Saturday, July 18, 2015

Germany: Cake, Castles and Cruises

Cake, Castles and Cruises was my theme for part of my Germany Off the Beaten Track tour

Photo from KD web site

Having a theme on my trips allows me a personal interest to search for in every town I visit.   

How wonderful to find cafes dating back 100+ years in most towns that featured a cake that was famous!  

Castles were everywhere on the banks of the Rhine river and I was a human pinball going side to side on the top deck to photograph everything!

River transportation is perfect:  board a boat and only worry about when to get off.   River cruises are notoriously expensive but the extensive ferry system on the Rhine river offers a solo traveler a simple option to driving or the train.  (later post on hop on hop off a river boat)

The rivers in Germany historically moved people and goods from town to town.   Castles and fortified homes dot both sides of the river and most passengers were on the top deck so they would not miss anything.   

Instead of a quick train ride, I took KD River cruises took me from Koblenz to Oberwesel my next stop on Off the Beaten Track.

Meals are available in the dining room.  Drinks can be served up on deck.

Every town seemed to have a castle to 'protect them"

I wanted to get off at every town and explore.....

 Fairly tale villages at every curve in the river

Some towns were so close to the boat you could watch daily life in the streets.  The boats arrive frequently and it was not a special occasion to watch the 'tourists' go by.

The three house trip cam to an end all too soon.  On my return visit I will be taking the boat and the train to visit the Rhine river.

My complementary trip on the Rhine river was arranged by the Koblenz tourist office and the opinions are my own.© lee laurino

Friday, July 17, 2015

Koblenz, Germany Amazing Interactive Exhibiton

Romanticum Exhibit in Koblenz, Germany

photo credits below

At the end of my city tour of Koblenz I was scheduled for a visit to an  interactive exhibition: Romanticum. 

I expected a 'collection of historic items' or art but was surprised at what I discovered.     The entire exhibit is interactive from simple information screens to exhibits and displays that each viewer can select a topic of interest:  river, castles, wine.

There are exhibits and displays designed for both children and adults:  the history of the the romantic Middle Rhine Valley area.     

Most striking is the plastic card you are issued upon entry.   At many of the displays you can download the information you select to your 'card'
You collect the information you have selected and you can "read the card" later on a device.

Visiting the museum  when you arrive in Koblenz will give you great background information for your days visiting historic sites and traveling the Rhine valley.

It is a fun way to learn about the founding and development of historic Koblenz.

Currently the exhibit is in Germany (some English explanations)  but there are plans for English descriptions to the many exhibits.    Thanks to the Koblenz Tourist office I was given a tour of the exhibit, explaining how to maximize your visit to the exhibit.  

Opening Hours:  (confirm with
Daily 10 am to 6 pm

Photos from:  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Koblentz, Germany: exploring solo

Koblenz,  Off the Beaten Track Tour Stop Two

Leaving Munster early on Sunday morning, the train south to Koblenz took less than 3 hours through villages and farmlands 
not yet showing results of spring planting.

The Mosselle and Rhine river meet 

Koblenz another UNESCO World Heritage city, may not be as well known as other towns in Germany but it should be on your list of river towns with a rich history to explore.

With less than two full days in each town you hit the ground running and thanks to the Koblenz Tourist office who had arranged a wonderful schedule for me.    

First, bus #650 across from the tourist office will take you a short distance out of town to the Stolzenfele Scholossweg.  My first German  castle.  

Watch for the sign on the right and take the road up, up and up the hill.  The paved road takes you the entrance at the back of the castle (the path took me to the dead end at the front of the castle)

Tours are offered, none in English but they kindly provided an abbreviated written outline of the information.   

Great river views from the castle

Back to to (bus stop is across from where you got off)  I visited the Tourist Office.   The lobby has a coffee cafe offering snacks, cake and WIFI.     Middle Rhine Museum, Romanticum interactive exhibit and the municipal library are also in the building but as most restaurants and all stores, it was closed on a Sunday.   A great collection of 'things to do' and I would keep this in mind for a winter traveler or perhaps a rainy day.


The narrow streets and squares throughout town take you from historic churches to former municipal building all with the charm I had always assigned to Germany.  Kolblenz's  has many great places to explore:  take the 'cable car' across the river and up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.     

Not just an historic site, multi use complex  that hosts festivals and concerts.  It is a perfect vantage point to sit and view the hills and river for miles.  In 2020 Ehrenbreitsteint was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Far more can be told about the history of this fort.  Allow enough time to explore.   Remember the last cable car crossing or you will be hiking to a bridge down the river that crosses the Rhine.

You can spend the entire day exploring the site, the museum, enjoying lunch at the cafe or even stay at the hostel.  The buildings are used for conferences, events and perhaps weddings.

My patient guide Ms Wiebke Heitmann 

My guide suggested one of the older hotels in the Jesuitenplatz (square) as a perfect solo friendly lunch location.  The Altsadt Hotel had a friendly cafe and a large outside dining area.   I had a late lunch here to try there featured Bread and Spreads.   You select from a wide variety of German breads and pick three spreads.     It was delicious, comfortable seating and no rush to vacate your table.  

One of the staff members spoke English and I suspect the other young woman understood me.   
The coffee was excellent.     This would be my recommendation to a solo traveler who might not enjoy a more formal restaurant. Jesuitenpl, 1 Koblenz, Germany
The 14 room boutique hotel above the cafe (from the web site) would be a great location and easy walk to the riverside, train station or other sites in the city.  Not open for dinner.

I was the guest of the Koblenz Tourist office at the Winzerstube and Amalfi restaurant on the river front.   An unusual mix of two restaurants  side by side with one entrance:  Italian to the left and German to the right.   On Sunday night they were very busy but found me a table.   

Herr Meithoff owns the restaurant and has a fondness for Italian cinquecentos!  He has one parked IN the restaurant..

The German side 

I chose a potato soup that was excellent.

The massive chicken salad was amazing.  I never cook so I had to ask the waitress what they cooked the chicken in.  After sever attempts it was explained the flavoring was balsamic vinegar.

The owner showed me his signature pizza which smelled wonderful

My very patient waitress.  As the ONLY solo diner, I am not sure they knew what to do with me! 

A large patio spans the front of both restaurants and has a view of the river.

I wish to thank the Koblenz Tourist Office for hosting my stay in Koblenze.  The stay was complementary but the opinions are all my own.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Billboard messages: Another Great Find In Germany

Germany has a wonderful history in art, architecture, literature, music etc

The professional tour guides I worked with in all the cities Off the Beaten Track  that the tourist board arranged for me were amazing.  But my mission disappointed all of them.

My focus was to spend the limited time in each city discovering something new, something not in the tour books.  

At the same time I was experiencing the city as a mature solo traveler: looking for restaurants, tours and popular city activities where a mature solo traveler would feel welcome.    If you have ever traveled independently you know what I am searching for.

My guide in Wiesbaden, Patrick, had a very engaging method to share the vast history of his town.    Although he thought my topic was less important he indulged me at ever stop when I asked "can a solo traveler come to concerts here or eat at this cafe and feel comfortable?"

My guide for the day showed me Wiesbaden from a local prospective

But I may have tested his sense of humor when I stopped and asked about a 'billboard' filled with a hand written message.  Of course he could explain this as well.   
And he agreed to tell me the story in a video.

My tour of Wiesbaden was thanks to Wiesbaden Marketing and the opinions and comments are my own.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Brezels: German off the Beaten Track

Brezels.......the snack food of Germany

In Heidelberg as a guest of Heidelberg Marketing,  I had the pleasure of spending a day with expat Charlotte Frey.  As we toured the old town to discover solo friendly activities and restaurants she shared many unique, historic facts about Heidelberg. 

Brezels are sold everywhere
Pretzels are a staple on air flights, pretzels are offered in bars and large, 'soft' pretzels are found in food courts and at festivals and fairs.   

Brezels in Germany have a long history and are ever present in daily life in Heidelberg.    As we walked around the Cathedral where vendors may have had the same stalls for hundreds of years, Ms Frey showed me carvings in the stone that resemble pretzels.

In Germany these are BREZELS and have an economic history as well as a gastronomic one.   

The carvings denoted the size standard of the brezel that was to be sold. 

Some of the carvings were much smaller than others.   When the harvest was poor the standardize brezel size was smaller!

Large quantities of brezels were in offered in every bake shop that we passed. Apparently brezels are never made at home but purchased daily.  They have no preservatives and become very hard overnight.  I sampled different styles on offer to determine if there was any difference in taste between the traditional pretzel style, long, 'fat' bezels or the thin variety.   I found no difference.
Photo from Wikipedia

Brezels are sold in every bakery in different sizes and shapes.  I wanted to taste several to see if they tasted different.  However, I think they are often sold in 3's because as I tried to explain I wanted one of eat, the busy bakery sales clerk was very annoyed, but complied with my request.  They tasted the same.  

I did a computer search and even asked the helpful young woman at the tourist office if there were any breazel bakeries I could visit.   When I finally found one, the location was across the river and I had a visit to the castle planned.  Next time I will try to learn to make brezels. 

Bezels are German snack food.  You always have bread with beer.   There is no fat in a Brezel or preservatives.  Charlotte told me "I can't imagine life without a bretzel"!

Thanks to the great resources online, you find a great history on pretzels!
Here are a few facts about German brezels:

There is a religious connection to the history of the bretze:
"Pretzels have long been integrated into the Christian faith. By the 16th century, it had become tradition to eat pretzels on Good Friday in Germany, and Catholics once considered them the “official food of lent.” Earlier laws of the Church stated that only one meal a day was to be eaten during lent and the food couldn’t come from an animal."

Pretzels are put into a lye or baking powder solution!
"Before baking, the formed pretzel is dunked briefly in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and water. In German this mixture is called Natronlauge. This is what gives the pretzel its unique color and flavor. Because of this technique, this type of pretzel is also called a Laugenbrezel."

"Pretzels today continue to be formed by hand as has been done throughout history. Bakers spend years perfecting the pretzel-forming technique. First, the dough needs to be rolled out. Both ends of the strand are held up, and through a quick swing, the center of the strand is twisted. The ends are then pressed onto the body of the pretzel"

250 year old Brezel found in in Regensburg
"Carbon dating showed the pastries were made between 1700 and 1800. Indeed, the archaeologists found written evidence that in 1753 a baker named Johann Georg Held was living at the site."

The most popular pretzel is the so called Laugenbretzel. It consists out of flour, malt, salt, yeast and water.
Before baking, the formed pretzel is dunked briefly (just some seconds) in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and water (ph 13-14).  It helps to bring about the brown color that will occur during the baking process. In German this mixture is called Natronlauge

What other snack foods are popular in other countries?

Next we visited the oldest chocolate store!

Historic Highlights of Germany:off the beaten path, made my tour of 8 German cities possible.  The opinions are my own.