Continuing our journey down the Rhine. For those of you who joined us late, Patricia and I missed this river cruise, but I’m pretending we are traveling along instead of sheltering-in-place. Join us on our armchair travels!

Day 5— Speyer, Germany
This morning we disembarked to visit the historic town of Speyer. The City’s six towers dominate the skyline and the Altpörtel, or Old Gate, is what remains of the town’s old walls.

Old Gate, Speyer

We would have loved to go to Heidelberg, but the all day tour (no doubt spending a good deal of time on a crowded bus) put us off. We’ve been traveling and sight-seeing nonstop for the six days since we left our homes. Patricia and I agree to relax on deck, sip Moselle wine and read in the lounge chairs on this beautiful day. Besides they are taking us to dinner onshore tonight.

Day 6— Strasbourg Highlights
“Another Gothic cathedral,?” I sigh….but this is one of Europe’s finest. We admire the lovely rosette window, beautiful red sandstone portal and remarkable astronomical clock.  Construction started in the 12th century and wasn’t completed until 1439.  Amazing how one generation after another took on the work of their fathers, even knowing their life work would not be finished during their time on earth.

A view of the cathedral from a tributary of the Rhine River.

The picturesque Petite France area is crisscrossed by canals and covered bridges with their defensive towers.  We stroll past quaint, half-timbered buildings that make me think more of German than French architecture–call it Alsatian.  This may be my favorite place – what about you Patricia?  I love this City steeped in both French and German culture.

Old houses on a canal

I have a story about this area – perhaps some of you read it before. Years ago, I stumbled upon a long trough and embankment that ran into the trees, not far to the east.  I realized I was standing next to an eroded trench where young men had fought and died in WWI. That discovery still gives me a chill to think of what played out there – over a century ago now.

Day 7 Black Forest
We disembark early to drive through the dense, lofty fir and pine forests of Germany’s Schwarzwald, a land of cuckoo clocks and fairy tales but also vineyards cradled in the undulating hills.  I’m not big on bus trips but the scenery is enchanting. We stop at a hotel and I choose to walk through the forest while Patricia debates whether to explore the cuckoo clocks or the glassblower. 

Hofgut Sternen Hotel, keeps Black Forest traditions  ( photo by DrubbaGmbH)

Our last stop is the town of Freiburg where I have a long lost friend who was a university professor, but Ulrich has retired and I am unable to find him. At any rate, they didn’t even give us enough time to sit with a coffee and a slice of Black Forest cake. Maybe I’m just sad that this is our last day… but that night at dinner they serve Black Forest cake or  Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.  This chocolate layer cake with cherries in the middle and whipped cream on top is delectable! A fine way to end our day.

Black Forest cake

Patricia and I are both history buffs so this is the perfect cruise for us. (Here’s hoping we can reschedule it for real next year.)


The Danube River

The Danube River is the longest river in Europe, running almost 1,800 miles from the Black Forest to the Black Sea – it flows by eleven countries. My husband Tom and I traversed its route from Regensburg and Passau (last weeks’ post) through the lovely Wachau Valley, and cruised from Vienna to Budapest (then we take the train back to Vienna – more pictures coming in the weeks to come). Because of canals, the North Sea (at the port of Rotterdam ) is now connected via the Rhine, the Main and the Danube Rivers to the Black Sea.

Canal connecting Main River to Danube

Canal connecting Main River to the Danube


Once a northern border of the Roman Empire –  called the Danubius (in German it is the Donau) – it was also the northern border of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Its location made it important from earliest times and its beauty makes it one of the most romantic rivers in the world. The river attracted the Vikings and the Romans the Mongols and the Turks and has been center player in European history on through the Hapsburg Dynasty to the present.

Danube at Regensberg

Danube at Regensberg

The Old Stone Bridge (Steinerne Brücke)was built 1135-1145  during the early centuries of the Holy Roman Empire and was the only crossing of the Danube for 800 yrs. The Crusaders used it to cross the mighty river on their way to the Holy Land.


Old Stone Bridge

Old Stone Bridge (

The building attached to the gate is the “Salt store.”  Regensburg’s monopoly on salt made it  rich during the Middle Ages.


View of Regensburg from under the bridge

View of Regensburg from under the bridge

The Holy Roman Empire (HRE) was a huge amalgamation of territories in central Europe that developed (900’s) during the Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806.  Bavaria was part of this Empire (which my history teacher liked to point out was neither holy nor Roman) of which Charlemagne was the most famous emperor. The Hohenstaufens and the later the Hapsburgs were both HRE rulers; the Hapsburgs later became the Austro- Hungarian Empire (Marie-Theresa (1772-1807),  her daughter Marie-Antoinette  and Archduke Ferdinand  were all Hapsburgs) .

A folding smokestack allows this vessel to slip under the bridges

A folding smokestack allows this vessel to slip under the bridges


Below the lovely town on Passau on the Danube near the southern German border.

