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Conflans, both mariner’s retirement home and medieval town

At breakfast this morning, we watched the Baroness make a technical stop at Mantes la Jolie,

The Baroness making a technical stop.

although our destination was Conflans Ste. Honorine.  On a river cruise, a technical stop occurs when some of the passengers are going on a special tour and it is more convenient for them to board their busses before we got to the days destination.  In this case some of our friends were going on an optional excursion to the Palace of Versailles. Since the Ramblers had already been to Versailles, we were happy to stay on board. Especially since the busses left at 8:15 AM,on the first cloudy morning of our trip.

At 6 PM, the Baroness would set sail for Paris. where we would spend our last full day on board.

The church in Auvers through the eyes of Vincent Van Gogh

The week in Normandy had gone by all too quickly. Today’s excursion was a walking tour in Auvers-sur -Oise, the village where Vincent Van Gogh spent the last two months of his life, killed himself and was buried.

Although we decided to stay in Conflans and walk along the river, we learned that Van Gogh went to Auvers because it was a place beloved of many impressionists who had lived there. There Van Gogh was treated by a doctor whom he liked, but felt wasn’t doing him much good.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh’s doctor. The painting sold for 82.5 million plus 10% buyers’ commission.  Van Gogh painted Dr. Gachet, his therapist shortly before his death. There is another version of this image which varies in color at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. There is some debate that the second painting is a counterfeit as Van Gogh never mentioned it.

In fact, he committed suicide two months after his move to Auvers. After hearing more about the village, I was sorry that we didn’t go on the tour but we did enjoy our time in Conflans.

Conflans is an ancient place and got its name originally because it is at the confluence of the Seine and Ouse rivers. You can see the divide from the boat if you look for it. At Conflans we were moored at a quay right in the center of the historic area of Conflans. We learned later that Conflans was considered a far suburb of Paris and was only 15 miles by road or train from the center of the city near where we would dock that night. Consequently when we set sail at 6 PM, we would see the outskirts of Paris as we enjoyed the gala farewell dinner later. On this cruise, because  our ports were close together, we never cruised very long on any day, even at our speed of about 6 knots per hour. (A knot is slightly longer than a mile.) The distance between some ports on the Rhine, Danube and Main rivers can be much farther. Spending a lazy afternoon cruising is a very relaxing experience.

Ariel view of Conflans at the point where the two rivers come together. There is a monument at the spot. Photo from Conflans St. Honorine tourism brochure.

However, now we were in Conflans and determined to take a look at the dozens of barges converted to houseboats that lined the bank. It is said that Conflans has become the final docking spot for many retired mariners who spent their lives on the rivers of Europe. It seems like a good choice because while they are moored in a relatively small town of 30,000 plus inhabitants, they are only a short train ride from the center of Paris.

One of the many docks with barges moored on both sides.

Around 370 barges make their home at Conflans including the Chapelle Je Sers, a barge built in 1911 that had been converted into a floating church and pastoral center for the maritime community. We were unable to visit the chapel on board because a funeral was in progress. Many cars and taxis lined the quay and while groups of somberly clad  people talked quietly outside. What a wonderful idea it was to convert a barge into a floating church. Of course it was named for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of boatmen and women.

Funeral held on Je Sers the afternoon we were in Conflans. You can see the entrance to Je Sers in the middle of the photo.

Conflans also boasts a number of interesting buildings both along the river and at the top of a high bluff. We were not ambitious enough to climb to the top that afternoon but now wish we had. The historic center of Conflans has not lost its medieval roots. Because of our laziness, we missed the maritime museum, the Church of St. Maclou, with its relic of St. Honorine. St. Honorina, a 10th century Christian martyr, lent her name to the town. She is also considered the patroness of mariners. Conflans also boasts one of the last remaining stone towers in France, the Tour de Montjoie.

The historic center of Conflans,with the Tour Montjoie on the left. Wiki had one taken from a river vantage point.

The tower can easily be seen from the river. Unfortunately it is only an imposing shell, as the interior is an unsafe ruin. It is surrounded by a beautiful medieval garden and worth a look

We strolled the bank of the Seine from one end to the other, taking a good look at the interesting buildings that lined the quay. Several of the most imposing looked unkempt as though they were no longer occupied or had fallen on hard times.

A beautiful home but it looked very neglected. Lots of weeds in the planter.

One of the oldest was the Chateau de Themericourt built by a secretary of Louis 14th in 1667. It changed hands many times, and was sometime a hospital and a school. Although it belongs to the state, the chateau seems to be waiting for a new purpose. Unfortunately, it is not a very interesting building, just a large, square box with two rows of windows, totally bereft of landscaping or ornamentation. Some of the windows on the second floor were covered and the others allowed a look into a mostly empty building. Hopefully the government will find a new use for the chateau.

The chateau looking lonely, waiting for the next stage of its long life.

Our time in Conflans was low-key but enjoyable as we had a chance to spend some time in a very pleasant spot. We stopped at the tourist office to pick up one of their brochures, in French, but this allowed us to identify what we were looking at.

The Baroness sailed promptly at 6 PM on the last leg of our journey. We would be back in Paris at the Quay Andre Citroen by 11 PM at the latest. It is the Uniworld custom for the Tour Director to have a talk about the next day’s activities before dinner.

Our tres chic cruise director Emmanuelle explaining our next day’s activities.

Tonight was especially important because many of the passengers would be off the ship at the Moulin Rouge tomorrow night.  One of the few optional tours on this cruise was a  chance to attend a dinner show at the Moulin Rouge, our last night in Paris. The Ramblers decided not to attend. The senior Rambler in particular, does not care to be in large rooms full of people nor is he a great fan of most music. Although I enjoy music, I don’t like large crowds either and the Moulin Rouge is in a very large room indeed so it was not difficult to miss it. Friends that went said it was an excellent show, worth the high price (195 Euros per person.) If you would like to see a little of what we missed, click here. http://www.moulinrouge.fr/?lang=en

Thus our delightful Cruise Manager, Emmanuelle Bonneau gave the disembarkation talk one night early. Many of the guests would be going with Emmanuelle to the Gare  de Lyon where we would catch the TGV to Lyon. There we would board the SS Antoinette for the second week  of our Grand France cruise on the Rhone and Saone rivers in Provence.

Heading back to the Quay Andre Citroen on the banks of the Seine

A Morning in Bayeux, to see the story of another invasion

Unlike some of our other cruises, the Grand France cruise was packed with activity from the beginning. The Baroness had sailed at 6:30 PM on the day we embarked, unusually early. Even then, we had taken a brief cruise of the Seine before we headed to Normandy. The second day was action packed with two separate stops, one for Giverney and the second for The Lion Hearts castle. In between, we had the traditional welcome dinner and were introduced to the staff and crew.

Most of the Baroness' staff and crew are in this photo.
Most of the Baroness’ staff and crew are in this photo. Celina is wearing a white jacket in the photo middle left.

We were fortunate indeed to have an excellent hotel manager in Celina Sousa, one of the kindest and most caring we had encountered. She was very concerned by the Senior Rambler’s missing luggage, and lack of spare clothes and so we worked out a plan so that he could change into his robe and pajamas while the staff washed and ironed his one outfit. After wearing the same clothing two days in a row, he was very happy to have something clean to wear.

