Getting There is Half the Fun

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The London Eye as seen from Golden Jubilee walking bridge.

It seems that all our trips begin with some unforeseen snafu. A few days before we left for Italy last year, we had a huge storm that knocked down trees and power lines and left us without electricity for several days. We left our house with the power out, not knowing what might happen when in came back on in our absence. This time everything seemed fine as we boarded the bus for the airport. Less than 10 minutes into the trip, the hatch on the well in the bus where the luggage was stowed came open, and suitcases went flying out on the highway. Fortunately none were run over and the driver was able to retrieve them all without disrupting Route 1 traffic too much. I feared it might be an omen, but the rest of the trip went fairly smoothly.

On the plane from Boston, I decided to get a taste of British drama by watching the film Nothing Like a Dame, a documentary with four great British actors, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Eileen Atkins. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these brilliant women reminiscing and laughing together. I may watch it again on the flight home. (We will see Eileen Atkins in a play this week, but more about that later.)

When we arrived at the Royal Horseguards Hotel, our rooms were not yet ready for us, but we were treated to lunch at the  R. S. Hispaniola, a floating restaurant nearby. Jet lag was starting to set in, but we managed to stay awake during the 2-hour lunch and orientation. After lunch and a little nap, we set off for one of the activities we booked on our own, a concert at Royal Festival Hall. To get there, we crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge, a lovely pedestrian bridge with excellent views of the London Eye.

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The Royal Festival Hall stage

The concert featured Welsh opera singer, Bryn Terfel,with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and two young signers, soprano Lauren Fagan and tenor Gareth Jones. The program was mostly opera with some show tunes at the end. It’s always a joy to hear opera singers in concert with an orchestra in a more intimate setting than a large opera house. Terfel was excellent, especially when he sang Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge from Das Rheingold, and I’m sure we’ll see more of the two younger singers as their careers take off.

Tomorrow we spend a good part of the day at Royal Albert Hall listening to brass music and then we see a play in the evening. I’ll share the details here.

Off on a New Adventure

Tower Bridge in London
Tower Bridge Image from Pixabay, CC0

Paul and I are off on a new adventure today, so I’m returning to this blog to share it with family and friends. This time we’re on a group tour to London with folks from the Maine State Music Theater. This isn’t our first trip to London. We visited about 20 years ago, but we had our then 12-year-old son with us, so we planned our vacation around activities we thought he would enjoy. This time, our focus is on musical theater with a few other artsy and touristy activities thrown in.

The advantage to traveling with a group is that most of the planning has been done for us, and we don’t have to worry about transportation, hotels, or luggage. We’ll be staying for a week at the Royal Horseguards Hotel and attending five shows with the MSMT group. We’ve also booked some shows, musical events, and tours on our own, so it should be a fun-filled, action-packed trip.

If you want to enjoy London vicariously through us, you can follow this blog and receive emails each time I post, or watch for updates on Facebook. Facebook has changed its policy about automatically posting to timelines, so I’ll try to remember to manually add the post each day.

I’m off now to do some last minute packing and organizing. See you on the interwebs!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

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Goodbye to the Viking Longship Var

We’re home and it only took us about 21½ hours to get here from Nuremberg. We left the Viking Var yesterday at 10:30 am. (Nuremberg time) in a van that took us to the Nuremberg Airport. We had a short flight to Munich, a very long flight to Boston, a shuttle to the T, a subway train to North Station, and finally rode the Downeaster home to Brunswick. We arrived at the station at 1:40 am (EST) and walked the short distance to our house where we were pleased to find the power had been restored and nothing blew up while we were gone.

We had a fabulous three weeks, but it’s good to be home. I still have many photos to upload to this blog, but then I will be suspending it until we take another trip that seems worthy of documentation.

Thanks to all my family and friends who took the journey with me (virtually). I hope you enjoyed the photos and commentary and you’ll come back in the next few days to see what I’ve added now that I have reliable internet access. And, a little note for my BRHS friends – I want you to know that this blog was written entirely on an iPad, so it is possible!

I’m off now to unpack, do laundry, revive my neglected plants, and clean my house. As exciting as our trip was, I’m really looking forward to these mundane chores.

See you on the interwebs!

Nuremberg Past and Present

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Hitler’s Stadium for Nazi Rallies

Any discussion of Nuremberg’s history has to include its role in Hitler’s Third Reich and World War II. Unlike Regensburg, the medieval old town of Nuremberg was heavily bombed during the war and most of historic buildings were destroyed and rebuilt.

We did not arrive in Nuremberg until around noon today. All morning we sailed up the Danube and into a canal with an amazing lock system that was our major source of entertainment (Really! It was interesting!).

