Monthly Archives: August 2015

Bratislava, Slovakia – have you ever heard of it?

When I told friends that we were going to stop in Bratislavia on our AMAWaterways Danube River cruise, they seemed a little perplexed and unsure.  Turns out that most of them had never heard of Bratislavia or Slovakia.  In fact, one of the reasons that I chose the Romantic Danube cruise over The Legendary Danube was because it did stop in Slovakia.

Slovakia was established following the Velvet Revolution which ended the Communist rule in 1989 in Czechoslovakia . The former Czechoslovakia was separated into two different states.  The Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic went their separate ways after January 1, 1993, after an event sometimes called the Velvet Divorce (staying with the “velvet” theme of smooth transitions).  Both countries remain close with one another.  Slovakia has been a member of European Union since 2004.

Slovakia has beautiful landscapes, mountains including the Carpathians, hundreds of caves beneath its mountains, over 175 lakes,  and ski resorts.   Knowing all this has given me reason to revisit this country.

We set sail mid-morning from Vienna, one of our few times that we sailed during daylight time.  We sat up on deck to watch the countryside as well as to watch the entry into Bratislava.  This was the hottest day yet with high humidity – made us long for cooler weather sailings.  We sailed past the New Bridge with its alien looking restaurant at the top.

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The New Bridge with its space ship “alien” inspired restaurant on top

Rather than doing a city tour, Blogger Hubby (who was tired of city tours) and I opted to do an optional excursion called “Slovakian Treats” where we would taste some food as well as having a mini-cooking lesson.  This optional excursion filled up quickly as friends of ours wanted to partake but couldn’t get in.  Unfortunately many of those who signed up did not show up and there were only 5 of us when 12 were expected.

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Our docking location in Bratislava

All the tours left from the dock first and we walked “a short distance” to the Bratislava Sheraton where our cooking lesson would take place.  One of the passengers in our group was a “Gentle Walker” and walking a distance is difficult for her.  To be honest, it was not a short distance – it was about 20-25 minutes walking on the city street amidst construction that we had to walk around.  If you have mobility problems, really question the cruise director as to what type of walking is involved and how long it is.  To her 20-25 minutes was short but when you have mobility problems, that is not short.

We were taken into the restaurant of the Bratislava Sheraton where our chef was waiting for us.  We were served cool drinks after our hot walk and began to feel a little refreshed.  Our first, and only, food we made was a Slovakian version of pierogies called pirohys filled with a sweet jam.  He then demonstrated a soup as well.  It was an okay excursion and the one very redeeming part of this excursion is that we were inside an air conditioned building on this very hot and humid day.  After we had our samples of the pierogies and the soup the class was over.

Eating our pierogies that were filled with jam and sprinkled with poppy seeds
Eating our pierogies that were filled with jam and sprinkled with poppy seeds
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Following along as our chef made a delicious soup for us to enjoy
Our yummy looking soup
Our yummy looking soup

A couple of the people in our class took a taxi back to the dock.  Blogger Hubby and I walked along the river.  After a bit I decided that I didn’t want to explore more though Blogger Hubby did.  If it was cooler, we would have sat along the Danube in one of the cafes but that wasn’t to be today.  When Blogger Hubby did return to the boat about an hour after I did, he realized that he wasn’t feeling well – not at all.  I thought of heat exhaustion as I have had that a couple of times but he wasn’t red in the face.  Turned out he was suffering from dehydration.  He climbed into bed and stayed there throughout dinner and part of the evening till around 10:00 when he felt that he could partake of some of the snacks in the lounge area.  Unfortunately this was the night that we were invited to sit at the Captain’s table at dinner.  Instead I took someone that was in our group and we had a good time and received a memento of a AMA silver napkin ring.  Apparently these are collectables – never knew that!

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Upcoming blog posts – Budapest, an European overnight train experience, Venice, and more of Italy and trains.

Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures of Bratislava:

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Vienna, Austria

Vienna was one of the stops that I was looking forward to visiting. This was another hot and humid day on our cruise and thankfully our tour of the city was during the morning when it was a little cooler.  Blogger Hubby and I went on different tours – I did the regular City Tour while he did the Hidden Vienna Walking Tour for the more active walkers.  I could have done it, really, but I wanted to see the regular tour of the city as it was my first time in Vienna.

Vienna is a grand city with its Ringstrasse and the beautiful buildings all around it.  I liken Vienna’s Ringstrasse to a pearl bracelet around  Vienna where each pearl signifies a different monument or building that makes this city special.  It truly is an Imperial City.

The boat did not dock in Vienna but rather in a city ja short distance away.  We all boarded our buses and began our tour of Vienna and it began driving to the Ringstrasse.  The Ringstrasse dates back to 1858 when Emperor Franz Joseph had the city walls torn down in order to unite the suburbs of Vienna with the city center where the imperial power was located.

The result was a beautiful collection of  buildings built in different architectural styles  that was spread out between the parks and public gardens. In addition to having the State Opera and the City Hall along the Ringstrasse, wealthy citizens bought land along it to build magnificent town homes.  The Ringstrasse became the Austrian version of Paris’ Champs d’Elysees.

We were then dropped off and our tour guide walked us around Vienna, which by the way is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We went by the Hofburg Imperial Palace winter residence of the Habsburg family.

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Next we walked by the famed Spanish Riding School. when I was a young child, my mother took me to Boston Gardens to watch a performance of the famed Lipizzan horses.  I never forgot that experience and here in Vienna at the Spanish Riding School is where they trained.  We “peeked” through to look in the courtyard to see if we could see some horses but none were to be seen.

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the courtyard at the Spanish Riding School
the courtyard at the Spanish Riding School

We found ourselves walking over to the main square, the Stephansplatz where the main Roman Cathlic church in Vienna is located.  This cathedral, like others we have seen on our trip, was in the process of being cleaned – getting all the black soot off the sides of the building.

St. Stephan's Cathedral, Vienna
St. Stephan’s Cathedral, Vienna

One thing that I love when I travel are sweets – I know I shouldn’t but I do love them and always try to eat at least one a day.  Blogger Daughter had told me about a bakery that she went to while in Vienna and suggested that I might want to “stop in”.  While on our tour we went right past Demel’s  established in 1786.  Unfortunately since we were on the tour I did not stop and when I did go back, the shop was extremely busy.  Here are a few photos of Demel’s.  Perhaps if you go to Vienna, you’ll find time to stop and taste their pastries.

Demel's in Vienna
Demel’s in Vienna

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in the display window of Demel's - all handmade
in the display window of Demel’s – all handmade

Friends that went on the cruise with us wanted to have a treat at Aida’s close to the cathedral.  It had been recommended to them by a neighbor of theirs who lifter our tour was concluded, we headed to Aida’s.  I found myself pointing at the glass cases as to which treats I wanted.

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In Aid's hanging sign explaining the different types of coffee
In Aida’s hanging sign explaining the different types of coffeeand I ended up

After these treats, we parted ways and I ended up window shopping as most things that I looked at were very expensive.  I found the Lanz of Salzburg store and it reminded me of the dresses that I had in the early 1990’s that came from this manufacturer.

We were told when and where we could meet the bus to go back to the ship.  The afternoon we had an optional trip to Schonnbraum Palace which our wonderful travel agent had given our group because we had booked with her – a Virtuoso Travel Agent.  Unfortunately, I decided since it was so hot that I needed a partial “sea day” and elected to stay on the ship, get in the whirlpool, take a needed nap and rest up for the rest of the week.  The heat really played a major part in my decision to not go to the palace and in hindsight, I regret it but at the time, it was for me the right thing to do.  We spoke to one couple on our cruise and what they did was just to stay in Vienna, stroll around, stop for coffee and eventually they had a delightful dinner in Vienna.  That sounded wonderful and I have to remember to give myself permission to not always do what the cruise line sets up for us – I can go off and be “independent”.  I will remember this for future trips.

