Monthly Archives: May 2016

Day 13 – Paris

Excursion to Versailles
Louis 13 ‎articulates his will in his personal hunting camp called Versailles. Louis 14 at 7 or 8 marvels at the little palace his dad has built in the forest swamp. After an unsuccessful insurrection at the Louvre, young Louis IV says he will built a great palace castle at Versailles to escape the city.  In 1660 he takes over a neigbouring noble’s castle and builds his castle over the next 50 years.

Louis 14 is a musician, an artist, a dancer dies in 1715. His grandson takes over until 1784. 1789 French Revolution, Louis 15 arrested. Versailles becomes a glorious museum to exhibit the splendour of France.‎ Used to be 850 but now down to 120 hectares. We enter on a marble staircase to the hall of assemblies with huge paintings. Then the hall of Hercules a huge vaulted ceiling fresco. Louis XIV attends Mass at least 4 times a day we learn. We move thru a series of rooms from Baroque to Rococo styling. We marvel at the Hall of Mirrors. We learn LIV was oversexed and had a series of health issues. Apparently he rarely bathed and smelt quite bad. Nevertheless he outlived all his children to die in 1715.

LXV liked art and certain women. More modest, he ends up paying the price for his grandfathers’ opulence as the French Revolution breaks out in 1789.

Morrison‎ Hotel
Marie humours me for a visit to the Doors Jim Morrison’s grave site. We find it but not that of Edith Piaf nor Amadio Modigliani. We take the metro back and do some shopping. We take a look in the Notre Dame de Travail church. Inside it is constructed with visible steel columns and arches held together with rivets. It was constructed by the men who built the Eiffel Tower.

We finish with a blow out group dinner in a busy street followed by some dancing to a great RandB group. We stroll an extra block to get one last view of the Eiffel Tower lit at night. Bon soir.

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Day 12 Paris

We say goodbye to the Avalon Artistry II. We drive through the rich agricultural fields and rolling hills of Luxembourg. ‎Used to have a big steel industry based on iron ore deposits. Now more people work in financial services or EU civil service. Global warming here in summer as hot as 40 deg. 120K French and Germans cross the border to work in LC each day. LC is built on several rock faces with many bridges connecting. What we saw was truly beautiful. We hop the TGV for Paris. Nous irons au Gare de l’Est dans 2,5 heures au lieu de 5 heures par voiture.

After 5 countries, 53 locks, 20 busses, 17 Holy Doors‎, 3 rivers. 2 trains, 1 ship, 800 km of water and 900 km of land, we arrive in Paris.‎ 12 million live in the metro area, 2.2 of which live in the city proper. Only 40% own a car. Apartments as small as 90 Sq feet rent for 500 euro/mo.‎ 37 bridges, La Sorbonne University has 350K students – it’s totally free except for a tax which students protest. We drive by St Sulpice Church where is buried Rene Descartes. 2.5 million rivets in the Eiffel Tower we learn and Gustav Eiffel was an engineer who built bridges too. We are staying in the Pullman Montparnasse Hotel – ooh la la!

‎We wander out for dinner and see a lady riding a bike in high heels (pourquoi pas?). After a good meal, wine and excellent service we retire exhausted but energized by the spirit of all the people here.

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Day 10-11 Germany to Luxemburg

Day 11 – Bernkastel

On the Mosel River, 350 km navigable. One of the most northern grape growing regions – 9200 hectares on hills as steep as 68 deg! Riesling and some Elbling. Polish and Roumanian workers at harvest time. Bernkastel, 9000 residents, 2 million day tourists/yr. St. Michael’s Church Tower dominates.‎ ‎ Big wine festival in September. Linden tree-lined streets, vineyards in the distance and ancient castle above. We walk through the town and see a 600 year old house in mint condition.

Vinothek – wine sampling hall.‎ We sample over 160 types of Mosel wine. By 11 AM we have had a bottle each – and it feels perfectly normal!! We stop to kiss on the bridge and a truck driver waves. After shopping and lunch we go for a bike ride along the river over a bridge and back the other side. Then some more shopping and a hot tub. It has been a great day.

We sit down to dinner with Steve Madely (retired CFRA announcer) who is sponsoring the group, Lisa his partner and Betty and Glenn. We chat and find out Steve’s wife Gail passed a few years back. Now he and Lisa sponsor group travel tours and have a growing family of followers. 34 repeats on this trip. They are great hosts and get around to talk and eat with everyone. We finish with some German, Scottish and Irish folk music. We are all German, Scottish and Irish!!

