churches, customs

A visit to St. Elizabeth’s Church, the Russian Orthodox Church in Wiesbaden…

Although we will have lived in Wiesbaden for four years at the end of November, there are still a lot of places in Hesse we haven’t yet seen. A big reason for that is COVID-19. Things have really only been somewhat normal since April of this year. There are a few other reasons, too… one of them being sheer laziness and feeling slack because not that many people read my travel blog anymore. Nevertheless, I still enjoy writing it and taking photos, and I know there will come a day when I’ll look back on these memories with fondness. So, with that in mind, I let Bill talk me into another excursion today.

St. Elizabeth’s Church is also known as the Greek Chapel. It was built between 1847 and 1855 by Duke Adolf of Nassau, to pay respects to the death of his 19 year old wife, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia. The couple had only been married a year when the duchess died in childbirth, as did their baby daughter. The duke was so bereaved that he decided to build the church around the duchess’s grave in her honor, using money from the duchess’s dowry. It is now the site of the largest Russian Orthodox cemetery in Europe, outside of Russia itself.

I had long been wanting to visit St. Elizabeth’s Church, a beautiful golden domed Russian Orthodox church on Neroberg, a hill overlooking one of Wiesbaden’s most tony neighborhoods with very grand homes owned by wealthy people. This church is the only Russian Orthodox church in our fair city, and besides being lovely, it offers some beautiful views of the city. There are also other things on Neroberg, to include a vineyard, a couple of restaurants, a pool, a climbing forest, and lots of walking paths. To get up to the church, one can either drive and hope to find a parking spot, or hope to find a spot at the bottom of the hill and take the Nerobergbahn, which is a funicular that goes up and down the hill. It’s also possible to walk or bike up there, but that’s definitely not for people like me. 😉 Especially in August!

Bill had warned me that today there would also be a large climate change protest in Wiesbaden, with many people riding bikes to rally for Earth friendly policies. Remembering last week’s Stau on A3, I was hoping we wouldn’t be hindered by the crowd. Fortunately, as you will see in the photos at the end of this post, we were leaving Wiesbaden, as they were coming in. Based on what we saw in Wiesbaden itself, there’s going to be quite a party going on. I know there was a food truck festival going on, too, but after last week’s shenanigans at the wine fest, we decided the church was a better bet today.

It took us a few passes to score a parking spot near the Nerobergbahn, and when we did find one, Bill had to parallel park. That shouldn’t have been hard in a 2020 Volvo with parking assist, but I don’t think Bill trusts it. Fortunately, he was able to park the SUV, and we made our way to the funicular, where we purchased tickets going up and down the hill. It’s important to note that the current 9 euro train passes don’t work on this funicular. You have to buy tickets, which at this writing, cost 5 euros per adult. If you just want a one way ticket, it’s 4 euros. They also have special rates for groups, families, and kindergarten groups with children. The ticket can also be combined with tickets for the climbing forest, which appears to be an adventure/tree climbing/zip line park for people more fit than I am. 😉

The funicular runs until 7:00pm at this writing, and there are two wagons that continually go up and down. The car is enclosed, so face masks have to be worn. As much as I hate masks, it makes sense, since it gets kind of chummy in there. If you score a standing place on the caboose, you don’t have to wear a mask. The ride is about three minutes or so, and you don’t see much as you go up and come down. Still, it beats walking.

When we got to the top of the hill, we went to a nearby Biergarten and had a snack, since I was a bit hangry and needed a bathroom. There were lots of people there, and I heard several different languages. I felt a lot less grouchy after Bill and I shared a Flammkuechen (Alsatian pizza) and washed it down with beer. I don’t even like Flammkuechen much, but I didn’t want a Schnitzel or a piece of cake. It was just enough, and after we ate, we walked around and got photos. I really just wanted some pictures of the view of downtown Wiesbaden, and the beautiful Russian church.

I already had Russia kind of on my mind, thanks to an advice column I read yesterday in the Washington Post. A woman wrote about how she’d married someone from Eastern Europe, and his family shows love by pushing food on guests. She explained that she has a lot of food issues, and isn’t comfortable eating a lot. I noticed a lot of the comments from Americans, most of whom either have no experience with Eastern European cultures, or no appreciation for other cultures. I commented that I empathize with the letter writer, since I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia, which is a formerly Soviet country. Food is a big part of their culture, which is all about hospitality. One of the first phrases we learned as Peace Corps Trainees was how to say “I’m full.” in Armenian. We were also taught how to signify that we were appeased, so the host(s) didn’t feel the need to keep bringing out food. Leave a little food on the plate.

Someone else commented that they had also been an Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer, years after I was there, and was going to write the very same thing! And I had also mentioned that Armenians would always comment when I lost or gained weight, too. That was another aspect of that culture I remember with somewhat less fondness. Sigh…

Anyway, I thought of that exchange as we decided to visit the inside of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s two euros per adult to go inside. One thing I had forgotten was that Orthodox churches don’t allow people to go inside with bare legs. Bill and I were both wearing shorts, so the lady behind the counter apologized and asked us both to put on wrap around skirts. It was a little embarrassing, but then I remembered the Armenians (and Greeks, now that I think about it) were the same. We had to cover our legs to enter the churches and not wear revealing clothes. I also told Bill to be careful not to cross his legs. That was another caveat we got in Armenia, lest some little old lady chastise us for being disrespectful. I smiled at Bill and said, “It’s taboo.” And now that I have looked it up, I see that my memory serves me correctly. Of course, it didn’t come up anyway, since the church doesn’t really have anywhere to sit. I mean, there aren’t any pews or anything. Maybe a couple of chairs.

Photography isn’t really allowed inside, but I snuck a few photos anyway, since I had to wear a skirt. No one noticed. I did appreciate the smell of incense and the beautiful Russian choral music. St. Elizabeth’s Church really is a very lovely church and well worth a visit. I’m glad we finally made the trip to see it.

After our visit to the church, we walked back up the hill to the overlook, where we saw a World War I memorial and gazes at Wiesbaden from the vantage point of the hill, in view of the vineyards. It was very beautiful. I might have liked a few fewer clouds, but given how dry it’s been here this summer, I’d say the clouds were probably Heaven sent.

Here are today’s photos…

Well, that about does it for today’s post. I’m glad we went out today and got to know our city better. It sure is POSH.

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churches, Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part five

Meandering around Modena…

I mentioned in the previous post that Bill had decided against visiting Bologna on this trip, mainly because parking can be tricky there. Bologna has an area where it’s strictly prohibited for non-residents to park their vehicles. The areas supposedly aren’t well marked, and fines are steep. So, since Modena also looked like an interesting place, he decided we’d go there.

Modena, which, like Parma, is also located in Emilia-Romagna, is on the south side of the Po Valley. It was about a 40 minute drive from our castle accommodations, which took us through some areas that reminded me a little of Mississippi. Probably the most traumatizing thing about our drive to Modena was when we passed a roundabout where there were cop cars. There were dozens of shattered wine bottles on the road, because a guy in a truck went too fast around the corner and lost about half his load. The police were sweeping up the glass and directing traffic as we passed. I wasn’t prepared to take a picture, which is just as well. It was a very sad sight indeed.

Modena has a huge parking garage outside of the walls of the city. From the parking garage, it’s easy to access the town with a short walk. Modena is known for its balsamic vinegar and expensive sports cars. Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati are either based there now, or were in the past. Lamborghini has since moved from Modena to Bologna.

Again, because of COVID restrictions, we didn’t have any big plans to see anything specific. Our goal was to get a feel for the city, have lunch, and people watch. One thing that I noticed and liked about both Parma and Modena, but especially Modena, is that the town did not seem touristy, at least during our very brief visit. I didn’t hear any Americans at all during my visit to Modena.

Maybe it seems wrong to write this, since I am myself an American, but it really is nice to be in a very authentic Italian town where there aren’t shitloads of my countrymen milling around, talking too loudly, and being obnoxious and obvious. On the other hand, I remember being that way when I was a lot younger and less aware of myself. But anyway, if you like places that aren’t catering to tourists, Modena is a good bet. And there’s plenty to look at and smell while you’re there. Modena was the one place on our entire visit where I routinely caught the aromas of things that smelled heavenly. I think it was mostly pizza, though…

In the photos, you might notice several young people wearing garlands on their heads. I’m not sure what that was about, but I got the sense it had to do with graduation. Modena has a university that was founded in 1175.

Here are some photos from our visit…

Right after I took a picture of the anti-dog poop street painting, we discovered our lunch spot, La Brusca Caffe, which happened to be near the pizzeria take out place that was giving off such heavenly aromas. This little hole in the wall was nothing fancy, but offered good food at inexpensive prices. We took our time and sat outside, enjoying the atmosphere of “the real Italy”. By that, I mean this is a place where you can get an authentic feel for Italy.

As for the food… it was okay. I would say it was nothing to write home about. Looks like some people on Trip Advisor agree. But it satisfied us and didn’t cost much at all. And they had decent wine. If we ever go to Modena again, we will make a different restaurant choice.

We walked around a little bit more, then made our way back to Torrechiara. We stopped briefly at a rest area outisde of Modena, as we both had to process lunch. I note that when we stopped, mask rules were still in place. And, as is the custom in Italy, in order to leave the building, we had to walk through the food and gift store. On the way back out of Italy, a few days later, we stopped at the same rest stop. At that point, masks were over.

The next day was Wednesday, the 26th of April. It was time to move on to Florence. More on that in the next post.

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churches, holidays, Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part four

Parma on Liberation Day…

As I mentioned in part three of this series, I chose to stay at our castle location near Parma because I knew there were several places of interest nearby. There’s Parma, Italy, where Parma ham and Parmesan cheese come from, Modena, which is known for wonderful balsamic vinegar, and Bologna, which is just alleged to be a beautiful city with great food and sightseeing. Bill did some research about Bologna and decided not to visit there, because parking was too much of a hassle. I definitely wanted to go to Parma, and Modena was interesting enough for a visit, too.

On the day we visited Parma, which was Monday, April 25th, it was Liberation Day. We did not know it was going to be Liberation Day before we planned our visit. We have a habit of being in different countries on their major holidays. We did the same thing last fall when we visited Wels, Austria. Anyway, Liberation Day was first celebrated in Italy in the year 1946. It was to commemorate the 1945 victory of the Italian resistance to Nazi Germany and the Italian Socialist puppet state. Because it was a holiday, the streets were crowded; some shops were closed; and there was a parade.

We managed to visit Parma’s beautiful cathedral and monastery, followed by lunch at a really cool restaurant where blues were accompanying the delicious food. Below are some photos of our day. Again, masks were required at that time, but as of May 1, 2022, masks are mostly only needed on public transport, in medical settings and nursing homes, and in sports venues, concert halls, or theaters. I note, once again, that Italy is stricter than Germany is right now. One of these days, I’m going to make a video of all the beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe.