Friday, May 28, 2010

Visit to Heidelberg

Our first morning in Mannheim we walked up the street to the bakery to stock up for the weekend.

Wolfgang bought a little of everything. We went back to the apartment for coffee and pastries and then went back to buy more. My favorite was the apple tart. There were two versions. One with apples diced into small cubes, and one with larger pieces made from local apples. I liked them both.

Then we walked about 10 blocks to the lot where Andrea keeps her car. The drive to Heidelberg was about 15 minutes. Finding a parking place wasn't too bad since we didn't mind the 20 minute walk to the city center. The space was for two hours, so Wolfgang set the clock on the card that you leave in a visible space on the dashboard to let the parking police know what time you intend to return.

There is more reliance on the honor system here than there is in the US. We have a 1-month metro/bus pass for Berlin. We have been here almost a month and so far our passes have never been checked. We show it to get on the bus, but the metro has no entry machines, you just walk right onto the train. Occasionally an inspector comes through to check and you can be fined if you don't have a ticket or a pass.

On our walk to the town center, we passed several crops of mushrooms. It has been a cold rainy May here too.

I thought this was a particularly whimsical cluster. These little white flowers are everywhere in Germany right now.

Our first stop when we got into town was a chocolate shop called St. Anna's No. 1.

We sat outside in the sun while the owner prepared our chocolate. Dave and I ordered the orange chocolate. Wolfgang chose chili coffee chocolate. The owner expressed concern that he might want to rethink this combination, but Wolfgang assured her that he is tough, he can take it. The tiny shop was crowded with people buying handmade chocolates so we had time to sit in the sun outside before our chocolate arrived.

As you can see, this is not American style hot chocolate. This is real chocolate melted into a bit of milk. When she brought it, she told us to stir it to melt the lumps of chocolate. You can eat it with a spoon or go ahead and risk a chocolate milk mustache. The water is to drink between sips of chocolate. It was velvety smooth, not too sweet, with a hint of orange. Quite elegant.

Before we left, I bought a couple of her chocolates.

There is a disk of chocolate at the bottom of each. I'm not sure how they do the sides. Maybe it's a special mold, but the sides are very thin, like it is spread onto acetate strips. The center is a slightly soft ganache. The white chocolate one is coffee and the dark is hazelnut. The packaging is simple but elegant.

The outskirts of Heidelberg are modern but as you approach the center, it becomes more historic. The streets here were mostly pedestrian.

The Subway restaurant sign seemed kind of out of place here.

On the hill, we could see the remains of the old castle.

Wolfgang took us to his favorite place for coffee at the end of the street before we turned toward the bridge and began the climb up the hill (that he hadn't really told us much about at this point).

Turns out they had some really interesting chocolates as well. A solid disk of chocolate is poured into the bottom and then a very soft ganache is piped on top. Another disk of solid chocolate is poured on top. These are a little messy to eat but they were quite delicious.

Yes, the Starlight mice will eventually have their own perspective of the Berlin/Paris/So. Germany trip online but right now they are too busy exploring.

Here is one of the older buildings we passed as we headed towards the bridge.

The bridge crosses the river Neckar.

Wolfgang mentioned the little loop he would like to take us on to show us some pretty nice views of the city... with a nice Italian restaurant at the end.

We agreed that would be fun. It started out quite idyllic as a narrow winding path.

"You see, it's not so bad." But it got a little steeper. And it went up and up and up. "Just around this corner, we're almost there."

Oops, here are a few stairs. "You will see. It will be beautiful."

"Come on, it's not very far anymore." We finally did reach the first viewing spot.

And it was lovely (especially the part where we got to sit down on a bench). This is the snow-globe city in the winter with spires rising up out of the snow. Oh, but wait... that's not all! There are more stairs and a little bit further to reach the top.

And this is what to see from the top.

Going down didn't see quite as steep. Dave thinks it was about 400 feet to the top. The path is called the Philosopher's Walk.

By the time we got to the bottom it was later than Wolfgang had expected so we took a short break at the Italian cafe and called Andrea to find out if she wanted to meet us for dinner at an outdoor restaurant on the Rhine in Mannheim.

Wolfgang and Dave had coffee. I ordered their special of the day, Spargel Soup. Spargel is the thick white asparagus that is in season right now and for sale all over Germany and France.

The soup was salmon, dill, and white asparagus. It was my first taste of this seasonal treat. I've had a lot of white asparagus since and I like it this way the best. The texture of the soup was silky smooth with garlicky fried crumbles of salmon suspended in the light creamy soup.

It was a bit difficult to stand up and walk again after this short break, but we were well past our 4 pm parking deadline. Actually finding our car was a bit of a problem, but Wolfgang picked up the scent and led us through the city outskirts to the warm interior of the car.

We drove directly (well actually we missed the Mannheim bridge a few times but eventually found the correct street and got into the right area) and found a parking space within a convenient quarter to half mile walk to the restaurant. We sat outside and ate traditional German food as boats moved up and down the Rhine near our table.

Since I didn't have my camera, I thought I'd try out the video feature on my iPhone while we waited for our food to arrive.

We headed back to our car at sunset. We needed to rest up for the early morning train to Koln then next day.

A Tiny Bit More of Paris

As we were packing up our suitcases, the maid came in to clean us out of our apartment. Good thing we were almost ready. Checkout was 10 am and she was about 10 minutes early.

We dragged our luggage downstairs and took the metro to the train station to store our luggage, since our train didn't leave until around 5 pm. That would give us a few more hours in Paris with just our backpacks.

Andrea wanted to show us the remains of a Roman arena and a mosque. We also found a botanic garden in that area.

This is the Lutrece Arena. Dave is staring into the grilled areas where the lions were kept? You can see these two release cages on the lower left of the photo next that photo. We assumed that the gladiators came from the entrance at the upper right in the larger photo. It felt strange to walk around in this arena.

The peaceful area around the arena seemed to contradict the history of arena sports in this location.

These Roman gardens are just in front of the arena. The picture below is another example of the mixture of time periods and that I mentioned in my previous posting.

The mosque was only a street or two over from these Roman structures.
It was closed but we could see the exterior. And across the street were some modern day balcony gardens.

Since it was the right kind of day for strolling in gardens, we walked back to where we'd seen the Jardin des Plants and took a leisurely walk. We saw some that large leaf mint that Dave had in his salad at Laduree the night before.

There were children everywhere, eating lunch on the benches, on the grass, and even taking naps under a tree.

The red hats and green hats must have been on a botanical tour. But some folks were just enjoying some quiet time on a shady bench.

We finally had to leave to pick up our luggage and wait to board our train back to Germany. We had a three hour ride to Andrea's apartment in Mannheim.

As the train moved towards Germany the sun disappeared and it began to rain.

Goodbye Paris.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Last Full Day in Paris

We couldn't leave Paris without giving Dave a chance to see the Eiffel tower up close. I knew he'd appreciate the engineering.

We decided not to take the elevators to the top. Shaun and I took them last time at night which was pretty but really crowded. We decided the real treat is to see the structure and be awed by it's immensity.

And almost as exciting were the free toilettes nearby.

Dave had to pay a euro to use the toilette in a restaurant on our walk from the metro to the tower.

We decided to go to the Musee D'Orsey, but when we got to the metro stop my 3-day pass had stopped working... again. You can't try it again right away because it will interpret that as trying to get two people through on one pass. You have to wait for 20 minutes before using it again at the same station.

We decided to walk along the Seine in the direction of the Musee D'Orsey. It's really difficult to judge distance when you use the metro. Some stops are closer than you think. Since it had turned out to be a beautiful warm day, we decided to skip the museum and take a boat ride on the Seine.

We wished we'd done this earlier. You get a much better sense of how the city is laid out, and you find out more about the buildings and the history of the city.

These are just a hint of what we saw on the 1-hour boat ride.

I found the rooftop gardens to be intriguing. Those are trees up there!

Like London, Paris is a mix of old, older, and new. Here is a bit of Notre Dame rising above some very high-end apartments. Paris didn't experience the bombing that most of the cities of Germany did, so there are a lot more very old buildings here but there are lots of newer buildings as well.

After the boat tour, we discovered that my metro pass still wouldn't work, so we found an information booth at the station to get it replaced. This happened to me several times. I finally realized that the magnet latches on my travel purse were de-magnitizing the strip that communicates with the metro entry machines.

In the evening we went to the David Lebovitz book signing at the W.H. Smith bookstore across from the tuilleries (yes, we found it).

He was speaking mostly to Americans in Paris. He blogs and writes about being a pastry chef/cookbook writer in Paris. His style is light and humorous. There was a large crowd so we couldn't get close enough to see him, but we were near the book signing table so we got our books signed quickly. I gave him a couple of copies of Edible Santa Barbara. One of his ice cream recipes is in the one with the tomatoes on the cover and I gave him the chocolate issue as well since he leads chocolate tours in Paris. He told me he loves the Edible magazines.

I couldn't buy his new book Ready for Dessert because it's too heavy for my already heavy suitcase, so I got his smaller book on chocolate... a really good choice.

We leave on Monday and I'm already panicking about how to get everything into our suitcases and get them onto the plane. I'll probably leave my slacks here to make more room for the copper pan we bought in Paris.

Our final experience for the day was to go to Laduree on Champs Elysee for dinner. It was far too elegant to take photos of our food. We ate upstairs, choosing the classical menu over the cafe style menu. It was quite delicious. Dave's choice was the best, a shrimp salad with a light vinaigrette dressing. The small sweet shrimp were just a little warm on crisp butter lettuce, spinach, and large leaf mint. We bought our macaroons (Laduree is well-known for macaroons) to go because they are less expensive in a box than on a plate.

I have to agree with Pascale, the Gerard Mulot macaroons I tasted were better. I think the focus for Gerard Mulot is the filling with just a hint of macaroon exterior. The Laduree macaroons focus more on the macaroon exterior with a filling accent. I like this kind of research.

We were home by midnight. It's amazing how many people are still on the streets and in the cafes at midnight.

Tuesday in Paris

We began the day with pastries and a fresh baguette Dave brought back from an early morning trip to the bakery down the street.

I wanted to see St. Chapelle and Notre Dame with the sun shining through the windows. Dave wanted to see the Rodin museum, so we all agreed to start at the Rodin museum and then after seeing the gardens, Andrea and Wolfgang would go off to see other sights. In the evening, we'd all go to the train station together to wave goodbye to Wolfgang.

Great place to go while we urged the sun out from behind the clouds. It worked!

Here I am... thinking.

The gardens were filled with statues. The one on the right in the flannel shirt looks kind of familiar.

Now here's an unusual sight.

Wolfgang stops to smell the roses? You probably know by now that Wolfgang puts in at least twice as many miles as we do on a walk as he darts back and forth finding the best things to show us.

The garden provided natural art as well. Dave and Andrea are framed by an ivy archway. A tree trunk offers a bit of natural sculpture, and the sun creates shadow art on the gravel pathway.

Andrea and Wolfgang waved goodbye as Dave and I went inside the museum.

Here are a few things we saw inside.

Our next stop was Saint Chapelle. We arrived during the lunch break so the line wasn't too long yet. We passed through the metal detectors but had to declare my little pocket knife which meant filling out forms and getting a claim receipt.

Saint Chapelle is very blue and quite beautiful. The photos on the right are downstairs below the chapel. You walk up a very narrow circular stairway that opens out into the room with the windows shown on the left in this photo.

This is a broader view of the chapel. We then reclaimed my pocket knife and had to walk with it through the area they had restricted us from entering with it to get to the exit.

We walked over to Notre Dame, which had no line, and no metal detector or pocket knife policy. Here is one of the rose windows.

And a bit of stained glass.

I have lots more photos, but these gives you an idea of what we saw inside.

All too soon it was time to get Wolfgang to his train. We didn't take our camera but he made it safely onto the train and back to Berlin.

Andrea took us to Montmartre to see where she had lived and to have dinner at a really delicious Algerian restaurant down the hill. We took the funicular up to the top this time instead of walking and we were grateful that the walk down was pretty easy. While wandering through the side streets of Montmartre, we saw this.

So I snapped a picture with my iPhone. That about does it for Tuesday. We only had one more full day left in Paris so we needed a little sleep.