April 4, 2013
Viking Danube Waltz
Current events -- the Dow is at record highs, currently 14500. + Cyprus's financial troubles has had some effects recently -- fear that it will fail and with that, bring markets down severely. Banks have been closed, limits on ATM withdrawals and large depositors may have to experience losses to cover the Gov't debt.
Other news -- North Korea threatening nuclear war against So. Korea and US -- moving missiles to their east coast... only time will tell if this is real or rhetoric from their new young leader.
Check in at British air went smoothly, however, security did want to open my roll-on to see the small bag of PC accessories. Getting to the airport early helped to avoid the long lines later. The flight was comfortable, a Boeing 777 -- we had opposite isles, 23C and D
Service was excellent, a meal (pasta) was very nice, wine, beer and mixed drinks were complimentary. Before landing in London, we were served a muffin and coffee, tea etc.
The connection in Heathrow was another story... We had to get from terminal 5 to terminal 3 -- We thought that 90 minutes between flights would be a breeze... not so.
Getting to terminal 3 took about 30 minutes -- then going through security was one of the worst experiences we've had in our many years of travel.
Our luggage had to be hand inspected -- as did many others. The process was painfully slow. After about another 30 minutes and much frustration with how everything in our carry on was taken out for a closer look, we raced to the gate (another 7 minute walk)-- the flight was "closing" as we ran towards the desk and bus waiting to depart. Another unexpected challenge was having to carry our bags up and down steps to and from two planes that did not have jet ways.
The flight to Prague was 1hr. 30 minutes and uneventful. A sandwich and soft drink then a brief nap... we arrived on time -- finally in Prague.
Collecting our luggage and Passport control took another 30 minutes, then we exited to meet our Viking contact -- we waited briefly for 2 other couples who were also going to the Hilton (they were from Arizona). It's 30 degrees and overcast, but NO snow!
The ride to the hotel took about 35 minutes. Road and residential construction in the heart of the city is beyond belief. Traffic as a result moves slowly. Patience was tested once again.
Check in began with meeting Blanco -- she is our Viking contact at the hotel. We spent about 30 minutes with her, learned the schedule of tours, options and events. She's there from 8 AM to 7PM should we need assistance.
Check in at the reception desk was easy. Martin had already seen from the record that Lucie Balazova (emailed her from US with power questions) had taken care of our preferences. Our room 2003 is just as we asked. Near the "lift" -- and king bed.
The hotel and room are first class. Quiet, every amenity we could expect, plenty of 220 V outlets (only one 110V in the bathroom) a large safe, big enough for the largest laptop possible...we unpacked, (my pillow arrived fine in the vacuum travel bag) we then freshened up and decided to split a salad and sandwich (about $50.00) before collapsing -- so very tired from the full day of travel.
Tomorrow -- breakfast then a city tour -- the evening at the opera...
April 5, 2013 Prague
We awakened (several times) and then finally at 6AM -- dressed appropriately for the morning tour of the city with Viking. It's 30 degrees with slight wind and overcast. It's turns out to be exactly the same temperature in NJ!
The "included" breakfast in the Hilton was excellent in every way! From immediate seating and wait staff attention, to the wide selection of meats, fish, breads, juices and such. The dining area was immaculate and everything on the buffet beautifully presented. Omelets and other egg choices were prepared to your order.
We joined the Viking group of about 18 to tour with Renatta and her driver for the next 3 hours. The bus was clean and comfortable. Vaux hearing units were provided for the walking portions.
As we passed through the city "the lesser" old and new, Jewish quarters etc. Renatta did an excellent job describing in detail ... and answered any questions we had. Our first stop was about 20 minutes from the hotel at the Prague Castle -- we walked over cobble stone and other rough surfaces. One gentleman in a wheelchair did have difficulties with some of the surfaces. We had cursory tours of the St. Vitus Cathedral and of the gardens and museum areas. More in depth tours were available for purchase if anyone wanted to leave the group. A brief stop at the stables -- where we enjoyed tea and hot chocolate. The cost was about 4.00 per cup!! But good! We were reminded by the waiter to tip ONLY if service if deserving. Leave nothing otherwise.
