Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mosel, Germany: Treis-Karden, Burg Eltz, Muden and Cochem

Living in flat (can sometimes be a boring landscape) Netherlands makes you suffer a condition that is called --- everything but flat disorder. After some time of dead flat exposure, you experience convoluted cravings for total unevenness and disproportion. So entering the Mosel River valley was definitely a cure for this sickness.

The Mosel River stretches from the junction of the Deutsches Eck in the Rhine River, all the way to Luxemburg and down to France. Click to see the Mosel River Map.

Or have a look at Google Maps below for my Mosel road trip route.

I drove all the way from Utrecht, Netherlands to Koblenz which is my first stop, visiting Boppard and Stolzenfels. Then moving on to the Mosel River stopping first in Treis-Karden and Muden/Burg Eltz, then Cochem. Afterwards visiting Traben-Trarbach, Bernkastel-Kues and Trier. Proceeding to Luxembourg which was my last stop before driving back to the Netherlands.

I’ll have to say that the Mosel is breathtakingly beautiful (than Rhine), delightfully carved in a majestic way on the face of the earth, smaller if compared to the Rhine, yet it gives you the surreal impression of a fantasy realm and a hopeless romantic feeling when making the snaky ride through the river valleys.

Its charming somewhat mythical villages, with the traditional half-timber designed structures in every river bend and the few castles along the way, provide a very cozy and fairy-tale-like ambience. And, the vineyards... yes, how could I forget the vineyards that gave birth to the world famous Riesling? They decorate the valleys in a rhythmed patchwork pattern, completing the superb scenery of the Mosel River.

Aside from Riesling, other notable wines in this wine-growing-region, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, in the Rheinland Pfalz [Rhineland Palatinate] are Elbling, Müller-Thurgau and Kerner.

My first stop: TREIS-KARDEN

A charming small village with half-timbered houses. 

Tries-Karden towns were quite small and if I may add, ghost-like. There were not many people around, though I noticed a few tourists like me, wandering. While on foot exploring the place (I think it was in the Karden part), I got caught under the sudden pouring madness. I took refuge in a bus shed near the train station when my head started to throb in pain. I realized that I haven’t really eaten anything since 7:30AM, and it’s almost 3PM now in my watch, probably the reason why I have the searing headache. When I don’t feel any hunger and the stomach forgets to send the, it’s-time-to-eat signals, my head goes on a strike.

I saw a hotel-restaurant across to the right, 500 meters away, and decided to make a courageous dash under the heavy rain.

Here is a ghost-like street of Karden leading to the church.

The stylish restaurant, with its interior decorated in floral patterns, have some Bruschetta on the menu, but the waitress, who didn’t speak any English, kept looking at her watch while explaining to me about the Bruschetta in Deutsch. I perfectly understood. What she meant was, as it is quite early, the kitchen is not yet open.

There were also two other older German ladies having coffee in the corner of the restaurant who offered to help translate Deutsch to English. Ah, such lovely women chit-chatting on a rainy Friday afternoon. They make me smile. Since I couldn’t have my Bruschetta, I took a slice of apple tart and a coffee. Gobbled everything down real quick and was I surprised, I was that hungry!

Next stop: BURF ELTZ (the castle) and MUDEN

The first time I saw Burg Eltz, was when I was surfing on the internet about castles. The websites says that it’s one of the most popular castles of Germany that many local and international tourists visit. A few months ago too, an American friend of mine sent me her recent holiday album pictures in the Mosel River valley, of course she and her kids visited the enchanting Burg Eltz. This cultivated more my interest --- simply put, I have to go there.

From Tries-Karden, I went on to search for the Burg Eltz. When I reached Muden, the small town nearby, I saw a directional sign to the castle. I followed it and it brought me to a winding road up in the vineyard mountain valleys. The view from above to the Mosel River was marvelous.

After the long and winding road trip, I came to a plateau that lead me to a parking place reserved for visitors to the Burg Eltz. Little did I know that to get to the castle, I have to hike, slide and climb, an almost TWO KILOMETERS of unpaved, muddy, rocky and grassy terrain through a wooded mountain forest... yeah with my black flat girly buckle shoes. Because of my excitement, I didn’t realize that the path I took was actually a Death March route, as described by other people who have gone through this course. Even the Burg Eltz castle website posted this, which I only found out later --- Warning! For experienced hikers only! I may be feminine but I am fit and can surely hike (and ski by the way)! But - I was not in my right get-up with my black flat buckle girly shoes...

