After the series on Turkey, it would seem strange to post about a previous holiday, but that’s the way it’s worked out. This past summer we spent nearly a month in the south of Germany tucked away in a corner near the French and Swiss border. It was a beautiful holiday.
Warning: this post is nearly 4,000 words long and is in diary form, which in Internet terms automatically renders it as boring as bat shit. You may be excused for not wanting to hack through it. I was going to cut it up in bite-sized pieces, but since it was written this way as we went along, maybe it should be posted as is.
Thursday, July 24: This ain’t no forest walk to Grandma’s house. Train is very hot, crowded, full of muffin-topped teenage girls with smeared make-up and an SMS addiction. Though it’s locked, I keep a watch on my bike anyway. Cold pizza inside, need it for later.
Friday, July 25: Drive to Bad Honnef, start of reunion of Hong Kong teachers and employees. The cute little five-year-old flower girl at our wedding in Hong Kong is now a beautiful young woman of 19 about to fly to New York City to start her first year of media studies. I get her address and will send her a copy of the wedding DVD when I get around to copying it. So many people there – 115 teachers and staff, 55 spouses and friends. A huge success. I’m bowled over at how much people have changed, and yet not changed.
Friday evening a bit of a disaster despite the buffet. The beamer doesn’t show the slides very well. Then the current principal gets up to speak and somehow manages to insult the much-loved former principal sitting at the head table, the staff, Australians, the Hong Kong Chinese, the poor….
Quote from Voltaire: Love isn’t blind, but self-love certainly is.
Saturday, July 26. Full day of visiting and touring after buffet breakfast. Bus to the Federal German State history museum in Bonn, which outlines German history from 1945 to the present. Great little tour given by a humourous woman with Frau Dr. on her name tag. Keeps our little group interested with jokes, anecdotes and quiz questions. A gorgeous set of legs doesn’t hurt. We each wear an earpiece which wraps around the ear and connects to a wireless receiver. Although several tours are going on at once, she can speak into her microphone but only we can hear, because each group is on a different frequency.
Germans are smart.
After the museum tour we walk to the bank of the Rhine and board a boat for what turns out to be an overly long tour of the river. The wind is moving in our direction at exactly the same speed so there’s no breeze, making it hot and stuffy inside and out. Still, there’s lots of time to talk to people, catch up on news and wander down memory lane. Got silly with the little red-haired girl inventing stories on the fly, had each other in stitches.
Food looks inedible so I starve myself.
Boat docks at Linz where we stroll through the streets before cutting out the crap and stopping for a very enjoyable three beers to cut through the heat and humidity. Atmosphere appropriately reminiscent of the sub-tropical city we all have in common.
Dinner at a Rittersaal at Burg Linz. Entry fee is one shot of … I’m not sure, but it comes in a horn. I seem to be the only one who loves the food when it finally arrives – potato soup in a bowl made out of bread, then a couple of slabs of ham and some onion/ sauerkraut mixture all washed down with copious steins of draft beer.
For some reason I don’t recall the ride home.
Sunday, July 27: Buffet breakfast, last-minute good-byes, set out on drive to Heitersheim. Waste nearly an hour around Cologne getting lost trying to bypass a traffic jam. I note that I’ve never been near Cologne in a car without having sat for hours wasting gas at one point.
Mental note: I now have another reason to avoid Cologne.
Four hours or so later arrive in Heitersheim and are astounded at how huge the house we’re renting turns out to be. Tons of space, many kitchen extras we’re not used to like a blender, a juicer, professional utensils of the highest quality, a digital bathroom scale for which I perhaps a little too obsessively track the slow descent of my weight.
Wife asks me: Say, did you forget to pack those love handles?
Monday, July 28: Shopping for necessities, then get on the bikes to look for the horse-riding place where the little red-haired girl might take lessons. Takes ages to find, keep getting lost and having to ask for directions which aren’t much help. Don’t the locals venture outside? Finally find the place and arrange for an hour lesson the next day, then go swimming in the local open-air pool. Blazing hot, the air stuffy. The pool has generous green space and good clean water, refreshing.
Starting to feel relaxed and looking forward to lots of cycling.
Tuesday, July 29: Still very hot. Wake up at 0600, breakfast on the terrace then out on the road via Staufen up Münstertal to Neuhoff – about 6 – 7 km up the steep hill after Münstertal. Ran out of water or would have gone further, though the legs were starting to feel it. Still hot, so went swimming again at the pool. Took girl up the road through the fields to the horse-riding, read my book (Sarah’s Key) in a nearby village while she rode.
