Cruising – Rhine and Moselle Rivers
We had just come off a 3 weeks tour of the Balkan countries in Eastern Europe and we had two days to make our way to Basel, Switzerland in order to meet up with Darlene and Norman and to board a river cruise at that location. Our location was Budapest, Hungary so it was off to the train station in Budapest and it was not scary like it was six years ago. We found our way easily and traveled first class to Zurich, Switzerland from where we took a more local train to Basel.
On 0ct. 7, 2016 we spent the day riding the rails in Basel. Our hotel gave us free passes to the tram system so we were able to go anywhere and everywhere. What a treat that was!!! The food in Basel was extremely expensive but transportation was free!
Alsatian Wine Villages
We docked at Breisach and took our tour bus into the village of Riquewihr. Along the way we saw many vineyards – we are indeed in wine country!This beautiful village of approximately 8000 was amazing. There were medieval houses, steeply pitched roofs with flowers hanging from everywhere.
Kaysersberg is a very old village and was significantly important in the Middle ages. It has storybook medieval houses with steeply pitched roofs and a Gothic cathedral begun by a 12 century Holy Roman emperor. This village is best known as the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer.
We docked in Strasbourg, the Alsatian town known as the “crossroads of Europe. It is also located right on the border of France and Germany. We took a canal tour of Strasbourg. There are many new beautiful buildings and many beautiful old structures with interesting roof lines, many dormers
We docked and walked to Notre-Dame cathedral – very unique – it took 100 years to build – adding the facade after it was built. It was the second tallest building in Europe prior to 1900. No place would be complete without a street musician.
Our local guide of Speyer was an elderly gruff looking curmudgeon. He was an excellent guide, full of information and who could tell a good and well-connected story. This was a walking tour and first of all he showed us where the Rhine river had once made its pathway. Actually it was quite a distance from the existing path it now follows.
We went to the Romanesque cathedral and our guide talked a lot about its history – 8 kings (Kaisers or Emperors) are buried in its crypt. This cathedral goes back to 1013, was bombed, refurbished, etc. The guide spoke of much symbolism in this cathedral (ie. shape of the dormers, direction which windows faced, etc.)
We also visited a very old Jewish community. No Jews live there any more but there is a well preserved bath house. The way to make things ‘kosher’ was explained – three times total submersion is required to cleanse the soul. We did make a trip down to see the ‘cistern’ or ‘tub’ but my personal photographer was on ‘coffee break’ at the time so no pictures happened.
We walked down to the old town gate along the pedestrian – only Maximilian Street which had first been laid out by Roman soldiers.
Above the town gate hung 2 clocks – one for the hour and the other for the minutes. The minute clock was a later addition when the train was introduced to this part of the world. One needed to be more precise!
Speyer is the home of many churches (the Trinity Church, the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Church of Peace, the Gothic Chuch, the St. Ludwig Church, the Memorial Church, St. Joseph’s Church and of course the Dom zu Speyer).
A great afternoon was spent at the Speyer Technick Museum. The historic and therefore protected ‘Liller Hall’ exhibits objects pertaining to the fields of aviation, rail-travel, firefighting and shipbuilding.
Our very short stay in Rudesheim included a visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Musikkabimett. We walked from the ship to the museum which was a very short distance but we were required to cross a very busy train track – one of the busiest train tracks in this part of Germany. It was amazing to see the high speed trains go rushing right by in front of us.
The museum was amazing. It is a private collection of one individual who actually just died two days before we arrived. Fortunately, the son will take over his collection and continue with the museum.
There was room after room of all kinds of musical cabinets – some as large as a whole wall in a room – wooden, ceramic, metal, etc. There were 12 instrument orchestra pieces as well as the ceramic figurines in a large unit.
………… herds of goats on uncultivated hillsides…………
Cochem (Ediger- Eller)
We left our river cruise vessel and journeyed by bus to the small village of Ediger – Eller where the mayor and his assistant met us dressed in full medieval garb. The mayor led us through some very old streets pointing out some half-timber structures. He then took us into the old catholic cathedral where we listened to an organ concert. A walk through the old cemetery was most interesting as the plots were extremely well cared for. People had planted both perennial and annual flowers in the very old and very new well manicured plots. The grave sites were of people gone but certainly not forgotten.
Our next stop was at an active winery. This winery dates back to Roman time – 14 generations for this family. The vines are on a very steep slope throughout this whole area. Due to the steepness of the slopes the picking of the grapes needs to be done by hand. Therefore the wine becomes very expensive and elite. The pickers pick only the ripe grapes and will go through the vines three or 4 times – therefore the consistency of the ripeness of the grapes is achieved. The vines which are on flat land can be harvested by machine. Unfortunately the machine cannot determine the ripeness of the grapes, picks them all and as a result the wine is not of the same quality. We enjoyed tasting three different Riesling white wines.
