Merry Christmas from Panama

Saturday our ship docked in the port of Colon, Panama on the Atlantic side of the country. We took a bus to Panama City for a walking tour of the old town. The Panama Canal is a real asset to the country turning it into a major banking and commerce center which has attracted many companies.Panama City has an impressive skyline with many modern skyscrapers. According to Wikipedia, the city presently boasts 127 high rise buildings with 110 more in the planning stage. It places 45th in the world by high rise count.

Our walking tour was in Casco Viejo, or the old quarter of the city. There were many beautifully restored buildings interspersed with many buildings in ruins. The ruins are occupied by squatters who resist leaving the their free accommodations. The city then has to go through a drawn out procedure to relocate these squatters so the buildings can be restored.This is one of the decaying buildings. The first floor is abandoned and a squatter is living on the top floor. It is easy to spot the buildings presently being refurbished. They have sheet metal projecting at an upward angle from the side of the building (as seen above) to protect the street below from any falling debris.Some ruins are attractive such as this old church adjacent to its smaller replacement.There were also many attractive buildings in the old quarter.

Transiting the Panama Canal is always a cruise highlight. Panama recently increased the capacity of the canal by constructing a new set of locks capable of handling large vessels parallel to the older set of locks. The capacity of a container ship is measured in TEU’s or twenty-foot equivalent units. This refers to the capacity of a standard container that is 20 feet long. A forty foot long container of the same width and height would be 2 TEU’s. A large container ship today has a capacity of 15,000 TEU’s or more and would pay a toll of over one million dollars to pass through the canal. Our gift of the canal to Panama has been very profitable for them!This is a new bridge under construction on the Atlantic side of the canal. The large support columns and associated roadway are finished with large gaps to be completed on either sideOur ship went through the old canal. This picture gives you an idea of how narrow the clearance was, and the Sun is relatively small at 930 passengers. I saw no indication of any ships in the new locks. I believe they only use the new locks for the mega ships since they use a lot more water. Since I wrote about the canal only a few years ago, I won’t repeat that here.

It is Christmas Day and we are headed for the Pacific side of Costa Rica tomorrow. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to everyone.

The Tortuguero Canals

On Friday we took a boat ride on the Tortuguero Canals near Puerto Limone on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The tour was primarily for wildlife sighting.The canals are the only way to access the National Park of the same way. We saw so much wildlife, that we never really got into the park.My favorite animal was this lizard known as the Jesus Christ lizard because it can walk on water.We also got quite close to this baby caiman, a relative to the alligator. This one was about two feet long, but they can grow to 15 feet.We were fortunate to see this three toed sloth.An iguana.

Costa Rica has no military and is officially neutral. They use the money they save on the military to provide education through high school. While they are about the size of West Virginia, they have more bird species than all of North America, more animal species than Africa, and more insect species than Europe.

Our next stop is Panama, Panama City, and a transit of the canal.

Yeh Mon

Wednesday we visited Jamaica. I went on a tour to a waterfall and garden, while Susan went on a Bob Marley tour. Yes, Susan does know how to have more fun. Her ride was in an old school bus with Bob Marley music playing the whole way as the bus wound up the mountains for one and a half hours to the Bob Marley Foundation where he lived and is now buried. Susan reports that everyone on her tour enjoyed being high in the mountains. Unfortunately, Susan forgot to take her phone on the tour, so we have no pictures to show. She doesn’t seem to remember too much else about the tour???

My tour was to Dunn River Falls and to a jungle botanical gardens. The falls was a series of cascades down the mountain to the ocean.One of the popular activities is to climb the falls from the ocean to the top. You can make the climb on you own or with a guide. In this picture there is a guide with a blue tee shirt at the front of the line. All the guides were barefoot while the tourists wore rubber water shoes.The Ocean was a pretty blue at the base of the falls, but I expect the South Pacific to be better.Above are some of the more interesting flowers from the botanical gardens.

Did we like Jamaica? Yeh Mon! Do we want to go back? Not really.

