Thursday 30 May 2024

Rainy Week

It rained every day last week. That didn't make it easy to fit in walks and other outdoors activities, but I still managed not to remain stuck at home or at the office all the time.

Monday (20 May) was a holiday in Germany (Pentecost Monday), and I was still at O.K.'s. It was exactly the kind of day I love, from beginning to end.

We packed our rucksacks with sandwiches and water bottles, donned our hiking boots and walked straight from the cottage at about 11:30 with a more or less clearly formed idea of where we wanted to go.

The first stop was Nächstenbach, just outside the neighbouring village of Zunsweier. A parking lot there has an information board with suggested walking routes as well as a set of sign posts. On that day, the annual Brunnenfest ("fountain's fête") was held on a nearby crossing: benches and tables were set up, and one could buy food and drinks from a row of counters. There was even an icecream van parked in one corner. A number of people were already there, but (surprisingly) nobody we knew. Anyway, we had only just started on our walk, and so we stopped briefly just for a small shandy each.

On we went into the woods, following the signs for what used to be a tiny settlement of 19 buildings that had sprung up in the 19th century near a mine where ore had been found, in the middle of the woods. The mine was given up long ago and the houses left to crumble, until nowadays nothing more than a few low walls and bumps in the ground remain. One of the entrances to the mine is still there, but closed.

entrance to the former mine

We stopped at a clearing with benches to eat our sandwiches before continuing on to the village of Diersburg.
My view from where we sat down to have our sandwiches
It's been a few years since we'd last visited the ruins of the castle there, and we had a good look round - quickly done, as it is rather small.
 View across Diersburg

(partly?) abandoned farm on the outskirts of Diersburg

On the way back to O.K.'s village, a little rain fell; not enough to make us wet through but enough to make us glad that we were close to home. By the time we reached the cottage (with 20 km under our feet), the rain had stopped, and we could sit outside with O.K.'s Mum for a sundowner. 
Later, O.K. roasted green asparagus for us and served it with spaghetti and different types of pesto - delicious!

I took my usual Monday-morning-trains on Tuesday (21 May) back home; they were on time so that I was able to start work as expected. After work, my sister and I went for a walk.

My office day on Wednesday (22 May) was uneventful until it was time to go home: Trains stopped in Zuffenhausen and didn't continue to Ludwigsburg. Fortunately, after we'd had torrential rainfall mid-afternoon, the sun came out; also, I was wearing comfortable shoes. And so, although I had not planned on walking home, that's what I ended up doing, taking in the cemetery along the way where I visited my Dad's and friend R's graves.

For Thursday (23 May) after work, my Mum, her friend and I had actually planned to meet at the "Wine After Work" event by the lake (maybe you remember it from last summer), but it was threatening to rain (on and off) and was windy, making it feel colder than it was. Instead, we met at Mum's friend's; she has a kind of self-built conservatory off her flat leading onto a beautiful garden with many flowers out this time of year. We shared a bottle of sparkling wine and my Mum's home-baked cheese crackers - delicious!

More rain followed nearly all day on Friday (24 May). After work, it was cleaning, shopping and washing - the usual. A little after 9:00 pm, O.K. arrived, and we had a meal of bruschetta with a salad of baby spinach leaves, yellow pepper and feta cheese.

Saturday (25 May) would have been my Opa's 110th birthday. My sister, O.K. and I met at my Mum's for pizza and wine in the evening. For breakfast, O.K. and I had spontaneously decided to go to "Bubbles", a favourite café of ours in the middle of town, where we were joined by my sister.

We spent the afternoon of Sunday (26 May) again with my sister, this time at her allotment. The garden really is very beautiful, and an oasis of wildlife, peace and quiet (provided the noisy neighbours aren't there). I brought Tabouleh which I had prepared the day before, and grilled slices of Zucchini which I had made before breakfast that morning. My sister provided most of the drinks as well as plates etc., and of course the entire "venue".
When the first rain drops started to fall, O.K. and I went home. We had a small dinner (not much appetite left after what we'd been eating during the afternoon), and a little after 8:00 pm, he drove home. The rain had stopped by then, and there was still well over an hour of daylight left, which made me decide for an hour's walk around Osterholz, the small wooded area between Ludwigsburg and Asperg.

I was glad to have gotten so much walking time in - the following week, a working trip to Berlin would mean spending my days mostly sitting on trains and in conference rooms.

