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MAINZ TO KOBLENZ
We had a little trouble getting to Wiesbaden. It looked so simple on the map - if only we had taken the Theodor Heuss Bridge! We followed the cycle path down the left bank until we saw the Wiesbaden signs. We followed these under a huge concrete clover-leaf and out the other side. Problem: once out the other side, the Wiesbaden signs pointed back under the cloverleaf! We went about halfway back under the huge knot of concrete roadway to a spot where there was a flight of steps up on to a carriageway, followed by a spiral staircase (at least 3 storeys high!) which obviously went up to bridge level.
Our hearts sank to our boots when we saw a local cyclist carrying his bike down the spiral stair! The prospect of mounting those stairs at least twice, once with panniers, then with bike, was mighty unappealing. We almost fell upon the poor young fellow when he reached our level, demanding to know if that was the only way up. It was the only way he ever took, but he was kind enough to take his bike back up to the road at the top of the straight steps and explore the possibility of using that road to gain access to the bridge. He came back smiling - yes, the verge turned in to a separate path just around the bend. We thanked him profusely and struggled up the single flight of steps, thankful we had been spared the spiral. We were actually going up the down ramp of the autobahn, but we were separated from the traffic and at least we were moving on again.
We reached the Wiesbaden youth hostel about 1 1/2 hours later due to a number of wrong turns and another flat on Louise's bike.Warning : Do not attempt loaded touring on a bicycle equipped with 27"x 1 1/4" Michelin World tour tyres! They will hardly take you 'round the block, let alone around the world!
Our arrival doubled the overnight occupancy at the hostel, so we got two 4-bed dorms and luxuriated in the peace and quiet. On asking about the proximity of an eating establishment one of the other guests kindly directed us to a MacDonald's, about 2k distant. However, Denis had noticed a pub on the corner before the hostel. We called in there for a pre-dinner beer and went no further, as the pub was actually a beaut Greek restaurant. The blokes at the bar were very friendly, and bought us 2 rounds of ouzo to complement our meal. Then we were each given a badge by the local piano maker, who was egged on by his companions to personally pin one on Louise's red skivvy "an der linksen Brust!" Luckily Louise can't understand German, but the guys blushed and giggled when they saw I could ;-)
The next day (18/4) was a breeze.
After a detour via a large bike shop in Wiesbaden (in search of the elusive Mr Tuffy's for Louise), we rode along the cycle path on the right bank of the Rhine. Lunch stop was at Eltville and the lovely walled gardens of the old castle there. We continued along the right bank to Rüdesheim, where we took the cable car up to the Niederwald monument, an immense statue of Germania, looking southward to keep an eye out for any invaders rash enough to try to wrest the Rhine from German hands ;"Am Rhein, am Rhein, am Deutschen Rhein, Wir allen wollen Hüter sein!"
After crossing by ferry to Bingen we found our way to the youth hostel, which, strangely enough, was across the Nahe River, and up the hill. Who should be awaiting our arrival but Elaine and Kim. They had reached there the night before, after being told that the Mainz youth hostel was full. Remember I said the Mainz guy was a blockhead? Well, to prove it, Elaine had sent a fax from Bingen asking if we had stopped there the night before. She had written it in English, and had it translated into German before sending it. She got a fax in reply welcoming her to Mainz youth hostel!
Anyway, it was good to be back together again and we had another good night out, first at the Casablanca bar, then at the Italian restaurant next door.
Roman medical instruments from 110 AD
Next morning E & K went across to Rüdesheim while we visited the museum in the old tower of castle Klopp. There was no-one to take our DM1 entrance fee, so we just dropped it in the Taufstein near the door. We went down to the Roman relics, then proceeded to the upper floors. When we reached the third floor a little guy popped out of his office and demanded DM1 per person. We told him we had left it downstairs, so down he scurried. He must have found the money OK because he was quite happy when he returned. He then asked if any of us spoke German and proceeded to tell us about the exhibit in the glass case immediately in front of us. It was (a copy of) the only full set of Roman medical instruments ever discovered. The owner had studied at the University of Alexandria, then had been posted as a military doctor to the Roman garrison at Bingen. He had died in 110 AD and his instruments were buried with him. They discovered them in 1925 when they built the bridge over the Nahe River. The exhibit is a copy as the originals are under lock and key in a very safe place ;-)
On the way to Bacharach we visited Burg Rheinstein. After chaining our bikes in the underpass we climbed up to the castle. You need to be fit to be a tourist around here, as every castle is up the top of an enormous hill! The castle has been reconstructed to some extent, but is still impressive just by the fact of its being there. The chapel on its jutting piece of rock gives a definite feeling of impermanence - quite in contrast to the 400 year old grapevine in the adjoining courtyard!
