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Travel and Global Warming: See it While You Can


lmost every day there’s a story about the catastrophic effects of global warming. You only have to walk outside or watch the nightly news to see record temperatures, hurricanes, floods, and droughts. We live in San Diego County where we have had both hot and cold record-breaking, weather year after year. The effects of global warming have now forced us into considering global warming when planning our travels. No country or destination is immune from its effects – but to some popular vacation spots the damage is already is devasting. Plan on visiting a national park or taking an Alaskan cruise? Jonathan B. Jarvis, Former Director of the National Park Service warns, “I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.” In the last 50 years, Alaska’s annual average temperature increased at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States. Southeast Alaska winters are 5 degrees warmer. Glacier Bay is expected to become warmer and drier, and Alaska has, reduced sea ice, shrinking glaciers, and earlier spring snowmelt. These manifestations increase bark beetle infestations, shoreline erosion, and significantly increase the devastation caused by forest fires. The impact is likely to dampen enthusiasm for Alaska cruises and vacations. We have moved up our travel plans for visiting Antarctica before it melts into something else. Global warming is triggering not only significant physical changes to the continent but to its animal and fish populations as well. Penguin colonies who try to find survivable sea ice conditions are in



trouble. Emperor penguins, which breed on sea ice, face virtual extinction with a 50% population decline in some of their colonies. Most of the glaciers and ice shelves have retreated with some completely disappearing. We want to see it before it’s gone. Recently we heard a report about how oyster farming along the Pacific Coast of the United States is being devastated by acidification in the Pacific. Acidification which is caused by dramatic increases in carbon dioxide and sea-level rise threatens coastal tourism infrastructure and natural attractions everywhere in the world. Ski resorts are hurting because of shorter seasons. Rising of sea levels will eventually submerge small islands like island nations of Tuvalu and Kiribati, in the South Pacific, and will wreak havoc on coastal regions around the world, including all of our coastal cities and towns. Africa’s fabled Mount Kilimanjaro will be ice-free in just 15 years, and droughts and floods will dramatically affect the wildlife. Scuba and snorkelers should take notice that in the past half-decade 27 percent of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed due to increased water temperature with another 30 -plus percent in jeopardy. Global warming will broaden the range of malaria-bearing mosquitoes, affecting tourism destinations around the world – think of what the Zika virus did to South American tourism. Our planet is under threat, see it while you can; and try to convince our knuckle-headed leaders, who pretend there’s nothing wrong, to get their heads out of their political behinds and do something about it.

Ron & Mary James




Photo by Ron James

Mary James STAFF WRITERS Alison DaRosa Priscilla Lister John Muncie Jody Jaffe COLUMNISTS Robert Whitley Susan McBeth FEATURE WRITERS Sharon Whitley Larsen Carl Larsen Maribeth Mellin Amy Laughinghouse Judy Garrison Wibke Carter

Travel and romance go together like wine and food -- this lucky couple have all four in Old Treste.

Kathi Diamant Margie Goldsmith

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Our Journalists Ron James Ron James is the "wine, food and travel guy." He is a nationally award-winning print and online journalist, graphic designer, television producer and radio personality. The native Californian's nationally syndicated wine and food columns have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. Ron is founder and co-publisher of Wine Dine & Travel Magazine. He is passionate about great wine and food and enthusiastically enjoys them every day!

Mary James Mary Hellman James is an award-winning San Diego journalist and editor. After a 29-yearcareer with the San Diego Union-Tribune, she currently is a freelance garden writer and a columnist for San Diego Home-Garden/Lifestyles magazine and co-publisher and editor of this magazine.

Priscilla Lister Priscilla Lister is a longtime journalist in her native San Diego. She has covered many subjects over the years, but travel is her favorite. Her work, including photography, has appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Alaska Airlines’ magazine and numerous other publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. She is the author of “Take a Hike: San Diego County,” a comprehensive hiking guide to 260 trails in amazing San Diego County. But when the distant road beckons, she can’t wait to pack her bags.

Robert Whitley Robert Whitley writes the syndicated “Wine Talk” column for Creators Syndicate and is publisher of the online wine magazine, Wine Review Online. Whitley frequently serves as a judge at wine competitions around the world, including Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Sunset Magazine International and the Dallas Morning News TexSom wine competitions. Robert also operates four major international wine competitions in San Diego: Critics Challenge, Winemaker Challenge, Sommelier Challenge and the San Diego International.

Amy Laughinghouse London-based writer and photographer Amy Laughinghouse has attempted to overcome her fears (and sometimes basic common sense) through her adventures in 30 countries around the world. She dishes on the perks and perils of globetrotting for publications like, AAA Journey Magazine, Virtuoso Life, and The Dallas Morning News. Her travel tales can also be found on her website,

Jody Jaffe & John Muncie Jody and John are the co-authors of the novels, “Thief of Words,” and “Shenandoah Summer,” published by Warner Books. John was feature editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune, arts editor of The Baltimore Sun and writer-editor-columnist for the travel department of The Los Angeles Times. His travel articles have been published in many major newspapers; he's a Lowell Thomas award-winner. Jody is the author of "Horse of a Different Killer,"'Chestnut Mare, Beware," and "In Colt Blood,” As a journalist at the Charlotte Observer, she was on a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. Her articles have been published in many newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. They live on a farm in Lexington, Va., with eleven horses, three cats and an explosion of stink bugs.



Maribeth Mellin Maribeth Mellin is an award-winning journalist whose travel articles have appeared in Endless Vacation Magazine, U-T San Diego and Dallas Morning News among others. She also travels and writes for several websites including CNN Travel, and Zagat, and has authored travel books on Peru, Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Hawaii and California. Though known as a Mexico pro, Maribeth has written about every continent and was especially thrilled by the ice, air and penguins in Antarctica.

Alison DaRosa Alison DaRosa is a six-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for travel writing, the most prestigious prize in travel journalism. She served 15 years as Travel Editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune and was the award-winning editor of the San Diego News Network Travel Page. She created San Diego Essential Guide, a highly rated travel app for mobile devices. Alison writes a monthly Travel Deals column for the San Diego Union-Tribune and is a regular freelance contributor to the travel sections of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and AOL Travel.

Carl H. Larsen Carl H. Larsen is a veteran journalist based in San Diego. He now focuses on travel writing, and is summoned to pull out his notebook whenever there’s the plaintive cry of a steam locomotive nearby. In San Diego, he is a college-extension instructor who has led courses on the Titanic and the popular TV series “Downton Abbey.”

Judy & Len Garrison Judy is the editor of Georgia Connector Magazine and Peach State Publications as well as a freelance writer/photographer/traveler for national/international publications including Deep South Magazine, Interval Magazine, Simply Buckhead, US Airways Magazine, Southern Hospitality Traveler and has a bi-monthly blog in Blue Ridge Country’s online edition. Her first book, North Georgia Moonshine: A History of the Lovells and other Liquor Makers, is available at She and Len own Seeing Southern,L.L.C., a documentary photography company.

Wibke Carter German-born Wibke Carter has lived in New Zealand and New York, and presently enjoys life, love​,​and laughter in London. Her work has appeared in​T ​ he Globe and Mail, The​S ​ an Francisco Chronicle, BInspired Magazine,The Independent and more. When not traveling, she is trying to tame her two cats and improve her DIY skills

Michael Burge Michael Burge is an award-winning journalist who worked for many years as an assistant metro editor and senior writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Michael and his wife, Kathleen, have logged countless miles visiting adult children in Asia and Scotland. The couple met as Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya, so they have no one to blame but themselves for their globe-trotting offspring.

Sharon Whitley Larsen Sharon Whitley Larsen’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Los Angeles Times Magazine, U-T San Diego, Reader’s Digest (and 19 international editions), Creators Syndicate, and several “Chicken Soup for the Soul” editions. She’s been lucky to attend a private evening champagne reception in Buckingham Palace to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, to dine with best-selling author Diana Gabaldon in the Scottish Highlands, and hike with a barefoot Aborigine in the Australian Outback. Exploring sites from exotic travels in the Arctic Circle to ritzy Rio, with passport in hand, she’s always ready for the next adventure!





DISCOVERING GERMANY A special 100-page section featuring the magical destinations off the tourist beat and track. Our award-winning travel writers offer a dozen stories on destinations sure to make you want to put Germany back on your must visit list.





A lot has changed in Ireland since then, including the state culinary affairs, as I learned when I interviewed Noel McMeel, executive chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort and Hotel in Enniskillen.

The cellar was a dim, cramped grotto crowded with 18,000 wine bottles of some 4,500 varieties. “The first time I was here I almost cried,” said Lucido. “I thought, ‘I’m going to need 30 years more to figure it all out.’



134 142

KOREA’S DMZ The DMZ is a four-kilometer buffer zone that marks the place where the North Korean/ Chinese armies were lined up facing United Nations forces when the Korean War ceasefire was declared in July 1953.

SEOUL TIME MACHINE Today countries like Japan, Thailand and the Philippines consume Korean pop culture – K-Pop – the way much of the West consumes American pop culture, and Seoul exudes a 24-hour vibe that is both stimulating and exhausting.







192 208

This was Cuba, the land of Fidel, Che, mojitos, cigars, 60-year-old American cars and a more than five-decades-old economic embargo that has kept the country in something of a time warp.

Around me, farmers from all over the country, sell tons of onions and garlic on hundreds of stands in the narrow streets of the Old Town. In the darkness, this sea of traditional, braided onions, flower arrangements, decorations and figures sculpted from onion.

At Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar in NOLA’s French Quarter I’m scarfing down Oysters – lots of them -- char-grilled, Buffalo oysters, raw oysters, and Oysters Bienville and a New Orleans favorite, Oysters Rockefeller.

SLOWING DOWN IN SICILY Moved by my screams and a car at their front door, an older man and woman hobbled from their home onto the cobblestone street, yelling jabs in Sicilian, pointing angry crooked fingers at the street.

THE CZECH REPUBLIC A group of perhaps a dozen men wander the streets of a rural Czech village, cracking whips and pounding on doors. Attired in outlandish costumes of straw, bright rags, or Crayola-colored suits bedecked in bows, they’re a bit like the characters from the Wizard of Oz. WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM


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hen most travelers plan a visit to Germany, they think about Oktoberfest and strong, beautiful girls hoisting giant mugs of beer as the oom-pah band plays on. But, as you will discover in this special section, there is much more to enjoy in this beautiful country - a land of storybook forests, rivers, mountains and North Sea beaches. Beyond the world-class cities of Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, Germany offers magical villages and towns that seem frozen in time. In this section we explore places less traveled, destinations rich with history and alive with great fun, food and drink.



INSIDE THIS SECTION Rüdesheim - page 20

Rhine Cruise - page 20 Niederwald

Niederwald - page 46

Wiesbaden - page 63



Taste of Trier- page 72

Heidelberg Jail - page 80

Regensburg - page 86

Dresden - page 94

Freiburg - page 102









ur visit to Germany’s Rhine Gorge was part of our month-long adventure in Europe that began in Amsterdam and ended in Venice. Our previous visits to Germany, based in Munich, included a drive on the beautiful Romantic Road through quaint medieval villages and past imposing “Cinderella” storybook castles. This time we wanted to experience the Rhine River, specifically the Rhine Gorge where the great river flows past villages each with an ancient castle. We had considered a Rhine River cruise but opted to move around Europe by rail – which proved fun and economical. We made the quaint port and winemaking town of Rüdesheim our headquarters for five days devoted to the small villages and towns along the Rhine by boat and train. Regardless of whether you follow our lead or opt for a river cruise, the trip will be memorable. You will not see as many medieval castles anywhere in the world as on this broad stretch of the Rhine, declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2002. Train travel from Amsterdam to Rüdesheim took about five hours, including a stop in Frankfort to change trains. Throughout our journey, the trains were clean and comfortable, and several had a club car where refreshments were available. A Eurail Pass is the way to go if you’re visiting a number of countries as we did. Be sure to read up on which train systems require reservations and additional fees. If you’re not in a hurry, you shouldn’t get dinged for anything above the original cost of the pass.

Drosselgasse, a narrow pedestrian way overflowing with restaurants, wine tasting rooms, gift shops and tourists







We arrived at the small rustic Rüdesheim train station in the early afternoon, accompanied by two large suitcases (not something I’d recommend for train travel). Our hotel, the Felsenkeller, was a good half-mile up cobblestone streets, so we hired one of the town’s few cabs in to take us there -- a journey that covered some three miles with the meter ticking away. What is it with cab drivers? We split the $14 fare with another couple, so we didn’t fuss, preferring to

view the ride as a brief tour. Rüdesheim sits at the foot of the gorge that rises to the famous Niederwald Monument on the Rhine’s right bank overlooking the town. The place oozed Old World-charm with narrow cobblestone streets lined with classic half-timbered buildings and bustling with tourists. Our hotel Felsenkeller fit right in, sporting the medieval look inside and out.

Hungry visitor explores the options at one of the many dining spots that line the streets. Left: The Rüdesheim riverfront location to access the boat dock. Left bottom: The view of the Rhine from our hotel window.





The Town Rüdesheim is probably the most famous German tourist attraction that you’ve never heard of If you’re American.. To the Germans, it’s an affordalble Napa-Sonoma -- a compact, beautiful wine country getaway where countless vineyards and wineries offer delicious, well-priced Rieslings and other tasty varietals. The town’s most famous street is the Drosselgasse, a narrow pedestrian way overflowing with restaurants, wine tasting rooms, gift shops and tourists arriving by boat and bus. The cacophony of oom-pah-pah tunes waft through the streets, adding to the vacation atmosphere. Like many tourist destinations, the town goes from bustling to quiet, as if someone flipped a switch when the day-trippers depart, and the shops close. Restaurants stay open to serve those with accommodations in town, while locals head to the town’s outskirts where charm is replaced by functionality and affordability. Streets were pretty much deserted when we walked home after our evening meals.

Wine and Food If you don’t like German food – or wine, Rüdesheim probably isn’t the place for you. Although we dined at an Italian restaurant where the linguini with clams was as good as I have had in Rome or Venice, German fare was the most plentiful. With German restaurants everywhere you turned in the old town, prices were competitive. A three-course Schnitzel dinner could be had for less than $12. Cheap, in this case, doesn’t mean bad. We enjoyed some very nice meals with wine for under $50.

Almost every restaurant oozes charm and offers some kind of live entertainment.



German cuisine’s hit parade of dishes was available at most eateries, but most also offer seafood, steaks, and salads. If you crave a simple sandwich, burger or pizza, head toward the river where most of the casual food joints are found. You won’t find American fast food anywhere here - no McDonald’s, KFC, or even a Starbucks.



The restaurants where we dined offered very good and moderatly priced wines sourced from across Europe. We sipped wonderful, crisp local Rieslings and roses for around $20, ignoring the French, German, and Italian trophy wines available for diners with fat wallets. Our hotel’s charming courtyard patio became our favorite place for happy hour, where we

Restaurants are busy with visitor in the early afternoon. Right: Mary plunges into a cheese plate that works perfectly with crisp Rhine Rieslings.



opened a bottle from a nearby tasting room to enjoy with local cheeses, sausages, and bread. The Rhine Valley is a serious wine region, sometimes called the German Tuscany, and tasting local labels is fun and informative. An inexpensive Rüdesheim “Wine Time” pass allows you to visit four or five tasting venues, but we found it best just to wander until we saw something interesting. We enjoyed some excellent local rosés, including one from Vinothek Georg Breuer which has a tasting room near the train station.





On the wine trail near the train station is the Rheingau Wine Museum in the town’s Brömserburg Castle. Here you get a headset audio-guided tour through the region’s winemaking history followed by a tasting. There are lots of steps here, so this may not be the venue for everyone. Our favorite wine watering hole was just a few doors from our hotel. The Allendorf wine tasting room offers a wide selection



of regional wines, from pinot noirs to dessert wines, but our favorites were the dry to medium dry Rieslings and roses. The wines were crisp, well balanced and delightfully quaffable – and with bottles starting just over 10 bucks. Must take home souvenirs were the black t-shirts emblazoned with “Save Water, Drink Riesling,” a slogan that we took to heart -- little water was tasted that evening.

Ron and Mary belly up to the wine tasting bar after a long walk in the woods. Sharon Larsen proudly displays her new t-shirt.



Ron and Mary James enjoying a taste of Asbach after an arduous walk.



Another must-see in Rüdesheim is the Asbach Visitor Center, the hospitality center for the historic brandy maker with a big production facility near the railroad station. A walk from the old town to the center is daunting, long and up some substantial hills, and it can hard to find a cab to take you back. At the end of our trek, we were delighted to discover we had the place to ourselves, perhaps because it was early in the day the company had just celebrated an annual event the night before. We were ushered into a small movie theatre for a short documentary on founder Hugo Asbach, who learned the art of brandy making in France and brought his newfound talents

to his hometown in Germany. Afterward, we toured a series of museum rooms full of old distilling equipment before arriving at the tasting room. For a small fee, we sampled a half dozen brandies and were rewarded with a bonus chocolate filled with brandy. Even though the brandy can be had at our local BevMo, we bought a bottle and lugged it around in our suitcase for the rest of our trip. It made it home where it still sits unopened in our liquor cabinet. Perhaps as the weather warms, we’ll bring it out for an Asbach Sour (Lemon and orange juices, simple syrup and the brandy). Or hold out for a holiday treat – brandy-laced Rüdesheimer coffee topped with whipped cream and chocolate. q







e have long considered doing a river cruise down the Rhine. Our interest was spurred by those slick Viking commercials, complete with soaring music as ships glided past splendid castles and enchanting German villages. While planning our trip to RĂźdesheim, we discovered that we

could enjoy the some of the same experience for a fraction of the cost of a river cruise. Of course a Rhine river cruise visits more than the Rhine Gorge, but for our purposes – seeing castles and scenic villages, we opted to board one of the modern passenger ferries that ply the entire Middle Rhine.








e used the KD line to see the dramatic 41

The boat’s PA system gave minimal information

mile stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley

about what we were seeing. So to make a trip a lot

between our homebase in Rüdesheim

more interesting, bring along a good guidebook that

to Koblenz. In that span, there are nearly 60 pictur-

explains the history, myths, and legends associated

esque small towns, extensive terraced vineyards and

with the castles and towns along the way. If you’re

the ruins of castles that once defended trade on the

interested in history, consider timing your visit to

river. From the ferry deck, visitors can see 40 hilltop

historical and holiday markets, castle festivals and

castles and fortresses erected over a period of 1,000

knight tournaments.

years. There are so many that after the first dozen or so, you begin to get castle fatigue.

