Worrall Travel R's - Kicking the Bucket List

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Following our Dreams and Kicking the Bucket List.  Started on a yacht, now it's planes, trains, Trailblazer 5th wheel, camels, rickshaws.  Exploring our wonderful world.

Our Mantra:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

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SLIDE SHOW of Worrall Travel R's 2014 ODYSSEY

For our complete blog collection of adventure and travel photography CLICK HERE.

Now showing 2014 VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Monday, September 15, 2014

Days 94-96, Croatia and Serbia

September 13,14, 15, 2014

Today is Monday, September 15, our 94th travel day.  We slept last night with our curtains wide open.  It rained off and on last night, but the almost full moon shone through the clouds and illuminated the night.  Periodically, I woke during the night and watched the mountains of Romania slip by as we sailed east on the Danube,  Guests on the starboard side watched Serbia through their windows.  The Danube is the natural border through many of these countries.

In the grey rainy morning, we are headed out to the ancient archaeology site of Lepenski, Vir  in Serbia.  While we have never heard of this place, we are excited to see the dig and learn about this site.  One of our shipmates is an archaeologist and he is quite excited to see this dig.  Along with other sites, this one is being checked off his bucket list today.  

Fortunately, the site is completely covered with a large glass structure that protects it from wind, sun, and rain.  And today the skies open and the water came down in thunderous sheets while we were inside the dry dig.  The findings here are 8,000 years old, complete villages of people who lived here shortly after the last ice age.  It is thought that during the ice age, people lived in the surrounding caves, and made their homes near the rivers when the climate warmed.

Over the centuries, these early people built their homes, lived in their homes, died and were buried in their homes.  Then the next generation covered over the remains of the first families and built their homes on the foundational site of their ancestors.  When archaeologists discovered this site, the deeper they dug, the more layers of homes and skeletons they found layered one on top of the other for 3,000 years.

These first people were quite tall for this time period, one of the skeleton's measured 6 foot 6, but the average was closer to 5-10 to 6 feet.  The oldest skeletons belonged to 70 year olds, which was quite old considering in other places the life span of early people was only 35 years old.  And, of the 130 plus skulls that were found, all of them had their full set of teeth except for two that each had a tooth missing.  All of this leads anthropologists to think that this was a very healthy variety of humans, and there was no sign of violence such as broken skulls or bones on the remains.

It was a very interesting stop and also a little unnerving as the rain continued and by the time we left the site, the water was cascading down the cliff sides and flowing over the road beds.  Our guide today took the time on the way back to the boat to explain the Serbian perspective of the 1991-93 civil war between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia.  It was very interesting and answered some of the questions and perhaps some of the negative feelings many of us may have been harboring about the Serbians.  After Tito died, the generations of Serbians brought up under communism were in a state of confusian.  There was no plan for a successor and the Serbians were ignorant of the world living behind the Iron Curtain.  They were easily taken over by Slobodan Milosevek, who was a tyrant and criminal and had grand designs to make sure that the former Yugoslavia republic stayed together.  While some people claim that the war was political and not religious, others will tell you it was definitely religiously and that was the reason for the ethnic cleansing.  Bosnia which was primarily Muslim were hit the hardest for that reason.  There undoubtedly people more knowledgeable than we are,  still trying to figure out how this tragedy happened.

This afternoon we are going through the Iron Gates, an 84 mile long gorge along the Danube, where the river has carved a narrow passageway between the southern Carpathian Mountains and the foothills of the Balkan mountains.  We had all hoped to be on the sun deck enjoying a wide open view of the scenery, but I think most of us will be inside as it is still raining.  Too bad.  Oh well.  I am sure it will still be an experience...a wet one, as we hope to go outside for a bit anyway.

Let's back track a few days starting with Day 94, Saturday September 13.

We started Saturday with a bus trip through  Vukovar, Croatia's largest port city at the confluence  of the Danube and Vuka Rivers where we were  docked and made our way to Osijek.  There wasn't much to see in Vukovar other than some of the buildings that are still scarred by the 87 day siege of the Croatian Serbian War in 1991.

In Osijek, we visited the old town square and a monastery  and enjoyed some of the local hair-curling grog and an organ recital.  Afterwards we were hosted in small groups of 12 in local homes for lunch and chat about the Serbian War from the Croatian perspective...depressing and hard to understand.  The mother-daughter duo that we visited lost everything, their home, their furniture, clothing, etc.  Most of the people in their village  did also.  It is amazing to see how they have rebounded and made the best of a terrible situation.  Still there are many hard feelings because both Serbians and Croatians lived in this border village, and the Serbians had some pre-warning of the eminent attack and left the village leaving their Croat friends and neighbors unaware and not prepared.  So there is a deep sense of betrayal.

