Through my eye

A sometimes caustic view of things.

Sunday, August 12, 2007



First we decided to go up the Rhine since our Eurail pass would cover the boat ride on the KD line. I called in advance to see if the boat went from Cologne to St. Goar where we planned to stay at the Hotel Am Markt, as suggested in Rick Steves' guidebook.

On the phone we were assured that the boat did go from Koln (Cologne) and I also called to reserve a room at the hotel. So much for phoning. Apparently my Cologne sounds like Koblenz to German ears, since we got to the Cologne dock early to discover that the boat we needed departed from Koblenz. Off to the train station, which was uphill all the way, to catch the next train to Koblenz. We arrived just in time to catch the boat.

Although it was still rainy, it was somewhat warmer and we were able to enjoy lunch and the view of the remarkable castles as we cruised up the busy Rhine. Arriving at St. Goar, the hotel owner had no record of my call, despite my showing him the number on my cell phone indicating I had called two days before. But he had a room anyway, so no harm done. We used St. Goar as a base and either took the train or a KD ship to see Marksburg castle, the best preserved of all the castles. We also toured the one above St. Goar, Rheinfels castle, once the largest on the Rhine.

An interesting fact, the portion we could see was, perhaps, a quarter of the size of the whole fortification in its heyday. The plateau behind the castle was once the majority before it was destroyed by the French. We took a walk up the hill and then through the woods on a nature path (clearly marked for hikers) that showed us crumbling remains here and there of the old stonework.

We also took in Bacharach, which was a small river town that had a section of wall left upon which one could walk and a ton of food and souvenir shops. We shopped for the best price and had a good inexpensive lunch at a small restaurant where the proprietess spoke good English---French, German and Polish, too. She had once been recommended by Rick Steves, she told us, but he since changed his recommendations to more expensive spots and insisted she take down the sign showing his earlier recommendation of her food. The food was excellent and she was a delight. That was the Cafe Restaurant Rusticana at number 40 Oberstrasse. It is still listed in Let's Go, however they have the nationality of the owners wrong.

The Cheesecake at the am Markt is fantasic. A special recipe the owner says goes with the hotel if one wishes to buy the business. One thrill I should mention was that an American choral group was on the KD boat the day we traveled to Bacharach and they serenaded the approaching docks a couple of times, including ours. Since we started just down stream from the famous Lorilei rock where the singing of a maiden led sailors to their deaths, it was kind of hair-raising--in a good way.

Next we went to Rothenburg, another of Rick Steves "must do" spots.

As it turns out, it is not as unique as the guidebooks say. A large portion of the town was bombed during WWII and a lot of reconstruction had to be done. The "double bridge" was blown up by the Germans to prevent crossing by Amercan tanks. We took a look at the town from the one watch tower that is open to the public and the fellow taking the money told me that. He said, "since you can walk across the river--it is so shallow--it was just crazy." He also thought it was crazy for the town to be bombed since there was no military significance to it.

I'm not sure, however, there is a factory on the outskirts of town. Was one there at the time? What use did the German military make of the area and what might they have done with the standing fortifications. The things that made the town invaluable in the middle ages was its location on two trade routes. The same geographic factors that made trade pass through the area probably still controlled the overland movement of armies.

For those of you who have been to St. Augustine, Florida, Rothenburg is simply much more of the same thing. Buildings are built and rebuilt to look the same. Outside the walls of the medieval city are car dealerships, modern suburbs and other businesses and buildings. However, from below the walls in most directions the town looks much as it would have looked since the walls were built. The walkways and paths around the farms and river valley are well maintained. The double bridge, in the little valley, was rebuilt in the 1960s and you can see from old photos that it looks as if it was never destroyed.

I will say that shopping and eating was reasonable. The hotels offer good value. The restaurants aren't overpriced--mostly, we don't go in the ones that are--and we made a couple of purchases that were nicely priced. Birkenstock shoes are made in Germany and cost less here. We also met a friendly woman returning home to Rothenburg from a teaching job in The Ukraine. She later invited us to have dinner with her and her husband in their subrb home. The husband had homemade brandy that was very nice as were the two people, very pleasant to chat with.

From Rothenburg we went to Munich.

While in Munich we took a day trip with a tour to the "Eagles Nest", Hitler's mountaintop retreat. It was several hundred feet above the actual location of the houses and complex of bunkers that Hitler used. The Eagles Nest was used to impress visiting diplomats and other VIPs. Our guide kept insisting that the Germans did not call it by that name, Eagles Nest, but by the name of the mountain. She also kept saying that nothing important was ever decided there and that we--us Americans--made too much of the place.

Funny, down in the bunkers were generators and communication equipment and Hitler stayed there quite a bit without dropping control of his government. It would be like saying nothing ever happens at Camp David when the president is there. It sounds to me as if the Germans still don't want to face facts.

Munich was a fun town for me, but the trip is beginning to wear on Connie. We climbed a bell tower. We walked through a garden. We listened to all the bells of all the towers sounding for 20 minutes in the evening on the Karlsplatz shopping street. The next day my knee began to bother me so I paid a price or all that climbing. Always surprising is the number of Moslems, indicated by the women wearing various degrees of coverings from a mere scarf to full purdah. On the tour was a a family of Yemenis. Remind me to tell you about them someday.

Next Austria.


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