Archive for May, 2010

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (3)

May 25, 2010

Dawn broke with a crash – literally.  A few of the guys were outside playing a pick-up game of soccer in the back yard and one of them kicked the ball a little off center and sent it through the window in our dorm.  There is nothing like being awakened by the crash of glass, and the screaming of girls (and, to be completely honest, some of the guys; not me, of course).  Nobody would fess up so we all chipped in to pay for the window.

Since we all woke up at the same time, there was a decided crush to get into the WC and take care of business.  Once that was done it was time for breakfast.  No huge breakfasts this time as all that was offered was small broetchen, various jams and jellies, and pieces of bacon.  Strong coffee was also the norm.  What you didn’t drink you could lube your chain with.  If they didn’t use very heavily plated spoons, they’d melt.

Today we had a fairly easy day planned.  We were going from Wittlich to Mühlheim.  Well, not entirely all the way to Mühlheim but to a small camping ground right on a peninsula on the bank of the Mosel River.  It was pretty much downhill all the way.  Something we could definitely use right about now as our muscles got used to all the activity.

Since there was no real hurry because we had only eight or ten miles to go, we took the time to tune our bikes up a little.  They’d taken a pretty good beating in the muddy field and needed to be cleaned and oiled somewhat.  We brought out the big toolkit from the station wagon and set to work.

We gathered a few spectators from among the other transients staying at the hostel.  Most of them had never seen the type of bikes we had as most German bicycles had at the most two gears.  Ours were set up as touring bikes and as such had three gears in two ranges for a total of six.  It made climbing hills much easier.  We showed off the gearing system and let some of the kids ride the bikes to see how they liked them.  One fellow offered the equivalent of almost a hundred dollars for Jim’s bike.  It wasn’t for sale.

A word here on the bikes themselves.  They were called English Touring Bikes and had narrow tires with tubes in them.  The braking systems were a right and left-handlebar caliper that caused a clamp to ride on the rim of the front and back wheels.  Very similar to bikes nowadays, but definitely not what you would call ‘mountain-style’.  They were very susceptible to punctures from stones and other sharp objects; plus the little rubber stoppers were prone to jumping out at the most inopportune moments.

Finally we loaded up our panniers and straggled our way in double file down the road.  The first section was pretty much on the level.  We rode past fields of grain, potatoes, sugar beets, and corn (nope, we didn’t stop this time).  We skirted Wengerohr and Platten then started down a very long canyon that would eventually bring us to the Mosel River.

On one side was heavy forestation and the other, across huge fields of grass we could see fledgling vineyards.  Some of the finest German wines come from the Mosel River (in my opinion anyway) and in ten or fifteen years these small vineyards would be producing great vintages.  For now, however, they were just very junior vines.

Vineyards are placed on the north side of the valley and the river so that they faced south and absorbed as much sun as they could.  If we thought these small vineyards were expansive, we really got a surprise when we entered the Mosel valley itself.  Finally, as we swung around a huge curve the entire river valley opened up to us.  It was a great sight.  We stopped for a snack and took loads of pictures.

After one final curve we approached a huge traffic circle.  We whirled around it and exited on the road that led to a very old bridge over the river.  Zeltingen was on the other side.  This bridge, as well as most of the Mosel River bridges, had been heavily damaged during the war.  It still had some pockmarks and shrapnel damage.  It was very hard to imagine what conditions were like back only twelve years earlier.  It took us twenty minutes to cross as we kept taking pictures of boats as they navigated up and down the river.  The girls called and waved to the crewmembers and they waved.  Several captains tooted their horns at us.

A very small café that resided right on the bank of the river seemed a great place to stop for lunch.  The two very pretty servers seemed a bit apprehensive as a load of Americans began to fill the small dining room, but warmed up very fast when they realized most of us spoke German well enough to discuss what would be best for lunch.  Soon, they were bustling to and from the kitchen, setting down plates and bringing copious amounts of lemonade.  The girls both enjoyed having their pictures taken with some of our group – mostly guys.  Virginia clamped her fingers on my knee and kept them there virtually all during lunch.

