Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Cruises are not a great way to get to know places in any depth. At most, guests have a few hours in each destination. But they are a good way to sample a variety of destinations, in order to know which places might be worth a return visit, and this is exactly what happened in Germany during my Grand European Tour with Viking River. I liked Miltenberg, Rothenburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, and Passau, but I loved Regensburg.

It’s hard to say exactly why Regensburg made such an impression on me. The woman who conducted our walking tour was an impressive guide – among the best so far on our cruise. Certainly, the extra free time we had in this town had a lot to do with my experience. But I think the fact that the new Auxiliary Bishop for the region, Josef Graf, was being installed at the St. Peter Cathedral that very morning, had much to do with my experience in Regensburg.

My favorite medieval tower in Regensburg, Germany

My favorite medieval tower in Regensburg, Germany

The cathedral was off limits to tourists during the ceremony, so I used the extra free time to wander around town, poking into narrow cobblestone alleyways and wandering through archways that framed colorful streetscapes. I concentrated on the Old Town area, which UNESCO describes as “the only authentically preserved large medieval city in Germany.” Since it escaped unscathed during World War II, its medieval structures are original rather than reproductions, including numerous square towers built by wealthy merchants who competed to see who could build the tallest. Several of them punctuated the city landscape: a serious looking gray tower, the lavish banana-colored Town Hall, the peach-toned tower that tops the city’s entrance arch, and my particular favorite, a salmon tower tucked into the corner of an L-shaped cobblestone lane. Read More

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Siebers Tower is one of many entrances to the medieval city walls in pretty Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Click on above photo to view it in large format: Siebers Tower is one of many entrances to the medieval city walls in pretty Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. One of the many magnificent sites seen during my Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises.

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St. James' Church in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany, is on the pilgrimage route to St. James Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Click on above photo to view it in large format: St. James Church in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, in the Bavarian part of southern Germany, is on the pilgrimage route to St. James Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. One of the many magnificent sites seen during my Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises.

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Gasthaus zum Riesen (Giant's Inn) in Miltenberg is one of the oldest operating (if not the oldest) Inns in Germany

Click on above photo to view it in large format: Gasthaus zum Riesen (Giant’s Inn) in Miltenberg, Germany is one of the oldest operating (if not the oldest) Inns in the country, as one of the oldest in the world. One of the many magnificent sites seen during my Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises.

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Sometime during the night my Viking River cruise ship left the castles of the Middle Rhine behind and turned left onto the Main River. Just east of Frankfurt we crossed over into Bavaria, an area of Germany that most associate with snow-capped alps, giant mugs of beer, alpine meadows, and Lederhosen. I was quickly disavowed of any such notions, however, upon arrival in Miltenberg, which is located in the Lower Franconia district of Bavaria.

“We are Franconians, not Bavarians,” our tour guide said emphatically and with a little laugh.

Although Upper Franconia, Lower Franconia, and Middle Franconia constitute the three northernmost districts of Bavaria, they have a much different history than the rest of the State. They take their name from the Franks, a Germanic tribe that had conquered most of western Europe by the mid-8th century. After Napoleon defeated the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Bavaria became a kingdom and the Franconian districts were subsequently annexed to Bavaria in 1815.

Half-timbered houses in Miltenberg, Germany, our first stop in the Franconia districts of Bavaria

Half-timbered houses in Miltenberg, Germany, our first stop in the Franconia districts of Bavaria

Our tour guide’s comment was partly tongue-in-cheek, but also underscored the cultural differences between the two regions. Straddling the serpentine Main River, the landscape of Franconia is predominantly rolling hills. While never rising to the height of what might be called mountains, the hillsides are the perfect climate for vineyards which produce high quality dry red wines, rather than the beers for which Bavaria is known. Weißwurst, a white sausage made from minced veal and pork back bacon, may be haute cuisine in Bavaria, but Franconians prefer Bratwurst and Sauerbraten. Though Bavaria is overwhelmingly Catholic, the population of Franconia is a mixture of Protestant and Catholic. Even the German dialect is different; Franconians speak East Franconian German, rather than the Austro-Bavarian dialect spoken in the rest of Bavaria.
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Once an important market town on the Main River in the Lower Franconia area of Bavaria, Germany, today Miltenberg is best known for its half-timbered houses

Click on above photo to view it in large format: Once an important market town on the Main River in the Lower Franconia area of Bavaria, today Miltenberg Germany is best known for its half-timbered houses. One of the many magnificent sites seen during my Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises.