Viking River Cruises, Vienna

As a young man growing up, I learned to love music at an early age. My father was a journalist and reviewed musical acts that came to our small town of Arlington Texas. My first concert was at the age of eleven, when we saw Louis Armstrong. My father favored Jazz and when he was sent an autographed photo of Lionel Hampton and me (I got the opportunity when I met him at The Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center), my father was in heaven.

 

Home of the Vienna Boys Choir, This plaque and Ribbons Designates a National Historical Marker

Home of the Vienna Boys Choir, This plaque and Ribbons Designates a National Historical Marker in Austria. It was located inside the Hofburg Palace.

 

In my early teens I heard classical music emanate from my father’s record player and I was hooked immediately. I listened to Bach, Brahms, Vivaldi, Wagner, Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven and Mozart from an early age. Through the years I learned how much classical music was composed or finalized in Vienna, Austria and I vowed, if ever given the chance, I would visit Vienna. When I noticed that the Danube Waltz Cruise from Viking River Cruises passed through Vienna, there was no doubt which cruise we would take.

 

Vienna Residence Orchestra, Viennese Palace

Vienna Residence Orchestra,  Palais Auersperg, Viennese Palace

 

While in Budapest, we mentioned we were interested in attending the Classical concert in the Viennese Palace the evening we arrived in Vienna. Thank goodness, as the available tickets were limited and some of our new “Viking” friends warned us not to wait and to purchase our tickets quickly . I would advise you purchase your tickets as soon as you are settled in for your cruise. Otherwise you take the chance of not witnessing an enchanting and memorable evening performance. It was an “Optional Excursion”, but well worth the nominal cost.

 

Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station, former station of the Viennese Stadtbahn, Designed by Otto Wagner

Karlsplatz Station, formerly of the Viennese Stadtbahn, Designed by Otto Wagner

 

We arrived in the port of Vienna around 6:00 AM. Given we had a full day ahead of us, we ate breakfast early and prepared for our Shore Excursion: “Vienna City Tour”. We started by touring the Ringstrasse by bus. This is a large circular boulevard, which replaced the city walls built in the 13th century around the city for protection. Sometime in 1857 a decision was made to convert the wall into a boulevard intended to showcase the the grandeur and glory of the Habsburg Empire. The idea originated with Napolean III in Paris. As a consequence, all the nobility and plutocracy hurried and built garish and ornate structures along the boulevard, each trying to outdo the other. This resulted in a plethora of outstanding and opulent properties that remain gorgeous to this day.

 

Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna, Museum of Natural History

Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna, Museum of Natural History

 

Austrian Parliament Building

Austrian Parliament Building

 

I personally love architecture and the examples scattered along the Ringstrasse throughout the city, at times took my breath away. Some of the essence of this period’s architecture can be seen in the Vienna State Opera, Academy of Fine Arts, Palace of Justice and the Austrian Parliament Building. We concluded the bus tour and were dropped at the Habsburg Palace, a huge complex used primarily as the residence and office of the President of Austria. It is one of the most gorgeous complexes I have ever seen. It also houses the world famous beautiful Lipazzan horses. If you are fortunate, you might visit during a training session. They were resting during our visit.

 

Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg Palace, most notably Adolf Hitler's ceremonial announcement of the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany on 15 March 1938.

Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg Palace, most notably remembered for Adolf Hitler’s ceremonial announcement of the Austrian Anschluss, to Nazi Germany on 15 March 1938. It was held on these steps.

 

As we began the walking tour we entered the massive, historical and decorative complex of the Hofburg Palace. I couldn’t take enough photos fast enough. One could spend an entire day enjoying the art, the various buildings and courtyards. The construction began in the thirteenth century  and the palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history.

 

A gate from the 19th wing of the Hofburg Palace, to the complex center.

A gate from the 19th wing of the Hofburg Palace, to the complex center.

 

The complex was started in the 13th century when the Swiss Wing was constructed. Through the centuries each potentate of the Austrian-Hungarian empire attempted to outdo the prior monarch with larger and more ornate buildings and trim. Included are statues dedicated to themselves in many cases and again each new statue reflected a larger persona. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Festsaal – Festival Hall Wing, St. Michael’s Wing, Neue Burg Wing, Corps de Logis and the Palm House or Butterfly House were added, making it the second largest former palace complex behind only the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest Romania and slightly larger than the Louvre Palace in Paris.

