My niece and her husband live in Lüneburg, an historical, attractive and livable town located about 31 miles from Hamburg. Lüneburg is located between the Elbe river and the Heathland. The Heathland or Heide (as it is called in German) is rural area with heather, juniper and farm houses covered with straw-thatched roofs. Lüneburg was not destroyed during the war and has retained its medieval character. It is one of the prettiest towns in northern Germany and dates back 1000 years. Lüneburg was once a very wealthy town thanks to its salt industry, which was the gold of the Middle Ages. In the town, you will find old magnificent buildings in northern German gothic style, and narrow alleyways. The old city hall was built in 1230 A.D. and today is still the city hall. I always enjoy my visits to Lüneburg because I get to spend some time with my niece and her husband. On previous visits, I have gone to the Salt Museum and water tower.
After Lüneburg, my niece and I spent three wonderful days in Berlin. We arrived on a Friday and my niece invited two of her friends to enjoy the evening and have dinner together.
I am a creature of habit and like to stay in the Mitte (the new center of Berlin). From here, I can walk to Museum Island and one of the opera houses. Unter den Linden is one of the main streets with the Brandenburger Tor and many more attractions. Our hotel, The Westin Grand Berlin has a grand lobby with a bar where we met my niece's friends for a drink. Then we went to a very "in" and super cool restaurant called Crackers for a wonderful dinner. The menu is diverse, fresh and modern. Someone on Trip Advisor described this place as a cool hip spot with stylish food, I agree! I had vegan ravioli with a hazelnut sauce that was delicious. I like going out with the younger generation and enjoy listening to their stories.
On Saturday, we had a lazy morning and did some shopping in the afternoon. We had lunch at Galeries Lafayette, a French department store. They have a wonderful food section. In the evening, we went to the "Komische Oper," which is next to our hotel and saw Der Jahrmarkt von Sorotschinzi (translated as the Fair at Sorochyntsi), an opera by Mussorgsky. The chorus was fantastic, with some Ukrainian folk tunes that are incorporated into the opera. There is additional music composed by Rimsky-Korssakov. The lineup of folk archetypes includes a drunken father, a daughter, and a stepmother's aphrodisiac baking. She makes dumplings to keep her lover and has a bizarre encounter with an oven-ready turkey.
A wonderful weekend goes by fast. On Sunday, we strolled along the Spree River visiting some open-air markets and the Alte Nationalgallerie at Museum Island. Museum Island is now a UNESCO world heritage site and I always enjoy a visit to one their beautiful museums. The Old National Gallery shows a collection of Neoclassical, Romantic, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork. You will find many famous names in this beautiful gallery like Cezanne, Renior and many more. This gallery was designed by Fridrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in the 19th century, who dreamt of creating a "sanctuary for art and science".
My favorite painting in the gallery is the "Little Princess of The Heath", die Heidenprinzeßchen by Fritz von Uhde. The little girl reminds me of myself, I like her attitude.
What else is a girl to do when she sees some beautiful hats that are handmade by a local artist? Support the local artist of course! Soon, it was time to say good bye and this good bye was easy, because we knew we would see each other again in May in California.
Whenever you are in Germany, try the curry wurst, a sausage slathered with ketchup and sprinkled with curry and paprika powder. Read more about Berlin here.
Several decades ago when I first immigrated to the United States, I spent my first night in New York City. I was afraid of and fascinated by this amazing metropolis. While living on the East Coast, I visited a couple of more times but never stayed overnight. My first real visit was in 2002, when my husband and I stayed for a week. The wounds of September 11 were wide open and the city was slowly recovering. After that, there were several more visits.
We arrived after a 5-hour flight from San Francisco. The flight was not pleasant, but I managed to get through it by reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Our book club chose this fascinating book for our next meeting. After checking into our hotel, we found a small French restaurant in our neighborhood and had a pleasant meal. It was nice to watch the locals and tourists alike.
I packed this day full of outdoor walking activities because there was a tropical storm warning for New York. We took the subway to have a cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. Imagine a marriage between a croissant and a donut. If you like to learn more, click here. The lines were not long and we walked out with our boxes of goodies 10 minutes later. Of course, I had to add a salty caramel eclair to my bag. The cronuts only made it to the next bench in a little park, where my husband and I inhaled them. They were delicious.
Having to walk off some extra calories, we continued walking to Washington Square and then took a taxi to Eataly where we had lunch. Eataly is a foodie's paradise. If you want Italian crafted eats, you will find it all: fresh house made pasta, cookbooks, homemade gelato, great prosciutto and a strong cup of Lavazza expresso. There are several restaurants to choose from. We had lunch at the fish counter. I had a tasty octopus salad and my hubby had the best little flatbread ever (they called it a pizza). It was divine, filled with mozzarella and then topped with clams. The couple next to us ordered delicious looking grilled razor clams and oysters.
In the afternoon, we walked the High Line, a linear urban park built atop a mile-and-half-long stretch of abandoned railroad track. This is a great walk where you can catch a glimpse into the private lives of the New Yorkers from above. We had dinner at Rue 57, a restaurant with memories for us, as we have eaten here on every visit. This time we enjoyed an outside table, where we ate a small meal.
I went to Brooklyn to visit my blogger friend, Suzanne. She has a wonderful blog called a ”apuginthekitchen.com". We had a nice lunch in one of Brooklyn's neighborhood cafes and then went to the local flea market. It was fun to feel like a local. Thank you, Suzanne, for the lovely tour. For dinner that night, I made a reservation at Daniel's Boulud Bistro BD Moderne:www.dbbistro.com/nyc/” It was the best meal we had in New York. The service, the attention to detail, and the food was all outstanding. I didn't take any photos. because I wanted to enjoy this wonderful meal. For a starter, I had beets whipped with goat cheese, gooseberries and pickled shallots. For the main courses, my husband had duck confit with creamy polenta and I had braised Spanish octopus. It was the most tender octopus I have ever had. It was a perfect 10 as far as I am concerned. Our dessert was a molten chocolate fondant and the restaurant surprised us with a complimentary raspberry tarte. The whole meal was a real treat. I hope to go to more of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants in the future.
It was Sunday, and with no rain or tropical storm in the forecast, we walked through Central Park and up Madison Avenue with all its fancy store fronts to the Guggenheim Museum. I love the layout of this museum and the collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. I am sorry I didn’t make it to the new Whitney. We walked back to our hotel through a street fair and I had a German hot dog. It was good, but I have had better. In the evening, we went to the Broadway show The Book of Mormon. We both enjoyed it.
It was Labor Day and we decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on the pedestrian walkway. It is a wonderful stroll with awesome views of lower Manhattan and the New York Harbor. While walking to Brooklyn, I was thinking of lunch at the River Cafe. But because it was a holiday, they had finished the brunch menu and we couldn't get in. We took the ferry back to Manhattan and walked along Wall Street. We decided not to go to the 911 Memorial because they were too many people. Instead, we took the subway to the Chelsea Market. Being a holiday, it was so crowded that my husband and I could not enjoy it. We had a late lunch (or early dinner) at the Spotted Pig. We ate at the bar sharing a hamburger and french fries, which were delicious. For dessert, we walked to the BIG Gay Ice Cream shop to have a sundae. This is a very trendy place and the line was long. In the evening, we went to another Broadway show. We saw Aladdin, which is a fabulous Disney production. Disney remodeled the New Amsterdam Theater back to the days of the Ziegfeld Girls with its unique architecture and art nouveau style. I truly enjoyed my evening.
We decided to take it easy on our last day. We did a little shopping and my husband got to pick a restaurant for lunch. We had a huge lunch at the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. This historic seafood place is located in the lower level of the Grand Central Terminal and has arched tile ceilings in a vintage setting. The restaurant serves two million bivalves a year. I love to watch the oyster stew being cooked. I am sharing a recipe for the oyster stew from Ruth Reichl’s blog on my home page.
My girlfriend's son Max prepared a list of his favorite restaurants in New York. Thank you Max, this list got a lot of approval from locals.
Edie and the Wolf
Big Gay Ice Cream
Uncle Boons Thai
Dominique Amsel Bakery
Xian Famous Foods
The Spotted Pig
Rouge et Blanc
Mission Chinese Vince Giordano at the Iguana Club every Monday and Tuesday night
The wedding and party was such a wonderful experience. I will post about it later when I get better photos. During that time, my husband and I and the groom’s parents and their relatives stayed in a family-owned hotel in a nearby little town called Hardegsen. Neither the New York Times traveling section nor Rick Steeves have been there.
After the wedding, my husband and I drove south to a town on the Rhine river called Breisach. Breisach is in the upper Black Forest across from Alsace Lorraine. It was just right to overnight there and continue to Grindelwald the following day. Breisach is a small historical town, perfect for any history buff.
The way to Grindelwald is beautiful, but driving through Basel with a car is always a challenge, with too many tunnels and always some construction going on. We were happy when we reached Grindelwald, our destination. Our little apartment at the Kirchbühl was waiting for us and Frau Brawand, the owner, gave us a warm welcome. We settled in for our six days in Switzerland.
The first day, we took the cable car to First, a mountain top with gorgeous views and a popular hiking area to a lake called Bachalpsee. There is also a thrilling cliff walk that is spectacular. Leave it to the clever Swiss to build something like this.
