Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 15)

The Lure of the Rhine

What makes writing these even harder for me is untangling all the ephemeral pop references I've had to all these European places that for me had previously merely existed in film, book, or song. So this day the morning is devoted to "scenic sailing" (that's how our Viking Daily newsletter puts it), and it sure is, because once you enter this stretch of the Rhine from the Main, you can't swing a mace without hitting a castle.

What's more, there are spots like Loreley, a dangerous rocky curve in the river. Since ship captains of course can't be blamed for their lack of sailing prowess through a treacherous river bend, they dreamed up the story of a woman to pin their disasters upon. Sirens always causing problems, you know. That's a statue of her to kick this blog post off. Heine (and you bet your bottom--hehe--dollar that name gives the 13-year-old inside of me the giggles) wrote a famous poem about it. Liszt set it to music. It ends in translation like this:

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat in the end
And this by her song's sheer power
Fair Loreley has done.

Dudes. Take some responsibility. Or turn it into a cheesy 1980s video--do you remember (or even knew to recall?) The Explorers, a one-off album when Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay of Roxy Music went and found Bryan Ferry-lite James Wraith to be their leader? They did a song named "Lorelei," and end up on the Rhine eventually in said. All of that from just one rock.

Rooked on a Feeling

Before we go on a real estate tour to end all real estate tours--"Sure, it's a bit of a fixer upper as it hasn't had a roof since the Thirty Years War, but look at those views!"--we have to toast to all the vineyards the Rhine slices through.

Take Rüdesheim, for one example, one part of the Rheingau. I still think Viking misses an opportunity, not doing a wine tasting on the ship as you cruise past the vineyards. Oh, that monument at the top of the hill is Niederwalddenkmal, which commemorates the unification of Germany. No, the first time (1871).

Here's the town of Bingen--you might know of their Hildegard, if you're into mystics. (That's what Catholics call witches that they like.)

Mid-river nearby you'll find the Mouse Tower (not to be confused with the later Maus Castle), one of the numerous spots where you'd pay a toll if you traveled the Rhine in the old days. Think of it as a tariff, and yes, the consumer pays those.

Compared to the other castles along the way, it sort of looks like a putt-putt course obstacle washed down river in a flood, no? Don't laugh, they'll make you pay. If you'd prefer a more noble edifice, here's what's now called Burg Rheinstein.

Like a bunch of the castles now, it's a hotel and restaurant, since warfare on your neighbors has been greatly discouraged for the past few centuries. At one point (1823) it sold for a mere $50 or so. My guess is it's worth more today, but talk about a fixer upper (some elements were first built in the 1200s).

Please understand, this is an abbreviated and not necessarily south-to-north tour, btw. There's only so much masonry anyone can be expected to look at on a blog, I get it. Meanwhile, here's Ehrenfels.

This one is still a ruin, so open your Castle 'n' Cafe (CnC) here. (OK, it's probably not for sale.) But how lovely to have a view amidst the vineyards. Also note, this wasn't the best weather on our trip, as you might tell by the threatening clouds.

A meteorological challenge is better, though, than your neighbors taking you out because you were charging exorbitant tolls. That's what happened to Reichenstein Castle (don't look at the file name, please--see, I really don't know which castle is which!), which was originally one of the Rhine's oldest but is almost entirely rebuilt through the 19th century. Again, you can stay there--check out their website. Rooms are cheaper than I would have guessed (starting at 99 Euros), plus gotta love that photo of Kruger Rockt! (Is the term tonguencheken in German? And if it is, are they?)

As for towns nearby, there's not one named Hal David, but there is a Bacharach, sitting placidly beneath acres of vines and the ruins of Werner Chapel (to the left in the photo).

And if I pulled back a little on he old telephoto lens you get to see Stahleck Castle above town, too. Like anything first constructed in 1135, it's been through some ups and destructions, but is in good enough shape now to be a youth hostel. Rumor has it that its water-filled moat (one of the few, actually, in Germany) is meant to keep the youth in at nights.

Mid-river and on the other bank--don't blink, you'll miss a castle or four--you get to see Pfalzgrafenstein and Nollig Castle. The Pfalz (I have no idea if anyone else calls it that, but the name's too long to keep typing) has never been conquered or destroyed, which is fitting for something that looks like a mid-river battleship. Smart placement there, toll-takers! Nollig, meanwhile, is a ruin. But that just means a better photo.

To make sure no one snuck past, The Pfalz had a land partner castle to help out (plus a heavy chain), Gutenfels Castle, too. Hit 'em high, hit 'em low was the method at Kaub.

Sometimes the castles just sort of peek at you, like Furstenberg. Yes Diane von's husband's family once owned it. So it's a very fashionable ruin.

To give you a castle break, here's the picturesque town of Oberwesel, founded by Celts way back when. I also wanted to make it clear, especially the closer we sailed to Amsterdam, we were rarely the only boat on the river. Plenty of large barge action, plus lots of other cruise ships of all sorts.

And here is Rheinfels Fortress, just past Loreley and above St. Goar (the patron saint of Eli Roth?). Long history, fell into ruin, now a site for hospitality. You know the tale by now. They kindly left some of it a ruin for greater sublimity. As Flaubert sagely put it in his Dictionary of Accepted Ideas: "Ruins. Induce reverie. Make a landscape poetic." I guess we can forgive him, in 1871, to have not included "wedding photos."

Let's take a quick break to celebrate German engineering. Obviously, getting folks to church is not always an easy sell. Getting them to a tavern, generally much easier. Consecrated wine and dry wafer or lager and a pretzel--c'mon. So look closely at Zur Klosterschenke.

How can you get to the church here? The only entrance is through the tavern. Attendance problems solved. Although I might have put the buildings in the other order to be sure.

A couple more castles have more than a couple myths as to what happened there. Burg Liebenstein and Burg Sterrenberg. All the variations add up to fighting brothers, sometimes over a woman they both loved, sometimes over a blind sister they both ripped off. Women, they don't do so well in the Rhine valley. One story features a return from the Crusades and a near fight to the death; the other features corruption and bitterness. But the result is two spectacular nearby castles! Tourist win!!

And one last castle-esque moment. It became clear to the Germans during WW II that the Allies were hoping to avoid bombing castles, unless, of course, they were in the midst of some other populated area where raining incendiaries from the skies made supreme tactical sense. Knowing that, what do you do if you're Germany?

That's one glamorous train tunnel practically shouting, "Don't bomb me!"

Does That Castle Make Me Look Fat?

Lunch break! Another of the dished just for you pastas, another salad with enough non-greens to make it a serious meal. And look, my little receiver for tour time is there too.

Why travel with a companion? Because we like other people, of course. (It has nothing to do with getting to order two desserts and sharing.)

That'll Leave a Mark

Hope you enjoyed your break from castles, as now we get to actually go inside one, Castle Marksburg. The Vali docks and we bus up to the castle which is a good 300 feet above the Rhine itself (imagine a castle at the top of Lady Liberty's torch, if the torch were a hillside, that is). On a clear day you can see forever. On this day you can see

well, it's still romantic, in that foggy way. (Romance is easier without the details, admit it.) Marksburg is one of the few castles to be kept standing, if ever-changing, since its original construction in 1231. Not that it was always filled with knights or noblemen--it did time as a home for invalids (as uneven stone walking surfaces are great for invalids)

and as a prison, among other less hoity-toity lives. Since 1900, though, it's been owned by the Deutsche Burgenvereinigung (or, as we might say in English, a language that doesn't hope to say everything in a single word, the German Castles Association), who have taken loving care of it and even have their headquarters here. As you would, because parapets and framed views, even on a foggy day.

The shutter seems to suggest a warning, to me.

But then the garden, resplendent in early spring, what with all the wet weather, was a lovely walled-in respite, especially these roses.

Inside, you might want to hang out in the kitchen, as long as you weren't a hunk of meat that would be served that night, and given the hearth's size, no hunk was too small.

And while the chapel charmed in the tiny way it offered itself to a god after all the other cathedrals on our vacation....

And the generally dark interior had the occasional blast of light, plus an offering of soothing music....

Those weren't the only instruments on display--there were instruments of torture, too. Got to keep the people honest. Even worse, after they stretched you on the rack, you wouldn't fit on the short beds on display.

Of course, why torture folks when you can just give them vertigo having them stare at the castle's prospects.

I'd really not want to have any of this local schnapps and look up. And, of course, we got one of these (and still haven't tried it) as we needed the ghost bottle. You know us by now.

We didn't et to try on any of the costumes though. Boo. Or, I guess, more boo-hoo.

There's No Blenz Like Koblenz

OK, that subhead doesn't even make sense, but after re-boarding the boat it was a quick sail to our stop for the evening, Koblenz. We docked at 3:30 pm and would sail at 3:30 am (not that we took advantage of Koblenz late night/early morning life, particularly as there didn't seem to be any--this was a Monday). We assume that people party hard at some point, though, based on the sewer covers that seemed to be a celebration of upchucking.

Not to mention, we were afraid of trolls.

Seriously, it's a very attractive spot on the Rhine where it meets the Moselle, another wine region we got to wave to from a polite distance. But here's the Moselle itself.

And then across the Rhine, which you could cross via funicular (that, alas, stopped too early to be worth taking over and back), is Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, that they've turned into a museum complex, so go Koblenz-ites. (That does not roll off the tongue.)

I wish I knew exactly what kind of duck (I mean, this has to be a duck, no?) these two are. Very striking markings. OK, correction after original post. But you're not going to believe me--that's an Egyptian goose. True, we didn't sail the Nile. But according to Wikipedia (and more importantly, my wife): "Because of their popularity chiefly as an ornamental bird, escapees are common and feral populations have become established in Western Europe." And who wants to doubt The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds, source of this info nugget? Who wants to read it to find out? Exactly. Still, cool birds, if escapees. No way we'd let them into our country.

And here's a fine way to bring consumer culture and nature together--turn shopping bags into planters!

Meanwhile, every German town has some wonderful architectural details, so here are a mere two.

Belly Up to the Board on Board

This evening's supper is a special one, a Taste of Germany that's kind of a floating Oktoberfest in May. The crew even dress up in lederhosen and dirndls, and there's shots of schnapps like castles on the Rhine, everywhere and threatening ruin. The dinner tables came pre-draped with pretzels

and cheeses and charcuterie and breads and who needed any more dinner after that? Oh, they were prepping us for the next day in Cologne, too, serving up Kölsch beer you will hear much more about tomorrow. But the secret is you drink it in 7 oz glasses fast, so it stays delightfully cold. And therefore it's easy to drink many. Next up was plate o' meats.

What else could you call it? I found myself fond of that crisp schnitzel. Of course sauerkraut and potatoes were not optional. I forget what they brought Chryss, and was clearly too busy gorging myself to get a photo. I think it was the one night she was a bit bummed up about the vegetarian options. (Not that bread and cheese weren't an ok start--not sure what a vegan might do.) Finally, there was plate o' dessert.

Those little poppy-seed dusted missile things seemed both very authentic and something I really didn't want, too doughy-pasty for me. But it brought back memories of the worst parts of Slovak food growing up, so let's hear it for memories. And let's not taste it for memories, ok? Instead, let's look at the display food, just in case you didn't get enough of something at your table. I love you a salami and a speck. Promise.

Crew and King

After dinner we were regaled by more visiting classical music in the lounge, specifically members of Cologne's Academy of Music and Dance and WDR Symphony Orchestra. That sounds grander than it was--four players--but they set up their selections and played them well. Did I take a photo? No. So instead, here's a blurry shot of Jazz Bite, who got going after the special performance.

And might as well post the mugshot wall of the Vali crew, who all did their job admirably, even in, as far as I know, none of them had the rank of admiral.

Note, this evening's photos might have moved to blurry land because of schnapps and Kölsch. Chryss and I did get off the ship one last time to see what the Deutsches Eck (or German Corner) would look like all lit up at night. After all, there's a magic about spots where rivers join. And that's why they dropped a massive equestrian Emperor Wilhelm I there to stare down the Rhine. I figured he might as well be in black and white, the way all emperors should be.

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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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