It’s been several months since we posted to our blog. But don’t despair, we are heading out for our next adventure very soon – another Mystery Cruise with UniWorld. This time we start and end in Amsterdam but beyond that we don’t have many clues as to what we will see or do. Pending internet connections, a blog will be posted frequently to highlight our adventures. As always, your comments and thoughts are always appreciated.
Just remember, just because we Wander doesn’t mean we are lost.
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The final day started at 2:00 AM when our alarm went off. Damn early for sure. Our flight out was scheduled for 6:00 AM so of course we had to get there 2 hours early, meaning we left the ship at 3:15 in the morning. We flew from Budapest to Paris, from Paris to London and then from London to Washington DC – so a very long day and three different flights.
It has been a wonderful adventure and one that we will think back fondly. Even though it was so damn early in the morning Barbara got up to see us off – and of course a final selfie for the collection. Empress Maria watched over the entire Mystery Cruise.
I have added a few more pictures that didn’t make into the dally blog – just for fun.
Janeen and I have already signed on for the first Mystery Cruise in 2023 – starts and ends in Amsterdam mid June. Won’t you join us?
For now, this Blog will be in hiatus until new adventures need to be posted.
Our final stop on our Mystery Cruise was Budapest. This is a city we have visited previously and spent some quality time exploring the sites.
Budapest is the capital and most populous city of Hungary and the ninth-largest city in the European Union by population within city limits and the second-largest city on the Danube River; the city has an estimated population of 1,752,286 over a land area of about 525 square miles.
The history of Budapest began when an early Celtic settlement transformed into the Romantown of Aquincum, the capital of Lower Pannonia. The Hungarians arrived in the territory in the late 9th century, but the area was pillaged by the Mongols in 1241–42. Re-established Buda became one of the centers of Renaissance humanist culture by the 15th century. After the reconquest of Buda in 1686, the region entered a new age of prosperity, with Pest-Buda becoming a global city after the unification of Buda, Óbuda and Pest on 17 November 1873, with the name ‘Budapest’ given to the new capital. Budapest also became the co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a great power that dissolved in 1918, following World War I. The city was the focal point of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Battle of Budapest in 1945, as well as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
The central area of Budapest along the Danube River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several notable monuments of classical architecture, including the Hungarian Parliament and the Buda Castle. The city also has around 80 geothermal springs,the largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building in the world. Budapest attracts around 12 million international tourists per year, making it a highly popular destination in Europe
We spent the day exploring and enjoying the City. There are several monuments that speak to the history of the City and some of its troubled past. One that is particularly moving is Installed along the bank of the Danube River and is a monument consists of 60 pairs of 1940s-style shoes, true to life in size and detail, sculpted out of iron.
This memorial is simple yet chilling, depicting the shoes left behind by the thousands of Jews who were murdered by the Arrow Cross. This was a moving memorial – sad to think about the various families, father, mother, children who where all shot along here.
There are eight bridges that span the Danube but the most famous is the Chain Bridge. The Chain Bridge is the oldest suspension bridge in Budapest and is the Danube’s most renowned, connecting both sides of the city, Buda and Pest. The bridge’s real name is Széchenyi, in memory of the Count István Széchenyi, who helped build it, but is commonly known as the Chain Bridge.
One of the places we certainly wanted to revisit was the large market. The Great Market Hall was building in 1897 and is the most beautiful and largest of all Budapest market halls. The market hall is not only ‘great’ in size, but is also great in other aspects as the volume of trade taking place on a daily basis is amazing. There is food, and a vast amount of other stuff available to purchase. Janeen was specifically looking for a new purse and fortunately we found just what she wanted early on during our visit.
Back on the Boat there was the final evening and the Captain’s Farewell Reception – where of course I did a selfie with Barbara.
Later in the evening, the ship repositioned for better unloading of everyone and I caught a couple of nice evening shots of Budapest.
Tomorrow morning, the final day of the Mystery Cruise, we were up and out to the bus to the Airport at 3:15 AM – yes in the morning.
Friday – Day 8 of our Mystery Cruise and we were heading to Bratislava – the Capital of Slovakia.
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is set along the Danube River by the border with Austria and Hungary. Bratislava is the largest city in Slovakia. The population is about 450,000 and is the only national capital that borders two sovereign states. The city has several universities and many museums, theatres and galleries plus other cultural and educational institutions. While it doesn’t look very prosperous, it was ranked as the third richest region of the European Union in 2017 behind only Hamburg and Luxembourg City.
It’s surrounded by vineyards and the Little Carpathian mountains, crisscrossed with forested hiking and cycling trails it attracts about a million tourists a year. The pedestrian-only, 18th-century old town is known for its lively bars and cafes. Perched atop a hill, the reconstructed Bratislava Castle overlooks old town and the Danube.
Out walking tour went past a number of places including the American Embassy – which they didn’t want us to take pictures of which I found interesting – so of course I downloaded a picture.
Along the way, we stopped in at Naštartované retro. This café was created by three friends who were tired of meeting in various businesses around Bratislava and so the idea was born to create something for friends and guests where everyone will feel at home.
The concept of the place is very 70’s with lots of Czechoslovak artifacts on the walls and the front end of ŠKODA 100 car displayed inside. All of the items belong exclusively to the 70’s and 80’s period. Normally the place serves high-quality coffee, as well as specialties from the past, such as codfish, spreads, and Russian eggs. The assortment is always complemented by fresh desserts, and draft beer and kofola are a matter of course.
When we entered, there were bottles of local soda as well as the codfish spreads on the tables. It was truly a step back in time, but unfamiliar to all of us but an interesting insight into the locals.
It seems they have a very different take on bagels. First they are not round, more of a crescent shape and often filled with stuff. We stopped and sampled a few and found them very tasty. The place we stopped has been around a very long time – over 130 years!
Throughout the City there are various art installations. These artwork installations just sort of pop out at you as your walking along – very neat stuff.
These art pieces are a stunning contrast to the Communist-era buildings that still dot the city streets.
Having a good time and and adult beverage is also important. I found this quite interesting as I was walking around.
On top of one of the tall buildings, this St George the Dragon Slayer would normally be placed. However, the building is getting some work done and St. George gets to rest in the courtyard until it is once again placed on top of the building. Nice to get a close up of this wonderful building topper.
After our walking tour, we boarded the bus for a motor tour through more of the upscale areas of the city – including passing by various Ambasador’s homes (including the US Ambassador).
At the top of the hill, at the Castle, there is quite a view of the area below.
All in all a lovely day in this city. Getting back to the boat, it was group picture time and a “white party” after dinner.
Day 7 of the Mystery Cruise had us docked in Vienna. This is a city we had been to previously but this time we were going to have some new adventures for sure. After a fairly brief coach ride, we started walking towards one of the most renown institutions in Vienna – the Spanish Riding School.
The Spanish Riding School is an institution dedicated to the preservation of classical dressage and the training of Lipizzaner horses. The leading horses and riders of the school periodically tour and perform worldwide. This school is one of the “Big Four”, of the most prestigious classical riding academies in the world.
The School is in central Vienna with performances taking place in the Winter Riding School, built between 1729 and 1735. The Winter Riding School is a sunlight-flooded hall, mainly white with some beige and light grey, with a portrait of Emperor Charles VI above the royal box and opposite the entrance (to which the riders always salute before they ride), which measures 180 by 59 feet and is 56 feet in height.
The riding school was first named during the Habsburg Monarchy in 1572 and is the oldest of its kind in the world. Records show that a wooden riding arena was first commissioned in 1565, but it wasn’t until 1729 that Emperor Charles VI commissioned the architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach to build the white riding hall used today. We toured this facility and had the opportunity to watch a practice session.
The Spanish Riding School was named for the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the Lipizzaner breed, which is used exclusively at the school. Today, all of the breeding of these horses is closely controlled and monitored and only stallions are used at the School (having some mares around would be very distracting for sure). Selected stallions are taken to the breeding farm each year and are allowed to sow a few wild oats.
The Spanish Riding School has antecedents in military traditions dating as far back as Xenophon in Ancient Greece, and particularly from the military horsemanship of the post-medieval ages when knights attempted to retain their battlefield preeminence by shedding heavy armor and learning to maneuver quickly and with great complexity on a firearms-dominated battlefield.
Traditionally, Lipizzaners at the school have been trained and ridden wholly by men. In October 2008, two women passed the entrance exam and were accepted to train as riders at the school – the first women to do so in 436 years.
