Orsay

October 26, 2022

Today we got a leisurely start after breakfast and took our time deciding where to visit.  My sister was into impressionist art, so it was decided to tour the Orsay Museum.  After breakfast we rode the bus to the inner city.  This was the same line Melissa and I had taken the day before, so I became the default expert on how to precede.  That proved better on paper than reality, but we did make our way toward the Seine.  While we arrived around 10:30 am, our tickets were not until 1:30 pm.  Having tried to get in early yesterday at Sainte Chapelle, I knew this would not be possible for timed tickets for the Orsay.  We found another bus that took us near the Rodin Museum.  While we did not have tickets, we had been told the garden was free, and this is where The Thinker sculpture stood.  On arrival we were told the gardens were only free on the first Sunday of the month.  Since we could not wait four more days, we moved on, but I did get a good photo of The Thinker statue through the plexiglass fence.  We ate lunch at another quaint sidewalk café, and then it was time for the Orsay.

When I looked online, I found the Orsay Museum (Musée d’Orsay) is located on the Left Bank of the Seine River in Paris, France.  It is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900.  The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography.  It houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and van Gogh.  Many of these works were held at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume prior to the museum’s opening in 1986.  It is one of the largest art museums in Europe, and in 2021 had one million visitors, up 30 % from 2020 attendance but still far behind earlier years prior to the pandemic.  Despite the drop, it ranked fifteenth in the list of most-visited art museums in 2020.

When our entrance time arrived, we decided to proceed to the top (fifth) floor and work our way down.  I did not recognize any of the paintings until I got to the Van Gogh wing.  Even there, the only thing I recognized was “Self Portrait”.  Imagine my surprise when I found there were two of these paintings, and although similar they were clearly different.  I proceeded down to the second floor (oddly, the next one that housed art), and found this was comprised of sculpture.  I have to say, it was here that my interest was piqued.  I found sculpture after sculpture that caught my interest.  Even the side wings held paintings that about the Napoleonic Wars that caught my interest.  My companions recognized my lack of interest and had hurried their way through the rest of the museum.  Then while they waited outside, I marveled at the intricate works of sculpture spread before me.

THOUGHTS:  Despite the bus, the walks were long and the day tiresome.  By the time we were outside the museum we were all ready to go back to the hotel.  As I reflected on our day it brought me back to a comment my sister had made as we made our way into the central city.  While riding the bus to our destination my sister commented how she always seemed to be sitting with her back toward the front of the bus.  That meant she always had a better view of where we had been than of where we were going.  It struck me this is much like life.  It is easier to see and comprehend where we have been (the past) than where we are going (the future).  Art is often another presentation of both past, present, and even future reality, and the creators reflect our inner reality, whether they are cave drawings or impressionist virtuosos.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Chapelle

October 25, 2022

Today Melissa and I rose early so we could make our appointed 9:00 am tour time for Sainte-Chapelle.  We had checked the Metro route yesterday morning and then settled on arriving via the bus line we took back during the afternoon (no stairs).  We got up and got dressed realizing we would not have time for breakfast.  We found the stop (after several tries) and waited for the bus that would take us by the cathedral.  We were early enough that we got a seat on the bus and then rode toward our destination in the city center.  As we approached, I was glad to see a stop directly in front of the chapel.  However, the bus did not stop.  Neither did it at the next stop.  Finally, someone else wanted off and pressed the stop button (I did not know there was one).  We walked back to the line that had formed in front of the chapel entrance and I looked at my pre-paid tickets.  They were clearly marked 10:00 am.  We had another hour to wait until they would let us enter.

When I looked online, I found Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) is a royal chapel in the Gothic style within the medieval Palais de la Cité.  This is an island in the river Seine which served as the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century.  Construction began sometime after 1238 and the chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248.  Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture.  It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns, one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.  This crown was later held in the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral until the 2019 fire, which it survived.  Along with the Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité.  Although damaged during the French Revolution and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world.  Sainte-Chapelle is no longer a church, having been secularized after the French Revolution which ended state religion.

