Shortly after breakfast, the ship docks at Rüdesheim. By 9 am we are on board a mini motorized "train" that drops us off at the town's signature attraction: Siegfried's Music Cabinet. This museum is devoted to mechanical musical instruments and it's one of the largest such collections in the world. The collection and the museum resulted from the singular vision and passion of one Siegfried Wendel, who travelled the world collecting self-playing instruments and painstakingly restored them to working order. Our guide takes us through dozens of rooms, each filled with a variety of pianos, "orchestrions" and other contraptions that play by themselves. Most are wind-up instruments. Many of them use some type of perforated paper rolls to dictate the notes to play. Most are ornately carved and some feature mechanical figures that move in time to the music. One incredible machine plays a bank of real violins by means of rotating disks to bow the strings and mechanical fingers to stop the strings. There is also a collection of old phonographs, and it is fascinating to hear what people heard when these miraculous inventions first appeared, allowing people to experience actual performances. And it is interesting to contrast this technology
with today's ubiquitous digital music.
Right beside Siegfried's is the terminus of a cable car. It will take us to the top of a nearby mountain that is the site of the Niederwalddenkmal. The ride up is smooth. We get excellent views along the way of Rüdesheim on one side and endless vineyards on the other.
A short walk from the cable car station at the top brings us to the Niederwalddenkmal, a monument constructed to commemorate the founding of the German Empire in 1871, inaugurated in 1883. It is an immense and (dare I say it) very German monument that boldly proclaims its power over the Rhine Valley below. It is a beautiful day: hot with nary a cloud in the sky. You can see forever. The view of the town and of the Rhine River far below is simply spectacular. Quite a number of families with children are enjoying the view, and people are helping each other take selfies with the spectacular scenery in the background. A map informs me that there is an extensive network of hiking trails on the mountain with the monument as the nexus.
After taking the cable car back down,
we have some free time left to prowl Rüdesheim's old town. Not far from Siegfried's is a narrow cobblestone street called the Drosselgasse that is regarded as the heart of the old town. Built in the 15th century, the Drosselgasse was used to move items from the river to homes in the town. Today it is lined with restaurants and shops to attract tourists. Very picturesque.
We have a couple of missions today. One is to find some Asbach brandy, made locally and regarded as Germany's best brandy, a rival to cognac. The other is to find some kind of silly costume for the end-of-cruise costume party that Werney announced yesterday. The Drosselgasse comes through on both accounts.
Back to the ship (I on foot, Vi in the mini-train) in time for lunch—and what a lunch it is! A BBQ is held on the top deck. There are a half-dozen different types of sausage, pork on a spit, chicken, corn, potatoes, multiple salads and several flavours of ice cream for dessert. Oh, and lots of beer. What a feast! It is a cloudless day and very hot, which drives people back down to the shelter of the ship
as soon as they have eaten.
At 2:30 pm, the Ruby departs. At this point, we leave the Main River for good and head north into the famous Rhine Gorge, another UNESCO heritage site. Now the scenery becomes truly spectacular. It's still the format of houses plus church plus ruined castle, but now the bluffs are steeper and the towns nestle between mountains and spread like lichen up the surrounding elevations. I especially love watching for ruined castles. A train track runs along each side of the gorge, quite a construction feat. Werney tells me that the line on the left bank (actually right the way we're facing) is mostly for commercial transport and the line on the right bank is mainly for passenger traffic.
We pass the famous Lorelei cliff that rears from the river where it narrows to create what was once a treacherous passage. Legend has it that a beautiful maiden could be seen here combing her long hair and singing an irresistible song that lured unwary sailors to their deaths on the hidden rocks. A little further on are two ruined castles that legend tells us belonged to two brothers who feuded with each
other over a women. Indeed, every ruin and every bend in the river has a story associated with it.
Around 5:30, the ship docks at Braubach. We have another excursion planned for tonight. We pile into buses and start climbing, heading for Marksburg Castle, which we spotted earlier from afar on the top of a sizeable mountain. At a certain point the buses can proceed no further, so it's on foot for the last 500m uphill to reach the castle. A guide greets us and gives us a tour of the castle
Marksburg Castle has a fascinating history. There have been fortifications on this site since ancient times. The present configuration dates from 1429. The building has been variously used as a dwelling for nobles, a fort, a prison, and now a museum. it remained in private hands until 1900 when it was symbolically sold to an organization dedicated to the preservation of German castles. It sustained extensive damage from American artillery in WWII but has been completely repaired.
Our tour takes around the outside walls and batteries. The castle was built with defence in mind and has several clever design features to make it difficult to
capture. And, in fact, it was never taken in combat. We move inside and see the kitchen, dining room, bed room, all furnished as it might have been in the 15th century. Hilariously, the bathroom's drop point hangs outside the wall, allowing you to tell your attacking enemy what you really think of them. We move on to storage rooms, the dungeon and torture chamber in the lower areas. Fascinating tour.
We are then directed to a modern banquet hall, where we are serenaded by two minstrels who between them play lute, recorder, hurdy-gurdy, guitar and harp. The suckling pig is ceremoniously paraded through the hall, then we are treated to a medieval supper of soup, chicken, pork, salad and potatoes. We serve ourselves from communal platters. After supper, we are entertained by a lithesome young lady who performs feats of juggling and gymnastics. For the finale, she selects one of our Aussie buddies (a big strapping lad) and enlists his help to perform a handstand on his outstretched arms.
Back on the buses to meet our ship, which has moved on and docked at Koblenz. Beautiful sunset along the way. We are thoroughly beat by the time
we get to bed. An extremely full but wonderful day.
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