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0,0 02.04.2018 | Stephen M. Moselle + Saar by Bike + Boat

I want to do it again!

Overall:
This is a lovely tour and, without any “watch-the-clock” days, is more relaxed than the Neckar / Rhine tour, with which it can be combined, staying on the boat for two weeks, to double the cycling enjoyment.

Compared to the Neckar / Rhine tour (Bad Wimpfen to Koblenz) which I had done the previous week, the Mosel tour seems somehow more intimate: it’s a smaller river without the constant passage of freight shipping. The Rhine is dotted with castles, indicating the desire to control and dominate; the Mosel is more economical with its castles (though these may be more accessible than the ones on the Rhine), but family-owned vineyards predominate, with colourful stories behind the wine of each locality; the Rhine has some large towns, but on the Mosel tour, with the exception of Trier, you will be staying in pretty little villages.

In the last few days of the tour (in the Koblenz to Saarburg direction) the region’s connections to Roman times became very apparent, with Roman sites, in surprisingly good condition, to visit each day. Those interested in things Roman would find much fascination in this tour.

Highlights

  • Colourful little towns en route and at the nightly stopping points.
  • Trier.
  • Bernkastel-Kues.
  • Cochem.
  • Attentive crew and service provided on MS Patria.
  • Company of Fiona, from Australia, and Binte and Frank from Denmark.

Niggles:

  • Shower control in my cabin too easy to nudge by accident.
  • Card system used for purchasing refreshments on board.

Regrets:

  • Not booking the wine tasting event in Bernkastel-Kues.
  • Not requesting a bike WITHOUT a coaster brake.

Rad & Reisen’s local agent: SE-Tours.

Date of my Tour: 2016-07-23/30 (7 nights / 8 days)

Direction: Koblenz to Saarburg

Options Chosen:

  • Single Cabin, on the Main Deck.
  • Travel documents in English.
  • Vineyard and Roman wine-press tour in Piesport. (Best for German speakers)
  • Walking tour of Trier. (Highly recommended)

Transfers:
As far as arriving for the tour is concerned, I had already arrived, having been on the boat the previous week for the Bad Wimpfen to Koblenz tour of the Neckar and Rhine rivers (highly recommended — if you choose your weeks carefully you can combine both tours for two weeks of cycling instead of one). Because of congestion of tour boats, at short notice, Patria had moored across the Rhine from Koblenz, adjacent to Ehrenbreitstein. There’s a railway station very close by, so not so inconvenient to reach (or leave, for those departing), but Fiona told me her tour company had not been able to tell her of the changed mooring place! How she managed to find the boat, I do not know! (I think she happened to spot the “blue boat” from across the river and asked her taxi to take her there!)

At the end of the tour, Saarburg railway station is about a hundred metres further on across the bridge from the boat’s mooring place. Everyone I know of simply trundled their cases across and did not bother with taxis. As far as tickets are concerned, the station is not staffed, but there’s a ticket booth in which you can have a video link, speaking in English, with a (real) person who will give advice and talk you through the purchase of a suitable ticket.

I had bought my ticket over the Internet at home and, in retrospect, I saw I had made a mistake in choosing my destination. I wanted to go to Frankfurt (M) Airport (“Flughafen”), code FRA, and my flight was from Terminal 2. The drop-down list which was presented to me on the Deutsche Bahn website had a specific option for Terminal 2, so I selected this and bought my ticket accordingly. The ticket I had purchased required me to take the train from Saarburg to Trier, then take a bus from outside Trier railway station to Frankfurt Airport. The bus dropped me off right outside T2 (just as I had selected), but the whole experience of the bus was dreadful, from crowds of people thronging to catch it, everyone-for-himself style, the unhelpful driver (“You’re in Germany; only speak German!”), being crammed-into the seat with luggage on your lap and the horrible sensation of seeing the bus was going to Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, with both the worry that it might not go on to Frankfurt (M) Airport, and the converse fear that, if it did, my luggage in the hold might have been turfed-off the bus while I was still on it. Fortunately, everything worked out alright, but I could have simply been on a train with a much more relaxed journey. From the drop-down list I should have choosen “Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbf” (Frankfurt Airport Long-distance railway station), which is right in the airport, and then used the free shuttle buses at the airport to get across to Terminal 2.

