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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

 

Vantage River Navigator, May 14-June 3, 2001
Prague to Amsterdam

by Pam Murphy

Monday May 14

The big day has finally arrived for us to take our cruise on Vantage's River
Navigator. It seems that we have been planning for this for such a long
time. We are picked up by the limousine service in a town car at 12:15 PM
and are driven to Newark airport. We are on a KLM flight to Amsterdam
leaving at 4:45 PM. Upon arriving at the KLM counter the fun begins. Vantage strongly recommends only one small carry-on and one checked bag.

Trying to be a very good girl, I spent weeks packing and repacking trying to
fit everything into the one suitcase.  Am ever so proud of myself for finally
fitting everything into the one case -- this was accomplished by rolling the
clothes.  There is not one speck of space in my suitcase that is not being
utilized!  At the counter they weigh my bag and it is 15 pounds over the
limit of 70 pounds.  Now what do we do?  Ask about paying for the extra
weight and are told it will be an additional $300 dollars.  So off we go to
the scale and start redistributing the things, trying to get each bag to the
proper weight.  The killer is that I could have had two suitcases, each
weighing 70 pounds, but can't have one at 85 pounds.  After about a half an hour we finally get all the bags at a weight that is acceptable.  Figure that for coming home, we can purchase another suitcase so we won't have to deal with this again.  What a great way to start the trip!

Can't say that KLM is my favorite airline.  The seats are very cramped and the food is probably the worst airline food we have ever been served. They showed two movies on the flight, The Wedding Planner and Family Man with
Nicholas Cage.  Watch both during the 7 ½ hour flight, since I am unable to
sleep.

Tuesday May 15

Arrive in Amsterdam at about 6:30 AM.  I am tempted to do a bit of shopping at Schiphol Airport (yes, the shops are open) but resist the temptation since there is absolutely no room in our bags for anything extra.  Our flight (a KLM City Hopper) departs for Prague at 8:55 AM, arriving at 10:30 AM.  The Vantage Representatives meet our flight in Prague and we are taken to the Hilton Atrium Hotel in a van with another couple who came in on the same flight.  The weather in Prague is sunny and beautiful.  There are local guides who accompany us to our hotel.  One problem is that the driver stands in the van and expects us to lift our bags up to him.  Feel that handling the luggage should be part of the transport service.  The ride to the hotel is less than scenic -- graffiti everywhere.  

Once we arrive at the hotel we are told to go to the hospitality desk.  I opt
to stay with the bags since the driver drives off leaving them unattended. Once the local guide finds a bellhop to take our bags things go very smoothly.  Our room is ready at 11 AM, which is unusual, but very welcome. We can now get a shower and relax a bit - I have to force myself to stay awake and get used to the European time.  The Hilton is a very modern hotel and set on the outskirts of the city.  The hotel has a fleet of Mercedes, which will take you where you want to go, and that you can call for pick up (for a charge of course).  It is a 10-20 minute walk from the hotel to the main part of town.  We don't attempt walking but some do. We are given a packet of information that explains how to take the tram to town.  Our room is very comfortable and roomy.  There is no safe so it is necessary to use the hotel safe at the reception desk.  

We spend the afternoon relaxing rather than trying to do any sightseeing. I
go down to check out the hotel shops, and start my Christmas shopping by
purchasing some of the garnet jewelry and the Bohemian crystal.  Buy two
vases in hand cut crystal (one in clear crystal and one in a deep ruby red)
for $100-150.  The shop has three settings for the garnets, gold covered
silver, sterling silver and 14 carat gold. The 14 carat gold rings are mostly
under $200, one bracelet was $700, and a pair of gold earrings about $140.  
The silver jewelry is much less but equally pretty for those who prefer silver. One silver necklace is $200 and very unusual.  The silver rings run about $50 to $80, earrings $30-80, and most of the silver necklaces from $60-$150.  Decide to shop here since they have a nice selection and I figure that since the shop is in the Hilton it should be reputable.  We are warned that all garnets being sold in Prague are not real and many are colored glass from Italy.  People, who have checked out the prices in town, find the hotel shop no more expensive and in some instances, less expensive.  Find that this shop is willing to negotiate a bit with their prices. Shopping here, I am able to get the tax refund forms without any problem. This form will need to be stamped when we leave the Czech Republic on Friday.

At 5:00 PM we have a briefing with the two Vantage Tour Managers who are in Prague with us - Sonja Winkler and Jan Klunder.  Both are very nice and go out of their way to make things extremely easy for us.  They serve champagne at the briefing and explain how things will be working during our stay in Prague.  This also gives us a chance to meet the people that we will be spending the next few weeks with.  This pre-cruise extension is optional and about 50 people have booked it.  We all have dinner together at the hotel restaurant.  The dinner is excellent and we all thoroughly enjoy it.  Well, that is everyone but Jim.  They serve salmon and he doesn't eat fish!  By 7:30 PM we return to the room and Jim immediately conks out, but I stay up reading for awhile.

Wednesday May 16

I had trouble sleeping and was awake a good portion of the night. 
Thankfully, the adrenaline is pumping so I don't feel tired.  Today is a sunny day with wonderful breezes, perfect for touring.  Our package includes a buffet breakfast each morning at the hotel.  Jim and I go down early and it is quite good.  Check out the sundry shop at the hotel -- find some interesting playing cards -- Franz Kafka, and others of Klimt.  Also get   postcards of Prague, crystal necklaces and other assorted souvenir type things.  

Our tour leaves at 8:30 AM.  We are split into two groups with two buses and will remain with this group and guide during our sty in Prague.  There are no more than 24 on a bus, so we aren't crowded in like sardines.  Our group is with the Vantage Tour Manager, Jan, and also a local guide, Veronica.   Veronica is very easy to understand and very knowledgeable and interesting. We are driven to the Municipal House (an art nouveau building) and Powder Tower (a relic of when there was a royal palace here at the entrance to the Old Town) and then begin a walking tour through Old Town.  Prague has been left virtually untouched by the ravages of war or natural disasters.  It has also been further helped by the neglect of the communist regime, which left it fairly well in its original condition.  With a bit of a cleaning and face lifting the original beauty is shining through.  This city is a true delight to the eyes.  The architecture is magnificent; you must always look up because each building is its own work of art.  Some have frescos and others sculpture and décor that is breathtaking.  It reminds you of a fairytale city - it is called the "City of a Thousand Spires". Walking in such charm and beauty is especially amazing when you stop to think of the oppression that existed in this country such a short time ago. 

We pass the Church Of Our Lady Before Tyn, St. Nicholas Church and the monument to Jan Hus (a religious reformer who preached against the extravagances of the papacy and was burned at the stake as a heretic.)  

We stroll into Josefov, the Jewish section.  I have read other opinions of this area of Prague, on-line, and many felt it was a disappointment.  I can't agree, I found it one of the most memorable and moving experiences.  The word ghetto originates from this area of Prague.  The Jewish population was forced to live in this small section of town -- there was only one very small cemetery, which was the only place where the Jews were allowed to be buried. It is an extremely small parcel of land, necessitating burial up to 12 deep and the tomb stones are jammed into every available spot, overlapping each other and at all sorts of angles.  Rabbi Lowe is buried here; he is said to have created the first artificial man or golem out of clay. The word "robot" also originates from Prague.  Near the cemetery is a synagogue and a Memorial to the Jews who were killed during World War II. The walls of this building have been inscribed with the names of each.  A project was recently taken on to preserve the names since they were being eradicated by the leakage of water. The walls are covered in this tiny writing with name after name and it looks like wallpaper.  The number of names is just mind boggling -- I can't begin to tell you the chills it gave me to see the sheer numbers who were exterminated in just Prague.  All of a sudden the Holocaust becomes very real to me, with a human element.

Next, we visit a room dedicated to the children of the concentration camp Terezin (outside Prague-this is another tour which can be taken.)  While detained in this camp the children drew pictures that are displayed here. There are also some photographs accompanying the artwork.  Most of these children were moved on to death camps and died.  Just standing in this spot really brings the horrors of this time in history alive for me.  I stand here with tears streaming down my cheeks.  For anyone going to Prague, I would definitely recommend not missing this.  

We return to the Old Town and watch the Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Hall.  On the hour it puts on a show - a cock crows, the figure of death rings a bell and a procession of the apostles begins, each coming to a window.  Next to the figure of death there is a Turk who nods, then on the other side there is the figure representing vanity and also one representing greed.  It is said that the man who built this clock was blinded after completing it so that he would never be able to reproduce it.

Next we walk over to the Charles Bridge, commissioned by Charles IV in 1357 and built by Peter Parler.  This was the only bridge crossing the Vltava River until 1741.  The bridge is lined with statues of saints and is where there are street performers and artists selling their artwork.  One statue, which was pointed out to us, was that of St. John Nepomuk -- this statue has gold stars surrounding his head.  He was the court confessor to Wenceslaus IV.  After hearing the Queen's confession, he would not reveal what she had told him under the seal of confession.  Wenceslaus V's displeasure brought about the torture of St. John and his death by being thrown off of the Charles Bridge.  There is a plaque on the statue showing St. John being thrown off of the bridge -- it is said that if you touch the figure of St. John on the plaque, that you will receive your wish.  The plaque is shiny in the area of the body falling off the bridge from people rubbing it for good luck.  The locals consider St. John rather homely, and have a saying that you have a face like a saint on the bridge, which is definitely not a compliment.

On the bridge I find a woman who makes very unique enameled jewelry and I buy necklaces for my daughter and daughter-in-law.  The tour ends here but Jim and I stay to wander around the bridge and town before returning to our hotel.  Jim shops for his little souvenir trinkets, which he collects to decorate his office.  I pick up a couple of statues of the Infant of Prague (the original is housed in the Church of Our Lady Victorious) for Jim's Mom and for a religious friend.  Also find a very pretty Bohemian Glass perfume bottle for a friend who collects them ($25).  We are warned about the "Taxi Mafia" in Prague.  Taxis are over priced and the cabbies gouge the tourists. We are so tired that we ignore the warning and grab a cab to bring us back to the hotel from Old Town.  We don't feel that we are taken and, to us, it is worth the $2 extra for the convenience of not having to wait. We eat lunch at the hotel and the food is excellent.

Write my postcards and find that making address labels to take with me makes the job so much easier.  Do a bit more shopping at the hotel for crystal and garnets.

Tonight we decide to stay at the hotel for dinner.  We had these big plans of trying different restaurants in Prague, but are just too tired to even think about going out.  As it turns out the hotel restaurant is wonderful.  I order the goulash, which is delicious.

Thursday May 17

Today we wake up to a beautiful day.  I decide to skip breakfast but Jim goes down to eat while I get dressed.  

Our tour today is a half-day Coronation Route tour.  We see the hill where Libuse (she was the legendary founder of the Premyslid Dynasty that first ruled Prague) is said to have foreseen the glory of Prague in a vision.  We pass Wenceslaus Square where a statue of St. Wenceslaus (the patron saint of Prague) stands.  This is the sight of several events in modern Czech history -- where the student Jan Palach burnt himself to death in 1969 and where in November of 1989, a protest rally against police brutality led to the Velvet Revolution and the overthrow of communism.  

We then head for the Hradcany District and tour St. Vitus Cathedral -- absolutely magnificent. Work began on this cathedral in 1344 on the orders of John of Luxembourg.  The first architect was the French Matthew of Arras. After his death Peter Parler continued until the Hussite Wars. The Cathedral was not completed until the 19th and 20th centuries.  This cathedral houses the crown jewels and the tomb of  "Good King Wenceslaus" of the Christmas carol fame.  The Cathedral is Gothic architecture with  gargoyles and flying buttresses. Inside St. Vitus are some truly beautiful stained glass windows; of note is the window of St. Cyril and St. Methodius by Mucha.  There is a crypt under the Cathedral that houses the Royal Tombs.  The tomb of St. John Nepomuk (the one thrown off the Charles Bridge) is crafted from solid silver.

St. Wenceslaus Chapel contains Gothic frescoes, with scenes from the Bible
and the life of the saints, which cover the walls and are interspersed with
polished gemstones and gilding.  In the Cathedral there is also a carved
wooden panel, The Flight of Frederick of Palantine, showing 17th century
Prague in fascinating detail.

Next we visit  St. George's Basilica, which was founded by Prince Vratislav
(915-21).  It predates St. Vitus Cathedral and is the best-preserved
Romanesque church in Prague.  St. Ludmilla, the grandmother of Wenceslaus, is buried here.  

