Hathor, the Cow Goddess… Plus, the Narmer Palette

What’s not to love about Hathor, the Egyptian cow goddess of beauty, sensuality, music, dancing, wine, maternity and much more. She could change from a cow, to a woman with a cow’s broad head and cow ears, to a beautiful woman with cow horns and a sun disk. She could also take the form of a lioness, goose, and a sycamore tree! She was popular with both pharaohs and common people alike. Her beginnings trace back to the dawn of Egyptian history. She is even found on the Narmer Palette, considered Egypt’s most important historical relic, that dates back to 3,100 BCE and reflects much of the next 3,000 years of Egyptian art and history.

Today, Peggy and I are continuing our series on our trip up the Nile in March with Uniword Cruises traveling with our excellent guide, Sabaa. Once again, we will be mixing the mythology, history, and architecture that make Egypt such a fascinating place. All of the photos in this post were taken by either Peggy or me.

Photo of Hathor the Cow Goddess and Peggy Mekemson taken by Curt Mekemson.
Of all the goddesses I have read about, Hathor is my all-time favorite. Peggy good naturedly agreed to pose with her. I think the side profile of Hathor looks a lot like George Washington. Another role, perhaps?
Lacking a photo of Hathor as a cow, I decided to throw in a California cow I found while hiking down the Pacific Crest Trail and named Hathor. It’s only fitting that the goddess of motherhood be very pregnant like this big bovine is.

Gods evolve over time. Hathor is certainly an example of this. She probably started out as the local goddess to a pastoral tribe of nomads as they moved their cattle from place to place. Her responsibilities grew as the regions she was identified with expanded and she took on the role of other female deities. The most dramatic increase in her territory was when Narmer, the pharaoh of Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt around 3,100 BCE. (Lower Egypt included the Nile Delta where it flowed out into the Mediterranean. Upper Egypt followed the Nile south of Cairo as it climbed up to the cataracts at modern Aswan.) The unification of these two areas is central to much of the subsequent history of Egypt. Since the Narmer Palette showed the first phase of the unification, plus Hathor, it’s worth looking at closely. The palette is located in the Museum of Egyptian History, which was just outside the backdoor of our hotel in downtown Cairo.

This is the back of the Narmer Palette. Following is what I’ve been able to derive from the various interpretations.

Two images of Hathor are located at the top of the Palette look favorably down on the Narmer. You might say that she is offering her blessing, supporting his position as pharaoh. Such approval was critical in legitimizing the position and power of the pharaohs, who also claimed divinity and made sure gods were part of their family trees. The raised relief between the two images of Hathor spells out Narmer’s name in hieroglyphics, represented by a catfish and a chisel. The background, called a serekh, symbolizes the entrance to a castle and was used to show that this was a pharaoh’s name. Later pharaohs would use a cartouche to emphasize their names.

A number of other things are used to demonstrate Narmer’s power that would be common to future pharaohs. One, he is smiting his enemy. Pharaohs did lots of smiting. In this instance, Narmer is using his mace to pound what I believe is his chisel into the head of his unfortunate enemy from Lower Egypt. Two, he is much larger than anyone else. Three, the bowling pin shaped hat on his head is the white crown of Upper Egypt, the Hedjet. Below his belt, Narmer’s kilt features four more images of Hathor on top of columns, just in case there are any doubts about her support. His beard will be seen on all future pharaohs. And finally, he has one fine tail. It’s a bull’s tail that symbolizes pharaohs could take the shape of large bulls.

The small figure off to the left is his servant, who is tasked with carrying his sandals. On the right, Horus, the falcon god, is perched on a papyrus plant while he uses a rope to pull up another enemy out of the marsh by what appears to be a hook through his nose. That would hurt. Note how his claw and leg have become an arm and a hand. This likely symbolizes that Horus also supports Narmer’s military success over Lower Egypt. Two more dead enemies are shown on the bottom.

Here’s the front of the palette, which is packed with even more symbolism. Once again, Hathor and the pharaoh’s name are on top.

From left to right on the next level, we have the servant still faithfully carrying Narmer’s sandals. His flower may be the lotus, the plant symbol of Upper Egypt. It looks quite perky. Narmer is wearing the crown of lower Egypt here, showing the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt and the fact that he now rules over both. He is still carrying his mace. His right hand, however, holds a shepherd’s crook that will become another symbol of pharaohs— and, far into the future, popes. His catfish and chisel come next, announcing him. Below them is another servant carrying what appears to be wilted papyrus, the plant symbol of Lower Egypt. Compared to the perky lotus, are they mourning the defeat? Standard bearers come next followed by the defeated enemies. Their heads have all been cut off and are laid between their feet. This isn’t enough, however. They have also been de-manned and their parts draped over their heads. Not a pretty picture in anyone’s book— or blog. Above them, a barque, Ra the sun god’s boat, sails across the sky, which is a story for a future post.

The delightfully weird mythical beasts below with their long necks are called serpopards, a modern name concocted from serpent and leopard. Egypt adopted them from neighboring Mesopotamia. The round space in the middle is designed for grinding minerals used in makeup, possibly for ceremonial purposes in the worship of the gods. Could it be Hathor? The goddess of beauty was also the goddess of makeup. Below, Narmer has adopted his bull persona and is destroying the walls of a village or city where he is smiting another enemy.

Now back to Hathor.

Here’s Hathor in her form as a beautiful woman, smiling down on people entering the Egyptian Museum of History. The horns on her head display the sun disk. Wadjit, the cobra goddess of Lower Egypt, adorns her head while Nekhbet, the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, soars beneath her, both providing protection.

One of my favorite myths about Hathor is how she served time as the Eye of Ra, which like the Eye of Horus, could wander around on its own. Unlike the Eye of Horus that brought good things, however, the Eye of Ra was an object of power and could bring devastation.

In the Book of the Heavenly Cow from the Middle Kingdom, Ra becomes angered by humans’ lack of respect and bad behavior so he releases his eye Hathor in the form of Sekhmet, the lion goddess, upon humanity to destroy it. Note the parallel here with the God of the Old Testament, who decides to flood earth and destroy humanity for similar reasons. The goddess in a passion of blood thirsty destruction descends on mankind killing everyone she finds and destroys their farms, towns and cities. At first Ra is pleased that humanity is getting what it deserves, but eventually becomes concerned (with the help of the other gods) that maybe he has gone too far, and soon there will be no humans left on earth. Who’s going to worship him? He decides to show mercy.

He asks Tenenet, the goddess of beer, to brew a large, potent batch, dye it red, and deliver it to where Sekhmet will see it. (Brewing a large batch of beer in Ancient Egyptian terms was indeed large. Vats found in Hierakonpolis could brew up to 300 gallons of beer at a time.) Sekhmet finds it, and, thinking she has found a huge cache of blood, drinks it down to relieve her blood lust, the whole batch! Glug, glug, glug—becomes drunk beyond imagination, and falls into a deep sleep. She wakes up in the form of the beautiful Hathor who henceforth does only good for the people of Egypt and becomes their most beloved goddess. 

Another set of myths I enjoyed about Hathor was her relationship with Horus, partially because it reflects how myths can change and don’t necessarily need to be consistent. In at least one version of the Isis-Osiris myth that I shared in my last Egypt post, Hathor nurses the young Horus with her bounteous udders while he is hidden in the papyrus marshes of the Nile Delta. She also helps hide him by shaking a sistrum, an ancient Egyptian music rattle that sounds like rustling papyrus, and muffles any noise Horus may make. Need it be said that Hathor was also the goddess of the sistrum?

