Days 23, 24, and 25: In Which We Are Exhausted

I am condensing these days because Covid aftereffects have slowed us down so much—me, in particular—that we didn’t do much.

On Day 23, Tom and I visited the Hofburg Palace, the imperial residence of the Habsburgs. I have said that once you’ve seen one palace, you’ve seen them all, and this is true of the Hofburg as well. It is actually a massive complex of palace buildings, but we only chose to see the Imperial Residences, which includes the silver and china collection, the Sissi Museum, and the residence of Sissi and Franz Joseph, the last rulers of the 600+ year reign of the Hapsburgs.

We entered the silver and china collection because someone directed us there, but not because we wanted to see it. It was rather like the funhouse of mirrors. We went around and around the exhibit, which was an endless collection of plates, candelabras, épèrgnes, bowls, basins, tableware, flasks, vases, etc., etc., including a monstrous gold centerpiece used for state dinners that must have been made in multiple pieces, as it went on forever. They don’t let you near that one, but you can see it through windows. We could not find our way out for the longest time, but finally emerged and entered the Sissi Museum.

Sissi was the Empress Elisabeth, known as Sissi all her life. She married her first cousin Emperor Franz Joseph when she was 16. She reminded me of Princess Diana. She was raised in a carefree atmosphere in Bavaria, but the Habsburg court was rigidly bound with traditions and rules that she found constraining in the extreme. The marriage was happy at first, and Franz Joseph seemed to adore her without ceasing, but after the birth of their last child, Sissi began spending all her time away from court. Under the excuse of ill health (some of which was caused by her poor diet and beauty regimen), she traveled widely, returning only rarely to Vienna.

Sissi and her 20-inch waist.

The couple’s only son and heir, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed murder-suicide with his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary von Vetsera. This is referred to as the Meyerling incident as it took place at his hunting lodge in Meyerling. Apparently Rudolf shot the poor child, then sat there for several hours before offing himself.

The worst part of this was that Mary wasn’t even his first choice for this grisly double suicide. Rudolf had first asked a courtesan, who had the good sense to to turn him down. Mary, whom he had seduced and who was, at 17, emotionally vulnerable, agreed. Rudolf had syphillis, which he generously shared with his wife, Princess Stephanie, who became sterile. No doubt that explains in part his choices in life and in death. Poor Mary was disinterred several times over the years by people trying to prove various theories of what “actually” happened.

After this scandal, Sissi wore black for the rest of her life. She wrote a great deal of self-pitying poetry about how she longed for the sea, or wanted to escape on the wings of a seagull, and no one ever born could understand her. The original drama queen.

However, no one deserved to die as Sissi did. She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. She wasn’t even his first choice; he was in Geneva to kill the Duke of Orlėans.

As far as I could tell, Sissi spent most of her time on herself: her ankle-length hair took two to three hours to arrange and an entire day to wash. She starved and exercised to maintain her 20-inch waist and developed a horror of fat women which she passed on to her daughter, who was terrified when she met Queen Victoria—a royal not known for her wasp-waist. Sissy’s obsession with remaining a great beauty is reminiscent of some modern women I could think of. She refused to have photographs or portraits taken after the age of 30.

On the plus side, she defied the court and her in-laws in many—most—ways, maintaining her independence and doing things her way. A narcissistic woman, but strong and independent.

Emperor Franz Joseph as a young man. He was saved from an assassination attempt by that high, thick, tough collar. He wore military regalia at all times unless alone with the family.

Franz Joseph, in contrast, was a hard-working and dutiful monarch who tried very hard to be the epitome of a good king. He was under the impression that he was abstemious, eschewing all luxury by, for instance, sleeping in a plain, iron bed. This, of course, was nonsense, as anyone touring his private apartments could see. I think he was well-meaning, though.

Anyway, when Franz Joseph died, that was the end of the Habsburg empire. Not entirely the end of the Habsburgs, though. They spread their DNA throughout Europe through intermarriage with other royal families. Queen Elizabeth II, for example, is a descendent of this vast royal family.

Once we got through this museum, Tom and I were wiped out. I had hoped to see the Imperial Treasury, but we just couldn’t do it. We stopped for lunch at the first outdoor cafe we came to, and it was absolutely delicious. Then we headed back to the Daniel Hotel for a five-hour nap, dinner, and then slept for 10.5 hours. This post-Covid thing is not to be taken lightly.

A better view of the sailboat sculpture that sits mysteriously atop the Hotel Daniel, keeping the urban bees company.

On Day 24, we walked to the botanical garden next door, where we couldn’t read the signs, then had water and ice cream at the Belvedere Palace cafe. Then back to the Daniel for more napping. I feel I missed most of Vienna, thanks to the aftermath of Covid, but we have learned not to push it. We checked out and flew to Amsterdam, where we will depart for home.

