Wunderschön Times in Germany

The previous post, Humanity is Lost, was my attempt to reblog a post of a bloger I follow.  If you click on the title, you should be able to open and read the post. 

Along the Moselle
Along the Moselle

201 kilometers of pedaling in four days. Certainly nothing to brag about. But, we are no longer young and it’s been a few years since we have done any serious cycling. We were also biking with our panniers – worth a few extra Brownie points. The cycling was mainly on flat terrain following bike routes along the Saar and Moselle rivers in Germany: pleasant, easy, scenic.

We made it -- back to the car in Merzig where it all began.
We made it — back to the car in Merzig where it all began.

The bike excursion was a highlight of our spring trip back to Germany where we lived for many, many years before moving to France. We love going back, seeing friends, drinking the world’s best beer, enjoying our favorite German foods — and discovering more of Germany. Wines in Baden, hikes in the Black Forest, sights in Saarbrücken– add all that to bicycling and it makes for a wunderschön  (wonderful) trip.

It wouldn't be Germany without a bit of rain.
It wouldn’t be Germany without a bit of rain.

Google led me to a blog post,”A Bicycle Ride along the Saar and Moselle Rivers.” Perfect for us, I decided. We cut short the part on the Saar, pedaling only from the town of Merzig to Konz where we picked up the Moselle Bike Route and followed it to Bullay.

A break from the bikes to enjoy the scenery.
A break from the bikes to enjoy the scenery.

The Saar section was serene, sublime. Few people. Few major towns. Trees, the river and vineyards. We stopped to chat with a couple from northern Germany who were taking a break from the bikes and lounging in the grass. “We’ve never be to Saarland. It’s beautiful and not so touristic,” she said.

Trier: Porta Nigra
Trier: Porta Nigra

Along the Moselle we pedaled past lots more vineyards, through more towns, and encountered more cyclists. We felt we needed to see the major sight in Trier, the Porta Nigra, but biking through the congested city was not pleasant. However, tasting wine in the town of Graach where Mythos Mosel, a Riesling wine tasting event was underway, was very pleasant.

BB/VR gets a taste of Moselle wine.
BB/VR gets a taste of Moselle wine.

Be it in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France—wherever, biking along marked cycle routes is usually a joy. For the most part you encounter few cars. Unfortunately this was not entirely the case for us this ride. As navigator, I am to blame.

Instead of carefully consulting the bikeline guidebook when leaving one town, I chose the wrong side of the river for our ride. We were on a bike path, but not the right one. The trail deteriorated, leading us onto a muddy track bordered by thick vegetation. No way to ride this, so we pushed the bikes through the swamp. The worst was not over. We followed the path out of the mud and up a hill, only to be faced with a busy major and narrow highway. Cars sped by much too close for comfort. Add to that: rain.

Postcard villages surrounded by vineyards abound on the Mosaelle.
Postcard villages surrounded by vineyards abound on the Moselle.

I don’t frighten easily, but this was very scary. I feared we may have missed the one bridge that would lead us to the other side and the correct bike route. I used all my energy to pedal as fast as I could, hoping we would find the bridge before being crushed by a car.

We survived and were relieved to arrive in Trittenheim and find the welcoming home of Marlene Bollig, a guest house where we had booked a room. I told her about our adventure. “No one rides on that side of the river,” she said. “Well now you have an adventure to write about. “ One adventure I could have done without.

Hikers learn about wild herbs
Hikers learn about wild herbs.

Our adventure in the Black Forest was problem free, fun and interesting. We joined a guided group hike, Wild herbs: Multitalent. “My passion is to delve into nature and gather herbs. I learned from my grandmother,” guide Heidi announced. The trek was easy with numerous stops where she plucked a plant or flower, then explained its use in the kitchen and its nutritional, as well as medicinal, value.

Butter mixed with wild herbs-- delicious on bread.
Butter mixed with wild herbs– delicious on bread.

