I’m Back!!!

It’s only been three days since I last posted but it seems much longer than that. I feel as though I have been sucked into a back hole but am now having the impossible good fortune of emerging out the other side.  Horrible cold, coughing, sneezing, blowing.  I’d say “you get the picture” but I hope you don’t; it isn’t a pretty one.  And enough about health except to say that we have turned a corner.

So, let’s recap the last few day’s events:

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Getting to know your rental car’s tools.

After our flight from hell, well, actually from Vienna but you know what I mean, we collapsed in our Fiumicino hotel room and didn’t see the light of day until Friday morning, December 15, when we rendezvoused with Joan for breakfast.

She’d had a wonderful week in Rome, soaking in the sights for the first time.  She was in radiant good health.  Okay, I know I said enough about health but this is an important piece of information to fully understand what a very good friend Joan is.  Instead of turning her napkin into a face mask the moment she saw and heard us, she acting as if nothing were the matter.

Michael and I walked to the car rental office in the terminal and got our car for the next two weeks: an Audi of some sort.  Very nice, an upgrade in fact.  Drove the block  to the hotel and began to shoehorn all of our luggage in, which we did accomplish. Out onto the highway and headed northeast to Narni.  It wasn’t a particularly nice day; we had lots of rain but it was Italian rain and that made all the difference.

We arrived in Narni mid day.  Michael, full of confidence from having done this several times in the past, drove right up into the heart of the historic center in order to wend his way through the labyrinthine alley ways of that part of town.  The object being to get the car right outside the door to our building.

He made only one very small miscalculation and turned one tiny street too soon. This would not have turned into a BIG problem but for the fact that the front passenger side tire hit a marble protuberance on the corner of a building on the corner of the street.  The protuberance was only about eight inches tall and wide, which is why he didn’t see it, but he had the great bad fortune of hitting it just right causing the tire to lose its seating on the wheel.  Instant flat tire.

Of course, he didn’t notice the flat tire until he had backed down the 100 feet to our front door.  For those of you who have been to Narni, you know that the street I’m talking about is barely one car wide and fairly steep.  It was pouring rain.  We off loaded our gear and then Michael, good man that he is, went back to the car to try to figure out what to do.

He drove it back up the 100 feet to the junction of the tire eating alley and our alley and found an almost level place to park the car in a tiny piazza.  After puzzling over the tools in the photo above, he shook his head and came back to the apartment.  He managed to get ahold of the English roadside help line for Hertz and within a couple of hours a guy in a GREAT BIG tow truck showed up.* At that point, several old guys from the surrounding buildings came out.  After all, this was more excitement on Via dell’Asilo than they’d had in years.

The mechanic person had the tire off and the donut replacement tire back on in no time.  I feel certain the the local old guys wished it had been something a bit more interesting.

The sad part for us was that we couldn’t just have the other tire repaired and put back on the car.  It turns out that a flat tire requires replacing the car!  And that meant we had to drive to Orvieto on Saturday to pick one up.  We now have an Opel station wagon; no problem with baggage stowing with this vehicle  but I doubt if Michael is going to want to drive it up to the building when it’s time for us to leave.

*He, too, smashed into the marble protuberance but did not mangle his tire.

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Donut

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The Worst Flight Ever?

No photos to accompany this post.  If I had one, it would be of Michael wedged into an airplane seat with his right hand clamped on my left thigh, his head bowed and his lips muttering not prayers but words of terror.  But before we get to that let’s back up a bit.

When I planned this trip, I had to book the flight from Vienna to Rome separately from the rest of our flights because the time between segments was too long to book them as a continuation.  I chose Austrian Airways because they had a great flight that would have us leaving Vienna at 11 a.m. and arriving in Rome at 12:30 p.m.  I booked with a real live Austrian Airways representative on the telephone.  I even booked “extra legroom” seats; numbers 9C and D.

The trouble with booking too far ahead, however, is that flight schedules change and that is precisely what happened to us.  Months agon, I received an email telling me that my lovely 11 a.m. flight had been cancelled and that we had been rebooked onto a 6 a.m. flight.  Well, 6 a.m. was impossible. It meant that we would get no sleep the night before.  So, I called the nice Austrian Airlines number and spoke to someone about the change.  I was told that the rules of carriage allowed them to change the time of a flight up to 5 hours in either direction without incurring any responsibility to let me change to a different flight without having to pay a change fee.

Because we HAD to change the flight, I asked what the change fee was; it was more than just booking another flight.  That’s what I did.  With the help of the gentleman on the phone, I booked a 7 p.m. flight out of Vienna.  Of course, my extra legroom seats got lost somewhere along the line.

