A Travellerspoint blog

Sundae Wednesday

BY ABBY

sunny 21 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Mayen hike

Mayen hike

Travelling has, unfortunately, made us a little lazy on the exercise part, so as often as we can we go for walks and hikes. Today was one of those days. All four of us agreed on a walk to go on called Rastplatz (which Google translates to "resting place") and headed out onto our 9.3 km hike. The walk went through towns, valleys, hills, forest and farmland, so we were able to see a wide variety of scenery without going too far. The weather was glorious too, as the sun was bright and there was only a slight breeze. Our cars detected 21 degrees in its spot in the shade. It's nice to finally experience some summer as we have been pretty deprived of sun on this trip. I was even wishing that I had worn my shorts. My dad described the view around us as "not breathtaking, but nice to look at everywhere, so that you don't have to stop at everything," which pretty much summed it up.

Mayen area

Mayen area

Part way through our journey we stopped to look at a hunting blind, of which there were many along the trail. Dad climbed up to take a look around and called down to us about his discoveries. The inside was carpet lined, and there was even a bench and pillow. We stopped for lunch along the way as well, at a small area with some benches in a shaded hut, as well as wooden sun chairs and a picnic table. We snacked on some cheese, bagels, cheese, bread, cheese, carrots, cheese and chocolate. But we were soon on our way as we still had half of our walk left. Our walks and hikes have let us both take a break from the stress of travelling, but also let us experience countries in ways that most people overlook. We get to talk and enjoy each other's company (because we barely see very much of each other, especially in the past 7 months), while still being able to have the feeling of travel fulfilment, even if we didn't pack our day full of tours and sightseeing. In the last 500 metres before our car we found a water tap coming out of a rock, and promptly filled up our empty water bottles. Unfortunately, when we took a drink we found out that it was pure mineral water, which means it was sparking. None of us are big fans, even though around Europe, and especially in the last few places we've been to, carbonated water is an enjoyed form of refreshment.

Eiscafe creations in Mayen

Eiscafe creations in Mayen

When we made it home I took a quick shower and we all made ourselves presentable as our next stop was the ice cream cafe in the nearby square. As we still owe our mother a birthday treat, she opted for ice cream instead of cake, and we all ordered some very large, very expensive, and very delicious sundaes. We three girls got After Eight flavoured creations, while my dad opted for a chocolate coconut flavour. We sat out in the sun and quickly devoured our dessert, while taking small sips of our mineral water in between.

After we were finished eating back all the calories we had burned that day (and more), Hannah and I went back to the house while our parents set off on yet another walk, this one being 10 km. Neither of us were very hungry so we bought some veggie nuggets (for me) and some schnitzel (for Hannah). Our parents joined us later that evening, but Hannah and I shut them out and re-watched our rented version of Rise of the Guardians a second time, before heading off to bed. We've been deprived of West Wing because the internet in this place is terrible. It's been pretty hard on all of us...as you can tell it even forced us to interact with nature today. Sigh.

Posted by KZFamily 11:37 Archived in Germany Tagged germany walk hike ice_cream Comments (2)

No Escaping the Headlines

by Ben

19 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Deutches Eck: Moselle meets the Rhine

Deutches Eck: Moselle meets the Rhine

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.

Koblenz Tram

Koblenz Tram

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.

Flooding in Boppard

Flooding in Boppard

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.

Posted by KZFamily 11:24 Archived in Germany Tagged germany koblenz rhine mayen Comments (3)

Driving to Germany

BY HANNAH

sunny 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Two blocks from our Apartment in Mayen

Two blocks from our Apartment in Mayen

We bid farewell to the Netherlands today, and headed off to yet another new country: Germany. This particular travel day was rather uneventful, and the only stop we made during the three and a half hour drive was for lunch. We might've enjoyed our lunch break a bit more if it wasn't for the procession of men *ahem* "relieving themselves" against the trees right in front of our car. We wondered if this general lack of self-consciousness was a local thing. Turns out they were just too cheap to pay the fifty cents needed in order to use the facilities. The rest of our drive was more scenic, however, and we crossed the German border with a cheer.

We're staying in Mayen for the next few days. We took a couple strolls through the winding streets and squares of the small town, and picked up a couple frozen pizzas for dinner, as we are once again living with a rather underequipped kitchen, with just one pot. Our internet connection has also been less than reliable. But the sun is shining and it's actually starting to feel like spring, so we'll be more than happy to get out of the house.

Posted by KZFamily 12:41 Archived in Germany Tagged germany mayen Comments (5)

Bewitched in Oudewater

BY ABBY

sunny 19 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Ben's Aunt Rina, Cousin Els, Jaco and us

Ben's Aunt Rina, Cousin Els, Jaco and us

Today being our last full day in Holland, we decided to finish it the way we started, by a last visit to Tante Rina, Els, Jaco and Igor. We showed up just before lunch and were able to have some cake and drinks in the back garden, as summer was finally showing itself again. We talked about work, summer plans and the rest of our trip, as well as just regular catching up. After our little chat we were taken on another tour by our three hosts (Igor stayed behind), to the town of Oudewater. Our first stop was the Witches Weighhouse, which, as you probably guessed, is the place where people used to be weighed.

Els and Jaco

Els and Jaco

I learned a lot at the museum, as my previous knowledge on witches had consisted of only reading a short book a few years back about Salem. It was believed that witches weighed considerably less that humans (proportionate to their size), so this was a common practice for determining if the accused was really a witch or not. Back then, if you were a reasonable weight for your size you were given a certificate showing that you were unable to be accused, as you had been proven innocent. Another way that people were tried was by tying up their hands and feet and throwing them into the river. If the person floated, they were a witch, and were burned or executed in some other manner. If they sunk, they were retrieved (hopefully before they drowned), and were not charged with witchcraft.

Getting Weighed at the Witch Museum

Getting Weighed at the Witch Museum

Being accused of witchcraft was quite common, as people didn't need to base their rumor on much to get it started. Once one person believed it, it was very hard to get your name cleared. This is why many people came to Oudewater. Getting your certificate was the only way to have your name officially cleared, and to have a life back in your town again. These certificates would cost money, but people would pay whatever the price, or else they would be killed, or have to live the rest of their life as an outcast, having everything that went wrong in their town be blamed on them. Oudewater became famous for their scales, and certificates. But all of the people that were weighed here were proven innocent, as the people who ran the scales refused to take part in the beliefs that other people had. Oudewater then became the only place where you could get an official certificate, as it was seen to be the most honest weighhouse. The original scales were still here, and we were allowed to be weighed on them. I went first, and I was unaware that after they weighed you they would say your weight out for everyone in the room to hear, but I'll let you all guess away on your own. After this, my Dad and Jaco were the only ones who went. None of us were charged with witchcraft and were all awarded a certificate, free of charge.

Ben's Aunt Rina takes us out for Lunch

Ben's Aunt Rina takes us out for Lunch

After the museum we were treated to a cafe lunch in a large square in the sun, which was then followed up by some ice cream. This concluded our visit, however, as it was getting later into the afternoon and we were leaving the next day, we said our goodbyes and many kisses were exchanged. All four of us enjoyed our day immensely, and knowing that we have to leave Holland makes me more excited to come back.

Posted by KZFamily 12:33 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family netherlands holland witches oudewater Comments (4)

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