21 July 2014

RIVER-CRUISING MUSING: Looking out of windows

Goethe at the Window
by Tischbein, 1787.
Photo: Wikicommons
Captain Rivers has always been rather attracted to this little sketch by the German artist Tischbein, dating from 1787 and simply entitled Goethe at a Window. For a start, it humanises the revered and towering figure of European literature. Here, he’s just a lad like any other, gazing out of a window of an inn, apparently in Italy. I like the whole languid feel of it, and wonder what he’s looking at.
This sets off a thought. When travelling, I don’t always have time for museum loitering, I’m impatient in queues and sometime there’s just no opportunity to squeeze in another temple or cathedral. But one thing is guaranteed: I always have time for looking out a window. Maybe this is why I like river-cruising so much: out of the window of your cabin, whole countries float past.
Window-looking doesn’t always take place for the happiest of reasons. I often travel solo for work, and hotel rooms can make me feel lonely. Perhaps looking out of windows at other people passing by is a way of reminding myself that I’m not really alone. It gives me a feeling of connection even in the most outlandish places: that person walking by with the shopping, talking on a phone or pushing a cart is so ordinary and so universal.
Morning Sun by Edward Hopper, 1952.
Photo: Wikicommons
Of course, there’s part of me that wants to make a connection, another part that doesn’t really want to get involved. Certainly, looking out of windows has an element of voyeurism that can be sometimes titillating, sometimes confrontational. Anyone who has taken a taxi in India has hesitated over whether to connect with, or ignore, the grimy-faced beggar on the other side of the window. Actually, one of my most memorable window-looking episodes was in the restaurant of the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai. I was reading the Indian Express over buffet breakfast as I tucked into sausages while watching the chef make an omelette at the buffet stand. Then I turned and looked out the window, and directly below, people were sleeping on the pavement on piles of cardboard.

Sitting at the window of a cabin on APT's Amabella.
Photo: APT
But looking out of windows is, for the most part, one of life’s great pleasures. It provides simple glimpses of beauty that make me pause amid life’s busyness. “The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean,” writes F. Scott Fitzgerald in a fine sentence from The Great Gatsby. Who hasn’t experienced a wonderful moment like that when peering out of a cruise-ship window?

If you’re keen on looking out of windows yourself and have something to add, I’d be interested. Please leave a comment and join the conversation!

14 July 2014

Cruise News: New Viking itineraries for 2015

A Viking ship at Stahleck Castle on
the Rhine River, Germany.
Photo: Viking River Cruises
Viking has annoucned it is introducing two new itineraries in 2015, both of which showcase scenic treasures along the Rhine River during the springtime (April and May departures).

‘Legends of the Rhine’ is an eight-day journey between Amsterdam and Frankfurt that provides a window into some of the historic eras and events that have shaped northern Europe. Passengers will cruise through the Middle Rhine Valley, lined with dozens of medieval castles, and take walking tours of castles and cobbled streets. They will also call in at Cologne, Remagen (the site of World War II’s Operation Market Garden) and Nijmegen for a guided visit to the Overloon War and Resistance Museum. There’s also a full day sightseeing in Amsterdam, including a canal boat tour.

The Rhine River at Basel, Switzerland.
Photo: Switzerland Tourism
Viking is also launching ‘Rhine Rhapsody’, a 10-day cruise-tour taking in Paris and the scenery along the Rhine, Main and Moselle Rivers. It starts with a guided tour of the French capital to see some of its historic locations, then some downtime exploring its neighborhoods, museums and cafés. Scenic cruising takes you to the heart of smaller European towns like Trier, Rüdesheim and Cochem and right through the Rhine Valley. Ports of call include Strasbourg, the perfect marriage of French and German cultures (and cuisines), and Basel in Switzerland.

The Aquavit Terrace on a Viking Longship.
Photo: Viking River Cruises
Demonstrating no slowdown in the European river cruise boom, Viking River Cruises has also confirmed official plans for the company’s expansion in 2015. Viking has ordered 12 new river vessels for next year – 10 additional Viking Longships and two unique vessels for the Elbe River. The announcement comes on the heels of Viking’s world record-setting christening earlier this year of 18 vessels across four countries in five days. It and will bring the company’s total fleet size to 64 river vessels in 2015.

