If you only skim my blogs or books, you will understand two things about my approach to food: use real butter and if you’re going to take in a lot of calories, make each one count. The town of Cesky Krumlov (and overall, the CZ culture) abides by both of these rules. As we’ve returned time and again to Cesky, we eagerly await the next new place we’re going to find culinary nirvana. This trip didn’t disappoint.
A waterwheel, a bridge and the literal sound of music
The same bridge, across from the waterwheel. Streams flow to and through the town, each one a picture-perfect snap opportunity. The Krumlovsky is just the right, opposite side (not pictured).
We heard the music first, drawn across the famed waterwheel bridge. The first image was a ten-foot diameter wood, wheel lighting fixture. Just below him and to the right was the source of the music, a silver haired man with a crooked back played piano, to his left, a medieval oven with its clay vent stretching to the ceiling roasted several times of meat (entire pig included) and we took a seat at an open bench. The Hungarian waiter, who we learned speaks six languages, including English amazing well, helped us out, but it was somewhat unnecessary. The menu offered both Hungarian and English; common enough in the town overall.
Big, warm and cozy. Riverside dining with views directly to the castle also available (not pictured), although I took a few snaps from the castle, looking down to the restaurant.
The Krumlovsky restaurant is mid-photo, dark roof. The bridge is to the left, just past the pinkish building.
Hungarian goulash (UR), the house special of pork meats, sauerkraut and potatoes (LL) and the dessert of potato pancakes with lingonberry syrup (LR). The steak tartar was incredible but we ate it too fast to take pictures!
Proud chef, happy customer
Stuffed beyond comfort, we agreed to walk for a while. As we made our way through the narrow streets, (only the main road allows for cars) Rog and I agreed the majority of shops in and around the most castle zones are geared towards tourists, e.g. shop owners think we will be affected by some euphoric haze of stupidity, willing to spend twice as much for the privilege of saying: I got this at X castle.
The largest street in Cesky Krumlov. The rest are carriage-wide lanes.
Thankfully, the town of Cesky does not swallow this pill of delusion, in fact, one is hard pressed to find the souvenir shops with the standard postcards, keychains and country pins. The town has kept the retail stores authentic, consistent with our last visit four years ago. One example is a shortbread retailer, who uses a 600-year-old recipe to produce cookies so intricate that could be framed and placed on a wall, not eaten. We didn’t feel morally right about spending eating a five-dollar work of art, but did indulge in a 1 dollar (all equivalent currency, for they use the CZ krona). It was divine.
Shortbread and liquors- one I tried, the other I didn’t; both proudly displayed by their creators in boutique retail shops.
Next to this is a honey and wine provider, with a wall full varieties
to be tasted for a krona each (about .25 cents). It’s so much fun to wander
along cobblestone streets when the people who sell the product make the
product. No, this isn’t true 100% of the time, but it’s dominant. You aren’t
going to find big retail chains here, although several boutique stores did
offer Fendi, Prada and a few other name brands. I stepped in to one, just to
check it out. A pair of slip on athletic shoes I happened to be wearing
(Michael Kors) were $140 in the states. Here, at this shop, they were the $260.
Clearly, they didn’t get the memo about not jacking up the price.
But that was anomaly, and I don’t come overseas to purchase items we can get back home. The whole point is to think and be different.
She looks awfully happy for a mannequin.
The street performer and the kiss
If you are in Prague at the Astronomical Square, a dozen different street performers fill the air with their acts. Here, there was one amongst the dozens of narrow streets. An older man spun his metal lever, drawing in kids and a few adults interested in playing the centuries-old device. I’m always up for a new experience and went for it. The man was so cute, reminding me an elf with a squish, wizened face of happiness. My laughing made him giggle (thought in the picture he looked unsure). I gave him a kiss at the end, the girls shocked by seeing me landing a plant on another man. The next ten minutes as we walked down the lane was trying to explain why kissing the mushy face of a seventy-year-old and did not qualify as cheating on my husband. My nine-year-old pointed out that the man blushed at my kiss and smiled. “Doesn’t that count.” Oh, to be so wonderfully naïve. It wasn’t until we rounded the corner, walking along the rivers edge did the girls tire of the subject of mom kissing a complete stranger.
He’s definitely uncertain about the American girl, but I warmed him up nicely with a friendly smooch.
What more can be said about Hohensalzburg than is already out there? Not much, in my opinion, other than the brutal review I’m going to provide you of the inside tour, which has been dramatically reduced to five rooms out of hundreds available. It’s not often I want to be Nicole Kidman or someone famous enough to get me access to floors and buildings off limits (not likely to happen in this lifetime), so all I can do is essentially grumble about paying the 30 Euro for our family, getting squished at the top of the tower with bodies, all jostling for the perfect selfie, then down again. On the bright side, we parked and took the ‘locals’ way,’ which made for new views and a quiet experience we enjoyed going up and down, which somewhat countered the lame experience in the middle.
Join me on this, our second and what is likely to be our last trip to Hohensalzburg.
Parking, right downtown in the locals’ area, the backside of the castle. The path is behind homes that lead to the castle-the occupants more than happy to chit chat as they water their beautiful gardens.
The road up and grounds
Neither have changed for four years ago. You can ride the tram up, saving yourself approximately 3,000 steps up, or you can take the leisurely route, which is longer, but in the shade and completely deserted. We encountered 4 other walks besides ourselves, two couples, both of whom stopped to grab a bite to eat on the bench and smooch.
Where the homes stop, this open grassland with bike/walking paths begin. A large home in the distance (UL), the start of the path to the castle (UR) and the four-corners path connecting multiple blocks.
Both tram and step walk are at the base of the castle; the steps are what we did on our first visit. This time, we parked on what I’d call the backside of the castle. It’s on the southwestern side, street parking for 4.50 Euro. The streets are quaint, full of locals, the paths to the castle occupied with families going through the parks. One right at an almost hidden sign lets you know this is it—the way up.
The trail up is paved and well lit, benches spread along the way. Since it’s not the main entrance, it’s quiet, offering plenty of stopping points to take photos. Nearly at the top, a view one can’t see from the front appears, which is an armory.
Seriously love the homes at the base of the castle (UL), the final walking rise to the castle (UR) and the tram in castle neither steps or path are your style.
