Rhine Valley & Bonn, Germany
The Rhine Valley follows the fast-flowing Rhine River and, in October, is covered in brightly coloured autumn trees. This was definitely the right time of year to visit. Our first stop in the region was Mainz, a smallish, underwhelming town. The highlight was the mammoth cathedral, mostly because it was surrounded by a market on three sides, providing us with both morning tea and lunch. For the latter we shared the world's fattest hot dog (our claim, not theirs) and this filled us up for the rest of the day.
Mainz is very proud of Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press in the 1400s. This machine allowed the mass production of printed materials (i.e. books) for the first time. Clearly it went on to become a successful creation. We wandered through a few stores and displays dedicated to him, and saw the world's smallest book (their claim, not ours). It was about 1 cm in size and contained the Lord's Prayer. There were also copies of the first printed Bible, but with no knowledge of Latin I couldn't read a word of it. We found a workshop where kids could use the old-style print method that Gutenberg invented to create a message; I think we were too old to have a go.
Once we had finished with Mainz we set off down the Rhine (well, the road alongside the river). The weather was overcast and hazy, restricting our view across to the other side of the valley. Tiny towns were dotted along both sides of the water, and every one of them seemed to feature a castle sitting high on the hill (we must have passed at least 20 castles today). We stopped at a town called Kaub, and happened to find a restaurant offering huge (and complimentary) wine tastings. This region is all about rieslings, so we ended up sampling five different rieslings that ranged from dry to sickly sweet. I was not used to this style of wine so I didn't really enjoy any of them, but Danny happily bought a bottle for their efforts. Later on we stopped at another cafe, where I tried a spätburgunder blanc de noir (a white pinot noir). It was a dry wine but smelled and tasted like butterscotch. Weird.
It wasn't all sightseeing and wine drinking for us today - annoyingly we also got a flat tyre. We weren't sure how it happened but the whole tyre sort of disintegrated. Thankfully our spare was in good working order and had us back on the road in no time. As it was a Friday afternoon and we were in the middle of nowhere, we wouldn't be able to replace the spare until Monday. Let's hope we have no disasters between now and then.
We found a campervan parking spot right on the river, so we pulled up alongside a dozen other campervans and settled in for the night. Danny made a Thai red curry soup using spices he picked up at the market in Frankfurt. Dinner is never boring with Danny around.
To finish off the Rhine Valley we headed to Koblenz the next morning, an ancient city with not much that interested us. There were the usual churches, castles, even a fortress, but all we did was check out the views over the river and stroll through the shops. The best store we came across was one with a selection of liqueurs for tasting (we seem to be hitting the alcohol big time in Germany). We tried the apple flavour (fantastic) and Cafe de Paris (horrible), before miraculously walking away empty handed.
From Koblenz it was on to Bonn, the former capital of West Germany. After passing by the plain cathedral, ornate town hall and a great street market, I left Danny to hit the sights alone. First up was the Beethoven Museum, located in the house in which he was born. Every sign in the Museum was in German, and all I had was a brief brochure to provide me with any information. There were numerous instruments on display that Beethoven used to play, including several wind instruments that I couldn't identify. I think it was a decent museum, but I would have appreciated it more if I could read the plaques.
Next was the House of German History, a multi-levelled museum full of sets, props and tons of information. Once again, it was entirely in German. I could work out that it covered the history from WWII to present day and it was comparing the cultures and influences of East and West Germany, but that was as far as I got. It was frustrating because it looked like an excellent museum but I couldn't take much away from it. I'm glad it was free.
I met Danny back at the car and found he had bought a new pair of pants for a bargain price. As my jeans were littered with holes, I decided I needed a new pair too and made Danny take me back to the store. Ten minutes later I was also sporting brand new jeans. Who knew Bonn would be the place to buy clothes on the cheap?
Overall Bonn was a beautiful city, with modern buildings and leafy streets that completely hid the fact that parts of the city were destroyed during WWII. On a negative note though, we didn't see any free alcohol...