The Rhine Valley, Germany
We tackled the valley from North to South, starting in the forgettable Koblenz with a bearing for Schloss Stolzenfels. On our stroll up the hill, we passed under an arched bridge in an emerald green forest - a beautiful start to our trip down the Rhine river.
The Schloss in question was a mish-mash of styles, as future Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV rebuilt it as his summer house in the early 1800s (it was ruined by French king Louis XIV when he rampaged through much of Northern Europe - we keep encountering places destroyed by him and I wholeheartedly believe him to be a total dick).
Next along the river was Boppard, a quaint town surrounded by Riesling vineyards. I sampled the local wine Bopparder Hamm, which does not actually contain any pork products. Both the halbtrocken (which may mean 'half dry') and another type of the Riesling of which I have no idea the translation were flavoursome and light. For our lunch sandwiches we bought a roggenbrot bread which turned out to be the most delicious I have thus tried, as well as cheeses from a market stall in the square.
The town itself contained several interesting half-timbered buildings as well as a dual-towered church and a Roman ruin (though just having come from Trier we we spoilt for ruins). It was here that we needed to work out how to use one of the several car ferries that cross the river, as there are no bridges along the stretch of the Rhine that we were exploring. A friendly Dutch couple helped us out (the characteristic amiability of the Dutch was a nice change to the usually cold Germans), and we made it across the current without a problem.
Yannick was very excited to visit Oberwessel, where much of the medieval town wall remains and is still in good enough condition to walk along. We scaled a tower which provided excellent views of the pretty town.
The schloss Marksburg near the town of Braubach was expensive to enter so we admired it from afar. It seemed that around every river bend was another castle atop a hill. These were built by a cunning collection of robbers who would block merchants' ships from passing to draw their wealth. As mentioned before, Louis and his troops blasted many of them apart and some still lie in ruin while others have been carefully restored.
High above the passing barges is the clifftop town of Loreley, where an unexpected music festival was taking place. We bypassed the high-visibility-vested assistants to the cliff edge, where we looked out at spectacular panoramic views.
A famous statue of a siren supposedly drew sailors to their deaths. I searched in vain for the carving, but all I managed to find was this representation outside a hotel. A false Loreley Lady!
Scoring the last available slot at a campground near Bacharach, we settled in and gazed across the river at little houses and monumental castles.
After dinner we explored a lamplit Bacharach under a full moon and found the most charming place on the Rhine. Ivy clad shop fronts, pubs with tables spilling out onto the footpath, and deep dark wells made our wandering memorable.
The next morning I was awoken by some small creature burrowing near our tent, and to assure myself I wasn't going mad after Yannick said he couldn't hear it, I got out to watch yet no creature revealed itself. Later, Fabienne and Yannick told me that they had spotted it - a little yellowish mouse. I was greatly relieved for my sanity, though disappointed I hadn't seen it myself.
We returned to Bacharach with high spirits and saw everything again in the summertime daylight. Narrow alleys parted to reveal the soaring church. Behind and above it stood the ruins of another church, this time gothic. Mysterious circumstances surround the ruins - was it partially destroyed or was the construction never completed? And does it really have anything to do with Jews sacrificing a sixteen year old boy?
Our last stop in the Rhine gorge was Kloster Eberbach, a comforting old monastery filled with swallows swooping in the open windows.
Huge winemaking presses lurked in one of the long refectories, numbered one through sixteen. Other antique machinery remained on show as well, including what looked like a cog-filed wheelbarrow and pointy harvesting tools. Long rows of barrels were kept in the candle-lit cellar.
If you're a Sean Connery fan, you may recognise the interior of this monastery as it was the main filming location for The Name of the Rose. A poster with Connery in a monk's costume greets you as you enter, and he gazes up at you from the guide pamphlet. I got the feeling that many visitors come here for the wine tasting and film set immersion, but we came for the archtiecture and atmosphere.
In a slightly creepier area, an iron ring held dripping candles and rusted chains. It would be a great place for a ritual sacrifice, though that's not keeping with the tame and quiet life of a monk.
In lieu of driving to Frankfurt, which was next on the itinerary, we plotted a course straight for Bamberg and Nuremburg near the Czech Republic border as we were itching to get to Prague (with a brief interlude in Gutenberg's hometown and Heidelberg). While Frankfurt's apple wine beckoned enticingly, we drank apple juice instead. The campsite we stayed at gave us a free bottle made from their orchards. While the juice was delectable, the toilet facilities were less than adequate. I boycotted the one shared toilet and shower (that had no lock and no shower curtain), preferring to relieve myself in the bushes in the middle of the night and foregoing my usual morning cleansing. Luckily the campsite in Bamberg would make up for it.