A Travellerspoint blog

Cologne

Thursday 10th - We awoke to our first wet day since we left NZ on 5th July. It was overcast and only about 20 degrees but virtually no wind so not entirely unpleasant but it felt a bit chilly after what we've been used to so all put jackets on. We had the morning free in Cologne and had decided again not to do the guided walk which included the Cologne Cathedral (The Cologne Cathedral is truly awe-inspiring even from the outside) and instead we had, on Rory’s recommendation decided to visit the Chocolate Museum and the Nazi’s Documentation Centre, housed in the Gestapo’s wartime headquarters. We took a mini train that dropped us there after a tour through the city centre. The chocolate Museum has a fully-functional production plant which was a fascinating watch. Seeing how the process works, from beans to the finished article was great. In this Lindt plant the molten chocolate (130 degrees celcius) is actually mixed constantly for three days to get the required consistency and smoothness. We even got to press a button to select a sample for quality control! I can assure you it passed the test! The National Socialist (Nazi) museum was also well worth the visit. This building housed the cells where political prisoners were held by the Gestapo and tortured during WW II and over 400 were hanged there in 1944 and 1945 as the Nazis got desperate. The original scrawlings and inscriptions the prisoners wrote on the walls are still there and their stories told. It is very poignant and thought-provoking and it’s great to see the Germans have accepted they should not try and sweep this history under the carpet. We had lunch in a cafe that looked like it had enough food to feed an army or two (it was good food though!) and went back to the boat. We left for Amsterdam at 2pm with the gala farewell dinner held in the evening. The food was very good. The pianist was in good form and had a few of the yanks up dancing. We shared a port or two with the Watsons from Hawkes Bay and watched the entertainment. We expect to arrive in Amsterdam around 7am on Friday and there is a full day planned by Avalon apparently.

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Rudsheim & Koblenz

Wednesday 9th . We woke up in Rudesheim. This is an idyllic part of the Rhine. There are no bridges for miles so there are two car ferries ferrying cars across the Rhine. The Rhine meanders here and there are several tributaries that give the area a distinctive and beautiful look. There is a gondola that takes you up to the spectacular memorial commemorating Gemany’s victory over France in the 1870 Franco-Germany War. The Neiderwald Hill on which it stands is also criss-crossed with walking and biking tracks all giving magnificent views over Rudesheim and the countryside for miles beyond. We had decided to sleep in and miss the 8:30 walk and visits so we set out about 9:30 to see what the town offered. There were huge queues for the gondola so we decided to give that a miss and visited a wine museum which was housed in an old knight’s castle. This was very interesting and had some amazing narrow winding staircases that eventually led to the top of the castle tower – well worth the visit. We wandered back to the gondola and the queues had disappeared and we got on straight away and went to the top of the Neiderwald Hill to see the view and it was fantastic. We had a coffee at the top and returned to the boat for lunch. John managed to fit a gym session in. After lunch we set off for Koblenz and what offered to be the most interesting section of the Rhine. We weren’t disappointed. There were about 14 or 15 castles, most still in use as hotels or other commercial activities. As per postcards these are amazing and to consider their location and the tools available their constructions were a feat of engineering that’s for sure. We had a running commentary about each from the tour guide which was very informative. We arrived at Koblenz around 3pm and had a couple of hours there. We avoided the guided walk and did our own thing, including taking another cable car ride across the Rhine (yes Julie’s second one in a day!) , this one was in larger cars taking up to 20 people and it was as smooth as silk. We then wandered around Kolbenz and viewed the amazing memorial to Kaizer Wilhelm (huge) and then the river Moselle promenade and a few city streets. Once again a very nice town with old and new architecture complementing each other. We then sailed for Cologne arriving there around 11pm. It looked fantastic at night.

