The Christmas Season in Strasbourg, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Petite France, Strasbourg.

Today we will be visiting Strasbourg, France which sits right on the border of France and Germany.  In fact, due to tax benefits many of the people that work in the city live across the bridge in Germany.  They have changed the bus parking and unloading since our last visit and we had a bit of a walk to reach the center of the city and the Cathedral of Our Lady.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Side view of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Strasbourg, France. The Christmas Market booths were not yet open when we arrived. We found that most of the Christmas markets on our itinerary opened around 11 am.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Throughout Europe we have found that many of the churches and other special buildings are reproduced in small scale in detailed bronze for the blind. Here is an example done for the Strasbourg Cathedral.

On our last visit we took a canal tour and had a nice orientation of the city from that perspective.  That wasn’t offered during this winter visit but I look forward to the walking tour.  We also had a snack stop for wine and pastries.  It was a perfect time to walk around before the booths at the market opened up.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Strasbourg’s Cathedral of Our Lady.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Spotted on Strasbourg’s Cathedral of Our Lady.

No surprise that we started our visit at the Cathedral.  It has a beautiful interior and very special timepiece that I saw on my last visit.  (Check out that post for pictures of the interior.)  Today we just saw the exterior.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Holiday decorations adorn the tops of shop windows and doors all over Strasbourg, France.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Strasbourg’s Cathedral of Our Lady.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Strasbourg, France

We headed down the shopping street that ends right at the Cathedral’s doors and I began to notice the wonderful decoration done on the top of store windows and doors.  Looking back we got another great shot of the Cathedral.  It was time for our first snack stop.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Strasbourg, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen On our way to Petite France in Strasbourg France


Photo ©Jean Janssen In Strasbourg, they know how to do Christmas decorations. This Baccarat crystal chandelier hangs over a street in the city.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. As the decoration tells us, we are heading into Petite France in Strasbourg.

One of the markets we passed focuses on a different country each year.  Like the other cities we visited, we found holiday markets in most of the city squares.  We are headed to Petite France, an historic quarter of Strasbourg known for its half-timbered houses, bridges, canals, narrow lanes, and charming shops.   While now one of the city’s major tourist areas, this quarter was home to the tanners, millers, and fishermen in the Middle Ages which is why is area is also known as the Quartier des Tanneurs (French), Gerberviertel (German) or Tanner’s Quarter (English).  Most of the houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Petite France, Strasbourg.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Petite France, Strasbourg.

The name Petite France may sound romantic or even patriotic, but it has a more serious origin.  “[Petite France] comes from the ‘hospice of the syphilitic’… which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island to cure persons with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit (‘French disease’) in German.”  Not as charming as the area name might suggest.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Petite France, Strasbourg.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A bicycle built for two along the canal in La Petite France, Strasbourg.

Today however, this area is utterly charming.  It is fun to see the quarter by boat drifting along one of the canals or by walking through the narrow lanes (or as I have now done it, by both).  The shopping in this area is amazing too, both in the Christmas markets and in the small shops in the area.  In the market, I selected one of the ceramic houses that mimicked the half-timbered house to add to our Christmas collection.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Petite France, Strasbourg.

The tour ended in La Petite France, so I decided to do some shopping here and slowly make my way back to the bus visiting the various markets in the city.  No lunch today.  With our morning snacks, I am going to push through so I have time to see more before my feet give out.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Strasbourg, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen The stork is a symbol of the city and you find it revisited throughout Strasbourg, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen Spotted in the market by the Cathedral in Strasbourg, France

By far, Strasbourg had the best shopping of any of the places we visited.  I could have done that all day long.  Be careful for shop closures.  Gill and I spotted some slippers we were interested in (window shopping) but the store closed for a break and weren’t open again until after we had to leave for the bus.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopfront decorations in Strasbourg France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopfront decorations in Strasbourg France. This is my favorite shop in the city which I found on my first visit.  Periodically, bubbles were blown out of a second story window which made it appear that there was snow coming down on this narrow street.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopfront decorations in Strasbourg France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopfront decorations in Strasbourg France

The Christmas delight for me however, was all the shop decorations.  I had already thought it a charming city based on my previous visit, but they went above and beyond in their storefront decorations.  At my favorite store on a narrow street, bubbles were blown from a second story window making it appear that it was snowing on that street alone.


Photo by Gillian. Natasha in a Strasbourg Christmas Market.

We were drawn in to one of the markets by the large Christmas tree that we just had to take photos by.  All the booths in this market were local charities.  In the main market near the Cathedral, the big find for the day for me was some unique table linens.  The designer was there.  She is from Madagascar and sends her designs back to her home country for the work to be completed by the locals to support their economy.  It was a purchase I could feel good about especially having been a visitor to their country.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The calm before the storm…Strasbourg France, when we started the day.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cathedral of our Lady, Strasbourg France

I was exhausted when I finally made it back to the ship.  There is one more stop on the cruise in Basel, Switzerland.  At this point I would have to say that hands down for this itinerary, the best shopping-both in the markets and in the stores-and the best shop Christmas decorations are to be found in Strasbourg, France.  As for the markets, I think I found it the best because there were local artisans and (reasonably priced) unique items.   They say third time is the charm; I guess I should come back.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sailing out to our last stop in Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. La Petite France, Strasbourg.

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A castle and Christmas markets in Heidelberg, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Heidelberg, Germany

Today we have a day-long trip into Heidelberg to visit the castle and Christmas Markets.  Its a familiar ride given my summer visit here.  You go through the industrial areas before reaching one of the most fairytale-like cities in Germany.


Photo ©JeanJanssen. Arch added by Friedrich V to honor this English wife Elizabeth Stuart at Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberger Schloss in German, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Heidelberg Castle, Germany. On the left is the Fat Tower added for defense by Ludwig V. On the left is the English building, with its relatively plain facade, added to the Palace by Friedrich V to accommodate his English Queen since the spaces within the castle courtyard were occupied. Just outside was the leveled garden he commissioned for her.


Photo ©JeanJanssen. Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberger Schloss in German, Germany.


Photo ©JeanJanssen. As seen from the garden the entrance gate, castle ruins, and moat of Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberger Schloss in German, Germany.

Heidelberg is set along the Neckar River.  We first climbed the hill to reach the narrow car park at the castle.  We’ll take the funicular down into the city.  As crowded as it was in the car park, the number of visitors this day is nothing like what I experienced here in the summer.  We first stopped to see the arch and artillery garden with its sweeping views of the city before going inside the castle where you need a ticket to enter.  To create the garden, it was necessary to level the hillside next to the moat surrounding the complex of castle buildings that open onto the courtyard beyond the tower gate.


Photo ©JeanJanssen. View of the city of Heidelberg from Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberger Schloss in German, Germany.

Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest University and it is clearly a University town.  25% of the city’s population are students.  In fact, much of what we could see from the castle garden was University buildings.  The University has an interesting fraternity history.  Many of the buildings we passed on the winding ride up to the castle were originally fraternity houses.


Photo ©JeanJanssen. Leveled Garden and English Building at Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberger Schloss in German, Germany.

The arch, the artillery garden where we took in the view, and English Building were added by one of the castle’s famous residents, Friedrich V, who married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of the King James I of England.  The young couple married in 1613.  To please his wife, there were elaborate wedding festivities and extensive renovations to a castle which dates from the 11th century and has been ravaged by invaders, fires, lighting, and war.


