European journey offered unexpected adventures

European journey offered unexpected adventures by Bob Karolevitz Prague, Czech Republic (delayed): We continued our 16-day riverboat trip down the Rhine, Main and Danube with a stop at Passau, Germany.

There at that fairy-tale city we heard an organ recital at the magnificent St. Steven's Cathedral. The organ � reputedly the largest in the world � has 17,774 pipes, 233 stops and four carillons.

Believe me, I didn't need my hearing aids when the organist hit full throttle!

Passing into Austria, we visited the Benedictine Abbey of Stift Melk on the promontory above the town. It was on my priority list because of my long-time relationship with that Order. However, I wasn't quite prepared for what we saw.

A new emphasis has been placed on tourism, and the spacious monastery � with its magnificent chapel, a library of some 100,000 volumes with matching bindings and its beautiful Marble Hall is open to more than half a million visitors a year.

We didn't see any of the 11 monks who live at Melk; 23 others serve parishes outside the abbey. We also didn't see the secondary school where some 600 boys and girls are educated in a Christian setting.

What we did see, though, was a replica of a casket which a frugal abbot invented. It had a trap door in the bottom so that when it was positioned above an open grave, the body inside could be dropped out and the casket used over again.

A mortician in our traveling group didn't think it was the least bit funny!

We then went on to Vienna where Johann Strauss, the Younger, composed The Blue Danube and more than 150 other waltzes. We learned more than we ever wanted to know about his father and two brothers as we were surfeited in music in the Austrian capital. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig Van Beethoven also had Vienna connections, we were told.

(Phyllis has always chided me because I have never learned to waltz. Aha! Neither did Strauss!)

At Esztergom, Hungary, I almost lost my wife. She was going on a walking and bus tour of that medieval region while I stayed on the boat to rest up. Unfortunately, she remained in our cabin and missed the call to go ashore.

When she finally reported at the gangplank (it was about to be pulled up), the tour party had already left. However, one of the boat hands helped her disembark and hurried her after the group by pointing to a bus still standing nearby.

She rushed to it, only to find that the occupants didn't speak English. It was the wrong bus!

Like she did when she was a school girl, she ran breathlessly up the hill, hoping to catch up with the right group now out of sight. Thank goodness, she finally caught the bus about to depart for the next stop. She banged on the door, and they let her in � huffing and puffing, but delighted that she wasn't stranded in Hungary.

Incidentally, she was without her passport which Hungarian immigration officials had taken up, so she was not only marooned but she was in the country illegally. And I didn't know a thing about that traumatic experience as I lolled on the boat during the four-hour trip to Budapest where we were to be rejoined by the bus.

In the Hungarian capital � actually two cities, Buda on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other � we saw the scars of World War II when the Russians ousted the Germans. The area, we felt, has not recovered like the rest of southern Europe.

At Budapest we concluded our river journey, and then the two of us caught a train for a seven-hour trip to Prague. In our compartment � just like you see in the movies � we had to show our passports to uniformed inspectors of both Hungary and the Czech Republic.

We passed through Moravia with its huge fields of corn, much larger than those in South Dakota and still showing the influence of the old communal farm. Mostly, though, the speedy rail trip was uneventful and on time, with many passengers boarding or getting off at such stops as Bratislava, Breclav and Brno.

Our three days in Praha, where we were booked in the elaborate Fenix Hotel by our AAA Travel Agency, went all too quickly. Just by ourselves we had a tour of the city, the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle by a friendly gal in what I think was a Ford van; and we could have spent many hours in the National Museum where, unfortunately, all labels were in the Czech language.

Our only glitch came when our Lufthansa flight to Munich was cancelled. We then had to board a small propellor plane going to Dusseldorf where we caught a United 767 for the Long, sleepless trans-Atlantic trip to Chicago.

There's much, much more to tell, of course � like the time I ate Australian emu in Prague � but, good grief! This travelog has got to end before it becomes book-length.

© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz

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