Our tour of Nuremberg began after lunch. The first hour was by bus as we drove by the Nazi rallying sites, including the Deutsches Stadion, a neo-classical structure resembling the Colosseum that was never finished, and Zeppelin Field. Our guide was Annette, a young woman who studied singing at the conservatory in Nuremberg and who is a member of a group called History for Everyone. Their mission is to educate the people of Nuremberg and visitors about all aspects of its history and to ensure that the Nazi atrocities never happen again. Hitler chose Nuremberg as a place for the Nazi party and the Nazi Youth to convene because of its location and relevance to the Holy Roman Empire. Nuremberg also became the site of the famous war trials in 1946-48, partially because Nuremberg was the site for Hitler’s rallies, but mostly (according to Annette) because the Palace of Justice had not been damaged much and it had a prison next door, making transport of criminals less of a security risk.

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Nuremberg’s Restored Medieval Architecture

The next part of our tour was a walking tour of the walled, historical part of the city. As I mentioned before, many of the medieval buildings were destroyed in World War II and rebuilt in the same medieval style. The center of the old city is the Hauptmarkt where the famous Christmas market is being constructed this week but won’t open until the first week of December. On one side of the square is the beautiful Gothic Frauenkirch and an amazing fountain, Schöner Brunnen.

Paul and I did not return to the ship after the walking tour because we had tickets for the ballet, so we had a lot of free time to wander around the walled city. At one point we wandered the wrong way and found ourselves in the red-light district. I encouraged Paul to walk a little faster.

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The Nuremberg State Theater

The ballet was at the Nuremberg State Theater, home of the Nuremberg Symphony, Philharmonic, and Opera.  The hall is smaller than I expected, but very comfortable and we had good seats, right in the center of the orchestra section. This ballet, Don Quijote is a relatively new work by Goyo Montero with music by Owen Belton, a sound designer who was commissioned for this piece. I didn’t really like the music much, but the ballet was visually stunning. I couldn’t take pictures of the performance, but you can see some on the theater’s website. It wasn’t classical ballet, but it was very compelling, and it was good to see so many young people in the audience.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to the Viking Var. We’ve had a wonderful vacation, but I must say, I’m ready to go home.

Regensburg Does Not Hide the Truth

Throughout our lives together, whenever Paul and I talked of traveling to Europe, he was reluctant to consider Germany and Austria as destinations because of their long history of antisemitism. Until today, our city tours never mentioned the darker part of their histories or the role they played in World War II and the Holocaust.

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Our Guide, Ute, and the 12th Century Stone Bridge Across the Danube

Today we toured Regensburg’s well-preserved medieval city center. We joined the tour that promised us some Jewish history and our tour guide, Ute, delivered. Regensburg, like many Bavarian cities, was founded by the Romans and became an important trade center in the Middle Ages. This is apparent in the architecture of the city  where families built high towers to reflect their prosperity. There had been a Jewish community in the city since the 10th century, and the Jewish quarter is thought to be the oldest Jewish ghetto in Germany. The persecution of the Jews began in 1452 with recurrences throughout the years, but antisemetic sentiments were expressed earlier than that, including the Judensau image on the wall of St. Peter’s Cathedral, facing the Jewish quarter. Over the years, Jews were driven from their homes, accused of various crimes, imprisoned, and at one point their cemetery was excavated and the tombstones used as building stones in houses and churches. Our guide showed us an example of a building block in a doorway where you could still see the Hebrew inscription.

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Memorial at the site of the old synagogue

Ute made a point of saying that the people of Regensburg, rather than hiding the darker side of their city’s history, talk to and educate their children about it. Throughout the city center, you can see brass paving stones with engraved names in front of houses where Jewish people once lived but were driven out. These have been installed in recent years so these people will not be forgotten. In 2005 a memorial by Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan was erected in Neupfarrplatz, the site of destroyed Jewish synagogue.

Oskar Schindler (Schindler’s List) lived in Regensburg for a time and there’s a plaque on the side of his house. Throughout our three-week vacation in Europe, I’ve tried not to think about politics at home, but the sign in the window of the Schindler house brought it all back.

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Sign in the Window of the Oskar Schindler House

After the tour, we returned to the boat and spent the afternoon and evening on board, sailing toward Nuremberg. The sun finally came out and I really wanted to take a walk on the sun deck, but it was closed all day. The ship has to pass under many low bridges on the Danube, so I guess the sun deck is not the place to be when that happens. We had dinner with another couple from Georgia, Paul and Beverly. He’s a retired philosophy professor with a love for music, and she’s a psychologist. Needless to say, the conversation was intellectually stimulating and very satisfying.

Tomorrow we will arrive in Nuremberg for the last day of our trip. We’ll take a walking tour of the city, and then we will go to the ballet, Don Quijote, at the Staatstheater Nürnberg. This is not a cruise event; Paul and I are going on our own so we’ll have to miss the ship’s Thanksgiving dinner. We figure we can have turkey any time, but we can’t miss an opportunity to see this ballet!

