Get Away With Fran

September 21, 2009

On through Germany on Viking Legend

Filed under: Cruise,International — admin @ 12:01 am


The Danube rose just enough for the Viking Legend to pass up river, so we experienced only minor itinerary changes, afterall. Sunday we docked in Regensburg, one of Germany best-preserved medieval cities and home to the 12th century Old Sone Bridge (above).


And then we headed by bus to Nuremberg, known today for its notorious role in World War II – including views of the fairgrounds where Hitler held massive Nazi rallies (the above building is at the site where a giant swastika was once displayed – it was the first thing the Allied Forces bombed when they got to Nuremberg).

We passed too the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials took place, post-War, calling to attention of the world some of the crimes that had been committed.

I left the Viking Legend at Nuremberg, flying up to Berlin (a quick 50-minute flight) where today I will explore the more recent and joyous history of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 20th anniversary of which is in Nov. My fellow passengers headed on to the Main and Rhine, for another week of cruising. There was word the Rhine waters were shallow too, but the crew was crossing their fingers, toes and anything else they could think of in hopes of getting through to Amsterdam.

September 19, 2009

Delayed on the Danube

   Mother Nature has caused a little change of plans here in Germany, and it’s due to too much sunshine. The Viking Legend has been cruising the Danube on its way from Budapest to Amsterdam (on the Danube, Main and Rhine) on a two-week Grand Europe voyage. Well, that was the plan. But yesterday the Captain and program manager met with passengers to explain that a stretch of the Danube is experiencing unusually low water levels and the ship may not be able to get through between Regensburg to Nuremberg. The Legend, a brand new river ship, has a draft of 1.59 centimeters. Apparently that’s about .10 centimeters too deep for the current water level. Short of doing a rain dance (it did rain a couple of days ago when we were in Melk, but not enough) there’s not much the crew can do. Passengers were advised they will have to take buses to some destinations (we’ve already had some minor itinerary changes including an overnight near Passau and an unscheduled stop at Vil Sofen, from which passengers were bused to Regensburg for a day of touring the medieval Old City there), and may have to disembark the ship and stay in a hotel for a few nights to continue the journey, though nothing is definite yet. Some passengers among the 180 onboard are vocally complaining, though most seem willing to wait and see what happens next.


Meanwhile, after leaving Vienna, we cruised through the very green Wachau Valley countryside of Austria – there were sheep on some hillsides – and visited the 900-year-old, baroque-style Melk Abbey, which with its 500 rooms occupies a hillside and still has monks and a parochial school too. Our tour included a glimpse at medieval manuscripts in the abbey’s amazing library (you can imagine writer Dan Brown doing research here).


The abbey also has an impressively modern museum outlining its history and of course a beautiful chapel.


Friday, we visited the cobblestone streets of the lovely university town of Passau, Germany, also known as the City of Three Rivers for its location on the Danube, Ils and Inn rivers. The cathedral in Passau boasts the largest church organ in the world – some of the pipes are 30 feet tall, others less than 3 inches – and we were treated to a noontime concert, the bass notes so deep you could feel them in your chest (one song reminded me of the type of music you might here in a Frankenstein movie, deep and spooky).  


The Town Hall boasts a depiction of the Danube as a very buxom woman. But whether she can help make the water levels rise remains to be seen.

September 17, 2009

Anatomy is Destiny in Vienna

Filed under: Cruise,International — admin @ 11:08 pm


In Vienna, the Danube does not run right through downtown, and it’s a big city. So you do need to do a little planning, or at least ask questions of your ship’s shore team, if you plan on setting out on your own. As each day, the Viking Legend passengeners were whisked off on buses for the daily complimentary excursion with local guides pointing out the major sights.

 Again, having seen the palaces, State Opera House, cathedral et al in Vienna on a previous visit, I had something else in mind, a little Sigmund Freud. I made my way on Vienna’s easy subway system to the university area and the home/office of Freud, now the Sigmund Freud Museum (the only slight confusion was when I emerged from underground and wasn’t sure which way to walk. No problem. I was near a university. The first young, blond, stud of a student I asked spoke perfect English and set me on my way.)

