Monthly Archives: July 2018

Let Them Eat (Black Forest) Cake

You’ve probably heard of Black Forest cake, the eponymous dessert originating in the Black Forest of Germany. You may also be aware the Brothers Grimm used the Black Forest as the setting for fairy tales they wrote including Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. But did you know the cuckoo clock originated in this area? And glass production in this region dates back to the 12th century. These lessons and more awaited us on the second excursion of our Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River.

The view from our ship on the Rhine as we awakened that morning promised a beautiful autumn morning for our bus tour.


Morning on the Rhine River at Breisach, Germany

Heather and I learned the previous day to get to the bus early so we would be first in line to snag the front seats. This lesson served us well for the entire trip. Although photos weren’t always the best quality through the bus windows due to the glare, it was helpful to see where we were going.

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Our bus trip to the Black Forest

It was also helpful to know by our tour guide’s map the area we’d cover.


Map of our bus tour

And just so you know where the Black Forest is located in southwest Germany, here’s one more map.

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Location of the Black Forest in Germany

The scenery along the way kept my gaze directed out the window, beginning with the vineyards of reisling and pinot noir grapes. I’m not a big fan of reisling or pinot, but when in Rome, as they say.


Vineyards in the countryside


Terraced vineyards

In the distance, we could see the Black Forest, named for the extreme denseness of the evergreens which causes the forest to appear black. I was impressed to also note the wind turbines on the distant mountaintops indicating an interest in clean, renewable energy.


Black Forest

As we continued, we travelled through several charming towns including Ihringen, known for its wine, most notably pinot noir.


Ihringen, germany


Glottertal, Germany

I especially loved the comical topiary in a yard in the town Sankt Peter which you can see below. You just know the people residing there must have a good sense of humor.


Home in Sankt Peter


View from the bus of the Black Forest

By mid-morning, we arrived at our destination, Hofgut Sternen – the Black Forest Village in the Southern Black Forest Nature Park, where we were offered the choice of several activities. This looked like a tourist trap to us so we chose a hike into the forest, hoping we wouldn’t need bread crumbs to find our way back.


Ravenna Viaduct


Hiking trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

If Hansel and Gretel had only had a nicely groomed trail like this, they could’ve eaten their bread instead.


Jim on the trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

The Ravenna Viaduct was built in 1926 but was largely destroyed by retreating German forces in 1945. At the end of World War II, French occupation forces rebuilt the bridge. Today, the Hollental Railway crosses the 36 meter (118 ft) high bridge across the Ravenna Gorge.


Laura under Ravenna Viaduct


Train crossing Ravenna Viaduct

While we were very satisfied with our hike, upon our return we discovered the village which I’d believed was merely a modern day tourist trap, actually had historical roots over 700 years old.  The first documented use of a traffic route called the “old ascent” through this area was in 1306. Marie Antoinette famously passed through here in 1770 on her way to marry French King Louis XVI in Paris. German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited in 1779. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the old ascent was a main trade route for locally produced glass and clocks.


Marie Antoinette’s visit memorialized on a mural on the Best Western Hotel in Hofgut Sternen


Close-up of mural of Marie Antoinette


Goethehaus where Goethe stayed

The clock-making demonstration featured the cuckoo clock which originated in the Black Forest. While details differ, the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and the Smithsonian agree primitive cuckoo clocks were made in this area as early as 1630. (Viking Daily) Since we missed the demo, we took a peak into the shop to check out the cuckoo clocks for sale. The photo shows just a fraction of the clocks offered which were beautiful in terms of both appearance and workmanship.


Cuckoo clocks for sale

The Cuckoo Clock House was even more impressive to me, however. I believe the demonstration took place in this charming little building which looks like a cuckoo clock with a clock face, dancing figures above, and a cuckoo at the top. We didn’t know it would “cuckoo” on the hour and missed it because we’d moved on to the glass blowing demonstration.


Cuckoo Clock House

We’ve seen several glass blowers but it’s always interesting to watch this artistic craft. The products for sale in this shop were lovely, too.


In 1915, Josef Keller created a confection composed of layers of chocolate sponge cake separated by layers of whipped cream with cherries, topped off by more whipped cream,  chocolate shavings, and more cherries for decoration. We missed the cake-making demo as well, but we only wanted to eat the cake anyway. Jim and I purchased a piece to share and it was quite delectable.