Photo ©Jean Janssen To enter the courtyard of Heidelberg Castle you cross the bridge and through this tower.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. As you enter Heidelberg Castle, the Ruprecht Building, the oldest surviving residential palace within Heidelberg Palace, is to your left. Straight ahead is the reconstructed Friedrich Building.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  In the courtyard of Heidelberg Palace, you see the Friedrich building to the left, The Hall of Glass in the center and the Ottheinrich Building on the right

You take a stone bridge over the moat/ditch to reach the castle courtyard.  There is a rich mix of architectural styles from the Gothic Ruprecht Building-the oldest surviving residential palace within Heidelberg Palace- to the beautiful Renaissance Ottheinrich Building and the Italian-arched Hall of Glass to the reconstructed Late Renaissance Friedrich Building.  Before reconstruction took place from 1897 to 1900, castle bricks had been looted to construct the town below and the area was used to graze cattle and keep chicken and geese.  The structures had been used to dry laundry.   To maintain the romanticized version of the setting which had begun to draw visitors in, only the Friedrich Building which had been damaged by fire was reconstructed.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Ottheinrich Building at Heidelberg Castle. According to the Castle’s website, “[t]he sovereign’s self-image and his political agenda were immortalized in stone here. Ancient heroes and Roman emperors represent military and political power. However, the Christian virtue that a ruler is also expected to possess, is likewise represented. Ottheinrich had himself installed in the central portal pediment.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Friedrich Building at Heidelberg Castle. According to the castle’s website, “Prince-Elector Friedrich IV had the stately residential palace built by his architect, Johannes Schoch, between 1601 and 1607, on the pedestal of a previous medieval structure..An idealized gallery of ancestors from the electoral family were used to demonstrate his claim to power. Thus, visitors can also see a depiction of Friedrich IV, as the final representative of his illustrious ancestral line, reaching back to Charlemagne.”

Of less historic significance is the popular attraction which is inside-the world’s largest wine barrel-in the appropriately-named Barrel Building.  The current barrel is the third iteration and was installed by Prince-Elector Carl Theodor.  This barrel holds 220,000 liters (over 58,000 gallons) of wine.  It has it own viewing platform; the platform had previously been used as a dance floor.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Great Barrel at Heidelberg Castle. The statute of Perkeo is to the left side.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A statute of Perkeo sits atop a wine barrel stall in a Heidelberg Christmas market. No surprise that the stall sells gluhwein.

A famous figure associated with the barrel is Perkeo and a statute of him stands guard by the barrel.  Little Perkeo was the court jester of Price-Elector Carl Philipp famous for holding his liquor.  We saw other references to the famous jester in the city’s Christmas Markets.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The funicular path down from the castle to the Kornmarkt in the city of Heidelberg.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Riding the Funicular down to Heidelberg, Germany.

After our castle visit, we took the funicular down to the city station at the Kornmarkt to visit the many Christmas markets in the city’s various squares.  This lower portion of the funicular has been in operation since 1890.  One member of our group chose to upgrade his funicular ticket and took the trip up to the ruins of the upper castle at Konigstuhl, the city’s highest point.  He told me later it was worth the trip.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gill in the “famous” monkey statute near the Karl Theodor Bridge in Heidelberg Germany.


Photo by Jean Janssen. Karl Theodor Bridge, Heidelberg, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of Heidelberg Castle from the Karl Theodor Bridge.

Our guide gave us a bit of tour in town, pointing out the major sites and the pathway to others.  Gillian had something she particularly wanted to see, a statute of a monkey that she had seen with her parents as a child.  I went along as the guide took us there.  It was right next to the Karl Theodor Bridge that crosses the River Neckar.  The Karl Theodor Bridge, commonly known as the Old Bridge, was built in 1788 by Prince-Elector Charles Theodore.  The arched bridge visible from the castle is “one of the best-known landmarks and tourist destinations in Heidelberg.”  Gillian got a picture with the statute of the monkey, designed so you can put your head inside, but it wasn’t the one she remembered from her childhood.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopping in the Kornmarkt in Heidelberg with views of the castle in the distance.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Something unique, chocolate in the shape of tools in the Christmas market in Heidelberg, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Christmas Markets in Heidelberg Germany

Gillian and I stayed together and walked through a few markets before deciding we would rather sit down for a nice traditional German meal in a restaurant rather than stand to eat in one of the markets.  We went to a wonderful place that the guide-who lives in Heidelberg and runs a theater company-suggested.  We liked the decor, particularly the light fixtures made from violins, and had great service from a woman who was originally from England but had lived with her family in Germany for over 35 years.  She was more than a little concerned about what Brexit would do to her status.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cocktails, not beer, to start our traditional German lunch in Heidelberg, Germany

We started with a cocktail and then had one of the best German meals I have ever tasted, hardy and fabulous.  My German father would be so proud.  We were fortified for the shopping ahead.  Afterwards, we went into a grocery store to buy chocolate at prices far better than I can get in the states.  We did split up at the end to get in those power purchases before meeting up with our group.  There is a lot to see in Heidelberg beyond the castles and the markets.  I tried to hit the highlights on my last visit.  Wouldn’t mind returning once again.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Christmas Market in Heidelberg Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I have started looking for these in each city where we go to markets. There is generally a skating rink. Heidelberg, Germany


Photo @Jean Janssen. Shopping with a view. A Christmas market in Heidelberg with the castle in the background.

This might actually be one of the best times to visit the city.  In spite of the markets, the crowds were far thiner than they had been during our summer visit.  Heidelberg is definitely a city to put on your bucket list.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Everywhere you look there is another amazing view of the castle. Heidelberg, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Heidelberg, Germany

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Eberbach Abbey, Rudesheim, and Wiesbaden Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Erberbach Abbey, Eltville, Germany

There was an early buffet dinner this evening to accommodate those wanting to go to the Christmas Market in the evening and for the group of us that wanted to take an optional tour to Kloster Eberbach in nearby Eltville.  I elected to take the tour as I didn’t want to go to the Christmas Market alone at night.  We are docked in Rudesheim, a city I have visited before.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking out into the cloister from the Chapter Meeting Room in Eberbach Abbey, Eltville, Germany

It was a relatively short drive to the beautiful Abbey (Kloster in German).  The first monastery on the site was started in 1116 by Augustinians.  The Bishop bestowed it on the Benedictines in 1131 and it became a Cistercian Abbey in 1136.  The prosperity of the Abbey was founded in its wine production.  It the old wine storage room where we made our first stop.  Half of our tour group will be guided through the Abbey first; our group was starting with the wine tasting.  I enjoyed all the wine, but it was rather sweet for my taste.  Oddly the store was closed during our visit so you were unable to make any purchases.  Perhaps a missed opportunity for the Abbey.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The wine storage rooms at Eberbach Abbey.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The wine storage rooms at Eberbach Abbey.

The former storage facilities was very atmospheric.  The had (empty) wine barrels with lovely lit candles on them as the room’s only illumination.  The candles had actually served a purpose in former times to detect air or gas levels in the room; flickering flames were the early warning system.  There was also a mold that grew on the arches supporting the ceiling that feed off the alcohol in the room.  Although wine is no longer stored in the barrels, they do enough tastings in this space that the (safe) mold continues to thrive.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Chapter meeting room, Eberbach Abbey, Eltville, Germany

After our tasting we toured the Abbey by candlelight.  I loved the cloister and the chapter meeting room where the monks sat in rows determined by rank and years of service.  This was the only place in the monastery where they spoke.  We also toured the lay brothers’ refectory where 12 traditional wine presses are on display.  These non-noble men who committed themselves to the monastery did the heavy physical labor and dirty jobs associated with the operation of the Abbey.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of 12 traditional wine presses in Eberbach Abbey. This one is dated 1668.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Historic wine presses in the lay brothers’ refectory of Eberbach Abbey.

