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Trip Report Discovering Germany (and Austria) Part 1

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Other than a few hours several years ago, when we stayed in Reutte (Austria) and visited Neuschwanstein, I had never spent any time in Germany. But on October 8th, we flew to Frankfurt from Kiev (the site of our earlier adventure – see separate trip report for Kiev info). There we were met by my travel companion's brother Jeff, who picked us up to deliver us to an apartment near his home in Herxheim.

Day 1: 100 MPH on the Autobahn. Well, there's a bucket list item checked off. 100 mph didn't really feel that fast; everyone seemed to be going that speed or faster, and the road is very, very smooth. Herxheim, a bit more than an hour from Frankfurt, is a delightful little town with tidy streets and red-tile roofed houses. We noted that almost every structure had solar panels on its roof; apparently energy savings are good policy in Germany.

We sat down to a hearty meal prepared by Jeff's wife. There was bratwurst, sauerkraut, saumegen (not even sure what that is), and for us non-German foodies, ham and mashed potatoes, and cherry cheesecake. Afterward Jeff escorted us to a lovely apartment in Herxheim which was to be ours for the next three nights.

Day 2: Lost in the Black Forest. Jeff and Daniela picked us up at 8 am, and after provisioning at a delicious-smelling bakery in town, we set off for the Black Forest. We were quickly stopped by highway construction (there's a reason why the autobahn is so smooth), and had to detour through France (!!!) to get back to the little scenic roads through the Black Forest. Jeff, Daniela and the GPS couldn't seem to agree on a route, but after wandering and backtracking quite a bit we ended up at the Black Forest Open Air Museum, near Gutach, where I hadn't even known we'd been headed. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting place; with farmhouses, barns and other buildings dating back to 1600. These are authentic buildings which have been moved to this site, not reconstructions. Unfortunately our explorations took place during a downpour, so we were very happy to repair to the on-site restaurant, for cappuccino and Black Forest cake.

Next on the agenda was Freiburg. I was expecting a village, but Freiburg is more of a small-to-medium sized city. The 13th Century cathedral there was wonderful; although we were soon to visit many larger and more famous ones. The colorfully-decorated entry, and the lacy spire were some of the highlights. Though much of Freiburg was leveled by Allied bombers in 1944; this church somehow was spared.

Next we wandered the narrow, vine-wreathed streets of the Old City...beautiful, and lined with restaurants and upscale shops. The shallow canals leading down the streets were irresistible to many children in rubber rain boots. We ended the evening at a spot popular with Freiburg University students called Tacheles. In the cave-like downstairs restaurant we had very good schnitzel with Hollandaise, spaetzle, and a nice salad; all for less than 7 euro.

Day 3: Hiking to the Hutte. Breakfast at Jeff and Daniela's consisted of a lovely spread of cheeses, meats, and more bread than I should have eaten. We toured the cute towns and learned some of the history of Herxheim and Hayna, the latter being Daniela's home town and evidently once a prime tobacco growing area. At 1 pm we joined other friends for a hike up a mountain near Neustadt. The views looking out over the valley were outstanding. After about an hour of hiking, we assembled at the Hutte Hohe Loog, which is basically a mountaintop pub. The main objective of this stop was to sample the neuerwein, which is freshly pressed, fermented grape juice...tastes like grape juice, but has a 3 to 4% alcohol content. Yes, it can sneak up on you. We stayed at the hutte for about 3 hours...joking about how hiking in Germany must mean 1 hour of walking followed by 3 hours of drinking. Just about sunset, we got back down the mountain and went back to Herxheim for leftovers, coffee and conversation.

Next: off to Munich.

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