The entrance and free areas
We beat the throng of visitors, arriving at 10:30 a.m. As we
looked down the hill, bus after bus was dropping of streams of people who went
single file to the steps. We were glad to already be at the top. The main
courtyard and restaurants haven’t changed, and I will say my preference is the
eatery on the second-floor landing which overlooks the valley.
Even though we’d seen the inner and outer courtyards, we walked in and around again, stopping to purchase our tickets for the tour. As we waited, we were bummed out to see the plethora of dogs that were on leash, but defecated all around the courtyard. While some castles have allowed dogs in the main courtyard area, few give dogs the general run of the place. This one does—and good for the owners, (we are massive dog lovers and love them). But seriously, responsible dog owners pick up the pooh, but not here. We were dismayed to be walking behind several who just dropped and walked—my phrase for the owner wasn’t going to bother and pick it up. What has happened in the last few years?
One tall set of blocks (UL), the first of many gated entries (UR) and my favorite–four different defensive entries, each another barrier to an invading force. What you can’t see is that each gate is an 18 inch thick rock–the doors have been removed.
The unguided tour
Our bad experience started at just after the ticketing desk. We paid, stood in line to receive the translation device, only to be told we’d have to wait for those in English, which wasn’t a big deal, but they had a hundred just sitting there. Worse, the man set “Get going,” as we waited for one to be cleaned and provided to us.
The last stretch to the inner courtyard (UL), a view from above (UR) and the main courtyard, unchanged from our last visit.
We just stared at him. Go where, exactly? One foot to the left so others receiving the French version?
Translators in hand, we went to the first room, the most interesting. It was a room with replicas of the cardinals who oversaw construction of Hohenzollern, accompanied by miniature models of the castle at various points in time. After that, we visited what would have been the salt room, for preserving foods. Then a long corridor, and a peek into the Organ room, housing the “Bull organ. The clergy ruler would have the organ play 3 notes alerting the townsfolks it was time to rise and get to work, and again in the evening, when it was bedtime. Talk about ruling the day.
It was interesting seeing the models representing each stage of completion over the hundreds of years–this is a great example of old meeting new(er).
The downside of this of this piece of history was the cramped 3-foot space where everyone fought to take pictures and keeping their ground while the throng behind us were pushing forward, trying to keep up with the auditory tour guide.
The first room of the tour, with rulers and to scale replicas of the castle at different points in time.
After that, we walked down a long corridor and into the torture chamber. That was more bark than bite, because our virtual tour guide said the room wasn’t actually used for torture, but to display the weapons to put fear in to the prisoners, who were actually held in a room below (not for display).
The pseudo torture chamber– the stones have been resurfaced and painted (poorly) but at least the grate to the left and below my daughter appears authentic.
A few pictures and off we were led to the highest point of the castle. Three flights of narrow stairs for the crowds going up and down, and then you arrive. A square area of stone, providing 360-degree views and in the center, a wooden platform (now reinforced with stone and metal). This can’t be larger than a 15×15 space, if that, including the stairs. Shoving, pushing, self-driven crazies. No time to really enjoy the spectacular prospect of Salzburg below.
Was it worth getting scrunched at the top of the platform? The juries out. I like Roger’s drone videos better.
I was so annoyed, me and the girls looked around, took it in, then got out of the madness. Rog fought his way up to the top, took a pic of us below and called it a day, vowing to get better shots with his drone, which is now up on my Instagram account.
A view on the back that never gets seen if you enter from the front.
Whew. It’s over. Time to eat
After that hour of our life, we were hungry and stopped at the Stocker which we’d seen while parking. The meal we ate made up for the latent grumpiness we experienced at the castle. Over amazing cold shrimp and cucumber salad, pork roast and schnitzel, we analyzed what went wrong.
Unregulated tours for starters, trying to pump as many
people through as fast as possible was the culprit. Unlike Hohenschwangau,
where the tour guide walked us our group of 10 through each room in the entire
castle, and even the larger Hohenzollern
Castle, which is infinitely larger, even there, the personal tour guide
took our group of 12 through multiple rooms. Each tour was detailed, fulfilling,
personal and guess what? The exact same price! Even the more visited Neuschwanstein
Castle has a tour guide, granted, with 60 people, but at least that one is
longer, detailed and fulfilling.
We get it. Castle tourism is a business, and Salzburg is a convenient destination outside Vienna. Mozart’s house is a draw, and many day trip visitors are trying to get both Mozart and Hohensalzburg in at the same time. But to those of us who desire a deeper experience, it’s pretty clear that only fame or a whole lot more money than we possess is going to fulfill that dream, at least with Hohenzollern.
The best part of the visit was the food afterward- or am I being too harsh? Okay, maybe a little, but the food at Stocker is really to die for.
What I liked
The grounds are lovely, and the back path to the castle calm and easy. I also must call out one new room we found which was free and unique–it’s the puppet room. These are life size recreation of puppets that kept the rulers happy. These are shown in a cave-like area within the castle.
The marionette area was pretty cool in it’s own batcave area.
The town below—be sure to go on the locals side—offers incredible food and shops.
What I didn’t
See the paragraphs above. Too many people. Touristy and unfulfilling.
Even with our disappointment, I’d suggest you go at least once to see the grounds and explore the area. If you are early in the season and have twenty minutes to spare, sure, do the tour. You’ve made it all that way. The best thing to do is set your expectations accordingly. Otherwise, save your money for a castle where you can have an incredibly rewarding experience that you’ll remember the rest of your life, and for all the right reasons.
Feature photo: taken from the perch atop the Hohensalzburg, and not with a selfie stick!
To this point, we’ve stayed at four apartments, a hotel, a villa and two bed and breakfasts. We have a few more countries and accommodations to go, but I’m receiving quite a few DM’s on places we’ve rented, the logic and pricing. At the end of the journey, I’m planning on a roundup of lodging, but in the rush of our trip, can only write full reviews on places as they deserve it. In this case, I’m writing about a boutique hotel we’ve been staying at in Salzburg, The Hotel Turnerwirt.
The lobby shot, old Austrian charm with modern convenience.
Why a “boutique” hotel”
As a matter of policy, we don’t stay in large hotels on
overseas trips. The local flavor is what we want, and this is better found with
apartments, homes or B & Bs, but we’ve not had good luck with what is
called a boutique. We think that’s a euphemism for odd; like the place can’t
determine if it’s really a B & B, which means a more homey feel, but doesn’t
live up to the services or amenities offered by a large facility. Since “somewhere-in-the-middle”
has never really worked for me, we’ve avoided boutiques altoghter.
Enter Hotel Turnerwirt. We fell into this hotel because in Salzburg, rental units of any kind were impossible to come by, even before adding our criteria of parking, air conditioning and helpful things like a washer/dryer. For our timeframe, nothing was to be had, so we had a choice of larger or boutique hotels, and we chose the latter. We also desired a hotel within driving distance to Hohensalzburg, which this is–about five minutes. It’s along the bus line route as well, which comes frequently.
A helpful map of historical Salzburg, Austria in the hotel foyer.
This is a boutique because it’s a traditionally built set of structures operating in the Austrian style of service, which means food service on the bottom floor, a game room for children, reading room for adults, a garden area outdoors and another building for spa treatments. Inside the main structure are wide staircases but narrow hallways, one-room “apartments” versus rooms, which define a family living experience. Situated on a corner facing the mountains, streams on either side require guests to cross one bridge to park, and another bridge to reach the hotel. It’s rather romantic.
The dining room where morning breakfast is served.
The breakfast (not included) serves a traditional Austrian
breakfast of cold-cuts, cheeses, breads, musli (granola) and poached eggs.
The convenience to excellent restaurants translates to a 5-10 minute walk in any direction, our favorite being Pizzeria gausthaus Schwaben, down the road and across the bridge. Hip, elegant and underpriced as far as we were concerned. Excellent atmosphere, just know the smoking shop right next door can draft more strongly as the evening wears on.
As usual, we were the early family diners. Nearly every table had a ‘reserved’ card when we arrived, and by the time we left, it was packed.
Schnitzel pre mushroom sauce (UL), fettucini carbonara (UR) and us girls
The location, local flavor and uber-helpful staff. Can’t ask for a better combination of those three elements.
What I liked least
The noise in the morning was pretty brutal. I’m not used to thin(er) walls and full families making a racket. Parking was also a bit tricky when we showed up after 7, but we improvised along the walls and made it work. Compared to most B & Bs, or even hotels, the $20Euro per person for the continental breakfast was a bit on the steep side, so we passed after the first morning.
Sometimes, taking the scenic route reveals the most interesting of destinations. As we traveled from Italy to Austria, we’d inadvertently requested the shortest route in distance, not in terms of time to our final destination of Salzburg. We didn’t realize that meant up and over the hills of Innsbruck, the largest city in the Tyrol province of Austria, and the countries fifth largest. We’d already rounded a curve coming down the mountain and there it was, looming in the distance. Despite the rain, we jumped out to get the best view of the Bergisel Ski Jump Tower. The futuristic tower has hosted two Olympics and many international ski jump competitions.
Summer is road construction time, and that includes multiple bridges. This is right outside Innsbruck.
We missed our window to go up in the tower and have a meal, worried that we’d miss our check in time in Salzburg, so on we went, having no idea the A4 would have saved us about an hour of driving. It was good luck, however, because while our road paralleled the major highway, we saw all sorts of global manufacturing headquarters and outlets we’d never have seen from the road.
Because the Tyrolean Alps sit high, even when descending town into the valley where Innsbrook is located, you get an idea of the massive size of the Bergisel ski jump. This photo was taken just off the road.
From pharmaceutical companies to high-end ski wear such as Bogner
(oh! But it was closed!!), our favorite was the Swarovski
corporate headquarters. We missed several of the attractions by minutes,
but were able to see the grounds, the carousels, the expansive play areas for
children, and of course, the shopping. One has to appreciate the marketing
approach the Swarovski team has taken: lure them in with free or very inexpensive
attractions and entertainment, making it a destination for an entire day or
weekend. Kids clubs, summer camps and a hotel are also on the corporate campus
(have you ever seen this type of thing at an Amazon campus? I think not).
My favorite image is of a massive crystal on the main entrance, glowing at night. It’s a literal beacon from the side road.
At the base of the Alps in Austria, off a non-descript road that parallels the A4. Who knew? Now you do!
Continuing on are dozens of bike manufacturers and other sporting retail brands we’d no idea were located within driving distance of Innsbruck and a few hours from Salzburg. If I spent much time in the area, I might have definite spending issues, so it was just as well the drive-through was short and it was past closing time for many of the facilities.
The Tyrolean Alps
Part of the fun on this stretch of the journey was going up and over the Tyrolean Alps and the associated small towns. Just on the other side of Innsbruck is Igls, overlooking the city and valley. Just five km outside the city edge, it has a handful of restaurants, a few massive homes, two grocery stores and a church, all within walking distance of several small hotels. We tried to get in for dinner but alas, it was a Friday and all the eateries were booked until closing. Next time!
It’s not always easy to capture the majesty of looming rock formations, but as a visitor, it’s hard not to take yet another snap when the rock faces, type and coloring change within a few miles of one another.
Our biggest mistake of the drive between countries was misjudging the closing of restaurants because each country is so different, we’ve had to remember or learn for the first time. Whereas Italians eat all day and late into the night, the Austrians shut down by 6 p.m. for grocery stores and eight-thirty for restaurants, unless the establishment is a bar or takes restaurants. Back in Hungary, it was late again but Germany and Switzerland were on the early side.
Right outside Igls is Patsch, and it was here we saw our one and only Polizei (police) car in Austria. A mini-mini van stuffed with six officers in uniform, who we later passed by as they ate outside a deli.
That meant we…yes! Stopped again at a McDonald’s café, where the girls have continued their love affair with ham and cheese fries, croissants and hamburgers made with organic meats. I tell myself we didn’t really come to Europe to eat at McDonald’s, but I’m not being fasicious when I claim their food here is an improvement on most restaurant food in the U.S. It’s all about the requirements for fresh and organic, two elements demanded by the Europeans.
The one and only church we saw in Igls, where members of the congregation were streaming out in the misty-rain after a session.
Feature image: a picture of the Swarovski jewel in front of the corporate headquarters.
Our adventure to Venice was planned with the intent of determining how much more existed to this famed city other than the Grand Canal and island hopping to Murano. Because of my stint in the Verona Hospital and recovery time, our schedule was cut radically short, so we knew going in this was going to be fast and furious. We needed focus. We needed energy and we needed good walking shoes!
