All posts by brucegk

Passau, Our First Stop in Germany

After revisiting Budapest and Vienna, the remaining stops on The Majestic Rivers are in Germany and are all new for us. Today we did a walking tour. Vantage has divide us into three walking groups: the regular walkers, the active walkers, and the gentle walkers. We have chosen the active walkers. It doesn’t mean we walk faster, but we cover more territory which must mean (since all groups take the same time) we spend less time in a location and get less information at each site.

Passau is noted for being at the confluence of three rivers: the Danube, Inn, and Ilz. This spot is looking up the Danube with the Ilz flowing in by the side of the two buildings on the right bank. The Inn joins the Danube immediately behind us. The Ilz is important for recreational purposes such as kayaking.
Looking up the Inn river toward a medieval tower and town.
Passau is known as the Venice of Germany in part because of its narrow lanes between buildings. This area has suffered severe flooding which has caused the walls to bulge. The arches are for structural support.
City Hall
The people were dressed for a wedding in front of the city hall.
Museum and fountain.
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, the mother church to the cathedral of the same name in Vienna.
Our tour included an organ concert. The cathedral is home to the second largest organ in the world according to Vantage. It is the largest organ outside of the US according to Wikipedia. There are five organs played from one keyboard. The main organ is in the center rear with a smaller organ on each side. As I understand it, there are more organ pipes on one side of the knave and more above the ceiling.
In the afternoon we visited a glass museum exhibiting more than 30,000 items. That seemed like a lot when we read about the museum. It seemed like even more when we walked through numerous rooms scattered over four floors. Following are a few more pictures from the museum.

The Danube, Castles, and Churches

Today was the only day of our cruise with no scheduled port stops. On an ocean cruise we would call that a “sea day”. I guess we should call this a “river day”. Our cruise today was on the Danube through the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its architectural and agricultural history. There are many vineyards on its hills. Following are pictures of some of the sites in the valley. As you can see, it was a gray day with occasional drizzle.

This is the sun deck of our ship, River Splendor. The cabin in the center is where the captain pilots the ship.
We go through a total of 66 locks on this trip. The boat always hugs one wall even though we are the only ship in the lock. He is able to do this without the ship hitting the wall.
Our room has a French balcony which means we have a sliding glass window with bars across it on the outside. This shows how close we are to the wall of the lock. The ship must be exactly parallel to the wall of the lock to avoid hitting it. The length of the ship is 443 ft., so that is no easy accomplishment!

Our Blue Danube Waltz

We spent two weeks in Vienna a few years ago so these two days on this river cruise were nostalgic for us. We even managed to see something new.

Our tour was to the Museum Quarter where we had a guided tour of the art museum. A statue of Maria Theresa dominates the gardens between the buildings.
The grand entry stairs to the museum.
St. Stephen’s Square in the heart of the city is dominated by the cathedral.
The highlight of our first day was a limoncello spritzer with apple strudel for Susan and sachertorte for me on the streets of Vienna near St. Stephen’s Square.
The morning of our second day began with a bus ride around the Ring Road, the heart of the city. This was followed by a guided tour of the Opera House. They perform a different opera every day and the sets are stored off site. They tear down the previous night’s set in the morning and build the new one in the afternoon. If something happens and they can’t get the set to the evening opera in time, the set for Tosca is stored on site and every musician has to know Tosca. You are always at risk that you may be seeing Tosca instead of the opera you thought you were seeing.
We then did a walking tour. This is a portion of The Winter Palace.
A typical walking/shopping street just like at home.
I liked the sign for this magic shop.
Our activities for the day ended with a chamber music performance featuring two dancers, a soprano, and a baritone. The show was performed in a classic venue just for our ship and they were all very good. Of course the show ended with the Blue Danube Waltz.

