Archive | July 2017

Day 5: Shipboard Activity and Miltenberg


Click on any image to enlarge it.

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.


Our guide Andreas

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.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

Cruising Along the Main River





In Miltenberg


Miltenberg City Hall









Miata’s are everywhere!





Day 4: A Castle and Cruising the Middle Rhine


View of the Rhine River from Marksburg Castle.

The “Middle Rhine” winds through a valley where small  mountains (smaller even than the Smokeys back home) rise steeply from the riverbanks and where more than a dozen 13th and 14th century castles–or their remains–stand sentinel over the busiest river in Germany.  Viking River Cruises suggested it would be the most scenic and photogenic section of the cruise and the day–complete with warm temperatures and blue skies–did not disappoint.

NOTE:  You may click on any photograph for an enlarged view.


But first, last night’s “Beer Culture Tour.”  In the states we would refer to this cultural tour as pub crawling or bar hopping, but “Beer Culture Tour” sounds more refined.  It was great fun.  Nine of us from the ship joined our German guide for a quick bus ride to town, then dinner at the first bauhaus–“Brauhaus Fruh am Dom” we enjoyed a dinner of traditional German appetizers, sauerbraten and potato dumplings, and desert.  We also enjoyed several small glasses of Fruh Kölsch.  Kölsch is a particular type of beer than can only be called kölsch if it’s brewed in Cologne.  It is served in small glasses that get replaced frequently by the waiters known as “Köbes.” If you no longer want your glass replaced, you simply put your coaster over the top of the glass.  See, the “cultural tour” was educational.  Following dinner we toured the Fruh am Dom, the second largest restaurant in Germany with seating, we were told, for 1,600 patrons.


Our cultural tour continued with a stop at the next pub, which served another brand of kölsch.  Fruh was better, but the atmosphere of the second brauhaus was interesting, including hundreds of pictures 1920s “art” photographs of ladies in various states of undress and several hundred year old self-playing musical machines, one of which our guide jumped over a barrier to operate.  Finally, we headed to our third brauhaus where we tried yet another brand of kölsch and learned about the annual “carnival” in Cologne where one lucky man will pay as much as 100,000 euros to dress up like a virgin princess, complete with blonde pigtails.  Would love to go back for that.  The entire night of bar hopping only involved about 6-8 beers (fewer for Marilyn) but it was a great time.


Back at the ship by 10:30 because the lines were cast off at 10:45 and we were underway again up the Rhine.  The sight of the cathedral and other buildings and bridges lit up at night was worth staying awake for a little while longer.


Marilyn and Wilhelm

When we woke this morning, we had docked in Koblentz, the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers.  All of the Miata owners aboard ship gathered for a group picture in the foot of a massive statue of a horseback Emperor Wilhelm, the first emperor of Germany in 1880.


Marksburg Castle

Less than half an hour later we headed to Marksburg Castle, the only castle in Germany that has never been destroyed, rebuilt or restored.  Sitting high on a hill near Koblentz, the castle dominates the skyline, and our young history-student guide, led his tourist flock through the narrow passages, steep stairs, dark rooms and uneven floors that residents of the castle endured for more than 800 years.  The castle even included a room of knightly armor and the tools of the torture trade.  Another valuable experience that, along with a beer culture tour, enhances my understanding of my German ancestors.


The “Mouse” castle on the Middle Rhine

By noon, we were underway again for the five hour trip down the Middle Rhine and spent a delightful afternoon on the ship’s sundeck relaxing and taking pictures of the ancient castles, the quaint half-timbered houses, and miles of grape vineyards famous for their Reisling grapes and other white grape vintages.  In addition, we passed by Loreley Rock, important in German mythic history and song as the site of a mermaid who lured sailors on the river to their watery demise as they crashed their ships on the rock while entranced by her song.  The area remains a dangerous part of the river, even without a mermaid, and our captain had to carefully navigate the narrow channel to keep us from meeting the fate of countless watermen of the past.

Late this evening, we left the Rhine and entered the Main (pronounced “mine”) River.  We are no longer flanked by mountains, but we are told that tomorrow will include tours of historic and unchanged river towns.

Apparently everyone is trying to write home with emails of pictures of castles and I’m unable to post any pictures tonight.  I will rise early in the morning and hope the WiFi signal is stronger then.  Sorry for the problems, but please check back.

(EDIT Friday July 14)  The WiFi is better this morning so I’m adding new pictures.

NOTE:  You may click on any photograph for an enlarged view.

Beer Culture Tour


Marksburg Castle



Our historian guide Stephen


Confluence of Moselle and Rhine Rivers


Cruising the Middle Rhine



Grape vines line the steep hills adjacent to a medieval castle.



Loreley Rock


Day 3: Cologne–(aka Köln) Cathedral and a Museum

(NOTE:  In order to continue posting the blog, I’ve had to change the format, especially of the pictures.  I’ve reduced the file size of each picture considerably and full-sized images will no longer be posted.  Instead, at the end of each written blog, I’ll post a series of photographs instead of including them within the written section.  This isn’t the way I would prefer, but given the limited bandwidth of the ship’s WiFi, it’s the best I can do within the one-hour time limit I’m trying to allot for writing and posting.)

After sailing all night, the ship arrived just outside Cologne, Germany, about 8:30 a.m., where it stopped to drop off the guests going to town, before navigating the remaining 10 miles or so upriver to the docks near the city’s center.  Misty rain greeted us as we left the ship and boarded a bus that took us downtown, but I wasn’t too concerned because we planned a morning at the city’s 900 year-old massive gothic cathedral and at a museum next door highlighting the city’s 2,000 year-old Roman history.


Our guide planned to show us the inside of the cathedral before exploring the outside of the structure and visiting town center, but the moderately-heavy rain made any outdoor tour unpleasant though not impossible.  Nevertheless, the time we spend inside the church was an impressive experience.

Begun with the laying of a cornerstone in 1242, the cathedral wasn’t finished until the final stones in the spires were set in 1880 due to lack of money and sometimes lack of interest.  Unfortunately, the building suffered tremendous damage by 20 allied bombs in WWII, including the collapse of the roof.  But the people of Cologne, a town of more than 1 million people, dedicated themselves to rebuilding the damaged church and completed the final work in the 1990s.

The church is said to contain the stolen bones of the Three Wise Men of Christmas fame, though some testing suggests there may be as many as five different people contained in the gold chest containing the bones.  Once a year, church officials display three skulls for those who make the pilgrimage to Cologne.

More than 80 stonemasons work year-round to maintain the cathedral, which soars more than 500 feet in the air and covers about 24,000 square feet.  It’s said the building can house 20,000 people and today it seemed like there may have been half that many tourists wandering around getting in the way of my camera.  They were probably just getting out of the rain, too.


Mosaic Floor of a Roman Villa

During the post-war reconstruction of the church, workers discovered an amazing Roman mosaic some 25-feet below the surface of the ground.  The Roman empire had expanded northward into what is now Germany more than 2000 years ago and by the first century AD, Cologne (derived from the Latin word for “colony”) was firmly established as a Roman town with a growing store of wealth.  The mosaic found next to the church was actually the floor of a wealthy Roman’s dining room in a large villa.  Thought was given to removing the mosaic, but it was decided that moving it would probably destroy it, so the city instead decided to build a museum of Roman history around the mosaic, using it as the centerpiece of the museum, which now holds thousands of elaborate artifacts from Cologne that attest to the Roman occupation.  The town had elaborate sewers and aqueducts, many villas, and statues, walls and structures that have been uncovered and preserved.

Following the museum visit, we took a short, damp tour through the city center learning more about this amazing city from our energizer-bunny guide, Parthena.  Of Greek and German heritage, fluent in four languages, and schooled in archeology and art history, she provided an amazing tour of Cologne.  We could easily and enjoyably have spent the entire day with her.

