Guten tag world travelers! This article is a continuation of my series about my wunderbar excursion into Germany and Switzerland exactly a month ago (has it been that long already!?) After basking in the warm, clear sunshine of Switzerland, I made my way into the misty, cold, and orderly world of Germany. I took an ICE train from Basel to Mannheim and used my Eurorail pass, a nifty and convenient way to travel throughout Europe with flexibility and cost-effectiveness. I would highly recommend buying a Eurorail pass instead of a train ticket that departs on a certain day/time because train tables are highly subject to change at the last minute. It’s better (and less stressful) to have a pass that covers a whole day of travel, not just a predetermined time that could change as quickly as the moods of petulant children. Find out how to use your Eurorail pass here.
After driving through the historical town of Speyer and reconnecting with family friends that lived in Wolfsheim, we finally settled down in our quaint Zum Kelterhaus bed and breakfast, a lovely inn with the most genuine and helpful owners one could ask for. Forget the unfriendly Hilton hotels or the automated/faceless corporate hotels that show up first in Google search results; instead, opt for small lodgings that exude the authentic German vibe without pretension or add on fees. Find out more about Zum Kelterhaus and their pleasant owners, Arnold and Gundula, here. Ober-Hilbersheim is truly in the middle of vineyards, wheat and spargel crops, and expansive fields dotted with enormous white windmills. Large parts of rural Germany are being overshadowed by these modern sentinels, so much so that I prefer to call them the Colossi of the Rhine. My family stayed in an old, converted barn-house from at least one hundred years ago—my mother and I slept in the hay-loft that was covered in dark, mahogany wood and had a steeply sloping roof! If you are blessed with height, be careful of the dollhouse-like roof because you will get walloped several times by the antique wood. Breakfast at Zum Kelterhaus was a remarkable affair because the food was incredibly fresh and delicious, while the room it was served in was part of the barn as well. Be sure to taste the flavorful Portuguesa wine that is produced by the owners themselves!
From our humble vineyard abode, my family and I drove to Bingen, the famous town of the zealous Hildegard that sits upon the banks of the Rhine River. Like the Danube, Seine, Thames, Tiber, and the Elbe, the Rhine is iconic for its history/beauty and should not be missed. River boats depart from the port of Bingen every half hour and journey north towards Cologne or south towards Mainz. Although the weather was chilly and gray in the morning, I enjoyed the River tour immensely. Every way I looked, I was confronted by some imposing, ruinous castle that overlooked the deep Rhine like a permanent guard or protector of antiquity. Tumbling down from the green crests of the hills, vineyards fanned out towards the bank in orderly German lines. Medieval castles, the famous crop of the land (grapes), and black barges passing the tourist cruises loaded with coal or Volkswagens…it was quite the amazing sight to see and such an educational experience. My ship trekked north towards Bacharach, and I even saw the monumental Rheinstein castle perched on its outcropping of rock like a majestic sculpture. So much weighty history must be trapped within those gnarled stones and in the icy depths of the River I was currently floating on…it was so surreal and hard to comprehend. My little manmade island of tourism finally docked in Bacharach, a medieval city over 1,000 years old and known for its Gothic Church, picturesque vineyards, and Stahleck Castle. After landing, we ventured into the walled city through a miniature archway, and I was instantly reminded of the low, eerie entrance to the mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings. Blushing red rose petals spilled onto the narrow streets, tiny shops advertising bratwurst were scattered every few feet, typical Bavarian biergartens beckoned customers with their handwritten, chalkboard signs, and the charcoal spire of St. Peter’s Church colored the peaceful landscape with a touch of the divine. Simply put, Bacharach was the quintessential example of “authentic German town.” Taken from experience, I can verify that yes, the hole-in-the-wall bratwurst shop was AMAZING and just thinking about the crusty bread and outburst of gritty flavor makes my stomach growl right now. My mother and I pounded our feet onto the ancient streets and explored St. Peter’s Church, a Romanesque/Gothic edifice that was first constructed in 1230 or 1240 CE. Next, we braved the sketchy (and rather unsafe) trek uphill towards the striking Stahleck Castle. After passing through the haunting mauve ruins of Werner Chapel (which felt like a decaying relic from some ancient conflict), we continued our seemingly never-ending journey up the hills of the Rhineland. Looking back now, the decision to climb crumbling and misshapen steps with cheap sneakers from TjMax probably wasn’t the brightest idea, but we survived! The view at the top was well worth the beating hearts, sore calves, and despairing thoughts of a plunge into the Rhine below us. Again, it’s hard to accurately convey in words the snaking, sloshing Rhine, the extremely well aligned vineyards that slunk down the hills in a perfectly straight line, and standing in the shadow of some medieval castle composed of rusticated stones likely to crumble any moment. Because what goes up must come down, we had to brave the steeply carved path down towards the town again, this time slipping and sliding around the narrow, pebbly path in a rather ungraceful and dangerous fashion. At our seedy adventure’s end, we discovered we had struggled down the path of a vineyard gutter, not the conventional path with stairs and adequate traction. ^_^
After licking delicious Italian gelato and buying prints of Bacharach from a weathered artist, our time in this idyllic village was over and our voyage on the choppy waters of the Rhine began again. The way back towards Bingen was even more beautiful, for the fickle sun decided to unleash its afternoon glow on those sitting on the viewing deck of the boat. With a cool breeze tickling my hair, the warmth from the sun seeming to sink into my skin, and the image of the apocalyptic Werner Chapel burned into my mind, I dosed off, letting the rocking motion of the Rhine whisk me away.