Superstition or something More?

What is it – superstition, ESP or simply coincidence? Couldn’t be. Do you believe in Guardian Angels? During my whole life (just read my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”) it seems that I knew before something happened what was coming. Or, if I were desperate for or needed something, I would go to a place I usually wasn’t going to and found it. Or, I think of someone for no good reason, and the person turns up, writes or phones me. Last week I couldn’t get my first boyfriend out of my mind and wondered if he and his wife were still alive. I called my kayak friend Christa in Germany, and during our conversation, I asked her.

“I never see him, I have no contact with them. But it’s weird you should ask. There is an announcement in today’s newspaper that his wife has died. I meant to send it to you.”

A few days ago I wondered where I could go for a pedicure. With my severe back problems, I cannot do it myself anymore. I meant to ask my lady friends. I had something at Tim Hortons, sat down at one of the small tables, ate right there and, instead of turning left after I was finished I wandered around the corner to the right. Why? I don’t know. There is nothing but the rear exit door of the Woodgrove Shopping Center. And what do I see? A modern, colorful, busy manicure and pedicure setup.

I picked up a business card. A few days later, I made an appointment. Nobody spoke much understandable English. The manicure section was full. I was the first-afternoon customer for a pedicure. They placed me in one of what, six? large leather chairs, lined the attached footbath in front of me and added warm water and some salts. A young man treated me, he did not understand me, and I did not understand him. Maybe he was Korean, perhaps from China or Thailand, it didn’t matter. He knew what he was doing, I did not have to tell him what I wanted to be done. He did a superb job. While he was working on my feet, the big chair massaged my back, up and down, pulling, kneading, knocking, stroking, all the way from the head to my bottom. No, I did not want my toenails coloured, it was the only thing I had to convey to him using sign language.

I was thinking back of my own skin care shops in the eighties. My pedicure chairs cost about $1.500.00 each even then, but these modern ones? I guess much more than double. I watched the manicures and picked up a price list. I had no idea you could offer two pages of services, just for nails. All in all, I am impressed, and I will surely go back there and also recommend the place called “Cali Nails” in Nanaimo, Woodgrove Shopping Center.

I must have a guardian angel who knows what I need when I need it, and he guides me there.

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Banned Book Week September 23rd – 29th 2018

I must say I was surprised when I saw this announcement placed by “Book Club Mom.” I couldn’t believe that even a book, written by Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” had been challenged and banned before it was made into a TV series and a movie. Ms. Atwood had started this book in 1984 when she lived in West Berlin before the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall. Another book I would never have questioned was “Mockingbird” by Kathryn Erskine, a book about a young girl with Asperger’s disease. No, NOT the one written by Lee Harper “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” Maybe I can understand that books about sexual orientation had been banned when they came out. It was probably too early for the topic.  Now, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Until last week I never thought that there were books today I couldn’t order or buy. But it happened. I tried to order an Art Book from Amazon.com – a coffee table book with a collection of paintings by an ‘Unknown artist’ – Adolf Hitler. A USA  art collector had published only a thousand of it. I had seen a documentary on television about Winston Churchill and was intrigued by his hobby – painting – a hobby he shared with this other artist with an infamous name. It seems that both men, under tremendous stress, could forget the world they lived in when painting. I could read up on both artists through Google/Wikipedia and even see paintings of both artists which sold by auction for 6-figure prizes.

So? I checked Amazon.com. They listed several used books ‘Adolf Hitler, the Unknown Artist.’ Naturally, the thousand that were printed decades ago were long gone, and now people tried to make a buck by offering theirs for sale. The cheapest listed and marked ‘in good condition’ was $168.98 US including shipping. They did have several more for more money. I put it in my shopping basket and proceeded to ‘check-out’ – curious what would happen. I thought, ‘In the end, I don’t have to buy it.’ I found out that Amazon did not own any of those books, private sellers had listed them on their site.

When I proceeded to type in my address I was told: ‘We cannot ship to Canada. Give us a different address.’

What? Not ship to Canada, a multi-cultural country, respecting every religion, color, creed or whatever. Not allowing an ART BOOK to cross the border?

I followed up by contacting ‘chat help’ at Amazon.com. I learned some amazing facts about banned books. But the help person was helpful and connected me with Amazon.ca after he had found out that they had just one copy of the book that I was looking for.

I had a chance to follow a link to look at it and when I saw the price of $1.598.99 Canadian I quickly went back to my chat person and told him:

“Thank you for helping me, but the price for that book is out of my league.”

He apologized, and his final comment was, “It’s not Amazon, they are private sellers, we also cannot buy these books. They are out of print, and a private owner can charge whatever they want.”

Out of print, banned or book burnings I remember from the Nazi time. Are we getting there again?

Two Wolves – a Message or Revelation to me?

A few years ago a handful of people ruined my joy and self-confidence, but the worst was that they destroyed my sense of belonging. I have tried hard not to let it affect me, but it did. Many years before that, something happened that had my world crash unexpectedly and made me believe I had wasted twenty of the best years of my life. It hurt, and it still does. I told nobody of my search for a way to end my life that would look like an accident but not hurt other people. I could go on and tell you about specific untrue accusations. My pain and inability to fight back caused anxiety, resentment, grieving, sadness, loss of energy and finally depression. On the surface, I kept on showing the world a smiling face and buried myself in work; I was successful, built a new life, but, nobody needed to know what I felt inside. My inner world was dark gray, sometimes black. With the dogs of a friend, I experienced the only truly happy hours. They made me forget… They made me laugh, they accepted and loved me the way I was. I could be me, I could be myself. A blissful feeling just “to be.”

An overwhelming need to be alone overcame me a few weeks ago. I didn’t really know where I was going to go. I did not want to burden my friends with my feelings of anxiety and my dark mood. After approximately thirty minutes of aimlessly driving around and without much thinking, I found myself on the highway. My car took me to a small, pleasant town about twenty or maybe thirty kilometers away. I knew a small bakery where, once upon a time, I had shared the best cheesecake of my life with dear friends. Pleased to see the only table outside available, I had a coffee, and, you guessed it, a piece of their delicious cheesecake. I sat there, watched the world go by and thought of the present reason for my inner turmoil. I felt despondent and lonely but already a bit better than when I first arrived. Since here in Canada nobody would ever ask to sit at the same table, I cleared my dishes and went on my way, making room for the next people. I was wandering up and down the charming streets until I finally felt the need to find a restroom. I knew just the place, a large grocery store with a café and gift shop upstairs. The ladies room was taken, so I waited. My eyes fell onto a large poster next to it. It was here that I read the following:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

 

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Wow! I did reread it. It was a revelation, a message especially for me. This kind of thing has happened three times before in my life; I was taken to a place, or the people I needed to see. Was my Guardian Angel at work when I most needed him? This story stayed with me ever since I read it, I thought about it every single day. Has it been only three or is it already four weeks? I have thought about it, analyzed it, compared it to my inner demons and realized that I had favored and fed the wrong wolf, for many of the past years.

No more. Not that I had forgotten to feed the other one, but one adverse action or word from people I loved or respected, would push me back into the dark place, and the big bad wolf has been waiting.

I promised myself he won’t be the winner!

Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs: A bit of History

From Wikipedia

For the last few days, I have been contemplating the fact we have an Easter Bunny and not an Easter Chicken? Doesn’t it make more sense in regards to laying the eggs? But now I know it is not about laying the eggs – it’s about delivering them!

