ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 17-KOTOR, MONTENEGRO

Our cruise aboard La Perla came to an end much too quickly!  Isn’t that always the case when you are thoroughly enjoying an experience?  Time just speeds on by!  Stand in a long line at the airport, though, and time stands still right along with you.

Sinisa had our tour guide/ driver to Montenegro take this last group shot with Ante and the crew of La Perla.  It brings back great memories to me and Bruce of the experiences we shared, friendships we made, and wonderful places we saw along the way.

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Good-bye’s were said to all but our new Canadian friends and our guide, Sinisa.  It was just the five of us traveling on to Montenegro for the post-cruise extension.

Our drive to Montenegro took us on a winding road along the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  With its narrow profile and steep walls, it is often called Europe’s southernmost fjord, even though it is actually a ria, or a submerged river valley.

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Mussel farms were a common site on the Bay of Kotor

Kotor, our destination for the day,  is a fortified medieval city located at the head of the bay.  Dating back to the first century, the small city of less than 14,000 people is a popular tourist destination, because of its history and Old-World charm.  It is one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When we arrived, I looked up and saw the switch-back walking path that led up the steep side of the mountain behind the Old Town.  I knew it was a path I wanted to conquer after our walking tour, and I was happy Bruce was all in to join me!

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The archway through the thick wall of Kotor’s Old Town was impressive, and I was instantly charmed by the quirkiness of a few unexpected sights that greeted us:

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The narrow, winding cobblestone streets were charming, and I instantly understood why tourism is Kotor’s top industry.

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Our private tour led us to Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, a Roman Catholic church dating back to 1166.  The cathedral was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1667, so it was rebuilt.  Again, in 1979, the cathedral was damaged by another earthquake.  It wasn’t until 2016 that the restoration was complete.

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The view from the second floor of the cathedral.

Fortunately, the 14th century frescoes and rich collection of artifacts survived both earthquakes.

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Following our tour, we had free time to wander the cobblestone streets and make our way back to the stone stairs for the steep climb up the mountain.  Our fitness and endurance paid off; the views were spectacular!

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Returning to town, I shot a few more pictures before settling in at a table on the patio of the restaurant reputed to have the best chocolate cake in Kotor.  Sharing a slice was our reward for enduring the hot climb up and down the mountain!  Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 16-DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

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When people think of Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), Dubrovnik is probably what comes to mind first.  Dating back to the 7th century, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean region.  That fact was quite evident the day we visited.  Busloads of tourists (including us) inundated the place, and I soon realized why one of La Perla’s crew loved the island of Korcula more than his own home of Dubrovnik.  Andrea lives within the walls of the city, and he complained about the traffic, lack of parking, and packs of tourists.  (Property within the walls has also gotten extremely expensive; a tiny one-bedroom apartment sells for $1.3 million dollars!  People who inherit property within the walls rent them out on Airbnb and buy in a newer area instead.)

One of reasons Dubrovnik has seen such an increase in tourism is because of the HBO television series, Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Dubronik.  I have never seen the show, so I haven’t a clue!

Dubrovnik had a record year for tourism in 2016, with more than one million visitors.  It has gotten so bad that city officials are setting limits on the amount of people allowed within the walls on any given day.  UNESCO has advised that no more than 8,000 people should be within the walls of the Old Town at any one time to prevent damage to some of the city’s oldest buildings; so, security surveillance video cameras have been installed at the walled city’s five entrances to keep tabs on the foot traffic.

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Beginning this year, Dubrovnik is limiting the number of cruise ships to two per day, carrying a maximum number of 5,000 each.  In addition, city officials are working with the Cruise Lines International Association to optimize scheduling and make foot traffic move more efficiently through its historic central district.

The big feature of Dubrovnik that attracts tourists is its walls that run almost 1.2 miles around the city.  The walls are 80 feet high and up to 20 feet thick.  The oldest building within the walls dates back to 1290, and the 700-year-old pharmacy is the third oldest pharmacy in the world.

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Outside of the walls, a fortress was built in the 1400’s to protect he main city gate.  The fortress wall facing the water is 40 feet thick, and only two feet thick on the city side.

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The system of turrets and towers of the Old Town wall were also intended to protect the city; however, it suffered a devastating attack by the Serbs and Montenegrins on October 1, 1991.  The attack lasted for seven months, killing 114 civilians and damaging 56% of its buildings.  The damage to the walls alone was estimated at $10 million dollars.

