The Mosel River, Germany
The peaceful village of Zell.
Day 5: To Germany! After crossing the border, we made a short stop in Trier for lunch and a tour. A local guide named Heidi (yes, she was blond) showed us around. It rained a bit more during the tour. She showed us the Roman Porta Nigra (the Black Gate) which was black because it had never been cleaned. We also saw a Roman Hall of Justice and the oldest church in Germany (which had a Rococo interior and a floating organ).
[Click on the two thumbnails to see the Black Gate as it looks now versus a sketch I made of what it looked like in Roman times.]
On to Zell and Black Cat wine. Only wine from here can have the black cat on its label. Reminds me a lot of Bacharach on the Rhine (from my trip in '99) but without the trains and barges. The hotel rooms, however, were surprisingly laid out in sparse Scandinavian style. I swear you could play basketball in mine [sorry, no pictures]. Jack, who I was rooming with for the next two nights, said the bathroom looked like an operating room. I agreed. [The hotel's name is Hotel Grüner Kranz.]
We had dinner at the hotel and walked around town a bit afterwards. The tour handbook didn't have a map of Zell, so I took a picture of one (which I could refer to later by playing it back on the LCD of my camera) at the Tourist Information booth. I took a panorama photo from the footbridge and also got a shot of Evi crossing it.
As daylight faded a beautiful sunset formed over the vineyards, casting everything with a marvelous glow. I imagine this must be what heaven is like. [I stopped at a bench at wrote the following.]
Evening in Zell
Grapevines drape the hills - a bridal veil of green.
Sleeping swans float like marshmallows on hot cocoa.
Monet skies light the world in frosted grays and hazy orange.
Bells toll for us alone.
Later, a group of us found a small wine store with an old woman proprietor. She was very nice company and while we drank her wine she told us about the many floods that Zell went through. We took our picture with her and I promised to mail her a copy. We signed her guest book and I drew a Rick Steves patch on one of the pages. She had never heard of Rick Steves before now. Just before we left, Susan poked her head in. We were wondering how she found us and she said she could hear our laughter all the way back at the hotel.
Getting back to Rick, we found an enigmatic memorial that consisted of a plaque with Rick Steves' name and an American flag sticking out. No one (including the guides) knew what it was all about. It was pretty obvious, however, that someone really liked Rick Steves.
To sleep at 11.
Day 6: We took the bus to Burg Eltz today. My watch says sunny, but the sky's not looking terribly happy. The bus climbed a steep hill out of the river valley, and bam - farmland suddenly appeared as far as the eye could see, completely flat. It was as if we had entered another world. Another half-hour to the castle.
We took a group picture (minus the guides) at a platform overlooking the castle. The castle (or Burg, in German) was nicely preserved and quite small, and is Rick Steves' favorite castle in the world. There were hundreds of small school kids there at the same time we arrived. Much yelling and screaming but I didn't mind. This is life. It started raining as we entered. Inside, almost everything is preserved just as it was 500 years ago [no pictures allowed, though]. It was still raining on our way back from the burg.
We stopped at Cochem for lunch of Bratwurst mit pommes frites (the German version of hotdogs and fries). Kids were playing chess on a 15 foot chess board near the river's edge. The rain had stopped long enough for us to walk around town and souvenir-shop.
We took a river cruise boat to Beilstein and the school kids were with us again, crowding into the top level of the 3 the boat had. Susan and Lisa gave us a dessert picnic of various pastries from the area. I decided I had to eat the one with the smiley face on it. About halfway through the trip we went through a set of locks. The weather was clearing and eventually most of us took a seat on the top deck of the boat. The bus was nowhere to be found in Beilstein, so Susan let us walk around for a half-hour. I climbed the steps to a big church and marveled at the view.
When we returned to Zell, we went out to wine tasting at a family-run vineyard [Franz Josef Weis and his son, Peter]. We learned everything about Riesling wines and what the different terms mean. They opened 9 bottles for us to taste and one bottle of 80 proof schnapps. One of the most interesting wines was called Eiswein (Ice Wine) and is made by allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine during winter, and harvesting and squeezing the juice out while they're still frozen. I asked why they don't just simply freeze the grapes in a freezer to make things a little more predictable (weather-wise). The response was, "You Americans! Always with you it's efficiency. Yes, you could do this but we choose not to." I couldn't argue (being an American engineer). We are tradition killers.
[For more information about German wines, there's a very nice web site here.]
After walking back from wine-tasting with new perspectives and wet feet (it was raining again), I went to dinner with Susan, Elaine, and Evi in a German restaurant across the river. I had the mixed grill and a beer. After dinner, Susan, Elaine and I hiked to the tower above the town which overlooked a small but beautiful cemetery and provided a great view of the river reflecting the evening sky.
I continued walking around until about 9:45, watching the sun set, and found myself locked out of the hotel when I returned. I could get into the lobby and there was a phone but I could not figure out how to use it to call Jack (who had the key and was in the room). Finally, 20 minutes later (about when I was wondering how comfortable the lobby floor would be to sleep on), a woman came to the desk and I convinced her (even though she spoke no English) to let me in. To bed.
Click the pictures for enlargements.
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Last updated 03/18/2006 . Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.