Updated: May 1
Arrival in Germany
Easter in Bautzen
More Leipzig - April 12 & 13
Wernigerode, Quedlinburg - April 14 & 15
Quedlinburg – April 16
Germany to the U.K - April 17
Manchester to Ulverston – April 18
Ulverston - April 19
Ulverston to Lowick Bridge (8 miles) - April 20
Lowick Bridge to Coniston (10 miles) - April 21
Coniston – April 22
Coniston to Langdale (12.5 miles) – April 23
Langdale - April 24
Langdale to Borrowdale (8 miles) - April 25
Borrowdale to Keswick (8 miles) – April 26
Keswick - April 27
Keswick to London – April 28
London – April 29
London - April 30
LOPEZ ISLAND, ICELAND
We planned this trip more than 3 years ago in the Fall of 2019. Of course 2020 brought the world a novel virus and a parade of fear and grief. All sorts of human ambitions were shortened or stopped entirely, our little plans included. This is us hitting the restart button in our quest to see the world before we pop off. Plans include a brief stop in Reykjavik, Iceland, then an extended visit with our friends in Leipzig, Germany. By April 18 we should be in the UK prepping for a self-guided walk through the Lake District. On April 28 we plan to spend a few days in London. On May 2 we arrive in Rome. We get to explore Italy for 18 days before hopping up to Zurich. From there we launch back home on May 24.
It is April 5, launch day of a much delayed expedition to Europe. A jet aircraft carries us away from Seattle tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be in running-away-from-home status for 49 days, long enough for the neighbors back home to forget who we are. Perhaps that’s a good thing? It’s bucket list punching time again!
April 6. We spend the morning lazing in a Seattle Hotel room. Our Iceland Air flight is at 4 pm. We have 7 hours in the air to Iceland. This is time spent by downing a couple of cocktails and allowing my consciousness to defocus into an undefinable mush that I fill with music, videos, and perhaps a Lorazepam to send me to temporary oblivion.
As we fly east we move in the same direction as Earth's rotation. We're moving toward the next sunrise at 777 kilometers per hour. 7 hours of this kind of travel produces a 7 hour time-of-day change when we land in Reykjavik. We leave Seattle at 4 pm Thursday and arrive 6 am Friday morning, Iceland time, but our biorhythm gives us the feeling that it's 11 pm. Our hotel room is not ready at 6 am. It won't be ready for perhaps 8 hours so we're going to be awake for a while. It's the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter except that we won't be typing a term paper on a worn out Corona portable with two fresh bottles of white-out, a gallon of coffee, and a bag of Fritos. Instead we'll be soaking it off at the Blue Lagoon. Our tiny fleck of flying metal touches down on Iceland's basalt shores about 6 am local time.
It's been 4 years since we last waded about the Blue Lagoon, or anywhere for that matter, all due to the pandemic fiasco. Since then, they have expanded the facilities. Their literature claims that one can now get a room here for 1,200 Euro per night. We shall regard this as a remote hypothesis in the same league as Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, or Interstellar Tourists: it is entirely unlikely we shall meet anyone who has actually booked such a room. But we shall go forth with an open mind just in case.
That was the plan. This time reality conspires to deliver something other than an optimal experience. At the airport we go through all the passport checks and customs no sweat. Find the bus to town and get tix, $138 US R/T per person. Look for a snack before we go? $12 for a hot dog, $18 if you add a Coke. I thought I had an appetite a moment ago. Wonder where it went? I must have an 8 oz coffee ($6) which is provided by a self service bot. The line for this is 10+ minutes. At last with coffee in hand we stomp out to the parking area to find our bus to the Blue Lagoon. Instantly we are lashed by gale force wind, raining horizontally. Somehow we schlepp ourselves safely aboard the bus, damp and disheveled. Our vehicle lurches toward the Lagoon's bus park.
One step out the door and we're staggered backward by a vicious gust. If I hadn’t been there to lean against CK, she might have been blown over. There's 200 yards of walkway to reach the entrance, an icy headwind all the way. By the time we arrive we're cold and wet, looking forward to plunging into some thermal pools and we'd prefer that they were very thermal indeed. We check in, stow our luggage, and grab a white fluffy terrycloth bathrobe. Moments later it is time to face the weather again, this time dressed like we were in Southern California on the way to the pool. Now we feel the full wrath of the storm on our bare skin as we scuttle 60 feet from the door to the heated pond. It is blowing a gale, seriously, with gusts to 50 mph. Wind chill effect is instantaneous as if we are plunging naked into a snowbank.
Once into the 95-102° water all is ok below the neck. But the pond is churning like a washing machine gone mad. The wind gusts spit spray and rain at our heads. The wind chill is enhanced by the fact that our heads are now soaked. A wool tuque would be the proper head gear here. CK finds a windbreak behind some basalt rocks and a hotspot in the pond. She evesdrops on conversations although they are all in languages she doesn’t understand. I spend my time crabbing around in the pond looking for her which doesn’t work out. The steam and the storm has cut visibility to just a few yards. I find her eventually but by then we’re ready to bail.
We last about 90 minutes or so. By then we’re weary of being pelted about the head and shoulders but mostly we feel effects of hypothermia of the brain. Me head is the thing I can’t keep warm. My ears begin to go numb and I’m getting dizzy. As I go up the ramp to the café and showers I notice that I’m not very steady on my feet. I’m weaving like a drunk as I reach the doorway. Once inside my goal is the terrycloth robe and the coffee bar. I need to recover after that experience. CK enjoyed the whole thing slightly more than I. She says she felt ‘scrubbed’, making the most out of a pass through a washing machine I suppose. She’s right, though, The Blue Lagoon in a gale is something we didn’t expect and aren’t soon to forget.
