Post pandemic trip number two– getting there is half the fun!

Friday morning, Bill took Arran to the Tierpension Birkenhof in Darmstadt, which has become a great help to us in our quest to see more of Europe. When we lived near Stuttgart, we used two different pensions. One was a place we’d used during our first tour, from 2007-09. During that time period, the place was very well run and we never worried about our dogs. But during the five years we were absent from Germany, the lady who used to run the pension divorced her husband and left the area. I guess the pension was the husband’s property. He remarried, and although his current wife is very nice, she wasn’t as good at caring for animals as the ex wife was. We changed pensions when we heard some disturbing stories about the fate of some of the dogs who stayed there. Two different people we knew had dogs who died after staying there. Another had a dog with diabetes who got very sick after her stay. Although we never had trouble ourselves, I couldn’t put the dogs there again after hearing the stories.

The next pension we used was Dog On Holiday. It was not in as bucolic of an area as the first place was, but the people who own it are exceptional, and they took outstanding care of Zane and Arran. When we suddenly lost Zane to cancer last year, Bill let Max, the proprietor, know. He actually called Bill to find out what happened. He was genuinely saddened by our loss, as was Celene, the lady who runs the Birkenhof, who sent us a very kind letter of condolences. Max and his wife are excellent caregivers to dogs; consequently, they are often fully booked. Fortunately, up here in Wiesbaden, it’s easier to book the dogs when we travel, so Arran (and our soon to be new dog, who already lives with a bunch of dogs outside) don’t come with us as often anymore. It works out fine, since Arran actually loves going to the pension and hanging out with other dogs. He would have been welcome at the Hotel Zur Post in Meerfeld, too. There was an adorable beagle staying there while we were visiting. But it’s really easier for us to travel when we go without our four legged “son”, and that was certainly true this time.

The drive to Meerfeld was to take less than two hours, although we did hit a “Stau” near Koblenz– a great city on the Rhein I would like to visit soon. As we journeyed west, I noticed how beautiful the landscape is. Soon we were in a forested area that gave me flashbacks to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). We lived right on the border of the Black Forest when we lived near Stuttgart and I’ve missed the beautiful scenery and trees. It was so nice to be out in nature again. Rheinland-Palatinate (Pfalz) is not that far from Wiesbaden, but it looked and felt a world away from the suburban views we have in my neighborhood. Yes, there are trees here too, but not so close to where we live. Near Stuttgart, we lived on the edge of a nature park, where there were many acres of forests. Being in Rheinland-Palatinate reminded me of that, minus the high stress living arrangement we had down there.

On the way to Meerfeld, I needed to stop for a pee break. This was the first time I’d been in one of Germany’s many rest stops since the pandemic began. Grumpily, I grabbed my face mask and stalked off to the convenience store/pay toilets/restaurant. The place was almost empty, except for a couple of women in the ladies room. One of them had a small boy with her. They were blocking the sink. When I was done peeing, they were both still blocking the sink when it was time to wash my hands. I probably looked bitchy because– no joke– I hate wearing the mask with a fiery passion. I just wanted to wash up and get out of there. I noticed the proprietors had put a piece of plywood between the in and out doors, funneling people in and out in a single direction. In retrospect, that seems like a good idea. Once that chore was done, we got back on our way, but not before I noticed the funny ad for “safe” eating…

Safe eating! The views beyond this rest stop were a lot more appealing.

Not far beyond the rest stop, I noticed the cell phone signal became very spotty. That is an issue throughout the area, which may or may not be a good thing. If you want to unplug and get away from social media or the news, it’s a good thing. If you need to call for help, as it happened once when we were near Oppenau in the Black Forest, it may not be such a great feature of the area. But then, people have been traipsing around this volcanic wonderland for many thousands of years… I am sure help is available even when there’s no cell signal.

A spare shot of the castle ruins.

Very close to Meerfeld are several cute little hamlets, as well as a magnificent castle ruin called Manderscheid Castle. We did not visit this historic site because we didn’t have the time or the stamina to climb the large hill it sits upon, but if we ever do come back to Meerfeld, I would love to see it up close. As it is, I got some nice photos from a lookout on the road above. The above photo is of Manderscheid Castle, and just seeing it as we passed was kind of a thrill. Meerfeld is just a short drive from the castle, and as you drive in, you can see the famous volcanic lake in the distance. It’s close enough to walk there from any hotel in the town; I counted at least four, as well as several vacation homes.

Aside from lodging and restaurants, there doesn’t seem to be much to Meerfeld. There’s a church, with bells that ring promptly at 7:00am every morning. I also noticed an office for a naturopath. There aren’t any shops, although you can get what you need a short drive away.

We pulled into the front parking lot at Hotel Zur Post, which also has a gate controlled back parking lot that you get access to once you check in. Donning our masks, we entered the reception area and spoke to the very friendly proprietor, who welcomed us warmly and assigned us to room 401. I don’t think she spoke English at all, but I found her German easy to understand. The elevator was very slow, but once we got to the fourth floor, we easily found our generously sized room. Hotel Zur Post also has apartments for rent in the building next to it. They looked really nice. I might have booked one of those if I had found the option to. In any case, the room was pleasant and airy, with a small balcony and a view that overlooked the back of the hotel and offered a peek at the pool and spa area, which are on the fourth floor. The fourth floor is also where you can access the back parking lot, since it’s on a hill. That was very convenient for us. Below are pictures of the hotel room and the views.

After we checked in, we took a short walk around the town. I took the opportunity to take some photos. The walk through the field isn’t how to access the maar itself. There’s a road to a parking area just as you come into the town. You can either walk or bike down that road, or drive your car… driving might get you a few dirty looks, since it’s a narrow passage. Get yourself a Parkscheine at the machine, then walk to the entrance of the maar. Right now, they’re taking people’s contact information in case anyone comes down with COVID-19. We didn’t opt to get a close look at the maar on Friday. I did get some pictures from our walk, though. Lots of plants and animals make their home on the boggy shores and in the maar itself.

Bill was telling me about his very first German landlord in Ansbach, back in the late 1980s, who had fought in World War II. The guy was a member of the Nazi party, not because he necessarily believed in its principles, but because he wanted to advance in the military, and at the time, being in the party was a requirement. The landlord showed Bill his souvenirs from those days. Bill said his first landlady, wife of the former military landlord, was a very fastidious Bavarian lady whom he ended up hiring to clean his apartment. Unfortunately, she was adversely affected by the nuclear fallout from Chernobyl, which blew up in April 1986. She got cancer and died just six weeks after her diagnosis.

I remember when the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine happened. I was in eighth grade, without any idea that someday I’d end up living in Europe and the former Soviet Union. Incidentally, in 1997, I took a train tour around Europe for a month. One stop was in Regensburg, and I spent a night in a cheap hotel by the train station. As I was checking out, the proprietor told me that he had been taken prisoner of war by the Americans during World War II and was held in Tennessee. I didn’t know what to say to that information… at the time, I had no idea there were POW camps in Tennessee. But he didn’t seem too upset about it and I learned something new. Graveyards are interesting places with a lot of history. I thought the one in Meerfeld was beautifully kept.

Bill and I made dinner reservations at the hotel for 6:30pm. I was looking forward to it because not only had I heard the food was excellent, but I was also really hungry. We didn’t eat much lunch before we set off for Rheinland-Palatinate (Pfalz- my German friend says Pfalz is the German word for Palatinate). Below are some photos.

We retired to our room to watch some German TV and relax. We had some big plans for Saturday! Stay tuned for the next post, which will probably be written tomorrow, because my computer is being super annoying tonight.


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