Category Archives: UNESCO

Lyon – The Gastronomical Capital of France

Our week long river cruise ended in Lyon and one of the things I had read on some travel forums is that many people wished they had more time in Lyon.  We booked and extra two nights in Lyon before heading to Paris.  Lyon was founded by the Romans and was the capital of the Three Gauls.  Lyon is also famous for its silk and the silk workers.  I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a silk scarf from a silkmaker while on the AMADagio who came to explain the silk process to us.

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On our AMAWaterways cruise, those who were continuing on the post cruise with AMA were going into Lyon for a cooking experience.  We asked our cruise director Rachel if we could do it as well and we would be willing to pay for the experience.  She graciously allowed us to join the others.  Unfortunately that morning, I was not feeling well and stayed behind on the ship while Blogger Hubby went with the others in the first of several groups going over.  The group was actually making their lunch to take with them on the train to Paris.  Since he had ridden one of the bicycles that AMA has on their ships for us passengers over to Lyon the day before to locate our hotel, he was happy and surprised to find that he were basically around the corner from our hotel.  He came back to the ship when he had finished the cooking lesson to pick me up.  We eagerly got into a cab that our cruise director had called for us.

Initially we had reservations at the Intercontinental in Lyon but in looking at the map that seemed to be further away from the Old City area where we wanted to be.  With that reservation cancelled I needed to begin looking around again.  Rick Steves to the rescue!  I love his travel books and looked at his recommendation where to stay and double checked with Trip Advisor.  Turned out that the Hotel Artistes was a true gem in terms of location, price and the room was fine, a little small but larger than some of the more expensive rooms that we stayed in on this trip.  I would highly recommend this hotel if any of you are going to be in Lyon.  I couldn’t use points for this hotel stay – the only one of the entire trip but I did earn points by using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card and received 2 times points as it was a travel expense.  We were about a block or so from the Rhone River.

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Breakfast room at the Hotel des Artistes. At night it became our card playing area
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Looking out my window at the Hotel des Artistes and seeing the Rhone River

Why this was exciting was because they had large Farmer Markets there and since we were there on a weekend, it was great.  We chose not to buy the breakfast option at the hotel but instead walked the block to the river and perused all the vendor stalls.  Who could resist a freshly made chocolate croissant – certainly not me.  I’m a fan of soft, pungent cheese and they had so many for us to choose from.  Add a baguette, a sausage and I was in heaven.  We enjoyed strolling past the farmers seeing the bright, vibrant colors of the fruits and vegetables in season.  Fresh fish were also very popular as well as chickens on a rotisserie. So many different options and I wished I could just sit there and eat.  An observation that I made was that the prices in the market seemed much less expensive than our farmer markets that are near me.

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An antique flea market with Notre Dame on the top of the hill.  About a block down is where we got the funicular for the ride to the top.

Before we traveled to Lyon we happened to watch an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Lyon and learned that a specialized restaurant there is called a bouchan.  A bouchan serves traditional Lyonnaise food such as sausages, and duck pate and it is a friendlier restaurant where you can talk and laugh.   Of course, we wanted to follow his advice and going to a bouchon was on our list of things to do.

We were able to walk around Lyon, get our bearings and look for restaurants for that evenings dinner.  We found that THE place to go was Rue Merciere – a street lined with restaurants and bouchans.  So many to choose but having the chalk board outside did help us decide which one to visit.  Many times you have a choice of an 2 courses or three with the third being a dessert.  With more than enough food being served sometimes I would just order the entre and Blogger Hubby would order the two or three course and “share” with me.

Other restaurants that we highly recommended to us by locals was Le Petit Garet on Rue du Garet, Chez Hugon on Rue Pizay, Restaurant Chabert & Fils (in Old Town) and as mentioned before all restaurants on Rue Merciere.  We particularly enjoyed Bouchon Lustre.img_1628

Across the Saone is the funicular to go up to the top to visit Notre Dame Basilica. This basilica is on the World Heritage list and another one that we can check off.   European churches are so grand, at least compared to what I’ve seen in the United States and they are also very similar to each other.  I think this was the last church that Blogger Hubby wanted to visited on our because he said “after a while they all begin to look like each other” and he does have a point.  Nevertheless, we walked behind the church and had a panoramic view of the city of Lyon and the rivers that important to it.p1060529

p1060508We walked down the hill from Notre Dame and  stopped at the Roman amphitheatre.  As it oher European cities that we have been in, there was a professional photographer taking wedding shots of a Korean couple for magazines in Korea.  I am constantly amazed at the archetecture of the ancient civilizations.  What they could accomphlish without the tools that we have now is unbelieveable.

