Down Under at Manly Beach

We planned to take the ferry to Manly Beach on Sunday morning, killing two birds with one stone. The ferry would provide us with a highly recommended harbor tour in addition to transporting us to the famed beach suburb of Sydney. The advantage of going Sunday is the price for the ferry is just $2.50 on Sundays although the crowds are definitely thicker.

When we arrived at Wharf 5 on Circular Quay, we asked where to purchase tickets and we were directed to the ticket machines inside the nearby train station. Unfortunately, we neglected to inquire how to get a discounted ticket and paid full price for a single use roundtrip ticket. We later found out we needed to buy an Opal card to take advantage of the discount. We made no mistake by getting an early start, however. We beat the crowds and walked right onto the ferry and found a seat for the 30-minute scenic ride. (You can take the fast ferry which arrives in just 18 minutes but we preferred the leisurely ride.)

Sydney Harbor is a tourist attraction in and of itself. The largest natural harbor in the world, Sydney Harbor attracts boaters, kayakers, divers, recreational fisherman, and over 350 cruise ships each year.

The views from the ferry provided a new perspective of Australia’s largest city. The skyline of the CBD (central business district) was especially impressive and the views of the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and the Royal Botanic Garden delighted us as well.

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Sydney from the harbor

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Sydney Opera House

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Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

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Jim with the Royal Botanic Garden in the background

I love lighthouses and the Hornby Lighthouse is a red and white striped charmer. Constructed in 1858, the lighthouse is located in Sydney Harbour National Park with many hiking trails through the bushland. With more time, a visit would likely have been on my list.

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Hornby Lighthouse

As we approached Manly Cove, we noted many pleasure craft, an indication it’s a popular spot for boaters, too.

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Manly Cove

Our ferry pulled up to the Manly Wharf and we followed the stream of foot traffic off the boat and along the Manly Corso, a pedestrian street connecting the wharf to the beach. Originally built as a boardwalk and named for the Via del Corso in Rome, the street is filled with shops and restaurants.

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Manly Wharf

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Manly Corso

The beach is lined with pine trees and picnic tables in the shade for those, like us, who want to avoid sunburn.

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Jim and Lori

Plenty of sun worshippers had already staked out their spots on the beach, however.

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Manly Beach

The Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, one of the many stunning coastal walks around Sydney, ends at the Manly Wharf. But instead, we strolled along the Manly Parade which follows the coast from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach. We didn’t go as far as Shelly Beach but we enjoyed some stunning views, nonetheless.

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Jim and Lori on the Manly Parade

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Manly Beach from the Manly Parade

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View from the Manly Parade

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Return stroll on the Manly Parade

Although we only went into the water up to our ankles, we were wet to our waists just after the photos below when a wave drenched us.  We also enjoyed watching those surfers riding the waves behind us.

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Jim and me

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By early afternoon we were ready to take the return ferry to Circular Quay. As I took a photo of a sister ferry passing the Harbour Bridge, we noticed the line of people on top who had climbed the bridge. I’ve enlarged the second photo below so you can see them better. It’s the one regret Jim has from this trip. He decided not to do the climb and has regretted it ever since. The views are incredible from up there but you can’t take anything including cameras with you. Since I’m guilty of thinking it doesn’t happen unless it’s recorded on Instagram, I was content to walk the bridge and I’ll share those photos later. We may have to go back for Jim to do the climb, however.

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One of the ferries on Sydney Harbor

Version 2

Back in Sydney, it was time to try another pub. Fortune of War, established in 1828, is Sydney’s oldest pub. With live music in the middle of the afternoon, customers seeking a pint, or a late lunch, or both, packed the place and we gladly joined them.

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Rick, Lori, and Jim outside Fortune of War (Note wisdom on the chalkboard)

We had plenty more planned for day 2 in Sydney so come back and tour the Sydney Opera House with us.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Australia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Day 1 Down Under

As we sat in the airport waiting to board our 2 pm flight on Thursday, February 7, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa, our friend Rick remarked, “I feel like we’ve been traveling 24 hours and we haven’t even left yet.” Twenty-seven hours later, we arrived in Sydney, Australia at 9 am on Saturday. None of us slept well in our economy seats on the 14-hour flight from Los Angeles but honestly, I found it was easier than an 8-hour flight to Europe. It was long enough that we had to sleep at least a little.

After immigration (don’t forget to get your visa for Australia on-line before you go) and customs, we stopped at an ATM to get some Aussie dollars, then found a taxi to take us to our Airbnb in the historic neighborhood of The Rocks. With four of us, a taxi was less expensive than public transportation but when it’s just Jim and me, public transportation is usually cheaper for just two. We couldn’t check in until later in the afternoon but we’d arranged to leave our luggage at the townhouse while we explored the area. Celebrating the warm weather, we also managed to change into shorts before we set out.

Feeling jet-lagged after our long journey, we wanted to take it easy the first day and stay awake until a normal bedtime to reset our circadian rhythms to our new time zone. (Or at least, that was my plan.)

