Weekend trip: Weltenburg monastery, Befreiungshalle, Donaudurchbruch

We set out early before the sun would get too hot and arrived in Kelheim at about 10.00. This town of 1600 has plenty of well-marked parking lots, n°5 Wöhrd (green) being the closest to the passenger ships with n°4 Donauvorland (red) a bit beyond and free of charge for longer stays. We checked the departure times of the ships and headed up the steep hill to the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), an elegant and high rotunda overlooking the town and the Danube Gorge.

The Bavarian King Ludwig I had this building erected from 1842-1863, first by Gärtner, then upon his death, by Leo von Klenze. It stands on top of the Michelsberg to commemorate the battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleon’s troops. The different hues of yellow and cream are supposed to produce a certain color effect from the distance, much as an impressionist painting. The golden shields held by the 34 Victory angels created by Ludwig Schwanthaler are supposedly the melted bronze of the cannons.

You buy the tickets (€4,50) at the bottom, walk up the hill and steps and enter a turnstile. You can walk on the bottom floor, climb the 132 steps half way up or all the way up to the section that Leo von Klenze added.

After our visit of the Befreiungshalle (Hall of Liberation), we drove down to Kelheim and had an excellent lunch for about €12,- per person at the Weißes Lamm (White Lamb), fresh asparagus and Schnitzel. Then we bought tickets, €4,-, for the Archaeological Museum around the corner, formerly a grain silo.

After an hour or so in the museum, we were glad for some fresh air and wandered over to the landing of the five ships officially permitted to travel through the narrow gap, 80 m wide, between the chalk cliffs towering over the Danube. The little blue train takes tourists around town.

We paid about €12,- each for a return ticket and shoved our overnight cases on board. The crew serves delicious food, coffee and cake, beer and water and everything was very clean and shiny. You will hear a tape in English and German telling you that the current runs at 2.5m/sec, that the deepest spot is 20m down, that private craft may not go through certain parts, that one or another cliff is called “Napoleon’s suitcase” (left after the battle) or the “Virgin” or the three round boulders are the “Three Brothers”.

At the far end you can see the monastery Weltenburg, founded by St. Columbanus disciples as an Iro-Scottish cloister in the 7th century to be missionaries in Bavaria. The monks, currently 11, have changed to the rules of the Benedictine order. The Abbey grew to more prominence in the 18th century and a larger church dedicated to St. George was built by the famous brothers Asam (paintings al fresco and stucco) from 1716 to 1739. 1803 led to the secularization of the buildings which were reappropriated for the village, until King Ludwig I reinstated the monastery, which became independent in 1913.

Nowadays, after its big renovation, the Abbey invites backpackers, singles, seminars, families etc. to stay in its simply furnished, but comfortable rooms, dining area and cafeteria (€85,- for two). Among the weekend courses offered there is learning to paint al fresco and talking about Christian topics. And yes, there is internet!

You can also toss your cell aside and tarry in the church, stop in the shop for books and Weltenburg cookies, buy a ticket for €2,50 to see the historical exhibition including a 60-minute tour of the brewery, sit in the restaurant Klosterschenke (closes at 7 pm sharp when the ships have stopped running!) and enjoy a delicious Brotzeit with a Maß of beer (1 liter, the word derives from ‘measure’) or roast pork, a Bavarian specialty.

The Maldives

Originally we had intended to fly to another destination, but couldn’t find anything we liked, so we followed the advice of a colleague and decided to try the Maldives. We were in no way disappointed! We landed in Malé airport and a boat took us out to Coco, one of the 1200 atoll islands which form a large circle.

We especially love the climate, about 30°, mostly sunny, not so humid and moreover, no “climate change catastrophes” such as tsunamis or typhoons or earthquakes. The people in charge of Coco (my good friends) have transformed this island into a lush paradise of palm trees, flowers and walkways between the island villas and the boardwalks to the water villas, which are more costly, but worth their money.

Coco offers about 5 fantastic restaurants, cafeteria and à la carte, a beauty salon, a diving school, meet and greet evenings, a turtle research center, several shops, e-carts to get to the other end, a large pool. several beaches and many other things.

At the research center you can talk to the marine biologist about how turtles are often caught in fishing nets or plastic waste. They sell adorable stuffed turtles and the proceeds go towards the research. The corals are unfortunately also bleached in many spots since 2016, when the water temperatures rose worldwide. Yet they are altogether still in better shape than, for example, the Red Sea. Many are growing back, due in part to the efforts of the research center.

The snorkeling is wonderful in this clear green-blue water, there are masses of colorful fish, turtles, manrays, small sharks and corals of every hue. You can take boat trips, learn diving, arrange for a massage with aromatic oils, book a table and order fresh fish at one of the open air restaurants, watch the natives dance or just relax on a beach. Hopefully this atoll will now be flooded some day when water levels rise!

Hongkong

Hongkong was the last stop of the three week trip in the group and we added on another day before we flew the 13 hours back home. It is a fascinating city of old and new, hi-tech and traditional. We first had a harbor cruise and afterwards drove up to Victoria Peak for the best views. One can pay to get into the platform, but opposite there is a shopping mall with good windows too. We also visited the largest museum with exhibits of crafts, boats, city model and art.

Naturally, we went to visit a temple with buddha statues, puppet figures and many other buildings of interest. My husband bought a nice cell phone downtown, it just needs a different plug for charging. Many Chinese speak quite good English and are always helpful. We sometimes took the underground subway train, cheap and fast.

Downtown Hongkong is a busy, bustling place. There is so much to see and to admire that it is difficult to describe it all. It is rather a shame that the British influence has lessened, but it is wonderful to visit. We can strongly recommend the Maritime Museum down at the water’s edge.

Hemingway’s mojito – now is mint bloom!

One of the top classic cocktails, and now that the mint flowers are blossoming, a fine time to mix some mojitos against the heat wave Europe is experiencing :

fresh limes, cooled, partially peeled and cut into round discs

cane sugar and a pestle to grind the discs of lime with the teaspoon of sugar

ron añejo, one shot glass

fresh sprigs of mint

crushed ice / cold water and ice cubes

Put several rounds of lime into a mojito glass, a teaspoon of cand sugar on top and grind with the pestle. Add the rum, the crushed ice, some sprigs of mint and a cocktail stirrer. Enjoy while it ‘s hot!

Earnest Hemingway loved this cocktail especially,  as every Cuban tour guide will be eager to point out. He was known for his drinking habits, his intrepid nature when in Cuba or in the Spanish Civil War. Whoever looks for clues, will be able to find them in his short stories: one tenth meaning and nine tenths buried in the underneath currents of meaning like an iceberg.

sea water ocean winter
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Everybody knows of his physical prowess and his symbols of love, friendship, those bewildered repetitions when his characters must adapt  to a new environment, the search for love, light, orderliness, human warmth,  not agony or the strain of war. As to a list of good reads, I’d offer you a library shelf or two, my faves were “A Clean Well-lighted Place”Farewell to Arms“, For Whom the Bell Tolls“, “Fiesta“, “The Old Man and the Bridge“… take your own pick! Oh yes, and for fun, look at his old boat, tiny but double sturdy!

two white goat kids
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