On my first 10 minutes journey, I met several families with children along the way, coming from the castle returning back to the Muden parking place. The women were eyeing my black flat girly buckle shoes steadily. I was like, come now, this is just a little hike, what’s the fuss with my cute shoes? --- Not really realizing what was ahead of me 500 meters away, and another 1000 meters away and, well... you get the point.

So, when I reached deep into the woods, I began to wonder to myself, where the hell is the castle?! And, to my horror, looming ahead was a steep, rocky, and woody downhill slide. Remember, it had just finished raining earlier. This made the unpaved hiking paths (they don’t resemble like roads!) muddy and slippery. My poor Laura Ashley girly shoes. *cry*

This is the view of the Burg Eltz that I took from the mountain forest when I first saw it. The next foto is the trail I followed. Do not be misled with the seemingly neatly paved path, that is only a few meters long and the rest is a real hellish track.

To top it all, it’s been more than 30 minutes under my own steam and I felt like I am just very lost? I saw the tip of the castle from a distance but it seems like it is going forever to get there? Did I just make a detour from this already detour route?

And guess what? I was alone! What if --- I tumble over, roll down the steep hills, hit myself with the sturdy trees and sharp rocks and then break my leg or neck? How long will it take for the next tourist-hiker to come along this Death March route and find me alive?

My route through the forest looked quick but in real life the journey will take longer than half an hour if you are not familiar with the place. There are no paths and the terrain is not that friendly.

After close to an hour of struggle, *SIGH*, I finally saw redemption. Right before me, from a distance, stood the magnificent albeit eerie medieval castle.

It was almost 6PM when I arrived in the castle. I suddenly have mix emotions controlling me, I was mesmerized by the castle’s enchanting aura – it has the Harry Potter kindle, but something was chanting, like an Enigma soundtrack at the back of my mind --- is this really worth to hike through the Death March jungle in my black flat buckle girly shoes?

I made a quick decision and didn’t take the castle tour but would have loved to. Because I was dreading the re-tour trek to the plateau in the Muden parking lot, I didn’t do it. How sad it is... I am in the one of the most beautiful and “in-tact” castles in the world (the castle didn’t suffer any plunders and attacks because it was hard to find by the enemies, it’s isolated in the mountain woods!) and I could not even check it inside. *more sad look*

I must be on my way back to Muden parking lot before 7PM. The hike back through the forest is about an hour. It’s actually 45 minutes but with my girly shoes, it will be an hour! Sunset is 9PM onwards but around 7PM to 8PM, depending on the erratic weather (and it was a bit gloomy), the forest will be a bit darker because of the lush trees.

After I had enough of the castle and while loitering in the front yards, I saw some Canadians or at least I think they were, trudging down the castle walls towards the mountain forest. I thought, ah, I have some company going back, whoopee, lol, so right away I followed suit. A few meters after we crossed the tiny bridge that connects the forest to the castle, my mobile phone rang. It was the Dutchman. After the phone call, I realized that the road the Canadians took were very unfamiliar to me. I did not remember walking this easy...

The castle grounds and castle walls, and notice too that the skies are grey. I had to re-touch the fotos and lighten them up.

So I asked them if this is the trail leading back to the Moselkern where the train is and is a less difficult one. Yes was the answer. Darn, I am on the wrong route!

I got distracted from Dutchman's telephone call, which was all a what-did-you-say thing because the signal was so bad. I literally ran back to re-trace my footsteps and searched anxiously where the fork is that will lead me back to Muden, ALONE.

During the hike back to the Muden parking lot, many strange and morbid thoughts were crowding in the walls of my mind --- perhaps a psycho or a serial killer will suddenly emerge from the woods and knocks me out? Rapes me, and later, kills me and stashes me away under the heaps of leaves?

I don’t know but the hike back was ten times horrible than the hike to the castle itself. It was a pure torture. Not just torment on my legs and my girly shoes, but on my terrified mind! I was scared of becoming a criminal act statistic. Who’s going to hear me when I scream for help?!

