The World A to Z

N is for Nürnberg

Christmas in Germany is magical, at least for me. The Germans are the best at Christmas markets and somehow walking around a market square sipping gluhwein and shopping for seasonal specialties feels very Christmas-y.with gluhwein

That’s why we decided to head to Nürnberg for the “N” trip. The Christmas market there is known around the world and the idea of spending a piece of the season in Bavaria evokes thoughts of snow and gingerbread and sounds of “O Tannenbaum” ringing in my head.red ornaments

Sure enough, the sights and sounds of the season did not disappoint us. Our boutique hotel just two blocks from the world-famous Kristkindl Markt was an easy train ride from Munich and a 10 minute taxi ride from the Bahnhof in Nürnberg.

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We arrived just in time to get checked in, change and refresh and head out to the market where the medieval atmosphere and architecture added to the festive spirit in the air.aisle markersThe main Christmas market is row upon row of classic German gifts and treats.

wooden ornamentsThere are ornately carved wooden ornaments.

gingerbread heartNürnberger gingerbread hearts hang from stalls and offer greetings.

Some of the stalls showed off unique items …like the Nürnberg angels …nurnberg angels

angela twist on the classic German angel Christmas tree topper.

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Window boxes, filled with brightly colored flowers much of the year, are filled with greenery and ornaments.

 

 

 

night market

Daytime in the market is festive enough, but when the sun sets, the lights go on and the entire market square is illuminated for the holidays.

 

 

reflected bridge

 

But Nürnberg is more than just the Christmas market. The city really is ancient.

 

 

medieval reflection

 

The river that runs through the town is crisscrossed by charming walking bridges reflected on the still,
gently flowing water and dotted with charming views that transport you back to ancient times.

grilling bratsWhen it’s time for a break … there’s nothing better than a German bratwurst … hot off the grill. brat and pretzel sandwichThat is unless you opt for another German delight … the pretzel sandwich (in my case stuffed with ham, cheese and German pickles.)

I rave a little about Germany. Living there as a teenager has always given me a bit of comfort about traveling throughout the country. I feel a bit at home there.  That’s a lot of what draws me there during the holidays, but it’s a beautiful country year round. If you get a chance, go and visit. Drink a beer. Eat a bratwurst. Sample the culture. Remember, there’s a whole world out there. Go see it.

Diversion

Diversion – The Big Booty

Not all diversions are truly “diversions.” We recently had a need to go to the University of Alabama campus for an event. When we started planning, we remembered I have friends near there (alumni, of course), who have been asking us to come and visit for years. Perfect! A diversion to visit friends and let them show off their little piece of the planet. They live between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We relaxed with them for a long weekend.

They took us to one of Alabama’s most famous BBQ joints: Dreamland. The original Dreamland is, as all GOOD BBQ joints are, a bit rough-looking around the edges. We grabbed some sweet tea (a MUST with BBQ in the south), a half rack of ribs, some potato salad and beans … and our friends insisted the bread pudding would change your life.  It was delicious, but if you follow our blog then you’ve read about Perry’s BBQ in Paris, TN. That’s the standard to which all other BBQ’s are held in our lives . While Dreamland was delicious, it wasn’t Perry’s.

We toured the University of Alabama campus. Football is a religion in Tuscaloosa and Paul “Bear” Bryant is its god. There’s an entire museum dedicated to the winningest coach in college football. I must admit, I came away with a new respect for this man who devoted his life to his passion and excelled at it. We strolled the Walk of Champions and got caught in an afternoon thunderstorm.

The next day it was off to Birmingham. My friend had read in a magazine that a restaurant in this Alabama city was the home to the “world’s best hamburger.” We agreed it was certainly worth investigating. The bad news is, Chez Fonfon, the home of the renowned burger, was closed on Mondays and it was Memorial Day. Rats! No matter, there was a great Thai restaurant, Surin, just down the block.

