What better way to spend a birthday than a hike through the Moselle Valley, a visit to a famous castle, and drinking local wines. For James’s birthday this month, we drove about an hour and fifteen minutes northwest and along many narrow twists and turns to the sleepy Moselle town of Karden. From here we hiked for about two hours, starting with a continuously steep climb up a rocky hill before finally catching a break with a long stretch of flat grassy farmland at the top. Eventually we entered a sun-dappled forest and came out with a view of Burg Eltz, seated on top of a small hill in a surrounding bowl of greenery. After a lunch of beer and bockwurst on the terrace, we toured the medieval castle along with a swarm of other visitors. Burg Eltz has belonged to the same family since the middle ages.
First view of Burg Eltz
Once we had hiked back to the car, we drove about fifteen minutes along the Moselle River to the town of Cochem. We rode the Sesselbahn (chairlift) to the top of a high rocky ledge where we had a fantastic view of Reichsburg Cochem, the first castle we visited when we moved to Germany. From here we hiked the steep trail down to the main area of town, where we stopped in to Weingut Rademacher for a wine tasting. The hilly vineyard is just behind this winery, which serves as a restaurant and hotel. Next we went on to Alte Guttschänke where we had goulash soup, Riesling cheese, and more wine at a long wooden table with other guests in the cellar.
A little late on writing this up, but I couldn’t leave it out… The last daytrip from a few weeks ago was to Strasbourg, France, about two hours away. After eating crêpes and drinking wine at an outdoor café, we followed a guy with a big “Free Tour” sign for a pretty decent two-hour circuit of the city. Here are the things that stood out the most to me:
A culture of being outdoors: Unsurprisingly (only because I had seen a handful of French foreign language films in elementary school), the spacious town squares and parks were full of people enjoying the beautiful spring weather. Pedaling by on bikes, chatting at outdoor cafés, passionately arguing in the street, and lazing in the grass – I would say the people here definitely know how to live. Surprisingly, smoking was not as common compared to what I’ve seen in Germany.
Adaptable people: Some of the older Strasbourg residents have had their nationality changed four times in their lifetime. Once upon a time Strasbourg was a German city, then became French, then German again, and then ultimately French again. This, of course, necessitated many changes, including the language people were required to use. Today, the people of Strasbourg mainly speak French but, fortunately for us, many also speak German. I ordered three rolls in French (pointing, with “Trois, s’il vous plaît”) at a bakery and was then immediately lost when asked a follow-up question in French (which turned out, naturally, to be “For here or to go?”). At the epitome of the French and German cultures colliding, I saw a lady eating a pretzel and drinking a glass of wine.
Controversy over Gutenberg: Johannes Gutenberg, a native of Mainz, Germany, had lived in Strasbourg for a period of his adult life. A gap in the records of his life occurs around the time that he created his world-famous printing press. Of course, this also coincides with the time that he moved back from Strasbourg to Mainz, so both cities claim to be the birthplace of the printing press. Our tour guide pointed out, however, the fact remains that the press was invented in Germany either way, as Strasbourg was then a German city.
Charming neighborhood with an obscene history: Petite-France is a small area of Strasbourg of narrow streets winding between old wooden lattice-beamed houses alongside a canal. The delightfulness of the quiet neighborhood, once a center for tanneries, is marred only by how it received its seemingly innocent name (literally, “Little France”). In the days of Napoleon, many French soldiers returned home with syphilis, which they termed “the madness from Naples” but which the rest of the world called “the madness from France.” This area of Strasbourg was home to a hospital specializing in syphilis treatment, for which it was not-so-charmingly named Petite-France.
All in all, Strasbourg exceeded all my expectations for what I thought a French city would be like. As it turns out, I think Strasbourg is well worth visiting again, particularly now that spring seems to be here to stay.
And the travels with family continued the other week! So here are the continued highlights – one more post to sum up this set of adventures coming soon.
Wiesbaden: Featuring an unexpected medieval festival
A short distance from downtown Wiesbaden stands the illustrious Schloss Biebrich with a tidy park area that flows out behind it. With long pedestrian trails and a small lake, the Schlosspark makes the enormous palace look small by comparison. Today the castle itself contains a restaurant and hotel and is used for events. The park is enjoyed by many, and we even saw a few people practicing tightrope walking between two sturdy trees.
Our visit to the Kochbrunnen (thermal springs) in a downtown square, happened to coincide with a Historical Spring Festival. In this case, “historical” translated to “medieval,” so the festival featured many people in medieval costumes, dolls and other crafts made out of brooms, archery games, and mead and dried meats.
Würzburg: Amazingly reconstructed palace and quaint college town
Würzburg was so enjoyable, we ended up visiting it twice during the week. About an hour and a half southeast of us, this small city is a true blend of history and modern-day. The most impressive sights are the Residenz palace and the Festung (fortress) Marienberg, both originally homes of the prince-bishops of Würzburg. During World War II, the furnishings of the Residenz were moved to the fortress high above the town for safekeeping. The Residenz, as predicted, was then severely damaged but has been entirely rebuilt. Even the showy mirror room, a spectacle of foreign-themed paintings on glass covering mirrors on all four walls and the ceiling, was reconstructed based on slides of the room taken before the damage.
Würzburg is home to a university of the same name, and the town reflects the university life. The old bridge leading over the Rhein from the Altstadt (old town) to the Marienberg fortress, is lined with small bars and restaurants. We enjoyed a riverside lunch on the patio of an old mill at the Gasthaus Alte Mainmühle.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg: Two-hour drive to a new country
Much of Luxembourg City sits in a bowl surrounded by the Bock Casemates, a defensive wall with passageways built into the cliffs. This provided storage areas for cannons and other equipment, soldier barracks, and escape routes both over and under the bridges.
The country of Luxembourg has its own language, Luxembourgish, though French and German are also commonly spoken here. The food served in the cafes leans more toward French cuisine, with quiches being popular lunch fare. We did, however, see a band of chefs with the typical tall white hats carrying baskets of pretzels to a town square. Luxembourg City has an extensive American cemetery, mainly the resting place of World War II soldiers, and is the headquarters of many European Union offices.
A visit to the Luxembourg City History Museum provided some artistic insights into societal changes in the city (languages, politics, household appliances, commercialism, etc.). The museum also has a multimedia exhibit featuring a Luxembourg City legend of the mermaid or siren Melusina. A count had supposedly fallen in love with Melusina in human form and, when he discovered her true identify, she disappeared forever. The elusive mermaid is said to still be hidden somewhere along the Alzette River.
Frankfurt: Birdseye view
This trip to the modern city of Frankfurt consisted of a walking tour with sights such as the Altstadt reconstruction project, Goethe’s house, and the Alte Brücke (old bridge). The tour culminated with a visit to the top of the Main Tower, providing a view of the whole city.
Hohenzollern: Prussian kings’ castle, still family-owned
Atop a hill about two and a half hours south of here, near Stuttgart, sits Burg Hohenzollern. This castle still belongs to the family of the former Prussian kings. The current “Prince of Prussia” is Georg Friedrich, who studied economics and works for a marketing company. He and his wife Princess Sophie have twin sons, but only the oldest son will succeed him in the family’s nominal title.