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Bill's Travels

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by BillB, Jan 27, 2009.

  1. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We said good night after arranging to meet up with them the next morning and collapsing into our bed. Next morning our son was off with his wife surveying likely places to live while our nieces turned up as scheduled and we set off for a walk round the town. As lunchtime approached we found ourselves once more in The Laynes looking for lunch. As luck would have it a lot of other people had had the same idea so the first couple of places that looked promising were full. Then we stumbled upon a small seafood restaurant called D’Arcy’s which had a table free where we quickly sat ourselves down.

    The restaurant is small but the food is good and the prices are reasonable for the good quality of food served so we had a good meal accompanied by a glass of white wine. After lunch we continued our exploration of Brighton before we made our way back to our hotels. Our nieces were staying near our hotel so we finally said our farewells as we would be leaving next morning to visit my cousin and his wife in Whitstable.

    Why is it that whenever we want an early morning departure there is always some sporting event going on that necessitates closing the roads in every possible route we could take? Yup, that’s what we discovered after breakfast, but on consulting the concierge he gave us a map, drew a route on it for us and waved us off.

    You can always rely on a hotel concierge as I learned when our eldest son was promoted to Head Concierge in a 5-star hotel. They invariably know the answer to virtually any question a visitor can ask. And our one had given us precise and accurate directions to avoid the closed roads. We followed his map and I only made one mistake - when I carried out a left turn and suddenly realised that I was driving on the right. Thank goodness it was a Sunday morning with little traffic so I was able to swoop over to the correct side of the road. After that we had no more problems caused by daft driving and soon found ourselves on the M25 and on our way to Whitstable.

    On arrival I found my son had got there before us, the sneaky young devil. We had a reunion with my cousin and his wife and after a quick cuppa we walked down to the clifftop pub where we were booked in for a pub lunch together.

    The beauty of Whitstable’s situation is that you can see across the Thames estuary to the Essex coast and swinging Southend. Swivel your head to the left and you have a view of the Isle of Sheppey and turning to the right gives you the panorama of the North Kent coast to Reculver, Reculver Towers and beyond, right out into the North Sea.

    So there we were having another family reunion with great food and stunning outlooks. You can’t do better than that.

    Late in the afternoon our son with his wife and our grandson returned to Brighton while we stayed on with my cousin for a few days. We spent a pleasant evening chatting and exchanging news of the doings of our family members. We also made inroads into a bottle or two of wine.

    The next two days saw us visiting the Westwood shopping centre to buy a couple of items with my cousin’s wife. My cousin, although he’s retired, is active involved with a charity for homeless people in the Canterbury area so he was otherwise involved on that day.

    What surprised us at this large shopping centre was how few people were in the shops. Is online shopping having such an impact on the department stores? Or is there another reason that’s not immediately obvious?

    The next day saw us take a drive around the Kentish countryside and be back in time to do our packing and take our hosts out for dinner that night at one of our favourite Whitstable restaurants.

    Our third morning saw us departing for the Channel Tunnel station on the M20. For some reason the GPS took us on a cross country tour but it could have been that there was a traffic holdup on one of the motorways on our normal route. Our GPS has done this in the past and saved us from quite considerable delays.

    Once again we arrived at just the right moment so that we boarded pretty quickly and we were disembarking in Calais in what seemed like moments after boarding. How much this will change after Brexit is anyone’s guess, but I fear it will be for the worse. I remember the years before Britain joined the EU when there would be line after line of vehicles waiting to show their passports, followed by another wait in line to be checked by customs, or even worse, to be pulled over by customs and having to wait while your luggage was unpacked and checked..

    We stopped for a light lunch at one of the shopping centres nearby, had a look in C&A’s for a shirt or two and then headed off for Wimereux and our favourite hotel. On arrival I nabbed the last parking slot in the car park and checked in.

    Once settled in with our overnight bag I left Jackie tackling her Kindle while I set off on a walk along the prom. I found that whenever we’re travelling I have to grab the chance of some brisk exercise whenever I can as our routines are going to be much more variable than at home.

    I was back a little more than half an hour after I started, but I was looking forward to dinner that evening in one of the best restaurants on the coast of the Pas de Calais.

    And dinner that evening was all that we had hoped for, only lacking the Sommelier, Valerie, who was having a day off. He always has a great choice of wines, and introduced Jackie to two gins which she had never sampled before, one of from Switzerland which is flavoured with edelweiss, and Hendrick’s gin, which quickly became her gin of choice.

    Once again at this hotel we drifted upstairs to our room, feeling as though we had arrived in heaven without having to die first. I didn’t realise how many different ways fish and shellfish could be prepared and served before we discovered this restaurant. I think it could well become our spiritual home.

    Next morning, however, we had to leave and were lucky enough to make smooth progress without the heavy traffic which sometimes builds up. We arrived home about 2 p.m.

    We haven’t any journeys planned for April, but May will see us packing and setting off twice. We’ll keep you posted.
     
  2. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    It must have been a mental aberration I was experiencing when I decided to give Jackie a surprise by buying tickets for André Rieu’s concert in Vienna at the beginning of May. You might wonder why I wrote the previous sentence, but I had completely forgotten that as we were taking a river cruise in the Ukraine at the end of May, we had booked a pre-cruise extension for 3 days in Vienna. So we were going to be overdosing on the Austrian capital.

    Anyway, not wishing to ramble on any more than I already do, we duly turned up at Luxembourg Airport, found an empty bay in the longterm car park and left the car. We calculated it was only half the cost to park the car for three days rather than take a taxi to and from the airport.

    Our aircraft was a de Havilland dhc-8 400 series. It’s a high wing, small city hopper plane which Luxair uses widely within Europe.

    The advantage of the high wing format is that you can watch the ground even if you’re sitting between the wings as they don’t obstruct the view. The flight was around one and a half hours and was fairly pleasant for a small twin prop plane.

    Thank goodness for Schengen as we were through the formalities in no time flat and our bags came up quickly. Outside, we searched for our driver who we had booked in advance.There were plenty of greeters with their pieces of paper, but not one had our name on it.Then I felt my phone vibrate gently in my pocket. Embarrassingly I’d turned off the ringer when we went to the cinema a couple of nights previously.

    So we were soon reunited with our driver who took our bags and led us to his car. It was raining, as had been forecast, and the traffic heading into Vienna was heavy and our driver, who was Bulgarian we learned, explained that it’s always heavy on Friday, and even heavier when it’s a rainy Friday.

    We checked into the hotel and were soon settling into our room. The view was uninteresting, looking down, as it did, on an inner courtyard which was lined with walls dotted with windows. However, we were only going to spend two nights there so the view wasn’t of paramount importance.

    We headed downstairs to the restaurant for lunch which we intended to be a light meal, but high on the menu was Wiener Schnitzel and I couldn’t resist the chance of eating one in the city where it originated (Wiener means Viennese in German and a Schnitzel is a cutlet.) As I explained to Jacky, we can have our light meal in the evening instead of midday.

    The Schnitzel was superb - a veal cutlet coated in breadcrumbs and fried, served with lemon slices - and so big that there was barely room on the plate for the accompanying vegetables. I cook a pretty mean Schnitzel myself, but one mouthful had me admiring the chef’s skills. We lingered for a while, finishing off our wine and coffee.

    From there we thought we’d try a walk if it wasn’t raining too hard, and we set off for a bit of exerecise. The rain wasn’t too bad when we hit the pavement but after five minutes it got heavier so we turned around and settled down with our Kindles. The weather wasn’t quite as annoying as it would otherwise have been as we knew we would be back before the end of the month.

    Early evening saw us in the bar for a pre-dinner drink. The hotel stocked a fine line of Laphroiag malt whiskies and Jackie was delighted to see that they also had Hendrick’s gin. We chatted and sipped while going through the menu. As lunch had been fairly large we were looking for something light (and as low carb as possible). We found the perfect choice - Cesar salad with either chicken or shrimp. Jackie went for the chicken and I took the shrimp. Our German daughter in law loves my Cesar salad and always asks for it when they come to dinner, but as they now live 900 kilometres away I don’t get to make it too often. The one at the hotel was excellent with just the right balance of lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, coddled egg, garlic and olive oil. It earned my approval.

    By the time we had finished our meal with coffee the weather had improved considerably and the streets were drying out rapidly. We thought it wouldn’t hurt to take a walk to the stadium where the concert was being presented the next evening. Just to make sure we found the correct venue and the correct entrance, you understand. Jackie took an umbrella just in case.

    As we ambled along we fell into conversation with another couple who were doing the same as us so we were strolling through Vienna chatting about life in general and finding that there were two entrances when we got to the stadium. As the tickets did not specify any particular way in we assumed that either would serve our purpose. And thus it proved.

    We left our new found friends and made our way back to the hotel where we stopped off for a nightcap in the bar before collapsing into bed.

    We weren’t in any hurry the next morning so we relaxed in bed with a cup of tea each before showering. We took the lift to the dining room for breakfast which was included and turned out to be pretty good.

    Once back in our room we studied a map of the city to see if there was anything of interest to see in the vicinity of the hotel. When a large, multipurpose stadium is built in a city it’s never in the centre, always on the outskirts so there wasn’t a great deal of exciting things to see near us. I found on Google Earth, however, a gold and silver museum a reasonable walk from the hotel and as it sounded interesting enough to both of us we duly set off. The weather was quite bright, but rain was forecast so Jackie carried her standby umbrella.

    I must be losing my memory because nothing seemed to be quite the same as on Google Earth. We found the street where the museum was situated but when we arrived at the building that had been marked as the home of the museum there was nothing to say the museum was there.

    We wandered up and down the street until I spotted a small bronze plaque saying the museum could be reached through the shop where the plaque was fixed. All well and good, we thought, until we found the shop was closed. It looked as if the shop and the museum no longer functioned.

    We made our way back to the hotel and stopped off in the bar for a coffee, not having found a café where we could flop and take a rest on the way back.

    By afternoon neither of us was feeling hungry so we decided to pass on lunch and settle for dinner which had been arranged for customers of Andre Rieu travel and would begin service at 4 p.m.

    We found ourselves sitting at a table adjacent to a German couple with whom we fell into conversation and who seemed quite fascinated with us as we were born in the UK, were Luxembourg citizens, had lived in Darmstadt in the Bundesrepublik in the past and spoke passable German. They were also going to the concert and were astonished to learn that we had been to 6 of André Rieu’s previous concerts and were going to 2 this year - Vienna and Maastricht. We passed a pleasant couple of hours with them before getting ready to make our way to the stadium.