At the outset of our visit, we had the opportunity to meet one of the riders and learn about the overall process they go through. It is clearly a long-term commitment as once you start there really isn’t a final end point until you decide to retire.
The rider may have several different horses they are training – ranging from new additions to the stables to older horses who have been at the School for many years. Generally, the horses will remain active for 20 plus years and as previously mentioned are all stallions.
It is a very impressive operation with a VERY long tradition. Our access to the stables, walking course and the area was really great. If you’re at all interested in more information about the Spanish Riding Stable, there is a very interesting book called The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts. This book describes the plight of the riding stables during World War II and is quite interesting.
When we returned to the Ship, we had a special treat as a ‘Mini Mozart’ was there to perform for us. She was all of 11 years old and clearly knew how to play the piano.
After returning to the ship, enjoying a little Mozart and having dinner, we re-boarded our bus and headed out to the Palais Belvedere for a private showing.
The Belvedere palaces were built in the early eighteenth century by the famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt to be used as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736). One of Europe’s most stunning Baroque landmarks, this complex – comprising the Upper and Lower Belvedere and an extensive garden – is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today the Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, complemented by the work of international artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann.
One of the highlights is the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings including the famous golden Art Nouveau icons the Kiss (Lovers) and Judith.
We had the museum to ourselves with a fantastic guide who was ready to spend several hours going over all of the collection.
Most likely the most recognized painting in the collection is by Gustav Klimt – The Kiss. I have seen this hundreds of times on everything from bags to coffee mugs.
Regrettable, we didn’t have 4 hours but only a couple to explore and learn about this wonderful museum.
Thus ended our trip to Vienna – a lovely day with many highlights for sure.
Day 6 of our Mystery Cruise and we are sailing along the Danube heading towards Durnstein for a quick visit. However, along the way, Rik, the Cruise Director, provided some commentary about the views we were seeing along the way. The Danube has been a major means of travel for centuries and many of the castles were built to safeguard the local area from invading forces as well as to collect a ‘tax’ to pass along the river. Once a castle had been erected, a heavy rope or chain would be strung across the river preventing boats from getting past. In order to continue on their journey, the boat would have to pay for the privilege of continuing along the way. There could be tributes paid every few miles depending on who was occupying the surrounding land.
One very significant castle is Marchwardus de Schoenbuchele. Standing at the edge of a cliff just to the north east of Melk is a gorgeous 12th century castle (known locally as “Keeper of the Wachau”) sitting just a stone’s throw from the waters of the Danube. It’s origins stem from Marchwardus de Schoenbuchele, who wanted to create a defensive fortress overlooking the river and keep an eye on those who used its waters. As the castle has been renovated and renewed over the years, it stands proudly in full view for you to see as you cruise past on the river.
While the Marchwardus de Schoenbuchele is being maintained, others like Aggstein Castle. The ruins of Aggstein castle stand as a monument to the various conflicts both big and small which took places within the stretch of the Danube. Aggestein Castle changed hands numerous times since it was first constructed at the start of the 12th century, but only certain parts of the castle now remain standing to be seen. In its hay-day, the castle acted as an almost unassailable stronghold with a key strategic position over the region. Legend has it that he used an iron chain stretched across the Danube to commandeer ships who used the river as part of the trade route and repurpose them for his own use.
The ruins viewed from the River really make you wonder how it was built given its location at the top of a mountain with a cliff on one side.
As we approached Durnstein, the ruins of Dürnstein Castle can be seen atop the hills overlooking the river. The castle was originally built in the 12th century its most famous for its relevance to the legend of Richard the Lionheart. It is said that when Richard the Lionheart returned from the Third Crusade, he refused to share the spoils of war with Duke Leopold V of Austria, and so was imprisoned by Leopold within the walls of Dürnstein Castle between 1192 and 1193.
In addition to the castles, there a vineyards planted along the hillside. The wines along this section of the Danube aren’t the world class wines from other areas but still quite pleasant to drink – a sampling of several wines was held for later in the evening, after our tour of Dürnstein.
Dürnstein is one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region and also a well-known wine growing area. The town gained its name from the medieval Dürnstein castle, which overlooked it. The castle’s name derived from the German duerr/dürr, meaning “dry”, and Stein, “stone”. The castle was dry because it was on a rocky hill, high above the damp conditions of the Danube at the base of the hill, and it was built of stone. The modern town stands between the castle and the river.
