Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A month on a train in Europe... Germany

Bacharach, Germany turned out to be just as cute as Rick Steves said it would be.  I got off the train, wearing rags that had somehow survived two years in Armenia and hiking boots that were literally falling apart.  My first order of business was to secure lodging for the night.

I walked around Bacharach's adorable cobbled streets, gazing at the hillside that ran alongside the town.  At the top of the hill sits a castle, which is now used as a youth hostel.  I had actually purchased a youth hostel membership, but even in my 20s, when such roughing it should have been fun for me, I had no desire to stay at the hostel, majestic as it was on top of the hill.  I also had no desire to climb the hill in my ratty shoes while carrying my heavy 1980s era backpack that I had inherited from my eldest sister.

  Courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bacharach2.jpg)

I found a small B&B that was listed in Rick Steves' Best of Europe book, which had come with my Eurail pass.  The B&B was inexpensive, but very basic and located right next to the train tracks.  It was also pretty hot because there was no air conditioning and it was mid August.  The bathroom was shared, but I don't think anyone else was staying at the B&B... or at least I don't remember running into anyone else.  Of course, I was pretty used to not having air conditioning.  Armenia was a hell of a lot hotter than Germany ever gets, too.

I remember the proprietor at the inn asked me to pre-pay for two nights.  I gave him Deutsch marks, since this was a few years before the euro became common currency in Europe.  He told me that breakfast would be served in a small cafe down the street.  With that, my next order of business was to find a pair of decent shoes.  I spotted a Birkenstock store and even though I had never liked them before, decided that was a good place to look for comfortable shoes.

I will never forget how the gentleman running the store laughed when I first tried on a pair of these...  Mine looked exactly like these, minus the narrow width.  I paid a lot more for them than what Amazon.com is charging.  Anyway, I remember sighing with pleasure when I removed my beat up, holey hiking boots and put on these nice, cool, comfortable sandals.  I paid for them and wore them out of the store, handily depositing my worn out boots in the nearest round file.

Next, it was time to look for food.  I moseyed over to a pleasant looking outdoor cafe and sat down.  A waitress brought me a menu with everything in German.  I ordered wienerschnitzel, which is a pretty safe bet for Americans who don't mind eating pork and like french fries.  I also ordered a half liter of hefeweizen.  At that time, I didn't know anything about beer except that I enjoyed drinking it.  I had no idea just how delicious that first fresh German beer would taste to me after two years spent in Armenia, where local beers suck and foreign beers are very expensive.  By now, I'm sure that's changed.  I know that Armenia's main brewer, Kotayk, was bought out by the French, who also don't do beer that well.  I'm sure it's still better than it was in the 90s, when it tasted worse than Milwaukee's Best and made drinkers feel like warmed over shit the next day.

After I was appropriately fed, outfitted with new shoes, and rested, I wandered around Bacharach and took a short trip up to nearby St. Goar, which is also on the Rhine and a bit more touristy.  I was pretty poor and feeling intimidated by everything, so I mostly stuck to walking around and taking photos.  Were I to visit today, I would have probably tried to take a river cruise or at least explored St. Goar's castle.

Having spent two nights in Bacharach, I determined it was time to move southward.  I still had to meet my friends in Slovakia the following week and needed to get on my way.  I boarded a train headed south, not realizing that I needed to make a seat reservation.  I ended up sitting in some lady's reserved seat.  She spoke no English and I finally figured out I needed to move.  I wasn't sure where I'd be getting off next... I figured I'd disembark when the mood struck me.  And it finally did when we got to Regensburg, which is right in the middle of Bavaria.

Courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Regensburg_08_2006_2.jpg)

I hopped off the train and headed into the very pretty city, which wasn't nearly as small and cute as Bacharach had been.  Eager to unload my heavy pack, I wandered into a small hotel called "Star Inn Hotel".  I got pretty lucky, because the price was affordable and breakfast was included.  My room was very basic and smelled of cigarettes, but it had twin beds and was safe enough.  I dropped my bag and walked around the very lovely city.  I wish I could say I remembered a lot about it, other than the fact that I remember it being beautiful and I remember having a really nice dinner there.  I only spent one night.

I do remember the meal, though... because I distinctly remember eating a huge dinner salad with chicken and ordering two Coke Lights, which came to me icy cold in bottles with lemon.  Nowadays, I pretty much always order beer or wine with dinner, especially if I am in Europe.  But that day, I was hot and thirsty and I wanted cola without the sugar.  I remember feeling really refreshed and thoroughly enjoying the salad... also weird, because I almost never eat salads.

One other thing I remember about Regensburg was checking out of the hotel.  The elderly innkeeper asked me where I was from.  I told him I was American.  He then proceeded to tell me that he had been a prisoner of war in America, having been held in a camp in Tennessee during World War II.  I didn't know what to say to that.  At that time, I didn't realize the United States had even had prisoner camps during World War II.  He didn't seem too bitter about it, though.

I got on my next train, still heading south, but in a more easterly direction.  Though I was curious about Munich, I knew I needed to go east in order to get to Slovakia... So that's how I ended up at my third stop, Passau, a lovely German city on the border of Austria that also happens to be close to the Czech Republic.


The above photo was taken in 2008, when my husband took me to Passau for my 36th birthday.  What you see is the point at which the Danube and the Inn Rivers converge.  A third river, the Ilz, is behind me and not visible.

I got off the train and hiked to the main drag, where I found a small "garni" hotel.  I think I was attracted to it because in Armenia, Garni is a well preserved ancient temple.


Courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Armenia_Garni_side.jpg)

I had been to Garni several times when I lived in Armenia, followed by a visit to Geghard, which is an ancient monastery that has a "singing room" with amazing acoustics.  I sang in that room many times.  

Anyway, in Germany and other parts of Europe, garni refers to a small hotel that offers breakfast.  But I didn't know that at the time.  I went into the office and booked a small room, delighted with the fact that it had a private bathroom and even a small, color TV.  I distinctly remember thinking I'd finally hit the lap of luxury.  After walking around beautiful Passau and having dinner at a restaurant next to the Danube and being waited on by an extremely rude waitress, I remember going back to the hotel and watching an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 that had been dubbed into German.

I stayed in Passau for a couple of nights, mainly because the hotel was inexpensive and comfortable and it's a pretty city.  Years later, my husband and I went back there to celebrate my 36th birthday.  We took a river cruise and sat in on an organ concert at St. Stephan's cathedral, which boasts one of the largest pipe organs in the world.  For a long time, Passau's pipe organ was the largest and today has the largest cathedral organ anywhere.  We bought a CD of music played on the organ.


The inside of St. Stephan's cathedral is extraordinarily beautiful.  It was decorated by the Italians, of course.

I didn't know anything about Passau when I got off the train, but it was a successful stop.  I was glad I had the chance to go back there in 2008, almost eleven years after my first "by chance" visit in 1997.

After two nights in Passau, I was ready to move on again, having stopped in the local department store and purchased pants, a large knit shirt, an ugly teal bathing suit with a big padded bra in it, and a couple of knit sports bras that were not very comfortable.  Stay tuned for part 3, when I explore Austria.

By the way, I did take photos during this trip, but they are printed photos and my scanner doesn't work... 



No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.