cruisin’ the Rhine

We left Cologne far too early, stopping at the local grocery store REWE for a quick breakfast.  The German people have been incredibly kind and accommodating everywhere we’ve gone – I’m amazed at how many of them speak English and those that don’t work with you to get it figured out for the most part.

The drive to Bacharach was gorgeous.  Already a hot morning, the sunshine lent a special kind of magic to the impossibly steep grape fields and countryside that rolls down until it bleeds into the Rhine River.

SAM_0649 SAM_0644{a peak at the Rhine below}

SAM_0643{excuse the pictures, taken from a moving car ;)}

SAM_0642IMG_0005{grape fields for days}

IMG_0006{cobblestone roads make for bumpy rides :)}

DSC_0677{entering Bacharach}

DSC_0681DSC_0678IMG_0009{original entrance to the walled city}IMG_0008IMG_0007

Upon arrival, we purchased our tickets for our 10:15 Rhine River cruise and paid 0,50 each to use the wash closet.  The boat arrived and we hustled our way up to the top deck to get seats on the edge.  It was a beautiful day in the sunshine as we cruised down the Rhine River.  We began where we were going to stay that night – in Bacharach with views of Stahleck Castle (Burg Stahleck).  The town of Bacharach was – and remains – famous for producing some of the best wine on the Rhine.  Local wine makers love to brag that the medieval Pope Pius II ordered Bacharach wine by the cart.

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One of my favorite views on the cruise was the Pfalz Castle (in the river) with the Gutenfels Castle in the background.  The Pfalz Castle was built in the 12th century and was used by the town of Kaub to tax medieval river traffic.  When boats came through, the Castle would raise its chains and refused to lower them, thus allowing the river traffic on through, until the merchant had paid Kaub a tax.  Those who didn’t pay were thrown in prison.  The Pfalz Castle is also famous for the role it played in Napoleonic history.  In 1813, as Napoleon fought his way back to Paris after his failed Russian campaign, he stropped at Mainz with the hopes of fending off the Russians and Germans chasing him by controlled that strategic bridge.  German General Gebhard von Blucher tricked Napoleon by building the first major pontoon bridge of its kind at the Pfalz Castle.  Blucher managed to cross the Rhine and outflank the French.

DSC_0692DSC_0693{pfalz castle}

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These imposing slate rocks are drenched in medieval legends and stories of warning.  Named The Lorely, this cliff of rocks rises 450 feet over the narrowest and deepest part of the Rhine.  The rocks also marked the spot of the killer reefs, nicknamed the “Seven Maidens” (the seven spoiled princesses who were turned into stone when they ran away).  The killer reefs caused many ships passing through to crash, making this slate cliff the last thing they saw on their voyage.  Sailors blamed the misfortune of the reefs on wunderbares Frulein, a siren whose long, blonde hair almost covered her body.  Legend tells the story of a count sending his men to kill the siren after she distracted his sailing son who crashed and drowned at this point of the river.  When the soldiers cornered the nymph in her cave, she called to her Father Rhine to save her.  Huge waves rose from the river and carried Lorely to safely.  She’s never been seen since.

DSC_0714{slate cliffs} DSC_0713DSC_0711DSC_0715DSC_0710{markers that line the river help us know what we are looking at}

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This is the Katz Castle.  A wealthy Japanese man purchased it in 1995 for $4 million.  He had grand plans to renovate but his plan was made incredibly difficult by the town that fought him every step of the way.  Eventually he abandoned the castle, which now sits empty, known as the Japanese Ghost Castle.  The amount of Japanese tourists that got off at this boat stop made it evident that it remains a Japanese’s tourist destination.

