Take the Long Way Home

Monday-Wednesday, 21-23 August, 2017 – weather: Grey, drizzling but slowly improved

Yes, so this is the end of our epic journey. However, although our boat tour is over and we fly out tonight all the way back to Melbourne, Julie still manages to crowd more in. She sets an early alarm and then goes out to the spa hotel we had stayed in last year for a booking for a spa and a massage. She walks past the 8 bridges, probably around 10 km each direction. Here are some of her photos along the way.

Not my favourite kind of shop

That’s more like it
Like the chilies
A freedom statue first for the Soviets removing the Nazis then the Soviets themselves being removed

In the mean time, I was awakened earlier than I would have liked but probably a good thing as we needed to vacate the rooms early so they could be cleaned for the next set of passengers. After breakfast, the first thing I had to do was my packing.

My pile of dirty clothes

Any way, I packed up and vacated the room to the lounge area. At first it was very crowded as most of the passengers on our cruise were waiting for their pickups at various times. Then as they started drifting out, including some of our good friends we had me on the cruise, the room emptied out. Then as the new passengers started arriving, it began to fill up again. One could tell the difference between the old and new passengers by their excitement or absence thereof. Julie eventually came back around 1:00 pm.

Our pickup time wasn’t until 2:40 which meant we were stuck in the lounge there for over 6 hours. Yes, it was the same as we had been doing for the last week, I had my “office” and could work on the blog, the bar was open for whatever drinks, there was a lunch, same turkey dish as when we had boarded two weeks ago, the staff were still there and very nice – but when it is an enforced stay and one just wants to get on the road, it becomes a real drag. Eventually our time comes and we are the penultimate group to go, quite a large group.

Good friends Joe and Brenda were the absolute last group to leave

We get to the airport and things don’t really improve that much. We have a four hour wait until our first plane flight in a lounge that is not my favourite. We meet Judy from the boat there for a while which is nice but the time drags on. Julie goes walkabout and comes back and virtually drags me out the door because the TV is saying final call – an old airline trick that essentially means that boarding has started. We wait on the bus for ages and finally go out to the plane. It is a smaller plane run by Helvetic Airlines, a subsidiary of Swiss. This deepens my mood even more – if you can’t say anything nice don’t day anything at all – DEAD SILENCE!!

We arrive in Zurich, which is 100% the wrong way (hence the Super Tramp headline of this Post). We don’t have a lot of time and end up in the satellite lounge where we have been several times before. It is a nice lounge and close to the gates but the food catering is a bit lacking. We get on the plane and it is a basic business class albeit in a newish plane with lots of toilets, very important for a 12 hour flight.

Friends from the boat two rows back. The relatively closed in Business class seating

The stewardess asks for our order, comes back after our takeoff and asks for the order again and then when the food is served, initially brings the wrong food.

Julie’s Smoked Salmon starter – OK
My cold beef starter – just OK
My chicken main course – OK but not special

Twelve hours is a long flight in anyone’s book. I might have slept 3 hours or so but it was mostly nine hours of doldrums, my fault of course. They eventually bring us breakfast.

The char siu noodles were a highlight of the flight
Julie liked her fruit, yoghurt and croissant

Finally, finally the flight ended. We landed in Terminal 2 at SIN and it was a LONG walk to the shuttle to Terminal 4. Eventually we get there and find the SIN lounge. Now, that is a real lounge! Large, modern, good work areas and:

lots of interesting foods

Funny story, one of those silver food containers was filled with nice looking Singapore noodles. The guy in front of me emptied it out loading them high on his plate.

An Australian Shiraz favourite was another highlight

When we boarded the plane and settled in, there was another highlight.

That is a real Business class seat
Lots of space and storage

We had pre-booked our meals through the Net, another great feature we had used on the way over.

Cod I think
Scallops for a starter
My Malaysian Chicken curry – just what I needed
Nice Fruit

I was so comfortable on that flight that I watched a movie – Guardians of the Galaxy II, not my favourite. Two or 3 hours sleep and we land in Melbourne a 6:00 AM, a bit early. Although there are several other planes ahead of us, we proceed through fairly quickly and out the door. Our friend Gary picks us up in my black beauty and we are home and in the door by 7:30, not bad for an estimated 6:30 landing. Even so, it was roughly 38 hours from when I left the room on the boat until we arrived at home, which is a very long time. BTW: the weather is drizzling and grey and eventually rains really hard later in the day. Nothing new there.

So that is it the end of the long journey, 70 days all up. I have come home with severe jetlag and an ordinary cold. It has taken me 10 days to get to this last Post of the trip. I would like to discuss some of the high and low lights of the trip here.

Colin’s Gusto Tour – very good as usual. A highlight was the Paul Bocuse dinner but there were several others e.g. La Stupenda.

Barge cruise of the Thames – very good and relaxing. A special nod to Graham and Wendy.

Shows in London – Midnight Oil and then The Book of Mormon.

The Scenic Cruise – after my initial bad start it was very, very good. Loved the staff, there were lots of activities, food and drink.

The Weather – the only real lowlight on the tour. After the first 15 days, when we left Italy (and there was a bit of ordinary weather there too), the common theme was grey and drizzling with an alternative of rain. I estimate that of the remaining 55 days only about 5 were considered nice. This is during the middle of the European Summer mind you.

The Hills – OK, this was a bit of a problem for me too. All through Tuscany we had to brave a lot of hills that I was not really ready for. I think the worse was in Edinburgh where it seemed like everything was uphill and dragging the suitcases up them with cobblestones and broken footpaths was a battle.

All in all it was a very good trip albeit perhaps too long. I hope that there are some new followers, especially those on the Scenic Cruise that were advised of the Blog address. I hope to hear from you!

St. Stephen’s Day

Sunday, 20 August, 2017 – weather: Grey, drizzling but slowly improved

Q: What is St Stephen’s Day? The following has been extracted from the Net.

August 20th is the greatest national holiday for Hungarians, celebrated with day-long festivities followed by spectacular fireworks throughout the country. August 20th commemorates the foundation of the Hungarian state, it’s like Hungary’s 4th of July. Also called as St. Stephen’s Day, remembering Stephen I, the first king of Hungary and founder of the Kingdom of Hungary, who was canonized on August 20th, 1083 by Pope Gregory VII.

Festivities start in the morning with the raising of the Hungarian flag and continue on all day long, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Danube.

So, this is the second unexpected public holiday we have encountered in the last week. This one did not cause us many troubles, just some street closings that affected our bus travel around the city.

We had travelled down the Danube from Vienna over night and are just arriving at Budapest in the morning.

Budapest ahead
The first of 8 Bridges over the Danube

We were told a funny story about the naming of this bridge. It seems that there was an Internet contest to name the bridge. Before too long, and for no good reason, the popular choice was Chuck Norris! USA late night TV host, Steven Colbert, would did not like that so asked his viewers to vote for his name instead. It “won” in a landslide. So the Hungarian authorities did not want that name but told him that name of the bridge name could be his on two conditions:

(1) He spoke fluent Hungarian and
(2) He was dead

Naturally, Steven Colbert pulled out of the race and they named it something blah instead.

Arriving into Budapest

When we dock, we find that we are docked stacked to three other boats so we are the fourth in line. The weather is not very good at all as it is drizzling and grey, you might see some of the clouds in the previous picture.

This is also the last day of the Scenic boat tour. So after the usual breakfast we hop onto a bus for our morning activity. We have to walk through all three of the docked boats nearer the shore to get out. There were three choices for tours:

(1) In depth Budapest City tour
(2) Hospital in the Rock
(3) Spa and Bath Szechenyi

Since we had spent several days in Budapest last year, our selection is the last one – hopefully a relaxing spa will be a big help for the trip home. Scenic decides to take the bus up to the peak on the Buda side on the way to our ultimate destination. Again we had been up there last year so only a couple of photos here.

A fort in back of the peak which was built by the Hapsburgs and which blocks the view in that direction
Overlooking primarily the Pest side

We drive back down the hill and cross into the Pest side. We run into some problems with closed roads which cause detours but eventually we arrive at the old building where the multiple spas are.

Entering the spas

Milos, the boat’s head Butler, was there to give us our entry tickets which turned out to be an wrist band with electronic ID. We go in and find a locker which cleverly locks by pressing the wrist band to the locker. As I left my phone in the locker, I did not take any photos during my time in the water. The following is after I had gotten out and got dressed.

The main spa pool in which I had spent most of my time

The water temperature in that pool was 37-38 degrees, delightful. The sprays in the middle gave a massage type sensation. Julie joined me in the pool but after a while she headed off to see if she could get a massage.

To the left of that pool was a major sized lap pool. In the building in the back were a number of smaller in door spa pools. I had a look at them but did not go into any of them, I was content with the main pool. After I got dressed, I took that photo and settled into a seat for a while. The weather was improving but still not great. I could imagine that it would be a delight to spend an afternoon here in warm weather. Any way, after a while and on time, the bus arrives to take us back to the boat. All in all the spa experience was not as good as the Hotel Spa on the island last year, more about this later, but definitely worthwhile and definitely better than one of the other two walking tours.

Back at the boat, Julie spends most of the afternoon packing her suitcase. The ability to unpack everything, put them into cupboards and drawers, slide the suitcase under the bed and not even see the suitcase for 2 weeks was one of the best aspects of being on the cruise. Me, I decide I would wait until tomorrow morning to do my packing to extend the pleasure one more day. I move into my “office” in the bar to do more work on the Blog.

I had been given this bottle of “smoked beer” earlier in the journey so decided to try it now

Apparently the normal reaction the first time that one tries the smoked beer is that they do not like it but by the third or fourth glass one loves it. I though it was OK although perhaps not my favourite of all time. I gave the second half of the bottle to friend Joe and I don’t think that he liked it. Then at 6:00 we were treated to a Hungarian Folklore Show.

The show consisted of a 3 piece band and 4 dancers

The dancers, especially the guys, were extremely lively.

Just the girls dancing
The girls danced with some of the audience

The band played a solo piece.

Which enabled the dancers tohave a change of costume (note Julie and Larry in the foreground)

Very energetic and entertaining. We are then given a detailed explanation of the departure from the boat tomorrow. Once again extremely well organised albeit we are going to have to be out of our rooms quite early in the morning. Then it is time for the Last Supper.

Fresh water crayfish (Yabbies to Australians)
Vegetarian dish
Goulash, after all we are in Hungary
Fancy dessert
Another kind of dessert for Mary

The boat crew decide to move down closer to where the fireworks are to be at 9:00. Sadly, we could not go past the main bridge as there were too many boats parked in the river there so there was no room for our big barge to fit. As a result, none of the photos worked out but it was a nice try any way. Back to the original docking place.

There was music and dancing upstairs

But we have an early start and a long day tomorrow so it is off to bed.

Barcelona Q & A

Q: Patrick, I did not think you were near Barcelona. What gives?

A: Yes, you are right, we did not get to Barcelona this time, although were there a few years ago. The reason that this subject is brought up is because of the horrendous happenings there last week.

Q: So why have you included something about Barcelona in this Post?

A: Because our close friends Neil and Toula were just two blocks away in Barcelona when the vigoro hit the mixmaster.

Q: OK, but this is a food and wine blog so why cover this at all?

Because in spite of the carnage et al in Barcelona, Neil and Toula have encountered some magnificent dishes in Barcelona. I have decided to put these snaps into this as a Guest Post.

Black pudding with Squid, delicious
beetroot carpaccio with prawns, so delicate and full of flavour.
Green tea noodles with mushrooms, beef, spicy sauce with okonomiyak
Charcoal Iberian pork ribs
Prawns tempura with dashi, yum
Tempura maki, salmon, avocado and fresh cream cheese- delicious

Thanks, Neil. They all looked magnificent.

Market Tour

Saturday, 19 August, 2017 – weather: Rained all day

Today we are to do a market tour, one of 4 options, with Budi the Chef. After breakfast, we make our way through the gloomy skies to the bus and a knowledgeable local guide. We learn that the market is quite narrow but is around 2 km long.

Map of the market
At the market entry
Heading into the market

Seafood – note that those Tiger prawns are 75 euro per kilo
More seafood
Great poster for a seafood shop
A Fish Chart
Meat Shop and selfie
Barrels of Sauerkraut
A vinegar and oils shop
The guys making a purchase in the background with Chef Budi in the foreground
Various flavours of Hummus
Take away shop fare
Gotta have a schnitzel
Health food
and more
Meat shop, one of few
Sauerkraut and Pickles in Barrels
Olives – look at the colours in the right front
Comprehensive visual menu

The market seems to end on a busy street but there is another major shop across that street.

