Monday, August 21, 2006

Traben-Trarbach, Bernkastel-Kues and Trier

Since the sun is out in the Mosel, Saturday seemed like it will be the best weather day so far for this holiday trip. I really hope so! I was looking forward to a nice, if not, perfect weekend wrap-up in Germany, before I proceed to my final stop-over, little Luxemburg.

The snaky drive in Mosel: from Cochem to Traben-Trarbach to Bernkastel-Kues and then to Trier. The other foto is a breathtaking panoramic view of the Mosel by a river bend from the vineyard terraces that I found on the net. Foto credits to

During the drive from Cochem to Traben-Trarbach, I immensely enjoyed (I am not exaggerating) the beautiful scenery... the river, the vineyard valleys and the pretty villages, they were all amazing. I also find the zigzagged stretch from Cochem down to Trier prettier than the Koblenz to Cochem route.

I desperately wanted to stop by a river bend, climb up the vineyard valleys and take a picture of the panoramic curvilinear river junction, the vineyards hovering on top, and the charming villages huddled together beneath. But, I couldn’t get the timing right. The highways were a 70-kilometer per hour speed and there were almost no parking places by the roadside bend. Moreover, I was not courageous enough to park by the roadside because it is supposed to be forbidden, right?

Well, this is one of my regrets after leaving the Mosel River valleys of Germany --- not being able to take a personal panoramic picture of the river bend from atop. Maybe next time, but in the meantime, enjoy the panoramic view of the foto I found on the net above.

First stop: Traben-Trarbach

I didn’t plan to stay long in Traben-Trarbach. All I wanted to do was to see the funky designed fable-like bridge gate that connects both towns, Traben and Trarbach.

The 1898 Traben-Trarbach Bridge in Art Nouveau style... it looks like one of the gateways of Disneyland is lost in Germany! And a souvenir foto in this pretty place on the bridge with the fairy-tale like buildings at my back.

This is the tranquil view from the bridge in Traben side overlooking Trarbach. Trarbach was having a fair by the river banks but I didn’t bother to find out what the fair was all about.

After my pictorial with the bridge (thank you technology for the personal timer assistant functionality in digital cameras haha), I went for a leisurely walk, in the Trarbach part of the town.
The sister towns I heard are the second largest wine trading center of Europe in the past, after Bordeaux (in France).

It was past lunchtime already but my schedule says I will have my light lunch in Bernkastel-Kues. Lunch by the way in Europe means from 12 noon to 3PM, so in that respect, I still have a wide leeway.

Second stop: Bernkastel-Kues

When I arrived in Bernkastel-Kues, the sun was totally out. Hallelujah!!! She was shining in her great glory, and her dazzling rays were giving warmth to earthlings like me. Ah, that made me cheery. The way the weather is going, it seems that I will definitely have a perfect afternoon and evening.

Bernkastel-Kues, like Cochem is... so, so, so darn pretty!
Compared to low-profile Kues, the Bernkastel part was very lively, it could easily be the busiest town in the Mosel River valley with Cochem as a runner-up. There was also a biker’s parade that day and they passed through in both towns.

And what else, the place was spot on, it was swarming with keyed up tourists who can’t stop gaping their mouths wide open while staring at the exquisite buildings. The town is simply gorgeous! Somehow, this Bernkastel experience felt like I just dreamily stepped into a warp zone, deep inside a lost child’s world. It makes you wonder if those half-timbered houses were real or were they just playhouses made in paper and cardboard sticks?

OK question: Why is Germany sooo underrated?

How can you not fall in love with this place?

For my light lunch, I settled for something indigenous this time, a thin elongated Bratwurst smeared with mustard in a tiny bun. Ah, my first ever German food treat for this trip.

I have also been eyeing those touristy mini choo-choo trains that roam around bringing tourists from point A tourist spot to point B tourist spot with curiosity, so I thought, why not try it this time? Since I still have to do Trier and I am only here for the afternoon, this could be the fastest way for me to get to see all the main places.

More pretty fotos, interesting fountains and whatnots, of Bernkastel-Kues.

It appeared that the mini train chauffeur was a laid-back young Italian who was fluent in English. He spoke though with so much passion about his native country, Italy.

The vehicle has two cabin cars. The first cabin was for English speakers and non-Deutsch speakers, while the second cabin is for the Deutsch speakers. The Germans themselves travel a lot within their own country. Of course, I slipped inside the first cabin, and it was filled with 50ish to 60ish American couples coming from different states. The couple across me said they were from Wisconsin. And the woman told me it was much better weather in Germany, hear this: better weather in Germany because it rains during summer than, in humid and hot Wisconsin. I told her it can rain the whole summer in Holland but I do not think she understands the depth of a summer gone cold.

I think world travelers have one common stereotype to label traveling Americans: they can be noisy, and it doesn’t really matter which age group, although the younger ones tend to be really loud.

But, t
he nice thing with Americans is, they are warm and ultra friendly, than say, the reserved and sometimes snobbish Europeans, and let me add, aloof in groups Asians. Americans readily chat up, giving voluntary information and assistance to others, however, the downside to this is many Americans just can’t stop talking.

From the Kues vineyard valley side, the mini train stopped for a few minutes here to let us enjoy the lovely scenery.

I guess you can pretty much imagine the cabin car I was in. It was a party, ha-ha. While we waited for the chauffeur, I overheard one couple say that they were once invited to a house of a Dutch couple in Holland who were wearing wooden shoes at home! Oh my dear, ha-ha. If I was not on the telephone with someone, I would have joined the camaraderie.

This is our Italian chauffeur.

This reminded me of the van trip in Phuket, Thailand, more than 5 years ago.
We were driving from Patong, the capital of Phuket Island to the harbor---we are going to take the boat to Koh Samui Island. Our van was a Mercedes L-300 type and most of the passengers inside were European tourists. The odd ones in the mix was me, the only Asian tourist and the American (older) couple.

During the entire almost 3-hour ride, the American man just couldn’t stop yakking. I don’t know where he got his energy from, but in a way he became our unofficial tourist guide. He was all the time pointing out the window, giving detailed descriptions and explanations to his girlfriend of the places we just passed by. As well as I think everyone in the van knew about his life story in Arkansas, lol. OK, he might be a nice guy and he obviously has been to Thailand many times but can he at least exercise some sensitivity and civility to spare us from listening to his monologues?

Anyway, I hope no American feathers out there were ruffled by this short story. Other nationalities have their own equally interesting and irritating traits as well, so hey, nothing personal in there okay.

Third and the last stop: Trier
After my enjoyable Alice-in-Wonderland-like Bernkastel-Kues stop-over, I proceeded to Trier, the capital city of the Mosel River valley and the oldest city of Germany (more than 2000 years old).

The Porta Nigra (Black Gate), the insignia of Trier is one of the remaining and in-tact gates built by the Romans in circa 180 A.D. The foto on the right is what you will see on the left side of the Porta Nigra, a row of pretty buildings, many are hotels and café-restaurants.

And of course, my trip will not be complete without a personal souvenir of the celebrated Porta Nigra.

My heart sunk a little bit when I saw the busy highways in Trier... gone were the charming villages, gone were the river bends, gone were the vineyard valleys and gone were the cozy provincial ambience. They were replaced with urbanization. I felt my fantasy-filled fairy-tale-like vacation crumbled, it has just come to a halt.

At any rate, Trier was founded during the reign of the Roman emperor, Ceasar Augustus, in the Celtic Treveri. The city was baptized with the name, Augusta Treverorum and later it was shortened to Treveri and today, it became Trier.

The city was already an important Roman metropolis during the Merovingian times, circa 5th century (note: the juicy Jesus conspiracy, the Merovingian clan is said to be from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene’s bloodline). Then Trier became more powerful and was appointed as the Archdiocese during Charlemagne’s supremacy. The Archbishops of Trier controlled many areas of Germany and northern France and they even became the spiritual prince electors of emperors.

But just like nature’s cycle, the city went down into turbulent times in history --- besiegement, destruction, new rulers, new edicts, revolutions, secularization, the Reformation, new doctrines and then, new bishops took place.

This is the market square of Trier and the striking old buildings guarding it.

The Trier of today is an unperturbed attractive university city, a shopping mecca that attracts shoppers from Luxemburg, France and Germany, and, a tourist and culture magnet that still boasts of the many evident traces of its glorious, illustrious and tumultuous past.

Here are more fotos of Trier’s market square.

Check out the foto with the fruit stall on the left. Notice the white tent at the back of it? That is a wine stall selling some refreshing alcoholic beverages from the Mosel-Sauer-Ruwer wine growing regions of Germany. I got tired from my city exploration, so I opted to relax a little bit with a glass of wine.

I ordered a Classic Riesling (because it was on top of the list, ah, how easy, he-he), and when I was about to pay, a 50ish gentleman standing beside me spoke in Deutsch to me. I did not really understood what he said so I gave him a blank expression face and a little smile. He smiled back, he understood I do not speak Deutsch and said--The glass of wine is on me. Oh wow, I found myself softly exclaiming in surprise--Thank you!

The older gentleman was from Trier and the lady he was with, who probably was about the same age as he, was from Bonn. I don’t think they were husband and wife, perhaps boyfriend and girlfriend, or friends, maybe even relatives. We chit-chatted a little bit, in Deutsch-Dutch-English fashion mix about Trier, Bonn and Ludwig van Beethoven having a Dutch name (the “van” is a Dutch thing). It was a fun convo with all the mix languages. Then they had to leave and we exchanged goodbyes.

Now, I do not mind meeting nice strangers like them!

And, more impressions of Trier city center: the elaborately designed gateway to the St. Gangolf Church; an ornate fountain in the market square; and a quaint alley called Judengasse leading to another square.

There were more sights I’ve wanted to see in Trier, i.e., visit the Roman ruins, check out the Coat of Treves, and many more... but I feared getting to my hotel in Luxemburg after dark. I still have to search for it and being unfamiliar with the place, I know it will take time finding it.

Anywho, my impressions of Trier... the city for me wasn’t really that top. I guess my expectations were wrong to begin with. I had expected a low-keyed Trier, something like a much bigger Cochem or Bernkastel-Kues so to speak. Instead, the Trier that greeted me was a large modern conurbation, lots of highways and tall modern buildings.

Aside from the Riesling treat from the old gentleman in the wine tent, this shrimp salad for my Trier dinner was the best I have tasted in my entire Rhine-Mosel-Lux trip, making at least my stop-over in Trier worthwhile.

In a way, I felt relieved that all hotels were fully booked in Trier on a Saturday evening. This was primarily the reason why I had to book in Luxemburg instead. The hotel internet booking I normally use ( only showed 1 hotel in Trier available on a Saturday evening, and the price was, let us just say, on the very expensive side.

The old gentleman who bought me the glass of Riesling said there was some important race event that weekend. Or, perhaps, people just flock to Trier on a Saturday? I am not a budget-backpacker-hostel type of traveler but I also I have my own personal limits when it comes to comforts.

I left Trier with a not so satisfied heart. Maybe deep down, I am less of a city girl than I ever thought.

Other entries on this vacation: Nightmare on Vacation Street, Koblenz, Stolzenfels Castle and Boppard, Tries-Karden, Burg Eltz, Muden and Cochem, Luxemburg Ville

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