conclude that if I could stay in France for all eternity, I'd gladly do it.
But I'll be the first to confess when I'm lucky enough to be in or near
the sensational city of Strasbourg, it's a no-brainer to make the short trip
across the border for a little Teutonic interlude in irresistible Baden-Baden.
Baden-Baden feels like a German hamlet perfumed with an air
of French glamour and a healthy pinch of Russian panache.
That may sound like a curious mix but it's that multi-cultural
mélange that makes Baden Baden so singularly fascinating.
Rarely is there a feeling I enjoy more than how the heck did I get here -- a
feeling of amazement mixed with a slight unsettledness in my tummy.
If you welcome and embrace that Dorothy in Oz sensation, you already
know that's usually the moment when travel magic falls into your lap.
So you see, I'm not really "cheating" on France -- just optimistic
enough to change the channel and enjoy a short intermission.
Originating some 2,000 years ago, the Romans built extravagant baths around
the town's natural hot springs, favored by the likes of Emperor
Caracalla -- you've probably heard of him -- the wise-guy who arranged to
have his own brother murdered -- yeesh, more spa time clearly needed....
Although the original baths no longer exist -- some of the ruins
can still be seen -- Baden-Baden has a whole tourist industry
wrapped around its magnificent spa community.
And that may well be the driving force behind the surge of
spa retreat enthusiasts who arrive from Russia.
The 19th century brought many wealthy Russians to Baden-Baden's doorstep.
Social climbers desired the same indulgences that attracted their czar and
czarina to the mineral rich spa town on the border of the fairytale Black Forest.
Casino gambling, horse racing and opera lured more and more aristocrats
from the northeast to the hot springs resort.
Over the years, Baden-Baden inked its reputation on some of
Russia's literary and political favorites that ran the gamut
from Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy to Boris Yeltsin.
A Russian orthodox church, built in 1882, can still be visited today,
its Byzantine golden dome and ornate interior a stunning treat.
For today's nouveau-riche Russians who choose Baden-Baden as their
go-to vacation destination, the town now has an assortment of entertaining diversions including golf, tennis and (nearby) mountain climbing.
you see pictured above -- has to be the Fabergé Museum, a mansion
brimming with bejeweled curiosities, its spectacle cloaked equally in
precious metals and notorious Russian secretiveness.
Most people know about Carl Fabergé and his ties to the Russian imperial family. Founded in 1842, he and his family business gilded the lily
of czars Alexander III and Nicholas II for many golden decades
until the Bolsheviks put them out of business in 1917.
From the start, I was dazzled by the collection.
More than just a gallery of gold and gemstone encrusted Fabergé eggs,
the museum boasts an incredible assemblage of precious metals
from around the world alongside an array of precious paintings, medals,
clocks, table settings, tiny stone animals -- a hoard present-day's
Richie Rich set likely couldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.
I was greeted by a thoroughly knowledgeable tour guide, a gentleman
offering buckets of detail on some of the most prized pieces in the collection.
Thinking I was lucky to be followed so attentively by my personal guide, I soon realized maybe he was "offering" more than just the luxury of his knowledge. Opened in 2009 by billionaire private collector Alexander Ivanov,
the museum's two billion dollar collection
is said to be protected by a million dollar security system.
And maybe I'm just paranoid, but I swear they watched my every move.
No photos allowed; I'll need to wear my Dick Tracy wristwatch next time.
It made me wonder if Comrade Ivanov is buddy-buddy with You-Know-Who....
Either way, whether you're a jewelry hound, a history buff
or a frustrated tycoon, don't miss this museum.
It has something for everyone.
Though by the end of the tour, you may be thoroughly egg-hausted (sorry).
you're not familiar with the region's spoken language.
The sound of German both confounds and alarms me
so I welcomed the chance to connect with nature.
Baden-Baden's most famous walkway is hands down
my favorite destination in this city of many pursuits.
Lichtentaler Allee puts the 'p' in picturesque.
Colorful and calm, the two mile walkway has an amazing assortment
of off-ramp trails that will keep you on the move for hours.
It's blessed with the unlikely perk of making you feel both
rested and full of energy simultaneously.
The historic park is over 350 years old.
Allegedly created as a simple path to hike from Baden-Baden's daily market to the neighboring monastery, its modest roots produced a lasting legacy for the town.
Over the years, Lichtentaler Allee's broad avenues, multiple paths and
glorious trees have matured to greatness, a grandeur you can enjoy by
walking, cycling or riding in a horse-drawn carriage.
Lacey bridges and the river Oos (it resembled more of a babbling brook
than a river when I visited but I'm not sure if that's standard) lead you past
19th century villas and reminders of a more beautiful time.
smack dab in the middle of your Lichtentaler Allee stroll.
