April 30, 2012 Salzburg

We have a lot to accomplish in Salzburg today. We start out early for a visit to the Bishop-Prince’s residence in Residenz Square.

Residenz Square

The rulers of Salzburg were both bishops and princes in charge of one’s religious and secular lives. But no ascetic life for them! They lived in splendor in the Residenz.

No vow of poverty here!

Usually the palace is closed on Mondays except for the last Monday of the month. And that’s today. We think it has kept the crowds down. We buy our tickets which also provide an audio tour.

Sarah and John listen to the audio guide


Sarah learns about the bishop-princes

We learn about the various bishop-princes and the international, German, and religious balance of power through the ages. How hard it must be to learn history here. First, there’s so much of it and then it’s just not straight forward. In the United States you learn that there was discovery, settlement, colonies, Revolution, Constitution, Civil War, boom times, bust times, imperialism, two World Wars, and the last 70 years. The end. Just in Salzburg you would have to learn about local history, German history, Austrian history, European history, and world history for well over 1000 years. We take a break on the terrace and try to make sense of it all.

Sarah and John discuss history

After viewing the Residenz and the art gallery upstairs, it’s off to Cathedral Square to see the Salzburg Cathedral.

Salzburg Cathedral


Dedicated to Saints Rupert and Saint Virgil (new saints to us), consecrated in 774, renovated in 1628 and rebuilt in part after being bombed in 1944, the cathedral has ancient origins but is decorated in the Baroque style. We enjoy walking through identifying various saints and wondering about others. There is a very exciting St. Florian putting out a fire on the altar. We really need to create an app so that we can access all our information better.

Cathedral interior

St. Florian putting out a fire

Time for lunch! Off we go in search of something to eat. We settle on the Zipfer Bierstube. We have beer. In an effort to control myself, I have a small one.

My beer is on the right

Lunch is pretty meh. Sarah and I get a plate of three spreads with salad, pretzel and dark bread. Sounds good but it was so-so. Pretzel was not fresh. John has what looks like a Denny’s grand slam.

Meh


Grand slam!

Thus fortified, we make our way up the mountain by funicular to the Festung Hohensalzburg, the big fortress overlooking the city.

Festung Hohensalzburg

Another audio tour and some great views. Built and enlarged by various bishop-princes, it was never breached by invaders only surrendered to Napoleon.

View of old and modern Salzburg from the fortress


View in the other direction - Alps!

Next, Mozart. This is a town obsessed with Mozart. There is Mozart kitsch everywhere. We view the apartment where he was born. Read the letters sent back and forth between his sister, father and later his wife and him. Mozart spent a lot of time on the road. He has an immense body of work considering that he died at 35. Of course, he did begin composing and performing at five years old. We succumb to Mozart memorabilia and buy some stuff.

Where Mozart's mom made breakfast

Dinner tonight at the K & K is not stellar. Only John has made an excellent choice of venison. We are beginning to pine for California cuisine.

John's venison dinner

April 29, 2012 Salzburg

Today we drive to Salzburg, the city of salt, a valuable commodity back in the middle ages and the root not only of Salzburg but also of the word salary. The ride through the Austrian countryside is beautiful with snowy Alps as the backdrop.

We are staying at the Hotel Elefant right in the middle of the pedestrian zone. This prime location makes it difficult to get to by car. After parking far away and finding the hotel on foot, we tromp back to the car and move it to a closer parking lot and tromp back to the hotel dragging our luggage with us.

We decide to go to the Neue Residenz which now houses the Salzburg Art Museum. They are having an exhibition of religious art from the Middle Ages. Wow, could anything be more perfect? But first, lunch.

As we seem to be doing, we find an Italian restaurant for lunch and decide to make lunch the main meal of the day. Although John’s pasta with tuna looks good, Sarah is the winner with grilled calamari with potatoes and vegetables. I wimp out with pizza and a salad. I am just not feeling adventuresome today.

Sarah's very yummy grilled calamari

After lunch we are off to the museum. John opts for the audio guide but Sarah and I want to test our saint-identifying skills (plus there are English placards explaining everything in each room.) We have a great time. Oh, there’s St. Catherine and her wheel and St. Denis carrying his chopped off head! We catalogue a few new saints such as St. Wolfgang with his axe and St. Leonard with his chains and fetters. It appears that there are some great reference books to expand our saint attribute knowledge but they are only in German. Rats! Sarah and I take a little break and play a magic square game. We get some looks from the lady in charge. We think maybe these games are supposed to be only for children.

Magic square game


Sarah and Mom outside the Art Museum

Later we walk around the cute old section of Salzburg, pose by the Mozart statue and find some wine and snacks for dinner.

Left to right - John, Wolfgang, and Sarah

Tomorrow we will tackle the Old Residenz, the Cathedral, Mozart House/Museum, Fortress, and hopefully find somewhere for some live music.

April 28, 2012 Mauthausen, Linz and Ansfelden, Austria

KZ Mauthausen

Somehow winter has morphed directly into summer in the past two days. Today the temperatures climb to 28 C (that’s 82 F!) We say nashledanou to the Czech Republic and make our way to Austria.

