We had nine days in Spain and wanted to make the most of it. Our trip began in the outskirts of Madrid. Near the airport, our overnight stay, Barajas was a nice little neighborhood to spend the night. We roamed the streets and found ourselves at a little plaza every few blocks with people seated at outside cafes under table umbrellas with beer and wine and tapas. It wasn’t long, once we’d explored the bread and meat and flower shops as well as the grocery stores and specialty shops, that we found ourselves under an umbrella enjoying beer and tapas.
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Upon traveling on from Barajas the following day, we arrived at Barcelona, which can be divided into three sections: Montjuic, Old Town, and Eixample. After an early arrival, we checked into our bed and breakfast a block from Sagrada Familia. Wanting to fit in as much as we could while still allowing time for pleasant restaurant eating and plaza lounging, we decided to start with Montjuic, which is a must see.

We love art museums, and the Museu National d’Art de Catalunya (or National Art Museum of Catalonia) is a collection well worth seeing. This art museum is housed in the grand National Palace, which was built for the 1929 International Exhibition. The highlight of this museum is Europe’s largest collection of medieval frescoes. Almost as impressive as some of the art itself is witnessing the National Palace’s great dome from inside. We had tea and coffee in the café next to the great hall just beneath the massive dome. Even more fulfilling than the drinks was the surrounding view. By the time we got to the art museum inside, we were a bit worn out. We were rewarded for our efforts on the upper floor (after taking in all the art) with plush chairs that we could almost fall asleep in. But instead of closing our eyes, they were lured to the majesty of the ceiling art.

The simple path uphill twisted, and we ended up at the Olympics Center, an interesting mix of neo-classical and modern style originally built for the 1936 Olympics (cancelled due to the Civil War) and refitted more than half a century later for the 1992 Olympics. We continued onward, the walk long and grueling. We could have taken the funicular, but decided that doing so would be a cop-out. We hiked for a good hour or so before making it to the summit of Montjuic. This 18th century castle is a fortress, which was originally built in 1640 but destroyed by Felipe V in 1705 and rebuilt after that.

We ended our day at Park Guell, which must be the most whimsical and unusual park, the kind of park where Walt Disney or Salvador Dali might visit to unwind or get inspiration! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is Antoni
Gaudi’s most expansive work of art and architecture. We entered the park through a gate that stood between a crowded gift shop and a guard house—fittingly referred to as the “gingerbred house.” The Room of a Hundred Columns is uncanny, with more than 80 leaning and twisting pillars holding up the ceiling, illuminated by stained glass and ceramic mosaic designs.The park sprawls up a hill with open areas and tunnels that look like waves of rock ready to crash down on surfing tourists and pillars and walkways that look like they are carved right out of nature. If you are anywhere near Barcelona, you’ve got to spend some time strolling through this park.
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Inside the park is the house where Antoni Gaudi lived for about 20 years, and a museum devoted to Gaudi. The park is filled with musicians: those with Spanish guitars, four-piece chamber music worthy of the Palau de la Musica Catalonia (more on that later) and accordion players strutting with flamenco flair and more.

When we reached a high area of the park with an excellent view, we could see across all the way to Montjuic on the other side of Barcelona, where we started our sightseeing. “Did we actually walk that far?” Although very tired, we did manage to fit in a tour of the Palau de la Musica Catalonia or Palace of Music, as much palace as concert hall. The stunning stained glass, detailed ceramic tile work and sculptures are a sight to behold. It is the only concert hall in Europe lit by natural light. The tour costs nearly as much as a concert in the cheap seats, so we would have preferred a concert if we’d had more time. On the way from the palace, we passed the Arc Del Triomf. This is perhaps not as impressive as the French grandfather, but this gateway to the Universal Exhibition of 1888 is a triomf.

On our second day in Barcelona we visited the Gothic Quarter of Old Town or Barri Gotic, considered the heart of Barcelona itself, dating back to Roman times, around 27 BC. We entered the quarter near Casa de l’Ardicia, decorated with a letterbox made out of marble and carved with a tortoise and swallows. This house has a charming ceramic tile courtyard and fountain and is home to the historical archives of Barcelona built on the old Roman city wall.

Barcelona Cathedral, begun in 1298 and finished late in the 19th century, is majestic, pure European Gothic, and contains 28 side chapels set between the columns which support the unvaulted ceiling that shoots up an impressive 85 feet. Beneath the altar is a crypt with the sarcophagus of St. Eulalia. The Cloisters are outdoor gardens enclosed by walls and decorated with fountains and statues.

Other sights to see in the Gothic Quarter included the Museu d’Historia, the Centre Excursionsta de Catalunya (with subterranean Roman ruins), and Palau Reial, with a 14th century altarpiece. Deeper into the Gothic Quarter is a busy plaza: Placa de Sant Jaume. There, the Palau de la Generalitat (the seat of Catalonia’s governor) faces Ajuntament (Barcelona’s Town Hall).

The place to go if you want to see the hustle-bustle of Barcelona is Las Ramblas—the pedestrian street lined with cafes and vendors and filled with locals and tourists. Unfortunately, it’s also the place to go if you want to get robbed—both figuratively and literally. Prices tend to be higher on Las Ramblas because it’s the place all the tourist go, so be prepared to be taken to the cleaners for the luxury of siting in one of the streetside cafes to watch masses flow by. Pickpockets are plentiful. The next most annoying thing about the crowded street is the number of hucksters. I’m sure what they’re selling varies with the season and when they’re able to get a huge shipment of for dirt cheap. Their only language seems to be the irritating series of quick squeaks and beeps coming from the whistles concealed in their mouths.

But Las Ramblas has much more going for it than just vendors and thieves. The tree-lined “dry river” begins at the Font de Canaletes, a beautiful lamppost and fountain, and the people flow from there down to the monument at the other end of the pedestrian street where you will find a column topped by Columbus pointing the way to America. Along the way, there were impressive sights to see: Placa de la Boqueria, a square with mosaic pavement designed by the artist Miro in 1976;an Art Deco dragon over an old umbrella shop. And one also will find the opera house, burned and restored twice, in 1861 and 1994.

The busiest and liveliest plaza in Barcelona must be Placa Reial: a large square surrounded by historic buildings and filled with palm trees and lampposts designed by Gaudi. A number of restaurants and cafes line the plaza.

