Day Seven (December 29)

Published: May 15th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

Another Night, another snowfallAnother Night, another snowfallAnother Night, another snowfall

During the night we had a little more snow - just enough to cover our VW van parked along the this portion of the old town wall.
We started our morning with the excitement of taking our showers in a phone booth. It’s kind of weird taking your shower in the middle of the room. Fortunately after all these years Gail and I don’t spend much time watching each other so we got through that experience without too much pain. Staying in this tiny no-frills pension I wasn’t expecting much at breakfast, but we were pleasantly surprised. Once again we were able to get hot chocolate. There was a basket of bread and rolls at our table as well as jelly, butter and honey. That didn’t look nearly as exciting as the other places we stayed but I decided to make do with a roll smeared with blueberry jam. Just as I was taking the last bite, Frau Di Vivo brought out a plate of cheese and cold cuts as well as orange juice. Gail and her mother were more than surprised and pleased to find Stollen on the table. I was able to force myself to build another ham and cheese sandwich. If we could somehow get those rolls and meat back here in the States I think I might actually lose weight because those sandwiches stick with you almost the entire day. Another brilliant German invention.

After breakfast we brought down our suitcases and paid the Di Vivos 144€ for our three double rooms. That was a pretty decent price in touristy Rothenburg. We wheeled our suitcases a block and a half to our van still sitting below the old town wall. It had a good three inches of snow on it but I was pleased to see a couple other cars parked in the area. I had been concerned about getting a parking ticket because there are very limited parking facilities in town. Apparently this slightly out of the way area was the perfect spot. After loading up the van, we found a steep, narrow staircase leading to the top of the wall. We posed for pictures then walked perhaps a quarter mile around the wall. We found many stones with people’s names on them. The Nightwatchman had told us that wealthy benefactors had contributed money for the rebuilding of the city following WWII and for a thousand Marks donation they got their names put on the wall. Many of these names with their hometowns were American.

The ladies had to go to
A nasty ascent even in the best conditionsA nasty ascent even in the best conditionsA nasty ascent even in the best conditions

We must've been a little high from our bounteous breakfast when we decided to climb up the town wall. It had just enough snow laying on the crooked stones to make this a major challenge.
Käthe Wohlfahrt’s store. It was interesting to me for about 20 minutes but of course Gail and her mother spent twice that time in there. While I waited and waited I took a walk down to another shop where I bought the DVD of the Nightwatchman’s Tour. My 20€ not only got me the DVD, but it included a postcard of George, a booklet about the town and some additional photos. Gail finally came out of Wohlfahrt’s with a bag full of ornaments. Luck was with me because she didn’t even glance at store #2 across the street. We walked back down the Herrngasse where we found a store displaying colorful flags in front. I wanted a Bavarian flag to hang in my German-themed den at home. Once we went inside the shop I found all types of cool guy’s stuff like armor, guns, knives, swords, toy soldiers and uniforms. I added a 8€ switchblade knife to my flag purchase and claimed these as Gail’s birthday presents to me. The knife would make an excellent cutting tool for me at work. I wouldn’t have minded if someone had suggested a vist to the Medieval Crime Museum, better known as the
Looking down from the city wallLooking down from the city wallLooking down from the city wall

Like the Getreidegasse in Salzburg, Rothenburg also had exquisite wrought signs hanging above most business establishments.
Torture Museum, but knowing Gail’s sensibilities this would not have been her cup of tea.

We explored a few other streets in town where we picked-up the obligatory postcards and snacks for the day. Rothenburg is famous for its “Schneeballen”. We had seen them in a number of storefront windows and finally succumbed to what we assumed was akin to a giant donut hole. Most of these baseball-sized dough balls were covered in powdered sugar and/or chocolate sauce so we assumed they had to be delicious. We got a box of 6 for 3€. The truth was this was the worst purchase of the entire trip. They tasted stale, dry and totally boring even with all that sugar and chocolate. They sat on the dashboard of our van the rest of the trip. From time to time someone desperately hungry would venture a bite or two, but they simply didn’t appeal to any of us. We threw away the last one away on our last night in Germany.

I tried to rally the troops for our long ride to Strasbourg, France. Since it was approaching noon I wanted to get moving quickly. But everyone kept spotting shops they
Commemorative stone along the Rothenburg city wallCommemorative stone along the Rothenburg city wallCommemorative stone along the Rothenburg city wall

The stone above Cassie honors one of the many donors that contributed to the reconstrution of the city wall that was damaged during World War II. Further along our walk we spotted a good number of contributions from Americans.
wanted to look in. First a bakery, then a shoe store, then a souvenir shop, then a hobby shop. Nobody was buying anything, but we kept eyeing things of interest. We were doing more window-shopping then sightseeing. We were finally getting close to the car when stupid me stops to look at some antique lanterns outside an innocuous-looking little storefront. The lanterns were made of metal and would hold a candle inside. They were marked down from 40€ to 8€. I was considering getting one when the rest of the group ducked into the store. I was expecting an antique shop but it was more of a knickknack store. There were some antique items, but most of the stuff was hand-crafted items made to look old. It reminded me of a German version of some of those phoney country stores you spot down South. The ones with the samples of jams, jellies, hams and salsa. I got so involved in tasting the free samples of bread, cheese and dips that I totally forgot about those lanterns until now. Gail found an ornamental German “Willkommen” sign for our front door as well as one for our pastor.

We got out
The kids freezing in front of the "The Guy's Store"The kids freezing in front of the "The Guy's Store"The kids freezing in front of the "The Guy's Store"

We stopped in this store just to buy a Bavarian flag for the den but inside we found all kinds of swords, knives, armour and cigarette lighters. Lots of guy toys. Gail bought me a wicked black switchblade knife for my birthday.
of Rothenburg 2 hours later than I had originally planned. I had mentioned to Gail that maybe if we had time, we could divert from our route to Strasbourg via Colmar, France and visit her Mother’s ancestral home in Wiebelskirchen, Germany. With the late start I was assuming would skip that stop, but Gail really wanted to go. Even if we did drive straight on to Colmar we probably wouldn’t have enough time to see anything. As tour director I made another alteration in my finely crafted script.

Everyone but yours truly enjoyed a couple hours of sleep as we once again used the Autobahn. This time we followed the A6/A61 for almost 3 hours through an intermittent mist. Because of the snow the day before there was a lot of salt or sand on the highway. I had to continuously clean off my windshield. This was some of the most boring highway driving I had ever done in Germany. It was very flat territory with plenty of industrial buildings along the road. Brown signs indicated that there were all kinds of interesting abbeys, monasteries, castles, forts or historic sites at upcoming exits, but I didn’t notice anything as
Still more of the "charm" of RothenburgStill more of the "charm" of RothenburgStill more of the "charm" of Rothenburg

I read a lot of comments on travel forums in which jaded travelers claim Rothenburg as a "tourist trap". I absolutely love the place.
I drove along the Autobahn.

Helga was working wonderfully but she didn’t have much to say as I simply continued on the same road. Just when we were getting into the most heavily industrialized section of Germany yet, the GPS told me to exit near Neunkirchen. After 10 minutes of driving along winding roads through industrial parks and factory complexes, we apparently came to Wiebelskirchen. The GPS said we were there but it was kind of hard to tell. It looked like a residential community more than a town or village. There was really no town center or shopping area.

Many years ago I had planned a trip to Denmark with Gail and her mom. We made a diversion to see the tiny village where my Great-Grandfather was born. Up until that moment everything we had seen in Europe had been so beautiful, so perfect. Everything seemed so tidy, so quaint, so clean, so un-American. As soon as we came to the sign announcing the city limits of Ørbyhage, we drove into the junkyard of Europe. Run-down homes, rusted-out cars, junk in the front yard, unhealthy dogs and cows. I never heard the end of it from both
The infamous "Schneeballen"The infamous "Schneeballen"The infamous "Schneeballen"

They were definitely not our cup of tea. They sure look tasty in the window display but they were the doughiest, most boring thing we had in all of Germany.
of them. The best response I could come up with was “Now you know why they got the hell out of Europe”.

As we drove further into Wiebelskirchen I was literally rubbing my hands together in glee. This was worse than Ørbyhage! We drove around trying to find something, anything of interest. Eventually we stumbled upon a church. It was probably the drabbest, least ornate church I had seen in 25 years of going to Europe. We parked the VW on a somewhat scary looking little street. We made our way over to the church and went inside. It was nice and clean inside, but unremarkable. We determined that it was Catholic and thus probably not where Valentin Nichola had been baptized since we have records of him being one of the founders of a Lutheran congregation in Bucks County. We drove around a little longer trying to spot the spire of a Protestant church but to no avail. At least they had a gas station. We pumped in 44€ worth of diesel and added more water to the wiper reservoir.

The route that Helga put us on to get to Strasbourg took us on a minor two
Close up view of Rothenburg's most famous tower, the Plonlein.Close up view of Rothenburg's most famous tower, the Plonlein.Close up view of Rothenburg's most famous tower, the Plonlein.

These two roads converging just in front of the tower seem to be in almost every travel brochure depicting Rothenburg.
lane road through villages and farmland. Of course a big old slow truck was in front of me splashing salt and gravel all over the windshield. I eventually worked up the nerve to pass him when we got close to the French border. I had to really concentrate to find where the border crossing used to be. It was dusk but I could make out an old guard house just inside the French border. Shortly after that I spotted a couple of ancient concrete bunkers along the road. We got a kick out of the signs for a town named “Bitche”. When we passed it I saw a sign mentioning something about the Maginot Line of World War II fame. My subsequent research has informed me that this entire area was heavily contested between George Patton’s tank forces and the German SS. The delay at Saverne Gap is part of the reason for the Battle of the Bulge a few weeks later. Had Patton been able to move through this area quicker, the Germans might not have had the chance to surround Bastogne.

