Castles along the Rhine

I’m writing this from the outdoor upper deck of the Viking Atla as our boat steadily cruises down the Rhine River. Two hours ago this area of the boat was packed with passengers as Caspar, our cruise director, “narrated” our way down the narrower region of the middle Rhein. Drizzles began and the wetness turned into something that definitely meant real rain so all ventured back to the lounge (except the captain up in his wheelhouse/bridge–again, that nautical terminology) to enjoy a “lower” view of the scener–as well as a German afternoon “tea,” but this one with Rudesheim coffee drinks and pastries.

Now, though, the rain has bid us adieu (ha, worked some German in there! Aren’t you proud of me?) yet most have stayed below (or are napping, more likely). I returned up here and the combination of the scenery, sunshine and quiet creates an absolutely perfect afternoon.

A fellow passenger, Tom, from Virginia, brought his Viking “Rhine” booklet up top and, with his binoculars (definitely bring a pair when you’re doing your packing), he’s eyeing sights along the river and, thankfully, sharing his discoveries with me. Following along the book isn’t so very simple since Viking opted not to include the kilometer “numbers” with the text description on the majority of entries, instead including them in a several-page table in the back of the same booklet. 

VIKING WISH LIST: Put those kilometer readings on every listing in the book. And offer it as a PDF for those of us using tablets, please!

And there certainly is a lot to look at around these parts. If I had one word to describe today it’d be simple to choose it: Castles.

The day began as we docked on the Rhine in Koblenz. The castle tour at Marksburg was identified ahead of time as a walking challenge (uneven surfaces, a bit of a climb, dark lighting in some of those areas of uneven surfaces) so some passengers opted to stay on the boat, meeting up with us a bit upstream in Braubach after the tour.

I’ve been to Hearst Castle (California) previously but, while it has oodles of artwork and architectural features from medieval days, it’s not a “real” castle. Marksburg is a real castle, centuries old and mostly un-restored (it’s lucky it still has its roof as many of the castles along the Rhine have lost theres and deterioration quickly follows). Perched on a hill overlooking the Rhine (all the castles are), Marksburg was a great castle to explore and get a feel for what happened inside all the castles we were going to be seeing these next few days.

Unfortunately, the tour guide, while proficient in English, wasn’t the greatest. I suspect he is hired by the non-profit organization running the castle, and not Viking River Cruises. He didn’t really “connect” with us as “castle learners,” simply offering a well-memorized patter as we walked through each room.

I would have appreciated a broader, big picture view of castle life/economy/people on this tour–or at least before taking this tour. That would have made what I saw at Marksburg more memorable, interesting and meaningful to me. Caspar did cover those same topics in his from-the-ship talk later that afternoon as we cruised the river, but I’d have liked to have heard it sooner…but, oh well. I got to walk in the steps of medieval knights and castle occupants and how many people can say that?


Highlights of the castle tour (for me) included approaching up from beneath its hillside perch (it helped me see how truly impressive and impregnable it must have looked to intruders), walking through the various gates and entrances (the long, slanted walkway for the horse-mounted knights seemed like it would be a real challenge–I can imagine horse hooves slipping on the striated rocks as the rider hurriedly entered with news of warning), the re-created herb garden (for flavoring as well as medicinal needs), the cannons aimed toward the Rhine below (and the view from the windows the cannon jutted out from), and the small living spaces for the occupants.

Lunch was back on board then we were up to the top deck to enjoy the sunshine and boating up the Rhine. Caspar’s narration and stories were interesting—and often times humorous!–but the combination of warmth, full tummies and a morning spent walking lots of stairs meant more than a few passengers used the opportunity to nod off. Me? Certainly not! (I did that later, after Caspar went downstairs; I’m not rude, you know)… (additional note: in the photo of Mom on the top deck, she is not actually sleeping–just enjoying the sunshine. I promise. She is not rude either…)

PACKING TIP: Definitely bring a sunhat and either make sure it fits really tight or you have a chin strap for it–the breeze up top can be strong and, turning your head suddenly to look at a castle peeking from the greenery on the opposite shore can cause the wind to pick up the brim and tug it right off your head. Goodbye favorite chapeau…

Castles. River islands. Castles. Big riverside rocks. Castles. Small villages. Castles. Churches. Castles. City walls still standing from medieval days.

And did I mention castles?

That’s what we saw this afternoon. I heard someone say they were “castled out” but I don’t think I am. I enjoy floating along the river, looking at the old ruins of castles as well as the castles which have been adapted for modern use (restaurants, hostels and hotels seem to be the optimal conversions). These look nothing like Hearst Castle (or Disneyland’s!) and they’re all the more interesting because of that. 

