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Day Trips

Trips in September and early October,

Written between September 28 and October 20

Dear Friends and Families,

When we moved to Frankfurt, we wanted to see Europe on weekends. To Americans, especially ones coming from the large and difficult-to-transit country of Ukraine, Europe seems a small and manageable place. For most of our first months, Saturday had to be a shopping day and Sunday an assemble-the-furniture day. But, by September, we were ready to tour.


Our first destination was the scenic Rhine Valley. The original plan had been to take a boat, but our house guests that weekend had fallen sickly on us, so tickets for the Saturday cruise up the Rhine went unused. All was not lost however, as we put them on an early Sunday plane and decided to check out the scenic Rhine villages on our own.

This was a good thought but, on Sunday, every quaint road in Germany is filled with people who should be, but can't be, shopping. But it was still an OK crawl into the town of Rudesheim, the first tourist stop on a Rhine trip out of Frankfurt. We found the last parking place in town, got out, and turned into the vineyard paths, instead of into the crowded town streets.

Good turn. The vineyards were peaceful and green, the perfect traffic antidote. Later, we would take a small cable car over these same fields. At the top of the hill, we joined the Sunday wanderers at the sausage stand and feasted on a bratwurst-in-a-roll sandwich.

To return home, we took a small and twisty road that had been missed by the crowds. It was fun zipping through the curves and hills of the forest road. THIS kind of traffic is OK with me.

All in all, a good start for weekend trips.


Down the Mosel Valley to Luxembourg

Our impromptu trip to the Rhine Valley had been so successful that we committed the next weekend to a real road trip &endash; to the nearest foreign capital and country, Luxembourg.

We started out early Saturday and reached the Mosel Valley just as the bakeries were opening. Every traveler has his own routine for pacing a trip; ours seems to include a morning stop at a bakery. (Picture #4) Properly fortified, we continued along the small road that runs along the twisting river.

The south-facing hills along the river are filled with vineyards, yet the hills are so steep, that field workers must need climbing ropes to pick or service the vines. I have to admit that we also visited a wine-tasting kiosk that morning and, though we will probably never be great fans of German wines, we did vow to return to the Mosel for a full weekend and not just a drive-by.

We reached the Luxembourg (country) border before noon and the Luxembourg (city) center an hour after that. It would have taken less time if we hadn't gotten lost, searching out the hotel we had reserved. Luxembourg (city) is not big but it's situated on and between steep ridges that make navigating tricky.

About the hotel. We had selected it over the internet because it was centrally located, it had parking and it was part of a French chain whose hotels we had successfully used before. The parking was indeed good and this is important to us. The location was central enough that we could walk to the scenic old town in 10 or 15 minutes, if we wanted to walk in the neighborhood. The problem was the neighbors. To the right was a strip joint. To the left were two more. And, across the street was a fourth. The police department was a couple doors down from that so I suppose we were in no real danger, but we decided to tour the city quickly and return to our room before dark.

The old city of Luxembourg was once called the Gibraltar of the North because it was built on, and inside of, a steep rocky ridge. The rugged terrain was key to maintaining independence, although the principality has allied itself with neighbors Belgium, France, and Germany over the centuries. Today, the city is connected to surrounding hills by dramatic bridges and the country has been connected by the alliance process that led to the European Union.

The old citadel city is filled with stores and shops and restaurants and the Europe-required churches, castles and squares. I'm afraid our sunset deadline put a limit to how much we could see, but we saw enough to know we need to return. Like so many places in Europe we have visited, we know that Luxembourg (city) needs much more time than we can spare.

The next day, we headed north to see more of the countryside. Our goal was the town of Die Kirche and the wandering roads gave us a wonderful glimpse of rolling green hills and villages and farms as pleasant as any we've seen. It's a small country, but clearly they've managed to prosper in amongst their larger neighbors.

By the time we reached a restaurant for lunch, we found out just how small Luxembourg is. We asked the waitress where we were exactly, and she said: "Belgium". Great, two new countries for the price of one weekend! The rest of the trip was uneventful, as we were quickly back onto the German autobahn system and home before we knew it.

The Black Forest

On the following Friday evening, we discovered the dark side of the German autobahns. It was rainy and my exit from work was a bit later than I had hoped. We managed to hit the peak of both commuter traffic and weekend getaway traffic. Those 100 mph autobahns we like became 20 mph parking lots. Our two-hour drive to the town of Emmendingen stretched to almost five. This was not the driving we had planned for our sporty car.

Saturday was a completely new day. We started with a pleasant European hotel breakfast. Sometimes we miss a "regular American breakfast," but most of the time we love the pace &endash; and the tastes &endash; of the more casual and lighter buffet of good breads, cheeses, cereals and yoghurts.

