NEW YORK – October 2013

Welcome to New York

We were waiting for our bags to appear on the carousel at JFK Airport – weary from exactly 24 hours of travel – when the doleful peace was shattered by a bash American voice shouting,“There they are! They haven’t changed a bit!

It was Cathy – whom we met on board Prisendam in 2007 – and her husband Rich.

Huckleberry B had given them advance warning of our trip to New York and Cath had insisted upon meeting us at the airport and driving us to our hotel in Manhattan.

Despite having been defeated by the rigors of a long journey, our spirits immediately rose upon seeing our old friends and we chatted merrily in the car. Cathy deploying more f-bombs in the 30 minute car drive than I recall her uttering on our whole two week cruise in 2007, but we’re okay with that. She’s such a character; as is Rich (one of NYC’s finest).

Cath and Rich will be taking us on a guided tour of their home town when we return to New York on 19 and 20 October. We’re certainly looking forward to the entertainment…and seeing the city.

A Day in NYC

After 10 years of travelling, visiting over 50 countries and seeing all six continents, Huckleberry B and I have finally made it to New York.

Fortunate to arrive in NYC at night, we climbed into our bed at the Wyndam Hotel at the first opportunity. New York may be the city that never sleeps but, not possessing super powers, we needed ours. The City would have to party without us.

When day did arrive – not long after dawn’s morning light – we crossed the road and took a seat in one of the booths at an all American diner. Truth be told, our breakfast would be rated as average. Of greater concern was our coffee, which I can only assume was brewed by some sadistic bastard with a hatred for coffee drinkers or, perhaps, an evil genius with a cunning plan to reduce the world’s caffeine consumption. I resolved to stick to hot chocolate when in doubt.

After breakfast, we quickly reached agreement that we needed more sleep and we hastily retreated once more to the comfort of our bed until early afternoon.

Once rested, we hit the streets of Manhattan.

Our hotel was located on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 45th Street, not far from Grand Central Station and Time Square. We could see the stunningly iconic art deco roof of the Chrysler Building from the window of our room.

New York – ‘concrete jungle where dreams are made of‘ – except if your dream includes visiting a federally funded museum or the Statue of Liberty; our visit being afflicted by the Federal Government’s “shut down”.

Instead, we walked straight across Manhattan, from east to west-side, pausing at Time Square, before strolling though Hell’s Kitchen, to the Hudson River.

On the way back, and on a whim, we inspected the TKTKS board at Times Square to see what last minute theatre tickets might be available. We chose to see the Phantom again. And so our first day in New York together was capped off with ‘music of the night’ sung by ‘the Angel of Music‘.

Looking for America

“And we walked off to look for America”

From the moment Huck B told me we would be travelling from New York to Boston by train – a journey occupying four and a half hours – I knew what I wanted to do.

Ever since I was born, the tunes of Simon & Garfunkel have been the soundtrack to my life. ‘Bridge of Troubled Water‘ was released in the same year that I was born and I remember my mother playing the vinyl version endlessly when I was a child. Later, as I entered my teens, ‘The Concert in Central Park’ was one of my favourite cassette tapes. This time it was my turn to insist upon endless repetitions during road trips in the family car. Even now, in times of quiet reflection, I turn to the Paul Simon’s music and lyrics for solace and inspiration. I even honored my mother, at her funeral, by choosing ‘Bridge‘ as my tribute song, inviting the audience to imagine a mother singing to her child as they listened to the CD.

So, as our train pulled out of Penn Station,  left Manhattan, and headed through the Bronx, on its way north to Boston, it was only natural that I would reach for my iPad and click on ‘Simon & Garfunkel’. It was the perfect accompaniment for an iconic train journey. Words, rhythm, clickerty-clack of the train and  scenery were all in sync; even the overcast skies seemed to have conspired to create the ‘feel’ I wanted.

In the tune, ‘The Boxer’, there is a short bridge between the second and third verses where a piccolo trumpet sounds. Though only 20 seconds or so in length, it provokes so much emotion in me that it’s hard to explain. Like a clarion call from times past, it conjures up memories of a happy childhood. This morning, on our trip to Boston, I heard that bridge as I looked out the window of our train and saw rows of working class houses flash by, punctuated by hardware stores and gas stations.

There is something about Paul Simon’s music which just speaks to me, like these words from ‘America

So I looked at the scenery,

She read her magazines,

And a moon rose over an open field

Cathy, I’m lost I said,

Though I knew she was sleeping,

I’m empty and I’m aching,

I don’t know why…

Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike,

And they’ve all come to look for America.

I can help Paul out with explaining his emotions, because I know what he means. Even when visiting some extraordinary places, Huck B and I go through periods of emptiness. It’s a symptom of being homesick.  We know our capacity to travel is the envy of others, but we are also fortunate to have a daily life which we miss when removed from it. I know I miss my friends at work, my family.

It will come as no surprise that we also miss our dogs – the girls – terribly, particularly Bella, the darling of the band. Sad as it is, she is almost 12 and has a serious heart problem. The cocktail of medication she is taking is keeping her alive, but we only have so many more weekends together. On this trip, my beloved canine companion – my loyal shadow –  is never far from my thoughts.

Yet, despite bouts of aching homesickness, there remains excitement at the prospect of what adventures may be laying in wait, just around the bend or just over the horizon.

As our train streaked through up-state New York, through Connecticut and Rhode Island and on towards Massachusetts, the city was left far behind and the vista was dominated by weatherboard houses, leafy meadows, lazy streams and American flags in the backyard. I switched to another favourite artist – another son of America’s north-east – Bruce Springsteen.

Along with Paul Simon, as fleeting favorites come and go, I always return to Bruce. I reckon most of life’s lessons can by found in the lyrics written by Simon and Springsteen.

Here’s a trivia question; I can think of one record, which was released in the 1980’s, where Paul and Bruce both sang. It’s probably the only one. Do you know what the song might be?

By the time our train had reached the Connecticut coastline, the scenery was idyllic and serene. Lagoons on our right were lined by autumnal colours and, on our left, white yachts cruised the grey ocean. Meanwhile Springsteen sang wistful tunes about his hometown and eulogized the grandeur found in ordinary American life.

By the time our train pulled into Boston’s South Station, I was ready to enjoy our holiday in North America.


DUBAI to ROME (Part 4) – April 2013

The Suez Canal

To be frank, Huckleberry B and I found our transit of the Suez Canal a little disappointing.

Perhaps, when it comes to the canal experience, we are like two spoiled children. We had experienced the best first and naturally found the runner-up less satisfying. It’s akin to visiting New Zealand’s South Island before trying to get excited over Tasmania; or, for that matter, cruising Alaska after being overwhelmed by the majesty of Antarctica.

In 2010, Huck B and I embarked upon a journey from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal. It was a memorable day which still rates amongst our favourite cruise experiences. We will long remember how enthralled we were as we watched our immense cruise ship moving up and down locks only marginally of sufficient size to accommodate our vessel.

By contrast, the Suez Canal is a less impressive engineering feat and a less thrilling experience; it is the lesser canal.

For the most part, our voyage felt no different from cruising along a wide river. It was unusual to see the sands of the Sinai Desert sweeping right to the eastern shore, however, the western side was dominated, for the most parts, by housing and industry of little appeal.

Ultimately, when we arrived in Port Said during mid-afternoon, entered the Mediterranean and turned to the right, I could not help but sigh and ask : “So that’s the Suez? Is that all there is?

Truthfully, however, we were glad to see Egypt disappear over the southern horizon. We enjoyed Luxor and seeing the Nile. We will long remember our calamitous caravan to St Catherine’s. We will not miss the squalor, the chaos and the evident lack of pride the Egyptian people seem to have in their national treasures.

King Herod’s Wall

We entered Jerusalem’s Old City through the Jaffa Gate, strolled through the Muslim Quarter, ignoring the pleas of shopkeepers as we went, before negotiating some steps down to the Wailing Wall.

Just as in 2007, when Huckleberry B and I last ventured this way, I was moved by the fervent spiritualism of those who meekly approached the Wall spoke to God and placed small pieces of paper, upon which they wrote prayers, between the rocks of the wall King Herod built over 2,000 years ago.

Unlike our last visit, however, we were about to experience something truly extraordinary.

Our new friends, Peter and Robin – both Jews – had kindly invited us to join them on a tour of the ‘tunnels’ running adjacent to the Western Wall for a distance of 485 metres along Temple Mount. The experience was both intriguing and thrilling. I will never forget it.

First, a brief account of my understanding of history (with profound and sincere apologies should my summary include any misunderstanding or omit any important elements).

Temple Mount stands on the eastern side of Jerusalem’s old city. For those of the Jewish faith, the most sacred place – ‘the most holy of holies‘ – is a rock on Temple Mount where they believe God gathered dust to create Adam. It was here that King Solomon built the first Jewish Temple over the rock where life began.