Another day we took the cable car to the Pfingstegg, a 10-minute cable ride up the Wetterhorn with great hikes offering unique views of Grindelwald and the glacier. There is a playground for children and a summer toboggan run. Grindelwald is the perfect spot for a family vacation. Everybody will forget about their devices and games when they are in the high alpine country. The Swiss introduce their children to hiking in the high country at an early age, just like the French teach their children to enjoy good food.
We also took our favorite cable ride from Grund to the Männlichen. Sitting in the gondola, you feel like flying above the tree tops and cow pastures with gorgeous views around you. This is something that will take your breath away. Once you reach Männlichen, you have a great place to eat and drink and a fun playground for young children. My man and I had tea and waited for the clouds to disappear before we began our walk to the Kleine Scheidegg, my favorite hike in the Swiss alps. The wildflowers had started to bloom and I was in heaven. As we got to the end of the walk, the Eigner north wall popped up between the clouds, while in the valley below was Grindelwald.
Once we reached the Kleine Scheidegg, there is a train junction for the Jungfraujoch. We took the train back to Grindelwald, although there is a spectacular hike around the Eigner, but we were too pooped. But before we took the train back, I had a piece of delicious apricot tart at the old Hotel Bellevue.
My husband, bless his heart, ran the Jungfrau marathon twice in past years, which starts in Interlaken and ends at the Kleine Scheidegg. My husband and I both had some sort of stomach virus. Thank God it was only for a couple of days. So we had very little to eat during that time. We left Grindelwald and drove to Riquewihr in Alsace Lorraine in France. This is a very touristy but cute little town. I did a little shopping by buying some linen that was spun nearby. This time, we had a great meal at a Grape D’Or . The food was great but the poor waitresses had far too many tables to serve. It was impossible to take care of that many people. I know, because I was a waitress when I was a student.
From Riquewihr, we dropped our car off in Frankfurt, Germany. In Frankfurt, we enjoyed a river cruise on the Main River. I also bought tea and some German spices. When in Frankfurt, I always go to the Freßgass (little street to “gorge”). This street is commonly regarded as Frankfurt’s culinary main street. I always buy something at Ebert Feinkost, a butcher shop that has great take-out food that you can eat outside on benches. The Grüne sauce is fantastic.
I arrived in Frankfurt and took the train to Göttingen. I always buy my train ticket ahead of time through the Deutsche Bahn, which is easy and saves a lot of money. I always give myself an extra hour so I don't have to rush. The Frankfurt Airport has fast train connections at the Fernbahnhof and another station for the regular trains. I usually have a little snack above the Fernbahnhof. There is a wonderfully relaxing upstairs area in the station where you can chill out from the long flight until your train departs.
After a two and a half hour train ride through the German countryside, my brother and one of my grand-nephews picked me up in Göttingen. At the end of March, spring had not yet arrived .
Once at my village, I got to say hello to my family and friends. The next day, my girlfriend and I had a wonderful time together. We did the things we had to do to prepare for the long Easter Holiday. Easter in Germany is a three-day holiday. Good Friday is a holiday and the Easter itself is celebrated on Sunday and Monday. It was a lovely day. My niece arrived and we went into “getting ready for the wedding mode.” On Saturday, she picked out a dress and she and her boyfriend met with several people to make arrangements for the June wedding. I spent Easter Sunday with my dear girlfriend and her family and another friend of mine. We all went to the Easter Fire (read more about it). On the Easter Monday, my entire family had lunch at my brother’s house. We had leg of lamb with scalloped potatoes and red cabbage. Two of my family members are vegetarians, so I added my eggplant spread. All the food was eaten. After that we went for a long walk in the countryside and then stopped at a restaurant to have coffee and hot waffles with fruit, whipped cream or ice cream. We needed umbrellas when it began to rain, but that didn't stop us from having fun.
The next day my niece and I left for Munich. Munich has changed, especially the area I stayed in, which was near the Railroad Station (Hauptbahnhof). I would not recommend this location but would choose something closer to downtown. It was okay and it had a tram to go downtown, but I did not feel comfortable at night. The highlight of our Munich visit was the opera (Staatsoper) to see "Turbot" by Puccini. It was a modern production that occasionally used 3D glasses. We had fun.
Our plans changed because both of us had nasty colds. My niece went home a couple of days early so she could rest for a busy work week ahead. Despite our colds we managed to see the most important parts of Munich and had a good time. The only foods we craved were hot soups. I found a delicious rich chicken soup at the Viktualien Market and a Thai restaurant at the Marienplatz.
