Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rhine Cruise Day 5 Part C A Late Afternoon Stroll in Koblenz

What can I say? Koblenz is another Rhine valley city with deep Roman roots. Julius Caesar built a bridge there in 9 BCE.  It is strategically located at the juncture of the Rhine and the Mosel River. The French spell it Moselle like the wine. The actual confluence today is marked by a giant statue of William I, the first German Emperor.  It was erected in 1897 but destroyed during WWII bombing.  A copy was put back in the 1990's.

No way a low lying river boat can give you a decent picture of the Rhine and Mosel meeting so this photo stolen from Wikipedia will give you an idea. You're never very far from a river in Koblenz.

Though the history of this juncture of waters has been primarily told by battles for political control of the river,  my impression of Koblenz  was cheerful and cheeky. Wherever we walked the town seemed to be exuding a lively sense of civic humor.  Or perhaps it was our guide Birjik,who was attired in the reddest coat I've ever seen.  We clearly didn't need her flag to keep track of her.

 She seemed to want to make sure we saw some of the good humored city monuments rather than more churches.  We were trundled off  down some narrow streets and into a small courtyard to visit the Schangelbrunnen--a fountain  honoring the city's namesake--the spitting boy or "Schangel."

The young man spits a stream of water well outside of the edge of the fountain at staggered times and varying distances. Unwary tourists are the main victims. Our guide said the image was intended to be a monument to the hordes of  clever, mischievous, illegitimate children that roamed the bombed out streets after WW II.  Further research  pushed the term back to a twenty year period  (1794-1813) when Koblenz was paying allegiance to France.  Children born then were seen as happier and more laid back than the detail oriented Germans.  Where the truth lies is again not going to be moderated here. All I know is that the mischievous quick witted boy is seen as Koblenz's mascot now and the image is everywhere in souvenir shops as well as emblazoned on city sewer covers. .

On to another fountain but this one stayed nicely within its pond.  The young girl is nicely rendered and seems to be almost dancing as she joins in the fun of chasing the ducks. 

  The redcoats are coming again as we get introduced to another contemporary sculpture that just dares you to to get close. 

And of course one of our party rose to the bait. 

Even the town clocks are saucy.  Look carefully on the hour as this bearded old fellow man bugs his eyes and sticks out his tongue at you. No matter that the story  is he was about to be executed and was showing his disdain for his accusers. 

OK there are churches and statues too

                                                      but playfulness just keeps intruding

 and  stealing the day. 

 Good night to Koblenz;  tomorrow we visit Cologne (Koln).

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Rhine Cruise Day 5 Part B The Rhine Gorge--World Heritage Site

River cruise advertisements generally tout the Rhine Gorge as the most beautiful stretch of the river on the typical Basel to Amsterdam itinerary.  Since much of our sailing up to this point had been at night, this daylight stretch was a welcome change to stake out a nice spot on the upper deck and watch the panorama of world history, politics, and economics unfold.  In between fairy tale castles and picturesque towns,  verdant vineyards fill in the gaps.  They march up down, and across the steep hills on both sides of the river.  The ads do not lie or even over exaggerate.  This is the most scenic section of the Rhine and this is also where river cruising really performs. It is a slow moving relaxed panorama that can be thoroughly enjoyed.

The Tranquility II left Rudesheim during the lunch hour and

shortly we were on the outskirts with vineyards occupying the slopes leading up to the Niederwald Monument.

As noted in my last entry, you can visit the monument by taking the little two passenger cable cars out of Rudesheim. They glide you over a piece of the old town and several vineyards to deposit you high on the hill near the huge statue. I'm sure the view looking down and out over the Rhine is just as spectacular as the one we had looking up from the ship.The monument was constructed to commemorate the foundation of the German Empire after the end of the Franco-Prussian War. It was completed in 1883. 


From here on  the river just continues to roll on through green hills and  vineyard after vineyard..

Every  river bend or so the view is punctuated by quaint well kept little towns that seem to hug the waterfront like colorful sentinels protecting the enclave's unique identity.

Niederheimbach, runs a pint sized ferry that links roads and paths on both sides of the river. 

Leaving Neiderheimbach the hills begin to close in and climb higher.  

Castles start appearing and come so fast it is hard to identify them.  Some are just glorious ruins; others are still occupied by wealthy families; and many are now fancy restaurants or hotels. Seeing them from the river is ideal for looking, but there are other options. Rail lines and roads run on both sides of the river  making ground based itineraries just as convenient.

I believe this is Rheinfils Castle dating from 1245 and now undergoing some major renovation.

Defense is prime on this large complex. You can clearly see three separate perimeters that would have to be fought through before you reach the central keep.

As the hills rise higher and the river narrows,  the traffic gets more bunched up. .  

We were approaching the once deadly Rock of the Lorelei. At this narrow point the currents used to be treacherous and it was here that many early sailors were lured to their doom on rocks or eddies.  The famed rock is just that--a 400 foot slate cliff overlooking the river that has been pinched down to about 370 feet wide. It was already known as the most dangerous point on the river as early as the middle ages.

At the base of the cliff is this commemorative sign. spelled a bit differently, but looking quite benign. The legend has gone through numerous variations over time, but most of the stories center on a beautiful jilted maiden who threw herself off the top of the cliff as her  former lover deserted her.  A river god took pity and transformed her into a siren who forever after sat atop the mount and sang while combing her long golden tresses. This, of course, distracted boatmen in the dangerous waters below and sent them crashing on rocks to their watery doom. 

 Well, we have negotiated the narrows safely. Not one strange terrifying song or mysterious echo wafted down upon us from the hard slate surface.  Our modern  cruise ship  glided smoothly past without  moral distraction much less the loss of  passengers or crew. 


We were now free to resume our castle watching. Marksburg near Braubach is particularly attractive as its white walls cap the top of a hlll rather than nestling into a slope. .

This feller slipped by so fast we didn't get the name.  

The vineyards never stop either. How they work these slopes is nothing short of amazing.

        Mechanization, other then the small tracks for vehicles, is simply not possible in this terrain

The vines continue to be planted, cultivated, and picked by hand in much the same way it was done all the way back to Roman times.

Castles, like wine,  seem to come in myriad forms, locations, and colors. Oberwesel has a striking  white toll castle (dating from the 1300's) called Pfalzgrafenstein. It sits on a small island right near the riverbank. Gautenfels or Kaub Castle can be seen on the hill.overlooking the town.

I suppose we shouldn't be reminding folks in the present day about the river as main sewage canal, but here we are looking at the castle's privies called Garderobes.  They operate with  total flushless efficiency with an open drop to the moving river below. No treatment needed and no worry except for the next community downstream. I wonder if they might also have been used to discourage sailors from trying to run the gauntlet without paying the toll.

Not too long after we passed the Loreli Rock the hills began to recede and the river  widened its course once again.  

Shortly a much larger town appeared and here we are sliding into our mooring in Koblenz. .

The Florinskirche welcomes strollers and we were off on a before dinner walk that will be covered in the next entry. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rhine Cruise Day 5 Part A -Rudesheim

Tucked in late last night and never even heard our departure.  Woke up to a view of Rudesheim am Rhein--a picturesque town of 10,000  that amazingly gets some three million visitors a year.    DOUBLE WOW!  Things seem to be getting better and better.

We got our first hint on how they milk their popularity when we were treated to a miniature choo choo to take us into town.  That's Katya our cruise directors chatting with the "engineer."

And here's a happy passenger climbing aboard.

Our destination was Siegfried's world famous Musical Instrument Museum.

The museum  displays a  large collection of  mechanical music playing devices ranging from the simple to the grandiose and complex.  A costumed  major domo spoke on the door stoop and then let small groups enter. Each group was met by a costumed  docent who moved us with Germanic efficiency from room to room. Our guide was a lovely young woman who had a winning smile and demeanor even if her English spiel seemed a bit too sing songy. 

She began with some of the earliest of recorders and players like the big horned Edison phonographs.

Then  the machines got bigger, more complicated, and more ornate.   
Even more remarkably most of the old players have been beautifully restored  and are operable.

The doors open  here to reveal the paper roll that drives this large floor model . Click to listen a bit. 

This one snatched its melody from a large rotating metal disk. It sounds more like a carillon.

Here we salute the leader of the band.

Each one is more intriguing than the next/

I liked the way this one chug chug chugs away with belts and pulleys. .

Unfortunately I didn't get a recording of this one, but it. featured a whole section of mechanical fiddles sawing away.

The final player was a  concert grand that zipped through a sweetly romantic rendition of the Moonlight Sonata.

This was a first rate museum showcased with precision and professionalism.  Whether you arrive in Rudesheim by boat, train, or car it should be on your list of stops. It was a truly enjoyable experience..

After an hour of  mainly standing in the museum, we were happy to get a chance for a  sit down and some refreshment at the Rudeshimer Schloss restaurant.  On this morning a special coffee in their out door courtyard was included as a part of our general tour.

And what a coffee it was. They took the brew and added some sugar and vanilla.

Next came a pile of whipped cream.

Then a  bartender applied a slug of  "Asbach", a locally made brandy of  dangerous potency.  The whole concoction was flamed and

finished with some chocolate shavings. Gad and Zooks what a great way to celebrate a mid-morning coffee break.

 If that wasn't enough we were serenaded by a bouncy trio while the drinks were being prepared.

For some of the three million visitors with more time, you can add in a cable car run that takes you out of the town and over the vineyards that cover the surrounding hills. It ends up close to the large Niederwald Monument just outside of town.

After all this we still had over an hour to meander down the winding cobble stoned streets that led back down to the river.  There were plenty of shops along the way featuring everything from inexpensive souvenirs to high priced vintage wines and designer clothing.  

When we re-boarded the ship,  it was perfectly clear why three million people a year made a stop in Rudesheim.

Onward.  We sail through the river's signature attraction--the famous Rhine Gorge--right  after lunch.  That will appear in the next blog entry.  Hope you will join us.