I do have one final thought on Cuba. I normally try to avoid political things, but on the way back to the ship from Havana; I kept wondering to myself why we don’t normalize our relations with Cuba. We have relations with other Communist countries that are probably much more of a threat than Cuba. Cuba has always been dependent on some other country. First it was the US during the brutal dictatorship of Batista. After the revolution led by Fidel, it was the Soviet Union until it ultimately collapsed. Most recently it was Venezuela until it deteriorated into chaos. It seems we are missing a golden opportunity to gain an ally and help a friendly people who are in need of help and in return gain a market for US goods. The ship had a lecture on the pros and cons of normalizing relations after we left Cuba with a vote of the audience afterward. The vote was overwhelmingly (I would guess 80 to 90%) to normalize relations. Again, it goes to show how person to person contacts can help bring people together. Any comments on this are welcome.

We are now headed to Costa Rica.

Successes and Failures

The 1959 revolution under Fidel Castro brought some successes and failures to the island of Cuba. Perhaps the most noticeable success is the literacy rate. At the time of the revolution literacy was somewhere around 70%. Fidel mobilized an army of thousands – some were teachers but all could read – to teach the illiterate. Students were required to write a letter to Fidel to prove they could write. Today, the literacy rate in Cuba is 99.7%. By contrast, the US literacy rate is only 86% as reported by the US census. Personally, I find this hard to believe and I wonder if there is some difference in the measurement of literacy.

Another area of success is in the development of a rich culture, particularly in music and dance. Cuba has also succeeded in the field of medicine where they rank second in the world in number of physicians per capita with more than 2.5 times the USA.

However, as one might expect in a country where most things are run by the government, there are a lot of regulations and red tape. Our guide told the story of how it took him three years to get a motorcycle he purchased from another individual registered in his name. All our tour guides and drivers worked for the government. They said that Cubans had to have two sources of income to survive. I will have to say that the Chinese manufactured buses we rode in were comfortable and clean. Education is free through graduate school as long as you continue to do well. The requirement to pay back your education is to serve two years in the military or to work your first three years in a government specified job and location. In this way, they can provide teachers and doctors in the less desirable parts of the country. The economy is clearly struggling with most buildings in some state of decay. Stores outside of Havana seemed few and far between.

But Havana is truly an attractive city. Dr Lori of the History Channel is one of the enrichment lecturers on this leg of the cruise. According to her, Havana has the most architectural diversity of any city in the world.She said the cathedral was the best example of Spanish Baroque architecture anywhere in the world. I found the exterior to be one of the most attractive churches I have seen. The stone is cut from blocks of coral in the Gulf of Mexico and marine fossils can be found in them.The Havana skyline. I thought the smoke was from a fire. Sadly, it is actually the smoke from one of their power plants!The Spanish built forts on both sides of the harbor to protect the city.There are many colorful buildings.There are also many colorful people.They use canon barrels inserted in holes in the ground to block vehicular access to streets. Here one has been removed and placed at the side of the road to permit access.A street band with singing and dancing.

We had lunch in a private restaurant and dinner in a government restaurant. While both were attractive, the food was dry and boring in both of them. We went to the famed Tropicana night club after dinner. It is a Las Vegas review type of show with elaborate, colorful costumes utilizing lots of feathers. Admission included a cigar for the men, a flower for the women, a welcome drink, a bottle of rum for every four people, a Cuban cola, and nuts. The show is outside with stages in the front and on both sides and dancers coming out into the audience as well. It seemed like a cast of thousands, but it was probably only 50. It was a lot of fun!

We stayed at a hotel overnight in Havana. The first thing I heard when I entered the room was a brief chirping sound. Of course, my first thought was that we were under attack and would never hear properly again. After a few minutes the chirping repeated for a few seconds. I am now thinking the smoke alarm battery is dying and I need to call maintenance. I was fully committed to finding the source of the chirping which finally turned out to be a bird outside the room. I was greatly relieved!

We found Havana to be an appealing city with very attractive buildings and green spaces. Under the right circumstances, I would like to go back for a week or two.