 

A Vienna taxi for hire.

A Vienna taxi for hire.

 

As we exited the Hofburg Palace and continued our walking tour we strolled down a street with shops like Gucci, Cartier, Versace, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc. I thought we were back on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Thank goodness there wasn’t time to shop! We continued through the Historic Center of Vienna and were given time to grab a cup of Viennese coffee and a strudel. We chose a location near to us and turned out to be a wonderful break. Aida’s is a chain in Vienna and I personally highly recommend you give it a try, if you visit Vienna.

 

Aida is a coffee house chain in Vienna with wonderful Viennese coffees and pastries. Try the Strudel, we did!

Aida is a coffee house chain in Vienna with wonderful Viennese coffees and pastries. Try the Strudel, we did!

 

After the quick coffee, we had time to either explore St. Stephens Cathedral or take a quick walk through the small Christmas Market next to the Cathedral. We obviously opted for the Christmas Markets, but I did catch a glimpse of the Cathedral and took a photo for posterity. The roof tiles are gorgeous and the exterior is amazing. On my next visit to Vienna I will definitely enter and photograph the Cathedral. I love design and architecture of European Cathedrals. One of my favorite objects to photograph.

 

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna

 

The last portion of the tour was basically to let us know where the Christmas Markets were. We spent a few minutes scanning the booths and registering our coordinates in the city. After the morning tour we returned to the ship for lunch. The afternoon gave us options to come back to the Christmas Markets, tour the Farmers’ Market with Chef de Cuisine Martin, or participate in an Optional Excursion: Schonbrunn Palace. Guess which one we chose? I would venture to say that most of you would say the Farmers’ Market or the Schonbrunn Palace. You would be incorrect. There were more and different wooden laser spoons waiting and we needed to add to Kim’s collection, so we came back to the Christmas Market. After all Vienna is one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe and had more booths than we could see.

 

 

 

Our new friends from the Boston area, Gail and Richard Douglas opted for the Schonbrunn Palace and once again Gail came through with a wonderful photograph for my blog. Thank you kindly young lady for your continual contributions.

 

Schonbrunn Palace, Photographed by Gail Douglas

Schonbrunn Palace, Photographed by Gail Douglas

 

Additionally we had the Optional Excursion: Classical Concert that night and it gave us more flexibility. Interpretation: we could get back to the ship, eat our early seating dinner and have sufficient time to dress for the concert and be mesmerized by one of the world’s best chamber orchestras, Wiener Residenzorchester. I was super excited to actually hear Mozart and Strauss in a venue, in Vienna with all the history associated with this city. The sculptures in the Palais Auersperg were extraordinary, as witnessed below.  Highlights of the concert for me were the Ouverture “Le Nozze di Figaro” (Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” by W.A. Mozart and The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss.

 

A Sculpture in the Palais Auersperg

A Sculpture in the Palais Auersperg

 

We left the concert after a long day fully energized by the Concertos and Arias of Mozart and Strauss. What I didn’t realize ahead of time was that we would have brief ballet and opera experiences at the concert. If you remember the photo at the beginning of the stage, you wouldn’t really think any ballet act could perform. Not only did were we entertained with excellent ballet, but a Pas de deux occurred with leaps, etc. I feared for the dancers safety at times, but they performed with nary an incident. We went back to the ship and turned in headed to our next ports in Austria, satisfied that we had tasted Vienna and would have exquisite memories of this grand city, until we returned again.

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking River Cruises, Bratislava

We sailed from Budapest on our Viking River Cruise around 9:00 PM on December 6th. Passengers were invited to view the nightlights of Budapest as we sailed to Bratislava, but we were worn out and frankly it was a little too cold for two Texans to stand on the sun deck of the Viking Longship Modi. So we decided rest was the order of the day and went to sleep in our home for the next week, our stateroom. I sometimes wake in the middle of the night, but this particular night I slept like a baby and never got up, if memory serves me right. I am sure many will tell you that might be debatable.

 

 

 

The next morning we arose early rested and watching the Slovakian countryside roll by. My how that simple venue can be calming and relaxing. As we weren’t to arrive until 2:00 PM in Bratislava, we took our time with breakfast. Afterwards the staff had several options available. One was mandatory, the safety drill at 10:00 AM. Believe me when I tell you they ensure you attend. I was amazed that we could all assemble in such a rapid manner, but it went off as intended and all passengers were accounted for. It was kind of nice to have the cabin steward lay our life-vests out on our beds prior to the safety drill.

 

The staff also offered a tour of the Wheelhouse, a Cooking Demonstration with fantastic cookies and finished the morning with a presentation on coffee, as we were headed to Vienna right after Bratislava. The pastry chef and head chef Martin Carter, gave a wonderful lesson on preparing the cookies, handed out recipes and of course a huge sampling of each of the four cookies. Then we had lunch. Program Director Barry Summers then gave the presentation on coffee, that shared the history of this precious beverage since the beginning of time. It was very educational for this avid coffee drinker.

 

Ruins of War

 

Slovakia has only been a country for twenty three years, after Czechoslavakia dissolved. It has a population of just a little over five million people and Bratislava is the largest city and the capitol. Slovakia then joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone January of 2009. Slovakia is also a member of NATO, the United Nations and is in the Schengen area of Europe. As it is not really a wealthy nation, buildings like this remain and are scattered across the country still, leftover from World War II.

 

Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion

       Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion.  Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

The “Shore Excursion” was scheduled for 2:00 PM and included a bus tour of certain areas along with a walking tour of downtown, the Opera House and the Christmas Markets. Our daily briefing wasn’t until 6:45 PM, so we had plenty of time to see Bratislava on foot and of course the Christmas Markets were a priority!  The photo above clearly illustrates the way all the Viking Tour Guides dress in winter, with the infamous “lollipop” logo of Viking, held high for all to see. Each passenger is given their own headset and you follow at your own pace. Just don’t lose sight of your group’s lollipop!

 

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This photo was taken downtown and the buildings are all constructed in an adjoining manner. Foot traffic during the day traverses back and forth through these tunnels, but as there is a small crime issue late at night, they shut the rod iron gates visible at the entrance to ward off criminal elements.  Old Town in which most of the walking tour transpired was refurbished and had excellent architecture in my humble opinion. I was very surprised at the detail and trim.

 

 

Street Art Example.  Photography by Gail Douglas

Street Art Example.
Photography by Gail Douglas

 

One of the new symbols of Bratislava is this fella Cumil, he gives you an insight into the Slovak humor. This photo was taken and supplied by Gail Douglas, as stated. Thank you kindly young lady! She and her great husband Richard, in the yellow jacket above, became friends of ours and we ate many meals with them. We bonded immediately. Great sense of humor and we now exchange emails. Hope to cruise with them again soon!

 

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Bratislava had many booths filled with hanging potpourri items. These were particularly favorable to me, with the various citrus scents, especially lime. It reminded me of a cologne I used to wear back in the 70’s and it is still produced today I discovered. It’s name is Royall Lyme, produced and manufactured in the USA by Brooks Brothers, with permission from Royall Lyme (Bermuda), Hamilton Bermuda. I always loved the lime scent!

 

Blown Glass Booth. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Blown Glass Booth.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This lady’s booth was  filled with glass products made in Slovakia. Kim lost her red heart necklace when we went through security in London, so I purchased her another red heart from this lady. She was very pleasant and helpful, although I doubt she understood my story exactly.

 

Kim's Spoon Collection. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Kim’s Spoon Collection.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

If  you followed our escapades, you know how the wooden spoons were popular with Kim and at most of the Christmas Markets we visited. If you didn’t, then take a good look at these examples where winter objects were laser burned into the spoons. Even I had to acknowledge how cute they were.

 

 

We were looking at a chocolate booth in the Bratislava Christmas Markets and out of nowhere I noticed a lady looking over my shoulder and right next to me. It was scary. I yelled at her to back away from me. She casually smiled and walked away. I wouldn’t have been this aware normally and without Viking’s persistent warnings. From that moment on I started carrying all my valuables inside my coat in zippered pockets. I have to truly thank Viking for saving me from losing my wallet, passport and money clip. Without their consistent emphasis, I am positive they would all be in this lady’s possession now. Be aware, it is not fiction, it really happens.

