Gatherings & Celebrations: Meeting for Coffee in Europe and America - #111

Most of our gatherings and celebrations have their origins in things that go on in the heavens:  annual occurrences that alter our natural surroundings.  Often these cosmic events are coupled with a religious occasion -- Christmas, near the shortest day of the year... Easter, near the spring equinox.  Sometimes they are marked with the celebration of a specific activity -- Thanksgiving, and the completion of the fall harvest.  In almost every case, there are precise dates for the gathering and explicit foods and drinks that have become associated with the occasion.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The gatherings came first; the particular foods and drinks associated with them came afterwards.  There is, however, one very famous exception:  coffee. The drink came first; its association with a type of gathering came afterwards.

The most famous story about the discovery of coffee takes place in Ethiopia.  It tells of a goatherder who noticed that after eating the berries of a certain bush, his goats became happy and excited.  The berries had the same effect on him.  (Those are actually sheep, not goats, but the goats had too much of a caffeine buzz and we couldn’t work with them.)

A local monk joined in the experiment and found himself in the same elated state. The berries became a regular part of the diet at the local monastery and were considered almost as a gift from heaven because they helped keep the brothers awake during their evening prayers.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The word “coffee” comes from an Arabic phrase for wine.  Islamic law forbids the use of wine, so in many ways coffee has taken its place. Coffee started growing in Ethiopia, and Arab doctors have been using it as a form of medicine since the fifth century.  The first cash crop came out of Yemen in the 1400s.  Islamic pilgrims passing through Mecca heard about it and spread the word throughout the Arab world.   Eventually a coffee house became a basic part of every Islamic community.

A Dutch traveler described a typical Middle Eastern coffee house as follows: “Coffee houses are commonly large halls, with floors that are covered with straw mats. At night they are illuminated by many lamps.  The customers are served with smoking pipes and cups of coffee.  Scholars sit in these establishments and tell tales, deliver speeches on various subjects and receive small contributions from the audience for their efforts.”

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant and what it appears to have stimulated in these ancient Arab coffee houses was an interest in original ideas.  People began to talk about politics, about freedom, about -- social change!  Well!   The ruling class couldn’t tolerate that, and in 1656, The Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire outlawed the coffee house.  The idea that a coffee house was a gathering place for revolutionary ideas that had to be supressed, a place of social unrest, stayed with it for hundreds of years.

In 1674 a document titled A Woman’s Petition Against Coffee was published in London.  It claimed that coffee houses kept men from their homes and made them sexually impotent.  In the following year King Charles of England tried to close the coffee houses with a proclamation.  Not a chance. There was such an outcry from the public that within eleven days the proclamation was withdrawn.  Coffee and free speech had been protected.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In England, the coffee house was not only the place to introduce new political ideas, it was the ideal spot to present new business ideas. The first stock exchange in England got started in a coffee house, as did one of the world’s most famous insurance companies, Lloyds of London. People who were interested in a particular type of business would gather in a specific coffee house and the industry would grow up around them. By the middle of the 1700s there were tens of thousands of coffee houses in the great cities of Europe.  This unusual association between coffee drinking and gatherings that stimulated original thoughts continued for many years.  As a matter of fact, many of the meetings held by the people who started the French Revolution took place in coffee houses -- and that was equally true for the American Revolution.

The English brought coffee to the American colonies, but it was rather expensive in comparison to tea, which is the reason the early settlers were drinking tea.  And why King George’s tax on tea led the patriots to toss his tea into the Boston harbor, rather than pay the tax. The Boston Tea Party, as it has come to be known, was more about money than politics, and had nothing to do with gastronomy.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When we take a look at the history of how people really eat and drink, it becomes apparent that politics plays a very small role.  What usually drives our food selection is price.  Drinking coffee in the United States is a perfect example.  We started out as an English colony, drinking tea.  When the Revolutionary War came along, the English, who had been supplying the tea, raised the price and cut off the supply.  We went to drinking coffee.  But as soon as the Revolutionary War was over, we went right back to drinking tea, supplied to us by our old enemies.  We did that until the War of 1812 -- fighting with the English again.  Tea supply was cut off, price went up, we went to drinking coffee.  Only this time, instead of getting our coffee from Africa or Asia at a high price, it was coming up from Latin America.  The price was low and the quality was high.  We never went back to drinking tea.

And that’s how the United States of America became a nation of coffee drinkers... over half a billion cups a day.   Throughout most of America’s coffee-drinking history it was just a cup of Mocha or Java -- slang names for coffee that are also the names of two of the earliest places in the world from which coffee was exported to Europe and the Americas.  But since the 1950’s there has been a growing interest in more sophisticated coffee and of better quality.  Espresso and cappuccino have swept over North America like a dark and foamy wave... a wave that came off the shores of Italy.

Francesco Illy was one of the founding fathers of espresso.  In 1933 he founded the Illy Caffe company of Italy.  In 1935 he built and patented an apparatus which is considered to be the forerunner of most modern espresso machines.  Today the company is run by his son, Ernesto Illy, who is chemist by training but appears to have applied all of his skills to the technology involved in making a better cup of espresso.  And so has his family.  His wife Anna is involved in the business... his son Francesco is a creative director in charge of the corporate image... is daughter Anna is the purchasing manager... his son Andrea is the managing director... and his son Riccardo is a vice-president.  Riccardo, however, has been put out on loan for a few years to be the Mayor of Trieste -- a city of which he is very proud.

RICCARDO ILLY:  We have many richnesses, on the natural point of view, and on the cultural one.  For the natural, we have the sea, with very clean water, we have hundreds of kilometers of coast, and we are right in the middle.  The houses, all the architecture -- the old part of the city, which has been built by the Austro-Hungarians.  So the Austro-Hungarian style here is very well presented in the city.  So you really can spend some days looking around the city and visiting all these cultural richnesses.

This is the Illy roasting facility in Trieste.  The process begins with the arrival of sample coffee beans.  The Illys prefer nine different varieties of bean, which come most often from Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia and Brazil.  These areas are considered to produce coffee which is ideal for espresso.

The samples are brought into the lab for evaluation.  Espresso is made and discussed.  Now, usually a tasting area is a small booth where people sit all alone, taste their sample, and write down their reaction.  Not so at Illy.  Tasting is a family gathering where everybody expresses their opinion loudly and clearly.  The whole thing is very Italian.

The particular beans that are approved are then brought into the plant.  It’s virtually impossible to eliminate all of the defective beans that arrive at a roasting plant from the growing fields, so the job must be undertaken at the roasting company.  The most accurate and sophisticated technology for doing the job is based on photoelectric cells that use a set of color codes to spot a bean that is not up to standard.  If the bean is the wrong color it’s taken out of the stream, and at a rate that no human eye or hand could match.  This machine sorts four hundred beans per second; it’s an expensive process, but it’s important.  A single bad bean can affect the taste of hundreds of other beans.  It takes fifty beans to make a single cup of espresso.

Once the beans are sorted, it’s time to start the blending.  There are three major characteristics that must be balanced in order to have a great cup of espresso:  the taste, the aroma, and the body of the liquid.  It’s almost impossible to get this balance with only one shipment of coffee, and that’s where the nine varieties and the blender come in.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When you put a brand name on a coffee, or any other food product for that matter, people expect it to taste the same.  That’s the whole idea behind a brand -- consistency.  Unfortunately, the things that go into making up that brand are constantly changing; crops vary from year to year.  But people don’t want to know about that -- they want the taste of the brand to remain the same.  And that’s where the blenders come in.  They taste every batch of beans that come in from the growing countries, and constantly re-adjust the formula for the brand, so in the end you have the same taste, the same aroma, and the same body.

The most important stage in the production of coffee is the roasting.  It’s done in huge rotating cylinders.  The temperature inside goes up slowly.  The beans begin to give up their moisture.  They also begin to get bigger.  The cell walls, however, can only take so much pressure before they explode.  So there’s a delicate process going on.  The bean must be roasted but not blown up.  When the beans are properly roasted they must be cooled.  There are two different ways of cooling it.  Water is the fastest, but it reduces the quality of the product.  Streams of cool air are the preferred method for top-quality coffee.

You can buy your espresso coffee in the form of ground coffee or as a whole bean.  Dr. Illy feels that if the coffee is held under pressure, you can buy it in the ground form and it will be perfect.  If it’s not under pressure, you’re better off buying the whole bean and grinding it yourself.  Just make sure you grind it into a powder.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  At last we’re ready to make a cup of espresso.  The ever-precise Dr. Illy recommends seven grams of perfectly-roasted Arabica coffee.  Each grain is to be no smaller than one micron, but no larger than one millimeter.  Thirty cc’s of water at ninety degrees Centigrade pass through the grinds at nine atmospheres of pressure, and the passage takes twenty-five seconds.  But of course, you already knew that.  And now I’ve embarrased myself by stating the obvious...

Illy is clearly dedicated to what goes into a cup of espresso, but they have also become interested in the cup itself.  Since 1992 they have been commissioning artists to design espresso cups, and offering them in limited editions.

DR. ERNESTO ILLY:  And this idea has been making people really falling in love with our aesthetical focusing.  We focus on aesthetics -- in the container and in the contents.  A little caffe, a lot of flavor, a lot of taste, a beautiful cup -- this is the pleasure of the aesthetical enjoyment.

 And along with the espresso, how about some Tiramisu?  Tiramisu is the name of an Italian dessert that has become extremely popular in North America.  Tiramisu translates into English as "lift me up," and from an emotional point of view a few bites of this might just do that.  The chef is Andrea Gibson of Toronto.

Andrea starts the preparation by taking four egg yolks and two whole eggs and whisking them together while adding six tablespoons of sugar and one cup of Marsala, which is a sweet fortified wine, like a port or a sherry.  The bowl goes over a pot of simmering water and you heat and whisk the mixture for five minutes.  Then it goes into the bowl of an electric mixer, where it is beaten at a medium speed until it comes down to room temperature.  That takes about ten minutes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The next ingredient is a pound of mascarpone cheese, which is a smooth, creamy Italian cheese.  If for some reason you can’t get mascarpone, an okay substitute is one cup of heavy cream blended together with a half pound of ricotta. Or just ricotta cheese that you’ve blended into a nice, smooth texture in a food processor.

When the egg and marsala mixture is cool, half of it gets blended into the mascarpone.  Then the other half.  Two cups of heavy cream are whisked until stiff, then folded into the mascarpone mixture.  The Italian version of a ladyfinger is called a Savoiardi; it’s dipped into a mixture of espresso coffee and brandy and then placed into the bottom of a deep serving bowl.  Andrea is using one that holds four quarts.  The coffee mixture is actually three parts espresso coffee and one part brandy.  When you have a flat layer, the mascarpone mixture goes on for the next layer.  Then a dusting of cocoa, a little cinnamon, another layer of moistened ladyfingers, more mascarpone.  Cocoa.  Cinnamon.  Ladyfingers.  And on and on until the bowl is full.  Using a see-through presentation bowl gives the dish a dramatic look.  The final touch is a decoration of whipped cream, cocoa, and chocolate shavings.  Then into the refrigerator until serving time.  It’ll even hold well overnight.

ANDREA GIBSON:  There is definitely a trend toward more “comfort desserts,” because people don’t feel special out there right now; it’s really tough.  And if you’re made to feel special by a special dessert or a place that treats you well, that’s good.

Monique Barbeau, of the famous coffee town of Seattle, is making our next dessert.  It’s a Lemon Curd Tart.  She starts by breaking seven eggs into a large mixing bowl.

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  You can reduce the number of egg yolks to three in this recipe in the event that you’re watching your dietary guidelines, or have a cholesterol problem.  It will still set up the same, as well as the butter at the end of the recipe.  You can eliminate that, also.  That just adds richness to the finished product.

BURT WOLF:   So I can do it with three yolks and seven whites --


BURT WOLF:   -- and skip the butter at the end.


BURT WOLF:   Great tip.

Then the juice of six lemons goes in, followed by two cups of sugar, and the zest of two lemons. All that gets mixed together.  While those ingredients are getting mixed, the bowl gets heated over a sauté pan of boiling water. The steam does a more even and gentle job of heating the bowl than direct flame.

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  What you want to look for is, you want to look for the change from a very liquid, water form to sort of a Hollandaise consistency.  You also want to be whisking in sort of a “crazy-eight” motion, so you incorporate a lot of air.  This dessert needs a lot of air so it’s not flat.  Then, as the eggs cook, you don’t want to overcook them, but as long as it’s just simmering under the bowl, they’re gonna cook slowly.  And as soon as it gets to Hollandaise temperature, that means the eggs have started to cook, and they’ve incorporated the liquid and they become thick.  And you’ll just know by, ummm...

BURT WOLF:   Looking!


BURT WOLF:   Looking is good!

MONIQUE BARBEAU:  Looking is good.

When the mixture has reached the thickness of a Hollandaise sauce, it's taken off the heat and the six optional tablespoons of butter are whisked in.  At that point it's poured into a pre-cooked 12-inch pie crust, and sent off to the refrigerator to solidify. It’ll take about 20 minutes for the lemon curd to set.  Then Monique adds a garnish of candied lemon zest and the tart’s ready to serve.

And finally, Genevieve Harris, at the Bathers Pavilion restaurant in Sydney, Australia is making a gingerbread loaf with carmelized apples to go with our coffee.  She starts by putting seven ounces of butter into a mixing bowl and whisking it together with one and a quarter cups of brown sugar.

When the mixture is smooth, in go two eggs, which are incorporated one at a time.  Then three-quarters of a cup of dark corn syrup is mixed with three-quarters of a cup of hot water.  Two teaspoons of ground ginger are mixed together with three and a half cups of all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon.  Some of that mixture gets sifted right into the butter blend.  Then a little of the corn syrup is stirred in.  That process of alternately adding the dry flour and the moist corn syrup continues until all of them have been incorporated into the batter.

GENEVIEVE HARRIS:  If you put all the liquid in first and then add your dry ingredients, you’ll have a very wet batter and you’ll get large clumps of flour that won’t mix into your batter.  So when it’s cooked, and you slice the gingerbread, there’ll be large lumps of flour, white flour, through it.

A strip of parchment paper goes into the bottom of a lightly-buttered loaf pan. That strip of paper will be of enormous value when it is time to remove the cake from the pan. Then in goes the batter. The baking takes place in a preheated 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. At which point it comes out of the oven to cool. A mixture of equal volumes of brown sugar and water is heated together until it comes to the boil. Genevieve used a half cup of water and a half cup of sugar. In go a few peeled, cored and sliced Granny Smith apples. They cook for 3 minutes.

BURT WOLF:   I should point out that Granny Smith was a real person, who lived here in Sydney, Australia -- and invented the Granny Smith apple.

Then the cake comes out of the pan.  See?  I told you that the paper would come in handy. One-inch-thick slices are cut, and placed onto a serving dish. The carmelized apple slices go on, and a few spoons of melted vanilla ice cream.

Any of those with a cup of coffee and you have a combination that leaves no “grounds” for appeal.  But if you are sitting at an Italian cafe, in or out of Italy, the accompaniment that you are likely to see with your espresso or cappuccino is a cookie with a two hundred year-old love story. 

This is what the Italian city of Saronno looked like in the old days.  It is a town that has become famous because of two lovers who lived here and memorialized their affection in the form of a cookie.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The year was 1789.  The lovers were Giuseppe and Osolina.  The Bishop of Milano had decided to pay a visit to the town of Saronno, but gave very little notice.  No one could prepare a suitable celebration.  Giuseppe, however, decided to mark the occasion by inventing a cookie.  He did not have very many ingredients -- egg whites, sugar, the kernels of apricots.  The result, however, were these extraordinary light, crisp confections.  Osolina decided to wrap them in pairs as a symbol of their love.

Today these cookies are still made in the same town in which they were originally baked.  They are called Amaretti di Saronno, and they are shipped all over the world.  Roberto Colombo shows us how they’re made.

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  Every year we produce here about 6,000 tons of biscuits. 

BURT WOLF:   So those are the pits of apricots, ground up.

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  Exactly.  Exactly.  We only use three ingredients for Amaretti production -- one is apricot kernels, the egg whites, and the last one, the most important one, is sugar.  After that, this machine, which is called the depositer --

BURT WOLF:   “Depositer?”

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  -- yes, the depositer will shape the dough in small pieces just by pressing the dough through the nozzles.  After the shaping of the dough, they will be covered with topping sugar.

BURT WOLF:   Topping sugar.  Is that a special kind --?

ROBERTO COLOMBO:  Yeah, it’s a special sugar; some granules combine together in order to obtain large particles of sugar.  The excess is removed, and after that the product is ready to go into the oven for the baking process.  After coming out of the oven, the Amaretti di Saronno need to be cooled down, so we go on this conveyor here, we put them in two rows in order to bring them to the packing lines.  So now we will go down there.  . . . After cooling, the Amaretti di Saronno are fitted [?] with this little conveyor to a wrapping machine.  This is quite a difficult operation to be done because, you know, you have to take two biscuits, put one upside-down on the other, and then put the little piece of paper around it and twist it.  It’s quite difficult.

To come back to the early part of this story... when the Bishop visited Saronno, he tasted the Amaretti and gave them his gastronomic blessing.  He also performed the marriage of Giuseppe and Osolina, who lived happily ever after.  And whose children and children’s children have continued to bake the Amaretti, making Lazzaroni the oldest still operating bakery in Italy.  And that’s True Love.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Coffee: the drink that appears to have created a gathering of its own.  A gathering that was often associated with creativity, and the exchange of new and sometimes revolutionary ideas -- all rather stimulating.  And for a little more stimulation, I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations that mark the passages of our lives. I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Belgium - #1008

BURT WOLF: Brussels is the capital of Belgium. It is also the capital of what is trying to become a United Europe. And it is an ideal city for the honor. The population of Belgium is made up of three different cultural groups that speak three different languages -- French, Dutch, and German.  The people of Belgium are polite, tactful and neighborly.  Perfect for the capital of a new Europe, and ideal for a visiting tourist.

The revolution of 1830 that produced a free and independent Belgium started here at the Brussels Opera House. The opera being performed had an aria in which a singer cried, ”Far better to die than to live in slavery. Away with the foreigners!” The audience took the words to heart, got up, walked into the streets, and started the revolution that got rid of the Dutch. Opera is still very important in Brussels.

To have an opera start a revolution is surprising, but so are many things in Brussels. Brussels is the headquarters for NATO and home to more than one thousand international corporations. It is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, and at the same time, filled with historic sites, cultural attractions and helpful people, most of whom speak English and enjoy speaking it with Americans.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Belgium is easy to get to. It’s right in the center of Western Europe and flights come in from major cities all around the world. If you’re coming from England you can come on the Euro star train that runs through the tunnel underneath the English Channel. When you get to Belgium you will be sitting on an imaginary line.  It’s a line that divides the speakers of Romance languages in the southern part of Europe, like French, from speakers of Germanic languages in the northern part of Europe, like Dutch.  The line runs right through the center of Belgium.

The fact that most Belgians speak two languages is constantly brought to mind. All street signs are symbolically in both French and Flemish.


The most famous symbol of Brussels, however, is the Manneken Pis... a bronze fountain in the form of a naked boy. It was constructed in the early 1600s and there are a number of stories about its meaning. But all the stories make the same point:  the people of Brussels are courageous, they have stood up to oppression, and the statue expresses their attitude towards the oppressors.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1746 a bunch of French soldiers stole the statue. The King of France was in town at the time, and he was so annoyed and embarrassed that he had the soldiers arrested and put in prison, he had the statue returned, and then he made the statue a Knight of St. Louis -- which meant all the French soldiers had to salute it.

The King also gave the statue a uniform of gold brocade. The idea of having different uniforms for the statue caught on and today there is a museum with over six hundred costumes.  He dresses for special occasions. Carnival... flight training class... Dracula’s Birthday... Mozart’s Birthday... and Elvis’s Birthday.  He was always close to the king.

The museum faces out on the Grand Place, which is one of the great squares of the world. It was once the main marketplace for the city, a fact which is echoed in the names of the streets that lead into the square:  Butter Street. Meat and Bread Street. Herring Street.  During the 1400s the Hotel de Ville was built on the square as the center for the local government, and the food market became less significant.

On the first Thursday in July, the square is the site of the Omegang pageant. Over two thousand costumed participants parade past the King of Belgium. The event dates back to 1549, when it was first presented to King Charles V.

The streets surrounding the Grand Place contain dozens of shops offering Belgian Lace. By the middle of the 1500s Belgium had become the lace making capital of Europe. Brussels was the center of the business and over ten thousand people in the city, mostly young women, were employed in production.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Lace making used up so much of the available labor pool that it soon created a shortage of serving maids -- a situation that was unacceptable to the wealthy families of Belgium. And so a law was passed that said that lace could only be made by girls under twelve.

The lace makers of Brussels created handiwork that was considered to be the best; the threads were the finest and the designs the most beautiful. During the past hundred years the fashion for lace has declined, and today it is an item of special interest. Fortunately, there’s still quite a bit of interesting lace in Brussels.

Brussels has some of the most elegant shopping areas in Europe. One of the most charming is just off the Grand Place. It dates back to 1847 and is known as the Royal Arcades. It consists of three shopping galleries covered with glass roofs and lined with fashionable shops.


If, however, you are just looking, then try the museums. Brussels has dozens of interesting collections and exhibitions and three of the most interesting are right next to each other.

The Museum of Art and History is one of the most significant in Europe. It covers the entire history of art, with outstanding examples from almost every period.  The museum has a fascinating collection of church altars that were made in Brussels and Antwerp during the 15 and 1600s. At the time, a painter got paid three times more than a sculptor.  As a result, sculptors working on a church needed to supplement their earnings. One way was to make the carvings for an altar.

The Royal Army Museum and Museum of Military History has weapons and equipment covering centuries of European conflict including over 300 vintage aircraft.

And even though it’s just next-door, Auto world is a trip. You can trace the history of the motorcar from 1886 to 1975. Four hundred and fifty cars from twelve different countries.

The Royal Museum of Central Africa is also fascinating. During the 1880s Belgium’s King Leopold II took control of the entire Congo basin in Africa, an area half the size of Western Europe, and he ran it as his private property. He commissioned this museum to house his Congo collection. If you’d like to do some of your own collecting, there are at least a dozen excellent African art galleries in the city.


At the end of the 19th century, regal architecture was very fashionable in Brussels. Brouckere Square, named after a mayor of Brussels, was at the center of the city’s social life. And the buildings on the surrounding streets reflected the community’s interest in the majestic.

A good example is the Hotel Metropole. It opened in 1895 and was designed to express the great luxury that was available in Brussels at the end of the 19th century. The entrance hall is a French renaissance foyer in marble. Vaulted ceilings... crystal chandeliers... Oriental rugs. The reception area looks as it did over a hundred years ago... polished wood... brass trimming.  Beneath the Corinthian columns of the bar are palm trees, a reminder of Belgium’s expansion into Africa.

The hotel was also designed to express the coming attractions of the 20th century... the age of high technology. There’s an outside terrace and a cafe that were already famous in the 1800s. Contemporary designers often feel that less is more, but the Belle Époque boys who built this room clearly believed that more is more.


Food lovers agree that some of the finest food in Europe is served in the homes and restaurants of this city. The major influences on Brussels’ food came from the French, but you can also taste elements that came along during the years when Belgium was ruled by the Spanish and the Austrians.

Waterzooi is one of the most famous dishes. It’s somewhere between a soup and a stew. Chicken is poached in a broth of aromatic vegetables and saffron and finished off with a touch of cream. Saffron came to Belgium with the Spanish.

Another Flemish classic is beef stewed in beer. Cubes of beef are browned with onions, stewed in rich Belgian beer, and then flavored with a touch of red currant jelly and red wine vinegar. The jelly and the vinegar give the dish a sweet and sour edge. It’s served with boiled potatoes, and more of the beer that it was made with.

A specialty of the town of Liege is a warm green bean and potato salad with a bacon vinaigrette. Potatoes and green beans, still hot from cooking, are mixed together with freshly sautéed bacon, then dressed with a warm vinaigrette.

The Belgians’ love of cooking with beer shows up again in chicken braised in beer with Belgian endives. This is a popular family meal, often served as soon as the first endives come to market in September. The Belgians also make some of the worlds finest chocolate, and the chefs of Brussels use it to make a classic chocolate mousse.

For a look at life at the top of the gastronomic scale, you can pay a visit to Comme Chez Soi, which means like our place. It is one of the top restaurants in the world, with almost as many chefs as patrons. The table to get, and you must ask well in advance, is the one in the kitchen. It gives you the feeling that the entire staff is devoted just to you.

These days the chefs of Belgium travel around the world and constantly modify their approach to cooking. As a result, many traditional distinctions are disappearing. But some constants remain.

Belgian seafood is always important, especially mussels. The most famous dish in Brussels is Steamed Mussels with Fried Potatoes.  Brussels is famous for its Belgian Fried Potatoes.  Until the Seventies, there were Belgian Fry stands all over town.  There aren’t many these days, but this classic -- near the site of the 1958 World’s Fair -- is still open.

The seasonal arrival of the herring run each year is announced in every menu. Belgian waffles, freshly made in storefront shops, are the most common street food.

Brussels has also had a long-standing relationship with the cookie. And the best place to see it is the Dandoy shop in the old city. It has been run by the Dandoy family since 1829. Their most famous cookie is called a speculoos. They are a type of gingerbread and traditionally given to good children on St. Nicholas Day, the 6th of December. The word speculoos is Latin and it means mirror. The cookies come out of a hand-carved wooden form that mirrors the image of St. Nicholas.


We know that for at least eight thousand years, people have been making beer.  There are paintings on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs and artifacts in Babylonia that illustrate the process.

Over the centuries, the techniques passed from the Middle East to Europe. At the time, northern Europe was too cold to grow the grapes that made good wine, so beer became the drink of choice in Great Britain, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

The first process in making beer is called malting. Water is mixed with a grain like barley and the barley begins to germinate.

When the malt has reached the desired point, the germination process is stopped by drying and heating the malt in a kiln. If you heat it at a low temperature you get a pale malt, leading to a paler brew. At high temperatures the malt browns and develops different flavors that range from toasty and caramelized to sharp and smoky.

The cracked barley is mixed with hot water. Naturally occurring acids in the malt convert the starch into sugar. You end up with a sweet brown liquid called the wort.

Hops, which are the female flowers of a vine, are added to the wort and the mixture is boiled for up to 90 minutes. The hops add bitterness and various aromas to the brew and they also act as a natural preservative.

Then the wort is cooled and yeasts are added. In some breweries the yeast is in the air and no additional yeast is added.  The yeast turns the sugar in the wort into alcohol.  The process is called fermentation and there are two types of fermentation.

One takes place quickly at a high temperature – about 68 degrees Fahrenheit - and the most active yeasts remains near the surface of the liquid. 

It’s called top fermentation, it takes only a few days and the beer that results is soon ready to drink. Top fermentation usually produces a beer that’s fruity and yeasty. It’s the oldest way of making beer and the result is known as ale.

The second method was developed in the early 1400s in Bavaria. The beer was fermented in cool Alpine caves and they used a special yeast that thrived at cooler temperatures. Then the beer was stored for several months.  The result was a sparkling beer with a cleaner flavor. It became known as a lager from the German word lagern which means to store.  It’s the brewing method used for most modern beers.

Belgium and the United Kingdom are the only places that still brew most of their beer with the original technique --- warm temperature and top-fermenting yeasts.

St. Arnold, the patron saint of brewers is credited with spreading the brewers’ skill throughout Belgium. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: He was curious as to why the rich seemed to live longer than the poor.

And he finally decided it was because they drank beer instead of water. And he was absolutely right. For centuries the safest thing to drink was beer.

Today, Belgium produces over six hundred different beers and beer experts have chosen some of them as best of class, worldwide. The beer brewers of Belgium are the great artists in the business. And one of the oldest brewers is Lindemans.  It’s been in the same family for over 200 years.

Their most unusual beers are called lambics, lambics are fermented by natural yeasts in the air and the fermentation process takes place over many months in wooden barrels and tanks.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Lambic is the meeting point between a beer and a wine. It is made from wild yeast in a process that’s very similar to that used for making sherry. And like a sherry it’s aged for years in wooden casks.

Some lambics are blended together and aged to make a gueuze which has a wine-like flavor and complexity. Lambic brewers never want to make the slightest physical change to their brewery buildings because it might disturb the yeast.

Belgian beers are also fermented with cherries to produce a drink called kriek or with raspberries to make a brew called framboise. Kriek is the Flemish word for black cherry. Lindemans adds cherries to their lambic and the fresh pure fruit flavor makes a great pairing with the tart complexity of the lambic. 


Most visitors to Belgium, either for business or holiday, end up passing all of their time in Brussels, which is okay. But the distances between Belgian cities are extremely short and a train ride of less than an hour will bring you an additional perspective on the country. Take Antwerp, for example it’s only forty-five minutes from Brussels. Antwerp was built on the Skelde River, which runs out to the Atlantic Ocean. For more than two thousand years Antwerp has been a major port.

In the middle of Antwerp’s central marketplace is the statue of Silvius Brabo, and it comes with a legend.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: There was a giant who lived near Antwerp, right on the river.  And he would charge an excessive toll to any ship that passed by his castle. As an added inducement to make the payment he would chop off the hand of anyone who tried to avoid the toll. He had an economic stranglehold on the city. Silvius was a Roman soldier who had the courage to kill the giant and as a final act of victory he chopped off the giant’s hand and threw it in the river.

There’s the defeated giant. And there’s Silvias.  Free from the giant’s control, the city prospered. The textile industry made many people rich. They built one of the largest cathedrals in the world. Antwerp became a center for book publishing and diamond cutting. Great artists worked here. And everybody who could afford it became interested in good food.

Antwerp was the hometown of Peter Paul Rubens, the great 17th century painter, and his home and studios are open to visitors.  If you enjoy the art of the 15, 16, and 1700s, stop into the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. It houses over a thousand works by the old masters.

In the center of town is the Cathedral of Our Lady. It is the largest and most beautiful Gothic church in Belgium. A number of Rubens masterpieces hang along the walls.  And when you come out of the cathedral you can pop across the street to a pub filled with religious statues. It’s called The Eleventh Commandment, which they claim is Thou shalt enjoy thyself.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  It’s easy to fall in love with the city of Antwerp, but if you fall in love on a more personal level, then Antwerp is the town to commemorate that love in a most traditional way.

Antwerp is the world center for diamonds.  The business came here in the 1200s. Today the city has two thousand diamond companies, with over thirty thousand employees. More than seventy percent of the world’s annual diamond business passes through Antwerp, at a value of more than thirteen billion dollars. They even have a diamond museum that will teach you everything you want to know about these glittering stones.

Diamonds appear to have been mined first in India and until the 1700s that was the only source. The criteria for evaluation has been the same for thousands of years.

The quality of a diamond is measured by the four Cs: cut, color, clarity and carat.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  The carat is a measurement of weight with a food reference, but probably not the reference that comes to mind.  The word carat comes from an ancient Greek word and refers to the bean of the carob plant. Carob beans have a tendency to uniform weight at two-tenths of a gram, and in ancient times they were used to measure the weight of pearls, precious stones, and diamonds.

In terms of gastronomy, there were three shops in Antwerp that attracted my attention.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  This is Goossen’s Bakery, and it’s very famous for their wonderful breakfast breads, and I’m gonna go and get one, but there’s always a line.  So rather than waiting here with me, why don’t you go down the block with my cameraman?  He’s gonna show you a great biscuit shop.

In addition to its other baked goods, Phillips Biscuits produces a sweet cookie in the shape of the hand that Silvius took from the giant.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  I’m getting closer -- only about four people ahead of me -- but you don’t have to wait around for this.  This time the producer will take you to a great chocolate shop.

Burie Chocolates has a monthly theme, which it celebrates in various edible forms.  Burie also has come up with a technique for putting a picture on a chocolate bar. Give them a photo and they will print it in white chocolate on a dark chocolate bar.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  What I was after was this very traditional breakfast bread; little bit of whole grain in it and lots of raisins and this other bread, which is yeast-based also, and it has some egg yolk in it, raisins, and then it’s coated with powdered sugar.  They slice ‘em up and toast ‘em and they’re fabulous for breakfast.

And finally, as you walk around town you may notice that above the streetlights there are statues of the Virgin Mary. But the reason behind this is less pious than you might expect. The owners of the building on which the streetlights hung were taxed. But if a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed above the light, the tax was suspended. I could not find a single lamp without a statue.

Travels & Traditions: The Basque Region, Spain - #1006

BURT WOLF: The Basque country straddles the border between southwest France and northeast Spain, but except for their passports the Basques are neither French nor Spanish -- they are Basque. They speak the oldest European language still spoken, so old that no one can tell where it came from. We don’t even know where the Basques came from. Scientific tests indicate that the Basques have a different bloodline than their neighbors in Spain and France. They also have a distinct and interesting culture and they do all they can to keep their traditions alive.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Basques have lived on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years, but the two most important historic influences on Spain -- a three-hundred year colonization by the ancient Romans, and a seven-hundred year occupation by the Moors -- were hardly noticed by the Basques.

BURT WOLF: The Basques lived in small isolated villages and governed with a democracy in which the residents of a house voted as a unit rather than as individuals. That sense of family group has been central to their history. There are four Basque provinces in Spain and three just across the border in France. These days the two most interesting cities for a tourist are San Sebastian and Bilbao.  Since medieval times Bilbao has been an important trading port.

At first the city shipped wool from the sheep farms of northern Spain. During the 1800s iron mining became important, and the city evolved into an industrial center for steel mills, shipbuilding and chemical production.  It was a commercial city and clearly not a destination for tourists.

But that has completely changed. Today Bilbao is Spain’s fourth largest city and a major tourist attraction. For many travelers, the standard European tour, usually limited to London, Paris and Rome, now includes Bilbao.  The change was the result of imaginative urban planning and the belief that a single building could be the catalyst for the rebirth of an entire community.

Because of its size, the Guggenheim Museum in New York can only present five percent of its collection at any one time. Yet the traditional model for a museum calls for it to constantly make new acquisitions, which just leads to more art in the storerooms.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the late 1980s, the board of directors of the Guggenheim Museum decided to continue its acquisition activities, but at the same time look for new sites to present their collection. They already had one in Venice, and they opened two new ones in New York City, and one in Berlin. In 1991 they were negotiating with Salzburg Austria when the Basque government began making their pitch. And the Basques had a couple of good points. Salzburg already had a major international music festival and hundreds of thousands of tourists came there every year. A Guggenheim Museum in Salzburg would just add more whipped cream to their cake. A Guggenheim Museum here could rejuvenate an entire city.

The logic and the opportunity were too powerful for the Guggenheim to resist. The old shipyards became the site for the new museum, with its titanium shell undulating in the wind and changing color from blue, to red, to gold throughout the day and night. Jeff Koons’ flower-covered “Puppy” welcomes visitors to the building, inviting them to loosen up for what’s coming.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: About two hours before we got here they decided to change the flowers on the puppy so I had to show it to you in a post card, but you get the idea.

Fortunately everything on the inside is ready for viewing.  Our guide is Susana Garcia.

SUSANA GARCIA:  In my tours I usually like starting here -- Andy Warhol, because I think this is quite different.  This is not the Andy Warhol we are used to.  I mean, this is what he was doing in the Fifties.  He was a graphic designer, and he was designing those shoes you see.  But here, I personally -- I can see the evolution he is going to have.  Because I can see the glamour already, and he is going to be obsessed with glamour. I can see the bright colors.  I can imagine his assistants helping him to paint, to color, because he had what he called his coloring parties.  And, as he said, he wanted to be a sort of machine; he wanted to work in every medium -- cinema, photographs, painting, fashion, music, everything.  He thought that everything could be art, and art could become common.

BURT WOLF:   Tell me about this piece.

SUSANA GARCIA:  Okay, this piece is by Jenny Holzer, an American artist, and she’s working with language.  So what we’re going to see is text written in Spanish and in English, depending on the moment you arrive.  And -- well, she’s playing with language because the message we get is a personal message; it’s something intimate, but the media she’s using is public.  It’s LEDs.

BURT WOLF:   It’s what we use for signage in advertising.

SUSANA GARCIA:  That’s it. 

BURT WOLF:   The contrast of a personal message in a public media.

SUSANA GARCIA:  That’s it.  And something I like of this piece is that we can go through it and discover something else.  Well, here we get a different color and a different language.

BURT WOLF:   It’s in Basque.

SUSANA GARCIA:  That’s it -- that’s Basque language.  Jenny Holzer had to come to Bilbao to prepare this piece, and when she came she discovered Basque language.  She didn’t know anything about this.  So she thought, “Well, that’s perfect -- as I had to come to Bilbao to discover this language, I want people to enter into my piece to discover my message in Basque.”

BURT WOLF:   It’s also a nice symbol because here Basque is behind everything that we see up front.

The Guggenheim jump-started the new Bilbao.


BURT WOLF: The other great coastal city in Spain’s Basque country is San Sebastian, which is about fifty miles to the east of Bilbao. The coast road between the two cities is beautiful.  And the area has its own unique history.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 1100s the Catholic Church had three Holy Cities: Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela on the northwest coast of Spain. If you visited any of these cities the church would reduce the impact of your sins during your afterlife. It was called an indulgence. Getting to Jerusalem was dangerous and difficult.  Getting to Rome was a lot easier but when you got there you weren’t sure the church would give you an indulgence.  Santiago de Compostela was your best bet, and thousands of people made the trip every year, aided by the first travel guide for the mass market. It was written by a monk, and published in 1130. It told you where the food was good or bad, where the neighborhoods were dangerous, and if there had been bathrooms it would have told you which ones were clean. It was the Mobil Guide of the moment.

BURT WOLF: The route passed through here -- the town of Getaria. And pilgrim or not, if you are traveling in the Basque country, Getaria is worth a stop. It’s the hometown of Juan Sebastian Elcano, who was the navigator on Magellan’s voyage around the world. Most popular literature describes Magellan as the first person to sail around the world, but he died in the Philippines and never finished the trip. It was Elcano who completed the voyage home and should be given credit for the trip. He got a nice statue but he needed a better agent.