Research told me the first inhabitants of The Rocks were the indigenous Gadigal people of the Eora Nation who called the area Tallawodahla. The British established a penal colony in the 18th century and the convicts called the area The Rocks after the rocky sandstone they found. Historic buildings in The Rocks have been preserved or restored and today are occupied by restaurants and shops.  On Saturdays and Sundays, The Rocks Markets, where local artisans sell their products, operate from 10-5 so we wandered that direction to check it out.

On the map below, Windmill Street, where our condo was located, is circled in red and the area of the markets is the red marker. The Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera are underlined in red to show how convenient our location was to those attractions, too.

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The Rocks, the oldest area of Sydney

We easily found the markets but when we spied a pub with outdoor seating, none of us could resist a brief respite.

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Argyle Street in The Rocks with tents from the Markets behind us

Pubs quickly became our choice for meals, offering good authentic Australian cuisine at a reasonable price.  I’d read about iconic Australian foods including Vegemite, meat pies, prawns (shrimp to us), barramundi, fish and chips, bbq, avocado toast, fairy bread, beetroot, and kangaroo, to name a few, and I was keen to taste most of them. I’ve had Vegemite before and I’m not a fan so I quickly scratched that from the list. Jim’s kangaroo sausage pictured above tasted like any sausage but it was a tasty snack.

Refreshed, we sauntered on to continue our first look at the neighborhood.

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The Markets at the Rocks, Sydney

Fortunately, our arrival coincided with the Sydney Lunar Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Pig. All the Chinese zodiac animals were represented by lunar lanterns located around Circular Quay but on our first walk-through, I got photos of the spiral pig and the snake. We also noted this convenient location was where we would board our cruise ship several days later.

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Spiral pig lantern (note flying pigs on top)

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Close-up of pigs

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Snake lantern

Although Jim and I were in Sydney two years previously, our first views of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House were just as captivating this time.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Opera House

Campbell’s Storehouses, constructed in the 19th century, line Campbell’s Wharf and house up-scale restaurants and shops.

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Campbell’s Storehouses

The ASN Warehouse, built of sandstone and brick, is another 19th-century building that brings history to life in the area.

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ASN Warehouse, The Rocks

A replica of an Aboriginal pictograph showed recognition of and respect for the Aboriginal community. Many shops in the area sell authentic Aboriginal crafts such as the didgeridoo, a wind instrument created by termites hollowing out a eucalyptus branch. (In my imagination, I picture factories around Australia crawling with termites working hard to ready the eucalyptus.)

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Didgeridoos sold in a local shop in The Rocks

By 3 pm, check-in time at our condo, we were all ready to return. After a little unpacking and settling in, the guys ended up succumbing to temptation and slept in spite of my warning.

Following their naps, we checked out my brother and sister-in-law’s favorite pub for dinner, The Hero of Waterloo.

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Who would sit indoors with this weather?

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The interior of every pub was quaint and historic

The sandwiches on the menu all came with chips which in Aussie English are french fries. What we call chips, they call crisps. Lesson learned.

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My sister-in-law recommended the potato wedges with chili and sour cream which I ordered and they were delicious. With Jim’s chips, however, we were heavy on potatoes.

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Potato wedges

But Rick’s Chilli Lime Prawns took the prize for the best meal of the night. I’m still drooling over them looking at the photo!

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Chilli Prawns (their spelling, not mine)

Following a leisurely meal, Lori and I decided to walk to Cole’s, the nearest supermarket about 1 km away. After a few directional challenges in spite of Google maps on my iPhone, we found the spot on the map but saw no store and no signs. When we asked pedestrians in the area, they directed us through a building and down to a lower level. We never would have figured it out without help but throughout our holiday, we had the same experience several more times. Travel is so educational for these Iowa country bumpkins.

We planned to take the ferry to Manly Beach the next morning so it was early to bed but please come back and join us for another fun-filled day down under.

 

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Planning to Cruise Australia

Our visit to Australia in 2017 was cut short (you can read about it here) and I’ve been watching ever since for a repeat offer of that cruise itinerary.  If you look at cruises of Australia, you’ll notice most itineraries include many ports in New Zealand and very few in Australia. Because Australia is such a large country and I wanted to see more than just one city, I always thought a cruise would be an efficient way to maximize our time and see more. Our 19-day cruise in 2017 began in Auckland, New Zealand with a stop in Bay of Islands before heading to Australia with stops in 6 cities along the eastern and northern coasts, followed by stops in Indonesia and Malaysia and ending in Singapore.

The itinerary now offered by Norwegian Cruise Line has changed somewhat. The cruise no longer begins in New Zealand which we visited during our 2017 cruise so that was fine with us. Malaysia is replaced by Semarang, Indonesia, on the itinerary which was a disappointment to me (and an even bigger disappointment when we saw Semarang but more on that in a future post.) This was the itinerary:

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I booked the cruise on April 27, 2018, when the price was $6352.80 for an ocean view cabin for my husband and me. In 2017, we paid just under $5000 so the price seemed a little high but I knew if the price came down, I could rebook. I checked periodically and finally in August, the price went down to $5834.36. Then September 1, the price went down to $5134.36 and finally toward the end of September it hit $4187.20. Each time I rebooked at the new price keeping the same cabin and our original amenities which included free internet minutes and a $50 credit per person for a shore excursion at each port. If you haven’t done this before, you call the cruise line and say, “I see the price for my cruise has gone down. Can you help me rebook at the new price?” Simple but we saved a lot of $$$.

