Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 3 - Worms, Heidelberg, and Rudesheim

As soon as our boat docked at Worms we hopped a bus to Heidelberg. Actually, two buses were required. Half of the passengers spoke English; the other half spoke German. We encountered rush hour traffic as we entered the city; thus, our time in this famed spot was already cut short. The old part of the city was reserved for pedestrians only beginning at 11 AM. However, in the morning, delivery vehicles threaded their way down the cobblestoned pavement. We needed to be careful as we walked through the main street. Heidelberg’s history seemed schizophrenic, trying to balance between Catholic leaning princes and electors and a Protestant public. In fact, at one point the church had a dividing wall to accommodate both groups (it is now is a Catholic church). An overhang surrounded the church which housed the town market eons ago. It now gives shelter to tourist kiosks. Buildings and squares still harkened back to Catholicism with images of the Madonna.
Heidelberg hugs the Neckar River (thus the reason for the bus) and was a major stopping point for pilgrims and traders. The bridge crossing the river also served as a toll gate in medieval times.
A bronze monkey statue serves as a reminder.
But what struck me were the two tiny mice beside the simian.
Both here and at ports along the Rhine, various high water marks were to be found and dated from the 15th century to 1997.
Upon the end of the guided tour we had exactly 20 minutes to shop, go to the restroom, and find our way back to the bus. In other words, no time at all. We did quickly walk through Kathe Wohlfahrt, a major Christmas shop with stores located throughout Germany. Alas, the dollar to euro ratio made it impossible to find anything reasonably priced.

As we boarded the bus and caught our breath we were whisked away to the hill overlooking Heidelberg and the site of the ruined fortress. My husband and I could have easily spent all day here. There were the ruins, of course, but the place also housed an extensive park with trails, a couple of cafes, and tourist shops. Being part of a tour group with a tight time schedule meant we only had 30 minutes to take pictures of the spectacular views.

On our return trip back to the boat we were able to barely discern the Worms cathedral. The only picture I had time to snap was the statue of the knight throwing his treasure into the Rhine, a tribute to the Nibelungun saga.

As we lunched and cruised up the Rhine we began to glimpse the heart of the river – picturesque towns, fortresses or castles, and vineyards.

After dinner we tied off at Rudesheim. Night had already descended, but there was one more planned excursion into town to Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum. A private museum housed in a building dating back to the 15th century. And it contained, you guessed it, mechanical musical instruments of infinite variety. We marveled at the banjos and the rotating violins. My husband was volunteered to be the organ grinder and eke out a tune (minus the monkey). The most fascinating machinery turned out to be the smallest piece in the building. It was a metal music box with a tiny song bird perched on top, outfitted with colorful minute feathers. As the tour guide pressed the button the feathered fantasy moved his head back and forth and burst into chirps, just as one would expect of a real bird. What a mesmerizing delight! The museum contained its share of cheesiness, but even this structure was older than almost any building in the states and seeing the songbird made my evening.

After the tour most of Rudesheim had rolled up the sidewalks, except this narrow alley leading back to the river. The alley contained restaurants and open air pubs along both sides. Each place had its own band. The night wasn’t too cold and we opted for an open air establishment with large picnic style tables and a large water fountain in the middle bedecked with green plants. We nestled in with the other German and American tourists. We ordered a bottle of local wine and listened to the band belt out traditional German tunes, Abba, and Tammy Wynette. The night did not seem complete until we had heard “Stand By Your Man.” We also took a turn on the small dance floor.

Upon finishing our wine we strolled back to the boat to a sound sleep.

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