The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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Germany Mosel & Rhine Rivers
October 2005
"Downhill in Both Directions"

Discussion about this trip started, as they often do, over a glass of wine.  One of our friends was scheduled to go on a business trip and hoped to tack a pleasure trip on one end or the other.  In the light of day, he realized that it was not a practical plan, but the rest of us were off and running with the idea.  The group size fluctuated a bit and finally stabilized at six people who were serious about taking some time off and going to Europe.  Then came the decision about where to go.  Several ideas were tossed out, but no decisions were forthcoming so we decided to put it to a vote, secret ballot of course.  We selected a neutral party to receive the email votes and notify us of the outcome.  The choices were:

1.  Fly to Frankfurt, train to Bachrach and ride bicycles on the Rhine river.
2.  Fly to Frankfurt, train to Baden-Baden, hike in the Black Forrest and sightsee in Strasbourg.
3.  Fly to Frankfurt and sightsee in Strasbourg and Colmar.
4.  Fly to Shannon and drive around.
5.  Fly to Zurich and find something to do there.

Our neutral party narrowed the votes to 2 selections and held a runoff resulting in choice number one being selected.  Later we learned that before we could even make it to the airport, there was dissention in the ranks and another selection was being discussed. 

On travel day, we assembled in the parking lot and discussed which pass priority we should use to ensure that we got to sit in the Business Class cabin on our journey across the ocean.   We get a limited number of higher priority passes each year which we agonize over when to use to best advantage.  We agreed that the lower priority would be sufficient for all of us except our young friend with the least seniority.  When we arrived at the airport, we found that the “International Check-In – No Bags to Check” was no longer available so we had to stand in an EXTREMELY long line.  This was not entirely bad, because it gave us more time to review our priority decision.  By the time we finally got to the counter to check in, we had revised our decision and all used the higher priority.  We got checked in with only 30 minutes to get to the gate.  We hurried through security and huffed and puffed to the farthest gate in the International concourse just in time to hear our names being called as we were cleared from the standby list.  An excellent use of our priority passes, we were all in Business Class!  We had the entire last row of the Business Class cabin.  We toasted our good fortune with the complimentary reception champagne! 

The flight was fairly uneventful.  The only thing we could find to complain about was that the warm nuts were soggy.  We decided that our life is very good when the only thing we have to complain about is soggy nuts.  The two planners of the group introduced their alternate plan to train to the town of Zell on the Mozel and we all agreed that this would be fine.   We dozed during the flight, awaking in the morning to the familiar hiss of the flight attendants offering “Breakfasssssst” and “Juicccccccccce”.  Tony and I recognized a familiar face on the airplane but couldn’t place her until just before passport control.  We remembered that it was a friend of one of the German interns we had met through our roommate. 

We stopped by the ATM machine where Jackie realized that she didn’t have her check card – her brand new check card that she had gotten the day before.  She lamented that she had carried her previous ATM card for 10 years without incident, but when she finally decided to convert to a real Check Card, she couldn’t hold on to it for even a day.  Kelso graciously volunteered to share his wealth with Jackie on the trip, although we took advantage of every opportunity to rib her about her poverty.  At the train station, we had a bit of trouble communicating with the agent – the Southern American pronunciation of Zell must differ from the German one.  We were finally able to purchase a ticket to Cochem, but there was no discussion of how we would get from Cochem to Zell – we assumed there must be a bus.  The agent told us that the least expensive option was to purchase a Bahncard which would give us a discount on a group ticket for five of us but the sixth would have to travel at full price.  The Bahncard would be good for a year. 

We barely had time to slip into something more comfortable in the cramped restroom near the train station (where I hit my head on the condom machine) before we boarded the train.  Tony and Kelso figured out how to read the train diagram so we could board the train at the door nearest the beverage car.  This helped us avoid hitting the other passengers in the head with our bags as we traipsed down the aisles looking for the right car. 

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In the beverage car, we made friends with another passenger over our breakfast beers.  Ryan, a 22 year old boy from Atlanta was traveling to see his fiancé.  When we first noticed him, he was engrossed in conversation with an agitated man.  Later the man was removed from the train and taken away by the Polizei.  Ryan told us the man was crazy and showed us the German gesture to indicate this – waving the hand in front of the face.  Ryan told us his life story, all about his overbearing Army Colonel father, his drug-running brother, his various half-siblings from other unions of his divorced parents, and his plans for life with his Austrian-born German bride-to-be.  Kelso later commented that he thought something just wasn’t right about the boy – nobody gives out that much information to complete strangers.  We all laughed because Kelso is known to give out A LOT of information to complete strangers.  The crazy-man/Polizei incident caused us to miss our connection in Koblenz, but another train to Cochem left from the same track so no harm done.  The trip from the airport to Cochem took almost 3 hours and none of us felt up to looking for a bus to Zell, so we decided to just stay in Cochem.  As we left the train station, we spotted a nice lunch stop, adjacent to the Weingut Museum.  We started an appetizer of pomme frites followed by gulaschsuppe and tomatencremesuppe. 

