Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Happy, Wet Mosel

A steady drizzle from an endlessly gloomy sky greeted us Sunday morning. We made our way down to the breakfast room, hopeful that there would be a turn in the weather over the next couple hours. The standard offerings of a German breakfast were displayed on one table while another was charmingly set for two. We realized we were the only guests in the house when Frau Nalbach marched in, turned on the radio, and said, "Yes. This table for you. Do you like tea or coffee in the morning?"

Frau Nalbach disappeared and reappeared a few times to ask, "Do you like?" She seemed satisfied after several affirmations. We asked if she thought the weather would get better. She pensively gazed out the window and said, "For you... yes." I was flattered she thought we were that important.

After breakfast it was still early. Happy Mosel didn't officially begin until 11am. We originally planned to bike 5km to Reil to watch the opening ceremony. Instead we retired back to the room and stood on the balcony watching for a break in the clouds. 

After about twenty minuted my husband declared, "We're going! This is what we came here to do. It's now or never." 

I looked up from the book I was reading, shrugged, and said, "Okay. But we're going to get soaked."

"For us, it will stop!" he excitedly replied, with a fist punch to the air.

The temperature wasn't too cold but it felt chilly since the sun wasn't out and there was a constant drizzle. The only pair of shoes I brought were flip-flops-- a true Florida girl prepared for a weekend in the German countryside. My ensemble was completed by capris with a short-sleeved shirt. This was going to be lots of fun. The only savior was my North Face jacket which looked ridiculous paired with my summer best.

We retrieved our bicycles from the garage, already soaked from the effort. We didn't pass any other cyclists on the way although we did observe some Germans standing under a bridge wearing ponchos. 

"We're idiots," I called after my husband. "Why don't we have rain gear?!"

"Keep pedaling!" he feverishly retorted.

I went for another few minutes, my bare feet sloshing through deep puddles, vision blurred by rain drops. Finally I pulled under a bridge and said, "This is ridiculous. I can barely pedal because my pants are too soaked. We have to go back and ask the Frau if there's any place we can find rain gear."

Of course we both knew this was futile. It was Sunday and every store in Germany is closed on Sundays. But my husband agreed that we wouldn't last unless we found some kind of protection from the rain. We turned around and went back to the guesthouse. 

We brushed our feet and tried to shake off all of the water before we opened the door. As soon as we did, Frau Nalbach saw us and a little shriek escaped. "Oh! You are too wet!"
"Yes," I replied, as water dripped down my face. "We were actually wondering if you know where we can get rain gear."
This was met with a blank expression. She shrugged slightly.
"A poncho?" my husband said helpfully.
She looked at each of us and then stared at the wall behind us.

My newly-developed charade skills kicked in and I mimed rain falling from the sky and then wrapped my arms around myself like a jacket.

"Ah! Yes. You need. But nothing is open today," Frau said.

We stared at the floor, pushing our feet around the flood we'd created in her pristine hallway. Noticing our despair, she said, "Wait! I will search."

She disappeared into the room behind her and after knocking around some boxes and opening drawers, emerged with a full windbreaker suit and an extra jacket.

"Thank you! Danke schoen! Danke!" we cried. "We will try again!"

We went back outside and immediately began putting on the gear. In retrospect, I should have at least waited until my pants were dry but we were in a race against the rain so we had to hurry. I looked ridiculous. All of the over-sized gear made me resemble one of the Ghostbusters. And I'm absolutely sure I was the only one in the entire Mosel region wearing flip flops.

The rain didn't let up as we soldiered through to Reil. We missed the opening ceremony but there weren't any wine tents set up yet. We saw a few more cyclists ahead and followed them to the next village. 

By now, I was sweating profusely under the large windbreaker because I was still wearing the North Face jacket over my shirt. My legs were soaking wet since they never had an opportunity to dry. I felt like one of those fitness fanatics who run laps wearing garbage bags.

We pulled up to the first tent and got right down to business ordering a brat and some Reisling. It seemed like we were the first to ask for the wine. Everyone else was drinking coffee. They regarded us with their steely German eyes, disapproving of our wine consumption (during a wine-drinking event) and my bare feet. 

Before we set off again, I decided to take off the pants since the rain had stopped. I wanted dry legs and to look a little less ludicrous. I shed the pants as they all continued to watch. I'm sure they expected me to be completely naked underneath. 

After our little performance, we set out for the next town. For the first few minutes of the ride the rain stayed away and we allowed ourselves some optimism. Without warning we rode into a sheet of rain and I grudgingly admitted to myself that my legs were going to be soaking wet for the entirety of Happy Mosel.

The next village was Traben-Trarbach. It was obvious that this stop is important during the event. Large tents were set up in front of a grand stage with a band. Unfortunately the predicted crowds weren't in attendance. But there's always a silver lining to every situation: We didn't have to wait in long lines for food or wine.

We approached the food tent and I ordered our snack in German. The woman at the counter smiled and replied in English. I said, "Wait! Was my German good?" 
"Yes," she said. "It was fine."

I'm going to get off track for a second. I'm trying very hard to improve my daily interactions with Germans. If I start out speaking English, they will pretend they don't understand. If I try to speak German, they smile and respond in perfect English. I feel like I'm never going to know how to complete a conversation. It's a cruel cycle.

Anyway, the wine at this stop was delicious. I had a Schwarzreisling for the first time. It literally translates to black reisling. It was semi-dry and very refreshing. The rain pelted down harder and faster as we stood at the wine kiosk, prompting us to order two more rounds while we waited for it to let up. After a couple hours we came to terms with the fact that the rain would never cease and we had no choice but to hop on our bikes and face the downpour.

At this point we knew we couldn't realistically go any further. It was going to rain all day. We trudged back to the bikes (with a bottle of the Schwarzreisling) and began the 15-mile ride back to the guesthouse. 

Frau and Herr Nalbach were waiting in the corridor when we arrived. This was our first time meeting Herr Nalbach. He was an ebullient man with an impressive command of English. He said, "I hear you like our wine! Do you want a taste this evening? 8pm?" 

It was a nice way to save the day and we readily agreed to meet him down in the cellar in a few hours. We drove back to Reil to have dinner at a "western saloon" decorated with Native American statues, cacti, and (inexplicably) sombreros. 

Nalbach Cellar
We met Herr Nalbach in the hallway promptly at 8pm. He cheerfully rubbed his hands together and said, "So! You are ready to taste some wonderful wine!" He showed us to the cellar and explained how his family has been making Reisling for hundreds of years. 

Then we went to another cellar for a tasting. We sampled four different wines as we talked and laughed about life. Herr Nalbach revealed the secret to 25 years of marriage: lots of wine. We asked how many children they have and he said, "Three daughters."

"How old are they?" I asked.
"23," he said.
"But how old are the other two?" I replied.
"23. They are triplets."
"Wow!" we both replied.

Our weekend in the Mosel region wasn't just for fun. It was a celebration of our first wedding anniversary, which happened to be that day. Suddenly Herr Nalbach's eyes lit up and he said what every young couple marking their first year of wedded bliss would want to hear: "We have three daughters also because of the wine! So now, in nine months, you will have triplets too!"

I slowly pushed my empty glass aside, grimaced slightly, and said, "Maybe we will have just one at a time."

"No! It is because you drink the wine you will have three, at once! You must take a bottle up to your sleeping room tonight!"

The tasting ended a few minutes later and we went to our "sleeping room" clutching the unexpected fertility drug along with some wine glasses.

We left early the next morning with clouds still in the sky and rain misting intermittently. The Nalbachs came outside to see us off and Herr Nalbach repeated what he said the night before, with a wink. "Nine months I say! You email us!" He explained his prediction to Frau Nalbach and she laughed gaily.

Rain aside, it was a great trip. The countryside in the Mosel region is breathtaking. It would have been much nicer if the weather wasn't gloomy but we still had a fun adventure and we left with two cases of Nalbach wine. 

I'm looking forward to next year when we can try the Happy Mosel again. The Nalbachs have already agreed to babysit our triplets.

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