Emmanuelle Bonnier, our cruise director, was equally proactive in trying to wrest the missing bag from the clutches of Air France. She called them several times a day, getting the run-around each time, until finally they admitted, that the luggage had been at Charles de Gaulle all along. On the 9th day it would be delivered to Lyon after we had transferred to the SS Catherine. So even though we had a few problems on the cruise to Normandy, the kindness of the staff more than made up for our inconvenience.

The staff’s incredible service   would continue on the second half of the cruise when we transferred to the SS Catherine. I will never forget the quick action of the Baroness’ lady butler, Valentina. The Senior Rambler takes a blood thinner and what would be a bruise on me, is a bleeding cut for him. He had evidently banged his arm somewhere on board and  his arm was bleeding. She noticed it even before we did and appeared wearing plastic gloves and armed with peroxide and a band-aid. She quickly cleaned the cut, used the antiseptic and put on a band-aid with practiced skill. We were not in a suite and so technically, we shouldn’t even have been helped by a butler, but this was just a small example of their concern.

The action-packed schedule on the Baroness continued on our second full day of the cruise. This was the day we would visit the Normandy beaches which turned out to be the high point of the cruise for the Senior Rambler.

Map of Normandy with D-Day beaches, we would see them all.
Map of Normandy with D-Day beaches, we would see them all.

Again we  had two options. The first was an all day tour of the Normandy beaches with stops at Arromanche and Juno and  Sword Beaches. Naturally the British and Canadian cruisers joined this group. They would stop at Arromanche for lunch on their own after viewing a film of the landing in its 360 degree cinema. Arromanche also had many shops where they had an opportunity to buy souvenirs if they chose, as there would be no chance to do this at the beaches. We were surprised to find that these once bloody battlefields now served both an outdoor museum and a  seaside vacation spot for the local residents.

A tank we passed on the way to Bayeux
A tank we passed on the way to Bayeux

The Ramblers on the other hand, decided to take the second option. This was first a stop at Bayeux to see the famous tapestry with time on our own for lunch in the pretty little town. We would then re- board our bus for the journey to Omaha Beach where the D-Day landing of the American troops was so graphically shown in Saving Private Ryan. Our guide Irene, however, made sure our bus driver took a route that went past Sword, Gold and Juno beaches on the way to Omaha beach and American cemetery there.

But first Bayeux. Our bus ride took us mainly through rural Normandy where many contented cows grazed. Irene proudly stated that they were a special breed, Norman (Normande) cows.

These Normande cows looked much like the ones we saw on our trip.
These Normande cows looked much like the ones we saw on our trip.

Those of us who are familiar with the Holsteins of Chic-Fil-A fame, thought they looked just like them until Irene pointed out that Norman cows, unlike Holsteins wear the marks of spectacles around their eyes. And so they did. I didn’t get a photo of any Norman cows wearing their glasses from our moving bus but here is one from the web. The breed had been around since Viking times and give rich milk that is well suited for the making of the many cheeses produced in Normandy.  We did pass by an American tank en route, painted a bright green, and evidently a war memorial.

This majestic cathedral dates to the time the tapestry was completed and may have been displayed inside. It was not damaged during WWII.
This majestic cathedral dates to the time the tapestry was completed and may have been displayed inside. It was not damaged during WWII.

Bayeux, like many towns in Normandy, dates back to Roman times and is only 4 miles from the sea.  Duke William of Normandy, later William the First, King of England set sail from the nearby shore  on his successful invasion of England in 1066. The magnificent Bayeux cathedral of Notre Dame also dates from the 11th century, as does the Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of the Norman conquest of England.

Model of one of William the Conqueror's knights outside the tapestry display.
Model of one of William the Conqueror’s knights outside the tapestry display.

It is displayed in a stone building in Bayeux that once housed a seminary. Legend says that it was embroidered by Queen Matilda and her ladies as they waited for the successful warriors to return. Like many legends, it probably isn’t true but it makes a nice story.Even today, historians are not sure of the exact origin of the tapestry. It may have been commissioned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux,

to commemorate the successful invasion as he played a prominent role in the event as William’s half-brother. It may even have been embroidered by English monks.

No photos inside, bu this is the way it is displayed from their brochure.
No photos inside, bu this is the way it is displayed from their brochure.

Wherever it came from , it provides crewel-work time capsule of life in Normandy in the 11th century. As a retired history professor, I was very familiar with the tapestry and was anxious to see it for myself. When I did, I have to say that I was disappointed. It looks just like it does in the pictures. The tapestry is displayed behind glass in a darkened room, and one shuffles slowly past its 60 ft. length as one of many listening to their audiovox players. Photos do not do justice to many things, the Grand Canyon comes to mind, but the Bayeux Tapestry was not one of them.

As you can see, Bayeux has a medieval feel but and is close to many ports.
As you can see, Bayeux has a medieval feel but and is close to many ports.

Fortunately the town of Bayeux was a great place to have a relaxing stroll. Since we were on our own, for lunch, we hoped to enjoy a snack at one of the many sidewalk cafes near the cathedral. Unlike the nearby town of Caen, Bayeux had suffered little damage in WWII as the Germans had concentrated their defenses in Caen. In fact, it was the first town liberated after the Allied landing.

The local specialty is a Galette or buckwheat crepe with various savory fillings. However we Ramblers are not fond of savory crepes, having grown up with their jelly or apple sauce filled cousins, so we did not try them. I know, no sense of adventure. We strolled down one of the main streets that leads to the cathedral although we didn’t go in.

You can't miss the old mill ias you stroll the streets of Bayeux.
You can’t miss the old mill ias you stroll the streets of Bayeux.

After all the activity of the last two days, it was pleasant to just take a leisurely stroll. Some of our fellow passengers had already chosen a place to eat, but nothing looked just right. We went into the courtyard of one of the larger restaurants but it was jam-packed with families on holiday and we quickly left. The Ramblers finally settled on a tiny place, staffed solely by a friendly and attractive young woman. After looking at her tiny menu we settled on something very ordinary, deciding to share an order of fish sticks and chicken  fingers. I know what you are thinking, you are in France and you order fish sticks!!! Well yes, and as it turned out it was an excellent choice.

Everything prepared to order by the smiling proprietress. You can see the crepe maker on the counter. Highly recommended.
Everything prepared to order by the smiling proprietress. You can see the crepe maker on the counter. Highly recommended. She was pleased when I told her she would end up in my blog eventually.

Neither the fish nor the chicken were pre-packaged, they were cooked beautifully and came with two different and tasty sauces. It was a very pleasant  lunch, just enough to fortify us for the rest of our trip.

We took our time walking back to our meeting place, noting the  old mill as well and a more up-scale restaurant on the other side of the  lazy river.

We might have tried this upscale restaurant if we had been there for the day. Glad we didn't.
We might have tried this upscale restaurant if we had been there for the day. Glad we didn’t.

But we had no regrets. We were well fortified for our visit to Omaha Beach. We later learned that there was yet another WWII cemetery in Bayeux, this one for British troops who died at Normandy

The Ramblers decide to travel to France

Having once spent 5 weeks in France teaching in a study abroad program, the Ramblers had often thought of a return trip. However, the years have flown by and we never did go back. Now, after river cruising on the Rhine and Danube, we considered a cruise on French rivers, the Seine and the Rhone.

The morning sun sparkles on the Seine as we boarded the River Baroness Sunday morning.
The morning sun sparkles on the Seine as we boarded the River Baroness Sunday morning.

Since we had great times on our Uniworld cruises, we decided to book a trip they called Grand France. This was a double cruise on two different boats. The River Baroness would sail from Paris to Normandy and back. Then we would transfer to the SS Catherine, based in Lyon, for a cruise through Provence which ended in Avignon.The two cruises were linked for the Grand France tour by a TGV ride from Paris to Lyon. Although we have often ridden on trains in Europe, we had never been on the TGV and this sounded interesting as well.

Although I would book the Grand France cruise through AAA as before, this time I decided not to get our air fare through Uniworld, but instead book it myself. The main reason was that the Ramblers wanted some control over the times and dates of our flights. Cruise companies often put their customers on flights with arrivals that suit them rather than the passengers, especially for departures. All cruise companies need to get passengers off their boats quickly on the last morning of the cruise so that the cabins can be cleaned and readied for the next group of cruisers. Often it leads, as it did for us, to being driven to the airport at 3:30 AM for an early flight out. This had not been very pleasant, so I decided to see what I could do myself.

The internet has made booking air fare both easy and confusing. Once you investigate flights, you are bombarded with teaser ads or email promoting really cheap prices. Of course, the airlines all have their own websites as well, and most of these are fairly easy to navigate. Michelle Shirley, my AAA agent told me that generally the airlines have taken most of the insider perks away from travel agents and anyone looking to fly can book just as good a deal as they could get from a travel agency. Plus the airlines offer just as good prices although they may not last long, as the websites promoting cheap air deals.

cranes
We were amazed by the number of construction cranes we saw en route to the River Baroness from Charles De Gaulle airport. There must have been dozens.

Armed with this information I began my search for flights from Atlanta to Paris, round-trip. Before I go any further, it is really important to know exactly when your river cruise is going to depart on the first day of the cruise. Really important…  Most cruises stay overnight that first day or sail later in the evening, but not all, as the Rambler found to her dismay. Right after booking a flight that got to Paris at 2 in the afternoon, I realized that our ship would leave at 5:30 that same afternoon! I had thought, without checking, that the River Baroness would sail later in the evening, so always check this first. Arriving at 2 in the afternoon was definitely not a good thing as Paris-Charles de Gaulle is a big airport and there would be little time to make our cruise. AAARGH  This meant that I had to change our booking, a $300 per person charge which negated the pretty good deal I had found. So please do check. It might not even be a bad idea to arrive the day before, which would have saved us $600 minus the cost of our airport hotel.

Well, back to my booking experience. For those of you who don’t live in New York or Boston, there are often not many choices for a non-stop flight to Europe, depending on the city. One would think that Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, one of the busiest in the world, would have many choices for getting to Paris non-stop, but this was not the case. Atlanta is a Delta hub and for some strange reason, all the non-stop flights to Paris were either on Delta or one of its partners, Air France. If we had wanted to go to Amsterdam, we could have chosen KLM, another Delta partner, which would have been our first choice. Air France was not recommended by our travel agent, and the Ramblers followed her advice, and booked Delta, tho it surprised us. Unfortunately, we would later learn just how Air France got its bad reputation.

Before we set sail, we had a view of pricey Paris real estate from our ship's sundeck.
Before we set sail, we had a view of pricey Paris real estate from our ship’s sundeck.

Since we were booking our own air fare, I had the bright idea of staying a few extra days in Avignon at the end of our cruise, to see more of Provence. Then we could travel back to Paris by TGV and catch our flight home the next day. Having talked the senior Rambler into this new plan, I booked the air, adding extra comfort seats, and began the search for a place to stay in Avignon. This would be moving out of our comfort zone, as we would no longer have Uniworld to move us around.

Again, the internet makes this both easy and difficult. There are so many choices and so many reviews on Trip Adviser and similar sites that don’t necessarily tell you what you want to know.  Fortunately, a friend who had stayed in Avignon before, stressed the importance of staying inside the walls in the historic center of the city. This was really good advice, although I didn’t realize it until we got there. This decision narrowed our choices somewhat, but I had now to chose between a chain hotel and a small inn or B&B. Both had pluses and minuses. If you stay at a chain hotel and there is a problem, you can usually get it solved in your favor. However, if you stay at a B&B, once you pay, it’s hard to change things. Having read reviews for days, I finally decided on Le Limas, a B&B with a view of the Papal Palace from its 4th floor terrace. Le Limas turned out to be an excellent choice, but the Ramblers wouldn’t be sure of this until we arrived.

River traffic on the Seine is fascinating, lots of barges, houseboats docked along the way and other cruise boats were fun to watch.
River traffic on the Seine is fascinating, lots of barges, houseboats docked along the way and other cruise boats were fun to watch.

Next, was the task of signing up for several day-long tours of the Provence countryside that we wouldn’t be able to see from the boat. Again, after much reading of reviews, I decided to go with two tours advertised by Viator, a company my world traveling daughter recommended. The first was a day long highlights of Provence tour that would take  us all over the Provence countryside, featuring both medieval and Roman highlights. The second was a day long tour of the wine regions of Provence which included tastings and lunch. The senior Rambler doesn’t drink, so this tour was definitely more for me, but as it turned out, he would enjoy it very much.

That done, all we had to do was think about what we might pack, and how to make sure our plants got watered until the terrorist attacks in France , which occurred, as it turned out, in places we were to visit. Soon people began to ask if we were still going, or “weren’t we afraid to travel to France?” Honestly, the Ramblers didn’t think about cancelling our trip. We both believe that when your number is up, it’s up, and still looked forward to the trip. After we arrived in France, we did notice, particularly in Paris and Avignon, a very visible police and military presence, but no violence.

Many people obviously were afraid, because both of our cruises were half full, even though they had been completely booked months ago. Giving in to fear, in our opinion, is playing into the hands of the terrorists. We were thanked many times during our trip by the French men and women we met for having the courage to travel to France at this time.

Before we left, we also applied and were approved for Global Entry cards, although we are not sure if they were worth the $100. fee. It certainly makes entering the US easy enough, but seems to do little when you are going through security before you board. Be aware that if you have some metal in your body, as I do with two artificial hips, you will be x-rayed and patted down. Very humiliating for the Rambler, especially since the senior Rambler walked right through. This time they even made me take my shoes off and x-rayed them.

So much for the Global Entry card at this point. However, we did board our flight, it was uneventful and smooth, and we landed in Paris on time, at 6:10 AM. A Uniworld representative would be waiting for us outside the door after we collected our baggage. Well, my bag was one of the first ones on the conveyor belt, but after 45 minutes, my husband’s still hadn’t shown up. Air France had somehow lost it. We filled out several lost baggage forms, one person said it had been put on a later plane and we could get it later. We did get it later….8 days later.

Tethered balloon in the distance from the top deck of the River Baroness.
Tethered balloon in the distance from the top deck of the River Baroness.

Somewhat flustered, after filling out the lost baggage forms, the Ramblers headed out the exit and were relieved to find a Uniworld Representative still waiting for us after the luggage hassle. We climbed aboard the van and relaxed, Surely we would get the lost bag later in the day. On our way to the River Baroness, we noticed many  cranes, high in the air, Paris was expanding its high-rise buildings. Our boat was moored withing sight of the Eiffel Tower and next to a park where a tethered hot-air balloon took crowds of people up to enjoy the view. We were not tempted to try it after our long flight, and spent the rest of the day relaxing until we left on the first leg of our cruise at 5:30 PM

 

The Old Meets the New in Regensburg

Today would be one of the most interesting but also  most confusing days we spent on the Maria Theresa. Little did we know that morning  we would spend  only two more nights on our lovely ship due to problems beyond the control of our Captain.

Fortunately, the day started out very well, with beautiful sunshine and warm but not hot temperatures. The ship made another technical stop at Kelheim,  to unload  the passengers who had chosen to tour the BMW plant. Because this option called for two separate tours, first briefly in historic Regensburg and than at the plant, it would last six hours. Thus those that selected this option  would go first to Regensburg  by bus while the Maria Theresa slowly sailed the final miles to the Regensburg quay with everyone else.

Here we are, heading off down a rural Bavarian road towards Regensburg.
Here we are, heading off down a rural Bavarian road towards Regensburg.

This was not in the original Uniworld plan, but we all could see that the water in the Danube was very low, and this forced Captain Martin to steer our very large boat slowly through the deepest channel available. Often times, we noticed the propeller churning up mud from the river bottom.

Our affable Captain Martin  had been a visible presence every day and always took time to explain what was going on to the passengers. Every evening before dinner, our tour director, Chad along with the Captain, would discuss what we would be doing the next day, but our biggest concern was the low water. By this time,  the passengers knew that we might not finish the cruise on the Maria Theresa and we had our fingers crossed. Obviously we hadn’t gotten a firm answer to our questions about the water level yet because at this point nobody knew for sure.

Uniworld had cancelled the sailing of the European Jewels cruise immediately before this one in hopes that the water levels would come up, but there had been little rain, and the lowest spot, between Regensburg and Passau, was still very low and still ahead of us. Passau would be our next stop on the Danube if we could get there on the Maria Theresa. Uniworld had gone ahead with our cruise because it started in Amsterdam, so most of the cruise would be completed even if the Maria Teresa couldn’t get through the low spot.

Endless bridge
Our goal was in sight but the bridge seemed endless.

There wasn’t much the passengers could do about the low water but hope for rain at night. So we climbed aboard the bus to Regensburg at 8:30 AM determined to enjoy our day. When we got to Regensburg, we could see that there was a considerable amount of construction going on which resulted in even more walking. As it turned out,  it was fairly fast walking  too. We  got the most exercise during  the whole cruise on our day in Regensburg.

Up til now,  the Ramblers had been with the Gentle Walker group which  moved at a fairly slow pace. Because of the change in plans due to the low water,  those who chose the BMW tour had to do them back to back, and there was no Gentle Walker option. After our first stop at the historic Roman center of Regensburg we would go directly to the BMW plant by bus.

We learned that those who chose not to tour the BMW facility, relaxed on the Maria Theresa  until it got to Regensburg around 1:30. Then they had the choice of either  “2000 years of Regensburg,” or a “Jewish Regensburg,” tour that lasted about two hours.

We had been warned that the visit to the BMW plant would involve lots of walking, so there weren’t many Gentle Walkers on our bus. The Senior Rambler wasn’t excited about all the walking, but I was determined to go on the plant tour. The only way we could do this was to take these tours back to back and so we did, though he was not a happy camper most of the time.

We couldn't see much of the Steinerne Brucke on this visit so I included a poster of what it will look like when finished.
We couldn’t see much of the Steinerne Brucke on this visit so I included a poster of what it will look like when finished.

Our original tour schedule had included  a leisurely lunch in Regensburg . However  the lunch break was eliminated from the town tour so we would get to the BMW factory in time. The Ramblers never managed even a snack in Regensburg  that day. There were some interesting looking sausage places in town, as Regensburg prides itself on its bratwurst. The Wurstkuchl, a tiny restaurant on the bank of the Danube is thought to be the oldest fast food restaurant as it dates to the middle ages.

First we had to cross the Danube to get to the medieval center as our bus had parked on the wrong side of the river.  Unfortunately the Steinerne Brucke  (old stone bridge) was being restored and this involved even more walking over a series of ramps and passages to get across the river. The bridge was built in the 12th century, an architectural wonder in its day, as it is over 1,000 feet long and well worth restoring.

Almost there, the scaffolding and temporary bridge allowed tourists and locals to cross the river while the bridge was repaired.
Almost there, the scaffolding and temporary bridge allowed tourists and locals to cross the river while the bridge was repaired.

 

Two couples enjoying brats and sauerkraut as the wurstkuchl
Two couples enjoying brats and sauerkraut as the Wurstkuchl

The Celts first came to  the area around 500 BC and by the second century it was a Roman military post in perfect position to protect river traffic on the Danube and unlike the Celts, left many relics of their stay. By the 7th century, Regensburg was a beehive of Christian activity, serving as a hub for missionaries who traveled into the countryside to convert the Germanic tribes. Thus it has been an episcopal center for more than a thousand years.

Regensburg was also a military post for hundreds of years because of its strategic location. During the middle ages,  Regensburg  was the most important city in southeastern Germany, both a political and intellectual center and for centuries, the capital of Bavaria.

the postman
Evidently Bavarian mailmen deliver their mail from a bright yellow stroller, probably works well on the cobblestones.

 

As you might expect, there was much to see, but mindful that our time was limited, our guide kept up a brisk pace as she herded us along the ubiquitous cobblestones of the old town.

Here is an example of how Roman stonework was utilized by the early residents of Regensburg.
Here is an example of how Roman stonework was utilized by the early residents of Regensburg.

The historic center of the city is a UNESCO designated World-Heritage medieval city center and the Ramblers would have liked more time to enjoy it.

Once in the alstadt, it was easy to see the remains of Roman construction. The Germanic people who followed them, had incorporated the Roman stonework into their buildings.

St. Peter’s Cathedral dominated the medieval center of Regensburg as its builders had intended when the edifice that stands today was finished ca. 1520.

They were working on the spires; the little gondola carried workers up to the site.
They were working on the spires; the little gondola carried workers up to the site.

A church had first been built near the area of the Porta Pretoria (the north gate of the Roman fort) in 739, and rebuilt many times before this date. The bell towers stand 105 meters (344 ft 6 inches)above the city. We were not surprised to see scaffolding on the building because these ancient structures need constant looking after. The state has an organization, the  Dombauhutte (Cathedral building workshop) that supervises the ongoing maintenance, restoration and even archaeological exploration of the cathedral.

They are also working on the stonework of the front facade. We would have enjoyed going inside.
They are also working on the stonework of the front facade. We would have enjoyed going inside.

The last complete restoration of the Regensburger Dom took place in the 2000’s.

Unfortunately because we were on the quick city tour, we didn’t have time to go inside but mainly walked around the narrow streets.  Along the way we admired the medieval Rathaus, the Roman gate and other interesting buildings. There were many photo ops but photos had to be taken quickly if at all. I did manage a good photo of a striking mural of David and Goliath, in Renaissance style, only to learn later that it was not a Renaissance era painting but a recent one. Oskar Schindler had once lived briefly in the building that it decorated.

I didn't realize until later the significance of this wall painting, but I am glad I took the photo.
I didn’t realize until later the significance of this wall painting, but I am glad I took the photo,

Although most of us would have liked to stay longer, our guide soon rounded us up for the hike back to the bus. Our day was only starting! At least we got to relax on our bus ride.

Rathaus tower, build in the middle ages.
Rathaus tower, build in the middle ages.
Interesting detail on the Rathaus or city hall. Built in the middle ages, it is still used today.
Interesting detail on the Rathaus or city hall. Built in the middle ages, it is still used today.

Nuremberg, a city that rose from the ashes after WWII

I always mean to research the cities we will visit before the Ramblers leave on their trip. This sounds good, and would be very good, but usually it never happens. Life intervenes and instead I find myself knowing only what we have learned from our guides and the handouts provided by Uniworld. Obviously the quality of the information on our tours,depends on the knowledge of the guide, and while most are at least good, some could be better at their jobs.

The first part of our tour, which had featured a drive through the ruins of Hitler’s grandiose rally grounds, really was almost self explanatory. And the rally grounds were still there, in pretty bad shape to be sure, but recognizable. The second part of our day featured a walking tour of the historic old town of Nuremberg , and it looked looked amazing. Looking around as we walked on the cobblestone streets, the Ramblers could imagine that nothing much had changed since the middle ages. Our guide mentioned that the whole area had been heavily bombed during WWII, but it wasn’t until I got home and did some research, that I realized the extent of the damage. Those same beautiful medieval buildings, not to mention the castle, had been reduced to rubble, or in the case of the Frauenkirche, merely a shell of their former selves. However, the people of Nuremberg were determined to rebuild them and rebuild they did, using bricks from the debris, although half of the old imperial city was lost forever.

A photo taken in 1945 of the historic center of Nuremberg reduced to rubble after several bombing raids.
A photo taken in 1945 of the historic center of Nuremberg reduced to rubble after several bombing raids.

For the sake of accuracy, I must mention that the castle was crumbling in the 19th century, and they had already done some restoration work before WWII. However afterwards, the buildings were almost flattened.

On 2 January 1945, the medieval alstadt was systematically bombed by the RAF and the USAF and about ninety percent of it was destroyed in only one hour; 1,800 residents were killed and roughly 100,000 displaced. In February 1945, additional attacks followed. By the end of the war, about 6,000 Nuremberg residents are estimated to have been killed in air raids. Why did the allies rain terror and destruction on the heart of this beautiful city known mainly for its manufacture of toys before the war? Of course, the fact that Hitler had chosen it as his special city didn’t help. In addition, during a bombing raid in 1944, the allies suffered their heaviest losses to date, losing a hundred planes to the defenders of the city. Six months later, the Germans had run out of fuel and were only able to offer a token resistance. Thus the allies could bomb the city almost unopposed.

A view of the Frauenkirche's shell , still standing in 1945.
A view of the Frauenkirche’s shell , still standing in 1945.

Obviously, the historic center was not a military target, and so the raid did not have a military purpose.

We were glad that the Nurembergers had worked so hard to restore their city as it provided us with an enjoyable visit to the past. Our bus dropped off the Gentle Walkers at the entrance to the Nuremberg castle grounds. This was one stop where it was impossible to get out very close to our tourist target. As we know, castles are almost always built on the highest ground for strategic reasons, and the  sandstone Nuremberg castle, first built in the 13th century, was no exception.

A long trek up the path towards the castle couryard...
A long trek up the path towards the castle courtyard…

We followed a long, winding, uphill path, which led past the moat, now dry, and seemed almost endless to this Rambler as I started to puff and wheeze. Determined not to give up, I finally made it, at the very tail end of the Gentle Walker group, but it was worth it. The view of the alstadt from the castle walls was beautiful!

Everything visible from the castle ramparts had been destroyed in 1945.
Everything visible from the castle ramparts had been destroyed in 1945.

We did not go inside, the castle  but instead enjoyed walking around the grounds on a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky.

From the castle, we had a long stroll downhill on lumpy cobblestones, but now we were on our own. The Ramblers could take our time, and even stop, although there were no places to sit down. I eventually regained my lost breath, and began to enjoy our surroundings. We walked down a maze of cobblestone streets past the four story Albrecht Durer house, which is now the home of an interactive museum on his life. Most people have seen his etching of the”praying hands,” but his work is much more complex and interesting.

The Albrecht Durer House, a popular tourist site.
The Albrecht Durer House, a popular tourist site.

Our downward stroll eventually led us to the market square which was  faced with shops and restaurants on three sides and the Frauenkirche which took up the fourth. The market square is also the location of the “beautiful fountain” but unfortunately we were unable to appreciate it as it was under reconstruction and hidden from view.

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A small sampling of the beautiful fruit on display.

In the square, market vendors had on display a beautiful, multi-colored selection of fruits, vegetables and flowers which were tempting. However, since we were very well fed on the Maria Theresa, it did seem silly to purchase any, especially since our room didn’t have a refrigerator. I couldn’t help myself though and eventually selected some giant fragrant raspberries.  Unfortunately the pricing was somewhat mis-leading and I ended up buying the most expensive berries I have ever eaten. The cost was 7 Euros a box,holding less than a pound. Ouch! Not wanting to say that they were too expensive, I paid up. Oh well, next time I will ask about the cost before I buy. At least they were delicious.

Our final stop was the Frauenkirche, built in the 14th century as a Catholic church and still Catholic church today, unlike many medieval churches in Germany which  converted to Lutheran during the Reformation.

Simple statue of Our Lady next to the candle stand.
Simple statue of Our Lady next to the candle stand.
Welcome to the Frauenkirche!
Welcome to the Frauenkirche!

.  Unlike the larger, highly decorated baroque churches, the Frauenkirche is quite simply adorned on the interior. Many of the statues looked like they dated to medieval times, and had probably been restored after WWII along with the church itself. Tired from our long walk, the Ramblers took advantage of the seats available inside the church, enjoying a rest after our long ramble down from the castle.

Our candle lit here, you can see the edge of the marble table at the right.
Our candle lit here, you can see the edge of the marble table of Our Lady’s Altar at the right.

I took the opportunity to light a candle for travelers and those at home while we were there.

The Frauenkirche is famous for a large mechanical clock, the Mannlienlaufen which springs into action once everyday at noon. It is supposed to have done so every day for centuries without fail, but I doubt it was operating in the days after the horrific bombing in 1945.

You can see the circle of the clock but not much else, and of course it was in the shade.
You can see the circle of the clock but not much else, and of course it was in the shade.

Although the Ramblers were still in the square at noon, when the bell began to toll, we were at the far end, so we really didn’t see much of the medieval figures who came out, paraded around and rolled back inside the clock. It would have taken very good eyesight to see them without binoculars from our location. And because my excellent camera has a fixed lens, I was unable to zoom in on the clock.

Here is a video from You Tube that shows the Mannlienlaufen in action complete with the ding dong of the church bell that accompanies it. Just highlight the link and it will play. The entire sequence takes 5 1/2 minutes, as the Frauenkirchen Bell chimes first then the trumpeters and drummers spring to life and finally the electors parade.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBXO_Fee4Zg  

As it was, we were supposed to meet our bus at noon, and Chad, our program director, busily rounded us up for the buss ride back to the Main Canal and the Maria Theresa. Nuremberg was a wonderful stop, truly  a city of contrasts.

Finally, I have included a photo of the Frauenkirchen from the preceding post which shows the church in 1946, one year after the bombing. Some vendors have already set up shop in the central market.

The ancient frauenkirche in the main market platz in 1946. Most of the surrounding area is rubble. Photo credit Scrapbookpage
The ancient frauenkirche in the main market platz in 1946. Most of the surrounding area is rubble but the plaza has been cleared and the vendors are back. Photo credit Scrapbookpage

 

The Two Sides of Nuremberg – Part 1, Hitler’s City

Our next stop was the city of Nuremberg, both famous and infamous  at the same time. Nuremberg had  a glorious past and was once the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It is still considered one of Germany’s most historic cities with written records that date back to the 11th century. As Germany moved into the 20th century, Nuremberg still enjoyed a wonderful collection of medieval buildings in its old town. However, this beautiful city would pay dearly for Hitler’s interest in its connection to the Holy Roman Empire. Nuremberg was very heavily bombed during WWII and almost 90 % of its historic city center was destroyed in a single raid by the British Air Force on January 2, 1945. Nuremberg was noted for the production of toys and gingerbread not war material but because Hitler had made it a Germanic symbol, the British deliberately set out to destroy mainly civilian targets in the medieval heart of the city.

The ancient frauenkirche in the main market platz in 1946. Most of the surrounding area is rubble. Photo credit Scrapbookpage
The ancient frauenkirche in the main market platz in 1946. Most of the surrounding area is rubble. Photo credit Scrapbookpage

Two ancient churches were heavily damaged as most of the buildings were turned into rubble. It did not help Nuremberg’s fate that the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were announced there nor that Leni Riefenstahl used it as the site for her iconic Nazi film, Triumph of the Will.

We were scheduled to arrive at our city dock around 8 AM, which unfortunately was not in walking distance of the city center. After breakfast, we would have the choice of two tours, both of which would take about 3 hours. The first was dedicated to WWII,, which included touring the decaying buildings of Hitler’s rally center and Zeppelin field, followed by a visit to the  Nazi Documentation Center. This did sound interesting but the Ramblers decided to take option 2. This was  a relatively brief drive-thru tour of the Nazi Parade Grounds followed by a Nuremberg city walking tour of the castle and the heart of medieval Nuremberg.

Walking towards the reviewing stands in the Rally Grounds
Walking towards the reviewing stands in the Rally Grounds

We later heard that  the folks who took the Documentation Center tour enjoyed it very much  and would have liked to stay longer but we also enjoyed our tour and felt the same about the medieval alstadt.

Boarding our bus with the rest of the Gentle Walkers, we headed into Nuremberg, a city of about 500,000 people, today, the 14th largest in Germany. If Hitler had been successful it might well be much larger now, since he considered Nuremberg the most authentically “German” city with its ties to the ancient Holy Roman Empire. Thus he had the grounds that we were soon to visit constructed on a giant scale for massive Nazi rallies.

Hitler's crumbling coliseum
Hitler’s crumbling coliseum

Like many grandiose plans, they never entirely came to completion.

The Zeppelin Field and Rally Grounds have become a major tourist attraction, and although we approached them quite early on a week-day morning there were already a number of busses parked in several areas as well as another string of  busses whose passengers were doing only the drive through tour. At least 250,000 people visit the grounds every year.

The decaying grandeur of Hitler’s red brick coliseum ruins were matched by the over-grown expanses of the rally grounds.

About to fall down
About to fall down

The Ramblers along with the rest of the Gentle Walkers were quiet as we viewed the expansive area from where Hitler briefly had Germany mesmerized. It is a somber setting and made one think about the twists of fate that caused the eventual destruction of the Thousand Year Reich.

It may be that in twenty years or so, the place will be well on its way to total decay. However, the Ramblers are not so sure this is a good thing.

Surreal ruins. Taking this photo from the bus window, it looks like ghostly images of the Hitler's Reich are swirling in the air.
Surreal ruins. Taking this photo from the bus window, it looks like ghostly images of the Hitler’s Reich are swirling in the air.

We have added a link that provides a good argument for rebuilding the grounds so that people will not forget happened here not so long ago. Yes, it will be expensive, but again it will be money well spent.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nuremberg-germanys-dilemma-over-the-nazis-field-of-dreams-a6793276.html

Stolpensteine: Poignant Messages from the Past in Bamberg

After a pleasant and low key stop in Schweinfurt, the Maria Theresa set sail late that evening for Bamberg. The Ramblers had enjoyed not having to be someplace particular with a group, for a change. While Schweinfurt was not the most spectacular place we visited, it provided a sense of a more normal German lifestyle, as we mingled with dozens of families enjoying their stadtfest.

Bamberg was, according to our Uniworld printout, a city that is quite unusual. A UNESCO heritage site, it has a fascinating old town that had many special cultural and architectural historic places from the last thousand years. It would also provide the Ramblers with their most thought-provoking moments of the trip.

Bamberg already was on the map in the 10th century and once served briefly (in the 11th century) as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Its most famous son, Heinrich II was crowned in its cathedral in 1012 AD. The Bishop of Bamberg wielded considerable power in the middle ages while Bamberg claims to have been the second German city to introduce the new process of printing in 1460.

Bamberg is also the last city on the Main River before the start of the Main-Danube Canal. After we left Bamberg, during the evening through the night and  into the following morning, the Maria Theresa would traverse a series of locks that would eventually bring us to the Danube. Since we stopped there on Sunday August 30, we would not be able to tour the cathedral, as it was closed to tourists because of Sunday Masses.

Walking into Bamberg with the Cathedral in background.
Walking into Bamberg with the Cathedral in distance.

Neither were the shops open, as the residents did not shop on Sundays. However, as it turned out there was much to see and do.

Bamberg is in the area of southern Germany where beer replaces wine as a major product, and beer consumption per resident is the highest in Germany. There are 10 breweries in the area, each with its own beer tower. The breweries themselves are called Bierstadts or Bierkulturstadts. Our guide later told us that in the old days, each brewery could only sell their product to people who lived within view of the tower, but now this is not the case. Germans are concerned about the protein content of their brew and many refer to it as liquid bread. Probably their most famous beer is Rauchbier, first brewed in 1536. It is supposed to have a smoky flavor, but the Rambler is not a beer drinker and the senior Rambler doesn’t imbibe at all, so I can’t attest to its flavor.

sabine our guide
Sabine, our wonderful guide in Bamberg

After docking around breakfast time, we assembled in our groups to board busses that would take us to town. Unfortunately the town center was not within easy walking distance as it had been the day before. We decided to go with the Gentle Walkers again; they were a pleasant group and it is better to be one of the faster folks in the slow group than the slowest in the fast one. We were later very glad we made this choice because our Bamberg guide, Sabine, was the absolute best we had on the trip. She was thin and wiry, intense and enthusiastic, and reminded me of a faculty friend back home. As it turned out, she was an art history professor.

After we had gathered around our guide, the four Uniworld groups scattered in different directions. Evidently all the guides had a different idea of what was most interesting about their city. As it turned out, of the four guides, only Sabine made a stop to show us a place we have have often recalled.

Along this quiet street, something awful had happened in the past.

We headed up a narrow, cobblestone paved street, towards the historic district when Sabine stopped in the middle of the pedestrian street and asked us to look down. There set in the middle of the stones were five polished brass blocks. She asked us to take a closer look and we saw that each was engraved with the name, dates and address of a person or family. There we had our first real look at the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks.  They held the names of individuals  who had lived along this street and perished during the time of National Socialism. We would later see several more.

Their creator, Gunter Demnig is a German artist who has made it his life’s works to memorialize victims of the Holocaust in front of the buildings where they once lived.

Our first stolpensteine, those they commemorated had lived along that quiet street.
Our first stolpensteine, those they commemorated had lived along that quiet street. Note: If you click on the individual blocks to enlarge them, you will be able to read them. The three lower blocks are parents and child.

Anyone can order one, but they are usually placed by the Stolperstein team. In Bamberg, the money to order the stumbling blocks was raised by the schoolchildren of the city. According to Demnig’s homepage, the cost for each is 120 Euros, and to date they have been placed in 610 walkways throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands,  Belgium, the Czech Republic, Norway and the Ukraine.

More about Bamberg tomorrow. If you are interested in learning  about Mr. Demnig and his Stolpersteine, I have provided a link. They provide  amazing and poignant memorials we will long remember.

www.stolpensteine.eu/en/biography/

A Wonderful Day in Heidelberg

After an overnight sail to our dock at Frankfurt, the Rambler was ready to head out on an all-day trip to Heidelberg. The Senior Rambler was not sure he wanted to go, but while he was making up his mind, we stopped to watch the docking process .

It is amazing how fast this is accomplished with the sailors moving very quickly, sometimes scrambling over rocks to pull the heavy lines they wrapped around the bollards. When the ship was secure, the gangplank was extended to shore and anyone could disembark if they chose.

Swans heading for the Maria Thresa
Swans heading for the Maria Theresa, they are grey before they turn white.

The Maria Theresa’s gangplank is quite sturdy and has a series of metal cleats along its length. They are to prevent one from slipping while ascending or descending but one does have to be careful not to trip on them. Of course, there is a handrail along both sides, available for grabbing of one does mis-step. The gangplank is rarely level so you are either walking up or down, sometimes at a fairly steep angle.

On the river side, we stopped for a few minutes to admire the swans which had cruised up to the ship.

Are you sure you don't have anything for us?
Are you sure you don’t have anything for us?

No doubt they were looking for hand-outs but they didn’t get any as we were going, not coming to breakfast. They were still hopefully swimming around the ship when we headed to the dining room for breakfast. Since we boarded the MT on Sunday near Amsterdam, we had followed the Rhine to the place where we had landed on our flight from Atlanta.

Glad we didn't have to walk up castle hill.
Glad we didn’t have to walk up castle hill, This part of Heidelberg is not modern!.

Frankfurt is a modern city which has one of the few skylines in Europe that could be mistaken for one in a city of similar size in the US. It is also the financial center of the EU, the home of the European Central Bank and the Bundesbank. Those who had already been to Heidelberg could take a walking tour of Frankfurt which included a culinary treasure hunt. I am not sure what entailed was but I’m sure it was fun. I also heard later that the shopping in Frankfurt was excellent, but since I’m not much of a shopper anymore, this had little appeal. The Maria Theresa would leave the Frankfurt dock at 3:30 on its way to Miltenburg, Because the Heidelberg tour lasted all day, the MT would make an extra stop (they call it a technical stop) in Offenbach to pick up the passengers who had chosen to go to Heidelberg.

Thus I headed off the the Heidelberg bus with the gentle walker group, leaving the Senior Rambler to his own devices. I have learned that when he doesn’t want to do something, it’s better to leave him behind. The gentle walkers were a congenial group and I would have plenty of company during the day. It was not a long trip to Heidelberg by bus, and soon our bus driver was carefully steering our large bus up castle hill around many obstacles.

Obviously the hillside around the castle is a prime real estate location.
Obviously the hillside around the castle is a prime real estate location.

Viewing castles always involves an  upward hike, and Heidelberg was no exception. The castle area was also very crowded. As we learned later, the 16 German Federal States agree on a staggered vacation schedule ahead of time, so that all of Germany is not on vacation at the same time. Evidently August is a popular month for local touring; although Germans love to travel the world, they also enjoy their own heritage. Plus Heidelberg is also a popular stop for river cruises, so our Uniworld groups had to be careful or they might end up on another company’s boat!

By the 1300’s, Heidelberg was large enough to support a university and had become the political center of the Rhineland.. Heidelberg University, founded in 1386 soon became one of the greatest in medieval Europe.

The first part of the castle you see; ruins are being stabilized
The first part of the castle you see; ruins are being stabilized

Today the university has perhaps 30,000 students, large by European standards and one in 5 people currently living in Heidelberg (population, 139,000) likely attends either the University, the Teacher’s College or the Academy of Music.

view from river
View from the river.
ruin for centuries
A ruin for centuries

Heidelberg did not suffer much damage from WWII bombing raids as the US Army planned to place its European Headquarters there and bombed the citizens with leaflets instead.; 20,000 or so American service-people and their families live there today.. Although Heidelberg Castle is a ruin, it was partially destroyed a long time ago, and was not a casualty of WWII. The Castle and attached palace were built of reddish sandstone, and stood out beautifully against a background of blue sky and deep green vegetation.

ruin and palace
See the blue sky through the windows of the top two floors.

Sandstone is not the most durable of stones and erodes over time. Currently there is much evidence of attempts to stabilize the existing ruins, rather than restoring the buildings to their original form. The castle and palace obviously suffered periods of neglect but now the German government is working hard to preserve what they have. It is startling to see that the windows of the upper floors of one building are open to the sky beyond, while the lower floors house museums and meeting spaces. The Castle is a popular wedding venue and we saw several bridal parties on the grounds.

Our guide in cellar
You can just see the end of the giant barrel in back of our guide Sonia.

We ended our tour of the Castle with a view of the biggest wine cask ever,in the cellars. It really is big but not very exciting  for me, as it has been empty for quite a while. However it is significant because the area still produces some of Germany’s finest wine. We stopped  briefly in the cellars, enjoying a pit stop while our guide gave us more information on the history of the Castle and the area.

From the castle hill, we found our Uniworld bus which next stopped at Heidelberg’s old bridge where we  enjoyed a beautiful view of the vineyards marching up the hills surrounding the Neckar River valley.

Bird's eye view
Bird’s eye view

We looked down on a multitude of red roofed buildings and far below, the Neckar River itself, winding slowly through the valley.

Our final stop was the Hauptstrasse in the old town which runs parallel to the river. It is a crowded but wide, pedestrian walkway, paved with the usual lumpy cobblestones. Before we were turned loose to have lunch on our own,for which we all got lunch money, we were treated to a culinary treasure hunt of local specialties. Our guide led us to two shops and a restaurant where sampled gummi candies, evidently invented in Heidelberg, pflammenkuchen, a kind of a pizza like thin  flat bread topped with ham and onions and Student Kisses, another candy invented in Heidelberg.

I am not a big fan of gummi bears, but the Flammkuchen was delicious. This is similar to a similar dish popular in Alsace-Lorraine made with ham onions and sour cream. Germans also prepare a sweet, rather than savory, made with plums rather than ham, but it is probably too messy to hand out as samples. As for the Student Kiss( Studentenkuss.) I loved the combination of wafer, nougat and dark chocolate, so I enjoyed my sample very much. I learned that the kisses were first developed and sold in 1863 by Fridolin Knosel, to provide a chaste way for students to exchange hopeful messages with kisses. We also tried Schlosskugeln (cannon balls) a dangerous to the hips, Heidelberger treat.

Pretty sure the saleslady dresses to match the product.
Pretty sure the saleslady dresses to match the product.

They are still made  by his descendants  and sold in the same shop. Today you can purchase kisses with a message of your choosing in a variety of languages. It is a very popular tourist spot in the romantic Heidelberg tradition, perhaps because it sells delicious candy!

Lunching in Heidelberg was fun. My companions were determined to have schnitzel, so we checked the menus of a number of cafes for this regional specialty. Since I expected that the schnitzels would be large and I had been well fed on the MT, I chose the liver dumpling soup. Ah, my German/Hungarian heritage drew me to it. This was a soup my mother made often, when I was growing up and I was eager to try the Heidelberg version. I was not disappointed. Both dumplings and broth were excellent and filling. And I was right, the schnitzels Jenn and Karen ordered were gigantic!

After lunch we split off to wander Heidelberg’s Alstadt. Many people were out on such a nice day, but the Rambler was running out of gas. I thought I’d seek out a church and sit down for a while in relative solitude. Saying a few prayers wouldn’t hurt either. Luckily I ran into Chad, our cruise manager who knew the area well.  Because this is a more Protestant area , I was looking for a Catholic Church.

A quiet moment
A quiet moment

They are had to tell apart sometimes because in Lutheran areas, the Lutherans simply took over many of the existing Catholic Churches. He pointed me to one, although I’m still not sure it was Catholic. I liked it though, as it was quite plain and  a change from the over-the-top baroque churches so common in Bavaria and Austria.

After a brief bus ride, we saw the Maria Theresa waiting for us. We quickly boarded, the gangplank was hauled up and we were on our way to Miltenberg.  Before I forget, I must mention a Rudesheim product that I have enjoyed for a long time. I didn’t realize until it was too late, that the Ramblers probably could have visited the Asbach Uralt Visitor Center in Rudesheim where they produce Asbach Uralt Brandy.

Asbach Uralt Brandy
Asbach Uralt Brandy

Asbach was my Dad’s favorite after dinner drink, although he wasn’t much of a drinker. I saw it on the shelf in a local liquor store some years ago, bought a bottle and realized I enjoyed it too. Asbach was readily available on the Maria Theresa , and particularly delicious in a German coffee with a little sugar and whipped cream. A similar drink is a Rudesheim specialty and some of our fellow cruisers enjoyed on the previous day.

Cruising to Koln(Cologne) and its amazing Kolner Dom ( Cologne Cathedral)

Our first day of cruising down the Rhine would take us to the city of Koln, which had been leveled during WWII and somewhat hastily rebuilt afterwards. First, however, we enjoyed the scenery that unfolded as we made our stately progress downriver. I think most of the passengers were startled, as we were, to see a number of  families, children and young people, swimming or splashing around in the Rhine. There were also many Germans on holiday , camping, fishing and boating. During our cruise,  we would pass a number of large campgrounds filled with the smaller European trailers on the river banks. Perhaps the water quality is better than it looked, as I know the European Union has strict rules about water pollution in Western Europe.

Today we would enjoy our first tour to the Kolner Dom but because the Maria Teresa wouldn’t arrive there until 4:30, the ship made a technical stop right after lunch, at 1;45.todays destination In other words, the MT stopped, lines were secured, the gangplank was set up, and those who wanted to tour Koln, disembarked and walked to our busses at the town of Zons,Germany It seemed like a pleasant place, but some of the gentle walkers were taken aback to find we had a long, mostly uphill walk to our bus. Uniworld always makes provision for cruisers who have trouble walking but in this case, we had no choice but to suck it up if we wanted to go on the tour. The Senior Rambler was having trouble with his back, and it took him a while to get to the bus, but several passengers kindly made sure they didn’t leave without us.

The ride to Koln was a relatively brief one, as the roads were straight while the Rhine made a serious of twisty bends on its way to Koln. Our destination was the very heart and soul of the city, the magnificent Dom or cathedral which is the largest and one of the most beautiful in Germany.

The beating heart of Koln tourism, the Cathedral square
The beating heart of Koln tourism, the Cathedral square

Although building started in the 13th century the Gothic cathedral was not finished until 1880. Until the 19th century, Koln was Germany’s largest city and is still the center of Germany’s Catholic population. After the creation of the German nation state, with its capital in the Protestant north,

Details of the 19th century entrance
Details of the 19th century entrance

Bismarck’s government provided funds to complete the building, using the medieval plans but with 19th century materials to gain the loyalty of the Catholic south.

One of the reasons it was originally built was to house the relics of the Magi, the Three Kings who came to pay homage to Jesus.The Archbishop of Koln acquired their relics in the 12th century from the Holy Roman Emperor  Plans were made to build a cathedral to house these precious relics and the cornerstone was laid in 1248. Even though the church was not completed, it became an important place of pilgrimage. As the centuries passed, the Dom was visited by hundreds of  thousands of pilgrims who came to venerate the relics of the MagiThe Golden box. It was second only to Rome in popularity as a place of pilgrimage  for hundreds of years. It  still attracts thousands of visitors every day although not all are believers or even Christian.

There are many reasons to visit the Dom; its architecture is magnificent, its interior is beautiful and it is filled with medieval and modern stained glass, art and sculpture. The building is so large that it swallows up the hundreds of pilgrims wandering the interior at any given timeceiling and organ. Of course the main attraction is the large gold casket which serves as a reliquary for the bones of the Magi. No matter the authenticity of the relics, the casket is a magnificent work of gold-plated silver over wood. Of course, it is incredibly valuable and consequently protected by iron bars and no doubt several hidden alarms. This made it very difficult to take a decent photo but I tried.

The Dom has a very high vaulted ceiling which is beautiful in its simplicity.staained glass On the left side, a swallow’s nest organ juts out from the side wall. It was added to celebrate the 700th anniversary in 1998. It does look like a precarious perch for the organist.

One of the oldest artifacts in the Dom found near the main altar is the Gero cross, a large crucifix carved in oak  with some paint and gilding.crucifix It was thought to be have been commissioned around 960 AD, for Gero, the Archbishop at that time. It is the oldest known free standing crucifix still extant in Northern Europe and was moved from the earlier Romanesque church which stood on the site.

There are many sculptures both old and new, both beautiful and grotesque but my favorite was the effigy of a long dead Archbishop. His likeness reclines somewhat nonchalantly on top of his tomb, attended by a cherub, waiting for the last judgment.Prince archbishop tomb

As you may have guessed there was much to see in the Kolner Dom and the Rambler suggests strongly that you visit if you have a chance, . It is as you might expect, a UNESCO World Heritage site. One caveat, because it is so popular, pickpockets lurk in the crowds, hoping to relieve the unwary of their valuables. Ironically, although Koln was flattened during WWII, the Dom itself received little damage. It seems that its towering spires were an excellent landmark for the pilots.

The cathedral dominates the skyline
The cathedral dominates the skyline

Today athletic and determined tourists can climb 500 plus steps to the top of one spire, where I’m sure you can see for miles. The Ramblers did not avail themselves of this pleasure.

After our tour, we had a choice of going back to the MT or strolling around the Alstadt (a short distance away) . Uniworld thoughtfully provided shuttle busses for those who wanted to stay later. Most decided to return to the ship, as many were still adjusting to the time change and working off their jet-lag.

For those who go, there is a tourist information center across from the Dom and a McDonald’s’ around the corner. The most famous local product is the Eau de Cologne. Only in Koln can you find the original , but elsewhere you will see the 4711 Eau de Cologne, which is similar. This cologne has been around for a long time; I remember seeing it around our house when I was growing up, but it is not a scent the Rambler enjoys.

Tomorrow more cruising along the Rhine!