The Abbey was severely damaged during the 30 Years’ War and the monastery was heavily looted.  Only 20 members of the order returned in 1635 to revitalize it.  However, the 18th century brought economic prosperity through the wine production.  The Abbey’s decline started with the French Revolution and the religious presence ended in 1803.  The facilities served as an asylum for some period of time.   In the 1980s, the Abbey was used to film interior shots for the Sean Connery/Christian Slater film, The Name of the Rose, an historical Mystery story.  Today it is a wedding venue, the site of an annual music festival, and offers regular wine tastings.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ceiling decoration in the the Eberbach Abbey, Eltville, Germany.

Our last stop was a highly decorated room where the Abbey officials met with lay persons.  There was lovely ceiling decorations and a few remaining pieces of wood furniture.  However the room was set up for a film crew and we couldn’t stay long.  I believe a remake of The Name of the Rose is in the works.


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Eberbach Abbey cloister.

It was actually dark enough on our way back to the bus that we got a bit lost.  All accounted for in the end though and we went back to the ship where some people decided to walk into town.  I was ready to pack it in and be ready for shopping in the market in the morning.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rudesheim, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rudesheim, Germany

Since I had been to Rudesheim before, in the morning I just walked into town along the waterfront and enjoyed the markets.  I did add to our ceramic house collection here with a town gate that I hadn’t seen before.  The store where we bought these items at on our last visit was closed, but I found the gate in one of the market stalls.  It will make an excellent Christmas present for Boris.  I enjoyed seeing the city decorated for the holidays.  All around town were large ceramic Santas just begging you to take a picture with them.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rudesheim, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Rudesheim, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rudesheim, Germany

Its a charming city and always worth a visit.  Just walk down the narrow lanes and you’ll find shops, restaurants, and hotels all in compact traditional buildings.  There is also a lovely square near the church.  I didn’t make it that far on our last visit.  They had a large outdoor nativity.  All of the markets we have visited have featured children’s rides; this one had a small train.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rudesheim, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rudesheim, Germany

We traveled further upriver and docked.  Here we could stay in town or take a trip to Wiesbaden for the Twinkling Star Market.


Photo ©Jean Janssen

Wiesbaden’s mineral springs have made the location a “spa” destination since Roman times.  It had its heyday in the 19th century.  Its Marktkirche, a brick Neo-Gothic church, was built in 1862 to accommodate a population that had doubled in the last twenty years.  Marktkirche sits in Wiesbaden’s central Schlossplatz which is the site of the city’s beautiful night market and our destination.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Marktkirche and the city hall, Wiesbaden, Germany

This was a wonderful market, great shopping and unique and varied food choices.  I met up with Gillian and she shared with me a few of her finds.  I did some copycatting on her purchases.  I loved the lighting, the huge Christmas tree, and the fantastic setting.  It quickly grew dark and the real beauty of the Twinkling Star Market shown.  It lives up to its name.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Twinkling Star Christmas Market Wiesbaden, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Twinkling Star Christmas Market Wiesbaden, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Twinkling Star Christmas Market Wiesbaden, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Twinkling Star Christmas Market Wiesbaden, Germany

I did stop by a few of the city’s main attractions that were nearby.  I saw the outdoor skating rink, the Staatstheater (The Hessian State Theater), and the Kurhaus (the Spa House).  Just the walk down the main lit street was magical.  That makes two very special nighttime events in a row.  Heidleburg is tomorrow.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Staatstheater, the Hessian State Theater in Wiesbaden, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Kurhaus, the Spa House, in Wiesbaden, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Window Shopping in Wiesbaden, Germany. Ever wondered what to do with the Christmas trees after the holidays?


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The German Corner and Castles on the Rhine


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Schloss Stolzenfels just outside Koblenz, Germany in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

Our second full day of the Christmas market cruise began with a stop at the German Corner where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet.  The landscape is dominated by the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress on one side of the Rhine and the Statute of Kaiser Wilhem I sitting on horseback atop a pedestal on the opposite side where the rivers converge.  We detoured onto the Moselle to dock along its banks at the city of Koblenz.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A replica statute of Kaiser Wilhelm I erected in 1993 (after the original was destroyed during WWII) at Deutsches Eck (German Corner) where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet.

The Teutonic Order founded one its command posts here in the 13th Century and the statute was added in the 19th Century to honor that history and “to rouse German nationalistic fervour”.  The statute had been destroyed during the war.  With the history of its purpose in mind, it is no surprise that after WWII it was many years and arguments later before the statute would be replaced (in 1993).


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress from Deutsches Eck, the German Corner, Koblenz, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sections of the Berlin wall along the Moselle waterfront in Koblenz, Germany

Leaving the ship for our land tour, we made a stop beside three segments of the Berlin wall that had been removed and erected here.  Walking along the water front, there was more attempts to symbolize unity with the flags of several nations flying along the water’s edge.  We made a stop at the monument before turning the corner to walk along the Rhine.  On my last visit we took the cable car across the river for a visit to the Ebrenbreistein Fortress.  I recommend both the cable car ride and the fortress visit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica of St. Castro, Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica of St. Castro, Koblenz, Germany

Touring Koblenz, we stopped at the Basilica of St. Castro, formerly part of a monastery that stood here.  Although we saw the exterior on our last visit, this time we were able to go inside and enjoy the church with its modest advent decorations.  The facade features beautiful Romanesque towers.  The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest church in Koblenz.  “It was at this place in 842 that 110 representatives negotiated the division of the Frankish Empire.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basilica of St. Castro, Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Romanesque towers of the Basilica of St. Castro in Koblenz, Germany

Leaving the Basilica, we toured through parts of Koblenz, with our guide noting the locations of many of city’s Christmas markets.  We saw the “Schangel” fountain in the courtyard of the town hall (Willi-Horter Platz) depicting a spitting boy in reference to one of the Schang boys (slang reference to the boys born during the French occupation).  I was more intrigued by the Renaissance and Baroque Jesuit Buildings.  The town hall is the former Jesuit College, with towers on either end and a beautiful portal in the middle.  The Jesuits had a presence in Koblenz for almost two hundred years before they were expelled in 1773.


Photo ©Jean Janssen   Some of my favorite decorations were in this market near the Jesuit College where everything was in gold and white.  Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Jesuit church, built in 1610,  is tucked into a corner of Jesuitenplatz in Koblenz, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Within the former Jesuit College, now the town hall, Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I could only catch a glimpse of the Liebfrauenkirche in Koblenz, Germany.

We also caught a glimpse of the Liebfrauenkirche.  After our tour, we had time to walk around the town and visit the various Christmas Markets.  I bought only a few things, some unique jewelry and an ornament.  Since the markets are in the various squares, often beside a church, I got to sightsee while shopping.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Christmas Market in Am Plan Square with the onion towers of Liebfrauenkirche in the background, Koblenz, Germany


Market in Jesuitenplatz. The former Jesuit College is now the town hall, Koblenz, Germany. The Jesuits were in Koblenz for almost 200 years until they were expelled in 1773.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany Tops of the stalls are often the fun part.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany

Much of Koblenz was destroyed during WWII, but I spotted a few architectural finds that depicted a traditional Germany city.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Koblenz, Germany

All too soon it was back to the boat for our lunch of German sausages and our scenic tour of castles on the Rhine.  Even though I have been to Koblenz before, this morning was an interesting look at this charming city during the holiday season.


