Trip to Europe: Day 5 – Rhine Valley, Germany

8 June 2012. All packed and ready, I made my way to the dining area for breakfast. I saw a few people from my tour group sitting around but all their tables were full, so I made my way to an empty 4 seater table after getting some stuff to eat, expecting to be joined by either Tiffany or Alex, if they saw me. They didn’t. Ah well.

A little into my cereal, one of the girls came to me asking if she could sit with me. Obviously, why not? I wasn’t about to pass up on a new friend. I found out that it was Tina, one of the Australians. We chatted a little about where we were from and who we came with. Tina was from Melbourne and had come with one friend, but didn’t say her name. To my delight, it was Sam who plonked herself between Tina and I. That was the friend Tina came with. Cool, I met her before! Sam then asked me if I heard about one of the girls who was taken to hospital after having too much to drink. I was pretty horrified to hear that. Seriously?

Sam didn’t know the full story so went to inquire about the girl’s well-being from some other people. Word was that she was already throwing up on the canal cruise (there was a toilet at the back of the boat, thankfully), and then went for the pub crawl after that. Apparently it was the first time she had had alcohol. I was disgusted upon hearing this – how could anyone be that irresponsible? I mean really, you’re a girl in a foreign country, and you let some random local guy take you to the hospital? Thank goodness he actually took her to the hospital and did nothing else. But anyway, the important thing was that she was safe and Steve had made sure she had rejoined the group before we could leave for St Goar.

Once we were all done for breakfast, we rushed back to our rooms to gather our stuff and get to the bus so that we could load our bags onto it. I didn’t realize that I was actually one of the last people in the queue. Shit. This was going to suck in terms of seating. And it did – I was right in the back row against the window. The only good thing about that was that I had a bit of a “wall” to lean against if I wanted to sleep. Other than that, I would have to make at least one person stand up if I wanted to get out.

The bus had exactly 51 seats, so there was no room to move anywhere else. The back row had 5 seats, and 3 of them were taken by the Australians who I sat next to the previous night at dinner at the Sea Palace Restaurant. They were a couple and the second guy was the guy’s brother. I only caught the girl’s name though – Mel. There was still an empty seat between Mel and I though, and it was eventually filled by one of the American girls who I didn’t really meet before. I think all of us were the quiet ones, so we didn’t say much to each other.

As we got on the road, it was difficult not to enjoy the views. I had only seen the tip of the iceberg of Europe, but I was already in love with the landscape and the greenery. The thing about driving through Europe is that you don’t even notice when you pass through the border into the next country. I only realized that we were in Germany when I saw road signs that ended with “Hausen”. I used to have a German pen pal  who was from Rheinhausen, so the “hausen” bit always stuck in my head whenever I saw something associated with Germany.

Speaking of my German pen pal, Melanie, she knew that I was going to be in the country and asked if it would be possible for me to visit Freiburg, as that was where she was going to be. Unfortunately though, we did not have control of where the bus was going to go. I saw a sign that showed the direction of Freiburg, but I knew that we weren’t going to stop there. I was a little disappointed because I was right in her country, less than 100km from her, and we still could not meet each other. That sucked.

There was an awkward moment on the bus when the American girl next to me threw up on herself. She obviously had had too much to drink at the pub crawl the previous night. Mel and I were mildly horrified since we were right next to her. At least none of it went on the floor or on the seat, or more importantly, on either of us. Thankfully we were all asked to pack an overnight bag for that night, since there was going to be a lot of stairs in the hotel, so she was able to change into something clean in the bus’ toilet. I don’t even know how she managed to do that because you can barely fit in that toilet, it was smaller than an aircraft’s toilet. To disguise the smell, the friend who kept passing her kleenex tissues sprayed some perfume around Mel and I. Phew, that helped a lot. At least things were fine after that.

I wasn’t very happy about packing an overnight bag because I didn’t have a decent size hand luggage-type bag and generally us girls have lots of toiletries, so I literally squashed whatever I could into this small shoulder bag I had carried with me. I just hoped that the weather would not turn on me, forcing me to wear the next day’s clothes later that day.

After some time, Steve decided that each of us should introduce ourselves. He asked that we just said a little bit about ourselves – where we’re from, what we do, and maybe state a fun fact. I didn’t know how I was going to remember everyone’s names, but I decided to at least pay attention to where they were from. There were some interesting professions. One of the guys, Elliot, who I thought looks exactly like the Bollywood actor Imran Khan, was actually a butcher. He actually owns his own butchery. That was interesting because I don’t know any young guys who do that. In South Africa its not really something young guys would do.

There was another Australian couple on the bus and both of them were really short. They seemed like really cool people though, and both said that they work at a gym. You could tell from their physique too. They weren’t overly muscular, but one could see that they looked after themselves. I remembered their names because both started with R – Renae and Ronnie.

There were some students, and I was quite surprised that Felicia, one of the girls that I spent the morning with in Amsterdam, was actually a train driver! Who would have thought!