We purchased our tickets at the dock, although it’s possible to book online. There are several tour pack-



ages so make sure you do your homework to get the

where we found the food to be tasty and reasonable.

best deal. We cruised from Rüdesheim to Boppard, just

They also offered a good selection of beer and wine,

short of the end of the line in Koblenz. We strolled the

with a cold beer on tap. The service is passable, but

quaint streets of Boppard for about two hours -- then

since we weren’t in a hurry, we just went with the flow

sipped Riesling while we waited for our return ferry at

(so to speak!).

the comfortable riverside patio or the Bellevue Hotel. Plan your Rhine River trip according to your comfort and Due to river currents, the return trip to Rüdesheim took

interest level. Dress in layers; the weather can change

twice as long as the journey to Boppard. We didn’t mind.

dramatically on the trip. Itt was cool and breezy for most

The skies cleared as we headed back, so we could

of the downstream trip and sunny and hot on the way

lounge on the sunny outdoor deck and even catch a

back. The boat ride can take the entire day if you go both

brief nap. We lunched in the boat’s large restaurant

ways. A good plan would be to combine the boat ride





with a train passage or even an overnight in one of the towns along the way. A train trip from Boppard to Bingen (across the river from Rüdesheim) takes 35 minutes; by boat you’d spend five hours. Trains run up and down the river on both sides stopping in all of the towns and villages. Be sure to have timetables for ferries and trains so that you’re not stuck someplace you don’t want to be overnight. The Middle Rhine Valley is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and there are a myriad of ways to experience it. Whether you book a President’s Suite on a river cruise and or day-trip via ferry and train, you won’t regret one minute of this scenic journey. q




ne intriguing point of interest was the narrow passage at Loreley rock. There are legends about a young woman, Loreley, who had long blond hair and a beautiful voice. Some say she was mermaid who fell

in love with a man and transformed herself into a farmer’s daughter to pursue her love. Another version claims she was a sorceress from the nearby village of Bacharach. In both versions she fell in love with a young man who spurned her affections and forever sat on a rock overlooking the river singing sad songs. Her voice and beauty bewitched sailors who drowned when their ships foundered on the rocky shore. q



Heinrich Heine wrote the poem „The LoreLey “In 1824. It wasput to music in 1837 by Friedrich Silcher and still is one of the most famous Rhine songs. I cannot determine the meaning Of sorrow that fills my breast: A fable of old, through it streaming, Allows my mind no rest. The air is cool in the gloaming And gently flows the Rhine. The crest of the mountain is gleaming In fading rays of sunshine. The loveliest maiden is sitting Up there, so wondrously fair; Her golden jewelry is glist'ning; She combs her golden hair. She combs with a gilded comb, preening, And sings a song, passing time. It has a most wondrous, appealing And pow'rful melodic rhyme. The boatman aboard his small skiff, Enraptured with a wild ache, Has no eye for the jagged cliff, His thoughts on the heights fear forsake. I think that the waves will devour Both boat and man, by and by, And that, with her dulcet-voiced power Was done by the Loreley. WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM






hat started out as one of our most pleasant experiences in Rüdesheim turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Our plan, one cloudy morning in Rüdesheim, was to hike the Ostein Route through Niederwald Park perched on the bluffs overlooking the Rhine. Supposedly the easiest of the Rhine Gorge walks, with

relatively level trails and well maintained and marked paths, it traversed the “fairy tale forest” of beach and oak, created by Count Graf von Ostein in the late 1800s complete with a temple, enchanted cave, castle ruins and a hunting lodge. What could go wrong, unless perhaps you were Hansel and Gretel?




lthough there was a light sprinkle of rain occasionally, our day trip went as advertised. After a nice breakfast at the hotel, Mary and I walked to the cable car ticket window about 50 feet away. We purchased a Ring ticket ($15) which included the cable car ride up to Niederwald, the chairlift down to nearby Assmannshausen and a ferry ride that would take us down the Rhine back to Rßdesheim. We climbed into the gondola and soon were gliding above the old town and vineyards, enjoying a spectacular bird’s eye view of the towns along the Rhine River.







The view of Rüdesheim, and the Rhine as we rode the gondola up the the park.





Once at the top, it was a short walk to a large classical temple built by Ostein, destroyed in 1944 and rebuilt in 2006. We joined a dozen or so hikers taking photos and enjoying of the expansive views of the Valley. A few hundred yards down the path is Germainia in her full busted glory –the imposing 125-foot high centerpiece of the Niederwald Monument, a tribute to German nationalism commemorating the rebirth of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War.



We continued our walk down the trail into the magical woods through a stretch that inspired Brahms to pen his third symphony. Other artists have created works dedicated to the beauty here for over a century. As we walked the trail, sheltered by a canopy of trees and serenaded by scores of birds, we occasionally passed a solo walker or small, group of nature lovers, but mostly we enjoyed our nature walk undisturbed. Later along the main path, we passed what looked like a large covered Gypsy wagon pulled by two beautiful black horses, there to give exhausted walkers a lift. Feeling good and energized by the scenery, we declined the transportation, but, as it would turn out, later I would have willingly paid a lot of money for that same ride. Our walk through the park was delightful, until the light sprinkle turned into a thunderstorm. Right: A horse-drawn bus waits for passengers.





The light sprinkle turned into a thunderstorm with pounding rain. Fortunately, as we exited the forest, a storybook hotel appeared to save the day. Dozens of other walkers joined us in running toward shelter in the classic Jagdschloss Niederwald hotel. Walk into the small hotel lobby it’s like walking back in time to 1764 when it was used as a hunting lodge. Later it was converted into a hotel for visitors to the Niederwald Memorial so that they could enjoy the scenery and wildlife. The Jagdschloss is a historic place for Germans - the Niederwald Conference was held here after WW II to lay the foundation for Germany’s current constitution. Oblivious to its history, we dashed through the front door, seeking a warm dry haven and perhaps a glass of wine or two until the sun returned. When the rain let up, we leisurely strolled to the nearby lift for our trip down to the village of Assmannshausen. This is when our journey begins to go south. The famous Hotel Jagdshloss was a welcome shelter from the thunderstorm. One of the hotel deer looks for a handout.





At the lift station a long line of soggy walkers was waiting for trips to resume. Operators had shut it down because of lightning; with thunder still rumbling, it stayed stalled. Bummer. I hate waiting and no one could estimate how long it would be before the chairs were loaded again. What to do?



Nearby, we overheard a distinguished-looking couple discussing a plan to walk to town. It is an easy trail and we’ve walked it many times, they told us before turning and disappearing down a trail and into the woods. We weighed our options, knowing that ferries to Rüdesheim stopped service in the late afternoon and it was now after noon. I felt pretty fresh, and the wine effect was still engaged, so I said, “Let’s do it.”

With the chairlifts stopped because of lightning, Mary asks a nice couple about walking down to the town.

Bad mistake. We began our trek down the path that we would learn is called the Freiligrath route after the revolutionary poet Ferdinand Freiligrath, called by his friends the “bugler of the revolution” of 1848. It is the one route labelled with a heart on the map– which most likely meant you risked a heart attack somewhere along the route. The steep

serpentine five-kilometer path, slippery from the rain, led down through the woods. We tread slowly and carefully over the now treacherous rocky trail. About two kilometers down the trail, a familiar sensation in my legs triggered red flags. I was experiencing the onset of rubber legs – at least that’s what I called them. It’s a symptom often called weak legs, jelly legs, or shaky legs. It get’s worse as you continue,



After surviving the long march to the Rhine Mary and I stop for some hard-earned refreshments.

but I had to move on even though my legs buckled with every step. I forced myself to walk slowly, one wobbly step at a time, resting frequently By the way, we never saw the couple who suggested this trail from hell. I had begun to believe that they were not kind old Germans at all, but evil Gremlins inflicting pain on ignorant strangers. But we did see the chairlift when we stepped into a clearing. People who waited out



the storm waved to us as they sailed over us and down to the town. I swear I saw the old couple among them, evil grins on their faces. It was probably an illusion, a side effect of rubber legs. Finally, we began passing vineyards (pinot noir I was told), and soon the whole village came into view. It still took us another half-hour to navigate the steep streets down to the ferry landing. Each cobblestone was my

enemy as I stumbled along until finally we turned a corner and saw the Rhine. We were at the river front. We had made it.

but she was soon crestfallen when a machine-made lukewarm brew arrived accompanied by stale strudel. It was that kind of day.

With tears of survivor joy in my eyes, I quaffed a cold German beer at the café while waiting for our boat to take us home. Now it was Mary’s turn to be disappointed. Throughout our ordeal, she had visions of cake and the brandied coffee made tabeleside that was a regional specialty. That’s what she ordered with glee,

What to do? We boarded the ferry for our ride back to Rüdesheim and walked from the ferry landing to our favourite Riesling tasting room. A few glasses later and our good spirits returned, and If nothing else, we had a great tale to tell of our memorable walk in the woods. q






EVEN EUROPEAN TRAVEL GURU RICK STEVES HAS A BAD DAY. Like the time a few years back when he advised readers of one of his guidebooks to skip the German city of Wiesbaden because of what he claimed was a lack of attractions to interest travelers. There it was, tucked away in the back of his Germany travel guide: “Mainz, Wiesbaden and Rudesheim: These towns are all too big or too famous. They’re not worth your time.” In essence the message was, “Nothing to see here, folks, best to move on.” How wrong he was.



Wiesbaden offers visitors not only a gateway to the most

some 40 castles, most built between the 11th and 14th centu-

scenic parts of the Rhine Valley, proclaimed in 2002 as

ries. For more than 1,000 years, many of these hillsides facing

a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but a dip into the age of the

the river have produced the finest of German wines.

Belle Epoque leading up to World War I. With a population of 275,000 Wiesbaden is the capital of the Broad boulevards, mansions, a neo-Classical theater and

German state of Hesse, which was created after World War

casino as well as exquisite parks frame this city, which was

II. Frankfurt, a much larger city of American-style skyscrap-

largely spared from damage in World War II. If it's cafe society

ers and the financial hub of the European continent, is 40

you want, perhaps a bit of elegance, this is the place.

minutes away for a day trip.

Wiesbaden was one of Europe's original spa towns, and

Maybe Rick Steves was put off by losing money at Wies-

thousands still come here to find the remedy for their aches

baden's casino, part of the city's Kurhaus, an architectural

and pains in the city's hot mineral springs, to be pampered

masterpiece built in 1907 in a neo-Classical style. Here, in a

in luxuriant baths, saunas and massage rooms. It also has

palatial building, there's a civic theater, ballrooms, a Michelin-

become a major medical center, with patients coming from

rated restaurant, and the city's famous casino. He wouldn't be

around the world.

alone. A frequent visitor, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously lost his shirt at the casino.

If its convenience you're after, Wiesbaden is less than 40 minutes by train from the Frankfurt Airport, and is within

What else could explain Steves' passing up on Wiesbaden?

minutes of other Rhine gateways, including the historic city of

Maybe the city's Hotel Nassauer Hof was booked up. With a

Mainz and the tourist-heavy town of Rudesheim. The south-

magnificent spa where a day of relaxation will set you back

ern part of Wiesbaden flanks the Rhine. A few miles north

250 euros, the hotel since 1813 has been one of Germany's

the river begins a 40-mile course overlooked by tall hills and

top accommodations.



The Russian Orthodox church is one of the city's architectural masterpieces. Photos courtesy Wiesbaden Tourism. Opposite: Elegance reigns at the Kurhaus, with its casino and fine-dining restaurant.



Many Americans already know Wiesbaden because of the

counter as soon as you walk in. Anyone who passes up on

large U.S. military presence that has been based here since

just one slice of this artwork should be thrown out. "The whole

the end of World War II. Two of those residents were Elvis

thing just takes you away in space and time," wrote one satis-

Presley, serving here in the U.S. Army, and his bride-to-be Pris-

fied customer on a Web site.

cilla Beaulieu, stepdaughter of an American Air Force officer. If you visit the center city on Wednesday or Saturday, near the Best place to begin an exploration, starting in the center city?

cathedral you'll find regional foods being sold at an outdoor

How about the Cafe Maldaner, founded in 1859?

market. Flowers, plants, cheese and meats, along with fruits

Like the elegant Kafer's Bistro in the Kurhaus, this is a place

and vegetables, are available. If you're not planning to cook,

where you run into "tout Wiesbaden." Billed as a Viennese-

you can try some of the fare at one of the many pop-up snack

style coffeehouse, it offers light meals and an overpowering


assortment of sweets and coffees, including four styles of apple strudel. The baked goods are all displayed behind a glass



After doing some retail therapy, I sauntered down the Wil-

The striking Russian Orthodox church tells a tragic tale of young love.. Left:. Temptation reigns at Cafe Maldaner

helmstrasse to the Kunder shop, a chocoholics paradise

driven by water pressure, the Nerobergbahn, takes travel-

where decision-making is very difficult. I selected the local

ers on a four-minute ride up a hill overlooking the city. There,

“Wiesbadener ananas tortchen� and was not disappointed

they will find another link to Russia, the landmark Orthodox

by the only-found-in-Wiesbaden confection. In addition, they

Church of St. Elizabeth, completed in 1855. Built in a forest, it

have 100 types of pralines.

was commissioned by the Grand Duke Adolf of Nassau to commemorate his late wife, the Grand Duchess, Elizabeth

Just outside the pedestrian zone is "the synagogue that once

Michailovna, a niece of Czar Nicholas I. She died in childbirth

was." Here is a striking and somber memorial to the destruc-

at age 19, only a year after her marriage. She is interred here,

tion by the Nazis of the city synagogue on "Crystal Night"

along with the couple's stillborn daughter. Adjacent to the

in 1938. Engraved on the monument walls are the names of

church, with its five golden cupolas, is a Russian cemetery.

1,500 Jews from the area killed in the Holocaust. A short stroll brings those on an outing to the Opelbad, an Just north of downtown is Neroberg Mountain, where a train

outdoor swimming pool overlooking the city. Completed in



1934 in Bauhaus style, it is open from May to September. Also a sunbather's delight, it offers views over the Rhine Valley from expansive lawns. A very good restaurant, Wagner at Opelbad, looks out on the view and the swimmers just below. As in the past, one of the prime reasons to visit Wiesbaden is to bathe in the healing baths. Visitors can do this at the classical Kaiser-Friedrich bath in the center city and the more modern Aukammtal thermal bath, where water from the hot springs can reach 152 degrees Fahrenheit. There are rooms for massages, facials and other treatments. My Wiesbaden moment. a bucket-list adventure with shades of James Bond, came on an evening outing to the Kurhaus casino. We started at the elegant Kafer restaurant before moving to the casino, a few steps away. In the restaurant, we ate a three-course meal on furnishings gathered from Parisian restaurants and French markets. The Salones Flacons exhibits 178 oversized perfume bottles while another room carries an exhibition of the late German photographer Gunter Sachs, once married to Brigitte Bardot. Suitably attired in jacket and tie, I then paid a minimal entrance fee to the casino attendant, and had my photo taken. Inside, I found myself surrounded by many women in black. I surveyed the scene, found a friendly bartender and proceeded to the roulette table. English was not in style here, but French and German were. I pulled out a five-euro note and placed it on the table. Eyes immediately looked at me, and a fellow player came up. "Sir, you need to play with 20 euros." I produced the missing money, but that was the end to my James Bond moment, after suffering a loss. I receded to the bar to take in the scene and soothe my loss. As we left the elegant Kurhaus, a Mercedes taxi pulled up and I again felt on top of the world looking down the broad expanse of the "Bowling Green" lawn just outside. And a final message to Rick Steves: You could use some of the healing from Wiesbaden's curative waters. Followed by some apple strudel at Cafe Maldaner, of course. That could change your attitude! q



Perfect for a spa day -- the historic Kaiser Friedrich Thermal Baths.

IF YOU GO German rail information: Historic Highlights of Germany: Wiesbaden tourism: Cafe Maldaner: Chocolateria Kunder::

Hotel Oranian: Kurhaus Wiesbaden. Information on the casino, Kafer’s Kurhaus fine dining restaurant and cultural events: Wagner Restaurant at Opelbad: Photos coutesy Wiesbaden Tourism WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM






’m not much for factory tours, especially while on vacation.But when the host is offering a free glass or two of sparkling wine, who am I to say no? So, while visiting Wiesbaden, my wife Sharon and I jumped into a taxi to tour the “sektkellerei” of Henkell & Co., whose parent is one of Europe’s leading producers of sparkling wines, as well as spirits. If it sparkles, Henkell, a conglomerate, most likely makes a brand, including champagne, creamant, prosecco and cava. Heading toward the Rhine, to Wiesbaden’s Biebrich district, we pulled up in front of what first appeared to be a palace. You can’t miss it. On the roof is a large sign reading Henkell Trocken, or Henkell Dry, for the signature sparkling favorite served in German embassies around the world. Walking in the door, we were greeted by a hostess who took us through a marble foyer of Greek and Italian design. The plant, if it can be called that, opened in 1909, moving across the Rhine from nearby Mainz when owner Otto Henkell needed to expand production. The brand traces its roots to 1832 and a few years back marked sales of 1 billion bottles. Once a reception area for business partners, the magnificent marble hall today is used for glittering balls and musical events, as well as a setting for the company’s advertising, which in itself is a worthy piece of history seen on the Internet. A stained glass installation in the Blaue Salon captures four grape varieties used to make the cuvee. In 1935, during hard times, the company came out with its Henkell piccolo, a smaller and less expensive bottle sold to those who didn’t want to give up on the good life. Our tour began with a tasting of a few of the sparkling wines produced here and to learn the history of the firm. Then, it was down a magnificent staircase to a series of lower levels, where the wine is aged in huge barrels along darkened corridors. Along the way, vintage production equipment used in wine-making over the years is shown, as well as a map of the locales from which the grapes are sourced. Then, we walked to the back of the building to look down on the immaculate bottling area, with a vineyard mural on the wall. Lasting a bit over an hour, the tour ended up in the new wine shop, where the company sells and showcases all its various brands, at reasonable prices. I left feeling that we had missed one thing -- an exquisite night to remember sipping champagne in a tuxedo while an orchestra played a waltz in the magnificent marble foyer. Henkell & Co. sektkelleri: henkell-und-co-gruppe, Biebricher Allee 142, Wiesbaden, Germany. Check ahead for tour availability.



a taste of TRIER




“Here we were in the heart of Trier, Germany, for a foodie’s adventure with origins stretching 2,000 years into the past.” By Carl H. Larsen






e had been invited to dinner at Restaurant-Weinstube Zum Domstein, a pleasant establishment where traditional German dishes always are on the menu. And it’s a great place

to people-watch on the Market Square over an afternoon coffee and apple strudel. But there would be none of that tonight -- no schnitzel, no bratwurst, no sauerkraut. And no beer. Instead, we were there to sample Roman dishes from a cookbook that has been credited to Marcus Gavius Apicius, a gourmet who relished the fine life. He was born around 25 B.C. under the reign of Emperor Caesar Tiberius. In reality, the collection of recipes comes from many sources linked to ancient Rome, including Apicius, who scholars believe contributed seven dishes. Over the years, the book has been translated many times, and has been a best-seller that was claimed to be the second most-published book in the 1700s, after the Bible. Only two copies of the original 9th century text compiling the old recipes are known to exist. Using the cookbook, known as "De re Coquinari," as their guide, the chefs Peter and Rosemarie Gracher at Zum Domstein, along with chef Rudiger Kloster have adapted the old recipes with modern-day interpretation. The restaurant houses an impressive display of Roman artifacts found nearby. Before embarking on such a Roman culinary excursion, be sure to book ahead and check to see what dishes are being offered. Ask to dine in the Roman wine cellar. After sitting down, and to foreshadow what was ahead in a three-course adventure, my wife and I were presented as an apertif a mug of mulsum, a spiced dry white wine with honey, not unlike the white gluhwein served at outdoor German Christmas markets today. This must have been strictly for medicinal purposes. As Pliny the Elder commented: "When Augustus asked him how he could live to a hundred years, Romilius responded: 'With mulsum for the innards and olive oil for the outer body.'" Then, it was time to dive in, as a seemingly endless assortment of dishes arrived at the table. Wine would be appropriate here, since the Romans favored it, but they did not drink it without first watering it down.

photo by Amy Laughinghouse



The restaurant serves its Roman meals either a la carte or in

But thank the gods we didn't suffer the same fate as the gour-

a course selection. Zum Domstein's Cena Apiciana I dinner

mand Apicius. He killed himself after running out of money

is served in three courses: gustationes (appetizers), mensa

to support his lavish culinary tastes. These included creating

prima (main course) and mensa secunda (dessert). There is

dishes from the crests of living cocks and killing pigs with

an English menu. But be forewarned: "We attempt to cook as

honeyed wine or fattening their livers for foie gras with dried

authentically as possible," the menu tells diners. "We expect a


conscientious open-mindedness from our guests in dining on the Roman dishes, as the ancients had different tastes than

Bringing a long-dead culture back to life through its culinary

later eras."

tastes makes a lot of sense in Trier, a city on the banks of the Moselle River and the center of an important wine-producing

Among the appetizers were tisana, a hearty barley soup

region that goes back to Roman times.

with pork; lucanicae, a type of sausage with pine kernels and herbs; fabaciae virides, green beans with fish sauce and

Near the borders of France, Luxembourg and Belgium, Trier is

herbs; and mustea, a roll made of flour, cheese and wine.