The guys crossing the busy road to the cheese shop
Cheese samples, one of those was among the best cheese I have ever had

The group splits up with Julie going to the flea market behind and Budi and two others return back to the boat. Rain has been threatening all morning and it starts coming down seriously. The market is not covered although most of the shops are but to walk down the aisle way means to get somewhat wet. I do that with Bill and Mary. We are to go to a coffee shop Mary had spotted earlier and we end up inside one which was an improvement over being outside in it.

The guys order Cappuccinos
I order something different – premium red wine and hot chocolate

The thing about the hot chocolate is that it was laced with Rum. I think the waitress must have poured in at least 3 shots of rum, it was quite an amazing burst of flavour and surprise. It knocked me around a bit.

As we sit inside the café, we can see the rain pouring off of the awning on the next shop. It is really coming down. We have to catch the bus so we make a dash for it, sort of.

Waiting in the rain to cross the street

Fortunately, the bus was there early and we were able to get out of the rain – it did not let up all day. We go back to the boat and have a small lunch. Then some of us have a decent nap. In fact, so long that we miss a Vienna Dance Course on board.

There were 4 unique groups on tours today. Including ours, there trips to Bratislava, Schonbrun Palace and the Spanish Riding School show. Everybody got back by the 5:00 cutoff which is when the boat starts its motors to make its last journey of our tour – to Budapest.

We then get a lengthy presentation in the lounge from Werney about the history of the company and his involvement right from the start. Then plans are explained for our departure on Monday. Very detailed and accurate plans but the main theme is that the boat is to turn around on that day and start the next cruise in the opposite way back to Amsterdam. Thus we need to make ourselves scarce in terms of getting out of the room early and suit cases ready very early. I guess it was to be expected, Scenic is a commercial organisation.

Then it is time for the Yummy and Tasty Farewell Gala Dinner.

Duck – one of the best that I have had
Green soup
Crayfish and Pasta
A special presentation for one couple’s anniversary of some kind

Then they bring all of the Hotel staff, all 58 of them, in their uniforms to line up around the big buffet area.

Waiting and bar staff
The Front Desk staff and our Butler, Antonio
Our favourites from the waiting staff – note the size difference between Maya and Manin
Catering Manager, Head Chef and his assistants
They all break into a song “leaving on a Jet plane” only its “on a Spaceship” which is the name Scenic gives to its craft

Let me stop right now and say that the staff were absolutely brilliant. Sure they get paid more if they get good ratings from the guests, but they are genuinely friendly and good at service. They had Mr. Patrick picked from Day 1 the wines I liked. It is a pity that the 8 Sailing staff could not participate as they were very important too. The “Little Guy” was a genius.

The cleaning staff
Don Roberto or musician and Front Desk Staff
The Hotel Manager
Some of our favourite people
Had to include the youngsters on the trip (there were not many)
Ali insisted upon buying a top shelf wine, here it is
A selfie with the lovely (and short) Maya

There is more yahooing etc. upstairs and I miss-out on the “Asbach Uralt deluxe” but I had had enough. Tomorrow is the last day of the tour.

Oh, Vienna

Friday, 18 August, 2017 – weather: Turned crappy again

We wake up outside Vienna
Looking back at other cruise boats

At 9:00 there is a Vienna City walk tour. I decide to pass on that. Julie catches the bus into town but does her own tour, we have been to Vienna before.

Salmon of course
and for lunch for Julie

Julie does not return for lunch but I soldier on with Larry and Ruth.

Austrian Boiled Beef – very nice

Julie continues her prance around Vienna. Her plan is to catch the 15:30 shuttle from town.

Looks suspiciously like a Julie 3 course meal

Julie does in fact get back around 4:00 on the town shuttle. This is important as we have an early dinner tonight at 5:00 PM. The reason for the early start as we have a formal event in town tonight. But first dinner.

Pumpkin soup
Fruit salad
Can’t recall its title but it was quite good
Salmon and salad for guess who?
Weiner schnitzel for me, not that special
Real fruit salad
Strudel, of course

The reason for the early dinner and the dressing up is because of a Private Classical Music Concert at Palais Liechtenstein.

The Palais
Julie entering the Palais
The huge square
Me in my new clothes

Julie and her new Chariot

Entering the main hall
Impressive ceiling
The 10 piece orchestra
The Mistress of Ceremony
The Soprano – I reckon that our La Stupenda is better
The Tenor
The Dancers
Dancing with the audience
The Encore

The last piece they did, to which the dancers performed was, of course, the Blue Danube. I did not realise how much the French Horn was a part of the BD.

