Saturday, September 08, 2007

Furthur – An Epilogue

Rhine River

Greg, Joel and I planned a trip to Germany this week to visit Christian, a friend I met in New Zealand, whose family owns a winery. We needed to relax and decompress a bit from the last two months on the bikes, and we figured drinking wine and sleeping in real beds was a good place to start. We caught an overnight bus from Prague to Frankfurt and a train on to Bad Kreuznach, where Christian met us on Monday morning.

Old Town Frankfurt.


We only traveled a few hundred miles, but we might as well have boarded the magic time-travel bus into the future. Arriving in Germany, we were pleasantly reminded what it’s like to exist in the first world. I’m not saying Prague isn’t a great city – it is. But there’s something undeniably “eastern-European” about it. It’s a combination of characteristics (tangible or otherwise) that are present across the Czech Republic and down through the Balkans (uh-hmm, communism). So walking into a modern, clean, traveler-oriented train station was amazing. Automated ticket machines gave us the option to pay by credit card, customer service representatives weren’t sitting behind dirty glass windows with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, and smoking in designated areas was actually enforced. Things got off to a good start.

Famous vineyards on the Rhine.

With the last-minute change of plans, Christian didn’t get our email explaining that we’d arrive Monday morning rather than Monday afternoon. It wasn’t a problem, though, and we headed to Langenlonsheim, stopping for breakfast along the way. After a mean breakfast fry up (and naps), we set out with Christian and his girlfriend Julia for a tour of the Nahe wine region, which is near the Rhine River. The weather cleared up just in time for a relaxing afternoon drive through dozens of vineyards, and we had coffee overlooking the Rhine in the late afternoon sun.

Christian and Julia above the Rhine.

Wine tasting in Jacob's vineyard.

After dinner, Christian presented to us a selection of his family’s wines. Not adhering strictly to a tasting format, we drank the better part of 6 bottles that night. Christian has a degree in oenology and viticulture (winemaking and vine growing, respectively) and will be the winemaker at Clemens Honrath Winery (his family’s) when his father retires. Therefore, he was able to explain to us many characteristics about each wine, from the soil types of each vineyard, to the time each wine was in barrel, to the specific weather conditions each year that produced certain attributes in each bottle. It was the best wine tasting I’ve ever done because we were able to ask him anything without being made to feel stupid or un(der)educated. The wine is quite nice, too.

It would be difficult for Julia to look less interested.

The next two days were full of late mornings and visits to many of Christian’s friends’ wineries. We tasted and learned a lot, and it’s clear that Christian and his friends are passionate about what they do. That was reflected in their patience with us, the quality of the wines they produce, and their desire to continue to make a better product every year. Making good wine is a full-time, year-round job, and as Jacob said, he’d do it even if he wasn’t making money. The difference is that I believe him. Each of Christian’s friends welcomed us and made us feel at home, even helping Joel with his German.

Joel and Greg soak in the view.

Greg left on Thursday morning and Joel and I took some time to visit Bad Kreuznach. That evening the four of us made dinner and relaxed with a few more bottles of wine. Christian managed to outdo himself by presenting a Clemens Honrath 1982 noble-late-harvest sweet wine, a Reisling, from his personal library. He followed that with a 2001 Bordeaux blend (merlot, cab franc, cab sauv) from Robertson Winery in South Africa. Both of these wines were phenomenal, and Joel and I felt very fortunate to experience them with Christian. Seeing as it was nearly impossible to go up from there, we decided on a nightcap of a few German beers.

The future of Clemens Honrath Winery gains inspiration from the past.

And so I sit in Frankfurt waiting for a bus that will come shortly to take me back to Prague (again overnight). I spent the day walking around the city, most of which is really new, at least relative to many of the other places we’ve visited during the past couple of months. From the pictures I’ve seen, Frankfurt was leveled during WWII. The “old town” is nice but small, and much the city is now modern, lacking a “personal” feel. It looks more like Minneapolis than anything I’ve seen lately, complete with a big river running through the center of town. But my first trip to Germany has been a memorable one, and I hope to return.

Frankfurt's banking district.

Greg and Joel now gone, our trip is really over. It’s sinking in that I’ll be in the states in a few days, and I’m having mixed emotions about returning home. I’m excited to see my family and friends – it’s been too long. But this experiment – this experience, this past year – has been the best of my life. I’ve struggled with my own limits and been forced to change course more than once. I’ve made new friends, seen old places, and learned that you can never lose your “family.”

If you want some unsolicited advice (after buying property in Montenegro and visiting Bosnia, which I’ve already covered), get “out there.” “Out there” may be Peace Corps in Swaziland, it may be teaching English in Prague, or it may be making a decision that’s really for you, but it’s got to be uncomfortable, and it’s better if the odds are stacked against you. Take calculated risks. Don’t hesitate to try something that everyone tells you is crazy, and if you fail, fail well. Fail because you’ve given it all you’ve got, fail because you’ve run into a wall at full speed, fail because there’s no overtime and you chose to go for the win instead of the tie. But don’t fail because it’s too hard, too steep, or too long – for then you have truly failed. What’s more, you’ll probably succeed anyway - we’re smarter than we think and capable of more than we know. And that’s why I don’t want this to end.

This didn't make the cut from Belgrade. I know I'm acting like an 11-year old. It's still funny.

go furthur


Greg said...

keep going... indefinitely

Amanda said...

i didn't think you liked coffee, the photos don't seem to be working for me, and as always, i still appreciate your unsolicited advice.