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Home in Germany

May 13-14
Written May 20

Dear Friends and Families,

On Monday, after packing for the zillionth time and after a quick bakery stop, we drove from Beaune to Obernai.  A decade ago we had stopped in this Alsatian town to visit a farmer's market and had ended up staying the whole day.   This visit we simply ordered a German-tasting lunch, since we were looking forward to "home" cooking.  Who'd have thought that, in the end, we would long for sausage and kraut.
Our goal was  Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, another small wine-growing town on a hill.  This time, we would stay with friends Theresa and Helmut.  We had fun chatting and visiting with their nearby family.  It was like being home, almost.

On Tuesday, we were home, travel over for awhile.  Now we faced a backyard that had grass higher and thicker than any mower we have access to.  (In fact, I would cut the small lawn with shears!) After that, it's restoring the gardens, cleaning the house, and getting ready for summer visits and, oh by the way, selling our Bavarian home.  I'm afraid memories of our trip will be overwhelmed by on-going events, but that's why we do these diaries after all.

d130514_90_wholeTrack.jpg So, what do we think about the trip overall? 

We drove about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) on a mix of high-speed highways and small country roads.  We prefer country roads and we would have liked much more sun so we could take the top down.  Our Porsche Boxster is now twelve-and-a-half years old, and it is beginning to show the wear:  the rear window developed a leak; noises are coming from "somewhere"; and the soft top shows wear as well as damage from some minor vandalism in Spain.  The hard reality is that this may be the last of our long trips in the Boxster.

We were on the road for 36 days, staying in thirteen hotels, B&Bs, and homes.  Marianne had done an excellent job of selecting good and, mostly, unique places to spend our nights.  Casa Sezim, outside Guimaraes Portugal transformed us to an age two-hundred years earlier.  Posada San Pelavo offered a comfortable home surrounded by Spain's dramatic Picos de Europa.  Casa Canilhas was like staying at a new friend's home, a home set at the top of a steep vineyard that ran down to Portugal's Douro river.  And, of course, staying in Saint Germain des Pres and Neustadt an der Weinstrasse were stays in old friends homes.  These were the highlights.

Hill towns featured on our itinerary and were all cute and charming, but I may have tired of the narrow streets, difficult parking, and  too-small feeling.  On the contrary, we very much enjoyed the larger cities of Bilbao, Oporto (Porto) and even Oviedo, although each had driving and parking challenges.  There was always more to do in the larger communities.

We saw seven or eight museums and galleries, not many for a 36-day trip.  The most dramatic would have been the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the strangest was the odd set of collections at Beaune's Chateau de Savigny.  Any museum that combines dozens of jet fighters and an equal number of vineyard tractors has to qualify as eccentric and I love eccentric.  Nevertheless, learning about local people's stories in Bilbao (Basques) and Santiago (Galego) remains a favorite type of mine, while the fine art of Dali (Beuane's Dalienium) or Toulouse Lautrec (Albi) would be Marianne's style.

Churches, of course we visited churches.  I think we do this in Europe because the old cities, towns, and villages all have them and, generally, the most important one is exactly in the center of town.  The massive brick bastion in Albi would be the most impressive from this trip, while the pilgrimage goal at Santiago de Compostella clearly active and perhaps the most elaborate.  The collection of churches above and around the Grotto at Lourdes were in a classification all their own.  Circus tents?

We have recently started to search out UNESCO World Heritage (WH) sites and covered a dozen on this trip, from Spain's Santiago de Compostella to the elevated-ferry Vizcaya Bridge in Bilbao.  Designation by UNESCO pointed us toward both the Douro Valley and Guimaraes in Portugal and the Picos de Europa in Spain.  We may not have detoured to these locations without the World Heritage designation and the loss would have been ours.

Eating, drinking, and walking: these may have been a trip theme. We enjoyed the variety found in Spain and Portugal, but found ourselves missing German cuisine after five weeks on the road.  I'm sure we will introduce pinchos, the small appetizers of the Basque Country, to our own entertainment repertoire.  We may have also had the best lamb meal (Picos) and one of the best fish dinners (Oviedo) ever.  Really.  As for drinking, we can not deny that we specifically visited a half-dozen wine regions.  Reds from the steep Douro and expansive Rioja valleys may have been the most interesting, but Beaune's lighter burgundy (pinot noir) the most expensive.

Diaries and photography also play a significant role for my travel. I think I do both for the same reason, a personal record of the event, one which we can share.  The diary extended to nine web pages, featuring 643 photos and charts. They covered 45 pages when printed for proofing.  My web-publishing software failed, an unexpected curse from the internet gods, but it forced me to learn something new, always a good thing.  Photography was a constant activity. I took about 4,000 pictures, but I can't say many were wonderful, other than some that may have captured the moments for our story.  Marianne took several hundred as well, and I found that her iPhone products compared favorably with mine, despite my "serious amateur" gear.  It really is the photographer more than the equipment.  And practice.  I enjoy the practice.

That's it.  Our latest (last?) Boxster travel is over and done, but we have memories and a record to stay with us forever.

John and Marianne


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