Day 11: They’re trying to kill me

Today it is dangerous to be me. I crawled out of bed to boil some water for coffee. That’s when it started. First Carmen broke every Bruce rule in an attempt to create a fog of confusion. Questions, questions phrased as statements, statements with a rising tone at the end… she tries it all. Then, refusing to make me baguettes for breakfast, I was driven to the bathroom for a shower. But rather than clearing my head, her and Leslie’s careful pacing was designed to leave me stunned but with an air of confidence that I had somehow gained control.

And then they struck. Since they were ‘busy’ I still had to make make my own baguette, butter and jam and they had carefully arranged the crust to catch in my throat. I immediately began to cough and choke. And hack. My nose ran, my eyes teared and they just watched with a mild look of interest in their eyes. I figure they were just wondering where I would finally collapse and how far they would have to haul the body.

Eventually after drinking copious amounts of water (which I had to fetch), smacking my own back and hurling myself against the wall to try and self-Hemlich myself, I finally caught my wind and — despite the look of disappointment in the girls eyes — settled into the rest of breakfast.

We unshipped the bikes and packed a lunch (that’s the excuse the girls had used to ignore my imminent death), and headed up to Haut Barr. This was ‘supposed’ to be a leisurely 90 minute walk, but turned out to be phase 2 of ‘someone’s’ evil plan to do away with Bruce.

So there we were, walking our bikes. Uphill. After a solid diet of wine. And you think they didn’t plan the gallons of sweat and heaving lungs? I tell ya, if it wouldn’t have given them satisfaction I would have collapsed there right in the
Middle of that forest. Oh yes, you heard me right, they lured me deep into the woods to watch me expire. That way they could just roll me into the underbrush.

Anyway, just to spite them, I made it through to reach the top. And you know what they were concerned about? My complete dehydration? My exhaustion? The oxygen deprivation, poison oak or even the danger of being consumed by rabid pigeons… No it was all about Carmen’s weak ankles. Ankles… PAH!

Still in the end we made it to the ruins of Chateau Haut Barr which are high upon the first edge of the Vosges and overlook the plains of Alsace. We could almost see Strasbourg. It is a cloudy day so not too hot. We started our visit with a Panaché regardless. Priorities are priorities and Leslie had her second beer (with lemonade).

The fortified chateau was first started in the 1100s and built up largely in the 1500s. It was partially destroyed in the 1600s as a result of a treaty, although construction continued through the 1800s. It has some stunning views and awesome architectural elements.

After a quick lunch we meander around. The touristes seem to be on a schedule as they are racing through at a prodigious rate. On our way out we checked out the baby pigs and bunnies and greeted the ass.

Unlocking the bikes we took a short pedal over to the telegraph tower. This was a system of signal towers set every 15km or so that the French used as a telecommunication network in the 18th and 19th century. It’s more of a giant semaphore tower with telescopes than anything else. Still and all, pretty ingenious.

Downhill was pretty damn easy. Whoever suggested we haul the bikes up was a genius. About an hour uphill between my dramatic pauses and the girls evil cackles but less than 10 minutes down. It would have been quicker if I had a bigger bike and trusted my brakes more.

At the boat we changed shoes, did our eyes and headed out to the Chateau de Rohan. We hope to check in with the Riders and see if Gondor was still an issue but apparently they were out for the weekend. So we went to the museum there instead.

Inside there was displays about local architecture and history. Even a few pics of chapels with Ossuaries. Just what is an ossuary for anyway? Were the cemeteries full? Did they need a room to attract ghosts and scare small children?

Later in the chateau there was a huge section dedicated to Louise Weiss. Apparently she was an early 20th century intellectual, radical and -ist. She created a pan-European magazine, believed in a European Union, rallied for peace between the Wars, worked for women’s suffrage (which didn’t come about in France until after the 30s). All in all a very interesting woman and worth some more research.

Upon exit we learned that Carmen won’t eat cone. Seems her evil, invisible twin sister once told her that food (in this case waffle cones) had calories and that ice cream was completely guilt free. And since Carmen had only ascended 200m that day she had to forgo the waffle. Girls. Huh.

In any case I had a Fraise Balsamic, and it had parsley in it… Mmmmmm.

Back to the boat and some quiet time. Around 7:30 Carmen insisted I do nothing while she prepared our repast. What could I do but acquiesce? Dinner was delicious. French toast, but this time with pain instead of baguette; a nice change. But we did keep the tomato salad on the recipe… it was Roma tomatoes though…

Carmen chose another Grand Cru and made a face. Turned out Grand Cru’s around here are sweet, sweet, sweet. At least it wasn’t creme floofie…pah!

Tonight is at least a two bottle (we’re on a Pinot Gris right now) night but I’m hoping to make it three. We’re behind and I’m worried about post boat. We need to put some in the bank.

Sunset, the couple down the path have let their smoky BBQ burn down and I need to work on the boozers.

Another anemic Alsation Pinot Noir, some sheet lighting coming in and a lovely end to the evening

Day 12: Sail Ho!

Well it’s the holiday Monday back in the real world so my crew are threatening mutiny if they don’t get time and a half. Not sure what to do with that, maybe that means more booze?

It poured last night as we finished off the last bottle. Rain is such a pleasant thing when you are on holidays and have no agenda.

Leslie’s first attempt at an ebook hit a road block as I somehow managed to drain the battery on the old Sony. So I gave her mine and finished my book on the iPad. It’s a bit of a conundrum; the iPad drains the battery faster but charges more reliably. The Sony is generally better on batteries but won’t seem to charge off the USB. Anyway we got it sorted and slept the night away.

I was up first so I headed into town to get baguette. By the time I got back Carmen was just emerging, but I still had to boil my own water. Butter, jam, baguette and caffeine later I hit the shower and was ready to start the day.

Eventually the same could be said for the crew (this is when the first mention of overtime came in) and we cast off, the last of our mooring to do so. The trip to Lutzelbourg is short (only 10km) but has quite a few locks. The mountains are beautiful though. We decided to cruise through town and keep going. Especially after we realized the boat in front of us was stopping. I’m not saying they were dangerous to be in a lock with, I’m just sayin’.

After Lutzelbourgh, there are 4 more locks then the Arzviller boat lift. As we approached the lift Carmen whipped up some couscous, which wasn’t as good as my Bruce-goose, but they say the jury’s still out on that one. Couscous… Pah! Anyway I had a couple of ham sandwiches and token couscous to prove I am a man.

I slugged back my beer as the lift light went green and cast off solo. By the time the crew caught up to me I was halfway in the lift. Just keeping them on their toes… The lift up was both old hat and more exciting as we were less distracted. Up we went alone and then down the canal to the first tunnel.

Du Maurier’s wife had told us we should stop and ride out bikes back down the path by the old locks. So we did.

The first 9 or 10 locks have had the lock keepers’ houses renovated. The locks and canals are filled with water in varying depths creating ponds and margins that have an incredible diversity of flowers and plants. Quite stunning. You can see how much effort has gone into it as you approach lock 12 and the abandoned house and dry canal stand in stark contrast. When we get to Trier I will come back and post some pictures.

We turned the bikes around and pedaled back up hill. Carmen with her ‘weak’ ankles and larger mountain bike zoomed past me on the hills. It’s an interesting landscape: 30 or 40 meters of flat, followed by 10 meters of hill by the lock. Repeat X 12. There are 17 locks in total in that old section of canal and after they finish the whole path it will be one of the most beautiful walks I could imagine.

Back aboard we had a green light to enter the tunnel so we cast off and went. Both Carmen and I kept imagining a boat ahead of us heading our way, but we both refused to say anything. It’s a two km tunnel and we both kept seeing this ghost boat at the far end, slowly, inexorably, getting ever closer.

Leslie took over the controls as I was trying to figure out some way to get a picture of a dark tunnel’s hole in a moving boat; I will have to wait till I get home to see if I was at all successful. Anyway, Leslie got into one of those odd feedback cycles you can get into on a boat where you over correct in increasing amounts until its almost impossible to avoid banging off the walls. That was the point I stuck my head in from outside and said something pithy like “Drive straight much?” That was quickly followed by a pretty large over correction that she blamed on me… Sigh.

