Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trip Wrap-up: Konstanz, Germany

Remember when we went to Germany in August for a wedding, and I promised to have some great food posts when we got back? Well, I failed. I got so caught up in visiting with dear friends that I haven't seen in years that I just forgot to take pictures most of the time. But it's okay; sometimes you just need to put down the camera and enjoy the moment.

I did get a lot of pictures of people, and some of places, and one decent food photo (German pastries! Hallelujah!), which deserves its own post later. So for now, here's a little photo essay to share our amazing trip with you.

We stayed in Konstanz, a beautiful old town on what the Swiss call Lake Konstanz and the Germans call the Bodensee. Konstanz also borders Switzerland and is about 45 minutes by train from the Zurich airport. We stayed at the Golden Tulip Halm, which was conveniently located across from the train station, in the Old Town, near the lake front, and a short walk from the wedding venue. The room was nicely decorated and comfortable, and the service was good, for the most part, although the concierge got snippy at check-out time when I pointed out that she had charged us for breakfast ($30 per person per day!) every day even though we hadn't eaten there at all.

We had a great time walking around the Old Town and gawking at buildings several centuries old yet integrated in to modern life. Bakeries, electronics stores, pharmacies, and even a Woolworth's are housed in and next to medieval buildings. Many of the buildings have signs like these carved in to the stucco that provide historical information (i.e. year of construction, name, and original purpose). Every sign is different and there are some really beautiful and creative designs.

Between wedding events and rambling around the Old Town, we took breaks in coffee shops like this one. This picture was taken at Aran, which is sort of the German equivalent of Starbucks. There were big, wooden tables spread with beautiful food and design books, and the coffee came steaming hot in huge, round bowls that you had to cup with your hands. I tried the German version of a bagel and schmear, which was a thick slice of dark, multigrain bread topped with three different spreads. There must have been thirty options, and since my German is not very strong, I couldn't understand many of the labels, so we picked the prettiest colors. We ended up with an avocado spread, an olive spread, and a pinkish-orange thing that turned out to be a mixture of onions and cheese. This was one of the instances when, caught up in conversation with friends who live thousands of miles away from me, I ate almost the whole thing before looking down at a few lousy bites and realizing I should have taken a picture. Oops! It was tasty, relatively cheap, and we had a good time.

The wedding took place at the Inselhotel, a former Dominican monastery on a small private island very close to the Old Town. They have done an incredible job with the conversion, preserving as many elements of the old monastery as possible while integrating modern design elements, creating beautiful, light-filled spaces that maintain a sense of history. The reception was held in what must have been the church sanctuary, given the placement of the soaring stone columns. Fragments of frescoes punctuate the crisp white walls. The cloister, seen above, has been glassed in to create a central courtyard with a corridor running around the edge.

The day after the wedding, we all went to the bride's parents' house on the island of Reichenau. We sat for hours at the long table on their patio, surrounded by greenery (including grapevines) with views of sailboats on the lake and Switzerland beyond. We ate pastries and warm fleishkase (literally, "meat cheese," a pate-like loaf) on seed-encrusted buns. Later we grilled various types of German sausages and drank wine. In between, some people took a dip in the lake, and most of us went for a walk around the island. There's a pathway that follows the coast, and it is peppered with views like the one above.

Here's another shot from the pathway: one of the three medieval churches on the island. I believe this one is the Abbey.

It's hard to believe we were only there for a few days. This was my second trip to the area and Dan's first; neither of us has been anywhere else in Germany. When I told my German client that I was going to the Bodensee for a wedding, she gasped and declared, "That's the prettiest part of Germany!" I, for one, am inclined to believe her.

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