Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Grapevine River Cruise - personal impressions

In 2009, Sandra, co-owner of Incantato Tours, test-cruised the Blue Danube with AMA Waterways and here are some personal impressions she took.

Welcome to Budapest!

As the largest city of Hungary, Budapest serves as the country's principal political, cultural, commercial, industrial, and transportation center and is considered an important hub in Central Europe. In 2009, Budapest had 1,712,210 inhabitants, down from a mid-1980s peak of 2.1 million. The Budapest Commuter Area (or Greater Budapest) is home to 3,271,110 people. The city covers an area of 525 square kilometres (202.7 sq mi) within the city limits. Budapest became a single city occupying both banks of the river Danube with a unification on 17 November 1873 of right (west)-bank Buda and Óbuda with left (east)-bank Pest. Aquincum, originally a Celtic settlement, was the direct ancestor of Budapest, becoming the Roman capital of Lower Pannonia. Magyars arrived in the territory in the 9th century. Their first settlement was pillaged by the Mongols in 1241-42. The re-established town became one of the centers of Renaissance humanist culture in the 15th century. Following the Battle of Mohács and nearly 150 years of Ottoman rule, development of the region entered a new age of prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Budapest became a global city after the 1873 unification. It also became the second capital of Austria-Hungary, a great power that dissolved in 1918. Budapest was the focal point of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, Operation Panzerfaust in 1944, the Battle of Budapest of 1945, and the Revolution of 1956.
Regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, its extensive World Heritage Site includes the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue, Heroes' Square and the Millennium Underground Railway, the second oldest in the world. Other highlights include a total of 80 geothermal springs, the world's largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building. The collections of the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts are also significant. The city attracts over 20 million visitors a year.
Since 1991, Budapest has been home to the wonderful Neszmely Vineyards. Hungary's most successful wine producing estate with 560 hectares of grapevines, Neszmely's 'borhotel and etterem' (wine hotel and restaurant) still maintains its delightfully cozy family flair. The hilltop vineyards, overlooking the Danube, produce some of the country's best white wines, including the classically crisp and fruity Neszmely Irsai Oliver with finishes of straw, spice, and summer. The Irsai Oliver grape is a relatively new hybrid and relative of the Muscat grape, making an eminently quaffable summer beverage.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bratislava's vast wine history

The capital of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava, is located amidst the Small Carpathian Wine Region, one of the six registered wine areas in the Slovak territory. The Small Carpathian Wine Region is the oldest wine-producing region in the nation.
The first references to wine production in Bratislava dates back 2,600 years, prior to the arrival of the Celts to the land. Later, the Celts and then especially the Romans diligently pursued the tradition of viticulture, when the legionnaires, in times of peace, planted and cultivated vineyards under the orders of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus. The viticulture survived and developed even after the fall of the Roman Empire, especially during the period of Great Moravia.
The growth and development of Bratislava’s viticulture has perpetually flourished since the 13th century when commercialized distribution of wine took hold to satisfy the demands of the locals. Second only to the castle region, Bratislava townspeople are among the largest population of vineyard owners in the Small Carpathians. The high quality of the wine has secured a permanent market throughout the centuries. Through both local and foreign trade, the town has continued to thrive. Throughout history, regular buyers of Bratislavan wines have included such great rulers as Louis I the Great, Sigmund, and Ladislav V. Queen Maria Theresa loved the local wines, her favorite being the Fränkisch from Rača.
The most widespread grape varieties in the past were Veltlínske zelené (Green Veltliner), Silvánske zelené (Green Silvaner and Red Silvaner), Fränkisch and Portugal for the red varieties.
As early as the 13th century, some Bratislava wine growers had the right to serve wine freely on tab in inns. Tradesmen, tapsters, and publicans also professionally served wine house-to-house, from their own homes, and public wine inns. Drunkenness at these public inns rarely resulted in the loss of face and good reputation, as the main reason for drinking was to relieve oneself of “devouring” worries.
Presently, Bratislava and its surrounding communities are part of the most important Slovak wine producers and represent the highest quality local wine production. Today the whole region actively “lives” with wine. Each year, the Small Carpathian Wine Region attracts a vast international crowd by hosting grape-picking festivities, open cellar days, the blessing of young wine, celebrations for Saint Urban—the patron saint of wine growers and producers, wine tastings, and a wine trail, in addition to a plentiful variety of wine bars, cellars, and shops.
Along with their top quality wines, the Slavs also flaunt their good hosting skills with their traditional cuisine. Local wine bars and restaurants also serve such regional specialties as knofle (dumplings), osuchy (dry-baked dough), dolky (baked pancakes), sciskance (potato pancakes), sulance (gnocchi), and a variety of hearty soups. Dessert consists of decadent pastries, doughnuts, cookies, and scones. The region’s most famous dish, however, remains traditional goose or duck served with potato pancakes. Regardless of one’s desired meal, Bratislava wine restaurants will always offer a perfectly paired glass of high quality wine to compliment the dish.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vienna City Facts