The idea of Easter goes back to the Pagan times. A festival about the Spring Equinox was celebrated, long before Christianity, in the Northern Hemisphere. The Spring Equinox is the day when dark and light are identical, in other words, night and day are of the same hours. The festival was about the renewal of life. The word ‘Easter’ is based on the Goddess Eostre, the “Goddess of Spring and Renewal.” Eggs were the symbol of new life; rabbits are the symbol of fertility. Did you know that a rabbit can get pregnant again before the developing babies are even born? I found another interesting tidbit: For their first-time, a rabbit can get pregnant like the Virgin Mary: It can deliver babies and still be virgin.

Another fact I have often wondered about is the changing date of Easter. This was decided by the Nicae Church Council in 325 AD. They determined that the Easter Festival should always be on the Sunday following the full moon after the Spring Equinox. This is a time between March 25th and April 25th. (Explained by Professor Cusack on Wikipedia)

The name for ‘Easter’ derived from the Jewish Passover in most European countries:

It is Pascha for Greece, Pasque for Italy, Paaske for Denmark, Paques for France.

The Anglo-Saxon English speaking countries retained the name Easter based on the Pagan Goddess Eostre, while Germany calls it Ostern. With the advent of Christianity, the ‘old stories’ about the renewal of life, especially the reclaiming of life by Jesus Christ established Easter as we know it today.

The Easter celebration was brought to America by the German and Dutch immigrants to Pennsylvania during the 17th century. The painting of Easter Eggs started in the Middle Ages in the East European countries. They developed the egg-painting to a fine art. During my childhood, we tinted eggs while boiling them with herbs or flowers, or put our pride in painting blown out eggs with pretty little pictures. These decorated eggshells would be hung on pussy willow or forsythia twigs for a table center.

With the advance of commercialization during the 18th and 19th century, the first sugared eggs were produced in Germany, followed by the English Cadbury company offering chocolate eggs and even chocolate bunnies. Hallmark postcards with Easter Greetings appeared at about the same time.

From Wikipedia

The decoration of the Easter eggs is still practiced in East European countries, especially in Ukraine. The absolute “Top Egg” would be the Fabergè Egg, today worth a mint and mainly kept in Museums and a limited number in private collections. The Royal House of England has three in their possession.  The House of Fabergè, during the years between 1885 and 1916 had produced about fifty very intricate eggs for the Tsar of Russia. Two a year were ordered as Easter gifts for his mother and his wife. Fabergè also filled orders by other wealthy families. Many of these eggs had small gifts inside, portraits or, in a few cases, even animals, decorated with precious stones. The last two eggs the Tsar ordered for Easter 1917 could never be delivered because of WWI. The Russian Revolution put an end to the luxury life of the Romano family. The whole family was executed. The Bolsheviks had no use for these treasures and sold them to whoever gave them money. Of the fifty Faberge ̀ eggs in the Tsars possession, only forty-three of the “Imperial Eggs” have survived. So it was believed. One was bought at a flea market by a scrap dealer in the US Midwest in 2014 and was almost melted down for its intrinsic value of about $500.00. Luckily, the man Googled it, found a news item about it, flew to England to a Fabergè specialist and could never believe his luck: It was the third Imperial Egg ever made in 1887 and was estimated to be worth 33 million dollars.

Talk about laying (finding) a “Golden Egg”!

Happy Easter!

 

Books I published or read throughout 2017

At the beginning of 2017, I still had several books to finish reading. It was an uphill struggle since I had picked books for learning more about history and not for entertainment. Some were really hard to stick with since the authors were not always writing in an easy style.

However, as every year, I will let you know which books filled more cavities in my brain:

