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.)

12 Magnificent Castles along the Rhine River Valley

Today, Peggy and I are taking you on a trip up the Rhine River Valley between the towns of Koblenz and Bingen. The journey on the river is little more than 30 miles (48k), but wow, what an impressive 30 miles! There is a reason why this segment of the Rhine has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there is much to see in the valley, the highlight for us was the castles. There are over 40. We’ve chosen 12 to feature. This post is a continuation of our family riverboat trip up the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel this past summer. All photos were taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

First up, on our list is Stolzenfels Palace. Originally built by the Bishop of Trier in 1259, it was destroyed by the French in 1689 during the Nine Years War, one of the seemingly endless wars that have been fought in Europe. In 1823 the ruins were given to Frederick William IV of Prussia who had the castle rebuilt by 1842 as his summer palace. The Gothic chapel in front was inaugurated in 1845 during a visit by Queen Victoria.
A side view of Stolzenfels Palace. As I mentioned in my post on Marksburg Castle, one of advantages of viewing the castles by riverboat from the Rhine River is that different perspectives are provided as the boat moves up or down the river.

While each castle is unique, they share a common history. Many of their early owners could be described as robber barons. They made their money by charging ‘tolls’ to the boats traveling up and down the river. One can only wonder what it cost to cover the 30 miles through the valley when you had to stop every mile or so and pay up. A chain was often stretched across the river to force the boats to stop. It was let down when the boat paid and immediately hoisted up again to catch the next victim, er, boat. Another commonality is that most of the castles were also destroyed at one time or the other during the internecine warfare that rocked Europe over the centuries. Many were rebuilt based on their strategic location or the desire of some wealthy noble or the other to have a castle. More recently, The German Castles Association and local communities are responsible for a number of them.

This hand-drawn map was given to us by Uniworld as we started our day of passing through the Rhine River Valley. I think they must have run out of the maps they normally gave out. But this one worked fine. Stozenfels Castle can be seen on the top left at approximately mile 587. I’ve estimated the mileage when it isn’t included on the map.
I’ve already done a blog on the Marksburg Castle located at mile 580. If you haven’t read the post and want to, click on the link.
Rheinfels, once a mighty fortress, was the largest castle along the Rhine. In 1692, it withstood an attack by 28,000 French troops. The French succeeded in leaving the castle in ruins a hundred years later, but it is still makes an impressive sight against the skyline today.
A hotel and restaurant are now operated at Rheinfels, which is true of several of the castles. They provide an up-close-and-personal experience for visitors and help meet the expenses of maintaining the castles.
Katz Castle was built just across the river from Rheinfels in the 1400s to help protect the castle and to coordinate with it in collecting tolls. It was blown up by Napoleon in 1806 and then rebuilt in the late 1800s. Today it is owned by a Japanese company that runs it as a hotel.
Another view of Katz Castle.
Built by King Ludwig, the Bavarian, in 1327 to collect tolls, Pfalz Castle is located on an island. The German town of Kaub ,with grape orchards climbing up the mountain behind it, provides a scenic backdrop. Rapids above the castle forced boats to pass near the castle and a chain assured they would stop. Traders unwilling to pay the toll, would be kept in the dungeon until a ransom was paid for their release. Remember my earlier comment about robber barons…
A side view. Unlike the majority of castles along the Rhine, Pfalz was never conquered or destroyed. Gutenfels Castle, not included on my post today, can be seen in the upper left.
Our son Tony, his wife Cammie and their three sons Cooper, Chris and Connor (left to right) with Pfalz Castle in the back ground.
The Schönburg Castle, located near Pfalz Castle, dates back to somewhere around 1000 CE. It was burned down by French Soldiers in 1689 and remained in ruins until the late 1800s when it was bought from the nearby town of Oberwesel by an American family and restored. Ancestors of the appropriately named Rhinelander family had come from the region in the 1600s to the US and made a fortune in real estate.
The town council of Oberwesel bought the property back from the Rhinelander family in 1950. A hotel and restaurant is now operated at Schönburg.
Stahleck Castle at mile 543 was built in the 12th century as a fortified castle above the town of Bacharach. I was particularly impressed by the keep. In German, BTW, Stahleck means ‘impregnable castle on a crag.’
Sooneck Castle at mile 538 looks like the embodiment of of what a castle is supposed to look like, at least to me. It was built to protect the surrounding territory. Built in the 11th Century it went through the usual history of being destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt.
Another view of Sooneck Castle.
The large Reichenstein Castle is located at mile 534. Built in the 12th Century, it was owned by a robber baron like Castle Sooneck, and, like Sooneck, it suffered the same fate of being destroyed. It was rebuilt to its present status in the 18th and 19th centuries.
We will be visiting Rheinstein Castle in my next post so I will hold on any discussion until then. But isn’t it magnificent perched on its rocky prominence!
Surrounded by walls and grapes, the two towers of Ehrenfels Castle caught our attention. Today it remains in pretty much the same condition it was in when destroyed in 1689.
A closer look at the two towers of Ehrenfels Castle.
Mouse Castle, located below Ehrenfels Castle on the Rhine River, has a story connected to how it got its name. According to the folk tale, a particularly cruel man, Hatto II, performed a dastardly deed of burning alive several of his peasants and a number of mice as well. Seeking revenge, mice attacked Hatto. Lots of them. He fled to his tower in the river thinking the mice couldn’t swim. Bad choice. While thousands died, thousands more made it to the castle. They ate through the door, crawled up the stairs and ate Hatto alive. I once watched army ants eat a mouse alive in Africa. There may be a message here: whether you are a man or a mouse, being eaten alive is not a pleasant experience.
Our daughter Tasha and her husband Clay with the Mouse Castle in the background.
I’ll conclude today’s post with a photo of Tasha and Clay’s two boys, Cody and Ethan, posing with G’ma Peggy. Our next post will be a visit to Rheinstein Cast where we were turned loose to explore the castle on our own.