After a couple of bus moves, at noon, we walked across the Charles Bridge, rubbed the St. John plaque (The Saint, not the dog) on the statue to assure our return to Prague, then walked into the old town square to see the "Astronomical clock". We arrived exactly at 2 minutes to 12, just in time to see (and video) the fascinating display of the 12 apostles and sound of the bells.
Following that, Renatta suggested a local nearby restaurant -- We and another couple (Stan and Barb Foster from north of Pittsburgh) easily found the place (The address of the restaurant-street name-Michalsk 25,Prague 1-Old Town, located in Richter house, restaurant name V cÃpu) and enjoyed a delicious breaded schnitzel lunch with potatoes, 2 large pieces of meat, I had wine, Diane a beer, the total for the meal was about 11 dollars! Great service, fabulous value and nice atmosphere... Highly recommend it!
We walked another Â½ mile to the bus, then to the hotel. Traffic much more than we recalled from our visit in 2001.
We tipped the driver equivalent of US $2.00 and guide $5.00 (100 crowns). Noticed that most of the guests did tip.
Stopped at the Albert supermarket opposite the hotel and purchased ham, cheese, rolls and wine to have for a light lunch... delicious rolls make the sandwiches perfect. We also purchased Palatka (something we in the US reserve for holidays, they eat everyday). Note: We had difficulty using the Mileage Plus Visa card. The cashier could not find a way to process the charge. A long line of angry customers grew even more impatient as she continued to every trick she knew ... we ended up having to use cash for this purchase.
Our room had not yet been cleaned so, wanting a nap we called to ask housekeeping to return at 6 while we were out for the evening.
Don Giovanni at Estates theatre, we had ordered the tickets on the internet and had them mailed to NJ.
A taxi arranged at the Viking desk (200 koruna -- 10.00 plus tip)
Great performance (R) rated by our standards... 3 hours, tough seats to sit on for that long. Coats were required to be checked (tips were expected).
The cab ride back to the hotel was "negotiated" at 250 korunas... + tip. The ride back took less than half the time there, the result of one way streets.
A nightcap then to bed. Tomorrow is an easy day.... nothing planned except the Madam Butterfly at the State Opera Theater.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Another gray day, still in the low 30's, ... after breakfast we did a bit of shopping (for snacks) just at the other supermarket (behind albert's) -- more bread, cold cuts and soft drinks. Total about 10.00 US.
We later arranged for car service for the opera, (thru the Hilton) at 6PM. caught up on some emails, did some reading and took a nap.
The ride to the theater was another near disaster... We clearly told the Viking rep and the driver to please note the address of the opera... (we had been warned in the letter that came with the tickets to do so as the National Theater logo often leads to venue confusion) -- well, no matter how careful we thought we were ... we were dropped off at the wrong place. Fortunately, a young man working in the box office at the National theater called the Hilton for us, the car was sent back immediately for us... we made it to the State Opera Theater with enough time to leisurely check coats and be seated in the third row, center!!
The 3 hour Madam Butterfly opera was beautifully done as was the opera house. The performance, the voices, the sets, the ambiance, the 65 pc orchestra all made for a delightful last evening in Prague. (Butterfly was about 250lbs. and about 40, as was Pinkerton.)
The car was waiting, the ride back to the hotel was 5 minutes or less -- at a 200 crowns.
We made & split a sandwich, did some packing, Diane ironed a few items, tomorrow we leave for Passau and the Viking Prestige.
April 7, 2013
Lovely breakfast, checked out at 12, identified our luggage, then boarded the bus for the 4 hr. ride to Passau and the Prestige. Helga was our guide, Martin the driver. The temperature as we climbed the Bohemian mountains dropped to -2 C. The rolling hills and evergreen scenes thru the Forrest were beautiful even with the gray sky. The grassy areas were snow covered, the many homes along the way and small villages added to the charm of the country.
We stopped briefly about half way at a lovely gas station for a snack and rest facilities. The pastries were delicious, tea and coffee available -- reasonably priced and very accommodating.
As we reached Passau, the light snow had changed to rain. We quickly boarded, then checked in at reception and found cabin 304. The ship is immaculate, the decor beautiful, the public areas appear very attractive and comfortable. (except for the rough toilet paper which we complained about they were aware of the issue). Viking DOES LISTEN and respond to guest issues!!
