Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Driving Fast to the Middle Ages

Early Sunday morning we woke up to rain and did what you should do on a free Sunday when woken up by rain. We went back to sleep until a symphony of church bells rang through Frankfurt and made waking up glorious.

After realizing that Delta had still not delivered my lost luggage, we set out to find some more appropriate shoes for me. (We had left southern California in a heat wave and I had been wearing sandals on the plane.) We wandered around a cold and somewhat dreary Frankfurt for a little while until we realized that nearly all stores are closed for Sunday mornings, so I settled into wearing Kip’s shoes for a second day and we made plans to explore the area around Frankfurt.

Kip wanted to rent a car and try out the autobahn. I wanted to see the Gutenberg museum and reveal in a little history and then drive up the Rhine Valley, so we rented a car at the train station near our hotel and headed off into the realm of international driving.

I was not interested in challenging the autobahn. I had accidentally let my California driver’s license expire, so I had the perfect excuse. But driving on the autobahn was definitely on Kip’s bucket list and he was eager to experience driving without a speed limit.

Without a speed limit sports cars fly as fast as possible in the left lane while other drivers scramble to move over to the right lane. Traffic can stop on a dime.

Kip, of course, did a great job while I sat in the passenger seat pleading, “careful, careful, careful, please careful.” He was able to top 100 mph in our little economy sized, fuel-efficient car.

It could have been very difficult to navigate driving in another country with different rules and signs exclusively in German, but we rented a GPS with our car and it was amazing. I am so used to using Google Maps that I rarely use a  GPS anymore, but in this environment it was extremely helpful.

The Gutenberg museum was great. I have been to other museum exhibits on printing, but it was inspiring to actually see a Guttenberg Bible and realizing how it changed the world in so many ways.

Sunday afternoon plaza filled with families walking around shopping. It seems to have been Fashion Sunday in Mainz. There were several little runway shows.

These girls are modeling dresses made entirely from newspaper.

Trying to look cool in Kip's shoes.

After the museum we wandered around Mainz, enjoyed walking with the crowds of Germans out enjoying Sunday afternoon shopping and snacking. We tried the delicious döner, a popular Turkish/German sandwich that resembles a gyro in German bread instead of traditional flatbread. I understand that Turkish workers arrived in Germany after World War II and stayed, although never quite assimilating into traditional German culture. In a way the popularity of the döner is a validation of their growing subculture in a changing Germany. We Americans take multiculturalism for granted.

Who needs a museum; every food stand is a legacy to history and culture?

And going back further into history, food and how it shapes a culture, we headed out of town and into the Rhine Valley. We had spent a little too much time in Mainz, so we only had a few hours of light to see the epic Rhine Valley with it’s medieval villages and castles lining the Rhine River. In this notorious corner of Germany vineyards cascade down steep river banks, providing what seems to be the only other industry other than tourism.

When we realized we would be soon losing light we pulled over at Bacharach, a town with 700-year-old half timbered houses and cobblestone streets. Once we walked through the old city gates it was like waking up in Disneyland’s Fantasy World. I am quite sure Walt Disney studied this area in designing his early films and theme park. He recreated it well.

This little town is famous for its wine festival celebrating their traditional Riesling variety. The name of the town literally means "Alter of Bacchus."

We climbed the 14th century city tower that once stood as one of several ramparts around the city and followed a path where the wall once was. It was the first time of many times this week that I was glad for our Malibu hill training. It’s nice to be able to run up mountains for fun.

You can climb through the tower and walk along the path that was once the old city walls.

As it got dark we found Altes Haus, literally translated Old House, and tried some of the local Riesling wine, reibekuchen (potato pancakes) and something that was like country fried pork. It was pretty good, but characteristically heavy. I liked German food, but we often had to split meals and eat only twice a day because the cuisine was so rich. And then after walking more we found the local Italian gelato place and had their tourist specialty – Riesling ice cream.

The name Altes Haus is no joke. It was built in 1368! The food was pretty good too.

Are we in Disneyland?

It was a wonderful day, and really just a small sample of a small, but famous area of Germany. I would have enjoyed spending a week riding bikes up the Rhine River and taking in the beauty. Maybe next time.


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