Bacharach, the Rhine and the Mosel

Monday: Arrive from Rothenburg

The drive from Rothenburg, mostly on the autobahn, wasn’t very interesting. Some nice vistas of bright yellow fields of rape seed (the source of canola oil), but many trucks to contend with on the highway and rain for the second half of the trip. When we got to Bacharach, it was much cooler–in the low 50’s. We checked in at Hotel Kranenturm, our base for the next few days and headed out to explore the town, or at least find dinner. We finally ended up a a Greek restaurant called Zeus. As we sat down, Anne said, “Is that Boy George on the radio?” The couple next to us, who turned out to be from Philadelphia said, “Yeah, we just heard Duran Duran a minute ago.” It turned out that for some reason eighties music seemed to play in every restaurant we visited in the Rhine valley.

The food was fine, but probably more than we needed, especially since Anne was feeling a bit under the weather. We made an early night of it.

Tuesday: The Rhine

Another good breakfast and the day dawned sunny and cool, with a north wind. We crossed the street in front of our hotel to the Rhine waterfront, where we bought a ticket for the river ferry. We chose a round trip to Sankt Goar, just a few miles north (down river). It would be about a 40 minute trip there, then we could spend a couple of hours and catch a ferry back. The return trip was an hour and 15 minutes against the current, which was substantial.

This stretch of the Rhine is marked by castles every mile or so. Back in the Middle Ages, the business model for a feudal lord in this area was:

  1. Build a castle along the Rhine.
  2. Collect tolls from boats heading up and down the river.
  3. Profit!

Since there are lots of likely castle spots in this stretch, there ended up being lots of castles. It’s hard to believe that river trade could still be profitable, given that they had to pay tolls every kilometer or two, but when you consider what the alternatives must have been (pack trains over terrible roads, being beset by highwaymen) I guess they made it work.

The ferry made a couple of stops at villages on both sides of the river between Bacharach and Sankt Goar. Each one had it’s castle, usually on a hill overlooking the river, but Kaub was unique with Pfahls Castle looking like a ship, perched on an island in the river. They used to stretch chains across the river to catch toll-evaders. Some of the villages still had their walls more-or-less intact. They were relatively low on the river side, which was presumably easier to defend–no siege engines and masses of archers out there.

The boat ride was cold. I ignored my number one rule of boats–that it’s always colder than you think on the water–and paid the price. The north wind was blowing in our faces, and we wanted to stay on deck to see the sights, so we just tried to stay out of the worst of it. Just before we got to St. Goar was the famous Loreley. It’s a big cliff at a particularly treacherous part of the river. Evidently a lot of captains, having lost their ships on the shoals nearby, blamed the wreck on Lorelay, a alluring mermaid who enticed sailors onto the rocks.

Things were pretty quiet in St. Goar, as indeed they were in every town we visited in this area. It was definitely still off-season. It’s obvious that this is a big tourist area with lots of hotels, guest houses, souvenir shops and restaurants, but many were closed, and those that were open didn’t have many customers. After strolling around the town, and concluding that we didn’t want to climb up to the geocache at the castle, we found a bakery and had nice sandwiches and a beer for lunch, then we found a bench in the sun on the riverfront to wait for the boat.

We wimped out on the trip back, staying in the lounge and having coffee and dessert while cruising bach to Bacharach. There we took the car up to the castle, now a youth hostel, and Anne found a geocache nearby. Bacharach didn’t look much more lively this afternoon then it had been last night. We ate dinner at the hotel. I had sauerbraten and Anne had fried trout.

Wednesday: Burg Eltz and the Mosel

After breakfast, we picked up a box lunch from our innkeeper, Frau Lee. Then we headed to Burg Eltz, one of the best preserved castles in Germany. The hour-and-a-quarter driver included switchbacks up out of the Rhine Gorge, a short stretch on the autobahn, then more switchbacks down to the Mosel, and a ride back up in the hills on the other side to the castle. Our plan was to meet old family friend Mee’Sha and his mother and do a little walking as well as visiting the castle. We arrived at our agreed meeting place just five minutes before Mee’Sha and his mother, Brunhilde, pulled in.

We hadn’t seen him since 1999, nor had we met his mother before. We had a great time walking the short trail to the castle while catching up on things. Mee’Sha’s mom was interested to hear how my parents were doing, since she had met them on their trips to Germany in 1997 and 1999. They still speak fondly of the those visits.

Just off the trail we were on was the oldest geocache in Germany. So Anne explained geocaching with Mee’Sha translating the finer details. When we got to the location and started to look, Mee’Sha was the one who found it!

Brunhilde is very interested in wild flowers and other plants and explained them to us as we walked. We stopped for pictures at the first castle overlook. At the castle, Anne and I took the tour while Mee’Sha and Brunhilde sat in the sun and had cappuccino and a pastry. The castle was only captured once, in the 17th century, and is still owned by the Eltz family, one of the three families that originally built it. There are a lot of artifacts and art dating back centuries in the castle.

They offered tours in German and English, and of the 15 or so people on our tour, I’d guess that there were only one or two couples besides us that were native English speakers. The rest were from other European countries or Japan. English seems to have become the universal second language in the EU and probably elsewhere. So if you’re an Italian visiting a castle in Germany, knowing English is the way you can get a guided tour you can understand. Of course learning German would work too–but only in Germany. English seems to serve that role everywhere.

After Mee’Sha and Brunhilde headed home, Anne and I drove back down to the Mosel and ate our box lunch at a picnic table near the river. We drove a bit further west, but decided to head back before we got to Cochem, our original destination. We crossed the river and followed the south bank most of the way to Koblenz, the city at the junction of the Mosel and Rhine. We picked up the autobahn for an exit or two then took the exit for Boppard. We were far above the Rhine and as we started down we saw an observation tower and scenic overlook with parking. So we stopped and hiked a short trail up to the observation tower. The tower offered terrific views of the Rhine valley and Anne was psyched that there were two geocaches in the area and that she found both of them!

Back in Bacharach, we wandered up to the ruined medieval chapel near the center of town, then found a nice dinner at the J├Ągerstube, a restaurant near our hotel.

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