INTRIGUING INDIA: RELIGION

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Golden Temple at Amritsar

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.

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Bathing in the sacred Ganges.

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.

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Cremations on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi.

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.

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Khajuraho, site of many temples, is one of the “seven wonders” of India.

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.sikh.taj2

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.

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Sikhs congregate at the Golden Temple day and night.

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.

Flowers cover the holy cook.
Flowers cover the holy book.

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.

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Evening procession transferring the book to its bedroom for the night.

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.

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Heads must be covered at the Golden Temple. Mini scarves can be purchased.

Before entering the sacred grounds, feet are washed by wading through a shallow pool.

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All are welcome to a free meal at the Golden Temple.

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

80,000 free meals are served every day.

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.

Volunteers do all the food prep.

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.sikh.14

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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Foreground:  Ganges bather. Background:  Yoga session.

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Erotic sculptures at Khajuraho.
Erotic sculptures at Khajuraho.

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.

 

 

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A Tale of Twin Toyotas –and WOE

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Toyotas I and II

 

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.

Not our car.
Not our car.

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.

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More to Germany than cars.

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.

Schweinhaxe and sauerkraut.
Schweinhaxe and sauerkraut.

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.

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This one looked good.

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.

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Trying different brews in Kulmbach.

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.

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Seeking solace from German rain.

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.

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Giacometti at Fondation Beyeler in Basel.

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.

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Dubuffet at Fondation Beyeler in Basel

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.

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The French have mastered instant license plates.

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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No, not our old Toyota, but a Tinguely creation at the Tinguely Museum in Basel.

 

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The twins

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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.

TRAVEL TIPS

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.

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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.

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

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Cuisine Club Med

Beef filet Wellington, salmon tartare, grilled scampi, mussels, duck à l’orange, scampi papparadelle, involtini di prosciutto con spinace (ham rolls stuffed with spinach), numerous cheeses, at least eight different flavors of ice cream, an assortment of pastries akin to that of a Parisian pastry shop.salmon

And, those were just the highlights of the offerings at a recent Club Med St Moritz dinner. (See recent post, “Club Med St. Moritz,” February 2015) There was more — an assortment of salads, risotto, numerous tempting vegetable concoctions…veggies

Who counts calories at Club Med where the food is truly over the top, and one of the resort’s many attractions?  At St. Moritz, you could eat almost all day, beginning with a breakfast featuring the usual cereals, fresh fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice, breads, omelets, cheeses, cold meats, and eggs cooked to your specifications. One morning a chef was making donuts on the spot. Another morning he was filling freshly made croissants with jams or pastry creams. I indulged, figuring I’d burn up the calories on the ski slopes.food.8

But then came lunch and dinner and more in between. At the club restaurant both lunch and dinner feature copious buffet selections, from several tables laden with cold delicacies, a line of various hot foods, a table of cheeses then on to the gorgeous desserts. At winter Club villages such as St. Moritz, there are usually Club restaurants on the slopes where skiers can have lunch, again a buffet of numerous hearty offerings. Club Med St. Moritz has two mountain restaurants.food.10

Whether at lunch on the mountain or dinner in the club restaurant, will power failed me. I could not resist. I had to try as many different enticing edibles as possible (too many). But, I did take mini portions.  Nonetheless the calories piled up.

Since St. Moritz is a winter club with most guests on the slopes during the day, a hearty après-ski snack awaits every afternoon – mini sandwiches, crepes or waffles, also made on the spot. Then, beginning about 6 p.m. the snack selection is put away and a copious assortment of pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres – and I don’t mean potato chips and peanuts — fills the tables in the lounge.

It’s all so good and tempting. How can you pass up fresh oysters, foie gras, roast suckling pig? I can diet when I get home, I reasoned.food.5

The Club at St. Moritz has a capacity for about 550 guests, and it was at 90 percent occupancy during my February visit. Preparing such an incredible variety of food for all these guests on a daily basis has to be daunting. Giuseppe Apicella, assistant restaurant manager at Club Med St. Moritz, says organization and team work are essential. Each member of his team of 23 cooks, including four fulltime pastry chefs, knows what he or she has to do, he said. “For this reason, all is perfect. We aim for perfection.”

Sandro, left, and Giuseppe.
Sandro, left, and Giuseppe.

Quality ingredients are also a must. “All the products are the best we can get,” said Giuseppe. “The oysters are very fresh and from Holland.” (They were excellent.)food.1

The cuisine of the region is not neglected. Be it Martinique, Mexico, Greece, China or Switzerland, Club restaurants always include local specialties. At St. Moritz, truffle fondue is offered. This required an advance reservation, and there was an extra charge. But, raclette was served one evening — no extra charge.

Swiss Raclette
Swiss Raclette

St. Moritz is close to the Italian border and most of the kitchen staff is Italian.   “I prefer cooks from Italy. They are the most professional in the world,” said Giuseppe, a native of that country who worked at his family’s hotel- restaurant in southern Italy before joining Club Med three years ago.berry

So, it’s no surprise that Italian specials predominate at this mountain club, mainly served in the Italian restaurant adjacent to the main dining room. Fresh pasta with various sauces, pizza and other Italian favorites were on the agenda. You could try these, as well as the buffet in the main restaurant.

clubmed.9Beverages – as much as you want all day. Machines are at your disposal for coffee, soft drinks and juices. Cocktails and wine are offered at the bar. And, wine with dinner – as much as you want.

There is no extra charge for any of the above – all included in the Club Med package price.

“You have to wonder how they can offer all this food for the price,” commented my friend Gerlinde. “I paid 5 Swiss francs ($5.20) in town for just a cup of coffee.”

Indeed mind boggling. And, fattening. Even with the skiing, I gained a few kilos. I am still trying to shed them….but the delectable food adventure was worth every bite.food.7

My all-inclusive ski week at Club Med St.Moritz cost 1,141 euro. Ski and boot rental extra. Gerlinde and I shared a room.

More on Club Med: http://www.clubmed.com. More on St. Moritz: www.stmoritz.ch

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French Riviera: Magnifico Menton

It’s easy to understand why artists, film stars, royalty, politicians, Russian oligarchs – and plain old folks like us –are enamored of the French Riviera. The scenery, that seductive combination of mountains and sea, is the stuff of glamorous coffee table books. Add to that plenty of sunshine, good food and happy faces.coast.7

VR and I would like to join those happy faces someday, downsize and move closer to the sea.   With that long range goal in mind, we set off to Menton last week. It is the last city in France on the coast before the Italian border. At times, you’d think you were in Italy. Lots of Italian spoken, restaurants featuring Italian specials, more joie de vivre. Even though that’s a French term, the Italians seem to have lots more of it than the too-often dour French – in my opinion.coast.1

Menton has a lovely stretch of beach (stones not sand) bordered by many turn of the century mansions, not unlike Nice, just smaller. Skinny streets in the Old Town, as well as long sets of pebbled steps, climb to an imposing Italian Baroque church, then onwards to a chapel and even higher to a cemetery. There’s a busy pedestrian shopping street, an old covered market hall, and a well known museum dedicated to the works of artist Jean Cocteau. The city is also known for its gardens which we will visit next time.coast.4

We found many restaurants closed for the season in January, but thanks to the advice of a woman at the tourist office, we had a wonderful fish dinner (Branzino sotto sale). Sea bass baked under a mound of salt which locks in all the coast.3moisture. Owners of the Coquille d’Or restaurant, the chef and his wife, are Italian. Our waiter was Italian.  The fish – maybe it came from the Italian Med.

Ventimiglia, the town just across the border in Italy, has an enormous Friday market, a source of fashion bargains and more. Parking is always a nightmare, but our Menton hotel desk clerk suggested we take the train. Perfect and only 11.20 euros round trip for both of us. This time the market was a disappointment, perhaps because it’s too early for spring fashion, too late for winter?? I did find a few cheap treasures.

Then, a return to a waterfront restaurant we had found on a previous visit for another amazing meal. VR went for grilled fish.   I chose spaghetti frutti di mare, chuck full of mussels, clams, a few shrimp and some unknown critters.coast.5

Before heading back to our abode in the hinterlands, we joined members of the American Club of the Riviera for an outing in Nice. A guided visit of the Musée Masséna preceded a gourmet lunch at the Hotel Negresco. The museum, a sumptuous Belle Époque villa on the Promenade des Anglais, was built between 1898 and 1901 by Victor Masséna, grandson of one of Napoleon’s marshals, and a collector of precious objets d’art.coast.12

More opulence next door at the Hotel Negresco, another Belle Époque gem (1912). According to a guidebook, it is “one of the great surviving European palace-hotels.”   I was delighted to see a gigantic Niki de Saint Phalle Nana adding a whimsical touch under the Baccarat chandelier hanging from the dome in the Salon Royale which was built by Gustav Eiffel’s workshops.coast.6

By the time our excellent lunch (gazpacho, lamb and apple crumble) ended, clouds put an end to the sun’s rays.   No chance for good photos of Nice’s new addition, the Promenade du Paillon, a strip of parkland between the city center and Vieux Nice (Old Town). We did saunter down the Promenade des Anglais, along the sea, then crossed over for a walk to the giant Ferris wheel at the end of the new reflecting pool.coast.9

We’ll be back in Menton at the end of February for its Lemon Festival (14 Feb.-4 March) www.fete-du-citron.comcoast.8

More on Menton: http://www.tourisme-menton.frcoast.13

American Club of the Riviera: americanclubriviera.com

Restaurant Coquille d’Or: xx 33 (0) 4 93 35 80 67coast.10

More on Nice www.nicetourisme.com Nice’s Carnaval celebration, lots of fabulous flowers on parade and more, takes place from 13 Feb. – 1 March.   See my previous posts: “Nice Carnaval,” Feb. 23, 2009 and “Nice- Enchantment on the Riviera,” Jan. 12, 2012

Since I am in an Italian mood, and since a hearty soup is perfect for these cold winter days, Today’s Taste features one of my favorites, Minestrone.   See Recipe column at top right.coast.11

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