Category Archives: Travel

Australia from 35,000ft

The first pattern to catch my eye. So like and aboriginal painting

Yes, I know I’m not finished with Europe yet. I’ll get back to it soon. But I’m just back from a week in Perth, catching up with old, old friends and a brief visit with relos, and I want to share a few posts about that, first. For a start it was much better fun, and the weather was great.

Perth really is my “home town”. I wasn’t born there but I spent much of my life there – all my education, all my formative years. I was supposed to go back for a fiftieth high school reunion three weeks ago, but I was ill, so I couldn’t make the trip. But a few weeks to recuperate from my European sore throat and sniffle saw me back to my sparkling best. Although I missed the reunion, I got to catch up with the most important people who would have been there – friends from my primary school days – one I hadn’t seen for close on fifty years, and her sister, who was my best friend at primary school. I stayed with my BFF and her family and we went off to places I’d remembered to see the changes in the twenty years since I moved Over East. I’ll talk about that in later posts.

For now I want to share the marvellous photos I took of outback Australia as the plane flew from Perth to Brisbane. They’re not bad, but they ought to be much better. Sometimes we older ladies can be a bit… um… stupid. I was playing Solitaire on my tablet, trying very hard to avoid striking up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. Yeah, I know. But I’m an introvert and chatting with strangers doesn’t come easily. This woman and her husband were not, I guessed, frequent air travellers. She’d brought up the flight info screen that show you where you are, air speed, height, outside temperature etc, and she spent a lot of time reading these details out to her husband who (of course) had a similar screen.

“Ooooh look, Darl. We’re nearly at Kalgoorlie.”

“That must be South Australia now. About a third of the way.”

“Gosh, minus fifty outside.”

You get the idea. Anyway, I glanced out the window and saw a nice pattern outside, so I activated the tablet’s camera, pressed the device up to the window and took a photo. I did that several times, often requiring a fair bit of contortion in the seat so as not to lean on the woman beside me. Bear in mind that I had my camera bag, containing my Canon 70D with 18-200mm zoom lens, set up to take photos in raw format, on the floor at my feet. It remained there for the entire flight.

You may kick me now.

So… here are the photos. I suppose they’re not too bad.

That’s space at the top, and the edge of Australia where the cliffs of the bight give way to the beach

Sand ridges

Don’t know the name of the river

The Flinders Ranges

More Flinders Ranges

Just taken off over Moreton Bay Brisbane, heading North

Over Brisbane and a canal suburb

Nearly home. Inskip Point and the edge of Fraser Island.

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 2

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 3

Love the colours of the land and the salt pans 4. And there’s a road

This is just like a painting

More Flinders Ranges

That might actually be water in the salt lake

Just like the Mandelbrot set

A river, and even some human straight lines

 

Vienna and Budapest

Schoenbrunn Palace

You might be wondering why I’m including two major cities in one post. The fact is, I didn’t get to see much of either of them. I developed a sore throat that interrupted my sleep during the voyage to Vienna. With an eye on the bus trip through Eastern Europe, starting in three days’ time, I worked on getting better by staying on the ship. Pete went on the tour to Schoenbrunn Palace (no photos allowed), but neither of us attended the concert, which by all reports, was very good.

Pete was very interested in the Empress Maria Therese (she of Schoenbrunn Palace) and bought a book for us to look at. It’s rare to find powerful females in history and this one (unlike Elizabeth 1 of England) was a fecund mother as well as a ruler. I suppose you could compare her to Queen Victoria. The last of the Habsburgs, she managed to fend off all the boys who tried to take her dominions.

All is not lost, though. You can read the Vienna blog from the 2015 tour for more insights into the capital of Austria.

Then it was off to Budapest, last port of the river trip. I was feeling a bit better and the weather was fine, so I thought joining the bus tour of the city might be okay. Wrong. Outside the bus, walking around in the fresh air, I was pretty good. But on the air-conditioned bus it was all I could do to control the coughing fits with throat lozenges.

That said, it was nice to walk around the Imperial areas of Buda, overlooking the river and Pest.

The Danube flows through Budapest

Freedom

Our guide told us a wonderful story about the Soviet statuary, which is always rather ugly. The statue of freedom, high on the hill in Buda, is a case in point (see pic above). The Hungarians have come to terms with that one, acknowledging it’s a part of their history. But many of the Soviet era monuments were taken down. They weren’t destroyed, though. They have been placed into Memento Park, and visitors can go and see them in all their grotesque glory. It’s kind of like a cemetery for statues. (HaHa).

