Monday, July 14, 2014

Europe Day 4: The Rhine River and Schoenburg Castle Hotel

Sorry for the long break between posts.  Back on track now...

The next morning in Heidelberg, we wandered the Haupstrasse until we found a bakery that was open (a difficult task!) and got coffee and pastries.  The food was good, but definitely like my parents warned us--prettier than they were delicious!  And on our way back to the hotel to check out...a pigeon got my Dad!  After a quick change of clothes, we headed toward the Rhine River.  James is an electrical engineer, so he took about 1,000,000 pictures of power lines, plants, and wind turbines...but this is one of the better ones.  Haha.

Everywhere we turned, there were castles.  Seriously, at some points along the river, we could see 3 castles without turning our heads!  We toured the Burg Rhinefels in Saint Goar and spent way more time there than I thought we would.  I think I'm officially a castle nerd. We looked at almost every square foot of the castle...walking through old mine tunnels, checking out the views, exploring the brewery room, and dreaming about a wedding in the Big Cellar (that part may have been just me). There was a family with two young boys having a picnic in the grass and it really made me want to move to Europe.  Can you imagine packing up on a Saturday morning, driving to a castle for a picnic lunch, and having supper at the Hofbrauhaus all in the same day?  Sigh.

Bacharach was our next stop along the river.  I loved the architecture in this small town and we had a delicious lunch and glass of wine in a restaurant courtyard in the middle of town.  (Sadly, I forgot to take photos of our food before we had devoured it!) 

 Because the region is known for its wine, we felt we had to taste the Riesling ice cream--and it was heaven!  Mom got a scoop of it while I got (translated) "herbs of the forest" flavor and we shared both.  Mine almost tasted like a basil-mint hybrid, and it was good, too...but I could have eaten my weight in the Riesling one!

After lunch, we headed to check in at the Castle Hotel Schoenburg just down the river in Oberwesel.  (I will warn you, though, if you plan to stay...let them carry your bags up for you!  We didn't think the walk looked that long and our bags weren't large...but it wore us out!)  Our room was so much fun!  We overlooked the courtyard and our shower even had a lion's head with a water spout.

We spent quite a while touring the expansive garden at the castle.  There was a huge outdoor chess set (the pieces were waist-high!), a treehouse library (a dream!), a South African-themed hut, and even a bocce ball court!  Mom and James enjoyed that while Dad and I enjoyed the lounging chairs and the view of the Rhine. :)  At this point in the trip, we all really needed a relaxing afternoon!

We had drinks outside on the terrace (champagne with raspberries for the girls and beer for the guys) before our formal dinner that evening.  The meal was four courses including salmon, veal, spargel, and crepes Suzette for dessert!  It was very leisurely and took two hours.  We loved the relaxing time and the waitresses in their native costumes.  :)  

I can still feel exactly what it was like standing where this photo was taken.  This is the picture that makes me want to go back the most.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Europe Day 3: Heidelberg and Colmar

Our third day started off with a fabulous buffet breakfast at the hotel 
(and a nice surprise when we check out of the hotel and realized that our price had been quoted in US dollars instead of Euros)!  The buffet was a combination of a traditional German breakfast and American-style breakfast, with lots of cold cuts and cheese, fruit, pastries, sausage, eggs, etc.  And so many options of juice, which I loved!

Next, we headed west across the border into the Alsace region of France.  We loved walking around Colmar.  It is actually the only place where we got a photo of all four of us together!  An American woman took it for us. :)  

After that, we drove back across the border up to Heidelberg.  My family lived here when I was a baby, so it was nice to go back and see even though I had no memories of it.  Sadly, the US Armed Forces buildings were all closed down and abandoned, but I enjoyed hearing the stories my parents had to tell about where we lived.

We walked along the Hauptstrasse checking out the shops until it was time for lunch.  Mom finally had the famous spargel she'd been longing for while Dad ordered the XXL schnitzel. James and I had more beer and brats.  We couldn't get enough of that! 

We walked along the Neckar River and up to the Old Bridge.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  When I win the lottery one day, I'm going to buy one of those houses on the banks so I can look at this view everyday.

After a little touring, we decided to get our luggage from the car and check into our hotel.  Unfortunately, we had parked in a parking garage but apparently come out of an almost secret exit, so it took us nearly two hours to find!  But our hotel (Hotel Weisser Bock) was fantastic.  It was located one block off of the Hauptstrasse and our view was beautiful.  The rooms were comfortable and nicely appointed, too. 

Heidelberg Castle was closed, but we were able to tour the outside and took the long, steep walk up to the courtyard.  I LOVED it there.  There was a restaurant that I'd love to eat at next time we visit.  Or at least get a beer and enjoy the view and the perfect weather.  Since the castle was closed and we were some of the only few people there, it was really easy to imagine what it looked like in the castle's heyday...or maybe I'm just a history nerd. :)

Mom and Dad called it a night early, but James and I went back out to the Marktplatz for a late dinner.  The meal was fantastic (another apple streudel and potato pancakes with applesauce) and our view of the Heiliggeistkirche and Heidelberg Castle all lit up at night was even better!  I wish I had been able to get a good photo of that, because it was my favorite evening of the trip.

When we were planning our trip, I requested Heidelberg as "my stop" and it definitely didn't disappoint!

Europe Day 2: Germany and Austria

Our second day was an interesting one.  We got up early and took a long subway ride with all of our luggage to pick up our rental car.  We grabbed drinks and croissants at a gas station, figured out how to change the car's GPS to English (well, James did) and hit the Autobahn south toward Austria. 

We drove for several hours on the "Alpine Road" just looking at all of the gorgeous scenery.  I really didn't expect every town to look like a postcard, but they were all picture-perfect.  We stopped and did some shopping at Oberammergau and I finally got a "smoking man" that I've wanted forever.  Dad got one of the famous wood carvings and James got a Tyrolean hat to wear for our future Oktoberfest parties.  I can see why it is such a popular stop for tourists--the setting, the buildings, the entire town was beautiful!

Next, we drove by Neuschwanstein on our way to the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road.  We started at the information center/cheese warehouse where we sampled a few cheeses and watched a short film about cheese making in the area.  Local farmers produce cheeses and then send them to the cheese cellar where they are aged.  

Next, we drove by the Bodensee and then through a bit of the Black Forest before heading to Freiburg for the night.  This was the only night of the trip that we hadn't made hotel reservations for (we had originally intended to go to Switzerland, but decided not to shortly before leaving the U.S) and we know now that we won't do that next time!  The evening was mostly a mess from then on...

1.  We attempted to find Wifi so we could look for hotels, but after about an hour search and a worthless (without a German phone number) trip to McDonald's, we gave up--but at least I got to try the Curry Chicken sandwich I'd been wondering about...and it was delicious!!

2.  We then drove around until we found a hotel with two rooms--170 Euros each!

3.  ...And one was a smoking room.

4.  It took nearly an hour to find a parking place, and we ended up being almost a mile away from the hotel and had to drag our luggage down dark, cobblestone streets to get back.

5.  We still hadn't eaten supper (at 10:30 pm) so we walked to the nearest (not very!!) restaurants, just to find out they all closed at 11 pm...

At this point, James ate the $8 minibar chips and beer and we hoped for a better day the next day! :)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Europe 2014: Day 1 (Munich)

Better late than never, I hope!

Last month, James, my parents, and I visited Europe for about two weeks.  We packed A LOT into our time, so I'll split my posts up by day.  I had originally intended to split up by country, but there was so much to write about my first day alone that I've decided to do it this way. :)

We took a flight from Little Rock to Charlotte (with P. Allen Smith and his crew!!!) and barely caught our flight (literally, the whole family running through the airport with our two-weeks of stuff crammed into a carry-on each) to Philadelphia before barely catching our flight to Munich.  

When we got to Munich (about 9 am), we didn't want to waste a second since it was our only day in the city.  We got a taxi ride to our hotel and after a little bit of confusion actually getting there (the hotel was on a pedestrian-only street) we were lucky that one of our rooms was already ready.  (Our hotel, Hotel am Markt, was cute, comfortable, affordable, and in a great location.  I highly recommend it!)  We dropped off our bags, freshened up, and hit the road!

James and Dad split off to explore the market near our hotel and Mom and I went directly to the Marienplatz to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel do its thing at noon.  (I didn't get a great photo of it, but it's a huge cuckoo clock!)

Immediately after that, Mom and I took the subway out of town and then grabbed a bus to get to Dachau Concentration Camp.  The weather was appropriately gloomy.  

My family had been when I was a baby, so I of course didn't remember it, but Mom did.  In fact, Mom remembers seeing a lot of different camps, but this was the first one I had seen as an adult.  I've always been fascinated by the Holocaust and it was a strange feeling actually being there.  It is difficult to describe, really.  I expected it to affect me, but it was even more moving than I had prepared for.   There were so many empty foundations from where barracks had been and one even had reconstructed bunk beds--it is amazing just how many people were crammed in (it was at more than quadruple its intended capacity at its most crowded).  There was a photo from 1933 showing the newly-constructed camp and I was surprised at how the trees weren't all that large now.  The holocaust seems like such a long time ago, but visiting the camp made it seem so real to me and like such a recent part of history.

We had made plans to meet the guys at the hotel after that, but when we got there we discovered that they had both fallen asleep and locked us out of our rooms!  (Each room only had one key that was kept at the front desk while we were away).  We gave them a break since they both had aisle seats right by the restrooms on the 8-hour flight...and headed to the market near our hotel for a pretzel.  I also got a MezzoMix, a fantastic cola-orange soda. :)  We tried to get the guys up at this point, but didn't have any luck.

So, Mom and I decided we'd wander around the Marien Platz until the guys' second "wake-up call."  We did some souvenir shopping (a dirndl-clad stuffed bear for Natalie and a Bavarian table topper for me to use at Oktoberfest!) and spent quite a bit of time in the local department store--the cosmetics and perfume section was heaven!

We went back to the market for dinner (we'd basically given up on the guys at this point!) and shared brats, cabbage, potato salad, and beer at the bier garten.  It was perfect!!  (I had been dying to eat here from the second we stepped out of our taxi--how is it possible for a city to smell soooo good?)  We sat at picnic tables watching the locals while blooms were falling from all of the surrounding trees.  Gorgeous.  I could have stayed there forever.

By this time, Mom and I were tired and went back to the hotel to take showers and get to bed early...just in time for the guys to get up, of course!  We all got dressed and headed to the Hofbrauhaus about 9 pm.  It really was as much fun as my Dad had been telling us!  I got (yes, another--it was Germany!) pretzel as well as apple strudel and a whole liter of the Hofbrau dunkel.  The beer was fabulous, but it definitely took a conscious effort to finish the entire stein.  The good thing about going that late (and on a week night) was that it was mostly locals.  We sang some of the songs and clinked mugs and were lucky enough that the band played an up-close-and-personal "happy birthday" set for a girl at the table next to us!  I'm so glad we got to go--and I can't wait to visit again!  (Just look at that strudel!--Sorry for the blurry photo, but it was dark in there.)

I really, really loved Germany.  The mix of old and new was so interesting and foreign to me.  There were modern town houses with little lace curtains in the windows and old homes with roofs covered in solar panels.  It is hard to explain a lot of it, but the look was right up my alley and really made me envy the lifestyle.  Americans want everything new and perfect, but the combination of that with the old is just perfect to me.  I think the OCD part of me loves the idea of embracing the imperfect.

Also, did you know that German subway trains have a button you press to open the doors at your stop?  And that big "2" painted on the side of the trains...that doesn't necessarily mean it's line 2, but more likely second class.  We learned that the hard way! Ha!  :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Touring P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm

A few weekends ago, my mom, aunt, Nana, and I toured P. Allen Smith's Moss Mountain Farm just outside of Little Rock.  We started the day with a quick introduction from Allen before making our way to the gift shop for browsing and book signing.

I've been a huge fan of Allen's for a while now and I'm always recording his shows and stalking his Instagram, so it was a thrill to meet him!

Then, back to the main home for the indoor part of the tour.  The home was built to look old, but is actually only a few years old.  The bricks were made in wooden molds and given a limestone wash that ages beautifully.

 It's hard to see in this photo, but the porch ceiling was haint blue.  I loved the unexpected color of these traditional chairs, too--more coral than they appear in this photo.

We started the home tour in the living room.  That large painting on the right wall was my favorite piece--and Allen painted it!  I had no idea that he was an artist, but he had lots of his art (including the two fruit drawings on the back wall) around the farm.  I'm still trying to find the perfect place in my house for some of his art that was for sale in the gift shop.

Here's a (somewhat) better view:

I am crazy about these sides table, too.  (Its match was on the other end of the couch).

And look at this hidden china cabinet!

On to the kitchen.

I love the large island and the brightness and cleanliness of it.

And the den off the kitchen...

And the "slumber party room" on the attic level.

This space must be so much fun for his nieces and nephews.

I love that bright green couch with aqua piping...and I have a wing chair waiting to be recovered! :)

Back down to the middle level and this beautiful purple bedroom.  I wish my photos were better, because these walls were the most gorgeous pale lavender!  (I wonder if Allen painted that piece above the bed??)

This basketweave tile in this bathroom is beautiful.  

And on to my very favorite place...the sleeping porch.  It even has a copper tub!  And check out that view of the Arkansas River back there!  I'm in love.

I wonder if he needs a housekeeper?  I'd be happy to live out here as payment! :) 

After the home tour, we headed to the "barn" for lunch.

 We had a salad with chicken followed by an absolutely delicious buttermilk pecan pie.  Both recipes were from his cookbook Seasonal Recipes from the Garden.

And after lunch, we roamed around the rest of the farm.

A view of the back of the house.

 Check out that little cut-out in the hedges so you can see the river while you dine outside.  Perfection.

And on to the "summer kitchen."

 I can't imagine anything more peaceful than a summer night bonfire out here.

And the 1,600-square-foot "next generation garden home" built in 150 days for (almost) $150,000.  Allen's brother and sister-in-law live there now.

Love these former cotton-wagons-turned-turkey-houses.

And the enormous and beautiful chicken house!

 And finally, we headed over to the rose garden.  Unfortunately, the roses weren't in bloom when we were there.

But the garden was still beautiful!

And how precious is this Parthenon-inspired chicken house for the Silkies?  

They were just getting Spring planting started, so Mom and I have already made plans to attend again in the Fall. :)  If you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it!