Who would have thought this time last year would be a 180 degree perspective on world affairs.
Part of my self-isolation therapy is remembering, writing and appreciating my past few Easter holidays when I lived abroad.
Bunnies, Markets, Castles, Oh My!
The vendor stalls are brilliantly decorated with bright pastel colors and local artists showcase their unique beautifully intricate works of art, proudly displaying their talents. I have never before seen festive eggs in so many forms of mediums such as paint, wood, plastic, food, flowers and many other creative objects.
According to local legend the story of why Easter eggs came to the German land dates from the medieval era.
“Centuries and centuries ago, there was another rivalry war during the spring season, so a German Duchess and her family had to flee from their castle home and found refuge in a small isolated mountain village.
The poor villagers were very kind to the Dutchess’s family and gave them food and shelter. The Dutchess and her family returned home to their castle during the quasi piece time between the neighborhood kingdoms.
To repay her gratitude to the village people for their kindness, the Dutchess gave them chickens to lay eggs. The villagers never seen or heard about this fantastic gift that keeps on giving and were most thankful for this new food. To display kindness and gentleness, the Dutchess taught the villager women different ways to cook, prepare and eat the eggs.
For the children, the Dutchess prepared beautifully colorful eggs to brighten up their day with rhymes written on them and a delicious feast of supper with the villagers. Then to walk off a full tummy, the Dutchess and children went into woods to gather moss, twigs, and leaves to build a nest for their decorated Easter eggs. An egg is the first gift of the reviving Spring. When the children saw the rabbit in the forest, they assumed the rabbits brought the eggs, hence, the egg and bunny connection.” (cited)
This tradition spread all over the lands and came to be a feast of eggs on Easter Sunday.
Today’s trendy eating establishments were yesterday’s medieval tax burdens
During medieval times, taxes were heavily levied in Germany. The locals were taxed on sunlight, so they built houses with small windows. They were taxed on square footage of land, so the they built houses with smaller in square feet on the first floor and increased its square footage in building height. Today, these same historic buildings are now restaurants, hotels, office spaces, museums, and bistros to enjoy fresh air outside seating.
The Easter holiday colors are beautiful, refreshing and visually appealing against the backdrop cold grey skies. After the Easter holiday, Spring is on its way and gradually the neighborhood bier gardens and restaurants start opening for the warmer seasons.
Probe, wine tasting, is offered inside stores. Winestube, wine shop, offers German wines that you may never see on the shelves back home. Ratskeller, a tavern bar, usually offers authenic local cultural vibes. Essingen is known for Germany’s oldest Sekt House.
Zentrum, town center, has fun art such as scupltures passerbys rub and Banksy inspired streetart
This year, throughout the world, the Easter holiday will be remembered through social distancing while celebrating over a glass of wine. On the 7th day God rested and on the 8th day God created wine.
The March Equinox marks the brief time span when the sun crosses the Celestial Equator (sky dome) and some claim that, the astronomical first day of Spring, one can balance an egg on a flat surface.
The grandfather of Virginia wine, Jefferson, experimented with growing a vineyard then has morphed into today’s The Monticello Wine Trail. One local gem along the trail includes UNESCO Thomas Jefferson Monticello, the beautifully scenic countryside where Jefferson was born, retired and died. A guided tour is a splendid experience because they point out insightful stories about Monticello’s displays of scientific objects, experiments, instruments and tools such as a telescope in his study room.
This year’s Spring Equinox I will be looking up at the skies where I live and where Jefferson had once star gazing. Coincidentally, I also had lived in the vicinity of both, 17th c. astronomers, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei.
The era of 17th c Scientific Enlightenment included Scientific Revolution and Modern Science which culminated in a European cultural shift. Vanguard scientists such as German Kepler and Italian Galilei planetary theories were controversies and spread all over the social circles including the English colonies. Jefferson may have read about these forward European thinkers’ academia applications being applied, the mathematical physics and equations, to the universe.
Groundbreaking universal researches from both astronomers Johannas Kepler and Galileo Galilei had two completely different personal outcomes when their enlightened scientific theories, regarding the plants, sun, universe and Earth, became public knowledge.
German born Kepler was from the same German town as Reformationist Martin Luther’s star student; therefore, their culture easily embraced science accademia growth and well..not for Italian Galilei. The omipresent Italian Catholic power were up & down the country’s boot and negatively spotlighted the towns where Galileo was born and studied, we can presume he was persona non grata.
Most military wars from the past spared the bombing of this historical town because of the respect for particular historic icons born here including Astronomer Johannas Kepler.
Weil der Stadt is often called ‘Gate to the Black Forrest’ because the town is located at the foothills of the Black Forest. Bavarian region and this area food is the regional Swabian cuisine.
I learned that different sausages are eaten at particular times during the day. For example, a Bavarian mild sausage in light broth is served for breakfast. From this pic we, being newbies, are obviously tourists.
I like the German’s lighter fare foods and prefer their biers on the lighter side. When I was introduced to the local ‘bier cocktails’ scene, from then on they were on my radar, a true fan. My favorite is Radler (mixture of beer and lemonade) and Bananaweizen (mixture of bier and banana juice). During the hot summer these iced cold bier cocktails are refreshing.
During his time Kepler too enjoy drinking bier in his neighborhood Biergarten.
Many ancient and contemporary scholars have walked on Padua University floors. Many old traditions are still practiced today. Once we stayed down the street from the University of Bologna graduation night; oh my what excitement.
Driving around Padua’s country side are the hills of Colli Berici and Colli Euganie. The Italian scientist Galilei spend much time glaring up at the sky through his telescopes. Now private property, this place is said to be one of those locations and a splendid view it is.
