David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Basque Country - a Trip for Gourmands, April 2006

We left Nice on Thursday afternoon, after a nice lunch with friends, and drove to the Camargue area which we had never visited. We saw a sign to Aigues Mortes and, although we were a bit hesitant about staying in a town with 'Mortes' in the name, we headed there. The name is literally 'Dead Water' which translates as 'The Marshes' and the town is charming, a less-visited Carcassone, a walled city with turrets. The area is famous for horses, bullfights, birding (lots of flamants roses - flamingoes), and harvesting salt. We stayed the night and had dinner at Le Minos which we were sure would be Greek, but was not. Nevertheless, a nice dinner at this friendly place.

For you Missourians - the town of Aigues Mortes was founded by Louis IX (later St. Louis) and from there he left for the Crusades in 1248, at the instigation of Pope Innocent IV, with his 38 ships and his wife and children. There are many statues honoring him in the main square and the church.

The next day we did a detour north to Millau, the site of the famous new bridge called the Millau Viaduct which opened in December 2004. It has 7 pylons and is 2460 meters long (1.55 miles, for the metrically challenged) and 343 meters (1130 feet) high. It soars over the lovely old Roman town and the Tarn River. It's the modern architectural wonder of France, designed by an English architect and it's beautiful as well. The drive there through the area of the Gorges du Tarn was also magnificent, with heights up to 900 meters, much like the American West with plateaus and mesas.

Then we headed south again, stopping in Moissac where we found a charming hotel owned by one of the young chefs of France. It always amazes me, there are so many of these hotels, very reasonably priced, with great chefs in the kitchen. He - Michel Dussau - was noted in the "Young Restauranteurs of Europe", and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the lovely dining room. The wines served - a different one with each course - were especially delicious.

The next day we drove to Bayonne where we hooked up with our friends, Marcie and Bernie Wall, at the charming Hotel Loustau, on the River Adour. This river flows both ways, upriver as the Atlantic tide rises and downstream as the tide ebbs. The bayonnet was invented here. It's a beautiful city, not at all like the smelly NJ city with the funny looking bridge to Staten Island.

Sunday we went to Biarritz, the neighboring town, and explored this lovely town which perches on the cliffs above the ocean. This has been a famous beach resort for the wealthy for 150 years. For lunch we went to the beautiful rose-colored Hotel du Palais, built in 1854 for Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. It's only fabulous. Luckily they could fit us in for lunch at a table by the window overlooking the sea. But really, the semi-circular room captured our attention with its elegant chandeliers and wall sconces and other fixtures. They had a great idea for lunch - there was the regular menu and also the menu "forme", a healthy version of the same foods. We had salmon open-faced sandwiches with our champagne aperitifs, then a bouche amuse of crab-stuffed cucumber. The entree was green beans with crevettes coated in what I can only describe as shredded wheat with grapefruit OR cream of asparagus soup. The plat was sole meunier/sole vapeur; and for dessert the 'forme' had stewed fruits while the others had 'French toast' with ice cream and fruits. The service of course was impeccable and we all felt like royalty.

Monday we headed out for a day in the country visiting many of the charming towns in the area and enjoying the scenery of hills and cows and sheep. We particularly liked the little towns of Ainhoa, with its church with multiple layers of galeries, and tiny Sare. Throughout the area are the 'maisons a colombages', the typical Basque houses with glass-enclosed balconies, trimmed in red and green, the colors of the Basque flag. The houses do somewhat resemble Swiss chalets, giving us the mad urge to yodel!

We stopped in Bidarray for lunch at the Auberge Iparla, very 'country' with its stuffed deer and boar, knotty pine paneling and tables. We all opted for the lamb stew; for dessert we sampled a slice of Gateau Basque, an almond-flavored cake, and a huge portion of delicious mousse au chocolate.

We ended the day in St. Jean-de-Luz, another lovely beach resort, smaller than Biarritz, which reminded us all of Santa Barbara (CA)! We had a nice walk around the old town, did some shopping, visited their XVII century church, again with 3 levels of galleries. The main square was a perfect spot for an aperitif and people watching.

Tuesday we left France, heading for San Sebastien, the famed culinary capital of Spain and perhaps even the world at this moment. We had thought about another fabulous meal at one of the famous places (more Michelin stars per person here than anywhere else in the world!) but were sure we couldn't top the Hotel du Palais, so settled for what seemed a nice looking place in old town, Juanito Kojua. It filled up with lots of locals, so we must have made a good choice. It turns out that according to Frommer's, it's "famous throughout Spain". David had stuffed crab and I had a plate of aubergines/mushrooms/shrimp that was wonderful. The town itself, on the Bay of Biscay, seemed more formal and impressive than others along the coast and its beach, La Concha, is world famous.

We continued along the coast, with beautiful views, and arrived in Bilbao for the night. It was a nightmare trying to find our hotel among all the one-way streets, but finally arrived. Bilbao was once a great wool port and now is surrounded by steel and chemical factories. But there were still many interesting buildings in town. And of course the reason we were there was the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, which we visited the next day. It seemed more about the building, which stands sparkling along the Nervion River, than about the art, although they were having a special Russian exhibit (the old iconic art as well as newer Cold War art) which was quite interesting. We had a good lunch in the museum and then headed to the old town which was somewhat disappointing - not as much to see as the typical old towns in France. Both nights in Bilbao we went out for tapas (called 'pinchos' in the Basque area). They were not as varied as other places in Spain, consisting mostly of ham and cheese.

Bernie and Marcie left us the next day to return to the States and we headed up to Erandio, not a famous name but the place where David's Basque ancestors were from. His great-grandmother was Libriada Landavaso (the Basques tell us it would be Landabaso), mother of Clarita Garcia who married Eliseo Sanchez, parents of Paul, Clara, and Mariana (David's mother). The Basques are the oldest ethnic group in Europe, predating the Celts by 40 centuries! They are thought to be descendants of Cro-Magnon (or Stone Age) Man who did the cave paintings at Altamira east of here at the end of the Ice Age about 15,000 years ago. The language predates any Romance language and was not a written language until the 17th century. Amazing to think that Stone Age Man fished the Ebro River here and we call it today by a name that he gave it! Erandio itself now is a manufacturing suburb of Bilbao but it is easy to imagine the hilly riverside fishing village it must have been. It's not far from Guernica, made famous by the first example of saturation bombing by the Luftwaffe in 1935 and Picasso's huge depiction of the event.

We then drove on to Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, where we visited the cathedral in the old town. Inside are the alabaster tombs of Charles III and his Queen, done in 1416. He gave Pamplona its cathedral. The heart of the old town is the Plaza del Castillo, once a bullring. Nearby is the Calle Estafeta, the narrow street where they hold the running of the bulls. Not a sight we wish to experience!

We drove on to Tafalla, a town one would probably not visit, but we had heard of a wonderful restaurant there, Restaurant Tubal. We found it with no difficulty and since it was only about 12:30 we were the first people there. It's a large place (about 60 tables), quite formal with beautiful monogrammed linens, and also listed in the 'Young Restauranteurs of Europe'. The last diners arrived a little after 3 PM!, filling the place completely on a Thursday for lunch! We enjoyed a bouche amuse of stir-fried veggies with a corn/seafood sauce served in a cup; then an entree of stacked potato and fois gras for me and a stack of artichoke/mushrooms/foie gras for David, both of which were out of this world; the plat was venison for me and lamb for David; then lemon cake, more like a tart, for me and 3-berry tart for DAvid. We enjoyed the nice local rose and even bought some in the store downstairs.

We arrived in Zaragoza with no need for food! We found our hotel, the Goya, with a bit of effort and went out to explore the city. First stop was the 16-17th century Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar which contains the pillar upon which the Virgin appeared to James the Apostle, the patron saint of Spain, in 40 AD. The church, with its 11 tiled domes, is huge and magnificent. There are ceiling paintings by Goya who was born nearby. You can imagine the crowds there on this Holy Thursday evening! The Plaza del Pilar was a mob scene but we admired the fountains and sculptures.

Sadly, we couldn't even get near the other important church, La Seo del Salvador, a 2nd cathedral, but did experience a couple of the religious parades with their drummers, incense, and holy scenes decorated with candles and flowers and carried by 6-8 locals. Many locals were dressed in what look like KKK robes in purple, brown, white, or black - very frightening for Americans, but of religious significance.

The next morning we visited the Moorish Aljaferia. The typical construction around a central patio with its gardens has been retained. The oldest part is from the 9th century, with multifoil arches and delicate decoration reminiscent of Cordoba. And of course there is beautiful tilework. We hadn't realized that the Moorish lands extended this far north. The building was taken over in the 12-14th centuries by the Aragonese monarchs and reconstructed in 1492 for Ferdinand and Isabella.

We left Spain, enjoying a picnic en route while driving through the dry, desolate hills, and drove on to Collioure, a delightful seaside village back in France which we had visited years ago and promised ourselves we would return to. We enjoyed an aperitif in one of the many seaside cafes and then dinner at a small bistrot,. Collioure is featured in many paintings by Matisse, Dufy, and other artists who visited here. There is a pretty seaside walk showing reproductions of their art by the actual scenes, a wonderful idea.

And back to Nice on Easter Sunday. 2800 kilometres.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Spring in Champagne/Reims, May 2005

We left Nice for a one-week house-swap in a town just outside of Reims (spelled Rheims in English!) in the Champagne region of France. Enroute we stayed in Meursault, a charming little town in the Burgundy region. Burgundy is a lovely area, somewhat like the Cotswolds but with terrific food and wine. We did a degustation (wine tasting) in a 15th century cave-like place and ended up buying a few bottles. Then we walked all over the tiny town which is surrounded by ancient wineries. Our hotel, right in the middle of town, was owned by a young couple with a tortoiseshell cat ruling over all. Our room was basic but had an interesting loft area where we pictured our grandsons sleeping and giggling. Next time! Luckily the church across the way stopped the bells from 10 at night until 7 in the morning.

We had a wonderful dinner at the same hotel. We don't usually eat a lot for dinner, preferring to have our main meal at lunch. I had only an entree (first course) of ravioli stuffed with foie gras in a vegetable broth with beans and asparagus. It was to die for. David thoroughly enjoyed his lotte (monkfish). For dessert I had a pear in wine while David had the apple tart.

We arrived at our exchange home the next afternoon after driving through rainstorms all morning: a large 3 bedroom/several fireplace home with the third floor given over to a huge workout and computer room. The place is filled with antiques, including 4 ceramic stoves, and mementoes from their worldwide travels. Later we discovered there was not a television in the whole place! Alain and Helene showed us all around and then they left for our place in Nice.

We spent one rainy day driving up to Laon which was the capital of France from 840 to 987. It is perched on a plateau over the plains with fabulous views on any clear day I am sure. The Cathedrale Notre Dame was started in 1160 and finished around 1230 and is in the early Gothic style. It has been the inspiration for many other cathedrals including Chartres and Reims. The town is surrounded by ramparts and several of the gates are still standing.

We went on to Soissons where we had a wonderful lunch of four courses: escargots; farfalle with scallops; a cheese course; and a pear tart for dessert. Too much food and we wished we had a doggie bag! Afterwards we took a long walk around the town, visiting their cathedral - equally impressive, including paintings by Rubens - and the ruins of the Abbey of St. Jean des Vignes.

Both towns are in the Picardie region and there were many memorials and cemetries along the routes commemorating the men who died in the War to End All Wars. In the church in Soissons there was a special plaque commemorating the more than one million English soldiers who died in the war and most of whom are buried in France. Another day we went to Chateau Thierry, to the nearby American memorial at Belleau Wood where 2289 young American men are buried. So sad. There are many other memorials in this area where so many men died. One cemetery I particularly liked had dark crosses instead of the usual white - they looked just like vines growing.

We spent one day in Epernay which is the heart of the champagne region and where all the major houses have their beautiful chateaux and caves. We went for a tasting at Moet & Chandon, founded in 1743 by the Moet family, and were the only people on the English-speaking tour. Our guide, Mercedes, was Catalan and had a degree in restaurant management; she worked on ships for several years, seeing the world. We saw a few of the rooms of the chateau and then the tunnels where the wine is kept while she explained the whole process to us. Naturally at the end of the tour there was a tasting of a delicious glass of champagne. When I expressed amazement at the number of bubbles, she told me the secret - don't wash the glasses with soap, just rinse them with very hot water. The 'cleaner' the glasses, the fewer the bubbles! We also stopped at nearby Hautvillers where Dom Perignon is buried at the Abbey founded in 660. He died at 77 years in 1715, apparently well preserved!

