"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Wests Head East to Germany - Part 2 Mosel River Cruise

On Saturday, September 13, we met up with the rest of our travelers in Frankfurt for the second half of our trip – the Mosel River Cruise. We arrived in Koblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. It is a charming town, with cobbled open plazas and narrow streets. It was almost completely destroyed during WW II, but they rebuilt it in the original styles, which dates back to Roman times.

An aside, according to our guide, the original Katzenjammer kids were brats from Koblenz, whose names were Max and Moritz. They are immortalized on the outside wall of a restaurant by the same name. In typical German fashion, the mischievous deeds of Max and Moritz caught up with them, and they were thrown into a grain hopper, adding to the flavor of the local beer.

On Saturday our barge stopped in Cochem and toured the Reichsburg Castle. The castle has been on top of the hill for at least a thousand years, but was razed by the French about 350 years ago, and eventually rebuilt by a German millionaire using drawings and paintings of the original. It's a great tourist attraction, and lots of people visit each year. Only seven rooms have been re-furnished; the original furniture was sold when the owners were forced to sell it to the German Republic in 1942; but gradually the castle is acquiring items from the periods, and someday hopes to open more rooms to tourists.

A couple of us walked down the hill through the cute "old town", which was also razed by the French, so the oldest buildings are less than 350 years old. The town is characterized by shops for tourists: shoe stores, souvenir shops, restaurants of all cuisines, wine shops (selling Reisling, what else?) and hotels.

Tuesday was spent on the barge nearly the entire day. The river had risen and widen overnight due to heavy rains further upstream so we were unable to dock at any of the ports. By this time, I have had enough of going through locks. At first it was fascinating to watch, but after four or five a day, I’d grown bored with them. I did have a fun afternoon sitting in the wheel house with the captain and learning everything there is to know about sailing a barge. And who could forget our special cooking lesson with Mario. A Black Forest Cake will never be the same again.

We made a very quick visit to Trier on Tuesday, a 2000 year old Roman city where I was able to see the oldest Roman Ruins in Germany known as the Porta Nigra (the Black Gate). We did a lot of walking around the historic city center, took the cute little tourist tram and saw the main sights of Trier, as well as some old churches and quaint old neighborhoods.

Can you tell though that we were getting to that point in a European tour at which all cathedrals begin to meld together into one giant old Gothic Romanesque Neo-Whatever...it's not what we are supposed to do, we tourists...I think we're supposed to dutifully attend to the uniqueness of each site, but after a while the phenomenon sometimes called "museum fatigue" sets in, and so it was for us in Trier.

Wednesday we stopped in Remich, Luxembourg and took a bus to the City of Luxembourg. Raise your hands if you knew there was more than one city in Luxembourg. The state of Luxembourg is trilingual. French, German, and a bastard combination of the two. God bless the German language. Luxembourg City is a bit odd. There's a huge crevasse that runs near the center of the city, and one would think that a river would be at the bottom. No river, just miles and miles of urban forest and hiking trails. It's quite striking. The people are nice; the food was good, and the shopping not bad at all. I have now been to a Lush store in...let's see... Croatia, Luxembourg, and the U.S....A fun fact I realized today.

Thursday found us in France. Metz (pronounced 'Mess'), capital of Lorraine, is often dismissed because we think it must be an ugly, industrial town like so many in Northern France. Metz, however, surprised us all with its Roman origins, riverside parks, historic centre and attractive architecture. It made for a pleasant place to visit. Metz was an independent republic during the Middle Ages, before joining France in the late 16th century. It was annexed by Germany in 1871 and released back to France once and for all in 1944.

Metz's centerpiece is the Cathédrale St-Étienne. Under construction from 1220 to 1522, it is renowned for its wonderful 13th - to 20th-century stained glass, including some by Chagall.

Our barge trip was over too soon. Friday, we were dropped off in Mainz for our last night. Mainz is a beautiful city in Germany just a few miles away from Frankfurt. Mainz also has many parts where old buildings from before the war are still standing. These are filled with boutiques, and restaurants, and there is a lovely romantic atmosphere to them. Mainz's Old City, or Altstadt, runs along one main street from the Cathedral (surprise, surprise) about three city blocks. The Gutenberg Museum is in Mainz, but my brain was too overloaded to visit another museum.

Another wonderful Phi Mu Foundation trip that I’ll treasure forever. I was pleasantly surprised how beautiful the country was and will definitely visit Germany again. Vundarbar!

Enjoy my photos from the Mosel River Cruise.

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