My online shopping life… or, the pandemic has made us learn new things.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Bill and I were preparing to journey to France to see my friends Audra and Cyril and celebrate Christmas with them and their family. This year, we don’t go anywhere. I’m serious. I haven’t left our neighborhood in over two months. It’s getting old.

But I’m trying to keep my spirits up. The other day, I ordered chocolates from Neuhaus. I was a victim of Facebook advertising, which kept showing me pictures of Belgian chocolate. Then I remembered that once upon a time, when I was still a working woman, I actually used to sell Neuhaus chocolates.

I worked at a place called Henry Street Chocolatier, which was located in Williamsburg, Virginia. They sold high end chocolates from Neuhaus and Joseph Schmidt, a now defunct confectioner out of San Francisco, California that specialized in making chocolate truffles. They also had locally produced pastries and coffee by First Colony, an outfit out of Norfolk, Virginia. I think First Colony as I knew it went out of business, but they also used to sell coffee to The Trellis, a restaurant where I worked a few years later. It looks like First Colony was sold, so the brand still exists, but it’s not the same people running it.

I ended up buying a shitload of chocolates. I bought a 500g ballotin of Neuhaus truffles, a 500g ballotin of regular chocolates, and a wine tasting chocolate set. Neuhaus also has champagne and coffee tasting sets– those are chocolates specifically selected to be tasted with wine, champagne, and coffee. Wine is not included in the sets, but you do get a nifty booklet in several languages.

I also bought wines from Georgia, Croatia, and Hungary, but they haven’t arrived yet.

Friday night, Bill and I discussed my desire to buy an electric guitar. I showed him the one I wanted, which is quite pricey. I ended up ordering one of those yesterday as my own Christmas present. I tried to get it through its manufacturer’s Web site, but the sale wouldn’t go through. Like, it wouldn’t even attempt to go through at all. So I found the guitar I wanted on another site and did successfully order it. I don’t think the charge has been processed yet. Hopefully, it will go through. Sometimes the credit card companies are very cautious when you live in Europe and have an American billing address. If it actually gets to me, I’ll post a picture of it.

I have about half the cash needed to pay for the guitar waiting in a savings account I usually use for traveling. We aren’t doing any of that, so it makes perfect sense to just get the guitar I want. It will give me incentive to keep practicing. Not that I need incentive. I made some real progress with my guitar playing yesterday, finally managing to awkwardly play several difficult chords in the same shape. No, they aren’t perfect, but a few months ago, I couldn’t even attempt them. Now, if I’m very careful, I can actually make them ring out somewhat. Anyway, Bill is going to buy me an amp, and once he’s learned a bit more on his guitar, he’ll probably buy one he likes, too.

We also ordered sushi from Tam’s Kitchen. It was a cold, rainy night, and didn’t really seem like sushi weather, but I was dying for some. And here in Breckenheim, we happen to have a really great sushi guy who does deliveries. I think he’s actually a caterer. I don’t think he has a restaurant, per se. But you can order sushi and it will be super fresh and delicious. So that’s what we did Friday night. I think Tam is actually from Vietnam, but he sure has a way with raw fish.

Last night, I watched the memorial service done for my cousin, Karen, who died a couple of weeks ago. She was the third family member I’ve lost since mid October. I learned some new things about my cousin, who was eighteen years older than I am. We weren’t very close, but she was very much beloved by her family and our extended family. Watching the video made me miss being at home somewhat, although I think during this pandemic, I’d rather be in Germany.

And Noyzi and Arran are doing fine. Noyzi is particularly adorable these days. He has a new habit of silently showing up, ghostlike, when it’s time to eat. I slip him a little snack from the table, which is probably not a great thing to do… but he’s so sweet and basically well-behaved that my heart melts a bit.

I suspect today will be more of the same stuff. It’s cold and wet, and Germany is still locked down. Oh, I guess they call it Lockdown Lite, since stores are still open, and it’s been extended until January 10th. But there’s nothing to do anyway, and the weather is icky. So we’ll stay home, listen to music, and buy stuff online. 2020 has mostly sucked… but in some ways, it’s been kind of awesome. I miss traveling, but it’s also been nice to find new ways to occupy my time and spend money. And we are grateful we still have the money to spend. Maybe it will help some people stay in business.

European pet friendly lodging I have known…

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Zane on a road trip to Belgium!

Arran begging for a belly rub.

Sometimes I get inspiration for blog posts from people in local Facebook groups who have a need.  I think the many travel bloggers in the Stuttgart area each offer different things to our readers.  I don’t have children, so generally speaking, I’m not the one to come to for advice on where to take your kids.  However, I do love good food, wine and beer, unique places that are off the beaten track, and, most importantly, pet friendly lodging.

We didn’t used to take our dogs on our trips.  When we lived in Germany the first time, we had Flea and MacGregor, two high maintenance beagles that didn’t travel well.  Flea would get car sick.  MacGregor was deathly afraid of people he didn’t know.  Both of them barked incessantly.  MacGregor would also howl when we left them alone.  In those days, we’d take them to Hunde Hotel Haase, which was at the time being run by a woman named Kirsten.  Kirsten was awesome, and she took great care of our dogs.  Unfortunately, sometime in the five years between our Germany tours, Kirsten left, and took the Hunde Hotel’s good reputation with her.  I started hearing some very disturbing stories about dogs who were left there.

