled to the shore.  Even though it is Sunday, one gentleman has his souvenir shop open for visit.  We promise we will visit when we return as the guides are calling us to board the ever ready tour buses.

One thing Hubby and I notice is the electric poles are concrete A frames.  The wiring looks like something I would do.

Quickly we move into flat farmland.  It could easily be the area in which I lived as a young person. The fields were mostly black, fertile soil.  Most crops were not emerging.  Some fields did have safflower in full bloom.  The bright yellow fields added a cheery feeling to the gloomy weather.

Kolacsa is the first destination for today's tour. A town that appeared to have seen better days as the saying goes.  A city of about 17,500 souls that had two museums, The Paprika Museum and The Folk Art House were the attractions we visited,  So I figure you are thinking, 'a paprika museum?'.  I know, I did not realize that Hungary is known for paprika.  Did you know that paprika has more vitamin C than citrus fruit?  Neither did I.

We did not visit he Archbishop's Residence nor St. Mary's Cathedral.  I could have photographed St. Mary's if I had just looked that direction.  But I did not. I looked at all things paprika including burlap tow sacks and aprons.  Quite intriguing with dancing paprika on them.

Equipment used to plant, harvest and process the dried peppers.  I did get a photo of an interesting sculpture.  A few houses and architectural interest points in the neighborhood and the spring flowers needed to be captured.

Back on the bus for the short ride
over to the Folk Art House and gift shop.  A few snaps of the local homes.  

The bright blue trim of the museum was a beautiful contrast to the thatch roof and white stucco walls.  A thatched roof required inspection by Hubby.  Later research showed the stubby way trees were trimmed would produce new growth.  That new growth had been one source for thatching materials.  Once satisfied with the roofing materials, we entered into a tiled area and straight ahead was the kitchen area.  

Clothing in the 'pure' or unused room
To the left of the kitchen was a room that was unused except for very special occasions.  In the corner was a bed piled with blankets.  It was a symbol for suitors of the oldest daughter of the wealth of her family, very important for her marriage prospects.The host of the museum noted the walls were more decorated that a typical peasant home would have been.  The designs did represent the folk designs of the period.
To the right of the kitchen were the other rooms for the family.  Ceramic stoves were in different rooms for heating.  Beyond those rooms was a room filled with the needlework representative of the region.  The bottom line was the museum is a tribute to the handicraft works of the women.  It was explained the needlework and furniture painting had evolved from simple beginnings of white on white to the colorful designs on display. 

Wedding headdress
From the living areas we step into the display room filled with a beautiful array of needlework.  One area has pottery examples.  And the every present gift shop was just across the courtyard.  And the work of the items offered were beautiful.  My gift suitcase is getting awfully full but that would look so cute on great-niece ...... Then comes the call to board and the dress is left behind and my pocketbook is the same thickness.

Embroidery and cutwork combination
Onto the bus and we head for the next event, the Bakod Puszta Horsemen.  Of course there had been the brandy and rolls to welcome us.  More opportunities for crafts.  Then it was time for the show.


I grew up around horse shows that included barrel races, clowns, Tennessee walking horses and buggy races.  The exhibition we witnessed was different.  Much more emphasis on the relationship of horse and rider and the horse's training.  There were wagons being pulled at high speeds requiring one of the horsemen to hang off one side to keep the wagon upright.  The synchronized whip snaps were something that had the precision of a drill team.  The finale was a young 20 year old horseman standing on two horses with two sets of four horses in front.  He stood and guided the ten horses as they ran at breakneck speeds.  

With that the show ended, bows and applause followed.  Another sampling of local cuisine and more brandy.  Some guests choose to take the rides out into the fields and pastures.  I was good staying close in to the heaters and enjoy another savory biscuit.  
Back on the bus we head to the boat.  A few minutes with the first gift shop dude and we were back on board for lunch.  Later an afternoon Hungarian Tea.  Yummy stuff to keep ourselves stuffed!  While we could have watched another strudel making demo, we opted for a little rest.  In the evening we joined others in the lounge to hear our new program director describe growing up in Eastern Europe.  Director Lubo was in his early 40's so he watched as a teen the breakup of the Soviet Bloc and the ramifications for his homeland.  Tomorrow, April 11, we would visit in the home of a local person.  Come back to see our host.

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Day 21, April 11, Osijek & Vukovar, Croatia, Part 1

Former luxury hotel closed
due to the war
With our arrival into Croatia we began having to carry our passports.  While in EU countries that was not being required. Border officers boarded the ship to check the passports.  Later in the day we would have to be face checked against the passports.  We were allowed to get on the tour buses and head out for our day's adventures, passport in hand.

The tour bus moved through Vukovar and the guide pointed out areas of interest we could visit in the afternoon during our free time. It was not 9 AM and vendors were setting up their booths for the day.  Of course modern shopping areas are always available as well as coffee shops and restaurants.

The guide was a local person and provided a great deal of information.  There were workers building flowerbeds and walks in a park.  The guide said they were part of the city's workforce.   She said the unemployment rate in Vukovar was about 34%.
Vukovar was overrun by Serbian forces after an 87 day siege.  The city of Vukovar lost almost 50% of its population during the war.  There are some once beautiful homes bombed out during the Croatian War of Independence just standing as a testament to the horrors.
We pass bullet riddled buildings in the city center.  One such we visited in the afternoon.  A lady stood in the door encouraging the obvious tourists to come in and see her wares.  Beautiful articles that made their way home with us.

The war damaged city water tower has been preserved as a symbol of the Battle of Vukovar and the Croatian War of Independence.

It is not all gloom and doom.  There has been a considerable amount of rebuilding and repair.  There is still a deep pride in the long history of these peoples. Pride in the fact they still survive after occupation by the Turks.

We leave Vukovar for our visit to Osijek.  The flatter geography and dark soil, again, makes me think of my childhood home area.   The green fields look like winter wheat to me.   We arrive to clear skies.  One of the few clear days we have during the trip.
We disembark near the Osijek Citadel or Tvr─Ĺa complex for a walking tour. Tvr─Ĺa is the best-preserved and largest ensemble of Baroque buildings in Croatia and consists of a Habsburg star fort built on the right bank of the River Drava.
Photoshop panorama 
After a time for looking around and photos we proceeded around the square and down another cobblestone street. Sidewalks are fair game for parking in the narrow streets.

We pass a school of music on our way to the Rising of the Holy Cross Church.   There would be a vocal presentation by one of its top students at the church.  Before entering the church there is a shop to be looked into for souvenirs. Nothing caught my fancy so I wandered around taking photos that might be used for some of the memes in which I participate.

Within the small courtyard are two memorials.  A cross made from artillery shells
 Jewish Memorial
Part of old fort wall

from the Croatian War for Independence.  The second is a memorial to the Jewish population lost during the Holocaust.  Prior to WWII Croatia had a population of 40,000 Jews.  Census in 2001 had 495 down from 2000 in 1991.   So life moves on in Croatia, just not for everyone.

The young lady arrived for the presentation and we entered the church.  I was just not prepared to see this level of ornate decor in a small church.  I grew up in small churches and early on they barely had heat and certainly no air conditioning.  And most assuredly nothing like this tiny gem.  It has managed to survive for several hundred years of wars with minimal damage.

I will close this part of the day with a couple of videos I very unprofessionally recorded with my still camera.  I have not used this feature much so the detail is not great.  But oh the voice and the piano if you could have been there in person!

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Day 21, April 11, Osijek & Vukovar, Croatia, Part 2

Following the concert by the young lady at the Rising of the Holy Cross Church, we walked back to the tour buses.  The drivers of these buses were pretty amazing.  The next thing on the agenda were the home visits with local folks.  The three buses were each divided into two groups for the visits.  Heading into the street where the homes were located was easy peezy.  There was no turn around so the streets had to backed out from the homes.  Then a sharp right angle turn while backing....using mirrors....

The pinkish house is where we were dropped for our home visit in Bilje.  By North American standards the home would be considered modest.  By Croatian standards the house was considered large so multiple generations could live together.  Our hostess, Senka (not her real name), cheerfully greets us in perfect English.  On the bus we had been taught a few words which I consistently botched.  "Dubro Jutro!" each of us Yanks stumbled over as we returned Senka's greeting.

As we entered the home, a wheelchair was in the entry.  We turn to the left and enter a combination living dining area.  A compact kitchen was at one end of the room.  Magnets from different countries and US states were on the fridge, presents from previous visitors.  The opposite end has sofa, chairs and a TV.  In between are two linen covered tables surrounded by sturdy chairs.We squeeze into the waiting chairs and begin the visit.

Senka was sweet, beautiful and an amazing cook.  Her homemade coconut baklava was such a great twist on baklava.  Her FIL's homemade wine and brandy as well as her own grape juice and a tasty chocolate bar rounded out the tea offerings.  Oh, and two cups of Turkish coffee for Hubby.

