Windmills in the Netherlands – last day of Viking River Cruise

Kinderjidk-04- 20140530The Viking Tor cast off from Cologne for Kinderdijk, Netherlands at 11:00 Thursday night. In the morning we were cruising through the beautiful and peaceful landscape of the Netherlands.

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Mark and I bundled up in towels that doubled as blankets on the top deck

Kinderjidk-05- 20140530as we sailed through pastoral scenes with cows grazing or

Kinderjidk-08- 20140530sunbathing on the sandy beaches beside the river.

Kinderjidk-09- 20140530Sheep relaxed and fed on the verdant river banks while farmers worked in the distance.

Kinderjidk-10- 20140530We passed by cities where the river provides recreation for the human species.

Kinderjidk-11- 20140530It wasn’t long before we spotted our first real-life Netherlands windmill in a rural area

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and then another near a residential area.

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All that sitting, cruising, and watching the world go by generated a healthy appetite, and a bit of a thirst. It really doesn’t get a lot better than this—lunch on the top deck of the Viking Tor.

Kinderjidk-14- 20140530We floated past a miniature replica of Noah’s Ark, complete with a giraffe look-out.

Kinderjidk-15- 20140530At 3:45 we arrived in Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for our 4:30 tour.

Kinderdijk is a village that has 19 windmills dating from the 1500s. (http://www.kinderdijk.org/ ) They were built to help with water control in this peat region of Holland. The cultivation of peat changed the drainage of the region and resulted in the farmlands lying below the level of the streams that had previously drained the peat. Dikes were built and canals were dug to prevent flooding of the land. The windmills were added a few centuries later as the drained soil settled and the river rose due to sand deposits. The windmills pumped water into a reservoir where it could eventually be pumped out into the river whenever the level was low enough due to seasonal and tidal variations. Today most of the work is done by diesel pumping stations. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/818 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinderdijk)

Kinderjidk-21- 20140530Our tour included an inside look at an operating windmill. This is a view out of a window on an upper floor.

Kinderjidk-22- 20140530We climbed a narrow, winding stairway to the very top where we were able to see the massive gears that basically turn the wind into energy.

Kinderjidk-23- 20140530The windmills were not rotating during our visit. I don’t know if that was due to lack of wind, or the fact that they were anchored or tied in place. They can be dangerous, and have been responsible for injury and even deaths for the unwary adult, child, or perhaps unsuspecting tourist who wandered into their path when they were fast at work. They are powerful and, like lighthouses, are the stuff of legends. You can feel it in their presence.

On this, our last evening of the cruise, we joined the ship’s captain and crew in the lounge for the Captain’s Cocktail followed by the Farewell Reception and Dinner. In the morning we would be in Amsterdam. Although we could have arranged an extension of the cruise in Amsterdam through Viking, Mark and I decided to stay in Amsterdam a couple of nights, but made the arrangements on our own.

 

Next up – Review of the Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 


Cologne Cathedral – Viking river cruise day 6

The Viking Tor left Koblenz for Cologne at 4:00 a.m., or so we were told, being fast asleep at the time. We arrived in Cologne, locally known as Koln, at 9:00 a.m.

Cologne-2014-05-29  01We left the ship and walked along the river to where buses were waiting to take us the short distance to the cathedral that you can see in the skyline above.

 

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The cathedral is situated right smack in the middle of a downtown business district where the nonstop daily loading and unloading of tour buses created a bit of confusion with their traffic disturbance.

 

Cologne-2014-05-29  03Construction on the Cologne cathedral began in 1248 and took over seven centuries to complete in 1880. It is a symbol of the city and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. During WWII 95% of Cologne was destroyed by allied bombs, but the cathedral survived. According to our guide, bombardiers were prohibited from hitting the church’s spires as they were a clear landmark by which to navigate. Cologne-2014-05-29  04Many people were gathered on the cobblestones surrounding the massive structure.

Cologne-2014-05-29  07Our tour guide, who accompanied us on the bus, explained what he could about the exterior of the cathedral. Then a deep, loud, gonging started erupting from the bell tower of the cathedral as believers were called to Mass. As luck would have it, we were visiting on a high holy day and the church was closed to tour groups as masses were being celebrated all day. Our guide suggested we come back after the tour and try to gain entrance between the masses.

The bell continued to gong, reverberating through my body. I’d never heard anything like it. And it lasted for what seemed like a half hour, calling all to Mass. Although I was sorry not to be able to visit the inside of the church, I felt lucky that we were able to experience this amazing sound. The bell we heard only rings on the few high holy days in a year, so it is a special occurrence.

