Fellow Travellers

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Mosel - Germany July 2009

Trier July 3/09

We arrived in Trier in the late afternoon in the wake of a summer rain storm. After checking in and puttering around for an hour the rain was over and we walked through the center towards the Porta Nigera. The Porta, a large Roman gate, is one of the fabulous ruins in Trier that we discovered. Entrance to the site is a mere $2 euro where you can climb to the top and take in the view of the center of the town. Inside carved stone walls grace the archways and passageways.

Trier also boasts outlets for a couple of lovely housewares companies, Villroy and Bouch and a high quality German cutlery manufacturer. My shopping spree was quashed as G insisted he was not packing up more items to move. Unfortunately we really should have bought the cutlery because it is twice the price in the Netherlands!

We continued to explore until close to dinner then headed to the hotel to arrange a reservation at Restaurant Schlemmereule. The restaurant is set in a courtyard behind a large hotel on the Trier Dom (Cathedral) square which we planned to visit the following morning.


It was a glorious evening but we were late in booking our restaurant reservation so we had to sit inside. Our first course was delicious, mine a veal carpaccio and G had a pear, walnut and goat cheese salad. We both ordered fish for dinner and the entire meal went very well with a riesling selected by the sommelier. I recommend it if you are in the neighborhood!

Trier & Bernkastel-Kues July 4/09

G and I started our sight seeing day at the Trier Dom. We found on arrival that a wedding was taking place inside the church so we ventured to the pilgrims store where I was entranced to purchase a bronze cross.

As the wedding would delay our visit we headed off to see the Roman Ruins. We strolled through the coliseum, then on to the amphitheatre and back into the center. It is quite amazing to walk through the decomposing buildings trying to imagine the crowds of people watching the spectacles before them. We were able to walk below ground at both of the venues – imagining the gladiators and the wild beasts waiting their turns on centre stage.

We meandered back the to Cathedral to discover they were now having a concert of Handels’ music on their glorious church organ. The sounds was phenomenal! The Cathedral was also very beautiful but we did not take many pics during the concert. I did take a fabulous photo in the cellar of the church in a small chapel was filled with light. A crown of thorns appeared to be on fire and it made a stunning photo.

From Trier we drove north to Bernkastel-Kues, which is really two towns separated by a bridge. We stayed in Bernkastel in a small family hotel. The town of Bernkastel is very charming as most of the buildings boast timber facades dating back hundreds of years. We spent the afternoon trying some of the local German brews that went down easy in the heat.

We dined at our hotel that night and then strolled along the river as the evening was warm and wind free. A lovely Saturday night….

Bernkastel-Kues and Burg Eltz July 5/09

On our last day in Bernkastel I convinced G we should do the Mosel River cruise for an hour before we headed out to wine taste. The boat toured us up and down the river so we might see what sites were on either side of the town. From our vantage point we could see vineyards and noted some of the more prominent names, we had read about in the region, in the vineyards.

After a peaceful hour we disembarked and went to taste wines at a local wine bar. The fellow serving us was extremely knowledgeable (and opinionated) on the wines of the Mosel. We had intended a 1 hour tasting and ended up there for almost 3 as he wouldn’t stop talking! Anyway we managed to taste 10 wines and succumbed to the urge to purchase.

German wines are a lot less pricy than their French counterparts. The wines themselves are quite a bit sweeter and I will definitely have to work on my pairing knowledge to do them justice. We plan to share some with my parents when they are here in Sept 09.

Once we extracted ourselves from the wine guru, we headed off to Burg Eltz so G could see his first castle! I had hoped we would hike to the castle but our chatty wine tasting took too long and we decided to drive to the site. We had to rely on our driving buddy Bridgette the Tom Tom girl for directions. I like to call her Bridgette as she has a proper British accent.

As she directed us closer to the castle we seemed to be driving on the smallest of country roads. I found it a little strange that a site that would see thousands of tourists would be accessed through tiny villages. I think her sense of direction was a little askew as at one point she tried to drive us down rocky dirt road off of a cliff! Hello! Just because you tell us too doesn’t mean we will drive off a cliff!

Anyway we redirected ourselves and made it to the castle, Burg Eltz. The castle is privately owned by the original family who preserve it by hosting tourists. We had an English speaking guide (from the Netherlands) give us the grand tour of many rooms. Reception halls, bedrooms boasting the indoor toilets (a hole in floor that dropped down to ??) and the kitchen with its gigantic fire pit. It was a pretty well preserved building and well worth the side trip.

Now the long drive home….

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Alsace June 30 to July 3

Alsace July 1/09 - Happy Canada Day!

Alsace stretches a mere 170 KM’s from the north, Strasbourg, to the south, Colmar, however the area is suffuse with charming villages and delicious wines. As our trip was quite short we decides to focus our attention on the southern region and based ourselves in Ribeauville.

Alsace produces white wines in a Germanic style with their main grapes being Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I won’t drivel on about the region as you can all read that online. I did a little research the area producers for Riesling in dry styles rather than sweet and also to note organize producers. We also were excited to pay a visit to Domaine Humbrecht as we had a very memorable tasting in Calgary attended by Olivier Humbrecht. He made quite an impression on us with a rose scented Gewürztraminer and another that gave off an overwhelming aroma of perm solution. Mary Frances, do you remember those wines?

Our first tasting was in Bergheim at Domaine Marcel Deiss. This producer has a different approach to blending then others. He plants different grapes on a section of vineyard and then blends those grapes into the different bottlings. This captures the essence of the terrior. It was a wonderful introduction to Alsace and a unique experience to taste his wines. We loved the wines from the Rotenberg and Altenburg areas and purchased a few bottles to enjoy with some Dutch seafood back home.


We had an unusual dinner that evening at the chic chic side of the Le Chambard, Winstub in Kayserberg, a wine bar is called a winstub in Alsace….thankfully there are many! It was a gourmand restaurant and we ordered the menu of the day. I will tell you the food was delicious however I am not certain that seafood on a bed of grey foam looks appetizing.


Alsace July 2/09
- Wine Adventures

To celebrate our heritage we devoured macaroons and chocolate croissants with large café lattes in Ribeauville. A lovely French (Canadian) breakfast! Our travels centered around finding Humbrecht and Trimbach domains. It took several trys to locate Humbrecht and although they were open tastings were only by appointment. That said we purchased a few bottles (again for the Dutch seafood – really there is a lot of seafood here) and made our way to Trimbach.

Trimbach is located in Ribeaville so we could park the car to enjoy a few sips…. Our favorites included their Riesling 01 CFE, the Pinot Gris 02 and the Gewürztraminer 01. Yes this years are right….you can age white wines of this quality. The hostess was not quite as enthusiastic as others but we tasted some fabulous wines non the less!


We enjoyed a delightful dinner at the Winstub de Sommelier in Bergheim that evening. The weather was awesome so we sat on the terrace in the company of a solo diner who after polishing off a bottle of wine to himself serenaded the diners with his whistling. We enjoyed a delicious bottle of Riesling selected by their Sommelier that completed the traditional charcuterie and a mushroom risotto. A lovely evening so we lingered as the last diners.


Alsace July 3/09 – On the way to Trier, Germany

We completed our Alsace experience with a visit to Riquewhir to enjoy this picturesque town and taste the wine of Hugel & Fils. The town is quite touristic but with very good reason, it is very lovely. The residents take great care to infuse the streets with flowers and well kept buildings. We enjoyed meandering through the streets before our wine tasting and recommend this little village.

We were informed on our visit that Mr. Hugel the patriarch of the family had died two weeks previous therefore they were featuring some of his last bottlings. We enjoyed our tasting being the only ones in the small salon but overall the wines were not to the quality we had enjoyed. Perhaps the selection for the tasting they offer is too average but I can’t say we were too enthusiastic.


Onward to Trier…..