During the visit Senka shares openly about her life and living situation.  She survived the Serbian/Croatian war of the 1990's.  Due to all the violent fighting in her home town of Vukovar as a young teen she relocated to this area with her family .  She noted she and her husband are considered a mixed marriage, one Serb and the other Croat. Her husband is still unable to find steady employment as a construction worker.

In order to have a home, Senka, her husband and 13 year old son share this home but do not own it.  It is owned by an elderly person that requires assistance, hence the wheelchair in the entry.  They care for the elderly home owner in exchange for the rent. From the money they make from running a bed and breakfast in one spare room they pay utilities.  By hosting the home visits for cruises and other tours their income is further supplemented.  A small garden has been dug in the back yard for additional food.  BTW we noticed most homes have small vegetable gardens and grape vines on arbors.  We never met the elderly owner of the home. The home owner vacates her living area for Senka to have room for the visitors from the tours.

Senka's neighborhood
Of course, we six visitors shared a little of our lives back in the States.  One couple from Michigan and one from Maine with plans to move to Texas.  We of course shared we were a mixed marriage, one Texan and one Show Me state Missouri mule!  All to soon the time for the visit was over.  Thanks are given and one last hug.  On to the bus and we watched the artistry of the three bus drivers' backing the buses down the narrow street.

Getting to know just a bit about what living in an area of war and the trauma of it all is sobering.  And heart rending. How does one ever recover? But Senka and the rest of Croatia are working at it. Obviously Senka held hope.  She was carrying a new baby due in late May.  

From the home visit we traveled back to Osijek passing a forested area marked with skull and crossbones.  This forest area is a landmine field left over from the Croatian war.  No stops in Osijek this time, just back to Vukovar and the ship.  Lunch on board and then time for a walk about in the nearby city center.  Hubby and I crossed the Drava on the main bridge using the taller buildings as a guide.  As we strolled the streets and walkways it was so pleasant. Cool enough to be a pleasant time just to relax and enjoy this small town.

The stroll took us past the shop with the lady calling to tourists.  We walked to the rebuilt area near the museum.  After another map consultation we headed back to the little shop for a look. The outside had bullet marks but the interior was filled with beautiful treasures. Local artisans' wares filled every nook and cranny. Glass salt and pepper cellars with a tiny matching spoons caught Hubby's eye.  A hand painted silk scarf and a clay replica of an ancient jug enchanted me. There was so much more that were just splendid pieces.  All were obviously unique made, not mass produced. We left with our bag of goodies heading into the central shopping area.

Restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores lined the street. My knee was ready for a rest right in front of an ice cream shop! What great timing, wink, wink. The shop was just opening so the ice cream was so fresh and beautifully displayed. The language barrier proved to be no problem. Pointing and smiles with a positive head shakes yielded two cones and freshly brewed strong coffees.  Sitting in the outdoor dining area gave opportunity for people watching. The owner insisted on taking photos of us together, one of the few together photos of the trip.

Snacks finished and knee rested we continue our exploration. We met several boat mates and recommended the little bullet riddled gift shop. Walking the many back streets yielded more damaged buildings and a friendly policeman. The angles and inclines of the streets proved good fodder for the camera lens. Eventually we decided to walk back toward the river and the small park adjacent to the Ingvi.  It is still early April and love was in the air everywhere it seemed.

A few more photos and we get back on board. We freshen up for the events of the evening. There had already been so many things to absorb from our day, my brain felt cramped in the confines of my skull. To be in areas where the atrocities of WWII occurred was looking at a history that was rebuilt from the ruins. That was not the case of this day's sights.  Meeting a woman whose family had to flee the violence of war is different, jarring reality.

In the US people speak of the 'war' on Christmas or 'war' on women. While there may be differences of opinions, it is mostly a 'war' of words. Not putting a Santa's face on a Starbucks' coffee cup is quite different than street after street, city after city of bullet riddled buildings. Or a beautiful tree filled area that is off limits because of landmines. It is not the choice of a mall manager to forgo putting up a manger scene in the middle of a temple that worships profit.

The aftermath of the Croatian War for Independence is a young mother's courage welcoming strangers into a home to simply have an income for her family.   It is a church still in use across from a bombed building.  It is a young man and his aged father starting an ice cream and coffee shop in a town of declining population.  Hope is alive in the aftermath of war.

