Posted as soon as we got home on Tuesday night but written yesterday - Monday 9th.
We left Wiesbaden at 10, intending to go to Cologne but one look at the motorway was enough to make us (me) turn tail and we set off back to the rural byways. What a good decision that was. We had called into one (one only) motorway service station to have a pee and buy a map and what a ripoff. Coffee cold, croissant had a tile-like bottom, loo cost 50 cents, and it was all queues and who cares?
But, instead of the motorways we have been through forests, along wandering valleys, past ancient mills and tiny wobbly-looking hamlets, up into the Vullkan district (complete with beautiful crater lake), and over wonderful ridges and hills. We had snow, rain, bright skies, dark journeys, and all kinds of weather. The river systems are just beautiful, large or small, all busy and cleared to rush along. We loved the Lahn and then the Arh, and all the little rivers in between. For the most part the forestrty work is very impressive with trees being cleared out at a usable size and space made for the smaller saplings to grow up. Everything looks very autumnal with the brown leaves of beech and some oaks still on the trees or on the ground, and very little green apart from the occasional plantation of evergreens and some of those are very large and intimidating. It made me think of all those fairy stories of poor woodcutters' children, Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood, or other small heroes setting out on their life-changing journeys.
This must all look absolutely magnificent once the greening starts. We saw eagles a few times, I think, in ones or twos at the most and always high up. There are signs along the road for wildboar and deer, and to be honest, I was hoping to see warnings for wolves and bears. It isn't really THAT remote but coming from England which is comparatively so small and dinky, and where the landscape changes so quickly and definitively, to be in this huge place is like going back in time.
On our way today we found (by chance) the gorgeous little city of Diez – complete with medieval buildings and huge schloss, sitting all unannounced near to Limburg where we were just a few days ago. Diez (pronounced Deetz) knocks Limburg into a cocked hat.
And we stopped in the famous ancient spa town of Bad Ems – with the purpose of buying stuff for a picnic as the day was so bright and the temperature creeping up to 7 or even 8 degrees.....I agreed to Captain Thrift's proposal to buy a sandwich or some ham and bread and eat by the river. But......we found no deli along our route but we did find the Hotel Bad Emser Hof – where we had a magnificent two-course lunch for 25 euros all up. Delicious, delicious, home-made, kindly served and all overlooking the river. We walked around later, looked at the Roman spring (temperature 46 degrees), checked out the tourist office, felt as if we were in a 19th century Punch drawing of toffs taking the waters, loved it. We called into a small store which would have supplied our picnic if we'd found it in time – run by a Turkish guy I think. Outside he had about 20 kinds of apples on display, all the varieties named, all neatly ranged in boxes and all looking delectable. Why oh why oh why cannot we have a fruit display like this in Faversham which ought to be world-famous for its supply of apples?
Since we had the book to hand I looked up some of words I ought to have known the meaning of but had forgotten... hof = court, or yard, bauer = farmer or peasant, Ehemann = husband, Konditorei = pastry shop, schmucke = jewellery, etc.
We spent a long time in river valleys of great beauty and length, not unlike the Tarn in the south of France where we went to stay with Tom Vernon and his wife Sally a few years ago. But when you reach the Rhine everything else you have seen is dwarfed by its huge scale and astonishing beauty. For instance, the area around Koblenz (where the Mosel joins in) offers a great opening out of the landscape, and even with industrial and block-like residential areas getting in the way of that sense of nature, what you see takes your breath away. What time and water have done to the landscape has produced such a huge result.
In contrast, our arrival this evening at Monschau has been walking into a completely different kind of wonderland. I don't suppose all that many Brits get here. The translations on the menus etc are charmingly wrong. The town is a STUNNER....a deep valley with a rushing river at the bottom and with hundreds of ancient wooden and stone houses crammed in, along black granite cobbled streets, with stairs climbing between the old mills and warehouses. Lots of tat shops of a superior kind and lots of bars, cafes, etc all shut at this time of year. It is just gorgeous. We are in a 300-year old building which has been a hotel for 120 years, in a lovely room overlooking the (slightly noisy) river. It's very classy and comfortable, for 85 euros including breakfast. We're just about to go down for supper. The stairs and landing have automatic lighting which comes on as you go up or down and the whole thing is made of beautiful carved oak.
OK – now just back from supper where we started with the local speciality – honey and mustard soup. So rich, so delicious. The patron promises us the recipe. There is a mustard mill here in the town, hence the development of this dish.
We then ordered a salad each and couldn't get anywhere near finishing it. Too much food.
Outside a blizzard has been building up. No doubt the weather is worse up on the plateau. It is noticeable there here, as in Wiesbaden, the weather at roof level is significantly different (harsher) than it is when it reaches the pavement. Is that true everywhere? It makes the notion of microclimates even more interesting.
During our meal in the pretty 18th century dining room, we could see huge snow swirls up at roof level across the river where a light was shining, but we could hear it falling as rain as it hit the ground. The river has deep walls all the way along, so they are prepared for spring floods.
We also thought (having had a walk around the pretty cobbled streets and over the many small bridges and along some of the alleys - before we ate) that this place, unlike any possible English comparable place, is so neat and tidy, unchav, self-respectable. It really is lovely and being only about 4 hours down the motorway from say, Dunquerke, or maybe 5 from Calais, ought to be on the itinerary for any self-respecting English culture-seeker.
The Simpsons, in German, has just come onto the TV in our room. The voices are uncannily similar to the ones we know and love. And now Andrew has found Who Wants to be a Millionaire in German, too. That eery tube-train background music.... The host is not as glam as our own ghastly home-grown Tarrant.
Time for bed for me. It was a long day and very interesting to see so many things along the route... I am tuckered out.
We have had thunder now... Maybe we'll be snowed in and won't be able to get back to the ferry tomorrow night. Heheheh!
PS When I got into bed (and was not wearing my glasses) I was looking at the peculiar sprinkler system on the ceiling by the end of the bed and pointed it out to Andrew. It seemed very odd they would just douse a fire by the windows.... but he said it was just a lighting track. He thought it was unlikely the radiators would set fire to the curtains and was then able to use one of his finest comic refrains... “It's annoying when they do that....”