Our German in-laws, Wolfgang and Waltraud Frasch, invited us to spend the weekend at their house in Ulm.  We jumped at the opportunity.

Ulm is a two-hour train ride from Wilferdingen (where we’re staying).   It is a historic, medium-sized city on the Danube River in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in southern Germany.

Waltraud picked us up from the train station on Friday afternoon.  As soon as Wolfgang got home from work, Mary and I were invited to tag along to their ballroom dancing class that evening.  We agreed on the condition that we be granted “Observer Only” status.  I learned long ago that the essence of dance is grace and when ya’ ain’t got no grace, ya got no business dancin’.  We thoroughly enjoyed our observer status and easily resisted numerous entreaties to take to the dance floor.  Mary and I agreed that Wolfgang and Waltraud deserved the  Best in Class prize.


Then it was off to a nearby restaurant where I discovered that a liter of German ice beer does wonders for my ability to speak German (or so it seemed to me.)

Saturday was sunny and warm.  The hills were aglow with the brilliant colors of autumn.  Wolfgang led our foursome on a hike through the woods of nearby Blaubeuren where, in addition to savoring views of the village rooftops in the valley, we toured a 1000-year-old monestary and gazed into the deep blue waters of a football-sized natural pool (the Blautopf) that is fed by springwater from the mountain behind it.



Back at their house, Waltraud capped the day with her delicous gourmet plum cheesecake:

Sunday morning Wolfgang and I took a bike ride.  Wolfgang borrowed a neighbor’s bike for me but he let me ride his super-deluxe mountain bike because my Crocs couldn’t handle the clip-in pedals on the borrowed bike.  Ulm was shrouded by a heavy fog but we climbed to the top of a nearby ridge and broke into the sunshine.

I love his bike!  It handled every obstacle effortlessly.  On the way home we stopped by Seeberger GmbH (corporation) where he works as a salesman.  Seeberger sells gourmet coffee and nut/dried fruit snacks all over Europe.  Check out the Seeberger warehouse – that’s a lot of dried fruit and nuts!   It reminds me of Scrooge McDuck’s bullion depository:


We talked the afternoon away while we basked in the sun, had a hamburger lunch, then caught the 3:54 train back to Wilferdingen.  Thank you, Wolfgang and Waltraud for a splendid weekend.




We threw a dart at the map and chose the town of Bretten, some fifteen miles distant from Wilferdingen, for our Saturday ride this week.  Twisted streets and half-timbered houses such as those in the above photo would be considered kitsch anywhere else but they are authentic German here in the state of Baden.  Of course we lost our way once or twice before we arrived in Bretten but that was no great problem because the fields and forests and little villages along the way were sights to behold in their own right.

The weather cooled substantially by the time we got to Bretten and we ate our lunch on a bench in the village square wearing every piece of clothing we had packed.  We had expected the temperature to rise in the usual manner as the day progressed and so had packed thirst quenching Gatorade instead of hot chocolate – big mistake.

Absent a thermos of hot chocolate, the solution to our sudden hypothermia was to hop back on our bicycles and pedal back up the substantial hill we had descended into Bretten.  And, indeed, the exertion worked like a charm.  Half way up the hill, we shed our outer layer of clothing.

On the climb we met this fellow cutting firewood using a saw and splitter powered by his tractor:

Firewood is often to be seen stacked in fields here.  I had wondered why it is cut in 3-ft lengths, which would be too long for all but the largest woodstoves, and now I know the answer.  The farmers use these handy rotary saws on the power takeoffs of their tractors to cuts it into shorter pieces.

Something else unique to Germany are “kindercars” like this boy’s tractor.  They come in many varieties and are of the highest quality, in typical German fashion.  He had towed a load of branches and leaves in his little wagon out of town to dispose of them near this tree.  I asked him if his tractor had an electric motor and he proudly told me that his legs did all the work!

Something not unique to Germany are “fartin’ hounds” but at least we don’t glorify them in America like this poster in Singen seems to be doing:

And finally, I leave you this week with a photo of this devoted couple that I pass every day on my ride to school.   They share a small pasture along the bicycle path and it is not uncommon to catch them affectionately nuzzling each other.  On this particular morning the male goat had his head resting on the female goat’s butt.  “Just as it should be” was Mary’s comment.  “The male pursuing the female.”