We are staying at the Linden Hotel. We checked in very late, around 11:30 pm. Exhausted, we fell into bed. I thought we would instantly be asleep, but the noise was ridiculous. We could hear every person who walked by, talking. Dogs barked, motorcycles roared, trunks rumbled by, and people kept it up until well after midnight. It sounded like they were all in our room. We finally fell asleep after all the late-night revealers went home. In the (late) morning when we got up, we discovered that all the windows in our pie-shaped corner room were wide open. We had been too exhausted to notice. We are hoping to have a better sleep our second night. It is a Sunday, too, so there should be fewer partiers out there.

On Day 25, we walked to an outdoor cafe for breakfast, then went to an apothecary to get some meds for Tom, who is still coughing. Then back to the hotel for more napping.

Tom in a little street near our hotel in Amsterdam.

I think this concludes my recording of our journey. We are too exhausted to do much, and tomorrow, we fly home. I can hardly wait. My advice to anyone recovering from Covid is not to push yourself as we did at first, thinking it was just like a five-day cold. Rest. Rest. And more rest. This stuff is serious, and I am hoping I don’t experience this deep fatigue for too long. It is truly debilitating.

Amsterdam is such a lovely city.

Day 22: The Belvedere Palace

We visited the Belvedere Palace today, which is just around the corner from our hotel. The highlight of the visit was the large collection of Klimt paintings, including the ultra-famous “The Kiss.” The museum also has an extensive collection of Austrian and German paintings by lesser-known painters. I found the paintings by women especially good, as they seemed to capture the individuality and personality of their subjects so well.

A few Klimt paintings: left to right “Woman in Gold,” “ “Judith,” and “The Kiss.” I find “Judith” fascinating. Her face is not the face of a woman who has just decapitated her enemy (Holofernes’ head appears as something of an afterthought at the lower right). She looks like a woman who just had the best orgasm of her life.

While the Belvedere is just a minor palace compared to the Schönbrunn or the Hofburg, it is nonetheless a palace, with all the marble, gold accents, sweeping vistas, statues, fountains, etc. that one could wish. I find it quietly satisfying that where once these were the exclusive previews of the aristocratic uber-wealthy, they are now visited by the People, who gain experience, knowledge, and pleasure from these former haunts of the rich. I look forward to the day when we can tour the gaudy, overblown mansions of the likes of Dr. Oz, Joel Osteen, and other multi-billionaires. I shall take pleasure in dribbling melted ice cream on their marble terraces.

Tom, me, and a sphinx.
The Belvedere Palace.
Ceiling, the Belvedere.
Belvedere Palace gardens—some of them, anyway.

We ate outside in the museum cafe. The food was delicious. There were some yellowjacket-type waspy things that thought so, too. They haven’t anywhere near the mean aggression of an American yellowjacket. Those girls will take you down if you get in their way.

David, Susan, Linda, and Clod all departed today. We are staying for another two days, then on to Amsterdam again for a couple of days before returning home. We spent the afternoon doing nothing, which felt just right. Tom and I are both still feeling the after-affects of Covid and are more tired than usual.

Days 20 and 21: The Road to Vienna

Leaving Budapest.

We planned to take a train from Budapest to Vienna. I went down to the lobby a bit early, hoping for tea and maybe a pastry. When I sat down, the hotel manager asked if he could get me anything. I asked for tea and a pastry. He indicated the breakfast buffet in the bar and I said I didn’t want to buy a whole breakfast, thanks. He said he would see what he could do. A pot of tea and a basket of pastries arrived shortly, on the house.

The hotel arranged the train journey and called a cab, which was inadequate for the luggage of six people. The hotel manager took our overflow luggage to the train station in a separate cab, which he paid for himself because he said he should have ordered a larger cab. The service at the Clark Hotel is beyond amazing, and it was inexpensive, compared to a similar hotel in the US. Highly recommend.

The train ride was about 2.5 hours. We checked in to the Daniel Hotel in Vienna. The Daniel is a bit eccentric in a charming, hip and happening way. I could have done without the hammock in the room, which hit my head every time I walked by it, but I wound it up out of the way and only bumped into it occasionally after that. The roof of the hotel features a strange sculpture of a warping sailboat. They keep bees on the roof and sell the honey, which they also use in their unexpectedly delicious cafe food. There is an airstream trailer parked in the front garden, near the grape vines and rose garden.

The rooftop sailboat sculpture.

We walked down to the Belvedere Palace, not far from the hotel. Apparently, a prince was given it for defeating Napoleon in a battle. It’s huge, with gardens and fountains and furbelows, and now houses an excellent art museum. We were on a mission to find an outdoor cafe, which we didn’t find for a while because we were not in the outdoor cafe section of town.

