Sunday 15 May 2011

Getting Schlossed

I don't know what it is about the guides we've been having. Stefanie in Frankfurt had us route-marching round the city; Georg in Mainz flitted off at crazy tangents and carried, sweating, a fat folder all the way round with him, just to show us three photos from it; and today Marie was manic, telling us emphatically "You will enjoy zis!" (wagging finger) and spending as much time warning us about uneven steps as talking about the remarkable collection of musical machines in the museum in Rudesheim. And in every photo I took of her, she has her eyes closed.

We saw a huge, fine marquetry player piano with six violins fitted into it, a bizarre and very creepy puppet orchestra that included monkeys in 18th centure clothes, and most amazing of all, a little silver snuff box that didn't play music: instead a miniature bird popped out, complete with feathers, and sang totally authentically. It was a lovely museum - and Rudesheim is a pretty town, all narrow cobbled lanes and restaurants and quirky shops (laughing dog toy rolling on the floor? Almost irresistible) and restaurants, at one of which we drank the local special coffee with a generous shot of their Asbach brandy and a splodge of whipped cream. Set me up nicely for the Museum of Medieval Torture with its real thumbscrews, racks and scolds' bridles: horrifyingly ingenious, all of them, in how they exploited the weaknesses of the human body.

But today was mainly about castles: 28 of them along the Rhine, all sorts, shapes, sizes, materials and designs. Something for everyone! It got a bit like Wimbledon at one point, when the river was narrow and dangerously swirling, and the steep hillsides each side were dotted with castles and draped with astonishingly precipitous vineyards. And pretty towns and villages, onion-domed churches, half-timbered hotels, swans and ducks, and lots and lots and lots of barges and trains.

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