Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day 141. Der Rheinsteig

Today Chrissy took me to the valley of the Rhein. We started around 9:30 am, drove to Rüdesheim (one of the most touristy towns in Germany, where you can buy everything from cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest to giant Biersteins from Bayern), and then took the funicular to the top of the Niederwald mountain. This is one of the famous wine-producing regions of Germany, so from the funicular you get great views of endless vineyards and, of course, the Rhein river.

A short walk brought us to the Niederwald monument, which celebrates the victory of the Germans over the French in 1870, and the consolidation of the many German principalities unto the Second German Empire under the iron fist of Kaiser Wilhelm and his legendary chancellor Bismark (a very clever politician of the ilk of Richelieu or Kissinger). The huge monument is crowned by the victorious Germania, and according to Gustav was a slap on the face of the French, who from their own side of the river could see for miles the symbol of their defeat. This was the last war Germany won over the French.

From there we hiked along the Rheinsteig, a series of country paths that extends for 300 km between Wiesbaden and Bonn. This hiking trail is now the fashion, and Chrissy, Andrea, and Aurora have plans to walk it through this year, starting in September. They walk in stretches, three or four days at a time, spending the night in small country inns. The trail runs along the crest of the steep-sided Rhein graben, and affords magnificent views of Germany’s most famous river.

Toward the end we went down through the vineyards to the small town of Assmannhausen, where I had a late lunch of bacon Knödeln with Sauerkraut. Very yummy. Then we went for a walk along the right bank of the Rhein, soaked a lot of sun, and finally we took a boat to get back to Rüdesheim. The perfect ending to a perfect day, but I think we got a bit of sun stroke. Indeed, we were enjoying the boat ride, when I spotted a small boat crossing the Rhine. I showed it to Chrissy and she thought it was a funny-looking boat. Indeed, looking more closely I saw that it looked more like a car than a boat. No doubt some sort of crazy home-made craft. To our astonishment the “boat” dipped a little as it touched shore, and then continued rolling up the beach until it got lost in the forest. I better stay away from the sauce for a while. Beer here is stronger than I had imagined!

We got home just 5 minutes before Gustav, and then went to visit Siglinde, Klaus and Katherine (their wonderful 14-year old daughter), for a nice dinner of assorted cheeses and salamis. Klaus is a wine collector and a gourmand, so you can expect good things when you go to visit. This time the unusual were Chrissy’s stinky cheeses from Paris, a salami of donkey and pork, and a very fine red wine from South Africa. Afterward I was given a tour of Klaus’ small but very well stocked cave. As I said, he is a wine collector, and has the knack for finding good wines for under $30 a bottle, buying a few cases, and then waiting for the wines to age to perfection. After being lovingly cared for in his cave for a few years, some of the wines are now worth a few hundred dollars a bottle, and he tells me that the same vintage of one of his cases sold at auction this year for several thousand dollars. A veritable “chapel” of fine wine.

Here is a photo of the family in their library room. From left to right: Klaus, Chrissy, Katherine, Siglinde, and Gustav.

No comments: