A Monday on the Rhine

Best day ever? Maybe. Roxie had to work so I talked her husband Paul into spending the day biking along the river. They have matching his and hers cross bikes (not cross bikes like my Charlotte cycling friends use) so Roxie loaned me hers for our adventure. We packed up camelbacks and donned those sexy padded bike shorts and broke the rules by taking our bikes on the Ubahn train into town during rush hour. Once at Willy Brantz plaza (below the opera) we rode the urine stanky elevators up to street level and rode a few minutes to the main train station to catch a different train up to Bingen where we planned to board the 10:30 ferry to ride downstream to Boppard and ride back upriver stopping to tour the castle in St Goar. The Rhine is one of those rare Northern Hemisphere rivers that flows north (from the alps to the North Sea). So the ferries going north are going downstream and moving rather quickly with the current. It would be an hour 25 journey to go approximately 30k. I brought along my trusty rick steves best of Europe book with a great write up of the highlights along our route and info for eating and touring the castle in St Goar. We had diligently studied the ferry schedule and left ourselves 20 minutes to get approximately 1k from the Bingen train station to the ferry dock. These German trains are proving to run behind schedule a lot of the time (when they aren’t canceled for the country’s largest conductor strike in history). Our train was 10 minutes late but we arrived at the ferry dock at 10:28 for the 10:30 boat and alas, it was already pushing off from the dock. The less than customer service oriented ticket agent gruffly informed us we could wait for the 11:30 ferry. No thanks! It was a gorgeous day and after 2 hours on 3 trains I was dying to ride the bike. So we considered trying to catch it a stop or two up. Ha ha ha. By the time we used the toilet and remounted our bikes that ferry was long gone, never to be seen again. So we just reversed the plan and biked to St. Goar aiming to take an afternoon ferry back upstream to catch the train home. The kilometer flew by. It was so beautiful. The pics I snapped while riding aren’t amazing but no pictures would do the sights justice. The canyon is steep and the towns are long and skinny along the water. The bike path is fairly flat, with only some little dips that thankfully weren’t full of water from the mountain run off. We stopped again to check a ferry schedule and use a toilet but pressed on to St. Goar before stopping to eat. Since my plan was to read along in the guidebook riding the ferry, I didn’t really know what town was what until we saw some signage, typically in the form of painted lettering on the city walls, either at water’s edge or high up on the hillside. The vineyards aren’t quite green yet but still, they are beautiful and make the landscape so interesting. I nearly rode my bike down the embankment into the river craning to see them (and take bad pics). I’m still dying to know how they harvest the grapes! Rappelling gear? Trained mountain goats? Funiculars?

Steep vineyards
Steep vineyards
one of the many cute towns along the river
one of the many cute towns along the river

There were castles nestled up in the hillsides too. Some clearly well cared for by private owners, others in ruins, all enchanting.
St. Goar was a perfect end point for the bike ride because the path kind of disappeared int a construction zone right in the middle of town anyways. We found the TI center, locked up our bikes, and asked how to get to the castle. As it was quoted to be a 17% grade, we opted not to ride to the entrance 😉 She was fairly helpless with lunch recommendations so I whipped out my book and located the first restaurant suggested by Rick and his gang. We sat outside eating Flamenkuchen watching the ferries and barges pass while investigating our options for a return trip.

Paul was done riding, and we still had to hike up to the castle and back. We finished eating at 1:30 and decided we would try to catch the 3:20 ferry but stopped at the train station for a backup plan timetable. At the north end of the train station there is an underpass that leads to a steep staircase and a nature path up to the castle (thank you Rick!) It was a great choice, in lieu of the 5euro touristy train trolley. At the top there are some cute hotels, one pictured here with a sweet van to haul guests up the mountainside.