Tonight we’re going on a beer tour of Cologne.  If we make it back, I’ll write about it tomorrow, assuming the absence of a hangover.

Ready for Captain’s Reception Tuesday Evening


Cologne Cathedral








Museum of Roman Artifacts and History


Close up of Mosaic Floor


Mausoleum of a wealthy Roman





One of the most valuable holdings of the museum.  The filigree was etched from a solid piece of glass that became the cup.  Only one of five in the world.


Gold head band



Statues on the side of City Hall.



City hall in the background.


Parthena was our guide extraordinaire in Cologne.

Day 2: Windmills at Kinderdijk


(NOTE:  I have worked for four hours today trying to post pictures, but the internet service about ship is unable to accommodate me.  I will try to post more pictures when we reach Cologne tomorrow.  Sorry.)

Minutes after I posted the blog last night, the ship pulled out of Amsterdam for a short overnight cruise to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its 19 functioning 17th century windmills. Although I couldn’t see much of Amsterdam as we left the dock, the buildings along the dock provided a minor light show as we slowly slipped our moorings and began our upstream journey.fullsizeoutput_146cThe windmills at Kinderdijk remain operational because of the love for these engineering marvels by the people who live in and operate them. For the honor and privilege of living in them and raising their children in them, operators must give 1,000 hours of labor per year to using the windmills to continue pumping water from low ground to higher ground. How special is this honor?


Today we met a young man of about 13 or 14 years who will be the 12th generation to live in and operate windmill #5 at Kinderdijk. The windmill was built in 1738 and the Hoek family has been part of the watery landscape for nearly that long.fullsizeoutput_1467Approximately 50% of The Netherlands lies below sea level on land taken from the sea and made dry through diligence and hard work for hundreds of years. Initially the iconic wind powered mills were the only source of pumping power, but beginning with steam in the 1850s and augmented by electric and diesel motors in the 20th century, the area being claimed from the North Sea has grown dramatically and is an engineering marvel that engineers from around the world come to study.


Our very-knowledgable guide on today’s walking tour from the ship to the windmills is one of 250 local volunteers who commit their time and energy to preserving this uniquely Dutch heritage. Some give tours to companies like Viking Tours, some work in gift shops, some donate time to maintaining the miles and miles of dykes, but all care deeply about their country’s culture and history. And few things are more Dutch than brick and wood windmills. Most have disappeared over the years and many more–perhaps al–would have without the passionate support of Netherlands’ post-war queen who made it her mission to save as many of these windmills as possible.


(A short geography diversion is in order here. The Netherlands is often called Holland, but our guide set us straight by pointing out that “Holland” is the name of several coastal provinces of the Netherlands from where many 16th and 17th century mariners sailed. When asked where they were from, they said “Holland” and the English and other world travelers began calling the country that. At the same, the people from the Netherlands were known as the “Dutch.” Why? Because their language was similar to the Germans who were “Deutsch.” Hence, they were called Dutch by those who thought they were germanic. End of geography lesson.)


Back to the windmills.  Eighteen are occupied by the “millers” who operate them. One of them is available to thousands of tourists like us who want to walk through a piece of history. It is known as #2. The windmills have four, levels: a bottom level with a kitchen/dining/living/sleeping room for parents and one or two infants and the lower workings of the windmill gears, a second floor where girl children slept, third floor where male children slept, and a fourth floor known as the “smoking” floor where the chimney from the ground floor opened up and allowed the miller’s wife to smoke eel and fish. It also contained the upper workings of the windmill gears that powered the pumps. And these cramped quarters constituted living space for up to 12 children and two adults who were glad and fortunate to have it. In a country where it rains more than 200 days a year, a roof over one’s head was something to be sought and protected.


The windmills are basically conical brick structures with a thatched roof, wooden “wings,” and huge wooden gears painstakingly made from wood gathered from throughout the world, including Indonesia (ironwood) and Surinam in South America (greenwood), as well as the oaks of south and central Europe and the willows of the Netherlands.