It’s Complicated

Both of our guides in Cuba have said that the answer to any difficult question is “It’s complicated”. Why is there so little toilet paper in the stores? – It’s complicated. Why are there so few cars on the road? – It’s complicated. The first thing we noticed on setting out on our tour to Trinidad, Cuba was how few cars were on the road. In the few villages we saw, there were typically less than five cars parked and no cars moving in a street block. Even driving to Havana on six and eight lane highways the next day, there were often no other cars visible. There were certainly more cars in Havana, but you also certainly didn’t have to worry about traffic jams.

So why are there so few cars on the road? Only the government can import cars. You can readily tell a government owned car by the license plate. A government car will have the word “Cuba” on a blue background while it will be on a white background on the plate of a private car. Any newer car you saw on the road, invariably had the blue color. A private citizen must either buy a car from the government or from another private individual. Car dealers as we know them do not exist. The government has shops which sell cars at prices the overwhelming majority of citizens cannot afford – think somewhere over $100,000! This has led to an abundance of 1950’s era cars in the hands of the private citizens. They are kept running with spare parts from China and Russia and most have been converted to Diesel engines.Most of the old cars are brightly painted and well polished.This Thunderbird had an engine with Thunderbird cast on it, so I am guessing it is an original engine or else China copied that in their replacement engine.

This is a fleet of convertibles arriving to take our group to Havana’s famed Tropicana night club.We went in style in a 1958 Dodge with flashing lights around the windshield and hip hop music blaring from the radio. I felt like a celebrity that should be waving to the people on the street.

Without cars how do people get around? It’s complicated. At intersections in the country, there are always people attempting to hitchhike. I watched these two for over five minutes as they tried to entice the four cars that were heading their way to pick them up. Hitchhikers usually hold some money in their hands to improve their chances. At popular intersections, there is a government employee dressed in yellow to match hitchhikers up with passing government cars, which are required to take hitchhikers. There is a detailed form government cars must carry to show that they are not shirking their responsibility.

There are also public busses that are affordable for most, but they run infrequently and don’t seem very popular. Many people drove horse drawn wagons and some people rode horses in the country. Motorbikes were also uncommon and are very expensive. Bicycles don’t seem very popular. There were fewer trucks on the highways than horse drawn carriages. We saw five gas stations in our eight hours of driving. It is a mystery to me how you get around if you live outside of a city.The city of Trinidad is a UNESCO Heritage site because of its colorful architecture.

The next blog will cover Havana. We are back on the ship and headed for Jamaica.

Home Sweet Home

We flew from Myrtle Beach to Miami with no significant problems and met three other couples on our cruise at the hotel. We all went for dinner at a large and very popular Cuban restaurant near the hotel. Friday morning we took a shuttle from the hotel to the ship and began the process of unpacking our 2 large, 2 medium, and 2 small suitcases. After several hours we had managed to find a place for everything.

My first blog when we reach a new destination is often a guided tour of the apartment or house we will be living in, so here is a brief tour of our cabin.The cabin has a very comfortable king size bed, two easy chairs, and a desk/make up table. The decor is very simple and Scandinavian. We have a small veranda with a table and two chairs.The bathroom is also very modern. It even has a heated floor.Our first cruise day was a day at sea as we headed for Cuba. We spent the day learning to improve our bridge play and learning some of the history of Cuba, where we will spend the next two nights.

We Are Off to See the World (Literally)

On Thursday, 14/Dec, we turn down the heat, shut off the water, and drain the pipes before heading to the Myrtle Beach Airport to fly to Miami where the next day we will board the Viking Sun, our home for the following 141 Days.  During that period we will visit five continents, 35 countries, and 64 ports with over sixty days at sea.  For those of you doing the math, there are a number of ports where we spend more than one day.

Can a couple survive together in a 270 square foot cabin (including the veranda) for 141 days?  We are confident that we can.  We look at the entire ship as our home and the cabin as our bedroom.  We don’t plan to spend much of any day in our cabin.  Most of our time on ship will be in the numerous public areas including the pool, the gym, the walking track, the lounges, and the restaurants.  I am sure I will spend more waking hours in the restaurants than in the cabin!