Another myth suggests that Hathor was the mother of Horus. So much for Isis. But maybe that’s okay, since Isis eventually takes over the role and form of Hathor, looking exactly like her. And finally, this gets a little kinky: Hathor becomes the lover/consort/wife of Horus. BTW, Hathor translates into the House of Horus, giving a whole new meaning to “I’m home, Honey.”

Now it’s time to wrap up this post with some photos of Hathor. Many of these images came from the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, which we will visit later.

This is from Hathor’s temple at Dendera. Ra, the sun god, has just completed his nighttime journey through Nut and is born again. His rays shine down on Hathor. Take a moment to look at the other images, like the snake emerging from the lotus.
New hair-do?
Same hair-do, more basic version.
On a column: Big Hathor above; little Hathor below.
Hathor looking a bit more cow-ish at Dendera. Grin. Check out the nose and nostrils! Same hairdo.
And finally—an interesting trio, to say the least. Hathor is on the left, in her human form. Horus comes next. He is wearing the combined crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. And no, he is not overly excited to be in the presence of two beautiful semi-clad women. That’s a dagger in his belt. Isis is last. Note how Isis now looks like Hathor. Both are wearing the vulture goddess, Nekhbet, as a hat, and both display horns holding the sun disk from which the cobra goddess, Wadjit, dangles. The only difference between the two is that the object protruding from the sun disk above Isis is her crown.

Our next post will feature Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. We will be back in Egypt the following week.

On Being Photo-Bombed by a Camel… Plus Some Egyptian History and Mythology

Today, Peggy and I are beginning our series of blogs on our journey through Egypt up the Nile River on a riverboat with the UniWorld Cruise company. We hope you will join us. As always, all photos are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of camel photobombing a picture of the pyramids by photographer Curt Mekemson.
I was setting up a photo of the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure when a camel head suddenly appeared in my viewfinder. Was I being photo-bombed? I quickly snapped the picture. A free photo of a camel at Giza is not to be passed up. Note the emphasis on free. Camel drivers and camels are everywhere. You are welcome to the take their photos, have your photo taken with them, or even go for a ride. All for a substantial fee, of course. Not paying is frowned upon.

Visiting the pyramids of Egypt at Giza is like climbing into a time machine. The Pyramid of Khafre on the left was built around 2,570 BCE and the Pyramid of Menkaure on the right around 2510 BCE, which makes them both over 4500 years old! The beginning of Egyptian history is traced back even further, to 3100 BCE, over 5000 years ago.

The Sahara Desert and the Nile River kick-started the process. 10,000 years ago the Sahara Desert wasn’t. It was a huge savanna where wandering herders grazed their goats and cattle. It is now thought that some combination of climate change and overgrazing changed the savanna into the vast desert it is today. The herders needed somewhere to go and the Nile River was their best option. The river provided a continuous source of water for thirsty stock. Its annual floods assured that there would be rich soil for farming. Increasing population along the river led to the creation of villages and towns, eventually leading to cities, kingdoms and even empires in a time period that extended over 3,000 years.

We took this photo from our boat to capture the ducks flying over the Nile River, but it also serves to illustrate the contrast between the green of the river and the reddish-brown Sahara Desert beyond that stretches all the way west to the Atlantic Ocean.

The pyramids speak to more than ancient history and the engineering marvels. They reflect the ancient Egyptians’ deep belief in the afterlife, magic, and the numerous gods who impacted their lives from birth to death— and beyond. This belief in the afterlife (plus the pharaohs’ exploits and claimed relationship to the gods) dominated the temples, tombs and monuments we visited as we explored the area around Cairo, made our way up the Nile, and visited the city of Alexandria.

There are numerous myths about the gods and I’ll be relating several as I go though my posts on Egypt. I find them both fascinating and fun. One thing to note here is that most of them have several versions. Five thousand years is a long time to keep a story straight. For example, today I am going to tell about one of the great founding myths, that of Osiris and Isis. Like most great tales, it is filled with murder, mayhem, adventure, sex, twists, magic and even a bit of humor. That Osiris was killed by his brother, chopped into pieces, put back together, and became God of the Underworld where he sat in judgement of the dead is generally agreed upon. The details on how he was killed, managed to get Isis pregnant with Horus afterwards, and was put back together vary with the teller.

The version that I am writing about was originally told by Plutarch in the second century AD. I first read it in a book by Joseph Campbell, Transformation of Myth through Time, over 30 years ago. I like this version because it has a Cinderella aspect to it, i.e. if the coffin fits, wear it.

This story starts with the goddess of heaven, Nut, and the god of earth, Geb. The god of air, Shu, separates Nut from Geb. Night and day are created by the sun god, Ra, who sails across the sky in his boat during the day, is swallowed by Nut in the evening, journeys through her at night, and is born again in the morning through a somewhat natural birth.

Photo of Egyptian Goddess Nut taken by Curt Mekemson.
Nut the Goddess of the Sky is about to swallow Ra, the Sun God, in this photo we took in one of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Night is about to begin. The symbols on Nut’s body represent stars. Hieroglyphs fill the space on the right, providing advice and spells to aid the pharaoh in getting through the dangerous underworld on his way to eternal life.

Nut and Geb get together and give birth to four children.  The older twins, Osiris and Isis, are born first, and, in the tradition of Egyptian gods and pharaohs, marry each other. Osiris, with the help of the clever Isis, replaces Ra as the king of Egypt and gets the throne. Seth and Nephthys are born next and and marry each other.  Now the fun begins. Osiris is the typical good son and represents order. Seth is the typical bad son and represents chaos. It’s Osiris that creates the trouble, however. One night he sleeps with Nephthys, claiming he thought it was Isis. (Joe Campbell notes that this isn’t paying attention to detail.) Whatever the reason, Seth doesn’t buy it. Would you? He vows to get even. 

He builds a beautiful (and undoubtably incredibly expensive) sarcophagus/coffin made out of gold that is exactly fit to Osiris’s size. He waits until a great party is going on and everyone has consumed large quantities of beer (the go-to drink of the time) before showing up with his golden sarcophagus. “Whoever fits can have it!” he declares. Naturally everyone is excited to try, but nobody fits. Except Osiris. He’s just beginning to enjoy his triumph when 42 of Set’s servants rush out, slam the lid closed, wrap iron bindings around it, and throw it in the Nile. 

End of story, right. A solid gold coffin can hardly be expected to float. Except it does. Osiris is a god, after all. In fact, it floats all the way to Syria where it lands and a tree grows around it. And what a sweet smelling tree it is. So sweet that the local king decides he wants to use it for a pillar in a castle he is building. Meanwhile, Isis, in deep mourning, is searching the world over for Osiris. She ends up in Syria where she stops for a drink at the community well and hears the story of the sweet smelling pillar from maids who work at the castle. “Aha, Osiris!” she thinks. She also learns that the king has a new son who needs a nursemaid. She applies for and gets the job. 

