March/April 2014

Up and Running Once Again

 Recovery, Renewal, Freshened Beginnings


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Well here we are, just outside the tiny village of Senheim, sitting in the sunshine right beside the Mosel River, in southern Germany, and life is pretty damn good.  It has taken us a goodly amount of time to achieve equanimity again, but if you could see us now you’d know we have definitely arrived.

If you missed our last brief message recounting the break-in, we’ll give you a very quick recap.  The day after we arrived back in Rome, we stopped at the grocery store to stock up before heading south toward Sicily.  Emerging from the supermarket we found the Tiger had been vandalized and everything of value had been stolen:  computers, cameras, pairs of glasses, hard drives, e-readers, cash and credit cards, even that smart phone we’d finally bought.  All that on top of jet-lag; whew!  Not surprisingly, we were devastated.

So very many of you sent messages of support; it really helped a lot.  And three different sets of friends, in Germany and Switzerland, took us in, fixed us lovely meals, poured us lots of tea, and helped us solve the issues we faced.  Thank you all again. 

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Why Germany and Switzerland?  We couldn’t stomach staying in Italy, for one thing.  But more importantly, we don’t trust the Italian postal system and we had no friends there to give us addresses where things could be shipped and to assist us with language issues, share computers, etc.

We are still dealing with paperwork; that will probably go on for some time.  But we’ve replaced all the major items, there may be a small amount of insurance coverage out there for us, VAT refunds are beginning to trickle in and we’ve moved on.  We’ve done our best to follow some excellent advice from a friend:  “Bleed, weep, and let go.” Another friend commented, “You are a pair of buoys that always refloat.”  And that’s what we’ve done.  After replacement articles arrived, we recycled a huge amount of cardboard, hit the road, and haven’t looked back.

First off, our plans for the year were obviously in disarray and we found ourselves a lot further north a lot earlier in the year than we had envisioned.  We returned to Europe earlier than we had in prior years due to our plans to be in the far south.  But Instead of Sicily, we’ve spent the last few weeks wandering in Germany, seeing small villages and old cities and half-timbered houses until they are coming out of our ears; cathedrals ranging from Romanesque to Rococo, which means from quite splendid to so overblown as to be almost unbearable.  Tossed in along the way have been some wonderful car museums and just generally enjoying springtime in Germany.

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In reality, spring has only just now arrived, since Easter.  When we left our friends in Luzern, Switzerland, we climbed over the Ibergeregg Pass enjoying fresh snow by the roadside.  A bit further east, we visited our first new country for this year:  Liechtenstein.  Of course that didn’t take very long, but it was a very pretty little place and its 35,000 citizens seemed happy enough -- at least the ones we saw.  We did stop long enough to buy a country emblem sticker for the Tiger – FL – standing for Fürstentum Liechtenstein (thought you’d never ask).

Then it was on into Germany, and many days spent alongside or near the Danube (Donau) River.  It was happenstance, not planned that way, but over the next couple of weeks we had lots of chances to enjoy this lovely river and its attendant castles and towns as it meandered along around us.  As is the norm in Germany, there were lots of parking sites provided by the local burghers for pleasant overnight stops. 

We spent a day visiting Ulm with its truly amazing cathedral, which we really did enjoy.  That was while we were still “unwrapping our gifts” and the new cameras had just arrived.  It felt delightfully “normal” to be visiting an old city and taking a zillion pictures of its lovely Münster.  

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In addition to enjoying this lovely city, we had a great experience while in Ulm.  We had been told that there were several thousand folks living there who were from Turkey, so, hearing what sounded like Turkish being spoken by some young people working in a Subway restaurant, Rick inquired if they were indeed from there and they said yes, they were from Urfa.  Well, Rick said “Urfa, we love Urfa!” and the conversation took off from there.  In the end it turned out the kids were all related, the older woman also working behind the counter was the mother of two of the girls and while we were eating our lunch an older gentleman came right up to us to chat.  Well, he had no English and we certainly have no Turkish, but his intent was clear; he had come from home to see the folks who’d been to Urfa and as we had experienced so often in Turkey, the lack of a common language was not a deterrent.  By the way, we really did love Urfa, short for Sanlıurfa; a wonderful part of Turkey for next time you go.

We needed to take a side trip to revisit the customs guys at the German-Swiss border, so we dropped down to the Bodensee and went to the cool Zeppelin Museum in Meersburg.  Part of it is very high-tech, with neat graphics showing how the blimps were constructed.  The rest was a bit ho-hum, with older displays that need a new look.  But you could walk into a replica, see great old photos, watch the famous grainy old newsreel of the burning of the Hindenburg, stuff like that.  We enjoyed it although felt it was a bit overpriced for what it offered.

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Along the way, Rick made solo visits to three automotive museums he’d been waiting to check out:  the BMW Museum in Munich, the Audi Museum in Ingolstadt, and the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.  Each of the German auto manufacturers has created impressive, modern structures to house their historic collections and present their current production models amid suitable surroundings -- and they are all very well done.  We had visited Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen in prior years and were not about to miss the others this year.  You can go to our new website at Motor-Museums.com to get more information and see lots of photos, but here’s a brief recap of these three facilities. 

Audi is the smallest and least expensive to visit, although all of them are very reasonably priced.  It displays cars going back to the twenties when Audi was but one of the four manufacturers later to be combined as Auto-Union.  Models from Horch, DKW and Wanderer are also on show, but Audi of course is featured.  Two of the Silver Arrow Auto-Union racing cars from 1938-39 are the highlights of the museum.  BMW began life as an airplane engine manufacturer before WWI, then branched into motorcycle production in 1923 before introducing their first automobile six years later.  The museum covers all three phases of the company’s history although the cars are clearly the stars of the show. 

Saving the best for last, the Porsche Museum won the prize as the most interesting of this group, in part because the special exhibit at the time of our visit was on the Le Mans 24-hour race and highlighted a number of beautiful and famous Porsche racing cars, which dominated the race for many years.  In addition to that, this museum was the best laid out and had the best lighting of the three; plus the cars are just so darn pretty.

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Neuburg a.d. Donau, Regensburg, Nördlingen, Bamberg; all interesting old cities worth spending an afternoon apiece, or more given more sunlight.  We enjoyed them all.  Regensburg is the largest of the group and is an actual city; the altstadt (old town) however, has a lovely setting right on the river and also has a really nice cathedral.  Nördlingen is a medieval walled city with walls that are still intact, which  lets you walk around and enjoy views of the city.  The aerial views of the town on the postcards are great.  Bamberg was probably our favorite though, with some terrific architectural highlights and wonderful old town feel, including the old town hall on an island in the river.  Great spot!  We enjoyed Thuringian sausages in the plaza, claimed by the locals to be the best anywhere, of course.

We were moving generally northeast into the open fields and forests of Thuringia and had mostly cloudy weather, with some rain.  We took back roads everywhere we could, with no sense of hurry.  All the flowering trees were in full bloom, with carpets of fresh grass and yellow flowers underfoot.  We were starting to see the fields of rape-seed in bloom – that incredible, vivid yellow that is unforgettable; though these early fields still had a tinge of green to them as compared to the mature fields we’d be seeing in another week or so. 

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Further northeast, now crossing into the former DDR, we entered an area of older- looking hamlets, with more barns in use, more old tractors puttering along and fewer tourists to share the sights with.  It was a lovely drive.  We again confirmed that we prefer traveling in eastern Germany to the more modern and developed areas further west. 

We were headed for the area around Weimar.  We’d gotten near here last fall, but ran out of time before seeing all that we wanted to. So we went to Weimar first.  It’s not stunningly lovely as a city, more workaday than anything else.  But its history is incredible – Schiller and Goethe and Bach and Liszt and the Weimar Republic just for starters – and that brings it alive.  You just can’t help but be happy you stopped for a visit and for anyone interested in German history or philosophy, well, it’s the place to be. 

Almost next door is Erfurt, bigger, splashier, and visually more colorful and interesting.  We had considered not stopping as it is a pretty large city, but the old town is quite compact and easy to negotiate.  There was a carnival going on in front of the cathedral, but even that didn’t spoil the day.  We hiked all over the place, took bunches of pictures, bought goodies and had a ball.  It was pretty special. 

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Two places you’ve never heard of but should jot down were the nearby small towns of Schmalkalden and Fritzlar.  With more half-timbered houses than you could capture on film, er… digital sensor, it was the pretty colors and intricate designs that made these towns stand out.  Fritzlar was the best of the bunch, although the Markt plaza was all torn up, being redone in preparation for the summer’s activities.  The Rathaus, or town hall, lays claim to be the oldest such building in Germany that has continually fulfilled its civic function; since 1109.  These towns were both real jewels, and you really ought to make sure you have them on your list if you come to Germany.

By now we were far enough north that we’d gotten ahead of spring.  The day in Fritzlar the temperature got to a high of 51 degrees, and the nights had been in the low 30s for quite awhile.  The tulips were abundant, and the white asparagus was for sale on every corner, but the lilacs certainly were not yet in bloom.  Schmalkalden (isn’t that a great name, Rick quickly christened it Karl Malden for easier pronunciation) had the benefit of some sunshine during our visit so our photos from there look great.  In fact, however, we were dodging rain drops and waiting for the sun to pop out from behind the fast-moving clouds, so the weather wasn’t actually terrific that day either.

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Why so far north for us – the sunny California kids – so early in the year?  Well, aside from the fact that we thought we’d still be in southern Italy now, we were taking advantage of being in Germany and heading on up to Nijmegen in The Netherlands to intercept a good buddy who was back home in Holland for a few weeks break from his fulltime home in Mali.  We’ve known Casper since South America, and this was the first time since 2008 that we were on the same continent.  We couldn’t miss seeing him!  It was great fun catching up.

After leaving Nijmegen we cut a straight path south and now we’re back where it’s warmer – in southwestern Germany.  We’ve been to visit Trier, an old Roman city with some cool ruins, and explored much of the length of the pretty Mosel River between Trier and Koblenz.  The Mosel is charming, a wide and quiet river with steep hillsides covered with vineyards; barges filled with coal ply the river, with pleasure boats to keep them company.  We’ve found a quiet spot along a bank, together with a few other motorhome folks also enjoying the river. 

For the next few days we’ll be finishing up this message and reading about France, our next destination.  We’ll tell you all about it later.

Rick and Kathy and the (mostly new) tribe, getting to know each other.


To see more photos from Germany, click here.

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2017