(Whitney and Colette)
I made plans for my youngest daughter, Whitney, age 15, and I to visit Germany. My oldest daughter, Stephanie, age 18, could not miss more than 3 days of school in order to be exempt from her senior exams. So, I guess I’ll just have to take Stephanie on her first voyage overseas next year. Gee, I always find another way to get to Germany! Whitney and I had a great time and the one-on-one bonding experience really paid off. I have the greatest memories of traveling with Whitney alone, and will cherish those memories forever.
We arrived in Chicago on time, and our flight was uneventful except for the undelicious lunch served by American Airlines, which I call “Bistro Barf in a Bag.” Anyone who has ever flown American would probably agree with my description of the Bistro Bags.
What a great surprise upon arriving at O’Hare airport! My mom was waiting for us in the terminal. Most of my family lives in the Chicago area, but I never expected to see any of them at the airport that day! Mom said she checked and our flight was leaving out of Gate K12, but after lugging our carry-ons all the way to the other side of the airport, we were told that our flight was rescheduled to leave out of Gate K5. Back again to the other side of the airport. We laughed and joked about it, and said our goodbyes about 30 mins. before departure time. Well, the announcement came that our flight was grounded due to a leak in the engine. So, they were bringing in a plane from Milan for us, and it was - you guessed it - scheduled to leave from a different terminal. We gathered our things and walked again to the other side of the airport. After waiting over another hour, the announcement came that the flight would be landing at a - yep, you’re right - different terminal, so we once again dragged all our stuff to the other side of the airport. No, it wasn’t the last move: an hour later the announcement came that they had fixed the leak in the plane we were originally scheduled to fly, and that we would, after all, be leaving from Gate K5. By now we were all so blasted tired of moving back and forth like ping-pong balls that I think we would have been relieved to fly air cargo all the way to Frankfurt!
This is my first trip overseas traveling in coach class, or as David would state “peasant section.” Since he always flies business class commuting to and from Africa where he works, we always have flown business class to Germany. I wanted to save those precious airmiles this time and decided fly coach with Whitney. Leaving, of course, extra airmiles for another trip!
We made good time and ended up landing only 1½ hrs. later than normal (how do they do that???) Since we didn’t check any bags (yes, it is possible for two females to travel overseas with 2 carry-on’s per person only) we zipped on down to the car rental area and over to Avis where I had reserved through AutoEurope a compact car with auto tranny. Of course, that means absolutely nothing - “reserved” - when it comes to an automatic. They are hard to come by, so as usual I end up waiting for my “reserved” car about 2 hrs. long! And also as usual they try to give me a stick shift, but Ms. “I Can’t Chew Gum and Walk at the Same Time” knows better than trying to drive a stick. So, there we wait, Whitney laying all over the luggage and making those teenager heavy sighing noises. You know, that sound they make as if they've just been removed from the respirator and are taking their last breath. I take this time to purchase a phone card and obtain some DM’s at the airport ATM, and also to purchase a couple of maps.
Finally, back at Avis, my name is called and I’m given the prize! A new Audi 4-door wagon, which is not only an automatic but is diesel! Yippee! Boy, that diesel is so much cheaper than petrol! Now we’re on our way to Bacharach am Rhein where we have reservations at Pension Lettie’s. I’ve never been to the Rhine Gorge area before, so I’m a little nervous about the aspect of getting lost, but it was a piece of cake. Just a couple of little heart thumpers here and there getting out of the airport area, but easy enough.
We arrive in Bacharach only to drive back and forth throughout the town about 10 times trying to figure out where the Pension is located; and I finally (duh!) stop at the Tourist Office and discover we are about ¼th block away from our destination. There is free parking located outside the town wall about 1½ blocks away from Lettie’s. We are taken up to our room and Whitney already is showing signs of jet lag.
Our room is a 2½ turn lock - I made a mental note to always check how the lock and key works while the proprietor is present, just in case. Throughout the course of our trip, we have minor trouble locking and unlocking doors, and Whitney dubs us “lock and key challenged people.” I make Whitney stroll through the town with me for a while, and we stop and get some lunch meat, cheeses and drinks for our cooler before heading back to our room. Whitney is exhausted and falls asleep.
I know better, and make myself stay up. After Whitney’s nap, we have dinner at the Hotel and Restaurant Kranenturm and the meal is good, the wait staff excellent. Whitney had stuffed chicken and I had pork cordon bleu (fried schnitzel stuffed with cheese and ham). Of course, pommes frites! After dinner we stroll the town once again, enjoying the crisp air. The Werner Chapel ruins which sit atop a hill are lit up at night, which gives a warm glow to the town of Bacharach below.
