EUROPEAN SOJOURN: The latest in thumb screws (Day 4)


Koblenz, Germany. “Set high above the hill overlooking the town of Braubach,” said our daily itinerary, “the [Marksburg] castle is the best preserved on the Rhine. Built with remarkable fortification, it was never besieged by enemies and therefore appears much the same as it did when it was built approximately 700 years ago.”

218It was fortuitous that it was never besieged. When we toiled up to the castle and were facing the view the cannons faced, we learned that the design of their cannons and inept use of them kept their cannon balls from hitting anyone. Remarkable fortification, indeed.






(I have no idea why one of our shipmates has Curious George seated on the cannon. Their were many parts of this trip which, because we only got in on the middle of the story, were mysteries to me.)

This hilltop fortress was also fully equipped with all the latest gadgets and technology of the 15th century. It had:

–A dining/ kitchen area with a beautiful slab of wood for a table, wooden chairs, a broad hearth with strong hooks supporting hunks of meat and kettles of soup, a white-washed larder, a brace of pheasants and mallards hanging from pegs like raincoats, dishes of vegetables for the evening meal.





It was big but cozy. I could see a medieval family gathering there for Christmas dinner. The whole setting was clean and tasteful, worthy of Better Homes and Castles.

A bedroom with a cramped bed for the lord and lady of the manor, pillows piled at one end so they could sleep sitting up. Apparently the horror of those days was to sleep lying down “like dead people.” Beside their bed, a primitive cradle.


A loom room, for weaving and spinning:264


An armory lined with mannequins modeling various styles of battle gear:268

There was supposed to be an iron chastity belt on the wall. I think this is it, although I’m not sure how it would work. Put your arms through the spouts and beat the attacker to death? I don’t know how chastity belts worked anyway; I’ll have to Google that. (You can get more pictures of this castle by Googling it, too.) Were they to prevent rape or infidelity? Maybe it depended on who made the decision to lock the lady into it while the lord was gone–and who kept the key. 269

Oh, Jerry says that isn’t it.





–A small chapel with amateur art on the walls and ceiling, really atrocious. But pious and well-meaning, I’m sure. 257









--A smithy. It was a room, more of a cave, at a curve in the covered road or path leading into the castle. It was like an attached garage, sheltered by the castle roof and under the human living quarters, but not quite in the castle itself. This was a cozy space, too. I could picture Jesus being born here.


Curiously, this part of the road was paved with slabs of slate crowded together on end, creating a very uneven and clumsy surface for hooves, carts, wagons or tourists in blue denim tennis shoes with the support of ballet slippers. It seemed to be less to facilitate their own horses getting to the blacksmith than hindering enemy horses or chariots from following them. I couldn’t help wondering if the road to the blacksmith caused sprained or broken ankles which had to be tended to by the in-house veterinarian.

–A toilet seat, overhanging the garden.

–A torture chamber, with helpful guidelines on the wall:273 Chop off leg A with ax B.


It was such a thoroughly modern, thoroughly appointed yet homey castle I couldn’t imagine the men really used those implements of torture. I think while their women cooked and loomed the lord showed fellow lords around, preening. “I know your torture chamber has stocks but do you have a rack? I have stocks and a rack, the newest model. And over here, look at these, I had to send away for them–the latest in thumb screws!”

Jerry says the torture chamber was just a man cave. I agree. Ithink it was just for show.

A gift shop.

Just the usual castle amenities.


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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Dry bones of Cologne (Day 3)

202From my journal:

We passed into Germany during dinner last night. Now we’re moored in Cologne (Koln), at the foot of a bridge which has cable cars whisking back and forth from one end of it to the other. I think they are the first cable cars I have ever seen which run horizontally, instead of diagonally to the top of a hill or mountain.

They’re very popular, apparently. Couples get married in them. One car is only big enough to hold bride, groom, and registrar/ minister and it’s such a short journey it takes trundling over and back again to get all the vows said.

