The majestic Mosel
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Bologne

Every time we head to visit Michael’s family, it means a trip to Bonn and to Cologne, hence, Bologne!

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Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz - Photo credit: Michael Friz

Burg Eltz – Photo credit: Michael Friz

This past weekend we visited some of Michael’s family in Bonn and Cologne. The drive up was about 3.5 hours from Stuttgart despite about 9 different roadworks along the way.

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Third Advent

I can’t remember the Advent weekends being such a big deal in Australia, but in Germany it definitely is.

This past weekend marked the third advent and in celebration we had a big brunch out in the countryside at our friend’s place.

Unwrapping the Christmas tree

Unwrapping the Christmas tree

Relaxing by the fire

Relaxing by the fire

We stayed overnight and sat by the fire, setting up her Christmas tree. The next morning we got up early and started preparing all the food for the 21 guests who were coming for brunch at 11am.

Taking the beef out of the oven

Taking the beef out of the oven

After hours of slow cooking, it's on to 5 minutes on the grill!

After hours of slow cooking, it’s on to 5 minutes on the grill!

At 9am we put a 4.5 Kilo cut of beef into the oven, to be slow cooked for a few hours. We were thinking about 3, but it turned out to almost need 5! We surrounded the cut with plenty of garlic and onions.

We prepared a fruit salad (banana, grape, pomegranate, orange and honey), some self-made Berner sausages (filled with cheese, wrapped in bacon strips), Italian sausages, pancake mix, chicken drumsticks, salad (cucumber, tomato, mozzarella in balsamic vinegar/olive oil dressing) and a number of desserts. Most of the food we made, but the guests also brought some dishes. A friend of ours brought Kölsch beer, a type of specialty beer that comes from Cologne and we had wines and juices as well.

It was a whole load of food and we ended up leaving around 3pm. After 4 hours of feeding we definitely did not need any dinner!

I’m not sure how people usually spend the third Advent but this is a tradition that I’d be glad to carry on.

Happy holidays and til next week!

Let the games begin!

Yesterday the world’s largest trade and public video games expo “Gamescom” opened its doors in Cologne for approx. 275.000 visitors. The not entirely surprising Nr. 1 topic is the battle of the giants; Microsoft versus Sony, Xbox One versus Playstation 4.

Since Microsoft offended their fans earlier this year by announcing ridiculous restrictions and more than questionable data collection plans concerning their latest console, Sony had a very good start to the race. Although Microsoft revoked most of the planned restrictions, there are still a few things that are keeping Sony on top – a few days ago, Sony said it had over 1 million preorders for the PS4.

Despite the bumpy start, Microsoft believes in their concept of a media-center / game console / TV / Internet / all-in-one solution – and of course in their phenomenal new Kinect-System, that should provide a new gaming experience.

Just before the Gamescom started, Microsoft announced that there is going to be something “exclusive and unique” that Phil Spencer will present during a press conference on the fair. The speculations go from “it’s only another exclusive game” to “a new piece of hardware that will make the Xbox One the ultimate gaming device”. And indeed, Microsoft is working on a project called the “IllumiRoom”, that could be a game changer in this race. In January this year, Microsoft Research published this video on youtube showing the technique in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=re1EatGRV0w

We’ll keep you posted on what Microsoft has up their sleeves and if it is worth it to pick the less powerful, more expensive hardware with more restrictions, or if the Playstation 4 is just too far in the lead.

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Lüneburg and Surroundings

Lüneburg Town Center

Lüneburg Town Center

So we had a great short stay in Bonn and a lovely day trip to Cologne but all too soon we had to be on our way again and this time it was a long drive. It took us around 5 hours to our next stop: Lüneburg.

This was to be our base for the next 4 days and we definitely used our time well. It’s summer here so it was pretty hot with temperatures around 28 – 30C and over. Unfortunately we had chosen an apartment on the top floor of a house, right under the roof so we were kind of boiling at night. But as a small consolation we also had a modern, newly renovated apartment with our own kitchen and a small balcony…and a ceiling fan.

The walk into Lüneburg was comfortable if a little long, but we tried it once and then decided that it was still worth it if we just drove in and paid a little for parking. After all, it was still much cheaper than in Stuttgart. On one occasion we were so surprised at how low the fee was that we had to take a picture. The man beside us was very surprised and had to wonder what we found so exciting. His comment? He found it already too expensive in Lüneburg. A matter of perspective, I guess.

Lüneburg: The slow decline of the buildings

Lüneburg: The slow decline of the buildings

Lüneburg is located just under Hamburg and is a beautiful, quaint little town that was once prised for its salt. It has a charming ‘old town’ that lies above a salt dome that helped the town to prosper. However, this boom in economy has left its mark on the town, with many of its buildings sinking and facades tilting. The salt was mined to so an extent that many buildings had to be demolished, which is quite sad considering how beautiful many of the buildings are in the Lüneburg ‘Altstadt’. Mining ceased in 1980 because it was no longer profitable, and nowadays only small amounts are extracted for the nearby salt baths.

We went swimming at the SaLü, a large salt bath in the town and it was a relaxing experience. We drove there in the early morning (around 10am) and paid for 2 hours but were allowed to stay for four. We never made it to four hours but still, it was a great experience. There was water gymnastics in the outdoors pool with the elderly and of course, we joined in. There is a wave pool, a relax pool and spas as well as a pool for kids with an indoor water slide, all filled with salty water.

The Ostsee (Baltic Sea) was not too far from Lüneburg and for me, missing the ocean and the beach, it was a must-see. Stupidly, it was the start of the school holidays and we decided to drive on a Saturday. The 1.5 hour journey turned into a 3.5 hour drive but still, it was worth it. The only thing that I found astounding was that not only do you have to pay for a ‘beach chair’ (they look pretty comfy though, and are great if it’s very windy) if you want one, but everyone who goes to the beach has to pay for entry! Entry to sit on the sand? Next time I will wait til I go back to Australia and go to any beach and be able to sit anywhere without paying any fees.

Exploring Lübeck

Exploring Lübeck. Photo credit: Michael Friz

On the way back, we also stopped by Lübeck for lunch and a quick visit to the city. It’s a nice little city with a whole lot of churches.

Winter in Miniatur Wunderland

Winter in Miniatur Wunderland. Photo credit: Michael Friz

From Lüneburg it’s a short trip to Hamburg with the train. We left Lüneburg at around 8:30 in the morning and 35 minutes later we had arrived in Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany and the second largest port in Europe. Our main interest in going to Hamburg was to see the Miniatur Wunderland. If you’ve never heard of this, definitely google it and watch a short video about it. It really is a wonderland and we spent 3 hours there, but I’m sure you could spend a whole day checking out all that they’ve created. A large team work hard to rebuild landmarks and cities in miniature form with real traffic and simulated accidents on the roads. It really is amazing and sometimes quirky as they’ve tried to make it as realistic as possible. In the introduction video they mention it too, they have plenty of little people in the act of lovemaking and parts of the electric work is exposed and even there they’ve made little electricians to put around the wiring. They really have paid a lot of attention to detail and there’s also a new airport where airplanes take off and land. Worth the trip to Hamburg!

Other than that we walked around the city and saw a few of the sights, but I didn’t find Hamburg all that interesting. Still, I would go back any time to see the Miniatur Wunderland.

Our adventures in the countryside are coming up next! For now, it’s back to real life.

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Gothic

*I thought I had posted this last week but to my surprise I have found it as a draft so please excuse the delay and enjoy!

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A hot and sunny Tuesday was spent in Cologne, a city that I have wanted to visit for quite some time because of the gigantic and wondersome Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, a catholic church that was built in French Gothic style. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and apparently Germany’s most visited landmark and stepping inside, I could see why.

Cologne Cathedral - looming, but beautiful giant

Cologne Cathedral – looming, but beautiful giant

Throngs of tourists from all over the world were sitting and standing in awe of the high ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and if you are planning on heading to this area, it is a must see.

Something else that is amazing with many of the landmarks in Europe is that they are easy to find. The Arc de Triomphe looms over you as you exit a train station in Paris, and just like that, the Kölner Dom stands proudly, beckoning you towards it once you step outside of the Cologne station. It’s striking how easy it is to come across such amazing constructions, but it definitely does not take away from how amazing they are. I could have stood inside the cathedral the whole day.

Right near the cathedral is also the main shopping area of Cologne, something like the Königstraße in Stuttgart, a large pedestrian shopping zone.

A short walk from the city centre, there is a large park leading to Westbahnhof (West Station) and it was on this walk that I realised how pedestrian-friendly a city can be.

I am definitely looking forward to visiting Cologne again, especially because I found out a little late that this is where the famous mouse (Maus) is from and I need to visit the local shop! I’m slowly catching up on my German childhood and the mouse plays a vital role with her Sunday program where children are taught about how things are made. Great stuff if you ever happen to be in Germany on a Sunday morning at 11.30am!

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The Road to Northern Germany

We’ve begun our journey to Lüneburg and already seen some amazing places. I had previously never thought of Germany as a country with such differing and beautiful landscapes and yet here we are.

From atop Burg Rheinfels

From atop Burg Rheinfels

Yesterday we spent the day with our friends in Vallendar near the city of Koblenz and explored cities along the Rhein. This area is renowned for its many castles that dot the banks of the river as well as its wine and the hills abound with vineyards.

This was my first time visiting the area and the weather was also amazing. A little hot for my liking (yep, funny for an Australian perhaps) at about 32C but blue skies really complement such beautiful surroundings.

Burg Rheinfels

Burg Rheinfels – Yup, we were there

We met our friends in St Goar at Burg Rheinfels (an old fortress). St Goar is a lovely town in the Loreley region and legend has it that Loreley, a water spirit linked to a rock 120 meters above the water, used to sing and bewitch men, causing many accidents as sailors were distracted by her voice.

The view from the vineyards over Zell

The view from the vineyards over Zell

Zell on the river Mosel was a relatively simple town but we did drive up to the vineyards on one of the hills and now I can say, I saw the Mosel too. If you are planning a trip to the Rhein though, I would say that you can give Zell a miss and instead, head to Cochem.

Cochem

Cochem on the Mosel River

Cochem was by far the most beautiful little town that we visited. It is unfortunately visited by a lot, and I mean, A LOT of tourists from all countries, but I must say that the asians really stood out as the biggest group there. I actually blended in a little and for once Michael was the foreigner in Germany. It’s a huge plus in such situations to be able to converse in both German and English.

Situated also on the Mosel river, Cochem is quite a small town with about 5,000 inhabitants. The town centre is made up of an ‘old town’ with fachwerk buildings and small stores. The Reichsburg (imperial castle) is situated upon a hill and watches over the town, giving the area a great dynamic.

We’re now in Bonn and spent the day in Cologne, so that will come later. We’re looking forward to being in Lüneburg and northern Germany so stay tuned!

* all photos taken naturally by Michael because I was too lazy to take my camera with me – it was so hot!