Monument to those who died in the independence wars

On Buda Hill our guide showed us a statue to the soldiers killed in the independence wars against the Habsburgs, commemorating the bravery of soldiers who fought in battles they lost.

On the drive through the city we passed the Jewish temple – the Dohany Street synagogue. It’s a magnificent building with Moorish influences, but it has a darker history, in keeping with the Holocaust elements of our trip to Europe. Rather than try to explain myself, this is a quote from the article about the building in Wikipedia.

“In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto for the city Jews and served as shelter for many hundreds. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter 1944-1945 are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue.

It is not customary to have a cemetery next to a synagogue, and the establishment of the 3,000 m2 cemetery was only the result of historical circumstances. In 1944, as a part of the Eichmann-plan, 70,000 Jews were relocated to the Ghetto of Pest. Until January 18, 1945, when the Russians liberated the ghetto, around 8,000 to 10,000 people had died, although, one part of the deceased were transferred to the Kozma Street Cemetery, but 2,000 people were buried in the makeshift cemetery. In memory of those who had died, there is a memorial by the sculptor, Imre Varga, depicting a weeping willow with the names and tattoo numbers of the dead and disappeared just behind the Synagogue, in the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park.”

Many of the Hungarian Jews were taken to Auschwitz – but that’s a story for another day.

Chiefs of the tribes

We made a brief stop at Hero Square to admire the tribute to the founders of the nation. I must say it does amuse me how the leaders of these tribes, who were without a doubt blood-thirsty warriors, ended up becoming saints after they converted to Christianity. St Stephen (Stephen 1) is one such. But his comrades in arms weren’t really convinced. After the king died, they stuffed his bishop into a barrel and threw it down the mountain in Budapest, thereby killing him. The place is now known as Gellert Hill.

Anyway, the monuments to the chieftains seems to be popular with the local lads, who climb up there to be photographed with one or other of the horsemen.

That evening my throat was on fire, and I didn’t go on deck to see Budapest by night. Pete did, though, and took some pretty reasonable photos with his trusty tablet. This trip showed us a few features of Budapest we didn’t see last time. That’s (of course) a trade-off. We drove past the opera house, but didn’t see inside. That’s all in the previous trip blog.

The following morning we would disembark and start the next phase of our tour, into Eastern Europe.

 

 

 

 

Melk, the Wachau Valley and Durnstein

The abbey from the river

The thing about travelling from Amsterdam to Budapest instead of the other way round is that you arrive at spots at different times of the day – as well as in different weather. Whereas last journey we’d arrived at Melk right on sundown, this time we were there early in the morning, and went up to the abbey after breakfast.

I wasn’t at all surprised to find that photos were no longer permitted inside the building. I’m constantly amazed at how many people don’t understand, or maybe don’t care about, “no flash, please”. Last time we were here Peter took a lot of shots (sans flash) with his tablet and they might be a bit grainy at A3, but they’re plenty good for showing on a screen. But you’ll have to look at the 2015 post to see those.

The garden

We had a different guide showing us through the buildings. It seemed to me the tour was shorter and we didn’t get to see even a glimpse of the ancient library used in the novel The Name of the Rose – which we did last time. I’m afraid I’m too cynical for talk of ‘pieces of the true cross’, or a thorn from the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head. And of course, while I saw the artistic merit of the stunning displays in the church itself, I always find myself thinking about the peasants who ultimately supported this extravagance.

Since it was daylight, we walked back through the little town at the base of the hill where the abbey sits. It’s the usual collection of houses around a cobblestoned square. No castle here – just the imposing bulk of the abbey.

Back on the ship, we went through the Wachau Valley. The Amaverde carries 25 bicycles, and guests were offered the chance of pedaling from Melk to our next destination through the valley along the river. All the bikes were snapped up. We (of course) generously gave up the opportunity to younger, fitter people. Good of us, I thought.

We sailed past castles and vineyards, until we saw Durnstein castle perched on the crag above the town. Last time, we tied up at Durnstein before dawn so I was able to take some beautiful photos of sunrise and the town, as you’ll see here. This was a very different view, from the opposite direction. We also got to see a statue against the rockface, representing King Richard and his faithful minstrel, Blondel, who (according to legend) found where Richard was imprisoned by playing a familiar tune until Richard sang along. Pssst. Apparently it’s just a legend.

