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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 😉