Munich to Koblenz; The Mosel Valley and its vertical vineyards; Saarbrücken is a driving nightmare; Waiting for the bus to Paris

We’d decided that our next stop after Munich would be a town called Koblenz. There wasn’t anything there that interested us per se, but it was the jumping-off point for the Mosel River Valley, about which more below. The drive was a very long one - 500km maybe - and so we left Munich early. It took most of the day to get there, with some stops - all boring highway driving. Sheryl was happy, because she got the car up to 185kph, and she dedicated the moment to her nephew Daniel, for whom the autobahns of Germany have some sort of legendary status, she tells me.

We had no map of Koblenz, and we found the train station more or less by sheer luck, and dropped by the tourist office for a map and parking information. We were due to drop the car off in Saarbrücken the next day, but we had no idea where and had no map of there either, so it was necessary to find an internet cafe to print one, bu after that we just found a quiet parking spot in a school near a big cemetery and crashed for the night.

In the morning we set out for Saarbrücken on the Mosel River scenic drive. It was really quite something, despite the damp weather and foggy white skies. The banks of the valley are so steep that it’s nearly a gorge - nearly vertical in places - but that hasn’t stopped the cultivation of grapevines on angled terraces halfway up the bluffs. All the vineyards have little inclined railways with buckets to move people and grapes up and down the hill. Some of the vintners were harvesting as we drove through, and they all had little tractors with bin trailers full of green grapes behind them. One or two had a second trailer behind the first to hold the workers - people are, as always, second to the grapes. The road twisted and turned through a few scenic little villages as well, and on nearly every hilltop were the ruins of small castles with square towers. The nearby Rhine valley is a more popular tourist destination for its chateaux and castles, but I didn’t regret our route at all.

It did leave us a bit short of time, though. We reached Trier at 1:30, and the car was due at 2pm. It wasn’t far on to Saarbrücken, and we reached it with fifteen minutes to spare. I thought all would be well, becuase we had the map we’d printed, but we immediately ran into trouble because not only is Saarbrücken a big construction site, and not only is it a nasty ugly mess of badly-thought-out one-way streets, but none of the streets have signs. Seriously, none of them. There was no way to tell what street you were on or what street to turn onto. Occasionally a shop had the street name written on its door, but that was all. It was ridiculous, and we were soon hopelessly lost and utterly furious. We found the train station - somehow - and parked there while I went walking, trying to find our destination. I did, eventually, but I saw that it was going to be a nightmare to get to - the street itself was buried in a rat’s nest of twisting one-way streets, and it itself was one-way for half its length and then switched to one-way in th other direction for the rest! You had to detour through an entire neighbourhood just to go one block further down the street. I think Saarbrücken wasn’t laid out by urban planners but rather by a team of retarded crackheads (which coindidentally describes most of the people we saw). It was so strange to see a German town be such a chaotic stupid messs - usually they’re meticulously signed. I did eventually find the office, but it wasn’t at all clear to me how to get the car there. Findally I went back to find Sheryl. She’d begged help from a friendly local who said he’d let us follow him to the car rental place, because it was way too hard to give directions. I don’t know what we’d have done without him - we were 45 minutes late getting the car back as it was. Luckily for us, the rental agency wasn’t worried about it - maybe because Sheryl and the friendly local had called earlier to let them know we were trying to get there.

That experience was unfortunately typical of our time in Saarbrücken. It was very difficult to find an internet cafe - we finally had to settle for a nasty smoky gambling arcade (it was cheap, though). We’d planned to get the bus to Paris, but Eurolines’ website told us there was no availability. This nearly gave us a heart attack because the next bus wasn’t until Saturday and the train was three times the price. Calling them directly got us a better answer, though - there was plenty of space. We relaxed a little and - stupidly - decided to buy food and do laundry instead of going to get our bus ticket. I say stupidly because while we were doing laundry, the ticket office at the train station was closing. What kind of insane city is this, where the ticket desk at the main (and only) train station closes at 8pm on a Thursday? This was a real problem because by now, the last train had gone and we didn’t know if the Eurolines drivers accepted cash. But there was nothing we could do except wait in the station until 11:55 when the bus was supposed to come, and hope.

The bus was more than an hour late in arriving (it had come all the way from Prague) but, while frustrating, this worked to our advantage. As it turns out the Eurolines drivers can’t issue tickets and don’t accept cash, but the driver of our bus was so far behind schedule and so anxious to get on the road that he just took our money, trusting us that it was the right amount. I was hoping either that we’d get an honest but lenient driver, or a larcenous one who would understand that the money could be a bribe if he wished to interpret it as such. I’m not sure which category this man fell into, but in any case he took our money and let us on the bus, so we were bound for Paris at last and didn’t have to spend any more time in the armpit that is Saarbrücken.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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