6,500-kilometers from our home in southern France to the top of Germany, back down to the bottom with many stops in between, then home through the French Alps.
We were happy to be back in Deutschland where we lived and worked for many, many years. We saw old friends. We made new friends. We visited old haunts and new places. And, we enjoyed culinary favorites – great beer and wurst.
The down side: weather (mainly gray) and traffic. We moved to France for sunshine, and after a month of mainly depressing, grim weather, I think we made the right decision—despite sweltering last summer. On those legendary autobahns with sections where there is no speed limit, we encountered too many “staus” (traffic jams).
First stop: two towns in northern Germany from whence my ancestors hailed long ago: Cloppenburg and Vechta. We were not overwhelmed with either. We could not even find a Gasthaus for a beer and bratwurst in Cloppenburg, only pizzerias and all manner of ethnic restaurants. Unfortunately this seems to be the trend throughout the country.
On to Bremen which is overwhelming with its fairytale perfect Markt Platz. We stopped in Bremerhaven to check out its famous Emigration Center and fascinating museum. We used their computers for some ancestor research. One could spend hours, days, on this project.
We moved on to Hamburg which has grabbed headlines worldwide with its glittering new landmark, the Elbphilharmonie, an astonishing structure which has been in the works for more than 13 years, grossly surpassed cost estimates with a final price tag of $843 million, and has sold out the 2,150 seats for each performance in its Grand Hall for more than a year.
Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city and largest port, is all about water. The open waters of the North Sea are 65 miles from the maritime city, but it’s water that imbues the city with a distinctive, enticing flair. We took a harbor cruise, and a cruise on the city’s two lakes, the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and Aussenalster. (Outer Alster).
To experience the North Sea, we traveled on to the coastal resort, St. Peter Ording. I had hoped we could bike along the dikes. Rain. Downpours. No biking for us. However, between the deluges we managed a few invigorating beach walks. The North Sea winds make the Mistral seem like a gentle breeze.
Wismar and Stralsund, two cities on the Baltic in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (part of the former East Germany), were next on our agenda. Both are medieval treasures which were about to crumble before reunification. They are now restored
jewels. “But, it is thanks to our (western German) money,” a friend in Stuttgart reminded me. Wismar’s ancient churches are a marvel. Stralsund has a wonderful new Ozeaneum musem, in addition to its antique structures.
I will be writing articles for the magazine German Life on many of the places we visited, including an article, “Lodging in Noble Homes.” These are homes still occupied by royalty, friendly nobles whom you can meet, even dine with. We stayed at three such homes/castles, and had delightful times with the owners, all of whom encounter monumental expenses to keep their royal residences intact. Income from tourists helps with expenses.
More photos from Germany below:
Coming soon, the Maldives and more on Germany’s noble families and castles. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.
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I was wooed by those classy commercials on CNN. Stunning desert landscapes. Futuristic, fantastic architecture. Glamorous hotels.
Abu Dhabi. We had to change planes there en route to Sri Lanka. Let’s break up the long journey and check out the capital, the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
It is indeed intriguing, interesting. Bob and I had visited Dubai many years ago, long before most people had even heard of it. Like Dubai back then, and now, construction and progress are everywhere in Abu Dhabi.
“For a time, both emirates seemed locked in a battle to build the most glittering skyline,” notes an article in Global Traveler. “But lately, Abu Dhabi has deliberately repositioned itself as New York to Dubai’s Los Angeles. Abu Dhabi serves as the commercial and cultural heart of the U.A.E., while Dubai remains more populist, with an economy centered on tourism and real estate.”
Nonetheless Abu Dhabi has its share of tourist attractions. The Emirates Palace, billed as a “7* luxury hotel,” is high on the list. We wandered through the cavernous public areas of the $3 billion hotel, looking up and around at an abundance of gold leaf and marble. We had an expensive coffee amidst the posh surroundings. I asked where the gold bar vending machine was (mentioned in an NYT article), only to be told it had been removed. Pity – that was my souvenir choice!
Fortunately taxis are reasonable in Abu Dhabi. There was nothing of interest within walking distance of our hotel, supposedly in a central location, and distances are vast. Taxi driver Mohammed, an Indian from Kerala, took us to the sights.
He is one of 65 percent of Abu Dhabi residents who are foreigners, he told us. Fifty percent of the foreigners are Indians, and most, like Mohammed, are from Kerala in the southern part of the country.
Markets are my passion. I asked him to show us the fish market. This was not the collection of stalls with fishermen selling their catches as I had envisioned, but a huge warehouse with aisle after aisle of all sizes, shapes and varieties of sea creatures. Mohammed knew many of the workers, all from Kerala. We continued to the date market – another vast structure with nothing but dates – numerous different kinds. There too he had chums from Kerala. One gave us a sample of chocolate covered dates – exquisite.
We continued to Heritage Village, an old fortress where the Abu Dhabi of bygone days with Bedouin tents and old stone houses has been recreated. Artisans are at work in many enclosures. I zeroed in on a purse in the leather workshop and tried to bargain with the shopkeeper, attired in the long traditional Muslim robe. I assumed he was a native. No, he too was from India.
Foreign workers come to Abu Dhabi where earnings are good, work for several years, save and then return home, a Nigerian taxi driver explained. He has a degree, but no jobs in Nigeria.
Abu Dhabi’s piece de resistance is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a dazzling edifice of domes, minarets, reflecting pools, crystal, marble…. materials from all corners of the globe. Elements of Moroccan, Persian and Arab styles blend in this monumental beauty. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome. Like all female visitors, I was given a blue abaya to wear.
We wandered around with numerous other visitors all taking photos while Mohammed took time out to pray.
Other Abu Dhabi attractions include the Galleira, a luxury shopping mall, and Yas Waterworld, an amusement park with watery rides. We passed on both, but did ask to see the Yas Marina Circuit that hosts the Abu Dhabi Formula I Grand Prix. I had read that when races were not taking place you could experience the circuit at high speed as a race car passenger. Yes, but arrangements must be made far in advance. I failed.
Instead Mohammed took us to nearby Ferrari World. We were content to amble around the mall and admire cars, although had we paid the expensive entrance fee we could have experienced high speed simulation drives.
Future Abu Dhabi visitors will enjoy major attractions on Saadiyat Island, a $27 billion project that will include the first outpost of the Louvre outside of France, scheduled to open at the end of this year, a Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum, and much more.
The fall in the price of oil has delayed completion of these showpieces. Abu Dhabi has about a tenth of the world’s oil reserves which accounts for its wealth. But, the reserves will decline and the emirate is preparing for life without oil. Masdar City, a $22 billion project currently under construction, aims to create the world’s first carbon-neutral city powered almost entirely by solar and other renewable energy sources.
Abu Dhabi is worth a short visit, especially if you want to break up a long flight to Asia. We found the people, namely foreign workers, all very friendly and helpful. Most speak English. Because it is a Muslim country, alcoholic beverages are only served in international hotels. All manner of ethnic restaurants abound. We tried Thai, Italian, French , a British pub, but the favorite was Café Arabia with Lebanese, Syrian, Moroccan specialties and more. I relished Palestinian Shakshuka, a spicy tomato, egg and feta combo. See Today’s Taste, column upper right, for a recipe.
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Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians – all are found in Incredible India.
“In religion, all other countries are paupers, India is the only millionaire,” wrote Mark Twain in Following the Equator.
The majority, 80 percent, are Hindus. In Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges we witnessed the early morning Hindu bathing ritual, hundreds plunging into the non-too clean water which they believe is holy and will wash away all sins. At night, the banks of the river are a smoldering mass, fires and smoke from cremations. Many come to die in Varanasi. Death in the holy city is said to free one from the cycle of birth and death.
Khajuraho, a wondrous place with numerous Hindu temples, is a popular site, more for the erotic sculptures on one of its temples than the stunning temple architecture.
The Taj Mahal – India’s architectural treasure, the dazzling white marble mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his second wife who died in childbirth in 1631, is a Muslim monument decorated with carefully inlaid Koranic verses.
And Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, the spiritual and cultural center for the Sikh religion, is yet another fascinating religious shrine. Sikhs compose only two percent of the Indian population, yet Sikhism is the fifth largest among the world’s major religions.
The religion was founded in the early 16th century by Guru Nanak and gurus who followed him. Nanak preferred the pool at Amritsar (“Pool of Nectar” in Punjab and Sanskrit) for his meditation and teaching. The site in northern India, today not far from the Pakistan border, became a pilgrimage center where a great temple was built. Perhaps more than the temple, it is the Holy Book, Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scriptures of the Sikhs, enshrined inside which draws many pilgrims today.
Twice per day an amazing ceremony focused on the book takes place at the temple. Thanks to guide Alok, we witnessed the lively and curious evening ceremony when the book is carried to its bedroom. Behind golden doors, it spends its night on a bed under an elaborate canopy.
We joined others in a long waiting line to view the book before the evening procession. While waiting, I had the chance to talk to a friendly Sikh who moved from Amritsar to London 17 years ago. London, where the gentleman has a fish and chips shop, has a large community of Sikhs. He was with his son. They, like many others, had a gift to lay near the book where a holy man, surrounded by other holy men sitting cross-legged on the floor, reads sacred verses.
After viewing the book, worshipers, all singing, line up behind ropes to view the ceremonial procession. The book, much like statues in Christian processions, is carried on a golden platform festooned with garlands of flowers. A group of holy men follows behind, chanting. A trumpet blower announces the arrival of the book. There are stands where worshippers can take communion. It is a joyous, festive spirituality.
At 4 a.m. the same ceremony is repeated when the book is taken from its bedroom back to the temple.
We returned to the holy site the following day and were free to wander around this mystical place after leaving our shoes near the entrance and covering our heads. Vendors sell souvenir bandanas. Sikh men are not permitted to cut their hair and are easily recognized by their beards and colorful turbans. Sikh women wear either a turban or cover their head with a scarf.
Before entering the sacred grounds, feet are washed by wading through a shallow pool.
The complex is large. It’s a delight to slowly stroll and enjoy the scene, the people, the peaceful ambience, the shimmering golden temple. Selfie photos in front of the temple are popular. Families walk around the lake, taking pictures of one another. Some tired souls just lie down and rest in shady spots. An underground spring feeds the sacred lake where some pilgrims immerse themselves to cleanse their souls. The complex also includes enormous pilgrims’ dormitories and dining halls where all, irrespective of race, religion, gender, are lodged and fed for free.
Feeding the hungry is a tradition among people of many faiths, but Sikhs may get first prize for generosity. The Golden Temple serves 80,000
simple vegetarian meals every single day of the year – all paid for by donations. Anyone can partake. Volunteers cook, serve meals and wash the dishes.
Groups sit on the floor rolling dough for naans (Indian flatbread). Nearby other groups smoother naans with a type of butter. Enormous vats of various concoctions simmer on stoves.
Some who eat at the temple volunteer to help out to “pay” for the food and assist the permanent volunteers. Sikhs who live in other countries often come and stay at the temple for several months to help in the kitchen.
The Golden Temple’s past is not all peace and love. In June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attack on armed Sikh militants holed up there. Over 500 people were killed in the ensuing firefight. Sikhs around the world were outraged at the desecration of their holiest site. Four months after the attack, Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards, leading to a massacre in which thousands of Sikhs lost their lives.
Most of the damage has been repaired by the Sikhs themselves who refused to allow the central government to take on the task.
More on India soon—Dharamshala and the Tibetan refugees. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss this and future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.
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It’s summer and melon season – perfect time for a light, refreshing dessert. I brought Chilled Melon with Lime and Ginger to a recent pot luck. All loved it. Click HERE for recipe and scroll down for more of my tried and true recipes.
Two Americans living in southern France set off to Germany to buy a car. Not a Porsche (pity). Not a Mercedes. Not a BMW. Not even an Audi. But — a Toyota! No, not a new model, but a very old Toyota (2004).
Crazy? Bizarre? Idiotic?
Perhaps a bit of all. Here’s the story. Two years before moving to France from Germany 12 years ago, we bought a royal blue Toyota Yaris Verso. The back seats of this minivan collapse and slide under the front seats, leaving lots of rear space, enough for two bicycles standing up. That was the selling factor. We could park the car anywhere with the bikes chained and locked inside. And, it was easier to put them inside the car instead of on the roof.
Back then we did lots of pedaling. The bikes went with us on cycling trips all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. All l that space was also practical when making large purchases: washing machine, mattress, cases of wine.
We love this car. It has been reliable, trouble free. It now has some 255,000 km, but has had only minor repairs. We knew it could not last forever and were getting worried. No reason to spend big bucks on a new car at our age. Besides, Toyota no longer makes this model and we found no others with the same features and known reliability.
Bicycle Bob (BB) dove into Internet research on used Toyotas. He claims he could not find any in France. No wonder. I later learned that all his Toyota finds were coming from a German web site. He said he would feel better buying a used car from a German rather than a Frenchman. Those neighbors to the north treat their cars with over-the-top TLC, like rare endangered species. Check out the cars in parking lots in France. Dents. Dirt. Rust.
The cars he was finding were old, but there were many with far fewer kilometers than ours. We had to see a car before buying it, and probably look at more than one car before purchase. That meant a train trip to Germany, hotel and meal expenses etc. The price tag was climbing.
No matter. We could do more in Germany than look at cars: Satisfy cravings for good beer and hearty cuisine, visit friends, perhaps even see some new sights. He found versions of the desired Toyota all over Germany – Leipzig, Zweibrucken, Hamburg, Munich. We had to narrow our selection lest we spend weeks canvassing the entire country.
So, one dreary day in February we hopped aboard the TGV (fast train) from Aix to Frankfurt, then another train to nearby Erlensee where a friendly car salesman met us and took us to see the first selection. It looked just like our car, same bright blue, just two years younger (2004) but with a mere 134,000 km.
Promising, but we had another car to see in Kulmbach, three autobahn hours away. We rented a car for that trip. It rained. It poured for the entire drive. We checked out the second Toyota . Both cars were in immaculate condition. Each car had had just one owner, elderly folks like us.
The blue Toyota owner had been male; the silver Toyota had been in the possession of a female. We test drove both cars. “There is something I don’t like about the clutch in this car,” BB said of the silver one, knowing it had had a woman owner. He maintains women drivers often ride the clutch. A sexist view, in my opinion. “I think this car could have a problem,” he insisted. I found nothing wrong with it, but he makes the car decisions. Besides, the silver color was wimpish . And, the salesman was anything but accommodating. Our salesman in Erlensee, a Jordanian, was terrific, helpful.
We spent the rest of the day and an overnight in Kulmbach before returning to claim the blue baby. The rain never stopped, but great beer made up for it. Kulmbach is noted for its beer. We visited an artisanal brewery, bought beer to bring home, toured a beer and bread museum – all wunderbar.
We figured it would be a multi-step procedure to finalize the sale and get the car temporarily registered and insured for the trip back to France. Never underestimate the Germans. Our salesman took us to a trailer type office in a parking lot where, within a half hour, all was complete, including temporary plates on the car.
We set off in our new old car south to Darmstadt to visit old friends, enjoy more beer and hearty food, and then on to Basel, where we were married 26 years ago. The nostalgia visit to this Swiss city was more than moist. The rain, six days of it in Germany, followed us to Switzerland. We spent a day indoors, visiting some interesting museums, before coming home to France where we did find sunshine, but also frustration, headaches, obstacles.
I knew car registration in France would never be the smooth and easy process it was in Germany, however…. We started the process after our return, Feb. 15. On March 22, 36 days later, it was finally finished…or so I thought.
We began the ordeal with a visit to the mayor’s office in Reillanne, our town. Then the tax office in Manosque (1/2 hour away). We had to go there twice since we did not have one of the required documents the first time. From there we were sent to Digne, a city about 1 ½ hours away and the seat of our region’s “prefecture,” the folks who could make our car legal in France. We thought we had all the required documents.
At the tax office in Manosque we had been given a list of requirements: six documents. The woman in Digne gave us a longer list: 10 different documents. Sacre Bleu! We did not have the “Certificat de conformite,” a document which could only come from Toyota. And, we were told the safety inspection document we had from Germany would not fly. It was several months old. So, we had to make an appointment and have the car inspected in France and get yet another document.
Off we went to our nearest Toyota dealer, 1/2 hour away. A young man filled out a form requesting all sorts of technical details on the car. We sent that form and a check for 150 euro to Toyota headquarters in France — fortunately not in Japan. A week later we had the form. We were making progress.
On our second trip to Digne, miracle of miracles, we had all the correct papers. We received a temporary registration. We went to a nearby garage and had plates made – instantly. We were overwhelmed. The French are efficient at something.
Only insurance left to conquer. We have our cars insured with a bank in the town of Pertuis (45 minutes away), but we arranged for temporary insurance by phone, and followed up with a visit to the bank last week to sign the form.
We were elated. Finally all finished. Not quite. Today I received a letter from the prefecture in Digne. They need the original car registration from Germany immediately. I checked our thick folder of documents on this car. We do not have it. I am certain we turned it in with all the other papers to the woman in Digne. ???
Will they cancel the registration without it? Seize the car? Insist we contact the German registration office and get a new ”original” on a car that was registered 12 years ago?
Moral of the story: If you live in France, buy a car in France.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.