The museum is in a classy, classic building and you enter past a courtyard and go upstairs to ring a buzzer to getinside, kind of like visiting a shrink, I guess. Freud lived here from 1891 to 1938, when he emigrated to London (after daughter Anna was held for a day by the Gestapo, and the family realized it was not safe for Jews in Vienna). He died a year later in 1939. There was no tribute to Freud here until after 1968 when Austrian Chancellor Dr. Joseph Klaus visited the U.S. and was “discomforted” by questions why not? The Austrian and city governments got together and purchased the house. Anna, a renowned psychoanalyst herself, donated the furnishings of the original waiting room (below) and other memorabilia. There is also a Freud Museum in London.


Commentary includes discussion of sexual drives and other theories – if you really want to (more…)

September 16, 2009

Locks and Bratislava’s wild and crazy guys – on Viking river cruise


Bet you’re heard of Bratislava, even if you don’t remember hearing it. The Slovakian captial of 500,000 is where SNL’s original “wild and crazy guys” come from, as in “We’re two wild and crazy guys from Bratislava.”

I knew this, but didn’t expect to encounter such a type even before I got off the boat. Yet as I opened the sliding glass window of my cabin for a better view as we got near the city, there he was onshore, a John Belushi-esque construction worker, mooning and patting his butt as we passed by. Sorry, I did not react fast enough to get a photo.


Touring the city on the free tour provided by Viking River Cruises (I am a passenger this week on the new Viking Legend), our guide was a less-wild Med student and we saw the Old Town including beautiful St. Martin’s Cathedral, where Hungarian kings were once crowned (way back when Bratislava was capital of Hungary) and the impressive 15th century Michael’s Gate. Slovakia has only been a country since 1993, when it split from what’s now the Czech (more…)

September 15, 2009

Cruising from Budapest on the Viking Legend

Filed under: Cruise,International — admin @ 3:55 am


While I have written at least dozens of articles advising people to plan ahead, I don’t always take my own advice. And so with the Viking Legend overnighting in Budapest, my plans yesterday to tour the House of Terror Museum were thwarted by the fact the museum is closed on Mondays. Darn, should have checked.

Before you think I am into the macabre, let me explain the museum outlines the decades of Nazi and Communist repression in Hungary. It’s located in the former headquarters of the secret police. About 10 years ago when I visited here, there were lines literally out the door and I couldn’t get in. Maybe next visit I’ll actually get to tour the place.


Having done top sights like the Central Market, the beautiful neo-Gothic parliament and the impressive synagogue (the second largest in the world) on my previous visit, I headed to the city’s famous opera house (above), a beautiful elaborate building that replaced another opera house that burned in the 1800s during a performance. There were huge crowds for the 3 p.m. tour (one of two offered daily). I didn’t feel like dealing with crowds.

So I continued my walk heading to Vaci utca, the main pedestrian shopping street (where I resisted using my credit card at tempting shops). I did decide a treat was in order, however – the goulash and stuffed peppers I’d had for lunch on the Viking Legend were wearing off. So I (more…)

September 14, 2009

Boston to Budapest for a river cruise

Filed under: Cruise,International — admin @ 3:27 am


Greetings from Budapest and the pretty new river ship Viking Legend. I am here embarking on a cruise up the Danube that will visit places like Vienna and Bratislava and the historic German city of Passau.

I arrived here yesterday, flying via Frankfurt on Lufthansa. And whether it is a sign of increasing age and need for comfort, or a moment of weakness, or the fact I am on planes a lot, but when I arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport and was faced with the prospect of sitting in the last seat on the plane – the row near the bathrooms where the seat doesn’t go back all the way – I promptly plopped down my credit card and paid a few hundred bucks for an upgrade (after first begging for one for free, of course). I am happy to report Business Class was WONDERFUL. And I actually slept for a few hours in the bed-like seat on the six-hour overnight flight, in addition to watching movies including the very funny “The Hangover.”

