09 November - Passau, Germany

Today was the first day that it was raining when I woke up, can't really complain since it has been in the 60's since the beginning of my trip with mostly sunny skies. We we scheduled to arrive in Passau only at 9:00am which meant I could sleep in a bit and have a later breakfast.

Passau is a town in Lower Bavaria, Germany. It is also known as the Dreiflüssestadt or "City of Three Rivers," because the Danube is joined at Passau by the Inn river from the south and the Ilz from the north.

Passau was an ancient Roman colony of ancient Noricum called Batavis, Latin for "for the Batavi." The Batavi were an ancient Germanic tribe often mentioned by classical authors, and they were regularly associated with the Suebian marauders, the Heruli. During the second half of the 5th century, St. Severinus established a monastery here. In 739, an English monk called Boniface founded the diocese of Passau and this was the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire for many years.

During the Renaissance and early modern period, Passau was one of the most prolific centres of sword and bladed weapons manufacturing in Germany (after Solingen). Passau smiths stamped their blades with the Passau wolf, usually a rather simplified rendering of the wolf on the city's coat-of-arms. Superstitious warriors believed that the Passau wolf conferred invulnerability on the blade's bearer, and thus Passau swords acquired a great premium. As a result, the whole practice of placing magical charms on swords to protect the wearers came to be known for a time as "Passau art." 

Passau was secularised and divided between Bavaria and Salzburg in 1803. The portion belonging to Salzburg became part of Bavaria in 1805. From 1892 until 1894, Adolf Hitler and his family lived in Passau. The city archives mention Hitler being in Passau on four different occasions in the 1920s for speeches. On November 3, 1902 Heinrich Himmler and his family arrived from Munich. They lived at Theresienstraße 394 (currently Theresienstraße 22) until September 2, 1904. Himmler maintained contact with locals until May 1945.
During World War II, the town housed three sub-camps of the infamous Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp: Passau I (Oberilzmühle), Passau II (Waldwerke Passau-Ilzstadt) and Passau III (Jandelsbrunn).

Tourism in Passau focuses mainly on the three rivers, the St. Stephen's Cathedral and the "Old City" (Die Altstadt). With 17,774 pipes and 233 registers, the organ at St. Stephen's was long held to be the largest church pipe organ in the world and is today second in size only to the organ at First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, which was expanded in 1994. Organ concerts are held daily between May and September. St.Stephen's is a true masterpiece of Italian Baroque, built by Italian architect Carlo Lurago and decorated in part by Carpoforo Tencalla. Many river cruises down the Danube start at Passau and there is a cycling path all the way down to Vienna. It is also notable for its gothic and baroque architecture. The town is dominated by the Veste Oberhaus and the former fortress of the Bishop, on the mountain crest between the Danube and the Ilz rivers. Right beside the town hall is the Scharfrichterhaus, an important jazz and cabaret stage on which political cabaret is performed.

On the walking tour we visited the cathedral and had an organ recital which was very enjoyable. These European cathedrals are so detailed in their ornamentation. Baroque and gold leaf is everywhere making the experience surreal. 

The rain started to increase and the cobbled-stoned streets were getting really hard to walk on and I was finding it difficult to hold an umbrella in one hand and a camera in the other without getting it wet. I was starting to get impatient and ready to turn around and go back to the ship on my own when lo and behold as we came close to the Inn river I came across an old lady feeding some ducks. There were dozens of these feathered creatures everywhere around her. They are not fearful of people so it was easy to approach them. Considering my affection for ducks I was thrilled at this encounter which totally gave me my second wind. Then some swans came by to make this a perfect scene, I just had to take a ton of shots of them. 

This was the last day of my trip and I thought it was fitting to end it the way I began it two weeks ago by looking at the little ducks I love so much.

We went back to the ship and as I was packing it was great fun to think of all the magical towns and places I had visited. It definitely is true that life is like a book and if you don't travel you have only read a page. I have been fortunate to have added many new pages to my book and will look forward to the next. 

