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Marty Weybret The Rhine is beautiful, historic and very busy

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Marty Weybret

Posted: Monday, August 2, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 2:30 pm, Mon Nov 15, 2010.

The plan today was to rent bikes and ride about eight miles down the Rhine to St. Goar. Then we put the bikes on the Koln-Dusseldorfer riverboat and cruised back to Bacharach.

During breakfast we had a delightful encounter with Elena, wife of owner Hermann Rollauer. She is studying English and is farther along than I am in German. But she's a linguist and said her Russian is very good. She encouraged the boys and Christi to try some German and she coached me on some useful expressions and local geography — St. Goar is pronounced "sanct-GWAHR."

I helped her with some English. She pronounced "drinking" as "drinink," so I wonder if she's not Russian.

After breakfast, we headed down river on the bike trail. The Rhine is amazingly busy. There are train tracks, bike paths and two-lane highways on both sides. Trains pass every fifteen minutes or so, and the river traffic is even more frequent — boats, tankers and barges laden with coal, paper and who knows what. Ferries every few miles connect towns on the opposite banks. They have to weave skillfully across the paths of the vessels headed upstream and downstream.

As we rode, we passed half a dozen castles built from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Many were laid to ruin by Napoleon's army.

We stopped to pump up Christi's tire and I accidentally pulled the stem out of the valve. My heart sunk looking at her completely flat balloon tire and the puny pump we had on the rental bikes.

Just then, two 60-something New Zealanders pedaled up with fully loaded panniers front and back. They were on their way from Amsterdam to Vienna. They lent me a real pump and kidded me about having never seen a "Woods valve" before. In the time it took them to tell us about the time they pedaled across America, I had Christi's tire up to good pressure and we parted ways.

In St. Goar, we had lunch at the Hotel am Markt, recommended by Rick Steves. Then we jumped on the tractor-train for a ride up to Burg Rhinefels. This castle has a twin across the river and together they successfully taxed the river traffic for six centuries. I understood this was one of Napoleon's motives for invading the area.

We wandered the tunnels, stairways and crenulated walls. The history of the castle presented in the castle's museum was fascinating.

The hour and a half trip back to Bacharach was a terrific way to finish our busy day.

Two ending notes:

Rick Steves' Germany 2010 guidebook was very useful in planning our trip and we carried it with us constantly. Steves has a program on PBS about travel in Europe.

The Rhine, the Mosel and Franconia are famous wine districts and we sampled German wines everywhere we went. But Germany is far north, so it's cool and grapes don't sugar up like they do in Lodi. The wines we tasted — all dry whites, mostly Rieslings — were all well made. They had a hint of fruit, no oak and low alcohol. Christi found them too sweet and I found it hard to distinguish one from another.

Actually, the best Riesling of the trip was a gift from Hermann Rollauer, who not only runs the small Weinhotel Blüchertal but also a winery, Weingut Lieschied-Rollauer.

Still, like all the wines we tried, it was meek compared to California wines. I couldn't help wonder what Herr Rollauer and his neighbors would think of a buttery wine like Jessie's Grove Chardonnay?

Good wine is just one more reason we're lucky to live in Lodi.

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