Friday, August 1, 2008

Weekend #3: Friday July 25 – Monday July 28

I planned this weekend’s trip, so all of the shenanigans soon to follow are my fault, lol. First off, getting information was difficult. Many hotels didn’t speak English and didn’t respond well to email. I wanted to head down to the Rhineland and do a tour and tastings in a winery. I thought this would be easy, I mean, in California, you can do tours and tastings in a hundred wineries. I was limited in a couple ways: I can’t read German websites, and a lot of the family owned wineries didn’t translate their sites. Family-owned wineries in Germany, which is most of them, don’t really do tours. If they do tours, they’re in German and available for private parties that have to reserve before-hand. I ended up finding a tour of some sparkling wine (“Zext”) cellars in Mainz that are famous because they’re the deepest in the world. The tour was in German, but they offered English cards to follow along. I’d already wanted to go to Mainz, so that worked out. Okay so here was the fun-filled weekend:

We rented a car that was not a Smart Car because we really wanted to break 100 mph. We drove down through Frankfurt and into Mainz, just 20km or so outside the city limits. We got in around 9:00 and went to the bed and breakfast. Often in Europe (or at least in Italy, Spain, and Germany), people who have an extra bed and bath upstairs or downstairs put their name and address in a bed and breakfast directory. You send an inquiry to the bed and breakfast directory, saying which city you’d like to stay in and when, and they connect you to someone’s home. A lady in her 60’s owned our bed and breakfast, and in this little town of Mainz, she had the second-best English we heard the whole trip. She also had a cozy room for us downstairs, but I guess the breakfast part didn’t translate.

We drove into town to find a late dinner and after wandering around the city and by the Rhine River, getting thoroughly lost, fighting about where we should go, then finally asking for directions, we ate dinner at a brewhouse. Our waitress had the best English we heard the whole trip because she’d grown up by an army base and played with American children. They had fabulous beer and a meal that is now one of Chad’s all-time favorite meals: turkey cutlet with dark beer sauce. Just ask him, he’ll tell you aalll about it. We wrote down the name and address for the next time we go to Mainz because we’re definitely going back. The next day, we visited one of the churches, wandered through a produce and flower market, explored the Gutenberg museum, saw a live demonstration of Gutenberg’s printing press (so cool!), and took a tour of the sparkling wine cellars. I think the Gutenberg printing press was my favorite moment of the day, though. Ask me for a demonstration the next time you see me. =)

Around 3pm, we decided to ditch our Google instructions and drive along the Rhine down to our next stop, Worms. We drove through a couple of private-property-no-trespassers vineyards and through several small towns before we realized we’d headed the wrong direction. We stop and asked directions, and the man who helped us was so nice that he gave us his cell phone number in case we got lost again. We found our way back to the autobahn, though, and made in into Worms.

Worms is the sight of the Protestant Reformation, where Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door, preached to congregations, and faced off with the council of bishops. The Catholic Dom still stands and is quite beautiful, one of my favorite churches that I saw on the trip, but the church where Luther preached was destroyed by (I believe) French troops around 1689. They’ve rebuilt a church with a modern interior where it stood. There are also several museums in the town, including a small art gallery, but nothing too exciting. We loved our hotel because the man who owned it was so nice, fixed us breakfast when we were late getting up, and told us all about the stain glass windows that had taken him years to do by hand, but Worms was boring, so we left Sunday afternoon for Steinau.

The Grimm brothers spent their early childhood in Steinau, and their home has been made into a museum, so I really wanted to stay in the town. I’d book a room online, but when we got into town and looked at a map, we couldn’t find the hotel’s street anywhere. I called, but the lady only spoke German. Here’s where things got interesting. I struggled for 7 or 8 minutes with my terrible, terrible German to have a conversation that went something like this: (I’ll just give you the English equivalent for what I said.)

Guten tag (blah blah blah German)

Guten tag. Do you speak English?


Uhhh, I MacDonald. You hotel?

Ja. (Something like can I help you?)

I have room. Where is you? I Steinau train station.

(Blah blah blah German, but I knew she wasn’t giving directions.)

I to come you. I Steinau train station.

(Blah blah blah, but I heard the word “strasse,” which means “street.”)

Street in Steinau? Near Brother Grimm Museum?

Nien. Nien Steinau. (Garble, garble “bach”)

No Stienau? Hotel no Steinau?

Nien. Nien Steinau. (Garble, garble “bach”)

Oh. I Steinau. I Stienau train station.

Nien. Nien Steinau.

Okay. I no to pay room.


(Shoot, Chad, look up “cancel”! He looks it up, I try word #1 in painfully slow German. She doesn’t understand. I try word #2. I say it twice. The second time, she repeats it back, then repeats it again, and it’s the same word.) Yes, yes, I no to pay room, okay?

(Blah blah blah German) okay.

Okay? I no to come. I no to pay.

(Blah blah blah German) okay.

Okay, thank you.

We were worried that since I booked online it would charge anyway, but since the hotel wasn’t in Steinau, we had no way to find it. We headed into old town to find a hotel, but they were all booked. Well, all two of them. We resorted to asking a couple people where our first hotel was, and eventually we figured out it was in Ulbach 8 km away, so we decided to try to find it. We found Ulmbach just by following signs, and luck was one our side. We drove down the main street until almost the end of town and the heavens shine an angelic light upon the sign that bore our hotel’s name. We showed up, I pointed to myself and said, “MacDonald.” She laughed in that confused but amused, and took us to our room. We ate dinner at a restaurant on a hill in the forest and went through a short walk until it got dark. In Europe, you spend all your time surrounding by stones and concrete, so it was great to spend some time with trees and grass.

We got up early enough on Monday (the next day) that we could go to the Grimm Museum on the way out of town, but we ran into troubles paying. The man (her husband?) said they couldn’t take Visa credit cards. Almost no one took Visa, they all wanted Master Card. I eventually explained that I’d book online with He pulled out the faxed reservation, I pointed and said the equivalent of, “I pay credit card. I pay cash. I pay twice.” I think he got that I didn’t want to pay cash then get charged on my credit card. He got his English-speaking daughter on the phone to explain that doesn’t charge the card, just gets the credit card information in case the guest doesn’t pay. So, we paid cash and headed to the Grimm Museum, which ended up being closed until noon anyway, so we just went back to Berlin, and Chad was in class by 5pm. Another successful weekend trip.

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