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Stuttgart, Germany: Part 4

Updated: May 19

Two weeks in Germany is not much time to explore the people, topography, flora, fauna, culture, and all the area has to offer. One week is even less time. And one week is what I had left.

The Friday before Bianca left for the Black Forest, we sat together on her couch in her Stuttgart apartment and tuned in to our online Meditation group. It was then and there that an unusual and seemingly magically mysterious thing happened. A new participant showed up in one of the Meditation Family's Zoom cells, introduced herself, and said: "I live in Stuttgart, Germany." Bianca and I looked at each other. For years, Bianca had been the only person from Germany who had joined our Meditation Family. Now, a woman was sharing that she was Zooming in from Germany, and more specifically, from Stuttgart. Upon further investigation, we learned that Beatrice lived in Bianca's neighborhood... a short walk away. This felt uncanny, "kind of spooky" even, as Beatrice would later write in an email.

Bianca left on Saturday. Beatrice and I met on Monday at the cafe Treiber. I arrived first. I was in it for the long haul so ordered their only egg dish and a cappuccino. Beatrice arrived and purchased a bottled juice. She said she did not have a lot of time to spare. We sat at the round corner table by the back door. I learned that Beatrice had been exploring Meditation Chapel groups in order to find her homegroup. She was looking for something very specific. As we talked, it became clear that she had found what she was looking for in another group, so probably would not return to our group. Beatrice would be leaving the next day for a pre-planned vacation and did not plan to return to Stuttgart until after Bianca's final moving-out date. Why the Universe put us all together in the same place in time, for only a moment, is a mystery. Maybe more shall be revealed. Maybe not.

For the rest of the week, I was on my own. I ended up moving into Bianca's apartment. The weather that week was often cold and rainy, and I chose to spend quite a bit of cozy time at home. I got groceries and cooked. I cooked spicy eggplant for Bianca and left it in her freezer. I thought it would be nice for her to come back to a nice place so I did some light cleaning. In the evenings, I fully enjoyed the bathtub under the skylight. On the "nice weather" days I went exploring.

One "nice" day, I walked (for the second time) to Gelato Square, spontaneously by way of an alternative route. That latter phrasing is my clever way of saying I got lost. Call it lost; call it wandering. All in all, it was a good walk and I enjoyed the day.

Another day, I took a train to a place Bianca had suggested: Das Leuze Miineralbad. I missed my exit and took the train to the end of the line. Eventually I got there.

I got lost on the train another day, too, when I visited the zoo. Between my two "lost" days, I rode the trains of Stuttgart for hours. I felt much like Charlie on the MTA... "the man who never returned." In the song, the Kingston Trio wonders if Charlie will ride the train in Boston forever because he can not afford the extra nickel to get off. My reason for riding the train for hours was not a financial issue. Mine was more a lone senior with a TBI issue.

When I (finally) got off at the correct train station to walk to Das Leuze Miineralbad, I first stopped in at a cafe that Bianca had suggested I check out. At Flora and Fauna I took a picture of the woman's bathroom sign. The picture is fuzzy, but I assure you, that is live moss growing on gonna-pee-my-undies-Mama Flora!

Flora and Fauna was wedged between the train station and a long, sprawling park. Bianca had asked me to bring her with me via pictures. I brought her with me on my phone as I walked along the park and watched ducks.

I watched a family of ducks cross the path.

I think Papa Duck was standing guard, just in case I wanted to steal one of their adorable ducklings and send it through the phone to Bianca...

I walked a little further and entered the gate to Das Leuze Miineralbad. I was not allowed to take pictures inside, so could not bring Bianca with me. I very much wanted to bring you with me. I highly suggest you click on the embedded link (in the name, above) and check out what I am now calling Heaven. I would move to Stuttgart, Germany just to go to this one place, over and over again, everyday, all day and night. I will tell you why...

I swam laps in a clear mineral water pool. Mineral water, like the kind you drink... I swam in that. I swam in a pool inside and, without getting out of the pool, I swam like a mermaid, under a little gated bridge to a pool outside. There were places in the outside pool where strong jets of water sprayed up from the floor of the pool, out from different heights along the sides of the pool, and down from curved tubes that hung above the pool. I stood in one spot and let the spraying water massage my shoulders, then moved to another spot and let the spraying water massage my lower back, then moved to another spot and let the spraying water massage my calves and feet. You could make your way around the pool letting the spraying water massage every single part of your body. And then you could swim, in mineral water, that you could also drink.

