Up and Down the Rhine
Jul 28, 2015
|Tuesday, July 28th
Bill had me up and ready to go by 8 am to catch our 9 am river cruise only to find out that our little ferry doesn’t start until 9 am. A taxi was called and we arrived at the dock just after 8 am to find a few people milling about. Apparently, the kiosk didn’t open until 8:30 am (tickets were not available on line, which we all found amazing). We spent the time chatting with different people.
A young man, Blake, who had just finished his Masters in music somewhere in England for the past 18 months and was on a celebratory trip around Europe for a couple of weeks was fascinating to listen to. He is from Dallas Texas and of all things is an Orchestra Conductor. Apparently, part of his studies was to travel around Europe, apprenticed to a conductor, honing his skills with hands on experience. After this trip he will head back stateside before heading to Washington DC for an interview. We enjoyed his company on the trip up river.
Our boat was a good size – a paddle wheeler, built in 1901 to accommodate tours up and down the Rhine. There was a promenade around both deck levels, an outside viewing deck at the bow (where we hung out up river) and the interior consisted of dining rooms on both decks with white table cloths and china. Quite lovely, we ate 3 meals there.
The boat left the dock at 9 o’clock sharp with a very loud whistle. I thought I was on a steam engine for a moment.
It was a bit windy outside but comfortable as we made our way up river to Rudesheim, a 6 hour trip – 65 kilometers. The trip back will only take 4 hours.
First though, a little history, thanks to Rick Steves;
Between Rudesheim and Loblenz, the Rhine cuts deeply through the Rhenish slate mountains, meandering between hillside castles, and steep fields of wine grapes –forested hillsides alternate with craggy cliffs and nearly-vertical terraced vineyards. There are many of these terraces dotting the hillside which are abandoned now and gone to seed. They make an interesting lattice looking landscape across the hills.
Idyllic villages appear around each bend, with their neat half-timbered houses and Gothic churches. High above the rivers, busy with barge traffic, are the medieval castles, some ruined, some restored, all mysterious and vestiges of a time that was anything but tranquil. Most were built by a mafia of local robber barons –knights, princes and even bishops – who extorted tolls from merchant ships by blocking their passage with iron chains until they paid up.
In 2002 Unesco designated these 67 Km of riverscape a World Heritage Site.
One of the things which surprised us were the many RV parks along the banks of the Rhine.
All that given we were able to see and enjoy many castles and quaint villages;
The Stolzenfels, Marksburg (the best preserved) castles; the town of Boppard with its Roman foundations and parts of the original Roman walls, Sterrenberg and Liebenstein Imperial Castles built in the 11th and 13th centuries and separated by the hostility wall.
Legend has it – there was a woman involved, the brothers who each owned a castle shot each other to death; the stunning legendary steep rock face of Loreley rises 132 m above the Rhine. The siren Lorelay is supposed to have lured passing sailors to their death, as described in Heinrich Heine’s well-known song. The Rhine is at its narrowest here – 90 m. wide, and wind passing through it can create a howling noise which as you can imagine has many explanations going back to Roman times;
the town of Bacharach a 1,000 year old town with city walls which have 16 watch towers and delightful timbered houses and Stehleck Castle (now a youth hostel) perched above it; the Mouse Tower which stands on an island and now serves as a signal tower. Legend: Tight fisted Bishop Hatto II (968-970) of Mainz, who was thrown into the tower as a punishment for his wicked deeds and was allegedly eaten up by mice!!!; Niederwald Monument erected in 1883 to commemorate the 1870/71 war, at 225 m. high, towers over the Rhine high on a hill.
No bridges cross the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz. Ferries, carrying their passengers and cars, dodge barges and boats back and forth across the Rhine at 9 different crossings. It is a very busy river.
We enjoyed the different angle of things on the way back downriver. As I mentioned before, there are vineyards all along the valley on both sides. We happened upon a helicopter dusting the vines and he looked to us to be flying sideways.
It was a lovely enjoyable trip arriving back at Koblenz at 8 PM.