Sadly, however, when the Babylonians invaded from the east, the temple was destroyed and the Israelites were driven from the Promised Land. Moses later freed his people from the Egyptians and, after surviving the desert, his son led the Jews back into Canaan.

In the first Century BC, King Herod vowed to rebuild the temple which the Babylonians had destroyed. But first he embarked upon creating level ground on Temple Mount by building solid retaining walls on each side and backfilling the interior.  A small section of the western side of this support structure is now known as the ‘the Wailing Wall’ or ‘Western Wall’.

Whilst Herod kept his promise to rebuild the Temple on Temple Mount, it was destroyed by the Romans. When the Muslims occupied Jerusalem during the era of the Crusades, they built the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount at the point where they believe that Mohammad ascended to Heaven. The Muslim structure was built over the same ground once occupied by Solomon’s Temple; the holiest place in Judaism.

Thus was created the impasse which persists, without resolution, to modern times; two religions with fervent demands over the same sacred ground.

To this day, Jews worship at the Wailing Wall because it represents the section of King Herod’s Wall in closest proximity to the sacred rock on Temple Mount where their ancient temples once stood.   The Jews still look forward to the day when the third – and final – temple will be built on Temple Mount.

We entered the ‘tunnels’ from a position close to the Wailing Wall. I have twice, prior to this sentence, placed the word ‘tunnels’ in inverted commas. I have done so deliberately. Whilst the path we walked was below current street level, we were actually traversing a series of arches and bridges which had been constructed during Herodian times to provide easier access to the temple. Essentially, these structures were built to fill in a valley at the south western corner of Temple Mount. Centuries later, the Muslim Quarter was built over the archways.

And so we descended into the depths; down the stairs, across the bridges, through the archways and down still more stairs – striding along pathways centuries old – before arriving at the subterranean aspect of King Herod’s Western Wall.

When we arrived, our garrulous guide introduced us to an ancient wonder. Immediately in front of us, at head height, was an enormous rectangular rock – known as ‘the Western Stone’ – measuring some 13 metres in distance and some 600 tons in weight. It was as heavy, we were told, as two fully laden jumbo jets. Nobody knows how the ancient Israelites lifted this immense rock into place.

Whilst still considering (and dismissing) various theoretical lifting methods in our minds, we four adventurers set off to walk north along the Western Wall to the far north-western corner. Along the way, we came across some women in earnest prayer. Our guide explained that whilst the Wailing Wall is the section of the exposed portion of King Herod’s wall closest to the ‘holy of holies”, the section where the ladies were praying was as near as a Jew could now tread to the sacred rock on Temple Mount.

One of the ladies was standing against the wall, her nose almost touching the rocks, whilst another sat opposite and recited prayers from a book. A third worshipper solemnly whispered to herself. None of them seemed concerned by our presence and continued in their quiet and dignified contemplation.

I do not know whether they prayed for themselves, for their families or for their people, but the deep trust they placed in God moved me, notwithstanding my own lack of faith.

Peter and Robin were keenly aware that our thoughts have been – and remain – with a dear and cherished relative at home who is battling an insidious disease. Peter suggested that if we wished to pray for her, this was the ideal place to have a discussion with God. Both Huckleberry B and I turned to the Wall and spoke in silent accord. In that moment, it was the natural thing to do.

Our walk along King Herod’s Wall ended when we climbed a modern staircase at the north- western corner of Temple Rock, emerging once more at street level in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

(We were informed by our guide that when this exit was first constructed there were riots, resulting in dozens of fatalities, because the local Muslims believed that excavation had occurred in the sacred ground below the Dome of the Rock, although, empirically, this was not the case. An easier egress route was not possible because an ancient staircase now led to the rear wall of a Muslim shop. The shopkeeper had been offered as much as $8 million to sell his store, but remained steadfast in his refusal. Jerusalem is, indeed, a very complicated place.)

For Huckleberry B and I – two Gentiles – it was a privilege to walk along the Western Wall with our Jewish friends. We will be forever grateful for their invitation and earnestly hope that we did not intrude upon their experience of this most sacred place in Judaism.

Across the Judaean Desert to Masada

After the Western Wall Tunnels, we walked along the Via Dolorosa and had an exceptional lunch at a restaurant called Lina.

Next we piled into our guide’s sedan and headed out of Jerusalem towards the East. We had, earlier, been told that Israel boasts eight distinct climate zones. The countryside stretching from our port, at Ashdod, to Jerusalem was lush and fertile, very much in keeping with the Biblical description of ‘a land of milk and honey’.

