Since we’re doing a couple big trips for the upcoming winter holidays [still not spilling the beans on what they are!], we decided to keep it simple for Thanksgiving weekend.
R’s work did a baked goods silent auction the day before Thanksgiving, so I started my festive baking a little early, with some French butter cookies and an apple marzipan pie [no recipe – like most of my fruit pies, it was my own creation]. I have a cookie stamp that says Frohe Weihnachten [Merry Christmas] that I was going to use on the cookies, which is why I chose this recipe. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons the cookies did not hold their shape/stamp, so I scrapped that plan after the first batch. Fortunately, I had some fun wintery sprinkles [snowflakes and silver sugar] stashed away, so I used them to make the cookies a little prettier.
On Thanksgiving itself, we had over one of R’s coworkers and his [German] girlfriend. It was a lot of fun, and there was lots of good conversation about all sorts of things [including German pronunciation, haha].
This was my first time ever cooking a turkey, so I prepped with lots of research. I knew I wanted to brine it, since that’s supposed to really keep it moist. I found a recipe that uses orange and rosemary, and since I love citrus + rosemary, that seemed like a winning recipe. I think the brine did its job well – when R was carving the turkey it was so tender it was falling apart in his hands. I had to laugh when R emerged from our studio after I’d been boiling the brine and announced that the house smelled like “medicinal farts.” I guess that’s what happens when you combine rosemary, orange peel, garlic, and apple juice hahaha. I would’ve said that it smelled kind of like Ricola herbal cough drops, but R’s assessment is way funnier.
When I was doing my turkey-roasting research I discovered I had a bit of an odd situation. The bird we’d bought was a cute little 5 lb turkey from France. Since I don’t eat meat and we were going out of town right after the holiday, that seemed perfect for three people [and it’s what was available]. I googled turkey roasting time charts, and… they all start at 8-10 lbs [and go up to a horrifying 24 lbs!]. The only thing I could find for “5 lb turkey” was for a 5 lb turkey breast. Nope! I wound up using a roasted chicken recipe for cooking time. Cause apparently in the US 5 lb chickens are normal [you definitely won’t find any that big in German grocery stores]. And since my bird was so small I was even able to use my cast iron Staub French oven. In the end, my cute little French turkey turned out lovely!
Before dinner, we enjoyed organic Sekt [German sparkling wine] that I was given at a gig, along with a couple Swiss cheeses, including the top-level Gruyère we bought when we were in Switzerland [it. was. amazing.]. For dinner, we had all the usual dishes [all from scratch, of course] – green bean casserole , sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cheesecake, and pumpkin pie [from a pumpkin pie recipe I’ve been using for years, combined with the chocolate pie crust from the other pumpkin pie recipe I love to use]. And some good red wine!
It was a long day, but the end result was worth it!
Our first stop of the day was cute little Dinkelsbühl. This town, along with several others on this trip, finds its way onto many lists of “Cutest German Towns”, “Quaint German Towns”, “Charming German Towns”, or any other lists along those lines. We bundled up in our winter gear and started walking. We didn’t have any particular list of things to see – in these towns it’s more just walking around to absorb the historical charm and see the colorful half-timber buildings. It was late morning when we arrived and things were still pretty dead. Shops started opening as we were walking around. We made a loop of the entire town and stopped by a couple of the towers dotting the medieval wall around the city.
The church was pretty typical of the area, with assorted fancy hundreds-of-years-old artwork and wood carvings, including some medieval guy with a really goofy look on his face. They had a nativity scene of sorts set up near the entrance. It was medium size [somewhere in between the little in-home ones and a life-size one], and it was kind of interesting. At first, I was puzzled. It was an entire town of half-timber buildings with figures and whatnot. The nativity part was all the way at the far end, and at the beginning was… a giraffe?? And naked people? In a medieval town? What?? And then all of the sudden the lightbulb in my head went off. Ohhhhhhhhhh, I see what they did there! That beginning part was the Garden of Eden, and it led all the way up to the nativity. So, basically, it was the biblical highlights from Eden to baby Jesus, all set in the town of Dinkelsbühl. It was way too dark in the church to get a picture of it, and way too spread out to take a good picture, anyway, but I still enjoyed seeing such a creative display.
I think my favorite part of Dinkelsbühl was the faded doors around the side of the church. The other set of side doors looked freshly painted, so I made sure to get some pictures of the prettily faded ones…who knows, maybe if I go back there again they will be repainted and not as cool looking.
We had some quick sandwiches at a little bakery. Good, cheap sandwiches are always easy to find in Germany! And then we made our last stop before heading out: the Weihnachtsmarkt. It was quite small; it definitely wasn’t one to made a special drive for, but we made a quick trip through it. It got me excited to get to some of the better ones in the next couple of days!
So, then we were off toward our second [and last] stop of the day, Nördlingen.
When I was doing my research on the town I found out that its actually located within a large meteorite crater. The full crater is much larger than the town – about 15 miles (24 km) in diameter. And this was only discovered in 1960, even though it happened 14.3-14.5 MILLION years ago! Apparently what tipped them off was the presence of a rock called coesite, which only forms [in the natural world] from a meteorite impact or an atomic bomb. Also very cool is that there are zillions of itty bitty diamonds found in the stone of buildings in Nördlingen – but don’t go getting your pick ax out yet, because they’re less than .2mm in size and completely worthless [if you could ever even get them out]. Collectively, though, they weigh an estimated 72,000 tons! The assumption is that the meteor hit graphite, which was turned into the tiny diamonds on impact. The rock then wound up being quarried and used for buildings by people who had no idea that they were using such special rock. Just to put the meteor impact in perspective: it’s estimated to have had the power of 1.8 million Hiroshima bombs! That’s so crazy! We didn’t visit the edge of the crater or anything, but it was very fascinating to learn about. I just really enjoy that kind of nerdy-nerd facts. *end of nerdiness*
Once we arrived we checked into our hotel, which was right in the historic downtown. It was about a block away from the Weihnachtsmarkt, so it was peaceful but still very accessible. There are so many pretty pastel houses lined up in rows as you walk around, with string lights and garland draped above the streets. The combination was quite pretty but, unfortunately, I missed the magic moment for taking a picture. It very quickly got too dark for the pastel colors to show up, but I thought I could take a picture the next day. I discovered the next day that they must only turn on the strings of lights in the evening, so I had missed my chance. Bummer.
The market was just opening for the evening as we strolled around, so we would up making several passes through it while it was getting into full swing. They had a big nativity scene in the center that included a pen with real sheep. The poor things looked like they’d just been moved there and seemed pretty freaked out by all the people. We stood there and watched them for a bit, but I kind of felt bad for them – all the flashes from cameras and little kids loudly bahh-ing at them. We shared an eierpunsch [my first of the season! finally!] and R tried a wurst from one of the stands. Since it was still on the early side for dinner [and we didn’t want to be sitting in the hotel starving later on from eating dinner too early], once we were done exploring the market we went into some stores. We even discovered a newly-opened craft beer shop, which is quite unusual in Germany. The guy who ran it was really nice and they had a small but very intriguing selection. They even had a gin made in Bavaria. I didn’t really want to buy a bottle then, but I’ll have to remember it for another time.
Once we were ready for dinner we went to Athena for dinner. Unlike most American Greek restaurants, which feel kind of diner-y, this was a nice restaurant – with Greek wines and everything. It’s also pretty cool that now when we see Greek decor or paintings we can actually recognize some of the things from our trip to Athens!
In the morning, we had breakfast at a coffee shop we’d walked past the night before, Samocca. We discovered that the restaurant is staffed by people with mental disabilities. All I can say is that everyone gave us a wonderful experience – when our server didn’t speak enough English to explain that they only had one sesame bagel left [and we had ordered two] they were so kind in bringing out the bagels to show us so that we understood. Most people wouldn’t care enough to bother doing something like that for us. And the coffee bean selection was excellent – so many different kinds!
We went for one last walk around Nördlingen before heading out. This is when we found some of the really fun buildings! It’s somehow refreshing to see a few houses in such disrepair amid all the cute pastel ones. Some seemed beyond repair, but there was at least one giant one that had been completely gutted and was mid-restoration. It’s always nice to see that old buildings are being valued and loved. We also noticed that there were quite a few houses that were rather precariously leaning or had very wavy walls. To think – in the US that would be deemed unsafe and torn down, but Germany is happy to hold on to its beautiful history.
After that last swing around Nördlingen, off we went. We made our way to the once place on our trip that wasn’t a tiny little town: Würzburg. This hadn’t originally been on my itinerary, but when I saw some pictures of the palace during my planning I had to add it in.
The palace was way cooler than I ever imagined! It is the first baroque palace we’ve visited here and it was so beautiful! You weren’t supposed to take pictures inside, except in the chapel, but I snuck a couple. They’re not great, since I only had a couple seconds while the guard wasn’t looking.
The palace was heavily damaged during WWII and only part of it has been restored, so you can only visit a portion of it. They had some pictures showing what other parts formerly looked like and what they looked like after the damage. And some showing the overall damage. It was heartbreaking. The more I see displays like that around Germany the more sad it makes me. And to think – beautiful pieces of history are still being destroyed in wars at this very moment. We never learn.
The chapel is somewhat small but extremely ornate, and they still hold services there.
There’s also a big garden behind the palace, so we took a little stroll. I’m sure it’s lovely in the spring and summer.
After that, we were off toward our final stop of the day – Miltenberg.
This might have been my favorite of the towns we visited. It was very small and quaint and there were so many nice shops along the main street. We were in need of some caffeine shortly after we arrived and we were willing to accept pretty much the first thing we came to, but then we stumbled across MIKA, a nice little coffee roastery/shop. They had lots of cool things in there, but we just bought our coffees and some Cuban coffee beans for a friend.
The market was sprawled a bit along the main road, with the biggest portion being in the main square. “Biggest” is a bit relative, though, because it’s not a very big market altogether. There was a town band playing carols in the square and it was all very festive. We wound up trying what was being called a Scandinavian Christmas Punch (with almonds in it), if I remember correctly. We’d never seen it before, so we figured we’d try something new.
After we’d seen all we wanted to see we found a restaurant we wanted to eat at, but we weren’t ready for dinner yet. Our accommodations were one town over, so we decided to go check in and then return in a little bit for dinner.
A lot of German restaurants or bakeries or whatnot have some guest rooms they rent out. This was the kind of place we were staying. We stayed at the guest rooms of Goldner Engel, a very nice restaurant in Laudenbach. It’s actually in the Michelin guide [although not starred], but it was just expensive enough we decided not to eat dinner there. We did, however, get to eat breakfast there the next morning. Not really the same, but our eggs were cooked to order by the restaurant’s chef, so we sort of had food there.
Our dinner back in Miltenberg was at Gasthaus zum Riesen [apparently the oldest guesthouse in Germany], where we got to try locally made beer. We each tried a different beer made by Faust, and both were good. The restaurant felt a little old-timey and home-y, but the food was quite good [better than you would otherwise expect from a pub-like place].
The next day we were making one final Weihnachtsmarkt stop before heading home: Michelstadt. I think this was the most charming and well-planned of all the markets we went to. They fill the market with beautiful wood statues and it’s clear right from the start that the town puts a lot of energy into the event. They had an official parking area with attendants guiding your way and signs pointing you into the market.
We didn’t wind up getting any food and we only spent a short time there because we were about ready to get back on the road heading home. But I just loved how you could feel all of the effort the town had put into this event. It definitely felt special and was a good end to our little tour of the Christmas markets.