Getaria is also the center for the production of a local wine called txakoli, which is made from grapes grown on the nearby hills. Young, sparkling and fruity, it is poured from a bottle held a few feet above the glass under the theory that the trip aerates the wine and increases its sparkle. 

Getaria has a number of good restaurants that specialize in the outdoor grilling of fish that come up from the town’s port. The grills are set up outside, near the entrance to the restaurants. My favorite is Iribar. The chef’s name is Pile and she is the third generation of her family to own the restaurant.  It’s a perfect place to take a break during your pilgrimage.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Following the Protestant Reformation the market for indulgences pretty much disappeared, along with the traffic of pilgrims through Getaria.  But recently there has been a resurgence.  During the Holy Year 1993 over a hundred thousand pilgrims walked the route along northern Spain, and new hotels and inns are being built to accommodate the new traffic.

BURT WOLF: To qualify as an authentic pilgrim you must walk a minimum of 62 miles, but you can also meet the requirements by biking for 124. Inline skaters have made petitions, but as yet there is no official ruling. And if you’re considering a skateboard, forget about it.  You must start with a letter from your parish priest and a record book that gets stamped along the way.

When you arrive in San Sebastian, you are entering a city that has been around since the 11th Century, and was one of the major resting points on the pilgrim route. But not much went on here until the middle of 1800s, when Queen Maria Cristina chose the beachfront waters of San Sebastian as the spot for her daughter’s saltwater cure. Bathing in the ocean was recommended for the princess’s skin ailment.

GABRIELLA RANELLI:  But she didn’t just walk into the water like you and I would today; because in 1845 decent people didn’t swim in the ocean.  You only went in the water if you fell in.  You were usually a fisherman.

BURT WOLF: Gabriella Ranelli is an American friend of mine who has lived here since 1989 and has a good sense of the town.

GABRIELLA RANELLI:  ... so what they had to do was build a special round building set on rails -- it was called “The Pearl of the Cantabria” -- and the queen was in it, and a pair of oxen would pull it down into the water.  She could very decorously lower herself into the water, swim around, nobody could see the Royal Body.

BURT WOLF:   She was swimming inside this little building?

GABRIELLA RANELLI:  No, she would come out.  There was a hole in it, she could swim out, she would swim around.  You could see her head -- the Royal Head would be there, nobody would see the Royal Body -- so she was okay, and then she would go back up into her little bathing house, the oxen would pull it up on the beach, she could bathe with fresh water, come out dressed with all her dignity intact.  And that’s what people did in those days, even though they wore bathing costumes made of wool from their necks down to their ankles, as you can see in photographs of the time.  But because the queen was here, everybody else -- all the court, and all the aristocracy from Spain -- wanted to come up here and spend their summers in the same place where the queen came.

BURT WOLF:  That’s an interesting point over there.

GABRIELLA RANELLI:  That’s the fortified wall.  This was a walled city, of course, and that’s where the French defended, generally the French, defended themselves against the English.  Wellington and Napoleon were always fighting it out here because this was a very, very strategic city.  If you captured San Sebastian, you would generally have a gateway into the entire Iberian peninsula, and eventually Africa.  So everybody wanted this place.  So they were always fighting people off, and eventually in 1813 the English came in, the allied troops came in -- the French had the city under siege -- and burned the entire thing to the ground.  So they had to start over and rebuild.  So a lot of what you’re seeing is the new 19th Century city that they rebuilt after the fire and after the walls came down in 1865.  The building right behind us, which is the town hall now, used to be the casino.  It was built at the end of the 1800s, but then gambling was outlawed in 1923, so they turned it into the town hall eventually.


BURT WOLF: The gastronomy of San Sebastian is based on the sea and the mountains. The local chefs are considered to be some of the best in Europe and seafood is one of their great strengths. Excellent fish soups. Sea Bream with Garlic Vinaigrette. Or whatever today’s catch is, fresh from the ocean and simply grilled.    

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For hundreds of years, Basque fishermen followed whales across the Atlantic, eventually ending up off the coast of Newfoundland and discovering the huge schools of cod that live on the grand banks.  Many historians believe that the Basques knew a great deal about the new world long before Columbus showed up, but didn't tell anybody about it because they considered it a commercial advantage.  And it makes perfectly good sense.  If you found gold, why would you want to tell the competition where your mine is?

BURT WOLF: And cod turned out to be a gold mine for the Basques.  Dried cod was a way of preserving valuable nutrients and became a popular food throughout Europe.  The demand for cod increased when the Catholic church required meatless meals and the Basques were the major suppliers.  Today, codfish is an essential ingredient in the local flavors of the Basques.  But cod is not the only important fish in the Basque kitchen. 

Walk through the market in the city of San Sebastian and you will see the other local favorites…langoustine, which is a European species of lobster, monkfish, tuna, hake, sardines and anchovies.  Because Basque country is as much about mountains as it is about the sea, lamb has always been an important part of the local cuisine. 

The mountains behind San Sebastian are home to the sheepherders, whose traditional dishes include roast lamb with garlic and lemon served with roasted potatoes and hearts of lettuce.  But there are also some small ranches that supply great steaks. 

The sheep also supply milk, which is used to make a number of traditional Basque cheeses.  The cheeses take on the flavor of the mountain plants on which the sheep fed.  In the United States, you can find a number of Basque cheeses.  The Basques are also famous for their hams.  The mountain forests, filled with acorns and chestnuts, became a natural habitat for the pigs, and ham is an essential part of the Basque diet.  The little upside down umbrellas are there to catch any drippings.  The local flavors of the Basque kitchen reflect the history of the region.  Ancient Romans did a little trading with the Basque and introduced wheat, olive oil and wine making, which was rather important, since all three elements are essential to one of the great gastronomic traditions of the Basque, a tradition known as the pintxos bar.

GABRIELLA RANELLI: I've gone to this bar, which is the place that I've had breakfast in almost every day for the last ten years. 

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: Okay, this is a pintxos bar where they have pintxos are little snacks.  They're called tapas in the rest of Spain.  But here this is the breakfast one.  This is a little bit different from the one people go to in the evening, which are heartier.  And normally you know, if you come here all the time, usually you come stumbling in, they'll hand you the newspaper first thing in the morning.  They know whatever you like to eat.  Everybody has their favorite pintxos usually. And they know their clients.

He’s pouring some txakoli which is a sparking, well it's a local wine.  It's a white wine but they pour from a great height so it gets a little effervescent, but it's not a sparkling wine.  It's made with grapes which are grown on the steep hills next to the sea, so they don't get a lot of sun.  They get a lot of rain.  It's quite tart but it's an aperitif.  It's an aperitif, yeah.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: These are great.  It's just an egg omelet on a little piece of bread.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: ... little piece of bread. 

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: Yeah, very simple but it's absolutely ideal. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I want one of those.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Hilda?  Why is it called a Hilda?

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: Well it’s actually in English we would probably say Gilda.  It’s after the Rita Hayworth film.


GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: Had a lot of impact here.

BURT WOLF ONCAMERA: It’s anchovies, little peppers and olives on a toothpick.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA:  Every bar has its own version of that. 


GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: Yes, like Rita Hayworth.  Right.

BURT WOLF ON CAAMERA: Rita Hayworth was considered spicy.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CCAMERA: That scene where she takes off her gloves, you know, that revolutionized the entire country.

BURT WOLF: I don't see the bagels, but I definitely see the smoked salmon and the cream cheese.

GABRIELLA RANELLI:  You take whatever you want and at the end, we just tell them what we've had and they'll tell us how much it is.  They're very good at math.  So it's the honor system, and people are very honest.  Nobody cheats on pintxos. 

BURT WOLF: At night, the pintxos bars take on a different menu and a different character.  Groups of friends come together, forming a loose assembly of like-minded pintxos-lovers.  They know what they like to eat and they know where they like to eat it.  They have a pre-planned route and they move along it.  One team that I traveled with always starts at eight o'clock on Thursday nights at a specific bar.  They go there because they like the mushrooms.  After about thirty minutes, they move on to the next place.  If you miss the eight o'clock opening, you know where to catch up at eight thirty and that would be true for the third or fourth spots as the night continues.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: You've got to pace yourself.  That's why the wines are so small also.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Ah, that's right. Big glasses with a little bit of wine.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: But you might have to go to twenty bars, and so if you were drinking an enormous tankard full of wine, you wouldn't make it passed four.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Also, one of the nice things about this is it gives a lot of room on the top for air, which means you get a better flavor from the wine.  Shall we?


BURT WOLF: The streets of San Sebastian's old city are packed with pintxos groups moving from bar to bar.

GABRIELLA RENELLI: This is where we're going, okay?  Now you can always tell the best pintxos bars because they've got the most people in them.

BURT WOLF: This place is jumping.



GABRIELLA RANELLI: You've got to elbow your way in here.  It's a time-honored tradition.  But this restaurant is very well known for its seafood.

BURT WOLF: What's this?

GABRIELLA RANELLI: It's baby eel.  It's come down from the mountains.  You have to eat them with a wooden fork.  And stir them around, give them a good stir.  The reason you use a wooden fork is also because if you used a metal fork, the eels would slip right through it.  They come from the Sargasso Sea.  Nobody knows where.   They travel here, they get here when they're about three years old.

BURT WOLF: It looks like pasta.


BURT WOLF: If you didn't tell me they were baby eel…

GABRIELLA RANELLI: It doesn't taste like pasta, let me tell you.

BURT WOLF: How much is that?

GABRIELLA RENELLI: They cost about $500 a kilo.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: $500 for two and a quarter pounds?

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: That's the traditional food that they eat on the day of San Sebastian, the 20th of January.

BURT WOLF: I want to finish every eel in this bowl.


BURT WOLF: At $250 a pound, this is serious stuff.

GABRIELLA RANELLI: It's delicious.  One of the things they have here, one of the selections they have are goose barnacles.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Goose barnacles? Geese get barnacles?  I mean, they move around a lot but I didn’t know they got barnacles.  Goose barnacles.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: It’s a specialty here that most people enjoy.  They’re big barnacles.  And we must have some wine because…

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Wine is good.  Wine goes with goose barnacles.  Is there a particular wine that you drink with goose barnacles?

GABRIELLA RANELLI: Here are some goose barnacles.  They’re hot.  You’d better wait a minute.

BURT WOLF: I’m actually quite full.  I ... I just ... I don’t know if I have any room left for a goose barnacle.

GABRIELLA RENELLI ON CAMERA:  Have to wait on the goose barnacles. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Are you sure I have room for goose barnacles.  Yeah, I do.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: I think that the best way to eat the goose barnacles instead of well warm.  I wouldn’t eat them this hot because they have a special sort of flavor.


GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: But I think ... why don't you finish your eels?

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh, eels are fine.  The eels are okay. 

GABRIELLA RANELLI: We're gonna need these ... we're gonna need these actually because eating goose barnacles can be a little messy.

BURT WOLF: Oh yeah.

GABRIELLA RANELLI: So just keep one handy.  Okay.  I think that looks like a good one.

BURT WOLF: Oh, it looks like a wonderful goose barnacles.  Now what do I do?

GABRIELLA RANELLI: Okay, find a good spot like there, between the nail and the body and kind of pull it open.  No, you have to use your nail, get your nail in there and twist it open. 

BURT WOLF: I'm not gonna be able to do this.  I don't have to eat it.  No.  All right.          

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Obviously this is not one of my talents.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: That was a defective barnacle.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: A defective barnacle.  Okay, so you've opened one for me.


BURT WOLF ON CMAERA: And I just kind of like, eat it?

GABRIELLA RANELLI: Just eat.  Don't eat the nail.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Is that sauce?

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: No no no.  They're cooked in sea water for one minute.  I guess I’ve got to get the barnacle juice off myself.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Like a snail.

GABRIELLA RANELLI ON CAMERA: They're a great delicacy here. 

Not a first date kind of food.

BURT WOLF: You know, they're really very good. 


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: All right, I can hang up and ship out.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Sorry I left ... I didn't finish all the goose barnacles.

Another traditional aspect of Basque gastronomy is the cider house.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Basques have been growing apples for thousands of years and making cider since medieval times.  At some point, a farmer decided to sell his excess capacity and thought it would be a good idea to let everybody have a taste just after the fermentation.  They brought alone something to eat and before you knew it, the tradition of cider tasting was part of gastronomy in the Basque region.  And cider houses developed all over the area. 

BURT WOLF: The cider houses became centers of social life.  During the cider tasting season, which runs from late January through March, the traditional cider houses open up and people stand around tasting cider. During the rest of the year, they're closed.  But here in San Sebastian there's a restaurant called Sideria Donostiarra, which is open all year round and has an atmosphere that is very much in keeping with the old farmhouse tasting rooms.  One big space, long wooden tables without tablecloths, an open kitchen, grilled food, vats of cider along the walls and patrons filling their glasses with the traditional cider catching technique. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The process for making apple cider is basically the same process used for making wine, with apples sitting in for the grapes.  There's a natural yeast on the crushed apples that turns the sugar in the apples into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol.  The carbon dioxide gas makes the cider bubbly and the alcohol makes the cider. 

BURT WOLF: There was a standing menu in the cider house.  First, slices of cod omelet and a green salad.  The main course is grilled steak.  The dessert, slices of local cheese, strips of quince jelly, and walnuts.  And of course as much cider as you want.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Cruising Provence - #908

BURT WOLF: Provence and the French Riviera make up the southeast corner of France. The warm weather, intense sunlight, and magnificent scenery attracted artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse.

Its coastline along the Mediterranean Sea made it a playground for the rich and famous.

The region is filled with ancient ruins, 2,000 year old towns, unique shops and good things to eat and drink.

For centuries, the Rhone River has been the area’s main north-south highway and the route I chose for a river cruise between the towns of Tournon and the city of Nice.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, the ancient Greeks were trading in this area.  They were followed by the Ancient Romans.  Romans liked to go everywhere the Greeks had been, it was that kind of relationship.  There were three things going for this spot:  it had a Big River that emptied into the Mediterranean.  It had a Small River joining up right here which gave them the ability to go deeper inland.  And it had a couple of high mountains where they could build their forts to defend the area.

BURT WOLF: The twin towns of Tournon and Tain L’Hermitage face each other from opposite sides of the Rhone River. In 1825, they were linked together by the earliest suspension bridge in Europe.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Originally all suspension bridges were built with chains.  And of course they were only as strong as their weakest link.   Then in the middle of the 1800’s a couple of architects came up with the idea of twisting steel wires together to make a much stronger cable.   That gave them the opportunity to build longer and stronger bridges. And the first one of this type built in continental Europe, was built right here.

BURT WOLF: The quiet riverside road at the edge of Tain L’Hermitage offers some of the most beautiful views of the river.

One of the city’s original gates is still standing, with its town crest and motto:  strong walls make good neighbors.


BURT WOLF: That evening we arrived in Viviers. During the 5th century, a big deal bishop made Viviers his home town. And during the 12th century a huge cathedral was built to signify the town’s importance.  


CREWMAN 1 ON CAMERA: Welcome aboard.

CREWMAN 2 ON CAMERA: Welcome aboard.

CAPTAIN ON CAMERA: Cheers and enjoy the first evening onboard. Cheers to everybody.

BURT WOLF: River cruising is becoming more and more popular.  The ship is your hotel and you unpack only once. And when the ship docks it often docks in the hearts of the towns that you visit.  For me it’s a much more relaxed way to travel.

The boat we sailed on was part of the Avalon fleet with some of the newest and most comfortable river cruises in the world and they use a new design.

The engines are located at the back of the ship and are heavily insulated which produces a quieter and smoother ride.

The interiors are spacious, light and open.  And yet they offer a sense of intimacy. 

The lounges and the restaurants give everyone an unobstructed view of the passing scenery.

There’s also a sky deck that’s used for relaxing, taking pictures, and sunning.

The interior of the ship is non-smoking.

The entire staff is English speaking. And the ratio of crew members to passengers is about one to three.  And there was plenty of good service. 

All the staterooms face outside.

They measure over 170 square feet which is quite big for a river cruiser.

Almost all the staterooms have gliding glass doors and many have a small balcony.

Nice full sized closets.

Individual climate control. 

Mini bar.

Modern bathrooms with powerful showers.

There’s a television and a radio that I never turned on.

And an exercise room that I never visited…but I meant to.

Where I did spend time was the dining room. The have one seating for each meal and it’s open seating. If my crew doesn’t want to eat with me, they don’t have to.

At breakfast there was a buffet table with a wide variety of breads, hot and cold cereals, fruits and fruit salads, cold cuts, smoked salmon, cheese, pastry, yogurts, and juices. There were scramble eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes and French toast. There was also a chef who prepared fresh omelets and other egg dishes to order.

Lunch was also buffet style. Appetizers, soups, sandwiches, cold cuts, breads, a salad bar, two main courses, one of which was usually a carving station, a dessert table, a cheese board and fresh fruit.

Dinner was a traditional four course meal. And there was always a red wine and a white wine in unlimited supply and free with dinner.


BURT WOLF: The next morning our ship was deep into the heart of France known as Provence. Some locals like to tell you that this land came into existence when God decided to take all the best parts of the universe, that were left over after the Creation, to make his own paradise. Interesting view --- It’s humble in the sense that you are working with leftovers, but awe inspiring because it’s God creating his own paradise.  Typical attitude for Provence---everything here is simple, but it’s the best.

We tied up in the town of Avignon.

DAVID ALFON ON CAMERA: The old name of the city was Avignon.  The city of the wind.  And here we have a very cold wind called the Mistral wind.  Mistral in Provencal that means the master.  And this wind is coming from the north of Europe getting cold in the Alps and crossing the Rhone Valley.  But this wind is very useful because it’s pushing the clouds away.  So when the Mistral is blowing, no clouds, very sunny day, very beautiful day.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: On one side of this river is the town of Avignon which belonged to the Popes.  On the other side of this river is land that belonged to the king of France. And for hundreds of years they were connected by a bridge.  Then in the 1600s a huge flood came down the river and knocked out half the bridge.  Obviously it had to be repaired.  So the Pope called up the king and said “Hi, how about fixing your bridge!?” And the king said “ha ha ha it’s not my bridge, it’s called the Pont de Avignon, the bridge of Avignon. Your town,  your bridge.  You fix it”.  And they discussed that for a while.  And today if you want to go from one side to the other, you swim.

BURT WOLF: The reason the Pope was in Avignon was because during the 1300s Rome was in such chaos that he decided that he had to get out of town and the new town he chose for the Papal Court was Avignon. That’s the Papal Palace that was built for him. It was a busy place when the Pope was there, and filled with magnificent works of art. But it was also a primary target during the French Revolution and inside not much is left.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: People have been living in this area for thousands of years.  But in the year one hundred twenty they became citizens of the Roman Empire.  The big town in the neighborhood was Nimes and 50,000 people lived in it which meant they needed 40,000 cubic meters of water everyday.  Roman architects solved the problem by building an aqueduct that came from this spring to the center of town.  The spring was always filled with water.  Cause it rains a lot.

In about the year 50 AD, Roman architects began building an aqueduct to bring water from the mountains to the city of Nimes. It was an impressive structure than ran for almost 30 miles and the most spectacular part was the span over the Pont du Gard. Even today it attracts thousands of tourists. It illustrates the high level of architectural skill possessed by the ancient Romans.

The Pont du Gard passes over the normally quiet Gardon River at the bottom of a deep valley. But from time to time the Gardon floods and walls of water crash against the pillars that hold up the bridge. In order to protect the structure against these destructive currents the Roman architects shaped the pillars like the prow of a ship.

The walls of the canal were waterproofed with a type of plaster that was made from a mixture of lime, pork fat, wine and figs. Salt and pepper was added to taste. It was so effective that two thousand years later it can still be found on parts of the aqueduct.

Much of the primary work for the construction was done at the stone quarry. Each stone was cut to a particular size and shape --- then lettered to indicate which arch it was for and numbered to show the workmen where it was to be placed in the arch. Not quite a kit from IKEA but getting close.


BURT WOLF: On the tenth day of our trip we arrived in Arles. A lot of its ancient Roman architecture still stands and gives the town a strong sense of history. Its Roman arena was built to seat over 25,000 spectators.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Over two thousand years ago Roman architects figured out how to design a stadium so people could get into it and out of it quickly.

There was a circular walkway that went completely around the stadium.  Off the walkway were stairs.  Some of them went down to the lower seats.  Some of them went to the middle seats.  And some of them went up to the bleachers.

BURT WOLF: The spectators showed up regularly to see the gladiators take on the wild beasts. You can still see the tunnels where the animals charged into the arena. And there’s where they posted each day’s final score ---Gladiators 2, Lions 7.

The Church of St-Trophime is a magnificent example of the Romanesque architecture of Provence. And it’s famous for its 12th century portal and cloister.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For me the most interesting aspect of Arles is that it was the town where Vincent Van Gogh created many of his most famous works.  He arrived here in February of 1888 and in the 15 months he lived here produced over 300 paintings and drawings, including this one called The Drawbridge.  I don’t think that looks anything like that.  Hey Andy, are we in the right place?

This is another famous Van Gogh painting called Aliscont.  It’s a walkway designed to look like Roman Burial ground.   You guys are kidding right?! Van Gogh was fascinated with the challenge of painting an outdoor scene at night.  And this is one of his most successful solutions. It’s called the Café at Night and you can see he’s begun to put in his famous stars.  That actually looks like the café.  The location scout’s getting better.

BURT WOLF: That afternoon, we took a ride through the countryside to the village of Les Baux de Provence. It’s a pedestrian-only village next to the ruins of a 13th century castle.

DAVID ALFON ON CAMERA: First the Prince of Hibble came here and built this village because they got a lot of enemies all over Europe.  And then during the 17th century they became Protestants and the French king say to his prime minister, Richelieu, to come over there and destroy all the area and kill everybody. 

So the French Army came here and destroys all the area.  So that's why you have the rooms of the castle at the top of the village.  Then during the19th century an engineer came and found the bauxite in this area.  And they were mining over there to extract the bauxite and the people came here to work in the mines and they did renovation in the village.  And that's why you have this very well preserved village just behind us.


BURT WOLF: After breakfast we took a motor-coach drive along the Cote d’Azur to the city of Nice. The Cote d’Azur translates into English as the azure coast and it takes its name from the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the blue skies above the French Alps. For almost two hundred years this region has been a summer playground for the rich. The first to arrive were the English aristocracy looking for a healthier climate. Then their equally well-to-do friends from the great cities of Europe. During the 1920s the Americans started arriving. F. Scott Fitzgerald often used the Cote d’Azur as a background for his novels. They all arrived as tourists but soon ended up buying property and building magnificent villas surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Nice is the area’s capital city. During the 4th century B.C. the Greeks settled in --- then the Romans. Later it was under the control of the French. Other times its allegiance was with the Italians. In 1860, the Treaty of Turin was signed and Nice became an official and probably permanent part of France. Many of the street signs are in French and Nissart. Nissart is a true language that is closer to Italian than French and was spoken here for hundreds of years.

The Promenade des Anglais, which means the English Promenade, was built during the 1800s by Nice’s wealthy English community.

And from the very beginning, in a generous show of equality, they allowed non-English people to walk on it with them.

And it’s still the thing to do. And as you walk along you will pass the Hotel Negresco.

The Negresco was built in 1912, and has been a social and gastronomic landmark ever since. Dozens of great French chefs worked here when they were first getting started. And anyone who thought they were someone paid the hotel a visit.  The dome of the Salon Royal was built by Gustav Eiffel in an attempt to prove that his life was not just about towers.

The chandelier that hangs from the dome is made of 16,000 pieces of crystal and was made by Baccarat.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It was ordered by the Czar of Russia but by the time it was ready for delivery to the palace in St. Petersburg the Russian Revolution had already begun and if there was one thing that Lenin hated it was a big chandelier. Time and time again, they come up in his writings as an example of the capitalist exploitation of the masses.

BURT WOLF: They also have the first hotel elevator built especially for the handicapped.  It opens by itself.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the late 1800s, Lord Coventry retired from the British military and took up residency here in Nice. His wife was a bit absent-minded and often forgot to start his Lordship’s lunch on time.  And so he had a cannon placed on top of the hill and fired it every day at noon to remind her to get started. And don’t forget to chill the wine!

BURT WOLF: The hill itself offers excellent views of the city and was the spot where the Ancient Greeks in 400 B.C. -- give or take a few years -- set up their settlement.  During the middle ages it was the site of a defensive castle. It was strategically placed and appeared to be impregnable, until Louis XVI blew the whole thing to smithereens in 1706 because he was fed up with the locals yelling about their right to independence. The net result is a lovely place for a picnic, quite flat.

And to help you with the preparations of that picnic, there’s a daily outdoor market that’s famous for its local fruits, vegetables and flowers.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is a typical French bread.  It’s called a ficelle, which means a rope or a string and the reason it’s so thin is that the bakers figured out that their customers liked a lot of crust but not much inside.  And so they ended up baking it as thin as they could. Ficelle.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA (EATING OLIVES): Fantastik…WOW, just a maniac around olives!  Merci, au revoir.

BURT WOLF: The cooking of this part of France is often described as la cuisine du soleil – the food of the sun - and its history goes back for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks settled here and carried on their traditional approach to cooking. After all, like their own communities, this was just another city on the sea. Then the Romans came along with their recipes and for hundreds of years this area was under the control of the Italians.  And let’s not forget the Spanish. For a century or so this was their land. Today the cooking of southeastern France is a blend of ancient Greek and Roman, Italian, Spanish and French.

The most famous dish in the city of Nice is salade nicoise.

And almost every restaurant had some version of soupe de poisson.  It’s served with rounds of toasted French bread and a sauce based on garlic, pimiento and chili pepper.

The chefs of the southeast coast of France are also serious about their vegetable cookery. A perfect example is melanzane Parmigianino – a simple dish made from slices of fried eggplant that are layered with tomato sauce and mozzarella.

One of my favorite spots in Nice is the Musee Matisse.

Many art historians consider Matisse to be the most important French painter of the 20th century. I find that his works have a distinct Mediterranean feeling that make them even more interesting to see when you are in his old neighborhood. He painted the people he knew, the rooms he lived in, lunch.

The last few hours of our trip were spent shopping for local specialties.

My first stop was Alziari which specializes in olives and olive oils.

As the ancient Greeks and Romans set up their colonies around the Mediterranean one of the first things they did was see if the climate was right for growing olives and if it was olive trees were one of the first things they planted. As a result of this Greek and Roman policy, for thousands of years, olives have been grown in the southern part of France and processed into olive oil.

After Alziari we went to Auer.  The chefs at Auer are master sugar workers and produce some of the world’s finest candied fruits---cherries, oranges, orange peels, apricots, pineapples and pears. The fruit is blanched in boiling water then cooked with water and sugar and dried. The sugar acts as a natural preservative.

My last stop was Molinard. It’s the retail shop of a perfume factory in the nearby town of Grasse, which is an epicenter of perfume production. The fields around the town are filled with roses, jasmine and bitter orange blossoms that are used to produce natural fragrances for the perfume industry.

Each perfume is made up of three elements. A top note which is the first thing you smell. Then a middle note which gives the perfume a sense of solidity and finally an end note which is the smell that stays with you.

All of which makes a nice end note for my cruise through the south of France. For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Cruising the Netherlands - #906

BURT WOLF: For thousands of years, people have been using rivers as a primary means of transportation. It was usually easier and safer to move things on a river than on a road. But many rivers were too shallow or too narrow for anything but a small boat. 

One way of solving that problem was to build a series of dams. The rivers got deeper and wider but then you had the problem of a river with different levels --- similar to a set of steps.
The invention that dealt with the steps is called a lock. It’s a mechanical system for raising or lowering a boat as it passes from one level of a river to another. Like an elevator it can take you up or down. The Chinese invented an early form of lock but the system that we use today was developed by the Dutch in 1373. It has a chamber with gates at both ends. A boat or boats go in the gates are closed and water is either pumped into the chamber to raise the boat or pumped out to lower the boat. When the water has reached the proper level one of the gates is opened and the boat proceeds.
The first gates used in Europe worked like a guillotine. The gate was held in a frame and raised and lowered --- like a guillotine. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: One day Leonardo da Vinci took a break from painting the Mona Lisa and invented a new and improved form of lock. The doors were in a V shape so the down stream pressure actually kept them closed. In 1478 he oversaw the construction of six of these new locks and they were fabulously successful. He was so excited that he raced home, put a smile on the Mona Lisa and celebrated with the Last Supper.

BURT WOLF: A great way to see how this lock system works is by taking a river cruise. Which is exactly what I did.

This trip is called Cruising the Netherlands and it sails through the Netherlands during the peak of the spring tulip season. We started in Amsterdam and made our way south to Middleburg and its Norbertine Abbey. Next we paid a visit to Keukenhof Gardens, the world’s largest outdoor exhibition of flowers. We also stopped in Volendam, a major epicenter for tourist clutter. And Edam for its cheeses. And finally back to Amsterdam.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Sometime during the 1100s, a group of herring fishermen settled near here along the Amstel River. That community eventually became the city of Amsterdam. So I think it's only fair to say that from the very beginning, the story of Amsterdam has been the story of something good to eat. 

BURT WOLF: But the real golden age of Amsterdam was the 1600s. Amsterdam was Europe's center for business as well as its cultural capital. It all started in 1595 when a Dutch trading ship landed in what was then called the East Indies, now Indonesia: Bali, Java, Borneo, Sumatra; lands which produced some of the world's most valuable spices.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Those were the places that Columbus had been looking for and when the Dutch got there they took control of a spice trade to Europe that made many Dutchman wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Actually, those dreams really weren't very wild at all, because even then the Dutch were very structured and not showy. Much of the wealth from that spice trade was used to build homes along the canals of Amsterdam.

BURT WOLF: Amsterdam was actually put together by connecting ninety islands with about five hundred bridges --- most citizens get around on bicycles. The town has only seven hundred and fifty thousand people but a million bikes. You could, if you wanted to, get from place to place just as well by boat.

The city plan for Amsterdam is based on three canals that form three semi-circles, one inside the other. Together they are described as the Canal Girdle. The outside canal in English is called the Prince's Canal. In the middle is the Emperor's Canal, and on the inside, the Gentleman's Canal. It's interesting that the most elegant and ambitious of the three is not those named with royal titles, it’s the Gentlemen’s Canal.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It's a reminder that for centuries the people of Amsterdam have loved the small businessman, the individual entrepreneur, and like most people, the owner of a small business tries to keep his taxes as low as he honestly can -- or at least to get the most for his money.

BURT WOLF: During the 1700's the people of Amsterdam paid their homeowner's tax based on the width of the front of their house. And that’s why so many houses along the canals are so narrow. But these same houses go up and they go back, and as they go back they get wider. A pie-shaped house with the thinnest part facing the street helped to cut down on your taxes and let you keep a bigger slice of your own economic pie. That's the Trippenhuis, built in 1662. It's like a Venetian palace. Across the street is the narrowest house in Amsterdam. The story goes that the Tripp family coachman was expressing his wish for a home on the canal, even if it was only as wide as the door of his master's house. Mr. Tripp overheard him and built him just that: a house as wide as the Tripp front door. The extraordinary architecture of Amsterdam is one of its great joys. The government has designated some seven thousand buildings in the old center as historically significant. The character of these streets tells the story of this city covering almost eight centuries. The people of Amsterdam have done a pretty good job of preserving their heritage and holding onto the old buildings was essential.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And they've built museums for just about everything Dutch that you can think of. They're also doing a good job of holding onto their gastronomic heritage. There are chefs all over this town who are researching old recipes, reproducing them and making the gastronomic past part of the present. 

BURT WOLF: DePoort Restaurant, at the center of the town's oldest area, started as a brewery in 1592. It was the place where Heineken was first made. Today the restaurant offers some of the most traditional home foods of Holland: Dutch pea soup, a meal in itself with a piece of pork and slices of sausage; herring in various forms; hotspot, which is a combination of mashed potatoes, sautéed onions and carrots. A giant pancake served with apples and preserves. These are the real Dutch treats. 

Following our free time in Amsterdam Avalon’s crew welcomed us on board.

CREWMAN 1 ON CAMERA: Welcome aboard.

CREWMAN 2 ON CAMERA: Welcome aboard.

CAPTAIN ON CAMERA: Cheers and enjoy the first evening onboard. Cheers to everybody.

BURT WOLF: River cruising is becoming more and more popular. The ship is your hotel and you unpack only once. And when the ship docks it often docks in the hearts of the towns that you visit. For me it’s a much more relaxed way to travel.

The boat we sailed on was part of the Avalon fleet with some of the newest and most comfortable river cruises in the world and they use a new design.

The engines are located at the back of the ship and are heavily insulated which produces a quieter and smoother ride.

The interiors are spacious, light and open. And yet they offer a sense of intimacy. 

The lounges and the restaurants give everyone an unobstructed view of the passing scenery.

There’s also a sky deck that’s used for relaxing, taking pictures, and sunning.

The interior of the ship is non-smoking.

The entire staff is English speaking. And the ratio of crew members to passengers is about one to three. And there was plenty of good service. 

All the staterooms face outside.

They measure over 170 square feet which is quite big for a river cruiser.

Almost all the staterooms have gliding glass doors and many have a small balcony.

Nice full sized closets.

Individual climate control. 

Mini bar.

Modern bathrooms with powerful showers.

There’s a television and a radio that I never turned on.

And an exercise room that I never visited…but I meant to.

Where I did spend time was the dining room. The have one seating for each meal and it’s open seating. If my crew doesn’t want to eat with me, they don’t have to.

At breakfast there was a buffet table with a wide variety of breads, hot and cold cereals, fruits and fruit salads, cold cuts, smoked salmon, cheese, pastry, yogurts, and juices. There were scramble eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes and French toast. There was also a chef who prepared fresh omelets and other egg dishes to order.

Lunch was also buffet style. Appetizers, soups, sandwiches, cold cuts, breads, a salad bar, two main courses, one of which was usually a carving station, a dessert table, a cheese board and fresh fruit.

Dinner was a traditional four course meal. And there was always a red wine and a white wine in unlimited supply and free with dinner.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we arrived in Middleburg. Originally, Middleburg was in the middle of an island which is why they called it Middleburg. But it was also in the middle of a lot of other things. During the Middle Ages it was the mid-point of a defensive stronghold that tried to hold back the Viking raiders.

During the middle of the 1100s a group of Norbertine monks emigrated to Middleburg from France and founded the Abbey of Our Lady which is now in the middle of the city.

And during the middle of the 1600s it was a mid-point for the operations of the Dutch East India Company. Being an executive with the Dutch East India Company was like being an insider when Google went public---big bucks. And they spent a lot of their money building these beautiful houses along Middleburg’s canals.

We stopped into the weekly market, checked out the fruits and vegetables, and treated ourselves to some stroopwafels. 

Flour, sugar and butter are mixed together to make a dough. The dough is pressed out, cooked in a waffle iron, sliced in half and filled with thick sugar syrup. 

My kind of sandwich.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Did I ever mention how much I love my job?


BURT WOLF: On February 1st, 1953, a perfect storm swept out of the North Sea and devastated 800 square miles along the southwest coast of the Netherlands. Eighteen hundred and thirty-five people were killed. Clearly, the flood control system that had worked in the past was no longer sufficient. 

The government’s response was the Dutch Delta Works, a massive project that closed off three major rivers including the Rhine and created a series of tide-free fresh water lakes. There are four great barriers and six secondary dams that run for over 18 miles.

Marcel Hanse is an official guide to the Delta Works.

MARCEL HANSE ON CAMERA: We are here on the artificial island called The Neeltje Jams. And this barrier here is only a part of the whole Delta Project. Normally the 62 gates in this storm barrier are open to let the tides flow in and out. Only when there is a dangerous water level expected, which can happen during a North Western Storm Period like it was in 1953, then we will close the steel gales of this barrier and then we will keep a large amount of water at the seaside and prevent that the water level inside in the sea arm can become dangerous. And that level gets 3 meters above normal Amsterdam level. Since the opening here in 1986, that has been necessary 24 times.


BURT WOLF: The next day we arrived in Rotterdam. During the 1200s, a small river known as The Rotte was dammed and henceforth the area was known as Rotterdam. Its location at the meeting point of two rivers --- one that flows into Germany and one that flows into France made it a perfect spot for a harbor.

During the 1600s, Rotterdam was a center of culture and trade filled with people, money and ideas. Unfortunately, much of Rotterdam was devastated during World War II, but you can still find remnants of Rotterdam’s glorious past in the Delft Harbor area.

This was also the day we visited Keukenhof Gardens.

In 1949 the mayor of a small town began working on a plan for an open-air flower exhibition where growers could showcase their latest hybrids and customers could buy bulbs for the flowers they liked. Today, Keukenhof’s spring exhibition is the largest flower exhibition in the world. There are over 70 acres, with over 7 million flowers.

We tiptoed through the tulips with Barry von Eeden.

BARRY VON EEDEN ON CAMERA: Gogof means kitchen garden in English and it’s from the 7th Century when there was a castle over there and the vegetables were grown over here. We’ve got a lot of varieties because we are open two months so we actually get flowers blooming in the beginning of March and the end of May. As visitors walk through the park they also see 50 sculptures, we’ve got 4 pavilions, we’ve got a lot of flower expositions in the pavilions like orchids, tulips, lilies, roses. What’s special about tulips is that this is the beginning of spring and it stands for life. You plant in the ground and will bloom and will shine in all its colors. You will see a lot of colors of tulips. The oldest ones are yellow and red, but these days we’ve got a lot of flowers with almost black. We say it’s a black tulip, but it’s deep purple. Every flower combination that you can think of you can find it over here. 

BURT WOLF: Most of the flowers are marked with a name and the grower. If you see something you like you can order it from the growers and it will be shipped to your home in early October.


BURT WOLF: In the middle of the 1500s, tulips were brought to Europe from Turkey. Their unusual and intense colors and delicate shapes made them a popular but costly item. There was a growing interest in the most unusual varieties and the demand soon exceeded the supply---prices began to rise, particularly in the Netherlands.

By the early 1600s a single bulb of a new variety was considered sufficient for a bride’s dowry. A successful brewery in France was exchanged for a single bulb.

