Beauty on the Rhine Day Three – Marksburg Castle, Scenic Sailing and Rudesheim

IMG_3444 (2)Our third day of sailing the Rhine was one of my favorites! What’s not to love about Marksburg Castle, an afternoon on the scenic Middle Rhine and a fun night in Rudesheim?

DSC05057 (2)We spent the morning at Marksburg, the only castle in the Rhine River Valley to never have been destroyed. Because it was built with such strong fortification in 1117, this stately structure has been watching over the region as a fortress since the 13th century. It has survived many ancient conquests, the 30 Years War, Louis XIV’s campaigns, Napoleon’s rule, two world wars and decades of erosion; yet firmly it stands 550-feet over the tiny town of Braubach.

DSC04878 (2)We seemed to have stepped back in time as we toured the mighty castle! Although it was used for protection rather than a royal residence, it had typical rooms such as a kitchen, a dining hall and bedchambers, plus a chapel, an armory, a wine cellar and battlements with slots built-in for bow and arrows. It also had a torture chamber with gruesome instruments from the middle-ages on display.

One of the most impressive things about the castle is the incredible view! Its lofty perch is the reason it withstood attack – you can see for miles and miles in all directions.

The Rhine River at its best is the stretch through the heart of Germany known as the “UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Middle Rhine”. We spent a beautiful, sunny afternoon on the deck of the Viking Lofn watching castles, forests, vineyards and storybook villages come and go. A truly remarkable experience!

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DSC04831By 5:00 PM we had docked in Rudesheim, a charming river-side town with a medieval feel in Germany’s Rheingau wine region. We spent the evening in town instead of onboard, and I’m so glad we did. Locals and tourists alike flock to the Drosselgasse, a narrow cobblestone street lined with shops, wine bars and taverns. Our optional tour group enjoyed a festive full-course dinner served with unlimited local wine and lively oom-pah-pah music. There was singing and dancing and a hearty “Prost” (Cheers) all around!

We cast-off at midnight, leaving Rudesheim for Mannheim where we would take a bus to Heidelberg and Speyer the following day – so stay tuned! Beauty on the Rhine Day Four is coming up next!

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Beauty on the Rhine Day Two – Cologne

DSC04625 (3)We were busy, busy, busy in Cologne – the largest city on the Rhine! The second day of our river cruise started shortly after breakfast which was always delicious, by the way.  (My favorite: made-to-order omelets, home-made yogurt and fresh fruit!) It was a gorgeous morning for our walking tour, the highlight of which was Cologne’s magnificent 14th-century Gothic cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With twin spires and beautiful stained-glass windows, this impressive church received little damage from Allied bombs during WWII while the rest of the city was hit hard.

The cathedral has a rather dark outward appearance, but the interior is welcoming and is laid out in the shape of a Latin Cross. Two aisles on either side help support one of the highest vaulted ceilings in the world. At the end of the gigantic naïve is a shrine to the Three Wise Men whose relics were brought to the city in 1164. The cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark.

After the cathedral tour we continued our walk, learning about the city’s Roman heritage and the ancient ruins scattered throughout. The Old Town area was painstakingly rebuilt after the war and is now quite charming with rustic alleys, famous pubs, museums, fountains, monuments and boutiques filled with chocolate and yes – cologne!

DSC04687 (2)DSC04671 (2)DSC04717 (3)DSC04682 (2)Cologne City Hall is known by art historians all over the world for its Renaissance facade built by Wilhelm Vernikken, but most tourists know it as the place where a grotesque wooden face sticks out its tongue when the tower clock strikes the hour.

On our way back to the ship for lunch, we crossed the Hohenzollern Bridge where tradition prompts couples to attach padlocks to the railing and then throw the key into the Rhine River. The “love locks” ritual is supposed to ensure their love will last forever. Isn’t that sweet?

DSC04719 (2)DSC04709 (2)DSC04712 (2)DSC04728 (2)After a quick lunch on the ship (which had a perfect docking location) we were off for our afternoon excursion to the Bruhl UNESCO Palaces. We toured Augustusburg Castle and Falkenlust Hunting Lodge, both lavish 18th-century residences which were extravagantly decorated and beautifully landscaped.  Having already seen several of Europe’s finest castles, we were only mildly impressed.

DSC04764 (2)We got back to the ship with just enough time to freshen up before our evening out in “Beer City”. We wanted to experience the Brauhaus culture and sample the Kolsch – a light, crisp beer brewed only in Cologne. Our fun Viking guide led us to three different brewhouses where we sipped Kolsch poured fresh from the barrel into 7-ounce glasses, small enough to finish the beer while it was still cold. Of course, the moment the glass was empty, it was quickly refilled unless you placed a coaster on top of your glass to signify you’d had enough.

We had traditional German food for dinner at Brauhaus zur Malzmuhle, popular in the Kolsch culture since 1858. It was easy to have a good time that night in Old Town… not only was it full of happy beer drinkers, but there was a wine festival going on as well! It was definitely Party City!

We cast-off from Cologne around 10:30 PM, shortly after our beer group returned to the ship. The stunning view of the city as we sailed up the Rhine – its churches and bridges drenched in night lights – is one of my favorite memories of the trip.

