Country Mouse/ City Mouse

Truth be told, I am very conflicted about my country mouse/ city mouse existence. I love big cities. I was so happy to be living in London last year, and since we’ve been back, I have been missing the energy of city life. There are days when I rage at being isolated in the country. I long to walk down a street, hear different languages, peer into windows, people watch.

But I am also deeply committed to living in the woods. We moved to the rural wilds of eastern Ontario 25 years ago to give our children a childhood filled with trees to climb, stars to count and newts to save. Every day I revel in the beauty of what I learn outside my door.

We were in Toronto this past week, visiting our son Xan for his birthday, when the big blizzard hit. There was no driving home so we spent a fabulous day visiting friends and trudging through the snowy streets. Going to St. Lawrence Market was a party in itself – there was a communal pride in being intrepid Canadians. We sipped spicy Korean soup and shared weather stories with others who had braved the storm for the sake of community and good food.

The next day was clear and bright and we drove away from the city, leaving the already brown, snow-clogged city streets. Snow in the city is annoying, but in the country it is transformative. It stays white and clean and makes everything look new and fresh. The snow reflects the sun, making everything brighter. In the country when there is a huge snowfall followed by a day of sunshine, we unfurl from our grumpy grey winter hibernation and soak up the extra strong rays. Winter on these days is the best time of year imaginable. I can’t imagine anywhere better.

Our house is on 78 acres of scrubby land, adjoining hundreds of sparsely populated acres of the same. On a snow-filled winter day, I can walk out the front door, strap on my cross-country skis and go to investigate the woods.

Amanda heading out for a ski
Heading out to ski

Lewis and I decided to explore together – he on snow shoes, me on skis. We’ve got a trail through the property that we keep open, but breaking through the snow is hard work. These are not groomed ski trails. I let Lewis go first.

We are not the only ones in the woods, of course. Observing animal tracks is one of the real bonuses of the woods in winter. In the woods you can follow stories. There are a lot of deer this year. We could see where they’d circled the juniper bushes for the deliciously fermented berries.

Deer trails and juniper bushes
Deer trails and juniper bushes

We found hollows where the deer had curled up in south facing exposures – resting places where they could get sun but still be protected from the wind.

A cozy deer bed
A cozy deer bed. The light is deceptive. That’s a hollow in the snow, not a mound. You can see tracks leading in and out.

It takes about a half an hour for us to get to the back end of our land, longer when we are breaking trail. Our property ends at an old rail bed that is now part of the Trans Canada Trail. Initiated in 1994, the TCT is the world’s longest muti-use network of recreational trails. 73% of the trail is now complete, comprising 16,800 kilometers of trail stretching across the country. It is scheduled for completion in 2017, in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Apparently, 80% of Canadians are within 30 minutes of the trail – which seems to me an impossible statistic. Does that mean 80% of Canadians could come walking, riding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, jogging, biking, or skiing past my “back door”? Perhaps I am not as isolated as I thought.

We have an old barn at the back of our property, right by the trail.

The old barn
The old barn

The barn is at least 100 years old, probably more like 150, as it was one of the first built by the previous owners of the land. They had a sawmill and a barn building business. It is a beautiful building, with huge ash beams of a size that is unknown now. I’ve used the occasional piece of barn board for artwork (“Fragments of the Leaves of Grass”). But it’s at the back of the property and not really useful to us as a barn. I’m ashamed to say we’ve let it fall into disrepair. With this last snowfall the roof finally caved in. It is now a statistic – one of Ontario’s beautiful ruins of agricultural days gone by. Too late to repair it, I can only hope the wood will find new life as reclaimed furniture or art.

But there is an animal trail coming out of the barn. Something canine, that is clearly living in there and has made a well-worn path. It is solitary, not grouped like the clustered deer tracks. While coyotes are common, the singularity and size of the path makes me wonder if it is a wolf. A lone wolf. Perhaps. I’m glad the barn can give it shelter.

Lewis and I find a fallen branch to dust off and sit on. I’ve brought us a little treat for our excursion – tiny glasses of port and a piece of Mexican chocolate. We leave drops and crumbs for hungry deer to find.

There is a beaver pond on our land, and we set off across it, well off the trail now.

setting off across the beaver pond
setting off across the beaver pond

The snow allows us to explore places that we can’t get to other times of year. We begin the trip back home. The afternoon sun streams through the cedar grove. The silence is deep and full.

It really doesn’t get much better.

The light through the cedar grove
The light through the cedar grove

Keeping Christmas

I have often wondered if we moved to the country because of Christmas.