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Following the end of the war, damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired in the original style, adhering to UNESCO guidelines.

It was interesting to walk the entire wall of the city and look down on the rooftops where we were able to spot undamaged pre-war roofs in between newer, post-war roofs.  It was sad to see some of the shelled buildings that remain untouched since the attack.

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Poster Caption:  Painter Ivo Grbic in front of his burning home in street Od puca 16 during Serbian and Montenegrian attack on Dubrovnik.

The walk was exhilarating, though, especially along the seaside wall.  The views were breathtaking, and we were so fortunate to be able to enjoy it on such a beautiful day!  We watched the kayakers paddling on the Adriatic Sea below us, and marveled at how clear and bright blue the water appeared.

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Although we had begun the day with a guided tour of Old Town, we were provided passes to walk the walls and visit the museums on our own.  It was great to be able to enjoy it at our own pace and cover more ground.  We were among the few in our group that walked the entire wall, a memory I won’t soon forget.

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Our final evening in Croatia was also quite memorable.  We were taken by bus to Orasac Village (population 100; 85% of them related) for a home-hosted dinner.  The 24 of us were divided into four smaller groups to dine in four different homes.  We were welcomed by Tereza Gorace and her cousin, Ana, who translated for us and answered many of our questions.

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Beginning our evening, we were welcomed on the patio with local brandy and fresh figs from their tree.  At Christmas time, the figs are dried with a bay leaf and flour for a traditional treat.

Before settling in for dinner, we were shown their smokehouse where they make sausage, prosciutto, and bacon—all from animals they raise on their farm.  Tereza explained that it takes seven days to smoke sausage, and then it is stored in the cellar.  Prosciutto is smoked for two months straight.

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This is a kuna, an animal native to Croatia that lives in the forest.  It appears on Croatia’s currency.

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Ana is standing on the left.

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Bruce, with Tereza and Ana, after he gave Tereza and Ana each a pair of fused glass earrings he had made for them.

Tereza and Ana raise, grow, and make almost everything they eat, as do all of their relatives who live in their little village.  They pickle their own vegetables, make their own cheese and wine, and bring their own olives to another village to get pressed for olive oil.

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Everything here was homemade or home-grown.

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This is “Rosata,” a dessert made with homemade rose liqueur.  Rose petals are soaked in grappa for 40 days to make the liqueur.

During dinner, Ana was very patient answering the many questions we all had about their life during the war and after.  When their village was attacked on October 3, 1991, Ana was just three months old.  Serbs occupied the village, stole belongings, killed animals, and destroyed what they didn’t take.  The villagers were forced to leave with only their clothes and documents.

Ana’s mom fled with her to Germany to stay with relatives.  Only women and children were allowed to leave, because the men were required to stay behind and fight in the Croatian army.  Dubrovnik didn’t have an army, so one had to be quickly formed.

Dubrovnik suffered substantial damage due to its location bordering Montenegro.  Although the Serbs only occupied areas outside of the Old Town walls, they did bomb it.  In all, they occupied about one third of the country before being defeated.

Following the war, men returned to clean up their homes and clear land mines before their wives and children returned.

To this day, there is still (understandably!) resentment towards the Serbs and Montenegrins for the abuse and brutality they unleashed on Croatia.  (In contrast, Croatia has an excellent relationship with Slovenia to the north.  Both countries are in the European Union, and Croatia will adopt the Euro as their currency in 2020.)

We learned so much about what Tereza and her village endured in 1991 and the struggle the entire country had post-war.  Hearing her story made it so real and so personal.  We were thankful to have had that experience, something Vantage Travel calls a “Cultural Connection.”  This is what travel is all about.

 

Coming up next:  Montenegro

 

 

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 15- MOSTAR, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Informally known as “Bosnia,” and sometimes known as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina is bordered by Croatia to the north, west, and south.  Serbia is located to the east, and Montenegro to the southeast.  A twelve-mile strip of Bosnia is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Our visit to the country entailed a short ferry ride from La Perla to the coast of Croatia and a two-hour bus ride to Mostar, as well as bringing our passports and clearing customs at the border along the way.  It was well worth the effort, plus doing the reverse on the way back!  (Of course, to make our wait at the border go quicker, Sinisa gave a gift of bottled waters to the customs agent as a motivation for him to stamp our passports faster.)

