The Lion and the Swan

Nestled in the heart of Switzerland amid the Swiss Alps, the city of Lucerne is famous for its breathtaking lake.

Humans have been controlling the water level of the lake for more than 150 years using an ingenious Needle Dam developed by Charles Poirée.

The water level of the lake is still regulated manually by the removal or insertion of the dam’s “needle” timbers.

Removing the needle timbers allows the water to flow.

The crystal clear water provides an idyll home for water fowl, including these beautiful swans.

But the most famous creature in this lake city is a lion made of stone.

The monument of a dying lion carved into a giant rock commemorates Swiss soldiers who died defending the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution.

Yet, the lovely Lucerne has much more to recommend it than the courageous lion and the elegant swan. Wonderful frescoes adorn the facades of buildings in the Old Town squares.

Of course the city features beautiful churches…

Hofkirche

and the Ritterscher Palace, but one of the most intriguing structures is the Spreuer Bridge.

The timber bridge was built in 1408, making it the oldest in Switzerland. Inside the covered bridge are 67 paintings depicting a Dance Macabre which were added between 1626 and 1635.

The views from inside the bridge put the paintings to shame.

Lucerne is a jewel. The man made objects in the city and around the lake are stunning…

but it’s the lake itself, cradled by snow-capped mountains, that is the real masterpiece.

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Fountains on the Rhine

When my “Castles on the Rhine” cruise ended this morning in Basel, Switzerland, little did I know that I was entering a town that could be dubbed “Fountains on the Rhine.”

Basel is home to more than 300 fountains. Apparently, you can drink from all of them; and locals even take a dip in the larger ones when the weather turns hot.

And they’re not just for humans. I saw a dog owner hoist his pet for a sip during a morning stroll around town.

Apparently the nimble canine had navigated the fountain’s height before because he looked quite comfortable being perched about three feet off the ground.

I spotted several other fountains of all shapes and sizes as I walked around the old town. Here’s just a few.

My favorite was Tinguely Fountain created by artist Jean Tinguely in 1977. It was a delightful mix of machines and water.

Other than fountains galore, Basel is known for its grand Minster which started life in 1099 as a catholic cathedral, but is now a Reformed Protestant church.

Outside.

Inside.

The Minster sits atop a hill overlooking the Rhine. John and I traversed the river on a small ferry boat attached by an overhead cable to keep it from being swept off course in the swift current.

John awaits the ferry.

Across the river, a towering steel sculpture commemorates the spot where Germany, France and Switzerland meet.

Basel reflects its geographic position, an interesting mix of German and French, but from my perspective, it leans heavily toward the German experience in architecture and culture.

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The Wine Road

The wine route runs about 106 miles through Alsace passing rolling vineyards and 100 picture-perfect villages.

Vineyard along the Alsace route.

We were fortunate to visit two of them on this trip: Kayserberg and Riquewihr.

Kayserberg

This medieval village is a real gem.

The colorful, old houses were all postcard-worthy.

Of course, there was a castle standing guard over the picturesque town.

Riquewihr

Riquewihr was smaller than Kayserberg, but charming in its own right.

The quaint, colorful houses were equally fetching.

This is our last full day aboard the S.S. Antoinette. We arrive in Basel, Switzerland tomorrow where we will disembark for a couple of days before flying to Paris.

Touring the Alsatian villages proved a terrific way to end a wonderful cruise.

Vive la France!

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Bienvenue a France

Our journey on the Rhine finds us in Strasbourg, a lovely city with a rich past dating back to 12 BC. Along this part of the river, the Rhine separates Germany and France and Strasbourg finds itself on the French side these days, although the city has changed hands over the centuries.

Our cruise boat is docked in Germany, but a quick bike, tram or bus ride takes you over the river to France where Strasbourg awaits.

The streets of Strasbourg are charming, but they all seem to draw you toward the towering Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg in the old city center.

Built entirely during the Middle Ages, the cathedral is 466 feet tall and was the world’s tallest building for more than 227 years.

The cathedral is impressive, but I was equally taken by the storks that return to Strasbourg annually to nest. I spotted their nests during my bus ride into the city.

Stork nest top trees in Strasbourg.

