Merry Christmas!

Like a fairy-tale forest

I’ve woken up to yet another day of freezing fog here in Germany. Everything outside has that just-arrived-in-Narnia look. Snowy white frost decorates the tree limbs and turns them into something magical. But along with the magic comes the loss of the lovely view from our bedroom balcony. Everything looks like it’s encased in a hazy bubble where the horizon has vanished and been replaced with a white void that appears to go on forever. This seems to happen every winter here. And what gets me through it, you might ask? German Christmas markets! Germany has a long tradition of setting up Christmas markets in towns and cities throughout the country. It is one of my favorite things during this season.

Lilies (symbol of Wiesbaden) hover over the market

Nobody does Christmas quite like the Germans. Christmas markets seem to pop up in just about every town that has more than 15 residents. Shoppers bustle about, looking for that one-of-a-kind gift or decoration. Most of the markets run for about a month, starting in late November and ending just before Christmas. The dizzying smells will immediately make your mouth water and your stomach growl for a bratwurst that has been roasting on a metal grate suspended over a heavily-stoked fire. Or you can dive into a greasy, deep-fried, and perfectly delicious tray of Kartoffel Puffer. These yummies are a cross between a hash brown and a potato pancake and are served up with a side of apple or garlic sauce. Yes they’re bad for you; yes you need a stack of napkins to catch the oil as it drips from your fingers; but heck, when in Rome (or Mainz, or Trier)…

The angels open the festivities

I get the impression that the different cities compete to have the best combination of lights, food, vendors, entertainment, and great holiday atmosphere. This year Wiesbaden gets my vote for the best opening ceremony. They put on a spectacular show with lights, music, fireworks, and (I kid you not), flying angels! A massive crane is used to suspend what looks like a large lighted birdcage holding two lovely ladies dressed up as angels. They come complete with large feathered wings and long, flowing blond hair cascading down almost to their toes. Even though they are secured in a cage structure, they hang precariously out of the large openings on either side. Their arms and wings wave as they scatter what looks like stardust but is actually tiny flecks of gold paper. The lights are off everywhere except for the spotlights illuminating the angels as they make their descent—first to the mammoth Christmas tree that lights up to a wave of their hands. They hover over the main stage to an ethereal musical backdrop by Enya. One more wave of the hands and poof! All the lights of the market are lit and fireworks shoot out from the angel cage. It really is quite spectacular and oh, so German!

The temperatures drop and everything is illuminated in a way that you could have only imagined in your dreams. Your frigid fingers happily wrap themselves around a decorated mug filled with either hot chocolate or the spicy, syrupy, gluhwein (spiced wine). There’s always a small deposit of about 2 Euros for the mug, which I happily relinquish. The cups are usually different each year with special commemorative artwork, and they make wonderful souvenirs.  Personally, I think gluhwein should never be consumed anyplace else but out in the cold at one of the Christmas markets. Not everyone likes it, but I enthusiastically gulp it down to the last drop because it warms me down to my toes.

Have a heart…

Then there are the Lebkuchen vendors. Lebkuchen is basically gingerbread and the Christmas markets are filled with vendors selling giant heart-shaped lebkuchen cookies. They are decorated with a sugary frosting that is hard but tasty. I’ve watched many a little girl or boy chomping down on that spicy cookie that almost looks bigger than them. You can hear the crunch from a block away as their teeth break through the icing. I’m sure the local dentists love the Lebkuchen tradition.

A display of lighted paper stars

I also enjoy that feeling of the way life used to be. Life without a net. As you roam around the typical market, you’ll see all kinds of wonderful sights that you’d never cast your eyes upon in the ever cautious and over-protective American way of life. Here at a German market you’ll see dogs meandering around—usually on the leash held by an attentive owner—sometimes not. Children sway on makeshift swings made of rope with no buckles, restraints, or protective padding anywhere. If they fall and maybe skin a knee, they get up, brush it off, and go swing again.  It’s not uncommon to see electrical wires duct taped down on streets, attached to poles, or stretching precariously overhead. Unguarded generators or connections are usually well within everyone’s reach with very few barricades. It’s tempting to imagine that if you stumbled or got shocked, you’d be blamed for not paying attention. And everyone has a great time, young and old alike. As I mentioned above, gluhwein will warm you up, but it can also light you up! Alcohol is consumed with gusto at these events and yet I have never seen anyone appear to be the worse for it. I have seen natives bursting into song, but no fisticuffs.