IMG_4063With tummies full, what else do you do in Birmingham? You head up to the statue of Vulcan, proudly standing over this steel city (I asked if it was the Pittsburgh of the south).

 

My friend’s teenage daughter said the statue is known in the area because it wears a kilt-like  loin cloth that leaves his rear exposed. She said her friends call it “the Big Booty.”

IMG_4066It was an impressive statue overlooking an even more impressive view of Birmingham.

From there it was off to Steel City Pops – makers of gourmet-flavored popsicles. The four of us had four different flavors and, not surprisingly, we were each delighted with our own choice while agreeing all the flavors were pretty amazing.

Steel city pops

It was a restful mini-vacation with long-time friends. I don’t know that I really would have thought of Alabama as a sight-seeing destination, but it does have charm and attractions worth checking out if you’re looking for a diversion. Check it out sometime.

Diversion

Diversion – Solomons Island

A beautiful, sun-filled day near the Chesapeake Bay calls you to the water. That’s how we ended up on Solomons Island, Maryland on a Saturday in May instead of touring embassies in downtown Washington, DC or even at the Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover, Delaware, both considered top options until the sun and wind called us elsewhere.20150509_142733

Solomons Island is where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake and across the water from a US Navy installation that’s been around since the war of 1812 with an ever-changing mission due to its location at the mouth of the river.  Greg had heard about the Calvert Marine Museum for years while living in nearby Prince George’s County, but had never been. So, with the top down on the car, the wind whipping through our hair and the sun shining pleasantly on us, we headed to the museum.

What a great little treasure tucked away on this Southern Maryland island. The maritime-focused museum is chock full of artifacts and information about the crucial location of the island in the war of 1812 against the British, about its fishing and maritime history and even a peek at the history of speed boat racing and recreation on the river and into the Chesapeake bay.

The friendly lady who sold us our admission tickets, $9 per adult, mentioned an optional tour on the Wm B Tennison. The one hour cruise takes you through the Solomons inner harbor, around the end of the island and under the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge then turns at Point Patience and returns to the museum dock. The $7 per person price seemed reasonable, so we opted in. Brilliant decision!

anglersWe had just enough time to pop next door to the Anglers Seafood Bar and Grill to grab a bite to eat before the cruise. We postulated that if you can’t get good seafood in a fishing town, where can you? We ordered crab cake sliders and bacon-wrapped scallops. Both were magnificent … fresh, cooked to perfection and exactly what we needed for a waterside lunch.

A mad dash back to the Tennison had us make it just in time to shove off and head out. The weather was perfect, the captain and first mate filled the outward cruise with tidbits of information about places of interest on shore, then turned off the microphone and let us enjoy the peace and quiet of a cruise on the water as we returned.20150509_142253

The Drum Point Lighthouse, once a beacon to sailors and other mariners entering these sometimes dangerously shallow waters, is no longer in operation and has been moved to the dock for visitors. A two-bedroom home with a kitchen and living space, an outdoor privy and what looked like all the amenities of a quaint home made us talk about finding a lighthouse bed and breakfast for a weekend getaway at some point.  Entrance to the lighthouse is part of the museum admission.1431192796504

We stopped at the wood carving shop and watched a couple of gentlemen building boats inside for a while, then headed back to the car for a leisurely drive home.

EPILOGUE:  When we arrived home we checked in online to discover a MAJOR accident had closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in both directions. Our last-minute decision to scrap our plans to head to Dover turned out to be fortuitous, not only for the incredible find we stumbled on, but for our dodging a traffic nightmare at the end of our day.

Diversion

Diversion – Nostalgia

Anyone who thinks billboards don’t work must not travel the roads we do. Whether it’s across the country or north to south, we, like most people, tend to hop on the Interstates when we want to get somewhere quickly. Unlike most, however, we get off regularly onto local roads. What determines when and where we get off is usually some sort of sign – actual signs!  We’ve diverted to small museums because of brown recreational direction signs posted by departments of transportation. We’ve diverted to small towns because of small signs (ok, posters) posted on restaurant bulletin boards or truck stops. We’ve diverted to stores and tourist “traps” because of billboards.

