Sunday, July 30, 2006

Travels to Alsace and Southern Germany: Part 2

Day Two:

After such a hellish heat the day before, it was a blessing to wake up to cloudiness and cool weather. Even if the church bell woke me at 6am, I didn't really care so long as I was no longer hot.


Ever had those experiences where you go slack-jawed when the names and places you heard in geography or social studies back in school suddenly present themselves to you boldly? I've had it happen in the past many times in Europe--stunned before the kiss-covered tomb of Oscar Wilde, looking at THE River Seine, standing atop a man-made hill, looking down on the battlefield of Waterloo. When you are told that, yes, you are crossing over the Rhine River (as I was that morning), you forget to breathe for a moment. Until you see these things so often told to you in history classes or that you've drawn on maps, these names of places really doesn't make sense. Not fully, at least. To really understand the sense of history and culture, you literally have to be in the place and experience it.

The Rhine River

Now, it's true, the first place we stopped in Germany, Freiburg, probably never crossed my eyes in literature before but I wish I'd known about it earlier. It's such a pretty little German town. There are little man-made streams throughout the old parts of the town rather like gutters with a constant flow of water. The houses and cathedral are charming to say the least.

I was so happy to see a European open-air market at last. Everything from sausages to herbs, fruits and veggies to houseplants, toys and tourist trinkets were being sold. Even the smell of freshly fried sausages or stalls selling big pretzels were in full force. Over it all towered the huge Gothic catherdral.

It was here I was starting to see the difference of culture between the French and the Germans. The most obvious to see in this town (and I saw in the Alsatian-border town of Strasbourg) was bikes-lots and lots and lots of bikes. Except during the Tour de France, it's rare to see the average French person ride bikes (I exclude kids since they don't have cars). Well, at least what I've seen so far in the North. The only place I think there's an exception to this is Brittany (Bretagne). Chances are, if you see somebody riding a bike in France (barring the exceptions), it's likely a German, British, North American or Dutch tourist.

The rest of the day until past 5pm was spent mostly in the car trying to get to our next hotel. It was really remarkable to see the scenery change from the flat yellow-green plains of France to the rolling green hills of southern Germany. Again I was stunned to be told that, at one point, we were driving through THE actual Black Forest. How cool is that?

The Black Forest

We did stop at a tourist road-café in Germany for lunch. Well, let's just say, it was a cafeteria. You know what to expect of the food in cafeterias. But it was remarkable different from the tourist road-cafés I've been to in France. There seems to be a greater amount of functionalism and efficiency in German establishments. And it was considerably brighter than the average French style which are usually quite moody in their dimly lit rooms. The options were certainly more varied and there were were actual attempts at offering food to vegetarians. So many French don't seem to understand or want to understand vegetarianism. You should have been around the year I was trying out raw veganism. I might as well said that I was planning on growing three heads by the looks I got from my French in-laws.

When we reached the Bavarian Alps at last, we were all ready to crash. The computerized tourist program had planned our trip according to short distances but never took into account that wending your way through little country roads in Bavaria meant a lot of slow speeds and farm vehicles. In the end the short distances became just as long as taking the regular roads. Still I got a good gander at the part of Germany to which so many Germans flock for vacation.

Our hotel, The Rübezhal, was a four-star hotel and boy was the wait worth it. Cool temperatures in the room, clean white and pine finishes, tonnes of storage space, a desk, a table, a daybed with reading light, even a balcony with chairs. It also came with the guilt-inducing stickers reminding you, in rhyme, to be nice to the environment. After a lovely walk to the lake, Der Forggensee, and through paths that led by bell-wearing cows (a nice sound), we returned to dinner at the hotel.

The fixed price dinner I had was actually not too shabby! First a mocktail of cantaloupe juice and green tea (very refreshing). A trip to get a plate of charcuterie/salad bar items, followed by white asparagus soup with bacon (the worst part of the dinner). The main course was breaded and pistachio'd catfish on a bed of dilled, creamed cucumbers (excellent) served with a nice German white wine (excellent too!). And I was totally not expecting what I got for dessert because, well, do YOU call the picture below of my dessert "a parfait"? It was good though. I got pistachio cake and the Frog got a chocolate cake but the creamy home-made ice cream and the slightly sour berries all worked together with either flavour.