After docking, and having another wonderful lunch, we joined our group and headed out for a walking tour of the town. It is very clear this is a tourist stop. Virtually all the shops along the one (yes, one and it doesn’t have a name as it’s the only street in town) street sell trinkets, fridge magnets, local wine and apricot preserves. Seems there are something like 100,000 apricot trees locally resulting in a huge production of various things using the fruit. It is interesting that the harvest of the fruit only happens once the fruit has dropped from the tree – no actual picking is done, just picking up the fruit from the soft bed of leaves that are left on the ground. We walked through the town and went into a large building for a tasting. Interesting juice but the jam was wonderful (resulting in bring 2 jars back with us!).
Back on board the boat, there as a tasting of local wines and treats in the lounge and after dinner a 70’s party! Lots of funny costumes for sure.
It was a nice day with lots more to come over the next few days.
Day 5 of our Mystery Cruise found us in the small city of Grein.
Grein, which is derived from the word “grine” meaning “whining”, “moaning” or “orying”, was first mentioned in records of 1147. The “whining” refers to sailors who had to pass the whirls (rapids) in the river of Grein and were in fear of their lives. For centuries the guides of Grein have led ships and rafts through the dangerous crossings. This defined the identity of the place and ensured its prosperity. In 1215 it was described as a market place and in 1491 Grein was raised to the status of a town by Emperor Friedrich II. By the middle of the 18th century Grein experienced a time of economic prosperity. In the time of summer resorts around 1900 the town experienced a new upturn and became a magnet for guests who longed for relaxation in the charming Danube Region of Grein.
We did a short walking tour through the City, not much really to see, but enjoyable.
We popped into the local Church for a quick visit and then off to the oldest theatre in all of Austria.
Further there is the oldest theatre in all of Austria located in the city and built by the unknown statue above.
The theatre in Grein is the oldest town theatre of Austria and was installed in the vacant granary of the old town hall in 1791. Since the stage was established, it had a lively theatre tradition. The oldest preserved playbill is from 1793 with “baker master Kasper!” in the leading role. From the beginning professional groups appeared on stage next to the theatre loving inhabitants of Grein (amateurs).
And during the 19th century next to the usual travelling theater also large ensembles from Vienna and Germany performed. In the 1920s the town theatre was threatened by the idea of a cinema. Since 1992 there exists once and today the renovated theatre is open all year to professional ensembles and amateur groups.
Martin, our tour guide, is a schoolteacher, and recommended the book, Danubia, as a history of the area.
When we got back to the boat, we had the chance to learn how to yodel! It was an fun experience for those who participated – we didn’t.
After dinner, we climbed aboard the busses for a quick trip back in history. It was our evening with the Count. As we approached the Castle, it was clear this place had been around for a while. It seems the earliest written records mentioning the castle date back to 1149. In those days it was a massive fortress with two towers each measuring over 40 meters high. These impressive structures are in fact still part of the castle’s present-day form.
With powers shifting rampantly and constant political intrigues, it was common practice in the Middle Ages for the ownership of castles to change frequently. These transitions naturally inspired new phases of construction. However, when the forefathers of the Counts of Clam finally arrived and took over in 1454, they brought more stability to the castle and the surrounding lands.
During the 30 year-war the Clam family had their own private army to defend the castle. In these times of turmoil and revolts Clam village also suffered a lot and was burned down several times. Clam Castle was besieged many times but no hostile troops ever managed to capture the castle. However, in the mid 17th century when the war was over, the castle was in a very bad condition.
Under the regency of Johann Gottfried of Clam it was possible to renovate the entire castle. He started to transform the functional fortress into a comfortable castle as we see it today. He also built a church, a hospital and water pipes for the citizens of the village.
In the 18th century the wings housing the administration, the coaches and the horse stables were built. Today these wings form the outer yard. Fortunately Clam castle also survived both world wars unharmed. Only the nuclear shelter, built in one of the castle’s cellars, is a reminder of the 20th century.
Besides the Castle the estate includes several farmhouses, a riding school, a hydropower plant, farmland and forests.
Follow in the footsteps of the ancestors and gain better insight into life in a medieval castle as you learn about the history of the Counts of Clam who have been living here for over 550 years. The highlight of the tour had to be meeting the current Count of Clam – the 17th generation of the family to hold passion of the place.
Educated in Vienna, he spent time working for a hydro-electric firm based in the US before returning to take his place at the helm of the Castle.
Since taking over, the Castle has continued to be improved, opened for tours and provides a venue for music concerts on the grounds.
It was a memorable time for sure and one that would not have happened without the help of Barbara who put all the special events together for this Mystery Cruise.
Sunday morning, we said goodbye to the lovely resort in the mountains and headed to Passau along the Danube River. Of course, this required a couch ride of several hours but at least this time the coach was not as crowded so we had room to spread out.
We arrived and got settled into our rooms on the S.S. Maria Theresa – a beautiful ship with lots of mirrors. Our Cabin, #319, was beautifully appointed and had enough room for our luggage, a largish bathroom and a couple of chairs.
The afternoon was spent getting organized and understanding the Ship. Prior to dinner, there was a safety briefing and information for the coming day. One of the guests on board is the CEO of UniWorld ,Ellen Bettridge. She, along with our Cruise director Rik, did the big ‘reveal’ for the following days adventure.
A trip to the St. Florian Monastery. Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters. Legend says that during his life Saint Florian put out a massive fire with only one bucket of water, saving a village from ruin.
The monastery, named after Saint Florian, was founded in the Carolingian period. Since 1071 it has housed a community of Augustinian Canons, and is thus is one of the oldest operational monasteries in the world following the Rule of St. Augustine.
Between 1686 and 1708 the monastery complex was reconstructed in Baroque style.
During our visit to the Monastery of St. Florian, we had the opportunityto hear the “Bruckner organ” – one of the most famous church organs in the world. The organ was crafted between 1770 and 1774 by the priest and organ builder Franz Xaver Krismann from Slovenia. After several renovations and enlargements, the organ features 103 organ stops (timbres) and 7.386 pipes today.
It commemorates the great Austrian composer Anton Buckner (1824-1896), whose name it has been bearing since 1930. Buckner started out as a choirboy in the monastery of St. Florian and worked there as a teacher and organist from 1845 until 1855. In his later years, he spent his summers in St. Florian and played the organ on festive occasions. He is buried in the crypt right underneath the organ, as he desired.
Attached to the Church are two very important areas – a Library and the Marble Room. It houses a very large library holding about 130,000 items including many manuscripts. The gallery contains numerous works of the 16th and 17th centuries, but also some late medieval works of the Danube School.
The other major area was the Marble Room. This very large ball room was beautiful with LOTS of marble and a lovely painted ceiling.
After our tour of the church, we went to taste several different apple wines (or liquors). It was interesting to smell and taste the three or four different samples they provided. Not something I will be adding to my cellar anytime soon however.
Back on the ship, and prior to dinner, we had our big ‘reveal’ for the following day. A visit to a Castle and a chance to meet the count.
In May of 2021, we received an email about a Mystery River Cruise being offered by UniWorld. The only information we had to make a decision were the actual dates of the cruise – September 22 through October 2nd. Nothing else was offered – no ports, no actual river, no specific boat. Regardless we signed up. Over the intervening months we didn’t learn anything else. About a month before it actually started, we started receiving “clues” about what to expect and we learned the name of the ship, Maria Theresa, and the starting and ending ports – Passau and Budapest.
It’s Mystery Cruise
Clue #1 Starting in a hotel, just for you
Clue #2 Then board a cruise fit for a count For festivities in great amount
Clue #3 Such pretty figures decked in gold And equine stories to be told
These didn’t provide much to say the least – beyond we would be traveling on the Danube River.
We arrived at the Munich Airport, as instructed, to meet up with the UniWorld representative and be taken to our hotel. Our arrival was set for 9:30 AM and we had flown in the night before from Paris and stayed at a local hotel. According to our taxi driver, it was Octoberfest Weekend and the center of Munich was a mess so we were not really looking forward to being there.
Fortunately, we didn’t head to Munich center but on a motor couch for almost 4 hours.
Along the way, I finally figured out where we were going – a resort in Austria called Hotel Übergossene Alm – Clue #1 “Starting in a hotel, just for you”
The resort, truly a lovely location at the foot of the Hochkönig mountain range and a four-star superior Hotel Übergossene Alm. Tradition and modernity, sustainability and vision, all of this is not a contradiction in the Übergossene Alm but an incentive. For two generations, the Burgschwaiger family has personally welcomed their guests here in Dienten at 1,250 meters above sea level in the Salzburg region. There were pools, a massive spa, various playgrounds for young and old and so many amenities we really didn’t have time or energy to check them out.
After arriving at the Hotel, we settled into our room and relaxed.
By late afternoon, all three bus-loads of guests had arrived and an introduction session was held. Still everything was a mystery so any information would appreciated. At the afternoon session, we got the introductions and welcome and more information but only very limited for sure.
When it finally came time for the ‘big reveal’, all we learned was the name Mozart. Seems we were going to the town of his birth – Salzburg. Unfortunately, that meant another couch ride of about 90 minutes but at least there was a know destination provided.
The following morning, after a nice breakfast, we again boarded our buses and headed to Salzburg. Fortunately, as everyone had now arrived there was a LOT more room on the bus so much more comfortable.
The fourth largest city in Austria, Salzburg is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations alongside Vienna. With spectacular Alpine landscapes, enchanting culture and a location just next to the German border, Salzburg makes for the perfect day trip from Munich. Salzburg got its name because of the salt mines around the city. In past, Salzburg lived at the expense of salt extraction. In German “Salz” means “salt” and “Burg” castle.
It’s been 200 years or so since he lived here, but Mozart is still very much Salzburg’s favorite son. During our walking tour, we passed by the composer’s residence and birthplace and continued to explore the Old City, taking in the baroque architecture. Of course, the most popular music, at least to our guide, was more the Sound of Music. Yes, the Von Trapps lived in the area and the musical was partly filmed in Salzburg but after a while, all the Sound of Music references do get a bit old.
If your musical tastes run more “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” than “Requiem in D Minor,” catch one of the many Sound of Music tours and follow in the footsteps of the Von Trapps. Our visit coincided with Saint Rupert’s Day.
Saint Rupert’s Day is a regional public holiday in the city of Salzburg and takes place in honor of the patron saint and founder of Salzburg, Saint Rupert. As we were heading to the Museum of Modern Art patio (which has a beautiful overview of the city) we experienced the Church Procession and ringing of the bells. Fun times, interesting to see the transitions and history of the city being played out before us.
After lunch we had some free time and then headed back to the boat.
After arriving at the Hotel, we had time to relax before heading out for dinner at Tiergarten ALM.
The Tiergarten ALM is located in an alpine pasture about a 10-minute ride from our hotel. Owned by the same family for a couple of generations, it started off as a farm where locals would stop in for a meal while hiking or skiing in the area. It has turned into a lovely restaurant with wonderful views and a warm atmosphere for sure. As we arrived we were met by a tray loads of beer, wine and fresh squeezed lemonade.
After the drive back to the Hotel, we packed everything up and got ready for our next adventure – Joining up with the Ship SS Maria Theresa
Sunday the 18th we drove back to France to hook up with Ryan and Chris in their new hometown Livarot. They had booked us into a lovely B&B, Dom’s Garden, about a five-minute walk away from the home they are purchasing. They had checked us into the place so all the hard work was done – and they even carried the suitcases for us!
The reason we are in Livarot is that our son Ryan and husband Chris have purchased a property in the town and are in the process of developing it. As yet they don’t “own” it as the French paperwork seems to take forever.
Over the course of the next several days they drove us around and we visited a bunch of local attractions.
Our first day we visited the E. Graindorge Cheese producer. Livarot has it’s own cheese and this places makes a LOT of it. We toured their production facility and learned all about the cows, the milk, how the process is accomplished and all the stuff to understand how this factory makes special cheese. At the end of the tour, we of course had to sample a few cheeses. They make four different cheeses – Livarot, Pont-L’Evêque, Normandy Camembert and Neufchâtel.
The Pays d’Auge is perhaps the most natural and most distinguished regions in France. The soil is rich and fertile and the climate is particularly favorable. Using the milk from Normandy Cows, they produce four cheeses of Normandy – of course the only one I hadn’t heard of before was the Livarot cheese.
The next day, Tuesday, we our breakfast at the B&B and Ryan and Chris picked us up and we headed out first to walk the local market and then off to the Chateau of Saint-Germain de Livet.
