About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Boats, Trains and Castles on the Rhine River

We had a pretty intense thunderstorm last night. Lots of thunder. It’s hard to tell how much lightning there was since our windows face a narrow lane. Brandon was impressed. He loves the thunderstorms.

We woke up at 8am this morning. We dressed and got ready for our day. Today we had breakfast provided by the hotel, so we went upstairs to the restaurant where a table was reserved for us. They had cereal, fruit, yogurt, cheeses, meats, breads, juice, coffee and tea. They didn’t have croissants. I was spoiled in Amsterdam.

After breakfast we grabbed our gear and headed to the boat docks. We are taking a KM Dusseldorf boat tour down to St. Goar. The boat was very nice and spacious. They had three decks with a restaurants and bar, if you desired. We went up to the top deck and watched the river traffic and all the castles go by. It was an overcast morning, but still fairly warm.

Our tour boat, the Loreley

There are so many castles to see on the Rhine River. The castles were built by river barons. They controlled the boat traffic on the river by imposing tolls. Boats had to pay tolls to go up or down the river, and they had to do it at every castle. Most of the castles are only a few kilometers apart, so a lot of tolls were being paid. If a boat captain didn’t pay a toll, they would be held in the castles dungeon. One castle baron lowered his prisoners down to a raft in the castle well.

View of Stahleck castle from the river.

Die Pfalz castle, erected on an island in the middle of the Rhine River so that the Baron could raise and lower chains across the river, thus controlling traffic and collecting tolls. Notice the little white room outcropping on the upper wall. This was the outhouse. They relied on gravity and rain water for plumbing.

Another castle on the Rhine.

Schonburg Castle above the town of Oberwesel.

Even the portals for the railroad tunnels have a castle look to them.

Loreley, the legendary steep rock, 132m high. It rises steeply above the Rhine, which is only 90 meters wide at this point. The siren Loreley is supposed to have lured passing sailors to their death, as described in Heinrich Heine's well-known song. When the water levels fall, one can see the hazardous reefs of the Seven Virgins. According to legend, seven hard-hearted virgins were transformed into rocks there. At the foot of the Loreley Rock one can still hear a sevenfold echo.

St. Goar is a classic Rhine town. It’s hulk of a castle overlooks a half-timbered shopping street and riverside park. Rheinfels Castle, once the mightiest on the Rhine, is the single best Rhineland ruin to explore.

We exited the river boat Loreley and walked up the main street, stopping at the bakery to get a pretzel to share. Very tasty! I wanted mustard on it, but no mustard. I wonder if that is an American practice to put on a pretzel?

I've seen mannequins in store windows for designer clothing, lingerie and swimwear, but this is a first - showing off first aid supplies at the pharmacy.

The first of what will probably be many pretzel snacks here in Germany. At .60 cents each, they are a deal and very delicious.

This giant Steif bear grabbed Brandon as he walked by.

Largest hanging cookoo clock.

We walked to the end of the main street and turned up the road to Rheinfels Castle. It was about a 20min climb. Beautiful, but very humid. We made it to the top and entered the castle.

Rick Steve’s says, “Sitting like a dead pit bull above St. Goar, this mightiest of Rhine castles rumbles with the ghosts from its hard fought past. Burg Rheinfels was huge – once the mightiest castle on the Rhine (built in 1245). It withstood a siege of 28,000 French troops in 1692. But in 1797, the French Revolutionary army destroyed it. The castle was used for ages as a source of building stone, and today – while still mighty – it’s only a small fraction of its original size. This hollow but interesting shell offer your single best hands on ruined castle experience on the river.”

View of Burg Katz across the Rhine River, built in the 14th century by the Counts of Katzenelnbogen, destroyed in 1806. Rebuilt according to the old plans from 1896-98.

We entered the castle through three archways. After the third archway we entered the museum. Inside the museum were models of the original castle layout, the castle pharmacy and displays on the long history of the castle.

Old walls of the castle.

Model of castle at the height of its glory.

Castle pharmacy.

The castle originally had 3 more wood framed stories on top of these stone walls.

