Thursday, May 27, 2010

Vienna and A Memorable Evening - Part III

Vienna &
A Memorable Evening

I find it very hard to even write about Vienna because the city seemed to impress me at every turn. According to a guide book, Vienna is known for its coffee and croissants. These two things and much of the architecture of Vienna speak of the Turkish influence. The Turks also brought tulip and hyacinth bulbs and lilac bushes to Vienna. Vienna is at its most beautiful in May. We were there during the waning days of April.

Everywhere in Vienna, one finds evidence of baroque architecture and design. Empress Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette and 15 others, built Schonbrunn Palace soon after she established Vienna as the of capital of the Austrian kingdom.
She had a great love for baroque design and Mozart. Her influence is seen everywhere. In the photo below, I am pointing to one mom I really have to admire: Maria Theresa, otherwise known as "Europe's mother-in-law." One of her sons-in-law didn't end up doing so well. I guess that is a lesson in why we shouldn't arrange marriages for our children.

I could not even begin to capture through photography the beauty and uniqueness of Vienna. Schonbrunn Palace is as splendid as anything in Europe. We took a carriage ride through the gardens during which I nearly went crazy from the beauty of spring that was budding all around me. When I discovered I couldn't do the sights around me justice, I just put the camera away and enjoyed the beauty . I have included a photo of Schonbrunn Palace.

It was in Vienna where we went to the Museum of Fine Arts and saw a large collection of the Dutch masters. On our way as we walked to the museum, we passed a statue honoring Goethe.
Once, when I working on my English degree and was reading Goethe, I asked Jim if he had ever read anything by written by the German author. "Yes, in German," my husband replied. I found new respect for him with that statement! It
turns out that he read "Faust" in German in college. Jim loved seeing this statue honoring
this famous German author.

It seems that everywhere you look in Vienna you see something made of marzipan. The cakes in this photo are all made entirely out of marzipan.
Speaking of marzipan, before we left for our trip, Jim's niece told us about Mozart balls. "You can't go to Vienna and not eat a Mozart ball," she said. So, of course, that is one of the first things we bought. These delicious little chocolate balls are made of several layers of different flavors of chocolate surrounding a center of marzipan.

An Evening of Music at Kursalon

Before we went on our trip, Jim asked me if I would be interested in attending a chamber music concert while we were in Vienna. Of course, I was interested. One simply can't go to Vienna, the world music capital, and not attend a concert. On Saturday evening, April 24th, we were able to have a very memorable evening listening to musicians play music by Mozart, Strauss and others at the beautiful Kursalon.

Not feeling well when I got to the concert hall, I made my way down two flights of narrow stairs to the restroom and then back up again . Dying for a glass of water "without gas," I asked the bartender if he might be able to give me a glass of water before I went into the concert hall. Jim and all of our friends were already seated and waiting for the event to begin. Graciously, the bartender gave me a glass of cold water and would not accept any money for it. He invited me to step outside to the terrace for some fresh air to drink the water.

If you look at the link I put in this post for the Kursalon, you will see many beautiful statues of Greek gods on top of this building. It is behind and just below these statues where this terrace was located. I stepped out for the welcomed cool air and walked over to the edge of the terrace where I had a view of the moon. From my vantage spot, I could gaze out at the new spring foliage on the trees and down to the drive below that was filled with concert goers in evening dress. The experience was magical. "Just think," I thought to myself. "Here I am, the only person on this beautiful terrace drinking in the beauty of the spring evening as I look forward to listening to chamber music being played in Vienna, Austria." Refreshed, I stepped into the concert hall and let myself be carried away with the music. The power of the music allowed me to fully live in the moment. Forgetting my worries, my tiredness and other bodily discomforts, under the beautiful chandeliers, seated in the front row on a side section, with my wonderful husband at my side, I was one with the musical beauty of Vienna.

Later, I learned that Kursalon means "a spa or a cure." At one time people came her to drink the curative water and listen to the music. It certainly worked for me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Grand Tour: Great Rivers of Europe Part II

About in 2007, just before my husband's retirement party, I went to the mall to look for a spring jacket. Retirement was on my mind. How would we fill up the time? Would we ever travel? If we could take just one big trip, where would we go?

The sales clerk who helped my pick out my new jacket sang its praises. She said she had worn the same style jacket every day on her recent trip to Europe. That is when I first heard of Grand Circle Travel and their tour called: Great Rivers of Europe.

Jim, who doesn't really like to travel and hates to fly, began to research taking a European trip. We asked ourselves many questions. Where shall we go? What will our mode of travel be? Will we join a touring group? How much do we want to spend? When can we go?

Finally, it was decided that Germany had to be a destination. After all, Germany is the homeland of Jim's family. German was Jim's primary home language as a child, his major in college, and the subject matter that he once taught. After deciding on the destination, we then selected the river trip tour offered through Grand Circle Travel.

Getting There and Back Again

Once on a trip to Las Vegas, my husband turned to me mid-flight and said, "Sally, I have to get off this plane." The look in his eyes told me he meant it. Somehow, I was able to convince him that he could survive the stress of that particular flight. When it came to flying to Europe, I was more than a little anxious about how we both would handle the flight. Whenever, we talked about going overseas, my husband would say he was driving over. Since this was not really an option, and since he really wanted to get to Europe, we were fortunate to be able to fly with Lufthansa on our first trip overseas together. The flight accommodations, flight crew, and meals could not have been better. Yes, while it is unheard of in today's flying experience, we had two wonderful meals provided for us while on board the flight.

We did feel cramped when it came to leg room. On our flight home, being the more seasoned travelers that we had become, we purchased economy plus status for 100 Euro each. This upgrade gave us very generous leg room on our United flight from Paris to Dulles to Denver. Both of us still consider the upgrade one of the best purchases we made on the trip. The additional room was worth every penny. At our ages, and after Jim's two knee replacements and hip replacement, he just can't sit in a cramped position for very long, and neither can I!

We decided that we would try to get the most bang for our travel dollars that we could by taking both the optional five-day pre-trip extension to Vienna, Austria, and the six-day post-trip to Brussels, Belgium and Paris, France. This meant that we would be gone for 25 days. More than once prior to the trip, during the trip, and after the trip, I questioned our sanity at making such a choice. That is a very long time to be gone from home, especially for my homebody husband. Surprisingly, he handled the flight, and the length of the time we gone better than I. In the end, we are happy we did the "whole enchilada."

A quick overview of the trip:

Vienna, Austria - April 21, 2010 - April 26, 2010

A bit dazzled and dazed by the long flight, the short layover in Frankfurt, and the cab drive to the hotel, we were amazed to actually find ourselves in Vienna, Austria. Our program director, Miriam, met us at the hotel and took us on a brief walk around the area near the hotel in order to familiarize us our surroundings. Within the hour, we were expected at a Welcome Drink Event where met the others who would be in our group of fellow travelers for the next 18 days.

Vienna is a wonderful city that lives up to its reputation of being a place of charm and beauty. We loved our time there. Beginning with a city tour, we visited such places as: the 'real' Belvedere, The Museum of Fine Arts, and Schonbrunn Palace.

Two of the highlights of our time in Vienna included evenings when we paid a visit to the wine district of Grinzing, and to the beautiful Kursalon where we listened to an orchestra playing the classical music that one associates with Vienna. Probably, the most unexpected delight and surprise of the entire trip was our visit to Bratislavia, Slovakia.

Cruising the Danube, the Main, and the Rhine

On April 26, we boarded the M/S River Adagio in Vienna, Austria to begin our tour of Germany via the Danube, the Main, and the Rhine. This was our first time aboard a ship of this size. We really didn't know what to expect from our accommodations, but found the size of the room, the quality of beds, the size of bathroom, and storage space was perfect for us. We liked being with a smaller group than you find on a large cruise ship. We found the social gathering areas to be comfortable and welcoming. The meals were fantastic. Just think, I was able to enjoy three wonderful meals a day for two weeks without shopping, cooking or cleaning up the kitchen.

Once onboard, we did encounter problems that could not have been foreseen. On April 29th, while in Regensburg, Germany, we learned that one of the major locks of the more than 60 locks that we would encounter on the trip was malfunctioning. We were told that it would be at least until May 1st before we could leave Regensburg and proceed on our way.

Much speculation, worry and doubt began to be expressed by our fellow travelers. Would we be able to actually make all of our scheduled stops? What if the lock was not repaired for days? Would we leave our ship and be driven through Germany on a bus? Would we be given our money back and sent home? What would become of our long dreamed of tour?
Fortunately, the trip was saved because the lock was repaired and we began on our way again.
Unbelievably, the same thing happened again a few days later. These problems and delays caused some adjustments to our travel, but we were able to complete the trip on-time and as planned. We were very impressed by the way the staff and the company handled a very difficult situation. According to all sources, this problem with the locks has never happened to any of tours before.

Our cruise began on April 27, 2010, in Vienna and ended on May 9, 2010, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In the 14 days that we were on board the River Adagio, we visited the following cities and towns:
  • Melk, Austria
  • Passau, Germany
  • Regensburg, Germany
  • Nuremberg, Germany
  • Bamberg, Germany
  • Wurzburg, Germany
  • Rothenburg, Germany
  • Wertheim, Germany
  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • Mainz, Germany
  • Koblenz, Germany
  • Cologne, Germany
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We made many new friends, took many photos, ate a lot of wonderful food, and stored up memories that we will forever treasure.

As our new friends departed from our ship and our lives on May 10, 2010, Jim and I felt many conflicted emotions. We were so sad to see our new friends leave. We were tired and a bit envious of those who were returning home. The only couple who did both the pre and post trip, we had to adjust to and get to know a new program director and a new group of fellow travelers. We couldn't decide if we were sorry or excited about traveling on to Brussels and Paris.

It was with these ambivalent feelings that we disembarked from our familiar surroundings and boarded a bus on its way to Brussels, Belgium where we would stay for two days before boarding another bus to take us to Paris, France for two more days.

By the time we got to Delft for a late cup of coffee and pastry after touring a porcelain factory, and then on to Antwerp for lunch, we were back in our groove and happy to be touring again. As news of delayed flights because of volcanic ash began to be sent to us via our BlackBerry emails capabilities, we were even more convinced that we not only had it in us to keep out the touring, but we were also happy that we had decided to do so.

In future posts, I hope to share a few stories, insights, photos and memories that we picked up in our travels.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Time Between The Brackets

Jim and Sally's Trip to Europe
Part I

Closely bracketed by days when travel to Europe was either interrupted or not allowed, our departure and arrival flying dates gave us perfect flying weather. It was almost as if the dark cloud that had covered much of Northern Europe lifted at just the right time; thus, we were able to fly from Denver to Frankfurt, and then on to Vienna, on Wednesday, April 21, 2010, with absolutely no problems or interruptions. For nearly three weeks, we did not even think about Eyjafjallajokull. Why should we? Instead, we focused on enjoying our long dreamed of and planned for adventure in Europe. Around May 9th, just as many from our traveling group were planning on returning to the US, we again began to turn our thoughts the skies. Would they be friendly? Would we find a clear path home?

Through email, we began to hear that our friends who were scheduled to depart from Amsterdam on the 10th of May had not been able to fly out as planned. Some were delayed enough to have missed connecting flights. We were upset for them, but grateful that we still had a few more days of travel ahead of us and were not scheduled to fly home until noon on May 15 from Paris.

Again, on the date of our departure, the skies opened up, consequently, allowing us to fly smoothly, and on time from Paris to Dulles and then on to Denver. In my mind, I see our travel dates as days safely ensconced between two brackets of dates typified by dark clouds of menacing ash. Those brackets were dark days, but just inside of the brackets, those days were clear and safe for travel.

I promise I will not bore you all with long details of our trips that are accompanied by many pictures. I do hope to share some of the insights that we gained and new experiences that we found interesting as we left our comfort zone of living a quiet life of retirement and ventured out to cross the Atlantic Ocean to explore six countries of Europe in a time span of 25 days.

Our trip directors shared a great quote with us: "Life is like a book. If you don't travel, you only read the first page." We certainly found that to be true. While my insights and observations may be different from those experienced by others, I hope to at least capture some of my treasured times by writing about them in this blog.

Helen Hunt Jackson wrote about her adventures in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after she moved there in 1876 from Massachusetts. In one of her essays, A Colorado Week, she recounted the splendor and the awe inspiring journey of making her way with a group of people from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Leadville, Colorado. The first day had been quite scary as the horse drawn wagon scaled its way over steep, rocky mountains long before roads had been created to make the journey less treacherous. The difficulty of the journey did not stop the visitors from noticing and commenting on the trees, the flowers, the grasses and the wonders of the various mountains that surrounding them.

Jack, the touch old driver who had once been a stage driver in Mexico said, " There's great difference in folks noticin' things." When asked to explain, he said, "I was a-thinking of the two people I drove up here day before yesterday. I never heard 'em say one word from first to last about the thin' they see' an they wanted to turn right an' come straight down 's soon 's they got up. I don't know what such folk's them takes the trouble to travel round for. I s'pose it's just for the name on't--to say they've done it."

Hopefully, we never become such travelers. We tried to see and do as much as we could. Stay tuned, I hope to share a few stories in later posts.