The cathedral is the focal point of the town, Germany’s most visited landmark, according to

199The cathedral is famous, among other things, as the place where the three wise men’s bones are kept but our guide told us they are not on display. Jerry and I wandered up and down the long aisles and peered into the roped-off apse, looking in vain for a box or chest which might contain them.


I was even more intrigued by another part of the town where there may be human bones, although we didn’t see them there, either. Our guide was leading us single-file along a sidewalk so we wouldn’t be run over in the narrow cobbled street, explaining that to our right, across the street, was the famous shop where Eau de Cologne was birthed and is sold. But I was distracted by the fact that below the chain link fence right beside us was an extensive archeological dig. Jerry and I didn’t even cross the road to see the famous shop, but we did examine the ruins with interest. The guide told us about those, too.


They are the 700-year old remains of the town’s Jewish quarter. At the foot of long ladders the whole Jewish community was laid out, complete with walls of the synagogue, hot and cold ritual mikveh or baths, and bakery. Our guide said the heat from the bakery used to be piped across to heat the bath.

As we continued our guided walk around Cologne, always in sight of the cathedral, we kept coming upon sections of the huge dig. 177

In one section, a lone man was scraping away soil, picking out and examining and discarding or setting aside bits that made me terribly curious. He was too far from us and too deep for us to know what he was finding. Coins? Pottery shards? Jewelery? What would keep him from pocketing the most rare and valuable finds?



(See more at, including a great photo of the entire site, drawings of how the synagogue, of which 700 pieces have been recovered, would have looked; and a discussion of the controversy over the proposed museum to house the findings.)

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A fellow traveler goes deeper

Brenton Dickieson writes a blog called A Pilgrim in Narnia, “a journey through the imaginative worlds of C.S. Lewis.” Check out his post today on Belgium, “You Are Here: My First Afternoon in Leuven” at Brenton is teaching Christianity at the University of Prince Edward Island but is in Leuven to present a paper on his favorite topic.

(Note: Leuven is in Belgium, it seems. Not to be confused with Leuwen, a city in the Netherlands, as I just did until I checked the internet. Thank God for the internet, which minimizes our making fools of ourselves quite so often.)

To see what Brenton’s favorite topic is and what European countries he’ll be passing through and hopefully blogging about, read his post before this one, “Wow, What a Fall!”

We didn’t go to Belgium so you can append his post to this series on our European experience (or vice versa). His observations are more thoughtful and astute than mine but I’ll forgive him for that because he is comfortably readable and funny.

He doesn’t call it this but I like his “view from the loo.”

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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: There was an old family who lived in a mill (Still Day 2)


There was an old lady who lived in a shoe/ She had so many children she didn’t know what to do–

I didn’t know people actually live inside windmills, like inside lighthouses. There is a waiting list of families who want to move in. Jerry and I have conflicting memories as to whether they can live there free but in any case they must keep the mill working. This picture of a miller’s family of 14, probably from around the turn of the last century, was on a wall of the Kinderdijk windmill we went through.

I pointed out to the tour guide that the children were all bald and pale–iron deficiency or something, I started to suggest. But she interrupted me to point to one or two children who had hair and said the others had hair, too; it was just too light to see–

I didn’t mean to make a criticism, just an observation.





Inside the cramped space of the vertical home are more staircases, ladders, corners, tiny wedges of floor and secret passages than Anne Frank’s house. People from our bus were going upstairs here and downstairs there; we were meeting ourselves coming and going like a living illustration of a multi-dimensional Mobius strip. Gave me vertigo. 137But I climbed to the very top, where the throbbing of the giant screw and the blinding, colorfully changing lights assaulted my senses and sent me cautiously backing down again. 145






A powerfully whirling wooden shaft went all the way down through the middle of the lighthouse to a giant revolving gear.


It seemed a perilous place to raise children, like raising them in the engine room of a ship, with so many staircases to tumble down, not to mention the central shaft, and machinery to get mangled in. Outside, canals to fall into. . .