I saw our guide as I began my walk back to the ship and she took this picture of Natasha-with scarf, hat, boots, crossbody bag and a dangling umbrella- along the waterfront of the Moselle River in Koblenz, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Schloss Stolzenfels in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley near Koblenz, Germany

Only minutes after leaving Koblenz, we came to a lovely castle on the Rhine, Schloss Stolzenfels.  Schloss means castle in German.  It was built in the 14th century, but was destroyed in the 17th century by the French during the Nine’s Years War.  Eventually the land was gift by the city to Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1823.  He rebuilt the castle in a romanticized Gothic-Revival Style.  Today you can tour the fairytale castle by taking a winding garden path.  Going inside this schloss is just one more reason for Natasha to return to Koblenz.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Lahnstein, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Brey, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Warring brothers’ castles along the Rhine River, Bobbard, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Castle along the Rhine River, Germany

For the next several hours, we sailed along the river with commentary by our cruise director and had the opportunity to see the many castles along the Rhine.  Last time I came in the summer and it was too hot to sit out for long.  Today it was too cold.  I braved it-bundled up-for as long as I could.  In addition to the castles, we saw an example of a German tradition.  It was not uncommon for people to head straight from church on Sundays straight to the brewhouse.  This location eliminated the delay by attaching the two buildings; the church and the brewery are connected.


Photo ©Jean Janssen A match made in heaven? This brewery and church are attached to each other. Along the middle Rhine at mile marker 560, Germany.



Photo ©Jean Janssen. Loreley Rock, along the Rhine, Germany

We also passed the famous Lorelei. Lorelei, or Loreley in German, is a “steep slate rock on the right bank of the River Rhine in the Rhine Gorge (or Middle Rhine) at Sankt Goarshausen in Germany.”  The formation of the rock contributes to a particular sound heard with wind travels around the corner.  Loreley is the subject of many legends, poems, and songs.  “An old legend envisioned dwarfs living in caves in the rock.”

IMG_0412 2

Photo ©Jean Janssen. When I got cold, I watched for some of the castles from the lounge and then  later through the Juliet window in my cabin.

“In 1801, German author Clemens Brentano composed his ballad… [which] told the story of an enchanting female associated with the rock. In the poem, the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Rhine River, Oberwesel, Germany

“In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano’s theme in one of his most famous poems, “Die Lorelei”. It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Rhine River, Oberwesel, Germany

Accidents at the dangerous corner only reinforce the legends. In 2011, a “barge carrying 2,400 tons of sulphuric acid capsized…near the Lorelei rock, blocking traffic on one of Europe’s busiest waterways.”  Guess what was the easy target to blame?  After Loreley we were losing light.  We will dock in Rudesheim tonight where I am going on an Abbey wine tasing tour before touring the Christmas markets in the morning.  More to come…


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The prettiest Christmas market in Koblenz.


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Christmas in Cologne


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Holiday Christmas Market in the foreground with Cologne Cathedral in the background. Cologne, Germany.

Once again I was off on an river cruise adventure to the Christmas Markets.  The itinerary is actually the same as one I did in the summer.  This was to be my market trip with my sister Emma.  We had booked last year and the water levels were too low for the ships to maneuver, so that trip was cancelled.  This year Emma had emergency surgery the week before our departure.  Having lost more than half the blood in her body, she was unable to travel.  Emma is fine now, but it took many weeks of recovery.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Braille map of the churches surrounding the Cologne Cathedral as of 1794.

We didn’t take the travel insurance so I went ahead rather than lose the money.  Emma got nothing back, although she could book the air miles for a future trip within one year.  So, give serious consideration the next time you book travel.  My other take-away from this experience is that to some men, women traveling alone are considered fair game.  I did not appreciate the advances of married men, who knew I was married, but were not deterred.  Just be prepared.  It was a new experience for me.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne Cathedral in Advent.

Our travel started in Cologne, Germany, most famous for its beautiful Cathedral.  The first night we were not docked close to the city, so I decided a nap was in order after the long overnight flight; I can not sleep on planes.  The next morning I woke ready to go.  They had moved the boat at midnight and we were now docked along the Rhine about a half hour’s walk from the church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Cathedral, Cologne, Germany.

We took a bus in.  Once again it is raining just like my last visit to Cologne during the summer.  One day I am going to see this city in the sunshine. We started with a tour of the Cathedral, declared a World Heritage Site in 1996.  Construction on the Cathedral began in 1248, but halted in 1473.  Work did not resume until the 1840s.  The Cathedral was completed according to the original medieval plan in 1880. Today, it is the country’s “most visited landmark” receiving an average of 20,000 visitors each day.


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany

Cologne Cathedral is “the tallest twin-spired church in the world…and the third tallest church in the world.  It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires.”  Architecture aside, the Cathedral is most famous for a very special work of art, the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is said to contain the remains of the three wise men.  The “relics were acquired by Frederick Barbarossa at the conquest of Milan in 1164. The shrine takes the form a large reliquary in the shape of a basilican church, made of bronze and silver, gilded and ornamented with architectonic details, figurative sculpture, enamels and gemstones. The shrine was opened in 1864 and was found to contain bones and garments.”


Photo©Jean Janssen. The refectory containing the remains of the three wise men in Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

The Cathedral’s tall interior pillars are a marvel, but I was enchanted by the church’s beautiful stained glass, marble and decorated floor, and one particular painted ceiling.


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany

The Cathedrals’s twin spires were a landmark for the Allied forces during WWII and fourteen arial bombs struck the Cathedral during the war.  Although heavily damaged, the Cathedral remained standing in a city that was almost completed destroyed.1920px-Warning_sign_in_cologne It was particularly special to visit the Cathedral during Advent.  We saw the reverse side of one the churches famous altar screens depicting the annunciation.  The other holiday touches were subtle, but the advent wreath, nativity scene, and the refractory made the timing of this visit noteworthy.


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany


Photo©Jean Janssen. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany

After the Cathedral, we toured some of the area nearby and our guide pointed out some of the area museums we might want to visit in our free time.  In particular, we saw part of the discovered Roman ruins in the archeological museum.  Gnomes are also a symbol of the city and we went by the fountain that depicts the legend.  Afterwards, she gave us the layout of three of the nearby Christmas Markets.  I did a little looking and then headed back to the ship for lunch with the tour group.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Preserved roman remains in Cologne, Germany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cologne, Germany

After lunch, I rode the shuttle back to the city to take another look at the various markets the guide had pointed out to us.  The Cathedral market was what I expected, but it was the others nearby that I really enjoyed.  Near the town hall was a charming market decorated with gnomes throughout.  In route I even found an office conference space decorated as if the gnomes had taken it over.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gnomes take over a local conference space in Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany

Further on was a section of the market with even more food and drink outlets.  This one also included a large skating rink around a monument and curling lanes outside a brew stand.  The curling was very popular.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany A picture is worth a thousand words.

