I couldn't leave Europe without a last-minute trip to Germany, where one of my cousins is living. Damon had to stay and work, sadly.
I stayed one night in the village of Baden-Baden, in the western foothills of the Black Forest. Baden means "bath" in German, and the village is known for its springs and bath houses. The Romans enjoyed the baths of Baden centuries ago. Baden-Baden is a very cute town with pedestrianized streets in the city centre. I had dinner in a German tavern and a communal table with some locals, and they told me that Baden-Baden is a very popular vacation destination for Germans as well. Eating traditional spatzle in Germany was quite an experience. Luckily a few people spoke English and could help me with the menu.
Friedrichsbad is the most well-known of the baths, housed in a beautiful, Romanesque building in downtown, so I spent a few hours there on Wednesday morning. This spa truly demonstrated to me how thorough and rigorous Germans are about following rules, having an organized plan. There are 17 stations in the spa, each numbered with four different languages explaining exactly what to do and how long to do it. Taking a shower was amongst the 17 steps about four times -- two minutes per shower. It was military without the enforcement. Very funny.
Around lunchtime, I took a train to Ansbach, near where Troy and his family live. The Baden-Baden train station is located in Oos, outside the village about 15-20 minutes; taxi ride ran me 15 euros. (City buses are available though, and the 205 bus route includes the airport, train station and downtown Baden-Baden. Train travel in Germany, DB Bahn, is just as comfortable and convenient as in France. As previously mentioned, Germans are very organized, so even though you don't speak the language, the train numbers, times, tracks, cars, seats are all clearly displayed and easy to navigate.
I spent two half-days and one full day in Ansbach, located in the region of Bavaria, with Troy's wife, Rachel, and their three daughters: Emmalie, Isabella and Helen. Unfortunately, Troy had to work on Thursday, so all the girls went on a road trip. We stopped first at Langenburg, where we had lunch on the terrace of a cafe (including schnitzel), then walked around the grounds of the castle, where the family of Hohenlohe-Langenburg live today.
Our afternoon was spent in the well-preserved medieval village Rothenburg.
It is a walled city; the architecture was quaint, yet stunning. We took a horse-drawn carriage ride around the cobblestone streets before walking back to the car along a path that runs around the top of the ancient wall of the city.
Before returning to the train station on Friday, I had the chance to watch Emmalie and Isabella perform with their summer theatre group. They'd been working on Greek mythology plays days before I arrived. I then tagged along to the back-to-school barbecue for a few hours, helping Troy running plates of grilled burgers and hotdogs to the buffet table. (He's a chef by trade and volunteered to do all the cooking at the picnic too. He cooked us some great meals each night too.)
The travel Gods sent a strong message on my return day to Ireland: NO MORE TRAVEL. GO HOME. During a hectic train change in Germany, I lost my iPod. My flight was delayed 45 minutes in Karlsruhe-Baden. The security team had a woman with a scale weighing every carry-on bag -- including purses and gift bags -- many people, including me, got turned back for going over the 10 kilo maximum on Ryanair for carry-on baggage. I'd always thought that only included the bag -- not my purse. I should have known the Germans would be following the rules. The flight had the most turbulance I've ever experienced. It lasted at least 45 minutes. My hands and feet were shaking. Luckily, a nice French couple from Alsace were seated next to me, and we talked (some French, some English) to take our mind off the situation. In the end, I actually made my bus -- the last one of the night -- with 10 minutes to spare, even though Ryanair forced me to check my bag (I'd bought a couple heavy gifts.)
It is definitely time to stop traveling and go back to California. :)