On the trail in France’s Champagne Wine-Growing Region


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A long tunnel in Taittinger’s wine cellars with rows and rows of stacked champagne bottles. Reims, France

How do you convince Natasha she is ready for another trip to Paris as opposed to another location?  Promise her a day in France’s Champagne Region.  Anyone that knows me knows my beverage of choice is champagne.  At home, there are always at least four chilled bottles on hand and the wine rack is full of champagne bottles.  Emma has also decided that I need a collection of champagne buckets and gave me two vintage ones for Christmas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France. The traditional coronation venue for the Kings of France.

We are going on a small group day-trip out of the city.  I am sure you can reach at least some the locations by train, but with an on-going transportation strike our choices are more limited.  Boris and I will be joined by 3 other couples and our guide.  Fortunately, Maison Astor begins its fabulous buffet breakfast early, so we had a chance to eat before our 7:15 am pick-up at the hotel.  Boris and the guide instantly hit it off.  The guide was of Italian heritage and he and Boris had several conversations in Italian.  As it turns out, all of the other participants were in one family and from our home state.  We only had one more hotel stop.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Reims Cathedral, France.

Unfortunately, part of their group overslept.  We are traveling with a wife and husband, mother and step-father to two adult girls who are on the trip with their boyfriends.  Well actually one of the boyfriends became a fiancé (just days ago while on the trip) to the daughter who has graduated and is out working; the other daughter is celebrating her college graduation.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Reims Cathedral, France

We waited quite a while for them to be ready.  I would have enjoyed the extra 45 minutes of sleep.  This is how things go on these tours.  If you have the larger size group you can somewhat control the timeline.  Boris was not happy.  He sat shotgun and didn’t talk to anyone for a while.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France. In the foreground are the Christmas market stalls, still in place but no longer open on January 2.

Our first stop is Reims and its wonderful Cathedral.  This is an add-on to the excursion that I am glad we didn’t miss given the delay.  Our guide drove like a bat out of hell.  I was center in the front seat and saw everything.  Well actually I didn’t see everything.  It was raining and the guide couldn’t really figure out or didn’t try to use the defroster.  Honestly, I don’t know how he saw anything.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France.

We had a short 45-minute stop to see the Cathedral, Notre Dame de Reims (“Our Lady of Reims”).  The first church at this location dates from the 5th century.  Although not fully completed until the 15th century, the present French Gothic Cathedral was started in 1211 and mostly finished within 60 years.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France. Note all the statutes in the archways. In the summer there are light shows on the Cathedral highlighting all these details.

The Reims Cathedral is the traditional location for the coronation of the Kings of France.  King Henry I of France was crowned here in 1027.  All but seven of France’s future monarchs would be crowned at Reims, including Charles VII, crowned in July of 1429 with Joan of Arc by his side.  A statute of Saint Joan of Arc is found in the Cathedral.  There is also one in the courtyard, but it was surrounded by the Christmas stalls that were closed, but yet to be taken down.  It looked like they were going to start the process of dismantling the Christmas market that day.


Bombing of the Reims Cathedral during WWI.


Damage by fire to the Reims Cathedral during WWI.

In spite of the fact that the Reims Cathedral was “an important symbol of the French monarchy”, it experienced relatively little damage during the French revolution.  However, it was severely damaged during WWI.  I have figured out that the give-away is the mismatched stained-glass in a church.  Normally that is the result of wartime damage and later replacement, although it might also be damage from a natural disaster.  Today, some of the beautiful glass is the work Marc Chagall and Notre-Dame de Reims is an important stop when touring his creations.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joan of Arc statute with some of the Marc Chagall windows within Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre-Dame de Reims, Reims, France.

Reims Cathedral was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.  Pope John Paul II visited here in 1996.  Although I had to shoot around the Christmas Market stalls, I took a lot of time taking pictures of the exterior.  Not to be missed however, was the beautiful interior with the marvelous stained-glass.  When the light came through those beautiful windows, a wonderful glow and ambiance was created inside .  Magical.  I am so glad the rain had stopped and the light came pouring through; we were able to see the interior in all its glory.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.

