It’s already Day Four of our Vagabond Adventure… Where to start?
Frankfurt is our first stop. While the plan is to rent an RV and road trip, Rob and I decided we’d be better off chilling at a hotel for a few days first to recover from jet lag, and it’s a good thing we did! The time change is kicking our asses. I slept a solid thirteen hours my first night here, and have been sleeping almost twelve hours through since. Somehow I’m still exhausted during the day and find it hard to stay awake, even though everything is new and exciting.
On our first night we walked through the misty rain across the river Main, where Rob had discovered a WiFi spot at Cafe Bar Celona. It’s since become a regular hang out of ours, as not only does it offer WiFi, but amazing food and coffee drinks as well. The steaming bowl of creamy tomato soup warmed our stomachs, calming any tension leftover from navigating a series of airports and trains. I sipped on my vanilla rooibos latte, swaying subtly in my chair to what I assumed was a Spanish love ballad, taking in the faces around me that glowed in candlelight and the view of a cobblestone courtyard in the rain. It was a perfect first evening in a foreign country.
Our waiter knew sparsely any English, which prompted Rob and I to download a variety of translation apps to our iPhones, among many other helpful ones such as a metric converter. (Silly America, so stubbornly clinging to her miles, ounces, and Fahrenheit temperatures.) With the help of iTranslate, we learned how to ask for our check: “Die rechnung, bitte.” Neither of us wanted to be the first to possibly make a fool of ourselves if we pronounced it poorly, or risk saying something entirely off altogether, but when the waiter came I nervously stammered it out. He said something back to me with a nod of his head, and, thrilled, I squealed to Rob, “He understood me!” We laughed as we showed him our app and he gave us a thumbs up.
The next day we continued to explore Frankfurt, wandering around streets with ever-changing names as is often the way in most European countries. We found the German equivalent to Whole Foods, a health food chain called Allnatura, and proceeded to incur a lot of roaming charges finding everything else. I think I will have to change my AT&T plan to include international data coverage after all, because surely it will be cheaper than all my roaming charges combined, and this is only my first week! I blame Google Maps. Without Google Maps, I would be lost, wasting my time trying to figure where I am and how to get to where I’m going instead of saving time by simply touching the circular locate-me symbol I’ve become rather attached to. I do plan to buy hard copy maps and guides as soon as I can find them in English, but for now the roaming charges will increase.
Yesterday we rented a car. A Mercedes was all the rental company had left, poor us! Mercedes Benzes are everywhere, even the taxis are Mercedes. I don’t think they can appreciate how astounding that is to Americans. We rented a car for two reasons: a) because I need to learn how to drive a stick shift, preferably before trying to tackle the one in the RV; and b) because we were bored of Frankfurt and wanted to explore beyond the city! After following the very confusing and misguided directions from the GPS Rob so patiently downloaded on his iPhone, we somehow found ourselves on the B42, the stunning road that takes you through one of the most beautiful parts of Germany. All along the Rhein River, from Oestrich to Koln, are the most picturesque Bavarian towns. It was like driving through a mountainous, sparsely populated Disneyland, where brown wooden houses were painted with lines of white, their roofs sloping steeply and curving asymmetrically; where you expect Snow White to step outside one of the doorways shaking her dusty rug, whistling to the birds. Castles dotted the forests on both sides of river, derelict ones, hotel-converted ones, big ones, sometimes just a random tower. I imagined what it would have been like to depend on them for my life, to be waiting at the top clad in armor, hoping my enemy’s catapults of fire wouldn’t reach me as they assembled below. Maybe I’ve seen too many Ridley Scott movies.
We made it as far as Koblenz, a city that felt as large as Frankfurt. By then our afternoon wall of fatigue had slammed us, making it harder to be decisive about anything from where to park to where to eat. For lunch we settled down at a cafe called Gretchen’s. We said it was a sign, the fates deciding for us, since it was practically calling my name. Here I was introduced to spatzle, thick, chewy noodles that I can only hope to replicate back home.
They were smothered with Gouda cheese, laced with slivers of ham and cubes of zucchini, with red peppers sliced throughout. Rob ordered the schnitzel cordon bleu, accompanied by alarmingly yellow French fries. As I was suspecting that they’d been fried in food coloring, Rob pointed out an interesting food fact… The Heinz ketchup we’d requested (because bottles aren’t automatically placed upon the tabletops here like in the States) was amazingly corn syrup free. I’ve been continually stupefied as to how American food corporations get away with poisoning the population in the most daily and subtle ways. By now we are all aware that American meat is questionable at the very least, even if we eat it anyway, but corn syrup is an ingredient that makes its way into almost everything. So far in Germany, no label I’ve read, from juice to ketchup to cookie, has this deadly filler. Quite refreshing.
Today, basking in the liberty of having our rental car, we drove outside the city so Rob could give me my first lesson in many years on driving a stick shift. I was very nervous, especially when we hit unexpected traffic on the autobahn due to an accident. Cars went from 180 kilometers per hour (about 112 m.p.h) to an almost dead stop. While Rob joined other drivers who were narrowly squeezing into the median on the right, I scanned ahead, guilty hoping to see the twisted smash of metal I was certain would be splayed upon the road. Even more sadly, all I saw was a motorcycle lying on its side, the body of the certainly dead driver already taken away. While it’s fun to take advantage of Germany’s generous speed limits, it was a sobering reminder of how fatal one small mistake can be.
On to a brighter note, our forced exit from the autobahn happened to put us in a town called Hofheim. It had the country roads we’d been searching for, perfect for learning how to drive a manual on. Trying to get as far from other vehicles as we could, Rob pulled over on to what was actually a bike path. It was wide enough for a single car, and since the weather was practically stormy, there were no bikers to worry about. As we switched seats, we took in the invigorating wind that whipped at our faces, the smell of the thunderstorm that never made herself heard, even though she ominously loomed above us.
Rob is a very patient teacher. Let’s just say that about my driving lesson.
I managed to follow the bike path back to the town’s main roads, and the one I turned left on happened to take us to a driveway leading to a very large greenhouse. At least it looked like a greenhouse, since all I could see above the trees was a tall glass dome. As the road wound closer, it looked more like a museum. No, a gym, a really fancy gym judging by the youthful, glowing faces that exited the tall double doors. Then we saw a sign that read Rhein Main Therme. Wait… it couldn’t be. We parked the car and excitedly walked inside the immense building. Humid heat hit us at once, and our eyes immediately went to the sign just inside the door depicting a peaceful-looking woman laying face down with little black stones on her back. “Rob,” I breathed, “I think we just found the mother load of all spas.”
Surely our day-long urges for a massage had projected into the universe and conspired with it to lead us here, to what just happens to be the most revered spa in Germany, one of the biggest spa destinations in all of Europe. The glass dome that I’d thought housed flowers was in reality a skylight-like ceiling above a large pool that I could see through the glass walls. Rob and I tried to read the massage menu in German, then finally asked the woman behind the greeting counter if she sprekened English. Fortunately she spoke a little, and she pointed us in the direction of the massage wing where there was another helpful woman, who (in better English) regretted to inform us that there were not any more massage appointments left for the day. Disappointed, but too excited to be down for long, we made appointments for tomorrow. I can hardly wait! My back aches to be touched as I write this!
The very helpful woman gave us the names of her favorite restaurants in town, and we decided to have dinner at the one she was most excited about, ZumTurmchen. “They have super pancakes,” she assured us almost jealously, as though she wished she were eating there herself later on. Rob drove us to the center of town, another Disneyland-esque cluster of quaint buildings lining cobblestones streets. Truly, the architecture here is adorable. We walked through the rain, wandering in circles until a kind couple pointed us in the right direction. Everyone in Germany seems kind, especially in the smaller towns, the locals so ready to help out a lost stranger using improvised sign language if necessary
ZumTurmchen does indeed have super pancakes. They’re not like the ones you’d imagine, not the fluffy and thick flapjacks at IHOP. These were more like crepes, with options for both savory and sweet fillings. We opted for one of each, with a side of schnitzel and two glasses of apfelwein, a hard apple cider which is famed in this region. Our first pancake was like shepherd’s pie stuffed into a crispy crepe, a mash of ground meat, gravy, cheese, and seasoned vegetables. So hearty and bursting with flavor.
Our second pancake came with vanilla ice cream so fluffy that I compared it to frozen whipped cream. “Alice,” Rob hesitated to tell me, “that’s because there’s whipped cream next to it.” Oh. Well, it was good. I’d take a spoonful of ice cream, dunk it into the bowl of juicy, warm berries, and then slab it atop a corner of the folded pancake and cut the bite off with the wiggle of my fork. It was heavenly. We were fully satiated by the end of our meal. Engorged, rather. As we basked in our stuffedness, we bid farewell to our Australian friends at the neighboring table, one of whom invited us to wakeboard the Rhein courtesy of the water sport school where he teaches. If he’s serious, we definitely plan to taking him up on that lesson!
Rob and I drove back to our lovely Victorian-themed hotel in Frankfurt. Tomorrow we will see our RV for the first time, the little van that is to become our home for the next five weeks. I’m excited, hopeful that it will be as cute (and clean) as the online pictures made it out to be. We will drive back to Hofheim and luxuriate at the spa, eat at another of the masseuse’s recommended restaurants in town, and then camp out somewhere near the mountains, waking up to a morning hike perhaps. Then our real adventure begins…