When I drove around that area this view of the scientist hideout happens to be perpendicular with a roundabout. I would drive around the roundabout a few times pretending to be lost, accidentally missed turn my turnoff, and acting coy towards the pissed off locals just to drive around and around and linger a longer view.
One of the Galilie tourist spots is the cantina that produces and markets Galilie Galilieo wine.
#bucketlist eating a carbonna pasta dish at a resturant in the town named Carbonna, Italy.
I read this book years ago and must read it again for a different perspective.
Thomas Jefferson’s travels through Europe and its influences were brought back to Monticello in his retirement years. UNESCO Thomas Jefferson Monticello showcases many of his scientific innovations and a nice piece of American history when experiencing Virginia Wine Tourism.
Balancing an egg or superimposing a historical moment with your five-cent coin on the Monticello Dome, during the Earth’s orbit around the sun, are some of the many gems offered on The Monticello Wine Trail. Historic, bucolic and alcoholic fun.
Sometimes, women can’t live on wine alone, we like a good bier. Bier & Valentines, what fun to experience Brugge’s annual bier festival. Brugge, Belgium in February is cold so prepare to dress warmly while you sample their local bier scene. If you do not mind the cold weather, sitting outside enjoying your bier while checking out the local vibes, we loved Brugge.
Yes, that signage is bonafide, ‘pour your own bier’! Only in Brugge can this concept be a civilized practice.
Drinking a style of bier requires the appropriate glass and this etiquette is quite significant around the locals. A bier’s complementary glass is liquid tradition and a custom among the local bier scene. So much to learn in only a very short time in Brugge.
The thing I learned is that the different flavors, ingredients, foam, and other considerations compliments the enjoyment of drinking bier by enhancing its aromas. The bier museum showcases different biers where you can sample all kinds of different styles in different types of glasses. Guess which bier is my favorite? Kriek Lambic is a style of Belgian bier, made with morello cherries.
The days turn into the blue sunset colors and Brugge at night takes on another memorable time freeze.
The quietness around the back neighborhoods.
The 16th C. religious reformation gave the rise to economic prosperity in Northern Europe. Driven by Martin Luthers Reformation, merchants quickly rose to upward mobility because of the elimination of paying tithes to the Roman Catholic Church. More money was kept for themselves and their new liberal religious sects; as well, new economic and advancing technologies and ideologies. This prosperous city also had an easily navigable channel of canals for international trade that drew considerable wealth to Flanders.
From the second floor balcony, it was a lunch with the main plaza view.
Michelangelo’s sculpture Madonna of Brugge. After the popular Hollywood film titled, ‘The Monuments Men”, a story about the recovery and correct placement of stolen art masterpieces during WWII, attracted a big following and donations to this church when properly returned. Unfortunately, when I visited, the small nave was closed and under renovation.
Flanders has a long and rich history, which I find interesting and many museums are walking distance within the town center. This trendy town has a fantastic art scene and the inspirational garden sculptures, retail shops, and the red post mail boxes along the way captured my attention.
There is chocolate, and then there are the Chocolate Houses of Belgium.
Known as the Land of the Bier, Belgians have been making wine since the 9th c. and now besides "rouge" are producing nice sparkling wines and white wines.
The wine regions in Flanders are Vlaamse Landwiin and Wallonia Vin de pays des Jardins de Wallonie.
The local markets still go on throughout the winter season. We have been to Brugge twice and both visits were taken during these cold temps. Hopefully, one day we can return during the warmer months; I would love to enjoy this roof top stay surrounded with beautiful vividly colored flowers and long summer evenings.
Sparkling wine season is upon us and another reason to enjoy sparkling wines from around the world, and all year around. According to many wine aficionados, the mother of all Sparkling wines is Champagné, so one can imagine my thrill to enjoy a glass of Champagné in Champagné, France.
The French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée mandates the three grapes used are Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. If only Chardonnay is used then it is called blanc de blanc. The appellations are Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne. The location of the vineyards (east, west, north, south) to its ratio with sunlight tenacity matters a great deal to which grapes are grown where.
The AOC also requires how the sparkling wine of Champagné is made. The méthode Champenoise, also known as the traditional method.
Empty spots need to be filled in due to limited bottle movement. Many times, the bottles fall off the racks due to accidental prematurely popping out (disgorgement) while undergoing the process of formation and/or aging.
There are Vintage (all three grapes have same year harvest) and Non-Vintage (NV, three blended grapes have different harvest years) Champagnés and the labels should list this on the bottles. The NV is usually less expensive than Vintage Champagné because of the complexities and guidelines of same harvest, blending still grapes, and the list goes on.
The styles of Champagnés differ and is subjective. We all have unique level of sensory thresholds and having a chance to juxtapose a flight of Champagné is marvelous. The levels of residual sugar such as Sec for a sweeter and Extra Brut to a drier style is noticeable.
Perlage is all about the quality and character of the bubbles, also called ‘the collection of pearls’ or the ‘effervescence’. The higher quality of sparkling wines have bubbles that are pinpoint small and rapidly upstreaming until the last sip taken from the bottom of the narrowed glass stem. The ideal glass to taste Champagné has a potbellied shape and is tightened at the top, called a tulip glass.
Pictures taken from Champagné Houses and the Grower Champagnés while touring the cellars and popping in and out of Ave d’ Champagné tastings bars.
The money shot. This sculpture is well known if one has taken the
Moet & Chandon/Don Perignon cellar caves tour.
The oldest Champagné House in France
I loved admiring the 13th c. Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims from across the courtyard café. Twenty-five French kings were crowned here over the centuries. Yes, it was lunch with a view.
If you are a fellow military history buff, then you too may enjoy the Musee de la Reddition.
