I looked up from a lively breakfast conversation and thrilled to see a castle peering down on us from a tree-covered hill. On the upper deck we spotted one hilltop castle after another. Our cruise director, Veronika, told us their stories along with a sad one about Loreley Rock. Loreley was a beautiful maiden who threw herself into the river over a knave and became a siren, luring fishermen overboard. Between castles were charming terracotta-tiled villages, each with at least one lovely, spired church. In the Rhine Gorge, where fairy tales got their start, even the entrances to train tunnels look like castle entries. I assumed the ploy was to draw tourists, but no, Hitler originated it to camouflage the railroads from bombers.
Even without scenery, the top deck is something to see. Much of it collapses down to fit under bridges. The wheelhouse roof folds down like a pop-up camper, and the operator stands out in the open using a joystick on a
little console off the side rail. Our shaded seating area on top also collapses, and we lose access to that highest section of deck when clearances are low. One bridge was so low, the captain said that anyone taller than he would need to sit. One of the sitters reached up and touched the bridge as we passed under.
Our afternoon excursion from Rudesheim included an aerial gondola ride to the Niederwald Monument on a vineyard-covered hillside. The guide’s explanation of the monument gave me a new perspective on monuments. The various reliefs and statues represented rivers, leaders, war, peace, and so on and amounted to a propaganda campaign to glorify the war and unite disparate Germanic tribes in support of Kaiser Wilhelm’s “restored” empire.
When our tour was over most of us took the glaring sun and long, steep walk through the vineyards into account and decided to return by gondola. We looked down on a group of dauntless walkers and saw 92 year old Jim Z. stepping right along with them.