Marksburg Castle, a Jewel in the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site

Photo of Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
We hung out on the upper deck of our river boat with our eyes peeled on the surrounding hills as we made our way through the Rhine River Valley, admiring the some 40 castles overlooking the river. The Marksburg, featured above, was special. Not only is it the best preserved castle along the Rhine, it is considered a jewel in the Rhine Gorge UNESO World Heritage Site and we had just visited. We were excited to see it from below.
One advantage of our leisurely trip up the Rhine, was that it provided us with ample opportunity to enjoy different perspectives of the castles. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off a journey through Rhine River Valley from Koblenz to Mainz than a visit to Marksburg Castle. Originally built in 1100 CE as protection for the town of Braubach, it was owned by various noble families down through the centuries until it was sold to the German Castles Association in 1900. It had been established a year earlier to preserve castles in Germany. Today, Marksburg serves as headquarters for the Association.

We made our way up to the castle via a route that challenged our bus driver to maneuver along a curvy, narrow road that had originally been built to accommodate foot and horse traffic. If you’ve spent any time driving in medieval European towns, you are familiar with the problem. We were met by our guide who ushered us into the castle and provided an excellent tour. Three things captured my attention: The structure of the castle, its collection of knights and their armor, and a bit on medieval life.

All of the photos in this post are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of Marksburg lion by Curt Mekemson.
Just inside the massive entry door were four lions that represented the different noble families that had owned the castles. The lion is a common feature in heraldry representing courage, valor, strength, and other characteristics that nobles liked to claim they had, rightfully or not.
Photo of "butter churn" tower on Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
While many of the castles along the Rhine were designed as homes for nobility first and defense second, Marksburg was designed first for protection. Its two towers were designed to fight off the enemy. Together, the two are commonly called a butter churn tower because of their look. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Marksburg tower photo by Curt Mekemson.
A different perspective of the tower.
Ramparts above Marksburg Gate photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Situated above the castle gate, these ramparts are designed to provide protection for the gate and surrounding walls.
Photo of castle ramparts by Curt Mekemson.
Anyone who has ever watched a movie involving castle defense understands the purpose of this structure. It’s designed to provide the defender with a clear line of fire while at the same time providing an element of protection. The long, slender hole in the right shadow is designed to shoot arrows through while providing even more protection.
Marksburg Castle arrow slit photo by Curt Mekemson.
A close up of an arrow slit. Hard to get much more protection than this. Finding a target might be more of a problem! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The ramparts of Marksburg Castle used to frame a photo by Curt Mekemson.
I found another use for the ramparts. They made a great frame for a photo.
Photo od Marksburg Castle canon by Curt Mekemson.
By the 1600s, cannons were in common use use as both defensive and offensive weapons in Europe. Marksburg had both short cannons and…
Photo of long canon at Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
…long cannons depending on the latest technology. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Canon port view of the Rhine River from Marksburg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
The view of the Rhine through the cannon port. Rather commanding, I’d say. Before international agreements on Rhine River traffic were agreed to, a great deal of money was made by charging tolls to passing boats. Usually, a chain was stretched across the river. I have to assume that this was an added incentive to pay up.
Weapons in Marksburg Castle armory by Peggy Mekemson.
The armory included a number of wicked looking weapons including these. The shadows are even scarier. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Marksburg Castle knight by Peggy Mekemson.