Anyway, i popped inside and took over the helm and immediately slammed the boat into the wall to prove I had the biggest nuts on the boat.

I had given Carmen a set of nuts that morning in Saverne. I had found them lying in the path after the Rain and said to myself “Self. Carmen needs some nuts more than she needs baguettes.” So I brought her the nuts. She said “Wow, hazelnuts.” and ate my baguette anyway. I really don’t understand girls.

So having proved my nuts reigned supreme, I straightened out the boat and cruised through the last part of the tunnel. About 500 meters for the exit Carmen and I exhaled a sigh of relief as we simultaneously realized that there was in fact a boat in front of us, it was in fact heading the right direction and we weren’t about to die under a mountain. The Nicols hire boat was obviously going extraordinarily slowly and, a evidenced by the huge slew they made immediately upon exiting the tunnel, helmed by a m’eginner.

We caught them just outside of the tunnel and they signaled us to pass them. Into the shorter 450 meter Niderville tunnel and then once again into the sunlight. We need a few provisions (down to only 3 bottles of wine) so we pulled into the port right at the tunnel exit. I performed a perfect marina docking maneuver to the pontoon, marred only by the fact that my damn boat is about 4 feet longer than I thought it was and I smacked the stern into the wharf just feet shy of a standing ovation… Sigh.

Anyway we tied up and headed into town. As we did the Nicols boat also pulled up to a pontoon. A French family. Loud mom, loud dad at the helm. Helpful 12 year old on the bow rope. Better than a sitcom… Anyway I stood there willing to help until they yelled the bow rope around a bollard. At that point they figured the stern would come around so we said “Beau!” and I mosied on.

Over the bridge and down the lane and the road swung south away from town. A couple of hundred feet down and we decided to head back to the boat and break out the bikes. Then I remembered that there were two ports; and the other one was definitely closer to town center. We reboarded and cast off (to the confusion of all the other boats flocking to the pontoons like spiders to Carmen’s ears) and motored away.

Around the bend we came to Kuhnle Tours’ base and pulled in I adequately to the mooring. I unshipped two bikes and sent the girls into town while I fixed the boat and had a nap.

Then they came back. I expect every one of you readers to ask them about the store they visited. I have heard at least 4 versions and it still doesn’t make sense. It involves porn, plonk, stale cookies and sketch. Suffice it to say they returned with odd cookies and two bottles of plonk: one white and one red. Except they were both red. And 1 litre bottles. With nipples instead of corks. And not even reminiscent of anything local.

And they are still talking about the store…

I cast off while they were still sitting around muttering to themselves and stating at the walls in an unfocused way. 30 minutes later we cruised through Hesse and completed our round trip. And then motored on. The next leg was all new to us and some of the prettiest canal banks I think we’ve seen… One of the longest trips as well.

When we pulled into Xouaxange around 6:20 we had done over 32km. The fact that there are no locks after the Inclined Plane helps a lot. In fact unless we do something unexpected, the lock before Arvzviller was the last lock of the trip.

As I was saying, the canal leading into Xouaxange was very scenic and we passed under the arch of the last bridge in those lovely low angle light conditions that make beautiful photographs. So I took a shit ton.

The wharf was full so we tucked in I front of Le Panache, a hotel barge that is based out of here. A nice French gentleman tried to help us tie up but L ignored him. She can be so mean… Eventually she noticed him standing there and tossed him the rope and we staked in, tied up and battened down.

A bit of freshening up found us awalk, looking for a restaurant, a fortified tower and the ruins of an old chateau. The restaurant was closed, the church not-so-fortified and the ruins hidden from mortal view. We put on about 5 km in search of things the signs say were .5 km away. Uphill. Three ways. Sigh. Back to the bailey before Carmen gets us thrown in jail for grand theft fruit… Plums, pears, apples; this town was a fruit-o-maniacs worst nightmare.

Back aboard Leslie napped, Bruce blogged, and Carmen slaved in the kitchen to somehow satisfy our immense appetites. It worked. Mostly. But I have to say when she offered me sloppy seconds, I thought she was trying too hard … I mean really, I was satisfied with the measly 3 pieces of garlic toast I got. I didn’t need the slobber-covered Carmen remnants that she deigned to offer me. Even if she had devoured two whole pieces without any care of my delicately rumbling stomach…

It’s hard to be Bruce.

Pasta and tomatoes, plonk from a nipple bottle, insufficient amounts of garlic toast and dinner was done… like dinner. So we opened the next 1 litre of plonk and broke out the chocolate. Nougat, cognac, nuts, we had remnants of just about everything chocolate you can imagine.

After dinner Leslie read a brochure about Woden’s wood. Apparently we need to band together to prevent a lack of heroism in the wood of Woden. There is a serious need of English translators here. But then if they did a good job it wouldn’t be half so amusing.

Carmen just reminded m e about her bizarre hallucination first thing this morning. Apparently as she was “preparing” to go for a baguette this morning, a large tailless muskrat in a purple vest and gold accoutrements bounded (in a very distinct and complex way) up to her window and leaned its paws up on her window and peered in.

This distracted Carmen. She didn’t go for a baguette and moments later apparently heard me leave to get it anyway. For the record, I didn’t see any beaver. Or muskrat. Or otter. Or even small dog. And no waistcoats. Purple or otherwise. but she’s told the story at least 4 times and is more insistent every time. Even without the wine. But the wine helps…

Day 13: No wiener in my ears

One of the things we noticed this trip is the difference in attitudes between Lorraine ducks and Alsatian ducks. The ducks in the Lorraine are reserved, generally PFwD’s (Professional Fowl without Ducklings), and disdainful of handouts. Alsatian ducks on the other hand are usually big families, gregarious, and quick to partake in a shared baguette or two. Carmen however, was not prepared to accept this generalization — she’s got some pretty strong feelings about stereotypes, often very sensitive about it, not at all breezy, downright adamant about pigeonholing… can lead to extreme pinching and hitting if you are not careful — and set out to correct the situation.

Since we had left the Lorraine behind so quickly, she had days to devise, rehearse and perfect her plan. And then day yesterday she rolled it out for the world. It began with some breadcrumbs and a lone PFwD. She went to the bow, leaned way over, and in her sultriest voice, quacked a stern yet righteous greeting, exhorting our fowl friend-to-be to partake in the communal largess, and to embrace the communopoly!

The duck flew away.

The squawk of indignation from the bow kinda rocked the whole boat back. To make things worse, the reticent duck had landed a couple of hundred feet upstream. This time as we approached the PFwD didn’t even hesitate. He took off and was gone before Carmen could even bend over.

She was not going to be defeated. The next duck got it all: Carmen’s tail feathers twitched and waggled, the quack had just that perfect air of je ne sais quoa and all at once a huge thunderclap rocked the Canal du Marne au Rhin and voilà! That PFwD ate itself some bread. And let me tell you there was one smug, waggling Carmen in the cabin.

Last night we ended the evening with the stars Carmen had ordered. She must have twinkled right at the clerk because we got some stars and then we got some more stars and then there were so many stars that some were actually falling out if the sky. Now you may be thinking to yourselves that this was after two 100cl bottles of red plonk and perhaps there is a bit of exaggeration going on here. Mais no! There was tout la stars in the sky.

As we lay on our backs the sky just lit up around us revealing that no cathedral can compare to the majesty of nature.

This morning we got up and as we have no locks to negotiate I was not at the mercy of the crew’s tardy ways… and no more time and a half! I cast off and headed to Gondrexange to visit their Alimentatiere for provisions. We tied up and walked into town. It was a busy little tabac with a little of everything. We grabbed enough for supper tonight and stopped by the church. While the door was open, the lights were off so we wandered away and found ourselves back at the boat. 2 or 3 klicks down the canal and we came to the branch. Left to Nancy and right to Sarreguimes. We went right with the intention of tying up at the marina beside the etang and walking around. The huge Étang de Gondrexange was supposedly originally built by monks as a giant fish pond and it’s open to fishing and non powerboats. As I tried to back into the marina, the proprietor waved us off as there was no place if we weren’t staying overnight. A couple of hundred yards back down the canal and we staked up and tied in in preparation for a walk.

