Mystery Cruise – Arriving at the Boat and next Adventure

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. 

The church stands out in the landscape for sure.
Saint Florian – with a jug of water, note his Roman soldier garb as he was drowned by Romans for espousing Christianity

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.

Mystery Cruise Arrival and first couple of days

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.

Here we are on the move again!

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.

The Pegasus Fountain at Mirabell

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

France – Livarot and the Normandy Region

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.

The property includes both the light mint colored building and the blue building next to it.
The ‘back yard’ of their new property. They will own everything inside this picture. They have lots of work to do before it is ready for visitors.

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. 

They make a lot of cheese in this building

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 front of the building – two rooms, one on either side of the entrance, are open for viewing.

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.   

We were having a lovely day for sure.

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.

Germany – A visit with Family

In our last blog, we discussed our return to Paris after several years being absent and that our sons had both moved to Europe. In this posting we will highlight time spent in Wiesbaden Germany saving our visit Livarot France for another post.  Jason and family moved to Wiesbaden March 2022.  They are established in a nice rental apartment with our two granddaughters so started to get familiar with the area.  While in Wiesbaden, the granddaughters were in school – so during the day we spent time with Terri, both discovering parts of the area and enjoying our time together.  

Additionally, both of our granddaughters have various afternoon activities and we were able to join with the family to watch our oldest earn her yellow/white belt for Taekwondo.

After arriving Friday evening, we just relaxed and enjoyed spending time with our family.  Unfortunately, most of the time we were visiting in Germany it rained!  Nothing huge but it kept us inside much of the time.  On Saturday, we out after bundled everyone into two cars and went into Wiesbaden central to wander around and have lunch.  There was a farmers market happening with a variety of stalls and a celebration happening in the main square.  

Jason and his youngest Banshee.

Morning coffee acquired (Nespreso machine) and lunch done, Wee Banshee #1, the 7-year old, headed off to a birthday party for a friend and the rest of us went home for a nap and relaxing time.

Tuesday, while the girls were in school, Terri took us to the Niederwald monument.  It is located close to where they live and was built to commemorate the Unification of Germany between 1871 and 1883. The monument is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and overlooks the Rhine Valley and the town of Bingen on the far side. To get to the site we took the Cable Car.  Originally, to accommodate the numerous people wanting to visit the monument, a rack-and-pinion railway was built in 1884, the forerunner of today’s cable car, which transported visitors through the vineyards to the monument.

The monument was constructed to commemorate the founding of the German Empire in 1871 after the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The first stone was laid on 16 September 1871 by Kaiser Wilhelm I. The monument was inaugurated on 28 September 1883. The 125 ft tall monument represents the union of all Germans.  The central figure is the 34 ft tall Germania figure. Her right hand holds the recovered crown, and her left holds the Imperial Sword. 

Beneath Germania is a large relief depicting Kaiser Wilhelm I riding a horse with the nobility, army commanders, and soldiers. The relief has the lyrics to “Die Wacht am Rhein” (Watch on the Rhine) engraved.
We had a lovely time visiting the monument.

Evenings with the family were relaxing with G’Ma reading portions of Anne of Green Gables with Banshee #1 and G’Pa playing with Banshee #2 (3-year old).  It was a very nice way to spend quality time with our girls.

Saturday, with Jason’s work week finished, both cars drove downtown Weisbaden  for lunch at the Ratskeller and a visit to the  World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock Shop. 

Celebrating the start of Oktoberfest

 For several years, Jason has been talking about buying a cuckoo clock and he finally pulled the trigger.  This place sells LOTS of clocks of all varieties, the shop is the biggest and only one of its type. It is one of the major attractions in Wiesbaden, and is now well over fifty years old. It offers cuckoo clocks, beer steins, nutcrackers stuff toys and a variety of other things.  Inside there must be a hundred clocks on the walls, fortunately not all ticking, or it would have been a madhouse when they all chimed.  Jason spent quite a long time discussing with the owner what he wanted and this resulted in the owner calling the factory to see if they could accommodate his request!  Talk about service.  Of course, the clock won’t be ready until November but that isn’t an issue for them as they live there now.

Sunday the 18th we drove back to France to hook up with Ryan and Chris in their new hometown Livarot.  But that is for another blog.

Paris September 2022 – A brief visit to a lovely city

Last March, our son Jason and his family moved to Wiesbaden Germany.  He (Jason) had accepted a position with the US Army and moved the family.  This was a dream of his for the last several years which finally came to reality earlier this year.  About a month after they moved, Ryan and Chris went back to France with the intention of purchasing a property to turn into a Bed and Breakfast.  This is happening in the Normandy area of France.

So, for the last several months, we have been planning a trip to Europe.  Originally, we were hoping to stay for 6 months or so, but health took a turn, resulting in a shorter stay.  After making several changes in our plans, we finally boarded a flight to Paris on September 4th arriving the morning of the 5th at Charles de Gaulle airport.  Once we cleared customs, got our luggage, we were met by Chris who took us to the car with Ryan behind the wheel.    Once together, we drove over to the Bastille area where we checked into a B&B.  Madame Dy, the owner, welcomed us back as we had stayed with her several years ago – and Ryan and Chris had stayed with her several times.  The rest of the day was spent enjoying the lovely Paris weather, walking around a bit and having a lovely lunch at Bistro 65.  This is managed by the same guy who was the manager of Le Réminet – just a few yards away and owned by the same people.  As it had been a very long day we went back to our B&B and called it a night.