After the Cathedral, it was time to visit our first champagne producer.  Reims is considered to be the “unofficial capital of the Champagne Wine-Growing Region.”  It has also been called an “essential stop on France’s Champagne trail.”  We will be visiting one of the city’s top champagne houses and a highly recommended tour stop, Taittinger.  It is particularly recommended for its wonderful cellar.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France. This alcove was an underground chapel of the Abbey of Saint Nicaise.

Apparently, the matriarch of their tour companions had called ahead and tried to dictate our stops, however we are at the mercy of availability, both in terms of space and what happens to be open that particular day.  The day after the holiday limited the choices.  I was fine not going to Veuve Clicquot, which is apparently “popular with Americans and fills up weeks in advance.”  One of my new vintage champagne buckets from Emma is marked Veuve Chicquot.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Touring Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.

I like Taittinger Champagne.  It is widely available at home, although not in the extensive varieties available in the winery’s shop.  We began with the tour of the champagne cellars.  Most winery tours tell you a little bit about production.  I have been to sparkling wine producers’ cellars before so I am somewhat familiar with the process.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.

However, I did learn some things that are particular to champagnes rather than sparkling wine in general.  Champagnes come from three grape varieties in varying quantities.  The three main varieties used are Pinot Noir (a red), Pinot Menuier ( a red related to Pinot Noir), and Chardonnay (a white).   A producer does not necessarily use the same percentage mix each year; the goal is consistency in taste from year to year.  They may also mix grapes from different harvests to get that taste consistency.  I did find that I really like the selections that came from all chardonnay grapes-the blanc de blancs (white of whites in English).  I also definitely like the brut rather than the sweet champagne.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.  This staircase, now sealed off, would have lead up to the Saint Nicaise Abbey.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.  This staircase, now sealed off, would have lead up to the Saint Nicaise Abbey.

The Taittinger cellars are part of the former Saint Nicaise Abbey, dating back to the 13th century and the deep cellars (60 feet/18 meters down) have Roman origins.  The caves are listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.  During the tour you visit the 4th century chalk quarries that were dug out to provide building materials.  These quarries later became the Abbey cellars


Photo ©Jean Janssen. 4th Century chalk quarries make up Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.

From the Champagne House’s website:  “[the chalk quarries] became a network of galleries; linking cellars, crypts and vaults for storing wine first made by the Benedictine monks in Champagne. The Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the cellars remain intact. They now belong to the Taittinger Champagne House and are notably used for maturing bottles of the Comtes de Champagne, which can be seen all throughout the cellar tour. Over the course of a year, the sight welcomes over 70,000 visitors, who come to admire the remains of one of the best examples of the Gothic style in the Champagne region.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Carving on the chalk quarry wall in Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France.

It really was an impressive setting.  Long tunnels were stacked high with bottles just waiting to mature and find a home.  (I know a welcoming one in Houston.)  The tunnels, alcoves, quarry markings, and the staircases to nowhere (well originally up to the Abbey, but now just sealed up), made it a great choice for touring.  The dim lighting created a romantic setting.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger’s champagne cellar in Reims, France. Natasha’s heaven-stacks and stacks of full champagne bottles.  Who minds a little dust?


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Taittinger Champagne House, Reims, France. A tour ticket and the good stuff.

Our cellar visit complete, we made our way to the tasting room and shop to get our sample.  Depending on what ticket you had, you may get a choice of which champagne(s) you get to sample.  Unfortunately, our ticket didn’t give us a choice so I ended up with their best worldwide seller which I like, but have had before.  If you wanted something else, you had to go back to the front where we entered and upgrade your ticket.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The start of our tour at Taittinger’s, Reims, France

I knew we had limited time, so I didn’t go upgrade.  That didn’t stop other members of our group.  So after that wait, then it was time to purchase.  Then there were further delays when the matriarch wanted her champagne shipped home.  I didn’t get anything since I could buy what I sampled at home and didn’t want to purchase something unique without trying it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the vineyards from the outdoor patio at Voirin-Jumel Champagne House.

