Tues, Wed May 18/19 2010

These trips (I’ve often explained) are not holidays – they’re learning experiences, adult education, like being in a travelling university. Many of our guides are highly qualified people (like the delightful lady who showed us around Passau two hours ago: she has a doctorate in art-history). And there’s so much to take in, it’s not just your legs that feel tired at the end of a busy day: it’s also your brain!

I mean, for starters there’s geography: getting your head around the countries, continents, rivers, cities and landmarks of the places we visit – in this case, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Then there’s history – in this case, masses of it, with glimpses back beyond the Roman Empire … a major focus on the Middle Ages (with 600-900-year-old medieval castles and walled towns littering the landscape) … and frequent references to World War 2 (Hitler, the Nazis, Allied bombing raids, etc).

And there’s art, architecture and religion everywhere you look – especially in the countless cathedrals that Europe’s founders were addicted to building.

Yesterday morning, for example, we got up-close-and-personal with the oldest monastery in Bavaria: Weltenburg Abbey in Kelheim, founded by Irish or Scottish monks in about 620 AD. Above the altar is a giant sculpture of this region’s patron saint, St George, slaying the dragon. And next to the abbey is the oldest monastery brewery in the world – where we got to sample a glass of their dark Dunkel beer.

Next, we enjoyed a small-boat ride through a windy stretch of the Danube Gorge to Regensburg, one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities, where we eyeballed the huge, ornate St Peter’s cathedral – and an equally huge stone bridge (which has spanned the Danube since the 12th century, and was the starting point for the 2nd and 3rd Crusades).

Last night, we were treated to a noisy, energetic performance by a Bavarian Oom-Pa-Pa band – before demolishing a yummy four-course Bavarian dinner.

Then, shortly after breakfast this morning, we arrived in Passau, where the rivers Inn and Ilz join the Danube. We went ashore for a guided wander, which included the impressive St Stephen’s Cathedral (home of the world’s second-largest organ: 17,974 pipes), before sailing downriver again, en route to Austria …

PEOPLE NEWS: Nominations continue to roll in …

* The ‘Magical Tea-Bag’ Award goes to Ruth who got terribly excited last evening at dinner when she discovered her tea-bag could stand up on its own – thanks, she informed us, to its action gusset. (You had to be there …)

* And the ‘Konnichi Wa (Hello)’ Award was imposed on Caith, who mistook a passing Japanese group for his fellow-Mad-Kiwi-Midlifers, and wandered off in hot pursuit.  


TOMORROW: Well, tonight actually … we’ll be in the Austrian city of Linz. And tomorrow, you’ll find us tasting wine (again) at Melk Abbey in the gorgeous Wachau Valley. So cancel everything and stay glued to this website!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want a better look at our map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!