Palau Guell proved to be one of the highlights. It was Gaudi’s first city-center project on such a massive scale. We marveled at the incredible sense of space and style Gaudi was able to create. The tour takes you on eight levels: the center room, complete with organ, choir stalls, an altar, and domed ceiling spaning several of the stories. Gaudi used stone, tile, and ironwork and unique columns and structures to create a home that is a museum piece of its own. The rooftop terrace, should you brave the irregular tiled floor, is crowned by twenty chimneys covered in mosaics of broken tile and designed in unusual and surprising shapes.

Sometimes referred to as Barcelona’s favorite church, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar was built in the Catalan Gothic Style. With donations by local merchants and shipbuilders, the massive church was built in a mere 55 years—a short span of time for a classic European cathedral. (Just consider the many centuries it took to complete the Barcelona Cathedral, by comparison.) Stained glass and stone fill out this beautiful Basilica, showing in the artisanship that this was a labor of love and, indeed, the church of the common people.

Picasso Museum is located in five connected palaces from medieval times and showcases 3,000 pieces ranging from Picasso’s mid-teenage years to his old age. Surprisingly from what we traditionally think of as his work, Picasso painted in the styles of many other artists, some realism, some impressionism. And there are a number of sketches from his school days. .The most dense and fullest part of the collection is his study, dissection, and entirely unique recreation of Velazquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas.

Our final day in Barcelona proved to be a surreal experience filled with fantastic modern architecture and design. The Great Gaudi’s Barcelona Cathedral Sagrada Familia was the sight I most anticipated, easily Europe’s (and most likely the world’s) most unusual and creatively designed church, which I loved touring. Since I love art museums, I toured this magestic creation in a way that I had not done before, seeing Gaudi’s masterwork that combined majestic architecture of old cathedrals and palaces with the aspect of touring a wonderful art museum. The exterior has frogs and lizards carved in the towers and stone along with fruits and vegetables. Eight of the 12 existing spires are topped with detailed Venetian mosaics. The church was under ongoing construction, to be completed according to Gaudi’s designs on the centennial of his death. The entrance view was something to behold. The Passion Façade features angular figures carved in stone showing the passion and crucifixion of Christ. The modern style is stunning. The brass doors to the church are covered in passages from the Bible about the passion. Inside looking up, it was like fireworks exploding above us. Gaudi’s interior columns are like colorful and textured trees, reaching the starburst-floral ceiling. Stained glass and gold leaf and jeweled areas shine down on us. No surface is smooth; everything has color and texture. You can see an example here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sagrada_Familia_nave_roof_detail.jpg

Outside again, we passed through the Nativity Façade, showing the nativity in a new way and in a style very different. Completed in 1930, it showcases doors that represent Hope, Faith and Charity. The nativity scenes carved in stone include the usual manger wise men and angels, Joseph, Mary, and the Christ child. But it also features turtles holding up pillars and birds flying every which way. In 2010 the Pope visited to consecrate it and proclaim it a “minor basilica.” Gaudi, who spent the last 15 or so years of his life working on the church and raising money to build it, would have been happy. He is buried in the Sagrada Familia’s crypt.

Where Barcelona’s Old Town is like a twisted confusion of intertwining streets. This is exemplified by Quadrat d’Or or “Golden Square.” The area contains some of the city’s best Modernitsa architecture, including the works of Gaudi and his contemporaries. The gem of them all is Gaudi’s Casa Mila or La Pedera. This “stone quarry,” an apartment building with some eight stories, was his last project before he devoted his later years to Sagrada Familia. The wavy walls of stone are accented by balconies with intricate ironwork, and the effect is unreal. The top floor of Casa Mila now houses the Gaudi Museum. The Golden Square is a great example of a melding of gothic and modernista styles. Another highlight of Quadrat d’Or is the Illa de la discardia or the block of discard. The name is given due to the surprising range of unique styles showcased on the small city block. Three highlights compete for the attention of passers: Casa Lleo Morera, crowned with an ornate tower; Casa Amatller having a façade that blends Gothic and Moorish and includes a tile-encrusted gable and stairs; and Casa Batllo nicknamed the House of Bones. The large masks covering the lower parts of the fourth, fifth, and sixth floor balconies clearly resemble skulls with drooping eyes and nose holes. From the front façade broken and circular tiles that give it a scaled look more fish than dragon, and the wavy, ceramic roof resembles the back of a scaly beast.

Casa Batllo is even more impressive inside. It is like stepping into a building designed by Gaudi but entering into a Dali painting. The entire house inside is soft and supple, with no lines to be found, no corners. Rooms seem to be pushed out of dough. Light fixtures seem to bloom naturally out of the ceiling and columns seem to sprout from the floor and blossom into ceilings of clouds. Casa Batllo is a can’t miss of Barcelona, the perfect last sight for our time the Barcelona.

In November we travelled on Viking River Cruises’ Fontane ship on the Elbe River, formerly in the Eastern bloc countries. We spent several days in the former East Berlin and were amazed at what a difference two decades can make, since the Wall came down in 1989 and Reunification of East and West was accomplished in 1990. Today, to see a city, which had so much destruction in World War II, a prosperous, thriving, unified, and Social Democracy is a miracle of modern history. We enjoyed the good location of the Berlin Hilton Hotel, which makes the public transportation system easily accessible, whether you choose to traverse the city by taxi, subway, public bus, or the way we chose: The Hop on Hop Off Yellow Berolina Sightseeing Buses using the three day WelcomeCard, which stop every 10 minutes at each of the 20 most interesting areas tourists want to see. We found the buses to be convenient, plentiful, and they have excellent narration in any language as you tour around the town using the free earphones your ticket gives you. You can purchase the ticket for one or several consecutive days. We recommend riding it all the way on the complete 1-20 stops (beginning at any one of them) for an excellent city tour in a couple of hours. Then you can stop at any place you choose to remain for a visit.
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Checkpoint Charlie, the once famous border checkpoint between the American and Soviet sectors, is of great historical import for everyone to see. Along one block the street is lined with a temporary wall of billboards with photographs depicting life in Berlin before, during, and after the War and Division of the city. This is the location of the museum and another one which is being built in the future. At the beautiful Brandenberg Gate you can find many Embassies and the most photographed place of the city. Nearby is the Jewish Memorial with 2,700 concrete blocks of various sizes which offer one the chance to wander contemplating what ethnic hatred did. At one point you can look down into a bare room similar to where the Jews were tortured in the most horrible ethnic cleansing the world has ever known.

We chose to spend the better part of a whole day at the Jewish Museum, a huge building which portrays Jewish history all the way from Biblical times through the 20th Century. To see the indomitable spirit of the people who were displaced many times through history is both poignant and inspiring. The attendants at this museum were some of the most friendly and helpful people we met in all of Berlin. And the food in the little cafe there is delicious!
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Everyone wants to know about the famous Wall, which extended around Berlin a little over 100 miles and separated the Soviet sector of the city from what was known as West Berlin, went up overnight with barbed wire and was later constructed of iron, stones and concrete, and was backed by wire which tripped easily setting off automatic guns and sirens. This wall ran at times along the Spree River, dividing the city into two parts impenetrably, and even went through some houses and businesses causing forced evacuation and the cementing up of windows and doors. West Berlin, which was controlled by the US and its World War II allies, became an island where lifestyle was better and people felt more freedom of movement and thought, finding themselves isolated from friends and family in the Soviet sector suddenly, overnight.
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Today a double cobblestone strip along the walkway beside the Spree River shows the exact location of the Wall. And then when the Wall came down some of it was preserved for history to see in various sections of the Berlin of today. Part of that is a bit of concrete with rebar steel struts and another part is concrete walls which form the longest outdoor art gallery in the world: many artists being invited to decorate specific portions of the wall with the unique modern art depicting all kinds of symbols and portraits of that troubled time in Berlin. To visit this peaceful, thriving, modern city today and enjoy all the fun and sites of a prosperous and happy city is truly a miracle!
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Along with the Hop On, Hop Off Bus ticket, we also recommend the Berlin Welcome Card for discounted tickets to numerous ;museums and attractions for tourists. Berlin contains more museums than just about any city we have ever visited, five of which are on Museum Island and are treasured as Unesco World Heritage Sites. The Welcome Card gives you a very good discount on most of these impressive places and 12 different city tours. The grand historic buildings house these museums and are worth a tour for the architectural significance. Since many of these buildings were were leveled in War, one can marvel at their having been reconstructed to their original magnificance. It seems impossible that this city has been rebuilt in such a short time.
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The largest collection of Old Masters paintings is housed in the huge Gemaldegalerie Museum in Central Berlin close to Berlin’s modern concert hall and is a place you will want to spend many hours. Beside it is the Museum of Handicrafts, another place really worth a visit. There are too many museums to describe, and you will enjoy making your own selection according to your specific interests. Charlottenberg Palace is one of the grand places in this city and nearby is the film center that begs to rival Hollywood.
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And no one can miss the Kurfursdambur Street of beautiful homes and fabulous shopping to rival Paris’ Champs-Elysees. The enormous KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) is one of the largest department stores in Europe (with prices just as large!) and not to be missed. Be sure to make it to the upper floors, where you will find highly select foods of all kinds from meats and cheeses to beautiful breads and desserts, chocolates, spices, teas, coffees and much more. You can eat here or go up to the top floor for a lovely food court with glass walls overlooking the city.
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As one of the world’s premier cities, we adored Berlin and were surprised by this in every way. The little coffee bars which are everywhere beckon tired sight-seers to stop for coffee, tea, hot chocolate (the BEST in the world!) and alcohol of any kind, at almost any time of day or night. This is the city built for modern tourism and will meet your every expectation of service, interest, and delight.
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While planning a recent trip to Ireland, it was easy to find photos, maps, and long lists of things of interest to do, but often information on the cuisine was lacking. I had a few ideas of what to expect, but was especially unsure of what types of desserts (and lets admit THAT is the most important part) would be available. Once the trip began I came to expect the unexpected as I sampled (consumed completely with greed and delight) desserts all along the circumference of Ireland. I even managed to
maintain my exact weight due to all the amazing walking available. Join me on an oh so pleasurable sweet list of my favorite Irish treats, and block out any guilt by planning a stroll along to walk it off, Tips for this are located at the end of each recommended dessert. (Besides, everyone knows vacation desserts are calorie-free).

Dublin: Queen of Tarts for lemon meringue tarts piled high with meringue and even a little whipped cream on the side to really gild the lilly in the best way. There are two locations open seven days a week at Cows Lane and Dame Street. www.queenoftarts.ie Walk it off by hoofing it over to the Guinness Storehouse, and really feel the burn by taking the stairs up seven stories to the Gravity Bar (where you will then add a few calories back with a free pint of Guinness, but there is always the walk back).
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Kinsale: Max’ s Seafood Restaurant for a baked rhubarb tart with meringue and a mini creme brulee garnish. The sticky toffee
pudding is nothing to sneeze at either! Located at 48 Main St. www.maxs.ie . Walk it off up and down the hill of this medieval town or out to Charles Fort built in the 17th century.
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Dingle: Murphy’ s Ice Cream in the town of Dingle on the Dingle Peninsula is all about tasty, but sometimes unusual flavors made from the milk of Kerry cows. Pick your own favorite or go with the recommended flavor combinations. Peanut butter with brown bread is a killer combo. The hot chocolate list is such a dream it will make you cry (in a good way). I may have gone back a second time for strawberry and dark chocolate Valrhona ice cream combo with a Valrhona white hot chocolate on the side to
wash it all down nice and proper. Located on Strand Street (also a Dublin location)
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The Chart House, voted best restaurant in Co. Kerry in 2008 and 2010, does not disappoint on any level, but especially wooed me with a rhubarb tart topped with rosemary ice cream. www.thecharthousedingle.com Walk it off in a breathtaking way by hiking out to the lighthouse for spectacular views, and if you are lucky like I was, you might just see a dolphin jumping about. (I can’ t swear it was Fungi the Dingle Dolphin, but it was a dolphin for sure).
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Portrush: This Northern Ireland resort town inaugurated my obsession with banoffee pie which is a luscious concoction of graham cracker crust, bananas, caramel, whipped cream and a dusting of pure cocoa powder. Try your fork at two different
locations and see which version you prefer at either 55 North www.55-north.com, or Ramore Wine Bar, where the banoffee pie slice is the size of an iceberg, www.ramorerestaurant.com . Walk it off with an evening stroll along the beach or catch a ride over to The Giant’ s Causeway, or Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.
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Belfast: Co Couture was an unexpected treat in Belfast. I especially enjoyed the chocolate brownies there. For an extra wow, they even have high heeled shoes made out of chocolate, located at 7 Chichester Street www.cocouture.co.uk . Walk it
off by strolling over to the St. George’ s Market open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but be warned, with so many goodies available you probably will be adding, not subtracting calories.

Unfortunately, Venice is quite literally sinking into the sea.

A 1966 project utilizing a series of moveable dams is just not quite enough to protect the city from floods, nor are its rotting pylons. When I arrived in the Piazza San Marco, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The famous square had been completely taken over by dirty evil pigeons. Walking through a moving gray carpet of cooing, I found a pigeon perching on my foot—before I booted it into the wild blue yonder like a black-and-white soccer ball.

