Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Overnight and this morning we sailed on to Nuremberg.

Until now we have been sailing 'uphill' against the flow of water heading east to the Black Sea. Each lock we have entered has lifted our vessel to a higher body of water.

Around 9am we crossed the Continental Divide; the highest point in the Main/Danube Canal that marks the point from where water in the Main River heads west into the North Sea and from where water in the Danube River heads east into the Black Sea.

That point is marked by this block of concrete...

From this point our vessel is lowered in each lock to the level of the subsequent body of water as we head for our eventual cruise destination, Amsterdam.

In the afternoon we docked at Nuremberg where we took what was referred to as the World War 11 tour. Essentially this consisted of a visit to the Zeppelin Field and the nearby Congress Hall. These were the locations for the Nazi Party's annual rallies held in the first week of September between 1933 and 1938. A young historian explained the rationale for these propoganda events and also described the post war military trials of senior Nazis that also took place in this city.

Later we spent an hour in the city centre and marketplace which was a relief from the dour look and content of the preceding tour and gave some indication of a more sociable and civilised side to the city.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Today's stop; Regensburg.

One group was taken to the Audi factory to see how the company makes its cars. Interesting for car lovers but not my scene. A second group did a 30 km bike ride. Interesting scenery but I'm not fit enough. Third group was taken on a walking tour of the old city. That sounds like me and off I went.

A fantastic Catholic Cathedral dating from the 7th Century but I was especially taken with the interesting array of public clocks.

A few examples follow:

A streetcar named Budapest

A tram in Budapest. More coming Andrew.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Linz to Passau

The options today were to remain on board the boat whilst it sailed all day from Linz in Austria to Passau in Germany or alternatively to take one of two land tours and rejoin the boat in Passau.

Having previously visited Salzburg we three decided to forego the Sound of Music experience and take the other tour to Cesky Krumlov, a world heritage listed city, which brought us back to the Czech Republic for the day.

Here are some moments from that visit...
Entering the town

Guide explaining a feature

View of portion of the town

Residents enjoying the water features in the Sunday warmth

Rejoining the boat in Passau this was the view from my cabin across the Danube...

...and a wander around the nearby streets before Sunday night dinner back on the boat...

Saturday, 28 May 2011


We berthed alongside another cruise boat at Durnstein in the Wachau Valley at 8am whilst we were still having breakfast. Although officially declared a town, Durnstein has only 400 inhabitants yet it attracts 1.3 million tourists each year to it's single street. Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here in 1192/93 and the area's main activity revolves around vineyards. There is a former Augustine Abbey in the town.

We were taken on a walking tour around the town (and it's single street) in cold and raining conditions followed by a wine tasting.

The main...only...street in Durnstein...

Afterwards we sailed on to Melk where we toured a spectacular Benedictine monastery. The monks have lived and worked in the monastery contunually for over 900 years.

Their church is...ahem...lavish...

Friday, 27 May 2011


We arrived in Vienna around 6.30am and commenced a city tour at 9am rather than the alternative organised visit to Schonbrunn Palace or just wandering the city on our own. Ours was just one of literally many dozens if not more of tour groups crowded into the scenic spots so that it was almost impossible to admire any of the sights at leisure let alone get any clear photographs. In addition there is considerable restoration work underway on many buildings so, for example, photographing St Stephens Church would be ridiculous as it's facade is partially covered by a massive canvas with a painting of the facade that lies behind it!

Everywhere we have visited so far (Prague, Budapest and Bratislava) we have been hearing about the Empress Maria-Theresa and here she is in the grounds from where she reigned....

Carriage drivers did a brisk trade with tourists...

In the evening we attended a Mozart and Strauss concert by the Vienna Residence Orchestra at the Palais Auersperg. The concert is clearly targeted at the tourist market and we tour groups were wheeled in like boxes of potatos into the market but the performance was no less enjoyable for that.

Apart from the orchestral works, there were also performances by two singers and two dancers.

The Palais is a striking location even with it's military origins.

This is the dome over the room in which we attended the performance...

Thursday, 26 May 2011


This morning we sailed to Bratislava. We approached the first of 68 locks we will pass through in the next fourteen days at around 10am.

Entering the Gabcikovo Lock...

...and less than thirty minutes later the water level had risen to the top...

...and we were on our way up river.

We arrived at Bratislava, capital of Slovakia at 11am for a thirteen hours stay. We had three options here, a guided walking tour of the old city of the capital, a tour of buildings and locales from the Communist period or just wandering around on our own. We chose two of the three declining the undoubted charms of Stalinist architecture.

Our local tour guide was a comparatively young man, huge in stature and girth with a fantastic sense of humour. He had a joke for every building.