Today we visit the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. John and I have been to it before but it is a place that everyone needs to see. The horror that happened here is almost incomprehensible. This was not just a place for killing Jews. It contained criminals, political prisoners, Soviet POWs, gypsies, religious dissidents, gays, and Jews – any man, woman or child deemed by the Reich undeserving of existence.

There is an audio tour. For hours we look at and listen to this place of death. It is actually small by comparison to other camps. This is a slave labor camp until almost the end of the war. People come here to be worked to death. They are starved or shot or electrocuted or gassed. Approximately 100,000 people were killed here. About half of them in the last 18 months before the end of the war as inmates from camps further east were shipped to Mauthausen as the Russians advanced.

While being at the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague made us weep, this place just leaves us stunned.

Approach to Mauthausen Concentration Camp


Barracks and roll call yard

The rest of the day

Somehow it seems inappropriate to post what we do the rest of the day but I’ve already uploaded the pictures so I’ll go on.

Leaving Mauthausen we travel the short distance into Linz. It is around 2 PM and if we don’t find lunch soon we will be out of luck. In many places in Europe, restaurants open for lunch close at 2 PM.

We happen to stumble across the vegetarian restaurant, P’aa, in the old section of Linz. There we have one of the best meals we’ve had on our trip. Sarah feels this is because it gives us a taste of home. We start with the local beer and then have an array of Mexican, Thai and Indian dishes. It is really, really good.

Beer!

My Thai curry

Sarah's stuffed tortilla

John's "Trip to India"

After lunch we walk around a bit and then head to our pension, Herzog zu Laah, in nearby Ansfelden. This place is great. The owners, Christian and Margaret Langmayr, go out of their way to make us feel welcome. Margaret has baked a cake and we are invited to have some with tea or coffee or anything out of the mini-bar.

We need to wash up and decompress. We go to our rooms and meet later on for tea. We are not eating dinner tonight. We sit and talk. Herr Langmayr talks with Sarah and me. We say our few German words and he says what English he knows. It is all very congenial. We have been in more upscale hotels on this trip but the Herzog zu Laah with its lovely hosts, cute rooms, and the sounds of children playing outside our open windows has to be among the best.

Herzog zu Laah

Jesus is in the front yard

along with a blue lamb

April 27, 2012 Cesky Krumlow and Budweis, CZ

Today is a light sightseeing day, really more of a travel day with a couple of look-arounds. The road out of Prague turns into a highway and we are thinking that we will be to our destination in no time. But as it turns out, the road narrows down to two lanes with lots of heavy trucks lumbering up the hills. We reach Cesky Krumlow well after noon.

Cesky Krumlow is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s medieval buildings with castle and 14th century cathedral are very picturesque. The town being situated on a neck of land is easily defensible. We wander around.

View of Cesky Krumlow

We stop at Pension Nina for lunch. How do people eat like this and not turn into Pillsbury Doughpeople? Because that’s what is happening to us! We wash down our enormous lunch with the local brew. Make mine a Budvar!

Mary and John drink the real Budweis beer

Duck with red cabbage and Bohemian dumplings


Goulash with gravy and bread dumplings

Sarah has the most unusual dish. It is a chicken cutlet, breaded and fried (of course.) Then it has a cream gravy topped by whipped cream. She says it is tasty but all I can say is, EW!

Chicken cutlet with cream dill gravy and whipped cream

Needless to say, after lunch we are dragging. We move on to Budweis and John and I need a little rest. By 4:30 Sarah is ready to be on the move again so she and I explore Budweis old town. We visit the church and have fun identifying saints. We take a look at the town hall.

Budweis town hall

By 6:00 John is up and we are ready for cocktail time. I cannot drink more beer and opt for white wine. We peruse the dinner menu. On the page for sides there are a lot of potatoes – steak fries, French fries, mashed potatoes, rosti potatoes, potato pancakes, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes with garlic and roast potatoes with dill and sour cream.

Potato menu

Apparently we are able to eat again. Sarah and John have different pork dishes with potato pancakes and I have fish with potato pancakes. So much oil! I take an oath to stop eating like this.

Sarah's smoked ham, sauerkraut and potato pancakes


John's pork cutlet with roasted vegetables


Pikeperch with roasted vegetables and potato pancakes

We spend an enjoyable time lingering after dinner (probably because it was difficult to move) watching the staff try to cope with a busload of Italian tourists. They seem a little harried.

Our plan tomorrow takes us to the concentration camp at Mauthausen and the city of Linz, Austria.

April 26, 2012 Prague

Leaving our hotel, we cross the bridge and are eager to start in on our tour of churches. John has made up a list of ones to see and has plotted the best route. Unfortunately as we start our church tour we are unable to get into the churches. They are either closed entirely or not open yet.

We do have success, though, with one church that we were unable to find the ingress to the last time we were here. It is the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. There are houses built into the front facade. We walk all the way around the buildings looking for a way in. Finally we see a sign in a music store saying free entrance to church. Hurrah! The church is beautiful in a Baroque kind of way and has an interesting wood carved altar and the tomb of Tycho Brahe.

The Church of Our Lady before Tyn


Wood carved altar of John the Baptist and Jesus


Tomb of Tycho Brahe

Leaving the church we make our way to the Jewish quarter. The Jewish Museum in Prague is a set of buildings and a cemetary housing a memorial, artifacts and a cemetary. The first building you enter is the memorial to the approximately 155,000 Jews killed in the Czech-Slovak area. 86% of the entire Jewish population. The memorial consists of room after room of names entered in small printing of the victims with their birth and death dates. It is hard to look at without sobbing.

Pictures were not allowed and I have used some images from Flickr. Many thanks to the photographers

Rooms with the names of Jewish victims


Close-up of names

Upstairs is a room filled with the drawings of the children from the Terezin Concentration Camp. Pictures of hope and fear and what they had seen. It is impossible for us not to weep.

After visiting the sites we head off in a somber mood towards lunch. We find another eating establishment named in honor of Good Soldier Svejk. He has become our lunchtime icon.

Stained glass Svejk


Svejk on our chairs

The special of the day is “pork knee.” That sounds a lot like the pork knuckle which I was unable to have last night. John and I decide to order it. It is Flintstone sized. When lunch is done, it doesn’t look like I have eaten any of it. So much food.

A meal fit for Fred and Barney

We stroll back along the river taking in the beautiful afternoon.

The castle complex across the river

After a little down time we meet to go to the concert we had chosen yesterday. It is a concert of Baroque music played on organ, harpsichord and oboe. Since both Sarah and I play oboe, it is right up our alley. Any music is right up John’s. The setting and acoustics in the Church of St. Nicholas are wonderful and we spend a pleasant hour.

Concert

We follow this with drinks out on the square and some people watching.

Sarah with Staromestske Namesti in the background

Not being able to face Czech food again, we go back to Taverna Toscana for dinner. We have salads and pasta. Sarah shares a family favorite – crostini di fagato. Not much to look at but very tasty.

Crostini di fagato

We amble back across the bridge on this last evening of our stay in Prague. Lots to see here in Prague but very crowded. We cannot imagine what it must be like in the summer. We are ready to move on to quieter surrounds tomorrow.

Sarah touching the bas-relief of St. John Nepomuk, patron saint of the Czech Republic


Sarah and Mom on the bridge

April 25, 2012 Prague

Our main goal today is to visit the Prague Castle complex. After only a short amount of time spent in trying to figure out the tram system, we successfully reach our stop. But, wait, what’s this? A monument to Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler? Time out for a geek shot.

Sarah and John by the monument of Brahe and Kepler

Then it is on to Prague Castle. There are a lot of people here – large groups with tour guides, school groups and individuals such as ourselves.

Approach to Prague Castle

We stop to take a picture of the guard and reminisce about our picture of Sarah and the guard at Busch Gardens. A five year old Sarah is making a face and turning away – when I used to ask her to cooperate in picture taking or even in letting me put her in an outfit that had buttons, she would say, “No cooperation!” (She had a strange aversion to buttons.) I decide not to ask her to stand next to the guard.

Guard at Prague Castle

We buy the Palace Complex long tour with audio guides and our first stop is the Basilica of St. Vitus (one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers).

Basilica of St. Vitus


The oldest part of the church has a Gothic interior with a soaring vault. The audio guide is very comprehensive and we learn a lot about Bohemian princes, saints and martyrs. The St. Wenceslas chapel is beautiful but can only be seen from a distance.

Interior of Basilica of St. Vitus


St. Wenceslas chapel

After the Basilica of St. Vitus, we go to the Basilica of St. George (also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.) This is a much older church and there appear to be some great frescoes but they are blocked by scaffolding. We see the tomb of St. Ludmilla, the grandmother of Wenceslas, who was martyr by being strangled with a white scarf that she wore around her neck. I need to learn more about these middle Europe saints.

Finally we go to the picture gallery. There are several Tintoretto paintings which are enjoyable but we are pretty worn out. We’ve been on our feet for several hours and are in need of lunch and fewer people.

We stop at a tavern nearby. Once again we are greeted by Good Soldier Svejk this time seated at a nearby table.

Life-size Good Soldier Svejk


We order the local beer which is disturbingly green. Wanting a light lunch, we order from the small plate selections.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Sarah has country pate and fruit

I have ham, horseradish and pickled pearl onions

John has salmon tartar

Later in the afternoon we cross the bridge again and find some concert tickets to buy for tomorrow night.

View from St. Charles Bridge


Then as all good tourists do, we watch the clock with its mechanical saints toll out 5 PM.

Prague clock


We head back to the hotel and decide to take advantage of our 15% discount at the restaurant. This meal did not turn out so well. The waiter first wants us to get their special cocktail. We say no thank you. Then he really wants us to order the lamb knuckle which from what we can see going by is a lamb shank on mashed potatoes with vegetables. Fine, but not what we want. Sarah orders duck. I order pork knuckle. The waiter does not want me to have this. He tells me it is tough and fatty and I should try the lamb. Of course this makes me dig my heels in and I ask for the pork again. John orders fish. Oh, sorry no fish how about lamb. Okay, John says I will have the lamb. Excellent choice, sir.

Now I am on the waiter’s shit list. Anytime anything needs to be given out, menus, wine, whatever, he waits on me last. The food comes. Oh, sorry lady, I ordered the wrong thing for you. How about this piece of extra dry pork tenderloin or you can wait another fifteen minutes or so for something else. I say okay I’ll take that but I would like the pickled vegetables that come with my original order (really the whole reason why I ordered it in the first place.) Off he goes and there is a lot of discussion in the kitchen. He comes back with a plate of salad, heavy on the bell peppers. He tells me they are pickled vegetables. I give up.