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Day 22, April 12, Belgrade, Serbia

Cathedral Church of St. Michael the Archangel
completed in 1840
Overnight we arrived in Belgrade, Serbia.  The war will no longer be called The War for Croatian Independence cause this is the country that invaded Croatia...  One of our crew members is native to Belgrade.  He enthusiastically told us and the Michigan couple his life story.  His parents grew up under Communist rule.  They miss the 'good old days' of full employment, no homeless people and a guaranteed life.  Predrag now monetarily supports his parents 'cause the guaranteed life collapsed in the 1980's.   The death of Josip BrozTito caused the destabilization and eventual breakup the Yugoslavia.  One person from the old communist era notes, "it will take the death of the folks that lived under communism before we can fully embrace freedom."

With the dynamics of the tension between the old and new in the air we sat out on the 4 hour bus tour of Belgrade. The bus climbs from the banks of the Sava River onto one of the major streets.  Beautiful churches are spread throughout the old city. Though never outlawed under communism and Tito, one could be demoted to the lowest job just for being reported to attend worship.

Soviet block buil
It is interesting as we moved along how one could see buildings from various eras sandwiched together like some sort of insane Dagwood concoction.  Hapsburg and Ottoman buildings in various states of repair or disrepair can be next to a Soviet block building.  The area's cultures date back to the 6th millennium BC/BCE.  The area has experienced 115 recorded wars and razed to the ground 44 times.  No wonder there is no rush to rebuild or repair the damage from the most recent conflicts!
Kalemegdan (Belgrade) Fortress
Using the Brankov Moct (bridge) the bus crossed the Sava River into New Belgrade. Over our right shoulder in the distance sat the medieval Kalemegdan Fortress at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers.  To our left is the Memorial to Victims of the Sajmi┼íte Concentration Camp.  Closer to our right the common things of a park, a dog and its human.  Nearer was a skate board area.
Memorial to victims of Sajmiste

One leg of the H shaped Palace of Serbia
A look forward had probably the largest number of the bloc or block buildings we had seen so far on the trip.  We pass by the Palace of Serbia, formerly the Palace of the Federation (of Yugoslavia).  The guide stated the building is mostly empty.  Other sources say it houses some cabinet level ministries and agencies.

The tour continued through block after block of the Soviet bloc buildings.  These were mass produced using prefab structural insulated panels.  It is interesting to note the need for housing was great after WWII due to all the bombing damage.  To my regret, we did not tour any of the communist era buildings.  It would have been interesting to see inside one of the bloc apartments.  And as for the 'Soviet Bloc' apartments, they sort of reminded us of the place where we live. Well, except the window air conditioners and clothes hanging out windows to dry : /

The mid century design of the Telex building was quite fun, too.  I have seen a blog covering bus terminals built in the middle of nowhere during the Communist power years.  Seems not everything had to use the bloc method!  A new build was reminiscent of 'Close Encounters'.

That was enough of New Belgrade and the bus heads back across the recently (2012) finished Adi (Ada) Bridge into Old Belgrade.  The folks are really proud of this new bridge as it uses an uneven balancing of the bridge.  With a total cost of 450 euros including interchanges, this bridge is an accomplishment in any rebounding city.

As the bus left the bridge interchanges heading southeast,  I caught a glimpse of a couple of harness racers practicing.  Confirmation that life is similar through out the world.  The next destination was the former Tito Memorial Center that is now the Museum of Yugoslav History.  We pass the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, refurbished in 2015. No time to stop a we move on to Tito's Memorial.

Once we arrive at the Museum the three bus entourage comes to a complete stop.  The guide speaks of how Tito was a great leader of Yugoslavia.  It is obvious from her comments and those of others, that Tito is worshiped by many in this area.  He was seen as fair and just and open to both sides of the Iron Curtain.  One could almost hear the echo of the if only's of Tito's continued life in the voices of those who spoke of him.
After about 15 minutes of staring at the building that was closed for the day, the buses began to move again.  We pass the impressive Thai embassy.  Huge because Thailand was the first nation to recognize Yugoslavia. We rolled through the streets passing child care centers with cool decorations on the fences.  Then the famous coffee bar that I do not remember the name.  The bus arrived at our first walk around of the day, the Church of Saint Sava.  

The desire to construct the Church of Saint Sava began in the 1800's.  Construction plans and eventual beginnings were interrupted by The Balkan Wars, WWI and WWII.   Construction resumed in 1985.  The exterior is complete.  The construction is financed by donations but that is not the issue for the unfinished interior.  Materials and workers to install the materials are to be of Balkan lineage.  The decor is not to be painted but be mosaics.  No Balkan artisans of the quality needed have been located..
renderings of some of the hoped for mosaics

Yes, that was a crane sitting in the middle of the church.  The unfinished church was beautiful with just bare bones showing.  Not all windows were installed so birds flew around during the tour.