Susan has been fantasizing about what it will be like to go nearly five months with no grocery shopping and no cooking.  While we have traveled for four months previously, much of that was staying in apartments where we prepared all breakfasts and some other meals at home.  Will she still know how to cook when we get home?  Will I still throw my towel on the shower floor and be shocked when it is still there the next day?  Only time will tell, but we are eager to adapt to being waited on and entertained 24/7 for almost five months!

Viking includes a guided tour in every port.  At the end of this blog is a map of our cruise from Miami to London and a day by day list of where we will be and what we will be doing in the ports.  When you look at the list of sights we are visiting, you may notice that we have not listed the primary sights in some areas.  If we have been to a port previously, we have usually opted to see something new rather than visit something we have already seen.

As always, thank you for following our travels.  We look forward to hearing your comments.  If you have any questions or topics you would like us to address, please don’t hesitate to send us a comment.  While I don’t respond to every comment, I do try to answer every question.  We will have wifi on the ship and I hope it is fast enough to send out the blog.  Much more to come!

DAY DATE PORT
Day 1 Dec 15, 2017 Miami, FL, USA
Day 2 Dec 16, 2017 Cruise the Caribbean Sea
Day 3 Dec 17, 2017 Cienfuegos, Cuba
Secrets of Trinidad Tour
Day 4 Dec 18, 2017 Cienfuegos, Cuba
Havana Overnight Tour
Day 5 Dec 19, 2017 Cienfuegos, Cuba
Bay of Pigs Tour
Day 6 Dec 20, 2017 Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Dunn’s River Falls & Coyaba Gardens, Bruce    Bob Marley Zion Bus, Susan
Day 7 Dec 21, 2017 Cruise the Caribbean Sea
Day 8 Dec 22, 2017 San José (Puerto Limón), Costa Rica
Visit Tortuguero Canals
Day 9 Dec 23, 2017 Colón, Panama
Panoramic Colon & Panama City
Day 10 Dec 24, 2017 Scenic Cruising: Panama Canal
Day 11 Dec 25, 2017 Cruise the Pacific Ocean
Day 12 Dec 26, 2017 Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Costa Rica
Panoramic Scenic Drive
Day 13 Dec 27, 2017 Corinto, Nicaragua
Colonial Leon
Day 14 Dec 28, 2017 Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
Colonial Antigua City Tour, a UNESCO Site
Days 15-17 Dec 29-31, 2017 Cruise the Pacific Ocean
Day 18 Jan 1, 2018 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
San José del Cabo Panoramic Tour, Snorkeling
Days 19-20 Jan 2-3, 2018 Cruise the Pacific Ocean
Day 21 Jan 4, 2018 Los Angeles, CA, USA
Getty Villa, Huntington Library
Day 22 Jan 5, 2018 Los Angeles, CA, USA,  Panoramic Tour of Hollywood, Sunset Blvd., and Santa Monica
Days 23-29 Jan 6-12, 2018 Cruise the Pacific Ocean
Day 30 Jan 13, 2018 Marquesas Islands (Taiohae), French Polynesia
Independent Exploration
Day 31 Jan 14, 2018 Cruise the South Pacific
Day 32 Jan 15, 2018 Tahiti (Papeete), French Polynesia
Walking Tour of Papeete
Day 33 Jan 16, 2018 Tahiti (Papeete), French Polynesia
Day 34 Jan 17, 2018 Bora Bora (Vaitape), French Polynesia
Island Tour by “Le Truck”,  Moto Lagoon Cruise and Beach Break
Day 35 Jan 18, 2018 Cruise the South Pacific
Day 36 Jan 19, 2018 Rarotonga (Avatiu), Cook Islands
Cultural Village Tour
