Deutschland, bitte.

The second leg of les Verts’ European adventure took them, and us, to France’s immediate eastern neighbor.  Every one of us – Nez, Riot, Nez’s sister, Joie, her husband, and their three children whose noms de web are, in order, Eurogrl, Kingskid, and Berryana – would now be a tourist.  And, before we rendezvous with Nez’s dad, who had flown to Germany directly from the States, we would be largely helpless with our feeble German, or the lack of it.  Yet, no one was really thinking about that minor inconvenience; we were all looking forward to exploring the German countryside as a sort of family reunion.  And, if it helps, our German adventure could be thought of as a castle tour with interesting train stories. 

Day 1
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
 Castle No. 2:  Bacharach.

17 May 2008.  Breakfast began serving at 8 (and so Riot missed it and not for the last time) and the whole contingent was ready to go at around 9 or so.  That’s all we remember; the Kaiser’s diary, however, records a more colorful morning:

On Saturday, I went to Joie & the Language Chameleons room to see if they were ready for breakfast at about 8:10 – I was met by a most unsightly man who said they would be ready shortly.  I guess shortly means an hour in Sacramento.  Then, I went to Nez & Riots room and was met by the same unsightly man except he had changed his hair to black from blond.  They, too, would be ready shortly.  I did have breakfast with Nez in about 30 minutes but didnt see the unsightly men again for breakfast.

So, Nez and I ate and Joies crew slowly trickled in and out of breakfast.  The Italians had taken all of the soft boiled eggs so I was boiling but made do with cherry yogurt, bread, cheese & jam.  The coffee was very good.

Well, we needed to do something exciting for the day so 10 hours later when le Verts group was ready we took a little ship on the Rhein from St. Goar to Bacharach.  It was incredibly fun.  Even a small playground – actually a slide on top.  After about 15 mins. we went down where it was enclosed and warm.  Ordered some coffee – Eurogrl had waffles – hot chocolate for the others – Eiskaffee for Riot.  It was very pleasant.

We caught a boat up the Rhine.  The multilingual announcements described the passing sites along the river.  We learned of the region’s own version of the Greek’s Sirens, called Loreley, whose seducing calls brought demise to sailors and their boats on the rocky hazards in the swift flowing river.  The young children were too busy with the onboard slide, to the chagrin of their responsible older sister, to appreciate any of this.  Inside, we enjoyed some refreshment.  Riot got a delicious eis café, which sounded at first blush like an iced coffee but was instead a sort of coffee float, which properly awoke him.  Nez similarly enjoyed her hot cocoa.  When we disembarked, the Kaiser declared, “I didn’t think I would enjoy that boat ride as much as I did.”  He was right, we all did.  

  Leaving little St. Goar and its church spire behind, we took the friendly, multilingual ferry toward Bacharach.
  The deck chairs provided a beautiful vantage point but we quickly retired to the dining room and its offering of hot beverages.

After landing in Bacharach (the card game is spelled b-a-c-c-a-r-a-t), we walked along a park after disembarking and came across a somber memorial to the town’s war dead that did not extend beyond World War I.  Next, we scaled the remains of the town’s wall, which today ran parallel to the railroad track.  The Language Chameleon became our very own Rick Steves, explaining the history behind this gate, that water wells, and so on.  The town has a strong connection to winemaking and its name, as Rick reported, means “altar to Bacchus.”  We decided to scale the hill to reach the Stahleck Castle that nowadays served as a very scenic youth hostel.  We passed by the ruins of the Werner Chapel and a sign, in German and English, describing the shameful connection between this chapel and the persecution of Jews in Germany having to do with an unsubstantiated account of a Jewish ritual killing here dating back to the 13th century.

  Our very own Rick Steves:  The Language Chameleon spent a precious moment consulting the guide book on the way up to the castle.
  A Stahleck Picnic:  500 steps above Bacharach, we took a break for a snack, snapshots, and a breathtaking view of the valley below.