Time to head outside and for a little loo break and a last look around.   Back on the bus we glided past another bombed out building, this one by NATO.  Repairs are awaiting a consensus, not something Serbia seems likely to do any time soon.

We passed The Ascension Church which was a study in symmetry.  The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia building looked good. The two horse statutes were rather unusual in relationship to the humans.  Somewhere along the way we passed St. Mark's. The street lights were intriguing as was the woman standing in a shaded area.
Ascension Church
St. Marks

 Shopping was next on the list for the morning.  We were dropped across the street from the National Museum of Serbia and National Theater.   We chose just to walk and do a little people watching and window shopping.  One window caught Hubby's eye.  Snap and we later discovered Hubby appeared to be wearing the clothes in the window!  I was needing fresh flowers for the room but no one was there to accept money.

Meandering the pedistrian areas we purchased a couple of magnets. Of course there were photos. Several of the photos we took are similar to some on google maps.  But a couple I took were reflections of the normal tourist take.

Again, I convinced Hubby to take a different route back to the meeting place for the bus. This back route yielded a fun meeting with two ladies.  Hubby thought the lady was older than him and asked!  Karma got him cause she was 20 years younger.

Continuing along the alternate route, I could not resist the door knobs and other features of this city.  A courtyard provided a fun look into a beautiful area complete with murals at the entrance.  We could have hung out there the rest of the day but the clock was ticking.  Old people needed to sit on the bus for a bit, you know.

On down the street we head and come out across from a small park.  Not willing to brave the traffic, photos were taken between passing autos.

A few blocks to our right and we were at the meeting place . . early.  So we people watched while waiting.  And watched as a lady not see the dangerous little step we were warned about before exiting the bus.  She takes a full frontal tumble.  She promised only her pride was hurt.

The bus arrives and we headed to the last tour stop of the day, the Belgrade fortress.  The fortress was only .5 miles away but why walk as it is still only about 10 weeks past my knee replacement. Another 2 or 3 block walk at a pace that was difficult for me and we arrived at the entrance.
pieces parts fused to give an idea of the tanks flanking the entrance
The sizable fortress had tanks from all the wars in one area.  The entry door still had the indention of a cannonball from earlier wars.  Another area has portions of a Roman outpost.  Yes, that place was old.  And then there was the over look of the junction of the Sava and Danube.

There at the overlook we ran into Predrag.  He enthusiastically shares about his love of his city and nation.   The many beautiful parks he recommended from his 20 something body and mind for us to visit were not visited.

We left Predrag as the tour group was reforming to follow the guide to the Victor statue. A few more areas of interest and back to meet the bus.  The day has warmed up and most of the group are seeking shade.

On the ship it is lunch time.  It surely felt good to take a seat and be served delicious food.  While there was free time to return to the city, again, we chose to stay on board.  Old legs, new knee and twenty two days on a trip is beginning to catch up with us.  Tomorrow is a day of sailing almost all day.  No tours, no early rising, just a laid back day.  I shall leave you with this pieced image of the views from the fortress.

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Day 23, April 13, Danube Sailing and The Iron Gates

Whew, I don't know about you, but I was getting tired as we neared the end of the European Sojourn.  It was great to have a day to sleep till 8, have a little later breakfast and just chill.  Time to sit on the upper deck, relax and enjoy the Blue Danube as it wound its way in the Carpathians.  April 13 was a total sailing day not docking until about 10 that night.  We crossed into another time zone losing another hour.  To this point the Danube has been generally somewhat wide and shallow.  For the very early part of the day the river remained about the same.

Small villages dotted the shoreline.  Locals fished and boated while ignoring the passing cruise boats.
The relaxed day meant even some of the crew were topside enjoying the beautiful, sunny morning. Since many of the crew called this area home you could see their pride as we enjoyed their homeland.  

One of the crew's mom drove a couple of hours just to be able to stand on the shore and wave as the boat passed. The mom and son were both on their cells talking to each other.  We all waved as the horn for the ship was sounded. Never did figure out which crew member it was.

We were in the area named the Iron Gate.  For several miles we had sailed through a series of much more narrow gorges. Most every one was on the observation areas for photos. The climate has changed with the narrowing of the gorge.  Winds pick up so jackets and scarves felt good.

The river began to widen a bit.  Just beyond a small riverside church the tallest rock sculpture comes into view.  The rock sculpture of Decebalus is a 42.9 m x 31.6 m.  It was started in 1994 to honor King Decebalus.

