I recently had the opportunity to travel to Germany to stand-up paddleboard (SUP) down the Mosel River in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
That all sounds amazing, right?
Getting there would prove to be the hardest part.
I was scheduled for a late Friday evening departure from Myrtle Beach to Newark and onward to Frankfurt, Germany with a mid-morning arrival. Six hours ahead of my flight, the airline (which shall not be named) canceled that flight due to ground issues in Newark. OK, minor setback. Not so much. When contacting the airline, I was told that there were no other flights until Sunday to get me to my destination. I looked at nearby airports, and Charleston was the only option that was within a reasonable distance but still a five-hour round trip for whomever drove me on that Saturday morning. Bags were still packed and I was scheduled to fly out around lunch on Saturday. I arrived at the airport and everything is still on time. Less than an hour before departure, a text message dings with a weather delay. I had less than an hour to connect in Washington Dulles for Frankfurt.
Fast forward, we finally take off nearly four hours late (after sitting on the plane on the tarmac for three hours). Prior to this, the airline had rebooked me on another flight that would take me from Washington to Dublin (Ireland) and then to Frankfurt.
Once I’m in Washington, the terminal is chaotic and most systems are down and vendors aren’t able to accept cards, only cash. ATMs are also out. Thankfully, I have some stashed away.
I see upon looking at the departures screen that there is yet another direct flight to Frankfurt and my original flight was still at the terminal as it had been delayed as well. I finally connected with the airline after more than 90 minutes on hold (the customer service line in the terminal would have taken much longer) and they rebook me on the next flight to Frankfurt. They also assured me that my bags would be rerouted.
We finally leave after 2 am on Sunday morning and arrived in Frankfurt after five that afternoon.
You guessed it, my bags didn’t make that flight. I jump through the hurdles with missing baggage and share with them the necessary information and where I will be for the next few days.
After a long train ride to Trier and a 30-minute taxi ride to Trittenheim, I finally arrived at my destination to meet up with the team at nearly 10 pm.
Keep in mind that one of my two bags contained my inflatable SUP and other gear for paddling.
The Mosel River
Almost two days after my group arrived, I was finally able to get on the water with a rented board and a trip to a local supermarket. There I procured a pair of shorts and T-shirt as the clothes that I was wearing and the extra change of clothes in my carry-on smelled like I had been wearing them for over 2 days (which I had).
The Mosel River begins as the Moselle (French) in the Vosges Mountains of France and flows northward before passing alongside Luxembourg (Musel in Luxembourgish) before entering western Germany and flowing into the Rhine River at Koblenz.
There are many ways to explore these historic rivers throughout Europe — river cruises, bike paths or by car. However, I wanted to explore this beautiful valley the way early people did, by human powered means utilizing the early highways of the region — the rivers.
And while France is internationally known for its wine, German Rieslings are extremely underrated and the Mosel Valley along the lower section of the river from Trier to Koblenz is one of the largest wine producing regions in Germany. It features vineyards lining both sides of the river for much of its length.
Trier to Cochem
My journey should have started in the city of Trier, considered to be Germany’s oldest city. An ancient Roman capital, the region boasts that it was actually occupied more than a thousand years before the Romans founded the city. Over 2,000 years after its founding, Trier still includes Roman baths, a large amphitheater and the only surviving city gate, Porta Nigra.
Beginning in Trier, our path down the Mosel River would have us paddling a varying distance each day to reach our daily destination. Within the German border, the river flows approximately 128 miles from Trier to Koblenz. Our itinerary would have us paddle roughly 87 miles of this scenic river. And while there are numerous towns along the river, we opted to paddle greater distances to cover as much of the river as possible during our short visit.
Trier – Trittenheim – 34 km (~21 miles)
Trittenheim – Bernkastel-Kues – 27 km (~17 miles)
Bernkastel-Kues – Traben Trarbach – 23 km (~14 miles)
Traben Trarbach – Edinger Eller – 34 km (~21 miles)
Edinger Eller – Cochem – 22 km (~14 miles)
For navigation purposes, the river is made more navigable by systematically placed locks and dams for the barges and river cruise boats that also move up and down the river. And while the river in Germany doesn’t flow as a natural river and is a veritable lake between locks, there is negligible current that makes the trip suitable for anyone. And, most of the locks have a separate recreational craft lock for lowering to the next level of the river.
Did I mention that my bags didn’t arrive until over 48 hours after I did? They had never left Washington. These are relatively tiny towns along the river, and finding appropriate attire for use on the river was challenging. And, with fall on the horizon, most of the stores had already switched over to fall attire. Thankfully, I was able to find one pair of blue adidas shorts and a red Kappa T-shirt with a white logo. I had never heard of the brand, though the logo on the front of the shirt was reminiscent of semi-truck mud flaps throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, this logo featured the silhouette of both a man and woman).
Regardless, I donned my red, white and blue attire and settled onto my rented board and finally joined the crew.
Each day, our view remained similar. Vineyards lined each side of the river with the occasional vineyard name change denoted by a well-placed sign high on a hill or occasionally mounted to a unique building on the property.
When the Romans arrived in this region over two millennia earlier, they too planted grapes, and the tradition continues today.
As we were paddling during the week, traffic on the river was minimal and except for the occasional ferry, barge or river cruise ship moving up or down the river, we had the river to ourselves and the random white adult swan pairs and often juvenile cygnets.
Perhaps the true highlight of the trip was on our final day as we approached the town of Cochem. Perched high atop the hill, we are greeted by Reichsburg (or Cochem Castle), which is the largest castle on the Mosel River with early construction dating back nearly a thousand years. The castle sits over 300 feet above the river and towers over the town below, creating a fairy-tale setting that only gets closer with each stroke of our paddle.
This would be our last day paddling on the river. At dusk, lights automatically come on and illuminate the imposing castle walls creating a dramatic backdrop that is best viewed from the bridge crossing the river.
The following morning, we became tourists as we boarded a ferry from Cochem to Koblenz. We disembark the ferry just shy of where the Mosel merges with the Rhine to continue its fluid journey further into the heart of Germany.
And while some ill-timed debacles by the airline threatened to derail my adventure, I was still able to travel through a magical landscape under my own power for multiple days. I was afforded the opportunity to reside in quaint German river towns indulging in wines created from the land’s harvest and seeing a region in a similar scope as generations prior that plied these waters had done for centuries before myself.
Bis zum nächsten Mal (translated to mean – “until next time”).