Richard and Blondel

The ruined castle perched on the hill above the town

Pete and I fancied the idea of climbing up to the ruined castle. If Sandy and Col could do it, surely we could? Before we set out for the peak, we wandered around the riverside until we found an arched stairwell with a sign that said “to the town”. Sounded good to us. But it was much longer, and steeper, than we had imagined. After a last, heart-pounding scramble we stood in the main street and looked up at the old castle, far, far, far above. Maybe we’d leave that for another time.

A few gentle stairs up to the main street. Uh-huh.

A last heart-stopping scramble to the street. I felt like Sam and Frodo in Cirith Ungol

We liked Durnstein. Because it has a warmer micro-climate the farmers can grow apricots, so you can buy apricot-most-things here. Such as apricot schnapps. We don’t recommend it in coffee, though.

All things apricot

A steep lane down to the river, with vineyards on the opposite bank

Cruising the Danube

What I love best about river journeys is just cruisin’. Watching the river glide past, reflections, trees, birds, other boats, tiny settlements, distant hills, clouds. That photo up there was taken as we followed a curve in the river. The water was like molten silver, and the sun was hidden behind a thin veil of cloud. Gorgeous.

We were on our way to Passau, where most of the passengers would get off and catch the Majestic Imperator, Emperor Franz Joseph’s Imperial train, up to Salzburg. Needless to say, we’d done the trip in 2015 (all explained here) and you might say we were all Sound of Music’d out. Eight of us elected to stay on board, either because they were recovering from illness, or because they wanted a break from the relentless pace of sight-seeing. Our tour director told us that the stretch from Passau to Linz, where the Salzburg visitors would rejoin the ship, was one of the prettiest along the Danube.

Mist burning off the castle at Passau

The day dawned misty, as it had for the past week, but it burned off quickly, with a brilliant blue sky. Soon we were off, sailing between forest-clad slopes through a series of bends and curves. This probably used to be a bit like the steep slopes of the Rhine Gorge thousands of years ago. There were still some rocky promontories here and there. Unfortunately, the wind picked up, an icy blast whistling across the water, so I only ventured out to take photos a few times, and there wasn’t much in the way of reflections. A few weeks later these slopes would be a picture of gold and russet. Here and there I caught a hint of the glories to come.

That evening after our fellow travellers had rejoined us we were treated to a spectacular sunset, with the ship, and the river, in just the right place to generate a magnificent display. This would have to be my favourite picture from the whole trip.

Tomorrow we cruise to Melk, the Wachau Valley, and Durnstein.

Sunset reflections with ducks

 

 

Regensburg

 

Golden trees and the cathedral

The Amaverde had left the Main-Danube canal and now sailed the broad waters of the Danube on its way to the lovely town of Regensburg. Last time we were here work was proceeding on the city’s old bridge. This time a lot of that work had been done on the section nearest the old town, although there’s plenty more to do.

Regensburg cathedral and the old bridge from our ship

This is the place with Germany’s oldest fast food – sausage in a bun – kept the workers fed when the cathedral was originally built. The sausage shop is still there, just near the bridge, but Pete and I didn’t partake this time (although we did last time) – too many people. But bratwurst in a bun is always available in the market square, so we went up there and ate along with a number of the locals (always a good sign), standing up at one of those high tables set up outside the food van.

The busy old town

The town has the usual cobble-stoned streets lined with a variety of architecture, some with the half timbers of the 17th century, others from later dates. Autumn is showing on the trees and the high walls festooned with Boston ivy. There are lots of little streets and alleys both around the main square, and leading up into the town from the waterside.

Don Juan of Austria

Down one alley we found a statue of a dude in the balloon pants of Tudor times. Seems he was Don Juan de Austria, illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was born in Regensburg (interesting) He commanded the Christian fleet which defeated the Ottoman navy at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. That was a Very Important Victory and marked the end of the Ottoman expansion into Europe.

We also found more of the brass plates set in the cobbles to commemorate the Jews who lived here, and were taken to their deaths. I think those plaques can probably be found in most German towns now. It always gave me a funny feeling seeing them for real, and also just looking at the photos – most especially now that I’ve been to Auschwitz and spent some time brushing up on the Holocaust.

