Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest & Fellbach Winetasting

If this weekend had a theme, it would be spring!  Spring has made it to our balcony in the form of blue skies and lots of flowers.  
We very much enjoyed carrying all these things up the stairs.

Just kidding, the theme would totally be alcohol.

We started the weekend with a wine tasting and cellar tour organized by one of our running group friends.  We hopped on the U Bahn for a quick trip out to the Fellbach Weingärtner. The Weingärtner is a wine collective growing grapes in the Fellbach region, which is just to the east of Stuttgart.  The wine was pretty good, and it was great to see running folks in clothes other than sneakers and smelly t-shirts.  

Looking spiffy for wine tasting.  If the guy on the barrel is fancy, you should be too.
After we were done with the tour, we got down to the main event -- the tasting.  We had 7 more glasses of wine, and some tasty cheese, wurst, ham and bread.  Yum.  
"P" is great wine, "S" is good wine, and "C" is a Boone's Farm competitor.
And we ended up with a case of Number 85.  Having the cash register at the end is pretty dangerous after all of those glasses of wine.  They are definitely heavy-handed with the pours!

Our location for the evening -- the Grandls Hofbräuzelt.
On Sunday, we headed to the Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest, which is like Oktoberfest--but in the spring and in Stuttgart.  It is the largest spring festival in all of Europe.  In addition to all the carnival-style rides, including a huge ferris wheel, there are a number of enormous beer tents.  It is so convenient to be able to hop on the U Bahn and arrive at such a fun and uniquely-German event in just a few minutes.

The tents are huge with rows upon rows of tables and benches.  The only time folks are sitting on the benches (rather than standing) is when they are eating dinner, which comes with your ticket.
Chicken and bread.  Excellent.
Of course, the main event is the beers.  Huge liter-sized mugs.  The best waiters carry around 12 at a time.  I could barely lift 3.

Matt lifted 4 across the course of the night.
Kristin drank Matt's leftovers.
The bands and other entertainment throughout the evening were great.  The songs were mostly covers of American music, with a few German songs thrown into the mix.  It's the best place to do the YMCA with 5,000 of your closest German friends.  We had such a great time, we can't wait to get back next weekend!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Quick Day in Luxembourg (and a Taste of Alsace and Strasbourg)

Now Part 2 of our quick Luxembourg trip. (Yup, I never finished this post ... so you are finally getting it today!)
On a whim Kristin decided to inquire about a bike tour of Luxembourg (the city) with Feel! Bike Tours.  It was a beautiful day and we were the only two people on the tour, so we learned a lot about the history and asked a lot of questions.  The city is small and compact, so we were able to see most of it in the few hours but there were some hills to conquer as we rode around. The tour was a total bargain...we'd highly recommended it.

We started in the Grund, at the bottom of the valley, which is one of the oldest parts of the city.

From there we headed through the valley.  It was green, lush and beautiful.  (Although Kristin spent the entire ride worried about the hill she would need to ride up to get to the newer part of the city.)
That's a small chapel is built into the side of the valley.

Kristin survived the hill (barely) and was rewarded with a great view of the valley.
The Bank of Luxembourg and our rides for the day.
Postcard views.

Large parts of the walls of the city of Luxembourg have been destroyed or removed, but some structures still remain.  The walls incorporated miles of tunnels that allowed citizens to move across the city, even in times of attack.  Small parts of the tunnels are open for tourists year round, but certain parts are open for special events.  We can't wait to get a subterranean tour of the city the next time we visit.

You can see some of the tunnel structure in this pic.

We then took a ride through the newer part of the city, and checked out the grounds for the modern art museum.  The museum is located near parts of the fortified walls.

Tiny people on the right are doing tai chi.

After a quick stop at the monastery turned prison turned event space in the lower part of the city (which had a great view of the city wall), we headed to France!

It was getting late in the afternoon so we made a quick pitstop to grab a bottle of wine and some tasty eats.  We took our picnic lunch to the side of a nearby river for a much needed break.  We drove through the Alsace region of France, which is important both for its politically strategic location as well as all of the wine it produces.

We'd noticed through France and Germany that there were a lot of fields with vibrant yellow flowers this spring, so we decided to take a closer look.

