Germany - where they actually can pronounce Schewe

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005


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Saturday, March 26, 2005

March 24, 2005
Germany from food heaven to food purgatory...
She Said:
After months of gorgeous hot weather, beautiful beaches and amazing food, I was not particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of cold (did someone mention snow - ahk) and greasy chow. Happily, our 5 day stop turned out to be a wonderful breath of fresh air (literally after Bangkok!). It felt like a spring day in Calgary, complete with the patches of crocus and daffodils. Quite refreshing, really.

The utter contrast of medieval towns and old castles was an awesome change to everything else we've experienced so far - from rain forest to beaches to temples and animals, it was really neat to spend some time in old Europe. It's amazing how everything has turned out so beautifully considering the incredible lack of planning that went into this journey - but then again, maybe that's what's made it so magical. No expectations or preplanned agendas - just letting the spirit take us where it will and wait on the gifts of the Now. So amazing.

Armed with Karen Brown's Guide to Germany (for any of you that haven't ventured into her recommendations, she is the best in my books!) we decided to take a little journey down the Romantic Road and into the Black Forest. It was awesome. Wurzburg was a great stop, particularly the Episcopal Princes' Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the finest baroque palaces in Europe. It truly is a beautiful vestige of it's time in the 1700's - gorgeous and completely over-the-top ornate baroque architecture. The frescoes were particularly intriguing here, as they were often combined with plaster to create interesting 3-D imagery. The head & torso of a man would be painted, but his legs would be made with plaster to create the illusion of actually coming out of the ceiling. Some of the cloth would be painted and then real fabric would be billow out. It was absolutely incredible. The whole thing is even more spectacular considering almost the whole town was bombed at the end of WWII and has now been restored - what a testament to resiliency and retaining cultural heritage.

Rothenburg turned out to be even better, a totally cool old medieval town that was invaded in the 1700's and then ran out of money so was never modernized - what a lucky break for us in the 21st century to be able to experience this world of yore. We stayed right in the heart of this stone-walled town, and as we tucked into our quaint room with a 4 poster bed and cozy duvets, I felt like I had been transported back in time. The kids were equally thrilled as their special little room under the gables had minature stairs up to the bunk bed. We all loved it.

This town has become a major tourist attraction and has tons of museums - even a place showcasing instruments of torture, ranging from the absurd to the macabre. Sheesh, I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of the law back in those days - if the loaf of bread didn't weigh the exact right amount they would use a wooden cage to dunk the baker into the river until he'd learned his lesson. And those iron chastity belts looked down-right painful!

The family highlight was definitely the Night Watchman Tour, so I'll leave that for Mark & the children to describe. My personal highlight of this stop was Good Friday service in the most amazing old Medieval Church - St. Jakobs. Apart from the incredible stone architecture, stained glass and intricately carved woodwork, the acoustics in this place were out of this world - a full concert series is performed on a regular basis here. Having toured the building the day before, I was excited to be in such an amazing place celebrating the most important spiritual day on the Christian calendar. Obviously the whole service was in German so I couldn't understand a word anyone said but spirituality transcends language and was just an incredible opportunity to just reflect on the amazing gift of Easter and my tremendous gratitude for my life, my salvation, my freedom and the wonderful gifts I have been given. As a choir performed some age-old Gregorian Chant, the beautiful voices resonating thru this age-old structure I could physically feel the presence of God penetrating thru my very soul.

Baden Baden was a neat stop - formerly the hangout of the rich and famous in the 19th century, it is still definitely a haven for the well-heeled. I can probably safely say we were the worst dressed in the whole city, but then again I'm sadly getting used to that. Famous for their thermal pools, we decided to check out Caracalla Therme. When we saw there was a childcare option, Mark and I fantasized about a romantic soak - just the two of us. But alas, with Easter they had cancelled the children's programs so it turned out to be a family swim. Once again - romance takes a backseat...we'll be scheduling a honeymoon break shortly upon our return home! Anyone interested in two lovely children for a weekend? :-)

So in the end, Germany turned out to be a great little sidebar introducing the children to their heritage and a quick look at some European culture.

Highlights
Night watchmen tour - Rothenburg
Good Friday Service - St. Jakobs
A little shopping stop

Lowlights
The food - heavy and fatty UGH...especially after the amazing food of Thailand. Though I must admit I never did get used to the idea of rice & noodles for breakfast and the Asian idea of a western breakfast is a rubbery overcooked (or conversely slimy undercooked) egg, gross white over processed bread and some kind of mystery meat...they even served hot dog wieners at one place...yikes!
Kayla (already processing the horrors of the tsunami and the unpredictability of natural disasters) now faced with the history of WW II devastation. She just couldn't grasp how human beings could do this to each other and really had to work thru a lot of things. Tough stuff.

He Said:
Highlights:

1. The refreshingly cool, clear and crisp air of spring in the northern hemisphere 
2. Wurzburg - The Residenz and Marionberg Fortress
3. A morning run along the Main River
4. Rothenburg - as Karen Brown put it "...there is history in every stone."
5. Staying at a hotel within the old medieval part of Rothenburg (Gasthof Hotel Kloster-Stueble http://www.klosterstueble.de/ ) a Karen Brown Recommendation was excellent as usual.
6. The Night Watchman Tour in Rothenburg
7. An evening run around the walls of the Medieval section of Rothenburg.
8. Baden-Baden - a beautiful setting in the Black Forest
9. A night run on the lit trail along the Oosbach River in Baden Baden
10. A little stop at the Outlet Mall on the way to Wurzburg - it felt good to pick up a few new duds...

Lowlights:
1. The food... after SE Asia the food in Germany just can't cut it. I know it is my heritage but food is clearly not something to brag about if you're of German descent.
2. Being in Baden-Baden on Good Friday - meant the Casino which is one of the recommended highlights was closed
3. Not enough time, 2 or 3 more days to finish off the tour of the Black Forest would have been nice

Well we left Phuket first thing in the morning and it was already wonderfully hot and muggy and we flew for over 12 hours arriving in Frankfurt via Bangkok later that evening. As we collected our luggage and headed outside to catch our shuttle the first thing that struck me was how fresh the cool, crisp spring air felt. It was so refreshing to just breathe in cool, fresh air. I'm not sure if the rest of the family felt that way but for me it was awesome. So much so that once we got settled in our hotel I went for a nice walk down to the store to get some water etc. it felt just like home and maybe that is what resonated so strongly with me.

I had a similar experience later in our German odyssey after my run around the walls of the Medieval town of Rothenburg. There standing along the wall, overlooking the valley below with the church bells ringing and the cool, fresh air washing over me I had a real sense of my heritage, my identity if you will. It took me back to my childhood in a small town in Manitoba that was mostly settled by people from Germany, The Ukraine and Poland. There I see now they recreated some of what they left behind in Europe and also why they felt so at home in Canada; Germany in the spring feels and looks very much like Canada in the spring. It was one of those moments in life where your soul is truly at rest. It was a very powerful and very comforting moment for me - a moment where I got to glimpse my roots beyond their relatively short history in Canada back to their much longer and deeper roots in Germany. The power of the moment caught me completely off guard and I was happy to just relish in its warm comfort which contrasted against the cool refreshing twilight air.

The rest of the spin down the Romantic Road and over to the Black Forest was not quite as personally powerful but it was surprisingly enjoyable. It is a testament to not having any expectations and when it came to Germany I had none and we really had no plan when we landed in Frankfurt. We just purchased and downloaded Karen Brown's Itineraries for The Romantic Road and The Black Forest and headed off to the closest town on the list which was Wurzburg.