We spent a sunny day in Chalons-sur-Marne, a town filled with half-timbered buildings. We visited Notre-Dame-en-Vaux, built in the 12th century, a beautiful church with lovely stained glass windows. Both the magnificent cathedral, St. Etienne, and the tiny Eglise St. Alpin were closed, but we admired the Hotel de Ville and especially enjoyed Le Petit Jard, a garden with many flowering trees, well marked, and a floral clock. We ate in a typically Ardennois (an area north of here) restaurant with food very similar, we thought, to Alsace which is not far to the east.

To return to our exchange, we followed the Route de Champagne through many tiny, idyllic towns and past hundreds of vineyards. There was acreage owned by Roderer, Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger, Mumm, and many other less famous names. At Verzy we walked a couple of miles in the strange forest of "Les Faux de Verzy", dwarf, mutant beech trees of magical appearance with thick, tortured lower branches and thinner, dense upper branches forming curious caps, some thick enough to live under like in a tent.

We spent a day in Troyes, about 60 miles south of our exchange home. The old town of Troyes, famed in medieval times for its fairs is in the shape of a champagne cork. By legend, Attila the Hun was here but didn't destroy the village because St. Loup offered himself as a hostage for the safety of the town. There are hundreds of half-timbered buildings and several churches of interest. We most enjoyed Eglise Ste. Madeleine the oldest church, built in the 12th century. There is a 'jube' - sort of an awning - at the entrance to the choir that is carved and embellished in the intricate flamboyant style. Another church, Basilique St. Urbain, was built by Pope Urban IV, who was from a poor family in Troyes, to honor Urban I.

After a great lunch we drove on to Provins, a small town with a very well-preserved feudal old town complete with ramparts and gates. Edmond of Lancaster, brother of the English king, became the overseer of Provins. He added to his coat of arms a rare red rose which grew here, imported from Syria during the 7th Crusade, the rose that became the symbol of the house of Lancaster in the War of the Roses 150 years later. We actually enjoyed this town so much that we came back and spent another day here, exploring and enjoying another wonderful lunch.

Both of these towns Provins and Troyes, are too charming for words, although I seem to have found several. Provins is very close to Paris (about 60 miles) and would make an easy day-trip on your next visit to Paris. Highly recommended!

Of course 'la piece de resistance' of the area is Reims (pronounced to rhyme with a french prince - sort of 'rancid' without the id!) and we spent a couple of days exploring it. In 496 St. Remi baptised Clovis in Reims, starting the reign of Catholicism in France. Nearly every French king has been crowned at the Reims Cathedrale de Notre Dame, including Louis IX (St. Louis) and Charles VII, the Dauphin led here by Jeanne d'Arc. Of particular interest inside the church are the beautiful Chagall windows. All the windows that Chagall has done - including the ones at the Art Institute in Chicago - were done in Reims, so famous for its stained glass.

The city itself is very pleasant to walk around, with many pedestrian zones and little traffic elsewhere. There are no high-rises, giving a very relaxed feel to the place, and few tourists. We visited several of the museums - the Museum of Fine Arts, Antique French Automotive Museum, and the Hotel Le Vergeur Museum which was a private home and is filled with beautiful furniture and the collections of Hugues Krafft (1853-1935), a world traveler.

And of course we enjoyed a wonderful lunch, starting with an aperitif of champagne, which seemed only right. David had duck with andouillette while I had salmon on pureed pumpkin, a great combination. The waiter was very friendly and seemed to enjoy that we were Americans, telling us of his time in New York.

When our week was over, we headed back to Nice, stopping en route in Vienne a charming town with Roman ruins. It rained most of the drive but cleared as we reached this town, giving us a nice afternoon to explore. Then Sunday it was home to Nice.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Budapest and Vienna, July 2004

Nice gave us a lovely sendoff for our two week trip to Budapest and Vienna. There was a big parade during the day and then great fireworks at night while we sat on the balcony sipping wine and slurping peaches. Or maybe that was all for Bastille Day?

Anyway, we left on July 15, driving to the northeast corner of Italy, in Udine in the Friuli area where they grow the pinot grigio grape. We stayed the night and then drove up through fabulous scenery to Austria, across Austria, and into Hungary, arriving in late afternoon at our hotel, The Sofitel, in Budapest. That evening we went on a Danube dinner cruise complete with entertainment. There were Hangarian folk dances, opera and show tunes, and so on. A bit corny and touristy but fun. My favorite number was from "Porgy and Bess" sung in Hungarian.

The next day we walked across the Chain Bridge to Buda and rode up the funicula to walk around the scenic Old Town. St. Matthias Church (1896) with its colorful tile roof is interesting as is the Magdalen Tower, the only part of a Gothic church that was left after the bombing in WWII. After a bit of shopping - I couldn't resist a piece of pottery, the prices were so great -we headed back to Pest for lunch. Hungarian goulash, what else? Next it was on to the sensational St. Stephen's Basilica, an enormous and fabulously decorated church, named for St. Istvan, the first king of Hungary 1000 years ago. There was a wedding going on while we were there, adding to the interest.

Next we visited the Opera House where we took an hour-long tour. It too is gorgeous, designed by the same architect as the Basilica. I sure would love to see an opera there! We had supper at one of the many outdoors places along the river, enjoying the live music and the perfect weather.

Sunday we drove to Vienna, quickly finding our home exchange on Erdbergerlaende, a wonderful apartment right along the Danube canal. We settled in and explored our neighborhood.

We were in Vienna for 12 days, so really had a chance to explore the city and the surrounding area. We spent our days on walking tours, boat tours, and in museums. Our favorite museum, of the 8 we went to, is the fabulous Liechtenstein, housing the private collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, both for the art and the building itself. The beautiful library with 100,000 books is worth the price of entry. The upstairs Grand Hall, also, is magnificent, about 8 times the size of our Nice apartment.

That same day we had a wonderful experience for lunch. We took the subway to the very end, in Heiligenstadt, and found a terrific restaurant, the Englehardt which turned out to be advertised as the oldest standing building in Vienna, built in 1180, naturally with a few improvements since then. We ate in the garden under a horse chestnut tree. They had all the normal Viennese things but advertised that "summer is mushroom time" and we both opted for that. I had a delicious mushroom goulash while David had mushrooms done with bacon and onions. For dessert we had a sampling of all their dessert offerings which was sensational! This restaurant is next door to one of Beethoven's houses - he moved over 60 times in Vienna so they are not difficult to happen upon.

We were quite happily surprised with the prices in Vienna. Somehow I had the idea that it would be very expensive, but it wasn't at all. Lunches have tended to be around $35 for two, complete with wine.

Another favorite dining experience was in Prater Park, a huge park in town with an amusement park, tennis clubs, and lots of trails. Schweizerhaus was recommended by friends for the pork knuckle which is about the size of a soccer ball! We ordered one to split and a salad each and had enough to take home for sandwiches! But it is delicious, served with horseradish and mustard.

Another day we went by boat to the Wachau, the most beautiful area of the Danube. From Vienna, we took a train to Melk where we visited the huge Benedictine Abbey with its mind-boggling Baroque church and then boarded a boat and sailed the Danube for about 2 hours. Absolutely idyllic! Lovely towns and churches, terraced hillsides, and vineyards, including the towns of Durnstein, where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in 1192, and Krems.

In Vienna we also enjoyed the Butterfly Museum, actually a greenhouse with plants and live butterflies fluttering around. They are gorgeous. St. Stephen's Cathedral in the center of the city is fabulous. We trammed our way out to the Central Cemetery to see the tombs of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and Mozart. And we tried the Sacher Torte at the fabulous Sacher Hotel - really delicious.

Near our exchange was the Hundertwasser area. This artist was a new discovery for us, so imaginative and creative. Not only an artist, he designed whole villages and redesigned building facades. He was against straight lines so the results are quite Gaudi-esque. His home houses his collection and is fascinating with its uneven floors, ceramics, and grass on the roof.

We were surprised at the hot weather - in the 90's for the first week, but no air conditioning on buses, subways, in restaurants, and so on. Then it cooled off nicely the second week, to our relief!

En route home we stopped in Trento, Italy, famous for the Council of Trent. We had been there for about an hour in pouring rain about 10 years earlier but it was much lovelier this time. (Nice weather can certainly help!) The facades of many of the buildings - mostly 15th century - are decorated with ancient murals. We sat on the Piazza del Duomo and enjoyed apple strudel and wine, listening to the Neptune Fountain and the church bells. A wonderful last stop.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Scandinavia, June 2004

On June 7, we left the USA, flying to Amsterdam (we never saw any place so flat!) and on to Bergen, the capital of Norway in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was a most spectacular landing place with the water, islands, rock formations, hills, distant mountains, and even a nuclear submarine. After finding our hotel we walked all over the city until we were nearly dead. We stopped for lunch - salmon open-faced sandwich for me, fish soup for David, and blackberries and ice cream to share for dessert and a carafe of wine: $75! Boy is this place expensive! Luckily the hotel price includes a huge breakfast. We were in bed by 7:00 and slept for 10+ hours.

Norway, the "Land of the Midnight Sun", is a democratic monarchy, home of Erik the Red, Leif Eriksson. Their King Harald was defeated in 1066 in England, ending the Viking period. They are a neutral country and have joined NATO but not the EU. The average income is $35,700 per capita (!); they have free university education, hospital treatment, and guaranteed pension. We probably don't want to know what their taxes are!

The next day we did our "Norway in a Nutshell" tour of the fjords. We boarded a train from Bergen to Voss, admiring the scenery en route and the lovely Norwegian blond, blue-eyed girls in the car (ages 7-11). At Voss we boarded a bus to Gudvangen, making mid-route photo stops at waterfalls and great valley views. We drove down a windy road, worse that Lombard Street in San Francisco, in some places at a 20 degree decline. In Gudvangen we boarded a boat for a 2-hour cruise of the fjords, beautiful waterways with steep mountains (up to 1800 meters high) lining them. The narrowest part is 250 meters across. There are charming villages along the way (including Undredal, with 130 people and the smallest stave church in Scandinavia, built in 1147 and seating 40 people) and waterfalls everywhere feeding the fjords. The sights were spectacular and we were accompanied along the way by hundreds of seagulls.

Next we boarded the Flam Railway - the interior is beautiful wood, even the curved ceiling. We enjoyed the gorgeous views of snow-covered mountains, more waterfalls, remote farms, and wild flowers in purple, yellow, white, and blue. The railway has the steepest grade of any normal gauge railway in the world - 1 in 18. We were very lucky to have a perfect day for this tour, sunny and warm.

The next day the weather was more normal - a huge cloud covered the mountains around Bergen and there was a light rain most of the day, except when it was pouring. They have rain on average 275 days a year! Nevertheless, we caught a bus to Fantoft to visit the stave church built in 1150. It was burned to the ground in 1992 by an avowed satanist (still in jail) and has been meticulously rebuilt. The stave churches are all in wood, decoratively and elaborately carved inside and out and crowned with dragon-headed gables like prows of Viking ships. We noticed a small window near the altar and were told that this was where the lepers listened to the service and received communion.

We returned to Bergen - actually hitched a ride back in the rain with a lovely fellow who lived in the States for a while. He told us NO ONE hitches here. In the Bergen Art Museum we admired artists from Baade to Gude, enjoying especially the large collection by Edvard Munch whose early works are very much in the Impressionist style.

Friday we headed for Stockholm and found our fabulous hotel, the Esplanade, built in 1910 in the Art Nouveau style. It wasn't inexpensive, but seemed quite reasonable after Bergen. We went out to dinner - not having eaten since breakfast - at Riche, a charming bistro-type restaurant. David had smoked salmon with creamed cabbage and potatoes; I had a cold salmon plate with creamed asparagus and potatoes. Dessert was a truffle and petit four plate. We walked a bit around this beautiful city and fell into bed.

The next day we explored Gamla Stan, the old part of the city. We toured the fabulous State Apartments in the palace, built in 1748, and visited the wonderful Cathedral, built in 1279 but enlarged in the 14th and 15th centuries and dedicated to St. Nicholas. Then we headed across a couple of bridges to catch a boat tour of the city. There is water everywhere, the city built on a series of islands, and the views from the boat were lovely. After a quick lunch, we toured the Town Hall, built around 1920 but built to look much older. This is where the dinner is held each December 10 for the Nobel Prize winners. The dinner is for 1300 people, including 250 students as Nobel dictated, as they would be "our future". The building is very interesting, the final room - the Golden Hall - made up of over 8 million pieces of mosaic, mostly gold, in wonderful murals.

