I ran downhill from Cochem Castle, soaked through with sweat and quite breathless, as the train of my star-encrusted ball gown shed sparkles on the road. It was a sunny 38°C day in July, and we were meant to catch a train to Koblenz in 30 minutes except I lost my phone during my quest for the perfect Instagram photo. My mother was loudly berating me as I sped through Cochem’s maze of alleyways; my heart threatened to jump out of my chest. The hasty descent left plenty of time for me to get angry at the Germans for building the Cochem castle so far from the village. My day was not going as planned.
Do you know the feeling when you get one of those genius ideas that sound like the best thing since sliced bread, yet at the back of your mind, something is nagging at you that things might go wrong? Some actions never seem a particularly good idea, yet you just can’t resist trying anyway. There are warning bells meant to tip you off. Such as your mom telling you how ludicrous it is to pack a 2-kilo dress that takes half of your suitcase (it’s meant to last you two weeks by the way). Or the heatwave warning predicting no chance of rain or shadow.
I stopped following my mom’s good advice since the day she told me to wear a scarf on a windy day when it didn’t go with my outfit. Sure, I might have gotten sick, but what’s important is that I declared my independence! To this day I firmly believe that all adults should be allowed to act like children if they can afford it. I’m all for informed risk-taking, you see. What could possibly go wrong anyway, I thought, aside from the inconvenience of a heavier suitcase. It’s just a dress. I already imagined how epic I would look in my star-covered gown, parading in front of a 14th-century fortress. A-W-E-S-O-M-E. I could already taste success as the Instagram likes rolled in.
Let’s back up a bit. When my mom and I decided to reunite for a summer Germany getaway, I immediately thought of the photo opportunities. To me, Germany meant good food (and an abundance of sauerkraut), beautiful nature and lots of medieval castles. The ideal postcard image was clear: I saw myself standing with an outstretched hand on the bridge of the gorgeous Eltz Castle. Sure, the shot has been done a hundred times over, but what’s important is that it wasn’t yet done by me. I had to have my go at this trend. I even had a particular dress in mind.
Half a year before the trip I gave into AliExpress’ pull and bought the most fabulous gown: rich blue with a generous dusting of sparkles, forming a repetitive starry sky pattern all over the bodice and skirt. When I wore it, I felt transported and mesmerized. The girl in the reflection could be anyone at all. I loved it so much, I wanted to step through the mirror and run away on an adventure. It was 50 euros well spent.
However, for a girl who spends her days in front of the computer, sports the same sweats for three days straight and wears zero makeup to the office because she can’t bother to wake up earlier, this dress was somewhat ambitious. I had no pending ball invitations or any other occasion that would offer sufficient justification for my purchase. The only reason I bought the dress was that I had my mind set on starting a photo series challenge (to be published on Instagram, of course).
Being a long-time fantasy reader, as well as a sucker for travel inspiration, I wanted to unite them in a cosplay travel series. I was tired of the same flatlay pictures on bookstagram accounts and at the same time, aching for the kind of lifestyle that involved wearing flowy dresses on top of desolate hills, like @Ninelly. So I bought the dress with a firm intention to recreate the look of Feyre in her nightfall dress as described in the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series.
I had the details all worked out, except for the dream location. I envisioned a beautiful Italian terrace as a setting, which was not on my radar for any upcoming travels. The concept got postponed and eventually, I entertained the thought of using the dress for something that would actually, you know, happen. Enter Germany. Sadly, Eltz Castle went out the window pretty quickly. We were meeting in Dusseldorf and would not be renting a car. The public transport didn’t run on the weekend, which was our only chance of getting to Eltz Castle. We had to substitute it with some other noteworthy castle. I had to tame my expectations and readjust my worldview to fit the Cochem Castle. After a quick Google search, I was convinced: the location was breathtaking.
Fast forward to our trip to Germany, where I finally admitted that perhaps I’ve been too ambitious. The temperature remained firmly fixed around the unbearable 37°C mark throughout the trip, and the suitcase didn’t get lighter. There was no chance of makeup either: it would simply melt off my face. But I had to admit that the only thing worse than taking a ball gown on a vacation was to bring it along and never even wear it. I had to see it through.
By the time we got to the beautiful Cochem on the Mosel river, the force of the sun chased us into little stripes of shadow on the sidewalk. The Mosel valley was beautiful: small villages peppered both sides of the river, with vineyards stretching as far as the eye could see. They sloped down from the hills, vibrant and persisting, even on rougher inclines. As we reached Cochem, we slipped away from the promenade to the small streets where every facade is timber-framed and every roof is slanted. The castle stood proudly on the hill above, both inviting and intimidating. The contrast between the flat streets and the sloping walk was quite stark, although the effect might have been increased by the overbearing heat of that day.
We started the photoshoot at the foot of the castle, stealing the moments between the groups of tourists that left and entered the castle gates. If you’ve ever had to ask your parents to take a picture of you, you might know how maddening this experience can be. I was torn between posing, running to adjust the camera settings and instructing my mom to hold the camera just so that I would be centered right underneath the castle.
Both of us wanted the experience to end as soon as possible but even though I wanted to get more pictures to make sure everything was covered, my mom wanted to visit the castle so that we could be on our way to Koblenz in time to hit the main art museums. With both of us sighing and slightly unhappy about the need to compromise, the change of clothes was tossed in spare bags, and we went on.
Our climb was rewarded by a fantastic vista of the Moselle valley from the viewing platform. The land below lay exposed with its patchwork of vineyards and houses. The villages almost blended away into the beautiful hills in the distance. The castle’s location was chosen extremely well. We were both very pleased with the view and our progress.
It wasn’t until we bought tickets for a 45-minute tour of the castle premises that I noticed my phone was missing. I reached into the bag to take my phone with an Instagram story in mind but found nothing in my jean pockets or backpack. Before I could rummage around properly, the excursion started. We were led through the gate together with a mix of travelers from Asia, Germany, Netherlands and a couple of English speakers. By this point, backing out wasn’t an option. The loss of my phone took a back seat as I contemplated exploring a real medieval castle in a princess dress.
With growing anxiety, I noticed that my majestic dress was shedding sparkles as I walked. While it wasn’t obvious on the courtyard gravel, it was growing more apparent as we walked across the polished wooden floors of the restored 15th-century interiors. While the tourists listened excitedly to the historical information, I gathered my train and skirts and tried to move as little as possible. Luckily, even if the guide did notice, she spared me the humiliation of being escorted out. Now you know: if you want to show up for a tour in Cochem Castle in a ball gown, you can!
The castle itself was magnificent, both from inside and out. The oak furniture, the armory and secret doors were all too beautiful. The highlight of the tour was definitely the round balcony with a side view of the valley and the courtyard leading to the well and the Witch’s Tower which, in my opinion, should exist in every respectable castle. I was now convinced it was the castle of my dreams.
The return to normal life, however, was rather abrupt. By now it was certain that I left my phone behind, and we retraced our steps back to the stone fence at the foot of the castle. The spot where we shot our first pictures was now utterly empty. At this point I was quite worked up: the dress was hot, we were late for the train to Koblenz and my mom didn’t have a good data plan for calls abroad. I dialed my phone anyway and was very relieved when a German lady picked up. For several tense minutes, I tried to make sense of where they were, while my mom kept reminding me that her money is bound to run out at any moment and the call would be cut off. The pressure was on like it was a Mission Impossible movie!
“We’re at a parking lot near the river,” I was told. Which parking lot though? A German street name followed, sounding somewhat close to “Oberfech”. I counted on my limited knowledge of the Dutch language to help me make sense of the syllables.
“Could you say that again please?” I felt like I was playing a game of faulty telephone. On second thought, I suppose I did. “Okay, thank you! I will be there in 5 minutes. Please wait for me!”
“How will we recognize you?”
“Oh, you will recognize me,” I was laughing nervously at this point, “I’m wearing a blue dress with stars on it.”
“Oh, we saw you in the castle earlier!” Great, I thought.
But still, how in the world was I going to find the street? Luckily I was rescued by my mom’s GPS navigator in her Android tablet. Considering I gifted her that tablet with a set of European maps from Sygic, I was mighty grateful to myself by that point. What saved me was the predictive text function which suggested the much needed “Oberer Weg”.
We rushed through the streets with backpacks and bags in tow, a navigator in hand. By this point we were properly flushed and angry; mom was scolding me proper and I contemplated my life choices as I ran. Would the German family wait long? I felt like I was too generous in my estimated time of arrival. The distance between me and Oberer Weg turned out to be 1 kilometer of wavy streets. It’s hard to say whether I made it in 5 minutes, but I give myself full credit for running that distance in 35-degree heat in a heavy dress.
In the end, I ran into the parking lot, waving to a family of four: a mother and a father and two laughing kids that eyed my appearance with wonder. The mother could not keep from smiling either, and that moment seemed like a great ending to that chapter of the story. The phone was saved, I got a memorable story and would never forget my time as a princess in Cochem Castle.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it for my mom and me! We still had the rest of the day to deal with. We walked back to the train station on foot because the scheduled bus didn’t show. I trekked all the way back, in complete disarray, with the trail of my dress thrown over my arm, begging my mom to let me change clothes, for heaven’s sake. This luxury was denied to me. In the end, my mom got only one hour in the museums of Koblenz (which is something I suspect she will remind me for a long time to come). And I learned my lesson… kind of.
In the future, I fully commit to:
- Travel through Germany by car only;
- Never ask my mom to take pictures of me in castles again;
- Never stand between my mother and a museum; and
- Be more trusting towards the weather reports.