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Published: August 29th 2017
At this morning's gathering onboard the River Rhapsody somewhere in France, we happily learned that we would have half a day in Strasbourg, far too little a time, but at least we would get there on this trip. Busses arrived to remove us from Breisach am Rhein to take us to Strasbourg. I was not the only one who was elated by this news. The journey took an hour and a half; instead of an orientation walk we toured the city by open canal boat, reminiscent of the canal boats in Amsterdam. This was fun and informative; I usually prefer to explore on foot, but certainly not following behind some of the very very slow elders who are on this tour. It took at least a quarter hour for our group to board a canal boat, half an hour to climb off, and the line to the one toilet onboard lasted throughout the whole tour. I guess this is to be expected when travelling with Grand Circle! My children tell me I need to find a tour company that caters to younger, active people for my travels; I have checked this out, but often the cutoff age is 35, just slightly below my own.
But once off the boat, we were released to our own pleasures, and Bill and I exultantly went exploring. There was an hour until lunch, so we tried to enter the great Gothic Cathedral, but as it is closed from 11:15AM until 2PM each day, we had to wait until after lunch. Still, we had a free hour. Walking along the canals to various cathedrals and other highlights of this stunning Renaissance city was how we chose to use our time; climbing stairs to see St. Thomas Church, seeking out the Vauban Dam and St. Martin's bridge, and hunting for good French chocolate took the rest of our time. After lunch we finally did get to see the inside of the magnificent Strasbourg Cathedral, but we only had a very short time as the bus was leaving the city by 2:30PM; meeting time was at 2:15. I did not find Strasbourg to be overly crowded as we had been warned; it is summer, and tourists, like ourselves, travel to broaden our minds, delight in what we see, revel in meeting other human beings, and seeing what they have built so beautifully centuries ago! Leaving after spending not even half a day in this lovely city was beyond explanation, but at least we had gotten there.
Our next stop was in Baden Baden, Germany. I did not understand why we couldn't have spent this afternoon in Strasbourg instead, but on many tours the individuals do not have a say in the scheduling. Baden Baden is another gorgeous city, but I couldn't really understand why anyone would come here for vacation. First, it is nowhere near an ocean. Yes, one can get to the beautiful Black Forest or take a spa thermal bath built in Roman times, and the city itself is stunning, but spas are now in many places, one can hike worldwide, and I don't generally like to shop, which seemed to be our guide's focus. I much preferred our day alone in interesting Basel, Switzerland, the first city we explored on this trip. And I don't need to ever see Baden Baden again, unless one of my children moves there.
Backing up in time a day or two to the very beginning of our cruise, after our first good night's sleep onboard the boat we were rejuvenated and ready to go again. The boat was initially docked in Basel, Switzerland's third largest city by population count; Zurich is the first, and Geneva holds second place for the most people living there. In Basel we had been given one day passes to ride its streetcars and busses, and Bill and I took full advantage of those, riding to the ends of the city, jumping on and off to more fully explore beautiful Basel. Of course we had a walking tour to familiarize ourselves with the Marktplatz area, plus we climbed through the impressive and colorful Town Hall which dominates the center of the Marktplatz. And then we were off. Basel is an easy city to navigate as streetcars run frequently and maps are accurate; we had already experienced the Swiss propensity for adhering to schedules when we rode the perfectly on-time-to-the-minute train from Zurich to Basel yesterday, our first day in Europe this year.
This is actually a very comforting and appealing thing, to know everything will run perfectly on time. It can't be relied upon anywhere in Central or South America, or in Spain or Italy or Thailand; in fact, the opposite generally holds true in those countries. Timeliness also cannot be depended upon in rural Maine, especially when one is waiting for a scheduled plumber or chimney cleaner or woodstove installer to arrive. When we had our first woodstove installed, back in the autumn of 1999 in preparation for the unknown sequences of Y2K, we hired a locally well-known contractor, at first to advise us, and then after purchasing our stove from him, to lay the slate underlaying the stove, all of which was to be completed in a week or two, well before Halloween and bitter weather set in. We first met him in early October of that year, and after his not showing up several times when he was expected, and our increasingly frequently repeated calls, he finally came and finished everything right before Christmas. The projected week or two had turned into three months, apparently an expected and acceptable time frame for central Maine contractors, if they return at all. For that reason alone the Swiss proclivity for timeliness was at least doubly attractive to us as we travelled from country to country.
The Rhine and Mosel Rivers are bejeweled with hundreds of castles, at least it seemed that way as we sailed along watching on both sides for yet another sighting. Germany is beautiful beyond any of my expectations. I had only been in congested Berlin before this trip, and now I was seeing another part of Germany, the part with multitudes of high and steep vineyards, rows of grapes planted vertically, not horizontally as in all other countries. It was summer, of course, but the ubiquitous green-ness outshining the sky's blue, reaching up to the heavens far above, to mountainous heights, pleased me all the more so for its being so unexpectedly gorgeous and generous. Perhaps this is the real Germany, the farming and vintner part, the charming small village part, the areas where people do not wear the mostly hidden shame of being German on their faces. Our Program Director, who is German, spoke openly about other countries' preconceptions about Germans. Even though the majority of the population was not yet born until after WWII, she thought that foreigners believed that Germans of all ages had to atone and/or apologize for what their country did, or at least had some genetic share in what occurred; in being German they bore the stigma of atrocities committed by their country. It was interesting to discuss this, and to see if within my innermost self I also harbored a secret piece of dislike or hatred for Germans because of things that happened years before we ever existed. Startlingly, I am still searching for the true answer to that question.
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