Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Germany: Rhine in Flames to the Berlin Marathon

Every year the Upper Rhine region of Germany puts on a series of festivals called the Rhine in Flames, which take place on weekends through the summer and fall. The idea is that several of the little towns along the Rhine put on wine festivals, and on Saturday night they have a huge fireworks and pyrotechnics display over the Rhine River, followed by more partying. We decided to attend the Loreley Night at St. Goar/St. Goarshausen on September 20th, which features a huge fireworks show over the famous Loreley Rock (where legend has it a beautiful maiden used to sit and lure sailors to their deaths). The way to go is to take a boat cruise, so we took a boat from Koblenz down the Rhine and viewed the 45-minute fireworks show from the middle of the river - quite an experience, especially when shared with a boat-load of Germans drinking heavily and loudly singing along to songs only German people know.

Of course we sampled the famous local Riesling through a series of "Weinprobe," and we were not too impressed. Maybe it is D.'s French influence, but I did not find any of the wines to rival the Riesling from Alsace. However, to make up for it we were introduced to Federweisser. Federweisser is extremely young wine - it is still in the process of fermenting when you drink it, so if you buy a bottle, they give it to you with no cap on, because otherwise it would explode. Only available for a few weeks in September/October, it must be drunk within a few days of production and obviously can't be transported far from the source. We found it to be delcious and highly recommended!

We also got a chance to look around at the medieval castles and cute little towns along the river. Bacharach stood out as the hands-down winner in terms of charm. Oberwesel and Koblenz were a bit more modern, and St. Goar had a great wine festival going on at the time, while St. Goarshausen was just frustrating because we couldn't find the famed statue of the Loreley maiden no matter how hard we tried, though we did get a great view of the river from atop the Loreley Rock. On the way we also stopped at Burg Eltz, an old castle situated deep in the forest (unusual, as most castles are situated on top of hills). It was quite well-preserved and had the most striking scenery of any of the castles we saw.

Last weekend we made another visit to Germany, this time to Berlin. The main purpose was for D. to run the marathon, which he finished in just under 4 and a half hours. It was quite an event, with almost 40,000 people running and at least that many spectators. It also gave us a chance to look around Berlin and to visit Potsdam (which I had never had a chance to see), a nearby town with a famous park that holds no fewer than four separate castles. D. was a good sport and paid me back for my marathon support by sitting through three hours of Rossini at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (sung in Italian with German subtitles and English summaries whispered by me during the applause) - my first trip to the opera in Germany, believe it or not. Berlin is one of my favorite cities in Europe, so I was happy to have a chance to go back again and highly recommend it as a destination.

Well, that's all the exciting news for this month. The contest is still on, so bring on your suggestions for places to go. We are headed to New Zealand in a couple weeks, so even though it was already planned before the contest opened, I'll still consider Ying and Johanna to have "won" because both suggested it.

Hope you all enjoyed your summers. It was great to see so many of you! Keep in touch!


Adventure map for 2009...