We stumble out of bed, rubbing our eyes, and search for the alarm’s off button at 5:30 in the morning. Feels like we just went to sleep. Packing our bags we take one last look around the room to see if we left anything behind, probably, but we don’t know what. We open the door and start our walk to the train station.
We’ve poured over train schedules time and time again. We’ll still end up frustrating train employees as we bombard them with questions. We’re on a journey off the typical tourist map, probably why few people we meet along the way speak English. We want to find a small border town, Waldniel, where Kevin’s grandfather was born in 1904. We have to switch trains a few times, take a bus, and hike a bit to get there.
When Kevin’s grandpa was young he used to smuggle eggs and tobacco across the Belgium border by bicycle. Between the two World Wars he came through the port at Ellis Island. Today we walked through the streets of Waldniel thinking about how he had come from here all the way to the United States when he was a brave 23 years old. He probably had a tough time communicating with people in his new home.
We stopped to take photos of a pretty church. A man talked to us at length in German until he realized we didn’t understand a word he said. He pointed to the door and told us we could go inside to look around. It was a stunning Catholic church with high stained glass windows.
Looking for a bathroom, we went to the library next. After finding out Kevin’s “opa” was from this town, the librarian called and walked us down the street and around the corner to speak to the local historian. He opened up his museum and took us on a guided tour of a typical Waldniel home from when Grandpa was little. He spoke very little English and we spoke even less German, but through gestures and pigeon speak we got along fine.
Most people in the town used to have a room in their house for a large loom. When they finished weaving they would wash and lay the linens in the fields to bleach in the sun. He showed us how a kitchen used to look like, the many steps to washing clothes, and a small bed that two people would’ve shared.
We had fun imagining Grandpa in a home like this. At the end of the tour he gave us some glasses from a brewry that was no longer in operation. Saying our goodbyes we went to find lunch. We bought some delicious local cheese and bread, found a bench in the shade, and watched the townspeople. Afterwards we wandered a cemetery trying to find a familiar name, no such luck.
We wound our way back to the train station, foregoing a visit to Waldniel’s infamous asylum, supposedly one of the most haunted places in Europe. A castle was waiting for us.
The Rhineland of Germany is known for it’s beautiful castles, so of course we had to spend the night in one, Schonburg Castle in Oberwesel. Sitting high on a hill, that we had to trudge up with our backpacks, overlooking the Rhine, Schonburg Castle has been watching history pass by since at least the tenth century. 250 people, 24 families used to live herein the 14th century. French soldiers left it in ruins in 1689, but it was rebuilt. Luckily for us, today it is a hotel and restaurant.
Our room in one of the towers was amazing. We felt special. We would stand on the balcony surveying our land thinking we were the king and queen.
We even had a hidden room behind the bookcase, the bathroom. Awesome!
We were told that they had a table waiting for us when we arrived, so we hurried to wash up and meandered to the dining room. It was a very fancy dinner. Mom would be proud that we remembered to eat with the outer silverware first and put our napkins on our laps.
In the morning we wandered around a fantastic garden and wished that we could stay longer.
Hiking back down to Oberwesel we bought tickets for a ferry on the Rhine. We watched jousters practicing for a medieval festival, fed some geese, eyed boats plying the water as we waited to board.
Then we spent two hours “oohing” and “ahhing” at the quaint towns and magnificent castles we passed along the way to Rudesheim.
Rudesheim was like a Walt Disneyish kitschy version of a German village.
Our traveling shoes seemed to have pulled us back in time here in Germany.