By the time we left we were behind schedule again and it was another fast drive to our second champagne house, Voirin-Jumel, in the village of Cramant where we will also be having lunch.  Voirin-Jumel is a small multi-generational family producer.  The original plan was to begin with a tour, but because we are so late part of the group had already started lunch and the owner was giving a demonstration.  We joined the food and champagne pairing.  It was wonderful and presented in multiple courses.  Our guide told us he had been to this winery before, but had never had the lunch.  The wine-makers did an excellent job.


Boris and Natasha in Cramant in the Champagne region of France. House of Voirin-Jumel Champagne.

There was no time for a tour, but we were offered dessert and coffee in their tasting room.  I liked the champagne and some of their accessories.  I did make some purchases, including some honey that Boris wanted.  Family member Valerie was our hostess.


photo courtesy of Voirin Jumel

From importer Charles Neal’s website:  “The Champagne region, like that of Burgundy, has many producers with double-barreled names. These names usually occur when the offspring of one producer marries another, creating a new identity for certain parcels of vines passed on by the parents. Voirin-Jumel, a récoltant manipulant located in the grand cru village Cramant, is one example of this.  Jean Voirin, who owned some vines and sold all his grapes in bulk, decided to begin bottling his own champagne at the end of World War II. The Jumel family started producing champagne around the same time—René Jumel had a transport business and his wife’s family had some vines that they cultivated. As the champagne market grew, René began selling some of his trucks and buying vineyards around the Côte des Blancs, which his wife, Paulette Richomme, worked and oversaw. Between 1950 and 1970, all the grapes were sold in bulkIn the early 1970’s, Francoise Jumel (daughter of Paulette and René) began bottling champagne with her husband Gilles Voirin under the name Voirin-Jumel. That year they sold nearly 10,000 bottles.  In the 1990s, Francoise’s children, Patrick and Alice, along with Patrick’s wife Valerie, began running the domaine. Today it is a true family affair, and they own 11 hectares of vines in 11 different villages.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Abbot Caudron is honored in the museum at the cooperative in Passy-Grigny, France

Our guide did an excellent job of varying of our experiences.  We had gone to a large producer, then a small one, and our third visit was to a co-op arrangement in the village of Passy-Grigny, near the Marne River.  In 1929 the local abbot, Leon Emile Aime Caudron, donated 1000 francs to 23 grape producers to help start a business.  The group were collectively farming 40 acres (16 hectares) of the Pinot Meunier grape, one of three varieties used in the production of champagne.  The wine growers pooled their resources to first buy a press and then produce wine under a single label. The original press is now  in the winery’ museum.


The winemaking museum at the cooperative producing Dom Chaudron. Picture linked from Wikimedia Commons

After starting in the museum, we got a tour of the production and storage facilities of the Dom Caudron Cooperative.  Afterwards there was a tasting of several of their wines produced with 100% of the Pinot Meunier grape.  Traditionally, Meunier grapes have been used as a blending grape in champagne.  “Until recently, producers in Champagne generally did not acknowledge Pinot Meunier, preferring to emphasise the use of the other noble varieties, but now Pinot Meunier is gaining recognition for the body and richness it contributes to Champagne.  Pinot Meunier is approximately one-third of all the grapes planted in Champagne.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Production and storage facilities of the Dom Caudron Cooperative in Passy-Grigny, France, producers of champagne.

Apparently this isn’t the grape for me; I didn’t like anything I tried.  Boris wasn’t wowed either.  We got a nice stopper to preserve the bubbles, but other than that we didn’t make a purchase at the Dom Caudron Cooperative in Passy-Grigny.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Model of the cathedral inside Norte-Dame de Reims.

After waiting for everyone to make their purchases, we were running a little behind, surprise, surprise.  I thought the guide had been extremely patient all day.  On the way back the matriarch was at it again trying to find out where she needed to be left off so she would be able to make her designer handbag purchase before the shop closed at the end of the day.  Since she was the one who made us late all day, it was a little hard to be sympathetic.  Unlike the morning when we were picked up at our hotels, the tour ended at a central metro location.  That would have been fine, if the metro had been working.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lighted watercraft with the Bastille Monument in the background, Paris.