When we take a public bus, I like to sit in the front; all smiles, widen eyes, fully alert, checking out window views and totally giving off giddy tourist vibes, and all walking distance from Champagné Ave. I must admit that I spent a good two hours at the Tourist Office located on Champagné Ave. Yes, on scale, that is a comfortable stool to sit on while reading through the local happenings.
If you are into sparkling wines and want to experience a winecation, this place will not disappoint. I have studied Champagné in books and participated in public tastings (even that was limited to USA distributors) and learned so much about this sparkling wine. During my Champagné experience I delved deeper, which included popping in and out of Champagné Ave tasting bars, juxtaposing glasses of sparkling wines with education, exploring their houses, caves, and actually feeling the temperature fluctuating in the different vineyard locations I visited. May your New Year be filled with bubblies. Cheers!
Xmas Caves in the Netherlands
As I watch my desktop candle flicker, I am reminded of where it was purchased.
In Limburg, the southernmost province of the Netherlands, the Valkenburg Christmas Market takes place in the enchanting dark cool caves carved out of the cliffs. This ultimate Christmas experience is a specular event that takes place every year during November and December during the Christmas season.
The Velvet Cave (Fluweelengrot) is the largest of the Christmas markets beneath the 11th c Valkenburg aan de Geul castle ruins. These set of tunnels were once the creation of labyrinthine secret escape passages from the castle out to the countryside during medieval sieges. In an era of wars, kings, lords, knighthood and rugged cold weather fortifications were a necessity around this region. The only hilltop fortress in the Geul Valley, the ruins are the final remains from the destruction left by the 17th C Dutch Spanish war.
Gunpowder was introduced to Europe by the Silk Road trade around 13th c. “One of the most important technological developments of the Middle Ages was the adoption of gunpowder weapons in medieval Europe. From the fourteenth century onwards, this new technology was to eventually transform the conduct of warfare beyond all recognition with important implications for European and global history. Guns came to be used in all aspects of military operations, with kings, nobles and burgesses all spending large sums of money on these prestigious weapons. The growing effectiveness of gunpowder artillery prompted major changes in the design of fortifications, the composition of armies, the management of logistics and administrative systems.” (CITED)
The history of the caves have seen its share of pain and some people are still alive to share their stories. During the European rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the caves served as a hideout for Jewish people escaping German occupation and shelter for the locals. Other uses these caves served included a war hospital when the town was liberated by the Americans. Today, the area commemorates its 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Valkenburg.
The festive lights, the aromatic smells of alpine greenery, impressive art sculptor, and wall murals are delightful, and I went through these tunnel caves twice to absorb the ambience and take to solidify my shopping choices.
The art of Fluweelengrot are etchings and murals that tell stories. During the French occupation, Napoleon closed the Roman Catholic churches, so the priests and followers went underground to create secret chapels.
The booths are lit up with festive twinkling light, vendors wearing their earmuffs and gloves, and artists and crafters showcasing their finest creations. The miniature village displays have always been a joy to watch; I was especially amused by the electric trains going around the intricately creative set ups.
I really enjoyed slowly sipping a mug of Bischopswijn, Dutch mulled wine, warming my bones while appreciating the Alpine Christmas cuteness.
Baby, it’s cold outside. Inside the caves have warmer and milder temperatures. Many cafes provide heating lamps, yet, this one did not but did offer a pretty table setting.
Hopefully, there will be a next time to visit this area and it will be during the Summer season sipping wine Holland style. Zuid-Limburg is a wine region around the southern Netherlands and gaining prominence in the trendy wine scene with its tasting notes of Sapidity (bright acidity).
Went to church for a bite to eat!
The festive experience at Valkenburg is a Christmas destination experience. Today, the battery operated candle sits on my desk year-round and nostalgia rolled in when I turned it on today because it’s Christmas time and this memory of a small Dutch town brings back a smile and a twinkle in my eye.
Dan Spencer, Royal and Urban Gunpowder Weapons in Late Medieval England (Boydell Press, November 2019)
When Facebook pops up memories from a year or two ago when we were living in Italy, I am thankful we had the opportunity to make a Thanksgiving Day pilgrimage to an Italian cliff side Roman Catholic Sanctuary. The path leading up to the Sanctuary passes by an alpaca farm where they sell alpaca things and you can pet the alpacas.
The brevity of time is scary to me. We visited the Basilica Santuario Madonna Della Corona on Thanksgiving Day and as the Italians do not commemorate this American holiday, we had the whole place to ourselves; just the two of us, no tourists! The Sanctuary dangles off the side of the high-altitude cliffs and is quite intimidating to walk the pathway leading up to the chapel. We appreciated the silence and peace we experienced on this religious land and the humbling skillfully crafted sculptures along the route up to the church dramatically expressed the story of Jesus.
The Alter is cut out from the caves. Centuries of distressed disrepair warranted an updated look.
Yes indeed, this region to the east of Lake Garda has a rich and long history. This area’s military history includes the famous French Commander Napoléon Bonaparte’s military campaign through Northern Italy.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign in Northern Italy defeated the Austrian armies. According to military history, In September 1796, Napoleon and his army marched up the Alto Adige through the Adige Valley and Trento area on their way to Innsbruck, Austria.
Our afternoon lunch in Rivoli at Locanda Bonaparte Ristorante is full of local military history as you enjoy excellent food and wine at a great price! Our choice of local sparkling wines included Trento DOC and Prosecco Cartizze Superiore DOCG offered in a mode single glass. The restaurant also showcases objects, art, and information on the military presence in this area.
These dish portions were a bigger pasta size than usually served, maybe because I only wanted the primi and not the typical three-course lunch. Keep in mind that I am sure the locals subsumed I was a tourist because of my giddy newbie behavior.
