Enough with the Posts Already

Kay and I are sitting on the train waiting to depart from Dijon for Lyon where our trip began. Ann and Mark are currently in the States so we won’t be seeing them unfortunately. Yesterday we left Meersburg and the Bodensee traveling first to Zurich were we spent a pleasant couple of hours eating a wonderful lunch and walking along the lake shore.

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Our train then took us back to France and the town of Mulhouse Ville for an overnight stop. We had a wonderful dinner at a Thai place with a unique French twist. The passion fruit sorbet with sticky rice and coconut milk for desert was particularly good.

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Our trip is very near the end. We will stay tonight at a hotel by the Lyon airport and catch an insanely early flight at 6 am! What was I thinking.

This being my last post it seems like a good time to reflect on the trip as a whole. It was wonderful to see Mark and Ann. I’m an only child and my parents are gone. My cousins are particularly important to me especially Ann. When they were living in Brooklyn it was far. Now with them living in France I honestly can’t say when I will see them again. They are forging a wonderful life for themselves here. I admit to a bit of envy.

Lyon itself was a great experience. Staying at their apartment we truly were temporary locals. The food lived up to all the hype of Lyon. It is a great city. Paris was also a highlight. Jean-Luc Marchand and his wonderful Chambre d’Hôtes, Bonne Nuit Paris, made our stay very personal and cozy. Hooking up with Scott and Sally and our walking tour with Marie-Claire made for a great day. And the evening of music at Saint Chapelle was a peek experience I will never forget.

Heidelberg was a bit of a let down although we made the best of it. I did have the great brauhaus experience I was hoping for. But it was packed with tourists and a bit on the crass side. Kay and I have less and less patience for tourist traps and big bus groups.

Our time with Gaby and her family was very special. They were warm and generous. Touring the local towns and sights with her was the antithesis of Heidelberg. The monastery at Maulbronn was also wonderful. Tübingen however suffered from the same problem as Heidelberg. This was a bit of a surprise to me. Most Americans have never heard of Tübingen. Our day trip to Ofterdingen in search of Kay’s distant past was magical however.

When we arrived in Meersburg it looked like Heidelberg all over again. But it turned out that the crowds were there for the Medieval festival and they cleared out by the next day. The festival itself was a stroke of synchronicity. We really dug the people in period dress and all the hoopla. Our B&B there, Landhaus Ôdenstein, was very nice and peaceful with a killer view of the vineyards and lake. But the real highlight of Bodensee was the reconstructed prehistoric village and all it entailed.

So, like most trips there were great parts and not so great. Over all I’d have to say it was a success although, as I said in the last post, I’m not as thrilled by travel as I once was. Thank you once again, dear reader, for following along. A special thanks to those of you who commented on my posts. It helps us stay in touch with the home front so to speak. And a very special thanks to my wife Kay for her kindness and patience and for the terrific photographs that added so much to my blog. Au revoir and a bientôt dear friends. We’ll be seeing you soon.

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Even Older Stuff

Modern Humans (Homo Sapiens) reached Europe from Africa about 40,000 years ago. They quickly replaced the other hominids – Neanderthal, Homo Heidelbergensis – already living here. A few years ago Kay and I had our DNA tested as part of national geographic’s human genographic project. My prehistoric ancestors were probably among these early Europeans.

Today we visited Pfaulbauten, an open air museum and UNESCO world heritage site where archeologists have reconstructed neolithic (ca. 5000 BC) and bronze age (ca 1500 BC) dwellings, tools, fabric and pottery based on finds in the area. The buildings were built on wooden piles driven into the soft lake bottom in shallow water near and on the shore. There are more than 100 such sites in western Europe.

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Because the artifacts were deposited in the water the finds here included not only pottery and later bronze objects but wooden parts of structures, fabric, animal and human remains, and even food.

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The site is amazing, giving a very tangible picture of what life might have been like for my ancient ancestors. Of course there is no way to know and any conjecture is fraught with possible romanticism. But my impression was one of a relatively peaceful and egalitarian society particularly in the stone age before specialization led to class stratification. Very few weapons for warfare were found here from what I can tell. Certainly life would have been filled with hard work but, as I looked out onto the lake from the edge of the village a deep sense of peace came over me. It was the same feeling I used to get camping in the wilderness far from any electric light or gas engine. I can imagine neolithic people having that same feeling everyday. When we think of the stone age, images of grunting cave men might come to mind but this was not the life of neolithic (new stone age) Europeans. They cultivated grain, fired pottery in kilns, made fabric and jewlery, and kept domesticated dogs, horses, pigs, cattle, goats and sheep and, as you can see, built houses.

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The flint, bone, stone and wood tools were quite sophisticated.

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As Kay and I had lunch in a café we thought what a great way to end our trip!

And so it goes. Tomorrow we travel by ferry, bus and train back into France with a couple of hours stop in Zurich, then on to Lyon the next day and then a plane for home. I’ll probably write one more post as we go but the end is in sight. It seems like such a long time since we were with Ann and Mark in Lyon. If I’m honest I’d have to say that travel just isn’t as exciting for me as it once was. In the last 20 years Kay and I have gone to Europe 7 times. Every time the crowds are bigger and it’s harder to find the real gems although we’ve still managed it. Nevertheless it’s been a very good trip. So thank you, dear reader, for coming along with us. I’ll save my last thoughts for the final post.

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Life in the 13th Century

As luck would have we stumbled on the the last evening of a medieval festival in Meersburg, a sort of German version of the Renaissance Faire, when we arrived here yesterday. Many people were dressed in period clothing. There was a street faire with music, jugglers, etc. Apparently folks came from as far away as San Gimignano in Tuscany. We watched a medieval drum and bugle corp complete with flag twirlers, a fire eater, street dancing and more.

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I had my Bratwurst and sauerkraut experience in Heidelberg, tonight it was Kay’s turn. Her comment after the delicious feast was “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Groaning and promising to eat nothing but salad for the rest of the trip she led me home to our B&B for a well deserved sleep.

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To continue the medieval theme today we toured the Burg Meersburg. According to a reliable legend, a fortress was first constructed here by the aforementioned Dagobert I in the 7th century. The first historical reference is from 1334 when the castle successfully resisted a siege. The current fortress has features from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

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Many of the staff wore period costumes like this fellow who stamped our ticket by stabbing it with a dagger! I kid you not.

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The place is pretty cool with rooms filled with antique period furniture, armor, weapons, kitchen utensils and mannequins in period dress.

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After lunch we were beat and opted for a siesta back at our room. We’re in the home stretch now. Tomorrow is our last day of site seeing before beginning the long slog home.

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Kay’s Ancestors and the Bodensee

Yesterday morning we drove south about 30 minutes to the village of Ofterdingen. As you may remember from a previous post one of Kay’s ancestors, one Johann Georg Röcker, moved from here to Adelshofen sometime between his birth in 1759 and his death in 1822. We’ve traced her family back to Gall Reckher, her 8th great grandfather, born here in 1557, but the family may go back further in Ofterdingen. We visited the local cemetery and although the graves only date back to the early 20th century there are many Röckers and other relatives – distant cousins no doubt.

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The cemetery is perched on a hill in the countryside above the town. It was peaceful and at the same time disquieting. In the town below we found a church built in 1522. Kay’s ancestors would have worshiped here. As luck would have it the church was open. It was quite beautiful inside as you can see.

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The town has a number of buildings which could date from that time.

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Unlike Adelshofen, most houses have a bit of land, enough for a garden. Folks we saw seemed happy and laid back. In the square by the church was this statue of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, a quasi-historical lyric poet mentioned in a 13th century epic. He looks like quite a merry fellow.

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After lunch back in Tübingen we took a little siesta then ventured out in the early evening. We grabbed some gelato and walked the grounds of Schloss Hohentübingen, the local castle first built in the 16th century.

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In the center of it’s courtyard is a huge bust of Roman Emperor Augustus which apparently graced the top of a colossal statue found here.

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The castle only had a few folks wandering the grounds as the museum and interior were closed for the day. We walked through to a trail leading around the back and down to the town enjoying the quiet twilight.

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At this point we’d worked up an appetite so we stopped in at our local restaurant and bar for a light snack and a drink. A band was warming up in the cellar night club below playing funk and soul. We had to check them out. To be honest they were just okay. The groove wasn’t tight, the drummer had an interesting relationship with time, likewise the singer to pitch. Memphis Shorty could kick their ass.

