Rhine-Mosel ~ Black Forest

by - Russ

In January 2011, I retired from teaching, and it was time to play some serious hookie. I penciled out a plan to see an old college buddy in England, to track down one of my favorite students ever in Switzerland, and to "chill" a while in some of my favorite German destinations. There are no friends like old friends, and the first 4 days in England went much too fast; my Stansted - Hahn flight was a little melancholy. But once I hit the ground, I saw clearly that the early-March sun was working hard to turn winter into spring for me. My spirits somewhat buoyed, I grabbed a bus to Emmelshausen, where I got off at the Bahnhof for the precipitous 15 km descent by train into Boppard and the Rhine Valley. This route - the steepest north of the Alps - was once part of the now mostly dismantled "Hunsrückbahn" rail network connecting the farming communities of the Hunsrück region west of the Rhine. Being the only passenger in my car, I lowered the big, old-fashioned 2-handled window, stuck my head into the brisk air, and enjoyed the fine scenery (with some sadness I've read that these older trains were just replaced in May 2011 by modern, climate-controlled equipment with sealed windows.) A change of train in Boppard brought me to my destination for 3 nights, St. Goar, where I'd booked the Geissler studio apartment - one of their three rental options - which is right in town and near the station. My off-season rate of 25 Euro per night got me a mini-kitchen with all the basics, a pleasant room with TV and a view of the river:

Ferienwohnung Geissler - St. Goar

Ferienwohnung Geissler
Annemarie Geissler
Heerstraße 92
56329 St. Goar
Tel - 6741/441
Email -
Ferwhggeissler@aol.com

The Geissler apartment is right on the Heerstrasse, the pedestrians-only main drag where St. Goar's bakeries and cafes line up, literally steps from everything. The next day, after a fine cup of coffee and some Muesli, I set off on foot, the Sunday morning church bells ringing in my ears, and coaxed myself up the stone steps just behind the train station to do some hiking around St. Goar's cliffsides between the Loreley lookout south of town and Rheinfels Castle just to the north. Beautiful. Back in town after a couple hours, I noticed some unusual activity in the streets and a posted flyer which, to my surprise, promised a Fasnacht (German version of "Carnaval") parade right in St. Goar that very afternoon. A couple of hours later, the clouds had cleared and the town was packed with wild costumes, tractor-pulled floats, visitors from the surrounding hamlets, cries of "Helau!", and lots of sunshine and good spirit.

The next morning, I took the train south through the most dramatic part of the Rhine gorge to the city of Mainz. This was
"Rose Monday" on the Fasnacht calendar, and I was eager to see the big parade and to see what Mainz is like with 500,000 visitors on its streets. Indeed, the station was abuzz, and the streets were crawling with revelers. Most visitors were in costume or made at least a small effort by painting their hair or their faces; many seemed a little too tipsy for an 11:00 a.m. event. After negotiating my way with a horde of others from the train station to the parade route, I wriggled toward the curbside into a sunlit position in between a family in street clothes and a dragon, scattering a couple of beer bottles on the way. Like St. Goar's parade, Mainz's was colorful and vibrant, but this one was huge and destined to run well into the afternoon. Entertaining as the parade was, after a couple of hours, it became a little predictable, and a chill had overtaken me, so I decided to forego the tail end of the parade and take a brisk walk around town in the sun. Then I hopped a train back to St. Goar in the late afternoon for a little relaxation.

On Tuesday morning, I moved on to Boppard, where I checked into the Hotel Sonnenhof for 3 nights.

Hotel Sonnenhof - Boppard

Hotel Sonnenhof
Kirchgasse 8
56154 Boppard
Tel - 6742/3223 ~ Fax - 6742/3256
Email -
info@sonnenhof-boppard.de

View of Roemerpark from Hotel Sonnenhof

My tiny but clean and modern single with bath included breakfast for 27 Euros/night, and offered a quiet location, just a block or so off Boppard's Market square and right across from a set of Roman ruins known as the Römerpark. Business was slow at the time, and half the building was undergoing renovation. The friendly innkeeper was working solo to accommodate the guests in the other half. My days there began with an ample breakfast buffet and excellent coffee in a cheery dining area, and included several outings by train and bus on a VRM 3-day pass (34 Euros for one, 40 Euros for 2-5.) A 1-day pass is also available for 20. This pass covers a healthy section, though not all, of the Rhine/Mosel area; I did some fairly extensive walking and hiking in cool but mostly good weather and in villages that were new to me - Kaub, Ediger-Eller, Vallendar (lovely half-timbered town,) Bad Breisig, Mayen, Bad Ems, and Treis-Karden.

The VRM pass is good for in-city transport in Koblenz as well, where on one afternoon I enjoyed a nice coffee at a sunny outdoor cafe in almost-balmy weather.

VRM pass info: http://www.vrminfo.de/en/tickets-and-fares/ticket-offers/leisure-ticket/

My next train took me to Bad Liebenzell, a spa town at the north end of the Black Forest near Calw. Bad Liebenzell saddles up to the Nagold River and was pleasant enough; my accommodations were tired and a tad dreary and not worth mentioning, but I wasn't bothered much since I'd planned to spend just one night there for the purpose of obtaining a "Konus Karte" from my hostess there. This visitor-card come-on is available in about 130 Black Forest towns and offers free rail and bus travel in the region as well as discounts to certain attractions. The next morning, I proceeded to St. Georgen im Schwarzwald, my real destination, for free.

Konus Card info:
http://www.blackforest-tourism.com/konus

I had booked a room for two nights through St. Georgen's tourist office with Frau Zeiser (18 Euros/night w/breakfast) and was pleased with the simple but big-windowed, cheery, upstairs room (shared bath and WC downstairs.) Unlike most of St. Georgen, which lies atop a steep hillside, Frau Zeiser's home is located in a small side-valley near the station, not far beyond the Norma grocery store at Talstr. 21, and is easy to reach on foot.

Haus Zeiser - St. Georgen

Haus Zeiser
Talstraße 29 a
78112 St. Georgen
Tel - 7724/4824
Email -
touristinfo@st-georgen.de

St. Georgen is also a "Konus" town; after a brief walk around this hilly town, I hopped aboard an afternoon train bound for Triberg, just one train stop to the west, where I paid a visit to the Black Forest Museum. This museum (discount with the Konus card) houses an excellent collection of stuff from the region. There are displays on the history of the Black Forest Railway line, traditional costumes, carvings, cuckoo clocks, early appliances and electronics, and even some old hurdy-gurdies. In the evening I headed east to Villingen, a totally charming old walled town to the east of St. Georgen. I found myself wanting to stay there for about 3 months but in the end settled for a second walk around town and a most satisfying dinner of pizza and beer.

On the following day, I used my Konus card to board the double-decker train that serves the
Black Forest Railway and made stops in Hornberg and Haslach, two very attractive BF towns, for more hoofing around. The scenery through this section is especially good from the upper deck.

Hornberg Hornberg Haslach Rathaus

That afternoon, in deference to my worn-out feet, I decided to take an impromptu and lengthy train ride to Kirchzarten (just east of Freiburg.) After all, the transportation was free. The connecting train I boarded in Offenburg for Freiburg, another double-decker, was unusually packed on this Sunday, but why? I knew that Basel, south of Freiburg, was due to celebrate its Fasnacht a week later than Germany does, on Monday morning, and that Basel would be frenetic. What I didn't know was that so many Germans would be headed there on Sunday, not to see the event, but to stay up all night and to participate in the 4:00 a.m. parade. There were literally hundreds of costumed and made-up "Karnevalisten" passing beers and other mysterious libations and practicing their chants and songs on this train, and no doubt on other trains behind mine. I suppose if you put all that time, money and effort into your costume and your singing, you're eager to be at every Fasnacht celebration you can. And so it was that I found myself not napping, as expected, but people-watching (and clown-watching and unicorn-watching) as we rolled on to Freiburg.

Once in Freiburg, I left the revelers behind and caught a train to Kirchzarten for a look around, then another to Hinterzarten, a hiker's mecca at higher elevation, via the Hell's Valley route, and from there a bus into the hilly heights of St. Märgen and St. Peter. The mountain scenery and vistas from from these peaceful towns are breathtaking, even from behind a bus window. Needless to say, I got back to St. Georgen rather late in the evening on this day; too tired to hike into town, I enjoyed a tomato sandwich and a tepid beer in my warm, cozy room.

Monday morning meant a final yummy Frühstück courtesy of Frau Zeiser - she set out some plastic and insisted I make myself a lunch with whatever I couldn't manage that morning. We bid each other " 'f Wiedersehen" before my hasty departure to catch my train to Rottweil (yes, free again), where I boarded my Zürich-bound train for two entertaining and memory-filled days there.


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