We are fascinated with Iceland. Someday we want to drive the road that rings the island and be bewildered by the sound of Old Norse and place names that look like they were hatched in an Ikea catalog. But we’re only here overnight and we look forward to a particular dining experience in Reykjavik. The Fish Markt is about a block away from our hotel. Of course, the seafood in Iceland is some of the world's best and this eatery does it serious justice. We booked 3 weeks in advance just to be certain we could get a table. We’ll be happy to get a proper meal after 2 ½ days of chewing on limp scraps gleaned from our fridge and the dodgy, flavorless stuff acquired in hotels, airports, and aircraft. Road Food: eeeep! But sometimes it’s so bad, comedy is the result, kinda like a Mel Brooks movie.
Our rez at Fish Markt was there for us and the meal was fully up to expectations. CK had Icelandic Lamb and I went for Miso flavored steamed Cod and a sushi plate. This was our first actual meal since Tuesday (-2.5 days) and it was sooo worth it. This outfit knows how to prep fish the right way. Dessert was 3 scoops of sorbet presented like a floating Tahitian birthday party but that’s fine. We like to party.
Apres-dîner we took a little constitutional down the main drag, braving the gale, to look at other bars and eateries in the zone. Some looked inviting but had a loud pop music component. Another had a calm atmosphere but a dull ambiance. We did find a couple of places we would try next time: ‘Caruso’, an Italian joint. Why would we want to do Italian in the Land of Seafood? I know but it does have a cozy vibe and no thumpity-thump pop jive. The other is ‘The Grill Market’, featuring locally sourced food. It looks like an older building cleverly re-purposed as a restaurant. Good stuff for next visit.
If there’s time I may try to rediscover that dive bar we invaded a few years ago to get out of a snow squall. CK ordered wine, I called for whisky. We sat on our barstools watching the stiff little flakes bounce off the windows pleasantly ticking as they did so. We clicked glasses toasting our luck. For a lark we gestured toward the snow flakes asking the bartender when they expected Spring to arrive (this was April). "Never", he droned in mock despair.
ARRIVAL IN GERMANY
I have a restless night of sleep for some reason. Nah. I know jet lag when it owns me. All night I hear activity in the plaza below. Drunken singing, shouting, giggling, cars roaring about. I pass out for 30 minutes at a time then wake to more sounds of mirthful carousing. At 3:45 am we are up and prepping our kits for a full day of movement. The central part of Reykjavik is still humming. People are filling the sidewalk of the main drag, gathering in groups, taxis lining up to take fares. We get down to the hotel lobby about 4:30 am. A couple of likely young bucks are behind the desk.
"We notice people out all night long in party mode, I think. What's up with that?" "Yeah, things tend to get busy over the weekend. Also this is a long weekend being Good Friday and Easter. The clubs are just now closing. That's why so many people are wandering about." "Wow", I snort, "You Icelanders like to party!" I get a big grin, a wink, and a nod from both of them. "Ja, we do."
Our taxi driver is a tall, dark, handsome fellow from Senegal. He's been in Iceland 12 years. He's a gentile fellow, soft spoken with functional English. We can’t really imagine the hard go he has had. He guides us to the airport calmly and safely. At the terminal they shake us down more thoroughly than at SeaTac. When I go through the scanner my knees set off the alarms as per usual. There is no body scanner so the uniformed fellow paints me with his hand held magnetic wand three times each front and back. That's not good enough so I get a pat-down both sides as well. I feel like complaining but I shouldn't. The lines were short and the inconvenience was probably less than 15 minutes. We're on Iceland Air again. Our flight is scarcely 1/3 full. Gah! There's no power port to charge our gizmos! At cruising altitude a breakfast is presented featuring a croissant. Delicious but I struggle with them. At the slightest touch they fly into a billion greasy bits. In moments I am a magnet for all the crumbs. There must be a way to eat croissants that doesn't include wearing them. I shall consult YouTube. Berlin is the next stop but only briefly. The flight is 3 1/4 hours from Reykjavik. From there we catch the DBahn to Leipzig. An Air BnB awaits. The flight from to Berlin is deliciously uneventful. I could even say boring which is just the way we like it. No way do we want an exciting time on a jet aircraft. This eye-glazing experience swiftly evaporates the moment we acquire a taxi at the Berlin terminal. A 30 minute ride to the train station with a driver crazy as a bag of wet squirrels is enough to alert the dullest of wits. A Boeing 757 at 30K ft is far safer than weaving through freeway traffic in Berlin with a madman at the wheel. Our situation seems to improve when we figure out that this driver wants money so he has to get us there in one piece. That's our happy thought in this moment of terror. There's room for only one. We're killing a lot of time at the train station. We wait 3 1/2 hours until we can board. This is more than enough to absorb the fact that we're now in Germany where train stations smell like hot, stale doughnut grease and the loo will cost you 1 Euro each time you need it. Not only that but there's only one WC and everyone is queued up to use it. With this in mind, consuming a lot of liquid can be an uncomfortable plan. The Euro needs to be a coin. If you have a 2 Euro coin or paper money, tough bananas because the machine doesn't make change. The local vendors won't change your money either. One's quest for the loo now takes on an additional side quest to find the automatic change machine and hope that it isn't broken or out of Euro coins when you do.
