Bree: Early on, when we began planning this trip, we had a running list of places we thought we might like to visit. It was a scramble of all kinds of places we had dreamed of since we were children, heard about from loved ones, seen in books or on the web. Ben had seen a Bing photo contest winner that was labeled only “Kaiserstuhl” showing amazing terraced hills covered in vineyards that he was convinced we needed to visit so we dutifully added it to the list.
When it came time to start researching some of these places though, the only city we could find named Kaiserstuhl was located far north in Germany and had little to no resemblance to anything we had seen in the photo. We were a bit perplexed by this, but since it appeared to be really far out of our way, we simply dismissed it from the list and moved on.
This morning however, as we were getting ready to leave and looking at the info board in the campground, Ben noticed a big poster entitled “Kaiserstuhl” that depicted not a city, but a region of Germany full of terraced hills and tiny towns known for producing wine. No wonder we couldn’t find it…we hadn’t known what we were looking for. We plugged the towns into our GPS and had to laugh when we realized the places were only about 13 kilometers away from where we had camped so we quickly began re-arranging our drive plans for the day. Sometimes the serendipity of this trip is simply beyond me!
The quick trip toward Kaiserstuhl showed exactly what we had seen in the photo contest – cleanly terraced hills. We spent the better part of two hours driving up the steep and winding roads, finding dead ends among the agricultural roads so that farmers could access their vineyards on all levels, and making our way slowly through the patches of forest. I was in total disbelief that we had actually found this place. It was quite striking, and while I didn’t get any shots as good as the Bing photo contest winner, I was well pleased with our drive through the region.
Also not far from our campground was a World War I battlefield with dedicated memorials and, from what we could surmise from its brief description in our guidebook, surviving trenches from the French and German forces. We wound our ways past Munster (yes, the home of Munster cheese) into the wooded French hills, where after a lot of winding up steep roads, we arrived at the battlefield. It is somewhat sombering to have noticed that pretty much all of our glimpses of WWI history have been in the mountains. This is clearly where many of the fronts were drawn, and the soldiers not only had to combat each other, but the cold and snowy alpine winters and the disease that goes along with that. After a quick stop at a cemetery with crosses neatly arranged in the woods, we headed to the museum. After looking at some of the weapons, clothing, and other artifacts used by soldiers and unburied some 90 years after the war, we were permitted to go to the “outside exhibit”.
We were not sure what we would find in the outside exhibit, and the fact that the lady running the museum spoke only French didn’t help. I thought that we might see some trenches here, but I was blown away by the sophistication and permanence of both the German and French lines, which were not very far away from each other.
The trenches, which wound like mazes around the Linge peak, were a sophisticated network of bunkers, what appeared to be supply lines, peepholes, and slots from which the soldiers could fire. I thought that the trenches would just be dug into the ground, but they were completely masoned in with thick walls and cemented metal viewpoints. It was somewhat sombering to walk through those same trenches where the battle which, from what we could surmise from our limited French literary skills, waged for 4 months. At this battle there were 17,000 casualties.
After the trenches, we left feeling very melancholic, while I felt almost guilty for not knowing and understanding more about the first World War.
As we made our way down the mountain from the battlefield, we passed through the town of Kaysersberg. It was quite a new experience to try to find parking, and then figure out a parking meter, fork over 2 Euros, and walk clear into the town. With our bicycles, all we had to do was coast into town and lean the bikes on any solid vertical object.
The town is a very well preserved medieval town with most of the buildings seeming to date back to the 15th and 16th century. They are dressed with some serious Germanic flair, with bright colors and clean lines everywhere in the architecture. We wandered around the town, taking pictures and joking about the cuteness of every little thing in the town. Really, though, it was cute.
After a quick trip to the castle ruins built in the 13th century, which included hike up a spiral staircase in the main tower to enjoy killer views of the city and others within the Alsace-Loraine region of France. Then, we made our way back to the car; the heat was getting oppressive, and we were both beginning to wilt.
Bree: Besides the heat, after two days of hiking the Swiss alps, I am sore! For as much as I thought my legs were in great shape after three months of cycling daily, I obviously haven’t been doing much hiking! After the walk up to the castle, I was ready to be off my sore feet and out of the sweltering weather.
As we pulled out of Kaysersberg in our car that felt more like a human oven than a means of transportation, we realized that it was 3:00 PM and mulled over where we wanted to end up for the night. We were both feeling a little bit tired of being in the car, but still had quite a bit of driving to do. Half-heartedly, we set out for another three our so hours of driving with the air conditioning running at full tilt.
Before we’d even been in the car 15 minutes though, we passed two things that we’d been looking for: a bike shop and our final French bakery so we pulled over (under some shade gratefully) and headed down the street. The gentleman in the bike shop spoke not a word of English so we ended up drawing a picture of the cardboard boxes we were looking for. His shop was tiny and I didn’t even know where he might be storing the discarded boxes from his new bike shipments, but once he figured out what we needed, he took us outside down the stairs to a mountain of boxes and handed us two. They were already broken down and perfect for us to stuff on top of the mountain of junk already crammed in our tiny car. Now we just need to reconstruct them into boxes tiny enough to get our trusty steeds on the airplane. I can’t help but love when something goes logistically easier than we had planned!
Boxes safely stowed in the car, we headed to the bakery where we grabbed our final French eclair and croissants before hitting the road. They tasted amazing even though the temperature of the day was frankly more suitable for eating a fruit smoothie than baked goods. I marveled at all the detail in the pretty little treats they were serving.
Our drive started out slow and painful in thick traffic through lots of dull little towns. I was having some real routing trouble with the GPS, further slowing our progress. Traveling in a car is not something we are very used to and it certainly has its own set of frustrations! Soon though, we got routed in the right direction, climbing through Black Forest and admiring the lovely dark green trees in the diminishing light as our irritation quietly faded away. The forest eventually melted into tidy fields of corn and wheat that almost glowed in the evening light.
Although we managed to see a lot of incredible things today, as we drove past miles and miles of Germany’s dedicated bicycle paths, my legs wished nothing more than to be pedaling myself over each hill. I missed feeling the grade of each road, both up and down. I longed to know which way the wind was blowing and hear the crickets chirp as we rolled by. We practically flew by so many landscapes that would have made the perfect picture and we wistfully wished there were a safe place to pull over to capture it the way we do when we travel by two wheels instead of four. Bicycle touring took a while to really truly grow on me, but these days, I feel like a bike is the best way to go everywhere!