Next post – Bratislavia

Here are some more pictures of Vienna to enjoy:

it really is a curvy building
it really is a curvy building

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Biking through the Wachau Valley from Melk to Krems while on a River Cruise

Written by Blogger Hubby

While Jane was cruising through the Wachau Valley, I was doing something different and what I did became one of the memorable highlights of our cruise for me.  For me it was the bicycle ‘tour’ on the bike path alongside the river between Melk and Krems.  This was an excursion you could not sign up for prior to the cruise.  The staff wanted to see everyone to make sure that all who went on a guided excursion were able to do the tour.  This was one of three organized shore excursion for bicyclist enthusiast aboard the cruise ship.

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At the beginning of the cruise, I was not planning to do the Wachau Valley bicycling trip because I felt I was unprepared for the distance involved. However, I did sign up to bicycle on a shorter tour earlier in the cruise, and I bicycled on my own at a couple of other stops. There was a core bicycling group that formed during the week who encouraged each other. It included a very senior, rather petite woman from England. So when the time came for the Wachau Valley tour, I decided to take the leap. And I’m glad it did because bicycling 36 km along the river was a special trip. I should warn you that the length of the trip and the hilly terrain made it suitable only for experienced riders.   There was one reasonable steep hill to climb where I needed to walk my bike up a portion.

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The ride was memorable because it provided a different perspective of the countryside than seen from the ship. We passed through riverside parks where people were gathered for picnics and fishing, through small hamlets of homes and a few small stores, and through orchards of apricots. There were public toilets at one location and a source for drinking water.

Can you see me biking on the path by the road?
Can you see me biking on the path by the road?

The trip was well organized by the ship. Two crew members who were experienced bicyclists led the trip — one up front and the other at the rear. They carried drinking water and snacks, as well as first aid items and equipment to communicate with the ship. The pace was steady but not fast, and we had a target time to meet the ship. We made three rest stops that I remember. In the end I was tired but happy I had accomplished the feat. One thing that helped me was a desire to keep up with the little old lady from England.

Having bicyclists on our AMAWaterways ship certainly added to our overall experience.  Knowing that some ships had the bicycles was a factor in choosing this cruise line and because of it, it really added to our overall experience.

 

Cruising Through the Wachau Valley, Austria with AMAWaterways

This afternoon on our AMAWaterways Danube River cruise we had the option of staying on the boat as we cruised on the Danube through the scenic Wachau Valley in Austria.  The Wachau Valley is the name given to the 40 km stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems.  The Wachau River Valley is another UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the Cultural Landscape – another check mark on my list of UNESCO sites visited.  The river cuts through the  picturesque narrow, rocky valley between the foothills of the Bohemian Forest and the Dunkelsteiner Waldone and is one of the most beautiful and well known regions in all of Austria.  It reminded me of when we cruised through the Rhine River Gorge years ago on the Rhone River.  So much beauty around the rivers of Europe.

The other option for the afternoon, and Blogger Hubby chose this option, was to bicycle from Melk to Krems on a bicycle path along the banks of the Danube River.  He’ll be writing of his adventures in a separate blog post.

I didn’t feel that I was up for the 36 k bike ride to Krems so I chose to stay on the ship and listen to the narrative of what we were seeing by our Cruise Director Monika.  Another reason was that we were going to have an ice cream social while cruising and I had heard they were having lemon gelato – my favorite.

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Ice Cream social while cruising through the Wachau Valley

As we plied the waters of the Danube we went passed Schonbuhel Castle .  This castle was built in the 12th century on the site of a former Roman fort.  Like other castles and churches, it has undergone repairs and remodeling.  What we were seeing was the remodel from the early 19th century.

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We also cruised passed the ruins of Aggenstein Castle.  Picturesque village dotted some of the landscape and none prettier than Weissenkirchen which means “white church” with over 1200 acres of grape vines growing in the area.  This is a major winemaking area.  They produce some world class Rieslings (my favorite wine) and apricot brandy  (Marilleschnaps).