Vienna is the capital of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.7 million (2.3 million within the metropolitan area, more than 25% of Austria's population), and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political center. It is the 10th largest city by population in the European Union. Vienna is host to many major international organizations such as the United Nations and OPEC. Vienna lies in the east of Austria and is close to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Founded around 500 BC, Vienna was originally a Celtic settlement. In 2001, the city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2005 an Economist Intelligence Unit study of 127 world cities ranked it first, equal with Vancouver, for the highest quality of life. This assessment was mirrored by the Mercer Survey in 2009.
Art and culture have a long tradition in Vienna, including theater, opera, classical music and fine arts. Viticulture is also a very prominent economic factor in Vienna.
No other city in the world has larger vineyards within its boundaries. At almost 700 hectares, the area covered by vineyards in Vienna corresponds to the combined area of the city's districts four, five, six, and seven. The official register of vineyards kept by the Vienna City Administration comprises some 520 individual vineyards. Viennese specialties range from a multitude of red wines to Riesling, White Burgundy, and Chardonnay.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vienna Sightseeing Tip: The Mumok

The Mumok (Museum Moderner Kunst/Museum of Modern Art) is the biggest museum of contemporary art in Central Europe, and Vienna’s greatest. The Mumok is always worth a visit, if only for its architecture. And inside it’s just as impressive, since the curators can draw from an extensive collection and present interesting focal points. There are five levels with works by Pablo Picasso, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol and Günter Brus, ranging from Pop Art to Photorealism and from Fluxus to New Realism. 230 pieces were given to the museum by the German industrialist and art lover Peter Ludwig and his wife Irene in 1981. The Mumok regularly organizes special exhibitions and is known for its large collection of art related to Viennese Actionism. The Mumok is located in the Museumsquartier in Vienna, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Wien. It is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays till 9 pm. This sightseeing tip originates from the website www.redguide.at.

Visit the beautiful Danube River Valley

Dürnstein is a small town on the Danube river in the Krems-Land district, in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Wachau region and also a well-known wine growing area. The municipality consists of the Katastralgemeinden Dürnstein, Oberloiben and Unterloiben. The town gained its name from the medieval castle which overlooked it. The castle was called "Duerrstein" or "Dürrstein", from the German duerr/dürr meaning "dry" and Stein, "stone". The castle was dry because it was situated on a rocky hill, high above the damp conditions of the Danube at the base of the hill, and it was built of stone. Dürnstein was first mentioned in 1192, when, in the castle above the town, King Richard I Lionheart of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. Richard had personally offended Leopold by casting down his standard from the walls at the Battle of Acre, and the duke suspected that King Richard ordered the murder of his cousin Conrad of Montferrat in Jerusalem. In consequence Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold for capturing a fellow crusader. The duke finally gave the custody of Richard to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle. Dürnstein Castle was almost completely destroyed by the troops of the Swedish Empire under Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson in 1645. Dürnstein Abbey (Stift Dürnstein) was established in 1410 by Canons Regular from Třeboň and from 1710 rebuilt in a Baroque style according to plans by Joseph Munggenast, Jakob Prandtauer and Matthias Steinl. The monastery was dissolved by order of Emperor Joseph II in 1788 and fell to the Herzogenburg Priory. During the War of the Third Coalition the Battle of Dürenstein was fought nearby on November 11, 1805.

Photo courtesy of the Austrian Tourism Board. 

Sightseeing Highlight: Melk Abbey

The Austrian city of Melk will welcome the Grapevine travelers on Thursday, April 7, 2011. Melk Abbey was originally a palace, and it shows. Located on the bank of the Danube River between Salzburg and Vienna, Melk Abbey stands crowned by towers and resplendent in a golden hue. The impressive Baroque structure at Melk was constructed from 1702 to 1736 by architect Jakob Prandtauer. Especially noteworthy is the church with magnificent frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr and the library containing countless medieval manuscripts. The monastic community of Melk is over 900 years old and black-robed Benedictine monks still stroll amidst the marble sculptures and frescoed walls. It is now also a prestigious coed monastery school with more than 700 students.

