Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bacharach - the other one!

No, its not Burt, it the other one, the town on the Rhine River between Koblenz and Bingen!
And so our journey down the Rhine continues. We woke to the tolling of the bell of St Peterskirche (which is literally a spit away) this morning. The sun is bright and you can really see the age on the buildings this morning - in fact, the Altes Haus that is the oldest building dating back to the 1300s and where we had had dinner in 2006 now looks a little forlorn. Can't imagine that it will stay that way for too long though, I mean, it has the prime position in the town and certainly looks structurally sound.

So we are eating our breakfast downstairs and I am looking out the window and what do I see walking past? A Pub Crawl t-shirt - you have gotta be kidding me!! Michael raced out to see if it was a Maryborough one, but no - it was from Milan (so it was probably something quite inane like a buck's party or something). The guy was a way ahead so he didn't get to talk to him, but it sure got my pulse racing for the morning.

In 2006 we left too early in the morning to do any of the local buildings and when Michael and I came through in December, everything was closed up tight as a drum - and it was the middle of the night too. So I am determined today to see a little more of this amazing small medieval town. St Peterskirche will be open at 10 am so we hang around with me uploading yesterdays blog. Once the doors are open, we wander over. While this church is a monument, it is also a local church for the parish and very obviously well cared for. The pastor or one of his flock is in the church when we arrive and is opening windows and putting up the 'no-access' ropes. He smiles pleasantly and bids us good morning and then disappears up a stairway where in a few moments I see him walk along a gallery to the organ. Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but good loud organ music in a church always does it to me. The gooseflesh comes in and the hairs rise and I get all emotional. Sigh, but in a nice way.

The church is painted beautifully inside with an incredible amount of attention to detail. And this highlights the considerable amount of remaining medieval frescoes still on the walls. It is nice to see that down through the ages here, someone made sure that the works of old were appreciated - so often we see evidence of them painted over by later generations. Anyway, the day is marching and so must we.

Above the town amidst the grape vines stands a viewing platform in one of the original Sentry Towers. Bacharach is a walled city and one of the best examples of a fortified town remaining on the Middle Rhine. In fact all of its 14 towers remain to their original height and you can walk around most of the wall. The walk up to the tower is steep through the vineyards, but Michael goes and gets some amazing views of the town with the Rhine in the background. That done, we prepare to leave the town for points further south.

We turn back out on to the main road and leave a fairtale world behind us as we join the mad rush, marvelling at the amount of traffic there is on the River. Hardly a moment goes by without at least two barges in view plus the cruise boats and speedboats and other small boats battling against the strong current to gain ground (or water!) on their journey up this mighty river.

We are headed for Castle Sooneck. It sits high on a rocky outcrop with commanding views of the Rhine River - and of the busy quarry next door to it - which was where much of the stone was mined to build the castle. We visited this impressive castle in 2006 but were too early for the tours - while today we are not! It's amazingly cheap to have a guided tour (albeit in German) at €2.60 each. In the 30 minutes we have to wait until the next tour, we look around the battlements and again I am amazed at how narrow the fire steps (platform) are that they archers had to work from in defending the castle. There is barely enough room to kneel at the arrow slits.

Castle Sooneck is now owned by the State through the equivalent of the National Trust. Built in the 12th century to help protect the lands of the Abbey near Aachen, it was later a robber-baron castle before being seized by the king, later destroyed and then re-built. It has been rebuilt and now is furnished with 18th and 19th century furniture and fittings from its earlier times and that of nearby castles. Very impressive - although I still cant believe that these people were short enough to sleep in the beds they had! There is a fascinating collection of paintings of this area, the castles along the Rhine and other estates of the Abbey. And as the guide is only giving the tour in German, it is all we can do to catch the names of some of them! The furniture is amazing - including beautifully handcrafted inlays. And there is a chandelier that weighs 600 kgs - that much we all understood! But once again we cant take photos - just one in the courtard looking up before we go in!

One of the women on the tour has her dog with her - well, if you can call it that. They cant even be called 'toy' dogs any more as these are tiny - really tiny. It is little more that the size of her two hands together and she and it look quite ridiculous. I was very surprised when the tour guide didn't tell her to leave it outside - especially when they make us all put these huge felt scuffs on to walk on the parquetry floors. Now THEY (the floors that is) were amazing! All perfect, and with a different pattern formed depending on which way you looked (thanks to the artisans aligning the timber grain perfectly). And nary a nail in sight. Anyway, they cleverly do not need to employ a cleaner as we all did our bit by polishing those floors with all our slipping and sliding! I am happy to have been able to get inside and have a look.

Its now just a short drive to Bingen where the Nahe River joins the Rhine. There are a number of really noticeable landmarks here such as Mäuseturm (the Mouse Tower) that sits in the middle of the Rhine to warn sailors of a bad pool to the Klopp Castle high in the centre of town with its foundations that date back to the Roman habitation of the city of Bingium 2000 years ago. And the best way to view them all is to catch the vehicular ferry across the busy Rhine to the town of Rüdesheim am Rhein and take a trip up the hill behind the town to the Niederwalddenkmal - the Niederwald National Monument erected in 1883. But first we have to dodge opposing traffic - not once, but twice - firstly on the vehicle ferry dodging the surprisingly fast barges, and then on the other shore, in the car we have to dodge the frequent trains. Sheesh - life does not have to be so busy (tee he he - as we are finding out!)

The Niederwald National Monument was built to commemorate the formation of the new German empire in 1871. Because of its size, expense and popularity, the monument that features a victorious Germania has often been cited as the most important national monument of Imperial Germany. The last time we saw this, it was under a blanket of snow and in the early hours (as we were then really anxious to be with Steph that day for Christmas) and we could not see a road up to it. Still, even then when it was indistinct, it look impressive and today it is certainly more so up close.

We have a light lunch here while enjoying the view (just schnitzel and frites - nothing special) and watching the cable car coming up from the valley.

And now we are out of time. We are meeting Steph and some of her friends for dinner at the Shaba Thai Restaurant in Stuttgart and have just short of a 3 hour drive ahead of us. I initially tell Kate to plan a route that does not follow the autobahn - but after just a short drive down the road change my mind. The autobahn gets very busy ear the exits to major cities - but then it might just be that it is the afternoon peak hour too! And I am to forever wonder whether the non-autobhan routes might have actually been faster! The roads around Heillbron particularly are a mess as there are major roadworks her too.
Anyway, we find the restaurant just minutes before Steph gets there but spend about 10 minutes trying to find a parking spot. Then right on 6:30 pm, a whole lot of cars leave (can the work hours really be this late??) and we are now parked nice and close to the restaurant.

The food is fabulous and the company even better! Thanks so much for your fun company Tania and Katy and Steph (oh and of course you too Deitmar!).
Our menu choices are mainly left to the girls (who meet regularly for Thai food) and we share:
a selection of Entrees including satay chicken, green papaya salad, glass noodle salad, money bags, spring rolls, seafood salad
and a selection of hot Main dishes that included a red curry and coconut whole fish, massuman curry, pad thai, rice, duck with ginger - all very very good.
But the best of the night was the very refreshing lemongrass (non-alcoholic) drink we had. Michael and I had two each it was so quenching!
(Now, don't complain - I fully expected their menu to be fully online so I didn't write it all down).
Felix joined us after his appointment at the university was done.

By the time we get home to Steph and Felix's place (with both of them passing us at speed on the autobahn!) it is after 11 pm and we all head for bed fairly quickly.

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