Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kyle's Mosel Birthday

Kyle happened to have four days off in a row that luckily included his birthday.  Four days off in a row that include a birthday pretty much spells out R-O-A-D-T-R-I-P!  We wanted to go somewhere that's not too far away that we could drive to and take Gizmo.  I did a a whole bunch of research and looking around while looking at weather forecasts.  That lead us to the lovely and relaxing Mosel River Valley.

The Mosel River is a beautiful, winding, lazy river that is lined with terraced vineyards along steep cliffs, quiet, quaint Medieval towns, and castle ruins.  We stayed in a small town called Ellenz in a historic, half-timbered house that was built in the 1550s.  It is about 8 km down the river from the larger town of Cochem.  Our first day we spent wondering the narrow medieval streets of Cochem and walking with Gizmo along the river while watching bold swans sneak up on people sitting on benches.

Our town from across the river

View from our window

The castle above the town of Cochem


Gizmo being a brave dog


That evening we spent in our apartment enjoying some local Riesling and a homemade dinner of pasta with bolognese.  (I had made the sauce at home to bring with us so we didn't have to eat out for every single meal.  If you've never had homemade bolognese sauce, it is well worth the time and effort!)  We also celebrated Kyle's birthday with miniature pudding pies and hot cocoa.  Perfect on a chilly fall evening!

The next day we drove about 30 minutes to Burg Eltz; a very impressive and picture perfect Medieval Castle.  Construction on the castle began about 1157.  It has never been destroyed, making it much more authentic than many castles in Europe.  What's really amazing is that it is still owned by a branch of one of the original families that owned it since the 12th century...and they still live in part of it!!!  We took a tour of the castle (in English!) and then enjoyed some lunch on a terrace overlooking the hills surrounding the castle.  I think this castle is definitely one of my favorites that we've seen so far since it is so original and historically accurate.  (Pictures weren't allowed inside the castle, so here are some from the outside.)

Later that day we went to Beilstein, the town across the river from ours.  I think this was one of the cutest towns I've ever seen.  It was just like stepping into a fairy tale.  Narrow cobblestone streets were lined with crooked, half-timbered houses decorated with gourds and pumpkins for fall.  Narrow streets opened into quiet squares with old fountains, churches, and wine cafes.  An old Monastery overlooks the town, and higher up overlooking the town and the river are castle ruins.  Gorgeous!

Quiet Market Square in Beilstein

Check out the stache!

Adding some new grout to keep up the old town
View from above Beilstein

A Jewish cemetery
The next day we were heading home via a sightseeing day in Trier, Germany's oldest town.  It was founded around 16 BC.  The town is scattered with Ancient Roman ruins such as baths, an amphitheater, a town gate, the remains of Constantine's palace, and a thousand year old bridge that is used by cars today.  Trier's monastery that is still in use today, is said to be where Matthew is buried (the only apostle buried north of the Alps).  The Dom Cathedral is said to have the burial shroud of Jesus Christ.  It is only displayed every twelve years.  The town is so rich in history from all ages.  More recently, Trier is the birthplace of Karl Marx and where he spent the early part of his life.

Roman Bridge
The Dom (with Roman foundation) next to Germany's oldest Gothic church

The Roman Porta Nigra (Black Gate)

The town Market Square (check out the bird that just made the shot!)

A Cathedral, once the throne room of Constantine's Palace

The Karl Marx house.  It looks pretty nice...what went wrong in there?

We made our way back home that evening after having walked our feet (and Gizmo's paws) off as usual.  We continued to stretch out Kyle's birthday the next day at home with Kyle's favorite homemade dinner and dessert; pesto chicken and roasted vegetable orzo with toasted breadcrumbs, balsamic glaze and goat cheese. Chocolate silk pie with homemade whipped cream was his choice of birthday dessert.  Good thing we did so much walking to make up for that dessert!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Como on the Como

Knowing that we wouldn't necessarily be in the mood to drive the 6 and a half hours back after our relaxing cruise (life's challenges, right?), Lori had booked a B&B in Como, Italy which is about 2 hours drive towards the Swiss border.  The town is situated on a serene lake of the same name and is home to a lot of wealthy (and some famous) people who have idyllic Italian villas nestled along the steep hillsides or directly on the water.  Como is a quintessential picturesque Italian town which dates from the Roman era.  It's everything I had hoped for in an Italian experience, complete with gastronomical greatness, beautiful views, perfect weather and wonderfully nice Italian people. 

Founded in 196 BC, it's hard to comprehend the extensive history of this city.  Despite its relatively small size, it has a sizable cathedral and several other ancient churches.  Our B&B was nearly in the center of the old town and was within a 10 minute walk of all the sights.  The Italian owner was incredibly friendly and helpful.  Our room was on the 5th floor with a nice view of the street below.  The whole town is a network of very narrow "roads" that are mostly dominated by pedestrians.  They're lined with unique shops, gelato shops and cafes.  In fact, Lori and I had what was most likely the best chocolate...anything...of our lives.  It was gelato from just down the street and it was the type of taste that stops you in your tracks.  It was like a cold, creamy truffle in the form of ice cream.  Amazing.  Moments later we were sitting down and having some of the best espresso of our lives too.  The Italians certainly know how to do food and drink.  Everything we consumed was first rate and phenomenal.

The 1,000+ year old Basilica of Sant'Abbondio lies just ahead

A quaint market place

One of many shop-lined streets

The back side of the Duomo, or Cathedral

Where the town meets Lake Como

"Gelato, you've come back to me."  Best of our lives.

Market and medieval church

Cool exterior mural

Some of the streets were only a few feet wide

A surprise royal procession on their way to hold Court

The "King and Queen" holding Court outside the main Cathedral

Our B&B room.

After our stay in Como, we still had a 4 hour drive ahead of us, but one that we were thoroughly looking forward to.  We lucked out with weather again and had another beautiful drive through Switzerland.  However, what is a road without a stop at McDonald's?  Well, we did indeed stop, but Switzerland being one of the most expensive countries in the world meant we paid over $20 for one chicken sandwich and a basic cheeseburger "value" meal.  It was delicious, but next time we're going to pack a lunch :-)