Day 5: Shipboard Activity and Miltenberg
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Very few German towns escaped the punishing Allied air craft bombing runs (including my dad’s) during World War II, but today we toured a town untouched by that war, parts of which remain pretty much as they were in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries when the original town was built. The picturesque town along the Main River is Miltenberg, where we spent an enjoyable three hours learning some of its past and shopping in its stores on a thoroughfare where people have shopped for more than 800 years.
Miltenberg escaped the devastation suffered by hundreds of other German towns after 1942 in large part because of what it lacked: an industrial base. What the town was and is famous for continues to be its red sandstone, its abundant timber resources and its delicious white wine, none of which attracted the attention of Generals and bomber pilots. And the red sandstone not only served as building material in this village on the Rhine, but has helped build cities as far away as Moscow. And the abundant forest resources provided logs for the half-timbered houses and shops that lined the streets of the town. And the white wines simply made living here all that more pleasurable.
But more of Miltenberg later.
Today, before arriving at Miltenberg, we navigated through a half dozen or more locks that make navigation on the Main River possible. About every 7-8 miles, a small dam and an accompanying lock allows river traffic to move smoothly, albeit very slowly, up and down the river. Over the course of our 1,100 mile cruise, we will go through 67 locks, each of which can slow or stop the ship for up to 30 minutes. So, it’s cruise, slow down, stop, enter the lock, close the rear gate, flood the lock, open the front gate, and begin cruising again. For about 7 or 8 miles. Then do it all over again.
That makes for a slow cruise, and the ship’s program director, Carl, has to find ways to keep 190 guests occupied and entertained. Today’s shipboard activities included a brief German lesson from Carl, an Austrian who speaks six languages, holds a Ph.D. in economics, and keeps everyone entertained with his unique, German-accented delivery of various announcements. While I can’t speak German any better than I did before the lesson, I learned things about the language that will be helpful if I get lost or need to find a toilette or just want to say Good Morning (Guten Morgen, but only before 10 a.m. and only once per person).
Following Carl’s German lesson, the ship’s engineering office gave a one-hour presentation on the construction and operation of the Viking Skirnir. The ship (not a boat) is more than 450 feet long, a little less than 40 feet wide, and is powered by two large Catapillar diesel engines, which in turn power electric motors attached to eight propellers on four shafts aft and side thrusters at the bow. Viking now has 50 Long Ships, all of which are of a propriety design used only by Viking. The ship can travel for more than 2,000 miles on a single fill-up of diesel fuel, but it must stop every three or four days to take on fresh vegetables and other perishables to fuel the guests. It treats all its waste water before pumping it into the river, then offloads the remaining sludge twice on a trip such as this one. The captain’s wheelhouse (a misnomer since the house has no steering wheel but instead uses a joy stick for steering) is mounted on a hydraulic lift which can lower it to the level of the top deck when necessary to pass under various bridges. The clearance under those bridges after lowering can be as little as two inches after the ship takes on ballast to increase the draft from five feet to six feet. I learned more, but you get the idea. It was informative, entertaining and gave me a much better appreciation for this self-propelled, floating 95-room hotel.
By about 3 p.m., the lectures were finished and the last lock of the afternoon had been passed and we tied up in Miltenberg where we met Andreas, our guide for the afternoon. “Andy” recounted some of the history I mentioned early and told us much more about the various buildings along the tour of the Old Town and Market Square. One of the reasons Old Town remains intact, besides the lack of allied bombs, was the red sandstone that’s been quarried here for more than 1,000 years. Because of the abundance of available stone, all houses in town had their bottom floors build with sandstone, which helps explain why the town has never suffered a catastrophic fire that consumed most towns at one time or another. Houses and shops built in the 1300s remain much as they were the day construction ended. The residents and the shops have changed but the structure remains largely the same.
After the tour, I followed Marilyn through various shops, contributing my credit card as the need arose. Maybe tomorrow I’ll post pictures of her modeling the fruits of her shopping labors. My purchases amounted to two bottles of local white wine, a sickeningly large box of locally-made licorice, and a pretzel. I think all this must be replacing the traditional travel pie.
Back at the ship, following another amazingly fine dinner, I’m writing without the benefit of WiFi, saving the post in Notes and hoping to copy and paste on my blog site before I go to bed. Pictures will have to follow tomorrow morning when WiFi seems to be faster.
Tomorrow more views of the Main, it’s locks and a stop at Wurtzberg.
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Cruising Along the Main River