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BudaBest of Times

Last Days of Danube Cruise

semi-overcast 17 °C

It was a bit of - but not a big fuss on board the AmaLea: which would be the mode of transport from Vienna to Budapest? Well, the writing seemed clear on the vessel wall right from cruise embarkation: AmaLea was not going to make a complete cruise journey all the way to Budapest. And, prognostics were right. Record levels of drought in summer yielded historic water level lows for the Danube, especially in Austria and Hungary.

Budapest harbor
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And so, because of dry and rocky situation, it was back on the road again to bus it to next cruise destination. This time, we traveled to where the Hungarian hills of Buda meets bustling city paths of Pest. No huff and puff from me leaving Lea via coach ride. No luxury cruise would ever make me become "that" cruise goer ("that" meaning a haughty "she-diddy" type). No qualms here, after all, I already experienced a wonderful cruise experience- aside from one rude awakening of the captain horn from a morning transfer in Austria preceding or during a passage through locks. Ultimately, I made the best of things- all things considered.

Three hours on coach was very bearable, especially with excellent Wi-fi connection and handy snacks in the sack. After crossing the Austria-Hungary border, the 3-bus Ama Waterways brigade along with coaches from another cruise liner (That dominating one that starts with a "V" ) simultaneously stop at a fuel station. Whoa- what a scene: about 200 cruisers queued up at the stop for potty break and stretch. My bladder wasn't truly full , so I stayed at the rear of the coin bathroom queue.

First impression of Budapest began with sight of three prominent bridges in the Inner City - Liberty , Elizabeth and the most grand of all- Szcechnyi (practice to say the latter name correctly). Such towering achievements to appreciate up close and personal! Before having to chance to explore them by foot, I lunched at Peppers Restaurant at Marriott. On this occasion was the best Goulasch ever had- not that there were terribly many had previously.

After Peppers came one of the best moments on trip- and in life. After a quarter of a century (wow, times jetting by) of trading letters & e-mails, I met my dear, gracious Balkan buddies- Vladimir & Dragan in person. We merge as one. Our first activity was too mundane for the moment - drinks at Starbucks just down the way from the Marriott. Wow- this SB was the busiest ever- even more than any coffee joint in west Los Angeles. No big deal though- there was so much catching up to do with the guys... especially about family talk, funny life & body changes from aging and reminiscing "the good ol' days " when people were more saner and the music was way better (That would be the 90s, our coming of age generation).

My time in Budapest tour continued southeast along the charming Danube and across to famed Vaci Street (Utca) in Inner Pest . The guys being the ever-so-genuine gentlemen hauled my suitcase down the pavement and into the confining elevator up to their comfy Air B&B rental, by Corvinus University. Oh the peculiarity from this moment for me- feeling absolutely feeling at home in a Hungarian apartment having Turkish style coffee and Serbian wine with two men I had just met hours ago whom I've seemingly known forever. More quality time with the guys was filled with old stories and laughter was spent hiking on Pest, swirling through Buda Castle, the best destination for all-around city views. In a more formal setting, the guys and I joined the AmaLea passengers on a cozy dinner cruise boat for a fancy buffet and dazzling Illuminations tour on the river, a major contender for the most magnificent evening of sightseeing ever. Later, I relaxed in at the "5 Star consolation accommodation" that Ama Waterways set up for me and all the Lea group- Hotel Sofitel ( This mini Insta review says it all about my stay here https://www.instagram.com/p/BqqA0_anf0A/ )

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Photos by V. Stanojević

On the final day of the trip, there was no formalized tour itinerary. After sweet good-byes to my cruise-tour protégé Brigid, a few other Amalea passengers and cruise Manager John, it was off I went with the guys for a last hurrah together at the main city Christmas market exploring and Vaci shopping. Markets eats: My yummy market food of choice was a dark sausage variety off at the market. The huge frank was kind of funky smelling but being the quasi- brave eater, I got it and was not disappointed. Shopping: Vaci shopping was entertaining...much so seeing just how hawkish some salespeople got, like the one girl selling me "gourmet" soap. Also, notably and funny was how Vladmir and I kept keep losing a drifting Dragan in shop after shop in pursuit of the perfect doll gift! Sweet.. To support Budapest commerce (of course) I had to buy paprika. It almost seemed obligatory to do while in Hungary. My post-trip potato meals were highly enhanced by the fresh Hungarian seasonings.

