Wednesday, September 23, 2009
So about the trip we took..here are some recollections to go along with the photos...
We started out travelling to Gisi's home town of Ehingen, a Schwäbian town about 3 hours from here in Freiburg. It is on the left bank of the Donau river, which further east becomes the Danube. She had to arrange for the local florist gardener to maintain her parents grave, go see her banker at the Sparkässe, and see her car dealer to see if he would be interested in selling her Barchetta. We also visited the Cemetary to say goodbye for now. After completeing these tasks, we set out for the Bodensee, to the town of Unteruhldingen on the main body of the lake. It is a busy resort area in the summer and quite a beautiful lake. We stayed at an older hotel, the Seerose, just across the street from the lakeshore. We were in walking distance of the marina and lake front park, and there are plenty of hotels and restaurants nearby. It was very relaxing, and after a local seafood dinner, we watched the sunset over the lake. We could see the Swiss Alps in the distance to the south, and were excited knowing we were going to be in the midst of them in the coming days. The folowing day we rented bikes and first rode to the famous church at Birnau, and then to the town of Meersburg. It was a gorgeous morning and we really enjoyed the ride in the bright sunshine. Later that day we went to Steißlingen to visit with some of Gisi's relatives. First we went to see Tante Irmgard who is in her 70's, and is Gisi's aunt. She was really lovely, we had coffee and cakes at her house. She was very happy that we were married, and I think she liked me. Of course, most of the older folks don't speak English, so I have to trust Gisi's interpratation ;-). After an emotional farewell, we went to see her godmother, also Gisi, and her family. They wanted to take us out to dinner to celebrate our marriage. We went to a lovely Italian resturant on the shore of the lake and had a great time and dinner. In addition to Gisi and her husband Franz, we were joined by another cousin Berthold, and godmother Gisi's son Ralf, along with his daughter and step daughter. It was really great to meet Gisi's family and everyone was to nice..they seemed really happy to see Gisi and were excited for her new plans. Of course we invited them to come visit New York, and I hope they do. Not many of them have been to the states, so it would be fun and I would love to give them a tour of our home town.
The next morning we started out for Lake Como...about a 4 hour drive. We took some time longer as we were in no rush and the journey itself was so beautiful and part of the reason we chose our route. The plan was to drive through some of the highest Alp regions in Switzerland, Italy and France. It's a fairly easy route, and it took us through so many spectacular vistas...so the drive was really part of the fun. Especially with the great weather and the top down! Just perfect.
We started out along the lake, a chilly morning. Soon we were in Bavaria for a short while, around Lindau. We were then in Austria, again for a short while. We stopped in Bregenz for a break and a snack. We got back on the Autobahn and were quickly in Switzerland. Now we started to really see the Alps ahead. After a while we took an exit to see the town of Vaduz in Lichtenstein. Well it was right there, so I had to go see it! We didn't really stay long, took a few pictures and got back on the road. Our next stop was Heidiland, in Switzerland. We stopped here to buy some lunch supplies in anticipation of getting up on the San Bernadino Pass, a good rest point to take in the beauty of the high peaks. Ok, so thats four countries we were in, and it wasn't quite noon yet.
We drove on in the foothills and valleys of the Swiss Alps, noticing it was quite industrial, and not very pretty. That soon changed as we got up higher in altitude and approached the Entrance to the San Bernadino tunnell, a quicker way to get to Italy, as opposed to climbing over the pass. We were going over the pass. The route from there on was a small two lane road, not very wide, and really steep with many switchback turns..and awesome views. There was hardly any other traffic which really made it enjoyable and we were able to enjoy the road at our own pace. Mostly we encountered motercycles, that is a big thing here. Bikers every weekend set out to cross mountain passes, just for the thrill of the ride.
We made it to San Bernadino about 1pm, so we stopped and had lunch in the sunshine and clear air, at about 7000ft above sea level. We hung out for about an hour, walked around a bit, checked out the sights...then for the ride downhill...towards Lugano, and eventually Lake Como. It was a long descent, but going down is always faster. We passed through some gorgeous valleys and the afternoon light looked so pretty on the mountainside. As we got towards Lugano, traffic increased and we could see we were heading back into populated areas, suburbs and towns. It wouldn't be long before we were in Como. So although we were still in Switzerland, it was very Italian sounding..the names of the towns (Bellinzona, Cadenazzo) and such. We've been to several areas in Switzerland and it amazes me how different they are. In the western part, next to France..it is French speaking..north, east and central are German speaking, or at least a dialect of German. And at the Italian border areas (Ticino) in the south, an Italian dialect is spoken. It is a really beautiful country, and it's been so much fun visiting the different parts of it. But is tends to be very expensive (except for gasoline, go figure)..restaurants are exorbitant in my experiance. And they don't use the Euro. So we end up with Swiss Francs in our pocket. But now we are quickly approaching the Italian border. Next stop..Lago di Como. See the photos here.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Food..That's what's on my mind right now. Why? Because we just got back from 8 days travelling through some of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, with fantastic weather, and we had such amazing food along the way. And since I no longer drink or smoke, I need to obsess about something! Gimme a break here.
OK, we are back, but that didn't stop us from still continuing to enjoy our trip. We just had dinner..4 cheeses from France, 2 from Italy, some Pate´, Saucisson l'ail, Chorizo..all from France...a baguette, a cereal batard and a Savoyard tart with potato, onions, cheese and lardon. Yes from France. And Mustard...from France. See where this is going?
The French have amazing food. Like you didn't already know that. But I mean really..we didn't have a thing I wouldn't have again or highly recommend. The variety and quality of all their products is just astounding. Simple things..like onions, bread, butter. Here's what we had tonight.....
A Bleu de Bresse, a Goat cheese with olive, an unpastureised Brie, and another Goat (not sure of the type, could be a St Marcellin goat?), from the Alain Hess shop in Beaune, and a Fontina d'aosta and a Stavechhia from Aosta, Italy (see photo). Each one a wonder of flavor and scent..just out of this world. And the sausages and pate, not expensive or fancy, just solid, good, quality food. I love this stuff.
And the Savoy tart..here's what we learned in the Haute-Savoie...they meld potato, cheese (Reblochon), onions and Smoked ham or lardon together really well. The invented a dish with it 25 years or so ago, Tartiflette...., it's served throughout the region. And then they also put it on some dough and bake it altogether, so you can eat it anytime..hot or cold..just heaven! Say whatever you want about the French, and they are rude drivers from my experiance (but that's another story) (Hmmm, maybe it was the German liscense plate!).. they have some of the best food in the world and you can't take that away from them. I could go on..but you get the idea...
As for the Italians..well another awesome foodscape..especially if you're fortunate enough to eat home cooked, locally sourced foods, as we were able to do at the Agriturismo we stayed at. Along the way, we bought some great cheeses, and local hams..Jamon de Bosses from the Alps, Parma Prociutto of course, Smoked speck from Aosta, mortadella. Mmmmmm!! We had some wonderful roadside lunches along the way in the mountains. Actually they could have been better...if we had some REAL BREAD!! What the fuck's up with that? I was in northern Italy before, in the same Aosta valley almost 20 years ago, skiing. And the one thing I remember is how the bread sucked. And apparently it hasn't changed. I totally don't understand this. The bread is white as could be, soft, pillowy..the crust is not dense or chewy...just really bad. In France you can't get bad bread if you tried, the lowliest super marche has awesome baguettes. In Germany, the whole grain breads are unequalled. I've not been to southern Italy, but I can only assume from my Sicilian heritage and neighborhood bakeries in NYC that they know how to make bread. But why not the north??...I want answers!!! (Christian De Matteo..help me here)
Ok Back to the Agriturismo...in Lago di Como. Al Marnich, up in the hills of Schignano..a few kilometers from the lake. Now this is a great idea. I know ..I'm slow..but this is the way to vacation. It was secluded, quiet..nature all around. And they grow the food you eat there on the property. Or at least most of it. It is all local. We ate in small dining rooms, family style, met some great people that way too. Check this out..over the course of two nights this is what we ate....Bresaola with Radicchio and shaved Parmigiano, and olive oil (spectacular olive oil)...Farm made goat and cow cheese plate with incredible honey, raspberry jam and walnuts....Gnocchi wih tomato, zuchhini, pepper and eggplant....Pizza with rucola, onion, goat cheese....Tagliatelle con ragu di mano....Greek salad....Involtini di mano, a beef roulade stuffed with egg, stewed in tomatoes and vegtables...panna cotta with berries...all fatta in casa, home made. And get this..two apps, two entree, 2 espresso, a bottle of mineral water, Gisi had wine and a dessert for me..40€.. under $60.00 US. I was blown away by the quality of the food and service.
Dinners in France? Yes, we had a few. Again, inexpensive bistro menus..but real good stuff. How 'bout this...Tete de Veau (veal head, look it up..classic, and very good)..Bresse chicken...Charollais cote de bouef with frites..salade with Bresse Jambon, lardon, eggs, tomato...Charcoutrie Savoyard...Saucisson Beaujolais...Salade with Steak and Crevette (surf n turf!), escargots, creme caramel...oohhhh! So good. We had a small bistro near us in Bresse, Le Cochon Rouge, that had 3 course menu under 20€! Or a brasserie in Annemasse, in Haute-Savoie..same deal. Oh and the onions in the salad..like you never had. We were surrounded by onion and leek fields in Bresse, so that must be why. Real oniony flavor but no bite or acidity..mellow and good. And the salad dressings..perfection. I know it sound so simple, but you really notice the difference. At least we did. And I haven't covered dessert and pastry!!!!!! Oh my. And the best pears we ever had at a roadside stand near Martigny, Switzerland....and on and on....
I will be back for more. This has been a wonderful week. And it can be done very inexpensively. I'll explain that and write about some of our other experiances later. Getting tired. Photos to come. Meanwhile, we will remember some great food and sleep with dreams of days to come.
Friday, September 4, 2009
We are here two weeks already, and theres been a lot of work done and more to go. This is certainly not like my other times here. It is emotionally draining at times for both of us, more so for Gisi. Anyone who has moved from their home..apartment, state, city, country..knows the feeling. I can't imagine what it would like to be leaving the country I was born in. It takes a lot of courage, and I give Gisi a lot of credit to be able to do this. But we will get through this, and we will return to visit, of course. Meanwhile, some prayers would be good. I am doing a lot of that these days. But on to the fun bits....
We have done some local exploring which has been a lot of fun. Several trips into the Black Forest, we explored some areas we had not been to before and revisited some we had. We had some great days on the Kandel, driving through Freiamt (photos), Waldkirch and St. Peter. We hung out with Gisi's friend Brigitte, she Paraglides and introduced us to some other gliders and took us to the top of a mountain where they fly from (photos here). We drove south through the Markgräflerland, rolling hills and farms along the Rhine valley, to Weil am Rhein. This is at the border of France, Switzerland and Germany. We had a great picnic on the Batzenberg, a small mount cultivated with vineyards. We went grocery shopping in Alsace. (photos) Last night we went to a Straussi, which is a small restaurant on a farm. There are many around the area. They usually have a small, local menu of regional dishes, and local wines...as most are vineyards also. Amazingly inexpensive, and lovely in a farm setting. Real homecooked food, simple and unpretentious. And of course we spent some time walking around the city of Freiburg, going to the market (photos) and running errands in preparation of the move.
We are planning a small road trip now. On Monday we will be going to Ehingen, Gisi's home town, to visit her parents grave and make arrangements for someone to take care of it. The cemetaries and graves here are very well taken care of, and never overgrown or neglected. They are quite beutiful, and I'll have photos from this trip. After that, we go to Seißlingen (That is not a B, it is a double s, scharfes s, as in Steisslingen), to visit Gisi's godmother Gisi, her cousin Berthold, and her Tant Irmgard. They live near the Lake of Constance, or Bodensee, so we will spend some time checking out that area. It is quite beautiful, at the southern border with Switzerland..we spent a few days there last summer. After that, we drive through Switzerland and Lichtenstein, to the north of Italy and Lago di Como, just north of Milan. I've heard from many sources how spectacular the beauty of nature is there, and can't wait to be there ourselves. Our friends Wallis and Christian were there in July and gave us a great reccomendation of a restaurant in Bellaggio. We are staying on an agriturismo farm 8km from the lake in the hills. We spend 2 nights there and hen move on to the Aosta valley at the base of some of the highest mountains in the Alps. We will be close by the Matterhorn in Switzerland and Mount Blanc in France. In 1990, I skied at Breuil Cervina near the Maatterhorn...it will be interesting to revisit. And I look forward to maybe being able to go up Mt. Blanc this time (if the cable cars are running, of course). We just make a pit stop there for a night before driving into France, into the foothills of the Alps around Annecy. There is a beautiful lake there and it's an area we've not seen. We will then move into Burgundy for a trip up the Route du Vin, through all the major Burgundy wine growing appelations. We drove through last summer and it was gorgeous, hope to visit some areas we missed. From there, we head a lttle further north to Dijon where we will buy all the moutarde we can! Back to Freiburg after that for the final 2 weeks, and finishing up the packing, etc. Check out some more photos here. And here's a link to a Straussi.
Will try to post from our trip, but not sure about connections and such...Tschuss!