Saturday, July 12, 2003

Castles, castles...and oh, look! More castles!

Today Lance and I left our house around 8 am and drove about an hour and a half to a town along the Rhine called Boppard...a very picturesque place. And that is where our adventures began. On that stretch of the Rhine, there are castles EVERYWHERE. can't look anywhere without seeing one. And it's a very hilly/mountainous region, so the castles are all very high up in the mountains...we had trouble seeing most of them on the side of the Rhine that we were on at any given time, but we could see the ones on the other side very well.

The drive is indescribably beautiful...seriously one of the most amazing places I have ever seen on this earth...not that I've traveled much yet, but I was in total awe. Every village along the Rhine is gorgeous, and just when you think it couldn't get more gorgeous, you come around the bend and there is another village there with something even more beautiful.

Our first stop was Burg Rheinfels in St. Goar (built in the late 13th century). The castle is in ruins, because as with most of the castles in the area, it was destroyed by the French in 1689. However, this one, unlike most of the other castles, was never restored, although a hotel and restaurant have been built onto it. It was really interesting walking through the ruins...I still don't think we got through everything. It's a massive place. There are tunnels and staircases in between the walls (pitch black and creepy) and all kinds of interesting things to see. As a sidenote...there are 2 castles right across the Rhine from Rhinefels...Castle "Katz" (named for Duke Katzenelnbogen) and Castle "Maus"...nicknamed by the tenants of Castle Katz because it was smaller.

Back at Rhinefels though...I noticed a tiny brown lizard on the ground where there was a lot of foot traffic. I was worried about it getting trampled (it was so cute), so I got a stick to try and move it to someplace safer. Well, the lizard hopped up on my shoe and started climbing up my leg (I was wearing jeans, thank God)...I wasn't scared, but I was frantically trying to shake it off, because I didn't know where it planned to go. Several people walked by and witnessed the scene and had a good laugh over it...Lance was laughing too, but trying to get out his video camera to get it on tape. But I shook it off before he could tape it. He was kind of mad about that. But I wonder what he would've done if the lizard was crawling up his leg. Anyway, we got the critter to safety eventually and moved on.

After our visit at Rheinfels, we decided we liked the town of St. Goar. It looked to have some interesting places, and it was lunch time anyway. So we parked the truck and found a nice little Italian sidewalk cafe that was within perfect view of Rheinfels. We ordered pizzas and just sat and watched the world go by...there were a lot of tourists there and we heard a lot of english being spoken (moreso than German, actually)...there were many many Americans there.

After our lunch, we stopped at the Cuckoo Clock Center, which is exactly what it claims to be. There was a giant cuckoo clock outside the building...Lance got a picture of me standing under it. They sold other souvenirs too, so I managed to pick up a few gifts. There was a beer stein shop down the road, so I picked up a couple more gifts there. Then we hopped in the truck and were on our way.

Of course we saw many many other castles on our way to the next castle tour. We stopped at Reichenstein Castle, but I think we came in the wrong way. All we could see from where we were was a restaurant...the castle was further back but we couldn't see it. So we left (which is unfortunate, because once we got to the other side of the Rhine and we passed it again, we saw the castle and it was fantastic)...and we went down the road just a bit to Rhinestein Castle.

Rhinestein Castle was very's restored and currently owned by an opera singer. It also has a restaurant (most of them do). There was a wedding taking place while we were there, so I don't think we had access to everything that was usually open to the public. But we got to see the chapel, the royal crypt (and the coffins of 2 princes of Prussia and one princess), the fountain garden, the squires' hall, the knights' hall, the dining hall, a couple of salons, and a bedchamber. The decorations in the squires' hall were kind of creepy (lots of animal skulls and weapons...but some suits of armor too). All in all, a very cool castle. It's also the oldest place I've ever been to besides the Roman baths in Bath, started at Rhinestein in 900.

That was actually the last castle we were able to tour for the day. We drove through many more beautiful towns, most of them with castles, and many of them with the medieval city walls still intact (including some watch towers). We got to a city called Bingen (its claim to fame being Hildegard of Bingen, a very illustrious nun from the medieval period), and it was there that we took a ferry across the Rhine (one that carries vehicles also) to the town of Rudesheim. We spent a few hours there. This is the big wine producing center of Germany, and Rudesheim is surrounded by vineyards (vineyards covered most of the entire area that we saw today). Lance and I took a skylift ride up over the vineyards and it dropped us off at the top of a mountain overlooking the Rhine...we could see for miles and was spectacular. Anyway, there was a huge statue up there (which reminded us of the statue of liberty) that was erected to commemorate some war that took place in that region in the 19th century. There were some other things to see up there too, but it was quite a hike. So we decided against it and took the skylift back down. On the way back down, there was a falcon perched on the wire that runs between the 2 sides of the we got to see it very close up. That was cool. And it was funny, some drunk guy was in a skylift on the other side and he waved frantically at us and gave us a big "Hiiiiiiiiiii" as he went past. We were cracking up. But I don't think they should let drunk people on those things because it would be too easy to fall out.

After the skylift, we went to an "Eis Cafe" (ice cream parlor)...I got spaghetti ice, which sounds disgusting, but really isn't. The vanilla ice cream is made to look like spaghetti. It has strawberry sauce on top for the spaghetti sauce, and white chocolate shavings as the parmesan cheese (and a good dollop of whip cream underneath it all for good measure). Yummy. While we were there, a very loud transvestite in a very hideous bright pink poofy dress came bounding up to get some ice cream. There were some snickers among the crowd sitting in the cafe, but after he went to a nearby bench to eat his ice cream, people were asking to pose for pictures with him. He was eating it up. He was singing goofy songs and really enjoying the attention. Lance and I walked past him and he tried to get us to stop and take our picture with him. We turned around and walked the other way, but I sort of wish we would've been funny. And that dress had to be seen to be believed. It was the most godawful ugliest thing I've ever laid eyes upon.

We left Rudesheim and decided that our next destination would be Marksburg Castle (which in German would be Burg in English it's Marks Castle Castle...whatever)...anyway, it's one of the most well-preserved castles on the Rhine, and one of the most beautiful (although I think the one directly across the river from it was absolutely gorgeous)...unfortunately, the castle was closed when we got there. I really wanted to see it too...the rooms were supposedly preserved to look as they did in the medieval period and they had torture devices and things like chastity belts on display.

So we decided at that point to head for home...of course we saw more castles as we headed into Koblenz and when we got right into Koblenz, there was a GIGANTIC fortress that spread out in front of us. Just awesome. Words cannot describe. I tried to get a picture of it from the truck, but I'm sure it won't begin to do justice to it (if it even comes out...taking pictures through a windshield probably doesn't guarantee a great photo).

Anyway, so we're back...and we're tired. But this has been the most amazing day. We are anxious to go back and see more. We didn't even see a quarter of the castles that are along Castle Road. And of the ones we did see, we only toured 2...of course, a lot of them are privately owned, but we're already making a list of ones we want to see that we missed today. And we plan to take at least 2 days the next time...and even then, we won't come close to seeing everything. But there are a lot of campgrounds right along the Rhine, so we want to make a camping trip out of it. Although there are countless hotels in the area too, all of them oozing charm from every nook and cranny.

By the way, since I don't have pictures, here are links if you want to catch a glimpse of some of these places:
The gigantic fortress with equally gigantic name:

(and of course, this barely begins to scratch the surface).