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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recharging at The Battery - Charleston, SC

Some of the many stately cannon
Porcher-Simonds House, 1856 

To mention Charleston, South Carolina and history in the same breath is to be redundant.  It’s in the salty air that’s filled a million sails, on the smooth cobblestone streets, under the shadows of the magnificent antebellum mansions, among the spreading bi-centenarian oak trees, borne on the swaying fronds of the tall palmetto trees. 

I mentioned antebellum mansions.  Everybody know that antebellum means prewar, or in Charleston’s case, pre-Civil War?

The Battery.  You may know it by other gentrified names, like Battery Park, or White Point Gardens.  Dozen of names have been stamped on this jutting portion of the Charleston peninsula, at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers.  At times it’s been Fort Broughton, or Fort Wilkins (Revolutionary War and War of 1812).  In 1837 it became a park, only to revert to it’s military lineage during the Civil War.

Who fired the first shots of the civil war and from where?  Was it from The Battery?  As with most conflicts, the answer twists in the wind.  Some say the shots fired at Harper’s Ferry, during John Brown’s raid were first.  Some say the battles that raged in Kansas for the best part of tens years were the first.  Others say cadets from The Citadel (The Military College of South Carolina) fired at a ship on 9 Jan 1861 (Star of the West) sent to relieve the union garrison at Fort Sumter.

Those were all sparks, certainly.  But to my mind, the Civil War began after succession, not with a few stray rifle shots at an unarmed relief ship, but when the Confederacy decided to fire on Ft Sumter.  If we use that as a starting point, the first shots were fired from Morris Island, as recorded by Abner Doubleday, Sumter’s second in command, and later the inventor of baseball.  12 April 1861.

During the Civil War, The Battery played a prominent and continuing role and in the end, tons of Confederate explosives were blown up here to prevent them from being captured by Union Forces.

War is not the only page of The Battery’s bloody history.  Pirates roamed these waters and many were hung from the oak trees in what is now The Battery.

These days, The Battery is a place for tourists to wander and stare out across Charleston Harbor to Fort Sumter.  Children roam the grounds and climb the cannon and stacks of cannon balls.  Monuments are tucked into every corner of the tree-covered respite, and horse-drawn carriages offer tours.  Best of all are the magnificent homes that line the streets, most built by wealthy merchants, shippers, and cotton brokers.

The Battery offers a microcosm of Charleston’s glorious and inglorious past.  At the same time, it’s a quiet corner of one of America’s most historic and interesting cities.  If a quick stroll isn’t enough for you, check out bed and breakfasts occupying several of The Battery’s oldest mansions.   Stroll down the street to see Rainbow Row, of Porgy and Bess fame, or dine at any of Charleston’s fine restaurants.  Me? I’m partial to 39 Rue de Jean, which as you might imagine is located at 39 John Street!

In any case, a visit to The Battery has got to be at the top of your list when you visit Charleston, South Carolina.  It’s a welcome stroll along the water’s edge, a moment to pause and reflect in the shade of ancient oaks.  There are other parks, in other cities, many of them beautiful, majestic, and serene, but The Battery is special.  It’s different and somehow more soothing.  It’s a vision of layers of history come alive.

Monument to Confederate Defenders of Charleston

William Moultrie, a general and hero of the Revolutionary War

View from near The Battery
Carriage rides!  A Must!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Da Gino - Indulge Your Inner Italian

Unimposing outside, delicious inside

I gotta admit, I’m not a huge fan of Italian food in Germany.  Much of it is trite and that’s being kind.  Like scoping out the women at Happy Hour, you really have to pick and choose.  A bad one will spoil your evening and maybe your weekend.

More years ago than I care to admit, I lived in a different Germany.  Italian restaurants were few, but they were good.  In my estimation, proliferation lowered the standards.  Fortunately, the better ones are fairly easy to spot.  Parking lots are full.  In good weather, umbrella topped tables spill out onto the sidewalks and plazas.  A dead giveaway:  you hear a lot of Italian spoken, and if you’re aurally challenged, you can go by the waving hands and arms, synchronized with the moving lips.

There are exceptions to the general rules.  I found one traveling through Landstuhl, on the way to Kinsbach.

At first glance Da Gino’s is unimposing.  No outside seating.  Looks almost industrial.  You could drive right by, and I did, until some friends let me in on the secret:  Gino runs a special place.  Busy, yet intimate.  Tasteful décor.  A stone oven.  A very happy bar.  Food that dances on your taste buds.   An atmosphere that begs for a leisurely meal and warm conversation.  Invite several friends.  Bring your loved one, or your wife.

Décor, etc can be perfect, but still the main thing is the food.  The second is a good wine.  Da Gino has got ‘em both.  I’ve sucked down the red and white house wines.  Friends have tried the rosé.  All memorable.

Bread straight from the stone oven!

Pizzas from the stone oven look wonderful and the aroma of fresh tomatoes and melted cheese follows them to your table.  Haven’t eaten one, but the crusty pizza bread Gino serves is so tasty you have to stop yourself.   The gnocchi also looks and smells delicious.


The star of the show!

For me, however, the star of the show is the seafood salad.  Yes, the seafood on the salad is fried, but don’t let that stop you.  Gently fried.  Very lightly breaded, the salmon and white fish filets are tender, not dry, and the calamari are crisp on the outside and not chewy.  Shrimp?  Oh, my goodness.  Large.  Succulent. 

Wash it down with a soft Pinot Grigio, and end the meal with a dessert, if you dare, or perhaps a snifter of Grappa.   Bellissimo!

Been there twice.  Will go again. No arm twisting required.  The perfect place for a bevy of friends to chat, drink, and bolster their Italian appetites.

Buon Appetito!

Kaiserstrasse 79, 66849 Landstuhl, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

+49 6371/914441

Gino at work.

The wonderful stone oven.

A glass for every type of thirst.

Friday, May 24, 2013

An Overnight in Baden-Baden

Be sure to scroll down for scintillating comments and more photos! 

I’ve already heard all the jokes; the town ain’t that bad-en, etc.  Give yourself a few more years before you try to hang with the Single Malt crowd.

No joking matter. We’re chatting about one of Germany’s most famous towns in one of Germany’s most beautiful regions, The Black Forest (Schwarzwald).  Why is it called The Black Forest?  You ask, I answer:  the Romans found the conifers in the forest so numerous and tightly packed they blocked out the light.

Heard of the famous eponymous cake and ham from The Black Forest?  The former’s a delicious meld of chocolate cake, cream, sour cherries, and cherry liquor.  Irresistible! Kinda like sex.  Indulge yourself!

Don’t stop there. The heavily cured ham, salty and smoky, is the perfectly sophisticated match for fresh, nutty bread, cheese, and grainy mustard.  Don’t forget a spicy, fruity gewürztraminer to wash it down. Fragrant and delicious, with a memory-maker flavor that makes you eschew machine generated ham and white air-bread.

Back to the Romans.  One of their settlements, both military and civilian, is now known as the city of Baden-Baden.  The Romans called it something else, but you wouldn’t remember anyway, so I’ll just say it had to do with water.  The waters of Baden-Baden (Bad in German means bath) have drawn visitors ever since.  Today, there are a couple of huge bath palaces; one offers a kiddie play venue and fun for the whole family, while the other (Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath) is more for adults, with a barrage of different pools of different temperatures, hour long massages (brush scrubs, finishing lotions, etc), saunas, and even a room for napping.  After four hours of body-wilting pleasure, you may need it.  The packages range from about $30 to $55, depending on the amount of time and options you choose.  For you guilt ridden, sex obsessed Americans (I happily include myself in that group), yes the saunas are optionally nude.  That must surely be the subject for another blog entry.  To answer your second question, photos are not permitted in the bath palace.

Looking down on the pool from the top of the dome.

Don’t be deceived into thinking the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath is simply a splash-for-cash kinda place.   It stands as a temple to the art of bathing.  Architecturally amazing, it’s a wondrous array of carved stone and frescoes, with a huge and magnificent dome rising from the center.  Many have called it a sensory treat for body and soul. No wonder it’s been so popular for well over a century.

Besides the promise of knuckle biting titillation, what else does Baden-Baden offer?  Restaurants and bistros galore, most spilling out into the walking streets.  Friendly crowds.  Shopping that begs you to look in just one more window.  Museums, such as the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund (dedicated to the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo), the Frieder Burda (with art that spans the spectrum from old to very modern), the Fabergé Museum (featuring the Russian artist), and the 19th Century Art and Technology Museum.  All of these are conveniently only a short walk apart.

View from the Löwenbrau Bistro

Asparagus and strawberries are in season! 

