Friday, September 2, 2011

Cruise Recap I

So, have I groused enough yet about the abysmal Internet connectivity on MS Avalon Tranquility?  When we paid up (€15 for the whole week), we were warned, in appropriate Slavic-accented English, "Eez satellite connection.  May be slow."  Yeah, slow as frozen pond water.  Slow enough that opening an e-mail was painful.  Slow enough that uploading a blog post was not a doable option.

So, after capturing the moment yesterday of the fun and flair of the beer festival, we find ourselves back to recapping the Danube cruise, in addition to talking about Budapest.

Let's go back to square one.  I suspect this will be one of many posts, as you probably have no desire to read long, drawn-out, multi-day accounts of things past.

We boarded the Avalon Tranquility on the afternoon of Sunday, August 21st and got settled in our stateroom.  A bit on the small side, but that would only be a concern if we were spending the whole trip there.  As it turns out, we had a very busy schedule ahead of us.

We spent Sunday night tied up in Nürnberg and had a splendid meal onboard ... the first of many.  I finally found out firsthand what people have been telling me for years -- cruising is all about the food.  I was amazed by both the quality and quantity.  The only saving grace is that we toured on foot enough during a massive Central European heat wave to walk off a lot of those calories.

The post I started writing on Day One of the cruise was titled "Rollin' Down the ... Canal."  If I'd done my homework, I'd have known that we weren't actually starting out on the Danube, but rather on the Main-Danube Canal, which we traversed for over 100 miles until we reached the mighty Danube River near Regensburg.  So, instead of rollin' down the river, a la Ike and Tina Turner, we meandered down the canal, stopping to traverse a total of eight locks before reaching the Danube.  I was especially impressed by the fact that, in the midst of those eight locks, we went through three successive locks that raised us 24 meters or about 81 feet each.  Yes, each ... three locks elevated us nearly 250 feet towards Europe's continental divide.

Here we are about to enter one of those huge locks:
Approaching one of the 24-meter canal locks
I was also surprised to see that there were locks along the Danube as well.  But that's a topic for another post.

So, Tuesday morning, we docked at Regensburg.  Another lovely old German city with several interesting facts in its favor.  Foremost is that the city center is extremely well-preserved from its medieval origins.  During World War II, the Allied strategic bombing campaign took out the Messerschmitt aircraft factories on the outskirts of town but, in an unusual exception to the Air Force's standard 20,000 foot "one pass. haul ass" approach to carpet bombing, they left the heart of the city pretty much unscathed.  So those lovely Gothic churches in town are original, not reconstructed (as was the case in Nürnberg).

Upriver from Regensburg was the Danube Gorge, which we visited on a smaller river tour boat.  The Gorge, the narrowest part of the Danube, is defined by tall limestone cliffs, and I doubt the Avalon Tranquility could have negotiated the sharp bends in the river at that point.  Very impressive.

Then, after seeing the Gorge, we toured the Benedictine Abbey at Weltenburg.  Featuring Germany's oldest monastic brewery (since 1050), they produce a Dunkel (dark lager) that is said to be Pope Benedict's favorite (not a surprise, since he spent a lot of pre-Vatican time teaching in Regensburg, and still has family there.  They also claim that His Holiness has the Weltenburg Dunkel shipped to Rome.  We got a sample a pint, and it was definitely an enjoyable beer.  I felt sanctified as I drank it.

Drinking His Holiness's Fave Bier
I guess the Weltenburg Dunkel wasn't enough ... upon returning to the boat, we found the Bavarian Beer Experience about to start.  Hansel und Gretel, in lederhosen and dirndl, walked us through a PowerPoint presentation about brewing, accompanied by a sample of four beers, running from Hell ("bright" beer, not too hoppy, or interesting) to Lager (good stuff!) through Dunkel and ending with a wheat beer.

1 comment:

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