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We've just had a leisurely breakfast, after a much-needed sleep-in until 08:00. We have nothing to do this morning except catch our train to Bingen and complete writing up yesterday's diary. The sky is grey, but not as threatening as yesterday, and there is no sign of rain.
I've just finished off a sushi box from Nordsee (a chain of fish places) for an early lunch. I was hungry after restraint at the below-par breakfast this morning, and the idea of sushi was tempting. I wouldn't recommend Nordsee for sushi to any true connoisseurs though - it was passable but not up to the standards of almost any place I can think of in Sydney. The rice was a bit gluggy and too uniform in texture, the avocado which I pulled out of the California rolls (since I don't eat it) didn't even look like avocado.
We are resting for a short while before dinner after an afternoon of sightseeing in Bingen am Rhein, at the southern (upstream) end of the Romantic Middle Rhine Valley.
View over Bingen and Rhine River
The sky cleared not long after we left Cologne on the train this morning, and our trip along the Rhine was sunny most of the way. We arrived in Bingen at about 13:00, and the first order of business was finding our last hotel for the trip. We walked a few hundred metres from the Hauptbahnhof, across a bridge over the Nahe River to the town centre, then sought the best-sounding of the two Lonely Planet recommendations: the Cafe-Hotel Köppel. After a scenic route detour caused by missing a non-obvious turn, we located the cafe. (We needed to keep up our score of getting lost on the way to hotels.) The hotel entrance was down a side lane and the reception was closed and dark, but a bell at the door soon summoned a cheerful lady who checked us in for two nights. Our room is much larger and nicer than in Cologne, and costs about half as much. We are on the top floor overlooking the pedestrian mall running east-west through the heart of the town. No view of the Rhine, but we can live with that.
After a few minutes to settle in and catch our breaths after the hot walk from the station, we went down to the cafe attached to the hotel for a cappuccino for Michelle and an iced chocolate for me, only this time the waitress interpreted my "eis schokolade, bitter" as "heiss schokolade", and I got a hot chocolate instead. I couldn't be bothered changing it, so drank the hot choc, which was very good and relaxing, sitting here in this tiny, not overtly touristy town on the Rhine.
After refreshments, we walked through the small shopping district, then turned down a side street to head down to the river and a lookout point at the confluence of the Rhine and Nahe, which afforded a good view of the river valley and the opposite bank with its steep terraces of grapes, a ruined castle not far downstream (Burg Ehrenfels), and the Mäuseturm tower sitting prettily on a small island in the river.
We passed several artworks commemorating Hildegard von Bingen, who came from Bingen and was an abbess of the nearby Disibodenberg monastery in the 12th century, and also a composer and writer. Her likeness was painted on the walls of several buildings, and in the small town square there was an elaborate stone memorial with bas relief scenes of her life, as well as some other significant events in the town's history.
We have returned to our room for the night, but the story to be told needs to wait for a revelation yet to be described, so right back to the afternoon, where we were watching the scene from the bank of the Rhine, with long barges plying the waters to and fro, flying flags of at least three nations. From there, we walked back through the town and up the hill to Burg Klopp, the castle dating back to the 13th century. It consisted of a square tower detached from a relatively small manor-like building of stone, surrounded by a double wall with a deep pit (full of trees) between them, and a pair of gatehouses leading in, although we approached via narrow stairway up one side. It was very windy there at the top of the hill, but sunny. Still, the wind was strong enough to be dissuasive to an extended stay. While up there though, we ran into our first tourists here in Bingen - an American family betrayed when their kids peered down a wide well-shaft in the courtyard and expressed their amazement. The well was impressive and fairly deep, but nothing compared to the monster we'd seen at Festung Marienburg. It's pleasant to be at a small town with no obvious tourist presence after the excesses of Rothenburg and Cologne, in terms of tourist and plain people density respectively.
