Grand European River Cruise Continues in Part 4

Discussion of the Canal System, visits to Miltenberg and Rothenburg

As previously discussed this cruise started in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and ended in Budapest, Hungary. For those of you who wonder how that can be as there is no natural waterway connecting those two cities, you are not alone. Before we even booked the cruise I was scratching my head to find the route we would be taking.

The map pictured below shows the route we took. From Amsterdam, we sailed through a series of canals to get to the Rhine River, where we sailed upstream eventually joining the Main River. From there we continued upstream to the Main-Danube Canal and finally ended up sailing downstream on the Danube.

Some of the locks only took us up rather short steps of 10 15 feet while some were much larger elevation changes. The operations of the locks also varied from location to location. Some locks were very large and could accommodate several rivercraft at a time. We found ourselves sharing locks with other Viking ships, other river cruise ships, and commercial transport ships and barges. Sometimes Viking Bragi was the only ship in a lock.

Chart showing all the locks Bragi would pass through
Chart showing all the locks Bragi would pass through.

This chart is difficult to read for a few reasons. It is a photograph of two adjoining pages in the cruise book located in each stateroom. Therefore, the crease in the middle of the image. Secondly, there are 66 locks and fitting them on two pages makes for some pretty small type. I include it here to give an idea of the elevation change required to sail from Amsterdam to Budapest. As can be seen approximately three-quarters of the locks we passed through raised the ship. While once we got on the Danube, we began to use locks to lower the ship. The lock system is what makes these waterways navigable and through canals continuous. Along the upper chart can be seen with difficulty how many feet or meters the lock changed the ship’s elevation. The red bits at the top of the bars show that elevation change. The longer, gray portions of the bars indicate distance above sea level. The red dots on the chart below the bar graph indicates the kilometer marks along the route where each lock appears while the shape of that chart mirrors the general course taken.

Lock List
List of Locks with elevation changes. This chart was posted in the pilot house and viewable from the outside. I am pretty sure the captain posted it there to minimize the number of times he had to tell people how many locks and what elevation changes there would be.

Some locks were twins, so as the water was pumped from one side, it would go to the other side, allowing ships to pass in opposite directions simultaneously. This was efficient for two reasons. One, the water was just pumped back and forth and ships traveling in one direction didn’t have to wait for the ships going the opposite way to complete their lock operation, and two, it conserves water. Of the several lock operations, I was able to observe, there was only one time we seemed to be waiting in the lock for some other traffic that was not in sight to join us. I decided I didn’t have a need to know how the operators determined who went alone and who had to wait for more ships.

For the most part, we would never have known we were in a lock had we not been paying attention. The motion of the ship was nearly imperceivable even for this old sailor. The elevator motion of the ship going up or down in the locks was so refined that there was no sensation of vertical movement.

There was more than one occasion when either Connie or I woke up in the middle of the night to find we were in a lock and there was another ship alongside or the wall of a lock was completely blocking our view of the countryside. It wasn’t the lock operation that had awoken us, but the need to empty the bladder.

Once in a while, we could feel a slight jolt as the ship bumped up against a lock wall. That usually occurred when we were going to be two abreast and our captain put us hard to the side in order to give the second ship plenty of room to come alongside. Once both ships were safely in the lock they were both maneuvered away from the wall several inches to keep from rubbing during the vertical motion of the ships.

There was an interesting experience once during a daytime lock operation in a large lock where there were two Viking River Boats and a larger cargo vessel from Ukraine behind us and at an angle so we would all fit. While the shoehorning was very interesting to watch, the real show was up forward on the two Viking ships. There was a person on Viking Bragi who spotted a friend of his on the other Viking ship. The two exchanged surprised greetings as neither knew the other was on a cruise much less with the same company going through the same lock. Now, that is a real coincidence.

Bragi entering a lock at night.
Bragi enters a lock at night.

Our Cruise Director, David gave a brilliant slide presentation on the lock system and how it has provided for the safe and reliable transportation of goods well into and out of the heart of Europe. Of course, there are some notable problems caused in part by seasonal changes in water levels as well as climate change. Sometimes there isn’t enough water to allow the transport barges to float unless they are severely underloaded if able to float at all. During times of extremely high water, much of the river traffic comes to a halt due to the lack of height above the water while passing under many of the bridges over the various rivers. The bridge/steering area of the Viking river ships can be lowered for high water and piloted using a conning station on the main deck.

Much of the European economy relies upon the ability to move goods up and down the rivers and canals. This is not dissimilar to the United States’ reliance on our seaports where we ship and receive goods and materials to our trade partners around the world. As was the case in the United States, Western Europe’s transportation system was negatively affected by the impacts of Covid 19 and also continues to struggle to regain its former level of transportation. Unacceptable high and low water levels do not make the recovery any easier. As we would learn toward the end of our cruise, ours was the first time Viking Bragi was able to make the full journey from Amsterdam to Budapest in several months. For commercial shipping of food and manufactured goods that means there was a shipping nightmare.

