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Trip Report Mainz and Frankfurt: Rhein to the Main

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After nine days in Paris (see my "Paris in the Springtime: Brrr!" report) my wife and I took the train to Mainz, Germany, having managed to reserve two of the few seats with a blocked window view. Not good. When the train started rolling we moved to better seats facing each other across a table shared by a middle-aged French couple. Beyond mutual "bonjours" nothing was said for the entire four-hour trip. That's not unusual for Europe. Two American couples would have known each other's life stories in an hour and exchanged mutual invitations to visit by the end of the trip. Different customs.

Arriving first in Frankfurt we immediately took a local train (S-Bahn) for the 40-minute trip to Mainz. Note: We like Frankfurt. With its skyscrapers, it's the most American-looking city in Europe and a much more relaxed and interesting one than it used to be. But we know Frankfurt well and decided on Mainz this trip for a change of scenery.

We knew we had made a good decision when we were shown to our Hyatt Regency room with its view of the sun setting on the Rhine just yards away (meters, rather). As we hoped, Mainz proved to be a relaxing change of pace, with a population just a tenth that of bustling Paris. Mainz's mostly sunny weather also was a plus, along with its people and the maze of streets and shops in its "old town" -- in quotes because that district was largely destroyed in World War II and has been rebuilt in the image of what had existed before.

We found Mainz a pleasant and friendly city, although there are few attractions in the traditional tourist sense. Its twin-towered Dom is imposing even partially covered in scaffolding (per usual in Europe) but severe inside. The Gutenberg Museum is worth a visit for its bibles and history of printing. We watched a demonstration from a reproduction of Gutenberg's original press. One reviewer said he was bored there, but each to his own. Perhaps our favorite stop was St. Stephan's Church atop a steep hill, with its remarkable stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. We also enjoyed walking along the Rhine promenade, watching the busy barge and tourist boats on the river.

Dining was good in Mainz. Different of course, but our dinners were as good as in Paris. Meals were in many cases lighter than you might think, and were accompanied by our favorite German rieslings. White asparagus was in season, usually accompanied by Hollandaise sauce. To our palates white asparagus is a lighter-tasting, more tender version of the green variety most familiar to Americans. We especially liked our plates of it in the garden at Zum Goldstein. The last night we ate at Wenke, a traditional Gaststube hometown cafe filled with locals happily downing beer and Wiener Schnitzel (OK, not light). We sat at a Stammtisch, a large table reserved for a group of regulars, who had canceled that night. We ate and chatted first with three older German ladies, then with a small group of younger German business people, one of whom worked for an American firm. It was a warm end to our time in Mainz.

We switched to the Steigenberger Airport hotel for our last two nights. The airport is about halfway between Mainz and Frankfurt. We wanted to be closer to our departure point and to spend a day in Frankfurt beforehand. While dining at the Unterschweinstiege restaurant that first night we mentioned our Frankfurt plans to the waitress. "Oh," she said, "but it's a national holiday and everything is closed!" My wife's face fell: She had planned a shopping finale. But we went into Frankfurt the next day anyway. Big crowds!

Were the shops not closed? They were. But the streets were filled with happy, not to say boisterous, Germans enjoying a wine festival supplemented by huge drafts of beer and wurst. Going further, in the pretty Roemerberg plaza we heard a big brass band and drinking songs, with steins being lifted by a mass of German fraternity men, many with white hair, wearing their traditional caps. We even posed for a photo at the altar of our St. Nicholas church on the Roemerberg, by the River Main, where we were married 46 years earlier. We had a great time. "Everything is closed?" Well, not everything. Check it out for yourself.

Frankfurt Rhein-Main airport is an amazing city in itself, and we wished we had had time to take the offered tour before taking off. Maybe next time.

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