Wednesday, April 22, 2009:Made it to Prague with
"flying colors!"The fastest
baggage service on earth!Our suitcases
were popping onto the carousel as we walked to the baggage claim area, and we
got off the plane first!Great service on Lufthansa all around.Sleeping 3-4 hours on our way to Frankfurt
made a huge difference.Second day in Prague
and we are pretty much over our jet-lag.
Walked all over the place
today… we join our boat tour people here at the Prague Marriott Friday night.
Love the architecture, the
trams, subway and friendly people.And
great values, outside of the hotel.You
can buy a ubiquitous Pilsner Urquell beer for 70
cents a glass!
Found free Wi-Fi
at Pizza Factory restaurant across from our hotel.Beats the $30 a day the Marriott wanted to
Time to try some Czech wines!
Saturday, April 25, 2009:We’re in love!With Prague!What an amazing cosmopolitan City.Turn a corner, look up and be dazzled by the
incredible architecture of buildings never touched by war bombings or vengeful
dictators.Today we also toured the PragueCastle and the Strahov
Monastery and Libraries.We got a
private entry into the two library book-rooms and were amidst 280,000 volumes
dating back to 950 A.D.The history and
age of everything you see makes you feel so miniscule.The famous CharlesBridge linking the two sides of Prague
was built in 1357!After our Tauck tour
this morning, we had a fab trendy lunch at a restaurant
called “Barock” on the fashionable “Paris”
street of designer boutiques.
We met our fellow Tauck Tour
group travelers last night for dinner and got welcomed by the three guides who
will be accompanying us on the Danube.We were surprised at the composition of the
tour-goers:76 Americans, 2 Brits, 2
Aussies and 1 Canadian.We had expected
a lot more Europeans.Most of our fellow
travelers are devoted “Tauck Tour-ers,” having been
on 5, 10 even 25 prior Tauck trips!Tour
is not sold out, either… just 81 passengers on a ship with a capacity of 118.
The tour company provides
dinner at your choice of several Prague
restaurants, and we were pleasantly surprised that one of the choices for
tonight was KampaPark, a critic’s choice as one of
the best and most expensive restaurants in the CzechRepublic.So far so good with Tauck Tours!
Have to be up early tomorrow to
take a coach to Regensburg, Germany
and board the maiden voyage of our “Swiss Jewel” riverboat.
Sunday, April 26, 2009:What a ship!Brand new and most
everything works except for the Internet!Frustrating but almost predictable, since this ship has a new, faster
satellite broadband system, while older ships used by Tauck Tours relied on
cellular service for Internet connections.But the satellite system is down and no one knows how to fix it!I’m trying to be understanding, but it is
still a bit annoying!But this email is
being sent from Linz,
Austria, where I’ve been
able to pick up a free Wi-Fi signal from a nearby
Looking at the bright
side, our suite is fabulous, beautiful fabrics,
wall coverings and bathroom, with a shower stall and a tub.Sitting area, flat panel TV, cool lighting, floor to ceiling windows that open completely.
Food onboard the Swiss Jewel
has been equally excellent.Mostly an Indonesian crew with Dutch officers.It’s funny to see the bartender, suddenly
serving you your salad at dinner and the cocktail waitress manning the
concierge desk.Everyone does double and
triple duty on this little ship.
We were supposed to board the
ship in Regensburg, but a lock on
the Danube was out of service, and the ship could not
get all the way up the Danube to Regensburg.So we had to be bussed to Straubing, Germany
where our ship awaited us.
Monday, April 27, 2009:Regensburg was very cool… an amazing medieval town with a vibrant social
scene due to 30,000 college students who inhabit many of the 12th century
buildings that have been transformed into dorms.The StoneBridge across the Danube,
an amazing engineering marvel built in 1146 still works great, as we walked
across it many times!
Then it was on to Passau, a hilly German town on the
Danube that is mostly famous for the biggest cathedral
organ in Europe.Ronna\\\\\ is glad I’m not making any more jokes about that!
At the time of writing this,
we’ve gone through three locks, each lowering us about 40 feet each time, and
they are amazingly fast and efficient as they pump millions of gallons of water
out of our enclosed “swimming pool” space bring
the entire ship to the level of the next part of the river.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009:Spent the night in Linz
and early today we were bussed to Salzburg,
Mozart’s birthplace.I’m not sure what
that poor city would do without Mozart and the “Sound of Music.” You walk thru an area and the gardens were
“where they filled Maria teaching the kids ‘Do Re Mi.’”Yikes!After a morning walking tour, we had a great lunch at the oldest
restaurant in Europe, the Stiftskeller
St. Peter, which opened for business in 803!Not 1803, 803!They’ve been in
business for 1300 years!Charlemagne
allegedly ate dinner there!