We started using Dog Holiday for our current dogs, Zane and Arran.  Dog Holiday is great, but it’s frequently booked, especially on holiday weekends.  When we want to take a dog free break, we book Zane and Arran at Dog Holiday months or even as far as a year in advance.  Since we don’t know how long we’ll be in Germany, that can be problematic as well.

In 2016, we decided to start taking the dogs with us on our trips.  We started with a one night experiment in Riquewihr, which is a lovely French town in Alsace, not too far from Stuttgart.  Although Zane and Arran had stayed in hotels before, we decided it was time we trained them to be good in hotels.  I booked us a deluxe room at Best Western Le Schoenenbourg.  Although the dogs weren’t on their absolute best behavior, the trip was a success.  We even managed to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal in Riquewihr with our dogs in tow!  After that victory, I started looking for other pet friendly accommodations.  I’ve found some good ones, which I am sharing in this post.

Before I get started, I want to list my criteria for booking pet friendly accommodations.  First, I look for parking– particularly free parking.  That’s because we don’t take our dogs on trains, at least not yet.  We have to have a place to park our SUV.  Next, I look for free WiFi because I’m addicted to the Internet, but also because you never know when you’ll need to find an emergency vet or something.  And finally, I try to book places that don’t charge pet fees.  It’s not that I don’t want to pay pet fees or that I don’t think property owners are right to be concerned about pets staying in their rentals.  It’s more because I’ve found that people who don’t charge for pets tend to be less nervous and/or anal retentive about having them in their rentals.  I prefer to rent from people who like my dogs rather than just tolerate them.

So here goes with my list of nine pet friendly properties we’ve enjoyed so far.  They are not ranked in any particular order.

1.  Best Western Hotel Le Schoenenberg in Riquewihr, France

This will be the only hotel listed in this post.  I am mentioning Hotel Le Schoenenberg because they were exceptionally pet friendly.  When we checked into our deluxe room (the only one they had left), we found it outfitted for our dogs’ arrival.  They had included pet bowls and treats for Zane and Arran and they were super understanding when my dogs started baying on the way downstairs.  My one concern about this hotel is that it’s pretty pricey.  We paid just under 200 euros for one night with breakfast.  However, we were also in a suite and it was during the high season.  Also, I don’t think you need more than a couple of days to see all of Riquewihr, although there is much to see in the surrounding areas.

Hotel Le Schoenenberg was very welcoming to our dogs!

2.  Chalet Montana in Barvaux, Belgium

We booked Chalet Montana in Barvaux, Belgium for Labor Day weekend 2016.  I found this house on Booking.com.  It was larger than what we needed and kind of pricey, but it has the distinction of being our very first experience renting a vacation home.  I see on Booking.com that Chalet Montana *may* charge for pets, but I don’t think they charged us when we stayed there.  There are two master bedrooms with two trundle beds.  Bring your own linens.

This property is near the charming town of Durbuy and within range of towns like Rochefort, Bastogne, and Dinant.  We visited each of those towns while we were in Barvaux.  I was particularly enchanted by Dinant, which is where Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born.  We found the area very dog friendly and the house itself is very nice and extremely kid friendly.  Additionally, it boasts a still water hot tub (fueled by a fire that you have to build) and a sauna.  There’s an adventure park in the area, as well as golfing.  We also found great beer and good restaurants nearby.

Apparently, Durbuy has a problem with human stealth shitters.  However, we never encountered human poop and, in fact, thought the area was lovely!  It smelled good, too. 

3.  Villa Moretta in Domaso, Italy  (ETA: This property no longer accepts pets as of 2020)

You’d rather head south for a trip to Italy?  I can’t blame you for that.  We found Villa Moretta in Domaso, Italy on Booking.com and stayed there for Memorial Day weekend.  I notice that the name has changed since our stay.  In May of last year, it was called Casa Oliva di Domaso.  I don’t know if that means the place has new owners, although I note that when we stayed there, there were no pet charges and now it looks like they *may* charge for pets.

The owner was doing work on an apartment on the first floor during our stay.   It looks like he’s now offering two apartments, one of which is one bedroom and the other is two bedrooms.  In any case, the two room apartment was pet friendly when we stayed there and offered stunning views of Lake Como, as well as access to some great Italian food.  I will warn that this apartment requires walking up steps for access because it’s situated on a hillside.  Also, there is one tiny parking space that was a challenge for Bill to fit our small SUV.  However, I have very fond memories of Domaso and would love to go back!  It’s a very chilled out town, perfect for relaxing and dog walking.

View from a trail going up the hillside.

I loved the donkey!

Watching storm clouds roll in from the balcony.

4.  Vila Verunka in Senec, Czech Republic

We stayed at Vila Verunka in Senec, Czech Republic just last weekend.  It’s a little two room house on the edge of a forest, located in a residential suburb of Plzen.  This house features pet friendly floors and a large, fenced in yard.  The owners are very nice and did not charge us extra for Zane and Arran.  Also, this accommodation was extremely inexpensive.  For three nights, we paid 288 euros.  The one caveat is that the tap water is not potable.  It’s fine for washing and watering your dogs, but not for human consumption.  The owners didn’t explain why, except to say that the house isn’t hooked up to city water.  My guess is that they use a cistern to supply water to the house.  Drinking bottled water is no big deal for us, but I thought it best to mention it.  There’s a swing set in the yard for your kids and the house is set far enough away from other properties that noise from dogs is less of a problem.