Wurzburg is a wonderful German town which as we learned was completely bombed out by the Allies towards the end of WWII. Touring the completely restored Residenz was a great little lesson in history. The fact that this Residenz is here at all is a testament to the will of the German people to keep their history and heritage alive. The Residenz along with most of Rothenburg suffered extensive damage from Allied Bombing at the end of WWII. They have a great model of the town showing what it looked like after the bombings. It was not in good shape. Today, you'd never know it and as I said the restoration of the Residenz and to a lesser extend the Marionberg Fortress are a testament to the German people. It was wonderful to walk through the streets of Wurzburg, to go for a run along the Main River and to tour the Reszidenz and the Fortress. We also had our dining highlight of Germany in Wurzburg at one of several Mexican Restaurants located just a block or so over from our hotel. It seems like, at least in Wurzburg, Mexican food is all the rage. :)

After Wurzburg we were off to Rothenburg again armed with nothing more than Karen Brown's recommended itinerary and her list of recommended accommodations. As we drove Shannon jumped on the cell phone and arranged for us to get the family room at the Gasthof Hotel Kloster-Stuble inside the Medieval walls of the old section of Rothenburg. Rothenburg as it turns out is a wonderfully intact Medieval city that did not suffer the ravages of Allied Bombings in WWII and as such is probably the coolest Medieval city I have visited in Europe to date. Rivaling the hilltop towns we visited in Tuscany last year which is saying quite a bit. Our accommodations were wonderful and we were enjoying it so much we decided to stick around for an extra night. It appeared that the folks running Hotel Kloster-Stueble were just about ready to open some new rooms and a new restaurant which will give them added capacity. We definitely would recommend a stay here.

I think the highlight for all of us beyond the old town itself was the Night Watchman Tour. This guy has a good thing going. Every evening, starting just before Easter and continuing until the end of December he runs two tours nightly, one in English and one in German. It is a wonderful combination of history, humor and shameless self promotion and marketing. Put together so wonderfully that you can't help but get drawn into his tales of the past and almost feel like you are walking along the streets of Rothenburg as they would have been before Columbus had even set sail to discover "The New World". It was totally enchanting. Local rumor has it he makes a killing $ and spends his winters in Florida... based on the attendance of the two tours the night were there which is hardly high season I have no problems believing that.

I've already written about my run around the town walls so all I will add is that it just fills one with awe to be able to walk and to actually drive your car along streets that have remained much as they are for hundreds of years. As Karen Brown so eloquently put it, "...there is history in every stone."

We left Rothenburg on Good Friday and hit the road to Baden-Baden at the tip of the Black Forest. A town with a renowned history and a gathering place for anybody who was anybody in 19th Century Europe. And you can see that continues right up until today. This is definitely a mecca for the well heeled traveler looking to get away be it for a weekend or a week. The Casino, one of the recommended highlights was closed with it being Good Friday but you could see as you walked around Baden-Baden that this was not a budget travelers paradise. As I went for a run that night along the Oosbach River you could see the signs of "Old Money" all along the river be it in the wonderfully palatial hotels or the equally impressive residences that were smattered along both sides of the river.

We found a very reasonably priced (reasonable for Baden-Baden, down right exorbitant after SE Asia) accommodation overlooking the town square and park. A former sanitarium for the rich, this place with a little reinvestment could be down right amazing but even as it is it was wonderfully eclectic with huge, beautiful rooms and that key ingredient - location, location, location. In the morning we headed over to the Terme (hot pools) that Baden-Baden is renowned for with, at least on my part, some expectation of ditching the kids for a couple hours and having some quality time with Shannon relaxing and frolicking in the pools. Alas, it was not be and just as well as even had we ditched the kids this was not the place for quiet, relaxing quality time. The pools were packed with people and far from relaxing and after our experience with the Tabacon Hot Springs in Costa Rica somewhat disappointing. That is more a statement of how spectacular Tabacon is vs. a negative indictment of the Terme at Baden-Baden.

After a couple hours at the Terme it was back to Frankfurt to prepare for our African leg.

Kid's Said:
Highlights Tyler and Kayla:
Touring Rothenburg with the Night Watchman
Sleeping in our little bunkbeds with the special stairs
Swimming in the hot pools at Baden Baden
Exploring the Marienburg Fortress & Palace
Lowlights: Tyler- None
Kayla:
Seeing the pictures of Wurzburg bombing
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