Jim and I were up before the sun this morning to do a hike around the base of Uluru, and to learn more about the aboriginal culture of the local people who call themselves the Anangu. We got some killer shots of Uluru at sunrise, walked the Kuniya Walk (involving a sacred story about the snake goddess, Kuniya) and then were able to see some of the ponds that form at Uluru’s base called the Mutitjulu Waterhole. Learning our lesson from last night, we were all garbed up in our fly hoods because with the sun came the flies! I lasted about a third of the way around the base, and then gave up to the heat and flies. Jim, however, trooped the entire way around the base (a distance of about six miles).
Following that, we rested during the heat of the day, and then reassembled for another expedition of Uluru; this time to focus on the sacred areas of the Rock, and to learn more about the myths of those places. Rain has been threatening all afternoon (and in fact rained for a short time this afternoon while we were swimming), but it is so blasted hot, Jim and I left our raincoats behind, and just carried umbrellas. Once again, cocktails and canapés awaited us at the end of this excursion. However, about halfway through the trip, the heavens just opened up.
Normally, you would think this was a bummer, but a fabulous thing happened. The top of Uluru is basically a giant flat rock with some pools in it. When it rains really hard, the pools fill up, and waterfalls start to cascade down the side of Uluru. Usually, this can take up to two hours, and may not even happen if the rain is not strong enough. However, in this case, the rain was so violent that we were able to see the beginning of the waterfalls within about 20 minutes. In fact, the rain was so hard that it looked like water was exploding from the top of Uluru.
We finally left when it started thundering and lightning right overhead, and we had a very wet hike out of the park, but it was still a magical experience. Back at the resort, we enjoyed a spectacular lightning show while we ate dinner.
We spent most of the day in transit today before arriving at Longitude 131° Resort. This resort is another property owned by the same couple who own the Southern Ocean Lodge (the Baileys), and it is similarly striking. In the case of this resort, the dwellings are all designed to resemble tents although they have solid walls and the tent ceiling is permanent and 100% attached. This is a very good thing as not only was it hot as Hades here, but in the summertime, the whole area is plagued with kajillions of small flies!
The ground everywhere is an incredible shade of red! From our room, we can see Uluru in the distance. In fact, like Southern Ocean Lodge, upon arrival, we were given our activity schedule for the next three days.
After enjoying a brief dip in our plunge pool on the deck looking at Uluru, we prepared for our first outing which was a sunset walk around the edge of Uluru with drinks and canapés. Sadly, tonight because there were some heavy clouds at sunset, we did not see the full splendor of the rock changing color in the dying rays of the sun. However, it was still spectacular (if fly-infested), and we could also see some great views of Kata Tjuta in the distance.
Following the sunset, we had a special treat in store, as our tour guide took us to a temporary light display in an open field called Field of Light Uluru. The event organizers describe it as follows: “The exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara is Bruce Munro’s largest work to date. Overwhelming in size, covering more than seven football fields, it invites immersion in its fantasy garden of 50,000 spindles of light, the stems breathing and swaying through a sympathetic desert spectrum of ochre, deep violet, blue and gentle white.”
Our evening wrapped up with a special starlit dinner outside the resort, and one of the resort guides did a stargazing walk for us afterwards. Fortunately, as the wind came up with the sunset, we did not have to beat flies away. The stars were truly amazing. Because there is virtually no light pollution out here, I think it was the best stargazing we have ever seen! Back at our room, we continued the pleasure of the stars out on our deck with a glass of the dessert wine Jim had bought for us at Primo Estate.
Yesterday morning at dawn, the Navigator pulled into port in Auckland, New Zealand. This signaled the end of the first part of this journey for us, as it was time for us to disembark, and go explore some parts of Australia we have not yet seen. Our driver ran us by the hotel at which we will end our trip in about a month to drop a bag. As usual, the logistics of a trip this length can be challenging, and one of the biggest challenges Jim and I will face are the number of location changes we have planned, many of which will be on small aircraft with tiny luggage restrictions.
Then it was off to the airport to fly to Adelaide, Australia; home to the center of Australian wine production. Adelaide sits between the two largest wine producing regions in Australia; the Barossa Valley and the McLaren Vale valley. We are staying at a lovely resort, The Louise. Situated right in the middle of the vineyards in the Barossa Valley, we are about an hour and a half drive kind of northeast from Adelaide. We arrived last night at almost 10:00, but they had kept the acclaimed restaurant on site, Appellation, open for us.
This morning, we had breakfast overlooking the vineyards, and then set off on a day’s exploration of the area in the company of one of the guides for Two Hands Vineyards. Two Hands has grown into a major operation here in The Barossa in just 19 years since it started. Their major production is planted in Shiraz (Syrah for us Americans), along with some sizeable plantings in Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and some more exotic varietals. Our guide for the day was an effervescent Aussie named Mason, who was, as they say here, a lovely bloke!
Shiraz grapes growing
Mason picked us this morning at the Louise, after having left a bottle of Two Hands wine for us in our room last night. The agenda for the day is that Mason will drive us around the Two Hands vineyards, as well as some properties owned by other wine growers in the area from whom Two Hands sources some of its grapes. We ended up tasting the most notable Two Hands vintages of Shiraz, as we stopped at different blocks of the vineyard which had sourced the grapes for that particular vintage. Finally, we headed back to the tasting room (called a “Cellar Door” here in Australia), where we enjoyed a paired meal tasting.
The whole day was lovely, but blisteringly hot, so when Jim and I returned to the Louise, we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the shade around the pool. I had fun photographing the gallah birds in front of our room, and a couple of kangaroos bunked down in the shade nearby. The restaurant onsite was closed this evening, but the bar (and outside patio) still features a lighter menu. After our big lunch today, Jim and I were happy to share a locally-sourced cheese plate and watch the sun set over the vineyard. Oh, and watch the kangaroos hop through the hotel gardens!
We are finally in New Zealand! We sailed in this morning to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, made famous by Captain James Cook. Sadly, I’m fighting a cold, so Jim went off without me for an early morning cruise among the islands. This area is absolutely gorgeous, and is somewhat reminiscent of the Puget Sound area. His cruise went around the Bay and sailed past many landmarks, including the Cape Brett Lighthouse, the Hole in the Rock, and historic Russell (the original capital of New Zealand).
After Jim returned to the ship, we went ashore for a brief wander around the town of Paihia. Our ship’s tender docked at the Waitangi Pier, right next to the Waitangi Treaty House, where in 1840 New Zealand’s founding document between the British Crown and the Maori chieftains was signed. Coincidentally, tomorrow, Feb. 6th, is Treaty Day or New Zealand Day.
The ship’s shuttle then took us a short distance into Paihia. Paihia is a cute resort town, but the major activities here are big game fishing and scuba diving in the Bay. Then we returned to the ship to prepare for our departure tomorrow in Auckland. Stay tuned for Part II of this adventure, as Jim and I try to explore as much of Australia as we can fit into the next two weeks!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Statue of King Maximilian is called the “rain tester”