Since there was a café across the street from the entrance, we decided to get a crepe and a cup of coffee for breakfast.  As we leisurely enjoyed the morning, we were able to watch as a police van pulled over a man who had made a wrong turn on his scooter.  The van stopped and five officers piled out of the van to question this dastardly villain.  After 10 minutes of interrogation, he was given a ticket and allowed to continue his way.  As the police left, we saw it was time to get back in line.  We noticed all the people who had waited without tickets had entered while we were gone.  Still, we were going into Chapelle, so I did not care.  We surveyed the intricate stained glass and the ring halo window that was a copy of the one in Notre Dame.  We left thinking it might be fun to mix with the crowds, so we made our way to the Louver where we had seen crowds on yesterday’s bus tour.

THOUGHTS:  Ever since learning of the glass pyramid at the Louver I have wanted to look through the top.  Although there were ropes around the front of the building, I was able to get close enough along the side to do just that.  I got a view of the escalators and entrance desk (I had expected more).  As we made our way back to the hotel, we found a pizza restaurant.  Melissa had been craving pizza and I admit, although it was different than I was used to, it tasted divine.  As so often happens while traveling, nothing we encountered was what we expected.  Chapelle was smaller than I expected, although the stained glass was exquisite.  The view into the pyramid was the entrance to the museum, and not glorious art works.  The pizza was totally different, but not to be missed.  This is the wonder of going to unknown places, there is always something new around the corner.  That is true both with buildings, and with new cultures.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Seine

October 24, 2022

Today we decided to test the travel route for Melissa and my early tour of Sainte-Chapelle tomorrow.  The four of us headed out on foot along the route we took last night to the hotel.  The Metro appeared to be the fastest and most direct route to the inner city where most of the sights were to be found.   We found an above ground ticket station (automated) where we all purchased a five day pass that covered trains, Metro, and the bus.  The station was right across the street, so we took the two flights down to the gate.  We noticed a long line of people waiting to buy the same tickets we had just purchased at street level.  We passed through the gate and found another set of stairs that led down to the train.  When we hopped off at our stop, we found an elevator that took us closer to the street.  There were still two more sets of stairs to reach street level.  Not exactly handicapped accessible, but we finally arrived at the river Seine.

Since we did not know which of the sights we wanted to see, we all purchased hop on-hop off tickets that covered the main sites on both sides of the Seine.  Our thought was to ride the route and then return to the sites we wanted to explore.  The Metro had dropped us near Notre Dame Cathedral.  The structure was still visible, although the spires and roof had collapsed into the building after the fire and scaffolding now covered much of the exterior.  This is where we began our tour.  Our 2 ½ hour bus ride took us past most of the significant sites, as well as many we did not recognize.  This included the Arc de Triumph (massive), the Eiffel Tower (HUGE), the Louvre and Pyramids (lots of people), as well as seven other “must-see” stops.  Along the route we were regaled with more information than I could ever remember.  As we rolled back to our starting point, we all agreed we had ridden long enough.  It was time to get off the bus and see what we could find on foot.

My sister wanted to spend more time at the Pont Neuf (New Bridge), which we had passed across on our bus tour.  When I looked online, I found that despite its name, Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine in Paris.  The bridge is composed of two separate spans, one of five arches joining the left bank to the Île de la Cité (the island in the middle), and another of seven arches joining the island to the right bank.  The name Pont Neuf was given to distinguish it from older bridges that were lined on both sides with houses.  The Neuf has remained after all the older bridges were replaced.  In 2015, Paris city officials started to remove padlocks symbolically fastened to bridge by loving couples.  Tying a “love lock” on the bridge before throwing the key into the river Seine had become a tourist tradition.  In 2014 part of the bridge’s railings collapsed under the weight.  Close to one million locks, weighing 45 tons, were cut off over the next few days.  Officials said the padlocks spoil the aesthetics of the bridge, are structurally bad for it, and can cause accidents.  There are bridges in cities across Europe that carry the same tradition and are meeting the same fate.

