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The Rhine is a river nourished by the Alpine snows [but for how long].

It starts as thousands of tiny rivulets nourished by the melting snows high within the Alps of Switzerland, These form frigid streams then cascading currents that surge down the mountain slopes eventually melding into the mighty Rhine River, considered the most beautiful waterway in Europe. .

Few rivers can match the legends and lore that are conjured up by the name and the fame of this, the world's busiest waterway stretching for 1300 km [820 miles] and touching six countries. It begins in Switzerland, forms the southern part of the border between France and Germany, then flows for 800 km through Germany, defining the country, its commerce and history. It then enters the Netherlands from where it finally emptyies into the North Sea.

Route of the Rhine River

Intrigued to try this trip at a stopover in Cologne, we caught a train in this famous city and took the defining passage - the Middle Rhine, or as it is called, the Romantic Rhine, with its castles, vineyards and cathedrals lining the banks. The first and foremost of the latter was the Cologne Cologne Cathedal, a very impressive structure whose walls still bear the scars of shot and shrapnel from WWII.

Cologne & The Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral's Magi Gold Box on High Altar
by G. Wilson

From Cologne we took a train to Rudesheim from where we boarded the cruise ship for the trip down the Rhine River. The one hundred miles between Rudesheim and Koblenz is known as the Rhine Gorge where the Rhine lives up to its romantic reputation. The history, legends and magnificent scenery certainly fascinate, but first and foremost is the Rhineland's wine land. Some of the best wines in the world come from vineyards in this part of Germany whose vintage is described as the elixir of life.

A Rhine Cruise Ship
by G. Wilson

Rhine River Scenery
by G. Wilson

Rhine Wine Country
by G. Wilson

Rhine Wine Country
by G.Wilson

One's first reaction upon seeing the source of so much bottled goodness was to wonder why. Vineyards abound on the steep, craggy slopes, but on much of this terraced terrain there appeared to be a dearth of earth. Plants seemed to cling by a toehold to their perch in the meagre soil and rows of vines defied gravity by hanging almost perpendicularly from the sheer sides high above the water.

In addition to meriting danger pay, wine workers should also demand training in mountain climbing for they truly seemed to risk life and limb in order to harvest the fruit of these fragile vines. An ideal recipe of sun and soil has produced great grapes from vineyards that Caesar doubtless sipped as he planned his next conquest.

Rhine Land Vineyards
by G. Wilson

In this beautiful Middle Rhine, colourful, spotless, spired villages, their bells tolling the time, hugged the shore. As we floated along the floor of the valley, the slopes rose steeply, their green fields and trees soaking in the morning sun. A passenger looked at us, smiled and said, "Die Luft is rein." Seeing our baffled response, he translated, "The air is so fresh."

Village on Rhine Shore
by G. Wilson

Rhine Village
by G. Wilson

Beyond are thickly wooded hills, many of whose towering peaks are crowned by brooding burgs, the German word for castle. The sylvan citadels, each with its own majestic sense of self, abound along this stretch of the river and they come in various shapes, sizes and states of repair. All were constructed from revenues raised employing the user-pays approach. The picturesque places with their towers, turrets, dungeons and torture chambers were once the homes of robber barons whose sole source of revenue was the heavy tolls exacted from ships and barges floating down the Rhine. Chains were stretched across the river and cannons were trained on ships and stubborn captains who sought to run the gauntlet.

Violent conflicts marked the relationship between enterprising princes, each knight vying to extort ever more marks than the next in order to build bigger and stronger castles. Even families fought as testified by two ruined castles known as the 'Hostile Brothers,' named after siblings whose feuding was fiercesome and legendary.

Some of the castles lie in ruins. The Gothic grandeur of others have been restored and are used as private homes, museums, hotels and taverns. The area can be explored by train, car and excursion boat. When cruising, the views seemed to best on the west side of the Rhine. Stops are made at all the colourful villages along the route. Trains run right on schedule, so be on time.

Rhine Castle

Burg Stahleck

In addition to the man-made menaces, nature also threatened the unwary with treacherous whirlpools, sudden shallows and stark rock outcroppings that made and still make travel perilous.

Rhine Burg

Burg Katz

The most famous of these latter natural hazards is the legend-haunted Lorelei, a sheer outcropping of slate rock that accosts the current and squeezes the river to a quarter of its normal width.

Navigating the Nasty Narrows

The Rhine Narrows
by G. Wilson

According to legend this was the home of a bewitchingly beautiful blond maiden, the German version of the Sirens, whose seductive songs lured sailors to a watery grave. The spot is marked with a statue of this lovely stone statue, a naked nympth astride a boulder beckoning the unwary.

The Loreley

There's sitting high up in the light
A maiden so beautiful, fair
Her jewels are glistening bright
She combs her gold shimmering hair.

Her comb is of most precious gold.
She's combing and singing so sweet
Bewitching young fishers and old
Their hearts start to quiver and beat.

There's a man in his boat on the river
He cannot but listen and stare,
A longing is making him shiver,
Look out, the rock's ledge, oh beware.

I fear there's a crash, the boat's sinking,
The man is soon swallowed and gone
And what of Lorely's music?,
'Twill be the end of her song.


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