Our next stop is the Royal Palace. This was the seat of the Bohemian princes and today contains the offices of the President.   Vladislav Hall was very much like a public market in its day and jousting tournaments were held here. The hall's ribbed vaulting was designed by Benedikt Ried in the 1490s.  We walk down the Rider's Staircase -- designed for the entrance of horses  The Diet, the medieval Parliament, was also the throne room.  The palace was the sight of the Defenestration of 1618.  On May 23, 1618, more than 100 Protestant nobles, led by Count Thum, marched into the palace to protest against the succession to the throne of the intolerant Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand.  Two Catholic Governors, appointed by Ferdinand, were confronted by the mob and after a fight, the mob threw both Governors and their secretary out of the eastern window.  Falling some 50 feet, they survived by falling in a dung heap.  This incident was the beginning of the Thirty Years War.  The Catholics believed that the survival of the Governors was because of the intercession of angels.  We end our tour by walking down the Golden Lane.  This is an extremely narrow lane and totally overrun with tourists and I am sure pickpockets -- much too crowded to enjoy in any way shape or form. However, if you remove the crowds there are charming picturesque artisan's cottages along the inside of the castle wall -- built in the late 16th century for the Castle's guards and gunners.  Today they are small gift shops but this is not a good place for browsing.  Find it a bit disappointing that we are given no time for shopping on this tour.

We return to the hotel with the group and have lunch, on our own, at the
hotel.  The food is excellent; we have yet to be disappointed.  We relax for
the remainder of the day - I nap and read.  For dinner we return to the We
Like To Cook Restaurant at the hotel.  We enjoyed it so much last night that we would rather eat here than get a cab to take us elsewhere. Have another delicious dinner - I order the sliced duck.

Friday May 18

I am still having problems sleeping and am really beginning to drag.  Today
we board the buses to take us to Budapest.  For this trip we remain in the
same groups as we were in during our stay in Prague.  Vantage once again
handles everything very smoothly.  This is a long ride, leave at 8:30 PM and
don't arrive until almost 7:30 PM.  We drive out of the Czech Republic and at the border hand in our tax free forms to be stamped -- will send these in by mail for my refund.  With only about 24 on the bus there is plenty of room for the extra carry on luggage.  We stop occasionally for brief rest stops but the day is mainly spent driving and waiting at the borders for the customs officials to collect passports and to decide whether or not to open our luggage.  No one is in any hurry to move us along.  Slovakia seems to be the worst for keeping us waiting.  The ride is a boring one with lots of very flat uninteresting scenery.  It is raining but it doesn't seem to rain when it is time for us to get off the bus.  We stop at a restaurant in Bratislava, Slovakia for an included luncheon.  I don't eat, but the looks of the lunch didn't even tempt me.  The restaurant has a lookout balcony where you can see where Austria, Slovakia and Hungary come together. 

There is lots of time to visit on the bus trip.  I ask our guide, Veronica,
how the absence of Communism has effected her life.  She was 18 at the time of the Velvet Revolution and really noticed no great changes.  Her parents were in the arts so not given a hard time by the Communist regime. She was from a privileged background so was given a lot of freedom that others didn't have.  She tells us that many of the older people liked being under Communism -- this system took care of the people and when it ended they had to take on the responsibility for themselves.  Veronica, recalls that after the Velvet Revolution, the freedom to travel was open to them -- Vienna welcomed the Czechs and gave them admittance to all of the sites at no charge. She made many trips to Vienna, just because she could - the Czech people regard this as a very kind gesture by the Viennese.

One couple on our bus lived in Prague during the Communist rule -- he was a military attaché.  The home of foreigners needed a party member living with them.  Their home was bugged and when the party member needed something from them she would point out where the bugs were concealed. One time they had company, and when the guest flushed the toilet, the chain came loose.  He climbed up to try to fix it and there found a planted bug.

When we arrive in Budapest, there is a problem in locating the ship.  We
finally find it and are very happy to finally get off of the bus.  We board
the River Navigator -- the wind is really blowing up when we arrive.  
Boarding goes very smoothly and very quickly -- our bags are brought to our room within no time at all.  The ship is lovely.  We are in one of the four suites.  We are lucky enough to get one because we booked early.  The room is a decent size, with two twin beds pushed together, a sitting area with love seat, two chairs and a table -- plenty of space under the beds to store the suitcases; more than enough storage space, including plenty of hangers; a large screen TV and a DVD player (there is a list of DVD movies, which are available for viewing), a dressing table, bathroom with only a shower but it is large enough to maneuver in, a coffee maker and coffee, a box of assorted teas, fresh fruit, slippers and robes for our use, a mini bar, a wall of windows and a sliding glass door but no balcony (only room enough for one to stand at the window opening at a time).  The room is decorated in shades of yellow and gold and is very bright and cheery.  The one disappointment is that there is no key available for the locking drawer -- we are not the only ones with this problem -- it seems that past passengers have taken the keys home by mistake and that they have no backup keys for the drawers.  I don't quite understand why a locksmith can't be brought in.  The rooms are kept very clean and the housekeeping staff are like magic little elves -- they seem to get it all done without you ever seeing them and without any inconvenience.  Best of all there is no lifeboat drill with those horrid life vests upon arrival!

One small complaint is that they only give you one key for the room, which
can be terribly inconvenient if you and your spouse go separate ways and the one without the key needs to get back into the room.  Do think that two room keys would be easy enough for Vantage to provide.

We just have time to see the room and then it is time for dinner.  The River
Navigator has a set seating time for all guests but you can sit where and
with whom you choose.  The food is good but not great -- there is not a great selection, which may be due to the fact that there are only 140 guests on board.  

After dinner we return to the room and just relax and turn in early. As on
most cruises there is a turn down service in the evenings and they leave a
really nice variety of chocolates on your pillow - a different kind each
night. We will remain in Budapest until tomorrow.

The ship is docked on the Pest side of the Danube, by the Freedom Bridge, and from our cabin we have a wonderful view of the Gellert Thermal Baths on the Buda side.  They are located in the Gellert Hotel, and it is a public bathhouse of a highly ornamental design.  Hungarians are known for relaxing in these baths and here they can get massages, manicures and pedicures. 

Now that we have begun the cruise we are separated into different groups for our touring.  We will remain with the same tour manager and group throughout the cruise.  Our tour manager is Sonja -- even though Sonja is assigned to our group we still have interaction with the other two tour managers, Jan and Monica.  All three are great.

Uula is our cruise director and she is wonderful, very knowledgeable and helpful.  There doesn't seem to be a question that she can't answer regarding the ports we visit.

Sleep with the sliding glass door open and the air conditioning on full blast. It is so nice to cuddle up under the comforter with the room nice and
cold.

Saturday May 19

Wake up at 6:00 AM to yet another beautiful sunny day.  There is an early
riser's breakfast (Continental) set up at 6:00 AM.  Jim goes down to get me a cup of coffee, juice and one of their delicious pastries, then brings it to the room for me.  From 7:00-9:00 they serve breakfast in the dining room -- Jim goes down to eat while I get dressed.

Budapest is a charming city - it is comprised of two towns and is the capital of Hungary.  In 1872 the two towns of Buda, on the hill, and Pest, on the plain, were united to form the city of Budapest.  This city is the heartbeat of the country as all transportation, commerce and industry, culture, wealth, and power converge in Budapest.  Like other European capitals, Budapest is a city of fashion and style, pride and architecture.  At least 20% or two million of Hungary's population live in this thriving metropolis.

The history of the city can be traced to the time of the Romans.  Although
little is known about this period, the term Pannonia was the Latin name for
this province.  Other conquerors such ass Attila the Hun had left their mark
in Hungary.  The real basis of the country was in 896 AD as the Magyar nation was founded.  The Mongolians invaded in the 13th century and destroyed much of Hungary.  By the early 16th century, the Turks had invaded and made Hungary part of their colonial empire.  When the Turks finally were defeated and sent out of Hungary, there was a connection to Austria, which lasted into the early 20th century. The Habsburgs controlled most of western Hungary. Eventually, Hungary became a part of the Central European power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  At the end of World War I brought about the demise of the empire but created many smaller independent countries. The early years of the 20th century were marked with unstable government and bouts with Communism.  

During World War II, Hungary joined forces with Germany, and was
heavily defeated in 1945 by the Russians. Thus, it became part of the Iron Curtain in the 1950s.  In 1956, there was a revolt against the Communists that brought about an altering of Russian strategy.  Like many of the other Communist controlled governments, a peaceful change in government occurred by 1988.  Today, the country is moving ahead into the 21st century as its people are ambitious and clever.  They have a fondness for a "good life", and they are working toward that goal.

Today I have a dilemma -- the shops close at 1:00 PM and if we take the
morning city tour (all tours are included with the price of the cruise) of
Budapest then we will not be able to shop -- so decide to skip the tour. The ship is docked close to the shopping area and the Maitre D', Christian, who is from Budapest, walks with us to show us how to get to the Central Market and shopping district.  The Central Market is huge and is where the locals line up to buy their meat, fish, cheeses and produce.  There are also other items for sale here, including souvenirs.  The market only takes Hungarian money, so we need to find an ATM machine.  Outside of the market there are elderly ladies selling flowers -- buy a few bunches to brighten up our room -- have no idea of what we pay for them, just put all of our change in our hand and let her take what she wanted.  Nothing like an oblivious tourist!  

I find the Herend porcelain shop (Herend is a very fine Hungarian porcelain). I purchase a few porcelain pieces, one for myself and a few for gifts -- chose a black and white cocker spaniel that looks like my grandpuppy -- also a few figures of the astrological signs (quite unusual looking) and a small elephant for a friend who collects elephants.  Jim had a good time shopping for his junky souvenirs. Budapest is known for having some really nice antique stores.  I know nothing about antiques but see this porcelain butterfly figure in the window of one shop, go in to  price it and find it affordable, so buy it for a friend who collects butterflies.  I have no idea of  what it is worth but I think that it is pretty and know that my friend will love it.  I find a cute wooden puzzle for a friend's grandson, buy a couple of bags of paprika and a Hungarian cookbook as another gift. Walking around this area is really nice and gives us a good flavor of the city and its people.

The group tour of Budapest left at 9:20 and returned at 12:30.  According to those who took the tour,  our group had a guide that was very hard to understand.  So perhaps we made a wise decision to skip it and do what we did.  From what people from the tour said, the hills of Budapest are beautiful.  However the general consensus is that the city is a bit depressing compared to Prague.  There was an opportunity on the tour to buy the rustic looking Herend Pottery (not the porcelain) near St. Matthias Church.  One woman bought a lovely colorful rooster.

Return to the ship for lunch and it is a Hungarian Buffet and really delicious with so many fun things to try.  The dining room staff is very nice but does not do things quite as formally as some of the other lines we have sailed with.  

We had originally planned to try to take an afternoon tour of Budapest on our own, but instead we opt to sit up on deck and just relax.

In the early evening they bring a troupe of Hungarian dancers and Hungarian musicians on board. The costumes are beautiful and it is a fun show -- they even play the Blue Danube Waltz. At one point the musicians come around and play for you, of course looking for tips. Jim and a couple of the other guys stand here and it is a bit of a stand off as the musicians keep playing and waiting for the money to appear. I am standing here watching this and finally hear one of the men tell them, "thank you it was very nice", but no green passes hands. I had all I could do not to burst out laughing at the look on the musician's faces! Get a hold of Jim and clue him in that he was supposed to tip them not tell them that they did a nice job! He then takes care of it and we buy one of their CDs since they really are very good. The only problem is that the lounge, where they performed, does not have enough seats for good viewing -- many of the seats are in out of the sight line for a performance. Only those who arrive early get the good seats. Once the show is finished we sail.  

Jim and I go up on deck and have a wonderful view of most of the things we missed on this morning's tour. See St. Matthias Church  -- the last two Hungarian Kings (Hapsburgs) were crowned here --  Franz Joseph was crowned in 1867 (Liszt wrote and performed his Coronation Mass) -- Charles IV was crowned in 1916. This is a splendid Gothic Church with a tiled roof and a grandiose painted interior. We sail under the Chain Bridge, one of the outstanding symbols of Budapest, the first permanent bridge across the Danube was originally built in 1849 and was then destroyed by Nazi dynamite during World War II -- the 1949 opening ceremony of the reconstructed bridge was held 100 years to the day after its original inauguration.  We also see Budapest's great Parliament Building, completed in 1902, standing proudly on the Danube bank -- it mixes a predominant neo-Gothic style with a neo-Renaissance dome.

Unfortunately our stay in Budapest has been much too short.  There is so much more to see - it is a place that I would definitely like to return to someday.

Tonight is the Captain's Welcome Cocktail party and Dinner.  There is no charge for the drinks and wine is included with this meal.  They serve the most delicious hors d'oeuvres at the cocktail hours.  The dinner was truly outstanding -- with all the courses, dinner lasted close to 2 ½ hours.

I return to the room to read after dinner and Jim goes up on deck with his
cigar and B&B. This is real relaxation for him. Most of the passengers on the ship are older than we are. Once they hear that Jim is not retired, he seems to become an oddity. I think he is the only person who isn't retired. Most of the people have children fairly close to my age. The people are very nice and most have traveled extensively. However, with only 140 passengers the cliques seem to form quickly. Jim and I remained aloof from it all. We are friendly but don't get too close to anyone.  This seems to be a wise move since there is a good bit of backbiting going on.

Our room is in the 400s, this hallway leads to the dining room - the rooms
closest to the dining room tend to have a traffic jam at meal times. Our
room is in the center and we are experiencing smooth sailing. However, those in the front of the ship complain about a lot of vibrations. We do feel this when we are in the lounge in the front of the ship. Our room is on the starboard side and at times we face the street and at others face the water. Going from Budapest to Amsterdam, the starboard side seems to remain the coolest since we don't get the afternoon sun.  On the reverse itinerary, I would imagine that the port side would remain coolest. Do hear some complaints about the air conditioning not working in some rooms, but ours was just fine.

We have decided to pick up soft drinks in port so as not to have to pay the
price of the mini bar drinks.  $2 per Coke. This is definitely not a party ship and most people are in bed at an early hour. There are a few couples who sit at the bar for a bit after dinner.

Sunday May 20

Today I am wide-awake at 4:30 AM, as the sun is rising. The bed is oh so
comfortable and has a comforter encased in sheeting. Finally have managed a good night's sleep and am feeling more rested.  I decide to get up to watch the sunrise. Then at 5:00 AM look out the window again (we slept with sliding glass door and the drapes opened) and see a wall. Get up to investigate and we are going through a lock. I am totally fascinated watching the ship being raised as the water is slowly let in. Little do I know that this is only the first of the 67 locks we will be passing through.

This morning Jim and I go down to breakfast together -- it is very nice and
there is plenty to choose from - even omelets cooked to order.

Today is a relaxing day on board; we are sailing to Vienna.  Go up onto the
upper deck and sit at a table watching the beautiful scenery pass by on the Danube River.  The Danube is not blue but is a murky green!  The sun is shining and there is a wonderful breeze.  Take my book with me but have no chance to read since everyone is in a chatty mood.  Later this morning (but before lunch) they have a Frueschoppel (believe this is what they called it) set up in the lounge with beer, sausages, sauerkraut and Bavarian pretzels along with German music.  It is a bit early for this food but I do manage to take a taste of everything and a sip of beer.

At noon lunch is served - it is good and the rum raisin ice cream served for
dessert delicious! After lunch I go back on deck to watch the ship pass through another lock. From the top deck you get a really great view of how the locks work.  The breeze has died down so the sun feels really hot, so decide to go back to the room to read. Oh I do love this relaxation!

This afternoon there is an Apple Strudel Party set up in the lounge.  Can't
possibly eat again! We arrive in Vienna at 4:00 PM.  

Vienna, capital of Austria and for centuries the capital of the Holy Roman
Empire is still the great cultural capital of Central Europe.  This is a city
of wonderful music, elegant manners, and sublime pastries.  

Once again we are docked facing the river rather than the dock, however,
another ship pulls up next to us and we are looking directly into their
windows - so much for privacy.  Jim and I take a walk along the river and
stop to see the Church of St. Francis of Assisi also called the Anniversary
Church, which is close to our ship.  This church was built to celebrate the
60-year reign of Emperor Franz Joseph.  

Today is Sunday and there are no stores open.  Have you caught on yet that I LOVE to shop?

There is a lecture on board about Vienna and its Music, which I attend and
find very interesting.  The wife of a Viennese musician gives the talk.  It
is easy to tell that she loves the music she is playing for us.  Vienna is
the home of Mozart, Beethoven, Hayden, Schubert and Strauss. Music is part of the everyday life of Vienna.

Skip the cocktail hour and dinner to take a nap.  Guess I am still having
problems adjusting to the time change.  Jim did go down for dinner and sat
with people that we know.  

After dinner we are taken to a Heuringer, in Grinzing, for the evening.   A
Heuringer is a unique older Austrian establishment.  Literally translating as
"this year's", the word Heuringer has two meanings -- it refers to the
youngest available vintage of the local wine, and it also refers to places
that sell such wines by the glass.  Wine is considered Heuringer until St.
Martin's Day - November 11 - of the year after harvest.  The places that sell the wine were established by Imperial decree in 1784 as locations where owners were allowed to sell the wine grown in their own vineyards. They are found throughout Austria's wine regions and around Vienna.  The area of Grinzing caters mainly to tourist groups so is not the most authentic of the Heuringers. Nevertheless, the place we visit is very much the look of what you would expect and we have a great time.  The wine is nasty, and  two glasses are included with the package.  I drink both, which is a mistake because it doesn't taste strong going down but hits like a ton of bricks.   Had a bit of a problem walking in a straight line to the bus!  There are musicians and lots of singing along and dancing in the aisles between tables.  They play lots of old Austrian favorites such as New York, New York!  

On our return to the ship we are taken on the Ringstrasse.  The old city
walls, of Vienna, were replaced with this circular road by Emperor Franz
Joseph (1850s-60s).  It passes most of the city's landmarks and seeing all
the buildings of the city lit up makes for a very scenic drive.  We pass the
Prater (Vienna's Park) which contains the Ferris Wheel seen the film the
Third Man.

Monday May 21

Slept well but needed to keep the sliding glass door closed since bugs were
coming in. Here it is another lovely day, talk about the gods being with
you. Jim once again brings me a continental breakfast to the room, sure do
love being spoiled this way!

At 8:30 we leave for our half-day city tour.  Our local guide is the woman who gave the lecture on the Music of Vienna yesterday.  She speaks excellent English and is very interesting.  Everyone on our bus is thrilled to have Edith.  The tour begins with a ride around the Ringstrasse.  It looks very different in the daylight and we receive a more informative commentary of what we are seeing.  We pass the Parliament, Opera House, Theater, and Karlskirche. This is really a beautiful city.

On our drive through the city we also pass the statue of Johann Strauss, Father of the Waltz.  The statue is near the Kursalon, which has a dance hall.  In its day the waltz was quite shocking.  Couples had never embraced before as they danced and the waltz necessitated the ladies to lift their skirts thus showing their ankles! Edith tells us that the Viennese are known for being depressed, so Vienna was fertile ground for Sigmund Freud to develop psychoanalysis. I notice that the workers in Austria wear these bright orange or blue ill fitting overalls - they have an unusual tight fit and I can't imagine them being comfortable to work in.

We visit St. Stephansdom (Cathedral) which is quite magnificent.  Situated in the center of Vienna, the Stephansdom is the soul of the city itself. Urns containing the entrails of some of the Hapsburgs lie in a vault beneath its main altar.  A church has stood on the site for over 800 years, but all that remains of the original 13th century church are the Giant's Doorway and Heathen Towers (the entrance and twin towers apparently stand on the site of an earlier heathen shrine).  The Gothic nave, choir and side chapels are the result of a rebuilding program in the 14th and 15th centuries, while some of the outbuildings, such as the Lower Vestry, are Baroque additions.  The façade of the Cathedral has fertility symbols of a man and a woman's genitalia. It was believed that the procreation of future generations would be the best protection in fighting evil.  The symbolic "05" of the Austrian Resistance Movement was carved on the cathedral in 1945. The high vaulted interior contains an impressive collection of works of art spanning several centuries.  Masterpieces of Gothic sculpture include the fabulously intricate pulpit, which is a showpiece -- it was crafted by Anton Pilgram.  The Gothic pulpit is decorated with portraits of the Four Fathers of the Church (theologians representing four physiognomic temperaments), while Pilgram incorporated a sculpture of himself into the work, looking out a window from below. Tobias Pock's altarpiece shows the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The sculptures were fashioned by Johann Jakob Pock in 1647. Emperor Friedrich II's tomb is made from ornate red marble and has a lid bearing a life-like carved portrait of the Emperor -- this spectacular Renaissance work dates from the 15th century.  A flight of steps leads down to the catacombs, which extend under the cathedral square.  The Wiener Neustadter Altar was commissioned in 1447 by Friedrich III and adds a flamboyant Baroque note.   

The elaborate altarpiece's panels open out to reveal an earlier carved interior showing scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and Christ.  The Tirna Chapel houses the grave of the military hero, Prince Eugene.  There is also a statue of the Crucified Christ, which according to legend, has a beard of human hair that is still growing.  There is an icon of the Madonna which was in a fire and was the only piece not burned -- the icon is said to shed real tears.  The Pummerin Bell (also known as "Boormer") that hangs in the North Tower is an important symbol for the city, reflecting Vienna's turbulent past.  The original bell was made from melted-down cannons abandoned when the Turks fled Vienna in 1683.  The bell crashed down through the roof in 1945 when fire swept through the Stephandom, so a new and even larger bell was cast using the remains of the old. There are shops near the Stephansdom, but they only will accept local currency. 

We were given very little time to look around on our own.  Next we wander around the exterior of the Hofburg Complex.  It contains the former imperial apartments, several museums, a chapel, a church, the Austrian national Library, The Winter Riding School and the President of Austria's offices.  It was the seat of Austrian power for over six centuries and successive rulers were all anxious to leave their mark.  Seven centuries of architectural development can be seen in the 10 buildings ranging from Gothic to late 19th century historicism.  We see the balcony from which Hitler spoke to the Austrian people telling them that his homeland would be added to the Reich. (Hitler was born in Austria and his artwork was rejected in Vienna so he left in disgust.)  The Austrian people were desperate and saw Hitler as the hope of the future.  It is ironic that their hope for the future is the cause of their city being destroyed.  There is a Mozart Memorial (1896), by Victor Tilgner, that stands just inside the Ringstrasse entrance.  An imposing dome surmounts the curved façade of the Michaelertrakt (1893). The oddly shaped Amelienburg, built in 1575 for emperor Maximillian's son Rudoplf, has a Renaissance façade and an attractive baroque clock tower. The Schweizertor, a 16th century Renaissance gateway leads to the Schweizerhof, the oldest part of the Hofburg, originally a stronghold with four towers.   

Today we find that there is no exhibition of the Lipizzaner Stallions from the Spanish Riding School, which leaves many disappointed.  We pass by the stables and visit the chapel where Mozart and most of the Hapsburgs were married, including Napoleon.  The chapel contains a very unique memorial to one of the daughters of Maria Theresa.  Maria Theresa was a Hapsburg ruler who had sixteen children.  She married most of the children off to the royalty of Europe, to form political ties.  She is referred to as the Mother-in-Law of Europe.  However, one of her daughters was a favorite and she allowed this particular daughter to marry for love.  The daughter's husband built this memorial to her.  Walking through the complex there are stores that we pass.  One has some lovely petite-pointe evening bags in the window.  This is something that I have my heart set on but there is no time to stop to look at them.  Later I spoke to someone who didn't take the tour and went to the Complex on their own and checked out the shop that I had seen.  She told me that I would have been very disappointed in them upon close inspection - they were not actually petite-pointe.

We return to the ship for lunch. This afternoon we tour the Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens. On the way there, a man takes ill and I am very impressed with the way that Vantage handles this. First they offer to take the bus back to the ship. The man doesn't feel that this is necessary so they get him and his wife a cab to take them back to the ship. There is no question about pulling the bus over to take care of him. The tour manager and the local guide both stay with him until he is situated in the cab and on his way - they give him enough local currency for his cab fare. Once this is taken care of we are back on track and proceed with our tour. We have the guide Edith again but are told that the bus will be split in two groups and another guide will be joining us at the palace. This is to keep the groups smaller so we will be able to learn more.  One side of the bus gets Edith and the other the new guide.  When it is time to split up, the new guide has about six people.  The group has other ideas about how they want to be split up.  As it turns out, this guide is also very good and easy to understand.

Schonbrunn Palace was the former summer residence of the imperial family and takes its name from a beautiful spring that was found on the site.  An  earlier hunting lodge was destroyed by the Turks, so Leopold I asked Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to design a grand Baroque residence here in 1695. However, it was not until Maria Theresa employed Nikolaus Pacassi that the project was completed, in the mid 18th century.  Th  strict symmetry of the architecture is complemented by the gardens, with fountains and statues framed by trees and paths.  Fake Roman ruins adorn the gardens, complete with Corinthian columns that were created by Ferdinand von Hohenberg in 1778.  The Gloriette, a neo-classical arcade, was designed by von Hohenberg in 1775.  It is the crowning glory of the hill behind the palace. The Rococo decorative schemes devised by Nikolaus Pacassi dominate the Schonbrunn's state rooms, where white paneling often adorned with gilded ornamental framework, tends to prevail.  The rooms vary from extremely sumptuous - such as the Millionen Zimmer, paneled with fig wood inlaid with Persian miniatures - to the quite plain apartments occupied by Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.  This palace was built to rival Versailles and it is truly lovely.  The Round Chinese Cabinet Room was used by Maria Theresa for private discussions with her state chancellor.  The walls are adorned with lacquered panels and vases. The Great Gallery is magnificent.  It was once the scene of imperial banquets; the gallery is still used today for state receptions.  The Blue Chinese Salon is the room where Karl I abdicated in 1918.  It has hand-painted wallpaper with blue insets showing Chinese scenes.  Maria Theresa occupied the Vieux Lacque Room during her widowhood. It is decorated with exquisite oriental lacquered panels.  The Large Rosa Room contains scenes of Switzerland and northern Italy by Joseph Rosa -- Rococo gilded panels surround these paintings.  The imperial family's breakfast room has white wood panelinginlaid with applique floral designs made by Maria Theresa and her daughters.

Vienna came under control of the Hapsburgs in the 13th century and their rule lasted until after World War I, when the Empire finally collapsed.  The Hapsburgs most often mentioned to us were as follows. The long reign of Maria Theresa, which began in 1740, was a time of serenity, wealth and sensible administration.  The Empress, who also presided over Vienna's development as the musical capital of Europe, completed the vast Schonbrunn Palace. She was the one with the sixteen children that she married off to the royalty of Europe.

Emperor Franz I gave his daughter, Maria Louisa, to Napoleon in marriage in order to secure peace with France in 1809.  Maria Louisa bore Napoleon a son called the Duke of Reichstadt, or the King of Rome.  In 1832, at the age of 21, he died of consumption in what is known as the Napoleon room in the Schonbrunn Palace.  He had a lonely childhood and was kept a virtual prisoner in the Schonbrunn Palace.

Emperor Franz Joseph began his reign in 1848, when he ushered in a new age of grandeur despite the dwindling power of the Hapsburgs.  The city's defenses were demolished and a circular boulevard was built (The Ringstrasse), linking new cultural and political institutions.  During his reign, Vienna attracted gifted men and women from all over the empire, as well as traders from Eastern Europe.  However, the resulting ethnic brew often resulted in over-crowding and social tensions.  His reign lasted for 60 years. Franz Joseph was married to Empress Elisabeth who is compared to Princess Diana by the Viennese.  She was young and beautiful and was in an unhappy marriage. Her life was tragic and she died an untimely death. Elisabeth and Franz Joseph had a son Archduke Rudolf who entered into a suicide pact with his mistress at Mayerling and created a major social scandal.

At Schonbrunn Palace there are a couple of shops and here I find my
petit-pointe evening bag.  It is a black with a square of petite-pointe on
it.  It was $280.  May have paid too much since this is a tourist place.  
Also picked up some postcards of Schonnbrun and a small pillbox with a
portrait of Empress Elisabeth, as a gift for a friend.

There are two movies about Vienna that are recommended to us --  "The Third Man" which shows many of the sites we are seeing and "Mayerling", which tells the story of the son of Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth's son, Rudolf, and his suicide pact with his mistress.

Tonight we have dinner in the ship's dining room - we eat with different people each evening and are enjoying everyone's company. Tonight is another early evening for us.

We sail at 11PM and sailing on the river is like sailing on glass. This would be a wonderful way to cruise for someone prone to seasickness.  There is none of the pitch and roll.

Tuesday, May 22

The sun is once again shining.  How did we get so lucky?  I am up at 6:00 AM and Jim once again brings me my breakfast.  What a guy!  By 7:00 AM we arrive in Durnstein, Austria.  We are once again docked next to another ship and the view is into their windows!  This is definitely not my favorite thing.   

Durnstein is a perfectly preserved medieval town.  It is one of the smallest towns in Austria and perhaps the most picturesque.  Crowned by the ruins of a fortress, and still encircled by its walls, the little town lies on a rocky ridge overlooking the Danube.  This is the area of the Wachau, a beautiful stretch of winding river and vine-covered hillsides in Lower Austria, west of Vienna. Durnstein has conserved much of its medieval and baroque character and has splendid river views and side streets leading to charming river walks. We decide to skip the walking tour and set out on our own.  It is a lovely walk along the river to the main part of the town.

From 1192 to 1193, after his return from the Third Crusade, England's King, Richard the Lion-Hearted, was held prisoner, in the castle/fortress (now ruins), by Duke Leopold V of Babenberg.  For several years he languished - with only his faithful servant, Blondel, in attendance.  He was released only upon payment of a huge ransom. 

There is a lovely blue Baroque Church in Durnstein.  It is extremely ornate but beautiful.  There is a charge of 30 schillings each for entrance.  We only have 59 for the two of us, but they still let us in.  Seeing this church is definitely worthwhile.

Durnstein is a quaint little village with lots of very nice shops.  Most shops open at 9 AM, but there are a few that don't open until 10.  Oh, I am definitely making inroads with my Christmas shopping.  Find a couple of silver bracelets with the flowers of the Austrian Alps done in enamel ($11).  
Also pick up a very pretty small hand-painted Austrian crystal vase ($26).   Then find a zipped tote bag in a very soft navy fabric with embroidered edelweiss on it.  There is a wonderful children's clothing shop here with some really unique things.  Unfortunately, I have no grandchildren to shop for and my grandpuppy just wouldn't look right in the Austrian apparel!  Do find a cardigan sweater for the grandson of a friend that is quite cute.  It is a gray with hunter green and red trim and hunter green reindeer knit into the front.  It is fastened with two silver buttons joined by a silver chain. This was $40 in a size 5-6. Jim checks out all his souvenir stuff; have no idea of what he will do with it all!  However, I am wise enough to say nothing since his purchases are very inexpensive compared to mine.  Thank heaven he is only attracted to the cheap stuff! 

We meet up with the walking tour at an appointed time and go with them to a wine tasting.  It is conducted in a typical wine cellar, which looks very old but, in fact, is not.  There is a talk about the Wachau Valley wines and about how to do the tasting.  We try three wines and all are quite good.   These can be purchased or if bought by the case can be shipped home. Believe each bottle was about $6-7. A half-day in Durnstein is plenty of time to see it all.  It has been a very pleasant morning.

We return to the ship for lunch.  Once again they serve a luncheon buffet. I tried the stuffed cabbage but it is much too heavy and spicy for my taste. So stick to the lighter cold foods such as salads and small sandwiches.

This afternoon we sail past the most amazing scenery.  Each little village is prettier than the next and each has a church at its center.  There are vineyards all along the hillsides.  I spend the afternoon up on deck with a very nice woman who owned a Bed and Breakfast and also an antique business. She is so interesting to talk to.  She gave me some tips about the china and sterling silver that my mother left me.  The china was from Czechoslovakia before World War II and is a bone china, which is no longer made.  She also explained that the sterling silver flatware is so old that it is of a much heavier weight than they make today.  Also the patina (black in the crevices) adds to the beauty of the design and you don't use a toothbrush on it to get these crevices shiny.

I skip the cocktail hour but Jim brings some hors d'oeuvres back to the room for me to snack on while dressing for dinner. In my opinion, the food is becoming boring. Too much cabbage, sauerkraut, sausages and pork. I know that we are eating the regional dishes but enough is enough. Tonight, we have a choice of pork or fish, I choose the fish. Each evening the chef comes to the tables to talk to the passengers.  None of us can understand him (he speaks low and has an accent) and we sit here just shaking our heads, having no idea of what he is talking about.  We find the dining room, especially the upper level, very noisy and it is hard to even hear your own dinner companions.  It is a bit quieter on the lower level.

The ship gift shop is open each day from 9-10 PM. However, I am noticing that the hours keep changing and sometimes they open during the afternoon and then not at night.  Jim buys himself a River Navigator logo polo. I am once again in bed by 9 PM.  Jim goes up to the top deck for his cigar and B&B.

Wednesday, May 23

We are definitely being spoiled with all of this gorgeous weather. Yesterday it was pouring here in Passau.  We are up bright and early.  I have my continental breakfast in the room -- thanks to goodhearted, Jim.  At 7:00 he goes down to the dining room for a full breakfast.

At 9:00 I attend a lecture on the language, customs and history of Bavaria - boring! We arrive in Passau, Germany, in the largest of the German states, Bavaria. This area of Germany is predominantly Catholic.  After the Reformation northern Germany left the Catholic Church but southern Germany remained with the Papacy.  Passau sits on a long tongue of land at the confluence of the rivers Danube, Inn, and Ilz.  Passau has one of the most spectacular settings of any German city.

The guide for our walking tour lived in Chicago until the age of 18, so is extremely easy to understand and a lot of fun.  However, she didn't seem to give us the best overview of the city.  Passau is a lovely little town and just walking around is enjoyable.

We see the Castle Oberhaus (Upper Castle) up on the hill -- built in 1219 by Bishop Urich II as a sign of his power.  The Amish were imprisoned here before coming to America. We visit the Glass Museum, only the lobby. We may return later, our entrance fee is part of the package.  This museum displays several centuries of glass making.  We don't return but one woman did and felt it was extremely worthwhile.  There are five floors and they recommend starting on the fifth floor and working your way down.

We view the Rathaus (City Hall) from the outside but are unable to go into
the building since it is closed today.

We stroll over to see the River Inn.  There is a lovely view from this point
on the river. Hitler lived in Passau as a child and it is said that he played on the edge of the Inn.  One day while playing he fell into the river and was saved by an older friend who eventually became a priest. Niedernburg is the city's oldest existing building and was once a Benedictine nunnery.

The Cathedral was founded originally in the 8th century; it owes much of its present appearance to a thoroughgoing baroque rebuilding (1680). The interior has a very plain floor and remains simple until you get up to a certain height and then it becomes quite ornate - ornate baroque without the gold that usually accompanies baroque architecture. The point of this style is to remind us to live simply on earth to achieve the splendor and beauty that awaits us in heaven. The Cathedral seems more in keeping with Italian grandeur than the more somber style of the Germanic churches. There are no stained glass windows in this cathedral.  Inside is the word's largest church organ, installed in the 1920s, with a total of 17,330 pipes. As a child of six, Mozart played a recital on the organ.  We attend an organ concert in the Dom, which is wonderful.  This must have been the original surround sound!

The tourists are packed in for the concert and there are chairs set up all over the place.  Eventually the seats are filled and there are people left without a seat. A German man comes in who is quite crippled and I notice him looking for a seat.  I stood up and gave him my seat.  He nodded in appreciation and his wife had a huge smile on her face. Upon leaving the church, the wife came up to me and profusely thanked me. She spoke German but her meaning was very clear. For me, this was a very special moment of communication with this German lady.  Behind the cathedral is a fountain with three angels, which represent the three rivers of Passau.

After the concert we walk around the shopping area on our own. Wander into a kitchen shop and the German's really have neat kitchen things.  I wanted to get a set of knives for my daughter, but the shop owner didn't speak English so was not able to ask questions about the knives he carried. Did buy a nice ashtray for my son.  It's extremely heavy and is hand-painted with psychedelic dogs ($40).  Should be a fun piece for their patio, where all the smokers congregate.  Stopped in a florist and bought a bouquet of flowers for the room ($10), the ones from Budapest need replacing.  Also picked up some of those yummy Bavarian pretzels and soft drinks to bring back to the ship.

See some very unusual German greeting cards, called "swing cards."  These are $3.50 each and I pick up two to put away for future birthdays. Something else that is quite pretty here is the paper cocktail napkins - very nice designs.  Also find some lovely notepaper that will make another nice gift. Elsewhere, I find painted pewter Christmas ornaments ($8) and buy a few for my son and daughter.  In the pewter they also have a small figure of a bride and groom that stands up with a small candle behind it ($18). The daughter of a friend is being married so got this to put away.  Many of the shops here are where the locals shop and there are a lot of clothing stores with rather inexpensive looking clothing.  There seems to be very little English spoken in Passau and when it is spoken it is very limited.

Rather than return to the ship for lunch we stop at a typical German Beer Garden for lunch.  I'm not a beer drinker but it seems to be the thing to do while in Germany.  I order a light beer which is very good and Jim has a pilsner type beer.  We are handed the menu and everything is written in German.  Ask the waitress if she speaks English and she says a little.  Am not able to understand a word she says so just close my eyes and point to something on the menu.  Jim recognized the weiner schnitzel (breaded veal) and pomme frittes (French fries) and ordered that. Jim's meal was delicious. Mine was pork with gravy and lots and lots of fat, yuck! It is served with a dumpling, very heavy! To me, the beer is the best part! And here I thought that I loved German food! After lunch I pick up some postcards and Jim gets himself some of his souvenir stuff. I find the cutest yodeling bear for our grandpuppy, Bosley. It is dressed in the typical Bavarian dress and when you press it, it yodels.  Figure that it should take her all of about 30 seconds to completely destroy it - but what fun she will have doing it!

We return to the ship at 4PM to find that another ship has pulled up next to us once again.  So much for the view! Jim has a nice corner all picked out for himself in the smoking lounge where he plans to sit with his cigar and a couple of drinks listening to the piano recital. I decide to pass on the pleasure of sitting in the closed in smoking section with his cigar and don't really care to sit by myself in the non-smoking area so take a nap instead. Jim said that not many attended the recital.

I don't wake up in time for dinner but since we had a late lunch I am just fine.  We sail at 7PM, so rather than go to dinner, here I sit with the window open watching the magnificent scenery go, as the birds chirp in the background.  And those Bavarian pretzels made a great snack!  Jim also skipped dinner and went to the smoking lounge for his B&B and another cigar.

Thursday May 24

At this point even the staff of the ship can't believe the weather that we are having.  They figure that we must be doing something right.  Jim is really earning his gold stars since he brings me my continental breakfast to the room once again.  What am I ever going to do when I get home and this special treatment stops?  This morning I accompany Jim to the restaurant for breakfast but don't eat, since I am already full.

We arrive in Regensburg, Germany. Regensburg suffered no major damage in World War II.  Today it thrives in relative obscurity but this was not always true.  Around 500BC the Celts built a settlement here.  It became a Roman military outpost about 200AD (a fortified gate in Old Town is all that remains).  Succeeding centuries saw the arrival of Bavarian tribes, Irish missionaries (led by St. Boniface in 739), and Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.  Thanks to its position on the northernmost navigable point of the Danube, the city was able to control trade along the river between Germany and central Europe.  By the Middle Ages, Regensburg was a political, economic, and intellectual center, the most important city in southeastern Germany.  And then along came Napoleon, who orchestrated the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire in the early 1800s.  Recognizing the irony, he presided over its decline from Regensburg, which had been a free Imperial City since the 13th century.

Our tour is scheduled to leave at 9:20. They stagger the times for the three groups and rotate which group goes first, second and last each day - avoids complaints! Our tour left early and we missed it but are able to join another group leaving after ours. They tell us that an announcement was made and it is at this time that we find out that there is a speaker in our room for announcements. We had no idea that it was there and ours was obviously turned off. Think that Vantage might want to consider showing passengers the room features when they arrive!  There is a book that explains this but we didn't read it. We have a guide who is very hard to understand but does have a lot of personality. So we basically just walked along and enjoy the beauty of the place.

Today is Ascension Thursday, a Holy Day, and all the stores in town are
closed.  I am lucky to find postcards in the tourist office. I feel like a
kid looking in a candy store window but can't have the candy. All these
pretty things to look at but unable to purchase. Jim couldn't be happier
that he has one day of me not shopping!

The Old Stone Bridge is a medieval engineering feat, and dates back to 1135. Saint Peter's Cathedral is a Gothic structure based on French  design, and was built between 1250 and 1275.  We do not go inside since it is a Holy Day and masses are going on.  We pass the Alter Kornmarkt, which is a medieval square where the Dukes of Bavaria once lived and the Rathausplatz with the Town Hall, which dates back to the 15th century.

After the tour and before lunch we have a very long wait with nothing much to do. We have lunch at the Historiche Wurstkuch, the oldest sausage restaurant in the world.  The restaurant is on the river and there are women in Bavarian dress cooking the sausages on grills along the river. Also outside the restaurant there is a beer garden and it was quite crowded with people that have the day off from work.  The Germans seem to enjoy just sitting around, drinking their beer and devouring the sausages, which are served on a roll.

Our lunch is served inside the restaurant; we have hearty potato soup, Bratwurst w/ sweet mustard and sauerkraut, rye rolls, beer, and apple strudel for dessert. The mugs they serve the beer in have the name of the restaurant and these can be purchased.  It was a charming restaurant and definitely gives you the flavor of being in Germany.  I didn't eat but everyone raves over this meal, even Jim; this is really saying something, with "Mr. Picky Eater" liking it! After lunch something happens to the buses and we have another very long wait in the hot sun.

We finally board our bus, which takes us to the Weltenburg Monastery.  It
overlooks the Danube Gorge and houses the oldest monastery brewery in the world, dating back to 1050 AD.  It is a 10-minute walk from the bus to the Monastery but there is a shuttle for those who would rather not walk. The church is just beautiful with lots of gold and ornamentation and one of the Benedictine brothers, Father Leopold, is gracious enough to give us a tour in English. Baroque architecture was basically Papal propaganda used to keep people on the straight and narrow by showing them the splendors of heaven. The back of the pews actually digs into your back, imagine this is to keep the faithful awake!  The monks also make beer and serve it in their beer garden. We are told that the monasteries began to brew beer to sustain them during times of fasting!  Because of Holy Day, people are off from work and it is very crowded.  Such fun to see the Germans partying and having such a good time. There is a very nice gift shop (one more money making enterprise for the Monastery) where I find a lovely nativity for my daughter. The wood carved nativity sets are in the $1000 and up range.  There is a terra cotta set ($300) that is very pretty but the figures have cloth as their clothing and it is a bit gaudy for my taste.  There is one that I really like in my price range -- the figures are a plastic-like material, but there is another name for the work.  They look like carved wood and are painted beautifully. Each has such a lovely face and the colors are muted. The stable is also very nice.  I pay about $100.  Of course I'm not thinking about how I am going to get this home.  The stable itself will take up most of my suitcase and necessitate buying another.  This shop also had a nice selection of Hummels.  I am so happy that I have found a place to shop today!  

Jim stays outside while I'm in the store and enjoys the beer garden - the beer they serve is a dark beer - I taste Jim's and it is very good.  We walk down by the river where the German children are swimming.  A couple of the little girls aren't wearing any bathing suits, a strange sight for us Americans.

We then line up to catch the ferry to Kelheim.  It is very crowded but we manage to get a seat indoors (have had enough sun for the day) at the front of the ferry and are served drinks as we sail along.  The ferry takes us through the Danube Gorge and it is one magnificent sight with its limestone cliffs. This scenery is really beautiful!

When we get off the ferry we drive up to see the Liberation Monument. The monument is only a short walk from where the bus parks.  It overlooks the valley, and commemorates Germany's victory in the War of Liberation against the French.  Mad King Ludwig's grandson, Ludwig I of Bavaria, had this gigantic rotunda built between 1842-1863; his statue stands on Ludwigplatz, looking up to "his" Hall of Liberation.

Kelheim, founded by the Romans who called this city "Celeusum", sits in the Altmuhl Valley, at the confluence of the Altmuhl and Danube Rivers.  With the construction of the Main-Danube Canal, the city has prospered.

We return to the ship by 5PM.  It has been a long but very nice day.  Upon
our arrival the crew is waiting for us with a nice cold glass of lemonade,
such a welcome sight!  Hurried back to the room to shower and dress for
cocktails and dinner.

Dinner is a Bavarian Buffet with a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth.  
The pig tastes horrid - kind of a pickled taste!  The waiters are in typical
Bavarian dress and the room is decorated for the theme.  More pork, sausage and sauerkraut!

Tonight a troupe of Bavarian dancers comes on board to entertain. We sail at 10PM and pass through the Danube Canal with lots and lots of locks.

Before this trip I purchased a Samsonite travel currency converter/calculator and it is worth its weight in gold.  It is so easy to use. As we get to each new country, I simply clear it, enter the new exchange rate and with a pen point push set. Then all I have to do is put in the price showing on the item I wish to purchase, push AWAY and VOILA - up pops the price in US dollars. Don't know why it has taken me so long to get one for myself. For anyone who travels this is a "must have" and it is only about $12 from the travel sites on-line. It also will convert from US dollars to the foreign currency. In this case you put in the amount in dollars and push HOME.

I had a scratchy throat when I started the trip and brought along Echinacea and have been taking it faithfully.  So far it is working like a charm.  May never travel without it again.

We are told that the rear upper deck will be closed in the evenings for the remainder of the cruise.  This is due to the very low bridges that we will be passing under.  The area where the captain sits is actually on hydraulics and lowers to the point where only his head is sticking up.  Even sitting on the lower front portion of the upper deck, we still feel the need to duck when we get to these low bridges.

Friday May 25

How lucky can we get?  Another bright and sunny day.  Sleep late, till 7:30
and Jim and I both go down for the breakfast buffet.  We pass the highest
point of the Main-Danube Canal, The European Divide.

There is a morning lecture on the Main Danube Canal.  Decide to skip this one. Instead, sit on the upper deck. Have a nice visit with another passenger, who lived in Nuremberg. She and her husband are planning to go off on their own to see the places they remember.

Lunch today is at 11:30.  Decide to remain on deck rather than eat. We arrive in Nuremberg at 1PM

Nurnberg, or Nuremberg as it is known in English, is the second largest city in Bavaria.  It is the principal city in the region of Franconia due to its location on the Regnitz River.  Some citizens of this northern Bavarian city can still remember the night of January 2, 1945, when Allied bombs reduced their homes - indeed, the whole city - to rubble.  Nuremberg is where Hitler had staged some of his most grandiose rallies to the Nazi cause.  After World War II, it was the site of the Allies' war trials where top-ranking Nazis were charged with "crimes against humanity."

Long before the tumult of the 20th century, Nuremberg had always taken a leading role in German affairs.  From its birth in the 11th century, the city on the Regnitz River flourished as a center point of several medieval trade routes.  Here is where the first meeting of rulers of the Holy Roman Empire was held.  Prosperity also contributed to its importance as a center for art and sciences.  Artist, printmaker, and Renaissance genius, Albrecht Durer, was born and lived most of his life here.  His 16th century home, now a tourist shrine, was one of a few to escape the war's devastation.  

Among the inventions associated with the city are gun casting, the clarinet, the pocket watch, and the geographical globe - the first was made before Columbus sailed to the New World.

Nuremberg is today a "new" city - completely rebuilt to re-create the prewar medieval and renaissance atmosphere. The original stones were used to reconstruct the castle and three old churches in the Altstadt (Old Town).  

Nuremberg is a toy maker's town, lots of tin soldiers and toys here.  It is also known for its Libkuchen (traditional gingerbread cookies) which are delicious.

We board our bus at 1:50 (necessary to be bused into the city) for a panoramic city tour with a visit to the Imperial Castle.  We first drive to the outskirts of the city and pass Justice Hall where the war crimes trials were held after World War II.  It is hidden behind businesses and is rather unimpressive.  We then see Zeppelinfield Arena, a huge amphitheater where Hitler staged his Nazi Rallies from 1927-35.  We pass Congress Hall designed by Hitler's architect, Albert Speer.  It was modeled after the Coliseum in Rome and is larger.  In my opinion, it is one ugly concrete monstrosity.   Today it is used as a warehouse and is a grim memorial.  There have been questions about the preservation of these Nazi buildings but it is believed that it is important to keep them so that we never forget what happened during the Nazi regime.

Crowning the outcrop of warm red sandstone from which much of Nuremberg is built, the Burg, or Castle, goes back to the city's founding years in the 11th century.  Kings and emperors resided here for some 500 years, and the sprawling complex of buildings was added to, demolished and rebuilt throughout this time.  Thus the tall five-sided tower dates from 1040, the two-tier Imperial Chapel from the 12th century and the stables (now the youth hostel) from the late 15th century.  From windows, towers and terraces there are fine views over the city, with its nearly complete ring of walls.  We only have the time to walk around the outside of the castle.  As we look out over the city from the castle, Congress Hall (on the outskirts) seems to predominate the landscape and I have no doubts that this was the intent when Speer designed it.

Since the Middle Ages, this city has been important to Germany's rulers. From 1050, when Emperor Heinrich III built the first Fortress here to protect Crown Lands, to 1571, by which time the castle had grown almost threefold, every emperor sojourned here at least once.  

We walk down a very steep cobblestone street to the shopping area.  We have only about 45 minutes to wander around -- not nearly enough time. This is a nice area with lots of interesting shops. I pick up a couple of traditional German necklaces - the rope and silver type worn with the dirndl dresses -- for my daughter and daughter-in-law.  Also find a couple of picture frames, Christmas ornaments and a wonderful 3-D German wedding card for our upcoming wedding. The card is $8 but worth every penny.

Many of us are disappointed in today's tour. We have no time to see the inside of anything and much too little time to wander around on our own.   Imagine this is because we didn't leave the ship until almost 2PM and then need to be back in time for dinner.  We seem to waste a lot of time waiting for the buses. Return to the ship and Jim once again brings hors d'oeuvres to the room for me to nibble on while I get ready for dinner.

Our dinner choice tonight is pork or butterfish. I order the fish and am I  ever glad -- it is delicious.  It is served on rice with fennel, asparagus and a cream sauce.  Jim orders the pork but I just can't face pork one more time!

Try to go to the ship's gift shop this evening but find that it was open in
the afternoon.  I have yet to hit it when it is open. Jim is coming down with a cold. I better keep popping those Echinaceas!

Once again hit the sack by 9PM.  All this touring is really tiring me out. I want to be sure not to miss anything so make an effort to get to bed early so I that I will be fresh during the day. Actually, there is nothing going on
in the evenings worth staying up for.

Saturday, May 26

This great weather is truly unbelievable.  One more wonderful day!  Jim is
still spoiling me with my continental breakfast in the room.  Sitting in bed
with a cup of coffee watching the world go by is really living! We arrive in Bamberg, Germany at 8:00 AM.

Henry II of the royal house Babenberg founded Bamberg in the 11th century. During the 12th century the bishops, who retained their authority until the early 19th century, governed the town.  From that time on, there were many power struggles between the clergy and the burghers.  By the sixteenth century, the clergy had prevailed.  Bamberg has been considered the most important town in upper Franconia, due to its location in the Regnitz valley.

High above the town, are the Cathedral and the Benedictine Abbey of Michaelsberg, both prominently situated.  Since Bamberg survived Wold War II without damage, many original buildings still stand -- many are the result of the building that took place in the 18th century in which the Baroque style predominated.

Today, Bamberg has a population of 70,000 people.  The symphony orchestra is one of international acclaim.  Most notable are the numerous breweries that produce many selections of beer.    The local specialty is the Rauchbier (smoky beer), which is brewed from smoked malt giving it a very dark color and distinct taste.

Our tour departs at 9AM.  I am careful to put on sunscreen since we seem to be burning. The sun is very hot and you can feel it burning through your clothes. This is warmer weather than is the norm for this time of year.

It is a short bus ride into the center of Bamberg.  We decide to wander on
our own rather than to join the walking tour. We see the Rathaus (old city hall), which was built in 1744-56, is situated in the middle of the two arms of the River Regnitz.  It is one of the few remaining original city halls in Germany.  The Cathedral (Dom) was begun in 1237 on the site of the original Babenberg castle and is famous for its tombs and magnificent sculptures.  It is believed that the statue of the "Bamberger Reiter" (knight of Bamberg) is St. Stephan of Hungary. The Benedictine Abbey of Michaelsberg was constructed over a period of 800 years mainly built by the Dietzenhofer brothers and Balthasar Neumann, along with its church. The ceiling shows paintings of 600 different medical herbs. Not only are there restaurants, but also a Franconian brewery museum.  The Neue Residenz, the largest building of Bamberg, is to the right of the cathedral. Inside are the Residential Apartments of the Prince Bishop.  It is monumental in size and takes in four city blocks.

There is an outdoor-market that is very interesting.  Here they sell some
beautiful linen items, clothing, fruits and vegetables.  I am not finding the
prices here all that reasonable.  The placemats are lovely but are $12 each. Guess I am looking for a bargain!  Pick up some local cookies, which turn out to be delicious.

Finally find the set of knives that I am looking for.  Went to a local department store, which was an experience since very little English was spoken.  Meant to buy the Henkel knives but when I return to the ship I find that I have purchased WMF knives. From what I'm told the WMF is also a very good. Guess that I got so caught up with trying to communicate with them that I lost sight of which set I was purchasing.

We stop in a comic store to look for some collector things for our son.  Find a German version of the Sandman comic -- a favorite of his, and also a comic that is all German including the art work.

Next find a great artsy figure for our daughter.  This is a copy of the work of the artist, Niki De Sainte Phalle.  It is bright colors and unusual and she should love it.  Then come across a very pretty set of plates for myself, not fine china but something that just appeals to me -- they are the seasons of life and I love the colors ($12 each).

Bamberg is a very scenic town and is a great place to spend time in.  We stop at an outdoor café for a drink and to people watch.  Believe it or not it is called The Irish Pub, yes in Germany!  There is the option of remaining in town and walking back to the ship or grabbing a cab.  We return with the tour bus since Jim's cold has him feeling pretty rotten.

We have lunch on board - a nice buffet.  Jim naps.  Many people are taking a tour of the ship's galley -- not my thing!  I spend the afternoon reading and then go to the lounge to hear a lecture on Nuremberg and World War II.  This is very informative and helps us to understand how the German people could have been caught up in the madness of Hitler. The lecture doesn't make excuses for what happened but does offer some insight on the how and why of it. Finally find the gift shop open and buy a few shirts for Jim.  

I go to the cocktail hour alone and find people to sit and visit with. Jim finally comes down but I can tell that he's not feeling at all well  -- his eyes are glassy.

We go to dinner - tonight an American theme.  They serve turkey (there is no choice) which leaves a bit to be desired.  Jim doesn't make it through dinner and leaves before it is over to return to bed.  I remain and visit for awhile with the couple I am seated with.

Sunday, May 27

We wake up in Wurzburg, Germany, and guess what?  Yep, another sunny day! Jim is still not feeling well.

Our ship is docked next to another ship and we need to walk through this
ship's lobby to get to the dock. We are directly across from the Marienburg
Fortress. This was originally a fortified retreat of the Celts and from 1253 to 1719 and was the residence of the Prince Bishops.  In 1600 the fortress was converted to a Renaissance palace, 16 years later to a Baroque fortification.  The Baroque armory houses an excellent collection of Franconian art.

By the end of the 7th century, the town of Wurzburg was a small manorial village.  Records have indicated that the town and its fortress were the seat of the bishops of this region as early as the 8th century.  It was not until the late 17th century that brought about extensive building by the Prince Bishops from the house of Schonborn.  The favorite architect of the period was Balthasar Neumann who designed the Wurzburg Residenz.  It is a magnificent Baroque Palace - often referred to as "the palace of palaces" - built in 1719.  Venetian artist, Tiepolo,  painted the giant fresco, "The Four Continents" (only four were known at the time).  The Residenz is magnificent -- Tiepolo's fresco beautiful -- something that you can look at for hours and you will keep finding something new.  His painting of the elephant in the Asia section is wrong, which tells us that he had never actually seen an elephant.  Also his depiction of the ostrich is quite comical since it has extremely strange legs. The Mirror Room is very ornate, typical Baroque!

Under the Habsburgs, Wurzburg became a member of the Confederation of the Rhine.  Eventually, it was incorporated into Bavaria.  Today's Wurzburg is not all 100% original.  In 1945, just before the surrender of Germany, the city was all but destroyed by allied bombing.  It lasted only 20 minutes, but more than 87% of the city was wiped out; some 4000 inhabitants killed. What we do find today is an authentic restoration, with many of the city's famous sights restored to their former splendor.

We then board the bus for Rothenburg.  We pass many picturesque towns on the Romantic Road on which we are traveling.

Rothenburg is probably the most picturesque of the German villages -- it looks like something out of a fairytale.  Because of the beauty of the town it is inundated with tourists and quite crowded.  Each of our bus groups goes to a different restaurant in Rothenburg for lunch.  Our group is taken to the Golden Deer.  Everyone seems to like the meal of turkey schnitzel, asparagus and a biscuit dessert.  Jim and I take a horse and carriage ride tour of the town with another couple.  This is such a nice way to see Rothenburg -- the driver gives a commentary of what we were seeing.  We see the old town walls that can actually be walked on.  Rothenburg sells "snowballs" -- strips of pastry, sort of like pie dough, that are twisted around each other forming a ball.  Some are covered with powdered sugar, some with cinnamon sugar and there are several other more gooey concoctions. We buy a  couple to try and they are ever so good.  Also pick up a dark bread with dried fruits in it, such as dates and figs.  

Here there is a Kathy Wohlfahrt Christmas shop (actually three of them) that has some lovely things.  We are given a discount coupon for the store.  I purchase two wood carved Christmas pyramids, the type with candles -- the heat of the candles causes it to rotate.  One of mine has a nativity and the other angels.  These run $45 and up depending on the size and amount of detail on them.  I also buy three Smokers -- intricate carved wooden figures that have a place for an incense cone and when lit appear to be smoking.  They have a lot of detail and are a nice remembrance of Germany -- they ran from about $45-100.  This shop will ship any amount for $20, and with my discount coupon my shipping was free.  At least these are a few less things to worry about packing to bring home.  I also find a cut out pewter wall hanging that I love - it is a castle with 24-carat gold trim.  In each section of the castle is a different hand-painted fairy tale.  The detail on it is wonderful and the piece quite pretty.  Hint to Jim that I really like it, so will have to wait and see if he took the hint ($100).  This shop also has Hummel figurines, music boxes and lots of great Christmas ornaments.

The German currency is fairly easy to convert without a converter.  If you
divide by two you are in the general ballpark. Today is Sunday but all the shops seem to be open.  There are Henkel Knives all over the place. Looked at the Henkel men's manicure kits for Christmas gifts but they were $60 and up and more than I wanted to spend.

We meet the ship in Karlstadt.  Once again the crew has trays of cold drinks for us when we arrive.  We are in Karlstadt from 4-7 PM.  We wander around a bit but all these German towns are beginning to look alike and are all carrying pretty much the same merchandise.

We go to the cocktail hour and then to dinner.  Tonight's choice is fish or a veal stew.  I order the fish and enjoy it.  Jim ordered the stew and said it was awful.  He is the only one I know who loses weight on a cruise!  Too much of that fancy stuff for his taste!  At least he is starting to feel better this evening.

Monday, May 28

We truly couldn't have wished for better weather than we are having.  This is unbelievable to have yet one more great day. I just can't begin to tell you what a great guy Jim is.  He shares everything with me including his cold!  Woke up with it this morning and it is just what I need!  So much for the miraculous Echinacea!

We arrive in Wertheim at 9AM. There is a one-hour walking tour with an excellent guide.  Wertheim is another quaint town in Bavaria.  It sits at the confluence of the Main and Tauber Rivers.  As with so many medieval towns, it has a city wall -- this wall borders the Spessart or Woodpecker Forest. The town, once the seat of the counts of Wertheim, has the ruins of what was once one of the largest stone fortresses in the region.  This fortress, Burg, sits on a hill.  The houses in the town are built staggered on the street so that each has a view of the Market Place.  Wertheim is an area of sandstone, which is unstable ground for building.  The river has flooded the town for years and years -- there are markings on many of the buildings, showing the level of the flooding with the year noted.

We visit St. Mary's Chapel, which was once a synagogue.  The synagogue was torn down and a chapel replaced it.   There is an inscription over the doorway, which mentions the original synagogue.

The Stiftskirche built in the 14th century is Gothic but has a flat ceiling over much of the church.  Only the apse is vaulted. There are some lovely sculptures in this church.  There is one of sandstone showing a Count of Wertheim with his two wives and there is a tomb with a sculpture of a husband and wife lying side by side.  We also see a wooden door with a hole in it through which we can view stacked lead caskets.

St, Kilian's Chapel is two levels.  The first floor was a 'bone house' (where the bones of the deceased are left to dry).  On St. Kilian's there is a small statue of a monkey admiring himself in a mirror.  He's holding the mirror in one hand and with the other is scratching his rear.  This was put on the bone house to show the folly of things of the earth because they are not lasting.

After the tour we walk around the shops and our only purchase is a huge suitcase to get our things home in. At this point I am really not feeling well so we return to the ship to rest. Jim and I aren't coordinating our ill health very well! I sit at the open cabin window with a cool breeze blowing in, watching the children of Wertheim feeding the swans. Can't think of anything more relaxing.

The ship sails at noon and we have lunch on the ship. More pork, sausage and sauerkraut - they also offer a choice of steak.

This afternoon a German glass blower comes on board and gives us a demonstration and then his things are offered for sale.  I attend but once again this is a case of the early birds getting the good seats.  I really can't see much but do enjoy what I am able to observe.  He makes some very pretty blown glass bird ornaments and some round glass ornaments.  He also has jewelry.  Buy a ring for a friend ($20).  It is actually quite pretty and the colors in it are very interesting as the light hits it.  I also buy a paperweight for my desk ($16).

We arrive in Miltenberg at 3:30 PM.  We are free to wander on our own.   Miltenberg is among the many small towns situated along the Main River.  It is located in the Bavarian part of Germany known as Franconia.  Still surrounded by a city wall with towers, the town has many small alleys lined with half-timbered houses.  The 13th century castle high above on a hill enhances the medieval atmosphere.  There is a market square in the center of town. This is called the "Schnatterloch" (Gossip Corner).  

Miltenberg is a lovely town and looks like a picture postcard.  We walk along the shopping street.  One interesting thing we see is a huge tag sale that has taken over the town's church.  The shops are mostly for the locals and have a lot of inexpensive type clothing.  There are a couple of nice shops but not many.  I pick up a few postcards and also a silver pendant that has embroidered edelweiss set into it ($20).  Also find a pewter giraffe made in Germany ($20) for a friend who collects giraffes.  Some of the shops carry the work of the glassblower who was on board today and are selling his things for far more than we paid on the ship.  There are sidewalk cafes and across from where we are docked there is a beer garden.  I'm not sure if I am finally shopped out or am just feeling rotten, but I can't wait to get back to the ship.  Once back in the cabin I am back in my seat by the window with my feet up watching the ducks and swans swim by. Jim bought himself some Cuban Monte Cristo cigars and he is sitting on a bench along the river enjoying himself immensely.  

I am enjoying relaxing in the cabin and am not feeling well enough to go to dinner so Jim brings a few hors d'oeuvres to the room for my dinner.  This is when room service would be greatly appreciated.  Jim goes down to the dining room alone.  Tonight's dinner theme is "A Trip Through Europe".  Bet they had more pork and sauerkraut!  Tomorrow we have a full day tour, so figure that it will be smart to get as much rest as possible.  We will be docked in Miltenberg over night.

Tuesday, May 29

I wake up still feeling a bit under the weather and have no desire for breakfast.  Do fix myself a cup of tea.  The good news is that the sun is once again shining on us.  I don't want to miss anything so intend to push myself today.

Our tour leaves from Miltenberg at 8:30 AM. We are taking a full day's excursion to Heidelberg. The name Heidelberg actually comes from two words, "Heidelbeere" (blueberry) and "Berg" (mountain). It is a 1 ½ hour ride to Heidleberg.  We meet two local guides in Heidelberg and our group is split in two. This is the home of Germany's oldest university; forever immortalized, thanks to Sigmund Romberg and his operetta, The Student Prince.  Heidelberg, surrounded by mountains, forests, vineyards, and the Neckar River, is the spirit of romantic Germany.  Its praises have been sung by poets and composers - Goethe, Robert Schumann - and by 19th century American visitors as well.  

We tour the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle and from this vantage point there is a magnificent view of the city below.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about the ruined castle with its Gothic turrets: "Next to the Alhambra in Spain, the castle of Heidelberg is the most romantic ruin of the Middle Ages."  Part of the Powder Tower, blown up by the army of Louis XIV in 1693, is still in the moat where it fell.  In the wine cellar is H. Tun, an enormous flask that can hold 50,000 gallons of wine.  Humorist, Mark Twain, looking out over the city from the castle's ramparts, remarked: "The last possibility of the beautiful…" The view from the castle is spectacular and it is such a nice day to roam around all this beauty and tranquility.

We have a scheduled lunch today in Heidelberg.  They tell us that the menu is cream of asparagus soup, lamb and ice cream with syrup.  I'm not hungry and Jim doesn't like lamb, so we go off on our own.  Our mission is to find a place called Café Gundel.  A friend asked us to take a picture of it if we happened to see it.  We have no trouble finding it and take our photos.  We then sit in its outdoor café.  Jim orders lunch -- some kind of sausage that looks like a hot dog and he doesn't care for it.  So darn picky - he'll be tightening that belt another notch!  I order a coke, which feels so good on my throat.  

We then walk to the shopping district and look around.  I find another Kathy Wohlfahrt Christmas shop where I buy myself a very pretty Hummel. We are told that there are a lot of fake Hummels out there but that Kathy Wohlfahrt is reputable.  Also find a tapestry purse for my daughter, and a square candleholder with a Christmas motif of stained glass for the light to show through ($8).  At first I didn't think that they gave us enough time to shop and now I think we have too much time on our hands.  Just about everyone was back to the appointed place to meet the bus way ahead of schedule. Think that we are all getting tired.  While waiting for the bus, I did find some matchbox type "smart cars" ($3.50), which I bought for some of the children on my list.

We are scheduled to meet the ship in Offenbach/Mainz at 5:30.  However, we find out that the ship is delayed at one of the locks and will not be meeting us on time -- and I was so looking forward to getting back to the ship to shower and relax.  Nothing I can do about it so decide to just accept things as they are.  We are given a bus tour of the city of Frankfurt to help kill time.  I don't think any of our hearts are in this tour right now. Frankfurt is a banking city and the home to branches of some 390 world banks -- it is where the Rothschild banking family resided.

When we finally arrive back at the ship and I can't shower and get into my
pajamas quickly enough.  Really need to hit that bed and fight off this
bronchial cough and sinus infection.  I haven't eaten in the dining room
since yesterday at lunch and am starting to get hungry but don't have the
energy to go down to eat. Jim is starting to sprout angel wings - he brings
some of those yummy hors d'oeuvres to the room for me.  I also have a
Bavarian pretzel that we bought in Heidelberg.

Jim goes down for dinner alone once again.  There is a crew show tonight and he attends that.  Everyone who saw it really enjoyed it.  One of the crewmembers did an Elvis impersonation that was supposedly great.  After the show Jim joined his buddies for a cigar.

The natives are beginning to get restless.  I have heard so many people say that they are ready to go home.  Think the main problem is that we are visiting so many places in Germany and one is blending into the other.  It is hard to remember which is which.  They all begin to look alike, a bit too much sameness. Before falling asleep I fill out my VAT Tax Forms so that they will be ready for customs.

The ship sails from Mainz at 10:00 PM.  Mainz is perhaps the best known as the place where Guttenberg first introduced moveable type.  In Mainz, our water route takes us out of the Main River, the Rhine's largest tributary.

May 30 Wednesday

We are in Rudesheim and we have been blessed with yet one more of these
gorgeous days. Rudesheim is near the Bingener Loch in an area that was once not navigable. The town prospered in the 11th century as a storage place for goods being transported along the Rhine.  Today, the town has become one of the most important wine centers of Germany.

I opt for a cup of tea in the room but Jim has a regular full breakfast in the dining room.  I am still feeling horrid and consider staying in bed and skipping the tour.  Am I ever glad I push myself and go.  We are taken by a train (type that rides on the street) to the gondola taking us up to Niederwald Denkmal. This is a colossal monument overlooking the Rudesheim vineyards and the Rhine. It was constructed at the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and is also dedicated to the unification of the German States. At the cable car there is a photographer to take your photo as you start your ascent.  And surprise; when you came back down there is a photo of you ready for purchase!  The gondola is never very far off of the ground.  We pass over vineyards and have the most spectacular view of the Rhine Valley.  The sun is warm and there is a delightful breeze and I feel like I am in heaven floating along over such beautiful scenery. At the top we get off and walk to the monument, Niederwald Denkmal.  This is a beautiful park where many locals come to relax and the monument is huge and quite impressive.  The ride back down is equally pleasant.  

Once down we walk around the charming little town of Rudesheim.  Hit the Kathie Wohlfahrt shop (find out that they have shops in many German cities). Here, buy some very pretty cocktail paper napkins and another Smoker, this one a clock maker. Jim gets himself a mini cuckoo clock ($15). Wonder just how long this will run?

It is a 20-minute walk back to the ship.  We return to the ship at 11:30,
sail at noon, and have lunch on the ship, a buffet with a cold salad section and several hot entrees.

This afternoon we sail through the Rhine Gorge, past the legendary rock of
Loreley.  According to legend, Loreley's sweet songs lured the sailors to their doom.  At this point the river narrows and the currents become strong. They play a song about Loreley as we pass rock.  Also see the statue of Loreley, which is a copy of the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen. Along the gorge we see vineyards on very steep slopes and the castles of the Rhine looking down.  These castles were each their own city-state and collected tolls for the boats to pass on the river. There are many bends in the river and many of the castles have been turned into hotels or youth hostels.  This is probably the most breathtaking scenery of all.  Jim goes up on deck but I decide to stay in the room and enjoy our Rhine cruise from our cabin window.  With the window open and the cool breezes coming in, and of course my feet up, I am able to turn on the speaker in the room and hear the whole commentary of what we were seeing.  This sure is the life!

We arrive in Koblenz at 3:00 PM.  I don't get off here.  Jim did and found it
a disappointment --didn't feel that there was much here at all.  He stayed
with the walking tour for about 20 minutes and then gave up.  Koblenz is at
the junction of both the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.  It has been a source of
prosperity throughout history.  Early records date to the Roman's who
occupied the area and built a castle during the peak of their empire.  The
town was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishops of Trier in the 11th
century.  In time, Koblenz became wealthy through the levying of tolls for
ships traveling along the Rhine River.  Today, the city is known by its
symbol, Ehrenbreitstein Castle, located strategically on the opposite side of
the river.   As with many German cities, the toll of World War II was that of
massive destruction.  Foresight of the city planners, however, enabled many of the buildings to be rebuilt in their original designs.

My project for the afternoon is to start packing some of our things.  I am
practically in tears wondering how in the world I am going to fit everything
in.  And I just had to have all of these treasures that I purchased!  After
several hours I think that I have it all under control.  Wrong!  I packed my
carry-on and find out that the bags have to be out the night before we debark and I now need the carryon for the clothes I will be using.  So it is back to the drawing board.  Finally squeeze it all in and have very little left to still pack.

Tonight is the Captain's Farewell dinner.  Wine is included.  Poor Jim is once again on his own.  Don't want to go to the dining room coughing the way I am.  Jim once again brings me a few hors d'oeuvres for my dinner.  Love the hors d'oeuvres but they aren't quite dinner!  Tonight is a dress up night and Jim sits with a large group - he is in his glory since the waiter pours him two glasses of wine every time he passes - one for Jim and one for his absent wife!  Dinner was soup, salad, fish appetizer, grilled lamb and Baked Alaska. Jim said the dinner was delicious and he doesn't like lamb.  Think he must be mighty hungry!  After dinner they have the Shanty Choir perform in the lounge.  Nobody is overly impressed with them.

Tonight we get our luggage tags and our guidelines for tipping.  They recommend $12-14 per person per day for the crew and $3-5 per person per day for the tour managers.  We have Jan pre and post cruise and Sonja on the cruise so will tip each accordingly.

Thursday, May 31

Today we are in Cologne and it is another day of the sun shining brightly.  
This weather is too good to be true!  I'm still dragging but plan to see as
much as I can.

The History of Cologne (Koln) can be traced back to the days of the Roman
Empire.  Its name comes from the wife of Nero and daughter of General
Germanicus.  For more than 300 years, the city flourished because of its
location on a major crossroad of European trade routes.  By the time of the
Middle Ages, Cologne a member of the powerful Hanseatic League, became
important in European Commerce, even surpassing both London and Paris. Prior to the 19th century it had become Germany's largest city.  Its strategic location on the Rhine brought great development.

We are given a choice of three tours - a chocolate museum, an art museum or the Cathedral.  We choose to visit the Cologne Cathedral.  We are bused for the tour but are on our own to return to the ship.  The Cathedral is a 10-minute walk back to the ship and the two museums are a 25-30 minute walk. Most of Cologne was bombed during World War II but the Cathedral was left standing.  Did the Allies try to avoid it or was it a miracle? As a place of Catholic pilgrimage, Cologne was second only to Rome in importance.  The faithful arrived in vast numbers from all of Europe to see the relics of the Magi, the three kings who paid homage to the infant Jesus. The authenticity of these relics is questionable, but the faith of those early pilgrims survives.  The relics are kept just behind the altar in the original enormous gold and silver reliquary.  The other great treasure of the cathedral is the Gero Cross, which is estimated to be over a thousand years old. The cross shows Christ hanging, already dead, rather than depicted, as dying, which is the usual way. There is also a Madonna with all sorts of jewelry pinned to her. A few of us refer to her as the "Shopping Madonna". The priests walk around the cathedral with wooden moneyboxes hanging around their necks. Have never seen donations solicited in quite this way! The stained glass windows were removed from the cathedral prior to World War II in order to preserve them. Today the city is still the center of the German Roman Catholic Church, with its Gothic Cathedral (Kolner Dom), which is the largest and finest in the country.

Walk around the pedestrian shopping street. Didn't buy a thing except to stop at a bakery and buy a piece of apple strudel.  I still haven't had the opportunity to taste it.  It is delicious and worth waiting for.

Today, Cologne is the capital of the Rhineland. It is one of the major crossroads of Germany where transportation, goods and services are the heart of its commercial activity. Cologne claims to have more beer than any other German city.  More than 20 local breweries all produce a variety called Kolsch, a relatively light and slightly bitter beer.  It is also known for one of its most celebrated products: Eau de Cologne. In addition to the original scent, No. 4711, other scents are available.

Getting back to the ship was a bit tricky, thank goodness for Jim's good sense of direction.  This is the most unbelievable thing, we have just completed our last tour and the thunderstorms come.  Talk about perfect timing!  It rained the day we were on the bus coming to the ship, but once on board not a day of rain until this last tour is completed.  The storms only
last about 10 minutes and then Mr. Sun is back out as bright as ever.

We have lunch on board and then I complete my packing as we sail for Amsterdam. At 2:00 PM we attend a briefing for the people who are taking the post cruise extension in Amsterdam - there are about 34 of us. After this, I return to the room and just sit at my open window watching the world go by as we cruise the lower Rhine.  As we near Holland the land grows flat and modern looking windmills appear. The scenery consists of castles, sheep, horses, rolling green hills, quaint towns and villages, and windmills, what more can you ask for?

Jim and I go down to the cocktail hour. The pianist plays "Cruising Down the River" and everyone sings along.  This is our last night and people are starting to say their good-byes. After missing so many cocktail hours and meals, people tell me that I look so much better - that I had been looking so ill.  Must have really been looking bad for it to be so noticeable!  At 7:00 we have dinner.  I get through the appetizer and then start coughing so have to excuse myself.  So much for looking and feeling better!  Am beginning to get very hungry!  Do wish they had room service.

Bags out before bed.

Friday June 1

Today we debark the ship at 7:30AM and board our bus for our hotel. Originally, the only tour scheduled for our post cruise stay in Amsterdam was an evening canal cruise tour. However, our tour manager, Jan, didn't like this plan since we would be sitting around waiting for our hotel rooms until afternoon, so he got permission to get a bus for us for a half day tour. This is absolutely wonderful.  

We first go to the flower auction in Aalsmeer.  This is the largest flower auction in the world.  The building itself, I believe they said was the size of 700 football fields and it is under the largest roof in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records).  The market starts in the wee hours of the morning when all the flowers are brought in.  These flowers are in crates on carts and are being wheeled all over the place.  I have never seen so many varieties (ones many of us have never seen before) or such a profusion of gorgeous colors.  What is really amazing is that each and every flower appears to be perfect, don't see one wilting bloom.  We are also able to see the bidding rooms.  It is interesting to note that most of the bidders are men with only an occasional token woman.  The bidders sit at desks and have electronic equipment and microphones.  On the floor there is a person pointing to the cart of flowers being auctioned.  The bidding is done electronically and very fast.  Within 24 hours, the flowers will arrive at their final destination.  You walk along a bridge overlooking the auction and there is a commentary telling you what you are seeing.  At the end of the tour there is a gift shop -- here you are able to purchase different packages of bulbs. I order one package called a "Spring Garden" for a friend. This contains a variety of different flowers, including tulips, which will bloom for 100 days in the spring. These will be shipped to my home in October. Believe I pay about $60. They have no bulbs that you can carry home, since the bulbs they have, have not been inspected for export.  

Next we go to a small village in Zaandam called Zaanse Schans. It was created in 1960 as a monument to village life in the 17th century. Shops, cottages, windmills, houses and historic buildings have been relocated here to create a museum village, in which people can live and work. This is exactly how one would picture Holland, absolutely the most charming little place to stroll through. We visit a shop where they demonstrate the making of wooden shoes. They explain how it was once done by hand but today is done much faster by machine. The shop has wooden shoes in every size and color for purchase along with other souvenir items. We then visit a cheese maker where we were able to sample the different cheeses. Bought the smoked goat cheese, which was my favorite. Also pick up a imitation Delft cheese knife. Another shop has a young man painting Delft porcelain. There is also a mustard maker and of course mustard to  purchase. The local Dutch community is dedicated to preserving the traditional Dutch way of life and Zaanse Schans is run as a piece of living history. The inhabitants operate the carefully restored windmills themselves; these include a mustard mill, the last working oil mill still in existence, and mills that generate power. The energy they produce goes to sawing logs for building timber, and to grinding minerals to made pigments used in paint.

Time to go to the hotel. We take a smoking room since only the smoking rooms are ready.  Want to get settled.  This is a lovely hotel and the room very comfortable and roomy and we detect no odor of smoke. The room has a safe, mini bar and robe and slippers for our use but no view! As soon as we get settled we meet two other couples for lunch at a local little restaurant. I only order a coke, but the others order hamburgers. The hamburgers are served without a roll and each has a scoop of mayonnaise and one of catsup on top--not very appealing. Our hotel is right in the heart of things and this is a very convenient location. Next we take a tram to a diamond factory. The tour shows how they cut and polish the diamonds -- a waste of time. Naturally, the tour ends in a showroom where you can purchase diamond jewelry. You would think that they are giving it away the way people are pushing and shoving to get near to the jewelry. Couldn't even get close enough to be tempted.  One friend did buy a ring with diamonds and rubies and it really is very pretty.  I have no idea of whether the prices are fair or not.

Then Jim and I walk along the tram tracks (one way not to get lost) to the main pedestrian street.  We are looking for a used bookstore.  Our son is doing research on the history of marijuana, especially the propaganda associated with it. So we are on a hunt to find some books that he doesn't already have. What better place to look than Amsterdam where soft drugs are served in coffee houses!  We do find the store that we are looking for and they do have one book that looks like it might be something that he will like. There are all kinds of warnings about pickpockets -- we have no problem but are careful not to carry much with us and keep things in a front pocket with our hands over it. We do see one incident where a team of men pat down an older man and I am sure lighten his pockets.

We then head back to the hotel (following those tram tracks) and have an early dinner at the hotel restaurant. Decide to take a nap before our evening canal cruise.  

At 9:00 PM we all meet in the lobby and walk across the street to board our canal boat.  It is still light when we start the cruise at 9:30 but does turn dark before long.  This is a wine and cheese candlelight cruise and lasts close to two hours.  What a wonderful way to see Amsterdam!  The bridges are lit up and we see the lights reflecting in the water - beautiful. What I find especially interesting is that most of the homes along the canals don't have any window coverings so you are able to see the interior of the homes and the décor.  The Amsterdamers feel that they have nothing to hide.  We eventually hit the Red Light District, which is just unbelievable.  The prostitutes pose in windows that are illuminated with a red lighting.  All are covered, mostly with underwear.  Some wear white and there is a black light on them that gives a day-glow effect. The only restriction seems to be that we are not allowed to take photos of the women.  While looking out of my window I see two men up on a bridge either having or simulating sex. Amsterdam is a city where anything goes. They are very liberal and have tolerance for most anything.  This evenings canal cruise is something that I would highly recommend.

Saturday June 2

Today Jim goes down for breakfast -- included in our package.  According to Jim, it was awful -- cold eggs!  I had wanted to see the Anne Frank House, but according to the people who went there yesterday, the lines were very long and they were not able to get in.  Consider catching a tour from the hotel but it doesn't leave until 2:30PM and lasts 3 ½ hours, which will get us back a bit late for this evening's farewell dinner.  

This morning, Jim and I go on a search for another used bookstore that has been recommended.  Find it in the Red Light District. They have another book, which looks worthwhile.  Then rather than back track to get to the hotel, we walk through the Red Light District.  We have been told that it is safe in the daytime, but to remain vigilant.  Even in the day the ladies are posing in those windows and the sex shops abound.  We do see a Hash and Marijuana Museum that we go into - even pay admission!  Oh the things we do for our kids!  Ask about material for our son and are sent next door to a place where they grow pot - we are getting quite an education!  Here I find a few more books and also a marijuana propaganda tee shirt for him.  Our hotel backs up to the Red Light District, although it is not in it.  Amsterdam is a Mecca for young people.  The young backpackers are streaming out of the train station.  I'm sure that the coffee shops (where soft drugs are sold and used) are one of the main reasons that the city is so popular.  Find a comic store and some interesting Dutch things for him.  

Return to the hotel and have lunch.  I stop in at the hotel gift shop to buy some postcards.  Also purchase four small pictures that have a 3-D look by Anton Pieke.  Would have liked the larger ones but settle for the small ones since packing space is at a premium.  While in the gift shop, a man comes in dressed in the cutest little mini dress with his stockings and heels -- not really a pretty sight since he didn't bother to do his hair or makeup.  My guess is that he is stoned because he is very loud - this could explain why the hair and makeup aren't done!  He is speaking Dutch to the shop owner and growing very annoyed because he has five gilders (a little over a dollar) and doesn't' quite understand why he can't buy one of the expensive watches.  

We had planned to go to the museums this afternoon with another couple but the heavens have opened so decide to stay at the hotel.  Think if I were feeling better, I might have more energy to push to see more.  The museums will have to wait for a return trip to Amsterdam.

This evening we meet for our Farewell Dinner at the hotel. One couple tells us of their experience during the day. A bike rider (they are all over and you really have to stay out of their way, if you don't want to be knocked down) was ahead of them and wearing a trench coat.  He fell off the bike and as he did the coat flew up and he had nothing on underneath. As he got up he mooned them! You really do see it all in Amsterdam! The dinner is very nice -- loin of veal. We all say our good-byes.

Sunday June 3

We are picked up by a van at the hotel at 8:30 AM and driven to the airport. This driver is wonderful and handles the luggage for us.  Now the  fun begins, once again.  We get up to the KLM counter and my carry on bag is too heavy so it is back to the scale and redistributing weight - seems like I have been here before! As my bag sits unzipped on the scale a KLM employee picks it up and all my things go flying all over the airport floor. Just love my underwear on display for all to see! At this point I am fuming that he dared to touch my bag. I ask him to sign something saying that he has dropped my things since there are breakables in the bag. He then tells me that he doesn't believe me, that I have any breakables in the bag. Now I am furious and on a roll at being called a liar. I demand to see a manager. A lot of good this does - she tells me that I am not in the US where they may do things differently. It was a no win situation but at least we finally get the carry-on at the right weight and no one says anything about any of the other bags being overweight. Thank heaven for small favors!

Our flight is uneventful and a bit more comfortable than the one coming to Amsterdam. When we arrive in Newark, we get through customs quickly and then find that our driver is not here to pick us up.  We call the limousine service and are told that he is downstairs - all the other drivers are outside of customs holding cards with the names. So we wait at a designated spot and he finally comes around to pick us up. At least, after this entire hassle, he has a stretch limo so we are very comfortable on the way home.

Summary

We really did have a wonderful time. Comparing river cruising to other cruising is like comparing apples to oranges.  Vantage really did a lovely job and I have no complaints about the company.  We were definitely taken care of at all times.

In my opinion, taking a river cruise to see these countries is the easiest way to travel since you have your hotel with you. Doing this by land tour would be very tiring with all the packing and unpacking and the on and off buses. However, river cruising does have its downside. The ships dock next to each other so on many occasions you are looking right into the windows of another boat while docked. Also the ships are much smaller and there are fewer passengers. This has its good and bad points. On the one hand you pretty well get to know everyone traveling with you, but on the other, it is hard not to run into people that you would rather avoid.

My other disappointment was the food. With such a small number of passengers, they do not offer many selections - too much pork and sauerkraut on this particular cruise. The food is all on the gourmet side with lots of sauces. For the plain eater it would be nice to have more to choose from. Jim lost seven pounds on this cruise and most people gain weight! Most of the appetizers were fish and there were no alternative choices. In fairness to the cruise line the Maitre D' did ask if there is anything that you didn't eat and they do try to accommodate you. For Jim, when he tried to tell them, it got to the point of being ridiculous and he got embarrassed and didn't pursue it. My other disappointment was that there was no room service menu. Since we were both sick there were times that I'd skip meals since I didn't feel up to going to the dining room and having a sandwich in the room would have been nice.

The other problem with the cruise was that there really was no mix of ages. Most cruise lines cater to the older crowd but you can usually find a few other ages mixed in. This seemed to be a very homogeneous crowd.  Most  were around the same age and retired. They were for the most part well traveled, opinionated, and there were a good number of complainers. Someone told us that they were liberal Democrats and had only found one other couple like themselves. I personally prefer more of a mix of backgrounds and interests. This could be just our particular passenger list and not the norm for Vantage. There was one gay couple on board who were a very welcome breath of fresh air - lots of fun!

Another negative for me is having a set mealtime. We prefer when dinner is served between say 7-9 and you can go down at your leisure. The open seating system of sitting where and with whom you like is something that we did very much enjoy.

Not offering balcony rooms was another negative for me. The sliding glass
door was fine but not the same as sitting on your own private balcony.

The ship did offer a laundry service but a dry cleaning service would have
been nice.

Jim and I are definitely not night owls when we are doing so much touring.  
But would enjoy having a show to go to at night. We don't need the big
Broadway productions of the large cruise ships, but we do enjoy a small show. I would also prefer a lounge where the viewing is good for all passengers.

There is no ship photographer, which for us was neither a plus nor a minus.

For the most part the dress on board was a very casual.  For daytime touring shorts were worn by many. There were two evenings, which they refer to as formal, the men are asked to wear suit jackets and ties but not everyone had them. The women looked nice but there were no cocktail dresses or gowns. Other evenings men seemed to wear collared shirts and slacks and women, a nice slack outfit, skirt or dress (Capri pants were also worn). There were even a few men in tee shirts for dinner.

I don't mean to sound negative because the cruise was really lovely. I am sure that both of us being sick also has a lot to do with some of our negative feelings. I can find no fault with Vantage, except for a few little minor details. It is just that I prefer cruising on a bit larger ship, not large but more than 140 passengers. River cruising is not as appealing to me as other cruises that we have taken.

Before this cruise I looked all over the Internet to find something on the Vantage River Cruises and could find nothing.  I hope that this may help someone else to decide if this is the type of trip that they might enjoy. 


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