08 November - Linz & Salzburg, Austria

This morning I awoke in the town of Linz. Linz is the third-largest city of Austria and capital of the state of Upper Austria. It is located in the north centre of Austria, approximately 19 miles south of the Czech border, on both sides of the river Danube. The weather was unbelievable today with a bright sun and temperatures in the mid sixties, could not have asked for better.

The city was founded by the Romans, who called it Lentia. The name Linz was first recorded in AD 799. It was a provincial and local government city of the Holy Roman Empire, and an important trading point connecting several routes, on either side of the river Danube from the East to the West and Bohemia and Poland from north to the Balkans and Italy to the south. Being the city where the Habsburg Emperor Friedrich III spent his last years, it was, for a short period of time, the most important city in the empire. It lost its status to Vienna and Prague after the death of the Emperor in 1493.

One important inhabitant of the city was Johannes Kepler, who spent several years of his life in the city teaching mathematics. He discovered, on 15 May 1618, the distance-cubed-over-time-squared — or 'third' — law of planetary motion. The local public university, Johannes Kepler University, is named after him. Another famous citizen was Anton Bruckner, who spent the years between 1855 and 1868 working as a local composer and church organist in the city. The Brucknerhaus is named after him.

Adolf Hitler was born in the border town of Braunau am Inn but moved to Linz in his childhood. Hitler spent most of his youth in the Linz area, from 1898 until 1907, when he left for Vienna. The family lived first in the village of Leonding on the outskirts of town, and then on the Humboldtstrasse in Linz. After elementary education in Leonding, Hitler was enrolled in the Realschule (school) in Linz, as was the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. 

Notorious Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann also spent his youth in Linz. To the end of his life, Hitler considered Linz to be his "home town", and envisioned extensive architectural schemes for it, wanting it to become the main cultural centre of the Third Reich. In order to make the city economically vibrant, Hitler initiated a major industrialization of Linz shortly before, and during, World War II.

We had an early breakfast because we had a full day tour to Salzburg planned and I couldn't wait to see where they filmed the "Sound of Music" one of my favorite movies.

The ride to Salzburg was several hours so we made a stop along the way to a great rest stop on Moonlake. This was an amazing area with the restaurant having glass walls all around so you can have a Cafe Latte and croissant while viewing the lake, it was breathtaking.

When we arrived in Salzburg we had a walking tour which was amazing.

Salzburg's "Old Town" (Altstadt) has internationally renowned baroque architecture and one of the best-preserved city centres north of the Alps. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Host to three universities and a large population of students, Salzburg is noted for its attractive setting and scenic Alpine backdrop. Salzburg was the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

In the mid‑20th century, the city was the setting for parts of the musical and film The Sound of Music. Traces of human settlements have been found in the area dating to the Neolithic Age. The first settlements at Salzburg were apparently begun by the Celts around the 5th century BC.

Around 15 BC the separate settlements were merged into one city by the Roman Empire. At this time the city was called Juvavum and was awarded the status of a Roman municipium in 45 AD. Juvavum developed into an important town of the Roman province of Noricum. After the collapse of the Norican frontier, Juvavum declined so sharply that by the late 7th century it had become a "near ruin".

The Life of Saint Rupert credits the 8th-century saint with the city's rebirth. When Theodo of Bavaria asked Rupert to become bishop c. 700, Rupert reconnoitered the river for the site of his basilica. Rupert chose Juvavum, ordained priests, and annexed the manor Piding. Rupert named the city "Salzburg". He traveled to evangelise among pagans. The name Salzburg means "Salt Castle". It derives its name from the barges carrying salt on the Salzach River, which were subject to a toll in the 8th century, as was customary for many communities and cities on European rivers. The Festung Hohensalzburg, the city's fortress, was built in 1077 and expanded during the following centuries.

Once the city tour was over we had four hours of free time and I made my way to the cable car to take me up to the Hohensalzburg castle overlooking the city.

