Budapest-Amsterdam River Cruise – Final Chapter

You may never have heard of the “Main River” in Germany.  Compared to the other large rivers like the Rhine, the Elbe and the Oder it does not flow the same way. Those start in the south of Germany and make their way towards the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. The 330 mile long Main River cuts across Germany through Franconia, a beautiful area with gems of cities not to be missed. Canals with almighty locks connect this hardly known river with the Danube. The last part of the impressive canal was only completed in 1992. It provides an international waterway connecting Rotterdam at the North Sea with Konstanca on the Black Sea.

We visited many of the pretty, fairy-tale towns along the Main. Since Scenic Cruise Lines has electrically assisted bikes for more adventurous guests, about thirty chose to ride next to the ship and meet up at the next stop. Arriving in the area of the modern metropole of Frankfurt we again had a choice of excursions. We elected Heidelberg, the oldest and most famous university town in Germany. At one time in my life I had to lecture there, needed to go to a hairdresser, they talked me into a color rinse, and my hair turned out red. RED! I hated it – but it couldn’t be changed until it washed out over the next four weeks. We had also read the fabulous ‘Schellendorf’ series of books by Lynn Alexander, set in Heidelberg. We tried to find the Schellendorf house, stable and other places but naturally did not miss walking up to the old castle ruin which provides an incredible view over the surrounding wine country with the Neckar river winding its way through it.

Mainz is the city where the Main River joins the waters of the Rhine. Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz; the man who invented the movable lettering for the printing process, enabling the mass production of books in 1440. His masterpiece was the first ever printed Bible still displayed in the Gutenberg Museum. Several places in Mainz warrant a visit; the cathedral which looks more like a fort, the medieval Iron Tower, and the art lover surely would not want to miss seeing the Chagall window in St. Stephen’s Church. The history of this city goes back more than two thousand years when the Romans realized the strategic importance of its location.

Another excursion in this area offered by Scenic was a visit to Wiesbaden, in the 19th century one of the most exclusive spa cities in Germany due to many hot springs. Once called ’Aquae Mattiacorum’ was a flourishing Roman city two millennia ago. It still retains the aura of its heyday in the Belle époque. Wiesbaden brings up another memory: I was married there. But that is another story, told in the sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That.”

Father Rhine! We must have entered it during the night because I do not remember our ship slipping from the Main into the Rhine River. Many poets have written about the Rhine, many songs are sung about it, and many cruise companies offer tours up and down the Rhine River. It springs in Basel Switzerland and winds its way through vast valleys and narrow gaps between mountains all the way to Holland, picking up other, smaller rivers joining it along the way. The best-known one of such rivers is the Moselle. A dangerous turn to navigate the Rhine for any ship is the corner at the Lorelei. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote a song of a beautiful siren sitting on top of the steep cliff, combing her golden hair, singing and causing many a ship crashing, the captains lured by her and not paying attention at the sharp narrow bend in the river.

On both sides of the Rhine remain old castles, most now in ruins with maybe a small part made livable for an owner. Once upon a time they were built by robber barons, catching boats coming up or down the river and collecting fees. We had a historian on board telling the stories of twenty-three such castles. It was funny to watch people’s heads on the top deck swivel from one side to another, trying not to miss anything. I did a bike tour in 1957, and several castles were youth hostels. In the late eighties, we toured the Rhine area in a car, and we stayed in one converted to part hotel and restaurant. The owner was a Swizz man, he invited us for an after-dinner cognac (brandy) drink to enjoy with him. He lived alone and asked us many questions about life in Canada. The next day we noticed he had charged us for the drinks. Some invitation!

Not to be missed along the Rhine is Rüdesheim. Make sure to try a “Rüdesheim Coffee” laced with Assbach Uralt Brandy and sign up for a tour of the unique “Museum of Mechanical Music Instruments.” Rüdesheim is a truly ‘happy place.’

Scenic Cruises has a contract with the “Mark Castle.” We enjoyed a medieval dinner and show as well as being horrified by the room full of torture instruments of the not so good old times.

We sailed by the modern, extensive cities of Boppard, Bonn, Cologne; we had almost a day to enjoy Cologne, and then into the widening waterways leaving Germany to Holland, all the way to Amsterdam. Also known as the Venice of the North because of its many bridges, I’d call it the city of bikes. Highrise parking garages for bikes, bikes, bikes and more bikes. Houseboats along the waterways are beautifully tended with lots of plants and flowers, five or more story buildings all joined along the water, and one wonders how they were built on this watery part of the Earth.

An excursion brought us to an area with windmills, typical for Holland. We had fun visiting a store where the Dutch clogs were made, watching the craft production from a piece of wood to the painting of this footwear. I was reminded of my teen years when a pair of those (unpainted!) clogs kept my always icy feet warm, the only shoes I owned for a couple of years, worn for school, church and elsewhere. Interesting was a place where they made cheese, big wagon wheels of cheese were displayed to age on many shelves. And before you ask, yes, we could watch the process in the making and taste the types of cheese.

Writing about the Budapest-Amsterdam cruise and, despite having done others since, I dream and hope we can do this particular cruise again. There was so much to see and enjoy, and there wasn’t time enough to take it all in the first time. I am sure I will enjoy it, even more, the second time.

Good news: My e-books will be available at 50% off from December 25th to January 2nd on Smashwords:

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

Morocco – Part 2

Last week you read about the beginning of our Morocco tour! The food was good, plentiful and tasty. Next morning, we toured the city of Marrakesh, an oasis and royal city founded by Berbers over a thousand years ago. Blue blooming trees lined the street into the city. I loved it! I was surprised by an old Jewish quarter. It was very clean in comparison and their flag with the ‘Star of David’ was almost the same as the flag of the country since it also had the same star. I did not know that. The visit of a Berber Market was frightening. Hundreds of entertainers, magicians, snake charmers, monkeys, begging children and thieves tried to get the purses. They would take your camera if you tried to shoot a photo since they believed you would steal their soul. If you paid – the soul was saved! We quickly retreated, found a terrace café on a roof, had a cola and shot pictures long distance. We encountered a woman nursing her child when walking along a small path back to the bus. The baby was approximately eight months old and kept suckling but looked at me when I stopped. It stretched the little hand out to beg. They learn early. A boy, ten years old, told us he makes more money on a day than his working dad does in a month. Asked to leave us, he said, “no, don’t pay, talk, I to learn English”.

Next was Casablanca, a very modern city with wide streets and a large, beautiful Mosque. We were allowed to see part of it and our tour guide pointed out the incredible tile work. We drove by the bar where “Sam” had played the piano… Casablanca is the largest and an important harbour city on the Atlantic. We visited one of the souks in the old part and were warned again to hold on to our purses. Imagine narrow dirty pathways, loaded donkeys and their owners yelling “Baluk – attention”, begging women, pickpocketing kids, “shlepper” offering to save you from getting lost; people pulling at you from all sides, hundreds of small stalls but overflowing with wares. With help of the tour guide I bought a silver necklace with the “Hand of Fatima” for good luck. To gain respect you have to bargain, it is part of their custom. I enjoyed the smells of spices, was intrigued by the colorful silks, and couldn’t resist buying a few meters for a dress. To get it made at home cost more than the material. The seamstress told me it was ‘fake silk’- but at least it was washable. Famous brands, from t-shirts to purses were cheap, everything was fake!

The longest day trip with 380 kilometers was along the coast to the capital city of Rabat. The brief city tour next day was almost overwhelming. We saw the Royal palace, the Hassan Tower built during the twelfth century with an incredible view of the big wall around the Medina (city center) with the narrow lanes and typical Moroccan shops. We had no time to linger and after the next two hundred kilometers we were in Fes, one of the four Royal Cities. I liked Fes best. Three parts of the city were built during different epochs. The famous ‘Blue Gate’, the great walls and many Mosques in and around the old parts were fascinating. Of special interest were the paint pots in one particular area. Workers were busy to tint all kinds of products. I later fell for the beauty of a heavy brass platter with inlaid little flowers on enamel and the star of the Moroccan flag in the center. I didn’t even realize it was the Star of David until Margo pointed it out. It was done by the famous artist who had fashioned the wonderful golden gate for the king’s summer palace.

Our last stop was in Meknes, a city of two parts: the old and the new city. Meknes was the former residence of the kings. Thick high walls surround the old town with the ‘Great Mosque’, the narrow bazaar alleys, and the wonderful ‘Bab Mansour’ leading into the Kasbah and the Imperial city of Sultan Moulay Ismail. It is a monumental gate, completely tiled in green and gold. It was finished by the Sultan’s son Moulay Abdallah in 1732.  An inscription (translated) on top reads:

“I am the most beautiful Gate in Morocco. I’m like the Moon in the Sky. Property and Wealth are written on my front.”      

 

 

 

Morocco – Dreams of Mosques, Souks and Camels

Ever since I saw the movie “Casablanca” I wanted to go to Morocco. A few years before I realized that dream, I had been in Tunisia. The main memory of it now is a visit to a “Camel Market”. People would buy and sell live chickens, goats, dogs, cats, and wonderful hand knitted rugs plus unbelievable junk. When I asked why the chickens were “live” they said because they don’t have fridges. They keep them until they want to eat them. I was surprised by a huge mountain of buttons. Yes, buttons of all kinds, small ones, big ones, colourful and plain ones. The seller said, “I found them all…”

Do you want to buy a camel? “Don’t come too close,” warned the owner of an extraordinary white one, “it may spit at you.” We asked, “How much is this white one?” The ordinary camels cost about 220 Dirhams. “Oh”, was the answer, “the white camel cost as much as a good wife” – and he pointed to me.

A good wife? Yes! Young men had a tough time to get a wife, especially if they had set their mind on a particular one. The girl’s parents would lose a worker and they needed to be compensated – handsomely!

Casablanca! “Play it again, Sam…” Remember? My dream to visit Morocco came true. I joined an organised eight-day bus tour. We flew from Munich to Agadir, a place with wonderful beaches and lots of hotels and RV grounds for European holidaymakers. Our group was picked up at the airport by a tour leader and a comfortable bus. We were briefed and told some horror stories about masses of children attacking a man with a rental car. We were not to open our purse when children were begging, no matter what. We drove 250 kilometers towards the High Atlas Mountains. Suddenly, someone spotted several camels. Everybody started yelling “stop” to the driver because we wanted to take photographs. With “come right back” he opened the door. We ran towards the camels when a few children popped up. Most of us snapped a picture and returned to the bus, followed by the camels. One unlucky woman was attacked by more than a dozen children since she had tried to give them money. They were trying to take the purse, the camera, and her clothing. The native bus driver, the tour leader, and all men from the tour hurried towards her and in no time the children were gone. We had no idea where they were hiding. There were no bushes! The woman had lost her purse with some money and her camera, luckily not her passport. We had learned a valuable lesson. She was badly shaken.

Approaching a hotel in the middle of nowhere, we expected a comfortable stay because the big sign had five stars next to its name. It took quite long to sort out the rooms. Finally, we were given a key and told to be on time for supper in a special dining room at eight PM. We had almost 1½ hours to get settled. Waiting that long for food when you are hungry? More than enough time to shower, get changed and relax a bit.

I shared a room with Margo. We found it on the second floor. It was furnished with two beds, crisp white bedding, a telephone on a night table, a chest of drawers, and a TV in a corner. The view was directly into the garbage collection area. The glass-less window was open but had wooden shutters set to let the light, the flies, and at night the mosquitos come in. While my companion used the bathroom, I checked out the telephone. No dial tone?  I pulled on the cord to find the plug. There was no plug at the end. O.k., I thought, we don’t really need a phone. Next, I tried to switch the television on. Dead? Again, I checked the cord and found the same result. No plug. That moment, Margo called “Giselle, I can’t flush the toilet. There is no water…” I rushed in; she was embarrassed because she had a smelly job to flush away. I figured the water was switched off – turned the screw under the tank and, viola, there was water! We closed the lid and let it run. She had undressed for a shower. I gave her privacy. Then, another scream:
“Giselle! There is no towel!” Only a thin, ironed cotton square you actually would use as a mat was all there was. I told her to use it. I ran downstairs to the reception. They gave me another of the same kind. Oh my God, what a hotel! Opening the door on my return, water came running out. The shag carpet in the little hallway was soaked and squished under my feet. The water had also run into the bedroom that sported the same kind of shag carpet. Margo stayed in the shower while I shut off the water running over the rim of the toilet. Since the telephone was just an ornament, I ran downstairs again. Frantically, I told them about the flood and asked for help. It took a while until a girl came with a pail and rags and tried to dry the bathroom floor. We had to make do with the squishing carpet for the night. The toilet tank had to be shut off after each use. When we finally got dressed again to go down for dinner, I went to the reception desk. The people were very friendly and now not busy. I asked them,

“Who gave you the five stars for your hotel?” Surprised, and with considerable pride, the man in charge said, “Well, we did!”

Figures! More to come next week…

 

“Madame Pele – the Fire Goddess”

hawaii-volcano-1 The recent video of a tremendous fiery lava flow into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii was making the rounds on many social media sites. (also on my Facebook sites) It’s no secret the lava is flowing all the time anyway. Cruise ships, leaving from Kona, would make sure of sailing past at night to treat their guests to an unforgettable sight. At one time, I was on one of the ships. This new SUPER flow started just after New Year’s 2017. It went on for several weeks until a huge part of the cliff broke off and closed the exit. The massive flow of the boiling, liquid lava found a few new outlets – but nothing to compare with the fireworks of the previous weeks. I wonder what happened that made “Pele” so terribly angry!

You don’t know her? Pele’s mysterious story intrigues me. Naturally, there are several versions but I’ll tell you my take on it. Pele was born and grew up on Tahiti with brothers and sisters and parents who were “gods” of some kind. She had her share of family problems because of her fiery temperament. As a teenager, she seduced her older sister’s husband. Enough was enough and her father threw her out. Her brother gave her a canoe and she found a way to a small group of islands. With her “Pa’oa”, a divining rod, she tried but couldn’t make a “fire pit”. So she went on and lived on Kauai for a short time. Her furious sister, the ocean goddess Namakaokahai, had followed, found and attacked her, and left her for dead.

1024px-diamond_headPele recovered. She went on to Oahu. Here she dug several fire pits. The ocean goddess, her sister Namakaokahai, flooded them to drive Pele away. One of Peles Oahu craters is the well known “Diamond Head” in Honolulu. After a brief sojourn on Molokai, she fled to Maui. We are still in awe of the huge Haleakala crater she built on this island, extinct now for many years but famous for tourists who drive up in the middle of the night to experience an unforgettable sunrise. Tip: Dress warmly! Baby, it’s cold up there…

Namakaokahai, her sister, did not give up. She came to do battle. She killed Pele near Hana where a small hill is supposed to be her grave. Pele’s spirit, now a Goddess, made a home on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa had thirty-three eruptions since

Awesome! The Earth is boiling!

Awesome! The Earth is boiling!

1843, the last one in 1984, is quiet right now but not to be trusted, and Mauna Kea, measured from the ocean floor higher than Everest, often covered with snow, are distinctive volcanic mountains. Pele made Mauna Kea her home and built her final fire pit, high enough that no ocean waves could reach it: the Halema’uma’u crater on the summit of Kilauea mountain. Kilauea volcano is one of the most active volcanos in the world; millions of visitors visit Pele’s last home year after year. The area of many square miles with several calderas, containing boiling lava, occasionally unbelievable fireworks, and constant fumes of sulfurous smoke, is now a National Park.

The Hawaiians still believe in Pele. To show respect, they talk about her as “Madame Pele”. There are stories about how High Chieftess Kapi’o lani, converted to Christianity in the 18th century, tried to prove that her new God is stronger than Pele. She threw something into the caldera – and was not killed as everybody expected. Missionaries ate the red berries “kapu” (forbidden) for humans and nothing happened. They proved a point and slowly Christianity was accepted. But – Pele is still very much ‘alive’ in the minds of Hawaiians. Some claim they have seen her, either as a tall, beautiful woman or as an old lady with a white dog, begging. If you do not share with her, you are severely punished. For years and years, volcanic eruptions were common and since 1983 a never-ending flow of lava pours into the sea.So far, Pele has added 220 hectares of land to the Big Island of Hawaii. Not only that, a new island is growing under the ocean, and the scientists have revealed that it is already close to showing itself above the waves.

I am fascinated by the lava. There are two distinctive types: the a’a lava, dense, crusty, up to ten meters thick, slow-flowing and the pahoe-hoe lava, fast flowing over the a’a, winding, twisting and finally, when cooling, looking like ropes. Caves and tunnels are created and the most famous tunnel, one even tall people can walk through, is located hawaii-volcano-2on the Kilauea summit. People have built a small community on this mountain: you can stay in an hotel, spend hours in a museum, buy and write postcards and post them right there in a small post office to get the special stamp. Living in harmony with Madame Pele? Hmm, I don’t know.The Hawaiians warn you about ill health or other serious problems if you take any pieces of lava or even black sand from some beaches on the island. I talked to the lady in the post office about it. She got quite passionate and, to convince me, she opened a door to a room full of unopened parcels, shelves full of letters from all over the world. Tourists, who didn’t heed the warnings, had sent back what they took away. I was able to read some of the letters, letters from people who regained their health after having sent Pele’s goods back. A huge pile of lava pieces next to the post office was lava sent back in already unpacked parcels.

Jack's house was spared - he still lives there

Jack’s house was spared – he still lives there

There used to be a road to drive around the whole volcano area. We did that drive once – but a year later, when we came back, the road was gone and meters of lava covered it. A whole small village was covered with lava, but one stubborn man, Jack, refused to leave his house on the hill. Incredibly, the flow of lava divided, surrounded his house and the house remained untouched. A green spot on a mountain of black! The same happened to a kind of spiritual circle. No wonder that superstition is ripe. We used a narrow path from the summit to the crater and were warned not to step off to either side. Sulfuric little puffs came out of the earth and, being curious, touching the ground, noticed it was hot. At one time, a teen had tried to run and pass other walkers on the path, sank into the ground and nobody could help. Depending on the daily forecast, this path and the road to the crater is often closed.

The last time I visited Pele’s home was in 2011. This time, flying over it instead of driving up to it, gave me a new perspective. The Big Island is made up of hundreds of square kilometers of lava flows. It is incredible how people have built villages and even dsc01934cities on this volatile ground, created many farms, beautiful gardens, airports and many new roads. The lava provides a fertile ground once men with their big machines have a go at it. The birds do their thing with droppings containing seeds and one can only wonder about the power of nature: create, destroy, then recreate. But the might of the volcano can not be harnessed. Looking into the crater from above, it’s a boiling gray soup. And, when Pele gets mad, beware!

If you like to see more, click: http://www.picturesandplanetickets.com/2017/02/08/chasin-lavafalls-hawaiian-lava-boat-tours/

Our latest ‘Travel Story.’

Green Turtle

It’s almost funny. Maybe it is funny! Depending on how you look at it. Happy to be able to fly to Maui, our favorite Hawaiian island on short notice, we had a few hours to wait in Vancouver. We were at the right departure gate – but suddenly we heard an announcement the gate had been changed. The departure time was close, we had to hurry. When arriving at the new gate, quite a distance away from where we had waited, we noticed that it was the departure gate for a different airline going to the same place: Kahului Airport. Can you believe that we just made it back for boarding to our original gate? It really tickled my funny bone and I was in a good mood throughout the flight.

Lisa, one of our flight attendants, had a profile like an actress playing “Sarah” in the TV series “A Place called Home”, the Australian equivalent of “Downton Abby”. I couldn’t wait to talk to her. My chance came after I used the loo and stayed in the service area. I was surprised nobody else had ever mentioned this to her. She didn’t even know of the show. We chatted; I told her about being an author, naturally mentioned my books and when she heard of my genre she told me that her grandfather had written a similar book to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That” – his about the history of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. I had seen the title online, “Prague Winter” by Nikolaus Martin. I found it on Amazon.com and read it. There is another book with the same title by Madeleine Albright. I’ll read that another time.

KBH groundsThe three weeks at our ‘home away from home’, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, were sunny and, like always, wonderful. I learned more of the Hawaiian mysterious stories of sudden winds lasting only seconds and wrote about it on my Author Facebook ‘We Don’t Talk About That’. The beach was very wide, and by the time we had to depart, only one-third of it was left. The ocean gives, the ocean takes… During our time there, three weddings were celebrated on our grounds. All were glamorous. The couple in one was absolutely beautiful with the Hawaiian flower leis and their gorgeous outfits. He in a white suit, she in a gown that would take half of my closet to store. I couldn’t understand that at neither one the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” was played. To me, that song touches not only the heart but reaches the soul.

2/3 of beach gone

2/3 of beach gone

All good things come to an end. We left our hotel at 7.30 PM and arrived at the Kahului Airport about an hour later. I had trouble walking, so at check-in, they waited with a wheelchair. The nice person pushing me brought us through security and into the departure lounge. It was a very long way but we were early for our departure at 11.35 PM.

