We recently attended Bill’s annual organization day, an opportunity for the staff and their families to enjoy a day away from the office and engage in some social time. This often takes the form of a cook-out, or some pastime like bowling. Ah! But this is Europe, and so we took advantage of one of the opportunities that living and working here makes possible. The event? A round-trip river cruise from the lovely town of Rüdesheim (sort of pronounced “rude-es-heim”) down the Rhine to the charming village of St. Goar. We stopped there for several hours to see the sights and enjoy lunch at a sidewalk café.
The weather Deities smiled on us that day; we had sunshine and blue skies, with a slight breeze to make the journey pleasant. If you ever plan to visit Germany, a Rhine cruise is a really nice way to spend a day. They are relatively inexpensive—roughly $25 round-trip per adult for a trip similar to ours. And you have a wide variety of origins and destinations to choose from. You could even ride the boat one way and take a train back. All the towns along the river (in this area, at least) are well served by Deutsche Bahn, or German Rail. Enjoying the views of the many vineyards and castles that have made the Rhine Valley famous is a memorable experience.
As I noted, our day began in the picturesque town of Rüdesheim. Germany has a number of places that attract a lot of tourists but are always fun to visit anyway. This popular destination is famous for its Riesling wines (and brandy) as well as the historic Drosselgasse, a very narrow street lined with shops, taverns, and restaurants. There is plenty to see and do but we will cover that in another post later. For this day, Rüdesheim was our jumping off point for a voyage down the Rhein!
The ride was smooth and even though there were three decks on the boat, most of us enjoyed the outside top deck. There were plenty of tables and chairs to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of champagne. We expected the prices for beverages and snacks to be steep but we were pleasantly surprised to find they were about the same as we would find at a typical restaurant in our own neighborhood. We drifted past charming villages, each one sporting onion-domed churches, half-timbered buildings, and of course, vineyards hanging from the steep slopes. And oh, The castles! After about the first five we cruised by we lost count.
In the middle ages, the Rhine was the primary transportation route from south to north. If you had goods to transport, this was pretty much your only option, if you were going any distance at all. Every baron with the power and money to do it took advantage of the outstanding vantage points along the Rhine gorge to erect a castle so he could levy tolls on vessels using the river. Today, there is hardly a spot between Rüdesheim and Koblenz where you can’t see at least a couple of castles. Most are ruins but several have been well preserved and you can even book a stay in a few. Anyway, it’s all a feast for the eyes.
We also cruised past the famous Lorelei, a 433-foot-high rock on the right bank of the river. Legend has it that a golden-haired siren would perch atop the rock and enchant the passing sailors, who would be lured to their deaths on the craggy rocks below. Not exactly a happy thought, but an interesting bit of history nonetheless. Today, it often serves as a venue for outdoor concerts.
We docked at Saint Goar for a few hours to explore and have lunch. We decided to take a walk up to Castle Rheinfels which was built in 1245. There is a tram of sorts that can also take you up, but its schedule seemed a bit erratic to us. We made the journey on foot, to ensure we would have time for lunch before getting back on the boat. It was a steep path with quite a few uneven stone steps, but it wasn’t overly taxing. With our stomachs rumbling, we elected not to take a tour of the castle once we reached it but the views of the valley and the river were well worth the hike.
After the trek back down the mountain, we stopped on the main street and enjoyed a wonderful lunch al fresco. Finally, we got back on the boat. The return trip to Rüdesheim was a bit slower than the morning’s cruise, since we were going against the current. But it was no less pleasant for that. The open top deck of a boat on a warm summer day with just enough of a breeze to make it comfortable is a recipe for a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon. We will certainly be doing this again.