Sunday we went to the Djurgarden, another island near our hotel. We wanted to see the Vasamuseet, a museum dedicated to the ship Wasa which sank within minutes of being launched in 1628. It was raised around 1960 and the museum is built around it. The ship is enormous. No one is sure why it sank, but it seems that the design was terribly flawed. The king kept making demands of the Master Shipbuilder.

We headed back to Gamla Stan for lunch and then to the National Museum. We explored for about an hour but our feet said "enough" so we headed back to the hotel for a rest.

Monday we flew to Copenhagen where we had arranged a 2-week home exchange. We found our place, a small apartment on the fringe of Copenhagen in a town called Hvidovre (pronounced Ville-Our!) and settled in. Some of the highlights of our long stay here were a visit to Frederiksborg Slot (castle), now the National History Museum, a beautiful place built in the early 1600's by Christian IV; Helsingor (Elsinore of Hamlet fame); Roskilde for the Viking Ship Museum that included the history of the Vikings in Ireland and their explorations to North America and as far east as Turkey; Rosenborg Slot, another 17th c. castle by Christian IV and the surrounding Kongens Have (King's Garden) and the nearby Botanical Gardens; and a day in the charming town of Odense, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. Everyone said we must see the Louisiana Museum of modern art, which is lovely, set right on the bay. But our favorite museum was the Statens Museum for Kunst (Danish National Gallery), one of the best museums we've ever visited. The art is wonderful, with interesting juxtapositions of older and newer works with commentaries by the newer artists relating the pictures to each other. The modern addition (1998) is joined to the original building (1889-1896) by a lovely glass-covered sculpture street, a most successful addition.

Copenhagen is definitely favorable to bikers. There are bike stands everywhere (thousands around the train station) and even a separate 6 foot wide lane for them on almost every street. One has to be careful crossing the street not to get run down by the speeding bikers! The only not favorable thing for them is the weather. It rained every single day we were there and it was quite windy on many of the days.

We spent a lot of time watching the European Championships and learing a lot about the game of 'football'. In Europe they count UP for the time! Instead of setting the clock at 45 minutes for the half, they start at '0'. They don't stop the clock, but keep separate count of injury time or penalties and add that on at the end. A little strange, to say the least, since you never know how much time is left. Anyway, last night, Greece won the Championship.

We've had many wonderful meals, but one of our favorites was at a Danish place in Helsingor where finished up with their "old cheese" served with onion, diced gelee, and rum poured over all. The young waiter, who had lived a while in the States knew we wanted to experience the real thing, so he suggested we accompany the cheese with Gamel Dansk (Old Danish), a bitter, a very distinctive taste and fun to try.

And we enjoyed several meals of smorrebrod (lit. "buttered bread") - open-faced sandwiches of wonderful, very fresh ingredients: salmon, roast beef, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, caviar, and on and on. Our dear friend Anne-Marie Hansen came down to Copenhagen from Stavenger, Norway, for a day and introduced us to her favorite spot where the locals go! Delicious!

Then on to Nice for the rest of the summer, our first time to spend the summer there.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Slovenia and Italy April 2002

We had some last-minute renters for our condo in Nice for the week before Easter, so where should we go? Slovenia sounded just right so we rented a car and took off. There may be a few of you who haven't a clue where Slovenia is - it was the northern part of what was Yugoslavia and is just east of Italy.

As we drove across Italy, we stopped at Lake Garda for a picnic and drove on to Vicenza, a favorite stop-over on an earlier trip with its beautiful Palladian architecture. There we were introduced to Aperol which, mixed with white wine and sparkling water, makes a delicious aperitif. Lunch the next day was in Grado, a seaside resort on the Adriatic near Trieste. We were searching for the restaurant where Ginna had her "best meal ever" 7 years ago but it no longer existed. Ah, well, it might have been a terrific let-down. We then drove past Trieste to Piran, Slovenia, a lovely old town on the sea. We found a nice hotel with a room with views of the sea. Everywhere we had driven, the fruit trees were in bloom, making for a beautiful drive. Piran and the nearby towns were, we imagined, like a visit to the Amalfi Coast 50 years ago.

After a relaxing stay in Piran, including a day trip to Trieste, we drove to the capital, Ljubljana, a lovely city divided by the Ljubljanica River. Along the river are wonderful walks with weeping willows, restaurants, shops, and coffee houses. We toured the city, including the arduous climb to the ancient fort overlooking the city.

We also had a delicious lunch at Pri Vitezu. A strange thing we had noticed as we drove across Slovenia was that we saw no cows, no sheep, no goats. What would we find to eat? After a lovely glass of the local "bubbly", we enjoyed a delicious entree (first course to us Frenchies) of baked artichokes topped with smoked ham and cheese. While David had fish for his main course, Ginna had her first taste (that she knows of!) of horse! It was rich and dense and served with a heavy red-wine sauce. Who needs cows, sheep, goats?

In Slovenia, their primary tourist group is Germans, so the Slovenians serve the wonderful fruhstuck (breakfast) we loved so much on our trip there - cereal, fruit, eggs, meats, cheese, breads, etc. etc. We ate our fill each morning.

After a pleasant night in Ljubljana, we drove north towards the Alps and beautiful views of snow-capped mountains. But unaccustomed as we are to winter temperatures, we vered west to Italy, to the Friuli area, home of the Pinot Grigio grape. We headed to Gradisca d"Isonzo for lunch at Il Parco, a delightful restaurant/bar where we spent a crazy evening 7 years ago. It is still delightful. Then a long, tiresome drive to Ravenna, recommended by French friends and which we'd never visited.

Ravenna is fabulous, a not-to-be-missed city full of 5-6th century churches with unbelieveable mosaics covering the floors, walls, and ceilings. Just breathtaking! We spent a long morning gasping, ohh-ing and ahh-ing. It's also a delightful city for the tourist, with limited traffic. Unlike medieval cities, the streets are fairly wide and most people are on quiet, old-fashioned two-wheelers.

Next we headed west through Modena (balsamic vinegar) and stopped in Parma (Parma ham, Parmagiano cheese) where we had another wonderful meal of pumpkin ravioli and wild boar. But nothing impressed us like Ravenna.

The next day we headed for the coast - the Mediterranean, not the Adriatic this time - for a couple of days of R & R in the charming village of Varigotti. And then home to Nice in time for an Easter Monday concert in the tiny, ancient cathedral up in Vence. A good friend was in the chorus and we thoroughly enjoyed the Bach (Cantate pour le lundi de Paques - Cantata for Easter Monday), Handel, Purcell, and Mielczewski.

Good to be home!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Euro, Jan 1, 2002

The big news for 2002 is the euro. January 1, 2002, it's the official currency for 302 million Europeans. The first sign was all the Brinks trucks being escorted into town in late December. Small packets of the coins were available as stocking stuffers or just to look at and now they're official! The changeover is mind-boggling: switching ATM machines, cash registers, parking meters, stamps, reprinting menus and price lists, and on and on. There were rumors that cashiers would strike for higher pay because they must handle two types of money (we can pay in francs for a while, but they give change in euros) but everyone actually seems to be handling it with good humor. But for years the older folks will have to convert back to francs to understand what they are spending. It's a big change for the French. There are 6.55957 francs for each euro, so the recalculation is tricky. It's easier for us. We figure a euro is a dollar with a 10% discount!

We're busy learning the new denominations: 20 euros are blue, 10 are pink. The coins - 2 euros, 1 euro, and 50, 20, 5 centimes and so on - are also different colors. The 5 centimes piece looks in color like a penny.

The holidays were great fun and exhausting. For Christmas dinner eight of us were at our Irish friend Marie's place for about 8 hours! We enjoyed champagne, delicious foie gras with a special sweet wine, wild smoked salmon with Chablis, duck and vegetables with red wine, a cheese course, and a Buche de Noel with more champagne. David and I walked the almost 3 miles home along the sea, arriving home at midnight. We never had 7-8 hour meals in the USA. Before living in Nice, I'd have wondered how it would be possible. But the courses are slow, there's plenty of talk, sometimes even singing. And the time just flies by!

For the annual Boxing Day blast at another friend's place - 15 people - another 7 hour feast. I made my Irish Coffee Cheesecake. Of course I need Philly Cream Cheese for that and there's no such thing in Nice. This is a problem I have here - every recipe seems to call for at least one ingredient that I don't have! After asking all sorts of people what to use (they hadn't a clue either), I punted and it turned out fine. Annette served a gorgeous foie gras, delicious lamb and vegetables, and of course a cheese course.

New Year's Eve was again at our place. Eight of us enjoyed escargots, lobster tails, and champagne. For dessert there was a panettone stuffed with chocolate ricotta, orange peel, and cointreau. Fabulous!

The next morning was the annual free concert here in Nice. It was sensational, including a breathtaking "Bolero". At the end, there is always a piece with popping champagne corks and the conductor serves champagne to the musicians. It's a great way to start the New Year.

We're looking forward to a great 2002.

France and Italy, November 1998

We were off to visit the Riviera, searching for a place to live when we retire. Should it be somewhere in France? or in Italy? We just knew we needed a city, the sea, and no snow! We landed in a beautiful sunrise with the snow-covered Alps in the background in Milan on November 2. After picking up the car, we drove to Lugano, Switzerland, by the scenic (we lost our way) route. It was sunny and warm in Lugano, a beautiful town on a big lake. We found our cousins, Mercier and Sally, Art and Fran, who had also planned a visit to Europe for this time. They had rented two apartments for a couple of weeks, sensational views, with a balcony hanging over the lake. They treated us to a great lunch at their place - olives, cheese, and salami as an antipasto; pasta with pesto; and three delicious desserts. Then we headed south, getting as far as Pavia, Italy. We found a hotel and crashed.

Tuesday was a gray morning that turned rainy as we reached Genoa. We drove to Portovenere where we had lunch i n a nice restaurant, Da Iseo, while we watched the driving rain. David had fritto misto and Ginna had grilled sole and we shared a salad. The restaurant was right on the waterfront on a bay where we had a good view of boaters. When the rain let up a bit, we made a mad dash for the car. We had planned to spend a couple of nights on Cinque Terre, a very isolated area of Italy, with some of the towns accessible only by train or boat or walking. But it was too wet for Cinque Terre and we headed back up to Santa Margherita where we finally found an open hotel, Hotel de Ulivia; they would take us for one night only as they were closing for the season the next day. The rain let up in the evening so we took a long walk around town, stopping for drinks - and free hors d'oeuvres (roasted peppers, ham and cheese on toast, etc.) - at a restaurant where we could sit outside as it was still quite warm, although wet.

There was more rain during the night and still gray and rainy when we got up in the morning. We decided that we would have to skip Cinque Terre altogether. This was devastating as it was one of the main goals of the trip. Instead we drove out the Strada Panoramica along the sea to Portofino. This is a darling, romantic town, although very expensive, and a very in-place with the 'jet set'. We explored it in a light rain and decided to head on toward Genoa.

We drove north along the coast road with wonderful views the whole way. We stopped for lunch in Camogli, finding a restaurant hanging over the crashing waves. Ginna had pesto lasagna, not really lasagna as we think of it but rather sheets of folded pasta with a very smooth, light green pesto. It was wonderful. David had seafood again. For dessert we went down the street for our first gelato - ciocolato, of course.

We got as far as Nervi that night and found a nice hotel with a balcony and a view of the sea. Since the rain had finally let up, we took a long walk along the Anita Garibaldi Promenade that goes for miles along the sea. We picked up provisions for a picnic which we had on our own balcony and then went to sleep to the sound of the crashing waves.

Thursday we woke to a lovely day. After breakfast, we took another walk along the sea and then headed off to the West Riviera. We drove through Genoa, but decided we weren't up to a big city. We passed through many beach resorts, following along the SS1, the Aurelian Way. This is one of the oldest roads on the planet, planned by Marcus Aurelius 20 centuries ago, and running from Rome to Cadiz, Spain.

We stopped overnight at one of the little towns along the coast, Spotorno, where we found a room with 2 tiny balconies and a view of the sea. Friday we visited Albenga, a town we had visited 11 years ago on our first trip together to Italy. We revisited the 5th century Baptistry and wandered around the wonderful old town. Instead of being on the sea, Albenga is on the alluvial plain, about a mile inland.

