…Continued…Part Three “Grandpa”s Gift Of Germany”
Pulling the numerous propagandized brochures from my suitcase, Robert helped me set them up on his kitchen table. Together we went through them, separating intense interest with train schedules apart from any inconvenient or controversial sites. Already late, he happily offered me his bedroom while he would stay on the couch in his living room. I watched him shine his Army boots before I plopped into his bed.
My first prelude to this part of Europe was a drive to France. France! Very early two days later, we headed out the door to France. Throwing caution to the wind, my pocket book holding my passport, wallet, hair brush, toothbrush, and a clean pair of just-in-case underpants, we were off.
Getting as far as Strasbourg, the closest French town to the German border, we were not allowed entrance to France. Don’t know why. “They probably don’t like Americans today,” Robert stated. I found that odd but did not pursue his statement. However, as the Strasbourg traveler’s rest area remained available, we left deposits, bought drinks and snacks, and hopped back into the BMW. Leaving Strasbourg with an expression of confusion upon our faces, Robert politely followed the border control agent’s arms as he waved instructions to turn around. Robert complied. Hmm. We never found out why. Strange. Different. Disappointing, we never found out why. Well, at least I could say I was there – on the French-German border.
After at least a two-hour return drive, our conversation quieted. I enjoyed the scenery, the landscaped border of Germany and France. France’s expansive hills, valleys and dales were adorned with grape vines. Acres and acres of grape vines intertwined on metal fencing. Nothing like this back home, that’s for sure. Mesmerized, I became sleepy.
“Hey, seeing as we’re so close to Luxembourg, I’ll take you there,” blurted Robert, awakening me to full attention.
Come to find out, Luxembourg is one country of many to border Germany. Along with the Baltic and North Seas, Denmark is to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, and France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands to the west. We headed west.
Since I was unfamiliar with Luxembourg, Robert proudly schooled me that it is the smallest yet richest country in the world. “It is run by a prince,” Robert continued. Luxembourg City, specifically, it attracted my attention from afar. Perched on a cliff, in shades of age and discoloration, this area of the city’s walls were built and fortified with large boulders squared and rectangular.
Not wanting to spend too much of our limited time, we came upon Roman baths. Built from stones in the 10th century, they were evenly placed stone-against-stone, about twelve inches high, each cut and carved stone about four inches thick. Access to such a bath would require a person to literally climb inside any one of the expansive stone cutouts. Naked? I don’t know and didn’t ask. That’s how you take a bath, though, right? Naked?
Their spacious yet separate allotments remained close together, snug, large enough for a family of five to sit in, causing me to visually wonder how such a place could function. Certainly not like my bathtub at home, my space of isolation and quiet reading, alone-ness, relaxation. Oh, no.
Although the Roman Baths in Luxembourg were overgrown and worn by the ages of storms, precipitous factors, insects, animals, these numerous rectangular spaces granted no bottom comforts. Surrounded by what seemed to be a small forest of trees, sitting on the ground to bathe seemed senseless, ludicrous – at least to me. But what did I know about the 10th century and its human inhabitants? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. However, the little I saw and learned about Luxembourg caused me to fall in love with the country. With its simplicities. A simple, historical bath, for instance.
Back on the road, Robert explained his week’s work schedule with the encouragement for me to travel by train. That’s what I did with his kind offer to call him when I was ready to be picked up.
Walking the mile to Aschaffenburg’s center as Robert told me was a pleasant experience. He also told me that the trains depart and return in the heart of every city. I found this town to be daintily attractive, neighborly and just plain sweet. The weather so far this week was cool with low-lying clouds, highs of 75° Fahrenheit with a mixture of gray and yellow muted sunshine. Too cool to bring home a tan.
Watching for a sign reading Bahnhof (Train Station), I found it nailed above the station’s doorway. Entering the long, drab looking cement block building that resembled a double-wide trailer, I found it odd that it was unencumbered by other travelers or distractions. I was alone. It felt odd. Spotting an open ticket window with an unsmiling middle-age woman dressed in what appeared to be a colorless khaki uniform, I stepped forward saying Ein Ticket nach Weisbaden bitte (One ticket to Weisbaden please). Chinka-chanka-chunka on a large hand calculating machine seconds later, she said 5 Marks bitte. We exchanged my money for the train ticket. Equivalent to 5.41 USD, I could do this. As sour looking as she was, I wished her a good day ─ Schönen Tag – waiting not even five minutes for the train.
Viewing 45 miles (72 km) of Germany’s landscape, I had a reclining seat with a footrest, an overhead reading light if I wished to use it, and soft air conditioning. Magnificently pleasant, I did not want to get off. But I had to.
Why Weisbaden? To walk. To walk and walk and walk some more. Sightsee, window shop, listen to the languages being spoken, sit in the open air, people watch, have a coffee with a pastry perhaps. Relax. The pastry I found, called a Schneeballen, ended up being just what I needed. A ball of deep-fried dough that when held, engulfed the center of one hand. Covered in dark, sweet, Bavarian chocolate, I asked for extra nuts, coconut, and cinnamon to top it off. Dunkle bayerische schokolade, extra nüsse, kokosnuss und zimt, um das ganze abzurunden. Pretty good, huh? Pretty damn good!
Nothing too absurd or out of the ordinary, my enjoyment was being one with Germany. Comfortable with myself.
Back in Aschaffenburg, I called Robert to come get me, meeting him at a particular lamppost. While waiting, further window shopping captured my attention to a black and white fur coat. It was gorgeous. Entering the furrier’s shop, my questions to the proprietor answered the cost of $1,200.00 USD. Oh my! Made from 400 skunks – odd as that may be – I was totally enchanted with this butt covering coat without the stink! I had to leave the shop quickly before I bought it. Such a thing would be grand to wear during a cold Massachusetts day or night.
My next train trip two days later headed to Heidelberg. Why Heidelberg? The castle! The castle pictured in more than one brochure.
Looking forward to a longer train ride through more countryside, an approximate average of an hour and a half would bring me to this magnificent looking castle. For a cost of $20.00 USD, I was in, or on, however you want to word it.
This “Holy Mount,” estimated at six centuries old, was originally the residence of princes, plural. Its history is phenomenal, dating as far back as 40 AD. Built of stone, surrounded by stone, vineyards, rivers and fields felt to be a happy place. I can’t explain it, but I could feel it.
On the grounds, by grounds I mean acres and acres and plots of constructed buildings and villages, there is a university, a Witch’s Tower, Jesuit School, Church and seminary, Public Baths, the Hall of Mirrors, the Court Chemist’s Shop, the Church of the Holy Ghost and so much more. Overwhelmed by all that was offered – for a price – I remained within the palatial walls and halls of Heidelberg Castle as happy as a fictional princess character.
Returning to reality, in Robert’s cottage, I needed to focus on my return trip. Before laundry and packing, I enjoyed another brisk walk to the butcher’s shop for fish, the next door bakery for some freshly baked bread, along with some lovely fresh carrots from the landlady’s garden. We were both delighted with the outcome and the pleasure of each other’s company.
An early night led to an early morning for another 12-hour flight home for me and to the military base office for Robert.
Auf Wiedersehen, lieber Freund. Vielen Dank für Ihre Gastfreundschaft. (Good bye, dear friend. Thank you for your hospitality until we meet again.)
And Grandpa? Thank you. I miss you.
Destination The World NCPA Anthology 2020, Volume Two, © 2020. “Grandpa’s Gift Of Germany” page 22. Available at Amazon.com.