Friday, December 28, 2012

A Phonograph, Opals and Chocolate Apples

Another wonderful day with our own very special private tour guides.  In Germany everything (absolutely every shop except those near train stations) closes on Sundays – no supermarkets, no chemists, nothing!  So Dagmar had planned a visit to Rudesheim and a twilight Rhine Cruse.

We bought a Schones Wochenender (Happy Weekend) ticket which got 5 of us (Tony, me, Lauren, Dagmar & Matthias) as much train travel as we wanted for the whole day.  We got on in Worms, they joined us in Nakenheim (with an extra single ticket for Alissa), we changed trains in Weisbaden and headed for the little Rhine town of Rudesheim.  Thoroughly touristy but utterly charming, Rudesheim has the prettiest Christmas Markets and is the base for many short Rhine cruises through the Middle Rhine World Heritage Area.

First stop was a Wine Muesum housed in the Bromserburg Castle (built around 1000AD) – in the grounds were a collection of grape presses – dating from 1592 and an assorted collection of wine making equipment including a cart for moving wine barrels – Lauren couldn’t resist, picked it up by the handles and delivered the classic Python line “bring out your dead” … I guess you had to be there!

The Drosselgasse is a tiny little narrow street, very pretty but lined with shops selling tacky souvenirs to loud American or badly dressed Japanese tourists.  It does however, lead up into the town and the labyrinth that is the Rudesheim Christmas Markets.  I never knew there could be so many ways to decorate shop fronts and small wooden stalls – everywhere were lights and garlands of conifer (real) with baubles and stars and hessian snowmen and Christmas trees with ribbons and dried orange slices – all the while weaving through 16th century half timbered houses – just so pretty.

As has become a bit of a habit, I went looking for another Christmas decoration – I have bought one at every Christmas market.  Picture me browsing stands and stands glass ornaments, wooden ornaments, handmade lace ornaments when out of the corner of my eye I spy something totally out of place … a silver glass koala!  (I didn’t buy it). 

We spent a couple of hours wandering the markets, eating & drinking and just enjoying the festive atmosphere.  Matthias is an engineer by trade and has a fascination for things mechanical, old and in particular, old musical instruments.  He was keen for us to visit Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinet (Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet which in reality is the  Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments) but seemed a little concerned that it may not “be to your taste.”  How wrong he was to have these thoughts because this museum was one of the most fascinating I’ve ever seen.  It is a collection of music ‘machines’ par excellence!  Dozens of 18th & 19th century contraptions which included an Edison phonograph, a music chair (sitting down on it activated the music) barrel organs, one that has 18 instruments (including a sax, a piano, xylophone,  drums etc), carnival music machines, pianolas, and one which had piano and 6 violins (made in about 1920 with very early pneumatics) housed in a castle built in the 1200’s. Some were electric others had to be wound and all were fascinating.  I can’t pick a highlight but pretty special was the tiny little music box with a Nightingale about ¾” high that sang and flapped its tiny wings – 300+ tiny pieces made by a watchmaker turned music-box maker housed in a 15th century private chapel with its original wall frescos.

A bit later, Dagmar was telling me that the Rudesheim market was supposed to be an ‘international’ Christmas market.. we’d seen a stall from Finland and started looking around for other nations.  We soon come across a London Bus, a stall from Mongolia (great food!) the good old US of A, a fellow selling Babushka dolls (Russia), Peru (alpaca scarves & jumpers). I almost fell over when I spotted an Aussie flag fluttering on the side of a little stall … closer investigation and it was a German bloke selling opal jewellery … fortunately very tasteful, modern opal jewellery, and thankfully nothing like the tacky stuff that is sold by the truckload to Japanese tourists in duty free shops at Sydney airport!

After this we wandered a bit more before heading down to the Rhine for the river cruise.  Can you imagine listening to Christmas Carols while cruising up the Rhine past villages like Bingan or Assmannshausen, and castles from the middle-ages clinging to the side of steep hills – it was just magical and I could not have wished for a lovelier way to spend Christmas Eve eve.

Back once again to the markets for some more food – soup, bratwurst, chocolate apples (think toffee apple with chocolate rather than toffee) before catching the train back home.  Another wonderful wonderful day!  Thankyou again Dagmar!

And who said the world’s weather was not getting stupid?...... there’s a digital readout of temperature/time etc near the Christmas Markets … it showed 4deg, 2 deg, 0 deg, but tonight coming back from the station….. 11 deg… practically tropical!

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