The old city area is compact and has the air of 1940s Hollywood. I could imagine the three Marx Brothers hamming it up here as residents of some loony imaginary East European kingdom. It is quite pretty and contains many attractive outdoor eateries.

It also has a zany collection of statues.

Andy Warhol in cafe

Man poking his head out of pavement


Napolean and our local guide

We departed Bratislava at 11.30pm to cruise overnight to Vienna.

For Andrew

A Prague tram; Andrew there's more to come.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


The dome of Budapest's magnificent Opera House which we visited as part of our city tour this morning. Stage hands were changing sets in preparation for the evening's performance as we sat in the stalls listening to our guide's presentation. Two singers from the company provided an impromptu performance of three popular arias whilst we sipped on a glass of champagne in the glamorous upper foyer. The tour also included a stop at Heroes Square and visits to the Castle District on the Buda side of the Danube.

After lunch we braved the hectic and unfamiliar traffic to wander nearby streets and cafes.

In the evening, the Captain and crew provided an introductory briefing and cocktail gathering prior to a welcoming evening dinner.

Departure from a beautifully illuminated Budapest provided a spectacular evening's end.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Prague to Budapest

Unfortunately ongoing difficulties with Internet access on this trip are limiting my opportunities for postings.

Today we were taken by coach from Prague to Budapest to join our vessel for the river cruise. Including a lunch stop at a winery run by a religious group and two other comfort/refreshment stops the journey occupied some eight and a half hours.

We reached our vessel, Amabella, around 7pm and boarded it at it's berth on the Danube River.

Monday, 23 May 2011


Our main activity today was a visit to Terezin about an hour from Prague. The town was originally constructed as a fortress and neighbouring garrison under the Austro-Hungarian Empire where the army received it's training to defend the nation (Bohemia) in time of war. It was never used for that intended purpose.

Instead, after Germany occupied the new Republic of Czechoslovakia, the fortified township served a new purpose as holding centre for Jews and the enemies of Nazis and in the later stages of WW11 as a model Jewish ghetto to rebut increasing pressure from the outside world about the Third Reich's treatment of Jews.

One of the fortress' earlier inmates was Gavrilo Principa, whose assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand triggered WW1. He died in the fortress from tuberculosis. I noticed an apparently fresh wreath in his memory outside the cell in which he was held.

I wondered who provides the memorial after all this time and why.

On return to Prague we wandered the streets of the old city again, spent time in several cafes and also did some shopping.

Tomorrow we drive by coach to Budapest.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


We spent a lot of time on our feet today, although the day started with a bus trip through Prague and up the hill of the old city to Prague Castle, formerly the home of royalty and now the offices of the President of the Czech Republic. The location is a series of grand buildings many of them over 500 years old set around squares and cobble stoned open spaces. Large numbers of tour groups jostled for space in surprising heat as we each criss crossed the historic spaces.

We stopped to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard - not exactly Buck House stuff with two guards changing places with two others - but fun in it's own way. From the heights of the Castle we made our way down the hill through the delightful laneways and winding streets of the old city. It seemed that every tourist and Prague resident was out in the sun many filling the countless outdoor cafes.

We crossed the Charles Bridge packed from edge to edge and end to end with sightseers and containing various souvenier stalls. We were pretty exhausted after the walk of nearly four hours.

Following a short break we reconvened at the Municipal House on the edge of the old city for a tour of the premises followed by coffee and cake in it's attached cafe. The House is an exotically decorated cultural and activities centre built at the turn of the 20th Century. I had to admire the tremendous skill in it's construction and decoration but I have to say I'm not an admirer of it's particular and varied range of styles.

In the evening we participated in a welcome dinner, the first as it turned out of delicious meals, with far too much to eat and cakes, cakes, cakes to finish.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Sydney to Dubai and Prague

Unfortunately I've had much more difficulty with internet access on my trip so far than any of the advertising suggested. Actually the advertising never mentioned any difficulties. It has taken me until May 25 and our arrival in Budapest to get onto the net and even then with difficulty and restrictions one of which is an inability so far to download any photos for you.

So I'll prepare brief postings and download them (when I can) to the applicable date.

Our two flights (Sydney to Dubai and Dubai to Prague) were mostly uneventful and thankfully achieved without delay. The transfer to Dubai at before 6am was chaotic. So many people in the most enormous terminal, we found it difficult to find anywhere to sit and rest before our connecting flight. On the second leg we flew directly over Baghdad which seen from a height of 40,000 feet appeared serene and provided no visual sense of the turmoil it is experiencing.

Our eventual arrival at our art deco hotel adjacent to the old city in Prague after over 30 hours of travel was a relief. The tour leader greeted us and briefed a group of about 60 of us who had arrived, some from the same flight, and took us on an impromptu one hour orientation walk by which time I was dead on my feet and ready for an early night.