Bragi with Sun Deck rigged for high water
Bragi with Sun Deck rigged for high water. Normally, the deck forward of the pilot house (Box with windows towards the back) has a sunscreen that is about 10 feet above the deck and there are deck chairs and tables for use by guests as we sail. In anticipation of the high water ahead all of that had to be lowered. In many instances, the pilot house itself was lowered via a hydraulic system that made it nearly flush with the deck If you look really hard you can see a rather large water bottle at the forward end of the sun deck. During high-water operations the ship is navigated from side stations with the same navigation equipment as the main pilot house. The operator’s head sticks up just above deck level. Should that bottle of water get knocked over by a bridge deck, the pilot can simply reverse course and avoid losing his head.

Connie's photo showing the visible portion of the hydraulic system that raises and lowers the pilot house.
Connie’s photo shows the visible portion of the hydraulic system that raises and lowers the pilot house. It is very difficult to see, but there is a void space just below the safety rails. When lowered the pilot house is actually situated right behind the ship’s lounge but walled off.

Another view of the hydraulic system for the pilot house.  Again, Connie's photo.
Another view of the hydraulic system for the pilot house. Again, Connie’s photo.

Mid-afternoon of September 14, we docked in Miltenberg, Germany. Connie and I had signed up for the Miltenberg Walking Tour excursion.

Miltenberg dates back to the 12th century. It is nestled between the Main River and Greinberg Mountain with parallel lanes leading down to the river. This is quite the authentic medieval town which has changed little over time. Since it had no industrial or military value the town was spared the widespread destruction of World War II.

The Schwarzviertel section or “black quarter” of the town is the oldest section of town. It gets the distinction of the black quarter because of the tall buildings and narrow streets that essentially block out the sunlight.

As one can imagine in a town of this age there are many “old” establishments. Two that come to mind are, The Gasthaus zum Riesen, Germany’s oldest inn aged at 425 years, and Faust brewery 1654 making it the oldest brewery in the Rhine-Main area.

While I could easily talk about this beautiful town for pages, I will let you see what I was able to capture with my camera.

Walking Tour of Miltenberg, Germany.

The Franconian town of Miltenberg on the Main River is lively and romantic, nestled amid one of Germany’s fine wine-producing regions. This is a typical street in this narrow town.

Although it was cloudy with on-and-off rain showers during our walking tour, the vibrant colors and contrasts stood out to be admired.

Red brick building with ivy

Church in Miltenberg, Germany

No German village would be complete without a church.

This is a rather odd-angled look at the Gasthaus zum Riesen, Germany’s oldest inn. Riesen means giant matching the reputation of this landmark German inn. An architectural gem, this 425-year-old traditional guest house is distinguished by its lovely half-timbered facade. It was renovated in 1590 using 100 oak logs donated by the town council. The modern establishment is known as a place to sample authentic German cuisine and the best in Bavarian beer. I should note that it is now owned by Faust brewing company and there are ten different beers on tap. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to pay a visit indoors or to sample the local beer.

The Gasthaus zum Riesen, the oldest inn in Germany

The sign outside The Gasthaus zum Riesen

The sign outside Gasthaus zum Riesen. Many important people have visited here over the centuries since it first opened such as two Holy Roman emperors, Napoleon, and Elvis Presley.

As I had mentioned, the streets and lanes in Miltenberg are narrow and also not very straight. The image above was taken from the side of the building as we were walking and our guide was talking about its history. It was several minutes later that we were able to see the main entrance and from a sufficient distance to get a decent photo. Anyone who knows me knows I try to get pictures without people whenever possible. There was no hope here.

A better look at Gasthaus zum Riesen

Old Town Hall with warehouse, Miltenberg

This unassuming building is the old town hall. The large double doors on the right are the entrance to what had been the town’s warehouse. Gotta wonder what they had in there and when.

Boys Peeing Sculpture in Miltenberg, Germany. I found nothing to explain the importance of this sculpture. However, nearly every couple decided it would make for a great photo opportunity. The fellow in the back or to the left of the sculpture was posing for his wife when Connie snapped this photo. I being a purest took my photo while there were no actors around including the giggly woman approaching the scene from the right. I am currently not sure where my photo got stored. Should I run across it before completing this series I will share it.

Boys Peeing Sculpture in Miltenberg, Germany.

Old stairs going to older doors.

Okay, this is the last of the Miltenberg Walking tour photos. I found these two side-by-side sets of stairs to be quite interesting. There is a difference in their construction materials, the colors are a little different, and they seem to be equally worn. I left out the doors and surroundings on purpose. I just found the stairs to be fascinating. The surrounding scene was utilitarian and boring to me. In a later part of this series, I will feature the many doors I found to be not just appealing to the eye but also hinted at what are likely interesting stories of the past. So, keep coming back to see what surprises I may have in store.

Shortly after we returned to the ship from our walking tour of Miltenberg we were underway for an overnight sail to Wurzburg. However, the fun was far from over for this day. Our Cruise Director, David, had put together a spinoff of the game show Family Feud that he calls “And the Top Answer is…?”