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At the entrance we used some awesome toilets castle style (sorry no pics) and picked up the free map and bought our tickets. Rick’s walking tour of the castle is very well done with great descriptives of where to go (because really it’s just a lot of crumbling stone walls and grass and dirt. We stopped in the little museum which had a nice English version of the historical timeline of who owned/built/fortified the castle before the sorry losers just surrendered it to the French only to have them blow it up anyways. We opted not to crawl through the “small” tunnels in the cold dark mud but we did crouch our way through the “big” tunnels which was worth it and not too too claustrophobic. The dungeon made the prison in Berlin look like the Ritz Carlton. The views were stunning.

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part of the ruins we faced after crawling out of the tunnel
part of the ruins we faced after crawling out of the tunnel

So that was that and we headed back down the nature trail to retrieve our bikes and watch yet another ferry push off from the dock just as we approached. Somehow I convinced Paul that we could catch it in the next town because they go so much slower upstream. Like a LOT slower. Here we are chasing the ferry. (and I love the 19th century tower entrances to the train tunnels.)

we want to get on that boat!
we want to get on that boat!
catching up!
catching up!

He was hurtin, but we made it. And boarded the slow slow ferry full of old people, well not full, it was pretty darn empty, but the other passengers were all old. We grabbed a beer and sat down on the deck to enjoy the sights from a different vantage point. It was lovely, just slow. It had taken us 2.5 hours to ride from Bingen to St. Goar. It would take us 2 hours to ferry from Obelsheim (town south of St. Goar) back to Bingen. Oh well. The ferry had some brief announcements in about 6 languages each time we passed a castle and I followed along in the guide book pointing out anything interesting we may have missed.

castle across the river from Bingen
castle across the river from Bingen

Another 3 trains later and we were finally home. it was 12 hours door to door and we were sunburned and starving. Roxie picked up delicious Indian food on the way home from work which I scarfed down while Paul laid down with a migraine (I felt terrible but the next morning he said he had a lot of fun and didn’t feel bad til we got home).

Activity report: A must do. I would have biked the whole way back if my partner had been up for it. But the ferry ride is nice too, just don’t burn as many calories 😉

Fat Tires and Flat Tires

We woke up on time and headed down to breakfast around 7:30 which is apparently early as we had the place mostly to ourselves and what a treat, it was a phenomenal spread. Our tour operator that booked the trip for us got it included in the price but even for 9€ it would have been a good deal. I am trying to be healthy (I swear) so I had some lactose free yogurt, some hearty whole grain bread with butter and jam, pineapple orange juice, and two cups of incredible coffee and a small piece of toast bread w Nutella just because the dispensers for honey, Nutella and jam were so cute I wanted to keep using them hehe. But there was a variety of hot and cold meats, scrambled or boiled eggs, all types of cheese, pastries, breads, cut and whole fruit, any kind of milk or juice you could imagine, plus some icky looking local things like herring and I don’t know what. I think I talk a lot about food, but it is a really fun part of exploring new cultures, plus we walked over 12 miles yesterday!
So after breakfast we took a bus to the passport check/ticket stand at the Reichstag and booked a 4:30 tour of the dome. Then we started to walk down the Unter den Linden toward the TV tower to meet our Fat Tire Bike Tour guide. To make the most of our walk we turned back on the Rick steve’s guide and picked up where we left off to appreciate the sites. Note: East Berlin is one giant construction zone so the accessibility of some of the sites changes on a daily basis. The walk towards Museum Island was interesting but not particularly scenic bc of all the scaffolding and cranes. I hardly took any pics bc of it. Museum island doesn’t make much sense til you see it. It’s hardly recognizable as an actual island except on a map. We didn’t go to any museums bc the reviews weren’t amazing and the weather was nice so staying outdoors was preferable. After the fun little detour into the Radisson hotel lobby to see the aquarium elevator we turned off the audio guide and found our bike guide.