I wasn’t hungry at all, but the market included such enticing treats that I decided I would get something.  I like savory over sweet, so a tried this wonderful melted cheese on bread.  The server placed a large block of cheese under heat, when the top was melted he spread it onto a fresh baguette.  Then you could add whatever you wanted-sweet or savory-as the topping.  I went with the bacon.  It was fabulous!


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany

I went to a far point and then walked back to our meeting place for the bus.  It was cold and more rain was threatening so I wanted to take the shuttle back rather than walk back alone.  I noticed all the wood carvings scattered about as I made my way to the Cathedral.  There was definitely more food booths proportionately than I remember from previous Christmas market visits.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany

I arrived at the bus stop early and ran into a few people from the ship.  We waited a long time and finally gave up and walked back.  The estimated 15 walk took closer to 30 minutes.  Good thing I was fortified with that baguette with cheese and bacon.  My feet were tired and it was probably a little tougher because we had already been walking around all day.  I did make some new friends during the walk and got back in time to hear at least some of the cruise briefing.  Then there was just enough time for a nap before dinner.  And so the adventure begins…


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany


Photo ©Jean Janssen Cologne, Germany

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Vila Nova de Gaia and another look at Porto, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boats tied up along the Vila Nova de Gaia waterfront. Note the barrels. Use of boats such as these was the traditional method of moving wine from the Douro Valley to Gaia. Across the Douro River is the Ribeira District of Porto.

We have been looking at those Port wine cellars across the river since we arrived in Porto and today is our day to visit.  After you cross the Dom Luis I Bridge over the Douro River, you are actually in another city, Vila Nova de Gaia.  Ironically, the city from which Port wine takes it name is not the location where the wine is produced or stored.  It is the Gaia (as everyone calls it) side that has this honor.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dom Luis I bridge connecting Porto and Gaia, Portugal (as seen from the Gaia side)

So why are the Port wine cellars in Gaia?  Well I found a great article by a private tour guide (Porto and Northern Portugal) and writer Sara Riobom.  She shares the following online on her web presence, Portoalities:  “Port wine never sets ‘a foot’ in the city of Porto, despite its name. It comes straight from the vineyards in the Douro Valley to Port wine cellars located in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across D. Luis I bridge. Why so?  The main reason was politics. In 1255, [the] king D. Afonso III [issued]… a Foral letter… The goal was to transfer commercial trade away from Porto, as only the Bishop and the Catholic Church were benefitting from it…[T]he Bishop was entitled to charge [various taxes]…in Porto…Port wine traders, in order to escape these tolls, opened up their Port wine cellars in Gaia, much to the dismay of the Bishop of Porto.  There were also other reasons…[the] terrains in Vila Nova de Gaia were rich in water mines, so almost each cellar had their own private water supply. Moreover, Gaia is a facing North (so it has less solar exposure) and it is sheltered from strong winds, therefore having a milder temperature, providing good aging conditions for Port wines.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Gaia boardwalk along the Douro. Still pretty quiet mid morning on a Saturday.

I added a link to Sara’s website; you might want to check out the full article and the wonderful pictures that she has collected.  In addition to the wine cellars on Gaia, our plans for the day also include a city tour of Porto.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Old barrel transport boats moored on the Gaia riverfront. This was the traditional method of transporting the wine from the Douro Valley to Gaia.

Our day started with a fabulous hotel breakfast at the Gran Cruz House in the Casario restaurant.  You could order as much or as little as you liked and sit inside or on the second floor terrance.  We went down at 9 am and got a wonderful table on the balcony.  We enjoyed the standards as well as some amazing pancakes-mine with apple, Boris’ with ricotta cheese.  Our thought was that tours would get started around 10.  Our cellar tours are set for the late afternoon and we have late (for us) dinner reservations after that.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tasting options at Cruz in Gaia, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the Cruz boardwalk tasting room in Gaia.

I was still of the mind that we should do the hop on/hop off bus and get those great upper levels views, but Boris really wanted to try the tuk-tuk.  There were no available reservations for an English guide until 12 noon,  so we decided to use our free tasting ticket at Cruz.  We walked across the Dom Luis I bridge (lower level) and into Gaia.  There are so many tasting cellars along the river I don’t know how you chose.  Our choice is just based on a free ticket.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We see these all over the world now. Couples put locks on the bridge and toss the key into the water to symbolize the eternity of their relationship.  The gesture has gotten so popular that a section of one bridge in Paris collapsed under the weight of the locks.   This picture is of locks on the Dom Luis I Bridge connecting Porto and Gaia in Portugal.

There were lots of old barrel boats mored by the river’s edge and it was still pretty quiet along the waterfront given it was only mid morning on a Saturday.  We got a free tasting and did some people watching before heading back across to meet our tuk-tuk tour guide.  By the time we walked back, there was a lot more activity and the boys were out to make their bridge jumps.  The bridge had a narrow sidewalk on each side-tough to be two abreast with the vehicular traffic.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Funicular dos Guindais on the Porto side just after crossing back over the bridge.  This photo only shows part of the climb it makes up the steep hill to the city wall.

After we crossed back over, I noticed the funicular.  The Funicular dos Guindais, also known as the Guindais Funicular, travels along a steep hill connecting the Ribeira district with Batalha at the top of the city.  The first funiculars appeared in Porto in 1891.  The Guindais funicular was renovated in 1994.  At the top is a well preserved section of the medieval walls.  I had a great view of the wall during our river boat tour.  This is one of two  sections of the Fernandine Wall that still exist today.  It was built between 1368 and 1437 to replace the old defensive wall that was then too small to protect the growing city.  Wonder what those wine transfer taxes paid for?  This is one thing.  This section of the wall is called the Trecho dos Guindais.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Trecho dos Guindais is one of two remaining sections of the Porto’s Fernandine Wall. The funicular runs along this steep hill rising from the Ribeira neighborhood. You can also see the top level of the Dom Luis I Bridge on the left.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I saw some lovely exterior tile work in the Ribeira district as we waited for our Tuk-Tuk driver.

We did not go down to the waterfront after we crossed back over but headed into town through the tunnel to meet our tour guide.  We will be touring with a company called Tuking People.  We were all a little early and got started right away.  Our driver/guide is a 19-year-old Porto native and currently a student.  In fact, this was his last day of work.  He is heading to Poland to study.  He will be back for the Christmas holidays, but doesn’t finish his course work in Poland until March.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The River Douro in the center; historic Porto on the upper right. Gaia on the left. In the bottom right hand corner is the upper level of the Dom Luis I Bridge with a metro car and pedestrians crossing the river. We are at Jardim do Morro at the Monastery of Serra do Pilar in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

We headed right back across the Dom Luis I Bridge and up to Jardim do Morro.  We are accessing the lookout platform at the monastery by tuk-tuk; in fact he drove right up the sidewalk.  You can also reach the gardens by taking the subway (Jardim do Morro stop), walking across the upper level of the Dom Luis I bridge (an experience in and of itself) or by taking the cable car.  From the gardens you have lovely views of historic Porto and the Douro River.  It is considered the best spot for seeing a sunrise or sunset in the area.  I saw the crowds gathered at sunset on our first evening in town from my hotel room window.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Monastery of Serra do Pilar sits on the top of hill overlooking the Douro and the city of Porto, Portugal.