The town gate from the old bridge

Water flowing too fast for reflections

It was nice to get to walk on the old bridge. It’s a great place to take pictures, and also to get an idea of how rapidly the water is flowing. That’s in marked contrast to last time, when the river just sat. Compare the reflections of the buildings. Here’s the post from 2015.

Next everybody else will take the train to Salzburg, while we stay on the boat and sail through one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube. See you next time.

The Main-Danube canal – and cases of gastro

Entering a lock

The morning talk from the cruise director was not good news. Our resident gremlin had struck again, and a number of the guests on the Amaverde had contracted a gastro illness. At that stage, no one was sure if this would be the dreaded, highly contagious, Nova virus, or just plain food poisoning. And if the latter, where or what from?

Jude and the hotel director took immediate steps to try to minimize the problem. All guests who were ill, or had a partner who was ill, were asked to stay in their cabins (duh). All buffet services were cancelled. No more soup and finger food lunches in the lounge, everybody had to go to the restaurant. No guest was permitted to handle food. If you wanted bacon from the hot box at breakfast time, you had to ask a staff member (wearing surgical gloves) to serve you. The same with fruit, cereal, and everything else. The public toilets in the ship were closed – if you needed the loo, you had to go to your cabin.

Most people took the measures in good grace. As Jude pointed out, if more than a given percentage of the people on the ship became ill, the cruise would have to be cancelled. I think she and the hotel director were at pains to try to ensure that none of the staff fell ill. That would have been disastrous.

After some detective work, talking with the other ships on the river, Jude was told one ship a few days ahead of us had half the ship down with gastro. Working backwards, she concluded that the culprit had been sausages from a butcher in Rothenburg. Not everyone was convinced, though. At least one person hadn’t been to Rothenburg. Others had doubts about the timing (food poisoning tends to hit within a few hours.) So everything related to food was a tad awkward for several days. Again, the main impact was on the crew. The staff did a wonderful job attending to the quarantined guests in their cabins, as well as handling the extra work of having to serve everything.

The good news was that Pete and I were not affected. Not by the gastro, anyway. At the same time, the usual respiratory infections were passing around. One in five seemed to have a cough or splutter, and Jude urged us to employ the antiseptic hand-wash dispensers often.

Going down

The tour for the day was a few hours in Nuremberg. We did that last time, so we stayed on board. That link also talks a bit about the canal. We were looking forward to the visit from Markus Urban, who would give a presentation on the building of the Main-Danube canal The concept of a waterway goes back as Charlemagne in the ninth century and although Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria (he built Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle in the Alps) had a go in the nineteenth century, a real canal wasn’t possible until after WW2. The canal was finally finished in the 1990s. You’ll find info about the canal here. We bought a copy of Markus’s book, which we should have done last time we were here.

One of the things about this cruise is that because we’re going the opposite way, we arrive at places at different times. It was bright daylight when we reached the European watershed. Apparently a competition was held to design a suitable marker for this important place. I couldn’t find a reference, but I believe it. I’ve shown the marker in the photo below.

The European watershed. With its underwhelming marker.

Bamberg and milch kaffee

Houses along the Regnitz

The lovely little town of Bamberg is situated on the Regnitz River, a tributary of the Main. In fact, it’s kind of built over the river. As usual, there’s a busy old town filled with crowds of tourists. The Germans certainly look after their heritage, with all the lovely old half-timber and painted facades looking like they’re only a few years old.

The old town hall

Beautifully maintained facades

The cathedral’s famous horseman

We went along for the walking tour, crossing over the bridge at the old rathaus and climbing up to the (inevitable) cathedral. This time, a tour of the cathedral was not included, which is a shame because it’s a fascinating building filled with history going back to the eleventh century. But never, mind, I covered that stuff in this blog. Check it out. I’ll wait.

That was fun, wasn’t it? And you got to see the photo of the abbey across the valley from the Prince/bishop’s garden. There were far more people visiting this time than there were last time we were here.

The old residence. But when it became old-fashioned, the prince/bishop built a new one

The new residence. He ran out of money before he could demolish the old one (above) and extend.

Lovely mushrooms, fruit, nuts

We enjoyed wandering through the narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with antiques and art shops, and admiring the produce at the inevitable markets. The fruit and veg are just amazing – as are all the small goods and cheese. But while wandering around can be fun for a while, we both felt we were given too much time to kill. We eventually ended up in a café. We had discovered back in Bonn that the Germans have a thing called “milch kaffee” – which I don’t remember having seen on our previous visits to Europe. The closest thing we could get to a flat white then was a latte, which comes in a glass, so you have to wait for it to cool down before you can drink it. (Stoopid). Here’s the news, folks – “milch kaffee” is a flat white which comes in a huge cup (with handle). I managed to order two cups in Bonn in such flawless German that the lass at the counter asked me (in no doubt even better German) if we wanted something to eat with that. I managed to shake my head in a clearly Germanic way, and even worked out the right money on my own.

So here we were in Bamberg, with two cups of milch kaffee. We’d found in Australia that if an inexperienced kid who doesn’t drink coffee makes the coffee, you’re just as likely to end up with a cup of hot milk with a slightly brownish cast. Yep, happens in Germany, too. We ordered an espresso each, which we tipped into our milch kaffee. Perfect.

And then it was back to the ship, and the Main-Danube canal, where we would cross the European watershed. From there it would be downhill all the way to Budapest.

And here’s a sunset from the previous evening, with cormorants going home to roost

 

Oops, the boat broke

Reflections in the river

We set off up the river Main for Wurzburg, from which we’d headed off to the walled town of Rothenburg on that previous trip. This time we’d take a look at the Prince/bishop’s residence. But first we had to get there. Pete and I and a number of our fellow travellers were sitting in the lounge watching the red/green/gold scenery slip past while we listened to our resident pianist (he was very good) when the lights flickered, just for a moment. When they flickered again, and the emergency lights kicked in, we were a little more concerned. Not long after that, the captain eased the Amaverde over to the bank and tied up not far from a school. This was most definitely an unscheduled stop, and soon the cruise director was at the microphone. No cause for alarm, problem with the power generator, the captain has tied up here so the crew can concentrate on fixing the problem.

Some of the vineyards in the area

Losing power in a cruise ship like this is a huge problem. Sure, we were unlikely to be affected by huge seas, but without the power generators, taps wouldn’t work, toilets wouldn’t flush, fridges were shut down, and the galley couldn’t cook. Our pianist, his speakers no longer operational, deserted his post. But it was a sunny mid-afternoon and the crew had already put out afternoon tea. We’d be okay for now.

Time passed. We watched a group of kids kicking a football at a nearby playing field. People came out to walk their dogs. Some gawped at the river ship tied up at their little dock. I’m sure they see them going past all the time – not so much moored. We played Solitaire on our tablets. As the hours passed the hotel managers realised more food was needed.

Sandwiches and cakes appeared from the kitchen, and quickly disappeared. Late afternoon began to fade into dusk. Pete and I weren’t the only ones exchanging glances, when the main lights flickered, then stayed on. Everyone in the lounge cheered.

The cruise director came back on. Dinner would have to be delayed because of the outage, but meals would be served in the restaurant at 8:30pm. Pete and I passed. We’d managed enough finger food (and drinks) to get us well and truly by. But I was told later that 80%+ of the guests turned up in the dining rooms for dinner. This, of course, put even more pressure on the hard-working staff. Despite the delays, they would still have to get everybody fed, the dining room cleared and dishes washed, and still be up for breakfast service at the usual time.

Next morning, we weren’t at all surprised to find the ship tied up in the more industrial parts of town so the crew could properly fix whatever the problem had been. We had no doubt that whatever they’d done the previous evening had been a temporary band-aid which had to be put right. Still, the incident reinforced our existing impression that the ship was tired. Amaverde was launched in 2011, several years earlier than Amavenita (which we sailed on in 2015). She was beginning to show her age, not least in some of the nasty smells we noticed around the foyer area from time to time.

Mixed border in the gardens. The gardens are open to anyone

It’s autumn in the garden

Never mind. Onwards and upwards, as they say. We’d made it to Wurzburg, where half the guests went off to Rothenburg and the rest of us took a look at the Prine/Bishop’s Residency. It’s the usual over the top, opulent decoration in the rococo style, with beautiful stucco work and some amazing frescoes. Unfortunately, photography were not allowed. Although it’s a pain, I can understand the reasoning. The building housed a number of beautiful tapestries which would be damaged by the light of thousands of flashes. In this age of the mobile device-with-camera, many people wouldn’t know how to turn off the flash, and too many don’t care. However, there’s an informative website, so you can take a tour in pictures, at least. The building also has a beautiful garden, and photos were allowed there.

