And the Season Begins . . .

Snow on rooftops, smoke from chimneys– winter is here.

We woke this morning to a dusting of snow and ice in the Rhineland-Pfalz.  The cold had swept in yesterday, and we were beginning to feel the holiday spirit.

Late yesterday afternoon, we zipped over to Bernkastel-Kues, on the Mosel River, to catch the opening salvo of their Christmas Market. DSC_0072 We drove from cold and drizzle, through a snowy pass, and down into the town of Bernkastel, which seemed to be gripped in an arctic cold.

The market opened just that day (and will continue through December) and it was much less crowded than when we visited last year– which left us able to enjoy the beauty of the town without having to dodge the crowds.  All sorts of food and gluhwein were on offer– and we sipped the hot wine, but not too quickly (it was a great hand warmer!).

At one point, we had to clear a narrow lane to let St. Nikolaus and his horse-drawn carriage and entourage of mariners and fire fighters pass.  We had read that St. Nick was the patron saint of mariners.  In fact, I read that last year after visiting Bernkastel’s Christmas market and seeing Nikolaus and his sidekick Knecht Ruprecht in a boat.  Here’s a photo of last year’s boat display with St. Nick and his ominous sidekick (the mannequin to the left, in the black cape and boots).

St. Niklaus and Knecht Ruprecht--sit between them. Were you naughty or nice this year?
St. Niklaus and Knecht Ruprecht–sit between them. Were you naughty or nice this year?

It’s too bad that I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday  because Knecht Ruprecht was even more ominous this year.  This year, that sack he’s carrying wasn’t just stuffed with something out of sight (coal and switches was my assumption).  This year, someone’s been really naughty–there was a child’s leg and boot sticking out of the sack.   Yikes!  These draconian sidekicks of St. Nikolaus (Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, or Schwarz Peter, depending on what region you live in*) often whip naughty children or give them coal and switches instead of candy.  But occasionally the children have been so bad that they are abducted (dragged to hell?) or carried off to be thrown into the cold river.  This could make a good child of the worst of us, because the Mosel River is VERY cold right now–polar bears aside, no one wants a dip in that.

I am breathing a sigh of relief today, because Nikolaus gave me a friendly wave as his carriage passed last night.  Pretty sure I’m on the good list this year.

Being American, my family begins our Thanksgiving week today, so the holidays are now in full swing for us–how nice to have that echoed by the weather and the Christmas markets here.  My oven was cranked up to full tilt today, the house smelled great, and the holiday candle arches were set up in the windows.  We’re getting ready!

Now, if we could just conjure up a little Peace on Earth . . .


*If you want a little more background information on Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht, see my post from last year Saints and Devils, Fire and Snow )


or Lean In: Old World Style

It’s a season of political campaigns in the States, so the word “crooked” seems to pop up at every turn.  It’s tiring, to say the least, so let’s turn this beast around.  Today’s post is brought to you by the word “crooked,” as seen through the eyes of European town squares.

Spitzhausen (from the 1400's): A gloriously crooked house in Bernkastel-Kues leans in toward the street.
Spitzhausen (from the 1400’s): A gloriously crooked house in Bernkastel-Kues leans in toward the street.


Bernkastel-Kues, on the Mosel River.  Crooked floors in a half-timber house.
Bernkastel-Kues, on the Mosel River. Crooked floors in a half-timber house.
Old Town Square, Prague
Old Town Square, Prague


Colmar, France. Crooked streets where everything leans in--and it only adds to the beauty.
Colmar, France. Crooked streets where everything leans in–and it only adds to the beauty.


Misaligned photo of that crooked Leaning Tower of Pisa.  And somehow my husband's head has been obscured by my daughter's raincoat. Nothing lined up right here!
Misaligned photo of that crooked Leaning Tower of Pisa. And somehow my husband’s head has been obscured by my daughter’s raincoat. Nothing lined up right here!


Trier, Germany: The Romans, the Nuns, and the Wine Barge


So a Roman and two nuns walk into a wine barge. . .

Oh, no, no–this is a serious post about a day trip we took some weeks ago, and I’m just now getting around to writing this.   We loved the day we spent in Trier, and this fabulous city deserves a closer look than I’m giving you here, but I wanted to get some impressions down before they fade from my addled brain.