To set this story up, I should let you know that Greg and I keep talking about buying a house that has a room we can use or convert to a bar or lounge … a place for entertaining. We’ve considered a lot of decorating options including mid-Century “atomic” looks (think Mad Men!), but our home has a real travel theme to it and we’ll probably end up with something that leans towards travel.

Back to the road … and billboards.  We were headed out to Paris, Tennessee, crossing the state from Bristol through Knoxville and Nashville. Just west of Bristol, as we approached Knoxville, a great billboard caught our eye for an “antique” store called “Nostalgia: Knoxville’s Vintage Market.”  Even the sign had a fun mid-century vibe to it. We were intrigued. We googled it from our phones to see what time they were open. The timing was right! We needed a little break from the road and what better break than a stroll through a cool vintage market, right?

IMG_3914We agreed – DIVERSION!

What fun! I should take a moment to mention we don’t tell anyplace we mention in our blogs that we are bloggers. We don’t usually even decide we’ll blog about something until it’s already happened! The cheery staff of Nostalgia has no idea I’m writing this, which I hope adds to the authenticity of our blog.

We wandered the aisles of the smaller of the two Nostalgia stores. The lady at the counter said the other store has more furniture and “larger pieces.” This one was chock full of really fun-looking mid-century décor. There were lamps, mirrors, coffee tables covered with ashtrays (yeah, ASHTRAYS!), funky kitchen appliances (I wonder how many still work?), and loads of other pieces. We kept pointing out certain things to each other, “Hey, we had one of those growing up.”

IMG_3906Then we saw it … a set of eight glasses in a rack. It screamed travel and 60s and all the things we are drawn to. I hesitated. Have you ever noticed in these stores when you see something you love how the price always seems to be way too high? I reached for the tag tied on the carrying handle of the rack … WOW! $30! Should we?

IMG_3907We strolled another aisle before going back for the glasses. How could we pass up something like that? Even if we didn’t ever have a bar in our future home, we always need glasses, right? It even came with the original box…with a shipping label dated 1959.

Our fun find put us in a great mood to finish the drive to Paris. We will stop at the other store at some point. Maybe by then we will have the bar we wish for. If not, at least it will be another fun diversion.

Diversion

Diversion – Scenic Overlook: Worth the Stop

One of the things we have discovered (as you have read in previous posts), is staying off the beaten track and taking the road less traveled leads to unexpected delights. We recently hopped in the car and headed for a visit with family in the tiny town of Hillsville, Virginia. While much of the trip was spent relaxing around the house and enjoying my young grandsons, there was a diversion as we headed into Radford. Since we were visiting locals, we were able to take the back roads and ended up on a winding, narrow section of US 11 up and over a mountain.

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At the top, a pair of scenic overlooks called out to us to stop and check out the view. On one side, a dazzling view of the New River Valley (or so we think since it was not marked or labeled).

 

IMG_3811On the other side, there was an expansive vista overlooking the Draper Valley.

A roadside marker tells the story of a 1755 Shawnee Indian raid. According to the marker, the Shawnee traveled from the Ohio River Valley to raid the Western Virginia Frontier along the New River.

The result of one of those raids, Bettie Draper and her sister-in-law Mary Draper Ingalls were taken captive and taken back to the Shawnee Camp in the Ohio River Valley. Mary Draper Ingalls soon escaped and traveled more than 850 miles back to the New River Valley. Bettie Draper lived with the family of an Indian Chief for the next six years before her husband John Draper found her and bartered for her return. They returned to the New River Valley and settled in 1765 in what is known today as Draper Valley in Pulaski County.

