Sunday, January 18, 2009

Traveling is one of my favorite things to do, when it turns into traveling around Europe visiting vineyards and wineries, it is heaven! In 2002, I made my 1st trip to Europe, an amazing trip that still seems like a dream. While traveling around 5 countries, I made notes and took 18 rolls of film. Those notes and photos turned into a diary when I returned home. I call it "Two Old Broads Abroad" and I am going to post it here on my blog, in installments. I don't want to bore you, so after you read the first installment and you see the title, "Two Old Broads Abroad" and you don't want anymore.....just skip it.
Hope you enjoy it!

Two Old Broads Abroad, October, 2002

installment 1

My friend, Inge and I have just returned from an adventure in Europe. Our husbands both chose to stay home this trip, leaving Inge and I to roam around 5 countries in our rental PT Cruiser! Not bad for a couple of old broads! I had never been to Europe, but Inge was born in Germany. She moved to the United States with her family when she was nine years old. She goes to Germany at least once a year`, usually more often. Inge was headed for her class reunion in Bahlingen, Germany. Her classmates still include her, even though she went to school there only through the 3rd grade. But Bahlingen is a tiny town, where everyone is either related or your best friend. It was Inge’s best friend and his family that had invited us to stay with them. My main objective was to see and learn as much as I could about vineyards and wine, and of course, to enjoy the European experience.
Traveling around Europe by car in the autumn is absolutely breathtaking! I love the fall, it is and always has been my favorite season. Living in the midwest, I’ve seen some beautiful Indian summers, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to see.

After landing in Frankfurt, we rented the Cruiser and headed south into the Black Forrest. I must admit, traveling on the autobahn at break-neck speeds, you don’t get much of a view. For all I could see, we could have been in Jersey! But the farther south we drove, the better it began to look. When we pulled off the autobahn and entered the first little town, I was breathless! The buildings were hundreds of years old, the streets were cobblestone, the flowers were everywhere, AND THEY HAD VINEYARDS! I knew I was about to have the time of my life!

We had completed the grape harvest here at home, but in Germany they were right in the middle of it. I couldn’t have planned it better! As we drove on to Bahlingen I realized every inch of hillside was planted with vines, there were vineyards for miles, in every direction. This was going to be GREAT!

Gerd and Edith Schmidt were our hosts for the next 4 or 5 days. Their daughter, Stephanie, a college student, lived with them. Their home is an incredible place, warm and welcoming, and full of history. It was here in their home that I would begin to understand how people live in the midst of such history. That first day was one I will never forget, even though I was so tired I could hardly stand.

Inge’s relatives and friends began gathering around the table in the late afternoon. Gerd’s parents, Fritz and Erna Schmidt arrived, as did Stephanie’s sister Natalie and her husband, Thomas. Before long the place was packed with young and old! It was a delightful evening, but I didn’t understand a word they said. Stephanie tried to translate for me as much as she could, but it is difficult with everyone speaking at once. We ate, we drank, and I finally begged to be forgiven, I could not stay awake any longer. Of course, Inge was going strong! But trust me when I say, I felt great the next morning. Inge felt , well, let’s say she felt a little under the weather!
When she finally made an appearance, I had already strolled around the town, staying fairly close to the Schmidt’s.

The next 4 days were going to be quite an awakening for me. My camera was ready, I had my good walking shoes on, the sun was shining and all was right with this part of the world.

Inge and Gerd attended several parties with their classmates. During that time, Edith and Stephanie were my guides. They drove me places, they explained things, they translated for me, they fed me…..they were terrific!
It didn’t take very long to find out that the wonderful, peaceful feeling that comes over me when I stand in the vineyard at home was not reserved for only the vineyard at home! I found I was thrilled to just stand among the vines in ancient vineyards in the Black Forest. They were in the midst of harvest but many vines were still loaded with clusters of beautiful plump grapes, some so black they looked as if they were full of India Ink! Others were delicate pale green orbs with hints of pink and gold when the sun smiled down on them. I was free to pick as many clusters as I wanted, eating the grapes till juice ran down my chin! It was very much like I
imagine Heaven will be.

I took a dozen rolls of film, 90% of the photos being vineyard shots. I can look at them today and remember the way the earth smelled, the way autumn glowed on the surrounding hillsides, the way the grapes burst with sweet juice when I‘d pop one in my mouth.

We had a perfect day trip on October 12th from Bahlingen to several vineyards in the Kaiserstuhl region. The area is excellent for grapes because the region is rich in volcanic soil. It is the heart of what used to be a volcano. From the road I had the most glorious views of hillsides turned into a patchwork of vineyards. Being the harvest season, the leaves were turning on the vines. Some golden yellow, some a deep dark red.
Stephanie, a delightful 25 year old, has an amazing mind and educated me on the history of the area we were touring as well as procedure during harvest. When we arrived in the village of Burkheim, we went immediately to the local winery. Not every village is fortunate enough to have their own winery, but Burkheim has a great one.….only one thing wrong with it…it was closed to the public due to the traffic of horse-drawn carts and wagons bringing grapes to be processed! RATS! I wouldn’t have an opportunity to return to Burkheim during our trip. I’m not sure if I looked devastated, if I cried, or if I threatened to jump from the moving automobile, but my guides picked up on some little something and took it upon themselves to inform the receptionist that a “very important wine maker from the United States” came all the way to Burkheim to tour the winery!
It worked! She immediately made a phone call and within minutes, we were escorted through the winery, and were allowed to take as many photos as we
needed. Now, I’m not saying I understood what every machine was for, but I did recognize some of them. And thanks to Stephanie and Edith, language was not a problem.
As we emerged from the lower levels of the winery, we stepped into the receiving area. This is where the grape growers would bring their carts of grapes to be processed. They would skillfully coax the horses or guide their tractors to back the cart or wagon into a holding area. At that point, a driver for the winery would move the carts into position. Each cart would have two huge wooden buckets full of grapes. The driver would then direct and guide a huge fork to pick up the buckets and take them on a track to the crusher.
After each farmer would watch his grapes being crushed, he would watch the winery tag each container of juice with his name, where the grapes came from, the date and of course, the variety of grape. If the farmer wanted any for his own use, and they all did (!), he would be given gallon containers of his juice to take home with him. The rest was sold to the winery, he was paid and he drove merrily away! At that point, the crusher was cleaned with a high-pressure hose and the next wagon or cart moved into position. Quite a setup!

After thanking the tour guide, we decided to walk to the top of the village and then on to the castle. There again, not every village is fortunate enough to have their own castle, but Burkheim does. As we wandered up the cobble stone street, I could hear the clip-clop of horses and the sound of the wooden carts rolling through the streets below. All of the houses were ancient, some dating from the 1500s, according to the numbers chiseled into the stone gates at each courtyard opening! The colors of the homes were lovely soft colors, not necessarily pastels, but beautiful curries, and apricots and sky blues. Each house was laden with flower boxes, trailing with rich green ivies and brimming with blossoms from the healthiest geraniums I have ever seen.
At the top of the hill stood a gate. Tacked to the gate was a big sign saying in German, of course, “Closed”! The castle was closed! I suppose I voiced my disappointment because Edith proceeded to knock on the door of the beautiful cottage next to the gate. A gentleman appeared, listened to Edith, then called to his wife to come and take us to their back terrace to view the castle. He couldn’t stay; it seems he had some drinking buddies waiting for him, but his lovely wife, who spoke some English, took us around to where we had a perfect view of the remains of an ancient castle, dating from around the 1200s. I took more photos, of course, but when I turned to thank her, she was standing in front of the world’s most perfect view! Below us lay thousands of rows of grapevines, all golden and sparkling. Behind them rose the hills of the Black Forrest, so deep dark green they do indeed appear to be black. Off to the right was the river…..I’m telling you it doesn’t get much better than that! The photos I took don’t begin to capture the richness of the view, but they sure do bring back beautiful memories.
On the drive back to Bahlingen, we stopped along the road every few miles so I could “experience” more grapes and views. What a glorious day! But,
it was only the beginning……………..
Upon arriving back at the Schmidt’s house (built in 1781 and passed down from each generation!) it wasn’t long before all of their relatives began showing up carrying food and wine! I thought to myself “I think we are going to party…AGAIN!” Sure enough!

Edith’s husband, Gerd, has lived in this house all of his life. It is an amazing structure that consists of 3 buildings all connected, built around a courtyard. Edith has a gift shop on the first floor, their living quarters are on the second. Off to the side next to the street is the original part of the house. It is at a level half way between the gift shop and their quarters. This is where Gerd’s grandparents lived until they died. The Schmidt’s have updated to a certain extent, but have left as much of the original fixtures, windows, doors, etc. as possible. It is this area that I called home. Have you ever slept on a down pillow under a down comforter? I haven’t slept nearly as well since I’ve been home.
In Gerd and Edith’s dining room, they have a table that can hold at least 12 people, more if you really want to get to know each other! By 10:00pm about 16 of us knew each other very well! One person stands out from the rest….his name was Fritz Schmidt, Gerd’s father. This little guy had rosy cheeks that would put Santa’s to shame….and the twinkle in the eye! Oh my gosh…another 100 pounds and a long white beard on Fritz and you would swear you were in the presence of the jolly old guy himself! There the similarity ended because Santa is truly a saint. Fritz isn’t! I learned the term “spitzbua”, it means bad boy. It is the perfect was to describe Fritz! He is so ornery you don’t dare take your eyes off of him! He somehow managed to get me to drink everything he put in front of me. And he sang love songs in Italian to me! His wife, Erna, sat and laughed with the rest! What a party!

On Sunday, everyone was relaxed. It was Stephanie’s birthday. I wandered about the town, checking out all of the buildings and the incredible murals painted on the outside of many. It turns out they were painted by Gerd’s grandfather! Over the front door of Fritz’s house, he painted a sign that translates to “Old things are good. Let’s leave them as they are. 1723”. Fritz and Erna invited me in, gave me more wine, explaining that it was wine from Fritz’s own grapes, wine that he made himself. Goodness gracious! It was delicious! After a while, they took me to the sidewalk and aimed me in the right direction. I returned home to help with the birthday celebration. We made Onion Pie, which is one of the foods this area is well known for. This area is so close to Alsace region, you can really tell the crossover in foods.That night, around the same table, we all ate, laughed, drank and sang. Stephanie had a grand time.

I had learned that Bahlingen doesn’t have a town winery. Most of the vineyards belong to a co-op. They pick their grapes and they deliver them to a drop off point where they are loaded into huge trucks and driven to Breisach on the Rhine. There you will find the world’s 3rd largest winery, the largest in Europe. That was our destination for Monday........

.................................stayed tuned! I'll try to find my pictures!

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