The following announcement from the staff at the departure desk shocked us shortly past 10.30 PM: “A message just popped up on our screen that AC 1828 is not leaving until 3.00 AM. We cannot believe it ourselves but we’ll keep you informed.” Lots of people went to the desk but no news other than ‘we don’t know ourselves, we’ll keep you informed. Please be patient.’

Many people had tried to avoid the charge for check-in luggage, so everybody had lots of carry-on cases. A new announcement asked: “Please check in more of your carry-on luggage since the plane is fully booked. There is not enough storage space. We will not charge you, this service is FREE.”  Now people lined up and in a short time, they had piles of suitcases standing next to the gangway door. The plane arrived early, shortly past nine PM. Not long after 10.00 PM the new crew boarded. We hoped the 3.00 AM departure would not happen since the plane was early and the crew on board!

After about half an hour another announcement came: “The departure will be delayed because of a mechanical problem.”

Several more such announcements were made but they never told us what the problem was. At one point they said the needed piece for the repair was not found on Maui but in Honolulu. A plane to bring it to Maui was on the way. Impressive! It was after midnight and the departure lounge by this time looked like a refugee camp, people sleeping on the floor everywhere. One couldn’t buy any food because all the shops had closed at 12.00 AM. I was pretty hungry having relied on food in Premier Class. One kind lady gave me a cookie. Also, we had nothing to drink. When I was ready to faint I was guided to a water fountain, it helped, and at least I could take a painkiller pill for my troubled legs.

Around 2.00 AM they started bringing the collected suitcases down the gangway. It was like a shot in the arm. People woke up, they stirred and new hope was flooding our veins. The next announcement was “The mechanics were able to fix the problem. We’ll start boarding as soon as the tests are completed.”

We were among the first to be called for boarding. We asked the person checking our boarding cards and passports what the problem was. “Oh”, she said, “It was a split wheel. There was none on Maui but luckily in Honolulu. The AC flight from Honolulu to Toronto diverted their flight to bring us the wheel.”

Wow! How happy the people in THAT plane must have been! We got some water and/or orange juice once seated, and roasted almonds. Once airborne, they offered chips, more roasted almonds, and chocolate. That was all the food till breakfast 1 1/2 hour before landing in Vancouver about 10.00 AM. My stomach was in knots and I could not even eat, not the breakfast in the plane or the food in the Vancouver lounge.

Naturally, arriving three hours late in Vancouver, our plane to Nanaimo at 10.20 AM was gone. We were listed for one at 3.25 PM. Our neighbour, who was at the Nanaimo Airport at 11 AM to pick us up, had driven home again after being told we had arrived late in YVR. We had no way to contacting her until noon from the lounge. She was kind enough to drive all the way out again to pick us up around 4.30 PM. This trip lasted almost 24 hours from leaving the Maui hotel and arriving home.

my birthday flowers 2017

Glad to be home again, even sick with the flu that had been with me in Maui for 10 days already. The first thing I did, I phoned for a doctor appointment next morning, which was my 83. birthday.

Finally – It’s Here!

Forget Me Not
List Price: $11.95 US
Add to Cart

Following the publication of the eBook version I am so happy to tell you that print versions are now available from CreateSpace (Amazon). To order click on Add to Cart.

I know you will enjoy these short ‘true’ stories. As the title of the book also makes a terrific gift I wish you fun with it.

