Thursday 20 September
Today we travelled to Amsertdam from Brugge via Brussels ready for our Avalon cruise which is due to start tomorrow. The cruise is to take us from Amsterdam to Budapest.
Our first touristy destination today was the Rijksmuseum – the National Museum. Among its 8,000 exhibits are fabulous paintings such as The Night Watch by Rembrandt and the Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer. It is a privilege to stand before such paintings.
After being filled to the brim with art images, we wandered back to our hotel and on the way visited the Bloenmarkt (Flower Market).
On the way to dinner there was a prosession of carriages taking people to a function, Rod caught this great photo.
Friday 21 September
A quick look as Anne Frank’s house and the canals before we transferred hotels to join the other Avalon passengers. Our cruise is not starting as a cruise because of low river levels. However, Avalon has been fantastic in its solution to this problem. They are putting us up in 5 star hotels between now and when we can board the ship, they are providing meals or meal money, they are taking us by coaches to the locations we were meant to see AND they are refunding us the portion of the cruise when we are not on the boat. Unbelievably great solution for a problem that was not of their making!
We did an excursion to Zaanse Schans, a village designed to preserve the windmills and keep traditions alive. Such a pretty place. We saw the clog shop, cheese making and went inside a windmill that is being used to make antique paints and dyes.
Saturday 22 September
Today we joined the others for a canal boat ride. One interesting thing we saw was a section of 300 year old houses that were listing to one side or the other. All the houses in Amsterdam are built on wooden piles. If these piles rot the house starts to lean and the solution is to use concrete to shore up the foundation. However, this does not correct the lean, only stops it from leaning further!
At the end of the cruise we were taken to a diamond factory and leant about the varying aspects of diamonds – the carat (weight), colour, clarity and the cut. Of course at the end we were offered the ‘opportunity’ to buy.
And this afternoon we met up with a friend that we haven’t seen in 30 years! She lives in The Netherlands and it was a golden opportunity to touch base. We had previously met in Taiwan when she was adopting her daughter and we were adopting our son. Such a pleasure to meet again and catch up with the intervening years.
Sunday 23 September
Today we left Amsterdam and travelled to Cologne for lunch and a walking tour. Lunch was at an authentic beer hall and was huge! We dipped out on the walking tour as it was pelting down and just went across to the cathedral.
Then it was on to Bonn for our overnight stay. Just caught a couple of glimpses including Beethoven’s home and the civic square.
Monday 24 September
Today was a real highlight of the tour. Although we could not travel on our ship, Avalon didn’t want us to miss out on the romantic Rhine. They arranged for us to do a cruise from Koblenz to Rudesheim past all the beautiful villages, castles and vineyards. Unforgettable!
We had lunch at Rudesheim Schloss. It was fun meal, good food, local wine, local musicians and hilarious companions. We decided to follow lunch with a trip up the hill on the chairlift for the views and to see the huge Niederwald Monument. The monument is a 32 ton bronze statue to celebrate the German Unification on 1883.
Tonight we are staying in The Marriott at Frankfurt.
Tuesday 25 September
Today we travelled to Nuremberg by coach. We had a great lunch in a local restaurant and a tour of the city. We saw the market square and the gilded water fountain and went to Nuremberg Castle with its battlements, moat, thick walls and great views over the city.
They also showed where Hitler gathered his following. I personally hate thinking about the war and opted out of this bit. However, Germans are working hard to make sure nothing like the rise of the Nazis ever happens again so that is good.
Mid afternoon we travelled by coach to meet up with our ship a Passau. It was a welcome site indeed and the staff gave us a great welcome. We settled in on board and will stay now until the end of the cruise in Budapest.
Wednesday 26 September
Overnight the ship sailed from Passau to Vilshofen, a very pretty town.
From Vilshofen we travelled by coach to Rugensburg. Plenty of history and a beautiful Bavarian town. Our guide showed us the historic bridge, town hall, cathedral, towers that were constructed by merchants for show only, and plenty of lovely buildings.
Back on board, we were treated to a great afternoon tea (like we needed more food!), sailed back to Passau, had a Bavarian beer tasting, a review of tomorrow’s program and a posh welcome dinner. Good day indeed.
Thursday 27 September
We had a full day in Passau today. Plenty of time for a guided tour, an organ recital in St Stephen’s Cathedral (the organ has 17,974 pipes and 233 stops!), lunch on board and then plenty of time to explore on our own. We went up to the Veste Oberhausen and Museum for the views – well worth it. For those that do not know, Passau is the site where three rivers combine – the Ilz, the Inn and the Danube and from this point on it is all the Danube. The water flowing from the Danube is blue and from the Inn is green and you can see the two colours distinctly especially from the Oberhaus.
Friday 28 September
Beautiful mist on the water in Passau this morning.
We left Passau and sailed down the Danube through Schlogener Schlingen, a very picturesque area, through a lock and down to Engelhartszell – a little village that is not normally on the itinerary but was added for us. There is a monestry there and the monks produce a range of beers, so we had another beer tasting and wandered up to the church attached to the monestry. A couple of interesting items in the church – a ceiling mural painted in the 1950s (due to the 1600 one being damaged by rain), and the relics were glass coffins in which you could see the skeletons clothed in beautiful clothes – not what I would like to look at in church but there you go.