Cologne-2014-05-29  13As we left the cathedral, we passed a construction crew erecting what looked like a stage for an entertainment of some sort. The ancient cathedral rising behind the modern-day band shell made an interesting juxtaposition of styles.

Cologne-2014-05-29  10We continued on a walking tour of the old city. A Roman-Germanic museum is just across the walk from the cathedral. Inside are Roman artifacts and archaeological finds from Koln and the Rhine Valley.

Cologne-2014-05-29-mosaicThe fine mosaic floor can be viewed from outside the museum. According to Rick Steve’s Germany 2009, this was once the floor of a rich Roman merchant in its original location. The museum was built around it.

Nearby is a section of a Roman stone road beside a Roman fountain.

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Our guide took us into the Jewish section of the old town that was under construction as an archaeological zone and Jewish museum.

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In all honesty, I was having trouble paying attention at this point because we had not yet had a toilet break and I was beginning to wonder if our guide was ever going to realize we needed one.

 

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I had pretty much given up on the guide to solve this personal problem and started looking around for an open restaurant where I might find a public toilet.

Cologne-2014-05-29  16Since it was a high holy day, most places of business were closed. And although I had finally asked the guide if he planned on giving us a comfort break, he was not having any luck finding an open business with a public toilet. Finally, another tourist in our group pointed me to a building where I and several others took advantage of the kindness of the proprietor to allow us use of their facilities.

Too much information? I just want to say, travelers beware of holy days.

Cologne-2014-05-29  21We passed by several inviting restaurants near the waterfront or on Fischmarkt.

Cologne-2014-05-29  22These seats come with warm blankets for the brisk weather.

Cologne-2014-05-29  23The colorful houses on Fischmarkt are picturesque, although I don’t know what the numbers mean.

Cologne-2014-05-29  27Our guide left us with about an hour to spare before the first bus returned to the ship. Mark and I walked back to the cathedral with the hope of seeing inside.

Cologne-2014-05-29  24A street artist was busy at work on the cathedral plaza.

Cologne-2014-05-29  25We entered the cathedral as the earlier mass let people out. A rope was set up to keep tourists at the back of the church, so we were not free to walk around.

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But I managed to see enough to realize that the Cologne cathedral was equally impressive on the interior as on the exterior.

Viking had a shuttle running from our ship to the downtown area of Cologne leaving at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 p.m. and returning at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. giving us ample opportunity to shop in or further explore Cologne. Had Mark and I been thirty years younger, we might have spent the afternoon there, but we were tired, and walking on the cobblestones of Cologne had worn out my knees for the day. We returned to the ship and relaxed.

 

Next up – Windmills in the Netherlands

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 


The knights of Marksburg Castle – Viking River Cruise

Marksburg is the only castle on the Middle Rhine to remain intact and undamaged during the years of wars and conflicts the area suffered. It maintains much of its medieval character.
Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-2-sm Buses are not able to navigate all the way to the top of the hill where the castle stands. Our bus dropped us off at the point where I took this picture.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-1 copyThen we had to walk a zig-zag uphill path to the castle.

 

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Once inside, we met up with our tour guide. Visitors are not allowed to wander about on their own and are required to go on a guided tour.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-6 copyAlthough many of the Rhine castles have been rebuilt, according to Rick Steve’s (Germany 2009), Marksburg remains nearly completely the original structure.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-7-smAt various places you can see where a doorway or window was made smaller and therefore safer from enemies, or easier to defend.

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We were told that knights rode their horses over these stone walkways just inside the walled entrance to the castle.

 

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-9-sm You can’t walk within these walls and not have your imagination fly to tales of the past about kings, knights, and princesses.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-10-smI don’t know what the reality was for people who lived and worked within these walls from 1283 to the late 1800s, but I believe that at their core people have not changed all that much through the years. Young men and women fell in love and felt passion, parents found joy in their children, and people lived with heartbreak and loss. A lot of living occurred through the years in this place.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-11-smThese canons date to about 1640. According to Rick Steve’s, they could hit targets across the river,

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-12-smwhich was quite a distance away. From their location on the hilltop, the canons were largely aided by gravity I suspect.

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Another view of the river from the castle, and what must have been a look-out point on a lower level.

 

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-15-smIf you walk along an outer wall of the castle that overlooks the river, you arrive in a garden where plants used for cooking and medicine were cultivated.