Waiting for a train in a foreign country makes us aware of our ‘bubble of ignorance’. We don’t understand the chatter around us. Reading signs and train schedules isn’t reading as much as it is code breaking. We eventually figure it out but we have to work at it. Our train glides in, we stumble on and off we roll. There aren’t many riders. We guess that most people did their travel on Thursday or Friday, this being Easter weekend, etc.
Leipzig has about 1.1 million people in its greater urban zone but the town feels smaller, somehow. The city center isn't a network of steel and glass canyons like many large US cities. It is far more pedestrian friendly with accessible shops, bistros, and businesses. People actually live in the central area. This is a town that has been reinventing itself. In 1989 the people of Leipzig sparked the resistance that eventually banished the Russian domination of East Germany. By the year 2000 they began to deal with the blight and industrial pollution, pulling down derelict buildings, restoring historic ones, cleaning up neighborhoods, getting employment back on track, and the university back on line. The city now attracts a series of festivals and celebrations almost back-to-back from Easter through the Fall. The center of activity is usually the enormous main square next to the town hall. My favorite is the Goth Festival. We've only seen it once. It’s like Halloween in May, no, better than Halloween because the weather isn’t clammy and miserable. The costumery is over-the-top from steampunk to vampires to whatever else boils up and out of the human mind. In the local lingo it is called Wave-Gotik-Treffen, an annual world festival for "dark" music and "dark culture". 150+ bands and artists from various backgrounds play at several venues throughout the city over four days. But we won't see it this year. We are here for Easter Weekend and the square will be packed with a market, various merchants, snacking options, and a performance stage presenting medieval music, jokes, and hijinks. The schools are all on break for the week so kids are everywhere around the square looking for trouble, fun, and junk food.
25 years ago we would never have guessed that we would become attached to Leipzig but here we are. We've been here so often we feel that we know the center of town very well: where the groceries are, our favorite coffee shops and bars, favorite restaurants, where to get a good gelato, where to get an extra layer of clothing because a spasm of frozen Spring galloped in from Siberia, how the trams work and how to get tickets for them, etc. I've also learned that the beer here is mostly Pilsner, the recipe for such being tightly controlled by law. I find it flat and watery but that seems to be the way they want it. I prefer a bright, fizzy lager such as is made further south in Munich but even that isn't my favorite brew. For that we have to go to Scotland and the UK which we will be doing in a few more days, so stay tuned!
The chief reason we're in Leipzig is to visit our friends Joshua, Katherina, and their two precocious children, Helene and Wille. Keeping up with 'The Squids' (the kids) will be a challenge but we're happy to try. We'll be visiting some of our favorite Leipzig haunts as well as stepping out for new adventures. Joshua and Katherina have hatched some plans and we can't wait.
As we step off the train at the Leipzig main station, we are surprised by two grinning children (Helene and Wille) who leap from behind the croissant shop with flowers, smiles, and hugs. Joshua and Katherina are laying on the charm and the welcome with more hugs and a bag of goodies for our flat. We are very pleased to see them again and we will see them frequently over the next week. More hugs ensue as they promise to pick us up in the morning for a Sunday drive to an Easter scene not often witnessed by tourists. Our curiosity is now on the alert.
Our evening is spent gaining entry to our flat. This involves internet communications through the Air BnB app to the landlord. We have a code for a keypad that lets us through the first door into a foyer. Our flat is up one flight. The door is locked and we don’t yet have a key. It is inside waiting for us. To get in we must send the landlord (Fritz) a message through the Air BnB app. He then remotely buzzes us in. That’s how it’s supposed to work. We successfully communicate and he activates the mechanism but we can’t get the door to open. We text him that we’re having trouble and he texts us back in German. Arrgh. We could work this out with Google translation but that would be ponderously ponderous. I simply text him “Wir sprechen kein Deutcsh” (We don’t speak German). His next text is English, “Don’t push the door. You must pull.” This, even though the door clearly opens inward, is counter-intuitive but, of course, correct. He buzzes, we pull, the door releases and opens inward, voila we are in.
And then we are out in the street again. We want to get a meal at Sardegna before they close. This is an Italian restaurant we feel attached to somehow and miraculously the wait staff are the same as 4 years ago. And they remember us! Vittim is our main man there, a fellow from Kosovo. He is a very charming fellow and his English isn’t bad. Clearly our Croatian is non-existant so we stand in awe of that. He takes care of us and we have a lovely meal at the end of a long day of travel. We can’t linger too long. We must get some sleep because tomorrow will be an adventure with Joshua, Katherina, and the Squids.
Easter in Bautzen
Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023, we ventured out with our Leipzig Friends to Bautzen, 2 hours east of Leipzig by auto. This was planned as a mystery trip by Katherina. The attraction is an unusual Easter parade and the old part of town, a bit of a medieval wonder of restoration and preservation.
Bautzen is about as far east as one can go in Germany. The Czech Republic is just a spit away to the south and Poland a lurch toward the east. Unusual because the ethnicity here is Slavic, an offshoot Serbian tribe called Sorb. They homesteaded this region about 1000 years ago and managed to maintain their identity for the most part. However the more I learn about them the more I feel they can keep it. This zone is intensely Catholic, a fact that projects mightily at Easter. Nothing gets these folks more excited than the idea of a dead guy popping back up to make empty promises.
