James C. is in the Black Forest, and above, sends one of the most European VFYTs ever. From his letter:
Later in the day I found myself in Triberg, which sits at the very bottom of a steep valley (almost a canyon if you ask me). Running hundreds of feet all the way down to the town is a waterfall. Triberg is famous for two things: animated wooden clocks and Black Forest cake ( Schwarzwälder Kirschetorte). Now I couldn’t exactly eat a cuckoo clock while climbing up the waterfall, so I settled for a Black Forest cake. It (and the Austrian sächer torte) are my favorite! I think the kirschwasser (cherry brandy) in the cake really does it for me—it’s very dry so it complements the sour cherries and sweet cake perfectly. I picked up a slice at the peerless Café Schaefer and hiked up the waterfall, making a stop midway to eat.
But wait, there’s more:
Germany’s Black Forest region ( Schwarzwald) has really impressed me. That’s saying something when you consider I just came from the Swiss Alps. I’ll tell you more about it when we meet, but there’s something magical about the light, the shape of the land, and about the traditional way the Schwarzwälders live (and have long lived) here. It’s the kind of place where everything slows down when you enter it. Perhaps it’s the Umbria of Germany. (I also loved that the friendly locals let me practice my wretched German on them, rather than simply respond in English—or perhaps they don’t know English?)
Anyway, I had a terrific lunch in a little town nestled in a pastoral idyll of steep green hills, Sankt Peter, named after the magnificent Baroque abbey that dominates the town. Now, as you know I’m a Gothic guy (with Romanesque in second), but I must say that the only Baroque I really really like is German/Austrian/Swiss. Perhaps the natural restraint common to those cultures keeps their Baroque churches from veering into florid bad taste!
Check out the abbey’s library (below).
In an adventurous mood, I just picked something off the menu (most of which I couldn’t read): hochzeitsteller, which Google translates as “wedding plate”. What on Earth? It turned out to be slices of meat (cured and smoked ox breast and pork shoulder, browned and slow-cooked in a broth of white wine and vinegar with other spices) covered with a creamy horseradish-based sauce that had a nice kick to it. Accompanied by sauerkraut (delicate but delightfully crunchy), puréed snow potatoes (nice texture and buttery) and a sort of berry compote. A classic German dish, sourness balanced by just a touch of sweetness, with a hearty starch to soak up the delicious sauce. Yum.
Before I show you the abbey library, let me say that my next adventure must be Alsace and the Black Forest. Between James C. and Patrick Leigh Fermor’s indescribably good travel narrative A Time of Gifts , I am convinced.