At the Confluence of Three Rivers

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One of five pipe organs at St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Passau, Germany is a charming city on the border with Austria where the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers flow together. We’ve been told that the water of each river is a different color, but today it all looked the same – gray.

We had a dark, cold, wet morning for our walking tour of Passau, but it was still lovely. Our tour guide was Sofia, a native of Passau who attended high school and university there and clearly loves the history and baroque architecture of her home town. Passau’s location at the confluence of three rivers is, in Sofia’s words, a blessing and a curse. The rivers are a boon for commerce, but they often flood, leaving much damage behind. Many buildings have high water marks on their facades, and it was apparent that, had we been walking the streets during the flood of 2013, we would have been several meters under water.

The highlight of the tour was St. Stephen’s Cathedral (there are many St. Stephen’s churches in this part of Germany and Austria). We have seen many churches in our travels, but what sets this one apart is its spectacular pipe organ with 17, 974 pipes, the largest in Europe. It’s actually five organs (one in the framework of the ceiling!) that can be played separately or as one. Had we come to Passau even a month earlier, we would have been able to attend an organ concert here, but we missed it.

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Gingerbread Demonstration

Our tour of Passau ended at Cafe Simon where we were treated to a cup of hot spiced wine and a Lebkuchen (gingerbread) demonstration and tasting.

In the afternoon, we took a bus to Gut Aichet, a beautiful Bavarian farm that has been run by generations of the same family since 1472. The farm has become a riding center, with more than 50 horses in its stables and facilities for dressage and show jumping training. The hunting lodge on the property was the site for our Bavarian Beerfest where we were served beer and pretzels and entertained by a very talented fourteen-year-old accordion player.

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At the Bavarian Beerfest

The owner of the farm demonstrated some traditional dancing and even taught the dance to a few volunteers who may have been more successful if they had learned the dance first and then consumed the beer. (I have some video clips that I’ll add when I have more robust WiFi.)  It was the perfect way to spend a cold rainy afternoon.

Back on the boat, we had dinner with two couples, one from Georgia and the other from New York. We leaned all about farming in Georgia, shared opinions about our health care system, and only occasionally talked about sports. Paul and I skipped the evening’s festivities in the lounge and turned in early.

Tomorrow we’ll stop in Regensburg for another city tour on the beautiful blue Danube.

Göttweig Abbey and the Wachau Valley

Today was a traveling day. After our morning shore excursion, we spent all afternoon and evening on the boat, sailing through the region on the Danube between Krems and Melk known as the Wachau, and then heading toward Passau, Germany.

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Göttweig Abbey

Our morning excursion was a visit to the beautiful Göttweig Abbey. It’s a 900-year-old Benedictine monastery, high up on a mountain, overlooking the Wachau valley. The original abbey burned but was rebuilt in the early 18th century. We were greeted by our tour guide and served a sparkling apricot wine which I gladly accepted figuring it was five o’clock somewhere. The wine is one of the many products of the abbey’s orchards and vineyards that the monks make and sell. After an introductory video, we were taken on a walking tour. The imperial wing of the abbey is impressive, featuring a spectacular grand staircase in the baroque style, surrounded by statues and a ceiling fresco by Paul Troger.

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The library at Göttweig Abbey

The abbey also houses a huge library that was, unfortunately, not open to the public, but I took a picture of a picture of it. I love libraries and I wish I could actually walk into this one. We also visited the abbey church where we admired another huge pipe organ. It’s too bad we weren’t here for Mass on Sunday when we would have heard it played.

After the tour, we were treated to a wine tasting, with the option to purchase some, of course. We tasted a red (Stift Göttweig), a Riesling, and another white the name of which I cannot remember. We decided to buy a bottle of the red, and we’ll save it to enjoy with our son when he comes home for Christmas.

Back on the boat, we spent the afternoon sailing and half listening to commentary over the ship’s PA system by our Program Director, Boris. I took that opportunity to get in some steps on the walking track on the sun deck, hoping that bucking the wind would burn off some of the extra calories I’ve been consuming. As I walked, I watched castles and terraced vineyards pass by. We had Austrian Tea Time later and apple strudel was served. I managed to resist and had only a small bite of Paul’s. It was delicious.

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Passing through a lock

On our journey to Passau, we passed under bridges and through at least one lock (there may have been others in the night that I missed). Passing through the lock was cool, although a bit claustrophobic. We watched it from the lounge in the bow of the boat so we had a good view of the whole procedure.

After dinner, we returned to the lounge for the evening’s entertainment, a music trivia contest. Paul and I did pretty well, but we didn’t get bonus points for dancing, so other teams beat us. Today reminded me why I’ve never really had any desire to do an ocean cruise. There’s definitely a cruise culture that I just can’t get into. As hard as the staff works to keep people entertained while we’re traveling from port to port, I get bored easily. I much prefer the shore excursions and cultural activities.

Tomorrow we dock at Passau for a tour in the morning and then Bavarian Beerfest!