A common refrain from my mother is that "no grass grows under your feet, Steve."
Another fact is that the tread on my shoes is frequently well worn. For this reason, I often feel a bit of trepidation when I am descending steep hillsides.
This is what I was feeling when I heard a resounding click and realized the door I stepped through was now locked.
Behind me, Fortress Ehrenbreitstein.
Ahead, a steep slope downwards on a warm summer's day.
Koblenz was my last gasp of random, unplanned vacation. And, thus far, probably the least well-known place I've visited in Germany.
Of all the places I've visited in Germany (and, honestly there are not that many), Koblenz is by and far the least well-known destination. I decided to visit on the recommendation of my friend & former colleague, JTP. From there, I would eventually catch a train to the Frankfurt Airport, and a plane back to Pennsylvania.
(And, by "a plane", I mean a WOW Airlines budget flight with a stopover in Kefavik. I'm writing about 2018 after all!)
Koblenz is German for "confluence," a meeting of rivers. In this case, specifically the Rhine and Mosel. It has also been a military stronghold since the days of the Roman Empire, home to a few series of fortresses over the years.
In these senses, it reminded me a little of my home, Pittsburgh, a city which is also at the confluence of rivers and was home to a fort and military installation.
But things are also a little different.
Where Pittsburgh's three rivers meet, there is a beautiful park. Where the rivers of Koblenz meet, there was quite a lot more carnival atmosphere.
I'm talking crane games, ferris wheels, y'know. And, there seemed to also be some sort of running competition happening that day complete with exuberant announcements.
I felt that it would be an excellent destination for a family, which is perhaps why my friend (a father) recommended it so.
However, crane games didn't appeal to me that much as a mature and ripened child-free young professional in their mid-twenties...
On a hill overlooking the carnival games, there's a historic fortress. There are cable cars that run up there, so you don't even have to walk up or down the hill, unless you want to.
I'm a sucker for a good teleferik, so I bought a ticket and visited the historic Fortress Ehrenbreitstein.
The Fortress was built by the Prussians between 1817 and 1828 as part of a wider fortification system. In the past, the area had been home to other forms of fortification.
In modern day, the site serves as a host to a number of museums.
As I wandered through a series of seemingly endless rooms and overlooks, I was captivated, but not overwhelmingly so.
The fortress was cool and meandering around it was fun, but I wasn't going to spend all day there, right?
This brings us to the start of our story. A few ill-chosen steps on the fortress grounds, and I walked through a door that locked behind me. (After all, we can't let anyone enter the grounds from any direction, right?)
In front of me, a downward path. Looking to get some exercise, I figured I might as well follow it. In places where I had a choice of a steeper, more direct path towards the river, and a gentler, switch-back filled path down the other side of the hill, I opted for the other side.
The path started out feeling steep and undeveloped, but fortunately for my well-worn shoes, it quickly intersected with pavement, leading to roads, towns, and discount grocery stores. (Yay! Water!)
Eventually, I found myself in a neighborhood full of good ol fashioned architecture.
I was off the tourist path, and feeling a bit peckish and undercaffienated.
I stopped at a local coffee shop and regained my energy, admiring their selection of glorious old espresso machines.
I think I had an ice cream cone too.
I enjoyed hearing the sounds of German passing through my ears with limited comprehension. Soon, I would be back to a place where I understood the meaning behind most every syllable. Sometimes, life would be nicer if I didn't.
After my refreshing stop, I continued my descent, wandering across bridges over highways, cutting through parks, and marvelling at the tractor that passed me by at full-tilt.
Back in Koblenz proper, the streets were more crowded, but the architecture was splendid too. I wandered past the Görresplatz, a beautiful public square.
I lingered around the grounds of the beautiful Schloss Koblenz compound.
And, I eventually made my way to my cozy room in an Airbnb. There, I briefly noodled around on my hosts' lute-shaped guitar, drank water out of antique glass decanters. I thanked my lucky stars that I would soon no longer be living out of my backpack with its two or three changes of clothes.
My jaunts through Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary were all done with virtually no advance notice. In the weeks before I left, I had no idea that I would be going. Even shortly after I left, I had no idea that I would be gone for so long.
I left on July 28th, expecting to return on the 5th of August. Instead, I returned on the 13th. I had one extra week to spend in places I had never thought of visiting. It was a blessing. The only thing I could have asked for was more time, and more options for places to stay.
In particular, Ghent and Maastrict have stuck in the back of my mind as places that seemed like I would want to spend more time. Especially, Ghent, which I barely scratched the surface of in my short, short visit. Later in the year, I would find myself at a conference, hobnobbing with a natural language processing researcher from Ghent, hoping that her work sounded interesting enough that I would feel like it could be a good place to spend a couple years of future schooling. Alas, no.
And, of course, more than the others, Berlin remains a city that has captivated me personally. A place I was eager for my next business-related excuse to return to...
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