Castles, caravans & cargo

Apologies for getting into the alliteration again, but if there’s one thing I noticed about German Rivers, it’s these three c-words. Castles littered along the hillsides, caravan parks along the foreshores, and barges carrying cargo, which incidentally, from what I could see that wasn’t under tarpaulins, was mostly coal, shipping containers and cars. We also got a good look at allotments – I don’t know what they’re called in Germany, but I assume it’s a similar system to what I first found out about in The Netherands years ago – where urban apartment dwellers have a little block of land they can use for everything from growing vegies to boucing on a trampoline. I like the idea, it would make apartment living more bearable for me, to have that system in Sydney. Civilised!

On our last day in Germany we went to look at a castle from closer quarters. This was not as easy as you might think. German tourism seems more geared towards people with cars, and with more than a day or two at their disposal. If there is a website that offers detailed, comprehensive info about day tours to castles, I didn’t find it, even though I probably spent as much time researching what we’d do, as we spent traveling to & from, & touring the castle we finally went to. I’d also expected Frankfurt to have more information about castles, but again, if they have it, I didn’t find it. The focus is on the city itself, rather than the surrounding regions.

I narrowed it down to two options: Markesberg and Guttenberg, and decided on Guttenberg, mainly on the basis of the information that it had a falconry and a bird show. It was also one of the least damaged of the castles and was in the opposite direction to where we’d traveled the day before, so we’d be covering new ground (Markesberg is on the Rhine).

Overall, it was a good choice, for the view from the three different trains we had to catch was again beautiful, with the ubiquitous picturesque villages alongside the winding Neckar river, with the usual barges and watergates (locks). (I wasted a lot of pictures on locks the day before, I was so fascinated by them). There was also a beautiful walk from the station, alongside fields of rye fringed with red poppies and other wildflowers.

The castle itself was impressive, with all the right ingredients: metre thick stone walls, archery slits, a classic privy jutting out from the wall, a dizzying tower and a commanding view of surrounding territory, which included another castle on the opposite hill. The museum, housed in one of the smaller towers, boasted a rack, a collection of rare wooden books, each made from and showcasing a different plant, and some ancient guns, the wooden butts as thick as telephone poles. There was also a collection of carved wooden trophy-style stags heads, a number of real, stuffed trophy heads, and numerous engravings of hunting by famous 18th C engraver Johaan Ridinger. I wondered if there are still stags in the surrounding forests. Somehow I doubt it.

I resolved that one day I’d come back to visit Guttenberg and other German castles at a more leisurely pace – and with someone who could join with me in savouring every moment. To be fair, ActionMan did spend a bit of time looking through the museum, but he’s more in the business of fast impressions than deep absorption – at least when it comes to historical stuff. He was more interested in the collection of birds of prey which were on display in the castle moat. Once again, he grabbed the camera and took off. He has some great pix of some quite sinister looking owls (online soon).

The Bird Show however, was disappointing. Had we been fluent in German it would probably have been at least informative & judging by the laughs, entertaining. But we aren’t. I wasn’t expecting it to be in English, but I was expecting it to be more visually engaging. Perhaps someone will correct me, but I think the Taronga Zoo bird show in Sydney is very entertaining without requiring the audience to understand much of what’s being said. Plenty of action & movement, and a flock of white doves swooping low over the crowd provides wow factor from the word go. The Guttenberg Bird Show had perhaps 10 minutes worth of winged action within about 75 minutes of lecture.

After patiently waiting for more excitement than an eagle snapping a dead chicken out of the air could provide, ActionMan resorted to the i-pod in a corner. Ok, that bit of action was exciting. We just wanted more. Unfortunately we were sitting in a spot from which there was no way of exiting without the whole crowd seeing us. I’m sorry to say I preferred boredom over embarrassment, but it did mean we missed the early train and didn’t get home until around 8.30.

This was another night of kebab for him and Pad Thai for me, but we did have a delicious lunch at Guttenberg, which satisfied my feelings that I should have one authentic German meal before we left. Apart from yummy pastries and cheese and salad rolls from the bakeries that are on every corner, we’d basically been living off anything but ‘German’ food: pasta, kebabs, Thai and Indian. ActionMan had a curry at Guttenberg but I had herb-crumbed lamb steaks with veg & potatoes – very tasty. Followed by such a large serving of ice cream with hot raspberries and whipped cream that I thought I’d space-warped back to the USA. It was a tough job, but between us we finished it off.

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