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Saturday, October 31, 2015

GAWA Day #45: Valhalla and the Parthenon

There is the Walhalla Memorial on a hill close to Regensburg.  Named after Valhalla of Norse mythology, the structure was built by King Ludwig I of Bavaria to bring the nation together.  So the 447 BC Parthenon of Athens was copied from 1830 to 1842 to house, now, 130 busts (plus 65 plaques of those no one knew how they looked) of eminent German-speaking individuals of the past two millennia.  Initially, Ludwig I picked the honorees, but now it is a committee, and you need to be dead 20 years to be considered.  Consider, however, that even Felix Mendelssohn of Italian fame has not yet been approved.

If you walk up from the front, that would be a real challenge.  You can see only a portion here.  However, the bus parks in the back, and the climb up is tolerable.

Included are Charlemagne (plaque--but here is a painting to the right--a pious Catholic who once beheaded 4000 Saxons on one day, and his 46 year reign ended the Roman Empire), Beethoven, Erasmus, Goethe, Gutenberg, Handel, Haydn, Catherine the Great of Russia, Kepler, Copernicus, Mozart, Rubens, Martin Luther, Bismarck, Wagner, Bach,  Shubert, Richard Strauss, Albert Einstein, Konrad Adenauer, Brahms.  Also, of the 12 women, Sophie Scholl, a 20-year old activist student who was killed by the Nazis, and my all-time favorite heroine, Maria Theresa.

Ludwig is also prominently placed here (abovelong after he passed away), and a second and more recognized reason why he is famous is that the celebration of his marriage in 1810 started Octoberfest in Munich.

Today it was Singapore noodles cooked in front of you in the Bistro.  The #3 chef was new at this so after I tried his first offering, I instructed him in a second try not to add so much sauce and only par-fry the vegetables.  For me he also replaced the shrimp with sausage and I got rice instead of those tough to chew dried rice noodles.  Mind you, the rice was similar to Uncle Ben's, but the still too much sauce took care of that problem:

A German beer made this another international event.  I never did tell him that I had never cooked Singapore noodles before, and maybe never even heard of it.

There is an eleven hour time difference between Hawaii and most of Europe.  Thus, as I get ready to post a blog, when it is early morning in Honolulu, it is late in the afternoon here.  Today, for the first time I just stood at my cabin window and gazed outside, for it is fashionable, and much healthier, these days not to sit and relax. Actually, there is a 20 inch or so shelf area I can lean over and rest myself, for just standing is more difficult than walking.  As these photos can take an hour to download, just waiting for this picture to appear, I took ten photos at water level, and they all looked about the same, so I'll spare you the redundancy with only one:

I should add that this now the peak of Fall colors, for there are a lot of fallen leaves.  Two weeks from now it could well be somewhat barren.

Tomorrow I will say a few things interesting things about Germany, for more than half the cruise is over their territory, and provide some details about the Main-Danube Canal, which linked the two rivers only in 1992.    Interestingly enough, both Charlemagne and King Ludwig I were the first to do something about the latter.  Here is an interesting tidbit, for example, about Germany.

  • In the USA we separate church and state, mostly.  
  • In Germany, you will pay 8-9% of your income tax to the church of your choice.  
  • However, if you can prove you're agnostic, you keep that 8-9% for yourself.  Wonder why there so many agnostics in Germany?
Tropical Cyclone Chapala is at 135 MPH but weakening, and should soon crash into Yemen:


Friday, October 30, 2015

GAWA Day #44: How Goes the Tauck European River Cruise at the Midway Point?

I am now just about midway through my Tauck river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.  If you're new to this blog site, GAWA is the acronym for my Grand Around the World Adventure.  Day #44 means I have 22 days left before I return to Honolulu.

