Friday, October 30, 2009

Trouble in the Locks

Day 17 - We were scheduled to arrive about 8 a.m. in Basel but due to a broken lock, we were delayed about three hours. As part of the Discovery Series we were expecting a lecturer on board in the morning. Around 11:30, in the rain, standing at a lock we were entering, stood a young lady waiting to board. We wondered what happened if someone missed the boat and we were told to call the number on our boarding pass and they would have a taxi take you to the next lock we were going to go through and you could board there. We finally saw this scenario in action. We went through 33 locks this trip. The schedule for the day was wrecked and adjustments had to be made.

So after lunch Peter walked us to the streetcar and gave each of us an all day ticket. We then proceeded to the Marktplatz with its colorful town hall and we took a walking tour. When that was finished we rode a streetcar on a complete route around the city ending up again at the Marktplatz.

The optional tour to Rhine Waterfalls, located on the upper Rhine River below Schaffhausen, Switzerland had been cancelled. So we took time to visit the Co-Op store in town to buy some Swiss chocolate. We continued to run into fellow passengers both in the store and on the streetcar.

We made it an early evening because we and Terry & Carol had a 3:00 am wake-up call. Our bags were to be out at 3:45, breakfast at 4:00 and departure at 4:30. If you go to the Almost 22 Hours ... entry on the left hand side of the blog, it finishes this magnificent trip we were so delighted to take.

Alsatian Wine Road plus the Stork Park

Day 16 - Today we rode through the famous wine region of Alsace where there is a delightful blend of French and German cultures. We passed through the Elsass region to the foothills of the Vosges Mountains to travel the Route de Vin past rolling vineyards and flower-decked villages.

Our first stop was at the Stork Park where these birds are being repopulated. After dropping to 10 mating pairs, a program to break their migratory instinct to keep them safe was implemented and there are now 500 pairs. They do this by removing some of the eggs from the nest, hatching them in incubators and keeping them in captivity for three years. When released, relative safety and easy food at the park make "hanging around" an easy choice for the storks without confining them in adulthood.

Continuing on through several delightful villages, we arrived at Riquewihr, the "gem of the vineyards." This town was producing grapes for wine during the Middle Ages and most houses were erected in the 15th to 18th century. It is protected by twin walls.

We strolled through the streets until we arrived at the place of our wine tasting.

Once again we entered a cellar, this time by a narrow stairway with a rope banister. There were several round tasting tables with glasses ready for us. The floor was gravel and we were told to pour any unwanted wine on it. I didn't like the wine as well as at the German wine tasting but I'm certainly no connoisseur of wine. Here we all are - Peter, yours truly and Ted, Tom & Jeanne, Les & Pat with our ever-present earphones. Instead of "hat hair" we had "receiver hair" but our ears were warm!

That evening the crew put on a variety show for our entertainment.

Another Morning of Rest

Day 15 - Today's optional tour was to Baden-Baden with a ride through the Black Forest. Ted and I had done this previously and opted to stay on the ship and take in the Discovery Series Cuckoo Clock demonstration. The clocks are all hand carved and hand painted. They are really beautiful. We bought a hand carved mantel clock during our early 1990s trip and just enjoyed seeing the craftsmanship. The ship was sailing and the tour group caught up with us in Strasbourg, France.

As an aside, when we were having our disembarkation talk, the question was asked if anyone needed a Value Added Tax (VAT) form. This would be used to get a refund of the tax you paid if you had spent more than $120 in any one store. No one on the ship needed one. I think this speaks to the strong Euro against the U.S. dollar. Everything was quite expensive this trip and people simply were not buying.

My father's family came from the Strasbourg region and Ted and I had visited here on our previous trip. We were anxious to see the Astronomical Clock once again. It is housed in the Notre Dame Cathedral and has a long history.

There is a tribute to our servicemen carved on a pillar in the cathedral.

The first clock was built around 1352. This stayed in place for about 150 years until it finally failed. Work on a replacement began in 1547 but due to the religious turmoil of the time was not completed until some thirty years later. Major modifications/rebuilding work took place again in the 19th century.

The clock is on four main levels and provides a variety of astronomical information; i.e., time, tide, moon phase, etc. It's magnificent in itself, but what makes it such a tourist attraction for visitors to Strasbourg is the collection of automata that perform on the various levels. These include a cherub turning an hour glass, another hitting a gong and a figurative representation of the four ages of man.

The main "show" takes place at 12:30 daily. On the top level, figures of the twelve apostles parade in front of Christ and bow before him while a cock spreads its wings and crows. Because of our schedule we were not able to see this again. However, now you must pay to be in the Cathedral at that time. Also, it was 2 Euros (about $3) to turn the light on to even see the clock! Add that to all the signs about pickpockets and it certainly put a damper on our visit.

In the afternoon we enjoyed a sightseeing tour by boat along Strasbourg's canals. We had to go through two locks to circle the city.

Our tour concluded at the Palais Rohan (mini-Versailles) and we walked on our own through the city back to the ship.

On To Speyer

Day 14 - Speyer was founded around 50 AD by the Romans and flourished during the Middle Ages. However, much of it was destroyed in the 17th century during the Palantine War of Succession. Little of its past glory survived except for the Romanesque Cathedral that was built between 1030 and 1125.

The crypt is of special interest, since it has retained its original condition to the present day. Being the official church of the Salic Emperors, eight German Emperors and Kings, four queens and a number of bishops were buried here.

Emperor Konrad II, buried 1039
Empress Gisela, wife of Konrad II, buried 1043
Emperor Heinrich III, buried 1056
Emperor Heinrich IV, buried 1111
Emperor Heinrich V, buried 1125
Empress Beatrix, second wife of Friedrich Barbarossa, buried 1184
Agnes, daughter of Friedrich Barbarossa, buried 1184
King Philipp of Swabia, Son of Friedrich Barbarossa, buried 1216
King Rudolf of Habsburg, buried 1291
King Adolf of Nassau, buried 1309

At the opposite end of the main street is the City Gate. This is one of the tallest city gates in Germany. It was constructed between 1230 and 1250. You can walk up countless stairs to the top to see Speyer from above. Inside there's an exhibition on city fortifications.

That afternoon was our Discovery Series Home-Hosted Kaffeeklatsch with a local family. We arrived at the home of Sybil who proceeded to explain how her present home was a farm house. Her present "apartment" was the pig sty, the area her one son occupies had been the goat and horse stable. Her twin sons occupy what was the main house. A large barn sits in the rear and behind that her garden. It is amazing how much she had growing in a relatively small space.

We went inside to have coffee or tea and some of her lovely cakes. She had made a chocolate torte, a cream torte, plum cake, apple cake, coconut balls and sugared walnuts. That was way more than the 7 of us could eat. I had eaten a light lunch and skipped dessert so I could enjoy her offerings. I was not disappointed. We had a nice conversation about life in Germany before being taken back to the ship.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On to Boppard

Day 13 - We had traveled the Mosel River south, turned around and headed north where we would make an eastern turn at Koblenz back onto the Rhein continuing on to Basel. Boppard is just a bit south of Koblenz and it was our stop for the day, our last in the Middle Mosel Valley.

We had all passed on visiting the Marksburg Castle and instead took a walk into town where we visited the market square and town ruins and did a bit of shopping. This is the infamous Peter showing us the town. The sculpture is of a lady handing candy to a child. There were three wrapped candies in their hands and I wondered how long they would last in an American city. I'm sure they would be scooped up and gone before the person placing them there had turned away.

We visited the ruins and I took the following picture to show you the width of the walls used in ancient times.

You can see how cool it was by how Tom is bundled up while he and Les shop for hats!

After lunch when the sun came out we walked back into town using the lovely promenade that runs along the river where our ship was docked. Ted took a picture of Germany's smallest vineyard, just three tiny rows.

We stopped to visit the Carmelite Church Peter had pointed out that morning. Outside is a statue of Mary (circa 1320) and each year she receives the first grapes from the harvest. The building of the church started about the same time.

The church has two naves, the first contains the former high altar from the Church of St. Severus, built in the middle of the 17th century.

The second was carved of gilded nutwood and done in 1699 but the darkness of the nave and the wood made the picture very dark.

I was able to get a good picture of the Altar of the Crucifixion, circa 1500.

This fresco consists of a series of panels depicting the life of St. Alexius, 1407. A 14th century stone pulpit is featured too. No description was given for the other stone piece.

We sailed in the afternoon past lovely castles and villages along the Rhein as we approached the Loreley Rock. Legend has it a beautiful siren would beckon captains of ships with her beautiful song and cause them to wreck on the rocks. She paid us a visit! (It was Peter's counterpart Wouter.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Battle of the Bulge Cemetery - Luxembourg

Day 12 - We docked in Traben-Trarbach and disembarked for a tour of Luxembourg. This tiny nation comprises less than 1,000 square miles. It is a constitutional monarchy located between Belgium, France and Germany. A little history now before I go on.

German forces occupied Luxembourg in May, 1940 and its liberation (primarily by American troops) began in September, 1944. The Battle of the Bulge began with Hitler's desperate attack through the Ardennes in an attempt to drive out the Allied forces. The resulting battle, called "the greatest American battle of the Second World War" by Winston Churchill, raged here from December 16, 1944 to January 28, 1945. The US. suffered 8,447 killed, 46,170 wounded and 20,905 missing or imprisoned. The Germans suffered 10,749 killed, 34,439 wounded and 32,487 missing or imprisoned.

We arrived at the cemetery to beautiful gates adorned with golden eagles and wreaths. This land is bequeathed in perpetuity without payment or taxes to the American people to honor their dead. Our flag flies above it.

There is a large tower that contains a carillon that played America the Beautiful, Amazing Grace, Battle Hymn of the Republic, etc. and set a somber and overwhelming tone for the visit.

In case you can't read the inscription, it says:

In proud remembrance
Of the achievements of her sons
And in humble tribute
To their sacrifices
This memorial has been erected by
The United States of America

Maps showing the European theater and the Battle of the Bulge were mounted on slabs that contained the name of thousands of Missing In Action military men.

There are two Medal of Honor winners buried here, one of which was this young man from Indiana.

The most visited grave is that of General George S. Patton, Jr. Though he was killed in an automobile accident, he had requested he be buried here with his men.

The entire trip was worth the visit to this cemetery.

Our next stop was in stark contrast to the beautiful grounds we had just left. We were driven to a parking lot and walked through the woods to a German cemetery. Bodies of soldiers were gathered from all over Belgium and brought here for burial. While our soldiers were buried in bronze caskets in their own plot, the German soldiers share a cross with several names on it. They were buried in burlap bags. There is one common grave of over 4,000 soldiers. Because the German government contributes only 6-7% to the maintenance of this cemetery, Luxembourg refuses to fly the German flag.

We had a group lunch in Luxembourg City and then had some individual time to look around. We visited Notre Dame Cathedral and I took a picture of this sign requesting silence in French and German. Ruhe is a family name on my mother's side. This magnificent Gothic structure was constructed between 1613 and 1621. It holds the royal family vault and the huge sarcophagus of Count of Luxembourg John I of Bohemia ("John the Blind"; 1296-1346)

We stopped at a beautiful overlook on the return to the ship. This is one of a very few pictures of the two of us on this trip.