Today, our last full day in Vienna, we went back to the center of Vienna for last minute visits to places we have seen and liked and some that were new to us. Our first stop was the magnificent St Pete's church where we attended last night's exquisite string quartet concert. After we both said short prayers - me for the wonderful guidance and protection of our spirit guides - we continued on to the apartment where Mozart lived between 1784 and 1787, I have walked these narrow streets of Old Vienna for decades but have never known to stop and visit this place where Mozart composed many of his most famous works. Until today. We also visited St Stephen's Cathedral, the most famous of Vienna's many beautiful churches. We had been there before, but not on this trip. The place was always teaming with tourists. Unlike St Peter's which does not allow tourists or tour groups, St Stephen's welcomes them. Today, however, the crowds light. Perhaps because of extreme heat for Vienna? (95F; 35C).
Our farewell concert in the music capital of the world could not have been better if I had scripted it myself. Instead, my spirit guides arranged both the venue and the program in such a perfect way that they brought tears to my eyes. I have been to Vienna many times before. I have even lived here for a while in my lifetimes as Franz Liszt and Jacques Ferdinand Devereaux, a friend of Mozart with whom I collaborated on alchemical nature of music. But I have never been before in this lifetime to the magnificent St Peter's church in the heart of Vienna. And what a fabulous concert it was. A string quartet of outstanding young musicians chose the music of Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Schubert, Haydn and Brahms for the June 20 program that played right into my heart and soul.
Elizabeth and I drove into Vienna this afternoon to complete our "Cruise Down the Danube on Four Wheels." And also on two boats, not to mention the visits to Salzburg, the Adriatic, two magnificent lakes (Plitvice in Croatia and Wörthersee in Austria), and the enormous cave complex in Postojna, Slovenia. This afternoon, we returned our faithful "horse," a VW rental car, that took us to all these places. We thanked God for helping us navigate through all these places safely and without injury to the car or ourselves. And then we celebrated the completion of our journey at the Sacher hotel, right across the Vienna Opera building. Elizabeth had their famous Sacher Torte while I enjoyed the delicious Eiß Schokolade (ice chocolate).
What a day! It started in perfect harmony with the spirit realm and a beautiful morning in Crikvenica, Croatia. It quickly devolved into a hair-raising adventure and our car stuck in the "donkey trail"-size streets of this Mediterranean town. After bailing us out of there, we drove into Slovenia and visited the enormous Postojna Cave, one of the largest in the world (24 km long, 15 miles). Oh, and I did mention that we ended up overnighting at a castle hotel in Austria? On the beautiful Wörther See (lake).
Plitvice Lakes has always been my favorite tourist attraction in the former Yugoslavia. I visited this beautiful area of 16 cascading lakes interconnected by countless large and small waterfalls with my parents when I was just a small child. I returned to it as a 17-year old with four of my high school buddies. I drove through it briefly 27 years ago in the waning days of my old country, just before the Yugoslav wars broke out. We got to Plitvice alright. And we saw the Big Waterfall, and took some pictures at this amazing spot. But we also saw hundreds of buses disgorging thousands of tourists who milled on the Plitvice trails like ants. "That's not 'my Plitvice' anymore," I said. We hit the coast at Senj, Croatia, and eventually were lucky to get a lovely 1-bedroom apartment at a 4-star hotel in Crikvenica. It was the last room available after another Chinese group tour had just checked in.
The “grand finale” of our visit to Belgrade This evening, our last in Serbia, my nephew Stasa arranged for us to have a special private cruise on a speedboat captained by his childhood friend Vlada and assisted by his daughter Masha. Our route took us under all the Belgrade bridges to the point where Sava flows into the Danube. From there, the two great European rivers continue their ride toward the Iron Gates and its two cauldrons where we sailed yesterday. After that, we sailed into the Danube and all around the War Island in the middle of it. We returned toward Belgrade on the southern channel of the Danube which flows right under Zemun, Belgrade’s western suburb.
After a short drive from Grocka, my nephew Stasa dropped off Elizabeth and me at Vukov Spomenik, a park next to the Engineering Faculty of the Belgrade University of which both he and I are graduates. And thus started our walk through Belgrade, and my walk down the memory lane in the city of my birth. So many memories, so many tumultuous historical events, some of which I was a part. And now, just a peaceful city on the confluence of two great European rivers. Four hours later, we finished our walking tour of Belgrade in a shady coffee shop under the walls of the Kalemegdan Fortress, perched high above the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. It was a strategic piece of land over which empires and kingdoms have fought ever since the time of the Roman Empire. But for us, it was just a place for juice and coffee on a hot summer day. One thing that struck me as I was now looking at all these pictures, it was Elizabeth who looked like a soldier in her olive drabs while I looked like a typical American tourist. 🙂
Wow, what a day this has been. PERFECTION from beginning to end. The grand finale of our journey down the Danube from Vienna to its tumultuous passage through the narrow gorge that separates Romania and Serbia. It was a fulfillment of my dream and a 67-year old memory which inspired this trip down Europe's mightiest river and back 2,000 years in history. This was was my most favorite day of the whole trip (#1 – ✮✮✮✮✮).
This was Elizabeth's second-most favorite day of the whole trip (#2 – ✮✮✮✮). "It was so beautiful, so relaxing," she ruminated at the end of our trip about this June 14 day we spent in Grocka (pronounced Gro-tz-ka). "Everything was so serene. Like magic." The day started with music, had music in the middle, and tennis, cherries, watermelon, and a pink Danube sunset in between. It WAS "like magic," as Elizabeth put it.
Our "Cruise down the Danube of Four Wheels" is continuing from Serbia. We started our trip in Srem Mitrovica with visit to my sister and our joint visit to our parent's gravesite. We also paid our respects at her husband's grave and that of a close cousin of ours. I felt like a "designated survivor." We then continued driving through the beautiful Fruska Gora mountain which lies on the right bank of the Danube as Europe's mightiest river winds its way through Serbia. That drive evoked many memories from my youth. Finally, we took a leisurely walk though downtown Belgrade and capped it with a late dinner at the old town's favorite dining district - Skadarlija.