Sarah orders duck breast


John has the waiter's favorite, lamb knuckle

Mary is served dried out pork tenderloin

Later, after we turn down dessert, he brings us a special gift. It is the Czech digestive, Becherovka. It is the most vile thing I have ever tasted. It is flavored with anise seed, cinnamon and 32 other spices. It is like drinking a pine tree. I only take a sip but Sarah has downed the whole shot glass in one gulp. She is very sorry afterward. We read later that it is used in several former Eastern Bloc countries as a home remedy for arthritis. Yuck.

And so ends another exciting vacation day.

April 24, 2012 Pilsen and on to Prague

Getting up this morning it was cloudy and cold in Bayreuth. We have had a lot of infelicitous weather and we are hoping for sunnier skies soon. The forecast seems promising.

We decide to break up the drive which should be about three plus hours to Prague with a stop for lunch and a look-around in Pilsen. Pilsen turns out to be kind of a grim city but there are public gardens and tulips everywhere in the center.

Sarah in Pilsen center

First order of business – lunch. Sarah would like to try Czech food and so we find a pub named Svejk named after the main character in Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hašek. It is a black comedy about World War I where 140,000 Czechs died fighting in a war that they did not understand for an empire that they had no allegiance to. Anyway, John and I manage to find a fairly reasonable selection of trout and salad (mostly bell peppers) and Sarah eats a rather over-the-top cheese wrapped in bacon then beer battered and fried dish and a bowl of garlic soup. It’s a little much for our old arteries.

John and I have trout and mostly bell pepper salad


Sarah has garlic soup for lunch


Cheese wrapped with bacon dipped in beer batter and deep fried

After lunch we head out to see the Great Synagogue of Pilsen. It is the second largest synagogue in Europe and third in the world (after Jerusalem and Budapest). At one time Pilsen had a thriving Jewish community of between two and three thousand people. They built the synagogue to seat 1900 people. After the World War II only about 200 had survived and these few dispersed to Israel and the United States. The synagogue was lucky to have survived the war and groups are trying to repair it. I always feel so sad and angry for all the people who were lost.

The Great Synagogue of Pilsen


Interior of the synagogue

We also take a short visit to the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. It is in much better repair than the synagogue. Unfortunately we cannot get past the iron gates to the interior. It appears that there would have been a lot of interesting things to see inside. Drat!

Cathedral of St. Bartholomew in Pilsen

There are no pictures for the rest of the day but it is not without drama. We find our hotel in Prague. Later we go out to dinner. As we cross the St. Charles bridge, the first raindrops are starting to fall. We have ventured out without raincoats or umbrellas. We stop at an Italian restaurant to have dinner and wait out the storm. The storm is not going away. Buying some umbrellas on the street, we attempt to keep dry for the rather long walk back to the hotel. The rain is falling sideways and the wind is fierce. Our umbrellas turn inside out in the storm. Needless to say when we finally get back to the hotel we are drenched and cold. So much for sunnier forecasts.

April 23, 2012 Bayreuth, Germany

I am a person who likes to have a plan. That’s not to say that I can’t do things serendipitously. Hey, didn’t I go to see the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers? That wasn’t on the original plan. But for the most part if you have a plan, things just run more smoothly.Today our plans did not work out quite the way we had anticipated but we were able to keep things from becoming a disaster.

Long ago in the early planning stages of our trip, Sarah said she would like to see the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The Festspielhaus was Wagner’s creation so that his operas could be perfectly produced.

Festspielhaus with pansies

Sarah made reservations for a tour but shortly before we left, the tour was cancelled. The people at the Festspielhaus did say, however, that they would give us a tour of the outside and the grounds. Okay, not perfect but better than nothing. However, when we get to the Festspielhaus there is no one there except for the film crew who had caused the opera house to be closed. Ever resourceful, Sarah has screen captured several pages on her tablet and gives us a private tour.

Sarah as our tourguide

We get at least as much information from our Sarah-tour as we would have gotten from the real thing. Plus we ask questions that we might have been hesitant to ask about the opera house during the Nazi era. So our first almost disaster works out quite well.

Mom and Sarah in front of the Festspielhaus


Sarah and John by a bust of Wagner in the gardens

Our plan for the afternoon is to do the brewery tour at Maisel’s Weisse. First we try to find a restaurant near the brewery. We walk around an entire mall in the rain trying to find it to no avail. But, no problem, we go into the mall and have lunch at a brasserie. We get flamm kuchen, which is kind of like a matzoh pizza.

Feta, onion, and spinach flamm kuchen

I hustle everyone out of the restaurant early because, if you are me, you always need to be a little early. Good thing that I do that because when we get to the brewery we find that we are in the wrong place. With ten minutes to spare we race back to the car and drive to the new location in time for the tour. Whew!

Maisel's Weisse brewery

Uh oh, the tour is only given in German. The tour leader hands us a script, though, so we are able to follow along. After a very comprehensive (and incomprehensible) tour we are treated to the largest beer sample ever.

Beer placards at the brewery


Giant sampling at the end of the tour

John asks whether they have steam beer available for tasting. The former brewmaster who is there making whiskey overhears and becomes John’s best friend. Peter, the brewmaster, has been to San Francisco and knows Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam fame. They talk and talk. Peter takes John behind the scenes and offers him tastes of the whiskey he is making. It is a very special tour.

So, we avert many vacation disasters today and probably have a better day than we would have if everything had gone smoothly.

As an aside to the members of our family who are Dr. Who fans, we seem to have a TARDIS across the hall from our room here in Bayreuth.

Tardis

April 22, 2012 Staffelstein and Kulmbach

A couple of days ago we ran into the Fourteen Holy Helpers carved into a frieze in a museum in Wurzburg. It was also in Wurzburg that we learned that Balthasar Neumann was the architect for the Residenz. What could be better then finding out that today we are passing close by the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers designed by Balthasar Neumann in Staffelstein. Deserving of a stop? Of course.

It seems that a farmer found a child sitting in a field and when he went to pick the child up, it disappeared. He saw the child again. This time carrying two candles. Then again, but this time with thirteen other children. Someone corroborated his story. The child told the farmer that if a church was built there that the fourteen children would help out the local people. Next miraculous cures were reported. The Basilica to the Fourteen Holy Helpers was built. No one is sure how they morphed into the particular saints that are represented at the church.

The Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers

Given the look of this building, maybe Balthasar should have stopped after he designed the Residenz. It is quite ugly. But the inside is fabulous.

The altar of the Fourteen Holy Helpers


Rococco interior of the Basilica

Hungry from our long climb up the hill to the church, we drive into nearby Kulmbach for some lunch. We figure we will plot our next move over some hopefully light dining. John and I order a spargel salad and Sarah wants a tuna sandwich. The size of Sarah’s sandwich makes us laugh. It has to be over a foot long.

Giant tuna sandwich

John and I figure we will be presented with a leafy salad with some asparagus and hard boiled egg. Well, sort of.

Spargel salad

We decide to visit the castle, Plassenburg, that overlooks all of Kulmbach. Perched high on a hill, it was first chronicled in the 12th century. Although we are ready for another hike up a steep hill, this time we are allowed to drive all the way to the top. Unfortunately, there is not much to see. There seems to be only a cafe and a tin soldier museum. There’s also a sundial clock.

Sundial clock

At this point we decide to drive to Bayreuth and check into our hotel. It’s about 4 PM so it must be naptime. We are hoping that this is the last day we will need the late afternoon nap.

We have had a lot of fairly heavy food over the past few days so for dinner we select an Italian restaurant, have a salad, some pasta and call it a night.

April 21, 2012 Rothenberg ob der Tauber

We are staying at the unspeakably cute Burg Hotel in Rothenburg. John and I stayed here years ago and about 11 years ago I stayed here with my girlfriends, Sophie and Eileen. Big changes have happened since then. Everything has been upgraded along with the prices and the hotel has joined the Relais Silence group. But the management is the same, kind and welcoming. The only drawback is the very spotty internet.

We all meet for breakfast in the charming breakfast room that looks out over the valley. They have a lovely offering with pretzel rolls, pates, eggs, meats, etc. We drink gallons of tea (and coffee for John) as well as formulate our day’s plan. Breakfast is becoming our favorite meal of the day.

Sarah and John in the breakfast room

The weather is not cooperating and we have to pick our moments of sunshine. The altarpieces we hope to see today are influenced by the amount of light coming though the windows. Since this morning the sun is in and out and rain is forecast for the afternoon, we decide to see the most important one first, the Blood Altarpiece in St. Jacobus. It is in easy walking distance and we head out.

The display of St. Jacobus’s masterpieces has also been upgraded and an audio tour added. We look first at the main altarpiece. It is carved wood that has been painted. Although not by Tilman Riemenschneider, it is very interesting. On the wings in the back there is the story of St. James. This was painted in the 1400’s. A view of Rothenburg is included. It looks just like the town square today!

Altarpiece in St. Jacobus


A view of Rothenburg from the 1400's

The stained glass windows behind the altar are beautiful and also very early. In one scene God is raining down manna from heaven. Sarah discovers that the manna are pretzels! So in Bavaria, it’s raining pretzels.

Stained glass windows behind the altar


"It's raining pretzels, Halleluyah!"

The sun comes out and we go up to see Riemenschneider’s Blood Altar. It is unusual for the placement of Judas in the center of the Last Supper. The idea is that it is supposed to show God’s forgiveness. It is beautifully carved echoing the architecture of the church for which it was made.

Last Supper on the Blood Altarpiece

We take a look at another altarpiece in a nearby church and walk through one of the gates of the city. It is all very picturesque. I take a picture of John and Sarah by the gate,one of the mouth from which burning tar was poured over enemies and a panoramic shot of Rothenburg. There are tourists here but not as many as I feared. Perhaps the forecast of bad weather has kept many away.

Sarah and John by one of the gates to the old city


Burning tar ejector

View of Rothenburg

We travel on to Creglingen where this time we have a chance to see Riemenschneider’s Ascension Altarpiece. There are also several older art pieces. We are trapped by a large tour group who are being lectured to by their tour director. Then it’s off to lunch.