Up the steep bank where Carmen ignored the offer of my hand and grabbed my pants instead. I still don’t get her logic there, but she insists she has some. Leslie, always the lady, accepted the gracious offer of my hand as she stepped delicately up the canal bank. At least she makes sense to my male-centric outlook. It could be she panders to me, being a Doctor and all, but I prefer to think shes just more logical and realizes I have the tenderer ego.

Up top you could see how the canal is separated and runs alongside the main body of water. These etangs are one of the sources for water for the canals and all 3 run downhill from here.

We headed back to the junction and wandered down towards Nancy just a bit. Eventually I pulled into a little harbour and we had lunch (baguette dogs) and a small rest. Carmen made same saucy noises about wieners but, in the end it was all talk and no bun.

Afterwards Carmen attempted to thread a needle and worked at preventing a wardrobe malfunction. Seems that while her ‘Mommy’ had patched one side of her jeans, she had failed to spot the incipient disaster waiting to occur on the other side. And while Carmen apparently had enough bras to bring modesty to an African village, pants were in short supply. All I’m going to say is if Carmen offers to pack for you, I suggest you demure… using any excuse possible.

After lunch we read some interpretive signs about the circle of privileges of toads and the presence of forest cats. I caught up on the blog and then cast off on our last journey back to Hesse.

I asked Leslie for some entertainment as we cruised along and so she stepped into the bow and treated me to a brief Uninterpretable Dance. Very… umm…

Anyway, next thing you know she’s talking about dance lessons and A Chorus Line and omg I think I’m going to have to watch dance movies when we get home… Anyway, there was dance. And later an encore for Carmen. No veils though…

Back in Xouaxange we decided to stop and once more see if we could find the invisible chateau. For some reason the dock is now roped off so we tied in exactly the same place as we left this morning. A nice stroll through town revealed the same church, the same closed restaurant and the same bridge over the tracks. As we paused to contemplate life, the universe and invisible chateaus I glanced unto a field and espied a wall-like pile of rubble partially covered in vines. “A-ha!” I decried.

As we meandered back into town and down the hill, Leslie spotted Rue de Chateau on a street sign and muttered something about obvious and seeing the signs in front of our face. Down the street, across the culvert and into the farmers field. As I set up the obligatory group portrait to prove only we among all Other Tourists had the fortitude and intrepitude to actually find the ruins, an old, old, old, older than the ruins, old dog came over for a visit. I’m pretty sure it was deaf as well from the way it was ignoring its owner.

So, having succeeded, we headed back to the boat, cast off and left town to the sounds of ringing bells, cheers, fireworks and the sounds of thousands of streamers floating down from tall buildings. It was glorious and I reveled in it. The girls didn’t seem to notice it, but then again they are often clueless to the magnificence that is the world that I perceive.

Anyway on the way back we passed the barge that we had first seen in Strasbourg. And it all came full circle. That barge had a banner in it that said Tchekov and theatre. Xouaxange had posters that said Tchekov and theatre. The dock was closed because supposedly a theatre company was coming in. The dock area was filling up with young, fit happy people with beards. The lightbulb went off and I finally realized there was a itinerant theatre barge following us up the canal putting on performances of Chekov in all the small towns! I am a genius.

We hit Hesse at around 4:45, and I backed in between two boats. Now that we are done, I’ve almost got this boating thing. We talked to the office and a mechanic came along and flipped a breaker in the engine compartment and voila! Shore power. Leslie and I went for a walk and, typically, headed the completely wrong direction. Good thing about these small French towns, it doesn’t take long to reach the end of town and realize you need to head the other direction. We checked out the church which has some bits left over from the 12th century but it was locked up tight. I have to say, this cruise has been not as scenic, town-wise, as our other two.

Leslie remarked it was easy to see we were in the Lorraine now. The town architectures are completely different and there’s not a half-timbered house to be seen. All in all I am glad we went to the Alsace. It really is a micro-culture worth experiencing.

Back to the boat and a pre-dinner bottle of Pinot Gris. We only have two left so we will have to pace ourselves tonight. The base is pretty quiet, I think we’re the only hire boat on the dock. All the visitors seem to have moved on. Carmen is whipping up some lardon and pasta and I’ve organized and cleaned up. We need to catch a train tomorrow around 10:30 so I want to be organized. At the very least, more organized than the other two so I can lord it over them tomorrow.

I think we’ll eat on deck one last time. It’s a bit breezy but the sun is out albeit fading a little as it’s 7:30. Overruled. Leslie said we were indoors because it’s breezy and the sun is fading. Um.

Dinner was tomato salad with shallots. Pasta with sweet lardon, canned mushrooms and tomato sauce. Leslie opened the 2009 Muscat and we finished off the last of the baguettes. Leslie had already devoured 3/4 of the chocolate I had picked up that morning so she generously allowed Carmen and I to finish off her leavings. I called dibs on the crumbs and C licked the last piece. Somehow she thought that would stop me.

A quick clean up of dishes, some pics of the incredibly still night on the water and a session of Witchy-boobs postcard writing brought us to our last bottle. It’s a Riesling. And probably the last Alsatian wine of the trip. Tomorrow we are off to the Mosel and Germany. We’ll wait a few more minutes and stretch out our last evening a bit more.

Before we popped the cork I wandered the boats in the harbor, eyeing up the next trip and considering the options. I really do think I might try the West Coast if I can get my certification. I also think that 2-3 weeks on one of the Kuhnle boats might be an option. They have some amazing 1-way options in France and Germany.

With the 220 shore power going Leslie’s iPhone is charged again and we have music.

Louis and What a Wonderful World help the sun fade on the horizon and the tea lights are shimmering in their couscous beds. Time to open the wine and let the first phase of our trip fade to black.

Day 14: let the Comedy Begin Again

20120808-220625.jpg

After I posted yesterday’s entry we convinced Leslie to read all the blog entries to date. She’s a great reader and it was nice to look back and take stock. Apparently there are some quibbles about the strict veracity if some of the information, but there will always be those who don’t see as clearly. Speaking of which, we finished last night with a bit of a star gaze. Another spectacular night.

Morning started abut earlier than usual. But, as usual, it didn’t help. Some coffee, some baguette-butter-jam and I was good to go. I grabbed a shower, zipped up my bag and did the dishes. Then I hauled some garbage and generally putzed while I waited. Eventually I gathered the crew for the traditional post trip booze shot. There were 22 bottles lined up with a dozen beer and a six pack of cider. Considering we missed at least one night of drinking and drank in restaurants several times, it’s not a bad average.

We hauled the bottles away and offloaded our luggage. I checked out and asked the nice gentleman to call a cab for us. He did. 4 times. 2 were on holidays, 1 was broken down, and one wasn’t anywhere to be found. Eventually he gave up and offered to drive us himself. After he finished up with the outgoing boat. We had plenty of time. Really. No worry.

Right about the time, we had decided the leaving should take place we left. After he ran back in for something he forgot. Twice. It was a nice trip and our host was chatty about the area. Great vocabulary if a slightly idiomatic structure. Still I imagine I sound a lot worse and have 1/4 the vocabulary.

He dropped us off at the gare and while Leslie and I headed to buy tickets, Carmen headed to the pharmacy to pick up a new tensor. If you want to know the definition of groady, I have a great example for you.

The ticket line was slow and slower. I started getting antsy again. Eventually our turn came and we got some tickets for trains as far as Luxembourg. Apparently while can book it all at once online, the ticket agents couldn’t book the train outside of France.

Carmen rejoined the pack about thus time We headed up to platform four based on the assumption we were going through Metz. According to the tickets we were booked to Bettembourg Front. Wherever that was. Whenever. No train number, no transfers nothing. Sigh. So, given the fact we had a spare 15 minutes before we had to decide anything we grabbed a conductor and made him submit to the question. He didn’t seem to be that much more confident than us so he called and asked. Yup, we were good.

Carmen and Leslie headed off to post some postcards and we boarded the TER on time. And we got seats.

