May 1, 2005
For 21 Euro (about $25), the normally expensive German train system will spit out an all-day train pass for the states of Rheinland-Pfalz (which happens to be where we live) and Saarland. From 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. the next morning, any regional train is fair game. To our suprise and delight, our State includes the valleys along the Rhein and Mosel rivers to the north. To anyone familiar with their geography, this fact should scream "castles"....we threw some snacks in a backpack on the first sunny day that we had off for the weekend, and bought a ticket in hopes of seeing a few castles.
A train ride east to Kaiserslautern, and then one north to Bingen, and in 2 hours we were standing on the train with our noses making smears on the window, staring at the steep slopes of the Rhein valley, watching the German villages flash by, each with a beautiful, steepled church and a castle perched way up on the hillside. For an hour we continually moved from one side of the train to the other, trying to catch each new view and the castle that would appear. We stopped in Koblenz, as the Rhein kept flowing north, and walked to see where the Mosel flowed into the Rhein, and then caught the next train up the Mosel to Trier. A few more castles on the river, of course, and then we also caught a nap on the 2 hour trip.
In Trier we walked down to the walled city, because I wanted to show Rob the 2 huge "Doms" cathedrals, that I had seen when I visited Trier for the Christmas market back in December. The city itself was very beautiful, but except for a few restaurants, everything was closed....because of course it was Good Friday. When we walked into the cathedral, a service had just started, and we stayed to listen in hopes that we could hear the sounds of the huge organ pipes hung from the ceiling. Alas, the somber mood of the Good Friday service meant that the organ was saved for another day, but the choir started to sing, and they were totally awesome, even acapella....we stayed to listen for hours, it seemed.
On the train again, it was almost dark as we headed home, but not before 1 more castle slipped by us, with its turrets and walls outlined in spotlights.....it brought our grand total for the day up to 36 honest-to-goodness castles, perched on the steep slopes as ancient defenders against the ravaging hordes.
The next day, we didn't want to see any more castles slip by us....we wanted to climb one! We got in the car and drove south about an hour, into the rolling hills. We parked on a roadside turn-off, gathered some gear, crossed our fingers that we were in the right trail, and started hiking. About a hundred meters later, we were in France! It was drizzling, and the partially logged forest smelled dark and damp, and we felt that we were deep in the middle of a never-ending forest. But of course, this is Europe, so as we crested the top of a hill, a huge rock cliff with a castle on top loomed out of the fog. It was huge....but it was raining....we decided to keep walking and try the next one, since our hiking route for the day included 4 of them! We took a wrong turn due to trail construction and ended up at the farthest one, which we climbed and conquered, and then ate lunch on top. The skies had cleared a little, and we could see the two middle castles waiting to be explored, and due to a turn in the border, we realized that we were standing on a castle in Germany, looking at castles in France....the only thing to do was to go back to France! Climbing the castles was a feat...they were built on top of natural rock formations, lucky for those early people it made it easier to make the them tall and defendable. Our final castle for the day even had rock climbers making their way to the top the hard way, using ropes and carabiners.
One more hike past the first castle, and we were back to the car as the sun was going down. We started driving with our eye on finding a secluded, safe place to park the car and camp for the night....we had a new tent and new sleeping bags, perfect for the cooler weather, that we wanted to try out. We pulled off onto a logging road and drove up a long road to the top of a small hill that looked like no one would ever come up. We stopped and set up the tent, and looked up at the next hill as the clouds cleared yet again, and saw.....another castle! So we slept in the shadow of history as the skies opened and the rain splatted on our tent.
In the morning, we threw our soaking tent (which kept us perfectly dry) in the van and drove to the next town, in the faint hope that a bakery would be open on Easter Sunday. We found a quaint little town with a stream running down the middle of it, reminding us of Amsterdam pictures or a small piece of Venice. Rob found a pub with Hefeweissen on tap, and declared that he would have to come back here someday to enjoy one. The rain was coming down hard as we walked around the town, but we had found a lone bakery open with delicious pastries, and our raincoats were doing their best to keep us dry. At the moment when we were totally soaked and ready to leave, the church bells all started pealing to let everyone know that church would be starting...we stood and listened to them ring for 5 minutes, before we took the short drive back to our newest home, Landstuhl.