When we drove East from Jerusalem, however, we entered a tunnel under the (beautifully named) Mount of Olives and emerged, on the other side, in a different world. Gone completely was the greenery of the western coast, to be replaced by the barren, sandy undulations of the Judaean Desert. The scenic transformation, in a matter of minutes, was truly extraordinary.

We drove downward, ever downward, as the road weaved its way around the conical shaped hills towards the Jordan Valley. From the heights of the Judaean Mountains, where thriving Jerusalem proudly stands, we descended to sea level and beyond. By the time we reached the Dead Sea, we were more than 400 metres below the level where Seabourn Odyssey bobbed on the Mediterranean Sea at Ashdod.

Once at the Dead Sea – the Jordanian escarpment clearly in view on the East Bank – we turned right and travelled South to where Masada awaited us.

Masada, too, is an extraordinary place.

Adjacent the Dead Sea, towards the South, stands a single proud, flat-topped, mountain which has stepped forward from the remainder of the escarpment running along the western side of the Jordan Valley. My tourism pamphlet tells me that the plateau sits just above sea level, but some 450 metres above the salty waters of the Dead Sea.

Atop this mountain, on the towering plateau, King Herod built the fortress of Masada. It measured 450 metres in length and 300 metres in width. During its heyday, in the first century BC, the fortress boasted a palace, synagogue and bath houses.

The Fortress of Masada was the perfect place to defend the Promised Land against enemies from the east because these warring tribes had to navigate the land bridge between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, with Masada in their path.

Later, when the Romans came from the west and, having destroyed the Second Temple on Temple Mount, drove the Israelites from Jerusalem, a band of Jewish partisans took refuge upon Masada’s daunting heights.  According to historical accounts, the partisans only accepted defeat, after a prolonged siege, when the Romans constructed an immense ramp to allow their vast armies to overrun the fortress.

During the night before the battle, however, it was resolved that death was preferable to slavery at the hands of the Romans. The menfolk released their wives and children into death before drawing lots to decide the order by which each man would be killed by another; suicide being against Jewish law.

The climb up Masada’s daunting escarpment reputedly occupies an average of one and a quarter hours. We took the vastly easier option of riding in the modern cable car and found otherwise at the peak within minutes. The view from Masada, across the Dead Sea, to Jordan was breathtaking.

We strolled the ruins whilst listening to our guide relating stories from Herodian times. We found it an eerie place; with a similar sense of brooding foreboding as Glencoe, in Scotland. It was almost as though, if we listened carefully, as the wind swept across the ancient fortress, we could hear the ghosts of the Israelite freedom-fighters telling their stories as well.

Return to the Dead Sea

After Masada, we continued our journey – south along the coast of the Dead Sea – until we reached some hotels on the western shore. As we had done in 2011, Huckleberry B and I wanted to float in the medicinal waters.

By this stage, it was late in a very long day, and the sun was hovering above the escarpment. Shadows would soon fall across the Jordan Valley. Yet we still had some time to quickly change into our swimwear and tread gingerly into the mineral-laden waters of the inland sea.

In many ways, the timing was serendipitous. In 2011, we swam on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea and watched, in silent awe, as the first rays of morning light set ablaze the Israeli desert vista on the far side of the rippled blue water. Now we would swim in Israel and watch as the distant Jordanian escarpment, across the Dead Sea, slowly faded from bright orange, to yellow and to pink before finally accepting a soft purple hue.

It was a remarkable end to a remarkable day.

As we drove back across the Judaean Desert, through the darkness, to Ashdod, I reflected that this was the third day Huck B and I had spent in Israel and on each occasion Israel had delivered. For one, such as I, who may be prone to (mild) bouts of travel fatigue – and who has become rather difficult for foreign lands to impress – I remain intrigued and enthralled by this small nation so steeped in spirituality and history. In contrast to our experience in Egypt, the Israelis take great pride in their homeland and the society they have created.

It was privilege to listen to our guide discuss Jewish history and politics – and how one lives a Jewish life – with Peter and Robin. I found their discourse fascinating throughout the day; a day I shall not soon forget.

A Rainy Day in Sorrento

After Israel, we enjoyed three lovely days at sea as Seabourn Odyssey steamed West, across the Mediterranean, towards Italy.

We returned, without resistance, to the slothful existence we had relished earlier in our journey (although we did maintain our morning gym regime).

Remarkably, we enjoyed a morning of rare glory on the last sea day of our voyage when our trivia team – which included Peter and Robin – triumphed in the progressive team trivia challenge. We started well, early in the cruise, lost momentum during the middle section but came storming home at the end to clinch an unlikely victory. Doubtless our joyful celebrations could be heard in distant Bombay.

