Turkish food, Iranian friends and becoming Swabian

DSC_3140IT’S noon on a Sunday in Stuttgart and my breath is escaping in great steamy puffs as I weave through a crowd of rosy cheeked revellers at the winter market.

DSC_3110To one side, a giggling horde of children whiz around a small ice rink. On the other families, friends and couples sip on steaming mugs of Eierpunsch while knocking back cartons of Maultaschen.

Twinkling lights draped over food stalls cheerfully cut through the dreary light and sparkling cardboard snowflakes hang from traditional wooden counters.

Christmas is well and truly in the air and for the first time in weeks I’m not just ambivalent towards the cold – but downright happy about it.

I decide it’s time to really get into the spirit and so splurge on a steaming mug of what looks like liquid custard. Scott looks dubious but I tell him anything that has the appearance of dessert in drink form can’t be that bad – right?

It’s a mere three euros and the glass is so hot my cold hands burn at the touch as I happily squeeze in between a group of locals to take part in this great Swabian tradition. A trickle slides down my throat and it’s so potent I choke, forcing it to repeat up my nose. The most astonishing part is it really does taste like custard – but the kind that’s been fermented over a really long time and then heavily diluted with some kind of foul distilled wine.

DSC_3119It’s afterwards that we discover this potent Christmas drink is called Eierpunsch (egg punch) and after we slowly and painfully force the rest of the brew down (it takes about 40 minutes) we decide to walk off the fire in our bellies and sight see this magnificent city.

Stuttgart has a population of about 700,000 and lies  300km west of Munich towards the famous Black Forest region.

We’d arrived just two nights ago after a slow and rainy trek and already we’d fallen head over heels.

It seemed to ooze class, style and an irresistible charm born of traditional half timbered houses and steep winding streets and as we caught the “tooth train” up an impossible sharp climb to the affluent suburb of Degerloch, to stay with our new Iranian friend Ehsan, I couldn’t help but gasp at the view of thousands of twinkling lights.

Ehsan is part of the global cycling network of Warmshowers and while we hadn’t had a great deal of luck getting “hosted” through the website previously this PHD student and laser engineer jumped at the chance to offer us a warm place to sleep and rest for a few nights while we explored the Swabian city.DSC_3117

Within minutes of settling into his warm and chic apartment we felt right at home and began swapping stories before cooking up a feast of meat, potatoes and maultaschen (giant ravioli pockets stuffed with ground pork, spinach and bread mush that are nicknamed “god trickster” because they were a sneaky way to eat meat during Lent).

Ehsan hailed from Shiraz in Iran but had moved to Stuttgart to finish his PHD studies and work for a laser engineering firm. Being one of the country’s production powerhouses he said the city was the perfect place for him to be but with its storybook looks, friendly locals, and fabulous traditions, it was also the place you wanted to be.

To top it off the Iranian was a passionate bike tourer and so ensured we had plenty of time to relax, do our washing and just eat in a bid to gain our strength for the hilly climb to Switzerland.

DSC_3143But big days ahead aside, the truth was rest was in abundance throughout the past week as we made our way from Munich to the west.

After one hell of a decadent 30th birthday for Scott we all but crawled our way over the 300km. A nasty cold had turned me into a great snotty mess mere minutes after leaving Munich and icy rain brought the sniffling struggle into a depressing halt.

We’d scarcely left the Bavarian capital before the cold worsened, forcing us to retreat to a cheap backpackers on the outskirts for two nights.

I felt too miserable to be guilty about a stop so soon and only the tough love of our one and only dorm mate – Farzaneh – pulled me out of a full blown self pitying wallow.

The 32-year-old Iranian woman had moved to Munich through the company she worked for and after discovering I was sick plied me with a litre of orange juice, vitamin c tablets and stern instructions to drink liquid constantly and take at least one tablet a day “please”.

She was kind, charming and generous, promising to give us an extensive itinerary when we reached her homeland before insisting we must stay with her in Munich once she got an apartment (if we came back to that neck of the woods).

We’d heard just how hospitable Iranians were and I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact we’d discovered the truth of it in Germany.

Two days later followed by one big (coughing and spluttering) 80km day we reached Augsburg and after flying through neon streets and dodging motorways we finally found its one and only campsite.

We were once again the only campers in the tent field and when the temperature dropped to hair above zero we could see why.

The following day we woke up to a rain pelting down on the canvas and a rattling wheeze in my chest forcing us to again take an undeserved day off.

It was almost too cold to do anything but huddle in our tent but when big heavy drops began leaking through the outer seams onto the inner liner I was ready to run screaming for the nearest hotel.

We crawled out of the tent just before lunch to pay for another night and the owner said: “You know, I have rooms available for 46 euros”.

It was temptation of biblical proportions and after verbally notching up a pros and cons list we told the owner we’d “stick to the tent”.

“Ok, if you think you can handle it,” he said.

If handling it means rugging up like an eskimo then handle it we did but the icy cold forced us into a miserable state of frozen until we reached Stuttgart.

DSC_3134After our awesome Swabian respite it was northing short of painful to leave the city on Monday morning. We’d become attached to Ehsan and his cosy apartment, we’d fallen in love with the beautiful city and the combination of new friends, awesome surrounds and comfort had acted like a soothing balm.

The next stop was now Zurich (some 300km south via the Black Forest) and as we peddled off into the cold I fantasised about winter markets, steaming hot chocolates and gooey fondue to make the miles go faster.

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