Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” this iconic opening theme from the the beloved children’s show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood aptly describes my birthday spent in our Bregenz “backyard.” It was a weekend filled with art, music, delicous food, and nature’s beauty that can only be found nestled in “our neck of the Rhine Valley.” On Friday Franz and I began our weekend quest with a visit to a museum that I had long wanted to see in the Bregenzerwald called the Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg. The gallery holds an extraordinary collection of the traditional dress of the Bregenzerwald and highlights the involved process entailed in the making of the intricate textile and clothing as well as the culture of this fairytale region. I am now a big fan of this special little museum.
The August heat was a gift for the farmers fields of corn and hay but I slowly wilted under the suns relentless rays. We sought refuge in a nearby water gorge near Krumbach that was invitingly cool and a much welcomed respite from the rising temperatures. And what a find it was. Small and stylish. At the bottom of the ravine we were enchanted to come upon a site specific art piece that was installed using fishing line to weave patterns in and out of the tree trunks. The filtered light peeked through the overhead canopy and highlighted the repeating strands that created a magical mood. After our short jaunt we sauntered over to a gemütlich (homey) restaurant, the Krumbacher Stuba, intending to have a light salad but after eyeing the specialty of the region, a cheese Kässpätzle, we just had to have that. When in the Bregenzerwald one has to do as the locals do.
Green pastures with languid cows grazing along the KäseStrasse (cheese street) graced the road leading back to Bregenz. Our next stop was the Vorarlberg Museum to view another exhibition that had been on my list titled Wacker im Krieg or Wacker at War. Rudolf Wacker (1893-1939) was a well known local artist who documented his life in Bregenz and his experience in and after WWII. I found the show compelling and it was touching as it paralled the accounts of the war and prison camp life that I had heard from several men of that generation who had also served in the conflict. I highly recommend it.
The sailboats rocked gently as the halyards clinked against the masts and the seagrass tickled our feet. The orange orb in the sky was setting on our eventful day as we floated in the refreshing Bodensee waters in nearby Hard. Revitalized we sought out the waterside Italian restaurant of Ristorante Margarita sul Lago where we met a close friend and enjoyed a tasty tuna fish carpaccio and a favorite Truffle pasta dish. Franz, food, and a friend. A perfect ending for a perfect birthday.
My Breitachklamm Birthday Weekend Continues…
“It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine?…” these sweet lyrics to the beloved show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood kept coming to mind as we continued our weekend excursions in the “hood.” We woke up to another sunny Saturday and got an early start on another wooded “schlucht sucht” or gorge search. Our itinerary for the day took us across the border to Southern Germany in the Kleinwalstertal to one of the deepest water gorges in the Bavarian Alps and in Central Europe called the Breitachklamm. The magnificent gorge had been carved out by the Breitach glacier for a mere 10,000 years! It had been some time since I had last visited and I looked forward to marveling again at the wild waters that flow and swirl down the Eigenkopf rock faces sculpting the stone into elegant formations. As I took in the grandeur of mother natures work the words of the song came to me again “I have always wanted to have a neighborhood just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you…”
20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland
“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day…” crooned Mr. Roger’s and that we did as we took in the beauty of Buddah on the shores of Lake Constance. Siddhārtha sat with his eyes closed and lips curved upwards bringing a wide smile to his calm face. His clasped hands gently held a sleeping cat nestled on his ample belly. The serene bodhisattva crafted by a team from Russia had taken first prize at the 20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland. And what a sensitive portrayal it was. As were all the other entrants hailing from many countries of the world. The theme of the 2018 competition was “All You Need Is Love” and it was a much needed balm for our troubled times. It was a relaxing Sunday afternoon admiring the talented vision that took the unassuming medium of sand to create such superb works of art.
Our day was still not done. The evening brought both culinary and musical delights as we dined at my favorite restaurant in Bregenz, Chen’s, where we indulged in Asian fish specialities paired with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc courtesy of our lovely friend Maureen. For dessert we enjoyed an evening of opera with the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra serving up Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Bregenzer Festspiele on Lake Constance. The opera was an extravaganza filled with “diamonds, death, and spades!” and the superlative performers and stunning floating stage were truly magnifcent. What a beautiful birthday weekend in the neighborhood!
The cool autumn air held a promise of some afternoon warmth as the cable car ascended the 2000m Diedamskopf mountain in Schoppernau, Austria. Franz and I had come to enjoy the impressive scenery of the neighboring peaks and catch the waning days of the hiking season. Despite the chilly temperatures we enjoyed a local brass band with our lunch and the temperature did somewhat warm up. The panoramic views were stunning, the music did not disappoint, and our day could not have been better.
Strolling along the River Douro on a balmy September evening one could almost inhale the feeling of Porto, Portugal. The royal blue sky framed the darkened slopes that met at the water’s edge. The star of the scene was the silhouette of the Dom Luis Bridge with its sparkling lights glimmering off the midnight blue water. This moment in time could not have gotten any better. Then it did. Because the real star, or satellite, of the show made its dramatic entrance. The gleaming full moon in all its lunar glory rose over the architecture and illuminated the landscape below. One could not helped being enthralled by the magnificence of the heavens as man has been since the beginning of time. This is the image of Porto that I have perched so elegantly on the banks of the Douro.
The evening began as stellar as it had ended. We started out on a dinner quest by hailing a river taxi to the opposite bank in the Afurada neighborhood that just oozed Portguese authenticity. Children played in the streets while the old people watched from the sidewalks and friends called out greetings to each other making for a vibrant street life. We found our restaurant destination the Casa do FC Porto na Afurada that came highly recommended by our host. The eatery is a local’s spot and known for serving up some of the best grilled fish and it’s also the choice for the avid soccer club fans of FC Porto. And do these fans eat well. The fresh seafood was prepared on the barbecue right in front of the restaurant and the combination of the old Porto vibe and succulent food made for a most memorable meal.
The influence that the Catholic church had and still does is quite apparent throughout the city. Within the historic center the must see sights abound such as the the Sào Francisco Church (1383) with its striking Gothic architecture and its dramatic Baroque interior. Other religious sites we took in were the soaring 75 meter Clèrigos Tower that’s hard to miss on the skyline. And situated on the opposite bank in Gaia perches the 16th century Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar whose church and cloisters display a circular columned design that is unique in Portugal. We also took a tour which offered us insight not only into the monastery as a religious institution but to its defensive importance due to its geographic situation that was and still is used by the military.
The nature of the city is expressed in its humble fishing and working boats that possess great character despite their peeling paint and are moored by frayed lines strewn with brown kelp along the river estuary. The worn watercraft lean beached among the algae rocks and lobster cages when the tidal action lays bare the debris from the working harbor. And the pungent air reeks of decaying fish and the natural smells of the ocean. Birds of all kinds forage in the shallow waters where it flows out to the Atlantic Ocean . The aging fleet is as colorful as the people who work at the water’s edge whose lives revolve around the harvesting of the oceans bounty and the transportation of the all important Port wine. The most recognizable of the watercraft is the traditional Portuguese wooden Rabelo boat. This elegant yet durable boat was used for centuries to transport people and goods along the Duoro River. But by far its most precious cargo was the product of what this city was named for its delicious Port wine.
The young artist sported a jaunty beret and focused intently on his street mural. His concrete canvas displayed an array of bright colors and geometric shapes that swirled as if in motion. The composition literally caught the eye in that it featured a prominent eye peering out from the lower half of his work. Franz and “eye” sat at the nearby sidewalk cafe sipping our morning coffee enjoying his creative process. We had come to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary in the charming city of Besançon, France and to partake in its culinary delights and sights.
Besançon lies near the Jura Mountains on the border of Switzerland in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comte. The city is the capital of Doubs and has long been of strategic importance dating to 58 BC when it was first mentioned in the writings of Julius Caesar’s Commentari de Bello Gallico. Its name has Celtic origins and today it has been called “the first green city of France” and is lauded as a “Town of Art and of History.” I would only add AND delicious food to this illustrious title. Green spaces and sculptural art made from fine materials to found objects meld the modern with the past within the inner city. Historic architecture adorns the lively district and at its heart presides its crowning glory the Citadel of Besançon which is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Citadel and its fortifications occupy a commanding position on the Mont Saint Ètienne and at its feet the emerald Doubs River meanders in a horseshoe course through the forested valley below. The fortress historically has served an important military function for the area and deservedly is Besançon’s top tourist destination. We wiled away many hours exploring the 11 hectares site whose paths wind through natural landscape and tended gardens making for a pleasureable walk up to its walls. A moat surrounds the citadel and baboons frolic and groom themselves in the enclosed area. The compound also holds a natural history museum and zoo the La Citadell de Besançon that boasts a collection of 400 animals from 70 species in and around the stronghold’s walls. There are also two other museums of note on the grounds. One is the Museum of the Comte Franche region that focuses on the Citadel and its architectural history and has a captivating multimedia presentation that brings the past to life. The second is the Musee de la Resistance et de la Desportation whose exhibitions relay the heroic yet sobering regional history of the French Resistance during WWII and is a must see for WWII history buffs.