Plzen is a great place for beer lovers, as well as aviation lovers.  There is a huge, unique Air Park near the house that offers a rare chance to look at Cold War era airplanes, tanks, helicopters, and missiles.  Also, Plzen has a zoo and several museums for Cold War history buffs.  It’s a city that has a special fondness for America, which is evident in its street names.

Zane was very much at home at Vila Verunka!

5.  Gîtes de la Maison Vigneronne in Ribeauvillé, France

This property is probably my favorite dog friendly property on this list.  In 2017, Bill and I stayed at Yannick’s “wine house” three times!  The three links in the description lead to my series about each stay, all of which have been fun for us and the dogs.  Yannick names his apartments after different wine grapes.  So far we’ve stayed in Pinot Noir (one bedroom) once and Riesling (three bedrooms) twice.  Four apartments are in his wine house and the other two are located in a building on the main drag through town.  I have actually seen all but two of the apartments.  I have a feeling Yannick is counting on me to pitch them to my American friends in Germany.

I can vouch for how dog friendly Yannick’s apartments are.  He doesn’t charge extra for pets and welcomes ours whole-heartedly, even bringing them treats.  While we did encounter a cranky neighbor on our last visit, by and large, the people in Ribeauville are very dog friendly.  It’s a super cute town with several great restaurants and shopping opportunities, as well as free parking.  It’s also a great place to go wine tasting and visit other cute little towns in the vicinity.  We like Ribeauville more than Colmar and Riquewihr because it offers a nice balance between touristy and homey.  Also, it’s a relatively short and pretty drive from Stuttgart.  I don’t know when we’ll be back to Ribeauville, but I’m happy to share the wealth with those who want to go.

Zane loves Yannick’s Riesling apartment, too.

6.  Holiday Home Bonjour Clara in Alveringem, Belgium

Are you interested in being close to a beach?  Like good Belgian beer?  Have a big group?  You might want to consider Holiday Home Bonjour Clara in Alveringem.  This large old house is located in a rural area about a half an hour from the North Sea.  It takes about nine hours to get to Alveringem from Stuttgart, but you pass through a few beer towns to get to it.  Bonjour Clara has four bedrooms and is usually rented to crowds.  We paid 760 euros in cash for four nights, which we thought was very reasonable given how many people can stay there.  Besides being close to the beach, this house is within driving distance of Ghent and Bruges.  There’s a dairy farm next door, where you can buy fresh milk, and the hostess, Marianne, has chickens that provide fresh eggs.  We really enjoyed this property in Belgium with its huge kitchen and swimming pond.  I wouldn’t mind a return trip.

This beach is maybe thirty minutes away.

The boys in the kitchen.

Bill enjoys the pond.

7.  Hexagonal Tower for Two in Semur-en-Auxois, France

I’m adding the Hexagonal Tower for Two, although this property is probably the least pet friendly on my list.  First of all, the owner did charge us for Zane and Arran.  I think it was 20 euros or so, but I’m not absolutely certain of the exact amount.  Secondly, this house is strictly for two people.  Although it’s pet friendly, it would be best if your pet was on the small side.  Why?  Because it’s a tiny house.  However, it’s also a very cool place to stay.  The owners are a British woman and her French husband, who is a master stone mason.  They built this cool tower a few years ago so they could host guests.  For two people, it’s probably the perfect size.  For more than two people, it’s a squeeze.  However, the town of Semur-en-Auxois, situated in Burgundy, is a very quaint, French town surrounded by more quaint French towns.  The area is absolutely beautiful!  If you need a break from Germany, it’s a great place to be.

Look how cute the town is!

This is about the size of the downstairs room.  Note no handrail on the steps, which could be a problem if you have small kids.  My dogs were leery of it.

The tower!  For couples or singles only!

 
8.  Gite de la Maison Bleue in Saint Marcelin de Cray, France

This is another one of my favorite pet friendly spots so far.  Located in Burgundy, a bit further south of Semur-en-Auxois, is Gite de la Maison Bleue, a beautiful old farmhouse in Saint Marcelin de Cray.  The owners of this property run a snail and rabbit farm and they have lots of friendly animals, including a spunky donkey named Antoine.  When Zane and Arran barked at Antoine and his friend, the Friesian horse, Antoine brayed right back at them.  It was hilarious!  Not only is this property beautiful, the owners are also very nice and accommodating, especially to our dogs, who were made very welcome.  It was no problem at all if the dogs pooped in the yard since there were pigs, llamas, alpacas, sheep, rabbits, geese, snails, and other dogs there.  I am dying to go back to this area, too, since it’s in the heart of wine country and, quite honestly, offers a look at “the real France”.  Cluny is a nearby town where you can shop, eat good food, and mingle with the locals.  There’s also an interesting abbey open for tours.

This tower is part of the rental property and offers a great view from the top.

