Black Forest
 

Welp, it’s go time.

As I type this, Alex and I are sitting in our Kathmandu guesthouse, packing for our trek to Everest Base Camp. Assuming the weather holds, we’ll be flying to Lukla in the morning and starting our trek, leaving behind real life (and stable wifi) for 15 days. I’m so excited I could puke. Or maybe that’s just early-onset altitude sickness. Who can say? Either way, we’ve got some pretty exciting stuff happening just a few hours from now, and it definitely feels like we’re starting a whole new chapter. 

But first, a recap of our last week in Europe. 

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After Oktoberfest, we were both feeling extremely dead - several days of nonstop drinking and little sleep and sustaining on only currywurst and free hotel breakfasts will do that to you. We wisely budgeted in an extra week of ‘buffer time’ ostensibly to road trip around Germany making our way from Munich to Frankfurt for our flight, but the real reason was because we knew we were just gonna want to sleep for 48 hours nonstop and nurse our wounds. I mean that literally: I am covered in bruises of mysterious origin. Thanks, Wiesn. 

We’ve been feeling awfully stifled by some rather strict planning lately: we booked Oktoberfest, Slovenia and Croatia quite far in advance and kept a somewhat tight schedule, so in order to rebel against…ourselves…we decided to live up to our name and screw the itinerary. (Ha.) That is to say, during our road trip we avoided making any plans or advance bookings. The goal was just to drive west towards the Black Forest, find a cool old German town to explore, sleep there for a night or two and then move on.

Of course, plans are made to be broken and our road trip didn’t turn out quite the way we’d anticipated, but if anything it was even better than we could’ve hoped for.

That's the good stuff: Black Forest cake. 

That's the good stuff: Black Forest cake. 

We started off by making the longest drive on our first day - after picking up our rental car, we departed Munich and headed for a small town called Offenburg, one of the biggest ‘small towns’ of the Black Forest region. It’s located close to the French border and right near the start of the Black Forest High Road, one of the most popular scenic driving routes in the region. We crashed there for two nights, and because we arrived late our first night due to traffic leaving Munich, we really didn’t realize just how stunning the state of Baden-Wurttemburg truly is. Every day we’d just hop in the car and explore, taking windy (but well-paved, unlike Ireland) roads through stretches of thick forest and wide open prairies and vineyards and windmills. 

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If you’re planning a trip to Germany and wish to get off the beaten path and explore, I highly recommend renting a car. Driving is incredibly easy (yes, even on the Autobahn) because roads and signs are clearly marked and the road quality is excellent. Drivers are generally courteous and it’s easy to pick up the local rules of the road. Most of all, having a car is just way more convenient - although the small towns are connected by trains for the most part, the scenic drives are a major draw to being in this part of Germany. We found a good deal through Hertz, and while we paid a fair amount more due to needing a one-way rental from Munich to Frankfurt, if you don’t do one-way you should be able to get a really good deal. Even with the one-way surcharge, our rental was still cheaper here than in Ireland (for automatic transmission). 

This region of Germany is part of the Rhineland which is internationally famous for its wine, and Alex and I are nothing if not winos so we would be remiss if we didn’t hit up at least one winery. We drove out to this 1000-year-old castle in the middle of nowhere, parked in a vaguely labeled parking lot, and walked almost 3 kilometers up a very windy road to this open-air courtyard where we sampled wine while looking out over the majestic Rhine valley below us. The weather was so clear we could actually see France far out in the distance. We each sampled white wines, and while we’re typically red wine people, these were definitely the exception and it became clear why this place is famous. Am I a convert? Hell no, red wine all the way, but at least I found a white that doesn’t give me traumatic flashbacks to Barefoot Wine and college BYOB dinners. 

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In Offenburg, we were at the northern tip of the Black Forest High Road, so when we checked out of our hotel we made our way south toward the starting point in Baden-Baden. The drive itself goes pretty much due south through the forest and terminates in Freudensadt. It’s easily done in a day and definitely quite the experience. Along the way we learned a few very important, and terrifying, facts about the High Road. First, like the Autobahn, bits of the High Road have no speed limit, despite the fact that the roads are ridiculously windy and full of blind curves as well as trucks trying to navigate those blind curves. Second, apparently everything I just said makes this a dream drive for motorcyclists. During our weeklong road trip, we saw hundreds of bikers joyriding through the various roads of the Black Forest, weaving in and out of traffic and driving at speeds that made my eyes water. It’s pretty nerve-wracking to observe, but every single biker looked to be having the best goddamn time of their life, so who am I to judge? At least they were all wearing helmets. And although we were just in a lowly station wagon, we thoroughly enjoyed this rare opportunity to joyride at speeds unheard of in the States. 

Once we arrived in Freudenstadt, we immediately knew we wanted to stay nearby. It’s the kind of place where you know there are other tourists, but you don’t really see any. That’s honestly our favorite kind of place. It’s tucked in the middle of the forest - you literally have to take the high road to get anywhere else in the area - and it’s got this charming small-town feel with a big main square and lots of mom-and-pop type restaurants. The tourists that do come here are mostly from elsewhere in Germany, less so from out of the country and even less so from outside Europe, so while English menus weren’t common what we lost in communication ability was more than made up for in hospitality and enthusiastic hand gestures.

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We were able to find a lodge and booked it for two nights, but literally within 5 minutes of arriving we decided to extend our stay and just remain there for the rest of our time in Germany. The lodge was actually not in Freudentstadt but in a small village (population 250) nearby called Igelsberg, which translates as “hedgehog town” which is a fact we did not know until after we got there, and it definitely felt serendipitous because I think hedgehogs are some of the cutest goddamn animals on planet earth. 

One of the funniest and best things about our week in Germany is that we were genuinely the youngest tourists everywhere we went by at least a few decades. It seems like the whole small town/scenic driving route tourist thing is more popular with retirees than with the millennial crowd. Can’t imagine why. It was honestly refreshing after being in the insanity of Oktoberfest to get back to our old-person, in bed before 10 p.m., homebody routine on another continent.

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I almost forgot to mention that we actually managed to squeeze in a bonus country - France! One day, instead of hiking we decided to do a quick roadtrip to Strasbourg, only about an hour away by car, and we spent several hours strolling around the river and wandering the streets. It’s crazy how even though it’s still basically in the heart of the Rhineland, it feels so French as soon as you cross the border. The architecture has German and French influences, but there are French flags everywhere and people on bicycles carrying baguettes (not making this up) and patisseries on every corner - truly every French stereotype you can imagine is the reality here, and it is absolutely incredible. And I definitely made a dent in my bank account stocking up on French skincare products…I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t 75% of my reason for crossing the border. What can I say, I’m a skincare geek. 

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This whole week in Germany really just made us feel at home. We rapidly developed an easy, comforting, relaxing routine at the lodge and I genuinely think if we hadn’t already had a flight booked we could have easily stayed there for weeks. We’d wake up, eat breakfast, go on a long hike through the Black Forest, nap, and then find an amazing restaurant in one of the nearby towns and eat back all the calories we burned and then some. Not only did this allow us to physically and mentally unwind after a whirlwind few weeks of travel, but the physical activity was good last-minute training for Nepal and helped us feel more healthy than we have in weeks. The crisp, clean air in the forest also did wonders, to say nothing of the psychological benefits of spending that much time in nature, and we both felt tremendously refreshed and rejuvenated by the end of the week. It was seriously the best thing we could have done to cap off our time in Europe. 

We’ll be radio silent for the next 15 days, but we have a few posts scheduled for that time so be sure to check back on the blog every once in a while. Bye for now!