Wednesday, July 30: Got up at 0500, make coffee and have breakfast, then ride via Staufen and Bad Krotzigen to Freiburg. It’s hard to keep on the bike path and I go too far out of my way going via Staufen, but make it in 80 minutes. Freiburg looking a bit grimy in the early-morning light. Take money out of the bank then ride home. Fast ride, takes only an hour to get back because I go a shorter way. Lots of energy in the cool of the morning.
Thursday, July 31: Drive to Weil am Rhein to see a friend for a bike ride. Ride through across the Rhein and along the canal in the noonday sun, little shade but the riding wind help cool us a bit. Nice view from the bridge over the Rhein at start of tour. Eaten by bugs at picnic. Home by six in time for a little swim.
Friday, August 1: Wake up early and ride 7km to the bridge over the Rhine to France. Closest town is Fessenheim, a hairy armpit of a place with not much to speak of except a supermarket which might be good for bakery goods some day next week. Lots of energy riding, full of strength and feeling very fit.
Fessenheim I learn later is home to the oldest nuclear plant in France, a ticking time bomb of which the locals might one day glow with pride.
We’re really pleased with the little red-haired girl’s riding teacher who points out what she’s doing well and gives her lots of encouragement. Paid 25 euro for two lessons, next week every day four hours per day 100 euros from 9 to 13.
Evening: ride to Staufen, find spot to watch Wine festival opening parade. Very colourful like last time – 10 years ago now – many happy faces, beautiful costumes, magnificent horses. Filmed six minutes.
Film quality is rather poor – should I get a new camera?
Met the ladies downtown a little after the opening speeches, walk along the main festival area with all the wine-tasting tents, restaurants, fast-food stalls. Bumper cars and mirror house with little red-haired girl, then all together to a nice restaurant right next to Town Hall where we had Maultashchen with red and white wine. Very pleasant evening.
The bike ride home a gentle push from soft wind. Lovely skies, beautiful light. I know I couldn’t capture it on film.
Saturday, August 2: Plans to ride at least 50km per day are dashed by weather and a creeping sense that I am pushing 50 and should just slow down a little.
Sunday, August 3: Get up later than planned to go riding but end up heading to Münstertal. At the Rathaus I turn right up the road beyond the mining museum and up into the forest. It was not as challenging as the Belchen at first but then it got quite steep for about three km before leveling off somewhat. I took the wrong turn thinking I could hook up with the Belchen route and end up going back up a 5km hill – in the end that was OK because the view was great and the traffic not too bad for a Sunday. The road surface is uneven and wet in a lot of places, so I have to be very careful on the way down.
That afternoon we head to the Johanniter / Malteser Schloss for what is supposed to be a tour starting at three. Instead a lady at the museum gathers a half-dozen of us around a very well-made model of the place and proceeds to lecture us for a half an hour about various things they were sorry they didn’t know or were unsure of the facts due to this being lost or that being misplaced, her prattle peppered with references either too local or devoid of context to have any meaning to a general audience. The ladies listen politely for about 10 minutes before wandering off, I tough it out another 10 before joining them. I have never gotten so little out of a tour as I do at that place. In the end I gather what little information I can about the Maltesers and what they do, then after a slow walk around the grounds where we catch up with the lady and her one tour guest to be told more information they unfortunately didn’t have or were unsure of, marvel at the stately old Linden tree in the courtyard and the tranquility of the place, then wander off back home.
After dinner we drive up the Belchen to get a view of the valley in the late evening. That’s our plan, anyway. When we were last here we did that every time, but now it’s impossible to get there by car. You have to park the car and either take the chairlift, walk or cycle up the last kilometer or so to the top. Too bad for us – we were looking forward to the view after driving up all that way.
Monday, August 4: Drop the little red-haired girl off at her riding stable for the start of a five-day program of riding, fencing, stick fighting….we’re not sure exactly, but it’s going to be on display on Friday, so we’re all looking forward to that.
We slowly make our way to Sulzburg where we walk through the quiet back streets past the old Synagogue – heavily damaged but not burned to the ground like so many others in November, 1938 madness due to its proximity to surrounding buildings. After a visit to the church of St Cyriak – Romanesque style and one of the oldest in Germany – we continue up the valley and come upon the Jewish cemetery at the side of the road right next to an active camping site. Despite its location it is a hauntingly beautiful place, full of old, indecipherable headstones all covered with at least a stone or two. The site goes back up into the forest in a series of five or six terraces, in some places the growth of trees having pushed the gravestones to one side. I think that you don’t need to build a huge monument in the centre of Berlin if you want to have a memorial to the Jews in Germany – just come to this cemetery and look at the depth and breadth of the community that used to live tucked into this one narrow valley until they were all carted away, the last ones in 1942. A monument erected near the entrance in 1970 commemorates them.
