Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

Highlights of our Black Forest Highlands visit

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

A typical dreary day during our visit

A typical dreary day by Lake Titisee during our visit

We planned our week long trip to the Black Forest Highlands in Germany months in advance with the expectation that a spring itinerary would reward us with dry and sunny weather. Instead it our visit in June 2016 was far wetter, colder and foggier than we had anticipated. It rained on and off most of the day every day during our whole stay in the area, forcing us to revise our plans entirely. In lieu of trekking on mountain tops and cable cars we spent our days in our hotel room waiting for the rain to stop or remained indoors, dining, in museums, and churches for the duration of our visit.

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

The clock museum featured displays of clock history

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

Tools used to automate the creation of the gears and wheels were featured

We replaced nearly all our outdoor activities with indoor ones. The two lane mountain roads, slick from the rain and filled with impatient drivers, did nothing to improve the situation. In the end, we made the most of the situation, exploring as best as possible in moments of respite from the constant showers. We seldom encountered English speakers or materials in English, making it necessary for us to rely on our guide frequently to translate menus at restaurants and information sheets at attractions.

The Parkhotel Adler

The Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten was a favorite for its luxury facilities and spa

From the airport we drove to the Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzarten. It was the most luxurious of the properties we visited that trip. I spent time at Hoffmann Beaute & Physiontherapie, its serene spa. Because of the cool temperatures and showers I was thankful for the property's underground hallways that connected its facilities and provided us indoor access to the hotel spa and restaurants in adjacent buildings.

Seecafé in Schluchsee

The lake fronting Seecafé in Schluchsee

Black forest cake, strudel cake and cappucinno

We had Black Forest cake, strudel cake and cappuccino by the lake

The first attraction we visited was the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum at Robert-Gerwig-Platz d-78120 Furtwangen, +49 7723-920 2800, deutsches-uhrenmuseum.de) northeast of Freiburg. It was a fun way to spend the morning and learn about the history of clock making in Germany.

Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

We spent the weekend at the popular Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel

One afternoon, to satisfy our sweet tooth we stopped at the Seecafé (Im Wolfsgrund 26, 79859, Schluchsee, +49 76 56/98 88 97), where we indulged in hot beverages and huge slices of regional specialties such as Black Forest chocolate cake. Despite the chilly temperatures we enjoyed the Schluchsee lakeside setting and terrace seating until a steady flow of raindrops forced us to leave.

Our first sunny afternoon from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

We were delighted with our first sunny hour from the patio at Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof

In the Lake Titisee area we stayed at two family owned properties. We spent the weekend at the popular, lake fronting Treschers Schwarzwald Romantic Hotel (see Our weekend stay at Black Forest lake front hotel with spa) with a spa in the highly touristy town of Titisee. When our rental apartment plans fell through the friendly owners and staff at the charming and lovingly built Boutique-Hotel Alemannenhof squeezed us in at the last minute without hesitation. The hotel, the Drubba Monument Shopping stores on the pedestrian street in Titisee, and the Hofgut Sternen hotel and adjacent shops were the property of the enterprising Drubba Family. It was at one of their shops where we watched a demonstration about the making of the famous cuckoo clocks. At another we caught the end of a glassblowing demonstration. Their hillside property was a favorite for its Lake Titisee views and foodie orientation.

hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler

One of the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler in Grafenhausen

In Grafenhausen, we liked the hand-carved carnival masks at Holzmasken Stiegeler (see Black Forest shop carried on with wood carved mask tradition). In Grafenhausen-Rothaus, we visited Hüsli or small house (79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Am Hüsli 1 im Naturpark Südschwarzwald, + 49 77 48/212, www.hüsli-museum.de), a folk art museum dating back to 1912 when actress Helene Siegfried built a summer home from second-hand materials. We also toured the Rothaus (Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG, Rothaus 1, 79865 Grafenhausen-Rothaus, +49 7748/522-0, www.rothaus.de, info@rothaus.de) brewery museum, a modern facility with self-guided tours, where we sampled locally produced beer and bought souvenirs at the small shop.

