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.

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

Go forward to Ain't Europe Grand (Tour) with Chryss and George (Day 16)

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