It was a relatively slow process getting through this region. The traffic wasn’t too bad, but
The next new Christmas "thing"The next new Christmas "thing"The next new Christmas "thing"

This was another item that I should have bought. We noticed that this year many German homes had shovels hanging next to or over their front door lintels. The shovels were decorated with hand-painted Christmas scenes with ribbons or holly tied on the handle. It looks like a great idea for someone in the States to copy and sell at flea markets or Christmas fairs. Five years from new I'm betting they'll be the rage back in the U.S.
the darkness, sloppy conditions and twisting roads kept my speed well below my 70 mph average. It seemed like it took forever but we spent about an hour on the N62. At Hagenau we were directed back on to a major highway and within 20 minutes we reached the outskirts of Strasbourg. It was almost 6:00 and rush hour ha started but fortunately for us we were headed away from the traffic as Helga sent us to the Strasbourg airport at Holtzheim. I had spent a lot of time trying to find the right combination of price, location and charm in determining a place for us to stay in Strasbourg. I probably contacted 15 different places and wasn’t satisfied with any. I decided to forego location and charm and instead allowed a rate of 33€ per room to sway me. We were booked at the Roi Soleil , a 5 member hotel chain in the Alsace region. This was the only place I had to guarantee a reservation with my credit card. I knew what we would be getting when I booked it - an ultra modern, no frills, utilitarian motel. After all those nights in places with more charm this was almost a welcome respite.

None of us speak a word of French but fortunately the girl at the front desk spoke English pretty well. Had this been Paris she would have pretended to not understand a word we said. We were informed that breakfast was an extra 5.50€ per person. We declined thinking we could find something cheaper on our own. After putting our bags in our rooms and utilizing the toilets as well as the hotel soap, we returned to the van and drove toward downtown Strasbourg.

I was planning to park near the Cathedral and walk around the Christmas Market. One of the reasons I had arranged for us to get all this way to Strasbourg was because they had a Christmas Market that continued on until January 1 while those in Germany closed at Christmas. We had no problems navigating into town. Traffic was pretty light so I tried to get us as close as possible to the pedestrian only zone. We got to the island that the old town is situated on and promptly spotted an underground parking lot. The height bar at the entrance indicated clearance was 1.90 meters. We had easily
Wiebelskirchen KircheWiebelskirchen KircheWiebelskirchen Kirche

The church in the Nicholas' hometown of Wiebelskirchen was the only site of interest when we visited. There must've been a Protestant church somewhere, but we couldn't find it.
gotten into the 2.0 meter high lot in Salzburg so I assumed we might make this. Just as I went under the bar I heard a scrape on our roof. With the height indicator swinging wildly back and forth I hopped a curb and got out of the garage entrance. We then proceeded to drive all over Strasbourg trying to find a garage that didn’t have that same 1.90 meter clearance. We must’ve attempted to get into 5 different garages but all were too low. All the garages were covered and none were high enough for us to get in. Just as I was getting totally flustered we ended up in a very quiet area near the canal. We observed that cars were parked all along the street so we circled the block then the entire neighborhood trying to find an open space. Behind a big government building of some sort we stumbled upon a parking lot with empty spaces. I pulled in more as a place to consult my map then as a place to park. I had no idea where we were, but according to the GPS we were a few blocks from the Cathedral.

I have
Church altarChurch altarChurch altar

Even in this rather dreary industrialized little town the church was beautifully appointed. Once again we were the only people inside the church.
to admit that at this point I was having a bit of a hissy fit but the cooler heads in the group prevailed. They suggested we get out and actually ask for directions. That seemed a novel concept but as a guy that is totally against our biological make-up. We walked just a block when we saw a well-lit street that looked like it led to a much busier part of town. As we walked further up the street I was beginning to think this might not be such great idea since most of the places we were passing looked like bars and strip joints. About three blocks up the street we began to see evergreen garlands strung across the narrow street. There were also big chandeliers inside big cages hanging over our heads. Once we entered the pedestrian zone I knew we were approaching the Cathedral.

With a few more minutes of walking we began to come upon a few Christmas Market stalls. Everyone was closed. When we came into the plaza in front of the Cathedral, we saw at least twenty stalls, each one of them closed. One was in the process of being shut for the
Outdoor chapelOutdoor chapelOutdoor chapel

This little chapel was on the same grounds as the church itself. I found it interesting that even though it was located in the center of the dank little town, the property had no graffiti or garbage laying around.
night. A pair of police guards walking their German Shepherd, or should I say “Alsatian”, were the only people strolling by the market. This was a rather major disappointment because I had planned the entire trip to coincide with the dates of Strasbourg’s Christmas Market. Since none of the booths were being dismantled and because they were still being guarded I hoped that when we returned the next day. Still it seemed a little odd that this huge market was shut down by 8:00 pm.