  1. I had to finish “The Kaiser, The Warlord of the Second Reich” by Allan Palmer. A tough read, especially since I had hardly learned anything about German history, growing up in the Eastern part of Germany, where Russian history post 1917 was all that was taught.
  2. “Peter The Great” by Ian Grey was quite a lengthy book based on incredible research. I often had to go back to previous pages to ‘connect the dots.’ I admit that I got intrigued by the Russian history before the Revolution putting an end to the rule of the Tzars.
  3. “The Girl with No Name” by Diney Costelloe. A story about the Kindertransports during WWII and how they fared in London during the bombings.
  4. “On The Street Where You Live” by Mary Higgins Clark. This one not related to history. A mystery novel. Murders were repeated after 100 years.
  5. “Prague Winter” by Nikolaus Martin. This one was very interesting because I had met the niece of the writer in an airplane. It is a heartwrenching story of the Nazi Invasion of Prague and how people coped with it.
  6. “Love, Lies and High Heels” by Debby Conrad. It is a light, fluffy love story. It felt as if written by a teenager. Maybe I will read another book by Debby one day to see if she has ‘matured.’
  7. “The Refugee” by Anna Bruic. The title speaks for itself. No, it does not have anything to do with the present day refugees.
  8. “The Munich Girl” by Phyllis Edgerly-Ring. A love story of Adolf Hitler and a girl in Munich, their secret life and clandestine meetings and an unexpected end to it all.
  9. “Lebensborn” by Roberta Kagan. I wanted to know more of the infamous ‘stud farms’ to breed Aryan babies. It wasn’t quite what I had expected.
  10. “Refugee Road” by Nikki Landers, herself a prolific reader and writer. Part of a series of books.
  11. “You Are My Sunshine” by Roberta Kagan. After reading “Lebensborn” by her, I wanted to know more. The story she weaves in this one feels not quite real. Unmarried girls, pregnant and with no home to go back to, find a place in one of the Nazi’s clinics, they have to sign a contract to give up their baby.
  12. “Lucy’s Christmas Miracle” – One of many Frank Rozzany Detective short stories by Alex Mandossian. I have read more of this series and sometimes have held my breath.
  13. “Threaten to Undo Us” by Rose Seiler-Scott is a well-researched account of families torn apart by the Nazi invasion of Poland and the tragic fare of German people living there.
  14. “Personal Paparazzi” by Alina Vincent & Christine Whitmarsh. A book about writing, marketing and more. The two writers are very active on social media teaching courses.
  15. “Never a Mistress, No Longer a Maid” by Maureen Discroll. After a lot of heavy reading, a person needs a break. I enjoyed this book.
  16. “The Fall of The Dynasties: The collapse of the old order 1905 -1922” by Edmund Taylor. It was not new to me how the leading dynasties in the European part of the world were all related, and one could hardly understand how they could make war against each other. History, meticulously researched and well written.

Those are the books I read, most on my Kindle and Kobo. I also checked a lot of books on Amazon where you can click on “Look Inside” and get an idea what they are about. There was quite a number I would have loved to get and read, but as a writer, I only have so much time.  I had started to read two books over Christmas but did not finish either yet. Therefore I like to leave them to my report at the end of 2018. God willing I will still live at that time, and no new war has blown our planet to bits!

Now about the book, I published in 2017: A collection of my German language poems; poems I had written over a period of about thirty years. Happy poems! I had a lot of fun putting the book together while I took a ‘sabbatical’ from writing my sequel to “We Don’t Talk About That.” Written in the style of Eugen Roth’s poems, they inevitably bring a smile to the readers face. A terrific gift for all German-speaking friends.

“Ein Mensch von Gestern – Heute” is available on all the known Amazon sites, Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords. Wonderful as a paperback but also available as an ebook.

Goodbye 2017

It is the last day of the year 2017. I am thinking of the 365 days past. I am contemplating what the New Year may bring. I have no crystal ball. Nobody has an answer. If we are a few billion people with a brain on this planet, every single one has different hopes, wishes, and beliefs. I am trying to write a blog that means something, possibly something that touches a nerve in everyone. Everyone? Who am I kidding! I can but try. And try I will.

New Year’s Eve: We celebrate and make a lot of noise. We make New Year’s Resolutions, resolutions that will be broken within the next few weeks or even days because ‘life happens.’ Something always gets into our way to do what we set out to do, want to do or planned to do. We woke up with a thought to write a fantastic blog – someone asked to do something else, and everything changes. The mood, sometimes even the energy is gone. What we really wanted to say changed. The moment, that magic moment, when you felt just right to do this one thing, is gone.

Looking back on 2017, it was a troubled year. Worldwide, politically and for me, even personally. But what is my personal pain compared to the pain of thousands of people fleeing their homes with just the cloth on their back, children starving, soldiers raping helpless women, beheading or killing well-meaning men? The worst is that all of this is done in the name of religion. Did anybody choose to born a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew? Or belonging to any of the many other denominations? How many Gods are there? I always thought there was but ONE, and he is a loving God, not one who spews hate and fire at one particular group that tries to kill another group. Who’s side is HE one when soldiers in war pray for victory? I’m reminded of a little story:

A zebra goes to see God. He asks ‘Lord, am I white with black stripes or am I black with white stripes?’

God looks at the zebra and says: ‘That depends entirely on how you see yourself.’

I like to see it not just depending on color but ‘how we see ourselves.’ Has HE given humanity ‘free choice’? A choice to do what is right? HE doesn’t get involved in humanity’s foolishness. Someone on Facebook asked ‘How can God let this happen?’ and another answered that HE may have turned his back on us because we don’t allow HIS name in schools, and we try to banish him from our lives. It’s troublesome to think about all this. And, maybe it is better not even to write about it. I stepped into a wasp’s nest once when I wrote an article for a newspaper questioning different parts of the bible and mentioned Emmanuel Kant’s Philosophy. It was also a New Year’s write-up, and boy, did I touch many nerves! The Newspaper had a hay-day with all the pro- and contra letters for weeks!

What do I look back to, personally? Problems with my health, physical problems that affected me mentally. I got depressed but tried hard to pretend all was alright. I had a terrible time getting to work on my sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That.” In that book, I was honest and told how it was, and I couldn’t find a way to tell what happened to me and my life after those first thirty years. I thought of all the things I still had to do, wanted to do and never got around to do. I went through all my files, sorted, destroyed and found papers I didn’t want to go into the wastebasket after I’m gone. I found poems I had written over many years, mostly funny ones, many with double meanings, my goodness, actually a history of human life during the years starting around 1960! Reading these gave me hope and smiles back, and a will to do something with them. My little book “Ein Mensch von Gestern – Heute” was born. It’s in my first language, German, but there are still a lot of people who do speak it. The title means “A Human from Yesterday – Today.” The story of how we people from yesterday cope with life as it has changed since yesteryear. Hahaha, and now we are back to today, the last day of 2017.

Did I have moments when I thought of stopping the time from flying? Yes, there were some. But how do you stop time? With a stopwatch? Heh, buddy, it doesn’t work that way.  Every breath you take is part of a second that moves time forward. Did you ever read Goethe’s ‘Faust’? The first two lines inspired me this morning to write about it. Here is part of Dr. Faustus’ conversation with Mephisto about time:

“If to the moment, I shall ever say
‘Oh, linger on, thou art so fair!’
Then may you fetters on me lay.
Then I will perish, then and there!
Then may the death-bell toll recalling,
Then from your service you are free;
The clock may stop, the pointer falling,
And time itself be past for me!”

The answer of the devil, Mephisto, was a warning. Faustus should not be hasty with his wish, but if so, he wanted it in writing, signed with blood. Maybe here we find a base for what we often say nowadays: ‘Be careful what you wish for, you may get it!’

       Happy New Year to all of you! I love you, my readers! I love people!
A big hug for all!

Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise Part 3

Good Bye Vienna, I don’t know if I will ever see you again. We entered a stretch of the Danube through the Wachau with some of the loveliest landscapes you can imagine. We were cruising through vine country. Several vines of this region and even the most famous one, the ‘Veltiner Smaragd’ were served with dinner. We admired ancient castles on mountain tops, and many historic old cities along the river bank kept us all on the top deck. We even passed our first lock. Sometimes the Danube was as wide as a small lake, then again it narrowed, and we could talk to the people walking or biking next to us. Once it went almost around itself, and we could see the same sights twice. We even encountered a cable ferry crossing the river. Several smaller rivers joined the Danube along the way.

