DAY 5: Monday, October 20
It had been difficult to find a room in the Black Forest area, so we had ended up in an impersonal building used by out-of-town politicians who need a bed, a working area, and a kitchenette. However, it was fine for doing our day trips, including our one foray into France’s Alsace region. And, most importantly, the receptionist who helped check us in and the one who checked us out couldn’t have been friendlier, so the folk there get A+.
Our ‘Apart Hotel’ was located in Kehl, basically a German suburb, connected to its lovely French neighbor, Strasbourg. Taking a fifteen-minute bus ride to cross the river then hopping on tram once on the French side, we rode into downtown, enjoyed a bagel for breakfast (not as good as ones at home) and walked to the cathedral, which was sited where a Roman temple once stood.
Construction began in 10th century and continued in various stages through the 14th century including impressive stained glass windows.
Unique at that time for only having one tower, it was considered the highest building in Europe (466 feet).
Strasbourg also features Grand Ile, located between two arms of River Ill. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Center, this small area features streets and buildings from medieval and post-medieval times. It also was woven into the modern city fairly seamlessly,
including a swing bridge connecting the island to the mainland,
making our day’s tour an easy and time-travel walk with a time-out to enjoy the local beverages.
Reversing our morning commute by tram, then bus, then walking to our hotel, we planned the next day’s event. We even prepped for tomorrow’s Baden-Baden experience by walking around naked in our room. Better to try it in private before we doff all in public…
DAY 6: Tuesday, October 21
Today was THE DAY. In other words, it was the day Max and Lynnie would prance around in their birthday suits in front of complete strangers (hopefully strangers) and pretend nothing was extraordinary about baring all.
We arrived and the kind receptionist said ‘you don’t need anything except this electronic wristband’, which recorded us as having paid for the full treatment including two mini-massages: a soap & brush and a cream.
Jitterly we nonchalantly strolled up the stairs to the mixed bathing side (certain days the genders have separate bathing areas). Reaching the locker room, we used our wristband to push through the turnstile. A male attendant in hospital whites greeted us. His being clad in clinical attire helpfully provided a medical sensitivity to knowing soon we’d be standing front and center nude. He gave us a towel (for sitting on the hot benches in the fist two saunas, not for draping) and said proceed to the showers once we’re ready. We looked at one another, gulped, said ‘what the hell’, and off everything went without another thought. Well, there were a few thoughts such as my silent screaming mantra “I can do this. I CAN do this. I can DO this. I can do THIS! Yes! I CAN DO THIS!.” as the movie theme for ROCKY played in my head.
Since there are excellent descriptions of this, I’ll link one here.
But, just know, it wasn’t crowded, it was progressively easier with each of the 17 steps of steam, dunk, massage as the time wore on, and we’d do it again, which some of you may recall we did when the opportunity presented itself.
And, for anyone contemplating this invigorating and relaxing experience, one of the many benefits is you’ll never have a wedgie from a bathing suit.
DAY 7: Wednesday, October 22
In spite of waking to an overcast and cool day, we decided to go with our original plan of touring the Black Forest. We had two destinations: the German Clock Museum in Furtwangen and then, are you ready?… Schwarzwalder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof in Gutach. The first provided a chronological history of the timepiece including, of course, cuckoo clocks. The latter, an open museum of how life was way back when in the Black Forest.
The landscape was hilly with switchbacks on narrow lanes that would then flow into an open field populated with neatly outlined farms composed of some cows, hay bales, and scrupulously, orderly homes. The architecture, nor disciplined landscape, rarely varied. Even in the rather dour and now rainy weather it was intriguing. I felt like I was in a German Lego-land.
One of the loveliest towns we strolled around was Staufen. Considered a non-tourist town in spite of its shops and manicured streets, this gem featured a picturesque market square with stalls selling honey, herbs, and wine,
little canals (originally created as fire protection),
and plenty of Germans from nearby who come here to shop the local stores.
This town is also known as the home of Johann Georg Faust. He was brought to Staufen to produce gold for the town and managed to die from an explosion when conducting one of his chemical experiments. This true-life character was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s inspiration for his story about a man who makes a pact with the devil, who, in turn, breaks Faust’s neck.
While climbing to a bit higher altitude on our way to Furtwangen, the rain turned to snow.
Unfortunately, there was an accident ahead of us for soon we were stopped in a line by a waving policeman with ambulances rushing by us.
