Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 1. Frankfurt

After a very uneventful United flight (the best movie in the roster was The King’s Speech), I landed in Frankfurt, the springboard of many of my past traveling adventures. This time everything went without a hitch, and after just a few minutes waiting by the curve I saw this beautiful woman waving at me from a luxurious Mercedes convertible. It was my dear Christine, who had come to pick me up in just about the most glorious, warm and sunny day I could have hoped for. I had expected cold and grimy snow slush on the ground. After all, this is Germany, where in the last trip I almost froze my buns. This may bode well for the whole trip, since Spain should have even better weather than Germany, shouldn’t it?

Chrissie had planned a walk through Hessen Park, a historical park in the foothills of the Taunus Mountains, just west of Frankfurt, where the state of Hessen has built a historical cluster of villages. The buildings from these villages are original houses and farms found in the state of Hessen that have been dismantled, transported to the park, and then reconstructed with loving care and amazing detail using the original wood and stone work. Some of the buildings show how Hessians lived in the middle ages, or the 1600’s, or the 1800’s, and others are workshops where docents still weave fabric for reproduction dresses, shoe horses, or demonstrate the skills of glass blowers and coppersmiths. We spent a delightful couple of hours catching up on the family and common acquaintances, and then Chrissie drove her convertible at high speed back home to Doerningheim (fortunately I fell asleep and was thus spared a heart attack).

Back home I took a long nap, to be ready for the festivities that followed. You see, my friends are always very glad to see me, and they always celebrate my visits with copious amounts of good German food, and even more copious amounts of wine and stolid German beer. Me, being but human, have the tendency to overeat and over drink, which is not the best way to start a trip. This time we went to an Apfelweinstube in Sachenhousen. This was an old restaurant specializing in apple wine (alcoholic cider) on the other side of the Mainz River, in “the house of the Saxons”, who were mercenaries working for Carl der Grosste, who had the good sense to have them camp on the other side of the river from the city where he established his court. We met there Chrissie and Gustav, Andrea and Frank, and Anna and Felipito. The last two are the grown up children of Chrissie and Gustav. I call Phillip Felipito only for old time sake, since I have known him and his sister since they were babies, but he is now a grown up man around 7 feet tall.

Besides several liters of Apfelwein the yummy delicacies included Handkaese mit Musik (cheese marinated in vinegar, served topped with onions and cumin, well known for the explosive effect it has with the tender digestive system of foreign visitors), Steak Tartar, Leberkaese mit Kartoffeln, and slow cooked joints of beef. It was a superb banquet, full of laughter and back-and-forth stories, and I managed to eat and imbibe in moderate quantities. Then we went for a walk and we had to try the traditional dark beer brewed in Sachsenhousen (bad idea to mix drinks), and eventually came home to face the real test: My annual lecture in enology, delivered by Prof. Dr. Gustav Kobberger, aided by his well-stocked wine cellar (this tradition goes back to 1989, when we first met in Bochum, in northern Germany, and when Gustav would come to stay for a few days loaded with wines from all over Europe). This time Gustav was sublime: He opened three bottles in close succession (and I must confess I felt a cold chill spread down my spine, as if the consecutive “pop”, “pop”, “pop” were sniper fire rather than an invitation to the epicurean delights of good wine) and the evening started developing like a well known and beloved symphony. Fortunately one of the wines was considered “undrinkable” by my knowledgeable friend (its place was taken by a new “pop”), but three bottles of heady wine can do serious damage to the unweary traveler. Ah, but it was great to relive the old times!

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