This is part of the Day in the Life Series with Lauren. Check out her blog!
So I've been traveling a lot recently, although hardly every day. I was so excited to hear about the day in the life series because I love the idea: catching a more detailed look at a blogger's everyday life. However, this type of documentation also comes with challenges, one being how to be interesting and honest at the same time: the obvious thing to do is document an interesting day instead of a boring one! Although obvious, I still want to point this out -- when social media shows us highlight reels of other people's lives, it can lead to unrealistic expectations, FOMO and negative self-esteem from comparing yourself to others. For that reason I want to point out that although I'm so lucky to do really interesting things some of the time, if I were to document a boring day instead it would look like this: get up, stay at home and work on my laptop the entire day, take breaks to eat and run errands, work on my laptop more then go to sleep. Not very exciting.
That being said, here's one of my more adventurous days :)
The first decision of the day is where exactly I'm headed to. There are so many amazing Christmas Markets in Germany, which one should I visit? One challenge is that they can be completely packed on the weekends. It can be hard enough to fight your way through the crowds normally, and I'm interested it doing a live-stream for my Periscope/Twitter account. Somewhere off the beaten path might make for a little more breathing room: the Christmas market of the Ravennasschlucht in the Black Forest seems perfect. Nestled under an old stone viaduct, this location is not even in a village but something more remote than that. The permanent buildings in the area are a hotel, three places to eat and a small cluster of tourist shops. Let's go...
Even with the dense connection of rail networks around me, because of its remote location this place needs two long-distant trains, one local train, and one shuttle bus to reach.
If you're interested in visiting, aim yourself for arrival at the Freiburg main station in Baden-Württemburg, Germany. From there, you need to take the regional train to either the village of Hinterzarten or Himmelreich. This is bit confusing at first because usually locating Christmas markets here is super easy - you literally travel to any city in Germany, get out at the main station and follow the blinking lights and crowds of people. So where is this market exactly, and why does it say to travel to either Hinterzarten or Himmelreich? As I'm going there, I'm honestly not sure. Checking the weather for the day also gave me an alarming clue that this is somewhere remote. Usually checking the weather online means typing in the city and getting back a dozen options ("did you mean Berlin, Massachusetts?" .. "did you mean Paris, Texas?" No, no I did not, not right now at least) but in this case I type in "Hinterzarten" and there is exactly one option staring back at me. Oh boy where am I going...
The train arrives at Himmelreich. As the train doors open, people pour out of the packed cars, and everyone boisterously yet orderly files down the pathways marked with arrows pointing towards shuttle busses. We line up behind portable metal gates like lining up for entrance into a rock concert, and a bus pulls up. Not nearly enough space for everyone. But I manage to squeeze in on the back.
The bus takes a long winding road to gain elevation, snaking alongside a gushing stream. Rain fogs up the windows, which I keep wiping to get a better view. 15 minutes later, the doors open, we're here! I am the first to eagerly hop off the bus - Hello, forest!
The Black Forest almost doesn't look like a forest because it's so well manicured. Lots of coniferous trees, yes, but spaced out almost like they had to get a permit from the Ordungsamt first to grow there. The exception is only along the streams, where some low bushes grow unruly and possibly unregulated. I follow the signs and stream uphill along a dirt path.
The small cluster of buildings here are tourist-friendly with a striking alpine-styled hotel, a couple of places to eat and shop, and a large cuckoo clock on the side of one of the buildings. I wait to see the clock change because it's almost on the hour. The bird comes out of the building and two-foot-tall wooden figurines dance out in a circle. Not bad. But of course, also not what I came to see - there in the distance, is the viaduct, already lit up in colors. You need to buy a 4€ ticket to enter the market area for a closer view; seems worth it (most markets in Europe are free but because this is a remote location only open on the weekends, they charge an entry fee).
I get my ticket and a black-lit hand stamp upon entrance and keep chugging up the hill.
