Year of Grace, Day 130. By train to Bad Münstereifel

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.

View from the brewery

View from the brewery

Path from brewery

Path from brewery

Johannistor, one of the town’s gated towers.

Year of Grace, Day 50. The sea for lunch, and love too

There are people who just cannot get enough of seafood, and I have to admit I am one of them. I could happily live the rest of my life as a piscivore. Occasionally I know I might have an irresistible atavistic craving for meat, triggered by the smokey aroma of a lamb cutlet or thick steak on the grill, or the sight of roast pork with its blistered crackling, especially Philippine roast suckling pig known as lechon in its mahogany-lacquered gorgeousness. I have friends — vegetarians for decades — who waiver, whimpering helplessly, at the whiff of bacon cooking to a crisp. All things considered I would be more than content on a diet of deliciousness from the sea. There is so much variety that I don’t believe I would ever tire of prawns, calamari, octopus, shellfish of all kinds from mussels to oysters and razor clams, crabs, lobsters, and of course uni. And I haven’t even mentioned seaweeds, of which there is also an overwhelmingly diverse variety. One of the attractions of Chile as one of my dream destinations is that its coasts have such a rich stock of seafood that is rarely seen or eaten elsewhere. And, equally important, it has brilliant wines to partner with them.

I met a very dear friend for lunch recently and it was a joy to know that we both share an almost insatiable appetite for these delights from the sea. With a glass of wine – white for me, red for her – we rolled back the decades that we hadn’t seen each other as we talked and reminisced of this and that, as we savoured a bite of crisp calamari and a bite of a sweetly succulent mussel. And at the end, we couldn’t resist sopping up the remaining briney, winey essences — slightly peppery from red chili — with some hearty crusty bread.

A sunny day, the sea in sight, a lovely leisurely lunch, great company, and the joy of rekindling an affectionate friendship – these are things to be enormously grateful for.

It is truly a blessing to have loving friendships that endure over time and distance, and to pick up where you’d left off, even though it was decades ago. I shall repeat some sage advice that Hemingway is alleged to have said: Keep your friends, hold on to your friends. Don’t lose your friends. Advice worth repeating several times over, and I most definitely and heartily agree.

And now, a question — why do friendships endure, but romantic relationships not?  Or do they?  There’s a puzzle for you.