St. Goar, the Rhine, and Bacharach
(First note: I have had a devil of a time getting all of the technologies to talk to each other so I can do this blog AND have photos. I think I have it figured out, finally, but now I have over 650 photos to sort through, in addition to being busy with school and exploring, etc. I've learned from scrapbooking that it's best to pick up where you are and go backward in your spare time, so that's what I will do here. It may make for a confusing order of journal entries, but hopefully the titles will help. [Unfortunately, this software doesn't let me manipulate the order of the posts.]
Second note: The complete photo collection can be found at https://www.flickr.com/gp/43163337@N02/X986WR. I am adding photos as I have time to go through them and delete the duplicates [just one of the technological difficulties I've been having]. I am also adding commentary, some quite detailed, although this may or may not be completed at the time I put the photos to "public." In other words, if this sort of thing interests you, you might want to keep checking back. :D)
The "Romantic Rhine"
On a train at 6am!
Arrived in St. Goar at 8:30am and stopped for a macchiato and apple struesel at the St. Goar Cafe. It is a small shop, one of the few that are open at that hour.
I sat inside (too chilly to be outside yet, at least for me), looked around, and watched the people come and go. The other patrons were clearly locals, probably on their way to opening their own shops. The shopkeeper greeted everyone and they greeted him with obvious familiarity. He hadn't charged me at the time of purchase, nor when he brought the food, and I ended up waiting a while. I looked around at the items for sale; in addition to pastries, the shop sold local country-style foods--jams, jellies, and the like.
The shopkeeper reappeared from the back, followed by an older woman who shared his burden of a large wooden paddle laden with freshly baked bread. Together, they began to load the loaves onto the racks behind the counter. I assumed her to be his mother, and instantly I had their whole story--how he'd managed to convince her that her breads, desserts, and pastries, although beloved within their family, would be a fabulous commodity to sell to the ever-growing number of tourists that come through every summer. She was reluctant, I think, only relenting after her son agreed to handle all business and customer interactions, leaving baking as her sole responsibility.
I paid for my food and strolled down the cobblestone pedestrian street, watching as merchants set up their wares and restaurateurs their bistro tables and chairs. (It doesn't look like a pedestrian street at this hour!)
When I found the stein merchant mentioned in my guidebook, I turned left (making a mental note that the classmate whose birthday it was had mentioned she'd wanted a German stein) and began the somewhat arduous hike up to Schloss Rheinfels. It meanders first between railroad tracks and residences until the street ends at a youth hostel.
At the youth hostel, there is a forest trail, wandering back and forth but ever upwards until ending near a vineyard that abuts the castle. At this point, I've climbed about 400 feet.
The trail ends at a narrow, winding street that takes you to the castle entrance. Walking along this street was a bit scary; there isn't much of a sidewalk, and the turns are hairpin enough to require the use of mirrors.
At the entrance, I used the cleverly-decorated WC before buying my ticket. It was all done in dark timber, with wrought-iron signs indicating male, female, and wheelchair-accessible doors. The toilet had a wrought-iron pull-flush (I took a photo), a wrought-iron water pump for hand-washing, and a wrought-iron wheel that brought a rush of warm air through an old-looking pipe for drying. It was cool.
For a mere five euros, Schloss Rheinfels allows folks to wander almost everywhere. You're handed a map with somewhat useful English descriptions, but I found my Rick Steves guidebook to be infinitely more informative. I visited the medieval dungeon, slaughterhouse, wells, batteries, stables, brewery, and "minutemen holes" where soldiers lived just a few feet from their designated arrow slit. Most of the castle is in ruins, but there is plenty to see, from ditches to direct the flow of water/blood/pitch to a wine cellar, still in use today.
"Minuteman" quarters on the left, his workplace on the right. Not much of a commute.
Not much of a home, either. This is the minuteman quarters, really just a hole in the ground, even if furnished.
Location where a certain guild held its ceremonies. I don't recall its exact name or function, but it had something to do with the last name Hansen. The guild still exists today and holds functions here, although it's more of a social club now.
Stockade next to a pile of stone "cannon" balls. They reused these over and over, retrieving them from the fields after a battle.