    The concert itself was, as it always is, of the highest standard. This orchestra has been playing together for so long that you could probably blindfold every member and they would still play the musical arrangements faultlessly. As it is, the concerts are always fun. Every member of the audience are in great humour and I have never witnessed bad behaviour or rudeness (except when we went to a concert in Trier and found ourselves sitting in front of the most selfish people I have encountered, a Greek couple who talked loudly throughout the concert and when people around them urged them to be quiet just said, “What is your problem? We are only talking.”)

    The programme consisted of new arrangements and old favourites. We had the routine when snow fell gently onto part of the audience during the number and then when the music ended the rest of the “snow” was deposited in one burst onto the people sitting below it. We were situated three rows in front so missed being buried by a couple of metres.

    Of course, being Vienna, there was great emphasis placed on works by Johann Strauss, so we had The Blue Danube waltz and other pieces.

    At the end of the concert, when André and then the orchestra members left the stage, the audience applauded wildly and then began to leave the auditorium. Once again there was no rudeness, no pushing, no bad behaviour. I’m convinced that good music has a civilising influence on people. And I’m not going to be persuaded otherwise.

    By the time we’d collected our coats from the cloakroom and found ourselves on the outside it had begun to rain. It was coming down heavily within a few minutes and Jackie, with her feminine foresight, put her umbrella up. I, on the other hand, having been deserted by my hair, just let the rain run downwards. A quick run over the top with my hand and for a second or two I’m magically dry on top. But only for a second or two before the process begins all over again.

    The hotel had put on a light buffet and hot drinks for those of us returning music lovers who could do with a little something at that late hour.

    Next morning our early flight meant that we had to leave before the breakfast buffet had even opened, so we had to await our arrival at the airport to grab a quick sandwich and a coffee.

    The flight home was smooth and uneventful, leaving us simply to pay our parking bill, load our small bags into the boot and drive home.

    That evening we went to our favourite Italian restaurant for dinner. Lying in bed that night we discussed our impressions of the weekend and looked forward to our next concert - the open air presentations the orchestra gives
     
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  3. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    The day of departure for our Ukraine cruise dawned warm and sunny. A good omen, we were hoping, as the taxi pulled up outside our house. We were soon at the airport and going through security before adjourning for breakfast to the lounge.

    Then it was off to Heathrow’s Terminal 3 where, after collecting our luggage we went looking for the Hoppa buses stopping area which would take us to our hotel for an overnight. We had just missed a bus and had 35 minutes to wait for the next one, and a very uncomfortable wait it was.

    There were no seats so we had to stand and this can be more pain-inducing than walking. We should have taken a taxi and kicked ourselves when we discovered the taxi would have been only £2 more than the bus.

    Nevertheless, we arrived at the Hilton Garden, checked in and put our feet up for a while. In early afternoon we dropped into the bar and had a drink prior to ordering a light lunch of Middle Eastern mezze, which surprised us by its quality.

    Then I had to go out to look for a shop that sold adapters for electrical plugs. Being the seasoned travellers that we are we had completely overlooked that necessary little item. The hotel receptionist explained to me where the nearest retailer was. It was a fair walk, but one that I needed to get my daily exercise. The little shop, jammed from floor to ceiling with an enormous variety of stock, was able to offer me a choice, so I chose the one that looked sturdiest and bore it proudly back to Jackie.

    When I was back in our room she told me, unduly smugly I thought, that she had found a continental socket hidden away behind the TV. But since we both have iPods and mobil phones we need more than one so my efforts weren’t wasted.

    For dinner that evening we stayed in the hotel. I was browsing through the menu when I stopped dead. I had come across those welcome words: “Steak and ale pie”. Now that was something I hadn’t tasted in years so my determination instantly went into weak-willed mode. When I ordered it Jackie followed my example and afterwards our joint verdicts were Excellent.

    We weren’t late in bed as our flight departed at 9 a.m. the next morning so we had to set the alarm for just before 6 in order to shower, have breakfast and get to the airport in time to get through check in, security, and then find our gate. I don’t know why airports and I seem to have a kind of incompatibility as our gate is always the furthest distance away. But we had allowed ourselves time for that and were sitting by the gate a good while before it opened.

    We were flying with Austrian Air as we were spending a couple of days in Vienna before flying on to Odessa. The hotel for this pre-cruise extension was the Vienna Intercontinental, a hotel of olde worlde decor and first rate service, to say nothing of the food. Looking for a low carb option we both settled for a Cesar Salad with chicken breast and it was first rate. We accompanied it with a half bottle of Pinot Grigio which was also excellent and complemented the salad beautifully.

    Back in our room we settled down to read for a while but both of us dozed off within a few minutes. We didn’t sleep for long, though, and woke up with enough time to freshen up and go for a walk in the surrounding streets. We were back in time for dinner (Wiener Schnitzel - beautifully cooked and presented).

    The next morning, Sunday, was a totally free day so after a bit of discussion (Jackie felt like visiting the Spanish Riding School but it was fully booked that day) we decided on a visit to the Prater. A taxi brought us there quickly and dropped us almost alongside the big wheel. For those who haven’t seen the iconic film “The Third Man”, the Prater is a permanent fairground and the location for one of the key scenes in the film where Orson Welles, playing Harry Lime meets up with Joseph Cotten, playing reporter Holly Martins, in one of the cabins on the big wheel.

    I felt like taking a ride on it, just because I remember being fascinated by it when I saw the film at age 12. So we did just that and it turned out to be a lot of fun as it turns slowly and at the top passengers get a spectacular view over the city in every direction.

    From the wheel we wandered around the fairground, people watching being one of our pastimes, and watching how disoriented some people become after riding one of the more violent rides serves to remind me to keep my feet on the ground.

    Late afternoon saw us feeling overheated and in need of liquid refreshment, so we stopped off at a cafe. From that point on we felt that our legs were in dire need of being put up, so we made our way to the exit and found a taxi to return to the hotel.

    On the way back I noticed that we passed the famous gold statue of Johann Strauss, the king of waltzes, joyfully playing his violin, and pulled up at the hotel, realising that it was only a short walk back to the statue. In fact it was only a couple of hundred metres so we grabbed our cameras and walked back. The sky was a clear blue so the sunshine reflected off the glossy gold finish and made it look as if it was glowing. We took our shots then had a walk around the park

    Once in our room we decided to pack as much as we could before dinner so that we’d only have the last minute toilet items to pack the next morning, ready for our flight, also by Austrian Air, to Odessa, the Ukrain’s principal port.
     
  4. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We had checked in online the day before so all we had to do was the luggage tag printout. All Vienna airport is self service so you don’t have to speak to anyone, which is lacking the human contact and makes flying even more soulless that it has become of late. There are helpers moving around the luggage check in area to give you a hand if you get stuck. This was followed by security, which has turned into a nightmare, no matter how friendly the people are. The lines were long and slow moving and it was hot inside the terminal while the temperature began to rise with so many packed into a smallish space so feeling sweaty and uncomfortable was soon feeling like a permanent state.

    But the time to board our aircraft eventually arrived and we were soon in the air heading for Odessa. The flight was just on 2 hours but as we had crossed into another time zone another hour had been added to our flight time. As we came in to land our pilot came over the intercom to tell us that the runways and taxiways were in need of resurfacing but had been patched instead so landing and taxiing would be somewhat bumpy.

    As it turned out it wasn’t the ploughed field I was expecting but neither was it a snooker table surface. There was no jetway out to the plane either so we had to wait a while before the steps were wheeled out and moved into place.

    Getting through immigration and then collecting our luggage was fairly quick. One of the advantages of travelling on our Luxembourg passports is that many countries do not require a visa, but will stamp our passports on arrival.

    The bus took us through the industrial area of Odessa which isn’t the most salubrious area of any city and Odessa wasn’t the exception to this rule. However, as we neared the harbour the streets became wider, cleaner and more cared for. The buildings on either side were well kept and the stores bore names such as Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Louis Vuitton, as well as the traditional local shops. There was an abundance of trees, each street being lined on both sides by large trees. This acts as a form of natural air conditioning as they give shade and allow pedestrians to linger out of the sunshine, which can be positively blistering. While we were there the temperatures reached 32°C, so hot summers are the norm in the Ukraine.

    At one point I looked out of the bus window and was astonished to see the Odessa Steps to my right. For anybody who hasn’t seen Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film Battleship Potemkin these steps were the location for the climactic massacre of civilian protesters, who are climbing the steps, by Cossack troops. The most memorable scene is a woman who is pushing a baby in a pram who is shot and lets go of the pram. The baby goes bouncing down the steps - presumably to his death. In Brian de Palma’s film The Untouchables starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, the director pays homage to this scene by staging a shootout in Chicago railroad station where a woman falls and drops her hold on the pram she is wheeling on a broad set of steps. I won’t tell you any more because if you have already seen it you will recognise it, and if you haven’t seen it I don’t want to spoil it for you.

    A few moments after I said to Jackie that we were passing the Odessa Steps the bus pulled off the road into a dockyard and after manoeuvring around some spiral segments of roadway we pulled up alongside our ship, the Viking Sineus. We studdied its outlines and were reassured that it was as modern and well kept as any other Viking ship we have cruised on.

    Before boarding the bus we had attached labels that had been sent to us in advance with the number of our stateroom printed on it. All we had to do was disembark from the bus, cross the gangplank and report to the reception desk where we were given two keys to our stateroom.

    Gertting installed didn’t take long as it was exactly the same as the other staterooms we have had on Viking cruises. But not long afterwards a knock at the door signalled that our luggage had arrived. Unpacking didn’t take long and the empty cases were placed under the bed.

    Following that we had a quick freshen up in the bathroom and went to the bar, which was situated just one floor up and a short distance from our stateroom. There’s a method in my madness, you understand.

    Stepping out onto the afterdeck, which serves as an outdoor recreation and leisure area I could see that the Odessa Steps were very close, and in plain view. After having a stroll around the deck and taking in the views of the surrounding harbour we entered the bar and ordered our habitual drinks. Fellow passengers came and went until it was time for the orientation briefing for the next day and then we descended two decks to the restaurant.

    The dining room layout was identical to our previous Viking ships so it was easy enough to grab a table for two with a view of the Odessa Steps. Our waitresses were two of the prettiest young ladies it’s ever been my privilege to be served by - Alyona and Olga. Ah, if only I was 60 years younger. I know, but I can admire from a distance, can’t I? On top of being pretty they were very efficient when it came to taking our orders and delivering our meals. Dinner, therefore, was a greater pleasure when one takes into account that breakfast that day had been taken at 6 in the morning, that the snack on the plane had been a packet of nuts and that dinner was the first meal we had taken at leisure all day. Top that with the high standard of cuisine and the efficient and charming service, including serving us with an excellent Pinot Grigio, and you will understand that we were mellow and relaxed by the time we fell into bed.
     