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Later in the evening Whitney decides to take a shower and proceeds to lock the bathroom door. Why in God’s name I’ll never know, since we are the only two in the room and I’m not interested in barging in the bathroom while she has it occupied. However, I’ve stopped trying to figure out teenagers long ago. Anyway, she can’t seem to get the door unlocked. It is one of those skeleton key locks. She struggles and struggles, without telling me what has happened, but I can hear the noise and it is obvious her frustration is getting stronger because the turning of the key is getting louder and more furious. After figuring out what has happened, I walk over to the door and inquire as to what is going on, but she is in a panic now since it’s been over 10 mins. of struggle. Finally she looks through the keyhole and pleads to me “Mommieeeee! Help!” What the heck can I do? She’s the one with the key! So she proceeds to struggle more and I’m making jokes like “hope you enjoy sleeping in there tonight!” Finally after about 15 mins. she breaks free and we both look at each other and burst out laughing. We thought about this scenario throughout our trip now and then, it was quite an amusing situation to see! We hit the sack at 9pm, only to be awakened throughout the night with the trains periodically rumbling back and forth. At about 3am I finally say out loud “geez, I dreamt we were living in downtown Chicago, right next to the elevated trains!” Whitney just giggled, but it was rather annoying!
Breakfast at 8:15 a.m. and met a retired couple from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They were training it in second class, and started out in Prague. They said it was quite easy to chart and purchase tickets via the net. During breakfast Lettie informed us that she would be moving in a couple of months to Las Vegas, Nevada to be with her family and to open up a day care with her sister’s assistance. With Lettie’s help and directions, Whitney and I leave for Burg Eltz on the Mosel. Lettie's directions of a short cut were great, but my ability to follow them was poor. She said to head towards Boppard, look for the Bucholz exit (B9) and then take the Koblenz exit at the “T”, go towards Brodenbach but don’t go through the city - you will see the sign for Alken and cross the Mosel there. On the other side of the Mosel is Lof, and head towards Hatzenport. I somehow missed the turnoff for “Bucholz”. Since I had missed the short cut I had to drive all around and thru Koblenz to arrive on the Mosel side, and Whitney discovered that her mother knew a few savvy curse words - oops. She was asleep in the car but as luck would have it, woke up just as I started uttering the foul language. I was rather upset when I discovered we were headed towards Bonn, but was able to get back on course without too much trouble. The rest of Lettie’s directions were a cinch, and we were able to find the castle without any problems. Upon entering the parking area a kindly old gentlemen approaches the car. I ask what it costs to park, and he says "Zwo." Zwo?? What the heck is that? I look back at the elderly gentlemen and say “Zwo??” and he nods and says “Zwo” again, holding up two fingers. I then say "you mean 'zwei',, not ‘zwo,’ right???" He shakes his head affirmatively, "Ja, ja" holds out two fingers and says -- again -- "Zwo!" "No, no, you mean......" just then my daughter whispers harshly in my ear "Mom! Stop trying to teach a German how to say 'two' properly!" Gosh, how embarrassing...I didn't realize what I was doing....I’m turning into my mother after all…I've just never heard the word “Zwo” with the “w” pronounced instead of a “v” but what the heck, he was kind and smiling as I handed him the 2 DM.
Lettie’s directions to the castle were perfect, and we parked in the lot where we took a shuttle to the castle. We had to take the German tour since there weren’t at least 20 English speaking people, but I had purchased the English booklet that explained what we were seeing. After we exited the castle, we discovered there was a large group waiting to enter for an English tour. That figures! Whitney was a little disappointed she couldn’t have taken the English tour, but enjoyed touring the castle just the same.
There was a group of young kids on our tour, and the teenage boys were fascinated with all the little cannons and various arms used during early times. Typical young boys! As I told Whitney, no matter what language is spoken, boys will be boys. It was cold and drizzly outside, so after our tour we took the shuttle back to the parking lot instead of trying to walk the distance.
We easily found the Bucholzstrasse heading back towards the Rhine and couldn’t believe how fast we arrived back. I think it was only about 20 to 25 mins. I would highly recommend this road for anyone trying to get to and from the two rivers. The view is spectacular, and cuts down on the amount of time traveling between both rivers.
I was relieved to find a phone booth in St. Goar and a phone that actually worked, without an old phone card stuck in it. Why do I always have trouble with the phones??? We then looked around St. Goar and decided next time we’d like to stay there.
Back at our room Whitney takes another snooze for a couple of hours. I walk around the town, enjoying all the sights and sounds, feeling ecstatic that I’m in Germany again. Afterwards, we went back to St. Goar and had dinner at Hotel am Markt which had a great view of the Rhine. I had a wonderful meal of sauerbraten. Whitney ordered rump steak thinking it was sliced beef, but it turned out to be a sirloin tip steak cooked medium with herbed butter. Since the pommes frites were such a big hit the night before, she ordered some more. Whitney then ordered a “bananensplit” which made her bounce off the walls for the rest of the night due to the sugar rush.
