Thursday, April 25, 2013

Viking's Grand European River Cruise: Miltenberg, Germany

Viking River Cruise, Day 5:  Miltenberg, Germany (Facebook collage)
(click any collage to enlarge)

As you see, we're moving right along!  With 8 of our 15 days in Germany, you'll be getting a great feel for the country we call our neighbor to the east here in the Netherlands.

 Today's excursion wasn't until after lunch, so we had a lovely morning inside...
often looking out, in freezing-cold, rainy weather, while others were more sensible.

This was our first day to witness one of the 60+ locks we passed through on our cruise.
In this case, we had to wait for 2 barges to take their turn first.

When it was finally our turn, we were amazed by how tight the fit was!
In fact, these longships were built specifically with these locks in exact specification.
And because the bridges along this stretch of the Main River are so low, the sun deck was off-limits.
Astrid peeked over the top while I stuck my neck out.  HA!

And then we meandered along the Main River towards Miltenberg, our next stop,
with sights all along the way, of course...which is the point of a river cruise!

 And why Miltenberg, you ask?
Because it's considered one of Germany's most picturesque half-timbered towns!

And lucky for us, it was the Wednesday before Palm Sunday,
with Easter decorations in the town square.

Nearby is the hotel Zum Riesen ("Inn at the Giant)",
believed to be Germany's oldest inn, from 1158.

The town even has its own Mildenburg Castle, built around 1200 and seen over the rooftops.
The castle interior is now a museum of art collections.

The most visible landmark from the river is the 13th century St. Jakobus (St. James) Church.
Its twin towers are seen from everywhere throughout the town.
[top image above is Astrid's!]

The church we entered, however, was not St. Jakobus.
In fact, we have no clue which one this is...unless it's the Franciscan Monastery Church?
Whichever, it was small and charming.

Speaking of churches, as we traveled farther south into Germany,
the more Roman Catholic it became, as evidenced by its religious niches all over town.

 Statues, emblems, artwork...stories for every one of them....

...including the weathervanes and hanging signs.

Impressions, impressions, impressions....

...enough to warrant more hours to explore....

...and more stories to tell.

But alas, we had to hop on the buses to catch our boat in Wertheim, 29 km to the east of Miltenberg.

 In fact, Astrid had climbed the hill behind St. Jakobus to watch the boat leave earlier in the day.
(all Astrid's images, above)

And because we beat the boat to Wertheim, we had fun watching it come in and dock...from the outside.
See how low that bridge is?  If necessary, the wheel station can be lowered just enough for the captain's peek.

Looking in, we saw the few who had stayed behind...and the crew eating supper.
It was 6 p.m. and soon it would be our turn to eat, at 7 p.m.

What a day!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Spring Break

Yesterday I posted Day 4 of our Viking River Cruise (Koblenz and the Middle Rhine), in case you missed it.  But today is my current post at Vision and Verb...

 ...on how Together We're Strong.
After all we've been through last week with the Boston bombings, it seemed appropriate.
This image is from Passau, Germany, which was Day 10 of our cruise.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Have you noticed how life just goes on.  No matter what!

Spring is springing.  The lambs are skipping around out in the polder.  And you'd think there was nothing at all wrong in our world today!

This was my first time to see so many black lambs.  They were everywhere.

 And all of them stuck together.  It must be instinct?
Together we're all strong[er]!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Viking's Grand European River Cruise: Koblenz & Middle Rhine, Germany

Viking River Cruise, Day 4:  Koblenz & Middle Rhine, Germany (Facebook collage)
(click any collage to enlarge)

SOOOOOOO, Ladies and gentlemen!  By this time in our cruise, that became a familiar refrain as Alex, our Program Director, kept us apprised of each day's comings and goings.

This day, Day 4, was  a full day of castles and lots of goodies in between as we continued the long stretch across Germany from Cologne the previous day.

Prior to arriving in Koblenz for our morning excursion, I "collected" architecture from the sun deck.
As you know by now, I eat this stuff up.

To be honest, I'm surprised we didn't see more of this industrialization.
It was few and far between.

We docked in Koblenz at 8:30 a.m. in front of Kaiser Wilhelm I on his mighty steed,
and left the ship by 9:30 for our excursion to the Marksburg Castle.
We walked in Koblenz all of about 15 minutes!  What you see is what you get.

We hopped on buses immediately, climbing the hill to the best-preserved castle on the Rhine.
In its 800 years, it was never attacked during countless wars because of its strategic location.

 Before starting our tour, we had time to get the lay of the land.
What a vantage point for anyone needing protection from marauders!

 Now....follow the leader....

 We even have cannons like this in Gorinchem, NL, where we live.  (sigh)

 Fine dining, anyone?

 How about fine frescoes!

I know someone who would give an arm and a leg for this weaving apparatus!