The following day we headed out to The Musée Carnavalet.  This is one of Janeen’s favorite museums in Paris was closed in 2016 and only reopened late last year.

The original entrance to the Museum – not very impressive until you get through and see the Statue in the Courtyard.
Statue of Luis XIV

The Musée Carnavalet in Paris is dedicated to the history of the city. The museum occupies two neighboring mansions: the Hôtel Carnavalet and the former Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau. On the advice of Baron Haussmann, the civil servant who transformed Paris in the latter half of the 19th century, the Hôtel Carnavalet was purchased by the Municipal Council of Paris in 1866; it was opened to the public in 1880. By the latter part of the 20th century, the museum was full to capacity. The Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau was annexed to the Carnavalet and opened to the public in 1989.

One of the first hallways you enter is the Sign Gallery. These are signs that were around the City and have some historical significance.

Wine merchant sign, formerly at the angle of
Rue Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin and boulevard Saint-Germain, 7° arr.
Second half of the 18th century

This sign represents a famous tree of justice. Planted in front of the Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais (church), this elm tree, under which lords and judges meted out judgment, was cut down shortly before the Restoration. The crossroads had long been called the “elm-tree crossroads”. At the end of the 19th century, this sign was transferred to above a shop on rue du Temple, where Atget photographed it, shortly before its acquisition by the museum.

The building, an historic monument from the 16th century, contains furnished rooms from different periods of Paris history, historic objects, and a very large collection of paintings of Paris life.  Many of the paintings and various displays depict the city’s history and development, and its notable characters.

One of the unique things about the Museum is the recreation of actual rooms and spaces from buildings that have long since been destroyed.  

Lovely Janeen – UnfortunatelyI didn’t make note of where this room came from.

In 1941, the jeweller Georges Fouquet donated the remarkable decors from his boutique to the Musée Carnavalet. Designed by the artist Mucha in 1901, this decor had been conceived as a total work of art. Inspired by jewels, the floor, ceiling, furniture and lights reflect the natural curves of flowers and plants.

I clearly have a soft spot for anything done by Alphonse Mucha. This room is VERY special – with the floor, walls and ceiling all working together.
A salon from the Hotel Colbert de Villacerf
Another one of the installations interior rooms 18th-19th centuries.

After walking through many areas of the museum, and learning a lot about the history of Paris, we stopped for lunch in the courtyard.

The entire staircase (marble) was moved from another location along with the painted murals on the walls.

This museum is clearly a place we will return to time and again as there is a lot to take in and always something new to discover. It also doesn’t hurt that it is free entrance. After spending the better part of the day at the museum, we headed back to our B&B and a evening with Pizza at a local spot.

The following day we headed out for a Mademoiselle Angelina at the Musée du Luxembourg. This is a much smaller version of the famous Angelina’s that opened in 1903 and has a much smaller menu but was very pleasant for sure.

After our late breakfast – early lunch we wandered through the Luxembourg Gardens and find this lovely reflecting pond. In 1862, the drilling of Medici Street by Haussmann led to the displacement of the fountain and its rapprochement of the Palace by about thirty meters.

The architect Alphonse de Gisors then built a basin about fifty meters long in front and ordered new sculptures from Ottin.

Thursday morning we did a quick walk around of the Bastille Market before heading out for a birthday celebration.

Ryan had found a special place and made reservations at Le Train Bleu.

Le Train Bleu is a restaurant located in the hall of the Gare de Lyon railway station. The restaurant was originally created for the Exposition Universelle (1900). Each ornate dining room is themed to represent cities and regions of France and they are decorated with 41 paintings by some of the most popular artists of that time. Initially called “Buffet de la Gare de Lyon”, it was renamed “Le Train Bleu” in 1963, after the famous train of the same name.

The decorations throughout the restaurant were beautiful and show various cities the train passed through.

Over the course of several hours, we had a lovely meal with wonderful service and great conversations.

  • Amuse Bouche- to get the meal started
  • Minced octopus marinated in lime, creamy chickpeas with cumin, condiment with spices and fresh coriander
  • Supreme roasted farm poultry, eggplant velvet with candied lemon, crispy Parmesan, devil sauce
  • Rabbit ballotine à la provençale, sweet sour vegetables, pearl juice
  • Half-cooked swordfish with Indian peppers, fricassée of potatoes shot and new
The Birthday boy and Janeen
Chris and Ryan seemed to be enjoying themselves for sure.

After spending the afternoon enjoying the Le Train Bleu, Ryan and Chris headed out to get our car so we could pack it for our trip the following day and Janeen and I headed back to our B&B.

We were only in Paris for a few days but it was a lovely time. It’s nice to come back to a place we have been and realize we don’t have to see everything in a limited amount of time. This was our 4th or 5th visit to Paris and maybe our shortest one – having stayed for 6 weeks twice over the last 4 or 5 years. Paris is a place we will always enjoy and have special places we want to visit. The work on the rebuilding of the Notre-Dame Cathedral continues with a hoped completion by the 2024 Paris Olympics. Once reopened, I am certain we will make trip to see how it has been cleaned and redone. For now, however, we head to Germany to see our son Jason and wife Terri and our two granddaughters. More about Germany and France in our next post.