Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 9)

Puttering about Passau

Today was our first day in Germany but the weather didn't recognize international borders. Our shore excursion is through drizzle+, depending upon the moment (Chryss above amidst flowers one of the rare breaks), and it turns out Passau is getting ready for flooding, so town crews are about installing the flood gates Danube-side. Here's Old Town Hall and some civil servant buzz.

Passau is actually where three rivers meet, with the Ilz across the way from where we docked and then the Inn running into the Danube and making Passau perfectly pointy in a Pittsburgh kind of way. The historic portion of town between the rivers is hilly, with narrow "streets" and lots of great views.

And slippery cobblestones in the damp, too. So there's lots of looking down when you want to look up. It's best to keep stopping and peek around, including around all the giant Viking-provided red umbrellas. (We are an easy to spot group.) The umbrellas do make for some challenging framing of appropriately gorgeous photos; here's the Domplatz (cathedral square), not looking as good as I want it to.

That said, it's an enchanting town, to say the least, from passageways like this one

to a roofline asking for a photo

to signs on a fenced in yard at one house like this one, that makes me want to hug a hunde.

While not getting interior tours, we do get to see into a few buildings like the Bishop's Residence, which proves once again how humble the religious were, and how seriously they took their vows of poverty. Totally men of the people.

Luckily some of the old gods fought back, and Bacchus was well-presented here (never deny the power of the god of wine).

Since Passau is castle-less (there's a fortress, but that seems like such a step down) we make up for that by actually getting to hear an organ recital in its major cathedral, St. Stephan's. It's a crazy Baroque god-fest of a church, having been rebuilt in the late 17th century after the old one burned down. Here's a glimpse of one spire between the streets.

The organ is arguably the world's largest cathedral organ at almost 18,000 pipes. To be accurate, it's five separate organs, all of which can be controlled from one console, but that's supposed to give it even more character, if only because they get to write things about one of them like, "Over the long nave in the attic in a separate organ chamber is the 'Fernwerk' (echo division); its sound floats through grates (the 'Holy Spirit hole') into the nave." If you ask me, Holy Spirit Hole sounds like the name for a dive bar for clergy.

Our domorganist, as he was billed, for the day was Ludwig Ruckdeshel, who took us through a three-piece 20 minute concert that got ever more challenging (aka Modern!), so some folks, despite having to pay to get in, left before he had the organ let loose its final internal organ-stirring blast. We got some Bach, a self-"penned" free improvisation, and then some Jean Langlais that sounds like this if you want to hear a different performance of it.

All that time in the church didn't keep the river from rising, especially on the town's other side along the Inn River. As an American, can you imagine a scene that looks like this?

No railing, no warning signs, no life buoys. Raging river easy to step into and wash you downstream. Do they even have lawyers in Germany? Maybe instead of lawyers everyone has decided to be an artist. I'm down with that. They even have an Art Alley, Höllgasse, where the town cuts breaks for artists to have studios. Hey, Santa Barbara, give Passau a call. The route is marked with luminescently painted cobblestones, so you can't get lost.

We get a few minuted to wander through on our way back to the Tir for lunch and our beguiled by this little guy, who has made the trip back to the States with us. The devil made us to do it.

A Sailor's Life for We

Again, while the idea of eating at any of the ridiculously attractive spots in town itches at us, it's just too hard to pass up what awaits us pre-paid on the boat. Here's a host of lunch items, and note how many greens there are. You've got to eat healthy if you do that much eating.

For instance, it's awfully hard to pass up dessert, which at home we rarely have even for dinner, but then for lunch it's an ice cream delight like this, doing a classic Germany choco-cherry combo for you.

We leave Passau a bit after 3--we did get back into town to walk off some of that lunch first-- but it seemed worth showing, once again, the joys of river travel, with views that top views that top views. Bye bye, Passau.

And so we don't get immediately to dinner, let's talk about what we drank that night. One of the better Viking rules is there's no corkage fee, so I'd been wanting to score some wine and have it with our dinner. In our post-lunch walkabout we found the terrific little shop Bachl Feinkost, which is sort of a bit of everything--cheese/charcuterie shop, wine shop, and wine bar. Seeing what were clearly locals enjoying themselves made me assume we'd found the right place and the owner was very helpful and spoke English, a plus for us with only our Stein-lessons of German to lean on. Most striking is the store seemed well-stocked with bargains. We chose an Austrian Manfred Gruber rosé that cost a mere 8.5 Euros. (Oh, the cabins all have little fridges, so keeping it cold was no problem.)

It turned out to be great for it's price, bright and refreshing, wild strawberry and key lime, and a mere 12% ABV. Lots of grip and great with dinner, even if I kicked mine off with something that could have used a heavier wine, rindfleischsuppe mit leberknodeln. Of course I just pointed.

If you've been reading along you know your knolden by now--that's dumpling--but this isn't just any, it's a liver dumpling. Now, that might sound nasty, but this was tempered well, just organy enough to make it clear you were a bit offal. That edge was soothed by the soup, a rich beef broth. This isn't a dish I eat much in the U.S.

My main went perfectly with the steely rosé, though, a quite rich maultaschen, aka German ravioli with goat cheese and spinach and some extra creamy sauce since it wouldn't be rich enough otherwise. I did not call it Baron Von....

For dessert I went back to that choco-cherry pairing, but in donauwelle this time. Googling about to see other versions of this pastry, it often looks a bit more homey than the version the Tir served up, but that's the cruising life for you. How elegantly each layer is arranged.

And then more dessert came, but that was sort of my fault. As you should know, this terrific trip was thanks to all the hard work Chryss put in to get her Ph.D.--it was Roger and Judy's graduation gift. It was clear the Tir crew liked to do little post-dinner celebrations, so I asked for one for Chryss and tonight was the night. Some sweet singing, some not so accurate spelling, but it was lovely all around.

Speaking of the fearless crew, here some of them are, but it doesn't highlight the dining room crew that got to know your likes and dislikes and would deliver dinner with a sweetly sung, "Bon appetit!"

Or include head bartender Harris, who of course I had to befriend as early in the cruise as possible. You spend a lot of time in the lounge on a small boat that sails most evenings. Sure, you sneak out to get some shots of one of the first of 68 locks that we'd elevator through on our way to Amsterdam.

Meanwhile, back in the lounge, this is the evening Harris points out he realizes I care about beer in more than a guzzling manner and says, "Here's something we don't have on this ship." And he takes out this

We are due to have time in Bamberg, where Schlenkerla is brewed, in a few days, but to get to enjoy some early is a surprising treat. Such smoky depth. Which we totally, didn't have. Thanks, Harris.

Go back and read Day 8 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 8)

We've Been Rooked

So day 8 turns out to be a lot of shipboard time, some of which is referred to as "scenic sailing," but mostly on this cruise that's a redundant phrase. The bonus is Program Director Stein is kind enough to narrate what we're seeing, so we get some history, or given the weather, mist story. But that sort of makes castles seem even more dreamy.

And while Stein was informative in a fun way, I didn't take notes, so now I look at my photos and pretty much can only ID them as "another cute village" or "umpteenth castle" or "one more 'I'd go to church if it looked that lovely' church."

Most likely the spot above is Dürnstein, where you can go to feel the Dürn! Actually, it's best known for its ruin of a castle where a post-Crusades Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned (he made some enemies amongst his fellow Christians who turned out not satisfied just killing heathens but had to do some in-the-name-of-the-lord infighting, too), and his fellow Englishmen found him by singing outside every castle until they heard someone sing back the refrain.then they said, "Damn, of course he's atop a hill."

I think the town above is Spitz, if you'll swallow whatever I tell you.

Do note some of these were taken from inside the ship, given the inclement weather, and rain and Nikons don't mix. The weird part is after so much looking at the scenic same, you start to hallucinate--tell me, do you glimpse a giant nose in this photo too?

That's actually Die Wachauer Nase, and you could fit in one of its nostrils if you cared to know what it's like to be a nose hair. Who says Austrians don't have a scents of humor. Get it? I love that one website about it claims the following: "The nose likes to be looked at and photographed, and it likes for people to lean on it and to have a picnic in its shade. It is happy where it is, breathing the Danube, apricots and wine. It is a true landmark of the Wachau."

For this is the Wachau Valley, and while we don't get to stop and drink any of the famous wine, we get to stare at lots of vineyards and imagine how good the Gruner is. Note that religion tries to get between you and your drinking.

Perhaps that Gruner would go well with rabbit, which might explain this church.