Remember the story of Richard, the Lionheart? During the Third Crusade, he was captured by Duke Leopold V of Austria and interred in the castle above Dürnstein for three months until the sum of 150.000 silver marks were paid. There is a legend about his faithful Blondel who ‘rescued’ him. I would love to name and tell you about several of the beautiful towns we toured, but then these blogs would go on forever. The mighty Cloister Melk was overwhelming, the affluent Linz and the vast locks before we came to Passau, a city shared between Austria and Germany. The left bank is German, the right bank belongs to Austria. We had to do a self-guided tour in Passau. I attached myself to a German group since I could understand the language. Much better than that hand-held thing… but here I caught the flu, it was going around on the ship, and I was one of the last ones to get it. I stayed in bed for several days and watched a lot of great movies. Even ‘Schindler’s List.’

Luckily I was well enough not to miss Regensburg, one of the highlights of the cruise. There are lots of stories to talk about, but one occasion stays in my mind. We had to pass under a thousand-year-old Roman stone bridge. The wheelhouse was lowered and disappeared but not before the captain asked everybody to leave the top deck. A number of us stayed. Lying down on my back I could touch the underside of the bridge by just raising my hand. I felt the vibrations of the cars driving above me. Sometimes, when the water level is too high, Scenic Cruises has a bus waiting on one side and another cruise ship on the other. They make sure nobody misses anything because of Mother Nature. I could write pages about Regensburg. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is the most northern point of the Danube. Some great locks passed us into a canal, and this later released us into the Main River which flows towards the Rhine across Germany.

Nuremberg, another over the thousand-year-old city, is mostly remembered because of the infamous Nuremberg trials of the remaining Nazis. My first visit to Nuremberg was in the late 1950s when everything was still rubble due to the bombing during WWII. I was astounded how beautifully it had been rebuilt.

Aah, and we visited one of my favorite Places: Bamberg! Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bamberg is a fairytale town, built on seven hills and often compared to Rome. It rained cats and dogs. Everybody wanted to buy an umbrella, and the kind tour guide led us to a Euro-shop, but umbrellas were sold out. He raced us to another, they had stocked up, everybody got one. What a sight it was, seeing the bobbing umbrellas move up a steep street!

An unforgettable excursion was Rothenburg o.d.T., a town still surrounded by the medieval fortifications and four gates. Millions of visitors each year shoot millions of photos, every corner provides another picture worth taking. Don’t miss Rothenburg if you are ever in Germany. It’s the first stop when you are traveling the Romantic Road from Frankfurt after you pass Würzburg south to the two-thousand-year-old Augsburg with many unbelievably pretty old towns along the way and on to the Alps. One of my favorites is Dinkelsbühl with a moat and a high wall around it.

After we passed the Bishop’s seat Würzburg, we had a glassblower on board. He displayed some beautiful pieces.  His name was Karl, and he showed us his art by blowing liquid glass into some incredible forms. When he asked for a volunteer to try it, he had no offers. Karl revealed he takes a soothing drink before blowing, and whoever would give it a try will receive a whole bottle of it. Nobody? I dared and joined him. There was a round of applause, but he asked to wait until after I had blown something to bits. He started, and I took over. He warned me several times to blow slower and more carefully otherwise the bubble would burst. I was making a Christmas ornament. Wow, did I ever enjoy it! I wanted to make it bigger, but he stopped me when it had the ordinary size. He blew his and my name onto it, and then I could roll it in some glitter. And yes, I did receive a whole bottle of his special drink. It was a herbal liqueur in a small sample bottle! A one-time shot. This caused more laughter than applause as I played along and acted very disappointed.

