Thursday, 18 May 2017

Koblenz to Ruedesheim

I woke up in time to see the sunrise at twenty to six. The MV Emily Bronte was still moored, but three ships along the quay behind us had already left. By six we reversed away from our mooring in the river Mosel, all the way into the Rhine, about a kilometer away. As there was no other river traffic about at the time, I presume this was safer to do than blocking the mouth of the Mosel by turning full circle.

We progressed up-river at just over talking pace through a broad landscape of rising hills, forested ar first, but then increasingly covered with a patchwork of vineyards. Here and there there was evidence that new patches of forest were being cleared to develop terrain as new vineyards.. This is no doubt more profitable than forest, but one has to wonder about the long term impact of the loss of trees.

The river bank on both sides contains a succession of beautiful villages, almost all overlooked from the south by castles, only occasionally castle ruins. Many Rhineland castles had originally been taken out of military use in late mediaeval efforts at law enforcement against robber barons, and fallen into ruin, and been only partly occupied. The nineteenth German Romantic movement, on the back of industrially created wealth, saw many of these restored and developed as stately homes, very much in the same way that Cardiff Castle was redeveloped and greatly enhanced. Some are still home to wealthy people who want an apartment with ancient character, but most serve as hotels or conference centres.

During the morning we were accompanied on deck and in the main lounge by the voice of Stuart, our tour guide, who spoke, often with historical anecdotes, not only about the towns and villages we were approaching, but also about the history of the river itself as Western Europe's main industrial artery. The story of how it has become one of the world's largest commercial waterways since Napoleonic times, is quite fascinating, and is still unfolding as work continues on improving river channels and managing traffic flow. Hundred metre long barges carrying fuel and raw materials are a frequent sight, and amazingly now there are even larger vessels carrying fifty to a hundred standard containers to and from Switzerland to Rotterdam, one of the world's largest ports. An impressive amount of homework will have gone into making such an interesting presentation over a four hour period.

The highlight of the morning was passing the legendary Loreley rock outcrop, the narrowest and most dangerous point in the Rhine, with legends of its own, and much photgraphed bronze statue of a siren maiden whose voice was once said to lure sailors to their room. Just as interesting to me was to learn how millions of tons of hard quarzite rock outcropping from the river bed had to be excavated to make it deeper and safer for navigation, achieved in the second half of the twentieth century.

One through the gorge that distinguishes the Mddle Rhine region, the river widens and opens up into a flatter more rolling rural landscape. As we were finishing lunch, we arrived for on overnight stay at the small wine producing town of Ruedesheim, home to the famous Ansbach Uralt brandy distillery, with a beautiful 15th-18th century heart to it, with shops guest houses and bars, with Weinstuben, showcasing local winemakers' offerings as well as meals.

It's a delightful place. We spent much of the afternoon wandering the streets among crowds of elderly tourists like ourselves, German as well as English. It was inevitable we should end up in a Weinstube, enjoying glasses of Herr Philipp's Trocken Reisling and Spatburgunder, not to mention delicious white and red Traubensaft.  Equally pleasurable was to hear German spoken all around us, and enjoy using the language again. It's been quite a while since we spent proper time in Germany.

After supper on board, we were both tired enough for another early night, so we missed the evening's music quiz in the main lounge, and settled in our cabin. Unfortunately the free on-board internet link is under-powered and over-used, often taking five minutes to log on, as the evening is peak usage demand for many wanting to stay in touch with home. I'm glad to have my trusty Blackberry to fall back on once more. I can't believe I've taken over 200 photos again today. Processing and uploading them all will have to wait until we return home, however.

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