 

Wood Nativity Scene. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Wood Nativity Scene.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

As we walked the length of the Bratislava Christmas Markets, we came upon this nativity scene. It was beautifully carved from wood and grabbed my attention. I was taken back by the features and detail involved, with all the figures. It really was a beautiful sight.

 

Neon Running Man. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Neon Running Man.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

We turned around from the nativity scene and ice rink to see this neon running man series of lights. Whoever made it has a great mind and really has creative instincts. Each man would light up separately and timed to set aglow in consecutive order. It truly looked like the neon man was running every time they set him in motion. After several minutes, they turned all the neon men on a the same time and it was brilliant.

 

 

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

 

On our way back to the ship, Kim and I decided to enter a local grocery store and see the differences. Slovakia has a genuine taste for fish. At the butcher area half the case was fish. It was fun trying to figure out what some of  the products were. It was also very evident, that some things are the same the world over. We were at the back of the store and came across the soda area. It was a little strange for us to see Slovakian names on Coca-Cola bottles, but really no surprise. Unfortunately my favorite, the “Selfie Queen” bottle, wasn’t in this photograph.

 

A Well Known Embassy. Photography by Nomadic Texan

A Well Known Embassy.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Before we arrived at the river we ran across this sign at their embassy and I just had take a photo of this crest. I thought it was appropriate, given how famous this microstate on France’s Mediterranean coastline is. Its major district is Monte Carlo and it’s very well known for its Gran Prix motor race, casinos and its fabulous nightlife. We boarded our ship, ate a wonderful dinner and listened to the Bratislava Men’s choir sing Christmas Carols in Slovakian and English both. An excellent end to a wonderful day. We went to our room and knew we would wake up in Vienna, a city I had yearned to see since I first began traveling!

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

Photo of The Day #58

Mosaic Above Upstairs Doors

Mosaic Above Upstairs Doors

 

One of my favorite events on my recent FAM tour to Thailand and Malaysia was visiting The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang Malaysia. It is located in the Georgetown section of the city. The house was built in the 19th century and has wonderful brocade wood work along all the staircases and windows.

 

One aspect especially caught my eye and that was the myriad of mosaic structures above the doors and windows of the second story. They were more visible from the balcony overlooking the front yard and stone wall. This one particularly caught my attention with all its intricate detail and design.

Photo of The Day #55

Our visit to James Bond Island or Khao Phing Kan, in Phang Nga Bay Thailand was both exhilarating and educational. The ride over in the Long Boat was stimulating and was an experience I shall never forget. It was a proper end to the ride, when we wound up at the restaurant in Sea Gypsy Village for lunch. The village is elevated above the ocean on stilts to account for the tides and storm surges.

 

The majority of its income base is centered around tourism and visitors that stop off on the way back from James Bond Island. In addition to a rather large restaurant there is a maze of shops and retail outlets, which sell fresh water pearls, all kinds of clothing, authentic regional food items and various traditional souvenir goods. It is well worth the stop and one can wonder endlessly for hours just investigating the wares the vendors offer.

Koy Panyee Sea Gypsy Village

Koy Panyee Sea Gypsy Village

 

Photo of The Day #16

Saturday Markets Were a Challenge With All the Rain

Saturday Markets Were a Challenge With All the Rain

 

 

One can casually stroll about Cuenca and discover a shopper’s paradise a block away from the New Cathedral. The Market is located in front of the San Francisco inclosed markets and you will find very economical deals. In addition you can barter the price and you learn after a awhile that the original price is a “Gringo” price and is only paid by the naive tourists. There are tons of examples of weaving and clothing products and more than likely you can find a shirt, a blouse, a bag, a shawl or a scarf that you really like.

 

 

The only issue I find is that larger individuals cannot locate an appropriate fitting sample. If you are 6’4″ or so, you will not be able to locate a shirt that fits you. The sizes are all established based on the traditional sizes of the Ecuadorian population. It is a blast though walking and looking at the wares and seeing how good of a negotiator you are. Buenos Suelte!

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