We travel; Luci stays home: Castles on the Rhine, Marksburg Castle tour

This is Wednesday, July 26th. The forecast is for light rain and temperatures around 70 degrees. The ship will be cruising the middle Rhine where there are many castles and ruins. Dave got a printout of the castles along the river and the Program Director, Boyen, was in the wheelhouse letting us know what castle was ahead and where to look.

The direction of travel is from the bottom of the map to the top. Because of the rain and blustery conditions on the top deck, I remained in the lounge and took pictures from there so some of these landscape pictures are not the best quality. I will post some castle pictures and landscapes of the Rhine valley as seen from the ship but won't try to identify any of them.



The hillsides are covered in wine grapes, mostly Rieslings and Chardonnays. In places the hills are so steep we couldn't see how the grapes could be picked without some kind of harness to keep from tumbling downhill. As the day progressed, the rain stopped and some blue sky could be seen.

This is the 700 year old Marksburg Castle. It was built for protection of the town of Braubach and to reinforce customs facilities that supported the town. This castle was not a royal residence. It did house prisoners and disabled soldiers in the 1800's.
After we docked in Koblenz, those of us going to the castle boarded buses and were driven back to Braubach. The castle sits 500 feet above the town. This meant for some climbing although an incline had been built for easier access on foot. At the top of the incline were great views of the town and of the Rhine.


We waited our turn for the guided tour. Rough stone walkways and passages made for horse access made for dicey footing.

Rough stone and rough hewn doors reinforced with iron was what castles were made of. We went inside to see what the living areas looked like.

They had a wine press and other wine making equipment.

This was in the scullery area of the kitchen.

The hearth area where meat was roasted and most of the cooking was done.

The common gathering area with a rug made from a pig skin. Tapestries and art work would have signaled that people of wealth lived here. The bedroom was located above the kitchen and had a small window. Warmth from the kitchen and a wall without a window where the bed was located kept the inhabitants from intense cold. The guide pointed out the short and narrow bed. People of those ages slept propped up so beds didn't need to be as long as beds of today. They feared laying flat as that was the position of death and they didn't want to go there in their sleep.

There was a chapel for religious observance.

This room showed what armored fighters would have worn over time starting with full body armor and ending with a man in uniform with a long gun.

The tower where prisoners were kept and a tapestry showing the types of torture used to elicit a guilty plea.

The torture room and some implements that were used.

The smithy. Note the large bellows for stoking the fire. This area was open to the courtyard for good reason.
When the tour was over, we took the stairs down to the bus. That was a lot faster than following the incline.

This was a nice selfie, I thought.

That evening Viking presented for dinner: A Taste of Germany, accompanied by musicians. I am in the background here, looking at the dessert table, I think.

We Travel; Luci stays home: Heidelberg and dining in Rudesheim

The Tialfi was docked in Mannheim on the Rhine. Tuesday's tour took us by bus to Heidelberg on the Neckar River half an hour away. There are three bus-loads of us as this is an historical spot. The forecast was for rain and high temps in the 60's. Forewarned is forearmed they say. We have our umbrellas and rain gear. Our objective was the romantic ruin of Heidelberg Castle which is on a bluff overlooking the river. All the bus tours seemed to have gotten up the steep grade to the bus parking at the same time but efficient parking staff and expert bus drivers squeeze every last bit of space out of the parking lot and we follow our fearless local guide uphill the rest of the way to the castle gates.

The castle has been abandoned for three hundred years. Originally built in the thirteenth century, it was maintained and enlarged by the kings of this region of Germany through the eighteenth century. Lightning struck it in 1764 causing devastation and ruin. It remains as an amazing tourist destination.

Our group is struggling to keep up, dodging other tour groups, the rain is starting and the guide shakes his head and laughs. He has never seen such a mess and crush of people. We press on. Not much of the castle is open to the public but what we can see is interesting and the views from the castle out over the valley and river are spectacular.

The final picture is a glancing look at the largest wine barrel in the world. It was carved from 130 oak trees and once held 50,000 gallons of wine. The guide tells that it was leaking so had to be drained. The monarch at the time, hosted a dinner atop the barrel and startled his guests when musicians inside the barrel began playing. It was that huge.