Hearing these stories was not pleasant, but the home visit was and the experience was certainly a highlight of our trip so far.  We enjoyed tomato soup with pasta, potatoes with spinach, meatballs, salad, and cake.  And our hosts Ava and Valerie were very hospitable and openly shared their home and experiences with us.  When the war was over, the Croatian government gave families who lost their homes 35 square meters of building materials for the head of the household and another 10 square meters for each additional family members.  Their homes are modest and many are still not finished and complete because the funding was really not adequate to complete their homes.  It may have been if they were employed, but unemployment is high, and families like Ava and Valerie, enhance their incomes with home hosting.  For some River cruiser folks, this experience was too much of an eye opener for them and they actually complained to the tour director about the depressing nature of the visit and the not so nice homes they were in.  Really?  Spoiled brats!

Sunday, September 14, 2014, Day 95 - Belgrade

Belgrade as you probably know is the Capitol of Serbia, and was the capitol city of the former Yugoslavia.  The bombing of the Serbian Army Headquarters by NATO to stop the bloodshed, stills stands in its bombed out state, a bitter reminder of the war.  Approximately 65 percent of the Serbs are in favor of joining the EU and only 12 percent are interested in becoming a part of NATO.

Much of Belgrade looks grey and tattered in post World-War II and communist state.  There seems to be little money from Serbians and their government to tackle rebuilds and updating.  Some buildings downtown look fine and quite "European" and others still look like left over communism.  Unemployment is about 23 percent and the average Serb makes about 4-500 Euros a month.  The old people under Tito remember fondly when everyone was employed and everyone was financially equal.  They have a hard time being motivated to embrace capitalism and then to self-improve their lot.  It will take time until the younger generation is native to the idea of capitalism and democracy.

We spent our afternoon at a great folklore music and dance performance of Serbia.  University students become word class folk lore performers who earn their tuition and world-wide traveling through their beautiful and energetic art of these students.  The Serbian dance looks like a combination of Turkish, Gypsy, Russian, and Israeli dancing.  It's amazing to watch the energy, fancy footwork, and gymnastics of these dancers.  Again, another highlight of the trip.

All is Well with the Worrall Travel R's Cruising on the Danube between Serbia and Romania

Friday, September 12, 2014

Days 91-93, Cruising the Danube in the Rain

Hungarian Paprika

September 10, Day 91 - Bratislava, Slovakia

We arrived in Bratislava about 3:30 by bus and immediately continued on with a city bus and walking tour exploring the old castle area high on the hill above the Danube, and the city square and streets on the flat areas by the river.   Our tour guide was knowledgeable, but seemed a bit too rigid about the time schedule we were on.  I guess she had to be to make sure we got embarked on the boat by 5:30.  We felt tethered.  This is the reason we don't care for organized tours.

There are some famous sculptures in several cities that we have enjoyed seeing, and there was one in Bratislava we were anxious to see.  Fortunately, this was on the route of our walking tour and once we found this out we relaxed a bit knowing we wouldn't miss it while tethered to the tour.  There was also a geocache in the same vicinity that we were able to find as well.  The statue is the Man Working.

We checked on the boat and reached our room and gleefully rejoined our luggage.  We are rarely parted...haha.  Our room is on the top deck with one wall being all glass looking out over the river.  Our bed faces the window.  If we wanted we could sit in our bed, look out the window, and it is like an HD big screen movie going by.  We are also the last room in the aft part of the ship right next to the lounge and sundeck where cappuccino and fresh cookies are available 24/7.  Heaven...oink.

After our safety drill and champaign reception, a four course meal awaited us. We've already met several nice couples.  Most of the cruisers are from the US and Canada.  Then it was time for bed on an extremely, comfortable memory foam mattress.  Heaven....Zzzzz.

Day 92, September 11 - Budapest, Hungary

As we were eating breakfast, the buildings of Budapest started coming into view.  Buda side of the river is the hilly side.  Pest is the opposite side of the river that is flat.  The rain was poring as we arrived.  With rain gear and umbrellas we set out to see the city, visit the palace on the Buda hill.  Once again while we had some free time on the mountain top, we were able to find a geocache.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take many pictures because of the rain.

We returned to the ship for lunch.  There were three/four optional tours after lunch, but we decided to opt out and stay in Budapest on our own.  The rain was lessening, and an afternoon walk-about looked promising.  Another couple from the USA, Maggie and Bob from Georgia, Appalachian Mountaiins joined us as we walked a couple of kilometers along the Danube to another famous sculpture, called Shoes along the Danube.  The rainy grey day lent an even more depressive air over the memorial of people killed in a militia action n 1945.  The empty, worn, torn shoes along the banks of the river, looked as if people had just stepped out of them and disappeared into the Danube.  There were flowers and candles in and by many of the shoes.