Fortunately, we saved on our cruise fare because I was sure an open jaw airfare to Sydney and back from Singapore would be expensive. I decided to check on a multi-city fare with a 3 day stop in Tokyo to visit our friend, Tomo. (More on Tomo later, too.) I could hardly believe my good fortune when I found this itinerary on Delta for the rock bottom price of $1246.43 each. Tip: When you see a good price, don’t hesitate; book it because it probably won’t be there long!

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With cruise and airfare booked, it was time to work on accommodations in Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Sidenote: Many people have asked me whether I use a travel agent for my trips. I research and book everything myself. I enjoy the planning part of my travels nearly as much as the travel and I have a vested interest in finding the best deals.

My brother and his wife visited Sydney in 2018 so I asked them whether they would recommend their Airbnb accommodations. They heartily endorsed the three-bedroom condo located in Miller’s Point in the heart of “The Rocks” but cautioned us there wasn’t aircon. They were there in April in the middle of a heatwave but we thought a heatwave in February was unlikely and the location just couldn’t be beaten. It was pricey but we were traveling with friends and hoped a third couple would join us to share the cost. In the end, it was just the two couples but we were all glad we stayed there in spite of temperatures in the 90s, no screens on the windows with resulting mosquito bites, and a cost of $442 per night.

 

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Jim, Rick, and Lori outside our Airbnb in Sydney

Next, I looked at hotels in Singapore. In 2017 I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Express but had to cancel it when our trip ended at Sydney. I couldn’t find a better price including breakfast in a better location so, against my better judgment, I booked it again. I usually avoid staying at American chains when traveling abroad, preferring to experience local culture and accommodations instead. This hotel was gorgeous and you’ll see more of it in future posts.

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Interior of Holiday Inn Express, Singapore

Finally, I researched Tokyo lodging. Tomo was staying with us in the US at the time so I had his guidance in selecting a hotel. In spite of that, when he looked at the hotel I booked he said the hotel I selected was in the area where Japanese mafia or yakuza could be found. Sure enough, I read reviews indicating the red light district was nearby! He directed me to another area where we enjoyed the Mitsui Garden Hotel immensely.

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Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo

In between searches for lodging, Lori and I looked at cruise excursions and quickly decided several were not to be missed–snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Komodo Island to see the dragons, and the opportunity to hold a koala. We also scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We decided we would schedule any other tours or excursions as we went.

Last but not least, I attacked the challenge of packing for a month in a carry-on suitcase. Fortunately, we had laundry facilities at our condo in Sydney and our platinum status with NCL provided us with laundry service onboard but careful selection was important, nevertheless. When I mentioned my packing issues to Lori, she said, “You did a packing post before this cruise two years ago. Why don’t you just look at that?” You can see that post here. When I looked at it, I discovered I had selected almost the same clothes this time around! But this time, I decided a month-long journey required more than 3 ounces of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and sunscreen so I decided to buy those items in Sydney.

We were ready. But of course, any time you plan to travel in Iowa in February, you have weather issues and this trip was no exception. Two days before our departure, we received an email warning us of impending weather issues that could affect our flights. I spent some time researching options and in the end, we decided to travel to Des Moines a day early and let the chips fall where they may. After a nightmarish drive through ice and snow to Des Moines, our flights the following day were unaffected.

Come back next time for our arrival in Sydney.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, open jaw, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Amsterdam Revisited

In November 2017, our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine ended in Amsterdam so we scheduled two days in the city before our return flight to the U.S. Although we’ve visited Amsterdam several times previously and we’ve seen most of the top tourist sights, it was time to revisit some favorites and add a couple of new experiences, too.

The ship docked within walking distance of Amsterdam Centraal Train Station and we headed there first to orient ourselves for the walk to our accommodations at Swissotel just a half mile down Damrak.

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Amsterdam Centraal Train Station

Although it was too early to check into our hotel, we left our bags there and ventured out to explore the area before our scheduled 1 p.m. tour at the Anne Frank House.

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Our hotel

Our hotel was next to Dam Square where the Royal Palace of Amsterdam is located. Originally built in the 17th century as the town hall of Amsterdam, it was converted to a palace for Napolean’s brother, Louis Bonaparte, who was named King of the Netherlands and lived there for 5 years beginning in 1808. Since the departure of the French, it has been used by the Dutch Royal Family for royal receptions and ceremonies. Today, it is one of three palaces used by the royal family and is normally open to the public. We didn’t have time this trip but I’d be interested in a tour next time.

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Royal Palace of Amsterdam

We walked back to the Amsterdam Tourist Office located right outside Amsterdam Centraal Train Station to purchase our GVB multiday ticket which allowed us unlimited use of public transportation by bus, tram, and metro during our stay.

