I love train journeys. There is something enchanting to me about travelling by train. Perhaps because as a child, I often travelled with my mother by night train, from Manila’s Tutuban Station to Damortis, La Union, the end station, and then onwards by bus to Santiago, Ilocos Sur, arriving at dawn, just in time for breakfast at the house of her mother, my grandmother Lela Pacia.
I also love landscapes mysteriously shrouded in fog and mist. And yesterday’s journey from Bonn to Bad Münstereifel was through Rhineland countryside alternately hidden and revealed: the fields nearest the tracks an eye-smarting emerald green and in the far, far distance, dimly glimpsed amidst the white-blanketed horizon, faint skeletons of trees, still bereft of leaves. It always amazes me how each type of tree possesses its own distinct silhouette: branches and twigs angled just so — the layout of trunk and branch and twig characteristic of that particular species, and none other. The weeping willows have just begun to leaf out. And the very palest chartreuse of its fragile pendent branches — like giant maiden’s greenish-blond tresses let down to be washed by waters of streams or rivers where such trees flourish — rivals the brilliance of yellow cornelian blossoms peering through the mist.
Bad Münstereifel is not that far from Bonn, though the journey takes a full hour and a half, as the train stops for some time at the major junction of Euskirchen to shift tracks. I don’t know why we don’t go oftener, as from our very first visit some years ago, we were very much taken with it. Being in Bad Münstereifel, from the moment one beholds the walled town’s imposing entry gate, is like being in a fairy tale. Or inside a picture book of medieval European townscapes, titled Topsy-Turvies, by Anno Mitsumasa, my favourite Japanese book illustrator.
We just strolled around, soaking in the bewitching ambience. And it is wonderful that the town centre is entirely pedestrianized so that the air is free of pollutants, adding to Bad Münstereifels’ reputation for healing and recuperation – it is renowned as a Kurort (Kur = cure; ort = place). The curative baths (Bad) are just outside the town centre. (I must have some sort of affinity to healing places: Leamington Spa, where I lived in England, had been one such as well. )
The day’s joys included lovely Baisertorte, eaten to the accompaniment of the sounds of the river as it winds its way down, burbling merrily as it flows through the town. Baiser is German for meringue, though amusingly pronounced the French way, “behzey.” This part of Germany has incorporated a lot of French, from the Napoleonic army’s thirty-odd years’ stay. Military uniforms reminiscent of that era are much in evidence during Karneval. Though why native Bonners pronounce “Ich” as “Ish,” akin to the French pronunciation of “ch,” may not be due to ancient French colonization. I am told that Bonnsch pronunciation is regarded as uncouth by those who speak proper hoch Deutsch.
Much later, we had lunch of locally brewed beer and crisp roast Spannferkel (suckling pig, the local version of Philippine lechon), partaken at the brewery itself, overlooking the roofs and charming higgledy-piggledy muddle of half-timbred walls. A lovely and memorable day, and I was glad that we had come and left early, as it had begun to rain in earnest as we left for home. Interestingly, by the time we arrived in Bonn, the sun had come out, picking out the pink peach blossoms near Bonn’s Old City Hall, the Rathaus, also pink. It used to be much more startlingly pink and looked like a wedding cake, but… the political regime changed, and with it, the town’s aesthetic taste as well. I rather liked the old shocking pink — properly Baroque.
Ah, the delights of early spring – ever its mercurial self – one minute rain and the next, brilliant sun.