Day 7: Epic Day Trip to France and the Black Forest

We woke up a little more sluggishly than normal and went down for breakfast, intending on checking out of the hotel and moving on (the Brits had suggested Heidelberg, which sounded intriguing).  However, the hotel operator was less than keen about our change of plans, telling us we could check out but we would owe him for all three nights we had booked.  It sounded non-negotiable, and I couldn’t blame him, so we told him we would stay.

A little bummed out, we got in the car with the plan of driving to Strasbourg, France, and the Black Forest.  Strasbourg, France, you say?  Why?  Well, let me tell you:  earlier in the trip (Bonn, I do believe) we had been watching a travel program in German.  We couldn’t understand a word but the pictures were nice.  The show was profiling a town that looked beautiful and had a little canal system running through it, and we decided it looked like a lovely place to visit and we should get there “sometime.”  During the show, Jimmy thought he had discerned them saying “Strasbourg” so we looked it up while at an internet café a few days later.  Wouldn’t you know, it was located “near” where we were!  By that, I mean not like the next town over, or anything, but certainly closer in proximity to where we were in Germany versus where we live in Chicago.  So yes, it was quite a hike but we didn’t want to stay in the Rhine region.  We’d had our fill of castles.

About two hours later (and after stopping by a gas station for gas and a potty break that had an amazing bathroom that self-cleaned the toilets after each use.  Hand dryers and toilets never cease to amaze), we made it to Strasbourg with Gretel’s expertise.  We happened into the main parking garage in the center of town and set out.

Something to note first:  it was hotter than Hades and I was in jeans.  Unpleasant?  Yes.

Strasbourg, where pigeons eat like kings

We followed the signs to the giant cathedral, called Notre Dame (naturally, as Strasbourg is called Petit Paris) and found the TI (a good rule of thumb is it’ll be near a big cathedral).  We got our maps (paid €1 for a good one) and went into the cathedral.  It was huge, as to be expected.  Once we’d appropriately eyeballed that, we were on our way to find the specific area with the canals called Petit Paris.  But first things first:  I HAD to go back to the car to change into Capri pants – the jeans were stifling.

Once I made the quick change in the parking garage, I was a happy camper.  It turned out to be a good thing I changed, too, as not only did the temps break 90 that day but we got a little lost trying to find Petit Paris and ended up walking around for a good 45 minutes outside longer than we had to.  Um, lesson learned:  if you start to see freeway signs you’ve gone too far.  Way too far.  We finally found the Petit Paris, took some pictures, poked around some shops, and were getting pretty hungry so we headed back toward the cathedral in search of a sandwich lunch.  Nothing was all that appealing (could have been the heat), so when we saw the grocery store we decided to stop in to get a picnic style lunch.  It was a fabulous value, a sandwich to split (chicken salad), chipsies, a large water, and a Diet Coke, all for under €5.

We took it outside, found a good ledge to sit on, and proceeded to dive in.  All was going well, until… a rather small pigeon took an emu-sized dump on Jimmy.  It was horrible.  Somehow that pigeon not only hit Jimmy’s arm *splat* in the middle, but the force and quantity splayed out all over the place – on his shorts, the backpack, everywhere.  Miraculously, I managed to get away relatively unscathed, but was now feeling significantly less hungry than before.  Eating ceased while Jimmy did his best to clean up, which involved several napkins, a hosing down from a water main, and lots of Purell.  Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy about this situation.  We moved spots to finish our lunch, lest the bird reload with another 7-course French meal, finding a semi-shady bench in a square nearby.  After we finished eating (although I pretty much stopped once the bomb went off), we went off to find a bathroom where he could do a thorough scrubbing.

Our first stop in a McDonalds was a bust (no public restrooms), so we wound up at a department store (where we also asked the information lady to see if there was a Jack Wolfskin store nearby.  She wasn’t much help, but couldn’t help herself – she was French, after all).  We immediately found the men’s room on the first floor, and decided in the interest of saving time I would go off to the ladies room and we would meet again downstairs by the front door.  Jimmy disappeared into the men’s room and I set off.  First, I walked around the first floor but found nothing.  A quick reference to the directory indicated there was one on the second floor, so up I went but could not find it.  So I asked a salesgirl (in my most polite, bestest French) and she pointed to the third floor.  I dutifully went up yet another level, walking around every square inch of Level Three.  Nothing.  So I asked again (still in my bestest French) and was told it was on the second floor.  Feeling a bit frustrated, I went back down to the second floor, and was told by someone else it was vaguely “that way,” which it clearly wasn’t.  Since it had been a great deal of time at this point since I’d left Jimmy, I dejectedly went downstairs, still needing to pee but a little upset and on the brink of tears.  Why do some people have to be so mean and unhelpful?  I mean, I had used my politest manners and best accent, after all.  I’d pulled out all the stops for this one.

I found Jimmy and told him I had to get out of there.  So we went back to the TI, found out where a different bathroom was, and used the public toilet.  I’m sure it was a lot nicer than the department store, anyway.  After all this, we just wanted to get out of Strasbourg, as we’d had our fill again of France.  So off in the car we went, on our way to Baden-Baden via a drive through the Black Forest.

