It is pretty much impossible that anyone has gone through their life up to this point without being influenced by the world of castles, knights, kings, queens, princes, and princesses. With my most recent trip along the Rhine river between Mainz and Koblenz. I was transported back into this world and was able to experience an incredible landscape dotted with both magnificent castles and sloped vineyards (even if it was rainy and cloudy the entire weekend!). The first thing that you think when entering this region is how beautiful it is, but you will soon start to question how those in the past were able to create such fortresses and live on such sharp slopes. There is an old saying about the people of this region, that states that babies are born here with one leg shorter than the other, in order to work on the slopes. You may laugh, but after seeing it firsthand, I tend to think this would be a huge benefit!
The history of the Rhine is very substantial and is tied most directly to its being one of the most important shipping routes in the region. Many of the castles were designed to
collect tolls from passing cargo ships. One of the most important (and wealthiest) castles along the Rhine was Rheinfels castle, which is located above the very cute town of St. Goar (conveniently where I was staying!). Rheinfels castle is the largest castle on the Rhine, but as it stands now, it is mostly ruins. That being said, it still is a very imposing structure and seeing the drawings and models of how it used to look before destruction, I am certain it was very intimidating in its time.
Touring the remains of Rheinfels castle was certainly an adventure. If there were one place I would recommend an ORMS field trip, it would be here. On top of the great ruins to climb around on, there are numerous tunnels to explore that go underneath where the castle once stood. It was certainly a great place for kids...or a twenty-five year old reliving his youth. I was very glad that my flashlight was in my day pack because I needed to use it just to see where I was going on many occasions. Of course it also helped make sure I didn't hit my head on the very low ceilings!
I managed to go down a couple of side tunnels, but turned around each time because I thought I was getting lost in the labyrinth. The view from the top of the clock tower was astounding and you can see it on this video )
After touring Rheinfels castle I decided to check out the nearby town of Bacharach, which has a Jugendherberge (youth hostel) in a castle overlooking the city. Mostly, I wanted to go see the place that I tried to stay in, but was booked up solid. I had heard that Bacharach was a very quaint old city and it certainly didn't disappoint. As you can see in the pictures, it had great uneven cobblestone streets with skewed alleyways and old buildings. Eventually finding my way through these streets and up a hillside path, I came upon the hostel. I could certainly see why it would fill up quickly. It has a great view of the Rhine and, there is also the fact it is castle!
Since I had primarily come to Bacharach to have dinner, I moseyed on down the path and started investigating the town for reasonably priced food. Since most
of these towns along the Rhine are very touristy, food tended to be expensive, so I decided to go down some alleyways to find the right place. Finding a small place with the dish I was looking for, I plunged on in. What was to come, was a new record for the game I have made up, called “see how long you can convince them you are German.” Sitting down at a vacant table, I replied adequately to the waitresses “Bitte sehn” (A customary greeting in restaurants that translates to something like 'please enjoy') with Danke Sehn (thank you). Knowing my meal (and having cooked it myself before leaving), I was able to order in German with, “Jaegershnitzel und pomme frites” (Jaegershnitzel with french fries). Having ordered successfully, I pulled out my copy of The Grapes of Wrath (Thanks Kate!) and began reading. In the context of my game, I gave myself an out on this one, thinking that they probably didn't notice I as reading a book in English. I made it all the way through the course of the meal, (which was much better than when I had made it) up until it came to paying. Unfortunately, I
had to ask for the bill in English, but in terms of time, I must have made it a solid hour and a half.
The next day, I was able to make use of the great boat system that runs up and down the Rhine to visit Marksburg castle. Even better is that with a Eurail pass, you are able to travel for free on the boats on your traveling days. Marksburg castle is known for being one of the few castles along the Rhine that has never been attacked. This is great news for tourists, since we get to see the castle almost exactly as it was in the middle ages. The one thing about Marksburg castle is that they only offer one tour in English per day, which I couldn't go on due to time constraints. Instead, they give you a booklet that goes over the information that the guide discusses. This was a very weird experience since tour guides love to throw jokes in throughout their spiel and I was one of the few standing and reading my booklet, not laughing. As man of you know, I enjoy awkwardness and this was certainly a gold
As I write this, I am now completing the final leg of my Rhine journey, by traveling on one of the river boats all the way down to Mainz (about 5 hrs total) for free because of the Eurail pass! As you can see in many of the pictures, there are numerous castles that I was unable to visit. You could definitely spend a solid month backpacking through this region in the summer months for quite cheap since there are many camping locations all along the way. If only I would have enough time! Eventually I will get some more videos up here, so keep checking back and I will add the urls to the end of this page. Hope all is well with everyone back home! Auf Wiedersehen.
Videos: Interior of Rheinfels Castle: Marksburg Castle from the Dock: Boat Ride along the Rhine:
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