Construction of the fortress began in 1077 under Archbishop Gebhard von Helfenstein. This original design was just a basic bailey with a wooden wall. In the Holy Roman Empire, the archbishops of Salzburg were already powerful political figures and they expanded the castle to protect their interests. Gebhard's conflict with Emperor Henry IV during the Investiture Controversy influenced the expansion of the castle, with the Archbishop taking the side of Pope Gregory VII and the German anti-king Rudolf of Rheinfelden. The castle was gradually expanded during the following centuries. The ring walls and towers were built in 1462 under Prince-Archbishop Burkhard II von Weißpriach.

I wandered around the fortress which had incredible views of all of Salzburg and I took a ton of photos. 

There was a cute restaurant up there where I had lunch. I had sausages and french fries which were really terrific.

After my tour of the fortress I wandered the streets of Salzburg to do some shopping and to take some more pictures. Every place you look is a photo op and I think I took 400 pictures today.

There is a cute square in front of Mozart's house which is bright yellow. This is a very busy place as you can imagine and there was a man selling warm chestnuts from a cart which smelled great.


Salzburg is a beautiful city with great ornate storefront signs. After some shopping I got a cafe latte and then headed back to the meeting point to take the tour bus back to the ship.

This was a long day so after dinner I was happy to take a nice hot shower and cuddle up in my bed with my nightly hot chocolate before a well deserved sleep.

07 November - Durnstein, Austria

This morning I awoke in the quaint town of Durnstein, Germany. Dürnstein is a small town on the Danube river in the Krems-Land district, in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region and also a well-known wine growing area. Dürnstein was first mentioned in 1192, when, in the castle above the town, King Richard I Lionheart of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. Richard had personally offended Leopold by casting down his standard from the walls at the Battle of Acre, and the duke suspected that King Richard ordered the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem. 

In consequence Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader. The duke finally gave the custody of Richard to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle. Dürnstein Castle was almost completely destroyed by the troops of the Swedish Empire under Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson in 1645. Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein) was established in 1410 by Canons Regular from Třeboň and from 1710 rebuilt in a Baroque style according to plans by Joseph Munggenast, Jakob Prandtauer and Matthias Steinl. The monastery was dissolved by order of Emperor Joseph II in 1788 and fell to the Herzogenburg Priory.

After breakfast we were taken to a private wine tasting at the wine estate Nikolaihof. Nikolaihof is the oldest wine estate in Austria, whose history goes back almost 2000 years to Roman times. In the walls of Nikolaihof can be found remains of the early Christian Agapit basilica in which Bishop Pilgrim of Passau held a synod in 985 A.D. In 1075 the former Freihof was referred to in a document as the central administrative seat of the Passau monastery of St Nikola; the present-day chapel was established by the Augustinian canons of this monastery. Wine has been produced here since the time of the Celts. The first documentary evidence of this dates from around 470 A.D. in the time of St Severin and the Romans.

The Saahs family operates in accordance with the regulations of the Demeter Association, one of the strictest control systems of organic agriculture. Its principles may be very roughly summed up as follows: to get as much power and energy as possible into the wine whilst interfering with nature as little as possible. In the Nikolaihof vineyards no herbicides, pesticides, artificial fertilisers nor synthetic sprays are used, but stinging nettle manure, valerian drops, valerian tea and other specially produced preparations, which are applied in highly diluted form like homeopathic medicines, are used. 

The whole farm or enterprise must be run along biodynamic guidelines. Regular state inspections ensure that these working principles are properly applied. The biodynamic wine estate is regulated through the Austrian wine code, the Austrian foodstuffs codex and the EU directive ‘Ecological Agriculture'. 

The Moon also has its Part to Play :For planting and harvesting times the Saahs family refers to the moon calendar – a sort of tightrope balancing act between sensible measures and the esoteric, as Christine Saahs admits.

The wine tavern uses primarily organic food from local farmers to prepare meals, the bread is baked on premise. Ground poppy seed, ducks, geese, chicken, meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, lettuce, sheep cheese, goat cheese, noodles, spices, and much more is delivered by well-known local organic farmers. For dessert we offer Indio-coffee from organic cultivation supplemented by our special whole wheat desserts. 

Apart from producing wine, the Nikolaihof Wachau also produces Apricot Schnaps, Apricot Jam, Stewed Apricot, Johanni-nut Liqueur, Elder-blossom Syrup, Elder Toaster, Mustard Plums, Mustard Pears, Kremser Mustard, and Wachauer Mustard.

We visited the wine cellars and met the owner who explained the wine process to us, it was very interesting. We then went to their dining room and sampled three varieties of delicious white wine along with some pate and salmon mousse accompanied with fresh home made bread, it was a very nice experience.

Then it was off to the ship once more since we were were sailing at noon. I had a great lunch onboard and this afternoon was a highlight of the cruise, sailing the Unesco Wachau Valley. The Wachau is an Austrian valley with a picturesque landscape formed by the Danube river. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations of Lower Austria, located midway between the towns of Melk and Krems that also attracts "connoisseurs and epicureans". It is 25 miles in length and was already settled in prehistoric times. The architectural elegance of its ancient monasteries like Melk Abbey, castles and ruins combined with the urban architecture of its towns and villages, and the cultivation of vines as an important agricultural produce are the dominant features of the valley. The Wachau was inscribed as "Wachau Cultural Landscape" in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in recognition of its architectural and agricultural history, in December 2000.

During lunch it was fantastic to see this landscape sail by, it was one picture-perfect town after the other for many hours as we sailed towards Melk.

We arrived in Melk at around 3pm and we then left for one of my highlights of the cruise, a visit to Melk Abbey!

The abbey was founded in 1089 when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria gave one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey. A monastic school, the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, was founded in the 12th century, and the monastic library soon became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection. The monastery's scriptorium was also a major site for the production of manuscripts. In the 15th century the abbey became the centre of the Melk Reform movement which reinvigorated the monastic life of Austria and Southern Germany.

Today's impressive Baroque abbey was built between 1702 and 1736 to designs by Jakob Prandtauer. Particularly noteworthy is the abbey church with frescos by Johann Michael Rottmayr and the impressive library with countless medieval manuscripts, including a famed collection of musical manuscripts and frescos by Paul Troger. The Abbey also has as it's prize possession the Melk Cross which contains part of the wood from the crucifixion cross of Jesus Christ. 

Due to its fame and academic stature, Melk managed to escape dissolution under Emperor Joseph II when many other Austrian abbeys were seized and dissolved between 1780 and 1790. The abbey managed to survive other threats to its existence during the Napoleonic Wars, and also in the period following the Nazi Anschluss that took control of Austria in 1938, when the school and a large part of the abbey were confiscated by the state.

The school was returned to the abbey after the Second World War and now caters for nearly 900 pupils of both sexes. Since 1625 the abbey has been a member of the Austrian Congregation, now within the Benedictine Confederation. In his well-known novel "The Name of the Rose", Umberto Eco named one of the protagonists "Adson von Melk" as a tribute to the abbey and its famous library.

From the outdoor observation deck there is a fabulous view on the town of Melk and since we were there at sunset, it truly was breathtaking.

After the Abbey visit we headed back to the ship. Before dinner we had a sketch presentation in the lounge on the life of Franz Joseph and Sisi. There were two actors dressed in period costumes who described the life of these two historical figures. It was done with humor and was a lot of fun to watch.

Tonight we had an Epicurian dinner with the best Austrian recipes from the region accompanied with the finest of wines. After this gastronomical event I retired early to my comfy cabin, I watched a movie and enjoyed a late night hot chocolate before falling asleep.


06 November - Vienna, Austria Day 2

When I awoke this morning I was pleased to see it was a mild sunny day. After an early breakfast I set off to join the tour that would take me into downtown Vienna. Since I had been to Vienna before I advised the tour guide that I would leave the tour once in the center of town since I had reservations at the Spanish Riding School to see the world famous Lipizzan stallions on their morning exercises. The last time I was here I did not have the time to see them and I promised myself this treat once I came back and now the day had come.

The maneuvers and jumps associated with high classical dressage were originally designed as equine military training to develop strength, agility, balance, concentration and focus on the rider’s demands. Over time, they have been transformed into a living art form of balletic grace and precision, celebrating the accomplishments of some of the most remarkable horses on the planet. The principles of dressage were created by Greek historian and military leader Xenophon in 400 B.C.E. and are most famously represented today in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. For Xenophon, the rider’s connection with the horse is key: “If the rider is not in harmony with the nature of the animal, then it will perform as a burden with no display of pleasure.” To master this equestrian art form, both rider and horse must work together for years at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School perfecting the movements.

When they are approx. 4 years old, the Lipizzaner stallions leave their birthplace Piber and travel to Vienna to the Spanish Riding School where they are subsequently trained according to the principles of classical horsemanship. The first priority of a Lipizzaner’s training is in no way different to that of any other horse and can be summed up as the pursuit of obedience, suppleness, responsiveness and ease. Lipizzaners are not only frugal, strong and particularly well suited for the art of classical horsemanship; they are intelligent and have an exceedingly good memory. These are all qualities that the trainer should know and make use of in his work with the horse.

The first year deals with the elementary field schooling of the "Remonte“, the young horse. The horse is ridden as much as possible in a natural posture in uncollected gaits on straight lines.

The following year comprises what is called the secondary field schooling, the Campagne School. The collected horse is ridden in all gaits, turns and circles in complete balance.

The "Haute École“ (High School): here the rider brings his horse to perfection. Everything now depends on the individual skill, talent, strength and sensitivity of each stallion and what he offers. In total collection the stallion learns the piaffe, the passage, pirouettes and to change legs in the canter. It takes approx. 6 years for a stallion to be ready to take part in the School Quadrille and having accomplished this he has completed his schooling. Only very few, particularly talented and sensitive stallions master the art of the “Schools above the Ground” (levade, courbette, capriole).

They are magnificent animals and it was a joy to see them in action. Here is a short video which shows how beautiful they are.

After the show I had some free time for shopping and then met up again with the tour who were getting ready to return to the ship for lunch. The city is so lovely with horse-drawn carriages dotting the streets of baroque architecture.

After lunch we had a tour scheduled of Schonbrunn Palace.

At the end of the 17th century Emperor Leopold I commissioned the gifted Baroque architect Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to built a palatial hunting lodge for the heir to the throne. On the site of the old imperial château de plaisance a splendid edifice was to arise.

Half a century later under Maria Theresa, Schönbrunn Palace was to become the magnificent focus of court life. From that time onwards it played host to the leading statesmen of Europe. Although Austria is now a republic, Schönbrunn has remained a place of political encounter at the highest level. The magnificent architecture and the exquisite décor of its state rooms marks Schönbrunn out as a cultural treasure and tourist attraction of the first order.

Schönbrunn Palace is part of the World Cultural Heritage and Austria's most visited sight. This Baroque synthesis of different arts, consisting of a palace and gardens, has been in the possession of the Habsburgs for centuries, and is today largely in its original historical condition. Visitors find numerous attractions, from a tour through the authentically furnished residential and representational rooms of the Imperial family in the Palace, through the maze and the labyrinth in the garden to a separate children's museum.

Emperor Franz Joseph, who later married the enchanting Sisi and reigned from 1848 to 1916, was born here in 1830. The monarch spent his last years entirely in the palace, which became the property of the new Republic of Austria only two years after his death. Today, the palace is part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage due to its historic importance, its unique grounds and its splendid furnishings.

The rooms are mostly decorated in Rococo style. Most of the walls and ceilings are covered with white-lacquered surfaces with ornamentation covered with gold leaf. Bohemian crystal chandeliers and white porcelain tile stoves are also part of the harmonious design. The living quarters and offices used by Emperor Francis Joseph are simple and very unpretentious; by contrast, the state rooms and guestrooms are much more lavish. 
In 1772, six-year-old child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a concert in the Hall of Mirrors. In the Round Chinese Room, Maria Theresa held secret conferences with her Chancellor, Prince Kaunitz. Napoleon met with his generals in the Vieux Laque Room. In the Blue Chinese Salon, Emperor Charles I signed his abdication of the crown in 1918, marking the end of 640 years of Habsburg dominion in Austria and the demise of the monarchy.

