Sunday, August 13, 2017

Getting Back in Motion

When last we wrote, our travels had come to a grinding halt thanks to an ankle Jeff sprained at our hotel in a small town on the Rhine, Nierstein.  For five days he mostly hobbled short distances using some borrowed crutches, his ankle supported by a fairly impressive-looking brace.  Some of that hobbling and hopping was to the table outside our room, where Louise provided some wonderful chef's salads and we could eat a dozen feet from where the accident occurred.  Oh, the memories.

By day 6 we were successful in walking a mile and a half to the post office and back, which showed us that it was time to do a little more walking as part of the effort to heal.  We had discovered a great deal on DB, Deutsche Bahn, the German train system.  Each state has an all-day pass good for unlimited travel within that state.  We were in Rhineland-Palatine, and a train line ran from here 125 km down the Rhine to Koblenz, where another line ran right alongside the Moselle River another 100+ km, all the while staying within Rhineland-Palatine.  So on day 7 we ambled over to the train station and plunked 29 euros, about $33, into a machine.  Out came our ticket for two.  Such a deal! 

Except for the first few km, we had cycled the whole route we were about to do in 2015.  Clearly, the best way to see these two wonderful rivers is from a bike, as a visit to our blog entry from that trip would show.  But we still got to see quite a bit, and had the opportunity to reminisce about the sights we had seen then in slow motion as they now whizzed past our train window at anything but slow motion.

So, what did we see?  A LOT of castles and quaint small towns set in a pair of deep valleys.  Here are a few of the more successful photos.  The first four are on the Rhine, the last two on the Moselle.

After turning around in a town on the Moselle, we came back through Koblenz but hopped off and walked to a restaurant where we met up with our new Swiss friends Yannick and Romaine and their two children.  They were going to be going through town at lunchtime anyway, and it worked perfectly, even the timing -- we arrived two minutes before they did, and were able to get action shots of them arriving with their bikes in tandem mode.

After our pizza lunch it was off to a nearby playground.  For little Ilias and Layna, life doesn't get much better than this!  For us, far from our own 5 grandkids, it was fun to be vicarious grandparents if only for a short time.  As they left to ride another 20 km down the Rhine, Ilias led the group out and Layna played sweep.  It was cute to see her signaling a left turn just before they disappeared.

That was such a successful outing, we did another a few days later.  Once again we got a day pass for the train, but this time got off in Bingen, the start of the truly spectacular part of the Rhine.  The map on the right shows fewer than half the castles in this stretch of a little over 40 km / 25 miles.  The boat is a definite improvement over the train, although the first pair of photos might not seem that way since the shot from the train of Burg Ehrenfels came out pretty good.  But the next castle, the famous "Mouse Tower," has no train photo since all we could see was bushes and trees with momentary flashes of the white tower as the train went by.  We think a bike remains the absolute best way to see this area, but the boat was a close second, hampered only by the fact that it too whizzes by things, so you can't spend much time setting up that shot, as you can when you're on a bike and can stop pretty much anywhere you wish.

Here are a few more of the castles and towns on the Rhine, with the added advantage of being able to move about on the boat and get shots on both banks of the river.

We hopped off in Boppard,  skipping a few more castles between it and Koblenz, in order to rise above it all on the Sesselbahn, or chairlift.  Jeff was now using hiking poles, not crutches, and we managed the 1 km walk through Boppard just fine, plus a bit more up at the summit.  It's an exciting ride, and a terrific view of the Rhine as it bends over 180 degrees right across from where we were.  The view is so wide even our wide-angle lens couldn't capture it all, so you will have to mentally combine the last two photos to get the wide view.

Even with the telephoto, the boats were so small they looked like toys in a creek.

Back on the chairlift, after every dozen seats there was a pole for attaching mountain bikes.  We watched the riders, all of whom were wearing body armor.  Since we don't particularly fancy crashing into rocks and trees (the whole reason for all that armor), that's not exactly our kind of biking, so we took the lift back down.  That nonetheless produced its own supply of adrenaline.

Meanwhile, our friends Nico and Marga in Holland sent the suitcases to us from their resting place in their garage.  We had hoped to bike to the suitcases, but the sprain had forced Plan B upon us.  We disassembled Little Red and reassembled the full collection of stuff we brought with us to Europe.  We did manage to mail some of our bicycle guides (2 kg worth!) home to Seattle.  We sent some of the things we didn't need until we go to England back to Nico and Marga in an even larger box.  And then we stared at what was left:  three suitcases, two backpacks and our bicycle rack trunk.  We're going to get all that on and off a bunch of trains???