Ascension of the BVM altarpiece

Not wanting to eat at the same place as yesterday, we drive around looking for somewhere new. We find a restaurant up a hill and get inside just as the first raindrops are starting to fall. We are trying to eat a little more simply but failing.

Sarah's cheesy cheese bread


Mary's bratwurst and saurkraut

John's potato latkes with salmon

Our last stop is in Detwang, a tiny hamlet only 2 km from Rothenburg. The thousand year old church there has another Reimenschneider altarpiece. The Crucifixion Altarpiece has been cut down to fit their little space. It is an impressive work of art for such a humble little church.

A view of Detwang on a misty morning from our hotel room

The Crucifixion Altarpiece in Detwang

We are tired and repair back to the hotel for some rest. Sarah finds a workout area and decides that a little activity beyond walking and stair climbing are in order. John and I just fall asleep. Dinner tonight is in a weinstube and consists of wine or beer and some munchie platters. We are a little fooded out. Tomorrow it is off to Bayreuth.

April 20, 2012 Wurzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber

After a semi-successful night of sleep we are ready for new adventures. This morning we are going to the Marienberg Fortress in Wurzburg where the Mainfrankisches Museum is located. We are on the hunt for wood carvings by Gothic carver, Tilman Riemenschneider. We have discovered that there are 81 of his (or his workshop’s) carvings in the museum located high above Wurzburg in the fortress.

Breakfast is served at the Stadt-Mainz. For such a modest hotel, the breakfast is quite sumptuous. There are all kinds of cured meats, fish and shellfish, cheese, pickled vegetables, a whole pork roast, homemade jams, rolls, eggs, and cereal. We linger over breakfast discussing today’s plans under the watchful eye of a stag’s head.

Sarah in the Stadt-Mainz breakfast room


Our breakfast companion

We make our way to the Fortress and rent audio guides. There is a lot to see. It is hard to be choosey.

Sarah and Mom in a room of antique instruments

We wander through the rooms listening to our audio guides and finally make our way to the Tilman Riemenschneider hall. Wow, it is jam-packed with exciting wood and stone carvings. Some that we especially like are the St. Sebastian who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows (he survived, though), a lovely Virgin Mary and a frieze of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. (A list of the Fourteen Holy Helpers follows the pictures.)

St. Sebastian


Detail of St. Sebastian's hands


Painted wood carving of the Virgin Mary


Closer view of the Virgin Mary statue

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a special group of saints who can be called upon to intercede with God to help cure various ills. They became popular in Germany during the Black Death. In case of problems, they are:
St. Margaret – protector in childbirth
St. Barbara – invoke for fever
St. Catherine – pray to for relief from sudden death
St. Christopher – the saint for plague and protector for travelers
St. Giles – also for plague
St. Denis – good for headaches
St. Agatha – also for headache relief
St. Blaise – reliever of sore throats
St. Elmo – takes care of stomachaches
St. Vitus – protector against epilepsy
St. Pantaleon – patron saint of physicians and prayed to for cancer and TB
St. Cyriacus – helper against temptation while on your deathbed
St. Eustace – invoke to keep safe from family discord
St. George – takes care of the health of your domestic animals

Woodcarving by Tilman Riemenschneider of the Fourteen Holy Helpers

Leaving Wurzburg, we head to Creglingen, home of the Herrgottskirche or “our Lord’s church” founded after a farmer found an undamaged host in the field he was plowing. First we stop for lunch in the cute village. There are spargel (asparagus) specialties on the menu and we all start with cream of spargel soup. John and I have perch with fried potato puffs and Sarah has spaetzl and cheese. We decide it must be the German version of the blue box.

Cream of spargel soup


Perch with fried potato puffs


Spaetzl and cheese

We head to the church with great anticipation of seeing another Riemenschneider masterpiece. Unfortunately, it seems someone quite beloved had died and there is a funeral going on. There are a lot of mourners. We decide to put off our visit until tomorrow and go to the Fingerhut Museum across the street. A fingerhut is a thimble. Inside there are a lot of thimbles, etui, needle holders, darning eggs etc. The proprietor has spent his life collecting this stuff. It is mildly interesting.

Sarah and Mom by the Thimble Museum

We reach Rothenburg ob der Tauber around 3 PM. We check into our hotel, the Burg Hotel, which is built into the wall of this fortified city. We decide to have a little nap and reconvene in a couple of hours.

John in front of the Burg Hotel


Refreshed, we start a walk around the old city. We check out the schneeballen which are snowball-like pastries.

Schneeballen display

We walk up on the walls and enjoy the charming city.

Charming city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber


But, oh no, what’s this? The wind picks up, the temperature drops, and it starts raining hard and cold, almost hailing. Best thing to do? Have a beer.

Sarah having a beer

Later on that evening we have dinner at a local restaurant. We start with Franconian tapas which is a little soup, some smoked salmon, saurbraten bits and pork with lentils. It is quite good and tasty. I forget to take a picture. Then on to our spargel laden dinner. I opt for a salad. Sarah has spargel with bratwurst and potatoes and John has salmon with vegetables, potatoes and grilled white spargel.