Friday 24 May 2024

Back to Work

Returning to work after a week or two (like in this case) usually has me start full of energy - only to feel quite exhausted by the end of the week. While I had two good after-work walks, a family BBQ on Saturday and a walk around the village with O.K. on Sunday, thunderstorms with extremely heavy rainfall caused total chaos for public transport and made for a very long journey on Friday evening.

Monday (13 May) was a mix of rain, sun, and rain again. Because there had been a Bank Holiday the previous week on Thursday, and many people took the Friday off as well, most of my customers and colleagues had not been as busy as usual. That meant there were less emails I had to deal with on my first day back than usual, and I managed to finish work at 5:00 pm.

I put out a few items from my cellar to be collected by the bin men and then went to walk for nearly two hours on the fields. 

A wonderful sunny day, pleasantly warm at 25C/77F, followed on Tuesday (14 May). After a good day working from home, I set off for my standard walk to Benningen. I have various options to get there, and meant to use one of the variations only to find that this particular path was blocked for construction work. It meant I had to go on a roundabout way, adding about 20 minutes to the normal duration of my Benningen walk. But it also meant I found a path I have never walked before, which made it all worthwile and interesting.

Wednesday (15 May) was my usual Office Day. It was mild but windy and rainy after a sunny morning. At 6:00 pm, my sister and I met at our Mum's; she made a delicious cheese quiche for the three of us.

No walk was possible on Thursday (16 May), because after work I met with my volunteer group. We managed to hold our meeting outdoors at the former industrial site (you've seen it a few times on my blog) next to the station, which had opened for the season that same afternoon. Drinks at the outdoor bar have become rather expensive, but the food truck (which will only be there occasionally) served big portions of freshly cooked food at a good price, such as a large bowl of rosemary spuds with cream cheese and chives for 5 €.

Not long after we had all gone home, a thunderstorm began, and it kept raining all night.

On Friday (17 May), I shifted my usual train journey to Offenburg forward by an hour or so, as I was sure there were going to be delays due to more passengers than normally (Pentecost Monday was a holiday, and schools were to close for the next two weeks). I was right in that there WERE delays, but not quite the way I had anticipated!

Already 10 minutes after the train left Ludwigsburg, we stopped somewhere out on the fields between Ludwigsburg and Bietigheim because of a problem with a signal box. We got going again after about 30 minutes - that in itself would not have caused too much trouble for me. But once I arrived in Karlsruhe, still considering myself lucky because I managed to catch my connection (only because that train was delayed as well), the chaos started: We were told the train couldn't leave yet and we had to wait in Karlsruhe for 15 minutes... then for 20... then for 30... 

No useful information was forthcoming via the loudspeakers or from staff, and the Navigator app came up with inconclusive and inconsistent information as well. Eventually, I made my way to a regional train that was supposed to get me to Offenburg, only to learn that it was ending in Rastatt (again, no reason was given). Right, Rastatt was closer to my destination than Karlsruhe, so I boarded that train - along with about 8 million other people (that's what it felt like).

We slowly trundled to Rastatt, where we all had to get off the train. By this time, the station building was closed, and we were all out in the rain, huddling under what little shelter there was. Information? Zero!

At some stage, a bus turned up, offering a ride to Baden-Baden - another step nearer my destination. Again, everyone squeezed in (we were all wet by then, so you can imagine the "steamy" atmosphere in the overcrowded bus), and we finally arrived in Baden-Baden. It was getting later and later, but at least the station building was open so that we could get out of the rain. But shops? Cafés? Toilets? Taxis? Closed, or not available.

At around 10:00 pm, a man from the city's fire department and a lady from who knows what city department turned up with a megaphone. They informed us that they were now going to organise buses for the stranded passengers as well as handing out free water bottles. I still had water in my own bottle - during the past 5 hours, I had hardly dared to drink anything since I had no reliable access to a toilet. But knowing that all this organising would take at least another hour, I finally arranged for O.K. to pick me up. It took him about half an hour to get there, and we took along three other stranded passengers who needed to get to Offenburg.

By 11:00 pm, O.K. and I were finally at his cottage and settled down for a very late supper. Phew!

(I later learned that it had taken until midnight for the first buses to be ready in Baden-Baden. It was all due to a railway control center there having been flooded after the heavy rain.)

Saturday (May 18) was a much more relaxed day. A sunny morning was followed by a shower, then the sun came out for another bit before it started to rain again.

We did some jobs in and around the cottage and then I needed a rest; a headache had begun to form, and it didn't go away, not even after our evening meal of spaghetti with different types of pesto. By 10:30, I was ready for bed, hoping to sleep off the headache (which was not really successful).

