Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Sunday, October 29, 2006


For two weeks, Mainz, a city in the famous Rhinehessen winemaking region of Germany, is celebrating its grape harvest. Hotels are serving special menus centered around riesling and truffles. And in the farmer's market this past Saturday, stalls serving up glasses of white, rosé, and red wine, as well as champagne (called sekt in Germany), were mixed among the ones selling the usual gorgeous array of red peppers, purple beans, golden mushrooms, lettuces, various fruits, and cheeses.

Since Swissy Pie had to attend a weekend conference there, we landed right in the midst of this unexpected indulgence. We took the train up on Friday - my first experience with the luxurious ICE, the high-speed "inter-city express" - and while he was at his seminar, I explored the old city, from St. Stefans, a church whose stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall, to the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, which had a special exhibition on a "Heldengrab in Niemandsland" (Hero's Grave in No Man's Land), to shops in the Altstadt and along the Augustinerstrasse.

The high point of the trip was, unsurprisingly, centered around wine. On Friday night we dined at Bellpepper, where we had a lovely 2005 Von der Fels riesling from Weingut Keller. It was nicely balanced between fruit and acid: bright and citrusy with just a hint of sweetness to round it out. I spent Saturday traipsing around the city to try to find it. Though I didn't manage to track down the Von der Fels, I did find an ordinary QbA trocken riesling, also from 2005. Of course, I managed to acquire two additional wines along the way. One was a 2005 Silvaner feinherb, also from Rheinhessen, bottled by Edith and Norbert Kessler. The other one, which we've already consumed, was a 2004 Kerner Spätlese trocken (Westhofener Kirchspiel) from Helmut Geil. It is very good - and in the States, would have cost at least twice as much as it does here.

In Mainz, I was also initiated into the European sauna experience, one of the best legacies of the Roman empire. Initially I was a little surprised to see that men and women shared the space, and even more surprised that most people nevertheless lounged around in their birthday suits. But the shock wore off quickly. It probably helped that there weren't many people using the facilities.

The sauna in our hotel was very nice. It was in the basement, but was built aroud the old city wall and had lots of natural light streaming down through the former defensive pits, so it was bright and airy and felt quite modern. The scent of oranges wafted through the space. Lit candles in the entry made it feel like a spa.

I began with the familiar. After rinsing down in the shower and indulging in a footbath, I entered the heated cedar room that I've always considered a sauna. It was hotter and darker than the others I've been in, so as soon as I began to sweat, I fled, to cool off by dunking myself in a tub of cold water. Then I tried the steam room, cooled off again under a waterfall-style shower, and moved into a "Ruheraum," a relaxing room, to finish cooling down. There was also a fresh air room, which was open to the outside. It was a nice way to finish on a brisk autumn day.

Some people wrapped up with time in the tanning bed, which I skipped. But on the whole, I found the experience really relaxing.

Good, inexpensive wine and saunas. I think I'm going to enjoy living in Europe.

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