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

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!

Saint Emilion

Our first night in France, we stayed at a family run hotel and restaurant combo. Andrew and I both really respect the work of a locally owned and managed establishment like this one. Friday night we were treated to a jazz concert and three course meal, slept soundly in a comfortable room and woke Saturday to a basket full of fresh pastries and jam. It was obvious the owner was doing the bulk of the work, aided heavily by a competent and friendly staff: he met us at check in, took our orders for dinner, served breakfast and waved goodbye as we payed the bill. And, for all that, not a detail was overlooked. In an area of France where many well off travelers opt for a night in an 18th century chateau and don’t bat an eyelash at the hundreds of euros calculated on the final bill, Le Bon Duq offers a comprable service for a fraction of the price. If you want to check out the vineyards of Bordeaux and le entre-deux-mers, but are on a tighter budget, please, stay here.

From our hotel in Les Billaux/Libourne (a 40 minute or so drive from Bordeaux) we set off to discover the popular (for good reason) and well preserved wine town of Saint Emilion. We arrived fairly early, so the first half hour of exploring, we had the streets blissfully to ourselves. Birds chirped gleefully, baby lambs nuzzled mamas, the sun sparkled in the cool morning air and French grandmas tended their flower boxes. It was a scene from a movie. Surrounded entirely by vineyards, the buildings of the town are made of more gorgeous blonde stone. Wine vendors dotted the store fronts and servers at cafés set tables outdoors for lunchtime. After traipsing around St. Emilion for a while and dreaming of buying our own little cozy home in town, we headed off to find a winery open for tastings. Easier said than done. Ultimately, our mission failed, but we did have the opportunity of meeting a former vineyard and winery owner who had recently sold his business and property to new Chinese owners. The Chinese flag waved next to the European Union and French flags out front. They didn’t open for visitors.

From the countryside we drove towards the Dordogne region, stopping for a quick walk in Bergerac. Even though it is the main hub town of this region, we wouldn’t recommend a stop. There are more beautiful views of the Dordogne and more tastefully restored timber homes elsewhere.

Our final stop for the day was in Sarlat, a town we’d visited in December when it was gray and raining. It was lovely even in the wet and cold weather, but Springtime turned it magical. More later…