Day 37 Jan 20, 2018 Cruise the South Pacific
Day 38 Jan 22, 2018 Cross the International Date Line
Day 39 Jan 23, 2018 Tongatapu (Nuku’alofa), Tonga
Walking Tour,  Pangaimotu Island Snorkeling and Beach
Day 40 Jan 24, 2018 Cruise the South Pacific
Day 41 Jan 25, 2018 Suva, Fiji
City Tour, Thurston Gardens & Museum Visit
Days 42-43 Jan 26-27, 2018 Cruise the South Pacific
Day 44 Jan 28, 2018 Bay of Islands (Russell), New Zealand
Glowworm Cave, Bruce;  Bay of Islands & Kauri Forest, Susan
Day 45 Jan 29, 2018 Auckland, New Zealand
Ferry to Waiheke, hike and/or Hop On Hop Off Bus
Day 46 Jan 30, 2018 Auckland, New Zealand,  City Tour
Day 47 Jan 31, 2018 Rotorua (Tauranga), New Zealand
Tauranga Walking Tour
Day 48 Feb 1, 2018 Napier, New Zealand
Art Deco Tour
Day 49 Feb 2, 2018 Wellington, New Zealand
City Tour, Weta Cave Studio Tour
Day 50 Feb 3, 2018 Christchurch (Lyttelton), New Zealand
City Tour with a visit to Botanical Gardens
Day 51 Feb 4, 2018 Dunedin (Port Chalmers), New Zealand
Otago Peninsula Scenic Drive
Day 52-54 Feb 5-7, 2018 Cruise the Tasman Sea
Day 55 Feb 8, 2018 Melbourne, Australia
City Tour & Captain Cook’s Cottage Visit
Day 56 Feb 9, 2018 Cruise the Tasman Sea
Day 57 Feb 10, 2018 Sydney, Australia
City Tour & Walking Tour of The Rocks, Climb Harbor Bridge
Day 58 Feb 11, 2018 Sydney, Australia;  Cockatoo Island Tour of Former Penal Colony, UNESCO Site
Day 59 Feb 12, 2018 Cruise the Tasman Sea
Day 60 Feb 13, 2018 Brisbane, Australia
Art & Design Walking Tour
Day 61 Feb 14, 2018 Cruise the Coral Sea
Day 62 Feb 15, 2018 Whitsunday Islands (Cid Harbor), Australia
Beach Excursion
Day 63 Feb 16, 2018 Cairns, Australia
Skyrail and Kuranda Train
Day 64 Feb 17, 2018 Scenic Cruising: Great Barrier Reef
Day 65 Feb 18, 2018 Thursday Island, Australia
Independent Exploration
Days 66-67 Feb 19-20, 2018 Cruise the Arafura Sea
Day 68 Feb 21, 2018 Darwin, Australia
City Tour
Day 69 Feb 22, 2018 Cruise the Timor Sea
Day 70 Feb 23, 2018 Komodo, Indonesia
Komodo National Park Visit
Day 71 Feb 24, 2018 Bali, Indonesia
Denpasar Tour with a Market and Temple Visit
Day 72 Feb 25, 2018 Cruise the Java Sea
Day 73 Feb 26, 2018 Java (Semarang), Indonesia
Borobudur Temple Tour
Day 74 Feb 27, 2018 Cruise the Java Sea
Day 75 Feb 28, 2018 Cruise the South China Sea
Day 76 Mar 1, 2018 Bandar Seri Begawan (Muara), Brunei
Water Village Market Walk
Day 77 Mar 2, 2018 Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Visit Mari Mari Cultural Village
Day 78 Mar 3, 2018 Cruise the South China Sea
Day 79 Mar 4, 2018 Manila, Philippines
City Tour, Fort Santiago & San Agustin Church, a UNESCO Site
Day 80 Mar 5, 2018 Manila, Philippines, Pagsanjan Falls Tour
Day 81 Mar 6, 2018 Cruise the South China Sea
Day 82 Mar 7, 2018 Cruise the East China Sea
Day 83 Mar 8, 2018 Shanghai, China
City Tour & Shanghai Museum Visit, Acrobatic Show
Day 84 Mar 9, 2018 Shanghai, China, The Garden City of Suzhou, Bruce; Jewish Heritage, Susan
Day 85 Mar 10, 2018 Cruise the East China Sea
Day 86 Mar 11, 2018 Cruise the South China Sea
Day 87 Mar 12, 2018 Hong Kong, China
City Tour including Victoria Peak & Aberdeen
Day 88 Mar 13, 2018 Hong Kong, China; Bamboo Monestery Tour
Day 89 Mar 14, 2018 Haikou, China
Panoramic City Tour; Cultural Hainan including Five Officials’ Temple and a History Museum