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The Weissenkirchen in the Wachau Valley

Finally, we passed by the ruins of the Duernstein castle.  This castle, which is linked to the Crusades, was the the castle said to have been the prison of Richard the Lionheart in 1193. The story goes that when Richard was trying to get back home his boat washed up on the rocks of the Adriatic and he tried to sneak through Austria disguised as a peasant.  He was turned him in, arrested and imprisoned by Leopold V, the Babenberg duke ruling the country at that time.  Leopold was seeking revenge since he felt that he had been insulted by Richard in Palestine during the Crusades.     History comes alive for me when I see historical sites such as this castle.  I use my imagination to see the event as it happened in my mind.

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The castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned
beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein
beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein

Finally we docked at Krems.  We boarded our buses to go to Durnstein where, the optional tour I took, was “Apricots and Sweets” which I would not recommend.  We went up a small flight of stairs to a room over a little shop where we sampled numerous apricot product.  It was an unventilated, small room where we sat on a bench against the wall.  It was so hot with no air circulating that  I asked them to turn the fan on that was in the corner of the room.

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“Apricots and Sweets” excursion – not recommended by me. Here we are in a hot, windowless room with no ventilation.

This part of Durnstein is not one that I would recommend for anyone with mobility problems as it is uphill and cobblestoned.  Many older people had difficulty and even if they were in the Gentle Walkers group and traveled there by train, they still had to walk on the cobblestones and go uphill a little.  We were there on the Corpus Christi holiday and spread all over the cobblestone were grasses which made it even more slippery.

the train from the pier that the Gentle Walkers or those who needed assistance took to Durnstein
the train from the pier that the Gentle Walkers or those who needed assistance took to Durnstein
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Corpus Christi Day – you can still see some of the grass that was on the cobblestone. Made for slippery walking.
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Narrow streets with cute shops featuring a number of apricot products as this area has many apricot orchards.

As we walked back to get to the bus, we passed a little boat that was docked waiting for passengers to ferry across the river to Rossatz.  I could not believe that this was an actual ferry.  Look at this picture and tell me what you think.

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Finally a few more pictures that I took while we cruised.  Tomorrow Blogger Hubby’s post about bicycling along the Danube from Melk to Krems.

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sign in Durnstein locating all the castles along this stretch of the Danube River
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
the beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein
the beautiful white and blue church in Durnstein

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Melk, Austria and the Melk Abbey

When we woke up on our recent AMA Waterways River cruise we were in Melk, Austria.  We  had another delicious breakfast sitting at our usual table served by Marius.  This was going to be another busy day for us (you’ll find out why later on) and we needed to start our day off right with a good breakfast and we were not disappointed.

We boarded our buses to visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Melk Abbey.  I was given a color chip to find my guide  but I decided to follow my new rule of having a female guide since they had all, till this point, received great reviews from my fellow passengers.  I hopped over to the Yellow Bus and I was ……right!  She was great.

The Melk Abbey is a Benedictine Abbey on a high bluff overlooking the Danube River in the city of Melk.  The Abbey had been named Best Historical Destination by National Geographic Traveler Magazine in 2008.

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The golden color of the Abbey felt like a warm welcome to us – not an austere gray color that you might imagine.   It really was beautiful outside and we couldn’t wait to go inside and see what that was like.

To begin with, like most things in Europe, the Abbey had been built and destroyed several times.  The Abbey, as we saw it, dated from the 18th century although since 1978 there have been extensive repairs of the Baroque buildings.  The restoration was paid in part by the sale of the Abbey’s Gutenberg Bible to Harvard University.   The Benedictine monks have lived here for over 900 years during all types of political turmoil for Austria.  Additionally, they run a school for about 900 students.

As we walked into the courtyard of the Abbey, our guide told us that she would not escort us in but rather an official Abbey guide would. Ours was great but a little (hmm, perhaps a lot) overly enthusiastic and energetic.  I would rather have that than an indifferent guide.

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Our tour took us through the church, the museum, the library (which is the second most important part of the abbey just behind the church) and the marble hallway.  The library holds over 16,000 very old books, some being about 500 years old.  The ceiling in the library was painted in vibrant frescos, and the bookshelves were what you would expect in a very lavish yet old and distinguished library – all this for the monks who studied and did research there.  Just pass the main library is the smaller library with its spiral staircase.  We were not allowed to take photographs otherwise you would be seeing how beautiful it was.