In no time, our luggage was delivered, we unpacked, had plenty of drawer and hanging space for the modest amount of clothing we brought. Freshened up, then did a bit of ship browsing to get some idea of what was where, then joined Sue, Tom, & Mary from Ohio in the lounge for wine and a presentation by staff of events and tours planned for the week.
Standing room only -- not enough seating to accommodate all that came to hear the talk.
Off to the dining room for dinner. Wine, Beer and soft drinks flowed freely (thanks to Viking Marketing and my suggestion a year or so ago) -- Diane and I each had the shrimp appetizer, then I the roasted salmon, she the veal, both were delicious, excellently prepared and nicely presented. Desert was fruit (tangerine) for me, coffee and a small pastry for Diane. Entre portion sizes were small, but adequate. Larger portions or additional servings were available for the asking.
Back to the cabin to get some well needed rest! Tomorrow we start touring.
April 8, 2013
Breakfast on board was another delightful experience. The buffet was filled with everything one might expect for the meal. Meats, fish, eggs, veggies, cereals, breads, coffee, juices and omelets made to order.
A brief life jacket exercise, (a waste of time and no instructions) then a very interesting presentation on the EU.
At 10:30 we met our group and guide (Sonya) for a 1.5hr walking tour of Passau. Old cobblestone streets easy to keep pace, Sonya who had been a geography teacher in her former life, did an excellent job keeping us together.
At 12 we finished the tour at the cathedral, then walked back to the ship for lunch.
We had two options -- buffet in the lounge -- or table service in the dining room. Lunch was soup, pasta, a Ruben, salads -- on the buffet tables there were all sorts of other selections and sides to go with anything one might decide on. Wine was available with the meal (complimentary).
Nap time --
A delicious dinner (Chateau Briand) , was followed by a presentation on Mozart -- his life and music. Nicely done by program director, Wesley Peeman.
Salzburg (from Linz Dock)
After a leisurely and delicious breakfast, (Tibor was our fabulous waiter) I was ready ...Diane was running late. Cloudy, but promising to warm to about 50, we could see the busses just steps from the ship.
Checked our keys out, then boarded bus 5B (of 4 busses) with Veronica, our guide - for our 2 hour ride to Salzburg Austria, the birth home of Mozart. We will make a stop for snacks and rest rooms.
The scenes from the road and the stop we made were absolutely gorgeous. Pictures do tell the story. From the road, as we approached Salzburg, (Salt Castle) Veronica pointed out locations where scenes in The Sound Of Music were filmed. (some were re-created in studios or elsewhere). All made to look like the actual sites.
As we arrived in the town, the sun was bright, the temperature in the sun perfect! Great walking conditions. The streets paved with small granite cobblestone made for an easy and comfortable walking tour. We started in the new town, at the Mirabella Gardens, a gift from the bishop to his lover -- (he was denied permission from the church to marry)
He ended up having 15 children with her, later, he ended up in prison for political reasons, where he died. She and the children asked for but were denied permission to visit him while incarcerated.
from web site:
The baroque Mirabell Gardens were used as a movie location for "The Sound of Music." What is not so well known though, is that the palace on the far end of the gardens has another romantic story: the original palace was commissioned by Salzburg's Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau in 1606, as a token of his love for Salome Alt, who was his lover and partner for over 22 years and gave him 15 (!) children.
The tour took us to many historical homes of the famous -- the most important here is Mozart. Where he was born, the home he briefly lived in and so on. Sights that the Van Trap family stopped and scenes in the movie had been filmed. We walked over the chrome bridge with padlocks attached to it's chain link fencing...signifying lasting love, each lock had the names of the loving couple who placed it here. Views of the Danube from the bridge were spectacular!
The pedestrian streets were very busy with tourists, locals and shoppers. Crowded at the historical sites, narrow meandering walks with high end shops and specialty restaurants, all kept immaculately clean.
It was a perfect day. Veronica did a great job telling us of the history and the suggesting where we try the food... (at the square) we had lunch at Zipth Lager -- delicious and great service. Cost about 35.00 for two of us. Diane had the red sausage, I the wiener schnitzel. Beer and wine. Free use of the WC for patrons.
Back to do some shopping -- famous chocolate Mozart Balls -- a pastry, some pins for the kids. More sightseeing then back to the Mozart birthplace for the walk to the ship.
