Saturday, October 4, 2008

Germany, here we come!

September 12, 2008: On the Road!

Zamboni, James Bone and Agent S. hit the road around 10am, taking a bus from Bangor, ME to the Boston airport ... where we were joined by our other traveling companion InsaneChem-E who had flown in from Minneapolis for the trip. And then we waited a loonnggg time before our 9:30pm flight. Made a brief stop-over in Reykjavik, Iceland after that three hour flight to get passports stamped and change planes for the five hour flight on to Frankfurt, Germany!!!

September 13, 2008
Germany - Day 1:

We arrived in Joerg's homeland after a loooonnnngggg late-night flight over the Atlantic ... it was then the middle of the afternoon, and Joerg met us at the airport - a very welcome sight for some tired travelers! We took a train to Mannheim, then Joerg's mommy met us and drove the rest of the way to Bad Durkheim, where we stayed with their family. After a brief rest the three of us ventured down to the Durkheimer Wurstmarkt, a wine festival dating back to the 1400's that is a huge celebration in this region. Here is a picture of the boys eating 1/2 meter brautwurst (my brautwurst was a much more manageable size, but equally yummy!). We wandered around the Wurstmarkt for awhile, and drank grape juice in the hockey-club wine tent, which is a favorite event of Joerg's family.

Day 2: Flaggenturm

In the morning the b
oys and I wandered through Bad Durkheim's vineyards up to the Flaggenturm - a small tower on the hilltop overlooking the town - SOO many grapes down there! My little letterboxing buddies (Zamboni the elephant and James Bone the pup) came along on most of our adventures. A letterboxing buddy is meant to 'help' find letterboxes (they are on loan from families in Illinois and Virginia respectively) ... sadly my plans of finding letterboxes in Germany were foiled due to the fact that German letterboxers are INSANE! In Maine a letterbox clue goes like "stroll about a half mile through the woods, look for this convenient bench then count a few paces and look under a rock - voila!" In Germany (once the clues were translated from the Deutch for us) they go like this: "hike 10km up a mountain, stopping every few feet to find some random number that will be used to solve a trigonometry problem to yield the proper degree measurement needed for your compass and then go somewhere else and use this reading with the vague hope of finding a treasure" ... hence I could not drag my fellow travelers on such a crazy mission with far too little hope of success. Boxing buddies did however get to see lots of sights and cool German architecture. To fully understand the insanity that is German letterboxers, check out this clue that has been translated into English: - and note that he classifies this as an "easy" box! Ha!

... Those silly buddies just wanted to play in the grape vines!

Continuing our saga: after the flaggenturn adventure we returned to Joerg's house where his mommy fed us more brautwurst and some schnitzel, which was delicious! We couldn't communicate much directly with Hilde, but she is a good German mommy who likes to feed her guests (and do their laundry ... and tease them for making their boyfriends eat all their leftovers!) That afternoon Joerg went to the train station to retrieve his girlfriend Isa, who was just returning from a business trip to Japan. She was quite tired (in no condition to search out crazy letterboxes!), so we had a lazy afternoon watching American dvd's that we smuggled in.

Day 3:
Hambacher Schloss
Since Isa had now returned and rested up a bit, we were able to go driving in her brand new mini-cooper! We ventured out to a castle called the Hambacher Schloss (which was undergoing construction so we couldn't go in). This was the first of our many castle seeking adventures. There were some lovely views of the vineyards below from this area. This castle is the birthplace of German democracy, where some student type radicals met (somewhat inspired by those crazy Americans and their new-fangled revolution) to plot the course of German politics in the 1800's. The castle was already in ruins then, which was helpful because it had no police presence. Joerg makes quite an informative tour guide!

Later we drove down the wine-strasse to the town of St. Martin, where we had lunch in a wine cellar restaurant and walked along the the streets which are very quaint, full of weinguts. We visited the church for which the town is named. I learned a very important work, gebeck, which is German for pastry, and I put this word into practice often in the next few days!.

Day 4: Heidelberg

We all took the train from Bad Durkheim into Heidelberg, where Joerg and Isa went to school (and where I visited once before eight years ago because they have a castle which is a huge tourist attraction!) We had lunch at DaMarios italian place, and then walked all that cheesy goodness off by climbing a mountain! (Well it is also known as scholar's walk, a path that leads past all of the physics buildings, where some nobel laureates used to think deep physics related thoughts.) From the walk there are great views to the castle on the other side of the river. Eventually we went back down the mountain, crossed the river, and climbed this other mountain to get to the castle itself ... which is also undergoing some construction as you might notice on the far left.

In the evening after Heideleberg we went again to the Wurstmarkt, where there was a HUGE fireworks show ... those Germans really know how to put on a good fireworks! They even had neat smily face fireworks, which were sadly hard to capture well photographically. Fireworks at Wurstmarkt are a big attraction, which brings out roughly all of the 80 million residents of Germany into this one somewhat small area ... or so it seemed when we were fighting our way through the crowds afterward.

Day 5: Ludwigsburg Schloss and Kurbisse Festival

We departed Bad Durkheim and drove (packed like sardines with lots of baggage) in the mini cooper to Joerg and Isa's home in Oberndorf am Neckar, which is a little town in the Black Forest. We made stops along the way in Stuttgart at the Max Plank Institute where Joerg had to put in his resignation letter at work in order to sign the contract on his new job!! (Later we celebrated said new job by dinner at a chinese restaurant). We also visited with Isa's parents along the way. There it was decided that we should detour to Ludwigsburg in order to see the pumpkin festival at the castle (which was soooo coool and crazy neat, and possibly my favorite part). There on the castle grounds they have dozens of awesome pumpkin (Kurbisse in the deutch) statues displayed, like 'das UFO' and this crazy little orange guy with the tongue stuck out! I took lots of pictures to capture the delightful artwork made from kurbisse! Zamboni and James Bone liked the pumpkin statues as well!

Day 6: Oberndorf am Neckar

The final day of tourist type activities was spent in the town of Oberndorf am Neckar, exploring the area where Joerg and Isa now live. We went to the church (kirchen) and saw the jester themed fountain and lots of cute buildings. Outside one of the shops we found bins of sock yarn, so of course I had to go in and buy some German sock yarn for my mommy because she has joked about making Joerg smuggle some in for her! In the afternoon we were tired of being out and about so we watched movies and played munchkin and were generally lazy together. Then we celebrated our last night together by dinner at this Greek restaurant, where the waiter very kindly took our picture together. Joerg and Isa theorized that our impression of their country muust be that they have lots of castles and eveything is under construction ...

Day 7:

In which we ride the train at 9am from Oberndorf to Stuttgart with Joerg and Isa, then are sent off by ourselves on the journey through Manheim to Frankfurt, flying off homeward on a three hour flight to Iceland then a 5 and a half hour trip to Boston, followed by three hours on the bus to Portland, where we finally reached our hotel at 11pm (in order to journey to Augusta the following day for a wedding of friends).

Long travels, but well worth it to see our wonderful friends Joerg and Isa, who are super tour guides!!

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