Monday, May 14, 2012

Germany Spring 2012

Our third tour to Germany was another fun adventure and packed with activities, lots of eating and drinking, of course, but also some lovely walks and cultural immersion. Munich, a vibrant and great city was our last stop, before we all headed of into different directions, London, Salzburg and back home to Santa Barbara and Solvang.

After arriving in Munich, I somwhow hurt my knee , thank goodness my friends Rudi and Charlotte are here they just took the whole gang downtown Munich for dinner while I am in the hotel lobby drinking the leftover wine from our daily happy hour. They promised to carry me to my room if I am still here, passed out on the couch, when they get back! Life, you never know what can happen from one moment to the next. I was going to write a daily blog,and I never got around to doing so, it took this to at least write about today. Despite this mishap, we did have an extraordinary lunch at the Royal Bavarian Braeustueble at Tegernsee with the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps. The place was packed with hungry people in traditional Bavarian outfits, celebrating Mother's Day, First Communion and just life itsself.

My group, April, Dan, Nancy, David, Don and Jennifer (who I believe is really my little sister!) have been a joy to be with and I am grateful I got to show them a "Taste of Southern Germany". They are fun, kind and just great people all around.We arrived in Munich yesterday during the opening festivities of a very important soccer game, this means fans sreaming like banshees, people dressed up as penises????? sorry, no really, crazy as we stood in the middle of Marienplatz just watching in amazement. Sorry, the Bavarian team lost! We had lots of fun asking people where the street was in which the restaurant, Pfistermuehle is located, and even though we were already in the street, people had no idea where it was. Dinner was nothing short of fabulous starting with individual pots of orange and carrot creme fraiche to spread on whole grain mini rolls to the risotto with herbs, the wild garlic soup, the perfectly cooked venison with juniper berry sauce and the woodruff gelee with strawberries, all served on beautiful Villeroy and Boch china. Life as it should be.
Previous day, still in the Kaiserstuhl region of Baden we had an exquisite 3 hour lunch at Schwarzer Adler restaurant accompanied by delicious wines from the region. Before lunch we were treated to a private tour of Franz Keller Cellars with the largest Bordeaux collection in Germany housed in three tunnels carved into the mountain, each close to 300 meters in length, follwed by a tasting of over 20 wines Franz Keller winery produces and only one of those we didn't care for much. My goal was to show my guests that Germany has more to offer than beer, sauerkraut and sausages and I think I have succeeded.
We all met in my hometown of Freiburg, all with some hurdles, a train trip that took way too long because of an accident and others trying to return a rental car to a place with no signs that took two hours. We started our adventure with a great dinner at Gasthaus Kreuz in Kappel, outside Freiburg. It's strawberry and white asparagus season in Germany now and there is plenty of it everywhere. We explored the fantastic city of Freiburg, starting with an appoingtment at City Hall where we met Frau Ruch, the international respresentative for the City of Freiburg.We left Solvang souvenirs for the Mayor and Mrs. Ruch. We explored history, stores, and Freiburgs famous supermarket Migros. From the downtown area of Freiburg we hiked into the forest and had lunch at St. Valentin, overlooking the suburb of Guenterstal where I grew up.

From Freiburg we left with our driver Marc to Badenweiler, a lovely spa town, another delicious local dinner with a hilarious waiter whose name we missed, let's call him Fritz! We spent the next day at the thermal spa swimming in the giant pool, getting massages and getting to know locals who were eager to taste us on wines and other local delicacies.Needless to say we bought wines ridicoulusly (ok, how the heck do you spell that???) low prices hoping we could kill several at our nightly happy hours. I must report, we are way behind with at least 10 bottles left for the next two someone!!!

One of the highlights of this trip for everyone was meeting my cousins Karlheinz and Rosmarie Guehr, who I hadn't seen in over 30 years. They and Karlheinz's wife Hilla invited us to their farm where they raise pigs and grow grapes for a private tasting of local wines and lunch of ham, potato and green salad and strawberries, followed by a tour of the village of Munzingen and the local wine shop where we did our duty of supporting the local economy by purchasing more wine.

My friends also got to meet my lovely sister Marlene in Todtnauberg on top of the Blackforest where..again we had delicious dinners at the small family hotel we stayed at and spent one day hiking the rim of the forest and vistiting Germany's highest waterfall. In addition we all deighted in the local specialty besides ham.... Blackforest Cake..yum!! My dear friend Brigitte came to visit a couple of times, I only regret my friends didn't get to spend more time with her and her neverending funny spirit and humor.

