On the road – Finding truffles (l’Or des Valois) with Elf, the lagotto romagnole

At Château d’Entre Deux Monts – the truffle farm (truffles are “the gold of the Valois” or “l’Or des Valois”)

At the Château d’Entre Deux Monts Thierry Bézeux and his family grow truffles, convert them to truffle delicacies (sold in the boutique) and in addition show tourists their truffles (visits to their orchard and truffle tastings). Tripadvisor gives good reports. Larissa has visited and liked this place before and has arranged a visit with us.

The Burgundy truffles are also called “the Gold of the Valois”” or “l’Or des Valois” (The Valois were kings of France from the early 14th to the late 16th century, then the Bourbons took over with Henry IV).

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Finding the Château with l’Or des Valois

There is a mysterious mist lying over the hills above the Côte de Nuits and the village Nuits-Saint George.

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Hidden in the mist is the Château d’Entre Deux Monts de Thierry Bézeux.

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The boutique is open and Thierry Bézeux welcomes us.

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Looking for truffles in the “truffle orchard” – with Elf

The son of Thierry and his dog Elf take us to their “truffle orchard” planted with trees that truffles like. I later found a study about growing truffles in the US, and they say that the Burgundy truffle is well suited for plantations, in particular with trees such as hazelnut and oak, but can only be harvested with a dog, as they grow under the ground.

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Elf is a lagotto romagnole, similar to a poodle. When Yann opens the gate to the orchard, she starts to run around and immediately finds the first truffle hidden under the ground. Elf loves truffles and wants to eat the black ball it found, but Yann stops her and gives her a dog bisquit instead. Maybe the bisquit has a truffle taste, at least?

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Elf continues to look for more truffles. Sometimes she loses interest in truffles and sniffs around the trees. Perhaps a badger (blaireau in French) has visited the orchard and Elf is reading what the bagder has to say. In the end, we have a handful of truffles to take home. Thank you, Elf.

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Back in the castle, we taste the truffle delicacies

Back in the château we find the table set for our truffle tasting: Mustard, terrine of rabbit and pintade (guinea fowl or цеcарка), cheese, sauce aux truffes d’Italie, some slices of fresh truffle, ham with parsley (jambon persillé), saucisson, ice cream (glace) and Ratatruffe (Marc de Bourgogne marinated with truffles). The Ratatruffe may have influenced my camera… in the internet there are bettter images of this tasting set.

 

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My thanks in the Château guest book

There is a guest book on the table and I leave this entry: « Merci, Elf, tu as bien travaillé, et j’aimerais bien savoir ce que le blaireau t’as raconté. La degustation était délicieuse. Petra de Bâle en Suisse.” (Thank y ou, Elf, you have worked well, and I would like to know, what the badger has told you. The tasting was delicious.)

 

On the road – our Sunday tastings in Chablis: William Fèvre and La Chablisienne

Our first day in Chablis was a Sunday. A  few wine making places are open on Sundays, amongst them the boutiques of La Chablisienne and of William Fèvre. No reservations are needed. Great.

On that Sunday, we also visited the Chablis market…

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… and Auxerre with its beautiful gothic church of St. Etienne.

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La Chablisienne – valued in Pocket Johnson and surely worth visiting with its broad selection of wines

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La Chablisienne is a Cooperative that makes wines for about 300 wine growers. They are the largest wine maker in Chablis. They offer wines from a broad variety of climats (about 30 different Chablis wines), and they own the Château Grand Cru “Grenouilles”, the smallest of the seven Grands Crus terroirs (they acquired the quasi-monopole of Grenouilles in 1999).

Jean-Michel guides us through our tasting – with a lot of charm – listening and reacting, e.g. by bringing another Grenouilles from a different year… This is what we tasted:

  • Beauroy 1er Cru: Fruity – perhaps quince. Nose is more pronounced than taste.
  • Vaulorent 1er Cru : Fruity – perhaps quince and nuts. Nose also stronger than taste.
  • Fourchaume 1er Cru 2013: Young, fruity – orange, both nose and taste. Would like it with shellfish. Liked it and bought a bottle.
  • Montmains 1er Cru 2009: Liked it and bought a bottle.
  • Les Preuses Grand Cru 2011: More yellow than 1er Cru, less acidity, flowery, can imagine it with Asian food. Can age more.
  • Les Grenouilles Grand Cru 2007: Ready to drink, salty, mineral note, but somewhat ponderous (on “heavy feet” or “schwerfüssig”). 2010 is fresher than 2007.

