Viking Cruises, Heidelberg

We disembarked from the Viking Eir with Viking River Cruises in Mannheim and all boarded a bus for Heidelberg. The journey was very short and after about only 25 minutes we arrived in the city of Heidelberg. The city of approximately 156,000 people is located in Southwest Germany on the Neckar river, which flows into the Rhine river and is basically a university town.

 

The University of Heidelberg was founded in 1386 and is Germany’s oldest and is one of Europe’s most renowned. Heidelberg the city itself, is home to several internationally esteemed research facilities located adjacent to its university, among them are the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Molecular Biology Organization, the German Cancer Research Center and four four Max Planck Institutes including the Institute for Medical Research, Astronomy, Nuclear Physics and Comparative Public Law and International Law.

 

Viking Tour Bus

 

Heidelberg can be traced back to the fifth century, but its first written reference was in 1155. It is known as the romantic popular tourist destination due to its romantic cityscape, including Baroque style architecture, especially in “Old Town”. The city has so much to offer: charm and character in abundance between the Old Bridge and the mighty castle, an unparalleled choice of culture and entertainment, generous yet heavenly cuisine and a picturesque setting nestled between the Neckar river and the foothills of the Odenwald forest. The 1925 song “I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg” composed by Fred Raymond was a major hit and inspired a stage musical and two films. It remains the theme song of Heidelberg.

 

Heidelberg Castle Entry Arch

 

Our first stop was Heidelberg Castle, a ruin in Germany and one of the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The main structure was erected in 1214 and expanded into two castles in around 1294. In 1537 a lightening-bolt ruined the upper castle. In 1764, another lightning-bolt caused a fire which destroyed some of the rebuilt sections. The castle was partially rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries after wars and fires damaged several portions of the castle. Once you pass through the entry arch you start to view the ruins and damage that the years have done to the castle. The area also presents magnificent photo opportunities, as this was of the dry moat with all the green flora and fauna growing.

 

 

Heidelberg Castle Moat

 

Of particular interest was this photo of the castle’s ruins with the round tower in the right section. Apparently it was customary in those days to have the toilet just off the dining area, the excrement dropping to be used for fertilizer on the gardens below. Kim toured the Marksburg Fortress the day before and her guide explained the door to the toilet could only be locked from the outside because in the event of an attack the enemy could enter into the “heart” of the castle through the toilet.

 

 

Heidelberg Castle Ruins

 

As you enter the castle and walk through the tunnel you view these iron spokes above. They were lowered if enemy forces were attacking and kept armies at bay, at least temporarily until the castle occupants could prepare. It was actually a little nerve wracking to walk under the spikes. I was glad we didn’t suffer an earthquake and have them dislodged accidentaly.

 

Heidelberg Castle Gate Guard

 

Once inside the castle you come upon walls and walls of intricate manifestations filled with Baroque style art and sculptures of the various period emperors, princes and kings. One cannot imagine the detail that went into these facades. Sculptures of the former German kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire that adorn the facade are one of the earliest examples of German Renaissance architecture and are gorgeous in appearance.

 

 

Statues on the Facade of Schloss Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

 

The German Museum of Pharmacy Foundation was established in 1937 and the museum itself opened in 1938 in Munich and was closed down during World War II. In 1957, the German Museum of Pharmacy was officially reopened in Heidelberg Castle where it offers striking views of the most complete collection of items worldwide, highlighting the history of pharmacy on a maximum quality level to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The museum is home to over 20,000 objects displaying a trip through the history of medical science, especially focused on the progression of pharmacology as first nearly a magic art, then a science.

 

 

Heidelberg Castle Pharmacy Museum Entrance

 

Berthold, our Viking guide was humorous and very knowledgeable of the history of Heidelberg Castle. One of his points of interest was this “tree of love” where several young lovers over the years would meet and extend their arms through the gap in the base trunk and large limb to secretly hold hands. As any close contact was forbidden at this time, it was a way of showing your love to your special person and being able to hide your contact from the public.

 

 

Heidelberg Castle Viking Guide Tree of Love

 

These statues on the side of the castle tower portrayed the Dicker Turm, Thick Tower or Fat Tower adjoining the English wing and Featuring two Palatine Electors (Counts), Ludwig V (von der Pfalz) on the left and Friederich V (von der Pfalz) on the right, who built this section of the Schloss Heidelberger (Heidelberg Castle).

 

 

Heidelberg Castle  Ludwig V and Friederich V

 

This villa (Heinertowner) is located on the hill adjacent to the castle and clearly visible from the valley overlook of the castle. It is reportedly a student house for the University of Heidelberg. My apologies, but I was not able to conform this. It was a lovely structure and I decided to photograph it with my new 80-200 zoom lens.

 

Heidelberg University Student Housing

 

Heidelberg Castle is located on the Konigstuhl hillside and served by the Heidelberger Bergbahn funicular railway that runs from Heidelberg’s Kornmarkt (grain market) to the summit of the Königstuhl (1,863 ft high hill in the Odenwald Mountains). The castle is located approximately 250 feet up the mountain. The castle overlooks the beautiful Baroque “Old Town” and one can see for miles down the Neckar valley, all the way to Mannheim where we disembarked from our Viking Longship.

 

 

View from Heidelberg Castle

 

Another view from the castle overlook is the The Karl Theodor Bridge, commonly known as the Old Bridge, is a stone bridge in Heidelberg, crossing the Neckar River.  It connects the Old City with the eastern part of the Neuenheim district of the city on the opposite bank. The current bridge, made of Neckar Valley Sandstone and the ninth built on the site, was constructed in 1788 by Elector Charles Theodore and is one of the best-known and amazing landmarks and tourist destinations in the history of Heidelberg.

 

The Karl Theodor Bridge or Old Bridge,

 

After going out on the overlook, which is a magnificent place for photos, especially panoramas, we then strolled through the courtyard and came upon this Sundial that was in use hundreds of years ago and according to Berthold our Viking guide, the sundial is more accurate than most clocks.

