Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rhine Cruise Day 4 Part A Heidelburg

The morning found us docked outside of Heidelberg where we boarded a coach for a short drive up to the ruins of the old castle. It is often billed as "the world's most famous palace ruin."  It's easy to understand this description as you look up at it in an early morning fog. It looms over the old city like an exotic cloud. The history from its beginnings in the 1200's, to its demolition in the 18th century, to its partial reconstruction in the 19th century is far too complex to deal with here.  I certainly remember little of our guide's  recitations on the rulers, the wars, the builders, etc.  What I do think of is that the complex is one gigantic Victorian folly--sort of neat to look at, but ultimately a sad shell of past glories.   

You enter the castle complex through the typical defensible gates.that open out into multiple  courtyards

Ultimately you end up in a larger open space

where you can inspect the semi restored walls and frontages.

If you have the telephoto you can also get close-up and personal with some of the statuary.

A necessary side stop is a quick look at the world's largest wine barrel

Then we were ushered through one of the facades and out to a terrace where we could look down at the old city and take some pictures..  Strangely this may be the only real function for the castle today.  It  whets your appetite to wander in the populated living old town below.

The river you see by the way is the Neckar, a smaller tributary of the Rhine.

We retraced our steps back through the castle courts and boarded our coach for a short trip back down the hill.  We were dropped off near the market square with our guide.

The castle was now just an omnipresence looming above us.

Our ship, we were told, would now leapfrog ahead of us to Nierstein where we would rejoin it for lunch.  This kind of time saving is another example of the clever way the river cruise operators can keep things moving and open up dock space at critical ports of call. 

In the old city we examined the requisite squares lined with cafes

and of course did our religious duty in a church or two.

Monuments abound in these ancient city centers

but often it is the smaller items embedded in the cobbles that evoke the most emotion.

After our walk, we ambled back down to the river.  We were admiring the old bridge over the Nekar  when we noticed that folks seemed to be taking pictures of a baboon. 

It didn't take me long to join the line to appear alongside one of the icons of the city. 

Our coach picked us back up  in time for lunch on board in Nierstein.  While we ate we left for the short cruise to Mainz.  The true home of Johannes Gutenberg awaited us.

See you in the next post.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rhine Cruise Day 3 Part A-- Strasbourg

We departed from Breisach in the early evening while dining on a lovely pasta dish accompanied by a smart tart Pinot Grigio.  When we awoke in the morning we were docked  in Strasbourg.  The downside was some spitting rain and it continued as we were taken by coach to another pier where we boarded a smaller boat for a tour of  Strasbourg's canals.

  Thank goodness the canal boat was covered.

What was frustrating was that the photos taken through the water streaked glass were pretty weird.  This was one of the few I kept because it seemed an unusual view of the city,  Most of the pictures just seemed smeared and out of focus.

Luck was with us about half way through the ride. The rain stopped and the glass top dried out just in time to get a few clear shots of the canal and the buildings alongside.


We abandoned our canal shuttle near the old city and walked with our guide through narrow streets  to the massive red brick Strasbourg Cathedral of Notre Dame. Like St. Steven's in Breisach Roman structures once  stood on the same spot. A cathedral in the Romanesque style was started in the 10th century and by the 12th century it had been reincarnated in the new Gothic style.  It was damaged during the second world but not too badly. And even more providentially the medieval stained glass was removed, stored, and now once again graces the building. St. Steven's in Breisach was a gem because we had set off by ourselves without a plan or guide and made our way up to it.  The Strasbourg Cathedral impresses primarily because of its size.  It is just plain over the top big.  It dominates.  It overwhelms. You can't get it all in your camera's lens.  I love this shot.  Click on it if you want to make it even bigger.

                    If you pan up to get the lacy tower in view, you lose its massive force.

Even in the open square along side of the church my lens still can't get it all in.  Oh oh! Looks like an investment in some new equipment before the next trip.

The exterior carving and detailing pulls the eye up and down and around. The telephoto treatment helps to see what the naked eye sweeps over without pausing to take in the richness of each individual carving.

The main entrance leads you directly into the nave and once again overwhelmingly large is the only way to describe this cavernous Gothic space. 

 The stained glass, now back in the windows and beautifully restored,  leaps out forcefully in vibrant color.

For brilliant geometric splendor the star  of the show is the rose window

Just off to the side of the nave is a gilded hanging organ loft that dates from the early 14th century.

After that you might think there is nothing left to see, but our trusty guide ushered us off into a back corner  to watch the striking of the church's famous astrological clock. 

Here's a short  u tube video of the clock in action. 

We still had a bit of  time on our hands, (Groan! Groan!),  so we left the church for a short stroll into more of the old city.  The movable type guru Johannes Gutenberg tried to dominate one  open square,

but a merry-go-round standing close to the statue stole the focus. Sometimes the historic just doesn't stand a chance.

History did win here as we stood In front of one of the local concert halls and took in the monument to General Jacques-Philippe Leclerg who led the French forces that liberated Paris and Strasbourg from the Germans in WW II.  If I knew of him from a long ago history class, I had clearly forgotten the name now.

Buildings from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries are of course everywhere in the old city and many have been immaculately restored since the second world war.

Even the roof tops that helped to air out the attic storehouses of old have an orderly charm.

Going back much further, the city's Roman roots are also evident.  This was a piece of an old aqueduct that had been redone into a fountain with a huge head of the two faced Roman god Janus anchoring it.  He was also known as the god of doorways and could grace the openings in Roman homes.

At the end of our walk we had to change our coach pickup point because some streets had been blocked off for a farmer's protest. It caught our fancy because most of the tractors in the parade were John Deeres and may have been manufactured in the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities some forty miles from where we live. .

It was a minor delay and we  were back on our ship in time to grab a quick lunch before heading off on an afternoon drive to the Alsace Wine Country. That trip will be featured on the next blog entry.