All the while that we were eating this lovely dinner, we had an amazing view of the nearby Alps and the castles we would visit the next day: Hohenschwangau and Newschwanstein. We went to bed as happy, full little piglets under down-filled covers listening to insects and the odd, out-late bike riders. What a change from the day before.


wheresmymind said...

I thought tons of people in France rode bikes...'specially around Paris *shrug*

s'kat said...

What a gorgeous trip and a great meal! Europe is so beautiful.
*dreamy sigh*

Pamela said...

Great photos, we're off to Freiburg tomorrow!

sher said...

Oh my!! What a wonderful trip!! Thank you for sharing those pictures. It's interesting about the difference in bike use in Germany and France.

christine said...

Keep these posts coming, Nerissa. They are wonderful!

Bonnie said...

They are great! Especially the photos! Hope you can post again soon!

Nerissa said...

wmm: In France of 15 years or before, this might have still been true but today, percentage-wise, the French have one of the lower rates of bike-riding in Europe. You are bound to see a much larger chunk of the Dutch and German population with bikes. I double-checked with some French people and they did, in fact, agree with me.

s'kat: It certainly was a trip to remember. It's worth it to go to Europe, dear. Hope you have a chance.

pam: Hope you're having fun! Let me know what you did.

sher: It certainly was very fun and interesting in Germany although after becoming used to French ways, German culture startled me a few times.
It's funny about the bikes. In France, if you see a vehicle with bikes attached to it, there's well over a 90% chance that the car comes from Netherlands or Germany. I was told this my first time here and ever since then I've checked out the plate of the cars. It confirms what I'm told.

Christine: thanks for the encouragement. I'm glad you're enjoying them.

bonnie: I'll be posting, hopefully, tomorrow morning and it will be followed shortly by a authentically French, tried-and-true recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon from my French Frogger-in-law.

michelle said...

Oh, dear, you make me yearn to travel! What beautiful and interesting places you are seeing! And I know exactly what you mean about finally seeing the places you have read and heard so much about...this happened to me seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time, Notre Dame, the white cliffs of Dover, so many places. I'm so happy you were able to finally visit an open air market. I think it's so interesting that there aren't many French riding around bicycles...I don't know why, but I always thought that there were tons and tons of bike riders all around Europe!!

Nerissa said...

Michelle: I'm glad you enjoyed the posts and glad you finally got to stop in. You sure seem to be very busy these days. Experiments again?

Pam said...

We went to Freiburg yesterday afer all and it was wonderful!!P

Sara said...

How beautiful! Your pictures are lovely. What exactly was in that "parfait"?

michelle said...

I wish! No, just mentoring a student from Puerto Rico - it's taking my full attention. Ah well, it's almost over...


Nerissa said...

pam: I'm glad you enjoyed it!

sara: Thanks! Well, the parfait consisted of a little bundt cake of pistachio, pistachio ice cream and a mix of strawberries and blueberries in their own juices. The blueberries were a bit sour. As you can see in the picture, each had its own separate place on the plate.

michelle: *hugs* chin up! ;)

Barry S. said...

I am planning a trip to the Black Forest next year! I did a search for "black Forest" and up pops your nice blog!

Any other small villages and/or towns you might recommend? Did you get to see Laufenburg or Hinterzarten?

Nerissa said...

barry: Thanks for dropping by. I sure wish I could help you more. We pretty much whipped through the Black Forest on our way to Bavaria. No stops.

I can leave you only with two pieces of info. You won't be disappointed. It IS beautiful just driving through so I'm sure it's even prettier standing still. The other was passed on by my F-I-L: he enjoyed the warmth of the people in the region very much.

This was rather cryptic, I know, but I hope it means something to you.