Here we all are, posing in front of the Belvedere Palace. Just a weekend getaway place for the prince.

By the time we found an outdoor cafe, I was at the end of my rope. I didn’t realize it, but I had been experiencing lingering effects of Covid even though I was technically over it. We got a table and I nearly put my head down and cried before going to sleep, but managed to order smoked salmon instead. I felt marginally improved after eating, but took a taxi back to the hotel to take a nap while the others walked to the town center.

I found out later that I wasn’t the only one who had been feeling the after-effects of the disease. I guess I thought that once we passed the five-day mark, it would all be over, just like a cold—which is what it felt like. Not so, and I continued to feel ill for another day. So ill that I took a Covid test, convinced I was still sick with it, but it was negative. I guess I was pretty naive to think I could just bounce back, especially at my age. Thinking back, I had experienced a lot of pain and muscle weakness in Budapest that I passed off as caused by the extreme heat and my general lack of fitness.

The next day was pretty much a zero for me. The others visited the Schönbrunn Palace outside Vienna. I elected not to go, which turned out to be a good call, as I felt very ill. (This is when I tested myself.) By evening, I was somewhat recovered.

We walked to a brewery restaurant for dinner known for its local specialties and beer. I knew I had never had good wiener schnitzel before—unless it is supposed to taste like extra-crispy shoe leather—so I ordered that, plus a beer which I knew nothing about. The beer was tasty. The wiener schnitzel arrived in two golden slabs, piping hot. I can now say I have had probably the best possible wiener schnitzel, and I intend never to order it again. It’s not bad, just kind of boring.

So hopefully, I have recovered from the lingering effects of Covid and can go enjoy Vienna!

Day 19: Exploring Budapest

The next day was as scorching as the day before. Linda, Tom, and I started with the Great Market Hall, with its soaring girders and colorful exterior. The building is absolutely enormous and we never even made it to the second or third floors. If we had been able to read Hungarian, we would have known that all the gifty-type stuff was on the second floor, while the third floor was restaurants. The first floor is food—piles of sausages and meats, mounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, bins full of paprikas and other spices. It was a feast for the senses, and reminded me of the open-air market on Las Ramblas in Barcelona.

Ex Teri or of the Great Market Hall. It is impossible to get a photo of the entire, enormous building.
First floor of the Great Market Hall.
Tom and Linda at a wine stall in the Hall. Linda was looking for a Hungarian varietal called Tokaji, known as Tokay in English. You buy it according to its sweetness rating, from 1 to 10.

To tell the truth, I was reluctant to tackle the stairs. My knees have tendonitis, and it has worsened considerably on this trip. The extreme heat hasn’t helped. We shopped on the first floor, then wandered down the shopping street we noticed the day before, running into Susan and David at an outdoor cafe—at least Tom did. Linda and I went into a linen store and disappeared for a while.

We walked to the Great Mosque. The tour guide was very knowledgeable. She explained that when the synagogue was built, in the mid-1800s, the Neolog Jewish community wanted to assimilate with Hungarian society. The interior is very church-like and unlike any other synagogue I have seen. It even has an organ, when musical instruments are usually forbidden in temple. The Neolog community, she explained, was neither Orthodox nor Reform, but rather a movement to modernize without sacrificing many of the traditional elements of Judaism.

Exterior of the Great Synagogue.

The building combines Moorish and Christian architectural and decorative elements while retaining Jewish symbolism. The Ark of the Covenant is vast, containing, if I remember correctly, 60 Torah scrolls, which is a lot. They are enormous scrolls, always hand-written, and very expensive.

Interior of the Great Synagogue. The enormous golden structure with the red curtain is the ark. While it resembles a Christian sanctuary, you can see the tablets of the 10 Commandments near the top, it is crowned with a Star of David, and there are many other Jewish elements that are harder to make out in this photo. The Moorish elements are everywhere, in juxtaposition with a massive pipe organ.

The synagogue was abandoned and damaged during WWII. I am ashamed that I didn’t know more about the eager willingness of the Hungarian Nazis to exterminate the Jews, causing staff at Auschwitz to complain they were sending too many Jews too quickly to the camp. There is a graveyard on the premises (also very different for a synagogue), and most of the dates were 1944 and 1945. There is a smaller temple dedicated to the heroes of WWI, and a very touching memorial to the dead of WWII; a silvery metal weeping willow with leaves inscribed with the names of those who perished. I will never understand this, and I am appalled and frightened by the ugly resurgence of Nazism in my own country—our ancestors fought and died to make sure Nazism was defeated. It weighs very heavily on my spirit.

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It is beautiful and austere. The leaves are inscribed with the names of the dead.

Susan, David, Tom, and I went to the New York Cafe for lunch, which was delicious, but it could hardly compete with the decor, which was as much over the top as any palace. It’s also the size of a small palace. There was also live music, an excellent violinist and pianist playing classical music. A lovely experience.

