Plan: We will take the train from Paris to Moselkern on the Mosel River and then hike our way to Burg Eltz, which is the best castle in all of Europe according to Rick Steve's. We will then hike back to the train and take the train to Bacharach on the Rhine River, where we hope to spend a relaxing evening tasting the wines of the Rhine Valley region.
What really happened (per Christine): Guten tag from Germany!
When we woke up in the morning and were packing to leave Paris, Mike had one of the BBC stations on and we heard that France had voted the day before to reject the constitution of the European Union, which had been five years in the planning and had already been ratified by 8 countries. France was celebrating, but most of the commentators (and some people we talked to later), seem to think that this is the death-nell for Europe becoming an economy to rival the US. It seems like a real shame.
Well, we were unable to get reservations on the early train to Germany, so we weren't going to get there until 3pm. We didn't think that would be enough time to hike to Burg Eltz, so we decided to take a Rhine River boat cruise instead. On the long train ride to Germany, Mike watched one of the Hitchcock movies he had put on his computer before he left (The Vanishing Lady) and it was quite funny because movie took place on a train.
Once we got to Germany, we took a little train to the small town of Boppard on the Rhine and searched the town for the K-D River boat cruises. It didn't take long to find because it was a really small town. We found out we had a couple of hours to kill, so we got ice-creams (even though it was kinda cold and a bit drizzly) and hung out. We were the only ones waiting there for about an hour and a half and then, 3 tour busses pulled up! So, the boat, though quite large, ended up being more crowded than we thought. We sat out on the observation deck, which was packed full of people, until it started raining and getting really windy and cold. Then the deck cleared out pretty fast. Mike and I just put up our rain hoods and gloves and stayed outside watching the beautiful scenery. Germany (at least along the Rhine), really reminds me of Missouri's Ozark hills with castles and much older villages. Maybe that's why we have a lot of German communities in Missouri; it reminded the original settlers of home.
We got off the boat in Bacharach and went to Hotel Kranenturm, which was quite beautiful. Our room had plenty of room to move around and it overlooked the Rhine River (and the train tracks, but the windows were triple-paned, so you couldn't hardly hear the trains with the windows closed). The owner (Fatima, who was really nice and very talkative), kept apologizing for how small the shower was, but it was an average size for the trip, not small at all. We decided to eat at the hotel's restaurant. Apparently, they had a local white asparagus in-season, because that is what most of the specials were. I had the white asparagus with hollandaise sauce and potatoes and Mike had chicken and white asparagus with hollandaise sauce. It was delicious. We were planning on going to a local Rhine wine tasting bar, but we found out that the owner had just died two days before. So, instead, we met some American tourists in the hotel restaurant (Steven and Angela from the Washington DC area) and ended up joining them over dinner to talk about our respective trips. We thought our trip was long, but they were on a 4 month adventure! They had spent 40 days touring Australia and then were on the last two weeks of a 60-day European tour. They were both IS consultants and had just taken a leave of absence to see the world. It was really cool hearing all about their trip and they gave us tips about upcoming Italy. It was quite a fun evening.
Plan: We will take the train north (down river) to Koblenz and then do a combination train/boat river cruise south (upriver) on the Rhine, checking out the cool castles along the way. We hope to especially tour Marksburg (never been sacked) and Rheinfels Castle (in ruins). When we get back to Bacharach, we will take the night train through Munich to Venice
What really happened (per Christine): We ate breakfast at the hotel (again, delicious: scrambled eggs, rolls, cheese and lots of sausage which we skipped, of course), then checked out and took the train to Koblenz, right at the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers (kind of like St. Louis). We put our luggage in lockers there, made reservations for the night train to Italy and then took the train to Moselkern to hike up to Burg Eltz. It was a perfect day for a hike, not too cold or too hot (one-jacket weather). Moselkern was quite a small town, and the hiking trail led through the town, then out of town through the woods. Rick Steve's said the whole hike would take about 60min. I guess I wasn't really thinking, "Hey, that's about 4 miles each way!" It just sounded like a cool hike and it was, but it was tough because it was a lot of climbing up. It actually took us closer to 90min each way. The actual path through the woods was alot of fun because you didn't run into too many other hikers and mostly it felt like you were alone in the woods, about to storm the castle. It was very Lord of the Rings-ish: "the road goes ever on."
We finally made it to the castle and it was really neat-looking, though quite small, especially compared to castles like Edinburgh Castle and the Tower of London, which enclosed villages. Apparently, the Eltz family had split into three branches (with three sons, about 900 years ago) and each branch built their own house within a fortified wall. Long ago, there was a lot more houses surrounding the castle, but they are all gone now. Now the Eltz family has consolidated back down to one family and they live in one of the houses. The tour takes you through the other two. No pictures were allowed in the castle (at least they were honest and told you up front that it was because they wanted you to buy postcards because they need the income to keep up the castle :-), but it was pretty cool.
The rooms were fairly small, but they said that it was typical of a very wealthy home in the middle ages. Most home had to be really small to keep warm in winter, but Burg Eltz had one fireplace for every 2 rooms in the castle. 80 room total, 40 fireplaces. So, the rooms could be a bit larger, but certainly a lot more cramped than what we had seen in England. They had 20 toilets hanging off the sides of the building, but instead of just a hole in the wall leading down the side of the wall to a pit below, the toilets were "flushed" by a rain drain. I asked if the three families got along, and the guide said that the families wrote down any problems that they had and the solutions that they came up with and wrote them in a book to refer to if the problem came up again. They never had any feuds. I thought that was quite cool.
When we were done with the tour, we started the long trek back. It looked like it might rain and we didn't want to slip and fall to our deaths if the dirt trail got muddy, so we kind of hurried along until we got out of the woods. It drizzled, but never really rained hard. We got back to Moselkern, took the train back to Koblenz and ate dinner at a bar in the train station (sandwiches and fries). It looked like maybe it was the German or European FA cup in football going on on the TV; there were a lot of people in the bar and they were very excited about the game. Then we got our luggage out of the locker and got on our night train to Italy. We were in a 6 person couchette, so we were supposed to be sharing a compartment with 4 other people in bunk beds, but we were lucky that the train wasn't very full and we were only sharing with two. They were an older Italian couple who didn't speak any English. They asked (through the train person), if they could switch bunks with us, so Mike and I got the top bunk. It was kind of fun trying to communicate with them in the evening with a combination of our phrase book, writing things down and charades. I found out they were retired and had three kids in their 30s. We showed them pictures of Hannibal and Clarice. When we went to bed, the bunks are very small and kinda scary up top (you need a ladder to climb up). It was really hot in the train until about halfway through the night when they decided to turn on the air conditioning. Unfortunately, our couchette-mates were very expressive Italians are started arguing with each other (very loudly), starting about 5am. Luckily, Mike and I were pretty tired, so we managed to mostly ignore them until we got in to Milan about 8am. We then switched trains and headed off for Venice (Venezia).