THOUGHTS:  Paris has long been associated with the words “City of Love”.  This is from newer traditions like the love locks, but from older traditions as well.   These include the romantic places, the fine dining, and of course the because of the thousands of dazzling lights along the Seine and across the whole city.  While many of the European cities were bombed during World War II, Paris was only bombed once (June 3, 1940).  The bombing provoked the right amount of terror.  The French government departed Paris on June 10 and the Germans occupied the city on June 14, leaving the oldest buildings and cathedrals intact.  Streets lined with Provincial houses and dotted with churches, administrative, and cultural buildings add to the romance.  Cultural and religious sites reflect the traditions and heritage of the people.  It is good we find (and keep) them intact.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Train

October 23, 2022

Yesterday marked our third form of travel day on our exploration of Europe.  The trip begun with a long (20-hour) and taxing flight (with two transfers and layovers) to Basel, Switzerland.  The second were the night passages, and one travel day viewing the Rhine castles, by ship.  Although we spent hours on busses to access sites away from the water, we were lucky the recent rains had refilled the Rhine River to a level where we were not forced to disembark and travel around low areas as had some tours just weeks earlier.  After leaving The Hague (and our tour group), we were now on our way to Paris with my sister and brother-in-law.  Rather than taking the short flight we had decided it would be fun to ride the Bullet Train from Amsterdam that was depicted in the movie, The 15:17 to Paris.  Our rapid trip by train morphed into our third long travel day.

When the trip was booked it appeared an easy passage.  We hop on the train at Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) and take a direct route to Paris.  As the train was being booked, my sister found out the track was under construction, and we needed to take the direct intercity train to Brussels to catch the Bullet. While Melissa was apprehensive, I had asked several persons and knew we had this down.  It turned out that was not the only track being worked on.  We were scheduled to meet at Schiphol, but you could not get there from where my sister was originating in Amsterdam Central.  We realized this just as the last direct train pulled out of Schiphol Station.  We received alternative routing that involved two transfers and arrived after our scheduled departure for our reserved seats on the Bullet.  After several adventures on the intercity trains (including missing one train), we arrived in Brussels to find that since our train had left, we were not able to have a seat on the sold out bullet that was about to depart.  The agent did suggest we go to the train and ask, but he made not guarantees.  After several tense discussions the train manager (conductor) agreed to let us ride on the fold down seats between two of the cars and we agreed.  Melissa and I affectionately called this “toilet class” travel.

Sitting on the small (1 square foot/0.09 m) fold out seats gave us a different perspective on our 1 ½ hour train ride to Paris.  Not only were we seated next to the toilet, but we were also there with three other passengers (and four seats between the five of us).  One of the passengers kept acting oddly as the train pulled out of the station, seeming to go to the toilet every time the conductor came by.  Then about 15 minutes into the trip, the conductor came to check tickets.  Although our tickets were for another train, we were allowed to ride.  The man and small son next to us on the foldout seats had tickets for another train company (they had also missed their train) but were allowed to purchase tickets for this train.  The hiding man was not so lucky.  When he was questioned, he had no ticket, no passport, and no money.  He had managed to board and was now a stow away on the train.  He was escorted to the front car for an inevitable date with “la Police” in Paris.  We would have missed all this seated in the comfortable second class seats.  Viva le Toilette!

THOUGHTS:  The stressful part of missing the train was the insecurity of not knowing.  When the direct train had left our station that I was tempted to jump on, but I waited to take the journey with other family.  It turned out we never did connect, and they arrived on the next bullet train 1 1/2 hours after we arrived.  They did not get to ride toilet class but had comfortable second class seats.  Even with the stress, I have found Europeans to be gracious and willing to help.  Most people in the cities seem to speak English fluently, and even those that do not had gone out of their way to help using what broken English they knew.  Tourists are generally treated well in the US, especially in urban areas, but the same cannot often be said for Immigrants.  Negative stereotypes are often applied to both.  We should do better.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

The Hague

October 22, 2022

When we final rolled into The Hague last night we had just enough time for a quick visit to the Peace Palace.  Since 1948 the Peace Palace has housed the International Court of Justice (the principal judicial body of the United Nations), the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), The Hague Academy of International Law, and the Peace Palace Library.  The idea of the Palace started with a discussion in 1900 between the Russian diplomat Friedrich Martens and American diplomat Andrew Dickson White over providing a home for the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).  White contacted Andrew Carnegie, but Carnegie was only interested in donating money to establish the library of international law.  White convinced Carnegie to do more and in 1903 Carnegie agreed to donate the US$1.5 million needed (US$50 million adjusted for inflation) to house the court as well as endow the library of international law.  The Palace officially opened on 28 August 1913.  I got “a” picture in the darkening sky and called it good.