Look really closely at St. Michael's and you might be able to see there are statues of rabbits running across the middle roof line.The myth goes that real rabbits got stranded up there after a huge snowstorm and Mother Nature thought she was helping by turning them into rabbits. I guess that's in one of the Metamorphoses apocrypha or something.

Some villages still had their maypoles raised, and they were much taller and more ornate than I had previously imagined.

And some of the scenery was amazingly rugged and rocky. There might be a particular reason I took this photo--something mythic happened here perhaps?--but I can't figure it out. Still, nifty rocks!

And sometimes the cute villages were coy, and a bit off the river's edge, like centuries of invaders, tourists, troubadours, Crusaders, and nose sculptors would just be too much for their poor citizens to bear.

And then the Industrial Revolution said, let's build some train bridges. Note how relatively low the clearance with this bridge is. Part of that was the extra wet spring (foreshadowing!), so the river is high. The cool thing is the Tir's bridge is hydraulic, so the captain can lower it and not lose the top of the ship. It also means the promenade deck is often closed for safety, but given the weather it was hard to want to be up there anyway. We never got to play any shuffleboard. If that's a plus or a minus is for you to decide, dear reader.

Melk It for All Its Worth

Our two-and-a-half-hours on land today is in Melk to see its famous Abbey, a Benedictine stronghold since the early 1000s. The current Abbey was constructed in the early 1700s, but has been restored much since to become a Baroque spectacle. It towers above its namesake town.

The religious know how to pick building sites for effect. We bus up from the boat to the Abbey, which is also still an active school for many young students who are flooding the entrance grounds. Going through one narrow spot one boy acts saucy and leaves his umbrella up as a way to make tourists scatter, but Roger has none of it and manages to grab the umbrella from the surprised bratty child. A thrilled murmur runs through the children as Roger keeps walking the other way, finally tossing the umbrella to the ground away from any eyes it might poke out. Take that, Austrian children! Aren't you just supposed to perform a goofy goodnight dance number for us?

Spot narrow entrance above. Turns out you can't take any photos, even without flash, in the Abbey proper, which starts with some pretty interesting historical displays--be-jemmed holy foofery (isn't that the official term for priestly costumes?), some cool art from then and now--but ends up in two spectacular rooms. The first is the Marble Hall, all arted up with a ceiling fresco and everything you learned Baroque was from Barry Lyndon. The second is the Library, which is still a lending source for religious scholars. Indeed, some of the renovation of the Abbey was paid for by selling a Gutenberg Bible. They still have over 20,000 books including 750 incunabula, which is not only printed works before 1500 but also one of the coolest words ever. I wish I had had a son and could have name him Incunabula. If you want to see interior shots, check out the Melk Abbey website.

You do get to go outside some and so here's the front of the abbey church up close, not hinting at all of the grandeur inside (go check out that website!).

And then the views down to Melk village and across the Danube could make one have a religious experience on their own.

We were able to opt to walk back to the ship--about a 20 minute jaunt downhill--alas not enough time to check out any of the cute town that I was sure had amazing Wachau Valley wines I needed to buy and consume on the rest of the cruise. Next time. Watchout Wachau!

Quizmaster Stein and Lunch and Dinner Time

It was a busy day for Stein, given we were on the ship so much he had to figure out ways to keep us all pre-occupied. There was the morning's narrated sailing, then he helped organize all the tours so we end up in our correct groups with our local guides (he has this ability to be everywhere at once, as if there's a secret Stein twin helping out). In the afternoon he hosted a Powerpoint talk on canals and locks, which really had its ups and downs (pa-dum-bum), and after dinner he hosted a trivia night where the big prize is, as he artfully put it, "A free cruise.......brochure." We play and do ok but don't win, and have clearly drunk too much as we miss the trick question, "Now think carefully, how many pairs of each animal did Moses take with him on the Ark?" Think of it as the first cruise.

Then there was food, of course, but I'll just focus on dinner that kicked off with a cream of white asparagus soup. We don't eat enough white asparagus in the US. This delight was one of our favorite things to have all trip, actually, even if it doesn't look like much in a photograph.

The other first choice was a crispy vegetable salad, as salad should crunch. Note the un-advertised apples in there, too. We don't put enough fruit in our salads in the US. We do use plenty of feta, though.

For our mains I go with the regional specialty, Krustenbraten, which more than lives up to its name. Heck, that's crustier than I'm going to be as a 70 year old.