Per Wikipedia, "Under the face of Decebalus there is a Latin inscription which reads "DECEBALUS REX—DRAGAN FECIT" ("King Decebalus—Made by Dr─âgan"). The carving was placed opposite an ancient memorial plaque, carved in the rock on the Serbian side of the river facing Romania. The plaque, known as the Tabula Traiana, records the site of Trajan's Bridge and thus commemorates the final defeat of Decebalus by Trajan in 105, and the absorption of the Dacian kingdom into the Roman Empire. Dr─âgan wanted the Serbs to carve a giant head of a Roman Emperor, as if confronting Decebalus on the opposite side of the river, but the Serbs refused."

The Tabula Traiana was originally 50 meters lower. The original spot was flooded with the construction of a hydroelectric dam in late 1960s and the monument was moved just above the waterline.

Once we passed the king's sculpture the river is slightly wider.  The ship is about 14 miles from Iron Gates Dam and Locks.  Time for a little strolling on the walking course.  Gotta work up an appetite for lunch that is in only an hour or so.  Mid afternoon would be a Serbian tea so we made a few extra laps.  No need to let the goodies go to waste!

One more narrow gorge with the rocky cliffs and we begin seeing a few farms and vineyards.  In the photo with the bridge there were what appeared to be a couple of hay shocks.

After passing Or┼čova we came to the Iron Gates Dam.  Walking to the opposite side of the ship the dam came into view.
It takes a while to arrive at the locks so time was passed watching our new Canada acquaintances play shuffle board, gulls flying overhead and the scenery pass.

 The light picture (left) was taken just as we pulled into the first lock.  Another picture at the same zoom was made several minutes later.  Finally only the base of the lamppost was visible from the same vantage point.  Once the first lock lowering was complete, the ship moved to the #2 lock.  The process of water being pumped out was repeated.

Watching a ship being lowered in a lock is interesting the first several times. These were the 68th and 69th locks on this cruise.  We chose to return to the room and freshen for lunch so several of the following views were from our tidy little stateroom.

After going through the two locks we were on the bottom side of the 200 ft dam.  Conveniently located for dam workers (?) was a nicely appointed tavern.  We did not stop for a sample.  Instead we continued this day of cruising immediately sailing past Drobeta-Turnu Severin.  Like so many cities there were ruins of past regimes, Roman, Communist, Hapsburg.
Is this considered a flock of cranes?
Severin Medieval Fortress
Within 30 minutes of leaving the locks the landscape had changed again.  No more of the limestone sheer faced hills.  The land became more gently rolling hills. Still there are the onion topped churches in the villages.  Riverside homes are still to be seen.
 Now cattle graze among the ruins while a horse drawn wagon rumbles along the road.

A few moments later we saw a shepherd with his flock of goats.  We were later told these were cowboys, not shepherds.

The remainder of this day was filled with lunch, afternoon tea and just lounging in the shade top side.  Cameras were on chargers as were we.  Hope you enjoyed cruising with us on this day nearing the end of our European adventure.  The next day would be a chance to learn how to make a type bread and Hubby to visit some rock formations.
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Day 24, April 14, Vidin, Bulgaria

Last evening we docked at one of the oldest riverside towns in Bulgaria.  It was too dark to see the remains of the fort as we approached the city.  I'll was satisfied that it existed without the need to see it.  Hubby was off on the included excursion while I, along with 5 other folks, stay on board.  I took up residence in the Aquavit sun room.  From there I observed the river traffic while attempting to catch up on posts.  I would be attending a bread making class in a local residents home in the afternoon.

The excursion that most of the folks were on is to some rock formations.  There was the possibility of climbing that sounds less than fun for my knee.  Hubby planned to sit in the promised coffee shop at the base of the cliffs and people watch.

As I laid in repose with a blanket provided by Nina, head of staff, I saw buildings from the communist era.  The communist bloc had come to mean the rectangular high-rises built for the people.  That quiet morning gave time for reflection on the trip experience.  The last of this cruise had been through regions that were struggling since the fall of the USSR.  The breakup of Yugoslavia had left battle scarred buildings and people all along that beautiful area. One city had see around 200 wars through the centuries.

Many of the crew, most in their 30's and 40's came of age in post communist rule.  Some saw communism in a more positive light as there was full employment during those years.  In some areas we visited unemployment currently was as much as 34%.  Most of the crew prefer to remain silent on the subject of politics.  Predrag was not one of the silent ones.  As noted before he supports his parents who were unable to find employment.  Most people have noted it will require the death of the generations who lived under communist rule before real change comes.
But for the moment in that town of about 48,000 there was no cannon fire.  No grenades.  No machine guns.  Only the low roar of river barges and cruise ships. Some tour buses were waiting for the Yanks, Canadians and others from different parts of the world to gawk at this old city.