Austrian Wine

Want to learn more about Austrian wines? Allow us to direct you to the official Tourism Austria website that features the different varieties and wine producing regions in a beautiful way with excerpts to follow.
Austria’s wine regions are both beautiful and easy to visit. In fact, once you step off the plane in Vienna, you have already arrived in one of the world’s most unique wine region. Vienna. Then about one hour south east of Vienna lies the Burgenland, and one hour west of Vienna is the region of Lower Austria with many beautiful valleys. Many of them along the Danube.
We also recommend visiting the following websites: Austrian Wine, NYT on Austrian Wines, Wikepedia on Austrian Wines.

Explore Magical Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov is a small city in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, best known for the fine architecture and art of the historic old town and Český Krumlov Castle. Old Český Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was given this status along with the historic Prague castle district. The city is named Český Krumlov ("Bohemian Krumlov") to differentiate it from Moravský Krumlov ("Moravian Krumlov") in the southeast of the country.
Construction of the town and castle began in the late 13th century at a port in the Vltava River, which was important in trade routes in Bohemia. In 1302 the town and castle were owned by the House of Rosenberg. Emperor Rudolf II bought Krumlov in 1602 and gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. Emperor Ferdinand II gave Krumlov to the House of Eggenberg. From 1719 until 1945 the castle belonged to the House of Schwarzenberg. Most of the architecture of the old town and castle dates from the 14th through 17th centuries; the town's structures are mostly in Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The core of the old town is within a horseshoe bend of the river, with the old Latrán neighborhood and castle on the other side of the Vltava. The town was the seat of the Duchy of Krumlov. During the interwar era it was part of Czechoslovakia. Between 1938 and 1945 it was annexed by Nazi Germany as part of the so-called Sudetenland. The town's German-speaking population was expelled after liberation by the American Army during World War II and it was restored to Czechoslovakia. During the Communist era of Czechoslovakia, Krumlov fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 much of the town's former beauty has been restored, and it is now a major holiday destination, popular with tourists from Germany, Austria, and beyond. In August, 2002, the town suffered from damage in the great flood of the Vltava River.
Český Krumlov Castle is unusually large for a town of Krumlov's size; within the Czech Republic it is second in extent only to the Hradčany castle complex of Prague. Inside its grounds are a large garden, an extensive bridge over a deep gap in the rock upon which the castle is built and the castle itself, which in turn consist of many defined parts dating from different periods of time. Church of St. Vitus (Kostel Sv. Víta) is a Gothic church dating back to the 15th century with frescoes from the same period. Český Krumlov Castle preserves its Baroque theatre (completed 1766), complete with original stage machinery, scenery and props, one of only a few such court theatres that still exist. Due to its age, the theatre is only used three times a year (only two are open to the public), when a Baroque opera is performed in simulated candlelight. The castle's last private owner was Adolph Schwarzenberg. It was here that he received President Edvard Beneš and gave him a large contribution for the defense of Czechoslovakia against the growing threat of Nazi Germany. His property was seized by the Gestapo in 1940 and then confiscated by the Czechoslovakian government in 1945. Krumlov has a museum dedicated to the painter Egon Schiele, who lived in the town. Ten kilometers from Krumlov is one of Bohemia's oldest monasteries, Zlatá Koruna ("The Golden Crown"), and about 30 km from Krumlov is the Hluboka Castle, established in the twelfth century and later remodeled in imitation of Windsor Castle.
Krumlov is close to the Šumava National Park, the Czech Republic's largest national park. The Šumava mountains lie along the border with Austria and Germany and offer a range of natural habitats - peat bogs, Alpine meadows, old-growth forests, lakes, and rivers. The area is popular with walkers, cyclists, and canoeists on the Vltava. Cesky Krumlov is only a short distance from the man-made Lake Lipno, on which many people take boat trips to various small towns on the lake and also to the Dam, which is a Hydro-electric power plant. Český Krumlov is home to Pivovar Eggenberg brewery. It has also been used as filming locations for movies such as the 2006 films "The Illusionist" and "Hostel" as well as the 1970s German movie "Traumstadt".

Friday, August 27, 2010

Germany's unique beer tradition

Beer reigns as one of the recognized and popular characteristics of German culture. The nation is home to approximately 1,300 breweries, second only to the United States’ 1,500. The German beer market stands independently from the rest of the world’s beer market due to the German brewers’ adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, or “purity order,” instated in 1516 that requires all German beers to be made only with water, hops, and barley-malt. The law also requires any beers not using barley-malt, such as what and rye, to be top-fermented (warm-fermented). The Germans fall only behind the Czechs and Irish in their per capita consumption of beer.
Germany brews a wide variety of beers. Germany’s top fermenting beers include Weizen, Weizenback, Roggenbier, Berliner Weisse, Leipziger Gose, Altbier, and Koelsch, which range from 2.5 to 8 percent alcohol by volume. Germany’s bottom-fermenting, or cold-fermenting, beers include Helles, Schwarzbier, Pilsener, Export, Spezial, Dunkel, Rauchbier, Bock, Dunkler Bock, Doppelbock, Eisbock, and Muerzen. These varieties are commonly found on tap throughout American bars and range from 4.5 to 15 percent alcohol by volume.
German beer tradition includes leaving some beers unfiltered. Kellerbiers, German for “cellar beer,” are unfiltered lagers conditioned in a similar manner to cask ales. Strength and color will vary, but Kellerbiers most commonly appear a deep amber color with an approximate 5 percent alcohol content.
Zwickelbiers take their name from the traditional practice of the brewery boss taking a sample from the barrel with a special pipe tool called a “Zwickelhahn.” Zwickelbiers are an unfiltered lager like Kellerbier, though with a slightly different conditioning process that gives the lager more carbonation. Zwickelbiers tend to be younger, lower in alcohol content, and less hoppy than Kellerbiers. Many US breweries will use the terms Keller of Zwickel to market unpasteurized beer. German whet beers, Weissbier, are available in unfiltered, Hefeweizen form, or filtered, Kristallweizen form.

Explore Historic Linz, Austria

En route to Germany, the Grapevine Cruise will dock in Linz to explore at leisure and taste the country’s finest beers. Linz is the third-largest city of Austria and capital of the state of Upper Austria. It is located in the north center of Austria, approximately 30 km south of the Czech border, on both sides of the river Danube. The population of the city is 189,284 (2009), and that of the Greater Linz conurbation is 271,000. The city was founded by the Romans, who called it Lentia. The name Linz was first recorded in 799 AD, after Bavarians expanded south and Linz became a center of trade.
Throughout the years, Linz has transformed itself from a gloomy industrial city to a bright and bustling cultural metropolis. Linz boasts a reputation as one of the most successful cities in Austria. A multitude historical figures, including scientists, writers and artists such as Johannes Kepler, Anton Bruckner and Adalbert Stifter, thrived in Linz where they all produced some of their most memorable works. 
As you stroll through the historical Old Town, you may want to enjoy a beer or two at Exxtrablatt or visit the Linz Castle, the Lentos, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Enjoy the locally brewed beers of historic Regensburg

Regensburg, located along the confluence of the Danube and Regen rivers, lies to the west of the Bavarian Forest in Bavaria, Germany. Regensburg serves as the capital of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Palatinate, and the city’s medieval center is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first settlements in Regensburg date back to the Stone Age when the Celts originally settled near the present city. The Romans are accredited for founding the city in approximately AD 90 when they built a small cohort fort in what is now the Regensburg suburbs. The Roman fort Castra Regina, meaning “fortress by the river Regen,” was built for Legio III Italica in AD179 during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The fort’s location became the core of Regensburg’s Altstadt, or “Old City.” Saint Boniface re-established the Bishopric of Regensburg here in 739.
A stone bridge crossing the Danube from Regensburg was completed in 1146, securing the city’s role as a city of wealthy trading families. Regensburg became the cultural center of southern Germany, known for its gold work, fabrics, and beautiful town square.
Regensburg became the World War II Area Headquarters of Military District XIII in the early 1940s, but unlike most other major German cities, Regensburg survived the war relatively undamaged. The city’s slow economic recovery in the post-war era ensured that historic buildings were not torn down, and when the upswing came surged through the city in the 1960s, they mindset favored preservation and restoration of the city’s heritage and historical sites.
The fully-restored historical town square consists of many stunning sights, including the German Gothic Dom Cathedral originally founded in 1275, the Romanesque Basilica of Saint James, the old parish church of Saint Ulrich which houses the diocesan museum of religious art, the fourteenth century town hall, the Golden Tower, and the Gothic villa of the King of Bavaria. Visitors also enjoy visiting Saint Emmeram’s Abbey, now known as Schloss Thurn und Taxis, a huge castle owned by the powerful Thurn and Taxis families.
Although some wine is still grown on the river banks in Regensburg, the city’s main drink is surely beer. The city boasts three functioning breweries and two brew pubs, producing a variety of beer styles, from lighter Pils to heavy Dunkels; wheat beer (Weizen) is also locally made. A popular pub favored by the locals is the "Kneitinger" at the Arnulfsplatz 3. Also the beergardens near the Danube "Alte Linde" and "Spital Garten", both reachable from the Stone Bridge, offer a perfect way to taste Regensburg-brewed beer. The Bischofshof beer can be tasted next to the cathedral in the court of the “Bischofshof,” the brewery’s former location.

Czech Republic: Nation of Beer