Despite having traveled quite a bit since my last post (a return to Kyrgyzstan in spring, a week in Moscow, a train journey from Tbilisi to Baku, more trains across Kazakhstan, a sleepless four days in Berlin, yet another train far north of Moscow to the Republic of Karelia), Prekrasno has laid dormant. Compared with academic deadlines (conferences! final papers!) and recurring submissions to The Diplomat, it feels frivolous to sit down and recount travel stories.
I want to dust off the old travel blog both to record a visit to southern Germany, but also to pay homage to Rebecca, a dear friend who hosted me (and responded with “YES AND” to a joke about roadtripping to Liechtenstein, a doubly-landlocked microstate nudged between Switzerland and Austria just south of Lake Constance). I can’t quite process that I met Rebecca in 2010; as of tomorrow, a ten-year period (!!). She has featured in many of the adventures I recorded here on Prekrasno — a roadtrip through the American South after we graduated from college, reading fortunes in coffee grounds, walking past a UN-sanctioned buffer zone to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a bizarre ferry ride to get out of Northern Cyprus, swimming in a pool at the top of a 30-story building in Kuala Lumpur — (and doubtlessly has been front in center in many stories that were not shared here).
What a treat it was to spend two weeks in Germany, most of it spent laughing/making weird faces/eating cheese or chocolate or nutty bread next to such a good and wise and funny person. The weather was not on our side, but we still managed to visit Freiburg’s outdoor markets, climb to the top of its cathedral (home to a gargoyle that sticks its butt out rather than grimaces to scare passerby/release water from the roof), cram a few hours of work in the massive library, and glimpse a meteor from a balcony. I left Rebecca for a few days to visit Berlin, but when I got back we packed up for a 48-road trip to Liechtenstein and Lake Constance.
All the travel blogs I looked at for tips on how to visit Liechtenstein recommended taking the train from Zurich; renting a car and driving from Freiburg turned out to cost something similar. As a car-averse person, I’m proud to say I drove us on non-toll backroads through Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein (Rebecca’s constant assurances that I was doing so well made me question whether indeed I was doing well, but, we got from A to B with no scratches or fines). In Vaduz, we paid 3 Swiss Francs to get our passports stamped and paid nothing to climb a small mountain to see Vaduz Castle, where Liechtenstein’s princely family lives. For some strange reason they wouldn’t let us inside for tea with the family, but the weather did finally cooperate and clouds blew away to reveal just how high the Alps reach. We visited Liechtenstein on winter solstice, and with such little daylight we didn’t visit any of the museums in Vaduz’s center, instead driving on to Balzers to check out a cathedral and castle. From there, we passed through Austria and entered back into Germany to a cottage near Meersburg.
It’s almost upsetting how cute Meersburg was — vineyards on the coast of Lake Constance, pastel buildings, tiny doors, a man dressed in medieval-looking clothing guarding the entrance to the old castle (the Meersburg castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Germany; though I think this is a questionable superlative because a new castle was built for people to move into. But! I digress), and a giftshop with the most wackily arranged mannequins I’ve ever seen. The sun peeked out for an hour as we walked around Old Town; after popping in to the Wine Museum, though, it started drizzling again — our cue to head out.
From there we drove to the Ravennaschlucht Christmas market — a collection of wooden stalls selling raclette-covered potatoes, flammkuchen (a pizza-like flatbread from the area along the southwestern French-German border), hot chocolate, and tiny bottles of local gin. The weather was not exactly on our side, but we managed to take a walk in the forest, admire cuckoo clocks, and eat the tastiest pulled pork sandwich (topped with sauerkraut) I’ve had in years. We rolled back in to Freiburg late at night, parked the rental car in its platz, and walked back to Rebecca’s apartment.
This is a terrible travelogue in the sense of lacking any restaurant recommendations (we didn’t go out to eat in Liechtenstein because of the cost + the daylight limitations; even in Freiburg we didn’t eat out much and opted instead to cook at home or eat snacks from the Christmas market) or unique Christmas market goodies other than rosé gluhwein.
Last month, I finally got around to watching the HBO adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, a story of two remarkable girls who grow up near Naples. This paragraph from a review in the New Yorker struck me:
Why have a playdate when you could have a sleepover? Why have a sleepover that lasts one night when you could have a sleepover that lasts three, or a week? That might sound obsessive, or borderline erotic, and it is: childhood friendships of the kind I’m describing are like the primordial soup of human relationships, messy and unformed but with the raw parts to make anything that might come after. Such friends are like family (you need, or hate, or cannot forsake them) and a beloved (you are so jealous, so sensitive to their slights!) and an alternative (better?) self, squashed into one.
This trip felt like an indulgence in the impulse to keep going that the author expresses here — two weeks of sipping on primordial friendship soup that’s been simmering on the stove for a decade. I went into 2019 with my friend, and what a treat to say goodbye to 2019 with her as well. This year we saw each other in New York, Baku, Rhode Island, and Germany — who knows where I’ll see her in 2020?