Thankfully I slept well and was ready for the start of our trip when I awoke.

More later.

Friday, 20 May 2011

'We'll just glide, starry eyed'*

(*'Come Fly With Me' by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen)

At 9.10 tonight we depart on one of these....

...bound for Prague. A little journey of about twenty-five hours including the four hours stop over at Dubai Airport. We'll certainly be starry eyed by then.

We are travelling business class which according to Google images...

...will have us in little workplace like cubicles. I might suffer a Pavlov's dog reaction and revert to my work days by starting to send out memos and the minutes of meetings.

After three days in Prague we move on to Budapest from where we will cruise the rivers through to Amsterdam and finally on to four days in Paris before returning to Dubai and then Sydney.

Hopefully, I will be able to provide some blog updates whilst we are away. If not, I'll be back in mid June.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Water for Elephants

A young veterinary science student (Robert Pattinson) joins a circus and falls in love with the star performer (Reese Witherspoon) who is the wife of the circus owner (Christoph Waltz).

The plot of Water for Elephants is a bit of a pot boiler relying on cliche situations and convenient co-incidences for it's twists and turns. All of this could have resulted in a bit of B-grade fluff but instead the makers have produced an above average and interesting film. The background on circus life in depression era USA is beautifully and chillingly portrayed. There are some distressing scenes.

Although Witherspoon has the star billing it is really Pattinson's film. He narrates most of the story which is told from his perspective and he appears in nearly every scene. I've not seen Pattinson in a film previously and until now was not especially impressed by his media appearances but I think he does quite a reasonable job here. It looks to me that Pattinson has his limitations as an actor but he seems suited to this role.

The rest of the cast perform admirably with Waltz a standout. Waltz has an amazing capacity to blend charm with menace, a skill which deservedly won him an Academy Award for Inglourious Basterds and he repeats the effort here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Fang

I had lunch with Kn today at the Golden Fang on City Road next to Broadway. He eats there on average two/three times a week. It's location across the road from his job at Sydney University makes the restaurant very convenient for him.

I'm tempted to think that the owners named the restaurant tongue in cheek with 'fang' being popular Australian slang for someone who has a big appetite but no doubt the reality is the more mundane likelihood that Fang is the name of someone connected with the business.

As the photo indicates, the restaurant is not flash in appearance nor is the quality of the food necessarily five star but the meals, served on plastic plates, are tasty, the service is fast and the prices are low, low, low. I've only ever eaten there at lunchtimes and the restaurant has always been heaving with customers who by their appearance are mostly Asian students.

Kn ordered chicken in soy sauce whilst I, showing singular lack of imagination, also ordered chicken, mine in satay sauce. Both dishes were massive, more than enough for the most voracious fang.

Monday, 16 May 2011


I was bombarded by emails and letters from the Sydney Theatre Company about it's current production, Baal, which we saw this evening. The work is an adaptation of the first play by Bertolt Brecht and the STC may well have been worried about audience reaction to the confronting nature of the production.

The STC provided this cautionary message;

Warning: This production contains adult themes, nudity, violence, simulated sex scenes, drug references and very coarse language. It is not recommended for people under the age of 18.

All that and the play runs just 70 minutes without interval. Well, violence could put me off but the rest was not likely to deter me. As it turns out the violence was comparatively tame given current cinematic practice. Similarly the other elements were not so shocking for the regular cinema and theatre goer.

The nudity was a different issue. You don't often see actors (males and females) wandering around the stage completely naked and several members of the audience gasped when the first naked man strolled on in his birthday suit without so much as a 'how do you do'. Before the performance I wondered whether I would be distracted - even leering - at the sight but it says something for the direction of the play that within moments I scarcely noticed the performers' nakedness.

As for the play itself...well, it was a bit of a dud really.

Baal is a supposedly charismatic performer (poet, singer, philospher) who attracts adulation from his fans (females and males). In return for this adulation Baal delivers abuse (sexual, mental and physical) to anyone he encounters. As portrayed here, Baal's performance skills seem a case of the Emperor has no clothes.

The opening moments seemed promising but from then on most of what followed was gobbledygook to me. The most interesting aspect of the remainder for me was the scene change in which the set collapsed on itself and the copious amounts of stage rain that fell throughout the second half.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea...

Gee it's a beautiful autumn day in Sydney today with a cloudless blue sky and my mobile phone telling me our temperature is a balmy 18.9c. Earlier this afternoon I spent an hour sitting on a bench in Beare Park in the harbourside suburb of Elizabeth Bay taking in the sights.

That's all folks.

Friday, 13 May 2011


The hospital I volunteer at has a very tolerant attitude to same sex situations. This is as I would expect but it might come as a surprise to some given that the Church which 'runs' the hospital is not seen as being particularly tolerant or inclusive.