First a quick tour through Regensburg, a city of 155,000, with nearly 30,000 students at the University of Regensburg.  The city is about a millennium old, and was spared World War II devastation because the Swiss Red Cross was headquartered here.  Unemployment is about the lowest in the country and both BMW and Audi vehicles are manufactured here.  This  is the only location for the production of  the BMW 300 series, and also the 100 (white cars below):  

I show this second photo because my blue bar pigeon followed me to Regensburg.  Mind you, it's not like there are thousands of pigeons and I pick-out one blue bar.  Almost always, there is only one pigeon, my shadow from Venice.  Below is the impressive St. Peter Cathedral in the background, and here:

We asked what do visitors buy in this town for gifts, and the answer was a BMW or sweet mustard: flowers.

The best sausage in the world is made here, although a future stop, Wurzburg, would disagree.  They also debate about who has the oldest bridge in Europe.  Turns out that while both stone bridges in Regensburg (above) and Wurzburg are around 900 years old, the Roman Bridge in Trier (Germany) is more than 2000 years old.  Someone told me that six tiny hot dogs, maybe 2 inches long, cost around $10.  Then there would be the added cost for beer and sides  The tour guide walked us past the residence of Oskar Schindler.  Remember Schindler's List?  (Rotten Tomatoes gave the film 97%/98% ratings.)

My Thurn and Taxis Palace visit was nothing short of excruciating.  Interesting story, of course, about how the family became nobility, and, while Germany does not today recognize any king of royalty, Prince Albert and his mother Gloria still live here, and this structure is larger than Buckingham Palace.  Prince Albert, was in 1990 listed as the world's youngest billionaire, and is still single at the age of 32.  No photos allowed inside, but I mistakenly took one of what looked like a fried egg.  There is a long story to this, but it had something to do with former Queen Gloria giving an art piece to her husband.  I have the only photo of the group, and it looks sunny side up.

I learned something about crowns.  On top of this palace are crowns with four half-arches  (two of them).  It is said that kings and queens wear a crown of six half-arches and Emperors get eight.  Thus, those four half-arches because of Albert.  I was so bored by the palace tour, that this is the only fact that interested me. However, Queen Elizabeth and previous kings/queens of England wore crowns of four half arches, while the Prince of Wales Charles has one full arch.

Okay, so about the river tour itself, first, I hate long tours of castles, churches and palaces.    Maybe one per year of one of them is about all I can take.  ALL river cruises feature them, and this happens just about every day.  Worse, you can have two or three of them on the same day, back to back to back.  And you're trapped on a bus or something, so must stick around until the end.  Sure, you can skip the tour, but they are part of the one price, so it would be a waste to remain on the boat, or maybe this is large enough to be called a ship.  

Which is the best European river tour?  This is my first one, but I chose Tauck because, while I avoid guided tours, I've been generally pleased with four of Tauck's in the past.  The term that sticks for Tauck is relaxed elegance.

While most river tour companies have their own ships, Tauck charters the service from Scylla AG, a Swiss shipping company, which owns and runs everything.  Tauck only has three employees on board, Lynn, Cruise Director, and Tour Directors Kati and Elisabeth.  They have been absolutely wonderful.  Here is one rating, with the dollars/day cost from a second source.

  • #1 (5 stars--$380):  Tauck.  If you have the opportunity, get on the Swiss Emerald, for it is the best on any European river.  While many cruise lines feature free booze (even premium alcoholic brands--and from 9AM to midnight for Tauck), free tours, free internet (adequate for e-mails, but slow, very slow if you need to process photos) and no tipping (even at the end), as Tauck does, it is in the quality of service and excellence of cuisine that Tauck shines.
  • #2 (4.5 stars--$473):  Uniworld.  They supposedly lend out Nordic walking sticks, which for me would have been important because I bought a cane on my Tauck tour.
  • #3 (4 stars):  AMA Waterways--$427--formerly known as Amadeus, has a newer fleet and champagne at breakfast.
  • #4 (3 stars--$320):  Avalon Waterways, owned by Globus.  Quieter ride and is improving.
  • #5 (3 stars--$264):  Viking River Cruises, the largest of the European River Boat companies.  Said to be okay, but service and amenities are not the best.  They sell water bottles on board!  Food not memorable.  A great unsophisticated cruise for those who want to be treated like children.  (These are not my words.)
According to this review, if you do not pick one of the above, don't go.  One surprise is that cost did not determine star quality.

