You may never have heard of the “Main River” in Germany. Compared to the other large rivers like the Rhine, the Elbe and the Oder it does not flow the same way. Those start in the south of Germany and make their way towards the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. The 330 mile long Main River cuts across Germany through Franconia, a beautiful area with gems of cities not to be missed. Canals with almighty locks connect this hardly known river with the Danube. The last part of the impressive canal was only completed in 1992. It provides an international waterway connecting Rotterdam at the North Sea with Konstanca on the Black Sea.
We visited many of the pretty, fairy-tale towns along the Main. Since Scenic Cruise Lines has electrically assisted bikes for more adventurous guests, about thirty chose to ride next to the ship and meet up at the next stop. Arriving in the area of the modern metropole of Frankfurt we again had a choice of excursions. We elected Heidelberg, the oldest and most famous university town in Germany. At one time in my life I had to lecture there, needed to go to a hairdresser, they talked me into a color rinse, and my hair turned out red. RED! I hated it – but it couldn’t be changed until it washed out over the next four weeks. We had also read the fabulous ‘Schellendorf’ series of books by Lynn Alexander, set in Heidelberg. We tried to find the Schellendorf house, stable and other places but naturally did not miss walking up to the old castle ruin which provides an incredible view over the surrounding wine country with the Neckar river winding its way through it.
Mainz is the city where the Main River joins the waters of the Rhine. Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz; the man who invented the movable lettering for the printing process, enabling the mass production of books in 1440. His masterpiece was the first ever printed Bible still displayed in the Gutenberg Museum. Several places in Mainz warrant a visit; the cathedral which looks more like a fort, the medieval Iron Tower, and the art lover surely would not want to miss seeing the Chagall window in St. Stephen’s Church. The history of this city goes back more than two thousand years when the Romans realized the strategic importance of its location.
Another excursion in this area offered by Scenic was a visit to Wiesbaden, in the 19th century one of the most exclusive spa cities in Germany due to many hot springs. Once called ’Aquae Mattiacorum’ was a flourishing Roman city two millennia ago. It still retains the aura of its heyday in the Belle époque. Wiesbaden brings up another memory: I was married there. But that is another story, told in the sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That.”
Father Rhine! We must have entered it during the night because I do not remember our ship slipping from the Main into the Rhine River. Many poets have written about the Rhine, many songs are sung about it, and many cruise companies offer tours up and down the Rhine River. It springs in Basel Switzerland and winds its way through vast valleys and narrow gaps between mountains all the way to Holland, picking up other, smaller rivers joining it along the way. The best-known one of such rivers is the Moselle. A dangerous turn to navigate the Rhine for any ship is the corner at the Lorelei. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote a song of a beautiful siren sitting on top of the steep cliff, combing her golden hair, singing and causing many a ship crashing, the captains lured by her and not paying attention at the sharp narrow bend in the river.
On both sides of the Rhine remain old castles, most now in ruins with maybe a small part made livable for an owner. Once upon a time they were built by robber barons, catching boats coming up or down the river and collecting fees. We had a historian on board telling the stories of twenty-three such castles. It was funny to watch people’s heads on the top deck swivel from one side to another, trying not to miss anything. I did a bike tour in 1957, and several castles were youth hostels. In the late eighties, we toured the Rhine area in a car, and we stayed in one converted to part hotel and restaurant. The owner was a Swizz man, he invited us for an after-dinner cognac (brandy) drink to enjoy with him. He lived alone and asked us many questions about life in Canada. The next day we noticed he had charged us for the drinks. Some invitation!
Not to be missed along the Rhine is Rüdesheim. Make sure to try a “Rüdesheim Coffee” laced with Assbach Uralt Brandy and sign up for a tour of the unique “Museum of Mechanical Music Instruments.” Rüdesheim is a truly ‘happy place.’
Scenic Cruises has a contract with the “Mark Castle.” We enjoyed a medieval dinner and show as well as being horrified by the room full of torture instruments of the not so good old times.
We sailed by the modern, extensive cities of Boppard, Bonn, Cologne; we had almost a day to enjoy Cologne, and then into the widening waterways leaving Germany to Holland, all the way to Amsterdam. Also known as the Venice of the North because of its many bridges, I’d call it the city of bikes. Highrise parking garages for bikes, bikes, bikes and more bikes. Houseboats along the waterways are beautifully tended with lots of plants and flowers, five or more story buildings all joined along the water, and one wonders how they were built on this watery part of the Earth.
An excursion brought us to an area with windmills, typical for Holland. We had fun visiting a store where the Dutch clogs were made, watching the craft production from a piece of wood to the painting of this footwear. I was reminded of my teen years when a pair of those (unpainted!) clogs kept my always icy feet warm, the only shoes I owned for a couple of years, worn for school, church and elsewhere. Interesting was a place where they made cheese, big wagon wheels of cheese were displayed to age on many shelves. And before you ask, yes, we could watch the process in the making and taste the types of cheese.
Writing about the Budapest-Amsterdam cruise and, despite having done others since, I dream and hope we can do this particular cruise again. There was so much to see and enjoy, and there wasn’t time enough to take it all in the first time. I am sure I will enjoy it, even more, the second time.
Good news: My e-books will be available at 50% off from December 25th to January 2nd on Smashwords: