A Hidden Treasure in Franconia: the Altes Gewürzamt

Today started off a bit rough.  The clouds blanketed the sky in that way they do when they let you know that summer is over, and I could have slept another hour, but my body had other plans.  Even after my favorite cup of coffee I couldn’t naturally put a smile on my face.

Weeks ago we had planned on taking a day of our vacation to follow a dream of my husband’s and visit his favorite spice producer.  Years ago he fell in love with the herbs and spices of Ingo Holland, and always dreamed of visiting the small town and shop that gives life to so many of our dishes.  And, as luck would have it, today was the day.  I wanted to go in a better mood, but I just couldn’t wing it.  My husband even asked me if I was sure we should go today, but, as this is not the first time in my life that I have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, I told him that the trip would do me good and that sitting at home on our couch definitely wouldn’t make it better.  With that, we were off.

We decided to go by train since the trip to Klingenberg, where the Altes Gewürzamt calls home, is over 3 hours away from us on the Bavarian boarder with Hessen and Baden-Würtemburg.  This way we could have a “mobile couch day” on the train and sink into the books we are reading.

We exited our last train, stopped at a small bakery for a snack, and where directed by a friendly lady to find our destination.  Not that Klingenberg is large – not at all – it is just a maze of many old houses.

Because we arrived during the Altes Gewürzamt‘s lunch break, we walked around the town before heading to the store.  We walked through one alley after another of 400+ year-old houses, and even found ourselves on a bridge hovering over a small canyon running through this really small and inconspicuous place.  We found a path leading into the canyon, and walked through it.  What a surprise and a hidden treasure.

We made our way back to the heart of town – passing by a few wine cellars built into the hill that the town sat at the foot of.  Finally it was time.

We opened the door to the Altes Gewürzamt and were quickly encompassed by the warm smells of wood and spices.  By the time the door closed behind me, I had a smile on my face.

For a moment, I stood in the first room and just looked around.  We were greeted by two very friendly employees, and I tried to decide where to start.  I decided to walk around the store, and then walk around it a second time to gain focus.  Finally, I was in my element.  Food is just my world.

After I mentioned to my husband that I was going to smell every spice in the shop before we left (they have one open container per spice), one of the lady’s who worked there turned to me with a lovely smile and asked if I would like to set my backpack down by the register because it would take a while to discover them all and I would be more comfortable that way.  I took her offer, and started traveling the world through my nose.

Some smells were new, some were invigorating, others nose tickling, and yet others brought back fond childhood memories. I smelled in the container with chives at least three times – they smelled so buttery.  Since when do chives smell buttery?  I smelled into a container of Timut pepper that smelled like spicy grapefruit.  I tasted Danish Jozo Salt that grows in exquisitely thin little square flakes and crunches like chips.  I smelled the mind-blowing floral explosion of Iranian Safran.  I smelled a spiced-wine spice mix laced with roses and lemon grass. I could go on and on. What an experience.  Oh, and did I mention that they also have different types of vegan gummy bears??  I am moving in.

Two hours later, we were at the register and ready to take our bounty home.  It doesn’t look like a lot, but we already own quite a few that we order through their online shop.

We walked out the door, and as I closed the old wooden door behind me I felt like I had spent the whole day in a spa.  Aroma therapy does wonders.  I had such a great time, and had such a huge smile on my face as we walked back to the train station that my husband said that he thinks I had more fun than he did, and it was his dream we were full filling.  And that, lady’s and gentlemen, is why even when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you should always decide to get up and go do something great rather than hang out on your couch all day.

Besides, I had enough “mobile couch” time today.  We spent a total of 6 and a half hours on different trains going back and forth for a less than 3 hour visit.  It was totally worth it.  What a great memory this place has made.

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Erlebnisbauernhof Auhof


Today we decided to visit our “colleagues” at the Erlebnisbauernhof Auhof (Experience-Farm of Auhof) which is a special-education farm run by mentally handicapped adults and caregivers.


The farm is open to the general public and has a really big playground that kids of all ages can enjoying.  Many decades ago, this used to be a real farm where they raised livestock and grew carrots and potatoes.  Today there a a few animals of each kind: pigs, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, peacocks, horses, goats, and donkeys are “scattered” around the different areas of the farm.  They sell plants in a self-run nursery and grow a lot of their own vegetables that you can enjoy in the salads that sell in a small restaurant with outdoor seating next to the playground.  The playground is capped off by a field of fruit trees and a lovely relaxation garden that is cared for by a former employee who is retired and volunteers her time to keep the garden in tip top shape.  The handicapped people who live in assisted-living apartments a block away come here regularly to enjoy the peacefulness of the garden, get their hands dirty with garden work, and do arts and crafts that are hung up in the different corners of the garden.


This is such a lovely oasis, and they are different events being held all summer long.  There is no entry fee, so this is a great palce to visit with the whole family’s.


The University of Erlangen’s Botanical Garden 

It is pre-summer vacation here, and we are always on the lookout for a fun place to go where the kids can run around a lot.  One of out favorite places to visit is the botanical garden of the University of Erlangen.  The entire garden is open to the public free of charge and they have a nice selection of different types of plants.


My kids are camera-fanatics, so they each get a camera in their hands and click away at all the interesting things they discover.  Their favorite creatures to photograph are the frogs and koi swimming in the raised ponds outside of the garden houses.


My favorite corners are those filled with roses, and if you are a rose lover yourself, you will not be disappointed here.  The botanical garden spills out into the local palace garden that is surrounded by the university, and you can really spend hours strolling around.


I recommend packing a pick nick and setting down on the ledge of one of the ponds or a park benches and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature in the midst of the city.













Birkensee Summer 

I cannot say it enough: summer is finally here.  We had such a icy winter and such a cold wet Spring that it is hard to believe that it’s warm and sunny.  It still feels like a dream and we try to take advantage of the summer rays because once September rolls around, the summer fun will be over.


Today we decided to drive out to the town of Reichelsdord west of Nuremberg and take our little bbq grill for a walk to the Birkensee (Birch lake).  I habe to say that I was really surprised by the beauty of this small lake.  We parked our car at the edge of a forest and walked through the woods for 10 minutes until we landed right at the wdge of the lake.  It’s a family-friendly lake with sandy beaches and tree-covered enclaves, bbq areas, and refreshing water to swim in.  The only thing you should be prepared for is that nudity is allowed here, so if you’re uncomfortable with nude people swimming, sunning, or walking around you, then you should go to another local lake.  Otherwise, this is a great gem tucked away at the edge of the city that we will definitely return to for a summer refreshment.







Father’s Day Hiking 

Today we went for a nice short hike around the forest surrounding the town of Heroldsberg.  There a quite a few natural elements to see around here in the line of caves and stone formations.


It was father’s day so there were a lot of families hiking the same path as us, and however much I enjoy being in the forest when it’s silent, I think it’s great for families to get out in nature together.


Happy Father’s Day to all the dass out there.

Trekking to Bird Island


We are taking advantage of the beautiful weather around here and drove out to Muhr am See – a tiny town on the Altmühlsee (Old Mill Lake).  From here we gave the kids the task of leading the way to the lake where we wanted to visit the Vogelinsel (Bird Island) – a sanctuary built in the 80s for the local bird population.


I was a bit sceptical about the kids leading the way, but we made it – by walking through a field – to the island.  The sanctuary is actually made up of many little islands and visitors can only reach a few by way of a series of bridges.  It is a beautiful walk through shaddy grove.  We didn’t see birds along our entire walk, but we definitely heard them, and there is a great lookout post built on one of the islands close to a beach filled with tons of different birds.  We were really glad to visit at this time of the year because there were so many baby animals.


This is a really beautiful corner of Franconia, and if you are up for a longer trip, you can ride your bike around the entire lake on the smooth bike paths and stop and swim in the lake on one of its beaches or join one of the many wind surfers.  There’s plenty to do here for the whole family.

Frühjahrslust – Spring Garden Festival @ Wolfgangshof


Wolfgangshof is one of my favorite places to visit – it’s like traveling back in time.  Luckily, there are festivals heald on this private country estate a few times a year that are open to the public – and they are always great!  I always feel swept away by the rustic charm surrounding me.


A few months back we visited a rustic Christmas market held here, and now that Spring has come into bloom, the Frühjahrslust has come (and saddly gone) in one weekend.  It was such comfortable sunny weather.  After walking around all the garden stands and “acquiring” a decent amount of organic herbs to plant in my balcony garden, we sat by a stone fountain, listened to giggling children, sipped espresso, and soaked in some rays.

I was really excited to find out that this great event comes twice a year – the second event is in September and is called Grüne Lust. Even if I don’t need any new plants for my garden, it is still so much fun to visit for the day and eat yummy food!


