Mount Fuji, the tallest peak in Japan at 3776 meters (12,388 ft.) is still classified an active volcano although it has remained dormant since its last eruption in 1707. Located 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Tokyo, it is the most popular tourist attraction in Japan, attracting over 200,000 visitors each year to climb its slopes. Mount Fuji or Fujisan was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 for its universal sacred and artistic value. (According to the World Heritage website (https://whc.unesco.org/en/faq/19) “World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.”) In my opinion, Fujisan is certainly worthy of protection for future generations.
We began seeing views of the mountain soon after departing from Tokyo although there are views of the mountain from within the city as well. (You’ll see one later in this post.)
Our friend, Tomo, took us first to a restaurant at Lake Yamanakako, the largest and closest of the Fuji Five Lakes at the base of Mount Fuji. The #1 ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor in Yamanakako-mura, Koshu Hoto Kosaku, serves delicious hoto, a regional dish made with flat noodles and vegetables in a miso soup. Patrons remove their shoes inside the door of this traditional style restaurant before sitting on tatami cushions. (Click on the photos below to see a larger version.)
Following a delicious lunch, we drove around stopping at numerous viewing spots to take in the captivating beauty of Fujisan and to capture some of it in photos.
As we walked the trail along Lake Yamanakako, Lori even made friends with an especially engaging beagle.
Upon our return to Tokyo, the timing was perfect for a visit to the Tokyo Tower. Modeled after the Eiffel Tower and built in 1958, the Tokyo Tower is 13 meters taller than the Paris version and an outstanding way to enjoy views of the largest city in the world.
After purchasing tickets for around $10 each and a quick elevator ride to the main deck, we arrived in time to enjoy Tokyo at sunset from high above the city.
Jim chose to go to the top deck where he captured Mount Fuji in the distance at sunset, definitely my favorite photo of all we took from Tokyo Tower.
He also took photos of each direction from the top deck which gives you an even better impression of the vastness of Tokyo.
We left the tower just after sunset but I’m sure the views of the lights of Tokyo after dark would have been amazing as well.
Tomo delivered us safely back to our hotel where Lori and I visited the women’s bath before calling it a night. The next day we would see a few final sights including a walk through Old Tokyo before Tomo delivered us to the airport for our flight back to the U.S.
As we arrived in Singapore on our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jewel, in March 2019, the morning views were spectacular. Although we felt a little sad about our 19 day cruise ending, our excitement and enthusiasm to explore this city increased with everything we saw. During the taxi ride to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Singapore Clarke Quay, we peppered our driver with questions. “Is it true chewing gum is illegal in Singapore?” “Yes, so is spitting.” It’s also illegal to litter which accounts for the squeaky clean appearance of the city. ” How’s the traffic?” Not really too bad because the number of cars allowed on the roads is limited by a system of auctioning expensive permits to own a car. Voting is compulsory in Singapore. The population is diverse, comprised predominantly of Chinese in addition to Malays, Indians, and Eurasians. Fortunately for us, one of the four official languages is English. Our driver was very responsive to our curiosity and volunteered a great deal of information about this city-state of 5.7 million inhabitants.
Because it was too early to check in, we deposited our bags in the hotel’s storage and set off to the nearest stop for the Ho Ho (Hop-on Hop-off) Bus. We decided to use the Ho Ho for transportation to some of our “must see” tourist attractions. Our first goal was a morning visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens before the heat and humidity in this equatorial city completely drained our energy. After a longish wait during which we questioned whether we were in the right place, the bus finally arrived and we were on our way.
Designated the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Singapore in 2015, the Gardens were originally established in 1859 by the Agri-Horticultural Society on an abandoned plantation. Admission to the 60 acres of tropical gardens is free but there is a small charge to visit the National Orchid Garden which is totally worth it to enjoy more than 600 varieties of orchids.
Back on the HoHo bus, we enjoyed the drive along Orchard Road, the famed shopping district, which boasts the flagship Apple store, flagship H&M, and numerous other high end shops where crazy rich tourists love to shop. We, however, had no interest in shopping. We were intent on finding our number 1 tourist attraction, Marina Bay Sands. If you saw the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, you can’t forget the scenes of the infinity pool on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
After some confusion and wandering, we finally found the entrance to the hotel and asked where to buy tickets to the Sky Park Observation Deck. A helpful employee told us we could pay $26 to spend an hour at the observation deck or we could go up to the Cé La Vi Skybar for drinks and enjoy the view for free. Well, that was a no-brainer. We headed up to floor 57 in Tower 3.
