Today’s destination of choice took us further up the Rhine than we have yet been. Köln, or Cologne to anglify/frenchify it, is the 4th largest city in Germany. It dates back to Roman times but in more recent history, it was almost completely flattened during WWII. In 1945 it was called, “the world’s greatest heap of rubble”. Looking at the city today, you would never guess it has all been rebuilt!

We arrived at the Hauptbahnhof (main rail station) and emerged right in the center of the city. In front of us was the Köln Dom (cathedral). It is a marvel of intricate gothic architecture. The spires point high into the air and each archway that lined the outer church wall completely covered in carvings & statues of staints, angels & biblical scenes. It’s one of those places that you look at and wonder how long it would take even the most talented artist to create.
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Construction on the Cologne Cathedral began in 1248. Work was halted in the middle ages and it was finally completed in 1880. When it was finished, the cathedral was the tallest building in the world! The church was bombed during the war but it did not collapse. It is suspected the Allies used the extremely tall spires of the church to navigate there way into central Germany. As a result, the cathedral was not further destroyed. The inside was less detailed than the exterior, but still quite beautiful. The roof soared with pointed domes and the thick pillars were very elegant in their simplicity. The stain glass depicted events of old in a smooth, neutral colored way that made them look more realistic. They were not the bright, shining windows we have seen before, but inspired awe in their own way.

It had started to rain by the time we left the cathedral. This wasn’t surprising as the sky looked rather threatening all morning. We pulled up the hoods of our rain coats & whipped out our umbrellas because we are prepared travelers. All suited up, we trudged through the newly forming puddles to our next destination: the Chocolate Museum!

The museum started with exhibits teaching you about chocolate. First we learned about the cocoa bean. There was info on what it looks like, the trees it grows on and where & how it’s grown & cultivated. There was also displays talking about companies attempts to grow the beans in environmentally friendly ways and in plantations with good working conditions. Then they progressed into displays on how the beans are turned into chocolate, including recipes & models of the equipment. There was also one awesome display that laid out all of the health benefits of chocolate.
Finally we learned the history of chocolate. Chocolate came from South America. Cortes brought it back with him when he landed in Mexico during the early 1500’s. At this time chocolate was only in liquid form. Drinking chocolate was considered a relaxing luxury and was only enjoyed by the wealthy. It wasn’t until the 1800’s drinking chocolate became more widespread and it wasn’t until chocolate bars could be mass produced that chocolate was enjoyed in solid form.

We then got to walk through a mini Lindt chocolate factory. The best thing we can relate it to is the Tillamook Cheese Factory…which our family loves! We got to see all of the machinery used and read explanations about it. Then you could see the finished product being poured into the mold, hardened and popped out. It was then wrapped and boxed.
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One of the cool things we learned is how they make the hollow chocolate bunnies, etc. We always assumed they made the two halves then stuck them together…but that is not the case. They actually have a mold of the whole shape, chocolate is poured in and then it’s constantly being rotated until the chocolate spreads & cools.
One of the best deals of the museum was the Lindt chocolate we got at the entry. And then halfway through the visit we got a yummy wafer dipped in this magical chocolate fountain 🙂
Our last stop was the gift shop. Now if we were to buy anything at any gift shop on this trip, this one was it. We were so hungry for chocolate by the time we finished the museum that we are certain they make scads of money at that place. It was full of choclate bars, pralines, truffles,mixes & other random things like noodles from several different chocolate brands. We restrained ourselves though and only bought a few little treats…which we are trying to make last…but we did munch on one right away 🙂

If we had thought it was raining when we left the Dom, we were solely mistaken. We hadn’t seen nothin’ yet! When we suited up to leave chocolate wonderland it was pouring much harder than before. But a little rain never hurt anyone so we powered through it back to the train station. Here we stopped for a coffee at the McCafe, which we were pretty impressed with. Good drinks…good muffin…good prices. Although it was odd that they served Justine’s coffee in a tall, glass drinking glass…like one you’d get water in at a restaurant. Then we hopped on a train back to Frankfurt, the intermediate stop between Köln & our hostel.