  5. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Apologies for replicating a post. I have now deleted it. What follows is the same post with an additional paragraph.
    Our first morning in Odessa was going to be a tour of the city, so we were to be found after breakfast standing on the quayside, cameras and hats at the ready, as we gathered round our guide. There were enough people to warrant four buses and the routes had been allocated so there was only one bus at any one stopping point. This made it comfortable for all of us as we could see all of the points of interest without having too many people at any one point.

    We drove off, passing along elegant thoroughfares where the buildings had been restored and refurbished. Clearly it is taking Ukraine longer to bring their living standards up to their Western counterparts after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the later violent struggles between those who wanted to be allied more closely to the EU and the ones wanting to remain closer to Russia.

    When we were in Moscow the year before last it was amazing to see how quickly the new prosperity had lifted the living standards of ordinary Muscovites with hordes of Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers and Bentleys filling the streets. In Odessa the cars were not so high end with VW, Renault and Peugeot well represented.

    Our tour began with a drive through the Old Town, an area that came into existence during the 19th century with buildings typical of that period, an attractive area that deserves more time than we had.

    Our next stop was at the top of the Odessa Steps where we stood looking down at the spot where that famous scene was shot. From the top we could see our ship at its moorings.

    There are landings regularly spaced on the steps but if you stand a little way back from the first step there’s an optical illusion that you cannot see the steps, only the landings. And conversely from the bottom you can only see the steps but not the landings. For those who prefer easier going there is a funicular at the side that will take you up or down.

    It was sunny and very hot (hence the hats), but those trees that had been planted along most streets were very effective in creating shady, cool areas to stand while our guide gave us a history of the area. In fact our guide was very particular that whenever she needed us to stop while she gave us some details of what we were seeing, she did so under a broad tree. And very welcome it was too.

    As we progressed along our tour we passed many green parks among the wide boulevards and left the bus at one point to continue by foot along the Primorski Boulevard, passing the Italian-baroque Opera House - attractively restored. There was a cashpoint machine near the opera house where I stopped off to buy some local currency (I still can’t pronounce it, let alone write it).

    From there we drove on to Shevchenko Park which has, among other things, an obelisk dedicated to the memory of all those who were casualties of war.

    Back to the ship after that in time wash and freshen up for lunch which was, as always, fresh and deliciously imaginative, while being served impeccably by our two favourite servers. There was a tour in the afternoon to the Odessa catacombs, which interested me at first but when I asked the level of difficulty it sounded quite hard going. A lot of the way is underground which wouldn’t normally bother me, but they went on to say that the tunnels rise and fall considerably, while in places the roof is fairly low and the visitor has to double over for a number of stretches. Reluctantly I decided that it would demand athletic abilities which are somewhat beyond me. Jackie had already cried off as it seems that a knee op is becoming more and more imminent, so I declined as well and we spent a pleasant afternoon strolling across to the Odessa Steps to take some pictures and generally exploring the area on our own. The rest of the afternoon we spent sitting on the sun deck, sipping a Pinot Grigio and admiring the cityscape around us while occasionally dipping into the books we were engrossed in.

    That evening there was an optional tour taking in a performance at the Odessa Opera House. I think I’ve stated before that I’m not an opera fan and though Jackie has a few CDs of singers like The Three Tenors she isn’t inclined to sit through a whole evening of opera. So our evening consisted of chatting in the bar with fellow passengers and listening to the music provided by the resident duo of keyboard players.
     
    #325 BillB, Jun 27, 2019 at 10:31 AM
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
  6. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    One tour that did appeal to us was a visit to the Shustov Cognac Museum with an added tasting that took place the next morning. Ukrainians are proud of this distillery’s products as it was so good it was permitted by the Cognac region in France to call itself cognac within the Ukraine (outside the Ukraine it has to be termed brandy).

    We signed up for this tour as neither of us had ever been to a cognac distillery before, neither had we tasted Ukrainian cognac (or brandy).

    The bus drive to the distillery was fairly short so we couldn’t say it offered much in the way of sightseeing, but it did serve to reveal the down to earth life of the city, outside of the visitors’ usual sightseeing route.

    Inside the distillery we were welcomed and shown into a small reception area which was lined with some of the distillery’s products and where we were given a brief description of the history and origins of cognac distilling in the Ukraine. I noticed many similarities between the production and ageing of cognac and Scotch whisky, being the malt whisky collector that I am.

    The storage casks, as in Scotland, are usually bought from sources that produce port or sherry, or even Madeira, and after being renovated will go into service. The traces of the fortified wines left in the wood of the casks will add a depth of flavour to the new spirit that is stored within that wouldn’t exist without the use of this ageing method.

    We worked our way through the distillery, watching the stages of the process, then following the pipes that carried the raw spirit to the casks for the ageing that is such an essential part of the finished spirit. At a number of places along the way we were led into siderooms where samples of the cognac were laid out for us to taste. There were differences, slight differences admittedly, between each tasting. Having only become reacquainted with cognac since our son moved to the Cognac region I couldn’t call myself a connoisseur, but my palate has come to terms with the differences in Scotch distilleries over the years and it helped me out here.

    Our final test was to blend our own cognac from several different types.This was a fascinating process as each of us was given a beaker containing the base cognac, which would be our starter for 1, if you like to call it that. We then had a spirit dropper and a number of smaller samples which we would add to our base in varying quantities. The inividual quantities we added were not down to our expertise or our knowledgeable palates but to what we fancied adding. In the end I did what everybody else seemed to be doing which was to add all the small samples to the base, transfer the contents of the beaker to a small bottle, label the bottle with a name of our choice and take it back to the ship with us.

    On the way out we stopped in the distillery’s shop and I bought a bottle of one of their products to drink at leisure once we were home. At the time of writing it has not yet been opened as I’m slowly working my way through a bottle of Ile de Ré cognac.

    That night we cast off and headed out onto the Black Sea - destination Kherson, a shipbuilding port that is known as the Cradle of the Black Sea Fleet as it was here that ships for the Tsarist and Soviet navies were built. It is the Ukraine’s biggestsea port.

    We cruised all night across the north end of the Black Sea. When I awoke the next morning I could hear the engines which meant that we were still at sea. I looked out the window and could see the shore a fair distance away. We went through the shower and then went down to the restaurant for breakfast and found that we had left the sea behind and were now cruising through the River Dnipr’s delta where it emptied into the Black Sea.

    The channel through the delta was quite narrow, but our ship was narrow beamed so there weren’t any problems with oncoming shipping. As we cruised along I spotted a heron standing unmoving, staring down into the water. A hundred metres or so further on I could see another. Then, after a few minutes cruising I spotted another, with a companion not far off. Were these mating pairs who had each laid claim to a stretch of the river? There was, naturally, no answer to this question, but if they had their own stretch then they would be pretty much undisturbed as it was a stretch of river bank that was remote - no houses, no roads, no paths.

    We arrived in Kherson in mid morning and our tour buses were waiting for our appearance. Having been forewarned we had our cameras on hand and were down the gangway and onto the buses in double time.

    The subsequent tour was much more interesting than I had presumed it would be as I was expecting shipbuilding dockyards and an industrial backdrop. A pleasant surprise, therefore, to discover a town of considerable elegance with Russian Orthodox churches of quite staggering beauty, more tree-lined streets and a pretty area where a monument to shipbuilders has been erected as a gesture to all those people who worked over the centuries to continue Kherson’s shipbuilding traditions.

    We stopped off at an area on the river bank where a pretty little park had been created with a small market selling souvenirs. Neither Jackie nor I have much interest in souvenirs, so we had quick look round but then returned to the bus.

    A short drive into town dropped us off close to another Orthodox cathedral. After a quick tour of the lovely cathedral, Jackie, feeling the pressure on her knee again, opted for a coffee. The little café we chose was a delightfully quirky little place with an old 78 rpm gramophone and a collection of period items including vintage dolls dotted around. They also served a pretty good cup of coffee.

    From there it was another short drive back to the ship which cast off as soon as the last passenger was back on board. We cruised all night, due to arrive in Zaporozhye the next morning.

    The cruise towards Zaporozhye had plenty to interest the observers on deck as we passed through a lock (very large) and had a riverside view of some large hydroelectric generating stations

    There was a tour of Zaporozhye city scheduled but it was blisteringly hot and both Jackie and I decided that relaxing in the air conditioning of the Sky Bar (drinking tea, I quickly add) and alternatively reading or chatting with fellow passengers was the more attractive option.
     
  7. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We had a leisurely lunch before getting ready for the afternoon’s excursion to Khortitsa Island, the original home of the Cossacks. Once again the drive was not too long but did give us some views of the countryside, which laid out some splendid panoramas of the green and rolling landscape.

    We left the main road, turning onto a narrow lane that was only just wide enough to let the bus through. Fotunately we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic.

    After about 15 minutes we turned off the lane into the parking lot for the Cossack village. A very large man in traditional Cossack dress was standing by the gateway, greeting each of us as we entered.

    It was still almost unbearably hot but fortunately for us the seats for the show were under cover. The whole area was adapted from an original Cossack village so the buildings had an authenticity that copies wouldn’t have showed.

    We didn’t have long to wait after we took our seats for the show to start. Cossacks being renowned horsemen, there was a lot of trick riding and daredevil stunts carried out on horseback while riding at a furious gallop. These were interspersed with tricks performed with whips, such as using a whip to remove a flower from one of the performers’ mouths. There were interludes with comedy and fooling around. All in all, an entertaining afternoon. After the show we wandered around the village where stalls had been set up selling Cossack souvenirs. There were also displays of Cossack artefacts used in daily life, such as old flatirons into which glowing embers were placed.

    45 minutes after returning to the ship we cast off, which meant that we spent the afternoon watching the countryside we passed through. Dinner was taken while we were underway, so we had scenic views during our meal.

    We fell asleep listening to the thrum of the engines but awoke to silence. I looked out the stateroom window to find we had moored in a rather decrepit looking area of disused buildings. This was our introduction to Dnipro, and not a very enticing one at that. There was an excursion showing the highlights of Dnipro to which we had signed up, but as we made our way to the buses across a rather broken up surface of cement blocks we came to a set of rickety steps. Now Jackie has a slight problem with balance if she misses her step so as we arrived at the top of the steps I moved in closely to take her arm to steady her, in case she should fall forwards. The steps were uneven and I was particularly close to her as we stepped down the first one. The step that Jackie put her foot on was narrower than the other and she began to lose her balance. Bracing myself to hold her if she should fall forwards I was totally taken by surprise when she began to totter and then fell backwards instead. I was ready for a forwards fall but not at all prepared for her to go backwards. Braced the wrong way I fell backwards with her.

    She was pretty shaken up so I told her we were returning to the ship. She didn’t want to spoil it for me so she was adamant that she would return to the ship alone. I wouldn’t hear of that so we went back to the ship and passed a while on the sundeck. Neither of us had even a graze, though the lens hood on my camera was broken in two. Rather that broken than one of us breaking a limb.

    We lazed around the boat, drinking tea in the Panorama Bar and chatting with other passengers until lunchtime. We didn’t take either of the available tours in the afternoon so we adjourned to our cabin and snoozed, read our Kindles and generally did nothing much.

    After dinner that evening there was a performance by a local Ukrainian Folklore Band, which proved more entertaining than one would expect as they were all very talented musicians and singers.

    We had a last drink after the show and then went to bed. We were both asleep when the ship cast off at midnight - destination Kremenchug.
     
  8. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We weren’t due to dock in Kremenchug until 2.30 p.m. with the morning being taken up on board by a question and answer session with the Captain, followed by a cooking lesson on the Sundeck teaching us to prepare a Ukrainian dish called Vareniki. No, I’d never heard of them either but they’re quite easy to make as they are essentially dumplings with either a sweet or savoury filling. Other countries have their own variations on this dish so you can find them, or something similiar, in Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. There are probably more but I can’t remember offhand the other countries that serve them.

    Following on from this was a talk in the Sky Bar by the ship’s program director about the Ukraine today. Lunch followed this at 12.30 and we arrived in Kremenchug at 2.30. A shore excursion had been arranged for 2.45 which offered a tour of Kremenchug and then a visit to a small farm in the country to give us a perspective of rural Ukrainian life.

    This proved to be very interesting as we were offered some snacks as we arrived at the farmhouse and a short talk introducing our hosts. We had free run of the farmyard, able to wander around having a look at the resident animals. There was a hefty turkey, pigs, chickens of various breeds, cows, sheep - in fact, just about every animal you would imagine being found on a small farm. The lady of the house took some of us on a visit to her home, all on the same plot as her family’s home. These people are just digging and working their way out of the state-imposed poverty that communism usually provides.

    Kremenchug itself was a pretty, small town with some beautifully restored churches and public buildings. It was still scaldingly hot so most of us spent our time in the shadier areas.

    Shortly after our return from this excursion the ship set off for Kiev. We had enough time after our return for a quick freshen up before adjourning to the Sky Bar for a drink and an explanation of the following day’s programme.

    We cruised the Dniepr until we arrived in Kiev at 2 p.m. Once again the river seemed to have changed its scenery as we were now on a river much wider than it had been before. Rather odd this, as a river tends to get wider as you follow its course towards the sea, not when you’re moving upstream. Nevertheless, the river banks were pretty, with deep forests interspersed wth meadows and log cabins.

    There was one thing that caught everybody’s eye as we approached our dock in Kiev - a gigantic statue set atop a very, very large plinth. From our viewpoint on the river this statue seemed to tower above even the tallest tower blocks in the Ukrainian capital. It’s called the Motherland Monument and still carries a shield with the hammer and sickle emblem which denoted the symbol of the USSR, despite there having been a strong decommunisation movement when the USSR collapsed.

    We’d had lunch at midday so our tour of Kiev and its amazingly beautiful churches could depart within 15 minutes of the ship docking. The same buses transported us wherever the ship tied up, so it must be that Viking River Cruises have their own buses and drivers who follow the river so that they are ready for us to board within minutes of docking.

    Kiev proved to be a fascinating city and, like Odessa, lined with elegant avenues and beautiful buildings and multi-domed Orthodox churches. One of these churches, St. Sophia Cathedral, was our destination, a house of worship with 13 green and gold domes which glittered brilliantly in the sunshine. The interior is perhaps even more amazing than the exterior with the gold ornamentation, icons and religious paintings that are part of the fabric of the churches. Again, as with all Orthodox churches there are no pews or seats as the congregation stands throughout the service. Some benches around the sides are the only concession made to the elderly and the infirm who can sit throughout the proceedings.

    Close by was the Monastery of the Caves which was part of our excursion. This is an extensive complex of domed churches and museums. There are many underground passages and chapels which have been dug into the surrounding rock. I looked at the steep slope leading down to the monastery and knew that I could make it. But thinking about the climb back up I decided that I wouldn’t be feeling too energetic once I had made that climb. I hate giving in to age, but this time I decided that discretion was definitely the better part of valour so Jackie and i adjourned to a delightful courtyard where I was able to buy a couple of bottles of water which we enjoyed while sitting in the welcome shade of a very large tree.

    From there it was back to the ship in time to get ready for dinner - another first rate meal. After which there was a Liars’ Club form of entertainment, but with neither of us feeling in the mood we moved to the Panorama Bar and enjoyed a quiet drink with some fellow passengers.
     
  9. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    There were some excursions offered the next morning which was our last full day but they didn’t particularly appeal to us so we had a stroll around the area adjacent to the docking point, then spent a lazy morning, reading,chatting with fellow guests, drinking tea or coffee. In other words, we flopped and idled the morning away.

    We enjoyed our last lunch on board and then in the afternoon there was an excursion that interested us: the Chernobyl Museum. We had started watching the TV docudrama series before we left home but it hadn’t finished, leaving us unclear in our minds about the conclusion,.We had signed up for the museum trip so we’d be better informed when we arrived back and watched the episodes we had set to record.

    The journey by bus was short so we didn’t get to see much of Kiev that afternoon, but arrival at the museum was the prelude to an utterly engrossing yet frightening experience. Our guide was one of the team who had worked on the cleanup after the detonation of the nuclear reactor and he took us step by step through the events leading up to the disaster, the disaster itself, the evacuation of the surrounding area, the cleanup and the investigation afterwards. The only drawback was that he didn’t speak anything except his mother tongue, so our Viking guide, who had accompanied us, acted as interpreter. This, unfortunately, meant that the tour lasted twice as long.

    Nevertheless, putting that little niggle aside, the museum makes clear that the explosion was due to a confluence of errors - first that the reactors’ design was faulty, and secondly that the explosion followed on from a test being run on safeguards within the system which also failed.

    So complex is this subject that trying to explain everything that happened, who was responsible, and what steps were taken to clean up the site, which was spewing out clouds of radioactive gas inexorably spreading out over Europe and was detected as far away as Wales, is next to impossible, especially as I am no nuclear physicist. One surprise for me was that this was not a nuclear explosion, the detonation was caused by a design flaw that saw the internal temperatures rise sharply for a brief period when it was shut down in a perceived emergency. However, the museum itself is a must to visit if you are ever in Kiev.

    We returned to the ship in time to ready ourselves for the Captain’s cocktail party as a farewell from the crew and then we stayed in the Sky Bar for a farewell from our Program Director.

    From there it was down to the restaurant for our last onboard dinner.

    We weren’t too late in bed as we had to be up, showered, packed and breakfasted for our departure for the airport at 9 a.m. Passengers from the US had departed at horrendously early hours. Our breakfast was served by Olga without a sign of Alyona. I asked Olga where she was as we wanted to say our adieux, but she told us that Alyona had served the early departing Americans between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. and was now catching up on her lost sleep.

    We thanked Olga for serving us so beautifully, for always being so patient and goodnatured at every meal and wished her the best future possible. We then begged her to pass on the same wishes to Alyona.

    Shortly after that we were on our way to the airport for our flight to Vienna, where we would kill time until our flight for Heathrow departed. We spent the night in an airport hotel before returning to Luxembourg the next day. That went smoothly and we were back home in late afternoon.
     
  10. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Barely a month had passed before we were on our way again - this time to Maastricht for our annual visit to one of André Rieu’s summer open air concerts in the Freedom Square. We were going up a day in advance to make sure that there were no holdups as can sometimes happen and also because we had to check in at 10 a.m. for our VIP package at the Kruisheren Hotel.

    Our first night would be spent at the Novotel and then we would check out and make our way to the Kruisheren for the goodies that go with the package.

    After a latish start we had stopped for a light lunch on the Belgian motorway before arriving at Liége, which has never been one of my favourite cities. On the approach the GPS told me I should take the road on the right. Simultaneously, Jackie and I both said NO! We remembered that the first time we had driven to Maastricht it had instructed to take the next right at this spot and we found ourselves off the motorway and threading our way through the city in all its backstreet squalor, adding about 30 minutes to the journey before leading us back onto the motorway on the other side of Liége. On the return journey it did the same and we had another 30 minutes of sootstained glory. I thus ignored the directions I was being urged to take and stayed on the motorway, picking up the Maastricht signs a short while later.

    We were soon approaching Maastricht and knew we didn’t have far to go to the hotel as we had read that it was in close proximity to the motorway. And it was. We were soon pulling into the hotel’s car park prior to checking in.

    During the period of André’s concerts empty hotel rooms are about as rare as tapdancing giraffes and this one had been found for us by André Rieu travel when we added a day. It was comfortable, clean, with a good bar, an excellent breakfast and efficient staff. We went up to our room, and relaxed for a while. It was too early to go into town for dinner as everybody who had tickets for the concert that evening would be eating early so we booked a couple of seats on the hotel’s shuttle bus which would be leaving around 6 p.m.

    The shuttle was waiting outside the hotel and we climbed in behind a group of concertgoers. We were dropped off at the end of a bridge that crossed the Maas river and we all made off in different directions. We took it easy as we strolled towards the market square, which is not far from the Vrijthof Square where the concerts are held.

    It was a very pleasant walk through the old town. There are dozens of restaurants and bars and every one of them seemed to be jammed solid. What was amazing, though we have found this at every one of André Rieux’s concerts we have attended, is how good natured the crowd is. Restaurants had set up tables on the pavements, or in the case of narrow alleys the tables were set up in the roadway itself. We frequently had to press ourselves out of the way of groups coming towards us and there was invariably a jolly greeting and a thank you in any one of dozens of languages.

    Unexpectedly, we found ourselves looking at the market square through the funnel formed between two parked buses, and there was La Chine, our favourite Chinese restaurant dead ahead. We made our way towards it, crossing the square and then traversing the outdoor tables outside the row of restaurants.

    The restaurant was fairly full but it would start emptying within a short time. Nevertheless, there was still a couple of free tables and we were quickly greeted and shown to a table. The lady owner came over for a quick chat but we could see that this was the busiest time of the day for her and the staff.

    We studied the menu as we sipped our aperitifs and, as usual, we found it a difficult choice as there are a number of culinary delights on offer. Jackie chose the lemon chicken while I settled for shrimp in a spicy sauce. The food was delicious, as it always is, and as we ate the restaurant began to empty when the concertgoers began to make their way to the Vrijthof Square. There was still a fair number of diners who, like us, weren’t on their way to the concert that evening but it was quiet enough for the owner to come over and spend longer having a chat with us. She always remembers us from previous years and will spend time catching up on our previous year’s activities. As usual we were joined by members of her family coming over to say hello for a few minutes as they found a free moment. Once again we had a lovely evening and parted with a promise to come in for dinner at Christmas as Jackie managed to get tickets for the Christmas concert that André Rieu is putting on - not in the open air at Christmas but in a conference hall nearby.

    We left the restaurant and found a taxi a few yards away. The driver was a young man, very chatty, and we kept up a cheerful conversation until we arrived at the Novotel.

    After that we had a couple of drinks in the bar, chatting with people at nearby tables, before heading for our room and bed.
     
  11. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    The following morning saw us up earlyish, as we had to shower, have breakfast and leave the Novotel for the Kruisheren Hotel around 10. The new hotel had organised check in for 10 so we intended to arrive at the 10.30 mark. The roadworks that had made our journey through Maastricht so complicated last year, were now gone so we had a comfortable drive through the city.

    We were greeted by the concierge as we pulled up and he unloaded our bags while we sorted what we needed from the car. I gave him the car key and we last saw our transport vanishing around the corner on its way to the valet parking car park. We checked in at the hotel’s reception then stepped over to the André Rieu Travel desk and were given our lanyard identifiers, saw our bags handed over and then, having an hour and a half before the buffet lunch in the cloister (the Kreisheren Hotel is in a deconsecrated church) we went for a walk down to the square for a coffee. It’s only a short walk and the square is lined with cafés so visitors are spoiled for choice. If you ever watch any of the Maastricht concerts on TV these are the cafés where people are filmed drinking wine, enjoying dinner and frequently getting up and dancing.

    We found a table facing the narrow little roadway which runs around the square and ordered our coffees. As we waited we noticed that across the way was the barrier which keeps people out of the square during the day. This is necessary as there’s a lot of expensive equipment already in place, including microphones, loudspeakers, cameras, etc.

    I noticed that on the fence, which had ads plastered along it, there were two lifesize photos of Andre Rieu, Stradivarius in hand and dressed in his stage clothes. Two couples came wandering along, spotted André’s pictures and took turns standing beside him to have their photos taken so that it looked as if they were on close terms with him.

    A constant stream came by, spotted the pics and stood next to André’s image to take a selfie or have a snap taken. We enjoyed a very entertaining hour watching people’s reactions. Then made our way back to the hotel for the buffet lunch.

    The cloister was already set up for the buffet, the sun was shining so Jackie and I looked immediately for seats in the shade. Neither of us likes sitting in the sun, particularly when we are eating and the sun was so high in the sky at that time of year that there was only a small shady area, which luckily had empty seats. We grabbed two and were immediately approached by a young server with a tray of glasses of champagne. We took one each and then I sat making sure that no one would think our seats were empty, sipping my champagne while Jackie went to the buffet for her first course.

    All in all the buffet was excellent, the champagne flowed, the assorted dishes were constantly renewed and we struck up conversations with the people sitting around us.

    Once we had finished lunch it was onto the buses for a drive to the Rieu castle for another visit. We did this last year but Jackie enjoyed it so much that she wanted to do it again. Once again we were transported in the André Rieu Orchestra buses and once again passersby were waving to us and taking pictures under the impression that we were members of the orchestra on our way to the square.

    The afternoon turned out to be even more interesting as André’s son Pierre makes it different each time. As we sat in the garden, enjoying coffee and cake, Pierre stopped at our table for a chat. I asked him who writes the arrangements for the orchestra and he totally surprised me by saying that it was André himself. He also told me that the players only had in front of them is the piano score when they’re playing a concert and that the arrangements are worked out in rehearsal. The instrumentalists have all been with the orchestra for many years and they have come to know exactly what sound he wants when he makes a certain gesture, so his arrangements are largely what jazz musicians call head arrangements - in other words they work it out in advance without writing it down but all the players keep it in their heads. It’s amazing that a group of musicians for such a large orchestra have all this music in their heads but even more surprising that I’ve never heard any of them play a clinker at any of the concerts we’ve been to or that I’ve seen on TV. This is musicianship of the highest order.

    We returned to the hotel to freshen up and smarten up for dinner, which was accompanied by several members of the orchestra, playing the original scores that they played when the orchestra first began and it was considerably smaller than now. At its earliest appearances it was known as the André Rieu Salon Orchestra. How it has grown.

    After dinner it was outside to walk down to the square. As was the case with every other concert in the square, this one was a total sellout. But what I appreciate about it is the overall air of good nature about the entire weekend. I’ve never seen any boorish behaviour, aggressiveness or sheer bad manners, but what I have seen are the cheerfulness of the audiences, the consideration for other people, the politeness and courtesy that everybody displays. It’s part of what keeps us coming back.
    And I'd like to say thank you to Fndwheelie for giving me over 200 likes here. A heartfelt thank you.
     
  12. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We found our seats which were, to our delight, smack in the middle of the second row. As is usual for these events we got into conversation with the people on either side of us so the time before the concert passed pleasantly. Then the sound system burst into life with “76 Trombones” and we knew that the orchestra, led by André Rieu, had entered the square. The entire audience rose to its collective feet and, everybody facing backwards, we could see them walking down the central aisle, instruments in hand (except for the pianist and the drummers, of course).

    As soon as they were all on stage and taking over the song with their own instruments the stage crew appeared silently in front of us and began taking apart the steps up to the stage and removing them. I don’t know how high the risk of stage invasion is, but clearly no chances were being taken.

    And so began another evening of royal entertainment. The music swung from long-lived popular songs like “Volare” to classics from composers as diverse as Johann Strauss, Georges Bizet, Joaquin Rodrigo, Shostakovich and finished up with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his 9th Symphony.

    Of course, people got up to dance and the whole party atmosphere built up. The musicians are all superb and many of them have been with the orchestra for years and you can see that they all thoroughly enjoy their work. The pianist, named Stephanie, at one time climbed onto the grand piano, took off her skirt and began tap dancing. She brought the house down. It was announced that she is married to a dancer who has been teaching her to tap dance.

    Eventually the evening drew to its close and the members of the orchestra left the stage to tumultuous applause.The André Rieu concerts always end in this manner, so when André leaves the stage and the musicians start laying down their instruments you know the concert is finished - all the encores have been played, the audience has defied André’s announcement that it’s time they all left for the last time. And they leave, once again in an orderly, well mannered way.

    Back at the hotel virtually all of us made our way to the bar where light snacks, both hot and cold, are served, and we all relax for a while before making for our rooms. Jackie and I slept soundly all night.

    After breakfast next morning we didn’t head for home but instead set the GPS for the Dutch town of Overloon. The reason for this was that on the Ukraine cruise the Maitre d’, who is a citizen of the Netherlands, told us of a WW2 museum in the town which is the largest in the country. This intrigued us and we’d decided to visit it after we had attended the concert. It only lies just on 100 km (60 miles) from Maastricht so our drive wasn’t what could be called wearisome. We had a reservation for the Asteria Hotel in Venray, just off the motorway. Luckily, our room was ready even though we were early, so we dropped our bags off in our room and then headed out for Overloon and maybe for some lunch if we found a decent looking restaurant.

    The museum wasn’t difficult to find as it’s well signposted but we’d planned on spending the next day in and around it, so we explored Overloon itself instead. Our hopes for a light lunch were quickly dashed as all the restaurants were closed on Mondays. Fortunately, our hotel’s restaurant was open and we enjoyed a Cesar salad with chicken, which we both found excellent.

    The afternoon we passed exploring the local area and reminding ourselves again how British people always feel at home in the Netherlands.

    On returning to Venray we had time to relax for a while before dinner and spent a pleasant evening and an excellent meal before retiring.

    We weren’t in any great hurry to get to the museum on Tuesday as it opens at 10 and we had all day, so we settled for a late breakfast and then the short drive to Overloon. There was plenty of parking as the holiday season wasn’t yet in full swing and we didn’t have to queue for tickets. And then there was a big plus for us as we made our way to the entrance - there were some little portable folding stools which were free of charge. I know this sounds a little odd but Jackie has been experiencing real pain in her legs to the point where 150 metres is about her maximum walking distance before she has to rest.

    So we set off into the first part of the museum, which is a display of the history of the area during the war and the ferocious battle to liberate Overloon and the surrounding area, which the Nazis stubbornly fought to hold, eventually wearing down the attacking US army to the point where they were relieved by the British army. One can see the effects this battle had in the town as it stands today - there are hardly any old buildings in the town, practically all the houses are relatively new: built since 1945.

    After this we made our way into the second element of the museum, relics of the equipment and ammunition used throughout the war. As we walked into this area we were both taken aback at the sheer size of the display. To say that it’s gigantic is an understatement. In one segment of the area a Spitfire hangs from the ceiling, close to a V1, which also hangs from the ceiling. On the floor has been set up displays of what appeared to be every type of equipment used from the beginning of the war to its end.

    Jackie had to admit defeat when she saw the scale of the display and chose to sit on a bench and relax while I browsed. At first I felt selfish leaving her to her own devices, but she insisted not only that I should go off and see these things, many of which I remember from my childhood (like the V1) but that I should take as long as I wanted. I set off, torn between keeping the love of my life company or exploring the museum. However, she was adamant and in that mood she becomes she who must be obeyed. I obeyed

    In one corner, a screened off area conceals a Dakota aircraft in the throes of restoration. Before you get there you walk past shelf after shelf of radio receivers and transmitters, from the kind that were issued to agents dropped behind enemy lines to the walky-talkies that every unit used for communications with headquarters and nearby units on the battlefield.

    In another corner there is a fully equipped field kitchen which could be operational and feeding hungry GIs in a matter of hours if the need arose. One display area had stocks of ammunition, from rifle ammunition to massive artillery shells, taking in grenades, mortar bombs, AA tracers and so many other kinds of ammo that you could probably fight the war again without needing to be resupplied. Small arms were there in abundance from the British Lee Enfield .303, to the Luger, to the BAR, the Bren Gun, the Thompson submachine gun, the M1 Garand, Colt pistols. There were tanks, German, British and American and the Russian models.

    By the time I returned to Jackie she was still chirpy but still sitting. Right opposite her bench was a small cinema showing a film of the battle for Overloon so we went in and learned of the history of this area’s suffering. When the film ended we made our way to the cafeteria where we enjoyed a very fresh salad and a cold beer (the beer was mine - Jackie drank a bottle of water).

    Then after making our way around the outside area where examples of pill boxes, gun emplacements and tank traps were to be found we headed for our car.

    We spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the local area and then it was back to the hotel to relax for a while before our aperitif followed by dinner.