Day 90 Mar 15, 2018 Scenic Cruising: Ha Long Bay
Day 91 Mar 16, 2018 Cruise the South China Sea
Day 92 Mar 17, 2018 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
City Tour & National History Museum
Day 93 Mar 18, 2018 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Monuments of Vung Tau Tour
Day 94 Mar 19, 2018 Cruise the Gulf of Thailand
Day 95 Mar 20, 2018 Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Panoramic City Tour with visit to Wat Krom Temple; Ream National Park Tour
Day 96 Mar 21, 2018 Bangkok (Laem Chabang), Thailand
City Tour with Grand Palace Visit
Day 97 Mar 22, 2018 Bangkok (Laem Chabang), Thailand;  Pattaya & The Sanctuary of Truth
Day 98 Mar 23, 2018 Koh Samui (Nathon), Thailand
Beach Excursion
Day 99 Mar 24, 2018 Cruise the Gulf of Thailand
Day 100 Mar 25, 2018 Singapore, Singapore
City Tour & National Orchid Garden Visit; Peranakan Culture Tour
Day 101 Mar 26, 2018 Singapore, Singapore;  Gardens by the Bay and Sands Sky Observation Deck
Day 102 Mar 27, 2018 Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang), Malaysia
City Tour with Petronas Towers Photo Stop
Day 103 Mar 28, 2018 George Town, Malaysia
City & Colonial Architecture Tour, a UNESCO Site
Day 104 Mar 29, 2018 Phuket (Patong Beach), Thailand
Panoramic Tour
Days 105-106 Mar 30-31, 2018 Cruise the Bay of Bengal
Day 107 Apr 1, 2018 Chennai, India
City Tour & Fort St. George Visit;  Mylapore Heritage Walk
Day 108-109 Apr 2-3, 2018 Cruise the Laccadive Sea
Day 110 Apr 4, 2018 Cochin, India
City Tour & Mattancherry Palace Visit
Day 111 Apr 5, 2018 Cruise the Arabian Sea
Day 112 Apr 6, 2018 Goa (Mormugao), India
City Tour; visit Sé Cathedral and Basilica of Bom Jesus
Day 113 Apr 7, 2018 Mumbai, India
City Tour; Gandhi Museum Visit;  Elephanta Caves Tour
Day 114-115 Apr 8-9, 2018 Cruise the Arabian Sea
Day 116 Apr 10, 2018 Muscat, Oman
City Tour including Grand Mosque & Old Town
Day 117-122 Apr 11-16, 2018 Cruise the Red Sea
Day 123 Apr 17, 2018 Aqaba, Jordan
City Tour with Mamluk Fort Visit; Wadi Rum Tour
Day 124 Apr 18, 2018 Luxor (Safaga), Egypt
Luxor & Karnak Temple Complex
Day 125 Apr 19, 2018 Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Red Sea Snorkeling
Day 126 Apr 20, 2018 Cruise the Suez Canal
Day 127 Apr 21, 2018 Alexandria, Egypt
City Tour with Ancient Library & Roman Amphitheater
Days 128-129 Apr 22-23, 2018 Cruise the Mediterranean Sea
Day 130 Apr 24, 2018 Valletta, Malta
Historic City Tour, a UNESCO Site; Palazzo Parisio & Prosecco
Day 131 Apr 25, 2018 Tunis (La Goulette), Tunisia
City Tour with a visit to the Souk; Ancient Carthage & Moorish Village
Day 132 Apr 26, 2018 Sardinia (Cagliari), Italy
Walking Tour of the Old Town
Day 133 Apr 27, 2018 Algiers, Algeria
City Tour with Basilica of Notre Dame d’Afrique Visit; Treasures of Algiers Tour
Day 134 Apr 28, 2018 Murcia (Cartagena), Spain
City Tour & Cathedral of Santa Maria
Day 135 Apr 29, 2018 Granada (Málaga), Spain
Málaga City Tour with Picasso Museum Visit; Mountainside Village of Mijas Tour
Day 136 Apr 30, 2018 Cruise the Atlantic Ocean
Day 137 May 1, 2018 Porto (Leixões), Portugal
City Tour & Port Wine Tasting
Day 138-139 May 2-3, 2018 Cruise the Atlantic Ocean
Day 140 May 4, 2018 London (Greenwich), England
Panoramic City Tour, The Tower of London Tour
Day 141 May 5, 2018 London (Greenwich), England