I tried unsuccessfully to check in 24-hours in advance of our flight.  When we got to the airport, I tried unsuccessfully to check in using the handy kiosks provided.  I attached myself to an Austrian Airways representative and told him my difficulties.  He tried to check us in using his big check in computer behind the counter; he was unsuccessful.  He tried again; he was unsuccessful again.  He kept shaking his head and looking at us sorrowfully.  Finally, after looking at something else on his computer, he looked up and said, “I see the problem, you are booked on a charter.”  What that meant was that the flight was not operated by Austrian Airways but by some company called Eurowings.

We finally did get checked in but our seats were numbers 30A and B.  The plane only had 31 rows.  As we boarded, we noticed that the first 15 or so rows were “extra legroom” meaning a person could actually sit in the seats without having his or her knees  smashed against the seat in front of them.  Then we got into the “regular” seating. OMG!!!  It was insanely cramped.  Michael was folded up like a piece of badly done origami.  With my stumpy legs, I had enough legroom but no shoulder room.  I hunched my shoulders together for the entire flight.  Before we took off, the flight attendants made their way down the aisle to insure that all carry on baggage  had been properly stowed below the seat in front of you.  What a joke!  You couldn’t even see the floor.  However, lack of legroom was the least of our worries.

Once we were airborne, our plane was banged all over the sky.  Turns out that flying over the alps often entails turbulence.  We had plenty of it and that is when Michael gave me the hand shaped bruise on my thigh.  The poor guy was terrified and miserable and sweating bullets for about the first 25 minutes of the flight.  Awful.  Now we know why we don’t fly budget airlines or even coach if we can avoid it.

With all the drama of the flight, we did make it safely to Rome and are now sitting in our lovely apartment in Narni.  We’ve had a tiny bit more drama today in our rental car but I will save that for another entry.

 

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Goodbye Uniworld

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Virginia, Renate and Claire

Our last night on the ship saw us all decked out for the  “gala” farewell dinner.  Well, as decked out as my every expanding waistline (and every other line) would allow.  I had to wear a scarf/shawl in an attempt to disguise my back boob bulges!!!

No sooner had I sat down and placed the white linen napkins on the lap of my black dress than Levente slid in next to me and replaced the white napkin with a black one  “We don’t want you to have little white bits on your black dress.”  That sums up the level of service to which we have been treated for this entire cruise.

Uniworld says that they strive for excellence in service and they certainly achieved it on this cruise.  Everyone has been incredible.  If you turn your laundry in in the evening, it reappears the next morning ironed and folded and beautiful.  Our housekeeper replenished our chocolate dish no matter how many times I dumped the contents into a zip lock bag for future consumption.

The waitstaff was exemplary:  We usually sat in an area where Paul, a young Romanian charmer, took care of us.  He was brilliant; an incredible flirt, personable and funny.  He made every person he served feel as if he was focused only on that particular person’s needs.

This cruise has been a delight in spite of the colds that many have either brought with them or acquired once here.

The gala dinner was a fitting send off.  All of the food was as beautiful to look at as it was delectable to taste.  We will miss the luxury of this cruise during our next two weeks on our own in Italy.

 

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Vienna: Back Where We Started

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Tuesday evening, December 12, we arrived back in Vienna where we began our trip on November 30.  A lot of water has flowed down the Danube since then and we have been fortunate to have been floating down with it.

Since I’ve last checked in with you, we have had two busy days.

Tuesday night, we were driven out to Klosterneustein for a brief tour of the monastery, which is stunning, and for a Mozart and Strauss concert, which was even more stunning.  Our orchestra consisted of seven musicians and they were joined periodically by two opera singers: a soprano and a baritone. Small venue with great acoustics, small audience with not too much coughing and an amazing program made for a thoroughly enjoyable night out.

Yesterday, Wednesday, December 13, was our last full day with Uniworld.  The morning was free to do as we pleased and what we pleased was to take a late (10:30 a.m.) shuttle to the Rathaus and then explore on our own for a couple of hours before rejoining our group  for a short tour, just the highlights, of the Art History Museum.  The museum was purpose built to house the massive collections of the Hapsburgs and it is spectacular.  We barely moistened our toes as we peeked at a few of the rooms.  We didn’t do any paintings, just STUFF.  Glorious stuff. It was a treat.

Dave, Claire, Michael and I made our way to the Goldenen Wurstl on Graben for a final wienie; we went to the Christmas market at Maria Theresia square for a final mug of gluhwein (and a bonus final paper cone of some of the finest freshly fried potato chips I have ever had). The potatoes were a recommendation of a teacher we met on the square.  An altogether excellent final day in the city.

