Please Note – I am currently editing the travel journal I started writing in 2007 and posting as I go. I welcome feedback and encourage my readers to post comments.
Next Around the Bend – Bali
We are no strangers to River Beatrice, although we are strangers to much of the Danube River.
Readers may recall that Huckleberry B and I attempted a Christmas River Cruise, two years ago, from Nuremberg to Budapest. The attempt failed for two reasons. Firstly, after just one day of scenic cruising, our vessel became stranded in a forgettable place called Regensburg because the river was too high and a bridge downstream was too low! Secondly, we were restricted to our small cabin, in any event, because we caught a severe cold when attending Mass on Christmas Eve.
The result was a rather miserable holiday. We were, however, given a discount on a future river cruise with Uniworld….a discount of which we are now taking advantage.
This cruise began in Budapest (Hungary) and travelled upstream, through Slovakia and Austria, before ending in Passau (Germany).
We enjoyed walking tours in Bratislava, Vienna, Krems, Salzburg and Passau. Highlights emerged over time, but for the most part the strolls were pleasant as we passed picturesque buildings and delightful squares. We allowed our minds to wander as we heard intriguing tales from our very well informed guides.
The Lindt Cafe
Truth be told, our time onboard River Beatrice was adversely affected by the events in our hometown shortly after we arrived in Europe. After a difficult night’s sleep – whilst still getting accustomed to the time zone – I turned on the TV to be assaulted by the headline ‘Siege in Sydney Cafe’. I yelled out to Huck B and we frantically searched the screen for an indication of the location.
As soon as the familiar streetscape came into view, we simultaneously yelped, “Oh my God! Lindt!”
Martin Place, Sydney, is my stomping ground. With no hint of exaggeration, I must have walked past the Lindt Cafe – on the corner of Martin Place and Phillip Street – several thousand times over the last 15 years. Lying in the heart of Sydney’s legal community there are barristers’ chambers in the building which houses the Lindt Cafe and in several other buildings nearby. The Supreme Court lurks less then 100 metres away. One of our dearest friends – now a Judge – used to have his Chambers on 7th Floor when he was a ‘mere’ Barrister. I still have friends and colleagues on the 7th, 8th and 11th Floors.
For over a decade I have walked up and down Martin Place to and from work.
My lifelong commitment to the consumption of chocolate notwithstanding, I confess that I have only been inside the Lindt Cafe (maybe) a dozen times. What struck me, however, as Huckleberry B and I watched the drama unfold on CNN, was that every time I did venture inside there would always be a handful of people sitting at the tables, drinking coffee or hot chocolate, whom I knew. Some well. Some only because I had seen them around various court rooms in Sydney.
I harboured a grave fear that I would know one of more of the hostages. I prayed that none of my friends were trapped inside. Some of the lawyers in my firm grab a beverage on the way back from Court or before a Conference with Counsel.
It was mid-afternoon in Budapest when the last group of escapees ran from the Lindt Cafe, down Martin Place, before darting left to the safety of Elizabeth Street. B and I were watching live when the ‘flash-bangs’ created an illuminated racket inside the Cafe and the police stormed the building. There were reports of gunfire. CNN started replaying vision of the hostages fleeing whilst the commentators explained that the live footage was too distressing to broadcast; CPR was being administered to hostages suffering cardiac arrest.
Huckleberry and I were, at this stage, in a high state of distress. This was happening in our beloved hometown; amongst the professional community we knew.
In the days which followed, the identity of the victims and the hostages were slowly released. We are grateful that none of our personal friends were involved, but mourn the fact that the event happened at all. Distress gave way to anger. We both felt terrible for days.
We quickly established that all our close friends and family were safe. In the days which followed I set about sending individual emails to each of the 35 professional and admin staff in my team at work.
Everybody was, as I expected, okay following their ordeal. Many described our building being in shutdown until mid- afternoon (whilst the siege continued) because the offender had told the Police that bombs were planted throughout the city. During that period, everybody was unsettled and some were quite distressed. The extent of the attack was not known. Inaccurate information was cascading via email, text message and social media. Loved ones were trapped in other buildings around the city.
At least two of my staff refused to go home by train, deeming it ‘too dangerous’.Two other staff had spouses who worked in the building across Martin Place and saw the drama unfold, including the hostages standing with their hands raised against the windows.
Another lawyer was returning to the office after a Directions Hearing in the Supreme Court (on my instructions) and was just leaving Martin Place, when an alarm sounded and Police started running past him up the hill. The siege must have already started when he strolled calmly by the Lindt Cafe just minutes earlier.
A friend, who is a Barrister in the building where the siege took place, was walking through the foyer but found that bedlam had erupted outside. He looked through the internal door to the Lindt Cafe and saw the gunman and his hostages. My friend ended up climbing through a window on the first floor. He sent me a photograph somebody took which depicts him sitting on an awning outside.
Try as we might, as our river cruise progressed, neither B nor I was totally successfully in shaking off the gloom which descended over us.
