Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mosel River Valley/Trier/Luxembourg

Day 1: Saturday, September 11, 1999 - Our plan was to drive to Koblenz, Germany where we would begin our trip up the Mosel River Valley. We left at 9:00 Saturday morning. We were going to leave earlier, but my wife and I stayed up late watching U.S. Open Tennis and the MTV Music Awards.

Mosel River Valley

Once we got on the road, we knew we should have left earlier. The traffic was terrible. At one point, I could see that we were in a traffic jam that stretched for miles and basically was not moving. So, we left the Autobahn and headed cross-country to our destination. We went through downtown Cologne, and basically didn’t know where we were until we finally saw another sign to the Autobahn. The traffic was not so bad at this point, and we made it to Koblenz before noon.

Before reaching Koblenz, we passed over the Mosel River on a very high bridge. The view was great, and you could see the ruins of several castles. After crossing, we took a road down to the river, and proceeded upstream. Within an hour, we came to one of the most famous castles in Germany, Burg Eltz.

Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz is about 800 years old. We took the tour, and got to see several rooms in the house. It was really fascinating to think that before Columbus discovered America, people were going about their business in this castle. It was situated on a hill, where it would have been difficult to attack. The kids were pretty well-behaved during the tour, because they were fascinated by a lot of what they saw. My son especially liked the displays of the weapons.

After leaving Burg Eltz, we continued up the Mosel. Most of the towns along the way were very old, and they were picture-postcard Germany. This is what most people envision when they think of Germany. The hills on either side of the Mosel are high (almost mountains), and most of them have grapes growing on them for wine production. Mosel wines are famous throughout Germany. The scenery was great, but the drive was very slow due to the winding roads and frequent towns. About 5:00 we pulled into Trier, Germany.

Trier is the oldest town in Germany. Its origin is estimated at 1300 B.C. During the time of the Roman Empire, it was an important Roman town, and many of the ruins are still there. We found the tourist information center, and I asked if it would be easy to find a hotel room. The guy laughed and said that this was high tourist season. However, had made a call and found us a room for about $90. We drove around and found the place, which was a very comfortable old room in a bed and breakfast. We had passed a Burger King coming into town, and we went back and tried to find it for the kids. No luck, so we ate Chinese food.

Day 2: Sunday, September 12 - We were up before 7 to see and explore Trier. We had all had a rough night, because our bed made a horribly loud noise anytime you moved, and my son had a coughing fit during the night. He refused to take medicine, so we had to let him cough and keep us up for about an hour.

At about 8:00, we went to the Porta Nigra. It was the old town gate during Roman times. At that time, there was a wall all around the city. It is a very impressive structure, probably 8 stories high with very high arches. It had lots of rooms up high where arrows could be rained down upon attackers of the city. I couldn’t believe this gate was 1700 years old. The best part was that it was early on a Sunday morning, so we were the only ones there despite the weather being fantastic. My son and daughter spent most of the time chasing pigeons. We left just in time, as some tour buses started pulling up.

Porta Nigra

From there, we went to the old Roman baths. We wanted to see the baths, the amphitheater, and an old Roman bridge. Our guidebook said that Trier is also the birthplace of Karl Marx, but we didn’t bother tracking that down. We went to the baths, and paid to tour the area. There were lots of underground passages that the kids were fascinated with. It was like playing in a series of caves. We spent more time there than planned, and decided to skip the other things on the agenda and head to the country of Luxembourg, just 6 miles away.

We left Trier, and actually drove across the Roman bridge on the way out of town. It was incredible to think that we could drive across a 1700-year old bridge.

Our plan was to see the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg. First, we had to find a place to eat in Germany so I wouldn’t need to exchange money across the border. So, on the border of Germany we found a restaurant and ate before proceeding to the cemetery.

The cemetery was easy to find. My wife and I were just blown away. There were 5,500 white crosses there with the names of people killed during WWII. They were killed mostly during the Battle of the Bulge, where Hitler made his last great offensive strike as the Americans were closing in on Germany. There were a total of about 78,000 Americans killed in this battle. The battle began around Christmas 1944, so we saw a lot of graves of people buried on my birth date, as well as Christmas and New Year’s Day. We saw a lot of graves of people from Oklahoma and Texas.

We also saw the grave of the commander of the 3rd Army, General George S. Patton. For about a half hour, we were the only people in the entire cemetery. It was strange to look around and see that we were alone in this large cemetery. I tried to explain the significance to the kids, but they are still too young to understand. The experience really brought home the tragedy of WWII for both of us. There were stories there of some of the individuals buried there, and they were very difficult to read. As we were leaving, I saw two older American men sitting on a bench talking. I wondered if they had fought there. A tour bus full of Americans also pulled up just as we were leaving.

As we were leaving, I saw that there was a German cemetery just down the road. I wanted to go see it, but the kids were fussing so we skipped it. We drove through downtown Luxembourg City, before turning north toward Belgium. The countryside in northern Luxembourg and Belgium was very hilly and wooded. This was the exact location of the Battle of the Bulge. I read that you can still see craters from bombs in certain places.

In northern Belgium, we hopped back on the highway and headed home. It took us less than three hours to get home from leaving the cemetery. My wife told me after coming home that she was pleasantly surprised by our weekend. She didn’t realize that there was so much to see within three hours of our house. I told her that there is a lot more, because we haven’t even been to Amsterdam yet, just 2 hours away.

When we got to our house, there was a parade going around our neighborhood. That weekend was dedicated to a certain festival that each little town has every year. It dates back to the time that each town had its own militia to protect it. There are shooting contests, and people parade around in medieval costumes (our little village, Angermund, was 800 years old). We watched the parade, and then flopped down in the house for a little rest. Amsterdam would be up next.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am completely puzzled

'so we wouldn't need to change money?'

All of that part of Europe is in the Euro, no?

Anyways in any border region of Europe I have ever been in, the shops and restaurants take the local money from across the border. The exchange rate is horrible, though.

The one thing that still catches me out in Europe is that the small places often (usually?) don't take plastic. On the prudent principle that why should other customers pay for my convenience?

Worse, with Chip and Pin, sometimes my cards just don't work.

Europe will be like one country some day, but not while I am still alive.


9:02 AM  
Blogger Robert Rapier said...

That was just before the Euro debuted. It was still a pain traveling from country to country. It would be a lot more convenient today.



9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

I just came across your story by accident and I found it very interesting.
I was stationed just outside of a little town on the Mosel River called Cochem from 1980-1983.
We did several small & large trips just as you did back then.
Of course when I was there, it was still W. Germany.
Back then and even now there are still a few towns where Americans can't stop in, but that's Ok. To each his own.
I am a big WWII & history fan as I'm sure you are, and it was so cool to live and travel there during my 3 years living there.
The wine on the Mosel is World Class and I still prefer it even to this day.
I have several good little Local stories that the Germans told me and some that I encountered myself.
I still think of Cochem as my 2nd home away from home, even 24 years later.
I will finally be able to revisit there this year in 2007 after 24 years away.
I'm really looking forward to it and will be travelling in many of the areas that you mentioned in this story.
Anyway, sorry for the rambling and I enjoyed your story very much.

Randy S.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Robert Rapier said...

I was stationed just outside of a little town on the Mosel River called Cochem from 1980-1983.

Hi Randy,

Thanks for stopping by. My best friend was in the Air Force over there for many years. He was stationed at a little town near Luxembourg for several years (it is on the tip of my tongue) and then he spent quite a few years at Ramstein. I visited him there several times.

Cheers, Robert

6:37 PM  

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