17. March 2005 · Comments Off on On the Road, Again · Categories: Domestic, General

We stayed in a castle, a real castle, Schloss Rheinfels on the Rhine, across from St. Goarshausen. The hotel part was newer than the medieval ruin that topped the crag overlooking the river, the railway, severely vertical acres of grape-vines which gripped the rocks with vinous fervor, and several other ruined castles up and down the river as far as could be seen. It was a great roomy barn of a place, with thick stone walls; you could have dropped rolls out of the dining room windows straight down on the freight-cars passing down below, at the very foot of the cliff. The ruins of Schloss Rheinfels were adjacent, and much overgrown. Many of the towers and doorways were filled with dirt, leaving just enough space for a child, not that Blondie was very interested in the dark and cobwebbed tunnels within.

We explored it all one late afternoon, and then had to take the VEV to the nearest Volvo mechanic in Bingen-am-Rhine for some mechanical work (bad gas in Italy, apparently) and the train to Rhein-Main AB to get an emergency loan to pay for it. It was getting to seriously autumnal, nearly a month after we had driven away from Athens and the only place my daughter remembered living in. We were on our way to Spain, taking a leisurely auto-ramble through Italy, Germany and France. There was only one thing my daughter didn’t miss about Greece, and that was the habit of any and all— especially the elderly— patting her on her blond head, and admiring her northern coloring.

“Like I was a little dog,” she muttered rebelliously. I was worried that she might just take a bite out of the next well-meaning hand, and looking forward to Germany because there she would fit right in, and no one would notice her particularly. Some hope— she looked like everyone’s grandchild, and was just as admired, although there was not as much head-patting… for which we both were grateful. Small children do, after all, have sharp teeth, and at four and a half, Blondie was very forward and brash.
The VEV was purring smoothly again, on the road along the river, north to Koblenz, all castles and vineyards, and little towns with a riverside promenade and a church with onion-domed towers, and if that didn’t kick over the quaint-and-rustic meter, the roadway along the Mosel pegged that sucker all the way over into the red.

The road along the Mosel was a two-lane country road of the sort that I had become very used to, narrower but nearly empty of traffic, and the river meandered and looped among rolling green hills, trimmed with russet and gold autumn-harvest colors. The August holidays were well over, and all the tourists had mostly gone home. Early in the afternoon, we came around pronounced bend in the road, and there was a beautiful, half-timber and thatched little town, straight ahead.

Cochem Am Mosel

(Cochem Am Mosel, 1985)

It clustered around a conical green hill topped with a toy castle, a tall central tower trimmed with mosaic tiles. A perfect, Grimm’s fairy-tale castle, with battlements and tiny pepper-pot turrets, peaked roofs and a portcullis gate, guarded like an enchanted place by a surrounding palisade of taller hills. I pulled over, and looked at my map, the Hallwag atlas opened on the passenger seat.
“We’ll stay here, tonight,” I said. “That has got to be the prettiest place I have ever seen.”
“Can we go look at that castle?” my daughter asked, “It’s not a ruin, like the last one.”
“Of course,” I said, and turned off the road along the river. I had no idea of where to stay inexpensively in a place like this, but trusted to luck: there was always something, a gasthaus, or even a private home with a “zimmer-frei” sign swinging from the gate. The main road threaded through town, around the back of the castle hill, past a little ski-lift moving continuously up to the top of the tallest crag overlooking the little town. There, on the right, the modest “zimmer-frei” sign in front of one of the houses in a modest block of townhouses.

We took the last parking place in front, and snagged the last room too, for the home-owner came out and took down the sign as soon as I paid the required 40 DM. The windows of our room looked onto the back of the house, where the dangling seats of the little ski-lift moved up, up, and down down, twenty or feet above the steep slope.
“Ohh, Mommy, can we?” My daughter leaned out of the window, tiptoe with eagerness, and I sighed, and hauled her inside so I could close the window. I had a very bruising experience with one of those little lifts, as a teenager, going up to a youth hostel in Koblenz, which was housed in a castle on top of the customary crag. I was not terribly athletic and heights— or the imminent prospect of falling from them— bothered me terribly. I took my camera and handbag— we would walk over to the castle, and have some dinner in town, but first… the ski lift.

It was one of those constantly-moving ones, requiring deft-timing in swinging yourself into the moving seat, and in the case of my daughter, a boost from the attendant. Going up wasn’t so bad, facing the steep hillside and going up, and up, staggered rows of grape vines sweeping past your dangling toes. The ground appeared to be little more than a short drop below. At the top, Blondie jumped down from the seat herself, and neatly moved away from the path of the moving line of suspended seats. I took her hand, and we walked around to the look-out, below which was the whole town, neatly spread out like a toy village, centered around the crossroads and the castle.

And then, going down again. Just like going up, but in reverse. Horribly in reverse, because going down meant facing out, and a long, fast and horrible controlled fall, and my daughter screaming. Screaming, in excitement,
“Oh, Mommy! It’s like Wonder-Woman, it’s like flying!”
She was exhilarated. I on the other hand, was torn between screaming, throwing up or fainting, and not wanting to do any of the above in front of her. So, since I had my camera in my lap, I uncovered the camera lens and took a picture. Two things came to mind in the first twenty feet of the ski-lift drop; that as a child, my daughter was totally, completely and utterly fearless, and in the coming years, I faced any number of occasions watching her do things, where I would be torn between screaming, throwing up or fainting… but it would be best just to sit calmly, with white knuckles and a faint smile. And take a picture.

Looking Down

(Looking down, from the top of the lift, Cochem Am Mosel, 1985)

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