Regensburg, Germany Thursday, May 29 2014 

St. Peter's Cathedral

St. Peter’s Cathedral

With a population around 150,000, Regensburg, located at the confluence of the Danube and Regen Rivers, is the capital of the Bavarian administrative region. During WWII a nearby Messerschmidt aircraft factory and oil refinery were bombed, but the city was left practically intact. The large medieval center of the city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our city tour we passed a construction for a museum which has been delayed in order to complete archeological study as Roman remains have been unearthed. We learned that Oscar Schindler was from Regensburg. Our guide pointed out a small marker Holocaust in front of a home that honored a Jew who was killed during the. The Cathedral of St. Peter is the most prominent church in this city of churches. The spires of this imposing Gothic building, founded in 1275 and completed in 1634, inspire one to consider it the city’s spiritual center. Unlike many other visitors, I honored the church’s request not to photograph inside it. While meditating on the fantastic stained glass windows in three huge panels above the altar and the surrounding walls, we listened to the organist. Was he practicing or playing for visitors? We learned that Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict was a faculty member in Regensburg prior to being elected Pope. The Stone Bridge, partially covered with scaffolding for repairs, was built from 1135-1146. It is a miracle of medieval engineering. The knights of the 2nd and 3rd crusades used the bridge to cross the Danube on their way to the Holy Land. At the foot of the Stone Bridge sits a large warehouse which stored salt from the Salzburg mines. Salt, or white gold, was valued in the medieval period as a preservative for ham and bacon and for transforming cabbage into sauerkraut. Nearby is the oldest sausage kitchen in the world. The Wurstkűche has been serving since 1135. The Town Hall contains the room occupied by the Imperial diet from 1663 to 1806. A feature of one entrance was official measurements. Our visit coincided with a national holiday and a huge Catholic conclave, the 99th Catholic Day. At one point in our exploration we followed the sounds of music to find a stage filled with costumed percussionists. Back at the River princess, we enjoyed an afternoon of sailing. We passed a large circular building atop a wooded hill erected by Ludwig I of Bavaria that glorifies the heroes of the 1813 War of Liberation. We missed seeing another of his buildings that we passed before arriving in Regensburg. There are 66 locks between Vienna and Amsterdam. Our cruise manager used PowerPoint slides to explain the engineering feat that connected the Danube and Rhine in 1992. Originally conceived by Charlemagne in 793, this concept was carried out again in the 1850s for small ships and only used for five years before its economic viability was overtaken surpassed by the introduction of railroads. The locks in the Main-Danube Canal must rise some 1,300 feet. There are three that each rise 81 feet.

Passau, Austria Wednesday, May 28 2014 

St. Steven's Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

We decided to miss the walking tour of Engelhartszell and Engelhartzell Abbey for a couple reasons. First, the weather was cold and rainy. Second, there would be a bus trip to Passau and a one hour wait before the ship would arrive. We decided to stay aboard and do some reading and wash a load of clothes. The River Princess was scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. However, rising water meant that if the ship waited it might not be able to go under a bridge in Passau. Our early departure allowed us to pass under the bridge without incident. Passau, a town in lower Bavaria, Germany, is known as the “City of Three Rivers.” The Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north conjoin with the Danube. As a result of its location at the confluence of these three rivers, the city often floods. We learned that last June the old town suffered from severe flooding, the worst in 500 years. The fortress “Veste Oberhaus” was built in 1219 by Passau’s Prince-Bishop in order to control commerce across the rivers. In the 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars the castle was one of the strongholds against the Austrians. Passau’s magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral is located at the old town’s highest point. The cathedral was rebuilt in the baroque style after it was destroyed by fire in 1662. We were told that its organ has 17,974 organ pipes and 233 stops including four carillons. Only four locals are capable of playing this massive instrument that has five separate parts that can be played from the main console. Sculpture above the altar completed after World War II raised controversy because of its depiction of Jews. Interestingly, our guide failed to mention that Adolf Hitler lived here for a time while growing up and that three concentration camps were located in the region. The New Bishop’s residence, a palace built in the early 18th century, showed the splendor of the capitol of the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire. The rococo stairways and the fresco “The Gods of Olymp worshiping the eternal town of Passau” were captivating. Our guide pointed out how to look for circular holes instead of windows on the top floors of buildings which indicate a false floor. Such a floor was constructed in order to meet early building code requirements. Likewise the fortress has some paintings that look like windows in order to avoid taxes based on the number of windows. We did not see the local university, founded in the late 1970s, which has about 11,000 students in this city of 50,000. Passau’s history goes back to the Romans. Surprisingly, there was no mention of its importance in the making of swords. Today, Passau’s location on the Danube brings many visitors. Thus, we found many high end retail stores as well as those catering to curios. After dinner we were entertained with local musician Andreas Spranger playing rock-and-roll oldies mixed in with a few sing-alongs. By the end of the night most couples were dancing. Today’s rain didn’t dampen our riverboat experience.

Dűrnstein, Austria Tuesday, May 27 2014 

Durnstein, Austria

Dűrnstein, Austria

The Baroque city of Dűrnstein, Austria is located in the Wachau region of Austria, a well-known wine growing region. Its name comes from the medieval castle situated on a rocky hill above the Danube. In German, “Dűrnstein” combines words that mean “dry” and “stone.” The ship’s cruise manager led a walking tour of this tiny place. King Richard I Lionheart of England was held captive in the castle by Duke Leopold V of Austria after a dispute during the Third Crusade. A tall May pole decorated with a fir tree above a hoop of ribbons was still in place. The local Church of St. Kunigunde is mentioned for the first time in 1289. The local cemetery features well tended family plots with colorful flowers.

On the edge of town our guide pointed out a house where the hangman lived in earlier times. Those who held this position were ostracized by the townspeople. An unmarried hangman could offer a convicted woman clemency if she would marry him. The position was held in such low esteem that most women chose to die. A son often inherited the position because no one else would take on such work. After touring the city, I hiked the steep trail to the castle remains and a scenic overview.

During the afternoon, we sailed through the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Wachau Cultural Landscape” which was recognized for its architectural and agricultural history in 2000. The east side of the Danube through much of this region, although marked with steep hillsides, takes advantage of the sun for the growing of grapes. Apricots can be grown on the opposite shore. Small villages with prominent churches dot the landscape. The Melk Abbey sits high on the edge of the Danube. After passing through the Wachau valley, a crew member from the kitchen demonstrated how to make strudel. Another fine day.

Vienna, Austria Tuesday, May 27 2014 

Our 2014 European adventure started with a flight from Phoenix to Chicago from where we flew nine hours to Vienna, Austria. Austrian Airlines’ mission statement, “We fly to make you smile,” kept us happy with reasonable food and individual interactive entertainment screens. The chess game module, however, needs help. It didn’t recognize en passant and even more egregious, when I tried to play with the black pieces, the kings and queens of both colors were reversed.

Although we arrived at the Altwienerhof Hotel about 10 a.m., we were able to check in our room. After a refreshing shower we went for an exploratory walk. We hiked several blocks on Gumpendorfer Strasse before finding an ATM and putting some Euros in our pocket. On Mariahilfer Strasse we experienced Vienna’s largest shopping street with a wide pedestrian boulevard. We passed several cafes with patrons enjoying a beer and usually smoking. Our search for a restaurant led us to the Saturday flea market and food market area. The fresh fruits were gorgeous, especially the black cherries and strawberries. Food booths exhibited an amazing display of dried fruits, colorful varieties of olives, an array of cheeses, and a wide selection of fresh meats. We found a busy restaurant where we drank a local beer and I sampled Wiener Schnitzel with a delicious potato salad side dish. Interestingly, most of the restaurants we came across were Chinese which frequently had Asian grocery stores nearby. One other observation after our initial foray: graffiti scrawls mar the lower level of too many buildings. It was fascinating to enjoy the architecture of the old buildings. For dinner we enjoyed salads at a restaurant on Mariahilfer Strasse not far from our hotel.

After a delightful breakfast, we readied ourselves for the main event of this trip: a river cruise on the Danube, Main, and Rhine. After checking out of the hotel, we waited for our prearranged ride. A driver came in shortly before 11:30 a.m., but thought he was picking up someone else and taking them either to the airport or an embassy. Eventually, we discovered that he was our driver!? We learned that he is a Ph.D. student who has lived here only six months. He drove a circuitous route and dropped us off near our intended dock. The River Princess crew warmly greeted us. After a delicious lunch, we were able to check into our cabin and explore this small riverboat. Later, I walked up and down the dock area and circled the nearby St. Francis of Assisi church. After the safety drill and introduction of some crew members, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner. A fine start!

