Destination Romance: Romantic, Suspense Adventures; Contemporary Romance; Historic Fiction; a travel writer of exotic locations around the world; and a NYS local historian.
Travels Around the World
~There and Back Again~
(Lord of the Rings)
OMG! The 28 day European River Cruise along the Rhine and Danube to the Black Sea with a stop over in Brasov, Romania in 2011 was fantastic (Photo of Braun Castle above). We literally walked our feet off -- all those cobbled stones and steps up to those old-world castles (see travel story below). But it didn't keep us from planning our next travel adventure.
In took a leisurely drive across the U.S. to visit a few national parks and forests that we hadn't visited in the past. What a fantastic journey.
(That's Gary and me with a view of the Columbia River in the background)
FRANCE--From Normandy to Provence and everywhere in between. What an adventure--stay tuned.
NORWAY and the NORTH CAPE--tales coming soon. Even spotted a few trolls.
THE TRAVELER’S LIFE
1) 2011 European River Cruise - Nuremberg to the Black Sea and beyond...
In September we flew into Nuremberg, Germany where we hopped aboard the riverboat Viking for a three-week cruise to the Black Sea. My sister Sandie traveled with us, and it was nostalgic trip, as this was the first time Gary and I had been back to Germany since we lived there in the late 1960s. We visited Weltenburg, and cruised the Danube Gorges, where we stopped at the Monastery and was given a tour of the Asam Church. Then it was off to Passau, for a walking tour to view St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Bishop’s Resident, and then attend an Organ Concert at the Dom Cathedral. In Linz, Austria we did a walking tour, and then went back to do some serious shopping. In Melk, we had a guided visit of the Abbey, then continued on a scenic sailing of the Wac Valley—a UNESCO World Heritage site, before we stopped at Vienna where we spent several days in Austria. After a panoramic city tour we visited the National Library and had a rollicking evening dinner with wine tasting at the Heurigen Wolff—great fun—great food—great people! We also visited the Schönbrunn Palace, another UNESCO site, (sat at an outside café while we waited for others to finish their tour while we enjoyed coffee and apple strudel!). In the evening we attended a concert at the Vienna Kursalon--superb performances.
Day 10 found us in Bratislava, Slovakia. Another walking tour of the historic city center and the Old Town Hall and National Theater. Then it was off to Budapest, Hungary where we docked for three full days. And what a time we had there. Besides a city tour of both Buda and Pest, we visited the Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Mathias Church with a trip to the artist’s town of Szentendre. We optioned to take an excursion to Holloko, with a home-hosted lunch out in the countryside. We visited the Hungarian State Opera House, had dessert at Grundels, and toured the Jewish Heritage Holocaust area where we saw the silver weeping tree that has individual names inscribed on each of the dangling silver leaves, of which there are thousands. And did some shopping. Moving on, we stopped at Kalocsa, where we visited an equestrian farm, and saw a Puszta Hungarian Horseshow and took a carriage ride out into the farmer’s acres. Budapest by night along the river is spectacular! (pictured above). We set sail and moved on to Mohacs, Hungary, where we visited the Basilica of St. Peter and the Roman Necropolis, another UNESCO site.
On day 16, we were in Vukovar, Croatia where we had a full-day tour of Osijek and another home-hosted lunch. Moving on, we were in Belgrade, Republic of Serbia. Here we had a walking tour of the Kalemegdan Fortress, and a chance to get out and walk about on our own. Then it was a full day cruising through the Iron Gates of the Danube. We passed through a series of stunning gorges, and several locks, and the Eisernes Tor located on the cliffs between Serbia and Romania (right). When we arrived at Svisto, Bulgaria, we were informed that the water wasn’t deep enough to continue to the Back Sea (we’d been having 80 degree-weather and sunshine our entire trip—no rain). We had a full-day tour to Veliko Turnovo, an ancient city built along a gorge where we had lunch at a restaurant with university students. We did get to Vidin, Bulgaria and spent the day at the Belogradchik rock formations, then visited the Vidin Cathedral and the Baba Vida Fortress with spectacular views. The next day we traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital – a full day tour, which included a stop at the National History Museum. And then we had to disembark at Calafat, Romania and headed out to Bucharest by bus where we spent two nights in a hotel. On the way, we visited the People’s Palace and had a tour of the war-torn city. However, those of us who really wanted to get to the Black Sea took a 4-5 hour bus tour to Constanta where we enjoyed the beach, frolicked in the water, and then visited the Archeological Museum of Constanta. Upon returning to Bucharest, we had a walking tour through the Old Town where we walked back to our hotel. Our stay there allowed us to wander the Old Town on our own and enjoy the various restaurants, and take advantage of the entertainment in the town square.