Most of the business was conducted among professionals in the tulip trade, but in 1633 the general public joined in and things got crazy. Middle class and poor people began mortgaging their homes, their businesses, and selling their comic book collections to buy tulips. Sales and re-sales took place while the bulbs were still in the ground.

The crash came in the first week of 1637. People began to worry. Would prices continue to rise? Was this the best time to get out? Within days it was over --- tulips were no longer an investment, they had returned to their previous state of just being flowers and thousands of people faced economic ruin.

No one has ever been able to fully explain what happened. Tulips were certainly rare and beautiful. Amsterdam was filled with people who were newly rich and looking for status symbols. But families who should never have considered playing in the market jumped in and they were destroyed. It seems that the more things change the more they are the same.


BURT WOLF: Our next stop was Edam which is famous for its cheese.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 1500s, Edam was granted the right to operate a cheese weighing house which was a big deal. Farmers would bring in their cheeses and get an official weight then offer them for sale. The purchasers felt secure that they were actually getting what they were paying for and of course the city got a piece of the action.

BURT WOLF: Edam cheese comes in the shape of a ball. When it’s exported it’s usually covered with a red wax seal. If you see one covered with black wax it means that it’s been aged for more than 17 weeks. If you see one covered in green it’s been mixed with herbs. If you see one covered in psychedelic stripes, you’ve spent too much time in Amsterdam. 

Onboard we sampled Edam…and Gouda…and other regional cheeses at a Dutch Cheese Tasting. 

We also visited Volendam, a small fishing village with a big tourist draw.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Originally, the land that I am walking on was under water --- it was part of the harbor of the nearby town of Edam. But in the 1300s they drained the area and farmers and fisherman moved in. You ended up with a town called ‘Volendam’ which means ‘filled dam’. Isn’t that right?


BURT WOLF: The last day of our cruise was spent in Amsterdam and we started it with a canal tour of the city.

The houses built on the canals have been the most fashionable homes in the city for hundreds of years but recently the house boats anchored in front of those homes have become almost as valuable.

Just outside of Amsterdam is the Zaanse Schans Historic Village.

Saskia van de Stadt took me on a tour. 

SASKIA van de STADT ON CAMERA: An architect has made a design of a little village. How it should look like in the 17th and 18th century. So what you see here are the houses, warehouses, and windmills of the 17th and 18th century. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Do people live in there?

SASKIA van de STADT ON CAMERA: Yes, all the houses are inhabited and you can rent the houses from our association. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I can rent a house?

SASKIA van de STADT ON CAMERA: Yes, you can rent a house yourself, yes.

BURT WOLF: And are the windmills working?

SASKIA van de STADT: The windmills are working, but only for tourist purposes.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And you grew up here.

SASKIA van de STADT ON CAMERA: Yes, it was wonderful to live here, surrounded by real Dutch houses, with water. And ice skating in the winter times. In summer time we had a garden full of tulips. 

BURT WOLF: It was created during the 1960s and 70s in order to preserve examples of traditional Dutch life and architecture. Some of the buildings date back over 400 years and include eight working windmills --- each illustrating what the wind power was used for. A saw mill. A mill where peanuts and linseeds were crushed and their oil extracted. And a paint mill where pigments were ground into paint. The village also has a number of old-fashioned shops where traditional crafts are demonstrated.

Amsterdam is filled with interesting architecture including a series of structures dedicated to what became known as The Amsterdam School. In 1910, three architects decided to develop a new style of architecture. They believed that buildings should be filled with fantasy that forms should be flowing and organic and there should be lots of decoration. They built structural frames in concrete and covered them with brick, but the bricks were laid in unlikely patterns and shapes with rounded edges, unusual angles and tapered towers that led nowhere. Little thought was given to whether the shapes were practical or if limited funds should be spent on unusable towers. By the 1930s, more conservative thinking prevailed and the movement was over. But anyone interested in architecture should take a look at the Amsterdam School buildings that are still standing. Alice Roegholt took me on a tour of the area.

ALICE ROEGHOLT ON CAMERA: The architects of the Amsterdam school became famous because they built lots and lots and lots of social housing blocks. And what is very beautiful is this layered decoration. It’s the brick, which makes such beautiful shadows. The shadow is every moment on the day different. 

And just imagine in the 20’s when people came from the town this was a new area so the people came from there and they came up through this street and saw this building. And what did they see? Did they see a village? Or did they see a castle? There are all these towers. But in all the literature it was mentioned as “the ship”, because the average worker never saw a castle in his life. So the socialists saw rebuilding castles for the worker, but and he make a kind of ship. And when you look to the first tower this round tower, the entrance the main entrance to the museum it looks like the funnel of a steam ship.

BURT WOLF: That evening, back onboard, we celebrated the conclusion of the cruise at the Captain’s Dinner.


BURT WOLF: That’s it for Cruising the Netherlands. For Travels and Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Gateway to Scotland - #905

BURT WOLF: Scotland. People have been living on this land for at least 6,000 years. The first inhabitants appear to have been groups of hunters and fishermen. Next the Celtic tribes who had been forced out of Europe. In the year 80 AD the Roman legions marched through. And finally the English.

The first references to Scotland’s central city of Edinburgh were in the notes of Ptolemy, an ancient Roman writer who made his comments in the year 160 AD. The first site in the area to be colonized was probably a hill called Arthur’s Seat.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Precisely which Arthur actually took a seat here isn’t quite clear. Romantics like to point to the legendary King Arthur of the Round Table. But there is no evidence to support that view. There is, however, considerable evidence that this hill had at least four prehistoric forts and an ancient farming community.

BURT WOLF: Immediate seating for Camelot or not, it’s definitely a spot from which you can see a lot. And just below Arthur’s Seat -- Old Town.

Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of the oldest communities in Great Britain and much of it has remained intact. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: One of the things I liked about the Old Town was that all economic levels of the society lived in the same house. The rich and famous lived in the middle, the poor and unknown at the top and the bottom. And they were in regular contact with each other. They met each other in the hallways, on the staircases, in the courtyards. And they knew a lot about each others’ lives. If someone in business was being dishonest or a magistrate handed down an unpopular opinion in the courts, they would be confronted about those issues when they got home. And often the confrontation took the form of a flying bucket of garbage. I like that system a lot. As I see our public officials leaving their elegant homes in their chauffeur-driven limousines, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to have a law that said that all government officials had to go to work in public transportation. Just to keep them in touch.

BURT WOLF: Someone who is very much in touch is Anne Doig. She’s the Director of Tourism for the city of Edinburgh and she begins by taking us to the top of the most famous building in the city -- Edinburgh Castle.

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: You can see the city is very dramatic, because it’s a city born from fire and sculpted by ice.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What was the fire?

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: Volcanoes. This whole area was under a shallow tropical sea that was subject to intense volcanic activity. Eventually when the ice came, one time there was two miles sheet ice on top of this area and when it moved, it tipped up so dramatically that the ice scraped away all the soft debris and earth and rock and left seven hills that Edinburgh was created on.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So these hills are still volcanic hills.

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: They’re still volcanic.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Fire and ice.

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: Fire and of fire and ice.

Well, this is the oldest building in Edinburgh. It dates back to the eleventh, twelfth century. Saint Margaret’s chapel. The castle was taken in 1313 by the Scots again when they took it back from the English. They razed it to the ground. So everything went except the chapel. So it predates 1313. The Scottish military can still hold their weddings and christenings in that chapel. It’s a very tiny chapel. So if it’s a wedding, it’s much to the delight of the father of the bride because it only holds sixteen people so it’s not an expensive wedding, he loves it.

This is actually quite interesting because we’re standing here looking at the oldest building in the castle to the right and the very youngest opposite us. And you’d never really believe that that was the youngest building on the rock, it was actually built between 1923 and -27. The weathered rock used to build this war memorial was originally part of a chapel called St. Mary’s On the Rock. It was a Catholic chapel which was demolished during the turbulence of the Reformation. But being Scottish, they didn’t waste anything, right? Recycling is nothing new to the Scots. They kept all the original stonework until they had another purpose to build on this site. And it was after the First World War they wanted to build a memorial to all the Scots who died in World War I. All the Scots who died and all the conflicts of the twentieth century are listed by name in books in this memorial. People come from all around the world to visit Edinburgh Castle, and they might have a grandfather or an uncle or something who died in the First or Second World War, and they can go to the books inside and their names will be there. So it can be really quite a touching experience. 

The origins of the Old Town of Edinburgh and the city begin with the castle, which was a fortress. And what happened was we had several periods of invading armies and so what the people did is they built these scattered houses and huts in the shadow of the old fortress for protection, and as the city increased its importance and eventually became a capital, there was a huge population concentrated on this rocky ridge, and so there was no room for the city to expand out the way, it had to develop up the way because it was a walled city. So it became a vertical city. So there was a tumble of tall tenements developed all the way down from the castle down a spine of rock. So you can forget about Manhattan being the place where the skyscraper was developed; the skyscraper/high-rise development, first in the world, was right here in Edinburgh and that’s a superb example. Some of the buildings were fifteen, sixteen stories high.

BURT WOLF: The man that Jekyll and Hyde was based on lived right here.

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: That’s exactly right. His name was William Brodie; his title was Deacon Brodie and he was a well-respected man in the city. But at night, he became a burglar. So this wave of crime was well-known but they couldn’t catch the thief. Why not? Because he was chairing the committee examining it. So eventually he was caught red-handed. There was another twist to the tale, because when he was executed, he was actually executed on the new, improved gallows. He designed the trap door and he was the first person executed. So the double life of William Brodie which inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

BURT WOLF: In 1752, the Lord Mayor of Edinburgh secretly published a proposal for the improvement of the city. He complained that there was no place for the merchants of Edinburgh to do their business, no safe repository for the public records, no meeting place for the magistrates and the town council. The New Town was constructed to meet the needs which the Lord Mayor so rightly described. And everyone who could get up the money moved from the Old Town to the New Town. The exodus from the Old Town was so fast and so dramatic that it has come to be known as “the great flitting.”

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: The New Town of Edinburgh was built at the same time when there was an outburst of amazing intellectual energy. It was a period in our history known as the golden age, the enlightenment. And the New Town of Edinburgh was really the physical manifestation of what was happening in the minds of the people at that time. So in contrast to the Old Town, described by Stevenson as so many smoky beehives, the New Town was light; it was a city of nature, gardens, reason. The streets were laid out symmetrically. Squares were balanced at either end. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That’s quite amazing that the architecture would follow the intellectual thought of the period.

ANNE DOIG ON CAMERA: You can read all about the people by reading the buildings. You can still see the wide doorways, lovely fanlight windows, the original lamps which would have been whale oil, then gas and now electricity. 

And this is a typical house from that period built by one of the greatest men in our history; the greatest architect of the eighteenth century was Robert Adam. So this house belongs to the National Trust, but they’ve brought it back to the way it was back in 1790s. This is exactly the way the people would have eaten. You see the china’s Wedgwood. Everything came to the table at the same time. So you have the soup, fish, vegetables. But back in the eighteenth century they ate everything all at once. 

And typically of the eighteenth century, they had chairs on the outside. So there was a big space in the middle, because they might have spontaneous dancing, Scots dancing.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:When most people think about Scottish food they come up with, shall we say, less than the most enticing images.

BURT WOLF: First to mind is usually Haggis, a nationally famous dish made from the innards of sheep that have been chopped up and boiled in the lining of a sheep’s stomach.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And then they stop thinking about Scottish food and desperately try to think about something else. Reflect for a moment. You’ve undoubtedly heard people say: “Let’s go out for French food, or Italian food, or Chinese food. But I’ll bet you, that you have never heard anybody say: “Let’s go out for Scottish food.”

And yet, for the last few years, I have been having really good meals in Scotland.

BURT WOLF: And where have we been eating in Edinburgh? A grand, French-style building in Register Place. Inside, the Cafe Royal, originally opened in 1817. Hundred-year-old stained glass windows show the British at their traditional sports. At the end of the bar, a tile that presents the first ship that put to sea for the Cunard Line. For lunch: seafood chowder, and grilled salmon on a bed of spinach with a mustard sauce. 

Leith has been a port area for centuries, an independent and wealthy place with a clear sense of its own future. But as Edinburgh grew, it slowly incorporated Leith. I say slowly, because Leith went to war to prevent that incorporation. Today it is a charming, gentrified edge of the city of Edinburgh. The docks are lined with a dozen or so small restaurants of which our favorite turned out to be The Shore. Set in a building that was constructed during the 1700s, the collective preference of our crew was the Squid with Rosemary, Saffron Fish Soup, and for dessert -- Lemon Tart and Toffee Pudding Cake.

Just in front of the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, in a building that dates back to the 1500s, is a restaurant called The Witchery.

JAMES THOMSON ON CAMERA: Well, the restaurant’s called The Witchery because between 1470 and 1722 over fifteen hundred people were burned as witches in the Castle Hill, which is just outside here. Anybody who had a physical deformity -- it could be a large nose, or a wart, or whatever -- could be thought to be a witch. And they’d be taken away and tortured until they confessed to being a witch. Of course, most of them weren’t actually witches; it was just a public sport at the time, but the church and the Crown became very wealthy because they inherited the estate of the witch. So I thought that with this building being on the Castle Hill, we would be a reminder for all those innocent people who died, sadly, of being accused of being witches.

BURT WOLF: The room is decorated with Scottish antiques, and the kitchen specializes in the use of traditional Scottish produce. I had a good lunch here. It started with a roasted tomato soup and was followed by a roast loin of lamb with a mustard and chopped olive crust. No dessert today -- because my lighting grip, Nigel Smith tells me that there is a unique Edinburgh sweet that I must taste.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I’d like to order six Deep-Fried Mars bars.




BURT WOLF: Ah, yes, you heard it right, Deep-Fried Mars Bars. Here in Pasquale’s, as in Fish and Chips houses all over Scotland, the Mars Bar Fritter is as common as malt vinegar. And no one knows if it was created intentionally or if it was the result of a freak deep-fat fryer accident, but the famous candy bar is indeed coated with batter and plunged into hot fat. ... This batch seems to be fortified with a little extra iron... and yes, this is the same fat that the fish and chips are fried in.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Besides Mars Bars, do you use any other kind of candy?

PASQUALE ON CAMERA: Umm... Snickers... any kind of sweet that I’ve got up there.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What do you think works best?

PASQUALE ON CAMERA: The Mars Bar is the best. It is more popular.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You’re right -- you gotta eat ‘em when they’re hot. Definitely an acquired taste.


BURT WOLF: The national beverage of Scotland is whiskey -- a whiskey of such importance that the rest of the world simply calls it Scotch. There are about one hundred different Scotch whiskey producers in Scotland and each one has their own very particular approach to the craft.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But it’s not only the skilled labor of the maker that controls the final product. To a great extent, the color and taste of a particular Scotch whiskey is the result of the physical environment in which the distillery is located. And that has led to the development of something called the whiskey trail.

The whiskey trail is actually a well-beaten path that takes you through Scotland’s Scotch producing districts, which fortunately for the Tourist Commission, takes in all of Scotland. It is an ideal journey for someone with a great thirst for knowledge. If you are starting out from Edinburgh, a good first stop would be the Central Highlands.

And this is the Dalwhinnie distillery. It’s been in operation since 1897. Its name is Gaelic for the meeting place. Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland at over 1,000 feet above sea level.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Each of the distilleries in Scotland has chosen a very specific place for its facility. In the old days one of the most important considerations was the relationship of the distillery to tax agents. Ideally you would be in a place where the King’s men could never find you. At the very minimum you wanted to be in a spot where you got enough warning so you could hide your whiskey.

BURT WOLF: The next most important element in the selection of a site has always been the water supply. Most of the distilleries are set next to streams. The water that is drained to make the whiskey comes into the stream from a spring, or drains down from the rain that falls on the nearby hills, or from melting snow. The trip that the water makes on the way to the distillery gives it a very distinct taste. If the water passes over and through rocks, it picks up the flavors of the minerals in those rocks. If it passes through a moor with heather growing, the water will pick up a honey note. If it passes through fields of peat it will end up with a peaty flavor. How peaty will depend on the amount of time that the water spends near the peat. Peat is the remains of compressed plant life, sort of an early form of coal. Some land formations will filter water for years before delivering it to a stream that feeds a still. And every inch of the journey will be reflected in the taste of the Scotch.

The type of wood used in the aging cask is also important. In the early days of Scotch making, the wooden casks were used merely as containers to store the whiskey. Eventually, however, people discovered that the cask could change the flavor of the Scotch.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Temperature also affects the flavor of Scotch whiskey. And so does the air. Scotch spends years maturing in wooden casks, and during that time period, it pulls air into the cask. If the distillery is near the sea the air may have a salty quality. That salty air enters the cask and the salty flavor is reflected in the Scotch.

BURT WOLF: When all the whiskey in a particular bottle comes from the same distillery and has not been blended with whiskey from any other distillery, it has earned the right to be called a malt, or single malt.

The next leg of Scotland’s whiskey trail runs northeast, into a district that faces out on the Moray Firth and the North Sea, and is known as Speyside. The river from which the area takes its name is one of the world’s great locations for salmon fishing.

Cragganmore is a small distillery in Speyside, but its whiskey is considered to be one of the best. The area is also famous for its wild mushrooms. For a classic recipe, take a look at salmon on a bed of roasted fennel with a white wine and cream sauce. There’s also lots of home-baked fruit cakes, scones and shortbreads.

Now the path works its way across the top of Scotland to the Isle of Skye which is only fifty miles long and thirty miles wide.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The only distillery on the Isle of Skye is called Talisker. It was established in 1831, and makes a whiskey that turned out to be the favorite of the great Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson who, amongst his many famous books wrote Treasure Island, the search for the buried treasure of Captain Kidd, a treasure that very well might have included a bottle of whiskey from Skye.

BURT WOLF: Talisker is considered to have a peppery quality, which goes well with the food of the area. Skye is famous for fish and shellfish... grilled scallops on a bed of langoustine and monkfish wrapped in slices of Scottish ham.

Now it’s time to turn down and head along the west coast. This is one of the most romantic parts of Scotland. Isolated villages. Tiny port towns.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The first settlers in the area are thought to have arrived about 7,000 years ago and made their homes in cliff side caves. These days the capital of the area is a town called Oban, which is also the name of the local Scotch whiskey. Authorities believe that Oban is a classic example of the single malts that are made in this area.

BURT WOLF: The pros describe it as having the aroma of fresh peat with a slight hint of the sea. They like to add a splash of water and drink it along with a dinner of grilled fish.

Leaving Oban, the trail heads south to the Isle of Islay. Islay is the most famous of the Whiskey Islands.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Their stills produce whiskey with flavor notes that remind drinkers of peat and the great North Atlantic Ocean. Then whiskey rests in casks; can be there for three years minimum, or may be there for decades, and during that time period the casks actually breathe in the atmosphere. The end result is that the climate becomes part of the flavor.

BURT WOLF: A wee dram of the local whiskey called Lagavulin makes the point. And to go along with it, the great seafood of the region -- Islay’s famous for its oysters and mussels.

And finally, the trail moves across the southern Lowlands, an area known as the Borders because it borders on England.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is one of the most unspoiled spots in Europe. It’s Scotland’s garden and it’s covered with rich farmland. It’s also the birthplace of John Muir, a Scotsman who was a conservationist who moved to North America and actually began the idea of establishing National Parks.

BURT WOLF: Glenkinchie is a good example of a Lowland whiskey. The aroma of the local wildflowers ends up in the glass. And the fields of wheat end up in a wide range of yeast breads. The Borders are also famous for their traditional Scottish cheeses.


And if you would like to see a wee bit of the magnificent Scottish countryside and what elegant country life was like for the British during the heydays of the 1920s, you can get yourself some wheels and head north... over the bridge that crosses the Firth of Forth, which is easier to cross than it is to pronounce and on into Gleneagles.

Gleneagles was opened in 1924 and described as a Riviera resort in the Highlands. I assume that the river they had in mind was the Tay that runs near the property. It was the place to vacation in Great Britain, and it still is.

What also makes Gleneagles attractive is their activity program. They focused on a series of leisure time undertakings and set up a school for each -- a school that was designed and in many cases is still directed by one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject. The championship golf course was developed by Jack Nicklaus.

For me, however, the most fascinating school at Gleneagles is the British School of Falconry, where James Knight took me through the introductory course.

JAMES KNIGHT: This is Talisker. 

There he is. He’s obviously raring to go. Now, the most important thing that we do with him now -- and I’ll explain it while we’re there -- is we’ve got to weigh him. Okay? Before we can use him. So we take him down the corridor here... and then we’re going to pop him on the scale. There we go.

BURT WOLF: He seems to know where he’s going.

JAMES KNIGHT: Yeah, he gets weighed every day. The thing to remember about falconry is it’s four thousand years old, okay? It started in China and Japan as a means of getting food for ourselves, but he’s not going to do that if he’s full and fat, okay? So he has to be hungry. He does nothing for us whatsoever, okay? He purely does it for himself. So if he doesn’t feel like hunting, he’s not going to do it. So we have to get him to what we call his hunting weight. Okay? And that happens to be one pound, four ounces. So we’re lucky, he’s just spot on.

JAMES KNIGHT: Now we’ll try to get him to do a little bit of work for you, and I say “work” because he doesn’t like flying, okay?

BURT WOLF: Doesn’t like flying?

JAMES KNIGHT: People always think that birds like to fly and that’s our idea because we can’t fly -- you know, we think it would be great to fly. But flying for him is work. And he only does it for a reason, okay? That’s true of all birds, and with us it’s food, in the wild he’s got to find a mate to build a nest and do all sorts of things, okay, but he’s not thinking “Yippee I’m enjoying this,” okay. He’s thinking “Yippee I’ve got a bit of beef.” So to cast him off, you put your arm out straight, okay you can see he’s excited, he’s ready to go, keep hold of the jesses and then I’m just going to take a little step and give him a little push. Just like an airplane, they always like to take and land off into the wind. They hate the downwind landing. So fingers crossed. So take a little step and give him a push. There he goes; you see he turns into the wind and lands into the wind. Now to call him back all I have to do is to put my glove up with some food on and back he comes. His eyesight is eight times better than ours. He will see that little piece of beef, you know, from three or four hundred yards away without any problem. Right! So, it’s your go. So we’re gonna turn these, that’s it, so that your glove is facing into the wind. I’m just going to step around the side here and I’m going to place the jesses through your thumb, through your middle fingers, perfect, and he’s all yours.


BURT WOLF: For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Cruising France - #904

BURT WOLF: In 1991, a French archaeological team working on the banks of the Seine River in the middle of Paris discovered three dugout canoes that proved to be 6,500 years old.  The canoes belonged to a Neolithic tribe of hunter-gathers. So it seems that people have been hanging out in this neighborhood for at least 7,000 years. 

About a mile up stream from the spot where the canoes were found is an island in the middle of the river. Around 300 BC, a Celtic tribe known as the Parisii set up a trading post on this island. It was the perfect spot for a settlement. The river was used for east-west trade. And a north-south land route passed over the island. Once again, the spot where a land route crossed a river became the point of origin for a great European city. The ancient Romans saw the value of the location and developed the island into a typical Roman outpost. Today, it’s called the Ile De La Cite and it’s one of the best neighborhoods in Paris.

It is also the starting point for my tour and river cruise from Paris to Lyon in the middle of France.

The eastern half of the Ile De La Cite is home to the cathedral of Notre Dame. Construction on the cathedral started in 1163 and went on for almost 200 years. At the time, most people could not read, so the builders used the front of the cathedral as a giant billboard to illustrate stories from the bible. In the middle is the Last Judgment and the Resurrection. 

In the year 250, St. Denis, a Christian missionary and the first bishop of Paris, was beheaded on this hilltop.

Legend has it that he picked up his head, and took 6,000 steps to the spot where he wanted to be buried. The hill became know as Mons Martyrum, which means the martyr’s mound. These days the area is known as Montmartre and it’s the highest point in Paris. During the last decades of the 1800s and early 1900s, Montmartre was the favorite district for artists and the place where Impressionism and Cubism were born. This was the neighborhood of Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso. It was, and still is the home of the Moulin Rouge and its traditional Parisian cancan show.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1896, the Moulin hosted the annual Paris Arts Student’s Ball, during which the first all-nude striptease was presented. The model who unveiled this new art form was arrested and taken to jail at which point the citizens of Montmartre rioted. It appears that the right to undress completely in an appropriate public space is a basic French liberty and not to be interfered with.  And so she was released.

BURT WOLF: Another revolutionary triumph for French freedom that made my list of top ten tourist sites in Paris is The Arc De Triomphe. It was commissioned in 1809 by Napoleon in order to illustrate his most important military triumphs and its size was meant to match the dimensions of his ego. It lists 128 major battles which are richly illustrated, and the names of his 660 favorite generals who took part in those battles.

I hear that his personal recipe for the cream filling that goes into a Napoleon pastry is inscribed on the monument, but up to now, no one has been able to find it. Actually, it’s not so easy to find a Napoleon pastry in Paris.   However, right down the block from Napoleon’s Tomb is Le Boulanger– a pastry shop that opened in 1901 and has been making great cakes, pastries and breads ever since.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Now most pastry shops carry something called a millefeuille, it’s French for a thousand leaves. Same pastry cream as a Napoleon. Same pastry dough as a Napoleon. But on a millefeuille the top is powdered sugar.

BURT WOLF: The top of a Napoleon however has icing with a brown N on a white background. The N stands for Napoleon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But when Napoleon lost at Waterloo, the pastry chefs of Paris decided to keep the pastry but drop his initial from the top. You know this is a tough town and your pastry is only as good as your last battle.

BURT WOLF: The Eiffel Tower was built as the entrance way to the international exposition of 1889, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.  And its design was quite revolutionary.

The French government held a competition and over 100 plans were submitted to the committee. The government was looking for a monument that expressed their sense of achievement.

BURT WOLF: The winning design was presented by Gustave Eiffel, who until the time was considered to be a talented bridge engineer. His idea was to construct a 1,000 foot tower made of open-lattice wrought iron.

The plan was to keep it up for only a few years.  But with the high cost of taking it down, and the fun that everyone was having going up, it’s still here.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Until 1930 when it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in New York City it was the tallest structure on earth.

BURT WOLF: These days, it’s the best place to get the ultimate view of Paris.

And there’s the Musee D’Orsay.

The Gare D’Orsay was a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. By the early 1950s, however, its platforms were too short for modern trains and the building was scheduled for demolition. But the President of France, Giscard d’ Estaing, understood the value of the structure and turned it into a national museum. A museum filled with works of the great French Impressionists.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: French Impressionism got started in the late 1800s and early 1900s when a group of painters in Paris got fed up with the traditional subjects of French painting. They’d had enough of religion and mythology and history, they wanted something new.

BURT WOLF: During the late 1860s, Claude Monet began concentrating on the effects of light and color. The subject matter of the painting, the depth and the perspective became less important. Surface pattern became more important. The Impressionists did all of their painting outside while looking at their subject as opposed to the conventional practice of painting in a studio.

Today the Musee D’ Orsay presents the works of the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists including Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh---artists who freed Western painting from thousands of years of tradition.

And then there’s the Louvre---the largest museum in the world and probably the most famous. You could easily spend five years working your way through the main collections.


BURT WOLF: The next day we headed south past the forests of Fontainebleau, which were the favorite hunting grounds of the French kings, and into the Burgundian city of Beaune.

People have been living in Beaune since prehistoric times. For centuries it belonged to the ancient Romans and was a center for cattle raising and the production of wine. For many years it was the home of the Dukes of Burgundy who were more powerful than the King of France, until 1478 when the King invaded and made it part of France. Today, Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy and much of its economy is based on the production and sale of wine --- so you owe yourself a drink.

The most famous landmark in town is the Hotel-Dieu.

During the 1400s, Nicolas Rolin was the Chancellor to the Dukes of Burgundy and one of the most powerful men in Europe.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Things were good for Nicolas, but not for everybody.  The Hundred Year’s War had just ended, and there were bands of soldiers wandering around the countryside destroying everything and everybody they could get their hands on.  A plague had just begun and ninety percent of the people in Beaune were destitute.  Ah but Nicholas saw an opportunity in all of this, he thought he might be able to do well by doing good. He was a bit concerned about the things that he had done to become the great Lord of Burgundy and how they might look on his application to get into heaven.

BURT WOLF: So Nicholas built a great hospital.  A magnificent palace.  A place that has become famous throughout the world.  And that fame was central to his plan.  Rolin figured that if someone “upstairs” noticed what he had done it might reduce the impact of his sins and improve his overall standing with the Almighty. This was not an uncommon practice at the time.  Celestial favors were a big business and this arrangement in no way diminished the magnificence of his charity.

Much of the art created for the Hospices was commissioned by Rolin in order to distract the minds of the patients from their own condition and redirect their thoughts to prayer and requests for God’s forgiveness.  Well, let me tell you... lying in bed in a hospital and looking at the detail of the Last Judgment could certainly do that.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When the well-to-do were well enough to leave, they would make a generous gift.  Sometimes it was money.  Money was good. Sometimes it was land.  And in 1471, for the first time, it was a vineyard. 

BURT WOLF: Wine was thought of as a health-giving liquid. Water was often dangerously polluted and considered something that could kill you.  So donating a vineyard was a great step in the right direction.  The Hospices could use the grapes to make wine... give some of it to the patients... and sell the rest for money.  And they could do that year after year after year.  The gift of a vineyard was a gift that kept on giving.

Over the centuries many more vineyards were donated.  Today the Hospices has holdings on over 50 estates, and they are on some of Burgundy’s best land.  Each year grapes are gathered from the hillside and employees of the Hospices make the official Hospices wine.

On the third Sunday in November, the result of these winemaking activities are sold at the world’s largest charity wine auction.  Buyers come from all over the world to bid and many millions of dollars are raised to cover the upkeep of the Hospices.


BURT WOLF: The boat we sailed on was the Avalon Scenery which was launched about a month before we arrived. It’s a perfect example of a new approach to comfort and convenience.

The Cruise Director is Jean Loup Domart.

JEAN LOUP DOMART ON CAMERA: Traveling on the boat, making it easy, you’re going to spend seven nights on the ship.  You just park your suitcase; you don’t live out of a suitcase for a change.  We have among the largest state rooms on the river and the decoration is nice, soft and relaxing in terms of treating the wood colors and the textiles.  And most of the rooms that we have on this ship have got sliding doors with some of the most beautiful views of the rivers as we’re sailing.  You have plenty of sky deck, and it’s extremely relaxing on a nice sunny afternoon to just relax on the deck.  Even with a nice cocktail and sort of sip the glass and the scenery as you sail along.  You have on the top deck also a Jacuzzi; you have a gym as well on the lower level and the services of the hair dresser.  The food on the boat, we try to reflect as much as possible the different areas that we are crossing, there are three important meals on the ship.  Morning breakfast, which is a traditional American buffet breakfast.  Then we normally cater a buffet at lunch time and then dinner always with different themes.  Could be a Provencal dinner, could be any kind of dinner that has been planned by the kitchen.  One nice thing about this dinner is that every single dish that is presented at the table to the guest was actually paired with wine. 

We have evening’s entertainment at the ship at least three times a week.  Everybody knows a lot of these French songs so we have a singer coming from one of the cabarets in Lyon that actually sings for us and then as we get to the south there is an important culture that is extremely strongly Spanish influenced and we have the privilege of receive onboard, once a week, The Gypsy Kings.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we visited the Chateau De Cormatin.

It was built in the early 1600s as the private residence of the Marquis d’Huxells, who had the brilliant insight to marry the daughter of the Count de Monee who was the Finance Minister of King Louis the XIII.

Most of the Chateaux that were put up during this period were vacation homes for the Parisian nobility--- nice little places so you could get away from it all.

They had rustic fireplaces.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Chicken noodle…

BURT WOLF: Old fashioned wooden ceilings.

Lots of paintings --- probably done by the kids in school.

A country kitchen.

A place for the little things you collected as you traveled around.

A few extra bedrooms in case you wanted to invite two or three hundred of your closest friends for the weekend.

And pleasant little gardens where you could grow a few herbs or vegetables or flowers.

Or plant your own forest.

The simple life.

This place was built during the time of the Three Musketeers and I can definitely see them in the neighborhood.

That afternoon we arrived in Macon and took a walk around the town.

We also visited St. Vincent’s Cathedral which was built during the 6th century.

But about 1100 years later, during the French Revolution, local citizens decided that they had a better use for the stones than a church, so these days there isn’t much left of the old cathedral.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That’s the oldest house in the city.  It was built in the 1400s.  And because there’s a row of figures on it that appear to be half man, half animal, it was thought to be owned by the devil and when you walked by it you weren’t supposed to look at it.  But recent research indicates that those are just naked guys hanging out in a bar.  So if you want to look at it you can.

BURT WOLF: Macon is the southernmost wine town in Burgundy. The wines that come from this area are usually light, uncomplicated, easy to drink and a good value for their price. Pouilly-Fuisse is the most famous and most expensive wine of Macon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But I’d just as soon drink the Macon-Village --- considerably less expensive. Great taste and because the wines of Macon are not aged in oak they are ready to drink when they are released.  And I’m ready.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we sailed to the city of Lyon which was founded by the ancient Romans in 43 BC. They developed their settlement on a peninsula formed by the meeting point of two great rivers --- the Rhone and the Saone.

The hill above the city is called the Fourviere --- probably a contraction of “Forum Vetus” which is Latin for Old Forum.

On the top is the church of Notre Dame. It was built in the 1870s.   It’s a little flashy for some of the local residents who refer to it as the upturned elephant because of the four short towers that stick up from the corners.

Even though the subject matter is the Virgin Mary, the mosaic-covered walls and floors give the inside of the building a Moorish quality. It has become a major pilgrimage site with over a million visitors each year.

Right down the street is the excavation of two ancient Roman theatres.

They were discovered during the 1930s by a group of nuns digging a garden.

The larger theater was constructed in 15BC and had over 10,000 seats. If you got to perform here, it was considered an important booking for your act and a tribute to your agent’s power and influence. It was like playing the big room in Vegas.

Even today, the theatres are used to present special events.

These giant Roman amphitheaters are the earliest Roman structures outside of Rome.

At the base of the amphitheater’s hill is Lyon’s Old Town. During the 1400s,

King Louis XI of France granted Lyon the right to hold commercial fairs that brought in buyers and sellers from all over Europe. Many of the merchants who took up residence in Lyon were from Italy and the buildings have a similar look to the buildings that were constructed during the same time in Florence. In fact, Lyon’s Old Town has one of the largest collections of Renaissance buildings and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BURT WOLF: The word Renaissance literally mean rebirth and in the arts it’s reference to a period in European culture that followed the Middle Ages.  It was characterized by an interest in the classical knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. In architecture the objective was to re-create the ancient classical structures of Rome. Harmony, balance and proportion were the essential elements.

At the beginning of the 1800s, Lyon was considered to be the silk capital of Europe. Over half the population of the city was involved in the weaving and dying of silk.  The weavers were known as canuts and today La Maison des Canuts is a museum dedicated to the history of Lyon’s silk industry.

A guided tour covers the history of the textile industry in Lyon, the invention of the jacquard loom which revolutionized textile weaving and how the industry is evolving in the 21st century. In addition, the museum has a gift shop with great silk scarves and fabulous ties.

Lyon also has a unique architectural feature --- known as traboules, they are narrow covered alleys that were designed as private connections between the great family mansions. They were originally used to transport the delicate fabrics between the different producers and the dyers, and to allow private visits between the families. During the Second World War they were conduits for the French resistance. The residents of Lyon knew the network --- the Nazi’s didn’t.

Today the traboules are still private but agreements between the owners and the Lyon Tourist Association make them available to visitors.

Many people say this is the town that invented modern French cuisine.  Chef Paul Bocuse reinvented it in the 1970s.  We sampled some of the signature dishes at Brassiere Le Nord.  For starters, a chicken liver and foie gras mousse, roasted beet salad and a puree of cod and potatoes.  The main courses were pan roasted chicken, steak in a pepper sauce and whatever the daily special is.  Today it’s saddle of lamb.  For dessert, a fresh fig and raspberry tart and a pineapple upside down cake with coconut ice cream.

That evening we returned to our boat for a private performance by The Gypsy Kings.  The Gypsy Kings are a musical group who perform Rumba Gitano music which is a blend of rumba, rhythms and flamenco.  Their first album was released in 1987 and since then they have sold over 18 million albums.  They’re the world’s best selling musical group from France.

It was a great concert and a perfect way to end our cruise.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Cruising the Rhine - #903

BURT WOLF: The Rhine is one of the world’s great rivers. It starts in the Swiss Alps and flows for 865 miles through six European countries ending up in the Netherlands and the North Sea. It connects to dozens of other rivers and canals forming a vast inland waterway. Berlin, Paris even Provence on the Mediterranean is reachable on this freshwater highway.

Traditional Rhine ships are long and sit low in the water. They’re long because they can’t be wide—the river is too narrow and the locks are even narrower. They can sit low in the water because they’re not worried about ocean waves and heavy seas.

The ancient Romans understood the commercial value of the Rhine and maintained a Rhine fleet to protect its trading boats. Moving things on the Rhine was cheaper than moving things on land. As a result, the river is lined with some of Europe’s oldest and most famous cities --- Basel, Strasbourg, and Cologne are perfect examples.

The river has inspired paintings, operas, symphonies, and books—and in recent years, tourists. So I decided to take a cruise along the Rhine from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Basel in Switzerland.

We started out in Amsterdam and cruised its canals.

Then on to Cologne in Germany with its thousand year old cathedral.

The next stop was Koblenz to check out its castles.

We docked at Rudesheim, a classic wine village.

At Heidelberg for a drink at its 300 year old tavern. 

Strasbourg for some of the best food in Europe.

Then the medieval town of Breisach and finally the Black Forest.

We ended up in Basel, Switzerland and headed home.

We cruised aboard the Avalon Tapestry and Katalin Kovacs was our Cruise Director.

KATALIN KOVACS: This type of ship, the Tapestry, was the first twin cruiser, which means that the ship is in two parts.

KATALIN KOVACS ON CAMERA: We are now in the hotel part of the ship, and it is pushed by a second part of the ship.