Meanwhile, a stowaway Egyptian fly has taken up residence in our stateroom. Our stewardess says that since we now have a pet, the least we can do is give it a name. ‘Ramesses’ seems appropriate!

All too soon, our last day on Seabourn Odyssey raced forward and slapped us collectively in the face.

We marked the day by venturing ashore, one last time, with the Bostonians. Unfortunately, we woke to brooding dark clouds and persistent rain; the first precipitation to wet our collars since leaving home. Yet we enjoyed the day nonetheless.

First our guide took us to Napoli where Huck B and I reminisced about holidays past before enjoying some exceptional coffee near the main square. Next we headed to the Amalfi Coast for a leisurely lunch at Positano.

It’s just as well Peter and Robin share our love for food and wine and are happy to banish any thoughts of tiresome touring when neither the mood nor the necessary energy are present. By contrast, our lunch of pizza, pasta and wine hit the spot.

Despite the rain, Hucleberry B and I enjoyed our first visit to Positano. We could well imagine its charm and beauty on a sunny day with blue sky. Even in the drizzle we could see some sparkle.

And so we returned to Seabourn Odyssey once more and resigned ourselves to the final packing of bags ahead of the journey home.

Moon River Across the Mediterrenean

And so a truly great holiday draws to a close.

Absent the majestic grandeur of Antarctica or the unparalleled adventure of the Galapagos Islands – two cruises which are unlikely to ever be eclipsed as our favourites – when we sit back in armchairs in our dotage and, through misty eyes, rank our most enjoyable cruise holidays from first to last, I suspect this one will compare favourably.

The journey received a kick-start on day one when we met Peter and Robin at the boat drill. Many of our most memorable moments were shared with them. As we learned more about them during our hours together, our respect and affection grew. They are exceptional people and we are so glad we found each other so far away from our respective homes. Robin is already scheming to ensure we travel together again. I believe her. She’s a woman who does nothing in half measures.

There is one memory from this cruise, however, which Huckleberry B and I enjoyed alone.

On our second last sea day, there was a formal night. After dinner, we returned to our stateroom and I decided to go out onto our balcony to enjoy the sea air. The vista which awaited me was stunning.

A full moon had risen stealthily in the night sky and was now hovering behind our vessel. Its reflection illuminated a glorious silver path – perhaps wider than a mile – which extended from the ocean below my feet all the way to the distant horizon. For the first time in my life, I understood one of our favourite songs. There was, indeed, a moon river emblazoned across the dark ocean.

I called my beloved to join me and, at her suggestion, retrieved my iPad. Moments later, we were slowly dancing – still formally dressed – as the wistful melody of “Moon River” was accompanied by the sound of the sea breeze in our hair and the lapping of waves against our vessel as it carved through the ocean. Unforgettable.




THE DANUBE – December 2012


The Nuremberg Christmas Markets

After flying from Sydney to Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt, we finally arrived in Nuremberg late on 22 December 2012.

The final hour’s flight, on a very small plane, was rendered surprisingly enjoyable – despite our travel weariness – by a large American whom we later learned was named Tom. His quips during the flight had both his wife, Pat, and ourselves in hysterics.  We were most pleased when he strolled up to join us on the Uniworld bus bound for the River Duchess. We had made some friends and we were not even onboard yet.

By the time we reached our new floating home it was dark and cold in the German winter. The River Duchess looked warm and inviting as we wheeled our luggage up the ramp. However, after our long journey, we were exhausted and fell into bed at the earliest opportunity.

As we fell asleep, we looked forward to our twelve day cruise down the Danube River; through the Bavarian countryside; into Austria for New Year’s eve in Vienna; and finally to the Hungarian capital, Budapest. It promised to be an engaging journey.

The next morning, we awoke uncomfortably early and prepared ourselves for a city tour of Nuremberg. In addition to our inevitable jet lag, the day was afflicted by steady rain which made it even more difficult to get truly into the spirit of the moment. But we ventured onto the tour bus nonetheless.

Thankfully, our tour guide was most entertaining. He commenced by asking us if we knew the German words for beer, house and mouse. When we responded with bier, haus and maus, he concluded that we all spoke German very well.

Our city tour took us to Nuremberg Castle and the Christmas markets in the square below. Whilst picture postcard perfect, our enthusiasm for the tour was dampened – quite literally – by the persistent rain which continued to fall. We hoped for clear skies in the days ahead. We expected it to be cold – which it certainly was – but we could do without the rain.

Echoes from a Time of Madness

It is difficult – even now – to visit Germany without thinking of the grotesque atrocity of World War II.

For the most part, we observed Basil Fawlty’s sage (and timeless) message of peace.

However, when the opportunity arose in Nuremberg to go on a World War II tour, temptation was difficult to resist.

In truth, when in Nuremberg, reminders of that time of madness are ever present.  The city witnessed both the rise of National Socialism and the final chapter of their terrible story.

Our tour began at the Zepplin Airfield where the Nazis held massive rallies in the 1930’s, before the outbreak of war. The area has been preserved, although hockey and football fields now lie where the immense parade ground once dominated. The raised seating areas still circle the playing fields, albeit overrun with grass and weeds; the past must be remembered, but banished to the past.

The best preserved aspect of the rally grounds is the front stage area which was once reserved for Nazi  officials. The stone seating area still remains, as does the rostrum from which Hitler delivered his rants. There once was a row of columns at the back of the seating area, furnaces at each end and a gold eagle perched atop the centrum at the rear. However, these have been removed. Again, the past must not be forgotten but nor must it be glorified.

Standing to one side of the rostrum, and squinting my eyes, I could readily imagine that the anonymous tourist striding to the speaker’s position was Hitler and I could hear the distant chants of Zeig Heil. It was chilling.

After the rally grounds, we visited the Nazi Congress Building. Modeled after the Coliseum, in Rome, the Congress Building was planned to be immense, standing 50% higher than the original. However, the massive testament to Nazi might – and Hitler’s limitless ego – was never completed. Doubtless, human and capital resources were diverted to the war Hitler craved.

If completed, the Congress Building would have seated 50,000 people who would gather for the sole purpose of listening to Hitler’s self-indulgent ramblings.  A skylight in the roof of the building would have illuminated the stage and cast the speaker in the glow of a messiah.

Today, one corner of the Congress Building is devoted to a museum which chronicles the rise of the Nazis and the war they orchestrated, with special emphasis, of course, on the role which Nuremberg played. We spent some time in the museum. However, after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem in 2007, we are a hard couple to impress.

Court Room 600

What did demand our attention, however, was a visit to Court Room 600…

Even before the end of World War II, Roosevelt and Churchill were determined to conduct war trials, in order to bring to justice those responsible for the war and for crimes against humanity. Stalin, we were told, was just as happy to line up anybody with a German name and have them shot.

Roosevelt and Churchill prevailed and the Trials were held in Nuremberg. It was explained to us that Nuremberg was an ideal location – and preferable to Berlin – because the Court House had largely survived the bombing and, moreover, so had the adjacent prison complex which was linked to the Court by tunnels. There was a genuine fear that allowing a high profile Nazi to be brought to Court from a remote location might result in either abduction by a cell of supporters or assassination by a lynch mob. By comparison, a short walk along an underground tunnel was clearly preferred.

The other factor favouring Nuremberg as the venue for the War Crimes Trials was, of course, its past.  Prosecuting the Nazis so close to where they held their pre-war rallies added an extra element of well- deserved humiliation.

We were privileged to sit in the public gallery of Court Room 600 and listen to our very well informed guide describe the events. Back in 1946, the area in which we sat was occupied by the prosecuting team.  The Judges’ Bench was under the window to our right and those accused of some of the most diabolical crimes against all human-kind sat to our left.

I will long remember our animated guide walking over and slapping the balustrade before intoning: “Herman Goering sat right here; next to him Rudolph Hess…”.

That’s the moment it became real for me. This is where it all happened; where international law was born.

Our short time inside Court Room 600 was compelling and we enjoyed the visit very much.

There was one funny story though. Our guide told the group that on another tour, an old man had put his hand up and said that he was actually present at the trials. He explained that he had been a young GI and was ordered to attend Court and take photographs. When asked whether he was aware, at the time, that he was a witness to a profound moment in history, he paused and thought for a moment before replying: “Not really; I was 19 and all that interested me was beer and Frauleins“.

Everybody has their own perspective!

Midnight Mass in Regensberg

On the morning of Christmas Eve, River Duchess began her journey to Budapest by wandering down the Nuremberg Channel, towards the Danube.

The purpose of the man-made channel is to link The Rhine with the Danube, in much the same way the Panama Canal links the Pacific and the Atlantic. It allows a boat to travel all the way across Europe from Amsterdam to the Black Sea.

