**This is a beast of a post that took me forever to write – but hopefully it’s easier to read than it was to write!
As soon as we found out we’d be moving to Germany we already started harassing friends and family about visiting us. Lucky for us, some friends were able to take us up on it this summer!
Molly (our hornist friend who we went to NEC with and then was in San Antonio while we lived there) visited with part of her family: mom, dad, and her sister Gloria. It was very exciting to host our first houseguests! The Norcrosses were here for just over a week and we did a series of day trips with them to show them some of our favorite places and also explore some new places.
Since the Norcrosses took a red eye and arrived in Frankfurt at 7:30 am we decided to keep the first day relaxed. We introduced them to the bakery down the street, visited the castle in our town, and then I made some German food for dinner.
We started the day trips with a visit to one of our favorite places: Colmar, France. Colmar is filled with colorful half-timber buildings; it is the epitome of Alsatian quaintness. Although we’d been there before, we still found new places to check out, and it looked a little different than it did 5 months earlier. We were also joined by our friends Colby and Michelle.
The biggest difference was that there were a lot more people! The (pretty sizable) lot we’d parked in the first time was completely packed, but we eventually found another lot with spaces just outside of the busy area. We walked through the cutest section of town – known as La Petit Venise. This is where there are rows of colorful half-timber buildings along a little canal. The trees that had been filled with beautiful pink blossoms on the first day of spring were now full of dark maroon leaves, and there were lots of flower boxes everywhere.
We had lunch at at restaurant that had a kind of kitschy-quaint exterior, Brasserie des Tanneurs. The building was clearly old, filled with lots of aging beams and rustic Alsatian antiques. The food was, of course, also Alsatian – tartes flambées, hearty meat dishes, local wines.
After lunch we did more walking and exploring. It was pretty amazing how much more lively the city was this time! Ou first time there was on a Sunday, so most shops were closed and so were a lot of restaurants. There is definitely no shortage of beautiful buildings in Colmar, and I think I can safely say that the Norcrosses won’t be the only friends we’ll take there.
When activities for the Norcross visit were being planned Molly mentioned that she discovered that Trier is the sister city of Fort Worth, the city where she lives. Trier is a nearby city that had been on my radar but that we hadn’t gotten around to visiting yet. So it seemed like a good time to finally visit! Trier is most famous for being Germany’s oldest city and is sometimes called “the Rome of the North” because it is filled with ruins from the Roman Empire. The area was first settled in the early Neolithic period (somewhere in the 1,000’s of years BC) and then by a Celtic tribe around 400 BC, who were in turn kicked out by the Romans, who established their city there around 16 BC. The city is said to have rivaled Rome and Alexandria during its ancient heyday as the capital of Gaul. What a history! And you can really feel all of that history.
After the picturesque train ride to Trier, our first stop was the Kaiserthermen, the ancient Imperial Baths. There was an event being held there that weekend called Römerfest (Roman Fest). The area around the baths was set up as a Roman encampment and there were some very dedicated reenactors who were providing a snapshot of ancient life. With Germans reenacting life from over 2,000 years ago, I feel like seeing the Revolutionary War reenactors in Boston would make them say “well isn’t that cute.” It’s easy to forget how recent our own history is until you’re standing in the middle of a 2,000+ year old city!
Both before and after visiting the baths we took some photos at the nearby Kurfürstliches Palais und Palastgarten (Electoral Palace and Palace Garden), a gorgeous rococco palace. Even though we only got to see the exterior it was everything I expected from a baroque palace; it is a monument of pink and gold opulence.
Attached to the palace is the Konstantin Basilika (aka Aula Palatina), which was built around 310 AD by Emperor Constantine. It was definitely the most bare-bones cathedral I’ve ever been in, but you could really feel its age and history as you stood in the cavernous hall. Supposedly, horses were ridden right into the cathedral for knighting ceremonies. The cathedral originally had other buildings attached, which is evidenced by the sections of mismatched brick used to patch, and it was “redecorated”, if you will, throughout the years. After being damaged in WWII, it was renovated back to its original, simple state. The church is still in use and I was in love with the simple, modern organ that has been recently installed. I’m normally not a huge fan of adding modern elements to something so historical, but whoever designed the organ got it exactly right and captured just the right feeling so that the organ feels like it was meant to be there. This video displays it well.
After the basilica, we walked over to the main squares of Trier. First stop was lunch! We ate some amazing German food in the secluded courtyard of Zum Domstein. In addition to their exceptional take on local German cuisine, they also had some offerings that were recreations of ancient Roman recipes! Randolph went that route and his food was very intriguing, although too sweet for my taste. I would definitely want to eat there again if/when we return to Trier!
Next we walked back across the square to the Trier Dom (Cathedral of Trier). It was the complete opposite of the Konstantin Basilika. It is filled with beautifully ornate baroque details. The two things I loved the most about it were the navy and white ceiling dome and the use of black marble. Both of those elements were very distinctive.
Our last stop was the Roman Porta Nigra, but first… more beautiful half-timber buildings! I was both surprised and entertained to see that H&M was housed in this building, but they were hardly the only mega-chain in one of these buildings.
The Porta Nigra dates back to the infancy of Trier, about 180 AD. It gets its name from the black tinge on the stones. Although there were once four such gates, this was the only one to survive – thanks to a hermit monk who refused to vacate it for its planned destruction in the early 11th century. I’m sure he had no idea we’d still be marveling at it 1,000 years later… but, thanks, St. Simeon!
This was one of the day trips I was most looking forward to! Rothenburg ob der Tauber (not to be confused with the many other Rothenburgs in Germany) is on pretty much every list of “must visit” cute German villages. It is a beautiful medieval village with an interesting history and it was even the inspiration for the village in Disney’s Pinocchio. Its WWII history is a bit dicey; it was held up as an example by the Nazis as “the most German of German towns”and its citizens were staunch Nazi supporters. While you might think that this would make it a valuable target for American bombs (since that’s typically how we roll), the world is fortunate that the Assistant Secretary of War knew how historic and beautiful it was, and ordered it to be spared destruction. American soldiers were sent to deliver a message to the Germans: we will agree not to bomb this town if you agree not to defend it, but if you refuse we will bomb it. Fortunately, the Germans saw the value in this agreement, so Rothenburg was not destroyed in the war like so many other beautiful places were.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber still has its Medieval walls and you can even climb up the stairs for a good view (or a good photo op!). As soon as you walk through the wall it’s rows and rows of beautiful, colorful half-timber buildings. When you enter the town square you just want to spin around in circles looking at all of the gorgeous buildings! We walked around and wandered into some shops, then took in the good view just outside the wall.
We ate dinner at Zur Höll (“to hell”), which is located in Rothenburg’s oldest house, dating back to the year 900 (wow!). There weren’t exactly a ton of options for a non-meat eater like me, but one of their specials was a chanterelle mushroom dish, which was delicious. And they had a very extensive wine menu, which is always a plus for me.
There were some stops made for goodies (like Randolph’s holiday favorite – schneeballen) and more photos.
Then it was back on the road. Our trip to Rothenburg had been a bit frustrating – for some reason the traffic was awful and more and more delays kept popping up on the GPS. It took waaaay longer to get there than it should have. Unfortunately, that was not to be our only difficulty of the day. We had once again been joined by Colby and Michelle, and their car decided that the drive back home from Rothenburg would be a good time for the alternator to break. We wound up hanging out with them at the rest stop for a while and, luckily, Colby was able to get on the phone with their insurance, who set up a tow truck for them. I smushed as many people into our car as I could and Randolph stayed behind for moral support. It was an interesting (and certainly unforgettable!) evening.
For Day Five it was back to a city that Randolph and I visited in our very early days in Germany. We previously visited Heidelberg for its beautiful Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market). Back then it was dark, cold, and filled to the brim with holiday cheer, plus we were still disoriented newbies. It was very cool to see the city again in a completely different light (literally – no colorful holiday lights). Shortly after arriving on the train we made our way to lunch at Brauhaus Vetter, which serves German food (duh) and their own beers. Randolph and I both tried their summer seasonal beer, which was very refreshing.
Once we were fed, it was time to climb up to the castle, Heidelberger Schloss. When Randolph and I were there in December the yard next to it was filled with a market and the castle had colorful lights being shone on it (red, blue, purple). The castle courtyard was filled with a giant Christmas tree and the walls looked yellow with the lights shining on them. I was surprised to find that it’s actually built from red stone – completely different perspective! We were also able to venture into some parts of the castle, which had been closed in December for a special event. We even saw a giant wine barrel and the pharmacy museum.
Time to check another country off my list! Randolph already went to Luxembourg for work earlier in the summer, but this was my first time. It’s surprisingly close…the train was a couple hours, but if you drive it’s only 1.5 hours. Luxembourg City is a very charming city – about what you would expect from a small, happy country. The culinary highlight was Oberweis, maker of glorious desserts. I’ll admit – I cheated… Randolph brought back two fancy desserts when he went there for work. But we ate lunch there (delicious!) and then ordered some beautiful desserts.
The day ended with a trip to Chocolate House, where I bought some fancy truffles to take home. They also sell an insanely varied selection of “chocolate spoons” (you stir them in hot milk to make hot chocolate), but we already have a few of those that Randolph brought back from his trip.
After all those whirlwind day trips we kept it chill by sleeping in and then visiting Kaiserslautern, the small city right next to us.
I finally got to visit the fountain that I’ve seen many pictures of. It’s intended to be climbed on – there are even built in steps. It makes for some good photo ops.
This was the activity I was most looking forward to – a Rhein River cruise!! Colby and Michelle joined us for this one, too – hopefully it helped eased some of the “broken car” stress.
You start in either Rüdesheim or Bingen (Bingen for us, since it’s on our side of the river) and cruise to St. Goar, spend some time there, then cruise back. All along the way is an endless stream of castles, cute towns, and steep vineyard slopes. One of the towns along the way is Oberwesel, which Randolph and I visited back in March and loved. I absolutely loved the cruise and I think everyone else did as well!
While we were in St. Goar we visited Rheinfels Castle (built in 1245, now in ruins), which was a pretty cool place. I think you could spend an entire day exploring the different paths through the castle – we definitely only hit a small portion of them. We made sure to save time for a snack in town before heading back – Black Forest Cake, ice cream, and other tasty desserts.
Across the Rhein from St. Goar is St. Goarhausen. There is a ferry that shuttles vehicles back and forth across the river all day. I even saw a tractor and a coach bus go onto the ferry! I believe the closest bridge is in Koblenz, about a 30 minute drive away, so the ferry is smart and fast.
On the way back I got some pictures of the famous Lorelei, a steep cliff that is the setting of Germany’s version of the siren legend. That particular section of the Rhein is very narrow and deep, so it has been the site of many shipwrecks over the years. Even now signal lights are still used to direct boats and ships.
LIZ AND ANDREW!
Liz and Andrew are friends of mine from NEC undergrad (Liz and I were roommates for a year). They now live in Vancouver, so I very rarely get a chance to see them. But since they were doing a European cruise with Andrew’s family they also made plans to spend some extra time in Europe and come visit us!
For the first day, we were joined by another friend from NEC undergrad, Kevin (he and Randolph also know each other from a summer festival in high school, as we discovered long ago). He was in Darmstadt for their new music festival and was able to get away for a day to hang out. Not a bad gathering of NEC people!
A castle that I’ve seen many pictures of but we hadn’t visited yet is Burg Eltz. It is one of the rare castles that was never destroyed in war and is located near (but not on) the Mosel River, another big wine producing area. Some wine tasting would be nice on a future outing, but since we had to get Kevin back by a certain time we stuck with just that castle. It did not disappoint! It was even more beautiful and cool than it looked in pictures. You start out with a little hike through the woods (I’m pretty sure the isolated location contributed to the castle’s longevity) and then you walk out of the woods and there it is. The long stone walkway leading up to the castle makes for great pictures.
We just barely had enough time to do the tour and I’m glad we did. While we were waiting for the next English tour we started out in the galleries of weaponry, jewelry, and housewares from the castle. We worked our way out to the very beautiful courtyard.
Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the castle, but you tour through a section of the castle, which is set up with very well-preserved (and extremely old) furniture, artwork, and other pieces. The castle was inhabited by three different branches of the same family, so you’re touring through the living area of just one of the families. The castle is still owned by a member of the same family, and there is a family photo of the modern owners in the same room that is filled with paintings of the older owners. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to own an ancestral castle!
There are steps that go from the castle way down to the grounds below. There is a little creek down there, with a bridge over it that leads to hiking trails through more forest. I would definitely like to go back again in the future to check that out!
Because Liz is always my cheese and wine partner in crime, we spent the evening having lots of cheese and wine at our house.
We decided that a good Sunday activity (since most things are closed) would be to go to the Black Forest. Like the other places we’d already visited Triberg was much different than it had been our first time there. Because Triberg is a touristy little town there were actually still some places open – cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. We started with some lunch (very good German food and wine).
Next we went to the Triberg Wasserfälle, something that Randolph and I hadn’t done our first time. It is sometimes billed as Germany’s highest waterfall, although I would have to disagree. It is not one continuous waterfall, but rather sections that all join up. It’s not exactly Niagara Falls, but it’s still beautiful! Even though some of the hiking paths around it are paved, it’s still very much within nature, and that’s a big part of its beauty.
We obviously wouldn’t leave the Black Forest without having some of its namesake cake, so we headed over to Cafe Schäfer and shared a slice, plus some coffee to keep us awake for the drive home.
While we were driving through the Pfälzerwald on our way home there was a weird little rainbow that appeared. It wasn’t an arch, it was just a rectangle of rainbow hanging out above a cloud. Strange but pretty.
Randolph had to go back to work on Monday (boo), but after I dropped him off I headed off with Liz and Andrew for another adventure.
I’d found information about Hängeseilbrücke Geierlay (Geierlay Suspension Bridge), Germany’s longest suspension bridge. It seemed like something fun to do, and involved a short hike, too. It was a little odd, I guess, but enjoyable.
First of all, the bridge is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s in a little town that I can’t imagine any tourists ever going to before the bridge was opened in 2015. The town is very beautiful, though. It was so peaceful and there were many pretty little buildings, although it seemed oddly short on establishments serving food. Liz got very excited because there was a corner lot with a ton of chickens! I think there were at least five different sections, each with a different breed of chickens. Randolph was really missing out (he loves chickens). So, before we went to the bridge we spent some time visiting the chickens, who seemed pretty content with life.
To get from the town to the bridge you walk on a path through some wheat fields. When we were driving out of town later I realized that the long line of visitors trekking through the wheat fields looked very odd as you were driving by this tiny town. Eventually you walk through some trees and then there’s the bridge! It’s pretty impressive looking. It’s suspended over a forest valley and everything is green as far as the eye can see. There are several different hiking trails you can continue onto after crossing the bridge, although we didn’t go on any of them since we had to get back to pick up Randolph.
After we picked up Randolph we drove into Kaiserslautern so we could show Liz and Andrew our local city and do some souvenir shopping. Liz wound up buying a dirndl and then we had dinner at our favorite local German restaurant, Spinnrädl.
Liz wanted to visit the Heckel factory while they were here so she could try out bocals (and hopefully buy one). We spent a couple hours there, and she found one!
We already went on our trip to LA, so that post will be up very shortly!