Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 14)

For What It's Wertheim

Having looked recently at the website, it seems that the Grand Tour on Viking already goes to a different port on this day, and no longer stops at the tiny Wertheim (pop 22,473) where we spent the morning along the Main, at the junction where the Tauber pours in. That's too bad for the current cruisers, as you can see from the shot above showing the town and castle from the riverside. It's very charming, and perfect for a three hour stop.

For example, despite all our high water issues earlier in the cruise, things were ok here, which is shocking, as Wertheim is flood central.

Those are flood levels for different years. Also note--windows are very high on this building. There's a lot of that in Wertheim. But when things aren't flooding, the town on its peninsula between its two rivers can also provide swan-i-rific views.

Other views are more perplexing, like this roofline that seems to be growing its own garden. Who knows, maybe old buildings just get "hair" in weird places, like old man suddenly having to shave their ears.

And then there are buildings with odd details, like a monkey carved onto a church (at least I remember it as the church, and I don't care to be corrected because al churches need a monkey or two).

And then this memorial, either to a beloved lamb that looked like a dog or to a dog that looked like a lamb. Or to a really bad sculptor, I'm not sure. There is something charming about it, though, no?

Fortunately, not all the art is puzzling. There are signs that practically rival those in Bamberg, like the filigree on this swan sign.

Or these nouveau doors that took us back to Budapest for a brief bit.

As you might notice, I haven't been relating too many Wertheim stories. Please don't blame that on our tour guide, who, despite some tired husband-vs-wives jokes (sort of a currency on a cruise, alas, when the median age of a traveler is 70), certainly knew the town. One of the more fascinating moments was when he pointed out a nondescript second floor window to say, "A very important thing happened in there--that's where I was born." So we certainly got the inside view of things--turns out his father was a prisoner of war in WWII and was taken to Texas for awhile, even!

One of his favorite spots was Spitzer Turm, Wertheim's answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's not as badly off plumb, and its issue is the over-saturated ground levels, but that's not the fun stuff about the 800 year old tower. Most of its history it's been a prison, and if you were unfortunate to spend time there, you got dropped down to its bottom by a rope and left there. Speaking of the oh so sexist yet sweet (ugh) tales, "quarrelsome wenches" would be lowered in there together as a punishment.

It's easy to imagine neighbors getting testy with each other as it's a definitely tightly built town, which, at least for me, means great photos, if perhaps also a breeding ground for petty bickering.

The little Main street was cute, if very quiet, as this was a Sunday morning.

And it was easy to imagine they didn't value a sense of strict parallel geometry when building their half-timbered charmers. (Note: if things appear crowded in my photos, that's just because there are 150 Viking visitors all looping about town in different directions.)

Born to Ruin

After the guided tour, we opted to head up to the ruins of Burg Wertheim on our own. The castle, built in the 12th century, was destroyed during the Thirty Years' War (did you know 20% of the German population died during this war? the 17th century knew how to devastate). So heading up you get views like this one

and you get to look back into town and see views like this. So you've got a good excuse to stop and catch your old man breath and take a photo.

On the way you glimpse goats that I assume are there as cheap, organic lawn mowers. This being Europe, they are on strike for better work conditions.

And then once atop you can stop into the cafe and get food or a drink, but we just looked around and took lots of photos, of which this is only one I will share, of the view along the Main. You can tell why this was a smart place for a fortification.

Random Wertheim Photos that Don't Fit a Clever Subhead

I don't think dog-loving me needs to explain why I took this photo.

Archie and Nora are no doubt very jealous. And so we could feel better about that, we had to have a drink. Why not a pils and hefe at the oldest tavern in town, the Zum Goldenen Adler? We hung out in the beer garden, as it was just about noon and day drinking outside is less unseemly. It was a cute little spot, but a few other tourists, alas, decided it was a good smoking spot, too. Us Americans are so spoiled by the no smoking rules in bars and eateries.

That's a whopping 6.50 Euros of beer there. It's a great thing their beers are so much lighter. Speaking of lighter, there was a market set up right by where we got our little shuttle trains back to the boat, so we had to check that out. Each tent was a different vendor, so there was cheese and baked goods and oh my good, who knew there was this many varieties of nougat in the world and you could buy it like it was a deli.

There were so many options I just shrugged and ran. OK, maybe try one teensy sample and ran.

A Boaty Afternoon and Evening

We had a lot of river to cover to get to Koblenz, tomorrow's port, so set sail at 1 in time for lunch. Mine looked like this.

As you can tell, a bunch of smaller bites of things, heavy on things that could have salad in their name, even if their nickname might be fattening. Oh, and to fatten up this section of the post, I didn't include a photo from our morning sail before we got to Wertheim, we passed a wine region so proud of itself it put its name up on the hillside like it was South San Francisco or something.

Did I get any of the wine from here? No. One more reason to go back.

Some passengers of the Vali took the optional biking trip for this day, and we met them at Freudenberg for their pickup. It's one of the cool things you can do for extra moolah if you're not cheap like us. That did mean we got some great close views of Freudenberg and its castle--we are about to head into castle country, folks, so be careful and don't get rooked!

And have I made it clear enough how much we thought of our cruise director Stein? He kept us all happy even changing ships. I wish I had a less blurry photo of him, but my guess is it's just because he was always on the move, doing something for someone on the ship.

And now it's dinner time. Since all the soups had been super I couldn't pass up the regional specialties kick off erbsensuppe mit rauchwurstchen, or potato, sausage, and the color-giving pea. Hearty and luscious, as you might expect.

I stuck with the regional menu, despite it looking like we suddenly we're sailing much farther south in Europe, just from the dish itself.

The menu insists that schwabische maultaschen is German spinach and cheese ravioli, and anything with chanterelles too I'm going to order. Think of it as a dumpling that's been on a diet, maybe. Chryss, meanwhile, had that seared cod with all of spring below it---parsley puree, peas, fava beans, and more chanterelles.

We went for different desserts, to, simply for scientific sampling purposes. I mean, who says no to an apple tarte tartin, all that caramel richness and then the ice cream too?

But then a walnut caramel cake with malt ice cream (that's like beer in your dessert!) with some orange sauce for a hint of acid? That sounds good (and is) too.

That gives you just enough time to sneak to the front deck and grab this photo, a haunting dreamscape.

And to help take off a tiny bit of the calories (while, perhaps, having an after dinner drink or two too), we hit the lounge as it was Pop Around the Clock night, and our combo Jazz Bite--Emilia and Iliyan--took us on a musical history tour. So we danced, as many other passengers did. There are all sorts of fun in the world, and definitely most of them mean you have to keep up worrying over looking silly.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 13)

The Main Event

So we wake up on Saturday, May 25 (yes, I'm that far behind writing these), open our cabin's curtains, and the photo above is the view. That's the Kappele, a mini-Baroque gem designed by Balthasar Neumann--lots more about him in a bit--and while it's striking, we won't even get to its bank of the Main River today. That's how crazy such an agenda is, hitting so many towns on one cruise. Of course, it also makes us want to go back. Here's a fuller view, if you need it.

And speaking of amazing views, the rivers in Germany are swan-full, it turns out, and sometimes those swans are full of cygnets, who treat mom like a feathery Uber.  Heavy cute wildlife "oohs" followed.

Meet the Residenz

Today's included tour in Wurzburg is of the Residenz, commissioned by two prince-bishops, back in the day when the old church-state barrier was far more permeable. So, they went for Baroque and got this ridiculously opulent palace built in the 1700s. (And re-built after WW II, as over 80% of Wurzburg was destroyed in one 20 minute air raid near the end of the war. Go Allies! Want to see what a city looks like if all its roofs are gone? Here's your chance.) Alas, May 25 was also a rainy morning, so I opt not to slog with my DSLR and try to get by on phone photos. Here's the entrance, for example, with a wet, yellow-umbrella-ed Chryss in foreground.

Turns out, you don't get to take any photos in the Residenz, flash or no, so it's a good thing I didn't bring the good camera just to get it locked up. Go follow some links to see the amazing things we saw, like the truly awesome (the word once meant something) Tiepolo fresco ceiling--the largest one in the world--over the grand staircase. It celebrates the four continents (the 1700s were short three continents, or maybe we still have ones we aren't counting, who knows?), in wonderfully racist ways a 45* might love. To top it off, Tiepolo worked in the whole project's architect, the already mentioned Balthasar Neumann, as a figure perched on a canon (the bigger the canon, the better the architect?). Throughout, it seems to be trying to give Versailles a run for its overdone money, and I would argue often wins. Impressive, in that way that makes you want to lie down and cry for all the peasants of the day.

Both then and later on a return walk through town after lunch that Chryss and I take we get to roam the gardens, and on the return trip, I even have the good camera as the weather mostly breaks. So here's what those look like, very ordered and proper, offering a series of perspectives clearly meant to stun. No, not the photo with us, of course.

Parks and Rebuilt Wrecks

So I'm totally conflating two walks about Wurzburg, the guided one after the Residenz and the one Chryss and I made on our own after lunch, but it will work better for story-telling, so chronology be damned. (Note the weather clears as the day goes on, so assume anything with more blue sky is later, if that's important to you.) So I can be as easily impressed by Bacchus

as a grotto I can't even identify from tourist websites, despite other tourists clearly checking it out.

That grotto is part of a refreshing urban greenbelt that wraps around the historic city like a semicircle from the Main River. Walk and see cool things, even something as simple as a mini-garden.

More in the historic center proper there's, of all things, churches, to the point where one I can only identify as random church. My guess is it was built for someone's god.

Do note, at least to me, those towers might be confused and think they're minarets. But those weren't much in the Romanesque mind, I think. Churches to Mary, sure, those should happen, but it's surprising Marienkapelle, at least to me, is so red and white, like candy canes melted down and said, "What they heck, let's be a cathedral!" (Oh, it's only a chapel as it doesn't have its own parish.)

Ghoulish me particularly enjoyed the decorations on the funeral chapel in town, echoing our love for all things Halloween, although it's a bit more serious when it's actual stone and not plastic you got at Costco.

Oooo, very spooky! But it wasn't the wurst thing we saw

and even better, neither of us was the one who managed to knock over and break a bunch of wine bottles in the same supermarket. But I couldn't help but hear Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound making liverwurst the sexiest of lunch meats.

To change gears without a clutch, yes, there was a Rathaus, one of the most striking we saw in Germany.

Not far from it in a perfect for sound alcove we got to enjoy a movement by a string quartet. Turns out we were there on a day for a music festival, and so a very young and talented quartet played for free outdoors. I have no photo or video, as you don't do stuff like that at concerts, c'mon. We also walked a bit along the jam-packed Alte Mainbrucke, the oldest bridge over the Main, which doubles as a giant outdoor wine bar. Open container laws, no problem! (Side note: boys will be boys everywhere--one boat cruising the Main with rowdy college-aged lads aboard mooned the Vali as they sailed by. How comforting to know male immaturity knows no national borders.)

And here's the view north from the bridge, with a power plant mid-vista, like they'd visited Morro Bay and thought those folks did something wise with their key view design.

The buzzy scene (no, not that view) was too much for us, so instead we took respite at a bar along the Main closer to where the Vali was docked, UFER Essen und Tricken. On this lovely elevated patio we took in the clearing day views, plus a gin and tonic with German gin (evidently a big thing, now, and from the couple of minis I brought home, a delicious big thing) for me and some Sylvaner for Chryss, as that's the esteemed local wine (more on that at dinner).

Jesus shared his rays with us. Or maybe that was the liquor.

We never made it across the river and up the hill--to Festung Marienberg we didn't go. But the 13th century structure turned into a 17th century fortress looks cool from across the Main.

And on our bank of the Main, there's Chryss looking ship-shape.

Dinner with a Cruise

The ship has a lot of sailing to do before its next port, so we're off before dinner, even. That means you get a view from the lock that gets you around the old bridge like this one

while paying the not-the-free-wine piper having some Horst Sauer Sylvaner. Sure, that signature bottle brings back scary 1970s memories of Almaden, but they stole the bottle style, so just enjoy the very crisp and mineral-packed white.

Especially as it goes well with the regional specialties first course of kopfsalat mit radieschen und joghurt, and you can probably figure that one out by yourself, especially with the photo's help.

A well balanced combo of tart, spicy, brisk, and creamy in what appears to be a simple salad. Almost as simple is the main course, a breaded sole filet with parsley potatoes you might want to think of as German fish and chips. That's a properly crunchy breading and even better, a bit of a zingy remoulade for an otherwise neutral dish. But the again, sometimes food makes you lean in--a dish doesn't always have to smack your tastebuds up, does it?

And no, we weren't close to being done with dumplings, for here's dessert, Dampfnudel, which I assume doesn't sound as unappealing to Germans as it does to English-speakers. Glad I ordered it anyway, as that's warm plum in there, plus the vanilla custard coat and the trail of gooseberry (and those always make me think of the Chekhov short story, so that's always a plus).

Meanwhile we go through locks like this one, that decides it needs to be an industrial frame for a bucolic countryside.

Speaking of which, this village plays coy behind its riverside trees.

And the sun sets purty, so let's leave it here and not mention the glassblowing demo that was the evening's entertainment, led by a man who needed to just blow and not talk. But it's good to know he gets to exercise his massive Oedipus complex on tourists every few weeks. Don't ask, just watch the sun set.

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