Saturday, December 29, 2012


Finally. Bear with me, I know I'm in Mauritius now, but I've been meaning to write this post since October, and haven't done it for various reasons (camera issues being high up the list, among other things). Mauritius posts will continue after I'm done with Germany.

I also don't have all the pictures one could want for a holiday, partly due to being a bit lazy about taking pictures. But here I goes!

We started off with a kayaking trip on the Lahn- inspired by that excellent kayaking trip down the Ardeche last summer. It was much calmer, nobody fell out at all, although I must admit to being concerned I would come out straight away- the kayaks were a whole different design, much more manoeuvrable  and also much more sensitive to shifts in your weight! Not only that, but there were chutes for getting around the occasional weir or little drops in the river, and of course our start point started off with one. Naturally it couldn't go easily, I got stuck half way down, lodged sideways against the wall! I had to be rescued, despite my best attempts at fighting my way out; not a great start. But it went much more smoothly after that- plain sailing the whole way! It was by far the easiest kayak trip of my life, the river carried us on at a reasonable enough pace that paddling was basically unnecessary a lot of the time- I sped up considerably when I did paddle :-) but there were no rapids, no rough patches, just floating along quietly. We got stuck in shallow bits once or twice, but that was about it. Oh and at the very end we forgot to tie up one of the kayaks, and my friend had to paddle downstream, find it, and paddle madly back upstream, towing the double kayak behind him! But he made it back, kayak safe, and all was well.

After the kayak trip, we started our castle tour with Schloss Braunfels, which we rather naively decided to walk to from the town we had stayed in. Granted for the fact we walked from one small town to another, it wasn't terribly far. But with big packs, and not being able to work out how to walk directly to the castle, it was a tad miserable. But also exciting. Castles!!! We got their eventually, and before they were open for business! We hid inside an extended tunnel-like archway for a while, dodging the rain, and eventually the tour opened. It turned out that you basically can't take pictures inside the castles- almost all of them had this policy- so no pictures. It was impressive though, large enough, very castle-like, and with a good collection of armour, including a full plate for a horse and knight, very impressive! The combined weight was 120kg or something insane like that- practically the weight of two people, just in armour, never mind the actual person inside it! We had a lovely tour guide too, and although the tour was in German (most of them were) she translated bits into English for us when she got a chance. And I was impressed at both her English, and her representation of stereotypical German beauty! She had the most amazing skin of anybody I have ever seen. She is secretly Snow White, I'm sure of it. On a related note, we were amazed by German teenagers, who appear to be entirely unrelated to teenagers over the rest of the world. Without exception, all the ones we encountered were polite, and had impeccably clear skin. Maybe they're imposters, and actually store their real teenagers somewhere else, in giant summer camps where they can go be spotty obnoxious teenagers by themselves. Oh right, they're called schools when it's not summer...

After Schloss Braunfels we headed for Koblenz, where our first holiday misery awaited us. After walking around the town we found no accommodation, so we wandered in to the tourist information office and asked them to book something for us. There was nothing. A huge wine festival in a small nearby town had resulted in the place being packed to the rafters, and the advised us to go a good distance to be sure to find something. Okay, no problems, we can head down the Mosel (river) now, stay there a day or two, and come back up here when the festival is over. So we got a train to Cochem, a lovely town some 50 miles or so down the Mosel. Now, I must comment on the marvellous system they had at the tourist information office there. By the time we arrived it was gone 5 O'clock, and tourist information were closed. However they had large boards in their windows to display all the accommodation offered through them, a little blurb about each place, and a light to show if they had any rooms. Not only this, but they had telephones you could dial them on, by simply dialling the corresponding number. Brilliant! If only they hadn't all been full... Time and again we called, and got the same answer. The place was full. The wine festival reached this far too it seemed. Finally we found something, it was in the last three possible options remaining, so we were incredibly relieved. It was a long walk, but we made it eventually, much to our relief.

Cochem was a lovely town, with a picturesque castle on one hill, and a giant, glowing cross atop another hill.

After a two nights and a day in lovely Cochem, we moved back up the Mosel, heading for Koblenz, with a castle stop-off along the way. My friend D, who had been in charge of most of the identification of castles to visit assured us that the castle was right next to the train station, but possibly 100 meters directly uphill. At least that's what the map said.

The map lied. We arrived at a small place called Moselkern, where there was a train station, and not much else. We wanted cafe and kuchen (coffee and cake to the un-initiated in this delicious German 'ritual') but it was a no-can-do affair, the place was too small for such establishments. So we followed the signs to for the castle. And we followed them a bit further. And a bit further. And still we walked up the valley floor with no sign of a castle anywhere. It was starting to rain, my pack was heavy, it was miserable. Massive argument ensued, and eventually I stormed off to the castle (I wanted to leave, but had no train ticket -we had a group one-, and the stupid small town was too small to have an ATM to get money from to buy a train ticket with). Turns out I make good speed when I'm royally pissed off, but it was a damn long march. Uphil. In the rain. Boy was I not happy. Fucking castles. 

Suffice to say I have no pictures of Burg Eltz to show anyone, although there might have been postcards to a lucky few, I think. It was quite an impressive place actually, tucked away in the hills, sitting high above a small river. They even had a tour in English, but I was too pissed off to listen (yes, I was sulking.), and they didn't even have decent food options, just chips and hot dogs. Luckily I was still eating meat then, so I didn't go hungry, unlike the vegetarians I was travelling with. Man was I pissed off. I marched all the way back again, but my pace just wasn't the same. Anger levels were clearly shrinking a little, affecting my storming off abilities.

Okay, a picture from Google images. It was a real fairy-tale sort of castle, hidden away like that. Not the best picture, but hey, you get the idea.

After Burg Eltz the day just got better and better. And by that I mean we found out that Koblenz actually actively disliked us. Our second attempt to stay in Koblenz involved arriving, (me using an ATM immediately upon stepping off the train platform, before even leaving the train station. *grumble grumble grumble*), looking at the rain BUCKETING down, and dashing across the square to the tourist information office, to ask if they had anything available. No, they had nothing. Again. Tempers, tempers... we were all cold, wet, hungry and tired. And lugging about big packs on our backs, again. Cafe and Kuchen was located next to the train station, and decisions made to escape Koblenz, this time down the Rhine river. 

Another train ride south and we arrived in St Goar, which turned out to be a delightful little town. What's more, the first bed and breakfast we stumbled upon out of the train station had rooms available. And a sauna. Heaven! We eventually located some dinner (St Goar had some issues with vegetarian options, and met an interesting pair of guys at the table next to us, one of whom was walking the entire length of the Rhine river, from Rotterdam to Switzerland. We had a wonderful cross-table chat, which brought our spirits up a fair bit, along with a hot meal and Weissebeir (white beer, from wheat, nom nom nom). Finally the sauna was used, discussions were had, and the atmosphere relaxed. I wonder how many people make up in saunas, I'm sure it must be a lot. It's hard to be angry when you're so comfortable and warm!

Action Sam! traverses another dangerous cliff-face.
I believe it was our first day in St Goar when we decided to go up to Boppard and try our skills at climbing stuff and walking up big hills, and we did what is called Klettersteig, also known as Via Ferrata and Iron Ways, depending where you are. Basically they're a bit like rock climbing, but without the skill. There are things sticking out from a cliff face, you clip yourself into a harness and try to get to the other side without falling and needing your harness. It was excellent. You've already seen a picture on here, but here's another, I was having fun!

St Goar was lovely to walk around, another picturesque town beside a river. While its only castle (Schloss Rheinfels) is now in ruins, you could also see two others across the river, Burg Maus, somewhat downstream, but visible from some places, and Burg Katz, directly across, sitting above St Goarshausen, which I was rather enchanted by. Sadly they are not open to visitors, so we couldn't go, but that didn't stop me taking pictures of them! I loved being able to see two other castles, while standing in a third- can you imagine what it was like when they were all in operation?! Castles!!!

Burg Maus, taken from Schloss Rhinefels.
Also from Schloss Rhinefels, I have Burg Katz behind me.

I see I was a bit too excited about Katz and Maus though, I forgot to mention the trip down the Rhine. We took the train down, to see more castles, including Schonberg, where we used a catapult simulator to destroy Burg Eltz; most satisfying! We walked around the town, looked at castle walls or whatever they were, and then made our way down to the ferry terminal, where we got on a lovely river cruise, to St Goarshousen, passing the Loreley rock on the way. St Goarhausen was a beautiful town, directly across the river from St Goar, where we were staying, and it had the most incredible little pub-restaurant place, I was very taken with it. Unfortunately I have no idea what it was called, but it was a bit like stepping into your grandfathers garden shed where a bunch of university students are throwing a would-be-nice dinner party. It was pretty awesome. 

And finally, before departing the wonderful Rhineland, with all of the wonderful castles, we took a look around Schloss Rhinefels itself, which we had saved for last. I was a bit castled-out by that point, but this one had a few features the others didn't. Not walking up a huge hill in the rain though, unfortunately. Once we had done our obligatory march uphill in the rain, we were treated to an excellent ruined castle. There were many parts you could run around and climb on, and best of all, an old mine you could explore. So naturally two of us, armed with cellphone torches barged on down them, and had an excellent time getting all muddy walking doubled up (or waddling like a penguin, depending on your height) through centuries-old tunnels underground, sometimes with complete silence and in pitch blackness, which was pretty cool. After a fair bit of confused exploration we heard voices, and a few corners later discovered light-a new route out, which was much more exciting than coming out the way we came in! We never did discover what they had the mines for though.

After Schloss Rhinefels, it was time to head North again. This time we were wary of Koblenz, and rewarded for our lack of confidence with some blissful sunshine to sit in for ages while we waited for the next train after our own one was cancelled. Goddamned Koblenz. Never going there again!!!

We had a brief stopover in Cologne (dinner, one night, that was all. I walked past the famous cathedral. It is indeed enormous), followed by a day at Landschaftpark, (Landscape park), which was so goddamn cool that it will get a post all of it's own. Soon I hope. There are certainly enough pictures for more than one post, but I will try to restrain myself. Until then...

Au revoir!

(This is French-land here as well, okay?!) 

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