Funny, now I am sitting here still in the lobby of the hotel wondering if it is ok to ask the front desk person if she could find a roll from breakfast with cheese, because I am getting kind of hungry, but she seems a bit uptight, should I. On the other hand an evening of now food wouldn't hurt at this time, plus I do have a box of chocolates in my room!!!There is food everywhere here all the times, but people also ride their bike a lot and walk everywhere, basically it is food heaven, you can get everything from sausage, burgers, sandwiches, greek, turkish, shisha pipes around the corner, chocolate, cakes, coffee, latte, espresso everywhere, chic food, doener kebabs,molecular, gewuerztraminer jelly with your foie gras, neverending bread and cheese, dairy products with no end, fresh fruits and veggies from everywhere on the continent., miles of cold I need to go on??

I love this country, but I look forward to sunny California and fruitsalad for at least two weeks! A soul happily torn between two continents!Thank you to my group, my friends, my family, my children who I miss the most...and m,y wonderful staff who all make it possible for me have this privilege of being a world traveler.Funny.....I feel no pain right now!Rudi, Charlotte, Jennifer, David, annyone if you are out htere and you get this on your fancy phones...bring back food, I'm starving!Love, B

Monday, January 16, 2012

Germany'Alsace-Lorraine Tour May 2012

A new tour leaving in May to visit southwestern Germany and Alsace Lorraine with our friends from Solvang. Lots of good food, wine and adventures! Look for future posts on intinery and future trips.

A whirlwind tour!

Aquaba, Jordan January 12/2012
Awaiting our departure to Nweiba, Egypt on a big ferry. Got here early with our guide Steve, but the early ferry was cancelled due to strong winds, so here we go. Alessia is not thrilled about ferry rides, but she’s a trooper. Everyone in Jordan is extremely friendly and helpful and most people speak at least some English.
We spent the day ion the ancient city of Petra yesterday, exploring ancient ruins with another guide. We also hiked up 2000 steps to get to the high ministry, a sight to behold. Along the way, Bedouin woman and their children try to sell their wares and tea, “happy hour” all day long. Below, the men follow tourists around wanting them to trek on their donkeys and camels. The camels look sort of mean and the donkeys get beaten a lot, so we opt to walk the way, except for the last 800 meters when Alessia just had to ride a horse on the last stretch up. Back at the hotel, just outside the visitor center’s gate, we devour a plate of Mezza, delicious Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Tabouleh Salad and bread, to be followed by a bowl of creamy Moevenpick Ice Cream. It had been cold and windy for most of the day, so a hot bath was in order. Later in the evening our guide took us to the Petra Kitchen where we prepared a delicious Jordanian dinner under the guidance of a local chef. This being the slower season, we were the only two there, warmly greeted, outfitted with an apron, offered beverages and put to work immediately. Lots of small cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs to be chopped. First course consisted of a warming soup made with chicken stock, small wheat kernels, seasoning and onions, followed by my favorite baba Ganoush, chopped tomato, onion, garlic, herbs, chili pepper, spices and smashed, cooked eggplant. Alessia prepared the Tahina Salad, with similar ingredients and the sesame paste added. The hosts favorite dish is roasted tomatoes with pine nuts to which he added a sauce made of cooked and pureed fava beans with a bit of the pungent Jordanian Olive Oil on top. All this accompanied by the traditional flat bread. The main course was a pan of cut uo chicken that had been cooked, sliced tomatoes and potatoes, onions and seasoning, baked in the oven, again delicious. Arabic food is fresh and healthy, in fact, a traditional Jordanian breakfast consists of beans with a bit of Olive Oil. Pastries are small and not too heavy, we were treated to a small puff pastry with a creamy, cheesy filling, topped with coconut, of course the mint tea is ever present and helpful with digestion, What a fun way to experience local food.
Quite different than our food experiences in Paris, just a few days before. Expecting cold and more qiet days there, we did get the cold, but Paris was overrun with tourists. We opted to take the double decker bus around, 26 euros per person for two days, a good deal. We rode it in the day, in the afternoon and in the evening. We weren’t willing to stand in the two hour line to get up the Eiffel Tower, but we were there to witness as the lights came on, a glorious site. Almost as glorious to watch were some of the cute French police officers at the bottom of the tower. I managed to get a picture of Alessia and her favorite.
Two and a half days is not much time in Paris, we spend the first evening at the Louvre with hundreds of other people. The next day jetlag finally caught up with us and we woke up at 2 pm, Oh well missed breakfast. After touring we wanted to go to a bistro next to the hotel which was recommended by a friend, but unfortunately nit was closed. So after a delicious salmon and less so duck dinner next door, we headed back to our tiny little room to plan the next day. One should know that many of the top restaurants in Paris close on the weekend and stores are closed on Sundays. After calling a dozen or so of recommended restaurants we settled for “Ma Bourgogne” at a table the size of a postage stamp. Fries, or pommes frites in French, are a staple bostro food they come with everything…..that’s why they call them French Fries! Alessia’s lamb chops were tasty but had lots of fat on them, my steak could have used a bit of marbeling. Still not having had a “great meal” we decided the next day to treat ourselves to lunch at the Four Seasons. When we arrived at 2 pm, we were told we could have a reservation at 3:30. After checking out the menu and realizing that we would have to shell out 86 euros (about $110) and similar prices for lunch items, we opted to head for CafĂ© “Angelina’s” famous hot chocolate instead. The line was to the door as we arrived mid-afternoon, once seated we decided to order a vegetable quiche and a Chicken Supreme before eyeing the beautiful pastries made on the premises. I loved my quiche, it was a sheet of flaky puff pastry with three perfectly molded scoups of vegetable mousses on top with a parmesan lollipop, very unique and very tasty, our best meal in Paris. Angelina’s uses dark African chococolate for their cocoas and desserts and it is extremely rich, “like drinking Ganache with whipped cream”, Alessia noted after only being able to finish one small cup. French pastries look rather elegant, but I find them prettier than they taste. The Hotel Britannique, where we stayed, is a charming small hotel just of the Seine, a 10 minute walk away from the Notre Dame and the Louvre. Nice amenities and furnishings, good bathrooms, friendly people, delicious breakfast (additional cost), free wireless, but very small rooms. I recommend to spend a bit more and get a junior suite so both of you can open your suitcase at the same time. and walk around the bed. Back on the train to Frankfurt the next morning, vowing to come back when the weather is warmer and hopefully a few less tourist are around, must visit more museums and go shopping…and definitely make a reservation ahead at “Tour d’Argent.
Trains, although increased in cost over recent years are still my favorite way to travel through Europe, comfortable, easy to get on and off and always on time. It only takes 4 hours from Germany to Paris. The train stations in larger cities are a virtual mekka of food, you can find almost every nationalitie’s favorite dish represented, dotted with coffee houses, shops and bookstores. Alessia couldn’t resist a Doener Kebob, of course, vertically roasted meat, thinly sliced, stuffed in flat half roll with lettuce, tomato and yogurt sauce, yummy, 5 euros for a huge sandwich!
Our flight to Amman was uneventful, unlike our original journey leaving from Los Angeles. Our plane had to make an unplanned stop in Toronto in the middle of the night, one of the passengers developed a serious medical problem. It took over 2 hours to get us back in the air.
It was great to see our friend Rudi at the airport who took us straight to Bad Kissingen where several of our old friends anxiously and with a beautifully decorated table, laden with homemade cakes and pastries, awaited us. German pastries may not look as fancy and elegant as the French, but they taste better, more flavor, less sugar. I would even venture to say that German bakeries are the best anywhere, the assortment of breads, baked fresh daily is amazing and bakeries are everywhere, also offering delicious sandwiches, great for traveling.
We enjoyed two wonderful dinners at local restaurants in Germany, Alessia’s favorite, the wild boar with browned potatoes, red cabbage.

to be continued................

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hot new winery!

Just visited Paso Robles, very impressed with some of the wines there. Check out Adelaida, Tablas Creek and one of the newest, Alta Colina, fabulous Rhone style wines, especially loved the GSM!
Try it with Paella, yum!
Before you get into Paso, stop in Templeton at 15 c, Ali the owner is a very knowledgable sommelier and carries 500 exquisite wines not only local but from all over the world. She also makes some of the best sandwiches around, must stop for your picnic supplies and if it's Thursday, don't miss the tapas she serves up in the evening...hip, chic, delicious, fun atmosphere!
Be back soon!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Germany trip

Here is the update itinerary for our Spring trip to Germany:

Meeting the group in Zuerich on April 10th
Spend the first night in Zuerich exploring this wonderful city

Heading towards Germany the next day, we will spend 2-3 days in the Southern German area between the Blackforest and the River, where delicous food and Pinot rules. We'll have an opportunity to "spaaaahhh" in the town of Badenweiler with it's incredible thermal baths.
Off to Alscace-Lorraine, where German and French culinary culture create the most memorable experiences, including a spectacular flower festival.

The last few days we will spend in Freiburg, on the German Riviera, for hikes shopping and more great food and wine, before heading back to Zuerich to depart on April 20th .

Brigitte, your personal guide was born and raised in Freiburg , Germany and will show you places and points of interest that are not available through guidebook or travel agents. This is a personalized tour and the itinerary may be changed slightly to accommodate group preferences.
This is a small and personalized tour with a maximum of 8 participants, so book early.

Cost is $2,200 per person in a double room, $2,500 in a single room
included: transportation starting and ending at Zuerich hotel, mostly by train or private coach
10 nights in comfortable hotels/bed and breakfast inns
daily breakfasts, 2 lunches, 2 dinners
daily guide for shopping touring, etc.
not included: personal expenses, additonal meals, shopping, insurance, flight to and from Zuerich.
Deposit of $500.00 due by February 5, 2011, balance due March 15, 2011

Brigitte will assist with planning additional intineraries or other ports of entry.