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This morning we bid farewell to Tübingen and the Hotel Am Schloss and drove south a couple of hours to Lake Konstanz otherwise known as the Bodensee. We dropped off the car and after 45 minutes on buses and 15 minutes across the lake by ferry we found ourselves in the medieval fantasy known as Meersburg. I say fantasy but the town indeed dates legendarily from the 7th century when the Merovingian King Dagobert I built a fortress here. Merovingians where the Frankish dynasty preceding the Carolingians, the most famous of whom was Charlemagne.

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After lunch, beer, wine and coffee we hiked through the steep, cobbled streets and out along a ridge to Landhaus Ödenstein, our B&B, with balcony overlooking rolling vineyards down to the lake.

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The red building above the ferry is our B&B.

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After car, bus, ferry and a substantial hike with our packs it’s time for some rest before we hit Meersburg for dinner.

 

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On the Road Again

Last night Gaby made a delicious beef tagine in the Moroccan style. She’s such a great cook. Really nailed the spices.

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Today we bid farewell to the Birouk family and hit the road south.

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About 30 minutes drive found us in Maulbronn and it’s UNESCO world heritage abby, Romanesque from the early 12th century. The site is well used by the town with the local government housed in the restored medieval buildings. There were only a handful of tourists in the area, a far cry from Heidelberg.

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From there it was on to Tübingen and the Hotel Am Schloss.

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Although somewhat touristed the town has a totally different vibe. With 20,000 students in a town of 80,000 there is a fresh, up beat feeling. We walked the streets of medieval buildings,

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had a drink and a bite in the square by one of the many churches,

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looked in a few shops for souvenirs, pondered the biggest squash I’ve ever seen

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and finished it off with a great vegetarian dinner in the restaurant at our hotel.

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Somehow the Germans make even vegan dishes somewhat heavy. Never the less it was delicious. The local rye bread was exceptional.

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Now it’s off to bed dear reader. More adventures to follow.

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Adelfshofen and the Röcker Clan

Yesterday we grabbed a rental car in Heidelberg and drove east and south up the picturesque Neckar river into the German countryside. The hills were heavily wooded with spruce and hardwood. The drive was placid along the beautiful Neckar.

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We arrived at the tiny village of Adelshofen around 3. Gaby Birouk (née Röcker) met us at her home. She is Kay’s distant cousin with a common 6th great grand father. The Röckers have been in Adelshofen since the late 18th century when Johann Röcker moved from Ofterdingen, 50 miles to the south where they lived since at least the mid 1500s. The village of Adelshofen is small with about 1000 people. Most of the houses are new. Gaby explained that when she was a child each house had a small farm attached with a barn. She even remembers some houses with the people living upstairs and the livestock downstairs. Here is a rare remaining example of such a building.

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This has changed for the most part with newer house built close together. Unlike some villages like nearby Eppingen, Aldeshofen has not preserved its historical buildings. We met her brother, Marc who still farms sugar beets, hogs and even a hatchery for trout.

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We also met her mom, Gertrude Bock, and her aunt Mathilde (also a Röcker). Although her memory is waning Mathilde is bright eyed and surprisingly strong. We found her sweeping the leaves from the driveway at the fish farm.

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Gaby married Jamal Birouk, from Morocco. He is amiable and quick witted. They have three teenage children, two girls Yasmine and Samira, and a son Yassin.

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We walked the town with Gaby visiting the family farm, church and cemetery.

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Everywhere in Germany are memories of the war. Here are the fallen and missing from Adelshofen including some Röckers.

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I am envious of Gaby, living as she does in the midst of her ancestors. She has known many of her neighbors all her life and is related to a surprising number of them. It’s hard for me to imagine having such a sense of belonging and place.

After breakfast this morning, Gaby drove us to Burg Steinberg, a fortress tower 5 miles north of Adelshofen first built in 1109.

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The tower sits on high ground with commanding views of the countryside. It was easy to imagine a watchman seeing approaching rivals and raising the alarm.