Informing each car as he strode down the line it would be awhile, we decided to cancel our cuckoo plans and head back down the hill. We still had the open-air museum we could see.
Back down the hill and onto another route, we located the museum outside Gutach. It wasn’t quite raining but it wasn’t not raining either. But, we were here and determined to tour the buildings.
Vogtsbauernof means ‘farmhouse of the district governor’. The original farmhouse sitting on the property was constructed in 1612.
Surrounding the main home were the laborer’s cottage,
saw mill (this pic is for Rod and Joanne who built one on Sleeth Island in Canada),
and the bakery and distillery serving as a communal kitchen.
By now it was definitely raining, in fact, pouring. Not the best time to tour an outdoor exhibit. Yet, we dashed through to the various buildings, sheltering in and under the eaves, seeing just enough to understand,
no, I really wouldn’t want to have to live back then. With a final walk jog to the exit, we said we were glad we went but, basically, for the time we spent, we had just made a nice donation to the museum’s coffers.
Back to Kehl we went fortified with our gummy bears, a nutritional food always reminding me of our friend Shawn :)
DAY 8: Thursday, October 23
Excitedly we packed up and exited our Apart Hotel room. Our destination was one Becky and Gary had recommended: Meersburg, a small historical town on one of Germany’s biggest lakes.
Not wanting to leave the Black Forest without seeing the cuckoo clocks, we decided to go by way of Furtwangen and its museum.
Having researched the various kinds of cuckoo clocks, we were lavishly rewarded with an overwhelming history not only of the cuckoo but any and all timepieces created by man. But, my focus was on the birdie, and I had discovered the Black Forest was the origin of the cuckoo clock in spite of any Swiss saying otherwise (as per my readings anyway).
The idea of using a house as the main component arose from an 1850 contest. A railway architect, Friedrich Eisenlohr, modeled his on a railway house changing the look of these clocks. Thanks to the Grand Tour era of wealthy tourists toodling around the romantic roads of Germany, the cuckoo clocks became extremely popular. Now you can purchase not just mechanical ones (requiring winding) but also quartz models, which are easier to ensure the bird doesn’t stop tooting.
After an hour of listening to the tick-tock, cuckoos, and generally inner workings of hundreds of clocks, it was time to leave.
Arriving in Meersburg we found ourselves in a lovely little town beside Lake Constance, one of Germany’s largest lakes, one also bordered by Austria and Switzerland.
Once in Meersburg we dropped our bags at our inn, which was on one of the main squares in this historic town, and realized just how happy we were to be out of our cold, corporate room and in a warm, homey inn.
DAY 9: Friday, October 24
Waking up to a beautiful day, we found a few sites to explore, mainly the castle peering over the lake atop a rocky outcrop.
This castle was the most impressive one we toured, primarily due to the number of rooms available for viewing (36) and furnishings. Meersburg Castle was founded by a Merovingian King, Dagobert the First, in the 7th century.
You really got a feel for how castle living must have been. One stone room opened to another,
with living quarters furnished with authentic, period pieces.
In the staff kitchen, we could still smell the soot from over a thousand years’ use.
Large tiled stoves were the heaters (which we had seen in other castles.
The well (reaching over 91 feet down to the lake) was protected inside the castle, no surprise given the possibility of a seige.
A 16th century addition served as a room for fencing and other military exercises. It now houses weapons and suits of armor, with the black one below used during the dreaded Thirty Years War 1618-1648.
[This war occurred thanks once again to religion as well as politics. Due to the spreading of Lutheranism from the early 1500s, Protestantism was a way out from the Pope’s and Holy Roman Emperor’s dominating rule. With the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 each local noble could choose his realm’s religion. This option divided the land loosely into several different regions, with the north and east (later Prussia) picking Protestantism and the south (Bavaria and Austria) and west remaining Catholic. Let events steep for a bit, and, boom, religious and political differences exploded drawing in all of Europe. When the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648 over one-third of Germany’s population had died. Today this war is number 17 of the top 100 list of the bloodiest manmade events. Wouldn’t you think after all this time someone would get it right and realize respect and toleration is what fuels personal well-being and growth? How stupid can we be? Rhetorical question.]
In the guards’ mess hall, they displayed one of the drinking cups. No thanks.
This fortified castle was complete with its own blacksmith or armorer
and, dungeon where they found writings on the wall from unfortunate prisoners.