So all’s well and tomorrow we
head further down the Danube to the wine country.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009:The Internet is up!The Internet
is up!After a lot of bitching on my
part, the cruise line operators had a network techie from Amsterdam
join us in Linz, Austria.He worked for hours last night and today we
had connectivity!Hurray for the Dutch
guy!So now I can see how the Giants are
doing and other really important things.
The weather in central Europe
continues to be marvelous!Sunny right
now after a little overcast this morning as we sailed thru the Wachau Valley--Austria’s version of the Napa Valley but
with canyons dropping down to the Danube River level.The sun’s heat reflecting from the River
makes the grapes ripen in these amazing terraced vineyards.Ronna is off with “the group” on a walking
tour of Durnstein.I decided to take a break from the predictable diet of old medieval
towns:A big cathedral; a wall that the
Roman’s built; a trendy shopping street with no cars; and an English speaking
guide who is way too happy with her job.I’ll meet up with Ronna at
at the Kloster Keller for regional wine tasting.Besides I haven’t quite broken in my new
“wide-bottom” shoes which I bought yesterday in Salzburg
that should make walking on these damn cobblestones a bit less arduous!
We’ve gone through about 10 DanubeRiver locks, each lowering our ship
about 40 feet.Austria
has built so many efficient power producing damns on its rivers and streams
that 80 percent of its power is now sustainably
produced with no green house gases.They
have even created “power storage systems” in which water flowing down from the
mountain creates electricity during the day, and at night when demand for power
is low, they use electricity to pump the river water back up the mountain to
come down the next day.Very clever
Tonight at 8 we sail for Vienna…
one of the highlights of the trip.
Thursday, April 30, 2009:This is continuing to be a trip beyond our expectations!We’ve had more fun than you can imagine!
I left off last time about
ready to meet up with Ronna at a cute wine tasting restaurant and vineyard in Durnstein, Austria.We had some great Austrian wines including
our favorite, GrṻnerVeltliner.And marveled at the amazing vistas of
vineyards, the Danube and the mountains all lined up in
perfect symmetry.Medieval Durnstein has only about 500 residents, but over a million
visitors a year!
We arrived in Vienna in the
middle of the night and woke up early to join our tour of the famous Schonbrunn Palace, the extraordinarily lavish Hapsburg’s
summer home that has more than 2,000 rooms and when it was built no toilets (The
year: 1743).It’s just 20 minutes from
the center of Vienna, but took the
Hapsburg’s three days to move all their stuff from their winter home.It was built to rival Versailles
and it measures up.
After an afternoon rest, we had
dinner at the PalaisPallavicini,
built in the mid 18th century.The
ornate baroque rooms were spectacular and we were treated to music from a small
symphony orchestra, ballet dancers and opera singers… all during our excellent
private performance dinner.The artistry
of all was excellent and our waiter was a true professional, having served
private parties in the Palais for 45 years.None of this “I’m Jimmy and I’m your waiter” adolescent nonsense!Incidentally, both Mozart and Beethoven
played their music in the very room in which we dined!A great day in Vienna!
Friday, May 1, 2009:May Day in Europe… almost all the shops are
closed, but museums, restaurants and performance venues are open.Caught the early bus from our ship dock location on the Danube
into the City Center of Vienna and caught the performance of the amazing Lipizzaner Stallions in the 18th
century Spanish Riding School Exhibition Hall.430 years of breeding and renaissance tradition in a breathtaking
setting.The young horses have to train
for 6-10 years before they can perform amazing feats of syncopated dance steps,
choreographed processions and leaps into the air.Well worth the ticket price and effort to get
We then had a fun lunch of
Austrian beer, wieners, potatoes, green beans with
bacon and dumpling soup in a cave-like old restaurant underneath the AlbertinaMuseum.We did lots of walking and shopped at some
tourist shops that remained open despite the holiday.Then we took the fabulous Vienna
subway from the central city out to our Danube dock
perhaps surpasses Prague on our
list of favorite cities so far.The
people were much friendlier than the Germans, not as uptight and the
architecture and sophistication of the city is unsurpassed.
We’re sitting in our stateroom
at the moment and it has started to rain pretty hard… the first precipitation
we’ve had on the whole trip!
Saturday, May 2, 2009:We’re on dry ground again!We
said goodbye to the ship and crew of the “Swiss Jewel” this morning after a
wondrous week on the Danube.
We tied up right near the
central part of our “sleeper” city, Bratislava,
Slovakia… the right have
of the former Czechoslovakia.Slovakia’s
claim to fame is an across the board 19% flat tax for individuals and
corporations that has created a business boom in this formerly poor country.Bratislava
has grown from 100,000 people 20 years ago, to half a million today.The picturesque central square area is
punctuated with whimsical statues of many of forms.From a life-size Andy Warhol to a peeping tom
statue peaking up from a sewer manhole cover… dozens of metal sculptures in
strange locations!We were only in Bratislava
for half a day, but it was quite memorable.
We continued down the Danube
after lunch and had a quite spectacular “Captain’s Farewell Dinner” on board
the ship, continuing to have fun with a whole group of new friends… including
some very entertaining Aussies who will be coming to San Francisco to visit us
in June and a couple from Phoenix, the wife of which went to my high school in
Tucson!We arrived in Budapest
Sunday, May 3, 2009:We awoke to the spectacular palaces, parliament and bridges
of Buda and Pest (pronounced “Pesht.”An “s” in Hungarian is pronounced “sh;” while an “sz”
is pronounced “s.”Go figure!)Actually, Hungarian is hands down one of the
weirdest languages on earth!It’s an
“Indo-European” language, completely unrelated to Germanic, Romance or Slavic
tongues.Words are spelled and
pronounced so oddly, they are practically unrecognizable.But the City makes up for that with sensational
views and mountain top vistas from the “Buda” side of the Danube
that overlook the entire city.Kind of like a trip to the top of Twin
Peaks in San Francisco,
but with a river running down Market Street.Buda is the hilly residential side of the city,
with Pest the flat commercial area, and the Danube
separating the two.
We finally had a poor local
tour guide… a lady with rough English skills and a slow speech pattern that
made every stop along our Pest walk almost
unbearable.Ronna and I finally bolted
from our tour group and went off on our own after she held us hostage in one
room of an art museum giving us at least three units of Hungarian Art History
before we were even allowed to move!We
caught up with our group in time to have a fine lunch in an historic
restaurant, compliments of Tauck Tours.This made up for the rough morning.
We’re now comfortably relaxing
in our room overlooking the Danube at the
Intercontinental Hotel.Great location, but a bit corporate.
Just two more days to go… we’re a bit homesick
but not really!
Final email before we board our
Lufthansa flights back to SFO.
Monday, May 4, 2009:We slept in and passed on the morning walking tour of Pest.We did our own version and saw the really
special St. Stephens Cathedral, the interior of which looks like it was built
yesterday!The marble and gold and
ceilings were so pristine it was spooky. The most spectacular church we saw...
clearly not an "ABC"... Another Bloody Cathedral!After a long walk to the fascinating Central
Market building, we went back to the hotel and prepped for a very formal
Farewell Dinner that Taulk gave at the Akademia Club, a few blocks from our hotel.Excellent live string music, three different
wines accompanying a dinner that included Whitefish Carpaccio
and Veal.We offered our goodbyes to all
our new friends, ending the Tour on a nice note of camaraderie.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009:We took our own cab (as opposed to a Tauck bus that would have gotten us
to the airport way too early) and discovered a very new modern Terminal 2A
where Lufthansa operates.We're trying
to spend our last few Hungarian Florins and then start our marathon trip back
to SFO via Munich.
Got to mention these strange
Hungarian kezboards!I'm in the Budapest Airport First Class Lounge using their computer, and
there are strange letters in the wrong places.Like a Z where the Y is supposed to be!Zikes!I mean Yikes.I feel like the Cat
in "I Can Has Cheezburger"Or how about these letters... ÉÖÜű§ö.Cool!
exhausted but home after our 16-hour trip from Budapest
to Munich to SFO.But the end of our journey was not without
Just to make things fun, our
German pilot on our big Lufthansa Airbus A340 came on the PA system about an
hour out of SFO to announce that "the computer that controls the nose
landing wheel of our plane was inoperable and that we would be forced to make
an emergency landing at SFO."He
explained that he would not be able to steer the plane after it touched
We had to take every briefcase,
handbag, book, even eyeglasses and ball point pens and put them in the overhead
compartments or otherwise stowed.We
were told to tighten our seatbelts as tightly as they would go.But no "head between the legs"
After lots of scurrying about
by the German flight attendants, I looked out my window and saw that were
making a direct approach into SFO… no S-curves or holding patterns for us!Right straight in.
The big plane cruised down to a
very smooth landing, and before the nose wheel even touched the ground, the
pilot reversed the engines to slow us down.We soon realized that he not only could not steer, but he could not use
the brakes… so the four big engines roared as we coasted along the runway at
SFO gradually reducing our speed.On
both sides of the runway, yellow emergency fire trucks and other vehicles lined
our path with lights ablaze, ready for anything.
As we came to a stop, the
passengers started applauding the nice work by the pilot and we sat in the
middle of the runway for a good 15 minutes, since he could not steer the plane
to the jet way.A tug truck finally
arrived and pulled us to a special end gate that the truck could access.
We arrived exactly on time!
Things on the River Cruise were
way too relaxing.I suppose we needed a
little jolt to bring us back to normality!
Accompanying Photos I Took:
My Wife Ronna at the VitavaRiver in Prague
The Cabin Area of the “Swiss Jewel”
A Medieval Tower in Regensburg, Germany
Lipizzaner Stallion Show
Granite Cliffs Sweeping Down to Danube in Wachau Valley, Austria