Viking includes so many “standard” tours with this Grand European Tour itinerary that we didn’t really feel the need to grab many “optional” (as in, ‘hey, no problem, you can charge it to your room’ optional-ness) tours. Except for the Rothenburg ob der Tauber. That one we didn’t want to miss.
Yes, I know it’s touristy. Yes, I know it takes all day leaving you only enough time in Wurzburg (where the ship is docked) to take in the Wurzburg Residenz and nothing else in the city. Yes, I also know it costs the most of any optional tour (except for the Vienna music evening one).
We did it anyway.
And really enjoyed it.
From Wurzburg to Rothenburg (let’s just shorten it to that since we’re among friends) it’s about a 50-minute drive. We liked the drive (although I spotted several others dozing off, even though it was only 9:30 am; we’re a very busy group of passengers, you know, and some of us need to squeeze that sleep in whenever/wherever we can). The bus left the Main River behind as we climbed up to the plateau above the river. Lots of greenery, lots of decidious trees, lots of hayfields and lots of fields of sugar beets (and a little one of gladiola)—all encircling small villages, each with a cluster of red-roofed homes and always with a church spire somewhere in the middle.
Mom thought it all looked a lot like Wisconsin (USA). I agree; mom’s family came from Germany a few generations’ back (Prussia to be precise) and, settling in Wisconsin, mom was guessing they felt quite at home with the geography and “feel” of the place.
Our guide, Gunther (pronounce that “t” as a hard consonant with no “h” sounding at all), explained what we were seeing as the bus dipped into and out of little valleys split by small, silvery streams.
Talk about picturesque—and we weren’t even to the “cute” town yet (Caspar’s initial one-word description of these cities may not have much variety; but I really can see what he means. They simply are “cute”).
The bus pulled into Rothenburg and we joined the carloads of visitors to this medieval town that is still surrounded by its protective stone walls. The walking tour began right at the bus with Gunther carrying his red Viking “lollipop” stick sign and the 20 or so of us stepping smartly behind him as we squeezed through a door in the city walls.
I looked around.
Cobblestone streets? Check.
Half-timbered facades? Check.
More than one old church? Check.
Three of the uber-popular Kathe Wolfhart Christmas stores? Check. Check. Check.
Yep, that confirms it; we’re in Rothenburg. But you can skip the tourist stores and still have a great time in this self-contained little town. There’s the view from the hilltop castle gate, and the remnants of the Jewish district, and a lovely town plaza as well as a museum of medieval crime, of course featuring torture methods and devices (certainly something cheerful that I want to take in while on vacation in a foreign land).
Gunther guided us through all of that and more; after experiencing several Viking-arranged tours at this point, I’m convinced they have some great off-ship tour itineraries. We almost always receive information that’s an overview of the city/attraction as well as an assortment of details which add to the visit.
The Rothenburg walking tour concluded with lunch at a small, half-timbered restaurant. The menu is set, but you can opt for your choice of beverage, including soft drinks, beer and wine. I chose apple juice made from local apples and it was well-chilled and a lovely combination of sweet and tart. An herb potato soup and bread began the hearty lunch, followed by two good-sized sausages (but I thought they were a little dry-ish), sauerkraut and a type of mashed potatoes I haven’t had before (golden in color and very smooth). The meal concluded with apfel streudel with vanilla sauce. Service was pretty quick although not really personable. That’s okay, though; for personableness, we have Milo, Zuzanna and Constantine back on the Atla.
Afterwards it was free time until our 3 pm departure. Mom and I wandered those aforementioned tourist shops (now did you think we could really resist them entirely?). I found a truly lovely—and unique—sweater at a little store called AnRa. All their clothing and accessories are made right there at that tiny store in Rothenburg. I know I’ll remember this memorable trip every time I wear my sweater. Kinda like having a photo album—but cuter.
I wish I’d had more time to spend in St. Jacob’s Church. Begun in 1311, it’s older than the cathedral in Cologne but still gothic in style. Unlike the Cologne church, this one hasn’t been changed much since is initial construction and decoration. It’s not as fancy inside and, while large, has a more manageable scale. I enjoyed just sitting on one of the wooden pews and letting the silence and arching windows settle my soul. Don’t miss this one (two euros at this time for admission; audio tours available—but I just walked around and listened to my heart on this one). One thing puzzled me: it’s a Lutheran church, but it still had those little candles to light as well as lots of Virgin Mary symbolism; that’s certainly different than the Lutheran churches here in California…
Our group gathered again. I stepped out of the cluster of Atla passengers and snagged a Bavarian—or would it be Franconian?—pretzel and chewed on it for about 40 minutes as we boarded the bus again and headed back to Wurzburg (the pretzel was definitely a few hours’ past prime tenderness).
If you’ve ever imagined all those fairy tales of your childhood, don’t miss Rothenburg. I bet you’ll live happily ever after.