When I looked online, I found The Hague is situated on the west coast of the Netherlands.  While the official capital is Amsterdam, The Hague is described as the country’s de facto capital.  The Hague is the seat of the Cabinet, the States General, the Supreme Court, Council of State of the Netherlands, and the Royal Library of the Netherlands.  The Hague is home to King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima in the Huis ten Bosch Palace (and gardens) and the king works at the Noordeinde Palace.  The Hague also houses most of the foreign embassies to the Netherlands.  The Hague is also home to the headquarters of many Dutch companies.  The Hague is known as the home of international law and arbitration and the International Court of Justice, the main judicial arm of the UN, as are the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Europol, and approximately 200 other international governmental organizations. 

That night we fell to sleep early and woke up late the next morning.  We arrived for the breakfast buffet with 10 minutes to spare before we gathered for The Hague tour.  I was able to get a cup of coffee, but alas it was too hot for me to drink before we had to go.  We started down the street that went in front of the Noordeinde Palace (marked by crowns suspended across the road) and then leads down to the city center.  Over the next two hours we walked among the political and administrative meetings that dominated the city.  These were a mixture of old (15th century) and new (20th century) construction.  The city center is also home to a variety of historical as well as art museums.  The one that caught my eye was the Gevangenpoort (prison gate) museum.  This incorporated part of the 13th century city wall and continued in use until the beginning of the 19th century.  Melissa sat out the three stories and basement traversed by steep narrow stairs, but I laid out 15 Euros to take the tour.

THOUGHTS:  After having our fill of buildings of “der Stadt”, Melissa and I settled into the parks and views around the city center.  Walking the stairs of Gevangenpoort the dichotomy of rich and poor was clearly on display.  The rich were afforded their own cells (the Knight’s Chamber) with its own privy (“secret”).  Adequate food, beer and wine were provided, but these were augmented by donations brought from home.   The poor ended in the Hostage Room, where they slept two or three together and were doomed to await payment of their debt to the wealthy (often years) eating bread and drinking the polluted canal water.  Women were somewhere between, with more room, adequate food, and beer or wine.  Regardless, incarceration often included sentences of lost fingers, limbs, or even torture or execution.  The prison was finally abandoned as the mood changed from punishment to rehabilitation.  This is a debate that still vacillates in most countries of the world.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Amsterdam

October 21, 2022

During the night we completed the last leg of our ship’s journey and arrived in Amsterdam.  While most of our shipmates (and half our family group) disembarked for the airport, we had an extension that began with a tour of the canals of Amsterdam.  We took a short walk to our tour boat to navigate the canals.  We did pass the Anne Frank house, although it was covered by tarps as it was undergoing restoration.  Frank was a Jewish girl who kept a diary which documented her life in hiding in an Amsterdam attic under Nazi persecution.  Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps, and Anne and her sister were transferred to from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died (typhus) a few months later.  We wound our way along the three main canals of the city, making intricate turns and passing under bridges hardly big enough to squeeze through.  Our guide informed us there were 65 miles of canals and 1300 bridges.

When I looked online, I found Amsterdam (lit. The Dam on the River Amstel) is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands and is colloquially referred to as the “Venice of the North” due to the large number of canals (a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The city originated as a small fishing village in the late 12th century but became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century.  Amsterdam’s main attractions include its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum among many others, memorial sites like the Anne Frank House and the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, as well as the red-light district and cannabis coffee shops.  The city is well known for its nightlife and festival activity and several of its nightclubs (Melkweg, Paradiso) are among the world’s most famous.  Cycling is key to the city’s character, and there are numerous biking paths and lanes spread throughout the entire city.  We were warned by my brother and sister (been there previously), to steer clear of the bike lanes as the cyclists’ ride at great speed and with little attention.  We found that to be true.

The bus ride from Amsterdam to The Hague was one of the memorable parts of our tour.  The ride was intended to be around 45 minutes and covers around 35 miles (57 km).  This follows the A4 motorway (Rijksweg 4), that speeds traffic along most of the western portion of the Netherlands.  About 20 minutes into the route the driver was notified an accident had completely shut down the motorway.  Our driver was born in a town along the route, and he confidently swung off onto the sideroads to complete the journey.  We passed along on roads so small I did not think the bus could make it.  When we arrived in his hometown the main throughfare was clogged so we took to even smaller side streets.  We wound our way through the city until we reached another impasse.  The tiny lane was under construction, and we could not pass.  This is where the excitement began as he slowly backed our 50 foot (15 m) bus four blocks until he reached a road large enough to turn around.  Even though he had gotten us into the mess, the driver received a round of applause for getting us out.