The journey was quite pleasant. By this stage, the sun had come out and the green country scene was tinged with orange and gold. For most of the journey, a dirt and gravel path ran along the side of the river. We could see the occasional cyclist or jogger braving the wintry conditions. The green meadows and hills were punctuated by small towns dominated by church steeples shaped like onions.

I half expected Charles Bronson to scamper down the riverbank and steal an idle row boat or for Steve McQueen to flash by on a motorcycle. It was that kind of Bavarian countryside which floated by.

By evening – which arrives well before 5pm during the northern winter solstice – we were docked in the medium sized German town of Regensberg.

Given that ’twas Christmas Eve, and we were in Germany, we took the option of joining a large number of our fellow passengers in attending Midnight Mass at the Regensberg’s St Peter’s Dom.  Despite the huge number of people packed in the church, it was remarkably cold inside, particularly during the extended wait to the commencement of Mass at 10pm. Ultimately we persevered for as long as we could. However, by around 10.45pm, we felt we had a good a sense of what a German Midnight Mass was all about and decided that the call of our warm air conditioned room and quilted bed had become too loud to ignore.

‘Twas then that a Christmas miracle occurred.

Looking around the large number of people standing in the aisles – many of them probably locals who resented the tourists in ‘their’ Cathedral – we spotted an elderly woman and offered her our seat. She and her husband were grateful to accept.

However, what sticks in my mind is the sight of the woman’s adult son nodding at me and whispering thank you, with tears welling in his Aryan eyes…

All I did was offer his parents a seat! It’s not like I offered to feed the gathered multitude with a bag of chips and half a Mars Bar!

Yet our gesture appeared to be a miracle in the young man’s eyes and if we brought some joy to his Christmas, we are pleased.

“Are We Still in Regensberg?”

Going to sleep on Christmas night in Regensberg, I was a contented traveller…

We had been onboard the River Duchess for three nights and were enjoying the ride. We had already met some fun people, must notably Tom and Pat from Orlando, Florida and Bill and Luisa from Dallas, Texas, although there were others we were getting to know and enjoying. I had gone for a five kilometer run that morning along the river bank and was looking forward to doing the same, most days, particularly given the daily change in scenery.

As I fell asleep, I was contemplating the joys which lay around the next bend in the river…

However, two factors were about to conspire against us!

Firstly, there was the river itself. It turned out that there was too much of it.

Normally, excess water in a river is not a problem unless the banks are threatened. However, further down the river, a series of low bridges lay in wait. With the water so high, the River Duchess could not safely traverse below them without losing her head (and shoulders).

We were stuck in Regensberg until the swell of the river subsided.

Secondly, there was our own health. It transpired that our middle-aged bodies were unable to repel the threat of a European winter. We both succumbed to a rather virulent chest infection, which kept us confined to our rooms for several days, sustained only by the kindness of the River Duchess staff, particularly those kind enough to bring food to our stateroom.

It was very sad because this river cruise had so much to offer. Had the River Duchess continued on her planned journey, with us healthy onboard, I suspect this holiday would have been a classic. We were particularly sad to miss the side trip from Linz to Salzburg. Doubtless, our fellow passengers were probably grateful that our voices did not join in the ‘Sound of Music’ sing-a-long, however, we are sorry we missed it.

Ultimately, River Duchess remained in Regensberg for three additional nights. As far as we know she is still there. ..

On the 29th of December, the passengers and most of the crew were loaded onto buses and driven to Vienna where, after a night at the Intercontinental Hotel, they were welcomed onto their unexpected new home, River Beatrice, which had been called back into service only days after being closed down for the low season.

We found out about the move completely by accident, having banished the evening briefings in favour of more rest. Huckleberry B learned of the upheaval during a casual telephone conversation with the front desk on the previous afternoon. Repacking in our state was rather daunting, but we got the job done.

However, rather than join our cruise mates on a day long bus drip from Regensberg to Vienna, via several arduous tourist sites along the way, we opted for a much simpler option. We headed to the train station and caught a train direct to Vienna. Whilst still a four hour journey – in strangely uncomfortable seats and with passengers of questionable consideration – it was a better option than the joining the never ending bus journey.

Once onboard River Beatrice, we spent another day in bed, before finally emerging on New Year’s Eve.

Remarkably, we were missed during our hibernation. It turns out that Tom – who entertained us during the short flight from Frankfurt to Nuremberg – did a lap of the restaurant each night to see if a confirmed sighting could be achieved.  He was sufficiently concerned to eventually secure our room number from the front desk staff and call to enquire after our well-being.

