Friday, July 3, 2015

Down the Main from Schweinfurt to Würzburg

We left you last in Schweinfurt, where the city fathers claim that pigs did not ford the Main River, notwithstanding the city name which says otherwise.  Nearby we saw a place where we wondered if Audis and VWs once forded the river.  The sign says clearly that you shouldn't really try, and the added graffiti drawing of a passenger leaping out seemed altogether appropriate.  BTW, the fine print says it's OK to launch canoes and the like, just not cars.  Ducks, not pigs or cars, were actually the order of the day when we exited our hotel in the a.m.  It was a marketing gimmick – each rubber duckie had a sticker saying you would be entered into a contest if you brought it to the such-and-such store by 3 p.m. that day.  From what we could tell, most of the duckies were headed to various kids’ bathtubs instead.

We sat out a day due to rain (we’ll show a few paintings from the art museum we visited in a future blog), but a few very light showers persisted as we left the following day.  One local cyclist had an unusual solution for  biking in the rain.  It was also quite cool for June, in the 50s, so Louise is a bit bundled up in the next shot as we wait for a ferry across the Main.

For a km or two the trail reduced to sidewalk width as we rode into a vineyard town.  As we left town the vineyard came right down to the trail.  The area we were in is called Franconia, or Franken in German.  It was an independent nation of similar size to Luxembourg for a few hundred years, ending about 1800 when it was annexed to Bavaria.  Bamberg, where we began biking a few days earlier, is in “Bierfranken,” as they say (Bamberg actually has a higher per capita consumption of beer than Munich!).  Numerous signs along the way told us we were now visiting its first-cousin, “Weinfranken.”  This continued to Würzburg, where the next photo was taken, and beyond.

For 5 km we followed the old towpath of a canal bypassing some rapids, one of the rare times we were not on very smooth asphalt.  As you can see, the surface here was easy riding as well.  The river was now getting wider.  That's the charming town of Kitzingen in the third photo below, and a building already several meters above that day's water level showed just how deep the river sometimes gets.  We asked a local, who confirmed that the bike trail we were riding was underwater two years ago, when we had to cancel plans to bike it due to heavy rains in this area.

It's hard not to think of what Nazism and WW II did to this country when traveling about.  Here was one memorial that gave us a little shiver.  We certainly understand the need of the locals to recognize those who died for their country, but find it hard to empathize with them since it was our own soldiers they were trying to kill.  Jeff has three uncles who served in Europe in the war, and two more who served on the Atlantic in the sea war.  In Bamberg we saw a much  less bombastic plaque to German war dead and had similar feelings of unease until we walked a few feet further and saw a memorial plaque honoring the innocent Jewish and other victims of Nazi murder – the plaque’s own words for it.  In Kitzingen as in so many other cities large and small, the synagogue was burned to the ground on “Kristalnacht,” Nov. 9, 1938.  Unlike so many other places, Kitzingen has rebuilt it, though we were unable to determine whether it has in fact regained a congregation.

Of course in small towns there was generally much less destruction in the war, and it was easy to lose oneself in fantasies of that other Germany of the romantic poet Schiller and great composers like Robert and Clara Schumann, or even back to the Middle Ages.  Marktbreit was such a place, a little town we might actually have missed but for a search for a WC (a successful search, in fact).  A river runs alongside the town, crossed by a bridge which is also the town gate.  In one direction a fork in the road invites exploration, in another you want to yell to Rapunzell to let down her long hair.  Oh, the serendipities of travel!

At last, Würzburg, a gorgeous city that has risen from devastation in the form of a bomber attack on March 16, 1945, less than 2 months before the Germans finally gave up.  Well over half the city was flattened.  Yet many major buildings have been restored to their former glory, such as the Chapel of St. Mary and her neighbor the fanciful Falkenhaus, which has been a nobleman’s home and an inn in the past, but is now the city library.

The two high points of town are the Marienberg Fortress, which we admired from below only, and the Residenz, the former palace of the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg.  We took the tour of the latter and it was almost as stunning as some of the Romanov palaces we visited in St. Petersburg.  No photos allowed inside, so we'll just wander through the garden with you a bit.

Well, we're not losing any weight on this trip.  This wine cellar was not a usual setting for breakfast, but the immense spread of food was not at all out of the ordinary for what we have seen for the past week.  It's been a challenge here as in most places to get adequate veggies into our diet when we're eating almost entirely in restaurants, but we've done better than we feared considering Germany's (actually well-deserved) reputation for meat and potatoes.

Your well-fed tourist guides will tell you about the rest of our journey down the Main River Radweg in the next blog entry.

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