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It is a gardener’s delight. The wall to the left of the photo overlooks the river from a great heights.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-17-smOne of the halls is set up as a kitchen and supplied with artifacts from the time period.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-18-smThe walls in the master bedroom are covered in wood paneling. Tapestries decorate several of the walls in the castle. I don’t know whether they are original to the castle, or have been provided to furnish the rooms for tour groups.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-22-smThe dining hall was not as large as I might have imagined it should be, although the number of people in our tour group appear to fit nicely in the space.

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The far wall of the dining hall is decorated with paint or frescoes.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-20-smWindowed alcoves branch off of the dining hall’s main room. Perhaps they provided extra seating.

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I thought the iron work on this door’s hinges was interesting. It is also a very small door. What it’s purpose was, I cannot say.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-23-smThe ceiling of the dining hall is paneled and painted with detail.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-25-smOur guide explained the function of this small door in the dining room, and I truly wish I could remember what he said. I do remember that the small door in the chapel was made that way to limit the ability of heavily armored knights to gain access from below during an attack. This door in the dining hall may have served the same purpose, although something in my memory leads me to believe it may have had more to do with accessing necessary facilities. Perhaps you can enlighten me.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-24-smThis is the dining hall table that I managed to snatch a photo of sans people, which was no small task. The table top is an unattached plank. After each course the servants could pick up the entire thing, and replace it with another plank, pre-set with the next course. I’m still having trouble visualizing how they actually accomplished that while large men were seated there.

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This is the chapel, and you can just make out the small, rather narrow doorway in the corner behind our tour guide. Although you can’t tell it from this photo, the chapel was actually a very small room that we crowded into, but it was beautifully decorated.

 

A good castle was never without a dungeon or torture chamber, although truthfully, we did not see anything that remotely resembled a dungeon.

 

But we did see a room where instruments of torture were on display. I always find this unsettling as they bring to life the horrific things portrayed in Hollywood movies.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-31-smMarksburg has a fascinating collection of armor from 2000 years beginning in the days of the Celts.

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Along with the suits of armor and collection of pointed weapons, this room contained an example of a medieval lady’s armor and a chastity belt. Contrary to popular belief, chastity belts were used by women when traveling as protection against rape. Talk about making an uncomfortable trip, in a stuffy carriage bumping over rough terrain, worse.

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The keep, which served as an observation tower with a dungeon below, was also a last resort refuge. The only access to the keep was across a wooden bridge. When all was nearly lost, defenders would go into the keep and burn the bridge denying their enemies entrance. I don’t know what happened after that.

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-52-smWhen the bus returned us to Koblenz after the tour of Marksburg, we had free time to enjoy the 2,000-year-old city. Once again, Mark and I opted for a liquid refreshment before we started wandering. It’s really hard to resist all the outdoor cafes.

 

Marksburg_castle-2014-08-03-54-smOriginally an outpost of the Roman Empire, Koblenz became a city in the 13th century. It was a safe haven for French refugees during the French Revolution. I really like this architectural feature of building an alcove, or little bay-type area at the corner of a building. If you look closely, you will see that all four buildings at this intersection have this feature.

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You’re probably starting to think that all Mark and I did on this trip was eat and drink. But I say, how can you truly appreciate a city, location, or culture without sampling their food and drink? We stopped here in the town square to sample gelato, or some kind of fancy banana ice cream dessert. Truly authentic I’m sure.

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Koblenz is located at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. There is a nice riverside walk that Mark and I took advantage of on our way back to the Viking Tor which was docked just around the corner where the Moselle River spills into the Rhine.

 

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We made it back to our boat before the late afternoon briefing by our program director, cocktail hour, and dinner, ending what was my favorite day on the cruise.

 

Next up – The Cologne cathedral

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.


Castles on the Rhine – Viking river cruise Day 5 morning

Wednesday May 28

At 9:00 a.m. we cast off from Rudesheim for Koblenz on the Viking Tor. We were going to cruise the Middle Rhine. This part of the trip was the reason Mark and I chose this particular cruise, as my father had pictures of some of the castles along the Middle Rhine when he was in the army in Germany in 1954. It was the part of our trip I had most looked forward to. It turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more. 00-Castles on Rhine-edits-12Through this section of the Rhine’s course as it makes its way from Switzerland to Amsterdam, the river is wide and the landscape is rugged.

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Vineyards line the river’s path, some at water’s edge

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but many terraced up the steep hillside.

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Trains glide along the bottom of the hillsides, coming and going on both sides of the river like some gigantic real-life train display,

00-Castles on Rhine-edits-49as they pass through tunnels carved under the rocky cliffs.

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Boats and ships traverse

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and at times cross the river.

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Some dock at ports.

