Loreley Cruise Ship
Sailing along the Rhine River.
Bright and early on Mother’s Day, we head north towards the Rhine River. The bus drops us off in Rüdesheim where we meet up with the Loreley cruise ship. We settle in on the upper level, shaded from the intense sun by a canopy but enjoying the cool breeze off the river, as we chat with friends and view castle after castle as we pass by miles of vineyards and quaint towns on one of the world’s only north-flowing rivers.
The Rhine is a main route of commerce for Germany and today you still see dozens of cargo ships floating up and downstream. The existence of the numerous castles is due to the fact that, years ago, when someone owned the land along the river, they also owned the section of river that passed through it. These land owners, a.k.a. Robber Barons, would charge taxes on each ship that passed through their land by lowering a chain across the river and not letting the ship move on until the tax was paid. Thus these robber barons acquired great wealth and built great big castles on their land along the Rhine. Today some of these castles are ruins, and others function
as museums or hotels. Some of the castles were ruined in wars, but either way the castles were usually eventually abandoned for palaces. There are many small towns clustered nearby these castles, set along the riverbank, and between them are hundreds of vineyards, stretching up the hills on either side of the Rhine. Legend has it that Charlemagne, around the year 800, brought grapes to the Rhineland from France.
We get off the boat in the town of St. Goar, which was established in the sixth century by a monk named Goar. We have a few minutes to grab some lunch and stop into a Döner Kebap shop for some döners before meeting up with the little red, Mercedes-Benz train car that will take us up the hill to the Burg Rheinfels.
In 1245, construction on Burg Rheinfels began, funded, of course, from taxes. No siege on the castle was ever successful. Even the Sun King attacked with over 19,000 men, but that, like all previous attacks on the castle, was unsuccessful. Years later, during the French Revolution, the ideals of the Revolution were shared by those at Rheinfels, so they handed over the castle in surrender to
the French troops with no resistance. The French occupied the castle for a few years, before destroying the defenses and auctioning it off to a private buyer. Half a century later, Prussia buys the castle, and seventy years after that, in 1925, the Prussian government gives the castle to the town of St. Goar. The ruins of Rheinfels are the largest castle ruins in Germany and are visited by over 100,000 tourists every year.
We take a tour of the castle, and it seems to ramble on and on. The ruins are expansive and the tour takes us through many above and almost-above ground tunnels, with tiny windows, stairways and steps to various layers of terraces, fields that once contained a moat, and courtyards that used to be the interiors of massive buildings like a keep. We also walk through a giant, cold, above-ground cellar that’s still intact and crowd into a tiny one-roomed dungeon which once had a sole opening in the ceiling where people who didn’t want to pay the river toll were lowered until the money was handed over.
There was also a part where the guide was talking but I couldn’t hear much of
what she was saying because the guy next to me decided that his kid’s screaming wasn’t bothering him. I heard something about tunnels and not going if you’re claustrophobic, but it didn’t sound like a very urgent warning. So we follow the crowd into a normal sized tunnel, and then down a staircase into what soon became a very tight, damp, and dark underground tunnel. I had wondered why, earlier, the guide had handed out a few flashlights, and now I was wishing that myself, or the person in front of me or behind me had one. It very quickly became pitched black in the tunnel and I had to keep one hand on the ceiling to keep from bumping my head, all the while squatting while I stumbled along, and the crowd of people in front of me slowed down more and more as the ground continued to become increasingly uneven and slippery. I couldn’t see a thing, except for the occasional refection of the white pants of the girl in front of me when an occasional beam of someone’s flashlight found its way around the people behind me. It was actually fun at first, until the crowd slowed
to a standstill and I realized that the tunnel was only about three feet wide and four feet tall and only apparently getting smaller, and we’d already made one turn while people ahead of me were talking about another turn to avoid a dead-end and I not only couldn’t see any exits (I couldn’t see anything at all), but didn’t know how long it would be until we reached an exit since people had slowed to a near stand-still. This started to freak me out just as Seth, who was right behind me, realized his back couldn’t take the bending over any longer. Luckily there were only a couple of people behind him who could back out to the slightly larger area that had branched off into other shorter, dead-end tunnels, and one of the guys with a flashlight led us back out. Without the crowd blocking the way, it took us a mere fraction of the time to get out that it took us to get about halfway into the tunnel.
Of course, when the guide said there was another tunnel which was just as dark, but higher, I went along anyway - at least this time I
Castles All Around...
Passengers on the Loreley Cruise Ship.
knew what I was getting myself into. This one started out about five feet high, but went up to about seven. It took awhile, still, for my heart to stop racing as the tour went on. After the adventure, I questioned the guide about the tunnels, and what use they could possibly have, and she explained that they were filled with gunpowder when the castle was under siege and ignited when the enemy troops were in the area or ventured into the tunnels.
After visiting the castle’s museum, we take the train trolley back down the hill and grab some ice cream. We board another boat with our group and sail back to the town of Kaub. Here we get back on the bus and drive to Rüdesheim, to save time in transit. We’re given the opportunity to explore the town for a couple of hours, so we head with four friends to a tiny street called Drosselgasse in search of some local wine. We taste test and make some purchases in a tiny shop, then find a charming outdoor restaurant where we can relax. We try some more local wines and also some soups - I get this
Riesling Cheese Soup with Spinach which was excellent, like the wine. But the time passes too quickly and soon we’re headed back to the bus and leaving the Rhine behind us.
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