Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Leaving Strasbourg we had a couple of hurdles. The first was the narrow garage exit I had worried about for a week. In the end, it turned out to be at least an inch wider on each side than I had remembered. A piece of cake and a reminder that it is a waste of time to worry too early.
The second hurdle was the drive itself. I missed one or two turns on the way out of the center of town, but found the highway north soon enough. We had originally hoped to stop by a quaint village or two, but heavy rain made that unattractive. It also made driving stressful. We are grateful that this really was the first heavy-rain drive of the trip and it was only a couple of hours from Strasbourg to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, our new visit-with-friends destination.
We had met Helmut and Theresa when we lived in Pommersfelden and they lived in a neighboring town. They had both been teachers, so there was that connection, but mostly they are both positive and cheerful friends, worth any effort to stay in touch. They had visited us in Fresno two summers ago, so that puts them on a relatively small list of folks who have made that effort.
We quickly settled in and exchanged all those what-have-you-been-doing stories one does. Their lives seem as active as ever, particularly with helping kids with grandkids. That and travel as it seems they make it back to the US every year, while also venturing off in Europe with family from time to time.
After chatting, grandson Anthony joined us on a walk through the drizzle into Neustadt. Along the way, we passed a few of the stately old mansions that local wine suppliers had built a century ago. The town itself is even older, with the required churches, squares, and cobblestone streets. Worth a few pictures, but not so many that we were distracted from the main goal of chatting and catching up.
We finished our walk in time for Theresa and Helmut to take us to dinner at the Schaeffer winery across town. A small cellar serves as the dining room two times a week, and the ambiance, food, and service were wonderful. It turns out that the cellar is too small to hold a kitchen, so the single chef does his magic out in a trailer across the courtyard. A better food-truck meal I can not imagine. Thanks!
Friday promised to be rainy again, but we all managed a "slowly active" day. After Theresa prepared a great German breakfast, she and Marianne went off to downtown Neustadt for a weekly English conversation gathering of local ladies. This group is part of the networking our friends have developed over their years in Rhineland-Phals.
They also ran errands in town, including a visit to the butcher for dinner sausages, and the local drug store for items we had run out of. While there, they saw a very German wedding custom. Apparently local volunteer firemen have the option of taking their bride up in a ladder-bucket, high above city hall and the church. I wonder if not all wedding ceremonies survive the treat.
Back home, Helmut left for his Monday-Wednesday-Friday session at a fancy (his description) gym. Our 80-something friends are staying fit with the combination of gym time, walking, and staying active with family and friends. It's a good lesson for all of us.
Meanwhile, I was loafing. I wrote the day's diary, did travel laundry, and watched my screens. My temporary office space even had a pair of Marianne's paintings to keep me company. Outside, clouds rushed by, occasionally opening up for some sun on the view of a vineyard and trees. I'll get back to exercise after we return to California. I promise.
When we all gathered again, I took Helmut, Theresa, and grandson Anthony out for a ride in the rented Tesla. Eleven-year-old Anthony is in a car-obsessed stage, so he got to ride in the front seat and study all the operations of driving an electric car. It was fun to show off the acceleration of the Model Y, but I did notice that the effect was perceptibly less than with the "Performance" version we have waiting back in Fresno.
We needed a destination for our test drive, so our hosts directed us to Bad Durkheim, another quaint village-in-vinyards. There we stopped at "Gradierbau Saline", a massive collection of small twigs over which salt water runs and which, reportedly, gives off lung-cleansing vapors. First built in the mid-1800s, structures like this have been an important part of the health resort reputation of Bad Durkheim. (I didn't notice an impact, but we did not spend the hours apparently necessary to have full effect.)
On the way home we stopped for another history lesson. "Ruine de Villa Rustica" is a collection of foundations from a 2,000-year-old Roman farm village. Reportedly, there are several similar archaeological sites in the Rhineland-Phals (or Rhineland-Palatinate) region, attesting to the history of the area. This site is just stone foundations, but with the provided plaques it was easy to see this had been an important outpost of the empire.
After our test drive and history lesson, we walked over to Anthony's mom and dad's place, just down the hill from Helmut and Theresa's place. Daughter Alex and son-in-law Helmut had prepared a hearty dinner of bratwurst, salad, potatoes, and broccoli. Marianne very much appreciated getting vegetables again, since our French meals had seldom had more than a sliver or two of carrots. (We also got to visit one more of Marianne's paintings, hanging just behind the dining table.)
We all enjoyed the long after-meal conversation that is often a feature of German meals. It was fun being among old friends, even if it did keep me up well past my normal 9 pm bedtime.
Saturday was busy, from breakfast at a garden shop to an attempted entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Never a dull moment in Neustadt an der Weisnstrasse.
The day dawned drippy, but our breakfast at "Blumen Schupp" made the best of what light there was. First, we wandered around the store, past flowers, fertilizer, Christmas decorations, and women's clothes. I'm not sure what the theme was, but I could imagine plenty of spontaneous buying happening. Fortunately, our suitcases are pretty much full.
Breakfast itself was German-standard: cold cuts, cheese, muesli, jam, and breads - quantities and varieties of breads. After two months of too many carbs, we definitely need to return to exercise and California eating.
As usual, the best part was conversation, also a feature of German dining actually. Meals may be eaten quickly or slowly, but conversation continues after until it is time for another activity.
In this case, our "next activity" was vinegar tasting. Yep, a special trip to Weinessiggut Doktorenhof, where grapes are turned into dozen's of flavors of vinegar and the tasting experience is as elaborate as any winery experience. As the sign says: "vinegar for body, spirit, and soul". It was interesting, anyway.
Apparently, the family had been making vinegar for their own use for a few hundred years, but only shifted to public marketing 30 or 40 years ago and it has been a hit ever since. We bought a small bottle of the medicine to take home. One can never be without medicine. (I wonder if our Fresno vintners need to steal the idea.)
Despite the looming clouds, our next event was outdoors: an attempt at the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest parade of grape harvesters. Aren't you jealous? We had heard that the town needed about 250 machines to go down in history, so we figured it would be spectacular - locally.
We joined that crowd at the local farm implement store and watched as a colorful parade of surprisingly large and sophisticated machines drove by. There were fewer than 200, so I don't know if a record was set, but everyone seemed to enjoy the process and the heavy rain held off until the very end.
We came home and took off wet coats and hats and settled in. No more action for the day.
On Sunday, we leave the Weinstrasse and head back to Franconia to visit with friends we missed on our first pass.
John and Marianne