My German conversation group sponsored an outing to the Turmberg (tower mountain) Winery in nearby Durlach.  The cost was only three Euros (approx $3.50) per person so I signed us up.  When the day arrived, the weather forecast was kind of iffy with a good chance of rain.  Mary wanted to call the whole thing off but I was adamant that I hadn’t paid six whole Euros for nothing so off we went on our bicycles to Durlach yesterday afternoon.

The flyer for the outing had specified that we should meet at the Turmberg trolley stop on Saturday afternoon.  Seeking to avoid confusion, I had asked the group leader if there were more than one trolley stop in Durlach.  She assured me there was not.  Mary and I had even scouted out the Durlach station ahead of time so as not to have trouble on the appointed day.  We arrived in Durlach ahead of schedule and waited, and waited, and waited…….   No one showed up.

Looking around, I noticed a second trolley line running perpendicular to the main one where we were waiting.  We walked over to it, hopped aboard the first trolley to come by and rode to the end of the line.  To our great relief, the group was there and heading toward the Turmberg.  We joined them and walked to Turmberg Zug which is a railcar towed by a cable up the mountain at an angle of nearly 45 degrees.  Mary surmised the possibility that the cable could break and wondered what would become of us should that happen?  Depending on how far we had ascended, I estimated we would be traveling somewhere between 100 and 300 mph when the railcar struck the steel barrier at the end of the line.  I left it to her imagination what the result would be.

Needless to say, the cable held. At the mountaintop is a stone tower, the last remant of a 12th-century castle that once overlooked the Rhein Valley.  Visitors can climb stairs to the top of the tower where a magnificent view of Durlach and Karlsruhe awaits:


Once we had our fill of the view we joined the rest of the group for a tour of the winery and vinyard that grows on the slope of the mountain.  The young man who was our tour guide went on at some length (in German) about what makes their wine so special.  I got the gist of his talk but Mary could understand none of it.  About this time we noted that the sky had darkened and rain was threatening.  Of even greater urgency to Mary than the weather, however, was her need to find a public  restroom where she could lessen the pressure in her bladder.  I suggested we slip away from the group, which we proceeded to do when Group Leader Margit stopped us.  

“Oh, we’re not wine drinkers” Mary explained, trying to offer a polite explanation for our premature exit from the tour.

“That’s not a problem” Margit said with a smile.  “I brought grape juice for those who don’t drink!”

Rather than admit the true reason for our escape attempt, Mary accepted her fate.   Foiled, we started down the mountain with the rest of the group.  I with resignation, Mary with gritted teeth.

The next part of the tour was a lecture in the vinyard on what makes a good wine grape.  After about twenty minutes to me and an eternity to Mary,  the tour guide decided that the rain was imminent and turned us loose to make our way to the bottom of the hill where the winery is located.  We were to meet up there for wine sampling.

Here was our chance to escape!  The descent was along a lengthy but narrow series of steps.  With an “excuse me” here and and occasional nudge there we slipped past anyone who stood in our way and raced to the bottom of the hill.  Fearing that  Margit was close behind, we practically ran a block at the bottom of the hill until we had rounded a corner and were safely out of sight.  From there we retraced afoot our trolley route through Durlach back to where our bicycles were parked, hopped aboard, and pedaled speedily homeward until we came to a brushy area that Mary deemed sufficiently overgrown to afford her the necessary privacy to pee.

A more relaxed Mary and I rode the rest of the way home just in time to avoid the rain.


The other day a Karlsruhe native was telling me about all the art museums she has visited and going on and on about great art.  Once she had stopped to catch her breath I told her that I really don’t care much for art museums.  “You don’t find great art inspiring?”she asked incredulously.  I thought about it a moment.

“Well, there is a statue at the traffic circle on Kaiser Allee that is awesome” I allowed.

She waved her hand dismissively, “That old man?”  It was clear she didn’t consider the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I to be art.  She is not alone in her disregard.  Wilhelm’s statue is surrounded by weeds and a ramshackle chainlink fence.  Because he presided over the suppression of a rebellion in which protestors were killed, his entrance into the city is now symbolically blocked by plaques with the names of those who died.  He was once the German emperor but he is almost a non-entity now.

I don’t know much about Wilhelm (his more famous son, Wilhelm II, was the Kaiser that presided over WWI) but his statue sends a chill down my spine.  Is that not what art is all about?  The sculptor certainly captured something in that statue that resonates with me.

Speaking of statues, Mary and I saw this one on our Sunday stroll through the nearby village of Nottingen.  It’s of a WWII German soldier.  Beside him is a plaque on which the names of the village lads who died in that war are inscribed.  There must be at least thirty!  Nottingen is very small – a few hundred inhabitants.  Just imagine the toll that war took on Germany.  If only Germany had realized what a terrible price it would pay for following Adolf Hitler into WWII.

Mary has joined a fitness studio in town.  She tells me she enjoys her aerobic classes although she complains about the soreness of multiple, heretofore undiscovered, muscles.  She was pleased to discover on the fitness studio’s scale that she has slimmed down by fifteen pounds!  I must say, she is looking HOT!


Even though the big trip to Rome didn’t work out, bicycles are still an integral part of our European Vacation.  Today we did a fifty-miler to the Unimog Museum in Gaggenau.  It was a beautiful fall day.  The Rheintal-Weg, the bike path we followed, was scenic and, thanks to the Rhine River, FLAT!  

Unimog, if you don’t know, is a very special four-wheel-drive vehicle built by Mercedes Benz.  The first time I ever saw an Unimog I was a little kid in Germany.  It was out in a muddy farmer’s field chugging along with the bed piled high with sugar beets.  So strange and stubby with it’s out-sized wheels and a cab perched atop the front wheels.  4WD vehicles were rare back in the 1950s and Unimog was top-of-the-line 4WD.  It still is – they’re not cheap.  The first ones were sold in 1947 and were intended to be used as a farm tractor that could be driven on pavement at highway speed.  In fact, the museum showcased Unimogs with plows and harrows attached.  I think they really found their niche though as military and exploration vehicles.

On a special course outside the museum building, for six Euros apiece, we could have taken a short ride over rough terrain that included one 60% grade.  Mary was game but I was too cheap.  We settled for a photo of some other people going up a lesser slope:

As I said, the ride down to Gaggenau was a scenic one.  We passed though one especially charming town called Ettlingen.  If you want visit a very “German” town, visit Ettlingen.  It puts Leavenworth to shame:


I found a German conversation group that meets on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings.  Because my regular language class meets from 8:45 to 1:00 there is a 5-hour gap between the two.  On Tuesday I rode back to our apartment between classes but that resulted in two 42-kilometer rides (51 miles) in one day – a bit much!  Thursday, I went to the American Library and worked ahead in my German text for the five hours – also a bit much.  I’m looking for a less exhausting alternative.

Mary found a health club (they’re called fitness studios here) just up the road.  She will start Monday with a Zoomba class – some type of aerobic exercise.


No thrilling adventures to tell you about this week so I’ll tell you about life in Wilferdingen.

We have a second-story apartment on the right-hand side of the road in the above photo.  I’m told the street is normally relatively quiet but a lot of traffic has been detoured onto the street of late because of construction.  No problem.  Our apartment windows do an amazing job of blocking the traffic noise – which brings up an interesting point.   Doors and windows, rain gutters and roofing tiles – everything that goes into a building here is built solid and expensive.  The door to our apartment building could double as a bank vault door.  The windows must weigh 100 lbs each.  Down the road they’re building some commercial building with a parking garage beneath it and the amount of steel rebar in the concrete is unbelievable – 5/8 diameter every two inches.  These buildings are built to last – but at what price?

All of which brings up another of my discerning observations: why is there no parking space in German towns?  Even the Hauptstrasse above (which translates as Main Street) has very little parking.  All the other streets of town have barely enough width for two cars to pass and that space is reduced to one along much of their length because cars are parked half in the street and half on the sidewalk.  Answer: German towns long pre-date the automobile and in the old days a street only had to be wide enough for horse-drawn carts.