Forget Me Not – A Bouquet of Stories, Thoughts and Memories

Authored by Giselle Roeder

A thousand ‘Forget-me-nots’ have lined my path. From adoption, babies, cancer, dating, depression, dogs, earthquake, escape, grandmas, kayaking, love, Olympics, politics, from superstition, war to weeping angels and many surprises in-between – these stories are part of me and part of the people who touched my life. During the time we spent together – sometimes only days or hours – we shared our experiences and memories. I remember them all, some with laughter and affection, others with sadness, but they live on in my heart. Wander a mile or two with me along the winding path of life, and let me share my stories.
Each story, thought or memory in this ‘Bouquet’ carries a message and all lend themselves to reading alone or in a group. They are independent of each other and surely incite discussion.
What people are saying:
Giselle Roeder broke barriers of personal pain in her memoir ‘We Don’t Talk About That’. In this ‘Bouquet of stories’ she shares her thoughts about world events and tells of people who greatly influenced her. Each story makes you think and incites discussions. It includes several not to be missed surprises! – Barbara Lange, Winnipeg.
Giselle writes compelling stories. After reading her memoir – which I would place next to ‘Anne Frank’s Diary’ – her present book is a delightful ‘bouquet’ of stories. I am still waiting for the sequel to ‘We Don’t Talk About That’ and it seems that ‘Forget Me Not’ is somehow a bridge between the two. – Bob Pickles, UK History writer.
I really enjoy reading Giselle’s stories. A change from her memoir. – Carol Dunaway, British Columbia, a voracious reader.

Site Help Order Help Policies Contact

Climate Change, Weather or Just Mother Nature?

image0 (4)

Alaska 1982

My first trip to Alaska was in 1982. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this State, the mountainous terrain and especially the glaciers, their pristine ‘white’ and as the sun hit the ice was very blue, like a summer sky. I marvelled at the apparent flowing of ice into a colorful meadow with thousands of wildflowers. You could walk to the edge of it. Cruising to the Columbia Glacier Bay we had to wait for hours to see any ‘calving’ – the breaking off of shanks of ice and plunging into the sea. Seals with their round black shining eyes and seabirds were waiting on ice floats for a passing fish and elegantly diving in or sliding off to catch their meal. What impressed me most was the incredible stillness and on and off the cracking in the glaciers sometimes evolving in a roar when a large piece just slid off and, causing a huge fountain of water, disappeared. Our cruise ship crew would lower a life boat and try to bring up some big pieces of ice. Some of the crew were masters in creating fantastic carvings which would grace the midnight buffet tables. We were treated with the smaller pieces in special drinks and if you would let the ice melt or take it into your mouth it tasted good. We were even allowed to keep the tall fancy glasses as souvenirs.

Alaska 2006

Alaska 2006

I have been back to Alaska during the years since on eleven other cruises up to 2012. Each time I would try to see the same sights I had seen during my first visit. The flowing ice river into the meadow had retreated each time and by now has disappeared altogether. The glaciers look ‘dirty’ – no more the pristine white color. The calving happens every few minutes and no life boat is lowered anymore to pick up ice floats for carvings or drinks. Maybe the laws have changed? I noticed that the wildlife has disappeared as well. The Mendenhall Glacier close to Juneau, the capital of Alaska, has retreated quite a long way, – it seems to be lower as well. I wonder if the water level has gone up with all this melting ice. What about the sea life, like whales, fish and other creatures, is their living environment changing? You betcha! The water is warming up as well and is not livable for certain other species. ­

Climate change? Environmentalists and naturalists have been talking about it and warning us for years, but incredibly, a lot of leading politicians do not believe in it. The other day I heard a fabulous group of singers perform a song with the line “He doesn’t believe in climate change because it’s not on the stock exchange” – making fun of a certain political leader.

Mendenhall Glacier Alasca

Mendenhall Glacier Alasca

What about the floods we have been experiencing? What about the hundreds of fires caused by lightning or stupid peoples’ behaviour (cigarette butts & camping fires) burning down unbelievably huge numbers of square miles of forest in Canada and valuable land in California repeatedly, year after year? What about the appearance of bears and cougars in our cities? What about the drought in the wettest part of Canada for instance? No snow during the winter and no rain for four months, but unusual spells of hot weather? Or in other areas so much snow that neighbors had to shovel out neighbors. No grass for animal grazers, storms uprooting huge trees taking boulevards and lawns with them like carpets, damaging cars, houses and killing if someone is at the wrong spot at the wrong time. Hail the size of golf balls and even larger causing billions of dollars in damage. Is all this due to bad weather? Is Mother Nature punishing us? Or do we face a serious case of climate change? Do we have to start thinking of building a copy of ‘Noah’s Arc’ to save the known species?

Alaska 2012

Alaska 2012

Just some thoughts of mine and I know I’m not the only one having this on my mind. If you haven’t thought along these lines, start thinking. What can we do about it before it is too late? We are able to fly to the moon or to Mars, even land a space probe on a distant comet – but we do not seem to have the political will to save the only planet that should matter to us: Planet Earth!

Share your thoughts by posting a comment.