Majestic Rivers of Europe

We booked the Vantage Travel Majestic Rivers of Europe for mid August many months ago. Our flight to get there was from Wilmington, NC to Atlanta to Amsterdam, and to our destination to start the cruise, Budapest. For the last few months, the restrictions due to COVID have been greatly relaxed. That worry was replaced with near daily alarmist articles about the drought in Europe making river cruising dubious, flight cancellations throughout Europe and the US due to staffing shortages, and lost luggage – particularly in Amsterdam. We soldiered on despite these worries, but did decide to do a little cross packing in case only one of our suitcases made it to Budapest. No worries! Our first two flights arrived early, our flight from Amsterdam was only 15 minutes late due to a baggage handling staffing shortage, and both our suitcases made it to Budapest.

Our destination for the day we arrived was the Central Market Hall filled with produce, butcher shops, fish markets, and Hungarian crafts – especially lace. We bought some sweet paprika and some hot paprika.
The main entrance to the Central Market Hall.
Central Budapest is filled with buildings of architectural interest.
Detail of one of the buildings in the previous picture.
Many of the buildings are lit at night.
The second day we took a panoramic tour. Hungary celebrates Saint Stephen’s Day or Constitution Day in two days and preparation for the holiday was obvious all over town. Saint Stephen was the first king of Hungary and is credited with laying the foundation for the state by converting the Magyar people to Christianity. The day is marked by a large fireworks display along the Danube. Souvenir stands, as seen above, and stages were being set up all over the central area. The above reminded us of the large puppets in San Miguel. Above is two separate puppets with the head not visible on the white puppet. They were practicing their routine for the holiday.
Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill has commanding views.
The best views of Matthias Church were marred by stage construction, so this rear view will have to do.
The changing of the guard at Sandor Palace, the presidential home. Many of the buildings on capital hill were being rebuilt in their traditional style. There was construction everywhere.
Buda Castle, now an art museum.
The parliament building from the river during our sailing out of Budapest to Vienna.
One advantage of the low water level in the Danube is that it has created miles of beach. People were enjoying an escape from the near 100 F heat all along the river. Next stop Vienna.

Caves and Mansions

Today we took a tour of Crystal Cave with a ride through some of the wealthier areas of the island. All tours in Bermuda have been in a taxi van holding either four or six passengers. Our driver and guide today was Nolan, the same guide we had yesterday. While you would never guess it to look at him, he told us he is a great grandfather. The only problem was that we heard most of his stories yesterday. Like most of the people of Bermuda, he is very friendly. As one example of this friendliness, when we were looking lost in town, an air conditioner repair man stopped his van to help us find what we were looking for.

Our main destination for the day was the Crystal Cave. You walk through the cave on a floating walkway over ocean water covering the floor of the cave. The tides effect the height of the water and during king tides, the walkway can rise up to six feet. The water is crystal clear and is up to 60 feet deep.
The cave has a large number of soda straw stalactites. This type of stalactite is narrow and hollow like a straw. The water flows down through the center of the soda straw. They will turn into conventional stalactites if the inside becomes plugged or if water starts flowing down the outside of the straw.
The water in the cave is blue and reflects the stalactites.
There are eight golf courses in Bermuda: six 18 hole championship courses, one 9 hole course, and one 18 hole mini course. This is the highest concentration of golf courses in the world.
On the sail away Sunday afternoon I got a better view of the three masted Coast Guard vessel. Our guide said it visits Bermuda for a few days periodically. It was open for tours.
We saw a lot of nice houses with a lot of nice views sailing away from Bermuda. The blue one is on a private island with a private beach.
The Dockyard where the large ships dock. We arrive in New York City on Tuesday and fly home from there. This is the shortest vacation we have taken in a long time!

From St. George’s to Hamilton

On Friday, we went to Horseshoe Bay Beach near St George’s. On Saturday morning the ship relocated to Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda.

