Tag Archives: river cruise

Day 13 – Father Rhine takes charge

Some of the debris caught up in the mooring rope

Some of the river debris caught up in the mooring rope

We were supposed to go to the highlight of our trip – as far as I was concerned – today. A walk in the Schwarzwald in the mountains away from the river. But Father Rhine was in no mood to accommodate travellers. Our delay at Mannheim was, of course, multiplied by the hundreds of ships and barges that traverse the river every day. The locks were busy, the river full of debris, and we would make dock at Breisach too late to get to and from the excursion, and still make it to Basel for disembarkation, not only to make onward connections for those for whom the tour was finishing, but also to allow time for the crew to prepare the Scenic Jade for a new bunch of visitors.

So the best we could do was wander around the little town of Breisach, take a few photos, and go back to our room to pack.

Breisach is on a hill with a commanding view of the Rhine, so needless to say there has been a fortress here since before the Romans. And also needless to say the town was flattened during WW2. Still, enough has been restored to give a visitor an idea of how it used to be.

The Rhine from the hill. Those white birds across the river are swans

The Rhine from the hill. Those white birds on the French side of the river are swans

Houses stepping up the road

Houses stepping up the road

It's a steep climb to the fortress

It’s a steep climb to the cathedral

The view from the hilltop

The view from the hilltop

St Stephan's Cathedral

St Stephan’s Cathedral

20160517_165146

I don’t know what this was about – a bull rising through the pavement with an abstract figure raising a star to heaven – Greek myth?

That’s life. When traveling, there’s no point complaining about the weather. Or the state of the river. Six months ago there was a real risk the Amavenita wouldn’t be able to get as far as Regensburg because the water was so low. Record low water levels were recorded for the Rhine and the Danube. I suppose we could count ourselves lucky the river wasn’t in flood. That would have meant a bus journey to Basel.

On to Switzerland.

Day 12 – A visit to France

The river is high

The river is high

Remember I mentioned the Rhine was running high? Uh-huh. So high the river controllers closed the river. We were stuck at Mannheim. We were meant to be higher up the river, at Germersheim, which is why we had to travel further for our shore excursion to Strasbourg. Our tour director was on the phone for hours, rescheduling buses and tour guides. She earned her pay today. The tour started earlier and since we would be out later and unable to return to the ship for lunch, she provided everyone with lunch money to buy their own lunch in Strasbourg. It was one of the few days when the weather was poor, with light drizzle and temperatures around 10-12 degrees. I was glad I had my leather coat, but perhaps I would have been better off with the thick waterproof, less elegant garment. Never mind. The weather cleared.

These days Strasbourg is part of France. But it hasn’t always been so. As usual, the city dates back to the Romans and it has a fascinating history, which you can read about here. Crossing from Germany over to France wasn’t a problem – no control, no guards. no border patrol.

After a two hour bus ride, the driver stopped at a point where public toilets were available. There were two Scenic buses, and another couple of buses from Viking. There must have been somewhere close to one hundred people milling around waiting to go to the lav. I decided to hang on.

It’s a very pretty city with a fascinating history. Interesting that the most picturesque part of town used to be the smelly, horrible tanners’ area. It doesn’t smell anymore, of course. But it would have.

IMG_3644

They’re putting the tables out for lunch

IMG_3633

The tanner’s district on a canal

Note the cops on segways

Note the tourists on segways

Strasbourg, like most Rhine cities, was started by the Romans, but it has changed a great deal over the centuries. It has a baroque cathedral, Notre Dame de Strasbourg, which was originally supposed to be a copy of Notre Dame de Paris. But as usual, the burghers couldn’t leave well enough alone, and added bits and pieces. Our local guide was an old man who clearly had a passion for architecture. He was perfectly willing to explain the nuances of various styles of buildings ad nauseum. Not everyone shared that compulsion, of course. That said, Notre Dame de Strasbourg is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture and well worth a visit.

Nore Dame - with only one spire

Notre Dame – with only one spire

The nave

The nave

Beautiful stained glass

Beautiful stained glass

IMG_3687

The cathedral’s famous astronomical clock

One thing we found – interesting – about Strasbourg was the beggars. They are everywhere, usually silently sitting with a sign. But there were more in Strasbourg than we saw in Germany. A number of them parked outside the cathedral, and actually approached people to ask for handouts. I was surprised the Strasbourg authorities allowed it, especially when we saw a platoon of heavily armed soldiers passing through the street. (Sorry, no picture – it didn’t seem like a good idea.)