The city of Heidelberg and view of Neckar river from the castle.
Back to the buses and down to the Altstadt or Old City. This picturesque place was looted and burned and left in ruins by the French king Louis XIV. Lots of history here. The town was rebuilt in the 18th century. Cobblestone streets lined with half timbered houses and baroque buildings called to us as we sat in our buses watching the rain pouring down. During a lull, we dashed out to see the city.

We have time on our own until the buses return so Dave and I find lunch at a faux Mexican place (of all things) called the Coyote. I had avocado wedges dipped in batter and deep fried. We walked about the University of Heidelberg area (the oldest university in Germany) and came upon this plaque.

Martin Luther attended a convocation of monks here and defended his ideas for reforming the Catholic Church. We went inside the church and it was beautiful.

This figure was above the door as we exited. There was no explanation for it that we could see.

The buses collected us and delivered us to the ship which was now docked in Gernsheim and we were soon cruising toward Rudesheim. We take in a demonstration on making Rudesheim coffee. A strong coffee with a good shot of alcohol. Time to rest up for this evenings excursion into Rudesheim scheduled for 6:30PM.

A mini-train collects us and delivers us to the Rudescheimer Schloss on the 15th century Drosselgasse where music and food and wine, beer and schnapps await.

This is the band complete with singer. They know all the tunes we like to hear. The food is good and the evening winds up, not down!

Eating and drinking, music and dancing and everyone having a great time. Then the schnapps is delivered to folks brave enough to volunteer.

Yes, Dave was a brave volunteer.

Instruments that were suspended above the band were lowered and craziness ensued with a conga line and everything.

It's a good thing the next day was to be a day of cruising the Rhine looking at castles. I was ready for a quiet day.

We travel; Luci stays home: Strasbourg

We are in Strasbourg only a short time. Our ship arrives at 8AM and will leave at 6:30PM so there was little time for exploring on our own. We opted for the Optional Tour called Taste the Best of Alsace which was to take 7 hours! Maybe that's why only four couples decided to take this outing.
Dorian, our leader, met us at the front desk and escorted us to two cars which would take us into the old part of the city which is an island in the Ill River which runs into the Rhine.

The Tialfi is docked on the Rhine which is on the extreme right on the map. The part of the city we will be experiencing is in the middle left on the map. Here is another map of the old city.
The walking part of the tour started on the left in this map where you see three towers and the legend Petite France. This is a beautiful area of canals, cobblestone streets, flower baskets, restaurants and shops. Canal tour boats ply the waters here. There are lots of people sight seeing. Many languages are heard being spoken.

Dorian gives us some history of the area pointing out a special school where leaders of France are educated, including the current French President. The interesting thing is that you must be from a certain few families to be allowed to enroll here. Hmmm. Pretty exclusive territory.

Dorian explains that these canal houses can be taken apart and moved a bit like the IKEA idea of home furnishings.

This canal area is pedestrian only, except for bicycles. We enjoyed being a small group and not having to wear our hearing devices.

Our little group follows the leader through narrow streets with shops below and apartments above, past this square with its quaint small carousel and into the rue des Dentelles. Here is the Spice shop of Mirelle Oster called Pain D'Epices. She concocts little bites of heaven using spices from all over the world. Her clerks offer us a bite of gingerbread apiece. We are asked if we can identify the seven spices that are used in making this tasty treat. We are able to name most of them but fail to guess pepper.

Dave in front of the spice shop. I bought some gingerbread here and it made the trip home in good shape. This shop is a favorite during the Christmas Market time of the year.
Next shop we visit is a bakery with wonderful smells and sights. Dorian explains how Kougelhopf is made. It is a kingly treat and looks like a crown. We all get a slice!

He also explains the decorations made of bread that we see hanging in the shop.

The bread decorations are made for Christmas. He had a story about the gingerbread man. Dorian collects baguettes here that we will eat with our picnic later.
Next up is Au Bon Vivant, a traditional restaurant where the chef prepared several tarte flambés for us. But first we were served snails with crusty bread and, of course, wine.