We settled up our bill, tipped the servers, and filled our water bottles with more of the delicious lemonade.  Not too far down the river road, we saw what appeared to be a dam.  As we got closer we could see it stretching all the way across the river.  We got to wondering how boats could get past it until we realized that there was a small barge sitting on what appeared to be dry land on the opposite bank.  Using zoom lenses, I could see that there was a lock system.  If we had stayed on the south bank we would have ridden directly past it.  On this bank, we could barely see it.

We watched as the barge cleared the lock and maneuvered around an oncoming flatboat pushing two other small barges upstream.  It was a tight fit, but they made it through also.  We walked out as far as we could on the dam and took some more pictures.  Finally, we started out again for our camp ground.

We pedaled slowly down the pathway next to the river.  No cars to worry about so we took our time and bunched up.  Off in the distance we could see a small finger of land that extended towards us and enclosed a little bit of water.  As we got closer we could see several tents and small camper vehicles.  That must be our spot.  We passed it, crossed towards the river even more, and rode back to the campground.

It was a pay-by-the-day campground and collected in advance.  We were assigned adjoining slots and began setting up our tents.  While we were doing that, the two vehicles that kept pace with us arrived and unloaded the cooking items.  Since it was early afternoon we were in no rush to fix anything yet, so we all just scattered and walked around.

Virginia, Cleo, Roger and I went back towards where the peninsula left the north bank.  We did it with enough stealth that none of the chaperones saw us leave.  Roger and I had noticed a small Gasthaus up the road opposite the one we had gone down to the camp.  That was our destination.

They had a very nice little six-table vine covered garden area set up as a Biergarten.  What does one order in a Biergarten?  Bier, of course.  We sat and relaxed to the sound of a fake water wheel slowly turning in the current of the river.  It wasn’t connected to anything so we figured it was decorative.  It was apparently a slow day so the proprietor joined us and asked, in halting English, if we were on tour.

I answered in German to his visible relief that we were camping down the road with a few more of us.  We talked of this and that for almost an hour.  He seemed very pleased that we had stopped and kept bringing us snack foods to try.  We did, of course, only to be polite.  Cleo and Roger excused themselves and wandered down one of the paths through the garden.

Suddenly, a huge outcry of honking geese and shouting guy and girl began behind some bushes.  The proprietor jumped up and shouted to Cleo and Roger.

“Nein.  Nein.  Kümmern Sie sich nicht die Gänse.  Sie werden angreifen!”  (No.  No.  Don’t bother the geese.  They will attack!)  “Können sie nicht lessen Deutsch?”  (Can’t they read German?)  He asked me.

I turned to look where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a white sign with red lettering warning everyone not to mess with the geese as they would get nasty.  I told him I guess they didn’t notice it.  And, as an afterthought I offered to write the warning out in English for him.  He grinned hugely and brought a piece of paper and a pen for me.  I wrote an appropriate warning that added somewhat to the terse German warning by way of telling parents to keep an eye on their kids.  When I explained my addition, he laughed and said he’d have to add that to his sign also.

After a very pleasant afternoon the four of us reluctantly readied ourselves to leave the little bistro and walk back to the campground.  The owner pressed a bottle of wine into Virginia’s hands and winked at the two of us.

“You have for later,” he explained.  I thanked him profusely and we bowed our way out.  It was a very good vintage.

Back at camp, we smuggled the bottle into my tent and went back to help with dinner.  We brought out the ears of corn we had liberated from the cornfield, dropped them into a huge pot, and salted the water.  One woman from the neighboring camp introduced herself, in French, and asked what we were doing to the corn.  Virginia was better at French that I was (which is to say she wouldn’t get her face slapped) so she explained as best as she could that we were boiling it to eat.  The woman looked a little askance at us and pressed for more details.

