The overall plan was for Martha and me to stay in Schlosshotels, castles with lodging, for our first week or so, visit the medieval city of Rothenburg for a few days, spend a week on a canal boat on the Moselle River, and a couple of days with a friend from high school who now lives in Germany. We had booked two nights in each Schlosshotel, and 3 nights in Rothenburg.
5AM Tues I got a phone call from United saying our flight from SFO to Frankfurt was delayed by 6 hours, leaving at 8:45 vs 2:40PM. I asked about other options and the woman with a pleasant Indian accent said I could have seats on a 7:00 PM flight but couldn't guarantee seats together. So I stayed with the original flight. It turned out that a lot of folks opted for the earlier flight and as a result there were many empty seats on the later flight. Martha and I together had a total of 7 seats to ourselves. This translated to stretching out and pretending to sleep, a great imporovement over sitting upright for 11 hours.
We got our car and started on the A3 from Frankfurt to Mespelbrunn. Soon all traffic stopped and we waited easily 1/2 hour. We could see emergency vehicles ahead about 1/2 kilometer. A helicopter landed and took off. At last all lanes were released and we completed our trip with no problem.
The cheapie GPS I brought was great telling us where to turn pronouncing the German names in fractured English, just the way I read them. It finally directed us onto back roads and we arrived at Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn before dark. I had a shower, dinner with wine and went to bed for a jet-lagged sleep. The hotel was very nice and our room was comfortable and quiet, but it didn't look much like a castle to us.
From the Mespelbrunn hotel we walked a short distance further in past the end of the road. To our surprise we found the actual Mespelbrunn castle, quite picturesque with turrets, nice grounds with lake in front. We arrived just in time for one of their English language tours. The other tourists in our group were from Italy, Portugal, and Brazil - no native English speakers besides ourselves. The guide was a charming young woman who was studying languages and had quite a good command of English. We chatted with her after the tour and discussed her career plans.
The next day we drove to Wurtzburg, using the A3 Autobahn again. Another accident held us up with all lanes blocked for about 20 min. We parked in town and got tickets for the boat to Veitshoechheim. We said we wanted to return at 4PM and the lady wrote 16:00 on the back of our ticket and said something in German. We had a nice boat ride, saw the grand palace and gardens and returned to the dock catch the 4PM boat back. The boat that came was at a different dock and of a different color so we kept waiting for the boat we had come on. There was no other boat at 4 so we had hot chocolate and waited for the 5PM boat (per the printed schedule 6PM was the last). No boat at 5PM so we panicked and got the help of the local cafe proprietor. He called and determined the last boat was at 4 because of the weather. I guess this is what the ticket lady had tried to tell us. He called us a taxi which took us back to Wurtzburg and our car. I then cleverly turned the starter on the car without remembering it was a stick shift and rammed us into the parking garage wall. The blessed GPS then directed us back to Mespelbrunn without incident. There were minor scratches on the front of the car and I was partially successful erasing them with toothpaste.
The Autobahn ("A" highways) have apparently received a lot of money for improvement because we saw construction on every one, not driving more than 25-30 Km between construction zones. Their construction closes all lanes on a side so traffic in each direction is constricted to one regular lane on the right and one very narrow (2 meters) passing lane. An unending parade of trucks from all over the EU occupies the right lane, so to get around them one has to squeeze into the ridiculously narrow left lane. Fortunately everyone slows down for this agonizing process.
German drivers are different. They of course follow the rules, and if the rule on the Autobahn says that they can go fast, they feel obliged to do so, even when it makes no sense. As a result, not only the big Mercs, Audis and BMWs cruise at 180-200 KmPH, but all the medium sized cars and most of the little ones rip along in the fast lane. Also as a result, they seem to crash a lot. I've never seen so many accidents.
Our compact little Ford wagon could have gone faster than the 120 we normally drove, but it didn't seem happy above 130 - the motor was cranking 4000 RPM and sounding like it was working very hard; plus the tires were "not new". I found autobahn driving tiring - passing the trucks, then getting out of the way of chaps enjoying the freedom and novelty of going very fast - then having to come to a screeching halt for the construction and the inevitable accident. Though to say "enjoying" might not be right, since they seemed grim-faced and unforgiving.
We drove into Rothenburg. Our hotel was within the walls of the ancient city so we followed the GPS as best we could going through the narrow city gates. I stupidly tried to follow the GPS down a road which narrowed to the point where we scraped the side mirrors. Toothpaste wasn't enough for these deep scratches so later I got a "sample" of cleanser from a grocery and tried it on my scratches. The front looked better but the silver painted mirrors were down to the black plastic in places. Huh! Kinda wish I had taken the insurance option.
In Rothenburg, our routine seemed to be that we would start looking at shops, I would lose patience and go off on my own, and Martha would shop for several more hours. This seemed to keep everybody happy. It seemed we had quite a lot of pork and sausages, the main offerings in German restaurants. So the last two nights we ate in the Italian restaurant near our hotel. This was also due to the lesser prices. Our waiter both nights was an alert and handsome young man who spoke great English. His charm would bring us back to the restaurant again.
We joined the "Night Watchman" tour. Quite interesting and well done. The "watchman" dressed in Medieval costume carried a lantern and long pike, and took the crowd on a walk through the city, stopping at various locations and giving us his spiel. At the end he held out his hat for us each to pay our 6 euros. Very much the honor system since it would be easy to duck out. There were both English and German language tours. Afterward back in the square there was a group of 16 young people singing multipart chorale music. Very pretty and a nice end to the day.
On the way out of Rothenburg we took a side trip to Dinkelsbuhel, billed as Rothenburg's little sister. It was pretty, but unexciting, and after a walk around we got back on the road to the Black Forest.
We arrived at the hotel in Hornberg, and again were a little disappointed that our SchlossHotel was not really a castle, but a building that had castle ruins nearby. We were trying to stay in Castles, darn it. It was perfectly fine however, thought not as well appointed as our beautiful hotel in Rothenburg. We had a large comfortable suite and had a wonderful view of Hornberg far below. With colorful trains pulling in and out of the station, and tiny matchbox cars and trucks on the roads below, it looked like a very well made and beautiful toy village.
The next day was a day trip to Baden-Baden. Martha had heard about the famous casino and fancy shops and I agreed to the trip mostly to accommodate. But the city truly has some beautiful areas. It's all very posh of course, but the walk along the stream was fine, looking at the opulent hotels and their grounds, a beautiful public rose garden and a dahlia garden. The dahlias were in bloom and were an amazing display.
We were excited to find on our walk to the casino an Airstream trailer being used to promote a cigarette brand. Why did this iconic American artifact excite us? Well just after we left for Germany, Martha's oldest daughter Ginger had purchased and gone to get an Airstream she plans to restore to use as a base for selling goat cheese. So we confirmed that even the smart set in Europe are using Airstreams for this vending.
To Baden-Baden from our Black Forest location in Hornberg and back we took back roads. They were great roads, without much traffic, often quite fast and gently curving. We saw many motorcycle tourists enjoying this route also. Again the little GPS worked great, though it became confused at some of the hairpin turns, insisting that we were going the wrong way and should make a U turn, or telling us to make a left turn when all we could do was follow the road around a tight turn. I think it was car sick.
Next we drove to the Rhine where we had booked another Schlosshotel. This one turned out to be a real castle and our "room" was a large apartment within one of the later castle buildings. We had lunch in a quaint nearby town then came back and had a wonderful wandering tour of the castle. We intended to eat dinner in town (Trechtinshausen), but even though we wandered around quite a bit we found nothing open. The town had all gone to bed (about 8PM). We then headed South and saw parking for a different Schlosshotel, one with a restaurant we had read about. It was a dark steep stairway leading from the parking up a steep hill to the castle. Some lights came on as we approached, but we were the only people there. In vain hope, we went up many many stairs and switchbacks, up the side of the mountain and eventaully reached the castle, also dark, and very locked. It would have been nice, I'm sure. We ended up at a very chic, quite reasonable Italian place in the next town down.
Next day was a short drive North (down the Rhine) to St Goar, a cute tourist town with lots going on. We hiked up to the castle and did the self-guided tour. It was unrestored, in semi ruined condition, but was wonderful to explore for several hours. There were undergound passages where a flashlight would have helped, and we felt like we were discovering it on our own. Other tourists were there, but most did not happen across the underground part. We took a 2 1/2 hour cruise down the Rhine and back. It was very relaxing and Martha says that she heard me softly snoring a few times. That night we set out for the Italian place of the night before, but immediately saw a hotel restaurant in our own town that appeared open. As we approached, the lights went out, but we opened the door and they turned on an inside light and served us a very nice meal.