Isis really likes the baby, nurses it from her finger, and decides to make it immortal  by throwing it in the fire each night to burn away its mortality. While this is going on, she assumes the form of a swallow and flies around the pillar, twittering mournfully.  One night the queen comes in on this scene and discovers her baby has been thrown in the fire and the nursemaid has become a twittering bird. Needless to say, she gets a little excited and screams. Isis immediately morphs back into herself, saves the baby, explains what she was doing, and asks the king if she can have the pillar. “Of course,” he says. (My thought is that he wanted to get the baby-burning goddess out of his life as quickly as possible.)

Isis gets a barge, loads the sarcophagus and heads home. Feeling lonely on the way, she opens the coffin, finds a quite dead Osiris, and climbs on in what seems to be a bit of Necrofilia. I’m not sure how it works, but she becomes pregnant (god thing again). Another version, which I like better, has her turning back into a swallow, flying over the coffin and being impregnated by magic. Immaculate conception is a common theme of Egyptian mythology. One myth I came across has the sphinx being born as the son of the lion goddess Sekhmeth after she is impregnated by a moonbeam from the Moon God. Explain that one to your husband. The Ankh, Egypt’s well known symbol of life and immortality, is also problematic when it comes to immaculate conceptions as well.

Having an ankh blown or shoved up your nose by a god was a great gift of life and immortality, highly desired by the pharaohs. Down around a woman’s midsection, it might have something other than a nose on its mind and be on its way to making a baby. It was known for making some women ankh-ious. (Sorry, my bad.)

Back home in Egypt, Seth has assumed the throne and will not be glad to have Osiris back, dead or alive. So Isis heads into a papyrus swamp where she hides out and gives birth to Osiris’s second son, Horus. Nephthys has already give birth to his first son, Anubis. 

All goes well until Seth follows a boar he is hunting into the papyrus swamp and finds the dead Osiris. Infuriated, he tears Osiris into 15 pieces and scatters them throughout Egypt. Once again, poor Isis sets out to get her dead husband back. Anubis, who is a Jackal in his animal form, and Nephthys help in the search. They can only find 14 pieces. Osiris is missing his genitals. A fish has eaten them.

They stitch Osiris back together with the parts they have and Anubis embalms Osiris, turning him into a mummy. Meanwhile, Horus grows up and goes to war with Seth to avenge his father. In a horrendous battle, Horus loses one of his eyes while Seth loses a testicle. Not quite reciprocal justice (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth), but close. Seth also loses the battle, however.  Horus takes the throne and order is restored to Egypt while Seth is banned to the desert. Horus’s eye is magically restored and comes to symbolize making things whole and healing.  It even brings life back to Osiris, who becomes god of the underworld.

People admire a sculpture of Annubis at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The sculpture was found guarding the tomb of King Tut. Egyptians considered Annubis’s animal form to be that of a jackal because of his close association with the dead. Jackals were known to hang out around cemeteries, probably hoping to dig up a free handout. Heh.
Peggy and I brought home this tapestry featuring the Eye of Horus from Egypt. Nekhbet, the goddess of vultures, is shown on the right. Wadjet, the coba goddess is shown on the left. All three were frequently depicted in ancient Egypt. Not a bad trio. Nekhbet and Wadjet protected pharaohs and the Eye of Horus could heal them.

My next post on Egypt, two weeks from now, will feature more history, mythology, and photos of ancient Egyptian sites from around Cairo. Next Monday Peggy and I will take you on a drive through Custer State Park, South Dakota that will focus on some rather unusual and magnificent stone sculptures.

Germany’s Black Forest… Cuckoo Clocks, Great Scenery, Weird Hats, and a Donkey

The Black Forest is legendary, a land of dark fantasy. The Brothers Grimm reportedly based their fairy tales on the region. We found beauty and humor instead.

We are wrapping up our Rhine River series today with a trip into Germany’s Black Forest. Our riverboat journey up the Rhine with Uniworld Boutique was special, no doubt about it. I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Given that we took our daughter’s family and son’s family (which included their five kids) along, Uniworld’s Generation Cruise was particularly appropriate. Riverboat trips can be expensive, however. One can also travel through the Rhine River Valley by car, bus or train. An advantage here would be having more time to stop and enjoy the scenery, towns and castles. All photos on this blog are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of Germany's Black Forest by photographer Curt Mekemson.
Our impression of Germany’s Black Forest was of a scenic, bucolic area.

The Black Forest is world-famous for its cuckoo clocks and our trip into the Black Forest included a visit to one of its most famous shops, The House of Clocks. There are photos, of course, bur first I have two related Black Forest cuckoo clock stories that took place decades before our riverboat trip up the Rhine. One is my son-in-law Clay’s; the other is mine.

Clay’s is the most relevant. He had actually visited the House of Clocks when he was a child in the 80s. His dad was in the army and stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. Even more to the point, his dad and grandfather bought clocks from Adolph Herr, the owner of the House of Clocks, when he brought grandfather clocks to a Christmas Market that was held on Abram’s Army Base in Frankfort. As we headed into the Black Forest, Clay was on a mission to buy his own cuckoo clock from the House of Clocks and Adolph Herr.

My cuckoo clock story goes all the way back to1951when I was in the third grade. My town was so small that the grade school only had five rooms. My introduction to it hadn’t been great. First grade took me two tries. I was kicked out the first time. My mother had altered my birth certificate to get me in early. She was eager to get me out of the house. Obviously. The teacher had been teaching for decades and knew first graders, however. She became suspicious and mailed off to Oregon for my birth certificate. I was sent home. I was happy with the reprieve. My mother— not so much. The following September I became an official first grader. It was a tough year. Mrs. Young, the teacher, had decided that Marge Mekemson’s kid was a wild child in need of taming. She was right, but I’ve never done taming well.

The second grade went much better. Second and third graders shared a room and had the same teacher for two years. I lucked out. My second grade teacher, Ruth Jones, was my godmother. She was required to like me. And did. My attitude about teachers and school took an abrupt turn. I began to enjoy school, and, I confess, even became something of a ‘teacher’s pet.’ Miss Jones was married and became Mrs. Hall the summer between my second and third grade and went on a honeymoon to Europe. On the last day of third grade, she asked me to stay after school briefly. “I have something for you, Curt, and want you to keep the fact I gave it to you to yourself.” She was careful about showing favoritism.

The gift was a cuckoo clock she had bought for me the previous summer in Germany’s Black Forest. I had it for years. Visiting the Black Forest had been on my agenda ever since.

Clay, with his family, standing in front of the Black Forest House of Clocks. From left to right, our grandsons Ethan and Cody, Clay, and our daughter Tasha. They are standing in front of a giant cuckoo clock with 21 moving figures. Some action is about to take place in the scene above them to the left…
If I were the two drunken revelers, I think I’d pay attention to the bar maid with the poised rolling pin and finger pointing “Out!”
As might be imagined, the House of Clocks is packed with cuckoo clocks, each hand crafted.
Adolph Herr, who owns and operates the Black Forest House of Clocks along with his son and grandson, represents 7 generations of clock makers dating back to the 1700s.
The Cox family can also claim a generational connection to the House of Clocks. Cody and Ethan, show here with Adolph, represent four generations of Coxes that have visited the shop including Clay’s grandfather, father, himself, and his sons.
This is one of our favorite photos of Clay. He is picking out a clock made by Adolph Herr, just as his grandfather and father did.
The clock that Clay bought.
A close up of the clock. Adolph Herr’s signature is on the back. And yes, it does make cuckoo sounds on the hour.

