River Cruise – WEEK 1
The first port of call on our cruise was Cologne, Köln in German (which means ‘colony’). On our walking tour we found Cologne to have a vibrant city centre, a mixture of old and new with a magnificent Catholic cathedral which is dedicated to the Magi, the three wise kings who paid homage to the baby Jesus. This gothic cathedral was built over a period of 632 years, and there is a gold sarcophagus on the altar which is said to contain the skeletons of these three kings. Cologne sustained a lot of damage during World War II, but miraculously the cathedral was unscathed except for some window damage. A lot of the original stained glass windows were removed as a precaution before the bombing started, so today we can see windows that were created in the 1200s, and they look amazing. When walking around Cologne we noticed a few 6 foot tall tree branches outside residences that were covered in brightly covered streamers. It is a May Day tradition here for young men to place a decorated tree branch outside the home of a girl he fancies where she can see it – it’s a bit like getting a Valentine’s Day card, but a bit more public. Another interesting feature was the river level dial, which looks like a large clock, and it shows the current river water level. At this time the Rhine is only 1.4 metres deep in Cologne, which is very low and causes problems for ship and barge pilots. Cologne has a chocolate museum, and while we ran out of time to tour the museum itself, we did find time to visit the attached shop. It smelled great and sold every flavour and form of chocolate imaginable. It would be a strong chocoholic who could resist a purchase in this shop, and we gave into temptation today. We went back to the ship in time for a 1 hour concert by a local Shanty Singing Group, which turned out to be 16 ex-sailors, average age around 75 years, plus two younger musicians – an accordion player and a guitarist. They were fun and sang well, performing German, English and Dutch songs. The accordionist was recently crowned the winner of a world accordion contest in New York and performed three solo songs. I am not really an accordion fan, but his playing was very impressive and he got a standing ovation from the audience.
The next morning we woke in a town called Boppard. Boppard is a tiny little picturesque village in the Rhine Valley which we explored for a short time after breakfast. We then set sail again along the Rhine for our next destination, Rüddesheim. The scenery in this part of the Rhine Valley is spectacular and we were very lucky to have a mild sunny day so we could sit on the top sun-deck to take lots of photos. There are castles around every bend in the river, wonderful old houses, and grape vines growing on impossibly steep slopes.
Rüddesheim is located at the entrance to the Valley of Lorelei, a medieval place that is the centre of the Rhine wine industry. It was originally a Roman settlement, and sustained heavy bombing damage during World War II which destroyed Gothic and Renaissance timber-framed and gabled houses, and these have been rebuilt since. We strolled down what is known as “the happiest street in the world”, which is Drosselgasse (which means Strangle Lane) – a 6-foot wide street crammed with shops, cafes and taverns.
In the evening we had dinner at a local Rüddesheim restaurant – Rüddesheim Schlosshaus. It had an open-air eating area and a German folk band. They played singalong music and songs that you sway to. From the customers, they organized a schnapps drinking challenge and Ian was chosen to take part – he said it was like drinking fire. They also chose Ian to play the big drum in the walking musical band with accompanying conga line behind. It was good fun, and we had a good group at our table.
We sailed overnight and woke up in Frankfurt the next morning, and went on a bus and walking tour of the city. 80% of Frankfurt’s old and central parts were destroyed by aerial attacks in World War II, so the current city landscape is mostly tall modern buildings. Frankfurt is on the Main River, pronounced ‘Mine’, and the locals like to refer to their city as ‘Main-Hattan’, comparing themselves to New York’s high-rise Manhattan area, although their buildings are nowhere as high. Frankfurt is a financial hub and the seat of the European Central Bank. It is a city for career-focused young people, and in fact 52% of people in Frankfurt are single, and there are apartment blocks that cater for single people only.
It was quite hot today, around 28 degrees, and we walked around for a few hours. The Germans were excited about the hot weather and were in parks along the river in great numbers, having picnics and sun-baking. After dinner that evening we were entertained by a small classical music group. There were two young violinists and one classical guitarist and they played some very beautiful music. I’m no classical music aficionado, but the violins did not sound like cats fighting, and they ended the tunes in unison, so it sounded great to us. After the concert, he group managed to sell quite a lot of CDs, so I guess a lot of other people thought they were good too.
After breakfast the next morning we went on a walking tour of Miltenberg, which is a little medieval village on a bend in the Main River. The tiny town is enclosed within walls and gate towers and crowned by a castle. We did a walking tour, which did not take too long because the town is so small. It is the law here that shops cannot open on Sundays, so window shopping only was allowed. We then wandered around by ourselves for a while, and Ian noticed a soccer game being played over the bridge. We made our way there, only to sit down just as the final whistle blew. After lunch, the ship set sail again, and we were treated to a glass blowing demonstration on board. It was fascinating to watch, and the artist was entertaining as well. Later in the afternoon I had a fantastic back massage by the on-board masseuse, Snetjana, and was so relaxed that I had the best night’s sleep so far.
The following morning a bus took us from our berth at Würzberg to the walled city of Rothenberg. The original Rothenberg city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 12th century, but was rebuilt only to have the thirty year war in the 1600s wreak havoc. Only about one quarter of Rothenberg was bombed in WWII, thanks to American General Lloyd intervening and stopping further damage. It is a lovely cobble-stoned village, and its total income is from tourism. There were many tour groups, in many languages, following their guides around and listening to commentary about history and the best places to shop and eat. There were some beautiful stores there, none more stunning that the most famous Christmas shop in Europe. There was one main Christmas store in town, but there were several smaller ones as well, all with the same owner. The shop had huge trees, fantastic displays and every type of Christmas decoration known to man. In fact, I was paralysed by choice and did not purchase anything there, but found that I could cope with the smaller store and brought some stuff there later. We also visited St Jacobs Church, which had two altars. The main one was impressive and shiny but not unusual, but the other one was carved out of wood in the 1500s, and was a spectacular piece of work. We also spent some time in the Toy Museum, and were enchanted with the doll houses and train sets. There was a working train set on display showing village life going on around the railway line – a burial in the graveyard, a house on fire and ambulance men with people on stretchers, roadworks in the street, cars at traffic lights, and lots of other things. Some of the dolls on display in the museum dated back as far as the 1200s and to our modern eyes were very basic and quite ugly. The doll house displays were amazing. There was an eight storey house with beautifully dressed miniature antique dolls posed in all the rooms – bedrooms, drawing room, study, kitchen, bathroom, stairwells, etc. There was even a mansion showing the family of the house upstairs and the maids etc downstairs. There were also settings that had dolls posed in classrooms, and all sorts of shops, e.g. bakers, butchers, pharmacy, fabrics, and the detail in the miniature shop fittings and furniture and dolls was astounding.
We then caught the bus back to our ship for our epicurean dinner. I had to look it up, and epicurean means the sensual delight of food and drink. The cruise line employs a wine expert to purchase all its wine stocks, and he is travelling on our ship at the moment. He gives wine appreciation classes while he is onboard to interested passengers and tonight he was charged with selecting the most appropriate wines to match our menu for dinner. We were given a white, a red and a dessert wine, and you will be surprised to know that I got involved in the experience, and drank my wines. I can’t say I enjoyed my wines, but I did drink them. All that wine talk about fragrance and hints of prune with rose overtones etc goes over my head.
We have really enjoyed our cruising experience so far. All our clothes are unpacked and the laundry done. It is so relaxing and the only pressure is to be ready each morning or afternoon for our daily excursion. No housework for us!