THOUGHTS:  Our tour dropped us at the Rijksmuseum to explore several hours on our own.  While my brother and sister-in-law toured the Rijksmuseum, Melissa and I decided to check other available sites.  We found the Van Gough and other museums around the square were sold out.  We decided to eat and found The Burger House, which boasted the “best burger in town”.  On entrance we found a Wizard of OZ theme for both the décor and the burgers (including Munchkin sliders).  Melissa decided on the “Over the Rainbow” because she wanted a chili burger.  It was indeed over the top, including chili, grilled onions, salsa, tortilla chips, guacamole, and cheddar piled on two 180 ounce Angus burgers.  She barely made a dent and the owner insisted we take the rest “to go”.  We did not.  There is too much of a good thing.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Kinderdijk

October 20, 2022

A late night dancing in the lounge was followed by a late rise just in time for breakfast.  I vowed (again) it would be a light repast, but the sandwich I concocted (toast and bacon) still seemed heavy.  We finished just in time to attend a disembarkation lecture to explain how to get off the ship.  This proved to be far more detailed than I imagined.  That seemed especially so as we were not preparing to leave but will be leaving the ship and moving to the land based stage of our journey.  Luckily, we were able to slide lunch into the agenda (more food) as we settled into our cabin and on deck to pass the three hours until our arrival in Kinderdijk.

The city of Kinderdijk served as our introduction to the canals and windmills of the Netherlands.  This village is in the municipality of Molenlanden, in the province of South Holland, Netherlands and situated in the Alblasserwaard polder at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers.  The polder (land reclaimed from a body of water) itself is surrounded by a series of three dikes varying in height from largest (outside) to the smallest (inside).  This ensures each successive dike will hold back the water in an ever widening tract of land.  To drain the polder, a system of 19 windmills was built around 1740.  This group of mills is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands.  It was the polder and windmills that were the focus of our afternoon tour.  The windmills of Kinderdijk are one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites and have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.  Polders are always at risk from flooding, and care is taken to protect the surrounding dikes.

The name Kinderdijk is Dutch for “Children dike”.  During the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1421, the Grote Hollandse Waard flooded, but the Alblasserwaard polder stayed unflooded. It is often said that when the horrendous storm subsided, a villager went to the dike between these two areas to inspect what could be salvaged. In the distance he saw a wooden cradle floating on the water.  As it came nearer, some movement was noted, and upon closer investigation, a cat was found, trying to keep it in balance by leaping back and forth in such a manner that water couldn’t flood the cradle.  As the cradle came close enough to the dike to be picked up by a bystander, he saw that a baby was quietly sleeping inside.  The cat had kept the cradle balanced and afloat.  This folktale and legend have been published in English as “The Cat and the Cradle”.

THOUGHTS:  The Netherlands has a large area of polders, with as much as 20% of the country’s land area having been reclaimed from the sea.  Countries like Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, and China have also used polders.  After Hurricane Katrin, Dutch engineers were brought in to assist in rebuilding the dikes and levees that protect the city of New Orleans.  As we toured the windmills our Dutch guide commented this will not be effective.  The dikes and levees require maintenance to be effective.  Americans will spend billions of US$ to build but will balk at the millions required annually to maintain the system.  Any endeavor requires the expense or time and money (effort) to build and maintain.  That is true for infrastructure, but also for relationships.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Cologne

October 19, 2022

Melissa and I concluded our evening last night with an elegant dinner and music at Namedy Castle.  After a short ride by bus, we were greeted by Princess Myra Hohenzollern and ushed into the entry hall.  While the princess gave a short talk, we were entertained by her pug who moved from guest to guest looking for affection.  After the death of her husband the castle had been opened as a meeting place, catering to weddings, formal dances, and cultural events.  The three course meal was served by her personal servants, and then we were escorted upstairs to tour several of the castles’ open rooms.  Then we adjourned to the parlor for desert and to the music room to enjoy a recital by a concert pianist (Melissa’s dream).  With no pace for us to sit, Melissa and I gravitated back to the parlor to enjoy the music.  We were found by one of our tour hosts who informed us everyone else was waiting on the bus.  Princess Myra suggested if we did not hurry, we would have to stay the night.  We would have taken her up on this, but I do not believe she meant it.