We returned from the Burg via a steep stairway straight back down to the town (rather than the roundabout way via sloping streets leading up the back that we'd taken to get there by following a map), ending up in Burgmeister-Neff-Platz, a small square we hadn't seen previously, where stalls were being set up for some sort of event. We looked around curiously and found a poster announcing the Bingen Sektfest, from 10-12 May! Being the 10th of May today, it was clear that we'd arrived just in time for the festival. A quick check of my phrasebook revealed that sekt is sparkling wine - very cool, as it's about the only sort of wine we drink and I'd been lamenting the fact that we were on the Rhine and might not even bother trying any wines. So we were excited by this fortuitous discovery and discussed it excitedly as we returned to our hotel for a brief rest before dinner. The festivities would apparently begin in the evening, so the plan was to have dinner first and then wander back over to the platz to have a look at the action.
Sektfest, under Burg Klopp
We rested for a while until about 18:30, then went to find a German restaurant recommended to Michelle by the lady who had checked us in. We walked to the indicated spot on the map and found a homely garden out the front of a very local looking place called Gaggianer. Exploration showed all the outside and inside tables to be either occupied or reserved, so we found the spare end of a table occupied by a family (parents and a young girl) and asked if we could sit, and they said go ahead (well, the German equivalent I presume). The menus came in red manila folders with graffiti and messages from past customers scrawled all over the outsides, and only in German.
I located a few vegetarian dishes for Michelle, and she settled on trying the Grüner Sosse - a specialty of the Frankfurt region - a herb sauce served over potatoes and boiled eggs. I chose Königsberger Klopse - something I'd been intending to try if I got a chance. The meals were delicious and probably the most authentic local cuisine we'd had anywhere so far in the most authentic local atmosphere, devoid of touristy embellishments. I decided to try ordering a Jägermeister as an after-dinner digestive, but the waitress said something and brought a menu over again to point out the list of available drinks. A guy on the adjacent table turned and said in flawless English, "Are you looking for something similar to Jägermeister?" He proceeded to recommend a couple of choices from the menu. I chose the Kräuterbrand, and Michelle got a cappuccino. The digestive was interesting, with tones of liquorice and some other vaguely familiar odours I couldn't put my finger on. Strong but nice.
Dinner at Gaggianer
The food had been so good and the waitress so cheerful and attentive that I decided a small tip would be in order, but was still unsure of the custom of how to actually provide it. So I interrupted the conversation of the guys next to us and said that he clearly knew more about German culture than us, could he please tell me the usual procedure for leaving the tip - does one just give the waitress extra and say keep it, or do you leave the extra on the table? He said firstly that it was entirely optional, unlike in the US, and that if we wanted to then the normal thing was to give the money to the waitress and tell her how much you wanted to pay overall - meal plus tip. So when we settled and the bill came to €21.15, I gave her €23 even and said, "Die rest is für Sie", at which she almost squealed in appreciation and gave us a very hearty send-off as we picked up and left. The guy, by the way, asked us where we were from, and was interested to learn Sydney because he'd spent 18 months in Melbourne at one stage and was returning to Australia later this year. We thanked him and said bye as we left the restaurant.
Eiswein and sekt
The next stop was the Sektfest, which was in full swing when we got there, with an acoustic guitar duo singing ballads from Simon and Garfunkel, and others of a similar ilk, while tables of people chatted convivially and sipped wine bought from six or seven different manufacturers' tents spread around the platz. We picked up a glass of rosé Sekt from one and a glass of chilled Eiswein from another, and shared sips from each as we watched the twilight sky darken slowly over the scene of about 200 locals enjoying this small festival to the strains of the live music - as far as we could tell we were the only tourists there at all. It was very nice and authentic feeling. The wines were both excellent - the rosé light and fruity, and the eiswein sweet and syrupy, tasting like icy cold grape juice with only the barest hint of the alcohol in it. I took some photos of the festivities and the floodlit Burg Klopp which looked down on the platz from its perch on the hill above.
Wines finished, we returned the glasses to collect our €1 deposit on each and then walked back to the hotel for the night.
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