July 3, 2019

The Rhine Valley – full of medieval castles

Dateline: Rudesheim, Germany and points south east.

Five weeks in to the battle of the shingles and the right side is hurting worse than ever. Fortunately, I packed enough Celebrex, Gabapentin, and Tylenol to last through the trip and it’s my sincere hope that it will be down to a dull roar by the time I get back. I’m not looking forward to full work and rehearsal schedules feeling like this. At least on vacation in Europe, I can add a little alcohol to the mix as I don’t have anywhere to be as long as I’m on the ship by all aboard and I’m not in charge of the driving.

The Lorelei Rock

I woke up this morning, having steamed through Bonn and Koblenz overnight, to find us in the famous middle Rhine valley, where the river cuts through jagged cliffs with picturesque towns hugging the river banks and medieval castles perched on the hills above. It’s been an absolutely gorgeous blue sky day, a bit warm for Europe in the 80s, but perfect for sitting in a lounge chair and watching thousands of years of history glide by. The captain maneuvered us around the Lorelei rock without incident and we passed towns like Boppard and Kreuzbach. I don’t recall the names of most of the castles. Many of them were at least partially blown up in the late 17th century on the order of Louis XIV of France. Castle restoration seems to have become a cottage industry in recent decades and many which were a ruin last time I passed this way thirty five years ago have been repaired. They now seem to function mainly as youth hostels or boutique hotels.

On my last trip, I took the train through this part of the Rhine Valley. Boat is much preferable. The speed is a good deal slower giving you time to appreciate what you’re looking at and you’re sitting on deck listening to the rushing of the water and smelling the wind as it comes down off the vineyards and into the gorge which is much nicer than sitting in a hermetically sealed Deutsche Bahn train car. The gorge isn’t all that long so we had more or less finished our traverse by noon when we docked at Rudesheim, the quaint little town on the right bank that marks the beginning of the mountainous stretch. The much larger town of Bingen is across the river and from what I could ascertain, is not as pretty.


I had never heard of Rudesheim before but it turned out to be a very old riverside town of about 5,000 whose buidings had more or less survived World War II as there was no bridge and it wasn’t big enough for anyone to bother much about. We got off the boat, had lunch in a restaurant cum beer hall in the center of town (where the Oom-pah band had an eclectic range of selections from Andrew Lloyd Weber to Jimmy Buffet) – schnitzel of course,but with kartoffelen rather than noodles. It was accompanied by a nice Riesling, the product of the local vineyards which climbed up the hill behind the town. Dessert was apfel strudel with Rudesheim coffee, another local specialty. Think Irish coffee but with about three times as much brandy and the coffee pot being waved in the general direction of the glass.

The Germania monument

After lunch, a visit to the local museum – a collection of those enormous mechanical music boxes from the turn of the last century that play pianos, organs, violins, and what not, all housed in a 16th century house that still has some of the original fresco art on the walls and ceiling. Then it was time for a gondola ride of the hill behind town, the Niederwald. At the top is a very large monument of Germania dedicated to something Kaiser Wilhelm I did sometime in the 1870s. I think it had something to do with the German unification of 1871 but my German isn’t that good and there were no helpful English translations on the noticeboards. Then back down, a stroll through town, and on board for dinner, more Riesling, another Rudisheim coffee, party games, and bed.

As we began dinner, we turned off the Rhine onto the Main. We pass through Frankfurt sometime either tonight or tomorrow morning. No docking tomorrow, just a river day due to the large number of locks in the Main canal system as we float up and over the continental divide toward the Danube. As it’s such a small group of passengers, we are starting to get to know one and other and I think we’ll manage to keep ourselves entertained.

Memorial plaque at Hyde Park Barracks to Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn, my great great uncle

I owe a story. This one’s a family history story. (Saunders cousins, please correct me if I have any details wrong). At dinner tonight, was me, a gay couple – one American and one Australian who currently live at Lake Tahoe, and a New Zealand couple. The conversation got onto war stories and somebody brought up the Hyde Park Barracks. This is a large brick military installation in central London, across the street from Hyde Park. My great grandmother (maternal grandfather’s mother), Lucy Anderson Meiklejohn had a number of brothers and sisters. One of her brothers was named Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn. (For those of you into oceanography, you should recognize the name Matthew Fontaine Maury – he more or less founded the field in the 19th century). He was a friend of the family and so one of the son’s was named after him. MFM Meiklejohn was a military man and served with the Gordon Highlanders and found himself shipped to South Africa to serve in the Second Boer War. (My great grandparents were South African colonials and settled at Grahamstown far from the fighting. My grandfather wouldn’t be born for another four years or so). At the Battle of Elandslaagte, the Highlanders were breaking and MFMM rallied the troops and led them on to victory. He was shot multiple times and ended up losing an arm but won the Victoria Cross for gallantry. A number of years later, in 1913, while he was stationed at the Hyde Park Barracks, he was exercising his horse in the park. Something spooked the horse and it bolted and he had difficulty controlling it with only one arm. He was about to run down a nursemaid with small children in tow and, instead, turned his horse into the barracks wall. The impact killed him. There is a memorial plaque on the wall where it happened. It was still there last time I went to London and looked. There is a brief Wikipedia article about him.

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