After my niece left, I continued to explore Munich. My blogger friend Karen from Back Road Journal had recommended several places to eat in Munich, one of them being the Orlando House where I had Bavarian tapas, Weißwurst, with creamy sauerkraut, a veal patty with delicious lentils—and it only cost 14 Euros. The guy next to me was local and savored every bite of his meal. This restaurant and a one-star star Michelin restaurant nearby is owned by Alfonso Shuhbeck, one of Germany’s top chefs. He also has a shop for spices, a tea shop and an ice-cream shop in the same area. He pretty much owns the whole block. I enjoyed going to the spice shop and brought back some spices
Not just foodies, but everyone should go and visit Dallmayr, the largest delicatessen business in Europe with a 300-year history. The motherhouse in the center of Munich is amazing. Even though it is always crowded, it is fun to look at the wonderful pralines, chocolates and everything else. My niece and I had lunch there. I brought back too many sweets.
How to get around in Munich
You can buy a subway ticket for the number of days you need one. My niece and I bought a 3-day companion ticket and it covered the U-Bahn, subway, tram system and buses. You can’t go wrong. We bought our tickets at the hotel.
I took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour and enjoyed the sights .
Places to see
Marienplatz, Munich's main square at the heart of a lively pedestrian zone
The Viktualienmarkt, an open-air market
The Lenbachhaus, a modern and contemporary art museum with works by Klee, Kandinsky and the Blue Rider movement.
The Alte Pinakothek, Bavaria’s best painting gallery, with a wonderful collection of the masters from the 14th - 19th century.
There is also the Neue Pinothek and the Pinothek of the Moderne
The English Garden, the largest city park on the continent.
Nymphenburg Palace, the summer residence of the Bavarian monarchs. King Ludwig was born here. The palace is surrounded by beautiful park gardens. Check the calendar for special events.
The Frauenkirche and several other churches.
If you like cars, do not miss the BMW-world and museum
There is the horrible history that all Germans (including me) have to live with, the Nazi era and the killing of 6 million people. The Dachau concentration camp is a powerful museum and memorial of that time. It is located near Munich.
After Munich, I ended my trip by visiting a friend from boarding school that lives with her husband in the Odenwald near Frankfurt. We had a lovely day in Michelsstadt, an old medieval town, and before I knew it I was sitting in the plane going home.
I'm one of those strange people who likes most airports, the San Francisco airport being my favorite. It always has some interesting exhibits and is new and modern. My husband hates airports. I think the reason I like airports is because I am a wanderer at heart. And when I want to see my German family and friends, I have to fly for many hours. When my mother needed help in her last years, I became a frequent flyer, enjoying the perks that come with it. However, now I'm back to normal, with no more free upgrades or airport lounges. I am still able to fly and that is great. Who is complaining, certainly not me, no way, I still get to go. I am sitting in the back of an airplane, my tush is hurting and the person next to me is too large for the cramped seats. But when I land, I will be in one of my favorite spots on this planet—Hawaii. I have been visiting the different islands for the past 30 years whenever time and money allow us to do so. My husband is a genius at finding reasonably priced flights and accommodations. It must be his Dutch and Scottish genes. Lucky me, I get to enjoy the benefits.
The Hawaiian Islands are a great getaway and have some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen. The beaches are pristine, the water is warm and clean. One can swim with huge turtles and see tropical fish and whales, The warm climate with its cooling trade winds is almost perfect. Each island has its own identity. I love Kauai, the garden island, because it is the least populated and has the most spectacular sites of all, but I enjoy all the other islands as well. The culture of the Hawaiian Islands today is a colorful mix of culture and ethnicity.
This trip brought us to Maui for a week, Maui being one of the world’s most popular islands. When I first went to Maui many years ago, it had not yet exploded with condos and luxury hotels. Every time I come, there is ever more building. One of my favorite hotels is not going to be there much longer for me, because it is being converted into luxury condos that I cannot afford. Makena Beach, not far from the end of the road along the southwestern coastline, will still be there. For me, this beach is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Maui has other beautiful beaches as well, and all beaches in Hawaii have public access, which usually means there is a parking lot with restrooms and showers.
The islands have something for everyone and many choices .Spending time on the beach and swimming in warm water is something I love to do, as long as I have some shade. However, I’m fair skinned and even in the shade, I have to limit my time in the sun. I learned that the hard way. I love to explore the countryside and spectacular valleys. There are are small towns in the Up Country that are fun and have different things to offer.
In Maui, there is the road to Hana, a slow 42-mile drive with breathtaking scenery, across 56 one-lane bridges and more than 600 hairpin curves. Enjoy! But don’t be in a hurry. The last time we drove this, I remember a beautiful beach where we stopped to have lunch and a fruit stand that sold banana bread.
Then there is the volcanic crater of Haleakala (House of the Sun in Hawaiian) which is home to Haleakala National Park. The summit peaks at more than 10,000 feet above sea level, a breathtaking spot from which to watch the sunrise, when a starry sky fills with color and the crater floor glows a deep red. To do so, you have to leave at 3 am, which takes true devotion. On the way down, you will pass through as many as ten distinct micro-climates. On this trip, we choose not to go all the way up but instead went to Makawao, a charming little cowboy town with a Japanese bakery that hasn't changed in fifty years. The sidewalk outside is dated 1943. My sweetie gets his donuts there to take along. I like the library there and always peek in. You might run into Willie Nelson because he lives up there. The reason I go to Makawao is to have lunch at the Hali’imaile General Store, a must for me when I am in Maui.
