Friday, February 17, 2017

If a Body Meet a Body Coming Down the Rhine





Scattered notes from a Rhine cruise that didn't really come off, June 2016...
 


The population of Amsterdam is an obedient one. Hash and prostitution may be legal, but no one seems to jaywalk.  The people are big too, and young.  Urinals stand at waist height for me, and I’m 185 cm.  I imagine that if you were any shorter than that you'd have to arch your back and make like Manneken-pis... 

..the Rhine is running high from the melting off of late-season snowfall in the nearby Alps, and the ship can't pass beneath the bridges to get to us.  We are forced to take the bus to Cologne and board the following day.  The rain keeps filling the river...

...we finally spend our first night aboard but awake to rain.  This day's section is the poets’ Rhine; the castles and towering peaks beyond serve well as inspiration for Romantic gushing in multiple languages.  Sadly the heaviness of the clouds presses down upon her waters and her looming hills.  While perfect for recalling the mood of the old tales of knights, and maidens, and corrupt Bishops, it is a far cry from the flawless blues skies of the tourist posters. Still, we make do...

...I had long looked forward to quiet mornings reading beside the rail, distracted occasionally by the passage of the landscape.  Instead, we sit moored in Mannheim, and those dreams are steamrolled.  Buses ferry us to the remaining destinations, but rather than waking up in a new town each morning, we are shuttled further and further each day.  On one bus journey, I am told (in confidence) by one of the staff that (s)he'd only experienced one-third of these cruises going as scheduled, due to the fluctuations of water-levels. (Note to self, only cruise in September.)  In fact, I had booked this very trip after reading that the autumn cruises had been hampered by water levels lowered due to climate change, and had intended to write a piece about how our changing planet is effecting travel.  I definitely got more than what I was looking for... 


...despite the monotony of the bus journeys, the cities delight.  Heidelberg and Strasbourg are picture perfect, but it is the smaller riverside towns that appease the most, singing and yodeling coming from every brauhaus. Europe in the lingering daylight of summer is a wonderful thing...      

...the Germans make good buildings and automobiles, but in the streets they make good obstacles.  Even in this high-season, the streets aren't particularly crowded.  But the locals seem intent not to see tourists at all, and will walk right through you...
 

...on our final day in Freiburg we find a quaint and pretty town, once you get beneath the graffiti.  The sun is finally out, so we sit with a beer in the square beside the cathedral, on a bustling market day.  I reflect on the past week and how it was the opposite of how I usually do my trips.  I tend to enjoy the road more than the destinations.  This time I found the destinations supreme, and the journey between was hardly a journey at all.

 
On the turntable:  Chet Baker, "Little Girl Blue"
On the nighttable:  Bibhutibhshan Bandopadhyay, "Pather Panchali"


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