From Denmark we are slowly working our way south along the western border of Germany, which means that we are following the Rhine valley. We first hit the Rhine near the small town of Xanten, near the border with the Netherlands, and were immediately impressed with 1) how big the Rhine is, and 2) how much traffic there is on the river. It’s a constant flow of these long, narrow inland freighters, tankers, and container ships up and down the river, so there’s always something to look at as you camp on the banks of the Rhine. I am not exaggerating when I say that you are more likely than not to have one of these river boats in sight at any given time from your spot on the riverside. They chug upstream at five or six knots, and downstream they’re doing 11 or 12 knots, gracefully setting up for the bends and drifting sideways through the tricky spots like they’ve been doing it all their lives, which they probably have.
After a couple of days of rainy weather at Xanten we moved south (upriver) to Meerbusch, a suburb of Dusseldorf, drawn by the description of Rheincamping Meerbusch, a campground along the riverbank that looked promising, and was. Staff spoke excellent English, found us a place right on the water even though it was Friday afternoon and getting full, and juggled the reservation books to allow us to stay in a prime spot for what turned out to be a week. It’s a laid-back, no-drama kind of campground; everyone there has been camping for a while and there aren’t any rowdy newcomers. The children are well-behaved and the facilities are spotlessly clean.
The interesting thing about these campgrounds is that they are constructed with flood control in mind. All the electrical boxes are up on stalks, sometimes 15 feet off the ground near the riverbank, and all buildings such as bathrooms and offices are trailers, ready to head for high ground when the spring floods come. You drive over dikes to get to them. There’s the big winter dike and a smaller summer dike, and the area between the two gets flooded when the river rises. I don’t know how they maintain all the electrical and plumbing under these conditions, but they do. Anyway, the grass is lovely, as you’d expect in an area with this much water and nutrient deposition.
The campground at Xanten was a sleepy traditional campground populated by generations of locals, who go to the riverside for the summer, and their children do the same thing after they’re grown. The Meerbusch one was more geared toward traveling folks like ourselves – there were several British campers, lots of Dutch as always, and a sprinkling of people from other European countries. We had many conversations with fellow campers, comparing our summer outings and destinations, and a TV crew came by and shot a bit of coverage, with the story angle being the cloudy, cool weather this summer. I gave them my own perspective on this – retire, and you’ll have the time to wait for the weather to improve. Since we are up in Germany, we’re avoiding the French/Spanish/Italian traffic jam of campers, where everybody takes the month of August off and commerce essentially grinds to a halt.
After leaving Meerbusch, we headed further upstream, and are now in the Rhine Gorge area, where the river cuts through some steeper terrain, and there’s a castle on every hill overlooking the river. Wonder of wonders, you can actually boondock along the river here! We’re set up directly across from the Lorelei, a 400 foot cliff of Devonian slate. The river murmurs here because of the shoals and a waterfall that until recently came down the cliff. You can hear it late at night, but during the day all you hear is the loudspeakers on the excursion boats. To explain this natural phenomenon, the folklore people got busy, and before you know it, there’s a lovelorn maiden who has cast herself into the river from the cliff, etc. You run into remarkably similar stories all over the world.
For some reason, these lovelorn maidens seem to be doing this stuff with a minimum of clothing, which is surprising, given the chilly climate here. I guess folklore will always remain a mystery to me. If there’s one thing that I have learned in seven years of fulltiming, it’s not to over-react to the sudden appearance of unclothed women. Anyway, we are watching the ships and excursion boats go by. It’s amazing – these will be the memories we’ll be taking back with us when this summer is over and we return stateside.