The old bridge

Like all these towns, Wurzburg has an old town and an old bridge, worthy of photos. The forbidding walls of the Marienberg Fortress loom over the river. We considered taking a walk up there, but thought better of it. We’re not as young as we used to be.

The Marienberg

We did take a look in the catholic cathedral, though. It seems to have been extensively damaged and repaired after the war. The stained glass is the usual yucky modern style. I was intrigued by the enormous menorah in the church, but all I’ve discovered is someone claims it was a gift from a rabbi to a bishop. Still, it’s yet another Jewish reference in our journey.

A menorah in a Catholic cathedral

Wondering around the cathedral, we came across the usual collection of statues of bishops. One in particular drew my attention. This one is so life-like I could imagine him stepping out of the niche and saying hello.

Buses took us back to where the ship waited at the industrial dock. We sailed past the old town at dusk, which gave an opportunity for a few more photos.

Wurzburg’s old town at dusk

Next stop, Bamberg.

Rudesheim, the Rhine Gorge – and Miltenberg

The Rhine Gorge enveloped in mist

The thing about having done parts of this trip twice or three times is that sometimes I don’t have much more to say than I did in my previous blogs. That was the case with Rudesheim, where we visited the wonderful Siegfried’s Musical Kabinet in 2015, and the Germania monument (via chair lift over the vineyards) in 2016. If you’re interested, you can read all about it via the links. Same thing with the Rhine Gorge. For sheer beauty, a warm late October in 2015 resulted in the best pictures, but we were there again – with a LOT more water in the river – in 2016.

We’d also seen glass-blower Hans demonstrating his craft in 2015. But this one IS worth adding to. Last time, I ducked out rather a lot to admire the glorious beauties of the river. This time it turned out that an elderly couple on our cruise could trace their ancestry back to Hans’s village of Wertheim, just a few generations ago. Hans was entranced, and arranged with our tour director, Jude, to take them with him when he left the ship at the next lock so he could take them back to his village to meet his family and have a look around. He brought them back to rejoin the ship further down the river. I thought that was simply awesome.

Needless to say, Hans used his long-lost relo to help him make a blown glass ornament, just as he’d done with our mate Bruce a couple of years ago. That couple will have had an adventure they’ll never, ever forget.

Although we’d been to Miltenberg before, our visit this time was different in many respects to the last time in 2015, because the guide was different. Each guide has his/her own interpretation of what’s important to show, I suppose. Our guide was Raul, a septuagenarian Canadian who had married a German lady and lived in a nearby village. He was dressed in the costume of a medieval night watchman, complete with halberd and Bavarian flag. The basic structure of the visit was the same as last time – a sort of treasure hunt where the guide explained some of the features of medieval life, including an opportunity to sample some of the food and drink. Of course, the history hasn’t changed, but no guide can tell everything.

The witch’s house, using the town wall to reduce building costs

The steps to the Jweish cemetery

Raul took us away from the picturesque main street with its seventeenth century half-timber facades and up away from the river, where the streets are steep and narrow. Miltenberg has a town wall, and Raul pointed out a building he described as ‘the witch’s house’.   He was quick to clarify that it wasn’t really a witch’s house, but it’s easy to imagine it in an illustrated version of Hansel and Gretel. Raul pointed at the archway further up the hill. “The old Jewish cemetery is up there.” Then he took us back down into the town, stopped in front of a house, and pointed at five brass plaques set in the cobbles. These weren’t book titles, though. These were lives. Five Jewish people had lived here until 1942, when they were deported, and murdered. Miltenberg was the site of one of the oldest synagogues in Germany. Later (he pointed) a new synagogue was built there. It’s gone, along with the Jews. One hundred and forty Jews called Miltenberg home before the war. Now there are none, and there is no synagogue.

Brass plaques all that remains of lives. For a closer look, right click on the image and select ‘view image’. Then make it larger using ctrl+

After Raul finished his formal tour, Pete and I retraced our steps to that archway up the hill to see the Jewish cemetery. The town council cuts back the grass twice a year, but apart from that the tombstones linger in the shadow of the town wall, the markings fading with each passing season. Even so, these Jews have a memorial, unlike the anonymous ashes blown on the wind from the belching chimneys at the death camps. The brass plaques in the cobbles outside the houses where they lived at least bear their names.

