Danube River Cruise

Here’s a short health update. PSA is up to 24.2 from 14.3 eight weeks previous. It’s not unexpected. I still feel about the same as I did two months ago. My treatment remains unchanged.

Here’s the funny part. During my oncologist appointment after our trip, we discussed whether I needed to continue getting quarterly bone and CT scans. Neither he nor my radiation oncologist thinks scans are clinically useful. So he said he would do scans annually. Annually? That means my next scans will be in April 2019, which is several months past my supposed expiration date. Myself, I’m betting on being here for scans in April.

Our Danube River cruise was great. We both had good energy and were able to see Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Regensburg and Prague along with some picturesque smaller towns. Many thanks to all who prayed for us on our trip, and who helped and encouraged us in other ways. We carried you with us in our hearts as we made memories together.

If you’re interested in pictures, there are two ways to look at some. To read a travelogue and see just a selection of our photos, you can keep reading below.

If you want to see ALL our pictures (hundreds): I keep them on Smugmug here:


Days 1-3. Budapest. Our flights from Knoxville to Atlanta to Amsterdam to Budapest went well. We checked into our hotel and found we had a superb view. Sitting by our window in the late evening watching the sunset and the lights come on is one of our favorite memories.

Liz, relaxing by our window in our hotel.
View across the Danube from our hotel room. The Chain Bridge is in the foreground. The palace complex is on the hill in the background.

Our first evening we found a nearby traditional Hungarian restaurant and ordered two kinds of goulash, both of which were delicious.

Goulash with noodles. Delicious!
Night view from our hotel room.

The next morning we had a coach tour of the city and a walking tour of the Buda Palace complex, including St. Matthias Church.

St. Mathias Church, with a cool roof pattern.
Inside St. Mathias Church

In the afternoon we walked around the central market, found lunch, and got caught in some rain on our walk back to the hotel.

On our final day in Budapest, we toured Dohány Street Synagogue and the adjacent Jewish Museum and Archives. The synagogue looked more like a church than other synagogues we visited on the trip. It even had a pipe organ on which Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played.

Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest. The largest synagogue in Europe.

The museum was built on the site of Theodor Herzl’s birth (the father of Zionism). We also walked around in the memorial gardens and cemetery outside.

A section of the memorial garden.
In the museum.

After grabbing lunch, we went into St. Stephen’s Basilica. A choir festival was in progress, so we enjoyed listening to a few choirs from around Europe in that magnificent acoustic space.

Choir concert in St. Stephen’s Basilica.
St. Stephen’s, looking up into the dome.

Also in St. Stephen’s, we saw its most famous relic, the holy right hand of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. It was rather shriveled.

In the late afternoon we officially embarked on our cruise, heading up river on Avalon Waterways’ Panorama ship. Avalon’s design of the cabins is great, leaving room for a small seating area right next to a three-panel sliding glass door

View from bed, with the sliding glass window open all the way. Great cabin design.

After a delicious dinner aboard ship with very competent staff who attended to Liz’s gluten-free needs, we watched the sky darken and later the moon rise. It was magical–the best part of our cruise.

Dusk, from our cabin.

Day 4. Cruising to Vienna. We cruised all night and most of the next day, going through our first lock, to arrive at Vienna, Austria. We went to see a music and dance performance (for tourists) that was very well done, with excellent talent. For us, it was great going to a classical music event. For some of our shipmates, it was their first classical music concert.

Chamber music, done very well.

Days 5. Vienna and the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. In the morning Liz took the coach tour of Vienna while Mark stayed back at the ship for awhile (GI issues) and then walked around the nearby neighborhood. We both found pastry, for ourselves and each other. I was awash in strudel.

The gluten-free pastry Liz enjoyed with coffee in Vienna.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, Mark found (and bought) some strudel and some gluten-free items for Liz.

In the afternoon we toured Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens and heard a lot about the Empress Maria Theresa. She bore 16 children in 20 years in addition to accomplishing a great deal as a ruler. The gardens are now a public park.  It seems like every palace or major building we visited had either been used as a Nazi headquarters or by Napoleon as his headquarters, or both. No mention of George Washington having slept there.

Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens.

Day 6. Dürnstein, Melk and the Wachau Valley.

We began the day with a visit to the small but popular tourist town of Dürnstein. There were two options–tour the town with a guide and then shop, or climb up to the old castle ruins above the city. Liz chose the former and Mark the latter. The castle is where King Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned until the English could come up with his ransom.

Vineyard outside the Dürnstein city walls. The ruined castle is on the hill.
View from the castle ruins. Dürnstein is in the foreground, on this side of the Danube.

After Dürnstein, we continued cruising up Austria’s Wachau Valley, justly chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage site. On both sides of the river, the steep slopes were terraced and used mainly for grapes. There were also many apricot orchards.

Cruising Austria’s Wachau Valley.

Our next stop was the Melk Benedictine Abbey. Now you might think an abbey for monks is a Spartan accommodation. But the Rule of St. Benedict does not include a vow of poverty–it just forbids private ownership. The abbey itself can be very wealthy. And at Melk, wealth is obvious. We weren’t allowed to take photos indoors, but it was ornate and as beautiful as any palace.

Crowds of tourists waiting to tour Melk Abbey. This is but a small section of the vast building.
In the gardens of Melk Abbey.
In case you wondered what our ship looked like. Here we are docked at Melk.

By the end of the day, we docked at the small town, Ybbs an der Donau, for the night. Another beautiful sunset.

Docked at Ybbs on der Donau for the night. View from the ship.

Day 7. Mondsee and Salzburg. We joined a full-day excursion to Salzburg to see some of the Sound of Music filming sites, which included a stop in the town of Mondsee, where the wedding scene was filmed.

Interior of St. Michael’s Basilica, used for the wedding scene in the Sound of Music.

In Salzburg, we had a guided tour in the morning and then were free for lunch and early afternoon wandering.

Mirabell Palace Gardens, Salzburg. Setting for the Do-Re-Mi song.
Liz’s favorite church on the whole trip–simpler but beautiful. The Kollegienkirche in Salzburg.
We didn’t quite have enough time to go up to the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
So instead we admired the many varieties of huge pretzels.

We met up with our ship in Passau, Germany, where it had cruised to while we were in Salzburg. There was no one at the Austria/Germany border station to even glance at our passports. That’s the EU.

Day 8. Regensburg and Vilshofen. We overnighted at Vilshofen rather than cruising all the way to Regensburg as originally planned. The Danube, a shallow river, was too shallow for us to continue further upstream because of the drought in central Europe. But in the morning, we boarded our coach for a ride to Regensburg, where we had a city tour and again were on our own for lunch and wandering.

On our way to Regensburg via coach.
Regensburg is a beautiful city.
We had lunch in the Bishop’s beer garden in Regensburg. Lovely setting.
This shop in Regensburg sold just spices. Look at those chandeliers!

After our Regensburg visit, we went back to our ship at Vilshofen. Mark took a walk around that small city after dinner. Our cruise director said we would go back down river during the night to Passau, where we would spend our final two cruise nights.

Vilshofen is very quaint.

Day 9. Passau. We elected to spend the day in Passau, seeing that Bavarian city and relaxing on the ship, rather than taking a three-hour coach ride to Nuremberg. We took a tour of Passau in the morning and then wandered a bit on our own before returning to the ship for lunch.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau. It contains the largest pipe organ in Europe–over 17,000 pipes!
Ceiling of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau. The whole interior was very ornate.
Part of the gigantic organ in St. Stephens.

In the afternoon, we relaxed on the ship. I should mention that we watched quite a few of the World Cup games on our trip, but as there were none this day, we instead watched two fellow passengers square off in some chess.

Deborah and Ed face off on the sun deck. Ed has been playing chess since he was five, fending for himself on the streets of Moscow while his mother worked two jobs and his father was in a gulag. Deborah was a retired engineer and was no slouch at chess either.

Mark got instructed in the local beers before dinner. When you drink in Bavaria, you say Prost! while looking into the eyes of the other person.

One of our beer tasting instructors says Prost! to Mark.

We ate our final dinner aboard ship and packed our bags for our morning disembarkation.

Day 10. Prague. In the morning we boarded a coach for Prague in the Czech Republic. We noticed a contrast between the tidiness and apparent prosperity of the German countryside and the less tidy but up-and-coming Czech countryside. We stopped at a gas station mid-way. Even the gas station convenience stores have a case full of beautiful pastries (if I can generalize from this one gas station).

Display of pastries at a gas station convenience store in the Czech Republic.

In Prague, we walked about on our own to find lunch (and pastry), then returning to the hotel to czech in (get it?). We relaxed and had a dinner in our room of yogurt and other things from a grocery store, having eaten so much at lunch.

A hearty lunch in Prague.

Lunch was followed up by pastries at a cafe across the street.

Liz’s dessert at the Nostress Cafe.

While we were in Prague there was also a worldwide Harley Davidson rally to celebrate 115 years. There were 60,000 of them.

Just a few of the Harleys, as seen from our hotel window in Prague.

In the evening, Mark took a short stroll on his own for photos.

Birds, boats and buildings, from a bridge in Prague.

Day 11. Prague and Terezin. In the morning we went on the city tour. The coach showed us around a bit and then took us up to the hilltop Prague Castle complex. It was impressively huge. We didn’t go into any buildings other than the St. Vitus Cathedral. It was refreshingly gothic rather than baroque like nearly every other church we visited.

St. Vitus Cathedral in the vast Prague Castle complex. This is the only building we actually went into. Gothic!
Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral.
St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. It was only completed in 1929, 600 years after construction was begun. This is one of many lovely windows.

During WWII, Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust, took up residence in Prague Castle until some Czech and Slovak paratroopers, at the cost of their lives, attempted an assassination, wounds from which led to Heydrich’s death a week later.

After the tour, we walked to Old Town Square in search of lunch, ending up at Au Gourmand, which had (you guessed it) wonderful pastries.

Pastries at Au Gourmand in Prague.

In the afternoon, a coach took us out to the Nazis’ “embellished” internment camp, Terezin (German: Theresienstadt). Terezin was presented to the world, and in particular to some International Red Cross visitors, as a model internment for the Jews set up for their own protection. In reality, tens of thousands died there as a result of the overcrowded conditions or murder. Many more were sent from Terezin to extermination camps.

Memorial stones for Jews who died in Terezin.

Terezin was built in the 18th century as a military fortress, with an adjacent walled town. After invading Austria in WWII, the Nazis relocated the town’s residents and started moving in Jews and others deemed unacceptable. The strangest part for me was looking around the adjacent town, which looked half ghost town but also has current residents. It would to me at least feel a strange place to live.

The Terezin garrison town that served as a Jewish ghetto during WWII.

In the town we visited the Ghetto Museum, where we watched a short film. The film juxtaposed parts of a Nazi propaganda film about the supposedly happy Jews in Terezin with pictures of what life for the inhabitants was actually like. In many ways the film was more moving than walking around in Terezin.

Terezin–hardly the model protective community Nazi propaganda made it out to be.

Once back in Prague, we had a nice dinner near the Old Town Square.

Walking back to our hotel in Prague after dinner, Liz pointed and said, “Take a picture of that.” I’ve learned to listen to her!

Day 12. Prague. Our last day before traveling home was entirely unplanned, so after breakfast we took a guided tour of the Jewish Museum. The museum is spread across multiple synagogues, most of which are no longer used for services. The Holocaust and subsequent Communist persecution of the Jews reduced the Jewish population of Prague from 92,000 to the few thousand that remain.

History of the museum. Some people believe the Nazis were planning to build a “museum of an extinct race” after they’d killed all the Jews in Europe.

First our guide took us to Maisel Synagogue, a 16th century structure, where exhibits cover the early years of Czech Jewish history (10th-18th century).

Interior of Maisel Synagogue.
In Maisel Synagogue, exhibits focused on the early history of the Jews in Prague. This piece shows the Easter pogrom that occurred in 1389. The welcome of Jews in Prague fluctuated depending on the whims of rulers and the prejudices of the people.

Our second stop was the Moorish-style Spanish Synagogue. The interior is stunning. (Of the synagogues we visited in Prague, this was the only one where a sabbath service is still held, though there are a few other functioning synagogues not part of our tour.)

Moorish-influenced Spanish Synagogue interior
Spanish Synagogue. Ceiling detail.

Spanish Synagogue exhibits cover the 18th century onward and include impressive collections of silver and crystal.

Of all the silver and crystal artifacts on display in the Spanish Synagogue, Mark was most intrigued by the Torah pointers. These were used when reading publicly from the Torah so as not to directly touch it.

Our third stop was the Pinkas Synagogue, which displays some of the artwork from the children of the Terezin concentration camp as well as names of Czech Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

A small section of the names of Czech Jews who died from the Holocaust, Pinkas Synagogue.

We next walked around the Old Jewish Cemetery, used from the 15th-18th century.

Tombstones in Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery.

Our final tour stop was the Klausen Synagogue, with exhibits about Jewish festivals and customs.

Torah and a torah pointer on display in Klausen Synagogue.

Our Jewish Museum tour left us tired and hungry, so we lunched at the amusingly named Kafka Snob Food cafe.

Mark at lunch in the Kafka Snob Food cafe.

We rested in the afternoon. In the evening, Mark took a last photography stroll around Prague, crossing the Charles Bridge and also climbing up a big hill (Letensky Profil) for the great views of Prague.

View of the Charles bridge (the second one back) from Letensky Profil.
Another view from Letensky Profil.
Next to our hotel was the last cubist building in Prague. Or so I was told.

Day 13. Home! After three uneventful but tiring flights, we landed in Knoxville and were driven home by Brian, Asher, and Gibbie (Brian had earlier fetched Gibbie from the kennel). It was a happy reunion.

Breakfasting in the Prague airport.
Brian, Asher and Gibbie, taking us home from the Knoxville airport.

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