From Lichtenstein to Lucerne

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Dear Readers:

What a wonderful year it’s been!  I thank each and every one of you for your really positive comments and support!  We promise to keep your travel curiosity satisfied next year, but this is our last post for 2017 (as always, just a tad late!).

so it was with some sadness that we left our cozy mountain retreat in Zûrs on Friday, December 15th.  However, the open road beckoned, and we set off after an epic snowfall (with really nicely cleared roads) for Lucerne, Switzerland.  This whole detour through the Alps was necessitated by the fact that we are really cheap travelers (when it makes sense), and we had to wait until Monday to get a frequent flyer flight out of Frankfurt at the lowest points level.  Hence, our journey through the Alps (and the bonus of picking up another country on the way).

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Leaving Arlberg

What can I say … the drive through the Alps the day after yesterday’s snowstorm was just amazing!  We did stop in Lichtenstein for lunch, but it literally only took about 20m minutes to drive from Austria to Switzerland.

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Crazy Alpine tunnels

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Welcome to Lichtenstein!

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Then we had a magical drive to our destination tonight, Lucerne. Lucerne lies on one of the plentiful alpine lakes in Switzerland, and we arrived about 4:00 in the afternoon, just as darkness was beginning to fall.

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However, despite Jim’s best laid plans, our approach to the hotel did not go according to plan. He had first tried to map the entry route to our hotel, Les Balances, on Google Maps, but gave up when the app crashed with the ominous “spinning rainbow pizza of doom” (it’s an Apple thing).  Failing that, Jim called the hotel to ask directions. With those in hand, he plotted our approach on the GPS. Ruh roh!  It would have worked just fine except that there was a Christmas market right in the middle of the square we needed to drive through to get to our hotel!  Backing out of the old town, I jumped out to ask two traffic guys how to get there. One didn’t speak English (a pretty rare thing in Switzerland) and the other guy sent us back to the other side of the river to try a different approach. After ending up in another Christmas market, we skirted the edge and got bak over the bridge to the correct side of the river. The crazy thing was that we could see our hotel from the bridge. However, all roads led away from the hotel, and we flagged down a traffic cop to ask directions, She sent us into a pedestrian walkway makes very clearly as a no driving zone. We pulled to the side of the minuscule street and called the hotel. They told us that notwithstanding the signs, guests of the hotel were allowed to drive on the pedestrian cobble-stoned streets. The sight of a few delivery vans made us feel marginally better, but JIm needed a really large martini after we had finally arrived and handed the car over to a capable valet. Whew!

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The narrow little street we had to drive on to get access to our hotel is to the right of the green building!

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The front entrance to Hotel des Balances
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The Christmas market in the plaza blocking our access to the hotel.

 

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Our last Christmas market; I promise!

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Building decorated like an Advent calendar

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We awoke the next morning to rain (instead of the predicted snow) and set off to do a bit of sightseeing and to grab a latte.  For the most part, we walked along the edge of Lake Lucerne, and then turned inland to the old part of town.  There was a lovely and fragrant Christmas tree market right by the lake.

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Probably the most notable sight we saw was a memorial to the Swiss Guard soldiers lost in the French Revolution. As a protective force, they were pledged to guard the French King Louis XVII and Marie Antoinette. However, by the time they were called up, it was obvious that the French monarchy was going to fall, but the Swiss Guard members fulfilled their duty anyway. The memorial to their bravery is a resting lion carved into a stone wall in a lovely park.

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Jim drinking wine in the snow

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Finally after a day of trooping around Lucerne, Jim and I returned to the room just in time to see a really beautiful snowfall with fat, fluffy flakes falling right outside our balcony.  Out lovely stay in Lucerne was capped off by a fabulous meal in the old sector just across the river from our hotel called Stern.

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Tomorrow, we drive on the Autobahn up to Frankfurt, where we will overnight at the airport hotel. From there, we fly home to celebrate the holidays with our family.  Again, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your support and Happy New Year! Stay tuned for our next adventure, which is right around the corner, as we cruise down to New Zealand andAustralia from the port of Los Angeles.

 

Zoom, Zoom, Zürs!

 

Dec. 12-14, 2017:

 

As you know, when we last left you, we had arrived in Innsbruck, where we picked up a car for our drive into the Arlberg Ski area about an hour and a half up in the Alps from Innsbruck. This ski area is HUGE, as this map shows.

