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Thursday, 2 January 2020

Book III ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sinntal Skirting

12-Oct-2019 – 13-Oct-2019

I might have mentioned it before, but there's not exactly much left of my family, that's why I cherish the few remaining family members that I have. There's my father Peter, my uncle Jörg, and my grandmother Mieke. I've already written about my father, so these next to chapters are going to be about my uncle and my grandmother respectively.

Jörg is a devout follower of the Christian faith who makes his home in the city of Würzburg ("Spice Castle"), which is located in the northwest of Bavaria. There he lives with his wife Myriam, and over the course of my own life, I have visited him there quite a number of times. In fact, in 2011/2012, I was living in Würzburg myself for 6 months while doing an internship at a mobile games company by the name of HandyGames in the nearby town of Giebelstadt ("Gable Town"), just past Fuchsstadt ("Fox Town").

This year features a very special occasion, namely Jörg's 60th birthday, for which he has planned an ambitious group hiking tour with all his friends and acquaintances. This is not the first such occasion. In fact, I can still remember the equally ambitious hiking tour on his 50th birthday. Not one to shy from a challenge after my adventures abroad, I promptly accept his invitation once it arrives, and thus should eventually be heading…

To Würzburg and Beyond!


The first challenge is actually getting there. Since Jörg planned for the tour to start at 10:00 in the morning from a little rural station by the name of Jossa just beyond the border of Bavaria and Hesse, that means in order to get there on time starting from Munich, I have to leave the house at quarter past yawn.

After that, I take the S-Bahn to the Munich Central Station as usual…

…only to find that at this early hour, there are barely any people around yet.

I guess that makes sense since it's not even 6:00 by now, and there aren't terribly many trains running just yet. Incidentally, however, I find out that apparently another as-of-yet unexploded bomb from World War II has been found in or near Göttingen. Up to this date Germany still bears the scars of this old conflict, and even in Munich they find at least one unexploded bomb a year during construction.

Once again, as is pretty much usual for long-distance travel by train in Germany, I go by ICE. Having booked months in advance, the ticket was reasonably cheap, and the fact that I won't have to change trains at all until Würzburg is a nice added bonus. And from Würzburg, it's only a relatively short ride with a local train to Jossa.

By the time the train departs, it's not even light outside yet, and so the first part of the journey consists of cruising through the city of Munich in the dark. As we make our way northwards past fields and the first hills, dawn gradually breaks through, and eventually we cross the hills separating upper Bavaria from Franconia in the bright morning sun. Then, from Würzburg onwards, it gets misty all of a sudden. That's typical weather for this region though, and I've experienced it many times during the semester I spent living in Würzburg myself.

In Würzburg, there's a bit of a close call as the ICE (naturally) managed to get delayed as usual on the straight track from Munich, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to get my connection. Fortunately, the regional train waits for the ICE, and so I do not only manage to make it to Jossa on time, but also run into my uncle Jörg, his wife Myriam and a number of other members of the birthday expedition aboard the train.

In Jossa – which really is just a little backwater station in the middle of nowhere…

…we still have to wait a little bit for the last people of our company to arrive…

…and then it's time for the main event:

The Dreistelz Stray

Distance: 21,0km
Ascents: 580m
Duration: 6.75h

As soon as we're all complete, my uncle Jörg takes charge of the entire company, and starts leading us onto today's hike. After all, it is he who has the map.

Our route should take us more or less parallel to the little river Sinn ("Sense"), after which the Sinntal ("Sense Valley") is named. And with "more or less" I mean we cross the Sinn once near the beginning, and then head up into the forested hills of the Mittelgebirge, heading northeast into roughly the direction from where the Sinn flows, but at a distance of approximately 4km. Our ultimate goal for today is the mountain Dreistelz "Three Stilts", and our accommodation and party venue a little inn at the foot of said mountain.

At first, we have to follow the course of an extremely busy road for a bit…

…but soon enough we cross the Sinn and enter the Sinngrund ("Sense Ground"), and with it the Sinnwiesen von Altengronau ("Sense Pastures of Old Green Meadow").

