Coming to a Theater Near You

I had great fun putting this little cartoon together with the help of a few friends. It’s pretty incredible what one can do with help from this fancy world wide web that the kids all seem to be talking about these days. If this video reminds you of anything you’ve seen before (other than the obvious: The Last Waltz, The Brady Bunch, Seven Samurai, The Great Escape, Howard Hill’s Hunting and Fishing with the Bow and Arrow, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki, or Rocky IV), please let me know, as I’m always looking for history / adventure stories told using new media. I hope you get a laugh or two out of the video!


Backgammon in Istanbul

I don’t speak Turkish, but my Tavla ain’t half bad. Tavla, or backgammon to the English tongue (derived from translation of “wee battle” in Welsh), is absolutely everywhere in old Constantinople. Walking the streets one afternoon, I spotted over 200 games being played. As the Turks usually play matches to five, and conservatively assuming all matches were clean sweeps, at the very minimum, that’s over one thousand games played in about a twenty block radius in a span of a few hours.

The citizens of Istanbul play backgammon in more occasions than Greeks use olive oil. Tavla is omnipresent. The game is simple enough to be taught to children who just learned to count. Yet, like most worthwhile pursuits, it can take a lifetime to master.

In the States, many people would associate backgammon with old clubs populated with old men who smell like old books. But here in Istanbul, the chimpanzees in the zoos do it, even some courageous kangaroos do it. It is a cacophonous affair here in ol’ Constantinople, played on wood boards by speedy hands owned by wisecracking mouths. I estimate that the career games played statisctic by an average resident approaches an order of magnitude on par with Tiger’s practice strokes.

My father once told me that the beauty of a good backgammon board was the interplay between different materials: the slide of pieces over playing surface, the sound and bounce of the dice roll, the feel of one checker hitting another, etc. Ask Ty Webb himself and he’ll likely tell you even he prefers a well-built cork surfaced board with marble pieces and dice cups for each player. The cruelest game is played quite differently in Istanbul for reasons that illustrate a few fascinating cultural nuances.

Tava : Turkey :: E.V.O.O : Greece ≠ Justice

As the game is played everywhere by everyone, the quality of the board or table is marginalized. Simple wood or plastic made-in-China fold-up boards are the most commonly scene. When played outside the home, the ruckus of tavla is most heard in coffee houses. The average Istanbuler on the street rarely has to ponder a move for more than a “one hippopotamus.” Amidst the storm of hands, arms, dice rolls, and trash talking, a curious onlooker would be hard pressed differentiate whose turn it is, or if the opponents are actually playing by the same rules. To ensure no player sneaks in weighted dice, the opponents share one set of tiny dice. As the surface is unforgiving wood, a tiny pair of dice, no bigger than a pea, are flicked in motions personal to each player with a variety and expressiveness that make an MLB umpires’ third strike calls seem monotonous.

Where backgammon survives with fervor in the States, the game is played pensively, taking time to consider all options, often consulting the bottom of a highball glass like an oracle reads tea leaves. In Turkey, the game is played at such a fast pace, there isn’t time to be drinking or eating or reading subtitles of the Kudlow Report from afar. This makes sense to me, as on more than one occasion in heated backgammon races, I’ve tried to either drink my dice or roll my Talisker (olfactory proof of the latter can be found in the board my parents received as a wedding present).

I couldn’t help but notice the absence of the doubling cube in Istanbul. The gambler’s weapon of mass destruction is rarely, if ever seen. I initially assumed the absence was due to remnants of sharia law’s forbidding of gambling. Upon further review, its turns out the doubling cube, I’m pleased to report, is an invention of my fellow Americans, first seen in clubhouses of New York’s Lower East Side hangouts in the 1920s. Related to the point above about on single-malt slip-ups, a tavla wizard I met told me that Turks will rarely mix gambling and alcohol. “Not that we’re against either one alone, but we will never mix them together.” Thus, a “tavla tourist” will be surprised to find that most bars will not have a backgammon board, when the average coffee house will have more than ten.

Those familiar with the “kahvehanes” of Istanbul will know that these are almost strictly for men only. The casual observer could be lead to believe that tavla is thus a game for the Y-chromosome-holders only. This could not be further from the truth. Using the guise of travel writer to approach pretty Turkish girls, I was dazzled with stories of nine year old girls trash-talking their patriarch grandfathers with insults that would make even Flyers fans back recoil. “Tavla, and football banter of course, is really one of the greatest ways for us to confront men on an even playing field,” explained one elegant intelligent Istanbulista. It became clear that is a game that transcends gender barriers, social class divisions, age gaps, providing a fascinating periscope into the region’s culture.

I learned a great story of an exchange between the kings of Persia and India during a time of war. Striving for a “more perfect” victory, each king would send to his opponent jewelry, textiles, and musicians to display his own empire’s cultural superiority, to supplement any performance on the battlefield. In one exchange, the King of Persia sent to India a backgammon table, along with his wisest minister to explain the rules. The King of India did the same with chess. The King of India, I was told, is to have supposedly remarked to one of his own ministers that the Persian King is indeed a greater ruler of his people. The curious minister did not understand, as chess requires much deeper and sophisticated thought. The King explained that the game of backgammon is more “democratic” or “universal,” played be all the land’s subjects, whereas chess, is only pursued with fervor by a fraction of India’s population.

One must agree that an artfully crafted check-mate is by far and away a more complete victory than the most decisive double game or clever back game on the tavla tables. Yet perhaps it is this very uncertainty in backgammon, that anything can change in the matter of a few rolls, that underlies the game’s beauty. I can surely attest that double sixes need no translation…

 

 

Constantınople Consumptıon

Taking a walk around the streets of “Ol Constan” in search of Turkish culinary delight (Turkish Delight is not particularly delightful, in my opinion)

Bulgaria? But I Hardly Know Ya!

Our needs for a place to rest our heads were never very complex: flat ground, no sand, easy loading / unloading from shore. After leaving Belgrade, we found ourselves growing a bit pickier in selection: wild pig hoof-prints must be smaller than our own feet, ground must be visibly tread upon in recent history. The former for clear enough reasons, the latter for a bit more obscure, but equally if not more important to peace of mind: empty beer bottles or other evidence of human presense gave us reasonable assurance that land mines were not in the immediate vicinity. During the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s, the Danube played stage yet again for bloodshed. Call us campsite snobs, but the often scorned “trashalanche” debris provided just enough of a false sense of security to make the 2am pee break a little more bearable than it usually is.

For roughly three weeks, we followed the boarders of Serbia / Croatia, then Serbia / Romania, and finally Romania / Bulgaria. A grım gray fog set in about as thıck as our Nutella remnants, so our eyes were lımıted to wıtnessıng the dreary banks and occasıonal trash fıre wıth about twenty meters of vısıbılıty. Cumulatively, I must’ve spent over fifty hours of paddling time thinking about Thanksgiving dinner. No offense intended to Zand‘s cooking on November 24th, but pasta dinner did not taste like Uncle Dogs’ garlic mashed potatoes, despite considerable mental effort. For most of our paddle through the Balkans, seeing even the sun’s shape through the mist was rare enough to warrant advanced expeditionary tactics. Unfortunately, even with daily ceremonial sacrifices of Snickers bars and chocolate Santas, we were unable to conjure more than a ten minute glimpse of sun’s shape.

If one counts our land mıne evasıon as a great vıctory, one also must pay proper attentıon to our boarder-crossıng efforts ınto Romanıa. In what hıstorıans wıll lıkely count at the most eventful day of the trıp, we found ourselves paddlıng through the dramatıc Iron Gates Gorge. Although rendered consıderably less dramatıc by a massıve hydroelectrıc dam, the gorge walls protrude roughly 500 meters above the river for a stretch of roughly 50 kılometers. Before the dam’s construction in 1972, thıs sectıon held the most formıdable current of Europe’s second largest rıver. Our books were fılled wıth storıes of the “Great Kazan” or the “Great Boıler,” where the rıver narrows to just 150 meters. In the second century, Emperor Trajan’s troops famously labored for two years errectıng a brıdge to navıgate across the rıver. Happily amidst the most dramatic topography of our journey, we paddled passed the Roman plaque commemoratıng the bridge’s completion. Unfortunately for the locals at the time, thıs feat ultımately led the complete demıse of the Dacıan people. What was once one of Europes largest populatıons was essentıally scratched from the record books by the Roman’s march over the Iron Gates. To connect a few dots for readers who have spent tıme ın Rome, ıt ıs thıs vıctory ın the Dacıan Wars that ıs commemorated on Trajans Column near Quırınal Hıll.