We later asked Tom what fun we had missed during our confinement. His response was: “Not much really. Here’s a summary: bus, church, church, bus. Another bus, church, bus.  Loooooong bus, church…

Too funny!

Whenever I emerged from our room to get some more water or to head to the chemist, I would field enquiries – sometimes from people I did not recall ever seeing before – about my wife’s well being. I eventually concluded she was the ship’s answer to Ferris Bueller!

New Year’s Eve Dinner with the Griswalds

We were standing in a room where Beethoven and Salieri once stood!

It was New Year’s Eve in Vienna and Uniworld had arranged for dinner in a (small) palace in the centre of the elegant city. As we enjoyed our canapés in the front room of the venue, our portly Austrian host regaled the gathered throng with a story about Beethoven and Salieri meeting in this very room for a contest involving impromptu composing. Somehow, Salieri reputedly cheated and Beethoven stormed from the room only to return, after his temper had cooled, and vanquishing Salieri with his superior genius.

It was a good story and set the scene for a night of food, drink, string quartets, ballet, waltzing and general joyous carousing.

Controversy, however, lurked in the shadows…

Huckleberry B and I had put our names down to dine at the same table as Tom and Pat – at Tom’s insistence – and their friends, Larry and Chris. However, when the time came to commence dining, we found we had been seated elsewhere. Worst still, it emerged we had been placed with a family of four who had been causing management and guests some trouble during the cruise and were considered “a little strange”. This is not an appropriate forum to provide particulars of their behavior, however, suffice to say that the Captain of the River Beatrice threatened, at one point, to have them removed from his vessel.

When Tom discovered the calamity which had befallen us, the otherwise amiable and remarkably humorous gentleman transformed into an angry old man who berated those responsible.

To her enormous credit, however, Huckleberry B decided to make the most of a dismal situation and engaged “the Griswalds” in conversation. It took me some time to warm to the idea, but eventually followed her lead. We managed to make a reasonable evening of it.

We have since rationalized that when the seating arrangements were concluded the River Beatrice management had a dilemma because nobody wanted to sit with the strange family who had been causing problems, but somebody had to.  We probably presented a good option (for them) because there was a reasonable chance that we’d not show up, having missed dinner the previous six nights.

Still, it wasn’t much of a reward for us. Whilst resting and trying to shake the constant coughing and spluttering in our room, our focus was on being sufficiently well to make it to the New Year’s Eve dinner in Vienna, which promised to be one of the highlights of the trip. We managed to make it to the event, only to be relegated to the weirdo’s table!

In any event, the festivities concluded with the waltzing in the Beethoven / Salieri room, followed by an uplifting ballet demonstration by two dancers whilst the string quartet played ‘the Blue Danube’.

It was a memorable way to welcome in 2013!

The New Year’s Day Concert

The other highlight we were keen not to miss was attending a New Year’s day concert in Vienna.

Unfortunately, the main concert – held in the Opera House and televised worldwide – was both exclusive and expensive. The concert we attended was more reasonably priced and held in one of the sumptuous concert halls around the corner from the Opera House. It was a remarkable event and we felt privileged to attend.

The concert featured a series of arias from Operas. I had heard many of the tunes before, but readily confess not being able to name them, although I did recognize that one was from “the Magic Flute”; the one about Papageno.

The concert culminated with a sublime rendition of ‘the Blue Danube’ and the rousing ‘Radetzki March’, which brought tears to Huckleberry B’s eyes. It was an uplifting event which left us feeling warm despite the freezing weather outside.


Our twelve day long rive cruise – divided by illness and only involving two days of actual propulsion down the Danube – ended in Budapest.

As we were constantly reminded by both crew and passengers, Budapest is actually two cities. The city of Buda lies on one bank of the Danube and is dominated by a sharp escarpment and a majestic hill, whereas the city of Pest lies on the open plains on the other bank.

I suppose – but for an accident of history – we might know the Hungarian capital as “Pestbuda”.  Evidently “Budapest” was preferred.

(My apologies for the lame joke in the previous paragraph!)

In any event, Budapest is an attractive city.  We enjoyed a half day city tour in the freezing winter morning. Whilst many of the buildings had been renovated since the ravages of World War II and the degradation of the Cold War, there were some buildings which remained run down and very tired looking. Some even had bullet holes in their grey facades; a reminder of the 1956 uprising against the Soviets.

We were amused to hear, however, that those buildings which awaited the funds for renovation were in high demand by movie makers. They constituted an ideal representation of Cold War Moscow.