Chapter 2: The Beautiful Blue Danube

(Hint: If you click on the pictures you can see much more detail.)

Meet the Berkshires–Steve and Eileen and the Ekstroms–Merl and Ireta. Two couples who live in Mt. Pleasant, MI. We are neighbours and enjoy many of the same things. In addition, both Eileen and Ireta are awaiting knee surgery and thus need canes to assist us as we travel around. Merl found a deal for a cruise on the Danube shortly after I came home from my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer. We decided to book it and before you can blink, it was time to pack and head for Budapest, Hungary. I’ve never been here before so this is a great new adventure for me. Our trip  takes us to Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. The tour company, Uni World, has booked a hotel room for the Ekstroms and Berkshires in Budapest at the Corinthia Hotel for the night before we board the ship. The service is truly impeccable. They sent a driver to pick us up at the airport and a valet met us at the door and took our bags.  The hotel is elegant and magnificent– just the first of many surprises for us. They are truly taking exceptional care of us. While waiting to board our ship, we took a little walk around the area and determined that you can get anything you want in Budapest–even a cardinal tattoo (check it out, Mom!)

Magyar Republic Parliament Building (Hungary)

So the next day we are told to set our bags outside the door to our rooms and they will pick them up and deliver them to our staterooms on board the ship. Wow! That certainly helps the ladies with canes and the husbands who are looking at the luggage and thinking, “How am I going to handle all of that?” Then the tour director walks through the lobby of the hotel and announces that we should board the bus outside the hotel. It is time to get on the ship. When we board, we show our passports and staff takes a picture of us and hands us a room key.  One of the many staff members steps up to  escort us to our stateroom and show us around in there and explain how everything works. At first I didn’t think there was a bathroom but our guide opened one of the mirrored panels and there it was–with so many mirrors that I could see the back of my head when I was doing my hair. We also had switches to turn on a towel warmer and floor warmer. What a deal! We are told there is a light lunch available at the moment and at 3 PM we will have “Tea”. Uh, oh! This could be a very fattening cruise! We have a briefing at 6 PM with the captain, hotel manager and cruise director. We are all requested to attend that. All three of them give us valuable information and tell us what is happening this evening and what we will do the next day. We will have a little talk (port talk) each day at this time to explain the next day’s activities. Ireta and I are quite pleased that they have a group for “gentle walkers” each day. There must be about ten of us on the ship that need something a little slower when we get off the ship. Our first evening will be in Budapest with the ship going down river a bit and changing docking stations. We will pass the parliament building which is gorgeous! On the second day we will get to do a tour of Budapest and do some shopping if we so desire. Now anyone who has been in the Berkshire house at Christmas knows we have Santas and nutcrackers all over the house. So when we see something novel we buy it. And this guy is pretty different from all the others in our collection. Unfortunately it was raining that day and so it was pretty miserable to get out walk around. But while we were out there, we met this lovely woman by the name of Pam who was traveling on her own.  She lives in the UK and had seen this tour advertised on You Tube and decided she wanted to do it. She was a delight and became a regular member of our group. That evening during dinner our cruise began in earnest. Next stop: Slovakia and its capitol city Bratislava.

Slovakia used to be part of Czechoslovakia and as such is new country. We spent the morning there touring the city. The Gentle Walking group was given a little motorised train to go around the city. There were so many twists and turns and uneven pavement that they decided this was the best way for us to see it. There must have been ten churches in this area. All of them beautiful. Many of these churches that we see have been rebuilt because of damage during WW II. We then boarded a bus and went up river a little bit to catch up with our ship. It had gone through the first river lock of the trip. Next stop: Vienna, Austria.

Now, I have been to Vienna (Wien) before and believe that it is the most beautiful city in Europe. It has magnificent buildings, incredible food, beautiful music, dancing horses and so much more. I love Vienna! We will not get to spend much time here but we will see some absolutely marvellous things. But before we get turned loose in Wien we have special concert just for the people on our ship. It is music from Strauss and Mozart. It lasts about an hour and carries you away. We have a delightful sampling of opera music and waltz music with dancers. This is the music that is part of the cultural identity that is uniquely Vienna. We gave them three standing ovations. They began the evening with the overture from the Marriage of Figaro and ended it with the Beautiful Blue Danube (what else?!)

The next morning started with a trip to Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum which has some of the most magnificent pieces of art.There was an exhibit of Rubens paintings but we could not take any pictures of those. 

The museum was actually opened up an hour early for a couple of tour groups so we could beat the general public and be able to see the amazing artwork contained in this museum–especially the Rubens exhibition.

We then headed for city centre and it was amazing I was so excited to be there. Up in front of us was the famous St. Stephens Cathedral. It was very close to this that I had had lunch with my children when I was in Vienna the last time. I also found a little shop that sold Mozartkugeln which is a wonderful chocolate delicacy with marzipan on the inside. They actually had them  in the violin box that I had seen a couple of years before when we held GLOW camp at Wilson School in Tetovo, MK. Unfortunately I was moving around much faster than I should have so that by the time we returned to the ship for lunch I was exhausted and hurting a great deal. It put an end to my wandering around for the day. 

Chapter 1: Cruising the world

Well, not quite. But we are beginning a river cruise in Europe and I have much to report. We actually started in Iceland and that was an amazing adventure. There is so much about Iceland,  we don’t know! We saw the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. They are only about half a mile apart so you could say we were almost on two continents at one time–except our legs aren’t quite that long to span the two plates. There are hot springs all over the place and geysers continually going off. And one of the most amazing waterfalls you have ever seen. Just amazing. Reykjavik is a relatively new city so there aren’t many historical sites to see but oh, the wind. I almost became Mary Poppins and I didn’t even have an umbrella with me. Truly a very rugged beauty. And hot springs that provide hot water for everyone on the island. But Iceland was only an intermediate stop. Our ultimate objective was to meet up with our dear friends and neighbours the Ekstroms in Budapest, Hungary and to get ready to board our beautiful ship the S.S. Maria Theresa so we could float up the Danube to Passau, Germany and then spend a couple of days on our own in Munich (München), Germany. Once we had that all planned and hotel reservations and flight reservations made we were informed by my stamp dealer in Munich we had two holidays in the middle of our visit and pretty much everything is closed up. In Germany, when they have a holiday they really mean a holiday. They all close up and go out strolling through a park or just enjoying life instead of working. Well, we can still go see things even if we can’t get in. There is so much to see. The holidays? 31 October: Reformation Day–exactly 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, changing the face of modern religion and  1 Nov – All Saints Day celebrated in the Catholic States of Germany. And since Munich is in Bavaria and that is a Catholic state, we also had our second holiday in a row.  But never fear we had a great time in spite of these limitations put on us.

So sit back and relax and read about the two ladies with canes and their handsome escorts on a trip up the beautiful Danube on the incredible ship the Maria Theresa–which has more mirrors than you have ever seen. You don’t know if you are coming or going!

Maria Theresa