Antoine the donkey!

View from the balcony.

Zane and Arran are feeling at home.

Of all the pet friendly rentals we’ve tried so far, I think Anno 1499 in Rothenburg ob der Tauber may have impressed me the most.  This house was not only dirt cheap to rent, it had every comfort you could want.  Located on the main street into the walled city, this house had two full bathrooms, two bedrooms with double beds as well as a crib and daybed, and a full kitchen.  The owner works across the street and was super friendly and welcoming to Zane and Arran.  There were no extra charges for them.  She also showed us where we could park for free.  We had an absolutely trouble free stay at this house.  I’m probably going to be sorry I shared it!

The house!

Tower in a walled city.

So there you have it… nine places Bill and I have taken the dogs and had a good enough time that we’d book again.  Actually, I’m not sure I’d book the Hexagonal Tower again with the dogs, but I would for just Bill and me.  If your dog doesn’t have to sleep with you and is pretty small, it would be okay.  For us, it wasn’t quite enough space.  However, we loved the town and enjoyed our hosts.

I hope this list is helpful for those of you who are seeking pet friendly digs while you’re in Europe.  I will keep searching for new places and will probably write a sequel when I have another good sized list of pet friendly accommodations.  Happy traveling!

My Belgian birthday! Part six

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We got up early yesterday morning, had breakfast, and did some basic cleaning up of the house.  I’m usually awake by 5:30am because Bill wakes me on his way to work.  This time of year, waking up is effortless because we get so much daylight.  The sun is up by five o’clock in the morning and sets at around ten in the evening.  I could have used a few more minutes of sleep to prepare me for the odyssey that was getting back to Germany.

I had suggested to Bill that he might want to consider driving through France.  That’s what we did the last time we drove home from Belgium.  We did have to pay tolls, but we ran into less traffic.  Bill was eyeing the projected eight or nine hour haul and decided it would be quicker to come back via Germany (as opposed to Germany and Luxembourg, which was yet another route we took last fall).  Since Bill was driving, I demurred to his wishes.

We set off at about eight o’clock, not having said goodbye to Marianne because we didn’t know if she was up yet.  About two hours into our drive, I got a message from her expressing sorrow that we hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye in person.  I immediately felt badly about that.  She had shown us the spot to put the keys and I thought that meant she was expecting us to just go.

Anyway, I sent her a message thanking her profusely for her hospitality and promising that I’d write a good review.  She really is a nice lady and we enjoyed her very unusual and old house.

As we progressed east, Bill was nervously watching the GPS.  We had already hit several traffic jams and he was getting tired.  I was already hungry by 10:30am, plus I’ve been ragging for several days.  Bill was in a hurry to get home and we had the dogs with us, so he kept driving… and driving…  And then, when we crossed over into Germany, we entered an area with a dearth of rest areas.  Besides being hungry, I also needed to pee.

I got grouchier and grouchier and started fantasizing about biergartens.  Then Bill noticed that there was a huge delay on our route.  It would take 162 minutes to get through it.  Quickly, he consulted the GPS for another route…  one that would take us through France.  (sigh– why doesn’t he listen to his hangry wife?)

Zane was camped out on our cooler, trying to get as close to up front as his harness would allow.  Arran, being an unusually calm traveler, was passed out on the back seat.  I wish he was that chill in all situations.

Finally, we reached the town of Zweibruecken, which appeared to be a relatively nice little city.  He pulled into a McDonald’s and got us some of Ronald’s cooking…  It filled a purpose, although I couldn’t help wishing we could have found a nice local place where we could dine with the pooches.  Maybe next time.  It was about 1:30pm, so I was pretty cranky when we stopped.

The rest of the drive back was equally distressing, especially when we stopped for gas at the horrible Pforzheim rest stop.  That place is always a madhouse.  I have never not seen the parking lots full.  Add in the obnoxious truckers who were driving down the parking lot against the slanted parking spaces and you have a recipe for gratuitous swearing.

This was Pforzheim yesterday.  It was a mob scene.

 

I think we finally arrived home at 5:30pm.  I went to the mailbox to see if there were any instructions as to how to pick up our coffee.  There weren’t.  I checked Deutsche Post to see if we could track down where the coffee ended up.  Their Web site crashed on me.  I was expecting to get a visit from the postal person today, but Bill just emailed me to say that the coffee ended up in our CMR mailbox.  Although we had sent it to our German address, my billing address was the CMR box.  So it went through customs, but ended up in the APO system.  Apparently, Bill was able to pick it up without any nastygrams or big duty bills.  Happy birthday to me, indeed!

Although yesterday’s drive home was exhausting, Bill did find the energy to go to Real and pick up some food for dinner… and a little slice of cake for me.  I got myself a keeper!  Which only goes to show you that it’s not a total waste of time to troll porn sites.  😉

 

We had a great time in Belgium.  I always have fun there.  Maybe we could have done more with our time, but we find that when we travel with our dogs, we just like to chill out and enjoy the local scene, eat local food, drink local beers and wines, and just simply enjoy being out of Germany for a few days.  Alveringem was a bit further away than we were expecting, but we had a great time there. Maybe if we go back, we’ll schedule two days of driving or fly.  One place I was expecting to visit on the way out was the Westvleterin Brewery.  We passed the town on the way to Alveringem.  But, since we left the area a different way, we didn’t get the chance to stop.  Oh well… given how long it took to get there and back, maybe it’s a blessing.