Vienna Wrap Up

One of the highlights of any visit to Vienna is Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs.  The Baroque exterior of the palace dates to the late 1600’s, but the interior was redecorated in the mid 1700’s by Maria Theresa in Rococo style.The palace is huge with 1441 rooms of which tourists get to see 40.  The palace is said to be the only one in Europe that can rival Versailles.  It may rival it, but in my view it does not top it.  Pictures were not allowed inside.The main gardens at the rear of the palace.The gardens, Neptune fountain, and the Glorietta on top of the hill.The palmhouse or green house was surrounded with topiary.

Vienna is a center of classical music and dance in Europe.  Each year Vienna hosts a month long dance festival.  Most of the dances seem to be pretty far out.  We went to see a South African version of the ballet Giselle.  The theater was nice but nothing extraordinary.  The storyline is similar to the classic ballet, but the music was very modern and I’m sure the dancing was quite different.  Having said that, the production was very professional and the dancers were very talented.  I think I enjoyed it more than Susan who would prefer a more traditional version.

Deserts are very popular in Vienna.  It is the home of the sachertorte, two layers of chocolate cake with apricot jam in between and covered with chocolate icing.  I tried it twice.  The first time I was disappointed as the cake was dry.  The second time I added ice cream and the cake was moister.  Yumm!  Apple strudel is very popular as well.  I had mine with vanilla sauce and thought it was excellent.  But the thing you can’t help but notice is the large number of ice cream shops.  There are three in two blocks near our apartment.  Take out cones and cups are popular, but most have a sit down area where you can get a wide assortment of sundays.  These places are packed in the afternoons and evenings.  I don’t know how well they do in the winter, but they look like gold mines in the summer.

Vienna has one of the premiere opera houses in the world.  It is closed for shows in July and August, but they perform one show a day the remainder of the year or 300 shows per year.Since microphones are not allowed, the singers have to rest their voices for three days after each show.  This means that a different show is performed every day.  They have a repertoire of over fifty operas and do eight premieres in a typical year.  The sets have to be stored off site, so every morning a fleet of trucks arrives to deliver the sets for today’s show.  If that wasn’t difficult enough, there is usually a rehearsal for one opera in the morning with its set and then they have to change sets for the opera being performed that evening.The opera was built by Emperor Franz Joseph so the exterior and front of the building are quite elaborate.  However, the hall was destroyed by a bomb in WW II and was rebuilt in a more modern and simple style.  It holds 2300 people including over 500 standing room spots.  The occupancy rate last year was over 99%!  Standing room tickets cost between 3€ and 4€.  The most expensive seat is 270€.The stage is the largest stage in Europe.  And do you have any idea of what the longest ovation would be.  It was 1 hour and 20 minutes for Placido Domingo.  I am pretty sure I am not capable of applauding anything that long.

Looking back on our six weeks in Europe, we both agree that our favorite part was the Viking cruise.  Great food, being waited on hand and foot, and lots of interesting sites – what’s not to like.  Our second favorite would be our time in Provence mostly because of the beauty of the region.  In third place is Vienna.  It is a beautiful city with lots to do, but the heat detracted from the experience.  That leaves the Canal du Midi in last place, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t like it.  The heat again was a problem and the lack of comfort on the boat after being on Viking was quite noticeable.  It was still a great experience.

So what is next?  Many of you know, but it will be a surprise to others.  It is a really good thing that we liked our Viking cruise, as we are leaving in mid December for almost five months on a Viking world cruise from Miami to London.  The 141 day cruise will visit 5 continents, 35 countries, and 64 ports including 3 nights in Cuba and two nights in a number of ports.  There will also be a lot of sea days.  This will be the first world cruise for Viking and they seen to be trying hard to make it successful.  I would ask you to join us, but it has been sold out for several months now.

