by Vivienne Xavier Jordan
Old Castles, meandering river cruises, a once every ten years magnificent play; a thirteen day adventure awaited our group to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Oberammergau, and Munich from June 16-28. Eighteen of us travelled from Nor Cal, So Cal, Brazil and Florida to converge on Budapest, the 1st stop on our trip.
I was fortunate to arrive a day early, and visited the largest European thermal bath, at Szechenyi Spa & Baths. The wonderfully bright yellow colors of the Palace and the modern Renaissance style are a true eye-catcher and expansive, very easily occupying at least 2 city blocks. We enjoyed exploring and soaking in the 18 pools, with temperatures ranging from 100 °F to the 50 °F pool. Maria Roliz tried to lure Hunter into the very cold pool by blocking the temperature sign and pretending to stand in warm water, but he was not fooled by her trickery. Our trip officially started with a private dinner at the hotel, where everyone met and got to know each other. We spent three days in Budapest. Our tour guide filled us with facts and history. We toured Buda and Pest; two cities in one! Buda on a hill, historical part of the city and Pest on a plain, its shops and boulevards both separated by the Danube flowing between them and connected by magnificent bridges. We marveled at the beauty of the buildings and were captivated by the history. It was also sobering to see remnants of the wars, such as “Shoes on the Danube”, sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron adjacent to the riverbank representing the shoes left behind by Jewish people who were shot and thrown in the river by the Hungarian military in the 1940s.
Our next stop was Vienna, where we spent three days. A few of the places we visited were the City center, Schronbrunn Castle (a wedding gift to Maria Theresa) and Melk Benedictine Abbey from the 11th century where at least 100,000 books are. Venturing outside the tour, we attended a classical concert performed by a string quartet at the Baroque St Peter’s Church. We sat in the hard wooden pews and enjoyed Mozart, Schubert to Vivaldi, a wonderful ending to the day. The next day, some of us explored the Belvedere Museum, where we were able to see many of Gustav Klimt’s works including the “Kiss”, (depicting an embracing couple kneeling in a grassy patch of wildflowers), which is even more beautiful when seen in person. Having Uber was extremely useful in getting around outside the tour. Virginia Tsai, Patrick and Etta Siu purchased the world famous Sacher Torte cake and generously shared it with us. It was delicious and decadent and went very well with coffee. One item checked off the bucket list.
After a 5 hr bus ride, we arrived in Prague. Fortunately for the group, we had Tai Chi master Eugene Jew and Yoga master Virginia Tsai show us a few routines to stretch our sore backs and muscles that were tight from sitting so long. We visited Prague castle (founded in the 9th century) and explored several towns with old bridges and alleyways. Our third and last river cruise was on the Vltava River and was particularly unique not for the abundant picturesque views, nor the delicious food and wine but for an engineering feature, river locks. The dinner cruise entered a gated area, the area filled with water, raising the water level, then the 2nd gate opened to the raised portion of the river and continued on its merry way. A mini version of the Panama/Suez canal. Another item checked off the bucket list.
Oberammergau was the next stop on the tour, and as reported from Maria Roliz, it was quite a contrast to the cities we had just visited. Its rolling green hills, fresh crisp air and chalets reminded her of scenes from the Sound of Music where Maria and the Von Trapp children frolicked in the nearby country-side. After a relaxing day leisurely exploring the town and laying out on the loungers and soaking in the sun, the day culminated into the highlight of the trip, the Passion Play. It was a lengthy, opulent and spectacular production by the local townsfolk with more than half of the village on stage. It was interesting to know only those who have been born and raised in Oberammergau or have lived in the village for at least 20 years can become part of the Passion Play cast, children exempted. It was captivating, wonderful, sad and moving all at once.
Our final stop was Munich, home to centuries-old buildings, historic sites, numerous museums, beautiful parks and castles where we spent the next two days.
The trip was excellently planned with a perfect blend of planned tour and free time, walking/exploring mixed with relaxing meandering lunch/dinner river cruises. There was much camaraderie and everyone had a super great time. Many thanks to Bonnie Braga and Maria Roliz for arranging the trip. Looking forward to the next Lusitano trip.