There were several river cruise-related questions and it was each team’s job to come up with what they thought would be the number one answer as compared to a survey of 100 former guests aboard Viking Bragi. It was great fun and kept a good portion of us up much later than we had become accustomed to since the cruise began just a few days before. Sadly I don’t remember any of the questions, but I do remember that it was great fun and very, very competitive.

At 8 AM the following morning the ship made a short stop in Karlstadt, Germany so that guests participating in the two excursions could disembark. Our chosen excursion for the day was a walking tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I have to admit to a bit of a memory fault at this point. Drive time from Karlstadt to Rothenburg is a little over an hour. I have no memory of that bus ride, but it must have happened because the time stamp on the first photo I took was well over an hour from our disembarkation time.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a German town in northern Bavaria known for its medieval architecture. Half-timbered houses line the cobblestone lanes of its old town. The town walls include many preserved gatehouses and towers, plus a covered walkway on top. Once again, I will tell most of the first part of this story with my phone photos. It was a pretty fast-paced walking tour that included some free time before rejoining the group for a traditional lunch that was included on the tour.

Rothenburg is the best preserved medieval town in Germany and has scarcely changed in appearance in hundreds of years. On the right side of this image, you can see a portion of the wall that encircled the village. The tower in the background is one of the guard towers incorporated into the wall.

Another wonderfully aged German village.

A view of the wall from the inside.

At various points along the interior of the wall stairs such as these provide access to the walking deck near the top. These stairs are well-worn from literally centuries of use.

Before venturing up to see what can be seen from the wall, let’s look at the local architecture first. More photos less words.

Half-timber home

Maybe a little more modern?

Contrasting colors
For those who don’t like HOAs, this is not the place for you. None of the colors of these buildings can be changed.

Another wonderful building
Another wonderful building complete with scaffolding and plastic sheeting.

A pharmacy, apartments and a fountain.

A peek down a lane as we walked by.
A peek up a lane as we walked by.

The narrow streets.
The narrow streets.

Along the wall.
The wall around the original village is 1.5 miles long.

As well as the guard towers, the town's defenders had lookout ports along the walkway that provided defensive firing positions with the weapons of the era.
As well as the guard towers, the town’s defenders had lookout ports along the walkway that provided defensive firing positions with the weapons of the era.

The structural integrity on display.
The structural integrity on display.

A look from the wall into the backyards of homes inside the wall.
A look from the wall into the backyards of homes inside the wall.

The stairway from the wall.

We are approaching one of the guard towers (in front of Connie). Conveniently there is a set of stairs close by so defenders and reinforcements could get to the guard tower quickly. Once we completed our personal time tour of the wall we met up with the group for a typical lunch of the region.

After lunch, we boarded the coach again for the short ride to Wurzburg where we continued our tour at the Wurzburg Bishops’ Residenz. I slept for the entire bus ride, so again no photos. I do remember this bus ride, though.

At the risk of offending any of you, I just have to say for the record that I found the Bishops’ Residenz to be about the most opulent place I have ever entered. It was built between 1720 and 1744. One can imagine what living conditions for the common man must have been like in those times. Yet, during this same time period the prince-bishops as they are referred to, wielded enormous power and wealth. The crowning glory is the UNESCO-listed Bishops’ Residenz, a palace of palaces that was built on the backs of those who were ruled by these bishops.

While the structure is beautiful in all senses of the word and has many of the riches of the period on display, I found it to be a great example of how men of the cloth have taken advantage of those they presumably were to lift up. While the current-day displays in the Residenz really concentrate on wealth and power, there is little on display to indicate what good the common man gained from those in power at the time. To sort of drive the point home, photography was not allowed inside the Residenz. Apparently some in authority today must feel some level of shame. At least one can hope.

Our guide for the day was a woman named Dorthea. Like all the guides we have had the honor of being led around by, Dorthea was a wonderful presenter of the history of the area, good and bad.

Dorthea

Just in case anyone feels I am picking on Christianity, I feel the same way about the Great Pyramids and for whom and by whom they were constructed. I find it difficult to square the use of slave or certainly underpaid labor working under intolerable conditions for the betterment of those in power.

From Wurzburg, we sailed through the night to Bamberg, Germany. The story will continue from that point in Part 5.

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2 thoughts on “Grand European River Cruise Continues in Part 4”

  1. I felt the same way at every palace we visited. I kept saying, how many people would they have been able to house with this money? I loved seeing the architecture, but the palaces and churches made me shake my head. Great blog.

  2. This is my very favorite of all your travel photos and journals!
    One of the best excursions I ever went on was a riverboat cruise on the Danube! It started where you and Connie ended, in Budapest.
    How I wish I had access to your informative email during the trip. I was always surprised when I looked out and saw we were in a lock. I never understood them thoroughly, until reading what you wrote.
    As usual, your photographs are amazing! Unlike any I have seen.
    Thanks, Connie, for the 3 boys peeing photo. That was definitely a highlight, even with the giggling woman.

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