Another great restaurant on the other side of Maui, near Lahaina, the old whaling town, is Star Noodles a great restaurant where you can experience the new Hawaiian fusion cuisine. They are always full, so I go for a late lunch or order take out to eat when I watch the sunset over the ocean. After all, Hawaii is known for its spectacular sunsets. One of my favorite spots to watch the sunset is at the Sheraton at Kaanapali, north of Lahaina. There is a bar near the beach and when sunset comes, you will hear about the old Hawaii. At sunset, a young man carries a torch up to Black Rock from where he jumps into the ocean
Another nice spot to watch the sunset is in Wailea, where you can have great food and drinks (check for half-price happy hour) in a restaurant called Migrant, in the Marriott Hotel.
My favorite drink this time was named “57 Chevy with Hawaiian license plates.” Warning, one will be plenty! It is a good one to share. Of course there always is the Mai Tai. Remember Elvis in Blue Hawaii? “Aloha” is the Hawaiian greeting that expresses mutual love and the spirit of these beautiful islands and their people.
November in Germany
For the last three years, my husband and I have taken a trip to Europe in November. The tourist crowds are gone and the flights and hotels are much cheaper. On the flip side, the days are shorter and the weather colder. I don't mind cold as long as it doesn't rain. I wouldn't do the countryside, but the big cities are fun. I enjoy going to the different Christmas markets and museums. We started doing this when my mother was still alive and I was visiting her as often as I could. This year, we went for ten days, spending a long weekend with my German family and friends—and four days in Berlin.
My husband and I flew into Frankfurt and took the train to Berlin, which is easy and provides a scenic tour through Germany. I love trains and take them whenever I can. The Frankfurt airport is like a second home to me (just kidding but almost). There are two train stations, a local one and one for long distances. The Fernbahnhauf (long-distance railroad station) is where I usually take the train to my village or other European cities. It's attached to the airport and is easily reached. The ICE is the fast train, and a ride to Berlin is only three and half hours. I don't like changing trains when I have luggage, and this year we had too much luggage with lots of gifts and goodies for my family and friends. Each time I promise myself not to do it, but I always end up with too much stuff. After I give away the gifts, I buy things like chocolate, marzipan, some vinegars and spices or some cute handmade Christmas ornaments for my friends
Last year, we took an old Hungarian train from Berlin to Prague. It was an enchanting trip, with the old-fashioned train that went through some gorgeous countryside including the Elbe river valley and mountains. The train ride itself was a real highlight of the trip, which continues on to Budapest. I enjoyed Prague last year, but what I didn't enjoy was the Nürnberg Christmas market, which was totally overrun with tourists.
Germany is known for its coffee culture. In the afternoon, you have coffee and cake. Friends meet in favorite cafés and have something sweet with coffee or tea. When my mother was sick, I often brought cake to the nurses and and they loved it. As a child, if we didn't always have sweets, instead I would have a piece of bread with butter and jam. Birthdays are also often celebrated by being invited zum Kaffeetrinken (which literally means you are invited for coffee and cake). My girlfriend had bought some gorgeous cake from my favorite bakery (here is the link), my favorite being a Sara Bernhardt cake (named for a French actress). After a few hours of talking and having fun, dinner or Abendbrot (as it is called in German) was served. She made a very tasty sweet potato soup followed by a chicken salad with bread, cheese, olives, as well as some ham and lox. It was divine. My brother had a similar but larger party the following day in the local pub. We had sheet cake for coffee around three in the afternoon and later a German-style charcuterie. Fresh homemade wurst, ground raw pork tartar, and cooked bacon served with sauerkraut and fresh bread—a real country feast— washed down with beer, schnaps and a herbal digestive.
I had to say goodbye too soon to the ones I loved and take the train to Frankfurt am Main (there are two Frankfurts in Germany) to catch a flight back home the next day. Frankfurt also has a Christmas market around the Altstadt (the old town). The old town center is the Römer, a medieval building that has been the city hall for over 600 years. The Römer is opposite the old St. Nicholas church. On the Römerplatz, as it is called, I ate a delicious goose leg with red cabbage and potato dumplings at the restaurant Schwarzer Star (black star) and it was delicious. My husband's spätzle (homemade noodles) was also superb. What a great way to end a beautiful vacation.
Four Days in Berlin
Berlin has been part of my life for a long time. I was 14 when I visited Berlin the first time, the youngest in a youth group. We stayed in a youth hostel and the older students showed me the town both day and night. I remember climbing around in the ruins of the Gedächniskirche and getting frostbitten in my toes. It was my introduction to life in a big city. I lived on Berliners (fresh donuts filled with plum jam) and curry wurst. From the beginning, I appreciated and liked the sense of humor and dialect of the locals. Even the worst situations are turned into a joke.
