We like to stop at a supermarket when we leave a city and stock up on food supplies for lunch. But it was a religious holiday in Germany and everything was closed. I made us some sandwiches at the breakfast buffet, stuffed them in the pocket of my bike jersey, and snuck out. We didn’t have to worry as we would be on a popular cycling trail, crowded with families and tourists, local and foreign.
Getting out of Mainz was easy as we were near the bridge that crossed the Rhine. We would be in Germany all day today because the river is solidly within German borders at this point. And we only had to bike about 35 miles to our accommodations in Bacharach.
The bike path is still very flat but the hillsides are closing in. At points where the river narrows the ships have to increase power to struggle their way up the flowing water. Vineyards cover the slopes making a mosaic like pattern.
Rudesheim was clogged with motorcycles, cars, pedestrians, and cyclists (but mostly motorcycles). The ancient towers and landmarks were flying Harley-Davidson flags and motorcyclists were clad in black leather and American flag helmets. Apparently they were all perfectly content to sit in a traffic jam and rev their motors. We stayed on the bike path and made our way to the ferry to cross back over. Two ferries cross crossed each other as they brought more people, cars, and motorcycles to join the already overwhelmed crowd in Rudesheim, the second most visited tourist site in Germany. It was so crowded that the cars could not even drive off the ferry. When we finally got to the other side of the Rhine a huge line of sacrificial tourists were waiting in line to join the madness on the other side.
We met Florian, from Frankfurt, who had just started his bike vacation that would terminate in Copenhagen. He told me that he used GPS to take the flattest route and that he would never climb higher than 295 meters on his entire route. He was friendly and obviously enjoyed telling us about the sites and we were sorry to part paths with him.
The hillsides got steeper, castles littered the slopes, barges chugged, and trains roared by on both sides of the river. It was impossible to become bored on this section. Then we arrived in Bacharach, and I was totally amazed.
The old fortification wall was adjacent to the railroad. Every hundred meters or so, an arched tunnel would lead away from the river, under the tracks, and into another world of close buildings and cobblestoned streets. High above on the hillside a Roman fort rose five stories into the sky. Near the fort stood the skeleton of a cathedral that had burned a century ago. Higher still, a castle that is now a hostile could be accessed by hiking path. Vineyards laced the hillsides, the sun illuminated the roof tops, and a cool breeze helped make the hiking easier.
While we hiked, Ginny interviewed Claudia Schwartz of the Romantic Rhine travel bureau. she lead us through a narrow alley that we would have never noticed. True to form, I fell a little behind because I am the tour photographer. When I emerged from the alley Tom, Ginny, and Claudia had vaporized into thin air. I walked a bit in each direction looking for them before I noticed another hidden alley up the steps on a small veranda. Sure enough, and as usual, Tom had been sent back to fetch me.
The hotels all seem to have excellent restaurants and ours was no exception. We met Andrea, the owner and cook of the Rhein Hotel, when we arrived as he was leaving to go wind surfing (it was windy again today). that evening he would cook us fantastic meal, pork, white asparagus, and potatoes with Hollandaise sauce. At the adjacent table two of the local winemakers met for their weekly gathering. Andrea and his wife would join them when the dinner time rush was over.