31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 12

I was just about finishing packing up for our trip when it occurred to me that I also needed to squeeze in the day’s writing before we go to friends for dinner. I also had one more task to do, which was to empty the card of the DSLR a bit, as I always forget that, and then end up trying to walk and delete things at the same time. Not great, especially as the card is 32Gb, which is not exactly small.

Short on time, I took a quick look at how many pictures were on the camera, and told BV to pick a number before 1 and 2800-somethingish. He opted for 2244, so here it goes.

Alsace, you are pretty.

After Christmas, we packed up and drove to the Alsace for a few days with my parents and sister, who were visiting. We spent most of the time in Colmar, but made day trips to Strasbourg and Kaysersberg. BV and I had been to Strasbourg before, but Colmar and Kaysersberg were new to everyone.

I took this while standing over the village of Kaysersberg, just outside its ruined castle. Like any good, old, European town, the castle sits on top of a hill, and looks out over vineyards on one side, and towards rolling green hills on the other.

It’s rather appropriate actually that he picked this picture, because we *almost* went back to France for his birthday trip. We celebrated in Strasbourg a few years back, and this trip just solidified my love of all the colorful little towns tucked under hills rolling with vines. In the end, we couldn’t decide exactly where in France to go, and opted for heading south again, but we will certainly be returning here in the future.

Kaysersberg is one of several towns in the Alsace that claims to be the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast, and it was easy to see why. Narrow streets, crooked houses, half-timbering galore, mulled local wine on every corner… that last part isn’t specifically Beauty and the Beast related, just a nice perk in this wine-growing region… it was beautiful.

There is a strong case for a future summer trip where we hike village to village, eating, drinking, and hopefully walking  most of it off before the next stop to eat and drink some more. I’m not sure what more one could want from a vacation, honestly.

Speaking of vacation, we’re off tomorrow and I’m going to try to continue the daily posts while we’re away. It worked for a few days last year until we got an epic storm that knocked out the internet for the duration of our visit. The forecast is pretty much rain every day, which means we’re 1) over packing like crazy and 2) not optimistic about the internet service. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll go analog and update when we get back. TBD, for those of you kindly following along. 🙂

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

Sunday Snapshots: Czech Out These Dogs

It’s been a good while since I used the horrible “czech out” pun so, there we go.

Once upon a time, way back in 2009 (I don’t know why I can’t stop rhyming today, sorry), some friends and I went on an adventure to go hiking outside the village of Karlštejn in the Czech Republic.

What we neglected to realize was that we were visiting there on the weekend of the local burčák festival. Germany-dwellers might know burčák better as Federweisser, or a very young wine that can only be drunk for a very short period of time, and is either relatively light, or completely lethal, alcohol-wise.

Long story short, this festival was total mayhem, yes we did hike a little bit, but of course we made our way back into the village to watch the Renn Faire glory and drink all kinds of delicious things. And, as I tend to do, I spotted a few furry friends that were worthy of attention. I love the dog that is basically drawing you into his booth to check out some sweet wigs, almost as much as I love the dog that is just having a grand ol’ time taking himself for a walk.

This was also the same trip where one of our friends touched a plant and had a very similar allergic reaction as Will Smith’s character did in the movie Hitch. Totally irrelevant to the dogs? Yes. Does it still make me laugh every time I think about it? Yes. She was perfectly fine after she got home and took some Benadryl (I’m not totally heartless), but watching all the burčák-drunk Czechs on the train trying to figure out if they were seeing what they thought they were seeing was hilaaaaaarious.

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Sunday Snapshots: Wine Time

Mußbach (Neustadt), 2014

Mußbach (Neustadt), 2014

Every once in a great while, I do manage to get out of Bavaria. In this case, it was because my parents came to visit and were flying out of Frankfurt. That meant a good opportunity to visit some places that were new to all of us, and a bit closer to the airport.

