Viking Cruises, Strasbourg

We arrived in the double port of Strasbourg France and Kehl Germany. Having never been in France we decided to take the Viking River Cruises walking tour through Strasbourg. We loaded on buses and the first memory I have from this gorgeous city was driving by the European Parliament. My sincere apologies but I had to take my photo through our bus window. I think it still gives you an idea how impressive it is. The European Union has to be happy with its appearance.

 

European Parliament Through the Bus Window

 

We disembarked from the buses and walked past the Barrage Vauban, a bridge over the River Ill. It was beautiful and serene. The historical bridge was erected in the 17th century by Jacques Tarade and displays various ancient copies of statues and gargoyles from the Strasbourg Cathedral. On the roof there is a viewing terrace and the bridge was designated as a Monument “Historique” in 1971. The bridge has 13 arches and is 120 meters in length and three of the arches are raised to allow navigation. The Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is located adjacent to the Northern end. One can see the Petite France section of Strasbourg from the roof terrace. The name Petite-France (“Little France”) was not given for nationalistic or architectural grounds. It comes from the “hospice of the syphilitic” (Hospice des Vérolés, in French), which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island, to cure persons with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit (“French disease”) in German.

 

Barrage Vauban Bridge on the River Ill in Strasbourg

 

As we walked towards the Petite France section of Strasbourg and over the River Ill, I captured these passenger boats/taxis. They are fairly common and I can only gather they have to be fun to ride. I noticed that one had its top removed. I would guess when the weather is good they do not cover the taxis and you get awesome views of the city and areas you traverse. We will take one of these taxis next time, and there definitely will be a next time, as Strasbourg is now one of our favorite cities in Europe, much less the world.

 

Passenger Boats/Water Taxis in Strasbourg on the River Ill

 

I was immediately drawn to the half timber houses as our Viking guide led us to the Petite France area of Strasbourg. The half timber architecture strewn throughout the area is magnificent. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the structures. Petite France is a historic quarter in Strasbourg and is located at the eastern end of Grand Ile, the historical center of the city. The river Ill splits up into a number of channels, which run through an area that once was the home of tanners, millers and fishermen in the middle ages. It is now one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions, along with being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The river splits into four channels just downstream from the Barrage Vauban and flows through the half-timbered buildings together with the narrow lanes and footbridges that connect them. The passageways date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are gorgeous to stroll.

 

Viking Walking Tour of the Petite France Area of Strasbourg

 

The sloping roofs of many of the buildings include open lofts where hides were once dried. Three of the four channels flowing through the quarter run over dams that once drove mills and other industries. The northernmost channel is navigable by passenger boats and water taxis. This channel passes through a lock and the “Pont du Faisan” swing bridge is in  the center of the quarter. On the north bank of the river Ill, at the center of the quarter is the Maison des Tanneurs. The former tannery was built in 1572 and is known for its timbered balconies and slanted roofs, where dyed hides were once sprawled to dry in the sun. It was transformed into a restaurant in 1949, the Tanners House is now home to La Maison de la Choucroute, which serves traditional Alsatian cuisine in original surroundings, with the authentic 16th-century beams complemented by ancient furnishings and window boxes brimming with geraniums,  These flowers can be found growing all over Petite France on the Half-Timber houses.

 

 

Maison des Tanneurs, home of the Tanner’s Guild

 

There were several classic, historic restaurants in the Petite France area of Strasbourg and the section is quite well known for its Alsatian food. Alsatian cuisine incorporates Germanic culinary habits and is distinctive by the use of pork in various forms. Alsace is also well known for its “foie gras” made in the region since the 17th century. In addition the region is known for its wine and beer. Alsatian food is synonymous with festivity, the dishes are significant and served in generous portions and it has one of the richest regional kitchens. One of Viking’s “optional tours” was a guided tour in which passengers sampled Alsatian flavors and met food merchants, a French sommelier and a local chef. A second optional tour was tasting Alsatian wines at a local winery. As I do not indulge, we passed on these two options. Other passengers were thrilled with their optional tours.

 

Lohkas Restaurant in Petite France Section of Strasbourg

 

After walking through several sections of Petite France we came upon a plaza that contained the “Carrousel Palace” and a monument dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg the German printer who introduced printing to Europe with the printing press. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution and is regarded as a milestone of the second millennium. His major work, The Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible), has been renowned throughout history for its immense creative and academic characteristics.

 

 

Viking Walking Tour to the Side of the Gutenberg Monument and Carrousel Palace in Strasbourg

 

We left the plaza and took a side street that led directly into the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. The Cathedral is largely Gothic construction and the architect Erwin von Steinbach is credited with its design. It is among the world’s tallest churches and was once (1647-1874, 227 years) the tallest in the world. The north tower, completed in 1439 is 142 meters or 466 feet tall. It remains the highest structure built in the Middle Ages. The projected south tower was never consummated and as a result, with its characteristic disproportionate form, the cathedral is now the number one landmark of Alsace. One can see 30 kilometers from the observation level of the north tower and the view extends from the Rhine river all the way to the Black Forest.

