The Danube – The Welge Report

 

Hello Fellow Travelers:

 

Welcome to our world of business information, museums, adventure, birding, botanical gardens, dining and fine wines.  This newsletter provides you with The Welge Report for The Danube.

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Recognition:  We extend special thanks to the people who manage and/or own the institutions, museums and restaurants featured in our guides.  In some instances we have relied on their descriptions and photos

 

The Danube 

 

 

After boarding our boat  and leaving our dock in Budapest we had several excursions that we would like to share with you.

 

Birding Opps:  Info for our birding friends.  In and near The Danube you can see these species:  Tree Sparrow, Short-toed Creepers, Nightingale, Long-tailed Tits and the Common Redstart.

The Urban Birder (theurbanbirder.com/urban-birding/budapest/) has information for us in many cities including BudaPest and the woods of the Buda Hills.

At Hungarian Birdwatching (hungarianbirdwatching.com/03_Areas.html) we can find the birding hot spots.

Canbird (canbirdtours.com/eastern.html) offers worldwide bird tours.  This is a good diary for Eastern European birding.

 

On the way to Bratislava we saw the historic city of Esztergom - and its remarkable 16th century basilica.  The small town of Esztergom sitting on the Danube bank in Hungary played an important role in the establishment of the Hungarian state 1000 years ago.

We put ashore and enjoyed a walking tour of the Old Town Center of Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital.    Bratislava has a history going back to Celtic and Roman times.  The Slavs settled here in the 5th century under the ruler Bretislav.

Under Hungarian rule the city was called Pozsony.  The center of the Old Town consists of two interlinked squares.  The coronation route of the Hungarian Kings is marked by golden crowns imbedded in the pavement.

There are many life size statues, among them, Napoleon’s Soldier, a paparazzo, and a worker poking his head out of a manhole.

On route back to the ship we paused at the Eurovea shopping gallery where we purchased wine at Billa and then had a beer at an outdoor café.

 

Lunch was onboard followed by a visit to a local pre-school/kindergarden. The children performed for us and we exchanged presents.

 

After this we had a home visit with 3 young Slovakians and their dog Benny that included tea, pastries and conversation.  It was quite interesting.

Our host worked for IBM and his girl friend was in media placement.  This was their apartment complex.

Our next excursion included a bus tour of the Ring Strasse of  Vienna, Austria.  This was followed by a guided walk of the medieval streets of Imperial Vienna, which started with coffee at the Opera House Café.

 

Sites included the Hofsburg Palace, a complex of several buildings including The Spanish Riding School.

 

The walk ended at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

We split away from our group and had lunch at Mama’s Viennese Kitchen with a fellow traveler.

Mama’s was a low key local office worker fueling stop, however, we did enjoy a nice glass of red wine, the ’10 Spatburgunder Weingut Rudolf Furst.

After lunch we walked to the Museum Quarter where we visited the Leopold Museum that featured contemporary Viennese artists in a special show attended by artists and gallery owners who were selling their works.

 

The Museum has holdings by Klimpt and a huge collection of Egon Schiele.

After this experience we rode the # 2 tram back to the canal and eventually to our boat.  We had an early dinner and then went to a concert that featured classical music of Strauss and Mozart.  The concert also included opera and ballet performances.

After motoring along the Danube through the Wachau Valley we enjoyed a guided walk through the village of Durenstein.

 

Durenstein dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries when it was a walled city.  Now the area is surrounded by vineyards.  Centuries ago the locals charged fees for barges and boats using the river.

This made the city quite wealthy.  Enforcement was by canon and stone throwers launched from the fortress.

Britain’s King Richard the Lion Hearted (my namesake) was held here for ransom in a local fort pictured on top of the hill above.

On our journey through the Wachau, we learned that the Danube flows through 10 countries.  It is the 2nd longest river in Europe after the Volga.

The Danube flows from the West to the East. It begins in the Black Forest and flows into the Black Sea.