We keep going up the valley to the Waldhotel, an old hotel hemmed in on three sides by dark forest at the end of the road. A four-star hotel with no guests, like many places in the area makes you wonder what they all do to keep going. The place is devoid of tourists, which suits us just fine.
Tuesday, August 5: Drop little red-haired girl off at her riding stable and ride bikes south to Badenweiler. Somewhere along the way we got lost going through the vineyards and end up pushing our bikes most of the way through the forest and then inching down a steep path to finally get back to paved road. K was pretty tired and almost gave up as we ascended the road to the thermal baths to the town of Badenweiler on the other side. We had planned on swimming but instead grab a coffee and a bite to eat to replenish our energy at a Stehcafé.
I take the little red-haired girl swimming in the afternoon after the day turns searing hot. In the evening K and I watch a German film: Schultzie.
Wednesday, August 6: The two of us drive to Badenweiler where we soak in the hot pools the rest of the morning. Badenweiler is quiet like the rest of the area, with stately old homes and hotels mixed in with ugly-looking 70s low-rise apartment blocks. The pool complex is quite beautiful, though we don’t explore all of it. I want to go through the museum next door, which is an open, glass-covered excavation of Roman baths. Isn’t this all getting a bit tedious for you? If you’re still reading – Bravo! Most would have started skimming long ago and entirely missed the following: If you look in my sidebar for the address, send me an email with “I can’t believe I read the whole thing” in the subject line and I will donate €10 to charity for every person who does so. I’m dead serious. I bet I won’t have to pay a dime.
Thursday, August 7: An absolutely exhausting day. K drops little red-haired girl off at the riding place and then comes back home. We decide to go to France by bike – a little skip across the Rhein. The wind’s at our backs and we make good speed through flatlands and over the narrow bridge across the river, sailing along until we come to the walled city of Neuf-Brisach, an old fortress with impressively thick walls and a very wide moat. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, an endowment without which the both of us are quite convinced it wouldn’t attract half the visitors. Sure the walled exterior is interesting, but when I think of the place now all I remember is it being hot, dusty and a bit depressing.
We have to get back to pick up the little red-haired girl, but with the huge tailwinds to get us there it would have been necessary for K to ride just as fast the way home, a nearly impossible task for her. So I leave her there and ride back all the way to Heitersheim against the wind, taking 75 minutes to do the 24 kilometres. I drive the car to Breisach on the German side where I met K, who left Neuf-Brisach soon after I did for the short trip across the river.
Friday, August 8: Did not watch anything to do with the Olympics. Dropped little red-haired girl off and then went back home, enjoyed time with K and then we went to watch the girl’s horseriding play of knights and armour and fighting sticks. In between riding lessons they’ve been working on it all week – designing and making the costumes, practising stick fighting and archery. They pull it off beautifully. K remarks how much better the girl can ride now.
In the afternoon we drive off in search of a private distillery to buy some schnapps. We end up having our ears talked off by a very nice lady about 15 years our senior who tells us all about the schnapps, the taxes on the schnapps and how they’re calculated according to which kind and how long it’s been stored, her family and what they do, her family’s time in Namibia, her voyages to South Africa… in the end we buy three bottles of schnapps – cherry, pear and “wheat yeast” Hefebrand anyway – plus two beautiful bottles of a cognac-like drink from 1997 – one we will drink right away, another we’ll save for our 1997 girl.
After the distillery we head for a town in the hills but but get lost and end up at a forest guest house where we have a quick coffee. A two-man band is playing for a private party in the main room – an anniversary celebration, we think. We ask if we could get to Wittnau, which is on our way, and the waitress – who probably does this sort of thing for kicks – says no problem, just take the left fork at the end of the road up the hill. We do that but somehow get sidetracked yet again, this time on tracks through the forest which became narrower and narrower. We eventually come across a barrier so have to turn back – as it turns out we made an entire circuit of the mountaintop through the forest and were forced to back- track the entire way. We’ve wasted too much time to bother making the detour back to the place to find the waitress and tell her where she can stick her little left fork at the end of the road.
In the evening we watch the highlights of the Olympic opening ceremonies – an unbelievably grandiose spectacle, gigantic display of choreography. EuroSport highlight show fails to show the entry of the Canadian team. Idiots.
I realise that’s the first TV I’ve watched in two weeks. Haven’t missed it at all.