An easy bus ride back, it was quite difficult going there with traffic and street closures for some kind of bicycle parade.

After a long day, you would have thought that this would be all. No, there is food in the lounge, I had one small hot dog. Then that is enough for me.

Barbeque on Board

Thursday, 17 August, 2017 – weather: Sunny and warm, near perfect

We wake up just as the boat is arriving at Melk. After a breakfast, with smoked salmon of course, there is a tour of the Melk Abbey which requires a bus ride. I decide to pass on it while Julie takes of on her own into Melk.

Fruit Sandwich?

Julie returning with me up on the sundeck
Larry and Ruth on the sun deck for the boat BBQ
Not many folks here yet
The BBQ area
The Hotel and Food Manager with Budi the chef
Raw materials for the BBQ
My plate
Lots of folk at the BBQ

There is now a bicycle tour for up to 50 people, they borrowed bikes from other boats. So the troops are lining to go out.

The bikes taking off

The boat was just pulling away from the shore when one of the bikies showed up with a flat tyre. Wernie chased down the trailer carrying the unused bikes and replaced the busted one. All this added another 20 minutes to our trip down the Danube. Some photos from the boat as we travelled.

Leaving Melk

From our Cabin’s balcony
One of the few times we used the balcony or the minibar

We are travelling to Duernstein where we will meet the bikers. Julie prances out as soon as we arrive.

Richard the Lion Heart’s Castle

I already have one of those t-shirts but another one has been purchased

Julie walked all over the mountain and occasionally got lost
War toys in a back yard

Houses built into castle remains

Richard’s Castle Ruins Close up
Looking down at the Danube
More castle ruins

From 5:00 we are scheduled for a Sundowner with local snacks and drinks at “Alter Klosterkeller” in Durnstein Old Town. It is a bit of a walk there but I make it with a couple of others. I meet Julie inside. She has a fair bit of sun on her face.

Wernie pointing the way
We are in the upstairs area
The “Band”
The snacks were quite good
especially the Horseradish
Various dances of varying quality

What else can I say about this experience? The accordion player is a champion yodeler. They did some comic versions of Australian, US, Canadian etc. songs e.g. Waltzing Matilda. And, amazingly, perhaps the worst red wine I have ever experienced.

Then it is back to the boat and dinner time.

Goats cheese dumpling,in the middle, with bloody mary jelly

The Restaurant Riva
Veal with mushroom sauce, quite nice
Sea Bass

Impressive dessert

A pretty full day and only a small amount of dancing tonight.

The Grey Danube

Wednesday, 16 August, 2017 – weather: Rainy and grey but does improve

When we get up we see that the Danube is quite grey. This is caused by the heavy storms of last night washing clay into the river. As well it is raining, not hard, but raining and grey.

The majority of the group is going to Salzburg today to participate in a Sound of Music show. It is an early start, because of the two hour bus ride there, so the breakfast area is quite crowded. That does not stop Julie from getting her smoked salmon and once the crowd drifts off it is easy to get an omelet. The boat has recently arrived in Passau and Julie prances out for a look around, some photos.

A & M returning from town
The Red Van is from farmers exxchanging their empty buckets for buckets of leftover food from the kitchen to feed their pigs

Julie returns and it is time for lunch in the Pearl Dining Room. Buffet as usual.

Salad for Julie, of course
Pasta and calimari for me

In the afternoon we are sailing to Linz. We are due to arrive at 5:30 but make it an hour early. So we decide to go into town. I had a slight errand to run and when I got back, Julie was 10 meters in front of me. As we walked it became 15, then 20, then 50 meters and finally she disappeared up a side street – left me in her dust realistically. A few photos from me:

Town tour trains – I had forgotten my wallet otherwise I might have taken the tour
A big stage in the town square
Other cruise boats
Ali waving from his cabin
Our floating chariot

By this time, the weather had turned really good, quite different from the start of the day. Julie arrives back and after the usual summary of tomorrow by Werney, it is dinner time.

Duck Terrine
Tuna with Beef
Soup with a Horses Head
Mixed Seafood for Julie
Fancy dessert
Ice Cream
Fruit for Julie

More compulsory dancing and then sack time.