 

 

Strasbourg Street Leading Into the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg

 

As we walked towards the Cathedral we passed this souvenir shop with plenty of stuffed storks for sale. In this part of Europe the Storks has a prominence not reflected anywhere else to my knowledge. You see nests all over on telephone posts, roof tops and on top of steeples. They are treated very reverently by the locals. After almost disappearing in Europe early in the twentieth century, the country made the stork population growth a high priority with postcards, art, tableware, textiles and  two Stork based theme parks in Alsace all dedicated to the White Stork. Breeding in captivity has vastly increased population and storks are featured of the decor in many Alsatian villages and towns with horizontal wagon wheel on the top of poles and chimneys being provided as base for storks nests. They even nest on power-lines.  ….and of course, in Alsace, like elsewhere in the world the storks main job is delivering babies!

 

 

Strasbourg Stuffed White Storks

 

Bredele are biscuits or small cakes traditionally baked in Alsace and Moselle, France around Christmas time. Many varieties can be found, including new ones, so that assortments can be created. Pain d’epices (gingerbread) comes in all sizes and shapes and is baked year round. From the traditional Gingerbread man that children love to bite the head off of, to the funnel shaped cakes pictured below on the top shelf. We were very fond of this particular shape and brought several dozen home to give as presents. Unfortunately for our waistlines we chose to devour many of them.

 

Pain d’epices (gingerbread) Shop

 

Most passengers took optional tours, ate at a traditional Alsatian restaurant or shopped for other goods. Kim and I shopped for sweets, cakes, chocolate and gingerbread. My oh my did we shop. Four bags later (filled with every concoction you can imagine) we left to meet up for our bus return to the ship. We barely could carry all the goods we bought and were flabbergasted at the actual number of items we acquired!

 

Strasbourg Biscuit and Cookie Store Where we bought an Entire Shopping Bag of Cookies

 

We entered this chocolate shop that had two free flowing chocolate fountains. Of course one was a milk chocolate flavor and the other dark chocolate. I knew I was in heaven! After walking about five steps I started picking up chocolate candies, including various bark items. We then walked a few more steps and started choosing our truffle flavors. We could have shopped all day, but stopped after obtaining boxes of chocolates for family and friends (and yes one for us) we got to the register. It was hilarious as the shop was empty when we entered, but filled it up in a few minutes and we almost couldn’t check out because it was so crowded. The cashier was having trouble with her credit card machine and a line formed, frustrating her a great deal. We finally finished our transaction and left before buying the entire store!

 

Strasbourg Chocolate Shop with Fountains of Milk and Dark Chocolates

 

Construction on the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg began with a Romanesque style in 1176 and was basically completed in 1439. In 1225 a unit from Chartres suggested it reflect a Gothic style of architecture and portions of the nave, already begun, were torn down and replaced with a Gothic construction. The Chartres group influenced the sculptures, statues and especially the front or west side of the Cathedral. This entrance is trimmed in ornate decorated figures. These characters are representative the Gothic era and are considered a masterpiece from that period in history. The tower is one of the first to rely substantially on craftsmanship and whose construction is inconceivable without prior drawings. Strasbourg and Cologne Cathedral together represent some of the earliest uses of architectural drawings.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Exterior Western Front Door Trim

 

Like the city of Strasbourg, the cathedral connects German and French cultural influences. The eastern structures, still have very Romanesque features, with more emphasis placed on walls than on windows. In 1505, architect Jakob von Landshut and sculptor Hans von Aachen finished rebuilding the Saint-Lawrence portal outside the northern transept in a distinctly post-Gothic, early-Renaissance style. As with the other portals of the cathedral, most of the statues now to be seen in place are copies, the originals having been moved to Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Side View

 

In the late Middle Ages, the city of Strasbourg had managed to liberate itself from the domination of the Catholic bishop and became Protestant in 1539. This reign only lasted a short period until September 1681 when Louis XIV of France annexed the city and a mass was celebrated in October 1681, in the presence of the king and prince-bishop signifying a return to the Catholics. The interior was redesigned according to the Catholic liturgy. In April of 1794 the “Enrages” who oversaw the city government started trying to tear down the spire, until the city’s citizens overruled and saved the tower.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View

 

During World War II, the cathedral was seen as a symbol for both warring parties. Adolf Hitler who visited it in June 1940 and intended to transform the church into a “sanctuary of the German people”, or a monument to the Unknown Soldier. On March 1, 1941, the French General Leclerc made the “oath of Kufra”, stating he would “rest the weapons only when our beautiful colors fly again on Strasbourg’s cathedral”. During that same war, the stained glass was removed in 74 cases and stored in a salt mine near Heilbronn, Germany. After the war, it was returned to the cathedral by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the United States military.