It is surely worth visiting La Chablisienne with its broad selection. On  our Sunday they also hosted a cheese tasting event. Unfortunately, the cheese tasting lady was a little grumpy.

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William Fèvre – “three stars” in Pocket Johnson and a lot of enthusiasm in the boutique – for me my second tasting highlight in Chablis

William Fèvre has three stars in the “Pocket Johnson”. For lack of family heirs, he sold his business to Henriot in 1998. He has the largest Grand Crus possessions in Chablis.

His boutique is nicely set up. To illustrate the terroir, there are brochures and samples of the Kimmeridgian soil. I enjoy the enthusiasm that the boutique assistant shows when explaining the Kimmeridgian stone samples to us. I ask him why William Fèvre is called “William”, though the family has long lived in Chablis – no Anglosaxon background. He smiles. And then tells me the story: When William was born, his parents could not agree on his name. After three days, the mayor reset the date of birth and gave him the name “William”. The assistant sees the “Pocket Johnson” in my hands. “May I see, what Johnson has written about us, I have not checked this out recently”, he says and then adds: “I have met Johnson once, he is an impressive person.”

This is what we tasted:

  • Petit Chablis 2013: Fresh, brisk, on “light feet” (“leichtfüssig”)
  • “Plain” Chablis: Almost no nose, a little more dense than the Petit Chablis
  • Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Montmains:  Round and crispy, I liked it again (liked it already at Chablisienne)
  • Chablis 1er Cru 2012, Mont de Milieu: Mineral taste, I like it less than Montmains.
  • Grand Cru Les Preuses: They assemble the wine from two vineyards in this climat, the one having more sun in the morning, the other more in the evening.
  • Grand Cru Les Clos: Touch of peach, sold out, but still some half bottles from 2010 left .

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I buy a half bottle of Petit Chablis (great for an apéritif in summer), a half bottle of Les Clos and a bottle of  Montmains. The assistant packs my buyings carefully into boxes, whereby he fixes the half bottles with a “collar” to prevent them from bouncing in the box. I like these details. To me it shows that the winemaker is caring about his wines and his clients.

On the road – my Chablis tasting highlight: Patrick Piuze

Finding Patrick Piuze

When doing my research about Chablis, I came across Patrick Piuze . The “Pocket Johnson” mentioned him and on the Internet there were great comments.

Larissa was also impressed. I wrote an email to Patrick referring to the comments found. And the next day, I called. Patrick and his partner were very welcoming and we arranged a tasting for Wednesday morning, our last day in Chablis.

This is Patrick’s address: 25, rue Emile Zola in Chablis. We have found the address, but there are no signs, and no plates – nothing. Eventually, we see the label on the letter box: “Patrick Piuze”, in small letters. That is all. I ring the bell, and Patrick opens the gate. He gives us a friendly welcome and makes things clear right away: “You cannot buy any wine – I am sold out for 2014, but for the tasting, there is no problem.” And later he adds: “Usually, I do not make wine tastings for private people, but Petra was really insisting by writing and calling…”

Patrick has an interesting background – and I think that explains also his approach to winemaking. In a way he is an outsider in Chablis. He grew up in Canada, did not like school and traveled – working, when he needed money. He learnt about the wine growing business in Australia, South Africa and then came to Chablis, where he worked for Brocard.

Some years ago, Patrick started his own business buying grapes (often harvesting them himself) and producing his own wine. One of his specialties are (plain) Chablis wines from one terrain to bring them to a higher level. And he makes also 1er and Grand Cru selections. Patrick sells his wine to wholesalers in 30 countries.

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The tasting: Patrick has prepared this “barrel” table for us

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These were the wines we tasted (with my own personal impressions):

  • Terroir de Fye 2012,  2010 (“plain” Chablis from one climat): Round, herbs, acidity.
  • Vaillons, Melinots, 2010 (“plain” Chablis from one climat, warmest corner of Chablisienne with clay): more fruity.
  • Vaucoupin 2009 (1er Cru – slope exposed to the west, as I remember from the explanations): Flowery, metallic, “round”.
  • Bougros (Grand Cru): Rich, dense, fruity, good for aging.
  • Les Clos, 2012 (Grand Cru): fruity, “more heavy legs” (“schwerfüssiger”), for ageing.

I am overly happy to see my friends smile, when tasting the wines of Patrick. They never frown. For each glass they try I see a nodding compliment.

Patrick explained that he does not look for specific tastes such as lychees and quinces for “fruity” or violets and roses for “flowery”. He is just interested in the texture and whether he finds fruit, flowers, herbs or acidity. This makes him down to earth for me, and his honest modesty might also be part of his success. Modesty also speaks from Patrick’s Website: “Je tiens par-dessus tout à respecter le travail des ancêtres qui ont dessiné ce terroir, et j’essaie de trouver avec humilité mon identité de vigneron dans la splendeur et la diversité du terroir de Chablis.” (It is most important for me to respect the work of our ancestors that have shaped this terroir and I aspire  humbly to find my identity as a winemaker in the shine and diversity of the Chablis terroir).

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Where to get Patrick’s wines

Back at home I searched who sells the wines of Patrick in Basel and found that DuBonVin has them. I will surely visit this shop very soon to have some of his wines in my cellar.

On the road – The jurassic Kimmeridgian is the secret of my favorite Chardonnay, the Chablis wines

After thirty years it was great to be back in Chablis in 2014 and to reexperience my favorite Chardonnay that grows on the rocks from jurassic times called Kimmeridgian.

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My memories of Chablis from 30 years ago – an unplanned happy event

In the 1980’s and in my thirties, we visited Chablis on a Sunday. Only the bakery was open. There was a long queue – the French do not forgo their baguette on Sundays. We asked, whether it would be possible to taste wine today. “Yes”, one of the men standing in line says, “my cousin is a winegrower. He has 1er Cru wines, not here in Chablis, but nearby in Milly. I can take you there right now.” “No, no, we have enough time, please buy your Sunday baguette first and then we will follow your car”, we answer happily. He buys his baguette and then we follow him to Milly. Henri Coulaudin opens the door, welcomes us by taking his hat off and bowing down, as if we were the king of France. We follow him to his cellar and taste his wines. I liked the clean crispiness of his 1er Cru. For years I had his 1er Crus Côte de Léchet and Côte de Tonnerre in my cellar and we exchanged wonderful letters (French is a beautiful language). Then we lost one another out of sight. As I am now in my sixties, he must be in his seventies. I keep this great memory of our visit to Chablis that we experienced thirty years ago…

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Now I am back in Chablis with my Russian friends – the town has become more organized

Now I am back and notice that Chablis has received this pretty plate announcing “la Ville de Chablis” (the town of Chablis)…

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… and that the streets have become calmer – there is “zone 30”.

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What is Chablis? It is Chardonnay wine growing on jurassic rocks

This is the map of the wines around the town of Chablis, as shown by Johnson. The Grands Crus are dark purple. Les Clos is the largest climat. The 1er Cru climats are light purple with terrain names. Without terrain labels the wines are Chablis or Petit Chablis.

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Source: Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson: “The World Atalas of Wine”, Mitchell Beazley, 2005

The soil of the Grand Cru and (most) 1er Cru wines is the older jurassic Kimmeridgian formation consisting of limestone, clay and fossiles, while Chablis and Petit Chablis grow on the younger (also jurassic) Portlandian sediment (both named after places in England). It is said that the organic fossiles create the mineral/flintstone character of the Chablis wines. Typically their color is yellow-green.  (Sources: Wikipedia, “Johnson World Atlas”, “Pocket Johnson” and Laure Casparotto: “L’Atlas des Vins de France”, Editions de Monza 2012).