Saturday, August 9: Get up early for a ride to Bad Krozingen to get some money out of the bank, early ride, no traffic, not that strenuous. Raining a bit. The three of us drive to Badenweiler to the Casseopia Therme, a lovely thermal bath complex built right beside the ruins of a Roman bathhouse which we visit later. Very well-preserved, interesting displays and information of Roman life and times in the area.
On the way home through Bad Kitzingen we stop for a few minutes right in the centre of town to listen to a 30-piece brass band play music at a wedding party, the guests all dressed up and holding glasses of sekt outside on a terrace. After three Abba hits we’re on our way again – an unexpected musical interlude.
Sunday, August 10: Drive to Freiburg to meet some friends, who lead the way east through Freiburg and the Black Forest to our first meeting point for a one-way walk through the Wutachschlucht, a lush gorge. The kids have a huge amount of energy at the beginning and skip off into the forest to hide and play games, but as the hike wears on that drops off to zero. None of them complain about how tired they are or whine about when it will be over. Not bad for 16 km.
Many hikers on the trail, but for a Sunday it’s not overly crowded. Our lunch picnic spot at river’s edge was beautiful. The gorge has many waterfalls, side streams, glades, meadows, colourful cliffs, mossy banks soaking in braided streams, through varied terrain that is never too difficult. At one point the river partly disappears to travel through an underground passage to rejoin the main river about an hour’s walk further down.
The drive back takes us through an isolated valley, a detour around a traffic jam as it turns out. Our friends leading the way stop by a pullout near the end of another jam just at the start of another gorge and tell us that it’s already too late to go for a drink and bite to eat, and we agree. Take another hour to get to Freiburg. I run a red light – STUPID – in Freiburg, and get flashed with the camera, so we’ll have a hefty fine to look forward to on the way home.
Monday, August 11: Over to France and a visit to Haut-Königsbourg, a castle from the middle ages completely rebuilt from old plans over nearly a decade and completed in 1908. Beautifully restored, wonderful details in the walls, doorways, inner courtyard, hunting room, fireplaces, ceramic ovens, artillery room full of implements of death and destruction, wild boar on the walls, view into valley superb despite ran and light fog. Unfortunately they let way too many people in at one time. You sometimes have to stand around in the rooms before you can get an unblocked view of certain areas, waiting for the Italian tourists and their screaming bambini or the lesbian British couple with an SLR fetish as they get another shot of an obscure detail or the French tour group being told they were in yet another room where many many years ago food got eaten, drink got drunk and pipes got smoked. To pass the time at one point I remind the little red-haired girl of her primary school sex education class with a little ditty from times past:
In days of old
When knights were bold
And condoms not invented,
They wrapped their socks around their cocks
And babies were prevented.
Through rain-soaked vinyards we slowly wind our way home, stopping off in St-Hypollite, a little burg at the foot of the mountain. I buy a dried-out chocolate croissant then wander down the street to a courtyard where we order a café au lait and a café crème from a rather haggard-looking lady operating a small winery. She brings us the coffee – a little too quickly – in cups each of which have a dime-sized chunk chipped out of the rim. We look at each other and despite the fact I’m in holiday mode and tending to avoid confrontation, pick them up and bring them back to the lady, mustering the most accent-free French I can to say that I am very sorry, but the condition of the cups left us both in such a disgusted state that we are unable to remain in her esteemed establishment. “But I can make you fresh coffee in a new cup,” she says. No thanks.
Tuesday, August 12:
Rained all day, did nothing except read, hang out, watch a bit of the Olympics. Walked by myself in the rain to see the Roman villa onthe outskirts of Heitersheim – a modest excavation of a much larger site. Not as interesting as the Roman baths at Badenweiler.
Wednesday, August 13: Bathed in Bad Krotzingen Thermal baths. Not as nice as Badenweiler perhaps – less interesting scenery in the background, a bit more crowded but that could just have been the day we were there – not much room for lounging inside, needs a bit of sprucing up… one of the bathrooms reeked of piss, something you don’t usually expect when you’re paying 15 bucks entry fee.
Thursday, August 14: Drove to Zurich, got lost twice in the city trying to find our friend’s place, arrived half-hour later than planned, wife and friend gabbing in the kitchen making tea, neither realises my wife has put the electric kettle under the gas flame and has started to melt the thing. My wife picks it up and says, hey, it’s burning underneath – I stick it under the tap to stop the smoking, open a window … the thing is trashed so we buy her a new one.
Friday, August 15
Suspicion which dawned yesterday that Zurich is perhaps the most horrible city outside of Venice to try to drive a vehicle through is now confirmed. Good thing we always go there by train or fly.