Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oberwesel Rhine in Flames

Last week, I attended a Mosel Wine Festival and fireworks at Bernkastel-Kues. This week, it was a Rhine wine market and the latest Rhine in Flames show in Oberwesel. Overall, I think Bernkastel-Kues is a better time. But Oberwesel has the better fireworks. I mean, seriously...they were the most INSANE fireworks Lance and I have ever seen, and he comes from a small town, I from a large town with huge fireworks every year around Independence Day. This display made that one look small time. I kid thee not.

Anyhoo...on with the report. It won't be that long, I promise.

We left Schinnen around 11 am with 2 busses, such was the popularity of this trip. Lance and I were one row in front of the very back. The women sitting in the back row brought a bottle of wine and proceeded to get wasted. Lance and I were trying to nap, and we ended up dealing with boisterous laughter and a lot of talk about unpleasant bodily functions. Yay.

But finally, we arrived in Oberwesel around 2 pm, and we had the entire day to ourselves. So Lance and I took off and just meandered. We decided against going to the castle...neither of us felt up to the hike, and besides, it probably wasn't anything we haven't seen before (yes, I know...SHUT UP!), so we just decided to stick to wandering around town.

Unfortunately, Oberwesel was dead dead dead. All the shops were closed. The only thing going on in town was the wein markt, which is not a wine festival, per se. The entire point is to get you to sample and buy. I'll get to that in a minute.

We first stopped at Liebfrauenkirche, which is Oberwesel's bright red brick church, attached to a very old little chapel, which I believe was the first church built at that location. I'm just assuming, though. It's 1600 years old, so it's a logical assumption. The church was very pretty inside, a pleasant surprise, since I've visited many underwhelming places of worship.

After that, we just kind of continued our wandering, even paying our admission to the wein markt (we pretty much had to gain admission to get from one side of town to the other) and our tickets allowed us to come and go as we pleased, so we just kept poking around and seeing what we could see, which unfortunately, wasn't much. In the meantime, passing through the wine market, I sampled a glass here or there.

Lance thought it might be nice to take a river cruise, so we went down to the riverbanks, only to discover that the boats there didn't really do pleasure cruises, or if they did, they were several hours long and rather expensive. So we scrapped that idea.

At around 5:30, we decided to have dinner at this little Italian place that we scoped out earlier. So we found a seat on the patio, which was right next to the wine market entrance, so we could people watch (well, I could...Lance sat with his back to it). We were at a table that seated 4 people, so eventually, this old guy came and sat with us, which is customary in Germany but weird for Americans to sit with total strangers. We did our best to ignore him and carry on with dinner and conversation.

After that, we went to the riverbank and waited for the fireworks. And waited. And waited. We ran into people from our group, so at least we could talk to other people. We had more than 2 hours to kill.

Finally, at 9, the procession of lighted boats came down the river.

Then at 9:30, the town of Oberwesel glowed red...everything from the castle on one end to the city gate on the other took on a bright red appearance. Smoke rose up. Flames were shooting out the front of one of the buildings. It was supposed to resemble the night back in the Middle Ages when Oberwesel went up in flames.

And then the fireworks started. They were perfectly choreographed to a variety of classical music. Breathtaking. Amazing. Just completely magical and awe-inspiring.

When those ended, we high-tailed it back to our bus, as the scheduled departure time was 10:15. Everyone made it back, but two women from the second bus, who we had to leave behind. Oh well. No sympathy for them. If they couldn't follow the rules, that is their problem.

On the way home, we had to stop abruptly at a rest stop. The second bus had a bit of a puke fest going on, so the bus had to be cleaned and fumigated before we could hit the road again. I'm just glad it wasn't our bus.

And in conclusion, drunk people on busses are annoying. The guy directly in front of me kept swilling the beer, and he got louder and more obnoxious with each sip. I couldn't sleep on the trip home, but at least Lance was able to a bit.

And None of the fireworks though, sorry.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Cochem and Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

Thursday night, my friend Corry called me out of the blue to ask me what I was doing on Saturday. "Running tedious errands with Lance," I replied.

"Well, get out of it!" (I don’t think this is exactly what she said, but the gist of it anyway).

She went on to invite me to Bernkastel-Kues, two villages across the Mosel River from each other, connected by a bridge. She said she was going with a Canadian group to the wine festival and fireworks, and she wanted me to come as her guest.

Anyway, I talked to Lance, and he insisted that I go.

So yesterday morning at 9 am, I met up with the bus and the other merry travelers, and we set out for the Mosel. I don't think Corry mentioned that we were stopping in Cochem first. But that was explained on the bus…we would arrive in Cochem around 11:30 and have two hours to spend there before moving on to Bernkastel-Kues.