We sailed to Linz for overnight.
Saturday 29 September
Today we opted for the excursion to Cresky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. What a beautiful town. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site, this medieval village and castle will always retain is historic charm. It has a huge castle – if one was to walk from one end to the gardens at the other it is 2.5km, narrow cobblestone streets, artisan markets, artists, jewellery shops, bridges over the river to get into the town centre and I could go on but hopefully the photos can do it justice.
We were lucky to be here on the weekend of St Wenceslas Celebrations. Fabulous market, folk dancers of all ages, singers and musicians all in national costumes.
Overnight in Linz. After dinner Rod, Pauline and Len wandered over to the fair/amusement park and watched the fireworks. (Photos to follow)
Sunday 30 September
There was an opportunity to visit Mauthausen in the morning, a town which had a concentration camp during the war. Many thousands died here from the work they were forced to do and the poor conditions in which they lived. Horrific and not something that I choose to see.
In the afternoon we had a walking tour of Grein, a sweet village and our guide was delightful. It boasts the oldest, still operating, theatre in Europe. So quaint. We were shown the costume room which used to be the local lockup and then taken into the theatre. A few unique things – the front three rows haw seats that can be flipped up and locked, an early way of reserving seats and the keys are on display. The costume room that was the lockup had a window through which the prisoners could see the performances. And, as the performances could last up to 5 hours, they had a toilet off to one side of the theatre with a velvet curtain separating it from the seated audience. Hmmm.
We walked around town and the church and then up to the museum and were rewarded with great views.
Grein like many villages on the river has suffered from extreme flooding over the years. After the flood of 2002 they build a wall along the river that can be raised 15 metres if necessary. In 2013 a flood came through that rose the water level to 14.98 meters and the guide said there were many ‘flood tourists’ that came to see if the wall would hold and the if the water level would rise above the wall. All was well. Being a weekend there were many Austrian people gathered along the wall enjoying ice creams.
Monday 1 October
Overnight we sailed from Grein to Melk. This morning we toured Melk Abbey – and we were gobsmacked by this place. It has been fully restored and a part of it has the most beautiful and tasteful museum of its history. We knew nothing of this place but now we recommend it as a must see for anyone visiting Austria. No photos were allowed.
After the museum the guide prepared us for entering the church. It is the Baroque style and he explained that this style was meant to be a depiction of what it will be like in heaven and that we all needed to be silent. It was overwhelmingly beautiful. Gold statues, sweet murals, paintings, wooden pews and so peaceful with everyone respecting the silence rule and no photographs.
From Melk we sailed through the Wachau Valley on to Durnstein. The valley was gorgeous with castles, villages and wineries although the photos may not show it because it was a bit overcast.
At Durnstein I went to a Saffron farm and learnt about real saffron and heard the story of the young horticulturalist who has set up a saffron farm here. It was very interesting to learn that saffron is red, not yellow or orange, that powdered saffron is usually turmeric, that the packaging of saffron is important – if it is in plastic it looses its aroma – you buy it in glass that is in a dark box to keep it well, and that you can use it in desserts and cakes. The taste is hard to describe but so interesting. We then walked through town before going back to the ship. Wonderful afternoon.
Tuesday 2 October
Today we were in beautiful Vienna. Home of great architecture, beautiful music and enormous palaces. Quite a change from little villages to this vibrant city.
Shonbrunn Palace has been likened to Versailles and I can see why. Oppulent palace and George our gardens. And to think this was just their summer palace. No pictures inside the palace but here are a few from the outside.
The day finished with us attending the optional excursion to a Royal Waltz Concert arranged for Avalon guests. Fabulous music from Johann Strauss, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jacques Offenbach and more. A great night of music, song and dance, laughter and applause.
Wednesday 3 October
Overnight we sailed to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovenia. Oh what a delightful place. Our guide led us to the historical places and town squares and provided great commentary and many laughs. He told us that one day he was leading some young students and showed them where Mozart had lived when he was a very young composer. One student asked him hold old was he then, and the guide said around 8 years old. The student then asked how old he was now. The guide said he would be 262 years old but now was doing the opposite of composing.
Thursday 4 October
We sailed into Budapest this morning. It looks amazing. This is the last full day of the cruise. This morning we had an orientation bus tour of the city and went up to the castle district and the Fishermans Bastion. We saw the Matthias Church and a statue of St Stephen, the man who bought Christianity to the area. The views were amazing but the whole area was choked with tourists. Here are a few photos.
This afternoon we went into the country area just outside the city for a wine tasting tour. It was a great afternoon meeting with the family-owned wine makers.
A beautiful excursion tonight to see the city lights.
Friday 5 October
Our last day in Budapest. Cruise finished at breakfast The is morning. We are having one extra day to explore Budapest. Wandered around and Pauline and Len took us to this great cafe – it displays old Hungarian decor and had a little museum downstairs. Oh, yes, it has great desserts and coffee.
The we went back up to Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Castle District for a longer look around.
There are heaps of thermal spas in Budapest. Should have stayed longer so we could indulge. Here are some images from the Gellert Spa.
The covered market has three floors – fish and pickles in the basement, food at street level and handicrafts on the top level.
And, at the end of a busy day, a share platter and ‘beverages’ in the late afternoon sunshine to celebrate the end of an excellent holiday. Cheers.