The Danube was a trade route for salt originally.  The Romans dredged it to make it more useful.  Horses were used to move the barges and were eventually replaced by steam engines.

Local pilots were helpful to avoid the rocks in the river, which the M/S River Adagio did not do.

 

Soon we arrived in Melk and boarded a bus to take us to the famous Abbey, which is set on a hillside overlooking the town and the river.  Here we were met by our local guide, Ulla.  The Melk Abbey has a long and storied history.

Its earliest incarnation was as a Roman border post.  Later it served as a 10th century Babenberg fortress.  In 1089 it became a Benedictine Monastery and earned a reputation for medieval scholarship.

Its library includes more than 70,000 books and 2,000 manuscripts, chiefly from the 9th through the 15th centuries.

The Abbey is supported by tourism now and they have created a marvelous series of rooms filled with artifacts carefully chosen to appeal to every eye.

The designers have created a flow that easily accommodates tour groups such as ours and the many others from around the world.

The next day we boarded the buses for “the beautiful city of Salzburg” (everyone calls it that) home to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Mr. Mohr who wrote “Silent Night”. (I thought it was Bing Crosby.)

We had a walking tour with a local guide who pointed out many local landmarks, alleyways and wrought iron guild signs.

 

The town and the countryside appeared to be very affluent.  Our first stop was Schloss Mirabell Gardens that were just emerging, and were immaculately maintained. 

Our walking tour continued along intimate streets and alleyways past exclusive shops and boutiques and a wonderful produce market to one of many squares where the Salzburg Dom was located.

It was here that Mozart was baptized.  We also passed Mozart’s birthplace and the house where he grew up.

 

We had a lovely lunch in a dramatic setting, white table clothes, nice stemware and decent wine, a ’07 Assmanshauser Hollenberg Spatburgunder Spatlese Trocken by Konig.

We boarded our bus again and drove to Cresky Krumlov the second most visited city in the Czech Republic.  Carolyn, our local guide, filled us in on the history.  Here she is with the Mayor in front of his shop.

We had lunch in a charming little Inn where we had a delicious pea soup and a plate of chicken and rice.  We purchased a small ceramic bowl from a local artisan in her atelier.

After our stay in Prague (see our The Welge Report - Prague) we boarded a bus for Dresden, but our first stop was in LitoMerice in the Czech Republic.  On the way our new Program Director, Sonja, described activities that led up to WW2.

Sonja reminded us that Hitler had been on the cover of Time Magazine and was named their “Man of the Year” in 1939.  Many prominent business people and politicians were for German appeasement hoping to stop the spread of Communism.

 

We drove by many deserted homes and a prison area Terezin that was a way station for the extermination camps.

In Terezin the Nazis had made propaganda films to show what a wonderful life the Jews were having in the countryside.

The Red Cross was invited to witness this idyllic state.  Shortly thereafter all of these people were exterminated.

 

We had a few “on your own” minutes when we got to Litomerice. Dee and I found a little wine store where locals were bringing in their bottles for a refill.

Unfortunately the proprietress spoke about as much English as we did Czech.  She did not take any currency except the Czech krown.

Then we met up with Sonja who led us to a local restaurant where we tried the local white and red wines with our pork and cabbage.  Sonja changed $20 US for us and we returned to the wine shop.

Closed for lunch!  But just as we were about to leave the proprietress opened the door.  I asked the price of the red wine and she had 4 different kinds, all made locally by Klasterni sklepy Littomerice.

The ’10 Pinot Noir was 85 krown, the ’11 Modry Portugal was 65 krown and the ’03 Rulandske nodre was 160 krown.  Sonja had given us 20 krown as an exchange rate so our purchases came to about $16 US. The wines were quite quaffable.

 

As we were arriving in Dresden Sonja explained that it was 90% destroyed by allied bombing at the end of WW2.   Dresden was founded in the 12th century by Slavs.  In the early 1300s Dresden was given to the Germanic Wettin dynasty.

