Friday, 5 October 2007

After our cheese and wooden shoe festivities, and telling my parents goodbye, we got in our car and drove the four hours to Bacharach, Germany. We completed some schoolwork, wrote in our journals, and let the kids kill time on their DS’s. As we got closer to the hotel, the computer navigation led us through some hairpin turns, climbing higher and higher and then diving down into the Rhine River Valley, where we passed steep slopes lined with vineyards. The leaves were changing color, we passed brilliant reds and oranges and yellows. It was a breathtaking place, I don’t know what I expected to see when we drove into Germany, I didn’t expect something so beautiful.

When I told Nate we were going to Germany he thought he knew what to expect, he asked if we were going to see a lot of “Nazi stuff”. I guess I can’t blame him for thinking of Germany as just “home of the Nazis” since we’ve taken them to Corrie Ten Boom’s and Anne Frank’s and been to the Normandy beaches. He would only assume that we will be going to more museums, and these must be full of Nazi things. I am glad they will see this beautiful country and that it isn’t full of Nazis, they will have more to associate Germany with than that ugly chapter in history.

We weren’t sure what to expect when we booked our hotel since it was our fourth choice. We had a booger of a time making reservations in Germany, we didn’t book this part of the trip in advance, thinking it would be no big deal. No longer the high season. But we were wrong. We wanted to stay in Munich two days after Oktoberfest ends, but ten phone calls later we realized that people seem to hang around a while, even after the big party is over. Maybe sleeping it all off. So, we scratched Munich off our list and changed our plans. We’ll explore the countryside, and if we asked the kids they’d be just fine with it, they seem to like the smaller places more than the big cities anyway.

Our hotel turned out to be great, even though it wasn’t our first choice (or our second, or third). God is dropping little gifts like this in our laps as we go along, he is good. After squeezing down a narrow cobblestone lane Clay popped up on a curb while I ran inside to see where we should park. I was met by the friendly hotel woman, all smiles, who filled us in and directed Clay to the parking lot. She told us “no rush” as we lugged our duffels and backpacks up two flights of stairs, gave me suckers for the kids, and literally beamed at the kids.

Our rooms look right over the Rhine River, and some train tracks. There were little boxes of ear plugs next to the beds, a sign of things to come. Above the beds in each room is a picture of a Spanish woman, looking out seductively from the picture, a little strange. Maybe more appealing than a stout German woman, who knows. The artwork choices have been strange in several of the places we’ve stayed. There were the smoking seven year olds in Edam, and when we stayed in Brugge there was a picture of a man with five women from his harem hanging right outside Alayna’s bedroom. Weird.

What we really love about this hotel, what I noticed from the moment we arrived, is that this place likes kids. The woman who checked us in with her smiles and suckers, and the strangers that greet us on the street with a “guten tag” (good day). This is a friendly place. I guess some of the places we’ve been haven’t been so kid friendly. Not that they’ve been unfriendly, but they aren’t just beaming to see three kids walk in the door. This woman was. I felt welcome. I like Germany so far!

Clay is worried he won’t get any respect on the Autobahn. Not only is our car an Italian Fiat with French plates, it’s really dumb looking. Did I tell you about the time we stopped at a McDonald’s and a group of teenagers snickered at us and pointed and laughed at our silly looking car? It’s even silly looking here in Europe, where there are a lot of silly looking cars. We’ll have to take a picture of it for the web site.

We just settled in that first night. The kids loved their ear plugs. “They’re like clay!” Alayna said, and I could see the wheels turning. I wouldn’t be surprised in the morning to find a little hedgehog sculpted from ear plug goo.


Saturday, 6 October 2007

Saturday morning it was cold. We bundled into our fleeces and headed to the Rhine River for a cruise. Mist rose off the water, it reminded us of back home when the mist rises off the lake in the morning. We ran into a couple from Fort Worth that we first met back in Amsterdam at the Corrie Ten Boom house. We also saw them at the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. They’re Rick Steve’s followers, and will be visiting Rothenburg and Venice in the future, so we may just run into them again!

The kids sucked on their suckers while we cruised up the Rhine and disembarked in St. Goar. A French market was set up just off the dock, and we grabbed ourselves a picnic for later, and some Nutella crepes for a little mid-morning snack. Then we hiked up a trail to a great ruined castle, Rheinfels. The kids loved the path, which was sprinkled with balance beams and little exercise courses along the way. Benji proclaimed, “It sure is Fall” as we admired the yellow leaves spiraling down from the tall trees along the way. The path was littered with them, like a yellow brick road, and we followed it all the way to Oz, a dreamy haven of a castle where the kids could climb and explore every inch with no tour guide or ropes protecting precious antiques.