Oh, the taste of Budapest in my buds, like my time with my Serbian buddies in Budapest and was all too was brief but remain strong.

All in all, Sunday was a wonderful cap to a whirlwind trip, Until next time, Budapest and the Danube...

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Posted by Marinarena 14:43 Archived in Hungary Tagged budapest danube cruises cruise hungary buda hungarian pest amalea szcechnyi Comments (0)

Va- Va Wachau & Vienna

Day 4, 5 & 6 of Danube Cruise

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Four days on cruise at this point: It was time to slow down the pace. Up I went to the comfy peachy pastel lounge area, aka my temporary living room away from my living room. From there, I watched the Wachau (pronounced like English "Va-cow") world go by. The AmaLea drifted into the Wachau Valley, Austria's wine country and the most gorgeous stretch of the Danube journey. Quite imprinted in my memory : that spectacular sparkle, a dusted golden sparkle from the almond trees and apricot fields throughout the region.
See video of trees- https://www.instagram.com/p/BqkQXz3jB45/

Inside AmaLea
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Danube River
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Wachau is the heart of wine country. Mostly whites were-a flowing during on-board wine presentations by Dr. Frank Winery, featuring Fred Frank and at tastings conducted at outside venues. I got very familiar with Grüner Veltliner, a regional staple and my go to white variety, Riesling was my go to, that good ol' reliable one who always cheers me up.

MELK ABBEY
Such a pretty place to visit no matter your religion or lack there of The rocky-top Benedictine abbey is the standout Wachau landmark. I snapped snapped away at this gorgeous golden edifice for lovers of Baroque and Gothic and Neo Gothic style. Pity I could only snap snap on the exterior grounds. Thanks to the stupidity of people using and abusing flash , shooting indoors is banned - so, too bad for me- I can't have nice indoor photo things for my Danube Diary scrapbooks.

My Melk Abbey Collage on Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/p/BqqSzw7D4Xa/

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DURNSTEIN

This "Pearl of Wachau" is a storybook kind of Austria town. It was a splendid time in this popular wine-making and apricot growing town. For an alternative to the basic walking tour, I went on a kiddie-like "train ride" through vineyards and leisurely strolled through altstadt. Guiding me and the "slow poke" gentle walker group was a rather bright-eyed, bubbly local ( named Christine?) who seemed inebriated by apricot liquer , Riesling or some other feelgood stuff but she was good natured and spoke of fascinating folk tales.

KREMS
Lovely Krems is just outside the Wachau area. Here is where I ventured off for an afternoon jaunt with my spirited Irish cruise companion, Brigid. We built up a little sweat strolling up hilly Krems old town (alstadt) and got lost making the way down and around- happily lost though! Day turned dark quickly here. Sadly, my camera and phone were low in battery , so I couldn't snap, snap away. However, I stumbled upon joyful rotund lady and man statues in front of Karikaturmuseum. See photos pf museum and statutes here https://hiveminer.com/Tags/deix Photos by deix.

VIENNA
After the splendid journey through Wachau came grand Vienna, 81 km west. By far, this is the premier capital of Central Europe. My Viennese visit was too short . Blame it on the pit-stop nature of river cruising. However, I made the most out of the regal paradise with a city tour by Ama Waterways. The tour was marvelously escorted by a blond, quintessentially tall Austrian woman. She truly gave keen city insider tips , ones I can't wait to try next time in the city. The main city landmark I hit was St, Stephen's Cathedral in the center of Stephanplatz (the 2nd worship place of Steve hit on the Danube cruise) and Spanish Riding School, just a few pristine blocks away. It would have been the icing on the cake to see the acclaimed horse show at the school. However, I experienced the next best thing: an up-close tour of the stables to see the doe-eyed muscled equines. No petting of horseys was allowed- but I was content.

