The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris
This was the best walkabout yet! As you may recall, BJ and I have tried foreign walking-trips on three previous occasions, all in Ireland. The first trip had us "Lost in the Burren", the second had us doing a "Limerick to Dublin near-Death March" and the third one, (the only "successful" one) went without a hitch. Well let me tell you. As much as I enjoy walking about in Ireland, walking about in Germany, at least where we were is just as pretty, and certainly simpler to "get right". Perhaps it was the planning. Perhaps it was the location. Most likely, it was the company. This time we traveled with friends (they must be friends, because they were willing to try a German walkabout, after hearing about our first three tries). Mister H and Mizz N, longtime nonrev buds, walked with us.
Our trip started with Business Elite seats for Mizz N, BJ and I on Friday, the 23rd of March. Mister H, who was already in Frankfurt, on business, met us as we arrived Saturday morning. A quick walk down to the Frankfurt Airport train station had us on a 1-transfer train to the town of Bacharach, on the Rhine, around noon. (Note: on weekends, up to 5 people can travel together for the same price as one!!) Our trip was loosely based on a biking trip referenced in the book, Rick Steves' Germany, Austria & Switzerland Rick describes biking along the Rhine, from north to south, and mentions many interesting sights along the way. We chose to reverse the direction, moving south to north, in order to follow the "fall" of the river... I'd rather walk "downhill" than "uphill". (Actually, there was only about a 5 meter drop in height along the entire 45 kilometer walk downhill was all in my mind.) Since the three of us had flown all night, and Mister H had started work Saturday morning at 0500, in order to be done when we arrived, we elected to call it an early day and find a place to stay in Bacharach. Our first stop was for lunch at a small café in Bacharach (since March is not high season along the Rhine, the selection of open restaurants and hotels was slightly limited.
Our overnight towns, however, are sufficiently tourism-oriented that we never had a problem finding a place to eat, drink or sleep). After a beer or two, and some wonderful "goullaschesuppe" (think Hungarian goulash without the noodles), we searched out our first night's hotel. By the way, we also learned that, in Germany, "Malzbeer" is NOT a "malty flavored beer", as expected, but is an alcohol-free beer, served to children. This was learned the hard way. We checked into a small, centrally located hotel (whose name escapes me... it was okay, but not memorable) dropped our packs, requested breakfast at 9am, and checked out the sights in town.
After a bit of wandering, we settled into a beer hall (Das Wolffhule... or some such) for beer, dinner and the chance to watch Germany play somebody in a soccer match, that had the "locals" pretty excited... especially when Germany came from behind to win 2-1.
Back to the hotel, to bed early, since "tomorrow" was going to be our first walking day.
Sunday morning broke overcast, spitting rain, with the temperature in the low 50's... perfect walking weather. After a traditional breakfast of (in this case, and only this case, warm) rolls, butter, cheese, meats, juice and coffee, we started north towards our Sunday destination, St. Goar. In case I haven't mentioned it before, we learned that the Rhine floods almost every March.
This is a result of rain down south, mixed with snowmelt in Switzerland. In years when it rains a lot, and its particularly warm, the river overflows its banks by a good bit. That would describe this year. According to our guide, (Rick Steves), there is a bike path almost the entire way from Bacharach to Koblenz (our ultimate destination). While we did get to walk on the path most of the way, there were places where it was underwater, forcing us to move up onto the roadway.
It was incredible watching the fast moving river flowing right up to the edge of the roadway, or train tracks. Even the channel markers in the river were almost underwater. (Actung! Hochwasser!). Additionally, as a result of the flow, the ferries that cross the Rhine every 10 or 15 kilometers, were shut down, making our decision to start on the west bank a fortunate one. Anyway, striking northwards at 10am, we reached Oberwessel at 12:15 and stopped for some refreshment (both clocks in Oberwessel said 1:15, but machts nichts.)
Continuing our walk after an hours break had us walking past the Killer Reefs, marked by the Seven Maidens, just above the famous Loreley (a rocky cliff) the fastest, deepest and narrowest part of the Rhine the Loreley is noted for its numerous shipwrecks along this part of the river.
Around 3:00pm, at the southern edge of St. Goar, we stopped at a lovely roadside café, with a view of the Loreley for some additional refreshments and a late lunch. The look on our young waitresses face was, interesting, to say the least, when one of our group inquired Du bis goullaschesuppe?, hoping to repeat yesterdays lunch treat. What was intended was Haben sie goullaschesuppe?, meaning, Do you have goulash soup?. What was actually said was You are goulash soup. Understand her confusion.
Reaching St. Goar proper, we checked into the lovely, and this year, waterfront (it isnt always) Hotel Am Markt (one of Ricks recommendations), again requested breakfast at 9am, dropped our bags and headed for the famous castle Berg Rheinfels. With some of the roads blocked, and us on foot, we managed to get to a point about 150 meters directly below the castle, which was just above us.
