Grand European River Cruise Part 5 – Germany

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We’re having a lot of fun socializing here in San Diego, so completing my river cruise posts has become a challenge.  But I have to hurry up or risk forgetting what we did just this past October!  Be prepared for a lot of pictures, for this post is loaded with them.  So enjoy your favorite beverage as you scroll along…

This is the 5th of 6 installments covering our European river cruise:

  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 1 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 2 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 3 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 4 click here

Wurzburg, Germany

Surrounded by Franconian vineyards, Wurzburg was heavily damaged during WWII and has since been completely restored — including the most pristine example of pomp and glory, the Bishop’s Residence Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visiting the palace was an included tour, and this was the only one for which we gave the guide low marks.  She seemed very knowledgable but just didn’t communicate information to the guests very well.  She was a transplant from Australia, giving tours about Germany to mostly American tourists and a few Filipinos.  Something got lost in translation there!

Wurzburg Bishop's Palace

Restored Bishop’s Palace

One of many ornate rooms

Bishops Palace Würzburg

Overhead ceiling with its 2,000 sq ft “Four Continents” fresco painting

A little colonnaded chapel inside the palace — so pompous!

Wurzburg, Germany

Wurzburg is surrounded by Franconian vineyards, planted vertically as opposed to horizontally as they are on the hills of Austria

The German version of TJ Maxx, one of my favorites!

Old River Bridge

A “must-do” in Wurzburg is getting a glass of Franconian wine at the Old River Bridge, with a chance to hobnob with locals, students, and other tourists

Architectural splendors are part of Wurzburg life:

Sylvaner

That night we were served with the local Sylvaner white wine

Wertheim, Germany

When a town sits at a confluence of two major rivers, stories of epic floods over the centuries dominate local conversations.  The tiny town of Wertheim has been affected many times, being located where the Main (pronounced Mine) River meets the Tauber River.  Several markers in the town show just how high the waters have crested over the past 800 years, and exhibits detail how residents have coped and helped one another.

Photos of the latest flooding in 2011

The town is so small and charming that it’s nearly impossible to get lost!

Wertheim, Germany

Engelsbrunnen (Angel’s) wishing well is situated at the center of town

Historic marketplace surrounded by half-timbered houses of the 16th and 17th centuries

Our guide Ursula was a character, and her knowledge, passion and humor made this a great walking tour.  At one of the stops she pointed out that the dog in the display below appears to look at you no matter where you are in front of it, just like the Mona Lisa.  The whole crowd had a good laugh when I jumped up and told her that was my name!

A MonaLisa!

Even on a foggy day we decided to climb the hill to see ruins of the Wertheim Castle that overlooks the small town:

Wertheim, Castle

A 15-minute walk up the hill took us to Wertheim Castle

Koblenz, Germany

The included tour on our first stop on the Rhine river was a visit to the only castle in the Rhine Valley to have never been destroyed.  We were bussed to Marksburg Castle, which watches over the town as it has since the 13th century.

We met this bus on the way to the castle, and the driver actually backed up the hill to let us by.  These drivers are amazingly skilled!

The castle was originally built in 1117 to protect landowner’s harvests, hired hands and the town of Braubach.  As times changed it became a prison and then a home for disabled soldiers.

Marksburg Castle

Our destination – Marksburg Castle

It’s strategically located on a 550′ perch to see incoming enemies from all directions

Unlike others we visited, this castle was not a place of luxury.  Yes, there were a lot of rooms but the multiple gates, fortifications, cannonades and a torture chamber indicated it was a fortress for protection.

The castle’s armor museum displays all sorts of armor dating from Celtic times, this one for a Knight in the 12th century

Today the castle is home to the German Castles Association, which works to preserve medieval fortifications all over Germany.

Cologne, Germany

Our final stop in Germany brought us to a city with a million inhabitants, Cologne (or Koln).  It was founded by the Romans in 50 AD and during the Middle Ages flourished as one of the most important major European trade routes between east and west.  It was also one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany during World War II.

Cologne by the Rhine River

Colorful facades of five old houses

Hohenzollerntbrucke Bridge

The Hohenzollernbruke Bridge is the busiest train bridge in Germany with over 1,200 crossings per day.  It spans the Rhine river and holds thousands of padlocks inscribed with couples’ names and romantic messages

For many years, “love locks” have been considered one of Cologne’s most charming traditions.  As proof of their love, couples fix padlocks to the railings on the Hohenzollern Bridge; to ensure everlasting love, they then throw the key into the Rhein river below:

But what survived and was spared by Allied bombs is the 14th century Cologne Cathedral that towers over the Old City and a treasured heritage.  Construction began in 1248 and continued in stages over six centuries, with final completion in 1880.  It is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and a magnificent church with two soaring spires that are visible for many miles.

The cathedral facing south

How big is it?  I can only get detail of a third of it in a frame!

I was so overwhelmed when we stepped inside that I forgot it was a house of worship.  Our necks hurt from looking up and around so much.  The details were amazing, as the beautiful stained-glass windows filled the interior with brilliant light.

Floor Mosaic made out of thousands of tiny pieces of tile

Shrine of the Three Kings, the relics of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar

The highlight here was an incredible optional tour that entered the cathedral through a rooftop door via a construction elevator used by restoration crews.  We enjoyed amazing up-close views of the cathedral’s gothic architecture as we passed through tight spaces to see the vast tower interiors and massive iron structures holding up the roof.  We also visited the restoration workshops before climbing a 104-step spiral staircase for a 360º panoramic view of the city and the Rhine River below.  What a wonderful and unique experience!

The steel structure that supports the main dome, which is several centuries old

Imagine the toolbox that holds that 80 lb. wrench!

Looking down at the main church from a passageway during our tour

The 104-step staircase to the top

The views from the top were incredible:

The huge train station and railway bridge

Looking down at the plaza

Scenic Rhine River Cruising

The Rhine River begins as a trickle in the Swiss Alps and flows 820 miles through several countries to the North Sea.  In the heart of Germany, the Middle Rhine flows past quaint villages, steep vineyards blanketing hillsides, picturesque forest, half-timbered homes, and historic castles and palaces.  This stretch of the river Upper Middle Rhine is often called the Rhine Gorge or Romantic Rhine and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you will see below why.

Castles and wines take center stage along this panoramic stretch, and our cruise director called out the names of every property we passed, which added interesting bits of historical trivia about Rhine culture. As we recalled at the beginning, he did mention that the alternate name of the Grand European River Cruise is the “ABC” River Cruise…Another Bloody Castle!  This is the Germany once ruled by dukes, brought to magical life by the Brothers Grimm who grew up here and wove fantastic tales from these banks, remember Grimm’s Fairy Tales?

Everyone was happy the sundeck was back up again and we enjoyed the Rhine River scenery


 

Next up: 

The Final installment of our Grand European River Cruise – The Netherlands



 

Grand European River Cruise Part 4 – Germany

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This is the 4th of 6 installments covering our European river cruise:

  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 1 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 2 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 3 click here

A German feast dinner theme

Looking back at our itinerary I realized we stopped at 8 cities in Germany along the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers.  I’ll have to break these 8 port calls into two posts, for there is so much to share.  Our stops in Germany were at Passau, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Würzburg, Wertheim, Koblenz and Cologne, and of course each has its own unique history and distinctive character.

The first five cities we visited are all part of the state of Bavaria in southeast Germany.  We learned that Bavaria traces its history back to the 6th century, and evidence of its time ruled by dukes and kings can be found in the grand palaces and residences peppering the region.  The castles in these quaint towns remain partially surrounded by protective walls and bastions constructed in medieval times.  So much so that our program director joked that the alternate name of our cruise was “The ABC Cruise” – Another Bloody Castle 🙂

Passau, Germany

Heading north on the Danube River, Passau is the first major German city past the Austrian-German border.  It lies at the confluence of three major European rivers – the Inn, Danube and IIz  – hence dubbed the “City of Three Rivers.”  Because of that, flooding is inevitable and the 2013 flood brought the waters to their highest level in 500 years.

Passau, Germany

Levels of past disastrous floods in Passau.  Second from the top is the 2013 flood

Founded by the Celts more than 2,000 years ago, Passau is one of Bavaria’s oldest cities.  Because of its strategic location it grew to great economic and political power.  After a fire in the 17th century, the city was rebuilt to reflect the baroque style that remains today.  During our walking tour, the legacy of its past was detailed in the form of graceful arcades, colorful houses with rococo facades, and the jumble of cobbled lanes, underpasses and archways leading off the main thoroughfare.

Passau, Germany

Altes Rathaus

The Old Town Hall, Altes Rathaus is a striking gothic building that faces the Danube River.

Our walk ended at the glorious 17th century baroque style St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  It is home to the largest catholic church organ in the world, and Europe´s biggest organ.  We were fortunate to hear the organ played at a concert during our visit.  The cathedral was an acoustic delight that was the highlight of this stop.

St Stephen's Cathedral

Facade of baroque St. Stephen’s Cathedral, featuring its distinctive onion-domed towers

St Stephen Cathedral

Looking up at the many dome paintings was a pain in the neck!

Facing the alter with the gold chancel on the left

The cathedral organ is a technical marvel, with its 17,974 pipes, 233 ringing registers and 5 carillons that can all be played from a single console

I thought it interesting that the little German town of Passau has the largest cathedral organ in the world!

Regensburg, Germany

This walking tour took us around the oldest and one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.  Its city center escaped WWII bomb damage, and its well preserved condition earns its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Here the local guide pointed out to us some of the remaining Roman city walls erected by Marcus Aurelius in the year 179AD, the many old patrician houses, the Gothic St. Peter’s Cathedral and the 12th century Old Stone Bridge.

Porta Praetoria

Porta Praetoria is one of only two remaining original Roman city gates in Germany

Uncovered and freely accessible wall fragments from the Roman fortress

Regensburg, Germany

The Stone Bridge behind me is Germany’s best preserved bridge from the middle ages

Stadtamhof

Stadtamhof

Beer Stein

I can’t even move Germany’s largest beer stein that holds 32 liters of beer!

We took an optional tour here, where we learned the secrets of making weisswurst, Bavarian white sausage.  The ingredients were simple: veal and pork sausage flavored with onions and fresh parsley.  Once mixed, cased and simmered in hot water, we ate them paired with wheat beer and a pretzel – a classic Bavarian dish.  Weisswurst is eaten without the skin, and we were taught techniques for skinning the sausage that are also traditional.

Nuremberg, Germany

This is a great stop for history buffs.  Known among other things for its metal and toy craftsmanship, Nuremberg is also remembered as both the seat of Nazi propaganda and the site of punishment for Nazi war criminals.  Viking offers an optional tour (we did not take it) that immerses folks in Nuremberg’s WWII history.

Zeppelin Field

Zeppelin grandstand – the former Nazi party rally grounds

Nuremberg is the second-largest city in Bavaria, filled with traditional half-timbered houses and Gothic churches with intricate spires.  Our walking tour explored the old town still surrounded by 13th-century walls with many gates and watchtowers.  We toured the Imperial Palace grounds, which lay in ruins (except for the Sinwell Tower) after WWII.  Fortunately it was rebuilt almost exactly as it had been before the war.

Imperial Palace

Sinwell Tower was built in the 13th century as a defensive position in the bailey of the Imperial Palace

Nuremberg

Busy afternoon at old town

Nuremberg Germany

Half-timber home, we loved this look and style

Nuremberg

A panoramic view of Nuremberg from the castle walls

Schooner Brunnen

As we left I made a wish at the Gothic Schooner Brunnen

Bamberg, Germany

Bamberg is one of the loveliest German towns we visited.  It was founded in 902 and remains a medieval-looking city with its city center as another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We took our walking tour around yet another old town.

Bamberg, Germany

Little Venice, Bamberg

The frescoes that adorn the facades of the 14th century Old Town Hall are impressive, for they lend a three-dimensional quality achieved with trompe d’oeil architecture.

Old Town Hall is now a museum sitting right in the middle of the Regnitz River

Two special details on the frescoes made us smile:

Bamberg was founded in 1007, and several centuries later a prince bishop “modernized” the city by covering medieval half-timbered framework with stone facades in the baroque style.  It survived all the wars of past centuries, and we experienced it as it has been for the past several hundred years.

I was busy pointing my camera at playful decorative elements on building facades.  We enjoyed walking around old town, despite the oh-so-many other tourists doing the same.

We had to taste what this city is known for, it’s distinctive “rauchbier” – simply a smoke-flavored beer.  We enjoyed it at the birthplace of the original Schlenkerla Smokebeer, where many people were congregated to get a taste.  Old-style smoke beers are becoming a rarity due to the “clean malt” brewing methods used today.  We liked the taste – robust, bold and smooth.

Midway through our cruise, Steve found that he was eating salads and drinking beer.  Just as his doctor had said would happen, his swallowing pain was receding and his sense of taste was coming back so slowly he really didn’t even notice.  Yay!

Okay, that’s it for now – we’re moving on!

 

Next up:  Four More German Cities