Because of my fantastic spot on the bus, I was the last person to introduce myself. I can’t remember what nonsense I said, but Steve gave a little cheer when I said that like him, I was from Durban. I stole a fun fact from my mother since she had been to Europe when she was my age. I mentioned how the entire trip cost her barely ZAR700, or roughly €70 (at the time it was a little over ZAR10 to €1). The main thing that I wanted to tell people was that because my mother went with a teacher’s group, when they got to the Royal Palace in Monaco, they requested an audience with Princess Grace. She was sweet enough to actually come out and meet them. The cherry on the top was that she invited them to have tea with her. So I can proudly say that my mother had tea with Priness Grace. I was sort of plotting to try the same thing when I got to Monaco, at least to gain entrance into the Royal Palace and have a look around, but what were the chances of that. I thought I could use the whole thing about “my mother was here with Princess Grace so I have to keep up the tradition” to get me through, but I knew that would never work. Oh well.

After a couple hours we got to the service stop where we had about 45 mins to grab a bite to eat before heading to the Rhine Valley.  I didn’t realize that in terms of altitude, we were actually quite high above the Rhine River. We had obviously been driving uphill since leaving Amsterdam. I was not expecting to be descending a rather high hill for that long before we could reach the valley itself. The landscape was very different to that of the Netherlands as well. The trees were taller and of a darker green, and the land was anything but flat. I wasn’t sure if I liked it as much as Holland, but it was still new and it didn’t reduce my excitement.

The weather was also looking up, and it was a welcome sight after the slightly depressing Dutch weather. It was turning out to be a great day for a cruise. At last, sun!

We drove through at least 2 towns, which were so small and cute. Both of them had their own church, which really stood out among all the other buildings.

Steve parked off the bus, and we had a little walk to do to get to our boat. The sun was coming out and we were thrilled to not have to wear a rain jacket. The surroundings were beautiful and spotlessly clean. The thing I loved was seeing flower boxes on nearly every building. We never get that back home.

The boat that was waiting for us was called the Liebenstein, and sat 420 people. That’s a big boat! There were a few other tourists on it, but our large group overshadowed them. I found a place right at the front, and was joined by Renae and Ronnie.

It was so great being able to sit back, look up and absorb the sunlight on my face. The weather could not have been more perfect. While seated, we had great protection from the wind as well. It was only when I stood up was I whacked with the strong draft that indicated the speed of the boat. I didn’t need to stand up though, since I already had a nearly 360 degree view.

After Steve grabbed himself a humongous beer, he needed to take some time out to create the day sheet. He sat himself down on the bench behind me, with 2 of the Australian guys, one of them being Adam, who I had met on the first day when we did the “speed dating” on the bus. We had a small debate about the colours of the German flag. At least, the order. I knew it was red, yellow and black, but I was confused whether red was at the top or the bottom. I think I told him that black was at the top, but red was at the bottom. He started colouring in the word Germany in those colours, until someone found out that the red is actually in the middle. Oops! What a fail. He said he’d never trust another South African again. Haha. Sorry Steve! He had to start all over again. That must have really taken a lot out of him.

There was a guide (I don’t know if was the driver of the boat), who was giving us a running commentary on the surroundings. There were many castles dotted all over the valley, and lots of grape trees planted along the steep valley sides. We were, after all, in a wine country. We were going to do some wine tasting after the cruise as well, which I was looking forward to. Steve had told us about Eiswein (Ice Wine) as well, which is a local specialty.

The cruise lasted a pleasant 1.5 hours or so, and was very refreshing after having spent a good 5 or 6 hours on the bus. Once we got back to the dock, we took a short walk into the town to one of the main shops that makes Beer Steins.

I have never seen that many beer steins in my life. The shop was literally packed with them, like a sardine tin. They were all over the place and were of every design you could think of. Some were shaped like animals like wolves or eagles, while others depicted a profession or hobby. There was a limited edition Contiki beer stein as well, but there was no way in hell I was going to pay over €80 for one, especially when I’m not a beer drinker. I really considered getting at least a souvenir beer stein, but I eventually walked out empty handed.

Across the street was a shop that sold excellent cork shoes, apparently, but after taking a look around I didn’t really find anything that I liked. Besides, I didn’t want to stuff another pair of shoes into my bag. There was also a shop that sold only cuckoo clocks. In fact, the only thing St Goar is really known for is having the largest wooden cuckoo clock in the world. Its actually in the Guiness Book of Records.

The town was really tiny and we had a chance to walk around a bit and get a snack. Some people found a local bakery and got a slice of cake and some coffee. I instead got some ice cream as it would allow me to eat something tasty and at the same time walk around.

It was already around 5pm and by 5:30 we had to make our way to the “rape dungeon”, as Steve called it (since it was underground so technically if someone were to be raped there, no one would hear them scream).

It was a little creepy when we got there, as there was a narrow door and we had to make our way down some steep steps into the darkness. There were some faint lanterns inside and it felt as though we were entering a cave. There seemed to be toilets there, but no one dared use them because it was so dark. It was also really cold, which we felt the second we stepped through the door. After walking a few metres, there was a short tunnel before we could enter a large, cave-like room in which the only source of natural light was a shoe-box size hole near the ceiling. On one side there were wine barrels, and in the middle of the room, from one end to the other, was a long wooden table with benches on either side. The room was lit with some coloured globes, and every metre or so stood an empty wine bottle with a candle in it, on the table. We all understood, then, why Steve referred to it as the Rape Dungeon.

For every 6-8 people, there was a bowl of cheese, cut up into cubes. Each of us were given, in “true Contiki style”, our own shot glass in which to taste the wine. The cheese was divine and we wiped the bowl clean as we sipped on the different wines we were made to taste and listened to Steve’s stories about his previous tour. He sat on the end of the table. I was between Adam and Tracy, which was 2 seats away from Steve. Tracy was next to her husband Travis who was next to Steve. Too much detail, I know, but that’s how we sat. So we all could hear him pretty well as he horrified us with the tales of how everyone got to know each other “very well” on his last tour, which was a camping one.

The last wine given to us was the Eiswein, which I loved instantly. I knew that I was definitely going to buy myself a bottle, especially after Steve said that he would keep it safely for us on the bus until the end of the trip, so we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying it around. It was also a fraction of the price since we were buying it directly from the manufacturer, so at €26, I think it was a bargain.

After the tasting, we lined up to buy our Eiswein – at least, those who wanted to. After paying we had to write our name down so that the lady would label the packet in order for Steve to know whose wine was whose. I was surprised that more people didn’t buy it, as Steve was able to carry a single box of about 10-12 bottles only.

When we got back to where driver Steve was waiting, Steve thought that he was somewhere else and made us make a detour. I was pretty sure that I saw our bus where it supposed to be, however, but Steve didn’t think it was our bus. When we got to the point where he thought driver Steve was, there was no one in sight. He called driver Steve, who said that he was actually where we had just come from. That sucked, I was actually right that that was our bus that I saw. Oh well, at least we hadn’t really walked all that far. 

The activities for the day had ended, so it was time to go to the hotel. When we got there I realized that it was a different one to the one I had received on the itinerary. I think we did get the updated hotel list, but the one I gave to my parents was the old one with another hotel on it. This didn’t go down too well with my parents as they tried calling me that evening and were freaking out because they called the wrong hotel and were told that I had taken a taxi and gone to some other hotel. Huh? Maybe the receptionist that they got hold of didn’t catch my name properly, because she was clearly talking about someone else. I’m not sure how my parents eventually got hold of me, but I think they must have mentioned Contiki and were redirected to the correct hotel. I didn’t want to be responsible for giving my parents a heart attack when I wasn’t even in the country!

The hotel was a family run house and Alex and I had a room on the 2nd floor. It was quite a large, spacious room and actually had 3 single beds, so we used the 3rd bed to dump all our stuff. We were starving by that point and so made our way down to the dining area for dinner. It wasn’t that great a dinner, but it was something.

It was still broad daylight when we were done so we decided to take a bit of a walk around. Some of the American girls came along with us and we were talking about what the local people must be doing for work. Alex thought they must be gardening for a living, seeing how beautiful their gardens were. She could have been right! We couldn’t see where they would really be going to work because the town was so small, and we didn’t think they would be travelling really far to work. Who knows.

After about 30 mins of walking, it started drizzling. Great. We had to run back to the hotel because the drizzle became a heavy downpour. We stopped in an alley way just outside someone’s house for shelter for a minute or 2, before making another quick dash. When we got back to the hotel we were pretty wet. When we eventually got there, we saw that everyone was sitting in the room next to the lobby with their laptops and cellphones out. That could only mean one thing – WiFi!

The WiFi wasn’t free, but for a pathetic €1.50 for unlimited use, I wasn’t about to say no. Alex and I rushed back to the room and tried drying ourselves off, when I noticed that it had stopped raining and there was actually a rainbow over the valley. Nice. I think God just wanted to watch us run in the rain.

We then went back downstairs to take advantage of the WiFi. It was then that my parents phoned me, panicking, wondering which other hotel I had gone to. Eish.

The guys were playing some card games and then decided to pull out some Gambit from the X-Men moves by throwing cards at each other. They were actually pretty good, but it got a little crazy at one point, with the girls being attacked too.

After chatting a little with Melissa, another Australian, and a couple other people, I decided to head to bed. We didn’t have a decent enough curtain so it was a while before it actually got dark. I was really happy that I didn’t need my travel adapter in order to charge my cellphone either, just like in Holland, as in Europe they use the same 2-pin plug points that we use in South Africa. It really saved me the hassle, and was one less thing to worry about misplacing since I knew I’d need my adapter when I got back to London.

Alex had already passed out, and I don’t think it was too long before I did, too.


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