 Yes, they even had an inside toilet (that hung outside the wall with appropriate pipes).
Music, game and spinning alcoves, plus separate bedrooms...
what more could you possibly need on top of a fortress!

Unless it was armor...or a chastity belt?

Our tour guide carried the key to the castle with her the entire tour...
and then locked us out once we were done.
Mercedes, top right, was our Viking guide on the bus back down to the boat.
We fell in love with adorable.

Instead of going back to Koblenz, from whence we had started,
we drove to Braubach, 10 km southeast, at the foot of the castle's hill, 
where we got our best view looking back up...
and to where our ship had sailed while we were gone.
Again, what you see is what you get.

By now it was time for lunch, with a Taste of Germany specialties....

When in Germany, eat and drink as the Germans do.
We even enjoyed the "Sound of the Rhineland" musicians.

With tummies full, and time to go brush our teeth, it was now time to hit the top deck to see the stretch of castles on the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, declared a UNESCO site in 2002.  This was one of the most-anticipated moments of the entire cruise for me.

Even before getting to the castles, I was awed by so many of the houses!

And churches!  You know me and spires.
All seen from the river, of course.

And as a bit of trivia...we found out that Hitler purposely made train-tunnel entrances look like castles
so no one would bomb them.  It was a gentleman's agreement to NOT bomb castles during war.

BTW, we were listening to the running commentary from Alex, our Program Director,
while trying to stay warm and not goof off too much.  Lucky for us, it was sunny!

Another BTW, this is also wine country with vineyards dotting the hills everywhere.
And yes, that's the Lorelei maiden (middle-left) who tried to woo us to our doom.

SOOOOO, Ladies and gentlemen.  Saving the best to the last...
here are some of the finest examples of castles, palaces and fortresses along the Middle Rhine!
(We even have a booklet with all their names!)

My favorite of them all?  The Pfalzgrafenstein toll castle on the Falkenau island!
It so happened a bunch of school kids were there while we passed by.
We all waved hello and good-bye.... I do now to Day 4 of our river cruise!  Moving right along....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Viking's Grand European River Cruise: Cologne, Germany

Viking River Cruise, Day 3:  Cologne, Germany (Facebook collage)
(click any collage to enlarge)

After Kinderdijk, NL, in the morning of Day 2, we sailed all day and into the night before arriving in Cologne, Germany, the next on the Rhine River.

As we ate breakfast, it was clear we were starting out on a gorgeous, sunny day!

The fun of a river cruise, of course, is what you get to see along the way...
even if you don't know where or what it is!

Now, remember this from last December?
This is what we saw across the river of the Cologne skyline after visiting the Christmas markets.

 And this is what we saw from the boat as we sailed into the city on March 18, 2013.

Every place has its own unique docking set-up, of course.  This was Cologne's.

While other passengers were off to see the Cathedral with their tour guides,
Astrid and I opted to go off on our own, since we had already been to the Dom.
We wanted to see as much as possible along the river front.

What immediately caught our eye was how everyone was out enjoying the sun!
It's been a looooong winter in Europe.  We've all needed the sun.

How is it that I keep attracting groups of guys who want me to take their picture?
HA!  Must be that obscene lens I carry.
(Don't get started on the guy who wanted to sell Astrid a rose!)

 After all was said and done, we suddenly found ourselves at the cathedral/Dom.
On a sunny day, it was larger than life.

And since the light was on the door, beckoning...

...we totally changed our minds and decided to go in.
Maybe the sun would make the place look different from our visit in December?
Oh my, YES!

We are SO glad we decided to go in.
Look how the sun danced with Gerhard Richter's "Symphony of Light" window!

  And as they say, the devil is in the details...

...even midst the hubbub!

That was the morning and it was now time for lunch.  While walking back to the ship, we passed Alex, our Program Director, who mentioned we should check out the hotel across the river that has an observation deck, if we wanted great views of the city.  HELLO!

We had already been enamored with the Deutz Abbey across from our boat.
I would have loved to visit it but...not this time... order to get a broader view of the city.
To get to the tower, we walked across the Hohenzollern Bridge near the cathedral.
And if that didn't stop us dead in our tracks!
THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of love padlocks!

OMG!  You could write a book with all the stories you made up!
My understanding is they weigh so much, the city has to pay attention to how it's affecting the bridge,
to say nothing of all the keys that are washing ashore along the banks of the Rhine River.  :)

Believe it or not, we did eventualluy make it to the observation deck.
We did NOT climb the cathedral tower, which had been an option.
Instead, we took the elevator and looked back on it, saving our knees.
(No one ever said we were dumb, right?)

Later that evening, after a wonderful dinner onboard,
Astrid went out on her own to take some night shots of the familiar landmarks.

What a day.  What a night.  What a place.