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We are staying in a very nice family-run hotel called Arlberghaus in the tiny town of Zürs, Austria. How, you might ask, did we decide to stay here? Well, it just so happens that for those of us who annually buy the Epic ski pass from Vail Resorts, they have a deal with several European ski resorts which generally allow you to ski free for 3 days if you book with one of several participating hotels. For Austria, the hotels were all in the Arlberg ski area, which encompasses several towns. I corresponded with several of them, and was most impressed with the response from the team at Arlberghaus, headed up by David Eggler, who is the fourth generation of this hoteling family.

Upon arrival in Zürs, we were happy to learn that our ski rental place was literally, just steps away, and the proprietors were extremely accommodating. Rentals secured (and stored overnight in the Arlberghaus’ ski room with heated boot racks), we enjoyed a fabulous 5 course Austrian meal, which was part of our lodging costs. Our room was very modern, but comfortable in an Alpine style, with a spacious modern bathroom and very comfortable bedding. We chose the “half board” meal option, which means that the hotel provides breakfast and dinner daily, in addition to a snack aprés ski. The meals are unbelievable! Fresh local ingredients excellently prepared made us never even consider venturing outside the hotel for a meal elsewhere. The dining room staff, like the other hotel staff, is superb, and always anticipates your every need. As icing on the cake, as we enjoyed dinner, huge fluffy snowflakes started to fall, and our waiter, Philip, presented Jim with a birthday cake.

We awoke the next morning to a very snowy landscape, but we were pleased to learn that the ski lifts in Austria not only have Plexiglass covers to keep the snow off of you, but also heated seats! The skiing could not be more accessible. We walked out of the hotel, down to buildings and walked right onto the ski lift. There’s also a gondola accessed from the same building, but as we could barely see the top of the ski lift in the snow, we weren’t about to venture onto the gondola! As you can see from the map, the Ahlberg terrain is vast and varied (although really not for beginners unless you enroll yourself in the ski school). However, the visibility was really bad, so Jim and I just skied a few runs, and then went indoors to change and go explore Zürs and the nearby town of Lech.

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View from our hotel room
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Covered, heated ski lift

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The cold I had picked up had turned into a sinus infection, so our first objective was to find a doctor who could provide me with some antibiotics. Although there is a doctor in Zürs, his office is closed in the afternoons (presumably so he can ski). Instead, we took the free bus to Lech (it runs every 20 minutes and is only about a ten minute drive). There I was able to walk into a clinic and see a doctor within a half hour and he was able to provide the antibiotics right away. Total cost: about $95.

Back at the hotel, Jim and I enjoyed the après ski scene in the cozy bar at the Arlberghaus, and then enjoyed another great meal.

Wednesday morning dawned clear and cold, and the views just from our hotel room were amazing. Jim and I dressed quickly in our ski clothes and then returned to the lifts. The whole mountain area is unbelievablely scenic when it is not snowing! Here they do some grooming, but many areas are left “off piste, and some hardier skiers were tackling them. Jim and I mainly skied in the area around Zürs, but there are some great ski routes that link the whole Arlberg ski area together, but they are all over 20 kilometers of combined skiing, so a little too much to attempt on our first real ski day of the season.

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Much better hotel room view
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Outside Arlberhaus
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The gondola station at the top

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Ski lift view
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Views from the top of the gondola

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Finally, Jim and I were ready for lunch, so we ventured up the gondola to its second station, which is now a restaurant with fabulous views over the whole valley. As we warmed up and filled out tummies, we watched the next storm clouds sailing in. Given that I was still fighting my sinus infection, I decided to call it a day, and we went back to the vinstube in the Arlberg, to curl up by the fire. Shortly after that, it began snowing, and later that night, we enjoyed a traditional meat fondue in court bouillon in the hotel restaurant.

Our last day in Arlberg was a really fierce blowing snowstorm, so we didn’t dress to go out. I kept hoping that the weather (and visibility) would improve enough that I could go skiing again, but finally even I gave up. The nice thing was that the Arlberghaus has a lovely “quiet room” with a fireplace, so Jim and I just settled in there and watched the snow fall while editing photographs and blogging. I tell you that it was hard to leave come Friday morning, but our drive through the Alps awaited us. Next stop, Lichtenstein!

