|Into the Woods|
Before setting out on the Bayreuth Odyssey, we had in mind to use the days when there were no performances for excoursionizing. Maps of Bavaria were spread out on the table in the "Jamboree War Room", as I call the closet under the stairs. Ideas of day trips to Munich and Neuschwanstein Castle were strongly considered and entered in the "can do" column of the Jamboree Excoursion Ledger.
Friday July 30th was an excoursion day but having gotten to bed around 3am following Die Meistersinger, the Jamboree Committee, meeting in secret session over Mimosas on the terrace, decided that an 8 hour round-trip drive to tourist-infested "Must-Sees" was not in their best interests. Nuremberg, an hour away, was favored and entered in the minutes, written on a napkin.
Our trio of German friends entered the restaurant for breakfast and so, wiping the circle of orange juice from around my mouth with my napkin, I went to join them. The six of us sat down to our farewell meal, for this was the Germans' last day in Bayreuth and a long drive lay ahead of them. They had been stellar companions and fine men to have a drink with in the wee small hours.
Intelligence reports had told me that Günter was driving a fine big BMW 7 series sedan, and being a lover of driving and of nice cars, I asked him if I could drive it. He unhesitatingly said "yes" and so I put my pistol away.
I was a late-starter in car driving. When I was 17 in Ireland I did not have the money to buy a car. I couldn't really have borrowed my parents' car, for I stayed away from home for days at a time, visiting with friends. My best friend had the use of his father's car so there was not a pressing need for me to drive.
When I was 18 I went to live in London, and there of course you don't really need a car, as the public transportation is good. It wasn't until I was 24 that I felt a need to drive. I had to walk home to Chiswick at 4 am, after the buses had stopped running, and without enough to pay for a cab. It was about 7 miles and took a couple of hours. On the way I imagined that I could do it a lot faster in a car.
At the same time my girlfriend had to move back to her parents' home over 100 miles away in Cambridgeshire. I signed up for lessons with a driving school. My instructor was an Indian gentleman who loved to throw me in at the deep end by making me drive down to Hyde Park Corner where cars and buses come whizzing at you from all angles. So it was that after 13 hours of lessons I took a driving test in a mercifully quiet little place called Teddington and passed.
My girfriend's father sold used cars and he sold me my first car. It was a Fiat 850 and the numbers referred to the size of the engine. I clocked up many miles each weekend driving to and from my girlfriend's house and loved the freedom (and the lack of walking) in driving a car. For ten years I drove all over the south of England and loved every mile. I find driving immensely pleasureable and relaxing.
After breakfast in Bayreuth the Jamboree Trio and the proud owner, Günter, climbed into the luxurious cream-colored leather-clad interior of the BMW.
I meant to drive the short distance to the Festspielhaus and back, just to get the feel of the car. The centre console had a computer screen in it, about half the size of a laptop screen. This served duty in several ways: it was a tv screen, a phone book for the cell phone between the seats and best of all was the map screen for the satellite guidance system. This was currently showing a map of Bayreuth. Günter pushed some buttons and it showed us the best route to the Green Hill, and as I drove off, a German lady's voice gave me directions. By now of course I could have driven the route blindfolded. To prove this point I was actually wearing a blindfold - but Günter, a lawyer by trade, thought that were I to have an accident, the blindfold wouldn't look good to the insurance company.
I could see better without it anyway, it turned out, and was able to enjoy the leafy lanes along the way. The car was library-quiet and rode along as if on a cushion of air.
At the Festspielhaus I traded places with P13, and Günter suggested we go to the autobahn. Once there, to the sound of the Transformation Music wailing from the CD player, we headed briskly N.E. toward Berlin. We pulled off the autobahn after 20km or so and I got back into the driver's seat to get us back to our hotel.
That didn't take long. We cruised along at 200 kph (125 mph) with the 4 litre engine barely audible. The computer voice told me that Bayreuth was approaching, and reluctantly I followed her advice even though the signs pointing to Munich were tantalising me.
We said goodbye to our friends.
As it was Friday afternoon and the beginning of some German holiday, I thought that maybe a drive into Nuremberg unwise. I pictured us stuck in city traffic, looking in vain for parking. Guide-Book Carol came up with an alternative- a tour around the local hills. This was agreed upon by the Committee. My little Mercedes felt rather sluggish and boxy after the glorious BMW, but it would get us up into the hills.
It takes no time at all to get out of Bayreuth and into open country. Picturesque little villages came and went as we headed to Fichtelgebirge, which is a name I had first seen in Wagner books as being a place he would walk to. It seemed that every house along the way was blessed with window boxes bearing colorful arrays of flowers. The road climbed upwards all the way. P13 was videotaping all the while to capture the drive for posterity and adding his unique commentary. There was nothing to stop for in Fichtelgebirge. We were high up, around 2000 ft. and from the car had an expansive view of the little villages and greenery below.
We were more interested in getting to the Felsen Labyrinth at Luisenburg where, according to the Michelin Guide, we could hike amongst huge boulders dumped there by a glacier long ago, before I got my driver's license.
There were many motor coaches there when we arrived and that didn't bode well for solitude. It turned out that they were there to deposit people attending a Festspiel in a huge outdoor auditorium hidden among the trees. We could hear gales of laughter coming from within the mighty concrete edifice as we walked up the steep access road from the parking lot.
Luckily, the trail up through the boulders was quiet, and as we climbed higher, occasionally on steep stone stairways where we had to walk crouched over to avoid decapitation by a rock the size of a two bedroom house, the sound of the Festspiel faded away. There was indeed a summit and there we could rest and survey the Starnach River valley far below. Back down the rocky trail, often under a cool canopy of tall fir trees, we were passed by rescue teams heading upwards. Ambulances and fire trucks pulled up at the base. Our thoughts went out to the unfortunate person whose day would likely end in a hospital bed.
Our route was a circular one, and now we were heading back toward Bayreuth along shaded country roads. Turning a bend we saw a lake glistening in the sun, and on the far bank of this lake the sight of people dining outdoors. We pulled off the road and parked.
I don't even recall the name of this idyllic inn we stopped at, but it was a wonderful place to take a refreshing glass of beer. There was a pen containing some donkeys and one with some rabbits for the children to pet. We took a table near the lake, shielded from the sun by an umbrella. Huge plates of delicious food were procured and enjoyed as we watched the ducks paddling across the lake.
We passed through Bad Bernach on the way back to join the autobahn. Everything is well sign-posted in Bavaria, taking the guess-work out of driving and leaving the driver to enjoy the scenic views.
With no firm plans for the evening, after-dinner naps were the order of the day. High on the hill the Festspielhaus sat quietly. Tomorrow would be Lohengrin day!
To be continued......