The parade consists of 60 or so men in top hat and black duster on horseback at walking speed shouting "Hallelujah". This scene is repeated in alternate forms in the towns and villages of the region. A few thousand folks turn out to watch this very sedate spectacle, probably an act of support or religious dedication. It has to be that because this was the most solemn parade I've ever seen other than a funeral and I've been to lots of boring 4th of July parades. Let me walk that back a little. This is a thing not seen anywhere else so we can count ourselves privileged to see it. There are very few non-German tourists here, which deepens the experience of foreign travel, so there's that. More interesting was the Sorbski cultural museum which turns up another corner on the World Of Weird Humanity. In previous times these people were into costumes that proclaimed wealth, social status, occupation, political power, marital status, etc. It's all very elaborate but so uptight and bound by provincial and cultural isolation as to cause me to thank the luck I wasn't part of it.
Our Easter Sunday featured everything mentioned previously until our plan was interrupted, and rudely so, by a siege of gastroenteritis suffered by yours truly. I shall spare you, kind reader, the graphic descriptions of this even though it might make decent writer's grist. Let's say that I experienced, first hand, the German health care system at the Bautzen Krankenhaus. The Dr would speak two words of English then I lent him three. Google translator was my main tool. This continued until I discovered the 21 y.o. night nurse, Lena, who spoke creditable English. She seemed extremely pleased to be able to practice with me since nobody knows English in Bautzen and tourists from US or UK don't visit. She snorts when she laughs. I like her. She's my new friend.
From 4 pm Easter Sunday to noon April 11 I was pinned down, literally, with shunts in both arms while they pumped me full of saline solution and multiple medications. They also starved me. I had no proper food for 44 hours. This was their strategy but by Tuesday I was feeling as vacant as a campaign promise from Donald Trump. I haven't spent time in a hospital for quite a while but I was soon recalling how it goes. One is not allowed to sleep. The medicos have a continuous list of things they must do and none of it will synch with one's personal sleep habits. I'm guessing that a study has not been made of this because they are afraid of the result: that the leading cause of hospital death is sleep deprivation. That said, I must emphasize that the docs and nursing staff did an amazing job restoring my health in such short order. The nurses said that they typically hold cases like mine for a week. I got away in less than 48 hours. They didn't let me go without one last test of my resolve, however.
The medicos wanted me to eat something to demonstrate non-puke status. Shortly after the team left the room (there were 8 of them fergawdsake) an LPN arrived with a bowl of what looked like beige slop, as if someone had liquefied some Zwieback in milk. Even though it was visually repulsive in the extreme I had to taste it just for the giggle. I only dipped the spoon in 1/4 inch then put it on my tongue. It tasted just like it appeared, a dull, slack puddle of misery. CK had pity on me and set off down the street to find something edible. This was only partially successful. She returned with a completely indifferent sandwich, a muffin of doubtful freshness, and a piece of ham of questionable heritage. My stomach may reject it, not due to illness, but from general principles alone. German cuisine is not my favorite unless there are sausages, sauerkraut, mustard, pickles, black bread, and Munich beer. So far, this krankenhaus thinks I can survive on Zwieback puddles and Immodium. If I die, y'all blame them, ok? Just kidding... They did a fine job for sure.
At last managing to escape, our journey back to Leipzig required a bit of improvisation and taking advantage of the well evolved German transportation network. We caught a train from Bautzen to Dresden, then hopped the 15:07 to Leipzig.
Our plans to tour the Leipzig Easter Market on Monday evaporated in the wake of my romp at the Krankenhaus. Perhaps tomorrow we can put our plans back together. Wish us luck.
More Leipzig, April 12 & 13
Many weeks ago Katherina carefully crafted plans for our visit which included adventures to nearby villages and cultural experiences. Some of them were dashed by the viral/bacterial attack on my person in Bautzen on Sunday. Conventional wisdom dictates that we stay closer to home base Wednesday and Thursday in case the wicked gastrointestinal critter hasn’t been defeated but merely stunned. A relapse during a field trip is not to be risked. Therefore, we spend the next two days hanging out with KJ & The Squids. Not an unpleasant change at all.
In regard to tourism and the interests thereof, I haven’t much to report as we were much involved in rest, eating, and enjoying family time. Wednesday Katherina prepared us a lovely lunch. The clan then went out for a stroll in the park while I sacked out in the apartment collecting zzz’s and catching up on my sleep pattern. K&J then set to work preparing the evening meal while CK and I had a lovely time cuddling with the squidlings on beanbag furniture in front of a Harry Potter flick. Harry’s always in trouble, you see.
Later that evening we’re back in Leipzig taking a sentimental stroll through the city center revisiting several familiar places. Nicholaikirche and Thomaskirche were shut in the late afternoon. Mädlerpassage was humming. A visit to the Mephisto piano bar revealed that it is still a smoking bar after 6 pm. Only the most ancient of establishments are allowed by the City government to continue smoking indoors. The Mephisto qualifies so we doubt it will ever change. This remains a travesty but we resolve to soldier on.
Thursday was also spent in the company of KJ & The Squids (hey, sounds like a disco band from the 80’s). K & J host us for lunch again. Then off we march from their flat in the Lützschena neighborhood for a tour of the zone. Lützschena is part of Leipzig but functions as a satellite village. Our smart watches count up 15,000 steps as we hike around admiring the civilization here. We see handsome homes from a different age. Most fascinating is the abandoned beer factory just half a kilometer from the flat. This is an enormous complex of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries which capped its last bottle in the early 1990’s. It is a derelict ruin now but work is under way to remodel the entire thing, creating condominiums, restaurants, shops, and a park. I should be finished in 4 years or so. Thursday evening the whole clan motored into the city center where we enjoyed dinner and laughs together at Sardegna.