As the afternoon waned we strolled down the Mont Saint Ètienne to the iconic Porte Noire triumphal arch that leads to the entrance of the Cathedral of Saint John of Besançon. The 11th century Romanesque church exudes a massive quality but once inside the elegant arches and soaring ceilings blend together creating a harmonious whole. As we admired the interior space the afternoon sun lit the stained glass windows bathing the nave with a glowing brillance. It was illuminating.
Passing time in the pious place we sauntered onto the impressive Astronomical Clock of the Besançon Cathedral. Intricate pendulums, weights, and a plethora of moving parts that record not only time but dates, leap years, moon and tide cycles. It even records an event that happens once every 250 years! It has been described as “one of the most complicated horological devices in the world.” The craftsmanship of this stellar time piece stands as a testament to Besançon’s past reputation as the French clockmaking and watch capital. It counters the adage “Clock watchers never seem to be having a good time” because this converted clock watcher sure did.
Time to talk about food (one of my favorite subjects). You know a restaurant is good is when you visit it two nights in a row. And we did just that at the Le Poker d’As where we celebrated our anniversary and reveled in its classic French menu. The inviting place is family run and situated away from the main tourist eateries and during our visits we seemed to be the only non locals in the place. The first night we enjoyed the aspargus soup and goose pate for starters followed by curry chicken and veal and ended our meal with a variation of desserts artfully decorated with an anniversary greeting. The second night we came back for the Coq au vin and ended with the creamiest of creme broulée. Both nights we paired our dishes with champagne and wines from Burgundy. Exceptional food and wine is what brought us to Besançon and its charm and culture will certainly beckon us again and again.
A shout and a blurred flash sped past as a suited man atop his bicycle stopped me in my tracks as I stepped off the sidewalk without bothering to look out for the whizzing wonders. Not a good move. One simply cannot escape the hordes of bikers who do in fact own the streets of Amsterdam. After several near misses I trained myself to be on the lookout for the two wheelers, whether racing or leisurely pedaling down the avenues. I came across one lovely cruiser as a woman rode past singing opera alongside the canals and bridges in the fading evening light. Such is Amsterdam. Cultured yet gritty a bit like the Rijksmuseum and the red light district. It is a city of many facets, flowers, fabulous food, and friendly folks.
And did I mention food? (my favorite subject of course) In this department Amsterdam does not disappoint. After a long day we opted for a local eatery and our expectation were not high. But were we surprised. Strolling our Jordan district neighborhood we happened upon the Noordwest. The place was stylish but informal and had we not made a reservation for the following night I would have happily returned. I chose a tender baked Dover Sole with almonds in a creamy beurre sauce and Franz inhaled a succulent duck breast with a beetroot macadamia jus. The service was friendly and the food was fresh. What a find!
The next evening we ventured out farther afield to the restaurant Chez Georges that had lured us by its cozy French interior and tempting menu. For starters I began with scallops in a hollandaise sauce and a goose liver tureen followed by our main course of succulent lamb with a duxelle of mushroom, nuts, and herbs. Franz opted for the five course menu of wild duck with venison, followed by a rabbit ratatouille, stuffed guinea fowl, and a venison steak with a cognac chestnut sauce. And naturally our meal was accompanied by a rich Burgundy wine. Dessert was a creme brulé and a Chez Georges speciality. The chef definitely lived up to the review’s expectations. It was a euro well spent for an intimate dining experience.
One never tires of Amsterdam but beyond the requisite tours to the Van Gogh, the Rijksmuseum, and the Anne Frank House there is so much more to explore. One museum that had been on my list was the stunning EYE Film Museum. The museum graces the north bank waterfront with striking silhouette. Designed by the the prestigious Delugan Meissi architects the masterpiece houses a collection that boasts 37,000 film titles, 60,000 posters, 700,000 photographs, and 20,000 books. Just experiencing the interior itself is “eye opening” and if only for that its worth a visit. During our tour we viewed the film The Other Side of Hope and it was just one outstanding example of the works represented in their cutting edge collection. The story delved into the paths of Syrian refugees and a Finnish travelling salesman who cross in Kaurismäki’s latest deadpan work. This EYE is defintely worth a visit and I will surely be back to enjoy this architectural gem that graces the exquisite Netherlandish waterfront.
A light rain was falling and tiny droplets of water reflected light from the delicate petals of the rows upon rows of tulips that adorned the spectacular gardens. I was in floral heaven. Tulips of every color, variety, shape, and smell assailed my senses and this former florist was happy as a daisy for I was visiting the 2017 Keukenhof Flower Show just outside Amsterdam, Holland. I thought I had seen many kinds of tulips in my day but I was just a beginner. The show boasts over 7 million tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths and covers 32 hectares just bursting with beautiful blooms. My late seasonal visit combined with the weather turned out to be perfect due to the wet conditions that deterred visitors and I was lucky to have had such solitude for hours as the gardens remained quiet and crowd free.
The inspiration and theme for Keukenhof 2017 was Dutch design. Floral masterpieces were recreated throughout the grounds in the numerous pavillons, historical gardens, and most spectacularly in the inspirational gardens. Famous Dutch works such as Mondrian’s De Stijl abstracts in red, blue, and white and Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring in blue and white including Delftware pottery were brought to life in this artistic celebration of spring. What a glorious way to spend a day and this is one floral extravaganza that I will most certainly be back again to experience.
The Tranquility of the Hortus Botanicus Garden Amsterdam, Holland
The oasis of floral beauty was balm to my soul as I meandered through the quiet paths of the Hortus Botanicus Gardens in Amsterdam. One simply forgets that the busy Platage district is just outside this relaxing refuge. Nurtured within its walls is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world dating from 1638 and holds over 4000 plant species including historical elements, speciality greenhouses, and a fantastic butterfly greenhouse. Although the garden covers only 1.2 ha it holds a diverse collection from all the continents and from seven different climate zones. The collection is “scientifically curated” and boasts a medicinal herb garden cultivated since 1638 and other “special plant groupings such as cycads, South African plants, palms, conservatory plants, Fuchsia, and carnivorous plants.” The crowning glory of the collection is the Eastern Cape giant cycad that is over 300 years old and is simply enormous. The de hortus Garden is one small but mighty jewel that is a must see for any gardener or admirer alike.
Joy to the world
It’s Christmas time
Let earth receive its blessings!
Christmas was in the air with the scents of freshly baked gingerbread, spiced cider, and sizzling sausages as I strolled the Christmas market of the 2000 year old city of Kempten, Germany. Seasonal decorations adorned the shops and walkways and there were plenty of visitors enjoying the festive mood despite the low December temperatures. But anticipating the cold we were bundled up for an afternoon of exploring the inner city of the capital of the oldest “urban settlement” in Germany.
Kempten is located in Southwest Germany in the Allgäu region of Schwabia along the Iller River. It is about an hour’s drive away from Bregenz. And it has a glorious history boasting both Celtic and Roman roots and was first mentioned by the Greek geographer Strabon in 50 BC by its former name Cambodunum. Around 700 AD the monastery Kempten Abbey was built by the influential Benedictine monks Magnus von Füssen and Theodor from the Abbey of Saint Gall in nearby Switzerland. It was the first in the region and grew to be the most influential in the Frankish Kingdom. The church unfortunately suffered from invasion by the Magyars and the Thirty Years War and had to be rebuilt in 1652 becoming the new St. Lorenz Basilica. The highlights in the city include the Archaeological Park Cambodunum and the interactive underground chapel called the Erasmuskapelle.
The Christmas market served up all of the usual holiday fare such as Flammkuchen, a sort of Alsatian Pizza and many varieties of sausages. Even better for us they had a gourmet section as well where the local cooking school served up gourmet goodies such as duck with red cabbage laced with chocolate. We toasted yuletide greetings with glasses of sparkling Prosecco and had a dessert of Kaiserschmarren, which is a sweet pancake like dish served with plum compote and topped with powdered sugar. Super yummy! What a lovely way to wait for Christmas Day.