Sunday, July 12, 2015

Biking the Moselle part 1: from Koblenz to Cochem

Our next leg will take us from Koblenz, the confluence of the Moselle with the Rhine at the deutsches Eck, to Cochem, roughly half our time on the Moselle. We had fortunately found a hotel with air-conditioning, for it reached the mid-90s.  That sapped some of our energy, but we nonetheless walked 7 miles around town, primarily through Altstadt, the old part of town, and by cable car across the Rhine to Ehrenbreitsen Fortress.  Koblenz was a major target of Allied bombing in WW II, but you'd hardly know it in Altstadt.  Isn't that the most medieval Pizza Hut you've ever seen?  Another building kitty-corner from it told the story:  destroyed by bombs in 1944, rebuilt in 1950 with the assistance of an architect.

From Koblenz to the meeting-point of Germany, France and Luxembourg in Schengen, our cycling guide (this one thankfully in English, but describing the route in the reverse direction to our route) gave us maps and directions for either side of the river.  So each evening, Directeur Sportif Jeff had to read both descriptions and decide when to cross by bridge or ferry from one side to the other.  Our guidebook said the right bank out of Koblenz was particularly heavy with traffic, so we took the other shore and found it was heavy with twists and turns down narrow streets of small towns.  Not a bad thing if you don't mind the occasional steep climbs, and if you caught all the signs telling you where to zig and zag.  Some of the architecture was glorious, particularly the one place we've illustrated.  We then came out to a section that ran a few km next to a rail line, but it did give us a chance to get up close to the wine monorails that lift empty boxes up the steep slopes and lower them with the harvest.


As you will shortly see, the Moselle is fairly swamped with castles, but none were as spectacular as the first one we came to, which is also the one castle we visited, on the command of every guidebook we had read.  And they were right!  Burg Eltz was in a class by itself!

And here's the thing:  unlike the houses we and 99.99% of our readers live in, this place has had only one owner!  Well, to be more precise, one family of umpteen generations.  Since it was built.  In the 1200s.  They did have one neighbor who tried to persuade them to leave in the mid-1300s, a vandal by the name of Archbishop Baldwin of Trier.  That's the remains of the siege tower he built on an adjacent hill.  The Eltz family simply collected the boulders Baldwin catapulted at them, and he eventually gave up and went on to plunder somewhere else.

It's a magnificent place, well worth the effort it took to get here: a 15-minute bike ride from our hotel, then a 20-minute bus trip, then a 25-minute hike.  While that wave of 90+ degree heat followed us from Koblenz.  The Burghof, or castle courtyard, was an amazing space.  As part of the admission we got a tour of the castle innards (thankfully in English), including their 16th century kitchen where food got mostly stored on hooks to keep it from the mice.  They also have quite an astonishing collection of goodies acquired by the family over the past 3/4 of a millennium, such as this single shot pistol, which doubled as a battle axe and as a hook for pulling your enemy off his horse.  Given that a suit of armor could top 60 lbs., this either killed you from blunt force trauma or made your vulnerable parts waaaaay too accessible.  The last photo is a little doodad made in 1557 of silver plated with gold, entitled Gluttony a Being Conveyed by Drunkenness.

Ever play the "slug bug game" with your kids, or as a kid, to make a car trip go by before portable game devices and DVD players came along to zombify the rear seat passengers?  (For the uninitiated, you yell out 'SLUG BUG' every time you see a VW Beetle car, trying to beat out siblings and parents as the alpha-slug-bug-observer in the family).  Well that's sort of the way it went on the bike with castles, except that Jeff had an unfair advantage over poor Louise, trying to look over his shoulder.  Castle, left!  Castle, right!  Castles from the bike, from the ferry rides back and forth across the Moselle, castles from the vineyards!

65 km from Koblenz, we came to Cochem, the most-visited town of the middle Moselle, 1/2 a million overnight stays and 2 1/2 million day-trippers per year.  As quiet as it looked as we approached, it was indeed crawling with tourists.  We admired one city watchtower/gate, then slowly pushed the tandem through the crowds toward the next one.

Louise had a few distractions of one sort, Jeff of another.  We both paused to admire the window display of traditional local attire.

As we biked beyond Cochem the focus on castles waned a little but that on the wines grown in this valley only grew.  We'll show you more as we continue on to 2,000-year-old Trier in the next episode.

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