Germany's oldest city, and once was the administrative capital

The lucan sausages go back to ancient Greece, and still are

of the western Roman Empire, becoming Roma Secunda --

produced today on the islands of Crete and Rhodes. Many

the second Rome. The Romans brought to Trier a high stand-

of the dishes are prepared in a fermented fish sauce called

ard of living, exquisite artwork and their famed architectural

garum for seasonsing and to give a salty taste (salt then was

and engineering skills.

very expensive). Here, more than 1,500 years after its downfall, the Roman EmFor the main course, we shifted to meats -- pork, fish and

pire remains a vibrant part of the modern-day city of 110,000.

chicken. The restaurant has an authentic eggplant dish suitable for vegans. Choices included perna cum caricis, a ham

A UNESCO Heritage site, Trier offers an in-depth view of the

prepared with figs and myrtle; pullus cucurbitas et carotae

Roman Empire without the crowds in Rome. The monolithic

frictas, chicken with zucchini and carrots; and agnus tarpei-

architecture left by the Romans includes a basilicia that was

ancus, lamb with herbs, wine, onion and date; piscis assus ius

the throne room for the Emperor Constantine, built in AD 310.

in pisce, a fried fish fillet served in sauce with herbs, wine and

The city's landmark is the massive Porta Nigra, just outside


the tourist office. This black gate was once an entrance to the city, and gives visitors climbing to the top an impressive

Dessert mirrored the Romans' love for pears, with a patina de

overlook. There are the remains of the Imperial baths, with

piris, a delicious pear souffle with honey.

its fascinating underground heating system; and an amphitheater, seating 20,000, where modern-day gladiators still

We were consumed with the experience, comparing dishes

test their mettle, but not to their deaths.

with styles we know, and marveling at being able to eat in a traditional way popular 2,000 years ago. Missing was one

And, if your idea of a Roman meal is a loaf of multigrain bread,

element: no one was there at the end to serve me grapes

then there's always a cozy place nearby for excellent German

off the vine while music from a lyre wafted over the room.

creations, including local wines and beers. q

But a total thumbs up goes to the folks at Zum Domstein for researching this menu, and coming up with a way to present it to modern palates.



IF YOU GO Trier is a three-hour train ride from the Frankfurt Airport. Along the way, trains travel through the scenic Rhine and Moselle river valleys. For rail information, check Historic Highlights of Germany: www. Schroeders Appartement Hotel or WeinStyle Hotel. www.schroedershotels. com. The Wein-Style Hotel overlooks vineyards and the Appartement Hotel is near the university, offering large apartment-style accommodation with kitchens and easy parking. Frequent city buses connect both with the Old Town, photo by Amy Laughinghouse

about a 15-minute ride. Trier Tourism Office: english/index. Inquire about discounts for sightseeing and local transport, including the Trier Card, and the Antikencard, focusing on the Roman attractions. Weinwirtschaft Friedrich-Wilhelm: Focusing on German wines, this is a pleasing restaurant near the city center, with an outdoor terrace and tapas bar. Weinstube Kesselstatt: Adjacent to the Cathedral, the restaurant specializes in regional selections and offers an outdoor terrace, indoor dining and a cave-like "wine vault." Liebfrauenstrasse 10. Zum Domstein:, offers traditional German selections as well as the Roman meal and individual dishes. Book ahead. Hauptmarkt 5, Trier.





towering figure in world affairs, he’s the most famous son of a city that over the years has had conflicted views of just how to remember him.

Refusing to be thrown into the dustbin of history, Karl Marx “is back,” says one pamphlet in the city of his birth, Trier, Germany. Indeed, this is a key year for sizing up anew the brilliant political theoretician who wrote the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels in 1848 and the book Das Kapital, his indictment of capitalism. It’s not so much revolutionary zeal that brings Marx to center stage once more. This is the bicentennial year of his birth on May 5, 1818, so a major observance of a man who changed history and whose disciples have brought misery to many parts of the world was deemed to be in order. This year, Marx will be celebrated, discussed and reviled in many places around the globe. The anniversary has brought any number of conferences, many new books, as well as a movie, “The Young Karl Marx.” In Trier, memories of Marx are easy to find and will be supplemented by several new exhibitions. Just across the plaza from the tourist office stands the house where he grew up before going to college. A quick walk brings tourists and those making pilgrimages to the Karl-MarxHaus, where he was born and which houses a museum about the man whose face, with its unkempt beard, is known around the globe. The exhibitions should help visitors to Trier overcome the paradox of how Marx, one of nine siblings, could grow up in a comfortable middle class family in the center of a seemingly prosperous city yet turn to a revolutionary career that would attract millions interested in his ideal of a classless society. “Workers of the world, unite” was his theme in preaching that capitalism would be overturned through a proletarian revolution of class struggle.



Starting on May 5, his birthday, the Marx birth house at Bruckenstrasse 10, operated by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, will reopen after undergoing a major renovation and the installation of a new permanent exhibition. The exhibit promises to explore Marx’s works and life, and also how he became such a politically controversial figure who struggled with poverty at the end of his life. During the Nazi years in Germany, the museum was taken over by the Nazi party and turned into a print shop. Many other events related to Marx are planned this year in Trier. So many, in fact, that the local tourism office offers a discounted “Karl Marx Card” (20 euros) available from May 5 to October 21, 2018, to see several exhibitions. Included are entry to the Marx birth house and its new exhibit; admission to the state museum exhibition: “Karl Marx (1818-1883): Life. Works. Times” and special exhibiits at the Municipal Museum Simeonstift; and the Cathedral Museum. “We didn’t think we’d have much luck promoting this Marx theme to Americans,” said a tourist guide in Trier. More inclined to make the journey, he said, were thousands of Chinese from mainland China, where the father of communism is held in adulation. Indeed, expecting busloads of visitors, local merchants have been practicing Chinese. With all this recognition, Marx may be turning over in his grave. The building across from the tourist office where he lived as a young boy today houses a German version of a “dollar store” (euroshop) on the ground floor. And local capitalists, always looking for “a quick buck,” are marketing Marx wine, which merchants must hope will be the people’s choice in this important wine-producing region along the Moselle River. The Trier tourist office has even planned several tours presenting Marx in his hometown. One is titled “How Wine Turned Karl Marx Communist.” One thing the Marx exhibtions in Trier will give you: An opportunity to be at the head of your class when talking politics.



“STUDENTENKARZER” Heidelberg University’s Infamous Student Jail



By Sharon Whitley Larsen

I was in jail! And what better place to be on a rain-soaked day in Heidelberg! This was my first visit to this magical, romantic city of 155,000 in southwest Germany, on the banks of the scenic Neckar River. And as I sloshed through the cobble-stoned passages, trying to manuever a windswept umbrella as well as carry a camera and small travel bag--over-flowing with guidebooks and brochures--my guide suggested that we pop into Heidelberg University's Student Prison. Excuse me? I had no idea that this quirky jail—“Studentenkarzer”-housed at the prestigious Heidelberg University (the oldest in Germany, built between 1712 and 1728, with some 30,000 students today) is a popular tourist stop. (Especially after tourists have seen the glorious ruins of Heidelberg Castle and the city's highest point--Konigsfuhl-via the funicular, taking in the gorgeous view—as well as touring such sites as the Old Bridge, the Church of the Holy Spirit, Old Town, and the Philosopher's Walk.) In 2014 Heidelberg was named a UNESCO City of Literature. Opened from 1784 to 1914 (renovated and expanded during 1822-23; a new cell, the largest, added in 1886, as well as a fireplace flue; the wooden staircase replaced by stone stairs), the prison was where rowdy students—generally from well-to-do families—were “sentenced” for “kavaliersdelikte” (minor infractions) anywhere from three days to four weeks. (Until the mid-19th century, sentences could be up to a year.) The Student Prison at Heidelburg University is popular with tourists who enjoy perusing the quirky, colorful drawings from former students imprisoned here for minor infractions until it closed in 1914. Photos courtesy WikiMedia




he offenses could include drinking (to excess), disturbing the peace, insulting authorities, bathing in public, illegal fencing duels, releasing farmers' pigs to run wild,

smashing streetlights—basically behaving badly and driving the authorities nuts. Back then, in the 19th century, with some 20,000 population, there were 500-700 university students. For serious offenses, students were given only bread and water the first three days. The cells, eventually dubbed vari-

ous names--including Solitude, Palais Royal, Sans Souci, Villa Trall (there was also the Servant's Room and the Throne Room--or WC)--were furnished with a bed, small table, and wooden chair. Students were attended by a manservant before 7 a.m., and lights were out at 10 p.m. During the day, however, the students--members of various fraternities, dressed in uniforms with the university frat's trademark cap-were released to attend class lectures so their education would not suffer. Residing in the prison was sort of a badge of honor and eventually friends, family, and restaurants supplied food--and even beer and wine--so prison life could be somewhat civilized. But to while away the time in their small cells, the lads began doodling and painting on the walls, jotting down their names and dates of their incarceration, writing poetry or general graffifi via various media, including oil paints and wax crayons. Notes were also carved on tables, beds, chairs, doors, window panes. (In 1983 all doors were removed and replaced by metal gates.)



Heidelberg, on the banks of the Neckar River, has some 30,000 university students today. Photo credit: Heidelberg Marketing GmbH



IF YOU GO The Student Prison (tickets include visits to the impressive Old Hall and University Museum as well): There's also a small gift shop, where visitors can purchase souvenir "University of Heidelberg" T-shirts.



I stayed at the charming Hotel Hollander Hof, with a view of the Old Bridge, the Neckar River and the Philosopher's Walk: Zum Goldenen Hecht (next to hotel; popular with locals; cozy, with good German food): Simplicissimus (a gastronomic treat): Cafe Schafheutle (lovely place where I had lunch):

From the 1823 regulations, imprisoned students were charged nominal fees for admission and release, daily attendance, heat, and lights. When Mark Twain visited in 1878, he was fascinated that the university had a prison. In 1880 he published A Tramp Abroad which included "The College Prison": "The ceiling was completely covered with names, dates, and monograms done with candle smoke. The walls were thickly covered with pictures and portraits (in profile), some done with ink, some with soot, some with a pencil, and some with red, blue, and green chalks, and wherever an inch or two of space had remained between the pictures, the captives had written plaintive verses, or names and dates. I do not think I was ever in a more elaborately frescoed apartment." He described a cell he visited as having "a window of good size, iron-grated; a small stove; two wooden chairs; two oaken tables, very old and most elaborately carved with names, mottoes, faces, armorial bearings, etc.--the work of several generations of imprisoned students; and a narrow wooden bedstead with a villainous old straw mattress, but no sheets, pillows, blankets, or coverlets--for these the student must furnish at his own cost if he wants them. There was no carpet, of course." Today visitors are in awe of the colorful paintings and quirky drawings—as well as the sayings, including one atop the first staircase landing: “Abandon every hope, you who enter!” from Dante's “Inferno.” Upon my release from the jail, I stopped at Cafe Knosel to purchase a "Student's Kiss"--a chocolate candy, its wrapper emblazoned with a profile replica of a capped uniformed university student ready to kiss his sweetheart. In 1863, Fridolin Knosel created a chocolate delight that students could give to young ladies as a token of affection--when romantic public displays were discouraged. The charming shop, where tourists purchase the treats for souvenirs, is still run by family members today. And as I took a bite of the sweet, I wondered if any of the student prisoners had the treats delivered to their cells? Just Cafe Knosel: ("Student Kiss"):

a thought! q

Tourism Heidelberg: Heidelberg Card: Valid for free public transportation and reduced entrance fees in various museums in Heidelberg City: Historic Highlights of Germany:



By Sharon Whitley Larsen

We got kicked out of a royal palace! My husband, Carl, and I had just arrived in Bavaria's charming Regensburg by train. Regarded as Germany's best preserved medieval city--with cobble-stoned streets and narrow passageways--Regensburg (pop. 140,000), is on the banks of the Danube. A popular stop for river cruises, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were excited to see what it had to offer! After dropping off our luggage at the Jakob Hotel, we hailed a taxi to take us to one of the largest private residences in Europe—the 210,000 square foot Schloss St. Emmeram--Thurn und Taxis Palace--whose 500-plus rooms make it larger than Buckingham Palace! Visited by some 300,000 each year, since 1812 this former monastery has been a royal family residence--and is one of Europe's best-kept secrets.



Touring Regensburg From the Magnificent Thurn und Taxis Palace to the Torture Chamber!

Outdoor concerts are popular during the summer at the Thurn und Taxis Palace. Photo credit: RTG: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH Opposite: Charming Regensburg, on the banks of the Danube, is a popular stop for river cruise ships. Photo credit: RTG: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH



As we pulled up to the palace entryway, we looked around to

doing here? You need to leave! Now!”

see where the ticket office was. Well, it wasn't the ticket office after all, but apparently a law “There!” the taxi driver (who spoke some English) pointed. “Go

firm that rented space in the oversized palace! Oops!

in that door!” After walking back down the flights of stairs, we finally found So that's what we did. Some smartly dressed business people,

the ticket office—inside the palace gift shop in another build-

exiting, held an inner door open for us as they smiled and


nodded. Carl and I strode up a massive, wide, red-carpeted staircase, one of fourteen in the palace. By the time we

And so we joined a dozen others (we were the only Ameri-

reached the third landing, a bit out of breath, I weakly said, “I

cans) for the 90-minute guided tour. As the guide spoke Ger-

don't think this is where the ticket office is!”

man, we learned palace details from an English audio headset.

But Carl kept going. Soon he walked into a palace office full of

With its eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furnishings

desks and computers (antique portraits of royalty hanging on

and decor, the palace is unique. As we began our magical

the walls), calling out, “Hello? Hello?”

tour--via the massive marble entry hall and staircase--through the opulent Princely State Rooms--including the Large Dining

I heard a woman's accented voice shout out, “What are you



Room, 19th century Convervatory, Throne Room, Ballroom,

Photos courtesy RTG: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH

Gobelin Salon, Silver Salon, Yellow (Music) Salon, Mirror Salon,

And it was fascinating to learn about the history and the

Green Salon--as well as the House Chapel (a former bed-

colorful royal princess--Mariae Gloria von Thurn und Taxis-

room), we were in awe seeing the rich tapestries, art collec-

-who resides here today.

tion (including Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons), furniture, crystal chandeliers, elegant mirrors. (Not to be missed are also the

"The first time I drove into the courtyard of St. Emmeram [in

Crypt Chapel, Carriage Museum and Treasure Chamber.)

1979], I was totally overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the palace," Princess Gloria (as she's known) writes in the 2015

"The resulting juxtaposition--contemporary art, on a backdrop

book, House of Thurn und Taxis.

of ornate and carefully preserved structural design--makes the palace a home like no other," raved Architectural Digest.

Greeting visitors to the royal residence, she says via audio tape, "I am pleased that you are interested in the 1,000-year-

I was most intrigued with the small, ornate House Chapel,

old tradition of the former Benedictine Abbey St. Emmeram

originally the bedroom of Crown Princess Helene von Thurn

and the century-old history of the family of Thurn und Taxis.

und Taxis, who died here on May 16, 1890. Her son, Prince Al-

A visit to St. Emmeram is like taking a walk through many

bert I, had the bedroom converted to a chapel in her memory

centuries from the Middle Ages to today. The Emmeram

and it's still used for private Masses and baptisms.

Cloisters were built between the 11th and the 14th centuries. The important saints Emmeram and Wolfgang as well as



Carolingian emperors, Bavarian dukes and Regenburg bishops have been buried here. Let yourself be carried away by a tour through the palace and follow us through the captivating history of monks, emissaries and aristocratic life. Still today we receive our most prestigious guests in these Baroque rooms designed in the 18th century." Raised in a cash-poor aristocratic family, it was "Punk Princess" Gloria (dubbed "TNT" by Vanity Fair) who re-connected with a distant cousin, the billionaire Johannes, 11th prince of the Thurn und Taxis, in 1979 when she was 19 and he 53. They wed a year later in a lavish ceremony, celebrated in the castle Ballroom. His family had inherited their massive wealth via a savvy ancestor, Franz von Taxis, who was instrumental in launching--during the 15th century--the first European postal system. Helping her hubby spend his money (including worldwide travels), at times with colorfully spiked-hair, the wacky and outrageous motorcycle-riding Princess Gloria attended opulent parties--sometimes until 5 a.m. She entertained such celebs as Michael Jackson (who loved their palace--especially the Ballroom-amazed at the massive size of the royal residence); Mick Jagger, Elton John, Liza Minelli, Tom Jones, Quincy Jones, and Placido Domingo. (The eccentrically attired princess was also a good friend of another Prince--the rock star.) She supposedly blew $1 million celebrating her husband's 60th birthday with a jet set party--reportedly with marzipan phalluses as replacements for candles. She even gained notoriety for barking like a dog on Late Night With David Letterman! And the princess has been featured in many major publications, including Vanity Fair, W, Town & Country, and Vogue.

