Munich had already attracted me to Germany, but it was in Wiesbaden that it become a “forever” kind of thing. I hadn’t heard of it before going there, and Google had thrown up information like the “state capital of Hesse, Germany”, “world-famous spa city” – none of which had sounded very promising. The reality of it was wonderfully opposite. It is a beautiful old city, with grand pre- WW II buildings (one of the few places which escaped bombing during the war), and green stretches – well-kept but with a hint of wilderness – perfect for sitting and reading, strolling, or just dreaming and doing NOTHING. And most of it is deserted! During my stay here I heard the best concert in the famous Kurhaus (which I thought was ‘concert house’ but which turned out to be ‘cure house’ or ‘spa hall’, and now serves as a convention centre), gambled at the Casino while sipping the complimentary champagne, rode the bus to every end of the city, explored deserted ruins, gathered interesting titbits from random strangers – but more on that later.
Marktkirche (“Market Church”), my first stop, was a huge beautiful church situated bang in the centre of Wiesbaden’s “Palace Square”. Unfortunately it was closed when I reached (around 11:30 a.m.), but the Tourist Information Centre wasn’t – and it had a surprising range of recommendations of things-to-see-and-do for such a small place. The girl at the counter was very helpful, and I came away with an armload of brochures and a brainload of ideas. I spent the first hour or two just strolling around the alleyways around the Square, buying a bottle of wine at a local wine-and-cheese shop, a postcard, and a pastry. I was tempted by the unique potted flowers but prudently decided against it, since there was no way to take it along with us. First rule of travel (and Life) – give up the excess baggage! The Square was deserted that day, but I happened to visit it again on the day of the Farmer’s Market, and the place was transformed! The entire area was bustling with stalls. Rich-coloured fruits, whole gardens of flowers, strains of an accordion, little tables with jars of homemade jam, cheese in all shapes and sizes, fresh vegetables so green it hurts the eye. I bought a packet of Hollandaise sauce from an old man who didn’t speak English, but nevertheless we were able to conduct our transaction just fine. Language is required only up to a point, it’s easy to communicate if you really want to.
When I was tired of walking I boarded the “Thermine” (Little City Train) – a quaint red little train which trundles along happily on wheels around Wiesbaden. It takes you to most of the city’s well-known landmarks, accompanied by a recorded guide. So I explored the Russian-Orthodox church, passed impossibly grand villas where the rich and famous retire (I wish!), rode the “Nerobergbahn” (a funicular railway which even today is propelled by – guess what – water!) standing in the open carriage at the end of the train to a hill on top of the city with it’s breathtaking views. No less breathtaking was the Brad Pitt lookalike train operator…though I did spare a fleeting thought for poor S toiling at his conference, before continuing to drool. Here a kind old couple saw my struggles with the camera auto-timer, and came to the rescue offering to take a picture and even giving suggestions on “best angles”. And that is how I got the only picture of myself during my jaunts. I had to wait for nearly an hour before the next train came along to take me back to the city, and I found myself waiting at the train stop with a bunch of other tourists. There wasn’t any place to sit so I wandered off into a enticing garden-like area with winding paths lined with emerald green trees, little benches in shady nooks, small fountains with drinking water pouring out of the mouth of lions (though I didn’t risk a drink). Except for the occasional bicycler there wasn’t a soul in sight. It was eerie and heartstopping, and fascinating and charming. When I hear “Wiesbaden” I think of that moment, alone in that mass of green, and the day stretching ahead of me. It’s a feeling I can’t describe, so we’ll just call it my ‘happy place’.
Back at the hotel I had time for a small nap before S got back, and then off we went to the Kurhaus for a Beethoven concert (I had got the tickets earlier in the day). Maybe because it was the first concert of the trip, but I was mesmerized. The concert hall decorated in gold and green was no less grand than the ones we saw in Vienna later, and the concert itself was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic. The pianist was dressed in white and took his encores very seriously. Unlike the concerts in the larger cities, this was not a “touristy” affair, but was actually the “season’s first concert” and attended mainly by the residents of Wiesbaden – there was no pretentiousness, just the music. After the concert we hopped over to the Casino (located in the Kurhaus itself), and had a ‘win some, lose some’ time at the slot machines. We took the bus back to the hotel, and it had started drizzling which was NOT fun given that it was late October and not too warm. S was scandalized at seeing me not buy tickets on the bus, and my feeble explanation that I had a day ticket didn’t deter him from walking up to the driver (who didn’t seem interested), and forcing the poor man to sell him a ticket. I was already busy contemplating my next day’s adventures, and fell asleep planning a trip to a palace at the far end of town, exploring an old castle ruins, and taking a cruise down the Rhine.