Sunday, October 19, 2014

Goldring Travel's 2014 Food & Wine River Cruise - AmaWaterways AmaCerto (Amsterdam to Budapest) – Part X

The day after the 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting aboard AmaWaterways AmaCerto was a peaceful day visiting Melk, Austria and its Benedictine Abbey.  It was a pleasant, but I more enjoyed wandering the quaint village and strolling back to the ship.  The axiom ABC (Another Bloody Church) is starting to become uttered by more than a few passengers.

AmaWaterways AmaCerto in Melk,Austria
Melk's Benedictine Abbey

More enjoyable for me was finally being able to use the AmaCerto's pool as we cruised through the Wachau Valley.  (As I was the only one in the pool, the swim up bar was only for show.)  Not a bad view at all!

We then arrived in Durnstein, Austria which is a truly charming little village.  While famous for its apricot and the jams, liquors and more made from them…as well as another church…strolling through this town was peaceful and relaxing (though you can climb to the castle ruins looming above the church).  AmaWaterways included a second wine tasting here including a Gruner Veltiner, a Riesling and a Zweigelt.  The wines were decent enough, but the person running the tasting was aggressive and bothersome (unlike the charming folks who did the one earlier in the cruise).

Durnstein, Austria

Late in the evening we set sail for Vienna, Austria; which I have been waiting for.  For all of the great cities I have visited this is one important one I had not yet been to.  This was a busy day with events literally morning, afternoon and evening! 

As AmaWaterways regularly offers alternatives to the standard tours, I chose the Hidden Vienna Walking tour. Our guide took our small group through some of the backstreets of Vienna showing us some of the medieval areas and relaying some interesting stories and myths.  He had some interesting insights into Mozart's life and death.

Hidden Medieval Vienna, Austria

Mozart lived here

Mozart played here
Mozart died here
As he was talking the clouds turned to drizzle and then the drizzle turned to rain and, as the tour was wrapping up (for our free time) the skies opened and there was a deluge.  I was glad the specially embroidered Goldring Travel jackets that claimed to be waterproof actually were! (I am not sure why a couple of people felt it was the guide’s fault or how they thought he could make the bus instantly appear.)

Despite the torrential rain, two couples in my group graciously invited me to join them for something to eat at Demel.  As we walked I was able to enjoy some of the other sites of Vienna, which gave me more of a feel that I had visited the city.  When we arrived at Demel, which I did not know of in advance, I immediately knew I was in a little bit of heaven if you love chocolates or pastries.  What I didn’t know is that there was an upstairs, passing the show bakery, where a bit of elegance and a bit to eat could also be enjoyed.

I had a wonderful pate, but more importantly coffee served with decadent whipped cream and then a delicious chestnut dessert.  It was a real treat.

Demel's Bakery

A beautiful and delicious pate
A delicious Demel chestnut dessert,
so rich even I couldn't eat more than half
 I had just enough time to get back to the ship via taxi (which was very easy), change my soaked clothes and head out for the extra cost tour to Schonbrunn Palace.  Now, I understand it is supposed to be one of the, if not the, most opulent palace in Europe, but I am not a palace kind of guy.  I heard lots of positive comments and it is a “must see” place…which I have now seen.

Schonbrun Palace, Vienna, Austria
Upon my return I had just enough time to take a warm shower (needed after all the rain…that finally cleared as we boarded the bus to head back to the ship), have an early dinner with a Viennese theme (schnitzel was my choice) and head out to the extra cost Mozart and Strauss concert performed by the Weiner Residence Orchestra.  While the setting was not impressive, the concert (which included some opera and ballet) was quite good.  I was very happy I attended it.

An early morning sailing brought us to our second to last port:  Bratislava, Slovakia.  I had no idea of what to expect and I was more than pleasantly surprised.  This small country and city suffered under Soviet rule, first with a Communist approach and then, after an attempted revolution, a socialist approach.  It has a small, very walkable, charming old city and, as I learned on the Culinary Delights tour, a very modern new city area with a huge modern mall, hotels and opera house.

Old City - Bratislava, Slovakia

New shopping Mall, Bratislava, Slovakia

The guide for the Culinary Delights tour was the “delight”.  As we sat waiting for our food to be prepared (other than what we did to sort of assist) and while we dined, she discussed everything from the effects of the Soviet occupation to taxes, education to culture to history.  (I knew she would be good when she explained the explained the horrible looking building across from our ship was a “gift” from the Soviets.  She explained its design prevented the sun from coming in on sunny days and let the rain in on rainy days…rendering it useless as well as ugly.)

Oh, yes, we enjoyed the chef making Demikat (a delicious traditional sheep’s cheese, potato and paprika soup) and Pirohy (perogies, obviously) filled with sheep’s cheese or jam.

Demikat - Sheep's cheese, potato and paprika soup
Pirohy filled with jam with sugar and poppy seeds

After our tour I had time to take another stroll through old city before heading back to the ship.  I don't know that I will ever be back, but I surprisingly am glad I was here.

Next up is my final port,  Budapest, Hungary, and the last event of the 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise:  A Tokaji wine tasting!

Goldring Travel's 2014 Food & Wine River Cruise - AmaWaterways AmaCerto (Amsterdam to Budapest) – Part IX (Food & Wine Tasting on the AmaCerto)

The 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting aboard the AmaWaterways AmaCerto was a huge success.  With an absolutely gorgeous setting in the aft lounge/Chef’s Table as we sailed the Danube River we had a true taste of the wines of Germany, Austria, Hungary and even the AmaCerto…plus one from Romania (which the staff included quite proudly).

Maitre de, Catalin, did an wonderful job guiding us through
five countries and 15 all the food!

But the star of the event wasn’t only the wine, but the food.  While I had picked up some great cured meats, liverwurst, cheeses and such in Wurzburg (and we also picked up some “stinky” cheese and truffled gouda in Passau, Germany), Robert, the AmaCerto chef did a spectacular job not only combining what I found with some of the smaller menu items on the AmaCerto, but some very creative items including his homemade goose liver pate with marmalade and more.

AmaCerto's Chef Robert Dorner created some outstanding
presentations for the Food & Wine Tasting
The breads, meats and cheeses picked up along the way
with Chef Robert's beautiful presentations

 I have always said that chefs on cruise ships got their jobs because they are actually chefs…not cooks.  So if you give them the opportunity to “do their thing” something spectacular will come of it...and that it did.

The 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting
had one heck of a view from the AmaCerto!
Because of the wide variety of wines I decided to do things a bit out of the norm.  We started with two sweeter wines: a Selbach Riesling Spatlese and a Bacchus Spatlese (from that strange winemaker in the Franconia region of Bavaria).  From there we enjoyed two Gruner Vetliners  and another four whites, followed by five reds including Zweigelt and Hungarian Cabernet Sauvignon, among others, as well as German rose (Spatburgundter Weissherbst) and finishing with a Georg Breuer 2011 Schlossberg Riesling.

A touching moment was when the Romanian assistant introduced a "surprise":  A Romanian wine! 

The staff onboard the AmaCerto are proud of what they do and are so very happy doing it...and it makes the food and the wine taste even better!

Goldring Travel's 2014 Food & Wine River Cruise - AmaWaterways AmaCerto (Amsterdam to Budapest) – Part VIII

I arrived in Nuremberg, Germany with a bit of trepidation, but also anticipation.  I took the World War II tour which focused on Hitler, his Rally Grounds, the War Crimes Tribunal; in part because I have gotten a great sense that many Germans either want to forget what happened or want to remember it differently than what really happened.  (This is not a condemnation of an entire country’s population, but rather an observation of some that cannot be missed.)

Hitler's Rally Grounds, Nuremberg, Germany
Our guide was excellent and spoke of the foregoing as well as the need to truly understand and remember what happened.  When someone in our group, as we circled the Colosseum (or Cathedral) She made what could have been a very dark tour quite enlightening.  Bravo.

Courtroom 600, Nuremberg, Germany
Where the War Crimes Tribunal was held
It was also interesting to see, in person, not only where all those horrifying news reels I saw as a child were  taken, but also how the oppressed effectively made construction of Hitler’s monuments too slow, too expensive and not able to stand the test of time (falling into ruins today while so many ancient cultures’ monuments remain after centuries. 

But for the lighter side (or maybe the heavier!) it was time to check out the food.  Our guide said Nuremberg sausages were the best…and the best way to eat these smaller sausages was three to a roll.  Ummm, OK?  So off I went finding a charming little restaurant that, fortunately, had an abbreviated English menu and waitresses that could fumble through English and pointing. 

Nuremberg sausages
Interestingly, while the culinary instructions said three to a roll, the sausages came in sixes.  But then I saw pork knuckles and had to order them too.  Both were delicious (the sausages were good, but Wurzburg is still No. 1 with me) and, no, I did not eat all of the food…but the port knuckle was close.

Pig's Knuckle and potato salad
It was then back to the ship for a relaxing sail to Regensburg, Germany.  At least it was relaxing for me!  Nicola, our cruise manager was going a bit crazy as it was reported the water level was too low to dock in Regensburg, so we would have to sail downstream and bus our way to the various tours…some of which were then going to be quite long distances as the ship would have to drop us off and then continue to travel downstream.

After Nicola magically (and with bloodshot eyes) organized all this through the night, and everyone was chaotically rearranging their plans, and just as we took the left fork in the river with the higher water, the ship received word that “Oops.  We got it wrong.  The water level is fine”, so the ship continued downstream to where the waters again merged and backed its way up the river to Regensburg…with its original plans to now take place.

I mention this so you understand that “ship happens” be it delays at a lock, water levels, river traffic, etc. and flexibility and patience is definitely a virtue…something a few of the passengers seemed to have trouble with. 

In Regensburg, I visited the Audi factory with a focus on the robotic and human building of the Audi A3.  It was a truly fascinating tour as I noted how different yacht, aircraft and automobile manufacturing is.  Sorry, but no photography is allowed in the spotless…and very cool…factory.  (By the way, there is no discount on a new Audi if you take the tour.)

After the tour we had some time so I tried what didn’t sound too appealing, but I have seen everywhere:  Currywurst.  It was, ‘er um, the worst:  A lightly flavored sausage with tomato sauce and curry powder. Hey, I had to try it!

Regensburg, Germany
I had time to wander Regensburg after my tour and this reconstructed from the bombings town was charming…and made no secret of its Jewish history.  As I was wondering around on of the main squares I saw a curious white dry “fountain” children were playing in…and then I saw some Hebrew lettering.  It was the word, “Misrach” or “lighting up”.  It was actually an artist’s rendition interpretation of the layout of the 16th century synagogue…and a very nice explanation was also posted.

Jewish art on the site of the synagogue destroyed in the 1500's

By the way Regensburg, Germany is very upscale if you are interested in shopping...but prices in Germany are high.

Our next stop was Passau, our last city in Germany.  This was a small town that basically had one of the largest church pipe organs in the world (over 17,000 pipes) and not much else.  It was, however, the starting point for those wanting a full day excursion to Salzburg,Austria.  No four and a half hours on a bus for me.

But more importantly, that afternoon was the 2014 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Tasting aboard the AmaWaterways AmaCerto!