My dad is a big fan of German wine, so we thought it would be appropriate to check out the area around Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, in the Rheinland-Pfalz. When we checked out hotels for the evening we wanted to spend there, we did not find a ton of appealing options directly in town. Instead, we found a nice little hotel in the nearby village of Mußbach. It’s tiny, but incredibly picturesque. Fachwerk* abounds, and many of the houses are honest-to-goodness dripping in grape vines, as you can see above. We didn’t eat at the restaurant  pictured, but if anyone is going to be in the area I would strongly recommend going to Weik’s Vinothek. It was too cold to eat outside (in July, thanks German summer), but there was a lovely garden in their little courtyard, and the interior was just as cozy. The food was great, definitely a memorable meal, so don’t be scared off by the website.  Sometimes it’s a good sign when restaurants focus on the food and not their internet presence. 🙂

*Fachwerk = half-timbered building

Sunday Snapshots: Mělník Castle

Mělník Castle Tower

Mělník Castle Tower

Six long years ago today, before she left Europe to traipse around the world, my dear friend Katie and I took a day trip from Prague to Melnik. We had heard that the city was a big producers of Czech wines, and also had a castle, which meant it scored with us on at least two major points. What we didn’t think about was that visiting a vineyard in the depths of a Czech winter was fairly pointless. Oh well.

We still spent a very chilly day wandering the grounds of the small castle, and wandered its wine cellars. We seemed to be the only people in the town that day, and I wonder if the restaurateurs are still confused about where exactly the two random American girls came from.

Vernazza in Pictures

Every once in a while, you visit a place that is exactly as gorgeous in person as it is in postcards. Vernazza is one of those places, and we were lucky enough to spend our second night in Cinque Terre staying right in the heart of the village. Seriously though, we weren’t even there for 24 hours, and together we took over 200 pictures. This place is crazy amounts of  photogenic. So let’s have a look!

We arrived in Vernazza mid-afternoon, after about three hours of hiking from Monterosso al Mare. Remember in that post when I said that it was too cold to swim when we left in the morning? Scratch that. By the time that we reached this incredible overlook…

vernazza overlook

…I was about ready to throw myself forward and just hope I’d hit water. That’s what a couple hours of hiking combined with 90 degree (F, of course) temperatures and a heavy backpack will do to me. It was toasty.

As soon as we got down to sea level, we made a beeline for the water. Vernazza doesn’t have a real “beach,” but people swim in the harbor, and while it wasn’t what I would call crowded, it wasn’t empty either.

vernazza1

We spent the next few hours alternately submerging ourselves, resting our aching feet, people watching, and lounging on a big rock while giving our sweaty clothes a chance to dry off. Shout out to the American girls who sat behind us for a bit and commented on how sweaty my gray t-shirt was… thanks ladies! I hadn’t noticed at all… and also thanks for commenting on the fact that BV was wearing *ahem* a more Euro-style of men’s swimwear. So was every other guy on this beach. Note: most people speak English, act accordingly. *Rant over.* Back to the pretty.

vernazza2

Dark clouds did roll in, but the six drops that fell on us were most welcome. But eventually it was time to put clothes back on, grab a beer, and check into our AirBnb for the night. We were situated right between the end of the trail into/out of town, and the train station, which meant that it was a fairly high traffic area. This afforded some solid people-watching fun, and a bit of creeping. Always a good combination.

For dinner we decided to leave the main street and water behind, to see what else was on offer. We happened across a sign that promised a restaurant if we headed up the hill along the path to Corniglia, the next village. After going up far more than the posted 50 meters, and past a few places that looked like they had been restaurants at one point in time, we were rewarded. Perched on the cliff above terraced gardens and groves of lemon trees, was a restaurant wrapped in grape vines with a million Euro view.

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Blogger fail: I don’t know the name, and can’t seem to find it via Yelp or Google Maps. If you’re there… just follow the questionable signs towards Corniglia. That’s all I can say. The food was great, the wine was good, the service was friendly… and that view. Come on.

