When you hear some someone sagely announce, “There’s nothing like a good German sausage”, you laugh don’t you? Call me immature but an old-fashioned sausage joke never fails to make me snigger. However, when Rosey the tour guide announced this during our coach ride to the town of Cochem (and don’t get me started on the jokes that can be made there give the hard ‘ch’ sound), nobody batted an eyelid. I turned to my mother. Nothing. As Miranda Hart quite rightly says in her sitcom, “What is it with mothers? You give birth and you instantly don’t understand anything technical anymore. But you suddenly have a draw of spare greetings cards don’t you…” It’s uncanny how well she seems to know my own mother…
Anyway, onto the meat of the matter (and yes, pun heartily intended – apologies), day three in the town of Koblenz had been uneventful, apart from my mother realising a fellow tourist in the group used to be her dentist 23 years ago who lived (and indeed, it transpires, lives) just around the corner from us. As you do. Interestingly he had also encountered me before…only I had been a mere foetus then, wibbling around inside my mother, so I imagine it was a somewhat one-sided encounter.
Day four was much more exciting, as not only did I finally enjoy a German sausage (a bratwurst that is, Wolfgang still hadn’t shown his face) but we finally discovered a beautiful, typically German, fairytale-style castle perched on a hill overlooking Cochem. And yes of course I imagined myself as a Disney princess when we were looking round, silly question. Cochem castle is presumed to have been built just over 1000 years ago and has a rather chequered history, not least helped by bloomin’ King Louis XIV (aka. the Sun King) setting the castle on fire and blowing it up in 1689. In general, I like the French – after all I devoted four years of my life to their language and culture at university – but that was a jolly rotten thing to do.
However, the story goes that in 1868, a Berlin business man, Louis Ravené, woke up one morning to discover that during the hedonism of the previous night he had purchased Cochem castle. I’ve been known to buy a portion of garlic chips and regret it intensely the next day, but a casual castle? Not so much. The man devoted his entire life to restoring and developing it (in typical 19th century neo-gothic style) and died before ever living in it. He didn’t seem to have much luck, to put it mildly.
The building was complete with balconies, secret passageways and suits of armour; plus exquisite views over the Mosel and the neighbouring riverside towns, and so was obviously a sure fire hit with me, even if the entire tour was conducted in German. I may be able to count to ten in Deutsch and utter “mein Gott” at appropriate intervals, but my mastery of German goes no further; so where the secret passages go to or why there was a suit of armour for someone 6ft 5 and with Arnie Schwarzenegger’s physique circa ‘Terminator’, I will never know.
Another great thing about Cochem, we were told, is that during the town’s wine festival in June, there’s a fountain that flows with wine instead of water! Talk about a modern remake of the Marriage at Cana story! On the pagan side of things, in some villages in the region, a man dresses up as the God Bacchus and takes part in the procession, complete with beard and crown. Author George R.R Martin once wrote, “Wine makes all things possible”, so who knows what Bacchanalian debaucheries go on at these festivals? That said, if the townspeople are anything like Rosey the tour guide and my mother (who believes that anything more than two glasses makes you, and I quote, “a booze artist”), it’s one glass of wine apiece and in bed well before midnight with a Joseph Conrad novel to cosy up to. She’s a wild one, what can I say?
After a delightfully picturesque boat ride down the river, passing Traben-Trarbach, the first town in Germany to get electric lighting back in the day, we found ourselves in the adorable, tiny town of Beilstein. If I’d been told I’d walked into a Hollywood film set, I’d have easily believed it. Throw in a talking animal (and a Prince Charming…Wolfgang what are you playing at?!) and you have yourself a fairytale.
First stop: cake shop. You have to have your priorities straight. The whole tour group poured into the café (whose walls were covered from floor to ceiling in all different kinds of coffee grinders and coffee receptacles) to sink their teeth into some kuchen. When faced with a plethora of cake choice, it is always best to ask for advice, nein? So when I found myself opposite Mavis, Dorothy and Sheila all tucking into the most incredible slices, I knew who to turn to for gateau guidance.
Here, Damen und Herren, is where the pivotal point in the holiday occurred. Cake has always been important to me – and yes I was one of those whingey children who always thought everyone else’s slice of cake was bigger. I still vividly remember my 10th birthday cake with Darth Maul’s face on it (it’s been a downhill slope ever since). So when I started bonding with the three dames over mandarin meringue, it struck me that change was afoot. I suddenly began seeing them in a different light. Instead of seeing the modern equivalent of the Stygian witches, I began to see them as three women who weren’t entirely dissimilar to me, give or take sixty years. It occurred to me there and then, that I in fact will slip into old age quite nicely when the time comes. Give me a mug of tea, a slice of cake and an excuse to spend all day sedentary and I’m happy as a clam. Not to mention I already need to go the loo on an hourly basis, so that side of things won’t come as a shock.
In short, I out and out began to warm to the trio, despite their dire taste in crocs and floral patterns. However, I fear I became a little too comfortable in their presence and accidentally flashed the tour group during the coach journey home when I bent over to retrieve my phone. Luckily it was a sensible knickers day; one wouldn’t want to cause too much excitement amongst a group of geriatrics. That kind of thing never ends well…
What really concreted my fondness for the trio, however, is when, during a service-station stop on the way back to the Brussels Eurostar, they came back clutching bottles of amaretto. “It’s half the price it is in England!” they crowed, “So we got two!” (The quotation “I don’t do alcohol anymore – I get the same effect just standing up fast”, by some aged author, clearly didn’t ring true for these ladies). I could not help but cast my mind back to my last year at university, when my best friend and I had a pretty much identical mind-set, adding in limoncello and sambuca for good measure of course, when we did the Tesco’s run. And yes, they might sit in their room having a sedate drink while Tallulah and I would prepare for a night on the tiles in the small, sticky, ex-boathouse that Durham called a nightclub, but really the dames and I weren’t so different after all, given the age gap. Moreover, when they offered me a rhubarb and custard boiled sweet as I laughed with Mavis about her Mills & Boon novel, it was clear a bond had most definitely been made. And should Tallulah and I, sometime in the future, be the modern Judi Dench and Maggie Smith strolling round an unknown city, in search of adventure aged seventy plus, that really would be no bad thing. Although if I ever wear a calf-length skirt with a matching top and cardigan, complete with a perm, please shoot me.
And for those of you who were wondering, Wolfgang never made an appearance. Then again, let’s face it, how sexy can lederhosen really be?