Today, when photos from last year or so pop up on my social media, I am so thankful of the memories and quite aware the brevity of time. I am finding myself missing the boutique Veneto wine selections I would get while living in Italy, but I no longer eat pasta as often in hope of losing some of the weight I gained from my time tasting all Italy had to offer!
The solitude of the Basilica Santuario Madonna Della Corona will be one of those memorable experiences I had while living in Italy.
Keys of Saint Peter
Early in my wine education journey on a budget and learning about Châteauneuf-du-Pape only from readings; I remember thinking, “Oh my, I cannot afford these prices to just randomly pay out of purse for educational tastings.” It was then I quickly came to realize that there are wines and then there are top tier fine wines.
Years later, we had the fortunate opportunity to “winecation” in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and it was a #pinchmemoment. CDP is a quiet and small historical village and is about two-hour drive north from the French Riviera. Actually, this thrill was beyond a bucket list check off, it was my wine Holy Grail of experiences.
The terrible heat wave now spreading through Western Europe is wreaking havoc in so many ways including scorched vineyards. When we lived in Italy, to escape the Italian summer unbearable heat, hubby and I would drive up to the mountains to find fresh cool Alpine air.
One of my memorable trips was driving through the French Alps during August and September. I appreciated the respite from the city heat to enjoy the drastic drop in temperatures and the overcast cloud coverage for a few days’ vacation in Savoie Wine region. In particular, a quaint lake town of Annecy known as ‘Venice of the Alps’.
Located in the northeast part of France, Savoie is Latin meaning for ‘Country of Fir Trees’ and was once part of the Roman Empire. This area’s long rich history included part of the Frankish Kingdom of Burgundy then around 11th C. became the House of Savoie. This Kingdom was included within European culture of ‘Era of Absolutism’ comprising of kingdoms’ warring factions including geopolitical motives and marriage alliances.
This Alpine wine region has a fruitful viniculture history. Grape vines in the Savoie wine region have been documented from 11th C. At its peak, 1889, more than 32,000 acres (13,000 hectares) of vines were growing around that area. The mountainous soil is composed of clay and limestone and the terraced wine fields abound on the lower slopes of the mountains below 1,640 feet (500 meters) in the valleys and piedmonts of the Alpines. (Source)
The most important white grapes are Chasselas (also make cool refreshing wines from Switzerland) and Grosse Rousette (also known as Altesse, Marsanne, Jacquere, Molette, Rousette). Other white grapes include Aligote, Chardonnay, Mondeuse Blanche, Pinot Gris, Verdesse (mostly used for Vin de Savoie). (Source)
A little side note, the Gringet grape can be found in subzone Haute-Savoie. Also FYI, Grosse Rousette and Rousette D’Ayze are grown in the AOC Roussette de Savoie. This area is renowned as France’s AOC wine destination for premier crisp wines.
Savoie wine region’s main red wine grapes are Mondeuse, Persan, Poulsard (primarily found in Jura wine region) and other red grapes include Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Cha Etraire de la Dui (this varietal sounds sexy right?!), Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Joubertin. (Source)
These French Alpine wines are on many wino’s radar. This cool climate region is a foodie & wino’s match made in culinary delights, and Savoie wine region does not disappoint. A gastronomy mecca, I loved delving into the local wine and food pairing scene around the wine region, popping in and out of the many quaint historical cobblestone villages along wine road Rt 201.
I find that Savoie wine region has a fantastic foodie scene. Around this area, Escargot cuisine is cooked in many styles and offered in non-pretentious restaurants. Of course, as they say, what grows together goes together and snails thrive in this region’s climate. Moist cool temperatures and shady cloud coverage, snails and I both like this summer weather. Escargot, needless to say, is more affordable in this part of France, therefore, they are often the featured foods on the menus to pair with their local Savoie wines.
I must say, there is a big difference between tasting a countryside escargot exported in an upscale Paris restaurant and tasting this delish decadence from the farm to table concept featuring local traditional cuisine flare.
Savoie’s fresh crisp white wines pair nicely with these types of fatty and/or buttery foods and probably why the restaurants offer many creamy dishes. Maybe some creditable wine and food pairing aficionados disagree and fall into the ideology camp of ‘Don’t disservice this fresh driven wine with heavy laden foods’, luckily, I had the very fortune to vacation around the local vibe and as the adage applies ‘When in ….’
Does this two-hour lunch look scrumptious? I find that Savoie white wines complement this entree because the focused acidity of the wine cuts right through this rich cream fish dish.
The cheese selection around the Savoie wine region is another delicacy I would love to explore. France recognizes the hierarchical cheese status as Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) or Appellation d’Origine Protegee (AOP). These honorable designations identify the region, village, methods, traditions, production, livestock, customs, and other mandatory requirements to meet top tier cheese status. There are so many local cheese flavors around Savoie to indulge pairing with wine & food, yet, I like pairing their zesty wines with their softer cheeses such as Reblochon and Beaufort. The cheeses tasting notes are nutty & buttery and are delicious when enjoyed with their crisp wines.
Lake Annecy in the French Alps
One of these cute historical town around the Savoie wine region is Annecy. Known as ‘Venice of the Alps’, Annecy is a picturesque lake town that should not be missed while up in that scenic neck of the woods. The hot summer months, for me, was the perfect time of year to go enjoy a respite from the valley and city summer heat as it delivers cooler temperatures, mountain breezes, vibrantly vivid flowers, colorful timber-beamed houses, and winding canals set along the Alpine backdrop and amazingly tasting fresh mountain water.
Wine tourism around the area includes the Lake’s water sports and activities ranging from mild or extreme sports for the adrenaline junkies. Not for me, yet, I got a kick out of watching the lake scene while enjoying it from various café views throughout the day.
