Darina’s surprise plan of a two-week trip to northern Italy looked less and less likely as Covid-19 started to ravage the area. So, she put her students on the case. The task was to come up with an alternative trip that would offer cultural, historical, architectural and culinary highlights as well as unique scenery. The results certainly didn’t disappoint, but as the departure date drew closer, borders all over Europe began to close and lockdown became the order of the day, it became apparent that we would not be venturing far for Easter.
That’s when Darina decided that these super itineraries could be put to good use by bringing Kurt on a different virtual tour each day of the holiday. With the tent up in the bedroom, Kurt was served a typical regional dish each evening and challenged with a number of pictures to figure out the suggested route. When all else failed, the third clue was musical. Click on any of the maps below for more details.
1. Hamburg – Lübeck – Rostock – Stralsund – Rügen (Germany)
Starting in Europe’s third largest port, Hamburg, there is enough in the city to keep us busy for a few days with museums, churches and the magnificent Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which cost taxpayers no less than 870m €. The musical The Lion King would provide inspiration for ganders further afield! The trip continues to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Lübeck, famous for its gothic brick architecture and marzipan delights. Following the Baltic Sea cycle route, the trip leads through Rostock and Stralsund en route to the beautiful island of Rügen, famous for its white chalk cliffs and strand baskets.
The culinary speciality chosen for this region was pan-fried salmon and potatoes with mustard sauce. The dish didn’t really assist Kurt’s guessing, but the white cliffs and the Elbphilharmonie left no doubt in his mind!
2. The River Drau cycle route
Starting in South Tyrol in the spectacular Dolomites region of Italy, the five-star River Drau cycle route takes in beautiful scenery in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Castles are the order of the day, there is no shortage of lakes for a quick dip and should the temperatures drop, Villach’s modern hot-spring complex will not disappoint. Hungry cyclists will be well catered for here with numerous tasty regional dishes for all seasons.
The culinary speciality chosen to accompany this trip was spinach and cheese knödel, breadcrumb-based dumplings from Austria. Although it’s not something that Kurt would ever order in a restaurant, he actually quite enjoyed Darina’s interpretation!
3. Basel (Switzerland) to Paris (France)
Starting from Basel’s Museum of Art, this route takes in Belfort to explore the modern architecture of Robert Gomez, historical monuments in Vesoul and the beautiful Cottage du Château in Chaudenay to rest our weary bones. The Géraudot Nature Park and the grandiose gothic cathedral in Troyes are must-sees before hitting the romantic city of Paris and all it has to offer.
The classic dish for this trip was coq au vin, a chicken and bacon casserole with carrots and mushrooms slow-cooked in a delicious red-wine sauce. If it weren’t for the hand-painted cockerel on Kurt’s plate, he would never have guessed!
4. The Netherlands
This loop of the Netherlands is a combination of two suggested trips and still is one of the shortest on the list! Described as the “Trip of your Life”: windy like in Ireland, flower fields, windmills, good beer, fish and desserts, with cycle routes by the seaside, it is certainly the business. After checking out various art and historical museums in Amsterdam, it’s cycle lanes all the way to the sand dunes and seals in the northern tip of Texel. Then, following the coast we could enjoy the modern architecture of Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port, before visiting Kinderdijk’s UNESCO World Heritage windmills on the way back to Amsterdam.
Darina decided to steer away from the suggested pancakes, fricadelle and space cakes by choosing Bami Goreng, a fried-noodle dish stemming from colonial days in Indonesia, as Kurt’s first clue. It was a total giveaway!
5. Cape Verde island hop
Situated nicely south and promising temperatures of 20-27°C, this trip was very tempting as snow was still falling in St Gallen. Sea turtles, dolphins and sea cows inhabit the waters of this volcanic wonderland with picture-postcard beaches and tropical vegetation. Ramos Castellano’s modern architecture in São Vicente would certainly be worth checking out, between stints of relaxation on the beach and loops of the various islands.
Jagacida rice with kidney beans and octopus stew did little to help Kurt guess what this trip could be. The vegetation, scenery, temperatures and cocktail had him on a Caribbean trail, and he was convinced it had to be the Dominican Republic. Music was required as a third clue!
6. Eastern Switzerland and Liechtenstein
This local loop starts in St Gallen and follows the River Rhine all the way up to its source, taking in the Principality of Liechtenstein, where we might happen to spot the Prince in one of the local restaurants. Then it’s through Heidi country in the wine-growing Bündner Herrschaft region of Graubünden, and there’s even a cute Hobbit Museum in Jenins. Chur provides the modern architecture, and the return route passes the lovely Caumasee and Walensee lakes. Accommodation is in the form of our own little glamping chalet in Ganterschwil, before climbing up to Appenzell and back to where we started in St Gallen.