Our driver agreed to take us closer to our hotels (very kind, it probably meant an additional hour of driving for him).  In route, one of the daughters had to go to the bathroom and we made a stop.  Fortunately, it was a picturesque spot and I got a great photo of the lighted watercraft on the river with the Bastille monument in the background.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place de Concorde, Paris, on the the first morning of 2020.

We were headed to the Place de la Concorde and were stopped at a light just before crossing the bridge when the matriarch announced she was getting out.  Of course, then there was the discussion about who was going and what was going to happen to all the packages of wine in the back.  Next, the light changed and the drivers in the cars behind us were furious as people piled in and out of our van and we didn’t move.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Headed out the main doors of the Reims Cathedral.

Four of us stayed in the van until Place de la Concorde.  I felt sorry for the young couple who ended up with all the packages for the group of six.  Champagne bottles are not light.  We tipped the driver well and reconsidered private tours for the future.  All in all it was a great day.  I always love my bubbles.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A long tunnel in Taittinger’s wine cellars with rows and rows of stacked champagne bottles. Reims, France



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New Year’s in Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place de Concorde, Paris, on the the first morning of 2020.

Boris, who has worked hotel and airline points for decades before the rest of us caught on, announced that he had two free nights at a hotel plus additional Hilton points and that we were going to Paris for New Year’s.  I didn’t pass up on that.  Surprisingly, there is not a direct flight from Houston on United, so we connected through Dulles.  We left on the 30th, arriving very early on New Years’ Eve.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  We had a connecting flight through Dulles.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. If you were lucky enough to sit in First Class-I was in economy but I could take a picture and dream-you got these cool Star Wars pouches celebrating the release of the last movie in the saga.

The Europeans don’t start putting out holiday decorations before Halloween like we see in the states.  As a consequence, most of the decorations are still up and will remain so through 12th night or Epiphany or perhaps longer.  This is in contrast to my neighbors who are so sick of their Christmas decorations that they are outside taking things down the day after Christmas or New Years.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Near the Tullieries Garden, Paris on New Year’s Day.

We were extremely fortunate that the hotel had a room for us that we could check right into.  So after a really nice buffet breakfast, we headed up to our room to sleep.  I don’t recommend this strategy for your visits across the pond.  If you can stay up it will help you acclimate to the time change.  However, on this visit we want to be able to stay up tonight for New Year’s Eve.  Additionally, our arrival is so early that nothing is really open yet anyway.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A little bit of the holiday still appears in the lobby of the Maison Astor, Paris.

We are staying at the beautiful Maison Astor, the Paris home of American tycoon John Astor who perished on the Titanic.  The hotel has only recently been renovated.  In fact, when we came for Boris’ birthday we had reservations to stay here but they had to move us to the Hilton Paris Opera House because renovations were not complete.  Our points won’t get us the biggest room, but our windows open directly onto the lovely interior courtyard.  It was a good size considering the general size of European hotel rooms.  I am so tired that I am not particularly picky at this point anyway.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris and I are staying at the Maison Astor in Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Holiday decorations in the bar of the Hotel Astor, Paris

The Maison Astor has a following.  As we came to experience, the hotel’s popularity is most likely due to the wonderful concierge service which is the best I have ever experienced.  Boris had been communicating with them ever before our arrival.  This boutique hotel is particularly charming and is centrally located, although that worked against us on New Year’s Eve when we needed a cab to cross the Seine for our dinner reservations.  Originally we had reservations nearby, but when they set their menu and called to say it would be $750/person paid in advance, we chose an alternative location.


Natasha in Paris. My father loved flocked trees at Christmas. Maybe because it never snowed in our hometown in South Texas.