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Heidelberg & Mainz

Tuesday morning saw us boarding another bus for a 40 minute ride to Heidelberg to visit a castle and the ‘old town’. Heidelberg is a university city with over 40,000 students studying mainly medicine & law. Most were on holiday breaks but there were still about 20,000 Summer School students in town. Apparently anyone, from anywhere (Incl. Australia & NZ) can study free in Germany, and in Heidelberg you can, provided you can speak and write German, and have studied Latin for 7 years!!! This is another town that is ‘pedestrian-friendly’ with most of the old town closed to vehicular traffic from 11am. There are a huge number of bicycles parked at various spots around the town. This is because the town is not easy to get around in cars and students may need to travel some distance from one class to another so they use bikes. The castle itself was amazing, having been built in stages over 400 years from the middle 1300s and having been destroyed and rebuilt seven times over those centuries and rebuilt as one religion or another threw the current one out! The Lutheran Church was very strong for a couple of those centuries. Louis XIV finally destroyed most of it. Subsequently he went back to France having decided he no longer coveted the area (what a waste). The castle includes the world’s largest wine barrel at 220, 000 litres and has a baby sibling at a mere 55,000 litres! The view over the old town is amazing and you could see why the gentry would want to live there. We then bussed back into the old town and wandered around and had a cappuccino at an Italian café of all places! The bus then took us to our ship in Mainz where it had moved to whilst we visited Heidelberg. In Mainz we visited the Gutenberg Museum where we learned all about Gutenberg and his printing press – what a very clever guy he was. It was strange to think that without his invention of the printing press most of us may not be able to read! He made printing books quicker and easier to produce which allowed people to afford books which before his time were extremely expensive and only the very rich could afford them. Having thought this might be boring we were all actually infatuated for well over an hour. The display of his original printed bibles (there are still 49 in existence) and the hand written ones that preceded them was fantastic. Gutenberg’s innovation was developing a casting system and metal alloys for the type face characters which made production easier. He produced 180 bibles, each 1280 pages long (two books – old and new testaments). These were produced as loose-leafs on high quality parchment and the buyers then had to have an artist complete the drawings and coloured letterings and then have them bound. Apparently some of these took up to 10 years to complete! Our guide was from Argentina and was very comical and informative. It started raining just before we went into the museum but this had subsided when we came out – the first rain for us in over a month. We then wandered around town and then back to the boat for dinner. After dinner we were treated to a concert by a three-piece ensemble (two violins and an acoustic guitar) by a group called Strada – they were fantastic.

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Strasbourg

Monday 7th August. The Tranquility II had moored closer than most river boats to Strasbourg (as it’s slightly smaller than most) but was still about 2.5 kms from the city centre. A tourist boat had been arranged to transport us to the city centre. This turned out to be a one hour guided tour of the canals with a very knowledgeable and interesting guide who told us all about this very beautiful city. The style of buildings here is unique and the myriad of half-timbered houses with oriel windows of wood or stone from the 16th and 17th centuries is amazing. We then got to go through the Notre Dame cathedral (which was the highest building in the world for five centuries) built over 263 years from 1176 to 1439 and witness the incredible astronomical clock striking the hour. We decided not to go back to the boat for lunch and stayed on to retrace the tourist boat’s route around the canals so we could get a better view and take photos (which were impossible from the domed tourist boat because of the reflections on the all-around Perspex). This gave us an even greater perspective of these amazing houses and buildings. We had lunch on a canal-side café – very nice French bread with ham and cheese. Patrick purchased the obligatory fridge magnet and we wandered around a few more streets where most shops were closed being Monday or had closed for lunch. We caught a taxi back to the boat where we spent some time on the upper deck sunbathing (Patrick & Julie only) and John trying to get some computer work done in the shade. We sailed just before 6pm for Mannheim.

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Breibach & Black Forest

Sunday 6th august . We reached Breisach in the early hours of the morning. We had been told that the town had not a lot of interest but we had a trip to the Black Forest booked for the morning. I had ordered the bikes the previous night for the afternoon in case we had somewhere to ride. The trip to the Black Forest was by bus and took four hours there and back. We went through some lovely German villages and countryside before venturing into the Black Forest and stopping at Herr Uhren’s House of Clocks in Schwarzwald, high up in the forest where we all got to taste authentic Black Forest Cherry Cake. The shop had some amazing examples of his clocks and other German carved souvenirs. Julie bought a couple of Xmas decorations. I loved the clocks – there were literally hundreds for sale. Julie thought they were gauche and OTT. We got back for lunch at 12:30. We went out on the bikes at 2pm. There is a very steep stepped access to the towering 13th century Stephansmunster cathedral but we chose the meandering path to and then through Breisach itself to get there. We quickly decided Breisach was the nicest little town we had come across on our travels (it’s hard to believe 85% of it was destroyed in WWII). It was Sunday and it seemed that half the population was out biking or walking. We biked (Julie only made it half way and pushed her bike to the top) up to the cathedral which was a hard grind. The views were beautiful. On the plateau alongside the cathedral there is another amazing micro-village which features galleries and museums dedicated to current and past artists. It was a great find because the tour company never mentioned it! This part of town was also pretty special with beautiful cobbled streets and well-tended gardens. We then cycled down another way back to town and had a drink at one of the local bars before going back to the river and cycling both ways up and down before returning through a forested section alongside the river. As the temperature was only around 27 degrees we felt comfortable the whole day. We had been out for about three hours and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

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