The bar wasn’t crowded and we felt no pressure to give up our comfy seats so we lingered over our drinks and appetizers while we savored the views of Singapore. I don’t remember exactly what it cost us but a beer was around $15, a glass of wine was around $18-$20, and cocktails around $20. We felt the price was well worth it for such a memorable experience.
Directly outside the Marina Bays Sands Hotel we discovered Gardens by the Bay, home of the 16-story tall Supertrees and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. We didn’t have enough time to do justice to this 100 hectare park so we contented ourselves with the views below.
Singapore is proud of their environmental responsibility; over 47% of the island is covered by greenery including rooftop gardens and green walls; they recycle over 20% of their waste; and they are one of the 20 most carbon efficient countries in the world. I also recently read Singapore is one of the 10 cleanest cities in the world (clean meaning green.) An impressive record, to be sure. We saw these examples and many more from the HoHo bus.
Singapore has an excellent subway system called Mass Rapid Transit but we preferred to discover the city using the HoHo. For $35 we bought a 24 hour pass which oriented us to the city while we listened to the audio commentary about all the major landmarks. Although we preferred to sit on the open-air upper level, it was nice to have the optional air-con down below when the heat and humidity threatened to overwhelm us. Our hotel is circled in white on the HoHo map below so when we were done seeing the city, we disembarked and had a relatively short walk to our accommodations.
We chose the Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay for its location, amenities, and price and we were delighted with all three. For 2 nights, we paid $325.79 which included an outstanding breakfast, wifi, rooftop garden with infinity pool, and workout facilities. And, we were close enough to walk to many of the tourist attractions we planned to see the next day.
Singapore has much more to offer. Come back and read what these crazy (but not) rich tourists saw on day 2 in Singapore.
Prior to our visit, I pictured Bali as a serene South Pacific paradise with stunning beaches, volcanic mountains, lush jungles, fragrant tropical flowers, historic rice terraces, and Hindu temples. Honestly, I pictured something like Hawaii on steroids at a fraction of the cost. Admittedly, my expectations were influenced by the movie Eat, Pray, Love in which Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts, rode her bicycle along peaceful roads bordered by verdant, palm-covered landscapes, swam in inviting turquoise waters, and generally enjoyed life in a tranquil Shangri-la. As it turned out, some of my preconceived notions were confirmed but by the end of our brief 2-day visit, we were better educated.
Bali is actually in the Indian Ocean rather than the South Pacific. It is one of 6000 inhabited islands in the nation of Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world comprised of a total of 17,508 islands. In terms of population, Indonesia is ranked number 4 in the world with 267 million people dispersed throughout the islands and 4.2 million of them reside in the province of Bali. The island of Bali is the 11th largest in Indonesia measuring 230 miles (370 km) in circumference or 95 miles (153 km) from east to west by 69 miles (112 km) from north to south. It is roughly half the size of the Big Island of Hawaii. Of the 147 volcanoes sprinkled throughout Indonesia, 76 are active and 2 of those are located on Bali.
As our tender boat delivered us from the Norwegian Jewel to the cruise port in Benoa, Bali, we were immediately confronted with massive pollution in the bay.
I was disappointed to discover Bali was not the pristine paradise I imagined. Seeing the debris reminded me of the television commercial for 4ocean, an organization started by two young surfers who saw the extensive plastic washed up on the shores in Bali and decided to do something about it. Although the organization has recovered 8,693,079 lbs worldwide since 2017, there’s plenty more where that came from. Go to their website and help if you can.
Fortunately, our poor first impression was countered by the traditional Balinese dancers who welcomed us to Bali. Following their performance, we were excited to experience more of this exotic culture on our bus tour to the Bali Terraces and Ulun Danu Temple.
Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world. In Bali, however, 83% of the population is Balinese Hindu, which is a blend of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, and pre-existing local beliefs including animism, the belief that everything has a soul or spirit. Throughout our tour, we observed how religion permeates all aspects of Balinese life and culture.