 

 

Into the Alps by Train

Dec. 11, 2017:

 

Happy birthday to Jim! This morning, we left Vienna on the high-speed train for Innsbruck, where we will pick up a car for the drive up into Zürs, Austria, where we will stay for the next 4 days. We had originally planned to fly home from Vienna, but a lack of frequent flyer award tickets caused us to re-evaluate that idea. Instead, after we leave, Zürs, we will drive through Lichtenstein (check another country off the list) to Lucerne, Switzerland for a couple of nights, and then driving on to Frankfurt for our flight home.

My observations about the Austrian Rail system: it’s WAY better than the Germans’! Why? Beautiful big terminal with elevators! A first class lounge with ample seating in a temperature controlled place. Trains that stop at least 10 minutes in each station so it’s not a mad scrum to get on/off the train. Announcements in English and German so you can actually understand what might be important information. Best of all, luggage areas in each car of the train! In addition; some nice perks including train attendants who will take your order and bring you hot or cold food and drinks from a large menu at reasonable prices. Jim and I had Hungarian goulash stew and a warm toasty roll, and both were really good!

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In turns out that the train trip was almost exact reverse of our river trip on the ship: we left Vienna, and then made stops at Melk, Linz, and Salzburg on way to Innsbruck. It has snowed in the last couple of days, and there is lots of snow in the Alps and the fields beside the train. All of which made for a lovely trip to Innsbruck. We’re really looking forward to seeing what life is like in the Alps in winter, so stay tuned!

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Wien is Wonderful!

Dec. 9 and 10, 2017:

 

OK; Wow! We packed a lot into our brief visit to Vienna! Friday was our last day on the Tauck tour, so we had scheduled activities in town through midafternoon. This is another one of those great moorings where you are actually parked in the town you are visiting so you do not have a super long bus ride to get to the action. Alas, we are not close enough to walk to the major attractions. The area where we are docked is in the more modern part of town, and about a 15-20 minute bus ride to the center of town.

Vienna calls itself the City of Music, and with good cause. IN addition to the very productive years Mozart spent here composing for the Hapsburg Court, the city is home to Johann Strauss, Senior, and Junior (composer of the Blue Danube waltz), Franz Schubert, and the one-hit wonder, Falco (“Rock Me, Amadeus”). However, the city also supported the musical creations of many other musicians who briefly lived here, including Beethoven, Hayden, Salieri, Liszt, Brahms, and Mahler. We have been advised by various friends who have lived in and visited Vienna that the one “must do” thing as a tourist is to attend a concert here; preferably in one of the churches, which reputedly have near perfect acoustics. I am happy to report that we have tickets tomorrow night for an Advent concert at the biggest cathedral in Vienna, St. Stephen’s. But more on that later …

Today’s agenda involves a driving tour around the inner city, a visit to Schōnbrunn Palace and its impressive Christkindelsmarkt, followed by lunch at an Italian palazzo overlooking the Albertinaplatz. Then we have some free time in town before we go back to the ship.

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Birthplace of Johann Strauss, Jr.

 

 

Vienna dates back to Celtic and Roman times, but for nearly 600 years, it was the center of the Hapsburgs seat of the Austro Hungarian Empire. It prospered through medieval and Baroque times, and today is home to about 1.8 million inhabitants. It is the second largest German-speaking city in the world, and has remained very prosperous. Although nearly 95% of the city was destroyed in World War II, the city was liberated by Russian soldiers, and it took until 1965 before it was fully rebuilt. Today, it is an international city, world-recognized for its culture and innovation. It is a pre-eminent city for conferences and business gatherings, and attracts over 6.8 million tourists per year. Both the UN and OPEC regular host meetings here, and several organizations list it as one of the most-livable cities in the world.

The city is laid out in a very practical fashion. Beginning with Emperor Franz Joseph, the old city fortifications were removed, leading to massive redevelopment around the city center. It is usually recognized as a marvel of modern city planning, and there is a ring road around the entire city center called the Ringstrasse, accessed via a great tram system. We know; we used it! Interestingly, in District 1, which encompasses the old town, 12% of the area is taken up with the Hofburg Palace, which began construction in about 1200, and every Emperor thereafter just added on to it.

In our bus tour, we also ventured through the Swartzenburg district, which is the center of the Viennese cafe culture. Interestingly, in 1913, Vienna was home to Adolph Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Tito, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Stalin. In fact, for a while, it was known as “Red Vienna”.

On the drive around the Ringstrasse, we admired the St. Charles Church, considered the gretest Baroque church in Austria. It was commissioned in 1713, one year after the city survived a huge plague outbreak, with construction starting in 1716, and being completed in 1737.

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Charles Church

Another completely impressive edifice is the State Opera House, which opened in 1869, and it hosts the longest opera season in world, with the Vienna Philharmonic as its resident orchestra. Our tour took us past the Parliament building and the Rathausplatz, where the town hall is a masterpiece of Neo-Gothic architecture. As noted earlier. There is a huge Christmas market located here; one of 27 located in the city of Vienna.

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Vienna State Opera

Vienna is also home to a huge number of buildings constructed in the Art Nouveau style. In Vienna, it is called the Secession style of architecture, and the multi-story buildings are very light and lovely. Everywhere we go, the city is pretty, and orderly and majestic, with little to no graffiti anywhere. The inhabitants appear prosperous and busy.

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Examples of Vienna’s Art Nouveau (“Secession”) Style

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Finally, we moved outside the City center to see the Schönbrunn Palace, which is like Vienna’s own smaller version of Versailles. We had a guided tour at the palace, and then we were free to visit the palace grounds and the Christmas market located there. Again, Jim and I are somewhat amazed at the vast numbers of locals who come to visit there markets along with their children in tow. Today is a really cold, blustery day just above freezing, although the sun is shining, but I still can’t imagine bring a baby out in this weather. I will say the baby carriages look to be extremely well-padded (as are the babies themselves), but I just can’t fathom it! But in point of fact, the Christmas market and Schonnbrunn Palace are mobbed.

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Schönbrunn Palace

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Christmas tree in the Schönbrunn Market
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The gardens at the Schönbrunn Palace
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Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace

Finally, we packed up and left the palace on our way to lunch. We had lunch back in the city center right off the Ringstrasse, at Palazzo Palladvini. The highlight of the meal was a performance by young choral group singing Christmas carols in German. As these songsters age, they will be eligible to join the Vienna Boys Choir (at least the boys will). Then we had a little time on our own, but Jim and I were cold and wanting to pack, so we headed back to the ship, full of ideas for what to do tomorrow after we left the ship.

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Concert at Palladvini Palace
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Further members of the Vienna Boys Choir?

Dec. 10, 2017:

 

After bidding the MS Joy and her friendly crew behind, Jim and I were transferred to our hotel in Vienna, the Grand Hotel Wien. The Viennese call themselves “Wieners” meaning those who come from Wien, which is the true name of Vienna. We’ve arisen to an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, even if it is only about freezing, and somewhat windy. We understand wind is common in Wien.

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The Grand Hotel Wien
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Lobby Tree
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Lobby Glühwein Stand

After dropping our stuff at the hotel to wait for us until our room became available, Jim and I headed out to wander along the Ringstrasse and experience life in this beautiful city!

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Vienna Civic Mascot

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Lipizzaner Stables

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Burgtheatre
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Roman ruins in the city center

From our hotel, we walked back to the area where we had lunch yesterday because we were on a mission (at least Jim was). We knew there was a Starbuck’s close to the Spanish Riding School (where the Lipizzaners perform), and we were hoping to at least catch a glimpse of the horses since we had not figured out we needed to get tickets in advance (at least 2-3 months in advance). No such luck, but we did score the desired Starbuck’s mug.

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Vienna Parliament Building
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Ice skating rink at the Rathausplatz
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Christmas market at the Rathausplatz
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More Secession style architecture
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The Votive Neo-Gothic Church

Then we proceeded to walk around the Ringstrasse. Being as we were in Vienna (and the temperature was hovering at freezing), we popped into a café about half way around for a coffee and a strudel. Along the way, we saw the Opera House, the Parliament Building, and the Rathausplatz. We also walked down into the area surrounding St. Stephen’s Cathedral along the main shopping street, Kantnerstrasse. The plaza around St. Stephen’s hosts yet another Christmas market, but we were more interested to find out that we could pick up our tickets for tonight’s concert. Then we wrapped up our walk by strolling down the Kantnerstrasse, which was decorated with these reflective bits of glass, which caught the afternoon sun just beautifully!

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

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Reflection of St. Stephen’s in a modern office building
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Roof of St. Stephen’s
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On Kantnerstrasse

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Jim and I kicked our feet up at the hotel for a couple of hours, and then headed out on the public tram to go over to the Rathausplatz so I could photograph the Christmas market all lit up. It really was magical, and then we headed off to dinner. We capped this special day by attending the Advent concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The concert featured the music of Mozart, Bach, Schubert and Hayden, and was simply magical! Tomorrow, we take a train to Innsbruck to embark on our skiing adventure in the Austrian Alps. Stay tuned!