Butenberg - a clever man with no business sense

Gutenberg – a clever man with no business sense

We also admired the statue of Guttenberg (built the first printing press) and heard about his lack of business acumen. Lunch was coffee and a pizza in a local café, paid for with lunch money provided by Scenic. It took a while to arrive, but it was fresh made and very tasty.

Renate, our guide on the bus, entertained us with stories about German life. Eg if you rent an apartment you have to provide your own kitchen, and take it with you when you leave. And getting a driver’s licence costs two thousand Euros – but you only pay it once. Unless you lose it for traffic misdemeanours, like tail gating on the autobahn.

Day 11 – and now for something completely different

HockenheimRing

HockenheimRing

Today we tied up at the modern city of Mannheim. It was flattened during the war, being an important centre for engineering, but unlike many other German cities, the people didn’t rebuild in the old style. Noted for invention, Mannheim is home to Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Siemens.

We had elected to forgo the bus trip to the medieval city of Heidelberg. I’d been there before and we were getting to pussy’s bow with cute medieval towns. Instead, we went to the Hockenheim Ring, the home of car and bike racing in Germany. They run their F1 Grand Prix there every second year. Although there were no F1s, there’s always some sort of racing at Hockenheim, and today was no exception. Car clubs and vendors such as Mercedes Benz hire the venue to run races, trials, and prepare advertising for their models. It’s booked up 360 days in the year.

Before we got to the circuit, though, our guide told us a couple of interesting stories. First there was Bertha Benz, intrepid wife of the engineer. This is such a great story – please take the time to read it. This lady took the first long distance drive in an automobile. Ever. From Mannheim to Pforzheim, in her husband’s brand new three-wheeler, ostensibly to visit her mother. She took her sons along, too. Benz might have been the engineer, but she was the force behind the operation.

The other story we heard was why it’s a Mercedes Benz. The car was named after a 9-year-old girl. Read about it here.

We’d now arrived at the racetrack, a select little group of about 15 motor sport die-hards. And me. But it’s not just an F1 track. They race motorbikes there. A little bit of interest wriggled up my spine.

First we visited the museum, where Pete and I floated around the array of motor cycles. Nortons, an Ariel Square 4, a few Triumphs, BMWs, AJS, a machine made entirely of wood – wonderful stuff.

Wooden motorcycle

Wooden motorcycle

Just a few of the bikes in the museum

Just a few of the bikes in the museum

Back at Hockenheim, we got to see the track from the VIP stands. Up there you can see the whole track. It’s not just a blur as a car travelling at 250kph+ whisks past. Our guide, who works for the Hockenheim corporation, told us lots of interesting facts, such as the G forces on drivers. One point in particular was a standout – the long straight (3) that ends in a hairpin bend (6). Drivers have to decelerate from around 300kph down to around 70kph to get around that bend. Something like 3G force is on them.  We visited the control centre from which all races are controlled. All decisions are made there. A quick visit to the winners’ podium and then we went for a walk through the pits. The boys admired the new hardware, especially the new Jaguar models on display.

A schematic of the modern tracks

A schematic of the modern tracks

The tracks from the executive level of the stadium

The tracks from the executive level of the stadium

The control centre

The control centre

Boys and toys

Boys and toys

The new Jaguar

The new Jaguar

Then we went back to the ship, tired but happy.

I’d have to agree, it beat the ABC* tour.

*Another Bloody Castle

Day 10 – back to the Rhine Gorge

Today the Scenic Jade travelled back to the Rhine. Last year we cruised to Rudesheim and then through the Rhine Gorge. This year we did it the other way round, through the Rhine Gorge and on to Rudesheim. Going through the Rhine Gorge was a different experience to the one we had 6 months ago when the Rhine experienced record low water. The river was full, flowing at a great pace. It was also a little overcast, so not the very best for photography.

The ship has just passed around the Lorelei (right side of photo)

The ship has just passed around the Lorelei (right side of photo). The three triangles on the left are part of the river’s navigation system to control shipping passing through the winding curves of the river. It’s dangerous water at the best of times.

People wind surfing on the Rhine

People wind surfing on the Rhine, overlooked by one of the many, many castles.

A railway tunnel disguised as a castle

A railway tunnel disguised as a castle. In WW2 the Allied bombers kept to a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ not to destroy castles, so the Germans disguised tunnel entrances to mislead pilots.

Last year I talked about the Rhine Gorge and the Robber Barons,  and Siegfried’s Musikal Kabinett in this post. However, because of time constraints caused by record low water levels in the rivers, we hadn’t had enough time to visit the village, and the cable car up to the Germania statue was closed. So the first thing we did after the ride in the little train into the town centre was go up to the monument.