Perhaps, I watch too many CSI’s and Discovery Channel’s Medical and Forensic Detective TV programs.

Relief overwhelmed me when I saw the roof of the restaurant by the Muden parking lot. I wanted to run, as fast as I can, just in case the psycho or serial killer is still trailing behind me, lol. But, my legs and feet were too weary.

I think I should be given a brave medal award for hiking alone through the hilly and wooded forests of Muden in my black flat buckle girly shoes. Now I understood why the women, who I met earlier along the way, were staring ghastly, they were shocked literally, ha-ha, at my shoes!

This is the pretty vineyards of Muden, and the view from the vineyard valley where I stood, towards Muden village and the Mosel River beneath.

On the way down to the main highway, I still could not stop thinking what I have just been through. I wonder if the Dutchman will be proud of me, or will he think, in his rightly Dutch mind by the way --- you were not prepared at all, and you were not well informed.

To celebrate the relief of the Burg Eltz dramatic excursion, I decided to take some breather. I stopped the car, parked it by the entrance of a vineyard plantation, halfway through the village along the winding valley descent, and took a leisurely walk through the lovely vineyards. Ah, how peaceful... how sublime. This was the first time I have been really that close to the vineyards in the Mosel River valley! And the view from above was just simply adorable.

I wanted to pick some grapes and taste them but I thought, that would be stealing, plus these grapes are probably with some insecticide sprays, so I held my horses tightly. It was beginning to mist. I must go.

Final stop of the day: COCHEM

When I arrived in Cochem, I was awed by the stunning promenade along the Mosel River with the castle hovering above the town like a sentinel. It felt like I was just transplanted inside the pages of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale books!

The view of the other Mosel River bank side of Cochem, taken from the Mosel promenade. 

And here is a close up foto of the striking Reichsburg castle on top of the hill.

The Romans left their marks in this town a thousand years ago and was told to have sung many wonderful praises for its remarkable landscape.

First things first, I decided to look for my hotel but I couldn’t find it. The address said that its right along the Mosel promenade. I need help, so I approached a 40 something year old man, “Hi, do you speak English?” - You have to say this first, out of politeness when you are in a non-English speaking country.

The man replied yes and gave me a wide grin. I told him I am looking for a hotel in the Mosel promenade.

He inspected the paper I showed him, and muttered under his breath, “Hmm, even kijken… ” [Hmm, let me see...]
“Jij bent een Nederlander!” [You are Dutch] I almost blurted out surprising him, lol.

We laughed. And he could not stop joking that I had to ask him to speak English when Dutch would have been sufficient. Yeah right, my Dutch isn't that great YET! Anyway, he knew where the hotel was. He gave me the direction how to get there.

Cochem is... so, so, so pretty!!! I would in a heartbeat visit the place again! This is the town square of Cochem, with again the traditional German half-timbered houses. Just lovely and very fairy-tale-like, like I was being whisked away in my dreams and I woke up in wonderland.

So I drove further down the Mosel promenade. I thought the hotel was before the row of bright colored buildings, so I stopped, parked the car nearby and went on foot to check the side street names to make sure. But, the hotel was nowhere to be found?

Then I saw two young guys crossing the road to their car, I waved at them and asked, “Do you know where Park Hotel von Landenberg is?”

“Ah, een Nederlands meisje!” [Ah, a Dutch girl!] said one of the Dutch guys. “Meisje” means little girl, and it’s actually not nice to be called a child when you are 36. Anyway, I was wondering how on earth did he know I am Dutch or know Dutch or living in Holland when I am not blonde and white. Strange, must be the terrible guttural G accent I have learned over the years haha.

Luckily, I found my hotel before sunset. The Dutch guys didn’t know where the hotel was, but it was actually right under our noses, just fifty meters away.

Having some Riesling  while watching late night German TV in my hotel room. The wine is made by the owners of the hotel (they have their own vineyard).

I did some little off the beaten track wandering in the village and saw this panoramic view, at least of Cochem’s other river bank side. I wanted to go up the Reichsburg castle but after the Burg Eltz incident, I decided I have had enough castles for this trip!

Cochem at night on the promenade with the Reichsburg Castle in the background.

Travel Period: August 2006
Destination: Tries-Karden, Burg Eltz, Muden, Cochem (Mosel - Rhineland Platinate), Germany

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