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Tourist Information

We checked back at the hotel and we were able to deposit our luggage in our room prior to setting off for the Anne Frank House. We arrived early for our tour and rather than stand in line with our pre-purchased tickets, we elected to explore the area a bit and take some photos. As you can see below, both canals and bicycles are ubiquitous in Amsterdam!

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Canal in Amsterdam

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Bicycles galore!

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Another beautiful canal

I’ve toured the Anne Frank House twice before and each visit was busier than the previous one. It’s amazing that nearly 1.3 million people from all over the world visit the museum each year. Anne’s life and her diary have made an enormous impact in our world and the continued interest gives me hope for humanity.

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Anne Frank House

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The bookcase that hid the doorway into the secret annex

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Pictures on the wall of Anne and Margot’s room encased in glass to protect them

After our tour, we wandered some more, finally returning to our hotel as the sun was setting where I got this photo of Amsterdam rooftops.

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Sunset in Amsterdam

After a brief respite, we were off again to meet our friend, Iris, at the train station for dinner together. Iris, who is Dutch and now lives in Amsterdam, lived with us in Iowa while she volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. We were excited to see her again and hear what she’d been up to during the intervening year. She led us off on a new experience, taking the free ferry across the IJ river to North Amsterdam, where we walked a short distance to THT Restaurant. THT specializes in small plates to share and we ordered an abundance of tasty dishes which we devoured while we talked world politics and our lives since the U.S. presidential election.

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Jim and I with Iris at THT

The next morning we took the tram to the Van Gogh Museum where we had pre-purchased tickets. We arrived before the museum opened so we found a charming cafe, Small Talk Coffee Corner, where we enjoyed coffee and breakfast.

 

The Van Gogh Museum is an amazing facility housing the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, including 200 paintings and 400 drawings, as well as 700 of his letters. Photographs are not allowed of the artwork but you can see his complete works on this website. The tragic life story of Vincent Van Gogh is every bit as fascinating as his art and the museum tells the story well.

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View from inside Van Gogh Museum

Another tram ride took us to the Dutch Resistance Museum, dedicated to the courageous Dutch citizens who risked their lives to resist the Nazis who occupied their country from May 1940 until May 1945 during WWII. It was our first visit to this remarkable museum. I especially appreciated the exhibit about the 1300 illegal newspapers which operated to ensure people were informed about what was really going on rather than relying on propaganda issued by the Germans. The papers also encouraged resistance and helped to maintain Dutch morale. If you ever doubted the importance of a free press, see this museum.

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Dutch Resistance Museum

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Printing press

The only criticism I had of this museum was the lighting wasn’t sufficient for old eyes. I wanted to read everything and it was sometimes hard to see the print due to the lighting.

After the museum, we stopped by a small restaurant nearby for some poffertjes, a small Dutch pancake made with buckwheat flour and adorned with butter and powdered sugar. My sister-in-law, who is of Dutch heritage, introduced us to poffertjes and we’re big fams.

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As we continued to wander, I captured some images of interesting architecture and neighborhoods.

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Oude Kerk

The sight below definitely caught my interest, mostly because I wondered if there was an option for women or if this was strictly designed for males.

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Street relief

And of course, the most gorgeous photos include the canals.

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Another Canal in Amsterdam

When we reached the red light district, I had my I-phone in my hand and while I wasn’t taking photos, I had several women pull their curtains across their windows or mouth obscenities to me.

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The message is loud and clear

While in the red light district, we happened upon Bulldog No. 90, the first coffee shop in Amsterdam. When the shop opened in 1975, visitors surreptitiously smoked marijuana on the premises. Today, if you’re at least 18 years old, pot-smoking is legal in coffee shops all over the city. We didn’t go inside.

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Bulldog No. 90

The Dutch are also known for their cheese and we needed some cheese for a wine and cheese event on a canal cruise we’d arranged that evening with two couples from our cruise. Gouda is my Dutch favorite.

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Cheese shop

As we headed to our canal tour that evening, we noticed that even though it was early November, the Christmas decorations were up and the lights were lit in Amsterdam.

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Christmas decorations in Amsterdam

The lights from the canal tour were spectacular although, honestly, I prefer a daytime tour in spite of the wine and cheese.

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There’s plenty more to see and do in Amsterdam but it was time for us to return to the United States until the next time.

 

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saying Goodbye to the Viking Kara

We arrived in Amsterdam on day 8 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. My blog posts for this trip have focused mostly on the ports of call and excursions we enjoyed along the way. But before I tell you about Amsterdam, our final port of call, I want to share some photos of ship life on the Viking Kara. Spoiler alert! For those of you who dislike food photos, this post isn’t for you.

Our cabin was small but comfortable. We chose a room on the first deck at water level since it was the least expensive and we thought it would be too chilly to use a veranda in November anyway. If you’re sensitive to noise, I must caution against this option, however, as we could often hear the engine noise. It didn’t bother us too much and the money saved was welcome.

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Our first dinner onboard Elvia and Geoff were seated with us for dinner and we enjoyed one another’s company so much, they had dinner with us every evening thereafter and often we had breakfast and lunch together, too.

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Elvia, Lori, Heather, Jim, and Geoff

The food was beautifully presented, well-prepared, and delicious. One evening even featured traditional German dishes with entertainment.

 

The service in the dining room and throughout the ship was superior.

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We enjoyed the onboard entertainment including traditional German and French selections as well as the pianist. We were usually the last to leave the dance floor in the evening although it was only 11:00.

 

Our cruise director, Ria, was knowledgeable and entertaining. We felt fortunate to have enjoyed her expertise on her last cruise with Viking. As a new mom, I think the time away from home was too difficult. Even though we’ve been to Amsterdam numerous times, she gave us excellent advice about the city which we hadn’t heard previously.

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This was our second river cruise with Viking and we thoroughly enjoyed our 8 days cruising the Rhine River. When we finished our excursions to the French and German countryside each day, we appreciated returning to our welcoming and comfortable ship where we relaxed, recharged, and readied ourselves for more explorations.

 

We’ll definitely look for more itineraries with this line in the future.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Food, France, Germany, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Polders in Kinderdijk

In spite of being in Kinderdijk, home of the largest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands, I got only one photo of a windmill. Our ship docked around 2:00 pm on day 7 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine and we had to talk ourselves into leaving the ship because of unrelenting rain accompanied by a cold wind. If Kinderdijk hadn’t been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its nineteen 18th century windmills keeping the land dry for so many years, I’d probably have taken a pass on the included walking tour. And even though Viking provided us with sturdy umbrellas, it was a miserable walk.

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Windmill at Kinderdijk

Our guide led us first to the Archimedes screw that pumps water from the polder to the basin. Huh? OK, according to Dictionary.com, a polder is “a tract of low land, especially in the Netherlands, reclaimed from the sea or another body of water and protected by dikes.” The Archimedes screw is one method used to drain water from the polder, the other is a windmill and since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, the technology is essential. Incidentally, the threat of global climate change is severe to the Netherlands and the Dutch are leading the way in developing new methods to deal with rising water levels.

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Archimedes screw at Kinderdijk

Next, we moved to the outside of a windmill where our guide demonstrated the mechanism to turn the direction of the windmill by hand to face the wind.

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Turning the windmill

Although the information and demonstration were interesting, we were relieved to go inside a working windmill and get out of the elements. Once inside, we saw the living quarters and working mechanism. The under-wheel was on the main level along with a combination living area, kitchen, and bedroom.

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Under-wheel in windmill

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A sleeping area in the windmill

The second floor contained more sleeping areas for the many children in the miller’s family. The third level was the smoke attic where the miller smoked fish caught in a net as the water was moved. The fourth floor, called the grease attic, held most of the working mechanism of the windmill.

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The working mechanism in a windmill

The top floor was not open for us to tour.

When we were finished touring the windmill, we had the option to continue or return to the ship. Due to the nasty weather, we chose to return to the ship. We would end our cruise in Amsterdam the following day and hopefully, see more of the Netherlands in better weather.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Under the Mistletoe at Brühl Palaces

Brühl, Germany, home of the Brühl Palaces where we booked an optional excursion for the afternoon of the 6th day of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine, is located just 18 km south of Cologne. After a short bus ride following lunch, we arrived at the Augustusburg Palace, one of the first rococo buildings in Germany. Rococo style, also called Late Baroque, is characterized by elaborate but light and airy ornamentation and pastel colors.  Constructed beginning in 1725, the summer palace was a favorite residence of Clemens Augustus, Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. The palace took over 40 years to complete partly because Clemens Augustus’s brother didn’t think the first version was good enough so the palace designed by a German architect was completely demolished and construction commenced again under a French architect. Today, Augustustburg Palace, the formal gardens, and nearby Falkenlust Hunting Lodge comprise the UNESCO World Heritage site called the Brühl Palaces.

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Augustusburg Palace

Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed inside the palaces so I can’t show you the jaw-droppingly lavish interiors. You can see several images, however, if you click on this link to the official website and then click on the photos in the picture gallery. Be sure to notice the magnificent marble staircase which is especially impressive.

The outside photos will give you an idea of the opulence, however.

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Augustusburg Palace

As I looked at the interior of the palace and the surrounding formal gardens, I was reminded of Versailles which was built several years earlier in the ornate Baroque style, albeit on an even grander scale. After all, Versailles boasts 700 rooms whereas Augustusburg has only 120.

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Gardens at Augustusburg Palace

As you can see, the fountains weren’t operational in November but the gardens impressed us nevertheless.

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Augustusburg Gardens

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Augustusburg Palace

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Jim and I at Augustusburg Palace

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Lake at Augustusburg Palace

I was fascinated by a colorful duck swimming serenely on the lake and, after some research, discovered it was a Mandarin duck. They are native to China and Japan but prolific in Britain due to their importation in the 18th century. More recently, rogue Mandarins have escaped and can be found in Germany and in other forested habitats as far away as California.

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Mandarin duck

The orbs of foliage I spotted in the trees were even more intriguing. When I pointed them out to Jim, he claimed it was mistletoe which our guide subsequently confirmed. Mistletoe is actually a parasite that attaches to the host and literally sucks the life out of it. It’s very difficult to eradicate which, considering the abundance we saw, was quite alarming.

 

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Trees invaded by mistletoe

 

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A quick kiss under the mistletoe (Jim thinks this is a terrible photo but I kind of like it)

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I call this the juxtaposition of simplicity and extravagance

Although the hunting lodge, Falkenlust, is within walking distance, the tour bus delivered us directly to the gate. Too bad, as it would have been a lovely stroll through the woods.  The hunting lodge wouldn’t have required visitors to rough it whatsoever. Take a peek inside here. The over 9000 hand-made Delft tiles surrounding the circular staircase were a definite highlight.

 

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Just a small hunting shack in the forest

 

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The roadway from the hunting lodge

A small building behind the hunting lodge wasn’t open to the public but I did take a few photos through the windows of the renovations occurring inside.

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Work underway at the building behind Falkenlust

If you’re in Cologne, take the time to visit the Brühl Palaces. As the first examples of rococo architecture in Germany, their historical importance is unquestionable. We were definitely impressed and we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon there.

As we sailed away from Cologne later that evening, Jim captured one last memorable view of Cologne Cathedral.

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Cologne Cathedral

And, as we said goodbye to Cologne, we also said goodbye to Germany since our next port the following day would be in the Netherlands.

Based on events from November 2017.

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Ode to Cologne

We arrived in Cologne, Germany in the morning on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and one of the oldest in the country with a history dating as far back as the first century AD when the Romans founded the city naming it Colonia. Our included excursion for this port was a walking tour of the old city which we began soon after our arrival.

Our guide immediately told us over 90% of the Old Town was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII. We were impressed with the results of reconstruction efforts.

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Old Town Cologne

Next to the river, what appeared at first glance to be a clockface turned out to be a depth gauge showing the water level of the river. As you can see below, the depth was under 2 meters which is why we suspected our ship scraped bottom a few times and the ship’s captain expressed concern about the next cruise.

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I’ve seen love locks on bridges in other cities including Venice, Italy but the 2 tons of locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge was definitely impressive. The city considered removing them and not allowing this show of commitment but the outcry caused them to reconsider and the tradition continues.

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Hohenzollern Bridge

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Love Locks on Hohenzollern Bridge

Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed beginning in 1248 but wasn’t finally completed until 1880.  It was the world’s tallest building until 1884 when the Washington Monument displaced it. Today it is still visible from most of the city and I took numerous photographs of both the impressive facade and the interior.

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The twin spires as we approach Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

Below are just a couple of the over 125 gargoyles decorating the exterior of the cathedral.

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Gargoyles on Cologne Cathedral

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Entrance to Cologne Cathedral

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Sculpture at entrance of Cologne Cathedral

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Our guide tells us about the cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral interior

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One of many stained glass windows in Cologne Cathedral

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Altarpiece in Cologne Cathedral

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Interior of Cologne Cathedral

The cathedral houses the relics of the three Magi, the wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child. Between the late 1100’s and early 1200’s, goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun created The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings which holds the relics.

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The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Cologne Cathedral

Next door to the Cathedral, we peered in the windows of the Roman-Germanic Museum, built in 1974 over a Roman Villa. The mosaic below depicting the story of Dionysus was discovered when a bomb shelter was built during WWII. Sadly, we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Mosaic in Roman-Germanic Museum 

As our tour moved on, our guide told us about Italian-born perfumier, Giovanni Maria Farina, who created eau de cologne in 1709 and named it for his adopted home. The fragrance featured scents of orange, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, jasmine, violet, and sandalwood. In a letter to his brother, he wrote, “I have discovered a scent that reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.”  You can still purchase the original scent at the perfumery.

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Home of Farina Perfumery

Kölsch style ale was also created in Cologne, a hybrid of ale and lager brewing methods, served in a stange glass.

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Stange glasses for Kölsch beer

Following our walking tour, we made our way back to the ship for lunch prior to our afternoon excursion to the Brühl Palaces.

 

 

Based on events in November 2017.

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remarkable Marksburg

Perched high atop a steep hill overlooking the town of Braubach, Marksburg was constructed around 1231 with expansion to its current size in 1283. As the only hilltop castle on the Middle Rhine River which was never destroyed, it’s the best surviving example of a medieval castle in the area. You may recall in my last post I said nearby Pfaltzgrafenstein Castle was never destroyed, which is true, but it’s on the river rather than on a hilltop.

While Marksburg was never destroyed, it did suffer damage from US artillery fire in March 1945, and the castle was painstakingly repaired by the German Castles Association following WWII. Today, it’s the most visited of the Middle Rhine castles, albeit by guided tour only. We were grateful our Viking River Cruise included an excursion to this remarkable fortress.

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Town of Braubach, Germany

As our bus climbed the hill to the castle, I tried to get photos and realized the best views were actually from the river but the drive through the amber autumn foliage was gorgeous, nevertheless.

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Driving up to the hilltop castle, Marksburg

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View of Marksburg from the bus

Following our ascent by bus, we trudged another 150 yards uphill on foot which, for some of us, was challenging right after lunch.

Four gates prevented intruders from breaching the castle. The first is a drawbridge gate followed by a tunnel. The gatekeeper’s room, connected to the tunnel, has been converted to an antique bookshop.

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The tunnel at Drawbridge Gate

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Antique bookstore in the old gatekeeper’s room

Once inside the first gate, we had time to enjoy the view, visit the restroom or gift shop, or simply catch our breath before the tour commenced.

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Catching our breath and enjoying the view

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The tour began at the second gateway, Fox Gate, where we followed our guide who possessed a large skeleton key to allow us through the third medieval gateway, Arrow Slit Gate. I understand the fourth gateway in Stewards Tower was altered sometime in the past. To my knowledge, we didn’t see it or, maybe I simply missed it.

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Our guide with the key to the kingdom

Arrow Slit Gate features a machicolation, a projection from which defenders threw rocks on the intruders below. I’ve circled the machicolation on the photo. Fortunately for us, no one seemed to be on rock-throwing duty that day.

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The Rider’s Stairway continued the upward ascent on stairs carved into the bedrock. I was beginning to understand why the cruise line described this excursion as physically demanding.

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Rider’s Stairway

At the top of Rider’s Stairway, our guide told us about the various owners of the castle who were all represented by their coats of arms.

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Coats of arms of Marksburg owners

The small blacksmith’s workshop gave us an idea of how a medieval forge and anvil would have looked.

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Blacksmith’s workshop

The Romanesque Palas is the oldest part of the castle. It houses offices and the general manager’s apartment and is not open to the public.

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Romanesque Palas

The Great Battery houses cannons overlooking the Rhine River. From this vantage point, the castle controlled access from the river. This building dates from 1589 and 1711.

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The Great Battery

Finally, at the top, we paused once more for a look at the view which was quite spectacular.

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View from Marksburg

Before entering the castle, our guide told us about the garden which contained around 150 mostly medicinal plants that would have grown here in medieval times. Poisonous nightshade and hemlock were also grown —maybe to battle enemies inside the castle?

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Castle garden

When we heard how the contents of the castle toilet ran down the wall in the photo below, I realized castle life wasn’t all that romantic.

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Castle toilet

Still imagining the odors from the toilet when we entered the wine cellar, I decided I’d have needed more wine to cope with life in the Middle Ages.

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Wine cellar in Marksburg

Moving on to the kitchen, we heard servants would have worked in this space and served the noble family in the hall upstairs.

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Kitchen

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Kitchen

Like the toilet, this sink also obviously emptied along the outside castle wall.

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The paneled bedchamber contained a canopied bed, a cradle, and a sitting area. The canopy provided both privacy and warmth for the lord and his lady.

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Bedchamber

And we got to see the toilet from the inside, too.

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Toilet

A combination of living and dining room, most of the noble family’s activities took place in the Great Hall. Musical instruments and a chess set in this area indicated some of the available entertainment options.

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The Great Hall

The exquisitely painted 14th-century chapel was used by the noble family for daily devotions and services.

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The chapel

After our visit to the chapel, we took a narrow stairway to the next floor where we saw the Gimbel Collection, consisting of both original and replicas of armor and weaponry from ancient to early modern times.

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The Gimbel Collection

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Work in process in the Gimbel Collection

Our final stop inside the castle was in the former stable which today houses a gruesome exhibit on torture and punishment in the Middle Ages.

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Torture and punishment exhibit

As I pondered the sights we’d seen at Marksburg on our return bus ride to the Viking Kara, we passed by the Electoral Palace at Koblenz, built in the late 18th century. I concluded castle life in the Middle Ages with its privation, hardship, and disagreeable odors was not all that romantic. I think I’d prefer to live in a palace.

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Electoral Palace, Koblenz

 

Based on events from November 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Castles on the Rhine

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the 65 km (40mi) stretch of river between Bingen and Koblenz, Germany, boasts more than 40 castles. If you, like me, are fascinated by these romantic fortresses, be sure to book one of the day river cruises because the best views are from the river. We, fortunately, cruised through the region on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine River while we enjoyed an outstanding narration by our cruise director, Ria.

The morning of November 2 was quite chilly but luckily, the sky was cloudless. We’d brought plenty of warm clothing so we bundled up and claimed a spot on the upper deck where the cruise line provided chairs with blankets and hot drinks (alcohol included) to ensure our comfort. Many passengers preferred to stay inside where it was warm but I was intent on getting the best photos possible without window glare.

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Dressed for the weather

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We didn’t have to fight for a seat

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Jim enjoying the view and a hot drink

The Rhine has been a major waterway used to transport goods between southern and northern Europe since Roman times. As such, opportunities to make money abounded whether by transporting goods, robbing those who transported goods or protecting those who transported goods. As a result, numerous castles sprang up along the river. Some were home to robber knights who preyed on merchant ships and others provided protection for and exacted tolls from those using the waterway.