I visited Berlin many more times. It was fun once we got there, but the journey was scary. In the late 1960s, we could either go by train or on a chartered bus, or by private car. Going through the DDR (East Germany) was dangerous and as a German you could get arrested and disappear. Thinking back on it today, it was surreal.
Years ago, my family was separated when my husband and I took our just adopted 6-year-old son to Berlin. As we crossed the border into East Berlin, my son and husband (being American) crossed at checkpoint Charley and as a German, I had to cross at Friedrichsstraße. This prompted me to apply for American citizenship as soon as I returned to the States.
Then in 1989, the wall came down. Berlin was free again and became the capital of the new united Germany. The old East Berlin was rebuilt. My husband and I prefer to stay in the Mitte, the center of the new Berlin near the Brandenburger Tor and Friedrichsstraße. One is within walking distance of many museums and other attractions.
If you decide to visit Berlin, you have to visit the Museum Island, a UNESCO heritage site. It is the home to the Pergamonmuseum, one of the world’s major archeological sites. You walk through a series of impressive huge structures of the partial reconstruction of the Greek Pergamon Altar (170-159 BC) with the two-story Roman Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar gate of Babylon. With a day ticket, you can see all the museums on that island. There are many more museums throughout Berlin. During our last visit, we decided to go the Gemälde Galerie , a wonderful collection of medieval Renaissance and early modern art housed in a low-key but tasteful setting. It was not crowded and the art was spectacular. Adjacent to the Gemälde Galerie is the Kunstgewebemuseum (Museum of Decorative Art). It houses world-famous examples of European arts and crafts.
As for food in Berlin, you will find everything. Berlin now is part of the international food scene. Right around the corner from our hotel was Galerie Lafayette, a branch of the luxurious Parisian department store. My husband, a francophile, was in heaven. My favorite department store and food mecca is the KaDeWe (the department store of the west) which is in the old West Berlin on the Kurfürstendamm. Over the years, it has lost some of the glamor but the food section is marvelous and you can buy anything you want for a high price. The restaurant on the top floor has a great view of Berlin, but the food is cafeteria-style and I prefer to have a light meal on the floor below. If you are not a vegetarian, you have to have a curry wurst on an outside stand with the locals. It is a sausage with curried spices and ketchup. In the summer, you have to drink a Berliner Weiße, beer mixed with sweet woodruff juice. It was November and cold, so we drank Glühwein (mulled wine) instead. Late November and December are the months for goose: goose with cabbage and dumplings. I love it and my best goose meal has been in Potsdam, a 30-minutes train ride outside Berlin. This place is a small bakery that serves lunch. The goose is cooked fresh every day and it is delicious.
I love the Christmas market on the Gerdamen Platz, which makes for an enjoyable evening celebrating the season. The live performances are great and there is a lot of fun food. Several Berlin restaurants build huts with heat and great decorations. I enjoy this so much more than the large Christmas markets like Nürnberg
One night, we had dinner at Brechts, an Austrian restaurant with a great Wiener schnitzel. For me, it is all about the small delicatessen shops and bakeries. I found one right around the corner and had wild pig salami with fresh crusty bread and a fruit tart. There is no better dinner in my book. Oh, and let's not forget the bakeries with all their temptations There are many little cafes where you can sit inside or outside (weather permitting) and have a treat in the late afternoon. I often call that dinner. My husband will not leave Germany without having his Schweine Haxe, (pig’s knuckle) and a large beer. We always enjoy Berlin and I hope to visit there again soon.
Île-de-Ré and Brittany
After a wonderful week in Paris, we caught the train to Rennes. Taking trains in France can be somewhat nerve-racking. A billboard shows you the track the train will be arriving on 20 minutes before departure. After the announcement, everybody rushes up or down the assigned track, trying to find the right car where they have a reserved seat. In our case, the announcement wasn't made until 10 minutes before departure, so you can just imagine the pushing and shoving to get onto the train. I almost lost my hubby because he is so polite, allowing people to pass. Once we arrived in Rennes, we rented a car and drove to the Île-de-Ré to visit friends who own a house on this gorgeous island. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Our three-day stay was relaxing and fun. We went to the local market and bought fresh fruit, cheeses, oysters and fresh-caught fish. Our first meal on the island was mules frites (mussels and French fries). It was so much fun to have our friends show us this beautiful island. I bought a lot of different sea salts and brought them home.
After a short and sweet visit with our friends, we left for a three-hour drive to Quimper, a picturesque town in Bretagne with cobblestone streets, shops and museums. Quimper is generally regarded as the cultural center of Brittany. Once a year, an annual festival celebrates the Breton Culture. From Quimper, we explored the surrounding area for the next three days.
Our first stop was Pont-Aven, an attractive little village best known for its association with Paul Gauguin. Here we had breakfast, visited the local market and walked by some old mills.
Point -Aven is a tourist destination, as is Corncarneu, our next stop. We did not stay very long because it was simply too touristy for us. Our next stop was Bénodet on the southern coast of Brittany.
We took a nice stroll along the bay watching the sail boats and found a great place to have a wonderful lunch. We had fried fresh sardines on a bed of lettuce with tomato dip. My husband had a wonderful piece of white fish on top of a zucchini ragout with olives and capers in a tomato sauce. I had a most delicious scallop salad with prosciutto. I love the pink tails on the scallops.
After our great lunch, we decided to go for it and drove to Pointe du Raz, a promontory that extends into the Atlantic Ocean. This wild and windy point is one of Brittany's most popular natural sites. It has breathtaking cliff-top walks and white-washed houses nearby.
After our stay in Quimper, we drove to Cancale. Mention Cancale to a foodie and a quick reply will be "oysters," which have been cultivated here for hundreds of years. Originally, we were to meet some friends for a night but it didn't work out. All we had left were local oysters and crab. For our first course, we sat on a sea wall eating oysters we had bought from one of a dozen vendors. It was a memorable experience eating these briny magnificent sea creatures, throwing the shells on the beach.
The next day, we drove to Rennes to drop off our car and take the train back to Paris, where we flew home the next morning. Don't ever assume that dropping off a car at the train station outside of Paris would be easy. We had no idea that the entire railroad station was a giant construction zone which made it a real challenge to drop off the car. I asked the lady at the counter if people had just abandoned their cars and taken a taxi to bring the key. She nodded yes.
Traveling is always an adventure and life is good. Bon voyage .
Paris in Summer
We'll always have Paris
Traveling is adventure—it is exciting and puts you in a different frame of mind. It is exhilarating, and at times scary, and you hope everything will work out well in the end.
I remember the moment I fell in love with Paris. It was decades ago. I was a young woman, barely 21, when I went to Paris on a four-day weekend. I was living in Germany at the time. The two women I was with disappeared and I didn't see them until it was time to return home. I remember wandering the streets by myself and sitting in a sidewalk cafe. I don't remember where exactly, but I do remember the feeling of falling in love with the people, the charm and the ambiance of this beautiful city. To this day, my love affair with Paris continues even when a heat wave hits the city in summer—and with more and more tourists.
Paris is a city for walkers and that's what we do when we visit Paris. For years we have copied walks from a book called Walking Paris. The author takes you from place to place showing you everything you wanted to know about Paris: the oldest tree, a beautiful door, gypsy legends, medieval history, Hugo Victor’s house—you name it. These walks expose the soul of this charming city.
One day during our visit, we walked all the way from Bon Marché to our apartment, passing through the Latin Quarter's crooked cobblestone streets and the boulevards of Saint-Germain-des-Prés with all the outside cafes, the most interesting little stores you have ever come upon, churches, small museums and lots of tourists.
The Cafe Les Deux Magots in St.-Germaine-des Prés has the a drink called anis , a cousin of the pastis without the alcohol that comes with a huge bucket of ice. A dream when the temperature hits 100 degrees. This cafe is on a square that has the oldest church in Paris. I always love to return to St. Germaine and visit old places and find new ones. This is a great place to get lost.
During the last two visits, we rented a lovely apartment with a view of Notre Dame. Even though we could see the hustle and bustle of that area, we felt separated from it. Our apartment was in the 5th arrondissement, bordering on the 6th. The river Seine was within spitting distance, as we could see Notre Dame from our living room window. There was a great bakery around the corner where I got croissants, a baguette and something sweet for my sweetie every morning. They also had fresh-pressed orange juice, and one day I bought a tomato zucchini tart for dinner that I hope to make soon. We could stroll by the river or go to Île St.- Louis to have an ice cream at Berthillon or a drink in one of the cafés. I love that location because I'm within walking distance of all of my favorite places.
My absolute favorite book store in Paris is Shakespeare and Company. It is around the corner from Notre Dame next to a tiny park with the oldest tree.
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in French culture is with food. I always try to find new places. Because of the heat wave, we were not able to walk for miles, so we often took the metro. We planned something for the morning and then had a leisurely lunch that lasted a couple of hours. We preferred outside cafes. I found a couple of new places. My favorite one was restaurant “Josehine Chez Dumonet”. This was also a favorite of Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, hence the name. I had read that they had the best Beef Bourguignon and it was the best I ever tasted, even on a hot day. My sweetie had an outstanding piece of duck paté and my duck confit was superb. This was a memorable lunch, enjoying perfect french cuisine at an outside table watching life unfold.