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Mostar is the cultural and economic capital of the Herzegovina region of the country.  It took a huge hit during the Bosnian War in the early 1990’s when 100,000 Bosnians were killed.  President Clinton (thankfully!) forced an end to the war by locking Bosnian and Serbian leaders in a room at an air force base until an accord was signed.

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Numerous buildings were destroyed during the conflict.  We saw evidence of that destruction since 3% of those buildings have yet to be reconstructed, due to their desire to preserve history of the old architecture.  In addition, the cost of rebuilding in the original, historic style is too high.  The country is still struggling to recover from the devastation, so bombed-out buildings stand just as they did when they were shelled.  It was as if time stood still in some parts of the city.

There are three main religions in Mostar—Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox.  We learned about all three during our walking tour of the city, which included a visit to a Turkish home dating back to the 1700’s, and a mosque, which had been destroyed and rebuilt exactly like it was before the war.

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The view of Neretva River from the Turkish home.

The highlight of Mostar is Stari Most, (the “Old Bridge”), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The historic stone bridge crosses the Neretva River, dividing the city into Croat and Muslim sections.  Constructed in the 16th century, the original bridge was destroyed by a bomb during the Bosnian war and has since been reconstructed.  It reopened in 2004 and is considered an exemplary piece of Balkan Islamic architecture.

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Tourists gather on the bridge not only to enjoy its architecture and views, but to also watch the daring divers that take flying leaps into the water 78 feet below.  (They won’t dive until they have received 30 Euros of tips beforehand.)  The divers make a big show of it, pretending to get ready to dive, just so they can pocket more tips.  Once they have gotten their money, they actually take the dive.  The funny thing is that some of the older divers aren’t actually the ones to carry out the dive.  They are seasoned at enticing the tourists to part with their cash; however, once it comes time to make the dive, a younger (and less beaten-up) diver comes out on the bridge to do it.  (Presumably, they have agreed to a fair division of the pot…)

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We watched the circus unfold as we dined with our group on the patio of a restaurant with the best views of the bridge.  While we enjoyed a local brew and native cuisine, we kept an eye on the divers, wondering if they were ever going to actually make the leap.  Two dives took place that we saw; however, it wasn’t worth missing lunch to try to photograph as I waited, and waited, and waited for the dive to actually take place!

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During our free time, we wandered up and down the cobblestone pedestrian street, photographed the local craft displays, and joined the other tourists on the bridge to watch the divers.  It was all so enjoyable, and time sped by much too quickly.  Before we knew it, we needed to head for our bus for the journey back to La Perla.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 13- HVAR, CROATIA

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It is not often I’m up and about to photograph a sunrise, but I happened to catch this one rising over the island of Hvar, a beautiful playground for the rich and famous.  On any given day, twenty luxury private yachts belonging to famous (and wealthy!) people can be seen in the harbor during the high season.  Those are just the largest yachts.  There are plenty of other high-end sailboats zigzagging about as well.

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The movie, “Mama Mia 2” was filmed on this island also known for its fruit orchards, ancient olive trees, and fields of lavender.  Our local guide explained how lavender is processed for its oil, something she is intimately familiar with, because she has a business doing just that.  Her potpourri sachets are packaged with small vials of lavender oil into pretty little ribbon-tied packages and sold at the farmers market and gift shops throughout the island.

Our guide explained that it takes thirty kilograms (66 pounds) of lavender flowers to make one ounce of pure lavender oil, and the flowers are all harvested by hand.  During its best production years, ten percent of the world’s lavender came from Hvar; however, that is not the case today.  Production levels are down, because the younger people of Hvar prefer working in tourism rather than lavender production or in the fruit orchards.

Our walking tour was interesting as we learned about the town’s history and saw ancient architecture, in addition to passing by contemporary artisanal bakeries, restaurants, and galleries.  We also visited the 17th century Monastery of the Benedictine Nuns of St. John the Baptist & St. Anthony the Abbot of Hvar—a long name!  It is rarely opened to the public; however, our group was able to get a private tour and see the amazing display of antique lace made by the nuns over a period of 120 years.  The thread used for the lace is made from stripped down agave plant, and a 6-inch lace takes 3-4 months to make.  Unfortunately, there are now only seven nuns at the monastery making the lace.

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Following our walking tour, we saw more of the island by bus, taking in gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea along the way.  Our next stop was Stari Grad Plain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site town that was established in 384 BC.  A picturesque place, the stone walkways are narrow and winding, and surround the quaint harbor.  We took a walking tour of the town, and then had time to explore on our own.  It was lovely!

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After returning to the main harbor of Hvar, we were brought back to La Perla by our tender for an afternoon of swimming and enjoying the good life on board.

I couldn’t wait to dive in!  Our days were filled with a lot of walking; however, my body and mind were craving a good swim workout.  The current was strong enough that I was able to do “laps” by just swimming back and forth along the length of La Perla.  Forty hard strokes up against the current, and twenty-nine easy strokes back.  It was fun, especially swimming butterfly!  At the same time, it felt strange being so buoyant in the very salty water of the Adriatic.  It felt like somebody was pulling me up by the back of my suit when I swam breaststroke!

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While Sinisa looks on, Bruce is taking a picture of me…

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…while I take a picture of him!

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Back on board, we enjoyed a wonderful happy hour (drinks are included with the cruise) and soaked in the last of the beautiful views before sunset.  Ante carved up prosciutto and I enjoyed a delicious local lemon-flavored beer in a quirky can with the label printed upside down.  I guess the idea of it is that others can read the label when it’s bottoms up!

What a fabulous way to end the day!

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A patchwork of vineyards on the hillside

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 12- SPLIT, CROATIA

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Leaving Sibenik

Our morning cruise from Sibenik to Split was lovely.  I was able to get in a yoga session on deck, stopping from time-to-time to take in the views and snap a picture.  What a fabulous way to start the day!

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Andrea, one of the crew

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Another crew member, Stipe

Cruising aboard La Perla combines the best of ocean cruising and river cruising.  You have the fresh ocean sea air, the beautiful scenery, soothing sound of the water like you would on a cruise ship, but the quaintness of a riverboat.  Actually, with only 24 passengers on board, it was even better!

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It was wonderful to be able to watch the coastline as we cruised closer in than a ship would.  Having a window in our cabin also allowed us to take advantage of the views while getting ready for dinner.  The balcony was an extra bonus, making it convenient to pop out for a quick picture or sit out and enjoy the scenery while the other was in the shower.

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At 115-feet long, the yacht was big enough for us all to have our own space, but small enough to make a quick pit stop in the cabin or run down to grab my camera for a sunset shot.  In a word, FABULOUS!

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Our time off La Perla exploring each destination was fantastic, too.  We saw so many wonderful sites, including Split, one of the oldest cities in the region.  Upon our arrival, a local guide met us at La Perla for a walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The tour took us through the lower level passages of this massive fortress-like complex that was built in preparation for the Roman emperor’s retirement in 305 AD.

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An artist’s rendition of Diocletian’s Palace

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If you have ever watched Game of Thrones (I have not), the fourth season was filmed at the palace.  What a setting!  Looking around the enormous stone passageways, I was in awe.  How the heck did they build that amazing complex—and, in only ten years?!

 

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The four-feet-thick ceiling was constructed with compressed rocks, and no mortar was used.  Vaulted openings were built for air ventilation, and holes were made in the living quarter floor for sewage to be dumped.  The walls of the palace are five-feet thick!

Within the complex, pillars were constructed to support the living quarters above.  (Otherwise, they would have been underwater at high tide.)  Half of the complex was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

Today, there are restaurants, shops, and some homes within the walls of the palace.

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This Wisteria is 150 years old!

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In the foreground are original walls of the palace.

 

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Exploring the palace was fascinating, and roaming the streets within the walls was quite enjoyable.  At one point, we came across a group of klapa singers and listened to their beautiful voices in the amazing acoustics of the stone walls and high open-air ceiling.

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While Bruce took an afternoon siesta, I opted to spend more time walking Split on my own.  Croatia is a very safe country, and I felt completely comfortable as a solo woman walking around Split and other places I ventured out to explore.  The two Canadian women on our tour often split up to sight see and had the same experience.  I highly recommend Croatia as a safe place for a solo woman to travel.

 

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The view from La Perla at night.

ROMANTIC RHINE RIVER

August 7, 1986; I remember it like yesterday.  Thirty years ago, Bruce took me on our first date.  We dined in Del Mar, California, at Bella Via and listened to the Bruce Cameron Jazz Ensemble.  It was a perfect night.