The flowers are used to make canola oil -- and will leave you covered in pollen if you venture out into the fields.  Kristin was a bit yellow for the rest of the afternoon.  But all of the color made the drive through France especially pretty.

Our last stop on our weekend adventure was Strasbourg, France.  Strasbourg is home to the 6th largest cathedral in the world.  Construction was begun in 1015 and wasn't completed until 1439.  It is the highest still-standing structure built entirely in the middle ages.  
The cathedral is massive -- but tucked into the middle of the city, very close to old half-timber-style buildings.  It is very difficult to just get a picture of the cathedral, since its scale is so large and the city has developed so closely around it.  Luckily it's only about an hour from Stuttgart so we're hoping to go back soon.

We really enjoyed our quick trip through Trier, Luxembourg, Alsace and Strasboug -- and can't wait to take more fun weekend trips soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Quick Day in Trier (A Stop on the Way to Luxembourg)

We love being able to take quick trips from Stuttgart to different nearby places.  Kristin really enjoys visiting new countries, so we decided to check Luxembourg off the list.  It is a quick three and a half hour drive from our apartment, so we hopped in the car one weekend for an adventure -- with not a bit of planning ahead of time.

Looking good for being 2,000 years old.  (The gate, not Kristin.)
Along the way we stopped in Trier, Germany (very close to Schweich, Germany -- which we will visit with a certain Schweich one day).  Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany and features some well-preserved Roman buildings.  The buildings are impressive today, but even more so when you realize they are more than 2,000 years old.

The Porta Nigra is the largest remaining Roman city gate north of the Alps.  It is a pretty fantastic welcome to the city.   
Flowers .... and do not enter signs.  Historic.
We then grabbed a quick lunch and checked out the Trier market.  The architecture was much more French than German, a nod to the historical back-and-forth ownership of this part of the world.

Would you like spargel (asparagus) with that?
The High Cathedral of Saint Peter is the oldest cathedral in Germany, which dates back to Roman times.  The foundation is from the 300s and the current building is about 1,000 years old.  It was added to in a piecemeal style that resulted in a single large building with multiple different types of architecture.

Where's Matt?
Need a bigger building?  No need to find some matching bricks or architecture.  Bring your own style.

The Basilica of Constantine is a huge 4th century church.  It is a gigantic open space with towering ceilings.  It is hard to imagine such a large and airy structure was built so long ago.  The engineers in the 300s had really figured out a lot of construction structural basics.

Let's be honest, this thing looks like a huge gym, not a church.  Kickball, anyone?
And if you've got a Roman building in Trier, you may as well add on some crazy architecture to it.  In this case, the Palace of Trier.  The bubble gum pink definitely goes with the old Roman red.  The gardens are lovely and it would be a fantastic place for a picnic.    

It was getting late, so we only took a quick spin through the Rheinsches Landesmuseum.  The museum is filled with archeological finds, especially from the Roman period.  My favorite part was the mosaic floors that had been reconstructed in the museum.  You definitely need more than the 45 minutes we had before it closed for the evening. 
After a delicious dinner at Le Bouquet Garni in Luxembourg and a quick walk through Luxembourg City at night, it was time to turn in for the night at our nearby hotel.  We couldn't wait to explore Luxembourg by bike the next day!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

One Day in Rothenburg ob de Tauber

We spent one very full and fun day in Rothenburg ob de Tauber.  It is a 1 1/2 hour drive from Stuttgart, which made it an easy day trip for us. 

Rothenburg was in its prime from about 1140 to 1400.  During the 30 years war in the 17th century, the town was conquered and pillaged a few times, leaving fantastic architecture, but very little wealth.  Without any money, Rothenburg didn't develop any further, which kept its 17th century building facades into the 21st century (with a little help from historic preservation laws that were put into place in the 1880s, when tourism of Rothenburg first started).

The quintessential shot of Rothenburg.  Lots of cute pastel painted houses (which are all now shops). 
Rothenburg is definitely super touristy.  Even in April (which is just the start of Germany's tourism season) the place was very busy at midday.  You'll see bus loads of Japanese and German tourists crowding the town square.  Luckily we arrived early and stayed late, so we had the town to ourselves for much of the day.  This place caters to tourists, so there are lots of fun things to see, places to pull out your credit card (including a super expensive Christmas ornament empire) and tasty things to eat.
Put on your walking shoes, there is lots to see here.

Magical colors inside the city walls.
We started our exploration at the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum).  Here you can find lots of different ways to punish people.  Have a quarrelsome woman on your hands?  Put her in a neck violin (bottom left).  Two women quarreling with each other?  A double neck violin (top left) will surely help them work out their differences, since they'll be attached to each other.  A bit too much to drink?  You'll end up in the drunk tank.  Which is literally a tank that you wear (top left).  Definitely comprehensive, and a bit disturbing all at the same time.    

No Iron Maiden for Kristin
We then started a walking tour of the town at the Market Square to check out the lovely architecture of the Town Hall, Councilors' Tavern (currently under construction and hidden by scaffolding), Baumeister Haus and St. George's fountain, which all border the square.    

We grabbed a picnic lunch at the local market and bakery and headed to the city walls for lunch surrounded by a fantastic view.  

Next we headed back to the Market Square and to the top of the Town Hall, the tallest spire in town.  For 2 euro, you can climb over 200 steep and narrow steps to the top.  We live on the 6th floor with no elevator.  It wasn't a problem for us.  Not the case with the other folks we saw.

Don't look down.  Really, not a good idea.
The view from the top was great.  You could see for miles across the rooftops of Rothenburg.  

Orange tile roofs galore!
After the hike to the top of Town Hall, it was time for snacks and shopping.  The famous sweet in Rothenburg is the Schneeballen (snowballs), which is basically pieces of pie dough made into a ball and covered with something sugary.  Not our favorites, but we definitely ate them.  Matt was most excited about the ice cream (eis in German) and the encased meats.  Since Kristin doesn't eat any of those things, she considered a suit of armor.  

Matt had lots of ice cream.  He was a happy camper.
The suit of armor was a bit pricey, so we checked out the Anneliese Friese gift shop between the Market Square and St. Jakob's church.  Super cute family run business.  Frau Anneliese (who is in her late 80s) was holding court in the shop and excited to talk to everyone about her time in the US.  She spoke perfect English (her sister lived in Virginia) and has travelled more extensively in the US than either of us.  We packed up all the well-priced goodies we grabbed from her shop, said our goodbyes, and kept going on our walking tour.
Cute things and old ladies inside.
St. Jakob's church is from the 14th century and includes some pretty amazing original stained glass and a wood carved alter.

And you can drive/walk UNDER the church.
We checked out some of the beautifully colored local buildings, as well as the convent garden.

Rothenburg is almost entirely circled by a fantastic covered town wall that you can walk along.  We started at the Spitaltor on the south end, the most heavily fortified part.  

The wall starts in the middle left of this picture.
The wall suffered damage during WWII, but luckily the city center was spared by the Assistant U.S. Secretary of War.  His mother had visited the town and had a painting of it in his childhood home. He heard of the beauty of the town and offered to save it from shelling and bombings if the Germans didn't defend it.  Despite orders from their superiors to resist, the Germans retreated and the city was saved from major damage.  Any damage was quickly repaired, and now you can walk along the entire length of the wall, checking out the ramparts along the way.

There were very few people who adventured on to the wall, so it was much quieter than the center of town.
Probably not the most comfortable walk for Josh, Toby or Mike.

The views into the city from the wall were great (especially for anyone that skips the Town Hall spire).  

We finished up our wall tour with a stop at the Castle Garden.  The castle is long gone (destroyed in a 14th century earthquake), but the garden remains. 

See the blue house on top of the tower the left?  It's Toppler Castle.
If you're Mayor Toppler, it's a cute place to hide your mistress.

After a tasty dinner at Hotel Restaurant Kloster-Stuble (the first white asparagus of the season), we headed off to the highly-recommended night watchman's tour.  The night watchman takes you around the city and gives you a bit of this historical flavor.  Most of the information was in our guidebook, but it is so much better when it comes from a guy with a cape, big lantern, and a great sense of humor.

We definitely enjoyed our day trip and are excited to show visitors these magical places as well (just not during July or August ... this place must be a zoo).