Viking River Cruise - - Day Seven, Thurs 10/15/15
I woke up at 5:30 - - did my standard shower in the dark, went up to the lounge to get caught up in my blog, and was the first person in the restaurant for breakfast at 7 AM. I was greeted by a pretty young woman named Georgeta, who asked what I wanted to drink. And in the two minutes that it took her to bring me my juice and water, two other servers came around to offer me coffee and ask what I'd like. She came back and they all had a good laugh. I got the pancakes, which were fantastic, served with stewed strawberries on the side. Best of all, the butter was warm!
Have you heard my story about the frozen pat of butter? Sometime around twenty years ago I went to Essen Haus with my parents - - this is a somewhat classy German restaurant in Madison.
It's classy because the food is delicious, first-class, but I added the "somewhat" because it's not the most elegant atmosphere, plus the waitresses wear dirndls and the waiters wear lederhosen. And if you're lucky they'll have a polka band, hopefully not playing "I Don't Want Her, You Can Have Her, She's Too Fat For Me", a song that should be outlawed.
My parents took me there for dinner sometime in the mid 90s. We were brought a basket of bread, and I said, "There are few things I hate more in this world than a frozen pat of butter." My mom, The Great Deflater, said, "Why don't you stick it up your armpit." We placed our dinner orders, talked about whatever, and I discreetly pulled a pat of butter out of my armpit. Which was, of course, warm and luscious. My mother was aghast, flabbergasted, gobsmacked, choose your adjective. She said in a curt stage whisper, "What. Are. You. DOING?" I said, "It was a great idea, thanks for the suggestion!"
Two follow-up comments on this story. First, never dare a darer. And second, why don't more restaurants have college-age boys wearing lederhosen?
Back to the ship. Mom and I ran into Dianna and Tom and had breakfast with them on the Aquavit Terrace, a serve-yourself buffet area in the back of the ship, off the lounge. It has glass doors and it's a nice change of pace. We met up with Terry and Bob and went off on our excursion, a walking tour of Regensberg. We chose to do the extended version, which turned a 90-minute tour into a two-hour tour. The extra content was about the Jewish history of the town.
Our guide was a cute guy named Johannes, he reminded me so much of my friend Jeffrey Glass.
He did a fantastic job, had more ease in English than any of our previous guides, who all seemed if not fluent, at least comfortable speaking in English. A few tidbits from the tour: the first record of Jews in Regensberg was from the 9th century. Things went relatively well until 1519, when all of the Jews were given a week to leave town. In the middle of a cold February, no less. I'm not sure I completely understood Johannes's explanation for their expulsion, but it had something to do with the economic changes brought about by the Black Death.
They must have been let back in sometime over the next few hundred years, because by the early 1930s there were around 500 Jews in Regensberg. 250 of them were sent to nearby Polish concentration camps, and by the end of the war there were only 250 Jews left in the city. Today the city has a Jewish population of about 1,000. They're raising money to build a big new synagogue on the site of the first Regensberg synagogue, with the goal to open it in 2019, to commemorate the 1519 expulsion.
Johannes showed us a set of two "stumbling blocks". This is a project started in 1992 by German artist Gunter Demnig, memorializing victims of Nazi oppression. The stone marks the spot where that person had lived and/or worked. Each stone has a brass plate, set level with the surrounding stones or sidewalk - - the plate is stamped with the name of the individual, the dates of birth and death, and the nature of their oppression by the Nazis. There are now over 48,000 stumbling blocks in over 18 countries in Europe. It is the world's largest memorial. There was criticism when the project was begun (criticism that continues), people saying that it's disrespectful of the person being memorialized to be stepping on their name, walking over (in many cases) the cause of their death. But other people feel that it has great impact being integrated into the everyday life of the person walking by. You don't need to go to a special place to be reminded of the atrocities of the Nazis, you can be reminded of it on your walk to the store.
We ended the tour in the cathedral. Not so interesting. I wanted to do a little shopping and Mom wanted to get back to the ship, so we parted ways. I went to a shop that sold traditional clothes, I was thinking of buying a Lodenjacke:
I went into a store and told them I was looking for a Lodenjacke. One of the clerks brought me upstairs, where they have the men's clothes. She showed me the different styles, and I was drawn to the black jacket with the green velvet collar. I tried one on that looked promising - - the torso fit well but the sleeves were too short. She found me the next largest size, and of course the sleeves were great but the torso was too roomy. She tried to talk me into trying on another style, but I loved the one I first saw, and I assumed they would all be sized the same way. Plus I was over it. Plus, most importantly, this whole transaction happened in German and it was wearing me out! I had one semester of German nearly 25 years ago, and though I sing in German fairly often, that is not at all the same thing as talking in German. So though I was very successfully able to say, "Hello, I would like to see a Lodenjacke", I was able to understand only about 20% of what the clerk said to me in response. Ha! Will continue my search online...
