Well, let’s start at the very beginning… at least from when we took off early morning to walk to the bus station in Ipswich to catch the flight from Heathrow so we could fly to Frankfurt airport where we would land and pick up our rental car to start another adventure.
Loosely following a Rick Steves recommended road trip, we toured this country counter-clockwise. And, what would a road trip with Max and Lynnie be without getting lost? Which we happily managed to accomplish within the first forty-five minutes of leaving the parking garage. But, hey, counter-clockwise does mean one travels in a circle, which we did countless times it seems.
Germany, to me, is steeped in a confusing hodgepodge of historical events. One reason for my feeling this way is how this country’s physical and political divisions seemed to morph into so many different configurations, beginning with the various tribes who settled in the area and ending with a unified country in the late 1800s. Two Word Wars later and the extinguishing of one of the most hateful regimes, Hitler’s Nazism, this country is now a strong player in the European Union as well as a leader in transitioning to environmental energy sources. We felt like we strolled through all of these episodes as we traveled through the hills, plains, mountains, and cities of this land.
In spite of trying to spend at least two to three nights in one location, we still got jumbled up in our heads when trying to recall each of our stops. So, with that in mind, I’ll list the days and associated activities. Warning: even with hitting the highlights, you may get blurry-eyed…
DAY 1: Wednesday, October 16
Finally, after taking a circular route due to my thinking we were heading to one town starting with a “B” (Beilstein) when actually it was Bacharach, we managed to arrive at a wonderful inn just up the hill from this quintessential Rhine River town (the Rhine, we discovered, is called “The Father River” whereas all other German rivers are classified as female).
We were also surrounded by vineyards, most owned by individual families with harvesting occurring while we were driving around. Not being big white wine drinkers, I must say I acquired a taste for some of their excellent, local vintage. Just don’t ask me which one or how to pronounce it.
Becky Robertson and Gary Crosby’s Pension-Restaurant Bei der Post earns rave reviews on travel sites, and they definitely earn them. These two Brits opened their inn a year ago and have worked hard to ensure all of their guests feel welcomed.
Because they were closing down for several months starting that weekend (we were some of their last guests for the season), Gary steered us to an excellent restaurant just down the street. So, off we went to enjoy one of our first German meals (and, yes, it was good although I avoided the sauerkraut).
DAY 2: Thursday, October 17
Off we go to Eltz Castle in Burg Eltz, a castle that has remained in the same family for 850 years and was never destroyed, even surviving a five-year siege. Not only did it avoid ruin by wars and politicizing but also the shared ownership by three families, each having a third of the castle.
It was a fairy-tale walk through the woods up to its entrance.
And, in spite of the late season, it was crowded. Something we found out in a lot of the tourist draws thanks to the wonderful Indian Summer Germany was experiencing. If we had made more time, we could have done day hikes up to this magical world, but, we took the easy route and just did the fifteen-minute walk from the car park. The view upon arrival was spectacular. Talk about ‘home sweet home’…
Amazingly the castle’s foundation is built right into the natural stone.
Peering just over the wall while waiting for the group tour to begin, we saw heavy stone balls. We found out later they’d been used during the Eltz Feud 1331-36 with the Archbishop of Trier, Balduin, who built a siege castle and shot them from catapults eventually causing the Eltz lords to surrender.
It was the last battle action this castle saw thanks to always managing to be on the ‘right side’.
What we discovered during our travels, beginning with this castle, was the adage location, location, location could make a lot of folk wealthy, for the families situated their home on one of Germany’s most important medieval trading routes.
Along with fifteen or so others, we were led by an English-speaking guide through rooms still decorated as if they were inhabited back in the Middle Ages. One of my favorites due to its symbolism was the conference room where the families met to discuss affairs and sort out any issues. On one wall is the face of a jester (representing freedom of speech since jesters could say anything to a king or queen) and a rose (symbolizing secrets, or what’s said in this room, stays in this room). This landscape and landmark were a wonderful introduction to our German adventure. I just wish we had thought to make it a day’s hike in and out, it was that beautiful (and great to be outside).
Day 3: Friday, October 18
With one historical site checked off (and many more to come) we decided to tour the Rhine and Mosel Valleys, stopping in some featured towns along the way. Just driving along the river was a pleasure with its fortified castles (basically toll stations, which at one time numbered 79 along the Rhine; as is true today, being along a trade route generally provides an economic boost to one’s coffers), commercial barges, winding bike paths, and sun-warmed towns. By the time we landed back at the Pension, we were ready for some of that German wine and beer as well as dinner.
Germany has definitely embraced alternative energy for it was rare not to see wind farms on the horizon or solar panels gracing rooftops.
When stopping in one village we noticed there was a two-hour limit on parking but no noticeable ticket dispenser. When poking around the other cars to see how they got a ticket, Max noticed a cardboard clock. Sure enough, we had one in the pocket next to the driver’s seat: an honor system for parking.
