Posting at my new site

Hi friends and loyal followers,

I was working on my author website, and does it ever need work, so I thought I’d post from there today and send you all over if you’re will to make the trip.

Blog at christinemgrote.com

How’s that for keeping it simple? While you’re there, browse around. I’m happy to hear your ideas and suggestions. It’s a work in progress.

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Getting serious now

Just a short note to link to my latest post, which is now on christinemgrote.com. I’m a slow-learner at this, but am getting it figured out. I’ll be posting about my writing there, and my photos and random ideas, here. As you will see if you venture over there, my author site needs a little loving care.

But you have to start somewhere, right?

I do have one of two early drafts of the cover of Where Memories Meet – Reclaiming my father after Alzheimer’s there. Shhhh. Don’t tell my daughter designer (Anna) she will probably not be happy.

I hope you’ll stop over and say “Hey.”

Oh, and here is a macro picture I took using my new camera extension tube. It was a lot harder to use than I had anticipated, as you might be able to tell based on the quality (lack of) of the photo.

But you have to start somewhere, right?

This verbena bloom is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch across.  I need to go find some insects.
This verbena bloom is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 inch across. It doesn’t make that great of a macro shot with the way I shot and cropped it.  I need to go find some insects and then drug them so they sit still.

An owl stops by on a summer’s day

Juvenile Great-horned Owl

A juvenile great-horned owl stopped by today.

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile because I don’t think an adult would be hanging around in the middle of the driveway in the middle of the morning,

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

captivated  by its reflection in a puddle. Of course, I can’t  be sure it was enamored with its reflection.

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

He or she might have mistaken the puddle for a bird bath.

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“Is it my bedtime yet?”Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“Oh, hello there.”

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“Can you do this?”

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“I bet you can’t.”

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“I can see you.”

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“There might be something wrong with my foot down there.”

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“Alrighty then, I’ll just be on my way.”

Juvenile Great-Horned Owl

“Nope. Nothing wrong with the foot.”

If you’d like to see more, you can watch a short, somewhat flawed, video I shot here. Enjoy.

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.

 

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.

Koblenz rivers-2014-08-10

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.