Many of the places we've recently visited were planned to move us northward to spend Christmas with our Belmont friends Ariane and Stefan in the Black Forest of Germany. Their home town, Baden Baden, is just an hour or so from Strasbourg France (in fact, Stefan remarked that people from the Black Forest relate far more with the Alsace region of France than they do with Bavaria to the east). We wisely left the highway and drove along the back roads through vineyards for the last 12 km.
We met up with Ariane and strolled from her childhood home down to the Lichtentaler Allee - a lovely park along the Oos river that reminded us of Boston's "Emerald Necklace". We had lunch at "Wallstreet im Hamilton". It was great catching up over a bowl of pumpkin soup and a "Feldsalat" salad ("lamb's lettuce" - which quickly became a favorite of ours). We later headed to our "Modern apartment in Baden-Baden - small but nice!" (that we found this time on VRBO). It was a short walk to "Shopping Cité", a mall shaped like a pair of UFOs that had the first European "TK Maxx" store we'd seen (Nancy was thrilled). We'd be back there several times, especially for the great Edeka supermarket.
There was rain in the forecast so we got up and out to visit the ruins of the Hohenbaden Castle (the "old castle") overlooking the city below. A glimpse of sun inspired us to set off along the "B500", a road that runs along the heights of the Black Forest mountains. At times we were literally in the clouds, as we cruised along the tree tops listening to classical music, on our way to Freudenstadt. We had coffee, tea, and sweets at the Cafe Müller - Warm Apple Strudel swimming in Vanilla Sauce for Richard and a Fruit-studded Cheese Cake for Nancy.
Undaunted by yet another gray and rainy forecast, we set off for the wine region of Durbach and a wine tasting at the Durbacher Winemakers' Cooperative winery. The area was really fascinating with a symmetry of vineyards and orchards stretching up and over the rolling hills. We enjoyed a half-dozen or so wines including dry ("trochen") whites, a couple of reds, and even a nice sparkling rosé. Taking the advice of a local at the wine bar we had lunch at the nearby Hotel Linde where we enjoyed Roast Beef and Schnitzel.
That evening we finally caught up with Ariane, Stefan, and two of their sons Valentin and Leander. We enjoyed a stroll around the Baden-Badener Christkindelmarkt (hands down the best Christmas Market we'd seen), a climb up to the "New Castle", and dinner at Amadeus.
The big day finally arrived - Christmas Eve in Germany! It was similar enough to feel comfortable, yet foreign enough to keep from breaking our hearts. The festivities began with a Christmas Eve Mass (this part of Germany is mainly Catholic), with the scent of incense, the choruses of children singing carols, and the magic of lights in the evergreens, and the candle-light procession of children to the creche. Beautiful. Then we were off to the home of Stefan's parents for a delicious Christmas Eve Feast: soup, beef bourguignon with freshly made spaetzle, diced beets, delicious wines, and great conversation.
After dinner the whole family sat in a circle as the Christmas tree was lit - REAL CANDLES - and Leander read the Nativity story from the bible. Enthusiastic singing followed with Leander and Richard accompanying on the piano as we sang a mix of German and English carols. We introduced them to our family's favorite - The 12 Days of Christmas - giving each person a number to sing, with Ariane taking the coveted "Five Golden Rings". Then, one-by-one, the gifts were exchanged. Caressing the package, peeking under the wrapping, and then a slow and meticulous unwrapping. No tearing ever - savoring the surprise is an art form in this family. The recipient then chooses a gift from the pile and hands it to the next unwrapper.
We followed up with some fine Scotch whiskeys (yes, plural) and German schnapps before we said our good-byes and headed off to have a FaceTime call with our own crew back in Richmond VA who were just gearing up for their own caroling accompanied by Bridget and Mark on guitars.
Christmas morning was quiet, starting with some Nuremberg-Elisen gingerbread cookies that Stefan gave us and some dense fruitcake we carried with us from Strasbourg - yum. Stefan's family would be out for the day and kindly gave us the keys to their home so Richard could play their piano some more - a perfect gift! Then we drove into town where old habits die hard - pay for parking? not us. A few spins around the block and we found a great spot. We had a pair of chicken "burgers" for lunch at Cito Burger while we watched across the street where Santa was getting some exercise at the skating rink after a long night. If you're going to be away from home on Christmas Day, Baden Baden makes it easy to enjoy - even the Christmas Market was in full swing - more Glühwein!
Read more at Black Forest Continued.
Use the "Next Post >>" Button at the bottom of each post to step through our story chronologically.
Nancy McCabe &