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Trees at the Rathausplatz
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The Rathausplatz Christmas market by night

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The Rathaus

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The street in front of our hotel
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Kantnerstrasse by night
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St. Stephen’s by night
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The Christmas market at St. Stephen’s
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The nave at St. Stephen’s

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The Advent Concert

From the Wachau Valley to Vienna

Dec. 8, 2017:

 

Good morning and happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception Day, which is what it is in Austria today. We are docked briefly in the port of Melk, Austria. This means no shops are open, and the only thing on the agenda is a visit to the Melk Abbey-constructed in the Baroque style dating to 17th Century. True confessions time … Jim and I have been on the run for the last two weeks and it is catching up to us. I’ve managed to catch Jim’s cold, so we both decided to play hooky in Melk. Once again, it’s about freezing degrees, and grey, so it was not a hard decision to make.

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We made an early departure so we would have a pretty sail through the Wachau Valley, which is a major wine growing region in Austria. Probably the most recognizable grape grown here is Grüner Veltliner, and also dry Riesling, but the area is also well-known for growing apricots, and using them to make candies, liqueurs, and schnapps.

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The sail through the valley is pretty, but Jim and I can only imagine what it would like in the summer with all the vines covered in leaves and fruit. Can you sense a theme here?! This may be the last time I convince Jim to travel somewhere cold and snow for sightseeing. Still. It’s fun to sail pass countless castles and churches obviously dating back a long time.

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Our tour directors make the best of the time by sharing a showcase of the regional products. I’ve decided that apricot schnapps is an excellent medicinal solution for a cold, particularly in a cup of homemade hot chocolate! Me; I’m just happy to sit in the observation lounge at the front of the ship and watch the scenery pass by as I edit my photos!

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We arrived in Vienna about 6 pm this evening. Although there is an excursion planned to see the lights at the Vienna City Hall Christmas market (Rathausplatz) market, which purportedly has the prettiest lighting in Vienna, it’s raining, (and Jim and I have an issue to deal with back home) so we prudently decided to pass on this opportunity. Besides, we will get a full tour of Vienna tomorrow and we have booked an extra days’ stay in Vienna, so I am sure this is not the last opportunity we will have to see these lights.

From Mozart to the “Sound of Music”

Dec. 7, 2017:

Welcome to Austria! this morning we are docked in Linz, Austria, on the Danube. Although there are Christmas markets here, our great Tauck team has put together a day trip to Salzburg, Austria.  Salzburg is in the Alps about a two hour drive from where we are moored. It was the hometown of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and also the setting for the American movie, The Sound of Music.

Although it was a grey day in Linz when we docked, by the time we got to our rest stop in the resort town of Mondsee in the Alps, it was a glorious sunny day, with little wisps of clouds still hanging on some mountaintops and in the valleys. It has also been extensively snowing here, so much of the scenery is garbed in a lovely coat of snow. There is a lake at Mondsee which is dead still and reflects the Alps ringing it. Mondsee is also home to a medieval abbey, which was used for the filming of the wedding scene from The Sound of Music. Interestingly, although the Americans and the British loved the movie and the play, Austrians were somewhat cold to both because they felt that too many liberties were taken with the facts of the von Trapp family history. Notably, it was apparently Maria von Trapp, and not the Captain, who was known as the strict disciplinarian of the family. Nonetheless, these days, even the Austrians view the movie more fondly, as it has become a tourism vehicle for Salzburg. There are even Sound of Music-themed tours you can take in Salzburg.

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Driving through the Alps

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Lake Mondsee
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The resort at Mondsee

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Despite the cold weather, flocks of tourists are still flooding into Salzburg, and our busses have to stop outside the old town to discharge us. Our first stop was in the gardens of the Mirabell Palace which was also in the Sound of Music as the place where the von Trapp children meet the Baroness. The gardens are pretty today, but I think they must be amazing in the spring time. Right across the street from an entrance to the gardens is the Mozart family residence, where Mozart’s family lived after he was born.

