The travelling librarian – France and Germany – Or how many ways can a family holiday?
Last holidays, I left cold and dark Sydney behind me for the warmth, sun and light of France and Germany. Over three and a half weeks I enjoyed a mix of food, architecture, history, thermal baths and hiking, and got to test my (OK) German and (really quite bad) French.
First a few days in Paris with my San Francisco-based sister, before we headed off on our own Thelma and Louise road-trip, which took in Mont Saint-Michel on the Brittany coast,
the Bayeux Tapestry, wonderful Nantes with its enchanting Machines de l’île, including Le Grand Éléphant, and a few of the many, many chateaux of the Loire Valley.
Back to Paris in time to meet up with my daughter and catch an extremely early train to Treuchtlingen in Bavaria where a change of pace awaited me – a week of hiking along the Panorama Way along the valley of the Altmühl River. But no-one goes to Treuchtlingen without spending a few hours in the thermal baths, where you can enjoy bubbling mineral baths, hot springs, saunas, a salt room, and best of all, pools with massage jets at various heights – starting at ankles and moving up the body to neck height – which in true German style you enjoy until the bell rings, at which point you move to the next one along – ankles, calves, thighs, body, shoulders, neck – then you just start again.
The next morning saw us, now with added husband, start our five day Wandern along the river valley, a hike which took us through quaint German villages and Baroque towns, past Roman lines of defence, and through a stone quarry where the first fossil evidence that birds had evolved from reptiles was found.
The way was along paths lined with wild raspberry bushes and over juniper berry heaths, and offered spectacular views every day. And if you’re walking 15 to 30 km a day, there’s no need to feel guilty about schnitzel, sausages and beer for dinner.
However enjoyable walking is, it’s nice to stop, and, now minus our daughter who’d headed off to Munich, our week ended with a couple of days in Bamberg, an historic town with an 11th century cathedral, a muralled town hall in the middle of the river, and, while we were there, a Magic Festival. We couldn’t walk more than half a block before encountering another magician vanishing something, and making something else appear in its place. Bamberg is famous for its Rauchbier – smoked beer – definitely an acquired taste.
My last few days were spent in Paris – with my sister, then on my own – and were spent trying to avoid the heat, and hordes of late July visitors. The Musée d’Orsay was first on my list – and on every other tourist in Paris’s list as well – a good two hour wait in the blazing sun wasn’t my idea of a good time, so instead I headed to the fabric district at the foot of Montmartre – art is where you find it, and when not librarianing, I sew. Montmartre is home to over a dozen fabric and remnant (coupon, in French) stores. A few happy hours later I’d narrowed my choice to a length of African wax print, whilst making a mental note to bring an empty bag next time.
The next day took me to Napoleon and Josephine’s country residence, Malmaison. You reach Malmaison from La Défense – and the half hour bus trip which transports you there is a journey in time as well as space – La Défense is the Paris of the 21st century, while Malmaison is frozen in time at the beginning of the 19th. The Bonapartes were clearly very fond of gilt, and portraits of themselves, but their house is also a statement in elegance. It’s a beautiful house in lovely gardens – Josephine was something of an expert gardener, and in her day the garden even included plants and trees from Australia, along with black swans (which thrived), and kangaroos (which did not). And on a librarian note, Napoleon was a huge reader, who took a library with him even when he was at war.
My final day was something of a museum-fest. I started with the Musée National du Moyen Âge – a homage to the middle ages which also includes the ruins of a Roman baths. Its big claim to fame, though, is that it’s the home of the Lady and the Unicorn – six stunning tapestries which depict the five senses and a somewhat mysterious sixth – perhaps the heart. I shared my visit with a group of Parisian kindergarten children, who could not have been better behaved, and who were last seen colouring in stained glass drawings.
I still had most of the afternoon and the evening. The Musée d’Orsay was open late. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – I hit the metro and emerged at a relatively empty museum, where I spent a few hours soaking up some Impressionist art, before heading back to my AirBnB apartment to pack for the next day’s early departure and the downside of every Australian’s trip to Europe, the 24 hour flight home. Why does it have to be so far away?