Only a few steps into the meadows, I realize that the mushroom season has begun as I spot a big Hexenkreis ("Witch Circle" = "Fairy Circle") in the middle of a pasture. Maybe the most impressive thing is how freaking big the mushrooms are in relation to the cows.

Naturally, I could not possibly agree to join this hike without checking for nearby Geocaches, and so it happens that as soon as the troupe enters the forest, I take a little detour to look for the first en-route cache. Sadly, this one should be a dud, but I do find a very unusual old tree along the way, which the others never even knew was there.

Afterwards, I have to hurry and catch up with the company again, which is not as easy as one would think, considering that many of the others are at or near Jörg's age. However, many of my uncle's friends share his love for hiking, and as such, they are all in good condition. Or maybe it is also related to the fact that those who did not want to take a hike were allowed to "fast forward" straight to the hotel. As it is, we're still about two dozen people (and one dog) hiking through the woods here.

A little bit later, we proceed to invade Bavaria by means of an old smuggler path, taking us effectively from one side of a narrow forested valley to the other.

From there on, what follows is pretty much a long stretch of uneventful forest hiking, during which the procession eventually stretches out over several hundred metres, with me usually spearheading the group of faster walkers.

Eventually, we emerge in the little rural village of Rossbach ("Horse Stream")…

…where I witness something so horrible and awful that it should give me nightmares for a week: Irreproachable citizens warning about the dreadful consequences of the environmental pollution through… amateur radio.

Most, if not all of the others are too engrossed in their own conversations that they don't even notice these signs, but I for my part am happy when we manage to reach the open highlands before we can contract whatever caused this dangerous combination of delusion, intolerance and zealotry.

It is here, in the middle of the open fields with scarcely a tree obscuring the view, that I first catch a glimpse of our destination, the mighty Dreistelz, towering at the far horizon.

It's in the middle of the highlands that I proceed to go my own way again, stealthily off from the main bunch once again by means of charging off ahead in a stretch of wood separating two fields and then proceeding straight at a point where I'm reasonably certain the others will turn right.

Once again, my reason for doing so is a Geocache hidden in a gnarly old tree, and this time around, I am rewarded. In fact, this should be the only Geocache I would find today, so I'm doubly glad that I dared to make this actually quite considerable detour.

As a consequence of splitting off from the group, I have to walk the next stretch of the road alone.

Which is actually quite nice, and reminds me of my strays all over the world. In fact, I'm not the least bit worried. I know I can find my way around, and at tail's end, I'll meet them in the inn, which I've marked down on my personal map. But it shouldn't even come to that, because before long, I spot the birthday company hiking along a parallel path about half a kilometre away.

With that, our eventual reunion is pretty much settled, since the company is hiking to my right, while the Dreistelz is to my left. Logically that means that as long as I walk into the same direction and at the same speed as them, we're bound to meet up sooner or later, and glancing at my map, I can already tell that the place where that will happen is going to be the next town of Weißenbach ("White Stream").

However, before I reunite with the others, I first proceed to check out an old tower in (vain) hope for yet another Geocache. An interesting side fact is that this tower did not actually ever belong to an old castle. Instead, it's a romanticised medieval style tower build during the renaissance when creating fake ruins such as these was en vogue. Locally, this one is also known as the Märchenturm ("Fairy Tale Tower") or Blauer Turm ("Blue Tower").

After that, it's finally time for me to meet back up with the others again, who have made themselves comfortable for an extended lunch break picnic in front of the Backhaus ("Baking House").

I for my part have packed a big, hearty mozzarella flatbread sandwich for lunch, but there's also lots of things being passed around within the troupe, so the main problem is eating too much rather than too little.

It's also during this extended break that I acquaintance myself with the energetic little dog by the name of Maja, who has been tirelessly keeping up with us up to this point…

…and as a consequence end up with a temporary propulsion boost of 1DP (Dog Power) when it's time to embark once again.

This next stretch of the way turns out to be rather scurrile, since we end up passing by a rather overwhelming number of bird hoses, the inhabitants of some of which are by all looks enthusiastic soccer fans.

Now, it's only a little bit further across the highlands…

..and then we're in the middle of the forest again.

By the time we finally reach the base of the mighty mountain Dreistelz, it's already well into the afternoon, but with our goal right in front of our eyes, and our place of respite just beyond it, we redouble our efforts and proceed to scale the imposing massif.

At 660m, the Dreistelzkopf ("Three Stilts Head") is really not all that tall, but since the way here was my longest stray ever since my final stray in Japan (see Book II ~ Final Chapter ~ Of Spirits and Shrines), I still feel every step of it, and I'm not the only one. In general, it becomes obvious that everyone's strength is pretty much exhausted for the day, and they have to fight their way up this last rise.

And for those who still haven't had enough after all that, there's still a 15m high observatory tower to scale at the top of the hill. The original metal construction stems from the year 1897, and even that old thing had already been preceded by a wooden structure frequented by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

It goes without saying that I'm one of those maniacs, and despite my legs complaining I scale this bonus ascent in order to get a nice panorama of my surroundings. By now, the sun has already disappeared behind the clouds, but being up here makes me remember the last time from 10 years ago when it was so foggy that all we saw was a wall of grey in all directions.

Afterwards, I go for one last little detour to the nearby broadcasting tower in a futile attempt to find the last Geocache for today…

…and then I rejoin the others as we make out way down towards the foot of the Dreistelz.

There, we arrive at our accommodation for the night, which goes by the name of Dreistelzhof ("Three Stilts Court"), a rustic old countryside inn.

After this long walk, the bunch of us have a good reason to be looking forward to…

A Big Birthday Banquet

Before the birthday banquet begins, I still have some time to explore the place itself, which among other things also includes a Stammtisch ("Trunk Table"), which is the traditional table for regular customers. The humorous sign hanging above it says (in Franconian) "Those sittn' 'ere always sit 'ere".

And then, there's also a wall-mounted stuffed Wolpertinger decorating the room.

Soon after, the Gaststube ("Guest Parlour") fills with a grand total of 40 or so people…

…as well as one hot dog, who has clearly had enough for one day.

The entrée course of the banquette is a very original pumpkin cream soup served in a perfectly sustainable and bio-degradable bowl…

…followed by a buffet, from which I help myself to the boar goulash with Spätzle. It's absolutely tasty, and makes for a satisfying reward after a physically taxing day such as this.

Eventually, Jörg proceeds to introduce each of the forty or so guests with a one or two minute long anecdote each…

…and after that hour, one of aforementioned guests – who just so happens to be a professional stage magician – proceeds to entertain the entire company with a highly humorous performance.

Seriously, the guy is good to the point where dying of laughter becomes a considerable hazard. Not only does he somehow manage to somehow move entire melons between hats without even a single one of 40 people looking at him from different angles – and some sitting at point blank distance – but he also never runs out of funny phrases and witty comments to go with his acts, culminating in an entirely unforgettable experience that my diaphragm should remember for days to come.

While the rest of the troupe is still partying, I eventually retire to my room and make for an early bed – partly because I have to leave early the next morning as a result of me having planed a rather roundabout return route, but also partly because over all the day and evening, I didn't really find anyone to talk to in the entire pack of people. But I suppose that's okay. I know I have friends back home with whom I can talk for hours on an end about the things that are of interest to me, and I'm happy that unlike on my travels, they live only a short train ride away.

Anyway, this day is now coming to an end. It has been a nice hike, a great dinner, and the funniest performance ever, so I'm ready to drop now (which might also be subtly related to me having gotten up at 4:15 AM today). And tomorrow, I'll be heading…

Down into the Valley

Distance: 4,5km
Ascents: 50m
Duration: 2h

The next morning, I wake up at the crack of dawn. Not anywhere near as early as the day before, but still early enough that I have the entire dining room to myself all throughout breakfast.

In retrospective, it was definitely a good thing that I cleared my breakfast time with the hostess the evening before. As such, I am able to complete breakfast and pack my things in a timely fashion, and manage to leave the inn at first light, with the entire rest of the troupe still fast asleep.