As if 20+ days on a river boat wasn’t enough, we signed up for a post-extension tour to visit Transylvania, Romania, where we stayed in Brasov for 4 days. While there we toured each day, visiting Peles Castle in Sinaia, a trip to Sighisoara (another UNESCO site), and a trip to Bran Castle (at right, popularly known as Dracula’s Castle). We learned the history of Romania from our guide, as we drove past gypsy settlements, the countryside and war-torn towns. Of course, the entire trip was filled in with much local entertainment, cultural connections, and snippets of history in each country. We came back informed, educated, happy, but exhausted from our daily walks to discover what these countries had to offer. Very impressive.
2. CHINA CONNECTION -- All the Tea in China, by Carol A. Henry, all rights reserved, as it appeared in DISCOVERY, the Stateroom deluxe book edition for Princess Cruises 40th Anniversary:
Steep Yourself in the history and culture of this ancient drink...
Practiced by pyilosophers and immortals alike over the past 5,000 years, the art of drinking tea has long been extolled by the Chinese as part of their philosophy of life itself. To find the best of the best, my tour group traveled to Hangzhou, where the hillsides are layered in one of the finest teas in China -- the renowned Longjing (Dragon Well) tea. A stop at the Plum Family Tea Village, steeped in Chinese tea culture, had us sipping tea like pros and munching tea leaves like a native.
Hangzhou hugs the Qiatang River at the southern end of China's Grand Canal. Once a sleepy fishing village, it is now a bustling commercial center with a population of 1 million. This lower valley of the Yangtze, with hillsides peaking between 3,000 and 7,000 feet, has become one of China's prime agricultural and tea-growing regions.
We arrived in the mist-shrouded hills, mid-morning in late April. The day was cool with a promise of sun, and already women were scattered about the hillsides, bent over picking tea leaves. Wei Ke, our guide at the village, invited us to learn Chinese tea culture. I soon discovered that there was no way we were going to be able to comprehend in one sitting what took thousands of years to discover.
TAKE YOUR PICK. Under the Song dynasty (960-1127), Hangzhou's tea was given as a tribute to the Emperors because of its exquisite quality. Time and tenderness is critical when harvesting tea. The first pick is always the best and is done during Pure Brightness--April 4, 5, or 6. The second pick happens during Grain Rain, or April 19, 20, or 21, when we visited. Other harvest dates signify grades, such as "First Spring Tea," "Second Spring Tea," "Third Spring Tea," and so on into autumn, with Dragon Well green tea having at least 16 grades. Leaves with one bud in the shape of the heart of a lotus seed rank as first grade. Next are leaves with a single bud and one leaf shaped like a banner and a spear. The lower grade is two leaves with one bud in between, shaped like a sparrow's tongue.
A skilled picker can gather 600 grams (about a pound) a day. To make one kilogram, or approximately 2 pounds of finished tea, one must pluck at least 60,000 tiny, tender tea leaves. Although leaves are picked by hand, the grinding, parching, rolling, shaping, and drying are now done by various machines.
After the tea has been harvested and laid out to dry for several hours, top-grade Dragon Well tea is then hand-stirred in cauldrons maintained at a temperature of 74ºF. This process is referred to as parching. We watched a gentleman parching tea, a slow process that only produces about 250 grams of dried tea every half hour. Four pounds of fresh leaves are required to produce one pound of finished tea. That's a considerable amount of tiny leaves to be harvested by hand. But the hillsides are laden with tea and there are many hands up to the task.
DRINK UP. As far back as the Tang dynasty (618-907), tea was believed to serve 10 main functions, most of them therapeutic for both the body and soul. This still holds true today. The Chinese believe that tea aids in self-knowledge and is a spirit. When it enters your body you are filled with the 'nutrition' of sunshine, bright moon, the land, and the wonders of the universe. S, if you ever wanted a reason to have a tea party, here are 10 of them:
1. Tea is thought to 'dredge' the body's channels and to relieve headaches and fatigue.
2. It dispels the effects of alcohol.
3. It serves as a nourishing 'porridge' to stave off hunger.
4. It drives summer heat away.
5. It shakes off drowsiness.
6. It helps people purify themselves.
7. It eliminates worry.
8. It is used to digest greasy food.
9. It eliminates toxins from the body.
10. It is considered conducive to longevity.