Next day drove down to Saarbruecken to turn in the car and meet up with my old high-school friend Gerry. There he was, meeting us at the Avis office. We were so happy to see each other. Gerry has become completely German and though raised in the US, lapses into German when he gets excited.
The rental car folks looked at the scratches and asked about them. Fortunately the car had some hard use prior to us and a list of flaws already documented (in German of course). I played dumb (not difficult) and said I didn't know what was listed already as damage, but referred them to the list. They scratched their heads and eventually said everything was OK. Whew! Dodged the bullet again.
Gerry drove us to our boat and we talked for some hours. The boat rental threw us a couple of curves. The fuel tank was not filled as promised, so we would need to go North, the wrong direction, for 1 1/2 hours to get fuel in Luxemburg before starting our trip. We negotiated a 5 hour credit on our eventual fuel charge to cover our unscheduled motoring. Secondly, after the boat rep. had left we discovered there were sheets and bedding but no towels. At dinner in town we were given a dish towel by a generous waitress. The next day, a German gent from the next-door boat drove us to the local supermarket where we bought towels. Ours was a stubby little boat with no attempt at graceful lines. But it was fairly new, clean, and everything worked properly. It was comfortable inside and handled well.
So we set off North, found the fuel dock and had lunch while waiting for the Luxemburgian fuel attentant to return from his lunch. We added 200 Euros (about 200 Liters) of diesel to the tank almost filling it. We turned around and headed South, getting as far as Thionville. We have done canal boats and locks before, but never with just the two of us. I wondered how it would work out. We developed our technique quickly enough. I would keep the boat in position waiting for the lock to open, then drive it in, bumping up against the side where I could reach a vertical set of bollards built into the lock side.
I would loop our stern line around the highest reachable bollard and hold the rope while Martha would use the bow thrusters and idle forward or backward to hold us in position as the water filled. I'd have to move the line to the next higher bollard as the boat rose in the lock. Eventually, when we were high enough, I'd step out and loop the rope over one of the large bollards at the top. When the exit gates were opened, I'd toss off the rope and we'd motor out. We felt confident but had some trepidation about the automatic locks that lay ahead.
We had been told this part of the Moselle was industrial and grim, but we found Thionville charming and interesting. After an abortive attempt to dock along the concrete quay, a local chap pointed out the free guest docks right at the city center and we docked there happily.
Next day we motored to Metz and docked at their yacht club. We walked from there and happened across a festival with a variety of booths and activities. The one we chuckled at was a performance by a local Texas Country Western dance group. They had Texas flags on their backs, little red kerchiefs, and sported a variety of cowboy boots. Americal "culture", such as it is, certainly blankets the globe. Metz was a beautiful city with a large car-free zone with shops and restaurants and the most magnificant cathedral Martha and I have ever seen. Cathedral Sainte Etienne stunned us with its magesty and beauty. The organ was playing so we sat in awe taking it in before returning to our cozy boat.
We wanted to spend two nights in Nancy (non-CEE), so we started as early as we could and motored all day. We had been told that the lock keeper at the last manual lock would give us a remote "clicker" to control the automatic locks. In fact when I was exiting our last manual lock (I was planning on tying up and going to ask about the clicker), the chap came running after us with the remote. I had read the instructions for the automatics, but wasn't sure what it would all look like. Our first automatic was just after a sharp turn and behind a low bridge. It looked very spooky and cavernous and we felt like we were entering the maw of a giant monster. I could see a 7 meter wall of water being held back by ancient gates and had only a stupid yellow clicker to protect me. The instructions called for us to lift a blue rod when we were ready to fill the lock. We saw no rods. Eventually, the back gates closed, the lock filled, the front gates opened, and we motored out onto an odd canal, built higher than most of the surrounding countryside.
The approach into Nancy was a bit industrial. Eventually we docked at a harbor near the center of town. We were helped in docking by an English speaking fellow from San Luis Obispo, CA. His boat was registered in California and had Morro Bay named as its home port. He told us he had bought the boat in Holland but registered it as a California boat. I suspect this is to save money or other administrative hassle. We saw several small boats with US state registrations.