The forests and fields are indeed rich in edible treasure, but don’t try to eat all.   “No, you can’t eat that,” she announced as one of the group pointed to some lovely yellow flowers. “Not even cows will eat that. The stomach won’t tolerate it.” She treated us to a wild herb snack which our stomachs tolerated with pleasure, bread smeared with tasty herb butter made from plants of the forest.

We followed guide Rolf Wein on another hike, uphill to the Genuss Platz (Pleasure Place), a scenic spot with benches he and friends had made long ago. His treat, wild plum schnapps which he had made.

Rolf Wein led us to his favorite spot in the Black Forest.
Rolf Wein led us to his favorite spot in the Black Forest.

“This is my home,” Rolf said as he looked below to the town Baiersbronn surrounded by forests. “I enjoy outings with guests, to show it off. It is wunderschön here in the black Forest. I would never move away.”

Baiersbronn is a wunderschön town, especially for foodies. Its restaurants have a total of eight Michelin stars, quite amazing for a town of 14,500. I had the privilege of interviewing three-star chef Claus-Peter Lumpp at the Hotel Bareiss, one of the town’s five-star hotels.

3* Chef Claus-Peter Lumpp in his kitchen
3* Chef Claus-Peter Lumpp in his kitchen.

“It’s hard work,” he said of his profession, but “good.”   “There is nothing better than to see happy people when they are satisfied. Guests are the most important for me.”

Zwiebel Rostbraten with Spaetzle -- also wunderschoen.
Zwiebel Rostbraten with Spaetzle — very wunderschoen.

Dining at the three star restaurant was beyond our budget, but we enjoyed the tastes of Germany at the hotel’s gemütlich Dorfstuben where I indulged in my all-time German favorite: Zwiebel Rostbraten (Onion Beef). During our travels we savored other German favorites, such as Sauerbraten, Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and red cabbage.

Sauerbraten, Rotkohl and Bratkartoffeln (Sauerbraten with red cabbage and fried potatoes). Makes me hungry.
Sauerbraten, Rotkohl and Bratkartoffeln (Sauerbraten with red cabbage and fried potatoes). Makes me hungry.

And, German wines. Although the Moselle is a noted German wine region, except for our one tasting along the bike route, we had no time for serious wine discovery there. We made up for it in Baden, part of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in southwestern Germany. The Black Forest is part of this state. The Baden section borders both France and Switzerland and is Germany’s warmest and sunniest region. Baden produces more red than white wine, which is rare for Germany, a country known best for its white wines, especially Riesling.

Vineyards in Baden.
Vineyards in Baden.

Bicycle Bob (BB) is known more as VR (Vino Roberto) these days since his passion for wine now exceeds his love of his bicycle. We not only tasted our way through many Baden wineries, VR bought a supply, too.

With Heti and Heinz.
With Heti and Heinz.

Our friend Heinz gave us a delicious souvenir to take home – six bottles of his favorite Baden white, Oberrotweiler Grauer Burgunder.  Heinz and Heti live in Sindelfinen adjacent to Stuttgart, not far from where we used to live. We stayed at their beautiful home and had the chance to reunite with many of our friends from those days at a fun evening, a pot luck dinner they arranged.  Danke Heti and Heinz.  Alles wunderschön.

We'd never been to Saarbruecken. It's worth a visit. Ludwig's, Church is a Baroque masterpiece.
We’d never been to Saarbruecken. It’s worth a visit. Ludwig’s Church is a Baroque masterpiece.


Bicycling in Saarland: www.radfahren.saarland.de

The Moselle: www.mosellandtouristik.de

Baiersbronn: www.baiersbronn.de

Hotel Bareiss: www.bareiss.com

Viller0y & Boch, http://www.villeroy-boch.com

Wine fests abound in Baden, for more on Baden wine and a list of wines fests dates and places: www.badischerwein.de

Don’t miss Today’s Taste in column at right: ASIAN CHICKEN SALAD, tangy and terrific

Villeroy & Boch makes its home in Mettlach in the Saarland. A visit to its ceramics museum -- and outlet store -- is enticing.
Villeroy & Boch makes its home in Mettlach in the Saarland. A visit to its ceramics museum — and outlet store — is enticing.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.

Visit to my angel cat savior Sigrid Ruckaberle and house where
Visit to my angel cat savior Sigrid Ruckaberle and house where “the maternal great grandfather of the fifth generation of Barack Obama” was born in 1729. Her hometown. Besigheim, is proud.

Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Please leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome. I love to know what my readers think about my posts.

Saarschleife, a bend in the Saar River near Mettlach.
Saarschleife, a bend in the Saar River near Mettlach.

Follow Tales and Travel on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/talesandtravel

Follow me on twitter: @larkleah

High on Bali

Bali Ha’i *  may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you:
“Come away…Come away.”

Bali Ha’i will whisper
On the wind of the sea:
“Here am I, your special island!
Come to me, come to me!”

Your own special hopes,
Your own special dreams,
Bloom on the hillside
And shine in the streams.
If you try, you’ll find me
Where the sky meets the sea.
“Here am I your special island
Come to me, Come to me.”

My parents loved Broadway musicals.  They often played sound track records.  South Pacific was a favorite. My favorite song: “Bali Ha’i.” (*Bali Ha’i in the above song, according to Wikipedia, was not Bali, but based on the  island of Ambae, part of what was formerly known as New Hebrides, now Vanuatu.  Never mind, for me, it was Bali.)

I was mesmerized, both by the words and the melody of this song .  I knew I had to see this “special island” someday.

It took almost a lifetime, but I made it last October. The Indonesian island  was all I had hoped – and more.  A British friend, Jenny, recommended we stay in Ubud, a town in the hills, rather than at a popular tourist beach resort.  Thank you, Jenny.

In the book and movie, “Eat, Pray and Love,” Ubud was the focus of author Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest for spirituality and healing.  Tourism is the chief industry in Bali, and Ubud, the island’s artistic hub,  has seen a surge in visitors thanks to both the book and movie.

Our home (husband Bob was with me)  for six days was the Tanah Merah resort and gallery about a 20-minute drive outside of the funky town in a verdant, tropical setting.  I found the resort on the Web.  It was reasonable, beautiful, serene, fascinating – a bit of paradise.  The fascinating part was the Danish dentist, Peter Bloch, owner and creator of this magical place which has just 14 rooms, including many individual cottages, and an incredible art and artifact galley with Peter’s extensive collection.  For more about Peter and Tanah Merah, see my next blog post.

Our night arrival at the chaotic airport in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, was a horror story, (also more about that in a future blog on Travel Mishaps).  But all turned out well thanks to a friendly Australian airline steward, Peter, whom we met on our Qantas flight to Singapore.  He recommended a friend and driver in Bali, Wayan Sukada.  He sent Wayan an email and arranged for him to meet us at the airport and take us to Ubud – about an hour and a half drive through a crazy, congested city into the peaceful countryside.

Wayan became our guide and mentor.  He drove us on an excursion to temples and sites.  He recommended restaurants.  He invited us to a ceremony at his temple.  He taught us much about Bali and its religion.

There is a pervasive spirituality in Bali is that is both intriguing and soothing. Most Balinese are Hindu, but they practice a form of the religion somewhat different than Hinduism in India.  It governs their daily life.  Every town, no matter what the size, must have three temples, Wayan told us, each dedicated to one of the three elements: air, water and fire.  All homes have a main temple, and often an additional one in each room. Ceremonies are profuse – not just the usual ones for weddings, births and cremations, but celebrations for the rice harvest, in honor of animals, to bless machinery…During our brief  Ubud visit, Wayan attended three ceremonies.  He said he must give 10 percent of his earnings to the temple.

Statues of gods, goddesses and demons are everywhere, and often draped from the head down in sarongs. The latter is to protect the spirit inside the statue. The sarongs are in various colors, but each color has significance. White, for example, is for prosperity. Trees, which also have spirits, are also sometimes covered with sarongs. Offerings to the statues are made twice each day – tiny baskets made with coconut leaves and filled with blossoms.  Every morning we watched employees at Tanah Merah put fresh offerings of flowers at the base of the numerous statues on the property.

Besakih is the Mother Temple in Bali.  We passed hills of rice paddies and drove through poor villages, past numerous temples,  en route to the holy site, a huge complex of structures on seven levels.  Before visiting the site, we both had to “rent” sarongs to wear in respect at the temple.  A government guide led us through the complex, first up the steps on the left side, the negative side, then down on the right side, the positive side. At each level there are terraces, altars, statues, and ceremonies were underway at some.

Our excursion that day also included a stop at Klungkung Palace which was erected at the end of the 17th century, but largely destroyed during the Dutch colonial conquest in 1908. Among the remaining portions is a lovely floating pavilion which was added in the 1940s.  While visiting the palace, we heard the beat of drums and commotion in the adjacent street.  It was a funeral procession, with groups of mourners following the wrapped body.  Wayan explained that the body would be interred first, then unearthed at a future date for a cremation ceremony during which the remains of many would be burned.

As we (especially Bicycle Bob) love cycling, we signed up for an all-day bike excursion.  Unfortunately the supposedly spectacular view of Mount Batur, near where the trip originated, was hidden by clouds; it rained most of the day, and Bob had a crash in the mud on a skinny route through a rice paddy.  But, it was an enlightening trip nonetheless. Our group stopped in a village where we toured a home — several rooms, virtually no furnishings, a temple in the yard, — all very basic and poor. Bali may be the home of numerous luxurious resorts, but life for the average citizen is at the other end of the spectrum.

While he (Bob) is passionate about bicycles, food and cooking are among my hobbies.  So, we also signed up for a Balinese cooking class at the Bambu Bali restaurant. It started out with a visit to the colorful market where our teacher explained some of the indigenous produce.   The dishes we prepared, seven different ones,  were all delicious, many on the hot and spicy side. We also received a souvenir cook booklet with recipes.  Unfortunately all seem to require ingredients which I’ll never find here.

Bicycles, food – and animals.  We love them, too, and  our visit to the Monkey Forest in Ubud was enchanting.  Thousands of monkeys: mothers with babies, teenagers wrestling with one another, couples diligently picking bugs off each other’s backs… All roaming freely in a vast tropical forest complete with temples, statues and a picturesque stream strewn with rocks.

The visit to an elephant sanctuary was somewhat disappointing.  Just to view the elephants, we had to pay $15; an elephant safari ride cost an extra $45. We passed on the costly ride, but one of the guides, who agreed the charge was ridiculous, offered us a brief ride as his boss was not around.  It was fun, and his commentary on the elephants was informative.

On our last night, Wayan took us to a ceremony to inaugurate a new temple in his village.  He was a member of the all male band: drums, bamboo flutes, hammers, cymbals, and a xylophone.  The sounds, lots of clinging and clanging, all sounded much the same.  The men in the band all wear white with a bandana around their heads.  The latter, Wayan explained, is to keep them focused on god and prayer.

Villagers arrived with enormous creations of fruit, flowers and food, all placed on an altar as offerings.  The women,  wearing their finest, sat together, while the men were off in another section – some gathered in an adjacent room smoking and gambling, according to Wayan.  Children, dogs and chickens wandered freely around the festive scene.

Even if it’s not Bali Ha’i, for me Bali is indeed a “special island.”

Bali is reasonable. Wayan charged us about $28 for the transportation from the airport to Ubud; about $36 for an all-day excursion. Our spacious room with full English breakfast at Tanah Merah was $100 per night. Cycling tour with bike rental, breakfast, lunch and van transportation to and from the start of the ride, about $36 per person.  Cooking class, about $22 per person, including eating the food you prepare.


Email: wayan_sukada70@yahoo.com  (underscore between wayan and sukada)

For a fantastic soup, see recipe in column at right for Baked Garlic and Onion Cream Soup.  Watch the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.