The New York. Cafe.
Ceiling detail, the New York Cafe.

I returned to the hotel after that, exhausted from the heat. Later, we went to a charming restaurant called Déryné Bisztró. It was very close to the hotel, but walking involved going through a massive tunnel through the cliff behind the hotel, and we opted for a cab. The restaurant had a nice patio seating area, the food was delightful, and the service excellent. However, it was probably the noisiest restaurant I have ever eaten at. It is right on the street, and trams went by regularly, as did sirens. Just as a lovely jazz ensemble started up, the church across the street started ringing its very loud bells at 8 ‘o clock. It didn’t stop for at least 10 minutes. We braced ourselves when the next hour rolled around, it it just bonged softly a few times and quit. I asked our server why it rang forever at eight, but hardly at all at nine. He looked puzzled, so I guess he has stopped noticing. We did enjoy the jazz ensemble during the quieter moments.

Day 16: Beautiful Vienna, Which We Did Not See

We spent a lot of ti e staring out of our stateroom window at the scenery. This is some of it.

We docked at Vienna, so the view from our stateroom changed. We were facing across the river from the old city, which meant a view of very modern buildings, including a tall skyscraper with a weird wavy design, and a spire that looked like it might be a control tower.

Cute little Austrian town on theDanube. Don’t ask me which one.
This is all we saw of Vienna. I assume there’s a lot more to see.

Not moving around is tiring, if you can believe it. I still feel like I have a bad cold, but the inactivity is getting to me. It is so much worse for Tom, who normally averages six miles of walking a day.

I spent my time working on a little graphic novel for our middle granddaughter about her favorite stuffed animal. Bunny is no longer as important to Jessamyn as she once was, but I promised, so I will deliver. I am refreshing my skills on Procreate—I let myself get rusty.

I finished an audiobook called “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” by TJ Klune. It is a gently humorous fantasy about the healing properties of love and the moral courage required to buck a bad system. I absolutely loved it. I had intended to buy it as a Kindle book, but I. Screwed up. However, the narrator, Daniel Henning, was very good, and added to the humor with the different voices for a very diverse cast of characters.

By late afternoon, I was beginning to feel better. If the experience of my travel companions is anything to go by, recovery is rapid. Just about everyone but me is back to normal except for the occasional cough. Glory to the house of science, which brought us the vaccine.

We left Vienna this evening. The six of us had already planned to go back to Vienna for a few days, so I am not upset about not seeing it on the tour. I am a little worried about the weight I must be gaining, sitting here and eating three squares plus an afternoon snack and getting no exercise. But seriously, the meals are by way of entertainment. We watched another stupid movie called “Blythe Spirit,” based on a play by Noel Coward and featuring Judi Dench. It sounded promising, but wasn’t.

Stormy evening on the Danube.

Day 13: The Plague Ship

We knew we were risking Covid when we embarked. But all six of us were fully vaccinated and boosted, and we were careful about masking. Unfortunately, not all of our fellow travelers were as careful.

Early in the trip, a gentleman from Australia was taken off the ship sick with Covid and sent to the hospital. We heard later he had been seriously ill. He was discharged from the hospital and went directly home. He had isolated in his room for the first few days, so none of us had been anywhere near him. We weren’t overly concerned.

As the days went by, we noticed more and more people hacking and coughing, and mask wearing was only about 40%. One guy NEVER wore a mask.

Then, the evening we set sail for Regensburg, Clod tested positive for Covid. We all did the quick results test. I was the only one not feeling symptoms, and my test was negative. Tom’s was positive.

We all disembarked in Regensburg and took a taxi to a little booth to take a PCR test. Results were reported in two hours. By this time, I was feeling a faint tickle in my chest.

We stopped at an apothecary for some meds and walked back to the ship, a stroll of about 10 minutes. We got to the quay where River Duchess was moored. There was a long bench close to the ship.

We all sat down and stared glumly at the ship. Once we got back on board, we knew we would be confined to our staterooms and would not be allowed to socialize with each other. We talked for a few minutes and then one of the officers appeared and herded us gently back on to the ship.

We were all positive. The protocol was to stay in quarantine for five days, which meant that on the last day, when we were due to disembark in Budapest, we would be released from quarantine. Everyone assured us that all we had to do was ask for something (other than leaving our staterooms), and it would be brought to us. The phone rang constantly with people checking on us and asking if we needed anything. Our rooms would not be cleaned, but we could get fresh sheets and towels any time, and they would do our laundry.

They have been as good as their word. In addition to taking our meal orders, Alex brings everyone a snack in the afternoon, and anything we have asked for has been quickly fulfilled. Alex has been taking care of all of us.