Also worth mentioning- I ate Sacher Torte! OMG- this decadent cake lives up to the hype! Do save room this Viennese dessert delight and enjoy it slowly. Let the roof of your mouth savor each moist chunk. Also quite enjoyable--- my latte and visit at the best McDonalds ever It was a 2-story locale featuring a magnificent McCafe of locally crafted pastries, strudel and all. Why is it that McDos does its restaurants substantially fancier outside of America ? 'Tis a mystery. Now, don't judge me wrong. I should have experienced one the signature, elegant cafe houses in Vienna, the Euro cafe capital outside of McCafe. Regrettably, there was just not enough time! That being said, I did enjoy a traditional apple strudel and remarkably fast and gracious service at the Riding School. Cafe interior was rather ordinary and cramped but otherwise, i was satisfied.

My Viennese experience was capped with a visit to Christmas market (Christkindlemarkt). Finally, after much bated breath anticipation , I experienced my first Euro Christmas market. It was staged near Spanish Riding School This was more of a shopping experience than stuffing my mouth occasion (after all, I had plenty of food on cruise. Ultimately, I settled on buying small, fragrant seabreeze and lavender balls at a booth.

Sadly my original digital Vienna pics were destroyed after my cell was crushed to demise. However, some live on on Instagram.
My Vienna pics on Insta
https://www.instagram.com/p/BrQFKYCnqIo/
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https://www.instagram.com/p/BrFsEUwHG9b/
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My Take Away: A giant slice of luscious Sacher Torte with a side of apricot liquer that Christine did not drink.

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Posted by Marinarena 22:40 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria wine unesco krems melk wine_tasting dürnstein wachau_valley wachau riesling melk_abbey Comments (1)

Like a Fantasy Layered Cake: Cesky Krumlov

Day 3 of the Danube Cruise

semi-overcast 14 °C

So glad that I "Czech-ed off " this must-see UNESCO destination list. Český Krumlov... hmmm...sounds like a dessert name or even like the name of a crook. Pesky Český Krumlov . Sounds like him...

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Well, evoking good thoughts... this is such a delightful village city in the Czech Republic , close to the German border and just over an hour away from Austria's Linz and the Danube. For the cruise, Český Krumlov was my check-mark choice for shore excursion off Amalea. Despite a very tempting alternative excursion to Salzburg, Austria, C.K. just intrigued me more. So, no sing-songy, cultural Sound of Music tour for me this time. "Sorry, Salzburg. Next time..."

The hills "were alive" with the sound of serenity in the environs of Český Krumlov. The road to get to this Bohemian town was quite winding. However, nerves were not too rattled while zig-zagging Vtlava river. View through the coach window were stunning! Next time in this neck of the woods, it would be fun to canoe, in the fairly calm waters.

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State Castle was the main draw here. Such eye candy- or, moreover, delectable, a multi-tiered colored cake served for a kid's birthday part. It was yellow, orange, green, some red and blue all over on its structures. What a scrumptious complex, erected on the rock promontory sculpted by the Vltava from the southern side and by Polečnice stream from the north. The best part to savor- the Gothic-Renaissance inspired Castle Tower, which resembles a Florentine landmark. Gotta love the ode to the Italian once again!

Now, the Český Krumlov's castle area is lovely and all- but it's tourist galore (or shall I say, tourist sore? Reminder to travel-loving self: Don't come back here in the summer. Add hot season swelter and this destination would become more of a pain. Though it was not Venice crowded, it was plenty packed in the midst of the afternoon during my autumn visit.

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Roaming away from the tower, the tour guide (a stern yet affable Czech lady) steered me and my excursion companions to the lesser beaten pathway of the town artist with a concentration of galleries. Quite noticeable in the artist corridor and throughout the main castle stretch are "oddball" installations many with the "limb" motif. Why the Czech artistic fetish with hands and feet ? Further investigation needed...

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My take away: A chunk of Český Krumlov's cake with all of its crumbs (or "krums" in this case)

Try a Czech honey cake , similar to the one I had at an underground C.K cafe.
http://www.czechcookbook.com/honey-cake-recipe-medovnik/

Posted by Marinarena 11:03 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged castles prague cesky_krumlov town castle czech czech_republic tourist_attraction Comments (0)

Pretty Pretty Passau

2nd & 3rd Day of Danube Cruise

semi-overcast 12 °C

After a sweet shore visit in Vilshofen , AmaLea headed smoothly 19 km SE to Passau, a very picturesque town with greater attraction points. The indulgent American in me can't help referring to Passau as the "Pittsburgh" of Germany. Two tributaries, the Ilz and Inn flow into the Danube here , thus creating a 3-river junction, similar to Monogahela-Allegheny-Ohio of Pitt-town. However it is own right, Passau impresses with its baroque style and yes, once again, blocks of bright multi-colored like buildings, like those adored in Prague and Regensburg.

