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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booze tourism

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

Back in Florence for one last night…

We arrived in Florence in the early evening. Tom pulled his van into the parking area where he had originally advised Bill to park. He wasn’t able to park there, though, because it was full when we arrived. Consequently, Bill had to go get the Volvo from the garage. While he was doing that, I said goodbye to the other group members, who all headed off in different directions. Tom, very kindly, stayed with me while I waited for Bill. He asked what I thought of the tour.

I’m afraid I might have been more blunt than necessary, but that was mainly because I really needed to pee, and we didn’t stop on the way back to Florence. I know I should have said something… I’m sure the others might have even been grateful. I know Bill would have. He always needs to go, because he takes blood pressure medicine that makes him have to urinate a lot. I told Tom that, if I was honest, I hadn’t really wanted to do a tour. That’s certainly not because of his services, though. It’s because, like I said, I’m just not very good at “the group thing”. I know some people find me annoying, and I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m annoying people, simply for being myself. I was also concerned about COVID-19 policies, but thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be a problem. My lifestyle probably makes me less appreciative of strict schedules, even though I know they’re necessary. But, that’s just me. Some people are great in a group situation. I fully own that I’m less so, especially since I’m out of practice since we’ve been dealing with COVID life since 2020. I don’t hang around people much, and it probably shows.

In spite of my comments in the previous paragraph, I genuinely enjoyed this wine tour. I’m really glad I did it. 😉 I would not hesitate to book another tour with Tom. I thought the price, especially for what we got, was very reasonable. It was 875 euros per person. We owed him more than the 1750 euros, since he booked two extra nights for us at the Hotel Firenze Capitale. But, for the base price, considering that it included two nights in hotels, four meals in restaurants, tours at four different wineries in several different towns, and Tom’s professional services, I think it was a pretty good deal. I really liked the places where he took us, and I was impressed by his language skills and business connections. He’s also very knowledgeable about the wines in Tuscany, and the region itself. The payment was easily handled by bank transfer after the tour.

Bill and I talked about it, and we were a little reminded of our very first cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship in 2009. It was a four night Baltics cruise that went from Oslo to Stockholm on a ship that carried 1500 passengers. We had a very good time, but by the end of the cruise, Bill said “I would happily take another cruise, but I think I’d rather do an all inclusive luxury cruise.” Those words were, of course, music to my ears. Since then, we’ve cruised three times on SeaDream I and five times on Hebridean Princess. Both ships are small, luxury vessels. I know… I know… high maintenance!

In spite of my years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am definitely not a “no frills” traveler. At least not anymore. Maybe roughing it for two years in a developing country does that to a person. 🙂 I’m also getting older, so I would probably prefer a tour that happens at a somewhat slower pace. Bill said he would really like to do a private tour with Tom, which I know can be arranged. We would consider doing another regular tour, too, although I think it might be better to do it with people we know. That way, people are forewarned about my unorthodox sense of humor and many personality quirks. Again, that’s easily arranged, since the tours are pretty small. I appreciated that Tom made the logistics relatively easy, which I know can be a real feat. He was very professional and, again, it was nice of him to wait with me. I didn’t expect him to do that.

It took Bill awhile to get back to the parking area, so we moved my bags to the other side of the road to make it easy to load the bags and get on our way. Bill picked me up, and we headed for Hotel David, which at this writing, is Florence’s #1 ranked hotel on Trip Advisor. After our one night there, I can see why it’s so popular. I booked Hotel David because I was looking for a hotel with parking. Hotel David’s rates include free parking. However, besides parking, the hotel offers a free social hour with wine, beer, and other beverages in the hotel’s yard. Breakfast is included in the rate, as is the minibar. And our room was beautiful and very comfortable, and beautifully appointed. I would say that now, after having stayed in four Florence hotels, Hotel David is easily my favorite, even though the somewhat stern message they sent ahead of our arrival put me off a little bit.

I’m glad I didn’t cancel. This warning message turned out to be a non-issue.

We arrived on May 1, though, and that was the happy day when the mask mandates in Italy were lessened somewhat. We only had to wear a mask when we were at the buffet at breakfast. I really enjoyed the aperitif hour in the garden. We met two other American couples who were very friendly and nice to talk to. It reminded me that people outside of the American military community can be very refreshing company. One lady we talked to was from Boston. I found her utterly charming. I could tell she was a good friend and loving family member. She was so excited to be in Italy, and it was really nice to talk to someone who was so happy to be in Europe and not jaded. Below are some photos from our stay at beautiful Hotel David. I would not hesitate to stay there again, although again, the elevator is TINY. I always cracked up when I saw signs advising only four people were allowed in the elevator at a time. I don’t know how four people could possibly fit!

Total cost for a night in the superior room we booked was about $270. Cheaper and different sized rooms are available, and if you book on their site, you get 15% off your rate. I booked on Expedia, so I didn’t get the discount. If we book there again, I’ll know better. They even have a quad room, and singles. We had a very restful night, and it was so easy to load up the next morning and get on our way to the next destination, Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where we would be relaxing and decompressing a bit before coming back to Germany. More on that in part fifteen.

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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.

A busker entertained us with Bach. He made me cry.

The monastery is located very close by the Parma Duomo. We had to wear FFP2 masks to see the library.

After more walking around, and more photos taken, we found our way to a quiet little plaza where we had lunch at a restaurant called Osteria del Teatro. This was a cute and popular place where excellent blues music paired with really nice local dishes and wines. Old vinyl records were used as placemats!