Many café stops throughout the day while sightseeing the historical tourist spots. Mussels and French fries are a staple in this town.
One café with a view of Palais de Lile
Another feature of Annecy is walking around town and stumbling upon wine tastings in the town’s winery caves. Wineries around this wine country offer tastings in old underground cellars. That is one of many things I love about France’s wine regions, the cute villages that offer cellars you can step down into time and taste French history.
The French Alps in the Summer is probably one of my favorite memories while living in Europe.
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Recently, we brought home Trixie our four month old female Chiweenie puppy. Much to her chagrin, I brighten up her masculine black & tan color fur by dressing her in girlie girl clothes as not to confuse her with a male. If Trixie was born around St Patty’s day, I probably would have named her, after the black & tan beer, Guinness. Speaking of black and tan colored dogs, the Rottweiler dog comes to mind and our 2016 visit to the Southwestern German town named Rottweil, where the dog breed Rottweiler has its roots. The quaint town of Rottweil is located between the Black Forest & Swabian Alps nestled between the Baden & Wurttemberg wine regions.
The Rottweiler dog’s journey through Germany has a fierce beginning dating back to the Roman Empire’s Pax Romana and was essential to the Roman Army; the dog’s importance made no exception during the Medieval era. During medieval times, the dogs were well known in Germany as “Rottweiler Metzgerhund”, meaning the butcher’s dogs. The Rottweilers were the butcher’s essential helpers during the towns’ busy market days. Because of the dogs’ massive body power, one of their duties included pulling heavy laden carts loaded with slaughtered butchered meat from town to town. Another important job was protecting the butcher’s/merchant’s money by hanging the money purse securely around the dog’s neck to protect it from thieves.
The medieval town of Rottweil is the oldest town around both Baden and Wurttemberg wine regions. Baden is Germany’s third largest wine region, yet, less known on export markets and the Wurttemberg wine region has been historically known for producing red wines. Like other European wine making and marketing practices, Germany’s winemaking cooperatives are a common practice.
My most memorable experience in that wine region was my visit to Würzburg Residence, an Aristocratic palace. Undoubtedly, Germany is well known for their Rieslings also our wine tasting included their local red wines. The Würzburg Residence guided tour included the beautiful frescoes by Italian Venetian Mannerist painter Tiepolo followed by a wine tasting in the cellar.
I have always loved watching the PBS travel show titled ‘Smart Travels with Rudy Max’ and I remember the episodes showcasing dreamy Rhine River Cruises. While living in Germany for a bit, I had the chance to enjoy a half-day Rhine River cruise and was so captivated, I returned to take the same river cruise again to absorb the beautifully vivid colors displayed during the Summer and Fall seasons. From a sightseer’s casual vantage point to take in the Rhine River cruise vibe, I loved it so much, I had to do it twice. Raise a glass of Riesling on the Rhine River.
Ranked one of the most spectacular scenic rivers cruises, the Rhine River slowly winds through the snaking river flanked by breathtaking landscapes. This scenic route is lined with well-preserved hillside medieval castles, steep gently rolling hillside vineyards, Churches, traditional fishing marinas, and river towns with delish culinary culture.
There was a tour guide periodically on the microphone sharing local German history and points of interest. The guide’s information reminded us that today this area is touristy, consider that for many centuries this once busy high traffic river was a very important maritime trade route between European Kingdoms. This was a lucrative river for the Kingdoms because each castle had a toll booth to collect taxes from traffic passing through the territory.
The tour guide warned us that the Rhine River can be an absolute stunning view yet, also depending upon the precarious Mother Nature weather, the river can also be very dangerous. One river bank folklore is about the siren Lorelei.
According to local legend, Lorelei, was an 1800 ballad based on stories told from generations of family sailors. Centuries ago, while the Rhine River was a major maritime trade route, there was a repeated story of an enchanting mermaid’s whispers singing a seductive tune to lure in sailors’ boats into the dangerous cliffs on the Rhine River.
One particular small section of the long River is the deepest and narrowest point and has an extremely curvy river bend located between river towns St. Goar and St. Goarshausen. According to science, this natural phenomenon happens when the conjunction of rapid fluxations in elements of river streams, change in winds, cloud formations, temperatures, etc. come into zinc play and it forms this siren. Over the centuries many boats have crashed and remain at the bottom of the Rhine River bed. They blame Lorelei, the rock formation. Now near the cliff a modern artist sculpted a 16 ft. mermaid bronze stature titled ‘Lorelei’.
Today tourists embark on a Rhine River cruise, yet, back in the 13th c. castles’ fortresses were military structures that once served as toll booths. According to academic scholars, “seventy-nine locations along the Rhine River were the major commercial thoroughfare in Europe. Castles sold and charged the commercial vessels tolls documented as the ‘Rights of Passage’”.
Along the river towns are family run souvenir shops who proudly welcome tourists and sell custom handcrafted local goodies such as Lorelei chachkies. I wish I could have taken home Riesling single grape vine cuts for sale, yet I did enjoy the free German wine & schnapps tastings. I now reminisce about the intriguing artistic details in the cuckoo clocks’ aminations and their skillfully talented clock making and wood carving vignette scene demonstrations.
The quaint river town of Rudesheim am Rhein was a nice time to hop off the boat for a bit and walk around to enjoy a river town’s wine festival. If time permits, pop into the medieval torture museum; obviously the Geneva Convention does not come into play. During the warmer seasons there is a cable car to the top of hill for the bird’s eye panoramic views of river, vineyards, and towns. The top of hill in cable car was definitely worth the time to take in some refreshments, admire the views, and commemorate the story, culture and statue of the German General, Niederwaldenkmal, who unified Germany from Prussia.