According to humorist Mark Twain, the Basilica of San Marco (with details ranging from 13th-century Byzantine to 16th-century Rennaissance) was like “a vast and warty bug taking a meditative walk.” Venice is indeed a dream, an illusion, a marvel.
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I dug the Doge’s Palace, with its 15th-century carving of a seasick Noah, as well as its wall-size interior of Tintoretto’s “Coronation of the Virgin.” In Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” the genius Italian fabulist describes how Marco Polo entertains Kublai Khan with tales of impossible cities he has seen throughout his travels through the Mongolian Empire—hidden cities, trading cities, cities in the sky, cities of the dead—which are attempts to mimic one place: Venice.

“If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time,” Polo says, “now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop.” I too stand upon unstable grounds. Now everyone loves the Grand Canal, even Mary McCarthy, who says (no: gushes) in “Venice Observed,” “Venice is the world’s unconscious: a miser’s glittering hoard, guarded by a beast whose eyes are made of white agate and by a saint who is really a prince who has just slain a dragon.”

Verily, this capital of the vast Venetian Empire was built by greed and commerce, as well as a mean-eyed commercial milieux who lived solely for gain, the ultimate caricature being The Merchant of Venice, the not-very-well-liked “Shylock” who demanded a pound of flesh to repay his rapacious usury. Much like Bela Lugosi skinning Boris Karloff alive in the film classic parable The Black Cat.
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The Crusades were solely a business venture for the Venetians, including such masters as Tintoretto and Tiepolo who plucked painting from plunder. The defiant columns of St. Mark and St. Theodore are like two solitary middle fingers warning against all attackers, including paranormal paparazzo like me.
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D.H. Lawrence however did not like it, calling it “An abhorrent, green, slippery city,” while Thomas Mann used it as a setting for his horrifying fable “Death in Venice.” Exploring the canals via gondola, with striped-shirted grinning gondoliers romancing anything that moved, I fancied, wait a triple-sec, I really want a Sambuca!

Built on 118 pieces of islet-like land crisscrossed by narrow streets and bridges, and linked of course by canals graced not only by gondolas but by vaporetti, Venice is a Paid Advertisement for young lovers locking tongues on floating coffins in a tomb-like museum of the mind.
With commedia della arte in check, I stared at the Ca’ d’ Oro (House of Gold), the Santa Maria della Salute, and the glittering glint of ghostly towers and crowns wavering off the phlegmatic flowing waters, beckoning lovesick sightseers and suicides.
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Photography by Emma Krasov

Ancient Romans are often brought to mind in the wine-producing region of AOP Costières de Nîmes. The city of Nîmes, a BCE colony of the Roman Empire, today maintains its rich heritage reflected in the majestic ruins of the golden age. Located in the sun-kissed land and surrounded by seven hills, just like Rome, Nîmes still bears the coat of arms dedicated to Caesar’s victory over Egypt in 31 BCE. The image of a crocodile chained to a palm tree can be seen on ancient coins, in the paving of the old town, in a fountain on a busy city square, and in various contemporary art pieces. The city mythology has it that Roman legionaries returning from Egypt were granted lands in Nîmes, and turned it into little Rome – with all its conveniences.
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Roman-built grandiose amphitheatre, Arènes de Nîmes, for twenty thousand spectators is now used for bullfights, concerts, and games; La Maison Carrée is the best-preserved Roman temple in the heart of the city, and the nearby Pont du Gard is the most spectacular fragment of the ancient aqueduct that delivered water to Nîmes from the Eure River, 50 kilometers to the north.

The name of the region, Languedoc, which literally means “the language of Oc” and refers to Occitan language formerly used in the South of France, derives its historical identity from Celtic and Iberian tribes, Greek, Phoenician, Etruscan and Roman settlers; Alemanni, Vandal, Visigoth and Saracen invaders; Jewish religious scholars and Cathar religious rebels. The entire region is a rich mosaic of cultural tidbits and architectural monuments from the long gone eras.

The city of Narbonne – the first Roman settlement in France then called Colonia Narbo Martius – was founded in 118 BCE as a port on Aude River. The first Roman road that connected Italy and Spain across southern France, Via Domitia, was built at the same time and gave even more importance to the new colony. A paved fragment of the ancient road can be seen today at the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville right in the city center by the Town Hall, which used to be the Archbishop’s Palace before the French Revolution. A Gothic church of Notre-Dame-de-Lamourguier, a 13th century Benedictine monastery, shut down during the Revolution, is now the Lapidary Museum, where exquisitely carved Roman gravestones are stacked in impressive quantities.
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In the Middle Ages, Roman stone blocks were used in the construction of La Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur, which was never completed, but in the Gothic church tradition conveyed a vision of paradise to its worshippers through the immense beauty of its architecture.

On the outskirts of Narbonne, Abbaye de Fontfroide – one of the best preserved Cistercian abbeys in the world – is built of local sandstone from the surrounding hills and boasts some recycled Corinthian columns from antiquity with elaborate finials which support its massive stone arches. Shut down by the Revolution, then periodically occupied and finally abandoned by the monks, the abbey was saved from decline by Gustave and Madeleine Fayet, who acquired the place in 1908, restored it, and turned into a cultural center.
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Our tour group stopped for lunch at the abbey’s excellent restaurant, La Table de Fontfroide which features Corbières AOC wines and beer produced on site following the old monks’ recipes. A small Gallo-Roman town in the 1st century BCE, Carcassonne, located on a hilltop over Aude River valley, became a fortress by the 11th century, and remains the largest medieval walled town in Europe and a tourist attraction visited by about three million people a year.

The history of Carcassonne is literally written on its walls. Typical Roman masonry is defined by neatly spaced arches and large windows for easy spear-throwing. When crossbow became a weapon of choice in times of Visigothic invasion, narrow vertical slits, or arrow loops, fit for an archer, punctured the stone in chessboard pattern.
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A stronghold of Cathars, Carcassonne was besieged during the Albigensian Crusade, and surrendered in 1209. In 1226, it was annexed to the domain of the King of France, at which time the outer walls of the fortress were built. Meticulously restored and preserved by the 19th century architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, Carcassonne is now a UNESCO world heritage site, and a fascinating maze of stone passageways, galleries, and watchtowers set against the snow-covered mountain tops of the Pyrenees. Stained glass windows of Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Carcassonne, some dating back to the 14th century, are considered the most beautiful of their kind in the South of France.
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From the nearby river port, our group embarked on a short cruise along Canal du Midi connecting the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. Built by Pierre-Paul Riquet, who poured his entire life and fortune into the project, it is considered to be one of the biggest engineering achievements of the 17th century. The tree-lined section of the 240-kilometer-long waterway is now a leisurely route for vacationers from all over the world, houseboat owners, and several short daily cruises, like ours, that showcase bridges, tunnels, some of the 63 locks, and an unparalleled view of Carcassonne.
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Thanks to the growing tourist interest, the area is studded with family-owned hotels and B&Bs. One night, our group stayed in Beaucaire, at Domaine des Clos owned by David and Sandrine Ausset. The hotel occupies a remodeled 18th century farmhouse with an enormous garden, green lawns, and an outdoor swimming pool.

Our dinner with the hosts was prepared by Sandrine using locally-grown produce, many from her own garden, and Costières de Nîmes wines.

Another night we spent at Saint-Gilles in a double-hotel Mas du Versadou and Château la Pompe.
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This historical property features a bamboo-lined canal that runs between the two buildings, open-air swimming pools, fountains, outdoor sculptures, a couple of free-roaming peacocks, and the hotel’s own Roman baths, made out of several gigantic wine vats placed next to each other, equipped with plumbing, and appropriately furnished and decorated. Both hotel buildings and the land around are owned and operated by husband and wife Marie and Michel Durand-Roger, who were previously engaged in winemaking.

Some of their neighbors combine their vine-growing business with hospitality, renting out a couple of rooms during tourist season, and offering home-cooked dinners made of local specialties. We had a memorable wine-tasting seminar and a delicious catered dinner at Le Château La Baume (“the cave”). The owners, Sandrine and Jean-François Andreoletti, produce white, red, and rosé wines with an image of an ancient Roman statue of Bacchus, the god of winemaking, on the label.
The original Bacchus statue graces the tasting room of the property that leads to the cave. This 18th century mansion occupies a site of an excavated Gallo- Roman villa.
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At dinner, Sandrine treated us to a succession of excellent wines with the Bacchus label, and explained the intricacies of the fermentation and blending methods employed by her husband, a fifth-generation winemaker.
In Sandrine’s kitchen, chef Eric Hugnin prepared a traditional Saint-Gilles meal – mixed greens salad with blue cheese; slow-cooked beef with Camargue rice and sage; and a dessert of local strawberries and cream.

After a fiesta somewhere in Spain’s northern Rioja region, where the locals welcomed us with shotglass shouts of twenty-five-cent vino rosso, while Mecano’s “Hijo de la Luna” played sweetly in the background, followed by the raucous Gypsy Kings, we only made it on the very next day about five miles and enjoyed an emergency maneuver into a parador (a historic motel), where I sat under a warm shower for a couple of hours.

With my excited paramour at the wheel of our leased “Europe By Car,” I plotted a course on our Rand-McNally European road atlas for the remote region of Extremadura, the so-called Cradle of the Conquistadors. Halfway there, we pulled over at an ancient abandoned village which looked as if it had been rocked and rolled by an earthquake–or savaged by aggro Visigoths. At least the damned demesne might have been sacked and rubbled during the Spanish Civil War, in which the meddlesome newspaperman Ernest Hemingway carefully drove an ambulance as inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls. An unearthly feeling stole over us, as if we were being watched by fractured schizoid ghosts from suppressed and lockboxed surrealistic paintings by Picasso or Braque.
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Guernica? Not applicable here: I’m afraid that I’m afraid.
 

Back in the “Europe By Car,” we jumped and sped off down the lonely desert highway into a chance collision if not with destiny then at least with deliverance—yes, from evil, what do you expect in this rambling prologue of an obvious morality tale writ large by the maestro, with of course a golden Montblanc byro.

 

Good luck getting my journals published!
 
Extremadura, located in Spain right on the Portugal border, is one of the harshest desert regions in all of the Iberian peninsula–and an unlikely spot to find anything else but prickly cactus and icky scorpions. Oh, and also lost cities. At great expense, with loads of Spanish doubloons changing hands back and forth, miraculous cities were impossibly imported here stone by stone to build two of the most amazing conurbations upon the planet: Trujillo and Caceres.
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Many of Espana’s most famous explorers hail from here. Hernan Cortes de Monroy y Pizzarro conquered Mexican Aztecs; Francisco Pizzaro y Gonzalez conquered the Incan Empire; Hernando de Soto searched the Mighty Mississip for the Fountain of Youth, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa happened upon the Mare del Sur (Pacific Ocean).

The native-born heros of this austere desert region honed the necessary mercenary skills for nothing else short of complete and total domination of subjugated races in The New World. So what if the Indians (a.k.a., “Natives”) evidenced an advanced sun-worshipping civilization which included ziggurats and sundials, fields of maize and tobacco, and troglodytic cave dwellings and altar-bound human sacrifices. According to the Scots, the savvy Indians even invented the game of golf, albeit with a shrunken human head. Maybe also Polo.
But more important, they had GOLD! More pre-Columbian gold even than could be safely stowed away in our wildest dreams of the lost city of El Dorado, an Oz-like oasis mirage that had evaded the grasp of every Age of Exploration Conquistador until I at last discovered it in an undisclosed real-secret-like location.

Standing among the strewn storks of Trujillo in the Plaza Mayor with a bold equestrian statue of Francisco Pizzarro and in the impressive shadow of the Palacio de la Conquistadors, I flashed a thumb’s up at my paramour’s paparazzo-like digital camera snapping, feeling a little like Zorro.
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A burly bearded gent, resembling “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis adverts, offered to take a picture of us both. He then pretended to run off with the camera. We gave him a few euros and laughed off the affront, but secretly we burned with revenge, Montezuma-style.

Here also we bumped into a pretty senorita, who resembled my upstairs neighbor from my expat Paris days, and wait a segundo? Could it be?! Mecano?! She led us into a coffin-like bar in the cobblestoned barrio, where we were surrounded by grinning students from the local universidad.

What else can be said about Trujillo? Moorish castles, bold palaces, and swell cobbles like the overbites of T Royls or dinosaurs straight out of Ray Harryhausen’s The Valley of the Gwangi.

But of course, as “The Pathfinder,” I took full responsibility for rediscovering the simply marveloso architectural pileup of Caceres, founded in 1477, and still relatively unvisited compared to some places in Iberico. In actuality, this city is much older than that, dating back to over 30,000 B.C. during the Bronze Age, before Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Saracens (Arabs) and Romans (Anglo-Celts) moved in.

But the pleasures of this desert depot derive more from the friendliness of the inhabitants than architecture and art and food and drink: very Catholic with Catholic tastes. If I hadn’t been saddled down with the baggage of my persistent buzzbuzz fly of a paramour, I would have had a field day.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to check out this fair city under a sky of alabaster, as my antsy fly seemed downright desperate with diahrreatic urgency to flee these smiling desperados, squinting like gunslingers from an on-location shoot of a Spaghetti Western:
“Kitcheekitcheekoo, wah, wah, wah!”
And so, after a quick Henry James look-see, we hopped back into the dust-covered “Europe By Car” and sped south toward a much-need beach vacation, which included, believe it or not, even though I am only an ex-soccer hooligan, getting involved in the historic event now known as “STOMP”!
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John M. Edwards finds post-communist Sopron now to be less about Habsburgian opulence and more about ubiquitous “discount dentistry.” Get a load of the new set of gleaming white chompers! During a week-long road trip from Budapest to Salzburg, I somehow convinced my driver and friend Erik D’Amato, an American expat, financial writer, and editor of the popular Magyar web site Pestiside (www.pestiside.hu), to make a stopover in one of my favorite foreign finds: Sopron.

“Wow, I’m impressed!” Erik bruited, as we blundered down the historic Inner Town’s worn cobblestone streets, resembling uneven rows of bad overbites. These architectural oddities (usually a sign of an historic district or gentrifying pretender), flanked with brightly painted Baroque and Gothic buildings and Neo-Classical statuary, led us to the awesome square known as Fo Ter.
Here, close to the 13th-century “Goat Church” and Trinity Plague Column, was the city’s most memorable structure: the Firewatch Tower, whose 200 steps lead up to a 60-meter-high observation deck where once swarms of Medieval trumpeters brayed warnings of incestuous blazes. “I had no idea anything like this was here.” Erik even made a quick call on his cellphone to his wife Janet, who works for Hungarian billionaire philanthropist George Soros, to rave about it.
I couldn’t believe Erik had never heard of it. Revisiting Sopron (German: Odenburg), caused memories of my first visit to resurface. This real “Austro-Hungarian Empire” border city still looked the same, albeit now with new bars and flash cafes and ATM machines plugged into the new Eurozone economy. But outward appearances are often illusory: I was interested in the imperceptible “changes” creeping up in a city famed for its fine food and drink: not only ghoulash and paprikash (Hungary’s dual national dishes), but the wonder wine “Soprani Kekfrancos,” a strong vampiric elixir far superior to the better-known plonk Egri Bikavier (Bull’s Blood), available nationwide. Even the “Transylvanian” prince Vlad Tepes, the historical Count Dracula (claimed by both Hungary and Romania) and known for dining among impaled Turks on sharpened sticks who tried to invade his country, would trade in his fangs for dentures for a vintage bottle of the stuff.
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Although Sopron was a long way to go to get my teeth fixed, I decided maybe it was worth it. Business was booming for, of all things, “discount dentistry”– and there was a steady stream of wincing Austrians with toothaches crisscrossing the border to undergo the ubiquitous dentists’ drills. English signs everywhere advertised cheap checkups: “Cleaning, Fillings, Crowns, and Bridges!” New EU and NATO membership, I guess, had its privileges. Anyway, I felt frigging fantastic walking around with a new set of gleaming white chompers!

Here history is worth repeating. I first found myself in Sopron, by happy accident, in 1989, during the so-called Cold War—unaware that my opportune visit would nearly coincide (short by a month) the democratic demonstrations that would pull and extract Communism for good out of Central Europe. Sopron, which nearly left its Hungarian homeland to annex itself to Austria before World War II, was always an unusual anomaly and special case, its high standard of living the envy of every commie factotum trapped in the industrial wastelands of the periphery. As a freewheeling capitalist tourist, I found Sopronis back then to be helpful and friendly. Even the local “secret police” introduced themselves and wished me a pleasant trip! A rare Western tourist traveling independently, I privileged myself by walking around alone along the deserted streets at night, lit up like a movie set. Apparently, on most nights, I had the place to myself!

One of my favorite experiences during communist times was finding an al fresco eatery (that’s Italian for “outdoors”) in a stately square presided over by a stern statue. The Sevruga caviar (imported from the Soviet Union) was so cheap with the artificial exchange rate that I literally pigged out, letting the eggs dissolve on my tongue like Pop Rocks ™. “You are American?” an excited Soproni with fabulous Prussian moustaches asked me one day in disbelief. “Is it true in America that you can buy anything you like?” Yep. Now that this once secret-sharer borderline dream has been discovered (some now call it Hungary’s new little “Prague,” even though the architectural legacy is different). I felt a little bit miffed about who had replaced the Soviets as the occupying force: fragrant hippies clutching Lonely Planet guides and acting up in the revivified bar and café scene. The popular “Generalis Corvinus Café” on Fo Ter looked as if a Phish concert had exploded there. I couldn’t help but think that something “Grand Siecle” had been lost or mistranslated during democratization and commercialization. Why, for example, was I staying at a “Best Western” (albeit one with a luxury pool and spa)?
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While Erik retired early to prep himself for the drudgery of the next day’s drive, I went out on the town and ended up getting egregiously lost. At a British-style pub with no name, but serving Czech and Polish pivo (pilsener) and German Heffewiezen (wheat beer), I asked the muscle-bound bartender, in the language of the Holy Roman Emporers, for “Das Best Western Hotel, bitte.”
(The “secret” Finno-Ugric language of Hungarian, related only to Finnish, Estonian, and possibly Turkish, and not much else, is almost impossible for non-natives to master). Pointing vaguely towards the street, the bartender directed, with rapid-fire Teutonic efficiency and in a booming Terminator Two voice: “Linx, rechts, linx, rechts, linx, rechts, linx, linx, rechts. . . .”

Photography by Emma Krasov

Enlightened despots of the 18th century are not the historical figures I typically turn to in search of enlightenment. However, during my recent trip to Potsdam, Frederick II (the Great) – who ruled Prussia from 1740 to 1786 – captured my imagination. A controversial risk-taker, Frederick the Great managed to pull Germany from the backwaters of Europe and climb to the top of political power. I was stunned by his New Palace, decorated with colored gems, and awed by the Sanssouci Palace and Park – his refuge from the officious Berlin. What endlessly fascinated me was his character – a study in contrasts.
This year, Potsdam celebrates Frederick’s storied history.