I’ll focus on just a few things from our  trip: the fact that Trier is an ancient Roman town (and plenty of its Roman heritage is still a vibrant part of daily life in the city), the beautiful churches and religious heritage here, and the wine culture that abounds in the region and town.

But not in that order.  Let’s start with the wine.  All the best parties start with the wine, right?  Besides, our approach to Trier was through the winding roads of the Mosel Valley, flanked by beautiful green vineyards, and our walk into the old section of the city lead us past an intriguing first site:

DSC_0464The Wine Barge and its Rowers:   We entered the pedestrian zone of the Town Center close by Weinstube Kesselstatt (a wine garden).  Of course, I had to stop and take a photo.  Not because the wine garden was picturesque, although it was.  (And serene, as you might guess from my sleeping son in the foreground.)  But because of the large Roman stone carving out front:  a Roman barge loaded down with wine barrels and oarsmen.

It’s enchanting both for the reminder of how deeply ensconced in its wine culture this region is, and also for the quality of life in its faces.  The oarsmen’s excertion is so vivid that a moment’s pause will have you pulling out a hanky to wipe the beads of sweat from their foreheads.  (It did appear there, didn’t it?  I could swear I saw it…)


And, to be sure, these oarsmen should be breaking a sweat.  The Romans planted vineyards along the Mosel and the Rhine  to produce wine for their many garrisons. . .and production hasn’t stopped since.  I’ve read somewhere that the Mosel region is Germany’s third largest wine producer, but first in terms of presitige.  Reislings from this area are quite good!

The wine country in the Mosel:    As you drive toward Trier, you’ll wind through the lovely Mosel wine region.  Both sides of the road and the river are flanked by vineyards.  It’s absolutely beautiful country, and the trip would be worthwhile even if you did nothing but amble around and enjoy the scenery.  I can’t offer much insight into the individual wineries here–I’ll have to research that on a more liesurely trip–but the drive is heaven!

Vineyards along the Mosel River
Vineyards along the Mosel River

The Nuns:  I’m sure that few people would consider a superfluity of nuns to be a tourist attraction.  But they did add atmosphere, and more than a little gravitas, to the cathedral.  Coupled with the fact that the cathedral was mostly closed off for a service when we were there, they also served as a reminder that we were visiting a living place, not just a tourist attraction or an historical artifact.  That always breathes some life and enchantment into a place.

I wasn’t able to capture the nuns on film, as they were surprisingly quick footed and I was busy explaining the concept of a nun to my son.  But I found this fabulous photo of nuns in Trier on Flicker.  After Maria von Trapp, we always knew that nuns were up for a little fun.   And here they are browsing the market in Trier, pausing at a flower stall and headed toward the carousel. (Anyway, I’d like to assume that they’re headed to the carousel.)

Nuns in town square,

Nuns in town square,

trier cathedralThe Cathedral and Chapel: Because there were services going on, I didn’t pull out my camera for many photos, but the Trierer Dom and the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)  are exquisite, and boast the title of oldest cathedral in the country.  It was built upon the foundations of an older Roman structure.    The structure sits only a few blocks from the Roman basilica (the Aula Palatina–the old throne hall of the emperor), a structure that  impresses by virtue of both size and beauty.  But the cathedral seems larger and more beautiful still–I’m sure the Roman Emperors would roll over in their graves at that comparison.

The Romans:   If you Google Trier, one of the first things you discover is that it is an ancient Roman town–perhaps the oldest city in Germany.  The Romans called the town Augusta Treverorum, and it was an important economic center–surely because of the river and a Roman road that came through the town (including a bridge over the Mosel).

The most dramatic reminder of this history is the Porta Negra gate (photo below).  It may no longer guard the city walls, but it’s certainly still a focal point for those who visit.  Although my son knows a little Roman history–largely thanks to the British Horrible Histories series  and its treatment of the Rotten Romans–he was more intrigued by his ability to find odd shapes and “pictures” in the walls of the stone structure than by the structure’s powerful mass, architectural prowess, or historical import.  Puts those Rotten Romans in perspective, doesn’t it?