Somewhere in there carmen related the tale of the Four Way Ankle Fondle. Seems that French pharmacies don’t do tensors… Pah! The pharmacist listen carefully to Carmen’s request and looking horrified at the state of her current bandage, whisked (or was that lured) her into the back and called in his minions. At this point the details are sketchy. It involves 4 people, an ankle, a tape measure, lots of groping and not a little bit of arguing. You probably don’t want any more details. Anyway she got this lovely royal blue thing for only 50 euros out of the deal and all parties were minimally satisfied.

Trains are a cool way to travel, and you sure get places fast. We’ve got good seats again on the Metz Luxembourg leg and the trip was over in a nonce.

In Luxembourg we booked open tickets to Trier and got a schedule of departures. Then we turned our bags over to the lockup guy and hit the bathroom. It’s one of those pay ones: .60 Euros to stand up, 1.20 to sit down.
Ha ha, I’m a boy.

We wandered out of the train station and thought we’d eat first. We found lots of ‘night clubs’ and/or strip joints. Oh and a head shop with an awesome hydroponic basil over 4 ft high. Oh and a couple of pot plants. So… Sex and drugs in Luxembourg; sort of a mini Amsterdam I guess. Lunch was a pizza shop. Leslie had Napolitano, which is actually just a Napoli spelled differently. I had calzone and Carmen had a Salade Nicoise. They called it a salad but between the potato, peppers, tuna, eggs and assorted other bizarre ingredients, it was 20 minutes before we saw green. She found one anchovy and as Leslie’s pizza was getting low I told her to Fish around in her salad for more. Get it? ‘Fish’ around in the salad… For an anchovy… Which is a fish… {snicker}.

Afterwards we headed north randomly which fortuitously was toward the old quarter. We passes over a grand old bridge, saw some fortifications and turned back for the station to catch the 4:20.

20120808-220758.jpg

It seems as though the bus system might be private here. There are many, many buses of different shapes and sizes. When I get some wifi I will google Voyages Emile Weber which was one of the bigger companies. Back to the station, grab our bags and head to gate 10 just before our ride rolled in. Then it’s a ride on the CFL to Trier and Germany and German wines. Woohoo.

The trip into the Mosel is quite beautiful and the architecture of homes and churches different once again. We pulled into Trier bahnhof pretty much right on time, but given the way they say Trier as one syllable and follow it with a lot of other incomprehensible syllables, we asked just be sure.

Off the train, out into the station and quickly on to a cab. The can rides are getting crazier and we are starting to wonder how there aren’t millions of dead pedestrians each year. I guess the people learn. The young gentle at the desk at Hotel Kessler was a real joy. Really seemed happy with his job and seemed to want us to have a good time. We checked in, cleaned up briefly and headed out to see if we could catch the tourism office before it closed. We didn’t.

Our hotel is in one corner of the old quarter and the info office was in the other. Thus we had to traverse the whole quarter to get there. There are going to be some amazing things to see in the next couple of days. The info office sits in the shadow of the Porto Nigra, a 2nd century roman gate. It was closed but we grabbed a few pics.

20120808-220743.jpg

Afterwards we had a few beers and some tapas and watched the locals tango in the street.

20120808-220735.jpg

Time to head home so we slowly ambled back towards the hotel. An ice cream place caught our eye so we stopped for some dessert crepes (although Leslie opted for an After Eight Sundae) that were simply delicious. Up again and back to the room to finish the night with a quick shower and some blog updating.

20120808-220649.jpg

Day 15: let that be a lesson to you

This morning I woke up and considered my legs, specifically my ankles. My right ankle has a bite on it; one of many I collected on the boat. The left does not. Still, I think I prefer my right ankle, it has that je ne sais quoi that really makes an ankle worth mentioning. Really I don’t think any of my traveling companions has an ankle to compare.

Take Leslie’s ankles. I’ve admired them for a long time, even wrote an ode or two dedicated to their curves and angles. Well, truth to be told, they were more like limericks than odes, but poetry is poetry. Anyway Leslie’s ankles are some of favorite ankles but they are not quite the Ulysses of ankles, not the hero type at all; much more a Diana or Dionysis… Beautiful but lacking the strength and power that makes an ankle great.

They serve as the muse. To be elevated and exalted, to be admired and adored. To serve as a focal point for arts, wisdom, culture and all things of the mind.

And we all know of Carmen’s ankles. Hidden, mysterious, shrouded in legend… yes, legendary is the perfect word. Definitely the Achilles of all ankles. I mean the stories we’ve heard, reaching back into antiquity, the battles fought and won, the scars and war wounds, the triumphs and tales. Carmen’s ankles are Legend.

And not even as a pair: it’s as if each ankle was competing for more glory than the other, twins who are never at peace with their place, always striving to emerge in the higher place. These are warrior ankles through and through.

But as I come back to my own ankles I am forced to admit they will never again inspire an ode; they will never again emerge victorious from battle. Their days of beauty and glory are behind them and the have survived and matured to grow into the statesman, the older, the wiser, the gray-tinged leader of ankles. Jupiter on the left, Zeus on the right, they rule over all other ankles; benign, radiating calm power, feared and admired yet rarely needing to prove their place.

And, as we all know, the Greek pantheon holds precedence over the Roman as the Right ankle holds precedence over the Left. Nominally equal yet never in doubt which ankle rules them all. I have a pretty damned good right ankle

Still and all I generally have the Grace and wit not to live my life enraptured by my own ankles’ glory. So on that humble thought, I think it is time to start my day and leave ankles behind. For now.

Up, a shower and meet Carmen for breakfast. Continental, but I had scrambled eggs (done in butter) and it was nice to have something hot. Leslie had chocolate covered chocolate in a bowl and C opted for salmon over boiled egg.

First up was St Antonius, a church built in the 1450s, bombed in 1944, rebuilt in 1950. A lovely little church with some awesome windows which dated from after the war. They had some before, after the bombing and after the restoration images. It makes you think of the complete tragedy which was seeing the church that has been a huge part of you life being broken and torn. It would almost be better if it was gone rather than violated and reduced. Then again, as far as I can tell, every church older than about 200 years has had that happen to it.

We headed SW towards the river, checked out the Rathaus (town hall) and the Barbara baths. These are 2nd century ruins of roman baths: the fourth largest in the world. They are cordoned off at the moment as we gazed from afar. We hit the river without being killed by traffic and checked out the Roman bridge (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The pilings also date from the 2nd century, although most of the structure is much later.

Down the path alongside the river. There are more bike bells in Germany than in France so Carmen is happier. We passed a few Tariff buildings. Not sure if there exact purpose but they had giant gerbil treadmills inside that ran twin cranes reaching over the river. Very cool as long as I’m not the guy in the hamster wheel.

We cut back towards town a couple of klicks down the Mosel and admired the ‘very old wall’. That’s all we knew about it. Very old. A wall. We then cut right and checked out Hieronymus Jaegen’s (1841-1919) crypt at St Paulus-Kirche. Most of the church was blocked off though donor was a short visit. Back towards the old district and we popped in next to the Porto Nigra. We stopped for lunch: Leslie actually had a different pizza. And by that I mean different: broccoli and garlic. As a pizza. Blech. I went for a traditional German favorite: the Hawaii while C had her way with a meat-stuffed cannelloni.

Off to Porto Nigra. This old Roman gate dates from the founding of the Roman city as fa back as 16 BC but mostly built in the 2nd Century. It has gone through various rebuildings and integration into Christian edifices of all sorts. Eventually Emperor Napoleon authorizes the discomboobulation of all the church nonsense and the Roman gate was revealed again.

I noted that the Imperial Roman urge to magnificence has completely differently motivation than the Christian motivations of the middle ages. They both taxed the peasants to build, but the Romans did it just because they good, to the everlasting glory of Rome. The church always built for something outside themselves. I have my own opinions which motivation is more ‘noble’.

It’s 9:55 and I’m only at lunch. Not sure I’m going to get today done. Definitely no pictures.

Anyway, we next wandered down to the Trier Cathedral; the seat of secular and religious power for the region. Their most holy relic is a shirt made from whole cloth. I.E. Jesus’ shirt. It’s a magnificent place with roots reaching back to the 4th century. I remember when 1100 was old, two European trips ago.

