A Travellerspoint blog

Castle Fleckenstein

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Somewhere in Scott’s far, far distant past, he is related to a group of reportedly bloodthirsty rulers by the name of Fleckenstein. My children, and especially my daughter, have always been fascinated by this tiny thread of royalty that runs through their veins and so we agree that for today, we will backtrack to France and see if we can hunt down the ruins of what was once their castle.

Let me first say that the Alsace region of France is breathtakingly gorgeous. I use that adverb correctly because I keep hearing one of us gasp as we round the next curve. It is primarily farmland but it is dotted about every eight kilometers by a tiny village, some of which are so picturesque that we briefly (and seriously) contemplate selling everything and moving.
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Fleckenstein castle dates back to the 12th century and very little of the original structure exists. But over the centuries, it has been commandeered and added on to so that there is the barest outline of a castle still in existence.
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The Fleckenstein coat of arms can still be seen on some of the stonework and it is fun to imagine what it might have felt like to have been Baroness Fleckenstein looking out over the valley and awaiting guests to the castle.100_1999.jpg

I can tell that Analiese is involved in that fantasy as well as she skips through the castle and makes her way up the crumbling turrets. A painting of a Fleckenstein sits in the entrance and Analiese agrees to pose so we can compare. She is worried that she will acquire the chin but we assure her that the resemblance is faint at best. 100_1955.jpg

It has started to pour and we are caught standing under 12th century eaves with other tourists waiting for a break in the weather so we can make our way down the hill. Finally, our desire to go to the bathroom overcomes our fear of getting soaked and we make our way down the path and end up at the Fleckenstein cafe where we relish in delicious beers and cups of hot chocolate. We want to relax after that long wet hike, but Scott is starting the Autobahn itch again so we head back to our Fiesta and start our journey to Munich.

Posted by Queen Anne 22:39 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Heidelberg

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Thursday morning -- we are all a bit sad as we pack up our things and get ready to leave Paris. Well, all of us except for Scott who is secretly very excited about testing his mettle on the autobahn. We have reserved a car for the remainder of our trip and it is waiting for us in the parking garage of the Louvre. Scott's excitement sputters a bit at the sight of it…a Ford Fiesta with 50,000 kilometers. Nevertheless, we stock it with drinks and baguettes and head out of town. Destination: Heidelberg.

Though it is the height of summer, signs of Fall are making their way into the French countryside and you can smell just the faintest scent of Autumn in the air. The fields of sunflowers are beginning to fade and I hear Langston’s camera from the back seat madly clicking as he attempts to capture these beautiful fields against deep blue sky. 002.jpg

This, I suspect, becomes especially challenging once we leave France for Germany and join the ranks of autos flying down the highway. Powerful sedans zoom past us on both sides leaving our brave little Ford Fiesta shuttering in their wake. Even while we travel at a speed of 100mph, we barely have time to register the make of car as they whiz past us, their sleek shapes and darkened windows giving them a sinister-like appearance. I take some small measure of comfort in the word “airbag” stamped across the panel in front of me and escape my anxiety in a book, figuring if we die before we reach our destination, I will at least have ended my days in Paris.

We reach Heidelberg around 7:30. Scott is exhausted from the challenging drive and elects to spend the evening catching up on sleep so the rest of us venture into town and hunt down our first Bavarian meal. Heidelberg is a University town and we wind up in a college pub surrounded by what we presume are academics – students sipping from coffee cups as they type intently into their laptops, men arguing over journal articles while drinking from huge steins of beer, and families laughing over meals of sausages and sauerkraut. 100_1944.jpg

I make the shift from my nonexistent French into unrecognizable German and attempt to order from the menu. I end up with something resembling thick mortadella cut into strips and mixed with vinegar and red peppers. Analiese and Lang are content with wiener schnitzel and spaetzle and we find ourselves finally beginning to relax after our day in the car. As we leave to make our way back to our hotel , a storm of hailstones– the biggest I’ve ever seen – fall from the sky. God, perhaps, reminding us to give thanks for sparing our lives.

Posted by Queen Anne 22:38 Archived in Germany Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Paris Women

An ode to aging

semi-overcast 71 °F
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I cannot leave Paris without commenting on what I think may be the most beautiful sight in this city of beautiful sights -- the women. All week long, Analiese and I have been engaged in an informal study on their style and I think we have become quite skilled at spotting the real Parisian woman versus the knock-off. And there are plenty of knockoffs. All around us, you see women sporting Hermes scarves, tottering across cobblestones in impossibly high heels, smoking tiny cigarettes at corner cafes. But you can tell they're wannabes -- once you can read the signs, the real Paris woman stands out like the North Star in the night sky.

Take for example, the woman in the picture above. Note the tiny frame, the coiffed hair, the stylish handbag, and that dead giveaway...the shoes. I was behind her in line at a department store where she was purchasing a Swiss moisturizer and a bottle of perfume. As we left the store, I found myself travelling in the same direction in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area and I surreptitiously took this photo right before she stopped to punch a code into an elegant gold keypad and disappear behind two tall green doors.

What is perhaps not apparent from this photo is that she was easily in her late sixties. But like so many Parisian women, she had that enviable timelessness that comes with attention to detail and consistent self-care.

As I approach my fiftieth year, I realize that I am unconsciously seeking role models who can illustrate for me how to age with dignity and joy. We Americans have a number of excellent examples of agelessness but so much of it is appears to be achieved with knives and needles and I'll admit that I'm strongly hoping for another way. Here at least, woman of a certain age do not appear to be hiding the fact that they are aging. Instead, they defy the aging process because they embrace it, recognizing that the fifties and sixties and seventies are years to be celebrated and to be beautiful.

I stood for a while and watched the lights in her apartment come on and the doors of her balcony open up to let in the evening air. I could hear her talking to someone and a deep voice answering. After a few moments of enjoying this quiet scene, I walked on to join my family for our last night in Paris.

Posted by Queen Anne 14:30 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Paris

"early in the morning of a lovely summer's day..." Robert Hillyer

semi-overcast 70 °F
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It is seven in the morning and the sound of the pavements being hosed off wakes me up. It is a pleasant sound and I feel no inclincation to rush out of bed. We are so enjoying this change of pace - this opportunity to be fully present and to focus on all that is around us.

Lang and I were reading a book a few days ago where the main character tried to describe the difference between a life of meaning and a life of happiness. He believed that the two were, in many ways, incompatible. To find meaning, one has to look back and reinhabit his past. The examined life requires one to make sense of their dreams and their aspirations. But the happy person, according to this author, does not look back nor does he look forward. He lives in the present.

Langston made the keen observation that Paris is a city that entices one to live in the present. On our first evening here, we sat on a cafe sidewalk watching the people around us. It was late but people were drinking wine, dipping into creamy desserts, sipping espresso. Lights were strung above our heads, scooters dashed past, old men sat on the corner benches smoking cigarettes and talking. We too were part of this happy scene and we felt deep joy just to be alive on a warm summer evening in Paris. Hmmm...happiness?

But we're also tourists and we've spent the days hence hiking through the Louvre, waiting in lines at Versailles, and contemplating the magnificence of Notre Dame. But our pace is changing and we're spending more of our days simply standing at the window enjoying the courtyard below us or sitting on a park bench reading.

Scott joins us today and we're all so excited to see him. He has promised to bring a frisbee so that Analiese can practice her throws while Lang makes his way to another museum. I'm pretty content on the park bench but at some point today, we're going to make our way up to the flea market to search for treasures and perhaps end up at the Rodin museum to see "The Thinker." I wonder if he was happy?

Posted by Queen Anne 01:04 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The Highlands


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Several years ago, I travelled through the Highlands with Scott. We had rented a car and as we bumped our way down the left side of the road, the acres of green countryside and fields of heather struck me as some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

Fortunately, my memory was sound. I have made promises to my children that we would see places that would make a day of riding on a crowded tour bus well worth the experience. And Scotland does not disappoint. We pass by farmland dotted with sheep, by fantastic Victorian estates sitting in the middle of open fields, by bridges of stones hundreds of years old, and by mountain streams filled with the smell of peat and salmon. It is a magical place.

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Unfortunately, it begins to pour. Not just a drizzle but a full onslaught, and the coach begins to smell of oily wool. The road to the Highlands is small and windy and we're far in the back. Analiese puts her head down on my lap and I know she's fighting nausea. We stop at Loch Ness but it's so cold and rainy that we hover inside touristy guest shops sorting through wool scarves. Lang and I venture out to walk by the shore but no great monsters emerge and we head back to the coach, sopping and cold.

It's a twelve hour trip and we stop on our way back to Edinburgh in a little Victorian town where we have hot chocolate and strong coffee. Though we have adored our time in Scotland and feel a kinship with these lovely people, we're hankering for something a little warmer and our thought turn to Paris where we'll be tomorrow evening. We gladly put our wool sweaters deep into our bags (after drying them for a few hours on the towel warmers) and set our clocks for Paris time.

Posted by Queen Anne 00:17 Archived in Scotland Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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