Our next stop was the inner courtyard, which was quite sizable. 500 years ago the entire castle circled this courtyard. The castle was self-sufficient and ready for a siege with a bakery, pharmacy, herb garden, brewery, well and livestock. During peacetimes, the castle housed 300 – 600 people. During siege there could be as many as 4000.

Brandon and Katrina inside the courtyard.

Emerging from a tunnel Brandon wanted me to check out.

Walls of the castle.

Brandon exploring the ruins of the inner courtyard.

Continuing on we walked through the castle garden and up to the highest tower lookout. Here we learned that none of the castles are higher than the surrounding hills. This is so that they were not easily spotted by invading armies.

We worked our way down to the lower front of the castle where we walked through the covered defense galleries and the archers slits. The soldiers slept in straw padded quarters only steps from their posts. Life for them was rather unpleasant and most were lucky to live beyond the age of 45.

At the lower corner of the castle we looked up to see how high the castle walls were. And, beyond the stonework that you can see, the original castle was 3 stories taller and built of wood and plaster. On one outside wall there was a little room sticking out from the highest floor. This was the outhouse. They let gravity and rainfall do the flushing.

We visited one of six dungeons. The prisoners were lowered into the dungeon from a little square trap door in the ceiling. Holes in the walls supported timbers that gave as many as 15 dungeon residents something to sit on to keep them out of the filthy slop that gathered on the floor. Twice a day they were given bread and water. The town could torture and execute prisoners while the castle only had permission to imprison criminals.

Moving on we entered the slaughterhouse. Most castles were prepared to survive a 6 month siege. This room is where the castle livestock were slaughtered and where the castles mortar was congealed (by packing all the organic waste from the kitchen and slaughtering room).

Our last stop was the big cellar. The Grosser Keller as a gigantic pantry. It held all the dry goods and wine. Speaking of wine, part of a soldiers pay was wine, table wine. This wine was kept in a single 180,000 liter stone barrel (47,550 gallons) which generally lasted about 18 months.

We had now toured the entire castle. We made our way back down the steep road to St Goar for some lunch and a little shopping. Katrina bought a mini watercolor prints of the castles we have seen or visited. We also bought a small wood tabletop Christmas tree with mini ornaments.

We stopped at a little restaurant on the main street for lunch. German beer, brautwurst, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes for me and Katrina. Brandon had a pretzel and some chicken soup. He’s really into soup these days. After lunch we strolled the main street a little more, stopping for gelato at an Italian Gelateria. It was good, but not as good as home.

We made our way towards the riverfront park to give Brandon some time to play. All of these towns on the river have nice parks on the river. We had about an hour before our boat going back upstream would arrive.

Brandon enjoying some playtime at the park.

The boat ride back to Bacharach was not as full as it was this morning. We found some chairs on the top deck and enjoyed the views of the river, towns and castles. This is a beautiful river valley with so many castles. I have never seen so many castles in one day.

Another castle on the Rhine.

The Gutenfals Castle on the hill overlooking the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle in the River.

I've never seen so many trains in one day. There are freight and passenger trains going up and down both sides of the river every few minutes. It reminded us of the Columbia River Gorge, but much busier. The two lower pictures are a 'vacation' train (not sure what it is really called). It had sleeper cars on the front and auto racks on the back loaded with cars, motorhomes and motorcycles.

A sunnier view of Burg Katz.

Unfortunately, we arrived back in Bacharach after 6pm when the grocery store closed. Our plan was to buy more cheese, sausage and crackers for dinner in our room. We found another store that had crackers and cookies, so we bought that and were thankful we still had one package of cheese leftover from last night.

We headed to our hotel room to relax a bit and eat our dinner. I watched the last little bit of the Tour on TV. Our little bit of crackers and cheese did not quite satisfy, so we headed out to look for something else. We found ourselves at a gelato shop…surprise. Katrina tried a Riesling gelato. It was actually tasty, although she said she wouldn’t get it again. Brandon had his usual lemon and strawberry. I decided I didn’t want any and would just drink a coke back in the room. We wandered the streets of Bacharach while they ate. The town is very small, so it only has a few streets to wander. Katrina took more pictures…I know, another surprise…ha!

We finally got back to the room around 9pm. I worked on my blog while Katrina and Brandon both read. Brandon has read all 5 of the chapter books he brought on this trip, and we still have 4 more days.

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