We must have walked 5-7 miles.
The ride back (no stop) then cocktails with the captain for returning Viking guests -- then dinner. I had the salmon, Diane had the braised beef... excellent!!.
Awa tried again to get the sound working on the TV -- This time she was successful.
Found that the ship TV offers an excellent and wide variety of on demand movies (no charge).
All the best and the latest releases. The entertainment system too, is state of the art. Music, TV, Movies, Voyage info,. and a connection for an ipod.
The cabin too has more than enough AC connections -- both 220 and 110 and outlets on both sides of the cabin -- that's a first.
The safe is large, the air conditioning very effective, plenty of drawer, cabinet and hanging space. Refrigerator, lighting in cabin and bath good, (a magnifying mirror in bath) beds comfortable entire ship kept immaculate. Larger than most shower tubes, plenty of hot water and hand held shower head is perfect.
Tomorrow, Melk and the Abbey tour.
After breakfast we boarded the Viking Busses (new and beautiful) for the short ride to the 900 year old Melk Abbey.
It's raining this morning...Our tour guide Anita took us through the 3 hour excursion -- a huge facility of baroque architecture, not our taste, but incredibly detailed works of artistry and talent -- impossible to replicate today. Once the residence of the ruling family (Babenberg) it became a Benedictine monastery in 1089. Monks are active today, the school has 750 pupils today.
Rooms in the Abbey are set up as you would find in most museums. Dramatic lighting, exhibits placed strategically and descriptions of items on display well written and positioned. (photos will tell the story).
The tour was well worth the chill, rain and many steps it included. As the tour ended so did the rain...
Anita did a superb job -- her English excellent, her knowledge enthusiastically shared.
Everything about the tour was A+..
We returned to the bus and then the Prestige for lunch -- it too was as usual, delicious.
April 11, 2013
Vienna -- tour guide Caroline
Sailing thru the night, we arrived in Vienna at about 6AM.
It's another great walking tour day. Broken clouds, promising to reach mid 50's -- perfect!
At 8:30, we boarded the beautiful and comfortable (and CLEAN) Viking bus for the included city tour.. windows are kept especially clean -- great for photos!
A short ride to the Ringstrasse (ring around the city) and it's many beautiful, interesting sights.
We got to see the Opera House, St. Stephan's Cathedral...
We were able to take photos in the cathedral -- a most impressive display of artistry, religious opulence and architectural design ...
As for food, Vienna is well known for it's Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz and Apple strudel... Coffee shops abundant, 100 art museums and other historical sights make Vienna a popular tourist destination.
The food and pastries here are to die for (and from).
At noon, it was back to the Prestige for lunch at 12:30 in the dining room (or optional Cafe lunch) served in the lounge.
We rested after lunch so that we could stay awake later this evening when attending the optional concert at the stock exchange building, featuring 10 musicians, dancers and singers.
After an early dinner for those attending the concert, we boarded busses for the 25 minute ride into the city for the event.
Wow -- what a treat it was. There must have been about 200 guests -- all there from the 2 Viking ships (Prestige and Vienna). The acoustics in the large room we were seated seemed unimpressive ... that is until the music began, then WOW... these 10 players 4 women and 6 men knocked our socks off.
Flute, piccolo, clarinet, first violin, second violin, viola, cello, concert master (violin) bass and piano -- sounded as if they were an orchestra of 65. Selections included waltz's, opera, and ballet. A copy of the program will follow in the photos.
The program was beyond expectation, all we spoke with enjoyed the performance and felt it was well worth the price paid. (64 euros each)
Returning to the ship, we opted for the goulash (soup) treat served in the lounge.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Another cool morning 50's -- some drizzle, but no heavy rain.
At 8:30 we boarded the bus for the city tour and the optional tour to the home of a resident. This was a really fun visit!!
The ride from the ship to the home was about 30 minutes -- then as we were about 30 persons, the group was split into 2. We decided to go with the second group. As we approached, the lady (about age 70) was eagerly awaiting our arrival. This was the first time our guide visited here. We soon were cordially greeted and led into a small garden where the history of the family was briefly explained, our guide doing the translations. She was widowed at age 44 with the sudden death of her husband.
The older of the two home sections (a one room house) was that of her husband's family. When first married, she and her husband (and her in-laws) all lived and slept in the one room. (When asked how she became pregnant, she said they had heavy blankets -- as did her in-laws)
The larger part of the house, included a small kitchen, bath (no toilet) living room and some storage closets . Her daughter lived on the second level of the home, with her 2 granddaughters.
She had prepared home made wine (from her backyard vineyard) cookies and a cheese pastry for us to taste.
She had much to say about how her daughter and son lived... nothing good... Neither is married, both have children -- something she was obviously unhappy about...neither helps her with chores, nor the maintenance of the property. She has the vineyards, chickens, a dog, a cat and an outhouse. (Never connected to the sewage system).
She was delightful -- shared many photos of the family, provided an opportunity for us to purchase souvenirs ... out guide seemed to also enjoy the candid look into this lady's life... much of which she openly shared with us.
Back to the bus ...
Busy night -- Farewell Dinner with Captain.
Did some photos, emails etc., then readied for dinner --
What a surprise -- we are invited to Dine with the Captain!!
Set for 8, each with a place card setting, we at with Captain Istvan Fekete, Artur Carvalheiro and 4 ship guests. (one couple, one young lady Donna and her step sister.)
Dinner was outstanding -- Saved the menu -- Salmon Caviar & Crisp Potato Cake,
Garden Green Lettuce & Caramelized Pear Salad, soup (lobster bisque) the entre we selected was the surf and turf -- Grilled Filet Mignon and Poached Jumbo Prawns .. Appetizer, delicious... Wine flowed, desert choices White Chocolate & Cherry Pudding or Fresh Fruits Cheese Plate ...any and all, deliciously outrageous.
We learned that this was the captains 6th year with Viking, Awa (Head housekeeper) is his wife -- and that she has relatives in Brick NJ -- Small world.
Tomorrow .... Budapest
Saturday, April 13
After Breakfast, it's 8:30 and time for the Budapest City Tour... with our guide, Nora
Three cities, merged in 1873 -- Buda and Obuda and Pest -- we will see Buda & Pest as they span both sides of the Danube.
A short bus ride took us to where we passed through the city streets, making our way to the first stop at Heroes' Square. Monuments and historic buildings face the square. Great place and beautiful day for the photos that will help tell the story. Views from Buda Castle were especially great.
Really the best images were those that we captured last night as we entred Budapest. The buildings all theatrically lit stood out as we had been told to expect.
Time to return to the ship for our last lunch and final dinner on board the Prestige.
This evening after dinner, we enjoyed local singers and dancers (Hungarian folkloric show)... another tastefully done treat by Viking.
Said our goodbyes to the many aquaintences we made while on this trip.
Tomorrow we are off to the airport at 11:30 for our BA flight from Budapest to Heathrow then Heathrow to Newark.
Sunday -- April 14th
Had breakfast, paid the bill, then sat quietly in the lounge waiting for the van to take 4 of us to the airport. (about 30 minute ride) Hardly any traffic.
We were met by anothe Viking rep. (Richard) who took our luggage and accompanied us to the BA check in -- held our hand until we had to pass thru security. Passed that, then boarded the flight. Again, we had opposite isles --13C&D
The connection in Heathrow was another story -- we had to go from Terminal 5 to 3... first a train, then a bus and on the bus the driver was speeding when all of a sudden he turned sharply and I went flying across the vehicle landing on my right knee and bumping foreheads with a lady who tried to stop me from falling.
It was exactly 4:55PM -- just in case I need further medical atention. So far, I'm ok., not sure about the woman who tried to help, she may have a black right eye tomorrow.
The flight from Heatrow was a financial loss for BA.. Only about 25% occupied, we were able to move to make ourselves more comfortable (stretch-out). Good mel, good audio/video selections wine and beer with meal -- no extra fees.
Arriving in Newark, we thought to try out the GOES (Global Entry System) Kiosk program. What a pleasure! While lines of other arriving passengers waited for US Customs agents, we breezed thru, scanning our passports and fingerprints then presented the automatically printed pass to the officer as we departed the area. Must have saved at least Â½ hour.
Our driver was elsewhere at the airport, he promptly met us at door 7.
The ride home was uneventful.
Love to travel but always "no place like home"