French River Cruise 2014!

Follow Luelle and I on an exiting Old World River Cruise through France!

Actually this blog will cover two cruises on French Rivers.   First we did the Bordeaux Cruise on the River Royale.   That meant flying non-stop from our Dulles airport to Paris and then to Bordeaux.    An alternative would have been flying to Paris and then getting the train down to Bordeaux.

After the Bordeaux cruise, we flew to Marseilles for the Burgundy and Provence cruise.   Once again, the train would have been an option.  Uniworld cruises always include transfers to and from the airport.  It’s nice to get off the plane and be met by a smiling Uniworld  person who directs you straight to the bus and straight to the ship.   Same thing when you leave.   They deliver you straight to the Airport, handling the bags both ways.   It’s nice to not have to think about catching the right train or tram or taxi.    But usually you will want to do something either before or after your cruise.    Many folks on this trip are doing a few nights in Paris before or after their cruise.    Then you have a lot of options,  plane, train, or rental car.    If you’re interested, Luelle knows the connections and has some opinions about the best way to avoid jet lag and arrive rested.

To view pictures of our Bordeaux Cruise click here.

To view pictures of our Burgundy and Provence Cruise click here.


This map shows these two cruise locations in France.


The Bordeaux cruise goes up two rivers which join in the estuary, the Dordogne and the Garonne.    The Burgundy and Provence cruise goes up the Rhone River from Marseille to Lyon.

Here’s the River Royale docked in Bordeaux.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 7.58.39 AM


Here’s the Catherine at her inaugural cruise just 5 weeks ago.
Then we boarded Uniworld’s fantastic new Super Ship the S.S. Catherine through Burgundy and Provence!

Then we boarded Uniworld’s fantastic new Super Ship the S.S. Catherine through Burgundy and Provence!

Our final voyage is be aboard the S.S. Catherine was christened during an elegant ceremony on March 27, 2014.

Ship Facts

Inauguration: 2014
Length: 443 ft
Width: 37.5 ft
Voltage: 110/220 volts
Guests: 159
Staff: 57
Royal Suite: 1 (410 sq ft)
Suites: 5 (305 sq ft)
Categories 1 – 3 Staterooms: 61 (194 sq ft)
Categories 4 – 5 Staterooms: 13 (162 sq ft) Camargue Deck:
• All Suites and Category 1 staterooms and have full open-air balconies that with the touch of a button raises the glass to create a completely enclosed conservatory.
• Suites and the Royale Suite also offer the option for triple accommodations.
• Category 2 staterooms on this deck have French balconies.

Avignon Deck:
Staterooms have French balconies.

Check back here for more about our exciting French River Cruise Adventure!

To view our previous travel blogs select from recent posts listed at the bottom of the right sidebar of our home page.


Paddle Wheel Cruising Middle America

There are about a dozen different itineraries on paddle boats on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and other rivers.   Although we had enjoyed a trip on the Columbia and Snake Rivers a few years ago (see blog posts),  this is our first paddle wheel steamboat trip. IMG_1250 We started in Chattanooga Tennessee and will end in St Louis, Missouri.     We will have been on the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and traversed through Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri. The American Queen is a real Steamboat of the Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn style.    They dont make this type of steam engine anymore.   The engine in this ship was re-cycled from a ship that had been built in the 1930’s.    If there are breakdowns … there are no spare parts available …. so they make them.  (That actually happened on the cruise before this one … more adventure!) We got a little view of Chattanooga … what a great little city!    A great river walk, the world class Tennessee Aquarium,  cliffs and caves within the city limit … we can see why it’s a top rated place to live by several groups who rate that type of thing. IMG_1254 There was a transfer bus that we could have taken from the hotel to the ship, but we chose the city electric shuttle bus that comes by every 10 minutes … for free. Our first stop was in Florence Alabama.   The Cruise Line provided a Hop On, Hop Off tour of the city.  The most interesting thing to me was a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home that was open for touring.   As a builder, and a renovator, I was impressed with his use of the space and of light … but it would be horrible from an Energy perspective.    The flat roof construction techniques had built in problems that were virtually doomed to fail and when the city IMG_1281


Lots of bridges to pass under. Some drawbridges like this one for a railway. And many that are tall enough for us to get under … but only by lowering down those smokestacks and the wheelhouse.

purchased the home after about 40 years of age, in the 90’s, it required hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovation to repair water leaks and termite damage.    I’m believing that the new construction methods and materials in use today will fair better.   Good builders should design their buildings to last at least a century.