00-Castles on Rhine-edits-37But the main attractions are the castles on hilltops overlooking villages on narrow flat land at the river’s side.

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From medieval times, castles guarded the river’s route, for financial gain through controlling the river with tolls or for defense from invaders. Along this section of the Rhine, a traveler is rarely without a distant or close view of a castle as the ship passes by.

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Church steeples rise in the villages below the castles at water’s edge.

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From the comfort of the Viking Tor’s top deck, which was invigorating at times with the chill of the wind,

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we watched the scenes slide by like a 360 degree slide show. I took 500 photos on our 3-hour ride to Koblenz, attempting the impossible task of saving the experience through digital photography.

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To select photos for this post, on my initial pass-through I culled the 500 photos down to 132, and then to 92—still way too many for a blog post. You can imagine the difficulty I had.

What follows is an abbreviated, and yet still rather lengthy, representation of our Middle Rhine Cruise.

As we cruised along the Middle Rhine, our program director Sharon spoke on the ship’s intercom, reading information about the sights we were seeing. I don’t have any record of what she told us, but I did find this excellent Loreley info site online that has a map of the Rhine with the castles noted and links to a photo and historical, as well as visitor, information about each castle. It helped me identify many of the castles we saw. Most of my information about the castles below is from Loreley info.

I hope you enjoy seeing the castles, and some of the villages, along the Rhine. If you click on individual photos you can see a larger version of it, or another view of it. Clicking on a photo in a 2- or 3-photo gallery will show you an enlargement. You can navigate using arrows to see the other gallery photos’ enlargements. A click or two of your mouse should return you here.

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Klopp Castle in Bingen houses the city council today. It is presumed to have been built on Roman foundations with a well that likely dates to Roman time. Destroyed in 1689, it was rebuilt between 1875 and 1879.

 

The Ehrenfels Castle, along with two others formed a northward barrier to protect the territory of the archbishopric of Mainz.

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This is one of the larger villages we passed. Click on it to see an interesting feature in larger detail.

The prettiest castle

My father took this photo in 1954 with his 35mm black and white camera.  Dad developed the film and printed the pictures himself. He wrote a caption on the back of it before he sent it home from Germany to my mother. It read, “The prettiest castle.”

I cropped and enlarged it so you can see how it compares to the photo I took of what I believe to be the same castle, from a slightly different angle. You can see that the little white building has been added since the 1950s.

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Click to see a wider angle view.

Another view of what I now know is the Rheinstein Castle. It was built in the beginning of the 14th century as a princely summer residence. “In 1975 the opera singer Hermann Hecher bought the castle. It’s due to him that Rheinstein Castle became again one of the centres of attraction in the Rhine Valley,”  (Rheinstein Castle).

This castle is the Reichenstein Castle, also called Falkenburg. It was built in the 11th century and owned by a robber-baron. As a result it was destroyed twice, in 1253 and 1282. It decayed since the 16th century until Friedrich Wilhelm von Barfuß started reconstruction in 1834. Baron Kirsch Purcelli bought the castle in 1899 and continued the reconstruction.

The Sooneck Castle, probably built in the 11th century was originally part of an abbey defense system. It has a sordid history of raids, and arbitrary toll-raising leading to its destruction in 1282. It was rebuilt and again destroyed in 1689. Friedrich Wilhelm IV ordered to convert the ruin into a hunting seat in 1842. It was finished in 1861.

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Click to see an enlarged view of the castle in the background.

The Village of Niederheimbach with its connected row of buildings sits at the base of the hill.

Fürstenberg Castle, built in 1219, was built by order of an archbishop, the bishop of Cologne, to protect his estates and levy tolls. The castle was destroyed in the course of the Palatinate Succession War, and remains in ruins. It is privately owned today.

 

This village has a dominant church, and behind the church up high on the hillside stands what looks like a small chapel.

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Click to see wide angle view of the castle and setting.

 Stahleck Castle, which was first mentioned in 1135, was owned in series over time by the diocese of Köln, the emperor Barbarossa and later his brother Konrad, and the Bavarian dynasty as one of two important bases of the Wittelsbach rulers. “In 1689 the castle was blown up by the French. In two construction phases (1925-27 as well as 1965-67) it was rebuilt,” ( Stahleck Castle) Today it is a popular youth hostel.

 

This fortress built in the middle of the river is the Pfalz Castle or toll station. Built in the 1300s, it was used to collect tolls from ships sailing on the river.  The Gutenfels Castle, now used as a hotel, sits above it on the hillside.

 

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Click to enlarge.

This is my dad’s picture of the Pfalz Castle in 1954.