 

The Courtyard Sundial in Heidelberg Castle

 

I am sad that my photos of the world’s largest wine-cask, didn’t turn out. It is named the “Heidelberg Tun” and holds approximately 219,000 liters of wine or 58,574 US gallons. One hundred and thirty oak trees were sacrificed for this barrel. The vat is credited in several novels including “Five Weeks in a Balloon” by Jules Verne, “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville and “A Tramp Abroad” by Mark Twain. It is located underneath the castle.

 

Perkeo of Heidelberg (born Clemens Pankert) was a jester and court dwarf for Palatine Charles III Philip in Heidelberg. He was originally a button maker in Salorno Italy, South Tyrol. In about 1718 Perkeo met Prince Charles III Philip who ruled Tyrol and a portion of Austria. When Philip was made the Electorate Palatinate, Perkeo moved to the Heidelberg Castle with Charles III. His name represents his famous response “perche no?” (“why not” in Italian) when asked if he desired another cup of wine at royal events.

 

Current narratives allege he drank from five to eight US gallons of wine a day. In addition he oversaw the previous mentioned wine-cask, which many found comical, given his propensity for drinking. Per local legend he lived into his eighties never ingesting anything but wine. One day he took sick and the Doctor ordered him to drink water. He died the next day according to folklore.

 

Perkeo Court Jester at the Heidelberg Castle

 

After we left the castle we toured Old Town and were released to walk on our own for a brief period. In the middle of Old Town is their beautiful Church of the Holy Spirit. A gorgeous sanctuary completed in 1426 while the Spire was finished in 1439. The famous Palatine Library, “Bibloteca Palatina” originated and was retained in the gallery of the church, where light was appropriate for extensive reading. Maximillian I, Elector of Bavaria took the entire collection of manuscripts and books and gave them to the Pope during the 30 years war between 1618-1648. Only 885 were returned of the original 5,000 books and 3,524 manuscripts.

 

 

The remainder of the books stayed at the Vatican Library in the Bibliotheca Palatina section. During the University of Heidelberg Jubilee several of these books were temporarily returned and placed on display. In the beginning the Church was was used by Catholics and Protestants and even at the same time. A wall was erected in 1706 to separate the two congregations until 1936 when the wall was removed and the church became exclusively Protestant.

 

 

Church of the Holy Spirit

 

A block or two away from the church was Sofiestrabe street which leads to the Old Bridge. The overpass has been destroyed and rebuilt at least eight times since it was constructed as Roman wood pile bridge in the first century. In the second century a stone bridge was erected by the Romans and eventually collapsed. It was over a thousand years before in 1284 a written mention of another bridge was stated. The first five bridges all collapsed when hit by ice flows in 1288, 1308, 1340, 1400 and 1470.

 

 

Heidelberg Street Going to the Old Bridge Gate

 

There are no renderings of these initial five bridges, but there are of the 6th bridge which had a wooden covered wooden roadway that was open at the sides. There is a much more detailed illustration in Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia of 1550. In the Heidelberg Panorama a bridge on eight stone pillars is evident. The two towers of the bridge gate can be made out at the southern end of the bridge and the monkey tower is on the seventh pillar, towards the north end of the bridge. Had to capture this moment with a photo of Kim in front of the Old Bridge Gate.

 

Kim at the Old Bridge Gate in Heidelberg

 

The “Cosmographia” was one of the most successful and popular books of the 16th century. It encompassed 24 editions in 100 years. This accomplishment was a result of extraordinary woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudoplh Manuel Deutsch and David Kandel. It was most important in establishing cartography in 16th-century Europe. Among the notable maps within “Cosmographia” is the map “Tabula novarum insularum”, which is credited as the first map to show the American continents as geographically discrete and interprets from Latin as “New board islands”

 

Old Bridge Gate in Heidelberg

 

Directly behind the double towered gate on the south end is a statue honoring Karl Theodore who reigned as Prince-Elector and Count Palatine from 1742, as Duke of Julich and Berg from 1742 and also as prince-elector and Duke of Bavaria from 1777 to his death in 1799. He was a member of the House of Palatine-Sulzbach, a branch of the House of Wittelsbach. During his reign he oversaw construction the “Old Bridge” which was completed in 1788. The statute was built by Franz Conrad Linck and the three female figures at the foot of this statue symbolize piety, justice, agriculture and trade.

 

Statue of Karl Theodore on Old Bridge in Heidelberg

 

Heidelberg City Hall (‘Rathaus’) is located right on Market Square in the backdrop of the historic Old Town, the world-famous Castle ruins and the banks of the river Neckar. It is the focal point for local politics and the nerve center of the city’s governmental services. For citizens of the Old Town, it is also their local municipal main office, the “little city hall”, as it is known. Each neighborhood has one, so locals do not have to travel too far for help and advice.

 

Heideleberg Rathaus City Hall

 

Cafe Gundel is one of the oldest artisan bakeries in Heidelberg and serves a myriad of cakes, pastries and sweet goods along with seasonal goodies. The perennial goods include rhubarb cake in March, cherry jock (lattice pie) in June, onion cake in September, Easter bunnies and various handmade chocolates at Easter. Sandwiches and breakfast items are also offered in an original house constructed in 1720 and run by Christian Gundel a fourth generation owner.

 

Heidelberg Castle Cafe Gundel

 

The Cafe Knosel is located across from the Church of the Holy Spirit and is the oldest coffeehouse in Heidleberg. They use a small number of handpicked, regional specialist suppliers on their provider list. This is to ensure that only fresh goods are processed and served on the table. They offer breakfast from 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM and lunch from 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM, serving a wide variety of items priced reasonably for your budget’s sake. Dinner is served until 10:00 PM nightly. The menu includes a myriad of desserts along with an extensive presentation of beer and wines.

 

Heidelberg Cafe Knosel Oldest Cafe in the City

 

I cannot go to Europe without treating Kim and myself to Gelato. It’s a little bit of heaven in my opinion. Even though our traditional US ice cream is laden with butter fat, it’s not the same. In Heidelberg I managed to snap a photo before diving in to my bowl. I have to recommend “That’s Gelato” which has several outlets in Heidelberg area. It was delicious and definitely up to our expectations!