After dinner we meandered our way back down into the main village, and decided to return to the beach with a bottle of wine.

vernazza9

Like Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza was much quieter after dark, allowing us to have a good wander. Taking pictures is always much easier when you aren’t dodging hordes of tourists running for their trains and boats. We grabbed a bottle of wine – handily this seems to be the norm which meant the shopkeeper was happy to open it for us and provide plastic cups, and looked for a suitable spot to lounge.

Finally we settled on the same rock we had occupied early, and toasted to our sore legs. There were a few people around, but mostly we were on our own. Minus a disagreement on the merits of drinking wine out of plastic cups (darn BV, being all classy and European), it was pretty high on the romantical scale. I’ll recommend it to any of you out there wanting a good destination to go with your significant other. Plus, it gave us an opportunity to creep on shadow people. Sensing a theme here?

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Just realized this looks kind of dirty. He was setting up a camera and tripod… I swear.

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Eventually though, our bottle of wine was empty, and it was time to tuck ourselves in for the night. But not of course, before a few more shutter clicks on the way home.

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95% sure that's Fonzi.

95% sure that’s Fonzi.

That concludes our short stay in Vernazza… next up, Riomaggiore!

Anyone out there booking flights yet? Perhaps a cruise?

Train Tales: A Recipe

First things first, I’m very pleased to be writing today’s post from the comfort of our living room. This is notable, as it’s the first time I’ve sat in this room since last week Thursday. Sometime after today’s train tale transpired while on the way home from work that evening, I started to feel like death warmed over, and have been fighting a wicked flu since then. Apparently it’s been going around the area, and as a person who rarely gets sick, I can say that it was a doozy. It’s pretty bad when you are concerned about being able to work five days in advance. Hopefully I can make it through tomorrow… I already know that I am not looking forward to my 2-hour commute to and from work in the petri dish known as public transportation. If anyone has one of those goofy surgical masks laying around, please feel free to drop it off here. Back to the train!

 

A frequent complaint that I hear, particularly from other Americans in Germany, is that the Germans aren’t friendly. We were discussing that very topic last Wednesday in one of my classes, and the group generally agreed that Germans should be friendlier. All the group members are avid travelers, and expressed how much they enjoyed it when people were chatty and outgoing on their travels, even if they had been suspicious of it at first. But when I suggested that maybe they could step out of the box, and try striking up a conversation the next time they were on a train, they all balked at the very notion. The only time that seems to be acceptable, is when there is some sort of hiccup in the train schedules or other travel interruption. Only then is it okay. Otherwise, no dice.

So imagine my happiness the following day, when I ran into a fellow who seemed to have no problem going against the grain. Therefore, please allow me to present….

A Recipe for a Friendly German Train Passenger

Ingredients:

  • 1 German gentleman, aged gracefully until about ripe for friendliness at about 65
  • his group, a mixed bag of seniors, armed with walking sticks and day packs
  • enough Jack Wolfskin gear to cover all participants
  • fresh air (helps those “happy juice” endorphins to pop)
  • Franconian wine, the more the better
  • Jaunty hat, as garnish

Directions:

1. Toss your gracefully aged gentleman with the rest of the seniors, and send them out into the Franconian wine country for a day of light walking and fresh air. Remember to remind them to use the Nordic walking sticks, to ensure the most blood-pumping, endorphin-filled day.

2. They stop at a vineyard for wine and snacks.

3. Walk more, more fresh air, to the next winery.

4. Repeat steps 2-3, until they need to catch the 6pm train.

5. Pile all participants onto the train (they may bring more bottles of wine on, if they should wish).

6. The gentleman should now have reached both full friendliness level, and feel responsible for both the organization of the group, and random strangers around him on the train.

