Around the Mosel

Last Spring in Germany was quite damp and we found ourselves donning our rain gear and braving the dreariness often.  After Trier, Andrew drove our rental through downpours and thick cotton candy fog over to the quietly meandering Mosel River in Rheinland Pfalz.  A hot spot for German outdoor enthusiasts, this area bustled with signs of a busy summer to come.  Most of the Germans opted for the more scenic and heart healthy way to see the area: by pedaling along the banks of the river on their trusty bikes.  I personally think they were trying to earn their schnitzel and beer, so maybe next time we’ll grab our Fahrräder and hit the trail as well.

Our lodging was in the guest house of a local winery, which turned out to be a good choice for the area.  The hills along either side of the river’s banks are laden with rows of grape vines, ripe for picking in the fall, that are labored to make some of the world’s finest Riesling.

Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz

The first stop we made in the area should definitely be on your list, if ever you visit the Mosel.  We toured the Burg Eltz, the one of only medieval castles on the Mosel to never have been destroyed.  Interestingly enough, the same families still privately own the castle.  If you play your cards right, you could still marry the son or daughter of a German earl!

view of town and grape vines from ridge trail

trail view

the sun came out!

Cochem

In between the rain showers, we hiked along the ridge of one of the hills along the banks of Mosel and checked out a few of the picturesque towns that dot the river’s banks.  We also ate delicious schnitzel and made sure to indulge in Kaffeestunde at least once or twice:  a generous slice of cake made with seasonal fruit and a steaming cup of coffee around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

our schnitzel stop

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Addicted

Andrew and I are addicted. Before I tell you to what, let me tell you the how and the why.

A couple weeks ago we spent a blissfully relaxing school week chaperoning English camp for a sweet group of 12 and 13 year old students. What? Being responsible for 43 moody teenagers and having a good time aren’t mutually exclusive? It’s true. Week Camp was run completely by a third party company. The camp counselors were entirely in charge of the little terrors throughout the week and us “chaperons” were left to our own devices from Monday at noon until Friday afternoon at 4pm (or better known as arrival and departure times for the bus ride).

Yes, these pictures were taken the middle of April. Cold spell!

Besides showing up for mealtimes in the dining hall, where we indulged in some of the best Spanish cuisine has to offer (think: french fries, country ham, potato soup, lentil soup, fish soup, ham and cheese pop-tarts, essentially anything the color light brown), our time was all our own. Our main teacher activities consisted of the lifestyle I imagine a Spanish pensioner having. Between feeding times, we took long, rambling walks, drank coffee at our favorite neighborhood bar, sat around and chatted in the sun, observed the locals, read and napped. Tough life, huh?

This brings me to the discovery we made on one of our treks to the tiny village (Coladilla is the name of the pueblo, if you’re interested) that was 2km down the country road from the tiny village (Vegacervera, León) we stayed in. Another practice that Spaniards avidly partake in, and that I personally respect and admire, is making, buying and appreciating local and artisan products. In Coladilla we were told that the local quesería (cheese factory) made some darn good cheese. Andrew and I are a little skeptical when it comes to cheese we haven’t tasted before though, seeing as some folks recommend cheese that is much too strong and stinky for our delicate palates. But, we decided to take the risk and bought two entire wheels of cheese (I never thought I’d ever buy that much milk fat at one time), lugged them the two kilometers back to our lodging for the week and let them ripen and breathe on the counter.  It is important to know (and I just learned) that cheese breathes. Many times if the rind is still on the entire wheel, it is perfectly fine to leave at room temperature, just don’t leave it in plastic. Because, if it breathes, well, it also sweats. If you do decide to refrigerate it for the stench factor (it can get pretty stinky, however mild the cheese is that you buy) don’t put it in a plastic bag either. Once you’ve sliced it, wrap it in parchment paper.  This is all according to a reliable source. Oh, the things I’ve learned in Spain.

Once back to Laredo, we waited a couple of days to “cut the cheese.” Haha, I just chuckled out loud typing that sentence. But, really, our diet of light brown called for a purge of sorts once back in our own kitchen.

I guess you’ve figured out that we’re addicted to the artisan cheese made with local cow’s milk from Coladilla. It is quite scrumptious if you ask us. It isn’t too funky, not too mild and plenty creamy for our persnickety cheese tastes. It makes my cheeks pucker just a little every now and then from its sharpness. It’s good. It is part of our before-meal snacking time. A torn piece of crusty bread and a glass of red wine make it even more delicious. Eat it with a sliced apple. I’m sold.

The second wheel we gave to some friends, but now I’m wondering if that was such a smart idea (except it probably was, for my waistline).

Back to Laredo

We’re back to Laredo and resting while it is raining April showers outside. This post is mostly to tell you about how Portugal is an (almost) ideal travel destination and also to make sure you know that a wife being sole navigator for her husband can lead to extremely tense situations. We happen to both think our job (ie him driving and her directing) is more difficult than the other’s. I was told many times that I need to go off feel for a city that I didn’t innately have. Instead I offered names of streets to turn down (that happened to occasionally be one way-whoops) and we managed to arrive successfully to each and every location. The smart car made it back without a single scratch and we are more or less unscathed too. Andrew has commented on our cholesterol levels more than once though, since we’ve been eating a pretty meat and dairy heavy diet. Back to munching veggies for us!

Some quick highlights of our trip:

Bom Jesus. A gorgeous monastery built on top of a mountain near the Northern Portuguese town of Braga. Glossy emerald moss and mosaic tiles make up the path to the top of the monument and the gardens behind the cathedral are reason enough to pack a picnic and spend the afternoon in the shade. The walk from the bottom is a 15 minute one, up steps the whole time, but it is shaded and delightful. Devout Catholics sometimes complete the journey on their knees, a sort of pilgrimage. The fountains along the way are interesting as well, representing the 5 senses. My favorite was sight- a sculpture of a man with water flowing from his eyes.

