by PStuyvsant (Larry)
First priority is to land a decent airfare,
an evergrowing challenge these days. After surfing all the regular sites, and some new ones I heard about, it finally
ended up with American Airlines getting the nod this year. Surprised me, but after ten years of faithful loyalty
to Lufthansa, the local boys will get my $750 for a R/T DFW-Frankfurt. Better luck next time.
Having nailed down the airfare, it's time for the next hurdle, a set of affordable wheels. This one is becoming especially tough these days, and the bargain basement deals of a few years ago are just a distant memory. Once again, it takes several attempts before I finally end up going with the ever reliable Bestor's at Gemütlichkeit.
I had found what I thought would be the best deal I was going to get through Kemwel, over $700 for a compact for three weeks. Whoa...talk about sticker shock.After several calls to Andrew, he finally came up with a deal I couldn't pass up. If I was willing to take the short hop from the airport over to Kelsterbach he could get me into a compact, with free upgrade, for $585 for three weeks. Just $15 higher than last years two week rental. Bingo, deal done.
Now for the fun part, finding some new farms and mapping out some new areas.
This will be the first time ever I was able to take three weeks at one time. There was a brief "discussion" with my boss when I turned in my vacation request in February for September. Seems they felt obligated to comment that that seemed a little bit long in light of what all was going on at work. To which I replied "No problem, if you don't want to sign the request then I can have my retirement papers ready tomorrow and we will just go that route. And I will still get paid for the unused vacation time when I leave the company." Magically the discussion is over.
As an added note, after some persuasion from Ben, I have relented from my original game plan and have decided to attend the third gathering of the motley crew "The Stammtisch". It seems the group has decided to invade the quiet towns along the Mosel for what can only be another memorable event.
Everything is set. I am now ready for a new adventure. I expect there will be detours and roadblocks, and numerous challenges
along the way. Let the race begin.
Chapter 1 - "Odyssey in the Odenwald"
Sep 17 - Saturday - Day 1
By the end of May all the planning is done and I can now start marking the days off my short timers calendar. Not only am I getting an extra week, but I have landed some great looking new farms and will be exploring some new areas.
Ben has gone over a week earlier and is by now playing tourist up and down the Rhine, according to his e-mails. Finally my turn comes, as Sept 16 rolls around, and I head into work for a couple of hours of last minute clean up. By 1:00 I am checked in at DFW and sipping on a cold one while waiting for AA70 to depart at 3:30. Only one small setback, as the flight is about an hour late arriving from L.A. But we are soon on our way, and only lost about half an hour arriving in Frankfurt.
The flight is uneventful and the only complaint from me is that AA is really showing how strapped they are by serving mediocre meals, and charging $5 for a beer and $7 for the little liquor bottles. I decide to pass, a first for me.
At 8am on Sept 17 we begin making our descent into Frankfurt. The weather is bright and sunny, and a very welcome 41º. A nice change from the high 90's we just left. Passport control is a breeze and I am soon hauling my bags off the conveyor and looking for a bank to get some pocket money. I spot a small currency exchange stand (not recommended by the way, but since I am in a hurry it will have to do). I throw them a couple of C-notes at a rate of 1.31 to the Euro.
I grab the first cab I see and off we go to the Europcar office in nearby Kelsterbach, about 10 minutes and a €10 plus tip fare. I'm in luck, being it's Saturday there are only two people on duty and I am the first customer. A nice young lady goes out of her way to take care of my. Everything is in order in the computer and she gives me a new VW Golf, 5-speed with AC, radio, and best of all a diesel...yes!!! I haven't had one of these babies in years and I consider myself off to a good start.
Within minutes of arrival I am loaded up and headed toward the A5, and points south. My destination is a new farm in the Odenwald, in the little community of Hüttenthal, not far from Michelstadt. But first I have to make a coffee stop at Grafenhausen, a favorite haunt of many years, about 20 minutes from the airport. It is always nice to take a half hour to unwind over a cup of eye opening German coffee while watching the speed demons tearing down the Autobahn nearby.
By 10:00 we are tooling down the highway enjoying the nice sunny day and the cool temps. Exiting at the B471 near Darmstadt it is an easy drive about 30 km over the backroads to our destination. Within the hour I am pulling into the Bauernhof "Horn", which I had located on the web. This is to be homebase for the next three days and it looks like a good choice.
They both accompany me upstairs to my room which will be home for the next three days.
as well as of the cows grazing in the nearby meadows.
I stroll into town, and am pleased to find almost no crowds. The main square by the Rathaus is sprinkled with a few patrons enjoying the sunshine at some of the outdoor tables scattered about.
Inside is nice and cozy, and as an added plus I get my pick of where to sit as I am the only patron, except for some locals sitting at the ever present Stammtisch table.
Pleasingly stuffed, I decide to finish up the day by strolling some of the backstreets.
Heading out of town, I take my time cruising the backroads
which meander through farms and fields as I make my way back to Hüttenthal. By 7:00 the sun has disappeared
and the temps are dropping sharply. Looks like those duvets will come in handy this night.
After returning to the farm, I am just about done in. It has been a long thirty something hours since this journey began. Fortunately, there is a hot shower, some Rotwein, and a Stephen King novel all waiting to help me unwind.
Later, while taking a smoke break out on the balcony, in what is now a downright cold night air, I am greeted by a beautiful orange full moon rising over the nearby hills. Not to mention some grunts, squeals, and bleats. More on that later.
Sep 18 - Sunday - Day 2
It got really cold last night, much to my liking. I had even cracked the window before turning in, and when I hit the floor in the morning it felt like I was in an ice rink. But hey…. it’s still in the 90’s at home and I’m not complaining.
Fortunately, most of the jet lag has disappeared and it looks like I can officially start the trip in proper fashion. The great meal from last night, along with some of the Rotwein, has also worn off so I am looking forward to my first german breakfast of this trip.
The Frühstück room is downstairs, and so at 8:00 sharp I wander down to find the table all set.
Since this is my second visit here I only
need a couple of hours to get my fix. On the way out I stop off at the nearby café for a tasty brew, but
make the mistake of picking out an alcoholfrei Bier from the wide selection :O(
It is now around noonish so I am off for the next leg of today’s touring, cruising the backroads toward Heidelberg. The B45 is a direct shot cross country, and being Sunday the traffic is almost nil. I have even managed to pick up a great local radio station serving the Baden-Wurttemberg area with U.S. oldies. Now that’s what I call service.
Knowing full well that Heidelberg will
probably be bursting at the seams with tourists, I still decide to put in an appearance to see what’s cooking.
Sure enough, about halfway between Neckargemünd and the outskirts of town I start to hit the traffic.
No big deal as I am saving tomorrow for the official visit. Today is just a recon to see what, if any, detours, construction, etc I might need to avoid later. As I enter town it doesn’t appear to be too bad. One noticeable change however, is that they have blocked off the Altebrücke from car traffic. Pedestrians only now.
The original plan had been for fellow Stammtisch member Bob and I to meet up today for dinner. But as he had informed me a few weeks earlier of his sudden trip home for surgery - so much for that one. Instead I tread my way carefully through the throngs of tourists along the main drag hoping I don’t inadvertently clip one crossing the street.
The banks along both sides of the river are filled with folks relaxing on blankets. There are all types of small boats paddling around on the river amidst the barge traffic, and occasional sightseeing boats.
This is enough for me, so I cross the river near the Bahnhof and head back the way I came. I love tooling along the Neckar on a nice day like today, and in short order I arrive in Hirschhorn. High up on the hill overlooking the valley is Hirschhorn castle - a well known hotel and restaurant. A little steep for my taste, but always worth a photo stop and a Bier. The outdoor tables are completely full and I have to wait a few minutes for a spot to open up. The waiters are obviously in high gear as they bring out round after round of large trays of food to dispense among the crowd. As for me, just a Bier please.
After a relaxing hour or so, and some
great photos, I am soon winding my way along the backroads through Langenthal, where Ben and group stayed in ’93
at the Zur Linde, and back in the general direction of my next stop.
For dinner I decided to make a repeat visit to the Brewery/Gasthaus “Schmucker”, located in nearby Unter Mossau. We first found this place in ’03, just down the road from the farm where we were staying. It is a popular place with the locals. As luck would have it there are no crowds today. There is a nice tree shaded patio out back which is strung up with lights, sort of like Xmas, for a nice effect. The brewery itself is right next door.
It has been a good day of playing tourist and this seems like a fitting end.
I order up a Schmucker, along with Goulaschsuppe and a Schweinschnitzel. The tab, only E11.
Back on the balcony I am relaxing with some dessert of rolls and wurst, and a huge 2 ltr bottle of Rotwein which I picked up for E2.
The third goat has retreated to the safety of the nearby shed.
Sep 19 - Monday - Day 3
After another chilly night (love it), it is time to begin our last day in the Odenwald. I’m feeling pretty much back to normal after a restful couple of days. Besides, today’s schedule is a light one and shouldn’t create any undue stress. Long gone are those days of running around with a checklist of “must see and must do”, which is every tourist’s nightmare.
Right on time at 8:00, Frau Horn has breakfast all laid out. But today it is just me. The guests from the previous day have left and I am the only one. I ask for the Gästebuch, as I always get a kick out of seeing who all has come through an area, even if I don’t understand what I’m reading. As it turns out, according to the Frau, I am the first American to pass through. There are some entries from places like the U.K. and Canada, but I am the first to represent the Red, White and Blue. Cool.
The plan for today is to hit Heidelberg for two main reasons - find a bank and a computer. Ben has been over here for about a week and I need to let him know I made it, and will be at our meeting place on the Mosel on Tuesday as planned.
Morning traffic is light as I enter town and make my way towards the P13 underground lot near the main square.
Great spot for people watching.
Enough of Heidelberg, so after some obligatory pics we are off to salvage the rest of the day by spending it in the quiet countryside. All along the Neckar I spot fishermen scattered along the banks, out catching dinner. I pull into a rest stop and spend some quality time knocking back a brew and watching the lucky ones pull in some nice looking Trout.
There are some farm areas that I want
to scout out for possible future trips, so I spend the next couple of hours getting acquainted with off the beaten
track spots that look pretty promising.
By late afternoon I am done with touring. It’s been a great three days in the area, but the countdown for the group reunion has begun. Fun time is over and the race is now starting to get serious. The other teams consisting of the motley Stammtisch crew are converging even as we speak.
Assuming Bill Hickox hasn’t taken a wrong turn, or isn’t lost on some backroad, he will be at the finish line at the Peifer in Brodenbach to check off those who make it. Last one there could be eliminated, or at least have to buy the Bier.
Back at the farm I finish packing for an early start tomorrow. The evening sun is going down as I relax for the last time on the balcony with my bag of goodies. The three billy goats gruff, and Porky the Pig, must have been exhausted from yesterday’s show of strength as they are lying quietly nearby, so I assume they are still friends.
As for me, I’m looking forward to another night under those duvets.