As we departed from the port and entered the city, we observed exotic architecture obscured by electrical wires; lots of signs, many of which had to do with the upcoming election; more debris; statues of Hindu gods; offerings to the deities; and congested traffic accompanied by roaring motors and blaring horns. Bali was, from beginning to end, an island full of contrasts.
Signs, traffic, and the ubiquitous KFC
The Titi Banda Statue on the outskirts of Denpasar was only one of the magnificent statues we admired. Rising 10m (33 ft) above the junction of several main roads, this massive monument depicts the mythical epic Ramayana in which Prince Rama rescues his wife, Sita, held captive by Ravana in Lanka. Rama, aided by his monkey troops built the Titi Banda (stone bridge) to Lanka to mount the rescue attack. The photo below taken by my friend, Lori, from the bus is only a portion of this enormous monument.
Titi Banda Statue along the road on the outskirts of Denpasar
More statues along the roadway
Debris along the roadside
From the windows of the bus, we saw Balinese offerings everywhere. Expressions of gratitude to the gods, these offerings vary in size from a grain of rice on a banana leaf to ornate towers of fruit, flowers, and sweets. The small daily offering called canang sari and banten are placed on small shrines or even on the ground. The shrine in the photo below held offerings to both the higher and lower spirits to ensure harmony and balance.
Tall decorated poles, called penjor, also contained offerings. When I spotted an assortment of plain bamboo poles, I knew they must be the undecorated version waiting for ornamentation. The poles are decorated with coconut leaves, fruit, grain, and flowers for festivals or religious holidays and placed outside homes and businesses. Partway up the pole is a basket or platform where an offering is placed.
Penjor and offering
We noticed black and white buffalo checked fabric called Saput Poleng on umbrellas, wrapped around trees, and draped on shrines. The Balinese philosophy of Rwa Bhineda or balance is similar to Yin and Yang. It holds that in order to maintain harmony all things must be in balance. So white balances black, good balances bad, right balances wrong. The black and white of Saput Poleng embodies the essence of Rwa Bhineda.
To break up the drive to the rice terraces and Ulun Danu Temple, we stopped for an unexpected tour of a traditional Balinese home compound where we learned about Balinese family life from our guide, Murya. Extended families live together and when sons marry, their wives move into the husband’s home. (My daughter-in-law can be grateful we’re not Balinese!) In such a warm climate, most living occurs outside so there are few walls but roofs keep out the frequent rain showers.
Our guide, Murya, telling us about the family compound (notice the penjor behind)
Murya and family shrine
Family members with drying rice in foreground
I was looking forward to seeing the Bali rice terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop for photos and I was disappointed that all my photos were through the windows of the bus. The entire sustainable system of irrigation called the Subak System has UNESCO designation so all the rice terraces in Bali are included. A cooperative water management system of irrigation dating from the 9th century, Subak is based on the philosophy of Tri Hita Karan, which is to create harmony between man and god, man and neighbor, and man and nature.
Nestled in the mountains surrounding Lake Bratan, Ulun Danu Temple is regarded as one of the most beautiful of the 20,000 temples in Bali. Erected in 1663 to honor Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, the temple consists of two small pagodas seeming to float on Lake Bratan. The mist rising over the pagodas added to the mystical quality of the experience.
Entrance to Ulun Danu Temple
Grounds at Ulun Danu
Grounds at Ulun Danu
Larger pagoda at Ulun Danu
Two pagodas at Ulun Danu
Following our visit to Ulun Danu, we stopped at Secret Garden Village for a typical sweet Balinese snack with tea.
View from Secret Garden Village
Trompe l’oeil at Secret Garden Village
Most of us were quiet and sleepy during our return to the ship. I did take a brief video of the drive, however.
I admit I suffered from a bit of culture shock in Bali. Metaphorically, I expected a serene yoga retreat and got that plus a lively Zumba class. In the end, the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda summarizes my experience. Finding your balance between rain and sunshine, noisy streets and contemplative temples, clear aqua waters and plastic pollution, will result in a harmonious visit. And above all, express gratitude.
For so much more in Bali including Balinese dance and a personal day tour with Wayan, check back here.