We passed the time well enough. Corry brought her PDA loaded with Monopoly, so we played that for a bit until we both got sick of it.

At 11:30, we arrived in Cochem. I got off the bus and was instantly amazed. Burg Cochem, which I had only heard about but had never seen pictures of, was beautiful and huge…the obvious highlight of the town. Since we only had two hours, we debated walking up to the castle…I didn't really want to. I just wanted to spend time walking around town, but I was convinced otherwise. So we began our huge ascent up the hill to the castle, which was more tiresome than I imagined. Once there, we asked for general admission tickets, but ended up getting on the guided tour instead, which is only conducted in German. They gave us a sheet in English explaining everything, but it was still a bit confusing. It was cool to see the inside of the castle though.

Once we finished the tour, we had about 40 minutes to get back to the bus. So we walked back into the center of town, which takes about 25 minutes (or at least it did going up…I think it was less going down). I was looking for a quick bite to grab for lunch, and happened upon a bratwurst stand. So bratwurst in hand, I got back to the bus and the rest of our group, and we were on our way to Bernkastel-Kues.

The drive there was pretty…going through all the small towns dotting the river. There aren't as many castles on the Mosel as there are on the Rhine, but the ones that are there are just as impressive, if not more so. I saw mostly quaint guesthouses and wineries during the drive, which took a little over an hour. The hills were completely covered in vines.

We finally arrived at Bernkastel around 3…the bus parked there. Our first stop was actually in Kues, at a wine cellar where we were going to a wine tasting. So we took a short walk across the river to the cellar, where we got one glass and 150 varieties of wine (mostly Rieslings) to taste. I drank a total of maybe 3 glasses while I was there. Some people just proceeded to get completely plastered. I gravitated to what I knew I liked, and tried a few other kinds. I ended up walking away with two bottles: a semi-dry Riesling Kabinett and a sweet Riesling. I waited outside for a bit until Corry came out. She's not much of a wine drinker, so she was choosing bottles to give as gifts. She bought a case, and we walked back to the bus with our purchases, then back to the wine cellar so Corry could meet up with her friends that were wandering around with us. They said they would join us shortly, so we walked back to Bernkastel to wait for them.

After we all met up, we decided to go for dinner. Corry and I wanted to sit down somewhere. The 3 others in our small group eventually decided they wanted to grab food to go, so we split up and Corry and I went to a nice restaurant where we sat out on the balcony with the view of the wine festival below. I had a nice dinner of pork steak smothered in sautéed onions with fried potatoes on the side. It was served with horseradish, which Corry ended up eating because I didn't really like it. Corry had something pretty similar, except she also had green bean bundles wrapped in bacon.

After dinner, we went to one of the areas of town where the festival-goers were congregating. We met up with some Americans there who had come from nearby military bases, and talked to them for a bit, and then we started running into people in our group. So we hung out in this area for awhile. I saw a booth selling Federweisser, which is essentially young wine (Junger Wein). It only comes out this time of year. It's produced the same year you are supposed to drink it. It's best described as half grape juice, half wine, and it only has about 4% alcohol in it. The Germans love the stuff (it traditionally accompanies onion cake). I bought some in Luxembourg a couple years ago, but it had already fermented and tasted nasty, so I ended up pouring it out. I decided to give it another try. It has to be consumed immediately and they don't cork it…they just put the foil seal over the bottle and leave it at that (this is because it builds up carbonic acid, and the bottle will explode if sealed). Anyway, I bought a glass and it was good. So I ended up purchasing a bottle of that.

Around 8:15, we had to leave to meet up with the rest of our group at the river cruise. By the time Corry and I got on the boat, it was pretty full. We wanted to sit out on the open deck, so she asked some nice (somewhat drunk) old ladies if we could sit with them. They said it was fine. They were a riot. There were 4 German ladies, and only one of them spoke any English, and only limited. Nevertheless, we were able to have a conversation with them, and they were just hilarious. We all had a lot of laughs together.

Even though we were outside, we were still sitting under an awning, so once the fireworks started, Corry and I left our new friends and found a spot that was more suitable for seeing the show. I videotaped the first 10 minutes of it with my digital camera. It was honestly one of the better fireworks displays I've seen. It simulated a battle between marauders on the river and the castle up on the hill, so there were fireworks going back and forth between the two locations, and then simultaneously at both. It was awesome.

After that, we headed back home. It was an amazing day, and the weather was absolute perfection. Lance and I are going to a Rhine wine festival this coming weekend in Oberwesel, which will no doubt be similar, so I'm really looking forward to that.