The Room of Millions, paneled with rosewood and decorated from floor to ceiling with priceless Indian and Persian miniatures, is probably the most magnificent Rococo room anywhere in the world. The Congress of Vienna danced in the Grand Gallery in 1814-15; today, the Austrian government gives state receptions there when important heads of state come to Austria for official visits.

After the palace tour we headed back to the ship to relax prior to dinner. They usually have a port talk in the lounge for the upcoming day however I headed for my cabin to take a nice shower massage before getting ready for dinner.

05 November - Cruising, Vienna, Austria

Today was a full day of sailing on the Danube on our way to Vienna. Once again it was great to sleep in and have a late breakfast. I took the time to relax today and take some photos of the ship.

Lunch is always a sumptuous buffet with hot and cold entrees of all kinds, you could never taste it all (but I did try!). 

I love eating in the dining room when we are sailing, it's great to sit there enjoying gourmet food and wine while tiny villages sail by outside the panoramic windows.

Today was a rather gray day but still warm and no rain so it made relaxing kinda cozy.

It was a good day to catch up on photo editing and also a quick nap before dinner.....ahhhh the life on a river cruise is wonderful!

We arrived in Vienna in the early evening and we we docked in an area that showed us the modern side of this incredible city.

I went to dinner around 7:30 and had a nice Caesar salad, lobster bisque and the most wonderful salmon followed by French pastries. River cruising does nothing for your diet unfortunately :o) 

I made it an early night watching a movie in my cabin and then drifted off to dream of the next day in Vienna!

04 November - Budapest, Hungary Day 2

Today we were docked again in Budapest for another day of exploring. Since I have been to Budapest before I decided to forgo the morning tour and sleep in and plan an excursion for the afternoon.

Since most mornings have early scheduling, it felt good to have breakfast at 9:30am instead of 8am. It was nice to have a leisurely morning. I relaxed until noon and then I had a great lunch onboard before leaving for my afternoon tour to the town of Szentendre. Szentendre is a riverside town in Pest county, Hungary, near the capital city Budapest. It is known for its museums, galleries, and artists.

In the 18th century, after liberation from the Ottomans, the Crown recruited farmers and artisans from Germany and southern Slavs to repopulate areas that had been occupied by the Ottomans. Szentendre enjoyed a rebirth, with new settlers including Serbian, Croatian, Slovak, and Greeks, who settled alongside the Magyar residents. 

According to the 1720 data, 88% of the population of the town were South Slavs (mostly Serbs, but also some South Slavic Catholics). The town to this day is characterized by southern European elements, including baroque architecture, churches of various faiths, narrow side streets, and cobblestone roads. This charming little town, whose name means "Saint Andrew", is known for its well-preserved houses and churches, many built in a Balkan style as the area was originally settled by Serb refugees. Today the town's best-known inhabitants are artists and small galleries can be found on every street corner.

Szentendre has been the home of many generations of Hungarian artists since the early 20th century. The streets are lined with shops brimming with incredible hand made products. You can find beautiful glassware, leather goods, the famous Hungarian paprika, souvenirs of all kinds in addition to some great food stuffs including spices and quaint holiday craft shops.


After a few hours in this little gem of a town I returned to the ship which was 60 minutes away. I had arranged a private car transfer from the ship which cost less than a tour and I was happy to be the only passenger in the car.

I returned to the ship around 4pm and we set sail at 5:45pm for Vienna. Sailing in and out of Budapest is always a highlight of these cruises since the ship sails past the Parliament Buildings which are an awesome site. I took a bunch of pictures at sunset as we sailed away.

Tonight was the gala Captain's Welcome Aboard dinner and I get dressed up in chiffon and pearls, was a great evening.

After dinner I joined some traveling companions in the lounge to listen to some music for a short time and then returned to my cabin to make it an early night. I always like to return to the cabin not too late so that I can check my photos for the day, work on my blog and of course savor my nightly hot chocolate!