Sunday, July 31, 2005


Ten years ago today - To grandmother's house we go

Another post pilfered from my scribbled travel diary from 1995. Part of the reason I went on this trip was to see my Grandmother's homeland. When I was a little girl, she would tell the stories of growing up in her family's vineyard with her 10 brothers and sisters. She would talk about how the workers would sing as they picked the grapes, and the song would float down the Mosel River. And she talked about the great sundial carved into the rock. She died when I was 18, and I still miss her. On this day, the day before I turned 26 years old, I finally made it to her tiny home town.

9:05 am, 31 July 1995
Koblenz HBF

So I'm here at the Koblenz hauptbanhauf (station), waiting for a train to take me to Wittlich, which is actually past Bernkastel-Kues, so I can take a bus back to B-K. A convoluted way to do it, but there is no train station in B-K and no bus from here to there.

Last night ended up being the best night! After dinner, I was sitting in the fortress courtyard enjoying the view and wondering if 7 pm was too early for bedtime when I started chatting with this crazy Australian guy named Tom and his friend from L.A., Peter. We sat around shooting the shit for a while, and another Australian girl named Veronique joined us. We went over to the patio for a beer, and played euchre until it was too dark to see (considering the sun goes down quite late here, I'm sure it was 11 pm or later by the time we quit.)

It was great, just like it was supposed to be! They even teased me about saying "eh" a lot. Veronique has been traveling by herself for some time now, and completely reassured me about traveling alone, even through Italy.

Tom was the ultimate Aussie backpaker - irreverent, bold, looking for a good time. For dinner, he hauled a HUGE box of corn flakes out of his pack, and some milk he had filched from the hostel and ate it out of a tin camping pack. Imagine a surfer-boy version of Crocodile Dundee.

The train is moving now. I'm going backwards. I can see quaint German towns hurtling past me. I'm going to stare aimlessly out the window for a while...

10:39 am, same day
Wittlich, Germany

What a beautiful train ride. From Koblenz to Cochem (about 40 minutes) the train tracks follow along the winding Mosel river, past tiny medieval villages, huge fortresses and of course, scores of vineyards. Between Cochem and Wittlich (about 15 minutes) the train pulls away from the Mosel to go overland but we go through several long tunnels through the mountains. Breathtaking! I spent the first 45 minutes of the ride standing in the aisle (even though I had a seat) just so I could look out the open window onto the Mosel valley. Absolutely heavenly. Now I've got 45 minutes to kill until the bus to Bernkastel-Kues. I thought about renting a bike and riding into B-K, but this is a tiny blip on the map town and they don't seem to have a commercial-area-cum-downtown, let alone tourist info or bike rentals.

6:45 pm, same day
at the edge of the Mosel river

This is the most beautiful, tranquil, peaceful place! I'm sitting on a little stone ramp less than a foot from the Mosel. There is only a bike path behind me and it's so quiet and so wonderful!

Today was a good day. I scoped out Bernkastel-Kues (two linked towns on either side of the Mosel) and got myself a nice room for the night in Kues. Bernkastel is really something to see - I wasn't expecting it to be so, so medieval. I sat for a while in a courtyard trying to translate a sign with my German-English dictionary. It said generally that Bernkastel received town status in the 1300s, something indecipherable in German, rebuilt in the 18th century. The streets go every which way and are so narrow and unpredictable that they make Amsterdam look like Ottawa.

After I got myself a room, I dropped off my pack and set off on foot for Wehlen. Vince had said it was only two kms (ed. note: Vince is a relative of my Grandmother's who contacted my dad out of the blue and completely by coincidence in the months preceeding my trip to ask some questions about genealogical research he was doing. He happened to live in Ottawa, and gave me a lot of information about the Keifer family and Wehlen, the town where my Grandma grew up.) It was godawful hot again today, though, and just as I reached the edge of Kues, I found a gas station with bicycles for rent. So, for 10 DM I rented myself a bike for the afternoon and set off for Wehlen.

It was a nice ride down the highway (and I use that term loosely) of only 15 mins or so. Finally, I found myself in Wehlen. It's just a tiny little village, but it's SO beautiful. I rode around the streets for a while, wondering how much it had changed since Grandma's childhood and wondering where she lived. I stopped by Juippe Keifer's Sonnenuhr Weingut (Sundial Vineyard) but no-one was there. Finally, I rode down to the river to get a better look at the Sonnenuhr.

I had seen it from town, but there is a great bike bath that skirts along the river's edge, with some benches directly across from the sundial. I sat there for the longest time. It was such an interesting experience to finally BE there, looking at the sundial and the vineyards, almost listening for Grandma's workers and their songs. I was glad I came. I felt a little bit more connected to my own personal history.

After puttering around Wehlen for a bit, I followed the riverside path back to Bernkastel-Kues. What a beautiful ride! There were wild raspberries growing everywhere along the path. But it was so SO hot! I was seriously considering going for a dip in the Mosel (I had already washed my face and hands in it in front of the sundial.)

After returning the bike, I was wandering along the path back to Kues when wonder of wonders, I heard that most distinctive sound of children laughing, and shouting... lots of children... and was that -- the smell of -- chlorine?? In the air?? I had stumbled across, on this hotter than hades day, a public park with two huge swimming pools. So I hurried back to my pension and grabbed my 'kini and my towel and spend the best 3 DM of the trip so far (except for the phone calls home).

That was 1/2 hour ago, and I walked a little ways further toward Kues when I fond this little spot. Twice while writting this I've had to quickly move to higher ground to avoid the waves from the wake of a tourist ferry and river barge. Now I'm off to find some tasty German dinner. Bratwurst - mmmmm!!!

(Ed. note: My trip was just before the arrival of the Internet, and I never thought to try it before, but look! I found the sonnenuhr on Google! God bless the Web.)