Friday, December 9, 2011

Rhine Valley (and Cologne)

We passed from the Netherlands and into Germany at about 10am, flying with the mist that felt like it might extend right across northern Europe, until we saw sunshine break through just in time for lunch in Cologne! The main feature of Cologne (for us) was the enormous gothic church, that at one point in history was the tallest structure in the world, from 1880 till 1884.

Being gothic, it was covered in incredible detail, that continued to grow as you moved closer and closer

Inside was a beautiful rainbow light cast from a modern stained glass window, composed of thousands of coloured square pixels

Excitingly, the christmas markets nearby had just opened that day! But by the time I saw them I was rushing to get back to the bus to continue our journey to St. Goar, our home for the night. Driving through the Rhine Valley during the late afternoon was very beautiful. The light atmosphere gave the landscape a great sense of depth

In the sleepy town of St. Goar, it reminded me of Marahau in Able Tasman, New Zealand. A tiny picturesque town on the gateway to magnificent natural beauty, and also to a highway of comercial and tourist traffic, flowing down the river, and in the air. The river was often thick with large barges of freight, and every time I looked up I was able to see at least 3 different jet planes arching overhead, painting the air with long strokes of contrails.

The main event of the evening was an atmospheric tasting of the local wine in an ancient cellar. The wine was white and dry to start with, becoming sweeter and sweeter until we sipped 'ice-wine,' produced from grapes that must remain frozen on the vine for a specific number of days before being picked. It was so sweet it was like apple juice. Finally we tasted the local mulled wine, warm and red and tasting just like christmas pudding. We meandered the short walk home and spent the rest of the evening in the hotel bar, mild with cigarette smoke (yet to be banned here), where I received an in-depth review of the law, constitution, and history of South Africa, from a practicing Durban lawyer on the tour.

Tomorrow, Switzerland!

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