One view from the top of the first canal as you leave either parking, train or cab drop off
Arrival and parking
If you arrive between 11 and 3, you are unlikely to get parking in the main drop off area, so be safe, park, and walk the quarter mile over the bridge into Venice. If you arrive late afternoon, then you’ll likely get parking right in the center, which is what we did. Two structures exist: one for short term (2 hours) and the other for long term. A single lane road is the only way to access both, but it’s short, about one feet in length. It’s a bit of a bottleneck, but an attendant stands to guide traffic, and if you want the two-hour, zip right and you are in. Payment is made when you leave, at the counter located at the entrance, so take your ticket and go on your way.
Nary a gondola or waterway taxi to be seen, and this is about two canals away from the drop off point.
When you arrive in Venice, either by car, train or boat, it may take a moment to notice the absence of bikes, a common site around Europe, not just Italy. In Venice, two-wheeled vehicles aren’t allowed, nor cars, which must be parked in one of several structures either outside the primary bridge to the island. Once off the long bridge to Venice, you will see a multi-story building, and parking spaces are identified by a space counter. We head others complaining about the lack of transportation on Venice, evidently expecting bike or scooter rentals and/or cabs, so I thought to write a note about this for the uninitiated.
This is actually the best shot of “the first” canal bridge in the upper right–you can see it leads several directions, and then down on lanes on either side of the canal proper.
The train service is crazy good, although we didn’t need to take it. Multiple trains coming and going drop and pick up throughout the day, directly to this main area, where people in streams unload. One aspect that’s nice (and little known) is the cruise ships are on the other side of Venice, unloading at the docks. This means those arrive by car or train enjoy a much less crowded experience and more leisurely pace than the hoards of cruise lines passengers. The downside (isn’t there always a downside) is those of us in this area must walk a greater distance to reach the Grand Canal, if that’s the ultimate destination.
Less than 5 minutes from the cab and train drop off is this one and only gondola offering in this area. At 6 at night, it’s walk right up and in.
Walking the blocks
If you want to start off with a gondola ride, it’s less than five minutes from either the parking or train station right down to the only gondola. It has two slots, but when people are waiting, gondolas seemed to magically appear, leading us to believe a radio operator is ever ready to call in reinforcements. If a water tour is more to your liking, you will have to search elsewhere, for while many go by, the pickup/dropoff points aren’t in this zone.
To the right is right where you walk after parking/taxi or train drop off. Across the water are tables filled with evening diners. Not all streets have cafes next to the water–only some, and why the reasoning is a mystery.
With our feet as our guide, we started from the parking station to the first intersection of two canal bridges and a canal pathway. Our first stop was gelato, a must-have on a journey. One block down, another canal, turned left (because we could) and continued forth, zigging and zagging down every alley and main street, up and over a multitude of canal bridges. Going back to the no-bikes rule, even if they were allowed, bikes wouldn’t be much use: the bridges are steps, not smooth surfaces like Chioggia. Food services and goods deliveries are all done by ferry, mostly in the middle of the night and early morning when the tourists have long gone.
One block in, and on the right is a regular lane with more cafes. What you don’t see (or hear) was a man singing Italian tunes and playing a guitar rather romantically.
Another eatery partially hidden behind a iron gate, but open to the public.
Gyms and graffiti
Where do you walk down a canal, under the red brick archways into an open-door gym? Venice, obviously. And any respectable gym must have hip hop music blasting in order to use the weights and cardio machines located five feet from the front desk. It didn’t hurt the visual that the setting sun made the entire street and canal an orange red. In fact, it blended right in with the coloring within the gym itself.
Ok, really? Have you ever seen a blog on Venice post a picture of a gym? Neither had I, so this is it, and a rather glamorous looking one at that, don’t you think? And yes, about a half dozen folks were working out.
Around another corner and through an incredibly narrow street, the avenue opened into a triangular shape and a soccer ball came hurling towards my legs. A boy darted in front of me, kicked the back to his friend, the impromptu soccer game between four youth between ten and twelve seemed strange until I looked up and around. The buildings were decidedly familial, bars and crusted paint falling off and mail-slips. It was a neighborhood, like any other, except on a world-famous island in Italy.
And this! It shocked me more than the gym, because people want to look good, but the city fathers can’t take the time to remove graffiti, and worse, people desecrate the area? I’m all for artistic murals, but this doesn’t qualify.
As we continued the journey, a single avenue changed the entire experience: backstreet soccer game, graffiti-covered metal grates then a beautiful canal with upscale restaurants, then and open square full of hipsters and chill out music and back again. All this still a half a mile away from the Grand Canal main drag, and nary a non-Italian in view (except us). Because we arrived at about 6 p.m., our day spent in Chioggia to the south, the freedom of movement allowed us to cover a lot more ground had it been wall-to-wall tourists.
Think of this as the Venice outskirts, still good real estate with boats outfront but perhaps without the murals on the ceilings.
Just like every other big city
Where one lane is merchants, another is residences, some grand, but most not. Short, narrow doors are not images of Venice blasted around the world. If you’d not been to Venice before, it would be natural to believe every home is a three-story villa with hand-painted mosaics on the ceiling with gold leaf encrusted chandeliers. We watched a woman holding a bag full of groceries pull out her key, open and enter an unassuming door, her attire professional attire resembling a bank teller or shop keeper.
Like any city, different canals showcase a different style of property, probably reflective of the value.
Where in the world was the grocery store? I wondered, becoming completely distracted by the visual of how many canals she had to cross with that single bag. Second to that was imaging the size of the biceps on the average Venician residents. Yes, that’s the kind of thing an author thinks about, or at least, what this author thinks about.
The canal neighborhood where the kids were playing soccer.
Another home where we saw professionals entering and exiting.
This leads to touch on the subject of shopping. Whereas Chioggia had Italian brands with a smattering of name brands, Venice is the opposite: the majority of mercantile are well-known by the average consumer. Of the little overlap I saw, Venice easily had a 40% premium over Chioggia.
Just one street over is shopping and wide lanes, hotels and eateries.
The take away
If you have the time to take in the famous and not-so-famous areas of Venice, definitely do it, otherwise, it’s like thinking all of New York is Broadway, when in fact you have Central Park, Brooklyn and Park Avenue, each one providing a completing different perspective of a grand city. Whereas Chioggia was all Italians, (we didn’t hear another language spoken) Venice was the exact opposite. The streets were packed full of diverse ethnicities and languages with helpful tour guides translating, many also wearing translating devices around their necks.
I’d like to see those well-fed Merchants of Venice squish themselves down this lane.
Unless you are coming in from a boat, the ideal day trip is the morning for Chioggia and afternoon for Venice, thereby missing the worst of the crowds. You’ll be able to compare and contrast your impressions of the most famous seaside town in Italy, and perhaps the least, all in the same paragraph.
Not the Grand Canal, but a regular office buildings where staff park their boats on the water. It gives new meaning to the phrase underground parking.
A family-owned and run B & B at the base of Castle Soave, overlooking the wine country
Two days after the hospital experience, we were up at Soave Castle, finishing up as the rainstorm passed us by. On the way down, we decided to purposefully get lost among the vineyards, driving up and down the roads just to see what’s around the next corner. We were only a few miles into this journey when we spotted a grand building to our right, overlooking three vineyards. The cars lining both sides of the streets was a good sign and we stopped so Rog could jump out and look at the menu. He returned, crestfallen.
Locanda ai Capitelli is located just to the lower left of this photo–but hadn’t found it when we took the drone shot:(
“They have steak tartar, but we aren’t dressed for it.” I
looked past him to the elegant stairway and sure enough, the men were in slacks
and button-down shirts. It was a stark contrast to his shorts and golf shirt,
and our female attire of shorts and light shirts made for sweating, not dining.
“Just go in and ask,” encouraged Porsche, our thirteen-year-old.
“It’s Italy.” I had to agree with her, but Rog wasn’t going to bother. He put
it in gear and off we went, for about a mile.
“I just have to do it,” he said with resolve, turning around.
Back we went, and sure enough, he came out smiling. “She said ‘of course!’”
Casual elegance without pretension
It turns out the establishment of Locanda ai Capitelli is a bed and breakfast, not just an elegant restaurant. Once inside, we realized the only other diners were in a private room, the main area, about thirty by fifteen in length, was empty.
“It’s early,” I said under my breath. At seven-thirty, it
shouldn’t have been a surprise. Dining in Italy starts about eight-thirty, when
the heat has waned, showers have been taken and the second part of day begins.
Because of this, we had the undivided attention of the waiter and hostess, Julia, who is the daughter of family/owners of the B & B. A slip of a young woman, sophisticated casual in a black t-shirt and pencil shirt with high-top Converse shoes, Julia is about as millennial as one could be. Perfect command of the language, helpful and happy, yet able to handle even the pickiest of diners who started to come in as we were half-way through our appetizers.
The best meal in Italy—so far
Even though I couldn’t eat much, I tried a bit of every dish. The octopus in cream sauce sounded completely odd, but I ordered it anyway, along with the carpaccio. We also decided upon the black truffle linguini with clams, another of the same without the clams, a chicken dish, Roger’s steak tartar and I asked for the gnocchi with peas and trout. Weird, I know, but it was calling my name.
Octopus in cream sauce. One bite was all it took for us to agree it was the best we’d ever had, and that’s saying something.
“Just a bite,” I promised Rog.
As each plate arrived, Julia described the cows on the family farm from whence her mother and grandmother made the ricotta and parmesan cheeses, the desserts and cream sauces. The pigs down the road supplied the prosciutto, and the farm in back were to thank for the herbs and spices. When she’d gone, Rog quipped the very porcelain plates and silverware were probably forged in the basement. I’m not a food critic, and worry my descriptions won’t do the cuisine justice. Suffice it to say we loved every dish, wishing we had the stomachs to order more. I will note my freshly-made gnocchi was the best I’ve ever eaten, the trout was perfectly cooked in little bits, set off with the light, white cream and sweet peas. I wanted to lick the plate, but had to suffice with my spoon due to the recent stomach issues.
Gnocchi with trout and peas (UL) chicken fettuccini (UR) and steak tartar. Exquisite.
By the time we reached dessert, being hungry wasn’t the consideration. The family just couldn’t stop. We had a dessert sampler plate, along with the tiramisu. Now, I don’t get violent often, but when someone attempts to snack on my dessert, I’ve been known to stab with my knife, not enough to blood, but to warn the offending party off.
This time around, my inability to do more than taste undoubtedly prevented blood from being spilled, but it surely would have under different circumstances. The tiramisu was creamy, sweet but not overly so. I could wax philosophic but won’t.
Clean elegance in the wine country. Not pictured is a private dining room to the left of the entrance (where the man is standing).
Our meal was so decadent, the atmosphere elegant but not stuffy, Rog just had to inquired about the rates. 90 Euro a night for a room with accommodations for two. Imagine that: a room with a view overlooking the wine fields of Verona in front and to either side, the Castle Soave in the upper left, and a five-star restaurant below (the Gerdes rating system).
That’s a whole lotta love and cream poured into this tiramisu. Divine.
A family affair
When we paid the bill, the dining room was full and Julia joked about opening a restaurant in the States. “Sure,” Rog readily agreed. “As long as we can bring you, your mother and grandmother over to run it.” That led to me to ask if I could take a picture with my new friend. At the foyer, she met us with her mother.
“Grandmother is already in bed,” Julia explained apologetically. Kisses and hugs were forthcoming, the warmth of a family who put their life and love into their food and accommodations enveloping us.
The females of the gang, moms and daughters alike (Julia to my right)
If you’re already going to Verona, you must add Locanda ai Capitelli to the list. While I can’t speak to the accommodations, I will tell you it’s on our list for the next trip. When you arrive, give a special hug of love to Julia and her mother for us, and order the gnocchi and tiramisu. Well, order it all, because if you don’t, you will wish you had.
“What a strange choice,” Rog remarked when I suggested we zip through Bern and Lucerne in order to spend more time in Thun. But when I showed him the pictures, he was in. Thun (pronounced tune) boasts a lake, canals, a castle in town, and another three on Lake Thune, Schloss Oberhofen, Schloss Spiez and Schloss Hunegg. Beyond that is another lake at the base of the Swiss Alps. What’s not to like? Thanks to our VRBO rental in the town of Oey, Thun was only a thirteen-minute drive.