This attitude may be a factor of the area in which the hospital is located but in fairness I think it derives from a mostly open and progressive management, not just the administrative managers but the Congregation of Sisters as well. No doubt it helps that there are many same sex couples employed across the campus.

We receive many patients with same sex partners. The partners are recorded and communicated to without question or judgement as next of kin and person to notify.

I see many more male couples than female couples amongst the patients but have noticed an interesting difference between the two groups. For the most part the male couples tend to be aged between the mid twenties and the mid forties. There have been some male couples aged in their sixties and seventies but they are far fewer in number. The female same sex couples on the other hand have been mostly aged in their fifties and sixties. I see far fewer female couples aged in their twenties and thirties.

I suspect there has been a tendency for female couples to come to their relationships at a much later age in some cases after heterosexual marriages and children have reached adulthood. This is only an off the cuff opinion, I don't have any specific evidence for the age trend nor what else the age differences might indicate.

This situation could be fertile ground for an eager PhD student.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Not long now

I've been a bit quiet the past few days partly because of the cold weather that has hit Sydney with snow on the mountains to our west but more so because it is just over a week until we fly out for our European cruise. Just a week...and a day to go.

We lunched today with Jm who returned a few weeks ago from a similar trip and picked up some tips from his experience. We met at Drummoyne Sailing Club and had a great time gossiping over our meals and drinks.

We have often wondered the name of the harbour island just off shore from the club and time and again have failed to follow up with the answer. Judging from the Google Map of the location the island is Snapper Island.

None of us has ever correctly guessed that.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Source Code

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a military pilot serving in Afghanistan who finds himself unexplainably on a train to Chicago with an unknown commuter companion (Michelle Monaghan) who obviously believes him to be someone else. Eight minutes later the train is destroyed in a bomb blast.

As the dust from the blast settles dazed Stevens finds himself under the control of Goodwin, a military woman (Vera Farmiga), directing him from a computer screen under some form of experimental process named 'Source Code' which enables him to live the final eight minutes of a dead person's life.

Stevens is sent back to relive those final eight minutes over and over with the aim of identifying the bomber who it is believed will strike again.

This is a quite slickly enacted and mostly superior science fiction. The film maintains a reasonable degee of mystery whilst the identity of the bomber remains undetermined. Once the bomber is identified the film falls away slightly and the concluding scenes left me a bit befuddled.

Overall, pretty good value for science fiction lovers.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Does it fit, sir?

I made a rare visit into town yesterday to meet a friend visiting from Canberra. I decided to arrive early, very early, to do some shopping I would otherwise normally do in the suburbs. Passing through Pitt Street Mall I reached the Zara store which seems to attract so much publicity and interest.

I had never heard of the brand until the hubbub about the opening of the Sydney store and only this week Ja was telling me how you have to queue to enter the store. She is waiting for the queues to abate before paying her visit.

I had not intended to to go to Zara, in fact I hadn't given the store a moment's thought but it was early on Saturday morning as I passed by and there was no queue in place yet so I thought, 'why not take a peek'? Inside all was controlled, artful chaos. Plenty of customers, or maybe they were gazers like myself, were rifling their way through some very fashionable looking and extremely colourful items whilst important looking young staff collected and folded clothing in a vain attempt to maintain order.

I must admit I was impressed with some of the men's clothing and idly wondered whether some trousers I had taken a fancy to would suit my less than fashionable figure and not make me look like mutton dressed as lamb. But what was the right size for me? The labelling was a mystery. The trousers were labelled with a series of sizes. One size for Australia and then the size in the UK, USA, Mexico, Italy and I think somewhere else. Given that the numbers were different for various countries the sizes shown couldn't be measurements, could they? So how to work out what number on the label was my size?

I approached two young attendants dressed totally in black both completely engrossed in chatter in overseas accented English as they folded and refolded clothing. 'What do these numbers on the labels mean', I asked. 'They are the sizes' one snarled at me as though I was a recalcitrant pupil. 'Yes, I assumed that', I replied 'but what do those sizes represent in inches or centimetres?' 'They are the sizes in Australia and in Italy', she persisted as I tried rephrasing my question another three times.

Just as I thought this store is not for me after all I noticed another young attendant exuding a calm confidence. I approached her with my question. 'What size trouser do you usually wear' she asked and then she consulted a small conversion card from which she efficiently deduced my Zara size in Australia.

I didn't try anything on yesterday preferring to save that treat for another, less hectic time. Two hours later I passed the store again on my way to my lunch meeting. The queue was well established by then with small groups being admitted by nightclub style guards every few minutes. Oh, how people suffer for their fashion.

Queueing at Zara's Sydney store yesterday