05 December 2009


We are back in la belle France!

We got on the train in Munich, picked up the night train in Paris and many hours later, arrived at the station in the little village of St. Christophe. We are currently helpxing with a French woman named Agnes who lives in a big old farmhouse in Valady-en-Aveyron.

But, more on all that later. This post is all about one particular village we visited this week that ranks high up on the list of prettiest places we've seen in France.

Conques is located on top of a little hill in the quiet Dordou valley.
It has narrow, winding lanes and fairy tale-esque timbered houses.

One of the first things we noticed walking into town was all the reddish pink stone walls and slate colored roofs. It turns out, those two features are sort of trademarks of this area. The soil in the Aveyron region is very high in iron. The high iron content gives everything from dirt to water to the stone a red tinge. The red is a beautiful contrast to the cool grey of the tiled roofs.

Apparently Conques is quite a touristy place in the high season. Luckily, December is far from high tourist season in this part of the country so we basically had the whole town to ourselves. The serene quiet that came as a result of it being empty added to the
sense that we were in a place mysteriously stuck in time.

Conques as a whole is incredibly well preserved and has a sort of enchanting effect (or at least it did on us!). Most of the roads are too narrow to accommodate traffic and meander around leading to little closed gardens, through tunnels,
and to strange staircases leading to nowhere in particular.

The buildings themselves are just so cute -- there isn't really a better word for them!
Many of the structures seems sort of haphazard with
oddly slanting roofs and stones just randomly cobbled together.

Conques is also a main passage for pilgrims on the Santiago de Compostela -- the famous pilgrimage that goes through France and across Northern Spain.

The big church in the center of town -- the Abbey of Saint Foy -- was built in the 12th century and is an important example of Romanesque architecture. Romanesque architecture is usually characterized by solidity and strength -- this was definitely the impression given by the Abbey.

02 December 2009


This Turkey Day, we had a lot to be thankful for...

Though we were far away from most of our family, we had wonderful company to share the holiday with.  

We were staying in Starnberg (pronounced shhtaaahrnberg), a little city just outside of Munich with John and Rosi who were generous enough to put up with our antics for several days.  Starnberg is best known for its beautiful lake and view of the mountains (those are the ALPS, ok?!).  

Our Thanksgiving began with a good walk to work up an appetite and burn some extra calories  for the big meal to come.  

Our walk was quite the aerobic activity and even included a detour to the gym.  Ahhhh, those hamstrings.  Feel the burn!  And notice cousin Matt and his wife Tina workin' the obliques. They're putting the love back in "love handles"! 

Coach John looking on to make sure we don't pull a muscle or throw our backs' out.

On our walk, we passed by John and Rosi's boat club (site of the gym) situated on Lake Starnberg.  They are active rowers and members of a team.

Matt and Tina strolling along the dock.  

Some of the boats used for rowing.  

Our promenade also took us over the little hill that separates Starnberg from the countryside and into another beautiful gorge.  

By this time, dinner was still a few hours away and we had worked up quite an appetite.  Luckily, German children have great minds for business.  Unlike their American counterparts, these kids did not limit themselves to selling lemonade.  Oh no no no.  They made waffles with Nutella ("bio waffels," in fact -- meaning organic!).  This fueled us for our long way home.  Quite a deal for 60 cents!

The little kinders selling waffles weren't the only ones out doing business that day.  This man on the right was in front of use attempting to bike his way back in to town.  Let's just say his path was more than a little curvy.  Apparently though, he needed more help from the beer cart man on the right who kindly obliged with a cold bottle.

When we arrived back home, Rosi had the entire Thanksgiving feast waiting for us.  Incredible service! 

 We helped out a bit by preparing the pies -- a pumpkin and an apple, and some yummy cornbread. 

An expertly carved turkey.

The day after our Thanksgiving feast we celebrated the beginning of the Christmas season with a visit to one of Munich's famous Christkindl markets.  

The market was made up of lots of stalls adorned with evergreen and full of handmade goodies, traditional toys, delicious German delicacies, and happy people all wrapped up in holiday cheer!

Thanks again to our wonderful hosts, John and Rosi.  Our visit was nothing short of stellar.

01 December 2009

Garmisch -- Back to Nature!

Everyday on this trip has been pretty epic but some days tend to stick out above the rest as particularly memorable. In fifty years when we are sitting in our rockers telling stories of the good ol' days, this day trip to Garmisch will be a highlight.

One of the greatest things about Munich is how close it is to incredible mountains, and peaceful Bavarian villages. Garmisch is only an hour south of the city, but in some ways it felt like we were taking a step back in time.

Just to reiterate -- these are the ALPS (not that anyone could possibly not know what mountain they were visiting...)

The winding path we took to our destination led us along a river of fresh alpine water, through a quiet neighborhood of shingled homes and next to quaint farms with sheep. We even encountered our first "Alpine-type" man decked out in lederhosen, a linen shirt, and a feathered-felted cap.

Set in a valley in the Alps, Garmisch is also a popular destination for winter sports. This is part of the Olympic Ski Stadium the Nazis built for the 1936 winter games (and is still in use). In its day, the stadium held an incredible 100,000 spectators. We both decided ski jumping is NOT our sport -- so terrifying!

The reason we made the trip to Garmisch was to hike to Partnahklamm. Partnachklamm is a spectacular gorge with a gushing river running through. A pathway and tunnels have been constructed along the side and up into the limestone hills to allow visitors to get a view of this incredible natural beauty.

It is always invigorating to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and go somewhere quiet. There were a few other visitors there, but in general, we were alone to commune with the elements.

This place was awesome in the original sense of the word. We were in total awe of the sheer size and dramatic beauty of the place.

The combination of solid rock, turquoise water, red leaves, evergreens, blue sky, and snow capped mountains was unlike anything else.

29 November 2009


Munich is a new city to both of us and one we wish we could spend more time in. The people were active and friendly, the architecture was impressive, and the countryside surrounding the city was stunning. We approached this new place like we have all others, lots of walking around, a little getting lost, and eating and drinking local delicacies.

Monumental Baroque-style architecture, like this church in Odeonsplatz, gives Munich a very stately feel while the brightly colored exteriors help to keep it light.  

Munich also has many gardens in its city center.  We were serenaded by this classical quintet while strolling through the Hofgarten.  Apparently, not everyone was enjoying the music as much as we were...

Munich also boasts a fabulous, permanent food market right of the Marienplatz -- the city's main square.  It is called the Viktualienmarkt and is loaded with all kinds of Bavarian delicacies.  

At night, at least at this time of year, Munich becomes even more lovely.  Christmas season is definitely under way here and yuletide cheer is all over.  Also notice all the bikers -- the city is incredibly bike friendly with designated lanes and strictly followed share-the-road rules.  

Our friends we are staying with told us we shouldn't miss Dallmayr -- a luxury delicatessen in the center of town.  Dallmayr is a Munich landmark, dating back to the 17th century.  Inside, it reminded us a bit of Marshall Field's at Christmas time with wreaths, garlands, and reindeer adorning every bit of wall space.