At the expense of buryıng the Turkısh enclave ısland of Ada Kaleh, Trajan’s road, as well as permanently ınteruptıng the spawnıng routes of one of the worlds largest sturgeon populatıons, the massıve hydroelectrıc dam neverthelss made our paddle through the Iron Gates quıte pleasant, ıf not also dreadfully slow wıthout current. We enjoyed lunch under rare blue skıes below the “Romanıan Mt Rushmore,” a 40 meter carvıng of the last great Dacıan kıng, Decebalus Rex. The trıbute to the well bearded Dacıan was fınanced by the Romanıan gas magnate, Iosıf Constantın Drăgan, who, at one poınt durıng the sculpture’s constructıon ın the 1990s, was rumoured to be held captıve by hıs busıness partners and wıfe, who was more than 50 years hıs junıor.

We approached the dam and boarder crossıng wıth utmost care, as a prıor adventure ın Serbıan jaıl taught us to take every precautıon possıble. Through a surprısıngly clear sessıon of hand gesture communıcatıon, we learned that although we would not be allowed to cross the boarder on foot wıth our boat, a Bulgarıan tow truck would be passıng through the boarder ın about an hour and we could catch a rıde wıth them. Goıng above and beyond formalities peppermınt hard candıes, our courageous canoe courrıers came to our rescue at the boader ın a bıg way, brıbıng a boarder offıcer wıth a candy bar to let us pass ınto Romanıa wıthout a fuss for lack of “regıstratıon documents” for our boat. Many thanks are due to our frıends ın the truck that nıght, unfortunately omerta laws of Romanıan cosa nostra prohıbıt me from payıng proper homage with their real names.

As darkness fell, we soon realızed gettıng back ınto the rıver below the massıve dam would requıre about a 10 kılometer portage. We needed a campsıte badly, and would’ve settled for flat asphault ıf would could’ve found a patch unguarded by less-than-hospitable wıld dogs. Unbeknownst to us, we are already late for our date wıth Danubıan destıny. We spotted a vacant parkıng lot near a tıed up rıver barge wıth a faınt lıght on ınsıde. In a span of roughly fıve mınutes, we went from beıng cold and cranky doubtıng ıf we would fınd sleep that nıght, to runnıng laps ın a Romanıan relay race of slammıng rakıa shots, french fry ınhalatıon, and hıgh fıves. Words really cannot do thıs evenıng justıce, but at the very least, I can safely say that the feelıng of a greasy gypsy beard agaınst my face ıs somethıng that stıcks ın the memory bank more vividly than I’d otherwise prefer…

White Knight in a White City: History with Johnny Hunyadi

We’ve made it to our final capital city along the Danube: Belgrade. The city is crowned by the Kalemegdan fortress atop a cliffed ridge, formerly with white walls, which gave the city its nick name of the “White City.” Built initially by Celtic tribes in the third century BC, fortress has been torn down and rebuilt a number of times, and is now a park, with basketball courts, clay tennis courts, military history museum, and the best view in the city of the confluence of the the Danube and Sava Rivers.

There’s all sorts of history for me to learn here, most of which is all new to me. I’ve had a great time learning of a military commander named John Hunyadi, whom Hungary, Romania, and Serbia all claim as a native son. I certainly don’t know much of the history here, but I’d never heard his name before, despite being “one the the greatest champions of Christiandom the world has ever seen.” Considered by many to be the pre-eminent strategist and tactitian of 15th century, Hunyadi also wore hats of statesman, legislator, orator, scholar, as well as the largest landowner in Hungary’s history, calling home to over 5.5 million acres. Its also fun to know he was held prisoner by bad Vlad the Impaler…

As we’ve moved downstream, we frequently trace the path of the Turkish conquest through Europe. No surprise that we once again meet the Turks here in Belgrade, with the Kalemegdan fortress as a stage, with Hunyadi as an opponent in this particularly fascinating battle, the Siege of Belgrade, in 1456. Just three years after taking Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II and his 60,000-70,000 strong invasion army laid siege to the White City in late July, in an attempt to charge the Hungarian Empire. Hunyadi provisioned and armed the fortress at his own expense, as no other barons were willing to support the campaign. The force defending Belgrade was estimated to be 20,000-40,000, of mostly enthusiastic farmers. The siege eventually escalated into a major battle, during which Hunyadi led a sudden counterattack that overran the Turkish camp, ultimately compelling the wounded Mehmet II to lift the siege and retreat.

Taken by surprise at this strange change of events, the Turks took flight. The sultan’s personal guard of five thousand Janissaries tried their best to stop the panic and refortify the camp, but at that point, Hunyadi’s force had gained too much ground.  Mehmet himself was actually rendered unconscious in the counterattack (imagine a time when kings actually fought battles themselves!). After the battle, Hunyadi ordered  the troops to remain inside the fortress to wait for possible counterattack, but no such effort ever came. The Turks retreated in haste under cover of night. When Mehmet regained consciousness a few days later in Salona, he learned that his troops had been routed, for the second time, by Hunyadi. With most of his best men killed, the 24 year old sultan was barely prevented from committing suicide by taking poison. The Turkish casualties at Belgrade amounted to 50,000 men in the battle, with another 25,000 slain by Serbs during their retreat. Hunyadi’s army lost less than 10,000.

Memet II, who would meet Hunyadi twice more on the battlefield, paid tribute to the White Knight upon his death: “Although he was my enemy I feel grief over his death, because the world has never seen such a man.”

We push off downstream once more tomorrow. Despite the fact we have no major cities left until Istanbul, we look forward to the adventures that await us in Romania and Bulgaria. Stay tuned for stories of gypsies and wild dogs (hopefully all in moderation)…until next time! Cheers

Budapest

“When a mid-morning sunbeam prized one eyelid open a few days later, I couldn’t think where I was. An aroma of coffee and croissants was afloat under a vaulted ceiling; furniture gleamed with beeswax and elbow grease; books ascended in hundreds, and across the arms of a chair embroidered with a blue rampant lion with a forked tail and a scarlet tongue, a dinner jacket was untidily thrown. An evening tie hung from the looking glass, pumps lay in different corners, the crumpled torso of a stiff shirt (still worn with a black tie in those days) gesticulated desperately across the carpet and borrowed links glittered in the cuffs. The sight of all this alien plumage, so unlike the travel-stained heap that normally met my waking eyes, was a sequence of conundrums. Then, suddenly, illumination came. I was in Budapest”

The above quote is from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between Woods and the Water, the second book narrating the author’s trek by foot from the Netherlands to Istanbul in 1933. The young ‘Paddy,’ as we call him, experienced quite a bit different of a journey than us, as he frequently finds himself tangle up amongst barons and counts, gypies and ruffians, all showering him in hospitality. It’s not that we haven’t been witness to kind strangers, but the country living lifestyle that existed before the second World War was just a different breed. Nevertheless, we enjoy reading how life used to be along the Danube. As with most things, ”it’s not as good as it was, but better than it’s going to be…”

Although we weren’t waltzing with the Esterházy daughters, we certainly enjoyed ourselves in Budapest with great. The pictures below are from our departure from the city, under unseasonally warm sun. The Hungarian Parliament Building truly is a crown jewel of architecture along the Danube.

Entering Eastern Europe: Aki Mer, Az Nyer

“Hello out there, we’re on the air, it’s hockey night tonight:” writing this evening from Budapest, where we arrived yesterday afternoon. Since my last post from Vienna, we have traveled a few hundred kilometers in pleasant weather (highs in the upper 50s, nightly lows in the low 40s Id guess).

The sounds of languages around us have grown more foreign as we danced down the Hungarian / Slovakian border, though we have had little trouble communicating our simplest needs: drinking water, grocery stores, and lastly, “pizza and two beers.”

We visited a the ruins of a Roman fort, had a visit of the “Rome” of Hungary, Esztergom, ate well in Vienna, and my most adoring fans might be shocked to learn I got a haircut and straight edge shave. Here in Budapest, the Danube weaves majestically through the handsome city, as opposed to Vienna, which treats the Duna as an afterthought or a flooding inconvenience.

In Wien we treated ourselves to a bit of Viennese culture, food, and design, at the Österreicher im MAK. Architects Eichinger oder Knechtl created a large scale Viennese “gasthaus,” or tavern/inn. With a chandelier of bottles above our heads and wildly asymmetrical walls, we found ourselves quite far from our usual pasta inhalation under headlamp lighting. The chef, Helmut Österreicher allegedly established Vienna’s Steirereck restaurant to 3-Michelin star fame, designed a menu with traditional Viennese cuisine as well as an opposing page of modern Viennese. Id read much about the Austrian white wines, so the joint’s exclusively Austrian wine list played a great answer to all my questions. Winner of the night: Grüner Veltliner Weinviertel, Hofbauer Schmidt (not sure if thats the style, vineyard, or bottle, but I just wrote that down).

After Bratislava, we passed a dam that had an art museum, bootgasse, bootschleuse, and fully functional whitewater slalom course, which recently held a world championships of some kind. The course was closed, but not sure we would’ve survived this thing without a hole in our boat! Sights and sounds of Budapest have been amazing, as it certainly marks my favorite city of the trip thus far. Despite a national holiday today, we managed quite well.

From here onwards, we drift downstream into much different expectations. Our next major city will be Belgrade in about 10 days, but we’re preparing to get off the grid. Slightly out of place in Hungary without black leather jackets, Zand and I will be bringing the boat into some wild territories…hopefully with good stories to report of wild dogs, Dracula, and gypsy weddings…

Cheers

 

Donau to Dunaj

Guten Aubend from Vienna. We have reached our first major capital city of the journey, and Zand and I find ourselves thoroughly overwhelmed by the speed of public transit, the noise of city streets, and kick of Viennese coffee.

We’ve come a long way since the Black Forest in Western Germany. Temperatures have dropped below freezing overnight a few times now…making the morning’s exit from the sleeping bag much more challenging. To combat the cold, Zand and I are eating foods with higher fat content, as the metabolism takes longer break down lipids. In other words, more scoops of butter in the pasta keeps us warm throughout the night, or alternatively: we go through peanut butter at alarming rates.

Our journey through Germanic territory has kindled the brain’s appetite for history, as we pass by lands and structures of remarkable historical significance. Almost as if we’re on a “random playlist” of historical knowledge, we frequently jump from imagining Roman fortresses, to picturing the Duke of Marlborough strategizing with the Earl of Savoy, to playing Second World War trivia. Follow along as I jump a few centuries to paint a picture of the past few weeks on the Donau. (Apologies ahead of time to my former history teachers and professors…)

Here in Vienna, I’m fascinated with learning about the two Turkish sieges. Both occasions marked watershed points in European history. The defeat of the Turks in 1529 put a halt to an almost unchecked Ottoman blitz through Central Europe led by Suleiman the Magnificent. The second seige in 1683 is the one that captures my interest, however, as the Battle of Vienna takes us upstream on the Danube to Passau. Led by the grand vizier Mustafa Pasha, the Ottomans arrived with nearly 200,000 men (20,000 of which were the rather nasty Janissaries) in July of 1683. King Leopold I of Austria recieved a rather stern message: “We shall destroy you and wipe all trace of infidels off the face of this earth, with no regard for age we shall put all through excruciating tortures before we give them death.”

Forgive me for hastily skipping the details, but in the interest of time, lets just say King Leo retreats up the Danube to Passau to convene with King John Sobieski of Poland, and plan the counterattack. We reached Passau late at night after our biggest day, putting up 102km, thanks to fast currents and only a few dams. We were even blessed with a bit of whitewater to play with. You can find a picture of Zand lining our boat through one of the bigger whitewater sections in the gallery below. We’ll come back to King John later, but he came to the rescue of Western civilization in a big way. in the early hours of September the 12th, Sobieski led his troops down the hill to meet the dense masses of the Turks in the plain below.

Shortly after Passau, we passed through the forests that played stage to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where Germanic tribes notoriously slaughtered three Roman legions. It was after this massacre that Emperor Augustus was to have been famously pacing around the palace, slamming his head against walls, exclaiming “Quintili Vare, legiones redde!” (Give me back my legions!).

Soon afterwards, we passed by the site of the Battle of Blenheim, where the Duke of Marlborough secured one of history’s most decisive victories in the war of Spanish Succession in August of 1704. Numbers vary, but some reports the Duke with help from the Earl of Savoy killed 12,000 Franco-Bavarian allies and captured 14,000 while suffering only around 5,000 casualties.

Continuing down the Donau, we run into the small Austrian town of Durnstein. Ruins remain of a castle overlooking town, that once held King Richard the LionHeart prisoner. As the story goes, King Richard and King Leopold find themselves celebrating a victory at Acre during the Third Crusade. Leopold apparently hoisted his flags a bit too close to Richard’s, Rich orders Leo’s flags torn down and thrown in the mud. Leo is so mortally insulted, he packs up shop, leaves Palestine, and heads home to Austria. The next year, Richard finds himself summoned back to England to deal with Prince John’s misgovernment of England. SO, Richard breaks off a successful crusade campaign against the formidable adversary, Saladin, and begins a journey back home. To evade his Christian enemies, Richard sets off in disguise on a pirate ship in Corfu. The ship wrecks in autumn storms at the head of the Adriatic. With no other option but overland travel remaining, Richard ventures in disguise through the dutchy of his old pal Leopold. All was going well until his disguise was foiled, supposedly because of the King’s dashing good looks and blond curls, while in a tavern outside Vienna. He was found somehow, by his minstrel, Blondel, who allegedly went to every prison he could find, singing the first verse a song he and Richard often sang together, until he heard his friend’s voice replying with the second verse. That’s a bit hard to believe, but it sure is a nice filler for lack of a better truth. The ransom finally paid for Richard’s freedom was so large (twice the annual GDP of England at the time), it took a few installments over a few centuries to pay off. Supposedly, it was this ransom money that helped pay for the for the fortifications of Vienna during the first seige of Vienna.

If you’re still reading along, thank you. I really wish I had the time to write this narrative along the river in better style with proper background and research for these events. Passing by countless castles, “schlosses,” and notable battlefields truly makes me wish I was a better student of history! But it’s provided a wonderful backdrop to our journey. Numerous castles of robber-barons, who prevented ships from passing by using suspended cables and prisoners hostage in “starvation chambers 8m deep,” all have their own stories to tell. The banks of the Danube are certainly rich with tall tales, Im sure many of which, perhaps the best of which, fail to make the print in the history books of academia.

Here’s a gallery of pictures of the past few weeks…hopefully this rambling post gives you a bit of an idea of the mental exercise in history we go through on a daily basis! Onwards to Bratislava and Budapest in the next 10 days…Cheers!

“Where Can I Get Some Dam Bait?”

For the past month of our lives, hydro-electric dams, locks and portages have played a strong role in the daily routine. As I write this morning from Austria, we have over 150 dams behind us, and we believe less than five dams to go until we reach the Black Sea. As we say goodbye to the oftentimes welcomed intermission between long flat water paddling sessions, I felt like I needed to write a short post on the “ecluses,” “boot schleuses,” and “bootgasses” that have served as our landmarks and lunch stops.

Through France’s canals, we would typically face anywhere between 15-20 locks every day. All the locks in France are maintained and staffed by the Voies Navigables de France (VNF). The VNF became our villainous enemy for many weeks, as they refused to let our canoe use any of the locks. Germany, on the other had, brought a refreshing change in the form of a lack of civil servants, and a general decrease in the number of dams.

All locks were easily operated by those in “sportboots.” Locks ranged in size from twenty feet to close to one hundred feet. One of us would stay in the boat while the other operated the lock from above. Perhaps the most brilliant way to change elevation in a boat came to us in the form of a “bootgasse,” which is essentially a waterslide for canoes. Although we only got to use one bootgasse in operation, I’ll venture to say its about as much fun as you can have in a canoe. May we all have more bootgasses in life!

Here’s a few pictures of life in a boot schleuse:

Black Forest Ham > Black Forest Cake??

I write this post with a well deserved glass of Talisker on my side, as Zand and I have just finished a 3 day portage through the mountains of Germany’s Black Forest. We crossed the boarder near Mulhouse, France, and proceeded up through Schönau, Titisee, and finally to Donaueschingen, where the Danube‘s headwaters begin. The contrast from France could not have been greater.

Our final days in France were spent in 70-80 degree sunny days on relatively flat landscapes, reminiscent of Virginia’s Orange County. After crossing the boarder to Germany, we quickly ascended into the coniferous environs of the Black Forest. Tall spruce surrounded us as we climbed uphill for seemingly endless hours. We began to see cars passing us coming downhill with 4 inches of snow on the roof. Soon enough we were trekking through a snow storm up the Feldbergbahn ski area. The grueling uphill battles were all swiftly rewarded with long downhill stretches (which may be more painful to a pair of knees with 10 years of basketball wear & tear). The temperature never reached above 50 in the past three days, but when the sun was out, one would be hard pressed to find more crisp autumn air with picturesque foliage as far as we could see. Passing small farmhouses occasionally rewarded us with the smells of woodsmoke, kuchen, and the rare whiffs of apple pie. Some of the vistas reminded me of Argentina’s Parque Nahuel Huapi…simply beautiful.

The Black Forest ham we picked up for lunch today was the finest ham I’ve ever tried…really puts Boar’s Head’s imitation to shame. Looking forward to picking up a Black Forest cake tomorrow morning to last us a few days as we begin our descent on the Danube. Ive posted some pictures below of the many stages of our journey through the Black Forest…enjoy