October 18, 2012

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Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube (August 20-Sept. 10, 2012),

offered just a few times a year, is one of many high-end luxury tours offered by Tauck a Maestro in the luxury tour industry. An unusual type of trip for me– as I usually go on working expedition trips where roughing it is the norm– this luxurious river-boat journey was gifted from a friend. Lucky me! See my Gallery Danube Music Magic movie and Danube Cruise

View of Pest from Buda

The SWISS JEWEL our home for one week holds about 100 passengers– is a new, sparkling, spacious, light-filled river boat with well appointed cabins and suites, an excellent and very attentive staff, too good food in the large formal dining room on the lower level, a small extra dining area for less formal, lighter meals on the back deck, a large sundeck with recliner chairs that we hardly had any time in which to hang out, a well-stocked bar and main lounge area.

Ship’s bell onboard cruising the Danube River

It was my first river cruise after countless expeditions in rough seas all over the world so it was wonderful to cruise smoothly along the water at night, and lie in bed leaving the sliding glass panels from floor to ceiling wide open to the fresh air. The lock system on the Danube is an impressive feat of engineering. Traversing the river we ended up 900 feet higher then when we started.

Passing through a lock on the Danube

The magic of music on this Danube cruise was undeniable as we had our own two Maestros accompanying us PhDs in Music History and Opera to discuss the music we would hear and the historical sites we would visit. Everywhere we were ferried around in private vans and educated by local guides. We were treated to private tours of opera houses, palaces, museums, special lunches and dinners with concerts, ballets, and opera performances arranged for us. It was a magnificent immersion in history– the palaces, the museums, the gold leaf, the architecture and of course the MUSIC–Mozart, Listz, Beethoven, Hayden, Bartok.

The 2 Maestros, Michael (L) & Andrew (R)

The itinerary started with a 2 night stay at the Marriott Hotel in the Pest section of Budapest (HUNGARY), tours around Buda and Pest, a week on ship board with stops in Bratislava (SLOVAKIA), Vienna (AUSTRIA), Melk and the Wachau Valley, Linz, Salzburg, Passau (GERMANY), Regensburg, ending with a two night stay in the Marriott Hotel in Prague (CZECH REPUBLIC) with tours around that historical city.

Bar at the Marriot Hotel, Budapest

History of this part of the world is palpable everywhere one walks from the early royal centuries through World War I, the Nazi invasion of WWII, the rise and fall of Communism to the present day resurgence of tourism.

Town square in Bratislava, Slovakia

In Vienna we attended the opening night of the Vienna State Opera, a performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo; an elegant champagne evening at the Palais Pallavicini with a four-course dinner served underneath crystal chandeliers accompanied by Viennese musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers; a private morning rehearsal by the Vienna Resident Orchestra at the Auersperg Palace; a visit to Mozart’s residence where the view out the window into the alley is the same today as when he gazed out there in the late 1700’s. The hugely magnificent Benedictine Melk Abbey built in the 1700s houses hundreds of original rare books and manuscripts seen nowhere else in the world and marks the gateway to the picturesque Wachau Valley. The old city of Salzburg where Mozart was born and Furst chocolatiers make the famous candy known as Mozart’s Balls–the blue/silver wrapped ones are higher quality chocolate than the red/gold ones!

Statue to Mozart where he conducted “Don Giovanni” in 29.10.1787, Estates Theatre, Prague

In Prague Old Town our private tour of the Estates Theatre provided a first hand passage into history as Mozart himself conducted performances here of his opera Don Giovanni. Our farewell evening dinner at the Lobkowicz Palace will forever be etched in my mind as this magnificent palace and museum has a rich personal family history and houses the largest private art collection in the Czech Republic and is now open to the public. The 7th Prince Lobkowicz was a patron of Beethoven. The music archives contain original scores preserved in astoundingly good condition by Beethoven (his 4th and 5th Symphonies) and Mozart’s revised version of Handel’s Messiah with inscribed notes in the margins in their own handwriting. Visit www.lobkowicz.cz to see the rich cultural history and vision for an art-filled future.

Glass of champagne at Palais Pallavicini, Vienna (left);

View of castle district from Lobkowicz Palace, Prague (right).