It wasn't too far up the autobahn that we encountered a second wall of tail lights. This time, I was prepared. I pulled over to the side and consulted the map. My strategy was to try to get off the free way, drive ahead on local roads for about 20 miles, and then get back on the autobahn. After a little uncertainty and traffic weaving, we were able to get off at Bingen. This was a charming little town, once again, linearly laid out along a tributary to the Rhine. The buildings were at least a hundred years old.
Vicki and Tom had called her time share the night before, and they had told her that if we were going to arrive later than 8 p.m., we should call ahead and arrange a way to pick up the key after the office closed. The afternoon shadows were now quite long, and it appeared that a stop in Bingen for this purpose was called for. We parked the car on a narrow sidewalk (a common thing in Germany). While Tom and Vicki went to figure out how to use the local phone, I took a quick nap. Jet lag was again rearing its persistent head. They returned in about 15 minutes, and arrangements had been made to pick up the key.
Now we tried our best to follow the roads out of Bingen. We were completely out in the country, and I was only moderately confident that we would run into the autobahn any time soon. But . . . Lo and Behold, A6 appeared and we drove triumphantly on to it. We were now well ahead of the traffic snarl and on our way to the time share. I had adjusted to autobahn driving and was making good time without becoming a nervous wreck everytime a speeding Mercedez dogged my tail.
But then we got off the autobahn and onto the 60 km of two lane road leading to Schleiden. Tractors, hay carts, recreation vehicles were around every (frequent) turn. We later found out that, at least in the Rhineland Pfalz, there were special paved road systems that connected all the tiny Dorfen (villages) in an area (Kreis). It was getting quite late that night, but now, and many times in the future, we would observe some strong basic differences between Germany and the U.S.A. In this green, hilly country there were fields for cattle, hayfields and crops growing everywhere, with just a few wooded areas. There was absolutely NO litter anywhere. No aluminum cans, no plastic grocery bags, no styrofoam cups, no discarded clothing, no missing shoes, no, nothing. Not a shred of evidence that humans were living there. There were absolutely NO billboards in the country. No cigarette ads, no liquor ads, no movie ads, nothing was blocking the beautiful scenery. We saw NOT ONE abandoned building. No old shacks, no old barns with "Mail Pouch Tobacco" or "Lilly Snuff" in faded old paint, no trash heaps of washing machines and refrigerators. Not only did we not see any old, decrepit farm buildings, we ONLY saw houses or buildings of any kind huddled in the tiny towns. In the distance, down in a valley along a river, you would always see one, two or three tiny villages, houses close together, always with burnt orange, strongly gabled roofs. Only once or twice did I see any building in evidence of some disrepair.
As we slowly made our way towards Schleiden around curve after curve, we settled in for a very late entry. Vicki had precise directions to our condo, but we had quite a time finding it anyway. We missed the turnoff the first time. The first surprise was that the condo was not in Schleiden, but six km north in Gemünd. At last we were driving up the hill out of Gemünd and to our home for the week. Just as the lady had said, we went into the building where the office was, and in the right drawer of a bureau was the key. All the parking spaces were full, since we had arrived so late. To top that off, our condo was on the third floor, no elevator. But we boldly dragged our stuff up to the apartment. I heard Vicki's cry of delight when she saw the condo as I was coming up the stairs.
The condo was lovely. There was a big living room with fold-out couch, and overstuffed chair, TV, a phone, and a table off to one side that seated six. On one side of the living room was a small, but completely appointed kitchen, on the other side were floor to ceiling glass doors that opened onto a balcony with tables and chairs. The next day we were to find that that view was totally relaxing and beautiful. We could see one of the asphalt roads that the farmers used winding around a hayfield filled with yellow daisies and tiny houses off in the distant valley. There also were two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Vicki took the master bedroom, and Tom and I traded off most nights between the couch and the second bedroom. I slept three nights in the bedroom which had a skylight right above the bed.
When we had unpacked a bit and settled down, I was so exhausted that I just went to sleep. Unfortunately, I can't remember the exact details (which I HOPE my sister will fill in), but sometime that night, Vicki got news that her second son, Joe, and his wife Corby, had made her a grandmother for the second time this summer. What I do remember though, at this time, is a really hysterical chain of events.
After about an hour, I heard Tom and Vicky coming up the front steps and talking and laughing. They were all excited about the little bar they had found up at the top of the hill, and they had been out drinking in the bar. The bartender was Klaus, and his assistant was Marco. "Come on, Jim," they said, "let's go down to the bar and celebrate some more." So we did. Well, the first shock that we got was that when we entered the bar again, Klaus had a barmaid's short dress with apron on and was behind the bar getting ready to serve a birthday cake to a patron. My brother, in typical humor, said, "Klaus, I think blue is a better color for you." Klaus's outfit was a red and green check with ruffles. Tom said a lot of other funny stuff that night, which perhaps he can recall.
Here are some pictures that my sister, Vicki, took. In addition to the two bartenders, Tom had made friends with a man from Holland, Michael, was his name. He is sitting at the right end of the bar.Tom, Vicki, I and Michael sat at the bar in that order and talked about many things. It was the first of several times when I had a chance to practice using my German to make small talk. I found that I really could understand most everything that was being said and could make myself understood, too. Michael was the first of several people who told me that I did a good job on my German, which actually totally amazed me. But the theme of the evening was definitely celebrationcelebration of little Justin Thomas Smith's coming into the world, celebration of the fact that we had actually done it, made it, the three of us to this site with a full vacation ahead of us, celebration of our siblinghood, and celebration of this wonderful joint adventure.
At any rate, Vicki had had a couple of drinks and was actually in a dancing mood. She danced one dance with Michael, but wouldn't dance a second one. I think she danced with Marco, too, but I'm not sure. And she was talking a lot and telling everyone about the news of her new grandchild. Translating all this into German was also fun. Sadly, (but not too sadly, after all, this was a bar, and people are supposed to have fun in a bar) we outstayed our welcome. Klaus and Marco had to get up at six the next morning and do some other work somewhere else. They didn't actually tell us to go, but we could see that their enthusiasm had waned by 1 a.m. So we bid our goodbyes at last to Michael and headed for our condo and a lovely night's rest.
Created by Jim Andris, September 12, 2000.