Posts Tagged With: Rhine River

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

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

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

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