 

Gelato in Heidelberg Old Town

 

Our Viking bus dropped us off at this inn to the iron cross on Karlsplatz and then we walked in the direction of Kornmarkt in Heidelberg. Here at the Galthaus zum Eisernen Kruez inn in Heidelberg’s old town on Karlsplatz, we started our city tour of Heidelberg with our guide. We visited several points of interest mentioned above and returned to this spot to catch our bus back to the Viking Longship Eir.

 

We ended our visit to Heidelberg and began thinking about Strasbourg and Kim and my first visit to France! Little did we know how much we would love their pastries, candy and other sweets. We went crazy! Can’t wait to  show you what we bought and ate. I think I gained seven pounds on this cruise and most of it can be attributed to the pastries, cakes and sweets we bought in Strasbourg!

 

 

Heidelberg Beer Haus on the Square

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Koblenz Germany and the Middle Rhine

We docked in Koblenz on our third full day with Viking River Cruises and had several choices of tours. One of the features I love with Viking is the ability to scope out all tours ahead of time and sign up for the “included tours” as you complete your personal form of registration. Kim was interested in the tour of the Marksburg Castle, but given my back issues I opted to remain on board and hopefully capture the magnificent homes, castles and other architectural interesting buildings on the Middle Rhine. She went ahead with the tour. I was glad I remained on board. As we sailed to Braubach, where Kim and the others would rejoin us. I noticed that there was a cable car running high above the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers where we docked. The cable car takes passengers to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress and returns them after the visit. This was our view as the early morning tours disembarked.

 

Cable Car In Koblenz to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress

 

As we pulled out of port I noticed this gorgeous statue off to the left of us and discovered it was erected in honor of William the Great of Germany. William was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Germany. He was a heir of the royal house of Hohenzollern and was exposed to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy. This had a major impact on him and he was rarely seen out of uniform. He was a major force in the creation of the German Navy that would eventually rival Britain as a world power. He enthusiastically promoted technology, industry, the arts and sciences as well as public education and social welfare. Kim and the group weren’t able to see this very large and detailed tribute to William.

 

Monument to William the Great of Germany

 

The Marksburg Castle was erected around 1100 is located above the German town of Braubach. The fortress was used for protection rather than as a residence by the royal families. It is part of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the only castle out of 40 castles between Bingen am Rhein and Koblenz that was never destroyed although badly damaged by American artillery fire in March of 1945

 

 

Entrance Steps to the Marksburg Castle

 

Obviously the stone steps are rough and you need to wear the appropriate type of shoes when walking through the castle. Kim also told me that certain passage ways were very short and people had to virtually lean to pass through a few halls. The tour was listed by Viking as “Demanding”, which persuaded me to pass. Kim told me she was glad I did.

 

View of Rhine from Marksburg Castle

 

Obviously the view from the castle across the Rhine was gorgeous and one I am sure I would have enjoyed. I am glad Kim took photos for the Nomadic Texan! This gigantic wine press was a novel item for me and I thought it worthy of inclusion. It would give me more confidence than people’s feet! LOL!

 

Wine Press in Marksburg Castle

 

The suits of armor were very cool and I think a knight would have to be really strong in order to parade around in these metal suits, much less go to battle and try to protect yourself. A typical suit can weigh anywhere from about 22 pounds to 110 pounds depending on its materials.

 

 

Suits of Armor in the Marksburg Castle

 

I had to show this photo, as we both thought it was a novel approach. The castle’s toilet actually protruded out over the garden and human waste was displaced onto the plants below as fertilizer. The door locked from the castle side as intruders sometimes tried to climb the exterior, enter the toilet (disgusting if they meant they came in through the seat) and try to vandalize the castle, steal it’s contents or maim it’s inhabitants. So locking it from the castle side prevented egress.

 

 

Toilet for Exterior Displacement in the Marksburg Castle

 

As we headed down the Middle Rhine I went up top to the upper deck. The weather was great. Every cruise I take with Viking I capture the Lifebuoy or if you prefer Lifering, so that down the road I will have no issues with the name of the Longship we sailed on. Love that it shows the home port of Basel Switzerland and how excellent the knot is tied. Makes me feel more comfortable about the overall maintenance of the ship.

 

Viking Eir Lifebuoy or Lifering

 

It wasn’t  long before we encountered structures on both sides of the ship along the Middle Rhine. It didn’t take much for me to be comfortable in the fact that I stayed behind. If I had gone I would have missed all this beautiful architecture, castles, hotels and houses. This section of the Rhine river is known as the Rhine Gorge and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It runs from Koblenz to Bingen and Rudesheim. The entire valley is known as the Romantic Rhine. There are forty plus Castles and Fortresses along this section of the Rhine River. I highly advise you see this section of the river from the ships during daylight hours!

 

The first castle pictured is the Katz Castle which was built in the second half of the fourteenth century as a stronghold and military base to protect the Rheinfels Castle. Both castles were built to protect the Salmon fishing in the Rhine. Salmon disappeared from the Swiss Rhine about 50 years ago, due to poor water quality and the construction of hydro-electric power plants. From the Katz Castle vantage point it was next to impossible to be conquered from the valley below.

 

Katz Castle in Altstadt & Burg Katz

 

Maus (Mouse) Castle was erected by Archbisop Balduin between 1353-1388. It is actually called Thurnburg. At the time it was one of the most modern and technically constructed castles of its time. The people invented the story that both castles spied upon themselves like a cat and mouse, as they were occupied by opposing forces in the 13oo’s. Today Mouse Castle is open for visitors to admire period furniture and interesting collections.