The flamboyant couple had three children before Johannes died ten years after their marriage, at age 64, leaving Princess Gloria and the palace over $500 million in debt. With that major wake-up call, at age 30, she admirably curtailed the lavish parties and spending, sold or auctioned off some 4,500 items, including other properties, 24 of 27 cars, jewelry (reportedly some $30 million worth), 75,000 bottles of wine, and rented out part of the palace to law firms (as Carl and I discovered!) and other businesses. She opened the lavish Princely Rooms for the public to tour and, greatly educating herself on economics, tax law, and estate management, she inaugurated a successful music festival each July in the palace courtyard--as well as a Christmas Market, considered by many to be the best in Germany. "The castle is in the city center and only a five-minute walk from all the shops," she points out. "The more we open the house for special events, the more we can attract other visitors to come and also visit the castle." Slowly--after a decade--Princess Gloria worked her way out of the massive debt, gaining handsome profits, becoming a more devout Roman Catholic (attending daily mass): "I found my safe refuge with my kids and at church." "I would like to thank you very much for your visit," she writes in the guidebook. "And perhaps you will think about Franz von Taxis the next time you put a letter in the postal box. Five hundred years ago he would have transported your letter." Princess Gloria has also been involved for many years in serving 300 daily hot lunches to the poor. Now 58, the con-

Prince Johannes was known for instigating pranks on the glitterati, such as supposedly placing laxatives in their meals at formal events--and once reportedly pouring red wine on Britain's Princess Margaret's vacant chair while she was off

servatively dressed royal reportedly lists her occupation as

dancing (wearing white, of course).

as a housewife!" q



"housewife" on customs forms. As she explains, "The house is big, but I still see myself mainly

Opposite:The famed Domspatzen Boy’s Choir performs at St. Peter’s Cathedral. Photo credit: RTG: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH

WHEN YOU GO: Thurn und Taxis palace: Reichstagsmuseum in Old City Hall shows the Imperial Hall and the fascinating, eerie Torture Chambers (guided English tours are Monday to Saturday at 3 p.m.): St. Peter's Cathedral, the town's massive landmark and only Gothic cathedral in Bavaria, with its famed boys' choir--Regensburger Domspatzen-and the world's largest hanging organ: https://tourismus.regensburg. de/en/unique-features-themes/religious-themes/catholic-regensburg/ st-peters-cathedral.html Brauhaus am Schloss (where we had a great German meal and beer following our tour of Thurn und Taxis; it's around the corner from the palace in the former royal stables):

Tourists and locals enjoy sausage dishes at the popular Sausage Kitchen, reportedly Germany’s oldest, since the 12th century. Photo credit: RTG: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH

Sausage Kitchen (reportedly the oldest sausage kitchen in Germany founded in 1135. Alont the banks of the Danube, it serves delicious handmade sausage with sauerkraut and traditional buns-and the fabulous, unique mustard): html Kneitinger Brewery Tour and Restaurant (Bavarian hospitality; a local hangout. Take the brewery tour to receive a "Beer Certificate"): http:// Hotel Jakob (imagine my surprise to learn that it was a former police station! I wonder if any palace trespassers--like us!--were ever imprisoned there?): Regensburg Tourism: Historic Highlights of Germany:




DECADENT DIVERSIONS Story by Kathi Diamant Photography by Byron La Due


o tour of Germany is complete without a visit to Dresden, the 800-year-old capital of the State of Saxony. Located halfway between Berlin and Prague, Dresden

offers a distinctive perspective of ancient and modern history, culture, art, a prime example of destruction and rebirth. As a child, I lived in Germany, and on vacations, we traveled throughout the country—but only as far as the border would allow. Dresden was behind the Iron Curtain, and off limits. Since the reunification of East and West two decades ago, I’d stopped in Dresden for a quick lunch on my way elsewhere. But when my husband Byron and I carved out three nights of our three-week stay in Germany to explore Dresden and its environs, we were both surprised and amply rewarded. Built by Saxon kings and princes beginning in the Middle Ages, Dresden rose on both sides of the banks of the Elbe River to become one of Europe’s finest centers of art and culture by the 18th century. Famous for its pleasure palaces, churches and treasure collections, the city center was fire-bombed to smithereens by British and American bombers in the final months of WWII. Immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse Five, the destruction of Dresden symbolized to a generation of readers one of the great moral absurdities of war.



Radebeul Wine Carpe Diem




ike the phoenix from its ashes, the city’s famed Baroque architecture has risen again in the Altstadt, the Old Town, and the sight is wondrous. Dresden’s reconstruc-

tion progressed slowly during the Soviet period but cranked into gear after Reunification, when funds poured in from the West. Today, Dresden is almost (but not quite totally) rebuilt, and perhaps shinier than before. Like Warsaw, which was also wiped out and recreated in its earlier image, Dresden is in some ways a replica of what stood before, but with a modernist, 21st-century slant. Acclaimed modern architects have contributed their visions, like Daniel Libeskind and Norman Foster, who restored the main train station. The magnificently stolid Frauenkirche was recreated stone by stone and completed only in 2005. Nearby, the restored Semper Opera House offers a world-class season, with affordable tickets. If you visit in December, the Old Market Square is filled with one of the most fabled of the Christmas markets, while regular holidays and festivities are held throughout the year.

Exploring the Dark Side in Neustadt In an ironic twist, Dresden’s Old Town is now the newer part of the city, with most buildings less than two decades old, and the former Neustadt (New Town) on the northern side of the Elbe, which escaped the Allied air raids, has been relatively untouched, layered with historic grime and authenticity. A fun, adventurous and surprisingly cultural way to get introduced to this less touristic neighborhood is with Nightwalk Dresden, a Street Art tour through Dresden’s darker corners in Neustadt. The three-hour tour began at the Artesian Fountain at Albertplatz at 9 pm, slated to end at midnight. Byron and I signed on, thinking we’d probably drop out by 11 pm. Instead, we went places we wouldn’t have gone on our own, especially late at night, and were fully entertained by our guide, Danilo Hommel, a true Ossie, an erstwhile East German with an iconoclastic archive of once-secret knowledge and crazy stories about how it used to be, under the Communists, and then, in the wild western times after the fall of the Berlin Wall. On darkened cobbled streets, we stumbled through whimsical courtyards, vibrant graffiti-style murals with sports and ecological themes, fauna and flora architectural motifs, facades made into musical instruments when it rains, air balloon wicker baskets substituting for balconies. Exuberant art is freely expressed everywhere, on the walls, fences, garages,



Nightwalk Dresden, a Street Art tour through Dresden’s darker corners in N


on the outside of factories, apartments and private homes. In the past two decades, many buildings have been taken over by artists and a decidedly Bohemian atmosphere pervades. At this time of night, most of the narrow streets are dimly lit and lonely, except on the corner where the light and music beckons from one of Neustadt’s 100 bars and pubs. The tour stops twice at two different pubs, where Danilo grabs an empty table and holds forth about Neustadt, Dresden and the political changes which rocked Germany and his life. One complimentary beer comes with the package, but there’s time for a second. This is the heart of the experience: listening to Danilo’s stories, in a most East German way, sitting in a bar and drinking. When the tour ended at a nightclub with psychedelic posters, a dance floor with strobe lights, and a never-ending final call, Byron and I called it a night, but oh what a night! Danilo also offers a two hour day tour, which offers a chance to visit the Kunsthof Passage, a colorful labyrinth of intriguing shops and artist studios, when it is open for business. Check the schedule and make reservations at



The Saxon Wine Route Stroll For our last night, we headed west of the city, to a wine growing region dating back to 1401. By tram and bus, it’s less than an hour to the town of Radebeul, located in the Elbe Valley foothills, along a 34-mile stretch of terraced vineyards. Only seven miles from downtown Dresden, we felt like we were in another world, a throwback to another time and way of life, rooted in centuries of viticulture and wine-making tradition. The Saxony Wine Route boasts 3,000 wineries, most of which are “dwarf” or hobby winemakers, who sell their wines by the bottle or glass, out of their houses, cellars, and barns. We dropped our bags at our hotel, the aptly named Villa Sorgenfrei (“House of No Sorrows”), walked down to the main road and took the bus to the Schloss Wackerbarth for lunch and an official tour of Saxony’s oldest facility for the production of Sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine. Our guide, the delightfully named Friedelbert (“call me Friedel”) Heidrich, toured us through modern steel tanks and endless rows of oak casks. We walked up to an 18th-century pleasure palace high on the hillside, built by Count Wackerbarth for his glittering parties. Schloss Wackerbarth now produces 500,00 bottles and welcomes 180,000 visitors a year to its seasonally supplied farm-to-table restaurant, landscaped garden terraces and grounds, and tiered vineyards. Tours in English are held every day at 2 pm and 5 pm. After a quick nap back at the hotel, we set out on foot for a hike to Weingutmuseum Hoflößnitz, a certified ecological winery and viticulture museum in the hills above Radebeul. The short portion of the wine route we walked was as charming and enchanting as a country road with views of castles and terraced vineyards, quaint homes engulfed in flowers between crumbling working farmhouses, can be. One of the tiny wineries we passed was “3 Herren.” The winery had been recommended by someone on our Nightwalk Dresden tour, but I never imagined I’d find it. There it was! Tucked into an old building with exposed stones, a little chalkboard listing the daily specials in the window.



Vines along the Radebeul Wine Trail Right: Fun tasting at Schloss Wackerbarth Tasting Room.



Author Kathi Diamant and friend on the wine trail. Opposite top: Villa Sorgenfrei bedroom with Byron. Right: Historic house along the wine trail. Photographer Byron La Due after a long walk and wine tasting.



We arrived at HoflĂśĂ&#x;nitz in the late afternoon, just as the

Villa Sorgenfrei and the dinner at its adjoining restaurant,

annual Fairytale Festival was ending. Wine and hot hearty

Atelier Sansoucci. Built in the late 1790s, the restored manor

fare was still available, served on the romantic wine terrace

house now offers 14 individually designed and hand-painted

overlooking the valley. We wandered past a large manor

rooms in the main house, plus two suites with private garden

house offering rooms to rent for

in the former coach house. The herit-

50 euro a night, a ballroom for

age five-building complex is set in

concerts and dances, and a mu-

a formal garden, and the former festi-

seum dedicated to the six centu-

val hall now houses the decadently

ries of German viticulture in the

romantic restaurant. Villa Sorgenfrei

Elbe valley. The storied history

offers a room and board option at

of Saxony, viewed through the

Atelier Sansoucci. Choosing this

lens of a wine glass, overlooking

option is one of the great no-brainers

the valley at sunset is a most

in life.

pleasant way to absorb the violent tales of Augustus the

How do you describe the best meal

Strong and Charles the Great

of your life? It started as soon as we

and the saga of great fortunes

checked in to the Villa Sorgenfrei.

lost and gained.

Along with our old-fashioned key, we were presented with a handwritten menu for our dinner that evening, outlining

Until my last breath, I will be grateful for that one night at the

a four-course meal with wine pairings. I mentioned that I



had food restrictions. No problem, I was assured. Upon our

and mirrored walls reflected the light from the lead crystal

return after our walk, I was handed a new menu, with four new

chandeliers, linen tablecloths topped by silver and porcelain

courses prepared just for me. Byron stuck with the original,

graced the table, and a plentitude of wine glasses stood

meat-centric menu.

ready on a nearby table, waiting to be paired with our meals. We were attended by two waiters and a sommelier/maÎtre d’

At eight that night, we were seated in the elegant dining

with service that was both immediate and discreet. The food,

room at one of seven guest tables. The tall glass windows

a fusion of classic and contemporary French cuisine by Chef


Marcel Kube, was impeccable. Even the bread and butter was

Dresden’s main train station for our next journey on to Prague.

exceptional, and we barely restrained ourselves from grabbing

After three weeks rediscovering Germany, our last night at the

it back when it was removed after the first of what turned out

Villa Sorgenfrei was our most memorable, and the one I most

to be five courses, each more delicious than the last.

sincerely recommend. Try it yourself. You’ll thank me. q

The next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast of homemade jams and muesli, we reluctantly boarded the tram back to



Freiburg WINE FOOD & FUN By Sharon Whitley Larsen


“Live Well, Eat Well, Drink Well.�

passageways--as I carefully avoided stumbling into the nar-

That seems like a good motto for Freiburg, Germany's south-

meander through the Old Town. Believed to be first utilized

ernmost city (near France and Switzerland), in the Baden terri-

during the 13th century, at one time they were used as a fresh

tory at the edge of the Rhine Valley and Black Forest.

water supply and to fight fires. Today they flow on the side of

row Bachle--little curbside waterways unique to Germany that

narrow streets, allowing children to cool their bare feet--or float "We have food, wine--anything that would make you happy!"

tiny boats--during the summer time. Legend has it that if you

explained my tour guide as we strolled around the cobblestone

trip into one, you are destined to marry a Freiburger!

Photo Copyright: FWTM / Schoenen



This charming town--with a population of 220,000 (about 10 percent university students) is known for its massive and impressive Gothic Freiburg (St. Mary's) Cathedral, built from 1200 to 1514. You may want to attend a popular organ concert (its famed 1714 Gottfried Silbermann pipe organ--with 2,574 pipes--is just one of four pipe organs housed in the cathedral)--or heartily climb to the tower for a great view. Sun-splashed Freiburg is also known for its wine: it has the most vineyards in Germany, and is one of Germany's major wine cities. Historic records track the vineyards here back to the 13th century. After strolling around Old Town's cobblestoned walkways, observing the charming architecture and shops, I enjoyed wine tasting at Alte Wache-Haus der Badischen, housed in a welcoming yellow building on Cathedral Square, where customers can sit outdoors on a sunny day and people-watch. Popular with wine connoisseurs, Alte Wache--the House of Baden Wines-boasts over 200 regional wines. "People stop here after shopping--it's a must to stop and have one to two glasses," explained a solicitous server as she poured me a glass of Gutedel, accompanied by small plates with a variety of mini quiches and delicious Gugelhupf to munch on. "Gutedel is one of the most popular wines, it's a very light wine with an apple taste," she explained as I took a sip. "Some people stop at 10 in the morning to have a glass--it's drinkable all day long. Baden is also famous for the Pinot families." Later I sampled food in the vast, crowded, popular Food Market Hall ("Dishes from around the world in the heart of Freiburg")--a good place to warm up on a chilly day. I noticed a sign in the maze of food stands: "Where you have a region with good wine, you have good food."

Gorgeous flowers on display at the popular Farmer’s Market in Cathedral Square. Opposite page: Freiburg’s massive cathedral is a local landmark. Previous page: Freiburg--near the Black Forest-- is a winter wonderland.

Photo Copyright: FWTM / Schoenen


Photo Copyright: FWTM / Raach



Photograph by Johannes Hopermann

Amen! And there was certainly a variety here: the food court

Freiburg--designated a Green City--also boasts numerous

for gourmets, touting delicious bites from many countries,

cultural and health activities, including theatre, concerts,

including Brazil, China, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Afghanistan.

museums, festivals, and spas. A must stop is the renowned

And, of course, plenty of German beer and Riesling!

Augustinermuseum--with its extensive collection of art ranging from the Middle Ages to Baroque, as well as 19th century

I loved dining at several local restaurants--from Drexler to

paintings. It's housed in a former monastery, built in 1300.

Ganter Braueraiauschank--getting my fill of veal or pork

And, of course, there is ample shopping, which is a cultural

schnitzel, sauerkraut, goose breast, potato dumplings, venison,

event for some! For families, there's the nearby Europa-park-

pretzels, veal sausages with sweet mustard--even beer soup!

-Germany's largest theme park--fun for kids of all ages. You

The area is also known for its Frogs' legs, Quiche Lorraine,

can also take the Schauinsland cable car up the mountain for

river perch, snails, and asparagus.

great views of Freiburg and into the Rhine Valley.

And not to forget the Farmer's Market in the Cathedral Square,

So, as you can see, there's plenty of fun in Freiburg--and you

with stands touting local crafts, regional fruit, vegetables, flow-

won't go hungry! And you just may want to take a few bottles

ers, spices, cheese, Black Forest cured ham, honey, teas and

of the regional wine home with you. q

jams--and the legendary bratwurst and cheesecake.


Freiburg's magical main shopping area. Photos Copyright: FWTM / Schoenen

IF YOU GO: Alte Wache-Haus der Badischen (good place on Cathedral Square to enjoy a wine-tasting and meal): Ganter Braueraiauschank (I loved the bacon salad): Drexler (charming place for dinner): Food Market Hall (Markthalle): Augustiner Museum:,Len/265394.html Park Hotel Post (centrally located with an intimate book-filled lobby): Historix Tours (costumed English-speaking guide): Visit Freiburg: Historic Highlights of Germany:




The Devil’s In the Details By Sharon Whitley Larsen

“You must go to the top of St. Peter's for the view!” That was the main advice that I received once arriving in magical and charming Lubeck (pop. 216,000)—founded in the 12th century--and, until the 16th century, a major trading center for northern Europe. Lubeck was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the first time that an entire Old Town in northern Europe was awarded this prestigious title. So, after dropping off luggage at the hospitable Hotel Lindenhof (near the train station), I headed off for the short walk to Old Town—where the 540-year-old Holsten Gate offers an impressive welcoming entrance. Known as the “Gateway to the Baltic” and the “Queen of the Hanse” this island-shaped medieval town, with a history of maritime commerce, surrounded by the River Trave, with unique architecture and meandering cobblestone passageways, has a lovely skyline barely changed since the 14th century. It's also known as the “City of Seven Spires”--due to the five Old Town churches (Lubeck Cathedral and St. Mary's each have two). It wasn't hard to find the massive 13th century St. Peter's—used for exhibitions and events today. I paid a small fee to ride the lift viewing platform, which offers a 360-degree view of the city and


Photo by Reinhard Kruschel

(thank goodness for that! No stairs this time!) to the 164-foot high



sites beyond; on a clear day you can see to the Baltic Sea!

boulder beside the wall, where it is lying until this day. One

I also stopped in St. Mary's--built between 1250 and 1350, the

can still see the devil's claws on the stone. And just opposite

third largest church in Germany, with several works of art and

the church the workers built the wine cellar of the Town Hall."

the largest mechanical organ in the world. And it has a con-

(Nearby is a 1999 sculpture of the devil by Lubeck sculptor

nection with the devil!

Rolf Goerler.)

As I exited the church, I noticed this plaque on the brick

Besides the devil leaving his mark here, three world-famous

exterior: "When the first stones of St. Mary were laid, the devil

Nobel prize laureates hail from Lubeck, including German

believed that this building would be a wine bar. He liked the

statesman Willy Brandt (his museum, opened here since

idea, because many souls had already found their way to him

2007, is well worth a visit).

after frequently visiting such a place. So he mixed with the crowd and started to help the workers. No wonder that the

Tempted for an Irish coffee and sugar fix, I stopped at the his-

building grew higher and higher amazingly fast.

toric, famed Cafe Niederegger for a bit of marzipan—the local treat. The cafe was crowded with shoppers the day I visited—

"But one day the devil had to realise what the building would

and I enjoyed touring the Marzipan Salon on the second floor,

really be. Full of anger, he grabbed a huge boulder to smash

a museum sharing the history of this popular sweet.

the walls that were already standing. He was just flying near through the air when a bold fellow shouted at him: 'Just stop it,

Afterwards I visited the impressive European Hansemuseum,

Mr. Devil! Leave what has already been erected! For you we

the world's largest dedicated to the history of the Hanseatic

will build a wine bar just here in the neighborhood!'