Saturday morning we were off to Cervo which we had also visited on our first trip. It's a medieval hilltop town with a favorite church in green and pink. We parked at the bottom and climbed all the way up where we wandered around the tiny, charming village which seems to have more craftsmen than before. The village is more covered than most medieval villages, with passageways rather than streets, all twisting and turning, and with many stairways. Very interesting. You can't help but try to imagine how people lived back then! Then we climbed slowly back down to the car and - Disaster! Someone had smashed the driver's window and taken Ginna's bag - passport, driver's license, credit cards, glasses, notes about the trip. We are always so careful about locking everything in the trunk but this shows that even seasoned travelers can have brain-fade! We had no idea what to do. We drove to the next town, Diano Marino, to make a police report, which took hours. While Ginna made out the report, David made the calls to cancel the credit cards. Afterwards we drove back, hoping that they had taken what they wanted and thrown the bag on the side of the road nearby, but no luck.

Feeling depressed and in need of a really good lunch, we drove to Imperia to the old Port Maurizio where we happened upon the Blue Lanterne. Such a pretty place a white building with windows facing the sea, beautiful linens, upholstered chairs, and the nicest maitre d' and waiter. We both had the wonderful sea bass and split a salad. The rolls with olives in them were especially good!

After lunch we drove to Bordighera where we walked forever trying to find a hotel. Everything closes for November. Finally we stayed in a 4-star with a beautiful, gigantic corner room on the sea. The furniture was a lovely wood with marble tops on the bedside tables, the desk, and an occasional table. We went out for drinks and were served hors d'oeuvres with each round so we were full. Then home to bed.

The next morning the receptionist helped us by calling Hertz about our car. Since it was the weekend, nothing was open. We would go to the Hertz booth at the Nice airport on Monday, but she warned us that the French would probably give us a hard time, because the French were not helpful people! After a nice breakfast, we drove on to France.

We stopped in Menton for a walk along the waterfront, but didn't stay. On to Villefranche-sur-Mer where we walked around the old town with its covered alleyway. Then we chose a restaurant on the waterfront, eating outside on Nov. 8! Some people were bundled up but it was warm. David had his usual soupe de poisson and cockerel (chicken) while Ginna had an avocado salad and fish.

Between Menton and Nice there are three corniches, roads that hug the cliffs that fall to the sea. The Grande Corniche, built by Napoleon along the Via Julia Augusta, is the highest, and passes by the Alpine Trophey, built by the Romans to honor Augustus. The Moyen Corniche is a modern road with good views of the coast and the coastal resorts. The Basse Corniche was built in the 18th century by a Prince of Monaco. It runs at the foot of the cliffs, following the contours of the coast (bord du mer) and gives access to all the resort towns.

We took the Moyen Corniche to Nice, enjoying the fabulous views. We passed the medieval town of Eze, perched on its mountaintop, and Monaco and its famous gambling casinos in Monte Carlo. Then past Nice to Villeneuve Loubet where we checked into our timeshare exchange. It's not great - just a tiny studio, but it does have a balcony overlooking the marina, tennis courts. And no packing/unpacking for a week!

Monday morning we took the car with its missing window to the Nice airport, expecting a hassle, but the nicest Hertz fellow gave us no trouble at all. We quickly had a new car and a warning that those Italians would probably give us a hard time when we turned the car in in Milan! Italians are not helpful people!

We drove to Nice and explored the Chateau, actually a large park on a high hill in the middle of the city where there was once a fort and a church. We loved the footpaths, all made of stone mosaics of Greek and Trojan figures, fish, boats, and so on. There's a man-made waterwall and great views all around. We climbed down to the old town and its winding streets and many churches and shops of souvenirs, butchers, wineshops, fresh made pastas in a rainbow of colors, olive oils, soaps, everything looking delicious and inviting.

Next we explored Antibes, with its charming old town and pleasant port across from an ancient fort. There's a Picasso Museum, housed in an old Grimaldi palace, where Picasso actually worked. After lunch in the old quarter, we drove to Cap d'Antibes, a wealthy area of magnificent estates.

Tuesday we visited Cannes, home of the famous film festival. We had lunch and talked with the restaurant owner who promoted Cannes and Nice as places to live, saying that Menton is for old people and too quiet. We drove on to Frejus where we viewed the Roman ruins and then returned home over the mountains instead of along the sea. Again spectacular views.

Wednesday we drove back along the lower Corniche to Menton where we had hopeed to visit realtors. But it was November 11 - Armistice Day - we happened to be here on the 80th anniversary of the end of WWI (called Veterans' Day in the US). We joined a parade through the old town - just a band and people following along, ancient men in civvies with their medals from the many wars since then. We climbed up to the old church and wandered through the streets. We also visited the great market where we bought fish pate and olives for future picnics. What a great place to shop, even better than Whole Foods! We had lunch at the Grand Bleu right on the waterfront with a lovely cool breeze from the sea. Raspberry tarts for dessert.

On the way home we drove out to Cap Martin to see more beautiful estates. Then up to Roquebrunne, another medieval village perched high above the sea with some of the best views of all. Then home, a late snack, and bed.

Thursday we went in to Nice to find the American Consulate where they gave us the necessary paperwork to board the plane without my passport. We drove along the lovely Promenade des Anglais, admiring the Belle Epoch Negresco Hotel, across from the sea. We explored more of Nice, stopping at a couple of realtors' offices to get an idea of rental rates. For lunch we returned to the old town to find a place serving rabbit which we hadn't had yet and were determined to find. We both ordered it, sharing a salade chevre chaud. All was wonderful and the place was charming, with beams painted robin's egg blue with yellow in-between. Very Provencal. There were several dogs wandering into and out of the kitchen and a tape of Spanish music playing.

Friday we drove to St. Paul de Vence, another town we had visited that first trip. We explored the medieval village with its narrow stone streets inlaid with stone flowers and flower pots. The town is now an artists' colony and quite expensive for souvenirs. In the town there is also the world-famous Colombe d'Or restaurant where so many artists ate and paid with artwork. To eat there is an experience. The food is not outstanding but the rooms with all the artwork by Matisse, Chagall, Dufy, Calder, and on and on are unforgettable.

Then on to Vence where we saw the 400-year-old elm tree at the entrance to the old town. This is one of my favorite towns, less commercial than St. Paul. There are signs posted all over town, describing the buildings and sights. There are remains of a Roman road and an obelisk given to the town by the city of Marseilles in the year 300 AD! We had lunch at Chez Jordi; Jordi himself is the host, waiter, and chef, and probably dish-washer, all in one! David had the best lamb chops he's ever had, seasoned with rosemary and thyme while I had the salmon. The vegetables were perfectly cooked carrots, green beans, broccoli, and delicious ratatouille. For dessert an apple tart with nuts and raisins, served warm. And a nice house wine.

On the way back home we passed Tourettes-sur-Loup, a darling semi-circular perched village; the Loup gorges; and Grasse, famous for its perfume factory. At home, tennis, a crossword puzzle, and bed.

Saturday we took off on a gray, cloudy day. We stopped at McDonald's for Egg McMuffins, our first eggs for breakfast. This is certainly the McD's with the best view in the world, extending right out into the Mediterranean with big windows looking out to sea. It was going to be a long day, so we got on the autostrada to get as far as we could. David was getting tired of dodging traffic along the sea. We got as far as Casale, Italy, and found a pretty basic, but clean, hotel. We walked around the city which doesn't appear in guidebooks but turned out to be very nice, with a large square and many churches. We stopped in a pub for a drink, Guiness signs everywhere but Murphy's stout on draft. Ginna ordered a vino bianco and was asked "with gas or without?". This was a first - but we were very near Asti where many of the wines are bubbly. Then back to the hotel for a snack and reading. At 7:30 I said, "We can go to bed early or we can go out for a drink. It's Saturday night!" So we dressed and went out on the town. The passegiata was in full swing. We walked everywhere looking for another bar and just as we were about to give up, we spotted the Bar Savoie, right on the main square. It was so pretty with its yellow walls and darker yellow beams, wooden armoire by the entrance, and old-fashioned bar. We sat at a table and watched everyone else. The waitress was serving an interesting looking drink which she insisted was Irish Coffee, but it was mostly Irish with a thin layer of coffee and a thin layer of cream. David had to have one while I settled for a glass of port. With the drinks they served the prettiest hors d'oeuvres, five for each of us plus olives, on white, lacey china plates. We staggered home to bed.

The next morning we returned to the Savoie for breakfast. Everyone was there for after-Mass Sunday breakfast; definitely the place to be seen. There were baskets of croissants and other goodies in the armoire. We helped ourselves and ordered due cappucini and watched the high society of Casale have their typical Sunday morning.

Then we were off to Lago Maggiore. It is spectacular. We drove up the west coast to Stresa, a very expensive and beautiful town. We walked around looking at all the magnificent hotels. We didn't take the available boat rides to the islands since most things were closed. We couldn't get over the vegetation - palm trees, cedars, lindens, mimosa, holly. And all huge. The leaves were turning red, gold, orange, yellow, and brown and there were snow-topped Alps as a backdrop.

We drove back south looking for an open restaurant and found Il Milano, a Best Western hotel with a glass-enclosed restaurant hanging over the lake. They were having a big buffet dinner, something we've never done in Europe, and there was even live music. There were big Italian families there having a grand time. It was really a pretty good deal - 68,000L each (about $45 each) which included 2 bottles of wine, a red and a white. We tucked into the first table, loaded down with several kinds of proscuitto and other hams, cold fish, shrimp salad, several vegetable salads, and great tomatoes. The hot table was next, with whole tunas, roast beef, potatoes, eggplant, sausages, soup. And then the dessert table with cakes (all filled with liquor) and dolci and fruit. It got quite warm in the room so we had the waiter open the sliding door to the tiny balcony. I took the last of the wine out there and soon had several Italians join me, feeding the fish and ducks, singing along with the music. We even danced a little. Such a lunch!

We drove further south along the lake, looking for a hotel and finally found a 3-star with views of the lake. We walked along the waterfront to the square where they were having a small market. I bought a blouse from 1940, made of lovely old linen. Then we walked through the old town and had a light supper of proscuitto and cheese with wine at a cute bar with a barreled ceiling.

The next day we headed along the autostrada toward the airport. The airport had been completely rebuilt and the roads weren't done yet! We had decided it would be a good idea to stay near the airport for the last night, but it got dark earlier than we expected and the airport wasn't surrounded by hotels! We started to panic, but finally found a place, a business hotel, new and fairly expensive. But they had a bed for us. In the morning we turned in the car (with no problems - it turns out that both the Italians and the French are helpful!) and took off for home. A long trip - 9 hours to Dules where we went through customs (no problems with my Consulate identification instead of passport) and then another 1 1/2 hours to Chicago and home.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Normandy and Brittany, May 1998

We arrived Friday morning at 10:30, Paris time, collected the luggage (why does it always take so long?) and hopped on the Metro into the city. I think we got taken on the 3-day coupons for the Metro; I wanted the week-long pass which are less expensive but the clerk insisted there was no such thing available. I guess they don't sell them at the airport; they are really for commuters.

It was an easy train ride to Luxembourg station. Getting off the train was a bit of a challenge. There were turnstiles to go through and it was impossible to get the luggage through too. We finally learned as we left a few days later that there were special stiles with luggage racks, but in the meanwhile we gave the locals a good laugh. We walked to our hotel, Le Pantheon, on a very nice, quiet square. The room was small but nicely decorated: beamed ceiling, windows with a view of the square, fabric with carnations on the walls, a coordinating stripe for the drapes and headboard, and a red-checked coverlet and insets in the closet doors and armoire. The bathroom was outstanding with very modern fixtures in brass, pretty pink and white tiles.
We immediately dropped everything and walked toward the river. First order of business was lunch. We found a nice brasserie and sat outside with a view of Notre Dame. The weather was delightful. David had fish en papillote and I had a nice salad and chicken liver pate. We hurried back to the Metro stop along a street filled with Greek restaurants and shops, the local version of Halsted Street in Chicago. We jumped on the Metro to Pere Lachaise Cemeterie. We had to change lines but found the Metro pretty easy to figure out, even with our limited French and our sleepless night. Pere Lachaise was much hillier than we expected amd much more crowded. I think I had pictured something much more spread out. And it's huge! It's 118 acres of packed-in burial spots. We explored as long as we could and returned to the hotel for a beer, a soak, and 12 hours of sleep!

Saturday morning we were up at 7 AM. We returned to the Metro for the train to Issy where we would start our long walk along the Seine. We stopped along the way for petit-dejeuner (breakfast). All through the walk we could see La Tour Eiffel in the distance. We crossed back and forth over the river, taking a side trip up to the L'Arc de Triomphe and take a short stroll down the Champs Elysees. La Tour Eiffel took our breath away. We had no idea it would be so much more beautiful in person; the iron work is delicate and decorative. We just loved it. And the setting was nicer than expected, set in very nice gardens with beautiful apartment buildings on either side. Then back to the right bank to Place de Concorde and we strolled up the Jardin des Tuileries toward the Louvre. We stopped for lunch when our legs were about to give out. David had magret de canard, Ginna roti d'agneau. For dessert we had un verre de porto and du fromage, a nice camembert.We forced ourselves to get back up and continue on to the Ile de las Cite to see Cathdral de Notre Dame. Then on to the next Ile, L'Ile de St. Louis, which we found to be very attractive. There are nice hotels there where I would choose to stay on a future visit. We crossed over to the Right Bank to see the last remains of the Bastille, just ivy-covered rocks. Then we had a long walk back to our hotel where we napped for several hours.
That evening we explored the Luxembourg Gardens with its palace and tennis courts. We searched for a restaurant and found one specializing in Alsatian food. David had the monkfish osso buco, I had the spargel (the white asparagus I loved so much in Germany) and an Alsatian pate with pistachios. We split a plum tart for dessert. Then home to bed.

Paris was far less intimidating than I had expected. Everyone was nice; we noticed no snobbery. They did not pretend to not understand my French but rather were very patient with it. The city is easy to get around whether on the Metro or just walking. I wish we had had more time to spend, but there will certainly be future visits.

Sunday morning we were up early, packed, and off to the Metro and back to the airport where we would pick up our car. There were the usual complications with the car rental - they didn't have an automatic car, which we had requested, and for some reason they wouldn't accept David's credit card. They finally found us an automatique, a really nice and roomy navy blue Citroen XM, the largest Citroen made. Very classy and brand new with 2000k on the clock.

We drove to Giverny where we would visit Monet's home and wonderful garden. The gardens are far less extensive than I had expected but the variety and spacing make them seem to go on forever. The water lilies were not yet in bloom but the beauty of the place made us both imagine that we too could be artists if we lived there! Our pictures turned out like Monet paintings.

After a nice lunch in Giverny, we drove through Vernon to see a church Monet painted. Then on to Les Andelys, where the Chateau Gaillard was built by Richard the Lionheart in 1096. From the ruins there are stunning views of the Seine with sailboats out on this lovely day. The smells were lovely too with all the trees in bloom.

Next we drove to Le Bec Helloin, an utterly charming village with its own abbey. Nearby are many thatched roofs, even some with flowers planted on them. I took a picture of one with a row of irises blooming along the peak! The Auberge in Le Bec is 18th century. They offered us a room on the 2nd etage, but it was stifling in the warm afternoon. The only other room they had available was on the ground floor by the front door - not fancy, but nice. The 450F per person included the room, dinner, and breakfast. We strolled around the village, stopping for a glass of cider, and explored the abbey and then dressed for dinner at 8:00. Madame had seemed somewhat intimidating when we first arrived but was really very nice. The young girls working at the hotel are the hardest workers!

We had an amuse-bouche (taste teaser) while sitting on the patio and then another of pigs' feet at the table. The dining room was homey with walls of thin Roman bricks, heavy black beams, a grandfather's clock, a large fireplace, and cupboards filled with crockery, candlesticks, and bottles of calvados. Each table was beautifully set. For the 'entree' (1st course) I had chosen the pate served with a whole jar of cornichon pickles and red cabbage while David had the saumon pate. Then a palette cleanser of stewed apple in calvados. David had as his main course a chicken leg roti while I had the best rabbit I've ever had. It was braised in calvados and absolutely fell off the bone. We loved the butter dish: it was a pot with a lid, the lid held butter in the cold water in the pot. It's called a conservateur and we found on later in our travels to bring home. Next came the cheese course, camembert and Port Salud. We had that the hotel served the best tarte tatin in France and it was wonderful. A thick apple tarte, served warm, arrived and the waitress poured flaming calvados over it and put out the flames with sugar. We could eat only one slice between the two of us and asked them to save the other slice for the next day.

The next morning after breakfasting and collecting our second piece of tarte tatin, we were off to Rouen, known as the City of a Hundred Spires. There we visited the beautiful Cathedrale Notre-Dame which was painted so often by Monet. The town itself is lovely with many half-timbered houses. The Gros-Horloge, a huge Renaissance clock, is in an arch spanning the pedestrian zone. We spotted a store with delicious-looking picnic provisions and purchased a cheese tart, tiny sausages with walnuts in them, and un oeuf-en-gelee avec jambon (a soft-boiled egg in beef gelatin with ham, decorated on top with vegetable flowers), too pretty to resist.

Next we went to the Abbeys. The first one St Martin de Boscherville, sadly was closed, so we went on to Jumieges where we explored the Abbaye de Jumieges, founded in 654. The ruins were rebuilt around 940 and are quite extensive. We then drove to Caux-de-Bec where we had our wonderful picnic in a park along the Seine. L'oeuf was definitely the highlight, spread on a fresh baguette. And for dessert the left-over tarte tatin! Then we drove through Fecamp, which was too busy for our taste, and on to Yport. We found ahotel on the sea and a room with a view. We stolled on the beach and had a beer on the pier, watching the natives picking up mussels and oysters on the rocky beach at low tide. Tides are something here, about 20 feet.

We drove down to Etretat for dinner on the water where it was still warm enough to eat outside. I had the terrine de deux poissons and David discovered soupe de poissons which is served all over France. This broth is served with shredded cheese, crunchy croutons, and a wonderful sauce of tomato paste, mayonnaise and spices called rouille. You spread the sauce on the crouton and put the crouton in the soup, sprinkle with cheese and eat. Yummy!

Then the disaster! We couldn't get the car started. We had about 20 minutes of panic, including phone calls to National where a very helpful young man said, "Step on the brake". He almost swooned when he heard what kind of car we had, saying "Oh la la!" It finally started and we were off to Yport. We slept like babies to the sound of the waves.

The next morning we returned to Etretat for a hike along the spectacular cliffs. The wild flowers were beautiful and the weather perfect. There was even a golf course along the cliffs - what a site for a course! Some of the sandtraps were bomb crraters. There are many 'pillboxes' along the Normandy coast. Next we headed to Honfleur, on the Seine estuary with a 17th century harbor with tall wooden houses along the side. The town is full of half-timbered houses and cobbled streets. We found a hotel, Le Cheval Blanc (they showed us two rooms, one which had ben refurbished and one which had not, and we actually preferred the one that had not, although we weren't positive which was which!). Our room had pretty wallpaper on the walls and ceiling (the French do this a LOT), creamy woodwork and beams and a great view of the harbor. We immediately headed out for a big lunch, outdoors on the waterfront. David had the assiette de pecheur, basically the fisherman's platter with cockles, shrimp, oysters, with a tomato salad. I had a full menu - langoustines as an entree, salmon in tarragon sauce for the main, camembert, and un glace - chocolate ice cream - because it was so warm outside. We do this quite often, one of us ordering a whole menu and the other just one item, and then we share the courses. It seems to be about the right amount of food.

The next morning we were on the road to Deauville and Trouville. The roads were lined with hedgerows as in England, the orchards in bloom, and more thatched roofs with flowers on top. The route is along the sea, with beautiful houses and hotels with magnificent sea-views. Absolutely giant horse chestnuts, both white and pink ones, were in bloom. Then we headed in-land; all the little towns of Calvados reminded us of the Cotswolds. Along the 'Cidre Route' we bought picnic provisions. We passes through Falaise, the home of William the Conqueror. The Chateau (actually the successor to his birthplace) overlooks the town. Then we drove to Putanges where we found a lovely park along a river to have our picnic. Apparently it is a teenage hangout for fishing, kayaking, and just flirting, but they didn't bother us. The river was very peaceful and we enjoyed our jambon fume (smoked ham), camembert, pate forrestiere, fraises (strawberries), grapes, wine, pain du campagne, and apricot tart for dessert. We seem to eat at all the best places! I'm not sure we ever have such weather in Chicago - warm, but not too warm, with a lovely slight breeze and no humidity.

Putanges would have been a nice place to spend an evening but on we went. We drove through Domfront, which I didn't even see mentioned in any of the guidebooks. Its medieval center looked wonderful! Next trip! It was a long drive to Ducey where we found a charming hotel, one of those places where I think I could just move in and live for several years. The hotel itself was nice but the setting on the river was enchanting. There are bridges spanning the river to the left and to the right and there is a charming mill just upstream. And the room was a find at 285F! WE sat on the back patio, watching the river and reading for a pleasant late afternoon. For supper, we walked downstream and finished our picnic leftovers. And to bed.

The car was giving David fits. He has a love/hate relationship with it. He really likes driving this classy car but we have the darnedest time starting it. Step on the brake, jiggle the wheel, and spit out the window three times! Enter the secret code and it starts. Sometimes.

The next morning it was very foggy all the way to Mount St. Michel. We arrived by 8 AM, had coffee, and explored. We found a conservateur (the butter dish), a knight for our grandson, and a few other souvenirs. We walked around the ramparts but it was still too foggy to see far. Nevertheless the town is interesting - a place I'd wanted to visit since schooldays. Where we parked the car there was a sign that said "The sea does not cover this area today". We were worried that they might have put that sign up the day before and forgotten to change it, but our car was still there when we returned.

As we left Mount St. Michel, we stopped for gas in St. Brolard. It took 68 litres at 6.48F per liter. $90.00! We figured we spent more in St. Brolard than in many towns and all we did was fill the tank.

We left Normandy and entered Brittany, driving to Cancale for what was planned as a splurge lunch. I had read about Restaurant de Bricourt in "European Travel & Life", always a sign of an expensive meal. We walked up and down the waterfront - there must have been 30 or more restaurants offering everything you can imagine. And there were many places to buy many different kinds of oysters (huitres). About to give up on the place we were seeking, David spied a sign pointing up the hill. We walked up and up and up, to the main town and finally found the lovely restaurant. A young man at the gate welcomed us and led us inside. The chef actually grew up in this beautiful house. We were led to a table in the solarium, all windows looking out on a pond with ducks and the gardens. Not a view of the sea, but not bad. The floor was marble and across from us was a small, antique iron stove used as a side table for flowers and butter dishes. We had to draw it!

We ordered a really good Fume Blanc and "the menu". They brought grilled scallops to go with an aperitif. Then another amuse-bouche: served in three "coolies' hats" shells on a bed of kosher salt were three tastes of the sea - sea bass, cockles, and scallop, each in its own sauce. There was the tiniest spoon to eat them. Then the appetizers - David had the foie gras de maison and I had soup with potatoes, asperges, and crab meat formed into a mound shaped like a crab. For the main course we were each served three fish - turbot, sea bass, and salmon - in a delicate sauce with leeks. Dessert was a sort of custard on top of pamplemousse (one of my favorite words - grapefruit) and oranges with strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries scattered around the plate. We finished with cafe au lait and a couple of glasses of port, served with an apre-dessert of sweets, one coffee flavored, one lemon, and one chocoate. It was pricey but a lunch to be remembered forever.

Next we went to St. Malo and found a hotel within the ramparts of the old city. We walked the ramparts, explored the city, stopped for a beer in O'Flaherty's Pub where we talked with some Viennese girls who were in school there learning French. We had a light supper at a creperie and then went 'home' to bed.

The next morning we were up at 8 AM, greeted on the way down the stairs by a fellow in a towel coming up from his shower(our room had a private bath but not all the rooms, apparently!). Then into the car and on the road to Dinard which is a lovely seaside resort. There are magnificent mansions on the sea. It was an absolutely perfect day, again. We walked the chemin de mer - a footpath that goes forever along the cliffs overlooking the sea - toward St. Lunaire. We got as far as St. Enogat, and then walked back, covering several miles. We even bumped into a couple who had been in the Bricourt at lunch the previous day. Beautiful scenery, many boats, clear greenish water. It was a little scary at times, reminding me of taking the mule down the Grand Canyon, a narrow path with few guard rails. When the tide is out, the beaches must be 1/2 mile deep. There are swimming pools set in the sea; when the tide is out the walls retain the water. When the tide is in, the pool seems a part of the sea. The wildflowers on the cliffs are beautiful.

