Laura and I decided to visit the Rhine river in Germany because we thought it would be a nice, small-town way to pass a couple of days before heading off to the big city (Paris). Laura had been to the Rhine twice before and loved it, so we were both excited to see an area that is dotted with romantic castles.

We arrived in the town of Bacharach early in the morning. Though Bacharach is fairly touristy, we were there before most the people were out and stores were opened. We had the main street mostly to ourselves as we walked by heavy wood doors, leaning balconies, and the sagging timbers of ancient houses. To our right, the medieval walls of the city shaded us from the rising sun.

After passing through town, we headed up the mountain to the castle, which now serves as a youth hostel where we had a reservation. Along the way we walked through a lush forest and explored he ruins of a church that was destroyed hundreds of years ago in a war.

Because it was so early, we couldn’t check into the hostel yet, though they did let us stow our bags. So we decided to visit a castle down river. It was built as a toll collection post on an island in the Rhine, back when the river was the most important shipping route in central Europe. At the tourist office, we were told that the ferry to the island was “one and a half kilometers, or 1500 meters, down the road.” The info person also told us that the trains and boats covered by our Eurail pass didn’t stop near the castle. Accordingly, we decided to walk.

Initially, the walk was nice. For a minute, maybe two, we were walking through town, still in the shade of the old buildings. After that, however, we were on a path next to the road. There wasn’t much shade, the cobblestone gave way to asphalt, and it began to get extrordinarily hot. Plus, we had only slept on the train the night before, which is more like napping than getting a real night of sleep.

We kept walking and walking and it kept getting hotter and hotter. Before long, it was midday and the heat was comparable to Manaus (though less humid). We were drenched in sweat and, for some reason, also not anywhere near a castle or a ferry.

The heat was not what I had expected. Based on what Laura had told me (and on how I imagine all weather in the vicinity of a castle), I expected it to he gray and cloudy. Instead, there was a stifling heat wave.

After walking for about an hour (with a lot of breaks mixed in), we decided to go around one more bend in the road and then give up and head back. I didn’t even want to continue that far, but we had already walked for so long that I figured we might as well.

And luckily, that’s when we found the castle. We also discovered that the castle was right by a town with a train station and a ferry dock that would have been covered by our eurail passes. More importantly, we discovered that it wasn’t actually 1500 meters, but rather over 3 kilometers from Bacharach. (I know that doesn’t sound very far, but in 100 degree weather with very little sleep, and when were expecting something much shorter, it was pretty grueling).

So we visited the castle. It was pretty cool and reminded me of the Lego castles I used to build. It was relatively small for a castle, but also well maintained. One interesting thing about it was the paint, which was white with colored trim. Apparently that’s really how some castles looked. Also, we found out that when it was a toll collection station, merchants who wouldn’t/couldn’t pay the toll were put on a raft at the bottom of a deep well. They only got to come up when someone came to pay for them. The other best part of the castle was that inside, especially on the lower levels, it was nice and cool.

After checking out the castle, we decided to go back to Bacharach. It was the late afternoon by that time and we knew we could check in to the hostel. However, because the tourist information person told us that our eurail pass wouldn’t work, we had left it behind. Instead, we decided to try hitchhiking. We stood by the side of the road smiling, putting our thumbs out, and trying to get someone to stop, but no one did. (One guy did point at us though and mouthed something that we couldn’t understand.) In retropsect, it was probably better that we didn’t get a ride because I was about as smelly as the guy from the train the night before. I would have hated to stink up some charitable person’s car.

So we walked back, and it didn’t seem nearly as long when we knew how far we had to go. We went back to the hostel and checked in, and unfortunately got a room on the fourth (and top) floor. It was pretty stuffy up there and confirmed my suspicion that castles are better appreciated at a distance.

In any case, the castle-hostel had some shaded spots to sit in and a restaurant where we ate dinner (€7.50 each). The food was simple but tasty, and it was an all-you-can eat buffet. There weren’t a lot of options at the buffet, but I did eat four or five bowls of rice pudding.


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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