The Gutenfels Castle.

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This shows a ruin of a Roman wall.

 

 

In 1149 Schönburg Castle was temporarily an Empire Castle and came into possession of the Schönburg dynasty. Destroyed in 1689, it has been rebuilt since 1885 into the famous hotel that it is today.

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One of the enduring myths of the German Rhine is the maiden Lorelei.  The Lorelei  is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine that rises 440 feet above the river. A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there over the years.

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The legend goes that a beautiful maiden sat on top and sang songs luring sailors who passed the rock at nightfall to their doom against the rock.

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I think this may be Rheinfels Castle, although I am not certain. “The only military complex arrangement on the left bank of the Rhine River it withstood the troops of Louis XIV in 1692″ and then was blown up by the French revolutionary army in 1794. Now it is owned by city of St. Goar, has a hotel known for its excellent kitchen, and visitors can roam through the gigantic area of the fortress. (Rheinfels Castle)

Sometimes referred to as the cat and mouse, the Katz  (left) and Maus or  (lower right) castles reflect one of the many power plays on the Rhine in the Middle Ages. “Territorial supremacy and the privilege of collecting tolls fueled the fires of rivalry. In response to the construction of Burg Rheinfels, the archbishop of Trier erected a small castle north of St. Goarshausen to protect his interests. In turn, the masters of Rheinfels, the counts of Katzenelnbogen, built a bigger castle directly above the town. Its name was shortened to Katz, and its smaller neighbor was scornfully referred to as Maus. Both castles are closed to the public.” (Quoted from Fodor’s.)

Throughout the cruise down the Rhine, the small villages with half-timbered, colorful buildings, and steepled churches continued to decorate the landscape.

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Click to see wider view with village below.

An unidentified castle.

 

I’m coming now to the final castle I photographed. And it turns out my dad photographed it too, although I couldn’t identify his pictures until I went on the cruise and compared his photos to mine.

Dad’s caption said “Castle on the Rhine” and “Enlargement of castle on the Rhine.”

I know now that it is the Marksburg Castle, the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that was never destroyed. We would be touring Marksburg Castle shortly after the Viking Tor docked in Koblenz at 12:00.

The Middle Rhine was declared a World Heritage site in 2002 by UNESCO.

I don’t know that I’ve ever loved any sightseeing event more than this cruise up the Middle Rhine, following my father’s path.

 

Next up – The knights of Marksburg Castle

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 

 

 


Cruising the Rhine to Rudesheim – Viking river cruise Day 4 afternoon

Cruising-2014-05-27-1After our morning in Heidelberg, we returned to the Viking Tor in time for a late lunch at 1:00, which Mark and I enjoyed on the Aquavit Terrace. Our ship was sailing, for four hours this afternoon, to Rudesheim.

Cruising-2014-05-27-2We had been given the option to extend our stay in Heidelberg for a few hours and then take a two-hour bus ride to meet the Tor in Rudesheim. Mark and I opted for the boat ride.

Cruising-2014-05-27-3During the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the wheelhouse to see how the ship navigated Europe’s rivers. Mark and I didn’t choose to do that, but we heard from other travelers, especially the grandparents accompanied by a young granddaughter and grandson, that it was an interesting thing to do. Cruising-2014-05-27-5We also had the opportunity to see a presentation on Rudesheimer Kaffee made with coffee, brandy, sugar, whipped cream and dark chocolate.

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Mark and I preferred our seats on the top deck, chilly though they were. The staff of the Tor were kind enough to deliver us samples from the Kaffee presentation which warmed us up nicely.

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The Viking Daily newsletter provided us with information about the views along the river, which I am sorry to say I cannot match to the photographs I took. Perhaps you can. We passed by the former Platinate residential town of Mannheim; the junction of the Neckar River; Lamperheim, most likely founded during the Frankish settlement and first mentioned officially in the year 832; Nibelungen-Bridge connecting Rosental and Worms; Worms, among the oldest cities in Germany where the Liebfrauenmilch grape is grown; Mainz, where the Romans had a military encampment as early as 38 BC because of its strategic location at the junction of the Rhine and Main; Schierstein Bridge; Winkel, an old winegrowing village; and Rudesheim, whose excellent wines and varied landscape have turned it into one of the most lively tourism centers of the Middle Rhine (from the Viking Daily, Viking River Cruises).

Cruising-2014-05-27-34Shortly after our 5:00 arrival in Rudesheim, Mark and I left on an evening excursion where we took a motorized mini-train ride into town and enjoyed dinner and lively entertainment in a restaurant along Rudesheim’s Drosselgasse.