One day, I will be back home shopping in an American mall somewhere at Christmastime. I will be riding on an escalator looking at the perfectly set decorations and wishing for just one more glance of a Christmas angel overhead suspended from a cage. And I’ll yearn for the chance to step over some cables duct taped to the pavement without a single warning sign in sight.

Looking for (and finding!) some Christmas cheer

Frohe Weihnachten from les Deux Petits Cochons!

A European Thanksgiving

This latest post is a slight departure from our normal travels. We hope you enjoy it.

A setting fit for a König

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. We all sat around the table with our full stomachs as we looked down at the last few crumbs of Bill’s homemade (and masterfully done) apple pie. Ahhh! But this wasn’t Thanksgiving in Idaho, or Wisconsin, or New Hampshire. This, like our last four Turkey Days has been in our home in Wiesbaden, Germany. Our guests were our next-door neighbors Klaus and his adult son Achim along with our friends David and Daniela who lived next to us in Würzburg years ago. As we drank our coffee, conversation turned to many topics, including politics. Sounds dangerous but it was very interesting and enlightening. The conversation proved that we might all be from different countries but we all seem to share many of the same frustrations, hopes and dreams. Despite the language difference, our

A great group of Freunden

exchange was very lively and quite similar to what you might have in any dining room in America, except with German accents. Luckily, all our guests spoke English but when the conversation got spirited, they would lapse into a foreign blue streak that left Bill and me winded. How is it possible to have so many people talking at once and it doesn’t sound foreign, yet you really can’t understand a lot of what’s being said? It can be challenging and tiring, and for a moment it reminds you that this is not


your home country. We love living here in Germany. We enjoy the lifestyle, the food, the travel, but it’s still not home however much we delight in our European adventure. Our dinner companions looked at us and said (paraphrasing) we Germans don’t live like you Americans. We don’t travel all the time. We go on maybe one trip in a year and it’s usually someplace where we can enjoy sunshine and maybe a beach. But you drive for an hour and spend a day in a small village and tell us of your visit. This just would not occur to us. It was a keen insight for me at that moment. Bill and I have felt truly thankful for the opportunity to live overseas—not just once, but three times. Each time we have traveled fairly extensively and we try to take every opportunity to see as much as we can. We know there are people who may save their entire lives to spend a few weeks riding on a tour bus trying to see as many far flung European locales as their tour guide will allow. Yet we can hop in our car and head off and experience not only the big-ticket locations such as London, Brussels, or Florence but also small out-of-the-way or not-so-famous places full of charm and history. We talked about how we will be heading back home to the States in a little over a year. We showed pictures of a house we are hoping to purchase in a small town in Idaho. One of our guests questioned whether I might have problems adjusting. Surely I had become more European than American. This really made me think about what he was saying. “Look around this dining room,” he laughed. “Where is America? I only see Europe everywhere!” At that moment, it was a bolt out of the blue. My eyes darted around my dining room, and I saw he was

An American outpost

right. He started making gestures with his hands, pointing and exclaiming. “Look! The tapestry from Belgium, the shelf from the Netherlands, the Venetian masks from Italy, the painted cupboard from Germany.” I feebly noted that the tablecloth and napkins had been purchased online from ‘Kohl’s.’ Bill pointed to a wooden plaque with a scene of Williamsburg that I had painted years ago saying, “that’s American!” But my neighbor had hit a nerve. Have I become so Europeanized? Did I prefer apple strudel over apple pie? When it’s time to go home, will I fit in back in the land of my birth and mother tongue? Only time will tell. And when the next chapter of our lives begins, my dining room will once again look like Europe, but in Idaho.

Welcome to our home

The experience did make me reflect on all the blessings Bill and I have, as perhaps we should reflect on Thanksgiving. We hope that all of you that read our little posts about our adventures have much to be thankful for as well.

