Category Archives: Europe

A Place to Relax in Tuscany

SONY DSC

Italian cities are fascinating places to visit but they’re often crowded and hectic. So, I look for places to relax in the Italian countryside. A great example is Frances’ Lodge Relais, a rustic yet elegant old farm, just outside Sienna.  Hosts Franca and Franco provide great touring tips, luxurious breakfasts in the garden and, sometimes, a picnic dinner of homemade pasta under the olive trees.  Best of all, relaxing “under the Tuscan sun” with wine and a book by their beautiful pool with a view of the Sienna skyline.

This is my entry for this week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge with the topic of Relax.

 

 

 

Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation—The 500th Anniversary

2

I’ve had a couple of opportunities to see the new exhibit, “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation,” at the  Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), once with the exhibit’s curator, Tom Rassieur. Now I feel enlightened.

If you’re like me and haven’t been keeping track, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.”  On October 31, 1517 he nailed the documents (as legend has it) to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Indulgences in Luther’s day were payments made to the Catholic church, something like Get Out of Jail Free cards in Monopoly, as a way to reduce the amount of punishment one had to undergo for sins. Luther criticized the practice as a corruption of faith and questioned the limits of the Pope’s authority. Though he intended them as a point of debate, the theses set off a revolution in thinking about man’s relationship to God —the Protestant Reformation—and a new chapter in religious and world history. As Rassieur says, “The theses hit the fan.”

The followers of Luther became known as Lutherans and Minnesota has more Lutherans than you can shake your protestant hymnal at. That’s one reason this impressive exhibit landed in Minneapolis–along with the fact that Mia is a terrific museum. Martin Luther has already sold more tickets than any other Mia exhibit.

unknownI have to “confess” my knowledge of this era in history is a bit shaky, so as usual, I sought out a few books on Luther and the Reformation. Hefty and dense tomes abound, but I recommend Martin Luther by the aptly named author Martin Marty. (With a name like that, who else could he write about?) It’s short and well done.

Also, I couldn’t resist picking up Garrison Keillor’s Life Among the Lutherans, a collection of monologues from his radio show, Prairie Home Companion. This is, of course, a more modern look at Lutheran life in rural Minnesota and includes a new set of Theses by a Lake Wobegon resident including thesis #2,9780806670614_p0_v1_s192x300

Every Advent, we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if the survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, “Just have a little.” Eating “a little” was, like vomiting “a little,” as bad as “a lot.”

But I digress…The exhibition offers more than art; it’s an astounding collection of Luther “memorabilia.” It includes paintings, sculpture, golden relics, textiles, and works on paper—as well as Luther’s personal possessions and recent archaeological finds, particularly from the house he grew up in, that shed new light on the man and his era. You’ll even see original manuscripts with Luther’s notes in the margins and the pulpit from which he gave his last sermon. Luther’s words spread far and wide because of a recent technological invention, the printing press, the social media of the time. Most of these artworks and historical objects are traveling outside Germany for the first time and the exhibit will only be here in the U.S. until January 15, 2017. Then the art and objects return to their places in Germany as the country celebrates the Reformation anniversary.

The people in the Saxony-Anhalt region of central Germany would like you to come see Luther on his home turf , the “Luther Trail,” and hope that the exhibit and the anniversary of the Reformation will inspire travel to their region. While religious history makes a great jumping off point for a trip, Luther Country offers an array of travel ideas to appeal to lovers of food, music, art, nature and biking and hiking adventures that will nurture your soul in every way. For books on planning your trip to Germany, see Longitude Books reading list. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped….By Dogs

Don't fall into this melee of hunting hounds at the Chateau de Cheverny in France--you'll be enveloped.
Don’t fall into this melee of hunting hounds at the Chateau de Cheverny in France–you’ll be enveloped.

The Chateau of Cheverny in France’s Loire Valley is positively awash is hunting dogs.  Don’t walk in this giant pen, you’ll be “enveloped,” by anywhere from 70 to 100 hounds.  They’re half English foxhound and half French Poitou and, though there are riotous number of dogs in one place, they all appear to be well groomed and happy, like most Frenchmen.

The stately hunting palace was built between 1604 to 1634 and is

SONY DSC

one of the gems of chateau country.  It’s been in the same family for six centuries and the current viscount and his family still live on the third floor of the chateau.  They share their the chateau’s gardens, fabulous decor and amazing architecture with visitors.  Still, if you’re a dog lover, you’ll pass all that by and head for the hounds.