Virginia told her that Americans are what we called ‘corn on the cob’ with lots of butter and salt.  While she was talking, she fished out an ear and poured melted butter and dashed it with salt.  With a flourish, she handed it to the woman.  She took a tentative bite, took several more, and then began to run her teeth down row after row of corn kernels.  Finally, with butter dripping from her chin she pronounced that it was an amazing thing to do with corn.  I’ve explained before that most Europeans didn’t do anything with corn except to feed their pigs and barnyard fowl.  I guess nobody had thought of boiling it.  She shyly accepted two more ears, with butter and salt, for her husband and son.  She left calling their names and encouraging them to try this new food.

Dinner was wonderful.  Fresh bread that our motorized crew had bought in town, lots of corn and butter, plenty of grilled pork chops, and greens loaded down our tables.  We chattered all through dinner, washed up, and wandered back out from the dining fly – mostly two by two.  In some cases, four by four.  The chaperones called to us not to stay out too late and then settled down by one of the fires to have a beer or two.

Virginia and I wrapped our gift bottle of wine in her sweater and went down to the riverbank.  As darkness fell completely, we lay back and watched the river traffic as they muscled their way upstream or drifted down.  Cheery little toots of horns as they passed sounded very friendly.  Like the Dutch, most of them had dogs aboard who barked as the vessels passed each other.  They were used when fog obscured the river.  The dogs would alert a captain of an approaching boat that he may not see.

I opened the wine and poured into our plastic cups.  She toasted me; we clicked rims, and sipped.  It was definitely a good vintage.  She rested her head back on my arm and snuggled in close.  We talked of pretty much anything we thought of.  We had really nothing we wouldn’t discuss so we never lacked for conversation.  I quoted some poetry, which she loved me to do, and we just sat and watched the stars come out.

With the bottle half empty now, and the fire at the chaperone’s camp gone low, we figured it was time to go back to our (separate, darn it) tents.  Tomorrow we would be taking a ferry back across the river and climbing up and out of the valley.

T.O.M.

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The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (2)

May 19, 2010

The next morning I woke before the three burpers and managed a nice bath before shaving and toothbrushing.  Just as I was finishing up, someone tapped on the bathroom door and I let him in.  I was still a bit sore and creaky from the exercise yesterday, but moving around made most of it go away.

I went down the stairs to the cramped dining room and found that pretty much all of our crew was gathered for the trip today to Wittlich.  Virginia had saved me a spot right across the table from her.  A huge platter of bacon and eggs was put on the table and everyone got their share.  Pedaling definitely makes your appetite grow.  I thought about seconds, but knew we had several rivers to cross and didn’t feel like taking aboard all the extra calories.

We all claimed our bikes from the shed out back and readied them for the day’s travel.  My back tire was low so I pumped it up a little.  I was lucky because two others had flat tires and had to change them.  We finally left around ten or so.

The little town of Niederkail sits at the bottom of our first valley and is split by a very small stream.  We didn’t cross it, but followed it for about a half mile.  We stopped in town to refill our water bottles at the fountain which was fed by a cold spring that comes right out of the mountain.  A bit further down the valley we finally crossed the stream and started up the other side.

According to our map, there were two ways we could approach Landsheid.  One of them was to start up the main highway and end up walking a couple of miles’ or, we could walk up a fairly steep grade for a quarter mile and take a sort of logging road through the forest.  We opted for the second route.  We did not choose wisely.

We left the road down at the bottom of a nicely wooded hillside and started up a trail of crushed stone.  It was definitely ‘push your bike up the hill’ mode.  We stopped two or three times for a breather and finally made it to the top.  Loggers had churned up the ground to the consistency of chocolate syrup to a depth of six inches.  Even skirting the huge clearing, we gathered enough of the sticky goo to clog the braking devices on the bikes.  We ended up dragging them, locked-wheeled, the last 100 meters or so.