Our walk back to the boat was through the pedestrian shopping street, where vendors were finally setting up their stalls as the rain had stopped.  A Hungarian music band was playing, wurst and purple kraut were being cooked, and tourists were looking at the wares and local souveniers.  Of course, we had to buy some things for our grandaughter (s), and hope by next summer the girls can have a photo in matching little Hungarian dresses.  When we reached the big market building we also bought some Hungarian paprika to make gulash soup.

After walking several miles, we felt we had walked off enough of the calories from previous meals to enjoy a couple glasses of wine with dinner.  We sat with our friends Maggie and Bob, and expanded our circle with two couples from Canada, Daryl and Renata, and Vickie and Rick.
Before we retired, we walked along the sundeck of the ship and enjoyed the lights of Budapest.

Day 93 - Mohacs, Pec, and wine tasting in Hungary.

The Avalon Illumination left the dock after midnight while most of us were sleeping.  At least we were.  We slept in until 8:30...or I should say I did.  By the time I woke up, Russ was just returning from the fitness center.  We ate a late breakfast and docked in Mohacs at 10:00.  There isn't much going on in this sleepy little town, but it is a good place for the ship to stop to clear customs before we move into Croatian waters.  When we arrived in Croatia via plane and again by car, we didn't have to fill out any paperwork.  But apparently, by boat we do.  

Russ and I took a two hour walk through the little city and residential areas before returning to the boat for lunch and then to board busses that would take us to Pec, the eastern most city of the old Roman Empire.  The sun popped its head out while we were in Pec which is a mixture of Turkish, Roman and 18-19th century architecture.  This is a university town and the town square with schools, city hall, churches and commercial establishments were very picturesque. The oldest mosque in Europe is now a Catholic Church.  Our guide said Pec was also an example of the uglier side of capitalism and made sure to point out the McDonalds on the bottom floor of the picturesque city hall.

After our walking tour we headed out to the vineyards, a valley with heated mediterranean climate captured in a valley by a rock mountain.  We spent the afternoon tasting wines and eating olive oil saturated cheeses.  We are now heading back to the boat at 5;35 pm, seats are reclined, and it's time for a little pre-dinner nap.

All is  well with the Worrall Travel R's in Hungary.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vienna, Austria (Days 86-91)

We have been having a wonderful time in Vienna.  Who could not?  There is much to see and do.  
Here is a quick recap of our time here.

Friday, September 5, Day 86 - Our first night - Wiener Schnitzel 

We arrive by train around 3:30, walk a few blocks towing our luggage to our Airbnb lodgings.

Unlocking the Door to our Flat in Vienna
The owner of the flat has been delayed in Japan, but we have a key to a lovely two bedroom flat within a few blocks of the city center that we will now have all to ourselves for $55.00 a night.  We just need to make up the bed ourselves. Fresh linens for the fluffy pillows, feather beds, and soft mattress are ready for us.  Just down the street is the Gasthaus Seidel where we enjoy a great veal schnitzel with lemon and mixed salad.

Saturday, September 6, Day 87 -  Music in the Cellar

Russ and I take the tram to the city center and spend the day walking back to our digs through the center of Vienna.  Austria Lions is having a big Lions Day in front of the Rathaus (city/state hall).

 Of course we must check it out, and in so doing meet the student exchange coordinator who has actually visited his exchange student from Auburn, California.  Small world, big Lions family.  

It is a Saturday morning, and shops are open until noon.  In one of the large squares in front of the Imperial Palace, Oktoberfest is beginning.

Beer flows, brats are grilled,  and music fill the beer tent.  While we listen to the band, we indulge on what we thought was a pretzel.  Turns out it is like a big donut twisted like a pretzel with rock sugar (resembling rock salt) sprinkled on the outside. It is still a bit early for us to have beer, but it doesn't stop the other hundreds of people.  The band members all have steins by their feet, and between each piece they take a few swigs.  The music becomes louder and more boisterous.

Outside the harvest parade has concluded, and float participants are selling off the abundance of flora, fruits, vegetables, and grains that were used to decorate their floats.

After seeing the Museum of Armor,


and Ephesos collection

and National Library,

Reading in a Great Environment

we return to our flat for a rest, and return later in the evening to the Rathaus Cellar for a dinner and musical performance of Strauss, and scenes from Austrian operas.

The audience sings Edelweiss together and strands of the Blue Danube play through our heads as we walk home taking in the nightscape of Vienna.