Maybe this weekend, we’ll make up for my birthday dinner with a trip to a nice restaurant or two.

My Belgian Birthday! Part five

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Since we were sort of in the area, Bill and I decided to visit Ghent (or Gent) on Monday.  Ghent is a bit further away from Alveringem than Bruges is, but I had heard it’s a beautiful city.  Another frequently recommended Belgian city is Antwerp, but that wasn’t convenient to us on this trip.

Bill went to town again for more croissants.  The lady who sold him the croissants asked, “English?”  Bill said yes.  So she laughed and said, “Ta ta!”  We both had a laugh over that– since it’s kind of an antiquated Britishism.  I guess it would be hard to tell where an English speaker is from if it’s not your native tongue.  Like, I would have trouble telling Schwabish from Bavarian.  It was pretty funny just the same.

We said good morning to our animal companions before we left.  The bunny came back, as did the cows and chickens.

Marianne told us that they were doing some extensive roadwork in Ghent.  That turned out to be true.  Bill was a bit white knuckled as he searched for a parking garage.  Ignoring my gasp and warning of “Look out!”, he managed to drive over a couple of… well, I don’t know what they were, but he wasn’t supposed to drive over them.  He was focused on the construction, while I was focused on the things on the road that he was supposed to drive around as opposed to over.

Once again, we were pleased by the parking garage, which was very clean and offered a relatively pleasant unisex bathroom.  This one was free and came with its own mood music.  In our case, it was a new song by Phil Collins.

The parking garage in Ghent even had its own Breathalyzer!  First time I’ve ever seen one of these.  I think it’s very progressive.

Our first stop was in a cathedral in Ghent, which turned out to be even more beautiful than the one in Bruges.  We walked through the crypt and checked out the artifacts as well as the ornate interior.  Once again, Bill was moved to tears.  Bill frequently gets overcome by beautiful art or places.  With me, it’s music.  Had a choir been singing, I probably would have been bawling like I was in Haarlem two years ago.

Our next stop was a bank.  One snag we hit on this trip was USAA erroneously thinking Bill’s debit card was compromised by fraud.  He managed to make a purchase at Johnny Rocket’s at Ramstein.  Then the card quit working.  He had to call USAA to straighten it out.  While we were Ghent, he needed to replenish his cash.  For some reason, we had a hard time finding a bank.  But while we were searching, I was able to get some nice photos.

Ghent is actually a very beautiful town, though perhaps not as quaint as Bruges is.  It was also pretty crowded, but not as obnoxiously so as Bruges was.

I think this was once the post office, but it now appears to be a mall.

I didn’t take a lot of photos in the Ghent cathedral, but I had to get one of the choir loft.  On the other side, there was identical seating.  That must be quite a choir!

American themed clothing store.  

Bill and I thought it was funny that the Marriott was offering “High Wine”… especially since it’s historically tied to a high profile Mormon family.

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant called de Grill.  There was a lot of outdoor seating under umbrellas and they were offering an attractive special involving steaks.  Bill and I went for seafood, though.

And beer…  I had a tripel and Bill had an amber by Gentse.  Again, it was good enough that we bought some to bring back to Germany with us.

We watched people in boats passing… many of them had rainbow colored parasols.  Actually, both Bruges and Ghent appeared to be very LBGT friendly.

I had a fish brouchette, which included salmon, shrimp, and whitefish.  It was excellent!  I was especially pleased by the salmon, which was perfectly cooked.  And of course, there was a trough of fries and Bearnaise sauce.

Bill had croquettes made with shrimp and cheese.  He said it was good that I didn’t order the croquettes because the cheese was pretty strong.  He loves his strong cheeses.  

I had a Gentse Gruut Inferno for dessert.  I think it annoyed the waiter, who was clearly in a hurry to shut down. 

He closed the unused tables at 1:45pm and was happy to bring out the check for us.  Bill says lunch was just under fifty euros.

I could have spent a little more time in Ghent.  I’d like to go back sometime without the dogs and walk around for awhile.

Ubiquitous Coca-Cola!

We stopped at the store again on Monday to stock up for our drive back to Germany.  We stocked up on beer, cheese, and hair products.  After another low key evening at our rural hideaway, we were well-rested for the very long drive back to Stuttgart.

My Belgian birthday! Part four

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Bill and I visited Bruges (or Brugge, if you prefer) back in September 2008.  I remember very clearly why we were on our first trip to Belgium.  He had been working hard on an exercise at EUCOM and was exhausted from the late nights and demands of his bosses.  Labor Day was coming up and he knew we’d have a long weekend.  So he sent me an email that read, “Darling, I think we should go to Belgium and see Mannekin Pis.”

I could practically hear in my mind the edge to his voice.  Bill is usually a super laid back, easygoing guy.  But the demands of his job had put him in a foul mood.  I could tell.  So I found us a nice hotel in Brussels and we visited, traveling via first class on the Thalys train.  While we were in Brussels, we took a day trip to Bruges.