I have taken a few photos, but much of the time, there isn’t much to see from our stateroom. We haven’t been bored, but Tom greatly misses his daily walk. My ankles were very swollen from all the walking in the heat, and are back to their normal size.

None of us are seriously ill, though I, being the last to get it, am experiencing a worsening of symptoms as the others are recovering. It feels like a cold, no worse.

Every day, we get a paper agenda informing us of all the activities we will not be participating in that day. But we did enjoy the 2/3 of the trip that we did get to experience outside of our staterooms

The view from our stateroom for one entire day. I don’t remember where.

Day 12: Nuremberg

The choice today was between the WWII historical tour, which involved a lot of Nazi stuff, a walk down from the castle involving steep stuff and cobblestones—or free time at the city center. Three guesses which I chose. I have had enough of Nazis at home, where they appear to be taking over.

The tour guide on our bus was highly amusing. She was from Scotland. She came here as a young woman to improve her German. Apparently someone once called from the back of the bus, “Shouldn’t you have improved your English first?” She had a lot of funny little stories like that. She pointed out various points of historical interest before dropping the walking groups off at the castle.

Linda, Susan, and I walked around the central square. Nuremberg is a bit like Disneyland in that most of it has been replicated. It was thoroughly flattened in WWII. The stained glass was taken out of the old churches at the start of the war and was thus preserved. Except for the church of St. Sebaldus, the church where Johann Pachelbel and his son served as organists. (Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major is my absolute favorite piece of classical music.) The church was badly damaged but restored, though many of the stained glass windows have clear glass inserts where the stained glass was broken and not restored.

Interior of St. Sebaldus. The church also boasts a massive organ, and I bet Pachelbel’s Canon sounds
magnificent when played on it.

We didn’t go into the main cathedral, but on the hour, glockenspiel figures move around and trumpeters try to trumpet. (The mechanism appeared to not quite be working.) Really, the only structures left standing were a couple of houses, one of them the house of artist Albrecht Dürer. It all looks authentic and I am rather in awe of the time, effort, and expense required to do this.

We poked into a number of shops and walked a short way along the Pegnitz River. We saw a huge school of rather large fish just hanging lazily in the water, testifying to its purity. I am extremely impressed with the cleanliness on the waterways we have traveled on. We in the US have a long way to go.

Linda and Susan on the river walk.

We stopped at a specialty bakery to pick up some gifts, and we each chose a large cookie and a drink. I disliked my choice even though it has a lot of chocolate on it. It was very sweet, rich, dense, and again, very sweet. Sort of the cookie version of fruitcake. I left most of it there, thinking longingly of the delicious snowball in Rothenburg.

Market stalls in the center of the town square were offering the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables convey to me that they were some sort of cookie, not a fungus. Oh, well.

Gorgeous produce in the market square.

We met Thomas at an unmistakable landmark, known as the Beautiful Fountain. It is enameled in green, gold, and red. There are two rings caught in the ironwork surrounding the Beautiful Fountain, a small one of iron and a large one of brass. They can be turned, and the legend is that if you turn one of the rings around three times, your wishes will come true—just one of several stories about the fountain. I turned the ring, but forgot to make a wish.

The Beautiful Fountain.
A beautiful window. That is all.

Back at the ship, a historian who is an expert on the Main-Danube Canal came to speak to us. Europe has a continental divide, just as North America does, running from Spain deep into Russia. Above the divide, rivers run northerly, below, southerly. As early as 796 CE, Charlemagne attempted to cross the divide by building the Fossa Karolingen connecting two rivers to allow travel in a north-south direction, This still exists as a sort of ditch. King Ludwig I of Bavaria tried again with a longer canal, but it was never economically viable due to the introduction of railroad travel, the fact that the canal boats were powered by mules pulling them from the land, and difficulty in keeping the water level deep enough. The current canal connects the Main and the Danube, and construction on it ended in 1992.

The canal has 16 locks, growing ever larger as we approach the divide. The locks are 40 feet wide and the ship is 37 feet wide, so you do the math. Last night we were in a lock. I opened our window and measured the distance between the railing and the concrete wall with my hand. It was about six inches. These river cruise captains are amazing.

Day 11- In Which We Visit a Franconian Farm

When I was pondering which excursions to take before we left on our trip, the Franconian farm and village visit with tractor ride did not appeal. But we changed our minds after listening to the cruise director, Thomas, talk about it.

For one thing, I didn’t realize that doing a walking tour through every city and village would become tiring. I’m not talking about the exercise, though it has been a bit hard for this couch potato to get used to. It was the routine. Tom and I (maybe mostly me) thought a visit to a farm in the country and a tiny village would be a nice break. It was! The alternative was a walking tour of Bamburg, which was fine, but we wanted a change of pace. Tour director Thomas warned about the smell of pig manure on the farm, but this was no deterrent. Pigs, after all, smell, and farms tend to have pigs around here. Another consideration was the heat—it was predicted in the high 80s. Walking through a city in the heat did not seem like the most fun.

