Travel

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

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

Heidelberg in 5 Hours

We awoke on Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine at Mannheim, Germany. Although we spent no time touring Mannheim, here are a few fun facts we learned about the city. The #1 Christmas artist, Mannheim Steamroller, is named for the home of Mozart but the band actually hails from Omaha, Nebraska. Mannheim Steamroller refers to an 18th-century musical technique called the Mannheim roller which is a version of a crescendo that originated here.

Mannheim was the starting point of the first long-distance automobile journey in August 1888 in a car built by Karl Benz and driven by his wife, Bertha Benz. Accompanied by her two sons, Bertha decided to do a test drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother. As the story goes, she left a note for her husband telling him about the visit but not their mode of transportation. When he awoke and found the motor car missing, he realized they hadn’t taken the train. The 60-mile trip took all day with plenty of challenges and local attention along the way. Several days later, they returned by a different route ensuring even more witnesses to the adventure. You can read more about this courageous woman who was ahead of her time here.  Today, her trip is memorialized by the Bertha Benz Memorial Route and I’m sure you’ve heard of the company, Mercedes-Benz.

Last but not least, we observed Mannheim is also home to a John Deere plant, maker of the ubiquitous green and yellow farm equipment often spotted on the landscape at home in Iowa.  We also have John Deere plants in Waterloo and Ankeny, Iowa and the company’s international headquarters is located in nearby Moline, Illinois.

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John Deere, Mannheim, Germany

Following breakfast, rather than exploring Mannheim, we boarded a bus for an included shore excursion to Heidelberg, Germany just 11 miles (18 km) away. We traveled directly to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, one of the most romantic and famous ruins in Germany.

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View of Heidelberg from the grounds of the castle

As we climbed the hill from the parking lot, our guide led the way and told us about the history of the castle. Originally built as a fortress overlooking the Neckar River and the town of Heidelberg, the castle rose to prominence when the Counts Palatine of the Rhine, later called the Prince-Electors, took up residence. The Palatinate is a region in Germany in the southwest where the most powerful Counts (later called electors) elected the Holy Roman Emperor as established by the Golden Bull of 1356. The Prince-Electors left their mark on the castle as they transformed it from a fortress to a sumptuous palace fit for princes.

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View from Heidelberg Castle

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Panoramic view from the castle

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Heidelberg Castle

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Heidelberg Castle

Built in 1615 in just one night by Elector Kurfurst Friedrich in honor of his wife’s birthday, Elisabethentor is a beautiful gate on the grounds of the castle.

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Elisabethentor

Ottenrichsbau was constructed by Elector Ottenrich during his rule from 1556-1559 but the building wasn’t completed until 10 years later by his successor. The building is an outstanding example of German Renaissance architecture. The roof was damaged by the French in an attack in 1693 and destroyed by lightning in 1764 which is why you can see the sky through the windows. A roof was added to the first level in the 20th century, however.

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Ottheinrichsbau

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Ottheinrichsbau

Friedrichsbrau was built in the 17th century by Elector Friedrich IV. In the niches between the windows are statues of the Electors who ruled from 915 to 1803.

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Friedrichsbrau

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How the castle appeared in 1683

The Barrel Building (Fassbau) was constructed at the end of the 16th century with a giant barrel built into the cellar which held 58,000 gallons of wine collected as taxes from citizens of the Palatinate.

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Giant barrel at Heidelberg Castle with our tour guide

A dwarf court jester by the nick-name of Perkeo entertained the court beginning in 1718. A wooden figure of him holding a glass of wine still graces the Barrel Building today.

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Perkeo

Visitors can enjoy a glass of wine with him at the on-site wine bar, Perkeo’s Vinothek.

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Perkeo’s Vinothek

After a final look, we headed back down the hill for our walking tour of Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg Castle

At the bottom of the hill, I took a quick photo of the oldest and most modern funicular railway in Germany which you can ride up to the castle.