    Next morning we had breakfast and then started our journey home. We drove along the motorway towards Maastricht, and carried on towards Belgium. Now I know you’re not going to believe this but as we approached Liege I started looking out for the signs to Luxembourg, but then the GPS instructed me to take the exit to the left. I had a sinking feeling, looked to the right and could see a sign saying, most definitely, LUXEMBOURG. Unfortunately I couldn’t make my way across three lanes of traffic so I ended up leaving the motorway and being guided through the narrow streets of Liege, thus adding 30 minutes to the journey.

    However, the GPS finally led us back to the motorway and we were able to continue on home. I really must have a word with the car dealer I bought the car from about this. Why does it think that I want a guided tour of the backstreets of Liege, I ask every time I find myself waiting at a red light with a Belgian driver on each side of me anxious to beat me away as soon as it turns green.

    However once we were back on the motorway it was an easy drive without too much traffic all the way to Bastogne and then Luxembourg.

    We unpacked, relaxed and then went down to our local Chinese restaurant. My Goodness, how I enjoy a good Chinese dinner. Remember, I grew up in a time when every ingredient had to be boiled into a limp and steaming mush. My first Chinese meal was when I realised that food was to be enjoyed. Not tolerated as a punishment.
     
  13. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Yes, there’s been a bit of a hiatus in our wanderings lately but there’s a reason (or several) for this. Firstly, we had some not so good news regarding the leg pains Jackie’s been suffering for the last few months. She thought it would be another knee or hip replacement procedure, but after making an appointment with her orthopedic surgeon she has been referred to a neurological surgeon as the spinal canal through her vertebrae is narrowing in one place. This gives her excruciating pain in both legs often and she is going to have surgery between three and six months hence. Her orthopedic surgeon assured her that as people are living long and longer this operation is becoming more and more common. It’s now quite routine surgery and she’s been told she’ll be in hospital for three days and she won’t need any rehab. He told her the best exercise during her recuperation is regular walking, so it looks as if she’ll be joining me on my morning jaunts along the Moselle.

    Our autumn weeks have been taken up with receiving a number of visitors. First to arrive were our two nieces with whom we lost contact when my brother and his wife divorced in the early ‘70s. We managed to track each other down and we met up with them in Brighton with our youngest son, daughter in law and grandson back in February. We invited them over and they arrived in early September.

    We took them around Luxembourg and the surrounding countries (Germany and France), showing them the lovely little town of Saarburg which has a spectacular waterfall in the centre, lined with cafés which all specialise in apple strudel, all of which are superb. In France we took them to a couple of castles on the Moselle, and in Luxembourg we drove them to Vianden Castle, which has a lookout point nearby which gives a magnificent view of the castle on its rocky promontory.

    When they left it was with our sincere wishes that they return again soon.

    A couple of weeks after that my cousin and his wife came. This is the couple we are closest to and, although I have a lot of cousins I’m not in regular contact with them. Luckily we are on the same wavelength as this couple, even though our lives have taken totally different courses.

    They’ve visited us several times previously so it wasn’t so much a case of showing them the surrounding sights but rather the historical sites in Luxembourg City. We had a great time together, as we always do, and we were still laughing as we waved to them as they made their way towards the line for airport security.

    From then we have a quiet couple of weeks before friends from San Diego arrive for several weeks. We’ll be driving down to Alsace with them for a few days’ stay at Andlau and we’ll be there for the vendange, the grape harvest. The history of Alsace has been turbulent, being alternately French and German over several centuries, so most Alsatians speak both French and German.

    Alsace also has a cuisine that differs from other French provincial styles of cooking. We’re looking forward to introducing our friends to some dishes they’ve never tried before.

    After they have left we’ll be embarking on a short river cruise from Basle in Switzerland following the Rhine then on to the Moselle as far as Trier. Many of our friends laugh when we tell them this as Trier is only a 30 minute drive from our home, but there are stretches of the Rhine on this cruise that we’ve never explored. We were looking for something that was just a week or so, didn’t cost an arm and a leg and didn’t involve flights. Our regular contact at Viking came up this one which fitted the bill perfectly.

    The last bit of travel this year will be to Maastricht for a special Christmas concert by André Rieu and his orchestra. Usually at this time of year he does a tour of the UK, but I think the Maastricht concerts have been set up to avoid any chaos caused by Brexit. Unless of course Boris Johnson is serving a prison term by then.
     
    • Winner Winner x 1
  14. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    After my cousin and his wife returned home we had a quiet stretch for a couple of weeks until Mike and Vickie, our friends from San Diego, arrived. We spent most the time getting the house in order, cleaning up and deciding on which places to take our guests to.

    At the moment Luxembourg City is one giant building site as a new tram system is being installed. It’s hoped that this will tempt people out of their cars and alleviate the traffic problem which has been growing rapidly with the expanding population. This meant that we didn’t really want to spend their two and a half weeks with us sitting in traffic jams.

    They arrived as scheduled, settled in with us while we gave them a day to recuperate from the long flights and then took them out on a series of jaunts in the surrounding area and neighbouring countries.

    Once again we headed for Saarburg and they were astonished to see a town with a waterfall in the middle and an old system of wooden planks using the water’s power to drive mill wheels. They were even more astonished at the apple strudel on sale in the cafés lining the river bank. Mike is also diabetic but just this once he let himself be tempted (as did I) to try a dish so colourful with different kinds of fruit coulis surrounding the slice of strudel with the whole dish complemented with ice cream and cream. A diabetic’s worst temptation.

    A week after their arrival we set off for the trip to Alsace we had arranged for them. We drove through France, passing Strasbourg, stopping for lunch along the way, before arriving at the B&B we had booked. We’d had some difficulty in finding accommodation as it was the period for the wine harvest, which always attracts people from all over Europe seeking to buy wine - either a few cases for home consumption or in large quantities for supermarkets, restaurants or other outlets.

    And it turned out to be a lucky choice. Situated in the forest between the towns of Andlau and Le Hohwald, our home for the next five days was a charming farmhouse surrounded by lawn with a stream running along one side of the gardens. A small footbridge crossed the stream, giving access to the forest for those who enjoy a stroll through the glories of nature.

    After checking in and unpacking we headed out for a drive through the surrounding area to give Mike and Vickie an idea of the area in which we were staying.

    In the evening we took our hostess’s advice and tried a restaurant only 500 metres or so up the hill towards Le Hohwald. This turned out to be a good choice and we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink while studying the menu. Jackie and I settled for the Bouchée à la Reine (a vol-au-vent for those not familiar with French menus ;-), Vickie went for the local blue trout and Mike chose a steak.

    While we were enjoying our drinks the owner arrived with a trout arranged on a plate. It had clearly just been killed and gutted so the arrangement was rather artistic. I didn’t know but a little vinegar is poured onto the trout which gives the skin a blue sheen. As he held the plate towards her some kind of reflex action, probably caused by the vinegar, made the trout give a little wriggle. Vickie looked horrified and said in a wondering voice, “You are going to cook it, aren’t you?” which set the rest of us laughing, with the owner clearly enjoying her faux pas. When our hilarity died down he reassured her that it would indeed be cooked.

    When our meal arrived it was excellent, as was the wine the owner recommended. Even Vickie tucked into her trout like a good trencherman.

    Breakfast was a good, hearty farm meal, with various hams and cheeses while the jams and marmalades were all home made. We were well set up for the day after that.

    Our plan after that was to take a drive down the wine route, having a look at the vineyards and the wine producing villages. It had been a while since we were last in the area so I put some details into the GPS and we set off.

    I don’t know why but the GPS led us, before I realised it, onto the motorway, which was not my plan at all. I suggested we go on a little way and take the second exit, which should bring us within shouting distance of the wine route. A couple of kilometres after I said this two motorcycle police went past us, fast, flashing blue lights and I saw, looking ahead, a stationary line of traffic while everybody around started slowing down.

    Now in my experience there is usually a normal road running more or less parallel to the motorway and as we began slowing down I could see an exit a short distance ahead. I pulled over, took the exit and found the parallel road within a couple of minutes. We drove on for a couple of kilometres before the traffic started slowing down again. We could see the motorway across a couple of fields and everything on it was at a standstill. Yes, the curse of the French farmers was upon us once more. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to us again. Every time the French farmers have a grouse with the government they all pile onto the motorways in their tractors and drive en masse at 5 kilometres an hour. I know people who have driven all their lives on French motorways and never experienced this but this was the second time it had happened to us. And we have to pay to use their bloody motorways.

    We trundled on and came to a motorway slip road, completely blocked by farmers and tractors. The farmers stood around, joking, laughing and drinking wine. A few kilometres further on we came to another and both entrances and exits were blocked by farmers and their tractors, thus ensuring that drivers on the motorways couldn’t get off and those on the roads couldn’t get on.

    Our progress was still unutterably slow, so I finally suggested we turn around and head north to the start of the wine route. Everyone was in agreement so I did a quick reverse at the first opportunity and soon left the bolshie farmers behind.
     
  15. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We spent a pleasant day exploring the northern stretch of the wine route which, despite being less inhabited than the southern part, is nevertheless worth seeing. We were a long way from the motorway, its snarled up traffic, and the surrounding roads. After seeing many of the vineyards on that stretch of the route, we turned off and headed across the Vosges to give our guests some spectacular views of this chain of mountains. In winter, skiers make a beeline for the Alsace ski slopes so the tourism infrastructure is pretty good, right down to the sign posting and the well surfaced roads.

    We had lunch in a village inn whose name now escapes me. We stopped in the afternoon for a coffee and followed that by taking a meandering route back to Andlau and thence to our B&B.

    For dinner we drove about 5 minutes to Le Hohwald where we had spotted a restaurant which appeared promising and after studying the menu we went in. And we hadn’t been misled. The food, wine and service were spot on, the choices on the menu were nicely varied, the wines were local and reasonably priced, while the ambiance was warm and friendly.

    We enjoyed an excellent meal and stretched it out as long as was reasonably possible. As we left I spotted a number of shelves, all loaded with jars. My curiosity got the better of me and I stopped to read the labels. A small sign told me that the jars contained jams of different flavours, all of which had been made by the owner’s father. I sighed regretfully: home made jam made of garden-grown fruit and woodland berries is potentially a spear in a diabetic’s BS levels.

    We suggested next morning that we follow the wine route south until we came to the turnoff for St Odile’s monastery and thence to the mountain top retreat. St Odile’s is one of the most spectacularly situated monasteries I have ever visited. It sits atop Mont St Odile and gives a vista all the way down to the Rhine plain and, when the weather is clear, as far as Germany. There was plenty of parking close to the monastery so Jackie didn’t have far to walk.

    We undertook a circumnavigation of the walls to take in the views of the surrounding countryside. That was followed by an exploration of the monastery’s buildings. Part of it has been converted into a hotel with a restaurant, while other sections are exactly as they were when begun in the (believed to be) 7th century.

    The next day’s excursion was further down the wine route to Haut Koenigsbourg Castle. This is a beautifully restored 12th century castle which sits atop a mountain and has views for miles over the plains below. The views are even more spectacular than one sees from St Odile’s Monastery. The drive to the mountain’s peak is fascinating as one twists and turns , catching glimpses of the Rhine or small valleys that are little more than clefts in the mountainside.

    As we came to the stretch of road where parking for the castle is permitted I felt a pang for Jackie, as the road we traversed had no space available to park. If we had to park at the bottom of the slope the walk uphill would have been agony for her, so the only viable option was to drop Jackie, Vickie and Mike at the top close to the castle entrance, then follow the road down (castle access is a loop of road) and park wherever I could before trudging uphill to join them.

    At the top Jackie and Vickie climbed out but Mike said he’d stay with me so we started downhill and after about 100 metres the most beautiful sight hove into view: a perfectly sized gap in the line of cars which my car would easily fit into. We grabbed it and returned to our wives, who were expecting a much longer wait and were indulging in a little refreshment at a stand near the castle entrance.

    We made for the entrance when they had finished their drinks which is quite a walk. Jackie surprised me by walking the whole distance without even once wincing. I asked if she was OK and she said that she had no pain whatsoever. After passing through the castle’s main gate I left Jackie while I went to find the ticket office and a toilet. Once having visited the facilities I easily found the ticket office, even though it was a bit of a walk, so Jackie was wise to wait below while I, with our guests, walked for what seemed ages to the ticket office.

    Armed with tickets we rejoined Jackie and passed into the castle’s interior. We had visited this castle many years before but renovations had been ongoing so now we were able to enjoy the results of the years of work. The route we followed through the halls, towers, courtyards and interior chambers was pretty hard going and I was keeping a close eye on Jackie. Strangely, I thought, I could see no sign of the strained look that appears on her face when her knee and legs are at their worst. I asked how she was feeling and she reassured me that she was fine.That’s the strange thing about spinal stenosis, some days she’s unable to walk 300 yards without suffering agonies, but then along comes a day that would normally have her in its painful throes. I’m hoping she’ll be on the operating table as soon as possible as this, we’ve been told, has become a routine procedure and the relief afterwards is immediate.

    Having finished our tour of the castle we adjourned to the restaurant adjacent to the castle for some lunch. The quiche lorraine with salad looked pretty good to both of us so that’s what we ordered. Mike and Vickie tried the pate with salad and fresh baguette. We enjoyed the meal then sat chatting over coffee before adjourning to the car and taking a winding route back to the B&B.

    For dinner that evening we returned to the first restaurant we tried and I can assure you that Vickie did not order the trout on our second visit.
     
  16. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We thought that a drive further down the wine route to the towns of Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr would make a change from visiting monuments, magnificent though they may be. So we set off, heading south, finding light traffic and good weather.

    Our first stop was at Ribeauvillé, where we settled for a short walk around the town and doing some window shopping, before we moved on to Riquewihr. Both these town are old, beautifully kept and also home to some of the best vintners in the region.

    We made the short drive to Ribeauvillé where, luckily, I found an empty slot in a car park close to the road that leads to the most interesting part of town. We all climbed out and began our stroll up the main street. That didn’t last long as we came to an interesting little establishment that was selling a most interesting variety of ice creams. We all stopped to assess the attractiveness of the display and we ended up with ice cream all round. Mine was a mango ( I adore mangos but can’t indulge my adoration very often) and I didn’t feel much guilt as I had had a very low carb couple of days so felt that the odd ice cream would be OK.

    After that we wandered up the main street, gazing into windows while Mike and Vickie did some shopping for garments that you get in France but not, it seems, in San Diego. From there we made our way to a restaurant we know where we usually sit outside but the weather wasn’t encouraging that so we went in and sat in the mezzanine where we overlooked the bar and the diners below.

    We introduced our guests to Flammkuchen, an Alsace speciality which is similar in some respects to pizza, except that the pastry is wafer thin and piled with local produce - ham, chopped vegetables, minced beef, local cheeses in any or all combinations. They loved it and I’m sure that their experiences with Alsace cuisine is going to bring them back.

    After lunch we did a little more shopping with Jackie and myself being lured into a glass shop which had some of the most beautiful pieces of glassware imaginable. It wasn’t only wine glasses or other kinds of glassware, but ornamental pieces in abstract styles. We were both attracted to a tear drop shaped piece we ended up buying and which now sits in a cabinet in our living room. I’ve been looking for a small, flat LED lamp to set it on so that the lights would illuminate the interior - so far without luck.

    We arrived back at the B&B in late afternoon, giving ourselves time to pack and to snatch a few pages of our Kindles while putting our feet up. I sounded out everybody on where they would like to eat that evening and it was unanimous - La Petite Auberge at Le Hohwald where we had dined before and was just a short drive away. I’m convinced that this is the best restaurant for miles around as every time we’ve dined there we’ve all enjoyed the fare immensely.

    Next morning’s drive home was uneventful with no sign of farmers and their tractors blocking the motorways.

    We had a weekend, showing our visitors some more of the local sites before their departure a couple of days later. I really must give some of our friends from the US a little instruction in European geography. Vickie and Mike had booked their return flight from Frankfurt to their destination at 6 a.m. Now bearing in mind that check in would be around 3 a.m. and it is about 4 hours to drive from our home to Frankfurt, we would have to leave home around 11 p.m. the day before. And then turn around and drive 4 hours back. When I pointed this out Vickie said that she hadn’t realised it was that far (!)

    So to solve this problem I booked two rooms in an airport hotel for the night. We bade them farewell after dinner that night as they didn’t expect us to be up at 5 a.m. to see them off. We had breakfast alone next morning at a time when Mike and Vickie were probably over the Atlantic.

    We toyed with the idea of stopping off to have a look at our old stamping ground around Darmstadt, but I decided that a drive straight home and dinner at one of our favourite restaurants would give us a chance to unpack, relax for a short period, and then address our next trip which was going to be a Rhine cruise starting on the following Monday.
     
  17. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    So 4 days later found us packed and awaiting our train, the TGV to Mulhouse, on Luxembourg station ready to embark on our Basel to Trier cruise on the Rhine and the Moselle. The train arrived on time, we boarded, found our seats, plugged our ipads into the sockets provided and settled down for the journey. After we had passed Metz the train picked up speed and arrived at its maximum a few minutes later. There were only a couple of stops, principally at Strasbourg and we arrived in Mulhouse around 2 pm.

    It was easy enough to find our next train, which was a local one stopping at every station between Mulhouse and Basel. Somewhat wearisome but it arrived in Basel dead on time, 2.50 pm, where we disembarked, found a cash point to obtain some Swiss francs and went outside for a taxi.

    We had been given 3 possible mooring points for the ship so once we were ensconced in our taxi and heading for the nearest mooring I got out my phone and dialled the ship to verify its actual position. Engaged. I dialled again. Engaged. I dialled again and again. Engaged and engaged. I dialled again. VOILA!!! A female voice answered and I identified myself. I never expected the reaction I got.

    “Oh, thank goodness. Where are you?”

    “In a taxi heading for the ship. Which mooring are you at?”

    “We’re supposed to sail at 3 and we’re at St. Johann.We’ll hold the ship for you.”

    I had no idea the ship sailed at 3. I told the driver to carry on to St Johann where we found the Hotel Manager and two crew members to act as porters for our luggage. They grabbed us (not literally, of course), hustled us across a boat to which ours was moored, the porters with our bags following.

    We were the only passengers who travelled to the ship under our own steam, the others flying in from the USA and the UK, being collected at the airport and brought to the ship by Viking’s own buses.

    “I’m sorry,” I apologised to the young lady at the desk. “But we had no time for departure in our paperwork. Usually we’re told that the staterooms won’t be available until 3 and that there is a light buffet and drinks served until passengers could make their way to the staterooms.”

    I showed her our paperwork which clearly stated, “Your ship will depart at :-“. All the other Viking cruises we’ve been on the ship has departed in the late evening or midnight.

    While I was explaining this a flurry of activity was going on up on the deck: mooring lines were wound in, the ship’s bow and stern thrusters moved us sideways and we were underway.

    We made our way to our stateroom, unpacked, stowed our cases under the bed, freshened up quickly and adjourned to the lounge for a reviving drink.

    We shared a table with a Scots couple and chatted for a while before the welcome drink and pre-cruise briefing. The ship was already moving down the Rhine to the border between Switzerland and Germany so we had the chance to see some of the Rhine we hadn’t seen before.

    This was followed by dinner, where we shared a table with the Scots pair we had been chatting to previously. Disappointingly, as it was late October, darkness was beginning to fall, so we didn’t see as much of the lower Rhine as we hoped, but dinner was excellent and afterwards we adjourned to the lounge again and spent a while chatting with some of the other passengers. We also became the centre of attention for a while when it became known that we lived in Luxembourg, as some of the other passengers had opted for an extension in Paris at the end of the cruise and they would be getting a tour of our capital city. Jackie and I both had the same idea - could we cadge a lift on one of the tour buses from Trier, the cruise’s final destination, to Luxembourg. From the buses’ first stop it would only be about 15 minutes by taxi. This was something we would have to explore with the guest relations manager in a few days’ time.
     
  18. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    Our first stop the next morning was in Strasbourg, a town I knew fairly well back in the ‘70s when I used to be sent there at least one week in the month to produce the European Parliament’s equivalent of Hansard, a word for word transcript of the proceedings each day. I had been back for fleeting visits, usually when we had guests who fancied a trip to the town, but the intimate knowledge of it that I had once had was no longer accurate - new roads, industrial estates, new business districts growing up, etc., etc., had rendered my memories out of date. In fact, when I used to drive from Luxembourg there was no motorway so the journey would take twice as long as it does now, except when the French farmers are blocking the motorways with their tractors.

    Our first stop was the cathedral in the centre of the city. On my first visit to Strasbourg I had stayed in a hotel next to the cathedral but with my work schedule, which included night work on certain days, I never found the time to visit.

    It’s certainly worth a viewing if you’re ever in the vicinity. Apart from some splendid stained glass windows, including a magnificent rose window, there is an astronomical clock which has a series of figures which begin to move at the top of each hour and attracts large crowds.

    The construction of the cathedral was begun in 1176 and finished in 1439. There have been some changes over the centuries and the outer walls are supported by a series of ornate flying buttresses.

