Ginny’s travel contacts in Europe have been very kind to us. Claudia, of Romantic Rhine, purchased us a trip on a tour boat down the Rhine from Bacharach to Koblenz. We were a little sad when we could see cyclists on the riverside bike path but we knew we had to make up some time and distance (and we will have to do it again next week). But it is a great way to see the sights. I have not yet grown tired of castles, barges, trains, vineyards, and churches and that pretty much describes our boat trip. The mountains closed in trying to choke the mighty Rhine but the river just got deeper and the current faster.
In Koblenz we immediately rode the short distance to the confluence of the mighty Rhine and the smaller Mosel. There is a giant statue of Kaiser Wilhelm there, the guy who invented Germany. Then we went looking for a bike shop. The Garmin took us pretty much directly to the closest shop. They did not have time to fix the derailleur on Ginny’s bike. And I had to explain to them the difference between a Schrader valve and a presta valve. Twice. I might not be able to spell it, but I know what the difference is.
A little frustrated, we hung out in front of the shop, blocking the sidewalk, while I replaced my slowly leaking rear tube (it was a small sliver of metal, barely visible). A cyclist heard us lamenting and she came across the street and said “Hey, where are you guys from?” Laura Tyson is from New Jersey, married to a German, and living in Koblenz. She would be our road angel today.
While I repaired my tire, Ginny and Laura talked. Eventually, Laura led us to a bigger, better, smarter bike shop. Wouldn’t you know that we cycled right by it but couldn’t tell it was a bike shop because every store in Europe has bikes in front of it. I checked my Garmin again, and even it did not know it was a bike shop.
We got the bike fixed and Laura took Ginny to a book store, and then another, and purchased an English version of a Mosel bike route book. I guarded the bikes, ever more vigilant now since our incident at the train station a few days ago. Then I heard the unmistakable Aussie accent. “Hay mate, are you headed up the Rhine?” It was Andrew Gilly and he, his wife, son, and daughter are cycling the entire Rhine, from Rotterdam to Switzerland. Andrew had passed through Koblenz earlier and he had to hitch-hike back to get his wife’s bike repaired. She had stopped to take a picture of a castle (go figure) and the daughter, probably staring at the same castle, plowed into her. No injuries. Andrew was looking for an upriver cyclist to carry a message to his wife that he would be there in a couple of hours.
Laura showed us the grocery store, we got dinner, snacks and breakfast, and struck out south on the Mosel. I like it. It is not the huge mighty Rhine, but it is pleasant, and the terrain rolls a little bit. The bike path cuts through the small villages which come rapidly. The vineyards hang tenaciously to the hillsides and close to the path. After just a few miles there were no more boats, less vehicle traffic, and less trains.
Tonight we are camping on a small island on the Mosel accessed by a rough cobblestoned causeway. We are surrounded by RV’s and large tents. One huge group has a television set up inside their tent and is watching the Swiss-Italy game and cooking giant sausages on a fire.
The patriarch of the group, Günther (please put the two little dots over the ‘u’, I don’t know how to do it on my iPad) invited us to watch the game. Tom and Ginny were probably wise to go to bed. I sheepishly approached the tent and sat down with the young folks, Marcus, Kai, and Fabienne. Marcus is an electrical engineering student at university. He spoke of the difficulty of learning technical engineering terms in English. Kai is a management apprentice for a large food company and is Fabienne’s boyfriend. I never got to ask Fabienne what she did, but she was charming, helpful, and inquisitive. Günther (the gentleman who invited us) is Fabienne’s father.
They explained to me that the gathering is a family reunion that they hold every year at the this time. Marcus brought me a Kolsch beer. Then he brought me a shot of anise. He is not a Kolsch fan so we switched to the local beer, Bitburger. And so it went. Eventually the tent was crowded with family and friends. Günther introduced me to his wife, Monica (he referred to her as his wedding present) who was just as fun as he was. She taught me how to lock arms and drink a shot which I had to practice several times and then repeat with the other guests. I can not remember all their names so I hope they post a comment to go with the group photo. Günter and I sat shoulder to shoulder and talked politics and philosophy. He owns an auto repair business in Cologne.
I only know one phrase in German. It was taught to me by my friend Ivan Kapra, who is married to Stephanie, a German citizen. (Ivan and Stephanie lived in Germany for a few years and now reside in Milford, CT). Monica was being funny, and told me she had to go to the bathroom, and would be right back to drink more shots. I explained to her that I knew one German phrase, and everyone in the tent listened closely as I had been murdering spoken German all night. Carefully I stated “See in zee bitter, du hosa und du unterhosa aus” And, luckily, they all began to laugh. The phrase Ivan had taught me was one that would be used by a doctor to a patient and translates as “if you please, the pants and the under pants off.” I really wish Tom and Ginny were there for that moment.
I finally extricated myself from the party that would continue for several more hours. When my German friends got their morning coffee, we would be pedaling down the road on the way to Trier, the oldest city in Germany.