Karlsruhe, the city where I go to school, is about the size of Spokane but it has minimal traffic.  The reason?  Bicycle ridership.  I estimate many thousands of people get around Karsruhe each day on by bicycle.  Bike paths parallel many streets and some streets are reserved for bicycles.  Parking is less of a problem too because hundreds of bicycles can be parked where a handful of cars would park.

Germany has issues, however.  Mary says the Germans could learn a thing or two from Americans about toilets.  She calls German toilets “shit catchers.”  “Streaking” seems to be unavoidable.  I would also suggest that they sell milk in cartons bigger than one-liter.  A family of four would have to buy twenty of those piddling things to get through the week.  Their willingness to irradiate the milk makes a lot of sense however.  They don’t need to refrigerate it and the expiration date is several months in the future.

Moving right along…..   The distribution of shopping facilities here takes some getting used to.  “Mom and Pops” abound.  And they’re tucked into the most obscure corners.  Wilferdingen has a hardware store of sorts.  It’s called “Dodi’s” (pronounced “dirtys”).  The entire showroom could fit in the average American living room and it’s located down a little side street.


Sundays are a time for “spazieren gehen” (strolling) here.  Paved footpaths lace the hills around town and a lot of people use them on Sundays.  Benches are placed at convenient intervals along the paths for those who tire or simply want to contemplate.  Intersections are signed for those who are uncertain of their route.  Mary knows more about the paths than I do.  She’s been taking a six-mile walk everyday when I’m at school.


My bicycle ride to Karlsruhe follows the Pfinz river and is quite flat but all around us are hills.  The views from the hilltops can be serene:


We rode to the American Library in Karlsruhe today.  We thought it odd that Karlsruhe would have an American Library.  The story is that until twenty years ago there was an American Army base there.  When they closed the base some people lobbied to keep the library building and its contents which they have for twenty years with a lot of volunteer help.  The librarian told me that 3/4 of their patrons are Germans who for one reason or another want reading material in English.  I put a notice on their bulletin board seeking a conversation partner and I checked out two books: biographies of Eisenhower and the actress Helen Mirren.

I never fail to see interesting sights on my ride to school.  Here are some people at a heritage festival in downtown Karlsruhe:

Our kitchen came equipped with little more than a microwave and a toaster but Mary has managed to put together some delicious meals from rice, noodles, bacon, and eggs.  We bought a little frying pan and I heat it with my camping stove.  Add a few slices of German bread “und das schmeckt gut!”


The trials and tribulations of Freiburg behind us, we have settled into something of a routine here in Wilferdingen. Our 2nd-floor apartment is comfortable and modern with a nice view of the town’s main street.
My preoccupation is the German class I attend in Karlsruhe, a good-sized city about twelve miles away. Frequent trains pass through Wilferdingen on the way to Karlsruhe but I much prefer to ride my bicycle. It took me several days to figure out the route but I’ve got it down now and it’s a great ride – twenty-four miles roundtrip. Wonderful exercise. Unlike the smoke and heat that plague Chelan now and the hurricanes that are lashing the east coast, the weather here is a pleasant seventy degrees with just a trace of rain now and then.
Most of my daily commute is over paved bicycle paths. Occasionally I share a short stretch of road with cars when I pass through one of the several villages along the way, but the traffic is light. At about mile nine, when I reach Karlsruhe, the traffic is heavy but I have found a parallel side street for bicycles that bypasses the congestion. It’s a very pleasant ride.
My class at the Sprachakademie consists of about 15 students. They come from all over the world. I’m the only American and at 67, by far the oldest. I expect to attend for two months, until October 29. I completed my first week on Friday.

I’m in the A2 (advanced beginner) class which is a good fit for me. The course heavily emphasizes grammar, which is not my preference, but no conversation-oriented classes are available. I have learned that in Germany every skill down to driving a forklift requires a certificate of training and languages are no exception. Most of the students are young foreigners seeking a certificate of proficiency in German for employment purposes, hence the emphasis on grammar. The school literally teaches to the test and we have spent two of the last five days learning what to expect on the “final exam.” Of course, I am not seeking a certificate but the coursework can’t help but be useful.
Our teacher, Katrina, is a slight young woman who conducts her class like a drill sergeant. She brooks no inattention or carelessness of speech from her students – a tall order since many of the students have atrocious accents – especially those from China and the Middle East. You thinks deciphering German is hard – try deciphering German spoken by a Syrian!
One of the students, Marie, brought a box of chocolates to share with the class on Friday (I have no idea why). She passed them around and my desk mate, Mohammed, and I promptly bit into ours. The filling was vodka or some such vile liquid. I swallowed mine but Mohammed spit his out as did Mamoud who sits across from us. Mohammed explained to me that muslims are not supposed to consume alcohol. I doubt Marie knew this. 