As always, thank you for joining us on our travels and a special big thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment.  We hope you will join us for what should be the adventure of a lifetime on our world cruise.

Vienna Central Cemetery 

Vienna Central Cemetery is the main cemetery in Vienna; and at 620 acres with 330,000 grave sites, it is the second largest cemetery in Europe.  With over 3,000,000 people buried there, the number of people buried there well exceeds the living population of Vienna today.  The decision to build the cemetery came in 1863 when city leaders thought the Austrian Hungarian empire would grow forever and the present cemetery system would be insufficient.  Consequently, they chose a huge area of flat land well outside the city center to build a cemetery that would take a long time to fill.  

The cemetery opened on All Saints Day in 1874 to some controversy.  It was an interdenominational cemetery with a Jewish section causing much criticism from the Catholic Church.  For most of its history it has had a Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, and Russian Orthodox section as well as the Catholic section.  It was so far out of town in the beginning that people did not want to go there.  This led to the creation of Ehrengräber or honorary graves to make the cemetery something of a tourist attraction.  Consequently, most of the famous Austrian composers, scientists, writers, etc. as well as all the Austrian presidents are buried here.

The cemetery is served by tram line 71 from the city center.  It is about a 30 minute ride from the city center.  This has led to the expression “he took the 71” to mean that the person died.Susan is at the grave site of her favorite composer, Beethoven.  He seemed to be everyone’s favorite as many of the flowers are in freestanding pots or are cut flowers that were left there.A memorial to Mozart is in the center (He is buried in a nearby cemetery), Beethoven is buried on the left and Franz Schubert is buried on the right.  Brahms and Strauss are buried nearby.lui

We met a math PhD student from the University of Maryland who wanted his picture taken in front of the grave of Ludwig Boltzmann.  We asked him why Boltzmann was famous.  He explained that Boltzmann developed statistical mechanics which explains and predicts the properties of atoms.  His formula for entropy is at the top of the memorial.  I’m pretty sure that no one else really cares about that, but it is interesting how you learn things.

The more elaborate graves tended to be next to the main road.  This one was particularly touching.There is a large church in the area of the cemetery we visited.  Up to 25 Burials a day take place in this cemetery.  There seemed to be several just in the small area we were visiting today.  After paying our respects to Beethoven and Boltzmann, I am happy to report we took the 71 safely back to the city center where we had some more street food before looking at Hapsburg bling at the Treasury.A coronation robe.  Because they ruled many different empires, they would have a ceremony in each empire and have a different coronation robe for each one.The crown of the Holy Roman Emperor made of gold, pearls, and precious stones.  It was probably made for Otto I (c. 960).  And we think things are old in Charleston!A baptismal plate and urn.An alter cover.  The detail below shows what it is possible to achieve with needle and thread.  This was made in about 1450.Notice the detail achieved on the faces and clothing.  We have two more days of exploring Vienna before heading home on Sunday.

Melk

Tuesday we took a Viator day trip to the Benedictine abbey of Melk.  We took a bus from Vienna to the Danube River valley where we transferred to a boat for the 1.5 hour cruise to Melk.  We then toured the abbey before returning to Vienna by bus.The river cruise had castle ruins on the hills,castles by the river,villages with vineyards in the background,and villages without any vineyards around.  In short, it was a beautiful trip!

The Melk Abbey was founded in 1089 when a member of Austrian nobility gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks.  They turned it into a monastic school which became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection.  The present Baroque abbey was built between  1702 and 1736.  It has a famous library of about 100,000 books and a school with 900 students.  There are only 30 monks residing in the abbey and only two of them teach at the school.The abbey gardens.  The building is used for musical concerts.This is the back of the abbey.The main courtyard of the abbey.

Unfortunately, the front of the building was undergoing maintenance, but you get the idea of how it looks.The abbey sits on a hill above the town of Melk.Pictures were not allowed inside the abbey, so I downloaded the following pictures courtesy of Google.

The main alter of the church.

One of about ten rooms that make up the library, which is still used by researchers.  By the way, the blue Danube is in no way blue and according to our guide, it never was.

The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce