Before last month, the last time that my sister, E, and I traveled together for a week was two years ago, when we spent four days in Paris and three days in Toulouse, for the wedding of my lovely friends, P and A. We ate escargot, gazed at masterpieces of the Impressionists, sipped champagne, ate (really) stinky cheese, and danced into the wee hours celebrating the newlyweds in an old French chateau just outside of Toulouse. So, when E arrived in Germany last month, we had a pretty high bar to meet and exceed if we wanted to keep our sister vacation experience trending upward. With Mainz as our home base, we set out on a series of day trips and one over-night to explore the area around my new hometown. This trip was filled with dirndl shopping, huge mugs of beer, a lot of driving on the autobahn, a lot of wine, some actual wine-making (the grape-picking part), and some more beautifully stinky, French cheese.
Stuttgart. We started off the week by heading over to Stuttgart for Cannstatter Volksfest, which can only be described as a less-touristy, more German version of Munich’s Oktoberfest. E got her introduction to German culture in a big way with a few massive masses of beer, a lot of German drinking songs (which happen to include Sweet Caroline), and a few thousand locals dancing on tables in lederhosen.
(Click on any of the below galleries to enlarge images.)
Hochheim. Our friend K lives on a vineyard and recruited us (actually we begged) to help his friend and winemaker at Im Weinegg pick a few rows of grapes. We showed up bright and early, ate all of the breakfast items in K’s house, and received a quick tutorial from the winemaker’s father on how to cut the grapes from the vine and scrape out the ones that had already turned to vinegar. He also taught us that sometimes the grossest looking grapes are the sweetest and most delicious. Midway through, we were treated to a quick cheese and wine break. Then more picking. Then we got to watch them crush the grapes and determine the sugar levels and the resulting categorization of the wine it would make. It was a whole lot of science and I now have an even higher opinion of winemakers because of it. Then the winemaker and his family fed us with some delicious chili as a thank you and we begged them, and considered offering bribes, so that they’d let us come back again next year!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This is the cutest town in all of Germany. Its Medieval wall is completely intact and its strict historic preservation laws have left it as quaint as Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast. I cannot wait to go back this December for their famous Christmas market and the Night Watchman’s Tour.
Strasbourg.We crossed the French border for a few of our favorite things – pastries, cheese, and a hunt for wine in the cellar of a hospital. That’s a thing. It’s medicinal. We also had an amazing dinner at Esprit Terroir, known for gourmet preparations of local ingredients (it was actually our second choice because I made a reservation somewhere else for the wrong night, but it was ridiculously good). The highlight, however, was when we stumbled into a cheese shop where they let us taste everything, including a cheese specially made for the shop, which we later dubbed “butter cheese” because it was creamy and spreadable and delicious like butter. Writing this, I’m almost brought to tears because I’m reminded of how delicious the butter cheese was and of that fact that I don’t have any more.
Cochem. Living in the Rhine River Valley, I had to show E some castles. So, we took the train from Mainz to Cochem, winding along the river’s edge with views of rolling vineyards and countless castles perched amidst the greenery. Cochem is an adorable town on the Mosel River with a fully intact castle and a ski lift that takes you up to a little cafe overlooking the river, where we feasted on Black Forrest Cake and, of course, Riesling.
Mainz & Wiesbaden. With all of this driving and eating, we needed a day to sleep in, get a little exercise, and eat a home-cooked meal. I took E on a wild-goose chase bike ride through the farm fields and vineyards of Wiesbaden. We never found the little town we were looking for, but we got a great workout, E clipped into pedals for the first time (which is super scary!), we had a great little picnic with some of the cheese that we bought in Strausburg (ah, butter cheese), and then pedaled over to Domäne Mechtildshausen, a working farm, where we bought ingredients for coq au vin (so many ingredients, including six massive chicken legs, that we needed to call S to come pick us up because we couldn’t bike home with it all). It was a great day of recharging for our next road trip.
Colmar. Strolling around the Old Town of Colmar and its particularly adorable Little Venice, E and I felt like we were in a fairytale village, but, to be totally honest, we were a little underwhelmed by this town as a whole. Maybe it was too many days on the road. If anyone has restaurant or other recommendations, I’d be more than willing to give it a second chance.
Baden-Baden. Originally, we had planned to go to Freiburg in the Black Forrest. One of the things that E really wanted to do on this trip was a hike and one of the things that I really wanted to do was see the Black Forrest. Also, I’ve heard that the best place to eat Black Forrest Cake is in the Black Forrest (duh), but specifically in Freiburg. As it turned out though, there was not a single free hotel room in Freiburg that night. Instead, we went to Baden-Baden and it was a great decision. Baden-Baden is a beautiful little town nestled at the edge of the Black Forrest. S met us here and we ate at a wonderful brew pub in town, then chose a cafe with the best cheese cake for breakfast the next morning, and, finally, worked off our indulgence with a four hour hike up to and around a majestic castle overlooking the town. The fresh air, exercise, and views of the surrounding area, capped off by a beer and some kartoffelpuffers (potato pancakes) in the castle restaurant, were the perfect finale for E’s week in Germany. I can’t wait to go back to Baden-Baden and check out what it’s really known for: the thermal baths!
I think E and I did a pretty good job of topping our last trip and I can’t wait to see the fun we get into on the next one!