Winter Break Part 2

Mainz-Kelsterbach-Frankfurt-Sächischer Schweiz

Hello again! Here is the link to all the photos from part two of the journey: and with that we are off once again!

Selina's Home Turf: Mainz, Kelsterbach and Frankfurt #

Selina met me in Mainz, where we found a locker I could wedge my large pack into while we went to explore the city a bit. Despite being so close to where she grew up, Selina had hardly spent any time in Mainz, so it was pretty much all new to both of us.

As we strolled away from the station, we compared notes on what a "pretty city" meant and realized that Germans (spoiled as they are by a plethora of lovely old buildings) have much higher standards. Certain areas of Mainz are "ugly" by German standards, but pretty much looked like any normal American city. I was really impressed, for example by the sheer size and grandeur of the Mainz Cathedral, but Selina (though acknowledging it was nice) though the one in Frankfurt even nicer. We then peeked in the windows of the Gutenberg Museum, which probably would have been pretty cool to go into, but alas, it was closed—being Sunday. St. Stephan's Church was also lovely and afforded a nice lookout over the city.

By this point we had seen most of what we wanted to look at in Mainz, so we headed back to the train station where I heaved my backpack out of the locker it just barely fit into in the first place, and boarded the train for Kelsterbach. We had some more good talks as we settled in for an early-ish night at her place. We turned in early in preparation for exploring Frankfurt properly the next day, since all I had seen of it last time was the train station and one restaurant.

Like in Brussels, it was another rather food-focused adventure on Valentine's Day in Frankfurt. We started off by indulging in a vegetarian Currywurst, since neither of us had ever had the normally meat-based German classic. I was glad the guy talked us out of going for the sauce that would have been 30 times hotter than tabasco. The "10 times hotter than tabasco" sauce that we ended up going for was already pushing it, but still pretty tasty. We then strolled around briefly before settling in one of Selina's favorite cafe's in the city.

I had to try the famous "egg in a glass" which is pretty much a hard boiled egg with chives that you smash up in a cup before seasoning and eating with a spoon or on toast (I opted for a buttered roll and tomatoes, by her recommendation.) Selina was seduced by the lemon cake, as often happens, but we both agreed we should really stop ordering lemon cake made by anyone but ourselves, because it is never lemony enough. Alas. But she did have some tasty fresh-squeezed orange juice and I enjoyed my tea, so it was an overall success.

Once again, we found ourselves extremely full, and so opted to stroll about for a while, to digest. Before long, we found ourselves in a bookstore, which is one of my favorite places to find myself. Sometimes I fantasize about opening a book/yarn store when I grow up…We strolled through the shelves, soaking in the inevitable calm energy I always feel surrounded by that many stories. We managed not to buy anything, but read a lot of book jackets and added several titles to our mental "to be read" lists. I promised to fill out the google doc Selina had made with our year's shared reading goals too.

We continued our stroll through the Altstadt. We went by the impressive Opera House as well as the the even more impressive Frankfurter Cathedral (I would say it is on-par with Mainz.) I was also impressed with the little cloistered alcove, the "Ort der Stille" that was part of the Liebfrauenkirche. We stepped into the sheltered courtyard, and the chaotic noise of the city that I had become immune to abruptly fell away to an almost complete silence. It was unexpectedly serene to experience the sudden absence of the incessant city noise that I hadn't even noticed consciously before.

We did some window shopping and then got a wonderful view of the skyline from the famous padlock-filled Iron Bridge over the Main River. We toured the "Alt Sachenhausen" bar neighborhood, with its charmingly narrow and winding streets and traditional German "Fachwerk" houses. It was a bit surreal to be in the mostly deserted night-life hotspot in the middle of the afternoon, but it was easy to see how lively it would become after dark. We couldn't leave without getting me a taste of the famous apple wine or "Ebbelwei" as the local "hessischer" dialect pronounces it, that Frankfurt is known for. Selina ordered us one to split, mixed with seltzer water, as it is commonly served. Unlike Tino, I enjoyed the slightly tart drink quite a bit, and could easily imagine how refreshing it would be on a warm summer day. It's always great to have a local guide, and I really felt like we had hit the highlights and skipped the tourist traps by the time we hopped on the train back to Kelsterbach.

the view from the bridge over the Main river of the Frankfurt skyline with locks in the foreground
Quite the romantic spot to find ourselves on Valentines Day I guess, too bad both Tino and Adam were an ocean away…

I believe this was the evening where we watched both "A Star Is Born" and "Fack ju Göhte" which have, to put it mildly very different vibes. Without giving too much away in case anyone wants to watch either of these and hasn't seen them yet, the overall mood of "A Star Is Born" could be described as "soulful and dramatic," whereas "Fack ju Göhte" is an over-the-top "bad-boy-turned-caring-teacher" German comedy. It was good we watched them in the order we did, ending on a light one before going to sleep.

I slept in deliciously late on Tuesday morning, while poor Selina had to wake up at the normal time to get some actual work done, since our excursion from the day before had rather significantly cut into her workday. I spent most of the day reading and being wonderfully slothful. I don't think I put on shoes to go outside the entire day! We did make an elaborate lunch of vegan mac 'n cheese bake however. It was a coconut milk, nutritional yeast and butternut squash-based recipe that we amped up the spice quantities for so that it was truly gourmet. Selina was kind enough to let me continue hanging out in my pajamas while she ran out to get the few ingredients we didn't have on hand. We roasted some broccoli with chili flakes, garlic and cumin seeds too, and ate all of it with some fresh tomatoes for an extra scrumptious meal.

I had to head out in the late morning on Wednesday, in order to get a covid test before boarding the train to Bad Schandau, where I would meet Maggie. Despite a few minor delays on my earlier trains (I had to transfer three times I think?) I actually was able to make all of my connections, and I boarded the train that Maggie was supposed to already be on in Dresden. The problem was that she hadn't been as lucky, so her first train had gotten canceled due to the wind storms that were already making their way across Germany. So she wasn't on that train…

~​ADVENTURES​~ In The Sächsischer Schweiz #

Maggie's delay did mean that I was able to do some grocery shopping in Bad Schandau (near the Czech boarder, it was one of the stops Adam and I had gone through on our way to Prague back in November) before the stores closed. Not only did I have time to grocery shop, I also had time to stroll through the cute little town and even chat with Adam a bit in the train station before Maggie arrived a good 2 hours after she was scheduled to get there. This threw the first of many monkey-wrenches into our plans, because it meant that the bus up the hill to the Deutsche Alpen Verin hut we were staying in was no longer running…

This is when the ~​ADVENTURE​~ as we came to call it, really began. We talked about how there are lots of different kinds of adventure, ranging from a simple and fun exploratory hiking excursion, all the way to the series of somewhat unfortunate events that you know will be a good story someday, but are vaguely miserable at the time. You will quickly see what we meant by ~​ADVENTURE​~ I think. Luckily Maggie and I are both the types to focus on the humor in any ridiculous situation. Thus, we laughed as we shouldered our large packs and headed uphill for the hour long walk in the pitch black night.

I'll set the scene for you, so you can properly imagine what a gumba I looked like:

A nighttime picture of me in my peacock leggings with an inside-out umbrella and two backpacks on
So you can picture all of that walking along a dark country road on a random Wednesday night in February.

Things started off a bit sketchy since we had to walk in the dark along the curving road because there was no sidewalk, which is actually pretty uncommon for Germany, being as walker-friendly as it is. Luckily Maggie had a headlamp, so we were at least able to see and be seen somewhat. The danger of getting run over was soon replaced by the danger of falling in the mud and breaking an ankle, as google maps directed us up a wooded, uneven and formerly cobbled (but now very uneven and overgrown) path. I really could barely see where I was stepping, since Maggie's light was partly blocked by her body and giant pack, I kept having visions of tripping and landing on all the groceries, inevitably causing the yogurt to explode and then having to hike up the rest of the way covered in both yogurt and mud.

I laughingly tried to find the silver lining by commenting that it was actually an unseasonably warm, lovely night, and at least it wasn't raining. Anytime I say that, I can't help but think of the scene from the movie "Young Frankenstein" and the line "Could be worse. Could be raining!" at which point it promptly begins to pour. I asked if Maggie knew the scene, and we laughed abut it. AND THEN IT STARTED RAINING. Only very lightly though, luckily, and of course by the time we had dug out our waterproof backpack covers and raincoats and umbrellas, it had mostly stopped. Miraculously, neither of us fell, and we made it out of the woods, literally and figuratively before too long.

Once on the wider and brighter hilltop roads, we found that the rain had stopped and we had apparently done most of our ascending already, so it was mostly flat for the rest of the way. We did have to improvise a bit when it seemed like google maps was directing us to climb down a steep ravine with no path directly into a river, all of which appeared to be in someone's yard. We didn't opt to do that. Eventually we did in fact make it to the Deutsche Alpenverein hut we had rented however, and even managed to find the key and get in and turn on the water and power without issue. The Deutsche Alpenverein or "German Alpine Association" lets members rent a bed in the many huts they have in popular hiking areas.

There was an odd array of amenities available to us: no heat upstairs, but a wood stove in the kitchen/dining room, hot water only in the kitchen sink, unless you wanted to pay 50 cents for 15 liters of hot shower water. And we had a dishwasher, which was a surprising luxury that I haven't even had in my home for the last 10 years.

We explored the 5 bedrooms upstairs, with beds for over 30 hikers in non-pandemic times, and decided not to light the fire that night and instead get to sleep. We settled on the bottom of what I'll call a "bench style" bunk bed, with 5 sets of pillows and blankets on the bottom bunk. Luckily, we were the only ones there, so we each took 3 blankets. Because again: no heat.

We were still cold, and neither of us slept well (or really at all?) until we gave up and put on some wool socks, despite both being staunch anti-sock sleepers. Sometimes warm toes make all the difference though. That extra blanket I grabbed helped too.

In the morning, we were able to relax and eat a chill breakfast (literally, as it turned out, since it took a while for the fire to warm up the room.) Maggie went on a run while I did some knitting, and then we made a plan to do some grocery shopping for the rest of the long weekend before meeting Madeline (Maggie's study-abroad friend who is doing her Fulbright ETA in Essen) when her very delayed train finally arrived. We were extra glad she made it, since she had reported seeing a tree blow over right in front of her on the way to the station!

We were thinking of doing a short hike, but by the time we made it down to Bad Schandau, there didn't end up being enough time. So we tag-teamed the shopping, loaded up my backpack and hopped on the bus to Königstein (the town over) where we would meet Madeline. We gladly welcomed a new member of what we had started to call "Team Silver Linings" since Madeline had certainly earned membership by maintaining a cheerful attitude over the course of her absurdly delayed (and briefly life-threatening due to that falling tree) journey. It's always fun to meet a good friend of a friend, and as predicted by Maggie, we got along famously.

We eventually made it back up the hill to the hut, with the still-warm kitchen. We made some tasty corn chowder for dinner and had a nice evening of chatting and planning the next day's hike. We eventually left the toasty sanctuary of the kitchen to venture up to the chilly bedrooms. Let me tell you the wool-socks-from-the-get-go was a game changer. I had made the same mistake as the night before though, of drinking too much water too close to bedtime. The leaving of my finally-warmed-up blanket cocoon to go downstairs to the freezing bathroom and pee was not that fun.

Morning did eventually arrive however, and I had certainly gotten more sleep than the night before. I was thus prepared to set off for the Basteibrücke, which would be the end-point of our hike that day. After distributing the weight of our packs in a way that worked for everyone, and making sure we had enough layers, we went on our way. Although the day couldn't quite be called fully sunny, it wasn't very cold, and we did at least have patches of sunshine and no rain. It was rather gusty, but nothing too ridiculous, despite the fact that the predicted storms had caused all of Madeline and Maggie's train delays on the way there.

We had a nice easy (certainly by Maggie's standards!) hike, and we chatted about everything from what kinds of gnomes we would be, to more normal topics like who we might know in common. We didn't make any connections yet, but I am almost positive that if we add another degree of separation we could find someone I know who knows someone she knows, we're both midwesterners, after all! We managed to find a nice rock to perch on and eat our sandwiches, which we finishes just before our hands went numb and we got up to commence our descent. I was thrilled to finally finish the leftover trail mix I had from our trip to Austria way back in early October too! It turns out I really do only like trail mix when I'm on the trail.

Kate, Madeline and Maggie at a lookout point on the hike
Team Silver Linings

After a short wait for the bus, in which I stopped in at the corner store nearby to pick up some more bread and serendipitously founds some pretzel shaped HARIBO gummies, we made it back to the hut in the late afternoon. It was good we had planned on taking the bus home, since the rain began in earnest by the time we made it to the bus stop. We had debated going on another sunset stroll, but as the clouds had moved in and looked like they were there to stay, it didn't seem worth it. After all, the only thing we would likely see would be a vague smear of light sinking anticlimactically lower in the western sky.

Instead, we built up the fire for a cozy night of discussions, knitting (for me) and some bean-and-sweet-potato-burritos. When I say "cozy" I mean it was so easy to keep throwing another log on the fire, and since Madeline is perpetually cold, and we knew the upstairs would be freezing, we just kept the fire roaring until we finally glanced at the thermometer on the wall (opposite the fire, mind you) and it was 30 degrees Celsius! (85F) Not wanting to disperse any of that precious heat, I just went outside to avoid getting sweaty and literally chill out and check-in with Adam briefly before coming back in to the now pleasantly toasty kitchen. It was quite luxurious to be the only three people in a building meant to sleep 30. We each could've had our own table of 10 if we wanted, and were thus able to spread out our food and supplies without worrying about being in anyone's way. Our discussions ranged between topics as diverse as polyamorous relationships, rock climbing and the book on trauma stewardship that Madeline was reading.

You would have thought by the third night that I would have cracked the code on un-heated February hut sleeping: wool socks, 4 blankets, and limited water consumption in the hours before bed. I really just fell short on that last one though, since my constant struggle to be a generally well hydrated person conflicted with the "no water before bed" plan. The sleep was decent however, and the morning dawned windier but also sunnier than the day before.

Due to the impressive gusts (65mph had been predicted) we opted for a hike that would stick to the open spaces more often (we agreed that it would be good to avoid being smashed by falling trees.) After some granola and leftover soup breakfast, we set off for Katzfelsen: literally "Cat Cliff." I was glad the first part of our journey was on the road, with no nearby trees, since this was really the kind of wind that can make you stumble with its sudden force. Luckily, the gusts did diminish once we were in the more protected hills and narrower forest paths, and we were able to make it to the lookout. We summited to the Aussichtspunkt via a narrow metal ladder/steps, and passed the promised larger-than-life statue of a cat on the way up. After the required oohing and aahing and pictures, we found a little shelter with a picnic table under it where we could eat our sandwiches.This ended up being good, since some flurries of snow started drifting down as we began to eat. Needless to say, we didn't linger over our food, and headed back before too long.

We managed to make it back to the hut without "wind-ing away" as my childhood self apparently used to say. We re-lit the fire and settled in for another cozy evening. After some pesto pasta, we once again donned our layers and went out to gaze upon the stars in the wonderfully clear, crisp night. That is one perk of wind: it blows the incessant clouds away!

Just as I hope the first snow of the year never ceases to make me feel like a giddy little kid, I hope too that a starry sky will always take my breath away. It did this night. We identified (and misidentified, I'm sure) several constellations and planets, and could even make out what we were pretty sure was the hazy stipe of the milky way. We then did some playing around with the night photo capabilities of Madeline's new digital camera. Maggie and I served mostly as models, and after the first photo where we had to stand with frozen smiles for the long-exposure lens, quickly learned that it worked just as well if we stared up at the sky and turned our backs on the camera completely. We were mostly there as tiny silhouettes to give scale to the vast night sky anyway. After a few exciting successes, we headed inside for our last night of chilly sleep.

Kate, Madeline and Maggie under a starry sky
Team Silver Linings: night mode

When I got up in the morning, Maggie informed me that the train that all three of us were supposed to take from Bad Schandau to Berlin for the first part of our journeys had been completely canceled. It became clear that the return journey would turn out to be just as much of an ~​ADVENTURE​~ as getting there had been. We had certainly picked a dramatic weather weekend for our trip! We had watched videos of a ferry in Hamburg being engulfed by such a huge wave that the windows completely shattered, so it was pretty much a Germany-wide windstorm.

After much consultation with the Deutsche Bahn app, it was determined that Maggie would finish her pre-arranged kitchen cleanup duties and head out earlier, to catch a different train that (we hoped) would get her back to Hamburg. Madeline and I were able to get the rest of the hut cleaned, in order and locked up. The fact that it was Sunday meant there were apparently no busses at all, so we rolled her suitcase all the way down the hill to the train station. It was nice that Madeline and I could at least accompany each other as far as the Dresden Hauptbahnhof. Once there we hungrily scarfed down some pizza slices in a corner of the station before deciding that actually a pastry was required, and so we got and ate those in another secluded corner of the station before parting ways to our separate though ultimately not equally long and delay-ridden journeys.

Once again, my journey was the smoothest of the three, but it was still 8:30 before I made it home, having left the hut before 11 that morning. Actually, in the end, I don't even think I had any actual delays, just the constant threat of delays. I only even had to transfer once, so after switching trains in Elsterwerda, I was in fact conveyed all the way to the Rostock Hauptbahnhof. It was pretty nerve wracking though, since immediately upon boarding the second train, the driver came on the loudspeaker and announced that the train would go only as far as Oranienburg, just outside of Berlin. She said as a result of damaged trees on the tracks as well as flooding, the train would stop there, but failed to tell us what we were supposed to do to get home…Her voice just kept getting more and more frustrated each time she announced this when new passengers boarded, but still my app had no alternate route planned for me. I debated getting off earlier in Berlin, in the hope that there would be more convenient continued travel options to choose from there. In the end I decided to wait it out since I figured getting even one station closer to home had to be progress. I ended up being glad I did. At some point the driver changed and a very calm man announced the next stops with no mention of any delays or premature train end points.

Maggie and Madeline were both less fortunate, running into several delays, cancelations and changes of plans along the way. It was nearly 9 by the time Maggie made it to Hamburg, having left an hour earlier than us, and Madeline didn't get to Essen until quarter to 10, only to find caution tape in front of her apartment door! Apparently some drainpipe had blown off and was dangling precariously or some such ridiculousness. ~​ADVENTURE​~ indeed!

It was nice to have some text-able companions to keep our spirits up through these travails however, and we were able to help each other see the silver linings as much as possible, or at least laugh at the absurdity rather than scream in frustration. I managed to scrounge up some sort of a "dinner" from the scant ingredients leftover from the weekend and the one egg and random assortment of condiments that was all that my fridge contained. Needless to say I was pretty tired the next morning, but I was certainly glad not to have ended up stuck in Oranienburg after all! Maggie also walked us through the non-intuitive process of applying for partial refunds, since our journeys had been, to put it mildly, /disrupted/, and our arrival delayed by more than an hour.

Despite the more ~​ADVENTURESOME​~ aspects (or perhaps partly because of them?) it had been a lovely February break, all in all. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend time with a few different groups of people in 3 different countries! As I settled back into my routine I was also able to look forward to Adam's return to Germany the next weekend as well.