We started with cocktails in the bar downstairs before heading out.  There were no cabs to be had and neither Boris nor I had any luck getting an Uber on our phone.  Our amazing concierge got out his own phone and called a local Uber-type service (that we don’t have in the States) and that is how we got our ride.  Yes, above and beyond.  There was even a barricade on our street for traffic control, so the concierge walked us out to the car beyond the barrier.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the bar at Maison Astor, Paris before going to dinner on New Year’s Eve.  Boris is really excited about our evening out, in spite of his expression in this picture.

I should mention that there is a transportation strike going on.  It has been going on for almost a month when we arrived in Paris.  The metro is not operating, nor much of the train service, so transportation options are quite limited anyway.  The biggest drinking holiday of the year means cabs and Ubers were already going to be crowded.  In the next few days, I suspect we can walk this route much faster than the car was able to go.


Photo ©Jean Janssen  Le Procope, Paris’ oldest cafe and our destination for dinner on New Year’s Eve.


Photo ©Jean Janssen  Le Procope, Paris.

A special restaurant and fireworks over the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background made it all worth it.  We had a wonderful multi-course meal that started with champagne.  Founded in 1686, Le Procope is the oldest cafe in continuous operation in the city of Paris.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was “a hub of the artistic and literary community.”  Just to the side of me is a plaque commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s visit there.  On this night only, all the servers are dressed in period costumes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A plaque acknowledging the patronship of Thomas Jefferson at Le Procope, our dinner spot for New Year’s Eve.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The servers were dressed in period costumes for the celebration of New Year Eve at Le Procope, Paris

After dinner there was dancing in the lobby, although there weren’t many takers.  The American couple at the table next to us decided to walk back to their hotel which is in the same area of Paris as ours, but Boris found us a cab.  (Actually they never named their hotel, but Boris saw them the next morning at breakfast at Maison Astor.)  We wanted to see the fireworks over the river.  Unfortunately, we didn’t beat the traffic as we had to travel through one of the most congested areas of the city.  We found out why there was a barricade on our street; it was on the pedestrian route away from the fireworks.  The officer on duty let us in when he realized where we were headed.  If you decide to visit the city on New Year’s Eve, I definitely recommend a restaurant within walking distance of your hotel.


Natasha dined with Napoleon in Paris on New Year’s Eve.

With the strike going on and it being a holiday, we decided just to walk as far as we could on New Year’s Day.  We walked back toward the Seine and passed La Madeleine Church.  The first church on the site dates from 1764.  Two attempts at completion were demolished before “Napoleon I assigned a new architect to build an edifice based on the design of an ancient temple in honour of the French Navy.  With the fall of Napoleón, the building was made into a church in 1842, in honour of St Mary Magdalene.”


Looking back up the Rue Royale just as we reached the Place de la Concorde, you have an excellent view of La Madeleine.  On the left side is the famous Maxim’s restaurant where we celebrated Boris’ 60th birthday on a previous visit to Paris

I have never been inside of La Madeleine, so that goes on the bucket list.  You are drawn to the dramatic exterior. The neoclassical church “has 52 Corinthian columns standing 65 ft (20 m) tall.”  Looking back up the street from the Place de la Concorde, you have an excellent view of La Madeleine.  To the left you will find Maxim’s, the famous Art Nouveau restaurant on Rue Royale.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. At home, Natasha celebrates her Maxim’s visits.

Boris and I have eaten at Maxim’s twice together, most recently on Boris’ 60th birthday trip. Emma, unknowing of our visits to the restaurant, gave me a vintage Maxim’s champagne bucket for Christmas.  (She just knew that champagne is my beverage of choice.)  On our bar back home, I have displayed the bucket and our resealed champagne bottle from the restaurant.  Our concierge told us the owner is now in his 90s and doesn’t really put an effort into the restaurant. The concierge no longer recommends Maxim’s.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris’s large ferris wheel has now moved from Place de la Concorde to the edge of the Tuileries Gardens by the Christmas market.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris’s large ferris wheel has now moved from Place de la Concorde to the edge of the Tuileries Gardens.