Spargel salad with ham


Sarah's dinner - bratwurst, spargel and potatoes


John orders salmon with vegetables including grilled white asparagus and potatoes

Dinner is good. We are stuffed once again and head back to the hotel. Hopefully, a better sleep tonight.

April 19, 2012 Wurzburg, Germany

Our goal today is to get to Wurzburg, check into our hotel, freshen up and go visit the Residenz, home of the prince-bishops of Wurzburg. We have rented a Ford C-max which has enough space for our luggage and us. There is quite a bit of traffic on the A-3 and we dodge between lumbering trucks and very fast Mercedes and BMWs. Sarah has had it. She can no longer keep her eyes open and drifts in and out of sleep during the hour and a half ride to Wurzburg. Jack, our GPS, does a good job finding our hotel, the Stadt-Mainz in the center of Wurzburg. The hotel is in an old building and is adequate. We enjoy the pretzel door handles.

Hotel Stadt Mainz in Wurzburg


Pretzel doorknobs at the hotel

We all decide that the best course is to perhaps take a little nap before we head out. Around 4 PM we meet up and walk the couple of blocks to the Residenz.

Sarah and John in front of the Residenz

We find that there is an English speaking tour at 4:30 and we wander around taking surreptitious photos until tour time. Our tour guide is a handsome young man with a lot of information., He tells us all about the history of Wurzburg, the duchy of Franconia, and the incredible rococco decorations. There are two Tiepolo frescoes in the palace. They are tour de force of perspective. Figures jump out from the ceiling and the walls. The plasterwork continues the illusion. It is all pretty spectacular.

Sarah ascending the grand staircase at the Residenz


Part of the Tiepolo ceiling fresco


White Hall at the Residenz


View of the Grand Ballroom at the Residenz

We head back to the hotel. All of us are pretty spent. We decide another nap is in order before dinner.

Just down the street from the hotel is the Goldenes Fass or golden spigot in a brightly colored building.

Our choice for dinner, The Goldenes Fass


We decide to try some traditional Franconian food. We get a bottle of dry, white wine.

John trying out the Sylvaner trocken


Sarah at Goldenes Fass


John has pork cheeks with noodles and a salad. Sarah has saurbraten with red cabbage and dumplings. And I, trying to pick something light, have chicken with mushrooms and noodles. I cannot help thinking that Jonathan would love this food. He is a big noodles and gravy fan. We all enjoy our dinners and deem the most unusual things are Sarah’s dumplings. They are like congealed balls of gooey something. Nobody likes them. We find out from the server that they are bread crumbs, cooked potatoes, and raw potatoes that are formed into balls and then boiled.

John's pork cheeks with noodles


Sarah's dinner of sauerbraten, red cabbage and dumplings


My chicken and mushrooms in cream goo with noodles

It has been a long day. We are glad we have not ventured too far from the hotel and look forward to a good night’s sleep. (hopefully!)

April 18, 2012 The flight to Frankfurt or how we spent a very long day

Today is the start of our trip to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. We are all really enthused about our journey. John and I rise early and get on the road round 6:45. We pick up Sarah and make our way to the airport. So far the day is going smoothly. Little did we know what lies ahead.

We check in and start the process through security. Before we get to the secure zone, John gets a message. Our flight has been cancelled. We collect our belongings from the bins and tear back to the reservations desk. Indeed, our flight has been cancelled. We need to find a new way to Frankfurt.

Our problem is that we have purchased one ticket but used frequent flyer miles for the other two. We need to find a Star Alliance partner who will honor the two unpaid tickets. The agent at the United desk tries valiantly to rebook us. John is booked on a Lufthansa non-stop for 3 PM today. Sarah and I hang in limbo.

We receive food vouchers for our trouble. The agent suggests we go eat something while she tries to persuade Lufthansa to give us seats. We discover that food vouchers cannot be used for alcohol. Bummer. The call comes through around 11 AM that we should pick up our luggage from the bowels of the terminal and check in at Lufthansa. Hurrah!

When at last we get on the plane, there is one last snag. The jetway will not retract. We are delayed another hour while tow trucks are procured.

Finally we are underway. It is a long flight and by the time we take to the air we have already been at the airport for over eight hours. But, wait, food and drinks are coming. Something to look forward to. The wine is good. John and Sarah have a riesling and I have a chardonnay. We are handed a packet of nuts. What, is this Southwest Airlines? Soon the appetizers come and John and I have the tuna and Sarah has a ricotta, watercress and apricot puree salad. All are good. Especially good when accompanied by pretzel rolls, a family favorite. For the main course Sarah and John have a chicken cassoulet which is not really a cassoulet but tastes good anyway. I have the oddly named gnocchi with vegetables. The gnocchi (plural) consists of a singular potato pancake surrounded by vegetables. But once again it tastes good and what’s in a name anyway.

View of the interior of the Airbus 380


Seared tuna, salad and a pretzel roll


My oddly named potato gnocchi (?) and vegetables

Now we settle down to grind through the next nine hours of flight. Amazingly I sleep for a couple of hours on the exceptionally uncomfortable seats. Sarah and John do not. Movies are watched. Puzzles solved. Music listened to. By the time it is the breakfast hour, we are all crawling out of our skin. Some eggs, a tomato, a few potatoes, a cup of cold tea and we start to get ready for descent. All goes smoothly. We get our rental car and hit the road.

April 11, 2012 Passover celebration

Our Passover seder is moved to the earliest day during Passover that we can all get together. John and I bring most of the fixings from our house to Ryan and Jon’s house. We arrive mid-afternoon and get the food going and the table set. Now all we need is people.

Passover table set

Jon and the boys arrive home and Ryan follows soon afterward. Nathan is so excited about hiding the afikoman. He has told Sam that the way it works is that Zayde gives you a weird tortilla to hide and then later when Zayde can’t find it, he rewards you by giving you a truck in exchange. Nathan suggests that Sam distract Zayde so Nathan can swipe the afikoman. Sam does not have a clue but plays along.

John, Nathan, Ryan, Sam and Jonathan at the seder table

Sam and Nathan are great participants. They enjoy making drops of grape juice. Sam picks up the chorus of Dayenu by the second verse. Nathan is a great helper with washing hands.

Nathan helps Sam wash his hands


Sam and Ryan enjoying the festival meal

We do a shortened version so the boys can stay up for it. The afikoman is found. Presents are distributed and dessert is eaten. Some special treats this year were desserts made by Sarah and Ryan plus Ryan’s fabulous homemade matzoh.

Macaroons and chocolate bark made by Sarah and Ryan

What a great family celebration!

April 7, 2012 Dinner at Bouchon in Las Vegas

Apparently we have a new tradition when Jonathan comes to visit in St. George. On the way home instead of leaving at zero AM and driving the 660 miles in one fell swoop, we leave during the afternoon of the day before and stop overnight in Las Vegas. Since none of us are gamblers, the only possible reason to do this would be to dine out at some fabulous restaurant. So far we have eaten at Michael Mina’s eponymous Michael Mina and Bobby Flay’s, Mesa Grill. Tonight will be our foray into French food at Thomas Keller’s, Bouchon.

Keller, the chef behind the French Laundry, is supposedly the most gifted chef in the United States. Perhaps that’s true when it comes to the French Laundry. We find Bouchon very good but not cosmic.

On to the food pictures! First, Jonathan’s meal –

Beignets de Brandade de Morue - cod brandade with tomato confit & fried sage

Jonathan’s first course is a plateful of three puffy beignets of cod over roasted tomatoes. He likes this a lot.

Poulet Rôti - roasted chicken with fava beans, cipollini onions, wilted fava leaves & savory chicken jus


His second course is roast chicken which is good but the real stars for him are the vegetables.

John’s meal –

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard served with toasted baguette

Both John and I have the foie gras as a first course. John’s is soft and creamy. Mine is much stiffer due to it being much colder. Two and a half ounces is way too much. Jonathan gets some foie gras love from both mom and dad. Jon declares mine to be delicious-er than John’s. Yum.

John continues on with two appetizers –

Moëlle Rôtie - roasted bone marrow with garlic, parsley, shallots, sherry vinegar & grilled pain de campagne


Salade de Poulpe - grilled octopus with a spring vegetable tabouleh salad & parsley vinaigrette

The best bite of John’s dinner? The tabouleh salad that accompanies his octopus.

My dinner –

As I said earlier I also order the foie gras. It comes in little crocks and you can get either 2.5 oz. or 5 oz. I think John and I should have shared one. Two and a half ounces of foie is like a whole meal. I pass off quite a bit to Jonathan.

Confit of sturgeon with roasted beets, King Edward leeks, potato rösti & sauce Albert

The sturgeon is very good. It could have been cooked to a little lower temperature and been better. The star of the plate is the sauce Albert. It is a light cream horseradish sauce.

Other than the food, the service is a little spotty. The waiter does not approve of our wine selection and suggests something else. We say okay but end up not liking it and sending it back. Glasses are not filled promptly. Bread is not brought after inquiring whether we would like more. Sure, this is nitpicking but when you are eating at what is supposed to be a fabulous restaurant and paying some steep prices, you want everything to be perfect.

Next visit we will try somewhere else.

March 30 – April 7, 2012 Jonathan visits in St. George

While Ryan, Nathan and Sam go to visit Ryan’s folks in Michigan, Jonathan comes to St. George for a visit with us. We pick him up at St. George’s swanky new airport. The fare from SFO is surprisingly affordable. Perhaps John and I will think about flying some time.

St. George Municipal Airport


Jonathan at the airport with Clark and Lewis

Our main activity for the week is tennis. We play tennis every day. We go to tennis clinic and Jon takes a lesson. It is a very strenuous week. Jon also finds time to play a couple of rounds of golf and we all have fun swimming and playing ping pong. And going out to dinner.

Jon and John at dinner at the club


Mary and John on the porch pre-dinner

One day, as a break from tennis, we take a hike in Snow Canyon. The weather has cooperated and it is sunny although a little chilly. Unfortunately our outdated map leads us in the wrong direction and we never find the canyon overlook. But we all have fun anyway.

Hikers


Jonathan in Snow Canyon

On our last day in St. George is the first day of Passover. Although our actual seder will be held on April 11 when the whole family can get together, we have a mini-seder and eat some matzoh, parsley, charoses and the world’s hottest horseradish.

John and Jonathan leaning on the left side

On Saturday we leave for Las Vegas and dinner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. But that’s another post.