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p1060523For a foodie like me, we enjoyed going to Les Halles, the famed indoor food market.  We were able to sample cheese, wine, sausages, macarons (my favorite).  If you enjoy food, I would recommend that you visit this market.

We didn’t do anything special in Lyon but instead meandered around the streets people watching.  If food is your thing, make sure that if you take a river cruise you spend extra time in Lyon, the gastronomical capital of France!

 

Papal Palace or Pont du Gard – which one to choose?

We had one of our first dilemmas on this trip when we arrived in Avignon as to which excursion we should choose?  We had our choice of The Papal Palace or Pont du Gard – both of which have the designation of World Heritage sites.

Avignon was once an important center of the Catholic Church .  It was so important that the papacy relocated here to Avignon during the 14th century.  Six papal concaves were held here and led to the election of Pope Benedict XII, Clement VI, Innocent VI, Urban V, Gregory XI, and Antipope Benedict XIII.  I am not Catholic and did not know that there was another location other than the Vatican that was home to several popes.  So much history that I could learn but my other choice was…..

Pont du Gard is an aqueduct that’s considered a  masterpiece of Roman engineering.  Having worked in the school system where I lives, we studied the ancient civilizations and of course, Roman was considered one of the foremost ancient civilization.  We taught about the aqueducts but I had never seen one.  What finally helped me decide to choose Pont du Gard was that a friend of mine is a teacher and her students were learning about different structures.  She had asked if I could send back some post cards for her students to see, ask questions about and learn about different structures.

Obviously with that request I knew our decision was made – this is what we visited:

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Verona, Italy, Juliet’s Balcony and Aida

We left Venice on the morning train to travel to Milan for our next four days.  We planned to get off the train in Verona in an attempt to see more of Italy than just Rome, Florence, Naples, Milan and Venice.  Some of the smaller cities interest me because I think that they be more authentic and less touristy.  For these reasons we decided to explore Verona and the fact that it was another UNESCO World Heritage Site added to our desire to explore this city.  The city has been in existence since 1 BC and has flourished for over two thousand years incorporating the old with the new.

We departed our Milan bound train car and walked into the Verona station.  Our first course of action was to find the luggage locker area.  At 5 euros per bag, we shoved as much as we could into our bags, checked the hours of the luggage locker, found out what time the trains to Milan (our destination ) were and then we headed upstairs and out of the train station to find the tourist information counter.

Our train ride from Venice to Verona
Our train ride from Venice to Verona

We really didn’t do any homework about visiting Verona and were traveling somewhat blind.  As we waited for the bus to take us downtown, we were befriended by another American couple that were probably our age.

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We got off when they did and were amazed when we saw a Roman amphitheater similar in appearance to the Roman Coliseum only much smaller.  This was the Arena and it was located by the largest piazza in Verona, Piazza Bra, convenient to the buses and public restrooms.  The Arena is the third largest amphitheater in Italy after Rome’s and Capua’s. The Arena could seat 25,000 spectators in the 44 tiers of seats while they watched gladiator shows.  While we were walking around, we even saw a gladiator ourselves!

A surprise finding this in the Piazza Bra in Verona. We didn't know that they had a Coliseum.
A surprise finding this in the Piazza Bra in Verona. We didn’t know that they had a Coliseum.
Our own gladiator!
Our own gladiator!

What was even more amazing to us were all the huge props outside the Arena. I never expected to see a huge Sphinx or Egyptian soldiers. I couldn’t stop taking photographs as I walked all around the Arena. What I found out is this is where open air operas are performed in the warmer months and they were getting ready to perform Aida about a week later.

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Verona is the scene for three of Shakespeare’s play – Romeo and Juliet, Two Men of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew.  The one thing that I really wanted to see was Juliet’s balcony.  Before you get upset, I know that it is a work of fiction however there is Juliet’s Balcony and a statue of Juliet.  With our map we were able to locate it.  It was very crowded.  I was somewhat upset that many, many people were all over the Juliet statue rubbing their hands on her breasts.  To me they were sexualizing this innocent love story by what they were doing to her and it left me very unhappy.