Several in our group slipped and fell and one of those got hit by the crossbar of their bike when it toppled over on top of them.  Triage was completed in the grass at the other side of the pit of terror.  We all looked like we’d spent some time in a mud wrestling venue.  I considered myself lucky that I only dropped my water bottle in the mud.  It took us about half an hour to clean off the bikes, clean off ourselves, and in two instances, go into the woods and change into clean clothes.

Well, gee, I hear you saying.  Why didn’t they just go around the mudhole?  Ooh, ooh, let me answer that one!  It’s because the woods were a planted forest and the trees were so close together that you would have been better off trying to squeeze a bike through a picket fence.  Space was not wasted in unproductive real estate in that forest.

After sorting ourselves out, we started along the small track towards the back door, so to speak, of Landsheid.  It seemed as if every turn we made the road got smaller and smaller.  Soon, we were in single file and almost at a walking pace.  Grumbles were being voiced not too quietly now that maybe someone had goofed.

We would occasionally get a glimpse of the valley along which we were traveling, but not much more than that.  Finally, a scouting group of three parked their bikes and went ahead on foot to see if it got any better.  The rest of us took some time to grab a bite to eat.  We had one small alcohol stove and, after many unsuccessful attempt to get it going, it gave a huge ‘boof’ and blew out one end of the delivery pipe.  No hot tea for us.

The scouts came back and reported that the trail widened out into gravel again just around two corners.  They hadn’t gone much further, but that did sound encouraging.  The chief scout looked at the wreckage of his stove and sadly shook his head.  He pointed to the small lever that allowed fuel to flow into the burner – it hadn’t been turned on.  So, even though we had pumped it up to around two or three thousand PSI, it never would have lit a burner.  We held an immediate whip-around and paid him for it.

Heartened by the news, we boarded bikes again and started out.  The trail did indeed widen and smooth out.  It stayed that way until it came to an abrupt end.  Now, why would someone build a trail like this and then just stop?  No answer except that we had to find a way towards what we now identified as a church bell tolling.  It was the right direction for Landsheid so we wearily began pushing through tall grass and small spike-bearing bushes that ripped our ankles to shreds.  This was rapidly not being fun.

With a final push through a huge bramble patch we hit a farm road running alongside a field of grain.  Off in the distance we could see the church tower that had guided us through the jungle.  Not a single one of the girls, and several of the guys, would budge until they had cleaned up somewhat.  Pointing in two opposite directions, the chaperones told the guys to go ‘that way’ and the girls to go ‘over there’ and repair our appearances.  It wouldn’t do to frighten the natives into thinking we had just arrived after being abducted by aliens or something like that.  Refreshed (and de-burred) we pressed onwards and into town.

We stopped at a store in Landsheid where our hapless scout purchased a new pressure stove.  It was a nice one and we all read the instructions carefully so there would be no repeat of the ‘big bang’ as it was called.  On our way out of town, we passed through a huge cornfield on either side of the road.  I have no idea how those twenty ears of corn got into those panniers officer; honest.

We skirted the town of Berg and started down a long, twisty, road to the bottom of the hill.  About halfway down, there was a cry of pain as one of the guys flipped his bike over the handlebars and into the ditch.  He had been trying to brake and one of the little rubber brake plugs had worked its way loose and popped out.  This, unfortunately, happened to be on a rear brake so the only one he had was the front brake.  Since he was applying pressure to both front and rear, the cessation of rear braking tossed him ass over head and into the ditch.  Nothing was broken, but we had to take time out while he replaced a brake.

It was a long climb back out and we had to walk it pretty much all the way.  There was a nice pull-out area with tables halfway up so we stopped, took pictures, clowned around with a couple of soccer balls, and generally had some fun.  I noticed two or three couples had crept away and into the woods.  The chaperones didn’t.  Virginia and I got back and mingled with the crowd as they mounted up.

