I was five days into my trek around Germany. Staying in the town of Mainz, named after the river it was built adjacent to, just west of Frankfurt. I was planning a day trip to somewhere and quite indecisive about it. Daniel, my Couchsurfing host suggested I check out a small village on the west bank of the Middle Rhine. The transportation was a bit tricky to figure out. The best way was by train, but finding the right train to take was another story. At the Mainz Bahnhof, instead of entering the building and taking a train, as was normal SOP, I was instructed to go around the right side from the entrance where there stood an open platform for a few selected trains. Figuring out how to purchase a ticket from the machine was a feat in and of itself. Even Daniel, a native German, found difficulty in maneuvering the selection process to pick the correct ticket.
After a eureka moment and some irritated customers queued behind us, I purchased the ticket and awaited my train to take me along the Rhine’s valley to my stop in St. Goar. In between enjoying the views out the window, my ears were attentively listening to the announcements for my stop. Whenever I could get a phone signal, I would check the map on my cell to make sure I hadn’t missed it. Though, if I had, I’m sure whichever town I departed in wouldn’t be lacking interest.
The ride was a scenic hour and a half. It was truly beautiful scenery of rolling hills partitioned by the river, pockets of charming little villages, and castles scattered upon the slopes and peaks of the passing mounds. The train arrived at the destination and I departed with the handful of other passengers. Along the cobblestone roads and narrow alleyways were cafes, boutiques, and other eccentric stores to explore. In truly German fashion, I came upon a Birkenstock outlet and a cuckoo clock shop. Though few seemed to be open. I went on a weekday and since the locals probably only make any money with the packs of people coming on the weekend, I could empathize with the unusual business hours. Nonetheless, it still made for some worthwhile wandering. I was a bit peckish at this point, but I was told about a restaurant near the castle up the hill and thought, “What could be a better way than to spend the afternoon eating at a castle?”
After a stroll along the river and some photography sessions, I started my hike up to the castle, Rheinfels. A fork in the road appeared on my way up and obliged me to make a decision. I could either take the winding road to the top or I could take the path worn from the traffic of others before me. One path was up a nicely paved sidewalk and the other through muddy grass and abrupt rocky stairs. Something about pavement and passing cars seemed boring to me, so off the beaten path (quite literally), it was. Some dead ends and muddy shoes later, I arrived at the entrance to the Rheinfels Castle. It was built in the early 13th century originally to protect tax collectors, but today stands in ruins with labyrinths of tunnels and trenches. Out of all the castles I’ve been to, this was one of my favorites.
There were no elaborate embellishments decorating the walls and no rooms furnished with expensive fittings. Just stone walls and tunnels to explore. It was self-guided, but it felt like I was taken back in time. There was no modern technology retrofitted in, so many passageways and rooms had little to no light. I had to use the flashlight on my phone at certain points just I wouldn’t trip or run into a wall.
After my castle playtime, I exited the ruins and entered the modernized section with the built-in restaurant. I went outside to the balcony and found a table on the edge of the seating area overlooking the river and village below. After a long day, I rewarded myself to a beer and a plate of steaming hot gnocchi, relaxed, and enjoyed the view. The air was crisp and chilling making my breath visible, which became more pronounced as I ate my meal. The sun was soon to set and after a short trek down to the village (the boring way this time) I boarded my train and headed back to Mainz.
Remembering all the castles I saw scattered across the hillside, I would like to go back and village hop and explore more of the area. Maybe go in the spring time and spend a couple days roaming and boating along the river. Even though I didn’t spend much time there, it was time well spent and enjoyed. I would rather leave a place with plans to go back for more than feeling as though I saw everything there was to offer. Traveling tires me out sometimes, but I have never gotten tired of traveling.