Details make the difference

Down the street stands the famous Casino that’s attracted the well heeled since the 19th Century.  Bring your passport and for men a coat and tie.  Think of David Niven in Monte Carlo and you’ll be on the right track.  Right from La Belle Époche, the Spielhaus has served the adventurous since 1821.  Don’t feel the urge to wager?  I’ve heard the restaurant is excellent.  With a little luck maybe one day I’ll find out!  Reservations!  Don’t miss The Theater.  Stage and Movies.

Then there are the Roman bath ruins.  No photography allowed, which puzzled me.  Old brick tiles, cement, crumbling walls, and a sophisticated heating system that would stand up to modern standards.  But why no photography?  My trigger finger itched.  At no extra charge, you’re given a listening tour that guides you from station to station and takes you back a couple of thousand years.

Even with all those things to do, what do you think constantly makes the top of the tourist list?  The incomparable Lichtentaler Allee.  Stretching for miles beside the Oos River, its bordered by grand, but tasteful hotels, decked out in flowers, towering trees, and flowing fountains. To walk here is to forget the cares of the world and indulge the human need to think and dream.  Stirring, yet restful, the gentle sound of gurgling water, the soft breeze through the treetops, and solitude of the greenery strewn path, always calms and soothes.

The rightfully famous Lichtentaler Allee

One of the grand hotels, The Atlantic sits unobtrusively on the banks of the Oos, a stone’s throw from the Lichtentaler Allee.  They offer weekend getaways that often include extras that help you to get to know this most interesting and beautiful German city.

Baden-Baden is less than two hours from most of the southern part of western Germany.  Don’t hesitate.  Just go!

Just a small portion of the walking streets

Everywhere you turn is a new adventure.

A City of Art, Gardens, Trees 

Even in the private corners, you find beauty

The heart of Baden-Baden: Art, Fashion, Architecture

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dining at the Alt Landstuhl

Wonderful Potato Soup

These days you can search in vain for an old style German eatery.  Used to be a Gasthaus on every corner, redolent with farmers’ omelets, schnitzels, and roasted potatoes.  The restaurants are still around, but times change.  The world turns.  Some of my old favorites changed owners and now sell Greek food.  Is it my imagination or is the world spinning faster, with traditional German restaurants flying off the edges?

All the rage is mediocre Italian, which is bad enough.   But, to shock the Kaiser even more, the most popular fast food is Doner Kebab.  No wonder.  Germans don’t flock to fast foods, or if they do it’s to grab a fresh Brotchen with salami and cheese at the local Backerei.  Won’t find a Mickey D or King of the Burgers flashing their lurid lights and showing off their arches on every street.

I’m not hard to please, contrary to what my family says, but I do search for the exceptional.  Found a great spot.  Alt Landstuhl reaches right into the heart of my hunger.  It is German to the core, with dark wood paneling, a stone fire pit in the center, heavy pewter goblets and pitchers, and a good charge of old style beer and wine.  Alt Landstuhl’s been sitting in the town of the same name for decades.  Always was famous for the potato soup and succulent Chateaubriand.  Still is.  There’s a touch of comfort in constancy, a streak of lunacy in change.

You want to start with the potato-bacon soup.  Creamy.  Mouthwatering.  The vapor sweeps by you first and your spoon soon has a mind of its own.  A good second choice is the French onion soup, crusty and cheesy on top, bubbling underneath.

For the main, don’t screw around.  Go for the Chateaubriand for two.  I know you’ve heard the name, Chateaubriand.  What is it exactly?  Short answer:  Thick slices of tenderloin, cooked to your order and cut at the table.  But, there’s more to the story.

 I always enjoy a slice of history, especially while I’m scarping down medium rare slices of Chateaubriand, resting on a pool of succulent brown demi-glace, and crowned with a buttery, rich Béarnaise sauce.  Just in case you’re short on calories, there’s also a platter of vegetables and potatoes to fill the odd space in your short-lived diet.

About the history of Chateaubriand - from the Larousse Gastronomique (the French culinary Bible – Julia Child was only an apostle) the steak first graced the table of Françoise-René de Chateaubriand, who served Louis XVIII in various diplomatic capacities.  Originally cut from the sirloin, tenderloin soon became the cut of choice.  That’s enough talk.  My mouth is watering and I’m beginning to drool in my wine.

Anyway, my meal was just prepared for me at the table and I need to dig in, or risk the wrath of the Mistress-of-the-Saber.  “Just a little more wine, please.”  Oh, yeah, the house red, sold by the liter, is beyond delicious.

Address: Schützenstraße 12, 66849 Landstuhl, Germany  Phone: +49 6371 3003