We saw an interesting car on the road on our way back down - painted matt black, it was decorated with a shark's mouth, just like the old fighter 'planes. Then, on the left rear flank, was painted a tally of "road kills" - 8 cars, 3 tractors, 5 motorbikes, 3 dogs, and 1 cat. What, I thought, no cyclists?
Youth hostel Burg Stahleck, Bacharach, on top of the hill
When we arrived in Bacharach, our goal for the night was hard to miss! Burg Stahleck sits high above the town, on the top of a HUGE hill. Up we go again!! The castle is superb and is a tourist attraction as well as a youth hostel. Our double room was down a winding stair in the very foundations of the castle - what a treat for an incurable romantic! Bacharach is a funny place though, come 17.00 everyone disappears off the streets.
April 20 was a bright sunny morning, although it was still a bit chilly for my liking, about 6 degrees C. We had a quick look around Bacharach, where the railway line runs right next to the outdoor cafes, then pushed on to St Goar as the thermometer dropped lower and lower.
Everything was closed in St Goar when we arrived (Sunday afternoon), so we had lunch on the supermarket steps, the sunniest place we could find. After lunch we found the best beerstein shop in Germany - Denis just had to buy the one with the cyclist on it! We paid for postage and packing back to Australia - I hope they arrive OK.
We then propelled ourselves UP to Burg Rheinfels as the weather began closing in. Rheinfels is a ruin, but is well worth visiting nonetheless. The sheer immensity of the place is astounding. The threatening sky sent us scuttling out after about 1 hour, and the snow storm began just as we were donning our wet-weather gear in the car-park. The sympathetic looks we received from the warm, dry, car passengers were enough to melt our hearts ;-^
We descended the hill gingerly, and headed for the St Goar youth hostel and shelter - the only problem being that it didn't open until 17.00 and it was now only 14.30. The weather was clearing a bit so we decided to make a run for Koblenz, 30k up the river. It wasn't a unanimous decision.
After St Goar the cycle path becomes a bit ordinary. Passing through the towns it is well maintained, but between towns it becomes very narrow and broken, and quite dangerous in parts. At one stage I though we would all get sucked under by a huge tourist bus, but a determined wobble here and there kept us all upright!
Passing through Boppard (full of Beautiful People) we tried yet again to find some tyre liners - unfortunately the response was still negative - don't cyclists get punctures in Germany?
The cycle path along the Rhine in to Koblenz is beautifully signposted. We knew we had to cross the river to get to Ehrenbreitstein, so there was no trouble finding our way - until we got to the underpass sign on the right bank that said youth hostel to the right AND youth hostel to the left. Of course this lead to a major argument, with 5 going right and 3 going left. We should have all gone straight ahead! Whichever way we went, it was an enormous climb up to the fortress. We got to the point where we left our bikes against a wall and continued on foot, as we had no intention of pushing our loaded bikes up that rotten hill if the youth hostel wasn't up there too! Be assured, it IS up there, tucked away in the back corner. We arrived too late for dinner, and were in no fit state to go back down the bottom in search of sustenance, so the hostel receptionist kindly arranged a pizza delivery for us.
The massive Ehrenbreitstein fortress contains a number of things besides the youth hostel, and I am sorry we didn't make time to explore the place properly before taking off next morning, as its very presence invites curiosity.
Mosel meets Rhine at Koblenz
The Mosel River and surrounding vineyards
Klotten an der Mosel
KOBLENZ TO TRIER AND BACK
Monday 21/4 saw us head off up the Moselle River by train, destination Trier. We had intended to catch the 9.33 train from Koblenz, but there was not enough room for 8 bicycles. The guard explained that the 10.17 had a baggage car big enough to take all the bikes, and it arrived in Trier only 11 minutes later than the other. Had we known this earlier we could have spent some time exploring Ehrenbreitstein, but we explored the Koblenz station instead.
The trip south to Trier was interesting, and whetted our appetites for the ride back down the river. We reached Trier around lunch time and headed straight for the youth hostel. It was fairly full, but we still managed to obtain two 6-bed dorms, on the proviso that the spare beds would be allocated to strangers if necessary.
Trier is over 2000 years old and at one stage the city was second only to Rome. There are Roman ruins everywhere, and the thermal baths are particularly interesting. The Dom is Romanesque rather than Gothic, and the internal ornamentation was quite different from other churches we had seen. A special shrine has been built behind the high altar to house the cathedral's most precious relic - believed by the faithful to be the garment Jesus Christ was wearing before the Crucifixion. The cathedral treasury has on exhibition some beautiful examples of the gold- and silversmiths' art, as well as some very intricate embroidery.
There was so much to see in Trier that we decided to stay the next day as well, which meant a drastic alteration of Denis' and my plans for cycling in the Netherlands. We were now four days behind schedule, and well aware that our original plans had been far too ambitious. I was determined, however, to meet up with our Dutch internet connections, come Hell or high water!
The first night in Trier Denis and I had found a great little pub, not far from the hostel. As usual, Denis had taken note of the whereabouts of a number of hostelries on the way in to the alt Stadt, so after a couple of false starts (too dingy, too smoky), he knew there was still one to come before we reached the hostel. And what a lovely place it was, the Gaststaette "Am Ecken". We made the mistake of paying for our drinks before we received them (the Australian way) and thoroughly confused mein host, who then asked another patron, a uni student who could speak excellent English, to explain the situation to us. Susan was a gem and gave us lots of information about the pub and about Trier.
We returned with the others the next night, for tea. Susan wasn't there, but Rosi (meine hostess ?) was in fine form. She asked for a postcard from Australia, and was tickled pink when I pulled a kangaroo postcard out of my barbag, and we all signed it there and then. I can't remember who had made the suggestion originally, but most of us had a selection of Australian souvenirs with us, to hand out to anyone who had been particularly helpful. It was a good idea, as it made us feel we could give people something in return for their kindness, and the recipients always seemed to appreciate it
Navigation for the next three days was pretty simple - follow the Moselle north. The Moselradweg signs are pretty comprehensive, and we only became "geographically embarrassed" a couple of times when roadworks forced us off the signposted path. One such instance was the entry to Bernkastel. The last 300 metres of road before the town was under complete reconstruction and a roadworker directed us back 200 metres and up a walking path that must have been made by mountain goats. Though not recommended for road bikes, those of us with MTB style tyres had quite a good time once we had overcome the vertical climb at the start!
Our first night on the Moselle was spent at Bernkastel. I had found out at Trier that the youth hostel was full, so we stayed at Haus Margret, Burgstrasse 90. Margret was aghast that we had come so far on bicycles, but I heard her proudly relay the story to her next door neighbour next morning as she waved us goodbye.
Bernkastel is a quaint little town, completed dominated by the beetling vineyards that are the hallmark of the Moselle. Again we had a good feed in a small ethnic restaurant, this time a Turkish establishment up river from the main tourist area.
We had asked for an early breakfast next morning, and a loud radio "just happened" to come on at about 6.45 am. You can imagine my surprise when I recognised the song as one of my favourites - "Live it up" by the 80's Australian band Mental as Anything! Breakfast was a tour de force, as I'm sure Margret was feeding us up for the day ahead.
Today was my birthday, and the group bought a large apple streusel and sang happy birthday when we stopped for morning tea at Traben-Trarbach. How sweet! Beware of Traben-Trarbach though - we could not find a public toilet no matter how we tried - this time not even the train station had one. We couldn't hang on 'til Cochem, so we were relieved (as it were) to find accessible public toilets in a camping ground about 10k further on.
The Moselle River between Trier and Cochem twists and turns like a snake with a belly ache, so again our distance calculations were slightly out. Presumably the distance marked on the map is taken from the centre of the river, but the path we were on always seemed to follow the outside bends, so once again the projected 60k stretched out to 85k two days running. Luckily the path is pretty flat, with most "hills" being the approaches to the numerous bridges one has to cross. The headwinds, however, can get a bit tiresome.
We were booked in to the Cochem youth hostel, which happens to be situated across the river in Cond, which was lucky, as we approached the town along the right bank, and rode straight to hostel without even knowing where it was.
Our spirits sank a little when we noticed we were sharing the hostel with yet another busload of youngsters, but at least this time the teachers were in charge, and the kids were all in bed by 21.00. It was our turn to give them a hard time that night, as we had called in to a wine cellar in Zell during the day, and we had 3 bottles of wine to polish off before the night was through!
The next day (25/4) was one we had all been waiting for. Today we would see Burg Eltz! We left Cochem at 10.00 and sprinted down the river towards Moselkern. We reached the town then followed the signs inland towards the castle. About 3k up the road we left our bikes chained up in the last carpark before the forest footpath begins. It's a lovely walk through the trees, up and down the mountain side, and takes about 40 minutes in either direction. It was while walking through the lower reaches of this path that I heard my first real live cuckoo - it sounded just like our clock ;-)
Burg Eltz is splendid, and well worth a visit, no matter how you get there. It has never been conquered, and never destroyed, and has been in the hands of the same family for over 800 years! We were lucky that an American family of four arrived at the same time as us, so we were given an English tour. I have the whole spiel on my little tape recorder!
After coming back down the mountain we had our last picnic lunch together. Russell only had six days to go before leaving for home, and Denis and I had eight; and we still hadn't reached the Netherlands. We were headed back to Koblenz and the mouth of the Moselle, and should have had plenty of time, except ..., you might have guessed ..., Louise's back tyre decided to go flat yet again. Fifty minutes later we resumed our journey.
Denis was adamant he didn't want to ride all the way up to Ehrenbreitstein again, so we started looking for a hotel. The others were not keen to spend the extra money, so after a beer and quick pizza downtown we said farewell to our companions. It was a bit scary to think that, from now on, it was just the two of us.