 

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View Stained Glass Windows

 

The cathedral was hit by British and American bombs during air raids on Strasbourg’s center in August 1944, which also heavily damaged the Palais Rohan and the Sainte-Madeleine Church. Repairs to war damage were completed only in the early 1990s. In October 1988, when the city commemorating 2000 years of foundation by Argentoratum (the ancient French name of Strasbourg in 12 BC), pope John Paul II visited and celebrated mass in the cathedral. This event was also an occasion to celebrate the Franco-Germany reconciliation. In 2000, an Al-Queda plot to bomb the adjacent Christmas Market was prevented by French and German police.

 

Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View

 

On the way back after purchasing massive amounts of sweets, cakes, gingerbread, chocolates and cookies we ran across a flea market. It was interesting to see the various items displayed for resale and what held the interests of the French shoppers. Some pieces were typical and expected, but some were gorgeous and unexpected. We were thrilled to run across this open-air street market.

 

 

Strasbourg Flea Market Near Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg

 

As we boarded the Viking Eir and dropped our bags in the room I discovered a new found love for yet another European city. Strasbourg is a destination, given time, we will return to. I love the Alsatian foods, the sweets and the lovely and outgoing people. It warms my heart to this day to think about our experiences in the wonderful French city of Strasbourg. Now it’s on the Breisbach Germany before and our visit to the Black Forest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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, 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, Photo of the Day #3

Bratislava is the Capitol of the young country of Slovakia formed in 1993 after 41 years of Russian rule. Prior to this it was part of Communist Czechoslovakia from 1948 until 1989 when the country split into two separate governing bodies and countries. Slovakia became a member of the European Union in March of 2004 and in January of 2009 adopted the Euro as its currency. It was our second stop on our Danube Waltz Cruise with Viking River Cruises.

 

Memorial for the Red Army Liberators. There Were 6,845 Slavin Men Who Died Fighting the Nazis.

Memorial for the Red Army Liberators. There Were 6,845 Soviet Men Who Died Fighting the Nazis.

 

The fortitude and resolve this country has displayed over the years is amazing and thousands and thousands of people have been displaced throughout the ages by the various regimes. During World War II between 75,000 and 105,000 Slovakian Jews were murdered. Thankfully the German rule was brief and the Soviet and Romanian armies conquered the Nazis. This led to the deportation of 80,000 Hungarians and 32,000 Germans. This country is very challenged economically, but has started making headway, by producing Czech automobiles in an agreement with the Czech Republic, the other portion of the original Czechoslovakia. They have a great outlook and I predict they will rise above their current situation.

 

 

 

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

Viking River Cruises, Bratislava

We sailed from Budapest on our Viking River Cruise around 9:00 PM on December 6th. Passengers were invited to view the nightlights of Budapest as we sailed to Bratislava, but we were worn out and frankly it was a little too cold for two Texans to stand on the sun deck of the Viking Longship Modi. So we decided rest was the order of the day and went to sleep in our home for the next week, our stateroom. I sometimes wake in the middle of the night, but this particular night I slept like a baby and never got up, if memory serves me right. I am sure many will tell you that might be debatable.

 

 

 

The next morning we arose early rested and watching the Slovakian countryside roll by. My how that simple venue can be calming and relaxing. As we weren’t to arrive until 2:00 PM in Bratislava, we took our time with breakfast. Afterwards the staff had several options available. One was mandatory, the safety drill at 10:00 AM. Believe me when I tell you they ensure you attend. I was amazed that we could all assemble in such a rapid manner, but it went off as intended and all passengers were accounted for. It was kind of nice to have the cabin steward lay our life-vests out on our beds prior to the safety drill.

 

The staff also offered a tour of the Wheelhouse, a Cooking Demonstration with fantastic cookies and finished the morning with a presentation on coffee, as we were headed to Vienna right after Bratislava. The pastry chef and head chef Martin Carter, gave a wonderful lesson on preparing the cookies, handed out recipes and of course a huge sampling of each of the four cookies. Then we had lunch. Program Director Barry Summers then gave the presentation on coffee, that shared the history of this precious beverage since the beginning of time. It was very educational for this avid coffee drinker.

 

Ruins of War

 

Slovakia has only been a country for twenty three years, after Czechoslavakia dissolved. It has a population of just a little over five million people and Bratislava is the largest city and the capitol. Slovakia then joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone January of 2009. Slovakia is also a member of NATO, the United Nations and is in the Schengen area of Europe. As it is not really a wealthy nation, buildings like this remain and are scattered across the country still, leftover from World War II.

