beaches, Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips

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

Now comes the scenic part of our trip… moving from Emilia-Romagna to Florence by way of the west coast…

As we were preparing to leave La Locanda del Borgo at Torrechiara Castle, Bill asked me if I wanted to go to Florence by way of Bologna, or by way of the Italian coast. Bill knew that I had visited Viareggio in 1997, back when I was just 25 years old and had a second class one month Eurail pass. At that time, I was broke, and traveling with friends who are now married to each other, live in Northern Ireland, and have six kids! We stopped there by chance, mainly because it had a beach, and we wanted to swim.

I had been wanting to visit Viareggio again, mainly because I have such fond memories of the pension where we stayed. It was a one star place– very cheap! But you could get half board there, and the food was excellent. Plus, I remembered that they asked us what kind of wine we preferred. My friends preferred white wine, so that’s what we got. They brought out a big jug of it every time we ate, over our couple of nights there.

We didn’t have time to stay in Viareggio for more than just lunch, but I was excited to see it again. Going by way of the coast also meant that we could finally visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is only about a half an hour from Viareggio. I’ve been to Italy a bunch of times, but never managed to see that very well touristed monument before last week.

Another bonus to going by way of the coast was that it took us through some absolutely GORGEOUS terrain… much prettier than what we would have seen, and did see on the way back, going by way of Bologna. Below are some photos I managed to get on our way to the coast as we made our way to Florence. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to get a good shot of Torrechiara Castle from the drive out. The view of the castle was much better on that route, but there was never a convenient opportunity to catch a shot of it from the car, nor were there any good pull off points. Pity. But at least I got some very beautiful photos of the countryside.

As soon as we stopped in Viareggio, I noticed a small “healthy fish restaurant” called e.Dai near where we parked the car. I knew that was where we’d have lunch, after we went to the sea, so I could touch the water. It was confirmed when I saw the toilet near the door (not every place obviously had one, and we both needed one). It was still too chilly for swimming, but lots of people were walking on the beach, and there were guys there hawking their wares. One tried to sell us a beach blanket, but we were only there to look at the water for a minute. I would like to go an Italian beach and stay for a few days. But it was nice to smell the air and look at the water… I even enjoyed seeing the seagulls. I grew up near the ocean, and I have missed beaches in the time we’ve been in Germany. Below are some scenes from Viareggio. It has kind of a carnival vibe.

After our quick visit to the water, we headed to e.Dai, where we were promised “healthy fish” dishes. I don’t know about that, but it was a nice change of pace to have fish instead of Parma ham or meat from other hooved animals. I miss seafood, too. The fish place did offer something new, but it wasn’t a cheap place at all. We both had sandwiches and wine, and the bill was about the euro equivalent of $50.

After lunch, we made our way south to Pisa, where we found a very convenient pay parking lot with a sparkling clean public toilet. A kind looking lady was collecting one euro from those who needed to use the toilet. I heard one American guy grumble about the price and say he wouldn’t pay it. I was happy to pay, because I had a feeling it cost the same at Pisa; the facilities wouldn’t be nearly as clean; and there would be a line. Sure enough, I was right. So, if you ever find yourself at that parking lot in Pisa and you need the facilities, I’m telling you it’s a good deal. Go ahead and pay the euro for a glorious piss. At least it’s clean, and you don’t have to wait. The lady who collects the euros keeps it immaculately clean!

We chose not to buy a ticket to see the Tower of Pisa, the cathedral, and the baptistery up close, mainly because we were pressed for time. These photos are just of the exterior, which one can visit free of charge. We also knew that climbing the tower meant lots of heavy breathing in confined spaces while wearing masks. I would like to visit again and do a proper visit. I’d also like to see the city itself, which I know is very vibrant and interesting in its own right. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity. April is a nice time to visit. It’s not too hot!