I purchased a booklet entitled, The Castles of the Rhine, from which I garnered some of the details below in addition to the information Ria shared. I tried to show how the castles looked from the river rather than close up with a telephoto lens and the photos below are in the order we saw the castles.

Originally called Vogtsberg, Rheinstein Castle was built in the early 1300’s but an earlier fortress likely preceded its presence on this site. Its purpose was to provide protection from robber knights attacking from nearby Reichenstein Castle. Today it is restored and open to the public.

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Rheinstein Castle

Constructed in the early 11th century, Reichenstein Castle was home to generations of robber knights. Rudolf von Habsburg,  who was elected king in 1273, besieged the castle in 1282, finally forcing its surrender through starvation. The castle was burned down and later rebuilt in spite of Rudolf’s orders to the contrary. Today, guests can explore this history and more with a visit to the castle and its museum and even book a stay at the hotel and dine at the onsite restaurant.

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Reichenstein Castle

Nearby Sooneck Castle, constructed in the 11th century and named for Soon Forest, was also a robber knight castle which Rudolf besieged along with Reichenstein in 1282 and, although rebuilding was likewise forbidden, it was rebuilt in 1349. Today, it is also open to the public.

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Sooneck Castle

Some of the castles like Furstenberg are ruins but the surrounding vineyard is still under cultivation.

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Furstenberg Castle ruin

Stahleck Castle was built around 1100. In 1194, it was the location of the secret Stahleck Marriage of Agnes and Henry the Elder of Brunswick whose families were feuding. Legend has it when the couple produced a grandchild, the family reconciled. The castle was destroyed by the French in 1689 and restored in the early 20th century. Today it houses a youth hostel.

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Stahleck Castle

Built on the river specifically to collect shipping tolls in the early 14th century, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle has never been destroyed which is quite a distinction. The water level in the river was abnormally low when we visited but the castle normally appears to float on the water.   The appearance led the French poet, Victor Hugo, to memorialize the castle when he described it as, “A ship of stone, eternally afloat upon the Rhine…” The castle is open for tours.

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Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Gutenfels Castle was constructed beginning in 1200. I thought this castle was especially picturesque with the vineyard on the hillside and the town of Sankt Goar on the bank of the Rhine below. Today the castle is private property.

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Gutenfels Castle

Documentation of Schonburg Castle goes back to the 12th century but its roots may go back as far as the Roman occupation in the 3rd century. According to the castle’s website, this was one of the few castles where all sons inherited rather than following the system of primogeniture. Consequently, in the 14th century 24 families and up to 250 people lived there at the same time but, interestingly, by 1719, the line of succession completely died out. Today, this castle also features a hotel and restaurant.

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Schonberg Castle

As we passed the Loreley, a 433 ft (132 m) high slate rock, our cruise director, Ria, explained this section of the Upper Middle Rhine is particularly treacherous because it’s deep, narrow, and curvy with strong currents which have resulted in numerous accidents and shipwrecks through the years.

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Loreley

The currents combined with an echo produced by the rock create a murmur which inspired a German folk-tale about a siren named Lorelei. When jilted by her lover, Lorelei threw herself into the Rhine and her spirit has since lured fishermen to destruction when they heard her singing as she sat above them on the rock combing her long blond locks. A poem about Lorelei by Heinrich Heine in 1824 has been set to music by over 25 composers. You can read a translation of the poem below.

Lorelei
By Heinrich Heine
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She’s combing her golden hair.

She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He’d rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song’s sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.

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Sculpture of Lorelei on the Rhine

Built by Count Wilhelm II around 1371, Napolean ordered Katz Castle blown up in 1806. It was restored in 1896 and today is privately owned and not open to visitors.

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Katz Castle

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Jim and I with another view of Katz Castle

Once the largest castle on the Rhine, Rheinfels Castle was constructed in 1245. The French blew up the castle in 1797 and, although it has been a ruin ever since, it is open to the public with a hotel, restaurant, and museum on site.

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Rheinfels Castle

Maus Castle (Mouse Castle), built in 1356, is located north of Katz Castle (Cat Castle).

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Maus Castle

We were fortunate to view Marksburg Castle from the river and then later tour the castle. This is how I know, without a doubt, the best views are from the river which you’ll understand when you read my next post. I’ll save details for later.

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Marksburg Castle

Stolzenfels Castle, built in 1248, was taken by the Swedish in 1632, occupied by the French in 1634-36, and burned by the French in 1688. The City of Koblenz gifted the ruin to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1823, who had it restored and used it as a summer residence. It’s open and offers tours to the public.

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Stolzenfels Castle

Honestly, by the time we arrived in Koblenz, our early enthusiasm was beginning to wane due to a surfeit of castles on the Rhine. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to recharge while we enjoyed another delicious lunch on the Viking Kara before our afternoon tour of Marksburg Castle. Join me next time on our tour.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

References:

The Castles of the Rhine, Gunter Seifert, 2017.

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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