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The Allstadt or Old Town, is located just below the castle. As our guide led us there, he told us about Heidelberg University, founded in 1386, which is the oldest university in Germany. Unruly students were punished by time spent in a student jail but were still required to attend lectures so as not to encourage bad behavior. After a student was released, he rushed to the student tavern to regale his compatriots with the tale of his incarceration. The historic student tavern, Zum Seppl, is today part of the Heidelberger Kulturbrauerei pictured below.

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Heidelberger Kulturbrauerei

Our guide left us in Market Square where we explored on our own until we found our way to the bus for our return to the ship. The Church of the Holy Spirit stands in the middle of Market Square so, of course, we were drawn to take a look. The largest Protestant church in Heidelberg, the Church of the Holy Spirit was built beginning in 1398 as the burial place for the Electors of the Palatinate. This church was the birthplace of the Heidelberg Catechism written in 1563.

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Church of the Holy Spirit

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Interior of the Church of the Holy Spirit

Outside, I was intrigued by the PETA supporters and snapped the photo below.

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Sisters for PETA

Old Town never fails to interest me even if present day additions like the sign imploring us to “eat fresh” at Subway distracts from the charm.

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Shopping in Heidelberg

In our rambling, we found the Jesuit Church which was constructed in baroque style beginning in 1712.

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Jesuit Church

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Interior of Jesuit Church

Finally, we decided to do what the students in Heidelberg do and sat with our friends at a cafe in Market Square for coffee and conversation.

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Enjoying a coffee with Jim, Lori, Heather, Jeff, and Elvia

As we made our way to the river, I couldn’t help but take one more photo of the castle which was visible above the town everywhere we went.

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View of the castle from town

The Old Bridge, built in 1788, is the ninth structure across the River Neckar. The predecessors were all destroyed in the spring by ice flows until this one was contructed completely of stone.

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The Old Bridge

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Jim and me on the River Neckar, Heidelberg, Germany

Although we spent only 5 hours in Heidelberg and barely scratched the surface, I understand why this city is a tourist favorite in Germany. It is steeped in history, unscathed by WWII, and bursting with the youthful vigor of nearly 30,000 students.

Based on events from November 2017.

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

Storks and More in Strasbourg

As I mentioned in my last post, the stork holds a special place in the hearts of Alsatians. The large white bird with black tipped wings has been commonplace in this region for millennia giving rise to various local folk tales. You’re probably familiar with the legend of the stork delivering babies, but you, like me, may not know much beyond that. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen first popularized the fairy tale with his story, The Storks, a rather gruesome tale which I wouldn’t share with children. (Click on the title to read the story.) According to our tour guide, babies are retrieved from under the marshes by storks who deliver them to the home. Another Alsatian folk tale says if a child wants a baby brother or sister, they leave a sugar cube on the windowsill to attract a stork to leave a baby.

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Storks long returned to Alsace for the warm months signifying the arrival of spring after wintering as far away as Africa. In the 1970’s, however, the population decreased to only a few remaining pairs. A number of environmental conditions threatened the population but our guide cited electrocution by flying into high voltage electrical wires as one of the main causes. In 1983, France initiated a successful repopulation program resulting in around 600 pairs nesting in the Alsace region today.

Capitalizing on their presence, the symbol of the stork is ubiquitous in Strasbourg. I understand the birds roam freely in the Parc d’Orangerie but, unfortunately, our tour didn’t take us there.

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Stork mural in Strasbourg

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Every tourist shop sells storks

We did, however, see lots of other sights in Strasbourg. As we arrived, our bus took us past the Palace of Europe, headquarters of the Council of Europe, the leading human rights organization on the continent of Europe with 47 member states.

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Palais de L’Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the headquarters that day and delivered a speech at the European Court of Human Rights. Because of his visit, we saw many police officers and military in the vicinity but alas, we didn’t glimpse Macron.

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Police officers in Strasbourg

Strasbourg is also the official seat of the European Parliament where laws for the EU are debated and passed. My photo of it is terrible because it was into the sun and the window glare was horrible but you get the idea.

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Parliament of Europe

Our guide explained some history of Strasbourg and told us her mother and grandmother changed nationalities 3 times although they never moved from Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace which today is called the Grand Est region of France. The city is situated near the Rhine River which is the border with Germany. In the Franco-German War (1870-71) Germany annexed Alsace. After WWI, the area was returned to France; it was taken by Germany again in WWII and returned to France after the war. Our guide’s grandmother and mother must have been born after WWI.