Cruising-2014-05-27-32Mark and I did not participate in the shot-drinking game, where shot glasses are attached to a board and participants have to lift it and drink together. I’ve been told you don’t want to be one of the shorter people in the group. But after the wine with dinner, no one seemed to mind if they literally got dumped on in this game.

Mark and I did, however, join the dancers snaking their way through the restaurant.

This excursion cost us 59 euros each. I thought it was enjoyable, and gave us an opportunity to experience a local meal.

Although we had taken the mini-train to the restaurant, we really weren’t all that far away from our dock. The way back was all downhill, so Mark and I opted to walk back to the Tor, past the small shops and restaurants that make up Rudesheim. We were at liberty to stay in town as late as we liked since our ship wasn’t sailing until 9:00 a.m., but Mark and I are not as young as we used to be. We opted for our comfy bed back in our cabin and a good night’s rest. We were going to do what I had most looked forward to in the morning – cruise past the castles of the Middle Rhine and repeat the trip my father had made.

 

Next up – Castles on the Rhine

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.


On the heights of Heidelberg – Viking River Cruise Day 4 (morning)

We arrived in Worms, Germany at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday to take an excursion to Heidelberg, one of Germany’s oldest cities.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _38Our main destination was the castle Schloss that overlooks the old town or Altstadt.

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Fortunately, for me and my arthritic joints, the Viking tour bus drove us to the top of the hill.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _02Heidelberg castle was abandoned over 300 years ago and is partly, maybe even largely, in ruins. It was the residence of the Palatinate monarchy.

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While we stood and enjoyed a panoramic view of the Altstadt and Neckar Valley from the castle grounds,

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _06our tour guide, who was a native German, explained the history of the Schloss and surrounding area. He explained how much of Germany was damaged during WWII. One of the most touching moments of the trip, for me, was when he specifically addressed the Americans and Canadians. He looked us in the eyes and very sincerely thanked us for getting involved in the war and for our help in bringing Hitler’s reign to an end.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27-_06aThe Heidelberg Schloss is surrounded by a moat that was used as a hunting grounds for guests. Animals would be brought in and  basically slaughtered. Not such a great sporting event if you ask me.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _14This is a very large tower that provides entrance to the castle. In the late 17th century, French incursions totally destroyed medieval Heidelberg, including the castle. The ornate sculpture was one casualty.  The family shield, made of some kind of valuable metals, was removed from its prominent place between the two lions.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _15We walked through the arched entryway. I suspect in days gone by, this arch was equipped with a heavy door of some kind.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _17Through the arch, the courtyard is enclosed by beautiful buildings that comprised the vast residential complex that was built and repeatedly extended from 13th to 17th centuries.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _21 Like most of the sites we toured, Heidelberg also had a nice crowd of people. You can see Mark in the foreground. I think he may be snapping a photo of the architecture

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _26which was varied, interesting, and quite beautiful.

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This is a closer view of some kind of time or season dial. I really need to look it up and find out what it’s all about.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _25And this little window really appeals to my romantic sensibilities. Who might have stood there? What were they watching? What was the idea behind building this onto the side of the castle? So many things to wonder about.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _20This may have been the newest section of the castle, although don’t quote me on that. You can’t see very clearly from here, but the wall is very ornate with lots of sculptures.

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Here’s a close-up view.

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We left the castle on top of the hill and took a short ride down into the old town. The city was left in ruins by French troops in the 1600s under Louis XIV. It was rebuilt during the 18th century.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _41Heidelberg is the home to Germany’s first university that was established in 1386.

05-Heidelberg-2014-05-27- _48Today it’s something of a tourist attraction with its shops and restaurants.  Rick Steve, author of many travel books,  does not recommend it in his Germany guide book. We thought it was charming and might have enjoyed wandering around a bit longer. We had less than an hour to spend before we had to meet the bus to take us to our ship.

DSC_0189So we decided to take the advice of our tour guide who recommended this coffee shop

DSC_0192and used our short time in Heidelberg enjoying a sweet treat with coffee and hot tea.

 

Next up: Tuesday, afternoon – Cruising up the Rhine to Rudesheim

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.


Stopping by Strasbourg

 

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Sunrise over Germany

Mark and I were still waking up early in the morning on the Viking Tor, allowing us to see the sun rise in Germany over the Rhine River.

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Viking Tor at the dock in Kehl, Germany – May 26, 2014.

We arrived in Kehl, Germany, across the river from Strasbourg, Alsace, France at 8:00 a.m. and we were on our buses, headed across the Rhine by 8:30.