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The fascinating tale on the marker doesn’t mention the ruins of a small home up a flight of stone steps from the overlook, but we imagined it had been the home of an earlier settler to the valley as we made our way up to the ruins.  Whoever lived here certainly had an amazing view … in BOTH directions.

It was a short stop, but worth it for the views, the diversion, and the insight into one of the many tales of American history that are so local they are rarely published in textbooks, instead taught just in the areas where they happened.

 

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From there we passed through Pulaski with its interesting blend of old Victorian homes, small Cape Cod style cottages and newer construction. It’s pretty off-the-beaten-track, but that’s the sort of fun you can have when you choose to get off the interstate, slow down and enjoy whatever happens.

Diversion

Diversion – “M” is for Matrimony and Motels, Part 2

By Greg

We left Key West Monday morning around 10, with the car still somewhat loaded to the gills, just an inkling of a “plan” to avoid the Interstates wherever possible and find a cheesy motel to stay the night. Judy and I were still giddy about the wedding and all that had transpired over the last week, so we laughed and smiled our way north on AIA/The Overseas Highway.

My best friend of 48 years and best man had recommended a restaurant just past the bridge on Card Sound Road (the original routing from Florida City to Key Largo), so we took this minor detour with lunch in mind.  As we rolled down the bridge and saw the place, we realized it was a bit to redneck-y for our tastes, so we kept going.  As we neared Florida City, we also made the decision to bypass most of Route 1 through Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, as we had done that trip before. We rolled on to Florida’s Turnpike and started making some time.

Excuse a bit of a rant here…why is it that in this day and age of interconnectedness we still don’t have a national system for collecting tolls? With my EZPass, I can go virtually anywhere in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast and let automation do the work – even on the Jersey Turnpike. Not so in Florida.  You either need to get a SunPass – IN ADVANCE – or pay the lady/guy at the toll booth. To make it even more confusing, in South Florida, they have bill by plate (smart) but once north of Ft. Lauderdale or so, it’s back to pulling out bills and coins.  Very frustrating.

So we got off the Turnpike, had a quick McD’s lunch (we were starving by this point) and joined I-95 for bit.  We had decided that Cocoa Beach was probably a good place to spend the night, knowing that it had its fair share of cheesy motels.  We got off the highway in Melbourne, bought some gas, and headed east again, knowing that when we hit the beach, it was time to turn left.

The Wakulla Suites in Cocoa Beach.

Night had fallen and as we rolled past Patrick Air Force Base, we started keeping our eyes open for that perfect motel. Shortly thereafter, the glimmering tower of true tourist trappings – the world famous Ron Jon Surf Shop (already a destination for us) – loomed in the night sky. But what are those flames? Can it be?  Why yes!  They’re giant tiki torches, marking the presence of the Wakulla Suites Motel. Perfect!  A quick check on Yelp to make sure it wasn’t a complete dive (in fact, it rated 3 stars) and we were in!

We went to Ron Jon first. We bought t-shirts for the grandkids, a few other gifts, and a few things for us. We went back to the Wakulla and asked what they had available. Two-bedroom suites for $79, the young man at the desk said. Do they have a government rate, we asked (proud Feds that we are)? Of course, but it’s more than the rate he quoted, so we took the lower rate, slipped him the Amex and got our key.

What a great find!  There was a pool and a hot tub, barbecue areas, and hundreds of tropical trees in the courtyard between the buildings. The room didn’t disappoint — two nice bedrooms, a bath and kitchenette with all the trappings of a tidy apartment. Turns out, that’s exactly what it was. Built in 1965 for serve the burgeoning space industry, the Wakulla Apartments were likely home to many a drunken ’60s party. We imagined ourselves there back at that time and had a little party of our own.

We both woke up early the next morning with the same idea…catch the sunrise on the beach just steps away.  We put on sweaters and grabbed the camera.  We met the morning with the perfect Florida sunrise, ready for another wonderful day…

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

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