Last time I talked about how beautiful the Mosel river valley is, and how adorable the little towns lining it are. This time I'm going to talk about our two extremely interesting excursions from Bernkastel, both of which highlight the historical significance of the area, and how varied it is!
First up: Luxembourg! This was a bit of a drive from the boat, but not bad - and it brought our countries-visited total up to 4. Woo! I had never visited Luxembourg before, and didn't know what to expect exactly. It's a very neat little city, very compact, with much of the old town perched up on a plateau with a big ravine running through the middle of town. The big EU office buildings are on the outer part of town, and gave us some interesting talking points for our ride into Luxembourg. We started with a walking tour which included the cathedral (which is really two churches connected together), then went by the Royal Palace (fairly understated, considering it's for royals), and the cluster of government buildings (including the prime minister's office, which offers surprisingly little security). We saw some cute little lanes, quite a bit of construction, and just lovely views. The joke of the day was that if you saw a building you liked and asked what it was, the answer was always "oh, another bank." Apparently the city is chock full of banks, and finance is the #1 industry, by far. We ended our tour with a wander through the food market (yay), and then in the lovely Place d'Armes, where there was not only another market but for antiques (YAY), but also tons of cute shaded restaurants. Tauck had actually provided everyone who went on this excursion with some lunch money, so we could do what we wanted for a bit. We did a little shopping and had a lovely little French lunch - a nice departure from the mostly German food we'd been enjoying. I do have to say that Luxembourg, though everyone seemed to be speaking German among themselves, does have a very French feeling to it. Super interesting place - here are some shot of around town:
Another topic you pretty much cannot avoid when visiting Luxembourg is World War II. Firstly because it decimated the country, with about 2/3 of the country being given away after the war, but mostly because the horrible Battle of the Bulge happened right on its doorstep. "Band of Brothers" fans will for sure remember the name Bastogne, which is just an hour outside of the city. Well, we had the fortune of visiting the beautiful & moving Luxembourg American Cemetery & Memorial, which I didn't even really know existed. This is, in fact, just one of the American cemeteries in the region, because of course there were so many casualties from that part of the war. This particular one is where Patton requested to be buried, with his men. His grave stands out in front of a whole phalanx of graves, just like the man probably stood in front of his troops at some point. In another nice touch from Tauck, they provided each of us with a single, long-stemmed rose to place as we wished. I ended up finding a medal of honor winner to support, though, obviously, the choices were endless. There are also several members of the "Band of Brothers" buried here, but I didn't visit the wonderful & informative visitor's center until AFTER my walk through the graves, so I wasn't aware until too late. In any case, we were also fortunate that day to be on Anke's bus (the three tour guides split up so you were always randomly assigned to a guide each excursion), and both of Anke's parents grew up in the southern part of the Netherlands, so were unfortunately (young) witnesses to the war. She told two stories from her grandmothers, each horrible in their own right, but for completely different reasons. War is awful, basically, and we were all left wondering when will we learn!?!? Here are some shots of the cemetery while you chew on that thought:
The next day we hopped back on the bus for a slightly shorter ride to the city of Trier, which really ended up being the best surprise of the trip for me. I'm sure I'd heard of it before, but only vaguely, and I wasn't all that excited about it. Probably because when I hear a town has Roman Ruins, I picture the corner of some walls, maybe a partially toppled column and it's just not that exciting (to me). Well, Trier is basically the opposite of that! What first clued me to the lasting awesomeness of this city was right when we pulled into town and picked up our local city guide and she explained that not only was this one of the largest cities in the entire Roman Empire, but that it is basically the oldest city in Germany. Not only that, but we quickly passed by the "Roman Bridge", which STILL USES THE ROMAN FOUNDATION. Like- cars STILL drive on a bridge that sits upon ~2000 year old pylons (excuse the horrible photo taken while moving in the bus, but the Roman part is all the grey stone at the bottom!). We proceeded to drive by two different GIANT ruins of baths (with not too much above ground remaining, but some which I missed because we were in the bus), past the amphitheater (which is still in use as it was ingeniously built into the side a hill), up to the top of a hill to look over the town. We were treated to a bit more history up there, but mostly were enjoying the view down over all the cool things we were about to see in town. Our first stop in our walking tour is maybe the most incredible place I've ever seen (it's got the big red roof in the panoramic shot below). It is now a protestant church, which abuts the Bishop's Palace, but it was originally the throne hall for Emperor Constantine. !! The wall are so giant, thick, and well-built that at some point they were going to tear it down to build something else- but they couldn't finish the job! It was TOO HARD to destroy. So they just kept the Roman part & changed the interiors & one side (hence, the Baroque-style palace that's now next to it). The scale of this building is just ridiculous - I've rarely been so impressed by a Roman "ruin", and that includes basically everything IN Rome. You can still even see heat vents which they had to create since it was so much farther north than Rome! Sadly, it was a Sunday and service were being held so we weren't able to go inside, but one intrepid friend did duck in there & said it was huge, stark, and very very cool.