In this day and age, the statue is very Victorian and over the top, shouting at France, “We WON!!!” It was erected after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, won by Prussia (who’d have guessed?). The war led to the formation of the German nation under Kaiser Wilhelm I, who had been king of Prussia. Remember him on his warhorse back at Koblenz? The German Empire didn’t last long – Wilhelm’s grandson, Wilhelm II, went into exile in the Netherlands after Germany lost WW1, and the ill-fated Weimar Republic was formed.

Anyhow, although the views were great, it’s not a patch on the Wachau Valley or the Moselle valley when it comes to picture-skew. IMO, of course.

Riding the cable car

Riding the cable car

The statue of Germania victorious

The statue of Germania victorious. That’s PT with his arm raised, right of centre.

The Rhine from the monument

The Rhine from the monument. The river is a highway.

Day 9 – the oldest town in Germany!

The Porta Nigra (the black gate)

The Porta Nigra (the black gate)

The morning dawned misty, but promised a fine day. We left on the buses for a short trip to the city of Trier, touted as the oldest city in Germany. Read the history here. It was a Roman city, set up as a sort of Western European capital. There’s not a lot left of the Roman city after all this time, but archaeologists have found three Roman baths which we drove past on the bus (unfortunately). Roman pride of place is the Porta Nigra, the one remaining city gate. I was surprised to learn the Vikings raided Trier. They must have come up the Rhine, then the Moselle. They sacked the city in 882, putting most of the inhabitants to the sword, and burning the churches and abbeys. As it happens, the Roman city gate only survived because in 1028 a Christian hermit took up residence in the ruin. He was mates with the local bishop, and when the hermit died, the gate was turned into two Christian churches involving lots of earth works which would have helped preserve the place. Before that, the stone from the Roman fortifications was used to construct new buildings. There’s a rather fine cathedral with Roman elements, and a baroque church next door. It was Napoleon who ordered that the gate be returned to its Roman state. Good ole Nappy.

Cathedral and church

Cathedral and church. Note the roman arches with Moorish styling

As usual, the town has a colourful market in the city square. A Moorish influence can be seen, a result of people returning from the Crusades.

IMG_3392

IMG_3398

Note the Moorish influence in the decoration here

Note the Moorish influence in the decoration here

On the way back to the ship, clouds had gathered, the kind of cumulo-nimbus we see so often at home. The rain was quite heavy, but when the bus arrived at a place giving spectacular views over the Moselle valley the rain lifted, and we were treated to a fabulous photo opportunity.

The Moselle valley in the rain. The sunlit version is on the previous post.

The Moselle valley in the rain. The sunlit version is on the previous post.

Later today we’ll be sailing back to the Rhine.

Day 8 – the Moselle Valley – or grape growing for mountain goats

The Moselle Valley

The Moselle Valley

The Romans brought the art of the vigneron to what are now Germany and France. In cooler climates they favoured the hillsides along the banks of the large rivers. The steep slopes allowed for maximum sunlight, and the rivers provided water for the grapes in dry times. But you had to be fit and agile to make it all work. It’s high maintenance farming, difficult to automate, so the region aims at premium wines. They can’t compete with cheaper imports from Spain, Italy – or overseas.

A little town and its vineyards

A little town and its vineyards

Another little town and its vineyards

Another little town and its vineyards

One of the frequent barges. The rivers are highways, carrying huge volumes of goods

One of the frequent barges. The rivers are highways, carrying huge volumes of traffic

On the high slopes they use little trolleys with engines, attached to a rail, to bring up tools, and send grapes down for pressing in the Autumn. The Romans, it seems, invented a wine press way back in the early years of the current age. Grapes were tipped into a container with holes. A lid with a heavy rock was lowered onto the grapes, and that pressed the wine. When the Romans left, the locals went back to using their feet for many centuries. See how knowledge is lost?

Ecery bit of arable land is used

Every bit of arable land is used

Tending the vines, the transport ready on its rail

Tending the vines, the transport ready on its rail

A motorised transport. Note also the beautiful dry stone wall

A motorised transport. Note also the beautiful dry stone wall built from the local slate. They often added arches to the terraces to give the walls extra strength.

Scenic Jade glided through a light mist past the little towns and precipitous vineyards, the pruned vines beginning to put on leaf with the advent of the spring. The soil is built on slate, which they use as a mulch to keep the moisture and the warmth in. Mostly they grow Riesling, but with climate change, they’ve started experimenting with chardonnay and even some reds like merlot.

IMG_3366We tied up at the small town of Bernkastel–Kue, once again small and picturesque, with the obligatory ruined castle high on the hill. We’ll be here overnight.

Day 7 – Want to impress your wife? Buy her a castle.

Mist hangs over the river as we approach Cochem

Mist hangs over the river as we approach Cochem

Cochem is a lovely little town in Germany’s Moselle country. There has been a town here since before the Romans came. As it happens, most of the old buildings in the town centre were destroyed during various wars – the most recent being WW2. That was because of the bridge which was used to send supplies to German troops in France. Like many other towns, the burghers of Cochem rebuilt and reinvented themselves. They still grow wine grapes here, but they invite the tourists to visit both the town, and the rebuilt castle of Reichsburg sitting on the heights above the town.

Reichsburg castle

Reichsburg castle

The castle isn’t original – although, of course, there was a fortification on those heights since time immemorial. The castle and the town were destroyed by Louis XIV’s troops in the 17th century and again by Napoleon. The castle remained a ruin until it was bought by Mr Louis Ravene, who spent thousands virtually rebuilding the place from the ground up. Although it’s not an authentic castle, the furniture and fittings are worth seeing, and the views are great. Here’s a bit of history. The tour guide told us Ravene bought the place for his much younger wife and rebuilt it as a summer palace. It seems she never visited, and eventually left her husband for a younger man.

An inside courtyard

An inside courtyard

Cochem and the Moselle from the castle

Cochem and the Moselle from the castle

A beautifully restored interior

A beautifully restored interior

The goat fountain

The goat fountain

Our guide told us the story about the goat in the fountain. Apparently it was accused of eating some of the ripe wine grapes, which was forbidden to all just before the harvest. To test the hypothesis, the goat was placed in a wine press. The townsfolk reasoned that if the beast had eaten grapes, white juice should flow from it. But red juices flowed, so the goat was found not guilty. The moral of the story was not everyone at the time was the sharpest knife in the drawer.

This statue has a story, too. I’ll bet everybody thinks this dude is trampling the old man under his horse. I certainly did.

St Martin isn't killing the man - he's supposed to be cutting his cloak in half to give to the beggar

St Martin isn’t killing the man – he’s supposed to be cutting his cloak in half to give to the beggar

I thoroughly enjoyed Cochem. There may be more authentically old villages, but I love resilience. They still make wine here, but that’s becoming an increasingly difficult way to earn a living. The town has built itself a future based on tourism. Good luck to them.

Day 6 – Where the Moselle meets the Rhine

The Moselle and the Rhine from the cable car

The Moselle and the Rhine from the cable car

Kaiser Wilhelm I on his horse

Kaiser Wilhelm I on his horse

I think I’ve found a favourite European city. Koblenz is just plain lovely. Pete and I had a great time simply wandering around, soaking up the ambience. There are large buildings (churches, palaces, government offices), but wide pavements and beautiful public gardens. The city lies at the junction of the Moselle and the Rhine. At the point where the rivers meet (known as the ‘German Corner’) an enormous statue of Kaiser Wilhem I, first emperor of Germany, sits on his horse, escorted by a winged woman holding an imperial crown. Not sure if it’s Nike or a Valkyrie. Either way, it was erected after his death. Really, it is a symbol of Germany’s jingoistic attitude, and its proximity to France is no accident. Wilhelm II (Kaiser Bill) was present at the unveiling – roll on WW1. By the way, it’s not the original, which was destroyed during WW2. History of the statue.

A Koblenz street

A Koblenz street

Church gardens

Church gardens

It floods here - quite a bit. Note the marks next to the door

It floods here – quite a bit. Note the marks next to the door

Ehrenbreitstein from Koblenz

Ehrenbreitstein from Koblenz

The city is dominated by fortress Ehrenbreitstein. A cable car takes you up over the river to the fortress, which has commanding views over the city and beyond. Our guide tried to tell us the place was basically Prussian, but then said Napoleon tried to take it and some Archbishop had fortifications up there. The truth of the matter, as always, is that any warlord would recognise a powerful place for a fortification. They’ve found walls there dating back to one thousand BC, and the Romans certainly saw the importance of this prominent headland. The current buildings are Prussian, since the French blew up what was here in 1801. It’s an impressive series of buildings, with panoramic views over the river junction. Pity the weather was overcast – but hey, you can’t have it all. And we enjoyed a glass of local wine and a pretzel as we surveyed the scene below.

I might add that my feet were feeling the pinch. Apparently there was a movie show that evening. We were to be taken to a local theatre to watch some silent movie clips, accompanied by musicians. I’m sure it was a great idea. But I had trouble getting out of bed that morning, so we agreed to pass. People who did go said it was quite fun – a few minutes of Charlie Chaplin and rather more of Buster Keaton. A bit of cultural nostalgia can be interesting, can’t it?

Day 5 – Nibelungen, not Romans

The city gates. There used to be a moat

The city gates. There used to be a moat

Duisburg is in the middle of the Ruhr industrial area, basically levelled in WW2. The glory days as the industrial center of Germany are gone. Only one of the coal mines is still operational, scheduled to close in 2018. These days steel is made in “third world” countries like China and India. Duisburg is a major inland harbour, with many man-made waterways coming from the Rhine.

Pete was sick in bed, so I went off on the tour to Xanten with another lady. The weather continued warm and sunny, but with quite a breeze. Xanten is an ancient city, dating back to before Roman times. As early as the first century a considerable Roman garrison of eight to ten thousand legionnaires was stationed here and it’s a major archaeological site. We expected to see the Roman ruins, including a reconstructed arena, but it didn’t happen. However, we were taken on a brief tour to see the remains of the city’s walls and gates, which are medieval. The cathedral is an interesting mix of Gothic elements – but also lots of Roman arches. No flying buttresses. The inside is definitely Gothic with the usual pointed arches. We wandered around the city marketplace and shopping areas for half an hour – not enough time to shop, but enough to find Pete some aspirin. In Germany one must go to the Apotheke for even that most basic of medicines.

Xanten is the birthplace of Germany’s mythical hero, Siegfried. He stars in the Nibelungen Lied and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The guide told us the story of how Siegfried slew the dragon and bathed in its blood. That made him invulnerable – except for a piece on his shoulder where a leaf got stuck. Through a bit of treachery, Siegfried’s ‘friend’ convinced his wife, Kriemhild, to mark the spot on Siegfried’s clothing, thus providing Hagen with a target. Here’s the story in more detail.

Another city gate

Another city gate

It's not just the Dutch who had windmills

It’s not just the Dutch who had windmills

The cathedral

The cathedral

The interior of the cathedral - not particularly ornate

The interior of the cathedral – not particularly ornate

The market place in the town square

The market place in the town square

My companion and I startled ourselves by… well… basically forgetting where the group meeting place was when we ducked into the cathedral for a quick look. Our hearts went pitter-pat. Stuck in Xanten without transport! But all was well. We’d walked through an archway – and you know what happens when you do that.

On the way back to the ship we stopped at a brewery to sample a glass of Diebels dark ale. It wasn’t bad. But I would have liked to see the beer vats and a bit of the beer-making process. Maybe another time.

Tomorrow we’ll be seeing Koblenz and the Moselle River.

Day 4 – Andre Rieu’s hometown

The old bridge connecting the two sides of Maastricht

The old bridge connecting the two sides of Maastricht

Maastricht is on the River Maas (or Meuse if you prefer the French version), which forms a part of the Rhine delta. The city claims to be the oldest town in the Netherlands (haha – see the post about Nijmegen). But really, all these towns along the rivers have had occupants for thousands of years. They may not have had stone houses for a time, but you can bet people lived in these places. Many towns have Roman connections. Here’s a potted history of Maastricht, with reference to the debate about which town is ‘oldest’.

Be that as it may, Maastricht played host to the discussions where the first European Union documents were signed. And it’s the home of Andre Rieu. It’s a lovely town, with interesting cobblestoned streets and wide public squares. On a Sunday morning the restaurants were putting out the chairs ready for the afternoon crowds. Vendors set up their stalls as the church bells pealed. Pete and I arrived at the central square just as the cafes were opening up. This was important, as we both craved a visit to the little room, so we bought a cup of coffee at a cafe. It was the usual strong Dutch brew, served black with a little plastic container of milk on the side, and a biscuit. The loos were nice, too.

We went looking for a supermarket to buy some more aspirin and some brown Listerine. Or if we couldn’t get brown, then at least some real strength blue. (It’s a mouthwash). After we’d tried a few stores, we gave up and asked. Just about everyone in Holland speaks at least a little English. A nice young lady pointed us at a supermarket. But it seems Europeans don’t like brown Listerine. They only stocked the blue kind. And we never did find the litre bottles we buy at home – 500ml only.

Narrow cobbled streets

Narrow cobbled streets

The central square, complete with churches

The central square, complete with churches

Putting out the chairs

Putting out the chairs

Statue of a monk

Statue of a monk

A cheese stall at the market

A cheese stall at the market

We were only here for four or five hours, but it was pleasant wandering around enjoying the sunshine. The ship sailed after lunch. The captain carried out a spectacular 180 degree turn in the middle of the river (the locals turned out to watch) and then we made our way towards Germany on the narrow Maas canal.

Next stop Duisburg.