Exploring: Hatzenport to Eltz Castle on the Path of Dreams

Grassy trail above Germany's Mosel river valley in a little bit of characteristic mist
Grassy trail above Mosel river valley in Germany.

One morning, in early spring, my husband and I decided to walk to Burg Eltz (Eltz castle) from the tiny village of Hatzenport. We had asked the innkeeper if he thought Burg Eltz was do-able and he said, “Why shouldn’t it be? It’s only 2 1/2 hours.” Oddly enough, that reassured me.

It was an unexpectedly sunny day with a cool breeze, miraculous after weeks of rain and gray skies. We set out on little goat trails and followed the course of the Mosel river, far below. We barely needed our topographic map because everything was so well labeled. That’s how many people live in this part of the world. The trail was called “Traumpfad”, the path of dreams.
We traversed the vineyards on a tractor-wide track, feeling like Heidi and Peter. A sign said goats were used to clear out overgrown vineyards when someone wanted to begin again. Abandoned, overgrown vineyards were called “Brazils” after their owners left for Brazil to start a new life.

In earlier times, wagons must have collected the grapes from the rows of vines. A rusty winch in one village must have been used to pull heavy loads of grapes up and down the steep slopes. In another, a tower near the Mosel supported the cables to run a ferry across. The ferry needed no power other than the river current.

At some point, we left the Mosel to turn into another valley. The path climbed gently until we found ourselves on a high plain. The Mosel cut a valley into the plain, so that the river bed was actually in a canyon. The broad meadow was just as inviting as the earlier paths and the sun was just as delightful. There was a ring of standing stones, either old or modern, in the distance. It was almost unreal.

A group of eight deer leapt across the meadow in front of us to cross a road in the distance. Seven made it across but the last one was spooked by a car and couldn’t find his way. He bounded back to the safety of the forest. The others didn’t come back for him, so maybe that was the beginning of his own adventure.

An older pair of hikers passed us. They didn’t seem to be going fast but they were soon in the distance ahead of us. We saw them much later, having a picnic by the trail side, just before we got to a lot of boring pavement. Experience must help people pick out picnic spots. Role models for adventure pop up in surprising places.

By the time we had walked a few hours, we had gotten less tired or had found our stride or felt virtuous because we didn’t need parking, because we felt we could walk forever. When I was 10, I used to explore with my brother in the same way. A peanut butter sandwich in a backpack, a walking stick, and eyes to see what is in front of you.

Burg Eltz actually has a longish–by American standards–hiking trail from the parking lot to the castle. On the trail, three miniature knights came toward us brandishing wooden swords and painted wooden shields. A baby in a stroller was teething on a wooden sword. We were getting close.

Stone castle on a hill surrounded by the river Eltz and more hills near the Mosel valley in Germany.
The Eltz castle

The castle gift shop was full of swords and shields and castle-related memorabilia. A hearty soup lunch at the castle and we were ready to continue down the valley. Here the trail looks down on the river Eltz below—a gray, green, glacier-colored river—but I think the color comes from algae, but not in a bad way.

We hiked down to the village and took the train back to the tiny village of Hatzenport. It was a dreamy day of talking, walking, taking things in, and spending time together becoming whole.

The next morning, I took a walk in our own neighborhood. At the far meadow, a black and white horse whinnied and trotted, then pounded the grass with his hooves and galloped the perimeters of electric fence. Was he going to leap over it? Did the sunny, cool weather make him long for wide spaces and adventure?

Then a shaggy, brown horse appeared on the trail and the black and white nodded his big black head up and down emphatically. He had been calling this friend.

My day with my husband was perfect for me. The weather and the availability of food made it a very convenient adventure, but not one I will forget. A perfect life is an adventure with a friend.

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Exploring: the vineyard-covered Ahr valley

Vineyards in Mayschoß, GermanyThe village of Mayschoß in Germany’s lovely Ahr valley says “spring” all over. The name of the village means “lap of May” and even though it’s only April, you can see why.

It’s easy to imagine an earlier era. On top of the hill nearest the church tower is a ruined castle. One vineyard advertises horse-drawn wagon rides through the vineyards. My daughter told me they have to muzzle the horses to keep them from eating the grapes during harvest. I never thought about a horse eating grapes before.

