Dear L and J

If yesterday was a bitch, physically speaking, today was one in all other respects. The plan followed the map, and the route showed promise: Along the Werra river, mostly on  bikepaths, lots of nature, the works. Problem was, that after about one mile the path was blocked.  A “U” signaled a detour. I was skeptical, knowing from my father a thing or two about road construction sites. Most times, there is room to slip a bike by. To make sure, I called the tourist office where a woman picked up the phone. She told me that indeed there was a detour, also for bikes, most surely. So I embarked on what became a huge fool’s errand taking more than half a day. After four hours in the hills, I was back to almost where I was before.

 Of course, again there was neither a restaurant nor a coffee shop along the way. Not even a gas station. When I asked a lady at lunchtime, she responded “da hamse hier schlechte Karten” – “you’re dealt a bad hand here”. Lesson learned: When biking in the boonies, remember to always carry food and water with you. And make a mental note of two sentences you will hear a lot: “Hammer nich” (“we don’t have it”) and the one about the “schlechte Karten”.

 Back in the Werra valley I crossed the former border between East and West Germany. A few miles later I had it. It was only 5 p.m. but I checked into a hotel in Philippsthal, a company town dominated by a huge man-made hill of debris from the Kali mines. Hotel am Salzberg was an oddity of almost American dimensions: on one side a deserted bar or gambling parlor, on the other one a restaurant, upstairs the rooms. The restaurant was operated as a fast-food Kebab joint by some Turks, the hotel by a man whom whom you call after arriving. There is no reception desk and not breakfast, but the room was pleasantly good, equipped with a huge jacuzzi-like bathtub and a “massage chair” in front of the door. And the food was very good (the chef showed me the lamb piecesin a plastic container  before he kebab-ed them). Only downside was that there was no heat and outside it was really cold. The place was freezing, which explains why I was the only sitting customer in the joint. Everybody else ordered takeout.