Grimms’ Fairy Tales are said to have been based on Germany’s Black Forest, so one way to think of the area is as a dark place filled with terrifying beasties. Well, we did run into two beasties and some of the trees were dark in appearance, but our overall impression was of a bucolic, scenic area. Our lunch stop included time to wander around in the woods for a time.

Photo of Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy on on a dirt road into the Black Forest that we explored.
Photo of Black Forest by Photographer Peggy Mekemson.
The dark trees and brooding skies gave a clue of where the name Black Forest originated. I liked the lone tree. Windmills can be seen in the distance.
Sunlit photo of Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
Sunlight provided a brighter, more cheerful view of the Black Forest.
Photo of trail sign in Germany's Black Forest by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
A number of trails passed over the dirt road we hiked down. They demanded exploration and called to me. The one that really caught my attention, however, was the bottom one. It’s the symbol for the Camino de Santiago, the world renowned 500 mile trail that I associated mainly with Spain. What was it doing in the Black Forest? I learned that the Camino de Santiago includes a number of different pilgrimage routes that start throughout Europe and finish in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I could have started my pilgrimage right there!
Photo of Scottish Calf in Black Forest by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Back on the road, we ran in to some strange beasties. Now, had we been driving through Scotland, this one wouldn’t have seemed so strange…
Phot of Llama in Germany's Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
The Grimm brothers would have fun with this creature, probably giving it long, curving fangs. To find one, however, they would have had to travel to South America and the high Andes.
These modern, attractive homes seemed to fit well with the historic church into their Black Forest setting. We were in search of an older home, however, and found one built over 400 years ago.
Photo of the Vogtsbauernhof farmhouse at the Black Forest Open Air Museum taken by Peggy Mekemson.
The Vogtsbauernhof farmhouse dating from 1612 is the central attraction of the Black Forest’s Open Air Museum.
I was also hoping to see women wearing the traditional Bollenhut hat of the Black Forest, which was promoted on the the museum’s website. The hat consists of 14 pompoms, red for unmarried women and black for married women. I took this photo of a mural in Breisach, which claims to be the gateway to the Black Forest.
Photo of VW wearing a Bollenhut  at the Open Air Museum in the Black Forest by Curt Mekemson.
It was not to be. Instead, we found a Volkswagen Beetle wearing a Bollenhut. Maybe it was waiting for a VW Van to come along and offer it a good time.
We found this cute heifer wearing a Bollenhut at The House of Clocks.
Photo of Stream flowing through the Black Forest's Open Air Museum by photographer Curt Mekemson.
So, instead of seeing women sporting traditional hats, we wandered around the Open Air Museum checking out other sites such as this peaceful stream…
A plump, sway backed horse. And my favorite…
Photo of donkey at the Open Air Museum of Germany's Black Forest taken by photographer, Curt Mekemson.
This donkey, which I will use to wrap up our trip on the Rhine River. Next Monday, it’s back to the small town of Custer, South Dakota and its fun and fascinating collection of colorful buffalo sculptures.

What’s a Naked Lady Doing up on a Bull? Breisach, Germany…

Peggy and I are coming to the end of the blogs on our Rhine River cruise. Today, we will take you to Breisach, Germany. Our final Rhine River post will be on the Black Forest. After that, it will be off to the Nile! All photos in this post were taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of roof tops in Breisach, Germany by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Breisach was the final town we visited on our trip up the Rhine. It had everything we had come to expect: Color, history, and a great cathedral. I’ll get to the naked lady and the bull soon. And no, it wasn’t a new take on Lady Godiva. But I will give a hint: Naked ladies on bulls are a European kind of thing.

The history of Breisach follows the history of the other towns we have visited along the Rhine, dating back to ancient Celtic times, becoming part of the Roman Empire, and then part of the Holy Roman Empire with several countries laying claim since. The city saw extensive damage in World War II as the Allies invaded it from across the Rhine.

A photo from Wikimedia Commons of Breisach being attacked by Allied forces in 1942. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is burning at the top right side of the picture. 85% of the town was destroyed by Allied artillery.
Photo of St. Stephan's Cathedral in Breisach, Germany by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy and I went for a walk into Breisach to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral. This is a view looking up from the town. Obviously, the cathedral, like the town, has been rebuilt since WW II.
Photo of Outsell Gate in Breisach Germany by Photographer Peggy Mekemson.
Our trip up to the Cathedral took us through Gutgesell Gate. Built in 1402, it was destroyed in WW II and has since been rebuilt. A sign on the side noted that Pope Johannes was arrested here in 1415. It was a time when three people were claiming to be Pope. The ‘official’ church position out of Rome was that Johannes was an antipope. It’s bad for business to have more than one Pope. It tends to confuse the flock and worse— split the donations.
Photo of street up to St. Stephan's Cathedral in Breisach, Germany by photographer Curt Mekemson.
The steep walk up to the Cathedral past brightly painted houses was worth it on its own.
Photo of flower box in Breisach, Germany taken by Peggy Mekemson
Flower boxes added to the color.
Toward the top, the road narrowed to a walking path. I found this old doorway and couldn’t help but wonder what treasures (or ghosts) might be found behind it.
An intriguing coat of arms was found above the doorway.
Photo of St. Stephan's Church in Breisach by Curt Mekemson
The view of St. Stephen’s that greeted us as we finished our hike up the path. Construction of the church started in the early 12th Century.
Side view of St. Steven's Cathedral in Breisach, Germany by photographer Curt Mekemson.
We walked around the church admiring it from various perspectives.
These pockmarks on the side of the Cathedral caught our attention. I wondered if they had been left from the artillery attack during WW II. Turns out that they were from an earlier bombardment from 1870. Apparently the church has a problem with avoiding the line of fire.
This chamber challenged our imagination. First there was the fence with what looked like a cat sitting on top, which I found amusing. Then there was the strange sculpture inside…
The stone mason makes sense. St. Stephans was the patron saint of stone masons. But what about the strange figure on the right? The dark side of medieval Christianity was, uh, dark.
For example, the door to the Cathedral featured St. Stephens being stoned.
Photo looking down on Breisach, Germany by Curt Mekemson.
The hill on which the church sits, gave us great views down into Breisach, as was shown in the first photo and this one.
Photo of bull at Breisach Cathedral by Peggy Mekemson.
And then there was the bull emerging from the bricks…
Photo of Europa and the Bull at Breisach by photographer Peggy Mekemson.
…with a naked lady standing on top.

Of course there is a story. Similar sculptures and other representations of the bull and woman are found throughout Europe. An ancient Greek myth is to blame. The bull happens to be Zeus. And the naked lady? She’s Europa, a Phoenician princess who Zeus seduced. Zeus seducing a princess isn’t news. He had a thing for maidens. His challenge was that his wife (and sister) Hera, the goddess of women, marriage and childbirth, disapproved of such behavior. Zeus went to great lengths to hide his activities from her, one of which was to transform himself into various animals for his seductions. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Leda and the swan, where Zeus became a swan and seduced Leda. One version of the myth is that she laid two eggs, one of whom hatched into the beautiful Helen of Troy. With Europa, Zeus became a beautiful white bull who met the maiden while she was innocently picking flowers. Naturally, she had to pet his gorgeous white flanks and climb up on top of him (what maiden wouldn’t), whereupon Zeus charged off to the Mediterranean Sea, jumped in, and swam to Crete, where he had his way, so to speak. Minos, the King of Crete, was one of three sons born of the union.

The founding of the European Union led to renewed interest in Europa, given that the ancient Greeks named significant portions of Europe after her and the Europeans could claim that a 2500 year old myth provided some justification for the union.

We found several other things of interest on the hill:

This scupture had me scratching my head, but I figured it would make an excellent home for a bird, or possibly a raccoon.
Remember Mad Magazine and Alfred E. Neumann, the guy who always graced its covers? Now check out the dude on the bottom of the sculpture. I’m betting that the artist had a sense of humor.
This impressive sculpture of a water wheel/clock represents what is inside of the building it is attached to…
Photos of Water Wheel Building in Breisach, Germany by Curt Mekemson.
This is what the outside of the Water Wheel building looks like.
We found this fellow outside of the building. He seemed to be having a bad day. Possibly he had been a bad boy and was contemplating his fate inside…
A mural showed a prisoner being taken to the Water Wheel Building. It was used as both a prison and a torture chamber. Or, a prisoner might be assigned to operate the dreaded water wheel. Note the people screaming at the prisoner while others danced in the streets. It spoke to the times.
The huge water wheel located inside the building. The stools and the person sitting on the other side of wheel provide perspective. I’m not sure how the wheel was operated but human hamsters come to mind. The well is located beneath the wheel.
Photo of windowsill flower garden by Curt Mekemson.
But enough on dark images and thoughts, I conclude today’s post with another windowsill flower garden in Breisach, and…
Photo of Uniword Boutique river boat, the River Empress by Curt Mekemson.
Our riverboat, the River Empress, that was docked on the Rhine in Breisach. Next Monday, Peggy and I will return to our fall trip around the US. This time we will be in Custer State Park in South Dakota where the buffalo block traffic and the donkeys are bandits.

A 5000 Year Journey Back in Time… Featuring Cairo, Alexandria, and the Nile River: Intro

Photo of Egyptian camel at Giza pyramids by Curt Mekemson.
What better way to begin an Egyptian journey back in time than this ‘ship of the desert’? There was no lack of camels at the pyramids, or offers for camel rides, or camel photos— all for money, of course, preferably in dollars. The Egyptian pound had tanked and was worth three cents on the dollar. I caught this handsome face for free. The camel didn’t object and the owner was busy hustling someone else.

Peggy and I have just returned from our three week exploration of Egypt and invite you to join us as we explore the 25 million people mega-city of Cairo with its ancient pyramids, journey by riverboat up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, and conclude by visiting the ancient city created by Alexander the Great. Along the way, we will wander through ancient temples, meet powerful gods and pharaohs, explore King Tut’s tomb, visit one of the most impressive mosques of Islam, stop by a factory where they pursue the ancient art of making papyrus, and have many, many more adventures. We were wowed by the history with its incredible temples, tombs and statues, impressed by the friendly reception of the Egyptians we met, captured by present day Egypt, and amused by the humorous stories our guide Sabaa shared along the way. Today’s post is an introduction, an appetizer if you will. The series will start in mid-April when I conclude our Rhine River trip. It wouldn’t do to confuse the rivers. Right? All of the photos in this post are by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of Egypt's Nile River and Cairo Tower by Peggy Mekemson.
Our tour company, Uniworld Boutique, put us up in the Ritz Carlton overlooking the Nile River while we were in Cairo. Peggy and I arrived a couple of days early and stayed a couple of days afterwords. This was the view from our window. We spent a lot of time watching the river traffic. No surprise. You are looking at the Cairo Tower on the left. It’s a major Cairo landmark with an amusing CIA story connected to it that I will relate later.
Photo of Egyptian Museum by photographer Curt Mekemson.
The Cairo Egyptian Museum was out the back door of the Ritz, a five minute walk away. We did our first tour there and will take you inside. BTW, see the raised figure above the two heads…
Photo of Cleopatra by photographer Curt Mekemson.
It’s of a rather voluptuous Cleopatra, the last ruler of the Ptolemaic reign in Egypt who had a child by Julius Cesar and a tragic love affair with Mark Anthony. She’s holding a lotus flower, a symbol of Upper Egypt. Focus guys.
Among the thousands of treasures inside were these canopic jars made from alabaster to contain the lungs, intestine, stomach and liver of people being mummified.They wanted them on hand to use later. Alabaster, Sabaa, told us, is great for preserving organs. I’ll keep that in mind.
Tahir Square was also located just behind the Ritz. Peggy and I walked over to check out the Obelisk. Plain-clothed police stopped us from entering the square. They were located at every entrance. It turns out that Tahir Square is the go-to place for Egyptians wanting to start a revolution. The police were there to discourage such activity. Nobody— but nobody— was going to make their way onto the square and start shouting slogans, including curious visitors.
Cairo is a city of attractive mosques and the Alabaster Mosque is a jewel among them. I’ll do a full post on the Mosque.
The inside is even more beautiful than the outside.
We discovered this ultra-skinny cat outside vociferously warning a large dog to leave its few scraps of food alone. The dog wisely decided his dinner was located elsewhere. Who wouldn’t? The cat was obviously a descendent of Bastet, the cat god of ancient Egypt. Not someone to trifle with.
From Cairo, we flew to Luxor where our riverboat, Uniword’s Tosca, was waiting for us to board.
Our Upper Egypt trip both started and ended at Luxor. A week, or a month, could easily be spent exploring the area. On arriving, we visited the Temple of Karnak…
The Temple of Luxor at night. It was opened specifically for Uniworld guests. Translate: We had it all to ourselves. Usually, we had to work to take tourist-free photos.
The Pharoah Ramses II.
We were greeted by a huge statue of Rameses II who was one of the most important pharaohs of ancient Egypt. That’s a cobra on his forehead.
Several Pharaohs have their tombs in the Valley of the Kings outside of Luxor. Peggy is pointing toward the pyramid like mountain that was an important factor in the kings’ selection of the valley. BTW, the tomb of King Tutankhamun, where so many treasures were found, is at the base of the mountain. Peggy and I will take you into the tomb where King Tut’s mummy still resides. I’ll even show you King Tut’s toes. I’ll bet you can’t wait for that? They aren’t pretty. There’s a chance I might have to face the revenge of the mummy for displaying them.
The folks on the Tosca, both our fellow travelers and the staff, were special. This is a photo of Steve and Carol Jones with our excellent guide, Sabaa at the Valley of the Kings. Steve and Carol, like so many of the followers of this blog, are world travelers. Both engineers, they quit their jobs at 45 and have been wandering the world for the past 20 years.
Photo of Valley of the Kings Tomb by Curtis Mekemson.
A photo inside of one of the tombs we visited in Valley of Kings (not King Tut’s.) It was packed with hieroglyphs designed to guide and protect the dead pharaoh on his dangerous journey.
The temple of Queen Hatshetsup, one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful Pharoahs, is located near the Valley of the Kings.
Photo of Queen Hatshepsut from the Egyptian Museum by Peggy Mekemson.
Beards were an extremely important part of a pharaoh’s look, as all the statues, paintings and reliefs show. Even Queen Hatshepsut had one, as this bust from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo shows. It was fake news, but a beard none-the-less.
Nile photo by photographer Curt Mekemson.
A significant part of our journey was our riverboat trip up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan and back.
Along the way, our journey took us past numerous villages and towns, all with their mosques and minarets, from which Muslims are called to prayer five times a day.
Photo of Nile River fisherman by photographer by Curt Mekemson.
We were able to watch fishermen and farmers plying their trade in much the same way as they have for thousands of years.
Photo of Nile River and desert by Curt Mekemson.
And enjoy the scenery. This photo serves as a reminder that just beyond the narrow strip of rich farmland beside the Nile lies the Sahara Desert that stretches for 2000 miles to the west. The ripples are being made by our riverboat, the Tosca.
Photo of mummified crocodile at Kom Ombo by photographer Curt Mekemson.
On our trip up and down the Nile we stopped at temples. One was at Kom Ombo, the temple of Sobek the crocodile god and Horus, the falcon god. A museum there, features mummified crocodiles. Sobek was responsible for fertility and the creation of the Nile, among other things. Gods had several responsibilities— and forms.
Photo of Dendera Temple by photographer Curt Mekemson.
One of the most beautiful temples we visited along the Nile was the Greco-Roman temple of Dendera. Both the Greeks and Romans played important roles in the latter days of ancient Egypt. Among other things, this temple featured signs of the Zodiac on its ceiling. I’m thinking Taurus above.
Photo of Peggy Mekemson on a felucca by Curt Mekemson.
One of the must-dos in Aswan, was to go on a Felucca ride, a sailboat dating back to ancient times on the Nile. Peggy had to get her hands on the rudder. I noticed that the boatman didn’t take his hands off of it, however. Grin.
Photo of feluccas in Aswan by photographer Curt Mekemson.
Several feluccas were out enjoying the sunset in this photo which we took from an outdoor dining area of the Cataract Hotel in Aswan.
Photo of hight tea at the Cataract Hotel by photographer Curt Mekemson.
We were enjoying high tea at the hotel.
Photo of Peggy Mekemson in Old Cataract Hotel by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy, being a great fan of Agatha Christie, had to have her photo taken in the Old-Catarack hotel, which was featured in Christie’s novel, “Death on the Nile.”
Photo of Blue Heron at Aswan Egypt by Peggy Mekemson.
An evening bird watching tour on a small boat included numerous birds and a very enthusiastic bird expert.
Photo of spices in Aswan market by Curt Mekemson.
A walk through Aswan’s large local market featured, among many other things, spices. The top three baskets on the right are buds for making jasmine tea.
Photo of Philae temple by Peggy Mekemson
While at Aswan, we also visited the Philae temple…
Photo of Abu Symbel by Peggy Mekemson.
And flew up to the border between Egypt and Sudan to see the temples of Ramses II and his beautiful wife, Nefertari at Abu Simbel shown above. Abu Simbel was threatened to be buried under rising waters of the Aswan Dam and was saved by a world-wide effort by moving it rock by rock to a level above the water line.
Sphinx photo by photographer Curt Mekemson.
We finished off our Egypt tour with a visit to the city of ancient Memphis and to the pyramids at Giza. This features the Sphinx and the Great pyramid of King Khufu.
Photo of Peggy Mekemson on the Great Pyramid by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy climbed a short ways up the side of the Great Pyramid to demonstrate the size of the rocks used in building the pyramid…
Photo of tunnel under pyramid of King Khafre by photographer Curt Mekemson.
And we both journeyed far under the pyramid of King Khafre, sometimes bent double because of the low ceilings.
Photo of tomb guardians in Alexandria, Egypt by photographer Curt Mekemson.
One of our major stops in Alexandria was at Greco-Roman era catacombs. This gruesome twosome, a crowned snake on the bottom and Medusa on the top, were guarding the major tomb against grave robbers.