Day 11 – Trier

We dock on the Luxemburg side of the Mosel in Grevenmacher. We learn that climate change – warmer temps are putting the Riesling grape at risk. Lux is the world’s richest country per capita. We take the Trier tour rather than the optional Luxemburg excursion. Trier is Germany’s oldest city founded by the Romans in 17 BC. Julius Caesar was here with his troops. Then the Frank’s, then the Bishops. 110K inhabitants. Karl Marx born here.

3 Major Roman baths, amphitheatre, sports ground, barracks, 4th century church, huge restored reception hall. Slaves tended to the baths working underground. All Roman citizens were welcome at the baths for relaxation.  Many former convents and monasteries are now functioning as student or seniors residences. Porta Nigra (north) ancient Roman entrance to the city used for defence.‎ We see the way of St James plaque and scallop shell symbol above a door.  Trier is on a route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The Holy Robe relic (cloak) that Jesus wore before his crucifixion, is reputed to be in St. Peter’s Cathedral, thanks to Constantine’s mother Helena. We enter through the Holy Door with intention and marvel at the huge romanesque structure inside. It feels like home after the many cultural excursions we have been on this week.

We skip the optional excursion to Luxemburg city. We have a hot tub and soak up some sun. As we prepare to say goodbye to Germany it is with many fond memories, good feelings, laughs, photos and sore feet!

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Day 8 – 9 – Germany

‎Day 8
We spend a glorious morning cruising the Main (pronounced mian) River. It is sunny and very hot. Green forested hills, red sandstone quarried rock faces, and everywhere people waving to us as we cruise by. ‎This is river cruising!

In the PM we visit‎ a 600 year old Franciscan monastery. Started as a statue to Mary, pilgrims came. Capuchin monks built a church in monastery in 1633. During the construction, building materials mysteriously disappear and then are returned by good angels. So became known as the Angels Monastery. Now 3 Franciscans run it. Many locals come on pilgrimage and after Mass want food and drink. So they now offer accommodation, food and drink to individuals and groups. Have their own vineyard. We sample the wine, yum. We light a candle at Mary’s grotto.

‎At night we have a special tapas dinner in the forward lounge. Less tapas and more German in style, we enjoy the evening and dance on the ballroom floor as we leave.

Day 9‎ – Rudesheim
We enter the Rhine river on a cloudy, rainy morning. Much wider here, we see significant industry but also larger houses with their own small vineyard in front. This town is the‎ 2nd biggest tourist attraction in Germany 3 million visitors/yr. Siegdried’s Music Museum – largest collection of data driven self playing musical instruments in Europe: 1780 founded.

I film the ‎Weber Maestro – orchestra in a box playing. We sample the famous coffee with brandy at the Rudesheimer Schloss restaurant. It is right on the world-famous Drosselgasse St. Hildegard’a abbey sits high above.

Romantic Rhine: 70 km from Rudesheim to Koblenz. Series of small towns, ancient castles nestled in a steep valley gorge with vineyards. 4 or 5th century followed by Frank’s and Charlemagne. Crusaders learn how to build better castles and bring this skill back here in the 13th century. Many castles destroyed during Napoleon’s time. Later rebuilt by wealthy purchasers.‎ We are castled to death with dozens of majestic structures to marvel at. Meanwhile dozens of high-speed trains, barges and ships go by like crazy – one of the most picturesque spots we have ever seen.

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Day 7 – Germany Main River

Palace of Catholic Prince Bishops. One of the most magnificent Baroque palaces in Germany. Finished in 1780 after 60 years of work. Burnt out in 1945 but now preserved‎, 340 rooms. Beautiful 750 Sq. Meter fresco vaulted ceiling with images from 4 continents.‎ Stucco worker and Italian painter designed reception room with painted and gold trimmed images on white background – baroque at its best. 400 year old Flemish tapestries e.g., Venetian Carnival. Beautiful mirror room.‎ John Skilton, US Army restores everything after bombing.‎1.5 million litres of wine are made and stored in the palace’s basement caverns.

Wurzburg 140K pop. Roentgen invents x-rays here. Romanesque Bishops Cathedral of St Kilian holds 6000 people.‎ Constucted from 780 to 1946. We wonder down the main street crowded with people and find a pedestrian bridge over the Main River lined with saints.

