Two Thousand Years of History In Speyer

Speyer’s countryside, where most river ships dock, is idyllic. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Our journey aboard Viking River Cruises Viking Hild as almost at an end, as our Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour arrives enters its final days before we transfer to Zurich for a two-night, post-cruise stay on Monday. In the meantime, however, I’ve found my newest favourite city along the Rhine: Speyer, Germany.

Over two thousand years old, Speyer was left largely undamaged by World War II due to the fact that, as our guide said, “nothing of importance happened here.” Thus, the town only lost six of its buildings. In this region of Germany, that’s nothing short of miraculous. Mainz, where we were yesterday, was almost entirely destroyed. And as a result, Speyer still appears today largely as it always once was: a sleepy, storybook town filled with shops, biergartens, and an imposing Cathedral known as the Kaiserdom.

Ready For Her Close-Up: Viking Hild’s nameplate at her docking location in Speyer, Germany this morning. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

From our docking location, it was an easy 15-minute (guided) walk into town. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today, we were docked in Speyer for the entire day, which allowed us to participate in the included walking tour of the city and still enjoy the opportunity to have lunch ashore this afternoon. And, let’s face it: on this Easter weekend, with its limited retail hours, today was the only day we’ll get until Tuesday to do some real, honest local shopping.

From Viking Hild, the town of Speyer is an easy 15-minute walk away, through one of the most picturesque (one might say quintessentially German) parks you’ve ever seen. Green grass, tall trees and immaculately maintained pathways eventually lead to the rear wall of the massive Kaiserdom cathedra.

Deserted train tracks on the way into town. A train does come through here – once a week. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Founded in 1030, the Kaiserdom became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It is considered to be a turning point in European architecture, and one of the largest Romanesque monuments in existence. Its impressive façade belies an important history, with a total of eight emperors, kings and their wives that are buried here, including Conrad II, Henry III, Henry IV, Henry V, and Beatrice I, to name a few.

The Cathedral is 134 metres long –  the length of the Viking Hild.

Our guided walking tour also took us to the local Hauptmarkt, or Market Square, where the Saturday Easter Market was in full swing. I loved that our guide modified our walking tour to give us 15 minutes or so at the Market; as it is only here on Saturdays, it was nice to see it and to get a chance to sample some of the local foods before continuing on.

A sculpture of the kings and dignitaries that are buried…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…within Speyer’s imposing Cathedral. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After, we toured the Judenhof – the medieval Jewish synagogue and baths in Speyer. This ritual bath was built around 1120 and is the oldest example of such a facility north of the Alps. The immersion pool of the mikvah is located ten metres below street level, and was used for ritual cleansing after periods of “impurity.”

The stairs leading to the bath complex are uneven and worn, and the use of the handrails to descend is a must. From there, a small spiral staircase empties onto the bath itself, which is usually maintained around 6°C – or, in other words, very cold. The entire facility was preserved for hundreds of years thanks to its dual-purpose as a cache for municipal weapons. It is one of the most fascinating sights I’ve seen in Europe.

Walking through the Judenhof…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to the underground bathing complex. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Wandering Speyer is like stepping back in time, with none of the recreation, however good, that is present in other German cities. Speyer is the real deal: a look at how the average German town probably appeared prior to 1914 and 1939. It is a beautiful, walkable, extraordinary space filled with wonder at every turn, from its whimsical, Grimm’s Fairytale-like buildings; to its charming biergartens, cafes and shops. Only the local Galleria (shopping mall) suffers from the cold, postwar architecture that afflicts so many other cities.

Some images from our day in the beautiful town of Speyer:

Speyer’s main pedestrian shopping street looks largely as it did at the turn of the last century. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Relatively undamaged by war, Speyer is a remarkable gateway into pre-war Europe. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Being Easter, local markets were filled with brightly-painted eggs…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and delicious, seasonal, white asparagus (Spargle). Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This is just one of several itineraries that Viking offers along the Rhine, and I think it is the one most suited to experienced river cruisers looking for something new.

The best voyage for the first-time visitor to the Rhine is Viking’s weeklong Rhine Getaway voyage that sails from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, or reverse. This river cruise is one of the most popular in Europe, with calls on Breisach, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk in the Netherlands.

Viking HIld’s Captain Johannes…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and Hotel Manager David gave speeches tonight in the Viking Lounge. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This Paris to the Swiss Alps journey trades the more familiar cities of Cologne, Rudesheim and Koblenz and instead favours smaller ports of call. Places like Speyer, Mainz and Bernkastel-Kues. That it also includes two days in Paris pre-cruise and a two-day post-cruise extension in Zurich as part of the cruise fare is the icing on the cake. In fact, I’ve enjoyed this itinerary so much that I’ll seek out future Viking itineraries with included pre-and-post stays. Despite the fact that I love being on the ship itself, these overland journeys have added so much to my overall experience that I can’t imagine doing without.

Tonight, it was time for some housekeeping aboard Viking Hild. Program Director Emma briefed us on our day tomorrow in Strasbourg, France before also explaining what happens on Monday, when we disembark our Viking Longship and make our way to Zurich for two nights.

Tonight, the Captain’s Farewell Dinner was held in The Restaurant. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Everything was presented clearly and concisely, and was followed up (as promised) with printed materials in your stateroom. No need to remember all that information; Viking will summarize it for you!

The Captain’s Farewell Cocktail and Dinner were also held tonight. It’s always sort of a strange thing to have to experience this on your second-last river cruise night, and even harder to reconcile that an additional two nights still await us in Zurich. But the fact of the matter is that although tomorrow might be our last full day aboard the gracious Viking Hild, it is far from being the last day of our Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour.

A week ago today, we arrived in Paris to start this amazing journey off. Now, with three full days to go, I’m confident we still have plenty of incredible experiences yet to come.

Laundry and information forms, neatly laid out with turndown service. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Viking River Cruises’ Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour continues tomorrow with our visit to Strasbourg, France! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

DAYPORT
Saturday, April 8, 2017Paris, France
Sunday, April 9Paris, France
Monday, April 10Trier, Germany (embarkation)
Tuesday, April 11Trier, Germany / Bernkastel, Germany
Wednesday, April 12Cochem, Germany
Thursday, April 13Middle Rhine Cruising; service call in Kaub, Germany
Friday, April 14Mainz, Germany
Saturday, April 15Speyer, Germany
Sunday, April 16Strasbourg, France
Monday, April 17Basel, Switzerland (disembark); Zurich, Switzerland
Tuesday, April 18Zurich, Switzerland; end of tour.
 

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