Winter came early to the Bavarian Alps. Clouds rolled in, fog filled the valleys, and almost as soon as we arrived, all evidence of the migrating birds of Europe is gone. It is mid-October, but the Allgäu at this elevation is white with snow.
Like a miracle, on the day Jane and I are to leave our son behind with family in Bavaria, the skies are bright blue and the road-snow melts by mid-morning. This is our first time leaving our son behind together - instead of a long goodbye, we sneak out on him and in no time, we’re on the road headed west.
We are in a blue Opel, and I might say that we are flying fast on the Autobahn, although it would be more true to say that we are the slowest car on the road, and it’s only that we feel fast. Fifteen minutes into our drive, I am ecstatic to at last be alone with my wife. And at this point, Jane looks at me and tells me she misses our son.
We stop in Lindau to pick up some fruits and crackers for a picnic, and then we enter Austria in the city of Bregenz, south of which is where we pass over the Rhine and turn right onto a road alongside the Rhine Delta levy. This is where I tell Jane that on our first afternoon alone together, we have work to do. For all the cheese we have ahead of us, we have to get some walking in.
At the end of the dirt road, we park the Opel in a dirt parking lot and walk along the spit of sand and rubble created by the Rhine headwaters pushing into Lake Constance. We walk out as far as we can, where we can see clear to the other side of the third largest lake in Europe.
Lake Constance is a lake, but it is also the river Rhine, and this is important because it is the Rhine that, for the most part, created the northernmost border of the Roman Empire. Its sheer size and navigability made it a crucial waterway for the transportation of Roman commerce. North of the valleys created by the Rhine was a very different sort of Europe – a tangled, swampy no-man’s land inhabited only scantily by barbarian tribes.