04.06.2013 - 04.06.2013 19 °C
We have been so immersed in visiting extended family and taking in the daily Dutch life that we almost forgot that are a travelling family. Our drive into Germany yesterday got us excited about being on the road and once more broadening our horizons. When we are travelling in countries where English is not spoken and we have limited Internet access we tend to lose touch with world events. Our trip has been a bit about dropping out of the mainstream and taking a break from the media storm. I think it is a healthy thing to try do every once in a while but it seems that you can never escape world events for long. In our case our travels took us to the headlines.
Our objective today was to tour the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. The name of this UNESCO world heritage area is about as uninspiring as a piece of dry toast and belies its significance and overwhelming beauty. The 65 kilometer stretch of the Rhine extending from Koblenz to Bingen near Mainz is an incredibly scenic section of the Rhine featuring over 40 castles and numerous historic medieval towns. When you hear people talk about Rhine river cruises this is the section they are most likely raving about.
We drove 30 minutes from our home base in Mayen to Koblenz, which is home to the meeting of the Moselle and Rhine rivers at a location called Deutsches Eck (German corner). The nearly clear water of the Moselle injects itself into the muddy caramel coloured waters of the Rhine. An imposing monument to Wilhem I, who died in the late 1800s, is located on a boat shaped finger of land that forms the German corner. The monument has a somewhat checkered history and was rebuilt in 1992 after the reunification of Germany and probably only stands today because a wealthy Koblenz couple with an unclear agenda offered to foot the bill. It is definitely one of those over-the-top monuments that makes you think someone is trying to compensate for some sort of deficiency. Perhaps it is an attempt to create bookends around a less pleasant era of German history.
Perched atop the opposite shore of the Rhine is the Prussian built Fortress Ehrenbreitstein which was erected to protect the region from French invasion during the 1800s. The modern addition of a cable car from Deutsches Eck to the fortress is what seems to catch the imagination of most visiting tourists these days. We were no exception. Abby was pretty quick to suggest we make an aerial river crossing part of our plans. The six minute ride definitely was a great way to see Koblenz and fully appreciate confluence of the mighty rivers. The vantage point from the fortress was pleasant as well but we did not linger long at the top as the main part of our day was to be driving along the Rhine and taking in the many vistas, villages and castles along the way.
Before setting out on our drive we enjoyed a picnic along the riverbank in Koblenz. This is when we really noticed the extremely high water level exceptional flow rate of the river. We only saw one river cruise boat with only a half a dozen passengers spread over two decks, pass in two hours. That should have been an ominous sign but we knew little of traffic volume that would be considered normal on this stretch. In the distance we could see that the river had overflowed its banks and many tree tops were sticking out of the fast moving waters but no buildings seemed to be at risk. Although we took in these facts we did not appreciate what they indicated until we started our 65 kilometer journey upstream to Bingen.
I was fairly pumped to get going and see some of the picture postcard sights I had heard about. Within a few minutes of leaving Koblenz we saw three castles in fairly quick succession. There is the potential see forty castles in this corridor, so we decided to keep a tally. I stopped at a pullout near a campground so we could get a view of a village and castle on the opposite bank. I realized we were on the offramp to a campground but only because of the entry sign and a few lamp standards sticking out of the water. The flooding was worse than we had first realized. We stopped in the riverside town of Boppard to find the entire promenade and street that bordered the river submerged and many buildings were having their basements pumped. When we stopped in at the tourist office to ask about the river side drive she gave us the bad news. There was no river side to drive. Most of the villages and the riverside driving route were under water. Our trip was over before it even began. It is hard to imagine how much all the businesses along this stretch must be suffering. It is pretty close to the high season and now only tourists who are willing to drive in and out of long access roads to visit the few highly perched castles that will be the financing the local economy. The bread and butter boat traffic and the lucrative influx of tourists taking scenic drive has completely stopped.
Unfortunately, our place in Mayen is paid up for another two nights, so we will need to make alternate sightseeing plans. We consoled ourselves in Boppard with some ice cream and a long sit in the sunshine in the central square and then headed back to Mayen and the tourist bureau there to see what can be salvaged.
Muriel and Hannah went out grocery shopping and came back with all things German for dinner. We had two kinds of German sausage (white pork and veal sausage being one kind), potato cakes, sauerkraut, German beer and a variety of German pastries for dessert. Abby was not taken with this kind of fare and Muriel is not hankering to make the same grocery purchases anytime soon but Hannah and I felt content.
Our Internet access has been terrible at our apartment. We get enough bandwidth for email and sometimes can complete a web search. So just before bed this evening, I checked out our TV (our apartment had three if you can believe it) and managed to find one English channel. The first thing I saw was news coverage of the torrential rains in central Europe and the flooding occurring along the Rhine, Elba and Danube rivers. We had unwittingly visited the news headlines firsthand today. We were also quite stunned about developments in Turkey as well. We had stood in Taksim Square in Istanbul just a couple of months ago and had been walking the peaceful streets of Anakara just before that. I think my vacation from the news is over for a while.