By the late 1400s Dresden was the seat of Saxon dukes followed by the prince-electors of the Holy Roman EmpireDresden became a hub of modern art, and it has been rebuilt since it was destroyed by the WW2 firebombing.

Sonja explained that the opinion now was this bombing was in retaliation for the bombing of Coventry.

 

Dee’s uncle, Roul Tunley, had written a book on this event titledOrdeal by Fire.  The story was told to Roul by Ann Walley who had survived the bombing.  Another book on this event is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

 

Dinner was at Ristornate Via Re – Konigstrasse 6, 0352 8025797.

During a walk-about by ourselves Dee and I found this charming little Italian restaurant where we made a reservation and as we returned to our hotel Dee told fellow travelers about it.

As we were returning to Via Re we ran into them again. They had just had dinner there and were raving about it.

When we walked in they had two reserved signs on a large table for us.  We began our meal with glasses of Prosecco, a shared order of crostini with tapenade and capers wrapped with an anchovy and a tasty bit or balsamic vinegar.

With our entrees we had, at our waiter’s suggestion, a glass of ’09 Wasem Spatburgunder.  Dee had the piccata Milanese and I had the pasta Bolognese.  It was great fun.

 

The Bellevue Westin, where we were staying in Dresden, had a beautiful breakfast buffet including white table cloths and napkins.  The service was very professional.

We began our day with a coach tour narrated by a local guide, Heidi, who was born and reared in Dresden and survived many different lives including one of privilege, one of survival and her current life.

Heidi pointed out many highlights in the old city including the VW transparent factory that assembled the Phaeton Saloon, the German Hyginene Museum, the Grosser Garten as well as a tour of the upscale neighborhoods: Loschwitz and Blasewitz.  We also passed the new modern synagogue.

 

This was followed by a walking tour that included Zwinger, the Semper Opera House, the Royal Palace (the Green Vault),

the Frauenkirche Church (Protestant) and the Procession of Princes a fresco of Meisen Porcelian Tiles

 

We also saw Kreuzkirche Church, the Bruhl Terrace and the exterior of the Royal Palace.

 

Dee and I had lunch at the Café zur Frauenkirche.  We had a great window table looking out at the Kreuzkirche Church.

This was an interesting view because there were several wedding parties entering and leaving with horse drawn carriages waiting and hundreds of tourists milling about.

We started with 2 glasses of Thurgau Schabehorn to accompany our pork roulade with spaetzle and broccoli.  We added a glass of Rielsing Kabinett from Hanke.  From here we toured the Green Vault, the treasure chamber of the Saxon Princes.

 

Dinner was a taxi ride to a classic old world restaurant chosen by our fellow travelers Steve and Ann, Restaurant Homage, L & D: Daily, Wasaplatz 1, 0351 647 55 47.

Dee and I started with a glass of dry German bubbly and a mixed plate of cheeses, olives, figs and greens.

We enjoyed a bottle of ’08 Roodeberg red wine from the Western Cape of South Africa that went very well with our entrees.

Dee had the huftsteak with potatoes and broccoli, and I had the pork neck with the same sides.  It was a lot of fun except for the cash only policy.

 

After another wonderful breakfast at the Westin we boarded our bus for Wittenberg (Lutherstadt), which was a delightful surprise.  Early Sunday morning in this area is very quiet.

In Wittenberg the shops were closed when we got there as were most restaurants and coffee houses.  Only the tour buses were active.

Sonja led us about this picturesque village and gave us the background on its most famous citizen, Martin Luther.

There is a lot of construction going on in preparation for an onslaught of tourists for the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s edict.  The town is charming and easy to access.

 

We had lunch at the Brauhaus Wittenberg Market.

We were the only non-Germans there and it was a great Sunday morning scene of beer and schnapps drinking and conviviality.

Dee and I each had a bratwurst plate with sauerkraut and German mashed potatoes and, of course, glasses of a local Riesling that was very good.  This was our most authentic German meal.

And then it was on to Berlin which you can see at Berlin – The Welge Report.

 

Until next time, best wishes and safe travels,

Dick & Dee Welge

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