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Buster and Andre Segovia

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Neither Buster nor Andre minds being left on the ship as long as they are well supplied with their favorite food groups: Chocolate, schnapps, sparkling pear cider and a nice bottle (or two) of white wine.

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Dürnstein and the Wachau Valley

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Our group in the Rathaus courtyard in Dürnstein

We began today with more cruising.  I thoroughly enjoy the excursions that are planned for us but cruising is fabulous.  Our morning’s cruise was brief and had us docking at the tiny hamlet of Dürnstein in the Wachau Valley at 9:15 a.m.

We lined up behind Walter, our guide, like so many ducklings and walked towards town while he informed us of some of the history of this little place.  It seems that Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in the castle here for several months as he was attempting to return to England after his duty during the Crusades.

Our group (#5) backtracked a short distance for what we were told was a hot wine drink at the saffron manufactory.  A number of our ducklings headed instead directly into town.  I’m glad I stayed with Waltur because our beverage turned out to be a hot, spiced rum punch and it was delicious even at 10 a.m.  We were also treated to chocolate with saffron.  The gentleman that grows the saffron crocus and produces the saffron began his enterprise after he discovered references to saffron agriculture in the Wachau Valley in an 18th century tome in some local-ish monastery.

Dürnstein (meaning dry stone) is a beautiful village.  Little, twisting lanes with shops, bakeries and wine shops.  This area is also know for apricot production and one of the local products is toasted apricot kernels, which are pretty darned tasty!

An organ concert in the former monastery was on our agenda but Michael and I both had to leave after just the first couple of minutes due to coughing attacks.  Happily, organ music is not one of my favorite things even when performed in a little jewel box of a church.

We are now back on the river headed towards a 6 p.m. arrival in Vienna.  Tonight’s agenda includes a exclusive Mozart and Strauss concert in the Abbey of Klosterneuburg.  I’m going but I am going to sit right next to the exit.

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Linz: Home of Linzer Torte

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Between Passau and Linz

After our very long Sunday, it was a pleasure and a relief to spend the morning on board for “scenic cruising.”  We didn’t arrive into Linz until about 1 p.m., which gave us plenty of time to relax and watch the countryside drift by.

Many of our group had opted for the afternoon excursion that combined a “panoramic” coach tour around the city as well as a brief walking tour of the heart of old town Linz.  The bulk of the excursion, however, was driving into the hills outside of Linz to a farm where they produce, among many other things, cider from both pears and apples.  The location is Köglerhof and the views from its hill top perch rival any I have ever seen.

The farm is the home of a young(ish) man, his wife and three sons.  They purchased the place from “old farmers” (who had no children) back in 1996 (?) and they have worked and planned and managed to turn their small farm (35 acres) into a going concern.  They have a restaurant where they serve all of the products of their farm.  He told us that all of the geese that they WILL be raising for 2018 have already been sold!  I believe what he said was that they would be raising approximately 1600 servings of goose for 2018 and that all have been sold even though the goslings aren’t yet a gleam in the geese and ganders’ eyes.

And they are so passionate about what they are doing that it was an absolute delight to spend a couple of hours tasting their ciders.  We began with “Julia,” a lightly alcoholic and effervescent pear cider, then moved onto a stronger, blended (apple and pear) cider, then to another pear cider and ended with hot, spiced apple cider.  Each tasting was accompanied by a little nibble of some sort.

Back to the ship by 6:30.

The only teensiest, weensiest disappointment of the day was that Linzer Torte wasn’t on the dessert table at dinner.  And, believe me, it was only a teensy-weensy disappointment.

 

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A Bavarian Christmas Experience

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The gang’s almost all there

Last night, December 10, our already long day wasn’t over until we had gone out to a farm to experience a Bavarian Christmas.  The drive from the ship was about 40 minutes through the countryside.  Of course, it was dark, so, we missed most of the sights but one could tell that it was lovely.  Some of the smaller roads were slippery and Michael and I made certain that our seatbelts were fastened.

The farm at which this event took place is charming.  We were greeted in the courtyard by a four piece brass band and with gluhwein.  The “barn” in which we ate our dinner was huge and gorgeous.  Enormous posts and beams and beautiful decorations.

The planning could have been a bit better.  The first and soup courses were served at our tables but the main courses were served buffet style.  Our table was almost the farthest from the buffet area and, so, we opted to wait until the line of 100 thinned out.  By the time we made our way to the service area, most of the food was gone.  Three people at our table had nothing to choose from. The fact is that the first course and the soup was enough food given what we have been eating BUT it’s the idea.