Tomorrow we arrive at Cologne, Germany, for a tour of the great cathedral and town center.  In the evening beer and bratwurst.  And hopefully better internet service.

Day 1: Amsterdam

fullsizeoutput_1424Please click on the small pictures to enlarge them.

Even though this is our third day of this adventure, I title this post “Day 1” because it’s our first day aboard the Viking Skirnir, home floating home for the next two weeks.  fullsizeoutput_141fAnd what a floating home.  So far the  service has been amazing, the accommodations luxurious and the food and drink first rate.  In addition, we’ve struck up an acquaintance with a group of Miata owners from Massachusetts who will no doubt help to the make the trip memorable.

fullsizeoutput_1428After a short bus ride from the hotel to the ship, we were checked in quickly (along with 94 other cabins), our luggage was delivered to our room, the concierge explained the special features of our room and we were free to explore the ship and, later, more of Amsterdam.

fullsizeoutput_1431After walking around the ship, we boarded another shuttle bus that delivered us and a tour guide to the center of Amsterdam’s old town.  With the help of small radio receivers and an ear piece, the guide took us on a one-hour tour of the older part of the city.  Buildings built nearly 800 years ago sat along canals that have been in use for nearly that long.  fullsizeoutput_142aA tower where women said goodbye to their sea-faring sweethearts or husbands was pointed out as the “Tower of Tears.”  Meanwhile, the sweet smell of smoldering cannabis frequently wafted out of “coffee houses” that clearly sold more than coffee, and this multi-cultural city came alive as we walked through “China Town,” passed Indian restaurants, and bars and shops of all description.  fullsizeoutput_1429There didn’t seem to be much that you couldn’t buy in old town Amsterdam, including the professional services of licensed prostitutes in the Red Light district.


If the lights are on, the ladies are working.

After an hour of walking with our tour group, Marilyn and I opted to continue our own exploration of the city, finding a quaint corner bar where we enjoyed a round of Heineken beer, fullsizeoutput_141ddrawn from an elaborately carved tap in use since the early 1800s by a young woman who encouraged us to continue our adventures around the world as a way of staying young.

Back at the ship, we sat through an informative information session with the head of the ship’s hotel and the ship’s Program Director.  This river cruising thing is new to us, but I think in a day or two we will be as comfortable as old touring hands.  fullsizeoutput_143dOne of the things I’ve learned so far is that the WiFi is weak in our room and I’ve moved to the library area in the center of the ship where reception seems to be stronger.  We’ve been warned that reception in the more remote sections of the river may challenge my ability to post the blog each night.  But I’ll do my best.

fullsizeoutput_1454Our first dinner aboard ship was wonderful.  Crab and tuna as an appetizer for me, followed by veal loin, and polished off with lucious New York style cheesecake with fresh strawberries.  But equally as important, our dinner companions made the meal a special treat as we got to know Nick and Mary from St. George, Utah.  fullsizeoutput_144dA delightful couple with a strong history of international travel, they told us a little about themselves as we filled them in on our past and family.  We discovered what a small world this is when we learned that their friends in St. George used to work with our friend in South Carolina.  (I confirmed by text that the connection, in fact, existed.)  The hour and a half dinner passed too quickly and we’re looking forward to spending more time with our new traveling compatriots .  Tonight they celebrated their 47th anniversary, and we toasted their marital longevity as they in turn toasted ours.

We pull out tonight at 11:30 (45 minutes from now), for  a short cruise to Kinderdijk, a small town famous for it’s historic windmills which continue to operate, draining the water from land reclaimed from the sea.  Tomorrow, we will tour the windmills before continuing our voyage up the Rhine.