Leipzig City Center is a place we have grown fairly familiar with. Despite being banned by the pandemic from coming here for 3 years it all looks amazingly familiar. Well, not quite all. The flat we stayed in in 2019 was on Bruhl strasse. We had a view of a massive building renovation directly across the street from us. That renovation is completed and we are staying in one of its flats staring back at the old one. It is quite functional in most ways although the flat feels smaller than advertised. There's a small kitchen table scarcely big enough to host our laptops. The kitchen and sitting area are basically the same room. Kitchen is modern except there is no microwave. Not having a microwave reveals how attached I am to using one. And we're noticing certain differences that we’ve forgotten since our last visit. The tea kettle boils water 4 times faster than in the US and uses half the power. Here they run 220v AC, a demonstration of how backward our electric grid is. Our bathroom is spacious with a roomy shower. It seems to be designed for wheelchair access. And the doors in these places are built to resist an apocalypse. They must weigh 250 lbs with an invisible automatic closing system. I feel that I want to lean my shoulder into them. A 10 year old child will struggle with these things.
A couple of ice cream shops around town have closed. The buskers have vastly improved generally speaking. There is a sweet fiddler in steampunk rags with an impressive classical repertoire. A duet of accordion players doing Italian jigs. A saxophone guy who knows his chops and puts on a good show. He had a couple hundred people stopped to listen, some even dancing. The Riquet Café, a gem of art nouveau style, is on our list but we may not have a chance this time. The Riquet is an example of an ancient establishment that could have kept its indoor smoking status but chose not to. Therefore it is a fave in Liepzig. We miss it due to spending unscheduled time in Bautzen.
We would wander more this evening but sleep is needed. I'm still adjusting. Tomorrow we hop further afield.
Wernigerode, Quedlinburg - April 14 & 15
K&J have arranged an overnight field trip which promises to be adventurous. We’re going to a town where all of us will be tourists. Not even K&J have been there. This will be Wernigerode, a place where foreign tourists seldom tread. Most tourists here are German. There are no English option menus or signs. Shop and restaurant staff have little or no English. Luckily, we have my magic phrase which gets me out of most communication scrapes but mostly we benefit from the help of Katherina and Joshua who translate all of it on the fly together with loads of beneficial details.
Joshua picks us up from our Leipzig flat at 9:30 am. From there we scoot back to Luchena to pack up the Squids and more luggage then off down the autobahn for 1.5 hours in a rented Ford. The scenery is of rolling agricultural crop land punctuated by towering wind generators. At one point we pass the massive and gleaming Porsche design and test facility near Halle. At least I can say I’ve seen it.
Of course, we have to make a pit stop en route which shouldn’t rate any commentary. Nevertheless, I must mention it as a way to explain why it concerns us. 7 y.o. Wille has developed the peculiar behavior of singing and dancing in the loo for extraordinary gaps of time. He keeps us all waiting while he puts on a show for the other loo users. The hypothesis for this behavior has to do with the pop music often played in these places. He never hears this at home so he takes advantage when he does. When there’s no music he does a mental playback from memory. “Dance like no-one is watching” is his modus operendi. Hilarious stuff.
As we approach Wernigerode large Soviet style apartment bloques appear on either side the road but we don’t have time to be discouraged by such architecture. Soon it all gives way to a generous settlement of 35,000 or so adorned with ancient, restored buildings from the 14th century on. We’ve seen some neighborhoods like this in other places but the extent of the restoration here is impressive. Just walking the streets here is a bit like a Disney theme park. I may have said this about Bruge, Belgium several blog posts ago but now I can say it about a German town. If you’re ever touring Germany don’t miss this place. Even better, if you can be here at Christmas. They doll this place up like mad.
Joshua leads us to a curiosity, the Smallest House in Germany, Kleinste Haus. Built in 1792. The rowhouse consists of a hallway and a kitchen on the ground floor, the first floor features a 96 sq. ft. living room and the attic on top contains the bedroom. The toilet is at the back of a small courtyard behind the house. The room heights are a maximum of approx. 6.2 ft with beams often dipping several inches below that. Up to eleven people are said to have lived in the house at the same time. It was inhabited until 1976. Today the house belongs to the city of Wernigerode.
K&J are tourists right along with us. They have never been here either so it’s all new territory. This region has the regrettable reputation of being the first spot in Europe to launch the infamous witch hunts. A myth began in the 8th century about a demon called Wotan wedding his girlfriend Freya (sounds very Nordic, eh?) on the peak of Brocken mountain in the Harz range near Wernigerode. This evolved into an event called Walpurgisnacht. It was a scary thing that engendered real danger back in medieval times but today it’s an excuse to dress up and party, much like Halloween every April 30. All over town there are figurines of witches and trinkets for sale in that ilk. In my opinion, they don't make them like they used to. The witches in the old days knew their business, they could really get things done. Now they're so lazy the broom wanders around by itself on the floor looking for its charger.
We spend a good deal of time just wandering the cobbled streets, gawking at the 14th- 18th century buildings letting our imaginations wander and snapping dozens of photos. Amazing that this has survived centuries without burning.
We spot a wagon built for 8 passengers pulled by two draft horses. Katherina makes a deal with the driver to be at the square after lunch to take us all up the Schlossberg (Castle Mount) for a visit to the old lord’s manor up there. Lunch is at a sidewalk café next to main square in front of the Rathaus (City Hall, est 1584). The six of us settle into a table just in time for the overcast to part slightly. A beam of sunlight blesses our table and we launch our orders with confidence.