Guimarães. Restored city, almost perfect old town. It is the birthplace of Portugal.

Porto. My first impression of the city was disastrous. Our hotel was frightful (sorry, Andrew), the first street we chose to saunter down was the very definition of sketch and our restaurant for the evening was difficult to locate. We went to bed a little stressed, but woke up to sunny skies and a gorgeous city after a full night’s rest. We slipped into a church decorated with traditional Portuguese blue and white tiled mosaics, we ate our first and only ever franceshina (a ham and cheese sandwich base that includes a hot dog and some type of mystery meat slapped in the middle, topped with a soft fried egg and a secret sauce), toured a Port wine cellar (and tasted!) and walked high above the Rio Duoro. Next time I am definitely cruising inland on the River Duoro!

Belém. This town, essentially a part of Lisbon, is a site that is featured in every tourist book written on Portugal. Its monuments best represent the Golden Age of Portugal. Also noteworthy is the café that serves the original recipe for the pasteis de Belém (cream custard filled phyllo pastry). These little beauties are made all over the country, but the best are found in the blue awned shop in Belém.

Portugal is a unique country, full of cultural and historical sites for tourists. We both agreed that we could have easily spent much more time there, exploring, enjoying the cuisine and just relaxing in the laid back atmosphere of its cities. I also can’t forget to mention how affordable Portugal is for travelers. An espresso shot (uma bica) is between 50-75 euro cents. In comparison, here in Spain, the same beverage will cost 1.10 euro. A night in a comfortable, family run hotel costs between 50 and 65 euro and should include breakfast and parking. Entrees for dinner run between 8-12 euros and a bottle of wine (at a restaurant) is 6-10 euro. Not to mention that the attitudes of the folks working in tourism is astonishingly helpful and positive. Almost everyone we ran into spoke a little bit of English, as well. Here’s what I’m trying to say… Go to Portugal!

If we can ever offer any help with travel questions or give you hotel suggestions for places we’ve visited, we’d love to. Let us know!

Oviedo

We took a quick weekend trip to the capital of Asturias this past Saturday and Sunday. While there were fewer astonished adjectives spewed on this adventure (meaning Oviedo is pretty neat, worth a 24 hour visit, but not monumental) we still enjoyed the change of scenery. A big moment of the trip included seeing pre-romanic structures that were built in the 800s. Andrew explained their significance to me by saying that they are some of Europe’s first attempt at blending art and architecture after the fall of the Roman empire. He was pleased with his concrete and concise explanation, so I’d thought I’d include it. I think they did alright, considering these two beauties are situated precariously on the side of a hill and that they are still standing, solidly I might add.

I’ll be real honest. The rest of the highlights of the trip for me are, well, superficial.

To elaborate, Saturday night, after we hiked the hill to see the famous pre-romanic sites, of Vicky, Cristina Barcelona fame, by the way, I was hungry. 7pm is not a good time to be hungry in Spain. We bought a baguette and some dried meat and ate a hotel picnic. Which leads me to the first highlight: Our hotel was way nice and quite affordable, coming in around 22 euros per person. Sunday morning was time for real food, which was also tasty and affordable at the hotel bar. Yes, you can eat breakfast at a bar. Get with it.

We partook of lunch in a siderería on the famous calle Gascona, where all the cider bars are located. Cider in Asturias is a big deal, so along with our menú, we tried out the local cider. The manner in which the servers pour the cider is interesting and an art in and of itself. The server comes to your table with the glasses and the bottle of cider. She proceeds to serve your beverage by raising the cider bottle as far above her head as she can reach and by holding the glass the cider will be poured into as low (toward the floor) as her other arm will reach. Without looking up at the cider bottle or down at the glass the cider will land in, she carefully turns the cider bottle up and a long, thin pour of cider leaves the mouth of the bottle and splatters into the rim of the glass. I’m not sure how she managed to get the amber colored liquid into our drinking glass each time, but she was a champ. The cider is poured this way so it is allowed to aerate for as long as possible.

Our food was a bit exaggerated, if only because of the amount of food we unintentionally ordered. We each started with a cheese plate- Andrew with a variety board and some homemade membrillo (quince paste) and me with fried goat cheese and grilled tomatoes. Asturias produces around 60 different types of cheeses, so we thought it’d be a good idea to try it out. I could have stopped eating after course number one, but they kept coming, three more to be exact.  Next, Andrew ate a typical winter dish in all of the north of Spain, with an Asturian twist, Fabada asturiana:  huge, creamy white beans served with rich, fatty chorizo, morcilla, and a slab of pig fat. You can guess its tastes pretty darn good. I had a mushroom and shrimp concoction that sounds strange at first, but is also palatable. We were then served the “main” course- beef tips for Andrew and sirloin steak with a bechamel sauce for me. I could barely even look at plate number three I was so full, but we bucked up and did our best. Finally, dessert was arroz con leche for Andrew and a crepe with sweet apple syrup inside for me. Finished with a shot of crema de orujo and an espresso, we ate like kings. And all that for only 42 euros.  I can highly recommend Tierra Astur if you are ever in Oviedo.

We took the bus this time for our excursion transportation. Although the bus makes the trip at least an hour longer than it would be in car, we have nothing if time. Plus, it was nice not to have to worry about directions, navigating, parking and staying awake while Andrew drives. I avidly read The Hunger Games when not feeling queasy from bus sickness. It was a good weekend.