…A Few of My Favorite Things – Part 1

With relatives in town, James and I have gotten to show off some of our favorite places, visit places we’ve been wanting to see, and search for new sites to explore. Here are some highlights of week 1:

Chagall window in St. Stephan's, Mainz
Chagall window in St. Stephan’s, Mainz

• Mainz: Some things old, something new
No trip to Mainz would be complete without a walk around town, an exploration of the Dom (cathedral), and beer and pretzels with Spundekas’ (a local soft cheese dip). We also finally got to see St. Stephan’s, a church famous for its windows, in the daylight. These stained glass windows are a creation of the artist Marc Chagall. Although they consist of simple shapes and are painted entirely in shades of blue, the windows appear very striking and complex. Their appearance changes throughout the day according to the natural light outside.

Marksburg overlooking the Rhein
Marksburg overlooking the Rhein

• Marksburg Castle: Great local riverside castle
For details on this castle, see my original visit: Marksburg. The main difference this time was that we went on a Wednesday afternoon instead of a weekend, which meant there were fewer visitors. We basically got a private tour of the castle after enjoying the sunny weather from the castle café terrace.

Schloss Heidelberg close-up
Schloss Heidelberg close-up
River Neckar in Heidelberg
River Neckar in Heidelberg

• Heidelberg: Fantastic third visit, this time with castle close-up
Perfect spring weather set the backdrop for our most recent visit to Heidelberg.  Music to set the mood:  “Memories of Heidelberg.”  This time we maneuvered by car along a narrow, switchback road up a steep hill to Schloss (Castle) Heidelberg. Previously I had only seen it from the quaint Altstadt (old city area) below. Once we had wandered through the Altstadt as far as the old bridge, we saw many people enjoying the spring afternoon on the River Neckar in rowboats and atop stand-up paddle boats.

Düsseldorf ship museum
Düsseldorf ship museum
Rainy view of the Rhein from the top of the museum tower
Rainy view of the Rhein from the top of the museum tower

• Düsseldorf: Of ships, churches, and market stands
That sums the trip up in a nutshell. About two hours northwest of here, we made a brief stop in Düsseldorf on a rainy day on the way to visit other relatives. In short, we visited a ship museum, St. Lambertus Church, and the town’s open air market.

First glimpse up at Köln Dom
First glimpse up at Köln Dom
Main aisle of the Köln Dom
Main aisle of the Köln Dom

• Köln: New favorite German city?
The visit to Köln was unreal: Most of the day consisted of intermittent drizzle but ended with a rainbow. This city is in the same direction as Düsseldorf but about twenty minutes closer. We spent most of the trip exploring the Köln Dom, and most of that time in a spiral staircase climbing its 520 stairs for an amazing view of Köln from a height of about 157 meters (515 feet). I should note that the Ulm Münster, also constructed in the middle ages and completed hundreds of years later, is an even taller church.

One of the walls of bones in St. Ursula's
One of the walls of bones in St. Ursula’s

A more eccentric highlight of our trip was a visit to St. Ursula’s Basilika, home to a chamber walled on all four sides with displays of human bones. The bones are said to be associated with a legend of St. Ursula, whose traveling companions were killed in battle when they arrived in Köln. The bones are artistically arranged into patterns and letters as though they were simply pieces of wood. After this macabre sight, the sun came out in time for us to see the Köln Dom adorned with a rainbow. And before heading home, we stopped into a small carry-out place for currywurst and fries.

Silver lining to a rainy day at Köln Dom
Silver lining to a rainy day at Köln Dom

Marksburg: A Castle on the Rhein

First glimpse of Marksburg
First glimpse of Marksburg
Snapshot of the drive
Snapshot of the drive

It’s difficult to find anything open on a Sunday, but today I had planned well and James and I went to Marksburg, a medieval castle about an hour southeast of us.  I had expected the GPS to take us most of the way on the Autobahn, but instead almost the entire drive twisted and turned up and down a single lane mountain road.  The view alternated between bare winter forests and rolling fields and farmland dotted with the occasional town.  Each tiny town was a cluster of steep-roofed houses overseen by a taller church tower somewhere in their midst.  At one of the higher points, we even saw the remains of a snow that had not reached our area.  With many signs warning of sharp turns, falling rocks, wild animals, and one specifically warning of squirrels just before the castle, I drove more cautiously than usual.

Almost there
Almost there

The castle itself towers from the highest point over the Middle Rhein town of Braubach and is the only castle of its kind to be essentially undamaged through time by nature or war.  After driving up a guardrail-free path wide enough for one car (with a few pull-over areas to accommodate two-way traffic), we parked and walked up a steep set of narrow wooden stairs to reach the main entrance.  From this height we had beautiful views of the sleepy town below as well as the Rhein River.

Marksburg up close
Marksburg up close
View of the Rhein
View of the Rhein

Our tour guide was very young but also very confident and knowledgeable about the castle.  The 50-minute tour was in German but we used a free English booklet from the gift shop/ticket counter to supplement what we heard.  In the early 13th century the castle had only one entrance:  the Iron Door, which still stands and was one of the final sights of the tour.  Today there are an additional three entry points:  the Drawbridge Gate, Arrow-Slit Gate, and Foxgate.  Inside the castle we explored the wine cellar, kitchen, bedroom, great hall, chapel, and more.  Many of the rooms had deep window areas with benches for sitting and seeing (pre-electric lights) activities like literally and figuratively spinning yarns.  In addition, outside we could see cannons pointed out of windows overlooking the Rhein, an herb garden with plants for “witchcraft and magic,” and the outside of a keep once used as a dungeon.

Cannon view
Cannon view
Recreated medieval kitchen
Recreated medieval kitchen
Bedroom
Bedroom window
Great Hall chess table
Great Hall chess table
Chapel ceiling
Chapel ceiling
Weaving room
Weaving room
Keep
Keep
Torture & punishment exhibit
Torture & punishment exhibit
Iron Door
Iron Door