(Again, I apologize for the photos/display; I have some nice photos and I’d like to get them in a gallery so you can see them”bigger,” but the operation isn’t working well on the ship from my iPad. When I get to my computer, I’ll update these photos and include more. These are unprocessed and uncropped and represent only a few of the photos I took today. Maybe you think that’s better anyway, huh?)



Categories: Uncategorized | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Castles along the Rhine

  1. Dagmar

    Ukalady, could you be a bit more specific about how challenging the Marksburg tour really is? I will be with my 88 year-old mother who’s in better shape than most people her age, but too many steps and steep climbs may be a bit too much. Is Viking being too cautious about possible complaints, or is it really a strenuous climb? Also, how is WiFi? Would you recommend a signal strengthened gizmo?

    Once again, that’s for the thorough review and I hope Viking makes notes about your recommendations.


    • My own mom is 80 and quite active (she’s dancing happily in the lounge as I typically write these posts). She climbed the South Tower at the Cologne Cathedral. She’s tough.

      That said, the walk *up* to the Marksburg Castle is definitely a climb. There are two ways to do it from the bus–a set of steps (the fast, steep way) and a narrow, paved road that winds up (more distance but definitely less steep). Either way, though, you have to get up there on your own footpower and it’s not a leisurely amount of time given to do so.

      Once inside, the surface is quite uneven entering two areas. The first is under the first gate area where it’s rocks (smoothed over time, but very uneven and in a dark setting–some folks had real difficulty seeing the variations in stones/height in this area). The second area combines more uneven stepping with a climb.These rocks seemed quite “slippery” for some passengers, especially when coming back down (down is always harder; it’s not as cardio involving as ups but people slip more going down).

      I heard one man in another tour (yet from our ship) took a pretty good tumble at Marksburg; he was embarrassed but didn’t want medical help at the time (I suspect he was pretty darn sore this morning, though). Once past these two areas (and returning on them), it’s not a tough tour until you get to a narrow, dark stairway. This, though, can be skipped by staying in one room (where there are chairs!) and waiting about 20 minutes for the rest of the group to return to you.

      No bathrooms on the tour except at the very beginning; that might be a problem for some who have urgency issues because it would take quite a bit of time to get back down.

      So, while I wouldn’t call this tour tough because it’s “strenuous” climb, I would call it very challenging if balance on uneven surfaces, low vision in dark situations or unsteadiness is a concern. You’ll need to make your own decision, but my gut says maybe not for your mom. There were plenty of folks who stayed on board and they reported that the ship cruised through a lovely section while the rest were at Marksburg.

      As far as wifi, it’s pretty darn good coverage everywhere on the boat I’ve been except for the back of the top deck. I have not, however, tested it in the staterooms on floors 2 and 1 (we’re on level 3). But, while the coverage is solid, the bandwidth can be a bit tenuous. I have been unable to do Facetime regardless of my location on the ship; texting, email and Internet cruising have been fine, if a bit slow to load high-graphic pages.


      • Dagmar

        Once again, you have answered my questions so that I can prepRe my mother properly. She managed medieval forts in Ukraine 2 years ago but steep hills have become somewhat challenging these days.

        You anticipated my next question about Face Time, so thanks for that one too. I guess my husband will have to content himself with e-mails.

        Keep having fun….



      • I’ve also had great luck using the Messages app on my iPad. The photos I text to Mark sometimes get “stuck” sending (I know, I really should reduce them in size before asking them to fly electronically across the Atlantic) but, for the most part, texting (using the ship’s wifi) is the way to go.

        I’m just getting ready to text him in a few moments.


  2. Karen Baker

    Oh what fun it has to be to tour a real castle….and you described it so well. And to be able to walk on the same stones that those knights in shining armor did 😀 thank you!



  3. Betty

    How did the tour through Marksburg compare to the climb up the tower at the Cologne cathedral? When you said the cathedral spiral staircase was dark, and had narrow steep steps with no handrail, I decided I’d pass on that. (I’m older than you but younger than your mom)


    • Marksburg was significantly “easier” than the south tower at the cathedral at Cologne, Betty. The staircase at Marksburg has a rope “railing” and the curve of the spiral is not near so tight (or extended, you’re through it quite quickly). If you’re in decent physical shape, have reasonable shoes and don’t have balance/vision issues you can do Marksburg. See my full response to Dagmar about the specifics of Marksburg for more details.


      • Betty

        Perfect answer; thanks for the comparison. I’m thinking yes on Marksburg, no on the cathedral tower.


  4. Sharon

    Our Viking tour director was very adamant that if one even thought they would have problems in the Castle to please not go. It IS very dark and slippery in there.


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