Before we had left to being our day’s touring, we had asked Becky and Gary for a restaurant recommendation. Becky and Gary surprised us by offering to cook one of her specialties, homemade pizza. So, instead of traipsing downtown, we enjoyed pizza a la Becky, which was spectacular, and I must say I’m an aficionado of pizza and this was one of the best I’ve tasted.
And, we decided we had better book all of our rooms ahead since our France strategy of just going free-flow with no reservations wasn’t going to work this time. Thankfully, with Becky’s German and her and Gary’s knowledge of the country, we ended up in some wonderful towns we wouldn’t have considered, such as Meersburg on Lake Constance bordering Switzerland.
DAY 3: Saturday, October 18
Before we left our first German, home-away-from-home, we met a German couple here for a musical celebration. The wife played bagpipes (!), which seemed so incongruous to me but quite enchanting, too. Plus, I really like the German name for them, “doodle bags”. Unfortunately, she didn’t play for us but it was fun imaging the sound echoing in some German castle.
With fond good-byes and promises to keep in touch, we started the engine and headed out.
Our next destination was Trier, Germany’s oldest city thanks to Augustus founding it in 16 B.C.E. To this day one of the gates, Porta Nigra, survives,
where you can see where the gate used to drop down on either entrance, trapping enemies so boiling oil could be poured on them. Lovely.
Of course, what’s a Roman town without a gladiator, and, no, it’s not Max.
Several sites truly reflected the politics of the day:
The home of Karl Marx, which explained why so many Chinese tour groups were snapping photos of this rather, non-descript building.
The Assembly Hall’s knight statues:
The one on the left has his mask up watching over the people
while the one on the right has his mask down and hand on his sword as he faces the cathedral across the market square. His pose represents the town’s unhappiness with the Archbishop owning the rights to trade (the Emperor would designate towns as either a free imperial city with full trading rights and beholden only to the Holy Roman Emperor or under the thumb of an archbishop or local prince).
The 14th century Jewish ghetto with the rusted stone on the wall indicating where the chain was hooked to isolate the 60 or so families living here.
The pink Electoral Palace that was dressed in rococo. [Charles IV’s Golden Bull of 1356 formalized the practice of having chosen electors confirm the “King of the Romans”. The law established seven electors: three Archbishops (Trier’s being one of them) and four princes of the state, i.e., dukes. Theses electors kept popping up during our travels with the first being in Eltz.]
The town was lovely but after the tour we realized we really didn’t need two days here, which is what we had booked. But, our reservations were non-cancellable except with a penalty, so we trudged off to the inn, which were basically rooms above an Italian restaurant.
Our prayers were answered! The manager of the restaurant said we didn’t have a reservation in spite of our showing him the confirmation number via Booking.com. Because of our confirmation, Booking.com now was responsible for finding us a room. So, not only did we only have to stay one night in Trier we got a much, much nicer room at the rate we would have paid to stay in the room above the restaurant. And, better yet, the meal served right next door to the Altstadt Hotel was one of the top six we had in Germany (we kept score).
DAY 4: Sunday, October 19
Full with a wonderful night’s sleep and breakfast, we headed for the parking garage with its efficient monitoring of parking spaces (green for vacant, red for taken along with a headcount so you know before you go down a lane how many spaces might be free).
Now, off to Germany’s famous spa town, Baden-Baden. It was an absolutely gorgeous fall day. We strolled along pedestrian-only streets filled with other Sunday strollers soaking up the warm October sun.
We decided to check out the baths you read about and discovered there are actually two: Friedrichsbad, sitting atop a Roman soldiers’ bath ruins, features the traditional, textile-free bathing (oriented towards one’s health)
while Caracalla Spa is more contemporary with a large pool for those with suits and a sauna-steam bath area for those without.
We decided to return the next day and go for the all-out “healthy” German experience at Friedrichsbad.
It was during our wanderings in scouting out this spa that we encountered our one and only rude German. We were walking towards through the garden to reach the spa, snapping some photos of the landscape,
when a distinguished, expensively attired German walked by us and uttered one word. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch it for later translation. We were stunned as before and since then any Germans we met were pleasant if not downright friendly. Anyhow, it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the upcoming bath escapade.
On our way back to our car we stopped at the Trinkhalle whose portico is decorated with nymph and knight murals along with some religious themes. This building was Baden-Baden’s Pump Room, now housing the Tourist Information Office.
It was at the end of the day that we discovered my laptop stolen out of the trunk of the car. Later, realizing there were video cameras in the parking garage, we returned and filed a police report. Unfortunately, nothing has turned up, which isn’t surprising. But, worse things could happen, and none did, so back to our adventure in a coming soon to you PART II…