Sunday, 7 October 2007

This morning we headed in the opposite direction of our destination, Rothenburg, to check out Berg Eltz, what Rick Steve’s calls “the best castle in all of Europe.” How could we miss it? Clay was a little skeptical about heading in the exact opposite direction for an hour, but I convinced him that we just couldn’t pass up “the best castle in Europe”. Rick did not disappoint. We found our way after some more hairpins turns, rising up out of the mist over the Rhine, into a forest of pine trees and Christmas trees and trees that were changing color, then descending back down into the Mosel River valley to find our castle.

After parking in the lot, we walked for fifteen minutes down some very steep roads, finally reaching our destination. This castle was really stunning, rising up out of the mist with turrets and gables and towers. It was tall and thin, not nearly as big as Rheinfels had once been, but better defended. It has survived for almost a thousand years, at one time lasting through a 5 year siege. The only way to get inside now is to take a guided tour. The one we joined was in German, but we had an English fact sheet and enjoyed just seeing the banquet hall and old kitchen where meat hung from the ceiling so rodents wouldn’t get to it. Benji asked, “Mom, do we do that at home?” It’s sad, he’s been gone for two and a half months and thinks we had meat hanging from our ceiling back in Austin to keep off the rodents.

There were pictures of the current Eltz family, who still live in a part of the castle that isn’t on display. It’s been in the same family for over 800 years. Can you imagine? We finished up the castle tour on a terrace where we got some stew and bratwurst which we enjoyed along with an amazing view of the River valley.

We’ve noticed as we travel around Europe that a lot of people bring their dogs with them. Everywhere. To castles, Mont St. Michel, grocery stores, museums. It’s really weird. I can’t imagine bringing Molly and Maggie anywhere like that. One of them would barf or poo or something, but then I guess it isn’t much different than bringing an infant, which will almost certainly do one or the other before the day is through.

Have I mentioned how much I love bussing tables? It’s really some sort of strange compulsive behavior I’ve developed since being on this trip. Maybe because I’m not cleaning dishes anymore, some strange nesting instinct, but whenever we finish a meal I want to stack all the plates neatly on top of each other, scraping any leftovers onto the top one and then putting all the silverware neatly in a cup or on the top plate. This bothers Clay, he calls it my “infernal bussing”, and insists the waiter will think he isn’t doing his job if we have to bus our own table, but I can’t seem to help myself.

We trooped back up the steep, steep, very steep driveway back to the car, then piled in for our trip to Rothenburg. Somehow we missed the sign for the “Romantic Road”, a scenic drive, so we took the Autobahn, where Clay held his own and the boys cheered while he floored our goofy Fiat to 170 km per hour. We made it to Rothenburg in record time, found our tiny hotel right off the main square, and settled in to two tiny rooms. Remember how I mentioned strange and inappropriate pictures in our accommodations? This time the kids had a picture in their room of a profile of a naked woman, done all in blue except her nipple which was bright red (sorry, no photos). We swapped it for a picture in our room of a yellow rose. Now we have to look at the red nipple lady. Ick.

But, we do love this hotel. A great location, the owners seem very nice. It’s right above a small grocery store, an older man with white hair and thick glasses shook my hand as we came in. He reminded me a little of the crazy professor in the Back to the Future movie, emerging from a room with shelves packed with tiny boxes of who knows what (I found out later it was the grocery store). His younger son carried one of our bulging duffels up two flights of stairs, and Clay is planning on taking a run through the city with him tomorrow night.

Clay saved the lives of our family this evening by turning on the TV. Earlier, Benji had been carrying around the remote and dropped it. The batteries fell out and he replaced them all by his resourceful self, accidentally putting them in backward. When Clay tried to turn on the TV, he noticed the remote was really hot, and smelled like it was burning. He flipped it over as Benji explained how he had replaced the batteries all by himself, and found the batteries burning hot. He pried them out in the nick of time, and tried to convince us that if he had not tried to turn on the TV, the batteries would have exploded, coating our family in battery acid. And that’s the story of how TV saved the Davis Family’s life.

We checked out the town square and ate dinner there this evening. We passed some enticing store windows filled with the most adorable little wooden Christmas scenes. Alayna and I are stoked for shopping in the morning, and we all look forward to a fairly lazy day of just exploring this little medieval town (and locating the local Laundromat). Goodnight from the snoozing family, the journaling Meredith, and the creepy blue naked lady.


