From the UK we headed to Amsterdam on a 12 hour overnight bus. Sleeping was difficult at least for me. Karen faired a little better. Our Amsterdam visit was just a quick pit stop. We needed to repack from our supply depot in Josje's apartment and do some serious website updating.
This is a very speedy trip across the country. The real goal is to enter the Czech Republic but there is no reason not to make the trip interesting.
I'm not going to wax eloquent regarding this day. In fact I want to forget about it. We just suffered through the stupidest series of train rides ever. What should have been an easy 3 hour journey to Cologne (Köln) followed by another 2 hours to Koblenz turned into an all day ordeal. We only made it after 12 hours!
There is one really great site in Cologne and it is the Dom (Cathedral). This impressive structure somehow survived the intensive bombing of WWII while the rest of the city was mostly destroyed. The church is located right next to the train station so it makes a very convenient quick stop. The city is on the river so begins our Rhine journey.
The train from Cologne followed the Rhine to Koblenz at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine rivers. Between Koblenz and Mainz a couple companies run tour boats up the down the river. The 9 o'clock boat is best because it provides the most time to stop along the way and visit the little villages and their castles. We didn't want to wait for the next boat so we got back on the train to St. Goar to tour Rheinfels Castle and Fortress. The train runs along the river and gets many of the same views just faster and through dirty windows. Still I was able to pick out a number of castles: Lahneck, Marksburg, Liebeneck, Sterrenberg, Liebenstein, and Maus. After leaving the station we wandered a short distance and onto a little tourist street train taking people up the hill to St. Goar's castle, Rheinfels. Although in ruins it is still large and impressive. Our boat up the river was at 17:20 so we had plenty of time and we needed every bit. The first castle was begun in 1245 and left in ruin in 1796 by that time there was a mighty bastion fortress twice the size of the medieval castle to provide defense against modern artillery. Most of those remains are gone and in private hands. We toured the predominantly 16th - 17th century ruins.
Back in the day many different castles were built along the Rhine in order to charge tolls to people transporting goods along the river. For this reason several companies run river cruises here. The trip up river to Bacharach would take an hour and a half and I had my small castle guide ready. The trip turned out to be as good as promised. I have made a special Rhine section and kept my photos from the ride (days 1 and 2) in order: Rhine cruise. Castles along the way included: Katz, Schönburg, Gutenfels, Pfalzgrafenstein, Nollig, and Stahleck. We finished the day at the village of Bacharach below Burg Stahleck. This castle is part of the German Youth Castle organization. It is like a youth hostel except it is a 12th century castle. We were excited to stay there for the night. The only thing available was a small private room with 2 bunks and a full bathroom. All that for €25 each. That night we spend outside watching the moonrise overlooking the lights on the Rhine drinking local wine in the courtyard under the main tower. We talked about how in the US Eastern Time Zone it was 15:30 and people were busy working in the office. Later we were joined by a pair of friendly Germans who where hiking along the river on a Via Francigena route. We had a great conversation and my sister learned that it can be surprisingly difficult to speak in simple English.
Our second day began with the best mistake ever. We decided to continue upriver for another hour but accidentally boarded the downriver boat. This turned out to be a good thing because we got a free ride down to a nice little village where we waited for the next K-D liner upriver. The next one was an old side paddle boat that normally costs extra. We got all this at no extra cost except time but we weren't on a firm schedule anyway. The scenery was more of the same small villages, vinyards, river traffic and castles: Fürstenberg, Heimburg, Sooneck, Reichenstein, Rheinstein, and Ehrenfels. This is premier wine making country and we had a bottle of local white and red to help pass the time when we were not busy with the cameras . Sadly the cruise had to end and we were back on milk run trains that eventually got us as far as Steinach.
We only stopped in Steinach because there were no more trains to Rothenburg. It is a very well preserved medieval town because it is out of the way. It is worth noting that we have been without a guidebook since I lost this section back during my last visit to Bavaria. It's no big deal really since these are popular tourist destinations but still arriving late at night in a small town with no information can sometimes be a problem. I told Karen we might have to sleep on a park bench this night but as it turns out there was a great little hotel right next to the station with a vacancy. Perfect.
A 15 minute train ride brought us to Rothenberg station. Some minutes later we walked through the former gate into the old town. I was expecting it to be photogenic but I was really surprised by how much there was to see. Besides the well preserved buildings many of the fortifications still existed including the town walls, towers, and moat. It seemed like around every corner there was some surprise waiting for us, and the Crime and Punishment Museum was one of the best, maybe even the best, torture exhibit I've seen. Karen skipped that one but substituted two other museums. We bothed loved the little town and took many photos.
Our stop in Nürnberg was brief. For us it was simply to transfer to an international train. After buying our tickets we still had over an hour so we left the station to see a little of the city. Since the train station is just outside the old center it would have been foolish not to do so. We saw a little bit then stopped streetside for a quick beer - no kolsch though. The one that I had two days ago wasn't enough.
Back to the train station. We weren't sure were we were going exactly other than the Czech Republic.