European Feast

European Feast

In honor of not cooking this Thanksgiving, here are some of my all-time favorite food and drink pictures from all over Europe over the last three years. Guten Appetit & Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: I wasn’t too big on taking food pictures until recently. A few not pictured favorites include mussels in Belgium, Indonesian food in the Netherlands, Sacher torte (a kind of chocolate cake) in Austria, stuffed peppers in Romania, Scotch and shortbread in Scotland; Guinness in Ireland, fondue and Raclette in Switzerland, pasta-sauerkraut-cheese stir fry in the Czech Republic, smoked salmon in Sweden and Norway, and gelato, coffee, pizza, etc., etc. in Italy.

Advertisements

Pretzels + Baguettes = Alsace

Colmar

Colmar   Colmar

German shepherds walk alongside French poodles. Mugs of beer sit next to glasses of wine. Order and rules mix with a love of liberty and that ever so laissez-faire way of life.

Alsatians seem to have taken the best of both German and French cultures and mixed them into a charming region just on the border, full of half-timbered houses where artfully prepared food is served. Currently Alsace is a French region but its nationality has changed back and forth between France and Germany at least four times in the past hundred years, giving it a uniquely blended culture both tidy and elegant.

French poodle   Hearty but elegant food

Confectionery shop   Traditional dress and dancing at the Marché Couvert

Colmar   Dominican Church

Moped in Colmar   Colmar  

Over Labor Day weekend we visited the city of Colmar, about an hour south of Alsace’s largest city – Strasbourg. Colmar’s smaller size makes it all the more quaint and charming. Walking around the city itself was definitely a highlight, particularly with a visit to the Marché Couvert (covered market). For only a few euros, we even toured the canals of the Lauch River by boat.

Outside the Marché Couvert

Marché Couvert   Inside the Marché Couvert  

Pretzels   Marché Couvert at night

Colmar boat ride   Colmar canals

And while Colmar may be a relatively lesser-known French town, at least one of its former residents is certainly widely known, particularly to Americans. Among many other works, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty. We found a mini version of the famous statue in a traffic circle on the outskirts of town.

Mini Statue of Liberty

I didn’t love the Bartholdi Museum in Colmar, as it was a bit old-fashioned in its gallery design. But I did enjoy seeing plans and photographs of the Statue of Liberty’s construction as well as the design process of the Lion of Belfort, a similarly famous and larger-than-life sculpture dedicated to heroes of the French Resistance against Prussia in 1870. Also of interest is that the museum is actually located in Bartholdi’s former home.

Bartholdi with the Statue of Liberty and the Lion of Belfort       Certificate of Presentation of the Statue of Liberty

Naturally, we also spent an afternoon tasting Alsatian wine. The Alsace wine route is lined with vineyards and makes up part of a pilgrimage trail to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Most of the wine styles in Alsace have German names (many that we see in the Rhein region in Germany) and are classified as AOC according to French quality control regulations.

Alsatian wine cask

What else is there to see in Alsace? Our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a stork sighting, as this is the very symbol of this region and can be found all over building decorations and souvenirs. We spotted several and heard their clickety-clack chatter while walking around among the narrow cobblestone streets of Eguisheim, near Colmar.

Storks nesting on rooptops
Storks nesting on rooftops

Eguisheim   Eguisheim

En route home, we stopped to visit the medieval Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, still in Alsace but at one time restored by Wilhelm II to define the western-most boundary of the German Empire. There is plenty to read about the castle’s many centuries of history along a self-guided tour. And really a visit here would be worth it for the beautiful mountainous views alone.

Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg

View from Haut-Koenigsbourg

Dining room of Haut-Koenigsbourg

A pretzel from the castle shop completed our trip to Alsace. Au Revoir & Aufwiedersehen until next time, Alsace!

Enjoying the Quintessential German Vacation at Lake Constance

Enjoying the Quintessential German Vacation at Lake Constance

IMG_6716

Summer goes by fast in Germany, so it’s important to do it right. Lake Constance (the Bodensee) is a popular destination for vacationers of all ages to relax during this short-lived season. Being that there’s not so much coast in Germany (not to mention the other lake neighbors, Switzerland and Austria), the lake sort of fills the role of a beach vacation. Here’s how to do justice to a Lake Constance vacation.

Lindau

To Do:

  1. Stroll around with an ice cream

Gelato

Meersburg am Bodensee

Meersburg am Bodensee

IMG_6729

City of Meersburg

Italy isn’t so far away so there are gelato shops on every street corner in the quaint lakeside towns. Enjoy the traditional Fachwerk architecture of the guesthouses, restaurants, and stores – most of which are complete with colorful flowers under each window.

  1. Drink wine lakeside

Vineyard in Liechtenstein

Konstanz

View from Garden Terrace Restaurant in Lindau

If you go from town to town, you’ll notice rolling vineyards, in addition to orchards and hops fields. Most of the wine in this region is white. Be sure to sample a glass from an outdoor café so you can watch the sailboats, standup paddle boats, motor boats, ferries, cruise ships, Zeppelins, and hot air balloons. Try the local fish or seafood along with it. (Jump to restaurant recommendations here.)

  1. Visit a castle

Meersburg in Meersburg am Bodensee

Meersburg

Inside Meersburg

Meersburg, for example, provides a good amount of information on its layout and history. It’s the oldest privately owned and still inhabited castle in Germany – built in the 7th century! Beautiful views of the lake and surrounding area can be seen from its once-freestanding tower, possible for a small added fee that includes a short guided tour.

  1. Keep an eye out for festivals

Seenachtfest in Konstanz

Boat ride from Konstanz to Meersburg

This actually goes for all of Germany year-round, but is a nice plus on a vacation. Last weekend was the Seenachtfest (Lake Night Festival) in the city of Konstanz with concerts and fireworks, among the standard fest fare.

Whether you’re trying to reach a festival or not, try taking a boat ride from one city on the lake to another to enjoy the scenery (including the majestic Alps) from different perspectives.

  1. Drive to Liechtenstein

Prince of Liechtenstein's Home

View from Prince's Home

From where we stayed in Kressbronn, the small principality of Liechtenstein was only about an hour south. Check your route in advance to see if it involves driving through Austria and/or Switzerland as it did for us. In that case, you’ll need to stop at a rest stop to buy a Vignette, a toll sticker that attaches to the windshield.

What is there to see in Liechtenstein? A steep winding road from the center of the capital city Vaduz leads to the Prince’s home, which can be viewed rather up close from the outside only. The wooded hiking trail that leads here has a series of signs with information about the castle, the royal family, and Liechtenstein’s history. The Prince’s wine cellars are also nearby and open for the public to patronize (unfortunately closed on Sundays).

Post Museum

Beyond that, Liechtenstein is known for producing stamps and Vaduz has a tiny but free Post Museum. Not far from the capital is Gutenberg Castle. Tours are by pre-appointment but the chapel and rose garden are open on Sundays. If you’re lucky like we were, maybe you’ll chance across a small wine walk while hiking through the vineyards of the hill. This is also a great place to see the Rhein River, relatively close to its source.

Gutenberg Castle

View from Gutenberg Castle

By Gutenberg Castle

Rhein River

  1. Travel back in time and visit a prehistoric settlement

Pfahlbau Museum

Pfahlbauten

The Pfahlbau Museum in Unteruhldingen gives visitors the opportunity to interactively explore recreated homes on stilts built on the lake. The construction of the interconnected buildings is based on fossilized building and artifact remains dating back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. There are lots of hands-on activities here, currently a temporary exhibit of Stone Age “Olympics”.

  1. Feed popcorn to monkeys

Sleeping monkey

Monkeys

Tourists at Affenberg

IMG_6821

Yes! At Affenberg (Monkey Montain) animal reserve in Salem, you can do exactly that. Note that there are more animals to see than just monkeys here. Particularly striking are the flocks of storks that make their bulky nests along the eaves of the bordering buildings. But the main attraction is definitely the opportunity to wander along through the Barbary macaque monkeys’ free range forest habitat. The monkeys will pick popcorn kernels right out of your hand, barely grazing your palm in the process. (Obviously many instructions to ensure people and animal safety accompany the free handful of popcorn before entering this area.)

 

*Bonus* Lake Constance restaurant recommendations:

  • Kressbronn Seegarten Kressbronn Pricy but delicious seafood (among other options like schnitzel, wurst, and salads) by the lake with a gorgeous view.
  • Meersburg Hotel Wilder Mann Outdoor terrace along the lake set under a shady awning of trees. Standard and creative menu choices, relaxing live music and a dance floor.
  • Lindau Garden terrace of the Stolze-Spaeth Hotels – Fancy menu and hotel atmosphere overlooking the lighthouse and lion statue in the lake.

Kressbronn

Bier vs. Wein: Welcome to Fall

Prost!
Prost!

When we moved to Germany last fall, some Mainz locals told us that there’s a major difference between Mainz and Wiesbaden (two state capitals divided by the Rhein River): People who love wine live in Mainz. People who love beer live in Wiesbaden. We chose not to resolve this age-old dilemma and ended up moving to the border.