Mary is certainly relieved to be off the street and to have a place to call home but she has yet to find a time-filling activity on par with my schooling. We researched the local adult-education offerings in the hope that a baking class might be available but to no avail. There is, of course, shopping – an avocation which Mary performs with great precision but it is hardly a full-time activity.  
Mary loves to bake. I have suggested that we approach several of the numerous local bakeries and that she offer her help (at no charge) in exchange for the hands-on experience of how German bread and pastries are made. She is mulling my suggestion over.

Rome is out. Wilferdingen is in. Here’s how it came to be:
I woke up in the night at Conde Northen (France) and realized Mary’s heart wasn’t into the Rome trip anymore. Too much weight. Too many hills. There wasn’t any point in fighting over it. She had been lobbying for a quick exit to Freiburg for some time and the city of Metz was only a short ride away. From its railway station, we could hop a train to Freiburg.
We had come to think of Freiburg as the perfect place for hiking, biking, and sightseeing. With its university population I expected to easily immerse myself in a language program. The climate is touted as the sunniest in Germany. In short, it was our Shang-ri-la.
We arrived at the station in Metz shortly before noon and while Mary guarded our bikes and gear on the sidewalk, I walked into the huge station building to buy some tickets. Our train would leave in two hours which I figured was plenty of time to disassemble the bikes and pack them in their travel cases. The line at the ticket counter was about ten people but only one of the six windows was manned. Each of the people in front of me took a maddeningly long time to get their tickets and probably forty-five minutes of my two hours was pissed away standing in that line. My blood pressure was probably 400/200 as the precious minutes ticked away.
When I finally got the tickets, I ran out to Mary and told her to start packing the duffel bags while I disassembled the bikes. We only had a little over an hour before our train left. The last (and first) time I had performed this task it had taken me several hours. I was working like a crazed person and muttering every few minutes “We’ll never make it on time…………we’re going to miss the train.” The task seemed hopeless but the thought of forfeiting the seventy Euros I had pain for the tickets was too much to consider.  

Mary did a superb job of transferring our gear to the duffels and to our utter amazement I was able to pack the bikes into their cases in time. With a bulging pannier atop our 50-lb duffle bags atop our bicycle cases atop their tiny casters we rolled into the station.  

An escalator separated us from the train platform. Right away the trouble began. Mary went first. Her stacked baggage pitched forward when the escalator caught it. When she reached the top, the baggage tumbled into a pile, blocking all that was behind it, including Mary. The escalator’s unremitting progress pitched Mary forward over her heap of baggage. Right behind her, unable to avoid her, I and my pile of baggage was added to her pile. Of course, the people behind us had nowhere to go but into the log jam too.

Our savior was a young man who pulled Mary and her baggage out of the way, freeing up the human flotsam that the escalator continued to disgorge onto the station platform.  
Our next challenge was where to put our oversize baggage on the train. Too big to fit in the luggage racks, there was nowhere to put it but in the little foyer where passengers enter and exit the train. I pushed it to one side but that didn’t work because it trapped occupants in the toilet that abutted the foyer. At each stop, passengers carrying their own luggage had to wedge themselves around our bags. We were causing a traffic jam but what could we do? It was extremely embarrassing, especially for Mary, who shudders to even think of causing someone a problem.

Arriving at Freiburg utterly exhausted, we collapsed in our hotel room.

That night and into the next day we searched the internet for an apartment. We planned to spend the next two months in Freiburg. But what we found was that Freiburg is booked up in September and October. Not only did the rentals go for $100/day and up, none were available for long term rental. Staying in a hotel for $150/day was out of the question – $9000?! I stumbled onto a temporary solution when I checked out a car rental. We would have to have a vehicle to check out the apartments since anything remotely affordable was far out of town. Surprisingly, Enterprise offered a large van for about $40/day. Not only would it provide us with the needed mobility but it would serve as shelter until we found a more permanent habitation.

