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The Black Forest High Road
Our checkout date from the Gemünd timeshare in Germany was on January 5th. However, our long-term house in Crest, France would not be available to us again until January 7th. This left us with two days to get from the west of Germany back to the south of France, and two nights to figure out where to sleep.
For the first time since Australia, we set out on January 5th with no set route or itinerary, and no reservations for the night. We decided to stay in Germany as long as possible for two reasons. First, it would be our last time in Germany for awhile. Second, German autobahns are free, while French autoroutes charge a péage (toll).
We navigated back through Darmstadt, where we visited Heppenheim and Linnenbach, two small towns that may have a connection to Gail's ancestors, but unfortunately we were unable to locate any Halls of Records or cemeteries. We then proceeded down the western border of Germany, along the Rhine River that separates Germany from France. By the middle of the day we had reached Baden Baden, and we decided to stop here for the night. Luckily, the Tourist Information Office had both a wonderful hotel reservation service and a hostess who speaks English. She found us a "family accommodation" at the Landgasthof Hirsch in the nearby suburb of Geroldsau.
Baden Baden, at the northern entrance to Germany's schwardsvald ("Black Forest"), is world-renowned among the rich and famous for its hot springs and spas. Because "bad" means "bath" in German, we figure the name translates literally as "baths baths." You can subject yourself to a day-long program of bath, massage, and sauna at the 19th-century Friedrichsbad, where no clothes are allowed (the newer Caracalla-Therme does allow bathing suits). Unfortunately, we are traveling on the "budget world trippers program," so such extravagances were off-limits to us. Baden Baden's other main tourist attraction is the Kurhaus Casino, so all in all we didn't spend much time here.
The Landgasthof Hirsch, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoyable. This was our first experience at a gasthof ("guest house"), the German equivalent of a Bed & Breakfast. The proprietress did not speak English but she did speak French, and we ended up in a large single room with a double, two twins, and a half-wall between us and the children. Geroldsau has the largest city forest in Germany ("hirsch" means "deer"), and for dinner that night the adults shared a magnificent two-person meal of Bunte Wildplatte "art des hauses," which included a sampling of all of the regional game dishes. This was the first restaurant dinner we had eaten since Lyon (not counting the Pizza Hut in Darmstadt), and it was excellent (Gail fell in love with the potato noodles). The game hunters themselves were holding a banquet in the next room -- with their guns and dogs -- while we ate. The next morning, Sunday, we awoke to the warm and comforting sound of church bells ringing through the air (although unfortunately they sounded every 15 minutes beginning at 7:00 am).
Dinner at the Landgasthof Hirsch
On January 6th, we took advantage of our location and spent the morning driving along the schwarzwaldhochstraße, the Black Forest High Road, from Baden Baden to Freudenstadt. Although the forest is much less black and much less dense than it was hundreds of years ago, the view from the summit was extraordinary -- endless rolling valleys covered in fog and mist. There were dozens of pullouts and lodges on the sides of the road where people skied both downhill and cross-country. We stopped at Mummelsee, site of the Black Forest's highest lake, where water sprites supposedly dwell. Unfortunately the lake itself was frozen over and covered with snow, but the boys had a wonderful time playing in the snow.
The view from the summit of the hochstraße
From Freudenstadt, we continued further south to Freiburg at the southern end of the Black Forest. Here, we descended into the mist and fog that we had seen from the summit, and everything -- the road, trees, and sky -- became an unearthly gray. We tried stopping at the Erlebnispark Dorotheenhütte Glashütte in Wolfach, where you can blow your own glass, but it was closed on Sunday (even though the brochure said that it was open every day).
We finally emerged from the Black Forest at Offenburg (several wrong turns away from our goal of Freiburg) and crossed from Germany into France at Basel (several more wrong turns away from our goal of Mulhouse). Because of our multiple navigation difficulties, we had only reached Besançon in central France by the middle of the afternoon, but the boys were getting car happy and beginning to climb the walls.
France's autoroutes are full of aires (rest stops) that feature everything from gas stations to restaurants to hotels right along the side of the road. We called it a day at the Aire de Besançon Champoux just short of Besançon, checked into the Hotel Ibis (two adjoining rooms with a connecting door), and ate dinner at the onsite cafeteria (a rather jarring change from the night before).
The cold and gray were still with us on January 7th, so we got an early start and spent the entire day driving. After a stop in Lyon, we arrived back in the house in Crest by mid-afternoon. The unheated house was even colder than it was when we had first arrived in November, and we spent the rest of the day huddled around inert in hopes of preserving body heat.
We did, however, make sure that we celebrated the Galette des Rois, a traditional French celebration that marks the end of Christmas festivities (Cameron and Joss have done this every year in French school -- this is the first time they've actually been able to celebrate it in France). While Gail cut the franzipan galette (literally "round flat pebble," the shape of the cake), Joss hid under the table and decided who would get each piece. After an extra round of musical cake plates, Russell ended up with the piece that contained the prized statue, and he was crowned king for the day (naturally, he named Gail as his queen).
The Galette des Rois: the "domine" (master) cuts the galette, and the youngest decides who gets what
The galette marked both the end of our holiday season and our return to France -- our home away from home. We are here in Crest until the end of January, when we will pack up everything for the first time in months and hit the road again. But in the meantime, we are looking forward to our first visit from home -- Russell's sister and her husband -- in just a few days.
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