I shelled out 1.50 euro to see their treasury while L & C skipped it (they had a bad experience at Notre Dame in Paris). About 5 minutes in I excused myself and went and got them. It was the illuminated MS from 1100 that did it. Bishopric rings dating to 900, five different manuscripts from 1100-1200, relics and reliquaries spanning 1000 years. But it was the books that did it. One was open to an illuminated page…

Sigh.

The cloisters were under renovation, so we skipped around but it was coming on 4:30 and we had tickets for Booze School 2: Mosel.

The booze wagon showed up and loaded us for a trip to G.F. Von Nell Weinstube and Weingut. (http://www.vonnell.de). Napoleon sold this land to the von Nell family in 1803: it had been the property of the Cloister St Mattias. Apparently the churches suffered a lot under his rule. Over 80 hectares but only 4 or 5 hectares are on flat land. The rest is steep slopes. They grow 85% Riesling and 5% Pinot Blanc with a smattering of Pinot Noir and some other whites. It’s almost all hand work and a family business. Our bus driver turned out to be owner and patriarch Georg and his wife Evi was hostess later during the tasting.

Georg took us on a tour and we learned some things about local wines Like the leftover skins make schnapps. Abfüllung means dealer wine; not grown or made by a grower. Don’t buy it. With the addition of sulphites, they have Rieslings since stored since 1959. Mosel wine is characteristically yellow with a little green. The more yellow is better quality.

We tried 6 wines including a Rosé made from the Black Riesling grape. Anyway there were only 7 of us on the tour and the another 4 wanted to eat so we stayed. We had a German version of the Tarte flambé and a 2011 Riesling Spätlese. The entire evening was slow and easy and while we drank a lot of wine it digested slowly over the course of the evening.

We bought two bottles for home and Georg drove us straight back to the hotel at 9:30 as the light disappeared. It needs to be said that this was a family business and while it serviced tourists, it was more like visiting someone’s house. A bit of snarking, some eye rolling and casual muttering to themselves, there was nothing polished about the experience. Just friendly, filling and fun.

Back at the hotel we popped two doors down to the Das Weinhaus for a nightcap. I tried a piesporter, Leslie had a Riesling and Carmen chickened out and had a cappuccino.

24 hours ago we woke up in France, visited Luxembourg and slept in Germany. Now I’m a german wine expert and Leslie is ordering my booze like a native. Huh.

Day 16: blogging hurts

Well so as not to keep you in suspense… My ankles are just fine. Exemplary in fact. Everyone says so.

Leslie’s back hurts though. Too much wine is my thought although she doesn’t agree. But it’s my blog, so wine it is. It could be the editing too. I hear that too much over-correction can put things out of alignment and she’s definitely been bugging me about the typos, auto-corrects and simply nonsensical sentences I’ve been postings. But I say “Pah!” What does she know, she’s so drunk all the time her back hurts!

I do think the days at too full to document so I might try moving to point form or some such other clever literary device to convey substance at the expense of pithy prose. You all will just have to suffer along because, as I said, it’s my blog…

Breakfast… Pretty much the same as yesterday but Carmen had some pineapple. Today looks to be more old quarter, although we a looking at a boat trip up the Mosel for tomorrow.

Grocery: wine, beer and chocolate. Bottle recycling machine. Cool.

Back in the Trier Cathedral of St Peter, we popped in for a moment as it was opening to get out of the cool air while we waited for the basilica to open. And I noticed one of the reasons that none of the cathedrals so far have compared to my favourite churches: sound. The aural experience of these structures is as much of the magnificence as the visual one. And no matter how many signs saying silence, nor how hard the tourists try, the ambient noise levels climb past the point of truly feeling the sound. With only a dozen of us in the space, the acoustics were now an integral part of the experience.

You feel as well as hear each step, each breath, each clang of a door. As I sit and listen more and more people arrive and the moment slips away in whispers, rumbles and footsteps.

20120810-222808.jpg

The Basilica of our Lady, built 1227-1260, is the earliest gothic church in Germany. The complex here has always had many buildings attached due to its role as seat of the government, thus the cathedral, basilica, cloisters and many administrative buildings are all attached. This structure is much more traditionally gothic without any of the romanesque elements in the cathedral and much more of a designed whole, lacking the piecemeal feel of its neighbor.
20120810-221411.jpg

We arrived in time for the perfect morning light streaming through the eastern choir. Very few people and the aural and visual delight are stunning. One could just sit and breathe all day. And take pictures trying to capture the light…

Soon enough though people arrive and the busy day of the basilica as a tourist destination begins.

On the way to our next stop I stopped by an antiquities store. He was selling coins and after some waffling purchased a coin from the reign of Claudius: 41-54 AD. Only a bronze piece although he had a gold piece from Augustus (who founded the city). I now own something almost 2 millennia old… Gack!

Constantine’s Basilica was actually Constantine the Great’s throne room. Post 300 AD, Trier was the western capital of the Roman empire and this structure was there to state his place in the order of the world.

In 407 it was plundered by Franks after the Romans withdrew and it’s outlying buildings were integrated into new government buildings. But the Franks lacked the “ideological and political” will to rebuild the throne room and it remained without a roof.

It was refurbished into a castle with battlements in the medieval period and served as the Archbishops residence beginning 13th century.

Starting in 1614 it was partially torn down and one wall and the nave were integrated into a palace.

In 1794 French revolutionary troops arrived and complex became barracks and hospital. They ‘donated’ the buildings to city of Trier to avoid maintenance costs. The Prussians arrived in 1814 and contunued to use the building for military use. In 1835 Trier gave the complex to Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William IV who later became King.

The Romantics of the 19th century led by Frederick William reconstructed the throne room as The Protestant Church of the Redeemer. They created a monument to Prussian power with “its genesis in the imperial power of Constantine the Great”. It was opened as a church in 1856.

Frederick William sought to strengthen the ties between religion and state and this project was one of his symbols; but this policy came with long term consequences when Germans faced the rise of Nazism.

Burned In a firestorm on August 14, 1944, many Germans saw it not as a huge loss, but as a chance for redemption as the church both as an organization and a congregation in this building had not rejected the Nazi philosophies. After much debate it was rebuilt along the lines of the original throne room and rededicated 1956.

2 walls remained with the original Roman brick as well as the subterranean heating systems. Awe inspiring and an example of what was lost in the ‘dark’ ages.

20120810-222832.jpg

Extending from the east of the basilica extend the Imperial Palace and its formal gardens. Some kind soul had put leg warmers and headbands on some of the statues. The ducks floating in the pond, alas, had nothing to keep them warm, which led to conjecture and imitations of a duck wearing leg warmers doing the Maniac song. I got no applause, but a few stares and a giggle or two.

20120810-222823.jpg

We passed through a gate in the medieval wall and stopped in to visit the Rheinisches Landesmuseum. This is essentially a museum of the history of the region surrounding Trier. This museum alone makes the visit here worthwhile.

But, before we enter, I think I will take a moment and talk ankle. It seems that I had Carmen pegged all wrong. I’ve alway seen her ankles (seen in a metaphorical way…) as warriors. Major players but, in the end, not the bringers of civilization.

I was wrong.

Outside the Rheinisches Landesmuseum we all learned who Carmen’s ankle progenitor really was… Constantine I. Constantine the Great and Carmen the Editor share the exact same feet. From toe lengths to toe nails, Carmen’s foot matched the Big C’s foot in every way. It was freaky. Really, really freaky.

So I guess I do have to revisit the relative value of Carmen’s ankles. Perhaps, in some small way, they even exceed my own. Constantine the Great, champion of Christianity, bringer of laws, founder of Constantinople… Such a legacy for such tiny ankles. Carmen. We salute your feet.

20120810-222734.jpg

But back in the museum, we started with some Ice age bones and tools and some Bronze age artifacts. A couple of rooms later we moved into the Celts & Gauls. Not much of a civilization but they had some cool artifacts.

Julius Caesar arrived in the area between 58 & 50 BC and soon it was a Roman province. There were awesome mosaics and lots of statuary and stone work. My favorite piece was a map of the known world on scroll about 25 feet long. Given that it was a scroll and only about 18″ high, fitting all of Europe and bits of Africa and Asia in, it was a work of art in itself. As soon as you got used to the odd structure forced on you by the dimensions, it was a fascinating work of cartography.

