Friday, 13th/Saturday, 14th September 2019 – Home to Boppard and Oberwesel, Germany
Early in the afternoon, after handing off some outstanding work to a colleague, we set off across country to Hull to catch the overnight P&O ferry to Rotterdam, stopping on the outskirts of Hull to buy a flat (please don’t ask; the short version is it got complicated and our vendors suddenly insisted on the Wednesday that we really had to exchange contracts that week – and no bank will let you transfer that amount of money over the phone or online, you have to go in)!
Despite hanging around the bank for some time, we made it onto the boat good and early and promptly found that P&O’s website had once again sold me two cabins instead of just the one I wanted, which didn’t become obvious until we went to what was supposed to be a premier cabin and found it wasn’t. A trip to the reception desk and it turned out we had two keys, for two cabins, and it was the other one that was the one I thought I’d booked. The charming man who sorted it all out gave me the HQ contact details and a short phone call later they agreed to refund the standard cabins. The ease with which this was agreed suggests it’s a regular thing… maybe someone needs to reprogramme the UI sometime soon so that when you opt for an upgraded cabin it removed the one you started out with, rather than requiring you to backtrack and actually physically clear the field yourself!
As we usually do, we had dinner booked in the Brasserie rather than dealing with the scrum that is the “all you can eat” buffet on the grounds that we don’t need that much food. It’s fair to say that the menu in the Brasserie seems to have been dumbed down yet again, so we struggled to find anything that appealed apart from the fish options. I really don’t want a 16oz steak thank you! Even between us we’d struggle to get through that amount of meat, and burgers hold little appeal at the best of times, so we opted to share a charcuterie plate, and then ordered the sea bream and the salmon. By the time we’d worked through that, we couldn’t manage dessert so we ordered the cheese and packed it up to take away with us. It would be useful on the nights we were self catering, and we weren’t going to get a refund if we didn’t eat all three courses, so we figured we might as well!
The following morning’s breakfast was very limited in terms of options, so we went for the continental basket of rolls and pastries and made sandwiches for later in the day out of the rolls we didn’t want to eat straight away. And then we went to the car when called only to find it wouldn’t start. Dead as a dodo. This is obviously something else P&O are used to, because a young deckhand was sent off to fetch a heavy-duty jump starter, and withing seconds had fired the thing up. We weren’t sure of the cause, though I had a suspicion that I’d left the portable fridge plugged in and over the course of 14 hours on the boat it had drained the car battery, but just in case we decided not to stop until we reached the hotel. That way, if it was anything more sinister we’d be better placed to get it dealt with. So four and a half hours flat out through the Netherlands and down into Germany, not stopping for anything at all. I really wouldn’t want to do that again, is all I’m saying.
When we parked up, I switched the engine off, waited ten seconds, and tried to switch it on again. It promptly started, so it looked like it had been an own goal, though not a serious one. We happily unloaded the appropriate bags at the lovely, quiet, modern and very comfortable Landgasthof Eiserner Ritter, just on the outskirts of the town of Boppard, within sight of the Rhine, though not on it. The restaurant was highly rated, and looked delightful, but we had a booking to participate in the annual “Rhein in Flammen” event starting from Oberwesel that night. In effect this is a light and fireworks extravaganza, held in several locations on the Rhine throughout the year. A number of tourist boats proceed in convoy up and down the river, all their lights turned on, and the scenery on the side of the river is also lit up, and then they all moor up and a massive firework display entertains everyone, accompanied by music. It’s something I’d wanted to do for some time, and realising we were going to be in the right place at the right time, had managed to get tickets for a seated dinner onboard the “Rheingold”.
As all of this coincided with the annual wine festival in Oberwesel as well, so we got ourselves cleaned up, organised, and headed out to look around the town and have a glass or two of local wine (this is the Mittelrhein wine region by the way). It helps that the Upper Rhine Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site (the 65km stretch between Bingen, Rüdesheim und Koblenz) packed with gorgeous towns full of medieval half timbered buildings, old city walls, and dramatic castles. Oberwesel didn’t disappoint in that respect, with towers, walls and a massive hospital that dates from some time around the 1300s originally but is now apparently a specialist musculo-skeletal clinic that stretches over several blocks and still has its original chapel attached.
Having snagged what appeared to be the last car parking space in Oberwesel, we set off on foot to find the Tourist Information office to collect our boat tickets and our free wine glasses (needed for the wine festival). It was a glorious day, the weather warm and the skies a brilliant blue, so stopping for a glass of chilled white wine seemed like a brilliant idea. The main street was packed with stalls, and we soon found one we liked the look of, round the corner from the market square where a traditional brass band was playing less-than-traditional music with great enthusiasm. we didn’t see any sign of the 2019 Weinhex (wine witch) which Oberwesel has instead of the more usual Wine Princess or Wine Queen, though I’m sure she was around somewhere. We bought wine from Weingut Goswin Lambrich who are about as local as you can get, and were happy to have our glasses usefully filled.
After that we decided that rather than be saddled with carrying the glasses around all afternoon and evening we’d drop them off at the car and then take a wander through the streets to see what there was to see. The town itself has a long history. Many towns along the Rhine started out as celtic settlements, and Oberwesel is no exception, and of course it was then taken over by the Romans, who set up a horse-changing station and a hostel. It later became a Frankish royal holding with a royal estate, passing from Emperor Otto I to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg in 966. In 1220, Emperor Frederick II made Oberwesel a free imperial city, and it eventually joined the Rhenish League of Towns (Rheinischer Städtebund), before being handed over to the lordship of the Electorate of Trier in 1309, a situation that continued until secularization after the French Revolutionary Wars in 1802. As has so much of the region, it’s had a lively history. In 1689, in the Nine Years’ War, it was destroyed by soldiers of the First French Empire. In 1794 it was occupied by French Revolutionary troops and in 1802 was annexed by France. After the Congress of Vienna, Oberwesel became, along with the rest of the Rhine’s left bank, Prussian.
The walls were started in 1220, work that was concluded in the mid 14th century, and included 16 towers, of which several are still in existence. A clamber on the walls, despite wearing wildly unsuitable shoes for such behaviour, was pretty satisfying, but we skipped the museum as there was only 20 minutes left till closing time, and that would have just been unsatisfying. And then it was time to go and find the landing stage for our boat. On the way we stopped for a second glass of wine, only to find we had to buy two more wine glasses as well! So now we had 4 and we were still carrying 2 of them around. Luckily, I had a large bag with me, so we slipped them in there and I hoped I wouldn’t break them during the evening.
There was a massive scrum on the landing stage, so we hung back but somehow still ended up getting on board well ahead of most people, just by not pushing but sidling… it didn’t matter because our tables were pre-designated anyway, and so Lynne and I got the window seats. We ended up sitting with a lovely Indian family who had come up from Frankfurt, and a less than lovely trio of grumpy Russians, who didn’t seem to be enjoying anything about the event. The boat left pretty promptly at 6pm, and glided up river and then down a couple of times, while we had the dinner that was included in the price (a place of pork fillet, in a mushroom sauce, with some potatoes and “seasonal vegetables” which was actually just romesco cauliflower – it was less than inspiring but the food really wasn’t what we were there for so I guess it was alright – the vegetarian option the Indian family had looked a lot better though).
If you wanted dessert you had to pay extra for it, so we settled for a local rose wine, and drank that while the scenery drifted past, castle after castle, vineyard after vineyard.
As dusk fell, the ships all lit up although sadly due to a technical issue the lights along the riverside didn’t work, so there was no spectacular illumination there. There was a very dramatic moonrise though, the beginnings of which can be seen here just behind the ridge in the middle of the photo. It took scant minutes to rise, but was really special as it did.
There followed a mad rush onto the top deck as the boat moored up, the music started, and the fireworks kicked off in fine style. It was a bit of a scrum up there, and one or two people refused to let anyone past them, even if there was space beyond, which was mildly annoying for a few seconds. However, the real interest was in the sky and it was a really fine display, accompanied by 1990s soft rock music for some reason!
Afterwards we finished our wine as the boat (one of 35 taking part) returned to the landing stage, and then walked back to the car to find we’d got really lucky, because the road was blocked off by the fire brigade for some reason, but our car was the right side of the barriers. It was back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep, happy and entertained. Would I play €65 a head again? Maybe, maybe not. I think you could probably see the fireworks just as well from the river bank, but it was an experience and it was fun.