The old phrase “Here be dragons” historically indicated dangerous or uncharted territory and Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands with giant Komodo dragons roaming freely are dangerous indeed. Before our stop at Komodo National Park on our Norwegian cruise, we were warned of the dangers posed by the largest species of lizard. Stay with your group; don’t wear red; don’t visit during your menstrual period as they will attack the scent of blood. Although attacks on humans are rare, if provoked, the dragon can run up to 12mph and the venom from a bite can be deadly. By nature somewhat of a scaredy-cat, I approached this excursion with some trepidation.
In 1910, having heard sailors’ tales of large fire-breathing dragons, Lieutenant Steyn van Hensbroek, stationed on the island of Flores in the Dutch East Indies, visited the island, killed a specimen, and took it back to his headquarters for further research. In 1912, the newly discovered species was identified and named and by 1915 the endangered Komodo Dragon was protected by the Dutch government.
Although the Dutch colony declared its independence in 1945, it wasn’t until 1980 that the Republic of Indonesia established Komodo National Park consisting of Komodo, Rinca, and Padar Islands along with a number of smaller islands. The park was originally established to protect the Komodo dragon but its mission has expanded over the years to protect the entire biosphere. In 1986, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the national park is home to the remaining 5700 dragons living in the wild along with around 4000 human inhabitants who make their living mostly by fishing and tourism.
Our tour took us to Komodo Island but I understand national park tours are also available on Rinca Island. As we approached Komodo Island, the first of three ports we would visit in Indonesia, we were struck by the serene beauty confronting us.
As we walked ashore, we were further stunned by the crystal clear water and colorful coral visible from the pier which explains why this area is also popular for diving.
Coral visible from the pier at Komodo Island
Sea Turtle visible from the pier
Tourists arriving on cruise ships can book excursions through their cruise line or independently from purveyors onshore but they must be booked in advance. No one is allowed to leave the ship without proof of a pre-booked tour of the national park. Taking no chances, we booked through the cruise line and met with others in group 4 as instructed.
Entrance to the park
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Sculpture of Komodo Dragon at Komodo National Park
One of our guides trying to round up group 4
Rofinus, our lead tour guide, and our third guide
We had 3 guides for our group; the lead guide provided commentary about the vegetation and other animals on the island in addition to the dragons; the other 2 guides carried large forked sticks which I assumed were for our protection if necessary. (I admit sticks didn’t provide me a great deal of comfort.)
It wasn’t long before we saw dragons. Fortunately, they seemed pretty lethargic in the hot sultry morning and I was grateful to have my fear somewhat assuaged.
When one of the dragons started to move, albeit slowly, guides went into action to make sure they stayed between the animals and tourists.
Dragon left of Jim
The Komodo dragon eats both live animals and carrion along with the occasional unfortunate hatchling dragon. Years ago, inhabitants of the island left the remains of their hunted deer for the dragons as a kind of offering. The adverse effect of this custom, however, was to draw the dragons closer to human-occupied areas. Today, hunting deer is prohibited (although poaching persists) and deer, as well as dragons, roam freely.
Dragon on the left
Dragon behind Rick and Lori
Following our guided walk, one of our guides directed us to the stalls of local vendors selling souvenirs, recommending one especially. Our friend, Rick, bought a souvenir but we stuck with tipping our guides as we’d brought limited cash from the ship.
Adorable children also flocked to us selling trinkets or asking for tips for photos. Who could resist them? Confronted with obvious need, we wished we had taken more cash ashore.
Children posing for photos
View of Komodo Island as we depart
Our visit to Komodo Island was one of many highlights on this cruise. I survived the experience but came away with my respect for these powerful beasts intact. By summer 2019 we were even happier we had chosen this excursion when I read the park would close to visitors by 2020 because of poaching and so many tourists were affecting the behavior of the dragons. Then by October 2019 the closure was revoked but limits would be placed on the number of visitors allowed in the park and the cost of admission would increase dramatically (some reports said $1000 but I haven’t confirmed this).
In yet another twist, as of this writing on 23 April 2020, the park remains closed for cruise ships until at least 29 May 2020, due to COVID-19.
The Great Barrier Reef is at the top of many a bucket list. One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s largest coral reef, and the only living thing on earth visible from outer space, it’s no wonder it’s a top tourist destination. Over 2 million tourists flock to the Great Barrier Reef each year and we were keen to join the throng before climate change destroys it. If you’re interested in the science about threats to the reef due to climate change, you can read the National Ocean Service report here.
Our cruise on the Norwegian Jewel in February 2019 offered two excursions to the reef. We definitely wanted to book a cruise line excursion because we wanted to safeguard our plan as much as possible. We didn’t want to take a chance on missing the opportunity to see this natural wonder. The first excursion, on day 6 of the cruise, departed from the port of Airlie Beach and the second left from Cairns on Day 8. My friend, Lori, and I studied them and decided to book the first excursion on Cruise Whitsundays from Arlie Beach. We thought if the first excursion ended up canceled for any reason, we’d still have a shot at the second one.
On the morning of February 18, we boarded our catamaran directly from the cruise ship for the 2 hour trip to the Outer Reef. With clear sunny skies and calm seas, we enjoyed the views from our boat as we sailed toward Heart Pontoon at Hardy Reef. Before our arrival, the staff on our Cruise Whitsundays ship instructed us about snorkeling.
When we arrived at the pontoon, we got in line for the semi-submersible ride right away. We figured the lines would be long and they were. Although we noticed shorter lines later in the day, we were glad to have the experience of underwater views before we snorkeled.
Arriving at Heart Pontoon
Honestly, the views from the semi-submersible (think glass-bottom boat) were somewhat disappointing. The glass windows seemed dull and scratched and the views were murky. We saw very little color causing me to wonder if we were seeing bleached coral.
Coral as seen from the semi-submersible
Following our ride, we ate a tasty lunch prior to snorkeling.
After lunch, we donned our stinger suits. Stinger suits are lightweight lycra suits provided by all tour operators to protect snorkelers from the venomous sting of the box jellyfish. While they’re not especially attractive, I daresay I look better in a stinger suit than a bikini.
Jim and I modeling stinger suits
Jim and Rick ready to snorkel
Lori and I are ready
I researched underwater cameras before our trip, planning to take lots of underwater photos at the reef while we snorkeled. I bought one with good reviews at a reasonable cost. (You can see my camera on a strap around my neck in the first photo of the stinger suits.) I should have saved my money. The challenge of managing my snorkel equipment and take photos at the same time was beyond my abilities and I soon gave up.
Opinions about the snorkeling experience itself were mixed. I felt safer staying near the ropes and I didn’t see a lot of colorful coral. Jim, on the other hand, stayed out there until he had blisters on his toes from the flippers. He offered rave reviews. He saw lots of colorful fish and some color in the coral. His favorite, however, was watching the giant clams (Tridacna gigas) languorously open and close.
Jim and I prepare to enter the water
Jim and I in the water
Snorkelers along the guide rope
Photo of Jim and me from under the water
I think our experiences differed mainly due to skill level. For those who lack snorkeling ability, the underwater observatory offered views of lots of colorful fish with little or no effort.
View from the underwater observatory
Upon reflection, I realize I had unrealistic expectations of the Great Barrier Reef. I expected to see what I see on nature shows and photos on the internet. Fortunately, I purchased a package of photos and I’ve shared several below. Enjoy!
Overall, I would rate our experience at the Great Barrier Reef a 9. Although we didn’t see as much color as I expected, the reef was, nevertheless, amazing and it’s an experience like no other.
Following a leisurely lunch at Fortune of War on day 2 in Sydney, it was time to see the Sydney Opera House up close. As we strolled toward the opera house along Circular Quay, we enjoyed more of the giant lanterns for the Sydney Lunar Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year.
The weather was hot but the people sitting outside at Opera Bar pictured below seemed to be enjoying the live music, a cold drink, and the outdoor mist cooling system. I’ve seen outdoor heaters but not coolers and I was immediately a fan in 90F+ (32C+) temperatures!
Outdoor beer garden at Opera Bar
I had no idea of the drama surrounding the construction of the Sydney Opera House until we went on the tour. We hadn’t planned to take the $40 tour because you can wander around the facility on your own for free. Instead, we wanted to attend a performance at the opera house, but, unfortunately, nothing scheduled during our visit appealed to us. So, in the end, we decided to take the tour to get the back story. This is some of what we heard and saw.
The Sydney Opera House is located on Bennelong Point which was originally called Tubowgule by the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Tubowgule means “where the knowledge waters meet” and the site was considered a sacred meeting place by the Aboriginals. In the 1950s, this site was selected as the location for the new opera house.
Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design was chosen from 233 proposals following an international contest that paid £5000 for the winning design. Construction began in 1959 under the guidance of Utzon, with an estimate of 4 years to complete the project at a cost of $7 million. In the end, it cost $102 million and took 14 years to complete. Engineering challenges dogged the project. First, the ground where the building would be erected was unstable and the solution busted the budget early on. Second, the shell-shaped roof went through several iterations until a structurally sound design was found.
Finally, in 1966, delays and costs strained the relationship between Utzon and the government to the point that Utzon threatened to quit and his resignation was accepted. Although Utzon believed the opera house could not be completed without him, it was. Sadly, he would never return to see the magnificent result of his work.
The pink sculpture is a lunar lantern celebrating the Chinese New Year and the year of the pig
With seven performance venues in the Sydney Opera House, the Concert Hall, the Joan Sutherland Theater, Drama Theater, Playhouse, the Studio, the Utzon Room, and the Forecourt, over 2000 performances occur each year. Photography inside the performance venues is allowed only when no sets or performers are present so I purchased the souvenir book which includes the same photo of Jim and me superimposed over various photos of the opera house.
The Concert Hall is the largest venue with seating for 2679 guests. The mechanical action organ with 10,154 pipes is the largest in the world and only one person in the world can tune it. I thought they needed to engage in succession planning pretty quickly. This is the venue where Arnold Schwarzenegger won his final body-building contest in 1980. Luckily, we were allowed to photograph inside.
The Concert Hall
Our souvenir photo inside The Concert Hall
The Joan Sutherland Theater, seating 1507 guests, was renamed in 2012 for the famous Australian soprano who died in 2010. After a live chicken landed on a cellist during the opera, Boris Godunov, in the 1980s, today, a net covers the 70 musician orchestra pit. Due to an innovative design, sets and props are stored below the stage rather than in the wings and are moved into place by mechanical lifts.
Joan Sutherland portrait outside the eponymous theater
Inside the Joan Sutherland Theater
The Drama Theatre, The Playhouse, and The Studio are smaller venues accommodating 544, 398, and 300 guests, respectively. These venues are used for theatrical performances, dance, and even circus acts. The Utzon Room is the only interior space designed by the architect before he left the project. Seating only 200 guests, the intimate space is used often for chamber music performances. Finally, the Forecourt is an outdoor plaza in front of the opera house that is the largest venue with a capacity of 6000.
Forecourt of Sydney Opera House
Forecourt of Sydney Opera House
The interior spaces outside the performance venues were also impressive and the views through 6223 square meters of glass were spectacular.
One million sixty-six thousand six roof tiles cover the exterior of the sails (roof). Although the opera house looks white, the tiles are actually off-white because white would be blinding. You can see a closer view below.
Exterior close-up view of Sydney Opera House roof
The Sydney Opera House is such an extraordinary architectural masterpiece, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. Currently, the opera house receives over 8 million visitors each year and after our visit, I understand why.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Under-wheel in windmill
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gardens at Augustusburg Palace
As you can see, the fountains weren’t operational in November but the gardens impressed us nevertheless.
Jim and I at Augustusburg Palace
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.
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.
Trees invaded by mistletoe
A quick kiss under the mistletoe (Jim thinks this is a terrible photo but I kind of like it)
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.
Just a small hunting shack in the forest
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The twin spires as we approach Cologne Cathedral
Below are just a couple of the over 125 gargoyles decorating the exterior of the cathedral.
Gargoyles on Cologne Cathedral
Entrance to Cologne Cathedral
Sculpture at entrance of Cologne Cathedral
Our guide tells us about the cathedral
Cologne Cathedral interior
One of many stained glass windows in Cologne Cathedral
Altarpiece in Cologne Cathedral
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Driving up to the hilltop castle, Marksburg
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.
The tunnel at Drawbridge Gate
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.
Catching our breath and enjoying the view
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Great Battery
Finally, at the top, we paused once more for a look at the view which was quite spectacular.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Like the toilet, this sink also obviously emptied along the outside castle wall.
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.
And we got to see the toilet from the inside, too.
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.
The Great Hall
The exquisitely painted 14th-century chapel was used by the noble family for daily devotions and services.
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.
The Gimbel Collection
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.
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.