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The countryside is largely agriculture with small stands of forest and a village every few miles. There is however, industry every so often including nearby Audi and Porsche plants as well as high tech. For lunch we visited Bad Wimpfen. Bad is German for bath thus Bad Wimpfen has mineral springs and has been a center for healing since the middle ages. The old town center has tiny cobbled streets lined with 16th century half-timber buildings, expoused timber framing filled with plaster or, more traditionally, wattle and daub (straw mixed with clay).

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After coffee in nearby Eppingen, another village with medieval architecture, we returned to Gaby’s for a little rest.

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Of Brauhauses and Castles

One of my top things to do in Germany was to visit a real German brauhaus (brewpub) and try a local brew. Last night we did just that at Vitter’s Alt Heidelberger Brauhaus. The seasonal on tap was a wonderful Marzen. It did not disappoint.

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Not only was the beer great but the traditional food was excellent. Kay had goulash and salad. I sampled the house-made bratwurst with sauerkraut and pan fried potatoes. Included was a good rye bread. As you may know, Kay and I make our own kraut but ours is not quite like the real thing which they fry with the fat from the sausage. It comes out sweet and delicious. The potatoes were fried likewise in the fat. They reminded me of my mom’s home-fries cooked in bacon drippings. They complimented sausage perfectly.

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We were seated family style with a wonderful German couple who’s english was about as limited as our German. The woman graciously offered Kay some of her Apfelküchen, a luscious apple cake with raisins which was reportedly amazing!

This morning we took a funicular to the ruined castle above the town and beyond. The castle was evocative and the view of old Heidelberg inspiring.

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One of the castle’s claims to fame is the worlds largest wine cask.

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Those medieval Germans sure knew how to party!

After lunch and coffee we visited the Kurpfälzisches Museum, a wonderful collection stretching from Roman times to the present. Kay was particularly taken by the period clothing.

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Tonight we plan a low key dinner and early bed. Tomorrow we rent a car and head for Adelshofen and a couple of nights at the home of Kay’s distant cousin Gaby Röcker and her husband Jamal Birouk whom we have never met. In our communications so far they have been charming and welcoming.

 

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A Bit of a Shock

I’m not really sure what I expected from Heidelberg but my initial impression was of crass tourism. We found our way to the Hotel Goldener Falke in the old town and, as expect, our room wasn’t quite ready so we went out on one of the squares for a drink and a bite. Now picking a restaurant on a square is fraught to begin with but when I told the waitress, who’s english was as good as mine, that I had food allergies she looked at me like I was from Mars. Not a good start. We opted for a beer and a glass of wine and no food. We then made our way back to our hotel, which has a pretty good restaurant as it turns out, and had better results. Our room turned out to be very nice and thanks to triple pane windows, quiet.

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The Altstadt (old town) of Heidelberg centers around the Hauptstraße, a pedestrian boulevard lined with jewelry, clothing and souvenir shops and inhabited by tired, worried looking tourist from around the globe. After settling in we decided to go out and get the lay of the land. We stopped in for a gelato and I have say it was very good, mine being a sorbet of pear and chocolate. On our way home we ditched Hauptsraße for the side streets which were deserted and charming. Why most tourist never venture beyond the prescribed tourist traps is beyond me.

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This morning, after a hearty breakfast at our hotel we headed for the Alt Brücke (old bridge) and across the Neckar river for a hike on what is called the Philosopher’s Walk. On the bridge we encountered a horde of Chinese tourist with selfy sticks in hand. Resisting the urge to grab a stick and break it in two, we made it to the other side. Once there we were in a different world. As if protected by an invisible force field the tourist stopped at the halfway point of the bridge. The walk was peaceful, rising steeply through small orchards and vineyards. We encountered only a few souls, some locals and the few tourists brave enough to venture into the real world. After a half mile or so the steep, cobbled path opened onto a wide asphalt trail traversing the slope back down towards the modern town. The views of the Alt Stadt across the river were beautifully evocative.

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After a time we were walking the winding streets of what must be a pretty ritzy neighborhood, back down to the river. From there a little used path along the river led placidly back to the bridge. I was warming to Heidelberg.

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After lunch we stopped in at Pino’s pastry where Kay had spotted Sfogliatelle (insanely great Naples pastry). Pino was a real character and a breath of Italian fresh air in somewhat stuffy Germany. His espresso took me right back to old Napoli.

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Next we visited the Heiliggeistkirche, the main Lutheran church here. The interior was quite beautiful, gothic but not dark and heavy as some are. There was a moving memorial to the victims of the Nazis. Germany will not forget her dark past.

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I’ll sign off for now, dear reader. Tomorrow more highlights of Heidelberg.

 

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Au Revoir Paris

Yesterday was our last full day in Paris and, though fairly leisurely, we packed a lot in. After a relaxing breakfast and conversation with Jean-Luc we hit the street. Our mission was to gather provisions for a picnic lunch. First we hit Jean-Luc’s favorite boulangerie, Tout Autour Pain, for a loaf of pain complet (whole grain bread).

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Bread without cheese is like, well, bread without cheese. So we stopped in at la fromagerie for a quarter kilo of chévre (goat cheese).

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Next it was on to the marché for some fruit. Finally to top it off we picked up a bottle of Bourdeux and our meal was complete.

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Ann had told us about a hidden garden in the Marais off Rue de Rosier. It wasn’t too tough to find and fairly popular though not too crowded, mostly locals. We sat on a bench and had a lovely repast entertained by a very outgoing crow. I swear he cawed with a French accent.

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After lunch we dropped our remaining groceries at our room and took the metro to Place de la Concorde for our visit to Musée de l’Orangerie and our Monet experience. Claude Monet painted Les Nymphéas, known popularly as the Water Lilies, during the last 30 years of his life (roughly 1886 to 1926) as his sight was slowly diminished by cataracts. During that time he produced over 250 paintings of the ponds in his garden at Giverny including the 8 massive murals displayed here. Sitting in one of the two oval rooms especially designed for them and allowing your focus to soften you can feel your blood pressure drop. The color and play of light on the ponds is truly magical. One of the crazy things is that many of the people we saw sitting there were not looking at the paintings directly but rather through their tiny screens. This is something I simply cannot understand.

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After a brief rest back at the B&B we made our way to Saint Chapelle, the impossibly ornate gothic chapel on La Île de la Cité, for a chamber music concert. The early evening light through the tall slender stained glass windows lent a warm glow to the room. A string quartet and mezzo soprano presented works ranging from Bach to Mozart to Vivaldi to Bizet. A number of the short pieces rendered different takes on Ave Maria including the definitive Schubert version which was breath taking. The sound of the room was amazing. When the vocalist hit a loud, high note the echo rang around us. It was sublime.

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One of the great things about travel is also the toughest. This morning, with a touch of sadness, we bid farewell to our new found friend and host Jean-Luc and boarded the train for Heidelberg.

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More on Heidelberg in the next post but for now here’s the view from our lovely room at the Goldener Falke Hotel.

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Posted in Europe 2018 | 5 Comments

The City of Light

Thursday night we dined at L’Aller Retour near our B&B, a narrow, noisy, bustling cacophony with great simple food and drink. We felt we were getting the real Marais experience. Mostly local young folks, tattooed waitress and a bartender who would fit right in in Portland.

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Yesterday we hooked up with our musician pal Scott Clancy and Sally Wilson for a walking tour of the Bastille neighborhood with local Marie-Claire Vallet. She was funny and knowledgeable. As we walked the streets lined with 19th century Haussmann buildings she explained that among limestone houses of the elite are brick buildings built in the 1950s subsidized for lower income folks.

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We visited one of the oldest Marchés (markets) in Paris with a newly renovated 16th century roof. The individual vendors presented seafood, meat, cheese and produce.

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We ended our walking tour at Place de la Bastille where the French revolution began. Marie explained that the craftsmen of the area went on strike which was illegal in 1789. The royal guard surrounded them and, when they refused disperse, opened fire killing a couple of hundred. News spread quickly and before you know it the Bastille prison was reduced to ruble and King Louie lost his head.

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We said farewell to Marie over drinks on the square and had some lunch. Kay and I had to pick up our tickets for Musée de L’Orangerie (Monet’s water lilies) which we will visit later today. So we took the metro to the TI in the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). This is very near the Île de la Cité and Notre Dame so we walked there and then across to the left bank looking at the various book and art sellers along the river.

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After a brief break we met for a dinner of falafel at Chez Hanna before saying bon voyage to Scott and Sally. It was quite a day. We were beat and slept like babes.

 

Posted in Europe 2018 | Comments Off