For lunch I had a vegan Spaghetti Bolognese with Carrot-Sunflower seed Pesto and a lemon-mint soda from a local restaurant catering at the festival.  Not to mention that I also thoroughly enjoyed freshly fried handmade potato chips and an vegan orange gelato….ahhh vegan food love!

Romantic Winter Wonderland – Wolfgangshof

Once the colorful leaves have fallen off the trees, Fall and winter can be really dreary.  I often look out the window of my apartment and sigh.  It looks cold outside, the sky is so gray that it’s just one big cloud, people move sluggishly up and down the streets – everyone’s summer sparkle has gone into hibernation.  A true winter will not hit us for another few months – just in time for Valentine’s day and Mardis Gras.  By then, Christmas will be long gone and we will all be eagerly awaiting Spring.  It’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit under these conditions.

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A few weeks ago, a colleague mentioned “the most amazing” Christmas market he’s ever seen.  He drives quite a ways with his family there once a year – he’s a pretty skeptical guy – so this really means it must be awesome.  Now, I’m not really into the whole Christmas-kitsch that you can find at your typical Christmas markets, so usually I have to be dragged to go to one.  But, with such a great recommendation and desperately needing something to do to lighten up the it’s-not-even-winter-yet blues, we took a trip out to Franconia’s magical Wolfgangshof.

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I stepped out of the car and was hit by a whiff of sweet sugar and roasting wood.  We made our way in through a decent crowd of people waiting to pay the €5 entrance fee, and we were welcomed by a true romantic rustic Christmas wonderland.  This place is just awesome.  I am already ready to pack my bags and move it – this is better than Christmas in the city!

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There are clusters of tiny wooden sheds laden with beautiful handmade items nestled in between large red brick farm houses dating back 150 years.  Walking past the first set of artisans, we come upon a little wooden bakery house selling raw bread dough wrapped on tree branches.  A few steps away is a large open fire pit where you can roast your dough and eat it fresh off the stick…the smell of fire roasted bread is intoxicating.

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A few steps further, next to a rustic, yet very noble house, we are greeted by a band of men playing wonderful Bavarian Christmas music on large Alpine wooden horns.  I close my eyes, and it feels like I am listening to a full ensemble orchestra – it’s amazing the sounds they can make.

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The smell of cinnamon and sugar hits my nose while enjoying the Alpine band, and I make my way (like a zombie) to a little house making Baumstrietzel…thin strips of dough wrapped on a wooden rolling pin, baked, and then coating in your favorite topping.  After securing my sweet treat (yes – vegan!), we made our way in between two large brick houses, and found even more tiny little wooden houses rustically decorated in evergreens.  Inside each house is an oven and a rustic seating arrangement where guests can huddle in away from the cold.

 

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It is just so beautiful here that I am starting to cheer up and really get into the Christmas spirit!  Everywhere you walk, there is a large open fire and some tree stumps to sit on and enjoy the heat.  Now, the only thing missing is snow…

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Red Apples & Golden Sunflowers

Let’s get some thing straight here – I am not an apple person.  I grew up in south Florida where apples were imported from those far away cold states.  They were always mushy, sandy, over ripe, and over waxed. I have to admit, they are a pretty fruit and come in so many shades and shapes, but when given the option between an apple or, let’s say, a mango, guava, raspberry, banana, orange, grapefruit, cherimoya, strawberry, blueberry…apple will always lose – always.  I just can’t get excited about them.

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Here in Germany, apples are THE local fruit – everybody loves them, and no one seems to understand how they cannot be loved.  It seems to be a pretty important fruit around here.  So, when October rolls around, Fürth holds it’s yearly Apfelmarkt (Apple Market) – and it’s packed – shoulder to shoulder.  Everybody comes to see, taste, and smell the latest harvest.  Visitors chat up the local farmers about this years crop, and taste to compare flavors.

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The smell of warm waffles sits heavy in the air, and swarms of lady bugs glide through the air savoring the last warm rays of the early Fall sun.I trek out every few years to enjoy the bounty of colors.  And, because, well, my kids love apples…I guess that’s what happens when you grow up here.

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The white blossom covered trees have all basked in the summer sun and dropped their fruit to the earth.  The leaves are starting to turn – Fall is just a few weeks away – and we are left with an amazing colorful bounty of apples, plums, nuts, honey, and late summer flowers.

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