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paris May 2009

Paris is one of my favorite cities on earth. Although it is a city built through the annexing of towns and villages, it is a triumph of city planning. The grand boulevard, Champs des Elysees, the numerous monuments and beautiful green spaces such as Jardin des Tuileries, Parc Champs de Mars et le Jardin du Luxembourg make every corner of the city a delight to wander.

We departed Amsterdam on an early train arriving at Paris Nord just after noon. After some confusing moments trying to figure out which Metro line to take we quickly proceeded to our hotel in Marais on Rue des Archives. We were very pleased with the hotel and recommend it for quality of accommodation and location.


Ambitious as always, I had organized an action packed afternoon. Our hotel was situated across from the Ile de Cite and therefore Notre Dame. The weather was gorgeous so we walked over to the cathedral enjoying the architecture along the way.

We decided to forgo the official paid tour and opted to go and feast our eyes rather than our ears. On entering you pass through one of two intricately carved stone doorways. The apostles, St John the Baptist and Jesus are there to welcome you home along with the faithful followers. Once inside the church you could hear the soft murmur appreciation from the pilgrims and tourists. The choir flanking the altar and carved in wood, was glorious from the back as it was from the front. It would have been wonderful to attend an Easter or Christmas mass to hear the acoustics.

There were many stunning statues depicting religious figures. The altar was somewhat modern which seemed a bit out of place. Behind the altar was a delicately carved statue of the virgin with Christ, flanked of course by the King of France. How cheeky! However, Royalty did consider themselves next to God did they not?

The stained windows depicting the saints and the glass rosettes at either end of the cathedral were stunning. It is hard as a tourist to take a photograph that communicates the beauty of the glass work. There is so much detail in each window it is a wonder to look at. There are many churches throughout France name for the virgin, but there truly only one Notre Dame.

Vivre Notre Dame!

We crossed to the other side of the Ile to the Latin Quarter and I dragged Cliff to Shakespeare and Company, an English book store. Used and new books in my native tongue! I searched the stacks of books packed in rows in the tiny store to accompany me on my work commutes and was not disappointed. Only wish I’d bought double as I go read a book a week!

From literature to art, on we went to the Picasso Museum which is situated in Marais. The museum houses not only works by Picasso but also some of his own personal collection. It was interesting to see the progression of his work through the years and also what inspired him.

Ambitious as ever I pushed Cliff on to a visit to Pompidou. He declared mutiny and insisted I sit down for drink in the square. I relented and we enjoyed a beer while and did some people watching. When I started to get squirmy and make noises about getting onto the schedule he quietly finished his and indulged me. I had wanted to see the special Kandesky exhibit however we had purchased museum passes which did not include extra exhibits. Fortunately the permanent collection is outstanding so we spent a couple hours enjoying the contemporary art.

We returned to the hotel rather spent, refreshed our clothes and went out to the bistro I had booked for dinner. It was a rather awful dinner and we were not very satisfied with the food or the wine. Terrible to have a dull unsatisfying ending to an otherwise fantastic day. Que sera sera!

May 22

We woke up a little later than planned and dashed off to the Eiffel Tower. I had planned for 1.5 hours at the tower, 1.5 hours at Musee D’Orsay, onto to the Musee Rodin avec picnic and then some shopping après dinner. Ha! We arrived at the Eiffel Tower at 9:45 and stood in line until close to noon! How drool! Not a coffee or croissant in sight! We were dry and famished in a town where food is literally everywhere!

We spent 2 hours watching every shyster shimmy up to the line and squeeze in without a second thought. It was infuriating! Being polite Canadians does nothing for you in these situations, you just pull out your best passive aggressive behavior and stand between them and the front of the line. We finally ascended to the top and enjoyed the spectacular view of the city from all directions.

We descended the tower and began our walk towards the Musee D’Orsay (yes my schedule was blown to bits by then) and decided to take a spot of lunch at a local brassiere. Chicken being the special I indulged and we enjoyed a ½ carafe of rose. I am truly growing found of a chilled rose in the mid day. J

We spent the remaining part of our Friday at the Musee D’Orsay and in fact lingered so long we were kicked out! It’s so hard to see it all in 2 hours! We almost missed my most favorite pointillist, Serat. Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Chagall were all here in their finest form. The art was fantastic although the museum itself is overrun with people. There is no moment to enjoy a painting in solitude so one must just consume what they can and take it away. We retired back to our hotel to prepare for a night at the Buddha Bar.

Although some would be skeptical at venturing towards ethnic cuisine in a city such as Paris, I’ve read that Paris does not really have it’s own specialty. Rather it is a city that has come together by annexing villages and towns and accepting foreigners into its bosom. Thus what better city to sample foreign cuisines than Paris! The Buddha Bar did not disappoint and in fact reminded me much of the one in New York.

We arrived for our 8:00 reservation and were seated right away. The restaurant was sultry and dark which added to its urban ambiance. We started with a glass of prosseco (a new favorite way to begin the evening!) The specialty was seafood and the kitchen did not disappoint us. We both had a delicious meal, mine sea bass and Cliff had gambas (shrimp in Dutch). We selected a crisp Riesling to accompany our meals and our only disappointment in seafood is that it does not pair with red wine!

After dinner we ventured towards the Place Concord to see the Eiffel Tower light up at night. A memorable ending to a memorable day.

May 23

Okay did you ever have one of those shopping days where everything fit? I disguised my shopping trip with a stroll down the Champs-Élysées culminating in a visit to the Arc de Triomphe. Sneaky hey?
One of my favorite stops on the boulevard is Laduree, an extraordinaire patisserie . I had forgotten how absolutely lovely it was and the baking is scrumptious! We took away some gorgeous macaroons and chocolate croissants to savor later with a coffee. In fact I horded mine until the last day. Yummmm check it out at

I did some serious damage to my bank account and Cliff was a trooper through the whole event. Our marathon ended at 7 pm and we hauled our loot back (okay my loot) to the hotel. I seriously replenished my spring/summer wardrobe that day (and it didn’t end there….I discovered Ted Baker London on that last day - just a few more things). We booked a local restaurant and ate a late dinner then went home to collapse in bed!

May 24

On Sunday we did what every tourist must do in Paris – we visited the Louvre. The museum is impossible to see in one or even two days . It is composed of four buildings all of which use to house royalty. The architecture is fantastic which is forgotten when you are viewing the massive collection. It would likely be a full time job for a week if you really wanted to see it all.

We decided to focus our efforts on the Italian masters for this visit (see already planning the next one!). We took audio guides as without them it would have been impossible to know what the art historians consider the key pieces. Of course we saw the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci but also works by Rembrandt, Raphael, and Michelangelo. The Mona Lisa is always surrounded by hordes of tourists many of whom spend more time photographing the art rather than actually looking at it. I will never understand why anyone photographs a famous piece of art. What do you do with such a photo? It can never capture the texture or brush strokes used by the artist. It can never capture the tenderness with which the painter represents the child Jesus or a lamb. Perhaps they are just too cheap to buy the museum book?

It was a three hour journey through two buildings and in the end we couldn’t remember how we got in and now how would we get out! In the end it took us 20 minutes to figure out how to exit – I told Cliff we should have left a trail of popcorn!

Finally out we found ourselves in a scorching hot summer day. We headed up to Montramatre to see the Sacre Coeur Basilica on our way to the Moulin Rouge (we though perhaps we should confess before we go to the burlesque show?). We were fortunate to find a mass taking place and were able to enjoy the choir and atmosphere of the service.

A quick bite on a touristy sidewalk café, then onto the infamous Moulin Rouge. We were seated in the last row of tables and jammed in with the other voyeurs. The room was somewhat charming with all the little table lamps lighting up the dim room. A sense of nostalgia somewhat takes over when they finally begin the show. Flashy costumes, bare breasted dancing ladies, jugglers, ventriloquists and chanson dazzled us for the next 1.5 hours. A dramatic ending to our first whirlwind visit of Paris.

We can’t wait to go back!