23 Apr 2010
It was the month of the volcano. For a week, all flights over Europe were cancelled while a plume of ash from that Icelandic volcano drifted over the Continent. It wasn’t just the volcano fuming.
We were stuck in Amsterdam – and I must say that there are worse places to be stuck! – but we thought we’d take advantage, hire a car, see a bit of Europe. A fellow convention attendee had to get back to Switzerland, we offered to drive him, and a couple of American ladies were at a loose end. In hindsight, a Volkswagen Golf was not the best car to hire for five people and their intercontinental luggage.
But it was fun. We drove through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Switzerland. Those German autobahns were thrilling, but I kept on seeing the same exit sign and I wondered if we were just driving at 200 kilometres an hour in a big circle around the town of Ausfahrt.
“It means ‘exit’ in German,” said Ricky in the front seat. Ricky speaks a dozen languages and was an absolute godsend that trip.
“Ah, thanks, I thought it might have another meaning,” I said from the back, shifting my weight from one numb cheek to the other. (You try sitting three abreast in the back of a Golf for days on end. We were grinding hips all the way to Lucerne!)
We took one of those exits and spent a night above Landstuhl, where we stayed at Schloßhotel, a beautiful little hotel nestled in a fold of land under the hilltop castle of Schloß Sickenger. It took us a while to find the right path once we left the autobahn, and we scanned the direction signs carefully.
Kate caught a glimpse of a sign reading “Bäckerei” – German for “bakery”.
“Did that sign say ‘bacteria’?” she asked, with far too much interest in her voice.
“Well, we are in Germany,” I responded, risking injury in that cramped space where everyone was just an elbow away.
We found the hotel, they had rooms for a bunch of foreign drop-ins, we walked up to the crumbling castle in the twilight, explored the ramparts, and had a superb dinner with a tasty rosé when we ambled down again. It was a delight.
We relished being out of the cramped little Volkswagen, there were historic ruins and quirky carved tree stumps, a fabulous view over the Ramstein air base, and the dining room was large and airy, looking out to a courtyard with a fountain.
I brought my son back to the same place four years later, and it was every bit as enjoyable. The wine was even better, I thought. We had two bottles between us, and the waitress smacked my hand when I reached out to the ice bucket beside the table and poured us another glass. That was her job!
Sometimes it’s worth leaving the motorway and just taking a chance on the pretty little town of Ausfahrt.