Photos of this marketplace and viaduct I've seen online are certainly impressive, but this is worth the trip to see in person. Standing there, you can take in how real it is -- there is actually a huge stone bridge lit up in a colorful glow that slowly shifts from purple to red to green, steam rises from bowls of mulled wine mixing in with the fog of the forest, you can smell roasting sugared nuts and grilled sausages and hear cheerful greetings between friends. It's a location worthy of a Lord of the Rings set, with the light friendliness of a fairy tale village.
Great! Let's share this on a live-stream! I check my signal. Nothing. No problem, this is why I bought a second SIM card and my own portable router to bring with me. Turn on the router. Connect my phone to its wifi. No signal. I mean, really? Ok, no problem, we are kind of in a valley in the middle of the forest. The best view of everything is not down in the market itself, but on the top of an adjacent hill anyway. I bet there is a signal up there. I trek up the hill, muddying my shoes, being careful not to slip as I keep checking the phone for a signal. It starts raining lightly, and with just barely above freezing temperatures, my hands grow red with cold.
I reach the top of the hill and the view is nothing but stunning. I stop frequently to take pictures, and use the panorama option on my phone to capture the wide view.
Now that I'm at the top of the hill, time to find that signal. In the cold, my phone battery is rapidly draining. Although it claimed to be at 10% battery... my phone turns off. No problem, this is why I've brought a portable battery pack with me, and made sure to have charged it last night. I plug my phone into the portable battery. And wait. And wait. And it doesn't come on or show any signs of charging. I've experienced problems with this external battery before: during my stream at the Mainz Christmas market, this battery pack let phone die although I had it plugged in. I had assumed I had done something wrong in that case. Apparently not. Apparently my external battery is broken. But I didn't come all this way to give up now. I walk back down the hill (careful not to slip!) determinded to find an outlet somewhere. There is a fancy four-star lodge, looking like it is made for chic Alpine skiers, and styled to match it's rich history: previous guests have included high society members such as Maire Antoinette and Goethe. There is a restaurant at the bottom. Maybe they have an outlet. I walk inside, quickly glance around the wood-paneled walls and don't see anything. I head for another option, this time something less chic restaurant and more cafetaria style; at least this place is larger. There has to be an outlet here hiding somewhere.
Look near all the tables: no. See a television mounted to the wall and: there it is, an outlet! I get a hot chocolate, pull a chair next to the outlet on the wall, and this is my life for the next hour. Time to catch up on my ebooks. My hands slowly warm and the atmosphere is cozy. Eventually my phone is done charging and I'm fueled to go try again. It's dark out now. I skip the long line into the market; the security guard puts a flashlight to my hand and my stamp glows for entrance. It's busier now, and the lights on the viaduct are even more impressive in the dark. Back up the hill. It's still wet and I have no flashlight. I navigate by the purple and red LED glow bouncing off some of the rocks, and by the occasional passer-by who is better equiped than I am. I reach the top of the hill again, and again am impressed with the view. A red train honks as it passes over the viaduct, matching the glowing decorations below. I take pictures. Time to live-stream? My phone battery drains down slightly, but it's still over 70%. At the top of the hill I look for a connection on my phone's data. There is a signal! I open the Periscope app to broadcast. The signal is too weak. I repeat the process with my router. And... same. A signal, but not enough to stream video. Sigh. That's it, I need to become rich and buy a satellite. People are missing out, they should be able to see this! Even with no more hopes of streaming, I enjoy the view and hang around the top of the hill for a while.
After descending I explore the market. The area is set alongside a gorge, both beautiful and dangerous looking in the cold. There's the usual mulled wine, snowman and raindeer decorations and stands selling a myriad of goods. I chat with a few of the stand owners; all that I talk to had hand-made what they're selling, including bags, jewelry, knitware and marble sculptures.
Cozy from the ambience but still a bit cold, it's time to return home.
My train on the way back has an outlet, and out of instinct, I plug in my phone.