The morning tours returned and lunch was served. At 3 PM a bus took myself and two others to visit a home in Ruptsi for a cooking class. A gentleman, two women and a young girl welcomed us in the courtyard with traditional brandy, bread and dipping herbs.  From the well manicured garden we stepped into the home.  The home was a new build with funds the couple made while living in the States for about 15 years.  They had migrated to the US following the relaxation of immigration laws from Bulgaria.  While living in the States the women had been active in church.  It was while there they began having cooking classes to teach how to make the Bulgarian dishes.
captured from google maps street view.
After finishing our brandy, sipped not gulped as in Hungary, the ladies demonstrated how to make the bread.  The banitsa bread was made with layers of slightly scrunched up phyllo dough alternately layered with a mixture of yogart, oil, white cheese, eggs and sugar if you wished.  The ingredients had been assembled in a greased 15 inch round pan about 2 inches deep.  The bread was popped into the oven, then it was our turn.  As we worked on making the bread, Aunt Rosa supervised all we did.  It was her grown niece's home but Sunt Rosa was in charge.  This second banista was popped in the oven as the first came out ready to sample. 

While our bread was baking and we were eating the first banista, the gentleman showed us how to make homemade yogurt, the Bulgarian way.  We tourists were a little surprised to learn the milk being used was buffalo milk.  Buffalo as in water buffalo, not bison that we were accustomed to in the States.  The yogurt was certainly a bit different than cow or goat yogurt.  The ladies swore by it for cooking.  The yogurt is strained and used as a facial mask for soft, wrinkle free skin.

We three tourists, as it happened all Texas folks, visited, cooked and drank with these warm people.  Stories were shared as we sat around the table eating Banista and drinking a bit more brandy.  Questions asked and answered.  Aunt Rosa even had hand made items available for purchase.  I being a person that sews could not pass up her beautifully made apron.  Goodbyes were said, hugs given and we boarded the bus.

We returned to the long ship with the bread we made under Aunt Rosa's supervision.  It was very tasty and too much for three or four people.  We cut it in pieces and shared with the rest of the ship during the evening cocktail hour.

The cocktail hour was filled with stories of the visit to the rocks, bread making, Kindergarten and other places we sojourners visited on this first day in Bulgaria.  The time had come for disembarkation information to be given.  That meant only two nights left on board this temporary home.  Nostalgia is mixed with joy during the evening.... Hubby and I were feeling the length of the trip by the last few days.  But still not quite ready to leave our new found friends. Tomorrow would be our visit to Russe, Bulgaria.

Day 25, April 15, Russe, Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi, Bulgaria

The long ship arrived in Russe, Bulgaria about 8 AM on Friday April 15th.  By 9 AM we are aboard a bus heading into the heart of Bulgaria.  That tour lasted till 5:30 PM so no time was wasted!   Immediately the guide pointed out one of the last remaining sections of track of the original Orient Express.

We passed churches, one with the lovely little garden. There were some buildings in need of repair and others with wonderful architectural features.  There was so much to see and attempt to photograph.   Again, so different than driving around in say Austin or Dallas.

The Monument to Angel Kanchev, a revolutionary against the Ottoman, was sitting on an island at an intersection.  The bus barely slowed enough for a photo.

Next up was Knyaz Aleksandar Batenberg Square.  A lovely fountain in the center was flanked by buildings housing schools, the National Library, Regional Historical Museum and on old Post Building.
From the old town center we moved toward a highway to take us to Veliko Tarnovo.  Along the way there were still some of the Soviet blok buildings along with a few plusher looking apartments.  Have I mentioned all the wires?  I guess I am so accustomed to underground utility cables in many areas I see regularly the cables were more noticeable.

Church Sveta Petka was one of the last 'points of interest' noted as we pulled away from Russe.  In less than 40 minutes we passed by all key tour points in Russe.  At least for this particular tour. A different tour from the boat spent the entire day in Russe.

With the next destination over an hour's drive we settled in to watch the surrounding countryside.  We saw vast fields of bright canola flowers in bloom covering entire hillsides.  These fields made such a beautiful contrast to the young leaves and grasses of the Bulgarian hinterlands.

More cowboys tending flocks in the wet fields.    Ruins of old forts and viaducts were some of the highlights as we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo.