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Gardens at the Mirabell Palace
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The Mozart family residence

Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg. His baptized name was Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, but he called himself Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. His father, Leopold Mozart, was born in Germany, and was also a composer a violinist, who taught music. Interesting, Mozart’s older sister, Maria, who was about five years his elder, was also a very gifted musician, and their parents travelled all over Europe with them performing as child prodigies. Mozart is believed to have composed his first musical piece at age 5, and Maria also composed music from an early age. However, as she reached puberty, it was considered unseemly for women to perform publically, and her father married her off at an early age to a widower several decades older than she with several children. Her musical life seems to have largely been put on the shelf at that point. Correspondence between the two reflects a very warm relationship, and Mozart frequently praised Maria’s compositions. However, Mozart was never happy in Salzburg, and longed to leave it for more cosmopolitan cities such as Vienna and Prague. At age 21, he got his wish, and left Salzburg permanently. He later married his love, Constanze, with whom he had six children, although only two survived infancy. Mozart himself died after a short illness at age 35 in 1791.

Can I just say; Austria is gorgeous!!!!!! That might just be the sunshine talking, but Jim and I are both blown away by how scenic Salzburg is. In fact, again you can imagine how lively it would be when all the cafes and coffee shops move their tables outdoors.

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The Salzach River
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Hohensalzburg Castle overlooking the Old City

We crossed the main bridge over the Salzach River (which is covered in “love locks”) to walk into the main town. From the banks of the river, you can look up to the imposing Hohensalzburg Castle, and also over to the surrounding Alps. Our guide took us on a walking tour of the old town, which, like Regensburg is filled with narrow alleyways between buildings opening up on large inner courtyards. As is the case everywhere over here it seems, all of these open spaces seem to have been converted into Christmas markets. Everything is very decorated for the seasons, and we see NO graffiti anywhere. Austria is predominantly Catholic, despite the Reformation, which means that the old town has more than its fair share of churches and cathedrals. In fact, the Bishop’s Residence here is HUGE, but you can actually take a tour of some of the apartments inside, and view the art collection housed there. We emerge into the main shopping avenue, the Getreidegasse, which is still part of a narrow medieval thoroughfare. Mozart was born at No. 9 on this street, and there is a Mozart Museum housed in that building. Charmingly, all the merchants are required by law to hang brass plaques over their doors showing the type of business established there.

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“Love locks” on the bridge

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Strolling along Getreidegasse
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Mozart’s birthplace-No. 9 Getreidegasse

We did a brief tour of the old town, and then it was time to head to lunch. Today, we have a special lunch at St. Peter’s Stiftskellar, the restaurant in the abbey of St. Peter’s Cathedral. The restaurant was first mentioned in a writing by a English cleric in 803 AD, and thus claims to be the oldest restaurant in Central Europe. We had a nice lunch in truly elaborate settings, finished by a musical group singing some of the highlights from Sound of Music. Then we were on our own for a couple of hours in the city.Salzburg-107

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Salzburg cathedral

Jim and I chose to pay a brief visit to the Christmas Market, but our number one goal for the afternoon was to experience a coffee and a pastry in a Viennese coffee house. We stopped first at Café Furst to buy a couple of their original Salzburg confection called a Mozartkugel which is a chocolate ball with a center of marzipan. In the case of Furst’s candy, the marzipan is made of pistachio marzipan, while the competitors tend to use almond marzipan. However, their café was really tight and crowded, so we walked across the street to another Salzburg institution, the Café Tomasina. There, we were waited on by a waiter in a black tuxedo, and we were offered a selection of really decadent pastries. In a traditional Viennese coffee house, you coffee is always served on an elegant little silver tray accompanied by a glass of water. How civilized! Jim and I enjoyed our break and then wandered back into the cold. It was almost time to leave by this time, so we were sad to have missed much of what Salzburg has to offer. However, by now, Jim and I have pretty much decided Salzburg is a town to be explored more leisurely, so I’m pretty sure we will return.

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Just one of the Salzberg Christmas markets

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Display detailing Furst’s “Original” Mozartkugel
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Café Tomasina
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Apparently, Austrians love their pretzels even more than the Germans!

 

Passau

December 6, 2017:

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The Veste Oberhaus and the former fortress of the Bishop, on the mountain crest between the Danube and the Ilz rivers

Good morning! It’s another cold morning here today, but at least no rain is predicted. On today’s schedule, we will again walk into town to meet a local guide, and wander around medieval Passau.