The Jewish cemetery

Strange. When we started this trip, one of the reasons was to take the extension into Poland and Germany. Auschwitz was on my bucket list, but long before we reached there the spectre of those events seemed to beckon us on. Starting with the book burnings in the square at Bonn.

One other thing Raul said has stuck with me. I’d always thought Miltenberg had been rescued by the rise in tourism along the river. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s plenty of work in light industry in the Main valley, unemployment is low. Nobody lives in Miltenberg’s old town anymore. All the ground floors of the buildings are shops and all the upper stories are empty. The cost of renovating these old heritage-listed buildings for 21st century living would be astronomical, and even with modern flood walls, the danger from the rising river waters is always there. So when the tourists leave, the street is empty.

People living in the surrounding villages don’t want the tourists, thanks. The buses hardly fit the narrow streets and the increased traffic belches fumes that damage the old buildings and help to break down what had been an idyllic way of life. That meshed nicely with what we’d heard in the Rhine gorge. Fewer and fewer vines are being planted. Each year the harvest is less. The work is back-breaking and hard to automate, and the young people are moving to the cities. It’s as if the boats cruising down the great European rivers are catching a last glimpse of something that is rapidly fading into the mists of history.

Raul in the old town square

A more modern monument, celebrating (I think) the town’s nickname. Grown up versions of Brussels’ mannekin pis

Swans. There are always swans

A visit to Bonn

The alte rathaus

First stop in Germany was Cologne. Pete was feeling loads better, so we opted to go on the walking tour of Bonn, since we’d already had a look around Cologne.

Bonn might have remained just another obscure German university town if it hadn’t been for WW2 and the division of Germany between the West and the Soviet Union. Germany’s capital, Berlin, was firmly in the Eastern bloc, and although the city itself was split between the USSR, French, British, and Americans, it was hardly a reasonable proposition as capital of West Germany. Politicians at the time wisely eschewed larger cities like Cologne and Munich as the de facto capital until the country could be unified. Konrad Adenauer, who came from Cologne and had been the city’s mayor, favoured Bonn over Frankfurt on Main. Even now, after the reunification of Germany and the return to Berlin as capital, some of the instruments of government remain in Bonn. But apart from that, it remains a university town, with a large population of students.

The brothers’ heads are there outside the church which is undergoing restoration work

The tower was added to the church later, emulating the gothic style. But it sits on the chuch’s roof without any other support.

The city dates back to Roman times, when it was a garrison for a large contingent of troops. Our guide, Sebastian, told us the story of a legion of Christian soldiers who refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, and were subsequently punished. You can read the story here.  Among the officers who were martyred were the two patron saints of Bonn, whose carved heads take pride of place in Bonn’s oldest Christian church. You can see the Romanesque structure of the building with its curved, unadorned arches. But the church is not open to the public. It needs substantial restoration simply to make it safe for visitors. Over the years the city fathers added to the building, including a tower which is sitting on top of the roof without any supporting infrastructure inside.

That’s Beethoven on the column outside the post office

Bonn’s other great claim to fame is as Beethoven’s birthplace. You’ll see his name and likenesses of variable quality all over town. He only lived in the house where he was born for four years, when his parents needed to find different accommodation to cater for their growing family. Here’s a potted biography. Seems young Ludwig didn’t have a happy childhood and the comparison with Mozart’s upbringing is interesting.

Sebastian took us to the town’s main square, overlooked by the old town hall. You might have seen that balcony in the top picture in old news footage from the Cold War. But what I found most interesting were the little brass plaques in the cobbles. Our guide was a young man, aged around thirty. He made a point of saying to us that the old Fawlty Towers line (don’t talk about the war) was no longer a thing. Younger Germans were willing to confront their past. And those plaques are part of that. Each plaque is the name of a book that was burned in this very square by the Nazis in the nineteen thirties. For me, it was a powerful statement that would resonate with the young. I can almost see them asking, “What does this mean, Mum?” And the answer is descent into darkness, something we never want to do again.

Needless to say, there was a market set up in the square, with the usual wonderful selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and cheese. I love those places. But now it was back to the boat.

A stall at the markets

Nothing nasty happened today, not even anything mildly irritating. But then, we’ve only just begun.