After a month in Albania (Phil wrote more about our last towns visited on his blog) we headed to Germany. Our friends Katie and Kirby have been planning a move with their sons to a small town near Frankfurt for quite some time and even when our other summer travel plans were up in the air, we knew we would be visiting them for sure.
Katie is our friend from college. We’ve known her for a long time. She’s a gal, like me, who appreciates good food and experiencing new things. She studied abroad in Australia, later lived in New York City, and then moved to St. Louis a short time after we did in the mid-aughts. In fact she was our only friend from Missouri who came out to stay with Phil and I when we lived in Long Beach.
When we arrived at Katie’s new home (much much later than anticipated due to some hiccups with the trains), we felt at home. It has been a long time since we have stayed in an actual home. We’ve stayed in hotels and rentals but not a home with folks who feel like family. When I say Katie feels like family, it is not an exaggeration. We text or email sporadically, we go years at a time without seeing each other but when I’m at her house I feel no awkardness about scoping out her fridge and pantry or sitting alone, messy haired and bleery eyed, on her couch first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee in my PJ’s.
Phil and I had big plans for our time in Germany. We were going to take the local train to different towns and explore, almost daily. Well, it seems as though our bodies, sensing this whole “family in a home situation”, wanted to hunker down and hibernate despite our plans. We slept in and lounged on the couch and watched their boys play video games. It was delightful.
Even in our hibernation mode, we still managed to take advantage of the area. Rodenbach, the town Katie lives in, is a very cute little place with a church, tasty bakery, ice cream shop, and a number of walking/biking trails. The town is very near the large airforce base, Ramstein, which is both the headquarters for the US Airforces in Europe and NATO’s Allied Air Command. Because of this large US military presence, the population of the area, or at least in Katie’s neighborhood, was about half and half Germans and Americans. This made it very easy for us as we did not have to worry about trying to speak German since almost everyone speaks English. That being said, Germans are known for speaking English pretty well, so airforce base or not, we probably would have been ok.
We walked around Rodenbach, passed several churches, a cemetery, and a cool clock tower. Unfortunately we could not go inside of any of them but snapped some pics of the outside. We had a snack of a couple of savory pastries and a giant, tasty butter cookie from the local bakery.
Another afternoon, following a morning of hardcore couch lounging, we decided to check out one of the nearby trails. We wandered through the town, a park, and even a small putt-putt golf course (complete with attached beer garden. It is Germany after all). The trail took us past a frog fortress (pictured below). We did not see any frogs, which was a bummer but just a little farther down the trail, we came upon the ancient burial mound of a celtic prince (with a creepy entrance) dating back to around the 5th century BC. The small display inside included a sword and a couple of other small objects found in the mound. Atop the mound is a small obelisk.
As we walked further down the trail, we were soon in a lovely wooded area with tall trees. It felt good to be out in nature. With the exception of an older fellow and his dog we passed, it was just the two of us until the trail eventually led us back into town. It was a really nice walk.
One of our days, we went to Little America on the Ramstein base with Katie for a little taste of home. We went to the big mall (basically it is a mall) and the giant American-style grocery store. The aisles were huge! Some highlights of the haul: jalapeno kettle cooked potato chips, velveeta and rotel for queso dip (!), and some bomb-ass peanut butter cookies. The plan was to have lunch at Chili’s but the wait was over an hour and Katie told us that they didn’t have southwest eggrolls there anyway (what?!?), so nbd. We decided it would be better to have a lighter lunch anyway so we could save room for the taco feast Katie was preparing that evening. As you can imagine, I was very excited.
After leaving the base, Katie dropped us off the nearby city of Kaiserslautern (population around 100,000) so we could do some exploring. Our first stop was the Art Museum, Museum Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern, followed by a lunch of schnitzel in a pepper sauce with fries and a beer. I know, I know, not the light lunch we’d discussed but Phil and I split the meal so I didn’t feel like I was spoiling my taco dinner. Plus, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Germany, drink beer and eat schnitzel.
After schnitzel, we walked around a bit, passed a couple of fountains, one of which was very unique looking, and then toured the history museum of Kaiserslautern, the Theodor-Zink Museum. Afterward, we took a stroll through the Kaiserslautern Japenese Gardens and finished the day with a cab ride back to Katie’s and the aforementioned taco feast. It was absolutely delicious. Tacos not pictured because tacos don’t sit still.
The next day, it was time for a ladies trip to the French town of Strasbourg just over the German border. Katie’s eighteen year old niece, Kennedy, and her friend Kody (not a lady but was down to participate) joined us. They arrived in Germany from Arkansas the day after Phil and I did. We planned to visit a large flea market that Strasbourg is famous for. This also happened to be the first time in over two and a half years that Phil and I had more than a few hours apart. He stayed behind with Kirby and the boys for some guy time. We both enjoyed our weekends very, very much.
We left around 8am and after a couple of hours drive to the border, we parked the car with the plans of training it over the border and into Strasbourg. We’d just missed the train so decided to go outside and look for a cab instead. We found the taxi stand but no taxis were present. I asked the french woman in the cafe we were waiting near if a taxi would be coming and she said “yes, maybe ten minutes”. We stood in the hot sun waiting for what seemed like well over ten minutes. It is almost unheard of to wait so long for a taxi right outside of a train station in Europe. They’re usually lined up outside waiting to catch a fare.
I decided to order a beer at the cafe so we could sit down while we waited (I know, I really took one for the team). As we sat, Katie noticed the tram line, which was right across the street from us, that seemed to be heading over the bridge and into Strasbourg. We decided that, of course, would be our best and easiest ride into the city, so we hurriedly gathered our things and headed toward the tram that was just arriving. As we were about to cross the street, we had to stop for the red light. As soon as the light turned green, we made a run for it. The tram driver saw us and appeared to be waiting for us (sweet!) but as soon as we neared the doors, the tram drove on. Dammit! We headed back into the train station and had just enough time to catch the next one into Strasbourg. From there we caught a taxi and finally arrived at our airbnb where we could set down our backpacks and have a cold drink before heading to the flea market.
We had a bit of trouble finding information online about the flea market and it’s location so decided to set out and see what we saw. Near the city center, we did come upon a flea market, mostly vendors selling various clothing items. Not what we’d had in mind (I am happy to report Katie has since since returned to Strausbourg and found the actual, famous flea market, which she stated was glorious) though Kennedy did find a super cute dress for herself.
We decided to stop for some food and we found a cute little spot called Pacific Princess that looked like a cruise ship inside. We sat on the patio and shared a few delicious small plates and a bottle of rosé. While our younger companions didn’t love everything we sampled quite as much as Katie and I did, they did try everything which is great. Your tastes change as you age and tasting different cuisine is a huge part of the traveling experience. So while you may not love everything a paticular country, region, or style of cuisine has to offer, I think it is important to try it and try it more than once because who knows, you might like it or you might eventually like it.
We shared meat and cheese plates, foie gras with currants, a viennese chicken with curry wurst sauce which was basically chicken nuggets with curry sauce (score), fish cakes with a creamy mint sauce and strawberries (oddly delicious), and the star of the show was a dish of smoked gravlax (a scandanavian dish of dry, cured salmon using salt, sugar, and herbs), with a corn imulsion and micro greens. It was smokey and delicious and served in a small, sealed, glass dish with smoke on top that disappated upon opening. It was all super tasty and a delightful experience.
We walked around Strasbourg a bit more after lunch, taking in the pictureeaque town, popping into a small catholic church and taking a few pics, then happening upon a huge cathedral! The cathedral of Notre-Dame Strasbourg is very impressive outside and in with gorgeous stained glass.
The next day we were off the Black Forrest and the town of Baden-Baden. We decided to stop in the small town of Bühl on the way for lunch as we planned to do a bit of a hike through the Black Forrest and figured we needed our energy for the trek. We found a cool little pub, or bierhaus, with dark wooden booths and friendly service. For some reason, the chicken wings on the menu were really calling to me. Well, actually I know the reason, it is because I hate having to choose between a salad or fries. I want salad AND fries and the chicken wings came with both. I know it’s not a particularly German order but sometimes bar food is bar food, right?
I am so happy I ordered the wings because they were the best chicken wings I have ever had. I don’t know if it was a fried then baked situation or twice fried (there was definitely a two-step process at play is all I’m saying) or what but they were delicious. Super crispy and juicy and extremely well seasoned. Katie, who does not particularly care for chicken wings agreed, they were damn good. I washed them down with a Paulaner beer, which is a particular favorite of mine made even better because I was in Germany.
Next stop: The Black Forest! Katie took us to an area she had been before for a lovely hike to a waterfall. The hike was perfect; shaded, even terrain without many hills. I won’t shy away from a sweaty uphill hike but it was nice to take more of a scenic nature walk instead.
After our hike, we drove into the town of Baden-Baden. There is a famous bakery there that makes the famed black forest cake. We walked around a bit and then headed for the bakery. Cafe Koenig has a small shop with many delicious options for baked goods with an attached patio area and a rather fancy-looking restaurant inside. Lucky for us, it wasn’t too busy and we snagged a spot on the patio. Katie had been there before and tried the black forest cake so opted for an ice creamy-coffee drink instead. Kody and Kennedy both said they were still full from lunch and just ordered water. “What does being full have to do with anything?” was my reply. I was in the Black Forrest and dammit, I was going to eat Black Forrest cake.
The cake was not what I expected. Black Forrest cake in the midwest is basically chocolate cake with cherry pie filling on top. The real deal consists of several layers of sponge cake and cream, one of which contains a boozy, liqueur component, cherries of course, with a cookie-like bottom crust. I wouldn’t say I loved it, though It did grow on me with each bite and I ate the entire piece, so it was pretty good.
We headed back to Katie’s after leaving Baden-Baden and Phil and I packed for our departure the next day. We were heading to Frankfurt in order to catch a very early flight to Budapest the following morning. We ended our last night in Rodenbach with nachos made with the leftovers from taco night. It was the perfect ending to a lovely visit.