This morning we sail through the Rhine valley. It is very picturesque. I am still not feeling quite right but hope that whatever is bothering me will go away.
It is very scenic with lots of castles.
One of the perks of booking the Explorer Suite on Viking is that you get a personal invitation to visit the captain in the wheelhouse. Since I have no interest in doing this, I arrange for Peg and Ted, who are avid water people, to visit in my stead. John takes some pictures. While we were going through the high water our clearance under the bridges was really tight. The top deck was closed to the passengers and the whole wheelhouse sank into the body of the ship on hydraulics.
When we arrive in Koblenz Peg and Ted go with a group to the Marksburg Castle. John and I opt for the Mosel tour and wine tasting. It is more our area of expertise.
We meet for drinks and dinner.
After dinner we listen to the Sounds of Europe. It is enjoyable.
It’s all running together now, the bergs, burgs, and heims. Get off the boat, look at how high the floods have gotten up to, view the cathedral and the ruins of the old castle. See where the Jews used to live except there is barely a trace, all either evicted or killed. I think I am getting traveled out. I’m also feeling a tightness in my chest and wonder if I am getting sick.
To keep track of where we are I take a picture of the label on the map.
Our tour guide shows us the sights of Wertheim.
We are only in Wertheim for a short time and are underway again in the afternoon on our way to Koblenz. There is a German tea time in the afternoon which we don’t go to. We are not pastry types. I struggle with the internet trying to write my posts. It is in and out all afternoon and finally gives up the ghost late in the afternoon for the rest of the trip. We are not happy about this.
We meet for drinks and watch a program about where else we can go on Viking. Sick of peanuts, we have brought along our bag of pretzels and chips. Peg and I dive in. Dinner is forgettable.
(Note: Internet was non-existent the second week of the cruise. According to the boat staff it was “broken.” We saw them plugging in new circuit boards late in the afternoon of the last day of the cruise. So now I have to reconstruct our days from memory, John’s notes and pictures.)
Wurzburg, how many times I have been here. A lot. A couple of times with John, once with John and Sarah, and once with Sophie and Eileen. We decide that since the boat should be in Wurzburg for the whole day, we will ditch the itinerary and make one of our own. First order of business, rent a car. It being Sunday this is not the easiest thing to do but Krum, the concierge, has taken our request as a challenge and arranges the whole thing. Part of the problem is that the boat is disgorging its passengers before it reaches Wurzburg and then picking them up someplace in Wurzburg.
We get on the bus with the rest of our compadres but when they get off for their tour we stay on and the bus driver, John and I, drive to the train station where there is a Sixt rental car office that opens at 10 AM. The fellow at the office is very nice even going to the trouble of finding us an automatic transmission since he knows that Americans no habla the manual transmission. (We could totally have driven a stick shift.)
We program the GPS and we are off! First stop, Herrgottskirche in Creglingen to see Tilman Riemenschneider’s Marianaltar carved 1505-1508. Today will be an intensive Riemenschneider (hereafter T.R.) day. We find the church with no problem. But, uh oh, NO FOTO! I am willing to buy a postcard but none of the pictures seem good enough. So I am snagging a couple off the internet.
Back in the car! Our next stop along the T.R. trail is Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, a kind of medieval disneyland of a place. It’s mostly all authentic having been passed over by the centuries. After a lengthy detour we finally find the town and spend the next few hours visiting the the St. Jacob (James) church and having lunch.
St. Jacob’s church is renowned for its Blood Altar carved by T.R. The altar fits exactly in its spot with the window detail reflecting the actual windows of the church. Once again the faces are so expressive and the hands are beautiful.
There’s also another great altarpiece here in the main altar area. This is the Altar of the Twelve Apostles carved in 1446 by Fredrich Herlin. The big innovation between F.H. and T.R. is that T.R. eliminated the paint from his figures letting the wood shine through.
Lunchtime! Just outside the church we find the Hotel Reichs Kuchenmeister with its outdoor eatery. We decide it is time for some real German food – wurst, kartoffel, sauerkraut und bier. Unknowingly, I order a raspberry beer the size of a small swimming pool. What a tasty lunch!
Our work here in Rothenburg is finished and now we head north again to take a look at the Stuppach Madonna by Matthias Grunewwald painted in 1519. The painting has its own little chapel and is considered to be one of the most important works of medieval panel painting. It’s an odd picture of the madonna in neon-like colors with a strange looking God the Father looking down from the left hand corner. At first look he looks like a set of praying hands but on closer inspection he’s actually a cartoonish diety.
We have one last stop to make before we return the car and that is to the Mainfrankisches Museum in Wurzburg where there is a whole room of Tilman Riemenschneiders!! This is where we first became acquainted with the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of Saints to pray to when ill or troubled. Each Saint has his or her specialty and they are shown in the T.R. carving with their various attributes. I especially like St. Denis on the right end. He helps with headaches due to the fact that he was martyred by having his head cut off and then walked around carrying his head and preaching sermons. In this rendition he not only carries his head but sports the original one as well.
And just because I love the hands that Tilman Riemenschneider carves, here’s a whole gallery of them.
It’s time to return the car to the train station. Exactly at 6 P.M. as promised a taxi rolls up to takes us back to the boat. Our concierge has done an outstanding job!
Tonight I opt for one of the standard dinners – ribeye steak. At least these are not precooked so there’s a good chance that you can get it medium rare (if you order it rare.) John makes a main course out of the first course octopus. I think we are getting the hang of ordering food on the boat!
Peg and Ted have also had a good day with the tour group. They look happy!
This morning we have a talk by the Captain and hotel manager about life on board and technical aspects of the boat. The Captain who is Slovakian is a little difficult to understand since he doesn’t speak English too well. This is followed with a presentation about the Main-Danube Canal. I skip the canal talk so I can try to get my blog up to date. With most of the people listening to the lecture, I have better speeds on the internet. Unfortunately it turns out that the internet will not be working until Tuesday.
Around 1 PM we pull into Bamberg, a medieval town that was only lightly damaged during the war. Disembarking, we are met by our guide. We start at a statue called the gabel moo. It is actually a statue of Neptune but the people of old Bamberg, not knowing who Neptune is, renamed him “man with a pitchfork.” He figures prominently in our tour today since he is the starting and ending point.
Since streets did not have names in medieval times, often shops or homeowners put some sort of painted sign or sculpture on their buildings so people could find them. For instance, they might say to a friend, “meet me at the unicorn house.”
Interesting story about the old city which is built on the river and must be reached by bridge, it seems that the townspeople wanted more say in the government and wanted to construct a civic building for meeting. The prince-bishop said okay, but you can’t build it on any land I own. The prince-bishop owned all the land in the area. So the wily townspeople built their city hall by sinking pilings into the river and constructing the town hall in the middle of the river.
The tour continues down cute streets bedecked with flowers. We stop outside a tavern which sells the special local beer, Rauchbier. The Rauchbier has been smoked! People say it tastes like liquid bacon. John and I do not partake.
Lastly on our tour is the Bamburg Cathedral, built in the late Romanesque fashion with some early Gothic pieces. The tour does not go inside and instead we visit the Rose Garden where the tour ends.
John and I visit the Cathedral after the tour is over. After two Cathedrals which burnt down between 1012 and 1185, the current cathedral was built and consecrated in 1237. Inside, the best known piece of art is the statue of the Bamberg Horseman. No one is quite sure who he is. There are also lots of statues of saints and a tomb to the sainted imperial couple, King Heinrich II and his consort Cunigunde. The tomb is carved by mastercarver Tilman Riemenschneider.
After all this walking, John and I need a place to rest and have a snack. We choose a table in an outdoor cafe and enjoy a beer and pretzels. It is fun to watch the crowds ebb and flow. As we walk back to the Gabel Moo the sky darkens. Then there is pitchforked bolt of lightning followed quickly by thunder. Perhaps Gabel Moo is throwing lightning with his pitchfork to banish the hordes of tourists from the riverboats from his town. We stop standing under his tree and run into a doorway. It starts to rain really hard, really, really hard. Since we can’t leave until 6 PM our little group huddles in various doorways. At 6 our program manager appears and we tear for the buses. Everyone is pretty wet but in good spirits.
Our time in town has lasted about 5 hours and we are happy to reboard the ship to change into dry clothes and have dinner.
The day starts with an informative lecture about Bavaria. We learn about the food, dress, history, and geography of the region. It is a little dry – just the facts. There is a question and answer period afterwards and I would like someone else or myself to ask how Germans view their horrendous behavior in World War II but we are all too polite.
We get on the buses around 2 PM for the trip into the Nuremberg. Bus gets a little confused and we are on the bus for about an hour before arriving at Hitler’s Nazi Rallying Grounds. It is a large unfinished stadium that was to be larger than the Coliseum. Hitler planned on staging his party rallies and other grand affairs here. The money for such endeavors ran out after the war began so it was never finished.
Our bus ride includes a ride around the outside of the city wall. We see many rebuilt historic buildings. Our guide keeps reminding us that Nuremberg was 90% destroyed. My general feeling is if you didn’t want your city destroyed you probably should not have started the war and committed atrocities. We also drive by the building where the war crimes trials were held.
We get off the bus to visit the castle inside the old city. It has a lot of towers – towers with hidden entrances, square towers, square towers inside round towers, five sided-towers. But since we have been riding around in a bus for over an hour and we are all old people, the most important tower is the bathroom tower.
From the castle we start our walking tour of Nuremburg. We pass the Albrecht Durer house. Rebuilt in a modern style after the war.
Now we are left on our own to wander around for about 40 minutes. We visit the rebuilt Catholic Church of Our Lady. The interior is a mix of old and new.
Nuremberg was a Catholic town but after the Protestant Reformation, they switched to Protestantism. There is a large Lutheran cathedral dedicated to St. Sebald. It is so highly decorated that we wonder if it is a Catholic Cathedral. It probably started life out in a different religion. I’ve always thought that Protestant Churches were rather devoid of saints and decoration. I guess not. The foresighted parishioners started hiding their precious stuff in caves in 1938. When they rebuilt the church they were able to redecorate with the original artwork and sculptures.
Since there’s not enough time to stop for a beer before we need to back to the bus, we wander around the market place. The fruits and vegetables look delicious and are really not all that expensive. Asparagus is in season and we see lots of the white variety.
Later at dinner we have unusual dinner companions. We are sitting with an older couple who left Germany after the war for Canada and made their way to Florida. The man is quite elderly. He says quietly that he had been a Nazi soldier in 1945. What?! He was conscripted into the Nazi army when he was 17. He was in a group of soldiers who surrendered to American forces rather than be captured by the Russians. He spent 6 months as a POW. So here I sit between my Jewish husband and a former Nazi soldier. Really don’t know how to handle the situation. My first inclination is to leave the table but that would seem impolite. So we stay, eating our dinner but I think we shall avoid them in the future.
What’s for dinner? Since I am a little flummoxed, I forget to take pictures of our main courses.
It’s a beautiful day and the Captain seems to have overcome the high water problem so we are off on another city tour. After a short ride to Regensburg through beautiful rural scenery, we find our guide and are ready for the tour. Uh oh, problems with our quiet boxes! Ted comes to the rescue holding our group sign as our guide, Melanie, straightens out the problem.
Regensburg is a medieval town and as we cross the 12th century stone bridge we see the Gothic spires of St. Peter’s Cathedral and the 900 year old Wurstkuchl. We’ll be stopping back there later for sausages and sauerkraut.
Some buildings in the old part of the city have painted facades and others have towers. After the third floor the towers are totally empty. Building a tower was just a way of showing off to your neighbors about how rich you were.
We pass the charming old city hall on our way to St. Peter’s Cathedral with its Gothic spires and carved figurines.
Inside the church it is quite dark and very Gothic. Light filters dimly through the many stained glass windows.
Up until the 1500’s Regensburg had a Jewish community which existed under the protection of Maximillian I. Three days after Maximillian died in 1519, all the Jews were expelled from Regensburg, thrown out in the middle of winter with only what they could carry. Everything trace of the Jewish population was destroyed and there only remains a memorial where the synagogue used to be. Even the Cathedral has a stone carving of a Judensau, a sow with suckling Jews underneath. It was carved on the side of the cathedral facing the Jewish quarter as an insult and a sign of the anti-Semitism in Regensburg.
After a stop at a local mega-mart for some chips and cheese, we head down to the Wurstlkuchl for a tasty lunch of sausages, sauerkraut, and beer. Yum!
John and I head back to the boat for a little r & r while Peg and Ted continue to explore. We meet for a cocktail party and dinner. Unfortunately I forget to bring my camera.
I am not feeling well this morning so John proceeds to the walking tour of Passau without me. I am hoping to feel better this afternoon and have John give me a private tour himself.
After a nap and lunch things are looking up. We head into the pretty town of Passau.
Passau is situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz. So of course it gets flooded frequently. In 2013 it experienced the highest flood waters in 500 years. There is still evidence of the flood in stucco and bricks that remain wet even after 2 years.
The town has a lovely Baroque cathedral, St. Stephen’s. The church was originally medieval but was mostly burned in the town fire of 1662. It was replaced with an updated interior. There are many paintings and sculptures in the side altars. John and I walk around identifying as many of the saints as we can by their attributes.
We stroll around the town on the way back to the ship. There is a picturesque artists’ alley with colorful umbrellas hanging overhead. The city hall has an old clock and a painted facade.
We join Peg and Ted and another couple for dinner. I have osso buco and John has halibut. Both dishes are okay. We finish the evening listening to a musical tribute to Elvis Presley. I think you have to be over 70 to appreciate it.
Today’s adventures start with a scenic sail down the Wachau Valley in Austria on our way to Melk. John goes up top to take some pictures and listen to the commentary while I struggle with the internet. I have been trying for hours to get the text and pictures from Vienna to load. At this point I decide that it is just not worth it for me to spend my time in the cabin in front of my non-responsive computer and miss what there is to see. So I decide to just start typing text and leave most of the pictures for when I get home.
As we sail down the Wachau Valley we see the Durnstein Castle ruins. Durnstein castle held Richard I (the lion-hearted) as hostage in 1192-93 until England paid a large ransom for him. There’s also lovely scenery in this grape-growing region. The Gruner-Veltiner grapes are grown on terraced hillsides.
We pull into Melk around lunchtime and head out at 2 PM for our visit to the immense Melk Abbey. We have a perky female guide and she steers us through the complex. First we visit a modern museum housing some of the church’s treasures. I find the modernism, bold colors, and electronics a little jarring next to the ancient manuscripts, reliquaries, and monstronses. Among the highlights are a 15th century painting of St. Peter and a 12th century crucifix.
After taking in the sweeping panorama of Melk from the terrace, we head into the library which houses 90,000 books. No pictures are allowed.
Finally we reach the gold encrusted church. These ornate churches always leave me a little cold. So much opulence when there are needy people outside the doors. Our guide, Viktoria, explains that in the Baroque period, church interiors were so lavish in an attempt to bring God’s glory to earth. Sts. Peter and Paul are shown on the altar giving each other a handshake goodbye while prophets from the Old Testament look on.
Our boat departs at 4PM and is headed to Passau, Germany. John and I sit out on our back deck and watch Melk recede behind us. We and our sister ship, Viking Njord, enter a lock and sit side by side. The two boats are so close that John reaches out and shakes the hand of a fellow on the Njord.
Later we have a disappointing dinner of hummus and baba ganoush as a starter and Chinese noodles in a spicy peanut sauce. The sauce is not spicy nor flavorful.
We arrive in Vienna early in the morning and set off on the bus/walking tour shortly after breakfast.
On the way to our walking tour portion we pass by the Imperial church, Vienna’s iconic ferris wheel, the Opera House, Parliament building, and the votive church. Finally we are dropped off at the Museum square by the statue of Maria Theresa, the only female ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
We walk through the grounds of the enormous Winter Palace and see the porch from which Hitler announced the annexation of Austria to the cheering crowd. Our tour guide is quite frank about the Austrian complicity in anti-Semitism and Nazism.
Our walking tour takes us to Vienna’s great cathedral, St. Stephen’s. We are set loose at this point and John and I along with Peg and Ted take a look inside the cathedral. We want to buy tickets for a self-guided tour but are told that they are about to hold mass and we will have to leave. Rats! Mostly we have to be content with looking at the beautiful sculptures and artwork from a distance.
Peg and Ted rejoin the tour and will visit Schonbrunn Palace and gardens later today. John and I will walk back to Museum Square independently and visit the Kunsthistorisches museum.
It is very nice to be on our own. We stop for lunch at the museum cafe and have a yummy lunch of Sacherwurstel in a beautiful venue.
The museum has two picture galleries – one with southern European works and the other with northern European works. The art is mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, not totally in my wheelhouse. But I enjoy many of the works especially those by Arcimbaldo, an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books. There is also a lovely Vermeer, The Art of Painting, which is frustratingly housed in a blocked off room. Museum workers make seeing it very difficult.
We take a taxi back to the boat, have dinner, and exhausted from our long day, turn in.
(Finally, am able to get pictures!)
We spend the night and morning sailing to Bratislava. Everyone watches while the boat goes through a lock. It was built to facilitate a large power plant built in the Soviet era.
Then we have a life vest drill. Everyone is looking very spiffy in their Italian designed life jackets. Also before lunch we attend a slide show presentation on Mozart.
We get to Bratislava around 2 PM and are out on the city tour about a half an hour later. We see many sights in the city and have a walking tour of the castle grounds and the old town. Slovaks are very proud of their country and independence and we hear many stories about the bad old days of the Communist regime. Bratislava is only about 2 km from Austria but anyone caught in the forest looking to try to make it over the border was shot.
After a drink in the lounge and talk from the program director about what is coming up tomorrow in Vienna, we have dinner. There is a Slovak folk show in the evening but John and I are very tired (it is the dreaded third day of jetlag) and we retire early.