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We bypassed the Tourist Information office and went looking for a hotel on our own.  The Hotel Alte Thorschenke had three nicely appointed rooms. 

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The proprietor showed us to the two rooms on a lower floor and indicated that the third room was up the stairs.  The lazier travelers (including me and Tony) quickly laid claim to the lower rooms.  The upstairs room had a nice balcony which we thought might be a good place for a night cap following our day’s activities.  So, we dropped our bags and went exploring. 

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A castle at the top of the hill drew our attention and we made the long hike up. 

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Our reward was at the top was a beer overlooking the river! 

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Thirsty from the walk, we tried to get some water with our beers.  We just wanted tap water, but were unable to communicate this, so we got carbonated mineral water.  It was 1.75 Euros and a beer was 2 Euros.  We opted not to take the castle tour and headed back into town. 

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We stopped at the first umbrella we saw for a break after we climbed down and had our first bottle of halfway decent German red wine.  It was Dornfelder made by Steuer at the Restaurant/Hotel Vonderbeck.  Next was more Dornfelder at another the Union Restaurant/Hotel and then dinner at the Restaurant Falstaff. 

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We’re not sure if it was just because we were so tired and hungry or not, but the food that night was worth raving about, and we did!  I had the Wiener Schnitzel with my favorite – Bratkartofeln!  We again tried (unsuccessfully) to order tap water with our meal, but instead, we were served a bottle of carbonated mineral water.  Back at our hotel, we convened in the big upstairs room for our nightcap.  It was too cold to sit on the balcony.  Kelso did that thing that your mother always told you not to do and rocked back on two legs of an antique chair in the room.  You guessed it…  Snap.  Kelso was on the floor! 

Saturday, I woke everyone up with a knock on their door at 8 and then went for a walk around town to get Diet Cokes for those addicts with a monkey on their backs.  Over an elaborate hot breakfast (unusual for Germany), we decided to spend another night in Cochem.  We asked at our hotel if we could stay another night and were told they were full.  (Maybe they just didn’t want us to break any more chairs.)   We went to several other hotels and got the same answer.  Finally, we split into groups of twos and decided to fan out.  This got some interesting answers when we asked about rooms for six people.  One hotel said that they had rooms with small beds and if it was six men, they could rent to us.  We were about to give up when one group found rooms at the Union Hotel where we had enjoyed wine the evening before.  Since Jackie and Donna (amateurs) had found the rooms, Tony stepped in to ask the crucial question, “mit dusche?”, meaning “with a shower (bathroom)?”.  The proprieter very seriously answered, “No, dusche in Mosel.”  Then he laughed and Tony realized he was being teased.  We got two rooms overlooking the Mosel and one overlooking a side street.  We retrieved our bags from the old hotel, deposited them at the new hotel and set out to rent bicycles.  The man at the KD dock had an assortment of bicycles for rent.  We all got seven speeds with nice wide seats and a basket.  The group decided to ride to the Berg Eltz Castle, one of Rick Steves’ recommendations.  As we started out, we noted that we seemed to be going downhill and decided it might be a difficult ride back. 

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Before long, we spotted an umbrella at an imbiss where we could take a break (enjoy a beer). 

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We commented on the downhill ride again as we left.

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Lunch was at the Café Restaurant Ringelsteiner Muhle at the base of the trail to the castle.  

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The hike to the castle was a long gradual uphill alongside a mountain stream. 

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When we rounded the curve, the view of the castle was quite impressive.  Fall colors accented the ruins of an old castle nearby.

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Inside, we asked about an English tour and were told they would give us one in 15 minutes.  Kelso took advantage of the time to meet some other Americans and give them his life story (see “too much information” above). 

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After the tour, by a very handsome guide, we stopped under the umbrellas outside for a beer before making the hike back down to the bicycles. 

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As we started back to Cochem, we noticed that it again, appeared to be downhill. 

