The Middle Rhine section in Germany is considered the most romantic and is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Eurail Pass holders are entitled to free sailings on this route
After spending a couple of days in Cologne, it was time to move on! Our next stop was Heidelberg and, thanks to the Eurail Pass, the distance could have been covered in a little less than two hours by the high speed German ICE trains (www.bahn.com). But to make the journey more exciting we decided to take a combination of train and ferry. The initial plan was to take an ICE to Koblenz, Rhine cruise from there till Rudesheim and finally hopping on to a train to reach Heidelberg. The Rhine River is one of the most important rivers of Europe and the 130km long Middle Rhine valley stretch between Bonn and Bingen in Germany is considered its most “Romantic part” and has also been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This stretch is famous for its vineyards, quaint and traditional villages and more than 40 castles and fortresses from the Middle Ages.
We checked out early from our Cologne hotel and went to the market for some last minute shopping. Due to some confusion, we were lost in the market for a couple of hours and missed our train from Cologne and the subsequent ferry connection. Stranded in Cologne, we went about thinking of an alternative route. It suddenly struck that the faster train speed could be used to catch up with the same ferry further upstream. We zeroed on a small town called Bacharach, presuming that a smaller town would have the train station and ferry terminal located within walking distance of each other. Both the train and ferry were scheduled to reach the town at about the same time, but I was pretty confident that the five minute ferry halt would be sufficient for us to reach the terminal.
We rushed to the Cologne station and boarded the next available train to Bacharach which involved an interchange at Koblenz. The train reached Bacharach around three minutes behind schedule, we crossed over the desolate tracks, jumped over the fields and reached the road parallel to the Rhine River. The ferry had already arrived but with the final batch of people getting in we had little hope. In a desperate effort we waved and screamed to the crew, fortunately they saw us and waited before pulling the anchor. Running hand in hand, we made a truly romantic entry on a “Romantic” cruise, something usually seen only in movies. We flashed the Eurail pass to the crew and were welcomed onboard the ship. The ferry was operated by KD Rhine Company (www.kdrhine.com) and Eurail pass holders having Germany as one of the countries covered, are eligible for free sailings on the various ferries operated by the company between Cologne and Mainz.
The ferry was much better than I had expected with plush interiors and an exquisitely designed restaurant to sit back, relax and enjoy the delicacies on offer, though astronomically priced. We settled on an ice-cream (12 euro) which was indeed delicious with all the toppings of fresh fruits and cherries. There was a bar too at the other end of the ferry, the bartenders were extremely enjoyable characters and kept everyone entertained by their histrionics. The majority of our co-passengers were mature couples, though quite a few youngsters could also be spotted. We finished with exploring the interiors and we went straight to the deck to have a better view of river and its surroundings.
We passed along charming towns with half-timbered houses, castles, old churches and terraced vineyards and seemed to be transported to the middle ages. The numerous fortresses and castles perched on cliffs seemed to come alive with the legendary tales of the kings and warriors. It is believed that most of the castles were built for collecting toll on the road and river, in return for protection against the robbers. It is very difficult to remember the names of all the castles along the way. Some of these have been converted into hotels, some have been bought by wealthy individuals, while others have been left in ruins. It was wonderful to see the river, road and the railway track all running parallel to each other. You could easily spot a group of bikers following the Rhine trail, cars and buses zipping past and occasionally a high speed train whizzing past in a lightning flash. It was like a dream come true for me to be cruising on the most beautiful stretch of Rhine.
We started at Bacharach, a historic medieval town famous for its fortresses and cruising past Lorch we crossed Fortress Nollig, made famous by the legendary story of a young knight who made his way up the fortress on a horseback to secure his prospective bride. The next ferry stop was the town of Assmannshausen, which is famous for its quality red wines and is the centre of wine growing activity in the region. Moving further ahead we encountered the famous snake like bend of the river at Bingen. The river here is narrow and the strong underlying currents make navigation a bit dangerous in this stretch. Cruising past a number of other castles, we finally reached the beautiful wine town of Rudesheim, where we disembarked at 17:30 hrs. The weather suddenly deteriorated and it started raining with cold winds further chilling the atmosphere. We ran from the jetty, crossed the road and went straight to Rudesheim railway station which was a few blocks away. We boarded the train to Frankfurt and after changing trains there, we finally reached Heidelberg at around 22:00 hrs. It was the end of a long and hectic but truly memorable day.
Where to buy Eurail Pass
The Eurail Pass is available to residents outside Europe and is very convenient for tourists wishing to make extensive use of the European rail network. The Eurail Pass entitles you to unlimited rail travel for the number of days and within the countries selected. However supplements apply for some high speed trains and reservations are compulsory for some specified trains. Two popular sites for buying these passes are www.eurail.com and www.raileurope.com. To give an idea of the price, a German rail pass for an adult which is valid for four days within one month period is available for around 200 euro.
Where to stay
We stayed at Barcelo Cologne City Center, which is located in the city centre at Rudolfplatz, one of Cologne’s most famous squares. The tram stop is located close by and is quite convenient to move around the city. The hotel has more than 300 rooms and all the rooms have air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and satellite TV. We paid around 55 euros for a double room, which was reasonable considering the 4 star facilities it offered. The only drawback was breakfast which was charged extra and for 20 Euros it was certainly not worth it.
Another hotel which is quite popular is the aesthetically designed Hotel Santo (Dagobertstr 22-26, Altstadt, Cologne; double room is available for around 120 euro which is inclusive of buffet breakfast and all taxes. The hotel is located close to the main train station of Cologne and the cathedral.