I request Currywurst because I still want to understand why this dish is such a popular thing in Germany. It’s basically a boiled sausage smothered in a kind of improved ketchup. The curry spice, which seems to be part of the tomato sauce, is of such scarcity on my plate that the purveyors should be detained for fraud. I know better than to ask for Tabasco but I want to. Only a pepper sauce could save this thing. The fries are decent, I must say. I mop the sauce with them. Shortly after the food arrives, wouldn’t you know it, a rain squall darts in and scatters us. Luckily there are a couple of tables under the awning able to provide some shelter so we slide our belongings and plates in that direction. Rain continues to accompany our meal. Even though the awning protects us we still feel a bit clammy after our food. K & J hatch a plan to shift the clan to a coffee shop for cake. Joshua finds a cake shop just around the corner and the rest of the rain squall is spent adding sugary calories to an already hearty lunch. But we’re going to need them.
The horse wagon we planned to hire cancelled because of rain. Now, we walk. A considerable slog up the castle mount is good for us and useful for burning off Wille's apres kuchen (after cake) sugar high. I keep up with him but only just. The plan is to visit the Schloss, the local castle, located atop a hill that I’ll guess to be 250 feet from the base. There’s a cobbled path up there but it’s bit of a slog. We’re all a bit sweaty at the top and Wille is suitably bushed. So am I.
The Schloss (castle) tour gives us insight into the lives of the rich and famous of former times. From the ramparts we get a stunning view of the city and Harz Mountain region. Photos in the castle are prohibited but I give myself permission to be rebellious. I keep a watchful eye out for the minder before committing my crimes.
We finish our tour and we skip back down into the town where Katherina has reserved dinner for us in a traditional German restaurant. I have duck soup, CK orders roast lamb. It is the end of a fantastic day with lots of wonder, laughs, and physical exercise. My watch says we got almost 15,000 steps.
Back into the car after dinner for a 20 minute drive to our room in neighboring Quedlinburg. We are staying there because that town will be our tour focus tomorrow.
Upon arrival the car is placed in a reserved spot in a car park. The luggage is unshipped and the march begins to find our room. J & K have the directions. The challenge is dragging luggage across the cobblestones and up a steady incline to the room. I wasn’t expecting such resistance but I guarantee, pulling a full bag across these stones is a piece of work. Joshua offers some sympathy but not much. Instead, he reminds us that dragging luggage through the streets of Florence is far worse. Guess what? We’ll be going there next month. Ha! At least we weren't doing this in the rain.
Quedlinburg - April 15
After a very comfortable evening of rest we awake to a steady April shower. This has the effect of making the warm space we’re in all the cozier. A short bite of breakfast anticipates another day of walking in a well preserved medieval / renaissance period town. J & K and the Squids have been here a few times to enjoy the Christmas market. We were here in 2015 if we recall correctly. No matter, as there is plenty to explore.
Helene and Wille want to get ahead of our birthdays (both in July) so they have BD gifts to present. They are very sweet to do this and both CK and I are blushing like kids ourselves. They give CK a pair of Hummingbird earrings. I unwrap a beautiful summer shirt patterned with several species of birds. I very probably will be able to wear this in Italy next month. So cool!
After breakfast we are out and into the rain. With umbrellas in hand we move immediately up the local castle mount, not nearly as precipitous as that in Wernigerode yesterday. The castle is being renovated so we are locked out of that but we can get into its church, Stiftskirche St Servatii. This is a 12th century Romanesque type, Basilica style, very plain, very stark and unbothered by decorative touch. We admire the workmanship of the sandstone blocks used to create it. There is a treasury featuring several gilded pieces and some suspicious looking boxes probably hiding sacred relics. I look for Green Man in the stone carvings since this is the architectural era I usually find him. And there he is at the ornamental crest of a column. There are a few statues and figurines but only a few. Wille spots one. “That's not the real Jesus is it?”
Heir Wille is famous for other bon mots: “Do not speak too much in Germany, Tim.” “Tim, German is not for you.” For the most part, I’m accepting this advice cheerfully.
The rain today is relentless and rather icy but we are determined to continue our strolling and gawking. Many soggy steps pass before we decide it is time to pause for a warm-up at the 7 Houses Café. We all order kuchen (cake) of enormous portions and wash it down with hot coffee, tea, or juice for the Squids. Suitably restored, we’re out on the street for more strolling in the rain.
We visit one more church, which makes CK happy. She likes the ancient craftwork in these places, the ornate ceilings, altars, carvings, etc. It isn’t a religious thing at all. This time we stop in to the Quedlinburg Marktkirche St Benedikti. This is another Romanesque structure from the 12th century but Joshua points out that it seems to also possess elements of Gothic fashion along the southern aisle, something that would have been added in the early 15th century. In 1700 a dose of Baroque deco was installed bringing some life to the party, also granting it a mixture of styles all its own. CK notes that this church seems abnormally like a refrigerator. Milk would not spoil here. The primary charm here today is that it is dry enough to linger for a spell just to avoid the ice water dripping from the clouds.
We must get home in time to get a little rest before we arrive at the Hotel Am Bruhl restaurant for dinner. Katherina has arranged for a nice meal for us tonight and we are kind of hungry after such a clammy but uncrowded day of sightseeing.
Fast forward to our dinner reservation.