Bruges is a beautiful city, but it’s generally packed with many tourists.  Such was the case on Sunday, when we visited again after an almost nine year absence (wow– time flies!).  I figured things would be open in Bruges on Sunday and I was right!  After about a forty-five minute drive on a fine highway, we found ourselves in the quaint city.  Bill found a very convenient parking garage that actually won an award for being as awesome as it is.  It even has red and green lights to show which parking spots are open.  I was delighted to find a clean public restroom, even though we had to pay 40 cents each to use it.

As nice as the garage was, I can’t say the same for the area just outside of it.  Apparently, extensive renovations are going on, so we ended up walking through a construction site that butted up to a row of restaurants and bars.  Once we got through that mess, we were in familiar territory.  We walked toward the train station to see if the restaurant where we had lunch the last time was still operating.  It was, and it smelled good— in fact, we probably should have eaten there.  They have great Middle Eastern food.  But Bill wanted to go somewhere different.

Anyway… if you find yourself in Bruges and want something vegetarian or made with curry, De Stoelpa is a good bet.

It offers a good place for pictures, too…

I took this next to an art gallery that we didn’t visit.  We probably should have gone in and checked out the art.  

But we went into the cathedral instead.  As usual, Bill was moved to tears.

Since it was Father’s Day and my dad is now in the great beyond, I lit a candle for him.  I also unloaded a lot of loose change.

We wandered around the city for awhile in the hot sun until we came upon the “Little Venice of the North” area (seems like so many European cities have Little Venices).  Although I usually prefer to find places that are off the beaten track, it was hot and I was hungry.  And Jilles Beer & Burgers sounded like it was just the ticket.

We sat at a table right next to the window, which proved to be an excellent spot for people watching.  Jilles Beer & Burgers has all kinds of burgers– everything from the usual beef burger to veggie burgers.  They also have a large beer list and beer pairings for their sandwiches.

Bill checks out the burgers.  He had some trouble deciding because there were several appealing choices.

 
 

This was the suggested brew for my choice.  I think it was called the Bacon Eli.  Basically, it was a bacon cheeseburger with a sauce that tasted Thai inspired.  It was sweet, spicy, and a little peanuty.

 

Not bad.  The frites came with mayo, but I was also happy to see a big bottle of ketchup on the table.

 

Although the label was a little odd.

 

Bill’s burger… the name of it escapes me.  The burgers all came with side salads.  Frites were an extra three euros.  We shared an order and that was plenty!  I don’t think we finished them.  

 

Beer for dessert!  This one was so good, we bought some to bring back to Germany.

 

Too bad I quit coloring my hair.  How would they know if the rug doesn’t match the drapes?

 

A guy on a trike.  Little did we know it, but a bike race was scheduled… and we were at a great vantage point for watching.

 

I did get some film footage.  Maybe later, I’ll upload it.

 

Below are more shots of Bruges.  It really is a beautiful city, although there were so many people there the other day.  I don’t have the tolerance for crowds I once had.  But we did manage to find our way to a chocolatier.  All the while, Bill was quoting lines from the film In Bruges, which we discovered during our last time in Germany.

This is a pretty funny film, though it’s not for the straightlaced.

Bill just before we bought a kilo of chocolates.  Hello!  Present for my ass!

The candle on the end was for my dad.  I’m not Catholic, but it seemed appropriate to light one for him.  Bill used to be Catholic (and Episcopalian, Methodist, and Mormon)…  He suggested it.  I think of all the religions he’s tried, Catholicism speaks to him the loudest.  I have always been Presbyterian and have no urge to change, not that I go to church much anymore.  Incidentally, we were married by a Presbyterian minister whose parents immigrated to Canada from Scotland.  I recently reconnected with the minister who married us (and was my boss for awhile).  He’s now Catholic and has changed careers!

I got a kick out of the award our parking garage won!  It’s good to have goals.

When we got back to the house, the boys were waiting for us.

So was the couch and Belgian TV… and beer.  Actually, I think we ended up watching an Australian soap called Neighbors.  It was different!

My Belgian birthday! Part three

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On our first morning, Bill headed into the very small town and picked up some croissants from one of the two local bakeries.  He also bought a loaf of very fresh farmhouse bread, which we didn’t end up finishing.  It was huge!

As we enjoyed eggs from Marianne’s chickens and milk from the farm next door, we discussed what our plans were for the day.  Although I hadn’t expressly planned it, our location put us very close to the beach.  Since I grew up near the beach and miss the water, I decided we should head there for lunch and a stroll along the shore.  It turns out Koksidje, located on the North Sea, is maybe about a half hour’s drive from Alveringem.  I was impressed by the beach.  The sand was really nice and the water was warm and inviting.  I wished I’d brought a bathing suit!

The tide was way out when we visited.

Bill checks out the long walk to the water.

I thought this was a crack pipe at first.  Gotta stop watching cop shows.

I took a picture of this house because it was cool looking.

We found a parking spot in a shopping area right next to the beach, took a short stroll around the neighborhood, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Rimini.  There was plenty of outdoor seating, but I preferred an inside table.  I like to spare my skin from too much sun if I can .

Bill looking severe.  I’m not sure why.

 

The menu was in French and Dutch, but our waiter spoke perfect English.