We visited Reichsburg castle which looms high above the Moselle River. Reichsburg was originally built in the 11th century but Louis XIV’s troops blew it up in 1689. In 1868 the Ravene family purchased the ruins and rebuilt the castle, incorporating the remnants of the Gothic buildings and turning it into one of the most stunning castles on the river. Its many splendid rooms are fitted with Renaissance and baroque furniture as well as medieval artifacts collected by the Ravenes.
It is Friday, October 14, 2016 and we are now into day 7 of our river cruise. We docked at the city of Trier from where we boarded buses for an hour long trip to Luxembourg.
Luxembourg is a city of one large office building after another. The businesses here are banks and the European union offices. Traffic was horrendous!!!! The actual population of Luxembourg is only about 115 000 however, about another 150 000 people commute into the city every day for work. They come from France, Germany, Belguim, etc. Half of the population of Trier comes to Luxembourg for work.
A visit to the U.S. memorial to the men who lost their lives during the second world war, completed our visit to Luxembourg. Most of the deaths were in 1944 and 1945 and they were from every state across the U.S. It was a very interesting and sobering place to visit. General George S. Patton was buried in this place as his request was to lie with his soldiers. More than 5000 U.S. military dead are buried here – many of whom lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge. The beautiful grounds, white stone chapel and monument honoring the fallen make for a moving memorial.
Trier is Germany’s oldest town – 2000 years. In ancient times Trier was the largest Roman settlement north of the Alps, and six emperors ruled the Western Empire from here. Remnants of Roman city still stand despite intervening centuries of warfare. It now has UNESCO protection.
Our first stop was at a viewing point of the whole city. We were at the top of a vineyard where several men were preparing for the harvesting of the grapes. The grapes most prevalent and best suited to the climate in this area are the Reisling grapes – cool conditions but with slate soil which holds the heat from the day time over night.
The bus was parked just outside of the ‘black gate’ (Porta Negra) which dates back to Roman times. It is a great double-arched stone gate and it is all that remains of the Roman wall that used to surround Trier. Once you pass through the gate it is easy to see the shape of the ancient Roman city since the layout of the Old Town still exists.
Constantine the Great (first Christian Emperor of Rome) lived in this town for several years and he decided to make it the capital of the Western Roman Empire so he had a palace, churches, cathedrals, shops etc. built in this town.
The house in which Karl Marx was born in Trier is now a museum.
It was a very foggy and cold morning for a walking tour of Bernkastel however our guide was everything that you hope for in a guide. He looked to be so young but we later learned that his daughter was attending university – not so young!!
After our tour we stopped at a winery, Dr. Paully Bergweili, which is one of the most expensive and prestigious vineyards in the region. We were greeted by the owner, taken to his cellars, where we tasted 4 different white wines. It was time after all – 10 o’clock in the morning!!!
Wine goes well with cheese and bread at 10:00 a.m.!!
A beautiful sunny afternoon was spent cruising the Moselle River on our way back to Koblenz.
Koblenz is a medieval town that lies at the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers. From the cruise ship we were required to climb many steps to get to the level of the main square and from there we could easily access the pedestrian only shopping area.
In spite of the destruction in Koblenz at the hand of Louis XIV’s forces, the Koblenz citizens have kept their sense of humour. The statue of the ‘spitting boy near the rathaus and statues of the chubby police officer are examples of this. Our guide told funny stories to go along with each entertaining statue.
The Cathedral in the town was damaged to some extent in WWII when the bombing took out all the old stained glass windows. They were replaced after the war with very simple windows because money was scarce. Then in 1992, the town of Koblenz underwent a project replacing the simple windows with beautiful stained glass windows depicting religious figures as well as Mother Teresa.
There is a point at which the two rivers, the Rhine and the Moselle, come together and where stands a towering monument. The spit of land is called The German Corner and the monument symbolizes German unity. It is an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I who united the nation in the 19th century.
After the tour we grabbed a cable car up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress by crossing the Rhine River. The fortress itself was a sturdy impregnable structure which is presently being restored. This was a very important fortress due to its location at the confluence of the two rivers – the Rhine and the Moselle. The fortress goes back a long time but was rebuilt by the Prussians in the late 1800’s.
However, more than 70 percent of Cologne was destroyed by bombs during WWII. Three medieval gates remain standing, as does the old city hall with its Renaissance facade. The famous 12 Romanesque churches were reconstructed from the rubble, and the UNESCO designated cathedral, Cologne’s iconic landmark, rises magnificently in the city center. The Cathedral is so tall and so expansive, one could not get it into a picture. It is also very black – some construction was happening but refurbishing is on-going, slow and costs big bucks.
Next to the Cathedral is a very modern building called the Roman Germanic Museum built upon the grounds where archeologists uncovered a Roman villa. The beautifully preserved mosaic, which was the floor of a banqueting hall, has never been moved. The museum displays the world’s largest collection of Roman glass vessels, a unique assortment of Roman jewelry and numerous finds that illustrate everyday life in the Roman Empire along the Rhine. Many of these artifacts have only recently been uncovered (1992).
And so ends our wonderful trip along the Moselle and Rhine Rivers aboard the River Queen.