Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Paris and Reims, France

Back in 2011 a week was spent cycling the streets of Paris visiting chocolatiers and pastry shops (go to my blog archive---August 2011 and read "Filling Up The Sweet Tooth in Paris" and "Porky Pig Paul Patronizes Patisseries in Paris") . Since then I've accumulated a list of more places in Paris so, I'm back again in July of 2013. There's a big problem though as the temperatures are in the mid-90's and my taste buds aren't percolating for chocolate.

However, I still fancy sweets and to be more specific: macarons. Not wanting to bore you with more snapshots of chocolate and pastry stores, I'm only posting a photo of chocolatier Pierre Marcolini's storefront. Mr. Marcolini has shops around the world including stores in Tokyo, London, New York, Brussels and even Kuwait. So, how was his chocolate?  I don't know as I elected to sample some of his macarons--which were horrible!
Head about 80 miles northeast of Paris and you'll be in the midst of the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. Its vineyards produce the grapes used in making the famous bubbly stuff. If the grapes aren't from here, then you can't call it champagne. Other parts of the world have to call their bubbly stuff "sparkling wine". Reims (population 188,000) gets all the publicity for being the center of the Champagne-Ardenne region of France but, it's actually Epernay (population 24,000) 15 miles south of Reims, who's vineyards are in the epicenter. This is the headquarters of Moet & Chandon in Epernay, its best known premium label might be familiar to you: Dom Perignon.
Moet & Chandon occupies a slew of buildings on Avenue de Champagne. See the statue to the left of the tall yellow building?
It's none other than Dom Perignon. Mr. Perignon was a Benedictine monk (1638-1715) who made important contributions to the production and quality of Champagne wine. I wonder what he would say if he knew people coughed up $160 and more to buy a bottle of bubbly with his name on it?
 Another 19th century building belonging to Moet & Chandon on Avenue de Champagne..
Some people call Avenue de Champagne the most expensive street in the world. Not because it's lined with absolutely gorgeous and stunning 19th century buildings but, due to millions of bottles of champagne stored in miles of chalk cellars beneath the street.
This is the entrance to Perrier Jouet's offices on Avenue de Champagne. This high-end maker of champagne traces its roots back to 1811.
Across the street from Perrier Jouet stands this beautiful edifice. Don't know who owns or occupies the building as I can't find a plaque.
I find myself even gawking at the exquisite ornamental ironwork fencing surrounding the buildings on Avenue de Champagne
I'm about a block from Reim's train station in a warehouse-type area. Why am I showing you this red brick building with an American flag outside that formerly housed Reim's technical college? Scroll down to the next photo to find out.
General Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and this building was headquarters. It was here in the War Room on May 7, 1945 at 2:41 in the afternoon that General Alfred Jodl, Commander-in-Chief of the Third Reich's armed forces signed the full and unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.
 Reim's city hall
 This is a backside view of Reim's magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral
 This masterpiece of Gothic art dates from the 13th century
 The coronation of 25 kings took place here.
 Over 2,300 statues adorn the exterior.
 One could spends hours marveling at the extraordinary detail.
 Closer view of front entrance.
Of course I had to check out Reim's pastry and chocolate scene. My bike and I visited four places and La Chocolaterie des Sacres in downtown Reim has the best macarons.
 Pistachio (the green colored ones in the right corner) were my favorite.
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (founded 1772) is both a Champagne house and a brand of premium champagne. Here's the entrance to the visitor center/tasting room on the edge on Reims. There's a huge factory complex in the rear.
Here's the entrance to Champagne house Pommery.
Pommery, founded in 1858, has a large complex here including a visitor center. This piece of art on the front grounds is comprised of plastic buckets--the kind workers use for gathering grapes.
This sign on Pommery's property directs people across the street to--scroll down
A spiffy historic structure used by Pommery for special functions.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Limburg, Koblenz, Germany, Stein am Rheim, Switzerland

Limburg an der Lahn (population 35,000) isn't on the tourist trail but, I heard this town on the Lahn River has a nice medieval city center.
The highest spot in Limburg is occupied by Saint George's Cathedral and a castle. Behind the cathedral on the right is the castle entrance and it's locked.
Another part of Limburg's medieval old town. As always, my biggest priority is to make sure I don't miss a bakery tucked away on a side street.
Arriving in Koblenz (population 100,000) visitors are treated to a real jaw-dropper. That's German Emperor Wilhelm I of Prussia atop a horse on a gigantic pedestal. Wille (I'm only kidding-I wonder if anybody ever called him that?) was King of Prussia (1861-1888) and was then evidently promoted to German Emperor (1871-1888) at the same time in 1871.   
 Koblenz is where two rivers connect. This is the Moselle River.
This is the Rhine River. Up on the hill standing guard over this this strategic shipping route is imposing Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Built between 1817-1832, it was never attacked.
This is Rhine at its confluence with the Moselle, If one were to turn around and look to the rear, that gigantic equestrian statue of  German Emperor Wilhelm I would be right behind.  
So, the highlight of this German cycling trek was to be the 40 miles along the Rhine River from Koblenz to Bingen, known as the Rhine Gorge, a distance of about 40 miles. It doesn't disappoint. What's the big deal? This complete area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. Why? Because of geological, historical, cultural and industrial reasons. This narrow gorge with its own microclimate has steep vineyards glistening in the sun and idyllic picturesque medieval villages around every river bend. Castles or castle ruins perch high above the valley floor and best of all, you are cycling on a separate road reserved for cyclists. Most of the villages take advantages of the multitudes of thirsty passing touring cyclists by conveniently having beer gardens next to the river. Up on the hill in this photo stands Stolzenfels Castle. Built in 1259 and in ruins for 150 years, it was rebuilt in 1826 by Frederick William IV of Prussia for use as a summer residence. Things don't go my way--the castle is open every day EXCEPT Monday and of course, today is Monday.
Castles on the other side of the river make for great picture taking but, it's frustrating as I'd love to visit this castle (Marksburg Castle) but bridges to the other side are few and no ferry service. I'd have to cycle 12 miles back, cross a bridge, then cycle 12 more miles to visit. Then, there's the good possibility of my huffing and puffing up to the castle only to find out it isn't open today, undergoing renovation or, it's privately-owned and visitors aren't welcome.
This is using my zoom lens to get a closer look at Marksburg Castle. It has been standing for 700 years and is the only hill castle on the Rhine which was never destroyed,
This is looking up at Klopp Castle from Bingen's (population 25,000) town center. 
 The view from Klopp Castle. Note the vineyards on the hillside way off in the distance.
This is the entrance to Stein am Rhein (population 3,000) in Switzerland near the border with Germany. The town's well-preserved medieval city center is a real jewel.
 Tons of tourists, including a zillion cyclists following the Rhine River, jam the streets.
 Beautiful fountains, also good for filling up one's water bottle.
 Crossing the Rhine River via Stein am Rhein's bridge.
 It's 90 degrees and the river sure looks inviting.
That's Hohenklingen Castle lording over Stein am Rhein.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mainz and Wiesbaden, Germany

Mainz is a bustling river port city of 200,000 overlooking the Rhine.
A citadel (fortress) commands the high ground.
This is part of the outer wall. From 1620 to 1918 it was operational.
Over 6,000 soldiers were garrisoned in the citadel so you can imagine the size. Now it's city-owned.
Flowers abound in the city center.
Colors of the flowers compliment the cathedral in the background.
Mainz Cathedral next to the city's main square.
Mainz has a colorful old town.
Quite a few half-timbered buildings in Mainz's old town.
Cross the banks of the Rhine River and you'll be in Wiesbaden, population 200,000. Mainz and Wiesbaden are very much rivals and I don't mean just in soccer. This is the Nerobergbahn, a funicular railway, which has been transporting people up to the top of the hill since 1888.
It's one of the few funiculars in the world which uses, not electricity, but water propulsion to move the cars.
Great views of Wiesbaden from the top.
Wiesbaden's biggest church in the background but, I took this photo to show the lion atop the fountain. Unfortunately, it's the lion's backside.
Here's the lion's front.