There was no rain on Sunday (May 19), but it was windy and looked too unsettled for us to embark on a longer walk. Instead, we remained in the vicinity of the village and later met with the family on O.K.'s Mum's patio for coffee and delicious rhubarb cake (with probably the last rhubarb of this season from the allotment) and then a BBQ, which was very nice in spite of my headache never really going away and me being rather tired. 

Spot the lizard! It was a good day for them.

The parent stork didn't do me the favour to look up, he or she was too busy looking after the little ones - I hope they have survived the heavy rains; it is not unusual for baby birds to drown in their nests or die of cold when it rains all the time and they haven't got a chance to dry.
This nest is one of at least three in the village.

I blame the exhausting journey on Friday - instead of two, it took almost six hours, and I was constantly on alert as to what was going to happen next, and what alternatives I had.

[Two of the dates in this post were wrong - now corrected.]

Thursday 23 May 2024

Returning Home

Our stay at the hotel in Bärental was over on Saturday, 11 May. We left after breakfast, and the drive to Ludwigsburg took almost exactly 2 hours - no hold-ups, no accidents, just a general observing of ruthless and inconsiderate driving on the motorway. (My Mum sometimes says she knows no group of people showing less solidarity with each other than car drivers.)

It was a lovely day, sunny and warm at 25C/77F. I unpacked quickly, started the washing machine, and we were off into town. We didn't have lunch - but the huge ice creams we had more than made up for it; they were much bigger than expected and really too much, actually.

Back home, a quick trip to Aldi followed to stock up on groceries, and at 6:00 pm, we were at my Mum's. The four of us (my sister was there, too) enjoyed a delicious salad of Asian noodles and bits of green asparagus in the evening sun on the balcony. Of course we had been sending brief messages and a few photos every day during our time away, but now we could give a full report.

At around 9:30 pm, O.K. left for home - Like me, he needed the Sunday to get ready for the return to work.

On Sunday (12 May) sad news reached us: My uncle had died the previous evening. Maybe you remember that my aunt (one of my Dad's sisters) had died in March, and my sister went to see the family in the south of France over Easter. On her return, she had said that my uncle was rather weak; he was in his mid-80s, and not long before my aunt died, he had been diagnosed with liver cancer and decided not to undergo therapy.

He was the fifth person in my circle of friends and family to have died this year, and it is only May. All of them were elderly and ill, but that doesn't mean we're not sad - my sister and I knew our aunt and uncle almost since the day we were born, and our families spent much time together when our parents were young and us five cousins were kids.

It was another sunny day, and around 1:00 pm, I arrived at my sister's allotment where we spent the afternoon together, doing a lot of reminiscing.

Sunset is now well after 9:00, which gave me the opportunity for a good long walk in the evening (to Benningen). As always, I found that most helpful for handling my emotions.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Last But Not Least

The last day (Friday, 10 May) of our week in the High Black Forest area of Feldberg saw us climbing the very mountain that gives the surrounding communities its name. Almost two years to the day, on 11 May 2022, we had walked the Feldberg-Steig (a circuit taking in the summit, a few huts and a lake) for the first time. You can find my post about that day here.

Of course, as responsible nature lovers, we left the car in the hotel's car park and took the bus - but it was so packed that we were among the last passengers to be allowed on board. At the next bus stop, nobody got off, and so the four or so people who wanted to get on had to either wait an hour for the next bus, walk, take their own car (something that is actively discouraged by the authorities) or give up on their plan for the day altogether.

It was the warmest and sunniest day of our stay here, and hardly surprising, Feldberg was BUSY. Families with prams, dogs and children, cyclists - as the saying goes, the world and his wife were there. Still, as is so often the case with popular spots, as soon as you get away from the areas with shops and cafés that are easily accessible, the crowds thin out a bit.
We were never far from other walkers, but it was considerably quieter and rather pleasant after the summit.

View from the top of Feldsee, the lake below the summit.

Bismarck monument

Off towards the actual summit (a flat expanse, not a rocky top like many other mountains)

Blue gentian is rare - it grows only at a certain height.

A few patches of snow had survived in shadowy places, but that warm day certainly was their last one.

Feldsee, the lake you saw in the third picture of this post.

It is steeply uphill from the lake back to where the bus stops, cafés, shops etc. are.

Twice we stopped for shandies and then took the bus back to our hotel.

And like the day before, we went to look at the sunset over Feldberg after dinner; our way to say good-bye to this beautiful part of the world.