Sunday, July 12, 2015

Biking the Moselle part 2: from Cochem to Trier

As we moved from the lower part of the Moselle to the middle stretch above Cochem, castles didn't entirely disappear, but they either were smaller or more ruined, or perhaps we were too sated with castles to find them.  The vineyards had been a constant since Koblenz, but they now seemed to climb further up the steep valley walls.  We were in one of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world, passing through towns well-known to oinophiles, such as Zell, Piesport and Bernkastel.  We were over two months ahead of the harvest and the grapes don't look like much now, but come late September, this valley will be hopping!

Zell was the first famous wine town, renowned of course for Zeller Schwartze Katz.  The locals made sure you knew about their famous wine with a statue in the main square.  Nearby an old house with some interesting carving caught our attention.  And in nearby Puenderich our guidebook helped as find the Rathaus with its Old German saying over the door, which roughly translates as "Don't enter if you can't hold your wine."

We have seen dozens of cyclists every week day, hundreds every weekend day, but few tandemers.  So of course we started chatting with a couple we encountered near Zell.  Jeff first learned tandeming from a blind friend, Pete Dawson, 25 years ago.  Our new acquaintances were a blind stoker and his (of course) sighted captain/wife, plus two siblings of hers.  They are from near Rotterdam and were out for a day ride of, we think, 60 or 70 km.  Those Dutch do love their biking!  We gave them our email address, in case they can ride with us in Leiden next month.

Further along we saw what we thought might be a vineyard mansion atop one hill.  Our route now occasionally took short cuts at bends in the Moselle through a few vineyards.

In every town we passed places with names like Weingut Goethe, the first word meaning they were wine estates, i.e. places that made and sold their own wine.  We spent a night at Hotel Weingut Dehren in the small town of Ellentz-Poltersdorf, and enjoyed one of the owner's own Rieslings along with the best restaurant meal we've had this summer.  The next night we were in a Hotel Garni, meaning no dinner served, but we had the best view of the trip: of the Moselle and of the lush vineyards across the river.

Our final major sightseeing stop before Trier was Bernkastel.  The most photographed building in town is the Spitzhaeuschen, or "Little Pointy House," though Jeff was also fascinated by the "Little Head-Banging House" as well.  BTW, to put those high-water marks in context, the Moselle was probably 4m (12 feet) lower than Jeff's feet as we stood there in July 2015.

Those are far from all the sights.  Besides several blocks of attractive Fachwerk (half-timbered) houses, there was also this laid-back place, and then the Rathaus, or city hall.  The astute among you might have already noticed the chain on the front corner, where ne'er-do-wells would be put on display as part of their punishment.


Before we leave Germany, we want to be sure to show you two road signs.  The first we saw frequently, and it means that the only folks who should be going down this road are the local inhabitants and cyclists.  The second sign was unique to this bridge, and says "YOU are too wide and I am too narrow.  Don't do it!!! (signed) The Small Bridge."  For lack of another place to slip it into the dialogue, here's another unique thing we saw not far from Trier: an elementary school with its own climbing wall!

Ah, Trier, at last!  Named by the Romans Augusta Trevorarum, meaning "City of Augustus Caesar among the Trevori People," this place was large 2,000 years ago.  The Landesmuseum has a great scale model of the city circa 200 A.D., when the area inside the city walls was over 1 square mile.  Our first stop was the highly impressive Porta Nigra, or Black Gate.  In fact we took a tour of it, and were impressed not only with its height but also the roominess of the place.  It was designed so that an enemy making it through the outer door found himself in an interior courtyard, with Roman weapons likely descending from all four directions.  Ouch!  Two of the guards were still hanging around, giving pointers (ooh, couldn't pass up that pun) to the tourists.

Now any city with a genuine Roman ruin that size would be pretty happy to have it.  For Trier, it's only one treasure out of many.  We bought the full deal ticket at the tourist office and started the next day with the Colosseum.  It once had stone steps all the way up to the cheap seats where the photo was taken, but they were -- how can we say this politely --  recycled into other structures about town.  Back in the day, the main attractions were fairly gruesome events, usually involving wild animals, prisoners of war, or both.  Under the main arena they had a machine known in Latin as a machina.  It was pretty clever, and could lift people or scenery right up to the arena level.  Thanks to the ASA 3600 setting on our camera, it doesn't look all that dark and grim down there.  We kind of doubt the slaves working the machina had quite those same thoughts 1,800 years ago.  Oh, yeah, another one of those Romans was hanging around here, too, and running something called "Gladiator School" for folks who look like pencil-pushers the rest of the week.

Next stop was the Imperial Baths.  Diagrams in the interpretive center helped us visualize what the place was once like.  There's quite a bit of it left, particularly of the lower level where those clever Romans had built hot water heating systems for their baths.  Kids loved the maze of long dark passageways.

Then there's Constantine's Throne Room.  Are you impressed?  Good, that was the plan.  Intimidated and cowering were also acceptable reactions.  This was the capital city of one fourth of the Roman Empire around 400 A.D., and this building represented the heart of that power.  Folks in the Middle Ages didn't quite know what to do with this enormous plain box, however.  Then along came Protestantism with its iconoclastic rejection of Catholic statuary and baroque exuberance.  And so, today, this is now the main Protestant church in largely Catholic Trier.

Around the corner is the cathedral, which looks so much like other ones we've already shown you elsewhere that we're going to skip that photo and instead show you a really impressive shot.  This is the list of Trier's bishops, going back to a little after 250 A.D.   Say what they will, the Bishops of Mainz, or Cologne, or even Paris couldn't top that kind of antiquity to boast of.  Not likely those other bishops had predecessors with such cool names, either, like Richbod and Wizzo.  Before we leave the cathedral, however, we want to show you what's next door.  Another church (with a very fine doorway).  Go figure.  

Want a break from Romans and Roman Catholic bishops?  Trier is also a pilgrimage site of sorts for Communists.  Yup!  Very popular these days, we hear, with the Chinese tourists, not so much with Polish or Russian ones.   Right in town is the birthplace of Karl Marx, who lived here until he left for college.  Want to spend some capital rather than read curious theories about it?  They'll be happy to entertain you in cafes and restaurants at the beautiful Hauptmarkt in the center of town.

We'll conclude our visit to Trier with a swing through the Landesmuseum, which has the finest collection of archaeological treasures in Germany.  One small charmer is this statuette of a Trevori landowner.  Vastly larger are these mosaics from roman villas in the Trier area.  The last one illustrates one of those fun sporting contests at the Colosseum, where these two folks would have fought until only one was standing (or, perhaps, crawling, though alive).  The tomb was constructed for a wealthy Roman couple, and has a carving on the side of a woman dancing with grapes.   Tying together the Romans and their grapes, our final image is of a Roman ship carrying -- you guessed it -- wine.

In our next entry we'll finally leave Germany for a few days in Luxembourg, followed by a short train ride through the hilly Ardennes to our next river valley, the Muse.

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