I also selected Tauck because, if you did not mind being placed on the bottom floor, you got by with a single rate.  All other rooms required payment for couples.  Some lines have a single supplement, but this is ghastly high, even at Tauck.  If I had to move up one floor, I would have to pay $4000 more.

Anyway, here is my room, and while the "portholes" are rectangular and large, you need to stand up to gaze through them. 

The shower is serviceable, but there is no bathtub.  This is, after all a boat on a river.  The TV system is reasonable, but limited.

Frankly, even including my excruciating walk throughs of castles, churches and palaces, I am enjoying my cruise.    I would guess that I'm the only single male living alone, while there must be at least a dozen potentially available females, most in single rooms.  Half are Tauck people training to become future tour directors.  I count 63 people on the guest list, with 49 from the USA (most are Californians), ten from Australia, two from Panama and two from Canada.  We will be passing through 68 locks.  Here is one:

Above, view from our sundeck.

For dinner I went to the Bistro for an Italian cutlet with linguini.  I was invited by two couples seated next to me to join them.  Let me call it the front row, Merry and Moe from West Bloomfield, Michigan, and back row, Nancy and Barry from Laguna Beach,California:

Tiramisu and cheese as the final course, followed later in the evening by a quartet of former Regensburg Boys' Choir members.  They were excellent, and I would have purchased one of their CDs if the cost were not 25 Euros.

Over the next ten days or so I need to be smarter about which tours to avoid.  By the way, it is 4:25PM and it is getting very dark outside.  My view today is a wall, as the ship is docked, but all I need to do is walk up to the bistro, lounge or top deck and any drink is free.   There is a lot of room and no one bothers you if you wish privacy.  However, part of the reason you go on a trip is to meet people, and everyone I've talked to here has been uber-friendly.

Incredibly, a weather disturbance over the past day has become 155 MPH Super Tropical Cyclone Chapala off the coast of Yemen.  The expectation is further strengthening:


Thursday, October 29, 2015

GAWA Day #43: Passau--The Venice of Germany

Passau is a Bavarian city with three rivers, the Inn and the Ilz intersecting the Danube here.  A Roman colony as ancient Passau, this is known as the Venice of Germany, not only because of the watery intrusions, but also the Italian architecture, for after a conflagration consumed the entire city in 1662, Italian architects were brought in to rebuild the area.

Both Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler lived part of their youth here.  During World War II, the town housed three infamous Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camps, Passau I, II and III.  The MG camps featured extermination by labor, and up to 300,000 could have died.  Interesting that Tauck chose not to mention any of this material in this paragraph.
Every few years the town suffers from very severe flooding--after all, there are three rivers crashing into each other here--where the river level can rise up by 50 feet.  Just in 2013 the damage to this city was $15 billion.   The only solution will be to move the 50,000 population away, for this will happen someday again.  However, the below is not why Passau is known as the Venice of Germany:

So why are we here?  Well, this is a neat town with St. Stevens Cathedral, which has the largest organ system in Europe. 

However, it is only the fourth largest in the world.  The top three are in the USA.  And, yes, my blue bar pigeon also made an appearance.  He also picked up a friend:

Passau is also a convenient stop for river tour ships.  I had my best Bavarian meal of my life on the ship:

To this suckling pig you can add a glass of white wine and a Bloody Mary, plus three pieces of franks provided by my dining mates, Melinda and Martin.  Perhaps this was also my first authentic Bavarian lunch.

