DAY 19 in Cochem, Moselkern & Beilstein, Germany:
Aka. the only day our helmets actually came into use.
On our second morning in Cochem, breakfast was provided by the hostel and we were blessed with the luxury of an incredible selection of homemade jams — apple, currant, quinces, wine grapes, strawberry, … I liked the wine grape jam while Miriam liked the currant one. To be fair, they were all delicious and made the decision-making so difficult. The entire breakfast set-up was so cute, the eggs (which weren’t part of our breakfasts) little faces drawn on them! A different expression for each one!
We rented a bike at the only bike shop in Cochem and rode over the bridge to the Con district on the right of the Mosel River, the Rhine’s peaceful little sister. Like most Mosel towns, Cochem grew up below its castle. Though it looks majestic — rising from a hill above town — Cochem’s castle is better admired from afar. This is where one can see the distinct style of Cochem buildings, with rising green hills that peak with the Cochem Castle. This 19th-century reconstruction is more fanciful than authentic. Originally constructed around 1000, Reichsburg Castle is unique that after centuries of neglect (much of the original castle was destroyed by the French in 1688), it was nearly completely restored in 1868 by a wealthy Berlin businessman, Louis Ravené. Ravené restored the castle to its former glory, if not more.
At the Cond district was where we met a street sweeper who misunderstood me when I said we were on our way to ‘Burg Eltz’. He understood ‘Beilstein’ and led us to the castle in Beilstein 10km away. It was only when we reached Beilstein when I thought something wasn’t right — not only was the castle not as big as it was described online to be, but there was no ‘1.3km hike’ involved to get to the castle. We realised then that we had cycled in the complete opposite direction (!!!) and decided to cycle 10km back to Cochem before continuing 18.1km to Burg Eltz. The cycle back was insane — we tried to make a shortcut through a deceivingly hilly region but called it quits with the hill before turning back at the 1km mark (the strain on our already exhausted muscles was too much to bear). The speed we built up during the downhill ride was probably one of the most exhilarating moments of the entire trip.
No regrets though, for this misled path led us to life-sized chess games, pretty swans, blankets of vineyards (where we managed to ‘ride’ a machine farmers use to water, fertilise and harvest their grapes), outdoor campsites that looked just like out of a Disney movie, and cherry tree adventures (of course).
28.1km, an upset tummy for me, and a sore butt for Miriam later, we reached Moselkern, parked our bikes at Burg Eltz’s carpark had lunch on a bench surrounded by so much green, and took off on a 1.3km-hike up to the enchanting Burg Eltz.
Miriam and I joined a tour around the castle’s grounds…
We learned from our tour guide, who had a German with a mix of NZ accent, that thanks to smart diplomacy and clever marriages, Burg Eltz avoided wars and was never destroyed, remaining in the Eltz family for eight centuries. The castle is furnished throughout just as it was 500 years ago. That’s rare in castles. It was a comfortable castle for its day: 80 rooms made cozy by 40 fireplaces and wall-hanging Flemish tapestries (that were changed based on the season of the year). The Grand Gallery was where nobles met. A carved jester and a “rose of silence” look down on the big table, reminding those who gathered that they were free to discuss anything (“fool’s freedom” — jesters could say anything to the king; this reminded me of Feste from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), but nothing discussed could leave the room. The finely decorated master bedroom contains all the comforts of the time, including a toilet — one of 20 in the castle, each flushed (occasionally) by rainwater.
Hiking back downhill, we wondered what we’d feature if we were to have museums set up for our individual lives. The Museum of Miriam would feature the bunk bed she shared with her sister, her leotard and ballet shoes, a piano sold to her family by a Japanese man, her sticker books, her favourite bowl and Milo mug, her books, her medals and the buckets she used to bathe in as a young girl. The Museum of Natascha would feature my keychain and sticker collection, the wooden cot my Dad made for me when I was a baby, my favourite picture of my family (the one where my Mum still had curly hair, my Dad had those cool retro glasses, my sister was probably 1 and I was probably 2), my favourite bowl and definitely have my Spotify playlist playing in the background.
The cycle back was tough — Miriam’s butt alternated between periods of soreness and numbness and my legs gave way at certain points, but we made it back safe and satisfied. 60km, done! We topped our broccoli-lentil-rice bowl dinner with white pepper and it tasted just like childhood… our tummies welcomed seconds.