Truly something that gave your teeth a bit of a workout, but it contrasted very well with the softer pork underneath. Think of it as crackling with a capital crack. It's awash in a beer sauce, so what more could one want? OK, maybe the contrasting, acidic creamy savoy cabbage. A hearty delight.

Chryss had the broiled herb marinated jumbo shrimp in balsamic reduction, with pesto risotto and baby vegetables (waa-waa).

Spot the full grown asparagus cruising the baby vegetables like it was Roy Moore at an Alabama mall. That's not fair to the dish, which was delish, but I couldn't resist the joke. We couldn't resist each having a dessert and trading fours, for good desserts are like jazz.

Believe it or not but that's a balsamic pear cake, with not only chocolate sauce but some chocolate layers, and a wheat crumble for texture. Complex, fruity goodness, with the smart move to zing it with some acid.

The regional specialty was Linzer torte, crumbly, buttery, currant-y. Yummy. And a la mode because it's a cruise and none of the calories count when you're floating, that's just physics. Although it's possible that it was being drunk on two desserts that made us miss Moses on the Ark.

Go back and read Day 7 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Go ahead and read Day 9 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 7)

Oh, Vienna

Heavy is the head that supports the cornice. At least that's what's easy to surmise looking at the columns above, just one of the numerous grace notes in Vienna, a city full of architectural and sartorial elegance. Even with all its history, it seemed the most of the now of the three big cities we'd hit so far; it's got the most people, too, for what that's worth. Seemed the most spread out. The best to visit and not to live in is my took quick take--just your fashion budget would have to be huge.

This morning for our included tour we get to subway into Innere Stadt, so that makes us feel like pros even if we've got a tour guide shepherding us along. Before we get to the subway we do pass a dog park notable for its sign.

Now back home, we refer to our house as the Hundezone. Archie even sort of prances like that dog, if you thinned the one on the sign out quite a bit. We got out right at the Staatsoper, which looks pretty cool to us despite Emperor Franz Joseph hating it so much--he called it a railway station--to the point it drove the building's architect to suicide. Everybody's a critic.

Seems impressively Neo-Renaissance to me. We didn't get inside, but we did get to see a horde of fake Mozart's shilling tickets for classical music concerts, which was interesting. Across the street was this definitely touristy scene, with the odd wing of the Albertina Museum looking like a plane landed.

Just across the street from that was this striking Monument Against War and Fascism

which perhaps we need to make a copy of and put on the White House lawn for somebody to contemplate. Disturbing, as it should be--there's one part where the stone is wrapped in barbed wire--but it does also include on a different stone the Proclamation of the Second Austrian Republic, that is the post-free-of-the-Nazis end of WW II statement, so there's light after the dark. (Let's hope it doesn't get that dark.) Very powerful monument.

Next up was Josefsplatz with Emperor Joseph II all bedecked on his equestrian statue like he's a Roman as the Habsburgs liked to take the long view of things and lineage is important when you want to be empiric. That's all Hofburg Palace back there, btw; in this section of Vienna you can't throw a knodel without hitting the palace (which is still where the president of Austria lives).

Here's St. Michael's wing of the palace. Yes, this is a wing.

And right across from that is the Spanish Riding School, home to the famous Lipizzaner stallions. We could just manage some paparazzi shots of them in their stables fit for, well, royal horses.

A lot of my Vienna photos are simply "heck, that looks cool" shots and not anything particularly historic. But so much of Vienna is cool. All the Secessionist stuff fascinates me, even if in this case it's just hiding what's a drugstore if you think about it.

Or there's this building in the sun. Which sadly didn't last (the sun that is). There's a reason I carry a plastic bag with me in my camera duffel.

One of the most intriguing stops was near the Anker Uhr Clock, improbably built as WW I raged, but still a monument to time and Art Nouveau. We weren't there to see its figures march, but it's stunning anyway.

We were dismissed from the tour and left to our own devices, which meant we needed food after all our walking. Luckily we were right near the Sacher Hotel, so when in Vienna.... We got to eat upstairs in the tea room, a spot all luxe red and chandeliered. And then the sachertorte itself was delightful, the chocolate bittersweet, the cake light and moist.

They could easily just ride on their laurels--I mean, wouldn't you if a famous dessert was named after you?--but it was pretty special. We had to do some penance after our gluttony, and luckily we were right near Stephansdom.

St. Stephen's, like most European cathedrals, has yet another centuries-long, complicated backstory most recently being rebuilt after WW II bombings, but 450 feet of Gothic spire gets your attention. It's also impressive inside, especially a temporary art exhibit you can sort of see in this photo, "Sky of Stones." That's not what you want your sky full of, especially inside a building. Still kind of cool, though.

And I could share a whole bunch of interior details, overwrought in the way that people hoping to praise/appease their mighty god are wont to do.

Belvedere Ain't Just Vodka

Continuing on our own, we decide to hoof it to the Belvedere, originally built by Prince Eugene of Savoy. As a summer residence. Because you can't have too many palaces, I guess. Turns out it's a bit more uphill to the Belvedere than we might have wanted but we get to see embassy row, as usual an intriguing view. Not that any of the embassies has anything on the Belvedere, and we only go to the Lower Belvedere, which is less elaborate but holds the art museum.

Roger and Judy look comfortable, here, but the poor sphinx looks cold.

Like everyone else at the museum, we most want to see the wing housing the exhibit "Vienna around 1900," for there one finds Klimt and friends, including the famous "Kiss." I took a photo of that, sure, because you have to or forfeit your camera upon leaving, but I found these flowers of Klimt's fascinating, too, so thought I'd share something you didn't see on too many t-shirts.

There's also Egon Schiele's work, like this one that seems both simple and brilliant, if you ask me, realistic yet a math problem, the hope of 20th century and its crumbling all at once.

It's a wonderful wing of work, with Monet and Oskar Kokoschka and Richard Gerstl and enough Klimt to save him from the gold-leaf cliche he's kind of become. Even better, it's just enough art, so you don't get tired of it. It left us wanting more so we even moved on to the religious portion of the program and found another St. Barbs! Fun to see the three windows vertically and not horizontally.

And then I have to share this one of dear blurry Chryss walking into a room with an amazing vase that has to fight the very walls and ceiling its displayed amidst. Color explosion!

History, Fish Story, and Terpsichore

We manage to subway back to the ship all on our own not getting lost or anything--it helps we don't have to transfer lines. Pre-dinner we hit the lounge to hear Alexander Kugler give a talk called "Austria--The Heart of Europe," which is quite a riches to rags to riches story, complete with Powerpoint and maps. Who says you can't learn on a cruise? It doesn't hurt you get to enjoy a martini along with the talk, plus the delightful little treat dish they give to you at happy hour on the Tir, with both wasabi nuts and a sort of bbq nut that were hard to stop devouring.

Dinner began with the worst salad I've ever had. Oh, wait, make that a wurstsalat--see, there's ham in there, plus Emmenthal cheese, marinated cucumbers, tomatoes, greens. Sort of a ham and cheese sandwich without the bread, so better for you. Certainly, saltily delicious.

For a main I couldn't bring myself to do that night's regional specialty, listed as "warm braised leeks." I mean, I like leeks as much as anybody, but they don't seem like an entree to me. So instead I went for the seared king dorado with seafood fregola sarda--kind of a call back to our lovely Prague evening at Ichnusa. Fine crispy skinned fish with a bright lemon olive oil dressing on it all. That works.

Especially with a glass of one of the night's featured wines. I tried mostly just to drink the house wine, which was very good and already included, but you know me, I have to check some of the other stuff out, too. So I ordered the Kollwentz Chardonnay, having had few chards from Austria. A perfect match for the fish, with good acid grip and citrus-white peach flavors and some spice.

The regional menu dessert was sacher cake, of all things, and having had it from the Lipizzaner's mouth, as the Viennese might say, I had to make a different choice. Luckily there was also a layered wine gateau with red wine butter ice cream.

It tasted even better than it looked, complex but soothing all at once.

And if you were wondering what you do on a river cruise after dinner...we could have pushed things and hit Vienna one last time as the ship didn't leave dock until 11:55 pm, but we had had our fill, and most days start pretty early; our shore excursion that day had kicked off at 9 am. So instead we just remained in the lounge listening to the stylings of Rafaela and Ante, a duo that performed lots of things to make a boat full of people average-aged 70 feel nostalgic. Rafaela had one of those perfect pitch voices to croon oldies, and their subtle drum machine let people dance a bit. Perhaps, thanks to some liquid encouragement from our good friend Harris behind the bar, we danced a bit too.

And here's the evening view out over the Danube.

Go back and read day 6 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George

Go ahead and read day 8 of Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George