It goes without saying that I'm not going back to Jossa. For one, I already walked that path yesterday, and for the other, there's also a much closer station down in Bad Brückenau ("Bath Bridge Meadow"), the route to which also features a convenient chain of Geocaches calling "Oh! Here! Me! Me! Me!"

Thus, I walk alone once more, first across the open fields…

…and then through the forest.

Along the way, there's also a stretch where the path runs parallel to a road. However, this particular path is special because by means of design, the chances of a random passer-by getting accidentally run over by a careless or drunk car driver approximate zero.

Before long, I reach the chain of Geocaches, which unlike yesterday's caches turn out to be a veritable treasure trove. The caches are well maintained, reasonably easy to find, yet still have a bit of a challenge for them. In the following picture, for example, the cache could be located virtually anywhere. It might be hidden in the tall grass, in the bushes at the side of the path at the back of the stump, at the roots of the tree, up in the branches of the tree, or in any of a thousand little hideouts in the background.

However, I happen to know, it's hidden at the back of the stump.

Others meanwhile are so obvious that I can spot them with my Cache-o-Vision right away.

Now let's see if my Cache-O-Vision was correct. Mind you, I was so certain that there is a Geocache under that rock that I made the first picture even before checking. And it should turn out I was right.

Apart from the motivation of finding a total of 9 Geocaches along the way, this stray should also particularly relaxing due to the path leading mostly downhill, with the exception of one very slight incline about halfway along the way.

Eventually, I return back into the actual Sinntal, and although I can't see the river from my current vantage point, I know that it must be running at the first line of trees in front of the houses on the opposing side.

From here, I follow a very convenient foot and bicycle path all the way to the station of Bad Brückenau…

…only to realize that said station has a slight structural problem.

This station, like many other rural stations in Germany, has fallen victim to a plague known as "privatization", which was carried out during the reign of Helmut Kohl in 1994, causing the German railway to be turned from an official infrastructural government institution into a profit-oriented capital corporation. Since then, the state of the railroad services has deteriorated greatly, the once famed punctuality and reliability of the railroad has become a complete joke, and many remote locations such as this one were robbed of their railroad connection. Today, all that remains of the golden age of railroad services is the old station building, a derelict railroad crossing, and a railroad-bed turned into a foot and bicycle path. Back in the day you could get pretty much everywhere by train, but now, you need a dirty car. Go go climate change!

Now, the good news is that I was actually aware of this little inconvenience in advance, so I have looked up a bus connection that will take me to the next railroad station, and since I departed from the Dreistelzhof pretty early, I now arrive at the bus station with plenty of time to spare.

So, all I have to do now is wait for the bus to arrive, and then all that remains is…

A Rather Roundabout Return Ride

Eventually, the bus arrives, and it turns out it's one of those typical cross-country-buses that is somewhat of a cross between an urban bus and a coach.

My route today should take me to Bad Kissingen ("Bath Pillow Sing") by bus, from there to Würzburg by regional train, and finally back to Munich along the same route I used to get here. "Should" I say because in actuality, thanks to aforementioned privatization of the railroad services and the complete incapacitation that goes with it, my train should accidentally get re-routed onto a wrong track and ends up taking a slight detour over Augsburg. Oh well, at least this way my route is a nice figure eight of sorts.

What follows is an approximately half-hour-long bus ride through the forests, over the hills, and across the fields of Lower Franconia. It's a scenic journey, and I have to admit that one of the advantages of buses is that they can negotiate significantly steeper inclines, thus enabling them to go over these hills where a train would have to go around or through.

My subsequent stopover in Bad Kissingen should end up being just a little bit more interactive than initially anticipated, for while I do arrive at the central bus station without any problems…

…there's no train station anywhere in sight, and I soon enough figure out that the only train station is located over a kilometre away from the central bus station, ain't that convenient? Good thing I've planned in a generous layover at this location, so I can even afford to walk the scenic route. The only thing I didn't think of was downloading Geocache coordinates for this place. Oh well.

It turns out to be a rather relaxing stray, for not only does Bad Kissingen have a picturesque little old town…

…but I also come across a number of little local curiosities, such as these barefoot-store that actually sells shoes…

…or this cute little pun that only works in German ("Lieblingsbank" = "Favourite Bench/Bank").