Random artwork on buildings was so facilitating.  The military themed fence surrounded a former Soviet military sight.

Asen Dynasty Monument in Veliko Tarnovo

Yantra Grand Hotel

Love how the way the brewers have their tanks painted.

Overlook of Veliko Tarnovo on the road to Arbanasi

I could not pronounce this brand.  Nor did we get to try it.  Well, maybe at the restaurant later in Arbanasi.  The tour leaves Veliko Tarnovo and wound our way up to the little town.

Our first stop in Arbanasi was at a the Nativity Church.  The church is very nondescript on the exterior.  This lack of steeple and decoration is a result of the Ottoman occupation.  No church could taller than a mosque.  This lack of decoration on the outside was more than made up for on the interior.

The step to the inside of this building which was started in the late 1500's.  The series of rooms were additions to the first building.  As a result each room had a 6 inch or so threshold to negotiate.  The second addition was a room build for the women to attend services.  It was covered in frescoes of judgement. The 'first building' was the last room we entered.  It was narrow, lined on three sides with hard seats.  The walls and ceilings were covered by beautiful frescoes of the Nativity.

From the church we walked around the village.  There were folks selling along the street.  We were guided past them to a local merchant's shop.  We purchased rose brandy & rose hand creams. The quaint views along the way were more beautiful with all the spring bushes in bloom.

After we had cleaned out the shops we walked to a former
 merchant's home, "Konstantsaliev house".  The Arbanasi area was once a thriving trade center.  Mid 1800's Ottoman decrees removed the privileges of the trade and craft industries sending the town into decline.  The merchant's home is now a museum.   The current 'big' business is the production of rose oil.  During a certain time in the spring the rose petals are individually gathered by hand.  Er go the cost of the products in the local shops....

While the rest of the group climbed the stairs at the merchants home, we chose to walk the grounds.  In the back we found another little gift shop in the basement.  Hubby purchased rose oil for his favorite girl, our son's girlfriend.  Of course I did what I could to help the local economy, too.

Next up was lunch.
Again, we walked a sort distance to the hotel restaurant.  The Hotel Maraya courtyard area was a small museum of sorts.  Greeted with the traditional bread, dry herbs and a shot of brandy.  Distracted by all this, someone bumped one lady.  It was like dominoes as elderly ladies toppled or staggered out of the way.  Unfortunately one lady landed butt first in a small pond.  Nothing broken just badly bruised everywhere.  That sort of put a damper on the day for her for sure.

Lunch was a coleslaw type salad, stew and honeyed yogurt.  We were entertained by the dancing and music of local performers.   A cup of excellent espresso rounded out the meal perfectly.  Then it was back on the bus to head back down to Veliko Tarnovo.

This time we stopped for photo ops of the Tsarevets castle/fortress.  Hubby stayed on the bus and I headed out for a few photos.  Several of the folks hiked on up to visit the fortress.  I was still knee surgery plus about 80 days and decided that was not for me.

 Back on the bus we headed to the hotel we visited initially in Veliko Tarnovo.  Along the way we passed yet another interesting architectural feature on a building.  We disembarked and visited another shop filled with local arts.  I made my selections of an oven mitt and a small placemat size piece of cut and embroidery hand work.  (It is on my coffee table for us to enjoy each day.)

Hubby and I were pleased to go to the lobby lounge area to enjoy the view of the river and valley.  As noted the hotel was showing some wear.  It was still cool to see the mix of mid century and more formal style furniture.

The rest of the tour group eventually all gathered in the lobby.  The bus arrived and we headed back to the ship for our last night on board.  The bus was quiet for this hour long drive.  Photos now had full sun shining on the yellow fields.  We passed the field that was planted in 1981 to commemorate 1300 years of Bulgaria.

It must have been shift change for the cowboys as they were standing in pairs.

Once back in Russe, the afternoon sun reflected off the dome of Church Sveta Petka. Even the bloc apartments looked more welcoming.  With about an hour left before we sailed, a few of the folks chose to go looking about in Russe.

At 6:45 the anchor was raised and we literally just sailed to the opposite bank of the Danube.  An announcement that such and such person needed to come to the desk was promptly followed by a return back to the Russe side of the river.  Oops.  The guy said he was on time, the crew said well, maybe not!  Then it was back across the Danube!

Dinner, hugs and goodbyes were scrunched together.  The remainder of the evening was organizing the luggage for transfer to the hotel in Bucharest the next morning.  And finding room for the newest purchases.  Bedtime felt good and a little sad all at the same time.

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