I took a picture of this so I wouldn’t forget the name of the restaurant.

I decided to have shrimp croquettes.  It turns out croquettes are very popular in this part of Belgium.  I saw them offered everywhere.  These reminded me of crabcakes.  I have never been a fan of crabcakes, but I did enjoy the shrimp croquettes.  They were very flavorful and kind of moist.  I’m not sure if they were going for moist, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

Naturally, we also had frites.  Frites are everywhere in Belgium!

Bill had a skewer of grilled shrimp seasoned with curry and served with tartar sauce.  He really enjoyed the shrimp, but I think I liked my moist croquettes more.

I saved room for dessert.  This was called the Grand Dame.  It was bourbon vanilla ice cream with warm chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a waffle cookie.  How Belgian can you get?  I usually don’t have ice cream for dessert, but I had a craving.  This hit the spot nicely.

Bill had chocolate mousse, which was also very satisfactory.

After we finished eating, we encountered the first of many unisex public restrooms in Belgium.  I actually found that kind of refreshing.  I mean, the stalls were totally private, so it was no big deal.  Of course, I made a mistake and accidentally used the men’s stall.  I guess the urinal should have given me a clue.

Outside of the restaurant.

 

Bill was concerned about our two hour parking limit, but I was dying to walk on the sand and test the water.  I convinced him no parking authorities would come running out to ticket him if I took a few minutes to enjoy the beach.  He relented and I went down to the water, which had very gentle surf and was pleasantly warm.  I could have stayed there all day.  It was just lovely.  The sand was lovely, too… no pebbles or rocks.

On the way back to the car, we got mooned by a statue.

The Hokey Pokey perhaps?

One last shot of the sand.  I think we may have to come back and do this beach properly.

On the way back to the house, we stopped by the Carrefour.  It’s a very nice place to shop with high quality groceries and home goods.  I liked it because it had a public restroom and nice lighting.  And if I had wanted to, I could have bought a bike.  Like their northern Dutch neighbors, Belgians in Flanders are very partial to biking.  Bikes are everywhere!  And I saw everything from tandem bikes to tricycles!

They even had an electric bike for sale.

You’d never guess this picture was taken next to the Carrefour.  It’s a very pretty area.

 

Although it was only mid afternoon, it was hot out and Bill and I felt like hanging out with the dogs and drinking beer.  So that’s what we did.  We went back to the house and watched American TV on Belgian cable, drank some excellent Belgian brews, and hung out with Zane and Arran.  Bill cooked dinner and we turned in early with big plans to visit Bruges on Sunday.

My Belgian birthday! Part two

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We arrived at Holiday Home Bonjour Clara at about 7:00pm, having originally overshot the driveway and ended up at the dairy farm next door.  Marianne, the proprietor of the vacation home, was waiting for us.  While I walked and watered Zane and Arran, Marianne showed Bill around the humongous house.  She told him it was built in 1670.  Looking around the impressive brick house, I totally believe it’s that old.

Marianne was very surprised there were only two of us and dogs.  She said she usually rents her house out to large groups.  Holiday Home Bonjour Clara has sleeping space for at least ten people.  There are three rooms that could be considered master bedrooms, along with two “cubby” type rooms.  One has a full sized bed and the other tiny nook has bunk beds.  There are also two sofas downstairs, a crib, and plenty of floor space for cots and/or sleeping bags.

Holiday Home Bonjour Clara has two bathrooms, one on each floor.  One has a shower and the other has a large bathtub.  There’s also a water closet.  Should the need arise, you can even do laundry in the house.  Marianne has thoughtfully included a washing machine, which we did end up having to use.

The kitchen is enormous!

 

The kitchen in this house is huge and inviting.  There’s a large table with seating for several people.  In the dining room, there’s another large table, as well as several tables outside.  The kitchen has a stove, oven, microwave, dishwasher, and fridge, as well as plenty of other appliances you might want or need.

Huge table for a group.  In the next room are a couch and a loveseat, as well as a flatscreen TV with plenty of channels in English.  I love that Belgian TV has programming in English with French or Flemish subtitles.

Living room.  Wood stove for the winter.  There’s also another fireplace in the dining room.

The upstairs bathroom has a shower.  Arran is checking it out.  Marianne supplies plenty of towels, so there’s no need to worry about bringing linens.

The downstairs bathroom.  A water closet is next to it.  This is also where the washing machine is.

 

The cool looking sink in the WC.  Marianne has decorated this house with a lot of art.  I don’t know if she’s an artist herself, but I would not be surprised if she was.

 

The foyer.  Steep stairs lead to the upper level.  The downstairs bedroom also has a small set of steps to climb.  Those with mobility issues may have problems in this house because getting into all of the rooms involve climbing steps.

 

A couple of the bedrooms.  We stayed in the one pictured with Zane on the bed.  Every morning, we awoke to birds chirping, owls hooting, and the smell of beer.  I’m pretty sure the local breweries were supplying their spent barley to farmers for feeding their cows.  There is a dairy farm next door.

This house is equipped with WiFi.  The signal went in and out, which was a little annoying.  However, I was surprised it worked as well as it did, since the building is very old.  It’s been my experience that Internet in older buildings can be a bit dodgy.