Bier: Cannstatter Volksfest

We kicked off the first official weekend of fall this year with an Oktoberfest-style festival in Stuttgart called the Cannstatter Volksfest. Like most of the crowd, we were decked out in traditional Bavarian gear: Lederhosen with suspenders and a stylish hat for James and a Dirndl (the traditional dress) with a blouse and apron for me. Where the apron bow is tied indicates a lady’s status: right = married, left = single, middle = taken but not married, and back = widow. Many ladies instead wore Lederhosen shorts with a blouse version of the checkered shirt. And I saw at least one man (beard and all) wearing a Dirndl and a blond braided wig.

Cannstatter Volksfest in the tent
Cannstatter Volksfest in the tent

Starting late morning, we enjoyed the first half of the day at one of the big reserved tables inside a circus-y red and white striped tent. The energy of the fest was fueled by a live band playing a mix of traditional German songs and mostly German and American contemporary pop music. After a few Maβ (the big glass mugs) of beer, everyone at our table was up on the long wooden benches singing and dancing along. Interspersed, of course, were trips to the long 50-cent bathroom lines.

Reservation hours ended at 4 p.m. so we moved on to the area outside the tent, filled with the standard festival rides, games, and food stands. The highlight toward the end of the day was, as I’m convinced it should be for all Oktoberfests, riding the roller coaster. Coasting around to view a town from every possible angle at night couldn’t be more loud, brightly lit, terrifying, or exciting by the end of this type of fest.

Fest by night
Fest by night

Wein: Grape Picking and Ingelheimer Red Wine Festival

Last weekend we were in for a totally different kind of experience, this time to develop a deeper appreciation for the wine-making process. From about 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, we toiled in a vineyard under a warm early autumn sun with a set of pruners and a plastic bucket per person. Our task was to snip every bunch of Riesling-to-be grapes in our designated row, the moldier the better in wine terms apparently. Dull thuds followed by dusty clouds of mold rising off the buckets filled the air. We brushed off ladybugs, spiders, leaves, and dry shriveled grapes, standing up frequently to combat backaches and bent knees.

Vineyard at the start of the day
Vineyard at the start of the day
From vine...
From vine…
to bucket...
to bucket…
to tractor
to tractor

In exchange for a hard day’s work, we received three meals put together by the vintner’s wife. The first two were set out on rough wooden picnic tables at the end of the rows: A breakfast of bread, cheeses, cold cuts, and light breakfast wine; and a lunch of roasted pork served with a horseradish sauce, potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, and more wine. Back in the vintner’s own dining room, we enjoyed coffee and cake (yes, this is a late afternoon meal here) consisting of Apfelwein cake, chocolate cake made with red wine, and cheesecake. Followed, of course, by a wine tasting of some of the winery’s best. Leave it to a group of Americans to do farm work for the experience and food/wine.

Ingelheimer Rotweinfest
Ingelheimer Rotweinfest

While white wine is the specialty of the Rheinland in general, red wine is the specialty of Ingelheim (a town just west of Mainz). Yesterday we topped off the wine-themed weekend by sampling a couple of glasses to accompany a dinner of Bratwurst, fries, and Magenbrot (iced gingerbread) while listening to live covers of mellow American 90s hits.

Prost and happy fall!

Wein + wanderung and other great German combos

IMG_2782

German is fraught with long, complex compound words. This Saturday I learned one that brings together two of my favorite weekend activities: wine + hike = Weinwanderung. It’s exactly what it sounds like: A leisurely 5K hike through vineyards along the Rhein marked with wine stands along the way.

IMG_2781

Summer arrived here overnight and the weather for the hike was hotter than anything James and I experienced in Germany so far. We brought a couple of water bottles and took the train with a small American crew along the Rhein to Rüdesheim. For twelve euros, we got a 0.1 liter tasting glass and a yellow passport-esque pass to be stamped at each of the ten wine stands en route in exchange for a tasting we chose from printed lists. The glass looked tiny, but after several tastings combined with the beautiful scenery and endless summer sunlight it was easy to lose track of time (including lunch time and dinner time). I woke up the next morning with sunburned shoulders, blistered feet, and a light headache – sure signs of a good weekend.

IMG_2780

Today, on the last day of the weekend (Pentecost is a day off here), I’ve thought of a few more of my favorite German compound words:

Burgfest = castle + festival, like the one I went to yesterday that featured a great Queen cover band

Meersweinchen = sea + piggy = Guinea pig

Rathaus = advice + house = town hall

Aberglaube = however + belief = superstition

Granatapfel = garnet + apple = pomegranate

Krankenschwester = sick + sister = nurse (or for the male nurse, Krankenpfleger = sick + keeper/caregiver)