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The group stayed together until we reached the first beer stop on the way back.  It was starting to get dark so we engaged our lights before starting out again.  Donna, Karla and I saw an opportunity to get our bikes back on the bike path by walking them up three steps, so we went that route.  Kelso and Jackie had ridden ahead, so Tony went to tell them which way we had gone.  When we rounded the first curve, we hit a tremendous headwind that made it no longer seem downhill.  I continued to ride, following Donna’s taillight and looking back occasionally to see Karla’s headlight behind me.  After about an hour, I stopped to see if Karla had seen the others.  She said she had not.  We rode on a bit further until I decided to stop to wait for them.  Karla and Donna rode on.  I waited for 5-10 minutes before I started thinking that it was not smart for me to separate from the others, so I rode on.  A few minutes later, my cell phone rang and it was Tony calling to say that Jackie had a flat tire.  He said we should go on to Cochem and they would find a way back via either a taxi or train. 

{Tony here, a few minutes before that phone call.  Back with Kelso and Jackie, things were not going as well. We rode about 100 yards, then had to climb a dozen or so steps to get to the road level.  Crossing the road, we looked down and saw BJ, Donna and Karla ahead and below us on the bike path.  We knew the two routes would meet up in a few hundred yards, so we stopped to zip our coats before taking off after our friends.  We flipped on the generators for the headlights, and took off, Kelso in the lead, me in the middle and Jackie bringing up the rear. Jackie pedalled about 10 yards, then stopped.  Something was making an odd noise, she said, so I waited up for her.   After she looked over her bike, we started off again; for another 10 yards.  This time, she mentioned that she thought her bike was riding funny.  Sure enough, about this time, she realized that her back tire was completely flat.   Did I mention that Kelso had taken the lead?   Jackie and I grabbed the handy little bike pump and tried, without luck, to inflate her tire.  So then we whipped out my handy little all-in-one tire repair and inflator canister, (something that I have been sneaking past airport security for 2 years… CO2 and some sort of sealant in a can; they don’t call me Gear Guy for nothing), hooked it up and watched Jackie’s tire fill right out… then flatten again.  We spun the tire to distribute the sealant, and tried the handy little pump again.  Same results.  About this time, Kelso made it back to us, after noticing no lights following him.  After a brief discussion, we decided to head back to the top of the hill, to make a decision under the street light.  Our choices were: walk the bikes back to Cochem (I thought it was maybe a mile; it was actually about 4 miles), find a cab, or try to take the train to Cochem.  We decided on the train, and pushed our bikes up onto the platform.  Seeing that we had about 40 minutes before our train, and seeing a beer sign across the tracks, another decision was made.  Kelso and Jackie stayed with the bikes and I ran over for 3 beers.  Back on the platform, and remembering the lecture I got in the Netherlands (“It is not okay to have an open beer on the platform.  It is okay to have it only on the train.”) I stuck my beer in my handy coozie.  This got the attention of two men down the platform who came to ask what we were doing.  I explained that I wasn’t sure what the rules were in Germany about open containers at the train station, and the stranger explained that “beer is okay everywhere in Germany”.  I figured he knew what he was talking about, since he then revealed that he was a policeman; a helicpoter pilot in Koblenz.  Well, we finished our beers, bought another round (for ourselves and our new friends) and boarded the train for the 12 minute ride to Cochem.  Back to BJ.} 

I got back on my bike and rode hard to catch up to Donna and Karla.  I thought I heard my cell phone ringing again, so I was looking down when I heard Donna say, “BJ”.  She was ringing her bicycle bell and she and Karla were stopped on the path.  If she had not spoken, I would have run into them since it was black dark by then and the bicycle lights only work while riding.  We had gotten almost back to Cochem when Tony called again to say they had bought train tickets and would catch an 8:11 train, be in Cochem at 8:23 and meet us at the hotel at 8:30.  We locked our bicycles up and went to the hotel, arriving at around 8:00.  We ordered a bottle of the Dornfelder and waited for the others to arrive.   Donna commented that the 28 mile ride had not been aerobic since it had been downhill in both directions.  Karla and I rolled our eyes.  Karla said she wished she’d had a knife so she could have slashed her tire too.  We speculated that Jackie’s tire really wasn’t flat, they were just too lazy to ride through the headwinds.  Pizza was dinner for the tired riders.  Somehow, we were able to get pitchers of tap water along with our wine at this meal! Back at the hotel, we decided to play the same dice game we had played in Salt Lake City, except using Euros instead of dollars.  For some reason, the game wasn’t nearly as much fun and we weren’t sure how it is supposed to end.   We finally decided Kelso had won the first round, but then Jackie decided we should redistribute the money and play again.  I don’t remember how it ended, but the next morning, there were Euros scattered all over our room.

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Sunday, I did my usual 8AM knock to wake everyone and then walked around looking for Diet Cokes.   It was harder to find an open shop on Sunday.   The view of the river from our hotel room was lovely.

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Donna, Karla, Tony and I met for breakfast while Jackie and Kelso went for a run, then Donna and I went biking.  Karla said she was going to take a 2 hour shower and Tony said he would walk to the train station to get a schedule.  Since the bikes had to be returned by 11:30AM, we just did a short 8 mile ride.   We commented on the way out that it was downhill, so we knew we should allow extra time to get back.  We stopped to take pictures of the castle at a little park.

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We turned around at the bottom of a hill to head back and lo and behold, it was downhill in the other direction too!  The view of the castle was gorgeous as we were returning from our ride.  The faintest little rainbow could be seen over the castle.  

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We had a little mix up about meeting Karla, but we finally found her and then checked out of our hotel, found an ATM and headed for the train station.  The group waited at the Track 9˝ bar while Tony and I tried to decipher the ticket machine.  We finally figured out how to buy 6 discount tickets using our Bahncard and then joined the others in the bar.  There was a really cool mural in the bar of a train at a station with a clock.   The train was a painting, but the clock was real! 

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We boarded the train and went straight to the beverage car.  We were happily enjoying our beverages when the ticket taker came by.  He was not happy with our tickets.  He said to get the discount we would either each have to have a bahncard, or to get a group discount, we had to purchase the tickets from a ticket office (closed on Sunday).  We gave him our best dumb looks and he finally said it was okay because we did not understand.  We toasted our good fortune and started planning our dumb looks for the remainder of the ride after we changed trains in Koblenz. 

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There was time in Koblenz for Jackie and Kelso to do some shopping.  They brought back beers and Paprika Pringles which we happily munched on. 

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The ticket taker on this train was not as particular about our tickets and barely gave them a second glance as he punched them.  We finally made it to Bacharach (the destination we originally voted on) and were delighted to find rooms at the Hotel-Pension Dettmar at half of what we had paid in Cochem!  

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Annalee, the proprietress showed us to our rooms and we tried not to laugh out loud when we saw the frilly pink chiffon bedspread and candy striped curtains. 

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We set out to find a lunch place, but it was past the lunch hour so our selections were limited.  We were directed to the Jagerstube, the only restaurant in town that was still serving.  The waitress translated the menu for us, but skipped over the last dish, saying that it was German and we wouldn’t like it.  That was enough to pique my curiosity so I ordered it.  She was right.  Sulze is to be avoided.  It is chopped pork parts in gelatin.  The accompanying Bratkartoffeln and everyone else’s pomme frites made a pretty good lunch though!

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After lunch, we wandered around town a bit.

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Then we decided to try to walk to the castle that we remembered was just above town.  On a previous trip, we remembered taking a shortcut by climbing up the side of a hill to get to it. 

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We climbed up in the tower overlooking the town and then scrambled through the first level of vineyards in search of the castle. 

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We all gave up when we saw no signs of the castle, but Tony decided to keep climbing. 

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At the top of the next vineyard, he shouted back down that he couldn’t see the castle.  He said that we should take the low road and he would take the high road to get back to town. 

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As we were walking down the road, we came upon a sign that said “Betreten der Weinberge verboten!”  (Entering the vineyards is forbidden!). 

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Just past the sign, we found Tony with dirt and grass stains on his clothes where he had slid down the vineyard from the high road.  We stopped at a little wine store to sample the local Riesling from the Steeger Vineyard.   Again, we wanted tap water, and again, we got bottled water. 

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Our next stop was at the Altes Haus built in 1368 for a bottle of wine. 

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We had another bottle of wine at the Rhein Hotel overlooking the railroad tracks.  

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Dinner was at the Hotel Restaurant Café Am Markt, recommended by the proprietress of our hotel, Annalee.  Dinner was okay, but not notable.  After dinner, we went back to the hotel for our nightcap, but after the nightcap, we decided we needed to go back out to finish celebrating Kelso’s birthday.   The only place in town that was still open was the Bistro zur Alt Backstubb. 

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We ordered a bottle of wine and some “lietungwasser” (Kelso remembered this was the word for tap water, but again, we were served carbonated mineral water).  At midnight, I announced that Kelso’s birthday was over and Tony and I went back to the hotel and to bed.   We don’t know how long the others stayed out, but they were not as happy the next morning when I knocked on their doors as they had been the previous mornings. 

Everyone was very quiet at breakfast on Monday.  They grunted agreement when we decided that our plan for the day would be to bike to St. Goar and back and then take the ferry to Rudesheim to spend the night.  Annalee told us that check out was at 10AM, but she let us leave our bags in the breakfast room while we rented bicycles and rode to St. Goar.  The hotel behind ours had bicycles for rent so we saddled up and rode to St. Goar.  Our first beer stop was at the Hotel am Markt where we had stayed before.  We sat outside, but it was very cold. 

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We decided that our next beer would be inside.  As we wandered through the town, we came upon a little shop that advertised a “Rick Steves discount”.  Inside, the owner let us sample his delicious liqueurs.  The spiced apple was our favorite.  Several bottles and other items were purchased with our discount since Jackie had brought the Rick Steves book.  

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We passed a fruit stand with the largest cabbage I had ever seen.  It was bigger than my head!  Okay, so that’s not so big, but it is for a cabbage! 

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As we approached the castle, we realized that this was the castle we were remembering from the previous trip.  It was not in Bachrach, but in St. Goar. 

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We hiked up the real path this time instead of climbing up the side of the hill and had beers at the top.  

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Then we hiked back down and had lunch at the zum Goldenen Lowen.  We finally got to try the seasonal treat, “Zwiebelkuchen”, a delicious warm onion cake.  On the ride back to Bachrach, we quickly separated into two groups.  Donna, Kelso and Jackie were out front with Karla, Tony and I bringing up the rear, making a few stops to do some sightseeing (and breathing). 

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At one point, Jackie asked a question about the bicycle gears and Kelso went into a long explanation.   During the explanation, Jackie stopped because she had a bug in her eye.  Donna stopped to help her while Kelso rode on.  After a few minutes, when Jackie was still trying to get the bug out of her, Donna realized that she really did have a bug in her eye and had not just stopped because she was bored with Kelso’s explanation.  We teased Kelso for the rest of the trip saying we had a bug in our eye every time he spoke.  Tony spotted what he figured was the Bachrach to Rudesheim ferry as we were riding, but we knew that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the dock in time.  Sure enough, after we turned our bikes in, retrieved our bags and hurried to the dock, we arrived just in time to see the boat leaving the dock.

We decided to take the train to Bingen and catch a ferry from Bingen to Rudesheim.  We got to the train station just minutes after a train should have left, but there were still people waiting at the station, so we started trying to buy tickets from the machine.  The train pulled in before we could buy them, so we decided to hop aboard and use our dumb looks again.  The ticket taker was very nice and sold us tickets on board the train.  We got to Bingen just as the passenger ferry was leaving the dock, so we decided to walk down to the car ferry.  It was much further than it looked, but still quicker than waiting for the next passenger ferry.  In Rudesheim, we found rooms at the hotel where we had stayed on a couple of previous trips (Hotel Zum Grunen Kranz Historisches und Weinrestaurant  We went to Da Toni’s where we knew we could get some great Italian food, and then enjoyed wine at an outdoor beergarten.  Kelso got us all ice cream and opened his bottle of spiced apple liqueur to pour over it.   Mmmm!  We celebrated Donna’s birthday (which would be the next day) with a candle in her ice cream. 

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Back to the hotel for a final taste of Domfelder and it was off to bed. 

We did something very uncharacteristic and decided to sleep late the next morning and take the second flight home.  Ordinarily, we would be too apprehensive about the trip home to let the first flight leave without us, but somehow we talked ourselves into waiting this time.  We got up at 6:30 so we could catch an 8AM train, connected in Wiesbaden and got to the airport at 9:15AM.   Some of the group needed cheeseburgers, so after we cleared security, we stopped at the American Bar (too familiar from previous trips when we had spent LONG hours waiting for a flight).  As soon as we got to the gate, we were cleared in business class, we boarded the plane and were given our menus.  We chuckled when we read that the snack would be a cheeseburger.  When the wheels left the ground, we reclined our seats and slept until it was time to eat, ate, and then slept until it was time to eat again, ate and slept again.  Oh, somewhere in there, we watched a wierd movie called, "Dark Water" that none of us understood.

Back at home, we questioned our German roommate about how to order tap water in a restaurant.  She said, "This is not possible."  We said that we thought the word was “lietungwasser”.   She said, "Oh yes, that is the word, but they will not give it to you.   They only want to sell you bottled water."  She said this is one of the things she likes about the United States - water is free!  We like that too.

Another great trip!

BJ and Tony Morris