We traveled by bus for about an hour through lovely pastoral Bavaria, passing through several villages on the way. Our destination was the village of Wohnau, population 97. Apparently, the population has been growing because people who were raised here go off to school, perhaps getting jobs elsewhere, but when they start having children, some return because they have lovely memories of their own childhoods in this town.

Bavaria is the breadbasket of Germany, according one guide.

Wohnau is a Catholic town. Most towns and cities in Bavaria are a mix of Lutheran and Catholic, but not Wohnau. Apparently, Bavaria tends to be more religious than other German states. Wohnau has crucifixes everywhere.

We first stopped for what our guide, Kristina, called “a techno bio break,”—a bathroom stop—at the Smitte’n Hof—the farm we were to visit. Then we walked through the town, which took no time all, to the small cemetery. I love cemeteries, and this was a miniature beauty. The gravestones are fronted with miniature gardens, each with a tiny well for holy water and a lantern. The story is that Wohnau had no cemetery and the town’s residents were buried in a neighboring village. A man from Wohnau wanted to be buried in the village in which he had lived his entire life, so he started a project to build a cemetery in Wohnau, which got underway. Tragically, before the cemetery was finished, the man died, and was buried in the neighboring village. Some bold youths went under cover of that very night, dug him up, amid reburied him in Wohnau—I am not sure where, as, you will remember, the cemetary had not been finished.

At the entrance to the farm.

Kristina told us that in Germany, you rent the gravesites for 25 years, then you have to renew the lease. In the old days, if no one renewed the rent, the body would be exhumed and sent to the bone house for storage. They don’t have bone houses anymore, so I asked what happens to the bodies now? She said she had never thought about it and didn’t know. Hmmm.

The tiny, exquisite cemetery of Wohnau.
This was the prettiest memorial in the cemetery. Each of the stones is fronted with a tiny garden, like the houses’ front gardens in miniature.
Every grave has a holy water well and a lantern.

We turned back and walked to the center of town—a few paces from the cemetery at the edge of town. A tall, dead birch tree was stranding in a metal sheath there, its branches festooned with faded ribbons. The tree is decorated and erected in April for some sort of spring festival, but it is looking a bit sad now.

The deceased festival tree.

We visited the Catholic Church, which was tiny but exquisite, decorated in the Baroque style. The priest only comes once every three weeks or so to perform the Mass. The families take turns decorating and cleaning the church for this event.

The little church at Wohnau. The lady in front is our guide, Kristina. I love the twisty Baroque column, embellished with golden vines. The saint depicted is a patron saint of livestock. His name started with a “W,” but an Internet search failed to bring him up.

Back to the farm, where we were escorted to a cool stone cellar for sausage, bread, and soft cheese. Our host, Herr Schmitt, an elderly patriarch, talked at length in German, and sometimes Kristina translated, some times a pretty frauliein neighbor, who looked the very picture of a German girl. She spoke excellent English.

The first snack at the farm. Delicious. I just ate the second snack (cherries and brown sourdough bread) without photographing it.

Then it was time for the tractor ride! Herr Schmitt is the only “full time” farmer in the village. Others have to have a spouse working elsewhere as there is no employment in the village. Herr Schmitt has cannily parlayed his farm into a tourist attraction. He entertains tours with local snacks and wine tastings, tractor rides, etc. He also offers camping, has a store with farm-made products like noodles, makes and sells wine, of course, and no doubt has other enterprises. Very clever man.

We piled into a wooden wagon pulled by a tiny blue tractor. It set off into the woods nearby, emitting diesel fumes, but they weren’t too obnoxious. Our driver—who turned out to be from Connecticut—kept well behind the other diesel-belching tiny red tractor. The woods were quite dense, composed mostly of beech and oak trees, mostly slender, but growing closely

The tiny blue tractor takes us into the forest.

together. We went by the neighboring village where the residents of Wohnau were once buried, past wheat fields, and up into vineyards. The vineyards had a multitude of small structures for each family’s tools. (Different parts of the vineyard belonged to different families.) Some of these structures looked like tool sheds; others looked like miniature chalets, with tiny front porches, tiled roofs, and stovepipes. We glimpsed a minute domed chapel among the vines as well.

A little chapel in the vineyards. Sadly, we didn’t get a shot of the miniature chalet/tool shed.

Then we plunged into the forest again and so back to the farm. Kristina was talking about the farm dog, which she adored, but had died of old age. Apparently in Germany, you can’t have a farm dog unless you can prove the dog is acceptable to the people who come to the farm. I don’t know how they accomplish that.