League. Exhibits range from original manuscripts, letters and photos in pulled-out cabinets to high-tech, interactive

"The devil was very pleased with this idea. He dropped the



features, including videos and touch-screen devices to learn

Photo by Uwe Freitag

A little boy is entertained at the European Hansemuseum.



more detail. Utilizing replicas of historic scenes--including shops and homes--it encompasses the living and working conditions of former town residents. Topics include religion, sea voyages, deadly diseases, the rich and powerful, the poor, food and clothing, showcasing various lifestyles--from Roman Catholic priests to political figures. Today, with its focus on trade, the league is viewed as an early day United Nations. I could have stayed here all day! q

IF YOU GO St. Peter's Church: sights/churches-in-luebeck/st-peters.html St. Mary's Church: sights/churches-in-luebeck/st-marys.html Hansemuseum: en/ Willy Brandt House Museum: http://www.luebeck-tourism. de/culture/museums/willy-brandt-house-luebeck.html Cafe Niederegger (founded in 1806 by Master Confectioner Johann Georg Niederegger and now run by the 7th and 8th generation of the same family!). Good place to stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner—or just for a delectable marzipan treat: More on marzipan: gastronomy/marzipan.html Schiffergesellschaft (classic north German favorites, popular with locals, where I enjoyed lunch and dinner): http:// The Newport (nice place for dinner, on the marina): www. LabSaal: Hotel Lindenhof: en/ Lubeck Tourism: Historic Highlights of Germany:

Surrounded by the River Trave, Lubeck is known for its unique architecture.



Photo by Torsten Krueger







By Ron James


Noel McMeel






t’s been more than three decades since I last set foot on Irish soil. I have many fond memories of that visit; however hard as I try, I can’t remember what I ate – although I do remember drinking a fair bit of Guinness. I’m sure I filled up on pub food – good grub but hardly fine dining. A lot has changed in Ireland since then, including the state culinary affairs, as I learned when I interviewed Noel McMeel, executive chef at Lough Erne Golf Resort and Hotel in Enniskillen. McMeel is a passionate evangelist for what he calls “modern Irish cuisine” – think slow cooking and farm-to-table with an Irish twist. It’s no coincidence that McMeel’s fervor and views echos those of California cuisine pioneer Alice Waters. As a young chef, McMeel worked with Waters at her landmark restaurant

Photo courtesy: Irish Tourism



Chez Pannise, where the Bay Area chef’s farm-to-table philosophy reinforced his ideas about cooking developed while growing up in Ireland. In the introduction to his award-winning cookbook “Irish Pantry,” McNeel explained what he calls “the Irish way” of cooking and hospitality. “In the house where I grew up, nestled in the countryside of Toomebridge, Country Antrim, my mother’s kitchen pantry featured a cooling marble slab and sighing shelves laden with traditional and delicious treats standing at the ready to sustain my large family, or to celebrate the vibrant stream of expected and unexpected guests we loved to welcome. Making the most of the bounty of the land, working hard with your own two hands to preserve it, and opening the home to share it—these were the core principles where I grew up. I’d go so far as to say it’s the Irish way.”



McMeel grew up in Northern Ireland, the youngest of six children. His father (now retired) was a dairy farmer and stonemason. “I learned the basics of what makes life worth living growing up in a thatched-roof house on our family farm in Ireland, the Land of the Saints and Scholars.” The young boy was fascinated with the kitchen where he watched and helped his mother can fruits and vegetables and bake all sorts of bread and cakes. “My first attempt at cooking was an orange cake,” McMeel explained, “I mixed it all up and put it in the oven. We had a new oven with a window, so I just stood there watching the magic of the cake rising and becoming something else – it was beautiful. I was so proud of that cake; when I took it out, I told my mother that I wanted to eat it all. She said to me, “it’s your cake son, do what you think is

Chef McMeel with his mother enjoying fresh baked goodies and tea. Right: The chef recreating his famous orange cake.



Left: Chef McMeel feeding chickens and holding their gifts Above: A dramatic scene of the golf course and the five-star Lough Erne Resort where the chef oversees three restaurants and the catering operation.


right.” So I ate it all, every last crumb. I had the worst bellyache ever. My mother just smiled at me and told me one of the greatest feelings you can have is from sharing. I got the point -- it was a lesson that I remember to this day. Like many great American chefs, he enrolled in home economics class while in public school. Formal training followed at Ballymena Technical College and the Northern Ireland Hotel and Catering College and Belfast Institute. He also honed his skills abroad at the acclaimed Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island. After learning from the masters at a number of prominent restaurants, including Le Cirque in New York and Chez Pannise in California, the chef returned to Ire-

land. He earned his chef stripes as head chef at Beech Hill Country House Hotel, Trompets Restaurant, and Castle Leslie. During this time he made regular appearances on televised international cooking shows and contributed recipes and features to Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and other publications. I asked McMeel whether Irish star chefs were as revered as those in America. He laughed, “No no, not yet, especially in Northern Ireland mostly due to the economic problems. Many of the talented chefs from Ireland would go to America and other countries for more opportunities and money. But recently, there’s a new generation of passionate Irish chefs here who realize the potential of modern Irish cuisine -- and that’s very exciting.”

“Ever since I worked in Chez Panisse under Alice Waters… that was when I found what simplicity really meant. Before that I was always wanting to do good food but never really understood it.” ~ Noel McMeel



Photo courtesy of O’Dorherty’s Fine Meats

Miriam Atkins, editor of Food & Wine Magazine, echos McMeel’s sentiments, “Ireland is celebrating a food revolution at the moment – in every corner of the country both fine dining and casual restaurants are championing high-quality ingredients and offering beautifully thought out and creative menus.” “A lot of the chefs in the region get together frequently to discuss techniques and share sources for the products we use in the kitchen.” McMeel explained, “ If you look at our menus you will see the names of the local sources of the meats, cheeses, butter, and produce – these producers have the passion and skills to provide us the very



best. I served one of my signature dishes, created from Pat’s Fermanagh Black Bacon, to many of the world’s leaders, including President Obama at the 2013 G8 Summit.” Pat’s Fermanagh pork products are a perfect example of the locally sourced products McMeel loves, not only because it’s a superior product, but because it has a great story. Pat is Pat O’Doherty who is known as “the Bacon King of Inishcorkish.” He rows his boat every day to Inishcorkish Island where he tends his famous black pigs who happily have the island to themselves to munch its herbs and grass freely. These days, O’Doherty’s pigs are just

as famous as the top chefs who feature the “Bacon King’s” products. For McMeel, new Irish cuisine has deep roots in his country and its history. “My dishes are a modern twist on the dishes served in my homeland’s ancient past – they are every bit as Irish as I am,” he says. “We find the very best locally grown seasonal ingredients, support farms and grocers that respect the earth, and prepare meals that delight and excite the senses. But we don’t get seduced into overcomplicating. Above all else, we let the natural flavor of the good food shine through.” McMeel is now doing great things as executive chef at the five-star Lough Erne Resort where he works his magic creating his particular brand of modern Irish cooking. At the famous resort, the chef runs three restaurants each featuring a distinctive “Tastes

of Lough Erne” including his Catalina Restaurant that earned the coveted Food & Wine Magazine Hotel Restaurant of the Year in 2017. An articulate spokesman for the cadre of talented Irish chefs who march to the same drummer, McMeel travels the world spreading the word that Ireland is now an exciting destination for foodies. “It’s been a real labor of love,” he said, “ We are doing everything we can to tell the world that Northern Ireland is a world-class food destination.” q IF YOU GO The official Tourism Ireland website www.ireland. com/en-us/ Lough Erne Resort website www.lougherneresort. com Pat O’ Doherty’s Black Bacon:

A cheese plate made up of locally made cheeses and served in McMeel’s dining room. Opposite: Pat O’Doherty showing off his famous black pigs..





ORANGE CAKE Young Master Noel’s First Baking Effort Recipe from Noel McMeel’s “Irish Pantry” Cookbook At the tender age of thirteen my first baking experience was with an orange cake very much like this one. My mother allowed me to eat my whole creation on my own, without sharing: a big event in a household of six children. Suffice it to say, just because one is allowed to do something, doesn’t always mean one should! I still have memories of the bellyache. Regardless, I think this is a lovely cake, if you can bring yourself to savor it with a bit of restraint. MAKES ONE 8-INCH / 20-CENTIMETER LAYER CAKE 8 ounces (2 sticks) / 225 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for buttering pans 1 cup / 200 grams granulated sugar 4 large eggs 11⁄2 cups / 180 grams self-rising flour 1 tablespoon baking powder Zest of 1 orange F I L L I N G A N D TO P P I N G 51⁄2 tablespoons / 85 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature 2 cups / 200 grams confectioners’ sugar, sifted 2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters freshly squeezed orange juice Finely grated rind of 1 orange Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C. Lightly butter two 8-inch / 20-centimeter cake pans and line them with baking parchment. Combine the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, and orange zest in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed for about 2 minutes, until just mixed. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared pans and level the surface with rubber spatula dipped in water. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and golden. The tops of the cakes should spring back when pressed lightly with a finger. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a small palette knife or butter knife around the edge of the pans to free the sides of the cakes. Turn out the cakes onto cooling racks, peel off the parchment, and leave them to cool completely. Choose the cake with the better top, then put the other cake top side down onto a serving plate. To make the filling and topping, beat together the butter, confectioners’ sugar, orange juice, and orange rind until very fluffy, using an electric mixer on high speed, about 10 minutes. Spread half of the orange cream on the first layer and place the other cake on top, with the top facing up, and spread the rest of the orange cream on top, leaving the sides bare. Serve immediately, or store the cake in an airtight tin or plastic cake keeper in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.



Dear Ron

Dear Ron, Sommelier Davide Lucido held out a bottle for us to examine. It was swaddled in plastic wrap and its label was torn by years of careless time, but the vintner and the contents were still readable: “A.E. Dor cognac.” Then Davide carefully restored the bottle to its shadowy hidden shelf. Very carefully. After all, it was a vintage 1840 worth $61,000. The cognac bottle highlighted an impromptu tour we got of the wine cellar at Antica Bottega del Vino, a renown restaurant/wine bar in Verona, Italy. The cellar was a dim, cramped grotto crowded with 18,000 wine bottles of some 4,500 varieties. “The first time I was here I almost cried,” said Lucido. “I thought, ‘I’m going to need 30 years more to figure it all out.’ Fortunately for Lucido he didn’t have to figure out the cellar’s wine of choice. Antica Bottega’s – and Verona’s -- specialty is amarone, a complex red made from partially dried grapes harvested from the adjacent Valpolicella region. Amarone, according to the experts, is piquant with sweet notes of dark sugar and chocolate. Which is not unlike Verona’s other specialty: Romantic love. Maybe you’ve heard of that star-crossed couple, Romeo and Juliet? Verona was the setting for Shakespeare’s tragedy and the city has embraced the connection with both arms. It’s everywhere – graffitied on city walls and bridges, a theme of civic sculptures, and first in every tourist brochure. It doesn’t seem to matter that any historical connection with

Old Town Verona seen from atop the Lamberti Tower.








those famous feuding families, Montagues and Capulets, is tenuous at best and Shakespeare never actually visited the city. Casa di Giulietta, or House of Juliet, is the centerpiece of the romantic action. It’s a beautifully restored 13th century building on the Via Capello (close enough to Capulet for the tourist industry) that has been turned into a museum of sorts, its four floors are devoted to Romeo and Juliet memorabilia and art and household items from the late Medieval to Renaissance times. Casa di Giulietta faces a small courtyard featuring a gift shop (of course) and a bronze slightly-bigger-than-life-sized statue of the doomed Juliet, whose modestly covered right breast has been rubbed shiny by millions of visitors. A practice that supposedly ensures good luck. The courtyard’s encompassing walls and window screens are covered with hearts, notes, mini-lovelocks (which you can buy in the gift shop) and romantic messages of all sorts -- some written on gobs of flattened-out chewing gum. Overseeing it all is the Casa’s ornate third-floor marble balcony where scores of visitors declaim daily, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Hokey, sure. But we weren’t immune. We left a message on the wall, rubbed the breast and declaimed on the balcony. We also took a lot of cell phone photos and some selfies. One of us even used the balcony picture for her Facebook profile shot. We spent three days exploring Verona’s Old Town, a thumb of land surrounded on three sides by the Adige River and on

Tourists at the Casa di Giulietta rub the statue’s right breast for luck. The Ponte Pietra Bridge crosses the Adige River to Old Town Verona.

the fourth by historic city walls. “Historic” is the key word, for Verona has been settled since prehistoric times, became an important Roman city by the first century B.C. and, over the centuries, was ruled by such luminaries as Charlemagne and Napoleon. Evidence of Verona’s history is everywhere. Two Roman amphitheaters, one of which has been restored and is used today as a 20,000-seat concert venue, are in walking distance from city center. Every other building seems to be of at least Renaissance vintage. The Antica Bottega itself dates from the 16th century and Lucido told us that the bricks



that arch over the wine cellar may be from Roman times. An awe-inspiring detail to us but ho-hum to the Veronese. As our B&B owner, Elisabetta Brognara, said, “Wherever you dig down you’ll find something Roman.” Of course Verona is an UNESCO world heritage city. The city inside the Adige River loop is compact. A 10-minute walk along the marble pavement of Via Mazzini will take you from the big, open Piazza Bra, adjacent to the restored amphitheater, to the Piazza Erbe, historically the center of city life since Roman times. Brick and marble buildings, including city hall and the Guardello Tower, cast 14th century shadows over the Erbe, which once hosted chariot races and today is lined by cafes and occupied by market tents. To call Verona charming, perhaps the most overused word in travel-writing, is an understatement, much like calling the Italians well-dressed. Looking fashionable seems to be a birthright here. Even the police sport feathers in their caps and wear beautifully tailored uniforms. While nursing lattes at Caffe G. B. Ronca in the Erbe, it seemed like we were in a photo shoot for a fashion magazine, perhaps an Italian version of Town and Country. There wasn’t a sweatshirt, backpack or tour guide in sight. We felt like nerds in the cool kids’ class. Auto traffic in Verona is limited so our wanderings were effortless. Among the highlights were the stone bridges connecting Old Town to the greater city, including the fivearched Ponte Pietra (Roman, of course); the Lamberti Tower, a 275-foot medieval bell tower that gave us a spectacular drone’s-eye view of the city’s church towers and terra-cottatiled roofs; and sculptures and carved faces that adorned the century-laden homes. And, of course, the taste of amarone at Antica Bottega. We booked the first seating on our second night in town and were glad we did. There was a scrum of oenophiles outside the door before the 7:00 opening and within 10 minutes every seat was filled. Antica Bottega is small, just one L-shaped room with several tables in each arm – including some communal tables of 6-8 seats. Wine drinkers hang out by a small, stand-up bar area near the entrance. Young lovers at the Casa di Giulietta. Far Right: A tourist declaims “Romeo, Romeo” from the balcony of the Casa di Giulietta. Right bottom: Verona’s 20,000-seat restored Roman amphitheater.







Antica Bottega is proud of its restaurant reputation but wine

We knew none of this sitting down to dinner. We were there

is emperor here. Antica Bottega doesn’t have a wine list, it

simply on the recommendation of Elisabetta, our B&B host-

has a wine book. An 181-page book. (If you can’t afford that

ess. However our waiter soon gave us a quickie lesson in

$61,000 A.E cognac, how about an 1865 Lheraud cognac for

the joys of amarone and we ended up ordering boar stew


with polenta, braised beef cheek in amarone wine sauce and risotto in amarone sauce. Without doubt the best risotto ever.

The crown moldings of the rooms are decorated with winethemed quotes. Such as: “Dio mi guardi da chi non beve vino”

We took one look at the massive wine book and put our-

(“God save me from those who do not drink wine”), and “Il

selves in Davide Lucido’s hands. So, of course, both our din-

vino e’ ispiratore del genio e dell’arte” (“Wine is the inspiration

ner and dessert wines were amarones (we even opted for a

of genius and art”). Diners are surrounded by shelves of wine

more expensive dinner amarone than Lucido had suggested).


The dessert amarone is called “recioto,” a variety/style that is considered the “ancestor” of amarone wines. It’s been around

The Antica Bottega people say that the building has housed

since – you guessed it – Roman times. This was Verona, after

some sort of restaurant-café-hangout since its construction


in the 16th Century. It’s been called Antica Bottega since 1890. In 2011 it was purchased by a group of local vintners – called the Amarone Families -- and since then Wine Spectator has anointed it with one of its 87 worldwide “Grand” awards of excellence.


John and Jody

Sommelier Davide Lucido in the wine cellar of Antica Bottega del Vino. Bottom: Dining room at Antica Bottega del Vino





War Zone or Amusement Park? You Decide Story and Photography by Michael Burge



p to the DMZ to attri a e liz na io at ns se les Tour companies e painted-on bullet ho. th by n ow sh as s, er tract custom ot on the tour, however sh ts ge e on o N s. bu on this tour




hile tensions between North Korea and South

DMZ we did in July 2017, and we have lived to tell the tale.

Korea were escalating daily, my wife and I journeyed to the border separating the two coun-

The DMZ is a four-kilometer buffer zone that marks the place

tries to peer, Mike Pence-like, into the heart of communist

where the North Korean/Chinese armies were lined up facing


United Nations forces when the Korean War ceasefire was declared in July 1953. The 38th parallel, which was the border

Actually, to be completely honest, we visited the Demilitarized

separating the newly divided Korean nation at the end of

Zone, or DMZ, well before Vice President Pence did, and our

World War II, cuts across the DMZ.

act of peering did not make the evening news. But go to the



One important, and frequently overlooked, fact about the two Koreas is the Korean War is still on. A 65-year-old truce has tamped down the hostilities, but, as recent events have

South Koreans visiting Freedom Bridge post pennants and notes expressing hope for reunification, left, while the North Korean flag flies within sight of an observation deck in South Korea..

shown, the two nations are still technically at war. The DMZ is the place where the two warring nations meet. Like many politically charged places, the DMZ is rife with contradictions.