A monastery was first constructed on this site in 1538, but the circular church now in place was consecrated in 1672.  Now a monument, the Monastery of Serra do Pilar is famous for the circular design of the church and cloister and for its views from the jagged mont on which it sits of the same name.  The monastery was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to the military barracks on Mont Serra do Pilar, Gaia, Portugal

Mont Serra do Pillar was also a strategic military site.  “Reconstruction of portions of the monastery that had been destroyed by successive wars began in 1927. In 1947 some of the monastery grounds were converted into military barracks which remain on the site to this day.”  We passed by the entrance to the military grounds on our way out and down.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Historic Porto, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I saw this church on our way to the Douro Valley yesterday. We passed it again today in the tuk-tuk. Love it. Porto, Portugal.  (I am leaving the corner of the tuk-tuk in these pictures to give you a little perspective.)


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto City Hall with a concert venue in front.

Leaving Gaia behind, we crossed back over the Douro and headed into the historic part of Porto.  The wonderful thing about the tuk-tuk was that it could weave in and out of traffic and go down narrow pathways that no bus could ever navigate.  Boris was right.  This was the way to see historic Porto.  The tour companies do offer packages where you could do the hop-on/hop off bus as a transportation vehicle, the boat ride for a different perspective and bridge touring, and a tuk-tuk to get you in the Alleyways.  This would be the perfect combination.  The down side of the tuk-tuk was we passed by things, but did not stop.  (Although we did have the stop at the monastery to take in the view.)  If you want to go back to anything, you would need another form of transportation.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Shopping, Porto style. Check out the cool door on this building.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto shopping street. This photo gives you good idea of your view from a tuk-tuk.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto, Portugal

We passed quickly (I got a quick look at the interior) by the Sao Bento train station which I really wanted to see, especially with my love of Portuguese tiles.  The station is built on the site of a Benedictine monastery and has 20,000+ blue and white tiles (azulejos) telling the history of Portugal.  The station began operations in 1916 and still serves trains between Porto and its northern suburbs.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The exterior (not the good part) of the San Bento Train Station, Porto, Portugal.

Another site we zipped by was the Porto Cathedral.  Although it got a Baroque remake in the 17th century, the Cathedral still maintains part of its 12th century original construction and some of its defensive structures.  The crowds here were overwhelming.  I could tell we won’t have the time to make it back today to visit.  I would have loved to have seen the titled cloisters and the gilded interior (reminiscent of Sao Francisco in Ribeira).  Just another reason to come back to Porto.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto Cathedral


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto Cathedral

After we passed by the Cathedral and not far from the train station, we toured through the old section of Porto built just outside the former city walls.  Here we were on narrow lanes that get very little sunlight due to the tall buildings.  Our guide Carlos explained that you paid taxes based on the width of your property.  People built very narrow homes, put could make them as high as they wanted without incurring additional taxes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Oldest section of Porto.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This narrow building represents two houses. Taxes were based on the width of the home so people built their houses narrow and tall. Each of the bottom doors indicates the width of one home in old Porto, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The tall narrow buildings of the old quarter don’t let in much light. Porto, Portugal

This is where the benefit of the tuk-tuk choice really shines.  Wandering through this section of Porto means a lot of up and down through narrow lanes where you might get lost.  Love that we had a native local tour guide.  Carlos pointed out what he has been told is the oldest street in Porto.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto city hall in the distance from the narrow lanes of Porto’s oldest section of the city.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto’s oldest residential section.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Porto’s oldest street.

Finally, we returned to the Ribeira district where we started.  We passed by Rua de São João, the steep pathway that leads directly to our hotel on the waterfront.  The street has cultural significance.  Named for the patron saint, it plays a central role in the city’s annual Saint John Festival around June 23.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Love the construction of the corner building. We are back in the Ribeira District. To the left is Rue Sao Jao, the steep street that leads straight to the our hotel on the river. We will be back this upper section this evening for dinner.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A view of Sao Francisco from the tuk-tuk

Outside St. Francis church we saw the tram car whose tracks we followed on our first day in town.  This is another way to tour the city.  The Porto Tram City Tour offers three different lines to local attractions and as far out as the coastal city of Foz do Douro at the river’s month (think beaches).  You ride on vintage tram cars.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. You can take a city tour on a vintage tram car in Porto, Portugal

We were hot and tired by the end of the tour so we went back to the waterfront.  Before going by the hotel, we made a stop at the wall opening Boris had spotted the first day.  Along the Ribeira waterfront in Porto there were 18 doors and hatches in the 14th century wall built to connect the water with the commercial street.  This is the only surviving one.  “This hatch has a gothic inscription from 1386.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen.   The only tunnel entrance to the Ribeira waterfront wall to survive to this day.   It is dated 1836.

We thought we would take a short break and then head to lunch.  Our hotel concierge has been great with recommendations and we have heard nothing but negatives about the sidewalk cafes so it is worth stopping by the desk to get a suggestion for an alternative to eating in one of the nearby sidewalk cafes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lots of activity on the square next to our hotel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted on the Porto waterfront.

With a recommendation in hand, we headed up toward the center of town for lunch on one of the famous streets of Porto, Rua das Flores (flowers street).  This land was originally flower plantations.  It was a major commercial street and home to noblemen in the 15th century.  We were right in the hub of all the activity when we stopped at Impar for a late lunch (although this is when the locals eat).  It was uphill the whole way and we were ready to sit down for food and drinks by the time we reached the restaurant.  It wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t so hot.  We did pass one interesting shop on the way.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted on the way to lunch in Porto; wouldn’t find this at home.

The food was delicious and this was a great spot for some people watching.  We started with the garlic prawns.  Be sure to use the basket of bread to soak up any extra sauce.  This was one of their specialties.  I followed that with steak and fries, an added recommendation from our concierge.  Wonderful!  He also recommends the octopus here; it is a local speciality and quite common on the Porto menus.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. First lunch course at Impar in Porto. Garlic prawns. Yum!

Our first Port wine cellar tour was on the far end of the Gaia boardwalk and we weren’t sure we would make it by the time we finished lunch.  We started out on foot (at least we were going downhill this time), but Boris grabbed a cab.  The problem was the cabs can only go a short distance down the Gaia boardwalk.  We should have just got out there, but instead the cab driver wound us around for while before dropping us off at theFerreira Tasting Room.  Unfortunately this is where the tour ends, not begins, so we set off on foot again to the bottom of the hill.


Ferreira wine cellar in Gaia. Depends on what variety you chose where they are stored. The tawny is stored in the smaller barrels which allow more contact with the oak.

We are at Ferreira, one of the traditional larger producers.  Pretty fancy set up for a tour. They are apparently in high demand (at least on a Saturday).  Good thing we had reservations; their tours were sold out for the day.  They were only offering the “Classic Tour” with two tastings.  The premium options (with food, more wine options, and/or aged Port) were not available today.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Ferreira tour included a museum. Gaia, Portugal

Our tour was in English.  Their facilities are spread out up the hill side and they use a tunnel system during the tour to get guests safely across the streets.  The Ferreira tour presentation was definitely focused on tradition.  They even included a small museum with old equipment and photographs on the tour.   Ferreira is also scooping up other companies like Sandeman, whose sign we can clearly see from across the river when it is lit up at night.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our Port samples at Ferreira, Gaia, Portugal

Our last stop at Ferreira was the stone tasting room and shop we had stopped in before.  The tawny was again my favorite; I don’t particularly care for the white ports.  We bought a bottle.  They sell their product in the United States, but I am not sure we can get the Tawny variety.  Our tour guide checked out our purchase and we talked about yesterday’s tours.  She was very surprised that we hadn’t like Croft; she said it is popular.  As I told the guide, the location, facilities, and tour were lovely; I just didn’t like the product.