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To be honest I was a little nervous about riding bikes in all the traffic and construction and I’m sadly not super proficient on cruisers bc my instincts are based on experience on my tri bike. Not even close to the same. But hopping sidewalks is fun and I only almost ate it twice 😉 our British guide simon was great and added good history explanations and fun tid bits to several sites we had already seen on our own and took us to a few new ones, including Alexanderplatz, the plaza with the twin churches, checkpoint Charlie, a guard tower and a protected section of the wall that wasn’t covered in gum.

the french church that the german's copied on the other side of the plaza (and made 1 meter taller of course)
the french church that the german’s copied on the other side of the plaza (and made 1 meter taller of course)
they actually fenced off the wall to prevent vandalism. oh the irony.
they actually fenced off the wall to prevent vandalism. oh the irony.

It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed a lovely ride through the Tiergarten to a Biergarten near the zoo for refreshments. Sweet potato soup and asparagus salad washed down by a radler and we were ready for the final bit of the tour.

riding through the Tiergarten
riding through the Tiergarten
quenching my thirst with a Radler (aka cyclist)
quenching my thirst with a Radler (aka cyclist)

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the white asparagus here is gigantic and only in season for a short time. this was the best i've had so far
the white asparagus here is gigantic and only in season for a short time. this was the best i’ve had so far

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a bit chaotic leaving the busy pedestrian area near the zoo so the group got spread out and simon kept looking back for them. Next thing I know he plows knee first into a beautiful old lamp post. OW. Poor guy, he was in a lot of pain and rather embarrassed. Once everyone caught up we continued towards the Victory tower where I got to replace my rainy day pics with these.

victory tower on a sunny day (3euro and 236 steps to a great view)
victory tower on a sunny day (3euro and 236 steps to a great view)

But then poor Simon discovered he had a flat tire so told everyone to wander for 10 minutes while he replaced the tube. Now I know I’m not a whiz at bike mechanics but this guy rides bikes for a living and was pretty clueless. Lucky for him Dirk was along and despite a worthless pump and some wonky brakes they got him functioning again.

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Our last stop on the way back was the Brandenburg Gate again. I was excited for blue skies to retake some pics but there was a giant crane in the way bc they were installing an exhibit for the First of May festivities. Oh well.

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TV tower, tallest structure in the EU
TV tower, tallest structure in the EU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the TV tower bike shop Dirk was rewarded with a beer and we picked up some fun tshirts before heading back to the Reichstag for our dome tour. It was a good 30 minute walk so naturally we picked up some streusel en route (from a local shop sandwiched between a Dunkin donuts and a Starbucks).

Reichstag (parliament building
Reichstag (parliament building

The security procedures to go in the parliament building were quite serious. After the background check, you go thru airport like scanners, then queue up for your scheduled time when they herd you into a glass compartment and stare you down before herding you into an elevator up to the viewing level. It’s all free, just a big production. The audio guide was nice and triggered by walking by certain points on the ramp so you could take your time enjoying the panoramic view and it would just pick up when you got to the appropriate side to hear about what you were looking at. The whole thing is open air and somehow the rain is funneled through the middle and the sun shade rotates so it is very energy efficient and environmentally friendly. British architect Norman foster, I think, designed it.

the ramp up the dome at the Reichstag
the ramp up the dome at the Reichstag
the cone in the center covered in mirrors
the cone in the center covered in mirrors

 

hole in the top of the dome
hole in the top of the dome

We had a beautiful clear day to enjoy it and again, the audio guide added more tid bits our other tours had not. I wasn’t bored of hearing about the sites at all. Berlin is fascinating and I enjoyed every minute of it.
By the end of our tour my ankle was super angry so we took a bus back to the hotel and picked up some arnica oil at an apothecary which i lathered on after a nice hot shower. We headed back to the KaDeWe for dinner but were again short on time and went straight for the Thai station to place our order. Dirk went back to the potato guy to buy a bottle of the wine we had enjoyed so much the previous night and we shut the place down. But it was only 8 so what to do? The hotel restaurant didn’t offer much but we used our voucher for complimentary wine and asked the bar tender what we should do with our last day. Then Dirk went out to wander down the Kurfürstendamm and I headed to the room to blog. Full and satisfying day but went to bed a little worried about the state of my ankle and calves. Lots more walking to do and I may have made a bad choice bringing my Altras.

Day 1 in Berlin

day 3 in Berlin