The Boat:
Photographs in the Reception showed Patria to be an old boat; at least, parts of its hull are old, but it’s been completely rebuilt and extended for its current purpose and is unrecognisable from its earliest incarnation. It has features you wouldn’t be aware of until you see them: for example, jib cranes on either side which retract into the superstructure; the mast on the foredeck which rotates backwards for the evening ceremony of taking down the flags (yes! — I happened to see it one evening). And a couple of propellers on the foredeck as well, for when the boat needs to become a helicopter (although ship’s engineer, Denis, assured me “No, they are only decorative”).

The Reception, located on the Upper Deck, is the passengers’ access area to all parts of the ship: forwards at the same level, to the ship’s lounge; rearwards through a corridor, to the passenger cabins on this deck. A stairwell (equipped with chair lift) leads down from the Reception area to the Restaurant, located on the main deck immediately below the lounge. A second stairwell (no chair lift) adjacent to the first leads down from Reception in the opposite direction to the passenger cabins on the main deck. Although both are on the main deck, there’s no direct route from main deck cabins to Restaurant: you have to come up the stairway (no chair lift) to the reception area and down a different stairway (with chair lift) to the restaurant. Finally, two stairwells, one on each side of the ship, lead up to the sun deck and wheel house.

This arrangement puts space at a premium in the Reception area and a single person standing at the Reception desk can effectively block-off the route to or from the stairs down to the main deck cabins. Similarly, it doesn’t take many people to choke the route to the Lounge. All this was very evident when checking in: the crew would clamber along the bannister rail to avoid having to barge past the crowd at the reception desk.

The system for purchasing refreshments on board is unwieldy. From Reception you obtain a card, across which have been printed a series of marks in rows denoting different monetary denominations. If you wish to purchase a drink, you have to produce your card (so you have to remember to have it on your person) and the waiter will then mark off as many positions on the card as are necessary to pay for the drink; so, if it costs, say, EUR 3.75, a EUR 2 mark on the top row, a EUR 1.50 mark on the next row, and a EUR 0.25 mark on the bottom row will all be crossed off. When all marks have been crossed off, you obtain another card from Reception. You may think this is a great scheme, for if you lose the card, there’s no record of how much you owe for your drinks ... except that, Reception has a record that you’ve had a card and need to settle-up and I suspect you would be charged for the full value it’s possible to accrue on the lost card.

For meals you’re assigned to a particular table, as far as possible with people whose chosen official language (English or German) matches your own (I shared a table with Fiona, from Australia and Frank and Binte from Denmark, adopting English for the week). Because I’d been on the boat the previous week, I was asked if I wanted to remain on the same table for the second week. I’d found myself “locked in” on that table, so I took the opportunity to chose a different one for the second week. This is especially important for the buffet breakfast, when you want to be able to move quickly when, for example, you spot a new batch of rolls has been brought out, or the crowd round the hot food has diminished. Evening meals are a sit-down affair and the menu (displayed on the noticeboard in Reception) rotates through a weekly cycle, except that is, if you were on the boat the previous week, in which case the chef, Petr, will prepare you something completely different so as not to repeat what you had before. I felt somewhat embarrassed to think the chef was cooking a separate meal solely for me.