Hundreds of rose species sparkle, a welcome distraction
of nothing but prettiness, color and fragrance.
Dahlias and dozens of perennials bloom, a gentle
green oasis subtly encouraging wellness and peace of mind .
I strolled multiple pathways at different times of the
day to enjoy the subtle changes in shadows and colors.
You'll walk past a shepherd's cottage and several galleries including the
very contemporary Frieda Burda Art Museum but in truth,
I was there simply to absorb the fresh air and good vibes.
People watching rounds out this priceless piece of Baden-Baden real estate.
My quiet green retreat became a lesson in walking meditation.
Lost in the rhythm of the walk paired with nature's raw beauty, this
deliberate time out made me pause to reflect on my serene surroundings.
A lovely interlude is just the right thing in the mad world of travel where
sensory overload can sometimes inspire stress instead of pleasure.
the casino and the spas.
Since I'm no high roller I chose to take a tour of the legendary
Baden-Baden Casino, touted as Marlene Dietrich's favorite.
It's a sophisticated over-the-top fantasy world -- think baccarat,
roulette, chandeliers and all things excessive -- all you need
is a bag of rubles....don't forget to wear your diamond tiara.
The spa experience came next -- two spas, two distinctly different experiences.
How to decide which is for you:
This is where one of my favorite quotes comes into full play.
"Be yourself but always be your better self."
Karl G. Maesler, American Educator
On this journey as I soon learned,
I am definitely my better self when I keep my clothes on.
But more of that later...
springs -- modern clean lines with enough pools and water experiences
to keep your fingers shriveled up for a week.
Offering both indoor and outdoor baths with varying degrees of water,
it's a place to let your cares go and give it all up for the H2O .
Sure, they promote the scientifically proven benefits and
medicinal properties of this type of water therapy.
That's all well and good but really, the fact that you get to be The Little Mermaid
for a few hours is probably what cures your run-down decrepit old carcass.
Waterfalls, river currents and jets pummel you from your feet
to your shoulders and all points in-between.
No wonder the spa refers to itself as "wellness in paradise" --
truth in advertising and well earned.
I had a wonderful time there -- in my comfort zone -- wearing
a modest one piece swimming suit.
Alas, I hate to admit it, but just down the street, my more
puritanical American side showed up
and took over my adventure at the Friedrichsbad Spa.
The Roman-Irish bath features 140 years of what they call the "art of bathing".
Their 17-step ritual (!!) involves showers, baths of varying degrees,
saunas, soap and brush massage and much more.
It's a beautiful place -- filled with frescoes, Roman statues and everything you'd expect to see at Esther Williams home -- yet, I couldn't wait to leave.
You see, you have to be naked, yes, n-a-k-e-d to partake of the experience.
I thought, being there on the day where it wasn't mixed company,
it would be easy-breezy -- sort of like gym class in grade school.
After all, my mother was Parisian so I should be at least a little bit cool.
But to tell you the truth, all I felt was weird.
My favorite part was the end when they bundle you up like a papoose in a
warm blanket for thirty minutes or so -- Eve in her fig leaf...
So as long as you can handle your own nudity, Friedrichsbad is wonderful.
I absolutely love new places and experiences* -- but now, alas,
I am forced to add an asterisk to my mission statement.
*only when I have my clothes on
I'm still glad I took the plunge and will look back on this adventure
with a (sheepish) smile on my (bashful) face.
Please don't let my nerdish ways stop you from going there.
No, it's not just bratwurst and sauerkraut.
I enjoyed tastes of Germany, France, Italy, Thailand and the Czech Republic
during my stay, obviously a wide range of savory experiences.
Look for Baden-Baden's food market right in the center of town,
on the second floor of the Wagener shopping center.
Markthalle is just the place to stop if you want to stop for a quick bite and glass
of wine or do a full fledged shopping trip if you have the ambition to cook dinner.
Sound advice: Beer is not the only beverage in Germany.
The wine I tasted was delightful.
"Beer is man-made but wine comes from God."
Martin Luther, German Theologian
It's just a 25-mile trek to Baden-Baden, the international
city with multiple personalities and multiple opportunities for fun.
If you take a train, you'll need to change in Appenweier because
France and Germany each have their own regional rail line;
yet it's still barely over an hour to get there, even with the change.
And yes, of course, France is still enough for me.
But as someone who has learned to say hello to everyone, I learned
long ago to look for the best reasons to say yes to new possibilities.
It's easy to find that special "je ne sais quoi" in Baden-Baden,
a city almost as Frenchified as me.
Amuse-toi bien! Hab viel spass! Have fun!