The first winter that we lived in Brooke Valley, we went out into the woods with our three small children and cut down a very scraggly, Charlie Brown-ish tree. The snow came down in lazy, fat flakes as we brought our treasure into the house. We hung soggy mittens by the fire and cupped our hands around steaming mugs of hot chocolate. We were living in the middle of a Christmas card.

Since then, we’ve had as many green Christmases as white, some treacherous with ice, some grey and sodden. Our Christmas trees have always been naturally wild and wispy (“Your tree has great negative space,” said our most optimistic friend). Over the years, Lewis grew to be our primary tree finder and cutter. He took to enhancing nature by drilling holes in the trunk and inserting extra branches to fill out the shape. But whatever the shortcomings of the tree, the house has been filled with Christmas spirit – the smell of good food, the warmth of a fire, and days of laughter.

Last year was our first non-Canadian Christmas. We discovered new foods and new traditions in La Spezia, Italy. Sitting on a sun-drenched patio, drinking Prosecco while munching on delicious Italian cheeses and breads made up for the lack of snow, tree and fireplace. Funny, we didn’t miss any of the usual trappings.

But back home in Canada for Christmas this year, Tim & I dug out ornaments and fell into familiar patterns. Everything seemed all the more special for having been tucked away for 2 years. I carefully unwrapped the special, gold-rimmed Christmas glasses, purchased by my parents in New York over 50 years ago. Tim unrolled the felt advent calendar to find a few additional mouse holes along the edge. (The story of our mouse-chewed advent calendar is one he wrote as “The Mouse in the Manger”, many years ago. Sentiment keeps me from repairing the felt.)

Mouse eaten Advent Calendar
Mouse eaten Advent Calendar

Lewis set off to find a tree. We have 76 acres, and there are a lot to chose from, but finding something that works, a tree that is full and thick, is always a challenge. Determined to bring in something impressive, he felled a 35-foot spruce using only a dull cross cut saw. He cut off the top 10 feet and hefted it home the day before our first big snowfall.

Lewis and this year's tree
Lewis and this year’s tree

When the plate-sized flakes began to fall, we were surprisingly excited.

Nighttime snowfall in Brooke Valley
Nighttime snowfall in Brooke Valley

The first snow of the year was heavy and wet – perfect packing snow. Perfect snow lady material.

Amanda, Maddy & the Snow Lady
Amanda, Maddy & the Snow Lady

Over the next few days, the temperature dropped. As it did, the snow quality changed. There were smaller, lighter flakes, not good for packing at all. But we were assured of a white Christmas.

A White Christmas
A White Christmas

The unpredictability of the weather at this time of year can easily destroy festive plans, but luck was with us. Timing was perfect as family and friends arrived in various stages. But the snow accumulation grew and grew until eventually it was impassable. The day after Boxing Day, we abandoned all thoughts of driving and hunkered down to await the eventual arrival of snowplows.

Snowed in
Snowed in

There is a blissful and deep quiet that comes with a large snowfall.

And so we have once again celebrated the season in a Christmas card world. We’ve walked the snowy roads under moonlight and sighted Jupiter, shining brightly. We’ve filled the house with lights and familiar ornaments, and flamed the plum pudding. We’ve watched deer and ravens enjoying bits of composted leftovers. We’ve reveled in memories of Christmases gone by, and toasted absent friends. And we’ve boosted and fortified ourselves to be able to face the long cold winter ahead. As Dickens instructs, we’ll “keep Christmas in our hearts throughout the year”.

A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol

Sparkles, Rights and Freedom

Cara Rowlands and Patrice Forbes in the tree decorating room
Cara Rowlands and Patrice Forbes in the tree decorating room

I’ve been spending the last week at the Ottawa City Hall, decorating for The Mayor’s Christmas Party. The Mayor’s Christmas Party is a huge annual event attracting 5000 – 6000 Ottawans to meet Santa, have their faces painted, nibble chocolate treats from Mrs. Claus, make crafts, skate on the rink, roast marshmellows and quaff endless cups of hot chocolate. It’s a big event and my friend Sarah Waghorn of Pukeko Design has the contract to design it.

I know Sarah from Ottawa theatre circles. Designing the Mayor’s Christmas Party is like doing a theatre show except that it’s a huge set filled with audience, workers, performers and thousands of details. We are working to a tight, inflexible deadline and everything has to follow an exact plan. Sarah has hired a team of us, mostly from the theatre community, to decorate and perform elfish duties on the day. Lewis Wynne-Jones has joined us so we really are a family team, a dedicated bunch who take pride in our work. We are under the domain of the Office of Protocol and happy to be their minions for the next seven days.

Who says the city doesn’t support the arts?

We met on the first day in a low section of the stone basement in City Hall. There was a long hallway containing at least 50 boxes of new ornaments for us to sort through. I squatted on the floor so as not to spend the day bent over, wearing a Pukeko apron and bright green gardening gloves. I was soon covered in sparkles from the coloured balls. We became a team immediately recognizable by our sparkly faces, sparkles that were embedded in our skin for the whole of the next week.

Lewis decorating the big tree
Lewis decorating the big tree

Our work hallway led to a tree storage room. A whole room filled with artificial Christmas trees. There was also a secure room accessible only by swipe key filled with all of the kinds of things needed for special events – shelves of Maple syrup (protocol gifts), vases, cake platters, tables cloths, signs, Halloween ornaments, Kahlua (?) and cranberry juice. There were boxes of miniature flags, one box for every country in the world it seems, except for China for which there were 8 boxes. It is in this secure room that we unpacked the special ornaments and exquisite fake cakes for the “set” of Mrs. Claus’ bakery.

We’re a great team and for the first while we swapped theatre gossip and family Christmas stories. We spent two days listening to carols before we gave up trying to connect our tasks to Christmas cheer. By day 3, we were spending hours in silence and small decisions (what colour next?), as we perfected each tree. Over the course of 4 days, we carried, fluffed and decorated 30 trees of varying sizes. My arms became shredded by plastic pine needles as I wove strands of lights and looped 200 coloured balls onto each tree.

After trees, we spent days affixing garland on bannisters, wrapping over 300 boxes for presents, changing the hangers on 50 large ornaments (gold cord is all wrong), changing the orientation of 200 ornaments (they don’t work hanging vertically, they should be horizontal), re-wiring garlands, setting out all of the trees and finding places to plug them in. It was backbreaking and leg exhausting as we crisscrossed the building and work on concrete floors.

Finished Big Tree
Finished Big Tree

I found myself in a contemplative mood and headed out on a lunch break, to clear my mind in the crisp December air. Beside City Hall is the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights, a monument that I have seen for years but never really looked at. Designed by Montreal artist Melvin Charney, the sculpture incorporates the first sentence of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights – Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et egaux en dignité et en droits.”  The words “Equality”, “Dignity” and “Rights” are repeated in English and French across the top of the monument. These words are then repeated on individual plaques in the 73 languages of Canada’s First Nations.

The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights was inspired by the Polish worker’s solidarity strikes in the 1980’s and is dedicated to the struggle for fundamental human rights and freedoms. Algonquin elder William Commanda ceremonially introduced it in 1990, followed by an official unveiling by the Dalai Lama. Since then, the monument has been the focal point for a wide range of demonstrations drawing awareness to human rights issues.

Canadian Tribute to Human Rights
Canadian Tribute to Human Rights

The monument sits on Algonquin land, as does City Hall. Before returning to work, I took a moment to walk through the simple and unadorned archway, grateful to have the freedom to do so, grateful to be working with a dedicated, sparkly team on a common, happy, goal.

Coming Home

Writing a final chapter to my Stepping Off the Treadmill blog has been hard. It is taking time to acclimatize to being back, and I suspect that we will be assimilating the experiences of the last 9 ½ months for a very long time.

What I can say is that it has been wonderful to come back to such an outpouring of love from family and friends. It has been especially important, because my father died 5 days after we landed back in Canada. I was lucky to have been able to see him and talk to him before he died, and to be with my mother at this difficult time. Our homecoming has been bittersweet, and all in all, very discombobulated. So we have been grateful to come back to our welcoming community of friends and family.

Our house, when we finally arrived home, seemed big and quiet. While away, we were always living with other people. We couldn’t help feeling that our house was a bit empty. Even our cat, when she came home, seemed quieter than usual.

Of course there has been a lot of business to attend to. We waded through 9 ½ months of mail. We did our taxes. We made appointments with dentists. We raged at our internet service providers. But we haven’t really unpacked. Every now and then we open up some of the boxes that we packed up 10 months ago, but we are surprisingly uninterested in whatever they contain. I guess we are still travelling light.

People ask if it is wonderful to be home. I can say that we seem to have chosen exactly the right moment – we left a London that had been rainy and cold for weeks and arrived to a sunny Ontario heat wave. We’re enjoying meals on our back deck and finding opportunities for lots of therapeutic gardening. We had a dinner party within days of being home, and loved re-discovering our own pots and pans. We’ve been to a vernissage at our local gallery in Perth, the Riverguild, where we saw a wonderful exhibit of new watercolours by our friend Franc van Oort. And we went to an opening of a play at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa where we schmoozed with the cream of the Ottawa theatre community. Tim is heavily into a second draft of a new book, and I am chomping at the bit to get back to my writing as well.

But I am at my happiest when I can talk about where we have been, who we have met, and what we have done since August 1, 2011. Every time we tell a story from the trip, it becomes more real. Tim and I look at each other and say, “this actually happened.”

I know that our future will contain more adventures. But for now, we have stories to tell, narratives to create, and meaning to discover. To those of you who have shared directly in the adventure – thank you for making it so extraordinary. You have, each of you, changed our lives and made them fundamentally better. To those who have been armchair travellers – thank you for coming along. You too, by being observers and commentators, are part of the experience.

“My personal conviction is that we are not changed by our experiences as common wisdom has it. What changes us are the stories we tell about our experiences. Until we have re-formed our lives into story-structured words we cannot find and contemplate the meaning of our lived experiences. Till then they remain in the realm of beastly knowledge. Only by turning the raw material of life into story – by putting it into a pattern of words we call narrative – can beastly knowledge be creatively transformed and given meaning. It is storying that changes us, not events.” –Aidan Chambers

Home in Brooke Valley

Saying Goodbye, part two

Saying goodbye to London means saying goodbye to our favourite dance company, Tempered Body Dance Theatre. We were able to go to one last “Cha-Cha-Cha”, an evening of scratch performances by three companies, including Tempered Body, at Chisenhale Dance Studio. We got to see more of Tempered Body’s new piece “Stand-By”, an exploration of physical and emotional dependency.

Tempered Body Dance Theatre in rehearsal

“As active or non-active feminists of the 21st Century we are taught to be independent. Dependence on other people is accepted as weak and lacking courage. Same too with dependence on substances. Are we really saying these two categories of dependence are similarly devastating? When is independence destructive?” Maddy Wynne-Jones on “Stand-By”

The show premiers in June, after we’ve gone. It has been a privilege to watch these dancers at work, a thrill to watch Maddy creating this piece.

Saying goodbye to London means saying goodbye to the West End, so we decided to splurge on a couple of shows. Trying to decide which shows to go to has been hard. As Sondheim fanatics, Sweeney Todd with Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton was an obvious choice – I had seen the original production on Broadway and this was every bit as wonderful. Michael Ball was a sympathetic and socially conscious Sweeney. Imelda Staunton was funny, sexy and brilliant.

Globe to Globe, part of the Shakespeare World Festival, was also something we wanted to see. 40 plays from 40 countries. We could only see one – the Palestinian production of Richard 2. Funny, angry, provocative. We met up with fellow Ottawan Jessica Ruano after the show, stopping for a drink to talk about art, politics and how to produce theatre that matters. It was hard to walk away from the other 39 shows…

The musical hit of the West End is Matilda, winner of 7 Olivier Awards. It is riotously outrageous, with the wickedly funny Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull. I am in the business of working with children on stage, and I know what they are capable of. But I was floored by these young performers. A fabulous show, and an amazing adaptation of the book by Roald Dahl. Jaw dropping design. Rude, irreverent. What’s not to love about a show that has the biggest belch that ever existed?

We also went to listen to the brilliant playwright Michael Frayn who has two shows on in London: “Noises Off”, the toast of the town, which we saw (Celia Imrie as Dotty!) and could hardly breathe for laughing; and “Here”, which we didn’t get to see, much to our regret. He is also launching a new book, Skios, a blend of farce, satire and romance. Is there anyone who has such a variety of approaches in their work?

We made a dash out this week to see the amazing Bauhaus show at the Barbican. The Bauhaus school was a 14-year exploration of the arts that that changed the way we see things. When it was closed down by the Nazis, proponents of the movement fled to other countries and their design ideas spread throughout the world. I had been very affected by Bauhaus design and philosophy in my youth and it was incredibly inspiring to see the work assembled and thoughtfully chronicled.

Tim making notes at the Barbican

But the hardest thing right now is having to say good bye to family. It means tears and laughter, and last suppers. This week, Maddy made an amazing dinner for Peta, Bryan, Jo and Amanda. It was her “thank you” to them for putting us up (putting up with us). She created a meal of 4 courses, each dedicated to a country that we had stayed in for at least a week.

Starters (Spain) we had: Spanish Chorizo sausage sautéed with butter beans and shrimp on a bed of lettuce.

Mains (England): Individual Beef Wellingtons, garlic mash, roasted squash, green beans with almonds, mushrooms sauce and gravy sauce.

Dessert (France): Prune Clafoutis with custard.

Afters (Italy): Italian dessert wine (brought from our time in La Spezia) with cardamom biscotti.

It was an amazing feast, a fabulous and noisy night with family. It is impossible to think that we will be leaving, heartbreaking to try and say goodbye.

Maddy, Amanda, Jo, Bryan, Peta, Amanda & Tim at the farewell feast

Saying Goodbye, Part one

Right now, the harshest lesson for Tim and I to learn is that there is never enough time. There will always be more to discover. So much we haven’t seen. Around every corner, a new world waiting. Posters in the tube announcing new shows opening the day after we leave. Family events we’ll miss. We have to let it go. We have to learn how to say goodbye. Goodbye to London. Goodbye to family.

We are filling our last days in London with adventures and one of our most unique experiences was Tim’s raising of the Tower Bridge.

Tim was given one of the best gifts ever. He was given the opportunity to be the man behind the mechanism, the man to move 2,500 tons of steel to allow a boat to pass unimpeded down the Thames.

Tim looking at Tower Bridge

The Bridge, built in 1886, originally worked with a marvelous Victorian hydraulic system to lift the bascules (from the French word for “see-saw”, the moveable section of the bridge road) so that ships could pass through to the Port of London. Ships today still have a right of way along the river and, with 24 hours notice, the Bridge must be raised to allow passage through. On a rainy London morning in early May, Tim was the man who made that happen.

In the control centre for Tower Bridge

Tim met with the Chief Bridge Technician in the control tower of the Tower Bridge. The mechanization is electronic nowadays. But although the system has been modernized, the actual workings of the bridge remain the same. Huge amounts of steel are see-sawed up and down in a very short amount of time. A computer screen shows the inner workings. Buttons must be pushed in sequence. A level must be carefully pulled.

40,000 people cross Tower Bridge every day. This means that the first thing that must happen, when raising the bridge, is to stop the traffic. A push of a button, a communication with the outside patrol, and cars, pedestrians and cyclists came to a halt. Needless to say, this gave Tim an incredible sense of power.

The barriers in place, the traffic stopped, Tim pulls the lever to raise the bascules to 40°.

Tim pulls the lever

It is as though the city holds its breath. The bridge rises and the computer screen shows Tim the changing angle of the bascules. 40° achieved, the awaiting boat glides through.

The bridge raised

When the boat clears the bridge the bascules are lowered, everything is locked back in place and the cyclists race to get back on the road before the barriers are removed. Tim’s moment of glory is over, but he is presented with a certificate to mark the occasion and we are taken on a tour of the mechanisms far below the surface of the water. A secret world.

Tim gets his certificate of Bridge Raising

“The Thames is liquid history”, said John Burns in 1929. A few days later, we decided to go out and explore more of the history of the Thames and took a commuter boat down the river to Greenwich, another on our list of World Heritage Sites.

Greenwich is renowned for its maritime history. The newly restored Cutty Sark has just been “launched” in the dry dock beside the main pier. Built in 1869, the ship was one of the last tea clippers built and one of the fastest ships of her time.

The Cutty Sark, resting on its glass house. A picture not just for a blended Scotch.

It now sits atop a glass museum, held suspended so that you can walk beneath it. On a grey day, the ship seems full of the history of the sea.

The Maritime Museum is also in Greenwich, as is the oldest Royal Park in London. Greenwich Park was created in 1433 and is home to the Royal Observatory, which is where Greenwich Mean Time is centered.

The Royal Observatory

John Flamsteed was the first Royal Astronomer, by decree of King Charles 2, and his rooms and observation room are still in tact. The Octagon Room, where the regularity of the Earth’s rotation was tested, was designed by Inigo Jones.

The Octagon Room

The hill that the Observatory sits on affords a spectacular view of London, the O2 arena, and the new the Olympic Equestrian Events arena.

The view from Observatory Hill

The dark skies cleared (a bit — it has been the coldest and darkest May here since 1698!), as we ruminated on the foundation of time in place. By measuring longitude, we measure the earth’s rotation and use this to fix our concept of time. I stood on the meridian line, one foot officially in the west, one foot officially in the east. But our sense of time is elastic. Ten months ago, the time of our journey seemed endless. Now all we can say is, where has the time gone?

One foot in the west, one foot in the east

A journey along the Rhine

Just across the river from Mainz is the city of Wiesbaden, one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. The healing qualities of the hot springs here have been enjoyed for over 2,000 years. In the 19th century, Wiesbaden became the unofficial summer residence for Kaiser Wilhem II, and the town was much beloved by the Russian nobility and the wealthy. It continues to be a city of prosperity. We headed to Wiesbaden to see “Magisches Kaleidoskop”, an evening of contemporary dance pieces by Stephen Thoss and Jiří Kylián at the Hessisches Staatstheater. The theatre, like the theatre in Mainz, has dedicated dance, theatre, opera and symphonic companies and an extensive and impressive season.

The Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden was built in 1864 on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Amanda in the Hessisches Staatstheater.

It isn’t often you get to have pre-theatre drinks in a room like this. Magic Kaleidoscope was filled with fabulous thought-provoking and funny pieces. At least we thought they were funny. How can an audience not laugh at men dancing Mozart in large funny dresses?

Back in Mainz, the next morning was market day. We were thrilled. A market is a great bond between people, and whenever we have been in a town on a market day, we’ve felt a strong kinship with the locals. A shared love of food.

Eggs for sale at the Mainz market

The Mainz market was full of the huge lettuces we’d come to love in France and Italy, mounds of cheeses, sausages, breads and pastries. There were piles and piles of white asparagus, just in season. We had some delicious coffee and made a few purchases – a rhubarb pastry, a couple of buns, cheeses, a sausage, freshly marinated artichoke hearts – creating an impromptu picnic lunch.

We walked through the old town of Mainz, through squares surrounded by half timbered houses.

The old town in Mainz

One of the landmarks that we wanted to see in Mainz was St. Stephen’s church. Originally built in 990 atop the highest hill in the city, the current church was completed in 1340. In 1978, the artist Marc Chagall created 9 new stained glass windows for the church. The windows depict scenes from the Old Testament and were created as an attempt at German/Jewish reconciliation. The whole church is bathed in soft, mottled, luminous blue light.

Chagall’s stained glass windows in St. Stephen’s Church

It was a very holy space.

Although there was still lots to discover in Mainz, we decided to investigate a couple of nearby towns along the Rhine. A short train ride took us to the town of Bingen, a small working town on the edge of the River.

Bingen am Rhein

The name range a bell with us because of its connection to the 11thcentury mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard established several monasteries in the area and did some of her most important work here. There is a good museum in Bingen dedicated to her and her works. We took a quick walk around to town to see the castle, the Basilica of St. Martin, and the “Mouse Tower” (Mäuseturm) on an island in the river where, legend has it, the cruel Archbishop of Mainz, Hatto 2, was eaten by mice. Just like a Grimm’s fairy tale.

The “Mouse Tower”

From Bingen we took a short ferry ride across the Rhine to Rüdesheim, a wine-making town recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Rüdesheim is apparently one of the largest tourist draws in Germany and even on a dull and rainy day, the town was filled with tourists, mostly Korean and Chinese, stocking up on Rhine wine. A sign on a wine distributor’s shop told us (in English and Chinese) that they could ship their wines to your door in China from their Chinese factory.

Rüdesheim

Rüdesheim is a pretty town with cobbled streets and a funicular to take you up the hillside to the Niederwalddenkmal monument. The monument, commemorated in 1883, represents the unity of all Germans. At 38 meters high, it towers over the surrounding vineyards.

The Niederwalddenkmal monument, overlooking the vineyards

We didn’t journey up the hill. We could see from a distance that the monument was covered up for restoration. It would be worth the trip on a sunny day, when you could enjoy walking on the surrounding forest paths.

The Niederwalddenkmal monument, covered for restoration

From Rüdesheim we continued our trip down the Rhine, heading back to Mainz by boat. Seated out on the deck in the drizzle, we enjoyed wine made from the vines we were passing.

Tim, travelling along the Rhine

The world slowed down as the loud speakers on the boat played a bit of oompah and muzak. Towns along the Rhine glided past.

We arrived back in Mainz to be greeted by Trish and Alex, on their bikes. We tucked ourselves into a very local Weinstube (wine bar), the Weinstube Specht, where we ate huge and generous plates of schnitzel, potatoes, herring and fresh apple strudel. We sat talking late into the night, wishing we could stay longer. It had been a whirlwind tour of a small corner of Germany, one in which our eyes and taste buds were opened.

Trish and Alex, celebrating by candlelight