Sunday September 24th – Day 2 – Nennig, Konz, Trier
After a truly awful run through what seemed to be very steep vineyards (not helped by the fog that had dropped down overnight or the amount of food eaten the night before) we got our act together, had a lovely breakfast, and checked out of Victor’s.
We decided to have another go at seeing the Nennig Roman Villa mosaic, and so headed straight to the village. This time we peered around all sides of the building and found the door, round the back, which had not looked as if it had any doors when we’d failed to look more closely.
The mosaic, which was found by a farmer back in 1852, is incredibly complete and seems to have been part of a villa complex that basically controlled agriculture over a wide area back in the day. The Romans clearly found the Mosel and Saar valleys to be much to their liking and thus settled there, cultivating wine and other products needed for the supply of the army among others.
There are bits and pieces of Roman buildings scattered throughout Nennig, though some of it remains under the later medieval buildings, or even incorporated into the later buildings, a frequent occurrence when people find they have what amounts to a ready made stone quarry nearby, ready to be raided for materials. The various panels show scenes from the arena and some of them are really quite gruesome, but it is still a stunningly well preserved and fascinating work, well worth a visit and €1.50 of anyone’s money to take a closer look.
From there we set off towards Trier, getting accidentally sidetracked into Luxembourg again! However, this proved to be a good thing, as I needed to refuel the car and diesel and petrol in Luxembourg is considerably cheaper than in Germany, I believe because local taxes are much lower. I filled up and also picked up 6 bottles of rose sekt for just €12, which seemed ridiculously cheap. Even if it wasn’t much good, it would be useful for making pre-dinner cocktails if nothing else! We also narrowly avoided a half marathon which was presumably being backed by ING bank, or at least I hope it was because nothing else would explain the orange inflatable lions!
After we’d refuelled we set off along the river to Trier rather than taking the faster, shorter route along the motorway and on the way stopped off at Konz, where the remains of an Imperial Palace are on show. It wasn’t very well sign-posted so we wandered around a bit before we found it, and then a bit more before we could find our way in… this was becoming a pattern already. Anyway, after scrambling round and avoiding the scaffolding that was in our way, we took half an hour to nose around the ruins, neatly avoiding the two drunks who had setup camp in one corner.
As with everything else Roman we had encountered so far, it was part of something that was originally much, much larger, and we needed to use quite a deal of imagination to try and envisage what it could have been like back in the day when it was used by Valentinian I and his successors.
We moved on to Trier after that, the city sometimes (justifiably) referred to as the Rome of the North, and that claims to be the oldest city in Germany. It contains huge amounts of Roman buildings, many surprisingly in tact, as well as a delightful collection of medieval buildings, and several baroque structures, all of it well preserved – or well-restored as the damage done in WWII was substantial – and in easy walking distance of each other.
However, first we needed coffee, while we waited to see which way the weather was going to go.
We found a nice-looking terrace in one of the many squares and as we sat there, the fog cleared and the sun came out just as it had the day before. We decided that we would tackle the most famous of Trier’s Roman buildings first, the Porta Nigra, the black gate of the old Roman city. The stone apparently started out as white (or at least very pale) but micro-organisms that took up residence all over it turned it black, hence the name.
First we wandered into the Tourist Office and invested in an Antiken Card to get entry to all the main Roman sites and several of the museums over the course of one week. We then opted to start with the Porta Nigra anyway, it being right next door. It was saved from ending up as a giant open air quarry (unlike a lot of the other Roman buildings) because in the early part of the 11th century a hermit, a Greek monk named Symeon, moved in and had himself walled up in the eastern tower.
After he died in 1034 or 5, he was buried inside the gate and was later canonised. The gate was converted to a church in his honour, at the behest of Bishop Poppo. The structure was shifted to state ownership during French rule.
Traces of the two storey church overlay the original Roman walls, and the whole structure is fantastically atmospheric. This is helped by the guides who run tours with a Roman centurion…
After we’d finished nosing around the Porta Nigra we decided the archaeological museum would be a good next stop. We therefore wandered around for some time trying to find it (again…) before we managed to locate the entrance, hidden behind a lot of scaffolding. It’s a very well laid out museum, with some amazing finds, especially the Roman funerary monuments, though the downside from Lynne’s point of view was that only a few of the very detailed an informative placards were in anything but German. You could get the impression that the locals really don’t expect any foreign tourists to come here.
No photography was allowed, so I’m here relying on other people’s work to show one of the most striking items in the museum, a statue of a boar being subdued by a bear. It’s an amazingly lifelike work, clearly made by a very skilled sculptor.
Also very impressive is the wine ship from Neumagen-Dhron, of which more on another occasion. I also hugely enjoyed the Frankish artefacts, including weapons and jewellery, glassware and some fabulous horse harnesses. We got as far as the Middle Ages collection and then ran out of steam somewhat. The afternoon was wearing on now and we needed a break so we stopped off at the museum cafe for a refreshing iced tea, after which we strolled back to the car via the gardens of the Electoral Palace, making plans to return to the town later in the week as we’d still got several Roman sites and a church or two on our “must visit” list.
We relocated the car and headed for hotel number two, a short drive away. On arrival at Becker’s Design Hotel we had some difficulty finding anyone to let us in, which probably didn’t surprise us as much as it should have done. We were starting to expect this sort of thing.
The hotel turned out to be very modern, very smartly designed, and very generous with snacks, water and wine in your room free of the usual room service charges. Oh and our room was green, very green.
There’s a two-starred restaurant attached to the hotel, but it’s not open on a Sunday, so we considered going out to eat but opted for the Weinhaus, also a part of the hotel in an old-fashioned dining room tucked away on the side. A glass of wine before dinner from the excellent in-house winery proved a good start before we were shown to a table and presented with the menu.
We decided we’d go with the Weinhaus set menu and let them choose the wines as well… This proved to be an excellent idea, and we got an extra wine because we’d already had a glass of the first of their wines as an aperitif. A small plate of zwiebelkuchen, very much a seasonal speciality in the region, appeared as an amuse bouche.
The pastry was beautifully crisp and crumbly with an onion, cream and bacon filling. It made me determined to seek out a few more examples over the next few days, especially if they were even half as good a that.
Next up was a lightly cured ham with a light cheese base, a lovely autumnal mouthful or two, with some gorgeous rye bread that we both struggled to resist. It was followed by what was described as cauliflower all ways, with a crab tian. For what is presenting itself as a bistro-type establishment, this is assured and ambitious cooking, and utterly lovely.
I appreciate that there is going to be some overspill from the 2-star establishment, and it was there on the plate for all to see. It was there in the rich “middle course”too, a light ricotta filled ravioli, drizzled with brown butter and dusted with summer truffles.
The pasta was lovely and we reckoned it would be hard to follow that. The kitchen managed it though, with a lamb dish, full of warming Middle Eastern flavours including a cumin jus, the whole served with bulghur wheat and vegetables. The meat was cooked to perfection, at least to my way of thinking. I know some people don’t like meat rare, but I do and it was great.
We were nearly there now. All that remained was a light dessert, which was their take on a plum cake, again a seasonable speciality (of most of Germany). It was something that my late dad would have loved, him being a man who spent quite a lot of his life in pursuit of the perfect plums to make the perfect plum cake.
And that was where Day 2 ended. Full of food we wandered away from the table and headed to our room to sleep.