Hot Hot Hot Then Cool

After our pleasant hike around Durnstein Thursday, the Scenic Jaspar continued through the Wachau Valley. It is stunning – I can only imagine how much more it would be if the river was at the full level. You pass little villages and towns, monasteries and castles, farms and terraced vineyards. Stunning.

Soon after lunch we pull up at Melk. This town is tied to the unbelievably large Melk Abby. I am not sure what rock I have hidden under but was clueless that this part of the world is so tied to the Roman Catholic Church. The Melk Abby at one time apparently had the influence (and affluence) we most often ascribe to the Vatican. The Abby is old. The current buildings cover more about the same square footage as Buckingham Palace and all the grounds. It is the home for the Benedictine order. Thirty two priests are member of this order. Half live in the Abby and are part of the school staff, work in the church there or involved in the monastery business (today with 500k visitors a year, that is primarily tourism.) The others are local parish priests around the world. The school is co-ed, open to girls and boys for what we would consider middle and high school.


Melk Abby
Melk Abby
There is a very good museum there that traces the history of the Abby from its humble beginnings through periods of growth, some periods where the world got way more important than the church, the period of the Reformation, and through today. The focal word of the Abby is “to listen”.  We also saw the Marble Room, the Imperial Wing (when Maria Therisia and her Hapsburg entourage came to celebrate mass and for other events at the Abby they stayed for a while). Other guests included Mozart and other celebrities of the day. We walked through several galleries of the library – beautiful old books that can be accessed under agreed conditions by most anyone. The final stop was the Abby church. I have been in many churches and cathedrals across the globe. This was probably the most ornate we have seen.

I am sure I missed something there I would like to have remembered but it was HOT. 102.2 F hot. The A/C was “on” in the Abby but with all those folks (and the add on of people due to the Assumption Day holiday weekend), it was like being in a dry sauna (humidity was 0).

From there we traveled up to the ruins of the castle overlooking the area – Castle Aggstein – 12th century – for end of day scenic views. This castle was seized by the Turks 15th century and ruined. The Castle was never rebuilt after that though a good part of it still remains intact today. 

On Saturday, we had a great adventure. First we had to disembark Scenic Jasper since the water levels around Passau were too low for the ship to traverse safely. We knew all week this might happen. These folks have plans for such as this and they put it into effect. Via the tours that day, we literally swapped to the sister ship Scenic Opal which is essentially a carbon copy of Jasper (and a few months older). We did have to pack up and unpack again but that was it. There are a few subtle differences (Steve called them “Twilight Zone” moments) but I love effectively carried out logistics and this was stellar. I know from talking to the Cruise Director (only staff member who swapped with us) that there were a few hiccups but not many (or any from our perspective).

We travelled to Salzburg for the day. Our guide Eva – an American born German who came to Germany to study the language and stayed. She was very good. She took us off the motorway on the final segment into the city so we could see up close the countryside. If you love The Sound of Music then you will know what it looked like. She showed us set locations from the movie as well as the real locations of the events (church from movie where married, actual church where married, actual convent, etc.) related the story to the true story of the Captain and Maria, showed us the homes of great conductors and inventors (including Doppler who studied the blood flows in the body and invented mammography). We saw the birthplace and adult home of Mozart and learned of the tragedies of that family – Mozart died in his 30s, had smallpox as a child, his sister was forced to marry for position and as retaliation she abandoned her music, and their father who apparently was a tyrant.

We heard a regular Saturday band concert in Mirabelle gardens and hundreds of people gathered round to hear. Under one of the arches that surround the Cathedral courtyard, we heard a trio – clarinet, bass, accordion – playing for pocket change and let me tell you, those young dudes (early 20s) could flat play. They did some jazz improvisations on classical pieces. Amazing. Music was everywhere.

We had lunch in a monastery restaurant that has been serving food in that location since 832 A.D. – St Peters – that was wonderful – Wiener schnitzel with potatoes, bread, and apple strudel. We shopped a little (as you know I don’t shop much and Steve even less). We saw from a distance the Salzburg Castle, many many churches – around the square at the Dom I counted four, the street fair and the shopping street that goes back 800+ years. From there we drove though the Austrian countryside and crossed the border into Germany close to Passau. Being in the EU makes that so easy these days. The buildings are still there, however, that remind you such was always not the case. We drove on to Regensburg, which is on the Rhine, and boarded the Scenic Opal. Needless to say, we were tired.

Interesting things learned today. 

  • Truckers cannot be on the highway in Germany on the weekend. They pull off into truck plazas late Friday and cannot return to the highways until Monday mornings. 
  • Busses can travel 100 kilometers per hour on the autobahn. There are not restrictions for cars still.
  • Bavarian ladies tie the ribbon on their apron based on whether single, married or widowed. And that lacy white blouse is actually only underwear, tied off just under the bust.
  • The leather pants of the Bavarian men are passed down from generation to generation. There are some related customs regarding ladies who marry these fellows­čś│.
  • Himmler occupied the Trapp lodge (think Sound of Music) during WWII. The home is today a hotel decorated reminiscent of that era.
  • The Cold War was a very difficult and scary period for those living outside but close to “The Iron Curtain.”

This morning we slept in and the chose to stay aboard for the ride down the river to Nuremberg rather than do a tour. The temps are in the low 70s and it actually has rained some. They certainly need it. I even had to dig out my jacket which I have certainly not needed until now.

Hebrews 4:13a Nothing is all creation is hidden from God’s sight. That verse came alive this morning while reading and I thought about the history of this area. These people fought all the time. And they took advantage of people. And they used and misused “the church” for their own benefit. And so have/are we. And God knows because He knows our hearts.

