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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Small Days in Small Places of Central/SouthWestern Germany

USA | Wednesday, 17 March 2010 | Views [554] | Comments [1]

If this is going to be an honest relationship, which is the only working kind (and of course honesty is bred from communication, because how else can one be honest if there is no exchange of words?), than we must start this missive off by being honest. We had a bad couple of days once we departed from Rudesheim.

Our guide book warns to take vacation from vacation if it is the extended kind. They warn against culture shock and lack of satisfaction. Well, after Rudesheim we hit the proverbial brick wall.

We left with the intention of heading for Rothenburg, the only medieval and walled city remaining in Germany with absolutely no modern buildings. It turned out to be a crazy debacle. We left Rudesheim, where there was no one at the train station to guide us. The route we were supposed to take accoding to the ticket machine required that we exchange trains about three or four times (which wound up being correct. The smaller towns/cities in Germany all require this). We didn't realize that when we stepped off the train for our final connection, or so we though, that we were stepping onto a platform consisting of only one bench and a ticket machine. We stood there for a moment, and another train whizzed by, blowing snow in our faces. It was cold and the day would soon be drawing to a close. We tried heading down the road, but there was nothing with promise in site. The area appeared to be completely uninhabited, all the shops closed, all factories asleep. It turns out, after the help of an older couple walking by, after we had returned to stand at the train station again, that the station we wanted, bearing the same name, was actually 2km further up the tracks. Well, we waited another twenty something minutes for the final train going through, and a city it was not. It was another sleepy town, children sliding down the iced cobbled roads on their sleds, stepping aside for the occasional passing Mercedes Benz. We wandered the roads, scoffed at the price of the only open hotel, and got back in line for the train. Via this train station we were supposed to get to Rothenburg, but there was absolutely no indication of what to do on how to actually make it to the hugest attraction of the Romantic Road. No clerks at the train station, as it was a Sunday. It was getting colder, and the sun was falling away. The train took us one stop further, and it appeared to be another of the same sort of town. Sleeping. We were able to find a place, though, and a good one. The price was decent, as they worked with us (why not just give a discount sometimes? It would be more money than if you turned us away sticking to the regular one...).

We arose early the next morning, getting breakfast and showing up at the tourist office at nine. It turned out they knew how to get us to Rothenburg, and it was actually still four hours away, another four train connections. By the time we arrived it was late afternoon and we felt cramped and tired. But we had lost an entire day to travel, and a flight leaving from Norway on the last day of March for Scotland requires we keep moving. So we dropped our stuff off at a well-priced pension owned by an old lady, smelling of age and equipped with all acessories that makes one think of grandparents, complete with available house shoes and the instructions to the hair dryer. It took us only an hour to really get our fill of the medieval, walled city. It was truly magnificent and charming, but we weren't out to pay to get into the crime museum or the oldest house. We just wanted to walk the wall, and the streets lined by typical shops.

After we ate, and by the time we got back to our room, the temperature had dropped dramatically. The wind blew inside the walls, swirling snow with them, hurrying us home to warmth.

We were up early again to return to the famous Christmas ornament shop by Kathe Wohlfahrt in the hopes of finding something good. While certain tourists enjoy collecting fridge magnets from the places they have gone to, we like to find Christmas ornaments. It goes without saying that magnets are in great supply, and ornaments are not. Before the one we purchased at Kathe's store, for Germany, we had only found one other, and that was in Spain and make-shift besides- a miniature of the Sagrada Familia church. We will have to tie a string to it. Amidst an insane number of ornaments and Christmas decorations, some priced at over two thousand euros, we did find the right one. Only our second souvenir, including the mini Sagrada Familia. Both equalling twenty euros. To send them home more than compensates for the agreeable price.

We were already irritated by the time we left Rothenburg. The prior two days had not been a treat, and far from fun, despite the charm of ancient preserved. We were grateful to see it, of course, but that didn't make us any more agreeable to hitting the road again.

