Our final day of the 2015 Boutique Group Trip has arrived. There wasn’t going to be time to see a lot of the city of Munich so I made arrangements for us to do a city bike tour.
This would not only be fun but would afford us to get around and see more of the city than by foot. We left our hotel for Marienplatz, our meeting point for the bike tour. We were a bit early and got to the New Town Hall just in time for the Glockenspiel performance in the clocktower of the hall. The performance tells the story of a royal wedding complete with jousting and dance which are all part of Munich’s folklore. The musical accompaniment is played on 43 bells in the clocktower. On to our meeting point and the start of our bike tour. Our guide was a young man, originally from Washington DC, who led us through Munich enlightening us on several historical aspects as well as adding his own touch of humor making it very educational as well as entertaining.
Our day to venture into the Bavarian Alps to tour King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle had arrived. The morning started off very chilly with a forecast of 30 degrees and snow!
We had a bit of a drive and it did start to snow on our way, fortunately the snow stopped prior to our arrival. There were a lot of low hanging clouds which gave our first glimpse of the castle a rather mystical view. This castle is known as The Fairytale Castle and that it is.
It is easy to see how when Walt Disney visited Neuschwanstein in the 1930’s he got his inspiration for what we know as Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We had the option to take a shuttle up to the castle or do the walk up, we did the walk up. It was quite a hike to reach the castle but even with the overcast day there were some beautiful vistas of the Hohenschwangau valley and as we climbed the view continued to get better as the trees surrounding the valley were starting to show off their fall colors. Upon arriving at the castle and doing a walk around to see various views of the exterior we entered the castle for our tour.
The interior of the castle wasn’t complete at the untimely death of King Ludwig but the completed area of the castle was opened as a museum 6 weeks after his death. We did see several rooms that were complete and found out there was even running water complete with flushing toilets...pretty modern considering it was 1886! The decor was very lavish and included several fresco paintings, crystal chandeliers and quite a grand kitchen full of copper pots. Once the tour was complete we were on our way back down the hill. After some time to warm up and have lunch we were on our way to Oberammergau.
Since this was a Beer theme river cruise on our first full day in Munich I had arranged for a private tour for my group to get us outside of the city to visit some breweries that most tourists might not find or have a way to get to.
Our guide picked us up at our hotel for our day out in the Bavarian countryside. On the drive to our first brewery tour we passed many hops fields that had already been harvested but it was an interesting site to see all the rows of tall poles that the hops vine up on. Germany grows about 60% of the hops out of the14 EU countries producing hops covering approximately 17 hectares, equivalent to a little more that 42,000 acres…..that’s a lot of hops! We had an appointment for a tour at Kuchlbauer Brewery. Even if you don’t have an interest in beer this is worth a visit.
It is a most unusual brewery with elements of art throughout and is very recognizable by the 70 meter tower which reaches into the sky in the village of Abensberg. The tower and brewery are full of uneven floors, tile mosaics, onion domes and even some beer dwarfs.....yes beer dwarfs! The tower is dedicated to Bavarian beer and it’s brewers and symbolizes all the components of beer and brewing in Bavaria. We climbed inside to the top of the tour and had some great views of the Bavarian countryside. Once our tour was complete…..after a beer tasting of course we traveled on to the next stop for a quick lunch prior to our next tour appointment. Our second appointment of the day was at the Schneider Weisse Brewery in Kelheim. We were fortunate that we were visiting on a Thursday as they only do tours twice a week….jackpot for us! This brewery is very well known for its history of brewing wheat beer and actually saving wheat beer from extinction. Two hundred years ago wheat beer was only allowed to be brewed by Bavarian royal families.
This morning we departed from our cruise ship with the option to transfer directly to Munich for free time or do an optional tour to Dachau with a visit to the Memorial site on the grounds of the formal concentration camp.
The other option was an excursion back to Austria for a day in Salzburg. Being a long time fan of the movie “The Sound of Music” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Salzburg and perhaps see a few sites used in the filming of the movie. It was a rainy day but we weren’t about to let that dampen our spirits or our experience. All suited up in our rain gear and we were off! Our first stop was in Mondsee where we visited the church of St. Michael that was used in the movie for the wedding scene of Captain Von Trapp and Maria. Can you envision the long center aisle of the church with Maria’s wedding gown and veil trailing behind her and up the steps to the alter…..I had to walk that same path, reliving the movie scene in my mind.
The entire church, alter and pipe organ are very beautiful making it evident why it was chosen for the wedding church in the movie. We also walked down the tree lined lane where the children were hanging from trees in their play clothes which was also filmed in Mondsee…..onward to Salzburg!
We enjoyed a leisurely morning of sailing, again enjoying the vistas around us as we sailed towards Passau. Passau is known as the city of three rivers as it is the location where the Rivers Inn, Ilz and Danube come together.
Our arrival in Passau was very picturesque with its colorful buildings lining the banks of the Danube. As it was early afternoon we had the option of a walking tour of Passau or a brewery tour as part of the theme cruise to the Rieder Brewery. Since the Beer theme cruise is only offered twice a year I opted for the brewery tour and will have to visit the city of Passau on another journey. Again on this tour we were accompanied by the Beerpope who served as our translator as the entire tour was in German.
After the tour we went for a tasting and they began bringing out plates of sausages and baskets of pretzels….wow, what a snack! After the tour it was back to the ship to finish packing as it was our last night on the ship…..already?
We enjoyed a wonderful farewell dinner and then some dancing in the lounge before calling it a night to get ready to disembark the next morning and on to our next adventure.
We arrived the following morning to the frosty coated village of Grein. There were three different options of how to spend your time in this port. Included was a walking tour of Grein and then sailing on to the city of Lintz or optional excursions to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or a trip into Upper Austria to the Austrian Lakes District in the foothills of the Austrian Alps. Our group split today, some enjoying Grein and Linz while others went to the Austrian Lakes. Even though we had a very chilly 30 degree start to the day the sun came out and we all enjoyed a beautiful day. I went to the Lakes District where we visited 4 of the 76 lakes that make up the district with lake colors varying from turquoise to emerald green along with visiting the very quaint villages of Sankt Gilgen, St. Wolfgang and Traunkirchen.
We sailed through the night to arrive the following morning in the quaint village of Durnstein nestled in the Wachau Valley wine region in Lower Austria.
No bus today, we were able to walk off the ship into this charming village. We enjoyed a guided walk through the village learning the history of this village dating back to 1150. High above the village a stone fortress overlooked the village and the Wachau Valley. This fortress was where England’s King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned. The blue and white towers of the Augustinian Abbey, which can be seen from the river, will catch your eye and is what you will see in many photos of Durnstein. We left Durnstein late morning to continue our scenic cruise down through the Wachau Valley of the Danube passing many vineyards that are planted all throughout the steep hillsides, villages, chapels and castle ruins.
We arrived in Vienna in the morning on the overnight train from Florence. We went to the meeting hotel for our river cruise to leave our luggage prior to transferring to the ship and headed to do some exploring of Vienna on our own.
It was agreed that a trip on the Vienna Ring Tram along the Ringstrasse Blvd. which circles around the Old City and had a narrated commentary would be good to orientate ourselves with Vienna and some of it’s history. After that we walked through Vienna stopping along the way for lunch at an outside cafe. We were to meet back at the hotel to transfer to the ship with all of the other passengers. We were scheduled to board our cruise ship in Vienna but due to low water conditions of the river, and the cruise line needing to do some shifting of passengers from the previous week for completion of their cruise, we were bussed to Komarno, Hungary to board our ship which would sail back down the Danube to Vienna…..bonus for us, extra sailing and we didn’t miss a thing on our itinerary! The cruise line was very efficient and organized in handling this situation which was totally out of their control and also offered all passengers the opportunity to attend the following nights opera concert in Vienna free of charge due to the inconvenience. Upon boarding and being shown to our staterooms we attended the mustering drill and then the Captains Welcome dinner and we were sailing!
We arrived back in Vienna the following morning and began our morning with a city bus and walking tour along with some free time. We passed many historical sites and caught a glimpse of the Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School. We also learned that every New Years Eve at midnight the Blue Danube Waltz is played throughout the city and everyone grabs someone and dances the Blue Danube Waltz. They even hold classes to learn this dance so that everyone can participate in this tradition. After a bit of a chilly walk our group wanted to warm up and experience a Viennese coffee house…..along with a pastry of course.
We arrived in the evening for our 2-day cooking school in the heart of Chianti country. We were staying at the farm house with the owners of the cooking school and enjoyed a welcoming dinner that evening with them and their family.
The following morning we enjoyed a breakfast of toast with homemade fig, apricot and quince jams along with some different varieties of grapes, and other fruits also a pastry made with fresh grapes called Schiacciata con L'uva. We were then ready to begin our day of cooking! We entered the classroom kitchen and were given aprons and the recipes for the day. We started with the beans (fagioli) as they would take a while to cook. We cooked them in a way called “fiasco” which was basically a glass beaker with herbs, garlic and onion and the beaker was placed directly on the burner of the stove to cook.
Florence, Italy was the first destination of the 2015 Sonja's Boutique Trip. We arrived in Florence early on Saturday evening. Our driver was waiting for us and took us to our home away from home for our next couple of days.
After a long day and half of travel we decided to pick up some fresh bread, salami, prosciutto, cheese and of course some Italian wine at the local neighborhood grocery and call that dinner. Now mind you, this neighborhood grocery is not your Giant Eagle or Kroger Superstore, this is a neighborhood market. This little market kept winding back into the building and with every turn a new discovery. We awoke the next morning to rain so the raincoats came out and off we went to the Mercato Centrale. This market is similar to the West Side Market in Cleveland and is located in a building dating from 1874. The bottom floor is full of produce, fruit, meat, etc. stands while the top floor is full of different types of food stands.