Sunday, August 30th
Miriam's Home, and Visiting Ulm
We arrived in Munich on a bright, sunny morning. Although we arrived early, it took a fair while for our luggage to present itself on the baggage carousel. Net gain = 0.
Arriving in Germany
As planned, Asmir and Miriam were waiting for us just outside. We had heard via the Internet that Asmir had indeed asked the question and the response was indeed in the affirmative, so we spent the first minute giving congratulatory hugs. Then it was off to a short term parking lot, where we got into Miriam's parent's car and headed off.
We headed off west, travelling along Autobahn 8 towards Ulm. In a rather dramatic contrast with driving on the 417 from Ottawa to Montreal just hours earlier, Miriam soon had our BMW 530d cruising along at just under 200 km/hr in one of the 'unrestricted zones', and most everyone in the faster lanes were doing 160 or higher. In fact, a few cars even passed us. So, tell me again why 130 km/hr on the 417 is a big deal again?
Soon we approached the vicinity of Ulm, and Miriam turned off onto a side route, heading north. Miriam is from a little town to the north-east of Ulm called Niederstotzingen. It's a relatively small place, with a population of around 5,000 people, and is set into the side of a gently sloping hill amidst quite a fair bit of farmland. We pulled off onto a couple of side streets and soon we parked in front of a stylish-yet-relaxed looking custom home with a combination of textured white stucco, dark wood facing and with a wooden shingled roof. Miriam's house!
After being greeted at the front door by Kristina, Miriam's mom, we dumped our big duffel bags in the main hallway and went inside to relax for a bit. Kristina had prepared a very hearty lunch for us, very German and very tasty. As I recall, it was a dish of meat dumplings (the name of which I cannot remember), covered in a rich gravy. In any case, it was most yummy.
After lunch, we were treated to a quick tour of the house. It was built by the Roemers themselves (and by that I mean they were very involved in the actual construction work), and features a large sunken living room, a faux tiled-oven/fireplace, a loft-style upstairs (containing two bedrooms and a bathroom), and nice, wide patio balconies. The underlying structure of the house is concrete (and not wood, which is common for residential dwellings in Canada).
Roemer Living Room
We lounged about the garden patio for a bit, chatting and enjoying the hedged-in garden in front of the house (very thickly planted will all sorts of flowers). We were also getting acquainted with the littlest member of the Roemer family -- Max, a little white shaggy guy with boundless energy and a happy disposition.
We were starting to feel the grogginess associated with the jetlag of our 8 hour eastward flight across the atlantic, but we wanted to stay up until bedtime, so there was no resting for us! Max needed to be walked, so we headed out for a little walk.
Miriam's house is near the edge of the residential area in Niederstotzingen, so it was only a few minutes before we were walking through open farm pastures. Being up somewhat on the slope of an open hill gave us a far-ranging view southward across the broad flat valley of the Danube (the Danube river is about 8km south of Niederstotzingen), and in general gave us a good lay of the surrounding land. Off in the distance to the east, the two distinctively-shaped cooling towers of the Gundremmingen nuclear power station trailed twin streams of condensation clouds.
With our dog-walk / countryside overview over, we returned to the house, where Miriam showed off the newly-received engagement ring. Although we had already seen it before (via a secret conversation a few weeks before with Asmir), we had a closer look this time, and I took some nice, detailed photos of the ring and it's very substantial rock. Nice work, Asmir!
It was late afternoon, and again we felt it best that we 'do something' rather than succumb to the effects of our jet-lag. Miriam suggested that we drive to Ulm and spend the evening touring the historic city center. Miriam said there was a wine festival ongoing in downtown Ulm, and we could sample some food and drink there. Sounded like a decent plan, so after a bit of prep, off we went.
Ulm is a much larger place than Niederstotzingen. It's a city, actually, with a population of well over 100,000. The Danube river runs right through the middle of the city, which is notable for its rich history, being the birthplace of Albert Einstein, and the distinction of having the tallest church in the world (something I did not know up until that point).
Ulm Cathedral, front view
Being such a notable landmark, that was our first stop - the Ulm Muenster (or Ulm Cathedral).
We walked from our carpark into the historic center of Ulm - a pretty place with tidy old german buildings. Then we arrived at the square where the cathedral is located, and ... wow... the church impressed right from the start. The main steeple of the church is a fantastically imposing thing. It is wrought in a strange sort of mechanical-looking gothic architecture. It has a slightly 'alien' feel to it, and it is BIG. It contrasts so dramatically and is so much higher than the buildings around it, it almost looks like the gantry of some giant space vehicle was plopped into the city.
It's quite high, too (something you will very quickly notice when you stand in front of it). In fact, it's over 500 feet high. That's pretty amazing for a building that was started in 1377 (although admittedly, finished in 1890). Based on my research, this church was apparently the tallest building in the world in the period from 1890 to 1901 (when presumably some New York skyscraper overtook it).
By this time, I was pretty interested in the fact that a tower climb was allowed. We went into the steeple's access point, and paid the relatively cheap fee (about 3 euros, if I remember correctly). The tower is open until a certain time before sunset, so we had a limited amount of time to get up to the top. And it was a fairly decent climb, too: 150m (500ft) of climbing in a short time can be taxing! So, up we went.
The way up to the top of the Cathedral's spire is essentially a series of four narrow spiral staircases. At the top of each of the first three stages is some sort of horizontal hallway where you can move into the base of the next spiral staircase, which is by necessity placed closer to the center in order to accommodate the gradually narrowing spire. For the first three stages, there are spiral staircases in each corner of the square-shaped tower. For the final fourth stage, there is a single central staircase that climbs up the narrowing spire to a small viewing platform very near the top.
Even at the top of the first spiral staircase, we realized how high we were. By the time we reached the top of the second, the view was starting to get airplane-like. Jenn had come to Ulm in heels, and the difficulty of climbing hundreds and hundreds of steps in them had long ago caused her to ditch them and climb barefoot.
There are portholes and open-air viewing windows all the way up the staircases, and along the horizontal walkways between them. Often we would be looking out through ornately sculptured openings, allowing for pictures of the orange-colored roofs of Ulm with an elegant frame around them.
The top of the third spiral staircase opened out into a beautiful open gallery, surrounded by a fantastic symmetrical arrangement of curved buttresses, pillars, and styled stone. The latticework of stone extended upwards, getting narrower and narrower as it vaulted upwards. In the very center was a central pillar within which was the final spiral staircase to the top.
After gawking around here for a bit, we set off for the final climb to the top. We were glad there were virtually no visitors at this time, because the spiral staircase is so narrow that it is difficult to pass people going the opposite way. The outer structure of the steeple narrowed as we climbed higher, and soon, the steeple had narrowed to only a few metres across, with the spiral staircase going right up the center. At this height, with the airy open feel of the structure, it was actually a little bit unnerving!