We arrived in Baden-Baden four hours later, famished and unwilling to walk up and down the winter roads. We followed the instructions from the internet and took the bus to the tourist office, a cramped bus full of loud teenagers and baby strollers, and the tourist office was a joke. No pamphlets, only one promise of cheap accomodation. We had to get back on the bus and retrace halfway to the train station, and then we realized we did not have a street map. While this was just as much our fault, we like to think it was more the representative at the tourist office. We had so far not needed to actually purchase a map, as they had been free, and it did not register to inquire about the one she indicated on. She did not offer it. So when we got off at the bus stop, we realized that a seven minute walk could start in any of four direction. It took at least twenty minutes and three of those directions before we found someone who could tell us where the street was that we were looking for. And it wasn't so much a street as a hilltop.

By the time we had reached the peak, winding through a normal suburbia, even getting further affirmation of our direction from a woman unloading groceries from her station wagon BMW, we were hot and breathless. Our energy was nil, and so was our desire. The youth hostel was fully booked, and we cursed the organization. We had signed up for the cards before we left America, and have thus far not used them. No atraction has accepted the discount, and the one or two of the related hostels we have tried to stay at have been booked. Being a world-wide organization, we figure it is just too elite for those who have no idea where they are heading next and when. Also, we have not received any stamps in our passport- not counting the one from Germany during our layover on the way into Portugal. We are in our sixth counry, and they just don't care when you take the train/bus in. This is majorly ironic. What is the point of a passport?

Baden-Baden was expensive. We remained stubborn, walking around looking for somewhere to stay until it was totally dark, freezing cold, and had been almost twelve hours since our last meal. We were forced to give in eventually and settle for one of the hotels. Sometimes we dream of opening our own hostel, but if anyone knows Kalamazoo they know you can stay at a Motel 6 for forty dollars a night, all amenities, right next to the hockey rink and a Denny's, and you don't need much else because Kalamazoo is Kalamazoo. Nice place to live, but why be a tourist when Chicago is three hours away and Detroit two (if retracing the steps of a rapper is your kind of thing)?

Our evening in Rothenburg with the old lady did not have internet- we didn't even ask. Our evening in Baden-Baden had the best connection we have had yet, and our computer would not access it. Michael tried for the better part of two hours, and there was no hope. We turned in gloomy and out of sorts. We wanted to wake up the next day in our own bed in our own apartment back home, as if Michael had never lost his job. But we did not, and we left for the train station unsure of where to go. We were due to meet up with Rebecca's German family on Friday morning a city over, about two hours away, but that was still not for two more days.

A man behind the ticket desk at the train station helped point us in the right direction, setting us up with a nice town in the Black Forest where he comes from, and while waiting for our departure time we hunkered down at the coffee shop and hooked up to the WiFi. A quick and reassurring talk with Rebecca's mother was all we needed. We explained our weakness to frustration, both of us becoming short-tempered with each and every bump in the road, as if it is such a personal jab. We know the truth of reality, that the world does not revolve around us, but neither of us can clear from our heads the obsession that if we all worked together, practicing self-awareness and selflessness in general, the world would turn for everyone pretty well. We were reminded by our dear mother that this trip represents several things in our lives. Not only is it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it was designed to be a purging of sorts. To leave the stifling environment of a country we had defended and in the past few years has become unrecognizable, to see how others are made and the well-fare of their own people (although at this point we will refrain from becoming any more political). To leave the black clowd of unemployment and uncertainty about purpose in life, and hope to find it, and at least see things if we don't. To sort through those things that seem to take the most hold on our lives, separate ourselves from them if it is better and return refreshed. Mostly, to experience Jeremiah 29:11-14, and really believe it, practice it: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back from captivity."

All of this makes our journey a perfect battleground, and our devotions from the previous night had encouraged us to learn how to defeat the defeat, instead of succumbing to it. While this is not something that can be done overnight, and must continually be mastered throughout life, we hope to have the upperhand soon. We have been given everything we need, we just need to use it. A garden will not grow while the tools are still in the shed. We cannot be disgusted when we have not lifted a finger and there is no harvest...

Sadly enough, even after our much needed pep talk, it was the same thing in Frieburg. We followed the signs from the train station to the tourist office, where the woman was most helpful. She must have gotten out four different maps for us. She told us where the hostel was, and how to take a train to Titisee, because you haven't seen the Black Forest if you haven't been to Titisee. The ten minute jaunt to the hostel became many, many more. Streets going every other way, crossing over a larger creek and then a smaller one, intersections like starfish. When we came across it we were not relieved. The environment was completely flower power and green and global warming. The ceilings were high and the walls dirty and the smell of an herb we can not remember, but not what you are thinking. Crushed clover, perhaps, from childhood with the striped and blocky leaves.

We stayed only long enough to drop off our things. The day was getting late and we still wanted to see the Black Forest. It was all around us, to be sure, but we desired to be in the midst of it. We had only that one day, and on the next we would head back to Baden-Baden. It had been worked out with Rebecca's mother. She very much wanted us to experience Friedrichsbad, the Roman-Irish bathhouse she went to when she visited Germany thirteen years ago with her parents and sisters. She would treat us to the experience, since we were going out of our heads with the amount of money Europe can suck out of an individual, not to mention two. I imagine it would be way easier, and plentifully cheaper, if one were to travel solo. By the time a hostel dormitory times two, bedding times two (as most of them charge for the service and you are unlucky enough to not have your own sleeping bag), and breakfast times two and WiFi per hour, you are spending just as much as you would for a simple room in a two or three star hotel- most of the time. But the plan was to return to Baden-Baden before heading to the neighboring city where we would be picked up an evening early by the German family- next post we will do our best to discuss details and lineage.

Our train ride further into the Black Forest was rewarding, even after our day of travels. The cars shimmied between mountain on either, over precipices that dropped to the highway below. The trees of the Black Forest are tall and skinny pines, the tops of them a dark grey/green, and in the cloudy day they truly looked their name. Their trunks reach high before the needles begin in a solid tuft about two-thirds of the way up. Peering through them to the automobiles below was like looking through hair in the eyes, and we climbed still higher. We passed through the most narrow part, with a cross mounted on one side, a deer on the other. They tell the story of a hunter chasing his prey, who had leapt to safety on the other side. The hunter did not see the gap, as it was so small, and plunged to his death.

Titisee was silent and freezing. The sun was setting and we walked briskly through the streets, stopping often in shops to warm up. Twice we reached the outskirts of the town. We took pictures of the landscape and smiled lamely. We walked past a man who stood in the middle of the road, trying to get the perfect photograph of a street sign with a car behind him, trying to use the way he blocked. He was unaware of the Prius two feet behind him, and pursued the most perfect angle, the best lighting, the steadiest hand. It was funny to watch, and only when the car was put in reverse and drove around him did he realize his mistake. Ah, the silence of the hybrid. We decided that was reason alone to have made the trip. We ate some soup and headed back down, forgetting all about sampling some genuine Black Forest cake...



Hi Therre,
I live in Baden-Baden. Sorry to hear about your experience in Baden-Baden. Yes it was cold, even bitter cold (which is an exception for this region) and not having a room with a bed a lie down is not a pleasant situation. Tavelling in winter is never a good experience especially when on a shoe string. But remember those windy cold days in Chicago or even Detroit (the world most unhospitable city I have see).
Normally the tourists offices are well informed and equipped with maps etc. Just ask.
Please come back in summer and enjoy the sites and sounds of this city. There are plenty of three stars accomodation and smaller restaurants to eat. Just ask the locals, most people speak english.And by the way a little knowlegde of the country you are travelling in, helps a lot.

  Martin Mar 18, 2010 9:30 PM

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