We were weary after our day in Regensberg so we thought we’d sleep soundly last night, but the lure of watching the passing countryside proved irresistible so we opened the curtains and marvelled at the passing landscape. With the almost full moon overhead and the snow-covered ground below, castles were lit up against the night sky and little towns twinkled like stars in the distance.
We hoped that we’d be lulled to sleep by the sound of waves gently lapping against the ship but the river had other plans. With the current running fast and the boat straining to maintain equanimity, the only sound we heard was the crashing of water and ice. But by morning, the current seemed to calm and we easily pulled into the port of Passau, a charming little town at the junction of three rivers (the Danube, the Ilk and the Inn) that Napolean called the most beautiful town in Germany.
I’m not sure if the river was low or the dock was high, but we had to exit from the top deck and walk down a steeply angled gangplank.
Snow was falling as we joined our guide, Carmela. She was the quintessential German…..wearing a crisp felt hat and a beautiful green and brown striped jacket. She was very knowledgeable and very proud of her heritage. Seeing the town through her eyes was a joy.
Carmela explained that these children go to the “forest” kindergarten….they have no classroom and spend their school day at parks or other points of interest. Each had a circular disc tied to their backpack. Craig and I assumed it was for sledding but no, it’s their “seat” wherever their classroom takes them.
The spires of St Stephan’s Cathedral loom over the town. Rebuilt in Baroque style by Italian craftsmen after it was destroyed by a fire in 1662, it now houses the world’s second largest pipe organ. With 17,774 pipes, it’s actually comprised of five organs…..
As we walked toward the Bishop’s residence, Carmela told us a story of the beginnings of the Advent wreath…..according to Passau legend…..long, long ago, the bishop found a way to get the children of the town to say their prayers…..he promised to tell them a story and light a candle each night that they came to say their prayers. He placed the candles on a wagon wheel that happened to have 24 spokes and began his gatherings on December 1st. The large Advent wreath on a fountain outside the Bishop’s palace pays homage to this narrative…..24 spokes with 24 candles.
We were able to enter the foyer of the bishop’s residence….with its ornate doors and joyful Rococo styling, it felt like we were in a fairy-tale palace. Near the ceiling was a precious sight….an angel putting stars in the sky.
We found out that before a flood, Passau firemen fill the lower stories of imperiled buildings with fresh water to prevent the muddy river water from infiltrating and causing even more damage.
We ended at Passau’s Christmas Market. Carmela shared a little history of the wooden items being sold in the Market…..nutcrackers, pyramid carousels and “smokers” (carved figures with incense-burning pipes). My favorites were the Miner and the Angel….wooden candleholders that originally represented the hard-working miners and the angels that watched over them; they’ve now come to represent the children of miners…..Angels are placed in windows for each daughter and Miners are added for each son.
A steady snow had accompanied us all day but, as the afternoon approached, the snow began falling more and more intensely….making returning to the ship more precarious than leaving it…..up the icy ramp,
across the frozen deck
and down the frosty stairs.
Whew! That’s enough to work up an appetite! Good thing we made it back in time for lunch…..Hungarian goulash with Czech potato dumplings….hearty food to warm the body and the soul….delicious…..as always.
Up ’til now, the ship had been divided into two tour groups – English speakers (mainly American) and German speakers (from Austria) but this is the Austrian’s last night on-board…..they’ll be disembarking when we arrive in Vienna…..so our Farewell Dinner and Crew Show were held tonight.
The dinner (terrine of goat cheese, oxtail soup, tiger prawns with pumpkin chutney, beef filet on puff pastry with Bearnaise sauce) was tasty but the pièce de résistance was the dessert….aptly named “Amadeus Royal Iceparade.”
After dinner, the room darkened but the stairway leading from the kitchen suddenly brightened as platter after platter of frozen delights, all topped with sparklers, made their way up to the dining room. Our wonderful servers paraded these dazzling dishes throughout the room….then, before the fireworks had faded away, each server stopped at their designated table in a grand presentation of tonight’s final course…..to a hearty round of appreciative applause.
After dinner, we adjourned to the lounge to await tonight’s performance by our crew. We joined our new friends, Bob, Judy, Carlos and Carlene….who were all savvy enough to place themselves in chairs that made it virtually impossible to move. Why was this savvy?
A splendid time was had by all.