7. Top with jaunty hat.

This happens nearly every week on this train, sometimes with the same group, and sometimes with other groups of elderly walkers/wine-drinkers. They all pile on the train that is primarily full of gloomy-faced commuters, and laugh nonstop.

The very sweet gent was feeling too good to sit, I guess, and held court over the rest of his group in the center of our car. I was in my usual spot a few seats back, and absorbed in hitting “refresh” on my phone… the combination of no patience, crappy network in that area, and my data usage means that opening one webpage takes half of the train ride. I had my headphones in as per usual, but you can’t see them with my hair and hat, and since I’d been looking down for the entire trip, the guy was apparently worried that I had fallen asleep. Imagine my surprise when we were nearing the station, I felt a little nudge on my shoulder, and looked up to see the happy guy was standing there! He was almost as surprised to see me awake as I was to have someone actually trying to do me a favor on public transportation. Thank you, jaunty hat wine hiker man. You are a national treasure.

jaunty hat

Yes, I’m creepy. But he deserved a sneaky picture.

Strasbourg: The Food

Two weekends ago, BV and I took a little road trip to Strasbourg to celebrate his birthday. I’ll have a more thorough post on it later this week, but today I wanted to share a bit about the most important thing when going to France… and that’s food and drink.

Starting with drink… Strasbourg is in the Alsace region, which is most well-known for its white wines. Because of the proximity to Germany, there were some familiar names like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Müller-Thurgau, mixed in with the more French-sounding names (Pinot Gris, Rose, etc.) In the name of research, we tried quite a few different kinds as you can see below. Besides the wine we were delighted to find that a beer fest celebrating regional breweries was happening all weekend in the square right next to the Strasbourg Cathedral. I’ll just assume that meant that they knew we were coming. We tried quite a few of the beers on offer (see me double-fisting below) and I wish I had more information about the individual breweries, but I couldn’t find any leaflets or other information laying around. All I know is that were light beers, dark beers, IPAs (take note Germany!), and that many of them were damn tasty. More research will be undertaken on the next trip, don’t worry.

Moving onto food, we ate very well all weekend. The first night we found a small Weinstube, or wine bar, that was still serving food. We scarfed down our galettes, but were surprised to see that they weren’t buckwheat pancakes (as is usual at the French place here), but instead were more like potato pancakes with very finely shredded potato. Mine was topped with Black Forest ham and fresh cheese, and BV had salmon, and fresh cheese with horseradish. Both were absolutely delicious and clearly had a short life as I didn’t get any pictures.

Saturday night we enjoyed dinner out on the patio of a restaurant not too far away from the Petit France area. I can’t remember the name, but this time I have pictures! BV had a starter of goat cheese on toast. The goat cheese was really strong, but really delicious. My dinner was roasted potatoes with fresh cheese (sensing a theme here), fresh minced garlic, and chives. It might sound boring, but it was not. The potatoes were absolutely perfectly cooked, golden and a little crisp on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside. With the fresh cheese and herbs… yum! BV went for mussels, one of his favorite dishes. They were good, but the standard for him remains the mussels that he had in Brussels.

Obviously after all the food and drink, you need something sweet. Which brings us to the desserts. One of my main concerns was getting my hands on some macaroons. We saw some out and about, but bought some at the bakery right next to our apartment, which also happens to be where the delicious cake display below was. Oh, and that lemon cake, and the super-chocolate cake was there too. We pretty much hit the jackpot on neighborhood bakeries. The lady inside was super-sweet too, and very patient with our indecisiveness. When in doubt, get one of every macaroon. That’s my advice to you all. We’re still working our way through the box, but thus far, they’ve all been good choices.

We had a great weekend, and more about Strasbourg is forthcoming, but I’d go back strictly based on the food. What do you think?

Have you been to Strasbourg? Did we miss any good treats?

Sunday Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

When I started talking to my friend Aaron about the possibility of visiting him in San Francisco, one of his first questions was, “would you want to do some wine tasting?”

My response to that?

“Yes. Oh God, yes. Please. Right now.”

And so it was. He told us to check out the internetz, and see what floated our boats. After a lot of surfing around what seems like a million different wineries in Napa Valley, we settled on three choices. 

To start off, BV, myself, Aaron, and his friend, picked up our insanely conveniently rented ZipCar for the day. Aaron is a frequent ZipCar shopper, and I must say… Germany could use this service. They’re growing so I’m hoping it makes it here. Even better if they have automatic cars as well! How else does one makes emergency IKEA runs? I don’t know. Either way, it’s all tied to your smart phone, and you can be driving in a matter of minutes. Done and done.

We took a quick photo stop across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then headed north to Santa Rosa for some breakfast. 

After we carbo-loaded with eggs, toast, pancakes, and a California-appropriate avocado level, we were off on our chosen route. We started north and headed south back towards SF…

Our first stop was at a castle. What can I say, we were coming from Europe and were homesick? Or something. 

The Castello di Amorosa dates back almost 20 years, which in California terms is pretty darn old, I’d say. It was a truly lovely place, and my initial reaction upon walking in was “ZOMG best wedding location ever!” Not that I’m looking, it was just very obvious to me. We bought our wine tasting, and found our way down to the cellar where they took place. In addition to providing some respite from the heat, I enjoyed the archways and old-world feel of the cellar. Our $18 tasting bought us five wines, and the four of us mixed and matched so we could all taste a variety. 

The staff was really lovely, and very knowledgeable about the wines. We overheard one of them saying to another group that their specialty were the reds, but I’m sorry to say that we weren’t impressed. I’ve been spoiled by BV, our trip to Italy, and the fantastic reds we had there. I was never really a red wine fan, and it’s safe to say that I’ve been converted! Having said that, the whites at Castello d.A. were quite good. BV thought that the Gewurztraminer was way too sweet, but I thought it was good. Maybe better as a dessert wine though.

After the Castello, we were off to our next stop – Robert Sinskey Vineyards. This was BV’s choice, as he wanted something in the “Bio” world, on our tour. He’s German… what can I say? 

Back patio at Robert Sinskey

At the R.S.V., we opted for the “Flight of Fancy” $25 tasting. (Side note: when did the word ‘flight’ become synonymous with tastings? I was confused and felt very naive. Gah.) This tasting bought us four of their wines, plus some food. This time it was a set menu, with one white and three reds. 

Everything was homemade, with ingredients from their garden that you could walk through outside. In addition to that, it was all delicious. You say homemade cheese? I say I’m there. Sorry lactose-intolerant folk, I really am. 

We all agreed that the wines here were even better than our previous stop, and the reds were definitely a step up. But the last stop would be the determiner….

Black Stallion Winery was our last destination, and it came highly recommended by Aaron, our tour guide/host/driver. He had visited a few weeks before, and done a $30 tasting that got you tastes of four red wines, all from bottles priced upwards of $75. An added bonus here was that the pours were at least a half of a glass, and therefore we could share one tasting with two people. Given that this was the last stop of the day, that was probably a good thing. 

Aaron had also told us that when he visited before, they had gotten small snacks and chocolate. However, that was not our experience. The wine was very good, but there were no sweets to go with it. We’ll live, but were only slightly disappointed. 

I’m sorry I didn’t get better pictures… it was the end of a wine-filled day. Not much more I can say.

I’m no expert, but overall, I’d say that all three of the vineyards we went to were good. The first was definitely the most touristy, but given the surroundings, that was to be expected. My favorite was Robert Sinskey, but maybe I was swayed by the delicious food.

We chose these three, but the truth is, there’s no need to plan a trip in Napa Valley. Just drive a few minutes and you’ll see a sign for a vineyard somewhere. Our choices were great, and I’d recommend a stop if you see them, but in Napa I don’t think you can go that badly wrong. 

More information….