I know this has been long for an introduction, but believe me when I say it hardly touches on our experience. On Monday, Peggy and I will take you back to our fall trip around North America, this time featuring Grand Teton National Park, where the description ‘grand’ hardly covers the mountain range.

Heidelberg Castle: Perched above the City

Continuing our exploration of sites we visited on our family Rhine River trip last summer, we will explore Heidelberg Castle today. All photos are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Towns along the Rhine 3/13 (1)
Perched on the hill overlooking Heidelberg, the castle waited for us.

Visiting Heidelberg Castle can make you feel like one in a million. That’s the number of people who tour the castle each year. We dutifully waited our turn on the funicular railway that would take us the 260 feet (80 meters) up to the castle and the beginning of our tour.

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Our daughter-in-law Cammie and grandson Ethan (Tasha’s son) on the funicular train to Heidelberg Castle. Masks were still required at the time for covid.

Heidelberg Castle was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. There were originally two castles, an upper and lower, but lightning and fire destroyed the upper one in 1537. The lower castle has since seen its share of wars requiring frequent renovations. It, too, finally succumbed to a lightning strike and fire in 1764— making it fair game for people to use its stones in building their homes, a custom of repurposing that has existed since time immemorial. A serious effort began in 1800 to preserve what was left. Sections have also been renovated. Regardless of its past history, the present structure is very impressive.

Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
There are statues galore, mainly of past royalty. There’s no doubt about this fellow’s pedigree. He holds a scepter in his left hand representing his kingly power and a ‘globus cruciger ‘ minus its cross in his left hand representing his religious power. A grouchy lion, also a symbol of medieval power, has curled around his legs like a kitty. And then there is the humongous sword and the ‘don’t mess with me’ look in his eyes. Take a look at the various figures on his clothes/armor. I spotted Mercury on his upper left thigh.
Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Speaking of lions, there may be more scattered around the castle than those living in East and South Africa. The ‘globus cruciger’ (orb bearing cross) still has its cross here.
Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
I only saw one imperial eagle but it certainly looked ferocious, which, I might add, was reduced somewhat by the bird poop on its head. I noticed that all of the lions in the photo above and the eagle are sticking their tongues out. I wonder if it meant what it does today.
Photos of Heidelberg Castle by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Like all good castles, it has a tower with a flag on top. You can see the tower on the left in the blog’s introductory photo.
Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Vacant windows adorned by statues speak to the Castle’s past glory. Again, it is interesting to look closely at the figures. Can you find Mercury?
Another perspective…
Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Another photo where the damage done to the castle is obvious. The face of a clock can be seen on the tower to the right.
Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
As I recall, it actually was a quarter of five. Note the lightning rod up on top! A lesson learned. As for the hands, I am thinking sun, moon, and star.
Photos of Heidelberg Castle taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
While we’re on clocks, check out this beauty. It’s a sun dial. Its strange shape is due to the fact that is vertical. Most are on the ground. As for reading it…
Photos of Heidelberg Castle are taken by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This impressive building known as the Friedrichsbau, is named after Elector Friedrich IV who had it built in the early 1600s. Lady Justice is perched in a niche top center. Other niches contain generations of Palatine Prince Electors.
Here’s Justice holding her scales to determine who is guilty and who is innocent with her sword ready to whack the guilty– or is that smite? One of the princes can be seen on the left. A dragon spout is beneath her.
Photo of dragon spout taken by Peggy Mekemson.
Here’s a closeup of the dragon spout, On a church it would be considered a gargoyle. At Burning Man it would be shooting out fire. (Peggy and I are hoping to return this year.) The scales of justice can be seen in the upper left and another elector is on the right. The scales have holes in them. How just is that?
We passed through this gateway on our way to visit the huge wine barrel I featured in an earlier post.
Lions hold a cross bearing orb while fair maidens hold bouquets of flowers in their hands and in cornucopias. The one on the left seems, um, a bit provocative?
Phot of window at Heidelberg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
This window is here because I liked how colorfully it reflected its surroundings in an abstract sort of way.
Hmmm. Maybe our grandsons had seen enough of castles for one day. Grin. So, I’ll conclude here. Cody, Tasha and Clay’s son, is on top. Chris, Tony and Cammie’s son, is on the bottom. In our next post we will journey back to Yellowstone National Park for a look at some of its scenic beauty.