Das Leuze Miineralbad had varying degrees of warm water and cool water pools. There was also a very cold water pool for... a polar bear plunge? There was a largish hot tub, a smallish round pool for those who wanted to hang out in warm water together, and a just-right sized just-right temperature pool for exercise classes. And then there were saunas.

There was a separate area designated for saunas. If you wanted to use just the pools, you paid one price. If you wanted to also use the saunas, there was a relatively small additional charge. I paid the additional charge. I flashed my entry bracelet at the sauna entry gate and walked into sauna heaven.

Inside sauna heaven were varying degrees of hot saunas, aromatherapy saunas, saunas that you could sleep in, small sauna rooms and huge sauna rooms. There were three floors of saunas. There were indoor and outdoor areas. On one floor, there was a room where everyone went in at the same time and someone threw buckets of ice on a heater in the middle of the room and then walked around the room whipping a towel in the air, making it hotter and steamier by the whip.

There were areas and rooms for napping, reading, and resting. There were rooms where you could book and receive a massage. There were rooms that I do not know what they were for.

There were people everywhere, though it felt spacious. People were in the saunas, walking between rooms, walking between floors, walking between the inside and the outside. Some people wore a bathrobe while walking about, some wore their towel, some wore nothing at all. There were lots of open showers for rinsing off, foot baths for soaking, cold pools for cooling off, and fountains for drinking... mineral water. In the saunas and showers, soaking feet and dipping in the cold pools, drinking from the fountains, everyone was naked.

Everyone needed a towel. That was a must. I tried to sit on a cedar bench without a towel and was told in no uncertain terms, in whatever language the young, handsome, naked man was speaking, that I needed to put my towel under me.

After a certain hour, you could be naked in the pools too. Naked everywhere, heating up, cooling down, swimming, drinking mineral water. There was no ogling, no feeling of discomfort. It felt like humans being natural. This, my friend, is my idea of heaven.

There was a lowkey restaurant with a super helpful and cheery man taking orders. I decided to eat dinner there. Since no one was around, I was able to snap a picture of my roasted chicken salad (see below).

The day was glorious, the spa would be closing, and I was spent. I showered, dressed, and left. I walked to the train station. It was the train station I had gotten off from earlier, the one by Flora and Fauna. I figured, I will do the ride in reverse and be fine. I figured wrong.

I rode the train to the end of the line. When I got off I did not know where I was. I must have appeared quite pitiful because someone took pity on me. This kind and fully clothed middle-aged man, who was going my way, walked with me to the proper train, waited near me, got on and sat near me, signaled to me when to get off, helped me switch to the next proper train, and signaled to me when to get off at our final destination. I recognized the town center and walked to Bianca's apartment, which I was now calling Home. Home sweet home.

After talking on the phone with Eli about the spa, he agreed that it would be cool for us to go to Das Leuze Miineralbad together, after he got out of work on Friday.

On Friday, I decided to spend the time before meeting up with Eli at the Wilhelma Zoo. I brought a large amount of stuff with me. I had my laptop, bathing suit and towel, shampoo and conditioner, and change of clothes. I also had the two little glass jars of Michelle's and Jessica's ashes. I was thinking, I will stash my laptop and spa paraphernalia at the spa, go to the zoo for the day (and bring Michelle and Jessica with me) , return to the spa in time to join our online meditation group (on my laptop, in some private room in the spa) and then be at the spa to meet Eli. It seemed like a perfect plan. Ah, but there is no such thing as perfection, is there?

On Friday, I packed and carried all my stuff with me onto the train. I got off at the train stop by Flora and Fauna. I walked with all my stuff to the spa. The spa told me I could not enter, leave, and reenter on the same ticket, or stash my paraphernalia there, or use my laptop inside. I walked back to Flora and Fauna with all my stuff and asked them if I could stash said stuff and later set up my computer for a Zoom group there. They said they could not stash my stuff and that there was no internet service at their cafe. I got back on the train with all my stuff and headed toward the zoo. The problem was, I missed the zoo stop and rode the train to the end of the line. It took a bit to get on the right track.

When I finally arrived at the zoo it was close to our meditation time. The zoo offered lockers outside the zoo. I could stash my things in a locker, but would not be allowed to go back and forth to retrieve or stash my laptop once I entered the zoo. Also, I was told there was no internet inside or around the zoo, though someone suggested I set up a hotspot.

