Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Earlier in the week we spent two nights in Rothenberg ob der Tauber, best known as one of the towns on the Romantic Road. The Romantic Road is about 220 miles of highway linking picturesque towns and castles between Würzburg and Füssen in southern Germany. It is loosely based on an old Roman trade route that connected central Germany with the southern area.

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Rothenberg is a well-preserved medieval town that draws thousands of tourists a year. The town square and area immediately surrounding it are the center of activity for day visitors and tour groups. Tour leaders wave flags or plastic flowers on sticks, to direct people to locations for photos. But if you take the time to wander through side streets and alleys away from the square the crowds quickly disappear. You begin to feel like you’re stepping back in time to a world of intricately carved wooden doors, overflowing flower boxes, and timber houses.  If you spend the night, shops close at 6:00 p.m. and after 7:00 p.m. the streets are nearlydeserted. But plenty of pubs and restaurants are open late to stop in for dinner or a beer, and if you’re there now, to watch World Cup soccer.

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I’ve been to Rothenburg before and have favorite spots. One is the walkway on top of the original wall surrounding the old town that dates back to the 11th century. Steep steps, located at most of the town gates, take you up to the covered walkway. There you can walk on stones worn smooth over hundreds of years. The 1.5 mile stroll lets you look out over the red tile rooftops, admire the beautiful church steeples and peak into backyards and beautiful gardens of residents. Along the way opening in the wall used for crossbows during medieval times, provide a glimpse of the town beyond the wall. Occasionally you’ll find a kitty sleeping in the sun, or pigeons roosting in shade. The one thing you don’t find are many tourists.

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Who Doesn’t Love A Porsche?

We woke up to rain today and decided to find something fun to do in Stuttgart. We decided on a car museum. Even if you don’t love cars, the museums are a great place to see some amazing architecture and learn about technology and history from a new perspective.

During our last trip to Germany we visited the BMW Welt in Munich. This time we spent the afternoon at the Porsche Museum near Stuttgart. You can discover facts about the history, design and technology of the Porsche brand or you can just enjoy the beauty of the cars.

Note: click on a photo to enlarge and run slideshow.

 

Basel

On Tuesday morning Matt and I said goodbye to Chris In Geneva. The time together passed quickly and suddenly he was flying back to Los Angeles. It was a teary goodbye after three weeks of a lot of fun, with stories to tell and great memories of Switzerland, Italy and France. We’re already talking about where to go on future trips to Europe, or Australia, or …. who knows where. It’ll be awhile before taking another trip but it’s fun to start planning.

From Geneva, Matt and I drove to Basel for a night on our way to Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany. Why Basel? It’s a beautiful city that I’d love to spend more time in, but to be honest the hotel was free – Marriott points. Points are covering a few of our nights. A couple of years spent mastering the art of collecting points equals free hotels, a free flight and the Garmin. The hotels don’t meet my usual selection criteria of old, family owned and interesting, but they’re working out fine. And at least one events the criteria. Hotel Eisenhut in Rothenberg ob der Tauber was built in the 1600’s and has been run by the same family for over 200 years, and was originally the private home of a wealthy citizen of Rothenberg. Surprisingly it was on the list of hotels available through Chase points.

We arrived in Basel late in the afternoon on Tuesday and decided to visit Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site and open air museum of a Roman settlement dating back to 15 BC. It’s the site of the oldest known Roman colony on the Rhine. Some of the areas are original remains and some areas are reconstructed. There’s an impressive amphitheater, sections of walls, part of an aqueduct and sewer.

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Weekend In The French Alps

This past weekend we stayed at a beautiful mountain chalet, Les Campanules, in Les Houches near Chamonix in the French Alps. We were close enough to Chamonix for all of the activities, but had a quiet place to relax. On the outside Les Campanules looks quaint and traditional, but the inside was a surprise of what could be called rustic mountain chic. Our room was simple, but the public lounge areas were amazing. The hotel was a great find and inexpensive.

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We arrived in the late afternoon to sunny views of Mount Blanc, but it was too late to go up on the Aiguille Du Midi tram in Chamonix.

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The next morning there were clouds around the peak, but we decided to take the tram nyway for the experience (how often can you ride a tram to 12,602 feet) and for the views – while they lasted on the way up.

Views of the valley and surrounding peaks were stunning up to the first stop. There we were told the top was fogged in and there would not be much to see if we continued on. We had come this far and weren’t about to stop. We decided to continue up even if there was fog with zero visibility. We expected to see nothing, but didn’t expect the eery feeling of the swirling fog and the silence. What was astounding to me, was that even with no visibility people were preparing to go hiking, while others would suddenly appear out of no where, walking out of the dense fog at the trailhead. To me this was crazy – icy trails, sheer drop offs and no visibility.

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It would have been great to see the incredible views from the top, but in the fog it was also an experience we’ll never forget.

Our tram ticket included a cog train up to the Mer de Glacé, the largest glacier in France. Leaving from Chamonix, it takes the vintage red train about 30 minutes to climb 1000 meters to the glacier and hotel located near the station. The train goes through forest and tunnels cut into the rock. At the station is a large viewing area, restaurant and gondola down to the glacier. Nearby is the historic Grand Hotel  du Montenvers, which opened in 1880, when visitors were brought up to the site by mule or sedan chair.

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Last Day In Italy

I can’t believe it’s our last day in Italy. The past two weeks have gone by so quickly,I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in writing about everything we’ve been doing. Partly because we’ve been so busy, but also because the internet service is a bit irregular, and uploading photos and charging my iPad takes forever. Some of the posts will have to wait until we get back, but here are a few of the things we’ve done since arriving in Italy:

– We spent a day with a great driver and guide, Gilberto, who picked us up at 9:00 one morning and spent the next 8 hours showing us areas in Florence, Greve, Panzano, Castello Monterinaldi – a beautiful winery for a  tasting and tour, Montefioralle, and then a final stop in Radda. Not only did we see much of Chianti, but Gilberto also shared history about the area and great local information. The day was arranged for us by Riccardo at Suiteretreats.com.

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– I also asked Riccardo if he could suggest a cooking class for Chris, Matt and me to learn a little bit about the regional cooking. He did and it was amazing. Our class with Eleorna was held at Villa Monteoriolo, her family home and olive grove on a hilltop in Chianti outside of Florence. We cooked a traditional Tuscan meal, toured the property and had dinner in the Villa. That special experience deserves it’s own post or two.

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– One day we drove to Siena and spent several hours wandering through the beautiful old city. We all agreed it’s one of our favorite places. It was a bit rainy, but nothing could spoil the charm of the historic buildings, piazza, churches and shops.

– The next day we drove to Deruta in Umbria. I had read about Deruta as one of the places that has continuously made painted ceramics and pottery since Etruscan times. That fact together with a recent visit to the Getty Museum in LA and seeing original pottery from Deruta, made me determined to do a little pottery shopping. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only were there over 300 pottery shops in the area, Deruta is also a beautiful village built on a hill. It is about 30 minutes from Assisi, which we also visited the same day. Assisi was crowded but also peaceful and calm. It’s another place I’ll write more about in the future.

– Altogether we visited Florence 4 times. It was a short train ride from Figline and something we could do at the last minute if nothing else was planned. We visited historic sites, museums, night lights, had  leisurely lunches,  shopped in the markets, and sometimes just sat and did some people watching. Florence is fantastic.

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– One night we used the wood oven here at Villa il Castellaccio to make pizza. I was the pizza maker and Chris was the baker. We all agreed it was the best pizza we ever made. Another rainy day I baked shortbread cookies (easy since it only takes 4 ingredients, which we had on hand) and I perfected my Cappaccino making skills with nightly Cappaccino – a relaxing end to each day.

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– Other villages we visited included Dudda, Castellina in Chianti, Impruenta and Greve a few more times. Figline is our go to village for grocery shopping and Lucolena is just up the hill. And then there’s Pont-agli-Stolli that we drive through – between old buildings on a narrow windy road – on the way to Figline. They have what we call the “boys club”.  Everyday around 4:00 a group of older gentlemen sit in lawn chairs on a patio, smoking, drinking beer and watching the cars go by. I’d love to know what they’re taking about.

– Dining out is very leisurely no matter what the meal. Turning over tables doesn’t seem to exist and you’re never rushed. I think you could stay for the entire evening and never be pressed to leave. We found you have to ask for the check, otherwise you may be sitting at your table forever.

– Our grocery store is Lidl and it seems like we stop there every other day for something. I think I’m a regular now. The cashier no longer asks for my documents (passport) when I pay by credit card, and I’m greeted with Ciao! Donna Rae. The only other people who have used my middle name are my dad (when I was in trouble), in the south (Where I think they love to use middle names).

– We’ve been doing a lot of driving around the countryside, and yes Italian drivers can be a bit crazy. They drive fast, take chances when passing, motorcycles drive by their own rules, tailgating is a sport (following close at any speed) and as in the rest of Europe, stay out of the left lane on the freeway unless you’re passing. At roundabouts just go for it, otherwise you’ll sit there forever. And, at all times carry a GPS and set it to where you’re staying as home. Our trusty Garmin has not failed us yet. And if you’re driving in Italy rent a small car – streets are narrow and parking places are tiny. Make sure it’s a diesel – GREAT fuel mileage.

Tomorrow we head to Chamonix for two days in the Alps.  In the mean time we’re spending the last day packing, relaxing, going out for a late lunch in Greve and making our last cappuccino.

Ciao!

 

Galleria dell’ Accademia

This afternoon we took the train into Florence to visit the Galleria dell’ Accademia, an art museum that is home to Michelangelo’s sculpture the David. Even though we had reserved tickets for 1:00 p.m. we had to wait in line for about half an hour. This was minor though compared to the ticket line that stretched the length of the block and around the corner.

I’ve wanted to see the David since studying art history as a freshman in college, and reading and rereading The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel about the life of Michelangelo. The sculpture was larger than I expected and was amazing.

The museum, while quite small, has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings. There’s also a collection of sculptures in plaster by 19th-century artists, which were fascinating.

Note: click on a photo to enlarge and open a slideshow.