Hupperath came and went as a series of five cross streets sparsely populated.  We stopped only long enough for a few of us to telephone home and report our progress.  They wanted too much money for me to want to make a call; the equivalent of a buck seventy five for three minutes.  A bit steep.

We stopped at the top of our next valley and took pictures of our road as it undulated down the hillside.  We counted at least seven curves of greater than ninety degrees on its way down.  We would have to take this hill much slower than the last one for sure.  Carefully, we started down.  Cars and the occasional bus whooshed past us and belched fumes at us.  The breeze was good enough to blow it away but it still caused a cough or two.

The accident happened at the fifth bend.  This turn was an almost complete one-eighty reversal and the side of the road was covered with loose gravel from the hillside.  Three of our group were involved.  Unfortunately, Virginia was the second one to fall.  The person she was riding next to at the time lost traction on both wheels and the bike went out to the side.  This kicked Virginia’s bike sideways also and they both went down.  The next guy in line hit her bike and cartwheeled over it and into a small post.  He hit the post right at the middle of his thigh and bounced into the deep grass at the side of the road.

We all slid to a stop and dashed over to help.  Virginia was shaken but not hurt badly.  Her elbow was scuffed up, and she would have a nasty bruise on one of her knees, but otherwise okay.  The original bike was out of service.  It had landed on a large rock and tore out several spokes.  We would have to replace the wheel when we got to the inn in Wittlich today.  We patched up everyone except for the guy that hit the roadside post.  He was in pretty bad shape.  Our resident first aid expert said he didn’t break anything, but his thigh was already turning a dark shade of purple where he had hit.

He volunteered to sit with the broken bike and wait for our station wagon to arrive and pick him up.  We left him some chicken and two water bottles.  I surreptitiously passed him a small flask of Schnapps, for which he gave his thanks.  We somberly mounted up and finished our downward ride.

On the outskirts of Wittlich we passed a really nice sportsplatz.  A game was in progress but we didn’t have the time to stop unfortunately.  We debated on which road to take into town because we weren’t sure which one would take us to our little hotel.  We knew that both of them ended up near the center of town so we split up and took both roads.  We said that we would meet in the town square in any case.

A huge amount of European townships are laid out in the same general plan.  Around a central square or municipal building roads radiate out like spokes on a wheel.  Connecting these spokes are angled streets running from spoke to spoke.  It is not unusual for one continuous road traveling around the core to go through many name changes as it crosses a spoke.  This was the difficulty we faced in finding our inn for the night.

We wandered up one road and down the next.  Whenever we approached the town square, we peeled off into a different spoke road and traveled back out.  On our fourth fruitless search we actually entered the square.  We were hailed by one of our own who drove the VW bus and asked why we kept starting into the square and then turning around.  Damn, we felt like idiots.

She started the bus and led us directly to the inn.  The other group had already arrived, gotten their rooms, were staked out on the restaurant balcony sipping sodas, and razzing us.  We parked our bikes in the little stand they had out front and went inside to get our room assignments.

This particular inn was actually a youth hostel.  Rooms were dormitory-style with perhaps twenty beds in them.  In most cases, both sexes would share the same spaces (but not bathrooms).  This caused the chaperones to form up and select beds that bisected the room – boys on one side and girls on the other.  The German kids thought this was hilarious.

The evening turned out to be nice and warm, but with a hint of cool breeze.  There was a fire pit in the area out back with split log seating.  People drifted out and sat watching the fire as night closed in on us.  Virginia and I snuggled up as well as most of the other couples.  The omnipresent chaperones sat right at the top of the pit and watched the lot of us.  I swear they counted heads every half hour.