DSC04796 (2)IMG_3360 (2)Next post: Beauty on the Rhine Day Three – Marksburg Castle, Scenic Sailing and Rudesheim

Beauty on the Rhine – Day One

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The Viking Lofn cast-off at 11:30 PM, leaving Amsterdam for our first port in Kinderdijk, home to 19 remarkable windmills built around 1738. We arrived in Kinderdijk at 10:00 AM and set out to explore these technological marvels which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

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The windmills were originally erected here to drain the wetlands which sit below sea level and have been prone to flooding since the 13th century. A great flood in 1421 is the source of the fairy tale “The Cat and the Cradle”. Legend has it that a wooden cradle washed ashore here containing a cat sitting on top of a baby to keep them both from falling out. The name Kinderdijk means “children’s dike” in Dutch.

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Today, pumping stations run by diesel fuel are used for pumping water in low-lying areas, but the windmills are kept in working order for backup and for tourism. The windmills at Kinderdijk were completely operational during World War II when fuel was too scarce to be used in the stations.

Our tour took us through the windmill workshop where a guide explained the details of their operation and maintenance. We also went inside a working windmill – all the way to the top – to see up close not only the mechanics, but the living quarters of the family who keeps it running. A stop at the windmill museum concluded our tour and we hiked back across the dike and returned to the ship.

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We left Kinderdijk at 12:30 PM through a network of canals which eventually led us to the Rhine River. The afternoon was spent meeting our 188 fellow passengers and familiarizing ourselves with the ship, including a required safety drill, lunch, an excursion briefing and a chance to visit the First Officer in the wheelhouse of this lovely Viking Longship. With numerous ocean cruises on mega ships under our belt, we found the simple elegance and quieter atmosphere here an invitation to kick back and relax, and the scenery made that easy to do!

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Our reward at the end of day one? An unforgettable sunset!

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Next up:  Beauty on the Rhine – Day Two – Cologne, Germany

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Woes and Joy in Amsterdam

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Grey skies, intermittent drizzle, blustery winds, temperatures in the 40’s and a hotel in the suburbs! Not exactly the welcome we had hoped for in Amsterdam! We were there for a two-night extension before our Viking Rhine River cruise. When we booked the extension, our accommodations were to be at the Movenpick Hotel in City Center or “similar”. I’m sorry Viking, but the Pestana Riverside Hotel is not “similar” to being in City Center! It was a lovely hotel, but we did not come to Amsterdam to see the suburbs! Enough of the negatives – here’s what we DID see:

The capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a city of canals, bridges and quaint houses in quirky colors topped with unique gables. It has an ethnically diverse and tolerant culture, and more bicycles than inhabitants. A stroll through the streets of this picturesque city would be a pleasant experience if not for the constant need of caution from the bicyclists who WILL run you over if you get in their way!

On our first full day in Amsterdam, the weather had improved and we took the two-hour walking tour included with our extension. A Viking guide led us through the city’s main park, a quiet oasis popular with dog-walkers and nature lovers.  Near the park is Albert Cuypmarket which has been in existence for over 100 years. With approximately 260 different stalls, it is said to be the largest outdoor market in Europe. Without a doubt, the canals and nearly 1,500 bridges are what give Amsterdam its charm. We got great photos of the waterways as we walked to Museum Square. As the name suggests, this area is surrounded by Amsterdam’s most famous museums – Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk. This is where our walking tour ended, and while it was lovely I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the Viking guests who got to stay in the heart of the city. (Oops, the negativity snuck back in!)

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We had booked an afternoon tour to the historic town of Haarlem, so we met our new tour guide and a bus driver at Museum Square. The half-hour drive outside the city gave us a welcome break from walking. First order of business in Haarlem? Lunch at the unique restaurant Jopenkerk, a former church which is now a brewery. Three different Jopen beers were served with plentiful and delicious food! Haarlem is a city of remarkable culture as is evident by the cathedral, the monuments and the “hofjes”. Hofjes (or almshouses) have been provided since the 14th century to house single elderly women who have nowhere else to live. We toured the Frans Hals Museum to admire the world’s largest collection of Frans Hals paintings and other works by Haarlem’s Old Masters. Along with the beautiful art were many impressive floral displays.

On the morning of the second day, we still had not seen the historic center of Amsterdam, so we left our luggage for Viking to transfer to the ship and set out on foot to find the Amsterdam we came to see! After a 45-minute walk we found Dam Square, home to the Royal Palace and other impressive highlights of this centuries-old, yet vibrant city. We took a relaxing cruise on the magnificent canals to enjoy the city from a different perspective. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a stroll through the famous Red-Light District, but we did it during the day! We marveled at the view from the bridge in front of Central Station where the City’s eclectic architecture is on full display. Central Station itself is an impressive Neo-Renaissance building which opened to the public in 1889.

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Our ship, the Viking Lofn, was easy to find from Central Station and even though I’ve been  critical of Viking to this point, let me just say that from the moment we stepped on the boat until we disembarked eight days later, they did everything right! Next post: Beauty on the Rhine – Day One!

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Foto Friday #43

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We are back from a wonderful cruise up the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel. I took this photo in Amsterdam on the night we boarded our ship. It was just the start of eight more days of beautiful sights to see. Additional photos and stories soon!

Traveling

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Some people are perfectly happy with familiarity. They travel down the same old road… the one with a direct path to yesterday and the day before and the day before that! But as life rounds the bend to the great unknown, I want to journey on new roads – the back roads and side roads; roads I’ve never been on before. It’s taken me years to be able to travel, but each moment spent in awe witnessing the world’s treasures is well worth the time it took me to get there. I’ll be traveling again soon, and will no doubt post new photos and stories when I return!

Photo taken in the gardens at Kylemore Abbey in Scotland