Day 13 – Prague, Czech Republic

We decided to tour Prague as a group again and rejoined Maggie, David and Mikaela in the morning.

Inside of Cacao, note the ceiling
Inside of Cacao, note the ceiling
My Cafe Americano
My Caffe Americano

The hotel concierge recommended Cacao – another restaurant located nearby. While the others ordered continental breakfasts, I was starving and so I ordered the pure American breakfast – scrambled eggs, bacon and a Caffe Americano.

View of the Legion Bridge
View of the Legion Bridge

We set our sights for the Charles Bridge and boarded the Hop On Hop Off Bus. While we could see the bridge from afar, there were so many “Kodak moments” that it took us awhile to get there.

From my research, Kampa Island and the Lennon Wall were located directly off the Charles Bridge and I was happy that everyone else was ok with visiting these destinations.

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After reaching the Charles Bridge, we were surprised by the huge crowd of people. Until this moment, I had no idea how many people in the town were tourists. Some were having their caricatures done and many people were taking pictures from the bridge with the city as a backdrop.

Due to the crowds and the scenery, it took awhile to cross the bridge. I incorrectly thought that Kampa Island was on this side of the river and after asking someone, we discovered that it was on the side that we entered the bridge. Returning back, we set our sights for finding the Lennon Wall.

The wall was once a normal wall, but since the 1980s, it has been filled with John Lennon inspired art and lyrics from Beatles’ songs. The wall is considered be more like graffiti and is continually changing as layers of new paint are applied.

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A newly married couple posed for pictures in front of the Lennon Wall. I found it funny that we coincidentally joined up with them again on Kampa Island where they were taking pictures with the Vitava River as a backdrop.

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Fortunately, we found our way back to the Hop On Hop Off bus stop and deboarded where the boat cruise was set to sail. After boarding, you had a choice of sitting in a chair above deck or going below to stay warm. Peggy and I opted for the latter while Kari joined everyone else and took the pictures shown.

Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus
Inside the Hop On Hop Off Bus

Since we had an early flight the next day, we opted out of attending the Prague folklore show with a traditional Czech dinner, beer, wine and soft drinks. It we didn’t have to fly out early, this event sounded like a good way to experience some local culture.

We kept it simple by going to La Gare again. Peggy ordered the Beef Bourguignon and I ordered the Duck Leg Confit. She considered her dish to be outstanding. While my dish was good, I thought the duck config at White Horse was superior in both taste and there the duck wasn’t dry. We both really enjoyed the Merlot / Cab Franc blend from Saint-Émilion.

I’m sorry to say that this is the final post of our fabulous vacation. Tomorrow, we fly out of Prague at 7:00 a.m. for a connecting flight to London. We will home by the time this is published.

 

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Day 12 – Prague, Czech Republic

For breakfast, we decided to eat at a restaurant outside of the hotel. After walking a short time, we decided on Cafe Imperial. Since it was late in the morning, I think they were hestitant to seat us because they didn’t want the table tied up through the lunch hour. Don’t they realize American’s don’t spend two hours eating breakfast?

Almost always, I will order something that I haven’t experienced before. This time it was soft boiled eggs with horseradish and fresh chopped chives. While I liked the dish, given other choices, I’m not sure I would order it again. I’m the kind of guy that squirts sriracha sauce on my eggs.

We decided  to get an overview of the city by purchasing a Hop on / Hop off bus pass. We felt that this would give us a good sense of the city and where we needed to focus are attention on.

At the Christmas Market in front of the Prague Castle
At the Christmas Market in front of the Prague Castle
One of two palace guards
One of two palace guards

We deboarded on the desired bus stop, but it took us awhile to find the Prague Castle. Many people consider this collection of buildings to be the most significant Czech monument and one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic.

Entrance to the palace - two guards are in the foreground.
Entrance to the palace – two guards are in the foreground.
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St Vitus Cathedral
Above the entrance to the church portion of the palace
Above the entrance to the church portion of the palace
Beautiful stained class inside the church
Beautiful stained class inside the church

IMG_3980In the research I performed before the trip, I identified a French restaurant across the street from our hotel – La Gare. Despite not having reservations, we were able to get a table at the back of the restaurant.

I ordered the Seafood Stew and Peggy ordered Coq au Vin. The seafood stew had a good amount of steamed mussels, small pieces of whitefish and shrimp in a tomato based broth.

 

Earlier in the day we agreed to attend a live showing of Swan Lake; a ballet. Our seats were only 11 rows out and you could hear the squeaking of the ballet slippers as they danced across the floor. Out of respect to the performers, I did not take any pictures during the performance.

The Swan Lake stage
The Swan Lake stage

Day 11 – Leaving the Viking Cruise Ship and heading to Prague, Czech Republic

Leaving a cruise ship is never a fun experience. You have to make sure that everything is packed in advance and your bags are in the hallway for someone to take off the ship. Our silver lining was the fact that we weren’t headed to the airport, instead we were headed to Prague, Czech Republic.

bucket-list
Image credit: ascenicdetour.com

Like many of you, I have a bucket list. It the last couple of years, I don’t think I made any progress on it. However with this trip, I am really happy because I knocked off three items: a European river cruise, attending the German Christmas Markets and visiting Prague, Czech Republic.

Many of the passengers had outbound flights that left early in the morning; most had already departed the ship by the time we arrived to the dining room. We had our usual breakfast, said our good-byes to the staff and deboarded the ship.

The ride from Nuremberg to Prague
The ride from Nuremberg to Prague

Our private mini van was already parked next to the ship and was ready to take us. Our driver, John, helped us with our bags and he even provided us with bottled water for our approximate 3 hour trip to Prague.

The journey was mostly through open terrain, though there were a few industrial towns we passed through. In Germany, the city sign labelled Prague as “Prag” and after we crossed the Czech boarder, the city became Praha.

John was a very good driver; in fact he would ensure that our ride was comfortable as he would intentionally slow down over cobblestone streets and rough terrain. Because we didn’t experience any traffic or general slowdown, we got to the Prague Marriott hotel rather quickly.

Gingerbread House in the hotel lobby
Gingerbread House in the hotel lobby

Both the inside and outside of the hotel was fully decked out for the holidays. In fact, the staff at the front desk were all wearing Santa hats. An enormous gingerbread house graced the lobby.

Mikaela’s Mom, Maggie, was due to join up with us at the hotel. Because we weren’t sure about her arrival time, we headed out to the Prague Christmas Market in the Old Town Square.

As we were strolling through the Old Town Square, a lady pulled Peggy aside and gave her the run down of her restaurant – White Horse Prague. There were quite  few people eating outside in the enclosed area. However, the group wanted to eat inside instead.

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I was highly skeptical when I didn’t see any customers inside the restaurant. Two of the staff were folding napkins as we walked by. We then took a steep flight downstairs to a 12th century Romanesque cellar.

After lunch we exchanged text messages with Maggie and ended up meeting at the “Big Tree” in the Old Town Square.

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Mikaela and Maggie

Maggie’s brother, David, was with her when we met up with them at the Christmas Market. It was hard to believe that he flew from LA to Amsterdam and connected there to catch a flight into Prague. He didn’t look tired at all. Mikaela and Maggie were delighted to be reunited again.

IMG_3849Because I still wasn’t feeling well, I decided against going out in the evening. I ended up eating at a couple of stands at the Christmas Market near the hotel. Peggy, Maggie, David and Mikaela attended a Christmas Concert at St. Nicholas Church.

There the Vivaldi Orchestra Prague gave a great performance. David commented that while there were only eight musicians playing, the performance sounded impressive. W. A. Mozart played this organ during his stay in Prague as a guest of the Dušeks.

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David, Maggie, Mikaela, Peggy and Kari attended a Christmas concert.

 

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View of the Old Town Square from the church tower

 

 

Impressions from the Viking Romantic Danube Cruise

It wasn’t until I met Peggy that I was introduced to the idea of cruising for a vacation. Together, we’ve sailed on four ocean cruises. The idea of taking a river cruise in Europe sounded appealing and I’m glad we ended up taking one.

We were originally supposed to board the Viking Njord and were told that they substituted the Baldur due to mechanical issues with the Njord. Boarding the Baldur, everything was bright, shiny and without chips or nicks; it seemed like a brand new ship. I later learned that it was two years old.

IMG_3040These “Longships” are specifically designed for Viking and made for cruising rivers with low bridges and river locks. All rooms are outward facing and have a floor to ceiling view. Due to their design, each room can only accommodate a maximum of two individuals. Consequently, we had to purchase an additional cabin for Kari and told her that she can invite a friend. She ended up inviting Mikaela.

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Viking’s target market appears to be Americans as everything is written in English, the staff will converse with you in English and the on-board TV has English speaking channels (including BBC News). The girls loved the nice size of the LCD screen and that they had a good selection of movies to watch.

Breakfast in the dining room was one of our favorite things to do. The food was delicious and it was enjoyable to converse with the staff. Probably the most popular choice was the made-to-order omelette. The breakfast buffet consisted of hot dishes like scrambled eggs and bacon. Muffins, toast, oatmeal, muesli and fruit were available for those seeking healthier options. Mikaela and I enjoyed the lox & cream cheese creations.

While the breakfasts didn’t vary that much, I appreciated the dinner options. They even featured a German / Austrian traditional dinner. Non-adventurous diners could eat a steak or broiled salmon each day.

The food on the Viking was very good. Considering the size of the kitchen staff, they can’t afford to take a lot of time doing kitchen prep. Yet, I was amazed that they offered items like pork knuckle and braised ribs. My favorite dish of the trip was the lobster risotto.

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I think Viking’s beverage offering is quite reasonable. Complimentary bottle water is available in the cabin and you can request more, if needed. Unless you are on a beverage package, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages have a fee and are charged to your room. Fees for these drinks are waived while you eat during their meal service.

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On the Germany / Austria night, they allowed us to tour the kitchen. It was hard to believe that they did not much in the way of “burners”. I use quotations because they are not allowed to use gas and they use an induction range instead.

WiFi is available free on-board, but realistically you can’t get a decent signal until you come out to the common areas. Because the ship is moving constantly, Internet service is provided via a satellite service.

Near real-time maps on your TV
Near real-time maps on your TV

If you ever wonder where you are, all you need to do is to flip on your TV and select “My Journey”. It will display a version of Google Maps and you can toggle between street vs imagery.

Viking did an outstanding job hiring local tour guides. They were all extremely knowledgable about their local area. Most of the had a good sense of humor and were actually quite interesting. My favorite tour guide was the student, Patrick, in Nuremberg because he was both knowledgable about the town and its history and extremely funny.

Viking also broke up the day by providing on-board events: Making Christmas cookies, Staff Sing-Along, Christmas Caroling and German Tea Time. In fact, the Hotel Manager, Michael did an amazing impression of Louis Armstrong and sung “It’s a Wonderful World.”

Wheel House
Wheelhouse on the Baldur

Peggy signed up for a Captain’s tour of the wheelhouse. There she learned the intracacies of piloting a riverboat. Because some of the bridges are very low, the wheelhouse is retractable so that only a small portion is above deck.

If you’re an avid ocean cruiser and wonder what’s missing? Here are some that come to mind –  Viking doesn’t offering the following: casino, spa, pool, gym, large theater for shows.

What I did like was the fact that you weren’t bombarded with requests to have your picture taken. I usually try to avoid the photographer when I see him or her.

I’ve been wanting to experience a river cruise for a number of years. Now that I’ve been on one, I can’t wait for my next one.

 

 

Day 10 – Afternoon tour into Nuremberg

Because it was Christmas Day, museums, most restaurants and shops were closed. This time, Peggy, Kari and Mikaela took the city tour into Nuremberg, Germany and I remained on the ship.

IMG_0376 IMG_0378The bus stopped at the Nazi party rally grounds at the location where Adolf Hitler gave his speeches. The Nazi rally grounds is an approximate 6 square mile area in southeast Nuremberg.  Many tourists want to take a picture doing the Hitler gesture, but doing so is considered “illegal” and may result in a jail sentence.

Presently there is a lot of debate about whether the Nazi party rally rounds should remain as an historical landmark or whether they should demolish it and build a soccer stadium. There are many that feel that retaining this landmark will give Nuremberg a permanent black mark.

They drove by the Nazi documentation center. This area was used to process Jews during World War II. Present day German officials decided that it would send a powerful message to use the documentation center as a way to process the current Syria refugees into Germany.

IMG_0380The Nuremberg Castle was the next stop on the tour.  The top of the castle provided great views of the city. It was built as a defense tower complete with a moat that never had water surrounding it.

Among the Christmas Markets in Germany, the Christmas Market in Nuremberg had just closed for the season. A couple were still open selling Glühwein. Despite being Christmas Day, there were a lot of people in the streets.

Trivia Fact: Sandra Bullock was raised in Nuremberg for 12 years and grew up speaking German.

 

 

Day 10 – Merry Christmas from Nuremberg, Germany

 

 

The night before, Boris had warned us that due to the number of locks we needed to go through, our arrival to Nuremberg could be as late as 1:00 p.m. local time, Christmas Day.

During breakfast, we we surprised to hear that we were going to arrive to Nuremberg significantly earlier than expected. Because of that Boris phoned ahead and arranged for a bus to take us into town. He explained that we would not have a tour guide to lead us, but the bus would be available to take us to town and back to the ship for lunch.

Peggy elected to remain behind with the girls and I signed up for the bus ride.

A Viking bus pulled up alongside the ship and transported over 40 individuals. A student by the name of Patrick, joined us and provided commentary throughout the ride into Old Town, Nuremberg. Patrick provided effective commentary and was quite humorous in the delivery.

After we debarked from the bus, Patrick assembled us at a key intersection and gave everyone a wide variety of things to do. There were 2 church services that we about to start, a nice public view platform of the city, the names & locations of restaurants and coffee shops that were open that day.

On the 7th floor of a public garage in Nuremberg.

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What sounded most appealing to me was to go to the public garage and take the elevator up to the 7th floor. Patrick explained that the best views of the city were from the roof and he was right!

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The Pegnitz River, Nuremberg Germany
The Pegnitz River, Nuremberg, Germany
The Pegnitz River, Nuremberg, Germany

Along the riverbank was a Starbucks and it happened to be open. I walked along the bank of the river and enjoyed the sights. I was amazed at the number of people riding the bus on Christmas Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 9 – Regensburg, Germany

On Thursday, we docked in Regensburg, Germany. With over 140,000 people, Regensburg is the fourth-largest city in the State of Bavaria after Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg.

Regensburg owns the largest medieval old town north of the Alps with over 1,000 historic buildings. Its most famous sights are located mainly in the Old Town.

The iconic, Stone Bridge
The iconic Stone Bridge

In approximately 1100 AD, the Stone Bridge was build across the Danube River. It is an amazing example of medieval engineering and construction. The renovation is expected to be complete by 2017.

Kari, Peggy and Mikaela inside the Cathedral
Kari, Peggy and Mikaela inside the Cathedral

Fearing damage from the bombings taking place during World War II, the town residents removed the stained glass windows of Regensburg Cathederal. Their concern was warranted as an explosion during the war blew out many of the remaining windows. Fortunately, Regensburg itself suffered little damage and its historical buildings largely remained intact.

While I knew Pope Benedict IVI, was from Germany, I did not know that he is from this area. It turns out that he has a house less then 1 kilometer from Regensburg and taught theology at the University of Regensburg from 1969 to 1977.

For lunch, we went to Historische Wurstkuchl in Old Town. While many people ate on the picnic benches outside, Peggy opted for some warmth because she was concerned about my cold. We didn’t realize this, but located caddy-corner to the historic building is their modern restaurant.

Unfortunately, the Christmas Market in Regensburg closed the day before we arrived. Since it was Christmas Eve, most businesses closed by the early afternoon.

Sunset in Regensburg
Sunset in Regensburg