(road trip to the Baltic Sea!)
So we wouldn’t be proper Americans if we didn’t break in our first year abroad with a colossal road trip across the near-entirety of our new heimat (homeland).
(Although we did attempt to take the train, and even to fly, but didn’t have enough lead time to make the cost of either practical, so renting a car made the most sense).
And why make this epic trek…? Why to see my sister of course, who was wrapping up her family holiday there in Eric’s home town, Neustadt in Holstein, which is a sweet little seaside village at the very tippy top of the country, on the Baltic Sea, known here as the “Ost (east) Sea” (so it is not confused, I suppose, with the North Sea, on Germany’s other coast.
Now we knew it was far…about 5 hours by car; but what we didn’t know or appreciate deep enough was the level of traffic on the highways during the end of the holiday season.
Yes, the Autobahn in many spots has no speed limit, and the drivers are very efficient and careful, but just as every where else, 1 little fender bender can create a snarl of traffic for miles. And so it went; the journey that appeared to be 5 hours on paper was more like 8. I didn’t mind so much but worried about keeping Amanda’s in laws waiting (Amanda assured me there is no timetable and indeed everyone seemed very relaxed).
So, we got to experience German Autobahn rest stops (Rastplatz), which have ultra-clean bathrooms, where the toilets are self-cleaning (as elsewhere, $0.50 to use!), delicious coffee, bakery items, and fresh sandwiches.
We took a roadtrip book with us (thank you, Peter & Jannine!) and so as the front seat passenger, I was able to read aloud and play tour guide to the areas we drove through. We learned all about the Hanseatic League, and along with Eric filling us in more, learned that the official name of Hamburg is still to this day, The Free Hanseatic City Hamburg (HH for short, as seen on license plates) and is one of 3 city-states in Germany.
Once arrived in Neustadt in Holstein, we had a delicious Italian dinner with the extended family who had all come to town for vacation, or live in the area still: Eric’s sister Elonora, her daughter Katja; Eric’s daughter Sarah, her husband Chris, and their kids (Lucas, Elena and Mia–who are texting daily with Dashiell!). We enjoyed getting to know them all and used our grade-school German to communicate (although Sarah & Chris and their kids speak perfect English).
D played at the beach, which Eric told us stories about playing there as a child. It was wonderful to hear his memories. I especially like hearing about how the area used to be an important West German army base, because just across the bay was East Germany, and people would try to immigrate into the West by swimming across the cold waters.
I got to sample the famous nut cake from the elegant cafe on the platz, Thienemann’s, where you can while away an afternoon lounging in replicas of the famous beach chairs from the area. Amanda said whenever they order the nut cake, no one wants to eat the last bite, but since I had recently burned about 100,000 calories moving I found this to be a non-issue…!
On the 2nd night we had a delicious dinner at a seafood place called Krabbes. The day had been chilly and a bit rainy, but the sun came out as we ordered, and Facetime’d with Mom. We watched the sky change from stormy to crystal clear, with that particular northern island light that is very crisp and painterly.
Too soon we needed to say our goodbyes, and we had an important immigration meeting to make Monday morning.
One the way home we took more “B” highways that led us through small towns instead of just seeing the highway, and to avoid traffic. I would like to make the drive again someday, when we have more time to stop and look inside the tiny cute shops, and to explore Hamburg (which we drove around for congestion avoidance!)