Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rudolf's Castle


When traveling, my husband and I always wished to be adopted, taken home by a local. The closest we came was in Croatia, at the bus station in Split (I know an unfortunate name, I’m sure it’s pronounced differently) where tourists are descended upon by little old ladies vying to rent out their extra rooms/beds/suites. Two ladies actually fought over us, calling each other liars. Finally we went “home” with an old lady with teeth problems because I didn’t trust the other woman who spoke better English and tried to convince us she lived only 5 minutes away from the historic town center. I thought—no way do you live only 5 minutes away—it was a Unesco World Heritage site.

So we followed our chosen old lady to her apartment (about a 15-minute walk) where the den was set up with a fold out bed and she offered us Nescafe and a package of stale cookies and with hand gestures and some Italian! told us how we could get back into the apartment before we left to go eat dinner and cruise the old town. Can’t remember how much kroner we paid for the two nights. I’ve often thought though—why don’t more people do this? I guess Air B & B serves the same purpose.

One other time we were in Sienna, Italy walking back from a supper of heat lamp pizza (Somehow heat lamp pizza is better in Italy than here in the States. Go figure) in the rain when we encountered a VERY old lady. 1) She was old, 2) she was walking in the rain without an umbrella, and 3) this was a very small alleyway, called a vicolo with like a 65% slope. Meaning one false move and this old lady in orthopedic shoes carrying groceries would be sledding to the bottom on her bum. And, remember, this is Italy, where ruins are the main attraction and ancient, cracked, uneven streets are historic and not a pedestrian hazard. In the States you could sue the pants off the city or file a complaint if the sidewalks are not fixed. In Italy it’s supposed to be this way, it’s why you go to Sienna and pay 500 euros for heat lamp pizza. They’re Italian broken streets, not American 21st C. potholed ones.

Anyway, I walked the old lady to her door. One hand holding our umbrella over her head and the other arm extended for her to hang onto while ascending the slippery cobblestone street, all the while I hauled her bags. She kept up an incomprehensible monologue until we reached her heavy wooden door (Italian style, built to withhold battering rams) where I liked to think she was inviting me to come inside and be her daughter and live forever in Italy. I nodded and told her my husband might not be okay with her plan—except I used the word for wife—when suddenly Mike showed up with another umbrella and she kissed him and said buono, bravo, over and over. I was jealous. I think she immediately wanted to adopt him instead of me.

So when Mike and I discovered Couchsurfing a few years ago, it made total sense.

One of our first experiences hosting was a German journalist pretty close to our age that we had to talk out of train-hopping. (His wife later thanked us.) Rudolf was a kindred spirit. In the universal world of books and writing we had a lot in common. The first night we stayed up til midnight talking. The second night we stayed up til midnight talking. This might not sound like a big deal but we really love to go to bed early or if not early then shut down and watch TV in the dark, starting at about 7 o’clock. We’re old, okay. Sort of. Enough to be couch potatoes as well as couchsurfers.

I think it was about night 3 or 4 that we got talking about castles. Rudolf had one. No way!

It was easy to talk in exclamation points with Rudolf. As opposed to the German stereotype he was not stoic or on-time or only ate dark, dry healthy bread. Rudolf talked like an Italian and often got so excited that he used his hands. Yes! He lived in a castle!

And you can too! He told us.

Yeah, right. I wasn’t buying it.

He reckoned because we had a German-sounding last name we most likely had a castle somewhere in Europe. Look it up! He directed me.

Readers of this blog have probably figured out I have some basic Google experience. I’ve Googled Jane, Jane Hertenstein, but never Hertenstein castle. But I did as Rudolf said and lo and behold under IMAGES was a thumbnail pic of the Hertenstein castle. I clicked on it.

It was a pile of rubble. Pretty much what I would expect for a Hertenstein hailing from Peoria, Illinois. I mean there wasn’t even enough there to re-hab—if in case we were to inherit the old homestead. Maybe a homeless Hertenstein could crawl under the bricks and weeds and seek shelter. Nevertheless, we had a castle.
remains of Hertenstein Castle

Rudolf was so pleased. We truly were European comrades. We now had in common our castles. Only his was fabulous, situated on top of a hill in  Lichtenberg, a part of Bavaria, and ours was really nowhere, at least nowhere where a train went and the trains go everywhere in Europe.

We hosted Rudolf two more times over the space of two years, him and his lovely family who are now like family to us. He reminds us we must come and visit him sometime—at his castle. It’s nice to know that through the internet-miracle of Couchsurfing we have friends from all over the world that we can drop in on: Turkey, Spain, Italy, and Tillamook, Oregon. Oh, yeah, and while over there in the old country we can try to find our castle.

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