Still Choosing Joy


Can’t Say Enough About Clean Clothes

I finally figured out it is Wednesday and we are traveling through the edge of Slavakia into Austria. That makes 5 countries in 5 days counting the USA (The Netherlands to change planes, Hungary, Slovakia, now Austria). So far it has been an interesting and amazing trip in many ways.

First the “clean clothes” reference… Our flight from JAN to ATL was cancelled due to equipment problems but there was an hour plus to make the switch to the next flight and a very (she really was) helpful gate agent at Delta assured us the baggage was moving over also. Apparently that notice did not get to the folks on the tarmac because our baggage arrived almost 36 hours after we did!  We travel a lot and know the rules – change of clothes with you on board and we had that (1 set each) and I had split our stuff between the two checked bags in case one of them did not arrive.  We knew that if the bags did not catch us before we left Budapest we were going to be in deep stuff pretty quickly!

So – our first morning in Budapest we were shopping for another set each as insurance. Marks & Spencer came through but we knew we were going to be in total violation of the evening dress codes. Killed our doing some of the touring we had hoped to do in Budapest but decided it was better to do this and sacrifice one day than to be in a complete pickle the rest of the trip! Anyway, around 6am our second morning here, the reception desk rang and our bags were at our stateroom door. Thank you to the nice folks at the Budapest airport and Scenic (cruise line) for staying on top of this for us. As to lessons learned – upping the on carry on clothes to two outfits each plus another set of “essentials” for our future adventures.

Now for the good stuff. The area along the Danube is so full of history. Recorded history takes you back to medieval times. The Romans had strongholds here and influenced architecture and infrastructure. The Turks spent over a hundred years in the region and wreaked all sorts of havoc. The locals recovered from that only to face the horror of Nazi Germany and then Soviet occupation and communism. Our guide yesterday who was in her 40s explained what it was like to be born and raised during communist times and what freedom means to her. She and her peers do not take for granted the rights to travel freely, to choose your occupation, to live where you choose, or to VOTE. Her take on politicians however was universal (things she said about the Hungarian Parliament rang true with certain experiences in Mississippi government, etc.) but her perspective had way more than inconvenience behind it.

There are large Roman Catholic churches (facilities) in the cities and towns but the people are largely unchurched. The people are generally highly educated. Most know multiple languages including English. Those of my generation know Russian because they were forced to learn it during communist occupation times. They are a highly cultured people – this is the world of Franz Listz, Mozart, Heyden, Bach. Obviously Salzburg (we go there Saturday) is known for such as The Sound of Music and interestingly, the “do-re-mi” method that Maria taught the Von Trapp children is a method for teaching singing that was developed by a guy from Budapest.  

In Budapest, our hotel (Marriott) overlooked the Danube. We were across the river from Castle Hill and could see both Buda Castle and the Citadel. At night they were spectacular. I will say the Budapest Marriott inside was much the same as any in the U.S. except no shop where you can get toiletries (we found what we needed) and in true European fashion, no bath cloths (had those but were in the checked bags). We walked along the embankment and past small parks and local church and lots and lots of sidewalk cafes. It is a very social city. On Sunday afternoon when we arrived, families and I am sure tourists were out in droves. 

The river is wide (mostly) like the Mississippi. Lots of commercial traffic and lots of river cruise ships and tour boats and pleasure craft and rowboats and kayaks and canoes….yep we have seen some of all of it! There are houseboats all along the river and in the more rural areas, we have seen fishing camps/cabins, people picnicking on the banks, and lots of swimming going on. Certainly the latter is an activity you would not find normally on the Mississippi! The color is in the day time more green than blue but at sunrise and sunset, the blue hues are magnificent.

We boarded Scenic Jasper on Monday afternoon. It is a brand new river ship, christened in April 2015. Total folks on board are 169 passengers and 29 crew. Very efficient. Very simple. Our observations having done big ship cruising for years are these – calmer; no hype; quiet; friendly; there are some tour choices but mostly we do same things – walking tours, city tours, can choose to bike in certain places. Oh yes – and the food is very good!

On board first night, we cruised up and down the river seeing the city at night. Magical. Really is difficult to describe. The historic buildings and all the bridges and embankment walkways are lighted. Amazing.

In Budapest, on Tuesday morning, we had a choice and took the city tour that was part walking (Castle District – Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church on the Buda side; Freedom Square and a piano/organ concert by a highly regarded Hungarian musician who is a Franz Litsz award winner (have his name somewhere but cannot put my hands on it). The concert was in a school concert hall set for such as this. The concert hall reminded me of one of the venues we were in in St. Petersburg in 2007 – hot! But once this guy touched the Steinway and then the organ – you forgot all that. We sailed for Vienna at 4pm.

Guides thus far have been excellent. Most travelers are well traveled and looking to learn and enjoy the moment. And 169 passengers makes it friendly and pleasant not institutional which to us is how large ship cruising has become. We also have little GPS devices which tell you what you are passing as you ride down the river as well as support the guide on walking tours or yourself on self-guided excursions. 

We travelled through Slavakia this morning. We are now in Austria and will dock in Vienna around 5pm local. More to come.

For some reason over the years, I choose to reread Hebrews when we travel. I cannot tell you why other than on my first trip abroad years ago (1986 or 1987), I decided I was going to memorize the hall of fame of Hebrews 11. Truthfully, I never got it completely done but the gist of the chapter stays with me. My favorite verse is 9 – Abraham …. obeyed …. “And he went out not knowing where he was going.” I have a pretty good idea where we are supposed to end up on this journey but in the perspective of life, am I willing to be obedient and to go not knowing where God will lead? Food for thought.

Still Choosing Joy!