25.05.2012 - 28.05.2012
Europe has for some reason always been my dream destination. And this year, the dream came true.
Our journey to the west started on the 24th of May aboard a Lufthansa A380 flight to Frankfurt. (By the way the A380 experience is ultimate! Great food, double decker flight and lots of hand & leg room :-) ) Once we landed in Frankfurt, we got day passes which gives access to all the regional trains throughout Germany for 24 hours and it’s for a maximum of 5 persons which was perfect for us.
The first stop was Rudesheim, a beautiful town housing the first German museum for mechanical musical instruments. It has a unique collection of self-playing orchestra instruments, all we need to do is turn on a switch!
This town was also the starting point of our Romantic Rhine cruise. The Rhine is the longest river in Germany. The Middle Rhine which was the focus of our cruise is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has more than 40 beautiful medieval castles & vineyards. The sight of those castles takes you to a different world altogether, a fairytale world where at some point of time one can actually visualize Rapunzel tossing her hair down one of the high towers for the prince to rescue her!!
The Lorelei Rock at St. Goar was the last stop of our cruise. This place is known to be the site for many boat accidents. Legend has it that a beautiful maiden, Lorelei, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. Of course, today science says that this area is the narrowest point of the Rhine river and due to the strong currents and numerous rocks it is a danger to all ships sailing through there. Personally I would like to believe the legend. It’s so much more interesting! :-)
St. Goar is a shopping haven for two German specialities: the Cuckoo Clock & Beer Steins. A shop in this small village proudly displays the world’s largest free hanging hand carved cuckoo clock.
The next day was a trip to Cologne, the fourth largest city in Germany and also the city where “Eau de Cologne” originated. The most famous landmark in this city (and also a UNESCO World Heritage site) is the Cologne Cathedral and truly, the moment you step out of the train station and look to your left, this building leaves you breathless and awe-struck. Built in Gothic style, it has the largest facade of any church in the world. It took a mind boggling 600 years for this church to be completed.
Following the cathedral visit, we took a trip on the hop-on hop-off open roof bus which is a fantastic way to see the city in a short time. The Synagogue, 12 Romanesque Churches and the Hohenzollern Bridge are the major attractions of the city. The Hohenzollern or Locking Bridge is a bridge on the Rhine that is covered in 'love padlocks'. These locks are placed by couples with their names inscribed as a symbol of loyalty to each other. Cologne is also home to some well known museums. What we didn’t expect to find in this city was a restaurant called Taj Mahal (!!) in the corner of some street. Needless to say, we savoured every bit of the surprisingly good food. (Note that we didn’t have Indian food for the next 6 days, so this was God’s blessing!!)
The return trip from Cologne to Frankfurt was on the Inter-City Express or ICE, one of the fastest trains in Germany reaching speeds upto 300 km/h!!
On 27th we headed to Wurzburg, home to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Wurzburg Residenz. This palace was the residence of prince bishops. The most interesting parts of the palace are
- The worlds’ largest fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo on the ceiling above the grand staircase depicting the four continents: Asia, Africa, America and Europe. This ceiling is an architectural marvel, since it doesn’t have any supporting pillars!
- The Imperial room decorated completely with gold leaf and the Mirror Cabinet, a room decorated entirely with glass panels painted with oriental figures.
Next stop was Rothenburg, a Bavarian village still preserved in its original state from the Middle Ages. Buildings within the walled city reflect the city's medieval history & this part of the old town is entirely traffic free!
As luck would have it, we arrived exactly on time for an annual festival called the "Historical Master Draught Festival". In 1631 during the 30 years war, Rothenburg fell to imperial troops under the command of Count Tilly after a bitter four day battle. The town was to be destroyed and the city councillors killed. However, tradition has it that Count Tilly was humored by the welcome drink - a tankard holding over 3 litres (3 quarts) of local wine. He promised leniency if one of the town councillors could drink the whole tankard in one draught. Former town mayor Nusch took up the challenge and saved the town.
Each year, this event is recreated and we were able to witness it! Hundreds of citizens were dressed up in medieval costumes, some of them riding horses, some of them in carriages and others dancing and walking and waving at the crowd. Then the entire procession moved to a huge field where camps were set up and the entire scenario of the Thirty Years War was recreated.
The next phase of our Eurotrip took us to the Land of Mozart, Vienna in Austria. More on that in Part II !!