Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Koblenz - Germany's most beautiful 'corner'

Ahh - the joy of a good bed! We both slept well after the feast of last night and in good beds. Most European rooms with a 'double' bed are actually two single beds pushed together - this is not altogether a bad thing as you can roll without disturbing the other party. Just after 1 am a rowdy group of businessmen arrive to their rooms after dinner (drinks?), but as we have just turned off the light, they do not really disturb us!

The next thing I know it is 8 am and the alarm is blaring. The shower is nice and hot with great pressure and has a massage setting on the head, so my leg gets a work out - nice! Breakfast is served just off the lobby. The buffet is varied and generous and includes cereals, fruits, an enormous selection of breads, rolls and pastries, eggs scrambled or hard boiled, cold meats and cheeses, jams, juices, coffees and more teas than I have ever seen in a hotel (they could almost open their own supermarket!). We eat our fill and then check out and hit the road just before 10 am.

It is a big day with lots and lots and lots to see - and of course we have to be selective or we will see very little of it in Koblenz. We head into the old city and park in almost exactly the same spot that Michael parked when we visited here all those years ago. We are near the Marktplatz and while Michael is taking photos of exactly the same buildings I took photos of last time (very interesting roof lines here), I make a beeline for the Florinskirch (St Florins Church) that was not open last time we were here. It is a quiet, cool place - amazingly inviting from the warm day outside given that it is so light. Built in the 1100s, its side altars with their damaged frescoes that date back into the 1300s are amazing and the painted coloured windows are simple and pleasing in their design. The cloisters have not been so well kept, but still portray an area of peace and calm. Flagstones worn or lost have been replaced with pieces of gravestones!

We walk the back lanes, happily seeing what there is to see and taking photos, but not wanting to go in to any of the museums, but rather, taking in the open air museum that the streets portray - we would rather do a trip on the Rhine instead! And one of the streets is closed to traffic. Here we see the benefit of using cobblestones - they are easy to rip up with a backhoe and easy to re-lay once the works underground are complete. I watch as workers relay the cobbles and then throw shovels of fine gravel over them to set them in place. It was disappointing not to be able to go into the Liebfrauenkirche - the Church of Our Beloved Lady because it is one of the three that Koblenz is known for. And the photos from outside promise a special place. Michael sees a Borgward - model Isabella - and poses for a pic! So after two hours of wandering and wondering, we return to the car because we can only park here for two hours and then move it down to Deutsches Eck. Here, the parking fairy is with me and we find a spot four spaces from the plaza, on the waterfront and for the princely sum of €4 for the day! This is great because we will need more than just a few hours here.

First on the agenda is Deutsches Eck itself with the impressive statue of Emperor Wilhelm I - erected by a grateful nation after he unified the country after a series of wars. The spot was chosen by his grandson - the place where two of the major rivers of Germany meet - the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers. It was as impressive as it first was for me in 2006. You can actually see where the waters of the two rivers meet as they are a slightly different colour to each other: the water of the Rhine is a lighter turquoise whereas the Mosel is a 'Mary River' brown! There is a major cleaning and restoration project underway and much of the riverside wall is behind scaffolding. Its a pity as it marrs the look - but we understand that they must do the maintenance some time. Michael climbs the spiral staircase into the memorial plinth while I keep a look out for the next target - a river cruise.

It is not long before the next ferry is due to depart at 13:15, so we purchase our tickets twenty five minutes prior to departure. The cruise vessel is large and comfortable, with seating below and above decks and we had chosen the latter. Well, why not on such a glorious day as it was. The sun shone gleaming and everything just sparkled, the water included. Luckily, the captain had just put up the sun umbrellas over the tables and chairs on the upper deck, so we did not have to subject our skin to the direct ravages of the sun. As we wait for our cruise to commence we order a round of drinks: a glass of dry reisling for Maria and that ubiquitous mineral water for Michael.

As we sip our drinks the helmsman rings his bell as an indication the cruise is to start. However, we're still docked and we notice the 'clock' on the information board has been advanced for the cruise to commence at 14:00! The ruse has worked as additional passengers board, and the cruise commences at 13:20.

So off we set with the boat half filled with various examples of human and canine bodies. We power on up the Rhine River to start, with the fortress on the hill high above us on our left and the old town on our right. We turn back to the confluence and hang a left to journey as far as the City bridge up the Mosel River and then head downstream again to join the now much larger Rhine for a journey further downstream - this time avoiding the very busy barge channels. While there is freight train after freight train heading up and down the lines on either side of the Rhine, the river itself is an important transport route and at times, we see up to three barges passing. They carry oil, gas, coal, rubbish and more of those shipping containers!

Back on shore we take a look at the Church of St Kastor right near the German corner. This is a Catholic basilica minor and much gloomier and less inviting than the Protestant St Florins we saw earlier. It might be of significance to the local communtity, but really doesn't stand out to us as one of the better ones we have seen. Then back into the afternoon heat we go. The amazing formal gardens of the Bishop's palace that I remember next to the church are overgrown now. Again, maintenance works are underway and overall, the place looks unkempt. A pity because the border gardens are still a picture!

So we are now headed back to the German corner and the tourist train that is due to leave shortly. There is just enough time for Michael to get ice creams - Amaretto for me and vanilla chocolate chip for him. So nice and cold. Mm mmm! The train does a route through the town that is further out than what we walked this morning. We see lots of other sites such as the Castle almost obscured by huge piles of bedding sand (and the commentary talks of the park in front of the castle being used for concerts - yeah right! Only if it is the Beach Boys at the moment!)

So, Koblez not really done all that well, but having given it as much time as we can, it is almost 5pm when we head off down the Rhine River by road. But first we detour onto the right bank to have a quick look at Koblenz from the Festung Ehrenbreitstein fort. Built in the 1800s on the site of a much much earlier Roman fortification, this site is undergoing perhaps the largest of the restoration projects in the City. But the views are stupendous and well worth any minor inconveniences.

And then it is down the River we travel, leaving Koblenz on the right bank and crossing at Filsen for Boppard on the left bank. And all the while, we pass castle after castle, schlöss after schlöss. Michael and the camera could not be forced apart at this point! See this map for an idea of not only the route we took from Koblenz to our accommodation tonight at Bacharach. You see what I mean about all the castles? And the towns as well that are below the castles are fascinating.

Tonight we are in the Hotel am Markt in Bacharach. We are right in the market square, opposite the odest buildings in the town that date back to 1368. And the one directly across from the oriole window I am sitting in dates back to 1579! Hard to imagine - huh?! As I sit here in our room typing the blog, I overlook a courtyard restaurant. They must have some sort of special deal for wine tasting and I wonder if the woman I see is going to try and drink all the glasses on the tray they have left her. She certainly responds very positively to most of them so far!

And so when it is time for us to have some dinner, we cross the street to the Weingut Fritz Bastion - the same one across the street and try to find a table. Ha Ha. Much much easier said than done. We eventualy sit out the back only to be told that they do not do table service there. But what the heck, we will sit here, waiting for a table to become free. Eventually, the young waitress hands us a menu with a shrug of her shoulders - it has been busy since they opened at 12 noon she tells us in impeccable English - gosh how nice it would be for the young people back home to take LOTE to the same standard. All the young people we talk with her apologise for their English as 'only my school English' - but most times it is so close to perfect that the might be a native English speaker. And Nina is no different. It is then that we realise that we are in a wine bar as opposed to a restaurant. The menu is more like a tapas menu, but they do have a few meals. So, we order:
Wildsülze mit Bratkartoffeln und Zwiebelsoβe (Wild boar in Aspic with onion sauce) Michael
Bockwurst it selbstgemachten kartoffel salat (Frankfurter with homemade potato salad) Maria
Spündekäs’ mit Pellkartoffeln (soft cream cheese mixed with spices and wine with potatoes) both of us :D
I enjoy a glass of 2008 Bastians Alde Fritz Bacharacher Reisling Trocken and later a Spatlaese in the same vintage - God, how I love the German Rhine white wines!! And that wine tasting plate is just that. For the sum of €14 you have a tray of about 15 different wines to try. Great value. But too much wine for me alone (hic!). However, I have enjoyed the reisling so much I get some to take home to Steph and Felix.

Despite being very busy, Nina keeps a good eye on us and is there each time that we need her - a real asset to the business - I hope they appreciate her attention to detail in her service. Michael leaves a card with her and an invitation to visit us if she ever gets to Oz. Make sure you keep it safe Nina girl - the invitation is genuine!

And after, we hurry up the street (as it is after 9:30 pm) to the Café Restaurant Rusticana where I had a very memorable apple strudel in 2006. They are about to close, but wait for us to wolf down a piece each. And Mum, Donna and Michael - remember Opa placing his horse bets on the mobile phone? Well. There he was, sitting at the table - on a LAPTOP!!!
Astrid is happy to serve us a piece of her wonderful Apfelstrüdel - and yes - it was just as delicious. They are moving forward and when I comment on Opa, they tell us that they have only had the laptop for 4 weeks and that it is a great way to keep his mind alert - gosh, if only there were more people who thought so positively. Anyway, it was wonderful to meet Astrid again and she made us promise not to wait for another 3 years to return - how we wish!

It has been a HUGE day - 947 photos in all - 2.46 Gigabytes worth!!! Just be thankful that I have only uploaded a few.

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