Hotel Goldener Stern, Bonn
( Originally Published Mid 1800's )
Monday, October 2, 1865.
DEAR MOTHER, — Isn't this a funny place from which to write you? I wish you could see it, you would think it funnier still ; but you would have to allow that it is very pretty. It stands on the Rhine just before you come to the Seven Mountains, where the beauty of the Rhine commences, and is one of those queer old German cities which we have always pictured and know so little about until we have seen them. But I might as well go back to where I was at my last writing. I told Fred to send you my letter from London, so I will begin there. On Tuesday morning I went by rail to Dover, and thence by boat to Ostend. Everybody expects to be seasick on the Channel, but I was disappointed. We had a four hours' sail, as quiet and gentle as if we were going down to Hingham. It was most charming, and not a soul on board suffered from the sea. We came up to the wharf at Ostend, and felt at once that we were in Europe. I brushed up my French and went ashore, passed the custom-house examination, and took train by Bruges to Ghent, a queer old town full of historic interest ; from there to Brussels, a lively French town. I found it right in the midst of its annual fête of national independence. The streets were illuminated, fireworks everywhere, and people sitting at tables drinking beer in honor of independent Belgium. I found all the best hotels full, and was crowded into a poor one, and jabbered my French for the first time to waiters and chambermaids. I went from Brussels to see the field of Waterloo. Everybody does, though it wasn't much of a battle by the side of Gettysburg and Antietam. They run an English mail-coach out there every day. Then I saw the Brussels streets and churches. From Brussels to Antwerp, a dear old city, full of Rubens's pictures and the quaintest old Flemish houses and costumes. From Antwerp to Rotterdam, part by rail and part by steamer, up the Maas, through miles of dykes and windmills into my first Dutch town. Such a language as they talked there ! I haven't half an idea what anybody said to me. I made a tolerable show of French and got along splendidly in German, but the Dutch was too much for me. I could only smile blandly and point what I thought was the nearest way to the next town. From Rotterdam to the Hague, a nice old place with canals instead of streets, and fine old pictures of Rembrandt and Rubens, and a lot of others ; then to Amsterdam, where all is canal and not street again, and the horrible Dutch tongue still. I went to the New Church (built in 1408) and heard them sing two verses of a hymn in their language. That was enough, and I ran down the nearest canal to the English church and heard our own dear liturgy and a sermon from the English chaplain instead. From Amsterdam to Düsseldorf, where the pictures come from and where many splendid ones are still, to Cologne, where the great unfinished cathedral is, at which they have been working six hundred years ; and from there, here. To-day, I have come into Germany, where they speak German and charge you for your dinner in thalers. I like the Germans much. I respect the Dutch, but I would not live among them for a million a year. Today, too, I have come into the region of Romish churches and relics. I have seen the skulls of the Three Wise Men, the thorns of Christ's Crown, the wood of the True Cross, one of the water pots of Cana of Galilee, the steps of Pilate's Judgment Seat, and a church lined with the skulls and bones of the eleven thousand martyred virgins of Cologne. Of course you are expected to believe in them all, and isn't that pretty well for one day? But the cathedral is very noble, by all means one of the great sights of the world.
That brings me to Bonn. From here trace me to Coblentz, Mayence, Heidelberg, Frankfort (where I have directed my letters to be sent and hope to hear from you), Leipsic, and Berlin. Am I not a lucky chap to see all this? I am splendidly well, and keep on the go all the time, and, as I said, am getting the hang of German enough to be quite at home with the people. I eschew all delicacies and rough it generally. Last night for the first time I found a feather bed for covering in my room. I kicked it off and slept like a top without it. The worst thing to me about this traveling is that you can't drink water. Think of my misery. But it is too vile to touch. However, we are now in the region of light Rhine wines. For twelve and a half groschen (25 cents) you get a bottle of good wine which answers pretty well, but I would give a dollar for a pitcher of ice water to-night. All living here is cheap, but in Holland it is very dear and very poor indeed. I think I did right in coming alone, that is, as no very intimate friend offered. I find companions everywhere, and see much more of the people than if I were with a party of my own. It costs a little more, because I have to pay all fees, which are a great expense here for one, instead of dividing them among a party. To-day I met a Philadelphian on the steps of Cologne cathedral, and last week I found a family of parishioners at the Hotel St. Antoine in Antwerp.
My dearest mother, you cannot think how strange it seems to be writing in this little German inn, and knowing that you will read it in the old back parlor at home, where you have read my letters from Cambridge, Alexandria, and Philadelphia. Johnnie will bring it up from the post office some night, and Trip will break out into one of his horrible concerts two or three times while you are reading it. Then as soon as it is over, father will get out his big candle and you will put up the stockings, and all go up the old stairway to the old chambers, and to bed. Well, good-night and pleasant dreams to you all, and don't forget that I am off here wandering up and down these old countries and thinking ever so much about you. At Frankfort, where I hope to be early next week, I shall find your letters and have a talk with you again.
And now, good-night ; peace and every blessing be with you always. God bless you all.