More Pictures from Today:







Not Exactly on the Road Again

fullsizeoutput_13f6As nearly everyone who read my motorcycle adventure blogs in the past knows, this year’s daily missives will not involve a motorcycle.  As I sit here writing the words you’re reading, I’m in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, polishing off a modest but savory bottle of French Grenache-Merlot, and anxiously anticipating the next 17 days that will see Marilyn and me sail on a Viking Cruise Lines long ship on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.  It’s an appropriate way to celebrate our 50th anniversary later this year (though I still think a small bouquet of grocery-store flowers and a box of candy could have covered it and saved enough money to buy a new motorcycle in the process).

DSCF8520We left Maggie Valley yesterday at 6 a.m., caught a noon flight from Charlotte to Atlanta then climbed aboard a Delta Airbus 330 at 3:30 for an eight-hour flight to Amsterdam.  That put us on the ground again at 11:30.  Atlanta time.  Of course Amsterdam was 6 hours later, and the sunrise was spectacular when we landed there at 5:30 a.m., having somehow misplaced the time when I normally would have been sleeping.  But that’s OK; we got two hours of non-restful REM-sleep on a cold, noisy plane and we’re young and vigorous so we can easily handle missing a night of battery charging sleep.


Click on any image to enlarge

We hoped to check in at our hotel by 10 a.m. or so, but they didn’t have a room ready for us, so we had them store our four bulging, over-packed bags and took off for a five-mile round-trip walk through Amsterdam to visit one of the premier museums in Europe:  The Vincent Van Gogh Museum.  DSCF8573On the way there we strolled through two lovely parks dodging lithe runners and hard-body bicyclists who believe the parks’ paths belong to them.  Actually, they do, and walkers are expected to remain off the asphalt where the fleet of wheel and foot reign supreme.  Not knowing the rules, we nearly got run down several times before, with a little encouragement from vocal Sunday athletes, we figured out where our place was in the pedestrian pecking order.  fullsizeoutput_13eaDespite the dangers, we had a wonderful walk but quickly using up the two-hours of what little battery charge we banked on the plane ride across the Atlantic.

fullsizeoutput_13edThe parts of Amsterdam through which we perambulated on our way to Vincent’s art emporium were striking in their quaintness, their charm, their history, and their (over) abundance of bicycles.  EVERYBODY in Amsterdam, it seems, travels on two mostly non-motorized wheels.  Thousands of bicycles, many of them equipped with jury-rigged child and infant carriers, are locked to bike racks, trees, buildings and each other on every block we covered.  Amsterdam must have the fittest, healthiest residents of any city in Europe.

DSCF8566After a brief wait in the queue to buy our €44 museum tickets, we reveled in the chance to see the greatest, most complete collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings anywhere in the world.  Hundreds of priceless artwork hangs on the wall of this modern museum dedicated to one of the great art pioneers of the late 19th century.  fullsizeoutput_13f0Despite only producing art for a period of 10 years before he shot himself in the chest in the course of a mental breakdown and died, Van Gogh influenced the art world during his lifetime and for more than a century afterward.  His craftsmanship with a bold brush, his eye for striking color combinations and his largely plebeian subject matter secured his title as a master artist.  Seeing the works during today’s three-hour visit convinced me his acclaim was and is well given and deserved.  Despite admonitions by the museum authorities NOT to take pictures in the museum, I managed to surreptitiously digitally capture a few, two of which I offer here:



fullsizeoutput_13f8Tired after almost no sleep and a five-mile urban hike, we arrived back at the hotel to find our room ready except for missing cushions on the sofa and a non-working USB port that was my only hope of charging four electronic devices.  fullsizeoutput_13f9I’m making do with what power remains on my MacBook Pro, Marilyn doesn’t really need her phone, her  iPad has enough juice to read e-mail and check FaceBook and my phone is currently at the front desk being charged at a working USB port.

fullsizeoutput_13edTomorrow we board the long ship Skirnir for our long-awaited cruise through the European heartland.  I’m looking forward to a good night’s rest and to the delights that lay in store during the next two weeks.  I’ll try to keep everyone informed of the celebratory events marking a half-century with a trouper who deserved better.

The wine bottle is now empty as is my well of travel wisdom.  I’m going to bed.

I can’t wait to get on the River.

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