Each day the bus takes us on a land tour.

Each day the bus takes us on a land tour.


No docks required. The pilot can stop anywhere that there are two strong tree trunks. The draft is only 6 1/2 feet of water.

Because we have been traveling on so many European rivers recently, I am constantly comparing the differences between River Cruising in Europe and Steamboating the Rivers of America and will note some of those here.    First of all, the paddle wheeler boat is totally different.    Much larger.   Actually only about double the size.    Here we have an outside room that opens out onto a walkway,  rather than what they call a French Balcony, which is just a sliding glass door.   Unlike the European ships,  the paddle-wheeler needs no docking facilities.   It simply noses in to the bank and ties up to two trees and lowers it’s gangway.

Another difference is that the crew here is all American and speak “American” English.   On the European ships, English is spoken but it is a second language for most.

I would say the food is about equal … maybe a little better on the paddle wheeler and both seem better than on the big ocean cruise ships.    But in both cases you can ruin your diet!..    Last time I was in Europe, I gained 7 pounds.  And Luelle stayed the same!   I’m really proud of her.   She and Heather are doing a diet called Totally Healthy Mamas … or something like that.    We’ll see what happens this time.

Another feature of this cruise is the “RiverLorian” who is regularly giving talks about life on the river.   He is an experienced captain and has accumulated a lot of stories over several decades.

There are also other lecturers on board.   One history professor told us about the Manifest Destiny president,  Jimmy Polk.   He was an interesting, driven, introvert.   But he doubled the size of our country in his 4 year term … with the Louisiana Purchase from Mexico and the Oregon Territory dispute settled with Britain.     Another lecturer was the head diplomat of the Cherokee Nation.   He sat at our table and gave us a good view into the Cherokee way of life, both then and now.

The pilot usually turns the boat up-river to beach the bow into the bank and the stern is slightly out into the river.

The pilot usually turns the boat up-river to beach the bow into the bank and the stern is slightly out into the river.

Douro River, All The Way To Spain

The Douro River Valley and wine region is huge.   We sailed for most of three days and never stopped seeing terraced vineyards.

Here are some photos.


Vineyard Terraces used to all run with the elevation contour lines. Now with mechanization, they run any direction that maximizes the use of the land.

From the Black and White collection at the museum

From the Black and White collection at the museum


Crushing the grapes the old fashioned way.   The larger wineries have machines to do this, but many mid to small sized wineries still do it this way.

Crushing the grapes the old fashioned way. The larger wineries have machines to do this, but many mid to small sized wineries still do it this way.


Going thru the locks.  The ships are built as wide and long as the locks will allow with about a foot of clearance on each side.

Going thru the locks. The ships are built as wide and long as the locks will allow with about a foot of clearance on each side.



Click HERE to go under this bridge with us




Slate and Schist rock formation.  The slate which breaks up and allows the water and roots of the grapevines.  The rain from the 9 wet months goes down through broken plates of slate and stores in intermediary layers of soil.   Then during the dry summer the water is fed slowly up through the roots up to 100 feet deep.

Slate and Schist rock formation. The slate cracks, either naturally or helped along with dynamite, and allows the water and roots of the grapevines to go to tremendous depths. The rain from the 9 wet months goes down through broken plates of slate and stores in intermediary layers of soil. Then during the dry summer the water is fed slowly up through the roots to the vines as much as a hundred feet above.



Slate "boards" that look like wood but really are stone.

Slate “boards” that look like wood but really are stone.



The wineries like to host dinner parties. We went to this one.



Returning to the ship after the dinner party.



Porto: At The Mouth Of The Douro River


Our bus ride from Lisbon up to Porto (where we will start our cruise up the Douro River) gave us a good view of the Portugal countryside.   It isn’t like the central San Joaquin Valley because there are trees everywhere (pine & eucalyptus mainly).  Nor is it like Virginia because only the trees are green … under the trees everything is brown.


Perhaps the landscape that I’m familiar with that this is most like is the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California.

Along the way we stopped at a restaurant.   A Christening was happening at the same time … so we lunched in the same room with the celebrating parents …and helped them celebrate.  Portugal seem more laid back that way.


We also stopped along the way at Coumbria University … founded in 1290 and toured the library and spoke with some students.    Pretty interesting how the preserve the old books from insects.  Bats.   Yes, a colony of about 50 bats live in the library behind the books.  They fly around at night and eat all the insects.    Of course the tables must be covered each night and cleanup duty has been happening every morning for hundreds of years.  Tradition.     The reason given is that they can’t fumigate the old paper.   They also shut the library down if humidity gets over 69%.   Seemed strange to an Air Conditioning Contractor … but hey,  this is Europe, they do things differently here.


Porto is at the mouth of the Douro River and is most famous for being the port from which wine from the Douro valley is shipped to the rest of the world.   They are most famous for Port wine but grow all varieties.   Tomorrow we head up river.    Here are some photos of Porto.


Typical river boat with a load of wine. They are not used anymore since the advent of the highway and trucks but they served well for hundreds of years. Note the standing platform for the Tiller operator.



Here’s a more modern version. This is the Queen Isabel, our home for the next 7 days. Those are wine warehouses behind the ship.


The famous bridge between Porto and Gaia. It was built by a protege of Eiffel who built the tower. Cars travel the lower platform and trains the upper. Pedestrians can go on both.



Cathedral. Every city has one. Bigger cities have many. This is Porto’s largest.


Observing the tiles in the Train Station.   Portuguese have always had a fascination with tile, using them to protect buildings from humidity.  Early versions didn't have fired glazes but when this technique was learned from China, many buildings got a facelift in the 19th and early 20th century.

Observing the tiles in the Train Station. Portuguese have always had a fascination with tile, using them to protect buildings from humidity. Early versions didn’t have fired glazes but when this technique was learned from China, many buildings got a facelift in the 19th and early 20th century.



Busy street and a smaller church


The lock is supposed to mean the new marriage will be permanent. The divorce rate in Portugal is the same as elsewhere, both in and out of the church. But it’s a nice tradition.



The Imperial McDonalds ??? Ubiquitous.


2 Palaces Around Lisbon

Today we toured two castles and the coastline around Lisbon.    The Castles were a study in contrasts.  One was a summer castle, the other was year round.   One was build four hundred years earlier than the other … and one had a much warmer feel than the other.   In the process we learned a lot about the Portuguese royalty &   royalty in general … not something we are familiar with in America.     Here are photos of the two castles.


The Queluz Palace was used by the royal family until the end of the monarchy. It is still used for government functions and can be rented for weddings or corporate events. The interior was inspired by the French castle of Versailles and was actually designed by the same designer.



The Sintra Palace was built 400 years earlier. It is about 20 miles outside of Lisbon at about 1800 feet elevation in a micro-climate that makes it an ideal summer retreat from the heat. It was also used as an escape from the plagues that went through Europe in the middle ages. The floors & ceilings are wood which gives the warmer feeling of this palace compared to the marble and plaster and tile of the Queluz Palace.



Another shot of the dining room of the Sintra summer palace. I could see having a meal there. Could you? (That’s not a sit down table. It’s a buffet table and otherwise used for displaying objects) (Note: Most of the furniture was gone from both of these castles. When Napoleon was invading the country, the royal family left to Brazil for 14 years, until things cooled down … taking a lot of the furniture with them. Napoleon took the rest.



The Kitchen of the Sintra Palace. Here two complete cows could be roasted. Coals from the fireplaces would be placed under the super sized skewers and turned until done. The Palace and the town have recently been named a UN World Heritage Site.


Since today was a day of comparisons, here is another comparison that was new to us.   The difference between a Caravelle and a Galleon.   They both had specific jobs to do.   Here are some photos from the hand paintings on the walls of the Sintra Palace



Caravelles had 3 masts and 3 triangular sails and a crew of about 30 men. They were very maneuverable and were easy to sail. They were the main tool of the explorer and did most of the first exploration work such as down the coasts of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope and around Cape Horn and up around South America. These were not treasure ships, but were often used to protect Treasure Ships.



Galleons were the “Treasure Ships” that were loaded down with silk, spices, jewels, gold and silver from the New World that were such choice targets of pirates. These ships had square sails and were much larger and required a larger crew of over 100. They were armed with cannons but were not very maneuverable. That’s why they were usually accompanied by Caravelles and travelled in convoys.
A modern comparison would be: Caravelles were pick up trucks … Galleons were the 18 Wheelers that really carried the cargo.



Sofia, our guide, today was knowledgeable and very expressive. The guides have all been very good and really make the tours worthwhile. There is no way we could have learned all that she told us through a tour book.



Is there anything that cant be made out of cork? Probably not. With the modern methods of veneering … very thin layers of cork (a few thousandths of an inch) can be laminated onto hard or soft surfaces. So just about anything that can be made can have a layer of cork applied to it … and get a whole new fashionable look. These are in the shops in Sintra.


Cabo da Roca is the furthest west part of Europe. It also happens to be at the same lattitude as Washington DC. It is on the coast on the way back from Sintra to Lisbon



Maintenance is a problem when you have a lot of 200 to 1200 year old castles and palaces to preserve and show to the public. This photo looks like it might be on a shack in backwoods Appalachia. But it’s on the National Palace. And there are a hundred more doors and 400 more windows in need of the same kind of work. This is where austerity demanded by the bailouts has cut the renovation budget to just about zero.



Lisboners may not have the budget to repair their castles … but they know how to go to the beach! This is fairly cold water (Atlantic) at the mouth of the Tagus River. Most people are just sun bathing, with the kids and some brave should out in the water.


We lunched in Sintra. This was a dish for two with prawns and monkfish in a soup with rice on the side. Excellent. I dont know if dunking that bread in the soup would have been acceptable at a royal banquet but I didn’t see any culture police … and it sure was good!

Lisbon, Portugal


The Belem Tower guards the city of Lisbon at the mouth of the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean. It looks well situated but has never been used as all invasions have come by land.

This time Luelle has put together two cruises and some land excursions … it’ll be a long time away from Hero and the Girls (chickens) and the fish, and the GrandBabies …  But we have a good team back home, so no worries.

The first cruise is with Uniworld on Portugal’s Duro River and we have three days in Lisbon before we board the ship.   After the Duro cruise we have 2 days to get ourselves to Seville, Spain to embark on a tour of the western Mediteranean with Azamara.   We haven’t decided how we’ll get to Seville,  maybe train, maybe rent a car, but I’ll write about each segment as we go.


The bridge connects the sides of the Tagus River and was patterned after the Golden Gate Bridge. The statue was patterned after the famous overlooking Rio de Janiero.





I was interested in seeing Portugal.   The history of course, and the fact that we’ve not been here before.   And our grand babies are 3/8ths Portugese.  But I wanted to see for myself the Portugese people and the economy that has been in the news for having received 3 European Union bailouts and is in a strict austerity payback mode.

Fortunately, Pilar, our tour guide and Uniworld Host is a wealth of information and holds nothing back.   She has lived here all her life and has lived thru all the turbulence.   Actually, you have to look deep or have someone point out the Austerity.   There are still nice cars on the streets and lots of well dressed people walking around and shopping malls with all the same stores we have in the US.

These streets are well over 1000 years old in the old town of Lisbon.   There are open air markets, fish that was caught this morning, etc.  Cars wont fit.   No building codes either.

These streets are well over 1000 years old in the old town of Lisbon. There are open air markets, fish that was caught this morning, etc. Cars wont fit. No building codes either.

Digging deeper, we find that unemployment has gone from 4 to 18%.  To pay back the bail outs, Sales tax has been raised to 33% and Income tax to 52%.   These measures are causing businesses to close or leave … which compounds the inability to pay back the bail out loans.

So the situation here in Portugal is worse than in Ireland, but not as bad as Greece.  (The big 3 of the EU bail-outs)    Many young professionals have left the country to find work in the former Portugese speaking colonies,  Algeria,  Mozambique,  Brazil.   It’s been in the news, but its interesting to see it – boots on the ground.

Here are some of the things we learned on the first tour this morning and some of the sights.

Lisbon is 2.5 million population counting the suburbs.   It has a 3000 year history starting with colonization by the Greeks folllowed by the Romans, Muslims, Moors & Barbarians. About 400 years ago Spain unified the rest of the Iberian Peninsula and wanted Portugal to be part of Spain.   Portugal said No and it’s been testy between the two ever since.

Henry the Navigator was the architect of the Portugese expansion.  Portugal and Spain asked the Pope to mediate the division of the New World … since there was no UN at the time.    A line was drawn that gave Portugal Brazil and parts east, including Africa, and Spain the territory west of Brazil,   the rest of South, Central and North America.

This cable car #28 is famous, for among other things ... getting pick pocketed.   Pilar said that sometimes there are more pick pockets on the trolley than tourists.

This cable car #28 is famous, for among other things … getting pick pocketed. Pilar said that sometimes there are more pick pockets on the trolley than tourists.

The colonies of Brazil, Algeria and Mozambique kept providing wealth to Portugal for several hundred years.   But then Algeria and Mozambique wanted independence … So  the “Colonial War” was fought from 1961 to 1973.     Portugal was doomef from the beginning since Algeria is 10 times the size of Portugal. Salazar, the dictator at the time, refused to let the colonies go and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.   The heavy debt left over from that war plus the loss of many of the best and the brightest and  the colonial income was the beginning of the current financial crisis.

With Wealth no longer coming in from the colonies, Portugal was not prepared for the competitive World of the late 20th & 21st century.    Pilar said the current debt crisis started with the war and then had two additional causes:

The Tiara Hotel where we stayed.   As modern and 5 star as any.   No austerity visible here.

The Tiara Hotel where we stayed. As modern and 5 star as any. No austerity visible here.

  1. Foolish spending by the government.   (buying submarines when they have very little navy)
  2. Mandated spending by the EU to do things to keep consistent with EU countries.

Tomorrow we’ll see some countryside around Lisbon and see another perspective.

This is a photo of Mars.   It was in a display on the wall in Dulles Airport as we were leaving.    (Since you and I paid for it, the expedition and the photo and the airport) ... I thought I would share it here.   I think I may use it for desktop wallpaper ???

This is a photo of Mars. It was in a display on the wall in Dulles Airport as we were leaving. (Since you and I paid for it, the expedition and the photo and the airport) … I thought I would share it here. I think I may use it for desktop wallpaper ???

Day Trip To Haarlem, Netherlands & The Corrie Ten Boom House (The Hiding Place)

At the end of our trip along the Danube from Bucharest to Vienna, we stopped in Amsterdam for a few days before returning home.  Actually we jetted right past home and went to California for our twice annual family reunion at Shaver Lake in the Sierra Nevada outside of Fresno.

From the train between Amsterdam and Haarlem. I thought the contrast of the factory smokestacks and the windmills was worth a photo. There are lots of windmills in the Netherlands. Some old ones still work and many new ones like these.

One day we went on a 20 minute train ride to Haarlem.   It is a much smaller city than Amsterdam.   A very clean and nice walking town.    We had lunch outside in the square and walked around the town.

Lunch in the Haarlem City Square. You can share with the pigeons.

It was interesting seeing how the bicyclists observed (or not) the walking only streets.    The conservative bikers got off and walked their bikes.   Some younger ones zoomed along dodging pedestrians.   The mildly rebellious stood on one pedal and pushed the bike like a scooter.    Interesting.  What would you or I do?

This is the Ten Boom house just as it was used in the Dutch Resistance as a hiding and smuggling station for Jews in WWII. The watch shop is still operating on the ground floor with living quarters above. You can see the one bicyclist obeying the walking only street signs. Like most, but not all.

We could see that boating around on the many canals would be fun.   We thought of our friends Steve and Debbie.  I’m sure they’ll be on Netherlands canals one of these days.

One thing we wanted to see in Haarlem was the Corrie Ten Boom house and museum.   The Ten Boom family had been part of the Dutch Resistance in World War II.   They hid and transported many Jews and others who were being hunted by the Nazi regime.   Over 800 people went thru their house before they were caught and sent to concentration camps.

She is stepping out of the hiding place thru a cutaway that was added later. An architect was retained to make a false wall with a space behind it. When the Nazis came, there were several in the hiding place. They remained quiet for 47 hours and finally escaped through the roof. Can you see the entrance? The Nazis couldn't either.

Corrie was the only one of the family to survive the camps and spent the next 40 years speaking and writing about her experience.   The movie “The Hiding Place” is about their experiences hiding Jews from the Nazis and in the camps after their capture.     The original house with the Hiding Place is open as a museum.   The downstairs is still the Ten Boom Watchmakers store, which was papa Ten Boom’s occupation.

Entry door to the Hiding Place

It was interesting reading reviews in Trip Advisor before we went.   Some people felt that the message was too evangelistic for them … and some Jewish visitors felt their history was being exploited.    With our particular tour guide, we saw no validity for either of those complaints.   There were some Jewish people on the tour and they seemed pleased and added some commentary.    The message by the volunteer tour guide was simply what these people did and that they risked their lives to follow Jesus teaching to help people and resist evil.

This is what you see in the alley. It will tell you what time the next tour in your language will be.

One example that she shared was that Papa Ten Boom, the watchmaker, would have been allowed to stay in his home because he was over 80 years old.  The only requirement was that he must promise not to smuggle any more Jews.    He said, “If someone comes to me and needs my help, I will help them”    The SS officer said, “OK then, You go with the rest of them.”  and he was loaded onto the train to the camps.   With the harsh treatment he was dead in two weeks.   People of any faith can recognize that as the actions of true faith, not a faith of convenience.

One other example that would test anyone’s faith came later when Corrie was speaking and sharing her testimony and a man came out of the audience.  She recognized him as the guard who had beat her and her sister in the concentration camps.   He had become a Christian and  had found forgiveness from God, but was now asking for her forgiveness.   She prayed and said, “God, I can’t do this.  You need to help me.”    And he did.    Isn’t that what God is about.  Doing the impossible.

Tours are an hour long and limited to 25 people due to the tight quarters.

There are no reservations so the first thing to do is go to the house and a sign will say when the next tour in your language will be.  Then go about 50 yards to the city square for lunch or go walk along the canals.

In the Ten Boom Living Room. Our tour guide, on the stool was a volunteer who did an excellent job explaining the part that Corrie and this house played in the Dutch Resistance in WW II

There is no admission fee, but Corrie’s books are for sale in the dining room and donations are accepted.   When you are in Amsterdam for a few days, a short train trip down to Haarlem and the Corrie Ten Boom museum is definitely worthwhile.

Wien aka Vienna

We’ve been here twice before.   So the basic tours were not too attractive.    We went on some of them anyway and found this city a lot the same ….  But also continually

Looking across the Danube to the New City of Vienna.

changing and interesting enough to justify another look, especially at another time of year.  Last time we were here was the “Christmas Markets” cruise.

We skipped the Vienna Mozart Concert, having been there last time … but were able  to tell a few folks with back problems that the chairs are hard and packed in tight. (for photos, see previous blog & albums)

Church right across the street from where the River Ships dock.

This is truly a case where the people in charge are resting on laurels of previous generations and they dont care much for the comfort of the consumer… they figure it was good enough in the 1800’s … it’’s good enough for today.   And there’s no competition … yet. Since every single person complained of the hard chairs and tight quarters … I’ll bet a place with good accoustics and comfortable chairs  would do very well here.

Gustav Klimpt exhibition at the Belvedere Palace.  

His art was a departure from the type of works popular in the late 1800’s in Europe … bringing a greater sensuality to his works and forgoing all depth perspective except on the subject.    The conservative art critics were harsh and unaccepting of this new style.

Headquarters of the Secession movement of modern artists started by Gustav Klempt ... still in use today.

So Klimpt withdrew from the Artists Union and  became the leader of the Secession movement of European Artists from the Snobbish Circle of Artists of the 19th century.   Historians consider him the father of Modern Art.   See the famous Art Nouveau building that still houses his Association

"The Kiss" was Klempt's first piece of this style that caused an uproar in European Art Circles.

Another example of Klempt's "Golden Period"

Some facts we learned about him: He avoided the social scene & stayed to himself & never gave interviews.  He travelled only for art inspiration, one of which were early Christian Mosaics.  He worked hard, morning till nite … His only social outlet was his artist’s secessionst group which he continued with his whole life.  And his female models…  With whom he fathered 14 children.  He never married, but had one life long companion, who historians think was possibly lesbian.

There are several more examples of his work in the Photo Album.   Pull down “Photos” on the banner menu and then choose Vienna 2012.   Some of these works have recently sold for over $50,000,000.00 apiece!

Prince Eugene.

Physically weak and unattractive, Eugene was rejected by the French for military service, but he was determined on a military career, so he moved to Austria and became their most famous and undefeated General.

Prince Eugene of Savoy, Austria's ugly but undefeated general.

He was never defeated by the Turks, even when confronted with much larger armies.   Turns out he was a military genius, gathering his captains the night before and making plans and alternate plans.   In battle, he would start in one direction, then after the Turks had ordered their counter attack, he would have the Austrian army completely change directions.   And with these tactics, his forces were never defeated.   “Blessed are the Flexible…..”

The Vienna Ferris Wheel

has been a landmark for nearly 100 years.   It takes  20 minutes  to make the complete circle and the cabins carry 15 people.

The Vienna Ferris Wheel. Each car holds 15 people and the cycle takes 20 minutes.

People have done unique things in those 20 minutes …  have a meal,   get married… ??

The National Library   

The National Library houses one of the largest collections in the world … Over 8 million volumes …many of which are very old, even a large papyrus collection.   To access these old books you must be a certified academic and can only read the books in a special reading room and wear gloves.

One of 70 posters marketing Austrian Tourism in the early 20th century.

There was an exhibit of austrian tourism posters from 1900 – 1970.   After that, television and other media replaced the poster, but it was interesting to see the development of the number one method of tourism marketing in the first half of the 20th century.

Our guide had a masters degree in art history, and was a good story teller.   On tours like this the  local guides make or break the value of the tour.   Uniworld does a good job of selecting their local guides.

Here our guide is doing a sound check before we head into town ... with the earpiece that we have in one ear ... so that we dont have to stay tightly bunched and they dont have to shout.

Most had advanced degrees and were passionate about their city and country.   Stuff that’s pretty hard to get from just a guidebook.    In asking this Vienna guide about all the graffiti, she said it was mainly just youths, not so much gangs, like in some US cities.  She said that the authorities dont do much about petty crimes because they dont want to be seen as “harsh”    Even the ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up their dog poop … the city refused to enforce … until a mother got tired of it and got 145,000 signatures.  Only then would the city begin to enforce the law.  All for not wanting to be seen as harsh & authoritarian.   Perhaps understandable after a heavy dosage of harshness under Hitler and Communism …. Interesting.

In addition "George" our keyboardist, Local talent came on board when we were in towns for the evening.

On Board Entertainment.

The on board entertainment is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the big Ocean Cruise ships.   Where they have lots of options every night, the river cruise ships usually have a keyboardist who plays every afternoon and evening.   Except when special local folklore groups come on board and play.   Most people come on river cruises for the destinations rather than the entertainment and after the tours and free time roaming, dont need a lot of entertaining.   There are also special lecturers on topics of interest … like our History professor who gave a great lecture on the war(s) in the Balkans including the recent Kosovo war.    She used the metaphor of making a stew, using many ingredients, mixed in over time, with lot’s of stirring, and pressure.   It was a good overview of 1500 years of history of this area.   One fact that was new to me was that the Turkish Sultans maintained a level of religeous tolerance.

The subway is easy to use and is perhaps the cleanest we've been in.

They didn’t even want full conversion to Islam … because the Christians and Jews were taxed higher and had to do the less desireable jobs.   Like defend the frontier and fight in the Sultan’s army.   So changing religeons became for some a matter of expedience that would change with the many regime changes this crossroads area has seen over the centuries.    Our historian suggested that the “corruption” that Eastern European countries are known for is an extension of the people’s skill at working outside normal channels that they have developed in order to survive the many changes over these many centuries.


Like the Entertainment, the dining is limited.   There are no specialty restaurants like on the big ships.  But the food onboard Uniworld ships has been excellent.    Our chef on the River Princess was from Portugal and had trained in France and Italy.   He favored Italy and it showed in his offerings.

George and Lianna, two doctors from Rumania. She was the official doctor. He and I were protecting our wives from pirates. ... And having a good holiday!

Perhaps the best thing about the dining room is that it’s the place where you meet people from all over the world.   This trip we met a lot of people from Australia, Canada and England, as well as from lots of places in the US.     We met the the ship’s doctors, who we shared several dinners and bus rides with.    Lianna was an internist from Rumania as the official doctor on board.  Her husband George was also a doctor, a psychiatrist who came along … kind of like me.    We joked that in both our cases, Uniworld was getting two for the price of one …. And that George could fix us if the tour got stressfull.


A trip to downtown Vienna wouldn't be complete without a look at St Stephen's Cathedral. It's over 1000 years old ... and eternally now in maintenance and cleaning on the exterior.

Hungary is Horse Country

Hungarians are crazy about their horses.   Many city dwellers even have horses which they board on farms outside of town.    Children have horse riding lessons and there are many races and equestrian competitions each year.

We learned that the Huns came down from Mongolia and settled in this area several centuries ago … but kept their horse riding traditions, and contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire.    They were from time to time part of the Austrian Hapsburg empire, the Turks and sometimes independent … as they are now, as part of the European Union.

Roman aqueduct seen thru our bus window

Hungary is definitely a unique and different people group from its neighbors.


We visited a horse farm and were treated to a Hungarian Horse Show.   The farm was on a huge island in the middle of the Danube River.   It had been thoroughly settled by the Romans in the 2nd century and ruins from Roman times are plentiful.   The Danube was the extent of the permanent Roman Empire.    Beyond that were “the Barbarians”


There are more photos from the horse show in the Photo Album.  Click Photos in the menu bar and select the area of the tour from the pull down menu.


Hall Of Terror: A “Must See” for Communist Sympathizers

We had already been on the included tour so Luelle and I went on Missions in Budapest.  She to find a Thai massage,  Me to find the Apple store and go thru the Hall of Terror, the museum of Nazi and Communist terror.

The Hall of Terror had been used by the Nazis until their defeat in WWII. Then the USSR took over the building and continued the Terror. The museum shows the techniques and victims of both totalitarian regimes.

The Thai massage was great … as was the Apple store, which had what I wanted and looked a lot like the Apple stores I go to in  Fresno and Reston.

The Hall of Terror wasn’t nice or like anything I had seen.   It turns out that it was only a few blocks further down Andrassy Avenue from the Apple store.   It is a memorial to all the victims of the Nazi and Communist secret services which opperated out of this building.

A tank is displayed in front of the wall of faces. The display starts on the second floor and descends into the basement.

Thousands were interogated, tortured, and killed or sent to concentration camps from this center.

Names and photos of victims are on display as well as renovated torture cells and command offices and hundreds of photos and live TV footage.    Mock trials with people being sentenced to death and huge parades with adulation of the leaders, etc.

I noticed two categories of tourists with reactions at opposite ends of the spectrum:

There were groups of students who were on a field trip with their class mates.   This group seemed like they were on any other field trip: chatting with each other, etc.

Then there were people who were searching for a relative on that wall of faces.   They were somber and some had tears streaming down their faces.

A torture cell, complete with whips. Other rooms had electrical connections and waffle iron like devices for extracting confessions and information

Of course there was also the largest group of all, the 99% who will never visit a memorial like this … and therefore miss the message that screams out … to those who can hear.

The Nazi’s had used this building on the prestigious Andrassy St for their interrogation and torture headquarters.   Thousands of Jews were rounded up, processed and sent to death camps from here.

When the Nazis were defeated, Hungary was considered a loser because they had originally supported Hitler. USSR was on the winning side in WWII, so they were chosen to take over the administration of Hungary.   The building on Andrassy St suited them perfectly so they continued on with the same torture and interrogation and terror that the Nazis had used.

Propaganda posters depicting happy and wealthy communists

They added a huge Big Brother watching system where informants were encouraged to turn in their friends and neighbors for the slightest word against the Communist regime.   By the time it was over, one family out of every three had a victim of the Nazi and Communist Torture Machine.


On the plane over here, I read in the USA Today about some Greeks who are unhappy with the austerity measures needed in their country.

Live footage of this Hungarian being sentenced to death after his "show trial" complete with false witnesses and a pre-determined outcome.

One interviewees reaction was to leave the Socialist Party in favor of the Communist Party.   Ugh!!   Will we never learn from history?    Actually we do learn …That the only thing we learn from history is that we dont learn from history.

This sculpture is at the end of the Hall of Terror. The viewer is left to make their own conclusions.

But for anyone who wants to hear it, the message is loud and clear about the results of these types of totalitarian governments.




Was she just posing?

The rest of my DIY tour was happier. The Apple Store is always a happy place... only a few blocks down Andrassy Street from the Hall of Terror.

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