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Best snapshots of the cruise were taken here in this Bavarian town of about 50,000 people. The autumn Tuesday was sun-kissed — perfect for an hour's walk. City tour highlights included a stroll in Hollgasse Artist Alley , recognizable by its cobblestone alley with bright, colorful painted blocks and whimsical art displays. Good thing there was not much time and Euros for me to shop in the boutiques! So much glee was had by merely snapping away through the alley ways.

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After the charm of trekking the riverside path, I arrived at one of the most lauded religious sites in all of Germany— St. Stephan's Cathedral.
It was at first a quick visit inside, as service was underway but later, I was able to capture its conspicuous baroque intricacy and elegance inside. The grand interior feature is the largest pipe organ in Europe, built in 1733.

Passau was my swan song to Germany, as I was sailing on into the Danubian waters of Austria. Back on AmaLea I went to get a good night's sleep. Next stop on the itinerary, Day 3: Linz. This city was literally electrifying at first as I woke up to the neon blue and fuschia light of the Arstecnica buildings. The morning Linz city tour was fine, not as charming as the previous altstadt stroll in Passau and Regensburg. Perhaps it was the heavy mention of Linz being Hitler's fave that took the enamor of the place. Plus, it did not help that the weather and city exterior was more gray and stark. However, I won't "poo-poo" Linz too much. That Ars center would be a thing to not just marvel for its neon lights but for a proper visit. More time needed here, even just for a bike ride along the Danube and cafe visit to devour a truly authentic Linzer torte!

Posted by Marinarena 16:36 Archived in Germany Tagged art danube austria germany german bavaria linz passau danube_river passau_germany passau_art Comments (0)

Hallo AmaLea & My First Oktoberfest

First Day on the Danube cruise

semi-overcast 13 °C

This longest day by far in 2018 was on the 11th of November. Prague— as entertaining as it was— all but pooped me out and after a stroll in wedges in Regensburg , I was ready to call it a night. BUT- oh no, this was the official EMBARKATION DAY. It was time to check in, un-load, sort out all the garb and what-nots in my roll-on and backpack in the stateroom closet, freshen up and get ready and festive for Oktoberfest in the town of Vilshofen !

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EMBARKATION... There she was waiting for me at just about sunset...the beautiful AmaLea. She had make her debut earlier in the year. What a vexing vessel — so sleek on the exterior and so comfy within! Her flair was subtle but elegantly artful with autumn leaf carpets and Gustav Klimt paintings adorning walls. Adorned in her interior Side note: 443 feet long and is 38 feet wide. Her sister is AmaKristina, a new charmer of the major European rivers who has been garnering much clamor along with Lea.

Check-in process was a breeze. Staff was prompt, super accommodating and smiley as one who expect for a top-notch luxury cruise liner. After a brief visit in my stateroom, off I went to the huge event tent set up for Oktoberfest. A local Vilshofen song and dance group all decked out in leiderhosen, bundhosen and all got all the cruisers who were not jet-lagged (and coach-lagged) in a jolly mood. Slowly but completely, I washed a whole stein of beer down and ate a stift brick in the form of a pretzel. I just can't call that thing a pretzel. Terrible- and no mustard to get it down., no warmness. That twisted brown thing could have sent me to the orthodontist office!

Otherwise, my short stay in Vilshofen was a delight. This town was colorful on its surface, just as Prague was but unlike the latter city, Vils was sleepy. No great noise or hoopla about this place— just peace and quiet along with quaint shops and an array of odd placed sculptures like the
"Book of Wisdom".

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My take away: BIER ! (German Beer) I await for the next Germany visit to experience a good Bavarian pretzel.

Posted by Marinarena 16:11 Archived in Germany Tagged danube germany cruise german cruise_ship oktoberfest klimt vilshofen danube_cruise amalea ama_waterways Comments (0)

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