The first thing we did after arriving in Paris last weekend and dropping our bags at the hotel was to stroll down to les Tuileries gardens, just a block or two away. We had been here back in June and loved the festive summer vibe of the space: children were running, jumping, sailing their boats in the ponds; adults were lazily watching and talking. The sky was a fantastic azure blue; the air was sweet with the scent of flowers in bloom.
November in les Tuileries has its own vibe– more subdued, but no less wonderful. For the most part, chairs were empty and people strolled rather than sat; leaves fell and the breeze blew lackadaisically; cafes offered up vin chaud (mulled wine); and all was right with the world.
I’ve been visiting Christmas Markets the past few weeks and am enjoying the lebkuchen, plank-roasted salmon, candied fruits, and mulled wine that’s been on offer. But it’s clear that the mulled wine is the beating heart at the center of these markets. The promise of a warm tipple is what brings many people out to German Christkindlmarkts after the sun has dipped low and cold blankets the town. Gluhwein stands abound, and the people stand around!
It’s always nice to warm your hands and your spirits with gluhwein–and to come home from the markets with a gluhwein cup in hand. I’m a fan of the homemade stuff too–a simmering pot on the stovetop makes the house smell great and keeps you warm as you cook or sit around your Christmas tree. There’s no recipe, per se, that I use, but what I toss in looks something like this:
a bottle of red wine (I prefer dry)
2-3 cinnamon sticks
about 4 whole cloves
a sliced orange
sugar (maybe 1/2 cup–but this is very subjective, do this according to your taste and the sweetness of the wine you use)
late additions: (if wanted) 1 star anise, a dash of rum, water (up to one cup) if you want to dilute or smooth out the taste
Put your ingredients on the stovetop and simmer for 10-20 minutes. You may add the rum and star anise in the last 5 minutes. (Personally, I like just a hint of star anise, that’s why I add it late–otherwise I find it overpowering.)
And, if you want “gluhwein light,” you can cut the wine with some ratio of cranapple juice and sip all holiday long without getting drowsy.
Gingerbread is another favorite at holiday markets. The Germans have their lebkuchen, and the French have their pain d’epices. Today, however, I’m bringing you a wickedly good gingerbread recipe from the Brits.
Nigella Lawson’s Guiness Gingerbread recipe is hard to beat. (Of course, you knew this before I told you, because Guinness + gingerbread has to = yummy!) (That’s the extent of my mathematical proficiency, by the way.)
This gingerbread is at its best when it’s warm–maybe 10 or 15 minutes out of the oven. The top is moist, the sides are gooey, the full ginger aroma is in play. Just thinking about it makes me hungry.
Let’s file this one under “How to Play Hooky–European Style.”
It’s a school day. It’s a work day. It’s a Monday. But with a little inspiration, you pack your kids off to school, your husband takes the day off of work, you scoop up a friend who is visiting from the States, and Day Trip! The perfect destination needs beautiful scenery and good wine–so off to Bernkastel-Kues on the Mosel River and surrounded by vineyards.
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:
The 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!
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, flickr.com
The 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?