Even more interesting, there was display on the evolution of what knights wore. This one carried a huge broadsword. Interesting helmet. Eyebrows and a beak. Just ducky? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Flowery. Okay, here’s the question. Assuming you needed a hero to represent you on the field of battle, which one would you choose: Ducky, Horny, Furry, or Flowery? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Artichoke in flower at Marksburg Castle photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Moving right along… how about the lives of the rich and famous in Marksburg Castle. I’m not sure they grew artichokes but we found this one blooming outside. BTW, our niece fed us artichokes for dinner when we visited her last week. We both love artichokes, but we had never made a complete dinner out of them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A variety of spices, I assume were representative of ones used during the Middle Ages, were hanging in the kitchen.
As were a variety of cleavers. Chop chop!
Photo of Bed in Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
The bedroom featured this bed, which struck me as short and uncomfortable. It was designed for privacy, however.
Photo of musical instrument in Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
Possibly a little romantic music is called for. The instrument, BTW, is a hurdy-gurdy. I looked it up. Peggy informed me there was a musical group in the late 60s called the Hurdy Gurdy Band. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Romantic tapestry in Marksburg Castle photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Romantic love grew out of the age of Chivalry. What better way to recognize it than on a tapestry. This lovely maiden and her dandy duke seem to be sharing a moment as their beasties’ tails entwine to form a heart. Not quite sure what role the ferocious bird on the maiden’s right represents. Maybe it’s a message to the duke not to trifle with her emotions. Kind of like “If you dump me, I’ll stork you.”
If marriage is in the future, the castle has a chapel, complete with Madonna who has lost her hand.
And this is what I could only assume was a flying nun who has lost her bottom. If you are old enough, you may remember the TV series: The Flying Nun. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of chapel ceiling in Marksburg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
We found the chapel’s ceiling quite impressive. Note the lion.
No discussion of life in a medieval castle is complete without a discussion of the garderobe. “The what?” you say. It’s the small room hanging out over the wall. I call it the throne room. Peggy got a photo from inside.
FYI, the garderobe was the medieval equivalent of an outdoor toilet. Aren’t you glad you asked. It could get rather cold on a wintry day. And you never, ever wanted to stand under one, which made me wonder what it was doing hanging over a gate. Maybe it was a defensive measure. Grin. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Join us next week as we take you along the Rhine River Valley and feature a whole plethora of castles and small towns along the way. Also, be sure to check in on Monday when we celebrate Halloween and blogging friends.

The Rhine River Trip Begins… The River, a Cathedral and a Chocolate Factory!

While the first part of our journey lacked the beauty and castles of the Rhine River Valley we were about to explore, it wasn’t lacking in charm.

Birthdays are important to Peggy. When we first met, she told me “Forget my birthday and you are toast.” She was kidding, sort of. Apparently her first husband forgot the warning. I never have. Grin. Decade birthdays are even more important. For her 70th, Peggy planned a special outing. We would take the whole family on a riverboat trip up the Rhine. The kids and grandkids loved the idea (who wouldn’t), tickets were purchased, excitement grew, and then Covid struck. 

While Peggy is usually laid back and willing to ‘go with the flow,’ she assumes a more regal persona when it comes to her birthdays. I laughed when I came across this crown chair in Rheinstein Castle and asked Peggy to pose under it, which she did good naturedly. Note the shocked expressions on the faces of the two Norse gods.

Fortunately, our kids came up with an alternative for Peggy’s big 70. They rented a large house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the celebration. We hopped in Quivera, our small RV/van, and zipped across the country. Carefully. Covid was raging. It was a great celebration and Peggy was quite happy. But the riverboat trip was not forgotten. We still had the tickets and would use them as soon as Covid calmed down and Europe let us back in, which happened this past summer.