We then headed a few blocks down the street to Trier's second super-cool site: the dual cathedrals that are right next to each other. Apparently Trier is the seat of an important Archbishop and, well, I can't remember why, but the giant, old, Romanesque cathedral wasn't enough, so they just built an incredible Gothic cathedral right next to it. Both are huge, and the Gothic one, called Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of our Lady, is just soaring inside. (Services had started at the big old Romanesque one, so nobody got to go in there, sadly.) I was just trying to research why they're right next to each other and found out that the old one is the OLDEST cathedral in Germany, and ALSO still has some sections that date back to the Romans. And is still in use today. !! I think there used to be a Roman double church there, but one part was destroyed in order to build the Gothic one. Anyway, short block away from these two cathedrals was the main square, which was large and basically deserted, and full of the cute German-style architecture we'd gotten used to at this point. We walked down what is probably normally a busy shopping street (again, Sunday = shops closed) to Trier's third super awesome impressive site: the famed Porta Nigra, or Black Gate. This crazy awesome structure started out as the northern gate into the city. At some point during the dark ages, a saint lived in the ruins & died, so the people decided to turn it into a church. Again, they kept most of the Roman parts, updated the interior, leveled one of the gate towers, & added a little apse to that side, so that it roughly translated to the church style of the day. Thanks to Napoleon a few hundred years later, they destroyed the new church parts, but locals convinced him to leave all the old stuff as it was, and again- it still stands today. I went inside to run around upstairs and saw all kinds of cool stuff - a crucifixion & other decoration that had been carved into the wall & preserved somehow, a cool model of the Roman town, and more great views over the city. Tauck then sprung for free ice cream for everyone, which was a very welcome treat on another hot day. It was, needless to say, a really great day and I completely wish we'd had more time &/or it wasn't a Sunday. LOVE this place:
That great day in Trier also happened to be the exact date of Arthur Tauck Sr.'s 1st ever trip, 90 years ago. The company had requested that each tour mark the day in some way, and let me tell you - our group went ALL out. Besides taking a few different fun group shots in/around town, we also had a HUGE party that evening on board. A few days prior the head tour director and some of the ship's staff went running all over some small town printing t-shirts for everyone (breaking a printing machine in the process!), and so we all donned our t's and headed to the lounge for festivities. We had cocktails, champagne toasts, and a top-deck group photo before getting to watch the excellent mini-documentary about the company's 1st 90 years by their partner Ken Burns. (It's soo good - watch it here - only 10 minutes long!). Then we adjourned downstairs for a ridiculously over-the-top dinner, accompanied by an insane cake covered with all of the cities we'd visited. THEN, to top off the celebration, the crew performed a sort of "talent" show for us. It sounds dorky, and parts of it maybe were, but it was also HILARIOUS. They clearly had worked hard and were always SO wonderful to us, that it was nice to see them goofing off & having fun. We also were treated to some lovely evening views as we were chugging back up the Mosel that night. A really fitting end to a really great couple of days!
Up next- the final stretch! Another stop in Germany & finally: the Netherlands!