For two days we spend time with Susanne and her family and check out the Rhine region. Our original plan was to cruise up and down the Rhine looking at medieval towns and castles. That plan changes after our first day and we end up spending more time on the Mosel and on the Reif farm.
After exiting the train in Bacharach, Jan fires up google and we head into town. It is not a long walk because it is not a big town. Bacharach has been around since the 11th century and a town since 1356. You got that right….1356. Which, if I do my math correctly, is a long damn time ago. There is the Werner chapel (old), ruins from fortifications (old), houses in town (old) and the people (mostly old).
We are staying at the Rhine hotel which is probably the name of about 1,000 hotels along this river, but this one is ours. Check in is easy, we have a room on the ground floor and our bathroom buts up against the train tracks, but the good thing about houses made 500 years ago? Thick walls. No idea there is a train there. We unpack (because that is what Jan does at every place we stay longer than a night) and then head out the door. We are meeting Suzanne and she is circling a parking lot looking for someplace to park.
A friendly reminder that part of this trip is going to visit some of the young women who lived with us (a year at a time) and helped take care of AJ while Jan and I were working entirely too hard. First up is Suzanne, who was the last of the seven. Her parents live just west of Koblenz and we figured that Bacharach was a good spot to see the Rhine and be close enough to get together with Susanne if she had time. She is a student and since it is the weekend (and since she begged for time off), she has time! For the first time on this trip we will have a translator for us! I mean, other than Jan, of course.
Our original plan was to hang around Bacharach, explore the town, take a boat up (or down, or both) the Rhine river stopping to see some of the small towns and castles along the way. Explore Bacharach, it turns out, isn’t going to take too long. It is a small town, confined on one side by the Rhine river, and on the other by the steep hills with grapes terraced to the top. The North/South axis of town is defined by the ruins of the old town walls. Streets are all stone and narrow, leaving enough room for a car and maybe a person to walk. We link up with Susanne at 1pm and found a small cafe in which to eat some lunch and catch up. Then we decide to hike along the old walls that surround the town which involve a significant amount of up (and then down) on the steep hills, accompanied by a fair amount of feedback from AJ on the steepness of the hills. At the top is the old castle, now a hostel and there is a sign that says the place is closed due to a party. But, we have a translator today and Susanne stops a random man, hammers away in Deutsche, and finds that though the castle is closed, there is a lookout above the castle that is open and he proceeds to take us up to the top. Great views, oooh and aahs all around.
Then down the hill to Susanne’s car and we head north along the Rhine towards Koblenz. This is the slow way to get to her parents house (where we are going to eat dinner with her family), but gives us the chance to see the river and scream ‘CASTLE’ every five minutes as ruins from old or still functioning castles pop up on the ridge line above the river. Koblenz is a city that sits between the Rhine and the Mosel rivers and when we arrive, we take a left and head up the Mosel; less castles but more to see on the river itself. The Rhine river current rips north and the it is filled mostly with barges and boats carrying passengers (day trip or bigger boats that do overnight trips, like Viking River Cruises). The Mosel doesn’t appear to have that much of a current and there are more pleasure craft…small sailboats, powerboats pulling water skiers and tubers, bigger trawlers that look like they are doing the German version of the Great Loop, and kayakers paddling right in the middle of the channel to keep everyone on their toes. Oh yeah…and the occasional barge. But not many. The Mosel also has hills covered in grapes and castles; it is gorgeous.
We head west out of Koblenz until we get off the road in Kobern-Gondorf where we stop to pick up some bread for dinner. Unfortunately the bread isn’t done yet, which is good for us–we get a chance to explore the town. Two blocks from the store is a small walk-platz where the town has their annual wine-festival. At 5:30pm it is a bit early for the hooplah to get into full swing, but there are people making an early start. A castle overlooks the town, which is not unusual. More unusual is the castle that spans the highway–that is pretty cool. As we explore town, rain descends upon us and we haul back to the store, get the bread and then are in the car and heading up to Deblich, Susannes home town.
Deblich is a town of about 1,000 people that sits on the hills to the south of the Mosel. As you crest the hill with the river valley behind you, the land opens up into great fields spread as far as the eye can see. Reminds me a lot of the farmlands in southern Minnesota. Susannes dad and mom, Edmund and Andrea, are farmers who work the land just outside of town. Unlike the United States where we live at our fields (so farms are spread out great distances from each other), in Germany the farmers live together in town and then head out to their fields in the morning, returning to their house at night. Their house is both the living space as well as the buildings and space for their equipment. It is huge.
