Two Weeks in Germany with A+A

My parents visited for two weeks at the beginning of May.  It was their second visit to Germany; the first was for their honeymoon in 1979. At that time they stayed in Heidelberg with friends who took them sightseeing in the Alps, to Munich, and across the villages of Bavaria.

Afterwards my grandparents charted my parent’s travels, (as well as their own) on a road map of Germany.  The map was dusted off and given to us to record our journeys when we moved, and Derek and I unpacked it to see where they had been.

Their route had missed the Franconian cities of  Würzburg, Nuremberg, and Bamberg — We were excited to show them some ‘new’ sights in the region of Bavaria where we have been living. We also planned a 4-day getaway to the Rheingau and Mittelrhein (also known as the “Romantic Rhine” ) to take in the wine, scenery and half-timber villages.

Here is a selection of photos from their visit!



My parents first visit to Germany was in the month of November (’79), so they were enthusiastic about a return trip in the Spring. Soon after their arrival they were charmed by Würzburg for all of the reasons we enjoy it.  The trees and flowers had bloomed and the biergartens and outdoor cafés  were newly open for the season.  Everyone seemed to be outdoors and the city was at its loveliest.

We showed them the sights of the city: the Residenz (a renaissance palace built by the Würzburg prince-bishops) and Festung Marienberg (the medieval defensive fortress of the city).  We biked along the Main River and stopped at the villages of Veitshöchheim and Sommerhausen.   We ate plenty of Wurst and traditional Franconian food and drank Würzburg wine and introduced my dad to a few of the local beers!

Below:  The Würzburg Residenz and garden;  and the wall of Festung Marienberg





Their trip spanned May 1, which is a national holiday in Germany and a day-off of work for Derek.  We all took an hour train to spend the day in Nuremberg which continues to be one of my favorite cities. Nuremberg is a unique city for visitors; the Gothic architecture of the Altstadt is quite impressive and different from other German cities, and a world-away from the cities of the American midwest.

A day in Nuremberg wouldn’t be complete (for us) without some rain. The damp, moody skies set an appropriate tone for this city.  We visited St Lorenz Cathedral (a must-see) and walked along the covered city wall of the Kaiserberg, the 11th C fortress. And we drank Nuremberg beer and ate the city’s specialty sausage, Drei im Weckla “Three in a Bun”.

Below:  Nuremberg Altstadt and Albrecht Durer Square



Lunch in Mainz

The next morning we packed the car and left for the Rheingau, a Riesling wine region near the city of Mainz.  It was a hazy, bright Saturday so we stopped for lunch and walked through the market where people were out buying produce and sampling the fresh wines of the season.  Mainz had been beckoning us for some time and our quick stop encouraged us to return.  The city has a museum dedicated to the Gutenberg press, the typesetting technology that created the first printed book (the Bible) and the city became a place where the mass-production of books was possible.

Below:  Mainz Cathedral and Market square


4-Days on the Rhine River

Our destination was Hattenheim, a quiet wine village on the Rhine. We rented a cottage that was once a horse stable belonging to the Hessian state winery.  Our host told us how she had restored the property as a guesthouse. The space was perfect for the four of us– cozy and comfortable and an ideal base for day trips to villages along the River.

The lure of the Rheingau is that it is the center of Riesling wine region.  We stayed in an area where winemaking has been present for at least a thousand years.  We wandered to the village’s wine garden where you can bring a picnic and order glasses of fresh local wine and sit by the river.

The Riesling wines that we knew of before our visit were sweet, sparkling dessert wines. We tasted an excellent trocken (dry) white Riesling from a small vineyard in Hattenheim called Irene Söngen.   Rieslings really come to life paired with the season’s harvests– fresh strawberries and asparagus.


We hiked a short stretch of the long-distance hiking trail, the Rheinsteig, from St Goarhausen to the overlook of the famed Loreley Rock.   The Rhine is a commercial route used by barges to transport goods arriving from the North Sea. The legend of the rock is that the bend in the river was so narrow and sharp that many ships sank under the watch of the mythical mermaid, Loreley.

The next day we rented bikes and peddled along the river from Bingen to Bacharach. The Mittelrhein “Middle Rhine” is a protected world heritage site and is a popular area for river boats and tourists. There are 40 castles and fortresses perched above the river amidst steep vineyards.  The castles were built by competing knights, princes, and bishops as toll-stops for merchant ships — Iron chains blocked the river and guaranteed payment for passage. We stopped at Burg Stahleck, which is now a youth hostel — and Burg Rheinstein, a privately owned museum and hotel.

