We're back in France, where we've had another experience that makes it fun to travel without a plan. As so often, we headed for a particular dot on our road map because we were intrigued by the name: Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises (Colombey-the-Two-Churches.)
The town, when we reached it, looked hardly big enough to support one church, let alone two. But it had a little hotel with flowers in the window boxes. When we'd carried in our bags we got back in the car and went to find the two churches. One Catholic, one Evangelical? we'd wondered.
When I wrote in April about the padlocks on a bridge in Paris, our friend Joan emailed to say she'd noticed the same romantic tradition in Salzburg. So we kept our eyes open and sure enough, we saw these little "Together Forever" tokens in Freiburg . . .
From Heidelberg John and I headed to the Rhine -- and so of course did the Neckar, with its overflow of water. We'd had a notion of driving north along the road that hugs the west side of the Rhine, and did this until the first yellow UMLEITUNG ("Detour") sign sent us up into the woods and vineyards high above: the road ahead was under water.
After a few miles, the detour signs led us back to the river, only to point us uphill again around another flooded stretch of the shore road.
Thinking that the road on the opposite bank might be better, we took a ferry across to Lorch.
Well, we have the answer . . . We've been saying each morning since we arrived in England April 1st, waking to yet another rainy day, where is all this water going to go?
It was going here to the Neckar.
This was the scene from our balcony this morning. Last night, the row of trees stood on the bank of the Neckar, with a lawn, flowerbeds and a broad pedestrian/bicycle lane where John and I strolled (under umbrellas: we haven't taken a walk without these on the entire trip.)
John and I like to travel, as I've mentioned, without a plan -- we didn't even know as we set out this time, what countries we'd go to.
Of course this means missing a lot. Always after a trip someone will say, shocked and reproachful, "You mean you went to XXX and didn't see the XXX??!"
But what we do see has the excitement of discovery. Suddenly, stunningly, we find ourselves somewhere that had been only a name. Like the time, following a narrow road winding through Tuscan olive groves, we passed a weatherbeaten little sign: VINCI. Sure enough, we'd stumbled on Leonardo's home town; a man on a bicycle directed us to the farmhouse where the great artist was born.
It happened again this week. Not a town we'd heard of, this time, though apparently we should have. I can hear people when we get home, "Dinkelsbuhl? Why, EVERYBODY knows Dinkelsbuhl!"
It's Pfingst Sunday here in Munich, all the church bells ringing joyfully -- though "Pfingst" to my ears lacks the musical potential of "Pentecost". John and I attended mass at the Frauenkirche, whose twin towers have become the city's icon. (Actually they were supposed to support graceful tall spires, like Cologne cathedral, but they ran out of money -- church budgeting being no easier 600 years ago-- and settled for these utterly incongruous "Byzantine" domes.) They're the ugliest towers I've ever seen, but they're certainly unique, popular on T-shirts and beer steins.
The Frauenkirche seats 20,000 and the pews were crammed. Crowds were also pouring into three other large churches we passed. Bavaria is a very Catholic region, which is why my very Protestant ancestors emigrated in the 1700s.
This is the scene each evening as we check into a hotel somewhere and try to get connected. NOT on the bedcovers tonight are the two adapters that worked only with English outlets, the "universal adapter" that we accidentally left plugged into a wall someplace, the two telephones that worked in France but not here in Germany, and of course the camera John took this picture with.
The next step is to search for an outlet. It may be behind the bed or in back of the immovable clothes cupboard, but there's pretty sure to be one. We're reminded of a trip to Berlin during the drama of the airlift. We were staying with one of the American pilots flying those round- the- clock deliveries, who told us in a disenchanted tone, "In a German apartment they give you an outlet in every room whether you need one or not."
This morning I asked at our hotel where I could get a haircut here in Neuf-Brisach.
"But, Madame, all shops are closed! It is May 8!"
And when I looked puzzled: "La paix, Madame! Peace! The end of the war!"
Of course: VE Day, May 8, 1945! Victory in Europe, date of Germany's unconditional surrender. I remembered the delirious celebration at the high school where I was a senior and many male classmates were in uniform.
How much greater the relief here in the valley of the Rhine where the towns had been so badly bombed.
And then . . . I almost had a wonderful moment of international friendship. Down the street thundered a herd of 30 huge motorcycles. And streaming from the back of several of them were small American flags!
I'm always fascinated at how a trip that from our point of view is just random wandering, tends to take on a focus. This time it seems to be Louis XIV, the "Sun King" as he modestly called himself, who "shone everywhere" -- or at least everywhere John and I go.
In England we visited Blenheim Palace, a cozy country cottage that was Queen Anne's gift to the Duke of Marlborough for defeating Louis in a battle near the German town of Blenheim. It's England's largest private home, located just outside Woodstock where I reminisced about Leonard Earl Lesourd's heralded arrival at the Bear Hotel. (The Bear's motto is "The inn that was old when the palace was new.")
One of the delights of traveling without a destination is stumbling onto lovely places like this lake high in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace.
"Gerardmer" was just a dot on our large scale map (all of France and large parts of surrounding countries).
The lake didn't show on the map at all, so it was a surprise to find a sizable resort town with hotels and parks and score of boat rentals, though few boaters. It's cold, wet and gray, the coldest spring anyone can remember. (I've worn thermal underwear, two sweaters, jacket, hat and gloves every day since we left Boston.)