I’ve already done two posts on Amsterdam where we started and ended the adventure. Today, I am kicking off the series about our trip up the Rhine. 

It was special, no doubt about it. The boat trip in itself was a delight— good food, nice rooms, and great service. (Admittedly, Peggy went first class. But what the heck, it’s only the kids’ inheritance.) While I am not a fan of mega-cruises with thousands of people and their impact on local communities, I will admit they are good for family outings. People have their own space. They can come together or go their own way. No one has to plan entertainment, no one has to cook, and no one has to clean up. It reduces the likelihood of the trauma that sometimes accompanies family get togethers. Our riverboat offered all of these advantages plus one more, a big one: there were only a hundred people.

Our boat, the River Empress of the Uniworld Boutique line.
An example of the gourmet food we were served. I’m lucky I only gained a couple of pounds on the cruise.

Today, I am going to feature the first part of our journey. The countryside was relatively flat and industrial centers frequent. While it lacked the scenery and castles of the romantic Rhine River Valley we were about to experience, there was beauty and charm. And, we ended up in Koln/Cologne where we visited one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals— and a chocolate museum/factory. Have I ever shared how much Peggy loves chocolate?

The photos for this post and all of the Rhine River series are all taken by Peggy and me unless otherwise noted.

There was plenty to capture our attention along the lower Rhine including colorful towns…
Historic buildings…
Attractive, modern cities and, I might add, a lot of beautiful bridges.
If we ran out of other things to entertain ourselves with, there were always barges, scads ands scad of them, each carrying up to 2500 tons. Annually, more than 300 million tons of goods are shipped along the Rhine serving Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, making it the most important river in Europe for commerce.
The ease and inexpensive nature of river travel has encouraged the development of industry along the Rhine. For example, one fifth of the world’s chemical industries are located along its banks.
As might be expected, fighting pollution in and along the river is a major challenge. Global warming presents another problem: Drought has lowered the level of the river so much by late summer that it limits the ability of barges to navigate it.
Coming into Cologne, one of our first views was of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral that we were going to visit. First up was the chocolate factory, however. Peggy does have priorities. It was like Christmas to her…
She found a chocolate Santa and made a beeline for it. Who needs chocolate bunnies?
Of course there were chocolate bunnies, and even chocolate elephants. This is the mold for one.
But the prize, from my perspective, was the purple cow. Our grandson Cody agreed to pose with it and I recited the old poem to him: “I’ve never seen a purple cow, I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.” Maybe the last line should be changed to “I’d rather see than eat one.” I’m 99.9% sure the cow would agree with me.
The pre-Columbian artifacts on display caught my attention even more that the purple cow.
I’m not sure if the ancient artists had a sense of humor in creating their art, but these made me smile.
As we left the Chocolate Factory/Museum, our five grandsons agreed to sit with Peggy for a photo. It’s something akin to herding cats. I think she bribed them by buying them chocolate goodies. Cooper, the youngest is in front. He just turned 10 this past week.
As we left the museum, we took a final photo from outside.and started our hike over to the Cathedral.
The Hohenzollern Bridge loomed up in the distance.
As we approached the bridge, we saw that it was filled with people walking across. Most of them were involved in Cologne’s Gay Pride festivities that were taking place.
We also passed by another of Cologne’s famous landmarks, the Great St. Martin Church.
Finally we reached our objective, the Cologne Cathedral, which kept both of our cameras busy in an effort to capture its beauty. This is the back of the church.
Every angle provided a different perspective.
A view from the side.
We discovered gargoyles lurking near the top.
Making our way toward the front of the cathedral.
A front view.
Looking up from below.
Another perspective.
A view from inside.
Looking up.
Stained glass windows.
I’ll finish up today with one of the things I find strange, if not downright weird, about so many of Europe’s medieval churches is their collections of pieces of long dead saints, like a finger, or a toe. The Cologne Cathedral is known for its collection of Magi parts, the Three Kings who came to see Christ bearing gifts. I believe they are stored in this gold reliquary.

Next Friday we will visit our first castle as we begin our trip up the Romantic Rhine River Valley. And— we meet some old friends we had never met before!