Lee and Janna, in their overview of Regensberg the day before, had raved about a sausage shop on the Danube, a historic spot that opened in (get this) 1146. They said it was the most delicious sausage they had ever had. Our guide took us there on our tour - - well, let's say we stood outside it, we didn't have time to actually order anything, but he encouraged us to visit on our way back to the ship. So of course I had to stop there, and what a treat, I ran into Dianna and Tom.
Each of us got the house special, or the tourist special, anyway: a bratwurst with sauerkraut and brown mustard on a rye roll. For two and a half Euros, you can't go wrong, and Lee and Janna were right: it was the most delicious sausage ever. All four components of the sandwich were incredibly delicious, and the combination was out of this world. That sandwich will haunt me for the rest of my days!
We walked back to the ship - - the two couples were going on the optional excursion to the Weltenburg Abbey, while Mom and I were staying on the ship. I found Mom in the dining room sitting with John and Mary, the couple from Cambridge who we dined with on the first night. You remember them, they had worked for Polaroid. Mom was having rigatoni in a cream sauce with fennel and apple, and I felt like I had to get a plate of something, so as not to feel left out. I got a tiny plate of smoked salmon and four or five bites of black bean salad from the buffet. Mom had a waffle with ice cream and berries for dessert.
I would say about 80% of the passengers had gone on either the Weltenburg Abbey tour or the tour of the BMW plant, so it was blissfully calm and quiet on the ship. Mom napped for a couple of hours and I wrote, read my book, and looked out the window. When she got up, we sat on a couch and looked out the window together, it was lovely. We talked about how pleasant and easy it is for us to travel together, and what a special experience this trip has been.
A cute pic of Mom and me looking out the window - - she was waving at a random passerby on the shore:
Everyone came back and we went straight to dinner. The evening had a special Bavarian theme: they brought in an accordion player and a guitarist, both wearing traditional garb, most of the waitstaff were wearing red checked shirts and black pants, but a few were wearing more involved outfits - - our favorite server, Moises (Darwin sent us to him) was wearing Lederhosen with a white shirt, and Silviu (the server from Transylvania) was wearing Lederhosen, a red checked shirt, and a Tyrolean hat with splendid plumage. They both looked adorable.
The tables were set up with a rack of fresh pretzels and cutting boards stacked with meats and cheeses. Moises came over to our table with slim glasses of Austrian beer. The musicians played throughout dinner, and did a little singing, too. They played a few polkas and yodelly numbers, and I said to Teri, "I'm waiting for them to roll out the barrel." And what was the next song they played? They did a peppy number that featured Silviu doing a very involved dance, where he slapped his hips, slapped his knees, kicked up his heels and slapped his feet. Again, he could not have been more adorable, though I wonder how his Transylvanian forebears would feel about him putting on the Tyrol to such a strong degree.
We had the option of either doing the roast suckling pig at the buffet, having the pork knuckle (served with other things I don't remember), or the Wiener schnitzel. All six of us got the Wiener schnitzel, and it was fantastic. Served with a nice piece of wurst, a teeny mound of German potato salad, and a small drumstick of roasted chicken. I think of my best friend Karen Miller at almost every meal - - she's a vegetarian, and the food served on his trip would not work so well for her.
Georgeta, the Romanian server I had met at breakfast, came over to our table with shots of peppermint schnapps. She told us how to drink it: one, two, three, "Skoal!", and down the hatch in one gulp. I had never done a shot like this, and it was not nice! I think I might like it better if it were cold, or maybe not. Mom was sure that it helped her cough, and I'm equally sure that it put me right to sleep when I went to bed.
But first we had dessert and a bit of dancing. Dessert was bread pudding, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce, served family style. We kept passing the plate around until it was almost gone. The musicians played the chicken dance and pulled volunteers out of their seats. Teri got up and danced with Moises, she had a great time and it was fun to watch her, her husband Bob especially tickled (he has the most delightful giggle). Then they did another song that featured the waitstaff leading passengers around the restaurant in a line - - sort of a conga line without the conga. Silviu brought a lady up from her table and she got in line behind him and clasped her hands around his ribcage. The server behind her spotted this and instantly recruited another lady to stand between her and Silviu, one who seemed likely to be less demonstrative. I wonder if this is all covered in their Viking training.