Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Too bad my visit was such a fleeting one all we could do was lunch, walk to the house Beethoven was born in and hurry through the town center to catch a ferry across and down the Rhine to Koenigswinter.
From its beginnings as a Roman camp in the second century, Bonn became the residence of the Princes Elector of Cologne, a romantic university town and, following the massive destruction of World War II, the Federal Capitol of West Germany.
Lunch was at Brauhaus Boennsch at Sterntorbrucke 4, where we had an excellent meal and some of the very good Bonn beer.
Tip: Restrooms are down 15 steps from the dining room.
The small house (no photos allowed) contains his last two piano fortes, his viola, the largest collection of his manuscripts and a variety of ear trumpets (he was deaf by 30) in addition to his death mask and wisps of his hair.
[Don't you know some music-loving, conniving, cloning-obsessed geneticist would like to get some of those! Sounds like the plot for a thriller, doesn't it?]
Warning: You'll go up two flights of narrow, twisting stairs. If it is too much, stay in the street level gift shop and listen to some of his glorious music.
Bonn now has a place on my bucket list as a place to return.
Friday, November 19, 2010
I didn't see nearly enough of it, but Levelers will like it because it's flat.
Tip: The large, comfortable and efficient Visitor Center is across the street from the cathedral. Warning: Watch out for the skateboarders who practice their skills on the cathedral square
Places of Christian worship have been on its site since the 4th century and before that the Romans had structures here although probably not the temple claimed by guide books. Ruins of a Roman house were uncovered during the building of an adjacent parking garage.
Tip: As you leave the cathedral, there is an elevator down to where you can look at the ruins through plate glass. Follow the sign to "toiletten" then to "Domturm Parkhaus". Better to do that than climb the 530-step spiral staircase to the tower although they tell me the view is spectacular.
The cornerstone for the current cathedral was laid in 1248; plans were for a cathedral worthy of housing the skulls and robes of the Magi that Frederick Barbarossa brought from Milan following the crusades. By 1517, the Reformation was underway, Vasco de Gama's discoveries were sending all the trade to Portugal and The Netherlands, the pope had his own cathedral to build in Rome (St. Peter's), Baroque style was all the rage and money had run out. Construction stopped.
Around 1800, the Romantics had made Gothic architecture the rage and the Protestant Prussian kings decided to complete the cathedral. They did but don't worry about the world ending because of it. Work continues today, repairing the damage of World War II, the poor choice of original materials and today's pollution.
Surprise: In 1670 the choirmaster handed out sugar sticks bent like shepherds' crooks. The first candy canes?
Tip: Do take a walking tour of Cologne if you can; it's flat and fun, especially the one on Cologne females. There are a lot of surprises, too, that you'd never notice without a guide.
Tip: Use the elevators, Levelers, and grab a folding chair to sit on when you tire, but do not miss this.
Suenner im Walfisch and hoist a Kolch beer (there are 24 brands; we had sunner).
The building dates from the Middle Ages, the clientele is native Kolners and the food is excellent. Finish your repast with an akrobar, a digestif that used to be an ancient medicine. You will have overeaten and it will settle your stomach.
Warning: The bathroom is up a winding staircase if you are seated on the ground floor.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
March may have its Ides, but for travel lovers, this November has it's 20th because at 10 p.m. that day the bidding ends in the Society of American Travel Writers' annual Travel Auction.
To tantalize you a bit, consider this:
Current top bid on a $4,422 four-night luxury Bali getaway is $400.
Current top bid on two nights each at the Fairmont Banff Springs with breakfast and spa access and at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the glorious Canadian Rockies, value $2,500, is $450.
Then there's the family package - 2 adults, 2 children 12 and under - at the Gran Caribe Cancun: three nights, four days, meals and for adults, alcohol included, an $800 value with a current bid of $150.
Other packages include golf getaways, city escapes and ski vacations closer to home.
Go to www.satwauction.com and start the bidding.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Near Neuss, a pleasant drive southwest from Duesseldorf, art is housed in art atop a former NATO missile base.
Japanese architect Tadao Ando transformed the space with a building he was commissioned to design, not for any specific purpose, according to our artist/guide Jens Stittgen, but to be a memorable space that could hold things.
It is, from the walkway lined on one side with Japanese cherry trees to the smooth as silk special concrete - pumped up not down - of the building.
A long ramp and stairs lead down to a gallery of more contemporary work.
Tip: The stairs aren't bad, but I recommend the ramp.
The result is a walk through the glorious works of nature with stops to gaze on the works of man, from the Chinese Han dynasty and native Micronesians to classical and contemporary European work.
Warning: Levelers, you will have to walk over terrain with fairly gentle slopes, but to get to and from it there are formidable stairs - 45 steps that are steep and a bit slippery when wet. If you can manage them the experience is worth the effort.
However it is arranged, the art is well worth your time. In the works on paper building, I was delighted to find 17 Rembrandt etchings, two Matisses, a wall of Cezanne watercolors, and a handsome Gustave Klimt.
Have you been to either of these museums? What did you think of them? I'd love to know.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Well, there is the construction for an underground subway system that no one seems to want, but dodging barricades and workers is a small price to pay.
Old town. Cobblestones, brew pubs, quaint buildings, even a Mustard Museum are what you will find here.
The Mustard Museum isn't much - more shop than museum, but its array of flavored mustards is amazing. I came home with fig (!) mustard which is actually quite good.
Speaking of Karneval, it is a major event in the city's social and party calendar. Like the Mardi Gras of New Orleans, it begins long before Fat Tuesday, but unlike New Orleans' celebration, women take the central role in Duesseldorf.
John William married one of the deMedici daughters and Duesseldorf soon became known as an art city. He was an avid collector; today the city's 26 museums span the history of art from ancient to yesterday. Its Art Academy has long been famous for artists and professors who welcome innovation.
Among those you ought to see are K20 (modern) and K21(contemporary) Kunstsammlung, Kunst Palast and, if there's time, Kunst im Tunnel, literally, art in the tunnel, where students display their work in a no longer used tunnel along the waterfront. Another reason to stop there, its bathroom, down an elevator, is the most convenient to the harbor promenade.
Tip: Relax, Levelers. The museums all have lifts.
The harbor with its old storage buildings has been transformed into a hopping showcase of contemporary architecture with the river as inspiration known as Media Harbor. Frank Gehry designed three buildings and other architects include Doring Dahmen Joeresen, Steven Holl, David Chipperfield, Jurgen Schurmann, Zamp Kelp, Norbert Winkels, Claude Vasconi and a host of other, international innovators I should have heard of but haven't. Don't miss this; plan to see it in daylight and at night. You won't be sorry.
In fact, you won't be sorry about anything in Duesseldorf except leaving.
Where to stay. I was at Steigenberger Parkhotel, the city's first five-star hotel, which is at the beginning of Konigsallee, the "Ko," Duessseldorf's high-end shopping street, and a comfortable walk away from the old town. Warning: Because of the steep steps (about 8) up to the hotel I can't wholeheartedly recommend it for Levelers until 2013 when major renovations will have eliminated the steps.
If you prefer the harbor area, Marriott, Radisson and Hyatt have hotels in the center of the lively bars, restaurants and businesses of Media Harbor.
And the duck in the Steigenberger Parkhotel restaurant is excellent. The potato soup at Julian's in the Courtyard Marriott is quite good too. I'll be posting the recipe for it on my other blog, Food Afar - Recipes from a Travel Writer.