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!"
John and I didn't, however. It was getting late, time to leave the small roads we'd been roaming and get to some town large enough to have a room for overnight. On our map of Bavaria several places within a 30-minute drive looked possible, but the name "Dinkelsbuhl" made me chuckle, so I suggested that one.
We arrived at a formidable-looking wall and followed it to a gateway in an ancient stone tower. We drove through it and gasped. Half-timbered houses -- red, blue, green, yellow -- steep red-tiled roofs, cobblestoned streets, old German lettering on the shop fronts -- it was like stepping into a time warp. A perfectly preserved town from the 1500s! There were even several wagons harnessed to draft horses waiting just inside the gate.
"It's like a theme park," John said, "except that it's real." We parked the car and wandered, entranced, through narrow alleys and picture-book squares.
Returning to the gate, a little later, we saw a large blue tour bus. As some 50 Japanese tourists emerged and climbed into the waiting wagons, we realized that we hadn't been the first people to discover this atmospheric place . . .
The delight of personal discovery remains, though. We're staying three days in the 500-year-old home of a well-to-do Dinkelsbuhl family, perfectly restored with its painted ceilings and tapestried walls.
And one extremely authentic touch: No Elevator.
Our room was on the second floor (European style, third floor to us) up two of the longest, steepest flights of stairs we've encountered since stairs became a challenge for us. John's knees, my hip joints, and both our hearts complain piteously nowadays at more than a couple of steps.
But the ancient house was so irresistible that we've settled on a rule (take everything with you when you leave the room or do without it) and a workable approach to stair climbing. We establish our base camp on the ground floor, and proceed by stages as instructed in mountaineering manuals. This requires learning to pronounce "Entschuldigung!" to beg pardon of all the steel-limbed Germans who bolt up the stairs you're blocking.
Here, the foot of the final staircase, is where we establish our camp for the assault on the summit.
Once we reach our antique room, though, with its coffered ceiling and doppelbett (two single beds side by side; I don't think there's a double mattress anywhere in Germany) and look out on a sea of red tiles, every last step is forgiven.