The enlightening exhibition

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“Friederisiko” celebrates 300th birthday of the most famous King of Prussia

Frederick’s Risk, or “Friederisiko,” is the major exhibition organized by the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation in Potsdam to celebrate the King’s 300th birthday from April 28 to October 28. The exhibition, divided into 12 themes presents Frederick the Great – the man and the ruler – on a discovery tour through 70 rooms of the New Palace, some open to the public for the first time. Contemporary installations and actor impersonations of the court ceremonies are a part of the exhibition.

A celebrity tour guide

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I traveled to what was formerly known as East Germany, or German Democratic Republic (GDR), out of morbid curiosity. Hailing from Russia (the mother-ship of the historical Communist Bloc), I felt drawn to this former satellite of the former Soviet Union.
Little did I know that I was about to find a prosperous land of dense forests, flowering meadows, hills and lakes – and 500 castles – all waiting to be re-discovered by the traveling masses. I joined a walking tour of Sanssouci led by Kevin Kennedy – a tour guide and a local Potsdam celebrity who delivers tons of relevant information in perfect English.

Kennedy, the son of a German mother and an American GI father (a rather typical child of the GDR era) is working on his Ph.D. in history, focusing on military orphanages of Potsdam. Those were implemented in the 1720s and expended by Frederick the Great who was childless, considered Prussian soldiers his “children,” and strove to create a nation of military men.
“As a child, Frederick II was cruelly ridiculed by his father, Frederick William I, for the lack of masculinity,” said Kennedy. “Ultimately, his father was pushing him to suicide so Frederick’s brother could inherit the throne.”

Apparently, in his younger years, the future King of Prussia hated the mandatory military exercises, the daily religious studies, and the discipline of the Berlin court, so he settled in the white-walled medieval Rheinsberg Castle in Brandenburg and made it his primary residence. “He called it a ‘court of muses’,” said Kennedy, “and hosted actors, dancers, and painters, played flute, and composed sonatas…”

Frederick’s artistic inclinations did not prevent him from becoming the brashest Prussian conqueror and doubling the territory of his kingdom through several risky and lengthy military operations against the surrounding nations. Frederick’s tactical genius was legendary. He prevailed in the Seven Years’ War despite the much greater opposing forces of Austria, France, and Russia.
As a ruler, Frederick initiated domestic reforms that included religious tolerance and freedom of the press. He created the first German legal code and set rules for public education in Prussia. He also built roads, financed agricultural reforms, and introduced potatoes to his countrymen. I enjoyed this last but not least part of his legacy along with smoked fish, cured meats, and just-from-the-oven breads served on a white tablecloth at the lavish buffet breakfast included in the room price of my hotel.

Frederick’s Potsdam

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Potsdam, once the official summer residence of the Prussian kings, is now the capital of the federal state of Brandenburg and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located just a 20-minute drive from Berlin, Potsdam is known for its palaces – many of them commissioned by Frederick the Great. The enormous New Palace was built to commemorate his victory in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), which established Prussia as a powerful European state. For this monument to himself Frederick chose an opulent Baroque style, which was going out of fashion with the advance of neoclassicism but still symbolized power and inspired awe.

Four hundred statues line the roof and the walls of the massive sprawling structure. Inside, the grand halls are decorated with 20 thousand chunks of amethyst, topaz, opal, and agate, rare shells, crystals, and multi-colored Carrara marble. The mosaic floors were built to be observed from the upper galleries, and dancing on them was prohibited. The King’s favorite summer palace, Sanssouci (“carefree”), is surrounded by neatly landscaped gardens and was conceived as “Prussian Versailles” where he would spend most of his time – practically moving his court from Berlin to Potsdam.

Reflecting Frederick’s enchantment with the landscape and architecture of Italy, a terraced vineyard, split by a grand staircase, extends downhill from the Rococo building. In Sanssouci, Frederick also built the Friendship Temple (dedicated to his sister Wilhelmina) the Antique Temple, Belvedere, and the Dragon Pavilion. He reconstructed and modernized downtown Potsdam. Although Frederick commented on his father’s “bad Dutch taste,” the classic red-brick Dutch quarter still remains and is now filled with artisan shops and restaurants that habitually serve local seasonal fare, like white asparagus in the spring – silky and tender with butter-and-lemon hollandaise sauce.

A king of contrasts

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Frederick II the Great hated the court life, but built gorgeous palaces. He despised his “Soldier-King” father, but strived to achieve military glory. He supported religious tolerance, but barred non-Protestants from positions of power. Frederick spoke French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and understood Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but considered German ugly and criticized German writers for their long arcane sentences. He called himself the “servant of the state,” but didn’t like to see his own servants, so he built hidden hallways for them in his palaces.

He banned torture and barred his court from interfering with the justice system, but was a ruthless politician, invaded neighboring countries and changed their borders. Frederick was close with his sister but hated his wife, Elizabeth of Bavaria, and prohibited her from visiting his palaces in Potsdam. He was known as an extreme misogynist throughout his lifetime. To decorate his palaces, he chose artwork depicting women as depraved and treacherous creatures or as men’s toys. In the Sanssouci music room, Frederick placed a painting dedicated to the Ovid’s classic legend of Pygmalion – a sculptor who created a statue of a beautiful woman, Galatea, and brought her to life. The court artist Antoine Pesne modeled Galatea after a famous Venetian ballerina La Barbarina who had narrow boyish hips and was therefore considered beautiful by the king.

In the wrought iron Sun Pavilion, just steps from the Sanssouci Palace, Frederick installed an antique bronze statue of a young man from Rhodes. During his rule, this statue was thought to be an image of Antinous – a deified lover of Roman Emperor Hadrian – and served as a “rainbow flag” of the time. Was Frederick gay? Voltaire thought so. Andy Warhol did, too. His 1968 portrait of Frederick the Great is the last artwork on the Sanssouci tour, placed by the palace exit.

