Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Burg, Bikes, and a Schloss

Found a smoking rental car deal on the web, so we hit the road for a mini-road trip. The amazing Rhine valley is about 2 hours North from us, so we headed up there. I always wanted to tour this area, home to steep cliffs, the windy Rhine, grape growing on all slopes, and of course, the castles. The castles! Every bend has a castle perched way up high, the former residence of Lords who would collect tolls from all those who passed their Burg, as they call them (castles, with a town underneath). I read that some of the toll collectors would stretch chains across the Rhine to ensure a toll collection. It truly is beautiful, even on a cold, wintery day like the one we encountered. One good thing about this season is that the area is all ours! Hardly any gets crazy here in the summer. There are like 20 castles in a 20 mile stretch. Most of the castles have been restored and developed in to hotels and restaurants for tourists. One of them, Burg Stahlek in Bacharach, is a youth hostel, and for the equivalent of $50 a night for all three of us (no dogs, so Oskar slept in the car), a bargain even for a cheap ass like me.

We had a 9-bed room all to ourselves, with amazing views of the Rhine. There were some school kids at the Burg practicing classical music (a good place for that), and one other guy, and thats it. The place was ours. The receptionist was very helpful and after she explained how the hostels work in Germany and I realized how many castles and amazing buildings had been converted to hostels, we signed up for a year. This allows even cheaper stays in these places. Anyways, the Burg was magical, eerie, and majestic. Perched up on the hill, the views along the Rhine were fabulous. I took Oskar for a walk before bed and the clouds were rolling in over the turrets and towers.... it was a sight. The school kids played their music until 10pm, and it added to the beauty of the place, echoing through the halls, classical music. Awesome. We had dinner(cheap! yay!)and a local beer and a wine form the grapes that the castle overlooks. This was a great intro to hostels in Germany. There was even a kids play room, which Mayzie greatly appreciated. I imagine this place is insane with people in the summer. We were worried about Oskar sleeping in the car, but we provided that little guy with blankets and he did just fine...all 3 nights he was fine, but I think he was on high alert alot of the time and didnt sleep too good. We were expecting an Oskar-popcicle with these temps, but he was warm enough, I guess.

We were sad to depart our Burg, but we had plans to travel on to Maastricht, Holland....another 2 hour drive North-west. We were not prepared for Maastricht, or for being in Holland again. We knew nothing of the city previously, and did not have many expectations except to look at some bikes, but after speding 1 night here, it has become one of our favorite places in Europe, and Jenna puts it ahead of Prague! I will not go that far haha. But it is awesome. After we checked into our riverside hostel (another cheap night, this time $60 for all of us, right in downtown Maastricht, on the water, with water views...hostelling is the way to TV or towels or soap, or other luxuries, but thats all filler), we walked around with Oskar. What? Smiling, happy people? Gleeful squeels on bikes? Lots of dogs around? This was definitly not Germany. Me and Mayzie stepped into a beer cafe (mmmm, how I miss you, Belgian beer!) for a drink while Jenna took Oskar to the car, and a guy winked at me, as if to say, welcome, thanks for coming. The vibes hit us very hard...there were no scowls from old grannies, the place was mellow and sophisticated. That felt great and made us wish we lived there. Having English spoken freely and easily was also a relief. We browsed a most amazing bike shop at Maastricht train station. They rent bikes (dutch upright bikes, and bakfiets, cargo bikes), sell bikes, repair bikes, and store bikes for people getting on the trains. For a monthly fee, bikers roll in, show the attandant their card, hand over the bike, and walk directly out onto the platform to get on their train. Cool to see. This place was dutch bike wonderland. We were in heaven. Jenna found one she liked (I had ordered mine on the web last week, so we were shopping for her). It's a dutch brand bike, designed for carrying loads in front and rear. Called the Montego Mover:
Disc brakes, internal hub gearing, sturdy...the perfect bike. Only available in Holland. There was no way we can get that bike home in our little car, so we asked to put a deposit down and we will find a way to get back to Maastricht to pick it up. As I write, we are not sure when we will be going back, but it will have to be by train so we can bring it home. Thats a 5 hour train ride, so at least one more night in Maastricht will be necessary. NO PROBLEM haha. Probobly after next weekend--there is Karnival happening next weekend, so the hotels and hostels will be packed. Anyways, we were both excited to find Jenna a bike she wanted, and it was on sale, so we got a good price. Now we just have to bring it to Germany.

Maastricht is beautiful....walled city, weaving little cobblestone lanes, packed with hip stores and cafes. A "coffeeshop" here and there for those in need of herbal relief. Bikes and kids everywhere, living in harmony. Felt like a mini-Amsterdam, or a mini-Brugge....cobblestone and medeival paradise. We found ourselves wishing we had moved here, but we are not going to give up on Germany yet! haha. I tell you what, if an opportunity ever arises to move to Holland, I would do it in a heartbeat. Half a heartbeat. 

Back into Germany the next day, we wanted to stay in another castle-hostel. We found one about 2.5 hours from Maastricht, near Frankfurt, called Schloss Diaz.

I did not take that pic, but thats it up there on the hill.

Small little hamlet of a town, medieval streets, along a small river. Besides the very un-informed receptionist, we had a good time. Had our own bunkbed room overlooking the town. Being a saturday night, there were more people here, lots of kids, so Mayzie ran around a little bit, and played in the toy area. We had dinner and breakfast, plus the room, all for $60. Great deal. Our mood was a little sour, I think, we were tired and still thinking about Holland.

We still don't think of our apartment as "home", but it is for now, and it felt good to be back, and spread our stuff out again. We are still adjusting to the way we travel now with Oskar and Mayzie, so this 3 day trip felt about right.


JWW said...

Holland rules man!

Troy said...

Awesome dude. You guys keep checking out all the obscure places I'd never think of visiting and then when we visit you can give us the inside scoop on where to go. Maastricht sounds sweet.