For me, experiencing the same Rhine River cruise scenic route twice; once during the lush green Summer months and again during the vividly colored foliage Autumn to juxtapose the same scenery during two different seasons gave me an unique perspective on Rhine River Riesling wines.
Germany is known for their magical Christmas markets and the enchanting Nuremburg market is one of the oldest in Germany that dates from mid- 16th century. Bavaria’s second largest city, Nuremburg was founded in the 11th century and its fascinating rich medieval history played an important role due to being located at the crossroads of several river and land trade routes.
Locally known as Nurnberger ChristKindlesmarkt, the market opens each year on Friday before the First Sunday in Advent (the period of four weeks before Christmas). The long wavy blond-haired Christmas Angle is a symbol for the origin of Christkind and can be seen in many mediums of art such as sculpture, paintings, advertisement, and in human form.
The excitement and festive atmosphere entice the holiday merry makers to explore the Christmas village winter wonderland. While walking around the seasonal markets I listen to holiday music, see whimsical gift ideas in the decorated wooden sheds, enjoy the many styles of Riesling wines, smell the aromatic warm glühwein to take the chill off my bones, and taste big plump pretzels, schnitzel, strudel, and other delicious local treats.
Germany is the country of sausages with hundreds of varieties and the three methods of preparation are scalding, smoking, and cooking this meat. The original Nurnberger Rostbratwurst is the local scalded pork sausage eaten with homemade sauerkraut and tangy mustard or on a roll with ketchup and/or mustard. This sausage is made in the Nuremberg area and produced following a specific recipe that has been made with stringent requirements enforced by law.
Of course, virtually all Christmas markets across Germany will offer gluhwein. Even though there are various homemade recipes of this mulled wine, basically it is prepared from heated red wine and garnished with a cinnamon stick. Literally translated as ‘glow wine’ this delicious beverage is a staple as one strolls the many seasonally decorated sheds.
Being a history buff and art lover, no wonder Nuremburg is probably my favorite Christmas market to visit. I have visited this city a few times and its vibrant trendy town has significant cultural sites that I can never tire visiting. One of my favorite artists and one of Nuremberg’s most famous residents was Albrecht Durer. The 15th c. Northern Renaissance artist’s wood timber house is now a public museum showcasing his printing workshop, woodcuts, etchings and paintings.
The Development of Printmaking, being engraving and woodcut, played a vital role in Northern Renaissance culture in disseminating knowledge, expanding social consciousness and transmitting artistic styles. Prints are made by pressing a sheet of paper against the print matrix to which ink has been applied. When the paper is removed, the image adheres to it in reverse. Engraving originated in Germany and the Nuremburg born, Albrecht Durer, was known as the talented vanguard woodcut artist and engraver in this art medium. Durer became the most important figure in the transition from Late Gothic to Renaissance style in Northern Europe.
For the military history buffs, visit the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds located in the court house. This permanent exhibition explores the rise of the Nazi Party, and the German Resistance. The Nuremberg Trials took place at the Palace of Justice and this famous courtroom is still used today. In 1933, Hitler declared that Nuremberg should be the “City of the Nazi Party Rallies”. No wonder this city was virtually destroyed by the Allied Forces, yet one can see the remnants of some monumental buildings and roads used for Nazi events and parades.
A fun visit to the toy museum exhibits historic toys that is enjoyed by both kids and adults. I must admit it was a bit jarring seeing the scary painted faces on the antique dolls. I did get a kick out of learning that my childhood Barbie doll was from German descent.
The Germanisches National museum houses one of Germany’s most important collections of artifacts. The objects range from prehistoric to modern and this museum is the country’s largest museum in cultural history.
Another interesting subject, for me, is the German Railway Museum. Nuremberg is the birthplace of the German railway and this exhibition shows from the development to the modern train system.
The Nuremberg Castle dominates the historical center and can be seen from many points. This 11th century group of medieval fortified buildings was once the most important imperial castle of the Holy Roman Empire.
I can easily spend a few days in Nuremberg any time of year, yet I especially enjoy this season to feel the festive ambience and sightseeing around town to take in a few cultural sites. Worth a visit and google to delve deeper into Nuremberg’s rich and long culture.
What a fun way to spend Halloween in Frankenstein Castle. Associated with monsters and mad scientists, the woodland hilltop 13th c. castle ruins are in Odenwald, Germany, around 30 km south of Frankfurt. One of Germany’s biggest Halloween parties, every year days leading up to October 31st and a few days after that date, the castle hosts fun scary events. Located on the castle grounds is a restaurant that offers delicious traditional German food, beer, and wine. Keep in mind for this event only, they prepare a specialty themed dish called Horror Dinners. The grounds are family oriented and dog friendly for hikes and picnics. This year, Burg Frankenstein will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel with relevant festive agendas in conjunction with domestic and international literary clubs.
This medieval castle was made famous by the Frankenstein story. It was this location that inspired novelist Mary Shelley’s to write her 1818 gothic novel titled ‘Frankenstein’. The publication of her popular book spanned off into movies, plays, and TV series. Shelley’s gothic novel told a story of a dangerous eccentric scientist named Frankenstein who created a ghastly 8ft monster creature and brings it to life by a bold of lighting.
In the past, it has been debated in literary and historian circles if the classic novel was fact or fiction and what was assumed to be believed and/or shrouded in folklore and myths. Primary resources have now surfaced and provide facts to corroborate with Shelley’s novel. Today, historians believe that during the novelist visit to the area she heard about this castle and the residing scientist. She used them as inspiration for the novel titled ‘Frankenstein’.
According to the writer’s journals, Mary Shelley took a Rhine River Cruise seeing many castles along the river. Also, documented is her visit to the town of Gernsheim, Germany, only a few miles from the castle. One would think that during her travels Shelley would have heard the town’s gossip about the local history and specifically about the 17th c. scientist with a ghoulish past.
The 19th c. literary scene was a Romanticism genre. Art reflected society in part due to the era’s fascination with Gothic and Romantic literature. The feel of nostalgia and fantasy to escape reality, because reality was progression as seen in The Industrial Revolution; whereas, the art and literary circles wanted things to remain the same.
Around two hundred years before the Shelley’s published novel, Johann Konrad Dippel was born on 1673 in Burg Frankenstein and lived in the Frankenstein Castle as a scientist who performed macabre experiments on animals and humans. Primary resources, according to his journals, tell us that his interests to transfer the soul from one corpse to another using a funnel, hose and lubricant is…ummmm… abnormally terrifying.
The original site of the castle dates from 10th c. with updated construction throughout the centuries. Frankenstein means ‘Stones of the Franks’, the name of the family who laid claim to the land and for four hundred years the castle remained in the family. The castle was used as a prison, a hospital, in the 17th c. it was the barracks for retired soldiers, and in WWII parts of the castle were used as an American Army Base.
Perched four hundred meters, in Autumn the dense woods are filled with beautiful vivid colors. The Burg Frankenstein offers panoramic views of the local towns and Rhine River. The castle is in Germany’s Rhineland wine region to offer wonderful activities to explore.
I have been to many wine festivals throughout the years and in my opinion, bar none, this was the best and most fun wine festival I had ever attended.
Bordeaux Fête le Vin in collaboration with the Tall Ships Regatta takes place every two years along the Gardon river in historic center Bordeaux. Friends of mine went a couple of years ago then shared their experience with me, so needless to say it has been on my ‘have to experience list’ while living in Europe. There is no reason to rent a car and drive out to Chateaux for wine tastings because most are showcased at the festival.
Many ships from the Tall Ships Regatta allows visitors to come aboard for a peek inside.
We stayed at Vatel Hotel located around the La Cite du Vin, Bordeaux’s new wine museum. A playground for wine lovers, this marvel building is a must see and believe me, be prepared to stay a few hours. This area of Bordeaux has been converted with a new and trendy vibe; yesterday’s shipping docks, ports, and warehouses are today's river view restaurants and shops.
Getting around Bordeaux and to explore its historic villages outskirts, the public transportation infrastructure is reliably efficient with the TBM app-Transports Bordeaux Metropole. There are so many wine shops in these towns that ship worldwide so no need to carry around wine.
Strasbourg, France has an indescribable charm and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is very walkable to see the sites such as the magnificent Cathedral Notre Dame, La Petite France, and quaint timber houses. Every February, around the second or third weekend there is a wine expo that feature France’s Independent Wine Growers ‘Vignerons Independants’. The Association of Independent Wine Growers Expo comprises over 10,000 French wine producers from all over France’s wine regions to present their wines at direct prices. Wine enjoyers travel from many miles just to attend this event to stock their cellars and add their collection. Be sure to bring a trolley or hand cart of appropriate size for easy handling of your purchases.
I stay at the Hilton Hotel because of its proximity to both the expo and the city tram for trips to old town Strasbourg. There are many diverse cafes and restaurants to choose, yet, I usually eat at The Ramen Shop for my fix of authentic ramen noodles. I have lived in Japan and come to appreciate Ramen Houses, so YES I am a bonafide RAMEN HEAD as these shops are certainly hard to find outside Japan.
To take a respite from wine tasting during the expo I like to visit a couple of Strasbourg’s museums. This year I wanted to learn more about the town and regional culture; so glad I checked out The Alsatian Museum and The Historical Museum of Strasbourg. Visiting Strasbourg this time of year coincides with Valentine’s Day and the city is creatively decorated with this theme in mind, so naturally, there is a very romantic vibe in the air.
I have been to this Vignerons Independants wine expo a few times over the years and realize that it is too overwhelming or impossible for me to cover all the producers in just a few days, so every year I select just a couple of wine regions to explore. For me, I like to do my homework to research and plan which wineries and wine regions to delve into further. This year I explored Savoie and Jura wine regions because right now I’m into alpine wines. I also checked out the three new appellations that were added to Cotes du Rhone Villages last year; Sainte-Cecile, Suze-la-Rousse and Vaison la Romain.
This expo allows me the opportunity to meet with the vintners and/or the family representing their wines. Indeed, it is a pleasure to take in personal vertical, horizontal, and portfolio wine tastings with the wine makers. With this accessibility I can chat up the vintner to ask questions such as the location of the vineyards, a particular spot for certain vineyards, cellar potential, family wine lineage, what foods to pair, viniculture practices or unexpected hardships that went into that bottle of wine, etc. It’s definitely an edifying experience for me and will try to go every year while I’m living in Europe.
Innsbruck is just over three-hours drive from where I live in Italy, so I am lucky that I can pop up there often. Dubbed “alpine-urban” I find this university city fun, hip, and culturally sophisticated with an artistic vibe. With majestic snow-capped mountains this area is the ultimate winter playground if you like a snow vacation for skiing, snowboarding, etc. The area was once the hunting grounds for the Hapsburg emperor Maximilian and Empress Maria Theresa, so there are many visible remnants from their rich splendor past. If you are interested in wine, food, art, and history then stay tuned because I would love to share my Innsbruck experience with you.
I usually stay at the Hilton or my favorite the Central Café hotel, a building that dates from 1884, in the heart of historic Old Town. This three-block radius holds all the museums, cafés, restaurants, and wine bars that interest me within my short periods of stay.
