Hello from the lovely town of Passau, Germany at the confluence of three rivers which define the borders of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
We’ve been slacking on the blogging front, time just seems to be flying by. Since our last post we travelled from Worth am Rhein to Strasbourg, France to Munich and through Bavaria, which is a province of the SW of the Deutschland.
From our last blog, the morning after our German Thanksgiving dinner, Bernard and Heidi piled us in their Mercedes and took us for a wine and cultural tour of the area. They treated us to a bottle of wine, chocolates, a delicious lunch and then cycled 20 km with us to the French boarder. From there we bid farewell to our German mother and headed another 70km south along the Rhein to Strasbourg, where we spent the next two nights with the wonderful Josef and company.
Strasbourg was a wonderful city and we quickly came to realize why it is the one of the two capitals of the European Union (the other is Brussels). Strasbourg is in the Alsace province, very close to the German border and has thus switched between German and French rule several times. This change in ownership is evident throughout the architecture and current culture. However, our experience felt very French! Since our dear friend Yuval went to school in Strasbourg last year, he was able to find us excellent people to stay with. Josef introduced us to many of his wonderful friends (all students, and most native to Strasbourg), as well as lots of delicious food and played host to a lively European political discussion. Josef’s girlfriend Elsa gave us a fantastic insider’s tour of the city in the afternoon.
We could have spent a year in Strasbourg, but from our short stay there we discovered some truly wonderful things. One of the major highlights for us was the gothic Cathedral in the city center. This was by far the most elaborate religious building we have ever seen, with thousands of stone carvings on the exterior and exceptionally decorative stained glass (some of the oldest in the world). The organ was enormous and the pulpit and altar were breathtaking. The Cathedral was the tallest building in the world during the 17th and 18th century and is still sixth tallest church in the world. The construction took about 400 years; however most locals will still consider it incomplete as it only has one spire, while all others in its style have two.
Another thing worth mentioning about the city was how fantastically friendly everyone was. Before we had even reached Josef’s home we had spontaneous conversation with four locals on separate occasions. We also loved that everyone spoke French (in France, shocking!), giving us the chance to practice the language we have remnants of from public school.
After Strasbourg we boarded our first European train. Yuval had been working on a project in Sweden and was heading home to Canada, but had a week to meet up with us in Munich. The three of us stayed with MOC alumni Tobi and his lovely girlfriend Ariane who is a Canadian and also an alumni of Mac but has lived in Germany for the last three years. We ended up staying with Tobi and Ariane for five days and had an absolutely wonderful time getting to know them, exploring the city, and relaxing.
One of the big activities for our week in Munich was Thanksgiving dinner. Tobi and Ariane had just recently moved into their new flat and were having a housewarming dinner, so the five us of decided to cook a truly Canadian meal in honour of the recently passed holiday. It was a cold and rainy day outside so we enjoyed warming the house with the smells of good food. We went all out: turkey (difficult to find in Germany) with stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, carrots, and pumpkin pie from scratch. It was the first time any of us made a Thanksgiving feast and we were very proud of its deliciousness.
Early in the day before our Thanksgiving feast we experienced another traditional meal, this one of Bavarian nature. Bavaria is a province in the south east of Germany which has a reputation (among many other things) for its beer culture, being the home to the oldest brewery in the world, seven breweries in Munich alone, and Oktoberfest. Hence we enjoyed a Bavarian breakfast with Tobi, Ariane and Yuval, which according to Bavarian law must be served before noon: white sausage, pretzels with butter, and a pint of wheat beer. When in Rome!
Speaking of living like the locals, we defied the odds and had a truly late night (I’m sure this is shocking for anyone who knows our usual bedtimes). Bars in Germany don’t close until 4 in the morning, and some not until 6, so we didn’t leave the downtown until 4:30 am. We crawled into bed at 5:30, about the same time we’d been setting our alarm clock to wake up and cycle the previous week. We were proud.
Other highlights included our visit to the Bavarian history museum, watching people surf a river in the middle of the city, riding motorcycles (bolted to the ground) at BMW World, riding the elaborate subway system, exploring Olympic Park where the Olympics were held in 1972, and a very carnivorous meal at the Augustiner Beer House with a maas (litre) of beer.
In Munich, we also received our newest cycle family member: a GPS. (We calculated that if we were buying maps for every area we cycled through, it would eventually exceed the cost of the GPS, and we’d have nothing to bring home). Alec, with the help of Tobi and Yuval, worked very hard at acquiring the maps and programming the device, something very frustrating and time consuming but in the end worthwhile. However, the GPS has earned the nickname “headache”.
We were very sad to leave Munich, really enjoying time spent with good friends. Hopefully our paths will cross again! It was also sad to say goodbye to Yuval for another year, although we look forward to seeing what is next on his horizon and know we will reconnect soon.
On our way out of Munich (with Tobi) we visited the Dachau concentration camp, the Nazi’s first concentration camp. It was an extremely powerful and moving experience… the Holocaust is something we have learned about many times before but to be in the place where it happened was infinitely more overwhelming. It is very hard to articulate this experience with words.
Keeping on the WWII front, we had another very meaningful experience as we headed towards the Danube River. We cycled north to Moosburg to where Alec’s grandfather had been held as a prisoner of war in 1945 in the Stalag POW camp. We cycled to the center of town in search of tourist information, and ended up at the Rathaus, or city hall. Where luck would have it, we ran into John who does marketing for Moosburg. Alec told him his grandfather’s story and John made a phone call to the museum curator to open the museum for us. The museum had a model of Stalag, as well as many artefacts and pictures from the camp. The curator, Bernard, was a wealth of information and both John and Bernard were eager to share information about Stalag, to help Alec better understand the experience of his grandfather. After the museum Bernard drove us to the location of the camp, which is now a subdivision, however we were able to enter the last remaining, very decrepit, POW barrack. We were very impressed by these two men, and are very thankful for this experience.
Since Moosburg, we have encountered our first serious hills and our first chilly nights and mornings. Winter is coming quickly to this area (elevation: 600m) so we are looking forward to getting to Vienna so that we can start heading south. However, we are still having a lot of fun despite the cold, and seeing a certain humour in it. For the record, we experienced our first frost yesterday morning in the tent. Perhaps for that reason, last night we decided to splurge and stay in a hostel, more specifically in the tower of an 800 year old castle overlooking the Danube… pretty cool… in a warm sort of way!!! We have also used this time to set up some couch surfing between here and Vienna, hoping to take that approach as a break from the cold.
Off to the Danube,
Alec & Caitlin
P.S. Happy Birthday Mommy Allan!