20120810-222757.jpg

Lunch was in the museum cafe. Leslie had a curry soup you could smell before it hit the table, I had a baloney, pickle and cheese salad and whatever Carmen ordered is better off not being talked about. Isn’t German fun!

After lunch it was Augustus and founding of Augustus Treverorum (ancient Trier) and more artifacts.

20120810-221615.jpg

Eventually in 5th century, Rome had all but withdrawn from the region and the Franks moved in. At this point the city became a disorganized collection of inhabitants and all the great Roman works like the baths, colosseum, even the city walls crumbled.

The founding of Hauptmarkt in 958 became nucleus of the new medieval city and the population began to grow.

Later in the Middle Ages the city developed once again, rebuilding walls and churches and become an thriving economy once more.

The next displays encompassed the 14th & 15th centuries bright rediscovery of classical ideas and the birth of humanism.

Then the Reformation, finally taking hold after the end of the 30 Years War 1618-1648. From this period through the Baroque period until the French Revolution the city prospered as a centre of religion and commerce. But as the French Revolutionary Army invaded and effectively ended the Holy Roman Empire, Trier faded to just another Prussian Rhine town.

It was, as I said, a stunning museum, and I would encourage any European travelers to make it a ‘must see’ in their list.

Soon it was back to the tourism center. We booked a passenger boat ride as far as Piesport tomorrow. We will hop off and enjoy the town (and hopefully wine) and then hop back on as the boat passes on its return swing.

We stopped at a wienstube and had a 3 wine sampler. Oddly enough, the sweet was one of my favorites.

Afterwards we wandered back to the hotel to freshen up and then headed out to Kartoffel Kiste for meat, I mean dinner. A couple if beers later and we called it a night. Tomorrow is an early day.

20120810-221529.jpg

Day 17: Row, row, row your boat

20120811-222021.jpg

This morning was full of change. Up earlier, we beat Carmen to breakfast, Leslie had chocolate cake with here chocolate-covered chocolate cereal, Carmen added ham and cheese to her salmon egg and I had jam instead of ham. Then we found out that my
Mom and Carmen’s Mom have a date. No one knows why that makes us nervous, but for some reason it does.

We packed up a couple of packs and headed to the taxi stand. A quick cab ride that was slightly less terrifying than normal and we were at the boat dock. The boat, the Traben-Trarbach, was there and ready to go so we boarded and snagged a pretty good spot on the stern upper deck, sheltered by the cabin. The Mosel is a working river and we passed several huge barges in the first few moments.

20120811-221824.jpg

Last night the proprietor of the hotel had tries to talk us out of the trip. In bad English she tried to convince us it was a boring trip. We pointed out we were getting off halfway but that just made it worse apparently. But I am slowly brainwashing C Secondus (Carmen’s new name) and L Editrix to be water people and any boat is a good boat. We smiled, nodded and backed away slowly.

Oh and by the way, we’ve booked our rooms here until Thursday. No point in moving on as we still have half the city to see and a whole region to explore.

There are a lot of vineyards on the banks of the Mosel. A. Lot. Of. Vineyards. Carmen’s eyes have glazed over and even Leslie has to keep wiping the drool. It’s a sunny day and if we keep out of the wind, a wonderful way to see the valley.

There’s only one lock on our leg of the trip at Detzem and it’s got a big barge in it as we approach so we moor to the pilings to wait. Once the barge is clear we are first in but we have to wait for another, larger, cruise ship and the two private cruisers following. From the looks of things this is a deep lock.

Let us pause to discuss our traveling companions. We boarded at 9 am. I had a coffee, two tables back she had a glass of wine. At around 10, the couple across had their first round of beer. The table behind Leslie were on at least round two by 10:30 and the 16 year ok girl had downed her share of dad’s. We definitely aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Back in the Mosel we are now first in a chain of boats but we are moving fast enough that we can stop for passengers without losing our place. Grapes, grapes and more grapes, with swans and villages thrown in for colour. How could this be boring?

Upstream of Küsselrath there was one of the many semi-permanent holiday campsites we have seen, but this one had a trailer with a flagpole flying the Canadian flag.

Coming up from behind, an Eiffel-fly.de mini copter snuck up on us. This is a two seat (not side by side) open air helicopter-like vehicle sort of like an ultra light but with no wings. I would love a ride!

The boat got fuller and fuller at every stop and eventually we were sharing our seats: I hardly got claustrophobic at all. Eventually we arrived at Piesport and disembarked. It wasn’t the smoothest docking ever and I think the crewman didn’t realize we were getting off so he had started to cast off already.

First things first. The Weinstube by the dock for a dink and a quick bite.

Carmen & Bruce:
Halbtrockene
2011 Piesporter Falkenburg
Reisling Qualitätsweun
Weingut Joh. Haart

2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen
Riesling Spätlese feinherb
Weingut Reuscher-Haart

…and Leslie tried:
Liebliche
2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen
Reisling Kabinett
Weingut Reuscher-Haart

Leslie & Carmen tried the potato soup that had more sausage than potato and I had a salmon and scallion flambé.

Up and over the bridge and we headed for the tourist info place. It had closed at 12. We were so desolated we decided to go drink wine. We were pretty damn desolated. So the deal is you stop into a Weingut and they guilt you into drinking, then buying, some wine. It works pretty good, but they’re generous with their tastes… After acquiring a taste of 2010 Manfred Briet Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese feinherb we bought it and then added another from Kettern Matheus, this one from down the road (2011 Dhroner Hofberger Riesling Kabinett feinherb); then we hit a Weinstube called Lehnert-Veit on the river for some by the glass.

The weinstubes here are all lined up on the river to attract cyclists. Almost makes me think there might be something to this cycle touring thing. The one we found ourselves at even had a dock for passing boats.

C’s was a 2009 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling No 1 dry, Leslie went for a 2010 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese fruchtig and Bruce won out with his 2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Mineral fruchtig. The waitress obviously thought I was number one but eventually we got it sorted out and Carmen got her No1.

We all tried everyone’s wine and I think we all agreed Les’s choice was the one to get. So we did. A bottle that is… The lovely lady at the counter made friends with Carmen and let us know the cool place to visit for wine in Trier and encouraged us to try Saarburg as a day trip.

20120811-222150.jpg

For the first time this trip I was a bit disoriented and I assumed the bridge I could see from my chair was the one we had come over. It wasn’t. So we left the Weinstube a bit later than planned and only had 15 minutes to make our way back to the dock to meet the scheduled departure time. But since the boat was over an hour late arriving this morning, we weren’t that worried. At least Carmen wasn’t worried. I am always worried about being late.

We hit the dock, which is more of a pontoon with a catwalk attached to the shore, about 4:20 for the 4:15 departure. So we sat in the shade and listened to the german-speaking kids jump in the river. But the sounds were odd for german. Huh, turned out they we’re English. Sounded more like German than Canadian.

Ok… Boat’s in sight. So I’ll stop for a bit, but someday I might tell you about Poozy Kat, Little C and the Awesome Possum. Then again, maybe I won’t.

The return trip included hang gliders, jet skis, water skiers — both advanced and beginner –, a beer for Bruce, a few seat changes, a 5 year old, very rambunctious and, at the end of the trip, very tired, a 3 way boat race and some beautiful light on the valley walls.

20120811-222440.jpg

It looks like we’ll pull in around 8… Oops, it’s 7:45. Time to eat. We headed for the old quarter and turned in our customary circles until we found a traditional menu with some English translations so we knew what we were experimenting with. Carmen tried Rosti, I had schnitzel and Leslie had meatloaf. Some coffee and strudel afterwards and it was time for bed.

Tomorrow we sleep in and hit the Karl Marx museum… I think. Maybe. We’ll see.

Day 18: Man, I need a bath

I wonder how different the 50s and 60s in North America would have been if American politicians had been forced to visit the Karl Marx museum.

We slept in this morning but Carmen beat us to breakfast. Since I was forced to hurry my morning ablutions, the disreputableness of my appearance was enough to force Carmen from the table before I could discuss her dietary habits. But Leslie had chocolate covered chocolate again. I stuck with eggs and jam and butter with some bread to convey it.

