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Published: October 15th 2017
My main goal on this trip was to immerse myself in Roman and Gallic ruins, sites and museums because I am trying to write a novel based on Caesar’s Gallic wars. One of the first places I wanted to visit was Mainz because:
a) It is close to Frankfurt, and I was going to fly into Frankfurt; and
b) Mainz was the site of a permanent Roman military base that was responsible for the manufacture of so many Roman swords (gladii) that its name is used as one of the major classifications of Roman infantry swords.
However, on Saturday morning I went online to look up the opening times for the Mainz museum with lots of great Roman stuff and found that I was running late. About 6 months late, because that was when the museum closed. Or early, because someday they will have a fantastic new museum to display the collection. The point being, I was in Mainz at the wrong time.
This, combined with a bit of jetlag, meant I was not hugely motivated in heading out to explore Mainz. I had a late breakfast and lazed around until midday before heading out. I was
left with just two places of interest to me, so first I headed off to the Gutenberg Museum.
The streets of Mainz were quite busy, it being a sunny Saturday. The Mainzians (Mainzites? Mainziacs?) were out in force, drinking, smoking and enjoying the sunshine. There were markets on and, judging by the number of jerseys, some kind of football game happening. This hampered my attempts to get any decent photos of the impressive Mainz Cathedral but thankfully they were not going to the museum.
Inside the museum I had to hand over my driver’s license as surety for returning the ipod with the English audio guide. I headed upstairs and a helpful gentleman got me started on the third tour for reasons best known only to him. The tour had me quickly moving through the impressive collection of books printed within the first century of Gutenberg’s invention. Not only were the books impressive, the display really showed the effect the printing press had on science, allowing discoveries to be disseminated on a scale never seen before.
I continued onto the first audio tour, which covered the written word before the printing press. I was forced to pause
in my tour when I ran into a tour group that was surrounding one of the displays, and, having had both tours mention “as we saw on the highlights tour”, I decided to go back to the start and do the highlights tour. Which should have just been the first tour, because it only covered parts of the museum not covered by any of the other tours.
The highlights tour focussed on Gutenberg himself, his invention and the most important pieces in the museum’s collection – the Gutenberg bible. It was interesting to find out how little was known about Gutenberg, although the popular image of him having a beard is apparently false because his background was a patrician, and they were notoriously clean-shaved. The bibles in the collection cost the city of Mainz millions of deutschmarks, but I think it was worth it for the city where the press was invented to own copies of such important books.
I continued with the other tours, including a section on book-binding and on the similar printing presses invented in China, Korea and Japan. Although these were invented before Gutenberg’s, the massive number of characters in those languages meant that
some of the crucial developments in Gutenberg’s press could never have happened there. It was interesting to see the contrasting techniques, and the eastern ones were every bit as impressive.
I also watched a demonstration of a Gutenberg-style printing press in action, although that was all in German so I followed as best I could. When I finished the audio tours, I spent some more time looking around, including a more thorough visit to the early printed books. After a couple of hours, my feet were getting sore, but I really enjoyed the visit and would highly recommend the museum to anyone visiting Mainz. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the museum so I have no photos to show.
I then walked down to the riverfront to see if there were any good photo opportunities, and maybe a place to sit and relax for a bit. The photo opportunities were limited, as was seating because of the crowds enjoying the sunshine. I walked along the riverfront until I found a spare seat and I gave my aching feet a much-needed break.
I couldn’t sit around too long, however, because there was one place I still wanted to
visit before it closed. I walked back into the centre of town and found the Romerpassage shopping mall. Why did I want to visit a shopping mall so badly? Well, not to shop, I can tell you! Within the Romerpassage shopping mall is a small little office that is the entrance to a fascinating little archaeological site.
The temple of Isis and Mater Magna is not large, but it is free to visit. Of course, a donation is welcome and I gave mine before heading down the stairs to a dark space beneath the mall. Around the edges are displayed some of the items that were found there, including stone dedications and small statues that were offerings to the gods. In the centre of the room are the remains of the temple itself. There are a couple of multimedia displays too, which were in German, but the English guide you can borrow has a translation. The visit did not take long, but it was satisfying to get a taste of Rome in such an important Roman city.
I then headed back to the hotel, stopping for a very late lunch/early dinner on the way. Once back at the
hotel, I was thoroughly exhausted and did very little before having an early night. I was quite annoyed at myself for not doing any kind of physical preparation before the holiday – some good long walks at least would have been better than the piles of nothing I actually did. But in my defence, I was super-busy with work over the last couple of months so I choose to blame that!