I don’t think our hosts had taken into consideration the American mentality when it comes to buffets:  Pile your plate so high with food that it could feed a family of four for two days and then leave three-quarters of it untouched.

We had oom pah pah music; we had Bavarian drinking games; we had beer barrel tappings; we had a fashion show with models selected from amongst us; we were serenaded with “Edelweiss.”  Honestly, it was way too much of a good and so-so thing.

The little girl in the unfortunately grainy photograph below is the granddaughter of our host and she went around every table offering each person a little sweet from her basket.  She made the entire evening worthwhile with her smile and gentle self-possession.

We didn’t get back to the ship until after 11 p.m.!!! Way too late for this person.  Fortunately, I had scored some Ambien from a fellow traveler and was finally able to get a good night’s sleep;  Michael’s cold has caused him to be uncharacteristically LOUD while asleep.

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A Full Day in Passau

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Driving through the snowy Bavarian Forest

Yesterday morning, we climbed onto busses in Passau and took off for our morning’s adventures.  Michael and I were lucky enough to get in the coach that had Eva as our guide. What a character she turned out to be.  She loves to laugh and laughs often for, as she told us, “a day without laughter is a wasted day.”  Based on that one thing alone, we had a very, very excellent day.

As we drove through the beautifully, snowy Bavarian Forest, she regaled us with many stories and jokes and customs.  She was brilliant and reminded me a little bit of a Swiss friend, Carla, from Fairbanks.

Our first stop was at the Theresienthal glass works, one of the few remaining fine glass blowing companies in the world.  Eva made certain we knew its history from hundreds of years ago when it supplied all the royal households with their fine glassware right up to the present time and how it was saved from bankruptcy by BMW and then a philanthropic local son.

The glass is exquisite with the feel of silk.  I just had to have some and am looking forward to receiving it after we return home.  Perhaps some of you will get to sip some wine from it soon.

From glass making we drove to a farmstead in Bärnzell where we began with a bread making demonstration and a talk about the history of the sourdough rye the bread that we were eating.  We also tasted elderberry tea and some local schnapps.  We needed the warmth because shortly thereafter we climbed onto horse drawn wagons for a ride through the snowy countryside.  And that is where Christmas magic struck.

Michael and I had hopped onto the rear seat of the first carriage and then Eva announced that someone could ride up front with the driver.  I immediately jumped down but by the time I got to the front, a couple had climbed aboard.  The very nice gentleman sitting with his beautiful wife asked if I wanted to be in front and when I said “yes,” he gave up his seat!!!  The unexpected and extraordinary kindness of a stranger.

For a moment I felt the teensiest bit guilty at having taken advantage of his generosity but then I decided that it would be unkind of me to diminish his gift by feeling guilt.  I had a great ride visiting with my companion and the driver, Michael.  We had a fabulous view over the very broad behinds of Tony and Sam, the southern German draft horses who were pulling our wagon.  The farmsteads little, spotted dog  trotted in front of us the entire way.  In one of the photos below, it appears as if that little dog rode on one of the horses but that was not the case.

Because the horses had such very generous rear ends, my traveling companion christened them Chloe and Kim.

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Regensburg: 2000 Years in 1.5 Hours

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Along the Danube in Regensburg

Due to technical difficulties of the internet sort, it has been two days since we were in Regensburg and although I did write blog entry yesterday morning I was unable to get it to publish.  Now, when the internet is available, I discover that what I wrote yesterday has disappeared . . . leaving me with only the vaguest of memories as to what we did in and learned about Regensburg.  Let me see if I can recap.

As the post title suggests, Regensburg is an old city, which was originally founded by the Romans.  After several hundred years, the Romans abandoned it to the local population. At one point during its existence it was an independent city-state sort of thing.  Due to its position on the Danube, one of the great transportation roads of early times, the city was filled with merchants who were very wealthy.

To demonstrate their wealth, the merchants built huge houses complete with towers of the Italian sort.  Think San Gimignano in Tuscany. My tower is taller than your tower; therefore, I am richer and more influencial than you are.  Nowadays, some of these merchants’ houses have been turned into accommodations for some of the over 13,000 students who attend the university here

The high point of the visit for me was the Thurn and Taxis Castle Christmas Market.  It had many craftsmen demonstrating their crafts as swell as selling the finished products.  The woodcarving was particularly fine.

Before I lose the opportunity to post this, I am going to do so.  I will try to get a Passau post done this morning to catch up but I can make no promises as to whether I-will succeed.

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