Once safely back across the Rhine and into Germany, I began to feel better about the day, especially the part about leaving France.  As we neared the Black Forest, the scenery got significantly better (even though it was pretty to begin with) and the temperature dropped a few degrees.

We had decided to do part of the scenic Black Forest drive as listed in our guidebook, and to get there we had to drive through a town called Offenburg.  This town struck a bell with Jimmy, as he’d researched where the Heckler & Koch (H&K) factory was before we’d left and he remembered it was “located somewhere southwest of Stuttgart and the town in which it was located started with an ‘O’”.  So we swung through town, unable to find anything.  We parked the car near the TI, and Jimmy set off to find out where the factory might be.  He wandered into the local police station, where he found possibly the nicest policeman in the world.  The policeman quickly offered to look it up on the internet, and found it wasn’t in Offenburg, but instead was in a town called Oberndorf, which was about 40 km away.  Then, he offered to CALL the H&K factory to see if we could get in for some sort of tour, and waited patiently while he was transferred to three different people (each time explaining why he was calling), only to find out factory tours were limited to police officers and others with “official designations.”  As our “official designation” was limited to only being gawking tourists, we didn’t comply with the rules so were unable to take a tour.  But it was sure nice of that policeman to do all that digging.

Lighthearted and full of German hospitality, we were back on the road to continue our Black Forest drive.  We

A couple of lumberjacks in the Black Forest

found ourselves going through some of the most stunning scenery yet – through the dense, dark forest.  I mean, this forest was dense.  You walk 10 feet into it and no daylight was getting in, hence the word “Black.”  We stopped a few times for pictures and drove along one of the ridges of the big hills that afforded us expansive vistas of the far-reaching breadth of this forest.  Eventually, we drove into Baden-Baden, a German spa resort town famous for their baths, where we wanted to stop for dinner.

Parking proved slightly less difficult than learning to speak Chinese, as we first found a spot but were unsure of 1) whether it was nearby anything we wanted to see, and 2) whether the parking sign in German said it was ok to park there or if it was a towing zone after a certain time.  Not willing to chance it, we pulled away in search of the next spot.  For not being a particularly large town, Baden-Baden was not without its driving challenges.  First, they had a huge, long tunnel going the length of the city that we kept winding up in, with no chance to exit for several kilometers.  And every time we emerged we were more uncertain of where we were, so back into the tunnel we went.  After about 45 minutes of Jimmy slinging it through town (there were times I couldn’t speak from laughing so hard), we eventually found the casino (which we were certain was near the main sights) and found a parking spot with the same suspicious sign in German as the first time we stopped all that time ago.  This time I wasn’t about to be daunted, so I asked a girl nearby what it meant.  Turns out it means you have to pay to park until 19:00, after that it is free.  Oh, and this spot was only a few blocks from the first spot we found with the same sign.

At this point we were feeling fairly familiar with Baden-Baden, having just driven around it for just about forever, so we easily found the casino (unimpressive from the outside, probably cool on the inside, but we weren’t dressed appropriately to be allowed entry), then wandered down the main pedestrian zone.

Baden-Baden looks like an upscale kind of town, one where we could have spent more time than just the few hours we had.  As most of the stores were closing and we were hungry, we selected a restaurant called Wall Street and plopped down at a table in the shade next to a little river running through the area.  It was lovely, and the cold beer/water tasted good.  So did the tomato/cheese wrap I got and Jimmy enjoyed his club sandwich.

Even though it was getting later and we had to drive back to Bacharach, there was one more thing in Baden-Baden we wanted to check out:  the funicular ride to the top of a hill that overlooks town.  After a little ado, we got on the correct road up the hill to the base of the funicular, and after gleefully seeing the funicular was still open, we purchased tickets in the automatic ticket machine and piled into it.  We were the only ones there.

We sat in the funicular for a while, waiting for it to go.  After about 10 minutes, we decided it must go every 15 minutes, but 15 minutes came and went.  Then we thought it would roll after 30 minutes, so we patiently sat, still the only ones in the car.  The entire time, I had seen the reflection of a signboard written only in German that said something like “drücken” and “abfahrt.”  Not understanding it, I ignored it but continued to see it flashing in red.  After about 20 minutes, Jimmy was reading off a variety of words from inside the funicular car, one of them being “abfahrt.”  Wait, Abfahrt?  Why, that was one of the words blinking in red on the sign!  And then it occurred to me that I knew what drücken meant, as I’d seen it on many a door – it means PUSH.  Speaking slowly like Seasame Street when they are teaching a new word, we said P-U-S-H A-B-F-A-H-R-T.  Lo and behold, we pushed the abfahrt button that was on the door and almost immediately, the doors to the funicular closed and up we went.  Who knows how long we would have been sitting there if we hadn’t put our heads together.

Our reward for passing Funicular Driver’s Ed

At the top, and still reigning supreme from our minor German language victory, we surveyed the entire town of Baden-Baden.  Then, just like experts we operated the funicular down to the bottom.  Add Funicular Driver to our (short but growing) list of expertise.

As it was getting late and the sun was quickly disappearing, we needed to get back into the car and head back to Bacharach.  It was about a 2 ½ hour drive with a quick stop for gas, a burger at McDonalds, and a slight detour off the autobahn to get back to the Rhine.  We arrived back after midnight.  It had been quite a day.

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