We went down to the cellar again, blessing the cool temperature, where they served us small, delicious cherries, brown sourdough bread, and two local wines, one white, one red. I recall that the red varietal was called Domina. Both were made on the farm. They were quite good, though they probably wouldn’t be my main tipple. Herr Schmitt wanted to know how crocodile tasted. I was able, through Kristina, to inform him that we don’t eat crocodiles in America, but alligator tastes just like chicken.

Our host, Herr Schmitt.

As we departed Smitte’n Hof, we were each gifted with a round green bottle of 2016 Bacchus Franken, a white wine made on the farm. Given Herr Schmidt’s excellent commercial instincts, I was surprised we weren’t shown the farm store.

The wine from the farm. We were given two bottles, but we haven’t opened them yet.

The bus ride back used the super highway and didn’t take quite as long. It was a hot day, and felt so good to take a shower! The water in our shower pours from the ceiling without a trace of pressure regulator.

By the way, there was nary a pig to be seen—or smelled—on the farm. And it was just the break I was hoping for—confirmed by the others in our group who had opted for the Bamburg walking tour. We rejoined them and went into town to find rauchbier, a smoked beer that is the local speciality. We found it, along with a cheerful waiter who spoke perfect English. It is so far the only beer I have tasted in Germany that I really liked. It has a slight bacon-y nose that only enhanced the flavor, in my opinion. Then we trotted through the 89 degree heat back to the bus, and the River Duchess departed for Nuremberg. I did I get this hasty shot of a house right on the river. It looks like an enormous piece of Wedgewood porcelain.

Day 10: Fairytale Rothenburg

Rothenburg is distinguished from our other visits by being located well-inland, on a nice high point that was easier to defend. It was also distinguished because it was never bombed during WWII, sparing the historic buildings—they have not been meticulously recreated, as we saw in so many places, but beautifully preserved.

We traveled to Rothenburg via bus. (The bus driver is always the same. He travels from location to location with the bus, and I bet he beats us every time.) We traveled along what is called the Romantic Highway through lush pastoral land. We saw fields of sugar beets, cow corn (hard feed corn that they use for ethanol), wheat, mustard, and many crops I couldn’t identify.

A wheat filed along the Romantic Highway. The clouds here are gorgeous.

We wound our way through tiny villages until we came at last to the ramparts of Rothenburg, which completely enclose the town, as they did in Medieval times and earlier.

The Medieval ramparts of Rothenburg. The ramparts have a roof and 6ou can walk all around the town under it. Tom and I didn’t do that part of the tour.

Rothenburg is extremely quaint and charming, with elaborate half-timbered houses, an old cathedral, many town wells, and narrow, cobbled streets. It is also a tourist attraction, and not just for foreign visitors. The language I heard spoken most frequently by the visitors walking by was German.

Town gate, looking toward the town from the site of the original castle.

Our guide, Harry, also added to my understanding of the stumblestones. He emphasized they are not only to commemorate the Jews, but anyone who was murdered by the Nazis, including Romany (Gypsies), the mentally retarded, people with disabilities, gays, and anyone else the Nazis deemed unworthy to live. Lesson taken. Odd that they are called stumblestones, as they are actually brass plaques that are far flatter and less likely to cause a stumble than the cobbles surrounding them.

There are storks nesting on the rooftops here—the first I have seen! Just like in the fairytales.

A real, live stork. Sadly, I only got this shot of his or her butt as he or she bent to feed the babies.

He took us by the Museum of Crime, which is evidently the largest museum anywhere dedicated to the subject of crime and punishment. It is also called the torture museum. Nuh-uh.

It is probably extremely expensive to live in Rothenburg. There are very strict laws regarding the appearance of the buildings. All the roofs are required to be covered with red clay “beaver tail” tiles. All the windows must have wooden frames. Skylights are verboten. However, I did notice glass tiles the same shape and size as the ceramic beavertail tiles on several buildings, obviously letting light through to the upper stories. So people, as always, find workarounds.

A gorgeous house in Rothenburg. You can see the beavertail tiles.

The first castle/fortification in Rothenberg was built around 1100 C.E. on a spur of rock that projects above the surrounding lush valley of the Tauber River. Little remains of the original structure but a small chapel. The former castle is now a pretty garden that command views of the Tauber River valley and orchards below. Mature trees provide much-appreciated shade, and there is a lavender garden, a small fountain, flowers, and stone benches where you can sit and admire the spectacular view. We saw a pair of storks flying overhead, but by the time I got my camera phone out, they had flown away.

A fountain in the garden that now reigns over the site of the original castle. Very peaceful, and the goldfish in the picture seemed suspended motionless in time.
One of the many spectacular views from the garden.

