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From the Rhône to the Rhine: The Rhine Falls

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This journey had given me a great appreciation of the Rhine River, second only to the Danube in terms of its importance to the development of modern Europe. Since encountering the river for the first time in the Netherlands we had approached closer and closer to its origin in the Swiss Alps. The Rhine enters Lake Constance from Austria and then forms a narrow segment called the Seerhein at Konstanz before enlarging again into the Untersee. The river subsequently forms much of the northern border of Switzerland with Germany before turning northward at Basel to form the border between Germany and France. About an hour's drive west of Konstanz is the Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. It's just forty minutes from Konstanz by the highway and only half an hour from Zürich so it was not surprising to find the large parking lot crowded with cars in the early afternoon. Access to the falls is via a thousand year old castle, Schloss Laufen, that is now owned by the city of Zürich. A series of staircases and balconies brought us successively closer to the spray and thunder of the falls until we eventually reached the platform from which boats departed to the opposite bank.

The boat tours were less expensive than I expected so we opted for the yellow boat which stopped at the Rheinfallfelsen, the prodigious rock that stands at the very center of the waterfall. I made sure that Cleo and I were the first off the boat. We raced up the stairs to the viewing platform at the top of the rock to have a few moments of clear photographs before another twenty people clustered around us. The boat ride had definitely been a good decision. The platform provided great views of the castle and the colorful boats navigating through the foam. After the boat ride we took the glass elevator back to the upper level of Schloss Laufen. Mei Ling was somewhat dismissive of the experience, given that we had seen much more impressive waterfalls in Iceland, but I thought the visit had been worthwhile. It was certainly a tourist trap but it seemed to be one of the more enjoyable and less extortionate that we had been drawn into.

We only had to drive twenty minutes back east towards Konstanz to reach Stein am Rhein, a well-preserved medieval town that is famous for its painted houses. There are large parking lots on the western side of the old town to accommodate the hordes of daytrippers, from which the easiest access to the medieval core is the town gate called Untertor. The tower has large clocks on both the outer and inner face and is a reconstruction of the original which was destroyed by Allied bombers in 1945.

From the gate the old town's main street leads directly to the Rathausplatz which boasts the lion's share of the painted buildings. Some of the frescoes date back to medieval times but others on the town hall were painted as recently as 1900. Over the centuries the whimsical paintings that adorn the main square have become the core of the town's identity. Unfortunately by the time we had finished admiring the colorful Rathausplatz all the decent restaurants had stopped serving lunch. We had no choice but to patronize an overpriced and bland riverside cafe in lieu of starvation.

We continued all the way back to Konstanz on the two lane road that passed along the southern side of the Untersee, enjoying a series of peaceful lakeside villages and the pleasant views over open water. I'd noticed a flyer in our Airbnb for a public swimming pool with a waterslide called Schwimmbad Hörnli in Kreuzlingen so we drove over there for some afternoon recreation before dinner. It was a large complex with a big pool and a couple of awesome waterslides that the kids loved. It was somewhat similar to the sundlaugs we'd visited in Iceland but with much more green space for lounging and picnicking. It's a shame these outdoor pools with slides and other recreational facilities aren't part of American culture, but I guess there isn't enough profit in it here without charging enormous prices for a full-blown water park.

For dinner we picked a restaurant in Niederburg, a small neighborhood in the northern part of the Altstadt where the Obersee empties into the Seerhein. It was a quiet and charming area with a good number of restaurants with outdoor seating and a chill vibe. We'd had about enough of German food and La Bodega provided an excellent and authentic rendition of tapas, one of our favorite repasts.

The following morning we had breakfast at the Saturday farmers market at St. Gebhard-Platz in the Petershausen neighborhood north of the river. I was pleasantly surprised that the vendors were completely different from the ones we had seen at St. Stephans-Platz the previous day. The market was also a good bit larger than the Friday market with a more interesting selection of artisanal foods. It was a good ending to our short stay in Konstanz. Now we just had a couple of towns to visit on the far side of the lake and then we would be done with Germany for this journey.

Posted by zzlangerhans 16:09 Archived in Switzerland Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog stein_am_rhein

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