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. 

Days  
Day 1
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Day 4
 
Day 5
 
Day 6
 
Day 7
 
Day 8
 
Day 9
 
 
 
 
Castle No. 3:  Braubach.
 

18 May 2008.  This morning, from 8 AM Central European Time/11 PM Pacific Time until the clock struck midnight back in California, we took turns talking to Nez’s mom and then wishing her a happy birthday over Skype at the breakfast table.  (A little pesky thing called work had prevented her from joining us in Germany.)  We all wished that she was here with us and none more than the Kaiser himself.  It showed.

When the breakfast plates and cups were all gathered up, it was time again to find another castle, this time by train.  It brought to mind, for Nez and Riot, their tour of the various emperors’ tombs in Vietnam last summer.  At one point or another in the merciless heat, everyone in the tour probably said something like, “Oh no, not another tomb.”  That was not the case here, maybe not yet, least of all because the weather was very agreeable.  Because our destination, Braubach, was on the other side of the river we had to cross it on the Faehre Loreley first before we could board the northbound train.  The ferry made the short trip in the swift current of the Rhine by making a big u-turn upstream to land at the exact spot on the other bank.  What was disagreeable this morning was the ticket machine at the run-down St. Goarshausen station that only accepted coins and cards.  Our cards did not work without the requisite chip and all the men had to empty out their pockets to come up with coins for the 18-plus euro fare lest they returned to the women and children ticketless and in shame.  Now, there was an incentive to hold on to all the change no matter how much it weighed down one’s pocket.

 
 
 
  Greenery flashed by our little toy train as we made our way up to the Marksburg castle; it would have been a tough hike.
  Tuning out the German tour guide for a moment, we took in the commanding view of the river Rhine below from the wall of the castle.
 

From the town below, castle Marksburg appeared to perch on a formidable elevation; taking a tram was the unanimous choice although no vote was taken.  We located an empty tram with its key still in the ignition, but no operator and an empty office.  Before we could crack a joke about taking it for a joyride, a man appeared out of nowhere and commenced to negotiate a price for our transport.  It was a reasonable fare and as we winded first through the hilly streets and then hills, we became more and more convinced of that fact.  The tram, again in the guise of a toy train, made good use of its choo-choo to warn the oncoming traffic of the need to find space to pull aside on the narrow one-lane road.  The traffic behind us, with nowhere to go, would have to be content with chugging along at our slow pace.  At the top of the hill, the operator wrote the return time on a chalkboard and left.

 
 
  Everyday life in a medieval castle:  (from left to right)  A quiet nook with a view to enjoy one’s goulash; all the pots one needed to cook a grand meal in a giant fireplace; and one of the forebears of modern indoor plumbing.
 

When we first arrived in Braubach and encountered an almost deserted town, we thought we would be the only visitors to the castle on this Sunday.  Only when we got to the castle itself did we realize that the crowd had beaten us to this well-visited site.  This was the best “preserved” castle out of all the castles in the area, a sign touted, taking an opportunity to warn the uninitiated of other castles that claimed to be authentic but in fact weren’t.  This latter claim seemed as slippery as the slope that surrounded the castle itself; the most “authentic” castle was probably just a pile of stones somewhere far away from any crowd of tourists and, at the very least, would not have a well-stocked souvenir shop.  Kingskid loved this latter feature in both “authentic” and “non-authentic” castles.

 
 
  “Now, THIS is a sword!  Where is the gift shop?”  The guided tour turned hands-on as a heavy long sword was passed around starting with the littlest knight-in-training (who still naively subscribes to the myth of the Trojans).
  Heavy, ill-fitting, and goes terribly with our clothes:  We nevertheless held on to the helmet for too long and got a stern request to return it by the tour guide.
 

Only organized tours were allowed to visit Marksburg and the guides took pain to lock the doors behind them and their charge.  We took the German-language tour, the only one offered as we were told, and followed another booming-voice German through his presentation.  The Rick Steves book claimed to provide a corresponding English version of the tour.  We passed the book around among us to read Rick’s write-up, but found the sight to be much more captivating.  Later on, as we exited the gate of the castle, we passed by a tour that was just then starting, in English.

 
 
  “Now, move your hand a little higher,” said the Kaiser and he captured the Marksburg Castle in between Kingskid’s little fingers.  (Walking around Paris, Nez often wonders why tourists take silly pictures like these.)
 