We are ushered to a comfortable table and tended to by a very efficient and friendly server. This was the beginning of a truly unforgettable meal and peak family time with the clan. This is by far the finest meal we have ever had in Germany or, for that matter, anywhere. We have never experienced a restaurant with a Michelin star. This establishment doesn’t have one yet but I’ll guess that it will. It is mentioned in their guide, Katherina says. Wow. We experience superb flavor and artistry in presentation with every dish. The starter for me is a Canelloni so scrumptious that I divide into smaller pieces hoping to make it last longer. My main is a Catfish that swims in complex delicacy. CK has a stunning Leek Soup for an appetizer and an outstanding chicken dish for a main. Her dessert is a deconstructed cheese cake that she raves about. My dessert is a sorbet prepared with a local liquor called ‘Ghost of the Harz Mountains’. It carries a dozen different flavors and has the appearance of a mossy forest floor on a rainy day. We are totally in love with this place. Katherina hit a home run with this choice. If you’re ever in Quedlinburg, Germany this restaurant is a must not miss.
Rest is next for me. Tomorrow, J&K have another adventure in the works.
Quedlinburg – April 16
A persistent rain greets us in the morning. Rain promises to follow us one way or another all day again. But that’s no problem, really. We’re geared up for it, besides we’re from the Pacific Northwest. Rain is an old friend, so who cares?
K&J have hatched another adventure here on our last full day in Germany. After a quick breakfast of toast, fruit, and coffee we’re packed up in the rented Ford and on the road west into the Harz range. Our goal is The Baumannshöhle, Baumann’s Cave, so named for the fellow who discovered it.
This is a system of natural limestone caves that were explored long ago. It features fantastic stalagmite and stalagtite formations. Rainwater seeps through the limestone. Rain carries with it carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is acidic. It reacts with the calcium in the limestone to make calcium carbonate which moves with the water. This action slowly redistributes calcium along these drip lines sometimes for tens of thousands of years creating fantastic and delicate calcareous shapes.
Photos are prohibited here likely for safety reasons. Tours are conducted in a group. People spinning about with their cellphones in tight spaces would likely engender considerable chaos. Our guided tour is all in German. CK and I understand nothing except what we're able to get from a 5 minute recording in English fed to us through our phones. Because of the rain today the entire cave system is dripping from above creating a cold, damp atmosphere. CK and I are wearing our rain gear and gloves. The Squids are likewise cocooned in their heavy weather stuff. We’re happy we did.
Back to the discoverer, Heir Baumann. In the 15th century this fellow, a miner, found an entrance and followed it deep into the cave carrying only some kind of candle. At one point a drop of seep water fell and extinguished it throwing the poor fellow into total darkness. He needed 3 full days to find his way out but he only lived long enough to explain what happened. He died of exhaustion shortly thereafter. Tourists have been visiting these caves since 1646. The largest chamber is sometimes used for dramatic performances, concerts, and weddings. In the past, bones of Ice Age cave bears and other prehistoric animals have been found.
There are 300 steps to be ascended and descended around the complex often dodging stone intruding into the walkway right around head height. I spend a good portion of time crouching. It’s a fascinating tour. Joshua spots two human skulls on a rocky shelf. At least he says so. Nobody else can confirm it!! By the time the tour lets out we’re ready for some lunch. J&K spot a likely bistro catering to the hikers that regularly visit this zone. Joshua recommends the venison bratwurst. They have to cull the deer regularly to keep the population down which allows places like this to offer it on their menu. Not only is it delicious but I’m unlikely ever to get such a bratwurst again unless I make a special trip here. It’s a terrific experience.
Wait, there’s more!
After lunch we motor down the road a few kilometers to “Titan RT” This is a tourist attraction featuring a suspension bridge across the face of a dam in the Rappbode Valley. This bridge is over 500 yards long and 328 feet high, anchored in with 947 tons of tension. When people are out on it their movement sets up a rhythmic wave in the structure making it a bit challenging to walk. The views from here are supposed to be breathtaking, however, such is not the case today. We enjoy a dense fog allowing about 150 feet visibility.
This is also a center for thrill seekers. There are a variety of bungee jumps, long arc swings, complex rappels, and zipline rides to purchase. I love to indulge in these things but the weather is just too clammy and the views non-existent. I’ll hope for another chance at this before I pop off. Back on the autobahn to K&J's where we enjoy our last hours together on this visit. They fix us a lovely home cooked pizza meal and we reflect on our week in family mode. The Squids groan a bit as they are reminded to get to sleep early because tomorrow Spring Break is over and it’s back to school. We get warm hugs from them and promise we’ll be back next Easter for more adventures and cake shop raids.
Joshua deposits us back at our flat on Bruhl in Leipzig Central for the night. Tomorrow he’ll take us to the Halle Airport to begin our move toward Manchester, UK.
Germany to the U.K - April 17
Our last morning in Germany proceeds in an orderly fashion as we tidy up the flat per the landlord's instructions. Who am I kidding? CK puts herself in charge of all that. I simply obey orders! The useful leftovers from the fridge we'll leave with Joshua when he arrives to whisk us off to the Halle Flughafen. We're also parting with a few bits of clothing we've decided are superfluous. We need the luggage space more than the layers. They will go to a relief effort for Romanians. The depot for this is just across the street from J&K's flat in Lutzschena. These containers are something of an eyesore in their neighborhood and here we are contributing to it! It's a good cause, so our guilt is tamed.
Halle Flughafen security has its own peculiar level of bother, which we take some time to decipher, together with a rush hour crush at the entrance. The queue seems particularly glacial. I always get a thorough shake down from the uniforms because of the metallic knees. I obey the officer's hand signals like a trained hound. We're through the bomb check 15 minutes ahead of boarding.
We must fly south to Munich to catch the flight north to Manchester. That doesn't seem right, but not surprising. There's a lot about travel in Europe that strays into the counterintuitive. A week ago our train from Berlin to Leipzig left the station going west. After 15 minutes it stopped completely, waited 5 minutes, then began moving east, the opposite direction. I'm sure this makes perfect sense somehow but it bewilders us until we simply stop trying to figure it out.