DSC_7489 2Ferreira is on one end of the Gaia waterfront; our next tour is at Calem on the other end.  You can’t miss Calem; it is the first large producer you come to after you cross the Dom Luis I Bridge.   We were early for the tour, but it was too hot to linger outside.  We sat down in the museum.  Where Ferreira was all about highlighting the history, Calem was into sleek, modern presentation.  They used a lot of technology not only in their museum, but on the tour.  We have specifically chosen the last English tour of the day because it includes a Fado show at the end.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A tasting at the end of our second tour of the day. This time at Calem, just after the bridge in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal

We didn’t walk through much of the cellars, so I was glad the show was included or there wouldn’t be much to the tour.  I admit I may be on wine tour overload at this point given the last two weeks and the type of tours we have done.  We will be enjoying a performance of Fado.  Although it may have earlier origins, Fado is a music genre that can be traced to the 1820s in Lisbon, Portugal.  While often associated with sorrowful music, it is decidedly beautiful.  It can include vocal performances and the instruments used are often unique.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Fado show at the end of our tour at Calem.

We had a tasting during the Fado show; the show was relatively short, but good.  The female singer was much better than the male.  The musicians were very good.  I would upload a clip, but the people at the table in front of us talked through the entire show.  I tapped her and asked her to be quiet and the people beside them suggested they leave if they wanted to talk.  Clearly they could care less that they were disturbing other people.   The wine was good, but not necessarily better than anything else we have tasted.  We decided not to get a bottle.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The sun was setting when we came out of the Fado show at Calem.

At the end of Fado show, we went outside in time to see the sun setting in the distance.  We walked back across the bridge to Porto.  These two tours were extremely different so it was a good contrast if you wanted to do multiple tours and see the differences in the various company approaches to Port production.  However, I wouldn’t do more than 1 or 2 of these tours.  I recommend filling in the rest of your day with tastings instead.  Just remember to pace yourself.  Having the tastings was also a great excuse to have some wonderful meals.  Natasha didn’t want to do her tastings on an empty stomach.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I had to stop eating my venison carpaccio long enough to take a picture. Fabulous. At Traca, Porto, Portugal.

We had a little while before dinner, so I grabbed and shower and changed.  It had been a hot day and the water felt great.  We made the climb up Rue Sao Joao to our dinner venue, Traca.  Traca sits at the Largo San Domingos; if you keep climbing , it spills into Rua das Flores.  It was recommended to us by our concierge who also suggested the venison carpaccio.  I was a little nervous about this choice.  However with a touch of vinegar, some olive oil, chives, and parmesan cheese it did not disappoint.  In fact it was wonderful.


A satisfied customer at Traca, Porto, Portugal.

Traca was great.  The restaurant was multi-leveled with bar type seating as you walked in, outdoor seating, and table seating on the lower level.  The building was on a corner with an incline so regardless of what level of the restaurant you were on you could see outside.  Although we were there from 9:15 to after 10:30, there were actually a lot of families in the restaurant with their children.  Traca was packed and I was glad we had reservations.  Lots of people were in the area and buskers performed outside.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our dinner venue in Porto.

After the water, cocktails, more bread, appetizers, and main courses, both Boris and I decided to skip dessert.  We had had a full day.  We didn’t do much packing when we got back.  We’ll do that in the morning before we go down for that fabulous Gran Cruz House breakfast.  Its our last night in Porto, so I got the night view of the waterfront on our walk back and from our riverview windows.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Porto Riverfront at night.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Porto Riverfront at night.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Porto Riverfront at night.

The next morning we got up and finished packing.  We had only pulled out what we needed for Porto.  Most of our stuff was still in the suitcases from the cruise.  Of course we had to figure out how to safely pack all our Port in our checked bags.  Afterwards we went down for the wonderful breakfast and snagged the last seat on the balcony.  Weren’t we surprised to see Hugo and Ruth (from our Douro Valley tour on Friday) run by).  I know we caught them off guard when I called out to them, but they waved on the return.

Version 2

Natasha and Boris and a view of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

We loved Porto and there is still so much to see that we will be back again.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Just one last look at our Porto home of four days.

Just an update before I post this now that we are back.  To reach Houston, we flew from Porto to Newark, connected, and then direct to Houston.  We went through passport control and customs in Newark, New Jersey.  The queue to get through customs wrapped around all four walls of the luggage claim area and then did a second line against one of the walls.  I am including that video-look to the far ends of the large room to see the line-because it is so unbelievable.  Luckily, Natasha has global entry.  Unfortunately, Boris let his lapse.  On another note, we only lost one bottle of Port in transit.  Luckily it was not the 30-year old Port.  I look forward to the next adventure.  –Natasha


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  The Douro River and Porto, Portugal



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The Douro Valley, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen The Douro Valley, Portugal

Today we have an early departure from the hotel for our small group tour of the Douro Valley, the region of Portugal where the grapes for fortified wine known as Port are grown. Because we will miss the standard breakfast time, the hotel set out a lighter breakfast for us in the restaurant.   It was wonderful and so much more than standard. We were downstairs to meet our guide Sylvia on time.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. This statute and fountain sit on Praca da Ribeira, the square where our hotel is located. This is early morning; you see the chairs waiting to be set out for the sidewalk cafes. Vehicles are allowed in in the morning for deliveries and then the street is closed. After that, access is provided remotely to residents and cabs (no UBERs).

There are 7 guests on today’s tour.  We were the first picked up so Boris took the shotgun seat and I am in the first row of the van.  Like on tour in Lisbon, all the other participants were far younger than us. There was a young married couple from London, Hugo and Ruth (although she is originally from Edinburgh, Scotland). He is a lawyer and she is a dance instructor.  There were two girls from Taiwan, one a journalist and the other an event planner. Rounding out the group was Bianca from New York City, also a journalist.  She was scheduled to come with a friend who backed out on the trip; I was proud of her for not missing the opportunity.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hotel (taller red building in the back) sits among other residential buildings and lots of sidewalk cafes. Rents had skyrocketed such that many longtime Porto residents are being forced out as buildings are renovated.

Our guide Sylvia was a lot of fun.  She lives in Porto now, but is originally from the area we will be visiting.  She told us a little about the rent in Porto. With all the renovation going on (particularly in the Ribeira section where we are staying) and the increased tourism in Porto, rents have really gone up.  So much so, that many people who work in the city can no longer afford to rent there.  Typical rent is now 600 euros a month for a small one-bedroom apartment.  That is more than most of the residents make in one month.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted from the car on our way to the Douro Valley from Porto. We crossed this bridge.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted from the car on our way to the Douro Valley from Porto.

As we headed out of the city I was impressed with the state of the art highway system and the cool tunnels and bridges.  I clocked one tunnel at a minute and 50 seconds.  There were markers all along the way showing your progress and location. Unlike many long tunnels I have been in, there was cell service/reception anywhere in the tunnel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The São Gonçalo bridge on the Tâmega leads into the city of Amarante, Portugal

The first stop Sylvia made was in the small city of Amarante.  It was wonderfully charming with the one lane stone bridge leading to the church.  On the way in she told us about the patron saint, São Gonçalo, whose tomb is in the church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Rio Tamega, as seen from the stone bridge leading into Amarante, Portugal.