Heidelberg: The City

Today’s photo blog features Heidelberg, which we visited on our family trip up the Rhine River last summer. All photos are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

The Heidelberg Castle provides great views overlooking the city. Our son Tony included his wife Cammie in this photo. BTW, Cammie was recently named the CEO of the Safety Harbor, Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Another view from the walls of Heidelberg Castle. The prominent Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche in German) was built at the end of the 14th Century. The bridge in the background, known creatively as Old Bridge, crosses the Neckar River.
Pictures of Heidelberg taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
I liked this closeup photo of the Neckar River and the Old Bridge because it featured Heidelberg’s red tiled roofs.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
We started our visit to Heidelberg by walking through the historic part of the City. We then made our way up to Heidelberg Castle. This photo features the Gateway to the Old Bridge. The brass monkey we showed on our last Heidelberg post was just off to the left.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This good looking fellow was sitting on top of the railing of the Old Bridge for everyone to admire. We dutifully paid our respects.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Our guide pointed out that the mansions that were in the background of the doggy photo were where Heidelberg’s wealthy had lived and apparently still do, a fact that we had surmised on our own. Several were undergoing renovations.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Bright red umbrellas provided an interesting contrast to Heidelberg’s historic Town Hall located on Market Square.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
The Coat of Arms on the Town Hall caught my attention. It featured the usual lions and other symbols of power and heraldry. I was more intrigued by the cow, however. Did it symbolize milk?
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This interesting building located on Market Square is the historic Ritter Hotel, and I do mean historic. It was built in 1592 as a home and has survived ever since, including several wars. It even did a stint as Heidelberg’s town hall.
Pictures of Heidelberg, Germany take by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
As in so much of Europe, many buildings are adorned with flower boxes. I think that this was a corner of the Town Hall.
Pictures of Heidelberg by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson
No watch (or cell phone), don’t worry. Several clock towers are prepared to tell you the time in Heidelberg. This one is connected to the University of Heidelberg. As I mentioned earlier, the University, founded in 1386, is one of the most prestigious in Europe, and the world. 33 Nobel Prize winners are associated with it.
Picture of Tasha Cox taken by Curt Mekemson.
“Hey Tash,” I called and our daughter turned and flashed a smile as I took her photo. She is framed by her son, Ethan.
Pictures of Heidelberg taken by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
The Hauptstrasse is Old Town Heidelberg’s main shopping street. Stretching for over a mile, it has been set aside for pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition to a wide variety of shops, the colorful buildings provide a very scenic walk.
Heidelberg Castle perches on the hill overlooking the city. We will be visiting there on our next Rhine River post— after we take you back to Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs. But first, jumping ahead a bit and in recognition of tomorrow, we were walking thorough the town of Boppard, Germany along the Rhine when Peggy and I came upon this scene:
Photos of Boppard, Germany taken by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
It was perfect, right down to the heart. Happy Valentines Day!

Heidelberg, Germany: Weird, Beautiful, and Historic

Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
If you’ve been hanging around my blog for long, you know I like weird. This brass Heidelberg monkey fits the bill perfectly.

When Peggy and I, along with our two kids and their families, did our Rhine River trip this past summer, one of our favorite stops was Heidelberg, Germany. It seemed to have it all: An ancient castle looking down on the city, a river running beside it, one of the top universities in the world, a fun, lively, historic downtown, impressive churches, and plenty of weird, like the brass monkey who hung out next to the Old Bridge across the Neckar River. The photos are all taken by Peggy and me unless otherwise noted. Today, we will be focus on weird.

The monkey was designed to serve as a mask for those bold enough to climb into it. Our grandson Connor took on the challenge. A poem suggested the possibility of one monkey looking out at all of the other monkeys standing around, a reminder that we are alike more than we are different. The pedestrian Old Bridge across the Neckar River can be seen in the background on the right. (Family photo.)
Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
These brass mice were found next to the monkey. It is said if you rubbed them, you would increase your fertility. Rubbing the mirror the monkey is holding will bring you money, rubbing its fingers will help assure your return to Heidelberg. I stayed far away from the mice.

I found plenty of other weird stuff around Heidelberg to keep the monkey and his mice companions company.

Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
“These boots were made for walking.” Blue boots and a plethora of other blue shoes covered the town’s main square.
Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
The blue shoes, it turned out, were an art project of students from the University of Heidelberg. They seemed to be all walking in the same direction. Maybe they were escaping the weird sculpture behind them…
Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
It was amply strange. Check out the ‘guy’ standing on his head with his feet becoming the head of a serpent and his head who knows. And what the heck is on the left? I’ll leave it for your imagination.
I found this walking lion with his wonderful tail up in Heidelberg Castle. A magnificent, but weird, creature, indeed, complete with a curly mane and globus cruciger, i.e. cross-bearing orb. Both were symbols of power in the Middle Ages. Think church and state.
Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This knight with shining armor, features a codpiece. A what, you say? Cod apparently meant scrotum. Originally meant to protect the genital area, they became something of a fashion statement reaching maximum size and um, peak, in the 1540s.
Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
While I’m on cod, there seems to be something fishy about this fish. It appears to have a coin in its mouth. I looked up ‘fish with coin in mouth.’ Apparently it relates to Jesus and the miracle of the fish outlined in the Gospel of Matthew. I wondered if the strange baby romping around on top was supposed to be the baby Jesus. Christianity in the Middle Ages was all about symbolism, mainly because most people couldn’t read.
Photos of Heidelberg taken by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Nothing weird about this if you are a Catholic. It’s the Virgin Mary with her crown of 12 stars holding the baby Jesus. She is stomping on a serpent while the baby Jesus stabs it with his cross. “Take that you snake!” He is blessing the world with his free hand. It looks to me like the serpent has an apple in its mouth. There were several of these statues spread around the historic town.
Photos of Heidelberg by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
On a lighter note, how do you like your wine? If you prefer quantity over quality, this wine barrel might be your thing. It’s said to be the largest in the world and hold 220,000 liters (58,124 gallons). Our grandson Ethan provides perspective on the size. That does it for today. My next Heidelberg post will be more focused on the beauty and history of the city. First up, however, Peggy and I will take you back to Yellowstone and its geysers including Old Faithful.

Scenic Views along the Romantic Rhine

Rhine River Photos by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
While we focused on castles as our riverboat took us up the Romantic section of the Rhine River this summer, there were numerous other views that found us busily snapping photos.

I hesitate to use the word “quaint” when I describe the buildings and towns along the Romantic Rhine since it implies “old fashioned.” Picturesque, colorful and historic strike me as better. But whatever word one chooses, Peggy and I were awed by the unique look and beauty of the various buildings. All of today’s photos were taken by Peggy and me unless otherwise noted.

Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Churches, hotels, restaurants, businesses and homes were all involved in creating the look.
Photos of Rhine River by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
We found the mixture of structures from different centuries intriguing.
Photos of Rhine by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This rather impressive chunk of slate rock is known as Lorelei. It comes with a myth attached. Lorelei was a beautiful woman whose lover was unfaithful. In a fit of despair she threw herself off the rock and perished, returning as a siren that lured passing boats to crash on the rocks. In truth, this narrow, deep section of the Rhine did lead to many shipwrecks.
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
I was eager to have this structure be a medieval castle. After all, it certainly looks like one. But I couldn’t find a photo anywhere, and I looked at bunches. So maybe one of my readers out there can enlighten me.
We saw numerous churches…
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
And each church had a unique look.
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This church had an Orthodox feel to it.
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
A more traditional looking church.
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Rhine wines are famous throughout the world. Vineyard after vineyard decorated the steep hills. I wonder if strong legs are a requirement for harvesting. The grapes produce a medium dry white wine.
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Grapes, castle, church, and a picturesque town: How much more romantic can it get?
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
More buildings that caught our attention. These had a quite scenic backdrop.
Photos of Romantic Rhine taken by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Three buildings, three styles, three colors. All connected.
Photo by Natasha Cox.
And finally, a reminder that our trip was to help Peggy celebrate her birthday. Here she is appropriately attired on the night of the event. Our youngest grandson Cooper joined us for the photo. Our daughter Tasha can be seen in the mirror to the right taking the photo.
Phot of man and dog performing at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy and I are in New Orleans today and are about to head on to Safety Harbor, Florida where we will spend Christmas with our son and his family. Yesterday, we visited the French Quarter and ate our mandatory beignets while watching a man perform standing on his car. He was good, but the dog sitting on the guitar made the performance totally charming. The two of them obviously played together often and liked each other a lot. As the man strummed the guitar the dog rested his paw on the man’s hand. It looked like he was doing the strumming.

On our next post we will continue to alternate Rhine River posts with blogs on our present journey. I intend to do a post on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon that we visited this past spring on our way to Virginia before we started our riverboat tour in Europe.

Rheinstein Castle: A Symbol of the Romantic Age… Saved Twice

Sitting on a rocky promontory some 270 feet above the Rhine River, Rheinstein Castle is considered a symbol of the Age of Romanticism.

Rheinstein’s history dates back to the 13th century when the castle was originally built to collect tolls and whip some of the local robber barons into line, i.e. they weren’t paying a percentage of their take to the local catholic bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor. By the 17th century the castle had fallen into ruins. But it was about to be saved. The Romantic Age was flourishing. Nature was idealized, science regarded with suspicion, and the past glorified. What better way to glorify the past than to rebuild a medieval castle. Or at least, that’s what Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia thought. He went looking for a candidate and settled on Rheinstein. In 1823, he went to work.

Now, fast forward to1975. The Duchess von Mecklenburg had an important decision to make. Would she sell her 700 year old castle to the Hare Krishna religious sect or to an Austrian opera singer, Hermann Hecher. The Krishna group wanted to turn the castle into a private temple. Hecher wanted to preserve the castle’s cultural heritage. (I fantasized about the Hare Krishna devotees circling the keep and chanting, or Hecher standing on top while belting out an aria.) It would have been a quick decision for me: Preserve the castle’s cultural heritage for public enjoyment and education. It wasn’t so easy for the Duchess. The Hare Krishna folks were willing to pay 40% more. Whoever bought it, extensive renovation would be required. The castle was in serious need of saving again. Fortunately, for the thousands of people who have visited Rheinstein since 1975, including us, the duchess opted to sell the castle to Hecher. His family has been hard at work restoring the castle for three generations. It’s a labor of love. As one of the family members noted, “You don’t buy a castle to get rich.”

Uniword Boutique, our cruise boat line, offered a tour of the castle as one of our options. There was no doubt what decision the Mekemsons would make: Touring castles was a prime objective of our trip. Grandma insisted. The tour bus picked us up at the boat, took a ferry across the Rhine, and dropped us off at the castle gates. Visitors are encouraged to explore all of the nooks and crannies on their own. Off dashed the grandkids, happy to lead the parade. Except Ethan. Our daughter Tasha assigned him grandparent duty. Or rather, I should say, Grandpa duty. Tasha frets a lot. She knows my ways and worries at 79 I might wander off and just keep wandering. At 17, Ethan is the oldest and now towers over six feet. Every time I turned around, there he was. I chose to find it amusing rather than irritating. He’s a good companion. Still, I couldn’t resist ditching him on occasion. It’s my duty.

The towering Ethan is standing next to Peggy. From left to right are Tony, me, Cammie, Ethan, Peggy, and Connor. Tasha was taking the photo. The rest of the family was off exploring.

We wandered from room to room. The Hechers have done what they can to restore the castle to its historical status including searching Europe for era-appropriate furnishings. Some, such as the collection of tiny skulls with antlers, were downright weird. My blog today, will reflect our tour, working from the outside in.

The tower on the left was where we were standing when the photo above was taken. The narrow steel stairway was the way up.
Another view of the tower, the stairway, and the hanging basket.
Here’s a closeup of the basket. It was used as a fire basket signal that could be seen from nearby castles and repeated. I also read that it could be used as a prime location for placing people who refused to pay their toll, so they could contemplate the folly of their action.
This photo provides a perspective on the promontory that Rheinstein is built. One has the feeling that attacking from the front would be a bit daunting.
The grapevine is the focus here. Information on Rheinstein claims that it is 500 years old and still producing viable grapes for burgundy! Talk about well-aged wine… Grin.
A side view of the back of the castle.
Working our way around to the back.
The view from behind.
We were also attracted to this photogenic tower.
A view of the Rhine from the castle. A barge, riverboat and another barge can be seen working their way along the river. Fortunately, tolls are no longer an issue. Trade increased exponentially when they were eliminated in 1831. And now, it’s time to enter the castle.
I’d like to report that the restrooms had at least been modernized. Hanging over the edge and letting go was no longer a requirement or an option.
Photographs of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Rooms had been tastefully decorated with antique furniture and flowers from the castle’s gardens. Note the harp in the corner. More later.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
What castle would be complete without the dress of a princess on display? Light here was provided courtesy of stained glass windows. There are several in the castle.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
As might be expected, faith was a common theme.
Demonstrating your faith was an important prerequisite for getting through the Pearly Gate.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Maybe the rules change once you are admitted. Not to harp on the subject, but I think this may be a more modern perspective.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Not a stained glass window! Tasha and Peggy as seen through glass that was obviously older than their combined age and then some.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This charging knight was carved into a chest. One wonders how fast the short legged horse could charge.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
There was a great variety to the art. This modern version of the castle reminded me of an El Greco painting.
Maintaining the property would have been hot, hard work in the 1300s. A worker receives a welcome drink of water. Or maybe it was burgundy from the grapevines.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
I wouldn’t want to encounter this fellow on a dark night. Or make that any time. He is not a boring boar.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
A possible comment on my attempts at punning.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Dare I say something about spouting off…
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Coming from the western United States, I am familiar with hunters mounting the heads of the huge trophy animals they have shot on their walls as proof of their manly manliness. Believe me, when I say they would not mount these tiny fellows that are about fist size, unless, of course, they were extremely rare. Not sure what they are except an extremely small species of deer. Do you find them as weird as I did?
I’ll finish with this photo of the flag over Rheinstein Castle. May it continue to fly for another 700 years. Next up, we move away from castles for other views along the Romantic Rhine. (Or maybe, I’ll do a post on Devil’s Tower in Wyoming for variety. I just finished processing the photos.)