It doesn’t take much to entertain us so we strolled around the square checking out window displays. Once again I was very impressed with the picturesque architecture of Strasbourg. It is reminiscent of Tudor England with the tall half-timbered buildings throughout the old town. But something about the roof lines and dormer windows was particularly French. Just to confuse things further, window boxes full of flowers and wooden shutters looked German. There really isn’t any particular tourist sight to visit other than the Cathedral, but there are so many beautiful photos just waiting for you to capture.

Of course by this time I was starving. I tried to be diplomatic and point out
Unidentified Building in StrasbourgUnidentified Building in StrasbourgUnidentified Building in Strasbourg

I've searched the internet attempting to identify this building just so I can get an idea of where we parked in Strasbourg, but I can't find it. I think it might be the library at the University which means we were parked East of the cathedral.
the menus in front of the restaurants we passed, but no one seemed eager to commit to anything. Sorry but when I get hungry diplomacy goes out the window. I decided for us. Finding a menu with entrees priced below the magical number of 10€, I steered us into the “Café Restaurant le Gruber”. From the outside the place embodied all those unique traits I previously mentioned about Strasbourg’s architecture. Inside it was dark, decorated in dark wood, and cast with a golden glow. This was the epitome of a warm sheltering inn. Once again we seemed to have walked into a very popular spot. The maitre de took us all around the upstairs and downstairs levels trying to find us a table. Finally he seated us right by the entrance. Before long our rather effete waiter came for our drink orders. Just to change things up a bit, Gail and her Mom got Oranginas, I got a local Fischer lager, and the kids got their Cokes. For dinner Cassie ordered cheese Spätzle with a salad. Gail and her mother shared a tarte flambé, as did Gen and Tyler. Mr. Pig ordered his own. The tarte flambé is an Alsatian
Cafe Restaurant "Le Gruber"Cafe Restaurant "Le Gruber"Cafe Restaurant "Le Gruber"

Located right in the middle of the old town and only a block from the cathedral, Le Gruber is the perfect spot for tourists to sample Alsatian specialties and the local beers. The locals seemed to like it too.
version of pizza. It’s a big flat piece of dough topped with ham, cheese and onions (no tomato sauce).

When our waiter brought us our dinners we were not disappointed. They were gigantic. They were served uncut on big flat boards. We devoured them and left not a crumb. I could have been talked into ordering the dessert flambé which was the same flat dough topped with apples or chocolate and powdered sugar. At this point we were more entertained by the odd clientele than any desire to eat more. It seemed everywhere we looked there were strange pairings sharing dinner. We never could figure out whether the couple nearest us was a male/female or female/female or guy/guy. All we knew for sure was that neither had the slightest concept of table manners. Food was flying all over the place as one of them ate and the other just gazed at him/her. Although we were in France we still had to go through the Teutonic custom of trying to get our waiter’s attention for the check. Since we paid in cash I don’t have a receipt in front of me but I believe we kept the bill under 60€. I can’t pick out an exact incident but for some reason I never felt comfortable in that restaurant. The meal was fine and the waiter was polite, but I felt very much an outsider. None of the customers in there seemed friendly or even smiled. In fact, no one in the entire town seemed to have much of a personality. In Germany, especially Bavaria, people always seemed to be enjoying life. They would smile at the bumbling tourists trying to figure out where they were on the map. Often they helped. Things seemed very different in France. Normally a waiter will smile when you try to order in the native language, ours didn’t. At one point I saw a large group of people leave the restaurant. A few minutes later someone else acme out of the bathroom who I assumed was in their group. He started wandering around the restaurant trying to find where the group had gone. He disappeared in the back room. A couple members of his group came back in. When they started craning their necks to look around I told them that (in English I’m afraid) that someone had gone toward the back looking for them. No thanks from them. Not even a smile or a nod.

Out into the cold night air once again. We had been spoiled by the warmth inside le Gruber. The frigid temperature killed our enthusiasm for doing any further walking. We did linger about snapping photos of the Christmas decorations adorning the shops and restaurants around the Cathedral. I decided to try a different route getting back to the car and once again just as I was about to say “I screwed-up, let’s turn around”, I blundered upon a familiar looking street. When we reached the VW I started her up with the heat cranked to the highest setting. Within minutes we were roasting. This van was a pain to drive but the amenities and comfort built into it were tremendous. With the aid of that wonderful GPS system we got back to her hotel in less than 15 minutes. One of the best things about our little group was that when I decided it was bedtime, everyone went right to bed. Those student tours are quite a different story…


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