Hot and garlicky. The bread sopped the garlic butter left in this special snail baking pan.
Our waitress is pouring brandy on the cheese and apple tarte and proceeds to set it aflame.

Next stop was the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. What an amazing sight to turn a corner, climb a few stairs and there it is. Spectacular!

Construction started in 1015 and was finished in 1439. It was once the tallest cathedral in the world, now the sixth tallest. The architecture started out as Romanesque and finished as Gothic. Inside are stained glass windows, life size sculptures, crypts of former bishops, a suspended pipe organ plus two other organs (one for the Choir and another in the crypt), busts of the Apostles, ornate tapestries and carved alters in the adjoining side chapels.

The provenance of this little dog is unclear. Maybe it belonged to the stone carver or maybe the bishop but it is popular with visitors. It is part of the ornately carved pulpit. Dorian told us that stone masons were revered and given some latitude in their carving. They often carved the likenesses of themselves or their family and sometimes included not so reverent subjects on their frescoes.

Another feature of this cathedral is the Astronomical clock, one of the largest in the world. It was constructed between 1838 and 1843 and has been renovated since. The clock sits in a side chapel beside an ornately carved pillar that one architect predicted would never hold the weight above it. He was wrong as the column was cleverly carved to distribute weight. You can see a sculpture of the nay-saying architect in the above photo. He is highlighted in the middle left beside the pillar, leaning on a balcony. The clock is said to be unusually accurate and computes leap years, equinoxes and the changing date of Easter. Another feature of the clock that we didn't get to see is the animated characters that move at different hours. The cathedral was packed with tourists and we could have spent the entire seven hours here but there were more delicacies to be tasted so off we went.

La Cloche a Fromage, our next stop was a "stinky" cheese shop. As you can see, cheeses from all over France were sold here by this very knowledgeable lady. Hard, semi-hard, semi-soft and soft cheeses made in local dairies in all regions of France of unpasteurized cows milk or goat milk. This shops specialty was Munster cheese made from cow's milk in eastern France. It is soft and has an edible rind and has a very strong flavor and odor. It is definitely not the Munster cheese you buy at Fry's Grocery in Surprise Arizona! We tried several samples of various cheeses and Dorian collected a bag of goodies that we would enjoy later. On we go through the picturesque streets.
I think Dorian was telling us about this section of the old city wall which has been removed in most places. Many European cities had walls which were deconstructed, the stones used elsewhere. The wine cask in the above photo was probably filled and used in local celebrations.
Our final destination and picnic site was Winstub Le Pfifferbriader. We got inside just as the rain came pouring down. We were safe and warm inside and feasting on good bread, cheese and slices of cured meat accompanied by flights of French wine. Bon Appetite!

This was a fun day and a fun way to see a small portion of the city in a short time. Dorian hustled us back to the cars and back to the ship. After a full day, we didn't participate in the evening Pop/Rock Music and Dance Quiz with hits from the 60's 70's and 80's. You can see the age of the audience the program director is targeting.

We travel; Luci stays home: Black Forest, Colmar

Morning tour excursions left the ship at 8:30. We were awake around 6AM to get our morning routine done and have breakfast and gather our listening devices, camera, umbrella, bag or back pack. and pick up our ID cards and Tour ID cards (showing which bus or tour guide to go to) and get out the door.

The ship is docked at the German city of Breisach, home to Europe's largest stores of wine are housed in huge warehouses. Today we are going to the Black Forest, a four hour trip there and back. The drive takes us past wine-producing areas of southern Germany and up into the fir forests of the Schwartzwald. We pass into rolling hills and up into small farms. The tour guide remarks that many farms had/have their own chapels for religious uses since traveling to town was not possible in the old days. These chapels could be seen along the roadside. We stopped to stretch our legs on a chilly, windy hillside.

Our destination is the historic Hofgut Sturnen hotel on the edge of the forest. Woodworking and glassblowing workshops with retail shops are here as well and a cuckoo house powered by a waterwheel.

We could choose a hike into the forest along a small stream to a waterfall or demonstrations of cuckoo clock-making, glassblowing or Black Forest cake-making.

We chose the hike so we followed this pretty lady in traditional dress. The bridge in the picture below is a railway bridge that the German army fiercely defended and finally demolished to slow Allied forces at the end of WWII. The French were given this area when Germany was partitioned after the war. They rebuilt the trestle. We saw trains speeding across it while we were there.

It was quite a hike to the top of the waterfall. The path continued on past the waterfall if anyone wanted a longer hike. The next picture is of a piece of woodcutting machinery used in the early days.

Down at the hotel, we visited the shops and looked at the clocks and glass ornaments and waited for the big cuckoo clock to chime.

When the clock chimed, the cuckoo chirped the hour and dancing figurines waltzed onto the balcony. Very fun and a crowd pleaser. Back to the bus and back to the ship where everyone had to don life vests (stashed under each bed) and proceed to evacuation stations as a safety drill. Lunch was next and a quick stateroom stop before the afternoon tour to the medieval village of Colmar in the French region of Alsace. Ninth century streets, 13th century Gothic churches and 17th century half-timbered houses and French and German Renaissance architecture awaited us.

On the road to Colmar is a roundabout with a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The artist, Frederic Bartholdi, was directed to make this replica before the French would agree to him building the big statue, a gift from the French people, that stands in the NYC harbor welcoming immigrants and travelers to the USA.

It was a walk to the plaza of Lindens where our tour started. This colorful city was captured by the Germans but there was resistance in the form of shop signs depicting pigs (the nazis), and signs rendered in the colors of France (red, white and blue).

Some people were part of a stronger resistance and were discovered and executed. A memorial to these heroes stands in the square.

Another tour from the ship visited the Colmar Pocket and Memorial Museum where French and American troops pushed back German forces in the winter of 1944-45.

Half timbered houses in the old city.

The house of Bartholdi in a Cul d sac. His statue commemorating Schwendi who fought in the Crusades and brought back grape vines for a new variety unknown to this area previously. This area produces Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines. This is the Schwendi fountain.

This is a stork nest with two storks (maybe more) in the nest. Stork nests are very large and are added to yearly by the pair when they return from migration. The nests can become too large and have to be destroyed. Round cages are built atop houses for the stork nests.

This brown house is the smallest in the city. Houses were taxed by their footprint on the ground. Since this house is built above the street, it paid no taxes. But probably paid rent to the house on which it was built.

This is a little stream wandering through this part of the city. Very picturesque.

Shop owners decorate the outside of their shops and make enticing displays in the windows.

More hanging shop signs. They were so quaint and added so much to this neat town. After the tour, we had time to have a glass of Riesling in the square.
We struck up a conversation with a family sitting next to us in the outdoor resturant. They were from Denmark and spoke good English. We asked what they were eating. It looked like pizza but was called a tarte flambé. The father of the family asked about sight-seeing in the US. It was difficult to explain how huge our country is for touring.
Before dinner that evening, the Captain and Hotel Manager welcomed us aboard with a champagne toast. After dinner a violin and harp duo played (and sang) French and German musical selections for us. These women were very good and finished just in time to get off the ship before it cast off for Strasbourg France.

We travel; Luci stays home: Viking Tialfi

The Tialfi is the newest in the Viking fleet of Longships. She is slim and sleek and takes a shallow draft of 6 feet or so fully loaded. Even then, low water levels have caused an evacuation of passengers to buses in order to lessen the draft further until the ship gets to deeper water and the passengers can be brought aboard again. High water can also be a problem getting under low bridges. In that case, everything on the sun deck is lowered, including the wheelhouse where the captain is navigating. He then navigates by sonar until the low bridge is behind the ship.

The top of the ship is the sun deck with the wheelhouse in the middle. Chairs and tables, sunshades and lounging chaises are for passenger use any time. There is a walking track, a putting course with two holes, a shuffleboard court and an herb garden on this level. The next level down has the lounge/bar with chairs, sofas and tables and floor to ceiling windows. Here entertainment is presented. The Aquavit Terrace where casual meals are served is forward of the lounge. Outside seating is provided at the front of the ship here in addition to the sun deck seating. Sunshades can be extended over this area. In the middle of this deck is a stairway servicing all three decks. This middle area has a small library and a computer station. All the remaining space on the third deck is staterooms with two larger staterooms at the stern.
The next level down is the main deck and is arranged the same as the third deck but has the bursar's desk and a small boutique taking up the center space. When leaving the ship all passengers must stop at this desk and pick up their identifying card and return it when back on board so everyone can be accounted for before the ship relocates. In the front of this deck is the main restaurant with tables of various sizes and floor to ceiling windows. All meals can be taken here or on the Aquavit Terrace. The first deck is the lowest part of the ship. There are some staterooms here as well as accommodation for crew and also the laundry and kitchen and engine room. An elevator is provided for the stair climbing challenged.
The crew hail from many parts of the world and many have worked for other cruise lines. There were no Americans or British crew members that I was aware of.
We were treated to musical entertainment on two nights. The Program Director hosted quiz nights in the lounge on two nights. There was a glassblowing demonstration one evening and Robert was on hand in the lounge daily playing tunes on an electric organ/synthesizer. He was very talented. Other educational presentations happened during the afternoon on some days but we were not on board. We didn't take in all these activities but did go to the lounge before dinner in the evening when the next day's excursions were explained and the chef came in to offer his suggestions for dinner that evening. This hour was also used to introduce the passengers to the crew chiefs.
There was plenty to do every day but no one was required to join in if they just wanted a quiet day to do nothing or read a book or explore the local town on their own. We were able to use the front desk staff to set up our own excursions as well.
Here is a clip of music offered during the German Buffet midweek. This animated lady is playing a barrel organ. Her partner played an accordion.

We travel; Luci stays home. Basel Switzerland

Dave and I took our second river cruise with the Viking cruise company this July. We used Vikings air travel business to book our flights and flew economy class. They try to get the best seats available so going to Europe we had seats in the outside double row on a Lufthansa flight from Chicago. On the way back we were the first two in a row of three on United, not as wonderful but the third person, window seat, was quiet and pleasant. Lufthansa runs a bit classier operation with warm damp towels before their in-flight meal and better food in general. After the exhaustingly long flights from Phoenix to Basel, Switzerland with changes in Chicago and Munich, it was a relief to be welcomed at the airport by a Viking rep and escorted to our hotel in a nice car. Viking host, Georg, greeted us at the Swissotel for our pre-cruise extension and gave us information and assistance for sightseeing. We arranged to take a walking tour of the city with him the next morning at ten. We checked out our room and rested a bit then engaged the concierge to help us find a restaurant for our evening meal within walking distance of the hotel.

The Resturant Fischerstube is pictured in this mural that was opposite our table on their terrace where we ate our dinner of Bierbretzel, Jubilaums Wurst and Schweinssteak accompanied by two Magg Ueli beers. Here is a picture.

As you can see, I had a sausage and potato salad and Dave had a pork cutlet with veggies and hash browns.
It was a warm evening so we took a walk along the Rhine River, the river we would be cruising for the next week.

After watching the river for a while we noticed people floating downstream holding on to inflated bags. Later we found out that the inflated bags contained their street clothes and maybe a towel. The Rhine here at Basel is clear and looks clean. We were told that Basel gets all its drinking water from the river. Lots of activity was happening along the Rhine with people swimming, strolling and visiting. Most restaurants had outdoor dining along the street or in terraces or beer gardens. A big event called the Basel Tattoo was happening. It is an event for military bands and is very popular in Europe. We happened upon a drum corps from the USA, part of the military band the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corp who wear vintage military uniforms.

This group was practicing their drum routine along the Rhine river one night as we strolled by.

The next morning we awoke to find that we had slept until almost ten. Yikes! We needed to be downstairs for the walking tour so we hurriedly dressed and rushed to meet the group of ten to twelve people who were also on the pre-cruise extension. Off we went following Georg down the street to a tram stop. Viking had arranged for us to have tram/bus passes for our Basel stay. The electric tram runs in the middle of the street either toward or away from downtown and we were a bit confused to begin with about the direction we were going.

Our tour group. I forgot my camera in the rush so I had to rely on Dave to take pictures. We are getting our hearing devices adjusted so the tour leader didn't have to shout. We walked on cobblestone streets by the theater, the Carnival Fountain, the Munster (cathedral), the Basilisk (Basel mascot), the town hall called the Rathaus, shopping areas and restaurants.

The Carnival Fountain also called the Tinguely fountain was fashioned as a kinetic sculpture using machines the artist found in the old Basel theater. The fountain is located on what was the stage area of the old theater which was torn down after a new theater was built. It is a favorite meeting area for Basel residents. Jean Tinguely is a Swiss artist whose works we saw at the Kunstmuseum that we visited in the afternoon after having lunch at a street restaurant. It was fun to sit and people watch as we ate lunch. It was raining that evening but we decided to find a restaurant down by the river. The area we chose was packed because of the Tattoo but we managed to squeeze into a small Italian place that seemed to be a local favorite then walked along the Rhine as the rain had let up.
The next day was free until three in the afternoon when we would be taken by bus to the cruise ship. We were to have our bags packed and ready for pick up in our rooms by 11 AM. The bags would be stored until we got onto the bus. Our hope was to get out into the countryside so Georg made us a map to get away from the city to the small town of Arlesheim. There was a walk from the town to some ruins where there were ponds and grottoes. It sounded interesting so we followed his instructions taking Tram 8, then Tram 10, then changing to Bus 10 toward Donach. I have no idea what direction we went but we landed in the quaint small town of Arlesheim, maybe an hour away from downtown Basel.

One of the many fountains in Basel. This one at a tram stop. Note the raven figure atop the fountain. No one explained the frequent raven figures. Possibly good luck totems.

The Swiss have a very efficient system for mass transit. The trams run frequently and on time and are quiet and clean. There is no underground system as there is a river beneath the city that is now channeled and covered over. We had to change to a bus from tram route 10 because the tram tracks were being updated. The bus dropped us off in the middle of town and by luck we found the right way to go. Georg told us to go left from the bus stop so we did. Soon we were out in the country following a street, then a path into the rolling green hills.

Our destination is up there, the hermitage of Arlesheim. We hear clunking bells and see that the bells belong to cows resting in the shade.

Vineyards on the hillsides, cut hay is in winrows waiting to be baled or whatever they do with it.

Onward we climb along a nice path into shady trees. Others were out walking in this glorious sunshine-y morning, some with dogs, some jogging, some just out for a stroll.

It was a warm day, ducks were basking on the bank of the pond. I could hear a wren chattering in the underbrush. Upward past grottoes and stairways carved into the hillside.

We rest for a while under a thatched shelter then continue on our journey to the ruins on the hill above the town.

Dave took a picture of this inscription carved into the stone near the shrine.

The view is splendid from up here but this old church is not open for exploring so down we go and into the village.

A fountain, one of many in this little town of cobbled streets and small shops. There is a pretty church, the Dom von Arlesheim, so we go inside.

The church is just as pretty inside as it was outside. It was built in the 1300's. Amazing.

Ice cream break before heading back to Basel. This was a busy bakery and breakfast spot in the village. Many patrons were enjoying morning coffee outdoors at cafe tables. We locate the bus stop and soon we were retracing our tram stops back to the hotel to wait for the bus taking us to the ship. Gathering in the lobby, we meet our travel mates and visit. Soon the bus is here and we identify our luggage and get on board.

Cruise director Boyen greets us at the dock as a mist of rain makes the pavement wet. We embark the Viking Tialfi and find our staterooms.

Our room has a French balcony which means the sliding window opens and a plexiglass barrier keeps us from falling into the Rhine.

We get a coffee and a cookie and take them to the sun deck to enjoy the view now that the rain has stopped. Now all we need to do is unpack our bags, stow them under the bed and get ready for the welcome dinner. We are on our way. There are 190 customers and 50 crew members to make sure we are entertained and well fed.