A view of the grounds. There is a huge network of tunnels far below these areas. Castle defenders filled the tunnels with explosives, and if a siege was laid... BOOM!
Dungeon. As many as fifteen men lived here at once. The castle wasn't allowed to execute people, and most prisoners died pretty quickly. The two men that survived the longest (2.5 years) died three weeks later of overindulgence.
Slaughterhouse. Note the drain.
I had intended to explore the tunnels, but did not. One reason was that I had forgotten how to use the flashlight function on my fancy new iPhone; another was the realization that going downhill and all the way underground would require coming all the way back up. I hadn't fully recovered from climbing 33 flights of steps two days prior, and after the morning's hike, I didn't want to risk being immobilized for the rest of the day.
Lastly, I visited the museum. It's in the only part of the castle that has been fully restored.
I think it's AMAZING that you can actually purchase something like this (the second paragraph is in English).
Finally, I headed back down to the town. Passing a long line of schoolchildren on the tiny sidewalk of the hairpin road was scary, but the rest of the walk was very peaceful. I had an encounter with a forest animal--a vole, I think--that sat and stared at me for a long while before finally scurrying about his business.
I stopped at the stein merchant to pick up a birthday gift for Traci. I expected kitsch and found craft; to my untrained eye, this merchant is a connoisseur. Steins fill the place from bottom to top, each lovingly labeled with the year/location/occasion for which it was made, as appropriate. I immediately felt awed and intimidated, especially when I saw the prices! Sorry Traci, I thought, no birthday gift from here. Then my eye was caught by a beautiful display of drinking horns. Some were polished wood and old-looking and some were of modern glasswork in various colors, but all of them were stunning. One was priced at 3,500 euros! I was afraid to look at them too closely for fear of damaging them ("We break, we cry; you break, you buy!" the sign said), so I took out my camera. "No photos!" the man said. I apologized, purchased a stein magnet for Traci, and left.
A short time later, I was on the Goethe, churning our way up the Rhine. The Goethe is a paddle steamer ship, built in 1913 and still resplendent. I built my itinerary around this particular sailing, partly because paddle boats are cool and partly because this is a German Literature course, after all, and we did read some Goethe.
From various positions on her decks, I watched the famous scenes of the Rhine slide by: the Lorelei statue and the cliff which spawned the legend; the former tollbooth/customs tower on an island in the middle of the river; and, of course, the castles. Dozens of them, it seemed. They kept popping into views as we rounded hilltops to discover new valleys (most castles aren't built on hills; the idea is to hide from view, not entice invaders). They were red, brown, white, tall, stout, majestic, modest, pointy, and round. I finally stopped trying to take pictures of them all.
At first, I sat near some German ladies who didn't seem interested in chatting. There was an odd moment when a large group of young Chinese folks began singing. I looked up and saw that they were holding sheet music, and singing, in English, "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You." I thought it was an odd choice for celebrating the beauty of the Rhine, but maybe they were a choir getting in some rehearsal time? Then they settled into a low "oooo-oooo-oooo" and I realized that something else was going on--a proposal! And an acceptance! I got some of it on video, but it's hard to see the couple through the crowd.
After an hour or so, I disembarked in Bacharach. There's a lovely park right on the waterfront, built over a landfill to keep the Rhine from constantly flooding the town. I took several photos of a memorial there--its neglect was disturbing, particularly in a country where most things are cared for with efficiency.
Bacharach, or "altar to Bacchus," earned its name by being the place where various wine-producers in the area (there are TONS of them) brought their wines to be shipped along the Rhine. Almost the entire town is decorated in grapevines! They grow along the walls, jumping from one building to the next and making everything look cool and green and inviting. I took photos of buildings (primarily doors!) and people and interesting signs.
Lookout towers once encircled the town, and I climbed another large hill to one of the few towers still stands (my blisters didn't allow me to climb the actual tower). I contemplated what it must have felt like to stand here as ruler, watching the busy docks below and feel responsible for their very lives. Maybe that's not how it really was, but that is how I would have felt.
The day ended with a long train ride home, the highlight of which was examining the contents of a railroad station vending machine. The most notable item in there: vacuum-packed french fries... with ketchup??