After lunch we went to Dinan, a very pretty medieval village on a cliff above the water. After walking around the town, we were resting on a park bench doing a crossword puzzle, when we were approached by a gentleman who was quite obviously in his cups. He seemed to be a veteran of Normandy, a Commandant. He was very interested that we were from the USA. He sang to us and with me: he thought he was Maurice Chevalier, singing "C'est Magnifique" and "Thank Heavens for Little Girls".

When he left, we wandered off to explore some more. We walked down a terribly steep, cobbled street to the river level where we had a couple of beers while watching the fishing. They were using a large square net which they would lower to the bottom of the river from the bridge - but to no avail. Then we had the long walk back up the hill to the car and the drive back to St. Malo. We walked around St. Malo and finally found an appealing restaurant where we could eat outside. It was named Les Chiens du Guet - I couldn't believe David would eat in a place named for dogs! The waiter told us that there used to be guarddogs in St. Malo; they were released every evening to keep the city safe. We had a bottle of local wine, an avocado/shrimp salad for me and fish soup AGAIN for David (he actually ordered the vegetable soup but made no complaint when they brought the fish soup!) Our table was on the terrace, right next to the medieval wall, with strings of lights overhead and beautiful yellow/pink roses blooming all around. People kept wandering through to the steps to the top of the ramparts. A lovely evening.

The next day, Saturday, we headed further west along the sea, stopping to see the red cliffs at Cap Frehel. We had another wonderful picnic, overlooking the sea near Binic. We had found another oeuf en gelee, Pont L'Eveque cheese, ham, sausage, bread, strawberries, and a Linzer tart. Scrumptious. We drove on through Plouha, Paimpol,. Perros-Guirec, Ploumanach, Tregastel, and Trebeurden. The tide was far out and the ports were dry, making for rather ugly views at times. We were looking for a hotel with a view of the sea, maybe even with a balcony but couldn't seem to find one to suit us. Finally in Trebeurden we saw a beautiful place on the hilltop overlooking the sea. They had one room left, no balcony, but large windows with a magnificient view. The room was papered, both walls and ceiling, with a pink, blue, and beige flowered paper (prettier than it sounds) and furnished with a double bed, a couch, desk, dresser, and large round table. It has the best bath, according to David - a big tub with great fixtures. There were beautiful grounds and even a health club. We spent a relaxing afternoon reading in the garden where there were huge Cedar of Lebanon trees. We slept listening to the sea far below.

The next morning we drove through pine forests, past many beaches to Morlaix and on to the "enclosed parishes". We visited three parishes at St. Thegonnec, Guimiliau, and Lampaul-Guimiliau. These are large walled churchyards, mostly from the 17-18th centuries. Then on to Le Faou, one of the "prettiest villages" in France. Again we ate outside, another glorious day.

We got quite lost on the way to Douanenez, but finally found it and even found a recommended hotel which was darling. For 310F we had a wonderful room with windows on two sides, one facing the sunrise and one facing the sunset, a view of the sea, and our own little 15th century church. But the room is on the 4th floor. We lugged all the stuff up the stairs and moved in for 2 nights. We walked all over and then sat and read in the garden. We had a picnic of leftovers viewing the sea and then early to bed again to the sound of the waves.

The next morning we were up early and off to Quimper. We explored the town, a pretty place at the confluence of two rivers, which is what Quimper means. Sadly they were doing major repairs on the church so it was difficult to appreciate. But the town itself is charming. I had wanted to get a piece of Quimperware, the famous pottery, so we did some shopping. Then we went on to Locronan, another of the "prettiest villages", to find a restaurant. We chose Grimaldi with the cutest, friendliest chef, a big fellow with a giant neck, a very touchy/feely type of guy. The player piano, a white Yamaha, played everything. "Till There Was You", "All The Lonely People", "Rocket Man", "Crocodile Rock". To start we enjoyed a kir breton. Then David had his soup again, plat du sardines, and an apple tart with ice cream. I had saumon fume, a coquilles St. Jacques casserole, and a "typical" cake, which was a little dry but better with a bit of D's ice cream. Afterwards we explored this tiny, picturesque town and then returned to Douanenez.

After a dinner at our hotel, we took a long walk along the sea. It was 10:30 PM and still not dark! We watched the fishermen on the pier - one fellow caught three fish at one time. When I asked him if they were good to eat, he said yes, especially on the BBQ. I asked him, "What time?" and we all had a good laugh. I felt pretty good that I could make a joke in French. Back at the hotel we had a pomme l'eau, an apple port. We wondered if we had enough pomme l'eau would be be pomme high? We're a couple of comedians tonight.

This was such a wonderful place, we hated to leave. But the next morning we got up to another beautiful day and set off toward Pont L'Abbe and Concarneau. It was a pretty drive and Concarneau was a pretty town with ramparts on a small island. We went on to Pont Aven (after filling up the tank again!), a very busy town, a tourist mecca because of all the artists who painted here. We sat on the patio of a place in the middle of town, having our cafe au lait and reading the paper. Then we explored the town and wandered through the market. It was a very pleasant place but did not hold us. We drove on to Quimperly for lunch. We found a nice restaurant, Le Vache Enragee, and ate outside. We ordered a wonderful Bordeaux wine that tasted of early peaches: Grand Vin de Bordeaux, Chateau La Gontrie 1997, Bordeaux Blanc. For starters I had a salade with endive, tomatoes, pamplemousse, and smoked salmon that was outstanding. David had avocado vinaigrette. Then I had the lotte (monk fish) and David had gigot d'agneau - rare and delicious. While we ate the music ranged from jazz to Bill Haley and the Comets in "Rock Around the Clock" to "Johnny Be Good" to Jerry Lee Lewis and "Great Ball of Fire". And "Obla-di, Obla-da, Life Goes On" for the second time.

Then on to St. Pierre, near Quiberon where we found a very nice, although modern, hotel with a balcony on the sea, a big tub for David, and a hairdryer for me. We had brie, pears, and wine on our own balcony for supper and watched the tide come in. The next day we were up early for a full breakfast, like a German fruhstuck. We had cereal with fruit, rolls with cheese and ham. And cafe au lait. Our neighbor was an extremely friendly French woman and her husband. She chattered on and on, refusing to slow down or imagine that we simply didn't understand a word she said.

We hurried in to Carnac and got there before the tourist office even opened. This gave us a chance to look around the town a little and we discovered the church with its charming barreled ceiling in wood which was painted in scenes like tapestries. When the tourist office opened, we collected maps of the area and set off to see the megaliths. The first stop was the "alignments", rows and rows of megaliths, thousands of stones in all, marching down to the sea. There are also dolmens and menhirs. There are over 11,000 megaliths, the largest concentration anywhere. Some stones weigh over 350 tons! It is still a mystery how and why the stones were set here. The oldest was placed around 5500 BC!

Next we drove to Locmariaquer where we ran into a bunch of English school children, about 7th grade, and together we explored a large underground room under a huge dolmen. There were pictures etched in the stone. We then returned to Carnac to visit the museum. It was somewhat interesting but sweltering so we didn't spend long there.

The next morning I slept in while David went down for breakfast. Then we took off for Vannes, a lovely city with a "port du plaisance" (pleasure boats) by the old city. There are beautiful gardens by its 13th century ramparts. Nearby are interesting 17th century wash houses. La Cohue, opposite the cathedral, was a market; parts remain from the 11th century. Much of the old city is a pedestrian zone and it is a wonderful place to wander about.

Next we stopped at Rochefort en Terre, another of the "prettiest villages". We strolled around the charming village and then settled in for a great lunch at the Vieux Logis, with beamed ceilings, big fireplace, deep windows with plants, and pink linens. David had the chevre chaud. Then they brought him 5 little pottery shells with seafood with garlic/parsley butter. Then steak and pommes frites and creme brulee for dessert. Ginna had rillettes d'oie and salad, sandre (white fish, delicious ) in lemon cream sauce, les fromages, and finally Ile Flottant (floating island). Outstanding!

We drove on towards the Loire Valley. We finally found a hotel, La Val de la Loire, which may be the noisiest hotel in France. Two churches rang bells all night long at the hour and the 1/2 hour. In addition , we were right by a bridge over the Loire so all traffic went by our window and stopped by the traffic light at our corner, motorcycles revving their motors as they waited for a green light. A most unrestful night! And the only rain on our whole trip, a shower at 6:30 as we arrived at the hotel. It lasted about a half hour and produced a beautiful rainbow.

Up the next morning to see the chateaux along the Loire. In Saumur, a lovely old town with beautiful 18th century buildings, we visited the first chateau. We saw a bunch of antique cars and tried to follow them but they lost us. We saw a Jaguar XK120, an MGTD, a Deusenberg, a '55 Alfa Romeo Spyder, a '58 Chrysler, and a '53 Cadillac convertible. We guessed that they were on a rally on their way to Le Mans. Driving on, we saw limestone cliffs along the river with deep caves for wines and even houses built into the cliffs. And there were many, many wineries.

We even got to eat in one of these caves. We found a charming restaurant in Villandry, Le Goseau Sec that is built into the cliffs. It was charming with its small fireplace. I had an excellent pate with caramelized onions, cornichons, and warm bread; then chicken, then tarte tatin (not as good as Madame's but not bad). David had vegetable soup and sandre. I had to share some of my tart with him.

We drove on to Amboise where we found a hotel for the night, Lion d'Or. We wandered around the town, such a pretty setting with its beautiful chateau right on the Loire. During the 15th and 16th centuries the chateau was a royal palace for Charles VII and Francois I. Francois II settled here with his wife, Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) and his mother, Catherine de Medici. Leonardo da Vinci spent the last four years of his life in this town, dying in 1519. He created some of his famous inventions here in his last years.

The next morning we got up for a quick petit dejeuner in the hotel's nice restaurant and then left for Chenonceaux, one of the great chateaux. Giant sycamores line the entrance to the chateau. It is beautiful with painted tile floors, beautiful ceilings, paintings, furniture. The kitchens are very nice - it must have been pretty good to be a servant here. It was built in 1520 and passed on to Francois I. Henri II gave it to him mistress, Diane de Poitiers, but after his death his widow, Catherine de Medici, reclaimed it. The gardens are lovely and part of the chateau spans the river Cher. Well worth the visit.

Then on to Chartres. First we had lunch at the Buisson Ardent, a lovely ancient building near the cathedral. We ate on the third floor with heavy beamed ceilings and pretty flowered drapes. David had roast pigeon with foie gras and vegetables. Ginna had a terrine de canard with prunes, roast pork in orange sauce, and a plate of cheeses for dessert. All was accompanied by a good bottle of Sancerre. We then explored the cathedral which is beautiful. Ever since seeing pictures of it when I was a child I had wanted to visit it.

The next night we stayed near the airport and were up early to deal with the nightmare of turning in the car, getting to the right terminal at the maze that is Charles de Gaulle, waiting on endless lines, and finally boarding our plane for a smooth, but long, flight home.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Germany, June 1997

We arrived in Frankfurt at 8 AM, and we were out of the airport and in our car by 9:15! A great start. Roads were marked so well, we immediately found ourselves on the A3 to Aschaffenburg as planned. The town was very crowded, with difficult one-way streets (einbahnstrasse) seeming to lead us only out of town. We visited the Stiftkirche (stift means charitable organization - these churches were founded by a monastic group). The nave is 12th cnetury, the tower 15th. You notice immediately in Germany the half-timbered houses, with the timbers often outlined to emphasize them with straight lines or curlicues. Most attractive. We then visited the Schloss (palace - 17th c.) which is set on a crest overlooking the Main River Valley.
We couldn't believe we found the automuseum, Rosso Bianco, which had a large collection of antique sportscars, even an MG TD, although not as nice as ours.

Then it was on to Rohrbrunn where we found the Forsthaus Echterspfahl, an old forester's house converted to a restaurant, a charming place. I had spargel (white asparagus) soup and salad while David had some fatty pork thing with liver dumplings. This was far from our last view of spargel - May and June are the season and it's as big as Oktoberfest! Restaurants had their regular menus and their separate spargel menus, some including appetizers to desserts of spargel! It's very expensive, about $14.00 for a plateful.

All of these towns are in the Spessart Forest, not as large as the Black Forest, but beautiful evergreens and hills. Lovely driving. And the weather is perfect, with a warm sun and a cool breeze.

On to Miltenberg where we had expected to stay. But it was very crowded, few rooms available. We wandered around the pretty town a bit - there's a nice pedestrian area of shopping restaurants, and hotels. Then we went back to Klingenberg/Clingenberg (we saw both spellings) which we had passed through and found the Hotel Frankischer Hof (128 DM including breakfast). Our room was very nice and quite large, with big windows on the very quiet main street. The beds were typical, we were to learn: instead of top sheets and a blanket, each had a comforter folded in thirds - our own cocoons! And so comfortable. After a beer in the beer garden, a short walk around the tiny but attractive town, we were in bed by 7 PM and slept for 12 hours.

Breakfast, called fruhstuck, in Germany is quite an event we were to learn. Almost all hotel room charges included a large buffet breakfast with basically the same ingredients, although of course some were better than others. There was cereal - often 3-4 choices and usually with dried fruit and nuts in it - and some fresh fruit; then rolls and breads with liverwurst (I ate it almost daily although I've never been a huge fan of liverwurst - it just seemed to fit), salami, ham (especially later the Black Forest ham), Swiss cheese, brie, a couple of times Bavaria bleu or some other blue cheese - even Stilton a couple of times, and jellies and jams and the biggest pats of butter ever! And usually soft boiled eggs. And huge pots of very strong coffee.

The second day was a nearly perfect day. The weather was wonderful and we stopped in three interesting but very different towns. After feasting, we drove to Amorbach, which lies in the Odenwald, another great forest. This is where we should have stayed at the Hotel Post with its pretty painted fresco across the front! A charming town and very old. A monastery was founded here in AD 734. One cafe was dated 1448. Each town has a tall pole that is decorated with figurines (usually) and has a pine tree fixed at the top, probably 50 feet in the air. We weren't sure what these were but we referred to them as May poles.

Then it was on to Wertheim with its ruined castle (The Burg). This lovely town at the confluence of 2 rivers has no autos in the old town. It is larger than Amorbach with more shopping. We ate lunch at the Hotel Kette (which would be another great place to stay) on the patio overlooking the river. David had smoked fish and salad, I had a vegetarian plate that had a layered potato pie, mushrooms, and spargel mit cheese. It was wonderful. We finished with hazelknut creme with fruits. And we had a lovely bottle of Wertheim wine trochen (dry). Talked with a couple from Essen.

Then through sandstone villages and lovely forests to Wurzburg (pop. 120,000) where we would stay the night, although again it was difficult to find a room. We found the last room in town! in a hotel across from the River Main, but our room was on the wrong side. We walked all over town and up to the Residenz, a Baroque palace (18th c.), the home of bishops, with beautiful gardens. The Marktplatz had dozens of beer/wine stalls and food - tacos, sausages, anything!; definitely the place to be on Saturday night. But we went to the Rathaus (13th c. beautiful building) where EVERY table in the restaurant was reserved. We found a place in the stube and had our cream of spargel soup and a beer. A wonderful place with waitresses in local dress, stained glass windows, beautiful ceilings. Then we walked to the river where American high school students - sons and daughters of service men and women - were having their prom on the riverboat with the huge Marienberg citadel on the hilltop opposite. A beautiful scene and a beautiful city.

Sunday we started down the Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road). We made a quick stop in Weikersheim, where a local band was playing, to visit the castle (16-17th c.) on the banks of the Tauber, and another in Creglingen to see the pilgrimage church with its wooden altarpiece carved by sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider (Wurzburg's mayor in 1520-1521), an amazingly intricate piece of work. Then on to Rothenburg to the Gasthof Rappen, right outside the city walls. (There were so many places within the city walls - we should have looked further and stayed inside). We walked in to the city for a grand lunch on the terrace of a very nice hotel. David had pork with mushroom gravy and spaetzle, I had the local version of sauerbraten; we shared a small salad, local wine, and, for dessert, warmer apfelstrudel mit Sahne (cream). Wonderful and such a nice waiter.

After lunch we took a long walk on the ramparts, almost all the way around the city. It's a combination, we decided, of Carcassone and Sarlat, two ancient cities we visited in the southwest of France last year, although less comercial than Carcassone; really very nice. Just outside the gates there is a large garden area with a great view back to the city. In the evening we went back to the same hotel as for lunch. All we wanted was a glass of wine. Our same waiter, who was so glad to see us again (obviously we tipped too much!) suggested their bar which was perfect, decorated with branches with cherries hanging from them and rows of German hats. We had a great time watching a family have their spargel feast - almost as much fun as they had.

We left Rothenberg the next morning, headed toward Dinkelsbuhl. But with so much time, we decided to head over to Schwabisch Hall and then back. On the way we stopped in the tiny town of Kirchberg an der Jagst, which clings to a cliff. Then on to Schwabisch Hall, a lovely town on the Kocher River, a tributary of the Neckar. Its marktplatz is known as one of the most attractive in all of Germany. They seemed to be rehearsing for a play on the steps of St. Michael's Cathedral. We walked all over the town which tumbles down the hillside to the river.

Then on to Dinkelsbuhl, which is similar to Rothenberg but less commercial, more 'lived in'. It would be difficult to choose between them - each is very appealing. We had a great lunch at the Deutches Haus, a beautiful Renaissance building. The ceilings are painted with crests/shields, perhaps of each German state. David had rabbit, although no hasenpfeffer; it was loin of rabbit and a bit chewy. I had my spargel soup, salad, and wienersnitzel mit 3-colored noodles. We shared ice cream with warm cherries and berries. Then we took a long walk on the ramparts: outside the walls people were gardening and there were rivers and ponds with ducks and swans. The turrets of the ramparts are people's houses!

We stayed in Hotel Weisses Ross (White Horse) in a nice room with pretty flowered curtains at the windows on the 3rd floor overlooking a quiet park. All day it had been overcast but there was no rain. It was warm enough for drinks outside at 7:30 PM. The hotel was very friendly - met a lovely 97 year old English widow who had married a German right after the war. She was charming and told us that she was born in the same month as the Queen Mother. The place was quiet except for the 6 AM bells. Breakfast was wonderful in a pretty downstairs room.

Tuesday was rainy. We drove to Nordlingen where we visited the Ries Museum. The Ries Basin is a 12 mile wide depression in the earth caused by a meteorite about 15 million years ago. There were many German high school students there, running around getting the answers to pre-printed questions. We shopped for brot (bread), Erdbeer (strawberries), and kase (cheese). Then off to Schloss Harburg. Because of the rain, we had a picnic in the car with our new giant plastic, but very fancy, wine glasses. We had the left over hasen and schnitzel, gorgonzola with a baguette, and for dessert the strawberries with a decadent walnut/cream cheese. And a linzer tort!

We then explored the Schloss which was begun in 1093! It is still owned by the descendants of the Counts of Oettingen. And then on to Augsburg where we found a room in the rather modern Hotel Fishertor. We walked to the Fuggerei, the first social settlement for people in need, founded in 1519 by Fugger the Rich. The district has its own church and administration and the four gateways are locked each night. It's very neat and clean and appealing. The inhabitants have a moral obligation to pray for the souls of the founders.

The main cathedral in Augsburg, The Dom, has the oldest stained glass in the world, depicting five prophets. Its twin spires date from the 11th c. In the churchyard they are digging up some Roman ruins. And the Mozart family home is here in Augsburg.

We went back to an Irish Pub we had seen, Murphy's Law, for beer and dinner. We were to find Irish Pubs all over Germany - it's the hottest craze, most especially in the college towns. It was fun to be able to stop in and speak English with the Irish, the American service men and women, and the Germans who frequent the places. After dinner we went to a charming Weinstube for drinks, Weinstube Sedlmeir; this is the real Bavaria. It was a tiny place, very friendly owner, Herta Lammle, and no tourists at all. There were several tables of locals, one all women, having a grand time. It was quite dark, lots of wood, copper pots, baskets, beams, dried flowers - very gemutlich. Then home to bed.

The next morning we were off early to Munich. We found it difficult to find the city, since we didn't understand all the different exits. But we finally got there and found one of the hotels we had on our list, the Dollman, http://www.hotel-splendid-dollmann.de/ a nice old building in a lovely residential neighborhood. The room was tiny but attractive although modern, with windows towards the front. We were within easy walking distance of the center of the city and immediately set out toward the Marienplatz, the main square. The Neues Rathaus is very elaborate and beautiful. We will return at 5 PM to see and hear the glockenspiel. But we were hungry, so it was on to the Hundskugel, the oldest tavern in town (1440) for lunch. David had the roast pig with potato dumplings and coleslaw, I had rump steak, home fries, and green beans. The restaurant was very comfortable with much wood, pewter plates, stained glass windows, and very modern bathrooms.

After lunch we continued on the 1 1/2 hour Frommer walking tour of the city. We loved the Viktualienmarkt, a daily market with everything you could possible need in the way of foods - cheeses, meats, vegetables, fruits, wine, pastries and bread - and beautiful flowers. A fun place to be.

The Residenz (palace) was started in 1385 but has been added to extensively and now comprises several buildings and gardens. Then it was back to the Marienplatz for a beer and the 5 PM bells. The glockenspiel is charming and always greatly amuses the large crowd that gathers for it. Afterwards we set out for the English Gardens, a vast Central Park-like park. There is a canal which runs through it which backs up, forming a wave where enterprising young people actually surf! We watched them for quite a while. Many German cities on rivers divert the rivers through the center of town with delightful results. We walked through part of the park and then back towards our hotel along the river, lined by beautiful apartment buildings. We stopped along the way to eat outside on this lovely evening - David having tomato soup and I had a cheese plate. Home to bed by 9:00, just dead! We must have walked 10 miles today.

The breakfast at the Dollman was the best so far, served in light and airy rooms in the basement. We picked up wonderful picnic provisions at the Viktualienmarkt and set off for Nymphenburg Palace. We walked several miles around the gardens there, viewing the Amalienburg, which is described as a charming little hunting lodge but is far more formal than we had pictured; the Badenburg with its heated swimming pool; and the Pagodenburg which didn't look anything like a pagoda to us.

En route to Landsberg, we stopped for our most wonderful picnic: bread and cheese, a local blue; sausage, tomatoes stuffed with cheese, strawberries with walnut cream cheese, florentines, cherries and wine. Many people passed by and admired our feast as we sat on a bench overlooking a large lake.

In Landsberg we found a room in a Gasthaus on the main street - will we never learn? We took a walking tour of the city which sits right on the Lech River which drops about 20 feet at the town. There is a beach at the bottom of the drop.

We drove down to Schongau for dinner at the Hotel Holl, which was recommended for fish, and walked around this charming little town. Then back to Landsberg to bed. But we slept very little, with traffic running all night right outside our windows. It rained most of the night and we woke to a wet, gray day. Still tired, we set off for Neuschwanstein, the most famous of the castles built by Ludwig II, supposedly the model for the Disneyland castle. As we approached the village, the day cleared beautifully. It was a long arduous climb to the castle, but worth it. We took the tour (in English, although still difficult to understand). It is a beautiful place with wonderful mosaics, beautiful moldings, lovely wood, and much artwork, many with swans (schwann) and many Wagnerian themes. The kitchens were quite modern. The tour guide kept reminding us that everything was original, not redone, although that didn't seem all that amazing to us as the buildings are only 130 years old. They are kind of a fake - Ludwig wanted them to seem like ancient castles but the are fairly new compared to many we have seen.

En route to Lindau we drove thorugh beautiful countryside with lakes, woods, and the Alps always in the background. We stopped for lunch along the way in a lovely town in the foothills of the Alps, a tiny town which swells winter and summer with tourists. Our hostess, Elaine, at the restaurant in a hotel is also the owner along with her husband Peter, the chef. Elaine is from England and was very helpful. David enjoyed his fresh fish, salad, and wonderful potatoes while I loved the potato-mushroom soup and baked camenbert with cranberry cream sauce and salad.

In Lindau, which is situated on an island in Lake Constance (the Bodensee) we found a wonderful hotel with a last minute canceled reservation. We got an expensive but lovely room with windows looking out to the Bodensee, which is the largest lake in Germany and is bordered by Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. We walked all around the town which we loved. The harbor is beautiful with the 12th century Mangturm (tower) which used to be a lighthouse, and the lion which guards the entrance to the quay. There is a nice looking restaurant at one end of the island with some of the largest sycamore trees we have ever seen. There was a huge regatta going on, about 250 sailboats leaving Lindau and sailing down to the other end of the lake and back. We watched them set off from our table on the terrace of a restaurant where we split a chef's salad. Then home to bed. There was music - nice jazz and some old dance music quietly playing in the background. A very 50's feel. I woke in the middle of the night and looked out the window - the waterfront was lit up with lights outlining the roofs of buildings and the Mangturm. A heavenly sight.

Fruhstuck the next Morgen (everyone says "Morgen!" when they come in to fruhstuck) was the best buffet yet with a fresh fruitbowl of strawberries, kiwi, bananas, apples, and more; many cereals and all the usual meats, cheeses, jams, and breads. We walked a little more around this lovely town before leaving, admiring their Rathaus (town hall) in the Old Swabian style.

We drove along the north shore of Lake Constance, stopping at Wasserburg (which means 'water castle') which juts out into the lake. It's a fortress built on the site of a Roman watchtower. The castle is now a hotel. We went on to Meersburg where we found a pension, Hotel Landhaus am Weinberg for 2 nights. Our room had a balcony looking out toward the 'see', pine ceiling and furniture, and yellow print curtains. Very quiet and peaceful, a short walk out of town. This was our rest time - we sat and read on the balcony, watching the boats on the lake. No more car for 2 days!

For dinner we walked in to town, explored this lovely old town perched above the lake shore, and found the Winzerstube zum Becher, a pretty, ivy-covered restaurant. It was a little too sunny outside so we sat inside - old wood and stained glass. David had the saddle of hare with an apple/juniper berry sauce, kohlrabi, mushrooms, and potatoes. Ginna had the spargel (again!), potatoes, and salmon trout in a white wine sauce. A really wonderful dinner although outrageously expensive (180 DM). And we both thought it was just the perfect amount - not too heavy or too much as so often happens to us - until they came and took away our first plates and brought us identical second plates! When they came to take those away, we asked the server if there would be a third plate and she laughed. We tried a local Meersburg rose wine for 'afters' and then home to bed. It rained all night with loud thunder.

Sunday morning the clouds were still threatening but we were up and off to Konstanz on the ferry from the docks in Meersburg. We hadn't been down to the lower town before and it is very attractive also. We had a nice ferry ride and set out to explore Konstanz, a German enclave on the Swiss shore of the lake. With rain threatening, we explored the Munster, 11-17th century, with its beautiful carved wooden panel doors (15th c.). The rain had cleared up so we set off for our real destination - lunch at the Seehotel Siber which was recommended as the highlight of southern Germany cuisine. The Hotel is gorgeous, a large white Victorian building. We sat on the large semi-circular balcony with an awning protecting us, overlooking the lake. There were pretty white wooden chairs, white table cloths with a lavendar flower print. The wine list was terribly expensive so we picked out one of the seemingly reasonably priced wines and were disappointed to find that it was a half bottle! There was a complimentary starter that was outstanding - a thin strip of zucchiuni filled with tomato aspic, strips of yellow and green pepper and cheese, drizzled with olive oil. David had a wonderful large salad, followed by perch-pike and potatoes while I had beef consomme flavored with port with Maultaschen ravioli (stuffed with veal) followed by a plate of cold cured salmon, a potato pancake and greens. And of course we had to have a second (half) bottle, which made the meal very expensive - 250 DM for lunch! So THIS is how the other .1% lives. Quite an experience.

We loved this whole area of the Bodensee and finally realized it was because if reminded us of the Mediterranean. A lovely atmosphere here.

The next day we headed to the Black Forest, which reminded me a lot of the Adirondacks where I spent my childhood summers. It was a very pretty drive. Freiburg was a little difficult to get into at first, but we finally figured out where we wanted to go and found a hotel on the Munsterplatz, Hotel Rappen. The clerk gave us a room in the front and when I asked if it was quiet he assured me I would want the view of the square. Well, I'm sure there isn't a quiet room within six blocks of the Munster, whose bells rang every 15 minutes all night long. Our room was nice with Black Forest painted furniture. We explored the city, seeing the beautiful buildings on the Munsterplatz, the Rathausplatz with its Neues Rathaus, and resting in Columbipark. All though this old area there are tiny canals, maybe a foot wide, along the pedestrian area, creating a pretty sound. We walked down by the river Dreisam and then headed back to our hotel. We just happened on the most charming area, sort of a left-bank, artsy-type area. There was a larger canal running through it with bridges crossing it and restaurants and shops tucked into corners. We found a restaurant with a garden and shared a Greek salad along the canal. We just loved this area.

After another sleepless night, we woke to a great fruhstuck with cereal, Black Forest ham, lots of cheeses, fresh melon, etc. in a lovely room with a barrel-like ceiling. It was market day, so we loaded up on strawberries, bread, sausage, cheese, and Florentines and set off for Triberg. We got as lost getting out of town as getting into town, but a nice German tried to help us. But he thought we were saying Freiberg instead of Triberg (which we pronounced Try-berg instead of Tree-bourg) and he lead us back to where we came from! We finally figured it out and drove through beautiful forests and hills to the waterfalls in Triberg, Germany's highest falls which fall 500' over seven steps. We took the long hike to the bottom, following the path along the many levels of the falls. At the bottom, rather as a reward, there is a restaurant serving Black Forest Cake which we tried. Then the long hike back up to the top.

It was a pretty drive over the mountains in the Black Forest to Rottweil where we were interested in seeing the Donimicamuseum which has an extensive display of Roman artifacts collected locally. The area was a huge settlement under Vespasian. A local lady who studies English in night school explained the exhibits for us. After about an hour we explored a bit of the old town and headed north. We stopped for the night, exhausted, in Balingen where we found a modern, business-oriented hotel. The manager told us the room was 190 DM but she gave it to us for 160 DM because we were tourists. It was nice and quiet - Ginna was in bed by 8:00 PM, David by 9:00, after a 'picnic' in the room.

The next morning we were up and on the road to Haigerloch. We were unimpressed with the schloss. On to Hechingen and Schloss Hohenzollern which was magnificent, perched on top of a mountain peak. En route we discovered the tiny town of Stein which has a reconstruction of a Roman farmhouse. There were many original artifacts - this whole area was Roman - and the dig is continuing. I rather liked the reconstruction - it gave a very good idea of what the house was really like instead of just seeing the original foundations.

We continued north to Tubingen to lunch at Restaurant Waldhorn. This restaurant reminded us both of Cormons (Italy) and the 400 year-old farmhouse we ate in there; it was just lovely. The Waldhorn too is an old farmhouse decorated with lots of pewter, flowers (fresh roses!), and very nice watercolors. The hostess was very friendly and helped us with our menu choices. There was a free starter again, minced meats in aspic with well-oiled lettuce, which was outstanding. Then David had soup with 3 huge Maultaschen ravioli and I had the corn-toast with goose-liver pate. For the main course David had the oxtail ragout which was like boeuf bourguignon and I had cream pea soup with lobster. We split a dessert of fresh fruit and two sherbets. Then cappucino and terrific hand-dipped chocolates. A fabulous meal, but 285 DM! We had a long conversation with a lovely German woman who was eating alone; she was a college teacher of English and French. We talked about education, unemployment, the economy, and so on. She went to Tubingen for undergraduate school and prefers it to Heidelberg, explaining that it is less commercial. She remembers the Waldhorn from her student days when it was a very simple brauhaus.

We went in to Tubingen and found Hotel am Schloss with one of the few rooms left in town. There was a conference going on. The room was on the 4th floor, naturally a walk-up, with no toilet (shared) and no shower at all! 90 DM. We decided we could handle it for one night.

We walked all over the town which is truly charming. It again had a canal running through it and lies on the river. In the river they have created an island with a double line of plane trees running down the center, lining a lovely walkway. We watched two Frenchmen playing boules and really got into their game. And we watched the many people boating on the river. We stopped along the canal for a beer and then walked through the Botanical Garden, really just a small city park, and stopped at a very nice weinstube. It had grapevines painted on the ceiling, a tile stove, and was nicely decorated. Afterwards we went up to the Irish pub for a nightcap - the wine was so bad I couldn't drink it! We spoke with three young German fellows who work for the civil service. Then a huge crowd of Irish and a small group of American servicemen came in and we talked with them a while. Then home to bed.

After fruhstuck in one of the loveliest breakfast rooms so far - all windows with a great view of the town, we explored the schloss and went on to the town of Calw, one of the Balck Forest's prettiest towns. The half-timbered houses in Calw are some of the prettiest we have seen. We picked up some picnic provisions and drove to Nagold along the Nagold river. There had been lightening the night before but today was just beautiful, warm sun with a cool freshness to the breeze. There were wildflowers everywhere - pink, yellows, purples, and whites.

Past Nagold, we headed west, further into the Black Forest, driving along the crest of Schwarzwaldhochstrasse, then down to tiny Allenheiligen toward Mosbach where David's paternal grandmother (Buerck) came from. We got somewhat lost but finally found Mosbach. This whole area seems very properous and the Mosbach sign says "Kirschendorf" (Cherrytown). Mosbach was bigger than we expected. After having our picnic along a small stream and speaking with the farmer who owned the land but didn't seem to mind that we were eating there, we went to the cemetery. All the names - Burck, Doll Baundistelk, Klumpp - were names from SE Missouri, where David grew up. We spoke with a lady - who was a composite of ALL David's aunts - who was tending the cemetery and she got in our car and took us to another lady's house, a lady who spoke some English. She had a neighbor who had lived in South Africa for 19 years and she came over to interpret. They told us that there were still Buercks in the town.

Then it was on to Baden-Baden. This is a beautiful town with its 17th, 18th, and 19th century buildings, all curvy with balconies, intricate stonework. Very wealthy. We found a great hotel, Deutscher Kaiser, and got a huge room with a sitting area and a balcony. Very modern bathroom. We walked around the town and had a beer in the Lowenbrau Garden. We had a picnic supper on our own balcony and did the crossword puzzle. Fruhstuck the next morning was wonderful with fresh fruits and all the other expected treats. It was raining but we braved the rain to walk over to the Roman baths, the main thing we had come to see, only to find, after a 20 minute wait, that they were closed. We were so disappointed.

We headed off to Heidelberg in the rain, but it had cleared by the time we got there. There were NO rooms. Another conference! We finally found one - a big room with a great bathroom with a big tub at the Hotel Schnookeloch. We immediately set off for lunch in the Hotel zum Ritter (knight) St. Georg - it had started raining again. Ginna had salmon and salad, David had pasta.

The weather cleared again and we walked over to the Philosopher's Way, crossing the River Neckar and climbing up the steep hill on the other side. There were wonderful views of the town. On the way back we stopped at O'Reilly's, another nice Irish pub. After a light supper, we headed home to bed and the noisiest night imaginable. Worse than the bells in Freiberg! Worse than the trucks in Landsberg! There were people calling and yelling until 5 AM when the street-sweeper came through. At fruhstuck another guest was complaining about it and trying to get another room but of course there were none. And these were not terribly cheap rooms either, about 190 DM. Luckily we were leaving. (The bar of this hotel is where various fraternities, deuling societies and the like, have held their meetings for the past nearly 600 years. This must have been meeting night!)

It was another rainy day so we decided to skip the castles - we were castled out - and to drive up the Rhine. We crossed over on a little ferry in Nierstein and found a lovely hotel overlooking the river. Our room had a huge bay window with a view of the river. We had a great lunch at the hotel on the terrace under an awning to protect us from the rain. Ginna had the fixed-price meal, starting with two terrines - fish and meat - that were delicious, then tomato soup, stuffed chicken in a great sauce with potatoes and broccoli timbale, and vanilla ice-cream with strawberry sauce for dessert. David had only the herring with potatoes and beans but helped with mine. It rained in the middle of the meal but the waiters and waitresses rushed about, opening the awning further, bringing in the tableware from the tables in the rain. Then they set everything up again as it cleared. It was so pleasant to sit there watching the traffic on the river; the air was warm and the rain nicely cool. The whole afternoon was like that, sometimes pouring! Ginna wrote postcards, repacked, napped, and read; David braved a walk. In the evening, the weather cleared and we took a long walk. Nierstein is a charming town, built on the wine industry. After our walk we had a couple of glasses of wine - the owner treated us to a local "champagne" - and watched a very extravagant meal being served to two couples. They had the chateaubriand (75 DM each!) and all the trimmings (which were extra), including several bottles of wine and a whole Baked Alaska for dessert. Some of the wines on the winelist were 4,000 DM! We just enjoyed the scene. Before dark, a fleet of hot-air balloons crossed the Rhine over our heads.

In the morning we left very early in order to leave the car off by 9:00. It was an easy shot to the airport about a halfhour away. Our flight was at 2:00, a smooth flight home. We were through the first stage of customs by 4:00 and ready to be on our way, but they couldn't get the luggage compartment door open! An extra 1/2 hour, but, oh well. Glad to be home.