When we visited Gottweig Abby at Krems, Huckleberry B lit a candle for the two deceased victims; Katrina Dawson and Tori Anderson.
Bathing in Budapest
The events in Sydney, notwithstanding, we did our best to carry on with our plans in Europe.
Given that we have visited Budapest before, Huck B and I shunned the organized tour and decided, instead, to explore the Hungarian capital’s famed spa baths instead.
There were two bath houses in close proximity to where River Beatrice was docked, well within walking distance. Both bath houses boasted views of the Danube.
The Gellert Bathouse sits on the Buda side of the city, opposite the Liberty Bridge (Szabagsad Hid) and is located within a particularly grandiose building. The main hallway boasts a huge dome, which would not have been out of place in the Vatican. The main indoor pool is lined with impressive columns.
A second bath house awaited just a short stroll along the Danube, also in Buda. The Rudas Bath House sat directly across the river from our vessel and it was here that we chose to change into our swimmers and get wet.
Unfortunately, the thermal pool was open only to men on the day of our visit, so we chose instead to swim, together, in the lap pool. We experienced some difficulty, however, in negotiating the complex process required to enter the pool. First we needed to communicate exactly what we wanted to the Hungarian lass behind the counter. Then we had to master the locker system in the uni-sex change room which involved a coded wristband and much fiddling around with the locker. Next we had to find our way through a maze of stairs and hallways in order to find the pool. Finally, there was a return to the locker room to fetch a shower cap once it became apparent that head coverings were mandatory.
Further controversy was to follow.
The lap pool was divided into three lanes. I chose to swim in the lane on the left, for the one simple reason that it was the lane closest to where I stood. And so I set off on a leisurely freestyle journey to the other end of the pool.
I confess to being aware of some commotion as I swam, nose first, through the water, but decided to complete my lap before popping my head up – like an inquisitive Hungarian ‘Bighead Carp’ – to find out what was going on.
Once my ears were above the waterline, I found that I was being yelled at by both the lifeguard on my right and some swimmers on my left. The language barrier was not much of a hurdle to overcome. I quickly discerned that I was in trouble for swimming freestyle in the lane reserved for slower swimmers.
At the other end of the pool, I saw Huckleberry B sitting on step in the water, openly laughing at me. She told me later that she considered joining the chorus of people shouting at me, but (rightly) decided there was no point. She reckons she saw a sign designating the first lane for slow swimmers, but I still don’t know where it was.
With apologies, I ducked under the lane marker and joined the swimmers who were allegedly faster than those in the first lane. I still found myself weaving between the other swimmers as I completed my laps; and I’ve never been that good at swimming.
After an hour or so enjoying the water, we dried ourselves, found our way back through the catacombs to the unisex locker room, defused our lockers, changed back into our warm clothes and headed back, via the Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsebet Hig) to the River Beatrice.
The Real Highlight of Salzburg
One of the attractions we missed on our last – somewhat troubled – cruise along the Danube was a visit to beautiful Salzburg; birthplace of Mozart, backdrop to The Sound of Music and home of some truly exceptional sausages!
River Beatrice docked at the small town of Linz and we travelled to Salzburg by coach; a journey of some 80 to 90 minutes. We were entertained, the whole way, by a wonderful guide named Helmut. Dressed in an Austrian jacket and lederhosen – and sporting a comical upturned mustache – Helmut was a very funny man. He started his narrative by stressing something we had heard before; the good burghers of Salzburg have a disdain for The Sound of Music. Many have never heard of it and those who have heard of it have not deigned to watch it. Helmut warned us, therefore, not to expect smartly dressed Austrians singing Edelweiss on every corner of the old town.
In addition to systematically dissecting the Rogers & Hammerstein classic, Helmut proceeded to take a small Austrian forest axe to Amadeus; the mid-80’s movie allegedly about Mozart. In summary, both the history depicted by the film and way Mozart was portrayed were utter fiction.
Our stroll around Salzburg was very pleasant. More ginger bread houses. More alleys, churches and squares which would have been at home in a fairy tale. We saw the house where Mozart was born. We recognized some of the scenery where Julie Andrews and the actors playing the Von Trapp munschkins sang and danced.
The real highlight of Salzburg came, however, in the form of fast food!
There is a running joke (we think) among the guides hired to explain the delights of the towns along the Danube. They often say, “When you get to [insert name of next destination], they will tell you they have the best sausages. Do not believe them! You will find the best sausages here!” Or “I suppose they told you in [insert name of last destination]. I suppose they told you their sausages are the best? They are wrong!”
In Salzburg, the joke proved to be true. The best are called ‘frisches’ because they are totally fresh and contain no preservatives. Made that day, any not consumed by sundown are thrown out because they will be spoiled by morning!
White in colour, made from veal and served with mustard, they are delicious. I couldn’t get enough of the little devils! After each round, Huckleberry B and I would go for a walk and upon return to the sausage stand I would sigh, “Oh well, we’re not coming back this way any time soon…” and order another round!
After our pleasant stroll around Salzburg – our stomachs well satisfied- we headed back to the coach and more entertainment from funny old Helmut.