DSC_0719{katz castle}

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Folklore tells of these two castles that were owned by brothers – each wanting to outdo the other in an attempt to impress the fair maidens of the day (this is all stuff of fairytales, I’m telling you!).  In an effort to dampen the hostility, the brothers built a wall between their castles.  Apparently, it didn’t work as the tale continues to tell of how they killed each other at church one day…

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Some of our fellow passengers were obviously in the midst of a stag party, thoroughly enjoying themselves even though it was 11:00 in the morning!  I wish I spoke German because I’m certain they were hilarious.  However, I have my own entertainment 🙂

DSC_0728{clearly the groom, he was offering to take pictures with everyone in many different languages.  Cameron took him up on it :)}

The passengers that were sitting next to us were taking turns taking partial family pictures so I asked the daughter if she spoke English.  She did so I offered to take their picture as a family and her boyfriend told me that they lived in Germany but his girlfriend’s parents were visiting from Portugal.  He said he loved to talk to a real American as many Germans love to speak English but often only have other German native speakers to talk to so they never know if their English is really that good.  When I told him we were from Seattle he replied “oh yes! Kurt Cobain!”.  Good to know what we are really famous for. 🙂

IMG_0013{our 8 euro bottle of water…WHY is water so expensive here??!  Even at grocery stores it is incredibly difficult to find still, non fortified bottles of water}

As we went to disembark the ship we discovered a Subway on the bottom deck – as we had all been hungry on the top deck!  {Tip for any future Rhine River Cruisers!}  We walked into Brubach and stopped by the visitor’s center for a German restaurant recommendation.  We trekked up the hill to a wonderful lunch on the front patio (really the street…) where Cameron, Dad, and I had schnitzel again (Cameron mushroom, Dad fried egg, I plain) and Mom had a turkey steak.  It’s been a pleasant surprise to find most restaurants have English menus available once they figure out we are American.  At lunch, I had a question about one of the menu items and our waitress didn’t speak much English, however, the patron next to us quickly jumped in and offered help – he works for an international company and said that he was always grateful for a chance to practice his English.  Cameron, however, has been our savior throughout the trip.  He insists his two years of high school German don’t mean much but he knows how to say nearly everything we ask and can decipher menu items, signs, etc.  He’s amazing!!!

DSC_0742{the boys non-alcohol beer = result of language barriers! 🙂 dad asked for a “local beer” which we figured out sounded like “low-alcohol” or “no-alcohol” to our witness who didn’t speak much English.  Cameron figured out how to say local beer in German and their next meal they did much better}

We finished up our meal and headed back toward the water to catch the train north for a quick jaunt into Koblenz (for free, after trying to figure out how to pay…and failing).

DSC_0696DSC_0743{we sleepy kids}

The Koblenz station was bustling and we purchased tickets back south into Bacharach.  37 minute train ride later we arrived, collected the car, and went up to our hotel for the night, a.k.a. the castle on the top of the hill!  A youth hostel, we had a private room that was incredibly reminiscent of that darn dorm room I once lived in.

DSC_0748{views from the castle wall}

DSC_0750{entering the hotel}DSC_0752DSC_0758DSC_0759DSC_0761DSC_0751

We hooked up to Wi-Fi and got everything set up because tonight was THE NIGHT!  After three longggg weeks we finally got to talk to Justin!!!!  He left the Air Force Academy on Doolie Day Out where he got to go to his baseball coaches house to spend the day resting, calling family, and enjoying a MUCH deserved break from Basic.  It was the best part of the day to talk to him over Skype (international rate = nicht gut) for a few hours.

After he wanted to go take a nap, we left our castle perch and went back down into Bacharach for dinner at a Greek restaurant (none of us are very decisive so it was the first parking space we saw).  The food was okay but the owner was a hoot.  Finishing off the night with some Rick Steve’s recommended gelato we went back to the hostel and crashed until we got to spend a few more hours on the phone with Justin around 1:00 am.  Back to sleep in our stuffy, hot room and to begin on the fairytale tour the next day!  We have such an amazing travel agent taking us around – everything meticulously planned and wonderful!!  All we have to do is follow along, eat, drink, and see the sights!

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And onward bound!

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