We’re in Bacharach, Germany, an area along the Rhine close to where Samantha’s grandparents lived. The area’s been doused with rain lately, but we’re making the best of it. We spent the day taking slow walks up and down the cobblestone streets, watching Wagtails glide and dive-bomb as we made our way to the centuries-old town wall, which we scaled and followed. Down by the river, Samantha put her hand in the water. We looked over cruise brochures for a potential trip tomorrow, and gave another tourist somewhat vague directions to the Bacharacher Hof hotel.
Back in town, we visited a handmade souvenir shop and picked up a “Willkommen” sign for our apartment in Toronto, plus a little wooden emerald-coloured box with turquoise insets that reminded Samantha of a box her mother once had. We ate pretzels for lunch, followed by Riesling ice cream at a local Eis shop. Many stores in the area close down for a couple of hours midday, rending the streets as calm as the ever-lenghthening gaps between the lightning and thunder of a receding storm. After the shopkeepers reopened their doors, we picked up additional souvenirs, made a trip to the post office, and began our ascent to Stahleck Castle overlooking the valley. Built in the 12th century, blown up in the 17th, and rebuilt in the 20th, Stahleck has served as a youth hostel for about 90 years and provides a commanding view of Bacharach and its position along the Rhine. Halfway up the staircase, we paused and traded picture-taking services with a group of boisterous people from Louisiana.
Food is one of Samantha’s most important reasons for travelling. Her feelings about German food in particular are tied intimately to memories of her mother, and she honoured her today by seeking out authentic German Rouladen and Spätzle, which the chef at the Altkölnischer Hof hotel restaurant made especially for her. I had the Sauerbraten with dumplings and applesauce. We washed our meals down with bottles of Karamalz, a sweet, malty, nearly alcohol-free beer. A few of the restaurants in town light candles and place them out front of their entrances when the dinner hour arrives. It’s a warm and welcoming gesture, the kind typically encountered around the holidays, when we bend over backwards to make things cozy.
On our way back from dinner, we encountered an orange tabby cat in the part of town called Painter’s Corner, a pedestrian shortcut whose picturesqueness attracts artists during the warmer months. After stopping to give it affection, we continued on, gazing at a helicopter as it sprayed the vineyards on the steep northern slope, making big swooping turns to cover the big patches of land. In the remaining bits of daylight, we paused by a well-kept cemetery for a bit of reflection. There will be pieces of this trip I remember, and other pieces I forget. I will remember Samantha telling me that pain and guilt and loss don’t last, and that this is always an important thing to keep in mind. I will remember her calling me her best friend. I will remember the table at the restaurant, so that we can reclaim it for the inevitable time we return to this place. For the things I may forget: a few words.