Bratislava, Slovakia

November 2, 2019

Bratislava is Slovakia’s largest city and its capital. It is only a 1 hour drive to Vienna which makes these two cities the world’s closest capitals. It is the only national capital that borders on two independent countries – Austria and Hungary.

We arrived about 1 PM today after our trip on the Danube from Budapest. We passed through one of the 66 locks that we will encounter on our trip to Cologne, Germany.

Our guide here was Maria and she was excellent. We first took a small train to the Bratislava Castle which was a fortress in the 9th century and became a Renaissance castle in 1562. It was rebuilt in the 17th century in the baroque style, was destroyed by fire in 1811 and was in ruins until the 1950’s when it was rebuilt. It is on a hill and the wind was very strong so everyone was shivering! But we enjoyed the castle and the gardens. The statues of soldiers on the two archways have no arms or heads since the ruler at that time was making a statement against wars.

The town is a delight, with a town hall that dates back to the 14th century. St. Michael’s Gate is impressive as are the churches, opera house and Presidential Palace. We had free time and went to the oldest shop to purchase local wine and Slovak pastries. Yum!

Maria shared a lot of history including what it was like in Communist times – they seized power in 1948 – and took over many buildings, changing them to the stark Soviet architecture. Some still exist today. After the fall of Communism in 1989, Czechoslovakia became a democratic society. The “Velvet Divorce” occurred in 1993 and the country split peacefully into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Maria said that the decision was political and that if there was a referendum, probably 75% of the population would have voted against it.

We are on a riverboat that has almost all British passengers, so they chuckled at the mention of “referendum” given what they are going through with Brexit! We have heard there might be one other American couple but we haven’t met up with them yet.

There is a bridge with an observation area on the top that they call the UFO. We could see people above it outside, it must have been really cold up there.

We are enjoying life on board the Emily Bronte which is part of the Riviera Cruise line. We enjoyed the hot tub yesterday with the sights of Budapest at dusk in the background. The food has been excellent and Jessie and Gabor, our cruise director and concierge, are very good. The only disappointment is the wifi, as I have mentioned in a previous post. So I have posted some pictures on Facebook when we are on shore and I can get fast wifi. Too cold and too packed of a schedule to add photos here though, my apologies for that. I will try to fill in when I can.

Tonight we leave for Vienna and since we spent a couple of days there last week, we are looking forward to our return. We joined in an optional walking tour package in 5 ports and the first one is tomorrow after our regular sightseeing tour. Apparently this will be hiking in the forest near Vienna. This is the first time they have offered this option and will be wanting our feedback. 28 of us have signed up. Should be fun.

Every evening after dinner Jessie gives us highlights of the next port. There is also a pianist in the lounge. No casino of course, so my evenings end earlier than on the world cruises!

Posted in Europe, Europe trip and river cruise, Excursions, November | 1 Comment

Budapest, Hungary

November 1, 2019

We were glad that we had 3 previous days in Budapest because today was a national holiday and a lot of places, including all shops except those run by families (very few) were open. Even the City Market was closed and it is something to see, we had 2 meals there. CNN rated it one of the best markets in the world. Hungary is known for paprika and goose liver pate and there are many shops that sell both.

The tour with the cruise was an excellent one. Unfortunately the WiFi is still too slow to post pictures but I will give a narrative of what we did and what we learned, and add pictures at a later time (maybe even when we return home!)

Hungary is now 1/3 the size it once was and has a population of 10 million of which 1.7 million live in Budapest. This capital is really 2 cities, Buda and Pest pronounced Pecht. 2/3 of the population lives on the Pest side and our hotel before we got on the river boat, was on that side overlooking the Buda Palace across the Danube River. The Buda side is richer.

Our guide spoke flawless English and said that she learned it in secret under the blankets of her bed in Communist times…. From Michael Jackson! English was not taught and was forbidden to learn in Communist times. It is said that Hungarian is the second hardest language in the world after Chinese.

The tour was by bus and ended at Buda Castle, which we had explored a couple of days ago. we still walked around that area as it is huge and beautiful. The buildings are all museums now. We wanted to see the Hospital in the Rock, but it was closed so we only saw the outside. 2/3 of this city was bombed and destroyed so much has been rebuilt since WW II.

The synagogue here is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. It was designed by Catholic architects and because of that it has an organ which is not typically part of synagogues. Outside of the synagogue is a cemetery and a tree of life in silver commemorating the 600,000 Hungarian Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. There are 600 leaves each engraved with the name of a family member killed. We revisited the synagogue and had a guided tour on Wednesday. It can hold 6000 people, 3000 sitting and 3000 standing!. And it is beautiful inside and out. It was rebuilt with generous donations from Tony Curtis and Estee Lauder both of whom were born here.

Hungary has the richest geothermal springs in the world and there are 24 spas here. They have to actually cool the water before it can be used in the pools!

Like in Vienna, coffee shop culture is big, dating back to the times when people lived in very small apartments with no heat or electricity and so they went to coffee shops for much of the day and evenings. Most buildings had a coffee shop in those days and it is still very popular.

As really had a chance to see so much of the city in our 4 days here. We enjoyed their food, wine and hospitality. We planned to do the hop on hop off bus on Wednesday but the concierge at our hotel advised against it because Putin was coming to Budapest and the traffic would be bad. So we walked everywhere that day. And we got stopped along the street for about 30 minutes because his motorcade was going to pass and the police would NOT let us cross. We have never seen so many police in a city before- they were everywhere.

So we did the hop on hop off on Thursday after taking our bags to the riverboat. It was fun and we did have an overview but our guide on Friday was much better.

it am writing this as we travel the Danube on our way to Bratislava, Slovakia. We just passed through a lock. There are 66 locks on our way to Cologne!

I will write more from Bratislava. On we go!

Posted in Europe, Europe trip and river cruise, Excursions, November | 1 Comment

River cruise starts

We are aboard the beautiful Emily Bronte and will leave Budapest tomorrow evening so have one more day to explore the city.

I have heard that some people (including Norm) didn’t get the photos in the Vienna post and I have not been able to upload the Budapest post that I started.

The good news about the WiFi on the boat is that we have it free on every device unlike the Oceania Insignia where we get just one account for one device at a time. The bad news is that it is incredibly slow and only apparently good for email.

One item I am going to try to post here is the heartrending display by the river. It is called Shoes by the Danube and is 60 pairs of bronze shoes modeled on footwear from the 1940’s. It is to commemorate those who were shot into the Danube by the Hungarian Nazis.

Well, the photo will not even upload into the blog, so for sure it won’t publish.. So no photo of the shoes. I will have to post that later.

So, my plan is to compose the blogs and try to upload them from shore if possible. Or I may need to upload them all at once when we get home!. So sorry about that but satellite WiFi is a challenge!

Posted in Europe, Europe trip and river cruise, November | 4 Comments

Vienna, Austria

October 27 and 28, 2019

We went from Prague to Vienna by train, Railjet, which is a fast train. It took us 4 hours and 10 minutes and we had good wi-fi aboard.  I even watched a movie – but also watched the beautiful countryside as we traveled.

We stayed at the Hilton Vienna Plaza which was located very close to all of the beautiful museums and historical sights. Here’s the view from our window!

It was a beautiful day, so we went out walking right away. Here are some of the sights we saw.

We walked to the Jewish Museum where we saw this impressive memorial dedicated to the 65,000 Austrian Jews who were exterminated during the Holocaust.

We visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral which is the tallest structure in Vienna and is simply spectacular. Over 3 million people a year visit here.

The original church was built in 1147. Several fires and bombings led to reconstruction over the years.The multicolored roof tiles were replaced after a fire and add a very different artistic element to the church. Here are some pictures of the inside.

We continued our walk, had dinner at the Opera restaurant across from the gorgeous opera house, and headed toward the Kursalon for a concert.

The concert featured selections from Mozart, Strauss and others.  There were voice and ballet performances as part of the concert.  Photos during the performance were prohibited but here is the inside of the Kursalon.  It was built in 1865-1867 in the Italian Renaissance style.  Strauss earned his title as the “Waltz King” here and there is a golden statue of him outside the building.

Of course, before the concert, we had to have the famous Sachertorte! Good thing we shared it – delicious but very rich.

A terrific first day.

On our second day in Vienna, we had booked a NY Times Journey called “Vienna: Historical Food, Wine and Coffee Tour”. Their tours are based on the NY Times 36 hours series.

To see the actual specifics of the tour (which we HIGHLY recommend), you can click here.

We walked to the meeting place and were met by our two guides for the tour, Patrick and Wolfgang. They asked why we chose this tour and then told us we were the first two people to book it – and would be the only ones on the tour!  They do other tours for Urban Adventures but this was the first NY Times Journey tour.  They have been trying to work with the NY Times and it finally happened.

It was the best day!  For one thing, we had individual attention all day.  It was supposed to be a 3 hour tour and it lasted almost 5 hours. Wolfgang is on the left and Patrick on the right in the picture below.  They were outstanding.

We had a stop at Daniel Moser, a coffee cafe, and the owner gave me a lesson on making the specialty coffees.  Then we got to enjoy them.  Wolfgang told us how coffee and wine bars are gathering places in the neighborhoods where people can stay as long as they want and are never pressured to order more.  Lots of great conversations happen over coffee.  On November 1, all public establishments will be non smoking – and there were still people smoking here.

What fun to learn how to make these drinks and they were delicious too!

And of course I liked the sign between the restrooms!

From there we went on to the synagogue in the Jewish quarter where we almost didn’t get in because we didn’t know we needed our passports.  Luckily the guard knew Wolfgang and Daniel and our driver’s licenses were sufficient.  Lots of security including armed guards around the synagogue.

We had a long talk by a guide in the synagogue – lots of  information and context for the building and its history. 

The Stadtempel is the main synagogue in Vienna.  It is huge and beautiful.  It was never destroyed in the war during Kristalnacht (when all of the other 93 synagogues and prayer houses in Vienna were destroyed) because it is in the midst of other houses (and does not look any different from them) and also there was an old church nearby and the Nazis were afraid to burn it because the church and other buildings would burn too.  People took the scrolls out and hid them before the synagogue was entered by the Nazis.

We did get to see the beautiful doors behind which the scrolls are kept today.

Our tour was a walking tour and we did a LOT of walking! Next we visited the only kosher winery in Vienna.  The owner is a former mechanical engineer who sold his company intending to retire but found that he missed people too much and so he ended up buying a wine store!  We had both white and red wines and discussed the preparation of the wines with him.

Daniel and Wolfgang took us to a restaurant where they did the ordering for us.  We had Viennese specialties – wonderful!

After lunch we went to Naschmarkt where Patrick introduced us to wonderful chocolate at Zotter.  I could not believe the incredible variety.  The picture shows only about 1/3 of them. We tasted two kinds and some kids kept coming to sample too! And of course, we bought some too.

Then we regretfully had to say goodbye to Wolfgang and Patrick.  Later they sent us an email with all kinds of information since we will be coming back to Vienna when we are on the riverboat.

We chose another concert with Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss selections at Palais Schonborn.  The same soprano singer from the night before was part of this concert too.  The orchestra was smaller but equally wonderful. Again, no pictures during the performance were allowed.

Wolfgang recommended a restaurant called Zum Schwarzen Kameel – The Black Camel, so we went there for dinner after the concert.  We sat outside and had a great evening.

A few other pictures from this beautiful city.

The next stop on our trip is Budapest.  We will take the train there – about a 2 hour trip.

Stay tuned!

Posted in Europe, Europe trip and river cruise, Food, October | 2 Comments

Prague

October 23-27, 2019

As I posted previously, Norm accompanied me to Prague where I attended the ICF Converge 19, the International Coach Federation conference.

It was a terrific couple of days with reconnecting, learning and celebrating. Here are some pictures from the conference including the Circle of Distinction Awards dinner.

JF, our ICF Board Chair and Magda Mook, ICF CEO present the award.

Here are a few other pictures from the dinner and the conference.

We did get to see Vysehrad on Wednesday before the conference started. This is the site of a fortified settlement in the 10th century and has served as the Royal residence during the 11th century. Much was destroyed but then rebuilt in the 19th century. The cemetery is the resting place of over 600 personalities from the fields of culture and intellectual endeavor.

Vysehrad National Cultural Monument- the grounds are spectacular.
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
Tabor Gate
A snack and a beer!

After a very full several days in sessions while Norm was out on his own, we had time to do some sightseeing together. Here are some of the extraordinary sights in Prague, a very beautiful city. it was out second trip here so some things were familiar. Hilary and Tracy toured with us.

From our lunch spot!
On the Charles Bridge
The pieces constantly turned showing a different image every second!
The magnificent astrological clock
These are amazing. They fill them with ice cream!
Palace view from our riverside restaurant, Marina. It is on a boat in the river and was simply delicious. Thanks, Alla and Hilary for the suggestion. We enjoyed spending the last Prague evening with Hilary.

Had a great several days in Prague. Next, train to Vienna where we spent 2 days. Will write about that tomorrow.

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

Headed to Prague tomorrow!

I am excited to be leaving for 2019 International Coach Federation ( ICF) Converge tomorrow (my professional organization) – for the content, the networking and this year, for my induction into the ICF Circle of Distinction.  Here is the information about this honor – I am very humbled by this honor!

ICF Circle of Distinction

After the conference, Norm and I will spend 2 days in Vienna and 2 days in Budapest before boarding the Emily Bronte riverboat for a 2 week river cruise from Budapest to Cologne.

Here is the route we will take.  Watch for my blog posts!

emily bronte map

Posted in World Cruise 3 | 12 Comments

At Sea, last day of the 2019 ATW cruise

July 4, 2019

When we meet people in the ports they always ask where our cruise is going – and when we say around the world, they are almost always shocked at that answer.

It is hard to believe we are completing our third ATW and each one seems to go faster.

So here we are on the last day.  More of the ATW passengers are staying on until Miami or now beyond with the special deals that were offered, so those of us disembarking in NY are in the minority which should make for an easy departure.

So, last night we had the cocktail party with the officers, the gala dinner and then a party in Horizons with the crew.  Norm didn’t make the late night party – but I had a great time. Everyone danced until late at night

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These four guests were congratulated for their contributions  of pictures, etc., on social media.IMG_5648IMG_5649

More cocktail party fun with Charlie, Vic and Stephanie.

IMG_5640Here is the menu for the dinner.  Mario went all out!

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Some of my friends in Horizons late night.

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Today there was a July 4 barbecue on deck from 11:30 – 4 and a huge and delicious cake in the Terrace Café.

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Here’s the map of our journey and the crew of the wonderful Insignia.

2019 ATW map

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Can’t wait till next time.

Posted in At Sea, Food, July, World Cruise 3 | 7 Comments

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

July 3, 2019

Well, sad to say, this is our last port before we reach New York. It has been an amazing trip. I will still have a post tomorrow about our Around the World cocktail party and Farewell Gala Dinner as well as the July 4 festivities.

Today we are in Saint John, New Brunswick.  It was a bit foggy for our sail in this morning but then the fog cleared and it was a beautiful day.

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They have a market set up in a tent on the pier next to the ship. There was a duo playing and singing.  The woman had a beautiful voice.

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We walked around the town and saw these painted salmon in many spots. Each one had a different pattern and they were painted by different artists.

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There are really beautiful craft shops here (and in all of the Canadian ports we visited).  We browsed around in them and marveled at the talent on display. Nice place for Norm to wait for me as I shop!

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We spent some time in the Saint John City Market which is sort of a small version of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. It was constructed in 1876 and narrowly escaped the devastating fire of 1877 which makes it the oldest continuously  operating farmer’s market in Canada. The roof was designed to resemble the inverted keel of a ship since Saint John was a leading shipbuilding center at the time. Food, crafts, fresh produce, meats, fish, etc. on display.

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Looks like it is strawberry rhubarb pie season here!

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Dulse is a kind of seaweed.  I never heard of it before today.

IMG_5618Who knew they made haggis potato chips?!

Further up the hill from the market is Saint John’s Square, a small but beautiful park.  The square was designed in 1848 in the pattern of the Union Jack to express the city founders’ loyalty to England. Just across the street is the Old Loyalist Burial Ground.  We spent time in both – very peaceful here.

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The city is quite hilly, and very charming.

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Here are two pictures from Marie and Ken’s party on Sunday.  And Henry shared the video he made – which I know I can’t post from the ship, but will put it on the blog when we get back to Philadelphia.

IMG_5628IMG_5604This is our Captain with Ken, Marie and us.



Posted in July, North America, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments

Halifax, Nova Scotia

July 2, 2019

Last night in Horizons, there was a Canada Day party. The entertainment team did songs by Canadian artists and the chefs made these adorable beaver cupcakes and also the traditional beaver tails.  You can see that I did  a pretty good job on the beaver tail!

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Today we were in Halifax which is the Capital City of Nova Scotia.  I am sure my readers know that Nova Scotia means New Scotland, and there are Scottish influences everywhere in this city, starting with the bagpiper that greeted us on the pier!

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Our sail in was beautiful and it was a beautiful sunny and warm day.

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We have been here before and have done whale watching and the Titanic cemetery, so this time we chose to walk the extensive harborside boardwalk, shop, visit the botanical garden and have a lobster roll lunch.  We checked them all off!

There were two other ships in port today, the Queen Mary 2 and the Celebrity Summit.  They were both docked when we came in so we had a shuttle from the ship to the port gate where the other two ships were docked.   A 3 minute ride, but you cannot walk through the port.

Here are some of the sights along the boardwalk.

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There is a beautiful shop of Nova Scotia crystal, so we stopped at the glassblowing and cutting studio to watch the process.

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The craftsmen there said it takes 10 years to become a master. 

Some more sights on the walk.  Loved this tugboat! And Norm is “cool as a moose!”

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This is the city hall.  There are beautiful flowers all over the city.

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We walked up the hill to the Citadel which is an 18th century fortress.  The views from there are really nice.

IMG_5538IMG_5540IMG_5541IMG_5542IMG_5543IMG_5544As hard as I tried, I could not get this guard without other people in the picture.

The next stop was the botanical garden which had the most lush and beautiful rhododendrons that I have ever seen.  The rest of the flower beds were so nicely done that we spent quite a bit of time both walking and sitting in this garden.

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We stopped in to see St. Mary’s Basilica.

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We had lunch outside on the waterfront at the Waterfront Warehouse Restaurant.  Delicious lobster roll! And, Mike, thought of you with all these varieties of oysters!

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Two attempts to frame the lighthouse through this sculpture.  Not too successful, but it was a nice thing to see.

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Yes those are hammocks on the pier!

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Samuel Cunard statue outside the Cunard building. He was the founder of the shipping company.

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In case you were wondering about kilts…..

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Only one more port tomorrow before our sea day and then return to NY. 


Posted in Food, July, North America, World Cruise 3 | 1 Comment

Sydney, Nova Scotia

July 1, 2019

Yesterday we had the White Elephant Auction of items that the world cruise passengers donated.  Ray was a terrific auctioneer! He even modeled some of the items as he auctioned them off.  Here are a couple of pictures of the mayhem!  It raised $2500 for the crew welfare fund, and they couldn’t even get to all of the donated items within the time limit. Some people bought some of the items that were left and the rest will be donated.

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We saw a whale just off the ship today – too quick to take a picture.

We were also invited to a cocktail party hosted by a fellow around the world guest, Marie.  And she was surprised at her own party by a video of crew members wishing her a happy birthday.  She is very fond of bananas – here is an ice sculpture that was made for the party – a banana with a space for champagne to flow through it!  And there was a beautiful cake in the shape of a suitcase with a globe on top of it.  Lovely time.

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We went to the late night cabaret featuring one of our entertainment team, Charisse.

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Today we arrived in Sydney,  Nova Scotia to a cool and rainy day.

Here are pictures of our arrival into the port.

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It is Canada Day today so the shops, banks, etc. are closed.  It is very chilly and rainy so we decided to just go to the local markets which open whenever cruise ships are in port.  They had such lovely merchandise and all were wonderfully friendly.  They gave us Canada pins and even had cake to celebrate the day! With many crew and passengers visiting, they went through two cakes!

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The huge fiddle is the world’s largest – 60 feet tall – and pays homage to Cape Breton’s Celtic heritage and fiddle music.

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Here are a few pictures from the shops.

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And one of a silly guy in a kilt!

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At lunch on the ship there was a Canadian flag and the dessert that Vic and Stephanie gave Mario the recipe for – naniamo bars.

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Ray said we will be having the traditional beaver tails in Horizons tonight, so we didn’t buy any at the port, but they did have them there. All kinds.

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Well, we started our packing.  Sad smile There is a sea day the day before we get to NY, so we will finish then.

There is a saying that is sometimes attributed to Dr. Seuss:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

We have to keep remembering that – it will be hard to leave.

 


Posted in Food, July, North America, World Cruise 3 | 2 Comments