What upgrades a standard street to a culinary mecca? Handmade chocolates, that’s what.
Lake Thun is large enough to boat, sale or swim, and the inlets have perfect glass water for slalom skiing. Homes, hotels and eateries, formal and casual dot the lake itself. It’s far smaller than Lake Coeur d’Alene in terms of length, but is wide and dramatically set in the basin of the alps.
Our first stop was downtown, where several parking structures are within two blocks of the canals and main shopping district. For a few hours is about 10 Euros, the walk through one main lane, across a canal, then another lane, another canal and then you are at the base of the Castle Thun. Be prepared to take multiple shots of both canals and streets, and the best picture of the castle (if not from a drone) is off the canal-road. Straight up and click.
One of three consecutive stairs. You can barely make out the steps due to wear over the 700 years. Slippery as all get out, even when dry.
Then you are off to the stairs the Castle Thun. You can take the uncovered set, or you have a choice of several covered with wood, reminding us all of a medieval movie yet to be made. Old, craggly stones and even older arches above us got us talking about the townsfolk required to make the pilgrimage up the up the stairs.
Entrances to castles dramatically vary, from grand and imposing, to efficient, short or long. Castle Thun’s entryway was in between, on the shorter side, solid but not overly grand.
Nearest the castle are several enormous mansions under reconstruction, the sweeping views and majestic courtyards nearly (or some more so) impressive than the castle itself.
Although the armory is closed off (e.g. non-existent any longer) a few pieces are placed in the small courtyard. Not pictured is a small café to the right of the cannon.
Castle Thun is rather small and unfortunately, a tad stark. My girls called it straight up boring, but that’s all about perspective. It’s been turned into a museum, so if you compare it to the three other in the region, yes, it’s not going to over coats of arms, silver-embroidered dresses or canopied beds of the other castles we’ve toured. The purpose of Thun Castle is to highlight the history of the town, and rotating exhibits. Even so, the walk up is worth the effort as the panoramic view of the Thun is lovely and the descent options of the covered and uncovered, narrow walkways are completely unique to this city.
The shot up from the main courtyard. Much of the castle has been turned into a museum, making the outside much more interesting than the inside–for kids, that is.
What is pure European would cause heart attacks in the US. Multiple bridges, a quick moving river, men, women and kids jumping, diving and backflipping off the bridges, heads ducking under the lowest bridges, then popping back up, eventually trying to get to the side of the final swimming area or get smushed against the grate at the very end of the canal, where a very placid “lifeguard” is on duty. All in full view of espresso-sipping watchers eating paper-thin crust pizza, usually a cigarette in hand.
A sight never to be seen in the US–jumping off higher, medium and low-lying bridges, no age limits, no rules. Just fun.
When Rog and Porsche returned from a grocery run, returning with tails of kids and grandmas hurling themselves of bridges, we were skeptical. The water had to be too cold, too dirty and an anomaly. Let me assure you it was anything but. The city charges a fee which is given at the formal swimming/grate area, for I’m not sure what else to call it.
Canal-side sunbathing, dressing rooms (unisex and as you can see, open above the waist.
If you don’t want to end up at the very end, you can jump off further upstream, then swim to the side of the canal and pay no fee. However, the end of the line if you will has changing stalls, washrooms, a café, slide and upper deck on an island separating both canals. It’s just a bit nicer than getting out on the grass—but here, the Swiss don’t even want your feet to get dirty. If you desire to save the 7 Swiss Francs, concrete steps are on the side of the water so you don’t slip in mud. How civilized!
In between the two canals of Thun is this main street where pedestrians own the territory, shops are plentiful and goods are relatively reasonable (for Switzerland, that is).
One night, Rog and I left the girls with the farmer’s wife and children and had a dinner on the canal. It was low-key and romantic, the neon lights of the restaurants on the other side classy and demure, unlike the canals and lights in Amsterdam, if you want a comparison. Here, the tenor during the day even in the shopping district is relaxed and slow-paced, although fun and upbeat. Certain towns have a vibe, and Thun is one I’d describe is calm and happy. We just adored the two days we spent exploring the inner parts of the city, as well as the lake side area.
Both sides of the canals in Thun are equally beautiful, offering many eateries of all types.
What I liked best
Thun is easy going, from the driving to eating and recreation. We chose not to visit the several large swimming pool/areas because the lake was surprisingly warm and it didn’t take long to realize we could have spent two weeks in this one town and surrounding area of Interlaken and still wouldn’t have seen a tenth of what the area has to offer.
Tree lined, gravel walkways line the canals of Thun.
What I liked least
Knowing that when I return home, I’m going to feel a slight depression that nothing we have is as well taken care of, protected and preserved as it is here. The Swiss are so fastidious, whether it’s the backyard, the pavement of a tunnel, or the common parking space, the grounds, walls and surfaces glisten. No graffiti, not desecration of public space; its divine.
Book more than four days in the Interlaken area. We had five and wish we would have had ten. And this blog only covers the town itself, not the Alps!
“Thoone? Toon? Thune? How do you even pronounce that?” Rog asked aloud. By the way, the name Thun is pronounced ‘tune,’ as in, singing a tune, we were informed by a local, making it clear we weren’t the first and won’t be the last visitors to woefully mangle the town’s name.
View from the top of the stairs, just below Castle Thun.
Little did I know that its Porsche would usurp me as the family social director at the ripe, young age of 13. It was she who has found multiple theme parks that never even registered on either my, or Roger’s radar. The obscure castles and German-centric amusement recreation areas have been hidden in plain sight, arrived to find we are only non-German speaking folk about.
Located just outside the city of Stuttgart, right smack in the middle of wine country, with a chateau perched on the nearest hill is Tripsdrill. I didn’t know much about it other than Porsche said we “must, must go there,” so we drove the 2 hours from our place in Kammeltal. Parking is free, plentiful and given it was a Monday, practically empty.
Another mostly empty theme park–this is the entry point, and the “streets” leading in to the rest of the park. Every attention to detail was made in creating this park; not a flower or piece of (real) laundry was out of place.
Two parks in one
For the grand price of about 40 Euros for a family of four, we had unlimited rides in the amusement park, and access to the wilderness park, which is about a 1km drive away, although you can walk. The wilderness park has animals of all types, with an eye towards those that can be held, touched, petted and played with. The lone exception to this is bear exhibit, even the German’s have a line. But the deer, falcons, goats and every other relatively tame, non-carnivore is available.