To get an overview of the vineyards, Katja drives our car to the Grand Crus climats. Some few grapes are still hanging on the wines. We know that nobody is going to pick them – it is November now. Hence we dare taste them. They are deliciously sweet!

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 “Chablis” sometimes means “cheap wine” – perhaps this is better for us

Larissa tells us that in the US “Chablis” means “cheap wine”. I came across that in Ushuaia (Argentina) as well. I found “Chablis” on the menu of a small restaurant, asked the waitor, whether this was Chardonnay from Chablis, and was not understood: “This is just “Chablis””, was all the explanation I could get from him. I ordered that Chablis wine and was disappointed. Now I know why. Wikipedia says that the Chablis trademark is not recognized across the world, but often means “almost any white wine”. Perhaps we should not change this and keep Chablis as a secret for us.

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Our tasting plan

Larissa has planned our wine tastings carefully. Our sources were Larissa’s friend-sommelière, Alina, the “Pocket Johnson 2014” and the Internet. We came up with this list of domains to see: Règnard, Brocard, LaRoche, La Chablisienne (cooperative making almost one third of all Chablis wines), William Fèvre (“three stars” in Johnson) and Patrick Piuze (a newcomer, sometimes compared with the top rated Davissaut and Ravenaud). This is just a small selection of domains, but we could not fit more into two and a half days.

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Result of the tastings – Chablis confirms to be my favorite Chardonnay

30 years ago, Chardonnay from Chablis became my favorite Chardonnay, and I found this confirmed now. I will come back sooner than in another thirty years – for sure!

Let me summarize my highlights and impressions from the tastings in the next blogs.

 

 

On the road – a quiet day in Noyers-sur-Sérein

While my friends drive to Champagne early in the morning, I decide to stay in Noyers-sur-Sérein to recover from my cough. I sleep in the morning, get some medicine and some honey toffees from the local pharmacy and then I set out to discover Noyers-sur-Sérein.

This is the town map. Noyers is surrounded by the river Serein. There are remains of the town wall with the gates.

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Source: Noyers-sur-Serein

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Noyers-sur-Serein is a gorgeous medieval town

This is the southern gate, called “la Porte Peinte”.

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There are half-timbered houses – 78 of them are historical monuments from the 13th to th 19th century. The streets are narrow and cobbled …

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.. some hidden behind small passages.

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Above the town are the ruins of the castle. Like in Châtillon-sur-Seine, this castle has been destroyed by Henry IV. Yes, Henri was the grand-father of Louis XIV and fostered the power of the French king paving the way for his grand-son.

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The river Sérein makes a natural water ditch that protects the town on three sides.

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The recommended walk outside the city

In front of the southern gate I find a poster that announces signed round walks. They promise houses with dry stone walls which have remained from the vineyards that surrounded Noyers until the late 19th century. After having been hit by the phylloxera, these vineyards have been abandoned, but the dry stone houses are still there. I would like to see them…

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… and set out to follow the signs. I can see the village with the surrounding hills that were vineyards.

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The next sign directs me into an “impasse” (or “dead-end street”).

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I get lost in a large garden with an open gate. I oscillate a bit, and eventually find the sign where I should have turned left (it is all at the bottom and has become faint)..

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The sign directs me to this garage. To the left there is private garden and to the right nothing but mud.

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The hiking trail is disappearing in the middle of nowhere. This can happen in France. I change my plans. I will surely find a charming place to have a tea or coffee in Noyers.

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The “Centre pour les Arts” with the large selection of tea and coffee

The “Centre pour les Arts” is just opposite of  the townhall. It is run by a friendly couple. I enter to sit down and enjoy the tasteful ambiance. I order a cup of hot chocolate. “How do you want your hot chocolate, with water or milk?” the owner asks me. “You make hot chocolate with water? Then I want it with water. Like I know it from Mexico, but this is so difficult to get here,” I answer happily. The eyes of the owner shine bright: “So you want to drink the chocolate as it should be, you are a connaisseur.” I sip my hot chocolate with a tasty biscuit. I study the menu. It has coffee from various countries in Latin America (such as Costa Rica) – a great selection. They also have tea. They assign tasting notes, like we do for wine.