The famous capuns from Graubünden were a must for this trip. This recipe of dried meat and sausage dumplings, wrapped in silverbeet leaves and simmered in milk and stock was created by a local peasant during the Napoleonic wars when the villages were stripped of most of their edibles by the Russian troops marching from Italy to Zurich.
This alternative was sold as offering everything: traditional music, countless museums, history, traditional dishes including seafood, with options to cycle the Albanian Alps and the Adriatic coastline. Having spent a few weeks on the bikes there one summer, we can definitely testify to this great claim. There is certainly a second trip in the making!
Stuffed peppers with spinach and feta borek (flaky pastry pie) led Kurt immediately to the Balkans, but he needed the Alpine scene and national historical museum in Tirana to hit the bull’s-eye.
8. Nürnberg – Dresden (Germany) – Wroclaw (Poland) – Prague (Czech Republic)
This trip would certainly be a step back in time as the route takes in so many medieval old towns, baroque castles, renaissance palaces and magnificent church domes. Operas and orchestral recitals would also be an option as the route leads from Bavaria, through former East Germany into Poland and back to the Czech Republic. 900 km would be a challenge in two weeks; perhaps Darina looks fitter than she really is!
The Polish pierogi (stuffed dumplings) were new to Kurt, and he found the pictures challenging, but he did manage to figure the route out.
9. Rosenheim (Germany) – Eisriesenwelt – Villach (Austria) – Bled (Slovenia)
This trip certainly ticks all the boxes. Rosenheim provides the old city, the Eisriesenwelt ice cave definitely fits into the unique landscape category and Villach features again for modern architecture. Bled is the icing on the cake with the castle on the island in the lake, the nearby Vitgar Gorge and numerous local specialities.
The temperature drop of 15 degrees in 24 hours was perfect timing for the hearty Slovenian goulash-like stew: Bograč. Of course, it sent Kurt on a Hungarian trail, and he needed a lot of prompting to figure this one out.
10. Ljubljana – Piran (Slovenia) – Novigrad – Poreč – Rovinj – Pula (Croatia)
Although a little on the short side, this trip offers so many reasons to stop it would be a shame to rush through! Beautiful old towns, Roman ruins, Venetian towers, quaint coastal villages and a chance to see flamingos outside of Piran are definite arguments for taking it easy! And being so close to Italy, “the food should be good!”
With so much wonderful coastline, the chosen dish just had to be grilled fish. It was accompanied by blitva, a typical Croatian speciality of potatoes and silverbeet.
11. The Swiss Alpine Panorama Route
St Gallen – Glarus – Thun – Fribourg – Aigle
As borders began to close, it became more and more likely that a Swiss trip would be the best bet for Easter. This official national cycling route is broken up into nine stages described as strenuous and stamina-testing but with spectacular views as the reward. Starting in St Gallen, the route skirts the north face of the Alps where medieval towns and castles are a dime a dozen. Lakes and museums are the order of the day and, as far as cuisine goes, cyclists won’t be disappointed.
There was no doubt that cheese would have to somehow make its way into this Swiss dinner. Darina opted for the Fribourg regional speciality: Galettes (buckwheat pancakes) with Gruyère cheese and bacon, served with an endives salad and cottage cheese dressing.
12. Bologna – San Marino – Po Delta – Modena – Piacenza – Pavia – Milano (Italy)
It’s hard to beat Italy, but this trip that Darina had planned is a real gem. Following the old Roman road, Via Emilia, from Piacenza to Rimini on the Adriatic coast, there is a city to explore and specialities to sample on a daily basis: Parma for its ham, Modena for its aceto balsamico, Bologne for its meat sauce and then, of course, there’s Parmigiano cheese, tagliatelle and potato gnocchi, to mention just a few. After a loop through San Marino, following the coast up to the Po Delta would be well worth it, if only for the flamingos patiently waiting to pose! Then back through Lombardy and we are on the home stretch!
Potato gnocchi with asparagus and Parma ham in a white-wine and mascarpone sauce left no doubt in Kurt’s mind as to the region in question. In fact, he didn’t even need the pictures, as he had exactly the same trip up his sleeve to surprise Darina one of these days!
After touring all these amazing routes virtually, it was time for Kurt to take his pick. As the slogan on the Swiss Tourism website goes: Dream now, travel later! Although Darina and her students had two weeks in mind, Kurt’s dreams go a whole lot further. With retirement on the horizon at the end of the year, he couldn’t see why he would have to choose, and, in no time, he had all twelve trips woven into one mega gander around Europe, with a winter escape to warmer climes in Cape Verde! That should take care of any retirement blues he might have for the first few months of the rest of his life. Lockdown does have its merits!