Finally, what French city is complete without a carousel? I discovered Strasbourg’s near the cathedral.

Bienvenue a France! Or as this American traveler said upon seeing the merry-go-round, welcome to France!

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Blog from A(broad)

Mark Twain tramped through these parts to overcome writer’s block, recording his travel experiences in A Tramp Abroad. Surely then, this picturesque area is worth a blog from a(broad). Pun intended — as I am sure Twain would appreciate.

The Palatinate area is one of the oldest (first inhabited) regions in Germany. In fact, the Heidelburg man, the 500,000–year–old precursor to Neanderthals, was discovered in this area.

But we journeyed to Heidelberg to visit a castle, not ancient relatives of homo sapiens; and Heidelberg Castle still stands despite Louis XIV’s best efforts to destroy it.

View of Heidleberg Castle from the Old Bridge.

The castle moat.

Restored section of the castle.

The old town portion of Heidleburg is picture-postcard perfect, littered with baroque architecture and narrow streets that find their way to a market square.

Twain loved standing on the balcony of his hotel on a bluff overlooking the Neckar River. We took in the river view from the castle balcony, which was below Twain’s perch, but still breathtaking.

Heidelberg, home to the world renowned university, is also the birth site of the first printing press. The descendants of that first printing press would, centuries later, print Twain’s commentary on Heidleberg, and ultimately, his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I content myself this evening, floating down the Neckar, as did Twain in 1878, wondering if one of my favorite writers ever kissed his spouse while perched on the castle balcony overlooking the winding river.

I have. I’m sure Twain would approve.

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Reisling on the Rhine

Hard to come to the Rhineland without sampling some reisling. Yesterday, we toured the Schloss Vollrads and sampled three of the vineyard’s wines.

The original castle keep dates to the 14th century.

The von Greiffenclau family developed the vineyard and owned the estate until the late 1990s. The family lived in the castle keep until the 17th century when a manor house was built.

A tour of the manor house consists of several rooms, all containing original furnishings representative of various styles over the centuries.

Leather wallpaper.

In 2001, the vineyard was counted as one of the 100 best in world. The reisling we sampled certainly lived up to that reputation — so much so that I bought a bottle of Schloss Vollrads semi-sweet.

Tomorrow brings something I have never done — a vinegar tasting. I’m guessing I’ll have a great bottle of balsamic to accompany my reisling home.

John and I enjoy a third sample of Schloss Vollrads reisling.

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From Braubach to Boppard

Germany is like Ireland in that there are castles everywhere. Every town on a waterway has at least one it seems. Based on my observation, the castles in Germany have fared better on the restoration front than those in my ancestral homeland.

We arrived in Koblenz near Braubach early this morning just in time to see and visit our first castle — Marksburg. The town of Koblenz itself is also very charming.

The view from my cabin window.

Marksburg Castle sits on a promontory in Braubach overlooking the Rhine.

There are dozens of castles in this area, many much more visually stunning than Marksburg, but the tour of Marksburg is appealing as it gives you a good sense of a working castle. It was first built as a stone keep in 1117 by the Eppstein family and expanded into a castle in 1238.

The inner bailey.

The castle, originally called Burg Braubach, is named after Saint Mark whose image was painted on the chapel wall during the 19th century. You can read the romantic, yet tragic, story of how Marksburg acquired its current name here.

Saint Mark and a lion.

Marksburg is the only castle in the area that has never been destroyed, although it did suffer some damage during Allied bombing in WWII. The interior of the fortress catapults you to the Middle Ages, particularly the kitchen which can be rented out to host private feasts.

The heart of every home.

Servant work table well lit by sunshine.

I was particularly impressed with the stone refrigerator. Ice from the river or a nearby pond was placed in the top compartment and further insulated with straw. The ice could last all summer keeping food items in the bottom compartment nice and cool.

The master bedroom was even heated, but I’m afraid my legs would still get rather cold as the bed was built for adults well under 5’5″.

From Braubach, we traveled upriver to Boppard, a small, picturesque town hugging the Rhine.

Market square in Boppard.

We’ve entered wine country, passing our first reisling vineyards that could be seen from the river.

Tomorrow afternoon we’re headed to Castle Vollrads for a little wine tasting. Prost!

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