Passau lies in the lower southeast corner of Germany, still in the district of Bavaria. It is situated at the confluence of three rivers: The Danube, the Ilz and the Inn Rivers. Because the old town is built on an island in the center of the confluence, it is subject to pretty massive flooding, even in recent history. In fact, our guide walked us past some landmarks in the old town showing the water level in many past historical floods. The second worst flood ever was in 2013, and the water came to over the windows on the floors one floor above street level.

The narrow alleyways of the old town have been taken over somewhat with shops and galleries of artists. In fact, there are vibrantly painted cobblestones on the street pointing you in the direction of this artists’ quarter. There are also lots of little shops and cafes, and it is easy to imagine how lively this area could be in the summer time with tables and chairs lining the alleys.

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Because of its felicitous location at the confluence of so many major trading  rivers, Passau’s history of inhabitance dates back 4000 years (to 2,000 BC) when Celtic settlers first lived there. Naturally, such a prime river location also enticed the Romans, who were in turn overrun by Germanic tribes. However, by the mid 5th Century, a monastery had been established there, and in 739, an English monk called Boniface established a diocese there, which was the largest diocese in the German Kingdom/Holy Roman Empire.

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The Rathaus

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We walked to the point in the old town where you could see both the Danube and the Inn Rivers. Sadly, the photo I took did not do it justice (so it is dead to me), but use your imagination. In this same area stands the Romanesque Monastery Nederburg, originally established in 736, which was substantially upgraded by a wealthy noblewoman, Saint Gisela from Hungary, who took her vows after her husband died. Across the River Inn, we had a pretty good view of the Pilgrim’s Church, which was built just after the last really bad plague epidemic hit Passau in the mid-17th Century. It is said that if you are really a devout pilgrim, you will climb the 321 steps to the church offering a prayer on each step.   The truly zealous will make the climb on their knees.

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Monastery Nederburg at the end of the street

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The Pilgrims’ Church with its 321 step path leading up to it

Then we wandered up to the area surrounding St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is a Baroque masterpiece. The Church was built beginning in 1688, and houses the largest pipe organ in Europe. In fact, I believe it is the second largest pipe organ in the world; the first purportedly is the organ in the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. In any event, the St. Stephen’s organ has 17,774 pipes and 233 registers.

 

In the plaza in the back of St. Stephen’s is the Bishop’s palace and it is unbelievably grand. However, we were more interested in the huge Advent Candle Calendar which is positioned out front of the Bishop’s Residence. Legend has it that these Advent candles originated in Passau with a pastor who ran an orphanage. One year, when he was unable to give gifts to each of the children, he fashioned a Advent calendar out of a wagon wheel to help the children count off the days to Christmas with a new candle each day. These days, Advent candles are still very popular in Germany, but they only hold four candles, one of which is lit for each of the Sundays before Christmas. We have seen carved and decorated Advent candle holders in just about every German Christmas market we have visited.

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Southern façade of St. Stephen’s cathedral with the Advent candles in front of the Bishop’s residence

The area in front of the Cathedral is a large plaza. Guess what?! It just happens to be the site of Passau’s Christmas Market! Most of the goods here looked fairly similar to other German markets. However, we have it on the good authority of our Tauck Director that Passau is known for its really great hot dogs, which are sold in quarter and half meter lengths. Naturally, I had to find some of the locals enjoying these treats to verify it for myself. Yup! They looked awesome!

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We had two big treats on our agenda this morning. First, we attended a lesson in the art of gingerbread making by the resident baker at the famous bakery “Simon”. While the lesson was informative (and came with a complimentary cup of glühwein), the samples were the best part! Of note, we learned that there were three main types of gingerbread. It started with the oldest type dating back to medieval times, which was not only sweetened with honey; the dough was mixed several months in advance and the honey preserved the wet dough mixture. Then as molasses started to be available from the New World, the mixture was sweetened with molasses. Finally, the most refined recipes started using refined sugar, and that is still considered the premier type today.

Then we had the fortune to be able to attend a concert in St. Stephen’s Cathedral played entirely on the organ. It was amazing how the organist was able to project the sound from the pipes to make it seem as if the sounds were coming from different parts of the church. As much as we enjoyed the concert, it was FREEZING in the church, so Jim and I were quite happy to skip further explorations of the market in favor of a hot lunch in a cozy restaurant right on the plaza. Then it was back to the boat!

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Over 17,000 pipes; go on … count them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statue of King Maximilian is called the “rain tester”