Thursday, June 25, 2015

GREMANY

After another great breakfast in the garden at Les Agnates, we hit the road and headed towards the Black Forest.  With plenty of time for the drive, we programmed Daniella to avoid the toll roads and we drove the secondary roads, enjoying the French countryside and the small villages we passed through.


By mid-afternoon we had arrived in Zell im Wiesental where our friends Hansjorg and Silke live. In the Black Forest, located in the southwest corner of Germany, 30 minutes from Basel, Switzerland and the Alsace region of France, it is a prime location for exploration.  This being our third visit to Zell, as it is called by the locals, we are somewhat familiar with the area.  On a previous visit we had stayed at Berggasthof Schluessel, in the nearby hillside village of Pfaffenberg.  It was a great place to stay the last time, so of course it became our choice on this visit.  The guest house was recently taken over by new owners, Jacob and Sunny.  Jacob is a trained chef and oversees the kitchen, while Sunny takes care of the customers in the restaurant and the guest house.




CATHIE, SILKE, MUM, AND HANSJORG

DELIVERY OF THE STRAWBERRIES, BOY WERE THEY GOOD

Any visit to Hansjorg and Silke's is going to involved hiking in the Black Forest.  Having pretty much sat on our butts since I completed the Camino, we were due to get out and about.  With Hansjorg in the lead we took a route above Zell enjoying the views.

RAKING THE HAY BY HAND




BLACK FOREST VIEWS





THE GRILL MASTER

Second hike, although longer, included a ride in a gondola to near the top of the mountain and a hike down.  With temperatures reaching near 90 degrees, down was a good choice.



THERE STILL WAS SOME UP

FRANCE IN THE DISTANCE

FIRST THE COWS

THEN THE WARNING

HANSJORG EXPLAINING

TRAFFIC

THE VILLAGE OF PFAFFENBERG

AFTER HIKE REWARD

On our last visit with Hansjorg and Silke, we were treated to a dinner at Silke's sisters, Antje's and her husband, Mino.  Both Mino and Antje walked the Camino last year and are doing a camino again this year.  They postponed their journey this year a couple of weeks knowing we were coming for a visit.  Mino, is a great cook, or should I say chef, and on our last visit prepared a meal fit for a king and queen.  He once again proved he is still up to the task with another great meal.

Because I didn't get a photo of both of them, I am posting a photo from our last visit.



MINO IN THE KITCHEN

APPETIZER 

FIRST COURSE

After the pasta, I was so enjoying the meal and company that I forgot to take photos of the rest of the meal.  Salmon for the main and a wonderful dessert prepared by Antje. We had a wonderful evening and it was great to talk a fellow pilgrim.

With the temperatures sill in the low 90's we passed on another hike, but Hansjorg and I went for a bike ride instead.  A maintained walking a bike trail runs the length of the valley where Zell is situated.  It goes along an abandoned rail line, so the only incline is if you ride up the valley.  To solve this problem, the Germans have come up with a better idea.


This bus runs in the summertime for bikers and hikers.  So, for the price of a bus ride they'll take you and your bike up the valley as far as you want to go and then you ride back down.  To make it even better, if you are staying in the area as a tourist, when you check in to your lodging you get a bus pass for anywhere in the Black Forest.

We had one last dinner with our friends on the terrace at  Berggasthof Schluessel which was a great way to cap off another enjoyable visit.  As Hansjorg is planning on retiring next year, it is he and Silke's turn to pay us a visit.  He is already planning.

SILKE AND MUM

FRIENDS

The following morning we drove the short distance to Basel-Mulhouse airport, returned our Peugeot and had an uneventful and on time flight home.



For my San Diego friends and readers of this blog, a word about British Airways.  We have flown British Airways the last couple of trips to Europe.  They are the only airline with a direct flight to Europe (London) from San Diego.  This eliminates changing in Chicago, Dallas-Fortworth, Atlanta, or on the east coast.  When leaving San Diego on any other flight and with the change somewhere else in the US, you usually arrive in Europe in the AM.  That makes it a long time before you get to bed and aggravates jet-lag.  The BA flight leaves San Diego around 8:30 PM and you arrive in London around 3:30 PM the next day.  If you're connecting to anywhere on the mainland, you are arriving late afternoon or early evening in most cases.  Arrive, go to bed, equals no or little jet-lag.

We don't like to fly economy on these long-haul flights and I'm sure most feel the same.  We cannot afford business class, but we will spring the extra expense for premium economy.  We have flown premium on an American carrier, and it does not compare to what BA offers.  The upgrade on US airlines gives you more leg room, which is great, but that's it.  The upgrade on BA gives you more leg room, a wider seat which reclines further and has a foot rest.  You are also in a separate cabin and the food in better.  It's not business class, but neither is the price.  For us it is worth the extra, as it is a much more comfortable journey on this a 10 to 11 hour flight.

























Monday, June 22, 2015

FRANCE

I have been remiss in neglecting my duties as a blogger.  Cathie and I were enjoying ourselves to the point that I had no desire to post to the blog.  We've been home now for two weeks and having been told by one of my readers that they were waiting, I figured I better put the fingers to the keyboard and get everyone caught up on the final two weeks in Europe.

Our last stop in Spain, Santo Domingo is on the Camino de Santiago and wanting to show Cathie some of the places I walked, we followed the Camino to Saint Jean Pied de Port in France.  I had intended to drive the route up and over the Pyrenees, but because to thick fog we only drove up the hill to Orrison, my first overnight stop on the Camino. My ulterior motive in showing Cathie places that I had visited was to get her interested in walking the Camino either by herself of with me.  In a couple of years we'll see if my plan worked.

THE B&B

THE VIEW

So our first stop in France was just outside the city of Pau where we stayed in a really nice B&B in the countryside.  Here is a LINK if you are interested.  We spent two days and three nights exploring the region around Pau.  Within sight of the Pyrenees we took a day to drive to the Pyrenees National Park.

From the web:

While the park’s central area is largely uninhabited, an ancient, pastoral way of mountain life endures in a “partnership zone” where some 40,000 people live in 86 villages. Here shepherds and their charges frequent upland pastures and mountain hamlets perch comfortably between dizzying heights and farm fields. Such communities were once widespread in Europe’s mountain regions but are now found in relatively few places—the Pyrénées quite notable among them.

We were only able to see just a sampling of the park as it is huge.  We drove to the border with Spain at a high pass, were at times we were in the clouds.  Beautiful rugged scenery all around.




On our second day in Pau we paid a visit to the Pau Chateau located in the center of the city.  The fortified castle, built to control the passage of goods and people, dates back to the 11th century.  The building was continuously modified until the end of the 19th century when the gardens were added, as the castle had become a royal residence.  It was used by Napoleon as a holiday home and it's small garden was tended by Marie Antoinette.  The guided tour was in French, but we were given a handout in English so we could follow along.



Our next stop on the itinerary was the Dordogne region in Southwest France.  We were here 5 years ago and due to numerous rain storms at the time we felt that we should return.  On our previous stay we stayed at Le Relais du Pech, a wonderful B&B owned by Ken and Linda a retired English couple and we couldn't resist staying there again. Ken and I having worked in the same profession hit it off from the start and we have stayed in contact via Facebook.  Actually on this visit we came to relax and our sightseeing consisted mostly of drives through the beautiful countryside.  Another reason for visiting here was the great French food.  This region is very popular with tourists, mainly from England and in the summer months very crowded, so the end of May was a great time to visit with great weather and no crowds.

Since our last stay with Ken and Linda they have added a pool, upgraded the kitchen which is for the guests use and upgraded the guest rooms.  We highly recommend a stay here if you are ever in the area.

THE TERRACE

BREAKFAST ROOM/KITCHEN


OUR ROOM MAKING US FEEL WELCOME

On our first night, Ken and Linda insisted on treating us to dinner at one of the local establishments. Joining us were neighbors Rob and Lizzy also from England.  They have a vacation home next door and happened to be in town.  Great food and good company.

THE STARTER - FORE GRAS

MAIN COURSE - RISOTTO

DESERT - OF COURSE CHOCOLATE

We did do some tourist stuff and paid a visit to Gouffre de Padirac a very deep and large cave system not too far from our B&B.  Actually in this area of France there are many caves one can visit.  In this cave one either takes the elevator down or walks the stairs into a deep vertical opening in the earth.  We opted to walk down, but took the elevator on the return.  Once at the bottom, you walk further into the cave and down more stairs. At first the cave doesn't seem like much, but then you board a boat and travel further into the cave on an underground lake.  After a 10 minute boat ride you disembark and with a guide continue deeper into the cave.  To exit, a return ride in the boat and an elevator ride back to the surface. Well worth the effort and time to see this wonderful cave.





This region of France is littered with chateaus, which on this trip we viewed from afar. This being our 4th trip to Europe, we are kind of chateau-ed and castled out.  Still on one of our country drives we stopped to photograph most of those we saw.  Upon our return we were invited to Rob and Lizzy's house for happy hour on the terrace.  No photos were taken during happy hour to protect those attending.





We had a great visit with Ken and Linda and before leaving and heading north, we repaid their hospitality with another great meal out, this time at a French farmhouse.





This is a typical cheese course in a French restaurant.  Usually is comes after the main course and before desert.  You take what you want, and the rest is returned to the kitchen to be served again.  Way too much cheese for 4 people.   



Our next stop was a small village near the city of Dijon.  We had never been to this area and decided it was time to have a look.  Once again our luck held and our pick of a B&B turned out to be excellent.  In the small village of Flagey Echezeaux surrounded by vineyards, we found our lodging for the next 3 nights. At  Les Agnates we were greeted by our host, Guy, who after showing us around offered up beer and wine in the garden.  A wonderful old building that he has lovingly restored proved to be a very comfortable place to base ourselves.


A KITCHEN FOR OUR USE

BREAKFAST IN THE GARDEN

We did some exploring of this famous wine region of Burgundy, but not of any of the many wineries. We did manage to drink some wine though.  Still a drive through the beautiful country side always fit the bill.






We spent most of a day in Dijon, taking a self guided walking tour of the old center of the city.  Dijon was spared during WW II  and most of the old center's buildings remain as they always were.




From France we traveled to the Black Forest in Germany to visit Hansjorg and Silke, our long time friends.  So stay tuned for that part of the story.