Sunday morning, I was up and about a bit earlier that Saturday, mostly because I had to check out and hit the road again. I didn’t really have a plan for Sunday, other than to get to my hotel in Trier that evening. I had a vague idea of seeing the beautiful Rhineland, so after a quick bit of research I plotted a journey and was on my way.
My first stop was supposed to be Rudesheim, where you can catch a cable car to the top of a mountain for beautiful views of the Rhineland, and lovely walks through vineyards on the way down. I didn’t think much about it on the way there, being preoccupied with the whole driving in a foreign country thing but,
as I arrived at Rudesheim and encountered a massive number of people and a full carpark at the cable car, I realised the incredibly thick fog would probably hamper the views anyway. Mind you, it was about midday so I would have expected the fog to have cleared by then.
So I decided to just keep driving along the east bank of the Rhine and just see what I could see. And let me tell you, what I saw was absolutely breathtaking! The road runs right along the bank most of the way, and the fog gave an excellent view of how foreboding the idea of crossing the Rhine must have been for the Roman legionaries. I was beginning to think, however, that feeling, while useful as I write my novel, was all I was going to get from the drive. I took a couple of photos while I waited at some roadworks and decided I would try and find places to stop along the way and take some more, but was prepared to write the day off.
I found a couple of great spots to stop (not that easy when you have high hills on one side
of the road, and a massive river on the other!) and got some nice “castle in the fog” and “vineyards in the fog” photos. But as I continued north, the fog finally began to clear. What had seemed like a dour, overcast day rapidly became another fine, sunny day. And the views just got better!
I ran into a slight problem though, where I think the road north was closed for more roadworks. I followed some cars past the first sign, but most other cars were turning off to cross over to the other bank. I was reluctant to do that, however, because my plan was to drive back south on the western bank. Eventually I decided to take one of the detours I think the signs were telling me to take (remember, I don’t speak, read or write German beyond counting to 5) and I headed away from the river, into the surrounding mountains. The winding road was a bit tight at first and I was glad there were not many cars coming the other way. The scenery was lovely though, with all the golds, reds and browns of a European autumn. I had the gps off though,
so I was quite proud of myself when I reached the Rhine river again. I hadn’t missed the roadworks yet, so a couple more detours, this time through the middle of towns, and I was at my northern-most point of Koblenz, where I was planning to turn around and drive south down the western bank.
This I did successfully and, after pulling over to play with the gps, I headed south towards Boppard. I chose Boppard as my place to stop because it sounded like it would be a nice town, and there were the remains of a Roman military fort there. The drive along the western bank was just as beautiful as the eastern bank, with less roadworks.
Arriving in Boppard, I saw there were plenty of tourists so I went to the first carpark I could find and when somebody left, I nabbed their parking space. This was probably unnecessary as I later found there was more parking available in the centre of the town, but it was a good opportunity to see the town on foot. I walked into town along the riverbank and noticed that most of the tourists were of the elderly variety.
That didn’t bother me, though, and after a much-needed toilet stop, I found the remains of the Roman fort. Walking around there didn’t take long, but I enjoyed it all the same. I then stopped into a café for an ice-cream and a coke before heading back to the car and continuing the drive.
The drive continued to be visually spectacular, although naturally the photo opportunities are limited when you’re driving. What was interesting though, as I headed south, the fog returned! Or, probably more accurately, the fog had never left that part of the river. This came as quite a surprise to me, as I’m used to the Australian sun burning off fog by mid-morning.
Just after passing through Bacharach though, I used the forced stop of some roadworks (did I mention there seems to be a lot of roadworks?) to punch my hotel in Trier into the gps and I turned away from the Rhine river and headed west towards Trier. There wasn’t much excitement on that part of the drive, although the scenery was quite nice once I was out of the fog. Interestingly, the autobahn seems to stop the no-speed-limit thing when there’s fog
about, and we were forced to dawdle along at a piddling 130kph.
I arrived in Trier just after 6pm and found my hotel easily. Even without the gps, it would have been pretty easy to find because right across the road is one of the most impressive Roman ruins I’ve ever seen outside of Rome. I checked in and was absolutely stoked to find my room overlooked the Porta Nigra as you can see in the photo accompanying the blog. I’m really looking forward to seeing the other Roman sites in town tomorrow, although the museum will have to wait until Tuesday because it’s closed on Mondays. No matter, there will be more than enough to see tomorrow!
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