As per the castle brochure, some of this reads:
“Good fellow, do not grumble – would you want it differently, your life!”
I found the 13th-16th century helmets worn for as a presentation prior to a medieval tournament mesmerizing, maybe I was envisioning Max on a white steed? He’d look great, wouldn’t he ? :)
The castle also featured tournament practice boards from the 12th century.
Surrounded by a moat (now dry) with a water mill sitting right next to it, the castle was also home to one of Germany’s greatest poets, Annette von Droste-Hulshoff. On your wanderings through the castle, you step inside the rooms she occupied when visiting Lake Constance and where she died on May 24, 1848.
Completing our castle exploration we decided to once again do, as the locals coin it, textile-free bathing. There was a spa on the outskirts of town, easy walking distance from our hotel. This time, however, one had a choice of using the thermal, indoor-outdoor pool with suits…
or the saunas and dunking pool (and lake) without. We did both. And, let me just say, it was packed! At one point, we backed out of one of the many saunas (total of five altogether) when faced with over twenty bodies’ parts facing us as we went in. There wasn’t any room to sit. Fortunately, there were at least two others close by, which were only occupied by two or three sauna-ites.
After two hours of dry toasting, cold showering, warm pooling (with one exception when we went down to the lake to test the temp… only went up to knees), we felt totally relaxed and refreshed and very German.
Slowly making our way back to the main part of town we passed some vineyards
and a tractor-load of tourists enjoying the sun (tempting but no),
and then up the hill, we wrote a card to Max’s mom,
and then stopped for him to try on a hat that seemed odd to find here but appropriate due to his alma mater.
Deciding to continue enjoying the outdoors, we got a bottle of wine , some cheese and crackers and found a park bench looking over the lower street and lakeside. And, a blimp for company. Life is good.
DAY 10: Saturday, October 25
With Switzerland tantalizing close we opted for a road trip across the border. First taking the short ferry ride (which Max thought was extremely efficient and of excellent value – 12 Euros includes the car)
You can take a man off a boat but the boy never leaves…
we exited into the town of Konstranz then drove towards the border.
Since drivers have to purchase a special pass (vignette) in order to use the Swiss highways we decided to do back roads. The problem was we sometimes ended up on an entrance ramp requiring one of these road tax certificates. The fine is hefty, which meant, yes, we did reverse and do some quick ueys to get back to our meandering lanes.
I can’t say Switzerland was much different from Germany. The landscape mirrored a Villeroy and Boch (a joint, French & German manufacturer from 1748) china pattern, one depicting rural scenes of quilted farms and gingerbread towns.
One notable site listed to see was Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhein Falls in Neuhausen. Although not as high or broad as Niagara Falls, this waterfall’s spectacular vista is due to the force of the water pushing itself through a narrow opening. Over 15,000 years ago the Rhine River was forced into a new riverbed, and the falls are the transition point between hard chalk and soft gravel.
We met some traveling Londoners when walking from the parking lot who warned us of theft.
So, the five of us banded together to take the pathway to the main parking lot where we joined the throng of visitors. Then, picture taking, including the first time (but not the last) we’d seen this apparatus (talk about ensuring you get yourself in a pic).
After a few sprays, pics, and good-byes, the two of us headed back to our car and home to Germany.
Along the way we stopped at Stein am Rhein, a well-preserved medieval town where the Rhine meets Lake Constance. It’s enchanting although it felt surprisingly (to us) deserted for a Saturday; but, we enjoyed strolling through the market square and looping back to our car via the river.
What really catches one’s eye are the murals. We didn’t see the ones in the abbey that Abrosius, the son of Hans Holbein the Elder and the older brother of Hans Holbein the Younger, painted along with Thomas Schmid, but the exterior of the half-timbered houses presented a glorious display of colorful figures.
St. Georg, the dragon slayer, was the patron, and his motif was everywhere, including the town’s trash bins
and manhole covers (Ellen, this is for you).
There was some other interesting wall art, much more recent than the other murals.
One of my favorite photos of my husband was snapped here.
And, then, there was one that exemplifies a sad commentary on today’s life:
Crossing back into Germany we headed for Meersburg.
We decided on a take-away pizza as our self-service room service as well as, after much thought and consideration, a Black Forest cuckoo clock (No fears, it won’t be chirping on Juanona).
Tomorrow we start our first city stop, Munich.