Here are some more photos from the Abbey:

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view from the Abbey of the city of Melk
view from the Abbey of the city of Melk
some of the gardens of the Abbey
some of the gardens of the Abbey

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I love walking into the churches and cathedrals and marveling at all they were able to do without all the modern machinery and equipment that we have nowadays.  To me it is just awe-inspiring.  Here are a few pictures from inside the Abbey church:

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After we toured the Abbey rather than taking the bus back to our ship, Blogger Hubby and I decided to walk back partly because today was a holiday.  It was the Corpus Christi holiday in Austria.  As we peered over the side of the Abbey and looked down to the town, we saw a small marching band playing and people outside.  We wanted to partake of this holiday however by the time we finished our tour, the band was gone.  However, we did walk through the small town and got to see some of Melk itself.

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Later this day, we would cruise through the Wachau Valley while some more industrious people, Blogger Hubby included, biked the 36 k to Krems.

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Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

As I mentioned in this post, Blogger Hubby and I chose to take the afternoon excursion into Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic) rather than Salzburg or the Austrian Lakes District.  Once again, we felt the need to get out of the cities into something a little more quaint. There were probably about 20 of us on this excursion and that was fine with me. Our tour guide, and I have forgotten her name, was wonderful.  The family stories she shared with us, how she came to visit this area as a young child and her general wealth of information was a welcome change from the other two tour guides we had in Passau and Linz (hint – go for the woman leading the tour, many times the male guides were not that great like in Passau and Linz).

As we were crossing over the Danube in Linz  our bus our tour guide told us how Linz was divided after World War II into the Soviet section, which was north of the Danube and the American section which was south of the Danube.  Linz became a city divided.  All these facts were new to me and that is why I love going on tours like this.

Cesky Krumlov is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.   This area is an example from the Middle Ages of a central European small town dating from the Middle Ages.  This area remained relatively undisturbed for over 5 centuries though it did begin to fall into some decay after World War II and once the restoration was begun, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we got closer to the city we saw the Vltava River meandering by. Families were outside enjoying the beautiful weather, camping, rafting and canoeing.  This was the real scenery we were looking for; everyday life in the Czech Republic.  People are people no matter where they live.  This could have been a scene in the United States.

The Vltara River is the same river that runs through Prague and it surrounds the city of Cesky Krumlov.  The town grew up within a meander of the Vltava river, which provides a natural setting.  It has profited from a relatively peaceful history in that it has retained its entire medieval layout and most of its historic buildings relatively intact. Restoration  has been slight other than some restoration work after World War II.  Once it was completed then it was eligible to become part of UNESCO.

Our tour guide with a map of Cesky Krumlov
Our tour guide with a map of Cesky Krumlov

We toured for about an hour with our guide and then she told us what time we had to meet and where.

part of a wall around Cesky Krumluv
part of a wall around Cesky Krumlov
typical views of the area
typical views – love the quaintness

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The cobblestone streets, the castle with its own “little zoo”, the gingerbread shop, all the jewelry stores selling Czech garnets  and the original and authentic Budweiser beer that is served in the quaint cafes around the town square make this area a fun to visit.  Beginning the last half of the 17th century they were mining for graphite in the Cesky Krumlov area and from what we were told, it is superior graphite.  In fact, there is an artist store that sells all sorts of pencils and has been selling them since 1790.  Of course, we had to stop and buy a few mechanical pencils to bring home as a small memento.

As we walked over one of the bridges in the town, we looked down in the river to see all the large rafts with 4-8 people in them having a great time.  They even have a canoe shoot off to the side where there are rapids.  It’s a great recreational area and it is obvious that people come here to take advantage of the river and the small rapids.

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My favorite shop was the Old Gingerbread shop.  If you are like me, gingerbread denotes cute little gingerbread men and women with a little licorice, beady little eyes and some white frosting on them.  These are nothing like that.  The designs on them are so intricate that they look like lace.  Others were larger rectangular pieces with scenes on them.  I really want to purchase one and bring it home but I had visions of gingerbread crumbles when I reached home almost two weeks after I would have purchased them.  Instead, I will have the photographs to remind me of them.

