The Saar and the Mosel: Kaiserslautern to Koblenz

DSCN3906On Saturday, the 24th of June, I left Kaiserslautern. The Regional Express went all the way to Koblenz, but I got off in Trier, the medieval fortress town at the confluence of the Saar and the Mosel.

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From my studies of Modern European History in high school and college, I had expected the Saar valley to be industrialized for its entire length. Wrong: in this fertile, winegrowing region, the Saar weaves through a floodplain covered in crops, vineyards and woods.

DSCN3913Trier’s two most famous landmarks, the Roman Porta Nigra and Saint Peter’s Cathedral were separated by a crowded street festival. DSCN3916Buskers, food carts and market stands of all kinds made for a happy atmosphere in the sunshine. One chap, a one-man band, was trying to get the crowd to sing “Let It Be” with him. No problem, I even took harmony. As I passed by to drop a euro in his guitar case, he said, “Thank you for singing along.” Not for the tip, but for joining him.

DSCN3918I made my way to the Dom and was rewarded with a beautiful Romanesque cathedral, which had not been covered over with successive layers of Baroque art. St. Peter’s is the oldest church in Germany (first building, AD 270), and a World Heritage Site. DSCN3920The pleasant staffer in the information office offered to give me a new Credencial when he saw my pilgrim’s bicycle jersey. “I have one already,” I explained. He took a piece of scrap paper and stamped it so that I could put it in my Credencial when I get home. I think that on future trips, I will carry my Credencial with me until it is filled with stamps. Most of these great churches are also pilgrimage destinations.

It was such a pleasant day, and I was feeling so good, that I decided to get on down the river a little, instead of spending the night in Trier. I booked a room in the Kenner Treff in Kenn, about 15 km downstream. Then I made my way to the Mosel.

DSCN3922My first impression of this river met my expectations: quaint, clean villages nestled by the bank, and surrounded by grapes. Grapes were everywhere. Not only were they planted in the smallest crannies on the steepest slopes, but the individual vineyards were enormous. DSCN3925Like the other crops I had seen in Hungary, Austria and Germany, these spreads were large, second only to the acreage planted in Quebec and other parts of North America. These were not struggling peasants working little family plots on rocky hillsides. I saw tracked Bobcat-like vehicles running among the rows spraying the vines, and helicopters spraying the plants on the vertical slopes. Very efficient and mechanized. I wondered what it would look like in September, when they need to harvest the grapes.

DSCN3928Not everything was pastoral. The Mosel Radweg itself ran by the river most of the time, but often came up to the road for short stretches. The tree roots and broken concrete bricks made me prefer the roads when we had them. DSCN3923However, someone was trying to make an effort: twice I had to detour around major construction that included new sections of bike path. Fortunately, the bike paths in Germany are extremely well-marked. At every corner, there is a small white square with a bicycle on it and an arrow indicating which way to turn (or not). Distance and directions signs occur every time there is a choice, which is often. I kept my phone turned off, and only referred to my bike map when I had to turn the page to keep up with my own progress.

DSCN3930The pride in the Riesling grape is evident everywhere, and so is the local spirit. The large white signs in the hills over each town amused me, reminded me of the iconic “Hollywood” sign in the southern California hills. Sometimes, the sign indicated the town; sometimes the name of the vintner who owned the hillside.

DSCN3929All the way down the river, I tried to limit my riding to 50 km, but I was moving faster than any stretch I had ridden since leaving Formia. On the 26th, I went 67.7 km before pulling up by a planter box of roses and annuals, and checking into the Hotel zur Brücke in Senhals.

DSCN3938I did see many charming villages, of which Senhals, the village across the river from Senheim, was typical. Senhals was so remote, that the nearest grocery store was in Trier Garten, which I had passed three bends before. I had chosen the Hotel zur Brücke because it had a restaurant, so I was disappointed to find it closed. I had to walk across the river to the vast campground/marina that separated Senheim from the Mosel to find supper. Fortunately, the campground restaurant had an excellent kitchen, so I was properly refuelled after my long ride. IMG_20170626_194718As I walked over the river, I could not help being amused to see how European vacationers turn to nature to get away from their crowded cities. I know from experience that some of the clusters of campers in the crammed campgrounds are also neighbours back home. Some of these campgrounds stretch for a full kilometer down the river bank; others are small plots without facilities, made available by the local municipalities. The effect is that of a nomadic city along the river bank in some places. I rode less than 40 km/day the rest of the way to Koblenz.

DSCN3936It wasn’t until the third day, the 27th, that I saw my first castle. I expected the river to be dotted with castles along the ridges on both sides, but perhaps that was in the section upstream from Trier, flowing through France and Luxembourg. I only saw three of them all week. DSCN3941With only 36 km under my wheels, I arrived in Moselkern too early to check in. However, a bag of spicy chips and a Bitburger Pils kept me company until the staff showed up to open the hotel. To my delight, the restaurant in the hotel was excellent. IMG_20170627_184512I had my first seafood since Hungary, a whitefish au gratin served on a bed of veggies, with a glass of medium-dry Riesling, of course.

On the 28th, I was riding into Koblenz before I knew it. Not that I was so fast, but that the city was so large. It stretches up both banks of the Mosel for 14 km and both banks of the Rhine for 22 km. After weeks since leaving Vienna, it felt like a shock to be in a big city again. DSCN3951I rode all the way to the mouth of the Mosel, where it dumps into the Rhine at Deutsches Eck. DSCN3961After checking out the massive stature of Kaiser Wilhelm and admiring the imposing Fortress Ehrebreitstein on the east bank of the Rhine, I made my way back up the Mosel to check in with my Couchsurfing host, Nasr. He insisted on carrying my bicycle upstairs and keeping it in the kitchen, which I appreciated, because I could not lift it myself.

DSCN3958I was so early that I decided to walk up to Fort Kostantin above the city. Because it controlled the Rhine and the Mosel, Koblenz was a critical point in the Prussian plans to defend against France, and in the 1820’s the Prussian built the most modern fortresses of the day to defend the city. Fort Kostantin overlooked the city on the west bank of the Rhine (south bank of the Mosel), while its bigger brother, Ehrebreitstein commanded the east bank of the mighty river.

DSCN3955Rain had been threatening all day. I made my way up through the city cemetery, which was beautifully laid out as an botanical garden and arboretum, with signs identifying the species of trees and flowers. DSCN3956When I reached the top, I found the Fort closed (I had misread the website), and had to take cover in a doorway to let a squall pass. I chose a different route back down the hill and discovered the tony shopping district, with its pedestrian mall.

For my first night in Koblenz, Nasr whipped up his standard one-dish meal, a salad and rice. He claimed not to be able to cook, but it was delicious. We both slept like logs. I had ridden the Mosel, and was feeling good about my progress and my recovery. I decided to stay an extra night in Koblenz, so that I could spend the 29th visiting Fortress Ehrenbreistein and the old city. Then I would start down the Rhine.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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