Sunday,  September 7, Day 88 - Airs Above the Ground

I have waited 40 years to see the Lippizaner Stallions perform the airs above the ground at the beautiful arena of the Spanish Riding School in Palace grounds.  We booked a couple of months in advance to sit in end seats under the Emperors box and paid quite a sum to do so.  

Disappointment number 1:  No photos allowed during the show even without flash, but I did get a shot before the show.

Good News:  The arena, and the choreographed dance of the stallions was beautiful and I would like to have shared a bit of it with you, but sorry....no can do.  I can certainly understand why though as it takes tremendous concentration of horse and rider to precision- prance each step to the beat of a viennese music.

Disappointment number 2:    The airs above the ground,  ummmm, not so much.  The lead horse that performed directly in front of us wasn't in the mood apparently to perform, and while we saw a few smaller airs from some of the other horses, the big leaper was quite reluctant to fly.  I did take a photo though from the poster of what he was supposed to do and has done in the past.  Maybe, I'll see this on PBS sometime, but not today.

After the show, we visited the Imperial treasury collection which was very impressive.

This opal is the size of a large pear

Since it is Sunday, and all the stores and many restaurants are closed, we are happy that we still have some cup-of-soups left in our luggage, so we head back to the flat for an early night.

Monday, September 8, Day 89 - Sissi Museum and Imperial Apartments.

On this day, the two of us decide to get haircuts. We find a place close by the flat, and get ourselves ship-shape for the cruise.  After checking out of our flat, we transfer our bags and selves to the Intercontinental hotel which are  now a part of our cruise down the Danube to the Black Sea accommodations.  The rooms here run about $250 a night.  The inside of the hotel is quite nice, but architecturally it has to be one of the least attractive buildings in all of Vienna.  This hotel is scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt.  We  take a look at the poster rendition of the new building, and in our opinion, it still will be one of the uglier buildings in Vienna.  I know it must be difficult to compete with the beautiful and elaborate 18-19th century style, but really....does it have to look so plain, grey, and unattractive?  

We also do a little shopping for a few things we think we will need as fall is in the air, and some warmer, dressier clothes might be appropriate for our next leg of the trip.  In the afternoon, we join the 2:00 English Speaking tour of the Imperial apartments, the Sisi museum (history of Empress Elisabeth) http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Elisabeth_of_Austria , and the silver and tableware collection.  Stunningly beautiful and extravagant.

At 6:00 pm we meet up with our Avalon tour group for a champagne reception and presentation. Most of the participants are from North America, USA with the most, followed by Canadians, then UK, Australia, New Zealand, with a few from Singapore, and Brazil. The group is scheduled tomorrow to take a morning city tour, and an optional tour to Shonbrunn Palace.

Tuesday, September 9, Day 90 - City Tour, Shonbrunn Palace, and Mamma Mia!

We wanted to see the Schonbrunn Palace, but decided to do it on our own rather than with the tour group.  I think we are becoming increasingly anti-tour group.  Not only would this tour cost us about 90 Euros, it just isn't appealing to be scheduled and herded around. Mid-way through our city tour



with the group we saw some newly discovered Roman ruins in front of the National Library building,

 bugged out, saw St. Stephen's cathedral on our own
Looking Back as We Walk Away from the Palace

and headed out to the Palace on our own nearly two hours before the group was scheduled to even leave the hotel.

Schonbrunn Palace...Summer Cottage of Habsburg Dynasty

So for our round trip tram tickets of 2.50 E and 14.00 E for the Grand Tour, we enjoyed an unfettered walk through the Palace on our own with an audio guide and were leaving the Palace about the same time our tour group would be arriving.

We spent our afternoon relaxing, catching up, and then instead of a group concert tour, we got on the tram again to see a live performance of Mamma Mia in German.  We had reserved tickets, had a great Italian meal beforehand, and thoroughly enjoyed the musical.  By the end o the evening, everyone in the audience was singing, swaying, an clapping their hands.  I thought I would have enough ABBA in Sweden, but I guess I can never get enough ABBA.  The music and energy was ausgezeichnet!   

Wednesday, September 10, Day 91 - Leaving Vienna for Bratislava, Slovakia

This morning, once again, we bowed out of a tour to a monastery and wine tasting, and have opted for some quiet time in our room and later  a bicycle ride through the Stadtpark to the Danube and back.  We leave for Bratislava and ship boarding at 2:00 pm this afternoon.  Not sure how strong the WIFI will be on the boat, so this may be the last photo-laden blog for awhile.  Cheers!

All is Well with the Worrall Travel R's in Vienna, Austria