There is nothing like having a full time, English speaking German guide! Rather than touring in our English speaking bubble, wondering about things, we had someone to fill in all the blanks! We drove back down to the Black Forest to meet Andrea, our friend from home, who was home in Voehrenbach to visit her family. Given she grew up and went to school in the area, she knows it very well: places to eat, places to hike, interesting friends, and day to day life in that area now and in the past. We had the privilege of staying in her mother’s home, the one Andy grew up in, as her mother is now in a care facility. The view from the windows toward an isolated farmhouse on an emerald green field sloping up to the dark evergreens never got boring. It also enabled us to have our own room, share meals without going out, and hanging out in the evening getting caught up. Andy introduced us to a typical German meal of wurst, German potato salad and sauerkraut.
She took us on two hikes which made us very nervous given we have not seen much “uphill” during our four months in Germany. I admit we were huffing and puffing quite a bit, but made it up the hills and through the dense, mushroom/moss covered forests. We stopped off at an old gasthaus where we tried Neuer Wein, the product of fermented freshly pressed grape juice, known as must. It was all very exciting when Andy advised that “sometimes it makes you have to run to the bathroom!”
For someone who grew up reading and thinking about Heidi, this entire experience was like walking into the book for me (I know, Heidi was set in Switzerland, but the landscape in the Black Forest is how I imagined Heidi’s surroundings!). We drove up to Brend to a lookout across the valley and it was so clear, we could actually see the Alps. The lookout tower had the names of all the mountains, German and Swiss, marked around the periphery so we could pick out Kandle (the highest mountain in the area) and even Eiger in the Alps.
A huge bonus for us, here in Germany, is our proximity to other European countries. Andy and two of her friends took us on a day trip to Eguisheim, in the Alsace region of France. I thought Randy may have to bail out having three exuberant old school friends getting caught up, in German, in the back seat as we drove to and from Eguisheim. Kidding aside, it was great to sit in the front and try to understand a bit of what they were saying. They also tried to include us in most of it – but it meant THEY had to speak English, rather than us speaking German.
We stopped first in Neuf-Brisach to pick up her friend who now lives in France. Neuf-Brisach is a UNESCO World Heritage sight due to its magnificent, intact, hexagonal shaped city walls. Dotted inside the expanse of wall were quirky sculptures from a recent exposition....always a bonus for me! From there we drove across the Autumn tinted French landscape to Eguisheim is one of those picture perfect Alsatian villages filled with old half timbered houses painted in delightful colours, flowers spilling from every window, narrow cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes, stork nests on church steeples. It was a coincidence we arrived during their Mushroom Festival so there were kiosks all through the town displaying local mushrooms as well as one featuring the expensive Truffles. It was warm enough to sit in the main square, eating French cuisine and drinking local wine at an outdoor café. I have to admit sometimes we have to shake our heads to realize that this really is our life – and not to get jaded about the opportunities we have during this year away from home.