San Goncalo is said to help young women who want to marry.  It was a custom in the town for the young women to dance before the image of the saint.  A trickster would raise the priestly robe of the saint.  I thought this a strange story to tell until we reached the church and a local baker had out treats to sell.  She sold baked goods fashioned as a large penis in honor of the saint.  The“bolos de São Gonçalo”, a sweet pastry and fertility symbol, are exchanged on the Feast of San Goncalo, the first weekend of June.  Boris bought a different shaped cake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. “Unique” cakes sold next to the church in Amarante Portugal. “'[B]olos de São Gonçalo’ [are] a sweet pastry and fertility symbol, unmistakably shaped like a man’s private parts”

This stop was perfect for everyone.  You could tour the church; hike up through the town or across the bridge, sit down for a coffee in the square, feed the ducks in the river, or just take a lot of pictures.  You can probably guess what option Natasha chose.  Boris grabbed a coffee to go with his cake.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Igreja de São Gonçalo in Amarante, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Igreja de São Gonçalo in Amarante, Portugal. I loved the organ pipes.

The town was fairytale like and I enjoyed just wandering around.  You could easily spend half a day there or extend your visit with a little hiking or cycling in the area.  A new paved bike trail passing vineyards and forests, including a crossover of the River Tamega, was opened in 2013.  It is the same route as the old Linha do Tâmega railway. line


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Title work image of Amarante I spotted in town.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Amarante, Portugal. Across the stone bridge crossing the River Tamega.

After our break it was back to the van to head to Sabrosa, the birthplace of Magellan and the location of the small independent vineyard and winery we will be visiting.  In case your history is escaping you, “Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who organized the Spanish expedition to the East Indies that result[ed] in the first circumnavigation of the Earth.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen Magellan’s birthplace, Sabrosa, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Casa dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A touch of fall in Sabrosa, Portugal

The town was preparing for a festival when we arrived on Friday morning.  Crews were setting up wooden booths.  We were early for our tour and lunch so we wandered around the older section of this small city.  Magellan’s birthplace is a private home, but Boris found it right behind Casa dos Barros, the beautiful home (now an inn) and event space we will be visiting.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hugo and Ruth explore Sabrosa, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen Sabrosa, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sabrosa, Portugal

When it opened we walked through Casa dos Barros lobby area to the courtyard, past the event space, and ended up at the outdoor pool overlooking the vineyards.  What gorgeous views.  The inn might be a wonderful place to spend a few days or as a travel base for the region.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Peaking into the event space from the courtyard of Casa dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Casa Dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal has a lovely pool deck overlooking the vineyards.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The vineyards at Casa dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal

When they called us in, we enjoyed a tour of the traditional wine-making vats and a tasting.  We had a stop in the chapel-rarely opened for visitors-before walking into the wine storage area for a taste of 10, 20, and 30-year port.  I like the 10 and 30 yr varieties.  Oddly, I didn’t like the taste of the 20.  Port is a mix of a variety of grapes that changes each year to maintain the consistency of the taste of that “brand”.  For the 100 year port, you had to pony up more than 300 euros for a taste or purchase one of the few remaining bottles for 3,000 + euros.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  The private estate chapel at Casa dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal. I love the candle which has started to melt from the heat.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The old stuff at a small independent winery in Sabrosa, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Vintage Quinta dos Mattos established 1875.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking for the “legs”, Sabrosa, Portugal

Next was a wonderful lunch under the shade trees by the pool and overlooking the vineyards.  Our tour group sat together and got to know each other.  I enjoy this part of traveling with small groups.  You had a choice of fish or beef with risotto.  Of course the bread was terrific as was the dessert.  There was plenty of red or white wine on the table, but oddly no port.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.   Dining in the shade at Casa dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal

After lunch we had a short time to do some shopping.  Having told Boris my preferences, I was curious to see what he would buy.  All of our group made a purchase at this vineyard.  Boris got all three (10, 20, and 30).  Nobody went for the 100 year.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Peaking into the chapel at Casa dos Barros, Sabrosa, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sabrosa, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statue of Magellan, Sabrosa, Portugal, his birthplace.

Next we set out for Pinhao in the heart of the Douro Valley and right on the river.  In town, our first stop will be a large producer, Croft.  I have seen one of their cellars in Gaia across the river from our hotel room in Porto.


View of the newly planted vineyard and the Douro River from the Croft winery in Pinhao, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the Croft vineyard, Pinhao, Portugal

Croft has a big operation right on the Douro River in Pinhao.  There is a nice tasting room with a wonderful deck and small private patio/dining area overlooking the Douro.  Great views.  We started the tour on the deck and then went into the vineyard.  We were paired with another tour group.  There was a fig tree just beside the grapevines and one of the Australian visitors decided to pull until he got a fig.  He broke one of the large branches.  After the guests left the area, the guide had to chop off the entire branch.  It was beyond saving.  I was embarrassed by the casual attitude the guest took to harming the tree.  Hugo, Ruth, and I stayed behind and Hugo carefully got me a fig.  It was the absolute best fig I had ever tasted.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Croft vineyard, Pinhao, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Croft vineyard, Pinhao, Portugal

From the vineyard we went into the production facilities.  Croft still presses their grapes by having people stomp on them.  Since harvest is less than two weeks away, we were invited back as unpaid labor.  After the tour of the production facilities, we went back to the tasting room.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The picturesque Croft vineyard in the Douro Valley, Pinhao, Portugal

Several of the large producers are now pushing their “pink” port; it is not really made to be drank straight, but chilled and as a cocktail mixer.  We had it room temperature and straight.  Yuk.  We were also offered three other varieties.  I didn’t care of any of them.  Neither did Boris.  As it turned out, although we all bought something at the last venue no one in our group made a purchase at Croft.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bridge across the Douro River, Pinhao, Portugal


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We saw lots of orange trees along the Douro.


Photo ©Jean Janssen A view of the Croft winery as seen from our boat along the Douro.

Leaving Croft, it was time for our last stop.  We are taking a short boat trip on the River Douro.  We are traveling in a replica craft from those that transported barrels of port from the valley along the Douro to the cellars in Gaia, across the river from Porto.  Today, the barrels are transported by quicker means, but the boats have found a new use, ferrying tourists.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Former port barrel transport boat along the River Douro. The boats are now used for tourists.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Terraced vineyards along the Douro River in Portugal. The rows had be planted and harvested by hand. The white strip is a new planting.

The planting was extremely labor intensive.  These terraced rows were planted and harvested by hand.  Some of the new plantings have been set so some machinery can be used, but much of the work on the established vines is still done by hand.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the River Douro, Portugal.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Former barrel transport boat now used for tourists along the Douro River. The winery identified is one we are visiting tomorrow.

From Pinhao, we went back to Porto enjoying a music mix prepared by Sylvia.  Some selections were Fado, but others were just based on the themes of the day.  I discovered a new singer. Mariza, whose music I really liked.  She is a well known Fado artist in Portugal, just new to me.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Catching the sunset from our room at the Gran Cruz House on the Porto waterfront.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A lot of people had the same idea….Porto waterfront along the Douro.

We had a dinner reservation outside the Ribeira district and both of us were too tired to hunt down a cab and make the trek there and back.  We cancelled our reservations and got a couple of pizzas and just enjoyed the sunset from our room.  Tomorrow we plan to see more of Porto and then visit some of the port wine cellars in Gaia.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the vines and the Douro River from Croft’s vineyard in Pinhao, Portugal


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