Another superb lunch was at Bon Marché, a wonderful large department store that had the best air conditioning on the day it was 104 degrees. The lunch in the food section (not in the restaurant) was fantastic. I had raviolis in a cream sauce with shaved truffles. I loved the entire food section of that store and was in no rush to return to the steaming heat outside. When we finally got the courage to go out, I found a great ice cream store, La Maison Du Chocolat.
Another day, we took a walk to explore an unknown passage. The passage was OK but we stumbled on a nice place to eat lunch. It was called Willi's Wine Bar and since my Willie loves wine, we had to go inside and talk to the proprietor, a nice English fellow with some great posters and a very good lunch menu. I had a half of a Cornish hen with nicely braised vegetables and Willie had to do another duck paté tasting with the appropriate wine, of course.
So you see, even when there is a heat wave in one of your favorite city, you can still have a good time.
The Louvre had a special exhibit I was interested in, so I went early one morning and it was good. I enjoyed the art, except I was disappointed with the Mona Lisa, because you can barely see it—and the crowds are unbearable. I went to a couple of tiny museums and decided to go to my other favorite ones another time, so I can enjoy them. If you only have one time in Paris, don’t miss the D’Orsay and don’t worry about anything but the stunning art that this place offers.
I have a folder titled Paris and I have some wonderful books. My favorite is Walks in Paris by Giles Desmons. Like I said, this is one to take along on my favorite walks. My girlfriend gave me Paris, An Inspiring Tour of the City’s Creative Heart by Janelle McCulloch. This is a beautiful book to read before you go, so copy the pages of the things you want to see. I have the Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells. These days, I use different websites like David Lebovitz's site. I have more books, but I would like to find some new ones from my blog buddies. So please let me know if you have some.
Even though I don't have small children, it would be fun to experience Paris from different children's books with Paris at the core. I'm thinking of Ludwig Bemelmann's 12 Little Girls in Two Straight Lines and Madeline. To introduce kids to Picasso and other artists, there is Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Joan Yolleck and Marjorie Priceman. When I was still teaching I had a whole series of books introducing painters and composers to the children. Maybe I will have to borrow one of my nephew's children to go to Paris.
A great way to see Paris, if you don't want to tackle the metro, is the double-decker L'Open Tour buses, which offer hop-on/hop-off service. I did this when my niece was 14 and I think she enjoyed it.
With that, my dear blogger friends, forgive my photographs and I will blog about my second week in France soon. Please let me know what is your favorite place in Paris if you have on.
Stockholm in October
One day my niece took us on a lovely walk across the city. We went on a foot path above the town with some tiny parks and a great view of Stockholm and ended the walk along the river with boats that had been turned into hotels and a youth hostel.
Our trip in October to Stockholm was unexpected. I loved it because I had my niece all to myself and didn't have to share her with the rest of the family. Our flight had a lay-over in Newark, New Jersey and we had a great lunch at the Grant Central Station Oyster Bar. The original one in New York City being one of my favorites. Once we arrived in Stockholm we took the Arlanda Express, the fast train to town down Stockholm. The taxis in Stockholm are not controlled and can be astronomical expansive. The Arlanda Express is clean and has wifi. We were able to walk to our hotel which was convenient located near the old part of town. On the first night, after taking a nap, we took a nice walk through the old part of town.
Here you find cafes restaurants and tourist stores. It gets much more interesting and local if you walk up the little side streets . It is here that we ate the next night. The restaurant "KRIP IN" was recommended by an employer at our hotel. It served regional cooking at its best . My husband had venison, I had a delicious chanterelle salad and my niece had a chanterelle soup. We all shared a local berry desert.
Another day we took the trolly to the Vasa Museum. Here you find a restored wooden war ship that sank on her maiden voyage in the Stockholm harbor in 1628. It is amazing to realize how much work and effort it took to restore this ship. I also loved the fantastic video display they had showing life around the world in 1628. In my opinion the Vasa Museum is a must see when in Stockholm . I'm sorry I missed the Pippi Longstocking Museum, Junibacken, my beloved childhood character from Astrid Lindgren.
During our time in Stockholm we also visited the royal palace which is very nice except very often parts of the palace are closed if there is some sort of State function.
The Museum of Photographs was interested . I enjoyed the Smørbrød, an open sandwich I had in the Museum cafeteria . Here we had a nice chat with the locals.
We took two boat rides, one a city tour which was very nice and we saw the outer parts of Stockholm. We took another longer boat ride to Vaxholm, a cute little coastal town in Stockholm's archipelago . It reminds me of Carmel in California . Unfortunately the bakery that was suppose to be outstanding was closed for the winter but fortunately we found a bistro with good food where we had lunch.
It was great to visit with my niece and get to see a city I've never been to. I'm glad I decided to do this despite the long flight