Black Forest Cake

As we finished our cake, we began making our way back to the bus. When we encountered our guide, I got a photo showing her bollenhut, the Black Forest pompom hat that originated in the 1700’s. The hat has 14 pompoms with 11 of them visible. Red pompoms signify an unmarried maiden while black pompoms are for married women. They still wear the hats today for holidays and celebrations.


Our tour guide with her bollenhut

As we arrived at the bus, I said to Jim, “Where’s the backpack?” He’d forgotten it at the restaurant after we ate our cake. I sprinted back to the restaurant and fortunately, I was able to retrieve it. All’s well that ends well!

As we returned to the ship, we enjoyed views of the countryside and the towns we passed through.


Dreisem River in Freiburg, Germany




We arrived at the Viking Kara in time for lunch before our next excursion to Colmar, one of my all-time favorite medieval towns.


Based on events from October 2017.




























Categories: cruise, Europe, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Walking Tour of Basel

Prior to the official walking tour of Basel provided by our Viking River Cruise, we explored a bit on our own, heading first to one of the most well-known landmarks, the Spalentor, or Gate of Spalen. Completed in 1473-74, the Spalentor is one of three remaining medieval city gates in Basel and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful city gates in Switzerland.



Above the opening in the gate, we first spied the symbol which we would later learn was the staff of Basel, used by the Bishops of Basel as early as 1072. It continues today as the symbol of Basel and it appeared on many buildings. See how many you can spot in my photos.




Staff of Basel

From the gate, we wandered a bit, just taking in the sights of Old Town.


View of Old Town from Spalen Gate

Quite by accident, we discovered the Haafelimaart (Autumn Fair) which occurs every year featuring tasty foods, handmade products, and carnival rides. In spite of the chilly overcast day, plenty of people were out and about.


Autumn Fair


Autumn Fair


Products for sale at Autumn Fair


Autumn Fair

We returned to the ship, settled into our cabins, ate lunch, then filed onto buses to return to Old Town for our official walking tour.


View of Basel Munster from Wettsteinbrucke

The bus delivered us to the other end of Old Town from where we had explored in the morning to begin our tour. We dutifully followed our guide and listened on our Whisper-Vox headphones as he pointed out places of interest. I would love to have had time for the Chagall exhibit at the Art Museum but had to satisfy myself with a photo of the banner on the building.


Fountain outside Kuntsmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) in Basel


A walk through Old Town


Old Town Basel

Basler Munster (Basel Cathedral) with its twin spires dominates the skyline and attracts the eye with its red sandstone exterior and colorful tile roof.  Built and rebuilt from 1019-1500 as a Catholic cathedral, the Munster became home to the Swiss Reformed Church in 1529. Renaissance scholar, Erasmus, was entombed here upon his death in 1536. My favorite quote from him, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”


Basel Munster


Basel Munster with our guide in the lead


Notice the colorful tiled roof of Basel Munster

The Pfalz, a terrace located behind the cathedral is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for its impressive views overlooking the Rhine. We spent a little time here because one of our group wandered off and we had to wait for him to be found. It turned out he’d returned to the ship.


Pfalz with a model of the cathedral 


View from the Pfalz


View from the Pfalz

Our knowledgeable guide led us a short distance past several museums to a Basilisk Fountain where he informed us about the heraldic animal of the city, the basilisk. You may be familiar with this mythical creature from the Harry Potter books but in case you aren’t, the basilisk is a crested serpent, half rooster, half snake, which can kill with a single glance. The basilisk rests on the top of the monument below but notice another Basel staff beneath it.


Basilisk Fountain

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Basilisk and Basel staff


Jim drinking from the Basilisk Fountain

A little farther on, we arrived at the Rathaus or City Hall in the Marktplatz. I’ve probably said this before but I find the German term Rathaus especially humorous for the place of government. Hearing that 70% of eligible Swiss voters exercise their franchise makes me think, however, the Swiss are good citizens who have confidence in their government. This particular Rathaus was built after the great earthquake in 1356 but it has been restored and added onto through the years.


the Rathaus is the red building, note the Basel staff on the tower

The frescoes and sculptures that adorn the exterior of the building and the courtyard are splendid and awe-inspiring and we took our time enjoying them. I would love to have seen the interior, especially the Council Chamber and, although the building is open to the public, it’s closed on weekends. Sadly, we were there on Sunday.






Statue of Lucius Munatius Plancus in Rathaus courtyard




Murals in the courtyard of the Rathaus

After our visit to the Rathaus, we were given time to explore the Marktplatz but on Sunday most of the shops were closed.  We elected to leave the group and find our way back to the ship on foot. As we made our way, we encountered another of the remaining city gates, St. Johanns-Tor, built shortly after the great earthquake. Today it houses the Police Department.


St. Johanns-Tor

We enjoyed our time in Basel and I’m sure there are many more sights worthy of exploration but we were setting sail at 8:00 pm for our next port on the Rhine River, Breisach, Germany.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: cruise, Switzerland, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Train to Basel

Small but bursting with natural alpine beauty and man-made tourist attractions, Switzerland has more to offer than we could possibly cover in one week. Nevertheless, we tried to do as much as possible before our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River and, for the most part, we were successful. Although we didn’t do any hiking in the Alps because of Jim’s back injury, we visited all the towns and attractions on our itinerary. We planned to end our tour of the country at Basel (pronounced Baasel), where we would depart on our cruise on October 29, 2017.

Our final train journey took us from Grindelwald through Bern to Basel in just under 3 hours. As usual, I attempted to capture memories both inside and outside the train with my trusty i-Phone 7 Plus.


Leaving Grindelwald

Inside the train, we enjoyed the company of three young ladies we had encountered at Jungfraujoch and we watched with delight as they played with a couple of Siberian huskies sharing our ride.



Friendly canines

Outside the train, the views were spectacular as always.


Interlaken, Switzerland


Interlaken, Switzerland


Lake Interlaken


Bern, capital city of Switzerland

When we arrived in Basel, we thought we’d have no problem finding Gaia Hotel, as it was located right outside the SBB train station. This is why I CAN’T EMPHASIZE ENOUGH, know which exit to take from the train station. We searched for over an hour and wandered far afield while asking several people before we found our hotel which was located, as promised, right by the train station.


Hotel Gaia, Basel

We were relieved to finally arrive and we were very impressed with our accommodations.


Our room at Hotel Gaia


Bathroom at Hotel Gaia

And, we were pleased to find our friends, Lori and her daughter, Heather, already happily checked into the hotel. Heather opted to stay at the hotel for the evening but Lori was game to have dinner with Jim and me. We asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for typical Swiss cuisine and she suggested nearby Restaurant Elsbethenstubli. When we arrived at the restaurant at 7:00 p.m., it was packed and the woman who greeted us suggested an appertif across the street while we waited. We gladly obliged and enjoyed our usual glass of red wine while we waited.


A toast to our cruise


Lori and Jim at Restaurant Elsbethenstubli

Since I had already tried fondue, I ordered the raclette and Jim ordered rosti, both typical Swiss dishes. Lori had the fondue.






Lori with fondue

The couple seated beside us struck up a conversation and instructed Lori in the fine art of eating fondue. She learned how to twirl the bread after dipping to ensure the cheese stayed on the bread with no dripping.


Mike and Sabine

Following dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and relaxed with another glass or two of wine before calling it a night.

The next morning we enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts of our trip.


Dining room at Hotel Gaia


Breakfast at Hotel Gaia

With tram passes in hand provided by our hotel, we set off down the street to catch the tram to the cruise port for our ship, the Viking Kara. After a short tram ride and another walk, we arrived at the ship.


Lori, Heather, Jim enroute to ship


Our arrival at the Viking Kara


Viking Kara

We couldn’t get into our cabins yet so we dropped our luggage at the ship and set off on a walk around old town Basel which that will be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll come back.

Based on events from October 2017.


Categories: cruise, Europe, Switzerland, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jungfrau PostScript

I mentioned in my last post we met a young man on the train back to Grindelwald from the Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch. We struck up a conversation and learned he’s an American living and working in Switzerland for Nestle. He told us in his free time he travels around Europe and especially Switzerland and he enjoys taking lots of photos. He, naturally, was using a good camera while I was using my IPhone 7Plus. When we discovered we could open the top portion of the window on the train, he and I were ecstatic to take photos without window glare. I told him about my travel blog, gave him my business card, and asked him to send me a few of his best photos from our day at the Top of Europe. Here are the photos he sent me. I think they’re exceptional, don’t you?

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Thank you, Christian, for sharing your talent on my blog.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Switzerland, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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