There's also a colourful tourist train for city tours…

…as well as the Maxbrunnen ("Max Well"), a naturally carbonated fountain that is free for everyone to use, and was named after King Maximilian I of Bavaria in 1815, although it's first documented use dates back to 1520.

Along my further way, I also walk past a statue of Lord Francis II Rákóczi, a Hungarian nobleman and national hero after whom, for some strange reason, another naturally carbonated fountain of Bad Kissingen was named.

I also take a moment to enjoy the view from a bridge over the local river, the Fränkische Saale ("Franconian Halls")…

…and from there also spot a curiously named art gallery ("Kunsthaus Hassloch" = "Art House Hate Hole").

And even aforementioned bridge is kinda bogus!

Eventually, I arrive at the train station, which may look pretty majestic from the outside…

…but shows signs of reckless abandon and disrepair on the inside.

Maybe the most pathetic feature in these formerly granduesque halls is the video travel office. Yes, you read that right. In their quest to minimize costs, the German railroad has rationalized away actual station staff with remote personnel sitting in a central office and dealing with customers all over the country. Good luck when asking for regional directions or fares.

Even after all this walking, I still have a bit of time left, so I go look for a place where I can buy a sandwich or something. Unfortunately, the best I can find is a little station kiosk, and regrettably that place doesn't sell anything more wholesome than Bifi Rolls and Carazzas. I mean, they're still tasty, and all, but I would have preferred a tomato-mozzarella sandwich over them any day.

A little bit later, the regional train arrives, and out here, not even the trains are electrified. A shame really, but that can't be helped now. I can only say that I want to travel as ecologically friendly as possible, but it's up to the government to provide – either directly or indirectly – the infrastructure for it.

And with that, I depart back towards Munich, changing trains once again in Würzburg, and then taking a little bit of a detour over Augsburg due to the ICE somehow ending up on the wrong track. The good thing is that I don't have anything else planned for today, so I can just sit back and enjoy the ride as we cross over fields, forests, and the beautiful Bavarian landscape under a blue-white sky.

On a little side note, during the ICE ride I should run into the second bathroom administered by the German Railway today that's out of order. Again, I see that as a sign of mismanagement, since stuff like that simply never happened in all of New Zealand and Japan combined.

This time around, I change trains in Munich Pasing, which might also be called the Munich West station, since it's the effective counterpart of Munich East. I figure it might be faster for me to change here and take the S-Bahn first to Laim and then to Untermenzing as opposed to taking the direct route.

That decision should have consequences. The first consequence is that I learn that during my latest absence, the Pasing station has gained a fancy blue new pedestrian and bicyclist underpass connecting the different platforms.

The second is that I end up being stuck in the S-Bahn on the one-station-segment between Pasing and Laim for half an hour as an individual-related tragedy completely incapacitates the entire S-Bahn trunk lines.

And after finally arriving in Laim after roughly ten times the duration it was supposed to take, I also realize that this station is also currently undergoing massive construction work.

I hope whatever they are building includes anti-smoker turrets, for apart from the massive unreliability of the S-Bahn, my main reason for not using it is actually smokers smoking at the station, despite it having been outlawed years ago, infecting other passengers with their poison, and throwing their cigarettes onto the platform or the tracks once they're finished. I really wouldn't mind if they kept all their smoke to themselves and took care of their garbage, but as it is, I really miss Japan and New Zealand where smoking was prohibited and the prohibition actively enforced by the police in the entire inner cities of places such as Wellington and Kyoto.

But anyway, after all these complications, I finally manage to arrive back home about an hour later than planned. It's not too bad, really, considering the state of public transportation in Germany, but it's still a sad statement compared to Japan. But at the very least I manage to make it back home before the sun finishes setting.

Once again, this has been a busy sunup to sundown day for me, and after two days that involved walking more or less considerable distances, I'm really looking forward to a nice hot bath tonight. Once again I appreciate that I'm back home, where a nice hot bath in a reasonably big tub is an actual option. And I would appreciate it even more after my biggest tour this year, which is yet to come. So stay tuned for the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!