During the night the ship cast off for Cologne, our last stop in Germany.  Cologne is the largest city on the German western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and the fourth-most populous city of Germany with 1.1 million inhabitants.  Cologne was founded and established in Germanic Ubii (a tribe) territory in the 1st century CE as the Roman Colonia Agrippina, hence its name.  Agrippina was later dropped (except in Latin), and Colonia became the popular name of the city, which developed into modern German as Köln.  Cologne, the French version of the city’s name, has become standard in English.  Cologne functioned as the capital of the Roman province of Germania Inferior and as the headquarters of the Roman military in the region until occupied by the Franks in 462.  During the Middle Ages the city flourished as being located on one of the most important major trade routes between east and western Europe.  Cologne was a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire and one of the major members of the trade union Hanseatic League, a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe.

Prior to World War II, the city had undergone occupations by the French (1794–1815), became part of Prussia in 1815, and was occupied by the British from 1918–1926.  Cologne was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany during World War II.  The bombing reduced the population by 93% (evacuation) and destroyed almost the entire millennia-old city center.  Post-war rebuilding has resulted in a mixed cityscape, restoring only major historic landmarks (city gates and churches).  The city’s medieval Catholic Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) was constructed to house the Shrine of the Three Kings (the bones of the three Magi who visited Jesus).  These relics had been “acquired” by Cologne’s archbishop, Rainald of Dassel, and given to the cathedral in 1164.  A single finger was returned to Milan as an appeasement (a wag in the group asked which finger).  The two spires of the cathedral were spared by the heavy Allied bombing since they served as landmarks to guide their planes.  The cathedral is now under restoration to remove the smog and pollution that has stained the exterior stone.  This is expected to take the next 200 years, then it will begin again.

THOUGHTS:  Cologne gained its independence from the archbishops in 1288 and became a Free City.  In response, the city magistrates constructed a city hall which was the tallest building in the city to indicate their independence over the church.  Later, the local citizenry added a waterspout on the building facing the city hall in the shape of a man’s posterior (rear end) to indicate their attitude toward the city leaders.  The magistrates in turn carved a face below the city clock tower that stuck out its tongue on the hour toward the waterspout.  It seems not appreciating the direction of who is in charge is a universal response.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Speyer

October 18, 2022

The day began with a brisk walk from the ship up to the overlying banks of the Rhine to the city of Speyer.  Our well versed guide began the walk with a detailed explanation of the founding in 10 BCE as a Roman military camp and over the course of the next hour brought us up through the mid-20th century.  The name evolved from Spira, first mentioned in 614 CE.  In 1294 Seyer became a Free Imperial City, renowned for its Romanesque cathedral, its vibrant Jewish community, its seat of the Imperial Chamber Court, for 50 diets that took place within its walls, most notably 1526 and 1529.  The 1529 Protestation at Speyer came as six princes and representatives of 14 Imperial Free Cities petitioned the Imperial Diet at Speyer against an imperial ban of Martin Luther and his works, signaling the beginning of Protestantism.  Speyer was one of the main centers of the Holy Roman Empire and beneath the high altar of the Cathedral are the tombs of eight Holy Roman Emperors and several German kings.  Speyer was one of the ShUM-cities of Speyer (Sh), Worms (W=U), and Mainz (M), a cluster of three Jewish communities in the 11th century.  These three cities formed the cultural center of Jewish life in Europe during the Middle Ages. 

When I looked online, I found the Speyer Cathedral is officially the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St. Stephen and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Speyer.  The cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary, patron saint of Speyer (“Patrona Spirensis”) and St. Stephen.  Pope Pius XI raised Speyer Cathedral to the rank of a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church in 1925.  Construction began in 1030 BCE under Konrad II, with the east end and high vault of 1090–1103, the imposing triple-aisled vaulted basilica of red sandstone was extremely influential in the subsequent development of Romanesque architecture during the 11th and 12th centuries.  As the burial site for emperors and kings the cathedral is regarded as a symbol of imperial power.  Speyer Cathedral remains the largest Romanesque church in the world and is one of the most important architectural monuments of its time.  It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981.