To walk on the roads would have taken too long, since we understood that the castle closes at 6pm, and doesnt let anyone in after 5pm, so straight up the side of the mountain, climbing up slippery slopes and over a 5-foot stone wall.
We arrived at the entrance at exactly 5pm, only to have the proprietor lock the door as we walked up. A small disappointment, but one that was alleviated by refreshments back at the hotel about 45 minutes later (we took the road this time ).
Before we left the Am Markt, we asked what their hours of operation were, since we planned to eat dinner there. They advised that they were open for dinner until 9pm. Since it was now almost 6pm, we decided to go ahead and stay in, eat dinner, enjoy refreshments (thats a polite way of saying beer) and sample some German red wine. Note: the Germans are not particularly famous for their red wine and for good reason. The whites are wonderful the reds not so wonderful. We checked our watches as the manager advised that our waiter was heading home (right at 8pm), paid our tab, then held down the table until it was obvious that the hotel/restaurant wanted to get the doors locked right on the dot at 9pm, ordered one last round of refreshments to take upstairs, and headed off to our rooms, and soon, to bed.
Monday morning, up at 8am, and ready for breakfast at 9 .funny, the clock in the lobby said 10, but we knew it was 9. A second traditional breakfast (this time the rolls were cold), followed by checkout. As we were about to leave, after seeing yet another wrong clock, we finally asked and you guessed it Saturday night was their Spring forward time change. For the two previous breakfasts, and last nights dinner, we had been an hour late starting, and finishing, and now we were already an hour behind, since it was really 11am, not 10, as we had thought. On the road, not raining today, but a little cooler, we enjoyed our stroll along the Rhine.
Reaching the 4-pub town of Hirzenbach around 12:30, we were saddened to discover all 4 pubs closed. We continued our walk beneath acre after acre of vineyards, to the next town (Bad-something) where we discovered all of THEIR pubs closed as well, until around 4pm. At a stop at a small market (for canned refreshment to go), we learned that Monday-day is the traditional afternoon-off for most pub owners, who will open in the evening. Live and learn. We made our Monday destination of Boppard around 4pm, toured the town, checked into another lovely now-waterfront hotel (Hotel Rebstock) and enjoyed the sights of the town.
Monday evening we hooked up with one of Mister H and Mizz Ns German friends, Stephan (from previous trips) and enjoyed dinner at the Café Kolsch Pinte.
Tuesday morning, after a third traditional German breakfast (this time actually AT 9am), we started the final leg of our walk, towards Koblenz, about 20 kilometers away.
Noon brought us into Spay, for you guessed it, refreshments, then onward.
The beautiful town of Bad Salzig was next, where, midway through town, several of the hikers (the ones who dont like tree side stops) announced that they wouldnt mind stopping at a pub, for, uh relief. Unfortunately, by this time, we were almost out of Bad Salzig (without even stopping for a beer!) and never passed another open establishment.
About 2 kilometers further, we encountered an open Imbiss (think generic fast food truck stop, in miniature) where we were all able to find relief. While we were loading up for the last 7 kilometers of todays walk, a bus marked Koblenz pulled up to the Imbiss. Not one to ignore what was obviously a karmic-action, we elected to spend the best 3.3 Marks (about $1.75) each, and ride into Koblenz, having already done 13Km today. We stopped at the Tourist Information Center in Koblenz, located a nearby hotel (Hotel National very nice, and convenient to the train station), booked seats on Wednesdays direct train back to Frankfurt airport, then found a place to kill some time (refreshments) while we waited to hook up with several more of their German friends, Thomas and Connie, and their son Zeeman (Simon).
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant around the corner from our hotel (whose name now escapes me sorry, it was worth remembering), where 6 adults and 1 child had dinner, and 4 carafes of wine, for 200 Marks under $100.
Back to the hotel and to bed around midnight, since we had a 7:45am train to catch tomorrow.
Wednesday morning, up on time, had us back at the station in time to catch our train, which had us back at the airport in plenty of time for our return flight to Atlanta. Another nice Delta Business Elite flight had us home on time at 3pm. The perfect end to a wonderful trip.
Things to do different? Not much. I still carry too much in my pack. Next time, there will be one less shirt, and one less pair of pants and fewer toiletries. BJs CD player with MP3 CDs was great for her (she likes music to keep her pace up), but not so hot for us next time, well take small external speakers, in addition to the headphones, so we can ALL share the music. Next time .since the outbreak of Hoof and Mouth disease is probably going to make us hold off on the England walkabout that we have tentatively planned, we are thinking walking or biking along the Mosel, similar to this trip, but with new scenery. More on that later!
BJ and Tony Morris