Of course, the passing view was spectacular.  I've never before seen a flock of flying swans before:

This morning for breakfast I saw parent swans and their swan-lings floating by.

Well, today we tour Regensberg.  I'll also tomorrow recap this whole river experience thus far, with all the plusses and minuses (yes, the correct plural of minus is this).

Yesterday we had no ocean storms.  Today, there is a budding cyclone that will attain Category 4 strength and head for Yemen:


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

GAWA Day #42: The Most Extraordinary Female in History--Maria Theresa

You can check through all the lists of outstanding women in history and you probably won't find Maria Theresa.  Frankly, I never heard of her until I went on a tour of Shonbrunn Palace in Vienna yesterday.

This was her summer place, and long after her time, on a day in February of 1913, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin both visited here, without knowing about the presence of the other.  Of course, they were not important then.  Anyway, Maria Theresa:

  • Was active around the time of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
  • Blond, blue-eyed and short, at the age of 23, pregnant with her fourth child, her father, Emperor Charles VI (right) of the House of Hapsburg, suddenly died.
  • The emperor not having a son, Maria Theresa became the first female ruler of the empire, which included Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria, Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma.
  • Mind you, her husband, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, was not exactly a liability, although he was known to have mistresses.  However, he was not involved at all with running the country, but instead, became quite a successful entrepreneur.  To the right are Maria and Francis, with son Franz Joseph.
  • Franz Joseph became Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and was President of the German Confederation from 1850 to 1866.  Incredibly enough, he was still running things in 1914 when his heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, were assassinated, and Joseph's staff essentially sent the ultimatum that sparked World War I, resulting in 9 million deaths.  He died at the age of 86!
  • Youngest daughter was Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette, right), who became Queen of France and guillotined by revolutionaries.
  • Maria Theresa was hardly perfect, for she was a bigot and had a dislike of Jews, but allowed them flexibility at commerce.
  • A devout Roman Catholic, she found a way to tax the clergy and introduced secular subjects such as law into their universities, initiating the decline of theology as the main foundation of higher education.
  • Reformed their educational system and improved medical care.
  • Outlawed witch burning.
  • Not an intellectual and was smart enough to recognize the mental superiority of her advisors.
  • Earned a ton of titles, but was never made Empress.
  • Marie Theresa ruled for 40 years.  
  • The country was on the verge of bankruptcy when she took over, was challenged by several nations who wanted to test her mettle, but she persevered, and her territories, and Europe in general, prospered for more than a century after she passed away.  Overcoming economic turmoil, though a series of wars and all the politics associated with her job, she continued bearing children to the age of 39.
  • Surviving smallpox at the age of 50, she lived to the ripe old age of 63, when the life expectancy in Europe in the late 1700's was around 33.
Okay, why did she have so many children?  All but one daughter was married off to expand her empire.  She allowed one to marry for love because they were born on the same day.

Tell me, now, has anyone ever heard of any female in the history of humanity who was more extraordinary?   Doesn't Maria Theresa  (left) deserve to be the most outstanding female leader, heck, make that, leader, of all time?

Here is just one photo of the Melk Abbey at sunset, where Maria Theresa sometimes stayed:

I had the ideal Viennese lunch with tour friends Susan, Morgan, Melinda and Martin:

Melinda and I halved a Weiner Schnitzel, and I also had a salad and beer.

Our group ordered one sachertorte and one apple strudel and shared it:

Augerstinerkeller is, amazingly enough, one floor below this scene right at Albertina Square, the heart of Vienna and where our busses picked us up.

I might add that Susan is a real estate agent, Morgan lives in Sonoma Valley and is a real estate lawyer, while Melinda and Martin operate a Tai Chi / acupuncture practice in San Francisco, where Martin is a leading master of Tai Chi.  He is also from Hawaii and Punahou and they frequently return to Honolulu, for they own a second home in Kaimuki.  We already have plans for the holiday season.

There is no ocean storm today, a rarity these days: