Monday, June 18, 2012

Lake Konstanz

Last weekend was absolutely gorgeous, and to put that good weather to use, Kyle and I took a day trip to Lake Konstanz. Even though we had just received our shipment of household goods from Maryland and our house was a complete wreck, we couldn't pass up a summer day like that in the house.

Lake Konstanz (the Germans call it the Bodensee) is on the southern border of Germany and also borders Switzerland and Austria, about an hour and 40 minutes away. Being on the German side and looking across the lake has a breathtaking view of the Alps. The water is turquoise blue and scattered with sailboats. Your eyes just can't get enough of that view! We started off by having a picnic lunch at an overlook where the central feature (besides the view) is a huge cross and crown of thorns.

We then made our way through the medieval and picturesque town of Meersburg. Like most medieval towns, it is surrounded by a wall with a schloss, or castle, at the center, and has narrow streets lined with half timbered houses with flower boxes in the windows. But what makes this town so special is the lake side promenade. What better way to spend a summer day than sitting lakeside, drinking coffee, and eating ice cream? I'll tell you- eating ice cream that looks like spaghetti! My vanilla "spaghetti" ice cream was topped with an amaretto cherry sauce and shaved white chocolate to look like Parmesan cheese.
The town of Meersburg

We spent the rest of the afternoon at a winery on the lake doing some tastings. We bought a bottle of Aufricht Weingut's Gelber Muskateller.

After driving home we decided to ride our bikes (after piecing them together) from our house to a biergarten in the forest behind our town.  (Not quite sure where the energy came from, but it stays light really late, so we might as well!)  While the hills were a bit more than we anticipated, a couple half-liter beers awaited us at the end of the ride!

Our village is in the back.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Castle and Update

We're getting closer and closer to feeling "normal."  Our household goods from Maryland will arrive this Friday, I got my smartphone (I-phone), we have our other car, we acquired a vacuum and microwave, and Gizmo is acting normal again!  A challenge that we realize we'll face often: where in Europe should we go next.  There's three main categories to consider: local, regional or "foreign."  The problem (albeit, a good one) is that there are so many fantastic festivals and local events, one could easily stay busy in the Stuttgart area alone for quite some time.  The other "problem" is revisiting a place we love.  A good example in the States may be, "Do we go to Disney World again or someplace new?"  Or maybe a favorite Florida beach, etc. 

Anyway, we decided on "regional" last week and visited Hohenzollern Castle.  This fortress/palace served as the home for many Prussian/German rulers over the ages.  It's magnificent in location, scale and in its views.  Amazingly, the castle is still owned by the Swabian and Prussian family lines today.  There are even family photos alongside hundreds-year old paintings inside the castle.  I didn't get any distant shots of the castle, so I'll let Wikipedia provide those.  The rest are ours:

Burg Hohenzollern ak.jpg
Outside View of Hohenzollern Castle (Wikipedia)
File:Burg Hohenzollern mit Schwarzwald2.JPG
Distant View of Hohenzollern Castle (Wikipedia)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Flaming Castle

Lori and I ventured up to Heidelberg this past weekend to see a fantastic visual display called Schloss in Flammen, in Heidelberg.  Meaning "Castle in Flames," the event is an interesting commemoration of its very destruction by the French in 1693.  Portions of the castle date back to 1214 AD, however it has been destroyed by lightening and wars alike over the centuries with rebuilding periods in between.  Portions of the castle are considered to be an ideal example of German Renaissance architecture. 

View of Castle Ruins from a City Square
Shell of its Former Self
A Perfect Place for an American-German Wedding
Great View of the Castle before the Show

The castle, which sits atop a hill above the city, looks down on a pedestrian bridge.  This bridge is where they shoot off fireworks in concert with the castle's light/firework display.  The combined show is mesmerizing and unforgettable. 

The Castle has just been "Shot" by fireworks from the bridge below and is now ablaze

The Bridge, Mid-Show

Heidelberg itself is known as a city for romantics because of its baroque architecture and picturesque city streets.  We walked the main pedestrian street lined with shops, cafes, bars, and bakeries.  Luckily, the vast majority of the city escaped damage from World War II, thus preserving this 1,300+ year old city.

View up the hill

The Neckar River

The Romantic City of Heildelberg

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend, French Style

For our long Memorial Day weekend we took a road trip to the Alsace region in north east France.  This area of France is just across the Rhine and is only about a 1.5 hour drive from our house.  Although we missed the cook outs and pool time stateside for the long weekend, we really enjoyed ourselves in such a beautiful country.

We started out in the city of Strasbourg, which dates back to 12 BC.  Strasbourg, as well as the entire Alsace region, is a quirky and unique blend of French and German culture.  It was fought over and handed back and forth between the French and the Germans many times.  The Strasbourg Cathedral of Notre Dame is definitely the most impressive building in the city.  Construction started in 1647.  Amazing!

We also visited "Petite France", the oldest and most charming part of town.  It feels like you stepped back into time when you walk through the narrow streets and along the canals lined with crooked half timbered buildings.

As a tourist in Strasbourg, you have to take a boat ride along the rivers and canals, complete with cheesy earphones to hear the history of the town in English.

That evening, we headed through the countryside on the "Wine Road."  The Alsace region is known for its wines, particularly Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. The Wine Road is in a valley between the mountains of the Black Forest in Germany and the Vosges Mountains of France.  The rolling hills are covered with vineyards.  You can see remains of chateaus and castles on the tops of mountains.  The road takes you through quaint towns and villages where you can stop in tasting rooms to try out the local wines that are delicious and surprisingly cheap!   Some of the towns we drove through reminded us of Belle's town in Beauty and the Beast; picture perfect!

Our hotel was in the town of Colmar, a larger town along the wine road.  It is such a beautiful, quiet and picturesque town with canals, cobblestone roads, and side walk cafes. The food was an interesting mix of
French and German- think crepes and kraut.   Colmar is also the birthplace of the Statue of Liberty!

This area is known as "Petite Venise"
More "Petite Venise"
Enjoying Dinner Al Fresco
Mmmmm, a puck of goat cheese  :-)
On Sunday we spent more time in the country side along the wine road. We went to a bird and wetlands animals refuge/zoo where we saw otters, huge hamsters (yes, really), fish, ducks, swans, and to top it all off, storks! I had no idea, but storks live in the wild and are the "mascot" of the Alsace region. You'll see their huge nests high up on the top of churches. The noise they make sounds like weird, clicking aliens.
Mamma and baby stork!

Baby stork smiling for the camera

An otter in search of fish

Our first ever Black Swan!

Our next stop was the château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. It is a medieval castle sitting high on a mountain overlooking the valley. It has an amazing view from the top, which is worth the drive alone. As we were waiting in line to buy tickets to tour the castle, the power went out, so unfortunately we didn't get to go inside. We walked around the outside, which was still pretty cool, and we also had coffee at the outdoor cafe overlooking the valley. (French coffee + sun + view = perfection :)

We spent the rest of the day stopping in the villages to stroll the streets and taste wines.

We headed back to Colmar to have dinner and stay the night before our drive home on Monday. Instead of taking the Autobahn back, we decided to take the scenic route through the Black Forest, an excellent choice. We saw so much beautiful scenery this weekend, and Kyle took TONS of pics. Be sure to check out more of the pics on Flickr (right side of screen.)

Every place that we've gone so far we want to go back to see more and the Alsace was no exception. I hope you're taking notes for what you want to see when you come visit!