The flight to Munich is less than an hour but that doesn't prevent the crew from offering a plate of cold cuts and cheese. My stomach does a half-gainer at the sight of it. I pass. I'll hold out for something healthier like a gin & tonic on the next leg. Our jet lands nicely, no ugly bouncing.
We are technically in Munich but actually pinned behind the Security Wall at the airport so we cannot actually say we're visiting Munich. We have laid out the extra for business class which allows access to the 'lounge'. Here we get some nice fizzy water and snacks while we wait for the Manchester flight to board. Bored. That's the word. Travel days are dull affairs and that's the way we like it. No thrills, if you please. But not so much that we enjoy delays. Today our wheels lifted off of German soil 1 1/4 hours late at 5:15 pm. Not ideal but nothing that would put us off of our plans. Once in the air the crew presents us with a tray of, we trustfully presume, edible items. See photo. Immediately we are both circling and inspecting it like two suspicious vultures with a fresh roadkill uncertain about whether it is quite dead enough yet.
There are two or three forlorn bits of wilted cauliflower, obviously enough, but the rest is not recognizable. I consume one of the wafer-like objects but its secrets remain hidden. It has no flavor and I'm left with no clue. The dark bit is a slice of beet, I'll wager. The pink bit turns out to be some rather aggressively cured lox, fresh and salty, the only thing I can approve of in honest conscience. CK only ate the beet, I think. I would kill for a plate of hot, crispy fries and malt vinegar. Or better, a baked potato with butter, bacon bits, and sour cream. We'll be in a different food culture soon and that isn't to say that British cuisine is automatically better than the German. It isn’t. We've had enough Brit fare to know that road food is dodgy business absolutely everywhere. It's just that we have a better sense of how things work in the UK and consider our chances one quarter of an iota better.
Eventually our wheels are down in Jolly Old England, Manchester, to be precise. Our Motel One, kitty corner from the train station, is merely a sleep experience tonight. We are meeting up with Barbara M., CK's longtime pal and my partner in Scotch Whisky Appreciation. We'll be traveling together for the next several days.
After this whistle stop we are catching a breakfast train to Ulverston tomorrow morning, Tuesday. We'll be looking for adventures there.
"Adventure is merely poor planning," said Mungo Park prior to his second visit to Africa.
Manchester to Ulverston – April 18
We are in Manchester overnight, just long enough to have a pint in the evening and a coffee in the morning. Or vice versa if my mood were slightly more contorted. Motel One offers a small room and a comfortable sleep. Everything works except the reading light on my side. Kaputski. Small horrors!
The train station is just around the corner from our hotel. We must fuss around figuring out which train we're looking for. Trains are defined by the extremities of their range. Ours will travel to 'Barrow in Furness' where it will turn about and go the opposite way but we get off two stops before that happens. The rub here is that our pre-purchased tickets don't make this clear. The gigantic screen in the main station lists departures and arrivals but is no help because we don't know what we're looking for yet. Our solution is to speak with a ticket agent who directs us properly. That done, we have a few minutes to spare so CK loots a cash machine (Euros don't work in the UK). There's also a mini food market. We plunder it for some packable snack bars. Word is that as we move further into the sticks resupply options will diminish. This sounds like we're making off to explore a savage frontier, fizzy with danger and pirates. Doubtful. But on a 10 mile walk we aren't likely to find a pub lunch like we did in the Yorkshire Dales years ago. We'd best carry our own solution for peckishness.
We'll be on this train to Ulverston about two hours. Our cases go on racks above the seats. Each one is about 35 lbs. A younger version of myself would have made the lift easily. This current version of me imagines invisible hands reaching up from the Earth's core, gripping each bag, engaging me in a tug-of-war. I punch my knee into the bag for a momentum boost and just manage it. If I'm going to continue traveling, I really need to dedicate some time to weight training or this kind of thing will become unmanageable before I'm ready.
My attention is hijacked by the robot lady on the train’s PA system. “Next stop Ken Spank.” Awesome! Is “Barbie Pinch” the next stop? Are there shops specializing in naughty accessories? In the UK such a place name should not surprise me knowing that the settlements of Wetwang, Giggleswick, and Lickfold actually exist. Sadly, a glance at the screen spells it for me: Kent's Bank. I would have been so much more entertainment potential with the wrong version. The train spits us out about 1:15 pm. CK guides us to our accommodations, Church Walk House built 1750. We ring the bell. Nobody answers so we dawdle away time half a block away at the Rose & Crown pub with pints and grub. Back to ring the bell again at 2 pm. No answer. CK has some British Pounds from 2019. Since then, they replaced the paper currency with new bills made of plastic to defeat the counterfeiters so CK’s paper notes are no good. She needs to trade them for the real thing, so we hunt down the proper agency to do this. Turns out that the Post Office solves the issue. Back to Church Walk House to ring the bell. No answer.
We are still dragging our luggage around town, of course. Being weary of that we park ourselves in a Costa coffee shop, where Devin, the barista, calls us ‘darling’ repeatedly. After an hour I hike back to the Church Walk House to ring the bell again. No answer. Back at the coffee shop we are sympathizing more than we already do with the plight of homelessness. About 4 pm we ring the door again and this time our host, Martin, appears all chipper and full of light as if he had just awakened from a 48 hour sleep. Martin is warm, friendly, and very chatty. He wants us to walk up to the monument on the hill above town. "You can see where you've been. You can see where you're going. You can see where you are!" Did I mention that he’s cheerfully enthusiastic?