“Mmmmmmmmm…..  Coffee good”.   MARY IN THE VAN WITH OUR GEAR
We found a campground with WiFi near town and continued our search from inside our roomy Enterprise van. I won’t bore you with the details but we spent three days on the internet, on the telephone, looking in newspapers, rental agencies, knocking on doors, asking everyone we met – all to no avail. Nothing was available for two months at any price. The final straw was an ad we saw in a newspaper asking for a “young couple with no children.” Well, we filled half the bill (no accompanying children.). We thought maybe I could talk my way around the “young couple” stipulation with our robust, athletic appearance.  
An answering service had directed us to be at the apartment at 2:00. We waited in our van for an hour on the street. At 2:00 I rang the doorbell. When I told the old man that answered the door that we were there to rent the apartment, he brusquely told us “I want a young couple! You are not young!” He indicated the door and told us to get out. 

Well! He didn’t have to be so rude.

Having had enough of “Fabulous Freiburg,” we found a reasonably priced apartment in the village of Wilferdingen near Karlsruhe, some 95 miles from Freiburg. Sight unseen, I told the guy “We’ll take it. We’ll be there in two hours with the cash.”
To our delight, the apartment is nice, Wilferdingen is a pleasant village, an it is a 10-minute train ride to Karlsruhe or a pleasant 1-hour bicycle ride. Karlsruhe has several language schools which I plan to check out on Monday.  
It feels good to have a home again.


Sun-baked, thirsty, hot and sweaty, we sat in a tiny patch of shade in the village of Altroff.   Mary was having her usual afternoon meltdown, saying “How could I be so f—ing stupid as to come on this ride?”  I had to admit, at that moment, the going was tough.  The hill we had just climbed was the steepest and longest of the day, the temperature was well into the 80s and the humidity was near tropical.

“Another twelve miles and we’ll be at a hotel” I reminded her.  I needed to get her to look past the discomfort of the moment. There being no campgrounds in this part of western France, we had agreed to indulge ourselves at a hotel.

“Besides, it’s all downhill from here.”

That didn’t quite turn out to be the case.  A straight line from Altroff to the hotel may have been a downhill grade but there were several considerable climbs along the way.

When at last we rolled into Conde-Northen, the supposed location of the much anticipated hotel, it did not look promising.  Other than a scattering of typical rural French houses, nothing even vaguely resembled a hotel.  Two boys were riding wheelies on their bicycles in the street.  I asked one of them “Hotel?”  He shrugged his shoulders.  We rode on.  Over one more small hill and around a corner we saw some large white tents.  Then a large building.  At the front, facing the road was the imposing entrace to La Grange de Conde.

The boys rode by on their bicycles.  I pointed to the hotel and shouted at them “Hotel!” (Just in case they would ever have the question put to them by other beleaguered American tourists.)

The hotel was considerably grander than we expected but with marching orders from Mary that I should take a room no matter the cost (she would not pedal a kilometer further), I presented myself in sweat-stained bike attire at the registration desk.  We are impressed with our room but it is our bicycles that got the royal treatment.  They will spend the night in a huge dining hall that, apparently, will not be used tonight.

We entered France this morning.  The Grange de Conde notwithstanding, it is our impression that France is noticeably shabbier than Holland, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg.  Many of the buildings are in disrepair, litter is not uncommon, and few people apparently clean up their dogs’ messes.


Towns are amazingly close together here, especially in France – often separated by no more than a mile.  Nevertheless, each little village has an imposing church.  A village of twenty houses will have a church larger than any to be found in a typical American city.   The Gostingen church is noteworthy not for its size but for the fact that the main street ends abruptly at its front door.  (Surprisingly, I saw no evidence that any car had crashed into it.)


Here we see the transmittig towers of Radio Luxembourg.  When I was a boy in the 1960s living in Germany, the clearest station on the radio dial was Radio Luxembourg.  I once read that the Beatles, growing up in Liverpool, England, got their exposure to rock n’ roll music from faraway Radio Luxembourg.  At one time, it broadcasted with a power of 1,300,000 watts – 26 times as powerful as any American radio station and far more powerful than the monopolistic BBC in England.

On a similar note, I remember listening to “pirate” English radio when we vacationed in Holland.  These stations broadcasted from floating platforms anchored offshore – again as a way of circumventing the British Broadcasting Corporation’s ban on advertising.


Slowly, we make our way south.   Mary is definitly getting stronger.  Yesterday we did nearly sixty miles.

Cultural observations:  Very few grocery stores since leaving Holland.  The French must eat their meals in restaurants because those abound but grocery stores are almost nonexistent.  The Germans have clean bathrooms but you have to bring your own toilet paper!   (An unpleasant experience until you learn to come provisioned with your own roll!!).  Farm tractors in Europe travel the back roads at highway speed.


Since we are using a guidebook written in Dutch, nearly all of the text is incomprehensible to us, so when we came across the term “Vennbahn” it was just one more incomprehensible word.  I asked some Dutch campers a few days back and they said the word isn’t a Dutch word.  After talking this strange word over amonst themselves and the next campsite over, they announced that the word must be German and that it probably referred to an old railroad bed that has been converted for bicycle use, what we in America call “rails to trails.”

Up to that point we had been riding through perfectly flat Holland so a converted railroad with its gentle grades had little appeal to us.  Besides, we had bigger problems – like finding our way through the maze of bicycle paths that run everywhere through Holland.

Then came Belgium and its hills.  What had been of little interest a day before was suddenly very interesting.  So preoccupied were we with climbing hills, however, that we had completely forgotten the Vennbahn.  All that changed when we took a room at a the small hotel, Zum Onkel Jonathan, hosted by the charming Dieter Creutz (more about him later).  Herr Creutz asked if we were riding the Vennbahn and mentioned that it was just up the road from the hotel.  “It’s nearly flat and it will take you almost to Luxemburg” he said.  So all the hill climbing we had done that day was unnecessary, a “scenic” route for bicycle riders not pulling trailers and looking for a challenging ride!

We rode the Vennbahn the next day and doubled our milage over the previous day.  It was everything Herr Creutz had promised.

As for hotel Zum Onkel Jonathan – what a cool hotel.  On the main street of Raeren, it appeared to be closed when we rode up.  We managed to find an open door and a friendly older gentleman showed us a very nice room.  We took it.  Because we had been unable to purchase any food during the day, we took the highly unusual step (for us) of eating in the hotel restaurant.  We were the only guests in the hotel and restaurant but the restaurant had elegant table settings and a real bar:


Herr Creutz went through a very French menu and Mary had something with slices of ham on melons.  I told him to skip the fancy French stuff and give me a heaping plate of fries – which he did.  They were Belgian Fries he explained – much better than French or German fries – and they were.  “Beef tallow” he informed me, is the secret to good fries.

As we were his only guest, Herr Creutz entertained us throughout our dinner with various tales about his hotel and former guests, as well as the aforementioned “secret” of the Vennbahn.  I mention our conversation because it was all in German!  I was very pleased with myself for this, which I consider a great accomplishment and a fitting reward for all my hours of German studying.

Last night we camped in the little Belgian town of St. Vith, which our camping neighbor informed me had been completely obliterated by the allies during WWII.  So completely, he said, that the entire town was bulldozed into a heap and rebuilt from scratch (hence, no historic buildings in St. Vith.). So much for history.  What we will remember most are the slugs of St. Vith.  After the rain (we had a thunderstorm in the night) the slugs came out in force and were everywhere in the grass. In the middle of the night Mary got up to pee and a slug was in her shoe!


The Vennbahn sadly ended this morning and we promptly got lost.  We met two guys at a crossing and it came up in the conversation that we were (unknowingly) off course and going backwards.  

We are camping in Vianden Luxembourg tonight.  Our neighbors are Luxembourgers who are attending a gathering for Luxembourgers who own antique MG cars.  They loaned us their lawn chairs, a seemingly insignificant offer but one which has enabled me to type this blog post in relative comfort.  

Tomorrow sometime we should reach the Mosel River which promises to have numerous castles, vinyards, and most importantly, flat bicycle paths along its banks.