Next week, we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled program, with a post about Christmas in Europe. It really is a season here and not a shopping marathon. We’ll tell you all about the opening of the Wiesbaden Christmas Market, which included flying angels, no less!

A Visit to Bayreuth

Beer and opera. You might not think they go together but they are two passions that have done much to make the city of Bayreuth, Germany famous. We visited Bayreuth (pronounced approximately “bye-roit”) recently and had a great time. We wanted to share some of our thoughts and observations.

Neues Schloss

Bayreuth is a lovely city in northern Bavaria known mostly for its association with the composers Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt (with the heavy emphasis on Wagner). Wagner always made me think of beefy blonde women wearing bronze breast plates and horned helmets. He is most famous for epic operas, including the butt numbing four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle. If you’re a fan of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, you might recall Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny starring as Siegfried and Brünnhilde in a somewhat abbreviated Ring. Throughout the city you could see diminutive Wagner statues about 4 feet high in various bright colors with his arms raised as if conducting. The annual Wagner Festival brings tens of thousands of fans to the small city each summer. The average time on the wait list for tickets is anywhere from 5-10 years. Not a problem for us. If we ever feel a Wagner urge, a CD is just fine and we can take breaks whenever we like.

Inside the opera house

One of the most impressive buildings in the city is the Margravial Opera House which dates back to mid-18th century (Trivia note: Margrave is a noble title roughly equivalent to an English Marquess—higher than an Earl, lower than a Duke). I have wanted to see the opera house here for years and it was one of two main reasons I wanted to visit Bayreuth. The baroque interior was exquisitely painted to make virtually all the interior surfaces look three dimensional. You can imagine my disappointment when we arrived and found the opera house undergoing a complete restoration. The years have not been kind to this beautiful building. Updates to the heating and air conditioning over time have taken their toll on the wood as well as the paint. The restoration is a massive undertaking which will take years to complete. The latest estimate now is 2018. Fortunately, we were able to get inside and see a lot of the interior, all though it wasn’t exactly “cleaned up for company.” We at least got to see enough to allow us to appreciate the grandeur of this historic building.

A typical Bayreuth street

Another reason for our visit was to fulfill one of Bill’s dreams, which was to tour the Maisel Brewery. If you are a lover of Weizen-type beers, you have probably heard of Maisel. Actually, Bill is not a big fan of wheat beers in general but he has a deep and abiding fondness for another of their products—an obscure brew called Maisel Dampfbier. German dampfbier (translation: steam beer) is pretty hard to find, even here in the Fatherland but it’s worth the search. I won’t get into the geeky technical details, but suffice to say it’s tasty. Sadly, even Maisel doesn’t brew much of it anymore and when we asked our tour guide, she didn’t know what it was. In her defense, it was only her second day on the job. And she made

The old Maisel brewery

up for any shortcomings by giving us all a beer in a glass approximately the size of my leg. You can see the company’s logo emblazoned on signs hanging in front of restaurants and bars throughout the city. The Guinness Book of World Records “Most Comprehensive Beer Museum” occupies the original brewery building (taken out of commission in the 1970s). The 90-minute tour covered the entire brewing process, and we enjoyed the tour very much even though it was completely conducted in German. Luckily beer needs no translation!

We stayed at the Goldener Löwe (Golden Lion) where the owners prided themselves on their homemade marmalades and jams that they served at breakfast. They were delicious and the breakfast certainly lived up to the billing. Our room was quite comfortable but very small. And we couldn’t beat the location. It was right next door to the Brewery!

We spent a lovely day roaming around the Neues Schloss (New Palace) with its imposing fountain out front and spectacular rooms inside. I suppose some people get tired of wandering through lavish baroque palaces decorated liberally with paintings and sculptures that they remember seeing in books and magazines throughout most of their lives. We don’t. The Neues Schloss was marvelous and touring it softened the blow of the opera house renovation.

At the Old Palace

Nearer the heart of the city, we roamed around the outside of the imposing “Old Palace” with its red and white façade adorned with more than 60 carved medallion heads. Try as we might, we couldn’t seem to find an entrance. We spotted many a sign that proclaimed it did not mark the longed-for entrance. We came to the conclusion that it must have been turned into administrative offices.