At the top sat the remnant of the Stahleck Castle, destroyed by the French in the 17th century and partially rebuilt in the 20th century, full of castle accoutrements such as narrow slits in the walls for archers and a strong central keep.  It also had modern castle accoutrements such as a snack stand and the ubiquitous gift shop.  (Kingskid delighted in these gift shops’s offering of knights, or ritters, as they are called in this part of Europe, to battle his Paris-bought French chevaliers back at the hotel.)  This being a youth hostel, there was a game room where an exciting foosball game was in progress when we passed by.  Everyone in our party sat and rested, and enjoyed the beautiful view of the valley, the steep-sloped grapevines, and the river below.  It was a small but charming castle, and nicer than any youth hostels any of us had ever set foot upon. 

  Two donuts and three hungry children:  The Thirty Years’ War, which spelled the end for the Stahleck Castle, started with much less.
  A post-lunch stroll through Bacharach’s cobblestone street and half-timbered houses.

On the way up the steep path, the Language Chameleon had left Berryana’s pink stroller nicely folded up against a rocky railing.  There was no use for it on the uphill hike.  On the way down, both the Language Chameleon and Joie walked right past the stroller, much to the amusement of the other adults in the party.  The children, especially Eurogrl would have remembered to retrieve it had such responsibility been assigned to her.  It wasn’t.  It was left to the Language Chameleon to remember to pick it up.  He didn’t.  The Language Chameleon might be good with languages but he was not good with remembering things.  It was an inside joke and everyone had a good laugh.  (This very same pink stroller that racked up many European miles was last seen by a thrash bin at the Heidelberg station.) 

We rewarded ourselves with lunch when we got back down to the town.  Riot discovered a new dish called flammkuchen and at Hotel Burg Stahleck at Blücherstaße 6 they served the best of these.  Order the spicy original and the thin, crispy crust, with a sparse dusting of onion, parsley, ham, and jalapeños, will make your taste buds sing.  But resist ordering a second, as Riot exercised his best self-restraint to do, because you want to leave with a lasting craving.  Even if you know that you’ll most likely never return to this very restaurant again.  Finish it off with ein Bier and that might very well be the best German meal you’ve ever had.
  Riot went out on a limb and declared, on the second day of our trip, that this flammkuchen was the best German meal.
Things that happened on a German train.  Part 2.


•  Bacharach - St. Goar

17 May 2008.  Instead of returning via the water route, we took the train back to St. Goar.  The train was nearly full when we reached one end of a car with some open seats and a lone passenger.  Some of us sat while others stood; it wasn’t a long ride and we did not want to disturb this man who was in his twenties.  He must have heard us speaking English because he offered, in a booming voice, the seat next to him.  We politely refused, again not wanting to bother him.

Then he spoke again, his heavy British-accented words carried and bounced around the confined space.  “Some people find me terrifying,” he said.  We detected that he was afflicted with a mild sort of mental disability.  Joie, sitting across from him, diplomatically responded that we didn’t find him so.  He then said something like “I like little children,” which made the Language Chameleon a bit nervous.

The Kaiser and his Prinzessin on a voyage through the Rhine towns.   
  3€ buys more than just a ride from Bacharach to St. Goar, it might also provide a glimpse of how the rest of the world views us.

But the topic changed quickly, actually abruptly, when he declared in the same voice and delivery, “some people think all Americans are evil.”  We politely suppressed our laughter, but surely inside we were rolling on the floor.  But what we weren’t was offended.  He proceeded to talk about “people in prisons,” “camps,” and “torture,” and “killing them,” all of which sounded like he was heading in the direction of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, but he wasn’t.  He then said something to the effect of “lawyers killing people” (the group did not think of outing Riot upon this collective condemnation of his profession) and then it was clear; he was talking about the death penalty in America.  He pontificated, or perhaps regurgitated, on the subject up until the time we got off the train, the latter part of which was done in his native tongue with the Kaiser.

The utterance of the phrases “some people find me terrifying” and “some people think all Americans are evil” would provide comic relief for the rest of the trip, at least for the adults.  But we pretty much all wondered aloud as we walked away from the train station who should be laughing at whom, when a man, whom many would consider to be of diminished capacity, spoke a foreign language better than any of us.  Maybe if we had stayed with him long enough, he would get around to saying, “some people think all Americans are monolingual.”