KATALIN KOVACS: In the second part there is the wheel house and the engines and the second part is pushing the first one so that’s why we do not have vibration at all in the first part. And that’s fantastic, that’s a very nice experience for the passengers-- that they are just floating with their hotel, and watching the sight without feeling the vibration.

Wherever we go into each city, we try to let the people taste the local foods and we are enjoying many—of course we have all those wonderful sauerkraut and sausages. When we are in Switzerland or when we are in Holland we have also local foods and local food tastings in the restaurant. We try to satisfy everybody so that you have the best selection of food that you can get on the river cruise.

We have the biggest staterooms on the rivers in Europe so you have your proper twin or king-size beds. You have your own bathroom of course, and you have enough space to put all your clothes and all your suitcases into the stateroom. This is also the convenient part of river cruising, that you unpack once.


BURT WOLF: Our flight from the United States arrived in Amsterdam, which has always been one of my favorite cities. Great art. Great beer. Great architecture. Great beer. Great shopping. And,

of course, great beer.

CANAL TOUR GUIDE: The canals where we are sailing now, this is what is called the Prinsen Canal.

BURT WOLF: We started our tour of Amsterdam by cruising the canals, which is the best way to get a sense of the city. Most historians see the 1600s as Holland’s Golden Age because they dominated international trade---especially the spice trade from Indonesia.

The houses along the canals were built with the great wealth that came to Amsterdam as a result of its international trading.

Dutch ships owned by the people who lived in these houses carried many different things including wines and spirits. But besides carrying the wine, they also influenced the type of wines that were available.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Up until the 1600s, wine wouldn’t last very long. It was undrinkable within six months, and you couldn’t hold it from harvest to harvest. That was unacceptable to the Dutch, who wanted to ship wine all over the world. So they went to France and they actually taught the French how to make Cognac. They also helped them with their sweet wines and they introduced sulfites as a preservative. Here’s to the Dutch.

BURT WOLF: Amsterdam has a unique distilled spirit called Geneva. It’s a juniper-flavored liquor and was probably one of the precursors to early English Gin.

FENNY VAN WEES: This is Geneva, and Geneva is made from grains.

BURT WOLF: The van Wees family has been making it for over 150 years.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: How did Amsterdam get started making Geneva?

FENNY VAN WEES ON CAMERA: Well, the Dutch went to the East Indies and the monks in Amsterdam—there were a lot of them during the 18th century—they started to experiment with all these herbs and they started to make Geneva in order to find medicine against the black disease. And they started to distill these herbs together with grains and that’s how Geneva got started.

BURT WOLF: It was a medicine. Ah, wonderful, I always drink for medicinal purposes.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Let’s go have a drink.

BURT WOLF: Just across town you can visit the House of Bols which has a museum dedicated to the cocktail.

SANDIE VAN DOODOORNE ON CAMERA: This is the House of Bols, cocktail and Geneva experience. And we created this to allow people from all over the world to come and take a look at the world’s oldest distilled brand, Bols, and to find out throughout about the world of cocktails and bartending and liquors and Genevas.

All the five senses—what you touch, what you see, what you feel, what you smell—they are all influence how you experience taste. So if you see something red for example, you have a certain experience of what you’re gonna taste. But it could very well be a vanilla but if it’s red that’s really going to influence how you’re gonna taste that vanilla. And here at the House of Bols, you can experience the smelling and tasting and how all the senses influence what you taste.

BURT WOLF: Because the Dutch controlled the islands that now make up Indonesia, Indonesian food became a basic part of Dutch cuisine. Most locals go out for indo more often than they go out for traditional Dutch food. 

The signature Indonesian meal in Holland is called a Rijsttafel which means ‘rice table”. You start with a plate of rice. Then you add an assortment of accompaniments. Curried meats, chicken, shrimp, vegetables, nuts, eggs, sauces, pickles and fruit. The objective is to end up with a balance of dishes that are sour, sweet, salty and spicy, all held together by the blandness of the rice. This elaborate meal was developed in Indonesia during the years when it was being exploited as a Dutch colony. Accordingly, in some circles, Rijsttafel is not considered a politically correct event, and you don’t often see it in Indonesia. However, it’s still around in Holland and Indonesian restaurants in Europe and the Caribbean and it can be fantastic.


BURT WOLF: We sailed through the night and the next morning. That afternoon we arrived in Cologne Germany. Cologne was built by the ancient Romans in 38 AD at a point where the Rhine River crossed a major east-west trade route. It was an ideal spot for commercial development and by the Middle Ages it had become the largest and one of the richest cities in northern Europe. And once again it was a city’s position on a major river that made it rich.

But Cologne’s wealth and fame is also the result of its religious relics. In the middle of the 1100s, Emperor Barbarossa, who lived in Milan, gave the remains of the Three Kings to the Archbishop of Cologne who brought them home, and had them placed in a golden shrine and built a fantastic cathedral to hold that shrine. Pilgrims came from all over Europe to visit “Holy Cologne.” Even today, over five million visitors come here each year.

Just down the river from where we docked is The Chocolate Museum which is housed in a boat shaped structure on the bank of the Rhine. Inside the displays will take you on a journey through 3,000 years of chocolate history, from the Aztec’s to modern day industrial production. There’s a small working chocolate factory where you can see how the cacao bean is processed into chocolate and how the liquid is formed into finished products.


BURT WOLF: The factory produces about 1,000 pounds of chocolate a day and you can take part in the process.

That afternoon I brought everybody onboard over to Haxenhaus to meet my friend Willie and have a beer on me.

WILLIE ON CAMERA: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Haxenhaus. My name is Willie.

BURT WOLF: Drink up. Drink as much as you want. Not this table.

BURT WOLF: Cologne has its own beer called Kolsch. It’s a light colored, slightly bitter and hoppy ale and by law it must be brewed within the city limits. Kolch is served in a thin small glass that is marked to hold about seven ounces. It has no carbonation so it tastes best the moment it comes out of the keg. With a small glass you drink the beer quickly. Waiters come by and refill your glass until you put a coaster over the glass which signals that you’re finished.

That evening, there was a classical music concert by a trio called La Strada. 


BURT WOLF: During the night we sailed to Koblenz Germany.

In the year 9 BC, the ancient Romans set up a camp at the spot where the Rhine River meets the Mosel River. The point where two or more rivers meet is known as a confluence. In Latin the word is confluentes, which is what the Romans called their settlement. Over the years, the name got shortened to Koblenz.

Koblenz was the home of an Archbishop and a Prince Elector who selected the Emperor. As Archbishop he had to defend himself against the devil and as Prince Elector he had to defend himself against the princes who wanted his land.

He had a lot of defending to do and he made Koblenz his stronghold, which is why the city has so many defensive castles.

Today, Koblenz is the cultural and economic center of Germany’s Central Rhine Valley.

The city has a number of bizarre statues. This statue of a young boy looks perfectly normal. However…every 2 minutes a stream of water shoots from his mouth and drenches unsuspecting viewers.

They also have a town clock with a face that sticks its tongue out on the hour. It’s all quite strange because the people of Koblenz are quite welcoming. It must be a problem with their sculptors.


BURT WOLF: At mid-day we headed up river to the Rhine Gorge.

The Rhine Gorge is the most picturesque part of the river. It runs for about forty miles and has been declared a World Heritage Site. For hundreds of years those romantic castles belonged to a bunch of the nastiest guys on the planet. Known as Teutonic knights they set themselves up as independent rulers, fortified the high points along the narrow gorge and charged a toll for every ship that came by. If you couldn’t pay the toll you lost your cargo and in many cases you lost your life. It wasn’t until the middle of the 1800s that these guys were finally subdued and a treaty was signed by all the countries along the Rhine making it a free and open highway to ships of all nations.

So they finally got rid of the Teutonic knights, but they still had the problem of the Lorelei. The story goes that a beautiful woman named Lorelei lived on a rock which towers some 400 feet above the river. Her thing was to sing an enchanted song which distracted the boatmen. They lost control of their craft, crashed into the rocks and drowned.


BURT WOLF: Later that afternoon we docked in Rüdesheim.

The Romans arrived in this neighborhood about 2,000 years ago and taught the local population to build more maneuverable ships and stone houses.

They also showed them the best techniques for cultivating vines and making wine. The Rüdesheim vineyards ended up providing wine for the Roman troops.

During the first half of the 1800s, Rüdesheim became a main stop for steamboats and railroads and suddenly it became a destination for tourists. Most of the sightseers came from England which was in its Romantic Period. Rüdesheim’s old courtyards and winding alleys lined with half-timbered houses were just what they were looking for.

We concluded our evening in Rüdesheim with a visit to the Rüdesheimer Schloss – or more appropriately – Rüdesheimer schloshed. Their specialty is a Rüdesheimer coffee which consists of sweet coffee, a substantial hit of the local brandy, and a topping of whipped cream with chocolate shavings. 


BURT WOLF: Over night we sailed to Mannheim where we took a bus to Heidelberg. According to archeological research our European ancestors have been living in this neighborhood for over 6,000 years.

Heidelberg was a Celtic settlement, the site of a Roman fort, and for 500 years, starting in the early 1200s, the hometown of the mighty counts who elected the kings of Germany.

The counts were responsible for three of the most important things in Heidelberg. First is their castle, which they started building in the 1300s and finished about 400 years later. What slowed things down was an unending conflict between two factions of the family over window treatments.

The most interesting way to get to the castle is on the funicular. This section of track is the oldest funicular railway in Germany and considered to be a historic landmark. It uses the original wooden cars that were built in 1907. The ride up offers some fabulous views of the Rhine Valley.

The oldest part of the Heidelberg Castle complex is the Gothic House which was the home of the Elector Ruprecht III. The Friedrich Wing dates to the early 1600s and has a classic Renaissance façade decorated with statues of the kings of Germany.

The sculptural decorations in the Otto-Heinrich Wing include Biblical characters, Roman gods and the virtues.

The one thing in the castle that almost everybody feels the need to see is the Heidelberg Tun, a wine vat with a capacity that is given at something in the area of 50,000 gallons. The original vat on this site was built in 1591 and used to collect taxes that were paid in wine.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The one that’s here today was installed about 250 years ago and probably never held any wine at all. Its primary objective appears to be to enclose vast quantities of emptiness-- a concept that fascinates over three million people a year who actually pay to come and look at it.

BURT WOLF: That afternoon we visited the Church of the Holy Ghost which dates to 1398 and has a unique history of serving both Catholic and Protestant congregations at the same time.

We were treated to an organ concert. 


BURT WOLF: Strasbourg is the capital city in the Northeast region of France, known as Alsace, which has an unusual history.

Thousands of years ago, it started as a Celtic village. When the ancient Romans colonized the area it became a garrison town. In the 5th century it was taken by the Francs. During the Middle Ages Strasbourg became part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1681, the king of France invaded and took control. Ten years later, it was given to back to the Germans. Then back to France at the end of the First World War. The Germans occupied it during the Second World War. At the end of which it was returned to France. 

Are you getting this down?!

Today, everyone in Strasbourg speaks French, but they also speak German as a second language—just in case.

The city is crisscrossed by a network of canals that connect it to river systems that run throughout France.

The Petit France District is the most picturesque part of the city. 

We also had a guided tour of Strasbourg’s Cathedral of Notre-Dame, which was started in the 11th century and completed in the 15th century. It was worth the wait. It’s made of red sandstone and in spite of the many architectural styles that went into its construction, it holds together as a harmonious structure.

The cathedral has an astronomical clock that was originally built during the 1300s and everyday at 12:30 it presents a group of allegorical and mythological creatures. The clock’s body has a planetarium based on the 17th century theories of Copernicus.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we docked in Breisach at the edge of the Black Forest. Until the 11th century, when monks began to set up isolated monasteries, nobody was interested in entering the Black Forest. It had a reputation for being filled with thieves, and wild-man-eating boars. But in the 1500s, farmers along the Rhine began to clear the land and move into the forest.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: There isn’t much left to the thick pine forest and the thieves appear to have gone into the mortgage business or running offshore corporations. And the wild boars…they’re in television.

BURT WOLF: The area is famous for its Black Forest Cake. 

But its most famous product is probably the cuckoo clock. During the 1600s, Black Forest wood carvers started producing wooden clocks that were sold all over Europe, but there was nothing cuckoo about them. In the 1850s, a local artist designed a clock with a little house on the front. Shortly thereafter, some unknown mastermind placed a bird inside the house, developed a mechanism that allowed the bird to come out on the hour, and announced its presence by yelling “cuckoo”. 

I wouldn’t say these clocks were cuckoo, but some of them appear to be a little neurotic.

Up river from Strasbourg, the Rhine becomes a stairway to paradise—a man-made canal with seven giant locks that raise the river to the height of the Swiss city of Basel.

Basel is the highest point on the Rhine and the city where our cruise ended.

As the boat pulled back out into the river the captain sounded three bells---the old Rhine custom that marks a prayer: “In God’s name, a good voyage”.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Tulip Time Cruise - #901

BURT WOLF: For thousands of years the best way to get around Europe was on a river boat. The rivers were the great highways that moved people and goods. They were also the natural boundaries between cultures. As a result many of the great cities of Europe were built on the banks of rivers.

During the last few years cruising the rivers of Europe has become a major attraction for tourists. And for good reason --- the ship is your hotel and it takes you peacefully from city to city. Often you’ll dock in the oldest and most beautiful parts of a town. And one thing that is particularly dear to my heart --you only unpack once.

This cruise is called Tulip Time. It starts in Amsterdam, which is filled with art, architecture and places to shop. Next, Dordrecht to discover how windmills really work. Then Antwerp, which is the world epicenter for diamonds and Brussels for food, beer, lace, beer, unusual statues and beer. Ghent for its outstanding architecture and Bruges where the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


BURT WOLF: Towards the end of the 1100s, a group of herring fisherman decided to build a settlement at the mouth of the Amstel River. They drove wooden stakes into the mud, mounded some wet earth and seaweed around the stakes and patched together a few huts on top of the mounds. Nothing to brag about, but still something they could call home. There was, however, one serious problem -- at high tide, home was about three feet underwater.

So they built a dam to hold back the sea and the people called the place the dam on the Amstel. The dam worked and there was much rejoicing.

Today that same spot is Amsterdam’s town square and there is still much rejoicing.

The best way to get a quick look at why they are rejoicing is to take a canal tour. The canals were built by the city government during the 1600s. Each canal had four lanes of traffic. A ship could tie up in front of a warehouse, unload its cargo and not interfere with the ongoing traffic in the center lanes. Double parking was a capital crime. The three main canals could handle 4,000 ships at a time.

Real estate has always been tight in Amsterdam. As a result some people began living on canal boats. Eventually these floating apartments became some of the most desirable locations in the city. Captain Vincent is the curator of The Houseboat Museum and offers visitors a tour of life on a canal boat.



BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Thank you very much.

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Just come inside and I show you my boat.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I’m right behind you.

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Welcome onboard, be careful with the steps.


CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: This is the kitchen.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Pretty big kitchen.

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Yeah, this is the living room, as you can see a lot of people think it’s quite small in a houseboat but it can be even bigger than some small apartments in Amsterdam. This is a model of ships like these which were converted into houseboats, they were former freighters, this one was built in 1914 and the deck house, the whole family lived in, four people or maybe ten square meters, so it’s quite small, and they could transport goods by opening these covers, coal and other grain and things like that could come in. This is the sitting room with nice chairs, enough height to stand, some old pictures of Amsterdam. For example this is a nice picture because you can see these ships which were transformed into house boats were freighters, you can see people loading stuff on the ships and transporting all over the Netherlands.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And you’re connected to electricity

CAPTAIN VINCENT van LOON ON CAMERA: Yeah, water; telephone, so it’s quite comfortable to live on a house boat in Amsterdam.

BURT WOLF: The net result of all these canals is a city built on 90 islands and connected by 500 bridges. Laws controlled the size of the houses that faced the canals, the bricks that could be used and what architectural embellishments were allowed. These buildings were constructed during the late 1500s and early 1600s. At the time, Amsterdam was the commercial and financial center of Europe and much of its wealth was created by the Dutch East India Company which controlled the spice trade with the islands of the South Pacific.

This was the business that Columbus was looking for when he bumped into the Bahamas. The Dutch East India Company was making big bucks. It was also one of the first companies to have a pubic offering of its stock. Investors could buy shares and share in the riches. This was Amsterdam’s Golden Age and much of that gold went into buying works of art.

As a result, Amsterdam has a half-dozen of the world’s great museums.

The Van Gogh Museum houses more Van Gogh paintings and drawings than any other museum in the world.

The Rijksmuseum is the official state museum and has the greatest collection of Dutch masters. They have Rembrandt’s Night Watch and the Jewish Bride. They have Vermeer’s Milkmaid and the Love Letters and Franz Hals Portrait of a Young Couple. They also have an awesome collection of Delftware porcelain and one of Europe’s largest collections of prints and drawings.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For thousands of years, if you had big money you wanted to use some of that money to commission a work of art. Money could be in the hands of a rich family like the de Medicis of Italy or a King like Louis XVI of France or the Catholic Church. They liked mythological themes and religious elements. But here in Amsterdam the money was in the middle class.

BURT WOLF: Pictures from everyday life were in and everything had to look real---your uncle Franz --- the guys in your drinking club --- landscapes--- and seascapes.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Unfortunately, Amsterdam’s golden age was short lived. During the second half of the 1600s everybody ganged up on the Dutch. The English started a series of wars that took away their holdings in the East Indies and the Portuguese attacked and took away most of their holdings in Brazil. Even New Amsterdam became New York.

BURT WOLF: But much of what was created during Amsterdam’s Golden Age is still around and easily available to visitors and that is particularly true when it comes to eating and drinking.

Amsterdam has a unique type of establishment called a “tasting house” where you can taste the different liquors produced by a specific manufacturers. In this case the Van Wees Company. Their tasting house is called The Admiral it and offers 17 types of Geneva which is a kind of Gin. They also offer an assortment of special liqueurs with unusual flavors like cinnamon and ginger.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Here’s to the Dutch.

BURT WOLF: Pancakes are also a tradition in Amsterdam and a shop called Pancakes! is the place to try them. They have pancakes with ham. Pancakes with bacon and cheese and pancakes with raspberry sauce.

You’ll also see people eating raw herring. They buy one from a street vendor who serves it on a paper plate with a garnish of chopped onion. Correct form requires that you tilt your head back, hold the herring above you, slowly lower it into your mouth and bite off a piece. This is definitely an acquired taste, and an acquired skill.

If you’re interested in the traditional foods of Amsterdam but the flight of the raw herring is not your thing, may I suggest a visit to Haesje Claes. You can taste hotchpotch, which is a dish of meats, mashed potatoes, onions and carrots. Another favorite is red beans with potatoes and piccalilli. They also have an excellent Dutch pea soup.


BURT WOLF: Following our free time in Amsterdam, Avalon’s crew welcomed us onboard.

AVALON CREW ON CAMERA: Afternoon sir, welcome onboard.

Cheers enjoy the first evening on board. Cheers to everybody. Salute.

BURT WOLF: Andrezj Sanakiewicz was our Cruise Director.

ANDREZJ SANAKIEWICZ ON CAMERA: What’s special about cruising on the Artistry is very nice intimate atmosphere and a very dedicated crew. There is a ratio of about three and a half passengers for one crew member. We are very proud of our staterooms because they are the most special on the European Rivers, all the staterooms are equipped with minibar and a dryer, bathrobe and TV, ninety percent of all our staterooms have sliding glass doors, French balconies, we have of course, a special restaurant as well, for breakfast they have hot stations with omelets and eggs on request, they have all kinds of cold cuts, bagels and cream cheese, we have fresh fruits and a big selection of cereals. We try always to introduce some of the local products like cheese. We have a very special lounge which is a place for all kinds of social gatherings and lectures and we have a musician for evening entertainment. In addition a beautiful sky deck where passengers can enjoy the countryside passing by.


BURT WOLF: During our first morning on the river we docked in Schoonhoven.

All of Schoonhoven fits into three square miles and has a medieval feeling.

Little canals lined with row houses.

Narrow bridges crossing over the canals.

And ancient streets lined with jewelry shops and silver galleries.

For the past 700 years, Schoonhoven has been a center for the design and production of silver jewelry. During the 1300s Schoonhoven was the most important royal court in the Netherlands. Silversmiths came to the area to make things for the royal family. When the royal family began losing power and money during the 1400s the silver artists stayed on and sold their work to anyone who could afford it. And the number of people who could afford it was quickly increasing because of international trade. 

One of the most interesting workshops is the one in the old water tower which shows works by local and international silversmiths. These are active workshops where you can watch artisans shape their designs.

Paul de Vries is an artist who works in silver.

PAUL de VRIES ON CAMERA: I’ve been working for 25 years now and I still like it even better than gold. I find it very special. And you can make any shape of it. It’s very malleable and still it’s very strong.

BURT WOLF: In addition to silver jewelry, Schoonhoven is famous for Kok’s Bakery.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And Kok’s is famous for its Fonteyn Koek, which is made of gingerbread and honey and sugar and dried subtropical fruits. Ah, but I bet you knew that already.

They also make waffle-like wafer cookies that are held together by a layer of caramel syrup.


BURT WOLF: That afternoon we stopped in Dordrecht where we caught a bus to Kinderdijk and learned about windmills.

Kinderdijk means children’s dike and refers to a great flood on St. Elisabeth’s Day in 1421, when a crib with a crying baby was washed up on this dike. There are nineteen windmills in the area and until 1950 they were used to drain water from the land which is below sea level.

There are two major types of windmills. Polder mills and industrial mills. Polder mills are used to drain the land that was and still is below sea level. 

Industrial mills are used for a number of traditional purposes like milling wheat, extracting oil and sawing wood.

The earliest windmills built in the Netherlands date back to the 1200s and may have been inspired by the wind powered grain mills of Persia. The Low Countries of Europe have very few rivers that can power mills so the windmill became the most important source of energy. 

They were also used to send messages.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When the blades are in this position it means that the miller is on a short break.

When they are like that, he’s on a longer break.

When they are in this position it’s called the mourning position, something sad has happened, the market has gone down another 200 points.

This is the celebration position. That means there has been a birth or a wedding in the miller’s family or the government has decided to put a permanent end to earmarked legislation.

During the Second World War, windmills were used to send secret signals to the allied forces.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we arrived in Antwerp which is the center of the diamond trade.

More than seventy percent of the world’s annual diamond business, worth over 15 billion dollars, takes place in Antwerp. Its home to two thousand diamond companies, employing over thirty thousand people. 

Diamonds were first mined in India and until the 1700s India was their only source. They are the hardest naturally occurring substance and when properly cut they have the ability to separate white light into the colors of the spectrum which gives a diamond its extraordinary brilliance.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The weight of a diamond is measured in carats --- a food reference but probably not the one you are thinking about. The word ‘carat” when it’s used with diamonds is a reference to the carob bean. It’s based on an old Greek word and strangely enough carob beans have a uniform weight so they were used in Ancient times to measure the weight of precious stones and diamonds.


BURT WOLF: About mid-day we headed for Brussels.

Brussels got started as a fortified castle on a small island in a River. The island was important because it was the crossing point for two trade routes. The local Dukes saw it as a good spot to make a few bucks and set up a protected market around the fort. By the 12th century Brussels was a major commercial center producing luxury goods that were exported throughout Europe.

The most famous symbol of Brussels is the Manneken Pis --- a bronze fountain in the form of a naked boy. It was constructed in the early 1600s and there are a number of stories about its meaning. But all the stories make the same point; the people of Brussels are courageous, have stood up to opposition, and the statue expresses their attitude towards anyone who tries to oppress them.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1746, during a visit by the King of France to Belgium, a group of French soldiers stole this statue. The King was so annoyed and embarrassed that he had the soldiers thrown in prison and held there until the statue was returned. And then he passed a law that said that every French soldier who ever passed this statue had to salute.

BURT WOLF: The King also gave the statue a uniform of gold brocade. The idea of putting different uniforms on the statue for different occasions caught on. Today there is a museum with over six hundred costumes. Dracula --- Mozart --- and my personal favorite --- Elvis.

Brussels is a great town for food. Its quintessential dish is steamed mussels in an herb broth with a side of French fried potatoes and a beer. The shell of the first mussel is used to scoop out the meat on the other side. The French fries, which should really be called Belgian fries, because the Belgians fried them first, are dipped into mayonnaise.

And there’s a beer that is called gueuze. It’s often described as Belgian Champagne. It’s made from lambic beer which is itself rather special. Most brewers add commercial yeast to their beer, lambic brewers count on the yeasts that are floating wild in the air around Brussels. The process produces a dry and cider-like drink. Sometimes, one–year-old lambic is mixed with longer aged lambic and bottled for a second fermentation. The result is Gueuze.

If you are serious about beer you might want to stop in to one of the many beer shops. Belgium produces 400 artisanal beers and some excellent mass-produced stuff.

And you wouldn’t want to forget about Belgian chocolates. Many of the big Belgian chocolate makers have retail outlets around the world and there’s little point in tasting what you can get back home. You want to go where the locals go and for many Belgians that’s Wittamer. In addition to its chocolate counter it has a beautiful café that serves a selection of macaroons, pastries and ice creams. I’ve been a fan of Wittamer’s work for the last thirty years.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And I’ve been buying my cookies at a shop called Dandoy for just as long.

Every year on December 6th, which is St. Nicholas’ Day, children all over Northern Europe receive a cookie called a speculoos. It’s from a Latin word that means “mirror”. Let me show you why.

BURT WOLF: It’s a reference to the fact that the cookie is made in a hand carved wooden mold that produces a mirror image of St. Nicholas.

Their old molds go back for hundreds of years and represent many other images besides St. Nick --- and some of them are over three feet tall.


BURT WOLF: The next morning we arrived in Ghent. Ghent is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and during the 1200s it was second only to Paris as a focal point for commerce and culture. It had a monopoly on the English wool trade which made it the center for European textiles. It also made it rich and powerful enough to be an almost totally independent city for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, Ghent has been able to maintain much of its architectural and cultural past.

It still has its 14th century belfry with a 52-bell carillon which was originally built to show off the town’s independence.

The feudal castle of the Counts of Flanders that was built to intimidate their rivals.

The 7th century Abbey of St. Bavo with its Lapidary Museum. Lapidary is a reference to the art of cutting and polishing stones. The museum has a collection of stone fragments collected from various demolished buildings and monuments. There is also a collection of tombstones that date from the 13th to the 19th century. It appears that from time to time certain abbeys, monasteries and churches decided to sell off their old tombstones to make way for new tombstones.

And there’s an unusual type of retreat that was popular in the 1200s, called a Beguinages. They were developed for unmarried women and widows who were unable to pay the convent dowry that was required to enter an official nunnery. It was a place where women could live in their own society, insulated from a troubled world, and use their individual skills to develop a collective environment. The Beguinages were financed by wealthy patrons and are unique to Belgium and the Netherlands.


BURT WOLF: Ghent also has a famous shop devoted to Mustard. Catherine Caesens is the owner.

CATHERINE CAESENS ON CAMERA: The firm has been founded in 1790 and has always been around here in the area. The shop moved into this building in 1860. The mustard is made with mustard seeds, vinegar and very, very little salt. I don’t use any preservatives, no additives at all, no starches, no colorings, so it’s quite a natural product. I’ll give you some of the mustard to try here from the vat. Be careful it’s quite hot. And this is where we sell our mustard from as well.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh, it’s very nice.


BURT WOLF: That afternoon we took a tour of Bruges. During the 1200s Bruges was a major port and home to the Dukes of Burgundy. The Dukes were as powerful as the King of France. But by the 1400s, the waterway silted up and Bruges went into an extended period of economic decline.

The fact that Bruges was pretty much broke for 500 years was bad for citizens but good for its architectural heritage. No one had enough money to update their buildings and so they remained pretty much intact. As a result Bruges is one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Europe and the historic center of the town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town hall dates to 1376 and it is the oldest town hall in Belgium. 

Avalon’s Tulip Time Cruise was a great experience and I hope to tip-toe through the tulips again.

For Travels and Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Holland - #806

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The two most powerful forces in the history of Holland are wind and water. For over a thousand years, the people living in this part of the world have had an amazing ability to take advantage of these two forces. Perhaps the most obvious example is the windmill.

BURT WOLF: The Dutch used windmills to turn the pumps that drew the water off the land, over the dikes, and back to the sea. Much of Holland’s actual land surface was created by windpower moving water. The farmland that evolved from this system formed the basis for Holland's extensive agriculture and dairy industries. It was also windpower that moved the Dutch ships across the surface of the seas during the 1600's and made Holland the most powerful trading nation of the time, and the absolute center of commerce and culture. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the early 1600's there was an extraordinary expansion in worldwide trade. In Europe just about everybody who had a boat wanted to push off for some distant port in the hope of buying something there and bringing it back home and selling it for big bucks. For the Dutch, it created a giant worldwide trading empire -- and back home in Holland, an enormous amount of money. A lot of that money was used to commission works of art. Art that the Dutch appreciated in terms of aesthetics, but that they also considered to be a great commercial investment -- and boy, were they right.

BURT WOLF: Holland's golden age of the 1600's was the time of Rembrandt -- not a bad investment -- and Van Dyke, Franz Hals and Vermeer. These works can give us a detailed picture of what Dutch life was like at the time, especially when it comes to food. The Dutch masters have left us a picture of the period's menu: cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, fish, beer. The same foods and drinks that make up the traditional meals of today's Dutch family. Very often the way a food was shown was meant to tell a story. The Merry Family by Jan Steen looks like a great Sunday afternoon lunch with the kids -- but when you look at it closely you see that the children are following the bad habits of their parents: drinking, smoking, overeating. The painting is actually a warning against weak morals, a seventeenth- century cry for improved family values. The Dutch love of art has continued, and so has their ability to produce some of the world's finest painters. 

Vincent Van Gogh was born in Holland in 1853 and died in 1890. Almost all of his paintings were made during the 1880's, and though he was able to sell only a few of his works during his lifetime, his paintings have become some of the most valuable. In 1990 a Van Gogh sold for more than eighty million dollars. In the center of Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, built to make his works available to the public. Over one hundred Van Gogh works are on continual exhibition. 

Food has always been an important subject for Dutch painters and Van Gogh was no exception. This still life of apples and pears was a color study that produced a completely yellow picture. He also presented people eating and drinking in cafes and one of his favorite works was The Potato Eaters.

LOUIS VAN TILBORGH ONCAMERA: He...he tried to do something with the light which is...very difficult. I mean he... from the beginning...

BURT WOLF: Louis VanTilburg is the curator of the museum's Van Gogh collection.

VAN TILBORGH ON CAMERA: The Potato Eaters is an important painting because it's actually the first mature painting that Van Gogh really made. Before that time, that means from l880 until '80...'85... he made more or less studies. He didn't make... pictures which he thought were good enough for the market... for the art market. He was just learning the trade more or less, and with The Potato Eaters he first thought that he could launch own career... artistically and commercially. He thought that he could send it an exhibition in Paris and could present himself with that picture to... art dealers.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It doesn't have any of the bright colors that so many of us expect in a Van Gogh.

VAN TILBORGH ON CAMERA: He... always like to exaggerate. He did that in France and he also did that in Holland and in Holland at that time... gay colors were not in fashion but dark colors were, that he exaggerated. I mean if you would compare his pictures to the pictures of his... of his colleagues at the time... his... his pictures are much more...darker ...even...even more to say black.

This pic... picture... if you very... look very carefully at the... the hands... the way it is constructed it's very... I mean the people are sitting there... cramped. They're not looking at each other. For instance, the lady on the right has to pour coffee. Someone has to... take a fork and take in the potato. It's all very clear... very defined but as a total... it's not sensible at all because there is talk at a table. They interact and they do that... don't do that in that picture and... I think he himself was aware of the fact that he did not succeed in that, because he never made a picture like this any more... five persons around the table that... was too... too difficult for him.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The fact that they were using potatoes to make an entire meal is an interesting reminder of how important the potato was to the European peasant farmer. During the seventeen and eighteen hundreds it was very often the only food they had, and because of its high nutritional content, was actually enough to keep them alive. For Van Gogh, the peasant and the potato were examples of a purer and simpler lifestyle, but in the case of the potato that's only true if you leave off the sour cream.


BURT WOLF: About an hour's drive into the Dutch countryside from Amsterdam is the small village of Zundert. And this is the building that put Zundert on the map.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Zundert is where Vincent Van Gogh grew up and did his early work. They even have a small museum dedicated to him. 

BURT WOLF: The museum has a small collection of things that relate to the period when Van Gogh lived in Zundert, as well as his other years in Holland. Van Gogh made a number of drawings that showed the landscape and the people of the village. He was fascinated by the life of the peasant farmers who worked the land, and there are many drawings that show them at work in the fields and in their homes.

Certainly a fitting tribute, but the sweetest tribute of all is just down the street at the Luijckx Chocolate Factory. Almost every morning you will find the shiny steel tank-truck outside the building, a tank-truck filled with twenty thousand gallons of the finest chocolate. Chocolate that goes into the building to be molded. The free-flowing chocolate is poured into molds moving along a track. They're shaken to take out any air bubbles, then flipped so the form has only a thin coating. It's turned again and weighed to make sure it holds the proper amount. The chocolate cools and hardens to become little cups but the Luijckx system can form just about anything. A substantial part of their business comes from producing special designs, things for Christmas, Easter, McChocolates, and the local specialty -- a reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh's self-portrait in chocolate.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is great stuff. It nourishes the mind and the body at the same time and it does it either in milk or semi-sweet chocolate. How few works of art can make that claim?


BURT WOLF: Holland's mild climate, high quality marshy soil, and regular rainfall promote the year-round growth of excellent grass, grass which in turn produces excellent cattle, cattle that have been used to produce milk for at least four thousand years and cheese for a least a thousand. The country's natural waterways play a big part in the development of the cheese business. Almost every farmer had a waterway touching some point on his land. When his cheese was made, he would load it onto a barge and sail off to market. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It could have been a small town just down the canal from his farm or he could join up with a major river like the Rhine and end up selling his cheese in France or Germany. Because the Dutch sailors were such good navigators, they were able to develop a coastal trade and end up selling their cheeses as far south as Portugal and Spain. At one point in time, cheese became so valuable that it was used a form of money -- but it was very difficult to keep any small change in your pocket.

BURT WOLF: Over the years the technology of cheese making has changed some, but the story is pretty much the same. Today Holland is the world's largest exporter of cheese. It ships out many millions of pounds of cheese each year. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So if you want to get an accurate picture of the history of the Dutch, just say cheese.

BURT WOLF: The Denboer family farm has been here in Holland for at least three hundred years. The land was reclaimed from the sea and a giant dike stands behind the farmhouse, just in case the sea ever tries to get back in. The Denboers raise their own cows and use the milk to produce cheese in the most traditional of Dutch farmhouse methods. The milk goes into a large tub. An enzyme from the lining of a calf's stomach, called rennet, is added to the milk. The rennet causes the milk solids, called the curd, to separate from the liquid, called the whey. The milk solids are taken out and placed into a form. Pressure is added to squeeze out additional liquid and give the cheese its shape. At that point the cheese is submerged into a brine bath, really just salted water but it adds flavor to the cheese, when the cheese comes out of the bath it sits on the shelf to mature for two weeks. At that point the cheese is ready to go to market. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Cheese is just an ancient method for preserving the valuable nutrients in milk. All of the calcium and protein that's in the milk is now in the cheese but it's in there in a concentrated form. It takes about ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese, and in moderation, cheese is an excellent source of nutrients.

BURT WOLF: It's pronounced "houda" in Dutch and Gouda in English. It's the name of the most famous cheese produced in Holland, and it's also the name of the town where the cheese was originally developed. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Starting in the 1200s, if you lived in a Dutch town, you wanted that town to have weighing rights; that is, the right to weigh the cheeses made by the local farmers and put the town's official seal of approval on those cheese. It was the equivalent of today having a major league football franchise. Big deal stuff. 

BURT WOLF: And as soon as your town got weighing rights, it got a weigh house in which the activity was conducted, like building your own stadium. Gouda got theirs in 1668. It's right across the street from the city hall, which just serves to point out the importance of the cheese business to the town fathers. Most of the cheese exported from Holland is named after the towns from which it comes. Edam: skimmed milk, mild flavors, smooth texture, easy to spot because it usually comes in a red ball. Masdam: it's Holland's answer to Swiss cheese with a mild, nutty flavor. And of course gouda: starts mild and creamy but becomes more robust the longer it's aged. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So check the cheese to make sure it has the town seal on it. That's the only way to be sure it's gouda enough.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Some time during the 1100s, a group of herring fishermen settled near here along the Amstel River. That community eventually became the city of Amsterdam. So I think it's only fair to say that from the very beginning, the story of Amsterdam has been the story of something good to eat. 

BURT WOLF: But the real golden age of Amsterdam was the 1600s. Amsterdam was Europe's center for business as well as its cultural capital. It all started in 1595 when a Dutch trading ship landed in what was then called the East Indies now Indonesia: Bali, Java, Borneo, Sumatra; lands which produced some of the world's most valuable spices.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Those were the places that Columbus had been looking for, and when the Dutch got there they took control of a spice trade to Europe that made many Dutchman wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Actually, those dreams weren't very wild at all, because even then the Dutch were very structured and not showy. Much of the wealth from that spice trade was used to build homes along the canals of Amsterdam.

BURT WOLF: Amsterdam was actually put together by connecting ninety islands with about five hundred bridges --- most citizens get around on bicycles. The town has only seven hundred and fifty thousand people but a million bikes. You could, if you want to, get from place to place just as well by boat.

Thomas Schmidt is the executive assistant manager of Amsterdam's Amstel Hotel. He borrowed one of the hotel's boats so we could take a tour of the city... a tour with two objectives: first, to see the traditional sights, and second, to stop along the way and eat the traditional foods.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: And here you have a very typical bridge...which is still operating. If a boat passes through here, there are two bridge guards who will open up the bridge to you; every time you pass a bridge and he takes a bicycle and drives along the channel, opens the bridge and then he goes to the next.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Bicycle goes along with the boat.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And opens it up for you. That's really great.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: But most of the time the bicycle is faster than the boat, so that's no problem.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CMAERA: Here we're going into the typically Dutch channel. What you see on the right hand side, left hand side, houseboats.