The architecture and the main thoroughfare made for some delightful wandering and it didn’t hurt that there was a flea market taking place while we were there. Although about a third of Bayreuth was destroyed in WWII, it was rebuilt and it still retains much of the beautiful Baroque architectural style of its past. It was well worth a visit.

Die Wasp, Die!

Well, it finally happened. After all these years—59 to be exact—I was stung by a wasp. Not just any wasp, but a house guest. Air conditioning is just about nonexistent here in Europe and another rarity is the window screen. In the summertime we find ourselves, swatters in hand, doing our best to escort flying insects across the “rainbow bridge.” This is clearly also a problem for the Germans, who have come up with a very handy little gadget to address the issue. It looks kind of like a badminton racket, only the strings have been replaced with a metal mesh. Pop in a couple of AA batteries, and presto! You become a human bug zapper. The brief flash followed by a faint whiff of smoke gives me a certain feeling of vengeance that I never knew I was capable of. Trust me, I’m bringing a couple of these babies back to the States with me.

They rolled out the yellow carpet for us

We noticed several weeks back that along with the hot summer weather, we seemed to have a lot of wasps in the house. Not just flying around, but actual carcasses on the floor. We were even more perplexed when we returned from four days away in France recently. We had closed up all the windows before we left but as we walked up the stairs, it looked like the remnants of a terrible wasp battle that both sides had lost. There in front of us were 50 or so dead wasps. We found out from our landlord that there might have been a slight problem a while back with wasps entering in the house through a small access point on the top floor. Well, the cooler temperatures are now arriving, and this pesky little problem is more or less behind us. But it did not happen soon enough for me and one of the little buggers hid inside a nightgown. OUCH! I found out rather quickly that yes, wasp stings really do hurt. Luckily, I don’t need an Epi-Pen fix since I’m not allergic. But the whole affair certainly made me happy to see Fall arrive. Nevertheless, I have my handy-dandy zapper at the ready if I need it.

A sampling of the local wildlife

We celebrated the arrival of autumn by going downtown to shop on a Sunday. Traditionally, you can only do this twice a year, as the stores are all closed. However, with the arrival of Spring and once again at the

Shells and spices to bring in the Fall
Shells and spices to bring in the Fall

beginning of Fall, the doors are flung open on Sunday so that people can better prepare for the coming cold (or warm) weather. Not to waste a wonderful opportunity, they also used that weekend for a city fest and craft market. Everywhere were artisans selling their handmade wares such as squirrels and hedgehogs made of straw, dried floral arrangements, honey and beeswax candles, and all manner of baked goods. Street performers were out in droves and the crowds were large. Normally, the downtown area is quite empty on Sunday, so this was rare opportunity to see everyone enjoying the extra day of retail therapy.


Now Honey, that’s good coffee…

The city laid out yellow carpeted runners in many of the smaller pedestrian streets and alleys downtown to direct crowds to some of the less frequented areas. The smaller shops get a little extra attention as locals meander down streets they might normally miss. One such path took us down into a small courtyard where we found the Hepa Kaffee Café. Their logo always reminds me of the old Lucky Strike cigarettes but the similarity ends there, because Hepa Coffee is really wonderful. The local radio classical music station was remotely broadcasting their afternoon

Enjoying some java and some Puccini

show in the courtyard in front of the café. We found ourselves a small bistro table in the sunshine. We enjoyed a lovely (and very large) cappuccino while the lilting strains of Italian opera floated through the courtyard. I only vaguely remembered the sting from the morning as I rubbed the affected spot. But it faded as I realized that life just doesn’t get much better than this. Sitting in the European sunshine with a great cup of coffee while being serenaded by Madame Butterfly takes a lot of sting out of life.


Somebody else heading for the fest

Wiesbaden is a lovely city that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the travel press. Because we live here, we often tend to overlook it ourselves. But since we started writing about our travels, I think we’ve gained a greater appreciation of our current adopted hometown. While our blog posts will be mostly about places farther afield, we will occasionally drop in a quick note about some of our favorite local events and attractions. Stay tuned.

Cruising Along the Rhine

We recently attended Bill’s annual organization day, an opportunity for the staff and their families to enjoy a day away from the office and engage in some social time. This often takes the form of a cook-out, or some pastime like bowling. Ah! But this is Europe, and so we took advantage of one of the opportunities that living and working here makes possible. The event? A round-trip river cruise from the lovely town of Rüdesheim (sort of pronounced “rude-es-heim”) down the Rhine to the charming village of St. Goar. We stopped there for several hours to see the sights and enjoy lunch at a sidewalk café.

Getting started at Rüdesheim

The weather Deities smiled on us that day; we had sunshine and blue skies, with a slight breeze to make the journey pleasant. If you ever plan to visit Germany, a Rhine cruise is a really nice way to spend a day. They are relatively inexpensive—roughly $25 round-trip per adult for a trip similar to ours. And you have a wide variety of origins and destinations to choose from. You could even ride the boat one way and take a train back. All the towns along the river (in this area, at least) are well served by Deutsche Bahn, or German Rail. Enjoying the views of the many vineyards and castles that have made the Rhine Valley famous is a memorable experience.

Castles, castles everywhere!

As I noted, our day began in the picturesque town of Rüdesheim. Germany has a number of places that attract a lot of tourists but are always fun to visit anyway. This popular destination is famous for its Riesling wines (and brandy) as well as the historic Drosselgasse, a very narrow street lined with shops, taverns, and restaurants. There is plenty to see and do but we will cover that in another post later. For this day, Rüdesheim was our jumping off point for a voyage down the Rhein!

And another…

The ride was smooth and even though there were three decks on the boat, most of us enjoyed the outside top deck. There were plenty of tables and chairs to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of champagne. We expected the prices for beverages and snacks to be steep but we were pleasantly surprised to find they were about the same as we would find at a typical restaurant in our own neighborhood. We drifted past charming villages, each one sporting onion-domed churches, half-timbered buildings, and of course, vineyards hanging from the steep slopes. And oh, The castles! After about the first five we cruised by we lost count.

In the middle ages, the Rhine was the primary transportation route from south to north. If you had goods to transport, this was pretty much your only option, if you were going any distance at all. Every baron with the power and money to do it took advantage of the outstanding vantage points along the Rhine gorge to erect a castle so he could levy tolls on vessels using the river. Today, there is hardly a spot between Rüdesheim and Koblenz where you can’t see at least a couple of castles. Most are ruins but several have been well preserved and you can even book a stay in a few. Anyway, it’s all a feast for the eyes.

One of many riverside villages

We also cruised past the famous Lorelei, a 433-foot-high rock on the right bank of the river. Legend has it that a golden-haired siren would perch atop the rock and enchant the passing sailors, who would be lured to their deaths on the craggy rocks below. Not exactly a happy thought, but an interesting bit of history nonetheless. Today, it often serves as a venue for outdoor concerts.

We docked at Saint Goar for a few hours to explore and have lunch. We decided to take a walk up to Castle Rheinfels which was built in 1245. There is a tram of sorts that can also take you up, but its schedule seemed a bit erratic to us. We made the journey on foot, to ensure we would have time for lunch before getting back on the boat. It was a steep path with quite a few uneven stone steps, but it wasn’t overly taxing. With our stomachs rumbling, we elected not to take a tour of the castle once we reached it but the views of the valley and the river were well worth the hike.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on an island in the river

After the trek back down the mountain, we stopped on the main street and enjoyed a wonderful lunch al fresco. Finally, we got back on the boat. The return trip to Rüdesheim was a bit slower than the morning’s cruise, since we were going against the current. But it was no less pleasant for that. The open top deck of a boat on a warm summer day with just enough of a breeze to make it comfortable is a recipe for a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon. We will certainly be doing this again.

Anytime is a good time for a wine fest!

2016 was a good year…

We’ve lived in Germany for about 3½ years now, nearly twelve years in total. And one thing we’ve learned is that Germans do fests really well. We used to joke about what happens when you get more than 5 Germans together–a fest. These celebrations happen all year long but more often in the summer and for a whole host of reasons. Back in the 1700s there might have been an awesome garlic crop, and so presto! a garlic fest! Many of these events commemorate a particular saint, a town, a village’s founder, a specific fruit (such as cherry or strawberry fest), or possibly the time when more than 5 locals got together 300 years ago.

A lot of people think that fests are all about beer but Germany also produces wonderful wines and so we have the inevitable wine fests to celebrate. Our city of Wiesbaden has an annual one called the ‘Rheingauer Weinwoche Wiesbaden’ (or Rheingau Wine Week Wiesbaden). Even though it’s called wine week, the fest actually runs for 10 days. This year heralded the 41st annual Weinwoche which ran from 12–21 August with offerings from over 100 vintners from the Rheingau district which surrounds the city. This is no small affair. Tens of thousands of thirsty fest-goers attend where an estimated 300,000 bottles of wine and sekt (sparkling wines) are

Our first glass of the evening

consumed. And since that is quite a number of people imbibing, the city offers special discounted bus tickets. Present your validated ticket at the city-sponsored booth and you receive a card for a free glass of wine to start off the festivities. This is also the place where you can pick up your custom wine glasses that are created each year by the city of Wiesbaden. They are inexpensive souvenirs (2 Euros a piece) which are not only decorative, but awfully handy while you try out the various wines.


Dinner is served!

There are always bands performing all types of music on three different stages and you are sure to find something wonderful to eat at one of the many food vendors. In addition to the noble bratwurst, you can find wonderful selections that pair perfectly with whatever wine you like. You’ll find merchants preparing platters of antipasti with a selections of cheeses, meats, fruit, and breads. Or giant soft baked pretzels with a side of Spundekäse which is a mixture of cream cheese, quark (a German spreadable cheese), onions, garlic, and sweet paprika. There are lots of other tasty delicacies that are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say, you will not go hungry.

Festive indeed.

Germans always seem to have a great time at fests, whatever the theme or reason. We have noticed at these types of events, alcohol—whether beer or wine—sometimes flows at an alarming rate. If this were in the States, I’m sure I’d see news reports the next day of drunken brawls with arrests being made. But here? To paraphrase Cyndi Lauper, Germans “just want to have fun.” You’ll see them sitting at fest tables, engaged in conversation and enjoying life along with their wine and Spundekäse. A few break into unusual forms of interpretive dance while a local cover band plays hits of the ‘80s. The Germans are often thought of as a very staunch and practical people. But give them a fest and they can have fun with the best of them.

Next year’s Weinwoche is scheduled for 11–20 August. You should consider giving it a try for your next holiday. You won’t be sorry, except perhaps for that slight headache you might experience the morning after—but it’s well worth it!

Bad Ems—Really Not Bad After All

Bad Ems, situated on the banks of the River Lahn, dates back to Roman times and historically was the place for a rest cure for the rich, the famous, and the royal. This beautiful town has also been known as the “Emperor’s Spa,” due to the fact that the Emperor Wilhelm I visited Bad Ems regularly for almost twenty years in the 19th century. The list of dignitaries who visited the town was a long one. From royalty such as King George IV of England to the some of the legends of the arts community, everyone who was anyone came to this lavish spa town for recuperation as well as recreation.

The Kur and Therapy Center

Today Bad Ems is still a place of relaxation and healing. In Germany, many citizens can go to their doctor and be prescribed a “kur.” This is basically an all-expense paid trip to a spa town where you can rest, partake in various therapies, soak in the mineral-rich waters, and restore yourself to health. Nice work (or rest) if you can get it! Kurs are becoming less of a regular part of German life nowadays. The younger generation tends to feel they are not needed or are more for the elderly.

A lovely town

But Bad Ems is a lovely place to wander. The architecture is lavishly Baroque and Rococo in style. The pastel shades of the buildings are cheerful, yet restful. The town has an abundance of parks and green spaces to walk in. Or you can just to sit on one of the many benches along the River Lahn and watch the people stroll past. There didn’t seem to be that many people on the day we were there. This was a little surprising since this was high season, but it was the middle of the week. Sadly, we have noticed a major drop in tourism of late, probably due to the unrest that has hit Europe. We detest crowds and love not having to search for an available table for lunch, so there is an upside for us. But it is a major blow for the local economy. I must admit that it felt rather odd to see so few people enjoying the beautiful day.

The town is not huge and makes a lovely day-trip. Besides all the natural and architectural eye-candy, Bad Ems has a few pleasant diversions for your day. There are some wonderful shops including a few of the antique variety that are really enjoyable to poke around in. There are plenty of places to sit outside and have a typical German lunch without breaking the bank. A hearty and delicious meal of a schnitzel with mushrooms, French fries, and a salad that tasted fresh from the garden was only 10.50 Euros. You can also take a 1-hour boat cruise down the Lahn that allows you to enjoy the scenery while an explanation of the sights and buildings is broadcast over a loud speaker as you

Taking the waters

pass. And you’ll want to stop at the Roman Spring for a taste of the mineral water out of the faucet. It is said to cure digestive problems but be sure and bring your own cup. Supposedly the Romans relied upon these waters to ease their tummy troubles after enjoying one feast too many!

St. Martin’s Church

There are two lovely churches that deserve special attention. One is the gleaming, golden onion-domed Russian Orthodox chapel dedicated to St. Alexandra. It is only open a few hours in the afternoons. For the entrance fee of 1 Euro you can go inside and see a profusion of Russian icons, paintings, and gold encrusted creations all set inside a surprisingly small space. Saint Martin’s Catholic Church is also worth a stop. With its William Morris-styled frescos painted on the walls, and its distinctive altar decorated with a pelican’s nest and forest animals, this church is truly unique.

A fresco in St. Martin’s

Finally, there is a cable railway called the Kurwaldbahn that climbs a very steep 220 meters to a breathtaking view of the Lahn valley every 10 minutes starting around 6:00 a.m. and running until 10:00 at night. At the top, you can grab a bite at a café with panoramic views from the terrace or take a hike on one of the numerous walking paths at your disposal.

There is more to see and do in this enchanting town, but that will have to wait for another day and another visit. Above everything else, the best thing to do in Bad Ems is just relax.

[Note: for those who are not familiar with Germany, “Bad” denotes a spa town, with mineral springs. It translates literally as “Bath.” It is often used as a prefix, as in Bad Homburg or Bad Kissingen, but is also often incorporated into place names, such as Wiesbaden or Karlsbad.]


London Bill and Mary
Les deux petits cochons

Welcome everyone, to the debut of our blog, Les Deux Petits Cochons, (translation, The Two Little Piggies). In a future post, we will fill you in on the story of the origin of our title, but that’s for another time. For now, we are Bill and Mary, husband and wife for nearly 30 years who were bitten by the travel bug and never found a cure. We have a habit of getting itchy feet if we stay put for very long in one place. We have moved 12 times and three of those moves took us to Germany, where we currently reside.

I (Mary) am the main writer and frequent photographer, and Bill is the graphics and techie guy who is also a great writer and photographer in his own right. We decided to start a travel/lifestyle blog because I was always trying to keep friends and family updated about our wanderings. Then I found myself sending travel information to the teller at the bank who wanted to know about a trip we just got back from. Or someone in a restaurant overheard us talking about our trips and wanted to know more. This started to get out of hand, so voila! A blog is born.

We have a fairly unique perspective on life in Europe. This is our third shot at living here (actually the fourth for Bill, who lived in London for a bit before we met). Our first time was in the late 80s and Europe was a very different place back then. It was pre-internet and pre-Euro, and East Germany was alive and well and enclosed by the Berlin wall. During our second stay (1998 – 2003), we witnessed all sorts of changes. The introduction of the Euro and the opening of European borders resulted in—alas—no more cool stamps in our passports. But hooray! It meant no more eight different types of currency to carry around.

We will be posting about our current travels, as well as some “blast from the past” stories. We hope this blog will enlighten you, entertain you, and maybe even answer some questions you might have about living and traveling here in Europe. Whether you have your boarding passes ready or you’re an armchair traveler, we hope you enjoy the trip with us. Welcome aboard!