Sunday, 27 September 2009

Today I walked barefoot in the footsteps of Charlemagne

Well, my feet were absolutely killing me after an accidental five-hour walk in pretty much the most unsuitable shoes I possess (five-inch platform wedges, usefully cracked completely across the ball of the left foot; they really ought to go in the bin, but was hanging on to them in case there were any more beautiful days left this year; and today was definitely one of those); the grass was fresh and inviting, and there was no-one around to shout at me. I was in what's left of the aula regia (council chamber) of Charlemagne's palace in Ingelheim, with not much to go on in the way of bricks and mortar, but plenty of imagination as I ascended the three steps leading to the dais where his throne would have been set; the walls curved comfortingly behind me as I felt the chill of the terracotta through my soles, and watched the non-existent mediaeval court bow in waves and whisper in corners.

I had come to Ingelheim because it was there and because I'd completely misjudged, passing it on a previous train journey, how far the station was from the blasted Rhine. I walked alongside a motorway, explored dead ends leading to the huge industrial complex seated here and padded tentatively through the new bit of town (it's uncanny how quiet German towns are on Sundays; for an hour I met no-one and heard only the faint protest of foot against cracked shoe). Eventually I reached the river, and had a potter alongside it, enjoying the tang of water in the air and saying hello to various dogs. I had a squint at a map they'd put up in the sort of nature reserve there, and decided the historical route was the one for me (I am constitutionally incapable of returning by the same path I came). Unfortunately, while they'd obviously done great things with ditches, and put plenty of information about trees and stuff to edify children, they'd not really done a great job with actually signposting said route.

There was one point, trudging along a road in the middle of absolutely nowhere, the sun beating down, only the juice of a stolen plum to keep body and soul together (but oh, how sweet...), where I thought, lord, if that turn I took three quarters of an hour ago was wrong, I'm buggered if I know whether I'll be able to turn around and try again. Luckily for me, I have a good sense of direction, and whether I strayed from the designated route or not, I eventually, after several inadvertent kilometres, found the town centre(ish) and these ruins. Took me a few seconds to realise who Karl der Gro├če was, mind, when reading the signs on the wall - thankfully the old brain clicked into gear when I saw the dates.

As I tottered exhaustedly towards the station and home, I looked around for signs of what had been the deciding factor when choosing my destination on the internet - there was meant to be a wine fest - in a region of whites, they call themselves the Rotweinstadt (red wine town), so I was salivating hopefully. Well, all I can say is they were jolly well keeping it to themselves! The nearest I got was a nice bunch of grapes from an organic greengrocers which was inexplicably open on a Sunday (nothing else, unless it's in the station of a large town, is). Grapes, I have to say, are darned useful for cleaning dust from the palate when sitting in crowded trains. I dare say I'll regret polishing the whole damn lot off in one fell swoop, though!

The photo was a fountain I'd approached hopefully in the town centre; at first I was disappointed that it said Not Drinking Water; then, predictably, I got fascinated by the bubbles and had to fish out my camera!

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