Monday, March 9, 2015

Stuttgart the Generous

I've decided to name each of the cities from this 10-day winter adventure with a superlative, like kings of old, because each city had its distinct taste. I didn't realize in the planning of this trip that our first stop held particular sentimental value for me. Stuttgart and the nearby military base is where my grandfather had been stationed during the war while he was engaged to my grandmother. All the feels, I tell ya! He told me a story of how once from the base to Stuttgart in time for his leave, he was offered a ride in a laundry truck from a local; most comfortable ride he ever had!
Now we didn't see any laundry trucks during our short stay in Stuttgart, but the same generous spirit seemed to surround this quiet town as it had all those years ago. The first thing we noticed as we stepped off the train in Stuttgart was the smiles. Literally, everyone was smiling! At us, at each other... culture shock full-throttle from demure, stoic Paris. Our path was full of happy, happy Germans. Not a few steps from the train yard, a jolly red-faced German stepped in my path and offered, "Sehr schön, Frau." Merci beaucoup, monsieur. The convivial atmosphere continued down into the streets and shopping squares where, en route to our destination, we were given free flowers for Valentine's Day. WE LOVE STUTTGART!!!

We arrived at our host's apartment right on time. Did I mention we were trying out couchsurfing on this trip? It's an organized travel community where residents within a city open up their couches for travelers passing through to crash for the night, for free. Sound crazy? Maybe a little. But it was on my bucketlist, and we had done careful research, and picked a host with beaucoup des stellar reviews. Florian turned out to be the ideal icebreaker host, happy to meet us (of course, it's Stuttgart), ready with maps of the city, suggestions for sites to see, and even offering to cook us a traditional German dinner that night. He was eager to help us enjoy the city, and through some minor and hilarious misunderstanding, Florian understood us to be great stair enthusiasts and sent us up a trail through the city that made the Sacré Cœur steps look like child's play. After countless flights, we breathlessly arrived at the crest where we found a sprawling vineyard and spectacular views of the city.

We took the opportunity to cleanse our lungs from some Parisian pollution with the clean mountain air, then headed back into the city center (more stairs). A lovely painting in an art gallery caught my eye, and Reagan suggested we venture inside. Waiting for us was a small circle of old German gentlemen, who lit up at our presence and immediately offered "the pretty fräuleins" some sparkling wine and homemade pretzels. We spent the next hour merrymaking with these happy art lovers, one of whom was the painter of the gallery, an elderly cardiologist who thought he might take up painting as a hobby in the late years of his career, and now had all this. He took us through his collection and memories of secret shores and crowded streets of unknown villages and famous places all across Europe. 

After colorful conversation and generous pours of that gloriously steely sparkling wine, we said our adieus to our fine hosts and made our way home for our dinner with Florian. We blanched broccoli spears as he prepared tasty taschen, literally "bags" in German. They were thin layers of meat and veggie paste rolled in a light puff pastry: filling but not heavy.

Satisfied with food and company, we finished our evening in Stuttgart at a local bar, where Florian bought us a round of the local brew as we listened to a touring alternative band wail techno guitar solos and mumble strange ambient noises through the hypnotic fog that enfolded the stage. Finally exhausted, we retired at 1:30am to catch a few hours sleep before waking at 3:30am for our train to Vienna. Although our stay in Stuttgart was short, the conviviality and generosity we experienced in just those few short hours (poor Florian even got up to send us off in the morning, bless his heart) set the tone for what would become a legendary trip. We sleepily watched the sun rise like a good omen in the pale pink and apricot skies. The best was yet to come.

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