With an empty stomach I take the steep path up to Michaelsberg, towering smugly above Domplatz, looking down on the hoards of tourists who crowd into the stately Neue Residenz building. The Benedictine Kloster St. Michael, a former monastry and now old people’s home, is a must see item on my sight-seeing list. The baroque church, impressive for its art treasures alone, contains stunning depictions of almost 600 medicinal plants, lovingly painted all over the vaulted ceiling. The plants’ sprawling simplicity stands in stark contrast to the oil paintings depicting former patriarchs and benefactors. Parsley, fennel, garlic and rosemary speak to me far more than the angels dripping with goldleaf or the second bishop from the right, who’s squinting at visitors in unforgiving piety. Or perhaps he just had gout, which would explain the pinched look on his face.
I imagine the former monks tending the monastry’s kitchen gardens, resting once in a while to take in the splendid city panaroma unfolding below, dreaming of their supper. That reminds me…my own stomach is still empty!
Finally, I find refuge in the manicured monastry gardens, not only famous for containing one of the world’s largest collections of roses, but also reknown for offering delicious food in the hilltop restaurant and cafe. I collapse into a comfortable chair and share my slice of coffee cake with a sparrow, who perches on the wall dividing the rose beds from the former kitchen gardens. The sparrow’s acrobatics are framed by a view over sleepy Bamberg, dozing below in the hot afternoon sun, its two waterways, the Danube canal and the Regnitz river, bi-secting the city like a giant pair of scissors. The city has been sleeping like this for a thousand years or more and I feel myself becoming part of its dream.
Just when I am getting used to this rather pleasant aspect of tourist hell, I realise I must make my way down the steep kitchen gardens to get back to the city centre. My sandals are not made for mountaineering down a very long descent. By the time I reach a mysterious green door leading out of the secret garden into the Little Venice district below, I have two blisters reminding me that my stint in hell is far from over.
Will I ever make it back to the train station, back to Nuremberg and the safety of my friendly B & B? Or will I wander through this maze of cobbled streets, tourist traps and souvenier shops for all eternity?
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