St. Goar is about a 15 mins. drive from Bacharach, and well worth the visit. But don’t do what I did, and drive half the way back to the Bacharach with your headlights off at 8:30pm! More snickers from the peanut gallery in the seat next to me.
Another fine breakfast at Lettie’s. The couple from Wisconsin took the Herr Jung tour of Bacharach and castle located above the town. I believe they said his tour was 14DM, which I consider very reasonable, and it lasts over 2 hrs. He is the retired schoolmaster of Bacharach, and has many interesting stories about Bacharach and the surrounding area. One story for instance is how many U.S. WWII prisoners were held captive in the castles up and down the Rhine. Once the war was over but not officially declared, one ex-prisoner had decided to pay someone to fly over the castle and bomb the heck out of it, but ended up doing more damage to the area around the castle than the castle itself.
We self-toured St. Peter’s Church in Bacharach, which is not as ornate as many of the Catholic churches in Europe but is beautiful in it’s own right. I picked up a monthly brochure of the church and noticed inside that they actually celebrate the silver and golden anniversaries of the parishioners’ confirmations. How many people in the States can say they get together to celebrate even one year’s confirmation??? Not many, with how transient our society has become.
Next we were heading down A61 to A5 (thanks, Ben, it was easy to follow) towards Bad Peterstal. David and I had stayed at the Gästehaus Bächle a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed the family.
Bad Peterstal is one of those “cure” towns because of the water, so there are many older people with walkers and canes. Whitney, of course, is looking around and wondering why there are so many older folks in bad shape all in one area!! She actually thought it was something in the water that possibly made them sick rather than the water being the cure! Frau Huber, who runs the Bächle, speaks very little English but enough to get by. We had our moments of staring and looking at each other, wondering what the other was trying to say, but they she is a lovely and very energetic woman ready to please her guests, and Oma is the greatest. She doesn’t speak English at all, but never failed to ask “geschlaft gut?” each and every morning. “Ja, ja, sehr gut!” our reply would be, and we meant it, for our bed was comfy and cozy and once our heads hit the pillows we were down for the count. I chose staying at the Bächle because of many reasons, and the price is hard to beat. 34DM per person for a wonderful room with SAT-TV and small fridge plus private bath. Oma has a wonderful breakfast buffet with 2 different types of quark and 3 different types of yogurt, plus many other wonderful things. We just stayed around town browsing about, but in Bad Peterstal there isn’t much to see. The TI office personnel were extremely nice and showed us various brochures of things to do around the area. They informed us that on Good Friday ("Kurfreitag"), everything would be closed except for a few eating establishments.
We went back to our rooms after eating dinner at an Italian café in town which is run by a Greek proprietor. He even had Greek lessons written on the back of the menu, in German translating into Greek! Talk about being totally confused now - I still have enough trouble trying to figure out German! The pizza was good, and so was the Greek salad. Once back in our room, Whitney was in heaven having a TV, since Lettie’s did not have one.
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Thanks to Len for his recommendation and warning of absolute necessities when traveling with a teenager: stay in places with SAT-TV, bring a book and bring along a deck of cards. Every night I got to see and hear MTV and play several different rounds of card games. The book only last two nights.
Today we traveled to Strasbourg. How easy it was to follow the main street from Bad Peterstal into Strasbourg. We stopped at the TI office which is located just across the border and outside of town, and they were extremely helpful and kind. I was promised by them that I could use DM’s for anything and everything in Strasbourg, and I was pleased to hear that since I had just maxed out the amount I could get off my bank card and had a lot of DM’s. Therefore, I wasn’t too interested in having to get Francs. They gave us a map and showed us how to get to the Park & Ride where we could pay with our Marks, park the car and catch the tram into the old section of the city and market square. Again, I asked “and you’re sure I can use DM’s"?” They reassured me.
It was a breeze getting to the Park & Ride but there was quite a line, and we waited for over 25 mins. even to turn into the Park & Ride. The fellow behind kept beeping his horn out of frustration, which was upsetting Whitney. Just as I was ready to pull into the parking lot a woman was trying to pull out, and we both stopped since there wasn’t enough room. She rolled down her window and from what I could tell from the inflection in her voice and hand gestures, was giving me a good French cursing-out! She kept pointing to her head but I figured she wasn’t trying to tell me she had a headache. I decided to be the nice guy and backed up as far as I could, but Mr. Honker was still going to town, giving us a headache. She pulled through, smiled, I smiled, and we both waived at each other. Whitney is making those teenage noises once again, but I feel good knowing that woman and I parted friends.
After pulling up to the booth, the young fellow taking money said “7 Francs.” I said “but I'm told you take DM’s…how many DM’s is that?” He looked at me and said “NO Marks.” I said “oh, the person in the TI Office said yes, that Marks are used everywhere and I can use them to park here.” He looked at me, shook his head and said “NO Marks.” About four more times of arguing with him how I was instructed that Marks could be used, he finally pointed to his head (maybe all these French people have headaches, eh?) and he said “you NO hear me. NOOOOO Marks.” Now I’m mad. Whitney is doing the teenage sigh noises again. I said “Look. Okay. TELL me what you WANT me to DO.” Mr. Honker is really going to town now, since I’ve taken more than 2 mins. at the booth. The fellow responds to my question with “park car, exchange money, come back and pay me in Francs.”
We park the car, look around, and Whitney says “let’s go back home!” I said “we came to see Strasbourg, by God, we’re seeing Strasbourg!” I can’t really see any place to exchange my money, and the other TI Office at the end of the parking lot is closed. I try using the ATM machine but of course I'm refused any more funds since back in Germany I maxed my card for the day. Whitney leaves her coat in the car and even though I recommend she walk back and get it, she insists she’ll be just fine. I’ve decided we are going to walk the distance into the old city and when Whitney questions "how?" I just point to the tram line and say “we'll follow the tracks all the way!"
I must admit it was quite a distance to walk, and we had to pass a couple of cabarets, but I enjoyed the brisk air and sunshine along with the anticipation of seeing the old city. There were a few vendors in market square, but not much else was going on so we headed for the cathedral, Notre Dame of Strasbourg.
The cathedral is massive, and quite dark. The original plans were to have two steeples like most cathedrals but somewhere along the way that plan was thwarted, so hence there is only one. Particular areas of the church can be lit for a few minutes by plunking some coins in a wooden box. Even in all it’s darkness it is quite a beautiful church, and Whitney was in awe of it all.
There is a memorial to the U.S. soldiers which is a relatively new addition inside the church. The glockenspiel is huge, and we both wished we would have arrived an hour earlier because we could have been there to see it in operation. To view it’s performance, you must arrive at the cathedral before 12:15.
Our next stop was to the tourist office across the way from the cathedral. They explained where the banks were located and that we could also exchange DM’s at any post office. They also said we could try to use marks to take the tram back to our car, but weren't sure if we'd have any luck. So, we headed out towards the post office across the square from the TI office. Unfortunately, we were unable to get the machine to function properly, so we did not exchange any DM’s for Franks - we walked all the way there - we might as well walk all the way back, too. Great way to exercise off all those schnitzels and pommes frites!
It was beginning to cloud over and get a little cool, and I could tell Whitney was starting to become uncomfortable without her coat, but I sat her in the sunshine on a bench in front of the canal boat ride and purchased two tickets for the enclosed boat ride. The enclosed boats have glass roofs, and the tour around Strasbourg on the canal is a great experience with historical taped commentary in French, English and German, respectively.
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I was very disappointed to see grafitti scrolled across old, historical sites. It sort of ruins the tour, taking away all the romantism and authenticity of the sites. We finished the boat ride and decided to head back towards the car after window shopping since the wind had picked up and the air was much cooler than earlier in the day. We passed by some very young street musicians playing and singing quite out of tune the old rock song “Knock, Knock, Knock on Heaven’s Door.” Whitney said she couldn’t wait to get home and tell her older sister about that one, and how horribly off-key they were! There was also a Peruvian band strumming and playing some tunes from Peru, which seemed quite out of place, but probably only to us since we were looking for European things to see and do.
It took some time to get through the town of Keln because of an Easter Market Festival that was going on. We stopped at Oberkirch and did some window shopping and found a few souvenirs. I like this little town, it is quite enchanting and has a stream running down the middle of the pedestrian zone.
We also stop at the Penny Markt and do some light grocery shopping. Since it is Thursday before the holy weekend, the store is packed with people! The TI office in Bad Peterstal warned us that all businesses would be closed on Good Friday. We thought we should at least have some lunch meat and bread in case there weren't many restaurants open, either.
Back at our room, we watched (again) MTV and I'm starting to know the songs by heart now. We decided to play some more cards while I enjoyed a couple of Krumbacher beers. Have you ever noticed that the B&B's in Germany always provide you with one and a half rolls of toilet paper? It's never two whole rolls, always one whole roll and one half roll. Whitney didn't believe me at first, but she does now! Just a little travel trivia. We watched a little CNN and then it was off to sleep.