Tabard of the Herald of the Austrian Empire

Tabard of the Herald of the Austrian Empire

A guided tour of Vienna introduced us to many distinctive landmarks. Just outside the central city, at the entrance of the Prater amusement park, the Wiener Riesenrad or Riesenrad is a 212 foot tall Ferris wheel which was constructed in 1897. Originally thirty gondolas were attached. Now there are fifteen including one that can be reserved as a restaurant for up to 15 guests. Another unusual sight while crossing the DanubeCanal was the Badeschiff, a boat restaurant with swimming pool. The Hofburg area of Vienna has been the documented seat of government since 1279 for various empires and republics. We spent most of our time in the HofburgPalace boundaries looking at the artifacts within the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer). The Habsburg dynasty ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some 650 years. Several bejeweled crowns are on display. A ceremonial mantle, under layers, gloves, and shoes showed the elaborate clothing used for a coronation. Many ceremonial robes are displayed as well as a cloak with the tabard of the herald of the Austrian Empire. We saw a ewer and basin used for imperial baptisms, too. Both a large agate bowl, which was thought to be the Holy Grail that caught the blood of Christ, and a long unicorn horn (actually a narwhal tusk) carried special symbolism for the imperial family. Later, we visited St. Michael’s Catholic Church for an organ concert. As we listened to the music, we gazed at a monumental alabaster Rococo sculpture representing a cloudburst of angels and cherubs, falling from the ceiling towards the high altar. One interesting monument in the middle of a street was erected in gratitude for surviving the plague. Not too distant from St. Michael’s is the Romanesque St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its distinctive 445 foot spire. This is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. A full morning!

Schőnbrunn Palace

Schőnbrunn Palace

In the afternoon we visited the SchőnbrunnPalace, the Habsburg’s preferred summer residence and now recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally a hunting lodge, starting in 1740 the 23-year-old Empress Maria Theresa transformed it into a stunning palace rivaling Versailles. The palace is said to have 1,441 rooms. Our 45 minute tour focused on the imperial rooms from the era of Franz Joseph and Empress Sissi. The ballroom, covered with gold leaf and originally lit with candles, featured three colorful ceiling frescoes, two original and one restored after World War II bombing damage. Guests, we were told, would know the party was ending when burned out candles were not replaced. According to our guide, in the period before indoor plumbing buckets were placed in corners for use by the guests. We passed through rooms with ornate wall coverings and complicated inlaid wooden floors. Even the bed covering might use threads of gold and silver. In more recent times (1961), John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev deliberated in one of the rooms. After the palace tour we explored the garden. Preparations were underway for an important upcoming concert. We walked on an eastern diagonal tree-lined carriage path to an obelisk fountain, to spire rises on the backs of four turtles symbolizing stability. On our return loop we passed an interesting re-creation of Roman ruins. Some 32 statues featuring classical figures line the formal French-style gardens. Visiting the Habsburg palaces reminded us of our recent exploration in Beijing, China of the Forbidden City and Summer Palace and in Istanbul, Turkey the Topkapi and Dolmabahçe Palaces. There are many reasons to return to Vienna.

West Trail Monday, May 19 2014 

Claret Cup Cactus

Claret Cup Cactus

West Trail #318 is part of the network of trails around Thumb Butte. From the Thumb Butte parking and picnic area Pine Lakes Trail #316 connects with #318. Most maps show Trail #318 ending at Trail #322, however, it continues to the junction of Thumb Butte Road and Willow Springs. We were wowed with the colorful blooms of a claret cup cactus. We encountered several folks walking dogs: a couple with two dogs, a guy with three dogs, and another guy with one dog. The trail offers views of both Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain. Another great hike near the Prescott home.

Hiking Miller Creek & Circle Trail Sunday, May 18 2014 

Fire Damage on Trail #332

Fire Damage on Trail #332

The Miller Creek Trail #367 begins near the Thumb Butte parking and picnic area. As its name implies, it follows Miller Creek. At its end we crossed Thumb Butte Road to connect with Circle Trail #332. Last fall we hiked this trail from Iron Springs Road to Fireplace Springs. Our hike this time approached this abandoned ranch site from the opposite direction. I last hiked this segment of trail shortly after moving to Prescott. Since then forest fires have burned stretches along the trail. New Mexico butterweed was the most prominent wildflower, as it is around our home. We also observed some trailing fleabane and Hill’s lupine. We also encountered a snake slithering across the trail. I believe it may have been a western black-necked garter snake. The Prescott area offers great hiking.

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