We started out at the Place de la Concorde.  The large ferris wheel was here on our last visit together to celebrate Boris’ birthday.  It has now moved down by the Christmas Market on the edge of the Tuileries Gardens.  I was surprised when the concierge told us that there was a Christmas market that was still open.  We walked through.  I am kind of Christmas marketed out after the river cruise, but Boris was interested.  This one was almost all food and rides.  Perhaps there were more craft and gift booths open before Christmas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris got into the festivities at the Christmas market at the Tuileries Gardens, Paris.


Photo ©JeanJanssen. There were lots of food options in the Paris Christmas Market, including a wide variety of German sausages.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris made some friends in the Christmas Market in Paris.

After the market, we enjoyed walking through the Tuileries Gardens before stopping for coffee across from the Hotel Regina, the first place I ever stayed at in Paris.  This famous hotel dates from 1900 and is celebrating it 120th anniversary this year.  It is currently being run by the 4th generation of the same family.  Hotel Regina is considered to be “the last remaining example of an Art Nouveau hotel in Paris.”  It has been the residence of many famous guests and has appeared in several movies.  Hotel Regina sits in front of the Louvre and overlooks the Tuileries Gardens.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the Tuileries Gardens, Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  As of January 1, Boris liked to think of himself as An American in Paris in the 20s. He is a century off, but I’ll give him this one. In the Tuileries Gardens with a Christmas market to the left and the Lourue in the background, Paris

After our short break, we walked to the Place Vendome which sits north of the Tuileries Gardens and east of La Madeleine. “Place Vendôme was laid out in 1702 as a monument…with an over life-size equestrian statue of the king…set up in its centre…[The statute] is supposed to have been the first large modern equestrian statue to be cast in a single piece. It was destroyed in the French Revolution; however, there is a small version in the Louvre.” 


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Place Vendome, Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place Vendome, Paris

The Vendome column was originated by Napoleon, but with the change in authority and offense taken at this display of imperial power, the column and his statute was pulled down. However, “[i]n 1874, the column was re-erected at the center of Place Vendôme with a copy of the original statue on top.  An inner staircase leading to the top is no longer open to the public.”  Place Vendome is home to chic hotels like the Ritz and famous boutiques.  The rue de la Paix runs through it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris takes a look back at the Place Vedome (or maybe he is just checking the traffic). Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A look back at the Place Vendôme, Paris. Yes, Natasha stopped in the middle of the rue de lax Paix crosswalk to get this shot; if only that van wouldn’t have been there…

We were both tired from minimal sleep and the walking, so we went back to the hotel from Place Vendome, passing once again by La Madeleine and getting another look at Place de la Concorde.  We shared a delicious sandwich in the bar of the hotel before nap time.   We had to rest up for our full-day tour of the Champagne region tomorrow.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Paris.

We were fortunate that one of Boris’ favorite places was open for dinner so we went out to Brasserie Bofinger for dinner with their Alsatian specialities.  Boris loves the pork and I like their fresh seafood.  I was stuck by the presentation of my chilled after dinner drink and who can pass up crepe suzette prepared table-side.  Just a great way to end our first full day in Paris.  Welcome 2020.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Crepes Suzette prepared table side at Brasserie Bofinger in Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen After dinner delights at Brasserie Bofinger in Paris, crepe suzette and a chilled Cointreau.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Place de Concorde, Paris, on the the first morning of 2020.

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The End to the Christmas Market Cruise in Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Basel Town Hall on the Marktplatz.  The Rathaus was built in the 16th century; the tower was added during the 19th century. Basel, Switzerland

Today we are in Basel, Switzerland on the Rhine River where Switzerland, Germany, and France meet.  In fact some of the city’s suburbs are in these other countries.  They speak their own dialect of German here.  It is the country’s second largest economic center after Zurich.  For some reason I thought this was going to be a sleepy little town, not a bustling city.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Basel Munster, Basel Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Main doorway of the Basel Munster. You will note the rough edge above the door. The art in place here was removed during the reformation.

Keeping with the pattern, we went straight to the red sandstone Basel Munster, the local Cathedral.  It was started in 1019 as a Roman Catholic Cathedral and is now a Protestant Reformed Church.  On the facade, you can see where they have removed the uniquely Catholic symbols-there is an empty column where the Virgin Mary was originally depicted.  Countless pieces of art were destroyed during the Reformation.  The statutes are interesting and depict the benefactors, Henry II and Empress Kunigunde on one side and the seducer and the misguided virgin on the other.  Damage and destruction-including an earthquake- has meant that the church has been remodeled several times and is built in both the Romanesque and Gothic styles.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Statutes of the church’s benefactors, Henry II and Empress Kunigunde on the facade of Basel Munster. What appears in their hands has changed over time.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. On the facade of the Basel Munster, you see the merger of the various styles of architecture and some wonderful statuary.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basel Munster, Basel, Switzerland

Around the back we got a nice view of the Rhine River.  A bronze model of the Basel Munster with braille is located there.  There was a yet unopened Christmas market in the Munsterplatz.  From the backside we had access to further exploration of the Munster grounds where we enjoyed the wonderful cloisters and an alternative view of the church with its large round window with the star of David.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A Christmas Market in Munsterplatz, Basel, Switzerland  The Munsterplatz was the site of an old Roman fort.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Part of the 15th Century double cloister at Basel Munster, Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Part of the 15th Century double cloister at Basel Munster, Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basel Munster. Note the colorful roof and round Star of David window

After passing the Munsterplatz, site of an Roman fort, we continued along the Rhine.  We had great views of the Mittlere Brucke, or middle bridge, which used to be the sole crossing bridge over the Rhine in Basel.  It features seven arches and has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2015.  The Mittlere Brucke was orgianlly constructed in 1226 and have been renovated several times.  “A copy of the old bridge chapel, the so-called “Käppelijoch”, where in the Middle Ages convicted criminals were sentenced to death, was erected as a reminder of the original construction.”  I had noticed the small structure, thinking it was a guardhouse.  Its roof looks just like the roof on the Basel Munster.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basel’s Mittlere Brucke with its reconstructed chapel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mittlere Brücke, Basel, Switzerland

We saw more of the half-timbered houses with upper stories that extended beyond the base story roof line.  Historically, taxes were based on the land covered; a second story that jutted out a bit was untaxed space.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Untaxed square footage in a half-timbered house, Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Fountain in Basel Switzerland.  At the top is a basilisk and below it is the symbol for the city.  Note the Basel Munster in the distance.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. They are not easy to walk on, but the cobblestones added to the city’s charm and were certainly colorful. Basel, Switzerland

We arrived at the Marktplatz, the city’s main square where the farmer’s markets are held.  During our visit it was a mix of produce and Christmas items.  The square is dominated by the Rathaus (town hall).  Built in the 16th century, the Rathaus is almost whimsical in nature.  We came back after the tour to step inside the courtyard and see the beauty there.  The colorful walls of the courtyard were originally painted in 1608-1611; they have been expertly restored.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The clock is original to the 16th century red Rathaus. The Tower, with its colorfully tiled roof, was added in the 19th century. Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen The colorful painted walls of the Basel Rathaus courtyard have been beautifully restored from the 1608-1611 originals.

From here, our guide showed us the locations of additional Christmas Markets, other shopping, museums, and our bus stop to return to the ship.  There is also a tram stop that leaves us off right by the ship should we decide to venture out when the shuttles weren’t running.  (I just didn’t hear about it until we were back at the ship.)


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basel Switzerland has a modern and efficient tram system.