Blast from the past in the National Park

Wear a hat and long-sleeved shirt against ticks and sunburn and cover your skin against frostbite. Don’t leave your toothpaste or bacon out where the black bears can smell it. Leaves of three, let me be. Stinging nettle. Geothermal activity–stay on the boardwalks. These are the dangers and adventures I associate with wilderness.

This sign in the Dreiborn area of the Eifel National Park made me think.

This sign says: "Risk of loss of life! Walking outside of the marked trails is absolutely forbidden. Vogelsang was used for military exercises until 2005.
This sign says: “Risk of loss of life! Walking outside of the marked trails is absolutely forbidden! This area was used for military exercises until 2005.

My husband’s parents played in the forest in Germany as children and found old tank parts and unexploded grenades. It felt very different to find one myself. I never understood what war on your own soil means.

An unexploded grenade lying on leaves in the forest in Eifel National Park

Writing Process Blog Tour

It’s fun to follow the epic and perhaps infinite Writing Process Blog Tour backwards. My favorite description is by Bethany Hegedus. “[T]his collection of blog posts offers tips of the trade, confessions on what makes a writer’s process unique.”

Thanks to Jenni Enzor who tagged me for the Tour. Jenni’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and I met her on the SCBWI discussion boards. She writes YA historical fantasy, MG mysteries, and historical nonfiction. You can see her answers to the epic Tour questions here.

Here are my answers and a link to Amanda Hill’s blog where she will answer the same questions:

What are you currently working on?

I’m querying THE WOUNDED BOOK, a middle grade historical novel, right now and starting to think about what I want to write next. A novel in the same vein or something in a different genre that popped up after a visit to a natural history museum in Bologna? It’s relaxing to dream on an empty slate.

The front of the Museo di Zoologia in Bologna, Italy

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

THE WOUNDED BOOK is a historical fiction for upper middle grades. My main character was inspired by the innocent and intrepid Philippa Somerville of Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles. Dorothy Dunnett’s series is set 600 years later than THE WOUNDED BOOK and her work is definitely not middle grade. An award-winning historical writer, she is a master of the genre I call “overly complicated with a fine sense of humor.”

Tracy Barrett’s Anna of Byzantium has a similar setting but is written for older readers than THE WOUNDED BOOK.

Both Tracy Barrett and Dorothy Dunnett have more knowledge about history, Latin, Italian, byzantine literature and geography in their little fingers than I will ever have in my head. The best spin I can put on this is to hope that readers will find my work accessible because I am forced to stay on the fringes.

Men in medieval dress, shield and spear and long, blue, and red and orange tunics parade through an Arezzo street as part of the jousting festival.

I love a snappy, witty exchange between characters when I’m reading and am delighted whenever my characters spontaneously oblige. Dorothy Dunnett is amazing at this.

Why do I write what I write?

I’m still guessing, but the things I don’t seem to be able to stay away from are Italy, music, libraries and cultural differences. It always interests me to know that there is more than one way to do everything–with all the tension that can create.

Story ideas tend to come to me as metaphors, helping me understand one part of life by comparing it to a very different part. Life is fairly mysterious and writing helps me metabolize my experiences. I like to read about characters who are working out their courage to try new things and to take risks in their lives. I hope this comes out in my stories.

How does my individual writing process work?

It would be so convenient to know this. A few things I’ve noticed: 1) When I get uncertain, I look for tools*. As if there were one right answer. It is dawning on me that it is more productive to acknowledge the risk. 2) A fast draft helps me get out of my own way and find out what the story is about. (NaNoWriMo) 3) Twyla Tharp (The Creative Habit) writes about detachment and engagement. She’s so right! I call this the Hokey-Pokey school of fiction writing: you put your whole self in to draft, then take your whole self out to revise.

Walkway on top of Bad Münstereifel city wall, Germany
Walkway on top of Bad Münstereifel city wall, Germany

*I use outlines, spreadsheets, markers, notebooks, and collections of flashbulb moments for the rough draft. My favorite tools are Scrivener (for writing and revision) Toggl (for time tracking), Hiveage (for invoicing) and libraries.

TAG, you’re it!

Amanda Hill, author of a rollicking, fairy-tale mash-up I can’t wait to read: THE WOODSMAN

See Amanda’s answers here.