The next day we were in Wertheim where he had a fairytale shop in a very narrow high house. Our tour guide had quite a time to get us to walk on through the pretty town as we had trouble to part with Karl and his sales staff. Lots of dollars flowed into his cash register.

Next time we will cruise from the Main River into what the Germans call “Father Rhine” all the way to Amsterdam.

The ‘Beheaded’ Rose

Time flies. I am working on the sequel and Facebook reminded me of this story. I like to add to the last sentence: Actually, because of the accident, I never forgot the rose. Or Hannes.

Giselle Roeder

DSC02601Don’t think it is easy for me to tell you this story. It should be one of the chapters of the sequel to my book “We Don’t Talk About That”. It is a little love story but it really isn’t a love story. Read it and decide for yourself what you want to call it.

I met Hannes two months too late. Had we met two months earlier something might have become of it. Maybe. Maybe not. He had such an infectious laugh, such as I had never heard from a man and never did again. I knew he would never do or try something I would not want. He was ‘comfortable’ like an old pair of shoes, more like a brother and I felt at ease when I was with him. I still kept him at arm’s length. Why? There were several reasons. One, I was afraid I could…

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River Cruising from Budapest to Vienna (part 2)

After checking in to our Scenic “Ruby” riverboat and getting settled in the cabin with the help of our own butler for the fifteen days of the cruise, we joined the other 167 travelers for a briefing. Before we knew it, we had cocktails in our hands, looking for a seat and munching on goodies placed on the tables. The cruise director welcomed everyone and caused a lot of laughter with his own brand of humor. He told us the do’s and don’ts while on the cruise. Lots of people were ecstatic about the fact that the drinks all day and evening were free. I would say, not really ‘free’ because we paid ahead of time, and drinks, excursions, and tips were advertised as included. For the next two weeks, we didn’t need any cash or credit card money. Most of the guests were from Australia (Scenic Cruises is an Australian company), the second largest group was from the UK, then Germany. We were about a dozen Canadians. Seating for meals was open, but the team of eight from our Probus Club in British Columbia stayed together for the dinners. I could tell you funny stories of our and other people – but this blog is not about people but the cruise.

Casting off before dusk, gliding along the (not blue!) Danube, passing under the magnificent bridge between Buda and Pest, by the incredibly beautiful and lit up Parliament Building and Margaret Island, we had a three-course Hungarian dinner, red and white Hungarian wine and musical entertainment with Hungarian folk dancers.

We arrived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, the next morning. A fortress on a hill, castles, many other large buildings, and domed churches formed the magnificent skyline. At one time in history, it had been the Royal city of the King of Hungary. Almost a dozen queens and kings were crowned here. The Habsburg Emperor was also King of Hungary, though not at the same time. Bratislava was thriving during the 18. Century under the Empress Maria Theresia. More Austrians and Germans lived there than Slovakians. It became part of Czechoslovakia in 1919 after the great war and the fall of the Empires, and it got its independence in 1993.

At each stop on the way to Amsterdam, we had a choice of three excursions. Here, in Bratislava, we decided to join a trip to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. We enjoyed an impromptu concert at the cobblestone plaza, we wandered the alleys, stopped for an ice cream in a typical Czech restaurant, didn’t understand a word spoken, decided to do the strenuous hike up to the old castle, and we loved the view from up there. After an exciting evening on our floating hotel, we were on our way to Vienna to enjoy Austrian food and wine.

It was great to have two days in Vienna, this world-renowned city; the city of art, music and elegant living. The souls of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and many other famous musicians live on in Vienna; the first waltz, considered a sinful dance, composed by Johann Strauss was danced here. Many years ago, when I was visiting Vienna for the first time, I had met the Grandson of one of the Strauss composers in Grinzing, a romantic part of the city known for its wine drinking cozy establishments. He invited me into the Strauss home for Sunday afternoon coffee, and I touched the Grand piano that two Johann Strauss men had composed on. I was desperate to find my friends again, checked the Vienna telephone book, phoned several Strauss names, I asked many people who might know of them, but to no avail. A city tour is a must; lots of walking in the inner city with lots of pedestrian-only narrow streets, and visiting the famous coffee houses and sampling the many Vienna cake specialties will tire you out. I desperately wanted to see the Lipizzaner horses, possibly a show, but the building was closed. All I could see were posters with pictures to die for. Interesting was the evening concert and ballet offered by the count of Liechtenstein in his Vienna Palais. A champagne reception and little canapés preceded it. If you read my book ‘Forget Me Not’ you know I had met him once before in his castle garden in Liechtenstein. (page 99, story “I own this Joint.”)

 Our highlight on day two was the visit to the Schönbrunn Palace. Every person on our guided tour through the palace was overwhelmed by the art, the richness of the décor and the luxury the Habsburg Emperor family had enjoyed in Schönbrunn, it only being their summer retreat. The extensive gardens were fashioned after the ones in Versaille.  To my surprise, our tour guide pressed her ‘lollipop’ sign into my hands before hurrying off to get our tickets. While waiting for her return, many of the group turned to me with questions, even people from other groups. I tried as well as I could to pretend I was ‘cool’ with being a tour guide.

I would like to spend more time in Vienna, live their lifestyle for a few weeks or months, maybe even during a whole winter with a chance to visit the Burgtheater (castle theater) where many famous actors, conductors, and singers perform. I had met a new man-friend about fifteen years ago, who promised to take me to the Vienna New Year’s Ball. It was almost impossible to get tickets for the ball a year in advance, but he said: “I have my ways.” I bought a stunning evening gown, and it is still hanging in my closet. Sadly, our friendship didn’t develop into what he had hoped. One of Vienna’s winter highlights is the New Years Concert, broadcast from Vienna and now copied by Symphony Orchestra in many cities of North America.

Join me as we continue the cruise through romantic ancient towns of Austria towards Germany in Part three.

Budapest – or Buda and Pest

Out of the blue, I was asked one day, “Would you like to go to a promotional talk about River Cruising?” It sounded interesting. I said yes. It was exciting, and the slideshow pulled us right into the dream gliding along the large rivers of Europe. The promotion was for a cruise between Amsterdam and Budapest, along the Rhine and the Main River through Holland and Germany, the canal connecting Main and Danube to Austria and Hungary. We were impressed, and – you guessed it, we booked. It was expensive, but the price included all tips, excursions and even drinks. Drinks? Hahaha! It started with champagne at breakfast and choices of red or white wine for lunch and dinner harvested in the country we traversed as was the food. Mind you, you could have any other drinks – I was sorry I am not into alcohol.

We were keen to start in Amsterdam. Since that sailing was sold out we had to fly to Budapest and do the cruise in reverse. We were lucky to have enough frequent flyer points for business class, but could not get a flight for the day we needed to meet the ship. We arrived three full days early. I did not like it. I remembered the years after WWII, the times under harsh communist rule, the Hungarian revolution in the fifties, and I couldn’t fathom what we could do there. Was I ever wrong!

Budapest is like another Paris. Believe it or not! We loved it. We were happy we had the extra three days after all. The people in the Marriot Hotel were super friendly, the typical Hungarian restaurants delightful, the street vendors just a little pushy but otherwise, everything was more than we could have imagined. Budapest was re-built in the old style, clean with beautiful shops and bistros along the walkway following the Danube for miles. The weather was great. Budapest is actually a twin city, Buda and Pest,  divided by the great river. Buda, across the river from our hotel with mighty fortress walls and towers was especially intriguing. A photographers dream! We walked more than 10.000 steps a day, and we didn’t see it all.

Hot hot hot and spicy food

The second part of the adventure began when we boarded our ship, Scenic Ruby, on the third day in the late afternoon. We were in Hungary; the reception on our floating hotel was as if we were family. The display of typical Hungarian food heated our saliva to almost one hundred degrees.