We arrive at 6:30, meet Susanne, her parents and her brother Michael; her sister Theresa, who stayed with us for a couple days when she visited the states, is at work and will be back at 8pm and expects to play “Ticket to Ride” with us when she gets home. Everyone is just finishing cleaning up from the day. It is cherry (kirchen, if you are learning the Deutsche like we are) season and they get up early and are in the fields at 6am every day and pick cherries by hand all day until 4-5pm. Then they take the cherries to market, come back home, do paperwork and get to sleep sometime close to midnight. I asked them when they sleep, and they replied ‘winter.’ Cherry season is about 6 weeks (depending on weather; it is farming after all), then comes potatoes. Plums. Wheat. Etc. It turns out that farmers are really jammed in the summer, but they are taking time to have dinner with us which is incredibly generous. I’m going to try not to make an ass out of myself. Chances are small that I will be successful.
Susanne is now the translator; her brother speaks excellent English, her mother and father understand English but have a harder time speaking, and we are next to (like right next to, as in wedged int0) useless in German, but we manage to make it just fine. Susanne’s aunt arrives soon after we do–she lives in the next house and comes bearing white wine and dessert.
Michael (Susanne’s brother) mans the grill and makes curry chicken, pork steaks and sausage, while inside the table is set with potato and pasta salad, two types of bread as well as red pepper and corn salad. It is an excellent dinner–the best we have had on the trip. We eat until after 8pm when the dessert is broken out. It is fruit on top of something white. There was a lot of googling going on over what it was called and the translation; near as we can figure, the white stuff was some sort of mixture of cream, soft cheese and a bit of sugar. It was fantastic. I had two(ish) plates and hope no one was counting.
While we were eating and after dinner there we talked about our plans for the next day and our sightseeing. Eddie offered to let AJ stay the night and then take him out to the fields for a day of work picking cherries. I was in but AJ vetoed that arrangement. We told them of our original plan which was to spend the day on a boat going up and down the Rhine River and stopping to see towns along the way. We got the frowny face on some of our selections, and got of other options. After a short discussion (we saw the Rhine on the drive up), we decided to call an audible for tomorrow and head to Burg Eltz, a castle close to us here, and leave the Rhine behind.
Susannes sister returned and by 8:30 we had broken out the “Ticket to Ride” game for a Donnelly vs. Reif battle Royale. On the Donnelly side was myself, Jan and AJ and on the Reif side was Susanne and Theresa. But really it came down to Jan and Theresa with Theresa beating the snot out of all of us. It was a hoot. Game complete, hugs all around, Susanne takes us 45 minutes (one way) back to Bacharach where we collapse into bed.
The next day we weren’t making Susanne drive 45 minutes each way to get us; we would take a train to Koblenz Hbf which is 20 minutes from her house. We booked at 1030 train which meant we could sleep in until 9:00, which is exactly what we did–we were all whupped. Showers and head upstairs for a nice breakfast of fresh fruit jam, bread/meat/cheese and a big old pot of coffee and we are set for the day. Five minute walk to the train station and we are off. 40 minutes we are Koblenz, Jan and AJ walk right past Suzanne (they were, as we say, “In the zone”), but we manage to get all the duckies in a row, out the station, into the car and heading down the road.
The plan, concocted while AJ wasn’t listening, was to drive to a small town called Wierschem which is just outside of Burg Eltz and hike about 5km to the castle which is nestled in a valley. Which is weird, right? Normally the castles are on the high ground to make it hard for the invading hordes to breach the walls, but the castle was built astride a river on a major trade route between the Mosel valley and the Eiffel region. This location allowed the owners to charge a ‘customs fee’ or a ‘tax,’ which are two fancy words for extortion. Thus, in a valley. The castle has been around in some form or fashion since 1157, which makes it really old. Three families lived in the castle, two have departed and we can tour their parts of the castle, the third family still lives in the castle and that is pretty darn cool.
But we learn all that after we do our 5km hike. Which is (if you are not a 14 year old) very enjoyable. This trail, according to Susanne, won the ‘best trail’ award a couple of years ago (best of what we don’t know) and we can see why. The trail is well maintained, marked, and goes through wheat fields, into a forest, up some hills and then down into the valley in which sits the castle. We arrive, buy tickets and wait 10 minutes for the English tour of the castle. 35 of us tromp through the two living areas and 40 minutes later are back out in the sunlight for the 2km trip back (uphill) to the car.
It is 3pm and we have a 4pm train from Koblenz. Susanne takes us back, but we have a short visit to the cherry trees. Her family and their workers are all in the fields pushing to finish by 4pm so they can get the cherries to market. We invade the work and Susanne gives us a short tour of the fields. We learn about picking cherries (have to get the stems), the harvest and the market; then immediately eat some cherries and then get a ‘to-go’ box to take home with us.
Then back to the train station and we head to Bacharach in time to catch the US women win the FIFA soccer world cup! WOOOOOO!