BURT WOLF CAMERA: People live on

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: People live on them, yes, that's right.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It looks like it's a nice place to live.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: It is. It is actually. You see even the people create their own garden and terrace and they're trying to... to feel at home here you know. And there's another thing you probably have noticed, the... hook hanging on each house. This is meant to... bring up the corniches, and if you move from one to the other house, you bring it up from the outside, through the window.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh that's right. The stairs are so narrow in these houses that you can't bring a bed or a piano upstairs, and even today they use that hook on the top of the house to bring their furniture in when they move.



THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: That's right. You see also different type of the decorations. This one is... more of the very heavy decorated and they have some more simple as well. People showed the...their richness on the outside of the... house by building a gable which is more decorated or less decorated, and there's not much space in the small houses to show your decoration of your richness so the gable was a nice place to do that.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The ornateness of the crown.

THOMAS SCHMIDT ON CAMERA: That's right. That's right.

BURT WOLF: One of the great pleasures of a canal tour of Amsterdam is that you can tie up, go ashore and see what's cooking in the streets. 

Each city around the world has its own customary street foods, and eating them as you move around the town has become almost a ritual for the citizens. In Amsterdam there are a group of very traditional street foods. Maybe it's because Amsterdam was originally founded some seven hundred years ago by herring fisherman or maybe it's just because the Dutch love herring. I don't know, but I do know that Amsterdam has dozens of small street stands where people eat herring. The fish is very fresh, lightly salted, cleaned and served on a paper plate with some chopped onion. The herring is held in the air above your head and eaten bite by bite. There are also street vendors for french fried potatoes, freshly cut and deep fried right in front of you. They're served with mayonnaise, a peanut sauce or ketchup. The third classic street food of Amsterdam is the waffle. They're freshly made by vendors who set up their stoves in the town's open markets. They're thin and crisp. Two waffles are put together like a sandwich and the filling; it's made up of a maple-based sugar syrup. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And licorice, an anise-flavored candy that they make both sweet and salty. So those are the street foods of Amsterdam: licorice, herring, french fries and little waffles. What an unbeatable meal.

BURT WOLF: As you move through the streets of Amsterdam you will see at regular intervals the “Brown Cafes.” There are five hundred of them in the downtown area.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Brown Cafe is to Amsterdam very much what the pub is to London: a neighborhood gathering spot, an extension of the living room, a place to come in and have a beer or a coffee, to read a book or a newspaper.

BURT WOLF: They're called Brown Cafes because the wood used in their construction is always dark because the lighting level is kept low, and because the walls which have been stained with smoke and nicotine are never washed or painted.

This is probably the most famous of the brown cafes. It's Cafe Hoppe and it first opened for business in 1670. The Brown Cafes are an essential part of each of Amsterdam's neighborhoods and very often attract a particular clientele. One might be the place for writers to meet, another frequented by painters.  They're a real reflection of the neighborhood and a great place to get to know the people of the city.


BURT WOLF: The city plan of Amsterdam is based on three canals that form three semi-circles, one inside the other. Together they are described as the Canal Girdle. The outside canal in English is called the Prince's Canal. In the middle is the Emperor's Canal, and on the inside, the Gentleman's Canal. It's interesting that the most elegant and ambitious of the three is the Gentleman's Canal, not those named with royal titles.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  It's a reminder that for centuries the people of Amsterdam have loved the small businessman, the individual entrepreneur, and like most people, the owner of a small business tries to keep his taxes as low as he honestly can -- or at least to get the most for his money.

BURT WOLF: During the 1700's the people here paid their homeowner's tax based on the width of the front of But those same houses go up and they go back, and as they go back they get wider. A pie-shaped house with the thinnest part facing the street helped to cut down on your taxes and let you keep a bigger slice of your own economic pie. That's the Trippenhuis, built in 1662. It's like a Venetian palace. Across the street is the narrowest house in Amsterdam. The story goes that the Tripp family coachman was expressing his wish for a home on the canal, even if it was only as wide as the door of his master's house. Mr. Tripp overheard him and built him just that: a house as wide as the Tripp door. The extraordinary architecture of Amsterdam is one of its greatest joys. The government has designated some seven thousand buildings in the old center as historically significant. The character of these streets tells the history of the city for almost eight centuries. The people of Amsterdam have done a pretty good job of preserving their heritage. Holding onto the old buildings was essential.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And they've built museums for just about everything Dutch that you can think of. They're also doing a good job of holding onto their gastronomic heritage. There are chefs all over this town who are researching old recipes, reproducing them and making the gastronomic past part of the present. 

BURT WOLF: DePoort Restaurant, at the center of the town's oldest area, started as a beer brewery in 1592. It was the place where Heineken was first made. Today the restaurant offers some of the most traditional home foods of Holland: Dutch pea soup, a meal in itself with pieces of pork and slices of sausage; herring in various forms; hotspot, which is a combination of mashed potatoes, sauteed onions and carrots. Made me go out and get a pair of wooden shoes; a wonderful Dutch dish. And giant pancakes served with apples or preserves. These are the real Dutch treats. 


BURT WOLF: One of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam is the old Heineken Brewery. The original facility was called the Haystack Brewery and it started its production in 1572. In 1863 it was taken over by Gerhart Heineken, who at the ripe old age of twenty-two decided he could make a better beer. Today the original plant is a museum devoted to the history of beer. They have an interesting collection of art and artifacts that tell the history of beer making. It starts with material from ancient Mesopotamia and takes you right through some of the major European painters. They also have an extensive collection of beer drinking vessels, including this unusual number: Her Royal Majesty holds a bowl above her head from which you drink an aquavit or vodka. Then she flips over and her base fills with beer.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The main reason that beer has been so popular in so many parts of the world for so many centuries is because very often beer was the only safe thing for someone to drink. The open water found in lakes and rivers was highly polluted, and though no one actually understood the concept of bacteria at the time, they knew from experience that drinking water was dangerous. Experience also taught them that drinking beer was safe, and the reason is quite simple; when you make beer, the water that's in it is brought to a boil. The boiling water kills the bacteria. So people concluded that drinking water could kill you. Drinking beer in moderation was quite safe.

BURT WOLF: There are ancient stone carvings that go back over six thousand years and clearly show people making beer. The ancient Egyptians even put beer into the tombs of their kings so they could have a drink in the afterlife; talk about a six pack to go. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Here at the Heineken Brewery in Holland, you can see the process pretty much the way it's been going on for the past two thousand years. It all starts with a grain called barley that people have been eating since prehistoric times. Because barley grows well in soil, even if that soil has some salt in it and because it has a very shallow root system, it was one of the earliest crops planted by the Dutch when they reclaimed their land from the sea. Brewers start the beer making process by taking the barley and mixing it with water. The process that results is called germination, kind of wakes up the sugar in the barley. They let that go on for a week and then they stop the process by toasting the barley.

BURT WOLF: The germinated and toasted grain is called malt. The malt is transferred into a big copper kettle mixed with water and heated. The starch in the malt changes to sugar. Hops, which are the leaves of a vine, are added to give flavor and help preserve the beer. The solids are filtered out and the remaining liquid is called wort. The wort is mixed with a special yeast that converts the sugar in the wort to alcohol and you have young beer. The young beer rests in a storage tank for four to six weeks, at which time it's old enough to have its own bottle.


Travels & Traditions: What's Cooking in Switzerland - #805

BURT WOLF: The tectonic plates that hold our continents float on a sea of molten earth. About a hundred million years ago, the African plate banged into the European plate. Billions of tons of rock were rammed together and the Swiss Alps were born.

The most mountainous region in Switzerland is called the Valais and it is the home of Switzerland’s most famous mountain ---the Matterhorn. At the base of the mountain is the town of Zermatt and that is where my gastronomic tour began.

During the 1600s, a group of peasants who lived down in the valley purchased their freedom from the landowners and came up here to start their own community. The old part of Zermatt looks pretty much as it did when they built it 400 years ago.

The new part of town, however, looks different every 400 hours. It has a street lined with excellent shops that put new things out for sale each week. Their specialty is outdoor wear and as the weather and the seasons change they offer the appropriate gear. There are also lots of restaurants and pubs.

From the center of Zermatt, I took the Gornergrate Railway which was Switzerland’s first electric cogwheel railway and the highest outdoor cogwheel railway in Europe. It took me up to the top of the Riffenberg at 8,469 feet above sea level. It’s the place to get a great view of the Matterhorn.

The Matterhorn itself reaches a height of 14,692 feet and it gets a little higher each year as the earth pushes it up. The first attempt to reach the top turned out to be a total failure. It was only in 1865 that a team of climbers were able to reach the peak. The Matterhorn holds a special place in the history of Swiss mountain climbing but it is also important to the history Swiss gastronomy. Let me explain.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1908, Erik Baumann and his cousin Theodor Tobler, after hours of feverish experimentation, created a perfect fusion between nougat and milk chocolate, thereby giving us the first Toblerone.

BURT WOLF: Not only did they cross this previously unbreachable boundary between chocolate and nougat but they had the skill and the insight to create a mold that produced individual servings of the bar in the shape of the Matterhorn and to use a manufacturing process so unique that it was granted a patent.

But wait, there’s more. The man working at the Swiss Federal Institute for Intellectual Property -- the organization that issued the patent for the Toblerone -- was none other than Albert Einstein.

And so the Matterhorn is not just a mountain it is a gastronomic and scientific landmark.

As you come down from Zermatt and your sugar high, you enter the Valais where you will find the town of Sierre and the Chateau de Ville. The Chateau has been here since the early 1500s. Inside is a restaurant that specializes in the traditional foods of the region and it is one of my all time favorite spots. And each time I come here I have the same meal.

The first course is viande sechees -- beef that has been air dried and thinly sliced. You grind a little pepper on top and eat the slices with your fingers. There’s a basket with two types of rye bread -- one is flavored with cumin seeds and the other with walnuts. 

 The Valais is one of the great cheese producing regions of Switzerland and the main course is raclette. For me this is the ultimate melted cheese dish.

The restaurant has a room where they age their cheeses over several months, turning and brushing them and with white wine and salt.

The chef takes a half wheel of Simplon Cheese and places it in front of a heat source. The heat can come from a fireplace or an electric raclette maker. As the cheese melts, the chef scraps some of it off onto a plate. The cheese is served as a disc about three inches in diameter and about a quarter inch thick. The chef works at the edge of the dining room and the raclette comes to your table as soon as the cheese is melted.

BURT WOLF: There’s a wooden bucket on the table filled with boiled fingerling potatoes. You take out a potato, place it next to the cheese, cut off a small slice, cover it with warm, soft cheese and pop it into your mouth. Along side the raclette is a bowl of gherkins and pickled onions.

The chef keeps an eye on each table and as you finish off the first dish, he starts melting your second, but this time he uses a different cheese. You can order from 3 to 12 rounds of raclette, each with a different cheese. And along with the raclette you drink a local wine.

The Chateau restaurant has 500 local wines on the menu and right next door is a wine tasting room with the same 500 wines available for sale. Each week they have a different selection available for tasting in both the restaurant and the tasting room, and all 500 are available for sale at the same price you would pay at the vineyard.

The Valais is the largest wine producing area in Switzerland. There is a great diversity of soil types and microclimates and the mountains on both sides of the valley protect the vineyards. They grow over 40 different grape varieties.

After lunch, I visited the town of Sion, which is over 2,000 years old. On a hill at the center of Sion is a fortified church that was built in the 4th century. It has protective walls, battlement towers, and internal walkways designed for military defense.

It also has the world’s oldest playable organ. It was put together during the 1400s and there are regular concerts.


BURT WOLF: The next day, I continued heading west into the Lake Geneva Region. Switzerland is divided into 23 states called cantons. The Lake Geneva Region is home to the canton of Vaud. Its Southern border is made up of villages, small towns and a few mid-sized cities that spread out along the shore of Lake Geneva. Its western and northern frontiers run through farm communities and small villages in the Jura Mountains that share a border with France. And much of its Eastern edge rises up into the Alps.

The first town I stopped at was Aigle which has been inhabited for over 4,000 years. The first vines were produced here by the ancient Romans and this has been an important area for wine production ever since. The castle at Aigle has a wine museum that will give you a good look at that history. My favorite exhibit illustrates the evolution of the wine bottle and points out why it was impossible to do business without a uniform system of measurement.

If you were buying wine form a distant vineyard and you expected the big bottle, because that’s what people used in your neighborhood, and instead you ended up with a little bottle, because that’s what they used two valleys over, you had a problem.

In the late 1700s, France introduced the metric system, based on the meter, which is one ten millionth of a quarter of the world’s equator. The French clearly understood how much more convenient one ten millionth of a quarter of the equator was instead of a foot.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The people of Vaud where I am standing did not want to give up the foot and so they standardized it at three tenths of a ten millionth part of the equator. They also introduced the hand, which they standardized at four hundredth of a millionth part of the equator. Of course, at the time people were not totally convinced as to the proper length of the equator, and so often there was a 2.0115 correction one way or the other. Are you getting this down?

BURT WOLF: The unit of measurement for wine became the liter, which is a volume measurement based on the meter. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Attempts to understand this system lead to an outburst of heavy drinking which in turn resulted in Aigle producing some of the finest wines in Switzerland.

BURT WOLF: They have a light bouquet, a nice balance of fruit and acidity, and the more you drink the more you think you understand the metric system. The Chateau has a charming little restaurant called the Pint of Paradise, where you can have a pleasant lunch, drink the local wine and test your comprehension of metrics.

For centuries the best way to get around this area was to hop on one of the Lake Geneva sailboats. It was an informal service that was already in existence when the ancient Romans arrived. But it took on serious structure when the Lake Geneva shipping company went into business in 1823. Their boats carried local residents from town to town along the lake shore. Even now they are used by commuters.

By the middle of the 1800s tourists began coming on board, and they still do. The boats make regular stops at most of the towns on the lake and you can get on and off and back on wherever you like. Taking a ride on a lake steamer is the best way to see the beauty of the Lake Geneva shore, the small towns and the surrounding mountains. I used a lake streamer to continue my westward journey through the Lake Geneva Region; I got off at the town of Vevey.

Vevey is the cradle of the Swiss milk chocolate business and the corporate headquarters of Nestle, the world’s largest food company and the largest company in Switzerland. Vevey is a popular resort that faces out on Lake Geneva and the Alps.

Charlie Chaplin moved here in the early 1950’s.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Chaplin was born in London in 1889. His family were vaudeville performers and he followed in their footsteps eventually becoming the superstar of the silent screen.

BURT WOLF: During a tour of the United States in 1912, the Keystone Film Company noticed Chaplin, gave him his first work in silent films and introduced him to film audiences around the world.

His most famous screen character, the little tramp, was so widely appreciated that Chaplin came to be regarded as the greatest comic artist of his time and one of the most important figures in the history of motion pictures. 

When he passed away in 1977, Blaise Poyet, his favorite chocolate maker, called Chaplin’s son and asked if he could honor Charlie’s memory with a special chocolate. They worked together and developed a chocolate recipe that was a little bitter, a little sweet, and always filled with surprises. Just like Charlie. 

Then they formed the chocolate into miniature copies of the shoes that Chaplin wore in his films. The shoes are set into a box with their heels together and their toes apart, just the way Chaplin walked in his movies. The box itself is actually a movie film canister and it’s tied with ribbons that are printed with a movie film pattern---a bitter sweet memory of a man with an amazing talent.

I left Vevey on the wine train. It runs along the north shore of Lake Geneva which is one of the most important wine growing regions in Switzerland. The grapes are grown on steep terraces that have been cut into the mountains. The hills face south and get lots of direct sunlight. The lake also acts like a giant mirror bouncing even more warmth into the vines.

I got off at the town of Chexbres and started walking the wine trail. It’s made up of about 20 miles of road that wind through the vineyards. There’s a guide book to the area that says the wine makers have an open door policy, but they also have an open bottle policy. When you see and open door you can walk in, introduce yourself to the winemaker and receive a glass of the winemaker’s work, along with the story of how he makes his wine, a brief history of his family and his candid opinion of the state of the world. And it’s all free.

This part of Switzerland is known as the Lavaux region and it has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage site.


BURT WOLF: Properly fortified with fermented grape juice, I continued my journey toward Geneva.

Geneva is the most westerly region in Switzerland. It’s famous for its role in the Protestant Reformation, as a center for watch making, as a home for the United Nations, and for the many humanitarian organizations that are headquartered here.

The first residents of the area, that we know about, were members of a migrating tribe that came over from Eastern Europe and settled on the high ground, which is now Geneva’s Old City. Good spot. It was just above the junction of the Rhone and Arve Rivers. And right in front were two islands that they used for the base of a bridge, which made it the only spot for hundreds of miles where traders could cross the river on foot and stay dry. A century before the birth of Christ, Roman soldiers saw the strategic value of this site, and turned it into one of their most prosperous colonies. Even then, Geneva understood the importance of bridge financing.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: By the middle of the 400s, Rome began to lose its power, and Geneva came under the control of the Dukes of Burgundy. The Dukes spent the next thousand years or so duking it out with assorted princes, until 1536, when Geneva declared itself an independent republic, under the protection of the Swiss states to the northeast.

The Swiss loved this. Geneva became independent but it also became a buffer between the Swiss and the Dukes. The Swiss not only offered the people of Geneva military protection, but they offered them the opportunity to become Protestant and join the Reformation.

BURT WOLF: The main street in the Old City is called Grande Rue, and during the 1960’s I lived here. This was my neighborhood. And it hasn't changed very much, which makes perfectly good sense, it's been here for 1500 years. What did I think was going to change?

There's the old Arsenal. The building was put up in the 1400s, and there are five original cannons. My kids used them to play blow up the Duke of Savoy.

Down the block is the Place du Bourge-de-Four, the oldest public square in Geneva. For the ancient Romans this was a center for the affairs of commerce. It's still a center of activity, but these days the affairs are mostly of the heart. A little bar down the street from my house is still here. The sweet yeasty smells of the bakery still drift into the street, and it's still impossible to find a parking place. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The only thing that seems to have disappeared is my youth.

BURT WOLF: In 1886, Geneva set up a hydroelectric station

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: to supply power to the craftsmen working in the city,

but every evening when the workers would turn off their machines, there was a dangerous overcharge. Engineers would rush to the pumps to turn them off, but they never knew exactly when that surge was going to hit. 

BURT WOLF: Eventually somebody had the bright idea to install a safety valve that released the excess water in the form of a jet, which eventually became the symbol of the city. It’s called the jet d’eau and it’s produced by an amazing piece of machinery. 

This is the pump room. Every minute two pumps suck eight thousand gallons of water out of the lake, mix it with air, and place it under tremendous pressure. The key design element is the nozzle, it sends up a column of water filled with millions of air bubbles, which gives the jet its white color. Without the air bubbles, it would be practically invisible from the shore. 

The jet d’eau is an important symbol of Geneva but so is the Escalade.

Each year on December 11th, the city commemorates an event that took place in 1602. The Duke of Savoy, who controlled the land around Geneva, teamed up with Philip II, the Catholic King of Spain, and decided to crush the Protestant Reformation that had taken place here.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The troops were in the middle of a sneak attack when a woman heard their approach. Stationing herself at her kitchen window, she poured a pot of hot soup down on the Savoyards. With their chances for a surprise attack seriously dampened, they pulled back, giving the Guards of Geneva time to counter-attack and defeat the Duke's men, thereby saving Geneva's freedom to produce vegetable soup anyway they wanted. 

BURT WOLF: Not to be left out of the celebration, each year the chocolate makers of Geneva produce chocolate soup pots filled with vegetables made of marzipan. They also shape chocolate into other forms, each designed to mark an event. At The Du Rhone Chocolate Shop, a two foot high beehive, with bees, signals the beginning of spring. An antique car announces the opening of the annual Auto Show, and the perfect pocketbook celebrates a particularly successful bit of shopping.

And shopping is definitely a part of what Geneva is all about. For over a thousand years, Geneva has been an important commercial center, but for the past 300 years its most famous commercial product has been the watch. Protestant reformers, as part of their desire to simplify life, limited the use of gold and precious stones in jewelry --- so many of the jewelry makers started to making watches and clocks. Throughout the city there are public displays of the craft. 

In 1955, a flower clock was constructed in a small park at the edge of the lake. It's about five yards wide, has the largest second hand in the world, and over six thousand plants are used to produce its face.

About a block away in the center of a covered shopping street, is the clock of the Passage-de-Malbuisson. Built in the twentieth century, it marks each hour with 16 bells, a parade of 13 chariots, and 42 bronze figures. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The biggest impetus to watch making in Geneva came in 1685, when King Louis the XIV of France decided to kill off all the French Protestants. French Protestants were known as Huguenots and thousands of them fled to Geneva. They were master craftsmen and many were great watchmakers. They made an immediate and valuable financial contribution to the city, and what was France's loss became Geneva's gain. 

BURT WOLF: Calvin was the leading Protestant theologian in Geneva and he demanded an almost monk-like asceticism in the city, which made watch making a perfect occupation. The monk’s cell was replaced by the watchmaker’s cabinet, and Geneva became one of the most productive and creative cities in the world. There is no other country where so many watches are made and sold. 

Geneva is also the European home of the United Nations which gives the city an international atmosphere and hundreds of the interesting restaurants. Last time I checked the numbers, Geneva had more restaurants per person than any other city in Europe. 

Here are a few that turn out excellent examples of some of Geneva's most traditional dishes. 

The Grande Theatre is Geneva's opera, and right across the street is Le Lyrique. On one side, it's a simple brasserie, and on the other side, a formal restaurant. It opened in 1981, but the decor is late nineteenth century. 

The Café de Soleil, which means the Cafe of the Sun, was the first restaurant to be built outside the city walls. It went into business in 1680, and for a while it was a cabaret. At the time Geneva was a very conservative city, which may explain why it opened up outside the city walls. Today it's a down home neighborhood brasserie that's famous for its cheese fondue. 

The Café de Soleil makes their fondue using only gruyere cheese. Swiss have been making gruyere since the 1100s, and for over 500 years, chefs have considered it one of the great cheeses for cooking. A wheel of gruyere weighs between 77 and 88 pounds, has a diameter of 20 inches, and has been aged for at least a year. It has a slightly nutty flavor that's perfect for fondue. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Swiss fondue eating etiquette requires that all diners prevent their bread from dropping into the cheese, and if you fail, there are severe penalties. You may be required to, A, buy wine for everybody at the table. B, kiss everybody at the table, and C, keep a slice of hard boiled egg in your wallet throughout the month of July. 

BURT WOLF: One place I keep coming back to is The Bistro du Boeuf Rouge. The walls are covered with hats, beer mugs, old posters, cloudy glass, and undistinguished prints, and none of the plates match, which makes me feel very much at home. Thought of as a steakhouse, they also make great fried fish, in this case, filet of lake perch, which is a specialty of the town. 

I have spent a number of years living and filming in Switzerland and I am always impressed with the quality of their restaurants. I like good cooking in a relaxed atmosphere at a fair price and that’s the major tradition in The Valais, The Lake Geneva Region and Geneva.


BURT WOLF: And chocolate---they have great chocolate. My cardiologist told me to have an ounce of dark chocolate everyday.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: One of those…two of those…

BURT WOLF: I take it after my baby aspirin and my cholesterol-lowering pill but before my red wine.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Rome, Italy - #804

BURT WOLF: In contrast to New York as The Big Apple, Rome has been called The Big Lasagna, and it’s a perfect description. Like lasagna, Rome is all about layers -- layers that could easily stand on their own, and yet being together in the same pot has made the entire dish more interesting.

This particular pot is resting in the middle of the Italian peninsula, about fifteen miles inland from the west coast. Archeologists have found traces of an ancient Roman settlement that dates back to 1200 BC, but most historians like to date the beginning of “real times Roman” as the eighth century before the birth of Christ.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For me, there are five distinct layers to Rome: the first is made up of the ruins and restorations of ancient Rome. Stuff that’s been at the bottom of the pot for over two thousand years.

BURT WOLF: Next come the remains of early Christian Rome: buildings that started out as Pagan temples and ended up as some of the earliest Christian churches. Works of art that tell the great stories of Christianity.

The third layer is Renaissance Rome -- the extraordinary rebirth of culture that took Europe out of the Middle Ages. This was the time of Michelangelo, and Raphael.

Then came a period known as the Baroque. The word “baroque” comes from the Portuguese and means “uneven stone.” The movement grew as part of the reaction to the Protestant Reformation. It was designed to restore the power of Rome and the Catholic church. In Rome itself, some of the greatest examples of the Baroque are the works of Bernini.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And finally I see an ingredient that’s not so much a layer as it as a light dusting on top. Sometimes it’s like grated cheese ... a little bit salty and demanding. Other times it’s quite sweet and light like powdered sugar.

BURT WOLF: It got started in the mid-fifties and is called La Dolce Vita, which means “the sweet life,” and it’s a reference to the lifestyle that was developing in Rome.

In order to understand why a particular dish tastes the way it does, it’s very helpful to have a recipe. The first ingredient in this Big Lasagna recipe is Ancient Rome.

The Forum was the political, religious, and commercial center of ancient Rome. As I wandered through the ruins, my guidebook told me of the great structures that stood here some 2,000 years ago. The Forum was built under the direction of Julius Caesar. That pile of broken stones... that was the spot where triumphant generals stood when they returned home. That clump of weeds... the very location of the magnificent House of the Vestal Virgins. And those columns... the Temple of Saturn. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. With my regular glasses, however, the place looks like it needs some serious attention.

Next, the quintessential visual symbol of Rome: The Coliseum. It was built as a stadium in the first century and held over 50,000 spectators. It was the center for the contests between the gladiators. At one point in its history, the building became a source of marble for the local construction companies and it was stripped of its facade. Some ruins are more ruined than others.

That is The Pantheon. It is probably in better shape than any other ancient Roman building. It was built in 27 BC as a temple to all the Roman gods. Kind of a mutual fund approach to pagan religion. You spread your veneration over a large group of deities and you reduce your risk of missing out on the powerful one. The Pantheon seems to have survived the centuries because it was turned into a church in the 600s. It’s set on the lowest point in Rome and was subject to regular flooding. If you look up you will see the dome of the structure which is bigger than the one on St. Peter’s. The hole in the center is the only source of light. Unfortunately it is also the source of water whenever it rains.


BURT WOLF: To continue along with the idea of the layers of Rome, a perfect example of how the Renaissance layer was placed on top of everything that went before, is the Capitoline Hill. It was originally the site of a pair of pre-Christian temples honoring Jupiter and Juno. But in 1538 it became the home of Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio. You approach the plaza by walking up a long, gently inclined ramp -- perfect for a grand imperial entrance to Rome, which was Michelangelo’s purpose. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was coming to town. The Emperor would be greeted by two statues of Castor and Pollux, the twin heroes of classical mythology. And in the center of the Campidoglio, he would be confronted by a magnificent statue of Marcus Aurelius, set on an impressive pedestal. The statue is no longer there, but the pedestal is -- proving once again that even when the politician is gone, his platform remains. On two sides of the piazza are museums storing ancient Roman artifacts. The third building is the Senatorial Palace, which to this day is used by the local government of Rome for the storage of ancient ideas on how the city should be governed.

To explore the next layer of the lasagna of Rome, the Baroque, I turned to Ilaria Barberini. She is the descendent of a powerful Roman family that included Pope Urban VIII, the man who commissioned the Barberini Palace and the Piazza Barberini. The family crest is illustrated with three bees as a symbol of how hard the Barberini work. Ilaria is certainly a perfect example. She’s part of a cultural association called Citta Nascosta, which means “the hidden city.” It’s made up of a group of instructors who are specialists in guiding people to the most famous parts of Rome, as well as the more unusual areas. She’s taking me to see a perfect example of the Baroque style that consumed Rome during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

ILARIA BARBERINI: This is Palazzo Colona that was first built at the time of Pope Martino Quinto who was Pope in Rome from 1417 until 1431. The palace was then rebuilt in 1730. This is the gallery which was created to collect paintings and furnitures. The gallery was created because they need to show the power and the importance and the prestige of the family and it was a very typical thing that powerful families used to do in 16- and 1700s. And it was easy for the families connected to the pope, or connected with the pope, to buy important artistic treasures.

BURT WOLF: If you got it, show it.

ILARIA BARBERINI: Mmm hmm. Yeah. And so, we can start and see the rooms that lead to the great ballroom which is the big room -- a very beautiful one.

So in this room, as in all the other rooms, it’s full of beautiful paintings, but this is a particular painting. It’s very famous and important. And this painting is very famous because it gives you the idea of reality. You really can feel, you know, the bread, the man that is eating, the beans... It’s called the Mangia Fagioli in Italian, that means “the bean eater.”

BURT WOLF: Bean eater.


BURT WOLF: This is the new style that starts in the 1600s.

ILARIA BARBERINI: Yes. This is new style. It’s realism -- naturalism. We can see the bread, the red wine, the man that’s sitting. We feel immediacy, reality. And we can also see the difference with that painting there that it belongs to the end of the fifteenth century.

BURT WOLF: Very stylized.


BURT WOLF: Unrealistic.


BURT WOLF: And this is the average person.

ILARIA BARBERINI: Yes. There’s a big difference.

BURT WOLF: And it’s a painting that makes you hungry...


BURT WOLF: ...which is the mark of true art.


We are entering now in the big ballroom, the real gallery and it’s, you know, it’s amazing. They say that it’s even bigger than the one that is in Versailles. And here we can find one of the best examples of Roman Baroque. We have all the elements. We have the colored marbles, we have those kind of living frescos very rich in action. And so we see the will to glorify the power of the family, to give importance to the family. And then we have all those golden stuccos and all the statues around the gallery, the paintings...

BURT WOLF:  What do they actually do in this room?

ILARIA BARBERINI: Well they... the room was built to collect paintings actually at the middle of the 1600s. But they also danced in it, they had big balls and that’s...

BURT WOLF:  A little roller-blading was nice...

ILARIA BARBERINI: Yes, a little roller-blading...

BURT WOLF:  Field hockey... tennis...

ILARIA BARBERINI: Yes, exactly... tennis... they played sports...

BURT WOLF:  You need a room like this... I understand completely...


BURT WOLF: The enormously grand style of the Baroque period grew out of a reaction to the Protestant Reformation. Four hundred years later, as a reaction to the poverty and darkness of the Second World War, Rome came up with La Dolce Vita.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: But instead of being presented in the traditional Roman art forms of painting, sculpture and architecture, La Dolce Vita was brought to us in film.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The master of the form was Fellini, and during the 1950’s he showed us what was happening in Rome as wealth and power returned to the city. But the sweet life was also captured by still photographers.

BURT WOLF: The most famous streets for shopping in Rome are at the base of the Spanish Steps... the international fashion houses... the great Italian tailors... the jewelry makers. And although there are plenty of restaurants in the area, it can be tough to find good food at a good price. A notable exception is the restaurant Il Cantinone, on the Via Vittoria. Charming... unpretentious... inexpensive. It’s run by the brothers Zucca, and it serves the specialties of the island of Sardinia -- like Carta de Musica, thin crisp bread named after the ancient paper on which music was printed... or tiny Sardinian pasta in a tomato sauce... ravioli stuffed with cheese and vegetables... grilled squid... grilled cheese with honey... and a knockout selection of Sardinian cookies.

Another favorite spot for me in Rome is the restaurant Piperno. It was originally opened in 1860 by Pacifico Piperno, a master chef whose specialty was Jewish cooking. At the time, this area was the center of the Jewish Ghetto. These days, the restaurant has an excellent table of appetizers, but my favorite meal at Piperno begins with artichokes cooked in what is called “the Jewish style,” followed by a bowl of chickpea and pasta soup. And to finish off, an espresso laced with Romana Sambuca and a dollop of whipped cream.

Da Vincenzo is a neighborhood restaurant, virtually unknown to tourists, and even to many Romans who don’t live or work in this particular neighborhood. It’s one of the few restaurants in Rome that still caters to the old tradition of Gnocchi Thursday. Gnocchi is a pasta made from potatoes and flour, and for some reason that I have been unable to discover, there are a group of restaurants that make it every Thursday. Also worth trying at Da’ Vincenzo is a sautéed veal dish called saltimbocca, which means “jump in your mouth.” And for dessert, panna cotta, a custard flan which in this case is served with fresh berries. I recommend this place to you, but I don't want you to tell anybody else about it, okay?


The Campo de’ Fiori is in the southern part of Rome’s historic district. Campo de’ Fiori means “field of flowers,” and during the Middle Ages that’s what was here. But by the 1500s the district had become the heart of Rome. In the center of the square is the statue of Giordano Bruno, who was executed in the year 1600.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: At the time, the official word from the church was that the earth was the center of the universe and everything in the sky moved around us. It was an ego thing. Poor Bruno, he was only interested in the scientific aspects of the universe and really wasn’t getting the macho message from the monks. His experiments led him to the belief that, in fact, the sun was the center of the universe and the earth actually moved around the sun. Well, let me tell you, this was an unacceptable belief. And worse than just believing it, Bruno was going around and telling that to other people. Clearly, this man was a heretic. And the monks burned him at the stake.

BURT WOLF: Today his statue is at the center of the Campo and one of Rome’s great markets moves around him.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In most ancient societies everybody ate and drank pretty much the same things. Of course the rich had a lot more of whatever it was than the poor. But in ancient Rome, perhaps for the first time, that began to change. Because the Roman Empire was so huge and in contact with so many different parts of the world, the people of ancient Rome who had the money were able to choose from an extraordinary variety of foods. Foods that were just not available to people who didn’t have the money. But they were not just interested in variety, they were fascinated by quality. And they would spend an enormous amount of time, money and effort getting the best of everything.

BURT WOLF: When Marcus Apicius heard that the shrimp off the coast of Libya were superior to those available in Rome, he outfitted a ship and sailed off to check it out. When he got there and found that the shrimp were no better than what he was already using, he turned around and headed back without making a purchase.

And that desire for the “best of class” is still very much part of the attitude of the modern Roman food lover. One of the first things that you learn as a traveling eater is that almost every town has a special interest in certain foods. Those same foods may be available in other cities but not at the same level of quality. And not subject to the same level of interest on the part of the local public. In New York they would be bagels, pastrami, steak and cheesecake. In Paris it would be pastry, wine, and chocolate. Here in Rome, it’s bread, particularly in the form of pizza, ice cream, and coffee.

The place to try “best of class” bread and pizza is the Antico Forno at the edge of Campo de’ Fiori.

For ice cream it’s Gioletti.

And for the best thick chocolate ice cream with a whipped cream topping... the Tartuffo at Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona.

And almost everyone seems to agree that the best cup of espresso is at Santo Eustachio.


BURT WOLF: When the ancient Romans first started making wine, their feel for the craft, in terms of taste, was not very good. But the good feeling that they got from drinking it kept them highly interested. To help the flavor along, they often mixed their wine with honey, or herbs and spices, or all of the above. One result is that the ancient Romans developed a taste for beverages that were sweet and had an herbal flavor.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Much of the time their herbal drinks were considered more in the area of medicine, than in gastronomy, but that was often the case with wines and spirits that had been given an herbal flavor. Over the centuries one of the spirits with an herbal flavor that had a medical claim to fame and was very popular, was the digestif, something you drank after dinner to help you with your digestion. And one of the most popular flavors was based on anise, a flavor that many people associate with licorice.

BURT WOLF: The ancient Egyptians knew about anise, and so did the ancient Greeks. The ancient Romans often ended their banquets with anise-flavored cakes, pointing out that anise was a valuable aid to good digestion. Roman weddings usually included an anise cake for dessert.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Even today, candied almonds with an anise flavored coating are part of weddings in France and Italy. One scholarly source tells us that at the end of an ancient Roman battle, the generals would give anise flavored candies to their successful troops. Now, that doesn’t strike me as a really great gift after a battle, but maybe there were little prizes in the boxes. You know, you never know about these things. The point is that for thousands of years people have associated the flavor of anise, spirits, good luck, good fortune, the end of a good battle or the end of a good meal.

At this point, the Romans have distilled all of that into a drink called Romana Sambuca. They drink it after dinner. They put it into espresso. Sometimes they even top off the coffee with whipped cream, ending up with a sweet anise-flavored drink that they call Caffe Romana.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For thousands of years people have believed that certain plants had vital forces and critical energies. The more unusual the shape and color of the plant, the more powerful these energies. And the way to get to these force fields was to capture the aroma of the plant... and the way to do that was to burn the plant and capture the smoke... in Latin it was called per fumus... in English we call it perfume. And one of the most powerful forces came from the anise plant.

Look at that. An after-dinner drink and a little aromatherapy, all at the same time. What a combination! 


BURT WOLF: Water... soaring up from beneath the earth. A spring has always had a mystical quality, offering an opportunity to be cleansed and rejuvenated. It’s an ancient and universal symbol of life and rebirth.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: For thousands of years a natural spring was considered to be a sacred place. The perfect spot to build a shrine. And for good reason. The idea of pure water as a life giving force is not only poetic... it’s practical. People can live for a couple of months without food... but a couple of weeks without water and life begins to disappear. So when someone came across fresh, clear, pure water just coming up out of the earth, they knew that they had reached a special place and they honored it.

BURT WOLF: Ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, planted gardens and built shrines around their springs. When the builders started to use basins and reservoirs to display and transport the waters, the springs became fountains. The Romans developed a purely decorative form of fountain that eventually ended up as a monumental sculpture. The early Christians placed fountains in their basilica as a symbol and a source of purification. During the Middle Ages, the fountains moved into the courtyards of the monasteries. But it was in Italy, during the Renaissance, that the fountain took on a form that was dominated by staggering, immense, virtually gargantuan sculpture. And Rome is the place with the most extraordinary examples of this art.

This is the Piazza Navona, which takes its long, narrow shape from an ancient Roman stadium that once stood here. There are three fountains in the Piazza Navona, but the most important one is the Fountain of the Rivers. It was designed by Bernini, who was a great architect of the Baroque period. The work was finished in 1651, and represents four rivers from four corners of the world: the Danube from Europe, the Ganges from Asia, the Rio de la Plata for the Americas, and the Nile for Africa. The head of the Nile is covered to show that the source of the Nile was not known at the time the fountain was built.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: When Bernini designed this fountain he was in competition with another architect of the time named Borromini. Borromini designed the front of the St. Agnese Church which is right in front of Bernini’s fountain.

BURT WOLF: Tourist guides like to tell you that the statues of the Nile and the Plate are holding up their hands in a defensive position in order to protect themselves from the Borromini building -- which they expect to fall on them!

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The truth of the matter is that the church was built a few years after the fountain, but maybe Bernini had seen the plans and knew what was coming. At any rate, their rivalry is still in evidence.

BURT WOLF: The most famous fountain in Rome is probably the Trevi Fountain. During the year 19 BC, thirteen miles of canal were built to bring water into the city, and this is the spot where the water arrived. The figure in the center represents the ocean, and he is being drawn across the waters by two sea horses and two sea gods. In the 1959 film, La Dolce Vita, Anita Ekberg took a little dip in these waters, and the place became even more famous.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the middle of the 1600’s Pope Urban VIII began building a fountain here. He used money that he collected from a tax on wine, which proved to be extraordinarily unpopular. He ended up being accused of trying to turn wine into water. He had to give up the tax and his plans for the fountains. It did get built, however, about a hundred years later by a local sculptor named Nicola Salvi. Local folklore has it that if you stand in front of the fountain, facing away, and throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, you will someday return to Rome and your wish will be granted...

So much for that wish.. for my next wish, I wish that you will join us next time ON TRAVELS & TRADITIONS, I’M BURT WOLF.

Travels & Traditions: Cruising the Danube - #801

BURT WOLF: The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga. It rises in the Black Forest Mountains of western Germany and flows for over 1,700 miles until it empties into the Black Sea. It passes through ten countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia and Ukraine.

For centuries its banks formed the boundaries between the empires of Europe.

And the waterway itself served as the great commercial highway that made the empires rich.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 7th century BC, Greek ships were coming up the Danube and trading with the local tribes. And when the Romans replaced the Greeks, the Danube became the northern boundary for the Roman Empire.

BURT WOLF: The river was constantly patrolled by a Roman fleet. The Roman fortresses along the shores became major cities, including Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade.

For almost 3,000 years the Danube has been an important road for commerce.

But with so many hi-tech advances in modern transportation you would think that the Danube would lose its standing as a significant commercial route. But just the opposite is true. Since World War II, traffic on the Danube has been on the increase. Constant dredging and the construction of a series of canals and locks have made the river more popular than ever.

And since the mid-1990s, the Danube has become a major attraction for river cruises with people coming from all over the world to sail on it---including me.

CAPTAIN ON CAMERA: Good afternoon sir, welcome aboard.


CRUISE DIRECTOR ON CAMERA: Good afternoon, welcome aboard.

BURT WOLF: The cruise I chose started in the Hungarian capital of Budapest and returned back to Budapest eight days later. While the ship was on the river it made stops in Bratislava the capital of Slovakia, Vienna the capital of Austria, Dürnstein where Richard the Lionhearted was held for ransom, Melk, a one thousand year old Benedictine monastery, as well as Grein, Linz and Passau.

Boats that sail on rivers are different from those that sail on oceans and large lakes. River boats are designed with a shallow draft which means they don’t go down very deep into the water. Our boat has a draft of about six feet. Because a river boat is not subject to high waves and strong winds you end up with a much more comfortable ride.

This is the Avalon Poetry. It’s operated by Avalon Waterways which is part of a Swiss company that’s been taking people around the world for over 80 years.

Burghart Lell is the head of operations.

BURGHART LELL ON CAMERA: The boat itself is 127 meters long, 443 feet and the nice part is that it is on three decks and we have cabins on all three decks. The most important thing is that on the middle and the upper deck we have French balconies. The bridge itself is the heart of the ship. We have sometimes a bridge that we have to lower it so that we have just a flat sky deck and we can pass underneath some of the bridges. There’s always some passengers who would like to walk outside and just get a shot of the landscape. So what we did there in the lounge was that we just has an isle on the side and you have a space in the front where you could always be outside even when it’s raining. And then we have built the lounge in such a way that it is the social center of the ship.



BURGHART LELL ON CAMERA: We have the bar in there, you can play cards, meet friends, have a chat. We have as a policy to give you very good food. We have in the morning a breakfast buffet, we have a lunch buffet, there’s always a variety. I have to admit it’s terribly decadent. Then we have a dinner a sit down dinner with one seating. The ship itself is stopping once, twice, or even sometimes three times a day in different places. You can walk off your calories. But there’s always the possibility to go to the gym. In the gym we have some exercise equipment like bikes, like rowing machines, and for those of you who really like to get a little bit of a treat we just can get yourself in the whirlpool and watch the landscape outside.


BURT WOLF: One of the advantages of a river cruise is that most of the time the boat docks in what for centuries was a central part of the city. On our first morning we docked in Bratislava and went ashore for a tour of the old city.

Bratislava is the capital of the Slovak Republic and the historic center of the country.

Starting around 1500 BC a trading route known as the Amber Road linked the people of the Mediterranean with the population centers around the Baltic Sea. Bratislava was a major stop on the road.

The city’s most important church is St. Martin’s Cathedral. It opened in 1452 and was originally part of the city’s medieval fortifications. Accordingly, the entrances to the building were placed in the side walls – a safer spot.

The relic chapel is said to contain the bones of St. John the Evangelist. During the Middle Ages, no matter what else a church had going for it, it was important to have some relics.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Relics brought visitors, and visitors brought money, and money was essential for the maintenance and expansion of the church. And the bigger the relics the bigger the money and the bones of St. John the Evangelist were big.

BURT WOLF: For almost 300 years, St. Martin’s Cathedral was the site of the coronation of the kings of Hungary.

Next we visited the Castle. The high point of any tour of Bratislavia is always the castle. That’s because it’s on a hill that’s over 300 feet above the river. You know sometimes a high point is just a high point. Construction on the castle began in the 9th century when the Slavs built a fortress to protect a crossing point on the river.

When the Hungarians took over in 1526 they made it bigger. Then the Habsburgs of Austria improved it. The fortress was so impregnable that the Empress, Maria Theresa, had a special room where she kept the Hungarian crown jewels and, even more important, her collection of vintage baseball cards.

That evening we docked in Vienna and a group of us went ashore to attend a Classical Concert at the Kursalon.


BURT WOLF: About 50 miles west of Vienna the Danube joins up with the Melk River. This is the spot that became the cradle of Austrian history.

In the year 976, the Babenberg family took control of the neighborhood and built a series of fortified castles. The castle at Melk was their most important stronghold and the place where they decided to bury their ancestors.

To make sure that their family burial site was cared for properly they set up a monastery inside the castle. The Babenberg’s ruled for just over a hundred years, at which point the castle and the surrounding lands were turned into a Benedictine Abbey and the Benedictine monks have been living here ever since.

St. Benedict believed that nothing was more important than the worship service and the Melk Abbey church was built to honor that belief. The artwork inside the church is based on the theme that “without a just battle there is no victory”.

St. Peter and St. Paul in a farewell handshake as they set off to do battle with death.

Christ crowned with thorns, battles through suffering to glory.

The entire area around the altar represents people battling on the road to salvation.

Our next stop was the picturesque little town of Grein. The stretch of water in front of the town was once a very dangerous part of the river. It was filled with rapids and rocks and took the lives of many boatmen. It was known as the Greiner Strudel.

The word strudel originally referred to a whirlpool or an eddy. But over the years its meaning has changed to include not only rivers but strips of pastry swirling around slices of baked apple. Which is a considerable improvement.

The Greinburg castle that sits above the town is one of Austria’s oldest palaces. It was built in the 1400s. The courtyard is three stories high and was used as the setting for great feasts and receptions. The most unusual room in the palace is a small artificial grotto with walls that are covered with a mosaic of pebbles from the Danube River. The palace also houses a nautical museum with models that illustrate the different types of ships and the rafts that once traveled the Danube.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: There are tiny little lounge chairs in there.

BURT WOLF: The town of Grein and the family that originally built the palace got rich because they were granted the eternal right to collect tolls from boats traveling on the Danube. Apparently eternity took its toll – these guys are out of business.


BURT WOLF: Our destinations for the next day were Passau and Linz. The German town of Passau is located at the meeting point of three rivers, the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube.

The old town sits on a narrow strip of land between the Inn and the Danube, which makes Passau feel like parts of Venice.

And like Venice the streets are regularly flooded. The ground floors of many of the buildings have been given up and outdoor staircases built to lead up above the high water mark to the first floor.

The wall of the city hall has a series of markings that indicate the flood levels starting in the early 1500s.

Besides being one of the most beautiful towns in Germany, Passau is famous for its St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

After Passau we headed to Linz.

Linz is the third largest city in Austria and people have been living here for at least 3,000 years, though, most of them look considerably younger. The Old Town has preserved much of its baroque architecture.

The local café is the perfect spot for an after dinner coffee and a slice of Linzertorte which is one of the traditional pastries of Linz.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: A Linzer Torte is an open pie that’s filled with raspberry or red current jam and a dough that’s made with ground nuts instead of flour. It’s been an Austrian specialty for at least 400 years and some people consider it the oldest pastry recipe in the western world. In the middle of the 1600s a cookbook was published with four different recipes for Linzer Torte. 


BURT WOLF: One of the most beautiful parts of the Danube River is the section that runs through the Wachau Valley---ancient castles, great vineyards and the town of Dürnstein.

The third crusades to the Holy Land took place at the end of the 12th Century and featured a guest appearance by Richard the Lionhearted ruler of England. During one of the battles Richard insulted Duke Leopold of Austria by insisting that the Duke take down his battle flag. Richard felt he was entitled to top billing. When the crusade was over and Richard was returning to England he had to pass through Leopold’s neighborhood which included Dürnstein. In order to avoid being recognized he disguised himself as a traveling tradesman. But he forgot to take off his royal ring. He was spotted, captured, and held in the castle of Dürnstein until he was ransomed for 100,000 marks.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It’s interesting to note that it took over two years to get the ransom money together Richard was not very popular with his family. As a matter of fact, his brother John and Philip the King of France put some big bucks together and offered it to Leopold if he would keep him here for another year. But Leopold went with the original deal and released him at which point King Philip sent a note to John saying: “Watch out; the devil is loose.”

BURT WOLF: Today, Dürnstein is at the center of one of the most important wine growing areas in Europe.

The ancient Celtic tribes that lived here 3,000 years ago were already growing grapes and making wine. But winemaking didn’t become a big business until the monasteries got into it during the Middle Ages. The monks would teach the local peasants how to cultivate a vineyard. Then they would take most of the grapes and make wine.

Monasteries throughout Europe were making and selling wine, it was a big business, and six of the major players were right here in Austria. 

The Wachau area is about 40 miles west of Vienna, at a spot where the Danube cuts through a range of hills.

For a few miles, the steep northern bank produces some of Austria’s most famous wines.

The hills are so steep that very little equipment can be used and there are places where the workers are roped together like mountain climbers. It’s not an easy place to make wine.


BURT WOLF: Our next stop was Vienna.

Vienna is the largest city in Austria, and the nation’s capital, it was home to the Hapsburg court, the imperial seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The best way to see Vienna is by driving the Ringstrasse - Vienna’s main boulevard. It circles the city center and is lined with museums, universities and public buildings. When the old city walls were taken down in the 1850’s, it was the Ringstrasse that took their place.

The Opera House was one of the first buildings to be reconstructed after World War II. Vienna is known for its musical big-shots, at one time, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss all lived and composed in Vienna.

Behind the Opera House is the Sacher Hotel, it’s the home of the Sachertorte, Vienna’s signature pastry.

And this the Albertina, an 18th century palace which now houses over 60,000 drawings and one million etchings. You should come up and see them sometime.

The main attraction on this boulevard is the Habsburg Imperial Palace. It was the residence of Austria’s rulers starting in the 1200s. Decorators loved it - it got remodeled every time a new ruler moved in.

The Graben was once part of the town moat into which the residents threw their enemies. Today it’s Vienna’s main shopping thoroughfare into which residents throw their money.

One of Vienna’s most popular attractions is the Schonbrunn Palace. The Hapsburg family came to power at the end of the 1200’s and hung onto it for almost 900 years. Schonbrunn was their summer place, and it was built to look like Versailles in France.


BURT WOLF:  The last day of the cruise was spent in Budapest, which is actually made up of three cities: Buda, Pest and Obuda.

These days Budapest is a peaceful, beautiful and culturally interesting city which has managed to hold on to much of its history while adapting to the needs of a modern capital.

This is the Castle Hill area. The capital of Hungary was originally a few miles up the river on a flat plain that was almost impossible to defend. During the middle of the 1200s, the Mongol Tartars, who had become wealthy as a result of their invention of tartar sauce, invaded the town and destroyed it. So the next time a town was built in the neighborhood it was put up on a steep hill. Good move---safer neighborhood.

The hill is about 200 feet high and about 5,000 feet long and it holds an entire city district filled with historic houses.

The district also contains the Mathias Church. The original church on this site was put up in 1255 for use by the German residents of Buda. At the time it was known as the Church of Our Lady but people started calling it the Mathias Church after it was used for the first wedding of King Mathias in 1463.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Mathias used it again for his second wedding to Beatrice of Naples. And I’m sure if he had a third wedding he would have been here too. He loved getting married in this Church and he was getting a fabulous deal from the florist.

BURT WOLF: Next to the church is an equestrian statue of St. Stephen who converted to Christianity in the year 1,000 and became the first king of Hungary. There is a story that the number of legs connected to the ground on an equestrian statue is related to the way in which the rider died: one hoof raised means the rider was wounded in battle; two hooves raised means death in battle; and all four hooves on the ground means the rider survived all battles unharmed. 

This is a popular story but not always true. It depends on when and where the statue was made and who made it.

Behind the statue is an area known as the Fishermen’s Bastion. During the 1200s each group of tradesmen were responsible for defending a part of the city wall and this was the part defended by the fishermen. 

The spot has a great view of the Danube and Pest. The building that dominates the Pest bank is the Parliament.

When we finished our tour of Budapest we headed back to our boat where we celebrated our last evening on board with a Gypsy Dinner. 

Well, that’s river cruising on the Danube. For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: A Tuscan Harvest, Italy - #708

BURT WOLF: About 3,000 years ago a people known as the Etruscans migrated from Eastern Europe to central Italy and set up a federation of 12 city states.

Today, their old neighborhood is known as Tuscany, and its cities are some of the most famous in Italy. Florence, Pisa and Siena are Tuscan cities.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The Etruscans had a highly developed society. Great art and architecture. They also had a strong fleet that traded with the Syrians and the Greeks. They traded in Africa and in Spain. Etruscan tin and copper went out; ivory, precious jewels and textiles came in. But by the beginning of the third century the Roman legions had become so strong that they were able to crush the Etruscans and eventually incorporated all of Etruscan society into the Roman Empire.

BURT WOLF: However, the great cultural traditions of the Etruscans remained in place. It was the citizens of Tuscany who triggered the rebirth of art and architecture that we call the Renaissance. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael---everybody who was anybody in the Renaissance was working in Tuscany. Tuscany is still home to artists and writers who find inspiration in the magnificent landscape and the unusual light.

During the 9th century, the Tuscan hill town of Siena became a major stopping point on the road between Paris and Rome. By the beginning of the 12th century it was a bustling city, producing some of the best wool in Italy, developing a clothing industry and exploiting a small silver mine.

By the end of the 12th century Siena was a commercial and financial center and her growing economic success began to challenge the city of Florence which was only 30 miles to the north. An emotional competition developed between the two cities which eventually led to the Battle of Montaperti in 1260.

Siena won the battle and entered a period of extraordinary power---power which rested in the hands of a small group of influential families. One way the families showed their new-found wealth and influence was the construction of magnificent fortified palaces.

The city’s location on the road to Rome gave it a commercial advantage but it also made it a resting place for pilgrims. If you were on your way to the Vatican from virtually any part of Europe you made a stop in Siena.

The city began building a series of outstanding churches, towers and public squares. And since most of the modern construction has taken place outside the old city, Siena’s character remains relatively unspoiled. Narrow winding streets and ancient buildings give Siena a distinct medieval feeling.

During the past 3,000 years dozens of different ethnic groups have immigrated to the peninsula that is presently called Italy.

And each immigration made a contribution to the cooking of the land but there were three groups that set the foundation which eventually became what we now call Italian cooking.

The three groups were the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Etruscans. The Greeks arrived over 2,000 years ago and set the base for all southern cooking. The Saracens popped in around 700 A.D. and superimposed a whole bunch of ideas on top of the Greek base. The Greeks and the Saracens were the primary influences on the cooking of the south. The north was controlled by the Etruscans and the center of the area which they controlled eventually became known as Tuscany.

When it comes to food, Siena has all of the traditional dishes of Tuscany, but its greatest strength is in its sweets. The Saracens brought sugar to Italy and about ten minutes later, Siena had a sweet tooth.

Its most famous sweet is Panforte, which means “strong bread.” Panforte is a medieval spiced bread made from candied orange peel, lemons, almonds, hazelnuts, sugar and honey. It is made by a number of bakeries in Siena and shipped to Italian communities throughout the world. Perhaps the most famous baker of panforte is Nannini, who also has a number of retail shops throughout the town. Wherever there is an Italian community, there is Panforte. And right next to the Panforte are Ricciarelli, little cookies that are made from almonds, egg whites and sugar.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Starting in the year 1000, Europe saw an enormous increase in its population. And people started moving into the cities. The hot towns were Milan, Venice and Florence. And as more and more people moved into the cities the merchants became wealthier and wealthier. Suddenly there was a large group of people interested in buying good stuff and at the top of their shopping list was wine.

BURT WOLF: By the early 1300's each resident of Florence was on average knocking off a gallon of wine per week with much of that wine coming from the nearby vineyards in Tuscany and the word Chianti was already being used to describe the land between Florence and Siena.

For most of its history Italy was made up of small independent states. Each had its own approach to business with separate currencies, weights and measures. That, plus a mind boggling system of import and export duties made it impossible for Italy to develop an international or even a national market for its wines. And the quality of the wine remained uneven at best.

But during the middle of the 19th century things began to change. The city states became a single nation. Well, at least in theory. The wine producers of Tuscany introduced quality standards and soon developed an international reputation.

Michael Yurch is the president of Sherry-Lehmann in New York City. It’s considered to be one of the world’s great wine stores. He’s also a leading authority on the wines of Italy. I asked Michael to come with me to Tuscany and share his expertise.

MICHAEL YURCH ON CAMERA: Government regulations on wine are both good and bad. It’s a good thing that it guarantees what the wine is made out of. It guarantees where it’s from. How it’s made. And sometimes regulations are bad because I mean if you can imagine a government regulation if you equate wine making with art, if you can imagine a law that told the painter what color to paint with, that’s sort of what we have here in making wine.

This is why 20 or so years ago, some wine makers just totally broke with the government regulations and said we’re going to paint with the colors we want. We’re going to make wine with the grapes that we want. And we’re going to make great wine. And if you don’t want to officially sanction it for us, well, that’s too bad. We’ll just call it table wine, vino de tabla, but we’re going to make the best wine in Italy. And we’re going to show that the government regulations aren’t the be all and end all on how to make wine. And of course. The proof of wine is in the glass, not on the label. Although from a consumer standpoint, the wine regulations do offer a good degree of protection.

BURT WOLF: During the 1970s, Italian winemakers were more interested in quantity than quality. They hit the bottom of the barrel.

MICHAEL YURCH ON CAMERA: Back in the bad old days, these folks are getting 20 or 30 or 40 tons per hectare in some instances. And now, eight is more typical for a good quality table wine, especially here in Italy. The concept of less is more has taken hold to where it’s not good to have so many tons per hectare.

During the summer, the workers come through and examine all the clusters, and they only pick the best ones, and leave the best ones on the vine. This one didn’t make the cut, or literally did make the cut. It’s called “dropping fruit” and what it does… concentrates the grapes that are left. It gives the vine more vigor to pump into the grapes that are remaining.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: How are they?

MICHAEL YURCH ON CAMERA: They’re pretty sweet. Sweet?

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Ready for picking. Call me as soon as it’s time to drink.

BURT WOLF: The most important of the traditional grape varieties in Tuscany is the sangiovese. The word comes from a Roman phrase that means the blood of Jupiter.

They also planted grape varieties that were traditional to France like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The winemakers concentrated on the quality of the grapes. And they blended the wine that came from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot with the wine that came from the sangiovese.

MICHAEL YURCH: Sangiovese been around longer than the Romans and probably longer than the Etruscans. It is the most widely planted red grape in Italy. But here it makes a wine that is firm in acidity, cherry flavors, tea flavors, but most important, it’s a grape that makes a wine that goes well with food.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The old giant Slavonian oak tanks that were used for hundreds of years in Italy were replaced by smaller French oak barrels. Winemakers took the best of the traditional Tuscan techniques for winemaking and added the things they had learned from wine-makers all over the world. The result was a series of wines known as the “Super-Tuscans”. World class wines at world class prices.


BURT WOLF: Today, one of the new and most forward looking producers of wine in Tuscany is Pierluigi Tolaini, who likes to be called Louie. His vineyard is in the south-west corner of the most important grape growing area in Tuscany.

PIERLUIGI TOLAINI ON CAMERA: We were very poor. The war was over and poverty was everywhere. I was 19 and beginning to see what was ahead for me. So I decided to immigrate to Canada. And then I got a job working on oil rigs as a laborer.

Then I bought a truck to haul water for the drilling rig. I was making money and all I thought I died and gone to heaven. So I bought this little trucking company and I started hauling general freight. And now we are the largest private trucking company in Canada.

So when I left my father had been getting up. As I was walking away I knew he was at the window looking for me. He wanted me to turn around to say goodbye but I never did you know because you know I was thinking you know. I felt sorry for me but I felt sorry for him too. The only son going away with a one way ticket. You know so I kept saying to myself I’ll never be poor again. I’ll never eat polenta again; I’ll never drink bad wine again. And some day I’ll make my own wine.

The trucking business is doing well so I thought that it would be a good time to slow down a bit. And come to Italy and spend more time in Italy and pursue some of the hobbies that I always had.

One I was racing cars and the other was making wine. So first I bought a car, fast car, and I took lessons, how to drive on a track. I enter a couple of races and then I realized that you know at 200 miles an hour my reflexes are not what they used to be. So I decided that if I wanted to die in bed that I should go farming.

So I thought, plant your plants, your trees, your vines, watch them grow, drink wine be with friends.

BURT WOLF: Simple dream.


Yea it was a simple dream. I choose this area because look at it. That’s one of the best areas. See all those valleys you know they have the sun from sunset to sunrise. And then the heat in this valley stays there. The rocks keep the heat for the night. So this is one of the best zones.

BURT WOLF: Albert Einstein once said that imagination was more important than knowledge. When Louie decided to start a vineyard his winemaking knowledge was almost non-existent, but his imagination was in top form and he kept imagining new ways to do things.

He noticed that bending down to work on the vines exhausted his crews so he invented a tractor that makes their life easer and their work faster.

PIERLUIGI TOLAINI ON CAMERA: The guys they gotta get down here and they’re bend like this all day. So I said what are we gonna do here? So I thought about this thing here. And you know it’s a tractor, a diesel engine. It's all electrostatic. It’s all controlled with the feet so the hands are free to work. What the best thing is they’re sitting down. And they don’t use their backs. So when you’re picking or you are pruning you’re here and the biggest bend you do is this. See? And the productivity is increased about 30%.

BURT WOLF: He also produced a special container that protected the grapes from damage as they were moved from the vineyards to the winery. It also made them easier to move.

When the grapes come in from the fields they go onto a selection table. Any grapes that are not perfect are taken out. Then the stems are removed and they go onto a second selection table. The entire Tolaini family are involved in the sorting of the grapes and they are compulsive about using only the best, and that just one of their many compulsions. The grapes are kept whole which prevents the juices from interacting with the air and that gives the wine a much better flavor. The grapes continue their journey up and into a row of oak fermenting tanks.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The key process in making wine is called fermentation. There is a natural yeast on the outside of the grape. When that yeast comes in contact with the sugar in the grape juice it turns it into carbon dioxide gas which escapes into the air and alcohol which mixes with the juice. The more sugar in the grape, the more alcohol in the wine.

PIERLUIGI TOLAINI ON CAMERA: Taste it. It tastes like a sweet grape juice. Now when it ferments the sweetness go away and become alcohol.

BURT WOLF: The winemaker decides when there has been enough fermentation, at which point the wine goes into oak barrels to age.

After about two years the wine from different barrels are blended together and bottled.

New bottles are placed onto the bottling line. They’re washed and dried and filled with wine. Then the air above the wine is pulled out of the bottle. The cork goes in. The bottle is capped and sealed and labeled. At that point some wines are ready for shipment.

But others continue to gently age in the bottle for another two years. Right after I turned 50 I decided that gentle aging was extremely important.

The history of Tuscan wine has always been about deciding which grape varieties to plant, and how to grow them. Cabernet and merlot are traditional French grape varieties but when they are planted in Tuscany, like so many long term residents of the area, they develop a distinct Tuscan accent.

The consulting wine maker at Tolaini is Michel Rolland, who is one of the world leading authorities on the subject.

MICHAEL ROLLAND ON CAMERA: I’m just giving advices from the vineyard to the cellar, aging, bottling and sometimes drinking. Good grapes are absolutely necessary to make good wine.


MICHAEL ROLLAND ON CAMERA: In fact, there is not a good winemaker, it is mostly good grapes. I began in Bordeaux, in the lab doing mostly analysis not really giving advices and step by step I change my mind, because the lab was a little bit boring.

At the beginning the enologist was not really tasting the wines, because people was not asking to taste they were making wine like the father was doing wine, and the grandfather was doing wine, and they were asking us to taste only when they can’t think they have a problem in the wine. And so I began to taste the wine and I began to speak and to make a change with the owners and step by step we arrive as the consulting.

BURT WOLF: Pierluigi’s daughter Lia and her sister founded one of the most successful private wine retailers, she also helps her father and she owns a national wine importing company called Banville and Jones. And she makes her own wine.

LIA TOLAINI ON CAMERA: Donna Laura is my winery and I wanted to import a very good Chianti Classico and I couldn’t find one that I believed in that had the right price, so I made one. I buy the fruit from my father and I rent some property nearby here and I use his winery.

So Bramosia is the Chianti Classico. And I had an artist do Venus, Baachus and Cupid on the label together. And this is Ali. Ali is Sangiovese de Toscana and this is named after my daughter. And I have a Chianti coming out this year. I have two boys so I had to do a third wine, an Alteo.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I have to tell you something. Lia and her father are extraordinarily competitive and her father will not even allow her wines in the house, which is why we’re filming down here secretly in the basement.


BURT WOLF: The harvest is always celebrated with a great meal --- often it’s a family feast on the Sunday after the harvest has been completed.

The idea of having a holy day once a week goes back for thousands of years. It was an Old Testament tradition that was adopted by Christian and Islamic cultures. After spending six days creating the earth and the heavens God rested on the seventh and advised his people that they should do the same. In western societies, Sunday is usually a day of rest, but it can also be a feast day when family and friends come together for a special meal.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The foods that are served at an important family meal must be different from those foods that are considered “everyday” foods. Very often the recipes revolve around something that’s considered a family heirloom. Today, the Tolaini’s are preparing for a big deal meal. And all of the dishes are traditionally Tuscan.

BURT WOLF: The great cooks of Tuscany are devoted to a rustic approach to food. They claim that they are merely adapting and refining traditional farm recipes. But since the farm cooks produce some of the world’s finest bread, oil, beans, cheese and mushrooms, they’ve got a lot to work with.

Julian Niccolini is one of the owners of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City, which is considered to be one of the finest restaurants in the world. We brought Julian to Tuscany so he could help with the family meal.

JULIAN NICCOLINI ON CAMERA: Here we have bruscetta made with fresh tomato, wonderful garlic, basil and stale bread, but superb olive oil. Next we have another different type of bruscetta, made with fresh herbs, specially basil, parsley, garlic and also some anchovy. Very important, Tuscan olive oil and stale bread.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I like this segment. Julian talks and I eat.

JULIAN NICCOLINI ON CAMERA: Next course we have a wonderful bifstek-a-la-Farentina. Bifstek-a-la-Farentina is basically the best part of the Canina cow which is locally grown in this particular area. We just cook it ten minutes on each side. Just some rosemary, garlic and touch of olive oil and that’s it. That’s the best piece of steak you’re going to have in this particular part of the world.

We always try to grill some wonderful sausages, these are pork sausages, you just grill very simply, again, touch of olive oil, some sage on top, some peppernacino and you’re done. We have a wonderful soup, which is made with faro, olive oil, potato and some mushroom.


JULIAN NICCOLINI ON CAMERA: And this is the famous grain that this particular faro is made out of. And it is a staple food of any Tuscan cuisine.

BURT WOLF: People coming together to prepare for a meal can be as important as coming together to eat.

MAN ON CAMERA: Thank you very much.

BURT WOLF: It puts them in a relaxed and informal space. And it lets everyone make a contribution to the meal.

A special meal served at home, always contains symbols of togetherness and separation. Single placemats may be the norm for weekday meals, but a special meal always gets one big tablecloth. And on that tablecloth, which holds everything and everyone together on one field, there are individual place settings, individual dishes, individual glasses, knives, forks and spoons---individual but clearly part of a group.

The family table reinforces the idea of being together in a group, but at the same time it can separate. It gives everyone an opportunity to show that they are a unique individual within the family.

The sharing of wine at a family table is a symbolic act. Since ancient times wine has been presented separately from other food and drink. Even when everything else comes to the table as a single serving, the wine comes in a bottle or a decanter, and it's divided in front of the family, reminding everyone of their common starting point.

PIERLUIGI TOLIANI ON CAMERA: Today is a special occasion and welcome to everybody and thank you for coming.

BURT WOLF: Since many of the members of the Tolaini family are involved in the wine business it is a particularly important part of the meal.

The family meal puts young children in a situation that makes it easier for them to understand how language is used. They see people ask for things and get them. The children begin to understand the raw power of a phrase like, “grandpa, can I please have another cookie?”

The meal started in late afternoon when the sun was strong. It ended as the sun was setting. A reminder of how fast time passes and how important it is to enjoy the warmth of the occasion.

For Travels and Traditions I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: St. Gallen, Switzerland" - #707

BURT WOLF: St. Gallen is the most eastern province in Switzerland. It's also the most populated with over 180,000 residents, but you would never know it from traveling around the countryside. Forests, grazing cows, rolling hills that look like someone comes out every night and dusts them off. Neatness is very important in Switzerland. 

To get a sense that there are actually more people than cows you need to go into the area’s capital city. The capital city of St. Gallen, is called St. Gallen, which can be confusing but very efficient. Like New York, New York.

But St. Gallen was into efficiency for at least a thousand years before anyone heard of New York. And they are presently in the process of celebrating that history.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It all started in 612, when a wandering Irish monk by the name of Gallus was passing through eastern Switzerland and decided that this was his kind of neighborhood. It was cold, it was barren, it was gray---it was miserable, and that was just what he was looking for. Because in those days, in order to have great accommodations in the after-life you had to have miserable accommodations in this one.

BURT WOLF: Over the years Gallus developed a substantial following, and after his death a Benedictine Abbey was founded on the spot where he died. Gallus was sainted and within two hundred years the abbey became one of the most powerful monasteries in Europe. It was the most important educational institution north of the Alps.

The room where the abbey scribes worked became one of the most famous libraries. It was built in 1758 and contains more than 150,000 books from and about the Middle Ages. The books are arranged according to different scientific fields of study. It’s still a working library for scholars studying the Middle Ages. This library is considered to be cradle of the German language. It was here that Latin was first translated and written in the German dialect. Before the St. Gallen translations, German was spoken but not written.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The environment inside the abbey might have been magnificent but the surroundings outside were still pretty rough. At 700 meters above sea level the only crops that grew well were flax and hemp which the monks used to weave linen. They also taught the local population how to weave.

BURT WOLF: During the early 1700s, the St. Gallen weavers saw how Turkish hand-embroiderers decorated the silks that were being sold in Europe, and they decided to embroider the fabrics made in St. Gallen. By the end of the 1700s, over 40,000 embroiderers were working in eastern Switzerland. And by the middle of the 1800s, the town of St. Gallen had become the world epicenter for embroidery. Which it still is.

There are three great embroidery houses in St. Gallen and each has a different approach to the art. This is Forster Rohner. Tobias Forster is the CEO.

TOBIAS FORSTER ON CAMERA: The company was founded by my grandfather in 1904. And at that time, many embroidery companies were founded in St. Gallen. And because the embroidery industry was the most important export industry of all of Switzerland. More important than watches or chocolate or what have you. So, at that time, when you wanted to get rich quickly, you had to go to St. Gallen and found an embroidery company.

Then after the First World War, business became difficult. Fashion changed. So many companies went bankrupt.

And then in the ‘30’s my father came into the business. And he thought, this is not going to happen to me again. And he thought, I have to have an instrument in order to keep embroideries in fashion all the time. And he did it, building up a very close relationship with the best designers of the world. And the best designers of the world at that time were the couture designers in Paris. 

BURT WOLF: During the 1860s, craftsmen in Switzerland developed a mechanized loom. It utilized a combination of continuously threaded needles and a shuttle containing a bobbin of thread. The shuttle was shaped like the hull of a boat. In the Swiss German language, the word for little boat is Schiffli and the mechanism became famous as the “Schiffli machine”.

When the first large embroidery machines were built in St. Gallen, these elaborate fabrics were suddenly available at a much lower price than ever before. Today about 65 percent of embroidered fabrics are produced for generally affordable items, particularly lingerie.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: About 35 percent of St. Gallen’s embroidery goes to the fashion industry for the creation of haute couture and prêt-a-porter clothing by the great designers.

BURT WOLF: But I was surprised to find out that almost all of the embroidery designs are developed not by the fashion houses that design the clothing, but by the embroidery companies. Martin Leuthold is the Creative Director of Jakob Schlaepfer Company, which is one of the most important embroidery houses in the world.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Do you go to famous designers and ask them what they want for next season?

MARTIN LEUTHOLD ON CAMERA: Very difficult to ask them what they need.

When we ask them what they want for next season, they say something nice, something beautiful, something in what …

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Very detailed.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Something nice.

MARTIN LEUTHOLD ON CAMERA: In fashion once seen something, it’s old. Fashion people they have to touch and they have to see the colors, they have to feel the fabric, and then they choose or they like it or don’t like it. We do about 2,500 designs a year. Each three months we have a new collection. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What are some of these that are here?

MARTIN LEUTHOLD ON CAMERA: Well, they are different fabrics. This is something special, we developed. It’s a five layer silk metallic fabric, it’s just woven to gather on the selvage, and all five layers are loose, and then over print with the inkjet print and you get this kind of light feeling. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It’s more than really embroidery; it’s the creation of different fabrics.

MARTIN LEUTHOLD ON CAMERA: Well, we look, use all materials from feathers to wood to plastic, silk screens, silk, cotton, polyester. This is the feathers on cotton organdy. Cotton organdy it’s also a very specialized fabric from St. Gallen, the last 200 years we do cotton like organdy, like silk.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Is done by hand?


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So each of them.

MARTIN LEUTHOLD ON CAMERA: Each one is glued on by hand.

BURT WOLF OFF CAMERA: We’ve been embroidering fabric for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians and the Babylonians embroidered their robes. During the Middle Ages Ecclesiastical clothing was embroidered. And by the early 1300s successful merchants were into embroidered clothing because it was an unmistakable sign of their wealth.

BURT WOLF: One of the great inspirations for new designs are the embroidery house libraries. Bischoff Textile is the third great embroidery house in St. Gallen and it is famous for its textile library. Max Hungerbuehler is the CEO.

MAX HUNGERBUEHLER ON CAMERA: As a Chinese embroidery. I’ve personally worked with it, this by coloring up new designs. Because the color combinations are so unusual, it’s something different made in pure silk.

Here is a Japanese embroidery – very, very colorful. You see the background is red. And then at least twelve to fiteen colors are being used for the embroidery. A piece of art.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: How long would it take somebody to do just one of those flowers?

MAX HUNGERBUEHLER ON CAMERA: I would estimate it would take between two and three hours to do this with the changing of the yarns and everything. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So, we’re looking at hundreds of hours just to make that piece.



MAX HUNGERBUEHLER ON CAMERA: At this library is an old collection of embroideries, but also of books, fashion books. Designers come here and they work with the different books that we have here. Let me just show you one. You have different designs of old dresses. Surely today a stylist or a designer will not make something like that again. But it inspires him. And he also sees how embroideries can be adapted on the different dresses. 

This is a present that they got from customers in Spain. The reason is Brischoff Textile, they was founded in 1927. And Mr. Brischoff went for his first trip to sell embroideries to Spain, and he made many friends down there, because it became quite a good market, even during those tough times. And one of the friends then gave him this as a present. This embroidery, hand embroidery, metallic embroidery. A beautiful piece.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I hope the bulls appreciate what they went through.

MAX HUNGERBUEHLER ON CAMERA: I could imagine they didn’t so much. But the public and probably the Toreador that was wearing it, he also was quite attractive to lots of women. 

BURT WOLF: St. Gallen’s thousand year history in textiles eventually led to the development of its own couture fashion house. It’s called AKRIS.

It was founded in 1922 by Alice Kriemler-Schock. Her children had grown up and gone off on their own. She re-channeled her energy into designing aprons that she sold to her friends. Eventually the demand for her work developed into a small manufacturing company. When her children entered the business it became a producer of high quality ready-to-wear for the great designers in Paris.

In 1982, Alice’s grandson Albert was brought into design their own label under the AKRIS name.

ALBERT KRIEMLER ON CAMERA: Designing with us starts always with fabrics. I can not design or sketch without having fabric in my hands. Because the fabric always gives a lot to tell you what is possible, and what is not possible. 

When I have done the fabric quality I think of a color. And then I do a sketch. I design what I want to do.

BURT WOLF: The drawing and the fabric are discussed with the tailor and developed into a three dimensional model.