In Frankfurt we had supper. We had every intention of going out and finding a restaurant, but it was pouring rain and looked miserable outside so we ate in the station. We found a German fast-food type place that dealt in sausage. We each got a bratwürst, fries & pop deal. Justine’s is the one with the mustard & ketchup. Kristin’s bratwürst is covered in a curry sauce, making it currywürst.

Tonight is very relaxed evening of packing, watching the newest Glee & maybe some German TV. Maybe we’ll be able to watch German X-factor again. The fun thing about that show is that the judges speak English (with German subtitles) but the rest of the show is just in German.

Love, Luck & Lindt,

At 11 o’clock the fireworks go off…& then the Parade starts.

Today we proved to ourselves that we really can get ready quickly. We slept in and didn’t get out of bed until five past 8 am. This would have been fine except we were planning on being on a 9 o’clock train. But don’t worry, we’re speedy! We were at the station, completely ready for the day, with time to spare…and we even sat and had a leisurely breakfast!

We took the train into Mainz so we could catch the boat down the Rhine. It was a good plan, except we had some faulty info and the boat wasn’t actually running. It seems there is only a ferry out of Mainz on Fridays in the fall. But we are not discouraged by bumps in the road! We walked ourselves over to the train station and hopped on a train up the river. We got off at St. Goar, which is where we were planning on disembarking from the boat.

St. Goar is a classic Rhine town, we know because Rick Seves told us so. It is full of riverside parks, half-timbered buildings and strolling sightseers. But the thing that makes it really “Rhinesque” is the hulking castle looming over it from the above hilltop. Built in 1245, Burg Rheinfels (burg being German for castle) was once the biggest on the Rhine. It withstood the French troops once in 1692, when 28,000 men attempted to capture it, but could not repeat history in 1797 when it was destroyed by the French Revolutionary Army. Why were the French over in Germany tearing down castles? Hold on to that question; we’ll get to it later! Now Rheinfels is only a fraction of it’s former self, but provides an awesome climb-about-where-ever-you-like fortress ruins experience. We took the cute little trolley up to the castle. It was cheap and there and about to leave as we walked up, so we just hopped on. When we entered the fortress we were provided with a self-guided tour map. We are thankful for this as we wouldn’t have had any idea where to start otherwise. We saw the sight of the battlements, the prison and the slaughterhouse, as well as many other castle essentials. The tour took you both up on the walls & the towers and into the old rooms and underground passages. The best part though might have been just taking in the ruin aspect. There are these huge, thick stone walls that have partially crumbled and been removed for building stone by the people of St. Goar below. And over it has grown grass and vines and other greenery that makes it look so much older and more awe-inspiring. Here’s a few photos to get the idea across:
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When we finished exploring the hidden corners of the past, we hiked down the hill and into town. There’s not much to St. Goar, but it did have more than one fancy Italian ice cream shop. We treated ourselves to a lunchtime snack that was not exactly part of a well-balanced diet…it was a Tropical Fruit Ice Cream Concoction (that’s what we’re calling it since we don’t have our German translations perfected yet)…

Back by the river we were able to board the KD Rhine Ferry. We had to go with this company specifically (there are 3 companies that run boats over this stretch of river) because they are the ones who let you ride free with your Eurail pass! Yay! Awesome free stuff! So in the end, it was all fine that we couldn’t catch the boat this morning; instead we rode the same stretch in reverse in the afternoon. Riding in reverse did mean that we travelled a bit slower though. The Rhine runs north from Switzerland to Holland and then the North Sea. In this area that means it runs north from Mainz towards St. Goar and then Köln.
We parked ourselves at a table on the left side of the top deck. This is where Rick Steves tells you to sit for his Self-Guided Rhine Blitz by Boat! Oh Rick Steves, you are amazing! There are handy kilometer markers all along the river. The Rick Steves tour tells you what important sights you will see, something about them and what km they’re at. At one time, the Rhine was the northern boundary of the Roman empire and therefore was an important trade route. Today it continues that tradition by being the world’s busiest river, having over 300 boats travel it each day. Now to understand why the river is lined with so many castles you first must know that medieval Germany was broken up into 300 tiny independent countries. Each of these had their own petty little ruler who wanted to protect his land and make himself enough money to invade his neighbors. The countries that bordered the Rhine presented a great money making opportunity. If you could stop every ship that comes down one of the worlds most important shipping routes and make them pay a toll to pass through your land, you could make a mint! So each ruler made himself a castle and ran a long chain across the water to stop the boats. These men became known as “robber-barons”.
That castle there can be found at km 546 and is called Gutenfels Castle.

Throughout history the French & Germans have had a rocky relationship. Whenever the French had a strong military and a chance to visit they would come over to the Rhine, which lays almost like a border between the countries, and destroy the castles that lay along it. These appeared too storng and threatening for the French and they preferred that the castles be destroyed before they coud be used as strongholds or gathering places for troops. Burg Katz is one of such castles. Napoleon seized the chance to blow a portion of it up in 1806. It was rebuilt in 1900 in a slightly more romantic fashion. It’s now owned by a Japanese billionaire who wanted to turn it into a hotel for Japanese tourists…however his building plans were rejected so it now just sits there, empty & unused. It’s a shame…we’d live there with it as is!

The narrowest & deepest part of the Rhine passes by a 450 ft cliff called the Loreley. Here we saw the statue of Loreley, the beautiful but deadly nymph. Legend tells how this young siren distracted a young man which led to his drowning when his ship wrecked upon the neaby reefs. When soldiers were sent to kill or capture the nymph, they cornered her in a cave where she called called upon her father (Father Rhine) for help. Huge waves rose from the river and carried her to safety, and she’s never been seen since.
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We found land at Bacharach…well we could see land the whole time, on both sides, but that’s where our feet clambered back onto solid soil. Bacharach was once prosperous from it’s wine and wood trade. Facing hardships following the 30 Years War, this town has become a perfectly preserved tourist trap. We followed a self-guided Rick Steves tour through the picturesque town. Our tour started in a nice park from 1910 that was laid out in the English style. The trees were purposefully planted to frame wonderful town views! Crossing the park we ended up in town. This is a good 60-70 ft from the river but has flood lines marking worst river-overflow years. Look at how much the river flooded in 1988!
Throughout the town we found numerous little wells. Up until 1900 these 40 wells provided water to the townsfolk. Also were 6 of the original city towers surviving for us to see. These used to be the entrances/exits and the lookouts for the fortified town walls. Bacharach is full of adorable little half-timber houses. And the Rhine style is to have designs with the timbers, so they looked extra fancy & cute. The oldest one of these buildings was built in 1368 and is still standing.
Up on the hill is Stahleck Castle. This castle is from the 13th century and is now a hostel. We weren’t able to get beds at this hostel when we got round to making our bookings. But once we got here we realized that may have been a good thing! While it would have been awesome to stay in a castle, we can’t imagine carrying our bags on the hike up to it!
As it was we did a small hike up to one of the old watch towers on the hill. It afforded the panorama view that allowed that last picture…and many more. The walk down took us through a grape terrace. There were still grapes on the vine so we had a taste. They were very sweet…and according to a nearby sign have a future as a Rhine Valley Reisling.

We found a small, local place for supper. We settled on a table inside as it was a little chillier today and perused the menu of schnitzels. We both got a Jägerschnitzel. The meal ended up being a 3 course affair. First came the soup…then the salad…then the schnitzel & fries…
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The waitress, who we are pretty sure was also the owner, convinced us to get a little jug of Lambrusco to have with our food. Lambrusco is wine that isn’t quite wine yet. It tasted like wine, but sweeter. Yum! Yum!