The South Korean flag is a star attraction at the Freedom Bridge, where prisoners were exchanged after the Korean War truce was declared in 1953



Despite its name, the Demilitarized Zone is one of the most militarized places on the planet. It is laced with land mines, and two well-equipped armies stare at each other across a no man’s land. We were unable to go to the “Joint Security Area” during our visit because an activity made it off limits to outsiders. This area, also called Panmunjeom, marks the military demarcation line separating the two nations. A group of blue buildings sits on the line, and conference tables straddle the line inside those buildings so that delegates from the two adversaries can meet without crossing the border. We went to another part of the border, farther west on the peninsula and about 35 miles from Seoul. This place, the Paju area, attracts Korean and international travelers who want to experience a war zone. And this brings us to the second big contradiction: The DMZ is a huge tourist attraction. Several companies run daily tours, which is how we got there. The day we visited we were among probably a thousand people peering into North Korea from the Dora Observatory’s observation deck. The atmosphere was not at all warlike, but more like an amusement park, as people lined up to look through binoculars and took selfies with North Korea as a backdrop. Visible in the distance was a North Korean flag flying atop a 525-foot flagpole, which is 200 feet higher than a South Korean flag flying on its side of the border. The DMZ may not be a shooting battlefield, but it is a propaganda battlefield, and North Korea won the “Our Flag is Higher Than Your Flag” battle. Other propaganda exists in the form of a “village” visible in North Korea. It is widely believed that the village’s buildings are fake shells to give the illusion of population. More real were the abandoned factories in the city of Kaesong (also Gaesong), which South Korean companies operated across the border. These factories, which are clearly visible from the observatory, had employed thousands of North Koreans until 2016, when South Korea shut them down in response to North Korea’s missile tests. One of the biggest attractions in the DMZ is the Freedom Bridge where North Korea and South Korea exchanged prisoners after the 1953 truce was signed. Today the bridge is closed and decorated by thousands of notes placed by South Koreans who hope to reunite with family members north of the border. Reunification of divided families remains a highly charged



political issue in South Korea, as many families have been separated for six decades. Another stop on the tour is the Dorasan railway station, which opened in 2002 and was envisioned as a symbol of hope for a reunification of the two Koreas. Entering the station is like walking into a fairyland where imaginary trains travel to Kaesong, only five miles away. There is even a sign for a train to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. But no such train exists. Make no mistake, South Koreans aren’t delusional. They are making the point that one day Seoul and Pyongyang may be linked by rail, and Koreans will be able to travel across a former border in a unified country. There is nothing wrong with hope. And so we come to the next and most glaring contradiction, and the highlight of the tour – a tunnel that North Korea blasted beneath the DMZ to invade, or at least infiltrate, South Korea. It is one of four such tunnels that South Korea has uncovered beneath the DMZ. This place, 240 feet below ground, is where the Korean War most comes alive. The DMZ has been the scene of violent acts in the past, including the slaying of two American soldiers by axe-wielding North Korean soldiers in 1976. The most infamous incursion occurred in 1968, when 31 North Korean commandoes breached the DMZ and made their way to Seoul, where they attempted to assassinate South Korea President Park Chung-hee. The commandoes came within 100 meters of the presidential palace before they were detected, triggering a gun battle. Fifty-nine people were killed as a result of the raid. This tunnel is the most visible sign that these two nations are still at war. Bored through solid granite, the tunnel is quite


narrow at 2 meters across, so hard hats were given to everyone who dared go down. My wife chose not to. To enter I walked down a passageway, much like entering a metro station, but it soon linked to the tunnel itself. I was one of a line of tourists proceeding through the tunnel on a mission to reach North Korea. It was dark and I could hear water dripping. Jagged rock encircled us on all sides. A line of lights marked the path to wherever the tunnel led, which was not at all clear. As our battalion of tourists paraded down the shaft – one file going in and one going out – some deserted and backed out. As I marched I had to crouch to avoid hitting my head on the low ceiling, which occasionally I did, making me grateful for the hard hat. Finally, after trudging a sixth of a mile, the columns of people going in and going out bunched up, trying to sort each other. We had reached the end of our trek, and before me was a concrete barricade with a slot through which I could peer farther down the shaft. Gazing through the slot, I could see yet another concrete barricade, completely solid. Beyond that is a third, obscured barricade, the final plug between where I stood and North Korea. Despite the tourists jostling all about me, I tried to soak in the gravity of this shadowy place. Five hundred and sixty-seven feet from where I stood was the North Korean border, and 240 feet above was a world laced with barbed wire and land mines. I worked my way back out the tunnel and up the passageway to the world above ground, grateful to feel sunshine splashing my face again. I had come closer than I ever thought I would to North Korea, and as close as I cared to or dared to. q

Clockwise from top: A reunification monument stands at the entryway to the “Third Tunnel of Aggression,” which crosses under the DMZ. A bullet-riddled steam locomotive, a relic of the Korean War, is on display at Imjingak, while a real railway station at Dorasan waits for the day when trains will run again between the two Koreas.






Story & Photography by Michael Burge

here is little in the American experience that compares with Seoul. Today this South Korean capital is one of the world’s leading metropolises, home to 10 million people, and headquarters of such corporate behemoths as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai. Considering that 60 years ago Seoul was largely rubble after changing hands several times during the Korean War, this accomplishment is a triumph of resilience. Today countries like Japan, Thailand and the Philippines consume Korean pop culture – K-Pop – the way much of the West consumes American pop culture, and Seoul exudes a 24-hour vibe that is both stimulating and exhausting.

A young visitor to Gyeongbok Palace, a former residence of Korean monarchs, strolls the grounds in traditional Korean attire. At Gwanghwamun Gate outside the palace, “soldiers” re-enact a changing of the guard as was done in monarchical times.



Photo by Kathleen Burge




mericans associate Seoul with the “Gangnam Style” music video that burst onto the scene in frenetic fury in 2012. But overshadowed

by this wild and brassy cityscape is a centuries-old culture with palaces that compare with the most venerable in the world. Korea’s Joseon – also Chosun – dynasty ruled the country from 1392 until 1897 and left an architectural legacy that survives to this day. Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces, former royal residences, stand as monuments to Korea’s centu-

ries-long monarchy, and attract tens of thousands of tourists every year. They have become meccas for visitors who want to reimagine those times. Korea’s past has become a big tourist lure, as Korean media have made a cottage industry out of TV serials and movies based on the country’s history. Dramas set in the 15th-century court of King Sejong, for example, or the 18th-century court of King Yeongjo have garnered huge fan bases both inside and outside Korea. These historical dramas have a common element – beautiful people dressed in gorgeous costumes committing acts of perfidy. They have a seductive charm and are so popular that tourists flock to Korea from throughout Asia not just to visit its historic places, but to dress up and engage them the way their dramatic heroes did. When these visitors arrive from Hong Kong, Shanghai or wherever, one of their first stops is a costume shop where they rent traditional clothing, called hanbok, and after donning their period costumes venture off to a historic palace where they stroll the grounds like princes and princesses of old. The costumes can be quite elaborate and scream color, from creamy pinks and whites to glowing blues and reds.

Gyeongbok Palace is a favorite destination for tourists who dress in traditional clothing, then promenade through the grounds and take photos using modern gadgets.





During our visit to Seoul in the summer of 2017, it was hard to

Gyeongbok Palace is a complex of hundreds of buildings that

go anywhere without seeing someone dressed as if they just

was destroyed twice by Japanese invaders – the first time in

beamed into the 21st century via an ancient time machine.

1592, when it was torched, the second during the Japanese

This made visits to historic sites like Gyeongbok Palace, a

occupation of 1910-1945, when most of the buildings were

former principal residence of Korean monarchs, even more

destroyed. After Korea was liberated at the end of World War

charming, as so many visitors looked as if they truly be-

II, but divided, South Korea undertook a painstaking restora-

longed, while we did not.

tion of the palace buildings and grounds. The reconstructions are, for the most part, historically authentic.



Our walk through the looking glass into Korea’s past began

period garb and go through their paces as if the fictitious

with a ceremonial changing of the guard at Gwanghwamun, a

king’s survival depends on the precision of their marching

massive gate that guards Gyeongbok Palace. The gate, which

and the radiance of their uniforms. It’s a good show.

has been restored to its original style and place, is the scene of a ceremonial changing of the guard. This ceremony is

Behind the gate the palace grounds cover about 100 acres

strictly for show, because there is no king and no real palace,

and include about a dozen prominent buildings, the most

hence no need for a guard. Nonetheless, “soldiers” dress in

striking of which is Geunjeongjeon Hall, the room where

Clockwise from top left: The colorful “changing of the guard” at Gyeongbok Palace is solely for show; the palace’s throne room has been restored to its original ornate condition; young ladies in traditional garb swap photos at Gyeongbok; a pond shimmers beneath the gaze of a gazebo at Changdeok Palace; a couple walking arm in arm at Gyeongbok Palace appear to have stepped into the 21st century from an ancient time machine.



the king conducted the major affairs of court. Constructed principally of wood, this building is one of the few that survived the 20th-century Japanese occupation, and dates to 1867. It is an imposing structure placed atop a two-tier stone platform, reminding visitors of their embarrassing puniness in the presence of the monarch. A similarly impressive edifice is Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which also dates to 1867. This lovely building is surrounded by an artificial lake, so it sits on a manufactured island within the grounds. It is where the monarchs held special events, such as banquets and receptions. During our visit tourists paraded throughout the grounds in period garb, many taking selfies in an act of utter anachronism. For a true walk into Korea’s past, nothing compares with Changdeok Palace, a royal residence that survived Japan’s 20th-century occupation, World War II, and the Korean War. Originally built in 1405 but destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592, Changdeok Palace was rebuilt and became the principal residence of the royal family after Gyeongbok Palace, only five miles away, was burned. That palace was not rebuilt until the 1860s, so Changdeok took its place. Changdeok Palace is magical, because it is built into the natural terrain, with trails meandering through bucolic gardens. There are 13 buildings and several gazebos and other small structures, all nestled into a lush – at least in summer – setting. The grounds are so pastoral and serene that as soon as we entered we had no sense that a major metropolis was buzzing outside the walls. Visits to Changdeok Palace are more controlled than at Gyeongbok, as guests are not permitted to roam unsupervised but must sign up for tours led by guides dressed in period garb. Changdeok Palace was the setting for some scenes in one of South Korea’s most popular TV serial dramas, “Dae Jang Geum,” or “Jewel in the Palace,” which was set in the 15th and 16th centuries and has been shown in 91 countries. On our tour, which was for English speakers, some visitors were dressed in hanbok, inspired by dramas that popularize Korean culture.



Clockwise from top: Gyeongbok Palace is the site of many restored buildings, the most prominent of which is Geunjeongjeon Hall, lower right, an imposing structure where the king conducted major affairs of court. A laughing Buddha greets visitors to Jogye-sa Temple, the center of Buddhism in Korea.



Admiral Yi Sun-Shin watches over Gwanghwamun Square in the heart of Seoul, where a child plays in a fountain. Yi Sun-Shin was a Korean hero who defeated an invading Japanese navy in the 1590s. The US Embassy is the middle of the three buildings on the right.



Admiral Yi Sun-Shin watches over Gwanghwamun Square in the heart of Seoul, where a child plays in a fountain. Yi SunShin was a Korean hero who defeated an invading Japanese navy in the 1590s. The US Embassy is the middle of the three buildings on the right.





Besides palaces, and there are five in Seoul, there are other locations that evoke Korea’s history. Not far from Gyeongbok Palace is Insadong, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, which combines old and new Seoul in a vibrating mélange of coffee shops, chic restaurants, designer boutiques, stationery stores, cheap souvenir shops, posh art galleries, Korean porcelain dealers … it goes on and on for blocks. One of Insadong’s salient features is that all the signage is in hangul, the Korean alphabet, with no English. As a result, Insadong is one of the few places in the world where you will see a Starbucks without the trademark English lettering. Instead the name appears prominently in hangul with a smaller English translation beneath. Located in Insadong is Jogye-sa, Seoul’s largest Buddhist temple and the center of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The temple dates to 1396 and serves as a peaceful refuge in the midst of a bustling city. The current temple was established in 1910, and every morning Seoul residents can be seen stopping on their way to work to pay respects in the worship hall. A short distance from Insadong is Bukchon, a thriving urban neighborhood that features hundreds of hanok – traditional Korean houses. So much of Seoul was destroyed by war in the 1950s, or razed in the ’60s and ’70s to make way for progress, that little of the city’s original housing stands. Bukchon’s hanok date back to the obsolete Joseon Dynasty, but most of the houses have been remodeled and repurposed. Bukchon’s streets are narrow and daytime traffic light, so it is possible to walk the close, winding lanes and absorb Seoul the way it was before the arrival of the modern high-rise. We dawdled along while savoring the old wooden doors, decorated walls and flowing rooftops. And enjoying the tourists dressed in hanbok. But as soon as we convinced ourselves that we had stepped back in time, we rounded a corner and took in a view of Namsan, a mountain crowned with a television tower reminding us that we were in the 21st, not the 19th, century. It was fun while it lasted. q Clockwise from top left: Seoul’s Bukchon neighborhood is a showcase of traditional Korean housing that attracts visitors in traditional attire. In the background is a television tower atop Namsan peak. Insadong, lower left, is a colorful neighborhood where old and new Seoul collide.




A young resident of Habana Vieja (Old Havana) poses on a street with his bicycle.



Story & Photography Brian Clark

“Ven aca!, ven aca!,”

(come here!, come here!) shrieked a gaggle of elementary school children as I pedaled my bicycle along a rural road in western Cuba. I slowed down, waited for a lumbering, ox-drawn cart to pass and angled my bike over to the kids who - all but one - screamed with mock terror and ran back to their school house. “Hola, (hello),” I said to the remaining boy, who boldly stuck his tongue out at the sweaty gringo (me) and sprinted off to join his classmates. That brief and comical exchange on a recent Backroads “people-to-people” bike trip - which covered about 200 miles over five days - could have occurred almost anywhere in the Caribbean or Latin America.



But this was Cuba, the land of Fidel, Che, mojitos, cigars, 60-year-old American cars and a more than five-decades-old economic embargo that has kept the country in something of a time warp. Once the playground of mobsters - as well as the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Old Man and the Sea” - it was off limits to American travelers until recently. So I jumped at the chance to bicycle here when Backroads scheduled this trip, even though the U.S. State Department cautioned Americans against traveling to



Cuba, stating that they might become victims of mysterious “sonic” attacks, such as those allegedly suffered by at least 24 diplomats and relatives in Havana. I took this advice with a grain of salt. I also was warned by Backroads to moderate my expectations. Weeks before I left my home in Wisconsin, I received this missive in a pre-departure package: “In Cuba, the plan is that few things will go according to plan. It’s essential that you arrive with an open heart, a

curious mind and a supreme level of flexibility. Expect the unexpected … it’s all part of the adventure!” Besides, a good friend had recently been to Cuba on a Road Scholar trip and told me she’d enjoyed the people and country immensely. In any case, I’d lived and studied in Bolivia and Brazil, so I figured I had a pretty good sense of how things work - and sometimes don’t work - in Latin America. (What the heck, certainly not everything goes as planned in North America.)

Even though Cuba is only 90 miles south of Florida, it’s always been one of those off-the-grid countries I wanted to experience. It might as well have been Timbuktu or some other exceedingly exotic place because of the travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government. Though those prohibitions were relaxed somewhat during the Obama administration, they were tightened again by President Trump late in 2017.

La Bodeguita Del Medio bar in Old Havana was one of Hemingway’s hangouts. Above: A 1960s-era Cadillac, perhaps once owned by a mobster, is parked near one of Old Havana’s crumbling buildings.



One of the few ways U.S. travelers can visit Cuba is to go on a people-to-people trip, the kind offered by Backroads. That meant we’d be meeting musicians, doctors, organic farmers, artists and even riding with members of masters cycling group from Havana. In fact, hanging with the locals turned out to be one of the best parts of this sojourn. Nor did it hurt that we’d be cycling on a tropical island during winter, dipping into the Caribbean and a culture - at least in the rural areas - that hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, or even earlier. My adventure began with an evening flight into Havana’s dimly lit Jose Marti Airport, named for the 19th Century Cuban national hero whose writings and spirit were often invoked by Fidel Castro during the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In fact, they still are. For the first night, I booked a room in a private residence called Casa Compostela in Old Havana. It wasn’t far from several museums, the neoclassical Capitol Building and a square where scores of pimped-out 1950s Chevrolets, Fords Plymouths and even one Cadillac were lined up for taxi rides. It was also just a short walk from Hemingway’s daiquiri haunt, El Floridita. The next morning, I met up with a dozen other intrepid cyclists, our two Spanish cycling leaders, Pablo and Lara (aka “the fixer), plus Oscar, our Cuban handler and guide outside the luxe Hotel Kempinski. Then we were off on a 2.5-hour bus ride to the Vinales Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where tobacco farmers still use horses and oxen to till the soil. The valley is also home to Vinales National Park, which has dozens of cave-filled limestone hills - some rising 300 meters called “mogotes” in Spanish. Colonists named the area vinales (vines in Spanish) because they thought it would be good land for growing grapes. They were wrong, but found the earth ideal for raising a crop that resulted in world-famous cigars. A 1950s-era car, with a relatively new coat of green paint, now serves as a taxi in Old Havana.





We dropped off our bags at the pink Jazmine hotel that was situated on a ridge above the valley, changed into our cycling duds and drove through the town of Vinales, where there were numerous, brightly painted “casas particulares” (private homes) with rooms to rent. Cuba’s economy and socialist political landscape are changing bit by bit and it’s only been around a decade that residents have been permitted to buy and sell property or own cellphones. By the end of 2018, we


were told, the leader of Cuba (since the revolution) will be someone other than a Castro. But Havana, a journalist who has lived in the city for two decades told me, remains “very much like Casablanca, full of spies.” It was clear, though, that small-scale capitalism is proving a boon to Vinales, which has prospered from tourism. Not far from town, our bus stopped at the oneroom, blue and white El Cuajani restaurant, which stood only a short distance from a huge, round mogote.

Writer Brian Clark, center, poses with a group of masters’ cyclists in western Cuba outside the Hotel Moka in Las Terazas. Right top: Three bikes lay on the ground outside a hut during a break in riding in western Cuba. Right: A table is laden with tasty food at a lunch stop during a Backroads cycling trip in western Cuba.



Our bikes lay on the ground in a side yard, waiting for us to hop on and ride away. But first we had a special lunch prepared by chef-owner Jose, who had worked in Madrid before returning to Cuba. First, though, he and his staff served us freshly pressed sugar-cane juice. Then we sat down for a meal of fish, salad and bread - plus a dessert of flan. Soon after we pedaled away from El Cuajani, Pablo told me the word “agujero,” which Cubans use for pothole. There were, ahem, many in the rural roads we traversed and we quickly learned to weave around them. Fortunately, Backroads supplied rugged hybrid bikes for the trip. I don’t think I would have wanted to have risked my carbon-frame road bike. Still, my “nalgas” (buttocks) took a bit of a pounding over the next five days. That night we had dinner at a hilltop organic oasis owned by Wilfredo, a carpenter-turned-farmer. He’d brought fertile soil up from the valley below to grow fruits and vegetables in his gardens and produce delicious meals. After touring the grounds - but before sitting down to dinner - he showed us how to make a tasty, rum-based drink. We awakened the next morning to the sound of cattle lowing in the valley below our hotel. The animals were somewhat obscured by fog that hung like a curtain. After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, pastries, fruit and sweet Cuban coffee, we climbed some challenging hills, descended and then climbed (whew) yet again. It was worth it though, because the next 10 miles ran along the northern coast of Cuba to a village called Cayo Rutias, where we swam in the warm sea before another tasty lunch of fish, salad, veggies and cerveza (beer).



Fog drifts through a valley below limestone mounds called “mottoes” in Vinales National Park in western Cuba.



When we returned to the Hotel Jazmine, dirty and sweaty, we learned that there was no water in our rooms. So Lara, who had encountered similar situations in Cuba, scrambled and got us moved to a different a different part of the hotel. Voila, water! After dinner at a restaurant called Da’ Tuti, the highlight of the evening was salsa dancing with a pair of local experts. Most Cubans will proudly tell you they are born to dance and play instruments. And they are skeptical when Gringos, such as this scribe, say they have two left feet. (I did notice, however, that our Oscar was more than happy to watch the action from the sidelines and sip a mojito.) The next day brought more riding past fields where farmers walked behind wooden plows, as their great,



great grandparents might have done in the middle of 19th Century. Nor was it unusual for us to pass clipclopping horse-drawn buggies that seemed right out of a living-history museum. We also occasionally rode past a chugging, smoke-belching, 1960s-era Russian tractor. After about 90 minutes in the saddle, we pulled our bikes off the road and were invited into the front yard of a farmer where we were Lara had arranged a spread of fruit, drinks, water and, of course, coffee. That afternoon, we dismounted in the small village of San Blas, where we were introduced to a teacher in another one-room school. (In this case the students did not flee.) And Oscar showed us a small shop where Cubans can use their ration cards to get a set amount of staples each month.

From left to right: An artist poses with a portrait of Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara. A Backroads guide pedals past a horse-drawn cart in western Cuba. A Cuban man shows off his tattoo of Che.

We also dropped in at a clean, but tiny rural health clinic with rusty metal filing cabinets, where a newly minted, 24-year-old woman doctor discussed caring for residents in the area. She also took blood pressure readings for several of us. Mine was 110 over 80, thanks in large part cycling. At another stop, a 60-year-old artist named Alejandro told us he was born into a poor campesino family of nine children. He credited the revolution with allowing him to go to school and improving his lot in life. But he was also pleased that rules had eased in recent years, permitting him to sell his paintings to tourists and keep most of his earnings. We also visited the Portales cave where Che Guevara and some of his aides were based during the Cuban

Missle Crisis of 1962. His field telephone, simple office and table remain for view. Our digs for the next few evenings were the Hotel Moka in Las Terazas, which is part of a UNESCO biosphere. Once a clear-cut, it was - starting in 1968 - sculpted into terraces, reforested and turned into a self-contained eco-village of around 1,000 souls. On a tour of the grounds, we met a mother (school teacher) and her daughter (another doctor) in their tidy home. The physician, who was in her early 20s, said she was happy to be working in the community where she was raised. But she said she’d be going to Havana for training as a dermatologist. We could pose any questions we wanted, so we asked how much she made each month. The equivalent of



A woman leans against a post outside her modest home in western Cuba.

$44 in U.S. dollars, she told us. Which is why some doctors moonlight, at least in the cities, as taxi drivers where they can earn more than that in a night. We cycled more that day and had dinner that evening with a Cuban masters’ cycling group. I supped with Jorge Blanco, a ripped, 50-year-old former member of the Cuban national flat-water kayaking team. As he aged, he switched gears to cycling and now rides up to 300 miles a week. His favorite professional cyclist, he told me, is Alberto Contador, a Spaniard famed for attacking hills and winning numerous major European races. After yet another delicious breakfast of pastries and fruit, we gave the masters bags of used cycling clothes



and other gear to them and their club members. In Cuba, they gold us, bike stores simply don’t exist. On our final day on our bikes, we rode about 40 miles back to the outskirts of Havana to a seaside village called Jaimanitas, where Hemingway used to fish. We weren’t there to see any of Papa’s haunts, however. We’d come to see the fanciful mosaics and murals of Jose Fuster, who decorated so many of the homes and buildings in the neighborhood that it is now called Fusterlandia. When the Fuster tour was done, I said goodbye to my trusty bike and prepared to hop on a bus for the ride back to the city center.

A bartender at the Hotel Moka in Las Terazas, Cuba pours eight mojitos for a group of thirst Backroads cyclists.


“Ooops,” said Lara with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

For more information, see This trip will be offered again in November and December. The cost is $5,448.n

“Change of plans because, well, this is Cuba and the bus has a problem. We’ll have to find another way into the city,” she said as we looked on in puzzlement.

of the internationally acclaimed, contemporary Govett Brewster Art Gallery, there is no missing the Len Lye Centre with its imposing façade finished in highly polished stainless steel and concrete. All around, and just like me, visitors struggle to

She faked a sigh and then led us down a side street to a line-up of spit-shined, 60-year-old convertibles. We piled in, hooting an hollering like a bunch of rowdy teenagers right out of “American Grafitti.”

get the perfect shot, or selfie, of the waves of mirrored curved panels that create an ever-changing reflection of light and movement. Berkeley, Ca.-based Backroads was started nearly 40 years

On the way back to Habana Vieja (Old Havana) we stopped at a monument honoring Jose Marti and then rolled by huge murals of Che and fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos. Within 30 minutes, we were back outside the Hotel Kempinski and I headed straight for La Floridita and a grapefruit daiquiri. q

ago by Tom Hale, a San Francisco Bay Area native and former track athlete at the University of Oregon. The company now offers nearly 250 biking, walking & hiking, multi-adventure, private and family trips around the globe. It has regional offices in Utah, Canada and France. It employs more than 500 Trip Leaders worldwide.











By Wibke Carter


Bern panorama from Rosengarten in Spring, copyright Bern Tourism Right: Rooftops of Bern, copyright Switzerland Tourism Max Schmid



“Around me, farmers from all over the country, sell tons of onions and garlic on hundreds of stands in the narrow streets of the Old Town. ”


have no chance. I am surrounded, by children

traditional folk festival held annually on the

heavily armed with … confetti. And as I learn in

fourth Monday in November. It is an early start for the first visitors at around 5 am, though when I join the crowds at 6:30 am, it already seems impossible to move in some places. Around me, farmers from all over the country, sell tons of onions and garlic on hundreds of stands in the narrow streets of the Old Town. In the darkness, this sea of traditional, braided onions, flower arrangements, decorations and figures sculpted from onions in the foreground of illuminated his-

the next split second, they have no hesitation to use it with full force. Before I can

even open my mouth in protest, tiny shreds of colored paper rain down on me but when I see the mischievous sparkle in their eyes, I cannot help but smile. I had arrived in Switzerland the day before for the Bern Zibelemärit or Onion Market, a



“For the best view of the city, I head by tram to the elevated rose garden, most notable for its wealth of blossoms.”



torical buildings like the Town Hall is an enchanting sight. Other vendors offer seasonal vegetables, bread, hot mulled wine (a first for me, alcohol this early) and souvenirs. No one seems both-

surrounded by majestic alpine scenery and a friendly population which is proud of its roots and traditions. Historical research indicates that the Zibelemärit originated in the 1850s when farmer’s wives, the socalled marmettes, came to Bern around St. Martin’s Day to sell their produce;

ered by the early hour or

however, a local legend

the winter coldness. “The

holds that the onion mar-

Onion Market attracts more

ket is much older. Accord-

visitors than any other tradi-

ing to folklore, the Bernese

tional event in the canton,”

awarded the people from

says city guide Margarete

the nearby city of Fribourg

Schaller. “It’s a public holi-

the right to sell onions in

day in Bern, and everyone

reward for their aid after

gets behind it.” The local

a fire destroyed much of

restaurants serve traditional

Bern in 1405.

savory onion tart, cheese tart, and onion soup. Swiss Rail put on extra trains, and additional coaches are scheduled to bring in thousands of visitors. The market is notorious for the confetti fights, enjoyed not only by small children. “You’d better start covering your mulled wine,” Ms. Schaller laughs. “Some shops close early before the fight finale as not to have confetti everywhere.” The onion market shows Bern, Switzer-

For the best view of the city, I head by tram to the elevated rose garden, most notable for its wealth of blossoms. Home to 223 rose, 200 iris and 28 rhododendron varieties, as well as an enchanting water lily pond, the major draw though is the unobstructed view of the Old Town and Aare Loop which extends far beyond the city to the Bernese Alps when the weather is clear. Inviting to idle a while is the Rosengarten Restaurant where I enjoy braised veal cheek with red wine

land’s federal capital, in its best light: a beauti-

jus, dumplings and vegetables next to the pano-

ful old town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site),

ramic windows. The main course is so delicious,

Impressions of the Bern Onion Market, copyright Wibke Carter







the communal benches so comfortable,

clocks in Switzerland. Inside I enjoy the

and the view so inviting, I can’t say no to the

views of the Old Town and marvel at the

desert of cream, meringue, and raspberries.

hour chimes, the two tower clocks, the me-

On my way back into town, I pass Albert Einstein sitting on a bench (not the real one, of course, but a pretty good replica). Einstein lived in Bern only from 1903 to 1905, yet it was here that he developed his Theory of Relativity which turned the world of physics upside down. The small apartment in Kramgasse 49 where he lived with his wife Mileva and young son Hans is open to the public.

The author with Albert Einstein and panorama of Bern, copyright Wibke Carter Right: Bern’s clock tower, the Zytglogge, copyright Wibke Carter Previous page: Aerial shot of Bern’s Old Town, copyright Bern Tourism

which are all driven by a common mechanism. In Switzerland, Bernese people have a reputation for being clumsy and slow just like the black bear on the city’s coat of arms. “But the rotating bears on the Zytglogge are not slow at all,” Ms. Schaller is quick to point out. Everything is close to each other in the

The second-floor residence, consisting of

Swiss capital, a city with around 140,000

only two rooms, features original furnishings

inhabitants, and only 10min walk further

owned by Einstein, not all from his time in

stands the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine

Bern, as well as photographs and a small

Arts) Bern, which happens to be the oldest

exhibition. Just like many Bernese during

art museum in Switzerland with a permanent

that time, the Einsteins’ had to share kitchen

collection. Currently on show are parts of the

and bathroom with another family.

collection compiled by Hildebrand Gurlitt,

Only 650ft from the Einstein House stands Bern’s landmark: the Zytglogge. The Clock Tower was the first western gate of the city and, with its famous astronomical calendar clock built in 1530, is now one of the main attractions of Bern and the oldest


chanical figures and the astronomical clock


one of the art dealers selected by the Nazis to sell looted and undesirable “degenerate” art abroad. Before Gurlitt’s reclusive son Cornelius died in May 2014, he named the museum as the sole recipient of the entire collection which came as a surprise.



Arguably one of the most beautiful places for dinner in Bern is the basement of the Kornhaus (Granary), considered an outstanding example of High Baroque style. Sitting underneath towering sandstone arches and ceiling frescoes depicting mythological figures and people in traditional clothing it’s hard to focus on my food and the delicious Pinot Noir from the region. My main course, the Berner Platte (“Bernese platter”), is a feast of ham, bacon, spare ribs, knuckle of pork, marrowbone, sauerkraut, beans, and potatoes. “We know exactly how far this dish dates back,” says Nicole Schaffner from Bern Tourism. “On March 5, 1798, the Bernese defeated the French army at Neuenegg, and to celebrate, held a great banquet. Everyone brought whatever they could find – and the Berner Platte was born”. Granted, it is an acquired taste as the meal is without any sauce and therefore quite dry, but the heroic story behind it wins me over. As Einstein proved time is relative, but it certainly does not stand still. Before I know it, I am on my way back to the airport. As I unpack my bags at home, a souvenir falls from the inside of my sweater – a tiny blue piece of confetti. q

IF YOU GO Bern Tourism: Rosengarten Restaurant: Einstein Haus Bern: Zytglogge (Clock Tower): https://www. Museum of Fine Arts Bern: https://www. Kornhaus:


Onion Market Parade through the Old Town, copyright Wibke Carter






Story and Photogrpahy by Margie Goldsmith


t Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar in NOLA’s French Quarter I’m scarfing down oysters – lots of them -char-grilled, Buffalo oysters, raw oysters, and Oysters Bienville and a New Orleans favorite, Oysters Rockefeller. In New York City, there are over 2,500 restaurants, but nothing compares to the oysters and food in New Orleans; Po-Boys, Crawfish Etouffee, Muffalettas (a sandwich on Sicilian sesame bread), Gumbo, Jambalaya, and sweet pralines. But I haven’t come to the Big Easy to eat, I’ve come for Mardi Gras, and thanks to a friend, I’ll be spending tomorrow on one of Harry Connick Junior’s Krewe of Orpheus floats.

Author Margie Goldsmith in her Orpheus Krewe costume. Left: The Krewe of Orpheus floats roll in the Mardi Gras parade..



I always imagined Mardi Gras was a one-day party of frat boys perched on balconies in the French Quarter calling for girls to pull up their T-shirts in exchange for beads. Wrong. This debauchery only happens on Bourbon Street. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is about entire generations of families enjoying the parades together with festivities beginning in January and ending on Mardi Gras Day, also known as Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent). Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint. Parents set up tents and ladders for their children to sit on. Each night, they put the ladders on the ground to reserve their spot for the next day. For two weeks, 34 different parades with brightly-decorated floats roll through various NOLA neighborhoods and costumed, masked revelers toss beads, toy swords, plastic doubloons and other trinkets to the cheering crowds. Many of the locals wear the Mardi Gras green to symbolize



faith, gold for power, and purple for justice. The entire ceremony goes back to 1781 when many social clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans. “Krewes,” private social clubs were organized, funded by their members. The first Krewe was the King of Rex. Now there are more than 70 Krewes including Harry Connick Junior’s Krewe of Orpheus (Orpheus was the son of the god Apollo and the muse Calliope). Connick founded his music-based Krewe of Orpheus in 1993 as the first super krewe to include both men and women. Today, Orpheus puts on one of the biggest and most extravagant parades with over 1,400 riders on 38 double-decker floats. And I’ll be riding on one of these floats tomorrow! Right now, the Krewe of Thoth is rolling up Canal Street, and float after float passes by with members throwing beads, stuffed animals, and plastic medallions. Dozens of strands of

Left to Right: Raw Oysters at Felix’s Restaurant and Bar; middle: The Krewe of Thoth rolls down Canal Street throwing out beads to huge throngs of people. Like members of all Krewes, the Krewe of Thoth members are required by law to wear masks.

beads lie on the street, but no one is picking them up which I don’t understand because people are screaming from the sidewalk, “Throw me some beads, Mistah!” I dart into the street and grab a handful of necklaces. “Be careful,” someone says, “You don’t want to get hit in the head.” As I add each new necklace, my neck feels heavier and heavier and soon I am almost too weighted down to move. At the end of the parade, I duck into my hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, remove the necklaces, and head back out. This year is the three-hundredth anniversary of New Orleans which makes everything even more exciting. I wander around Jackson Square past artists selling paintings, magicians, and an entire row of spiritual advisors, one, whose sign reads “Gypsy, in business ten years.” I listen to a few buskers and think about the weekend I came to New Orleans for Jazz Festival two years ago, when I roamed from stage to stage listening to blues, R&B,

rock, jazz, Cajun, zydeco. Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rap, country, bluegrass and everything in between. At one point, I was on my way to hear Robert Cray but was seduced by the horn section coming from a nearby Dixieland tent. I entered, so enraptured by the music that I stayed for two hours and joined a second-line parade of audience members who twirled parasols and handkerchiefs in the air as we danced round and round the tent. Mardi Gras has the same infectious joy as Jazz Fest, especially with so many choices, and I want to be everywhere at once. But first, dinner at Superior Seafood on the corner of St. Charles Street and Napoleon Avenue, close to where the Bacchus Parade will shortly roll. I indulge in more oysters, fried green tomatoes with crab cake, blackened catfish, and traditional Mardi Gras King cake. Suddenly I can see the Bacchus parade out the window and I race out to watch the marching bands, cheer-



leaders, a children’s band and float after magnificent float. The flambeaux (torch carriers) surround the paraders and dance and twirl their torches like flaming batons. Originally, the flambeaux carriers were slaves and free men of color who lit the way of the elaborate floats. Every balcony lining the street is filled with parade watchers, arms outstretched for coveted throws. A woman next to me calls out, “Throw me some beads, Mistah,” and I happen to grab the necklace meant for her. She tells me it’s bad manners to take a throw intended for someone else. I apologize, explain I’m new to this, and hand her the beads. Like the rest of the locals, she vies for the best throws including bigger beads. To earn one of these prized possessions, you make eye contact with a Krewe member and keep calling out until they throw beads at you.

“Throw me some

After the Bacchus parade, I’m too wired to head back to my hotel, so I turn towards Preservation Jazz Hall, but there’s a twoblock-long line waiting to get in. I continue to Tipitina’s, one of NOLA’s most famous clubs where Dr. John, one of my favorite performers, is playing. The show is sold out, but someone has an extra ticket to sell, and I’m in! Laissez Les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll)! The good times are certainly rolling the next day in the airplane hangar-sized Convention Hall dressing room. Costumes of all colors hang by the thousands, marked by the Krewe’s name and float number. For anyone who needs a last-minute alteration, there’s a seamstress. My Orpheus costume is turquoise satin pants, a bright yellow top with sparkly turquoise sleeves, a glittery sash with huge silver letters, ORPHEUS, and a red mask. Once outfitted, we are led to the gigantic “holding space” where 20 to 30 of us are assigned to each float. I’m hoping to see Harry Connick Jr., but he’s out of town working. Every inch of the Orpheus double-decker floats is decorated with huge colorful flowers, gold leafing, and enormous paper mache statues. The minute Mardi Gras is over, they’ll strip down the floats and spend the entire year working on new float designs. I climb the stairs to the top deck, but it’s impossible to get to my assigned place because every inch of floor space is stacked high with high plastic-wrapped bags of throws. I finally crawl over the bags to my standing space. To make sure we don’t fall out (as has happened in the past), we are required to hook



Mardi Gras floats take up to a year to build and are all handcreated such as the brightly-colored flowers and paper mache statue on this Krewe of Orpheus float.

beads, Mistah!”

ourselves in with safety belts. Each of us is expected to throw at least 30 cases of beads -- that’s not thirty beads – that’s thirty cases of beads, each holding 50 to 500 strands, bagged by size and color. There are also some bags of small stuffed toys which I’ll save for the children. We rip open the plastic bags, pull out handfuls of necklaces, separate them into individual strands and hang them from hooks on the side of the float. This sounds easy, but if you try to manage more than five strands at once, you’re guaranteed to tangle them up. Finally, we don masks (all participants on Mardi Gras floats are required by law to wear masks), a tradition which started years and years ago to allow wearers to escape society and class constraints. Personally, I find the mask annoying as I can see better without it, but I’m not complaining, especially when our Orpheus floats roll out of the Convention Center. The moment we hit the street, hundreds of revelers raise their arms and scream, “Throw me some beads, Mistah!” I pull a strand off the hook and throw it towards a man with his hands extended. He catches it and grins. Everyone is calling for beads, and I can’t fling them fast enough. Soon I’ve run out of all my necklaces on the hook and frantically rip open new cases, grab beads and toss them to the bead-hungry throngs. I try and throw two young kids little-stuffed bananas, but they’re too light to travel far enough, and four adults scramble for them in a free-for-all. I shake my finger at the adults and throw more stuffed bananas until they reach the delighted children. Block after block is jammed with people. As I continue to throw, my aim gets really good, and I’m beginning to feel like a Major League Baseball pitcher. I throw one towards a man and the necklace drops from his head right around his neck – oh no – did I hurt him? He gives me two thumbs up. Whew! After four hours, my arm is so tired I can barely lift it. I pull off my mask and plop down on top of the unopened bags. It’s dark, and there are stars in the sky, beautiful. But soon, like a dazed fighter encouraged by the roaring crowds, I jump back up because I don’t want to miss a second of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Another hour goes by, and there are many unopened bags, but we’re rolling back to the Convention Center. Suddenly tuxedoed men and women in formal gowns run towards us



crying out for beads. I have no strength left to tear open a new bag, so I grab unopened bags the size of cantaloupes and heave them. The well-dressed crowd from the Convention Center races for the bags more determinedly than the swarms on the streets. Finally, our float comes to a final stop. I’m so tired I can barely climb down the stairs -- but it’s not over yet. We join the 5,000 black-tie guests partying in the convention hall. At the buffet station, I devour crawfish pies, jambalaya, and gumbo. The food, wine, and non-stop live music revive me and soon I’m up, dancing into the wee hours of the morning. Laissez les bons temps rouler, indeed! q IF YOU GO Mardi Gras kicks 2019 kicks off with King’s Day, Jan 6th, but the main parades and festivities of the two weeks before Mardi Gras will begin on Feb 22nd. Hotel rooms and B&B’s are booked up far in advance, so make your reservations for 2019 now!