Cabin:
Cabins on riverboats are always small by comparison with hotel rooms and Patria’s are a typical size. For single occupancy, plenty of room! There’s no radio or TV (of limited use anyway, though sometimes English-language services can be available) and Wi-Fi, switched on for relatively short periods of time, does not reach cabins (usable in the public areas only). I found my case squeezed in quite nicely under one of the beds. The bed itself I found a little short and I tended to sleep diagonally with my head sticking out just in front of the wardrobe door. The bathroom was OK with a couple of small annoyances: the shelf above the washbasin made it difficult to get my head over the basin and the protruding lever control on the shower would inevitably be nudged at some point, resulting in the settings suddenly changing. I was pleased to see the cabin cleaning staff didn’t bother with that nonsense of folding arrows in the toilet paper (I blame New York hotels for that complete waste of time; the punter then has to un-fold the thing and ends up with a crumpled sheet of paper instead of a pristine one), but they did normally insist on placing a sash diagonally across the duvet every day; it may look nice, but is just more faffing about for the passenger in the evening.

Cabins on the main deck (ie “downstairs” from Reception) are equipped with air-conditioning, but the windows do not open; conversely, those on the upper deck have windows which open but no air-conditioning. In hot July weather, those of us with air-conditioning were the happier guests. People unable to climb stairs would need to book a cabin on the upper deck because there’s a chair lift from this deck down to the restaurant, but no chair lift from the cabins on the main deck to the reception area through which you have to pass to get to practically everywhere else on the boat (and to embark/disembark).

The Tour Guide: Carsten
Carsten gave separate briefings in German and English to prepare for each day’s ride. He was several notches up from the previous week’s guide in effectiveness, enthusiasm and quality of information.

Route Navigation
Handed out at the first ride briefing:

  • Route Booklet.
  • Map Booklet.

As well as a written description, the Route Booklet included a page for each day’s ride showing a schematic representation of the route, with the river as a straight blue line across the page with lines of different types across this representing locks, ferries or bridges. Alongside the “river”, coloured circles represented each town, red ones indicating a recommended place of interest.

In the daily briefings, maps of main towns to be visited that day were distributed.

Bike:
My bike had a step-through frame with 7-speed gear hub (Shimano “Nexus”), V-brakes front and back plus a coaster (“back-pedal”) brake, battery-powered lights, mudguards, rear rack and propstand. A Klickfix handlebar bracket is fitted as standard and good quality single rear pannier bag and handlebar bag are supplied for use throughout the tour (mine were both VauDe). I had brought my own handlebar bag, but saw no reason to use it. The Klickfix accessory holder I had brought with me was a tooless fit onto the handlebar bracket on the bike and enabled me to mount my GPS in a convenient position. My only complaint about the bike concerns the coaster brake, which I’m not used to: I found it prevented moving the pedals to a convenient position for starting off and tended to engage when I didn’t mean it to, such as when changing gear (reduction in pressure on the pedals, or slight back-pedal to change gear on hub-geared systems) or when standing on the pedals in preparation for a bump. Unlike on my previous tour (Berlin to Stralsund along the River Oder), when I think I had been given a brand-new bike, the coaster brake on this bike had been bedded-in and was all too effective. I noticed not all bikes had the coaster brake and I would have been happier without.

Cycle Clothing
My chosen week was in July at the height of the season, so all that was required for cycling was a short-sleeved shirt, shorts, some sort of hat to protect from the sun, sunglasses and sunshield, with rain gear in the pannier bag. (I don’t recall any rain.)

Day 1 (Saturday): Koblenz
Officially, embarkation was from 16:00, though people could probably leave luggage on board before then. For myself, having been on board from the previous week, keeping the same cabin for the second week, I just made myself scarce for the day, visiting the castle of Ehrenbreitstein, very close to the boat’s landing stage (which was not its usual mooring place in Koblenz).

Day 2 (Sunday): Koblenz to Alken by boat; Cycling to Cochem(-Cond)
At breakfast time, the boat was supposed to depart, but I discovered members of the crew in a state of agitation, looking along the footpath adjacent to the landing stage. It turned out one of the Australian passengers, unable to sleep at the “wrong” time of day, had decided to go ashore for a walk, and had not returned.

When the boat did depart, because it had been moored on the Rhine rather than its usual place already on the Mosel, the crew allowed the current to carry it downstream until it was in a good position to make the turn into the Mosel, crowds of passengers on the sundeck keen to take photographs as we passed Deutches Eck.

On reaching Alken (on the Mosel’s right bank), it was time to take to our bikes. There’s always a lot of fussing about at the start of the first ride as people who haven’t ridden a bike in decades try to adjust to the experience and to the realisation the moment of truth has arrived — what have they let themselves in for? (The first evening meal on board generally sees the other side of this same coin: “I enjoyed it! It was actually a really good experience! I feel good from taking the exercise and there was so much to see and take in! You know, this could turn out to be a great holiday!”)

One of the highlights of the day was at Moselkern, where we had been told we could turn off the riverside path to cycle inland for 2 kilometres or so to reach a point from where we could follow a woodland trail to Burg Eltz. I did this. It is a 35-minute trek to the castle, but it is worth it, though the castle was very busy on a Sunday at the height of the season. Looking at the map, it looks like if you want to avoid the trekking, you can reach the castle’s car park with a 10 km cycle from a different turning-off from the river, which may actually be quicker.

At Cochem (the boat was actually moored on the opposite bank, at Cond), I had time before dinner to explore the town, which is highly recommended, and to find my way up to the Reichsburg castle on the slopes above. This is also well-worth visiting, although I arrived at a time after which much was closed. Not unexpectedly, there are good views of the valley from the castle.

Day 3 (Monday): Cochem to Zell
Despite it being high summer, there were impressive mists over the hills and castle in the morning, making it a necessity to go onto the sun deck for some photographs before breakfast. A couple of hours later, when setting off, the skies were completely clear.

First stop was the pretty little village of Beilstein, named the Dornröschen der Mosel (“Sleeping Beauty of the Mosel”), which is something of a tourist attraction, though with good reason: the village is attractive to look at, it’s a nice place to stop for refreshments and there’s St Josef Church and the castle, Burg Metternich (photograph of the view from here, looking down the river, on the web site), to visit.

Further on, passing through the village of (Eideger-)Eller at the start of a sharp bend in the river, the valley encroaches, giving some impressive views. I enjoyed the sights, though a bit further on again, the cycle track cuts into this, so there’s a wall alongside. Across the river the ruins Kloster Runie Stuben, near Bremm, come into sight.

A little while later, opposite Neef, where I had stopped to take photographs, Fiona came storming past. Later again, we were both at Alf-Bullay, now within striking distance of Zell. A few streets off the route in Alf we found the Restaurant im Ringhotel Bömers Mosellandhotel, where we stopped for a glass of wine. Back on the track a little further on, there’s a double-decker bridge across to Bullay from where it’s a clear run into Zell.

Zell seems rather smaller than Cochem, essentially only two or three streets following the track of the river, but attractively presented with vines arching across, flags, bunting and outdoor dining. In the middle, along the riverside road, there’s a statue of the Zeller Schwarze Katz, the black cat from which the local wine derives its name, perched on top of a barrel of wine, its back arched to protect the choicest vintage this town produces.

Day 4 (Tuesday): Zell to Bernkastel-Kues
For this day’s tour, the route booklet started “After a strengthening breakfast, you set off...” I can’t say I noticed anything different about the breakfast (uniformly excellent), nor could I see any reason for needing a more stregthening breakfast this day than on any of the others.

The first recommended stop was Pünderich, worth visiting for its carefully restored Mosel-Franconian half-timgbered buidings. Just before the village, on the heights opposite, could be seen Marienburg — I’m not sure if it should be described as a church or a castle — and the map showed down the slopes the other side lay the town of Alf which we had passed through the previous afternoon — a huge loop in the Mosel meant that, despite all the cycling we had done, we were now closer to Alf(-Bullay) than we were to Zell.

The next stop was Traben-Trabach, where we were encouraged to cross the bridge to the Traben side (left bank) to take in the Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture. (It was also a welcome tea stop!) The bridge itself has a notable gate (photograph on the web site — 1899, by Bruno Möhring, the notes said) on the Trabach side.

The day’s route offered an optional diversion to the village Kröv on the opposite (left) bank from the main route, principally for the purpose of stopping-off to sample its local wine, “Kröver Nachtarsch”, which we were told could be politely translated as “Kröv spanked-bottom”. The origin of the name is not certain, but it was speculated that a young lad may have received a good spanking after a forbidden sampling session. With a name like that, the detour was a must and I should have guessed I’d pass through the village to find Fiona already installed at a local hostelry, Weingut Müllen.

The bridge between Kinheim (worth stopping for some photos) and Kindel provided opportunity to return to the right bank, where, after a few kilometres, a huge high-level flyover construction came into view. Later, Denis, the engineer on Patria, told me this work had run into difficulties when it emerged the two sides were on different plates and subject to movement (though nothing of that on Wikipedia’s entry for the Hochmoselbrücke, which says it’s scheduled for completion in September 2018).

After dinner, there was an optional wine tasting and cellar tour (20:00 to 22:00). Having had a poor experience of the so-called “very special” covered wagon wine-tasting tour at Nierstein the previous week, I steered clear of this one. The reviews from those who attended showed it to have been in a different league, receiving hearty recommendations.

Instead, I used the evening to look round Bernkastel-Kues. The boat was moored on the Kues side of the river (the left bank); it has some grand buildings, but, to my mind, the half-timbered buildings of Bernkastel (on the right bank) are more picturesque and made the deeper impression. Its market square, very close to the river, is ample reward for the short walk along to the bridge connecting the two villages.

Day 5 (Wednesday): Bernkastel-Kues to Mehring
From the boat’s mooring on the Kues side of the river, the route goes back to the bridge across to Bernkastel, where, if you took the wine-tasting tour the previous evening, make a point of visiting the market place before continuing the ride.

I had booked the optional visit to the vineyard and Roman wine press at Piesport. There was a muddle in the instructions for reaching the village, which is on the other side of the river (left bank) from our cycle route. The schematic map showed a lock at Wintrich, a bridge at Piesport-Niederemmel and another bridge crossing back at Neumagen-Dhron; the cartographic map showed four bridges, the first I took to be to Minheim, not Piesport, then two from Niederemmel to Piesport and finally the Neumagen-Dhron bridge; the written instructions said “Cross the second bridge in Piesport-Niederemmel”. So I passed by the first bridge and peddled on, the cycle path now moving away from the river... After a while, I realised there was no “second bridge” and that I should have crossed at the earlier one.

Very few English speakers had booked the tour and apart from me, those who did backed out. It was a mistake to stick with it, for I understood very little Frau Franzen was telling her audience, though tour guide Carsten tried valiantly to give a running translation. One thing I did understand, though, was the philosophy of the Franzen family running the vineyard, that good wine should be for everyone, not just the rich, so they limit the price of their wine to EUR 10.00 per bottle.

Neumagen-Dhron, apparently the oldest wine growing village in Germany, was recommended as a stopping-off point for a glass of the local wine and for a replica of an old Roman monument of a wine ship. Frankly, I had a misconception about what to expect and was disappointed with what I found; until I checked with Wikipedia afterwards, I was in some doubt about whether I had seen the proper article at all.

Of all the towns we stayed at during the week, I found Mehring the least photogenic; apparently, it was heavily bombed during WW2 (it wasn’t clear why it should have been a target) and has been rebuilt in modern style; all nicely done, of course, but it means the town doesn’t have that same quaint appearance of, say, Bernkastel. (Right beside the mooring point, there’s a caravan site and one of the photographs on the web site shows Patria with a campervan just visible, so I think it must have been taken in Mehring.)

Just a short distance from Mehring is a Roman ruin known as Villa Rustica. I took the opportunity to cycle out to it before the evening meal. It’s located in a residential area on the right bank, so on the opposite side from Mehring itself and a little down river. It is worth visiting.

Day 6 (Thursday): Mehring to Trier
The ride from Mehring to Trier is relatively short, essentially just a morning’s cycling, giving plenty of time in the afternoon for visiting Trier, where there is plenty to see and do.

A few kilometres off the cycle route from Longuich is another Roman ruin, this one called Villa Urbana. It is well worth making the detour to visit it.

At Pfalzel, a few kilometres out of Trier, where the trail returns to the riverside having been away for a while, there was an opportunity to stop for a while, for an early lunch stop and to give Patria time to pass by.

The optional walking tour of Trier started from Porta Nigra. It’s some distance from the mooring point, so Carsten led the way, pointing out landmarks to note for making our way back afterwards. The tour was excellent. Afterwards, there was time in hand for some independent exploration, hence the need to know the way back to the boat.

Day 7 (Friday): Trier to Saarburg
This is a day of cycling “options” and “alternatives”! Choose one of these “options”:

  • Cycle along the Mosel to its confluence with the River Saar at Konz, then take this river and cycle directly to Saarburg.
  • Cycle along the Mosel to Wasserbillig in Luxembourg and then come back towards Konz to pick up the River Saar to Saarburg.
  • On reaching Saarburg, continue to Mettlach to visit the ceramics factory of Villeroy & Boch
And, on the River Saar come the “alternatives”:
  • Cycle from Konz to Saarburg (or Mettlach) on the left bank.
  • Cycle from Konz to Saarburg (or Mettlach) on the right bank, which involves taking an extra loop on the Old Saar river.

I did the second of the so-called “options”, and pretty much both of the “alternatives”, for, having taken the right bank to reach Saarburg, I found Patria had not arrived, so I cycled back down the other bank of the Saar until I saw Patria pass by, crossed over (at a lock a bit further along) and came back to Saarburg along my original route.

If you don’t cycle to Mettlach, for the Villeroy & Boch porcelain factory, the day’s cycling is quite short, giving a decent amount of time in the afternoon for exploring Saarburg. Rather than handing my bicycle back straight away, I used it to locate the railway station to establish exactly how to reach it and which platform my train would depart from the next morning. Other people from the boat were already there, doing much the same and purchasing tickets.

Then it was time to explore Saarburg, the castle, immediately above Patria’s mooring point (photograph on the web site), being the initial target. Before I reached it, however, a strange encounter occurred on the bridge over the Saar. The previous week, on the Bad Wimpfen to Koblenz tour, we had passed the Loreley Rock, where (according to legend) the siren voice of the Loreley maiden could be heard echoing round the rock. None of this happened for me there, but, here, on the Saarburg Bridge, I became aware of a siren voice lilting across the valley. For an instant I thought I must be going mad and, looking round, I could see only one other person on the bridge, a young woman in a flowing dress, walking in my direction. I allowed her to catch up and, as she drew near asked (in English), “Is that you making the sound?” It turned out she was an American music student, attending the “Saarburger Serenaden” music festival. So I experienced the Siren call after all!

Saarburg is a pretty town in the summer months, bedecked with flowers. Not surprisingly, the area along the tributary of the Saar which leads to the waterfall was busy with people enjoying the atmosphere and the warm July sun. A nice place to end the tour and to reflect on what a lovely tour it had been. I want to do it again!

Day 8 (Saturday): Saarburg
Essentially a day of good-byes and then travel!

Photographs
I’ve noticed several Travel Reports include photographs of the Reichsburg castle at Cochem and the web site includes some more, so I’ve avoided adding to their number.

Converesly, no one appears to have posted a photograph of the market place at Bernkastel(-Kues) (Day 4); even the web site shows only a sign hanging from one of the buildings in the square (the “Maßem’s” photograph), so this is my first photograph.

The city of Trier (Day 6) also appears to have been neglected, although there is a photo on the web site of Porta Nigra (in the background of the photograph of the couple having a glass of wine). Instead of this, then, I’ve chosen a picture from the gardens of the Kurfürstliches Palais (the Electoral Palace) with part of the Konstantinbasilika (Constantine’s Basilica, now the Evangelical Church) showing behind it.

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