Highlight: Exploring the mine tunnels deep below the ruins of Rheinfels Castle.
Lowlight: The moment of panic when I realized I was lost in the mine tunnels and terrified I might run into something down there.
Money spent: 44 Euros
Pairs of clean underwear left: 3
After spending a night in a fortress, I needed to find a way to top that. So, tonight I will be staying in Bacharach in … a castle!
The morning I took a train down the Rhine Valley, hiked up to the hostel, and dropped off my bag. The hostel is indeed a castle. Complete with a tower in the courtyard. I think the rooms in the tower are private rooms that you need to reserve far in advance. My bed was booked last minute and appears to be in the dungeon. It’s really nicely decorated and airy, but it’s on the lowest floor. Most of the other rooms are full of pre-pubescent boys and girls who breached the castle walls just after I arrived. I’d love to come back one day and stay in the tower.
I jumped on a train and headed to St. Goar to tour the ruins of Castle Rheinfels, one of the biggest castles that ever graced the Rhine Valley. It was highly recommended by Rick Steeve’s.
The ruins were a lot of fun to explore. It reminded me of Old Sarum in England. There was hardly anyother there in the morning and I could go almost anywhere without worrying about security guards or locked doors – my ideal castle experience. I was actually amazed at what I had access to. All of the old tunnels and winding staircases were open to the public, even though they were unlit and impossible to navigate without a flashlight. I had my headlamp with me and even then I was terrified at times. It was really creepy and disturbing. A few times I wandered down pitch black hallways that suddenly dead ended.
The main attraction is the mine tunnels that run under the field in front of the castle. Originally booby-trapped with explosives to tear apart invading armies, now tourists are allowed to wander through the uncollapsed tunnels. Of course they’re unlabeled, unlit, and unmanned. You just wander in. If you don’t have your own light, they’ll sell you candles at the entrance to the castle. When I found the entrance to the mines it looked terrifying – just a small passage 3 feet wide by 4 feet high, and I could only see a few feet in front of me. I didn’t want to enter until I knew where it came out. I wandered around above and found another entrance, about 100 meters away. I remember Rick Steeves mentioning something about 200 yards from one entrance to the other if you didn’t make a wrong turn.
After a few deep breaths, I entered the tunnels and started to crawl along. It was cold and damp and I could see my breath in front of me. After about 20 meters, I came to an intersection with branches left, right, and straight. It was like an old computer game: “You are at an intersection. Do you want to go (S)traight, (L)eft, or (R)ight?” I chose straight. 20 meters later the scenario repeated. I choose straight again. Then I came to a dead end with options left and right. I chose right, but than that dead ended. So I explored the left branch, that lead to more branches. I kept moving around, dead ending, back tracking, and after a few minutes was thoroughly disoriented. I had no clue how to get out, knew if I screamed no one would hear me, and my imagination was running rampant with scenarios of getting lost or, worse yet, running across some hungry animal. I was starting to panic, my clothes were getting muddy from rubbing against the cave walls, and my heart was racing.
When I finally came back to my starting point, I ran out, found grass and fresh air, sat down for a rest. I was wet with sweat and excited from the adrenaline rush, but I had no thoughts of going back in to try making it all the way through. Definitely the most fearful experience of the trip. I wish Ben was here. Than I could make fun of him and forget my own fear.
Just as I was leaving the castle, it was invaded by a busload of American tourists armed with Rick Steeve’s guidebooks. I was thankful I got to explore alone before they arrived.
The evening was spent bumming around the castle hostel. I hiked around up the trails behind the castle and just sat around reading my book about wizards and dragons. I had dinner at the hostel – pasta with tofu sauce, salad, soup, and cappuccino pudding. Not bad for 6 euros. At dinner I sat and chatted with 3 guys from Iowa that are just starting their backpacking trip. It was fun telling them about some of the more memorable episodes of mine. We met up again in the evening to drink wine in the hostel’s restaurant area. I was amazed by the selection of over 30 wines, mostly local white Rieslings from the Rhine Valley. I tried 2 and some recommendations of ones to buy as souvenirs.