Innsbruck has many beautiful churches that are worth a look, so if you walk further down towards the river you will come upon Cathedral St. Jacob a historically significant feature of Old Town. Once inside I could only marvel at the astonishing display of gold. Gold, gold, gold-gold alter, gold high alter stand, and aristocratic families’ gold chapels. The opulence reminds me of the vast rich Hapsburg Empire. The baroque style Cathedral is in Cathedral Square, a quiet solicitude little square, where I can take a respite on the bench and remind myself that this was once the church of the Innsbruck nobility. One memorable thought as I sat on that little park bench admiring the Cathedral façade and listening to the soothing melody from the 6pm church bells was how appreciative I am to live in Europe.
Another impressive sign of Hapsburg wealth is the magnificent gold and silver intricate engraved tomb of Emperor Maximilian located in the Court Church. Considered to be the most important historical monument in Tyrol, the large tomb is decorated with scenes of the Emperor’s life and the elaborate gallery showcases live size marble and bronze statues representing the Emperor ancestors and his heroes of antiquity. The Schloss Ambras Castle/museum has spectacular views of the city.
Overwhelmed with vast Empire wealth, I needed to balance my museum tours with how the other half had lived. Very good examples are seen at The Tyrolean State Museum because its permanent collection includes medieval objects, historical musical instruments, and many interesting local artifacts. Speaking of musical icons Mozart stayed in the famous “Weisses Kruez” inn along the main promenade in Old Town. Innsbruck showcases pride in their traditional culture and to fully appreciate the Tyrol local heritage head to the Museum of Tyrolean Regional Heritage. Folk lore is quite interesting and holds exceptional facets of Tyrolean culture. If you appreciate contemporary art there are many modern galleries around to showcase local talent. There are great examples of old meets new architecture at The Innsbruck Contemporary Art Museum that features rotating temporary exhibitions.
Between museum and gallery hopping I must take time out to reflect and appreciate this beautiful city by popping into cafés and restaurants throughout the day. Innsbruck’s gastronomic delights range from traditional foods to ethnic bites to trendy fusion cuisine and I assure that you will never get bored of the same cafés and restaurants.
One of my favorite things to start my day is take in the old-world ambience of a quintessential Venetian coffee house, adjacent to my hotel, Central Café for a cappuccino and pastry. The décor includes beautiful shiny crystal chandlers, Swarovski no doubt, that hang from the ceiling. BTW, the Swarovski museum is worth a visit. With a casual no rush vibe, I comfortably hang out at the coffee house and peacefully read my guide book.
The local pastry Kiachl is a typical pastry that can be prepared sweet or savory. Depending on the time of day determines how I prefer to order a style of Kiachl. The mornings I prefer the sweet Kiachl style filled with marmalade and tasty with my coffee. Later in the day, for an afternoon snack, I will order the savory Kiachl prepared with sauerkraut and pair it with an Austrian white wine such as Gruner Veltliner or Muller Thurgau.
One of my favorite restaurants, to eat, sip, and be amused watching the tourists take selfie pics around the ‘Golden Roof’, is “Altstadt Beisl”. I love their delicious soups such as Tafelspitzsuppe mit Tiroler Speckknodel paired with an Austrian red wine Zweigelt.
To end my day, I stop in a neighborhood for a night cap on the way back to my hotel. A little neighborhood corner wine bar ‘La Cantina’ serves Italian wines, you can take me out of Italy, but you can’t Italy out of me.
The metro train system to the city of Melbourne and suburbs was extremely easy, user friendly, and cost effective. The Yarra River runs through the city and the culinary scene is trendy featuring an international flair to satisfy any fastidious taste buds. The Yarra Valley Food Trail offers Kangaroo jerky and other local fresh culinary delights. Don’t forget the vegemite spread, it is a taste that unforgettably lingers on the tongue and probably do not want to experience twice thank you very much. If you are a Banksy fan don’t miss his satirical street art and gift shop downtown. Just ask the locals the directions because it is not openly advertised.
North of Melbourne, the town of Cairns is great places to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef and while you are there experience true luxury at the Shangri-La Hotel. I also had the privilege to travel to Sydney and stay at a hotel that included a roof top pool to enjoy the views of the busy city, opera house, and its local beaches. It was intriguing to witness Sydney’s bat migration from our hotel window. During the day, fruit bats are curled up in a ball, asleep, and hang from the trees. Around sunset they awake, gather, and fly off into the sunset similar to a big long dark cloud, then return to the trees before sunrise to be repeated daily.
While ordering from a restaurant’s wine list in Melbourne, little did I know, I thought SA stood for South African wine; the waiter understandably informed me that SA is an abbreviation for South Australia wines. I am always looking to taste and learn about wines and their wine regions, so yes indeed, exploring the South Australian wines from local festivals and the wine trails from Yarra Valley, Mclaren Vale and Barossa Valley taught me a few things. In addition, the proximate wine stores had introduced me to other wine regions such as Margaret River, Mornington, and Hunter Valley which had opened up a whole new world of what Australia wines have to offer. We have to keep in mind that due to climate change some grape varietals in some wine regions may be in danger because of its warming effect and may affect high quality wine.
Victoria’s first vineyards and wine region dates back to 1833, and today there are over eighty personal wineries. Some local wine producers around Victoria sell their wines at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne and the place where I learned the local wine jargon. For example, ‘plonk’ is a bottle of cheap wine and a ‘flagon’ is a 2 liter bottle of wine.
Vali cchiù un tistimonìu di visu, chi centu d'oricchia.
The Delong 100 Grape Varietal Challenge encourages all wine enjoyers to expand their wine drinking horizon by seeking out unusual grape varieties. These past few years, I have tasted over 180 grape varieties. After all, there are over thousands of grape varieties world wide. With so many wine grapes, styles of wine, and wineries to explore, wine is an educational adventure. So grab your virtual passport and come along with me on a Grape EdVenture™ around the world.
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