On the tour and walking along the castle wall, we peered down upon the valley and the river below.  We touched and photographed the cannons that once enforced law and order on the Rhine (maybe except the early back-loading one that posed more risks to the operators than the intended victims, as the Kaiser duly translated from the German).  Next, we saw jutting from up high what looked like a closet-size room with a wooden floor.  We then learned that, with the floor removed, it functioned as the castle’s toilet.  Perhaps this was the evolutionary step between outdoor and indoor plumbing.  Inside the castle, we discovered that medieval beds were shorter not because people were smaller back then but because people slept in a sitting up position, as lying down was the position of the dead.  We were also informed that the curtains around the bed were drawn to keep warm at night, and within that enclosure the proper and properly enraged lady of the house would let her lord have a piece of her mind in private, or what was called a “pillow lecture,” the kind of pillow talk that one does not look forward to.

 
 
 
  “Brrr,” reads the caption or perhaps Nez was trying to signal that she was done with all the history talks.
  It was a challenge to see all of Braubach’s picturesque half-timbered houses with all the tourists around.
 

In the armory room, we were treated to a slew of mannequins dressed in reproduction of period military costumes and gears.  That room got its own lock because we were told that each one of the period sets was worth some 60,000€.  We did, however, get to try on a steel helmet (heavy and uncomfortable) and hold a steel sword (same).  Apparently, Nez and Riot played knight for too long with the helmet and the German guide sternly asked for it back, in perfect English.  The same stern guide, however, had a heart of gold for little children; Berryana got to be the keeper of the key that locked all the doors and Kingskid got to hold the sword for as long as he could manage its weight.  The final highlight was the torture room and it correspondingly sparked the most interest.  Approaching it from a purely academic angle, it would seem that the worst fate to suffer would be roasting in the boiling kettle sculpted in the shape of a cow, bathed in either water or oil.

 
Things that happened on a German train.  Part 3.

Itinerary:

•  St. Goarhausen - Braubach
•  Braubach - St. Goarhausen



18 May 2008.  And we thought that buying our ticket this morning was challenging.  We were enjoying the soft rocking and swaying of the local train between Braubach and St. Goarhausen when the conductor came for the usual ticket check.  Apparently, the three alpha males of the group did not get the correct one.  Now, it was up to the conductor to mete out the punishment.  She punched and punched furiously at her handheld ticket device but seemed to get more and more frustrated the more she did so.  Finally, she made a sort of “forget it” motion and abruptly left the guilty parties unpunished.  Maybe she didn’t know how to explain the complicated violation in English or maybe our infraction was so complex the fine was incalculable.  Or, maybe it was a wash in the end.  Nevertheless, thinking back to the duty-driven conductor on our first train ride in Germany (the one who was so riled up because we cheated ourselves with more expensive tickets), we felt for this young conductor who must have been shattered at her inability to do anything to those who apparently cheated the system.

 
 
 
  Another day, another quaint train station, and another little castle perched high on a hill.
  A river address of sorts:  556 kilometers downstream sits the town of St. Goar along the fast-flowing Rhine.
 
 
Deutschland:  Gastronomic notes.




18 May 2008.  When we got back from our family castle outing, we stopped for family dessert.  In the display cases, the offerings oozed their appeal.  Perhaps we added to the expectation by attributing to them what was never in fact there.  We got what we came for – dessert – but it was not the dessert that we had come for.  Riot’s too sweet cream puff did not contain a light and subtle filling that he had thought.  Nez’s berliner, of the famous “ich bin ein …” fame, was just a glorified donut.  Even the nicely decorated slice of chocolate cake bearing the name of its hometown was average.  At the risk of disrupting international harmony, we all agreed that this was no French dessert.  (The Kaiser abstained from commenting.)

 
 
  Can you tell who is the most excited about desserts after a day exploring castles?  Can you tell who is going to knock down the sign?
  It is said that a sweet tooth runs in this family:  A kind of window shopping and thereafter immediate gratification.
 
 

  
If looks were all:  A berliner and a slice of chocolate St. Goar.
  
A sign welcomes the speeding traffic on the B9 expressway to St. Goar; the guy drinking from the gold cup is probably not the town's ascetic namesake monk.
 

That night, Nez and Riot saw images of more schnitzels passing through their heads and made a quick and covert getaway down a dark alleyway, and then down into a former wine cellar, and had a delicious meal of run-of-the-mill Chinese food.  We pitied the knights of yore who had to subsist on the same food day in and day out, not counting times of siege.

 
Even big kids trespass:  Riot making a run after
retrieving the mechanical bird we got for Kingskid
in Paris that had landed in a miniature golf course
next to the playground.  How do you say "bail"
in Deutsch?  (Photo:  Les Verts )
  

 
 
 
Days  
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Day 4
 
Day 5
 
Day 6
 
Day 7
 
Day 8
 
Day 9
 
 
 
Go!
 
Holla
 
 
 
 

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