Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Strawberries, cherries, and an angel's kiss in spring

"It's snowing in the Black Forest," Swissy Pie announced yesterday afternoon.

"What? No kidding!"

My surprise wasn't for the snow, precisely. Outside the apartment, a cold, heavy rain was intermittently pelting our courtyard. Though it had warmed up since morning, temperatures were still hovering around 14°C, and I knew from unfortunate personal experience how much colder mountain peaks could be than valleys. Given our weather in Basel, I had no problems believing that it was snowing on top of Blauen.

What was so disorienting was that two short days ago, snow was the last thing I'd have expected to see. At the time, we were being oppressed by a heavy, humid air mass that left us sticky with sweat. On Friday our thermometer registered 31°C (nearly 90°F); Saturday was little better. So, my mind was already in summer mode. A little early, given it's only May, but still, snow simply didn't fit into the picture.

We had to see for ourselves. Piling into our car, we set off for Germany.

I can't remember the last time we drove just to drive - back when Swissy Pie was still trying to sell me on moving to Europe, perhaps. But our adventure soon took on a life of its own. Without a particular destination in mind (though I had a vague idea we'd head for Blauen), Swissy Pie was free to take impromptu detours and make spur-of-the-moment decisions to check out off-the-beaten-track places such as the tiny town of Vogelbach, and a cemetery for local soldiers who'd fallen during the World Wars.

On the first such detour, we discovered Ötlingen, a charming town with fantastic views over Basel, the Alsace, and Germany. Somewhere between there and Kandern, we came across a roadside farm stand that was doing a brisk business for locals and foreigners alike. Several cars were pulled into the make-shift gravel parking lot. Part of the draw was that it was Pfingsten Montag, so almost all stores and many restaurants were closed. But really, these roadside stands are the best places to buy produce that's fresh, local, and delicious.

"What do they have?" Swissy Pie asked as we zoomed past.

"Um, I just saw strawberries."

"Just strawberries? That can't be."

I'm not certain what made him turn the car around, the prospect of proving me wrong, or the prospect of strawberries with quark for dessert. (In his defense, he never seems to tire of strawberries and quark.) Whatever the case, a minute later, we were crunching into the lot, right behind a Dutch car.

The stand sold strawberries, alright - cardboard boxes filled with giant, fragrant berries. But Swissy Pie was right. There were lots of other goods, from apples and potatoes, to fresh bread, to apple juice and milk. But real treasure was right next to the strawberries: plastic containers mounded high with the first local cherries we'd seen this season. Like the asparagus, they were early - but nontheless very welcome.

We grabbed a box each of the strawberries and cherries, as well as six enormous eggs (laid by free-range chickens, of course), and continued on our way. By now we were entirely distracted from the snow. We were too busy snacking on our cherries. So when I saw a sign for someplace called Schloss Bürgeln, I didn't hesitate to express an interest in seeing it. (Schloss is the German word for castle.)

Swissy Pie duly drove us up the narrow, thickly forested approach. Aside from being beautiful, it had the added advantage of giving me cover to toss a handful of stems and pits out the window. (I didn't feel bad - they're biodegradable, after all. And I figured cherry trees would be a nice addition to the land.)

At the end of the road, we came to a small parking lot, a trailhead for at least ten different walking paths, and a single paved path leading directly up to the Schloss. We opted for one of the more scenic routes through the forest, which was densely populated with stands of beech and fir trees; black, orange, and brown slugs; mice (or at least their holes); and buzzards. Near the castle, the woods gave way to fields of chamomile, nettle, and yarrow, trampled down and glistening with rain. We had to detour to avoid the occasional wild rose bush and Weinbergschnecken, large edible snails that are considered a delicacy in France (though Swissy Pie seemed to have little interest in adding them to our dinner menu).

The Schloss itself was a surprise. Though I could tell from the signs below that it was still in good condition - it boasted a restaurant, after all - I'd expected something similar to Burg Baden, only better maintained. But instead of a towering stone edifice, we saw a gracious estate mansion that wouldn't be out of place in a Jane Austen novel. A tangle of rose gardens, half-wild, half-manicured, surrounded the house. Wild strawberries peeked through the ivy encircling its walls. And the menu for both the restaurant and the terrace cafe looked quite appealing. Too bad nothing was open for the holiday - this is yet another place we're putting on our To Revisit list. (Note: Tuesdays are Ruhetage - in other words, it's closed.)

By the time we got back to the car, it was getting late, so after a short stop for me to pick wildflowers, we headed home. We never did make it to Blauen to verify the snow report. But at least we had a blast not going!

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4 Comments:

Blogger Alexandra said...

ha! good thing there are no customs limit imposed on BERRIES!!!!

May 29, 2007 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger naechstehaltestelle said...

That's some wonderful looking fruit. I also picked some flowers in the fields last time we took a drive. They're so gorgeous once they're all bunched together, but just seem to die right away. I guess they just aren't meant to be indoors.

May 30, 2007 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Un-Swiss Miss said...

Ale - Actually, there IS a limit, but it's 20 kilos! I think we're pretty safe on that one. =)

NHS - I only picked little yellow buttercups (and the purple flowers growing nearby - no idea what they are). They've held up well pretty. But your bouquet looked much nicer!

May 31, 2007 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger naechstehaltestelle said...

I have to admit my flowers' deaths may be partially explained by my boyfriend's bright idea to shove them in his backpack for the ride home.

June 1, 2007 at 10:10 AM  

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