Plans for a Summer Trip to Germany and France
Posted on February 23, 2014
Eva suggested to me recently that I write a blog post about our upcoming six week trip to Germany and France. Because this is to be more a vacation than a sightseeing trip, at the present time I don’t have a lot to write about. However, over a period of about ten days I located and reserved suitable lodging in suitable locations so the trip will not be devoid of things to do or see. I looked for places in small, attractive villages when possible that included adequate living space and a decent kitchen. We expect to fix many meals from local fresh ingredients, served with a variety of local wines. So this post is illustrated with the places where we will be staying, photos taken from their websites. To find our lodgings, I used internet resources such as Airbnb, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor instead of guidebooks.
What surprised me most about our early planning was that although our trip was still 3 1/2 months away and not really in high season, many of our preferred accommodations were already booked up, so we often had to take second choice or stay in a place for fewer days than we wish, and thus have to move more often than we had hoped.
Over the years, we’ve flown in and out of the city of Frankfurt many times but have never explored the formerly bombed out and now restored city and its many rich treasures from the past and the present. So we’ll spend at least a couple of nights there in a type of accommodation new to Eva, a convenient downtown hostel, one that caters to younger folks mostly, one that is open day and night. Maybe we’ll have a blast. Here’s what it looks like – rather classy huh?
After doing the museums and stuff, we’ll venture over to nearby Gelnhausen which is situated along the Deutsche Fachwerk Straße, the route of the half timbered houses that connects beautiful old towns all the way from northern Germany to the south. We’ve rented a “villa” for a few days, Villa Godobertus. Isn’t that some classy name?
Gelnhausen is the birthplace of Johann Grimmelhausen who wrote Germany’s supposed first novel “Simplicissimus” in the early 1700s, a novel full of sex, gore and scandal that I recently finished reading in English. Gelnhausen is near the famous Spessart, known for its forests and hiking trails and now a huge nature preserve. It was once royal hunting grounds and off limits to common folks like us.
Lately in Santa Rosa we’ve been enjoying a mighty fine German wine purchased from Trader Joe [owned by the German company, Aldi]. It comes from a village in the German state of Hessen, not far down the road from Gelnhausen. [Remember the Hessians who fought on our side during the Revolutionary War?] We think it’s a good place to lay over for a couple of nights so we can tour some wineries and such. Along the way, we’ll stop at the UNESCO World Heritage dig site at Messel where jillions of bony creatures are preserved as fossils from the Eocene, some 50 million years ago, the best place for this kind of thing in the world.
Our lodging is on the right, along the Hessen wine road (Hessische Bergstraße) where we’re hoping to visit our winery of choice, Ulrich Langguth. Maybe our host, Florian, can help us find it.
We’re not half an hour’s drive from Heidelberg so we’ll stop for a few days near here, not in the city but rather up the romantic valley of the Neckar River in the charming village of Neckargemünd.
Our landlady, Heike, says there are lots of trails almost out our front door, right at the edge of the forest, overlooking the river. In Heidelberg we’ll no doubt follow Goethe’s footsteps along the Philosophers Way, across the river from Germany’s oldest university, leading up the hill to the old castle ruins. Heidelberg U. is one of the most notable in Europe, once harboring some of my favorite towering figures in science and other fields. I can’t resist mentioning Willard Gibbs, father of physical chemistry, Dmitri Mendeleev, creator of the periodic table, Wilhelm Bunsen, chemist, Hermann von Helmholtz, physicist, Max Weber, founder of sociology and Alfred Wegener, discoverer of continental drift in 1912 but generally accepted as fact only in the 1950s.
We’re so close to France now, let’s zip over for a couple of days and hang out in Strasbourg before continuing in Germany. It’s really Frenchy over there. Time for a real baguette. Olivier will host us in a nicely appointed downtown apartment.
While there, we’ll try to visit the grave of one of Eva’s ancestors in nearby Haguenau. It’s in a carefully guarded Jewish cemetery so we may need a letter of introduction to gain entry. I hope Eva remembers her Hebrew so she can read the headstone.
OK. When we first started talking this trip up. Eva’s first wish was to spend a few days in the Black Forest, so off we’ll go now into the thick of it where the highest peaks and densest woods are to be found.
Christine will be our landlady at an apartment (Ferienwohnung) well up in the forest, and already in emails her broken English is rather charming. As we look for elves and trolls we will stuff ourselves with Black Forest Cherry Cake, the local traditional confection. Then we’ll walk a lot in the woods to assuage our guilt.
Could we leave the Rhine Valley, famous for its outstanding riesling wines, without staying for a few days in a winery itself?
That kind of thing can actually be done and we found one that would take us in, right near the base of a volcanic peak, the Kaiserstuhl, begging to be climbed. So now we will have another volcano in Germany to bag. We have in earlier years climbed a famous one in the western part of the country where in legend Siegfried slay the dragon and bathed in its blood, and one in the far eastern part of present Germany overlooking Poland and the Czech Republic, where on top was perched a much welcomed ice cream stand.
At last, we finally enter France and head straight for the mustard land that is Dijon. Mustard is hardly made anymore in the way Dijon got its reputation about 150 years ago but we like it anyway. It’s now made “with wine” but back then it was made with the green squeezings of unripe grapes. We’ll look for the real thing.
Between Dijon and our next stop south of Beaune are some of the most famous vineyards and wineries in the world, the heart of Burgundy. We’ll be cooling our heals here for a number of days, staying first in a converted convent in Dijon.
Then we move on to a converted barn in the country known as a gîte. Here we’re in the thick of chardonnay and pinot noir land so we’ll be kept busy sampling as we wander (stagger) around from village to village.
We’re now so close, why not spend a few days in Lyon, gastronomic capital of France. That’s saying a lot, since France seems to be the land of fine food from one end to the other. We’ll definitely have to give the restaurants some business. But we have lots of history to consume, too. Our little flat will be almost within sight of a 2000 year old Roman amphitheater. Indeed, there are two of them almost side by side. I wonder why? Maybe our host, Daniel, can explain.
By this time Ill be running a bit low on time so we head back north, stopping for a few days for some last sampling of French wines along the Alsatian wine road known as the Route des Vins. This is home of the great white wine, gewürtztraminer. We’ll probably get plastered while we fatten up on local specialties such as choucroute and onion galette. Hostess Carmen offers to take us winetasting in her picturesque village of Ribeauvillé. Can we resist?
After all this feasting and indulgence, I get to fly home and return to my monastic dietary ways. Eva, though, continues north for a few more weeks, linking up with daughter Suzi, for some relaxation on obscure tiny islands in the North Sea.