Rothenburg medieval town. Walked the 400 year old wall, the cobblestone streets and admired the “half-timber” houses. Truly an amazing people place with towers, churches and outdoor cafes. We both found the souvenir shopping good. It was a gorgeous day, we sleep 10 hours!

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River vs Ocean Cruising – Part 1

So you’ve been on a few ocean cruises and wonder what’s the difference going on a river cruise?

The cost is much higher at $400/day or more vs $200/day or less. However this includes all the wine and beer you want at dinner and many excellent guided tours.‎ The ship is smaller with far fewer passengers – only 91 on our cruise. it’s easy on and off, no monster lineups. The scenery is stunning – green forests, verdant hills‎, picturesque villages. At one point we feel we are out in the field as we can smell the manure. Entertainment is pretty good – speakers on local history and singer and dancing.

Not much room in the cabin and much less public space. It can be hard to get way in a quiet spot. ‎Dinner is served, lunch and breakfast is buffet. There is only one restaurant but also a lounge where coffee and cookies are always available. They also serve late night snacks in the ballroom and have happy hour daily. We find the food generally excellent. There are only 3 main cou‎rse choices instead of 5 but the quality is consistently high.

Then you can bring on board all the wine, beer and spirits you want unlike most major ocean-going cruise ships. The cruise is naturally very port intensive. If you stay back there is not much to do on board – a hot tub and some lounge chairs. They have bikes that you can use so we will have to do that before we finish this cruise.

All in all, less is more. (Part 2 to be continued after the cruise…)

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Day 5 – 6 – Germany

Day 5
Prague Secrets walking tour: Nov 17 1939 Nazis close universities and send student leaders to prison/death camp. Nov 17/ communists beat Prague students.‎ 1991 Velvet Revolution. Dvorak becomes 1st conductor Czech Orchestra. 19th century building :HQ, Jesuit Monastery after Dominicans left. huge building took 140 years to build. Agnostic country but Prague youth attend Mass here due skilled Priest. Oldest cobble stones 1160. Patron saint of lawyers who looked after the poor. St Francis of Xavier statue on Charles Bridge. If you want your love to last, couples place a lock on a romantic place. King is thrown over the bridge by Church. Maltese Knights Order mill and residence. 1968 invasion of Czech by Warsaw Pact countries to quell “liberalism”. Czechs feared the reunification of Germany in 1990. Now they revere Germany and fear Putin. Kind Charles IV monuments everywhere. St Nicolas Church in lesser town now a Baroque museum. Slovaks separate from the Czechs in 1993. “Pravda Vitezi” – Truth Prevails in coat of arms. Helena our tour guide does a great job. We have time for 1 more Urquel before hitting the road for Nuremberg.

We arrive at the Avalon ‎Artistry II on the Main-Danube Canal. We walk on, receive a complimentary drink and are in our cabin within 15 min. Later we have a great dinner – perch. The wine flows, we feel great. In the morning we awake with the sun peeking under the shade. Our cabin is small but comfortable.

Day 6
Bamberg, the Rome of Germany, is built on 7 hills.Was not bombed during WWII. 50% of residents are enrolled Catholics. World Heritage site. River Falls steeply so 20 water wheel powered wood mills at one point. We walk up the narrow streets to the‎ Domberg Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. We see St. Michael’s Monastery further up.

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CEX Day 3 – 4 Prague

Day 3
We walk from our apartment to our hotel – it’s 5 blocks only. We are checked in and unpacked by 10h00. Dave heads for the pool.‎ Later, we head out for the Charles Bridge. We walk across the Vltava River on the Manesuv bridge and make our way to St. Nicolas church, a baroque beauty. We walk back across the Charles pedestrian bridge lined with statues of saints. The views are stunning. We find some wine and beer and retreat to our room. Walking on uneven cobblestones is tiring.

We connect with the cruise group and meet up with our friends Glenn and Betty Clarke. We have dinner at a nearby restaurant and retire early

Day 4
Guided tour. ‎Stalin Bust memorial being repaired. Prague Castle, residence of Prime Minister. 9th century, later Hapsburg palace. One of the biggest in the world, owned by Boston family. Cathedral of St. Vitus 1300, Hapsburg crypt. Painted glass window by Mucha. Hapsburgs lived here from 1508 to 1800. Maria Theresa, Austrian became queen. 16 children including Marie Antoinette. Hapsburg Catholics clash with Protestant majority setting off the 30 years war. Velvet revolution, Vaclav Havel brings Czech into NATO.

Puppet play ‎at old town astronomical clock, 1410. Revamping of mechanism over the years. Time is depicted in 3 different ways. Lower clock with saints. Jewish ghetto. 13th century Synagogue. $8K monthly rental apartment above Gucci store.

St James Church – wow!! Church of our Lady Before Tyn wow! I notice astronomer Tycho Brahe’s headstone in front of the altar. We walk through the Jewish quarter and site of the 1941 deportation to the nearby Terezin death camp. The streets are crowded with many nationalities speaking softly. Back at our hotel we run into friends Mike and Susan Issa from Ottawa who just happen to be in Prague right now. We walk a few blocks together and wish them a good trip.

In the evening we have a great Czech dinner (pork, duck) with the Clarke’s at the Kokolvone restaurant and lots of Urquel beer.‎ A great end to a great day!

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Central European Experience Day 1-2 Prague

Day 1
We leave beautiful Poland today. At checkout we are handed a bag lunch for the road. The attendant thanks us again for coming to Poland. I respond that we are all Polish. We say our goodbyes to our fellow pilgrims.

We take a cab to our mini-bus which will take us to our train to Prague.‎ We have time to walk a bit and have a coffee. We arrive in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The language, the currency and the faces of the people change. Somehow we find the right train. On through yellow fields of canola, green forested hills and chocolate villages we go.

We arrive in Prague the “splendour of Europe”‎. Our apartment is above the Dubliner Prague pub. We are steps from the old town square. After exploring the cobblestone streets crowded with tourists we have beer and dinner in the pub. We meet a young man from the U.S. on tour filming a clown. We sleep 10 hrs!!

Day 2
We wander the pedestrian streets and find the Intercontinental Hotel where are river boat cruise starts from tomorrow. We walk along the river and marvel at the boats and architecture.‎ We have a goulash and dumpling lunch complete with apple strudel.

In the evening we go up in the clock tower in the square and take some photos. The view is awesome. There are many Asiatic tourists here in contrast with Poland where there were none. The churches here tend to be closed except for concerts and once a day masses. While we like the western culture here we wonder about the long-term.‎

The Urquel pilsener beer is ‎awesome too!

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Day 12 – 13 Krakow

Day 12
We visit Cardinal Dziwisz’s residence. He is Archbishop of Krakow and was Pope John Paul’s constant companion. He was present with JPII when the assassination attempt was made on his ‎life exactly 35 years ago today. Dave shakes his hand and says “jean projett”. He responds “jean projett” and looks at Dave’s Oblate cross. He explains the importance of Divine Mercy and thanks us all for coming to Krakow. On the way out he shakes Dave and Marie’s hands again and notices the Oblate cross. A kind humble man.

Across the street we enter a very old basilica church and Franciscan monastery. It was originally an Oriental Orthodox Church. Destroyed by invading Tartars, it was rebuilt. It is very narrow and high inside lit only by natural light from stained glass windows. We see the relics of the Foundress of the Poor Clares.‎ We light a candle for our prayer intentions. We see the pew the future JPII prayed in each day before he was Archbishop. It is at the very back of the church.

Wieliczka Salt Mine. 250 km of shafts and tunnels.‎ One of the oldest in the world still functioning. Generally a large cake of sandstone with blocks of salt. Wooden pillars support the shafts and chambers were needed.‎ Polish astronomer Copernicus statute placed here in 1979. Rock salt is 96% NaCl, 4% sandstone. Legend: Hungarian Princess thru her engagement ring down a deep hole and it turned into this salt mine. Horses were used to haul loads. We descend to 100 meters and pray the Chaplet in front of a stunning salt altar and Our Lady of the Salt in a huge chapel chamber. We pass thru a large chamber with Chopin music playing. We bottom out at 135 meters below the surface at the JPII Chapel. Mercifully, there is a lift so we don’t have to walk up 800 stairs!!

Fr. Tim ‎urges us to make our heavenly Mother Mary, our personal and effective Mother. The world needs Jesus.

Day 13

Day trip to Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland.‎ It lies at 1000 meters elevation in the Tetra mountains which is the highest range of the Carpathians, very close to the Slovakian border. We spend a few hours sightseeing and shopping.

We share our experiences of this retreat on the way home. At the travelers Mass, In honour of the Feast of Pentecost Sunday, we learn the history of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, which started in the U.S. some 49 years ago from Fr. Albert.

This has been a wonderful sometimes humbling retreat for each of us – we have been exposed to aspects of the Faith and the Church that we were not aware of before.

Jesus, we trust in You!

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