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I rest, read and recover in this welcoming place that also has good reviews in Tripadvisor. I should perhaps add another review.

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“This car does not disturb ME” – a wonderful market appears in Noyers two days later and gives us another charming French experience

Our cars are parked on the Place de la Mairie. I come down in the morning to load my car, because we intend to leave for Beaune today.  I notice a lot of activity. A stand is emerging around the car of my Russian friends. “Is this your car”, the stall owner asks me. “No, THAT is my car”, and I point to my Audi. “Cette voiture -là ne me gêne pas”, he says (that car does not disturb me). When Katja comes down to repark her car, the fish seller drives in with his lorry that opens up to become a stall. He frowns at me. I say  that I had been told that my car is not in the way. “Well may be your car does not disturb HIM, but THIS is is my place.” he says pointing to my Audi. So, I move my car away as well. More stands are being installed. This is a wonderful small market with local products. We leave nevertheless, as we are have arranged to meet Patrick Piuze in Chablis.

 

On the road – a short stop over in Munich

After having recovered from my 6:35 flight from Kraków to Munich (oh Lufthansa…) in the house of my friends, I take the metro U5 to the Munich city center to say hello to some of my favorite places here.

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Karlsplatz or Stachus

The Stachus is the entry gate to the city center. The Christmas market starts here with an ice rink. I have never seen wheeled walkers (in German: Rollatoren) that support ice skaters… “Ja, sind die nicht nett?” (Yes, are they not cute?), my friend asks me, when I am back at her place.

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I buy a cup of hot wine (Glühwein) and watch the ice skating scene for a while from the terrace.

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Shopping at Stachus and in Neuhauser-/Kaufringstrasse

I try some large shops and then enter Biebl at the Stachus. I buy three cheese graters from Alessi. The shopkeeper frowns: “Now there are just a few Euros missing for your gift… let me give you a knife, you deserve it and it is Christmas time.”  Then he drops a small kitchen knife into my bag with the graters. Nice. I like smaller shops.

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In Bayern it is perfectly okay to wear a dirndl – in the theatre, at the party, at the business reception or at the wedding. There are shops selling just dirndls. When I look at some of them, I feel sad not to live in Munich. In Basel it is not possible to wear a dirndl – except perhaps at the Basel carneval when the dirndl dress matches a specific “sujet”.

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From Stachus to the Viktualienmarkt, there is one huge Christmas market with wooden stands selling everything from Christmas decoration to cloths, and of course there are many stands with hot wine, sausages, Reiberdatschi (small potato omlets) etc etc. There are many tourists and – like on the Christmas market of Kraków – I hear Russian, Swiss German, English, French and Spanish around me… there seems to be a real Christmas market tourism going on in Europe.

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Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady)

I look for a more quiet place away from the busy Christmas market scene and turn to the Frauenkirche. One of the towers is being renovated. Is the church open? – Yes it is.

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I love the Frauenkirche. It is an exceptional church in Bayern. All churches in Bayern that I know are full of decoration and a lot of gold. The Frauenkirche has suffered severely in the second world war. It has been reconstructed in the old gothic style with adding the decoration that has been saved in the war. This is not much. The decoration is unostentatious and breathes a touching solemnity that also reminds us of that ugly war.

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Alter Peter (Peterskirche or St. Peter’s church)

Most church towers have a regular shape and four clocks – one on each side. The Peterskirche is different. The tower is “flat” and an additional clock is hanging on the roof. They call this tower just “Alter Peter” (Old Peter). For me it is a symbol of the charming stubborness of the Bavarians that I love.

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Asamkirche (Asam Church)

The Asamkirche is on Sendlingerstrasse. It is a late baroque church built by the brothers Asam and it hides memories for me.

I came across the brothers Asam in Weltenburg – my mum took me there, when I was a teenager. It is a monastery located on the Danube, and I was impressed by the baroque church that the two brothers had built – as legend says, because they were in trouble in their boat, and, when saved, built this church out of gratitude. I was very impressed by the cupola that seemed to float high above me. I had never seen such a floating cupola before.

The brothers Asam also built the Asam church in Munich. It was first their private church and was then opened to the public. As a teeager, my mum introduced me also to this church –  and much later I came back several times with Ernst. Now I am here again, with my mum and Ernst in my heart.