    From there we took a walking tour, which Jackie was able to finish due to some effective painkillers. The walking tour brought us back to the cathedral where we had some free time which we utilised by stopping at a pavement cafe and relaxing over a glass of Riesling. Another couple we recognised from our cruise came along and sat at the next table. We fell into conversation and discovered that they were from Chicago. We got on with them really well, only leaving them to cross the road to browse in a Villeroy and Boch shop. This company has ties to Luxembourg, with a factory on the outskirts of Luxembourg City and a factory outlet on the same site. They also have a factory outlet just across the border in Germany.

    By the time we had finished our mini tour of the shop it was time to meet the rest of the group for the return to the ship.

    At lunch in the dining room we were joined by our new friends from Chicago. And we explained to them that Jackie had spinal stenosis and was due for an operation in the new year. The husband, Jim, began talking about this operation and he seemed to be extremely knowledgeable on the subject, and so did his wife, Karen. I ventured to ask what he did before he retired and he told me he was a neurosurgeon and his wife had been a surgical nurse. He explained that this was (as Jackie had been told by her own neurosurgeon) a very routine procedure. He also said that it was very satisfying for the surgeon as the patient was pain free from the moment of coming round from the anaesthetic.

    From then on we had most meals together and at the end of the cruise we swapped contact details and agreed that we should get together for a trip in Europe in the forthcoming months - Jackie’s two procedures permitting, of course.

    Our next day’s excursion, after an overnight cruise was to Speyer, a town we had never visited despite it being only a short drive from our home in Weiterstadt when we lived in Germany. Speyer itself isn’t far from the Hockenheimring, the home of the German Grand Prix, and the scene of Jim Clark’s death in 1968. Coincidentally, I had been at the track on the morning of the day that Clark, arguably the greatest driver ever, died in a Formula 2 race. I had left about lunchtime as I had to be at work at 3.30 p.m. When I checked in at the newspaper where I was working a friend told me that Clark had been killed. Like the rest of the world I was stunned. Jim Clark was too good a driver to die in a car accident, yet he had been killed in a race he didn’t need to be driving in and his death had occurred between my leaving the Ring and arriving at work. A tragic day for motor racing.

    As we approached the coach park in Speyer I saw a strange sight ahead of us - at first I thought I was hallucinating but the strange sight did not move nor fade away. What I was looking at was a full size Boeing 747 in full takeoff attitude. Mystified as to why there should be an enormous jet on the roof of a building in a small German town I started hunting around for some kind of answer.

    My mind soon clicked when I saw an old Dakota twin engine transport sitting atop another building close by.

    As we drew closer I saw more aircraft and helicopters and a sign which proclaimed that this was the Technik Museum Speyer. Now I have to confess that in my entire life I had never heard of this museum, even when living close by, but it covered an enormous area, even including an IMAX cinema on the site. Sadly, we didn’t have time to explore the delights of what promised to be a fascinating tour, but we both said that once Jackie’s surgery was over and stabilised we would be paying a visit.

    Then I saw there was consternation at the front of the bus. It seemed that the parking closest to the cathedral was occupied by a Christmas fair and the nearest coach park after that was a considerable walk away. After having a short drive around to see if any alternative parking had been allowed for we returned to the museum where the driver pulled into the museum’s car park to let us off for our tour while he went on to find somewhere to park.

    Once off the bus we made our way on foot to the cathedral which is on a hill overlooking the museum. The cathedral itself is interesting in a different way, built in two different styles: Gothic and Romanesque. The different parts were pointed out to us as we circumnavigated its enormous circumference. We went inside following that to regard the stained glass windows and other artworks.

    We followed this with a stroll around the town in our free time and Jackie and I found a likely looking Konditerei (a bakery cum café) where Jackie sat down with relief at a table for two and we ordered two glasses of Riesling, a product of the region.

    Well refreshed we made our way back to the square in front of the cathedral, taking in a little window shopping as we did so.

    Once our little group was complete we made our way back to the museum car park to find our coach awaiting us and it was then a fairly short drive back to the ship. We had dinner with Jim and Karen again and enjoyed their company immensely.

    As an afterthought, human cameos pop up from time to time when one is wandering around and we observed a beauty that keeps us laughing every time we think of it. As we entered the cafe an American women came storming out fuming that all she wanted was a cup of coffee. Unaware at the time of what had happened we discovered when we were back on the ship that this women had tried to pay for a cup of coffee with her credit card. When told that for such a small sum they would only accept cash she tried to pay with US dollars. She was then told that they would only accept euros, of which she had none. Unaware of this we were somewhat taken aback as to why she couldn’t get a cup of coffee in a café. We overheard the woman, still complaining bitterly, recounting her misfortunes after dinner that evening.
     
  19. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    The main excursion the day following was to Mainz for a walking tour of the city and then to see the European origins of my profession - printing. We had lived within an easy drive of Mainz when working on the US Army newspaper Stars and Stripes but had never visited the city before. The most I had seen of it was back in 1964 when I had been driving through Mainz with my parents in tow and the clutch cable on my rear-engined car had snapped, leaving me with no alternative but to trundle home in 1st gear. I believe I’ve already recounted the full story earlier.

    Mainz turned out to be a pretty town, even though it’s surrounded by some industrial zones. We walked some well preserved streets, and after viewing Mainz Cathedral we arrived at the Gutenberg Museum, just a short walk away. Johannes Gutenberg, in the 1450s, produced the earliest printed Holy Bible using moveable type and a form of printing machine. Before this time, books were produced in handwritten form, a method so laborious and painstaking that virtually all books were written by hand, a task that meant that books were produced by monks, as only the church had sufficient manpower in their monasteries to produce Bibles and other holy works.

    Gutenberg’s Bible set the future path for printed books, being faster and cheaper to produce, which in turn meant that books other than Bibles and holy tracts could be printed. The brake on book production was in large part due to literacy, or the lack of it, in the general population, so even though books could be produced in fairly large quantities, the audience for those books was still restricted.

    However, what is surprising is that when I began my apprenticeship the tools I used were still basically the same as Gutenberg’s. Of course, the process had been mechanised to a considerable extent: the type was cast in metal and produced on a vast scale; the stick, as the tool where the type was assembled into lines of equal length was called, was basically the same as Gutenberg’s except that my one was made of metal rather than wood and could be set much more precisely so that lines of type were exactly the length that was required.

    Printing machines were capable of turning out thousands of pages per hour, in comparison with those in 1450 where they were lucky to be able to produce 20 pages per hour - the page had to be inked with a roller, then a sheet of paper was positioned very precisely by hand on top of the inked surfaces, then a clean roller was used to press the paper down onto the inked surface. The final task was to peel the paper off the inked pages, taking care not to smear the image which had been transferred to the paper.

    Another odd little thought is that had I time-travelled back to, say, 1460, I would have been able to work as a compositor without too many problems; and if Johannes Gutenberg had found himself next to me in 1955 he would have known exactly what I was doing and could have worked alongside me.

    Nowadays, however, the printing industry is unrecognisable to the people who were part of it when I began. I worked in hot metal setting and at that time computers were known of, but no one had ever seen one. Which was just as well because they were the size of a large room; even larger ones were built but they were housed in warehouse-sized buildings. Transistors not having been invented, the size was the result of using valves which were known to everyone who had a radio, as they sometimes blew and replacing a valve could be expensive.

    No one could ever see any use for them except for scientific purposes and no one could foresee the creation and growth of the internet as computers became cheaper, lighter and more reliable.

    When I was working at the EU’s publishing house the units which produced books to be published would have to estimate how many copies they would have to print. Now, scarcely 30 years later, most of the EU publications are available online while those who need a paper copy of a publication can order one through the print on demand system which allows one single copy, if necessary, to be printed and dispatched to the ordering party. Now you can just go to the EU’s official website and find virtually everything online at no charge.

    Poor old Gutenberg would be totally lost in this newly developed industry where you can buy a book on your Kindle or your tablet, take it with you anywhere and still be able to download and watch movies, book an airline flight, check your bank balance and order a pizzy delivered to your home. On the other hand I’ve never heard of a tablet being worth $25 to 35 million, which is the estimated price a Gutenberg Bible would bring if sold today. Only 20 complete copies exist today, so the price is only going to climb, even if only notionally as most of them are housed in museums.
    The one on display in the Gutenberg Museum is the only one I have seen, but to old school printers it's almost like a holy relic.
     
  20. BillB

    BillB Type 2 · Well-Known Member

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    We moored overnight at Wiesbaden, casting off for Koblenz at 8 a.m. We spent the morning with our new friends, Jim and Karen, in the lounge watching the villages and castles of the Rhine Gorge. This stretch of the river is more than familiar to us as it was a regular destination when we lived in Germany. Whenever visitors arrived it was a foolproof day out with them as the scenery of that particular stretch of river is world-renowned and should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

    Koblenz is an interesting historic city situated at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle. The actual site of the confluence is called das deutsches Eck (the German corner) and is marked by a large statue to Kaiser Wilhelm. It’s also the site where the Teutonic Order of Knights was established in 1216.

    On the eastern bank of the Rhine, atop a rocky outcrop, sits the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress which has magnificent views over the river, Koblenz and beyond. It’s reached from the west bank by a constantly moving cable car that crosses the river and climbs up to the fortress.

    The last time we were here Jackie and I had taken different tours; her tour included a ride on the cable car to the fortress and mine didn’t.

    This time we were together on a walking tour of the city’s old town, which has a distinct charm with a friendly atmosphere. Because of the bombing the city underwent in the closing months of WW2, the city centre is fairly new, though rebuilt as close to the original streets as possible. There are plenty of small shops, bars, restaurants and cafés, which were all enjoying a busy time, with most of the outdoor tables filled.

    Towards the end of the tour I could see the strain on Jackie’s face and realised that she was experiencing pain from her spinal stenosis, which makes walking very painful. I asked Jackie if she would rather we made our way slowly back to the ship while the rest of the group carried on with the final part of the walk. She reluctantly said she would, so we had a word with our guide, explained the problem, and took our leave.

    We ambled slowly back, window shopping and loafing here and there until we arrived back at the deutsches Eck at the point where the cable cars turned around and made their way back on their never-ending journey to the fortress and back.

    From there it was just a couple of hundred metres to the ship, where we freshened up and adjourned to the lounge to await the return of the rest of the group.


    And an addition to the post today. I have just got home from driving my wife, Jackie, to the hospital for her surgery for spinal stenosis. Her operation is scheduled for 10.30 am (9.30 am British time). All being well, she will be home on Friday.

    I would like to ask everybody who reads this to spare a thought for her and the end to all the pain she has been suffering so stoically. Thank you.
     
    • Hug Hug x 1
    #340 BillB, Jan 21, 2020 at 7:45 AM
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2020
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