Three years later, we bought a house (coincidentally!) down the street from Bruce and Betty Cameron, and we married three years after that.

It has been a wonderful thirty years!

What better way to celebrate our thirty years together than cruising the romantic Rhine River through the Middle Rhine Valley?  Rolling hills of lush wine vineyards, fairy-tale castles, quaint towns—there isn’t anybody else in the world I would have rather shared it with than my amazing husband and best friend, Bruce.

After departing Rudesheim, we spent our afternoon on deck enjoying the beautiful scenery along the Rhine Gorge on our way to Cologne.  Castles dating back to the year 1000 amazed us, and the twists and turns of the Rhine delighted us.  It was a day to remember…

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Ehrenfels Castle (now in ruins) dates back to 1208.

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Mauserturm, 14th Century

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Reichenstein Castle was first built in 1100 and rebuilt in 1900.

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Sooneck Castle dates back to the late 1200’s.

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Furstenberg Castle (now in ruins) was built in 1219.

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Stahleck Castle was originally built in 1135!

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This was one of my favorites!  Pfalzgrafenstein Castle sits on the tiny island of Pfalz, and its sole purpose back in the day (early 1300’s!) was to generate revenue from boats traveling along the river.  Notice the castle in the background:  Gutenfels Castle.

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Another view of Gutenfels Castle

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A closer look at Gutenfels Castle

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Shonburg Castle, located above the town of Oberwesel (known as the “City of Towers”), is a bit of a mix of architectural styles.  Originally built in 1149, the castle was destroyed in 1689.  Since 1885, it has been built bit by bit into its current condition.  The newer section houses a famous hotel.

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Oberwesel, the “City of Towers” has 16 towers!

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Katz Castle is located above the town of St. Goarshausen.  It was first built in 1371; however, it was bombarded by Napolean in 1806.  it was rebuilt in the late 1800’s and is now privately owned and not open for visitors.

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Started in 1245 (and expanded several times since), Rheinfels Castle is the largest castle on the Rhine.  At one time, the castle covered five times its current area; however, most of it now is a ruin.  The other part includes a luxury hotel, wellness center, and restaurant.

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Maus (meaning “mouse”) Castle is located above the village of Wellmich and dates back to 1356.

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Vineyards blanket the landscape along the Rhine.

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Marksburg has the distinction of never having been destroyed.  Built in 1117, this castle was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families.  Located above the town of Braubach, it is one of the principal sites for the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine Gorge.

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Located in Oberlahnstein, Martinsubrg Castle was built in the late 1300’s.

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Schloss Stolzenfels (Stolzenfels Castle), located in Koblenz, is a former medieval fortress castle.  It was a ruined 13th-century castle gifted to Frederick William in 1823, and he had it rebuilt as a 19th-century palace in Gothic Revival style.  Today, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

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Lahneck Castle, built in 1226,  is a medieval fortress located in the city of Lahnstein, south of Koblenz.  The 13th-century castle stands above the confluence of the Lahn River with the Rhine, opposite Stolzenfels castle.

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The Koblenz Cable Car crosses the Rhine where it meets the Mosel River.

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We completed our cruising journey for the day in Cologne where our ship tied up for the night and following day.  Check back for my next post on Cologne!

 

RAMBLIN’ AROUND RUDESHEIM

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What a charming wine-making town!  It’s no wonder Rudesheim am Rhein is one of Germany’s most visited tourist attractions.  Only the cathedral in Cologne (our next destination) draws more visitors from other countries.

Located on the Rhine Gorge, this quaint town of 10,000 residents is just too cute!  The Old Town is so adorable, I just wanted to wrap my arms around and hug it.

My mom and I had visited Rudesheim on our 2011 European river cruise, and I remembered swooning; it was love at first sight.

Riding the cable car up to Niederwalddenkmal (Niederwald Monument) was a lovely way to take in the views before returning to ramble around the town.  Built in 1870’s to 1880’s, it commemorates the Unification of Germany.

There is a lot more history to it than that, but you’ll have to Google it if you want to know more.  I was too distracted by the beauty of the vineyards below to pay much attention to our excellent guide who went on, and on, and… well, T.M.I.

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After returning by cable car to town, we enjoyed a leisurely ramble around.  The River Voyager was tied up along the riverbank in town, so it was very convenient to maximize our time without worrying about not returning to the boat in time for our afternoon departure.

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Coming up next:  Rhine