That’s Shitty

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

Photo credit: National Trust Images

Our guide led us through some narrow streets where he discussed waste disposal in 12th century Regensburg, which basically meant throwing your shit out the window in hopes the rain would carry it down to the river. But that didn’t always happen and often the accumulated waste would just be shoveled from one street to another.

He also talked about other sanitation methods which involved building large holes near wells. It was a convenient one stop shop of fetching water and taking out the garbage, but unfortunately the seepage would result in foul tasting contaminated ground water. So their solution was to drink beer. Yep it’s weird to think, but fermentation would kill the contaminants and therefore render the beer safer to drink. This light ale became the drink of choice and was consumed by all including toddlers.

The Hangman’s Noose

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

As the rain continued we made our way farther into town and once again took refuge, this time inside Regensburgs Town Hall. We rested on the steps leaving room so as to not obstruct anyone from applying for a marriage license or what not. But this nondescript building was also once used by the Hangman, otherwise known to side hustle as the towns Torturer, who would put in a hard days work eliciting confessions.

Outside this city’s town hall is where the executions took place, which were a big deal back in the Middle Ages. Festive events were organized around the gallows and where the condemned would be hung as the major attraction.

Photo credit: istock images

People from all around would come with their families to partake in food and drink and where children’s souvenirs of a little hanging doll on a stick we’re sold. The aforementioned Hangman was essential for these proceedings and became quite wealthy as he traveled from town to town practicing his craft.

Don Juan

Regensburg, Germany
May 4, 2022

Photo credit: Oil in canvas, 2nd half of 16th century, probably by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Once upon a time there was a poor maid named Barbara who bore the illegitimate son of the Emperor Charles V. The product of their scandalous union was Don Juan, whom was quietly raised to serve the church but instead proved to be a formidable military leader. Meanwhile Barbara, who’d been receiving monthly stipends from the Emperor, was sent to Brussels to be married. Her husband died. She partied and embarrassed her son Don Juan who then sent Barbara to a Nunnery. Meanwhile the Emperor Charles V died and his only legitimate son Philip ll ascended the throne and became jealous of the his very popular womanizing half brother. Don Juan was sent to Bouge near Namur where he died of a fever in 1578 at the age of 31. Meanwhile Barbara, who was still receiving stipends, left the Nunnery, continued to party as a wealthy widow and lived happily ever after. The end.

So how much of this story is factual? Who knows but there is a cool statue of Don Juan in Regensburg. Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know, but it does show how a poor woman named Barbara achieved upward mobility in the Middle Ages. I must say though that the best part of this tale was comparing the different versions with other travelers. Ahhh the lore of legends!

Salzburg City of Salt

Salzburg, Austria
May 5, 2022

Like many cities Salzburg was established on trade routes for salt, salt was the refrigerator of its time keeping food from spoiling and was very important. Salzburg is also the home of Mozart, who is a pretty big deal in the music world even bigger than Snoop Dogg or Beyoncé.

Its other claim to fame was that it was the town that the real Von Trapp family from the Sound of Music fame lived and they won’t let you forget it. There were posters advertising The Sound of Music tours and what is interesting is that most Austrians have never seen the movie because it came out in 1962 and , get this, it’s in English. Snap! So, Salzburg understands that the Sound of Music is a big deal to anyone over the age of 70 who speaks English.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Our guide Frank told us that you can now stay in the Von Trapp house that is now a hotel. With all this Mozart and Von Trapp hoppla there was not one mention of Austria’s most famous export, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not one shout out for the Governator of California.

The bus ride took 2 hours to get there and put us briefly on the autobahn. Trucks are forbidden in Europe to drive from Saturday at 10:00PM to Sunday 10:00PM and we passed a truck stop for those truckers to take their day of rest on Sunday, it included a strip club with silhouettes of ladies in various yoga poses.

Our bus stopped by what we were told was a garden and this was to be an important landmark to meet and for bathrooms. The garden was pointed out on the map and we were told to just remember the big hard to miss garden. Where was it again? Was it this little strip of shrubs and trees by a bus stop? It looked bigger on the map. It was moments later that I realized that the garden was hidden by the big damn wall we were standing by. The Mirabell Gardens was pretty and had the fountain that they danced around in The SoM (Sound of Music) and some gnome statues, but no statue of Arnold.

We left the garden and made our way through the town passing Mozart’s first home and then later his second home, there were also shops advertising “Mozart Balls”.

Yep, little chocolate balls with some goodness inside that to this day remains a secret. Mozart would be so proud.

Also there was the best sign for the Golden Arches we have ever seen. Woo wee the hillbillies were impressed now!

We crossed the Salzach River over a bridge with locks of love attached to the rails or padlocks with the names of couples locked around the fencing. You attach your lock and then you are to throw the key in the river to symbolize that you are to be together forever, well statistically only 40% of the time.

Our tour snaked its way through the streets and through buildings via passage ways designed to access the streets without walking all the way around the block.

Marla and I added a few more acronyms to our vocabulary:
JAMS- just another market square.
JAS- just another statue.

There was a point that we looked at each other and agreed that we were burnt out on taking photos of JAMS and JAS, beautiful old buildings (BOBs) and ABC’s, or another bloody church.

But speaking of the devil our next stop was the Erzabel St. Peter Abbey where we toured a Benedictine monastery and former cathedral considered one of the oldest monasteries in the world. So we took more photos.

It is also next door to where we had lunch in a really fancy banquet room. After our lunch of turkey snizel we were too tired and full to hike up the hill to check out a view of the city so we went rouge.

Our guide left out something very odd and unique that we discovered after our lunch while on our free time. We explored another courtyard and there was a dude balancing on a giant golden ball. Wha wha what? How come there isn’t a bigger crowd watching this daredevil? He must have been 20 feet in the air! Our adrenaline kicked in as we made our way over to him, after all Marla is a nurse and can help apply direct pressure on any injury and I of course had my camera ready. This guy was understandably not moving a muscle and for good reason, we found ourselves looking at a giant golden ball with a statue of a man on top without any explanation. Another “ whimsical street art” exhibit designed to give senior citizens a scare.

a Castle and a Moat and Bears, Oh my!

Cresky Krumlov, Czech Republic
May 6, 2022

We were docked parallel with other river boats at our Austrian port in Linz and in order to debark you needed to pass through one or more boats to reach the outside boardwalk. So since it was almost time to catch our 8:15 bus to Cresky Krumlov, we waited and watched as the passengers from another boat crossed through our boats foyer as they fell in line, one after another. We also watched as part of our group inadvertently followed them. I guess we should have stopped them, but instead we let Jutta know so she could rescue them. They were rescued.

With a two hour drive to Cesky Krumlov there was plenty of time to admire the green rolling hills and quaint houses along the way. Our local guide talked about the different house colors in Austria and their meaning. Blue for example meant nobility, red for a butcher and brown for a pub or bakery. I wondered if the people in these homes knew their meanings or perhaps this was just a fable to tell foreign tourists on a bus. Our guide also said to watch as we crossed into the Czech Republic and that those homes would be less colorful. I didn’t really notice. I’m pretty sure our guide is Austrian.

After our ride through the countryside we piled out of the bus and walked a short distance on a elevated path to the rear of Crensky Krumlov’s Castle and where we got our first view of this enchanting town. After checking out the area’s map we then squeezed into a small terraced area where we could see the village below and take pictures of the pretty landscape with the Vltava River curving around the fairy tale like buildings below.

William von Rosenberg
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Cesky Krumlov, which means crooked meadow because of its unique landscape, is an area that has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Its ancient history can be documented to Celtic then Slavic settlements and then there were a few feuding families with Roman origins. In 1302 the Castle and surrounded area came into the hands of the Rosenbergs whose rule at that time allowed the town to flourish.

This little bit of trivia helps to explain how the Cresky Krumlov Castle and the surrounding town acquired its unique look. Our little adventure continued as we walked through the first of several of the Castle’s courtyards where many of the walls were painted in faux masonry. The illusion continued with painted stone panels, columns and molding. There are also murals of Ancient Greek and Roman figures and perhaps some important people of that era. This interesting look also covers most of the buildings in town.

The faux paintings date from 1577 when the ruler William von Rosenberg wanted to conform to the Renaissance art style of the time, plus it was cheaper to paint than hire an architect. The paintings used 4 different colors and involved a technique of scratching wet plaster that was called “graffiti” or “scraffitti”.

Over time the natural aging process of this scraffitti would require restoration. The restorations in 1900-1912 were successful but many earlier attempts were not. Also additional restoration were needed as the town and surrounding areas fell into shambles following WWl and WWll. Today there are concerns that trying to restore previously poorly restored areas may destroy the original art below.

We continued our tour over the Cloak Bridge where we were told amusing stories of the Castle being used for different movie sets such as the Academy award winning “Amadeus” and early black and white films. But during the communist era following WWll, the movies that were shot here were prohibited from being shown because of the decadent wealth it might portray.

Onward we went to the last part of the castle which was the moat where live bears were kept. The bears were introduced in the 16th century at the end of the Rosenberg’s reign probably to promote wealth and power. Traditionally 4 bears are kept here at a time but we didn’t see any of them today. I question whether this is humane living conditions for these animals, but breeding has been allowed with 2 cubs born here recently. Then the guide lost me when she started talking about the 2 bears they acquired at customs after they had been abandoned. Wait! What? Like this happens all the time!

A Man Cave for Geeks

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
May 6, 2022

After a “nondescript” lunch, we discovered an art gallery and a vey cool motorcycle museum upstairs in the restaurant. Allan was definitely getting his geek on as he rattled off dates and names of different bikes that meant nothing to me.

A lot of the bikes had the insignia CZ which stands for Ceska Zbrojovka, a Czechoslovakian company that originally made firearms and became one of the first companies to manufacture real motocross bikes, according to my geek husband. As a matter of fact they ceased manufacturing street bikes in 1972 so they could focus on making these motocross bikes. He also mentioned that his motocross hero Joel Robert, rode one of these bikes to the 1968 world championship. Evidently he placed 1st or 2nd between 1964 and 1972 in 5 consecutive world championships. I enjoyed seeing Allan giddy with pure boyish joy and also appreciated the fact that this upstairs museum was some guys awesome man cave.

After prying Allan from the exhibit we continued a quick walk around Cesky Krumlov while checking out whimsical statues before making our way to the town’s square where we contemplated a stop at the Torture Museum. We didn’t go in because the museum only accepted Czech cash and Allan wasn’t too keen on it anyway.

So we headed for a safer alternative the “Elon Schiller Art Centrum” which is an art gallery that we’d seen earlier on our walk. They were doing an exhibition on the artist Andrej Belocvetov whom did a lot of unique abstract pieces in a style similar to Jackson Pollock. The multiple level gallery building was also interesting to walk around with its history dating back to 1503 as the towns first brewery.

Got Melk?

Melk, Austria
May 7, 2022

Today we awoke to a gentle rain, an English rain, we couldn’t hear it but we could see the rain drops fall upon the river. The Danube river is so smooth and glasslike at times you could water ski on it.

Yesterday’s excursion to Melk was a pleasant surprise after a couple of bland city tours. The bus took us up to the top of the hill and we walked down through a formal gardens the the abbey which Melk is known for.

Our local guide met us in the courtyard and told us the history of the abbey and that it’s still in use as a school. The tour included an updated museum inside showcasing some golden crowns and religious artifacts over the years however no photos were allowed inside the building.

We did manage to sneak a photo of the long hall that runs down a wing of the abbey. The abbey is also known for its library with thousands of well preserved books with many hundreds of years old.

Photo credit:

As we walked through the library our guide pointed out hidden panels that had shelves of books masking as doors to reveal private rooms for the monks to study in. Again we couldn’t take any photos and will poach some off the internet.

Afterwards we had a map of the town and brief directions to find our way back to the boat which consisted of “ keep walking downhill until you hit the river and you will see the boat, you have to really try to get lost”. And off we went down a series of stairs and walkways until we hit the small town and the Main Street.

There were the usual shops and thankfully a giant ice cream cone for Marla to take another “I Love Ice Cream” photo. The thing is that we didn’t see anyone from our tour as most decided to take the bus back or were way behind us probably letting us lead the way back.

So we kept heading downhill through the town until there wasn’t anymore town left and we were looking at a bridge that crossed a river leading into a forest that vaguely looked like one on the map.

Or did it? What time was it? When did the boat leave again? There was no more downhill left!

With no bread crumbs to mark our direction we walked into the forest along the bike path and questioned our decision every 100 yards or so until we saw the river, but no boat. It’s all fun and games until you are lost in a strange country with a map “ not to scale”.

After another 100 yards of self doubt there was the Monarch Empress just around the bend with time to spare.

Not Salty but Well Seasoned

Melk, Austria
May 7, 2022

Every city has a history, the famous people who were born there and the primary manufacturing, agriculture or other means for the local economy. Usually included with our tour guide’s information is the city’s role in the wars over the years and who governed them. You could apply this to any town in the world. Every village, town and city has a brass plaque somewhere, right? Statues, fountains and gardens are made for and by someone- that doesn’t always mean it’s significant or interesting.

Perhaps after a few dozen tours, excursions and many local guides we have become jaded, snarky and snobby. I like to think that we are seasoned travelers. Everyone will give a big round applause to their guide, the excursion or lunch. Yet later at the risk or being negative ( the mark of the beast on any tour!) the small talk begins with some subterfuge questions like, “Hey, how did you like that lunch?”, to which everyone at the table becomes an expert at reading facial expressions and body language. After some guarded reviews it’s clear to everyone that the lunch sucked and we can all have a laugh about it.

Many of the tour group are also seasoned travelers who will comment on free time being too long or too short and at others times there may be a snipe at a local guide who talked too much or too little. Marla and I were once seconds away from saying how much we loved an art gallery before a tour member went on a rant of how much she hated it. Beauty, or lunch, is in the eye of the beholder.

With that, I thought the cranberry sauce over the gravy looked gross and the “ dumplings” were probably just white bread.

Graffiti in Vienna

Vienna, Austria
May 8, 2022

We could see graffiti on large sections of the canal as we headed by bus toward the historic center of Vienna. This art is unofficially allowed in certain areas and for the most part the taggers had carefully contained their craft to the inner cement walls of the canal with some overspill toward the road overpasses. These unexpected spray painted creations are planned yet temporarily tagged. Colorful murals may remain for 3 or 4 month before another budding enthusiast is allowed to paint over another’s unique art. Our young guide told us that the really good ones never get touched.

They say art is in the eye of the beholder and when your expecting to see Vienna with its classic Baroque style architecture, this tagging can be disturbing. But unlike at home, it’s not related to gang activity or drugs. It’s just art. Maybe.

A Visit to Vienna

Vienna, Austria
May 8, 2022

We were first driven along Vienna’s Ring Road which encircles the heart of the city and where the Roman fortifications once stood. This boulevard that’s also affectionately referred to as the “Lord of the Rings Road” was built in the 19th century after dismantling the remains of the old city wall.

Today the capital of Austria is a thriving metropolis with over 2 million people, cheap convenient transportation and over 1,000 miles of bike paths that we were constantly reminded of as we played “dodge the cyclist”. But our visit on this day would be a challenging one because the city of Vienna was hosting a “Run for life” event that resulted in streets blocked, traffic rerouted and the loss of our shuttle for the day. So with that in mind we choose to limit our time in the historic center and return with the bus after the local tour.

Our walking tour started at the Volksgarten (garden), which is neat and tidy with rose bushes aligned and labeled with the various varieties. We then walked past a group of people exercising before reaching the Hofburg Palace that is notable for the “Hitler Balcony”, which we could see from the outside but is closed to the public from the inside.

6311950 Speech by Adolf Hitler at the rally at Heldenplatz, 1938 (b/w photo); ( Adolf Hitler gives a speech at the Heldenplatz in Vienna. He announces the annexation of Austria to the German Reich.); © SZ Photo / Scherl.

From the Hofburg Palace balcony, Adolf Hitler gave his infamous “March 15th 1938 speech” to a cheering crowd of over 200,000, whom had assembled in the public gathering area of Heldenplatz or Heroes Square. Austria had just been annexed by Germany and with abundant Nazi propaganda, the majority of Austrians were in favor of the union and the entry of Hitlers homeland into Germany.

With Hitler in control and the introduction of the German anti-Jewish legislation, Jews not only lost their homes but were immediately prevented from voting. Eventually they were forced from their jobs and positions in society resulting in an abrupt end to any social or cultural life. These events occurred five month prior to WWll and the lucky ones had already fled the country.

Today was such a surreal contrast to 1938 with tents and vendors booth set up in Heroes Square for the “Run for Life” event and where my only complaint was how the temporary podium was blocking my view of Hofburg Palace.

We then headed toward the inner core of Vienna that is easily walked and reminded me somewhat of a small Paris. Our guide took us past museums and rebuilt baroque style buildings that had been damaged or destroyed during WW11. Most of the walking was on cobblestone, which can be a killer if you don’t have the right shoes. I saw a lot of people with the wrong shoes.

We then walked up and through several streets to the royal stables which you could view from a glass partition. It was kind of weird because my ear piece had switched off and I didn’t understand what everyone was goggling at. Underfoot the cobblestones were now made of wood which are quieter and easier on the horses hooves.

As we headed toward Viennas city center we could see the top of St. Stephens Cathedral and it reminded me of many old towns in Europe where a church dominates the town square. Ok so what was so unique about St. Stephens? It’s a big, beautiful, gothic style church with scaffolding for ongoing restoration, which is pretty common. But it’s also one the most recognized sites in Vienna where important events took place. During WW11 the Cathedral was saved from destruction by retreating German forces who disregarded orders to “Fire a hundred shells and reduce it to rubble”. It’s also easy identifiable by its restored multicolor roof which collapsed from embers caused by civilian looters who lit fires to surrounding shops as the Russians took control of the city.

Since our visit to Vienna was on a Sunday and church services were in session, we were limited to the areas we could explore. The Cathedral was beautiful inside with the typical gold gilding and I took a few pictures through the gate separating the front of the church from the partitioners.

I then noticed several bulletin boards with tiny blue/ yellow ribbons and covered in notes showing support for Ukraine. It’s funny that this is what stuck with me the most.

After making my rounds I gathered up Allan who’d been resting his dogs on a bench that unbeknownst to him was actually a confessional line. In retrospect this was the perfect place for him!