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Stork nests in Strasbourg.

Our shore excursion in Strasbourg consisted of a guided bus tour of the European Parliament and a walking tour of the old town that included the Petite France area and the Strasbourg Cathedral. But first we drove down a street to see the storks.

04-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25The storks return to Alsace each year to nest and have done so for many centuries. They are a large presence in Alsatian folklore.

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The Palais de l’Europe built in 1975, and the flags of all the countries belonging to the Council of Europe.

This was actually my second trip to Strasbourg. We stopped there for a couple of nights on the WWII tour I took with my daughter and her high school in 2004. On that trip we stayed in a bed and breakfast near Petite France and were able to explore the old town’s canals, shops, and cafes at our leisure for a few days. Anna and I rented bikes one morning and rode around the old town, stopping for a memorable breakfast croissant in Petite France. It was my favorite place we visited on that trip.

This time around we had a tour guide on our bus who explained the European Council to us. Our guide was a French woman from Strasbourg which made the whole tour more interesting as she spoke in English, but with a French accent or cadence, yes? She explained to us how the council worked and it felt a little bit like a lesson in American democracy. It was fascinating to hear the pride and enthusiasm in her voice as she spoke about how all the different countries came together to work on common issues through the council, that was located in her hometown of Strasbourg.

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View from the bus. This might be the Human Rights building located near the Palais de l’Europe in the European Quarter.

In some ways, I suppose, this is the Washington D.C. of Europe.

Because of its central location on the Rhine between France and Germany, Strasbourg and Alsace in general have had a rocky past. Initially settled by Rome in 12 B.C., Strasbourg was bounced back and forth between Germany and France many times through the years primarily as a result of the wars that intervened. As our guide explained,  because of this the Alsatians have their own language that incorporates both French and German words.

08-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25It always feels a bit incongruous to me to see a modern streetcar zooming past historic buildings. But it’s a regular site in many parts of Europe where the citizens keep up with the modern world against a backdrop of medieval structures and fascinating architecture.

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Our French tour guide in Strasbourg.

After our tour of the European Quarter we got off the bus and walked a short distance to get to the canal district near the old town.

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Like Colmar, Strasbourg is a town made up of many half-timbered buildings, and looks a little like it belongs on a giant Christmas Village display.

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A remnant from an embattled medieval past, this square tower is one of over 80 towers that used to form a chain of fortifications. Four towers remain today. Using a guidebook Mark bought in the afternoon, I think we must have been at Pont Couverts where the river Ill branches into an oval that surrounds the center of Strasbourg before joining back together on the other side. This might make more sense to you if you take a minute to view the map of Strasbourg I found online. I’m now wishing I had studied the map of Strasbourg before we began our tour. It might have all made more sense to me too.

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Right after the Ill splits, it further branches into four (if I can trust my map) smaller canals that run through Petite France. (More on Petite France later.)

 

30-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25Canal boat tours are a good way to see the town. On my first trip to Strasbourg, we took a ride on one. This time we didn’t. We were going to spend a couple nights in Amsterdam at the end of our trip and decided to ride in a canal boat there. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the canals in Strasbourg were a lot less crowded and more amenable to sightseeing than those in Amsterdam. But we missed the boat on that opportunity.

 

15-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25We stopped at a park across the canal from Petite France, formerly the tanner’s quarter, and a place in the town interwoven with canals. The area was named Petite France because of a hospital located there that treated patients who had syphilis or the “French disease.”

If you click to enlarge the above photo you can see the large opening in the roof of the pink building. Rooftops such as this in the tanning quarter, aided the airing of the attics or the drying-out of the skins.

16-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25You can see a very old lock, still in use with modern renovations (hydraulic arms perhaps?).

17-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25The canal water had a lot of power at this point, which I apparently did not capture very well.  I think it is interesting how the buildings are built right up to the canal.

18-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25If I recall correctly, we traveled across a series of walkways over the canal and into Petite France.

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When Anna and I visited Strasbourg, we spent a lot of time in Petite France with its shops, cafes, and general charm. But on this tour, we continued forward. We would have time afterwards to wander around on our own if we desired.

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Our ultimate destination was the Strasbourg Cathedral, but we passed through the Place Kleber to get there. The square at Place Kleber is a main public entertainment location. The building you see above is the Aubette originally designed to house the Corps de Garde. It was later converted into an academy of music.

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Medallions commemorating famouse musicians decorate the exterior walls. This is Mozart’s. I also got quick photos of Beethoven’s and Haendel’s as we passed by.

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I regret that you can’t see this very well, although clicking to enlarge helps. I was trying to show you how narrow some of the buildings are. The third building from the left  that is a darker pink or peach is only two narrow windows wide. The variation in width is just one of the features of Strasbourg’s buildings that make it such a beautiful and charming town.

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Still enroute to the cathedral we passed through narrow streets that reminded me of the medieval towns we visited in Italy.

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Then all of a sudden the narrow walkway opened into a wider path or square and the cathedral rose in majesty above the shops and homes.

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Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral stands on the foundations of a Romanesque basilica built in 1015 by a member of the Hapsburg family. When it was destroyed by fire, the new cathedral was built in its place in 1176, taking nearly four centuries to complete. The height of the spire made it the highest building in Christendom until the 19th century.

28-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25We entered the cathedral just in time to witness the famous astronomical clock‘s automated figures parade before Christ.

29-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25I can’t recall why we weren’t able to see more of the interior at the time. I don’t remember if there was a Mass being celebrated, or whether we were just running out of time on our tour. I thought perhaps Mark and I might be able to return during the afternoon that we planned to spend in Strasbourg, but that never happened.

The first time I went to Strasbourg we visited the Musee de l’ Oeuvre Notre Dame that housed statues from the cathedral as well as all types of art. That was a highlight of my first trip and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Strasbourg with a few hours to spend. Mark and I had neither the time nor the energy to do so.

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I just wanted to show you one of the bustling streets with the many signs and banners, again reminding me of medieval towns in Italy. Our tour guide walked us to a main street with lots of shops and then directed us to where our bus would be waiting for us at the predesignated times between 2:00 and 5:30. Following that, we gave her a Euro or two for a tip, as we had been advised by our Viking Tour materials, and wandered off alone to enjoy the sights and tastes of Strasbourg.

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Our first order of business was food, drink, and rest for my weary legs. We stopped at a restaurant or cafe in Petite France beside a canal. And I am not, as you might suspect, checking my email while we sat in this enchanting place. I was frantically trying to find my camera’s manual that I had uploaded to my phone. Here’s a word to the wise—don’t buy a new camera shortly before a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I had inadvertently flipped one of many dials and switches on my new Olympus OMD Em-1, a mirrorless digital camera. The camera was changing the ISO every time I tried to change the f-stop, which I use often. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it with the camera alone, and then I remembered I had the manual on my phone. Isn’t technology grand? I fixed the problem, breathed a big sigh of relief, and proceeded to enjoy the meat, cheese, bread and wine we had ordered for lunch. A perfect French picnic.

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After lunch we walked around without any particular goal or destination in mind, which might have been our shortcoming. We came upon this carousel, which I remembered from not only photographs, but from my previous visit. I can’t tell you of its significance or lack thereof. Update—One of my kind readers named Rob has left the following comment below: “Strasbourg is my home town. The carrousel is on Place Gutenberg, and the guy on the statue is Gutenberg, aka Johann Gensfleisch. He invented printing in Strasbourg.” Thanks, Rob, for clearing that up for us.

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I had to put this picture in here because I absolutely love this feature of architecture where a bay window of sorts juts out from the upper floors of the corner of a building. We would see a lot more of this later in Cologne.

35-Strasbourg - 2014-06-25We found our way back to the cathedral,

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and stopped at a restaurant for a bit of something sweet. And this is one of the disadvantages of going it alone. Sometimes you just don’t know where to find what it is you want. We sat for a few minutes, looked at the menu and decided this particular cafe wasn’t what we had in mind, so we left. It happens.

Mark and I headed to where we could catch our bus back to the boat some time in the middle of the afternoon.

The optional excursions for this day that we did not take advantage of were a wine-tasting tour and Mercedes factory visit. We had no regrets. We wanted to be able to experience Strasbourg a little longer. I suppose my criticism would be that with only an extra couple of hours, there’s really not a lot you can do, especially if you are not well prepared like us.

Back on board the Viking Tor, live music was scheduled for the cocktail hour in the lounge from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. and a demonstration of how to make the flammkuchen was presented on the Aquavit Terrace at 5:30. I don’t remember exactly how Mark and I spent our time, but I suspect we retired to our cabin for a nap as we were still adjusting to the time change and were both rather exhausted from the touring.

That evening in lieu of entertainment, at 9:15 p.m. the program director Sharon talked about different Viking cruises. I suspect she had a lovely slide show. We didn’t choose to go to that. We may have called it an early night. We cast off at 11:00 p.m. for Worms.

 

Next up: Tuesday, Day 4- Heidelberg

See links to other posts about the Basel to Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.

 

 


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