Saturday, July 13, 2013

Baden Baden, Germany

The adventure began early in the morning, as we attempted to quietly pack up our things without disturbing our hostel roommate. She was from Japan and was a huge fan of Amélie, so had spent most of her time in Paris hanging out in Montmartre. She was very excited, the first night we were there, to show us a drawing a street artist had done of her somewhere along the road by Sacre Coeur. The nights we stayed, she unpacked two giant makeup bags and spread the contents all over her bed along with half her suitcase and fell asleep on top of everything, one foot up on the wall. I liked her.

Loaded up with bags again, we returned to Gare du Nord and hunted down the car rental place. We signed a bunch of things and then headed into the creepy labyrinth that is the underground parking structure of the train station. I had no idea it existed. After a considerable amount of time was spent escaping from the maze surrounding the elevators, we walked out into the cavernous underground parking structure, echoing with weird French muzak. It was mildly unnerving. We found the car, tossed our stuff in the back, and I got to experience driving in France. It was terrifying (little did I know, this was the easy part).

Our car was adorable. It was an Up, and it was cute and tiny and surprisingly fast. Mom and I traded seats halfway to Baden Baden so I could enjoy the lovely and detailed highway signs along the countryside. I even managed to stay awake for pretty much the entire car ride!

We passed the time searching out the weirdest music we could find on the radio (just like Mexico, I was disappointed by the radio here - so much American music!) and telling each other stories of what all we had seen in Europe so far. It was lovely. The roadsigns gradually became more German and less French. We arrived in Baden Baden in the late afternoon, and checked into the second hotel of the trip - a Holiday Inn. The parking was awful, but everyone was ridiculously friendly. Mom wanted to have a German beer in Germany and just explore. I was convinced there was something we needed to see here, so since we had free wifi, I decided to do some quick research while we all decompressed from the car ride. It turns out there is a castle in Baden Baden - Hohenbaden castle, built in 1102 - and, like, a ten minute drive from the hotel - in the Black Forest!! This whole place just seemed like a fairytale.

Deciding that the castle was far more important than food, we did a quick map check and headed off toward the Black Forest (I just like saying that). It was literally two turns from the hotel, but  we started up the hill in what seemed like the wrong direction. I panicked a little, wanting to turn around because I was convinced we were lost and would die in the forest (even though we were in a car, on a road, with plenty of other tourists and a few picnic areas). 
Now let me tell you, I saw quite a few castles during my stay in Europe, and this one was by far my favourite. Walking up from the parking lot, we catch glimpses of the city far below through the trees, and as the road winds up to the entrance, we begin to notice people in fancy, 1800s-esque clothes. I thought maybe there was an event, or a wedding, or some such thing, but apparently people just dress up in period clothes and wander the castle. It's completely free, and you can just explore the whole thing, including a few hiking trails that meander out into the forest behind it. It was bloody amazing.
To the Black Forest (it should look less inviting).
Hohenbaden (Altes Schloß)!
 There's a restaurant and little shop to your immediate left as you walk in, the trail to the forest is straight ahead, and if you head right, there are windy staircases and crumbling walls in each direction - take your pick. Heading right, a short doorway opens up into a courtyard with an upper tier that you can walk along as well, and an aeolian (wind) harp. We circle around the courtyard in a sort of awe. The castle in Edinburgh was totally intact, but so full of people in modern clothes that it seemed more tourist attraction than something that had existed thousands of  years ago (don't get me wrong, though, I love you, Edinburgh!). Most of the other places I saw were either mostly ruins, or so intact that they seemed almost modern. This place was a perfect in between. It was intact enough that you were able to tell what everything had been, but it was crumbling just enough to show its age, and to remind you of how long it had sat there on that hill.
Walking along the lower levels, I realize I'm hearing bagpipe music, and look up to see two men walking around the grounds, playing music. They circle around and then climb the stairs to the second level, playing all the time. Throughout the time we were there, a few groups of musicians wandered in and out of the open stone doors, providing a soundtrack to our wanderings, helping to keep the feeling of being transported back in time.

We spent hours at the castle.There was an empty room with a ledge on a wall that could have been an unfurnished two bedroom house. There was a lookout that to get to, you had to climb up some creaky, old stairs in the pitch black until you came out into the shock of blue sky, a giant flag flapping madly in the wind. The view from up here was spectacular. There was a path leading nowhere really with a perfect climbing wall, a nice little sitting ledge halfway up (yes, I had to barefoot climb another castle. I couldn't resist). There was a dungeon that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and dark rooms behind half closed doors and the smell of water everywhere. The only reason we finally left was because we were all starving. And since we had driven all this way, we might as well check out the modern part of town as well.

 We sat outside the castle walls for a bit while mom sneakily took pictures of a guy in a kilt behind me. Then we headed into the town. The unspoken rule seemed to be that Mom was fine as long as we were driving on a freeway, Noah wanted nothing to do with any of it, and I would be the one doing all the driving in the cities. This was decidedly less bad in Germany, but I was still completely unclear about what I could and could not do. At least in France I could read the street signs, but in Germany I didn't even know what letter I should be looking for to determine whether I was in a no parking area or not (you know, big crossed out "P" in the states for "no parking"). We drove through the main part of town once and decided it would be a far better idea to just park back at the hotel and walk into town. It was super close and after all the driving I felt like I needed the exercise anyway. I was used to walking up at least a thousand stairs a day (or more) and all the sitting was not agreeing with me.
We made a German chocolate pit stop and walked into town, where there was an old car show going on. The town itself is absolutely adorable. Although it was a Saturday and relatively early, most of the shops were closed or closing. But the sun was out, it was warm, and there were a few restaurants with outside seating. We headed into one and I glared at everyone taking up the lovely outdoor tables. I ordered  a salad (sweet, sweet greens!!) and we each got a Hefeweizen. They were huge and brewed there, and we were drinking Hefeweizen in Germany, in a town where my relatives had come from. So awesome.
So excited!
They also had potato pancakes, which were something my sister and I grew up eating. My mom makes the best potato pancakes. After we all ate she said she wanted them for dessert, and we were in Germany, so why the hell not? We paid the bill and went out to wander around a bit. Off the shopping area, there was a sprawling hotel bordered by a little creek and some bridges, everything dotted with gorgeous flowers. The sun was starting to set and all the lovely European streetlamps were coming on. It was just picturesque and gorgeous everywhere you looked. Around the backside of the hotel, we could hear a waltz playing and through the curtains we glimpsed flashes of colors as people danced past.

Germany's version. <3

We passed a big, gorgeous church, and then headed back toward the main part of town. A giant tent outside of a little handmade ice cream and sweets shop caught my eye, as it was absolutely filled with people. We spied the giant ice cream cones being carried around and decided to go check it out for ourselves. I was extremely and delightedly surprised to find they had vegan selections! I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised - Germany is the only European country that boasts its own vegan supermarket chain - but still. So we all got ice cream and walked around the darkening streets. I kind of fell in love with it there. I'm dying to check out more of Germany now.
We started the walk back to the hotel, finding a back path that curved along a park and a stream behind the buildings. When we arrived, we realized none of us had room keys. Noah ran the long ways back to the parking garage to check the car, and about ten minutes after he'd left, mom found the key at the bottom of her purse. Oops.

The next day was le Fête de l'indépendance in Paris, le 14 juillet, and the second reason I had planned to visit Paris last on the trip - I wanted to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. We would have to get up early to drive back to France, and meet my sister and her husband who would be getting in on the train late that day. But first, a big, fluffy, cushy, real bed awaited me.

To be continued

*thanks Mom, for a handful of the pictures!

No comments:

Post a Comment