A pet peeve of mine...tipping. Restaurant servers are now tipped between 15-20 percent of the bill. In a good restaurant servers make more money than a trained chef. Although most do a good job of taking care of guests, rarely do any servers have professional training and pick up information along the way. In the hospitality industry many others who serve and take care of guests are forgotten. We know, gratuity is exactly that... a gracious gesture of a guest to a service person. Some guests are not are aware or unsure of whom to tip, so I am taking the liberty to remind everyone, that if you have received service and care beyond the basic and you want to show your gratitude, remember the following service people:

Housekeepers/Maids - they make your bed, empty your trash, clean your toilet and pick up your socks, they make between $8 - $10 per hour, you don't see them, they take care of your needs in a very unglamorous way. Why don't they get $15%???

Front Desk personnel - they take care of your forgotten toothbrush, your dinner reservation, your limo or cab ride and recommend the locals favorite places to go, they earn between $8-$15 per hour.

Kitchen staff/Chef - if your dinner was exeptionally delicious, the chef and the kitchen staff is to be credited, so tip your server, but don't forget to leave a tip (or a beer) for the chef and his crew. Kitchen staff make between $8 - $14 per hour, chefs about $20-$25 after expensive culinary training and years of experience.

Breakfast included in your room rate? The person bringing breakfast to you and refilling your juice and coffee is a server too, so c'mon leave a few dollars, they make minimum wage!

Massage therapists - although they make between $40-$60 per hour, they too have to have expensive training and licenses, insurance.. and hey they have to work on your naked body and get out all the kinks...that's almost charity work!

Your tour guide driving you to wineries and other places, this person gives you all the inside info and personal care, although these trips are not cheap, insurance alone is a killer.

Owners of a small businesses - if they perform regular staff duties, any above, they do it to give you a special experience and these small inns/restaurant don't make enough money where the owner just wlks around and shakes hands. They are doing the job, let them know with a nice tip that you appreciate them too!

So you wonder why small hospitality businesses pay so little? Well there aren't any small business owners who are wealthy, we make it work as best as we can, especially in areas with (still) high priced real's the banks who collect and profit.

Small business owners love what they do and love the interaction with their guests and customers, they are what America is all about, remember?? SUpport them, show them your appreciation.
Thank you! Brigitte

Monday, December 6, 2010

European Spring

Spring in central Europe means cherry blossoms, flowers blooming everywhere and plenty of good food and wine. We are meeting in Zuerich, Switzerland on April 10th to spend our first night as a group. The next day will take us to Lake Luzerne on the footsteps of Wilhelm Tell, a famous Swiss hero. You will learn about history and delicious Swiss food and wine and some of Switzerlands most beautiful scenery by train. Continuing our journey we will spend 3 days in Alsace - Lorraine exploring the "Route du Vin" and beautiful villages such as Riquewihr, Ribeauville, Colmar and the Narcsissus Festival in Gerardmer. Next stop is Freiburg in southwest Germany, conveniently located between the Blackforest and the Rhine River, a mecca of amazing food, wine, culture and shopping. This region is known as the "Riviera of Germany" and you will experience why. In addition, Freiburg boasts a gothic cathedral known as the "most beautiful in Christanity" and an incredible daily Farmer's Market surrounding the cathedral. We will visit a small village in the Blackforest and delight in the delicacies offered. Along our journey, there is plenty of opportunity for walking, relaxtion, and personal private time.
Our groups are small (10 people max.) and personalized. For 10 days, your guide Brigitte will take you to places you will not find through guidebooks or travel agents. You will return with fond memories, new friends and culinary and cultural experiencex you will cherish.

Trip details:
meet in Zuerich Airport, Switzerland on April 10th, 2011, depart from Zuerich, Airport on April 20th. Optional is arrival or departure from other European cities, such as Frankfurt, Germany.

Included in cost of $2,200 per person in a double room or $2,500 per person in a single room:
Transportion from designated Zuerich hotel on April 10th to Zuerich airport on April 20th as a group. Overnight stay in bed and breakfast inns April 10th through April 19th, including daily breakfast and 2 group dinners (exluding alcohol). Transportation will be mostly by train or bus.
Daily guided tours and personal attention by Brigitte. Participants may choose to add time at the beginning or end of the trip with personlized suggestions and recommendations on where to go and what to do by Brigitte.

Your responsibility:
Airline/train transportation to and from designated Zuerich hotel.
Additional add on trip expenses.
Travel insurance
Personal expenses, lunch and dinner outside of above inclusions.
Non refundable deposit 0f $500.00 per person and signed contract due by January 15th, 2011 to guarantee your spot. 5% discount to participants signing up by December 31, 2010.
Balance due March 9th, 2011.

Thank you for your trust in me!