Luckily we spotted a brochure at the train station.  A FedEx-like company called Hermes will ship an item up to 25 kg and no larger in any dimension than 85 cm to anyplace in Germany for under 15 euros.  Our two suitcases fit the bill (barely -- each was 24.9 kg with all the bits and pieces of Little Red stuffed into them), and the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hannover, a city where we had to change trains anyway, was willing to accept them and hold them a few days.  Hooray, for under 30 euros we can have a much more pleasant journey north!

It was finally time to leave our little city of Nierstein after 11 days of recuperation.  It proved to be a pleasant enough town, and it even has one claim to fame -- at the bend in the river in the photo below, General Patton's army crossed the Rhine in March 1945, a few days after the seizure of the bridge at Remagen.  The war was over in Nierstein that day, and in all of Germany just six weeks later.

We had spent 5 of our recovery days in the hotel where Jeff had his injury, and 6 in a Best Western hotel that was absolutely wonderful -- spacious, comfortable, very green outside.  It was almost sad to leave it.  But we were delighted to leave it with only a small portion of the luggage, shown here before we headed to Hermes to ship it out. When we finally did head off to the train station, all we had were the two small backpacks, the rack trunk, and the carry-on sized suitcase.

When friends Rainer and Brigitte heard about our need for recuperation time, they suggested we do some of it at their home in Göttingen.  We discovered we could get there with only one change of trains, and then from there to Holland with one change of trains in Hannover.  We were now ready for the trip, and it went very smoothly thanks to the lightened load of luggage.

The visit went very well, with long walks every day to get us back in shape, plus a guided tour of town from Rainer.  In the center of town, for example, was this wonderful half-timbered charmer with wood carvings of Adam and Eve and various medieval characters on the upper floors, and more recent murals of hamburgers and beefsteaks on the ground floor.  Nearby is Gänseliesel, a goose girl who awaits a kiss from those who have received a Ph.D. from the University just as soon as they have received their diplomas, and then put those diplomas in a nice dry spot.

Among the highlights were parts of the University of Göttingen, where Rainer was a professor of Sociology for many years.  It is an illustrious university.  The only university in the world with more Nobel laureates than Göttingen among its faculty and students is MIT.  Among them are scientists so well known we don't even need first names to know who they are:  Einstein, Planck, Fermi, Gauss, Heisenberg.   In literature they include Heinrich Heine, Günter Grass, and brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm.  In German politics no name looms larger than Otto van Bismarck, who was such an unruly student here that at one point he was barred from the city, and in response rented this house Rainer took us to, which lies a few meters beyond the old city walls which defined the city limits.

Like most European universities (and unlike most American ones), the campus is not a distinct piece of land filled with university structures and facilities, but rather is a collection of building scattered through parts of the city, with "city" and "university" sometimes indistinguishable.

Nonetheless Rainer did bring us to one of the oldest buildings and told us an interesting story about the University's founding.  It was the 1730s, and George II, King of England and Elector of Hannover, wanted to stimulate the economies of two of his Hannoverian cities, Celle and Göttingen.  One would get a prison and one would get a university.  Celle had first choice, and chose the prison!  It's still there in Celle, but it's also still waiting for its first Nobel laureate.

Our three days with Rainer and Brigitte went by rapidly, and it was now time to get to the Netherlands.  We took a train to Hannover and rejoined our luggage, put it safely in our room and took off for a walking tour of town.  Jeff's ankle is definitely getting stronger.  The walk was a quick look at the town and we don't even recall what these two buildings are, they just seemed darned interesting and worth another look on some subsequent trip when we can spend a few days here and see the place properly.  And this is no idle threat -- this area is one we are seriously considering either for next year or the year after.

And what about taking the train with all those suitcases?  Aha!  We had found a train that started in Hannover and went straight to Amsterdam.  Since it started there, we could be (and were) on the platform when it arrived 15 minutes prior to departure.  Plenty of time to hoist the heavy bags up two steps into the train, and then to grab some of the limited places in our car large enough for the two big ones.  It worked like a charm.  We did have to change trains in Amsterdam to go to our final destination of Alkmaar, but we managed, although we had to stand with our luggage in the area for bicycles, using a few odd spaces between the bikes for our luggage.  At least it was a short trip, only 36 minutes.

We did get Little Red reassembled in Alkmaar, and we did hop on for our first bike ride in 16 days, but that's a story for our next blog entry.  We'll have stories and photos about our five days in North Holland on our own and our 8 days together with friends Nico and Marga, exploring Texel Island and still more of North Holland.  Check back in 2 weeks, and we'll hopefully have that one written by then.