Of course now, having spent the dough, I will try the rest of my trip to restrict myself from trinket purchases. We’ll see how that goes. But as a one-time thing it was worth the splurge – I flew the quick 1 ½ hour flight from Frankfurt to Budapest in coach. (more…)

September 11, 2009

Disney does Alaska

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 10:49 am


It’s official, Disney Cruise Line will be heading to Alaska for the first time in 2011, cruising in the 49th state for four months with the Disney Wonder. The weeklong itinerary from Vancouver will hit the hot spots (well, hot in Southeast Alaska) of  Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway.

No word yet on whether or not Disney has snagged a coveted permit to visit Glacier Bay – but I bet they’re sure trying. Most of said permits are in the possession of market leaders Princess and Holland America.

No word either what shore excursion experiences Disney has up its sleeve, but I can’t wait to hear about them. Maybe a little gold panning? Goofy in a miner outfit? Chip and Dale doing a little salmon fishing?

The ship will also be stopping by LA for a series of Mexican Riviera cruises before and after (more…)

September 10, 2009

Free admission at museums in Boston and across the U.S.


On Saturday, Sept. 26, museums around the country will do as the Smithsonian museums do in Washington, open their doors for free. It’s the Smithsonian magazine’s 5th annual museum day event, and it’s a perfect excuse to see what’s new at your favorite museum

In Boston and surrounds, there are 16 participating museums so far, and they include the JFK Presidential Libray and Museum (site of the recent memorial service for Sen. Ted Kennedy), the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the Old South Meeting House and the Lowell National Historical Park.

If you’re in other cities or on-the-road that day, know that some 1,200 museums in all 50 states will likewise invite you to visit that day – for free (but you do need to print out an admission ticket online). Check the listings on a clickable map.

September 6, 2009

Discovering Cahors wine at the source

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , , , , , — admin @ 1:52 pm


The visit of 17 wine producers from Cahors, France, brought memories last week and not just because they brought along to Boston (as well as to Chicago and Washington) some delicious Cahors wine for tasting.

The French Malbec grape that’s the basis for the wine (AOC Cahors has to be at least 70% Malbec) is grown in the Lot river valley, a landlocked region in the center of France, roughly halfways between the Atlantic and the Med.


Visiting this rural area this summer I learned a little about the heart and soul that goes into the product.

Now when I taste the wine I see beautiful images of green valley and cliffs, of meandering river and plains covered in vines. And more importantly, of the people I met on the trip, like the family that operates Chateau de Gaudou (in photo).

You learn so much more about a product when you visit the place of its birth. In the Lot valley, there are winemakers whose families have been growing vines for many generations. This is not just a money making mechanism for them – though having, say, a New York distributor is surely a source of pride – but more a way of life. Fortunately for visitors, it’s a way of life they share, with tastings and vineyard tours.

The area’s other local products include foie gras and truffles and saffron – a visit to the region all but requires a taste. And there are seven Michelin-starred chefs in the valley ready to serve up these and other delights. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rural-meets-luxury comparison in America’s heartlands.

The best French Malbec wine is dark as night – the 13th-century English called it “black wine” – and with its subtle tastes and tannins, quite different than its better known Argentinean peers. It’s easy to see how centuries ago Malbec became a favorite wine of popes, kings and even Czar Peter the Great.


Cahors wine is experiencing a comeback due in large part to the current generation’s ambitions. And the small city of Cahors (also famous for its medieval bridge, above) and region hope word of the wine will also mean more visitors.

On my trip, I met with Jean-Marc Vayssouze, the 37-year-old mayor of Cahors, who told me how a new Malbec wine visitor center will open in the city in May of next year, in time for International Malbec Days, May 21-23, the second annual event celebrating the local wine. During the festival, wine lovers and professionals discuss such weighty business as the history of the grape and various terroirs where Malbec grows best.

Vayssouze said he hopes the popularity of the wine will show the world that Cahors is a place where there is much to savour. There is indeed in my experience, and so I share that message.

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