The person taking tickets at the zoo gate was the someone who suggested the hotspot. He also said that if I wanted to come back to the locker and stash my laptop after my meditation group was done, he would let me back in the zoo. Nice human.

I stashed my spa stuff in a locker, purchased a ticket to enter the zoo, walked to the restaurant in the back corner of the zoo, set up a hotspot, found an outlet, set up my laptop through my phone's hotspot, and joined our online meditation group. All this with only two potty stops along the way. During the meditation part of our group, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Tap, tap. I was being asked to leave the restaurant because they were closing. I packed my stuff up and moved to a table outside the restaurant. I set up my laptop again and rejoined in time to guide the group out of meditation and end the group for the day. It was a weird timing day.

I really wish I had not spent so much time lost on the train that day. I really wish I had been able to explore the zoo grounds long before our online meditation group started. After our group ended, I walked my laptop back to the zoo entrance and stashed it in my locker, alongside the spa stuff that I had stashed there an hour or so earlier. I was allowed to reenter the zoo, and finally, was ready to explore. I would only have about an hour before closing time.

The Wilhelma Zoo was huge. The diversity of animals, plants, indoor and outdoor exhibits, and walking trails was... phew. I could have lingered at each sight for a lot longer than I did.

I did not have enough time to take it all in. I did bring Bianca with me which was so much fun. I held out my phone and Bianca suggested which direction to walk. We visited gorgeous big cats like a snow leopard, and a few varieties of monkeys including a thoughtful looking gorilla. We saw tall giraffes and large hippos. We saw water animals, land animals, air animals, and plants I had never seen. We saw them in a bit of a whirlwind.

Bianca and I had talked about where in Stuttgart I might release some of Michelle and Jessica's ashes. Bianca had told me how much she used to love sitting in the Magnolia park at the zoo. I decided to release some ashes in one of the three pools there. It was the end of the day. The zoo would be closing and no one was around. It was actually a perfect time to have this little releasing ceremony. This time, it really was perfect.

After leaving the zoo, Eli texted that he was hungry. We decided to meet at Flora and Fauna for dinner.

I had not realized until that point that the train stations between Flora and Fauna and the Wilhelma Zoo were one stop apart. I had not realized until that point that it was an easy walk from one to the other. I packed up my stuff and walked from the zoo to Flora and Fauna. I am very happy to report that I did not get lost. I followed one path, in an almost straight line, through the sprawling park. I got one picture on the way before my phone died. The grass was lush and green, the clouds magically painted on the darkening blue sky.

At Flora and Fauna, I met and talked with a young woman sitting at one of the little cafe tables outside. She was sitting next to an outlet that I asked if I could share. At that point, my phone was dead. When she left, Eli showed up. Some timing worked well. Eli and I ordered food and talked about our days.

After dinner, we stashed my laptop and little glass jars of Michelle's and Jessica's ashes in Eli's car and walked to the mineral pools. I was so happy to step through the gate into Heaven again. It was Eli's first time there. We swam in mineral water and entered the saunas.

Near closing time, laying on the top seating section of the hot sauna I was in, I felt my long, dangling brass earrings burning my neck and took them off. I placed them next to me. Later, I rolled over, without thinking, and heard something tinkle tinkle on the floor below me. I reached my hand out and felt around me. Nothing. I blinked with the sickening realization of what had just happened. My earrings had fallen between the cedar seat boards to the floor below.

I may not have felt sick about this had they been just any earrings. They were not just any earrings, though. These earrings were specifically designed and made for me by Emma Gardner. These earrings took 6 months for Emma to complete. I had acquired these earrings just before leaving on this 6-month adventure. I had told Emma that these were "my new everyday earrings." I barely took these earrings off. These earrings were stunning. These earrings were personal. I felt a strong attachment to these earrings.

I sat up, climbed down, and looked at the construction of the benches. The mood lighting made it impossible to see details. I could not see my earrings on the floor under the slatted wood raised bench construction. I could see, though, that retrieving my earrings was impossible.

In the long run, about two hours later, with the help of two security guards, a flashlight, bench lifting, and a broom handle, I retrieved my earrings. I was and am still so very relieved. I found Eli, who was showered, dressed, and patiently waiting to go, and followed suit.

I would not get lost on the trains that night because Eli was driving me home. Strangely, Eli's navigation system was a bit wonky and we got a bit lost in his car on the streets of Stuttgart. It was a weird transportation day.

On Saturday, Eli picked me up and we drove to the Rhine Falls in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

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