Two giant treehouses hold up one of those dropping/fluctuating rides that make your stomach go into your throat, then down into your bowels and back again. We passed on that, choosing to pet and scratch the goats that were directly across. The bottom picture would make Andretti proud; it’s a mini-race course.
One thing about the German mentality is the responsibility-based approach. Ergo, there’s nary an attendant or monitor at any station. If your kid gets stomped by a deer or a finger bitten off by a goat, your bad as a parent. At every entry point, one, waist-high swinging door is followed by another. It’s your responsibility to ensure the animal doesn’t escape from the first, or second. And following Darwin’s theory, if you allow a four-legged creature to outsmart you or your child, you get to go chase it.
The upper left is the misting I mentioned, while the right is the agriculture area where the ride is conducted in wine barrels. The bottom is one of three water rides–note the edge on the right–look mom–no rails, or guards to prevent one from falling in.
Moving on to the amusement park, this same attitude prevails. As an example, two water log rides exist, one for kids under 13 (although adults can ride on it as well) and another for adults (although kids above a certain height can also ride). Right next to the water are paths of stone, where anyone and everyone is allowed to sit and dangle their feet. In Germany, and most European countries, it’s all about self-responsibility. If you or your offspring fall into the water and hurt themselves, you pick them up, dust them off go on with your day. Companies are protected from the consumer (prevented from lawsuits), and as such, can offer amazing experiences where one isn’t inhibited. Ergo, parents aren’t on their phones, but watchful and playing with their kids, which is a beautiful experience all around.
An education environment celebrating German engineering achievements
Tripsdrill is not just any theme park, where the rides are the end-all-be-all. This is about the full experience of educating the visitor as they wait in line, grab a snack or drink a glass of wine. Wine making is dominant in this area, so an area consisting of its own, originally-styled wine-making barn sits next to four different smaller buildings, each one with original pressing (or whatever it’s called) equipment. Sorry, I don’t drink or know much about wine, or speak German, but know lots of people who do would appreciate this, along with the free drinks served.
These are just a few shots from the inside of the castle which houses the sleigh roller coaster ride, hence, the entirety of the displays are life size items relating to sleigh making.
A few other examples include the sleigh roller coaster. This
is located in a castle, wherein the signs posted show waits of 2 hours at the
entry. We arrived on a Monday, so we walked right up and on to the rides, but
the Germans, anticipating rush hour, take advantage of every step to educate
you on the sleigh making. Within the building are lifestyles, custom mannequins
demonstrating all things sleigh, starting with the stables) grooming and
doctoring the horses—which actually include the horse, all the tools and items
for medicate attention, and even a side stall where a person sleeps near his
horses. The next area within the wait line is a huge movie screen, showing a
black and white film of the old days of sleigh making. The walkway is one story
up, looking down below on a recreated outdoor scene of a winter wonderland.
This continues right up until you enter the ride.
Each ride has its own focus, from the kids spinning ride, where the cup is actually a bread bowl, and all the surrounding items focus on bread, to the swing ride that’s a three-story high mushroom, and the wait line is all about agriculture. The entry to the wooden rollercoaster, (the smoothest, and best one we’ve ever ridden, I shall add), is all about mill working. It’s like the anthology of using and applying lumber, the first tools and wheels, to then more sophisticated equipment and applications—cutting, slicing, and manufacturing. All I could think about was my father, who would have cared less about the ride, but hung out for hours oohing and aahing about the machinery.
Notice the wooden roller coaster in the back left? In between that and this monster-of-all wooden forts is the lumber section, where riders waiting in line get to see the history of millworking.
Me and Rog were right there with him, and had a moment of
silence in his absence.
I’ve just got to mention a third water ride, which is the rafting. In the US, you have to wait your turn, the attendant directs a group one a time to get in, and that’s that. Well, here, since there’s no attendant, and the round floats come up the metal ramp without assistance, those in line are left to their own to walk on the wet, moving ramp of metal, get in (no straps mom!) which fit 12, three to each section, and sit down before it goes off the ramp, plunging in to the water below. Guess what? No age limit on the kids either, but nary a problem or mishap.
If you’re going to be launched out on a water log, do it from a castle, I say.
A note on rides all around Germany
Pretty much it’s void of lockers. Everyone works on the honor system, which means that the backpack or purse you are carrying is placed on the shelves by the ride. You set it down prior to getting in, go on the ride, then pick it up. A few years back we were leery of this, but shouldn’t have been. Stealing doesn’t happen here. So it was that I’ve been removing my pack with all my camera gear, wallet and sundries, placing it on the shelves or ground, and pick it right up after the ride is done.
A few of the displays regarding sewing–from the most basic, through to the looms, including all the machines and irons. These women worked hard and were talented!
Each and every ride and planter box has been treated with care. It’s as though a master gardener (or 12) have been cultivating this park for years, and this is the glorification of their work. I took over 110 shots of this park, more than all the castles and destinations combined, but know you might suffer from overkill. Yet I’m giving them credit through the mention, because it’s deserved.
This attraction/ride was all about the history and art of breadmaking, hence, they are in a bunt cake!
Another nice touch are the arched entrances that double as misters, not enough to ruin the makeup or hair, but cool you down. Not a bench exists for resting that isn’t situated under shade and my favorite part (although unused by us?) The metal chaise lounge chairs where adults could take a breather as their kids play in the park. We need these in America!!!
Seriously civilized living; the parents kick back, read, snooze or watch their kids across the flower beds in the large lawn.
The food was tremendously great, pizza, schnitzel and bratwurst, all tasting farm fresh, as well as the baguettes probably baked that morning. Germans know how to eat, is all I’m saying.
I’ve touched on the honor system, but today’s experience
takes the cake. We spent nearly six hours at the park (when we anticipated
about three) and couldn’t find our care. Now, there’s only about 4, double
parking lanes that were full, and from a distance, I thought I saw our car, but
the trunk was open, so we walked on. Reaching the grass parking area, we turned
back, double-checking our eyes. Indeed, the trunk was open, because the
groceries we’d purchased that day, from water bottles, fruits and veggies. Furthermore,
my long lens was in the glove compartment, which was unlocked, and my metal
water bottle and sunglasses were also in the car.
We realized that Rog’s remote must have gotten accidentally
punched as we walked away, and four six hours, the trunk was open, and car
unlocked. Not a single item was out of place or missing.
One word. Wow.
Final tip to a new traveler
I lied, another note. When it’s lunchtime, everything just down. The grocery stores. The banks. The gardening shop. Trust me, we’ve tried all three things between the hours of 12-1 over the last five days and can vouge that it hasn’t mattered what town, it’s all done for, which actually, is a great thing. Everyone takes the break at the same time, for a full hour.
What I loved
All of it. Period. The end.
What I didn’t….
That the three water rides closed at 4:30, while the park itself closes at 7. The wilderness park doesn’t allow entrants after 6 p.m. to allow an hour for late starters.
An absolute must if you have kids, or love German history and manufacturing. Rog and I agreed that if we lived here, we would have seasons passes. I’m not sure I’d ever get tired of Tripsdill.
Feature image: the roller coaster in the foreground of the chateau. only in Germany
When we arrived in Zurich, the drive across the bridge, then shoreline conjured visions of romance. How could it not? Glimpsing a couple walking under the trees lining the lake, I rolled down the window, feeling the breeze, watching the sailboarders zip by, wondering…what would it be like to live here, work at a high powered job, go to clubs and find love? ahh….that was the beginning of the Danielle Grant series, the last book which just released.
This was the first picture I snapped driving in to Zurich, going across the bridge to the (west) side of the lake where our place was located. Looks like just about every other lakefront strolling area….until you see the magnificent buildings on the left.
One of the elements I love about Zurich is modern convenience with trolleys and cobblestones, the metro quietly zipping through town, yogi’s on bikes navigating between Lambo’s and Ferrari’s. I also loved (and hated) the narrow paths leading up the very steep hillsides. Great for my calves but oh….hard on my fanny. Because they made (and left) such an impression, I use them to my advantage in each book of the series…up and down in the sun and snow.
The narrowed paths between the buildings in Zurich–the coolest little bars and hard to find delis were hidden in these alleys/paths.
Recall the scene where Lars and Danielle break up. right there, on that couch facing the fireplace. Imagine the fern replaced with a Christmas tree and grab a tissue.
There is was. The beginning of the three-book series on
Danielle Grant, an American trader recruited to Switzerland. Of course, Danielle
Grant, the lead character, didn’t come to mind until later, as we explored the
streets of Zurich, noting the incredible number of wealth management and
financial institutions. The owner of the unit is a physician, and while I
initially thought that was interesting, the fast-paced, secretive world of
trading appealed to me. Besides, the physician’s well-built, tattooed, very
handsome but slightly mentally underpowered boyfriend was simply not believable—or
rather, a reader would think it was cliché. The hot doctor (she was hot, and
blond, and brilliant) with an equally hot enforcer-like boyfriend was beyond
the realm of reality. I know you are thinking: but that would be cool?! Well, I
thought it cool as well, but wouldn’t sell, and as I’ve already digressed terribly,
I will tell you I raised this scenario up to my agent, who agreed with my initial
“Nope, you’re right,” he said immediately. “It is cliché and
“But I actually witnessed this!” I said with frustration. Not
that I was going to run with it anyway, but the notion that real life wasn’t
acceptable was annoying.
“Sad but true,” Peter reaffirmed.
Let’s just have a collective sigh together and move on.
As I dutifully kept my eyes off the boyfriend and paid
attention to the physician, I appreciated everything about the building, unit
and details therein—all of which made their way into Made for Me, book on. When
she slid in the card for the penthouse located on the fifth floor, I was
impressed. The two-bedroom flat with views of the lake from every room was
lovely. All glass and modern, shiny counters and cabinets, metallic tile butting
against French maple—the vision was coming together. The grand piano in the
living, the glass-enclosed dining room with sliding doors, the sauna off the second
bedroom. I wondered to myself—who lived like this, really? I asked the physician.
“I have a much smaller flat downtown closer to my office,” she said. Okay, that answered the question. Not her. She then offered she has five similar units in other cities around the country (Bern, Lucerne, St. Moritz to name a few) and this was her second business. Rog was impressed.
Office on the other side of the glass-enclosed dining room, and the right is a (pretty poor) shot of the master bathroom, built-in sauna on the left side
Not behind in the scenes. In the scenes
Volumes have been written about real life inspirations behind
a character, scene or setting, and I have fun blending fact with fiction, or
rather, improving fact when I want something a little off. Well, I will give
full credit to the unit’s owner who made it really easy for me to catalog every
detail, up to and including the 5-inch solid steel door. It also came with
five, count them five, different locks. So, imagine this: secured building,
private elevator, five-inch steel door with five locks. It’s Switzerland, as I
say in my book, the safest country in the world. Wasn’t this a little bit of
“One can never be too secure,” was the physician’s answer. Well then.
Upper left: one of the two decks opening up with views to Lake Zurich, Upper right, view from the kitchen, over modern office buildings (aka pull the blinds!) the bottom pic is on the waterfront, a ten minute walk from our rental to downtown along the waterfront
Left: Imagine this hallway where Danielle greets Andre in the foyer, and then upper right, in the second bedroom, which she transforms into a second bedroom
A little factoid in the book is the heat of the city. Few, if any, places in the city have air conditioning outside the hotels. The logic is that for the few weeks a year its unbearable, the winds gust off the lake, and up the hillside (or the reverse). In fact, our landlord told us that we were going to be liable if we left the penthouse without drawing in the awnings covering the decks. So we’d close everything up in the morning, arrive in the afternoon, open the windows and it cooled down immediately. The evenings were lovely.
Back to the door….
Guess what kind of door we have in Idaho, on a property in the middle of nowhere, which has a gate, and lots of security. Yep. That five-inch steel door. But lest you think we got crazy and had it especially installed, we didn’t. The house came this way. You see, the previous owner is a Swiss architect who built it for himself, and told us the same thing: “All good homes have doors like this.” Well then, there it is. At least he didn’t put on the five different locks.
Seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up. Five solid inches of steel in our front door, emulating just about every front door we’ve had in Zurich.
Feature image: A water Polize, who’s big task for the afternoon was saving two geese that were ensnared in a net. The crowd cheered, including us.