Castle No. 1, revisited:  St. Goar.

17 May 2008.  Upon our return from Bacharach, it was still light out and the toy-train like tram was still operating so up we went to see the second castle of the day.  The train winded itself through the same main street, the conductor duly pointing out the biggest cuckoo clock in the world, and then we all went up the windy path to the castle.  Because we could probably have walked up we decided that we would walk down.

  Between the remains of two defensive walls, a serene inner passageway devoid of tourists and touristy re-enactors.
  Where sieging armies used to trek with labor, todays tourists take a leisure ride aboard a toy train to the Rheinfels Castle.

Burg Rheinfels, or Rheinfels Castle, used to be a means to enforce the tolls on the river and a powerful military presence.  All that came to an end when it was handed over to the French revolutionary army without a struggle in 1794 (invert the typical French military joke here) and was largely blown up a few years later.  Now, it stood largely in ruins, its strategic value measured in euros and cents brought by the hordes of tourists that it gladly welcomed within its old gate.  We walked by narrow slits in the wall through which archers once hurled deadly arrows at siege armies, passed beneath open holes in the ceiling where hot oil had bathed those who made it through the first line of defense, and wandered darkened corridors and halls that once quartered and fed the defensive troops.

  Looming over the Rhine, the once-mighty castle enforced tolls on river traffic below with its long-gone guns.
  Centuries removed from its glorious past, what remains today is just a fraction of its size.
  Moss grows where sentries used to walk along this section of the wall and its precipitous drop to the village below.
  A view from the top of some steep steps to the gate tower.

There were, we learned belatedly, underground passages that required the use of flashlight for exploration.  Nez found an errant candle but without a means of creating fire we were relegated to the surface.  We encountered a group of visitors that had signed up for a version of the hands-on tour, trying their hands at hurling an ax, firing a crossbow, and of course drinking beer with cast members dressed in period costumes.  Kingskid might possibly have been fascinated by them but we opted for the more authentic depictions of the castle’s past in its small museum.  (Instead of ritters, Kingskid decided to buy a miniature sword at the gift shop, which became a show stopper at the security line at CDG a week or so later.  The sword never left Europe.)  There was an impressive model of what the castle looked like in its heyday when it was a force to be reckoned with.  Now, reduced to a mere fraction of its former might, it did well as a wedding destination, one of which was about to start when we started walking back down to the town below.

  Exiting the Grosser Keller (Big Cellar):  The grain and wine kept in this naturally cold room were essential to keep the troops fed in a siege.
  A view from the castle garden at the ruins of former halls.

At dinner back at the hotel, the Kaiser proposed a toast “to a great son-in-law and a future son-in-law.”  (Sometime later on in the trip, the love was further extended:  “To two wonderful daughters.”)  We were then treated to the seasonal special, white asparagus (or, spargel, the seasonal specialty that is grown covered with soil to prevent it from turning green), and schnitzels done in various styles.  The German portions were noticeably larger than those of its French’s counterpart.  This point was reinforced by the now-unfamiliar feeling of being stuffed and the sight of much leftovers on our plates.  We observed that how, even in the tourist season, St. Goar looked deserted in the evening when the tour groups had left town.  We learned from our waiter, who was from Albania, that the waitstaff consisted of seasonal workers.  What does the town look like in the off-season?

With defenders like these:
The Kaiser and Joie emerging from
a narrow passageway;

Tutoring Kingskid on the art of firing
arrows through a slit in the wall.


On the gentle walk back down
to St. Goar:  No one is playing
favorites here, really!


Forgoing dessert, we watched a rainbow that had just formed outside the window in the drizzling rain.  It crossed the Rhine and touched down upon the opposite shore.  Someone in the crowd commented that he had never seen the end of a rainbow.  The same person might have acclaimed earlier that he had never seen such lush green hills steeply hugging a fast flowing body of water, preserving something from another place and time.  And, he would be right.

  At the end of the rainbow:  What a way to end a full day of sightseeing and a great meal.
  Beautiful memories are made these days at the Rheinsfel Castle:  A modern-day carriage awaits the bride and groom.
Day 1
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Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9

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