Across the street from our hotel is the Karl Marx Museum. He was born in this house on Brückenstrasse, which is lovely and built in 1727. He was born in was 1818. He didn’t spend a lot of time here and the house was unremarkable until the early 20 century when they discovered documents referring to his father’s original business. then it became political symbol symbol for and against and remains such to this day.

20120812-220214.jpg

Marx was raised in Trier until he left for school.

Things to research later:

  • 1848 revolutions
  • 1871 revolution in Paris
  • Willy Brandt
  • Vietnam post war
  • The highlight of the museum was Leslie alternatively agreeing and arguing with the hand held electronic guide. Seems as though the machine might have had a slightly different skew on Marxism than our esteemed doctor. But it was occasionally right and she would nod vigorously in agreement. Unfortunately even though she was listening to the speaker in her ear, to the casual observer it would appear she was gazing at the window sill, arguing vociferously with it.

    On a side note, after much observations and consideration I have come to the conclusion that 3 urinals in washrooms seems to be a German rule. It’s pretty damn consistent.

    Upon leaving the museum we visited the gift shop. Leslie purchased the tshirt (of course) and a couple of Marx postcards, and so it would appear that she is, at long last, a card-carrying Marxist.

    We had a quick lunch of coffee and pastries and were on our way. Headed for the baths, we stopped in at the seminary church; I have no idea what it was called.

    20120812-215045.jpg

    Painted throughout in golds and whites with floral accents, it featured modern stained glass in matching opaque white and golds. It was light, full of nature and incredibly peaceful. Another favourite for the trip. One of the more interesting things were these awesome water colors for the stations of the cross. Not something you would ever imagine seeing in a modern church, yet more modern than any art I’ve ever seen in a church. It was a pretty cool vibe.

    20120812-220701.jpg

    The Cattle Yard Baths or Forum Baths were built in 3rd & 4th Centuries. Rediscovered this century, they are completely enclosed under glass and building. As we wandered the labyrinth-like layout we traded off sharing the guide book trying to make heads or tails of the ruins. I will note several groups of tourists came and went while we were there. It’s a 18 century old structure rooted in history with architectural and engineering feats that we find hard to grasp to this day; its worth more than 10 minutes! Sigh.

    20120812-220925.jpg

    Anyway about out third turn round, we finally got a feel for what we were seeing. I would love to see more models, because it truly is a mind boggling feat of engineering. And they — the Romans — did this everywhere they went.

    Upon leaving these baths, we headed east to the Kaiserthermen. On the way there the subject of Carmen’s ankles came up and we all got to wondering how they would go with bright red nail polish. Well the now familiar refrain, “What would Constantine the Great do?” was heard and we turned a corner and got our answer.

    20120812-215115.jpg

    Soon we arrived. The Kaiserthermen are another set of baths started in the 4th century. However as Constantine moved his political base back east, they were never finished. But the foundations were used for many things including a fortress and, as a result, much more of the original works survived than in the Forum Baths. Underground tunnels and soaring arches all added to a unique experience. The only thing marring that visit was Carmen’s quip as I picked my way over the pointy remains of a wall that I should “be careful not to fall or I would ‘ruin’ my ass!” Ba dum, dum…

    20120812-220255.jpg

    20120812-220948.jpg

    Well at this point it was slightly after 5 and someone pointed out we’d not had a single drink that day. So we headed to the place Carmen’s Piesport friend had recommended.

    It turns out at Waldendorffs across from the Dom (Cathedral) that there was a Zumba open air thingee going on. It was loud and had 50 or so women in exercise clothes jiggling around; so we stayed. The girls were out giving it their all, meanwhile the boyfriends drank beer and watched.

    I splurged on a 2005 Mülheimer Sonnenlay Auslese from Wiengut Bauer, Mülheim. It was an auselese so I knew it was going to be sweet, but Carmen was silly enough to say ‘boy’s choice’; so I did. Very fruity, but I liked the finish.

    Then the bells took on the Zumba and won. 15 minutes of ever increasing crescendos from the bell towers may not have entirely drowned out the 20th century amplifiers and speakers, but it definitely relegated it to the background. After our bottle (it was only 500 ml), we departed for quieter environs.

    Back at the basilica for a evening visit the light is playing across the space in entirely new ways. Columns are alight, window frames act as mirrors to the stained glass and the altar is awash in pure white light. It would worth it to spend a year here just learning how this building interacts with its environment.

    20120812-215141.jpg

    Leslie’s back stiffened up while we sat so it’s taking a few moments for her to loosen up… in more ways than one: she won’t answer to Stiffy and still refused to acknowledge me even when I addressed her formally as Dr. Stiffy. Sheesh, talk about stiff-necked…

    20120812-220903.jpg

    Anyway, back to the place we ate a few nights ago. We all had schnitzel of some sort, although mine was chicken breast. A couple of beers and we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow is either the Colosseum (something I’m am especially excited to see) or a day trip to Saarborgh; the morning will reveal all.

    20120812-215018.jpg

    Day 19: She likes them dirty and bad

    Morning.

    Carmen sucked it back, I gobbled it down and Leslie ate chocolate covered chocolate. She is going to miss Germany something fierce.

    Moments later we gathered at the lobby and walked across town looking for the bahnhof. My perfect sense of direction, stealthily reacquired from Carmen’s evil attempt at compassability thievery, led us to a shroud covered building which sold train tickets. I think they call it a ‘train station’ here.

    The ticket machine wouldn’t sell us tickets so we got them from the nice lady. 5 minutes staring at the board hopefully untangled the confusing path to Saarburg and at 10:01 exactly we pulled out of Trier, hopefully on the right train.

    Not so long ago the wine from this region used to be known as Mosel-Ruwer-Saar, named after the three rivers (or their valleys). We’ve sampled the Mosel but now it’s time for the Saar.

    So if you ever come to Saarborg, turn north not south from the railway station. They both work but north will get you there faster. Down the path, up the hill and across the bridge as the giant barge passes underneath. Then you find yourself in Saarburg proper. So them down the hill, up the path and through the tunnel and you come across the mill, waterwheels and waterfall.

    20120814-091431.jpg

    At the base of the waterfall we popped into a Museum. It featured a turbine, Linotype machine with a letterpress and other old printing paraphernalia (very cool), a display on bell making, and a history barges.

    20120814-091600.jpg

    20120814-091704.jpg

    After we trucked over to the tourist info but there want anything there beyond the brochure we already had. Back to the “little Venice” and we decided on a lunch. Carmen heard the lunch call of the ‘sner so pilsner and ice cream it was. Despite Carmen acting like a two-year old (she couldn’t elevate herself to my exalted 3-year old level) we managed to order without being ejected.

    As we wandered off we got into a huge argument about which was more interesting and enjoyable: the quack of Carmen’s ass or Carmen’s bum quack. I was all about the quack of her ass. I thought it showed more originality and class while Carmen tried to defend her bum quack on the basis of its steadiness and familiarity to other members of the family. In the end we decided to leave it to the individual.

    First up was the Catholic church which had been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, the last after a bombing in 1944. Incidentally the ancient bridge had also been destroyed in 1944. I understand the strategic reasons and mourn the necessity.

    Across the river and up up up the hill was the Potestant [sic] Church. Much smaller but perched in the cliff side below the fortress. What I found most interesting about it was that it had proof that Jesus was an alien that gave brains to zombies. the stained glass told the story of an green alien Jesus that tried to befriend and convert the Zombies by passing out brains (which he had presumably transmogrified from loaves of bread).

    In later panels the zombies rose up and converted Jesus to a Zombie Lord. Then the zombie hordes conquered the alien culture and rose up in flames and enslaved everyone. It was the most interesting series of stained glass windows I have ever seen. And a pretty liberal interpretation of the zombie Jesus myth…

    The ruins of the Castle fortress were further up the hill and provided some awesome views of both sides of Saarburg. It has a huge hillside bisecting it with a tunnel running through. It had a tower extant so we slogged our way up the wonkiest stairs ever. They couldn’t make up their minds up if they were spiral, parallel, or just plain asinine. But the views were even better.

    20120814-091849.jpg

    20120814-091840.jpg

    20120814-091830.jpg

    On the way down we tried to figure out what a dach was (besides something a dachshund would hunt) but somehow it turned into a long critique by Carmen of the all the various mice throughout history ending with the definitive conclusion that Minnie Mouse was so downright silly, she was fucking goofy. Can you spell g-r-o-a-n?

    At which I was reminded of Leslie’s earlier Treatise on the relative relationship in the German dictionary of penis and penicillin. She also tried to point out their lack of prudence and about 7 other p-words that just kept getting dirtier and dirtier.

    We decided it was wine-o’clock so we scooted down the hill to look for a Weingut. We ended up a t a lovely little shop that had 5 wines for 3 Euros and ended up leaving with 5 bottles among us. No, we are not pushovers… They are just good wines!

    I commented that they dont believe in spitting out your wine here when tasting they were filling the glasses pretty damn full and i had at least 3 full glasses out of my 5 ‘tastes’. But following the theme of the day, my comment about a lack Of spitting turned into a remark that they believe in the swallow here in the Saar and the dirty-giggles echoed off the walls of the narrow streets… Sigh.

    We decided to head back to the train, but a wine bar jumped out and called out names. So we stopped. Carmen decides to brave an auslese while Leslie and I went for some 3 glass tasters. I tried a Saar Pinot Noir and while it wasn’t up to Burgundy standards, I think it redeemed the French Pinots from Alsace. A mini panini with mozzarella and tomatoes and lots of black pepper added some spice to our wine and all in all I think there were some good choices made. Thankfully my pack was full so we didn’t buy any more.

    20120814-092008.jpg

    Up and around and through the tunnel, we headed back to the train station. Just as I was about to turn north we noticed stairs going down. Turns out if when leaving the platform underground, if you turn towards the river you pop out right by the bridge. Huh.

    A bit of fussing and we figured out the next train to Trier was in 17 minutes so Carmen and I chased each other around not touching while Leslie looked on in a drug and wine-addled haze reminiscent of senior patrician observing the plebes with mild amusement. Then the train came. So we boarded.

    20 minutes later we were back in Trier. Did I mention hat return tickets to a town 30 or so km away was 17 euro for all three of us? That’s less than 3 euro per person each way… I can’t get anywhere on Edmonton’s transit system on 3 bucks…

    Back in Trier we head for the hotel in a straighter line than we used this morning (knowing where you are going is such a good thing) and popped into our rooms to freshen up. A quick shower later and we met Carmen in the street.

    4 doors down we decided on San Remo Pizzeria since Carmen could keep an eye on her room. It had been acting up lately and getting cheeky so she wanted to keep it on a short leash. Leslie broadened her horizons with a Pescatori pizza while I went for meat on meat with meat. Carmen had a cannelloni. But there was no can and no loni, so I don’t know what she was thinking.

    The Pinot Grigio was Italian and the bruschetta delicious. The menu was an interesting cultural experience as it was in Italian with German translations. But since that’s a common device in Edmonton, we were pretty comfy in the Italian. I guess maybe there should be on our travel agenda…

    I haven’t mentioned ankles today. That’s because ankles are passé. Backs are the new ankles; and backs are awesome. Soft, flexible, stiff, springy, mucsley… Backs.

    Anyway, a walk ensued and we checked back in to the hotel to sleep. Too tired to post pictures so maybe tomorrow.

    The Alien Zombie Jesus Myth

    20120814-090420.jpg
    Alien Jesus feeds the zombies brains.

    20120814-090429.jpg
    Jesus tries to convert the zombies to his alien ways

    20120814-090440.jpg
    The zombies turn on Alien Jesus and convert him to a Zombie Lord

    20120814-090449.jpg
    The zombies rise up under Zombie Jesus’ leadership and suppress the alien overlords

    Day 20: Who likes old wood

    20120815-085224.jpg
    Breakfast started as usual but Carmen and blinked and sighed and we had our selves a carafe of coffee when we arrived at the table. A few minutes later the proprietress brought along the copy if the bill for the first half and a half-bottle of brut as a thank you. Credit cards and bank cards aren’t as common here (I think it’s because they reject the ridiculous service charges) and she had promised us she would hold the Internet rate if we paid cash for the second half of our stay. So we’ve been squirreling away euros for the last couple of days.

    After breakie I lead the girls in circles for a bit, touring the shops and checking out the remaining streets we had yet to explore. It really is easy to go around in circles being so uses to a gridded street system. But to their credit I think I only had them turned around once.

    We walked through the hospital area which revealed some of the more literal German. Apparently krankenwagen means sick people vehicle. As we rounded the corner we noted the large outdoor playground in a secluded courtyard for sick kids. Situated right in the middle was a huge apple tree overflowing with apples. Which prompted the clever among us to remark: “An apple a day keeps the krankenwagen away”.

    During the early part of our walking tour we were strolling down a narrow street with cars parked all over the sidewalk when Leslie dived out and snatched Carmen up against the wall. Seems as a giant Mercedes tour bus was sneaking up on Carmen and she was just about to be crushed. The driver jauntily saluted Leslie as he passed by with inches to spare as if acknowledging she had win this round while still warning her there would be a next time.

    Eventually we passed by the Kaiserthermem and headed uphill by going underground. Off to the Roman arena which defined the western border of the ancient Roman city. To get under the major thoroughfare we went through a tunnel. Then up the hill.

    Throughout our visit here I have been hearing military-grade aircraft flying overhead, in clouding jets and helicopters but I hadn’t actually seen anything until a couple of days ago when a helicopter roared overhead. Carmen suggested it might be a hospital and lo and behold she was right. Moments later I saw a chopper landing on the roof of the building next door. Today, in the open space of the amphitheater, I saw 4 A-10 Warthogs fly over and a bit later a pair of F-16 like fighters. There must be a base near by.

    20120815-085154.jpg

    20120815-085131.jpg

    The arena (it was more arena than amphitheater was more and less than I imagined. Another amazing 2000 year old engineering feat but it lacked the finish I would find in some of the ones in Italy of southern France. Still it was a highlight with old wood, cells and incredible acoustics. I do need to find an extant amphitheater though and perhaps even a Greek one to truly satisfy my urges.

    20120815-090419.jpg

    We headed back into town and hit the Market Church (the Gangalf Church) nit was beautiful and Carmen found her favorite crucifix. It was a functional church that actually had a number of worshippers using it for its intended purpose. I noted we have yet to see a church, large or small without a pipe organ. I think there may be 4 in the greater Edmonton region.

    We meandered slowly back to our rooms for a rest until dinner. During our rest period Carmen escaped and visited the local bookstore to acquire some kiddy porn (Did I mention that German was a literal language? No good can come of translating things…) and an English book about an inappropriate duck. She really has her duck on for the trip.

    It has to be mentioned that neither Carmen nor I have heard from our respective mothers since their abortive attempt at a date. this has raised all sorts of speculation among the more suspicious of us. Was there a Mom vs Mom Battle Royale? Did they meet, compare noted and are mow too ashamed to communicate with us? Was the chemistry so good they ran off and started a perogy and crepe restaurant in north western Saskatchewan?

    Speaking of eastern European food, we set off for dinner and I bullied the two Slavs of the group into trying the Russian restaurant. They were remarkable reluctant. In fact I remarked in their reluctance several times. That why I thought it was remarkable.

    We started with a couple of glasses of dunkel and a halbtrocken. Leslie went for Pork loin, I stayed with schnitzel and Carmen had Wereniki. I think she pleaded the fifth about how it compared to the family recipe. We had anther couple of beers and were just starting coffee when the rain started. I was dry under the umbrella but apparently that wasn’t good enough for Leslie. Seemed she wanted to be dry too… Who can tell with girls..,

    We moved inside and into the cellar. Vaulted ceilings and beautiful ambience. Leslie had some more wine, I out-beered Carmen and we all voted for dessert. Carmen had plum crumble
    (sans whip cream), Leslie went for sour cherry Wereniki (sans whip cream) and I got brave and opted for the sour cherry Wereniki (with extra whip cream).

    Well all I can say was I didn’t get my whip cream and a Perogy is a Perogy even without the potato. Blech. The other two enjoyed theirs though.

    A lovely walk home in the moist air and it was off to bed. I will add pics tomorrow.