Carolyns Castle

I bought a lifetime membership in the American Youth Hostel association over 20 years ago, after my cousin went mental on me and told my mother she never ever wanted me to visit again. I asked her what I’d done, but she never answered, but I knew I wanted to be able to visit Europe again, and the cheapest, safest place to stay, especially in Germany, is in a youth hostel. As it turned out, I hardly ever used the youth hostel card. I used it once to stay in the St. Louis youth hostel on my return home from college, and all my trips abroad (before this one) were in the company of Peter, so we splurged on (slightly) more luxurious accommodation. Mostly the card has gotten me the Santa Clara Valley youth hostellers’ newsletter, which has given me tips on great inexpensive ethnic restaurants in the area, though the valley’s only youth hostel is nearly defunct.

But when I found out that a castle on the Rhein River had been remodelled into a youth hostel, and a nice youth hostel at that, I knew where I was going to spent at least one of my nights in Germany. The Rhein River, especially between Koblenz and Mainz, is lousy with castles, old Tudor buildings, and narrow cobblestoned streets. It really has a magical fairytale personality, and especially in the summer, is a bustling tourist destination. And with my youth hostel card for just 23 euros ($35) a night, I could live like a princess.

As I found out just while trying to buy a ticket to Bacharach, the place is not pronounced Bak-a-rak, as in Burt, but more like Bakh-a-rah, after Bacchus, the god of wine. In the winter time, the little town almost shuts down. The castle stands high up on a hill, looking down on the town, and thanks to a tip I’d read on line, I wisely called a taxi to get an 8-euro ride to the top instead of trying to pull up my luggage. Here is the castle about 3/4 of the way up on the path:


It’s every bit as old and full of character as you’d expect a castle to be, and in quite a few spaces there were no steps, simply long slate driveways, all the better for driving a carriage up the castle. Here’s what it looks like walking up to the entance of the castle:


I had a room that I daresay was bigger and brighter (and cleaner!) than my room in Cologne’s Altstadt, and it looked right over the courtyard. If I leaned out I could even get a view of the mountain we were on:


If a knight had come by to rescue me, I could have jumped right down from my window onto his horse. As it was, I made do to waving to the Japanese girls who sat smoking on the steps at night.

Out on the courtyard, there was an even more stunning view onto the little town below and the Rhein River:


I had almost the same view of the river from the castle’s dining room, where I enjoyed the included breakfast. In fact, the dining room doubled as the castle’s community room and also served lunch and dinner for a small surcharge, and was a very quiet bar at night. On my first night there, I was feeling lonely, so I went downstairs, since youth hostels are usually sociable places. But all I found was a group of young Brits playing a card game and speaking incomprehensible English. I could only understand about every third word as spoken by one of them who’d every so often break into Londonese, a dialect I have heard. I don’t know what the other ones were speaking though, and I was too shy to ask. It’s not good karma to play cards with people who speak a language you don’t understand.

The path up and down to the castle gave me great exercise, but it was scenic as well. Here’s the beginning of the path going back down to the town:


And the castle itself had lots of intriguing details, from the very old, like chains by the stairs and  this horse hitch on the side of the castle:


And more modern, like this dragon-shaped gutter spout:


I really loved being in a castle and the youth hostel type accommodation and the related price were a bonus. I ended up spending two nights instead of one, and I delighted in my housing as much as in the little charming Rhein River villages below.

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