Schmilka with Gurnot – A Lasting Memory of Saxon Switzerland, Germany

watercolour-1768921_640Mark collected eight children when he walked the dogs this morning and that was with two of yesterday’s missing!

Thankfully, the bin lorry arrived and became a subject of rapt fascination, so we managed to get breakfast.

We were packing away the awning and cleaning, but did stop for an extended cuppa with Marco and Jenny – along with their young son Willy and a whole posse of little blond girls. Otto, their eldest, came over to try English tea for the first time. We told him that he didn’t need to finish it if he didn’t like it. He said he liked it and he did drink the whole cup, so he must have been telling the truth! I think English tea, strong and with milk, is a bit like Welsh lava bread (which is NOT bread – it’s a salty, grey-green, gloopy blob of seaweed!) “It’s kind of an acquired taste!”

Willy seemed to take a shine to our coasters. They are brightly coloured fruit segments made from silicone. Not only can you crunch them up and they spring back into shape, they stick to the caravan windows. We noticed later that all 12 coasters had vanished. We asked Willy what had happened to them; it turned out that he had posted them all down the back of the sofa into the heating vents! This is a gap just large enough to consume small objects, such as a coaster or indeed, a mobile phone, but just small enough to resist the entry of a retrieving hand. Getting those back out again should prove to be an interesting task! Marco looked stern and told us not to laugh, because Willy had been naughty, but it was very difficult not to!

We managed to get our jobs done in between a succession of small visitors trooping in and out of the caravan. They seemed to find the shower, the cupboards, the fridge and toilet an endless source of fascination. Each visitor returned with a huddle of curious friends and apparently every child on the campsite was talking about “The English”!

We left for our postponed visit to Marco’s special place, Schmilka, around 4pm in Marco’s car with Willy and Jenny. Anna and Otto wanted to stay back to play with their new friends. I was amazed at the drive up the steep, narrow cobbled street of Schmilka, past the brewery and under a lovely, stone arch.

Marco was equally amazed when the group of male naturists whom we had kept meeting on our walk yesterday cycled past us! Walking is one thing, but I admired their, er, well you know – at taking part in a sport with a reputation for chafing, even when clothed! Marco cheered them on. “Nakt!” he shouted, as if they didn’t know!

Peanuts-for-tea has been a feature of some of the best nights of my life. This was one of them. We always say that you get the face you deserve; Gurnot has a lovely face. He looks like a man at one with the world. He runs Bergfriede; a selection of budget hikers’ rooms and a little café. Marco told us “He looks like a poor man. He drives a poor car. But he owns most of the village!” Mind you, when they told me that a large house on the hill sold last year for only €50,000, it was my turn to be amazed again! We have spent too much time in the South of England with its inflated property prices. Our guess at the price of the lovely, rambling mountain villa in the middle of a National Park with views to die for had come in at a cool £1.5 million!

We had our first beer then Marco asked if he and I could change places. “I always sit there. It’s tradition!” he said! Marco likes to look up the path and engage with every hiker returning from Groser Winterburg. Soon, we had gathered a little group! The first to join us were Peter and Suzanne from Hanover. Peter looked shattered and lounged like a Roman, smoking roll ups and quizzing us about Brexit. “Why do you English always have to have special treatment? Do you English not like Europeans?” he asked. I explained that we love Europeans, but we don’t like Brussels.

Peter asked where we lived in the UK. “Bournemouth?” He looked confused. Mark drew a triangle in biro on a napkin “This is the UK” he said “Well, the UK IS kind of a triangle…” Mark pinpointed London, Bournemouth and Brighton on the triangle, since Gurnot had spent some time in Brighton.

Soon after, a Russian chap asked to join us. Marco studied closely how he poured his Weißbier. It must have made him nervous; he stopped about half way with a glass full of foam that looked like all it needed was a cherry on top! He was on his way home to St Petersburg after an amazing (and brave) trip around various Stans, (including Afghani-) Armenia, Georgia, Iran, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Peter drew a square in biro on a napkin. “This is a map of Russia” he said. Our new friend pinpointed St Petersburg on the square, along with all the best mountains and lakes.

Manuel and his girlfriend from Bologna joined us. While Peter drew a boot on a serviette in biro. Manuel’s girlfriend and the Russian chap looked to be getting along just fine. Manuel was a sweetie; “My English is ‘ORRIBLE!” he protested. Between us, with my “Poco Italiano” we managed to pinpoint Bologna on Peter’s boot and also worked out where Manuel was from originally, in the south of Italy, near the heel.

John and his wife and daughters from Cambridge were next. They were quite posh, rather academic and were doing a train trip around the major Eastern European cities; Prague, Berlin, Dresden. They were raving about the galleries in Dresden. “Would you rather be here with mum and dad or at home with your mates?” Mark asked the teenage girls, mischievously. They laughed in reply. They asked how we all knew each other and were amazed that, apart from we four who had known each other for, oooh, less than a week, we had all just met!

Gurnot took a photo of us all to go in his visitors’ book, which we all had to fill in. A memory of a wonderfully memorable evening. Something that I think happens rather frequently at Gurnot’s place!

It is one of the absolute joys of travelling to meet other like-minded souls. There is a whole community of people on the road. I love to share their amazing stories; to become part of theirs and for them to become part of mine.

Jenny and Marco were on a low carb. diet – we found it quite comical that their diet did not preclude beer. “There is no sugar in German Beer!” Marco told us. “So it is allowed!” Although Marco highly recommended Gurnot’s chile con carne and ‘English beans’, he wouldn’t have either when we offered to buy him dinner because “it is not allowed on our diet!”

We were having such a lovely time that we never quite got around to ordering any chile, so that is how this magical evening in the mountains with strangers joined other multi-national nights of good natured fun like the Luislkellar in Selva and the Irish Pub in Aosta as a classic “Peanuts for Tea.”

I urge you to go to Schmilka and meet Gurnot. I guarantee that it will be special. It is one of those wonderful places where magic just happens. You will find our photo in the Visitors’ Book along with many others – and you never know who you might meet there.

You might even be lucky enough to meet Jenny and Marco!

I forgot to take my camera with me to Schmilka, but sometimes trying to record an experience is more of a distraction. I saw it with my eyes, experienced it with my full attention and it will remain in my memory for ever.

And if you want to see a photograph, it is in Gurnot’s visitors’ book!

To learn more about our night in the Luislkellar in Selva, check out my NWF blog On Europop, Atmosphere and the iPhone Generation

And don’t forget to come with us next time as we head for Austria – but then decide to Czech into the Czech Republic!

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