Our ship is relatively small with a capacity of 680 passengers. This means we can dock in the heart of the town, while the larger ships have to dock at The Dockyard at the far end of the island. I believe our ship is sailing near its capacity.
We spent Friday morning at Tobacco Bay Beach. You can wade in the water out to the rocks. The snorkeling is very good past the rocks. The water was a very comfortable temperature and was crystal clear. We saw a lot of fish, but none of them were colorful.
On the way back to the ship, we walked by the Unfinished Church. The gothic church was conceived in the late 1800’s as a replacement for St. Peter’s Church, which had been badly damaged by a hurricane. Due to funding problems, parish infighting and yet another damaging storm, construction was never completed. It is now a popular wedding venue.
We made the two hour sail to Hamilton early Saturday morning. The stand in the center of the intersection was once used by police to direct traffic. The three masted ship with the large American flag is a Coast Guard vessel.
The town hall also housed several museums of works by Bermuda artists.
The Cathedral.
Our tour today was a drive along the scenic South shore. There were many alcoves and each one had a beautiful beach.
Horseshoe Bay beach is one of the best known and most popular beaches in Bermuda. It is one of their famous pink sand beaches. It looked pinker in person than it does in the picture. When I was shown samples of the pink sand, it contained clearly pink particles mixed with not so pink particles.
Acloves that didn’t have beaches were often used as harbors.
The second lighthouse on the island.
The roads on Bermuda tend to be narrow, so these cute little cars are a popular answer.

There are a lot of beautiful ocean views in Bermuda. During the tour today, Susan announced that she would like to move here. She claims she wasn’t serious, but stay tuned.

The Island of White Roofs and Blue Waters

Our first port was Saint George’s Bermuda. It was the first permanent English settlement in the Western Hemisphere and the third settlement after Jamestown, Virginia and Cupids, Newfoundland. According to the historical signs here, Saint George’s was successful from the time of its founding and Jamestown struggled. It was only due to aid provided by Saint George’s that Jamestown ultimately became successful.

One of the first things you notice here is that the houses are a variety of pastel shades and the roofs are almost always white. The island of Bermuda has no public water system, so everyone relies on the rain for their source of water. The roofs are designed so that the rain water drains down through a downspout into a large underground tank under the house. The roofs are scrubbed every two years with bleach and given a fresh coat of whitewash. The whitewash contains lime which helps to purify the water. Water is pumped from this tank throughout the house. Water used in the kitchen is filtered. In times of drought, it is possible to get truckloads of water delivered to your tank, but it is very expensive.

Our first stop was Fort Saint Catherine, one of many old forts on the coast of Bermuda.
The fort looks out on beautiful blue water that reminds you of French Polynesia.
Rocks, blue water, and us.
Just the Rocks and Blue Water
The Oceania Insignia docked in St. George’s.
A typical downtown street in St George’s.
St. Peter’s Church
The town hall in the center of Kings Square, the heart of the town. They were having an election and the tents were for campaigning.
A colorful house with the typical white roof.
St. David’s Lighthouse
Susan had to put her toes in the sand.

Off to Bermuda

On July 4th, we left Wilmington on a flight to New York City to board the Oceania Insignia for a one week round trip cruise to Bermuda. Each of us had in our possession an airline boarding pass, a cruise ship boarding pass, a passport, a COVID vaccination certificate, a Bermuda travel authorization and a negative COVID test certificate taken not more than 48 hours before embarkation of the ship. With all the talk about airline cancellations and delays, our flight left right on time and arrived early. Since our ship embarkation was the afternoon of Tuesday, 05/Jul, we had to have our COVID test done on Sunday afternoon. We could not find a rapid test site in Wilmington, so we opted for a proctored home test. We bought the tests on line and they arrived the next day. We booked an appointment for our test at 4:04 PM. This company had at least two time slots spaced eight minutes apart, 24 hours a day. At the appointed time, we entered the waiting room via the app and were soon joined by our proctor. He never said where he was located, but he said it was four in the morning (which meant it had to be in Asia) and we could hear roosters crowing in the background. He watched us swab our noses and then put the four drops in the test device. He then left us and had us send him a picture of both devices in fifteen minutes. There was a QR code on each device, which I presume was tied to us. Five minutes after sending the picture, we had the PDF of the certificate we needed to board the ship. It was really relatively painless.

On July 4 we watched the Macy’s fireworks over the East River.
The sail away from New York featured many iconic sites. As you can see, it was cloudy and drizzling. After a sea day, we will spend two days in Saint George, Bermuda.

Return to Bald Head Island

Those of you with really good memories, may recall a post titled Old Baldy from September of last year. In that post we talked about our tour of Bald Head Island (BHI) with a group from Del Webb. If you want to review the history of the island, you can search for the “Old Baldy” post using the search icon in the upper right of the page. I ended the post saying that we enjoyed the island so much that we were already talking about our return. This week we made that dream come true.

We rented a VRBO on the island with two other couples from Del Webb, Maryann & Paul and Nancy & John. The home was beautiful and surrounded by dense, old growth forest. As part of our house rental, we were able to have a temporary membership in the Shoals Club during our stay. The weather was mostly sunny with temperatures in the low 70’s, but very windy. As a result our time at the beach and pool at the club was limited, but we did enjoy a wonderful dinner on our last night. There are no cars or trucks on the island (other than for construction), so we explored the island on the golf cart included with the rental.

Our house was called “Morning Light” and included a six passenger golf cart being charged in the rear of the driveway, a four passenger golf cart, and four bikes.
The living room and all three bedrooms had views of the surrounding forest.
Part of the living room, the kitchen, and the dining room table. The house accommodated us very comfortably and featured a lot of wood in its design and furnishings. Even the sink in the downstairs bath was wood.
The island is only accessible by ferry. This is the marina where the ferry arrives. It is surrounded by houses, several bed and breakfasts, and a few restaurants and businesses.
The island is marsh, forest, and beach. Much of the land is protected as a nature conservancy. Here we are on one of several nature trails. From left to right is Paul, Maryann, Nancy, Susan, and John.
The overwhelming majority of the houses on the island are custom designed and built. Like the one we rented, most were built to protect as much surrounding vegetation as possible. We particularly liked this one overlooking the ocean.
One of the two pools at the Shoals club. The water was heated and people were in the pool, but it wasn’t quite warm enough for me.
There was a wide, soft sand beach by the shoals club. The beach is off of Frying Pan Shoals which is part of the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the high number of shipwrecks there. The water is very shallow off the beach and you can walk a long distance into the ocean. However, the water was very rough due to a storm offshore, so we didn’t go in the ocean.
Sand, seabirds, and waves
Old Baldy lighthouse.
Confederate Jasmine is popular at the houses around the marina. It smells as good as it looks.
A nature overlook popular with birds.
We enjoyed our three days on BHI and look forward to returning. Thanks to Maryann for allowing me to use a number of her pictures.

Happy Cascaronazos Weekend

The period before lent is Carnival time in many Latin American countries. This is traditionally a time of exotic costumes, fancy parades, and heavy drinking leading up to the somber period of Lent. In San Miguel the weekend before lent is known as Cascaronazos and lasts from Saturday to midnight on Tuesday. So how do you celebrate? First, you head to the Jardin, the garden in the center of town.

There you pick up colorful eggs filled with even more colorful confetti from one of the vendors lining the street.
Then you find your victim and break an egg over their head. This is very popular with children as seen here in the gazebo in the center of the Jardin. It is also traditional to break an egg on the head of your loved one, but I didn’t see much of that. Adults and visitors are not safe, but I only saw parents who had been victims.
This girl was a victim. If you look at the ground you will see a lot of confetti and eggshells.
Another victim out for revenge.
There were a lot of workers in the Jardin with the impossible task of cleaning up the mess. I had gone to the Jardin for a quiet time of people watching, but it was too chaotic for me. Happy Cascaronazos to you!