Great Rivers of Europe Cruise
Day 1 - 4
26 - 30 April 2002
Revised 18 August 2002,
Photos & Text © 2002 by Len Schwer
Day 1: SFO - Vienna (26 & 27 April 2002)
We departed San Francisco on Friday 26 April at about 17:00, had a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam, and arrived in at our Vienna hotel on Saturday 27 April at about 16:30.
That's Becky and her Mother, Norma, at San Francisco waiting to board our KLM flight to Amsterdam. It was about a 10 hour flight with two meals: chicken dinner and strange broccoli and soufflé breakfast; you can see more pictures of airline meals, contributed by me and others, at the rather unique web site www.airlinemeals.net
In between the two meals, I saw a nearly full moon rise above the wing of the plane. I know the picture looks more
like the a sun rise, but the moon is quite bright above the clouds and haze.
When we arrived at Vienna's Schwechat Airport, Ms Becky & her Mother headed for the WC, but were still in good spirits given the long day of flights and waiting behind us.
We stayed at the Crown Plaza Hotel near the U.N. center just outside of Vienna. The out-of-town location was mitigated by the presence of two nearby a U-Bahn station and a short 10 minute ride to most places in the city. The hotel was very nice and included a buffet breakfast.
Day 2: Vienna (28 April 2002)   For our first full day in Vienna we started with a city tour, which was a combined bus and walking tour. The format of a city tour, usually a walking tour, with a local guide was repeated at every town and city we visited. It makes good sense to get some information about the city from a local guide while walking about and getting your bearings. Then when you have time to explore on your own, you feel comfortable walking about those guided areas. The local guides are quite good and were typically women, whom I assume supplement the household income a bit, but really appear to enjoy showing and telling others about their towns. Each guide is certified by the town and has to pass a fairly detailed exam. I recall in one catherdral the guide said they had to memorize the story associated with some 60 statutes in the catherdral.
Our bus dropped us off near the opera house and we walked toward the famous Graben shopping area. I was told "graben" means "ditch" and during the plague this is where bodies were buried in a large ditch. Several other towns we visited also had graben streets, but I didn't ask if there was a connection.
It was early on a Sunday morning, so most shops were closed, and they don't open on Sundays in any case. The early hour and Sunday shop closure meant the Graben was something of a ghost town. This tactic of early morning walking tours was also common, as it allowed easier access to the city's sights and typically narrow streets.
We stopped for a small coffee, and even smaller dessert, at the most famous cafe in Vienna, and by that fact perhaps the world, Cafe Demel. If you look closely at the picture of Ray & Norma at the cafe's table, you note the small object just to the right of Norma's coffee cup, that's the dessert. Of course there were plenty of much larger treats for sale in the shop portion of Cafe Demel.
From the Graben and Cafe Demel we walked to the Hofburg Palace and toured the exterior. The Hofburg family rules Vienna for generations and this was their in-town residence. Next to the Hofburgh Palace is the stable where the world famous Lipazzane Stalions are kept and displayed the adjoining riding academy. Our visit was timed such that we saw a few hourse walking between the exercise area and the stables.
Our bus then took us to Belvedere Palace which was a summer residence for the Hofburgs just outside the city. The gardens at Belvedere Palace are most beautiful, and that is saying a lot in a city that takes imense pride in its garden and especially it flowral displays. I believe the number of gardeners employed by the city is about 400.
We had the afternoon free to explaore the city and Ms Becky and I went separate ways as we had different lists of sights we wanted to see. I returned to the area near the opera house and found Pension Suzanne where I had reservations for my stay in July 02 when I'll be attending a conference. The Pension is in an excelelnt location, but I did not bother to ring the buzzer to enter the courtyard.
I next headed to my art museum, which was my real "must see" for my first visit to Vienna. There is one very nice Vermeer in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, the "Artist in His Studio" or "The Art of Painting" as it is sometimes called. I plan to re-visit this painting in July.
Our very nice hotel was located outside the city near the headquarters for the United Nations. The UN has three world office: New York headquarters, Geneva, and Vienna. The UN offices are comprised of about 10 buildings, all of the same rather ugly 1960's style archtechure. It is no wonder the Vienese located this center outside the city. The city of Vienna does have a height limit on building of 4 or 5 stories. That's one reason you can see St Stephan's spire from almost any place in Vienna.
Day 3: Vienna (29 April 2002)
Another very nice weather day with temperatures of about 18c with clearing skies.
After breakfast at the hotel we joined our optional tour of the city that was a bit eclectic, but interesting.
We started with a tour of the Monday morning traffic in Wien, which crawled thru the city, no wonder bicycling here is so popular.
We arrived at our first stop, the Staatopera (State Opera), a bit late but this beautiful building had been waiting a long time. The Opera was bombed during WWII and over half the build was restored between 1945 and it's reopening in 1955. They perform a different opera each night, except during the summer months. During our tour of the opera house the crews were working on the stage and I was impressed at its size and depth, but this is to accommodate the multilevel props used in the elaborate staging of the operas.
The bus next took us to an apartment complex design by Austrian artist Hunderwasser. To me this was just a tourist rap place as I am ignorant of this artists works and noticed more the many shops hawking postcards, t-shirts, and fast food to the bus loads of tourists that rotate thru this small area.
Our last stop was the huge Ferris wheel that is visible from many areas of Wien. It is one of 3 or 4 that were built near the turn of the century, and perhaps the most famous in the States was the Ferris wheel in Chicago for the Worlds Fair. I am not sure if any of the other huge wheels are still operating. Each carriage on the wheel holds up to 15 passengers and it
takes about 15 minutes for the wheel to complete a cycle. There is a special carriage with tables and chairs that can be rented for special occasions. It also has curtains on the windows, which seems strange for a ride where the view is the real thrill, but perhaps you cam imaging other 'thrills' that might occur behind closed curtains.
We returned to our hotel room a little after noon and dropped off our umbrellas and rain gear before heading out again. We took the U1 U-Bahn south and changed at Karlsplatz to the U4 heading west to the Hietzing stop to visit Schonbrunn palace and gardens. There are two U-Bahn stops near Schonbrunn, but the second stop leads directly to the gardens which makes for a much more pleasant approach to the palace than wadding thru the hordes approaching from the main entrance, We took the short 22 room self guided tour, which for me was adequate. This palace reminded me a lot of the Schloss Charlottenburg, in Berlin, although the palace and grounds in Schonbrunn are much larger than in Berlin.
We headed back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready for an early dinner. Dinner was on our own again, so we returned to the bar-b-que restaurant where we dined the first night. We changed the orders a bit, with Becky having the lamb chops, which she liked very much, her parents had pork chops, which were a bit dry, and I had the rib eye steak, which was a bit over done. Still 50e for 4 nice dinners is quite cheap and my steak would have been better had I remembered to asked for it to be more rare.
Tomorrow we transfer to the river boat and have most of the day free to tour the city on our own.
Day 4: Vienna (30 April 2002)
There was a fairly good rain storm overnight, as I heard the rain hitting the hotel room window. But the dawn broke thru nearly clear skies. Our luck with weather has been extraordinary.
After breakfast we headed back into the city of Vienna to visit some of the parks and statutes. Our first stop was near the opera house at Burger Park to see the statute of Mozart. The small grassy area in front of the statue had yellow pansies arranged in the form of a musical clef. One of our local guides said they call pansies a "mother-in-law flower," but I am not sure what the connection is between the flower and the woman.
We next walked past Pension Suzanne and explored the area near the opera house. We found an indoor shopping mall that has several restaurants and a large supermarket. So when I visit again in July we will be set with places to eat and buy supplies.
We next stopped at the opera house gift shop to buy some t-shirts and postcards.
Then it was off via the U-Bahn to Staadt Park (City Park) to see the famous monument to Strauss and the less popular statutes of Bruckner and others.
We made our way back to the hotel to await or bus transfer to the ship, the River Aria.
Once onboard we had a light lunch while our bags were brought to our cabins. The cabins were very roomy and quite well appointed and thoughtfully laid out.
I decided to recharge the battery in my camera and discovered I had brought half of the charger, but had forgot the cord portion. So we asked out tour director, Edith, about a camera shop in the city and she recommended a place on the Graben. We stopped at the place she recommended but they didn't have a charge in stock. We walked further along and found another shop with a much more helpful young lady. The had the charge for my Nikon EN-El1 battery and it naturally already has the European plug and voltage converter. So for a mere 80e I was back in the battery charging business. I also get to experience the VAT refund system as the nice young lady also filled out the necessary multiple pieces of paperwork for that 10e refund.
Returning to the ship we headed for the lounge and relaxed while we waited for our orientation talk. After learning about the 'house rules' we had the 'port briefing' were the next day's activities were reviewed.
Next on the program was dinner which was four courses and included a tasty veal in gravy entree.
After dinner we returned to our cabin where the beads had been turned down for the night and a small chocolate placed on the pillow. Becky washed out a few items and then went to sleep, as a day without a nap, for her, always ends early.
Photos & Text © 2002 by Len Schwer