This day, we waited for the fog and clouds to clear before we lowered the top on the car and headed for a drive into the Black Forest. First, however, we wanted to look at the local towns. Weeks later, it's hard to remember the differences of one cute town from another. At our first stop (Emmendingen? Waldkirch?, Denzlingen?), we ran across a pumpkin carving contest. I believe this is an American custom, but it's clear that the local kids could hold their own in Jack-O-Lantern imagination.

Since Saturday is a shopping day, we had a specific goal: a Black Forest Cuckoo Clock. We had expected each town to have a wonderful selection of Cuckoos but in the first few stops, we were told that such clocks come from just a few towns, "just down the road". At one tourist center, we even got a fancy map and brochure, in German and English, of "The Cuckoo Clock Road". Despite this help, we were seeing no "clock marts" and the stores we did see were already reaching the early Saturday closing hour.

Finally, we saw a small shop in Gutenbach (population 100 max) and pulled into the two-slot parking lot. Inside, Herr Ganter gave us a tour of his authentic Black Forest clocks, cuckoo and otherwise. (Picture #6) He was proud of the authentic nature of his selection and he warned us of the stores selling cheap Chinese imitations. He said that authentic Black Forest clocks must be built entirely in the area and some of his creations were very elaborate combinations of chirping cuckoos and dancing dolls. They were certainly neither Chinese nor cheap, with the largest cuckoos costing 500 or more dollars.

We bought an authentic (but small) version for a family Christmas gift and also a painted chime clock for our own living room. We were told that these particular painted clocks were found only in Gutenbach and two smaller neighboring villages. Who knows if this is true, but it makes a good story, so it's what we will choose to believe and retell.

After that, it was 2 or 3 more hours of driving on perfect country roads. We wound in and out of real forests, some thick enough to truly warrant the adjective "Black". We stopped at a few small hotels (Pensions) to see if there should be other Black Forest weekends in our future. Each place was nicer than the last so, yet again, our list of places to visit gets longer every time we travel. There can be no end.

We took all of Sunday driving back to Frankfurt. We squeezed in a morning stop at Schneider's City Bakery in Wolfach. It's embarrassing to admit that we probably weren't even hungry, but the place was so pleasant that we couldn't just drive through. Oh well, the troubles we must endure as we grow in our cultural experiences.

On the Road to Bamberg

One week later, we tried yet another Sunday drive. The goal was the medieval town of Bamberg. The tour books said it is a particular jewel because it had escaped the bombing damage of World War II and so still had it's centuries-old churches, castles and squares. Our plan was for a drive of two hours each way but, as Sunday drives should allow, plans changed.

We left home via the A3 autobahn. Early on Sunday, this is a fine road. (At other times it's a disaster because it carries more truck traffic than virtually any other road in Europe.) However, an hour of autobahn gave us our fill, so we took an exit and joined a small road that runs along the Main River. In this area, the Main is not nearly as large as it is back home in Frankfurt, but it is still an important link in the waterways of Europe. River freight can travel from the Atlantic to the Black Sea via the Rhine-Main-Danube connection. The highest point is via a century-old series of locks and canals connecting the Main to the Danube just beyond the point where the Main runs through Wertheim.

Wertheim also turned out to be the high point of our Sunday drive. We had planned just a quick stop to stretch our legs but, once we saw how enticing the place was, we decided to leave Bamberg on the "future visits" list, and go no farther than our parking place in Wertheim.

Our first stop was at a glass museum. A local artist was entertaining tourists with his magic for changing simple glass rods into fanciful decorations. The museum itself described the industry that had been the mainstay of the community. Nowadays, I suppose the business of fine glassware has moved elsewhere, but still, it's fun to see a bit of local history being kept alive.

From here, we wandered through the narrow town streets and up to the castle ruins guarding this bend of the Main. By now, we've seen dozens of these church-castle-square combinations in Europe, but we still enjoy our strolls. On this day we would do nothing more complicated than look at other tourists in the street and stop for a traditional lunch, but it all left yet another pleasant memory.


Next Trip

We have no current plans for more day or weekend trips. Work is getting in the way and the weather is getting cooler and wetter. Marianne has also developed a shoulder medical problem that interferes with her driving.

We need to go north to Cologne, but for that we'll coordinate with Kyiv friends who live there when they are not in Ukraine. On a long weekend, we also need to visit friends in Lyon. And then, there are Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Denmark, Holland and RETURN visits to EVERYWHERE.

Maybe it's true: it will never end.

Take care and drop us a line from time to time.

John and Marianne

































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Created October 27, 2002

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