This castle was enormous, and what we saw was only a fifth of what it once was. It withstood attacks from Napoleon, and when under siege housed 4,000 people within its walls. One of the things the kids most enjoyed was a maze of tunnels that had once been laced with gunpowder to blow up unsuspecting attackers by the hundreds. We bought two candles and a box of matches at the museum store, and hunched along the narrow, low paths. Our guide book gave us perfect instructions to make it out with nary a wrong turn. We would have been in those tunnels a really long time without them. The kids went back with Clay a second and third time, blowing out the candle and doing it in pitch black the last time. I staked out a spot on an old, crumbling rock wall and chilled out with my journal. Heaven. The sun had burned off the mist and it had warmed up to feel like a nice Autumn day, sunshine on a rock wall.

After hanging out a while and letting the kids run around, hiding from us behind little hills and bits of castle walls, we got up to continue exploring. We saw the dungeon where up to 15 prisoners perched on wooden beams above a disgusting floor filled with their own muck, like parakeets in a birdcage. We saw giant balls that were once catapulted over the walls, and courtyards that once housed apothecaries and bakeries. The kids could have played in the tunnels all day, but we had a cruise to catch to make it back to Bacharach, so we said goodbye. One last thing, it had very interesting toilets. So interesting they made postcards of them. In the boy’s, the urinal was built to look like a guillotine, you pulled a rope to flush and hoped the blade didn’t fall. In the girl’s, the toilet backed up to a pretty window with only slightly wavy glass that looked out on those arriving from the parking lot. Almost too pretty to pee.

On the way back, the kids had a blast sliding on the slide installed on the top deck of the cruise ship. After a few slides, they moved over to the sloping metal beside the slide, up and down over and over again. Squealing with glee. I held their second set of suckers (that lady at the front desk really likes our kids, or she’s trying to get rid of her candy) so they wouldn’t jab down their throats.

When we got back to Bacharach, we stepped off the cruise and were met by thousands of teeny, tiny white moths. They were so tiny, they almost looked like dust specks, or a light snow flurry. They seemed to be attracted to my black jacket, and the kids were happy to point out that I was covered. I tried very hard not to inhale any of them, but I fear there may be some that met an unpleasant demise in my nose. We walked through them all the way back to the hotel, and only escaped once we climbed some stairs up a level. It was almost surreal. Then, as we walked down a long covered corridor to get to our hotel, we passed a banister lined with stone heads. All with the same expression, but some looked up and some looked down or to the side, it was bizarre. Cool, but bizarre. Stone faces in the street.

We put the kids to bed, I slept with Alayna and Nate in the triple room that faced the train tracks while Clay slept with Benji in the double across the hall. I had just drifted off to sleep when I heard a huge boom. Then a flash of light. Then another boom. I stumbled out of bed and to the window, visions of the cannons we saw earlier in the day running through my head. What I saw were fireworks being shot off just on the other side of the train tracks. Right outside our window. They were really, really loud.

Clay came knocking at the door and I let him in to take a peek. They shot them off for at least twenty minutes, big and bright and loud. I think almost as big as the Yacktman’s firework show (those on Manana will know what I mean, Steve, you would have been impressed). Through it all, Alayna and Nate slept. I should have woken them up, but I kept thinking “this must be the finale,” and I’d wake them up and it would be over. But it wasn’t over for the longest time. I have no idea what they were all about, but they were beautiful.

Pitch dark tunnels, white moths, stone heads, and fireworks. A day to remember. Definitely a day to journal.


Sunday, 7 October 2007

After the fireworks banging last night, I woke to the sound of bonging this morning. Two hundred and seven bongs. I know because I counted them. I was hoping to hear what time it was, but the bells from the local bell tower just kept ringing. I envisioned them passing the job of early morning bell tower bonger to different energetic eight-year-old boys in the community, who are allowed to pull the bell ringing rope as many times as their little bodies will allow them to pull. The bonging gradually grew quieter, less energetic, until it finally stopped. Good morning!

We ate our last breakfast in Bacharach this morning. The kind woman who loves our kids prepared our table both mornings. The first morning we arrived to see a table all set, with lunch meat and cheese and boiled eggs and bread and butter and jams and coffee and juice and yogurt. A wonderful spread, and we didn’t have to keep getting up and down like at a buffet, it was all right there on our table. We asked for water for Benji, and the first morning didn’t touch a certain strange lunch meat with some clear, rubbery stuff around the edges. This second morning we found a pitcher of water for Benji and a different kind of lunch meat. Such a sweet lady, with a great memory. We really loved this place.

When we checked out, she had three little piles of candy on a stool for our kids. It was then that I was reminded of a story about a little old lady in a forest in Germany, and two little kids that get lost in that forest. Benji just finished reading an “easy reader” version of Hansel and Gretel, and as we took off in our car I reminded them of the witch that lured the children into her house with candy. Kind of like that sweet little lady at our hotel. Then I reminded them of the strange “lunch meat” on our table that first morning, and the fact that we hadn’t seen any other children while we were there. I think we escaped just in time, before our kids got nice and fattened up.