Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Germany, the Rest of the Week

Onward, and literally upward!

We spent Sunday night in a hotel that has been around since 1550 or so (thankfully remodeled since its original owners), and
then we headed for the top of the German Alps known as the Zugspitze. It's about 10,000 feet, give or take, on the border of Germany and Austria. (click on the picture to make it big and notice the town waaaaaay down there in tinyville...)

They provide a combination of cog wheel train and cable car (the kind that dangle in the air) to get to it. The train starts in the valley and passes through this pastoral scene...

When the cog part gets really steep the train is inside a looooong tunnel barely big enough for the cars and that gave me a little claustrophobia much to Ted and Cooper's amusement. Once you come out and switch to the cable cars you are almost to the top. Where it's cold and windy and absolutely beautiful.

There is lots of space to wander and look and take pictures and have your picture taken while freezing your fanny off.

There are also signs that give you a chuckle.

The danger wasn't funny. The syntax, however, was.

From there we went to Passau and stayed on the Danube again...(that's morning steam)

...and headed out the next morning into the Bohemian Forest (near the Czech border), across to Nuremberg which we mostly gave a pass to. The site of the war trials is still a Hall of Justice and not someplace equipped for visitors, and we were much more interested in getting to Heidelberg.

Speaking of which, what a place. It's a maze, it's crammed with history, it's cramped and narrow, it's full of people and students and traffic, it's stuck to steep hillsides and built right up to the edge of the Neckar River and we liked it. Alot.

All the pictures you have may seen of it have been taken from the opposite bank at sundown. Our timing was wrong, and traffic was a nightmare, so you get a new view courtesy of our lack of planning. ;-) We are standing on the grounds of the Heidelberg Castle (which is also part of the usual photos you may have seen) looking down on the city. The castle itself is a spectacular thing built into the hillside and occupied for centuries. You can see the work of at least two different centuries in the ruins pictured here...

and get an idea of the precipitous perch it's on in this shot that happens to include both my guys (one of whom is immune to my cries of "Hey! Look at the camera!").

At the bottom of the hill we stopped in the market area, one of many we stopped in during the week. They are all "Something-platz" and they are great fun, full of fresh produce, flowers, handcrafts and people.

This view as you are leaving the market area was Heidelberg for us...

and these flower boxes were the norm, even though it was mid October and chilly- we couldn't believe how many places had bright, lively flower boxes blooming in defiance of the season.

From Heidelberg we went to Trier and made a quick foray into Luxembourg just because it was there. Pooh on the European Union- we drove into it like we were going from Kansas to Colorado and no one wanted to see our passports much less stamp them. But we were there. And I have Coop's picture to prove it...

We wandered around and then ate dinner, getting language whiplash from trying to remember we were no longer in "danke" land and trying to substitue "merci". At dinner we listed our French vocabulary words (Coop, who is taking French at school, declined to play), and mostly came up with a lame list that included Chevrolet, beaucoup, pommes frites, and Oui! So we got in our car and headed back to Deutschland and a language we were still hoping to absorb.

As long as we're talking language, I'll share with you our favorite german word (and those of you who are familiar with our everlasting immaturity will not be surprised)... fahrt. It means 'trip' and is part of a great many phrases, the most ubiquitous of which are 'entrance' and 'exit'. Einfahrt and Ausfahrt. These two words are used approximately seven million times on the Autobahn to mark the appropriate places, and we never failed to snort and chuckle as one of us yelled "Ausfahrt!" at each highway exit we took. In order not to cause accidents, we never managed to get one of the big blue highway signs that pointed down the exit ramps, but here's a train station example for you...

We think the 'h' adds some class to the word. ;-)

Okay, back to being grownups. We left Trier and headed into the Mossel Valley in Rheinland to follow the road up the Mossel river through Reisling wine country. The river valley is bordered on both sides by steep hills that don't stop the wineries from planting grape arbors straight up the sides of them.

As you can see, they put the grapes on any piece of ground they can get the vines to hold. They use what we started calling 'grapecarts' to harvest them...

...the people walk the hillside picking grapes and put their bounty on the rack behind the driver. We saw some grape pickers and couldn't believe how difficult it looked to pick fruit on a steep incline.

In an effort to see the valley from on high, we followed a small narrow road that lacked signposting until we felt we might be either a) trespassing or b) stuck in a spot we would have to back down all the way from. A German couple had arrived at the same place and conclusion sometime before us and the man came to Ted's window to ask him (in German) what he thought. With a combination of smiles, laughs, hand gestures, and raised eyebrows, we all decided that perhaps we should try to extricate ourselves from the narrow hilltop. Our new best friend peeked around an outcrop just ahead of where we had stopped our car and suddenly broke into a wide grin and waved us forward. We drove around the rock and found ourselves in a wide spot big enough for about five cars to park and take advantage of the view. Our German friend followed and we all piled out of our cars to stand on the edge of the precipice and marvel and snap pictures like this...

As we exclaimed to each other in our respective languages, another German couple poked their heads around the outcropping with worried looks on their faces. We all laughed and beckoned them to bring their car down and share our tiny parking lot. After we had our fill of oohing and ahhing, we headed back the way we had come to the accompaniment of enthusiastic waves and laughter from our soon to be erstwhile friends.

The valley is home to countless castles- most in ruins. It was common to look uphill and see this...

...a former feudal castle, fronted by those impossibly steep vineyards, protecting a town of untold age and history.

When we reached the end of the valley road in a town called Cochem, we stopped for brats and schnitzel at a tiny Bierhouse where the owner/waiter spoke no English and practiced our German phrases on him. Mostly he wished we would just shut up and point, but our lunch was delicious and we followed it with a walk through the local Something-platz.

From there we headed to Mainz where our only goal was the Gutenberg Museum. We tried to fire Coop up for the sheer spectacle of seeing the first books printed on a printing press after centuries of handwritten manuscripts and painfully hand printed flyers, and only succeeded marginally. The museum was dedicated to all aspects of books and printing as a result of Gutenberg's invention and he was more interested in the teeny tiny books and the fact that Gutenberg used dog skin for his inkers since it has no pores and wouldn't absorb the ink. But he did look at a huge number of exhibits in the four story museum, so we suppose he got something out of it.

Ted and I sure did.

As you can imagine, the 600 year old Gutenberg Bible (it's three volumes!) and many of the other exhibits were not things you could photograph, in fact the bible was in a vault that was humidified and indirectly lit with 25 watt bulbs, so we felt special just to be able to get a look at it at all. So there are no pictures of this part of our trip. You can Google it if you need visuals. :-) It was very cool, and worth the trip.

Outside the museum was the Something-platz for Mainz so we wandered the booths and stalls collecting cheese and bread and marinated shrimps and cherry tomatoes for lunch and then sat here and ate it all.

It was a serene end to a swell trip. We headed to the Frankfurt airport that night, and came back to warm, sunny Africa in the morning.