After our brief visit, we got back on the road to Florence, where we would spend the next three nights, and meet our wine tour group. More on that in the next post.

churches, cute towns, day trips, Germany, Mainz, restaurant reviews, Rhein, Sundays

Heavenly windows by Marc Chagall and heavenly eating at Heiliggeist…

Last month, when Bill and I went to Zürich, we visited the Fraumünster church. That church is famous for having beautiful stained glass windows created by the Jewish French-Russian artist, Marc Chagall. I wasn’t familiar with Marc Chagall before we saw his windows in Switzerland last month. After I posted some photos on social media, a German friend told me that I could also see Chagall’s work in Mainz, at The Collegiate Church of St. Stephan. We live close to Mainz, but before yesterday, we hadn’t been there in a long time. Not only did COVID-19 keep us away, but there was also some construction being done on the bridge over the Rhein River which made crossing over there problematic. The bridge connects our home state of Hesse with Rheinland-Pfalz. I had actually forgotten that going to Mainz means leaving the state!

I think the last time Bill and I went to Mainz, it was to see my old friend, C.W., who is an American learning about German wines. I worked with C.W. in Colonial Williamsburg, back in the late 1990s. C.W. moved to Washington, DC and worked in a succession of fancy restaurants. He later decided he wanted to work in the wine industry, so he’s been getting educated. In the fall of 2019, he came to Germany to work at a winery as part of his education. He came back in the spring of 2020, just before COVID shut everything down. We weren’t able to see him on that visit, and we didn’t visit Mainz again last year or this year. That means that yesterday’s visit occurred almost two years after our last one! We had a good time yesterday. We’ll have to visit Mainz more often, now that we’re vaccinated. It really is a neat town with much to discover.

After looking at the location of St. Stephan’s Church, Bill decided he’d like to go out to eat. He found Heiliggeist Restaurant (Holy Spirit) on Open Table and decided that its status as the oldest citizen hospital in Germany fit nicely with our church theme. He made reservations for 3:30pm because, apparently, there weren’t any earlier ones available. I’m not sure why that is, since there were plenty of tables available when we were there yesterday. But anyway, the church was open for visitation from 12pm until 4pm, so the late lunch/early dinner time slot worked out fine. We took my neglected Mini Cooper, since the weather was fine and I could put the top down. I had forgotten how different the atmosphere is in Mainz, compared to Wiesbaden. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

After parking at the theater garage, we trudged uphill to the church. It was about a ten minute walk from where we parked. I hadn’t realized the church wasn’t in the old part of the city and was kind of unimpressed with the neighborhood that surrounded it. From the outside, St. Stephan looks like so many of the other churches in Germany. That’s not to say it isn’t a beautiful or impressive structure. It is a very lovely church, especially compared to many American churches. I’m just saying that compared to a lot of churches in Europe, from the outside, it didn’t look any more or less spectacular.

But then we went inside, and my mind immediately changed about the beauty of St. Stephan… I was overcome by the cool, soothing, incredibly beautiful, and peaceful mood cast by the extraordinary blue windows… The entire inside of the church is bathed in a blue glow made by Chagall’s windows, the first of which was installed in 1978. Chagall was 91 years old in 1978, and he lived until 1985, which only goes to show you that when it comes to great accomplishments, age really is just a number.

As I took in the azure splendor of the great artist’s work, I realized that I much preferred Chagall’s windows in Mainz to Chagall’s windows in Switzerland. A bonus is, it costs nothing to visit this church. In Zürich, we had to pay five Swiss Francs each admission to see a few of Chagall’s windows.

Of course, I might have loved these windows more because my favorite color is blue. I also just loved the way they all worked in concert to give the church an overall mood. I donated some change to the church while Bill lit a candle for his father, then he purchased a CD of the organ and some postcards at the gift shop. He says he’s going to try his hand at picture framing. Since my dad made his post Air Force living framing pictures, it’s a shame he’s no longer around to show Bill the ropes. The CD is, of course, for me. I am more moved by music than visual artistic endeavors. My mom was a church organist for over 50 years, so I probably have more of an appreciation for organ music than a lot of people do. However, as I listen to the music now as I compose this post, it occurs to me that if I could have been listening to it while touring the church, I probably would have been overwhelmed. I definitely am glad we took the time to visit St. Stephan and see these gorgeous windows! The church itself has an incredibly long history, having been established in 990. It is the only church in Germany that has windows by Marc Chagall, and I must say, the windows dazzled me! What an inspiration!

It took about ten or fifteen minutes to walk from the church to the old town. I needed a restroom, but we had about an hour before our reservation at Heiliggeist, so Bill and I decided to stop at a cafe. I took some more photos on the way down. Mainz really is a nice town, and there’s still a lot we haven’t seen or done there.

At last, it was time to head to the restaurant. Thanks to COVID, everybody was sitting outside. I was a little disappointed, because I wanted to see the interior. I did get a few shots of the inside of the restaurant, but I would have preferred to eat indoors. Actually, I prefer eating indoors most of the time, as the seating is usually more comfortable; there’s no smoking; and we don’t have to contend with insects or other creatures. But the weather was good yesterday and it wasn’t too hot outside, so aside from uncomfortable chairs, I can’t complain too much.

Heiliggeist serves “fusion” food– Asian inspired and “new German”. They have a full bar, and a summer “carte”, as well as menu staples. Bill had the “Lachs Bowl”, which was very “Asian inspired.” I had the cold roast beef, which was more of a European thing. We both really enjoyed the food and the service. Prices are reasonable. Both my dish and Bill’s were priced below twenty euros each.

After about two hours at Heiliggeist, we headed back to the parking garage, which was about fifteen minutes away by foot. I took a few more images. All told, we walked about 2.5 miles. At least, that’s what my iPhone tells me.

We got back to the house at about 6:00pm. Arran and Noyzi were very happy to see us and gave us joyful greetings. We went to bed feeling pleasantly tired by the day’s activities. I think we need to spend more time in Mainz. It really is a nice town, and it’s so different than Wiesbaden is on so many levels. I feel fortunate that we have this chance to live in another part of Germany besides Stuttgart, and experience how different the regions are. I continue to be grateful that we can live here and see so much.

And here’s what St. Stephan’s organ sounds like… Heavenly! Wish I could have heard this majestic organ as we were gazing at the beautiful windows.

A quick dash to St. Goar…

We had beautiful weather again today, with lots of sunshine and perfect temperatures. October is usually chilly in Germany and last week, we did have cold, rainy weather. But this long Columbus Day weekend has been splendid so far, making me sad that we didn’t take a trip somewhere. Instead of going to a new place, we decided to visit a couple of the holiday spots that are near us. Yesterday, it was Worms. Today, we went to St. Goar, which is a darling little town right on the Rhein River. It’s famous for being the site of Loreley, which is a legendary steep, slate rock on the right bank of the river that lured many a sailor to his death.

I first visited Saint Goar in 1997, when I finished my Peace Corps assignment and flew from Yerevan, Armenia to Frankfurt, Germany, and took a month long train trip on a Eurailpass. My first stop on that trip was to Bacharach, which is a 650 year old cute little town on the Rhein that was recommended by travel guru Rick Steves. Steves mentioned St. Goar, and since it was pretty close to Bacharach, I took a short train ride there and wandered around a bit.

In 2014, Bill and I took a farewell to the Army trip to Germany and France. Our last stop, before we went to Ramstein Air Force Base and flew back to Texas, was in Bacharach. I had told him about the town so many times during the early years of our marriage, so we finally went there so he could see it for himself. I remember that visit turned out to be special for a couple of reasons. First of all, we ran into some Germans who were celebrating Father’s Day with their sons. They were mostly drunk, but very convivial, and one of them told Bill about how the U.S. Army helped his family escape East Germany before it became an Eastern Bloc state. And secondly, I remember telling Bill as I sipped a one liter krug of housemade beer, that I felt sure that we would be moving back to Germany. Sure enough, weeks after we returned to the States, Bill had a job offer in Stuttgart and we were on our way back to Deutschland, where we’ve been ever since.

And then, a few months ago, we went back to Bacharach. I’d been wanting to visit again for awhile, especially since we now live within an hour’s drive from it. Because of the dogs, we never end up spending enough time when we take these little trips. Now that we just have Arran, it’s a little bit easier. Hell, we should probably just take him with us. I had originally given some thought to going to Heidelberg, but the weather was so perfect and, because it’s a Sunday, going to Heidelberg where one can do some shopping, would be kind of a waste. Maybe we’ll go there tomorrow.

Since we’ve been to Bacharach a couple of times, we went to St. Goar. It took a bit longer to get there today because of road work on the Autobahn that held us up. Then, once we got on the two lane road that runs alongside the river, we were behind a BMW convertible out for a Sunday drive. I couldn’t blame the Beamer’s driver, though. We were in my Mini with the top down, soaking up what may be the last rays before perma-gloom sets in for the winter.

Naturally, St. Goar was packed with people. Parking was scarce, so Bill ended up driving up the side of the mountain that flanks the Rhein on the left bank. We pulled into the Rheinfels Romantic Hotel, which doubles as a cheesy tourist trap. We had to, really, because Bill had to pee like a racehorse. It was also getting late in the afternoon and we needed lunch. You can stay at the hotel, tour the castle, and eat lunch on a terrace that overlooks the river. They have a bistro there that doesn’t shut down, but serves very simple food, drinks, and desserts.

I would have liked to have checked out the castle, but we were a bit pressed for time. So here are some photos from our trip today…

As I mentioned in the photos, the people who were at the table next to us left an empty beer glass. There was a sudden, swift gust of wind, and the glass was blown off the table. It landed near my feet and shattered into many pieces. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the awning at our previous house, which was also blown over by a sudden gust of wind. In both incidences, the wind struck too suddenly for anyone to react and prevent breakage. No one was upset about the broken beer glass, but our ex landlady immediately called me “negligent” when her old awning broke due to a sudden wind. That just goes to show that wind is a capricious thing. Too bad I never learned to predict or control the wind.

Lunch was about 38 euros. To be honest, I wasn’t all that happy with the pasta. It was okay, but I can think of other things I’d rather eat. There wasn’t a lot of sauce on it, and what was on it wasn’t all that satisfying. But it kept me from getting hangry, and it was very nice to hang out on the terrace for awhile. St. Goar is a nice little town, and I like being able to visit the Rhein Gorge so easily. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation.

We decided to head back to Wiesbaden after we ate, since we knew Arran was wanting his dinner. The drive back was a bit more pleasant, although we hit another bottleneck in the area where the Autobahn is being repaired. I swear, there’s always a road project going on somewhere near where you live… but the good thing is that the roads are in very good shape here. I’m just happy we had a chance to visit– taking advantage of the marvelous temperatures and beautiful views. Germany is a very lovely place to live and we feel fortunate that we have the ability to visit so many interesting and pretty locations so close to where we live. And this area is different than Stuttgart is, which makes me feel even more fortunate… not everyone gets an opportunity to experience living in other countries, especially in two different parts of a foreign country. Living abroad seems to be my destiny.


From Wiesbaden to wine, women, and Worms…

We had nice weather today. It was the first nice, warm, sunny day in about a week. Or, at least the day started out nice, anyway. We have clouds right now. At about 11:30am, I asked Bill if he’d like to go do something. He said he would. I’d been wanting to visit Worms, a well touristed city in Rheinland-Palatinate, maybe an hour’s drive from Wiesbaden. So we beagle proofed the house, got in the trusty Volvo, and headed to the city of slimy critters.

Crossing the Rhein River into Worms… this is the  Nibelungenturm, built by architect Karl Hoffman’s, whose handiwork can be spotted all over the city. It’s pretty cool!

By the time we got to Worms, I was hungry. It was about 12:45pm when we parked, and then because Bill parked in an outdoor parking spot at Das Wormser, he only got an hour. It was long enough for me to take this photo of yet another one of Germany’s provocative ads. Well, it would be provocative in the United States, for sure…

Netto is a discount market… I guess the wardrobe budget was cut for this ad. 😉

So we made a quick trip to the Wormser Dom, the big Catholic church where Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic. More went on there, of course, but since I am neither a Catholic nor a student of history, I can’t write authoritatively on the cathedral, except to mention that it had a lofty history before it was reduced in status to a parish church. When you come to Worms, you’ll see it easily on the horizon, and it begs a visit. I got a few photos, which I noticed made Bill tear up.