Every few seconds a sweeping blade guillotined the view:



Spare boots for other large families who may have outgrown their shoes or their windmills.

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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: The country without a golf course? (Still Day 2)


 Obligatory windmill shot–but I think I got one with a nice feel to it. 117

Our first stop, Kinderdijk (“Tiny Hamlet”), was a grassy ridge–or at least that’s all we could see of it from where the Embla was attached to it by a gangplank. Our tour guide, her “Viking lollipop” held aloft, led us the short distance up the ridge to the paved two-lane road running along its top. We were overlooking a windmill- and cow-strewn landscape. Immediately below us was a square meadow like a large bathtub lined with grass.

“This is a dike,” she said, “and that is a polder.”

The dike prevents the Rhine River on which our fluss boot rested from filling the bathtub, which is below sea level. It prevents cows, grazing in the polder, from drowning. But the dike itself is packed peat, which gets soggy and lets water seep around, under, and through. During floods, water also comes over the dike. It can all happen very suddenly and no, a finger won’t stop it. So children living near dikes and polders are all taught to swim so they won’t drown.

I knew part of The Netherlands, like our own New Orleans, is below water level. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the people living here are obsessed with water–draining it, sucking it up and redirecting it, building up and repairing things to keep it out. But I didn’t understand that windmills are not about wind as a source of electrical energy. They are a mechanical means to move water.

Kodak Europe 1168It wasn’t our tour guide’s fault. As she led us to the windmills she imparted an encyclopedic flow of information in excellent English. I listened carefully to everything she said and could have sworn I understood and retained most of it. She showed us two huge twisting screws carrying surging water upwards and a building in which a big heavy machine was doing something loud and powerful. Somehow I thought all this work had something to do with chasing water away to protect the lives of the cows that eat the grass to make the milk which becomes the cheese which is Holland’s biggest export to Germany.

“Boy,” I said to our guide privately. “Your cheese must be expensive!” She nodded, smiling.

Or was it grass itself which was their biggest export? At one time, I think I heard her say that.

Kodak Europe 1160It turned out I understood nothing. All the details, the charts and graphs and maps she pointed to, all the data she quoted, all the blocks of different kinds of wood from exotic parts of the world, which she handed around for us to heft and smooth, all the designs for windmill productivity which she described, explaining why all but one of the designs didn’t work, were for naught. At the end of her first talk I still believed windmills, like wind turbines, produced electricity.

Then we had another talk on the “Delta Works” and it turned out everything I thought I knew about the purpose for windmills and screws turned out to be wrong.

The “Delta Works” is a comprehensive set of civil works throughout the Dutch coast to raise dikes, drain lakes, closing off sea estuaries, and reduce the risk of flooding. “The Delta project,” according to Wikipedia, “is considered by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.”

Windmills and screws are both methods, one powered by wind, the other by diesel engines, to mechanically move water to higher levels and then try to prevent backflow. (Sort of like a mitral valve.) The 19 windmills in Kinderdijk carry water from the polders up to the level of the base of the screw. The screw’s torque swirls the water up to the level of the dike where it is dumped back into the ocean. Then the water leaks back through the peat dikes into the polders. It’s all a battle against time and nature–a losing battle because the race is never over, can never be won, as long as the sea level is higher, since water seeks its own level.

To me, the eighth wonder is that the Dutch go to such lengths to keep bailing out the dinghy while water is still leaking into it. There’s gotta be a simpler way. Some cultures build all their houses on stilts.

I was even wrong about the purpose of the cows and sheep grazing by the dikes. They are employed to chew down reeds so their roots (the reeds’, not the cows’) strengthen the resistance of dikes to sponginess and erosion. You evolutionists probably believe, given the need and enough time, the cows will evolve longer legs.

Good luck with that.

So now I know Holland is a county in the Netherlands, polders are fields below water level, peat extraction and turf dredging are both bad. Waterschappen (“water boards”) are councils whose job it is to fight the water level and to protect a region from floods. I’ve forgotten the difference between post-mills and tower mills but I know that “post-mill” has nothing to do with theology.

The county couldn’t possibly have a golf course, I thought. The whole thing is just one big water hazard. But, researching it when we got home, I was amazed to learn the Netherlands has nearly 180 golf courses and Holland, which seems awash, has 50.

Who knew?






Obligatory wooden shoe shot.

(My husband Jerry, who is the closest thing we have to a hydraulic engineer between us, approves this post, saying I have accurately captured the function of the Kinderdijk windmills.)

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EUROPEAN SOJOURN: Holland dawn (Day 2)

5:30 AM Back in our room. Jerry is asleep again. I am still awake, not wanting to miss anything, although I can’t feel or see it. I see only a lightening sky, still threatening rain as it was all three days of our stay in Amsterdam, except when it was actually raining. When I get out of bed and stand on tiptoe I see the tops of passing trees.

I should go back to sleep so I can be surprised by the little town with windmills when we get up. Instead, I haul over the stool and climb on it, reeling up the shade. I seem to be standing in the river as it ripples past. There is a wide window sill, big enough for my journal, so if I’m still up here when it gets light I will be able to write as I watch. And room for my phone, so I can see the time and take pictures. (That is as smart as our smart phones get in the three weeks to come, tell time and take pictures.)

1676 AM  Jerry stirs. “What’s out there?” he mumbles.

“Water,” I say. “Green banks, grass and trees. Houses. Boats.” He is asleep again.

Gray sky. Gray water. All of Holland seems to be flat and gray. I am not bored with it, though. At least not yet.

Is that a duck flying over? Its wings are working so fast.

Watersport paradise NL. That’s what the sign says but it seems to be a factory: low warehouses, silos, pallets.

Gray-green rows of spiky rushes. Behind them gray-green rows of spiky trees. But among, between them, to prevent monotony, other trees, fuller, more bushy, less uniform.

Moonen Shipyards. The O’s are interlocked, a Venn diagram. A barge, the Scarabee, is motoring past. I know our own boat looks like a barge, too. Here comes its wake. The change in our motion is almost imperceptible. Something about stabilizers, no doubt.

Come on, wake up, Jerry. I’m getting hungry. There are three breakfasts. I’ve forgotten what they are called. Early, healthy, full, maybe. [Later: cafe, continental and buffet.] I think they all start about now. We should be able to get a “cuppa” cream tea.

Are those more cows, lying down on the grassy shore? Not on the sand this time. Busy making cheese for the world, even just lying there.

Someone else is up, next door. Hangers being slid across a closet rod, zippers buzzing open garment bags.

Uneven flights of birds forming mathematical symbols: “more than,” “less than.”

DEN HARTOG: Five tanks–oil tanks?–on shore, with sheep, black, white, grazing at their bases. Strange mixture of bucolic/riparian and industrial.

Homes. Flat, modern, practical. Probably for people who work with the tanks, doing whatever DEN HARTOG does.

166Lighter clouds behind us, faith with streaks of color. Sunrise?

Cars along the shore, an occasional truck. All going faster than we are. Maybe they’re rushing ahead to crank up the quaint windmills for the tourists’ cameras.

The heavy man we met when we crept downstairs had told us we will go through 68 locks between Amsterdam and Budapest. “Between Budapest and Bucharest there are–” he looked beyond us, calculating mentally– “one.” He laughed at himself.

ALASKA. STARBROEK. Very long black barge headed in the other direction, toward the tanks. No cargo, no place for passengers. Just hoses and cables and things. And two cars. For the crew to use when they get where they’re going.

A regular noise in the room on the other side of us. Either someone is hauling in hawsers hand over hand–or snoring.

White birds. Long necks. Probably egrets but I’m watching for storks. I guess if I want a stork I should be watching for chimneys.

I’ve been washing up and dressing by fits and starts so as not to wake Jerry. Almost missed our first windmill, caught in morning light.116

A little marina–of fishing boats, I imagine. Some look like tugs.