St. Blasien Cathedral

St. Blasien Cathedral, a lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The interior of St. Blasien Cathedral

The cupola in St. Blasien Cathedral

The St. Blasien Cathedral cupola

We visited several churches while in the Black Forest Highlands. Salient among them for sheer size and the determination of its builders was St. Blasien Cathedral, a pretty and lovingly maintained structure 36 meters wide and 62 meters high. The early classical cupola is the largest of its kind north of the Alps.

Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern

Our last afternoon in the Black Forest got sunny

The sun made an appearance on our last afternoon in the Black Forest

Our final nights were at the Hotel Adler in Häusern, where we dined at the hotel's gourmet restaurant (see Dinner at Black Forest Highlands gourmet restaurant). We would recommend the Black Forest Highlands to friends who speak German or don't mind seeking translations, like moderate luxury in a heavily touristy area with authentic regional cuisine, enjoy mountainous landscapes and the outdoors, and are able to change plans in a hurry if the weather turns ugly.

Cruising Through Highlights of the British Museum

Cruising Through Highlights of the British Museum

Article and photos by Scott S. Smith

The oldest public museum in the world is London’s vast British Museum

London’s vast British Museum is the oldest public museum in the world

My wife and I thought we could run through a refresher on London’s British Museum when we visited for the second time in September 2016 (Great Russell Street, +44 020 7323 8000, www.britishmuseum.org, info@britishmuseum.org). We had taken a full two days 35 years before when we were last there, but figured four hours would be enough to hit the highlights. Relying on the invaluable DK Eyewitness Travel Guides London, with additional tips from Rick Steves’ Pocket London and checking the website, we boiled down the list to just the must-see-agains and some we had overlooked or which had not been on display (we belatedly discovered that only one percent of its 50,000 items are exhibited at any one time). Despite the name, this is really the greatest museum in the world on the history of the ancient world, thanks to plundering by colonial officials who had the classical education to appreciate what they brought back. As if that weren’t enough, it also has artifacts up to the present day. Established in 1753 to house a private collection, the main current building was completed in 1850, and the entire complex of 94 galleries on three levels occupies a total of 2.5 miles. We recommend to our friends visiting for the first time that they take one of the highlight tours and set aside at least one full day for the museum. To avoid crowds, we will visit weekday afternoons.

A 19thcentury priestly mask from the Songye people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A 19th century priestly mask from the Songye people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

We found the lower floor (basement) of the British Museum was overlooked because it is primarily devoted to Africa, while the other two floors had many world-class treasures. But African art has always been a favorite of ours when we go to any major museum of world culture. The African imagination has always struck us as astonishing, perhaps unleashed by its magical view of reality. The ritual masks, costumes, and statues are always better than anything we’ve ever seen near our home in West Hollywood, California, at the Halloween street parade, which is saying something (it draws half a million participants and spectators due to the creative contributions from movie professionals). This time, we particularly liked a multi-horned headdress for ancestral ceremonies from 19th century Nigeria and some famous bronze statues from the Kingdom of Benin.

A Centaur and Lapith wrestle in a relief from the Parthenon

A Centaur and Lapith wrestle in a relief from the Parthenon

Back on the ground floor, we headed straight to the enormous room displaying the Elgin Marbles, décor from the Parthenon, the temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens, which the British brought back in 1816 and the Greeks have been trying ever since to get returned. Despite thousands of years of wear from exposure, they still showed the brilliant skills of the sculptors during the Golden Age of Greece (500-430 B.C.), the cultural supernova that led to the Renaissance and Western civilization (the best summary of their contribution is Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way). We also saw many other gorgeous sculptures and ceramics from the Greeks and Romans in other galleries and on the upper floor.

Human-headed winged bulls from the Palace of Sargon II at Khorsabad, Assyria (near Mosul, Iraq)

Human-headed winged bulls from the Palace of Sargon II at Khorsabad, Assyria (near Mosul, Iraq)

The ground floor also had much from the ancient Middle East, especially Assyria. There were several sets of enormous winged-bulls that guarded the palaces of Sargon II, who reigned 721-705 B.C. and according to the Bible took the northern 10 tribes of Israel into captivity (now referred to as the Ten Lost Tribes, they were said to have “gone north” after Assyria’s fall, but may have simply blended in with other peoples in the region). One famous relief depicted the royal sport of lion hunting, and there were artifacts from ancient Jericho and Islamic cultures. More from the Middle East, especially Iran, was on the upper floors, but we just breezed through it for lack of time. The collection for the Americas was confined to two modest rooms, but had some outstanding sculptures from ancient Meso-American peoples, such as the Zapotecs. As for the rest of the floor, having been to India and Japan, and having little interest in China, we skipped the Asian section.

Coffin of Egyptian incense bearer Denytenanum, Temple of Amun, Thebes (9th century B.C.)

Coffin of Egyptian incense bearer Denytenanum, Temple of Amun, Thebes (9th century B.C.)

The upper floor’s Egyptian section may be the world’s best outside of the Cairo Museum (which we’ve been to). It is world famous for having the Rosetta Stone, carved into which was a trilingual inscription that enabled the French to begin to decipher the hieroglyphics. It was hard to photograph through the glass and the writing is tiny, but there was a model nearby we could touch. Another outstanding item was the enormous statue of Ramesses II, the 13th century pharaoh many believe was the one who reluctantly let the Israelite slaves leave Egypt. There were also numerous mummies and painted coffins.

Zapotec funerary urn from Mexico from about 200 B.C.

The other primary section on the upper level we were interested in was for Britain, covering as far back as 10,000 B.C. The most striking item was the 2,000-year-old Lindow Man, who was sacrificed in a ritual way, his skin preserved in a peat bog in Cheshire. The other big draw was the burial of a 7th century A.D. Anglo-Saxon king in a ship filled with treasures at Sutton Hoo, East Anglia, discovered in 1936. Among the many notable items, which revolutionized understanding of the era, were a ceremonial helmet, a shield, gold jewelry, silver bowls, and a lyre, a harp-like instrument. Now that we have been reminded of how incredible the British Museum is, we will not take another 35 years to return and will give it the time it needs to be fully appreciated in the future. There is a reason it is the top tourist destination in Britain.

Black Forest shop carried on with wood carved mask tradition

Black Forest shop carried on with wood carved mask tradition

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Display of masks at the entrance

A display of masks at the shop entrance included a mythological figure with antlers.

Yard size sculptures surround the shop

There were large sculptures outside the shop.

As a child Simon Stiegeler watched his parents carve traditional wood masks in their workshop in the Black Forest Highlands of Germany. As he grew older, he learned the craft in a woodcarving school in Austria and studied art in Freiburg. In time he adopted the family tradition. These days he spends his time at the Holzbildhauerei Stiegeler (Kirchsteig 5 79865, Grafenhausen, Black Forest Germany, + 49 07748-283, www.holzbildhauerei-stiegeler.de, www.holzmasken-stiegeler.de), a 100 square meter shop and workshop he owns with his family.

The masks very from traditional to mondern concepts

The masks varied from traditional designs of the region to modern adaptations.

That was where we met him, making schwäbisch alemannische fasnacht masks out of linden wood. There were witches, devils, animals, jesters and fools, some known by their local names from old words such as holzmaske, schemme, and larve. One of my favorite masks had a science fiction theme. Prices ranged from 50 to 1,200 euros.

The artist at his bench

The artist at work

“The black forest has an very old tradition in making wood masks, times ago many farmers made wood masks in the long and cold wintertime,” he said when asked about the origin of his business. “I think we are one of the last profesionell (professional) family business whitch (which) exclusively make wooden masks.”

examples of carved masks

A variety of masks hung on the walls of the workshop.

He mainly makes masks for groups, collectors, actors and special orders, he explained during our visit. In 2010, he was invited to the World Expo in Shanghai, China to present the masks as a culture ambassador for Germany.

He also crafts other traditional wooden items

There were other wooden items in the shop.

  

The artist makes masks for groups, collectors, actors and special orders.

Custom masks usually require three days, he explained. During that time he carves the mask by hand and his wife, Lillian Stiegeler, paints it. In his shop there were also modern wood carved souvenirs, especially wooden angels called flügelwesen, as well as Blackest-Forest, a house line of Black Forest themed souvenirs.

An overnight visit to Fontainebleau, near Paris

An overnight visit to Fontainebleau, near Paris

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

 

 

The Gare de Lyon train station in Paris

During a spring visit to Paris, France we went on an overnight side trip to the Seine-et-Marne Department (www.turisme77.co.uk and www.paris-whatelse.com) for the first time. To get there we took a train from the Gare de Lyon in the twelfth arrondissement of Paris to Melun, a city in the Seine-et-Marne. From there we made our way around by car from the train station to the area villages where, despite cold and rainy weather, we explored museums, chateaux, an artist village, a spa, and a pastry shop, spending the night at the La Demeure du Parc, a four-star boutique hotel within walking distance from the Château de Fontainebleau (Fontainebleau Castle), a museum and former royal residence.

The Chateau Sur Marnes featured a rotunda looking out on the gardens

The rotunda inside the Château de Champs-sur-Marne looking out on the gardens

Our first stop was the Château de Champs-sur-Marne (see Eighteenth century home museum near Paris worth visit when in Seine-et-Marne area), a 16 room two story structure completed in 1708. Known for its rococo style and its Notable Gardens the former family home had been converted into a museum managed by the French government. After a guided tour in English of the Château de Champs-sur-Marne, we had lunch and a short guided tour in English of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a private estate open to visitors and my favorite attraction overall. Even when compared with grand former royal residences the property's historic character, artistic harmony and beauty stood out. Before leaving and despite the ugly weather we made our way around the beautiful gardens in an abbreviated self-guided exploration.

Les Bains de Marrakesh

Les Bains de Marrakesh in Fontainebleau

The shop at Les Bains de Marrakesh

Before checking into our hotel we had a massage at Les Bains de Marrakech (186 rue Grande, 77300 Fontainebleau, +33 09 81 13 17 21, lesbainsdemarrakech.com, fontainebleau@lesbainsdemarrakech.com). Because we arrived late our massages were cut short. Despite that the staff members were friendly and welcoming. The small facility was spotless and quiet.

The war memorial in Barbizon

The war memorial in Barbizon

The house of Robert Louis Stevenson

The house of Robert Louis Stevenson

Dinner (and breakfast the following morning) at our hotel was excellent. In the morning, we met Véronique Villalba, our English speaking guide in front of the Fontainebleau Castle, a former residence of the French monarchy, for an excellent tour. Following lunch, we headed to the charming artist Village of Barbizon, about seven miles northwest from Fontainebleau. We walked around with umbrellas in hand, exploring the touristy main street and admiring the pretty facades. We popped into Le Musee des Peintres de Barbizon (the Museum of Painters of Barbizon). Although it was crowded at times we enjoyed our visit thanks to our guide's insights and engaging discussion.

Tasty treats at Frédéric Cassel, Fontainbeau

Tasty treats at Frédéric Cassel, Fontainebleau

On our way back to our hotel we stopped at Frédéric Cassel Fontainebleau (71-73, rue des Sablons, 77300 Fontainebleau, +33 01 60 71 00 64, www.fredericcassel.com), a shop in the town's popular pedestrian shopping street for espresso, tea, chocolates, and pastries. We had a Vanilla Millefeuille and an Ilanka pastry, a worthwhile sweet ending to our pleasant visit, before our taxi drove us back to the small train station, where we boarded the crowded train back to Paris.

We unexpectedly loved Victoria and Albert Museum, especially for its sculpture collection

We unexpectedly loved Victoria and Albert Museum, especially for its sculpture collection

Article and photos by Scott S. Smith


The north side of the John Madejski Garden courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The north side of the John Madejski Garden courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum

In September 2016, my wife, Sandra, and I reluctantly visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, VAM, (Cromwell Road, +44 020 7942 2000, www.vam.ac.uk, contact@vam.ac.uk) in the South Kensington area of central London, United Kingdom. We were hesitant because we normally don’t care for decorative art, but Time Out London had rated it the number one attraction of a city packed with world-class destinations. We had flown in that morning and planned to go to our hotel to sleep off our jet lag before heading to the museum, which was open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays. But our hotel was out of the way and we decided to head directly to the museum for a few hours. It had one of the world’s largest and best collections of its kind, with 4.5 million objects, only a tiny fraction of which could be displayed at one time in its 145 galleries spread over seven miles on six levels. They included ceramics and glass, textiles, furniture, sculpture, metalwork, drawings, photos, jewelry, and costumes from around the world covering 5,000 years.

It was founded in 1852, the year after the Great Exhibition, a world’s fair that showed off the fruits of the industrial age and provided the museum’s initial collection. First called the Museum of Manufactures, it was the world’s first devoted to “applied art and science,” and the official opening at the current location was overseen by Queen Victoria in 1857 (her last public appearance was in 1899 at the laying of the foundation for a new building).

Samson Slaying a Philistine by Giovanni Bologna

Samson Slaying a Philistine by Giovanni Bologna

Walking into the central sculpture hall on the ground floor we were greeted by the dramatic marble statue of Samson Slaying a Philistine by Giovanni Bologna (also known as Giambologna) dated about 1562. He was sculptor to the Medici dukes of Tuscany and the most important one after the death of Michelangelo in 1564, until the emergence of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1614. Renaissance works dominated the long room. The VAM had one of the most comprehensive sculpture collections from the post-Classic era, with 22,000 from around the world created between 400 A.D. to 1914, using materials ranging from wood to bronze.

Glazed glass basin from Turkey

Glazed glass basin from Turkey

Islamic art was represented with 19,000 objects, one of the world’s largest collections, with works from the 7th to 20th centuries. We were particularly impressed with the rugs and tile art, with the artistry honed for nearly a millennium within the mandate of not depicting human or animal forms (except in the Persian Shiite tradition). We saw that up close on the Taj Mahal in India and in Uzbekistan, where floral and abstract forms were perfected. The VAM lighting in that area made it difficult to take photos, but we did get one of a glazed glass basin from Iznik, Turkey, 1545, with the Golden Horn design (a reference to the waterway off Istanbul). Some believe the museum’s glass and ceramics collection of 80,000 to be the most comprehensive in the world.

Tibetan deity representing enlightenment

Tibetan deity representing enlightenment

With 160,000 items, the Asian collection may be the largest in the West. We only saw a small part of it, but particularly loved the exquisite gilded brass statuette of the donkey-headed, many-armed Tibetan Buddhist deity Kharamukha Samvara, a metaphor for enlightenment in the Tantric tradition of channeling sexual energy. The male aspects represented compassion, the female wisdom.

Boy with Bagpipes by Caius Cibber

Boy with Bagpipes by Caius Cibber

We visited the room with the Raphael Cartoons, sketches for tapestries displayed in the Sistine Chapel on special occasions. By that time we were exhausted and our last photo was of the statue of a boy playing the bagpipes with his dog at his feet, sculpted from Portland stone by Danish artist Gaius Gabriel Cibber in 1680. Cibber moved to London in the 1650s, where he worked closely with the legendary architect Christopher Wren. When we return to London, the Victoria and Albert will be high on our list so that we can explore the areas we breezed through and check out those we completely neglected on photography, books, furniture, costumes, and jewelry, as well as regional exhibits on Asia and the Americas. I would recommend the VAM to friends who like art museums, regardless of whether they think they will like the focus on decorative arts.

Eighteenth century home museum near Paris worth visit when in Seine-et-Marne area

Eighteenth century home museum near Paris worth visit when in Seine-et-Marne area

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

Champs Sur Marnes on a cloudy rainy day

Champs-sur-Marnes on a cloudy rainy day

The gardens viewed from the second floor

A view of the Notable Gardens, inspired by Le Notre’s work, from the second floor

We liked visiting the Château de Champs-sur-Marne (31 rue de Paris 77420 Champs-sur-Marne +33160052443. www.chateau-champs-sur-marne.fr, champs@monuments-nationaux.fr) in the Seine-et-Marne Department (www.turisme77.co.uk and www.paris-whatelse.com) in the town of Champs-sur-Marne near Paris, France. A private home in the eighteenth century the property was completed in 1708. It was managed by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, a government entity. Champs-sur-Marne is within an 85 hectare estate in the town of the same name, about 25 minutes from Paris by public transportation (RER A) and a 30 minute drive via highway A4.

Most of the rooms were furnished

The furniture in the entry hall

The 16 room two story structure stood out for its rococo style and its Notable Gardens, inspired by Le Notre’s work and restored in 1895. Because of rainy and cold weather we missed visiting the gardens. In its heyday the Castle of Champs-sur-Marne welcomed illustrious tenants such as the princess of Conti, duke de La Vallière, and la Marquise de Pompadour. In 1895, Louis Cahen d’Anvers, a banker, bought and restored the property, and in 1935, the Cahen d’Anvers family donated the property to the state. About 1,800 square meters of the 3,600 square meter large property were open to visitors, including the second floor and basement.

Decorations meant to look asian were popular

Asian style decor was popular despite a lack of accurate information about the subject matter.

Removing the paint in one room revewal paintings underneath

A glass covered close up where the removal of paint revealed further paintings underneath

During our visit to the Seine-et-Marne the Château de Champs-sur-Marne served as a contrast to other larger and far more pompous properties such as the Chateau de Fontainebleau, the former royal homestead, and Vaux-le-Vicomte, the famous precursor to Versailles. Like Vaux-le-Vicomte, Champs-sur-Marne served as a model for another well known property, the Elysee Palace in Paris completed in 1720. The north facade’s special feature, the rotunda, is similar to the one at the Hôtel de Matignon, the official residence of the first minister.

Some of the rooms looked very comfortable to relax

One of the rooms appeared inviting

The Château de Champs-sur-Marne was built as the home of a newly wealthy family wishing to impress society, whereas the other two area properties were designed for the public as well as private life of their affluent residents. A staff of 37 looked after the property. In 1959, President Charles de Gaulle began using it as an official residence for government guests. In 1974, the Ministry of Culture took over management of estate, allowing the public to visit the castle and its grounds. In 2006, parts of the Chinese Salon ceiling collapsed, requiring a six year long restoration. Although it was reopened in 2013 it looked like it could use additional work.

The rooms were decorated according to purpose

The rooms were decorated according to purpose with light colors for women or mixed groups.

If the Château de Champs-sur-Marne looked familiar, our English speaking guide explained, it was because a number of films were shot on the estate, including Dangerous Liaisons (1987) by Stephen Frears, Ridicule (1995) by Patrice Leconte, and Marie-Antoinette (2005) by Sofia Coppola.The orangery of the castle also appeared in the series Versailles (2016) by Jalil Lespert.

The darker rooms were offices and places for the men to gather.

The dark rooms were offices and places for men to gather.

The billiards room

The billiards room

Our guide especially noted the chinoiseries painted decorations and the door panel (in the Cabinet Camaïeu) by Christophe Huet, among the highlights of the era. Other noteworthy features included, in the great hall, the Coromandel screen from the 18th century restored in 2016; faience pieces from the 18th century in various rooms as well as exceptional pendulums, for example, the pendulum Tête de Poupée by Jacques Auguste Thuret, clockmaker to the King Louis XIV in 1694 in La Chambre Grise; and “le Bonheur-du-jour” signed Charles Topino in the 18th century, a desk for the ladies.