Nancy is known as the center of Art Nouveau so we set out to see what we could see. We found Place Stanislaus, a large plaza with fountains, monuments, and gilded ironwork gates. We took the goofy little tourist train tour which drove us around the old portions of the city with the audio telling us forgettable facts in 6 different languages. We had lunch at the Excelsior Cafe, a famous and quite beautiful Art Nouveau landmark. It was bustling with activity and we had to wait 10 minutes for a table. Martha had found a fabric shop and wanted to spend some serious time shopping so after lunch I went back to the boat for a nap.
Rob, the chap who helped us dock, knocked on our door and offered a single ticket to the opera for that night; a friend couldn't attend and they wondered if one of us would go. Martha was OK staying back so later I went with the neighbors to the dress rehearsal of Rusalka, by Dvorak. I was seated in the 1st gallery in the seat closest to the stage. From that angle, sitting back in your seat you can only see about 1/3 of the stage. But by leaning forward on the cushioned rail you can see just fine. The opera was in Czech and the projected super titles were of course in French, so I didn't know much of what was going on. The music was pretty, but at the second intermission, I called it a night.
The next day we set out early (for us) because we had 14 locks to traverse to get to Lagarde, our next goal and town with a marina. We immediately ran into trouble with the so-called automatic locks. The first responded to our click, looked good, then changed to two red lights (trouble) and nothing happened. I tied up, went ashore, pressed the intercom button and got an incomprehensible message. I pushed it a few more times for good measure and went back to our boat and waited. Eventually came the man in the van, reset the system, and told us it was an electronic problem. He also pulled out a large weed from in front of a sensor. The next problem lock responded to our click, but no lights were on the panel. I pushed the intercom button, conversed briefly in English with a man who said "someone will come". Someone finally came.
The next problem lock gave no response to our click, showed no lights, and the intercom button gave no response at all. The power seemed to be out. We waited feeling frustrated and helpless. A canal boat with German folks arrived upstream, and a large pinechette arrived behind us, and we all waited. Eventually the man in the van came, worked with the electrical circuits for a while, was joined by men in two other vans, and finally got it going.
The big pinechette (small barge) came behind us in the lock requiring us to be directly in front of the sluice gates. This didn't work well and we were bucked around badly by the currents. From then on that day we followed behind the other boat and were happily protected behind them. They even had a man on board who climbed the ladders and helped us loop our line on a bollard. We got to Lagarde about 7PM after a very long day and 14 locks. The electronic/automatic ones are great when they work, but when they don't, it takes up a lot of time to get them fixed and get going again.
It was raining the next morning so we weren't motivated for an early start. About 10AM the rain had stopped and we were on our way. There were only about six locks ahead of us but the last one at Réchicourt was 15 meters high. This translated to having to drive our little boat into the bottom of a large dam, in this case a dam with doors. In the past we had gone through a 7 meter lock and that was fairly scary. The remaining automated locks went without a hitch and when we came to the giant one, the man said we'd have to wait either 45 minutes or until more boats came. We walked up to the top and saw the immensity of the thing. Perhaps it looks more cavernous and scarey because it's relatively narrow. Anyway, we did it. We motored lock free for another couple of hours and docked at our destination, Niderviller.
It rained quite a bit in the night but we didn't care. My faithful friend Gerry picked us up in the AM and we made a side trip to see the Inclined Plane boat mover at Ardviller. It was impressive but it didn't look as scary for the boaters as the massive lock we had traversed. Gerry stopped in Strasbourg and we saw their very nice cathedral, older than the one in Metz and with an interesting astronomical clock. Legend was that the clockmaker's reward opon completion was to be blinded so he would never surpass this masterpiece.
We arrived and were made welcome at Gerry & Mellita's house in Bexbach. It's a very nice house formerly occupied by her parents and Gerry has been working ro renovate it in various ways. Every hotel we had seen and their house also had double paned windows that hinge selectively at the side (for opening wide) or at the bottom (for rain-free ventilation). These don't seem to be popular in the US for some reason, but we thought they were very clever.
On our full day at Gerry's house we drove to Luxemburg City. The topography of the place adds to the interest and it's quite international in flavor. The next day Gerry drove us to the Frankfurt airport and we returned on a direct flight without any excitement.