The dog lover’s grave

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Frederick considered Christianity a fairy tale, detested his predecessors, and wrote in his will that he shouldn’t be laid to rest in the Berlin Cathedral with other members of the Hohenzollern dynasty, but instead on the vineyard terrace in Sanssouci. In his older years, he repeatedly stated that he preferred the company of his dogs to the company of men and wished to be buried next to his beloved Italian greyhounds. The grave of Friedrich der Grosse is marked with the same humble tombstone as those of his dogs. The only monument at his burial site is a marble Roman statue of the goddess Flora playing with baby Zephyr – a symbol for spring.
If you go
GETTING THERE
Lufthansa flies from SFO to Tegel Berlin airport with stopovers in Frankfurt, London, or Munich. Taxi from Tegel Airport.
WHERE TO STAY
Steigenberger Hotel Sanssouci, Allee nach Sanssouci 1, 14471 Potsdam, +49 331 9091-0, www.steigenberger.com
Steps from the Sanssouci Park, modest rooms, full breakfast.
WHERE TO EAT
Zum Fliegenden Hollander, Benkerstr. 5, 14467 Potsdam, www.zum-fliegenden-hollaender.de
Local seasonal cuisine.
WHAT TO DO
“Friederisiko” exhibition from April 28 through October 28 at the New Palace in Sanssouci. More information: www.friederisiko.de, www.spsg.de, www.potsdam.de.
MORE INFORMATION:
www.cometogermany.com, www.germany.travel, www.brandenburg-tourism.com

When most people think of Ancient Greece, they conjure up a civilization whose zenith dates back to the 4th Century B.C. when Greek culture and political advancement were pre-eminent in the Mediterranean. So when during a recent trip to the island of Rhodes I heard about a bakery in a small rural village making breads and cakes mentioned even earlier in The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War, I had to go there. This was an allusion to history even sweeter than any trip to the Acropolis.

And it is just that preservation of history that so appealed to the nine owners of the Appolonia Bakery, winnowed down from the 40 women who originally gathered in 2000 wanting to do something for their community. But the history they wanted to preserve at that moment was of a more recent vintage — that of the recipes handed down for generations for traditional foods prepared by their grandmothers and other community elders. All the cookies, breadsticks, cakes, muffins, pretzels and other baked goods are made from recipes culled from native villagers — and long-ago memories.

But transcribing recipes, none of which could be found in any cookbook, from those that fed a family into those that served a community, was no easy task and was mainly accomplished through trial and error. Even more of a problem was the issue of accountability: because the ingredients were never written down, accurate measurements weren’t available. The recipes did not come with instructions on how to assemble. A handful of flour had to be translated into a cup, a touch of honey became 2 T, a sprinkling of water had to be quantified into something — anything — measurable.
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Preparing cakes for church social

And there were other growing pains, as well! Human frailties occur at any age and when two women had recipes for the same baked goods, the co-op was forced to take part of one and part of another to come up with something that appealed to all and superseded the jealousies that might have ensued.

In a few instances, a proprietary attitude prevented some from sharing their recipes. They baked the bread or cake in secret, refusing to disclose all the ingredients. Eventually, the petty jealousies and individual resentments passed and all the recipes are now written down and available to all nine owners — but they themselves zealously guard them from the general public. Still, other hurdles arose. By the very nature of old-time recipes, the tasks are very labor-intensive and are not subject to wonders of modern technology.

For instance, the bread requires an overnight process involving the mixing of flour with a hand-made yeast concoction that acts as a natural preservative. The next day the loaves are put under four blankets — literally heavy wool blankets that clearly once adorned someone’s bed — to create the right amount of heat for them to rise before baking. Another specialty is melekouni, a sweet pastry made from sesame, honey and spices that is a time-honored part of Greek wedding celebrations and especially revered in Homer’s texts — that probably can’t be said of Little Debbie’s Tasty Kakes
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But the honey relies on a local bee supply, the sesame is hand-washed and dried on-site, and the pastries hand-rolled, using a secret process handed down from generation to generation to make sure the honey is sufficiently carmelized. Just pressing the mixture into their individual shapes is a manually intense project. There are no mechanized advantages to be found. Cuisinarts had no place in Greek mythology. The Merry Bakers also concoct a famous Greek dessert called spoon sweet flavored with lemon, strawberries, oranges and other fruits grown in their home gardens. But those are not the only home-grown ingredients — the bakers add fresh-picked rose petals from bushes around town. They just bring the ingredients from home as needed. Saves on shopping and storage space.

And that’s not all. The ladies of Appolonia also make liqueurs from Souma, a grape similar to that used for Ouzo to which they add their own flavors, such as orange, lemon, and pomegranate. They heat it on the porch in the sun for a month before bottling. Adds a whole new dimension to aged wine. Did I mention that the loom in the front of the shop is used to make custom-made rugs?
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Assorted Bakery Products

It took three years before the bakery started turning a profit. At that point, sales had expanded as far as Scotland after a tourist came by in 2007 and was so impressed he began importing the products to his own wholesale food business in the Emerald Isle. A little closer to home, demand from people in Rhodes Town inspired them to open a shop in the main town in 2008, which also is doing well. Their notoriety is growing, bakery manager Katerina Palazi wistfully acknowledged. Greek journalists are coming to do stories; they take pictures: “We’re not used to such intrusions. We have too much work to do,” she complained. I cringed a bit as I tried to hide my note pad and waved away my travel- writing husband wielding his camera.

There are about 120 communities throughout Greece that are promoting local products such as traditional clothes, ceramics, and other handcrafts all representative of their individual villages, but the Appolonia Bake Shop is the first and only in the Dodecanese island group, comprised of 12 islands including Rhodes, that is preserving historical recipes. They make a total of about 25 products — breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, olive oil, zouma. Most popular are the breads, sesame seed cookies and mellikouni. They have standing orders from local churches for breads and cakes, mellikouni for weddings, cookies for Christmas and Easter and spoon treats for other special occasions. On the walls pictures of local and national politicians mix with pictures of grandchildren.
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Drying sesame seeds in the sun

The women are in perpetual motion in and out of the small bakery, covering and uncovering the breads, drying the sesame seeds on the porch, boiling the rose petals, churning the liqueurs, taking cakes in and out of the oven — and, oh yes, waiting on customers. No wonder they don’t have time for journalists.

Irini Platsi, proprietor of the Rhodes Town store, points out that most products last for three months without preservatives; and because of the special yeast in the breads, those last for three weeks. “People really like buying home-made products made with all-natural ingredients,” she enthuses. The fact that they have an historic back story is just a bonus. I could feel the pride in her voice. These women have done something many thought would never work; they love the products they produce and are thriving on their success because it reflects upon the village as well, which – like it or not — is beginning to garner its own 15 minutes of fame.
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They not only bake from scratch but they weave

I don’t think, with the possible exception of the nightlife of Amsterdam, that I’ve ever had so much fun researching a travel story: sampling a sweet syrupy concoction that tantalizes the taste buds whether flowing over ice cream or indulged in straight from the jar; tasting the crunchy slightly sweet Biscotti-like substance that blossoms, especially when dipped in milk or coffee; delighting in a thick brown bread that when slathered with butter or honey could potentially serve as a whole meal. You know the old Trojan War-related homage: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts? Well, when laden down with items from the Appolonia bakery, you will instead be welcomed with open arms…and mouths. And despite the recent journalistic intrusion, the bakery still does not have a website of its own. Homer would be proud!