 

Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion

       Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion.  Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

The “Shore Excursion” was scheduled for 2:00 PM and included a bus tour of certain areas along with a walking tour of downtown, the Opera House and the Christmas Markets. Our daily briefing wasn’t until 6:45 PM, so we had plenty of time to see Bratislava on foot and of course the Christmas Markets were a priority!  The photo above clearly illustrates the way all the Viking Tour Guides dress in winter, with the infamous “lollipop” logo of Viking, held high for all to see. Each passenger is given their own headset and you follow at your own pace. Just don’t lose sight of your group’s lollipop!

 

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This photo was taken downtown and the buildings are all constructed in an adjoining manner. Foot traffic during the day traverses back and forth through these tunnels, but as there is a small crime issue late at night, they shut the rod iron gates visible at the entrance to ward off criminal elements.  Old Town in which most of the walking tour transpired was refurbished and had excellent architecture in my humble opinion. I was very surprised at the detail and trim.

 

 

Street Art Example.  Photography by Gail Douglas

Street Art Example.
Photography by Gail Douglas

 

One of the new symbols of Bratislava is this fella Cumil, he gives you an insight into the Slovak humor. This photo was taken and supplied by Gail Douglas, as stated. Thank you kindly young lady! She and her great husband Richard, in the yellow jacket above, became friends of ours and we ate many meals with them. We bonded immediately. Great sense of humor and we now exchange emails. Hope to cruise with them again soon!

 

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Bratislava had many booths filled with hanging potpourri items. These were particularly favorable to me, with the various citrus scents, especially lime. It reminded me of a cologne I used to wear back in the 70’s and it is still produced today I discovered. It’s name is Royall Lyme, produced and manufactured in the USA by Brooks Brothers, with permission from Royall Lyme (Bermuda), Hamilton Bermuda. I always loved the lime scent!

 

Blown Glass Booth. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Blown Glass Booth.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This lady’s booth was  filled with glass products made in Slovakia. Kim lost her red heart necklace when we went through security in London, so I purchased her another red heart from this lady. She was very pleasant and helpful, although I doubt she understood my story exactly.

 

Kim's Spoon Collection. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Kim’s Spoon Collection.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

If  you followed our escapades, you know how the wooden spoons were popular with Kim and at most of the Christmas Markets we visited. If you didn’t, then take a good look at these examples where winter objects were laser burned into the spoons. Even I had to acknowledge how cute they were.

 

 

We were looking at a chocolate booth in the Bratislava Christmas Markets and out of nowhere I noticed a lady looking over my shoulder and right next to me. It was scary. I yelled at her to back away from me. She casually smiled and walked away. I wouldn’t have been this aware normally and without Viking’s persistent warnings. From that moment on I started carrying all my valuables inside my coat in zippered pockets. I have to truly thank Viking for saving me from losing my wallet, passport and money clip. Without their consistent emphasis, I am positive they would all be in this lady’s possession now. Be aware, it is not fiction, it really happens.

 

Wood Nativity Scene. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Wood Nativity Scene.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

As we walked the length of the Bratislava Christmas Markets, we came upon this nativity scene. It was beautifully carved from wood and grabbed my attention. I was taken back by the features and detail involved, with all the figures. It really was a beautiful sight.

 

Neon Running Man. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Neon Running Man.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

We turned around from the nativity scene and ice rink to see this neon running man series of lights. Whoever made it has a great mind and really has creative instincts. Each man would light up separately and timed to set aglow in consecutive order. It truly looked like the neon man was running every time they set him in motion. After several minutes, they turned all the neon men on a the same time and it was brilliant.

 

 

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

 

On our way back to the ship, Kim and I decided to enter a local grocery store and see the differences. Slovakia has a genuine taste for fish. At the butcher area half the case was fish. It was fun trying to figure out what some of  the products were. It was also very evident, that some things are the same the world over. We were at the back of the store and came across the soda area. It was a little strange for us to see Slovakian names on Coca-Cola bottles, but really no surprise. Unfortunately my favorite, the “Selfie Queen” bottle, wasn’t in this photograph.

 

A Well Known Embassy. Photography by Nomadic Texan

A Well Known Embassy.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Before we arrived at the river we ran across this sign at their embassy and I just had take a photo of this crest. I thought it was appropriate, given how famous this microstate on France’s Mediterranean coastline is. Its major district is Monte Carlo and it’s very well known for its Gran Prix motor race, casinos and its fabulous nightlife. We boarded our ship, ate a wonderful dinner and listened to the Bratislava Men’s choir sing Christmas Carols in Slovakian and English both. An excellent end to a wonderful day. We went to our room and knew we would wake up in Vienna, a city I had yearned to see since I first began traveling!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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