150 Krewe member put their own spin on their costumes, including this creative Orpheus Krewe cape . Opposite: Dr. John playing at New Orleans premiere music venue, Tipitina’s





Story by Judy Garrison | Photography by Len Garrison


felt myself scream before I heard

sign (also in Sicilian), scolding us in public

myself scream. The road before us

fashion. Not waiting for them to move

seemed like the only option out of

closer, my husband slammed the gear

Castellemmare del Golfo. After all, the

into reverse, pummeled the gas pedal, and

city was a myriad of one-way streets;

back we went.

there was no other route. Confident in our decision, Len inched forward our compact

We rolled through every one way street,

rental until the space below us was void of

many going the wrong way, until we

everything except the Tyrrheanian Sea.

found a two-lane road that led us toward Palermo.

“Stop!” I howled, grabbing the dash and applying my passenger breaks in Road-

Our journey to Sicily began in Ramrod

runner fashion.

Key, Florida, five years earlier when my husband’s cousin Sal said, “Go. There will

Moved by my screams and a car at their

never be the right time. Find your family

front door, an older man and woman hob-

now.” Only droplets of history and conver-

bled from their home onto the cobble-

sation followed concerning Sicily, never

stone street, yelling jabs in Sicilian, point-

enough to understand the full scope of

ing angry crooked fingers at the street

who and where.

Seaside villa on the Gulf of Castellammare.





Sal was right. Four years later, Sal died unexpectedly one February night, and his words that family waited in Sicily became his legacy. Stories passed through the family of how Salvatore, my husband Len’s grandfather, immigrated to America from Sicily’s Castellemmare del Golfo in 1905, only to return three years later for his wife, Angelina. In America, a home and a family would grow. Seven children later with the youngest only seven, Salvatore would die, leaving his widow to support a family of eight. Over the years, she became a chicken farmer, a gardener— whatever possible—to be build a life for her family, all the while deeply rooted in Sicilian tradition and the American dream. Even with limited time, travel to Sicily was our next adventure. Our first stop was Rome and then Salerno; afterward, we would move south via train to Sicily. Hugging the coastline, the Trenitalia train would connect us to the island of Sicily in about six hours. Past olive groves and distant city skylines, the scenery raced as we made brief stops at train stations for passengers. With no food service on the train, our “must have” sfogliatelia from Andrea Pansa in Amalfi would do until we reached Taormina. The train reached Villa San Giovanni where the cars were disassembled, loaded onto a ferry, and transported across the Messina Strait. Quite a unique experience to leave your seat, walk alongside your train car and land in the ferry’s hold to experience the crossing. After a 15-minute voyage, the train was reassembled in Messina and pointed south, in the direction of Taormina.



An early morning walk in Castellemmare del Golfo. (above right) The last photo of the entire Lentine family, circa the summer of 1928. (lower right) The busy market in Catania



Exiting the train station, we reminded ourselves of a travel principle: grab the first taxi you see. There might not be another for quite some time, as we learned one rainy evening outside the Vatican. We signaled the first gentleman, and he loaded our luggage into his vehicle and began the climb. Out our windows, Taormina sucked us in. The small village high on a hill with jagged cliffs and a blue sea below was busy this spring evening. Cars zipped past us taking the s-curves swiftly with only a honk to warn that they were there, and it was then I began rethinking the rental car. Vaguely in the distance, our first glimpse of Mt. Etna. With only one night in Taormina, we laid our head in the heart of the city, Hotel II Piccolo Giardino, near the Corso Umberto. Although we had time for only a taste of the city, we experienced dolce vita as we slowed down and strolled through the narrow alleyways of this medieval city filled with local boutiques and meat markets. For dinner, pasta and the beginning of our love affair with Sicily’s hearty red wine, Nero d’Avola. At morning’s first light, it was baptism by fire as Len got behind the wheel of our rental car and followed the main road out of town. Our eastern coastal drive would land us in Catania, a bustling industrial town on the middle of the Ionian coast and Sicily’s second largest city. Getting there proved to be the easy part, but within the city, navigating the frenzy of traffic and pedestrians at mid-day developed into a game of cat and mouse. We set our sights on our destination the Piazza del Duomo and prayed for a parking spot.



“ Although we had time for only a taste of the city, we experienced dolce vita as we slowed down and strolled through the narrow alleyways of this medieval city filled with local boutiques and meat markets. ”

The harbor of Castellemmare del Golfo. (above right) Often considered Sicily’s most important grape varietal, the Nero d’Avola is a hearty red wine paired perfectly with meats and pasta.



All streets led to the Piazza. Our sprint through Catania was hurried, and we chose this spot, one of Sicily’s most notable Baroque piazzas, to be our memory of this town. Outdoor markets lined most of the approaching side streets, selling fruits and vegetables, while inside the piazza, couples lounged at cafés, families played in the fountain, and restaurants served Sicily’s street food. Ah, arancini, we’ve waited for you. Wrapped in paper, the fried rice ball could be filled with anything; mine was stuffed with broccoli while Len played it safe with mozzarella. On time, we continued south to Siracuse, a coastal town of medieval streets and Baroque architecture. Our terminus, the statue of Diana located on the island of Ortigia in the Piazza Archimede. Intending to be at our next destination, Agrigento, before nightfall, we parked along the sea wall on Via De Tolomei. We scuttled through narrow streets until we poured out at the feet of Diana and a charming café. “The usual,” I began saying to Len by this point. Translation: a pastry and a cappuccino, even though the milky treat in the afternoon is a no-no to Italians. While tourists snapped selfies with Diana, we indulged, realizing the beauty of simply sitting. With a little extra time, we walked toward the remains of Tempio di Apollo, the first Doric temple built in Sicily during the sixth century. In the next few moments, our bliss would evaporate. Walking toward our vehicle, which contained everything we owned including our passports, my heart sank. “This is where we left the car, right,” I questioned. For a second, I couldn’t remember what the car even looked like other than the distinguishing rental label on the windshield. We trekked up the street, down the street, finally concluding it was gone. We sprinted back to the piazza, but with English being more challenging in Sicily, it took hours to talk a security guard out from behind his desk to help. Finally, he unearthed the tow yard, called a taxi, and we found ourselves many miles from our beginning, in a tiny chained yard where many rentals had been dealt the same fate.

Sicilians having towing down to a speedy art. Pasta, wine and a harbor view in Castellemmare del Golfo. Morning rituals in Castellemmare del Golfo. Family selfie with Diana in Siracuse.





Destiny, I concluded as we escaped Siracuse. Then, as Ag-

customers, the wait staff and sommelier jumped into service.

rigento’s Terrazze Di Montelusa B & B cancelled our reserva-

And with a bottle of Nero d’Avola and the best risotto of my

tion in an email as we were on route, we decided it was time

life, I left Siracuse behind.

to slow down once more. I knew of the Hotel Tonight app, and today, I would discover if it could rescue us. Indeed it did.

The Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) drew visitors to

Scala Dei Turchi Resort had a lovely suite overlooking the sea

Agrigento. The city itself was a hard-working fishing port with

ready for us at a quarter of the nightly cost. As we settled in

little romantic appeal. However, as the lighted temple of Hera

for the evening, we walked across the breezeway to a five-star

towers over the city’s darkness, Greek remains told stories of

restaurant. At this late hour, and although completely empty of

a majestic and lucrative seaside city that dates back to 400


The countryside along the western coastline of Sicily.

B.C. We spent the next day walking the dusty streets, listening

dotted with small, far-flung holiday towns whose population

to the audio tour, and attempting to recall the hours of Greek

swell and shrink with the seasons. Castellemmare del Golfo is

mythology I had taught in a past life.

one of the largest, surrounded by high cliffs and rocks. Once having the worst reputation for Mafia violence, it now projects

Leaving Agrigento, we traveled along the countryside in the

an idyllic presence, with a succession of cafés and restaurants

rural part of western Sicily toward Castellemmare del Golfo,

along the harbor.

Len’s grandfather’s home. We stopped for coffee midway at Coffee and Go, an isolated gas station complete with es-

On the Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, the main street in the

presso bar and ceramic cups and saucers. Western Sicily is

historical downtown, we learned most about Sicilian culture. WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM


Chardonnay and cannoli in honor of Sal in Castellemmare del Golfo. (below) The fishing harbor of Castellemmare del Golfo. We like to think this was Salvatore's boat.


In the mornings, older gentlemen appeared side-by-side on

sation, an espresso was necessary. Soon, chatter erupted

benches, in valuable conversation, occasionally arms and

once more, and we spent the entire afternoon soaking up a

voices lifted. By mid-day, the crowds thinned; shops closed

lifetime of being apart. As we left, Cesar shouted, “He’s Lentini,

until early evening. As the sun set, pylons rose magically from


the middle of the streets, blocking vehicles, transforming into walkways. No one hurried. Greetings were cheek-to-cheek

In honor of finding home, we crossed the street to an intimate

kisses; laughter, contagious. Children ran from one business

pasticceria where a young woman constructed fresh cannoli.

to the next, being called by their first name as they bounced in

“You must watch now,” she told us, the one true sign of a good

and out, everyone watching but no one worrying about their

cannoli. We snagged our very own café table as the evening

safety. Bottles of wine covered table tops as a steady flow of

crowds began to gather, and as the young woman delivered

women in heels embraced men in suits. In a small side market,

our freshly assembled cannoli and two glasses of chardon-

a ninety-five-year-old grandmother sold patrons the exact

nay, we slowed down and toasted Sal whose legacy brought

amount of wine, cheese and prosciutto for the evening meal.

us to this place.

It was also here that we found family. In a small party shop

Although our dash through Italy never landed us in one place

on the northern end of the street, Sweet Bon Bon, Lucia and

for any length of time, we touched the tip of our heritage and

Cesar greeted strangers into their shop. Having never met, we

have considered our two weeks reconnaissance for a journey

used photos and family names to establish connection. As

that began decades earlier and one that will continue for ages

arms began swaying and gestures became mirrored, I, alone,

to come. Our blips of time in these Italian cities reminded us

saw the bond between the three evolve before my eyes. The

how important it was to dream much bigger, detour when

cadence of Italian and English languages was mesmerizing.

opportunity presents itself, embrace the oops moments, and

And when words were incoherent, pen and paper were used

most of all, and slow down every chance you get. q

in illustrating the family tree. About an hour into the conver-







Secret Charms

Exploring the Czech Republic Story & Photography by Amy Laughinghouse



group of perhaps a dozen men wander the streets of a rural Czech village, cracking whips and pounding on doors. Attired in outlandish costumes of straw, bright rags, or Crayola-colored suits bedecked in bows, they’re a bit like the characters from the Wizard of Oz‌if L. Frank Baum had been bombed out of his mind on absinthe when he wrote the kiddie classic. Sunset over the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic.


I doubt I’d open my door to these folks, but invariably, the

well-trodden streets. But it’s going to be hard to exceed the

residents of tiny Vortova do. That’s the cue for the men to

outrageous revelry of this afternoon, celebrating the centuries-

break into song and dance, accompanied by a brass band. As

old tradition of masopust.

a reward for their efforts, homeowners hand out shots of liqueur, sugar-dusted buns, and platters of meat, not only to the

Held just before the start of Lent, masopust translates as

performers, but also to their hangers-on, a group that seems

“good-bye meat.” In Vortova and some surrounding areas,

to comprise pretty much the entire town. Every spectator re-

this Shrovetide procession is considered so important that it’s

ceives black stripes across their cheeks, chins and foreheads

featured on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

– a sign that they’ve been accepted into the entertainers’ raucous ranks.

Masopust is essentially Mardi Gras-meets-Halloween, with a decidedly adult tone. Although all ages take part, there’s a

I’m here because I want to experience life in some of the

lot of tackling lasses on top of snow banks, prodding them

Czech Republic’s smaller cities and towns on a tour which will

with sticks, and treating them to “medical” check-ups involv-

eventually lead to the lesser-known attractions of Prague’s

ing bawdy props which are decidedly not your standard-issue

The v from

Hall i

The view of church domes and spires from the tower at Olomouc’s Town Hall is worth the trek.


physician’s kit. Supposedly, these strange rites are all about fertility and ensuring a good harvest, while the face paint is apparently a nod to chimney sweepers clearing away the dreary dregs of winter. “You want to be a chimney sweeper, because they get to put stripes on the girls and kiss them,” explains my guide Ales Picek, who hails from a village about 40 minutes to the north. Symbolism aside, he says, “It’s just about the fun.” Moving on from the louche temptations of masopust, I find more tangible heritage and enticements in Brno. The Czech Republic’s second largest city after Prague has close to 400,000 residents, and an additional 86,000 students.

view of church domes and spires the tower at Olomouc's Town

is worth the trek.

In Vortova, Czech Republic, men in bright suits, beribboned hats and ruffled collars are attired for the Shrovetide celebration known as Masopust.

Given its preponderance of pubs and inexpensive beer, it’s little wonder that a survey of students recently rated Brno as the fourth best university city in the world, two slots behind Prague. But Brno’s appeal goes beyond beer. It’s a Baroque beauty, where ornate buildings in sherbet shades keep company with eye-catching modern artworks displayed in city squares. From atop the tower at 13th century Spilberk Castle, I take in the whole panorama, my gaze stretching as far as distant, Legolike Communist blocks abutting a low rise of hills across the plain. As attractive as Brno is above ground, I’m even more intrigued by its subterranean secrets. I venture into the castle’s dank dungeons, where up to 2,000 prisoners at a time were packed into squalid brick and stone caverns, and 10-Z, a for-



mer nuclear bomb shelter that now operates as a museum and hostel, where you can actually spend the night. I can hardly imagine a creepier setting to slumber…until I tour Brno’s ossuary. Beneath St. James Church, centuries-old skeletal remains fill three vaulted rooms, which are open to the public, and mysterious, off-limits passages beyond. Leaving the bones behind, I continue to Olomouc, another renowned Baroque university city. Located about an hour northeast of Brno, it’s home to 100,000 residents and 25,000 students, who lend the place a hip, youthful vibe. “It’s smaller, calmer, and not so spoiled by tourism,” explains my guide, Stefan Blaho. “If you go to bars and discos, you’ll find more students and locals (than tourists).” You’ll find plenty of cheese, too – and I’m not referring to bad pick-up lines in the bars. Olomouc is famous for its soft, pungent “tvaruszky” cheese, which you can sample it in virtually all its shapes and forms at the Tvaruzky Cheese Pastry Shop. There’s an annual tvaruzky cheese festival, a cheese museum about 20 minutes outside town, and even a cheese vending machine in the Town Hall. This turreted municipal building is also home to the world’s only Communist astronomical clock, depicting workers and scientists instead of angels and saints, and a tower affording



unparalleled views of the city. Walk off your lactose overload with a stroll through the University District, with its shops, bars and elaborate fountains, toward St. Wenceslas Cathedral and the Archdiocesan Museum. “Czech” out the gem-encrusted bling in the museum’s treasure room and the equally ornate archbishop’s carriage. A music collection includes original scores by Beethoven and Mozart, who lived here while completing his sixth symphony. When I finally arrive in Prague, I wonder… will I have been spoiled by the uncrowded streets of the Czech Republic’s off-the-beaten-track destinations? Will there be anything new to discover? Oh, me of little faith. I am charmed as ever by Old Town Square, where a Dixieland Jazz band entertains tourists who have come to admire the fairytale spires of Tyn Church and see the medieval Astronomical Clock, from which statues of the Apostles emerge every hour. The saintly statues lining iconic Charles Bridge remain reassuringly somber, and the sprawling bulk of Prague Castle presides over it all from a hilltop perch above the Vltava River. These are the sites I feel compelled to visit each time I return, but I’m keen to burrow deeper beneath this city’s skin. The Prague Unknown Tour, guided by history student Daniel Verner, fits the bill. Olomouc is a respected university town, but street art like this mural of a king holding a selfie-stick in place of a scepter prove this Czech city doesn’t take itself too seriously



Verner ushers my friends and I through along Novy Svet, a

I’m far too satiated to swallow that tale, but I still go home

cobblestone street that may not be paved with gold, but is

wanting more. No matter how many times I return, I’ll never get

flanked by “golden” houses. He reveals that American Beat

my fill of the Czech Republic. q

poet Allen Ginsberg, who briefly resided at the House of the Golden Lamb in the 60s, was expelled by the secret police for “spoiling the youth” with his liberal ideas, and we hear about a grizzly murder committed by a former resident of the House of the Golden Stork. At the House of the Golden Pear, now a restaurant, Verner explains that it was once the site of a notorious pub founded in the 14th century. “If you ordered the soup, they served you in a bowl

IF YOU GO TOURISM INFO: STAY: Hotel Barcelo Brno Palace, in the heart of Brno, features spacious, well-

carved from the table itself

equipped accommo-

– and you ate from a spoon

dations in an elegant

attached by a chain,” he says

mid-19th century

with a grin.

building. www.barcelo. com/en-gb/hotels/

I’m pleased to report that


service standards are con-


siderably higher at the six


establishments I visit on the Eating Prague Food Tour.

Occidental Praha Wil-

“People come to Prague

son lies at the south-

for the history and the beer

eastern end of St.

-- hardly ever for the food,”

Wenceslas Square, a

laments guide Jan Macuch,

terrific central location

whose passion is recreating old recipes. But he insists that Czech cuisine, a fusion of Austrian, Hungarian and Bavarian influences, “is the most underestimated in the world.” With every delicious dish, Macuch serves up an equally savory anecdote. He explains that a delicately-layered gingerbread

for exploring Prague. SEE AND DO:

pastry, Sakrajda, means “damn it, because you hear lots of

Brno: Spilberk Castle,

swearing when someone is making this.” As we slurp sauer-


kraut soup in a wood-timbered restaurant in Jindrisska Tower, our guide reveals that it is usually made by men and served

St. James Ossuary,

as a hangover cure on New Year’s Day. As he shifts from foot to foot, Macuch claims that this “typical Czech man’s dancing style” is dubbed “stomping the sauerkraut.” At Café Louvre, one of the oldest in Prague, we feast upon svickova, a rich beef soup with bacon, dumplings and sour cream, as Macuch regales us with stories of famous former patrons like Albert Einstein. “He contemplated how quickly time flies by when you’re drinking Czech beer…and the theory of relativity was born,” Macuch says with a sly smile.



Olomouc: Town Hall, Archdiocesan Museum, museums/detail=215/en Prague: Prague Unknown Tour, akce-a-udalosti/guided-tours-with-praha-neznama-pragueunknown/ Eating Prague Food Tour, a four-hour moveable feast, www.

Masks and strange costumes are all part of Masopust, a centuries-old Czech tradition. Opposite: Thousands of skeletal remains occupy the ossuary beneath St. James’ Church in Brno, Czech Republic.



17 20 d ar ry w nt ds l A E ar se ed w ei h A G blis ok he Pu Bo f T st o r o Be ieg ne r D in Fo an S W

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