Baranduda Blog

an ementor must: lead, follow and get out of the way …


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Travel blog Stage Two: Classic River Cruise

Budapest to Passau – we’ve been here before!

Boarding the MS Johann Strauss for the first time was so exciting – we were at the first cross road of our journey the start of our Danube Cruise! We had done a smaller cruise from Passau to Budapest a few years ago and loved it – and declared our intention to do it again. Different company this time APT / TraveMarvel – and what a delight it was to find this 4 star accommodation floating home!

We located room 214 and quickly settled in – what a relief to finally unpack our suitcases. Some quick explorations and comparing notes with our Italian Treasures buddies and we immediately felt pampered and well catered for. The sumptuous breakfasts, lunches and dinners (not to mention the afternoon teas and late night suppers) were to prove a major source of our satisfaction with APT Travel Tours!

Our on board Tour Director, Cherie, is an Australian ex-patriot living and working in Europe, and proves to be the second source of our satisfaction of the ship organisation, the tours on shore, the briefings and commentaries! She is the best we have experienced to date!

We had two days to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the city of Budapest – one of our favourite European capitals. Lovely city with tragic history -Hungarians did it tough especially in the uprising of 1956! Different culture here, different currency to the rest of Europe, different food but great tasting. Hungarian musicians on board to entertain us!

Then we began our cruise through Austria and Germany! We sail several kilometres every day and evening except when we moor at a famous town for extended stays, Passau, Vienna, and then shorter stops at Durnstein, Melk, Bamburg, Wurzburg, a bus tour across to Rothenburg, Wertheim (Wet time) and finally a whole day and night to Rudesheim!

Currently I am in the Lounge of the MS Johann Strauss, enjoying the Happy Hour, 476th Bitburger bier and whiskey and dry before dinner at 7pm. Louis is at the piano and its raining outside! perfect relaxing day today!

Pictures later! Having too much fun!


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Travel Blog #5: Venice

Dear Diary, forgive me I have not made entries for some days now – too busy just soaking up the atmosphere of the last part of our Italian Treasures tour.

Bus Trip to Venice!

A long day’s coach trip from Cinque Terre through Parma then on to Venice gave us plenty of time to catch up on our Nanna naps – a much needed pastime after the flurry of tourist tasks so far in Italy. It’s hard work you realise, just keeping up with the guided tours, the eating and socialising! We are really looking forward to the beauty of Venice and the group are keen to catch their first glimpse of the floating lands as we cross the sea on board the coach! We notice that things have progressed since last I was here – a new tram line is being constructed – this will improve the transport to Venice from the mainline – affording choices between Coach, Train or Tram.

When we alight from the coach we then board the waiting water taxis, 8 by 8, and are transported to the canal entrance to our hotel near San Marco (St Marks Square) and get our room allocations. No view from our windows this time, but the room is well appointed. (Note to Italian Hotels – can you please just provide a jug for boiling water, we Aussies like to make our own tea.)

Time for a quick stroll to San Marco at night after dinner to sample the atmosphere and listen to the 3 small orchestras playing And to view the many gondolas lined up ready for the the next day’s tourists. We opted to view the gondolas and gondolieri from a distance – but this one could have been us!

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Our morning tour takes in the Doges Palace and we are gobsmacked by the opulence inside – the sheer size and brilliance of this 1000 year old museum of art treasures reminds us of the power of the Doge (the King) over the centuries. The gigantic painted canvases on every wall and on every part of the ceilings transports us to a different cultural experience where the history of Venice is depicted in painted stories. Amazing!

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We are advised to “go and get lost in Venice” during our free time and this we faithfully do! The yellow signs directing us “per San Marco” help us to return to the hotel. Did you know that there are 400 bridges in Venice? Do you know why the bridge outside the Palace is called the Bridge of Sighs? It is so called because it was the last glimpse that convicted felons were to see on being incarcerated in the prisons below the Doge’s Palace!

Dinner on our final stay in Venice was fun – we were wined and dined in an upstairs section of a local restaurant sporting a glass ceiling! Many more stories of our Venetian stay were swapped with our new friends on the tour – and we were eager now to travel into Austria and prepare for ‘stage two’ of our holiday – 2 weeks sailing on the MV Johann Strauss from Budapest to Amsterdam!

Ciao to Italy! Guten Morgan to Europe!


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Travel Blog #4: Cinque Terre to Porto Venere

Day in the Sun!

I think that Cinque Terre should be on your bucket list! Imagine turquoise sea on one side and sheer cliffs with Five tiny villages clinging to the rocky crests. You can approach by train or boat and then make your way on foot up the steep streets. At one time you could walk the cliff tops from one village to another, Lovers Lane, but landslides have made this trek now impossible. Besides few people would try it in the summer heat.

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For our tour group we had a variety of transport – the coach dropped us off at a car park high above the town  of Manorola – we then walked down the narrow pathways following our new guide Lucia. Just a short stop here as we were then going by train to Monterosso – the furthest of the five lands. We waited on the hot crowded station for 20 minutes and then managed to board the train and get a seat in the two level train. Upon arrival at Monterosso I had a feeling that a pair of girls were attempting to steal from my backpack – their scam was to position themselves so that one was in front and the other behind. One in front blocked me from stepping off the train making out that she was not sure of the station name, while the other managed to unzip my bag. However I pushed past the lead girl and gave her cronie no time to steal anything. That made me wary of pick pockets and decided to wear my bag in front of me.

We had some free time to perambulate and find a tiny restaurant for lunch. Then we embarked the fast boat to Vernazza stopping here briefly – we walked past its tiny beach of black sand to find a Gelato shop for sorbet! Many people lined the streets in cafes and others lounged like sea lions on the rocks of the beach front. Their tanned bodies gleaming in the sun, they were obviously not worried about skin cancer! Some  brave young men and boys were jumping from steep cliffs to land feet first in the deep rock pools fed by the lapping ocean waves! The place was teeming with tourists!

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Yet another boat trip and we were transported to a heavenly spot called Porto Venere and we disembarked to walk a short distance to our Hotel Paradiso! We scored a room with a view once more and just had time to freshen up for dinner on the terrace! Talk about spoiled! We were served royally for our one night in this 5 star accommodation!l A spectacular spot – one I would definitely return to for a longer vacation! Hotel Paradiso was aptly named!


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Travel Blog #3: Siena and Florence

Day Four: Rome to Siena and Florence

What a delight it was to arrive in the beautiful, once walled city, of Siena! It is like stepping back in time and viewing life in mediaeval times – cobbled streets and brick buildings hugging each other close on the sloping road up to the square. A guide once again was keen to bestow on us the potted history of the town and regale us with the story of the Palio – the wildest, most revered and dangerous horse ride held in August each year. Each family will select a rider and he will dress in costume, lead the horse to the church for a blessing and then line up with dozens of others ready to gallop at full speed three times round the public square. The race takes place at 7 pm in the cool of the evening and is viewed by thousands of people, natives and visitors enthusiastically. What a pity we will miss it!

A walk up to the beautiful church capped off our visit to Siena and this would have to be one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture we have seen. Check our picture Below.

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We then drove on to Florence, the jewel of Italy, gleaming in the sun! The many towers and turrets were highlights on the horizon as we stopped to view from the  hill. Our arrival at the Hotel Balestri was complex to negotiate – narrow streets prevented our coach from dropping us off out front – so a short walk in the late afternoon was required. After awaiting our allocated rooms we could observe the Hotel facilities and be reassured that this was 4 star accommodation! (Note: it can be rewarding to wait until last for our room keys, as we scored a corner suite on the fourth floor with a view of the Ponte Vecchio and the river! Gorgeous!

Day Five: Florence

An early morning walk to the bridge afforded us the view of the many tiny little shops all hanging onto the lower section of the bridge like elegant barnacles. The gold shops were shuttered and dark when we first visited, the streets had been washed clean – all were awaiting the throngs of tourists soon to descend like locusts – perhaps a few well heeled would buy the gold from the merchants here!

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Back to Balestri to join the group for a walking tour through the streets of Florence. Our major objective was to gaze upon the marble statue of David by Michaelangelo, located in the Academi Museum! This is a beautiful piece of art, now 519 years old, carved from one piece of solid pure white marble. It is a tribute to the anatomy of man – every muscle and sinew depicted on the limbs of David – and with just one adornment, his sling shot. We merged into the crowds who were as enthralled with this masterpiece as we were.

Florence is still really hot and we struggled a bit with walking in the heat and opted for r and r back at Balestri for the afternoon – Alex suffered a little from heatstroke, so I waited until evening to stroll along the walkway beside the river to capture some photos of the Ponte Vecchio at sunset! Gorgeous!

Tomorrow we head north again for Cinque Terra!

Ciao


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Travel Blog #2: Rome in 3 days

They say that Rome was not built in a day …. nor can you see it all in three days! …..

Day One: after arriving early in the morning on a hot sultry day to our hotel Nuomo, we needed a shower, a rest and a meal in that order! You know how good it is to stretch out flat after sitting up for 24 hours in the plane, right! Well this helped us to begin our journey through the ancient city of Roma with ease. Our first stop was the Fontana di Trevi –  spectacular at night! Easier to move around it at night as the crowds were smaller … only 1000 people instead of 3000 ….! No coins in the fountain from us we needed to save every Euro for our meals and drinks this week.

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Day Two: as the weather was really hot on the next day our itinerary was changed so that we could enjoy our morning at the Vatican city first … that was okay with me… I was so looking forward to seeing the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica once again. I was not disappointed – its majesty and holiness was still a big drawcard. These two iconic sites of Roma were preceded by a guided tour through the museum, the hall of tapestries and the hall of maps. Did you know that just one of the tapestries was commissioned at 4 times the price paid to Micheangelo for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Judgement Day – painting behind the altar of the chapel, still held its own appeal to the thousands of visitors who were siphoned through silently and without taking any pictures.

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We decided to walk to the Castel de Angelo (Castle of Angels – another feature in the Dan Brown book, “Angels and Demons”) and explored the old castle museum with gusto. Well for the first half hour of walking it many rooms and halls … then it was time to depart across the bridge of Angels and hope for a taxi back to the hotel. Success!

The afternoon was free time so we were able to take our now much needed siesta and to venture out for a meal at a recommended restaurant, la Gallina Bianco – the White Duck. Meal was so good there we tried it again on the third night of our stay in Roma.

Day Three: “prepare yourselves for a long, hot day” our guide said. “Bring water, hat and sunscreen”. We were driven first to the Colosseum where we had a booking for entry at 8:30 am. Once again we walked the perimeter of this colossal building and wondered at the violence and decadence that it represented for the Romans of its day. Stripped of it marble and iron decorations by a succession of Popes of Rome – for their own use – the Colosseum sits large and stark against the clear blue sky. Temperature was already rising! We also fitted in a tour of the Castel de Angelo!

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We then walked to the Forum and climbed down the steps of Michelangelo – many litres of water later we were headed on foot for the second part of our journey – visiting the Pantheon. This magnificent structure looms high with collonade and huge doors to enter the church where it was considerably cooler. After that we trudged weary, hot and melting in the hot sun to the Piazza Navona where the fountains beckoned us with cool water … these are the ones that feature in the Dan Brown book, ‘Angels and Demons’.

Returning to room 460 once more we were ready for our siesta – trick is to ensure that you drink plenty of water or gatorade to replace the lost minerals. Ventured out once for another meal at the White Duck – when in Rome, do as the Romans do – a very popular restaurant.

Tomorrow we depart for Sienna and Florence! We’ll be back with pictures when next we have access to the internet.

Ciao!


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Travel Blog #1: Preparing for Italian Treasures

Count down to our ‘big trip’ is now providing the adrenalin rush for me to finalise all preparations and ‘hit the road’.

We have our passports sorted with appropriate VISA for re-entry – required of British Citizens – and now have those safely stored and details copied electronically in case of theft or loss.

We have our itinerary and e-tickets for flights, tours and cruise. I am really glad that we upgraded to Stateroom with French Balcony on the MS Johann Strauss – a little extra luxury – we’ll be on Opera Deck close to Foyer and Fitness Centre – and immediately below the Restaurant on Waltz Deck.

But first we will be escorted on a 10 day tour of Italian Treasures including the art, architecture, cathedrals and sculptures of Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre and Venice. (I’m inspired by Dan Brown’s descriptions of Florence in his new book Inferno – so looking forward to this Florentine adventure.)

Then we head into the second of the six countries of Europe we will pass through on our Danube River cruise – Austria – and stay one night in Graz to admire the snow-capped peaks surrounding the medieval town.

On the cruise we will pass through Hungary, Slovakia, Germany and the Netherlands. Starting at Budapest (where we have visited once before) we embark ship and travel to Vienna, Durnstein, Melk, Linz, Passau, Regensburg, Nuremburg, Bamberg, Kitsingen, Wurberg, Wertheim, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and finally Amsterdam.

Once we’ve disembarked ship in Amsterdam we fly to England and then travel by car across the counties to Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and finally to Wales. My home country is calling me again and this time I will be able to visit the towns of my ancestors to complete some of my genealogy studies for our Celtic Family History.

toastmaster mag July 113My plan is to post frequently (at least when an Internet connection is available) to keep a record of this adventure.

I plan to post an image of the places on our itinerary and including me with my Toastmaster Magazine.

Wish me luck, Bon Voyage or just provide some comments on my posts using the Comments facility.

I’ll be back in the Spring!

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