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You might be able to see the statue of Juliet a little to the right of the center
You might be able to see the statue of Juliet a little to the right of the center
The "famed" Juliet balcony
The “famed” Juliet balcony

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By now it was getting hotter and we were thirsty and hungry.  We headed off to the Piazza Erbe where we refilled our water bottles at the spigots by the fountain.  It was Friday and the market was in full swing.  We were lucky that we found cups of fresh fruit being sold.  Each of us buying a cup of delicious melons, pineapples, and apples quenched our thirst and revitalized us.  I’m sure we weren’t the only tourists at the Piazza but to us it felt more like a neighborhood than a tourist destination.

Piazza Erbe with the white tents of the market area.
Piazza Erbe with the white tents of the market area.

As we walked back to Piazza Bra to catch the bus to go to the train station, we saw the original 3rd century Roman gates in the original city walls.  I am constantly amazed at the age of some of the structures in Europe even though I know logically that Europe is much older, at least in civilizations, that we are.

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If you have an opportunity, explore some of these other Italian cities.

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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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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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

Regensburg, Germany – the Beginning of our AMA Cruise Down the Danube

After our time in Amsterdam, Nuremberg and Prague, it was time to get on with the focus of our trip – our AMA Waterways cruise down the Danube.  We elected to do the “cruise only” portion  but the majority of the passengers chose to do a pre-cruise in Prague with the cruise line. The additional cost for the pre-cruise with AMA Waterways covered transfers from the airport, three nights at the cruise hotel, the Old Town Hilton, a tour of the city and transportation to Vilshofen with a stop and tour in Regensburg where we were to embark on the AMAPrima.

We found out from our travel agent that we could pay for the transportation only with the group to Vilshofen from Prague even though we did not do the pre cruise portion. Since we do have hotel points, and perhaps even if we didn’t, we decided to make our own pre cruise arrangements.  For us, it makes economic sense as well as somewhat of a travel adventure to plan our pre and post cruise.  We are not afraid to research what to see and do as well as public transportation and tours with guides.  However, some people are a little more timid about venturing out on their own or they don’t want to think and plan or make any decisions and have all the details arranged for them – then this is ideal.  There is no right or wrong but rather what works for you and for many this works well for them.

The bus trip included a walking tour of Regensburg on our way to Vilshofen, another small city and a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its medieval city center.  Off we went on our buses for a few hours bus ride which included a stop at a McDonald Cafe and before you knew it, we were in Regensburg.

We met our tour guide at the area where the buses parked, across the river from the city area.  She walked us across the Old Stone Bridge, built in the 12th century and the one that the Crusaders used to get to the Holy Land.  While we were there the bridge was under construction having some needed repairs made.  The city’s architecture includes ancient Roman, Romanesque, and Gothic buildings. Regensburg’s 11th to 13th century architecture still defines the character of the town marked by tall buildings, dark and narrow lanes, and strong fortifications. The buildings include medieval Patrician houses and towers, a large number of churches as well as the 12th century Stone Bridge that I previously mentioned.

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The cathedral in Regensburg, Dom St. Peter, is a massive cathedral with twin spires that can be seen all over the city.  It was built in the 12th century in the Gothic style, though like many other historic churches and buildings, it had a Baroque “facelift” in the 16th century and then later in the 19th century reverted back to Gothic.  This cathedral, like many that we saw in cities, have been undergoing a cleaning, getting rid of the black soot that is on the outside walls.  The church, in 2009, finally received its organ, a massive free hanging organ.  The 5,871 pipes in this organ is able to fill the space in the church with its beautiful sound.  If you are in Regensburg on a Sunday, you can go to church service and listen to this mighty organ.

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After we had our tour we were free to have lunch on our own and we knew exactly where we wanted to eat.  The oldest continually operated sausage restaurant in the world is in Regensburg.  Workers building the 12th century Old Stone Bridge needed a place to eat and thus, the Sausage Kitchen was born.  The speciality of the  kitchen is the thin, long fried sausages served with rolls made with caraway seeds, home-made sauerkraut and mustard.  I’m not normally one that enjoys sausages or sauerkraut but I’ll ell you that I ate it all up.  We sat outside on picnic benches but you also have the option of easting inside the restaurant.  The restaurant is next to the Old Stone Bridge and on the Danube River.  Can’t beat that scenery.

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After a little more “looking” around, we boarded our buses again for Vilshofen and the AMA Prima – our home for the next week.

Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora aka The Bone Church, Czech Republic

I’ll be up front and honest, when I told friends where I was going they were terribly aghast.  I was going to a church (really, it’s a chapel) filled with bones.  Sometimes, I tell myself, there is beauty in something macabre and I wonder if I would find it so in this church.

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Let me give you a little history of how all this came to be.  As we learned yesterday in the post of Kutna Hora, this area became wealthy during the 1300’s because of the silver mines that was used to make the coinage in Europe.  This area was a favorite of several kings of Bohemia and because it was the city competed with Prague as a cultural and economic center till about the 16th century when the Hapsburgs took over the region and the city became to fall apart.  Due to flooding the mines were abandoned, the Hussite Wars raged through the area and the Black Plague took many lives.  With all these events there were many dead bodies they needed to be buried.

In 1278 Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec was sent to the Holy Land by King Otaker II of Bohemia on a diplomatic mission. On his return Henry took with him a handful of earth from Golgotha which he sprinkled over the cemetery of the Sedlec monastery. Word spread about what he did and the cemetery became famous throughout Central Europe. Many wealthy people desired to be buried here because of the connection to Jesus.  The church was built on a cemetery many bodies were dug up in order to build

In 1278, Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Holy Land by King Otaker II of Bohemia. Henry took with him a handful of earth from Golgotha which he sprinkled over the cemetery of the Sedlec monastery.  Word spread about what he did and the cemetery became famous throughout Central Europe.  Many wealthy people desired to be buried here because of the connection to Jesus.

Around 1400 one of the abbots had the All -Saints church built in the Gothic style in the middle of the cemetery. Underneath it a chapel was built and it was for the bones from the graves that were dug up to build the church.  Legend has it that in 1511 a half-blind priest was tasked with stacking all those bones, allegedly of 40,000 people, in the basement Ossuary.

In the late 18th century,  the Schwarzenberg family hired Frantisek Rint, a woodcarver,  to put the bone heaps into some type of order.  In each of the four corners of the Ossuary there are large numbers of bones are stacked in pyramid shaped towers.

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The left side of the nave is the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family made up entirely of human bones.  It is interesting to note that in the lower right hand corner of the coat of arms is a crow eating the eyeball of the skull.

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The large chandelier is supposedly made of every bone in the human body.

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If you visit here, look for the signature of Frantisek Rint written entirely of bones.

There is a small charge to go down into the basement of the Ossuary where the bones are.  When you have seen all that you can see, walk around the cemetery. After we were finished our driver picked us up and back to Prague we traveled, a little less talkative than we were heading out to Kutna Hora.

If you decide to go there by train you’ll need to go to the main train station in Prague and catch one of the trains leaving every two hours in the morning and afternoon for Kutna Hora mestro as that ticket will include the local train ticket.  At 3:00 PM they leave every hour.  You’ll arrive at the main train station in Kutna Hora but it is not within walking distance from the city center so you’ll need to transfer to a local train which leaves about 5 minutes after the train from Prague arrives.  If you should miss the connecting train, there is also a local bus (no 1 and no. 7) that will take you into town where you can walk to St. Barbara’s Church.  Another option is to take the private 8-passenger minivan (Tourist Bus) which runs between the Kutná Hora train station, Sedlec Ossuary and Church of St. Barbara in town.  You can always see if one is waiting at the station when you arrive. It leaves as soon as at least three people get on.  Check what the price is and you may find that it meets your needs.  If you are going to the Ossuary first both the local train and bus (and the minivan) pass through the Sedlec suburb, so you can get off there (1st stop by train, 2nd stop by bus) and visit the Ossuary.  There is also a direct bus leaves the Praha-Háje bus stop (metro line C, station Háje) every hour throughout the day and the trip takes 1 hour 40 minutes.

Here is a video that you might be interested in showing the Ossuary and bone church.

A few more pictures from the bone church

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one of the grave stones from the cemetery.  Milan told us it was a pilot
one of the grave stones from the cemetery. Milan told us it was a pilot

Kutna Hora and St. Barbara’s Church outside of Prague, Czech Republic

After a few days of walking the streets of Prague, we felt like we needed to get out into the countryside and away from the hustle and bustle of city life.  Knowing that we would feel this way, I had arranged to have a private guide and driver take Blogger Hubby and myself as well as four other people in our group out to Kutna Hora and the Sedlec Ossuary.

We booked with Personal Prague Guide and after a number of emails, I firmed up our itinerary.  I also received a picture of our tour guide, Milan,  which was handy in meeting him in our hotel lobby as well as his biography.  I’m grateful that his biography accompanied his photo because it eased my mind that he was indeed a licensed tour guide and his interests were varied and very interesting.  Being a “senior” like us, he fit in just fine.  Here is his bio and tell me what you think of him:

Milan is a licensed tour guide of the Czech Republic and Prague. He has worked as a tour guide for 15 years for several local companies, so he can speak English very well (and also German, French, Italian). He is very informative guide with a human approach and a great sense of humor. He can bring the history alive and let you understand the fears and the dreams of local people.   He was an active member of the anti-communist Velvet Revolution 1989, so his stories definitely cross the borders of the guidebooks!  Milan is the co-founder of our company, and by the way my – Sarka`s – father (and a big tutor!). We have a very similar guide style. In a joke we always used to say “he’s as smart as a radio” 🙂 As he is getting older, he sometimes talks longer – mentioning all the details and context. But he also gives a lot of tour time for free to his clients … so you do not pay for his “talkative moments” 🙂   He is very entertaining – a local character! Do not be surprised if he plays the songs of the Velvet Revolution on his flute during the tour.  His hobbies are numerous: sightseeing, history, traveling, diving – Ceylon, catamaran boat in Croatia, languages, bio-farming …

Our tour guide Milan
Our tour guide Milan

The cost, for May 2015, was 6100 CZK which worked out to be $45 per person for our group of 6 plus entrance fees of places that required them. This was much less expensive than the tour guide that our local travel agent suggested which was 100 Euros per person.  Our tour was to last 6-7 hours and if it went beyond that, then there would be an additional charge.  We didn’t think that would be necessary and that 6-7 hours would be more than sufficient.  We had only planned to go to St. Barbara’s Church and the Sedlec Ossuary (known as the bone church). Both St. Barbara’s Church and the Ossuary, in Kutna Hora, are on the UNESCO World Heritage site.  As we are traveling more, we are drawn to sites that are listed as UNESCO sites.  Trivia question – what is the abbreviation UNESCO stand for?  Answer at the bottom of the blog.

It took about an hour to drive from Prague to Kutna Hora.  Milan was able to talk to us while the driver was negotiating the traffic and roads and tell us about the history and importance of Kutna Hora.  Kutna Hora was a silver mining town and a very prosperous one.  In fact, most of Europe’s silver coins came from the silver that was mined here. and the wealth it brought to the mine owners.

Because of the mines,  Kutna Hora became one of  most important cities in Bohemia and  was also one of the richest cities in Bohemia.  The Church of St. Barbara  was founded by Kutná Hora’s rich mine owners in 1388.  It became the second most important city in Bohemia during medieval times. You can go down into the silver mines if you make an appointment in advance but be forewarned, I’m told it is very narrow using the original narrow corridors and is 50 meters underground.

The Cathedral of St. Barbara is one of the most famous buildings in all of central Europe.   It was built in the Gothic style and later, as the building process continued for over 500 years, Baroque began to take over.  St. Barbara, as we learned from Milan, was the patron saint of miners which is important to note as this area received most of its wealth from the silver mines.  St. Barbara’s is the most spectacular gothic cathedral in the Czech Republic. It’s difficult to appreciate the cathedral from close up as there is so much to see, and almost impossible to capture it in a photograph though I did try. The intricacy of the flying buttresses, the unique tent-like sailing spires, and the marvelous cliff-top setting just made this church absolutely beautiful inside and out.

St. Barbara's Church
St. Barbara’s Church, front entrance
Blogger Hubby and me outside of St. Barbara's Church
Blogger Hubby and me outside of St. Barbara’s Church
St. Barbara's Church on the highest hill in the area overlooking vineyards
St. Barbara’s Church on the highest hill in the area overlooking vineyards

Milan also showed us some of the markings on the pillars in the church. Each straight line represented work that the stone carver did on the pillar and this is how they were paid.  Sort of a medieval bookkeeping system.  If you go to this church see if you can find some of these markings on the pillars.  They look like this:

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The church itself is very beautiful.  We walked in and immediately our eyes were drawn upward to the “ribs” on the ceiling.  To think about how they constructed this building without all the modern machinery that we have now is mind bogging.  The stain glass windows, the mosaics and when you looked up, you saw coats of arms from many of the miners.  I wished I had thought to bring binoculars to view the details in the ceiling.

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The church also had a statue of a miner who represented all miners in the town.  Miners would come and pray to St. Barbara at her church and they would also pray to her while underground particularly during the cave-ins.

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After viewing the church we left and walked down a wide cobblestone pathway that was lined with statues that lead us to the center of town.  To the left of the pathway was a Jesuit college and to the right was a beautiful vista of vineyards and gardens.

cobblestone pathway to town lined with statues overlooking vineyards
cobblestone pathway to town lined with statues overlooking vineyards

As we were walking to town, about a ten minute walk, Milan explained and showed us what a real cornerstone was.  Apparently homes had place outside of their homes so that horse drawn carriages would not run into the homes and destroy them.

cornerstone in Kutna Hora
cornerstone in Kutna Hora

Once in the town, Milan took us to one of his favorite restaurants where we ate in the back gardens – a very relaxing luncheon.  We tried to pay for his lunch but he would not hear of it.  Apparently he tells his guides not to accept anything other than the fee for the tour and tips.   He did buy a glass of the special liquor that the Czechs drink in order for us to have a taste.

Trivia Answer: UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Our next stop – the Bone Church otherwise known as the Sedlec Ossuary.  Wait till you see the pictures I have of that!  Meanwhile, here are a few more pictures of St. Barbara’s and Kutna Hora

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Our Arrival in Prague and What We Did – Part 1

We arrived in Prague by bus from Nuremberg around 7 PM and was driven to our hotel, the Intercontinental right on the waterfront, by the driver that I had arranged prior to our visit through the hotel.

The hotel has the appearance of a Soviet era building, very unattractive and sterile on the outside but was very modern on the inside.  As we were being checked in we were told that we had been upgraded to a Junior Executive Suite since I was Platinum Elite.  No, I don’t stay in hotels very often but having the IHG credit card gives me automatic platinum status.  Our room was very nice and large, especially by European standards.

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We dropped off our luggage and headed out to follow our driver’s recommendation of where we should have our dinner.  We went to VKolkovne which seemed to be a gathering place for after work drinks and dinner for residents of Prague.  Our hotel was unable to make reservations for us but we decided to walk over and see if we could get seated which we did with no wait!  Food was delicious and the beer was even better.  I became a beer drinker on this trip when I quickly realized that beer was less expensive than wine and even water!

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After dinner we went exploring.  We walked over to Old Town Square. The historic center of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of many that I was sure that we would visit during this trip.  Many people  where many people were waiting in the dark for the Prague Astronomical Clock to strike on the hour.  This clock was installed on a wall on the Old Town City Hall in 1410.  When the clock strikes on the hour there is a Walk of the Apostles showing the figures of the Apostles and other figures including Death.  Once all the figures came out, the crowd around it seemed to disburse though the square remained lively.

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Food vendors were around the square with an array of food included a version of fried dough slathered with garlic butter and topped with a generous amount of shredded cheese.  My other favorite street food was chimney stacks which is like having dough wrapped in strips around a metal cylinder and then cooked over coals.  It is topped with cinnamon sugar and you can peel off the strips one layer at a time.

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For our first full morning we headed over to Old Town Hall Square to take a Free Walking Tour.  They seem to all advertise themselves by holding up an umbrella – different colors for different tour companies.  There are several companies that do this and you need to find the one that you are comfortable with.  My recommendation is to talk to the person who is actually going to be doing your tour.  Blogger Hubby found that some guides had a heavier accent than others did and he wanted a guide that he could have an easier time hearing and understanding.  We found a tour guide holding a Green Umbrella and he was from Seattle, Washington.  We determined that he was the “perfect” guide for us.  We were very happy with our decision, the amount of information he passed on to us and our entire tour.  It was shorter than some of the other umbrella companies but that is only because we took a shorter break than others did. If you look at his umbrella it shows the countries where English is the primary language.

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We needed to get back to our hotel by 1:30 since we had booked a Czech cooking lesson for the afternoon and evening in our hostess’ home.  My next blog will tell you all about our experience.

Fun Fact:  Many South Korean bridal catalogs shoot their photographs for the catalogs in Prague.  We saw many “fake” weddings in the square and in front of the astronomical clock.  Who knew!

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A few more pictures from Prague featuring some of their more beautiful buildings:

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