Monday, 8 October 2007

After breakfast this morning we prepared to head out, but were halted by the exciting display of legos in the grocery store downstairs. This was the kinds of store where legos were sold next to lemons, and lunch meat next to toilet paper. Everything was higgledy-piggledy, but fun to poke around in. The boys vowed to spend some of their hard-saved spending money on some legos when we got back that afternoon, and then we were off to see Rothenburg, starting with the Laundromat.

While our undies spun and swirled, the kids played on a nearby playground, so everyone was happy. Once we were done, we headed into town. After watching the less-than-impressive clock with its two figurines that depict a local legend about a mayor drinking three liters of beer to save the town (and snickering at all the gap-mouthed people around us, their cameras working overtime), we decided to seek out  St. Jakob’s Church. We had read about a beautiful wood carving there, and indeed, when we found it, we were impressed. It was so detailed, portraying scenes from Jesus’ life, his march into Jerusalem, Zaccheus watching from a tree, the Last Supper (with a removable Judas that the church takes out a few days before Easter), and Jesus’ prayer in Gesthamane, with his disciples sleeping and Judas scaling a rock wall, leading the Roman soldiers to their man.

After admiring the wood carving and walking a few cobbled streets, we made our way to the ultra-Christmas-extravaganza store which we had also read about. On one wall when we walked in, stuffed animals were moving in a city scene, getting stuck in pipes and washing windows and looking pretty darn cute. As we moved further in, rotating Christmas trees and Christmas music put us all in the mood to buy a few ornaments. What Alayna most enjoyed were the tiny scenes of figures carved from wood and brightly painted. Ladybugs playing instruments, little girls gardening, and shopkeepers selling their wares. She could have taken one of everything, but they never would have survived her backpack, and just because they were tiny didn’t mean they were cheap!

After the Christmas store, we were all ready to chill out. We got ourselves some picnic supplies for dinner and headed back to the hotel, where the kids created an elaborate game that involved taking every trinket they have acquired on this trip (from Kinder Surprise toys to the black fuzz ball with goggly eyes they got at their first “palace”) and setting them up under tables and chairs and across the beds. Banners of still-drying laundry (the big dryer at the Laundromat didn’t quite get them all dry) hung over their heads like carnival flags and they were happy to have a few hours to play. I got to go for a run around the city wall, dodging down narrow streets and around lingering tourists. It was a beautiful run and my expanding waist line thanked me.

Clay went out a little later with the owner of the hotel, who led him out the city wall, down to the river, and then back up the hill to the city. Clay said the pace started out great, but when they headed back uphill the pace didn’t change and he got a great workout! It was fun to be amongst the people of Rothenburg after some of the big tour busses had departed (many tour busses descend on the city for day-trippers, but leave come evening), though I think most of us were still tourists. I read that in January the city is pretty dead, and I’d love to see what it’s like then. With just the locals darting in and out of those quaint, medieval houses and stores. I’m sure they all know each other, there’s so few that actually live there.

That night, after snacking on our picnic, we headed to the town square at eight o’clock to meet the “Night Watchman”. Nate and Benji’s mouths hung open when a large man approached in a black cloak, carrying a lantern in one hand and a long halberd (ax on a long stick) in the other. For 6 euro a person (kids are free), the Night Watchman takes you on a tour of the city by night. There must have been at least 50 people in our group, the Night Watchman isn’t doing too bad!

We did learn some interesting things. Like his job was looked down upon, because he worked at night when all the “spirits” and “things of the night” were out. The only jobs lower than him in social status were grave digger and executioner (and these men liked to work together, he joked. He was a funny guy). We learned that our word “salary” comes from the word “salt”, which was once so valuable it could be traded in currency. We learned how the city of Rothenburg remains an excellent example of a medieval city because it was poor when it was defeated in a battle, and didn’t have money to “renovate”. It was saved during WWII when a German general defied Hitler’s orders to not surrender, and agreed to vacate the city if the Americans would spare it. So, we have a medieval city, complete with its city wall, that we can visit today.

The sky was black, the stars were bright, and voices spilled into the streets from nearby homes with open windows, as our group followed our cloaked guide through the streets of Rothenburg. Forks clinked on plates, someone was singing, lives were being lived in this extraordinary city and it was fun to take part in it if only for a little while. We got back to our hotel late, and cuddled into bed for our last night, knowing we were safe with the Night Watchman on guard.