From the bus, we spied the Barrage Vauban which is a bridge and a dam, designed by military engineer Sebastien Vauban as part of the city’s fortifications and opened in 1690. Today, it is open to the public and has a terrace on top with great views of the Old Town. If you look closely, you can see people on top.

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Barrage Vauban

The nearby covered bridges have retained their name but not their covers. These three bridges cross the River Ill each guarded by a tower and were once part of the 14th-century ramparts.

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Covered bridges with two of the towers

Once the bus parked, we commenced our walking tour of Grande Ill, the Big Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the historic section of Strasbourg.

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View of the steeple of the cathedral from the River Ill

While the buildings weren’t as colorful as those in Colmar, they were nonetheless captivating. The half-timbered buildings in the Petite France neighborhood evoke a medieval atmosphere without the foul stench which would have once permeated the air.

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Petit France

We stopped to watch a swinging bridge that once operated by hand but has long been motorized to clear the way for boats passing through. See it operate in the short video below.

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Swinging bridge

Then we were treated to an accordion player playing lively French tunes for passersby.

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An accordion player in Strasbourg

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View from one of many bridges with the Tanners House on the right, today a restaurant

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Narrow Rue des Dentelles in the Petite France neighborhood

Dating from the 15th-century, the ornate Kammerzell House is the most famous building in Strasbourg. Once a wealthy merchant’s home, today it houses a fine restaurant.

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Kammerzell House

Although Kammerzell House is reputed to be the most famous building in Strasbourg, Notre-Dame Cathedral is the most impressive and awe-inspiring, in my opinion. Construction commenced in 1015 and the spire was finally completed in 1439. The 466 foot (142 m) high building was the tallest in Christendom until the 19th century and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral

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Statues surrounding the door on the facade of the cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

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Interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral

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The Rose Window

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Rub the dog’s head for luck

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Windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral

The case of the well-known astronomical clock of Strasbourg dates from the 16th century but the mechanism was replaced in 1838. It drew a huge crowd to see the mechanism in action but we were too early for the main show. Every day at 12:30, 18-inch tall figures of the Apostles process past Jesus, turning to face him as they pass.

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Astronomical clock

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Panoramic view of Notre-Dame Cathedral

After our tour, we had free time with instructions to meet in the square outside the cathedral so our guide could lead us back to the bus for our return to our ship, the Viking Kara. I decided to check out a few of the shops on my own while my husband stayed in the square. A few streets away from the cathedral, I found a darling shop featuring foies gras which I decided to purchase for my adult children to enjoy an authentic French treat. Those of you who know me personally may be aware that I have a very poor sense of direction. Feeling pleased with my purchase, I left the shop and promptly turned in the wrong direction. I compounded the problem by changing direction several times to get my bearings which got me hopelessly confused and lost. When I discovered I’d left my credit card at the shop, I was so disoriented and anxious I couldn’t even find my way back to the shop. I finally stood still, took a couple of deep breaths, and walked slowly along the street until I found the shop. By then the shop was packed with shoppers but fortunately, my credit card was on the counter where I’d left it. My relief was palpable as I made my way back to the square.

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Foies Gras de Strasbourg

On our return ride to the ship, when I heard Strasbourg hosts the best Christmas Market in Europe, I decided a return visit to this delightful city is in my future.

Based on events from October 2017.

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

A Walk through Medieval Colmar

Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in France, Colmar is located in the northeast in the Alsace region just 10 miles from the Rhine River. Rick Steves calls Colmar Alsace’s most enchanting city and, while I haven’t seen every city, I heartily agree. Old Town Colmar felt like we stepped back in time with its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. And, despite a population of nearly 70,000, the medieval section of this small city is entirely walkable.

We arrived after lunch for our first optional excursion on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Our guide informed us Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created Liberty Enlightening the World, otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty. In fact, we were greeted into the city by a replica of the famous statue. By the way, did you know another replica stands on the River Seine in Paris? I’ve seen the original and these two replicas but there are dozens more around the world. How many have you seen?

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Replica of the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France

Side note: The Statue of Liberty representing the Roman god of liberty, Libertus, holding a tablet inscribed with JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) was a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate France’s support in the American Revolution. Designed by Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Designated a National Monument in 1924, it stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

Now back to Colmar. We began our walking tour at Place d’Unterlinden.

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Panorama of Place d’Unterlinden

For those with mobility issues, the Petit Train Touristique departed nearby providing narrated tours.

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Petit Train Tour

We, however, preferred to walk with our guide pointing out points of interest as we ambled along.

The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a 13th-century convent, is one of the most visited fine arts museums outside of Paris and houses the famous Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunwald with carvings by Niclaus of Haguenau. This masterpiece was completed around 1515 for the nearby monastery in Isenheim which ministered to peasants suffering from skin diseases. The altarpiece is a disturbing work of art for its realistic and tortured depiction of the crucifixion of Christ.   Unfortunately, we didn’t see it as we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Unterlinden Museum

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Restaurant Pfeffel next to Unterlinden Museum

Our next stop was at the House of Heads. Constructed in 1609 for wealthy merchant Anton Burger, the facade is adorned with 106 heads. A cooper, sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi (him again!), standing atop the gable was added in 1902 when the building was used as the Wine Exchange.

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Maison des Tetes, House of Heads

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Cooper standing atop the House of Heads

You may have noticed the sign on a building across the street from the House of Heads. In case you missed it, here’s a closer view.

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Sign by Oncle Hansi

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Another of Oncle Hansi’s signs

Jean-Jaques Waltz, nicknamed Oncle Hansi, (1873-1951) was a Colmar artist who painted idyllic and whimsical watercolors and was known for his anti-German sentiments during World Wars I and II when Germany controlled Alsace. He also designed signs around Colmar, several of which are pictured above. Today, the Hansi Museum celebrates the work of this Colmar native son.

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Hansi Museum

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Shops in Old Town Colmar

Built beginning in 1235, St. Martin’s Church is the most imposing gothic Catholic church in middle Alsace. During the French Revolution, it served briefly as a cathedral but does not maintain the designation because a bishop isn’t assigned there. Note the red box on the photo below. I placed it there to point out a stork nest on the top of the church. Storks hold a special place in the hearts of Alsatians and I’ll tell you more about them in my post about Strasbourg.

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St. Martin’s Church

The Adolph House is the oldest house in Colmar, dating from around 1350.

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The nearby 17th century half-timbered zum Kragen House is frequently photographed due to the carved marchand (merchant) perched on the corner of the house.

 

The Pfister House was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter. The murals on the facade represent biblical scenes and characters, church fathers, evangelists, and Germanic emperors of the 16th century.

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Auguste Bartholdi’s eponymous museum occupies the family home where the sculptor was born and grew up. Outside the entrance is a beautiful bronze sculpture created by Bartholdi, Les Grand Soutiens du Monde, representing justice, labor and the motherland supporting the world.

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Bartholdi Museum

Our tour guide left us in the Tanner’s District with instructions about what time to meet at Place d’Unterlinden for our return to the ship. We explored the area on our own then headed to the area called Little Venice for its location on a canal.

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Tanner’s district

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Little Venice in Colmar

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Little Venice

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Little Venice

Finally, after a romantic stroll around Little Venice, we wandered back to the appointed meeting place at Place d’Unterlinden where we met up with our friends, Lori and Heather, for the bus ride back to our ship.

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Selfie to prove we were here

I was delighted with this extra excursion although Jim would also have enjoyed the other optional excursion, Colmar in WWII: Museum and Memorial. That tour included a visit to the Colmar Pocket where American and French forces battled the Germans during the winter of 1944-45 finally liberating the area from the Nazis. It’s also the place where Audie Murphy made his heroic stand seizing a .50-caliber machine gun on the turret of a burning tank destroyer to fire on approaching Nazi troops. His actions forced the approaching German tanks to fall back and earned Murphy the Medal of Honor.

It was a good day in the Alsace region and we looked forward to the following day in Strasbourg, France.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let Them Eat (Black Forest) Cake

You’ve probably heard of Black Forest cake, the eponymous dessert originating in the Black Forest of Germany. You may also be aware the Brothers Grimm used the Black Forest as the setting for fairy tales they wrote including Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. But did you know the cuckoo clock originated in this area? And glass production in this region dates back to the 12th century. These lessons and more awaited us on the second excursion of our Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River.

The view from our ship on the Rhine as we awakened that morning promised a beautiful autumn morning for our bus tour.

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Morning on the Rhine River at Breisach, Germany

Heather and I learned the previous day to get to the bus early so we would be first in line to snag the front seats. This lesson served us well for the entire trip. Although photos weren’t always the best quality through the bus windows due to the glare, it was helpful to see where we were going.

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Our bus trip to the Black Forest

It was also helpful to know by our tour guide’s map the area we’d cover.

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Map of our bus tour

And just so you know where the Black Forest is located in southwest Germany, here’s one more map.

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Location of the Black Forest in Germany

The scenery along the way kept my gaze directed out the window, beginning with the vineyards of reisling and pinot noir grapes. I’m not a big fan of reisling or pinot, but when in Rome, as they say.

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Vineyards in the countryside

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Terraced vineyards

In the distance, we could see the Black Forest, named for the extreme denseness of the evergreens which causes the forest to appear black. I was impressed to also note the wind turbines on the distant mountaintops indicating an interest in clean, renewable energy.

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Black Forest

As we continued, we travelled through several charming towns including Ihringen, known for its wine, most notably pinot noir.

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Ihringen, germany

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Glottertal, Germany

I especially loved the comical topiary in a yard in the town Sankt Peter which you can see below. You just know the people residing there must have a good sense of humor.

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Home in Sankt Peter

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View from the bus of the Black Forest

By mid-morning, we arrived at our destination, Hofgut Sternen – the Black Forest Village in the Southern Black Forest Nature Park, where we were offered the choice of several activities. This looked like a tourist trap to us so we chose a hike into the forest, hoping we wouldn’t need bread crumbs to find our way back.

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Ravenna Viaduct

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Hiking trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

If Hansel and Gretel had only had a nicely groomed trail like this, they could’ve eaten their bread instead.

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Jim on the trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

The Ravenna Viaduct was built in 1926 but was largely destroyed by retreating German forces in 1945. At the end of World War II, French occupation forces rebuilt the bridge. Today, the Hollental Railway crosses the 36 meter (118 ft) high bridge across the Ravenna Gorge.

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Laura under Ravenna Viaduct

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Train crossing Ravenna Viaduct

While we were very satisfied with our hike, upon our return we discovered the village which I’d believed was merely a modern day tourist trap, actually had historical roots over 700 years old.  The first documented use of a traffic route called the “old ascent” through this area was in 1306. Marie Antoinette famously passed through here in 1770 on her way to marry French King Louis XVI in Paris. German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited in 1779. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the old ascent was a main trade route for locally produced glass and clocks.

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Marie Antoinette’s visit memorialized on a mural on the Best Western Hotel in Hofgut Sternen

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Close-up of mural of Marie Antoinette

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Goethehaus where Goethe stayed

The clock-making demonstration featured the cuckoo clock which originated in the Black Forest. While details differ, the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and the Smithsonian agree primitive cuckoo clocks were made in this area as early as 1630. (Viking Daily) Since we missed the demo, we took a peak into the shop to check out the cuckoo clocks for sale. The photo shows just a fraction of the clocks offered which were beautiful in terms of both appearance and workmanship.

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Cuckoo clocks for sale

The Cuckoo Clock House was even more impressive to me, however. I believe the demonstration took place in this charming little building which looks like a cuckoo clock with a clock face, dancing figures above, and a cuckoo at the top. We didn’t know it would “cuckoo” on the hour and missed it because we’d moved on to the glass blowing demonstration.

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Cuckoo Clock House

We’ve seen several glass blowers but it’s always interesting to watch this artistic craft. The products for sale in this shop were lovely, too.

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In 1915, Josef Keller created a confection composed of layers of chocolate sponge cake separated by layers of whipped cream with cherries, topped off by more whipped cream,  chocolate shavings, and more cherries for decoration. We missed the cake-making demo as well, but we only wanted to eat the cake anyway. Jim and I purchased a piece to share and it was quite delectable.

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Black Forest Cake

As we finished our cake, we began making our way back to the bus. When we encountered our guide, I got a photo showing her bollenhut, the Black Forest pompom hat that originated in the 1700’s. The hat has 14 pompoms with 11 of them visible. Red pompoms signify an unmarried maiden while black pompoms are for married women. They still wear the hats today for holidays and celebrations.

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Our tour guide with her bollenhut

As we arrived at the bus, I said to Jim, “Where’s the backpack?” He’d forgotten it at the restaurant after we ate our cake. I sprinted back to the restaurant and fortunately, I was able to retrieve it. All’s well that ends well!

As we returned to the ship, we enjoyed views of the countryside and the towns we passed through.

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Dreisem River in Freiburg, Germany

 

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Breisach

We arrived at the Viking Kara in time for lunch before our next excursion to Colmar, one of my all-time favorite medieval towns.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Train to Basel

Small but bursting with natural alpine beauty and man-made tourist attractions, Switzerland has more to offer than we could possibly cover in one week. Nevertheless, we tried to do as much as possible before our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River and, for the most part, we were successful. Although we didn’t do any hiking in the Alps because of Jim’s back injury, we visited all the towns and attractions on our itinerary. We planned to end our tour of the country at Basel (pronounced Baasel), where we would depart on our cruise on October 29, 2017.

Our final train journey took us from Grindelwald through Bern to Basel in just under 3 hours. As usual, I attempted to capture memories both inside and outside the train with my trusty i-Phone 7 Plus.

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Leaving Grindelwald

Inside the train, we enjoyed the company of three young ladies we had encountered at Jungfraujoch and we watched with delight as they played with a couple of Siberian huskies sharing our ride.

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Friendly canines

Outside the train, the views were spectacular as always.

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Lake Interlaken

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Bern, capital city of Switzerland

When we arrived in Basel, we thought we’d have no problem finding Gaia Hotel, as it was located right outside the SBB train station. This is why I CAN’T EMPHASIZE ENOUGH, know which exit to take from the train station. We searched for over an hour and wandered far afield while asking several people before we found our hotel which was located, as promised, right by the train station.

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Hotel Gaia, Basel

We were relieved to finally arrive and we were very impressed with our accommodations.

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Our room at Hotel Gaia

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Bathroom at Hotel Gaia

And, we were pleased to find our friends, Lori and her daughter, Heather, already happily checked into the hotel. Heather opted to stay at the hotel for the evening but Lori was game to have dinner with Jim and me. We asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for typical Swiss cuisine and she suggested nearby Restaurant Elsbethenstubli. When we arrived at the restaurant at 7:00 p.m., it was packed and the woman who greeted us suggested an appertif across the street while we waited. We gladly obliged and enjoyed our usual glass of red wine while we waited.

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A toast to our cruise

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Lori and Jim at Restaurant Elsbethenstubli

Since I had already tried fondue, I ordered the raclette and Jim ordered rosti, both typical Swiss dishes. Lori had the fondue.

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Raclette

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Rosti

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Lori with fondue

The couple seated beside us struck up a conversation and instructed Lori in the fine art of eating fondue. She learned how to twirl the bread after dipping to ensure the cheese stayed on the bread with no dripping.

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Mike and Sabine

Following dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and relaxed with another glass or two of wine before calling it a night.

The next morning we enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts of our trip.

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Dining room at Hotel Gaia

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Breakfast at Hotel Gaia

With tram passes in hand provided by our hotel, we set off down the street to catch the tram to the cruise port for our ship, the Viking Kara. After a short tram ride and another walk, we arrived at the ship.

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Lori, Heather, Jim enroute to ship

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Our arrival at the Viking Kara

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Viking Kara

We couldn’t get into our cabins yet so we dropped our luggage at the ship and set off on a walk around old town Basel which that will be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll come back.

Based on events from October 2017.

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