The Gingerbread Shop that I fell in love with
The Gingerbread Shop that I fell in love with
believe it or not, this is gingerbread
believe it or not, this is gingerbread
Lacey looking gingerbread.  Looks too good to eat.
Lacey looking gingerbread. Looks too good to eat.

The other interesting thing that we saw for the first time here, but not the only time, was the initials C+M+B and then a year (C+M+B 2014) written in chalk over a door frame.  Another way of writing it is 20+C+M+B+14).  (deciphering it is 2014 C+M+B)  What we learned was that this is done to celebrate the Epiphany church season.  The initials are for the Three Wise Men – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  Chalk is distributed at masses and in some areas children receive the blessed chalk and dress up as the Three Magi.  They go to homes to bless them and sometimes collect a little money for a charity.  Here we were told that it is adults who do it and they go around on horseback leaving their chalkmarks.

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We met our group at the appointed time and waked back to our bus.  I think most of us slept on the way back as we had been “toured out” with Linz in the morning and Cesky Krumlov.

Next up – Melk and their magnificent Abbey

Linz, Austria – AMA Waterways Cruise

Sunrise woke us up at around 5:00 AM – yikes that’s even early for Blogger Hubby.  We got up and closed the curtains even more for a little bit more sleep.  We followed the same routine as yesterday with breakfast in the diningroom.  There is an omelet station at the back of the dining room but we found that it took a LOOONG time to get an omelet so we reverted to the menu which was just fine.

This was going to be a busy day for us.  Blogger Hubby had a scheduled Bike Tour of Linz while I went on another city tour.  In the afternoon we chose a tour of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.  Another choice for this day was an All Day Excursion of Salzburg which many people took.  That tour lasted about 9 1/2 hours.  We had just been to Salzburg a few years earlier and didn’t find the need to go back for just a day.  In addition to our afternoon tour of Cesky Krumlov, the two other afternoon choices were a shortened version of Salzburg or going to the Austrian Lakes District (which we had done by car a few years earlier).  We wisely saved a few of our Czech money when we were in Prague knowing that we were going to visit Cesky Krumlov.  I’m getting ahead of myself – let me get back to Linz.

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We docked right in the city center and it was easy getting to the main square using a pedestrian bridge to get over all the traffic on the road.

What I remember most about Linz is the Plague Column in the center of town.  We have been fortunate in our country that we never really had plagues though perhaps the native population may feel differently because of the many diseases that the Europeans brought to the New World when they explored it.  Nevertheless, most of Europe has had to deal with plagues over the centuries and it is estimated that about 25 million people died.  The column, built in a Baroque style, was erected in gratitude by those who had survived a variety of disasters and protection against war, fire and the plague. The Column is located in the centre of the main square (Hauptplatz).

The Plague Column
The Plague Column
close up
close up

We walked by where Mozart, upon visiting Linz with his wife, wrote in 4 days the Symphony No. 36.  To this day that symphony is know as the Linz Symphony.

Bust of Mozart
Bust of Mozart

To me, there was nothing else really remarkable about Linz.  Our guide was so-so (kept telling us how much better Salzburg was) and I ended up leaving the group early and heading over to one of the bakeries in the square to get myself a slice of the Original Linzertorte to bring back to the ship, as if I didn’t get enough to eat there!  Our tour guide mentioned that a number of bakeries claim to be the original in making the Linzertorte but the bakery I went to had a big old sign out front indicating that it was them.

 

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As like the day before, I ended the tour with a lemon gelato that I bought.  I enjoyed every lick as I walked back to the ship.

While I was on my tour, Blogger Hubby did a bike tour of the city.  They actually passed me going back to the ship and it looked like they had a lot of fun.

Next up – Cesky Krumlov, CZ

Here are a few more photos of Linz:

love the detail on the buildings
love the detail on the buildings
This store sold honey
This store sold honey