Weekly Photo Challenge Split-Second Story: The Loneliness of the Rock ‘N Roll Tuba

Rock Box Tuba Player, France
Rock Box Tuba Player, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France

Serendipity is one of the best parts of travel.  We ran into a performance by the street band  Rock Box one night in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France.  You can’t beat their school-boy costumes and the use of a tuba in place of a base guitar isn’t something one sees too often, either.

They appeared on the France Has Talent TV show with great praise from the judges.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this band perform AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” with the bellowing tuba, so here’s your chance:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/split-second-story/

Eating and Wearing Stinky Cheese in France

At the outdoor market in Honfleur, where I purchased the Livarot cheese. Its scent perfumed me and my car for the rest of the day.

Livarot is one of the oldest types of cheese in France and it smells like it—like its been hanging around gaining strength since the 1600s. A specialty of the Normandy region, Livarot is a soft “washed rind” cheese which means it is typically bathed in a wash of salted water which helps break down the curd from the outside, influencing the texture, aroma and flavor of the entire cheese. The “bath” does absolutely nothing to cure the smell.

It may be an urban legend, but I’ve since read that Livarot is banned on public transportation in France. Its earthy aroma  has been described by some as reminiscent of feces or “barnyard.”  I would never have ordered something with that description, but it first came to me on a cheese plate in a restaurant in Honfleur, in Normandy, a small slice, apparently exposed to the air long enough to diminish its signature odor. And it was great.

Good enough to make me want to purchase some at the market the next morning, in the process of packing up a few goodies for our lunch that day— a little french bread, sausage and a bit of the cider for which the region is also famous, and which smells much better than the cheese.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

Melons at the market
Melons at the market

I packed our picnic into my backpack, which stayed locked in our small closed car until lunch time, imparting a zesty Livarot odor to our car, a smell somewhere between stinky feet and a gym bag full of recently used hockey gear.

We were able to eat our picnic in the open air and again the taste of the Livarot seemed wonderfully unrelated to the smell. We couldn’t eat all the cheese, so frugal as I am, I wrapped up the leftover cheese and returned it to my backpack for later consumption.

 

In his wonderful book French Lessons: Adventures in Knife, Fork and Unknown-3Corkscrew, Peter Mayle devotes a whole chapter to the Livarot cheese fair in the town of Livarot, and in particular, the cheese eating competition. The rules: a time limit of 15 minutes during which contestants must eat their way through two whole cheeses, each weighing about two pounds. “Livarot,” he says, “is not a modest cheese. It announces itself to the nose long before it is anywhere near you mouth, with a piercing, almost astringent aroma.”

That may have been the reason why that evening when we checked into our hotel, I noticed that the hotel clerk and other people in the lobby appeared to move away from me or avert their faces. “Madam!”  I realized that I was wearing the Livarot-filled backpack and exuding that aroma wherever I went. Formidable!

Have you ever had a food-related travel incident?  Please tell us.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monuments — The Eiffel Tower Transformed

The Eiffel Tower, with the Waterlogue app.
The Eiffel Tower, with the Waterlogue app.

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous monuments in the world, which means it has

The original photo
The original photo

been photographed at every possible angle and every time of day since construction began in 1887. But I’m not so interested in telling you about the Eiffel Tower as I am in letting you know about an an app that that I’ve had great fun playing with, Waterlogue, which turns photos into some pretty cool watercolor painting-like images. It works on any Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch that is running iOS version 7 or great. You download a photo, and apply one of Waterlogue’s filters. And, Voila!

As a result, my photo, which is just like those that millions of other tourists have taken, now looks a little different. Give it a try.  There are some serious crafty possibilities.

 

A Tour of Hemingway Haunts in Paris

La Cupole in Paris
La Cupole in Paris

There are certain aspects of Paris that have always captured my imagination, most of them in some way related to literature.  The French Revolution, for example, fascinates me, a fact I trace back to middle school when I read Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Darnay, Sydney Carton, Madame DeFarge and her nasty band of peasant rebels all made Paris seem real to me long before I had an opportunity to actually see it. Then, Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables added to my panorama of Paris.