6 July 2014

PORT OF CALL: Budapest (Part II)

Danube River, Hungary
Looking along the Danube to the parliament building
in Pest, Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Hungarian Tourism
Budapest has a wonderful fin de siècle atmosphere, and you’d almost expect ladies in crinolines to come sweeping along the riverside promenades. But this city is so much more, with a dark veneer of Communist history and a modern, stylish present that makes this one of Europe’s most impressive capitals.
We’ve just covered the sights of Buda on the western banks of the Danube in a previous post. Now it’s time to hoof across the river to explore Pest on the far side. Stop off first at Margaret Island in the middle of the river, which has green lawns and beautiful flowerbeds – just the place to rest weary sightseeing legs. From here, you can admire Hungary’s neo-Gothic parliament building, very reminiscent of London’s Houses of Parliament.
Charming country traditions that sit alongside a veneer of Western luxuries and trends in Pest. Locals pickle vegetables in jars and set them on their windowsills, and frequent neighbourhood markets bursting with fresh food, clothing, junk and occasional Communist-era memorabilia. (The enormous suburban Ecseri Market is worth the trek to rummage among porcelain, antique silver and books.) But the younger generation also throw themselves into film festivals, fast food and fashion shows, and consider themselves the cool people of Eastern Europe.
A Pest fruit stall, Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Hungarian Tourism
Everywhere in Pest you get glimpses of the city’s extraordinary former grandeur: sumptuous apartment blocks, Hapsburg eagles glowering on rooftops, and winged cherubs grinning from church ceilings. Walk through Pest and you also get the perfumed whiff of flower stalls and roast coffee from stylish cafés, where you can nibble on cream cakes under ornate ceilings. This is a city of slow pleasures: riding a rattling tram, picnicking in a park, or browsing antique and jewellery shops.
Of course, like any city, Budapest has its dark side. Visit Dohány Synagogue, Europe’s largest, reconstructed after being desecrated by the Nazis. A willow tree sculpted in metal in the courtyard is a memorial to the Holocaust, while the adjacent National Jewish Museum has moving exhibits. Budapest has one of Europe’s largest Jewish populations, and the rather run-down Jewish neighbourhood is atmospheric and haunted.
Dohany Synagogue in Pest, Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Cruise Captain
As for the Communist era, Statue Park is Budapest’s iconic repository of leftovers from Soviet days, littered with Communist-era statues and memorials that once dotted the city, from busts of Lenin and Marx to statues of revolutionary workers.
For a little light relief, and for a flavour of imperial times, a night at the opera is unbeatable. Red carpets flow up sumptuous staircases, and everywhere the décor is a dazzling collection of gilt and inlay, cornices and curlicues. During the entr’acte, you can have a glass of Tokay and a marzipan cake, surrounded by red silk and gilt-framed mirrors.
Missed our post on Buda and its chief sights? Click here and it will take you the more on Budapest.

If you’ve been to Budapest and feel you have something to add, please do so. Our readers appreciate your tips and memories.

1 July 2014

Cruise News: Un-Cruise's Washington wineries

SS Legacy on the Snake River in Washington State, USA.
Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures
Un-Cruise Adventures’ 88-guest river-cruise ship SS Legacy sails a new wine-centric itinerary next year, with four departures along Washington States Columbia and Snake Rivers in 2015. Departing roundtrip from Portland in Oregon, the itinerary blends scenic cruising along four rivers with visits to nine wineries.
The weeklong ‘Ameritage!’ itinerary features four rivers – the Columbia, Snake, Willamette and Palouse – and highlights the burgeoning wine regions in Washington and Oregon including Walla Walla, recently named one of the top ten wine regions in the world. A local wine expert joins guests on board for the week leading presentations and wine tastings.
Vineyards along the Snake River in Washington State, USA.
Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures
Tastings at nine wineries are also part of the experience.   These might include the likes of wineries such as Springhouse Cellars, Maryhill Winery, AniChe Cellars, Bergevin Lane, Dunham Cellars, Terra Blanca and Sunshine Mill Winery. A visit to the Wine Shack in Cannon Beach includes tastings of Washington and Oregon wines.
Wine cellars apart, theres a great diversity of other experiences found in the Columbia River region: waterfalls, Lewis and Clark explorer history, monuments and museums, rainforest and wheat fields, locks and dams. Highlights of the cruise include cruising through scenic Columbia River Gorge and visits to Hood River, Walla Walla, Astoria and Cannon Beach. Excursions explore towering Multnomah Falls, eclectic Maryhill Museum, Hanford Interpretive Center and Whitman Mission. A skiff ride travels into a scenic canyon to Palouse Falls.
Wine tasting on an SS Legacy cruise.
Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures
On board SS Legacy, guests enjoy fresh, innovative cuisine paired with local wines, indulge in tastings, and listen to presentations about wine and the region generally. The 88-guest SS Legacy is a replica coastal steamer, and emulates the steam ships found along the rivers in the early 1900s.

For more information, see Un-Cruise Adventures.