The ship jumped ahead of us along the river, and we picked it up by bus in Worms.  Worms has a pre-Roman foundation and is one of the oldest cities in northern Europe.  As the capital of the Kingdom of the Burgundians in the early fifth century it is the scene of the medieval legends referring to this period.  Worms has been a Roman Catholic bishopric since at least 614 and was an important palatinate (region) of Charlemagne.  Worms Cathedral is one of the imperial cathedrals and among the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Germany.  Worms prospered in the High Middle Ages as an imperial free city.  Among more than a hundred imperial diets held at Worms, the Diet of 1521 (commonly known as the Diet of Worms) ended with the Edict of Worms, in which Martin Luther was declared a heretic. Worms is also one of the historical ShUM-cities as a cultural center of Jewish life in Europe during the Middle Ages.  

THOUGHTS:  Back at the ship we began an afternoon cruise down the Rhine, which we had been traveling at night.  As we passed along the countryside the names of the towns were displayed in large white letters to assist the many cruise ships which passed this corridor.  When we saw a collection of people along the shore they would wave, in hopes of our waving back, and we obliged them.  It reminded me of our long vacation trips by car and passing a semitrailer truck.  My brothers and I would pump our arms at the driver, hoping for the sound their air horn.  Our waves and the driver’s horns seemed to bring a sense of solidarity among unknown travelers.  It reminded me we are all on the same journey.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Strasbourg

October 17, 2022

We spent most of our day in Strasbourg (Uckermark), Germany.  Founded as a Celtic village, this became a Roman garrison town called Argentoratum.  Captured by the Franks (5th century) it was called Strateburgum, from which the present name is derived.  In 842 Charles II (the Bald), king of the West Franks, and Louis II (the German), king of the East Franks, took an oath of alliance (the Serment de Strasbourg), which is the oldest written document in Old French.  After a struggle for power between its citizens and the bishops in the Middle Ages, Strasbourg became a free city within the Holy Roman Empire.  In 1681 Louis XIV of France seized the city in peacetime and obtained ratification for his arbitrary action by the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697).  The town retained its privileges until the French Revolution (1787–99).  In the Franco-German War (1870–71) the Germans captured Strasbourg and annexed it.  The city reverted to France after World War I and was occupied by Germany again (1940–44) during World War II.  The result was the city went from Celtic, to Roman, to Frankish, to free, to French, to German, to French, to German.  The city is now an ethnic mixture of French and Germans, with each claiming primacy and most signs sharing both languages.   

Strasbourg is situated between two great rivers, the Rhine which we were cruising and the River Ill which transverses the city.  The Ill divides and surrounds the Grand Île (Big Island) where the old town and most of the city’s famous buildings are situated (and site of our tour).  This island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.  Strasbourg’s 11th–15th-century Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Strasbourg Minster), has considerable parts in Romanesque architecture, but is widely considered among the finest examples of Gothic architecture.  The building was damaged in 1870 and again in World War II but has been carefully restored.  Built of red Vosges sandstone, it has an  asymmetrical facade (13th century) with fine sculptured portals and one tower with a tall (455 feet/139 m) and graceful 15th-century spire.  It was the tallest building in Europe until construction of St. Nikolai’s Church, Hamburg, in 1874.  As we walked the city’s La Petite district, we wound among the well-preserved cobblestone streets and wooden houses, intersected by the canals that brought traffic and water to the people.  It was here that my birder instinct kicked in.

It began the day before when I realized the swans (Cygnus cygnus) that gracefully swam the river were not on my annual list.  I had seen Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) the day before, but they had been too quick for a picture.  This bird has been introduced to the US where it is known as the German sparrow to differentiate it from the native unrelated American tree sparrow.  As we toured the city, we encountered three differ types of pigeons.  Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica or Columba livia forma urbana), are descended from the domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica) that have returned to the wild.  The domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica, including about 1,000 different breeds) descended from this species.  Escaped domestic pigeons have increased the populations of feral pigeons around the world.  Rock, domestic, and feral pigeons are all the same species and will readily interbreed.  All feral pigeons have adapted to urban life and are abundant in towns and cities throughout much of the world.

THOUGHTS:  Walking the streets of the beautiful city of Strasbourg I found myself fixated on the birds, grounding me in the face of the differences that surrounded me.  Facing change, we often return to the know, calling this the “old ways’, even when our notion of those ways never existed.  Like the variation of the three types of pigeons I identified, we need to adapt with the changes that envelope us.  If we do not, we will be forced to bemoan the past rather than to move into the future.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.