After an evening of singing, little skits that had us all rolling with laughter, and some excellent storytelling, we began to feel our efforts of the day and drifted off to our assigned bunks.  I managed to give Virginia a kiss goodnight under the baleful eye of a chaperone.  What he didn’t hear was her wish we were back in our own little inn by ourselves.  Oh gosh.  Just what I needed right then for a good night’s sleep.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (1)

May 13, 2010

One fine spring day, just after school let out, a bunch of us were hanging around the Teen Club wondering what to do with ourselves.  All sorts of schemes were offered and shot down until the subject of a bike trip surfaced.  Nowadays, the mention of a bike trip gives visions of snarly Harleys and happy Hondas, but to us in the mid-1950’s it simply meant a bicycle trip.

We kicked the idea around and the more we talked about it the better it sounded.  We dragged out maps and planned a route that would take us generally east towards the Mosel River.  To get there we would have to navigate the Kyll River and a couple of other minor streams.  In Germany, most roads would approach a river at almost a right angle, sweep down one bank, cross the river, and run back up the opposite side to continue onwards in the original direction.  When you are on a bike, the trip down is a real treat, but the trip back up can be very difficult.  Virginia and I found that out previously in our little adventure which I chronicled here: (https://tom1950.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/drinking-and-%E2%80%9Cwake-up-little-susie%E2%80%9D/).

We were pretty far along in the planning when one of the girls spoke up and asked if they were invited also.  We replied that of course they were.  This sparked another debate which swirled around parental permission based on how many chaperones we’d have.  Chaperones – we don’t need no steenkin’ chaperones.  Final answer: Oh, Yes You Do Buster!

Now we really were debating about who we would ask for this honor.  A priority list was made up of persons we thought might be able to make the trip, followed by persons who had a large enough vehicle to be able to hold one or more bicycles if necessary, and finally, those that would just ‘go along for the ride’ in those vehicles.  We had thirteen names at the end.  Two of us were designated to ask everyone on the list if they would be willing to chaperone our touring group.

When the dust settled, we had four who would attempt the trip on their own bicycles, and three who were willing to drive their cars from one stopping point to the next carrying our personal gear.  A pretty fair division of labor and which also gave us seven adults in every place we stopped.  Since two of our stops were to be camping grounds we definitely needed the two station wagons and the one VW camper for cooking.

When the dust settled and we were down to actually making the reservations at the inns we were planning to stay at there were thirteen teens and three chaperones on bicycles.  The rest would drive out and meet us at our various stops.  One person, who drove a station wagon, carried a toolkit, spare inner tubes and a first aid kit that the base hospital and put together for us.  Hopefully, we wouldn’t need it, but one never knows.

Our trip was to cover a total of about a hundred twenty kilometers (roughly 75 miles) and we planned on doing it in seven days.  Granted, this is only around eleven miles a day, but we were in no hurry at all and, most importantly, there were lots of hills we would have to walk up.  The four inns we wanted to stop at were located in Binsfeld, Wittlich, Mühlheim and Niersbach.  The other three nights we would just camp out in a field beside the road.

I had two cameras; one personal and one from the PAO (Public Affairs Office) to make a visual journal of our trip.  Virginia consented to carry the extra film I would need.  Mine was black and white but the PAO camera would use color.  This way, I could develop my own pictures.  We were ready for the trip to begin.

In the week that followed our finalization of plans everyone was busily getting their bikes ready for the trip.  Questionable tires were replaced and the bikes themselves tuned, oiled, and greased.  I added a nice rear fender pannier to hold incidentals (and my cameras) so I wouldn’t have it hanging around my neck all the time.

In the last week of June we headed out from the parking lot in front of the school and made our way to the main gate.  A lot of kids on their bicycles rode along with us to the gate, but peeled off and went home as we passed through them.

For those of you who have never been in Europe – or at least back in the mid fifties – the roads in any town at that time were mostly cobblestones.  Lanes set aside for bicycles (of which there were literally hundreds on the road at any given time during the day) existed and were normally paved with asphalt.  This was in town.  Outside town you were on your own along roads that were pretty narrow.  Not so narrow that you were in constant danger of getting hit but narrow enough.   Two busses could pass each other, but that would leave little room for a bike.  Everyone riding had either a rear view mirror mounted on their handlebars, or wore a cap with a stem-mounted mirror on it.  Bike riders were so very common, especially in the summer, that drivers would take special care when on the road.

We descended the rather steep road down the hill from the base and entered the town of Bitburg.  Our immediate goal was to cruise down the hillside, run through Albach and cross the Kyll River.  Virginia and I pedaled side by side in the middle of a chain of bikers riding no more than two abreast.  There was a nice bike and walking trail running next to the road that made it much easier because we didn’t have to keep looking for vehicles coming up behind us.  This is the same route Virginia and I took to get to our friends house over in Spangdahlem.

We coasted all the way down to the bridge, stopped for a moment to tamp down objects that had shaken loose, and to take some pictures.  Ahead of us was a rather long climb but much more gentle than the hill we had just come down.  The first half of the upward climb we pedaled, but about halfway up we all dismounted and walked.  No reason to tire ourselves out struggling up a hill.

We reached the plateau on top and skirted the town of Metterich and a huge field of plowed ground.  It would have been shorter to go directly across, but we could find no path through the field.  And, being freshly plowed, the farmer would, no doubt, take a dim view of us crossing it.  Once around the field, the road leveled off and pedaling became much easier and allowed us to use higher gears.

In Dudeldorf we paused at the town fountain to renew the wet cloths around our necks and generally rest a moment.  Some German school kids stopped and we chatted for a while with them.  They tried our their textbook English and we spoke our various forms of German – some good, some not so good.  A few pictures were taken of us standing in front of the fountain and such.  Mounting our bikes, we strung out along the road towards another hill down to a small creek.  This one was much easier as we didn’t have to walk at all.

Passing over the brim of the hill on the way up, Spangdahlem Air Base lay before us.  We debated going on base for something to eat and decided we couldn’t take the time to do so.  We passed the turn off for the gate and took the road that curved around the business end of the runway.  As we were just passing the runway overrun, a flight of two F-100’s took off right overhead.  I had never realized just now noisy they were until they were only about two hundred feet above me on full afterburner.  We all took to shouting at one another for five minutes after that until our ears opened up again.

The route through Binsfeld was pretty narrow because the old buildings were sitting with their front doors almost right on the edge of the road.  We slipped into a single file until we got to the center of town.  We stopped when we reached the inn where we were to spend the first night.  It was located off the main street by quite a bit and took us two false tries down side roads to find it.

It was a wonderful old building set next to, or actually a part of, a milling operation for wheat and other grains.  There was a huge garden behind it with rose arbors, patches of colored flowers all around and walkways between them.  To one side was a Biergarten, which the chaperones told us was off limits because they, um, sold beer.  Rats!

Most of us were a little sore from our first day’s travel, but managed to totter around the village and sightsee.  Virginia and I plus two other couples went out together and sought a shop where we could buy some thin gloves.  I had worn a blister on the palm of my hand and didn’t want to make it worse and two others were ready to form one.  One of the others found what we were looking for, but I had to translate for them as they didn’t have a lot of German.  The woman behind the counter thought I was a guide for the Americans and was a bit surprised when she found I was one of ‘them’.

We all met back in the café across the street from the inn and had dinner.  Following a great meal, we trooped over to the inn and sorted ourselves into our various rooms; boys with boys and girls with girls.  We had already sworn amongst ourselves that no hanky and/or panky would be undertaken by anyone – male or female.  This was, after all, going to be a great trip and we just didn’t need any drama in our backpacks.

As I lay down that evening, I wondered just how lucky I was to be sharing a room with two guys that thought belching was a really hilarious pastime.  Amid the blerts, braaps, and impressive beeeeooooops, I finally got to sleep.

T.O.M.