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Passau waterfront


The sights along the Danube River are spectacular  (wait until you see the Budapest waterfront next week). Below is an ancient castle downstream in Austria’s Wachau Valley.

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A castle on the Danube River near Melk, Austria.


Next week Vienna and – if room – Budapest.  Someday I want to visit other rivers of Europe since they are cradles of civilization and history and this journey has been extraordinary.  Plus rivers can be so soothing (unless they are in flood!).  Have you been to the Danube or tried fashioning a trip around a river?

REGENSBURG and PASSAU: our trip continues along the Danube River

Even before medieval times Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, had an interesting history. In the last post I mentioned the numerous Paleolithic discoveries; the next known inhabitants were the Celts whom the Romans subdued. The Roman centre of administration for this area was Castra Regina: modern-day Regensburg – one of the best preserved old cities and the oldest on the Danube. The following picture is the remains of the Roman gates built in 179 AD. In use into the 1700’s they were then plastered and built over until they were rediscovered in 1885.

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The only remaining Roman gate in Europe. The steps still lead into town.


A history professor we met on this trip told us that it is speculated the name Bavaria comes from the Romans calling the Teutonic tribes on the “other (northern) side” of the Danube “Barbarians” and this later became Bavarians. (The Latin is Latin Baiovarii)

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Oskar Schindler saved over 1200 Jews from certain death during the Nazi terror. He lived here in 1945-1950. (The apartment itself is hardly photo-worthy – thus I contented myself with the plaque.)

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The maze of alleys are fun to wander – this one is near Schindler’s apartment.











Regensburg is still a residential town.

This 500 year old kitchen, located right on the river bank of the Danube, has stood through centuries of wars and floods.  We didn’t get to try any of the famous sausages however, as when we came back hungry a couple of hours later, the rest of the world had the same idea.This 500 yr old wurst kuche is said to be the oldest restaurant in Germany.

This 500 yr. old wurst küche is said to be the oldest restaurant in Germany.

The Alte Rathaus – built in the middle ages was used until baroque times as the seat of the Reichstag government –  almost 150 yrs.

Regensburg Rathaus.     You can see the pulpit in the centre where the mayor or the bishop used to address the towns people.

Regensburg Rathaus. You can see the pulpit in the centre where the mayor or the bishop used to address the towns people.



Passau lies at the confluence f the Inn, Ilz and the mighty Danube Rivers near the Czech and Austrian borders with Germany.

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Passau surrounded by the Danube (foreground) and the Inn Rivers (in back).

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(note: the map orientation is opposite of the photo above)




Passau waterfront

Passau waterfront


It is pleasant to stroll the narrow streets – with little traffic.

Alleyway leading to the cathedral

Talented singers in the square.

Talented singers in the square.

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Hallway of the Bishops’s Palace

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Entrance to the palace.











Passau’s history also encompasses the Roman and medieval periods,but its architecture is decidedly Baroque.












We listened to (a surprisingly – and somewhat disappointingly –modern) organ concert in the over-the-top baroque of St Stephens Cathedral. I think I was expecting Bach!

Europe’s largest church organ.

Europe’s largest church organ.

Passau has a large museum devoted to glass made from 1600- 1950’s. I was taken with these painted stemwares.

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This tower looks like a relic of the middle ages – you almost feel you are walking back in time. Note watermark from the floods of 2013.

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The Danube River reached its highest level in 500 years and people had to be rescued from their homes. Amazing that structures like this tower and the old sausage kitchen (above) have survived for centuries on its banks!

Passau flooded 2013 (

Passau flooded 2013 (

Have you been to either of these towns? What do you think of the Baroque style? How would you like live in charming Passau – surrounded by rivers that could flood with rainstorms upstream?



Medieval Towns of Bavaria

Europe is filled with beautiful medieval architecture. We sought out old towns in Germany’s Bavaria, driving west to east visiting Tuebingen (Tübingen), Nördlingen, and Dinkelsbuehl.

Tuebingen is archetypal Germany with hilly cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, a castle, interesting shops and one of Europe’s oldest universities and …it is not a tourist trap. Narrow alleys wind their way up to its castle.


Town seen from a high hill

Town seen from a high hill

We stayed in an old hotel adjacent to the castle – charming and good food (but the 3 flights of stairs, along with the steep hills, did in my knee for the rest of the trip!).
Schloss Hohentübingen was built in 1050 and converted to a stronghold in the earliest 1500’s.

Tom at castle

Tom at castle

The castle has been used by the university since 1816 and in more recent years they have taken over it’s restoration. There is an archeology museum on site with prehistoric treasures from caves in the Swabian Jura (a nearby low mountain range). One of the pieces that fascinated us were  carvings of animals in mammoth ivory.

 Wild horse carved from ivory circa 35,000 years ago

Wild horse carved from ivory circa 35,000 years ago


In the middle of Germany’s Romantic Road is the attractive ancient town of  Nördlingen.  The town was built in the Ries Basin, a large impact crater formed millions of years ago by a meteorite colliding with earth.  (For more and better photos go to this site: images nordlinger)


The city built in an impact crater

The city built in an impact crater (

It was an important trading center back in Roman times. The fortified walls were built between the 15th and 16th centuries and still surround the city.  You can walk on the covered walls and see the impressive towers and gates up close as you enjoy the views of Nördlingen.

 This is one of the main gates into the city which joins the covered walls.

This is one of the main gates into the city which joins the covered walls.


While visiting a church we happened upon a small choir practicing. Their voices and harmonies were moving, the acoustics magnificent, so we ended up sitting in a pew for half an hour just listening.

A choir practice at Nordlingen cathedral.

A Nordlingen choir practice.


Out-of-kilter buildings like this one are not uncommon due to settling and repairs over, in some cases, centuries.

These out of kilter buildings are not uncommon due to settling and repairs over, in some cases, centuries.

An “out of kilter” building.


Almost two decades ago we visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber – considered Germany’s best-preserved walled city – but we didn’t go back because its fame has brought too many crowds and overpriced souvenirs. Dinkelsbühl, on Bavaria ‘s Wörnitz River is just as colorful and authentic, but has so far maintained its small-town character.


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Moat outside Dinkelsbühl walls

During the Holy Roman Empire Dinkelsbühl sat at the crossroads of two major medieval trading routes — a north-south route running from the North Sea to Italy, and an east-west route starting at the Rhine and extending to Prague. Because of its strategic importance it was fortified with walls in the Middle Ages a dozen towers.

One of the main Towers with an entrance gate.

One of the main Towers with an entrance gate.



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 As we strolled around the village we came upon a wedding just exiting the church. Here is a photo of the lovely bride and the party’s… organ grinder.  These are the moments that make traveling memorable.


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These towns are remarkable in that they have survived wars and the modern age. Isn’t it interesting to be in a place where you can imagine a different life – or a living there hundreds of years ago?


FINDING an ANCESTOR’s Birthplace: Mittelstadt, southern GERMANY

Many Germans immigrated in the 1800’s and later due to war, scarcity of food or poverty. My ancestry is predominantly English; however my mother’s great grandfather came from “Prussia.” After a little bit of research and discussion with relatives, I discovered Mittelstadt, the village he came from, is on the banks of the Neckar River in southern Germany. (Prussia more often refers to northern Germany, but some immigration person may have assumed Prussia included Germany – a common error.) Specifically, Mittelstadt is near the Black Forest, northeast of Freiburg and southeast of Stuttgart and Heidelburg in the province of Baden-Wurtenberg.


Map of Rhine, Main and Neckar Rivers

Map of Rhine, Main and Neckar Rivers by Ostasieninstitut

Goose on bridge  entering the village.

Goose on bridge entering the village.


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Mittelstadt on Neckar River








I made a point of visiting while we were in the area even though I had heard that the church had burned down with all the records in the last century. We, husband Tom and I, discovered the church had been rebuilt and in more recent years been converted into a grade school

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Across the street was the graveyard and Tom and I browsed the headstones in search of the name Rudell ; I also looked on war memorials for ancestors of that name and queried some locals. Alas… no Rudells.

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Chapel in cemetery

Entering Mittelstadt




I then proceeded to the Rathaus where a nice young gentleman explained their records only went back to 1875.

RAthaus - photo by Panaramio

Rathaus – photo by Panaramio

At first he was frustrated either with my “tourist German” or with the problem I presented him (my ancestor was born in 1830), but then he reached back into his high school English and found it was better than he thought it was (certainly better then my German) and he rose to the challenge. We found if I tried to speak German and he replied in English we could communicate better than trying to use either language exclusively. He ended up giving me half an hour of his time and gave me several leads in different towns and dioceses. It turns out that the Protestants (“Evangelisch” he called them) have a different system than the Catholics and the records are kept in separate towns! I don’t even know which religion claimed great-great grandfather Charles (Karl) Eduard. I only had time to drive to one town(where the records had been moved yet again) so I will pursue the others by email when I have more time.

Karl Eduard Rudell immigrated to Arkansas – which I always thought a bit strange, but have since found out quite a few Germans ended up there. Some who fought in the Civil War were awarded a piece of land in northern Arkansas.

Photo of his Descendants in the late 1930s(?): from left to right, my Aunt Helen (his great-granddaughter) and his three granddaughters – my Grandmother (she looks just like my mother), great Aunt Essie Lucinda and great Aunt Grace.

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This was/is an interesting and fun experience even if I eventually meet a dead end.  I have an ancestor to track down in Cornwall someday too.  I’m named after my great grandmother Lucinda Rudell, as is my mother and Essie Lucinda (in the picture above).  Amazingly I found the name Lucinda goes back mother to daughter for almost 200 years!

Have you worked on your family tree or visited the lands of your ancestors? And of course I would love any advice from you ancestry buffs – I’m a real novice.