ALBERT KRIEMLER ON CAMERA: She dyes a pattern and she does a first silhouette, which we put on a mannequin and then we start speaking. It has to be more narrower. It has to be more straighter. I want the shoulders larger. Less large. She goes through all these details and if we are good we need 2 or 3 fittings. If we are not so good we need 7, 8, 9 fittings. And to get the final result.

Still not right.

BURT WOLF: Albert is always mindful of St. Gallen’s history in embroidery. His signature clothes use both classic embroidery and modern fabrics. Twenty-five percent of the manufacturing process for an AKRIS garment still requires highly specialized handwork.

His designs are sold in major department stores and AKRIS shops that have been set up in cities throughout the world. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  In recognition of its 1,000 year history in the textile business, St.Gallen has organized a celebration, called “Schnittpunkt”. It’s a word that’s used in the textile industry, and means “cutting point” but it has a second meaning. It means “crossroads”. The spot where you choose your future.

As a part of the celebration the work of AKRIS is on display at the Textile Museum.

ALBERT KRIEMLER ON CAMERA: This is the Spring Summer collection 2006. This year’s summer collection and here I was inspired by a photo shoot of Helmut Newton of Angelica Houston that she did in 1973 for Italian Vogue. She’s wearing a nude color, very light chiffon blouse. I was inspired through all the season by this picture. And it made me develop a lot of extremely light fabrics, but also I only stayed in these nudes and beiges and whites. I felt this was right for this summer. 

Here I treated our leather the beautiful leather quality and we punched holes to make it light. And look how delicate this all works out for a leather jacket. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So these dark spots are holes.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It looks like its part of the pattern.

ALBERT KRIEMLER ON CAMERA: This was the piece of the collection. It was the most photographed piece of my Fall Winter collection. And once more it’s out of St. Gallen embroidery.

You see it’s a tulle embroidery with raw wool on it and also this trapeze coat is fully reversible. It was also an archive inspired pattern. But I love it. It has so much modernity on it you know.

BURT WOLF: As part of Schnittpunkt, The St. Gallen Art Museum installed an exhibition called “Lifestyle” which is a collection of works that deal with the relationship between art and fashion. The curator is Konrad Bitterli.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What’s this piece about?

KONRAD BITTERLI ON CAMERA: This is a video installation by the South African artist, Candice Spreitz. Showing 30 Madonna imitators, or Madonna fans, singing a whole album by the famous artist, “The Immaculate Collection.”

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What's it mean?

KONRAD BITTERLI ON CAMERA: Madonna is kind of the role model for an identity that constantly changes from the Latina to the domina, to the material girl, so you have 30 imitators who all try to get into that identity, to imitate this role model. But a the same time, they each have their own individuality that they can’t hide. 


How do I get out of here?

KONRAD BITTERLI ON CAMERA: Not for quite a while. You have to sing along for all 70 minutes.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I’ll do the best I can.



KONRAD BITTERLI ON CAMERA: This is a piece by the Geneva-based artist Sylvie Flurry. And it shows a car in a way

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It's a real car?

KONRAD BITTERLI ON CAMERA: It’s a real car. But in a way that you don’t drive it anymore. It’s crashed obviously and it has a color that doesn’t quite fit the colors that you usually see on streets. It is a lipstick color Givenchy 601. So what it does it kind of melts two different worlds. The world of racing, of male obsession with the world of fashion, of makeup, through the color of the Givenchy makeup and lipsticks. 

BURT WOLF: Just down the street is the St. Gallen historical museum which has an exhibition called "Dresscode". The works present the idea that a dress contains a coded message.

There is an extraordinary video by Eve Sussman. It presents an imaginary vision of the people surrounding the 17th Century Spanish painter Velasquez, while he was at work. 

A video by Hussein Chalayan presents furniture that can be turned into clothing.

Jacqueline Hassink is a photographer with a special interest in the private fitting rooms used by the great designers for their most important clients. This series presents some of those rooms.

It’s difficult to be in Switzerland and not think about Swiss watches. You get the feeling that each street has a least one store selling them and the selection is rather magnificent.

While I was in St. Gallen I noticed that many of the people involved with fashion, art and technology wore watches made by a company call IWC which stands for the International Watch Company.

The company was founded by F. A. Jones, an American engineer and watchmaker who came to Switzerland with a plan to use American engineering technology and Swiss craftsmanship to produce watch parts for the American market.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Originally he wanted to manufacture his watches in the French speaking part of Switzerland near Geneva. But the French would have none of his modern American ideas and basically told him to get lost. 

But while he was getting lost in the Swiss mountains he heard about a new hydroelectric plant in eastern Switzerland that was producing low cost energy. Just what Jones needed to power his watch making equipment and so in 1868 he set up IWC.

BURT WOLF: Technical innovation has always been an essential part of the company's operation. In 1885 they introduced the first digital watch with tiny windows for the hours and minutes.

During the 1930s they turned their attention to the needs of early aviators. Pilots needed a watch that would function precisely at extreme temperatures, could withstand pressure changes, would not be affected by magnetic fields and was easy to read.

They adapted their pocket watches and introduced the Big Pilots Watch with a long strap because the watch was worn over the pilot’s flight suit.

They still produce the most advanced watches for pilots.

In 1985 they introduced the DaVinci. It was the first wristwatch with a mechanical calendar programmed for 500 years. It proved especially popular with people who had a family history of longevity.

Then they started hanging out with the scuba pioneer Jacques Cousteau. The result was a group of watches known as the Aquatimer Chronograph Cousteau Divers.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They even make a model that is water-resistant to a depth of 2,000 meters. Though I can’t imagine what I would be doing at that depth and if I was there why I would need to know what time it is. But you never can tell. I might have a sushi date with a mermaid, and not want to be late.

BURT WOLF: The International Watch Company has an impressive history and they have certainly developed some fantastic technology. And those are certainly major reasons for their popularity in St. Gallen.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Most important they are made here in the German speaking Eastern part of Switzerland and not in the French part, where the original founder was rejected. So there! 

BURT WOLF: And on that note it’s time to see what’s cooking in St. Gallen. Clearly, its most famous contribution to gastronomy is the St. Gallen bratwurst. Until the middle of the 1800s sausages where rather course in texture, but a technical breakthrough of awesome proportions produced a sausage with a smooth and creamy texture. And soon the St. Gallen bratwurst was born.

It’s a hot dog that even dog could love.

And when in St.Gallen, the place to get one is Gemperli’s. They have their own recipe and produce over ten thousand bratwurst per week. They have the best of the wurst. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: A St. Gallen bratwurst is made from veal, pork, bacon and a secret ingredient which will not be very secret after I tell you. Fresh milk. And it’s served with a typical Eastern Switzerland roll called a Burley.

BURT WOLF: For a coffee and a traditional sweet the place to go is the Roggwiller's Café and Tea Room.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: St. Gallen has two great sweets. One is a St. Gallen Spitzen which means embroidered and it’s actually chocolate with an embroidery pattern on it – both milk and dark. And the other one is a biber which is gingerbread, marzipan, gingerbread. It’s a marzipan sandwich.

BURT WOLF: And finally there is the Scherrer chocolate shop with its handmade specialties. An obvious test of ones will power. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Ok let's get started. One of those. One of those. One of those. Two of those. Getting the knack of this huh? One of those, one of those, those, one of those, those.

BURT WOLF: And clearly my will power was not a strong as I thought it was.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Hamburg, Germany - #706

BURT WOLF: Hamburg, with a population of just under two million, is the second-largest city in Germany, right behind Berlin.

In the year 831, Ludwig the Pious, son of Charlemagne, realized that a little village called Hamburg, at the meeting point of three important rivers, could become a source of great wealth. Not that he was short of cash or anything like that, but even then, the rich liked getting richer.

Its seaport is the largest in the nation and has dominated northern European trade for over four hundred years.

It's a media center and publishes half the newspapers and magazines in the country.

It claims to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in Europe.

And, it is the home of the fountain pen---which makes it easier for the millionaires to sign their checks.

I got to know the city with Ulrike Schroder one of Hamburg’s top tour guides.

ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: We have a lake here in the city. This lake is called Alster and there are two parts. We’re going to go to the outer Alster Lake, which is the larger part of the lake. We have a saying here in Hamburg. We say if you fall in the lake and drown, you’re too lazy to get up. It’s only one and a half meters deep, two and a half sometimes. And so it’s a paradise for free time. You can do sailing here, anything.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Those are the houses of the Rich?

ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: Those are the houses of the rich. This is the most beautiful residential area here.

BURT WOLF: This is the warehouse district. I understand it was built in the late 1800s and it was where the goods that came off the boats were stored.

ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: Hamburg has more bridges than any other city in Europe. The people of Venice don’t want to hear that. The people of Amsterdam don’t want to hear that. Their cities are quite small and they only have a few hundred. And we have more than 2,000 because we have so much water here.


ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: The building in front of us?

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The tall tower.

ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: Yes that's our television tower as we call it and it's the tallest building in Hamburg and it has a revolving restaurant and a view platform. You can also do some bungy jumping from the television tower.


ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: Not you. You know there's a building straight ahead of us and I think it's a pretty building but if you knew what's inside you wouldn't like it -- this is our main tax office.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Taxes. Let's make a quick turn.

ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: No, let's just go by it. Today they're not open I hope. And anyway you know in this building there are no stairs…you know why the people there crawl up the walls.


ULRIKE SCHRODER ON CAMERA: This is our underground and our underground is partly an above ground and the reason behind is we have a very muddy ground here, it's very soft, it's not like New York. New York is built on solid rock so that's also one of the reasons why we can’t have so many skyscrapers here because the ground is not made for it and that's why at the beginning of the 20th Century when we had our first underground they built it upstairs like on stilts and I like it particularly because it goes towards the port and from there you have the most wonderful view.

BURT WOLF: In the 1100s Hamburg became a member of the Hanseatic League which was a big deal. The league was made up of about 200 cities that joined together and became exclusive trading partners. If you were going to do business in Northern Europe you had to deal with the Hanseatic League.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: By the middle of the 1300s, the league was so powerful that it attacked Denmark because the King of Denmark was not following the league's rules. It won the war and installed its own king. But by the end of the 1600s the development of powerful nations like Russia and Sweden and England put an end to the league. But Hamburg continued to grow and ended up as the third-largest seaport in the world after New York and London.

BURT WOLF: Dr. Juergen Sorgenfrei is in charge of port information.

DR. JUERGEN SORGENFREI ON CAMERA: We are now entering the container area of the port of Hamburg. You see ships are coming from all over the world. This one is CSC Shanghai. It is one of the biggest container vessels today. Handling more than 8,000 containers. This is the cargo operation which is typical for Hamburg. You see this is a spreader as we call it. It’s just going, this is a typical 20 feet box. And now he’s setting on, he’s switching the locks, and up. It takes about 40 to 70 seconds to unload one box. The complete operation and this means between 50 to 70 - 80 of these boxes we can load and unload in one hour. After, the what we call her in Germany, the Reunification between Eastern Germany and Western Germany, and we are now again in the center of the market. And since that day, since 1990, we are in a boom phase. Because the interland areas like Poland, like Czech Republic, like Russia today is served by Hamburg.

Because the big ocean vessels can come to Hamburg, but they can not go to St. Petersburg, or Rega, or the Baltic Sea area for example.

BURT WOLF: At the edge of the port is the Fish Market. Hamburg merchants have been in the fish business for hundreds of years and this market is still a primary source of supply.

The market is an active site for the sale of fish but the stalls around the fish merchants sell hundreds of other things.

At some stalls the goods are sold through an unusual auction. The auctioneer holds up a box and yells out a price. The person who buys the box gets everything in it. If no one buys the box the auctioneer keeps putting more stuff into the box until it sells.

The Fish Market also has an enclosed hall that is famous for its Sunday morning party.

Maike Grimpe is the hall’s manager.

MAIKE GRIMPE ON CAMERA: People are just celebrating after a night already been out, or just to come over here in the morning.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So it’s a celebration after the celebration.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What time does it start?

MAIKE GRIMPE ON CAMERA: It starts in the morning, at five a.m. and it goes up to noon to twelve.

BURT WOLF: Live bands, music, food.

MAIKE GRIMPE: Exactly. Everything you need in the morning on a Sunday.

Upstairs we have three galleries where we serve breakfast. You pay one price and you have a buffet and you can use that from like six in the morning to twelve, until you’re not hungry anymore. And then just relax, or have a beer and champagne.

BURT WOLF: And an aspirin.

MAIKE GRIMPE: And an aspirin.


BURT WOLF: Around the start of the 17th century a plague ravaged the city of Hamburg. The death toll was so great that a new burial ground had to be set up outside the city walls.

St. Michael’s Church was built to accommodate the mourners.

Dean Alexander Röder is the head pastor.

DEAN ALEXANDER RÖDER ON CAMERA: What we have downstairs in the so-called under church, crypt actually, is the largest Baroque-style crypt in Northern Europe. It’s a basement with more than 400 graveyards, from the 18th and early 19th century. And it is a piece of history of the democratic building of this city because you have mayors, you have people in mass graves who were members of burial societies as they were called. They paid in during their lives and then they were buried in the church.

So people could go down into the crypt, mourn their deceased ones, and still be united with them when celebrating mass up here.

This church is so important because it’s, a landmark of Hamburg, so to say. The spire of this church was the last thing the people who went out on the oceans could see and it was the first thing to see when they came back. And that’s why it became so prominent in the city and so prominent with all the people, even people who do not belong to the church.

When this church burned down in 1906 it was completely destroyed and saved these tiny little pieces that could be carried out at that time. Everything was destroyed and of course a discussion began among architects, how are we to rebuild this church? Well they decided we want this St. Michael’s back the way we had it. But they changed things. Where the centerpiece of the altar painting depicting the Resurrection of Christ they put in a little mosaic now depicting some mixture of style between art nouveau and art deco.

The old parts of the church that were saved, that is the baptismal fount. It’s beautifully done out of marble and three little angels carry this marble shell in which the water is carried. Two of them work very hard. The other one that is not to be seen by the congregation, says well, if nobody sees me, why should I work? So it stands a little bit like this, you know, just pretending to work. And it’s a wonderful, tiny, humorous piece of art here in the church.

This is probably one of the most vivid churches we have in Germany. We have a wonderful 12 noontime short organ service everyday of the year, where all three organs of this church are played from the smallest to the largest and we still have the largest organ in Hamburg with more than 6,666 pipes. We have still five services every Sunday and we have lots of concerts.


BURT WOLF: The written word has always had an amazing impact. Messages that would have been totally disregarded if they had come by word of mouth were taken as the gospel truth because they were written.

One of the great breakthroughs in western writing came when the ancient Greeks developed the alphabet. The alphabet made it much easier for people to learn to read and write. And as those skills became more wide spread it changed everything in western society. 

Another advance, not on the scale of inventing the alphabet, but never-the-less an important step, took place when the No-Leak-Fountain-Pen was invented by the Montblanc Company.

Wolff Heinrichsdorff is the managing director of Montblanc International.

WOLFF HEINRICHSDORFF ON CAMERA: Nineteen-hundred and six three gentlemen came together and one had the idea. He traveled America and he saw in America a fountain pen which was an innovation. It had ink in a tank in the pen, rather than always dipping the nib into the ink. So it was a great idea but the quality was still lousy. You had ink spots on your shirts when you were wearing that around. So they said the idea is good, the execution is not good enough. Let’s go after top quality and start that kind of a business in Europe.

They wanted to be a little bit sophisticated. A little bit French, so they related the name of the pen to a famous book at that time. Rouge et Noir of Stendhal which means, red and black. But the Germans at that time never spoke French. So they looked at the pen and said it looks like Little Red Riding Hood. So their innovation was then to make the same pen with a white cap, staying a French name they chose Montblanc, the highest mountain of Europe. 4,810 meters high. The pen name became so well known that they decided to change the name of the company into Montblanc Fuller Pen Company and that is I think a very rare moment in the history of a company that a success of a product is giving the company’s name rather than visa versa.

So we call the balance to high-tech, high-touch. Things which are staying with you which have continuity which become a friend of yours through many, many years. So this pen for example will be one day a pen I proudly will pass down to my kids and this pen is made forever in a top quality and you see in the cap a diamond cut in the shape of Montblanc symbol the star.

The founders never would have thought this business would become a diamond business but this year we bought around about 3,500 carat in brilliance in diamonds and put them into the caps of our writing instruments, cut like the star, the symbol of Montblanc.

BURT WOLF: In 1992, they began producing an annual limited edition pen that honors a famous patron of the arts or an author. The pens are on display in the Montblanc Museum.

WOLFF HEINRICHSDORFF ON CAMERA: We want to celebrate the unsung heroes which are the patrons of the arts. They are the ones who make culture strong. They finance culture and they know that culture is the backbone of civilization and we believe in that as well.

This is financing our activities we do year by year and we sell these limited editions. And at the end of the day it allows us to do something for culture.

So I would like to show you as well in the same year like 1992 introduced to the market a author’s editions. Because authors have something to do with writing, at least most of them. And Ernest Hemmingway was writing a lot as well by hand. And this is by the way one of his letters he was writing from the Finca Vigia San Francisco De Paula Cuba.


WOLFF HEINRICHSDORFF ON CAMERA: One of his major places where he was writing a lot. This writing instrument was a first. It is very, very famous. It is a collectors item. Hard to get. Even our friend Johnny Depp was not able to get it. Rather he received it as a present when he came to us to Geneva to our ...

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: ..from your collection.

WOLFF HEINRICHSDORFF ON CAMERA: Unfortunately now I’m missing the number five out of my own collection. But I know it’s in good hands with him.

BURT WOLF: The heart and soul of the Montblanc pen is the nib, which is the point. Producing just one nib requires 50 processes. And many carefully trained craftsmen and women. Carsten Hense is Production Manager.

CARSTEN HENSE ON CAMERA: This room is closed. Why? Because we must insure that no sound from outside will come in. Because a sound should only be coming from the nib.

They are writing with transparent ink, and only eights and lines, so that they can hear if there’s any scratches on the paper. So for that we have to rework the nib.

BURT WOLF: The history of Montblanc is, to a great extent, the history of the luxury brand business in the 20th century. In 1919, it established its own advertising department which was headed by Grete Gross. She was a master at promoting the name and made Montblanc an internationally recognized and widely respected brand. She took a group of automobiles, mounted giant fountain-pens on their roof, formed them into a cavalcade and sent them off on the roads of Europe. She also put the logo on early bi-planes and flew them from country to country.

Recently they decided it to extend their brand to other things. And it’s about time. In 1997 Montblanc purchased a beautiful old villa in the Jura mountains of Switzerland and restored it to it’s original condition. At the same time on the sloping hill behind it, they built a small almost hidden facility for making watches. The Jura has been home to the world's great watchmakers for hundreds of years. A craft that is passed on from generation to generation.

The new generation however is not only skilled in the traditional techniques, but highly trained in the use of computers and advanced technology. Computer programs are used to help design the watches and set the precise criteria for production. The actual assembly has a number of elements that are so exact that robotic machines were invented to help the watchmakers.

In business schools it’s called horizontal integration. You can use their pen to write down your appointment and their watch to see how late you are.

Today the company still has a program for displaying it’s logo in unusual places. Ingrid Roosen-Trinks is the Director of Montblanc’s Cultural Foundation.

INGRID ROOSEN-TRINKS ON CAMERA: Since the very beginning we had a close connection to literature, to writers and authors, and from this we explored our relationship with artists.

We have now almost 90 art pieces of international artists who did their work of art on the white star of Montblanc. That makes it so exciting to see the variety and the imagination regarding a logo of a brand.

I like very much the hanging art piece called Big Lunar Module, from one of my dearest friends from United States, Tom Sachs. And it’s hanging right in front of the entrance of Montblanc. And this is not a piece of the art -- it is… a toy of a Montblanc employee -- you know they are not shy to approach the artwork of Montblanc.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They just put it there.

INGRID ROOSEN-TRINKS ON CAMERA: They just put it there whenever they go to the cantina or come back, they push the button, so they play with the artwork. Which I like.

Art Bags which are sculptures made out of aluminum which are three meters high, and two meters twenty wide, which you see outside on the lawn outside of our headquarters building. They have been traveling all over the world. They had been at the Rockefeller Center in New York for a couple of weeks. They have been on Champs d’Elise in Paris. On the waterfront in Cape Town in South Africa. They have been to Bilbao, to Barcelona, they are on tour.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Why this is just the size shopping bag my wife always uses.



BURT WOLF: The Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten was opened in 1897 and has been a Hamburg landmark ever since. In spite of its age it has been able to maintain its original elegance. In fact, it's in perfect shape. I’d like to look this good when I'm a hundred.

Of course, a proper diet is one of the keys to staying in good shape. And part of that process is to eat as many different foods as possible---variety is essential. And in order to make that task easier for you the hotel has four different restaurants.

The Haerling is their gourmet room---a Michelin one-star offering classic French dishes with a Mediterranean accent.


BURT WOLF: The Grill has a roaring 20s Art Deco feel. Its menu lets you choose a grilled specialty from the list of meat, fish and poultry. Then you decide which sauce and side dishes you would like to add from a separate list.

The hotel has an Asian restaurant called Doc Cheng’s.

Cheng was born in Penang in 1882, spent the first part of his life as a playboy, then as a doctor. The restaurant is a tribute to his memory and his belief in the restorative powers of good food and drink.

During Doc’s playboy days, he traveled to Italy where he discovered his passion for pasta. When he got to Singapore he prepared a dish of wok-fried Italian noodles with shrimp, egg, lemongrass and mushrooms – east meets west.

Attached to Doc Cheng is the Indochine Bar with over 35 different beers and a selection of sake based cocktails. Doc’s favorite drink was a Singapore Sling.

Breakfasts are served in the Café Condi which is decorated in a style called Biedermeier. Biedermeier was a character in a play who became a symbol for responsible middle class behavior. The woods are usually light in color and the attention to detail is meticulous. Herr Biedermeier would have loved this place.

The floating Terrace offers light snacks, drinks and a great view of the lake.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: There was a great German philosopher Gerter who once said, “Have dessert first. Life is uncertain.”


BURT WOLF: During the early 60s, the music scene in Hamburg produced a new form of music that became known as “The Hamburg Sound”, a sound that was made famous by the Beatles as well as Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers. The Hamburg Museum of history has put on an exhibition honoring that period.

It not only deals with the music but also the social background of the period and how the new music reflected and influenced the changes that took place in fashion, consumer behavior and politics.

Ulf Krüger is the curator of the exhibit.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: What was The Hamburg Sound?

ULF KRÜGER ON CAMERA: It was basically a mixture of skiffle, a very simply British music style, and rock ‘n roll.

Hamburg is a big seaport, and many many people came in from abroad looking for amusement. Sailors, of course, because they stayed longer in those days. Three or four days, and not just two or three hours to unload the containers.

So club owners were looking for cheap bands. And they found them in England. So the Beatles being an amateur band then, came to Hamburg, and here they learned their craftsmanship and became professionals.

When the Beatles came to Hamburg, they started in a little club called Viendra. So they were transplanted into another bigger club the Kaiserkeller. And over there we have the original doors of the Kaiserkeller. From the Kaiserkeller they went to another club, bigger club. And The Star-Club became a real success. They had Little Richard, they had Jerry Lee Lewis, they had Fats Domino, they had everybody. Even Ray Charles, who was really big then.

Over there, we’ve got a collection of Astrid Kirchherr photos, world famous shots of the Beatles in the very early days. And where Stuart Sutcliffe the fifth Beatle who used to play the bass guitar in the beginning. And he stayed in Hamburg with Astrid. And unfortunately he died in Hamburg, as well. A couple of days before the Beatles started their stint at The Star-Club.

The Beatles were just the tip of the iceberg. There were lots and lots and lots of bands, mainly coming from Liverpool, London and a couple of upcoming German bands as well, who created The Hamburg Sound together.

BURT WOLF: For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.


Travels & Traditions: Aachen, Germany - #705

BURT WOLF: The city of Aachen lies in the most western part of Germany and borders with Belgium and the Netherlands. Ancient Celtic families liked the neighborhood and so did the Romans. But what really put Aachen on the map were the kings of the Franks. The Franks were German-speaking people who invaded Western Europe. And the superstar of the Franks was a guy named Charlemagne who came to power at the end of the 700s.

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: Charlemagne was more than just a warrior king. In his court in Aachen he collected some of the great intellectuals of his time. And he was interested in bettering the welfare of his people: the rule of law, promoting education and religious reform.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Charlemagne had created a super-state by bringing together all of the Christian communities in Western Europe, it stretched from Denmark to Hungary. But his favorite city and the seat of his royal household was Aachen.

BURT WOLF: And the Cathedral that he built for his court is still standing.

DR. HEIKE NELSEN-MINKENBERG ON CAMERA: When this church was built, in the 8th century, it was for 200 years the highest building north of the Alps, because only in Italy, in the ancient Roman Empire, people were able to build architecture of this height and of this kind. So we think Charlemagne took the man who constructed this church from Italy to Aachen to build this church.

We’ve got an octagonal room in the middle, and its character reminds us to Eastern churches, because Charlemagne looked to the mighty emperor of Bisons, to the churches he built when he chose the design for his church here in Aachen.

I want to show you the so-called Barbarossa chandelier. A chandelier which looks like a crown. It’s a donation of Fredrick Barbarossa the Emperor and his wife, Beatrice. And it was given to the cathedral for the scarification of Charlemagne in 1165. In medieval Europe, we have to imagine many of these chandeliers in every big church, in every important basilica or cathedral, was a chandelier like that. But in our days, only three of them are left. And this one is the one which is best preserved, and so it’s the most important chandelier of the Middle Ages still existing.

Most visitors are very astonished when they see Charlemagne’s throne, because in comparison to the precious things we’ve seen beneath, it’s very archaic, it’s very simple.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Modest, to say the least. Just stones.

DR. HEIKE NELSEN-MINKENBERG ON CAMERA: Yes. But very special stones. The throne was built from stone which came from Jerusalem as a present to him from the grave of Jesus. So the throne was built from these holy items and didn’t need any more decoration.

DR. HEIKE NELSEN-MINKENBERG ON CAMERA: That’s the pulpit of the cathedral. And it’s 1,000 years old. And it’s so precious because during the mass of his coronation, the king had to read from the Bible. And he read from the Bible at the pulpit. And so, king and emperor, Henry II, gave this very precious pulpit to the cathedral so that the other kings who were crowned after him had such a precious place to read.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So, the kings actually stood up there and read from the Bible.


BURT WOLF: Charlemagne made Aachen the capital of what we now call Europe and for hundreds of years it was the city in which rulers of Germany were crowned.

Precious relics were brought to Aachen by Charlemagne and placed in his imperial chapel. After his death hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came to Aachen to see them.

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: In the Christian tradition there are two types of relics. One, the remains from a saint's body, such as bone. The other is an object that has been touched to a saint’s body such as a piece of cloth.

DR. HEIKE NELSEN-MINKENBERG ON CAMERA: The church of Aachen is an important place for pilgrims, because of the four holy relics which are in the shrine of Mary. The four holy items and the clothes in which the body of John the Baptist was wrapped, a dress of Mary, the cloth which Jesus wore when he was crucified, and the pampers of Jesus.

BURT WOLF: The great pilgrimages to Aachen and other sacred sites in Europe started during the 1300s and were known as Shrine Pilgrimages. To a considerable extent these journeys were the forerunners of today’s holiday travel. You took a break from your normal day-to-day life and headed off to see something new. During the past few years sacred travel has become one of the fastest growing parts of the tourist business and you don’t have to look far to understand why.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Every once in a while I wonder what life is all about. At which point I know it’s time for me to reestablish a more spiritual relationship with the world around me. And one of the best ways I know for doing that is to take a trip to a sacred place. Kind of a mini pilgrimage. It always resets my clock.


BURT WOLF: The center of Aachen is the town square and it tells the story of Aachen’s history for the past 650 years. Originally, it was part of an important road that connected Rome to the Netherlands and was used as a stopping point and a market place. It’s still a market place where local farmers from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands come to sell their goods.

In the middle of the market is Aachen’s oldest fountain. It was cast in 1620 and presents Charlemagne holding the symbols of his office.

The buildings around the square were once the homes of Aachen's richest families.

The Lowenstein House is the show-piece of the square. It’s named after Anna Lowenstein who built it in 1344.

The building that houses the Goldener Einhorn Restaurant dates back to the middle Ages and was a hotel for pilgrims visiting the shrine at Aachen.

Across the square is the Postwagen building which is one of the few remaining structures made of wood and probably the oldest. Today it contains a restaurant serving the local specialties of the area.

On one side of the square is Aachen’s ancient Town Hall. It was originally built in the 1300s and its foundation and dimensions are identical with Charlemagne’s old Royal Hall.

Inside are a set of frescos that tell the story of Charlemagne’s life. Even during his lifetime, Charlemagne was called the father of Europe, particularly of France and Germany.

The hall also contains the crown jewels, well; actually they are copies of the crown jewels. Just before Napoleon invaded Aachen in 1794, the Crown Jewels were sent to the Emperor of Austria with a note that said keep these jewels safe. But the Emperor misread the note, he thought it read "keep these jewels in your safe" and today they are still there. It’s all about penmanship.


BURT WOLF: The name of Aachen refers back to the ancient Celtic god of healing and the god of hot spring waters. Roman soldiers were particularly attracted to hot springs and often built settlements nearby. The salts in the hot water increased the buoyancy of their bodies and helped relieve their pain and exhaustion. The troops felt that they were floating back to health.

BURT WALKING ON CAMERA: It was the hot springs that originally attracted Charlemagne to the area. But he was not the only big name to come to Aachen. Casanova came here on three separate occasions, but he was always cleverly disguised during his visit. Didn’t want anybody to know that his sexual powers were being medically enhanced. And the Empress Josephine came here because she was having problems conceiving a child with the Emperor Napoleon. Fortunately however Josephine and Casanova were never here at the same time.

BURT WOLF: For centuries mineral springs were thought to have magical powers that could heal the sick. Sometimes the magic was attributed to the water and sometimes to powerful spirits who were thought to live in the water. It really didn’t make any difference to the people who came for relief as long as they got better.

The original springs in Aachen contain hydrogen sulfate with an odor you will recognize because it smells like rotten eggs. People drink it and bath in it and give it credit for an assortment of cures.

WERNER SCHLÖSSER ON CAMERA: Our water contains a lot of sulfur and if you had an operation for example at the knee or at the hip, then you can train in the water or you do special exercises and that will help you on walking again.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: During the 1800s the hot spring became a preferred hangout of the rich and famous. They felt that a couple of weeks at a spa would rejuvenate their health. The problem was the environment in a spa was very relaxed and open. And theses guests, totally on their own, and away from their families, were getting into hot water.


BURT WOLF: For thousands of years, people have believed that any place where water came up from the earth was sacred and those spots were often surrounded by fountains or temples. Sabine Mathieu took me on a tour of Aachen’s fountains.

SABINE MATHIEU ON CAMERA: Okay. Here we meet the hot spring water coming directly from the source. This spring is coming from 1500 meters and it is sent the earth with a temperature of 52.8 degrees. And it arrives here with a temperature nearly 50 degrees. It loses a little bit in the pipeline, but it is really hot.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That’s centigrade. Fahrenheit it’s about 85 degrees.

SABINE MATHIEU ON CAMERA: Yes. But it is you smell it? A little stinky. And taste it. It’s a very...

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oh it’s a lot stinky yes.

SABINE MATHIEU ON CAMERA: Yes, it’s sulfured water and it is a very salty water. But it is very good against illnesses of the skin yes. And it doesn’t smell anymore. It’s not true; yes it’s like old eggs I know.


SABINE MATHIEU ON CAMERA: Here we have one of the nicest fountains of Aachen. The Puppet Fountain. An invitation for the big and the little children to play with the figures.

This young lady is representing fashion industry and the drape industry. We have for since a thousand years in Aachen.

And she’s representing the needle industry. And here we have the Bishop representing the cathedral and the Catholic Church.

And then we have a very nice wife over there. She is a very sympathetic wife. Oh no, she’s not representing the dentists of Aachen. Oh no, she’s representing the clever wives of Aachen. Because she is a market wife, and she’s representing commerce. Commercial times began in 1166 when Frederick Red Beard gave us the town right and the right to have a market here in Aachen. And you see she’s clutching the money.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Clutching the money.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Clutching the money.

SABINE MATHIEU ON CAMERA: Yea. The clever Aachen woman.

And let's go onto the most important man of Aachen. The scientific man, the teacher of the University. A professor who is representing our main polytechnical university with 29,000 students and our academy’s also have 8,000 students from all countries in the world. Do you know that every car engine of Germany has been constructed in Aachen?

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: No. And there’s the teacher who taught them how to do it.

SABINE MATHIEU ON CAMERA: Yea, that’s the reason why we are so. Yea there’s the teacher of university.


BURT WOLF: One of Charlemagne’s objectives was to make Aachen a cultural and educational center. Accordingly, he brought some of Europe’s most talented scholars to the city. His vision is still in operation at the Rhineland-Westphalia Technical University. It has transformed the region into a focal point for researchers working on automobile technology, laser development, and medicine, as well as the design and manufacturing of microchips. INTERNATIONAL NEWSPAPER MUSEUM

BURT WOLF: Aachen’s intellectual environment is also reflected in the city’s International Newspaper Museum which is based in the house where in 1850 Israel Reuter established the Reuters News Service.

The building contains over 170,000 newspapers with the earliest examples dating back to the 1600’s.

ANDREAS DÜSPOHL ON CAMERA: We are, we are now in the International Newspaper Museum of Aachen, which was founded in the year 1886, by a man called Oscar von Forckenbeck, who started to collect newspapers from all over the world. And when he died, he gave all the newspapers that he collected to the city of Aachen, who chose this house to display all these newspapers.

The oldest newspaper that we have in our stock is from 1609 and we also have the oldest daily newspaper that was published in Leipzig in the year 1650.

The newspapers that we have show that the press has always been controlled by authorities. And especially in years of war newspapers were of course used for propaganda reasons. And in one of the displays you can see some newspapers where the French authorities have actually censored a newspaper freshly.

Also we display a couple of newspapers which deal with important historical events. For instance, the assassination of Kennedy, or the death of Sir Winston Churchill. Or the events related to the German reunification.


BURT WOLF: In the late 1700s, a French revolutionary army occupied Aachen and incorporated the town into the French empire. Napoleon had a soft spot for the city, since he considered himself the cultural descendent of Charlemagne and believed that like Charlemagne he would unite all of Europe under one rule.

BURT ON CAMERA: But Aachen’s time under French influence had some very positive benefits. The destructive guild system was dissolved. Currency was standardized. Transportation and the economy improved. But for me the most important French influence that still remains here in Aachen can be found in a small, almost hidden, restaurant.

BURT WOLF: It’s named Maier-Peveling's and its specialty is a typical German fast-food called a “currywurst”. Currywurst was invented in Berlin in 1949 and consists of a grilled Bratwurst sausage, covered with ketchup that has been laced with curry. It is traditionally served with French fried potatoes and a bread roll.

Maier-Peveling's was designed to represent the ultimate in currywurst culture. The sausages are made daily from the owners’ family recipe. The French fries, which are truly outstanding, are made to order and served with six different sauces that are made in an elegant French restaurant, also owned by the family. The only sauce they don’t make is the tomato ketchup which is Heinz---some things just can’t be improved upon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Hello. This is the wurst connection I ever had.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And as long as we are talking about what’s cooking in Aachen, allow me to introduce you to printen. The word printen comes from the English word to print, but in Aachen it is a reference to a spicy, sweet, flat, hard cookie that is made in a mold.

BURT WOLF: They were developed by an Aachen baker about 300 years ago and became the favorite of the pilgrims.

The Klein Printen Bakery is one of the most respected in Aachen.

ULLA KLEIN ON CAMERA: We sell very different kinds of printen. The original one is the Kräuterprinten, with spices. You see it here, with almonds on it. And there are different sorts of printen, different kinds with chocolates, with nuts, white chocolate, or milk chocolate on it. And different forms, they taste very delicious.

BURT WOLF: Printens have an interesting taste, they’re nourishing, easy to carry around and they don’t get stale for months. These days, the bakers of Aachen produce over 4,500 tons of Printen each year.

And this is the Cafe Van Den Daele which was founded by a Belgian pastry chef.

It consists of four historic buildings---the oldest dates to1655.

Because each building was built at a different time and designed to meet the needs of a different family the inside rooms are connected by staircases and steps that lead in and out of seven different rooms. Picturesque for the patrons not that much fun for the waiters. The original baker was a collector of furniture, pictures and baking tins which are still on display.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The restaurant menu has a number of classic German dishes. But they’ve each been given a slight twist that makes them quite interesting. This is sauerbraten, its beef that's been marinated in vinegar and wine for a couple of days, and then roasted. Then the marinade is used to make a sauce. But when they’re making the sauce here they add printen cookies which gives it a gingerbread sweetness.

This is a rolled beef dish. The beef is filled with sautéed onions, bacon, and pesto sauce and served with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes. Very nice.

BURT WOLF: Van Den Daele is considered to be one of the finest cafes in Germany and particularly famous for its baked goods.

HANS-PETER MEIER ON CAMERA: Well the most popular one is this one. It’s called Belgium Rice Cake. And the best way to eat it when it’s warm coming out of the bakery. This is very popular. Especially in summer because it’s with the fruits. This is with apple and almond. And number three, again something for summer with seasonal fruits. For example, here we have a rice with strawberries.

BURT WOLF: What is that cake you’re hiding behind you?

HANS-PETER MEIER ON CAMERA: Well this is my top favorite maybe. It’s a French Apple Tart. It’s very thin with apple of course. Very tasty, very sweet, it’s just delicious.


BURT WOLF: Every year in June hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Aachen for one week to admire the horses at the World Equestrian Festival. The competition includes everything from show jumping to carriage driving.

Horses have been in the neighborhood for at least 30,000 years and it was Charlemagne’s horse pawing the ground that uncovered the hot springs that made Aachen Charlemagne’s favorite town. Charlemagne himself was passionate about breeding horses.

At the end of the festival everyone celebrates, music, dancing and a promise to return next year.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.


Travels & Traditions: Cologne, Germany - #704

BURT WOLF: Cologne was built by the ancient Romans in 38AD at a point where the Rhine River crossed a major east-west trade route. It was an ideal spot for commercial development and by the Middle Ages Cologne had become the largest and one of the richest towns in northern Europe.

Today, it's home to the largest university in Germany with more than 60,000 students living and from time to time even studying in the city. 

In general, the citizens of Cologne have done a good job of preserving and honoring their art and architecture.

A thousand-year-old Romanesque church in the middle of a shopping street that was put up in the 1980s. It's an unusual mixture of the very old next to the very new.

Since the Middle Ages Cologne has been a religious center and a destination for pilgrims. Pilgrims came from all over Europe to visit “Holy Cologne”, and the city’s great pilgrimage site was its Gothic cathedral. Even today, over five million visitors come here each year, which has made the Cathedral Germany’s main tourist attraction.

These days, more and more people are using their vacation time to make a pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage is really designed for more than just holiday travel. A pilgrimage is also a sacred journey. It’s a way of healing yourself. Physically you travel to a new place, but the big voyage is the one you make inside, the one that might transform you. 

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: To really understand the medieval cathedral, you have to understand the medieval Christian's vision of life as a journey, as even a pilgrimage, and how different that was to what had come before. The medieval Christian didn't think about a golden age in the past. He wasn't interested in getting back to the Garden of Eden because he was on a journey to something completely new, the new heavenly Jerusalem and the place on earth where he could glimpse where his journey was headed was within the cathedral. The massive walls of the cathedral divided the outside, the worldly and secular from the inside, the heavenly and the holy. And the way to enter into this sacred space were through the great western door of the cathedral often called the Gate of Heaven where you could see the angels and saints depicted over the doorway, and on the doors themselves you often saw scenes from the life of Christ, the journey which the believer, too, had to follow, if he, like Christ, was to follow and meet him in heaven. 

DR. KLAUS HARDERING ON CAMERA: Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic Cathedral we have in Europe. It's kind of high point in the development of Gothic architecture.

BURT WOLF: Construction began during the 1200's and did not finish up until the 1880s. A time span of over 600 years.

DR. KLAUS HARDERING: The choir stalls are the largest in Germany we have of that Gothic period. And they are richly carved. There are more than 500 figures and reliefs. We made an examination of the wood material so we can say all those things must have been carved between 1308 and 1311, that means within 4 years.

In the mosaic floor there is a representation of the wheel of life. It's shown that a young man is going to move that wheel with all his power, he reaches the high point of his life as a rich man, he can give alms to the poor but the wheel moves on and he looses his hold so he falls down, all his money is lost, he wants to stop the movement of the wheel but he can't.

We have almost 10,000 square meters of stained glass windows inside Cologne Cathedral and about 1,300 are original Gothic. So that's a treasure because we don’t have so much medieval glass in Germany. In 1939, that means in the first year of the Second World War they were taken out. So they survived the Second World War.

We have several funeral monuments of tombs of Cologne archbishops and they

are normally placed in the so-called choir chapels. One of the most important funeral monuments is the tomb of Archbishop Conrad von Hochstaden who laid the foundation stone in 1248 and he got a very beautiful bronze tomb. 

DR. KLAUS HARDERING ON CAMERA: In the chapel of St. John's you find a monumental medieval drawing, the largest we have in the world, more than 4 meters high and representing the main facade of Cologne Cathedral with the two monumental towers as they were built in the 19th Century but as they must have been planned in the Middle Ages because that drawing was made before 1283.

BURT WOLF: The Cathedral's greatest attraction for pilgrims is the gold shrine said to contain the remains of the three kings. In 1164 the Emperor Barbarossa, who was living in Milan, gave the remains of the three kings to the Archbishop of Cologne. As soon as he got them back to Cologne work began on a golden shrine to hold the relics. The shrine of the three kings became the most important pilgrimage site in northern Europe. 

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: In the New Testament, the three kings are referred to as wise men who traveled from a distant land to bring gifts to the Baby Jesus at his birth. In the Third Century, the Christian writer, Tertullian, refers to them as almost kings. And as time goes on, the "almost" disappears. The three kings are tremendously important for the development of Europe because, as time goes on in the West, they become identified with the Feast of the Epiphany which is the manifestation of Jesus as Lord to the Gentiles.

And this comes at a very important time in European history because during the Middle Ages Europe is beginning to see itself as a Christian society, even as the Christian society because the Holy Land now is under the control of the Muslims. The three kings also have an important political meaning. You might say, on their trip to Bethlehem, the three kings were on a divine mission, maybe even as divine agents. And if those three kings could be divine agents, then, maybe, kings in medieval Germany could also be divine agents and even have a kind of divine authority.

BURT WOLF: When the Three Kings discovered the Christ Child they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Frankincense and myrrh are gummy resins that were used to make perfumes that were part of religious services. During biblical times they were considered quite valuable.

They are still around but their value is considerably diminished. Gold however has kept its value quite well.


BURT WOLF: During the 400s, the Emperor Charlemagne made Cologne an archbishopric and since then the city has been an important religious center. It has 12 Romanesque churches that have been built on the graves of martyrs and early bishops.

One of the most interesting is St. Ursula’s.

Father Dominik Meiering is in charge of St. Ursula's

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING: Well this is the wonderful church St. Ursula here in Cologne one of the twelve romantic churches. One of the most wonderful and one of the most important because here is the place where the 11,000 virgin martyrs are buried as the legend of St. Ursula tells us.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The legend of St. Ursula goes like this.

Ursula was a British princess who lived during the 4th century and with a group of her friends made a pilgrimage to Rome. On her way back, she passed through Cologne, where she and her companions were murdered by a group of nomadic tribesman and generally unpleasant people, known as the Huns. 

BURT WOLF: In 1155, an ancient Roman burial ground was discovered and designated as the spot that contained the relics of the legend. Ursula was elevated to sainthood and became the patron of the Ursulines, a congregation of nuns dedicated to educating young girls.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING: The Golden Chamber as we call it here is a wonderful place. It is absolutely unique, it's a reliquary but very special because you enter into a place where many busts of the virgin martyr's with the skulls inside look onto you.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING ON CAMERA: That means you go into the place of holiness, you are surrounded by the holy spirit of all these people who are buried here. 

In the upper part we've got a decoration for you made out of bones. And there are even inscriptions you can read for example, Saint Ursula ora pro nobis, that means holy Ursula, pray for us, and this is built out of bones.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING & BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You can find the relics, the bones not only here behind this Gothic architecture but you can find it also here in the hat, you can open the hat, and underneath this wooden plate, you find a skull of one of the virgins.

BURT WOLF: Wrapped in cloth.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING: Wrapped in cloth of the Middle Ages which is very precious. We have got in this church two old golden shrines. One is the relacory of St. Ursula and one is of Aetherius who was the man who should become the husband of St. Ursula.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING ON CAMERA: The specialty of Cologne is also that you have the possibility to go under the shrines.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING & BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So now we can go underneath the shrines as the pilgrims of the Middle Ages

did and we can say our prayer and we can hope of the benediction of the saints and of God.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Very unusual to have it above you like that.



BURT WOLF: The Excelsior Hotel Ernst directly across the street from the Cathedral was built in 1863. The owner was part of Cologne’s high society and the hotel became a favorite hangout for the rich and royal. It's an ideal spot for tourists and business travelers, the hotel is within walking distance of theaters, museums, concert halls and the opera. It offers excellent service and a high degree of individual attention with a number of Presidential suites.

I always wondered who stayed in these Presidential suites since most traveling Presidents stay in their embassies. I was recently reminded that corporations also have Presidents and many of them have bigger expense accounts than small nations.

The hotel is home to two of the best restaurants in the city.

The first is the Hanse Stube. The food has an upper class French accent and it has been awarded 16 points by the Gault Millau food guide.

The Excelsior Ernst is also home to an Asian restaurant call Taku.

Taku is a great idea. It’s one restaurant but it has four different cuisines.

One team of chefs prepares Japanese dishes. Another Chinese. The third is Thai.

And the fourth is Vietnamese.

And all the dishes are on the same menu. You can order from all four kitchens at the same time.

Besides being a religious center Cologne has been a cultural focal point for hundreds of years. Today, it has 118 galleries and 36 museums.

And the sweetest museum of all is the chocolate museum. Built in the shape of a futuristic ship, sitting on the banks of the Rhine, the three-story museum presents the history and technology of chocolate.

Martin van Almsick is the marketing rep ---- sweet guy.

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: This is the factory. It's the main attraction of the chocolate museum here. It can be part of an entire production line. We produce hollow figures, we produce pralinees, normal bars, all this you can see here.

BURT WOLF: What does this machine do?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: Well here we are producing pralinees, it a mousse a chocolat filling, very nice and you can see here beautifully how it originally consisted of two halves.


MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: The mold consists of two halves, we are stirring, spinning, and now we filled it with mousse a chocolat filling you can see that very nicely here and now we make a little decorative element here, we give it some chocolate marks on top so it looks nicer. Ice first they call it in English, we say _____ in German. Okay you see we fill it in here and give it a liquid chocolate mix over it.

What we do here is we turn it in circles, you could just as well do it with forks but this is of course more economical to do it like this with this machinery, you develop a very special design.

So Burt what we see here is the cooling tunnel. The pralinees are almost ready.

They have their coating, their design, but we need to cool it for another say 10 minutes or so. Then they come out on the other side and are ready to be shipped.

Burt what we see here are the ready to eat pralinees. This is the final product, looks beautifully.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Can I have one?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: Sure help yourself, real nice aren’t they.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And that's the coating?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: That's the coating, mousse alla chocolat and it's surrounded by milk chocolate.

BURT WOLF: What holds it in place there?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK: Oh this is the bliss that we call it.

BURT WOLF: Beautiful thank you.

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: This is our legendary chocolate fountain, the one and only 200 liters of liquid chocolate bars. It's paradise isn't it?!



BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is known as hand dipping.

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: And if it's warm and fresh it's a lot better than normal supermarket chocolate. Can you tell the difference? This must be paradise huh, 200 liters of liquid chocolate and it's great.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I'll go for a swim later.


BURT WOLF: The entire place is in keeping with Cologne’s history. The scientific name for chocolate is “Theobroma cacao”, which means “Food of the Gods”.


HEINRICH BECKER, JR N CAMERA: Cologne is famous for Kölsch which is the local beer. There are several different brands but they are always called Kölsch and it can only be produced within Cologne. Naturally it's being shipped all over the world. We sell it the United States and in China and Russia but it's mostly being sold and of course it can only be reproduced here within the city boundaries.

It comes in an extremely small glasses, they are only 0.2 liters which is approximately 8 ounces of a glass which has an advantage of our competitors in Bavaria which drink out of the big steins because this beer always stays fresh. The waiter always keeps bringing you glasses until you've had enough but he doesn’t know when you've had enough so as a matter of fact you have to take this little coaster here and put it on top of your glass, then when he's walking around through the restaurant he would actually see that you've been served, literally.


BURT WOLF: Even before I knew there was a city named Cologne I knew the word Cologne from the bottle of Eau de Cologne on my mother's dresser.

Eau de Cologne is French for water of Cologne which is a form of light perfume. It was originally developed in 1709. It’s primary ingredient is alcohol which is mixed with citrus oil and herbs. The objective was to make a perfume that smelled like a spring morning in Italy, after a rain. Napoleon was a big fan of the perfume.

In 1794, a French army under Napoleon occupied Cologne. At the time, houses were not marked with numbers, which was a constant source of frustration for the French General in charge of the city. So he sent his troops out to mark each building with a number. The number 4711 was assigned to a house where a family was making their own version of Eau de Cologne and it's became a world wide brand. 

The manufacturing process consists of mixing a series of scented oils into alcohol and letting the blend steep for a least three months.

During the 1950s, the company began using television commercials to promote its products.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Eau de Cologne was originally sold as a medicine that would cure every known illness and it was made from a secret formula. Secret formulas are fascinating. They give the holder the power to alter the forces of destiny to change his fate. It’s like giving somebody a hit of love potion number nine. It’s magic.


BURT WOLF: For almost 2,000 years, this city has been celebrating the Feast of Saturn in one form or another. Cologne's Carnival is known as the “Fifth Season”, and it has become world famous for the “three mad days” at the height of the celebration. Every year on Rose Monday more than a million people watch the Rose Monday Parade as it winds its way through the streets of the city.

Carnival is always chaotic: it turns life upside-down. It destroys the structure of daily life---people are encouraged to cross over barriers, break rules and violate customs

---Carnival literally demands excess. It's a time to make fun of famous people, respected cultural symbols and traditional social events. It is a time to satirize everything the society values. But the party only last for a short time.

To a certain extent, Carnival is designed to show people that chaos is not what they want to live with on a regular basis. And that a structure is essential for the survival of a community, and at the end of Carnival a structure is always reestablished.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Vatican City - #703

BURT WOLF: On October 16th 1978, Karol Wojtyla entered a small room in St Peter’s Basilica, put on a white robe, a short red cape and a white scull cap. A few minutes later he stood at a balcony facing St. Peter’s Square. He had become John Paul II, the 264th

Pope, the spiritual leader of one out of every five people on the planet. As “the Holy Father”, he headed an institution that had outlasted the Roman Empire, encompassed more territory than the lands of Alexander the Great and had a more significant impact on history than the dynasties of Spain, France and England combined. He could influence the behavior of government officials in their anti-rooms, corporations in their boardrooms and private citizens in their bedrooms.

I wanted to know why the Papacy became so important. What it’s been doing for the past 2000 years and what was it going to be doing in the future.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The first thing I learned is that the history of the Papacy is not just the history of the Catholic Church. The story of the Papacy is actually an essential part of the history of the entire world.

BURT WOLF: Christ was a traveling rabbi who preached in Palestine. His life on earth, death and resurrection were seen as having been prophesized in the sacred books of Judaism. His followers were centralized in Jerusalem but within a decade of his death, Christianity began spreading throughout the Middle East. The primary messenger was St. Paul.

Paul was a well-educated Roman citizen who believed that Christ’s message was not only for the Jews. Paul taught that Christianity offered everyone the opportunity to be reconciled with God. Paul was the messenger of the early Church but not the leader.

That was the responsibility of Peter, a fisherman from Galilee who became the spokesman for the Apostles. 

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: To understand the Papacy, I think we have to begin by understanding the Apostles. These are Disciples of Jesus that he chose, and then he commissioned to go out into the world and teach. So essentially, the Papacy is a teaching office. But then Peter has something else.

Peter from the beginning is seen as someone who has received revelation from the Father, and a special commission and authority from the Son. And so he's seen at the beginning as the head of the Church in Jerusalem. He goes to Rome and is seen as the head of the Church in Rome. And this special status is respected from the very beginning. 

BURT WOLF: At the time, Rome was the center of the Empire and had a thriving Jewish population of about 50,000. They were in close touch with the Jews of Palestine and were well aware of the events surrounding Christ.

MONSIGNOR WILLIAM A. KERR ON CAMERA: The Jewish Diaspora had Jewish peoples living all over the Roman Empire, but many had migrated and settled in Rome. There was a strong Jewish community, a section of Rome almost, that was Jewish, and these persons were integrated into the Empire, they were powerful, they were significant. But they were also held in suspicion by the Romans. They became interested early on in what was going on in Jerusalem, they became interested in the Christ, they began to convert to Christianity, and when Peter and Paul came to them, they were welcomed by these people.

They were curious, they wanted to hear what Peter and Paul had to say, but they also wanted to be instructed by them. 

BURT WOLF: Christianity was spreading quickly and the Emperor Nero took notice of both Peter and Paul. He was offended by their teachings and in the middle of the first century had them put to death. But that did little to stop the growth of Christianity. The followers of Christ continued to practice their faith.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They met in private homes and market places. There was no single individual in charge and many conflicting opinions as to what was the “true” faith. It became increasingly apparent that a more structured approach was necessary. The answer became the Papacy a single bishop carrying on the tradition of St Peter.


BURT WOLF: Today Rome’s Vatican City is the epicenter of the Papacy. With a population of only 550 and a landmass of just over 100 acres, it’s the world’s smallest independent state. It has its own newspaper with an international circulation. Its own book publisher. Its own television network. Its own police force. Its own stamps and a postal service to go along with them.

It also has its own radio station that went on the air in 1931.

ANNOUNCER: The Pope for the first time in the nineteen hundred years Catholicism has sent his voice throughout the world. With this broadcast his Holiness celebrates the ninth anniversary of his coronation as Pope Pius the XI…

BURT WOLF: It was one of the first international stations and was actually built by Marconi who was the inventor of wireless communication.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The world Vatican comes from a Latin word meaning prophecy and during Roman times Vatican Hill was a place where fortune-tellers would offer their advice, for a fee, to the general public.

BURT WOLF: During the first century a racetrack was built nearby and used by the emperor Nero to stage elaborate spectacles. His favorite was killing Christians.

Nero’s circus is gone, replaced by St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican. It was built in 1656 and is almost the same size as the ancient Roman Forum. It’s partially enclosed by two semicircular colonnades. Above the colonnades are statues of saints and martyrs.

The double-colonnades symbolize the outstretched arms of the Church, welcoming and protecting the faithful. It is considered to be one of the worlds finest examples of civic architecture and can hold over 250,000 people.The square is the approach to St. Peter’s Basilica.


BURT WOLF: Historians believe that the basilica was built right next to the spot where St. Peter was martyred. As a condemned criminal he was not permitted a normal burial so his remains were secretly recovered and placed in the public necropolis on Vatican Hill.

In 1940, workmen digging below the basilica found a burial chamber that dated to the first century. A small space below the chamber appeared to be the tomb of St. Peter. That belief is supported by an adjacent wall that is covered with the names of pilgrims asking for St. Peter’s help.

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: And then they found something very unusual, or, you might say they didn't find something they expected and that was there were no feet on the skeleton. And you remember, Saint Peter was crucified upside down, so they surmise the easiest way for the Romans to take him down was simply to cut him off at the feet and let the body drop. Peter had chosen a successor, Linus, as the next Bishop of Rome, and it was Linus who took the body, and with colleagues, buried it.

BURT WOLF: At the beginning of the 4th century, Constantine, was the emperor of Rome and believed that a dream with a vision of the cross gave him an important military victory. He converted and made Christianity the official religion of the empire.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Constantine’s conversion may or may not have been heartfelt, but it was definitely part of his big plan, he did everything he could to advance the Christians standing within the Romans and at the same time everything he could to advance his own standing with the Christians.

BURT WOLF: In 323, he ordered the construction of a huge basilica designed to sit directly above the cemetery where the remains of St. Peter were buried.

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: It was a difficult project because number one he wanted to put the altar of the church right over the tomb of St. Peter which meant he had to cover a pagan cemetery which was sacred ground and aristocracy was buried there so very controversial. Secondly it’s on a hillside. He’s got to move tons of earth and third he’s got a stream moving through it. So he’s got to work around the stream. In any event he builds the Basilica but he goes through all of that effort, all of that controversy, because he wants the Basilica over the tomb of St. Peter. Why, because St. Peter is so revered by the early church.

BURT WOLF: Additional churches and monasteries were constructed alongside the basilica, as well as buildings to house and feed the thousands of pilgrims who came to pay tribute to St. Peter. The basilica itself stood up to continual use for 1200 years. 

But during the 1400s it began to disintegrate and a plan was developed for a new structure. Michelangelo built a 16-foot high model of the dome so he could make a series of stress tests. His dome was 137 feet wide and 440 feet above the floor of the basilica. He was an artist, an architect and an engineer.

Work got under way in 1450 but like most construction projects it ran over budget. To help raise the needed funds the Church offered to pray for your well being in the afterlife in exchange for a meaningful donation during your present life. Some people considered this scandalous and it became a major irritant for Martin Luther. Construction on St. Peter’s also ran a little late. The opening dedication took place in 1626---226 years after workers began digging the foundation.

Today St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world.


BURT WOLF: In 1508, Pope Julius II entered his private chapel. Walking next to him was Michelangelo, considered to be one of the greatest artists of the time. The Pope pointed to the ceiling, looked at Michelangelo and said, “Paint it.” Michelangelo spent the next four years of his life standing on a scaffold and painting a fresco. He even made sketches of himself at work.

A fresco is produced by putting fresh plaster on a surface and then painting a picture on the plaster. The artist uses paints that are made from colored powder mixed with water. When the water dries out the powder sets into the plaster. The color becomes a permanent part of the wall or in this case the ceiling. It’s the perfect medium for large murals, but it’s a difficult technique. The painter must work fast, completing a section before the plaster is dry and mistakes cannot be corrected by overpainting. Make a mistake and you must start again with fresh plaster.

The fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is considered to be one of the greatest works of art. It presents events from the Old Testament.

The Popes were good clients for Michelangelo, and Pope Paul III brought him back to paint the west wall of the chapel. He was eighty years old.

Today the Sistine Chapel is the room used by the Sacred College of Cardinals when they meet to elect a new Pope.


BURT WOLF: On the night of August 10th 1992, a section of the mosaic covering the dome of the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament broke off and fell 400 feet to the floor below. Rainwater had seeped into the ceiling and weakened the glue that held the mosaic chips to the dome. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but a restoration program was needed and it had to begin immediately.

A mosaic is made by taking pieces of colored glass, marble or stone and pasting them onto a surface that has been prepared with glue. The ancient Romans learned the technique from the Greeks and used it to decorate their homes and temples.

By the third century mosaics were being used to present sacred images.

At the time, people were loosing interest in sculpture and the mosaic gradually took over as the most convincing way to picture a religious event.

When the great paintings inside St. Peter’s Basilica began to deteriorate in the 1600s they were recreated in mosaic. But if you didn’t know that and you didn’t look for the tiny stones, you’d think they were paintings.

The restoration program for the dome was undertaken by the Mosaic Studio of the Vatican. Its work dates back to the 1500s and it is considered to be the finest mosaic studio in the world. It also has the largest collection of the stones that are used to produce the works.

The artists have about 30,000 different colors to choose from and there are samples for each color. On the back of each chip is the identification number.

In the next room there are hundreds of bins filled with the tiles that are necessary to make the mosaic. Each number on the samples matches up with the numbers on the bins. Almost all of the tiles where made here in the Vatican mosaic studio. And many are hundreds of years old. 

Some of the tiny chips are stone, some are marble and some are glass. The glass chips are produced in the studio.

Small pieces of glass mixed with chemicals that give it color are fussed together at a temperature of 800 degrees centigrade.

The hot glass is pulled at both ends to produce a filament. A bladed hammer and a wedge of steel are used to cut the filament into the size and shape that the artist wants for a specific spot in the mosaic.

The mosaic on the dome was put in place in 1656 and presents the “The mystery of the Eucharist”.

The only way to work on it was to build a scaffold up to the vault.

Each section of the mosaic that needed repair was copied and coordinated on numbered sheets that were fixed to the vault. When the chips were reattached the bonding glue was made from an ancient recipe that combined marble dust, lime, and flax oil.

The restoration took almost two years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The funding came from The Knights of Columbus in the United States who were attracted to the project because of its cultural and artistic importance and because they felt it stood as a metaphor for life.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They pointed out that a mosaic is made by placing one stone next to another stone until we have a masterwork and that life is similar. We place one minute next to the next minute until we are the masterwork of the Divine Artist. 


BURT WOLF: On the 22nd of April, in the year 1300, Pope Boniface VIII stood on the balcony of the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano and announced the first Jubilee Year. He had gotten the idea from the biblical book of Leviticus which described a jubilee year that took place every fifty years and required that all slaves be freed and all debts paid.

Pope Boniface declared that anyone who came to Rome during the Jubilee Year, confessed their sins and visited St. Peter’s would be pardoned from the temporal punishment that was due as a result of those sins.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It was like saying to your kid, “You’re forgiven, but you still have to pay the consequences”. Not a free flight but definitely the ultimate bonus miles program. And everybody who could take advantage of the offer came to Rome. During that single year, over a million people visited this city.

BURT WOLF: The Church intended to mark every hundredth year as a Holy Year. But in 1334, the interval was shortened to 33 years, the length of the life of Christ. In 1464 Pope Paul II cut it down to 25 years. The quarter-century spacing has been in use ever since.

A Holy Year begins on the preceding Christmas Eve when the Pope opens the Holy Door, the Porta Santa of St. Peter’s. Traditionally the Pope would used aver hammer to knock down a temporary wall that was erected in front of the door, after that, the door was opened. But there are also special occasions that call for a Holy Year. 1983 was a Holy Year that marked 1,950 years since the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In 1500, the name was changed from Jubilee Year to Holy Year but the offer of forgiveness remained.

BURT WOLF: The visits enhance the image of the Papacy. People discovered the extraordinary buildings that had been commissioned by the Popes. They saw the art that came into being at the command of the Popes. They witnessed the pageantry that honored the saints. And they heard music that was specifically composed to lift the hearts of the faithful. They went back to their homes throughout Europe with a new awareness of the importance of the Papacy. More than any organization in the history of the world the Papacy has promoted tourism and tourism has promoted tolerance and understanding.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In many ways the history of the Papacy is similar to the history of any large institution---you have your good days and your not so good days. Of course in the case of the Papacy you’re looking at centuries not days. Nevertheless, you can look back over its 2000-year history and see that it is clearly the source of some of our greatest achievements.

For Travels & Traditions, I'm Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Christmas in Vienna - #702

BURT WOLF: Christmas is celebrated in cities throughout the world, but what takes place in the Austrian city of Vienna is unique. These are the darkest days of the year and the need to be reminded that the sun will return goes back to prehistoric times. The ancient Romans handled the problem with the Feast of the Unconquered Sun, which declared that sun filled days were just around the corner.

As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire the idea of light overcoming the powers of darkness became a symbol for the birth of Christ---the arrival of hope when times were darkest.

For centuries, Christ was called the “Unconquered Sun” and the straw radiating like rays of light from the baby Jesus in the manger is a visual presentation of that idea. The theme of Christ bringing light to the world is the reason fires and bright objects are part of the Christmas celebration.

Vienna has been celebrating the Unconquered Sun, in one form or another, for over 2,000 years. 


BURT WOLF: Central to Vienna’s celebration are the Christmas markets. The Viennese have been setting them up since the year 1296 when the Emperor decided that the markets were needed in order to guarantee sufficient supplies to the population during Christmas.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: One of the central rules for a festival is that the festival itself and the things associated with it must be temporary. By the very nature a festival is something out of the ordinary, not part of the everyday. And if it stays around too long it loses its impact. One of the reasons that food is so important is that food doesn’t last long.

BURT WOLF: The ancient Roman festival that predated Christmas made no special reference to children or family, but the story of the birth of the Christ child changed the focus of the holiday---children and family became central to the festivities. Vienna’s City Hall is transformed into a fairy tale world for kids with luminous hearts, giant sweets, golden leaves and glittering stars. There’s an old Viennese carousel. A mini-railway. And pony rides. Inside the hall, there is a workshop where experts help children make their own Christmas presents or bake their own cookies. The City Hall market is a traditional market and the oldest in the city.


BURT WOLF: December 6th is St. Nicholas Day and St. Nicholas dressed as a bishop walks through the streets passing out candy. St. Nicholas is often accompanied by his “dark side”, a scary fur-covered creature called Krampus. Sometimes, Nicholas will question children as to their behavior during the past year. Parents often warn their children that if they don't behave properly Krampus will carry them off. It's difficult to estimate the number of children who have gone into therapy as a result of this experience but there appears to be little concern---after all---Vienna was the home town of Sigmund Freud.


BURT WOLF: The Christmas market is also the place to buy your Christmas tree. Ancient societies from the Celts to the Egyptians marked the darkest days of winter by decorating their homes with evergreen plants.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: In Catholic communities, the Christ Child, The Three Kings and St. Nicholas were represented in human form. But the Protestant community didn’t think that was appropriate, so during the 1500s they introduced the Christmas tree.

BURT WOLF: It was man-sized but had no personality. It could signify Christmas in an abstract way and was therefore thought to be pure. Like Christmas, the tree was new every year and yet it was always the same---bringing light during the darkest days of the year. And it took over the role of the Three Kings and St. Nicholas by bringing presents. Eventually Catholics decided that the tree was okay and Protestants decided that even though

St. Nick was human, he was still welcome. 

Austrian families often have homemade Christmas tree decorations or a collection that they purchased over the years in the market. They are passed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms.


BURT WOLF: Vienna was built at the crossroads of two major trade routes. The north-south axis was the Amber Road that went from Northern Germany to Greece. The east-west traffic was handled by the Danube River. The Danube was essential for the growth of international trade. Vienna got rich because the city controlled the traffic heading down river.

And Vienna was controlled by the Hapsburgs. The Hapsburg family came to power at end of the 1200s and hung onto it for almost 700 years. This is Schonbrunn Palace, it was their summer place. Now, most royal families increased their land and their power by using military might, but the Hapsburgs used marriage.

It all started when Maximilian who married Mary, the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, which added the Netherlands and Luxembourg to his lands in Austria. Then Max’s son Phil married Joan, the heiress of Castile. And that got him Spain and Naples and Sicily and Sardinia and all the newly conquered Spanish lands in the Americas.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: These guys were getting married all over the place and getting all the places where they got married. But at one point they made a fatal mistake. In order to avoid anybody marrying a Hapsburg and getting their land they started marrying each other---

a genetic disaster. It’s good to have a close family but not that close.

BURT WOLF: Swimming in the same gene pool made them weirder and weirder and in the end they lost everything.

Fortunately, what they lost is now on display to the public.


BURT WOLF: Robert Tidmarsh has been a senior guide to Schonbrunn Palace for over twenty years.

ROBERT TIDMARSH ON CAMERA: This room is the so called Marie Antoinette Room; it dates back to the time of the Emperor. What we've done is to try to show the public what a dining room was like at the time of the Emperor.

The napkins are the so called Kaiser Serviette. They're shaped similar to a fleur d'lys, and they were used, or are used for the head of state. Even today when we have a state reception, if the President of Austria gives the reception then they will use the Kaiser Serviette. If it's the Chancellor, then they don't. 

The Master of Ceremonies chose the length of the candles. So if it was going to be a long reception he would use long candles, if it was going to be a short reception, the short ones. Most of the people that came to a state reception were Austrians that had been to thousands of receptions before, and they would automatically look at the chandeliers to see how long the reception was going to take.

The Emperor ate very quickly, which is not quite true. If he did, he would have looked like me. He ate very little and finished very quickly, and that led to a problem. 

As soon as the Emperor stopped eating everybody else was obliged to stop.

Most of the restaurants near to the Schonbrunn or near to the Hofburg or the hotels, knew about the problem. They knew that the reception would be over very quickly, and they were getting ready for the end of the reception. And the end of the reception would have been that moment, as soon as the Emperor stopped eating and everybody left the Hofburg or Schonbrunn and went to the next best hotel for a meal.

BURT WOLF: Schonbrunn has its own Christmas market with a focus on hand crafts, decorations and food.

Families shop for Christmas tree decorations that will be passed down from one generation to the next.

Festive candles bring light and wonderful fragrances.

The most significant things offered for sale in the Christmas market are foods and things made of food. 

At the market, stands are loaded with Kaiserschmarren, a traditional dessert made from fluffy pancakes that have been scrambled and topped with jam.

Another holiday tradition is hot mulled wine. It's wine that's been sweetened and spiced. Warms you inside and out.

And every weekend during the Christmas season Mozart’s Magic Flute is presented in the marionette theater.

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: This Company in Vienna existed 10 years in the castle of Schonbrunn and also this very famous tradition, because Maria Theresa, you now her?

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Yes, well not personally.

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: Not personally because it was 250 years ago ---something like that.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I'm old but I'm not that old.

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: Not that old, no---she had marionettes here in the castle of Schonbrunn 250 years also --- you know Joseph Haydn?


MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: He was the composer and they did lots of operas for marionettes. Yeah he was famous at this time.


MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: Then he got a short break and we are here since 10 years now.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Wonderful. What made you want to be a puppet?

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: The Magic Flute is very special for marionettes you know. As marionettes sometimes they can do things on stage what human people cannot do.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: How many performances do you have a year?

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: We have The Magic Flute opera all year long.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I understand you have some new make-up.

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: Ah yes new make-up. Juts a few days ago because I have to do kisses with Papa Gino and when I do too much kissing my make-up is not so nice.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Do you guys always get along?

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: Yes we always get along.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: No tension, no anxiety?


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You're in wonderful shape do you have a special diet?

MARIONETTE ON CAMERA: Oh I have many performances and I always have to jump something like that…

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So your physical exercise is part of the program.




BURT WOLF: Along with Christmas food and Christmas trees, Christmas music plays an essential role. There are thousands of musical compositions from Silent Night to Jingle Bells that are only played at Christmas and they always bring back memories of the celebration. Silent Night, by the way, is Austria’s most beloved Christmas carol. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 in a small Austrian village.

During the second half of the 1700s, the Hapsburgs played a critical role in turning Vienna into the music capital of Europe--- a title which it held onto for over 100 years. Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, and Mahler all worked in Vienna.

At Christmas time the city is filled with music and some of the finest can be heard as part of the regular church services.


BURT WOLF: A central element in Vienna’s Christmas celebration is Advent.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Advent is a four-week period leading up to Christmas. It represents the 4,000 years of the Old Testament that were thought to have existed between creation and the birth of Jesus.

BURT WOLF: One of the most common traditions during Advent is the keeping of an Advent calendar. It's made up of a series of miniature doors---one for each day from the first day of Advent

through Christmas, and each day, one of the doors is opened. Inside is a picture or a saying or a little present---a little promo for what’s coming up.


BURT WOLF: The tradition of Nativity scenes outside a church goes back to St. Francis of Assisi. In the year 1223, St. Francis set up a live Nativity scene in the forest, he used a manger and real animals and invited the local population to come and join him in celebrating the birth of the Christ Child. At a time when very few people could read or write the scene was a powerful teaching tool.

In Austria, the custom of setting up a nativity scene at Christmas began in the mid-1500s. The early scenes were simple---Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, and a few animals. But as the tradition took hold additional biblical elements were added. The shepherds joined in and the Three Kings arrived with their gifts. Eventually, the entire village of Bethlehem surrounded the manger.


BURT WOLF: The Imperial Hotel was originally built as a palace for the Duke of Wurttemberg. But when the Duke heard that a new street was going to pass near the building he decided to move to the suburbs. He sold his palace and never really lived here. The new owner had it refurbished into a hotel. But it still feels like a palace. 

During the month of December the hotel presents the dishes that make up the traditional foods of Christmas in Vienna.

The usual pre-Christmas meal on Christmas Eve is rather simple. The main dish is fish, most often carp. It is considered to be a sign of good fortune if you get the fish roe with your portion. It’s a common belief that a lot of little eggs will bring you a lot of good luck. The vegetable dishes usually include beets and cabbage.

The Christmas Eve meal is simple, but the Christmas feast, which in Vienna is the mid-day meal on Christmas Day, is anything but plain. At the Imperial Hotel's Christmas gathering, the meal begins with a Truffled Terrine with Mango Chutney.

The second course is Consommé with Cep Mushrooms and Pistachio Dumplings. 

Roast Goose is the traditional main course and its served with Imperial Stuffing made with Red Cabbage and Apples. Every family will have its own stuffing recipe which will often include sauerkraut, dried fruits, apples or chestnuts. At any feast we try to do two things: we make an effort to show that we are united, a part of a group, but while at the same time we try to show our individuality. The goose is a universal container; it’s the same bird that’s being roasted by all the other families. But the stuffing is unique. It is the family stuffing and makes one family different from all the others.

And there are dozens of sweet desserts like a Soufflé of Gingerbread with Chocolate Sauce and Stewed Kumquats.

And there are lots of festive breads. Christstollen is a good example---filled with nuts, raisins and dried fruits, it's the Austrian answer to Christmas pudding.

Apples and nuts are important symbols for Christmas. The apple represents the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. It’s an ancient fruit, bright and shiny; it symbolizes hope and light during the darkness of winter. Austrians have been making apples part of their Christmas celebration for hundreds of years. Nuts represent destiny and life’s great puzzles. You must break them open to find out what’s going on inside.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Red and green are the colors of Christmas. Red reminds us of summer warmth and fresh flowers and green is for the leaves that we hope will return to the trees. Santa Claus is always red and green is the color of real Christmas trees.


BURT WOLF: Of all the foods associated with Christmas in Vienna, the most significant are the cookies and they are on sale throughout the city.

The official home of Vienna’s cookie monster is Demel. Demel got started in 1786 when a confectionary assistant settled in Vienna and started selling decorated baked goods. His shop, which served coffee and hot chocolate along with the pastries, became a gathering spot for the local aristocracy and his cookies became an essential part of Vienna’s Christmas celebration.


BURT WOLF: At some point during Vienna’s Christmas celebration you will end up in a coffee house. Coffee houses have been part of Viennese life since the 1600s. Coffee originated in Ethiopia, and by the sixth century Arab communities in the area were cultivating coffee. The Moslem sect called the Dervishes loved the stuff. They realized that when they drank coffee, they had more energy and they were able to stay up longer. That gave them more time at prayer. So they figured it was a gift from God. They called it 'kava,' which is where our word coffee comes from. Moslem armies attacked Vienna in 1683. When their siege failed and they headed back to the Near East, they left behind sacks of coffee beans. The Viennese discovered it, figured out how to brew it and opened up their first coffee house. A coffee house is a place to read the newspaper, play a game of billiards, have a light meal or a dessert, a glass of wine, and definitely a cup of coffee. The waiters in a true Viennese coffee house will be dressed in tuxedos and they will offer you over 20 different types of coffee and with each cup there will be a small glass of water to aid your digestion.


BURT WOLF: Vienna celebrates a very traditional Christmas, with most of the religious elements in place. But there are cities around the world where people feel that the religious aspects have been pushed out and the only thing that's left is the need to buy presents. But gift-giving is a central part of the story of Christmas.

The Christ Child was a present from god. The Three Kings brought presents for the child in the manger. And we're expected to respond to God's generosity by continuing to give gifts.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that Christmas offers us the opportunity to remember that the most important lights may not be the lights around us but the lights inside us. And the darker the outside world looks the more important it is to keep the lights inside us from going out.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.