Monday, July 11, 2016

Germany mini-trip - day 4

Last night was the Euro soccer final, although I suppose it would have had a more galvanizing impact on St. Goar if Germany had made it to the end. As it was, the Bistro CafĂ© Goar was showing the France vs. Portugal game on a TV screen inside. After we’d finished eating and were having drinks, we moved to the terrace, a perfect spot for monitoring both this and the river (the parade of grand industrial barges continuing after dark, like stately elongated whales). When normal time ended without a goal, some of the clientele left, apparently with some mocking from the others for their lack of fortitude. We left around that time too (to no mocking), counting eight or so mostly elderly remainees. And that was the Sunday action in St. Goar.

On Monday we again had breakfast in the hotel (the guy at the next table was surreptitiously assembling sandwiches from the breakfast buffet materials and putting them in his briefcase) before heading off for another seven hour-plus exploration. We climbed up behind town to the top of the gorge and followed a trail for several hours, eventually coming back down at the town of Oberwesel. As I mentioned, this is only really an achievement in climbing if you’ve artificially placed yourself down at the bottom – following the trail, we frequently walked past housing developments or resorts or whatnot, reminding us that’s where the real world is, up there! The highlight of the walk though came during one of its more deeply forested sections, where we came across an old man and woman dragging a (very reluctant) sheep along the path. We should have blocked the way, chanting: Free the Sheep!

Actually, the real highlights were naturally the constant views down into the gorge – every new look-out point gives you a new reason to stop and breathe it in. Oberwesel also looked great from up above, but is rather dull and disappointing close-up, even allowing that Monday seems to be a day off for a lot of small businesses. The biggest comparative limitation may be that St. Goar has hotels and restaurants with almost direct access to the river (excepting the road, which isn’t too busy), but in Oberwesel the railway runs closer to the water, holding back the rest of the town (there’s an old city wall in the way too). I expect it made sense at the time to lay things down that way, but now it makes the place feel constricted. We had trouble even finding a suitable place to eat, but eventually sat down and had a couple of sandwiches, and five separate beverage orders between the two of us. We watched a woman arriving at a nearby hair salon for what was presumably a 2 pm appointment, waiting outside for the hairdresser to return from her break, getting increasingly impatient, trying unsuccessfully to place a phone call, eventually giving up at around 2.20 pm and leaving under a dark cloud. The hairdresser turned up ten minutes after that, with her dog and her shopping bag, beaming happily and without an apparent care in the world. That’s probably how it goes down here in the small towns.

By the way, if you climb all the way up from Oberwesel, someone (apparently an anonymous artist) is carrying out a project of constructing large metal “troll” sculptures – based on the dates, it appears a new one gets added every year. There’s one at the roadside; the others are lurking in the woods. Here is Ally with a representative example.

We then decided that if we walked on a further 6 km or so to the town of Bacharach, we’d arrive in time to catch the hourly train back to St. Goar. This was an easy 6 km by comparison with what we'd already done, all along the river, no climbing. We achieved this with time to spare, enough to wander round Bacharach (which was also mostly closed) to find an ice cream. The scenic highlight of the walk was the town of Kaub on the other side, with its eye-catching white castle on a tiny island in the middle of the river (it is called Pfalzgrafenstein Castle and was built as a station to extract tolls from passing vessels – mundane functions were discharged with so much style in the old days!).

There didn’t seem to be as many cruise ships in the water today – maybe business surges at the weekend; certainly the volume of motor bikes had plummeted. I would have placed a bet that Bacharach would have held at least one prominent tribute to its famous namesake Burt, perhaps a modest statue on the theme of What’s New Pussycat?, but if so we missed it. It’s another very picturesque town though, again with old walls and cobbled streets intact, so that you could shoot a historical film on the back streets with minimal cover-up of contemporary details.

That added up to a lot of walking today, a punishing achievement even if the weather was slightly cooler than yesterday. We picked up another beverage (whenever we’re in Europe we drink bottle after bottle of Fanta – we never buy it at home, and if we do it doesn’t taste the same anyway) and then returned to the hotel. Once again, we did not succeed in seeing Ozu at the pool. Some of the restaurants were closed tonight, again because it’s Monday I suppose – we ate in a quiet place in the middle of town, which also closed as soon as we left, and then ended up drinking beer over the water. It becomes ever more clear that there are fewer functioning businesses here than meets the eye. For instance, there’s a hotel near us that looks open – there are flowers in all the windowboxes – but we’ve never seen any signs of life there, and based on an online search it's not taking reservations. It’s quite sad, the sense that the world is losing its taste for this kind of quiet location. St. Goar does appear to be a regular stopping point for a Contiki tour bus – this is a company catering to 18 to 35 year olds, known for the partying nature of the experience – and this may explain some of the young women we saw wandering around on previous nights. Mostly though, it appears the Contiki groups stay in a hotel on the other side of town, where they create their own self-contained world of fun. Can their world ever overlap with the rest of St. Goar, to spark a new mutually beneficial way forward...?

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