Below:   Ferrying across the River to Bingen; The river bend at Bacharach; Derek at Burg Stahleck, Burg Rheinstein; The cottage in Hattenheim.



The next weekend we daytripped to another historic city, Bamberg. Derek and I spent an afternoon in Bamberg over Easter of last year (we wrote about it here).   We enjoyed this round more; the city was warmer and busier than it was last year in early April!

In the region of Franconia, May is peak season for Spargel  “white asparagus” (The green type of asparagus is appropriately named Grün-Spargel).   Spargel has a short harvest, and Germans appear to savor it.  This vegetable ‘delicacy’ has not seen daylight, which is the reason it remains white.

At this time of year the announcement of Spargel appears on the signboards of Franconian restaurants ‘Wir haben Spargel!’ and is served with a cream sauce, or pureed into a creamy soup.  We were discussing how it is grown when we saw a field of covered Spargel mounds!

Disclaimer: I am going to venture out onto a limb. My personal thoughts are that Spargel is not bad, but is far from delightful. Its soft cooked texture requires barely any chewing.

Below:  Bamberg’s Rathaus, Spargel for sale in the market, Spargel mounds.




Mother’s Day!

My parents last day in Germany was Mother’s Day.   We spent the day in Würzburg, and had an al fresco brunch at Caféhaus Michel in Würzburg.   We walked through the gardens at the Residenz and Fortress, had a special dinner,  and toasted to a great trip on the Alte Mainbrücke with a glass of Würzburger Bacchus.  Prost!





Video: Germany’s Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg Rick Steve’s Europe

Understanding German Wines  Tim Glaser, Master Sommelier

Germans Go Crazy for White Asparagus





Our trip to Istanbul was for our wedding anniversary in early November. For both of us, visiting Turkey has always been a dream trip. The city is rooted in antiquity, but with 14 million inhabitants and an influx of daily visitors, it is fast-paced, modern, and a chaotic mix of sights and sounds.  It was definitely one of the most stimulating and memorable places we have visited.

Istanbul is the largest city in Europe and it spans two continents, so deciding where to stay was an initial consideration while we were planning.  We hoped to focus on the main tourist sites over our 5-day visit,  so we stayed in the historic neighborhood of Sultanahmet.  Our hotel was a short walk to Topkapı Sarayı, Aya Sofya, and Blue Mosque.  At the end of the block was a main tram stop, so we were able to take the tram (light rail) to Beyoğlu, the busy retail, business and nightlife district of the city.  We were also not far from the ferry connections to the Asian Anatolian side.  As first time visitors, it was a nice place to be.


 Favorite moments from Istanbul

Our first morning we walked from our hotel through Gulhane Park hoping to find the entrance to the Ottoman palace, Topkapi Sarayi.  Instead we found Set Üstü Çay Bahçesi a tea garden within the park that overlooks the Bosphorus. We decided to order çay (‘chai’) and sat watching boats crossing into the Sea of Marmara . Turkish tea has a unique preparation.  The tea is traditionally served in a stacked kettle made of copper.  Water is boiled in the lower pot and a small amount is added to loose-leaf black tea in the upper pot.  The strong tea is served in a tulip-shaped glass, our server showed us how to dilute it with clear water and add sugar to sweeten it.


Our morning by the water was one of those moments when we realized that while it is helpful to plan and prepare as much as possible, sometimes the most memorable travel experiences are the ones that you aren’t expecting. Afterwards, we made our way to the courtyard shared by the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, and Topkapı Sarayı, which I shared more about here.  It was a great weekend for sightseeing: uncommonly warm and clear for November, and the sky was so, so blue.


Two of our favorite street foods in Istanbul were Simit (flat turkish sesame ‘bagels’) and dondurma (icecream). Turkish Icecream is marvelous.  It is made with salep, a flour from the root of orchid flowers. I would describe the texture as part ice-cream, part taffy (and really delicious).


We explored chaotic Eminönü, where street vendors were selling knockoffs and factory seconds of denim, handbags, watches, and sneakers spread out on the curbs.  We walked across Galata Bridge (a crossing that spans the Golden Horn) toward Galata Tower near the end of the afternoon.


Derek just told me that Galata Tower was built by the Romans as a defense tower.  A chain was strung from the tower across the waterway to limit ships from entering the Golden Horn. It is now known for having one of the nicest views of the city and is a trendy place to have a drink or stay the night in Istanbul.

We wound our way to İstiklâl Caddesi, a high-traffic pedestrian street of fashionable stores and restaurants that connects Galata Tower to Taksim Square.  It was impressive lit up at night and at any time of the day is filled with thousands of people. After what felt like endless wandering through a maze of unmarked alleys looking for any of several recommended lokantas, we decided on a Turkish cafeteria.  We ate a hearty homestyle dinner of dolmas – stuffed grape leaves, savory roasted vegetables (the Turks like their cooked vegetables soft), and cheese filled phyllo called börek.


Afterwards we drank Rakı, anise flavored liquor (on the rocks), amidst puffs of Nargile- water pipes filled with flavored tobacco.  We walked home across Galata Bridge and watched lines of fishermen pull in sardines, anchovies, and Istavrit late into the night.



Like many travelers before us, we made a stop at Kapalıçarşı, The Grand Bazaar.  There are modest estimates of  250,000 visitors per day and serious shoppers arrive with empty suitcases. It is a labyrinth of hundreds of tiny shops selling pottery, jewelry, glass, and gorgeous Turkish textiles. The shops spill onto the streets leading to the Grand Bazaar, and shopkeepers are forward and persuasive— bargaining is part of the custom.  Most of the items are similar so it is the personal touch that sets each vendor apart– we were even offered tea.  At one shop, we were shown a dozen kilims, then a dozen more, and finally 30 different rugs!  Between rug hauls, Derek said ‘Alright…If we aren’t buying a rug, we need to get outta here’.  I  complimented the quality of the rugs and made a sheepish apology for being indecisive and we made our getaway. (We did end up buying Turkish Peshtemals near our hotel!)


While planning, I read this beautiful article from the New Yorker, and felt that if there was one thing we had to do before leaving Istanbul, it was eat at Çiya Sofrasi.  Derek was more than content to hop on a boat and spend an afternoon on the Anatolian side, so we took a commuter Ferry to Kadıköy for a late lunch. I wrote a post about our excursion here.

We spent our last day in Istanbul in Bebek, one of the Bosphorus fishing villages, before we met up with a dear friend on İstiklâl Caddesi for meze (amazing Turkish appetizers, similar to tapas) and the aforementioned drink Rakı that is my new favorite , at Duble Meze.  All of the food in Istanbul shared a common thread, but the meze we had that evening was really some of the best food we have ever had. It was also our first time eating ground intestines, served bruschetta style!


A week of traveling is always a whirlwind in retrospect. Looking back it is now two months since our trip, our experience in Istanbul still feels very special. It is an incredible, complex, and fascinating city. We have agreed that if the opportunity ever presents itself, we will happily return to Turkey. We would love to see more of Anatolia, Kayseri, Cappadocia, the Turkish Islands, and plenty more of Istanbul.


And I had a MN sighting! On the 3-hour flight to Istanbul I sat next to a woman who lives near us in Saint Paul!!   Every decade she takes a trip to celebrate her birthday.  She was taking a 3-week bus tour of the country for her 70th birthday.


More of our photos from Istanbul here and here.



Watch Anthony Bourdain take a Food Tour of Istanbul (YouTube)

Watch Rick Steve’s Explore Istanbul   (YouTube)

Istanbul’s New Meze Masters  Food and Wine

How to Make Turkish Icecream

Republic of Turkey Travel e-Visa 


Saturday 11am

We had a laid-back agenda for Saturday, and our first stop was Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) to see Dresden’s collection of masterpieces.

Next, we stepped into Kruezkirche “Church of the Holy Cross”. This church was in the Altmarkt “Old Market” (Frauenkirche was in the Neumarkt) and has been modified many times; It has burned down 5x since it was built in 1168! In the most recent renovation, the building was kept intentionally spare.  I wish my photos had turned out better, but a there are a few below that show this incredible space, a great synthesis between Baroque and 60s modern.





Saturday 5pm

The rain picked up on Saturday afternoon, just as we were walking to the Aussere Neustadt.  We detoured past the Yenidze, (below) a cigarette factory in the 1900s— toward the Elbe River Banks, which it turns out, aside from having the best views, is where the fun is at.  We saw some guys chilling their beer in one of the fountains, good idea!

Next, warm coffee under the overhang at Cafe Continental. We were tempted over to the Kunstofpassage (literally, art passage), a courtyard of buildings decorated by artists with quirky shops, etc. Perhaps the most known is the musical building that plays when it rains!  Possibly just in theory, we determined!




Finally, Astronautalis!
Derek spotted a concert poster that MN hip hop artist Astronautalis would be in Dresden the following weekend. Small world. It seems he likes to travel and is a pretty good travel writer! He is blogging while performing on his European tour.  It got us listening to some of his music.  Read  about Astronautalis’ adventures in Prague or watch a video of him riding around the Czech Republic on a motorcycle and drinking a beer!



Well, that is our trip.  Again, we really like Dresden!


(Click to enlarge)