From Victor Hugo, fast forward to the Jazz Age of the 1920s, when artists and writers swarmed to Paris like bees to honey. If you saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, you have a feel for the era when American expat writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald lived in Paris but seem to spend more time carousing than writing. That was about 90 years ago, but you can still see most of the places that Hemingway describes so beautifully in A Moveable Feast.  The book is  a virtual guidebook to the places he found most remarkable when he lived in Paris with is first wife, Hadley in the 1920s (and with subsequent wives later on).

The story goes that, in the 1950s, a trunk full of notes on his first years in Paris turned up at the Ritz Hotel. That gave him the raw material to write A Moveable Feast. So, take a little stop at the Ritz, near the Place Vendôme, especially at the hotel’s Hemingway Bar. During the Liberation of Paris in 1944, Hemingway considered it one of his first duties to “liberate” the Ritz bar and order martinis all around. Here at the Ritz, Hemingway asked Mary Welsh to become his fourth wife. The hotel is closed for renovations but will open this year.  CoCo Chanel lived at the Ritz and one of the rooms in the Imperial Suite re-creates one of Marie-Antoinette’s rooms at Versailles.

The apartment where Hemingway and his "Paris Wife," Hadley, were "very poor and very happy."
The apartment where Hemingway and his “Paris Wife,” Hadley, were “very poor and very happy.”

If, like most of us, you lack the Versailles-level budget required to stay at the Ritz, consider staying in the Contrescarpe neighborhood where Hemingway lived in the 1920s. Be sure to pause at 74 Rue de Cardinal Lemoine where he and Hadley lived from 1922 to 1923, “the Paris of our youth, when we were very poor and very happy.”  He describes their apartment:

Home in the rue Cardinal Lemoine was a two-room flat that had no hot water and no inside toilet facilities except an antiseptic container, not uncomfortable to anyone who was used to a Michigan outhouse.”

This apartment is where Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, the book that made him famous. Below it is a shop that used to be a bal-musette or dance hall. It appears in The Sun Also Rises as the bal where we first meet Lady Brett. (Rest assured, you don’t have to live like a starving artist in this neighborhood. If you can book far enough ahead, try the Hotel D’Angleterre where Hemingway once stayed.) Wander Place Contrescarpe, a rough old square packed with cafes and apartments that couldn’t have changed since the 1920s. Take a morning stroll through the Marche Mouffetard (prime time is Saturday and Sunday morning), a fantastic market with produce, cheese, wine and just about anything you’ll need for your own feast, a picnic by the Seine or in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens.

Strolling among the "bouquinistes" along the Seine in Paris.
Strolling among the bouquinistes along the Seine in Paris.

If you walk downhill from Hemingway’s apartment on Cardinal Lemoine  you’ll come to the Seine where you’ll see the famed expat bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., and across the street, Notre Dame Cathedral. From here, you can follow the steps of Jake and Bill in The Sun Also Rises as they circle the Île St-Louis. The stalls of the  bouquinistes–sellers of antique books, magazines and a bit of tourist trash–line the walk along the river. Hemingway used to stroll here and chat with the booksellers.  “I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.  It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.”

He adds, “With the

Hemingway might be surprised to see his book “A Moveable Feast” among the books sold by “bouquinistes” in Paris.

fishermen and the life on the river, the beautiful barges with their own life on board, the tugs with the smokestacks that folded back to pass under the bridges, pulling a tow of barges, the great elms on the stone banks of the river, the plane trees and in some places the poplars, I could never be lonely along the river.”

You won’t feel lonely in any of the many famous cafes along Boulevard du Montparnasse, either. Okay, they’re pricey and popular with tourists, but worth it if you want to sample jazz age cafe life.  The Closerie des Lilas, for example, at 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse  is a lovely cafe where Hemingway wrote and Scott Fitzgerald read him The Great Gatsby. La Coupole, at number 102, is a vast art deco brasserie, brightly painted by Brancusi and Chagall.

Finally, to really get the swing of the Paris of Hemingway’s era, wander the medieval lanes of the Latin Quarter where you’ll find the great jazz club Le Caveau de la Huchette at 5 rue de la Huchette.  Though it wasn’t around during Hemingway’s time, it surely has much of the era’s joie de vivre. In Le Caveau’s ancient vaulted cellar you’ll find a dance floor, a swing band, and people dancing like Mexican jumping beans on a hot skillet. Sit back and watch Parisians enjoy la belle vie or join in the dancing. It’s your own moveable feast. As Hemingway concluded, “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.”