We actually had free time in Rothenburg to wander around guideless, shop, and sample the local cuisine. Tom and I stopped at a bakery for water, and I purchased a “snowball,” which is a large sphere of what appears to be curls of cookie dough held together by various things in different flavors. I selected a dark chocolate snowball—I guess the snow was dirty. It was absolutely delicious, with a crisp, light texture and not too sweet. We devoured it. We visited the castle-turned-garden next, then wandered back to the marktplatz in the town center. The Rathaus, or city hall, in the center has a tall clock tower. When the clock rings the hour, two windows open to either side and automated figures appear, drink beer from steins while the bells chime, then retire behind the windows again.

The clock tower. Everyone pauses on the hour to watch the automatons drink their beer.

We met up with our friends in the marktplatz and decided to try to find a restaurant for lunch that Harry the guide suggested. We did not find it, but we did happen upon a sandwich restaurant that served Mexican Jarritos, Cubano sandwiches, and other exotic fare of the New World. It was not what we were looking for, but we needed to stop for lunch and several men outside the establishment assured us the sandwiches were good. They were VERY good! We ate outside on the cobbles under umbrellas as children dashed in and out of the restaurant. It was a family establishment. The chef was from Puerto Rico, and his wife, a German, handled the front of the restaurant. I think the family lived in the same building, and their kids played on the sidewalk.

I broke away from the group to do some gift shopping and found things for four on my list. This was a godsend—there is usually no time to shop. Being a tourist Mecca, there were many unusual shops and interesting merchandise. And the famous Christmas store was in Rothenburg—as well as every other town we have visited. Linda caved in and bought a large bag full of Christmas cheer.

You just can’t get away from the famous Christmas store.

On the way back, the bus took the super highway instead of the Romantic Highway. In addition to the fields full of growing things, we also saw large fields of solar panels. Germany also uses wind power, but they shut down all their nuclear reactors after Fukushima—a move that with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, proved to be a mistake.

Day 8: I Take a Down Day

We docked at Würzburg, where there is a royal palace that rivals Versailles. I was feeling a bit worn down, not having slept well the night before. I also realized I was getting a bit snappish, which is a sign I am tired, and it isn’t very nice for other people. So I stayed on board, blogging and reading a trashy novel.

Tom contacted me from the town when they returned from admiring what sounds like a truly amazing palace, complete with Tiepolo frescoed ceilings and amazing three-dimensional plaster work. I did not regret my choice. All palaces are different—and they are all weirdly alike, the obscene excrescences of a previous generation’s multi-billionaires who spent their money indulging their lust for self-aggrandizement and power instead of, say, feeding people. Their only redeeming value is their patronage of the arts, and I am glad these monstrous monuments to ego are now available for the commoners to enjoy.

So I walked as instructed to a large bridge, met Tom, and met up with our friends. Würzburg is a modern city with many older buildings and an huge cathedral. For how I feel about huge cathedrals, please see my remarks on palaces. However, this cathedral was rather interesting. The bones of the building are Romanesque, with Roman arches built in alternating red and white stones, giving it that distinctive look. Inside, the bones are clean, but the apse has been elaborate statues of popes and saints facing the austere columns. Many of the windows must have been shattered during WWII, and have been replaced with clear glass in modern designs. Two altars to either side of the sanctuary feature overwrought and gilded altar displays in the baroque style. Interspersed between the more Renaissance and Baroque works are several modern statues. The sanctuary light is housed in an abstract, towering sculpture.

Smaller chapels to either side feature gothic arches and what looks like original stained glass. And at the foot of the main aisle stands a monumental menorah. It is an altogether unique cathedral that reflects the ages it has endured.

And that is all I really remember of Würzburg—except for a delicious tomato and cheese sandwich in a perfectly delicious roll baked with many different seeds and saffron. The bread in Europe is not just something to hold your sandwich together, it adds to the pleasure of the meal.

So I will share some photos I think are interesting that I haven’t shared before. Enjoy.

Woven nsragon feom the T@iland exhibition at the Floriade.
Floriade exhibit.

Lovelocks on a bridge in Cologne. The idea is the lovers turn the key in the lock to secure undying love and then throw the key in the river below. The river must be crowded with keys. I have no idea how much these things must weigh.
Interior shot, Cologne Cathedral.
Gigantic hilltop fort in Würzburg, the capital of Lower Franconia. Which is actually upper Bavaria.
Red sandstone carving on the side of an old house in Rothenburg. It says, “Fool, do not gossip about the ladies and gentlemen.”
There are wildflowers everywhere. I love the red poppies. These were in the Netherlands.
The “Dwarf Well” in Cologne. It depicts a fairy tale very similar to the shoemaker and the elves. The well in each town closest to the church was considered to have the purest water. This well is outside the cathedral, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking from it.
One of the many hilltop castles along the Rhine.