After spending a week with a friend recharging my batteries in Bamberg, I feel lazy to take the road again, I confess. But this is the beginning of the end: the last stage of this Journey to Nowhere.
It’s a fine autumnal morning, partially cloudy; and as I move forward there are, up the hills, some fog patches and cooler air. A short stop in Uffenheim for a tea in a quiet patisserie while planning the route to follow. Later, the afternoon gets grey and temperature drops to twelve Celsius, which is biting cold when on a motorcycle. The landscape, though, becomes nicer, more rural, spotted with old buildings that house inns or gasthoff; fall is at its best here, and the country is derssed with garish contrasts of ochres and greens – and that, oh! so evocative smell of burnt wood…
At half past four – perfect time to call it a day’s journey – I stop in Wüstenrot, where I find a pleasant and affordable guesthouse, run by a nice lady helped by a young pretty brunette with one of those mischievous smiles… Pity I’m not in the mood for flirting, lately! The village is a rather dull one, but the surroundings are very pleasing; so, once settled in, I go for a long stroll on the fields and a nearby grove of pine trees and redwoods (who would expect to find those here?), where eventually the path fades and vanishes into a large patch of moist soil that render my sneackers totally muddy.
* * *
The new day begins rainy. I set on the same route as yesterday, direction Black Forest – probably the most beautiful region in Germany. As I move forward, the road gets more meandering, funnier for the bike, and more enjoyable too, going past lovely and diverse forest landscapes and cultivated fields, old villages, picturesque houses, forgotten train stations… Only the rain curtails the pleasure of driving, now.
I stop at a pizzeria in some random small town. A tad late for lunch, as for German schedules; they’re closing in a while; but these Italians are nice people: they serve me all the same – a delicious tagliatelli dish – and let me stay until they finish their own meal at a neighbouring table. We chat a little: they use Italian and I use Spanish, but we understand each other. My experience with Mediterranean restaurants in Germany has always been positive; I find that there’s a good harmony among the latin Europeans.
By the way, I want to write here a complimentary note for German wines around this region: white, dry as I like them, easy to drink and very pleasant to taste.
Out there it’s still raining; which is a hassle, because I don’t have a rain gear proper. After lunch I carry on, riding for quite a while until around four o’clock I arrive to Bildechingen, a village without any appeal whatsoever except that there’s a hotel in it; and as I’m tired of rain, here I stay. The moment I step in, my nose is hit by a strong, disgusting cold smoke smell. The employee – or is he the owner? – sees me in quite an unfriendly way, smoking of course, and first thing after checking me in he reads me the rules sermon: pay in advance, only cash, check-out at 9:30 (the earliest, unfriendliest I’ve ever seen), bring the key to reception before leaving, fill in and sign this form for using the wifi. It’s a German-only sheet, for signing -I reckon- my sole liability for any crimes I can commit via the hotel’s internet connection. Silly measure if he doesn’t even check my particulars; Spanish guile goes always ahead of German mistrust. To cap it all, the room is cold and, overlooking the road, also noisy.
Lastly, there’s not a single shop in town where to buy something for dinner. There is a restaurant in the hotel, but I’m not willing to spend one single extra euro in such people. I’d rather endure hunger; which isn’t even hunger, but only this anxiety that never leaves me alone.
* * *
Because of my insomnia, waking up early for checking out before 9:30 means I’ve had a rather poor night rest, malheureusement. It only takes me ten minutes to pack my things and leave this inhospitable hotel. The sky is overcast and it rains lightly, as in the eve.
Barely three kilometres further, crossing Horb am Neckar, Rosaura and me take our first tumble when pulling over the curb, which -hidden by a puddle- was higher than it looked, the over-confidence doing the rest. Two women waiting for the bus help me get up and set the bike upright: no significant material damages, but I’ve hurt my right hand. Paying no heed to my protests, the ladies call an ambulance, and ten minutes later I’m taken to a hospital I could have gone walking, ‘cos it’s only two blocks away; but then the driver wouldn’t earn the ride. Well, as long as I’m not charged for it, everyone’s happy.
Once in admissions, the girls there have some little issue with my European healthcare card, which after all is not so European as our politicians want to make us believe. Anyway the hospital staff assist me without any problem. Doctor says the radiographs show no fracture; it’s just the contusion; so they bandage my hand and I’m done in about one hour. Everybody has been quite nice to me, this I have to say.
Now, shall I be able to handle the bike with the bandage and the pain, or ought I to look for a hotel and wait to see what happens? There’s only one way of knowing: to try and continue. So, up onto Rosaura and I ride on. For the first hour or so, my hand aches, but the glove keeps it quite tight and at least it doesn’t go worse; actually, as time passes and the ointment acts, the pain recedes a bit. This is working good.
In Alpirsbag I stop for lunch and to give my hand a break. It’s a lovely mountain village, surrounded by woods and full of those beautiful houses, so typical in this country, old but well preserved, with their characteristic wooden crossbeams and painted in diverse styles. This would be a nice place to stay overnight, but then I’ve barely driven forty kilometres today, and I’d like to reach the border with France.
Randomly I pick a ghasthoff among the many existing in town. Funny, the barman turns out to be Hungarian, the man drinking beer at the bar is Canadian and the couple by the window are Spaniards; so -as corresponds- we mock at the idea of countries and borders. My compatriots, a very agreeable twosome, have flown first to Münich, then rented a car to traverse the Black Forest for a week. For the rest, my venison schnitzel garnished with kartofelsalad is absolutely delicious, and the beer from the local brewery is fabulous too.
I feel a brand new man now. My day begun badly but has improved a lot. My hand is feeling better, and the weather too: no rain, though still overcast and cool. Not for long, though: after retaking the road, when descending to the Rhin valley, in only half an hour the temperature raises eight or ten Celsius; it’s the typical Foehn effect. However, the strongest contrast is not this, but the landscape: the valley is industrial and ugly. A short stop for taking off one layer of cloth, then get out of here as fast as possible.
The Rhin river draws the border between Germany and France. However, there is not a single road sign indicating I’ve changed countries; not even one of those typical informative notices with the speed limits on them. This is real free movement of people, pure Schengen spirit. Though I’m in the French Alsace now, the houses here belong to the unmistakable German style, and even the place names sound German. How absurdly the political borders are drawn, often!
I can’t wait to get out of this ugly valley, anyway. Bypassing Colmer takes me a good twenty minutes, and finally everything changes when I take the secondary route towards Munster. I’m gaining altitude again, and the landscape becomes a lot more pleasing: I’m entering a wine country; and few views are more spectacular than the vineyards in fall and before sunset, when the colours of its polychromy become yet denser and brighter.
Munster is a lovely, endearing small village at the foothills of Vosgues. And, really, it’s such a contrast with the German aloofness! People are a lot nicer here, more smiling and affable. To stay overnight I choose La Cigogne, a small pleasant hotel whose receptionist, all politeness and kindness, struggles to provide me with the room best fitting my needs and likes in every sense. No asking for documents, no paying in advance, no questionings of any kind, but just “here’s the key and enjoy your evening”. I’m even offered a nearby garage to park Rosaura at no extra cost. French really do understand tourism and hospitality; there’s no other country like France for that.
Yet… I want to finish this journey. It’s four months since I set on, and I feel now like a boomerang: returning home without having reached a destination, nor achieved any other goal than just drawing paths on the air…