July 5, 2010, Bacharach, Germany — Christi and I have wanted to travel in Germany forever, really. We planned a trip there back in 1987 and then Christi became pregnant with our oldest son, Rob, who will be 23 soon. When the U.S. Air Force sent him to Ramstein AFB in southern Germany, the old idea became a great new idea.
Mike, 20, wanted to go with us. He would bring his friend from Lodi High days, Will Darsie. And they wanted to see former German exchange student Kai Heinius. Of course, once in Germany, they’d have to ditch us and backpack around Europe.
It still seemed like a good idea until the reservations were made and Rob called.
“Guess what?” he said. “I’m getting sent to Bahrain.” He left for the Persian Gulf a week before we landed. We went anyway.
After the “up all night” flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt, we immediately hopped a local train to our first destination. Bacharach is a tiny wine-growing village on the Rhine between Mainz and Koblenz.
At the depot, loaded with backpacks, carry-on bags and wheeled suitcases, we decided to walk to the hotel. After all, it was only four or five blocks to Blücherstrasse in the center of this ancient and charming town.
Then we turned up Blücherstrasse looking for No. 162. As we passed one house, we came two numbers closer to our destination — one more house, two more numbers. Often the lots on the right were vineyards or orchards without house numbers, so we gained house numbers one at a time. One-hundred and sixty-two houses later — uphill a mile, perhaps more — we arrived at Weinhotel Blüchertal.
At 11:30 a.m., it was locked and dark inside. Check-in time is 2 p.m.
I approached a neighbor lady. Thanks to a few months of studying German on the Internet, I composed a question: “Wo sind die personen mit der hotel?”
The neighbor replied with three or four incomprehensible sentences. After stammering and gesturing, she pointed me to a side door. I knocked.
The door was opened by “Ann,” the Thai housekeeper, who doesn’t speak English. She apologized to me for speaking poor German. She asked what our room numbers were. Of course, we didn’t have room numbers. After more stammering and gesturing, we worked out an arrangement to leave the bags in the lobby and return at 2 o’clock.
(Lesson learned: Call or e-mail ahead to let the management of family-run hotels know when you’ll arrive.)
We strolled, had lunch and when we came back, we were greeted by hotelier and vintner Hermann Rollauer.
He, too, struggled with English, but he was expecting us. He gave us a huge smile and keys to two clean rooms overlooking the hotel’s backyard.
To force ourselves out of West Coast time, we went back out and walked until after dinner — traditional German schnitzel and potatoes served by an English-speaking waitress. What a relief.
Our sightseeing showed us just what an amazing place we had landed in.
The banks of the Rhine are steep and the vineyards climb hundreds of feet up the south-facing slopes. We saw a man working a vineyard trimmer and marvelled how he guided it to the bottom of the hill without falling over a stone wall into the street below.
We walked past the Altes Haus, a “half-timbered,” building with a steep slate roof built in 1356, two-hundred years after the first historical reference to the nearby castle Burg Staleck.
Christi said Bacharach reminds her of Disneyland, except people really live here.