Jerry is up, whether for good or not, I don’t know. But I seized the opportunity to go get us two cups of cafe au lait from a machine by the lounge and two of the last remaining pastries from a tray. Other people are up, too.

[I don't know it yet but not going back to bed will throw off my circadian rhythm as surely as jet lag did after flying into Amsterdam three days before. I won't catch up for days and will require daily naps.]


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First night at “sea” (Day 1)

We slipped away from Amsterdam during dinner. Sometimes when I glanced out the large window next to our table I could see a few cows lying along the shore. Some were on grass next to sandy beaches but twice I saw two small huddles of them sleeping on the sand itself.

Like sealions. Seacows. Only in Holland (or is it the Netherlands?) . . .

4 AM. When I crept from under the eiderdown to go to the miniscule bathroom only a faint, occasional tremor and the mere suggestion of the possibility of a throbbing engine betrayed the fact that our ship was moving.

I peered beneath the shade an unseen hand had pulled down over the window while we were lingering at the dinner table. There was just enough light outside to see that we were snugged up against a surface that was rough and pock-marked and that we were ghosting along it, the texture alternately visible and eclipsed by black semi-circles.

For a moment–I was asleep on my feet, so you’ll excuse my momentary idiocy–I thought, That’s the moon. How did we get within two inches of the moon?

Jerry was up now, too, standing beside me. In a quiet voice he said, “We’re in a lock.” As one, we scrambled about, pulling on clothes, yesterday’s, today’s, whatever was at hand, and carefully let ourselves out of our cabin. We ourselves ghosted down silent narrow corridors, up two stairways through the common areas, out on deck, and up another flight of stairs to the sun deck, now the star deck.

571The walls to each side of us were higher than our heads and dripping with rivulets which caught the light of lamps–and traffic lights, all green-to-go–on the dock above us. The night was still soundless except for gentle gurgles as of water finishing down a drain and there was still almost no sense of motion.

As the ship carried us forward the walls spread apart and shrank behind us. Now there were low banks to each side, the banks of Holland, with shapes of a boxy building along the shore here, a pale church steeple in the distance there. A fitful breeze, not much, not cold, played with our sleep-rumpled hair and a liquid plop drew our attention to a disruption in the otherwise smooth water which could have been a diving bird or a fish.

In the wheelhouse ahead of us two dark shapes indicated the presence of the captain and someone else steering us around curves in the bank, then under–barely under–a minor bridge. One of the shapes emerged from the wheelhouse and came aft. I moved toward the man in an anxious, conciliatory sort of way, expecting him to advise us we had trespassed into an area where only crew were permitted.

But when I said, “Good morning” to him, he grunted “Gute nacht” without looking up and trudged off watch, disappearing down the companionway.

Street light created gold foil highlights in the windows of a building in the middle distance, dancing across them, now high, now low, the windows themselves only implied. A muffled hoarse croak, oily ripples, a hint of warm air current in the cool one. A strange odor to the air, something like diesel fumes mingled with other smells I couldn’t identify–the smell of Holland. Not the fresh air I would have imagined at “sea.”

We crossed an intersection of channels. Jerry measured our speed past a green light to our port (red was to starboard, backwards perhaps because the lights were indicating stop and go rather than port and starboard) and estimated it at maybe 15 mph.

A 4:30 one of the church bells rang, loud enough to be heard–just–soft enough not to wake anyone, just reassure them in their sleep as it offered a marker to those already awake.

“Ready?” asked Jerry in an undertone.

“After this bridge.”

“Wachtplatte,” a sign had read above the lock. “Watched plattes never boil” was how I remembered it. A sign for traffic across the bridge we were slipping under now looked like it read “Vienna” with some other letter at the end–another “n”?

We crept below, greeting a heavy man with a heavy accent sitting at the reception desk folding newsletters we would all later find slipped under our stateroom doors, announcing the upcoming events of the day. We are supposed to find ourselves docked in a town with windmills when we get out of bed in the morning.


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