We are going to close with something we haven’t done in awhile: Reader Challenge! Today has left us with castles on the brain, so here’s today’s question:
If you could have a castle of your very own, where would you build it & what would it be like?

To help you out on figuring out how to answer this, we thought we could give you our answers right off the bat…
Hidden away on one of the San Juan islands, just off the coast of Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle you will find my castle. Tucked amongst the tall and dense forest you will be able to see the many turrets and towers of my dream castle. The castle will be white with blue and purple accents, think Disney castle. My favorite room will be in one of the towers, here will be able to perch in a window seat and look out over the ocean. I don’t want my castle to take away from the natural beauty of the location and have people be like “wow that’s an awesome castle!” therefore only the tops of some of the towers will peak through the trees. From the main dock of my island there will be a lantern lit path to the front gate of the castle. There will be many sandy beaches on the island but there will also be lots of rocks and regions full of tide pools. On the far side of the island, amongst the tide pools you will find my escape home, my little Tudor cottage. Here I can play amongst the marine critters and relax by the fireplace of my cottage.
I would want to live in a medieval fortress. To me, when you look up at a castle, you need to feel you’ve stepped back in time…and possible arrived in Camelot. It would rise as a hulking mass of grey stone, with flat-topped, circular towers and only one large, central turret. The walls would be thick and vine-covered, but inside there would be all of the amenities of modern life. Behind would lay a large green courtyard. It would be an area reminiscent of the arenas of jousting & sword play, although for me it would be used more for reading, picnic and tossing the occasional frisbee. The whole complex would be encircled with a fortified stone wall. Each corner would feature a tall battlement and running the perimeter of the top would be wooden ramparts that I could stroll along. And a key feature of any fortress is it’s placement: it must be situated at the top of a large hill or cliff where everyone can look up and marvel at it’s intimidating beauty. My hill would have a rocky top that would quickly develop into thick forest. A single road and a set of wooden stairs would descend down to a coastal beach. But this will not be a suntan & beach volleyball type beach. It will be a forest lined, rocky outcrops, driftwood scattered, take a walk in my windbreaker beach…leaving me thinking the Oregon coast would do nicely for a location.

Love, Luck & Lots of Castles,

Snowflake —> 1 —> E —> 3

Today started mush like any other day: hostel breakfast – gather our belongings – walk/tram to train station – stop in at post office – catch train to Frankfurt – catch subway to Floersheim – walk to hostel – get slightly lost on walk – check in to our room. For those of you that don’t know where Floersheim is (and we’d be shocked if anyone actually did), it is a small town located a little ways off from the Rhine river. By S-bahn train, it’s about 25 minutes from Frankfurt and 10 minutes from Mainz. Basically it’s somewhere in the Rhine area where there was a hostel with free beds at the start of October…finding somewhere to stay here was harder than one might think!

We are staying at the Wanderlust Hostel. Yes, the Wonder & Wanderlust girls are staying at a place called Wanderlust…kinda cute, eh? It’s got a bit more of a hotel-y feel to it, but we’re ok with that. They’ve put us in a private room because we’re possibly the only people staying there right now…or maybe we just haven’t seen any of the other guests yet. That seems odd considering the booking issues we were having. The man who owns the place checked us in and told us about the area. He was super enthusiastic, pulling out brochures & maps and describing the castles of the area…as that is the main feature of the Rhine river: it is lined with tons of castles. He told us about the boat trip and the trains that go up both sides of the river, as well as the cycle paths. We were then quickly ushered outside and presented with bicycles to use for the day!