 

Burg Maus (Mouse) Castle Along the Middle Rhine, Named Because the Owner had another Large Castle Called Katz

 

Rheinfels Fortress was built around 1245 and was the Count of Katzeninbogen’s residence initially. When the Katzeninbogen dynasty passed the ownership of the castle transferred to the House of Hesse. With this conversion, it became one of the strongest fortresses in Germany. As the only military complex on the left bank of the Rhine river it withstood the troops of Louis XIV in 1692. In 1796/97 the French Revolutionary Army overtook the structure without a struggle and blew up the exterior walls and the castle. Today visitors are surprised by the size of the ruins, as well as the web of trenches and tunnels which in most cases still are functional.

 

 

Burg Rheinfels Castle at St. Goar

 

Schönburg Castle was first mentioned in history between the years 900 and 1100. The Dukes of Schonburg ruled the town of Obelweser and were able to levy taxes on the Rhine. The most famous was Friedrich von Schonburg, a feared man who served as a colonel and general under the King of France in the 17th century. The castle was burned down in 1689 by French soldiers during the Palatinate wars. It remained in ruins until it was acquired by the German-American Rhinelander family in the late 19th century and restored it. In 1950 the town of Oberwesel obtained the castle back and signed a long-term lease with the Hutti family who operate it as a prosperous Hotel and restaurant.

 

 

 

Viking River Cruises Docking Port on the Rhine in Obelweser with Schonburg Castle on the Hill, which is now a Luxury Hotel

 

Along with the various castles and fortresses roughly 450,000 people call the Middle Rhine home. The river is abundant with gorgeous hotels, houses and structures from 900 AD through present day. Most are very detailed and beautiful in appearance from the exterior. I couldn’t take photos fast enough and tried to view both sides of the river equally. It was difficult at times. The Rhine Gorge as mentioned above, refers to the narrow gorge of the Rhine running through the Rhenish Slate Mountains between Bingen am Rhein and Rudesheim am Rhein in the south and Bonn-Oberkassel in the north. The basin at Neuwied separates the lower and upper halves of the Middle Rhine. The following are samples of houses, hotels and other acrchitecture we saw.

 

House Along the Middle Rhine

 

Hotel Loreleyblick Cafe and Restaurant, Loreley Germany

 

Hotel Keutmann Restaurant and Cafe Along the Middle Rhine

 

Half Timber Houses in Loreley & Goarshausen

 

Zur Klosterschenfe Hotel

 

On our Viking tour of the Middle Rhine River we learned the reason for the German train tunnels looking like castles along the Middle Rhine. The Germans learned quickly that allied air force groups would try valiantly to not cause any damage to the extraordinary castles throughout Germany, as well as the beautiful cathedrals when possible.
The allied forces were instructed to avoid bombing well known structures when at all possible. This caused the German engineers to build most of the train tunnels along this area of the Middle Rhine, to resemble towers and walls of the local castles.

 

The allied planes focused on military and industrial targets such as factories. Additionally castles were usually located away from heavily populated areas. This doesn’t mean there was no damage to castles, but most were spared. This was actually a brilliant method of avoiding destruction of the tunnels. They played on our sentimental values and kept trains running, transporting tanks, German militia and supplies to the front lines. The castle disguises were successful.

 

Tunnel Entrance Constructed to Look Like a Castle for Disguise During World War II

 

 

Our middle Rhine sail with Viking went past the Lorelei Mermaid statue and rock. Legend has it that this siren, originally betrayed by her sweetheart, was accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to die, the bishop sent her to a nunnery.

 

On the way there, accompanied by three knights, she came to the Lorelei rock. She requested a climb on the rock to view the Rhine one last time. She scaled the rock, thinking she saw her sweetheart in the river and fell to her death. Afterwards echos of her name emanated from the rock when sailors traveled past.

 

Legend states as she was combing her golden hair the sailors became distracted. Her beauty and singing, then caused the sailors to crash into the rocks and perish immediately. Songs, amusing tales and local legends reaffirm this story and have helped it cultivate over the ages. Many poems and Operas were written to commemorate Lorelei!

 

Mystical Mermaid Lorelei 16 Foot Tall

 

That evening we docked in Rudesheim, a town in the Rhine Valley known for wine making, especially Riesling wines. In the center, Drosselgasse is a lane lined with shops, taverns and restaurants. We ate at the Drosselgasse restaurant and had a great time. Although people who imbibed had a significantly better time I’m guessing. It was a party with dancing, adult drinking games singing and lots of beer!

 

Rüdesheim lies at the foot of the Niederwald on the Rhine’s right (east) bank on the southern approach to the Loreley. The town belongs to the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region and is one of Germany’s biggest tourist attractions. Only the Cologne Cathedral draws more tourists from other countries. Making the town worth visiting is, not only the wine or even the Old Town itself, but also the picturesque Rheingau landscape together with the romantic Rhine.

 

 

Hotel Post in Rudesheim

 

Parkplatz Street in Rudesheim

 

 

Drosselgasse Lane in Rudesheim

 

 

Drosselhoff Restaurant Entrance in Rudesheim

 

 

Drosselhoff Restaurant Stained Glass Ar in Rudesheim

 

Drosselhoff Restaurant Salad in Rudesheim

 

Drosselhoff Restaurant Pork Entree in Rudesheim

 

This day was a stellar one, especially given I had purchased a zoom lens for my camera right before we left and I had a substantial opportunity to use it on this leg of the cruise. Between the architecture and the more than forty historic castles, I gained great experience. I have been a photographer for many years and even have used a zoom in the past with my old Nikormat from Japan. I was thrilled that Viking gave me this chance by sailing this portion of the Middle Rhine in the daytime. Now on to Heidelberg!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Cologne Germany

On our second full day with our Rhine Getaway cruise on Viking River Cruises, we visited Cologne Germany and had a walking tour which included the Cologne Cathedral, Old Town and the St. Martin’s Church. As in most European cities the architecture was gorgeous and primarily filled with vintage buildings.

 

Anniversary Cake from The Viking Eir Staff

 

The primary reason we decided on the Rhine Getaway cruise was that our 39th wedding anniversary fell during the length of this cruise and it explored several countries we haven’t visited. I surprised Kim the second day, which was our actual anniversary with flowers, candy, fruit and a bottle of sparkling bubbly. What I didn’t know was the staff of the Viking Eir had a surprise for the both of us. That night at dinner they brought out this cake made from passion fruit. OMG was it delicious. They also serenaded us with a love song. It was quite a night and we split the cake with those passengers that dined with us. I think they were happy they chose to sit with us that night.

 

Front View of the Cologne Cathedral Church

 

The bus picked us up at the ship and took us into Cologne, passing all sorts of architecture, housing and retail structures along with transportation venues such as their train system and buses. Europe has a large step up on the US when it comes to mass transportation, just like Asia. We disembarked and followed our guide Peter from the bus to the Cologne Cathedral, which is located adjacent to the train station and Old Town. It is a magnificent structure, as are most of the churches in Europe. Cologne Cathedral is the fourth-tallest church building in the world at 157.4 m (516 ft). It’s construction started in August of 1248. As most buildings built centuries ago it is always being updated and repaired.

 

 

Cologne Sculptures to the Side of a Cathedral Door

 

It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day and currently the tallest twin-spired church at 157 m (515 ft) tall.

 

Cologne Cathedral Door

 

The cathedral suffered fourteen strikes by aerial bombs during World War II. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing.

 

 

Example of a Cologne Cathedral Door with Sculptured Trim

 

The cathedral and the immediate area surrounding it was the site of intense tank skirmish between American tanks of the 3rd Armored Division and a Panther of Panzerbrigade 106 on March 6, 1945. The Panther successfully knocked out two Sherman tanks killing three men before it was demolished by a T26E3 Pershing hours later. The destroyed Panther was later put on exhibit at the base of the cathedral for the rest of the war in Europe.

 

 

Cologne Cathedral with Kim

 

Repairs were completed in 1956. An emergency repair on the northwest tower’s foundation carried out in 1944 using poor-quality brick, taken from a nearby demolished structure remained evident until 2005 as a reminder of the war, when it was decided to bring back the segment to its initial appearance.

 

Cologne Cathedral Photos from World War II with General Dwight D Eisenhower

 

Preservation work is continually being administered in one or another section of the building, which is rarely completely free of scaffolding, as wind, rain, and pollution slowly attack the stones. The Dombauhütte, established to build the cathedral and keep it in repair, is said to use the best stonemasons of the Rhineland.

 

Behind the cathedral is an area that memorializes the Archbishops and Cardinals from the history of the Church. As we walked past I saw several parishioners offering prayers for the church officials that had passed on, or at least I assumed that was their intent. Obviously they could have been praying for relatives or themselves, but given the location I think my thought was legitimate.

 

Cologne Cathedral Burial Ground Tributes to Archbishops, Cardinals and Church Dignitaries

 

After touring the Cathedral and visiting the exterior, we continued our walking tour. In the back of the Cathedral was a young gentleman blowing huge bubbles to the delight of all children both young and old. I was enthralled by the beauty of such a simple task. Younger children kept running around trying to burst the bubbles and it was a genuine treat.

 

Gentleman Blowing Bubbles at the Rear of the Cologne Cathedral

 

Once we left the Cathedral and began walking through Old Town, we encountered several Brauhauses, The German version of a brewery and or bar. They served any one of age and several members of our tour sampled the adult beverages once we finished. I was afraid I would get lost so during the tour rather than run into the chocolate shop and sample their goods, hence we waited and of course I forgot to visit the chocolate shop later on.

 

Cologne Brauhaus Gaffel Kolsch and Chocolate Shop with Viking Guide Peter

 

Another brauhaus with a stellar reputation, specializing in kolsch (a clear, top-fermented beer with a bright, straw-yellow hue similar to other beers brewed from mainly Pilsener malt.) according to our guide. Reviews also state their Bratwurst is excellent.

 

Cologne Brauhaus Sion

 

Our guide Peter informed us that all servers at Oktoberfest were to carry a tray similar to this with eleven different beers. That seems to be a large sampling of flavors in my humble opinion. I am not sure even in my younger days, I could have managed to down that many beverages. Apparently though it is a normal tradition and many beer imbibers drink this amount.

 

Cologne Brauhaus Normal Tray with 11 Glasses

 

Cologne had several museums both historical and art fashioned. Of note is the Roman Germanic museum which has a piece dating back to 220 AD. It’s the Dionysus mosaic. It was discovered in 1941 by workers building an air raid shelter. In addition these large heavy stones pictured below are on display. I can’t imagine how heavy they are or how strong their supports have to be.

 

Stones from the Cologne Roman Germanic Museum

 

The Museum Ludwig is a collection of modern art and includes Pop, abstract and surrealist art from Dali to Warhol to Lichtenstein and has one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe. The Mu­se­um Ludwig houses the main positions and trends in modern and contemporary art from the dawn of the 20th century up to the present.

 

Museum Ludwig

 

The museum I didn’t get to was the Chocolate museum which chronicles the 3,000 year history of chocolate beginning with the ancient American cultures such as the Mayas and Aztecs, proceeding through the baroque and industrialization periods and ending in the fine chocolate products of the modern day. The diversity of 5,000-years of cocoa’s cultural history is shown as well as modern chocolate production from the cocoa bean through to praline chocolate confectionery.

 

In the glass-walled production facility and chocolate workshop, visitors can experience how chocolate products are crafted in both mechanized and manual processes. How chocolate is made today is demonstrated in the production facility in the bow of the boat-styled museum building, which also houses the chocolate fountain. The fountain was specially constructed for the museum, an artistic structure filled with 200 kg of warm, liquid chocolate. Smooth, warm Lindt chocolate flows from four stainless steel spouts into a fountain bowl.

 

 

 

Cologne Old Town Forest of the Dolls Side View

 

In the center of Old Town was this sculpture “Forest of the Dolls”. It was designed as a tribute to the young children, who bought water to the surface through small shafts in buckets from the surrounding Rhineland. The children were paid for this work until the 1500’s when pumps started bringing the water to the surface. This forced the children to live in the streets or underground tunnels and they became beggars. The other story is that elves used to do all the repair work after World War II at night, so the workers could be lazy and drink adult beverages all day. This may hold some truth as the city is filled with brauhauses. This sculpture is dedicated to both stories and contains a plethora of elves in various forms.

 

Eau de Cologne Retail Store #4711

 

It was fascinating to see this retail store pointed out on tour by our guide. When I was a young man this cologne was very popular and sold all over the country. I had no idea it originated in Cologne Germany in 1709. Eau de cologne contains a mixture of citrus oils including oils of lemon, orange, tangerine, clementine, bergamot, lime, grapefruit, blood orange and bitter orange. It can also contain oils of neroli, lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, petitgrain (orange leaf), jasmine, olive, oleaster and tobacco. In contemporary American English usage, the term “cologne” has become a generic term for perfumes usually marketed towards men.

 

 

Open Air Retail Pastry Store with a Plethora of Bees

 

As we continued walking around Old Town we came upon an open-aired pastry shop that appeared to be very successful. Customers filled the sales floor and were interacting with sale people. I didn’t notice at first that all the pastry cases were full of sweet pastries covered in bees. I’m not entirely sure of the benefit or the attraction, but I have never seen so many bees in one place except in a hive. I was awestruck and took several photos and one short video. This was a first for me, but apparently the customers were used to this as they interacted with the sales force without showing any emotion or distaste at the bees. The bees literally covered all the various cakes, breads and other offer rings. It still puzzles me.

 

Cologne Cathedral from the Festival

 

As we walked back to the place to meet the shuttle bus across the river we encountered a festival of some type that seemed to specialize in children’s fantasy, toys, clothing and other merchandise. It began raining softly and most of the customers dispersed. That gave me an opportunity to take this photo with the wet bricks and Cathedral in the background. It’s one of my favorite photos of our cruise!

 

Hohenzollernbrucke Bridge Lovers Padlocks

 

As we walked across the Rhine on the Hohenzollernbrucke Bridge I was struck by the outlandish number of padlocks. Across Europe and other parts of the world it has become common place for lovers to state their affection for one another by writing a phrase on a padlock, attaching it to the bridge and tossing the keys away. At first I thought it was a unique form of passion and was truly a way to express one’s love for another. After traveling so much and seeing so many locks across the world it has become rather common and has horrible implications once the bridge becomes filled with locks. What happens to the padlocks when the locks fill the bridge and they have to be removed for safety reasons? Are they thrown away in refuse dumps? Are they melted down and reused? Who knows, but it is a concern for me. It has become an eyesore in some people’s mind. I would love to know the answer. If you have experience with this please comment and let me know. I would appreciate your feedback.

 

So it’s on to Koblenz and the Middle Rhine. If you haven’t experienced this section of the Rhine river you have a world of castles and architecture you are missing. #myvikingstory #vikingcruises

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Kinderdijk Windmills

 

I am fairly certain most of my followers understand my more than modest passion for history and my sincere love for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the aspects that first drew my attention to Viking River Cruises was their ability to share these sites with their passengers on their river cruises. I am totally enthralled by all the historical locations available for one to visit, when taking a cruise with Viking.

 

The Rhine Getaway on the Viking Longship Eir was no different and on our first day we were able to visit the Kinderdijk Windmills and explore history dating back to 1738. The windmills were originally constructed and used as vehicles for draining the polders, which are a low-lying tract of land enclosed by dikes and in this case intended to keep the water from the junction of the Lek and Noord rivers from overrunning the dikes.  The windmills are located 9 miles/15 Kilometers east of Rotterdam.

 

UNESCO Kinderdijk Windmill

 

After our Cheese making tour to the Holland dairy farm, we rode the bus through Kinderdijk and alongside the dikes. The story of the dikes is fascinating, as the dikes had been originally built nearly 300 years ago to keep water out of the farming land. To do this they had to configure a method to pump water out of the surrounding farmland, as it continued to flood after the advent of dikes. They discovered that an additional way to keep the polders dry was required.

 

Large canals, called “weteringen”, were dug to get rid of the excess water in the polders. However, the drained soil started setting, while the level of the river rose due to the river’s sand deposits. The land was basically peat (an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors or muskegs.) Essentially they weren’t able to maintain it as farm land. They were then required to make the decision to switch all farms to dairy operations.

 

Three UNESCO Kinderdijk Windmills Alongside the Canals

 

In addition, it was decided to build a series of windmills, with a limited capacity to bridge water level differences (similar to current day locks on major rivers), but just able to pump water into a reservoir at an intermediate level between the soil in the polder and the river; the reservoir could be pumped out into the river by other windmills whenever the river level was low enough; the river level has both seasonal and tidal variations. Although some of the windmills are still used, the main water works are provided by two diesel pumping stations near one of the entrances of the windmills site.

 

The Diesel Fueled Archimedes Screw Used to Drain the Polders Currently

 

There are over 1000 windmills in Holland. Some are still being used for drainage, such as one or two of the nineteen in Kinderdijk. The Molen de Otter, still in operation in Amsterdam, is also used for drainage. The Molen de Valk in Leiden has been restored and now grinds grain once again. It is also a museum, a witness to the history of windmills in the area. The few mills that still turn are on the verge of losing power: with buildings around them getting higher (an interesting conundrum if I do say so), they can no longer catch the wind as they used to.

 

Diagram of Windmill Internal Gears Reflecting the Mechanical Operation

 

Our guide led us to a Kinderdijk windmill that was inhabited and we were allowed to climb through the windmill. I have to say it’s a very crowded place to live with basically no privacy, not to mention the extreme the angle of the stairs inside. I basically had to turn around and walk backwards down the stairs. The angle sufficiently frightened me so, that I couldn’t walk forward down the stairs, for fear of tumbling face first. I can only guess the inhabitants managed to overcome any fears similar to mine.

 

The different levels were separated by gender with the males sleeping on the second floor and the females on the third floor. Families had large amounts of children to help with the windmill operation. As explained by our guide, it was back breaking work and families never knew when they would be needed to help harness the wind and save the dikes from flooding. The families had to be on the ready 24 hours a day. Missing gusts of winds might allow flooding in the farmlands.

 

Kim in Windmill Women’s Level with Bed and a Closet for Basic Necessities

 

We came across a rail with the infamous wooden shoes of Holland. I thought it wasn’t a serious display until Robert explained they were mandatory in the peat and wet ground surrounding the windmills. If the population attempted to wear their normal cloth or leather footwear, it would be a serious mistake. Water penetrated both types of normal shoe gear and could lead to health problems or at minimum wet, cold feet in the winter. I was really surprised people actually had a need for these shoes. Can you imagine trying to maneuver around the thin blades of the fan with these clodhoppers on? I would surely not be able to master this task I’m guessing.

 

An Interior Rail Filled with Holland’s Infamous Wooden Shoes

 

After exploring the internal workings and living arrangements, Robert our astute and humorous Viking guide, explained how this huge gear wheel outside controlled the windmill blades similar to a ship’s wheel steers a sailboat. I can only gather it was fashioned after the same device. He told us how the young males would scamper up and down the fan blade frames to unfurl the material used to capture the wind and spin the Windmill. It was dangerous work, especially for the younger unskilled boys. One miss step and they could fall to their death. Can you imagine asking your children to scale a fan blade 35 feet in the air, knowing if they slipped it would certainly be extreme injury or even death? I’m not sure I could.

 

 

Robert Explaining the External Gear for Windmill Operation

 

Exploring windmills in Holland is an exciting thing to do. The Dutch have restored many of the historic sites. Once a year Holland holds “National Mill Day”.  Every second Saturday in May 600 windmills and watermills around the country open their doors to visitors. It’s an opportunity to see some of the historic mills that are no longer open day to day.  A great way to see these mills is by bicycle. Talk to anyone at a tourist information office and they’ll be able to give you a route by some of the most beautiful mills.

 

Two UNESCO Kinderdijk Windmills Beside the Canal we Explored

 

Flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands, as about sixty five percent of its area is sensitive to flooding, while the country is among the most densely populated on Earth. Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide fortification against storm surges from the sea. River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while a intricate system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations (historically: windmills) keep the low-lying parts dry for dwelling and farming.

 

After walking through the windmills and exploring the areas surrounding the canal Robert took us into a classroom that contained several spare parts for windmills and in the past had been used to help new tenants to understand the operation of the windmills so they could maintain them during their stay. It was a great session and Robert helped us understand the windmills’ function and how hard it was to keep them in operation.

 

Robert, Our Viking Guide, Reviewing History of Windmills

 

In modern times, flood disasters coupled with technological developments have led to large construction works to reduce the impact of the sea and prevent future floods. It is also a matter of survival. Twenty-six percent of the country is below sea level. This was overwhelming to me. This is a significant portion of the country to be at risk.

Historical accounts state that windmills in Holland served many purposes. The most important probably was pumping water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers beyond the dikes so that the land could be farmed. A immense North Sea storm in January 1953 flooded 500 square miles and killed more than 1,800 people. Therefore a large amount of study has gone into protecting the marsh lands and low lying farms that are really only good for dairy farming now.

 

Three UNESCO Kinderdijk Windmills

 

The flood-threatened area of the Netherlands is fundamentally an earthly plain, built up from sediment left by thousands of years of flooding by rivers and the sea. About 2,000 years ago most of the Netherlands was covered by extensive peat swamps. The coast consisted of a row of coastal dunes and natural embankments which kept the swamps from draining but also from being washed away by the sea. The only areas suitable for habitation were on the higher grounds in the east and south and on the dunes and natural embankments along the coast and the rivers.

 

It never ceases to amaze me how man’s ingenuity is instrumental in resolving issues that arise throughout history. The Dutch people have sincerely faced adversity and calamity after calamity in regards to the low lands that have been used in various manners throughout the years. Flooding and extreme saturation of land is not a simple problem to mend, yet they have altered methods of existence to survive. There is no doubt the will to survive trumps all dilemmas that may arise.

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Kinderdijk Cheese Making Experience

Surprisingly after sleeping all night our first night on board the Longship Eir of the Viking River Cruises European fleet, I felt fairly refreshed and eager to begin my first day of our Rhine Getaway cruise on the historical Rhine river. I say this because the first night on the ship I somehow convinced my wife Kim to take the optional tour involving cheese making. My wife strangely enough, doesn’t eat cheese unless it’s melted or included in a prepared dish. We ate breakfast early and assembled at the meeting place, eager to taste authentic Netherlands cheese, or at least I was very enthusiastic. I have to thank Kim for being a good trooper and accompanying me on this tour.

 

On the way to the farm we learned that several farms in the area had dairy operations, but only a few had cheese making capabilities. The farm we were headed to had started several years ago making cheese when the farmer’s wife decided to expand her cheese making capabilities and offer it to the public, never knowing how successful it would become. The farmer announced at the cattle barn his portion of the overall operation was limited in profitability and the majority of the family’s income came from his wife’s cheese making enterprise.

 

Giessenlander Gouda Original Cheese, My Option

 

The farms are equal in layout and are approximately 40 acres in total, some with multiples of the 40 acre plots. The Netherlands, also called Holland in this and nearby areas of the Netherlands have specific laws applicable to the fair and humane treatment of farm animals. Each cow is mandated an acre for free range grass feeding when the weather allows and all dairy farmers are required to give their cows  120 days a year of at least six hours grazing in the meadows per day. This insures appropriate feeding to satisfy Dutch requirements.

 

Empty Cheese Whip Vat

 

We were taken on a tour of the cheese making operation that is entirely dedicated to the production of fresh Gouda cheese. The farmer’s oldest daughter led the excursion and was quite knowledgeable. She explained that her Mother actually began making Gouda cheese in her kitchen and it became popular with the neighbors and soon grew into a fairly good sized business.

 

Gouda Cheese Whip Vat Filled with Cultures

 

The above photo represents the first step in the cheese making process. The large mixer stirs the combination warm milk and rennet which is the lining from the cow’s fourth stomach. This merger forms cultures that begin the cheese. This vat held 300 gallons I believe or the metric equivalent. Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. About a third of this liquid is poured off, although some people retain it for use as a nutritional supplement in bodybuilding and it is the primary ingredient in most protein powders.

 

A little trivia for those interested, Gouda is the name of a Dutch town where Gouda cheese was developed in the thirteenth century.

 

Kim Holds a Bottle of Cultures for Gouda Cheese

 

After the cheese is formed by pressing it together in a mold lined with cheesecloth, it’s  pressed into its final wheel shape and the first stages of the cheese are finished. It is then soaked in a brine solution of salt and water. After this process it is dipped over and over into this vat of wax that seals the completed product and forms the covering you are familiar with when purchasing your Gouda cheese at the local grocery store. This is the farmer’s daughter who will take over the cheese making operation at this farm when her Mother retires. Very astute young lady and undeniably works very long hours every day!

 

Gouda Cheese Dipping Station

 

We learned that all Low Fat Gouda cheese blocks have a square edge. This identifies it as a product with less calories. I was surprised that a market existed for this product as I am a full flavored cheese lover and I thought most people were of that tradition. The young lady below puts the finishing touches on her Low Fat wheels in preparation for sales.

 

Low Fat Cheese with Straight Edge

 

I was also very amazed at how many flavors of Gouda cheese existed and how they were significantly different in taste. The photo below reflects many of the various flavors. The black wheels are truffle flavored and obviously more expensive. I have to say my black truffle sample was delicious. The red wheels are paprika flavored Gouda and I loved its taste also. The green wheel represented pesto. The speckled wheel were flavored with chopped walnuts. Don’t tell anyone, but I had seconds on several of the samples. I wound up purchasing the original flavored Gouda, but came very close to buying the Cayenne flavor, as I like spicy foods.

 

Flavors of Gouda including, Pesto, Paprika, Truffle, Walnut, Cayenne, Low Fat, and Original

 

After tasting multiple samples and buying my original flavored wheel (small, maybe a pound) we were led into the dairy barn where the dairy farmer explained the operation of managing the dairy cattle. This was dear to my heart, as my grandfather was a dairy farmer in Kansas for over 40 years. As a young man we visited his dairy farm every year, usually at Thanksgiving and I cherished those times after I grew up. Being back in that operation, even though it was in Holland, made the memories flood through my brain. My brothers and I loved exploring his barns and learning about dairy cattle. My only issue was my grandparents didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was fifteen years old. I won’t go into all the associated issues with this.

 

 

Fifth Generation Farmer Giving His Talk on the Operation of the Dairy Farm

 

The barn was divided into two sections with milk producing cows on one side and cows who were pregnant or ready for insemination on the other side with the one bull he owned. As illustrated below the cows are very friendly and very curious. They want to reach out and let you know they are there. You have to be careful though as the cow’s tongues are rough and almost like sandpaper. They can really do damage if you aren’t careful and one can wind up with very bad scratches and abrasions.

 

Farmer and Kim Listening Attentively

 

Contrary to the feedlots in the US, this Holland operation had very widely spaced holding areas for the cows and the cows weren’t in any discomfort as in some of the American feedlots. They are all 100% Holstein cattle and the milking cows were milked twice daily via a robotic machine. I was used to actual hand milking as a young man and couldn’t believe how advanced the milking operation is today. We weren’t able to see the milking operation, as it begins at 5:00 AM daily and the second milking is at approximately 7:00 PM nightly.

 

Holstein Cows Located on the Milking Side of the Barn

 

They are fed hay daily and none of them looked malnourished by any means. In fact they might have been heavy by what I am used to at my Grandfather’s farm. The farmer had fed them earlier in the day and a few small stacks of hay remained.

 

The cows are very curious as I said above and I have to tell you about what happened to Kim. She was wearing a wrap that day as there was a chill in the air and she got too close to one of the cows. I didn’t get a good photo of what transpired, but you can guess from the ripples in her wrap. Yes the cow started eating her wrap and was pulling Kim towards the holding pen. It was hilarious and everyone got a great laugh from the cow’s action. I really wished I had a video of the event, as everyone laughed very heartily and I laughed so hard it almost brought tears to my eyes. It was hysterical.

 

 

Cows Literally Trying to Eat Kim’s Wrap

 

Overall I would definitely recommend the “Cheese Making Tour” which is an optional tour and not included in the original package. It was a very nice experience to see how Gouda cheese is made and best of all, the ability to sample all those flavors was fantastic. We then headed over to the Kinderdijk windmills and joined the rest of the ship’s passengers that opted for the UNESCO windmill tour.

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #18

This will be my first post from our most recent Viking River Cruise, “Rhine Getaway”. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome this trip was. We were treated like royalty, encountered wonderful architecture. learned a vast amount of history and almost couldn’t digest all the fantastic attributes of this recent journey abroad to Europe. Thankfully Viking was able to soothe our wounded frustrations after a beleaguered start. Our flight from DFW was delayed by mechanical issues and we arrived three hours late. It is wonderful to have a warm, damp washcloth handed to you as soon as you enter the Longship Eir and the wash away all your tiredness and dirt from traveling. Viking knows how to soothe life’s irritations.

 

Kinderdijk Windmill on a Cloudy Day

 

On our first day sailing after leaving Amsterdam we arrived in a small community of Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. Everyone knows the Netherlands is associated with windmills, but I had no idea of the complexity of their operations or that individuals still resided in some of them. It’s an unusual sight to see the inside of the windmills and how close quartered they are. One thing is for sure people who operate and live in the windmills have to be very dedicated. They are constantly on call for any and all wind! There were 19 windmills in this Unesco granted area, so designated in 1997. All were originally built in 1740. Imagine the weather and abuse these mills have undertaken and are still standing.

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

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