Well, Rupert went home today. We've only been parted for ten days before and that was ten years ago; I won't see him now for more than two weeks, so am feeling a bit down. So, I will tell you all about Germany idyll.
My sister, Lalla ( or Camilla, to give her her real name) is married to Rupert's brother John and they have a beautiful house in a delightful village called Enkirche in Germany. We rose early on Monday morning - 3:30 am! - and flew to Frankfurt Hahn from Standstead, where the other Bignalls met us and took us back to their place.
Enkirche is one of many villages along the Mosel. This is wine country; grapevines are planted in rows up the steep sides of the mountains (well, the very tall hills) that rear into the sky either side of the river. In some places you can see the little trains, like roller coaster cars, that workers use to haul themselves up and down the hillsides. And every so often there is a village, made up of gingerbread houses lining the cobbled streets. All the roofs are as steeply sloped as the mountains, covered in overlapping slate tiles like fish scales; some of them are crisscrossed with timbers on the front, others covered in vines, most have casement windows growing from the roofs. Lalla and John took us into BernKastel Kues for lunch on our first day. It is an impossibly pretty town, filled with cobble stone alleyways leading to tiny squares, each with their own Christmas tree, or a statue of a bear, or a fountain with stone snakes entwined round a stone goblet. Nothing is straight - the alleyways meander, the houses lean across them, as if whispering secrets to each other and, though we arrived on the 7th of January, the Christmas decorations were still up, conifer branches entwined around doorways, strings of twinkling fairy lights strung between buildings. One building, painted white with the inevitable crisscrossing timbers, had twenty four brightly painted shutters depicting scenes from fairy tales and nursery rhymes - a giant advent calendar. We had lunch in a Weinhaus, sausages and dumplings, pork steaks, all things German and very delicious and washed down with beautiful local wine.
All stuffed and sloshing, we ventured out into the town again and climbed up to the local Castle, because, yes, of course, there is ruined castle looking over the town. From the top there was a beautiful view of the Mosel valley in the evening light, but of course I went into paranoid mother mode and kept yelling at the kids "keep away from the edge!"
I have no problem with heights - or depths, as the case may be - for myself, but let one of my children lean over a wall at the edge of a cliff and I am a mass of teeth jangling, feet fizzing fear, so that I end up ruining the whole thing for everybody. They're perfectly safe, I tell myself, they're old enough to know what they're doing, they're not going to jump off. I clamp my teeth shut as hard as I can, but then, before I know it, the words are out: "keep away from the edge!" in my best screeching harridan voice.
Then it was back down the mountain/hill and off to Lalla and John's house which is gorgeous. A tall, three floored building, not counting the cellars, with odd shaped rooms and corners you don't expect. It took me a while to work it all out, as I seemed to be constantly coming upon rooms I hadn't expected, round corners I had forgotten about! We dumped all the kids - our three and two of theirs, Meirion and Elisabeth (their eldest, Cecilia was in London, but the others are grown up enough so that we didn't need kid sitters, yay!) and went out to see if we could fit more food in our stomachs. We could. We did. Wine as well. It's a hard life.
The following day we climbed to the top of the ridge of hills and walked five kilometres to the next village, Traden Trabach. (A lot of these villages have double barrelled names, because they grow both sides of the Mosel. one side is Traden, the other side Trabach the other.I think.) The walk was beautiful, along forested paths steeped in golden and orange leaves that wound between rocky outcrops covered in brilliant green, shining moss. Every so often, there would be a parting in the trees and a beautiful vista of river, mountains and higgledy piggeldy gingerbread villages would open up in front of us. At some point we walked through a village perched on the top of the hills, all cobbled streets and timbered houses again, and then we walked down the hillside, through a pine forest, where the air was green and the ground a springy carpet of needles. Traden Trabach is a beautiful village with - wait for it - lots of winding cobbled alleyways winding between timbered gingerbread houses. We considered stopping off for coffee, but we had another engagement - a wine tasting with one of J and L's friends. dumped the kids and spent the next couple of hours drinking a selection of delicious wines - yes, we were still having it tough. Phillip, the owner, also has a guesthouse and he showed us proudly round the rooms which he had just finished setting up. If anyone feels like a holiday in the Mosel valley, they could do worse then go and stay at his place...
John and Lalla left early the next day. By now, Rupert's impersonation of a hippo that
I had been treated to for the last few days had turned into a full on fever. this had it's advantages as it was getting rather cold and all we had to do was gather around him to keep warm, but I was also rather worried about him. We shut up the house and drove to Traden Trabach to the pharmacy where he did a great charade of sneezing for the pharmacist and was given paracetemol which helped. then there seemed hardly any time before we were driving through the icy rain to the airport and back to England.
Arrived in England to discover my mobile had gone missing, Juliette had left her new Christmas book on the plane and we had lost a bottle of wine. All good things come to an end I suppose.