I need to get an extra suitcase for the return trip home.  I didn’t buy that much, but was counting on sharing an extra full-size suitcase home with Emma and the small duffle bag I folded and brought with me from home wasn’t going to cut.  Most of the large suitcase I brought with me was filled with things to keep me warm.  Today, my plan was to do my touring, then get the suitcase, and finally take a later shuttle back to the ship.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bretzel-yes that’s a B-sandwiches in Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen Spotted in the Basel Christmas Market, Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ride in a pumpkin at the Basel Christmas Market, Basel, Switzerland

If I needed something to eat, I knew just what I was going to get.  I saw wonderful Bretzel-yes that is a B and not a P-sandwiches at a booth by the Rathaus on Marktplatz.  The markets had wonderful whimsical decorations, fitting for a town with such a town hall.  I didn’t find a lot to buy but enjoyed the sightseeing.  This is the first city we are visiting that we can’t use euros.  The Swiss have there own currently.  They don’t take credit cards in these markets either-at least at the booths where I asked.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Basel, Switzerland this is city known for it’s museums. Unfortunately with the focus on the Christmas markets, there wasn’t time for me to visit a single one.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Basel Christmas Market, beautiful but difficult to get home.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A lot of the history was covered up by the Christmas market stalls, but I spotted these two stones. The one on the right depicts the symbol of the city of Basel


Natasha decided to get into the act in the Christmas market in Basel Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. It was a department store near the Rathaus where Gillian found the much-needed second suitcase.

After I was pretty confident I had seen the markets, I went in search of that suitcase.  It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be.  Switzerland is an expensive place to shop and I wanted something with 360 rotating wheels, a large size, and a good deal.  I give Gillian all the credit.  I told her she didn’t have to go with me, but she did and was actually the one who found the “bargain” of the day.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our pick up point in Basel was by one of the local museums with this interesting fountain.

We split up after that.  Gill had more shopping to do.  I wanted to make the shuttle so I didn’t have to travel back with that suitcase in a more difficult fashion.  I didn’t know about the convenient tram stop at the time or I could have used that.  Our pick up point was just beside one of the city’s favorite museums and its unique fountain.


Photo ©Jean Janssen A package was there when I got back to the room…


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ah, clean laundry. Free service as a return Uniworld guest.

When I got back, I found my clean laundry in the room.  I would have packed less if I had remembered about this perk.  Since I have been on a number of Uniworld cruises, I get a bag of free laundry while on board.  Plus, it comes to the room neatly folded and packaged.  As it was, I am able to go home with about half of my clothes clean instead of dirty.  Since I now have two suitcases, one gets the clean and the other gets the dirty laundry and the shoes.  I spent the rest of the afternoon packing so I could enjoy my evening on board.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Evening view of the Rhine from my cabin window while docked in Basel, Switzerland

I so wish Emma could have joined me for the cruise.  I guess this just gives me an excuse to go on another holiday cruise.    I have a very early departure in the morning and have to get up at 2 am, so I didn’t stay up too long after dinner.  I said goodbye to my new friends this evening, as I won’t see anyone in the morning.  My bags have to be out by 2:15 am and I leave the ship at 2:45 am.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Evening view of the city and bridges on the Rhine from my cabin window while docked in Basel, Switzerland

I am not a morning person, but I made it.  At that hour, it is probably better to be a night owl.  They even had out rolls, juice, and coffee.  Uniworld likes to get their passengers to the airport 3 hours before their international departure time.  I was afraid the airport wouldn’t be open to check in (it has happened before where I waited to hours for the counter to open to check my luggage).  There were three of us on an early United flight to Munich where we will make connections.  Fortunately, the counter opened shortly after our arrival at the airport.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Holiday decorations in the Basel Mulhouse Freiburg Airport, also known as the Euro Airport.

I am at the Basel Mulhouse Freiburg Airport which serves three cities and multiple countries.  It is appropriately also known as the Euro Airport.  The lounge didn’t open until 5 am, so I just tried to stay awake.  I did check out the holiday decorations-more secular and winter decor than Christmas.  But maybe the big chair was for…


Photo ©Jean Janssen. A hardy breakfast at the Munich airport. Still in my “taking pictures of everything” mode.

In Munich, I had breakfast in the Lounge and made it to my flight.  I am headed home to celebrate Christmas with my family, now truly in the Holiday spirit.  Boris, missing the opportunity to travel with me has scheduled a trip to Paris for the new year.  Until then…



Photo ©Jean Janssen. Munsterplatz in Basel, Switzerland


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Basel Town Hall on the Marktplatz.


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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.”

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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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