Before a trip, I can sometimes get a whiff of anxiousness, questioning, as I’m flipping through pages of the Rough Guide or clicking through possible accommodations, the sense in going to so much trouble for a few days in some other place. We already live in Paris. Why leave? We’re in the most dazzling city in the world, that’s constantly gussying itself up, never resting on its laurels, with another Fashion Week, or Velasquez exhibition. In a taxi yesterday, passing Place de la Concorde, beside the Luxor obelisk, they were erecting some big whirly thing… what will it be? Anybody’s guess. This city is in a constant state of arty farty transformation.
But living in Europe, something happens – everybody’s just back from a weekend in Zagreb, Ghent, or Fez. Really? Yeah, it’s weird. You can go anywhere from here, and if you’re clever and book early, it’s 40$ roundtrip. Even if you don’t favor opera, you could find yourself sitting in a velvet seat in the Odessa Opera House by the Black Sea watching Turandot by Pucini. (Andrew’s last Saturday night) Why do a thing like that? Heck, just because it’s there and someone suggested it. The heightened sense of awareness you gain by going to new places becomes a reward for your trouble. The anxious moments melt into a rushed excitement as you focus on maps and decide what’s next.
All this to tell that the kids and I just arrived back from Germany, spending a week in the Black Forest for the school Fall break. The Black Forest was the setting for the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. You know – Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White… All those spooky woods, dwarf villages, cuckoo clocks and cake crumbs. I had never been to Germany, don’t speak a lick of German, wondered if it was wise to travel alone with kids to stay in a small village, and wondered what kind of folks we might find there.
Arriving in Villingen-Shwenningen on a Thursday evening at 6:30pm, it was already dark. Our host was going to meet us at the train station and take us to our holiday rental. I had made all the bookings, the trains – plural – 3 changes with 2 kids, a dog, suitcases – Paris – Mulhouse City – Freiburg – Villingen, (I swear, it was the most direct route! ) and the house rental. By the time we arrived via the 4th train, I was feeling capable and brilliant. Our host was on the platform, a friendly-looking guy, gazing around for people who looked like McQueens. That’s us, I said, and followed him to a white Mercedes coupe to drive (in style, it seemed) the 15k to our holiday flat. But, not quite yet.
Just one problem, he said. What? My train-rattled mind raced forward… long lost relatives arrived and have taken the flat…a pipe exploded and flooded the place… packs of wolves are eating the villagers… I envisioned us stranded in the Forest! Sensing my alarm, he chuckled and smiled – nothing serious, just a slight issue – the village grocery mentioned within walking distance, the only place to buy food, closes once a year, in an odd twist of chance – it happens to be this week. Right, ok… without a car in a tiny village, no store to walk to, my thoughts were running again. Our host coughed, apologized and in a very reasonable manner suggested we first make a stop by the large grocery here in town, then the kids and I would have everything we needed and be set for our holiday. Yes. Good. We all nodded. Very sensible.
So, we packed into the coupe and drove the short distance to the Aldi mart to push a cart thru the aisles with the sociable Mr. Eble chatting about this and that, helping us find cheeses and sauces and telling us with much pride, about the village, our abode. All having the soothing effect on the weary travellers that sociability and images of warm dinners will summon. We loaded the trunk once again, and headed to the village by a dark road through the woods.
Waking up the next day, looking out the windows onto green meadows, sun shining on distant hills, I was glad we had decided to make the journey. Andrew was in Kiev for two weeks, so I had debated whether to go it alone or not. (you never know what you might find at the end of the road) It was good to discover that we were fine road companions. The girls as alert to scenery, sites, and situations as I was. Though the dog was a rascal, whining and barking in every train compartment, until we finally took her out of her carrier and she sat on my lap, sustaining a low growl, watching every person that passed with a devoted suspicion.