Chateau of Staint-Germain de Livet, was built during the 15th and 16th century on the site of an old medieval fortress. It changed hands several times until it was bought by Julien and Augusta Pillaut in the 1920s and remained their property until their deaths. With no descendants, Augusta decides to donate it to the city of Lisieux. Since 2011, the castle-museum of Saint-Germain-de-Livet has been managed by the relevant EPCI Museum Pole, which brings together with it the Lisieux Museum of Art and History. While the inside of the Castle was not available, walking around the grounds was very nice. The swans, ducks and peacocks think so too.
After a moat- side luncheon, we traveled to the Chateau & Jardins of Boutemont for Janeen’s garden “fix”.
After a nice lunch, we piled into the car and head to Chateau de Boutemont. The current site of the Château de Boutemont was occupied at the end of the14th or the beginning of the15th century by a fortified house. Until this period, the estate belonged to the Boutemont family. Over the next couple hundred years it passed through several families who made some changes but generally kept the building in the same configuration. It wasn’t until it was purchased by Jean-Baptiste Le Bas, adviser to the Court of Aids of Normandy in the 17th century the gardens were expanded and the construction of a new façade, removal of various outbuildings and the surrounding wall located to the west was done. In 1745, the property came, by marriage, into the hands of David Guéroult, the last lord of Boutemont until the Revolution. Not much happened with the castle until it was bought in 1915 by Commodore Charley Drouilly, who entrusted Achille Duchênewith the task of recreating the gardens in a classical style known as “à la française”. In the 1980s the château was acquired by the current owner Armand and Hélène Sarfati who are working to restore and develop the park.
The grounds are open to the public (a fee of course) and two rooms in the castle. The main building and the inner courtyard are used by the current owner and his family. The day was beautiful and we had a lovely time.
Wednesday, our last day of our visit to Livarot, we headed to the English Channel and the Etretat Gardens. Located about 90 minutes from Livarot, the small town of Etretat is right on the English Channel and has a lovely garden at the top of the cliffs. As were delayed in our arrival, due to a hay wagon we were following for several miles, we didn’t make the 10:30 little train to the gardens. This meant we were still around when I ran into someone from my past. In the ‘it’s really a small world’ standing in front of me was my boss 20 years from Glendale – Gary Hopkins. He and his wife were on a Tauck Tour and were stopped only for a few minutes before getting on their coach for more advenutres.
The garden is a playground where lush topiary, architecture and contemporary art dialogue in all poetry.
The project is the winner of the European Garden Award in the category “Best development of a historic park or garden”, possesses one MICHELIN star in the Green Guide, listed among “Great Gardens of the World” and has the label “Remarkable Garden”.
At the end of the 19th century, French actress Madame Thébault named Villa Roxelane after one of her famous character — the legendary wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Madame Thébault was a friend of Claude Monet, who spent many hours working on his canvases in Etretat.
In 1905, inspired by the artist, Madame Thébault decided to create a garden at the top of the Amont cliff that would reflect Monet’s work with avant-garde elements mixed with a touch of impressionism. The famous and emblematic view opening from the garden on La Manche and the cliffs inspired such famous painters as Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Manet and Vasily Polenov.
Close to the entrance of the Gardens, is a Chapel. This is dedicated to Blessed Saint Valery, is one of the most emblematic monuments of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.
Former outbuilding of the Abbey, a survivor of the revolution, rebuilt and last inaugurated in 1880, it rises majestically in the middle of the fields on the wooded mountain that dominates the medieval city and the Bay of Somme.
The site of the Chapel, and the gardens, is at the top of the cliff. The view down to the village is rather amazing.
After visiting the gardens and walking around the Chapel, we took the Mini Train back to the city center and walked along the boardwalk prior to having a lovely lunch and our starting our journey back towards Livorat.
On the way back to our B&B, we stopped in Lisieux and visited The Basilica of Sainte-Thérès. Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, Bishop Thomas-Paul-Henri Lemonnier, decided to build a large basilica dedicated to her in the city where she lived and died. The building is in the shape of a Latin cross, with nave, choir and transept. The crossing is surmounted by an imposing dome. The internal volume is all in one piece, without collateral or ambulatory aisles. Due to the absence of columns, all who attend mass have an unobstructed view. Much of the basilica interior is covered with intricate and colorful mosaics.
The following day, Ryan and Chris drove us to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for our flight to Munich and the start of our UniWorld Mystery Cruise – more on that adventure soon.