It was gorgeous out and the hostel owner told us to take advantage of one of the few days of nice weather Germany has left. We couldn’t argue as we have no idea what Germany’s falls are normally like, so we took the bikes and set off for Mainz. There is a handy cycling route called the “R3” that runs all the way down the scenic Rhine area. As long as you keep following the signs you can go quite far along the river. We didn’t actually ride that far along the Rhine river because, like we said before, Floersheim is a little off of it. It does sit on the Main river though and we got to cycle along it until we reached the Rhine. The path was really gorgeous! For a large chunck of the ride we had the Main river flowing on our left and fields of grapes on our right. The vines have been harvested already but the vineyards keep 10% of the grapes on the vine until after the first freeze. These are then used for ice wine. The hostel owner had told us not to fill up our bags, but we could stop and sample a grape of two…so we did 🙂
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Our bicycles were simple old clunker types. They had the flat platform on the back for your bag or basket or whatever you had to carry. Justine’s was “Blue Jean Blue” and had a couple of different speeds. Kristin’s was purple (she started calling it the Purple People Eater…at least to herself she did) and had back-peddle brakes. This was good for her. If you know Kristin’s history with bike riding you will know she needs to keep it nice & simple.
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When we got to Mainz we crossed the river into downtown and found a park. It was hot hot hot so Justine had a little lay-down in the shade. Kristin played on iPad. When we were rested up we headed along the riverwalk towards the Marketplatz (which you should have learne dby now is always the town center). This is the area of all of the main sites of Mainz. Mainz was first founded in 38 BC as a roman fort. It develop dint a legionary base and then a legitimate city. Like most German cities, between 1942-1945 Allie bombing destroyed 80% of the Mainz downtown area.

The big stop of the day was the Gutenburg Museum.
If you have been following us since the start you will remember our very first reader challenge…we asked all of you to try to guess Kris & Justine’s top 5 favorite historical figures. When we revealed them Johannes Gutenburg was on Kristin’s list! Most of you probably read that with a shrug and a “Who the heck is that?” Now you get to find out! Gutenburg was the man who invented the printing press, and moreover, moveable type. This has left you feeling like Kristin is a little odd if that’s her favorite person in history, but it’s more his story she loves. The first thing Johannes Gutenburg tried to do with his newly invented printing press was print money. He was so far in debt from being an inventor and gambler that he needed a way out…in the end he got a deal using his press to make bibles and that bailed him out money wise. It’s also so random and ironic and hilarious… Anyways, the museum… The Gutenburg Museum chronicled the development of books, printing, and the devices used to create each. We saw books from the age when everything was handwritten, then from the age of block printing (where the full page is carved into a block, ink is applied & then the block is pressed to the page) and then from the days of movable type. Moveable type was when peope realized you could create individual letters and rearrange them to say anything you wanted…what a novel idea! There were different printing devices that dated back over a century and a half. The old ones were mighty big!
There were also exhibits on printing in China & Japan, and one on how books are bound. We found this interesting as we had never really thought about how a book is put together. Then we came to the “Development of Newsprint” area, but it was all in German so we didn’t learn much there. Speaking of all in German, we got to see a live demonstration of how the type pieces were made and how Gutenburgs press worked…but it was entirely in German. Luckily Kristin wrote an essay on Gutenburg and printing in one of her History of Technology classes and was able to give Justine approximate English translations…very approximate.

After our exciting museum trip we went for supper. We picked somewhere close by as we were rather starving. It was wonderfully German and we refused to take the English menu as to enhance or German experience. Justine got a mushroomy schnitzel with French fries. It was huge and she enjoyed every bite. Kristin took a gamble and picked some random sausage dish that she was pretty sure came with potato salad (if her translation was correct). It turned out to be little sausages, that resembled American breakfast sausage but tasted way spicier, and a cold tangy potato salad concoction. The random choice ended up being delish! To drink we both had a grapefruit/beer mixture from local brewery. It tasted like beer but with an awesome hint of grapefruit. Justine especially loved it because that kept it from being too “beery”.
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We wandered around Mainz for awhile as it was starting to get dark. We knew we couldn’t ride our bikes back on the path now as there were only small portions that were lit. But at the same time we weren’t ready to go home just yet. We found this awesome statue of Gutenburg on our travels:
When it got a bit later and we were bored of aimlessly wandering we caught a S-Bahn back to the hostel town. There is no problem with bringing your bike on a train here as absolutely everyone has bikes!

Love, Luck & Letters,