To celebrate our 34th anniversary, my wife, Pamela, and I took a river cruise down the Rhine and Mosel rivers on Avalon Waterways’ newest ship, the Panorama.
I’ll be reporting about the whole experience of river cruising in the Travel section in a few weeks, but I wanted to blog about some of the things we saw and did along the way.
After boarding in Frankfurt, the first place we stopped was Mainz, a city of about 200,000 which can trace its original Roman origins to the first century BC. Nowadays its best known for three things: it was the home of Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press, about 80% of the city centre was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, but has been restored to its original architecture by the city fathers and finally, it has one of the most awesome markets I have ever seen.
We were lucky enough to be there on a bright Saturday morning in spring and Spargel was the word. It was the height of asparagus season, but in this part of Germany, it means white asparagus and you could practically go snowblind from the displays of virginal stalks piled on the market tables. I also encountered some glorious red carrots, radishes in abundance and enough sausages to gladden the heart of anyone who ever got homesick for Ocktoberfest.
It was wonderful to see hundreds of local Mainz residents pleasantly jostling each other as they sampled their wurst of choice with glasses of Rhine wine and discussed everything from the weather (a dry spring which left the Rhine almost too low for cruising!) to the soccer championship being held in town.
We also stopped in Rudesheim, a charming small town where wine and brandy making are the big industries and everyone is constantly pressing cups of Rudhesheimer Kaffe into your hands, sweet with caramelized sugar, dense with whipped cream and heady with the local Asbach brandy.
Rudesheim also has a glorious museum called Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, which is devoted to music-making machines through the centuries, some of them too astonishingly complex to believe!
Cologne was another revelation. It’s Germany’s fourth-largest city, but its major concern these days seems to be recreating its past, especially in the long-gestated creation of its Jewish Museum. They allow the public to watch all the excavation and restoration in progress and it’s possible at this point to see the foundation of the Roman ruins, dating from 38 BC, with the structure of the Jewish buildings that were erected on top of them a few hundred years later.
The big calling card, of course is Cologne Cathedral, which began construction in 1248 and has never been completed. No, really! As soon as one wing is finished, another is in need of restoration and there are centuries of artisans who are constantly employed working on this towering structure.
Our guide told us that the most coveted job in Cologne is one on the restoration crew, because it’s the most secure position possible. She also drew our attention to some of the gargoyles that had been recently restored, one of them in the image of the mascot of the local soccer team.
Of course, Cologne is also the home of Eau de Cologne, the grandmother of modern perfume and it began here, in 1709, not under the banner of 4711 as is frequently thought, but in the house of Farina, which is still open and dispensing fragrant history.
Did you know Napoleon loved their eau de cologne so much he had a special pocket kept in his boot to hide a bottle of it? Wellington may not have smelled as good, but who won the battle of Waterloo, anyway?