Saturday, July 9, 2016

Germany mini-trip - day 2

We both slept very solidly, and woke up ready for a whole day of Germany! We spent the morning seeing more of Frankfurt, and by the end of it we’d covered the heart of things quite well, despite the time we lost on the first afternoon (and by the way, we realized today how unlucky we were – if we’d been even a single block further east when we joined the street that caused all our problems, we would have had clear access to the river, would have immediately realized we were turned around, and then the rest would never have happened, although on the other hand then we wouldn’t have our memories of Griesheim). We stopped for breakfast at a bakery (of course every European city has a bakery basically on every block, the inventory never changing too much from one to the next), retraced some of our steps from last evening up to the Euro sign and the main finance district, and then continued on into the main retail streets. It was a busy Saturday morning – the streets were packed. We went into the Galeria Kaufhof department store, now owned by Ally’s employer HBC and linked to the purpose of her visit here (so I suppose you could call it research). It’s very reminiscent actually of HBC stores in Canada – the food hall in the basement is particularly impressive (I’ve never seen such a large and nicely arranged display of water bottles). The store was busy too, although it’s always possible people are merely browsing before heading home to place their orders online.

We walked through an open air market, notable compared to those elsewhere for the volume of beer and wine consumption (based on what we've seen so far, the cliché still holds - Germans love drinking, and don't have too many restrictions on when and where it happens). We walked down to the river, wandering up one side and then down the other. Frankfurt has some more than pleasant views along there: some striking modern buildings contrasting with the older ones (or more accurately in many cases, the reconstructions of the long-destroyed older ones), but needless to say, if it does indeed replace London as the European centre of finance, as has been speculated post-Brexit, it has some catch-up to do in terms of overall scope and dynamism.
We returned to the hotel to pick up our bags and then headed to the station. The journey to St. Goar took about an hour and a half, with a simple change about a third of the way through. We splurged on first class, which meant a nice separate carriage on the first train (although not with working wi-fi, contrary to the legend) and then a barely differentiated space behind a glass partition on the second. The journey became quite lovely in its final stretch, overlooking the Rhine, traveling through a series of small towns, regularly overseen by high castles. We'd read that one can walk along the river for a long way - with regular ferries to the other side and easy access to the railways, it should be hard to get lost or stranded. This is the premise of the next few days anyway.

We instantly found our hotel, the Rheinfels, where the guy at the desk seemed highly amused that I have the same surname as a member of Deep Purple (coincidentally, or not, Deep Purple are actually playing here soon, on the other side of the river, although there’s nothing in sight resembling a performance venue, or even say a large playing field) (actually Ally just looked that up – they're playing in an amphitheatre somewhere among the rocks – might not be such a bad gig!). It’s an older but well-maintained hotel; our room is quite large and has a balcony overlooking the river, directly across from the nearest ferry stop.

One thing we hadn’t considered is that walking along the Rhine isn’t necessarily peaceful in the same way as many of the classic walks we’ve taken – there’s a road that runs right above it, and there's the railway just above that. There’s a cycling track and a walkway, and occasionally the trail dips down closer to the water, but you could never succumb to the illusion of being away from everything. That said, it’s very beautiful here, a completely satisfying spot to spend a few days. St. Goar is really little more than a strip along the road (at its most built up point, there’s a second strip behind that), but the possibilities lead away from you in all directions. This includes the upward direction, where we climbed the hill to an old castle – there’s a hotel up there too. We walked along the river to the west, a steady stream of ferries and afternoon cruise ships and industrial barges passing by (funny though that we didn’t see a single small craft – maybe they’re restricted). We could have kept going indefinitely, but we stopped around the time we reached “Das Boot,” apparently someone’s past brainwave of building a hotel in the shape of the top half of a boat (I’m sure it was fun in its heyday, but now it’s abandoned).

The town has six or seven reasonable-looking places to eat at night, although the menus don’t seem to vary much from one to the next. We chose Hotel am Markt, in the square in front of the town’s largest church (it has two). Most of the clientele seemed pretty elderly, and in some cases that’s putting it mildly. The waiter was initially attentive, but then seemed to lose interest entirely, reappearing only on the two occasions when we gave up waiting and I walked over to the building to look for him. Just as in Frankfurt, the main menu was supplemented by the special seasonal chanterelle menu. It’s amazing though how prices change when you get out of the big cities – our meal and what we drank were much the same as last night, but the bill was over 40% lower (under 60 Euros). The same thing goes for the hotel too. Anyway, I suppose the waiter had a point – there’s no purpose in hurrying; once it gets dark, there’s nowhere else happening around here…

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