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Dinner in the Il Sorriso with my friends

In the evening my friends take me to their favorite Italian restaurant, Il Sorriso. We have spaghetti with clams and noodles with truffles. We do not select the best Nero d’Avola, perhaps we should have asked for another bottle (would not have been a problem). The place is friendly and has a selection of postcards that guests can take with them as a souvenir. Here is an example – this card is useful for someone who is in love.

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It says: “When do we meet again? I can barely await it.”

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Back to Basel by train from Munich-Pasing

How lucky I am that I had planned to take the train to Basel instead of flying Lufthansa. Lufthansa is also on strike on Tuesday – today. Yesterday I had bought my first class ticket at the Munich main train station for 120 Euros. My SBB “Halbtax” entitles me to a discount of 25% for German trains. The lady at the counter was sighing. I was the first client that was friendly with her – before me she had been confronted with many frustrated Lufthansa passengers.

After a long evening entrenched in vivid debates with my friends, a quiet night and a wonderful breakfast, I catch the train in München-Pasing at 1 pm, settle in first class and I arrive in Basel shortly before 6 pm.

It was great to stop over in Munich on my way back from Kraków – I will do that again. And I will avoid Lufthansa…

On the road – a chilly November weekend in Kraków – the finale: Lufthansa on strike

All seems okay and I get ready to leave for Munich -on Monday  with Lufthansa…

On Sunday, I have received my boarding pass for my Monday flight.

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Around 9 pm on Sunday an email confirms my flight with Lufthansa.

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Then: Flight canceled

At 9:17 pm on Sunday I receive this SMS:

“We apologize that your flight LH623 KRK-MUC 01Dec 01:10 PM has been cancelled. Further information is available on https//m.lh.com/MjAzNTk3blFmMQ”.

Wonderful. What now? I find out that the pilots will be on strike from 12:00 PM on Monday until midnight on Tuesday. I also find a link that says “your flight has been rescheduled to 6:35 am.” Wonderful. I pay for my hotel room immediately and order a taxi for 4:30 in the  morning. This will be a morning without breakfast.

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On standby at the gate 7 on Kraków airport

On Monday 1st of December, shortly before five a.m., I stand in front of the Lufthansa check-in desk at the airport. “No,”, the lady at the counter says, “you are not on the list. Please go to the ticket office over there and stand in line to buy another ticket.” I refuse to stand in line and buy another ticket. She walks over angrily and comes back with a standby ticket. She tells me that the flight has been overbooked and my chances are not good to catch the flight, but I could give it a try. Wonderful.

I wait at the gate – I wait for an hour. At six, a friendly clergyman comes and he looks much more optimistic. A few minutes later, check-in has closed. I understand why he was more optimistic – he knew better. He gives me a boarding pass for business class, but without the right to have breakfast. We are about 4 passengers with such standby boarding cards for business class.

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Now in business class

The business class area is half empty – even with the standby passengers that are escaping the Lufthansa strike. The plane takes off. The stewardess serves breakfast. She passes me a tray. “No – thank you”, I say, “I am not allowed to have breakfast.” “Of course, you can have breakfast,” she says. The world brightens up and I enjoy my business class breakfast with a good cup of coffee.

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And then – recovering in Munich

At eight we land in  Munich. Around ten I have a second breakfast in the house of my friends… and then I go to sleep for another hour.

Why are these Lufthansa pilots constantly on strike? I later read in my newspaper NZZ that the business model of Lufthansa will change. They plan to have luxury services with the label “Lufthansa” and cheaper flights with the label “wings” (NZZ 4.12.2014, “Lufthansa setzt weiter auf Hochpreissegment”). I do hope that the label “Lufthansa” has not been damaged too much due to the repeated strikes. I fear that the brand “Lufthansa” does no longer stand for “very reliable” and no one wants to pay a luxury price for flying with them…

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Well, this was a happy end

Great, I have just managed to get to Munich before the great chaos. Kraków, no need to hold me back by asking the Lufthansa pilots to go on strike – I will come back for sure next year!