Rhineland and Central Germany

Fall in Germany is beautiful. I was able to experience the center of this nation first hand with my then fiancee (now wife) and it was absolutely spectacular. In this next installment of my Notebook project I give an overview of the trip. The sections below have links to pages with greater detail about that section of the trip. If I left anything out, please let me know!

Why Germany

At the onset of every overseas trip I’ve taken people want to know why I am going there. Jen and I try to take 1 ‘big’ trip per year and we had not yet been to Germany. It seemed like a good pin to put in the Map Project! We both share a heritage with the area – I was especially excited to see the Hessen area. Last name research.

Finally, this was of course coordinated to schedule up with Oktoberfest. You see while my soon-to-be blushing bride and I would explore the romantic castles and vineyards of the Rhineland for a peaceful time together that wouldn’t be the end of the trip at all. For me, anyway. I was scheduled to meet my friends in Munich for Oktoberfest – but that’s a story for another post!

General Impressions

First off, we were very fortunate to be able to go. We were very cognizant of the current economic climate while there – US tourism we were told again and again – had fallen like a stone off a cliff this year. While it was a very welcome break from the monotony of cubicle land, we did appreciate having cubicles to come back to (and finance this little expedition.)

What we found were beautiful places, great people, and an interesting history.
The Rhineland is a gorgeous couple’s retreat. Still, it’s kind of an age-appropriate adventure….for retirees that is! This is the vacation we should have taken when we are 65, retired, and in the relaxing, wine sipping years of our lives. But….. this is what you get when you “Rick Steve’s it.”

Still, we had a great time adventuring by train, stepping back a millennia (or more) in time and not eating vegetables. There are NO vegetables in Germany!

Getting there

We were able to take flight from Charlotte direct to Frankfurt. My flight was free thanks to the accumulation of tons of frequent flier miles on USAir. I would later find out that I could have redeemed all those miles for 2 direct flights but, alas, live and learn!

We arrived and Jen was getting over a cold and I was just getting sick. I didn’t sleep at all on the flight and managed to get through customs bleary-eyed and feverish. Luckily Jen was there to navigate us through the airport and buy the train tickets that would be our transport for the entire week. I remember feeling so sick and not being able to sleep for the continuous transfer of trains. Still, Germany gets superb marks for their national transportation system – cheap though, it is not!

Rothenberg ob der Tauber

Our first stop in Germany was this hard-to-get to medieval walled city. Rothenberg is picturesque German town — yellow houses with dark brown trim abound. The best way to describe this place is living history. The city sits on a raised cliff high above the banks of a river from which the town gets it’s name and grapes for wine. That defensive position and arable land have been desirable to nearly everyone who has come by for thousands of years. You can see this as the former site of Romans, Holy Roman Empire, Catholics vs Protestant wars, and more up. It even played an interesting role in WWII.

Well-preserved from it’s heyday as a regional economic power, once the trade stopped (a combination of church politics, changing of trade routes, and technology) Rothenberg found itself too poor to modernize, so they rebuilt and fixed everything they had. In fact, they did that for hundreds of years perfectly preserving the medieval city for 19th century English aristocrats to find. Entertainingly, it was that Elizabethan tourism that spared the town in WWII from Allied bombing when the commander recognized the town as a cultural center.

And still preserved those medieval houses are. Our hotel, while updated with electricity, internet, plumbing, etc must have been centuries old. As were most of the buildings in the neighborhood. The entire city is a post card and we took many, many, many photos. You know you’re in trouble when you cannot decide on which souvenirs to bring home (and you’re only one day into a 2 week plus trip!)

The most identifying features of Rothenberg are the towers, the defensive wall that encircles the town, and the squares provided. We climbed towers, took tours, ate at authentic restaurants open for longer than the US has been a country. Our favorite part was the acerbic Night watchman tour- given at night with a heavy dose of sarcasm in equal measure with education making the medieval city come to life. We laughed our collective asses off at this guy’s humor. If you’re ever in Rothenberg, check him out!

You can see my first impressions here on this post that I wrote while there. It’s a little darker as I was a lot sicker during the writing of it!

After 2 brief days we were back on the trains again.

Heidelberg

Some guidebooks will tell you that Heidelberg is overrun by American students, military, and tourists and, despite it’s picturesque allure, you’d be better off devoting your time elsewhere.

I can see a little truth in that but…

Other guide books will tell you that Heidelberg is called “everybody’s favorite town” in Germany. Situated on the Neckar River, tourist books will tell you that it “can be explored in a day if you move fast enough. Check into a hotel in the Altstadt (Old Town) for atmosphere and wander its cobblestone streets at your leisure.”

OK, we did just that. And we had a phenomenal time! From drinking squares to climbing to cliff-top castles overlooking hazy rivers I am ridiculously happy that we didn’t skip this town.

Bacharach & Rudesheimr

Our next stop on our train tour of middle Germany was Bacharach. This was to be our base on the Rhine for the next few days – the remainder of Jen’s section of the trip. Barely bigger than the train station it held, per Rick Steve’s notes it was a convenient jumping off point to the rest of our Rhineland adventures.

One of those adventures was a journey only one or two stops away over to Rudesheim to check out that town. Another picturesque medieval village built into a hill and famous for their wine and vineyards. Surprisingly fun!

The Rhine Adventure Cruise

The chief reason for basing ourselves in Bacharach was to avail ourselves of the K-D line – a ferry that would bring us down the Rhine. Anywhere I go I try to get some time in or on the water and cruising this historical and crucial waterway offered not only a relaxing way to travel but provided a ton of insight into an area I had only read about previously. Family theories abound about how we immigrated from Germany to the states. Any way you cut it, it’s likely I wasn’t the first Hessing to make this trip North.

We hopped on and off again visiting castles, eating, drinking, and amusing ourselves for miles. We explored towns like St. Goar and Boppard. We passed the famous Lorely. We took pictures of castles that I could have previously only imagined as part of fairy tales. After ending in Koblenz, we took explored a little more and took the train back to Bacharach.

Trier

Trier lays about as far west as a town can lay in Germany before you start calling it France. We had a decision to make – spend a 2-3 hours travelling by train to a German city on the edge of France positively reviewed by Rick Steve’s or go to a ruined castle that he absolutely raved about and demanded that we see.

Tough decision. By this time we had enough of Tricky Ricky and his guidebook for senior citizens. The hopping on aond off into charming and quaint riverside villages was nice – especially the wine – but it was time for a little more adventure. Time to cast our flag a little further afield. I’m glad we did. We had a great time and as a bonus stopped in for a whirlwind tour of a surprise city on the return. And we can always visit the super-duper-absolutely-must-see-or-your-trip-is-a-waste castle the next time we’re in the Rhineland!

Our week-long adventure through central Germany and the Rhineland ended the next day as we awoke early and caught a train to the Frankfurt airport. After seeing Jen checked in and escorted through customs I was on my way to Bavaria and Munich and Oktoberfest for the Bachelor party to end all Bachelor parties! But that’s a story for another time!

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