Sunday, July 10, 2016

Germany mini-trip - day 3

The Rheinfels hotel feels largely empty, and almost haunted too, by virtue of the motion-detecting light switches that illuminate the nighttime corridors as you wander down them. But based on the breakfast room this morning, the place might actually be full. It was a very nice buffet, with almost everything you could think of, excepting chanterelles, and overseen very efficiently by a single aging waiter in a bow tie. The tables had white tablecloths and, even at this time of day, burning candles.

The feeling of emptiness and under-utilization is pervasive to the town though. On both this and the other side of the river, we see numerous closed hotels and restaurants, suggesting more prosperous times in the past. Much of the activity now consists of people arriving in tour buses, catching a ferry for a cruise on the Rhine, and then disappearing, to be picked up elsewhere. Today we walked past an old-fashioned caravan park, people reading and drinking beer outside their camper vans, in their little square of river-facing space. There’s absolutely nothing in the vicinity that feels in any way new. Of course, this is the charm of the place, if you’re into it, but it feels like much of the world may be moving on…

Well, at least they have the two of us for now. The ferry to the other side is an impressive operation, carrying over maybe as many as twenty cars on each run, along with sundry bikers, cyclists, walkers and dogs. It goes every twenty minutes, back and forth, until late into the night, loading and unloading with what looks like unceasing efficiency. From where we're staying, you get the impression that the town on the other side, minimally distinguished from St. Goar by calling itself St. Goarshausen, might have more action, but when we crossed over this morning we found out it’s not true. We picked up a drink and some snacks (from the one place that seemed to be open) and set off. In addition to being able to walk along the river in any direction on either side, one can also climb out of the gorge (I keep wanting to refer to them as hills or mountains, but it’s not that they’re so high, it’s that we’re so low) and hike above, again on either side in either direction. We did that today, selecting a trail that should have taken us several hours, winding past several castles. We managed to complete the most difficult stretch, the initial climb, but then found out the rest of the trail was closed, due to a rockslide or something. We wandered around up there as much as we could, but ended up coming back down to where we started. Then we set off in the other direction, taking on another tough initial climb, this time with greater subsequent success. We followed the trail for a couple of hours, much of it along farmers’ fields and vineyards, often clinging to the side of the gorge in a way that looks precarious. Of course, the valley views from there are magnificent, endless compositions of water and sky, and largely tasteful insertions by mankind.

We descended near the castle Maus and into the little village of Wellmich, which doesn’t have too much going on. From there we walked back along the river to St. Goarshausen. This was about five hours since we left the hotel, and it was hot and often exposed throughout, so that was as much applied activity as you could really expect in one day. We sat around in the shade for about an hour, having a toasted sandwich, some ice cream, and lots of beverages. A lot of the activity on the road seemed to belong to motor cyclists; all the bikes highly polished and shining in the sun, all the gear immaculate. Apparently this is regarded as a prime road for motor biking, so maybe we're watching (say) junior accountants from Frankfurt living their dreams for an afternoon. Other aspects of the local culture could appear aligned with the biker culture too, given that we’ve seen ads not only for Deep Purple but also for a Monster Truck show, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and (sic) Thin Lissy, Of course, I’m engaging in wild stereotyping there, as there’s no inherent reason why the bikers couldn’t be down here for (say) a Goethe symposium.

We caught the ferry back to the other side. I mentioned that St. Goar would have seemed to belong to the old rather than the new Germany, but as we arrived back the street was filled, rather mesmerizingly, by an Islamic pilgrimage (or, more likely, a tour group heading for the bus). But eventually they were gone and things went back to normal. While we were in the hotel for our afternoon break, Canadian Milos Raonic lost in the Wimbledon final. For the last few trips, Ozu has been staying in a new location, called “Park 9.” Once a day, the dogs get to use an indoor pool, and Ozu loves it beyond description – he dips his paws into the water, loses his head with excitement, and goes running around the perimeter like a maniac, then repeats the process endlessly. Based on past experience, and given the time difference, I thought we would taking our afternoon break at the optimum time to watch this display on the webcam, but we’ve seen little evidence the pool is ever used at all. Well, I suppose every trip has to contain at least one disappointment.

We were aware that things might close down earlier on a Sunday, and so they did – we sat down outside the Bistro CafĂ© Goar just as the kitchen was closing, it seems. It really wasn’t very memorable food though, even allowing for our scaled-down expectations, so there may be little qualitative difference between the kitchen being open and it being closed. An hour or so later, a group of young women walked by, looking dressed up for a visit to a nightclub or suchlike. Based on what we’ve observed of the town, they were definitely misinformed; but on the other hand, they wandered off somewhere and we never saw them again, so maybe it has its secret gathering places…

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