After we toured the house, Marianne showed us the coolest (literally) feature her holiday home offers.  She has a “swimming pond!”

Bill checks out the “pond”.  It was refreshingly cold!

This pond is also home to two fish.  They aren’t koi, but they are similar to koi.  Marianne couldn’t remember what they were called in English.  She says they are smarter than koi because they somehow avoid being snatched by birds of prey!  The fish aren’t bothered by human guests.  I did take a short dip just to say I did.  Unfortunately, I was visited by my unpopular “Aunt Flow” over the weekend.  She always shows up at the worst possible times.

A bench near a very pleasant sitting area.

Large yard for the dogs.  This was not completely fenced in, so we couldn’t let them off lead.  Marianne has a dog, but he stayed near the house.  He seemed very friendly.

Next to the house is a canal, where a family of birds was living.  They looked a little like ducks.

I thought they were ducks at first, but upon closer examination, they looked more like small pheasants.

A morning shot of the pond.

 

Lily pads.

 

The pond has a rope that facilitates getting in and out.  Otherwise, you have to be pretty careful getting in and out.  I noticed Marianne’s college aged son seemed to take a leap into the water.  In any case, this isn’t your typical American pool with lots of safeguards.  Use at your own risk and be careful!  We thought it was a pretty nice feature, though.

After our dip in the pond, we sat by the canal and drank beer.

This was the view.

 

Besides birds, Holiday Home Bonjour Clara has a wild bunny who visits in the mornings and evenings.

And two chickens who were almost tame!  They let me get within a foot of them.  And every morning and evening, they peeked into the house.

On our first night, we arrived too late to get to a grocery store.  Marianne very kindly brought us eight eggs from her chickens, some ham, butter, and bread.  The eggs were especially delicious!

Breakfast for dinner!

 

Since we didn’t have any cream for my coffee, Bill went to the farm next door and purchased a liter of milk.  This very fresh milk cost 50 cents.  The farm also has potatoes, but Marianne said they’d been experiencing a drought and the potatoes are very difficult to unearth right now.

All in all, this house was a delight for four nights.  If you’re looking for a home that can accommodate a group and is pet friendly, I would recommend Holiday Home Bonjour Clara.  Besides being in a delightful rural area, it’s close to Ghent, Bruges, and the beach.

My Belgian birthday! Part one

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Yesterday was my birthday.  I turned 45.  I am definitely not living the life I thought I would live at this age, but I can’t complain.  Bill and I learned our lesson the last time we were in Germany.  You have to take all the opportunities you can to see Europe.  Last year, we stayed in town for my birthday and visited one of our favorite local restaurants, Osteria da Gino (Nagold).  This year, Bill decided to take a few days of leave so we could go somewhere.

Although I have enjoyed most of the countries I’ve visited so far, Belgium remains one of my favorite places.  I love the frites, chocolate, and beer.  Also, any country that has a statue of a little boy peeing wins points with me.  Belgium evidently has a number of such monuments, but the most famous one is, of course, Mannekin Pis, which is in Brussels.  Bill and I visited Brussels in 2008.  I would actually love to go back there for the beer scene alone, but we were going to be bringing our dogs, Zane and Arran.  When the boys are with us, it’s better to be out in the country.

Off I went to Booking.com to find a rental house.  To be honest, although we ended up in Belgium, I also considered places in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.  I finally settled on Holiday Home Bonjour Clara, located in Alveringem, Belgium.  I picked this house because it offered everything we needed and was in an attractive location near Bruges, Ghent, and the beach.  It had free WiFi, free parking, and was pet friendly.  Somehow, I failed to notice that it also sleeps at least 10 people!  The house is HUGE.  Moreover, besides being very large, it boasts a “swimming pond”, which I also thought was pretty cool.  More on that later.

Anyway, for four nights, we paid 760 euros in cash.  We were actually supposed to do a bank transfer, but the hostess never sent the information to me.  I guess that makes sense, since we booked it just a few days before our arrival.  We usually spend less on our vacation rentals, but again, for some reason I didn’t realize just how huge the house was.  For as many people as it can accommodate, it was definitely priced fairly.  I will review the house in the next post.

On Friday morning, we loaded up the RAV4.  I was feeling a little out of sorts because I ordered coffee from the States again and it hadn’t yet arrived.  Just my luck, the post did try to deliver it on Friday… or so that’s what the mail tracker says.  We have to pay a duty for the coffee, so I was wanting to hang around long enough to take care of that.  Bill, being ever practical and wary of long drives, noted just how far Alveringem is from the Stuttgart area and nixed my idea of waiting for the mail.  It’s a good thing he did that, since it took all day to get to where we were going.  I had initially told our host, Marianne, that we would arrive by five o’clock.  We didn’t actually get to her house until seven.  In all, I think it took about 8 or 9 hours to get there!

On the way to Belgium, we stopped at Ramstein Air Base to gas up the car, buy a top up for my phone, and get some lunch.  Although I had heard about the Burger King fire at Ramstein, I had forgotten about it and was shocked to see the charred skeleton of the building.  The fire happened in mid April.  It must have been quite the inferno!  We spent a lot longer at Ramstein than we should have, although I will admit to being impressed by the facilities there.  It’s like a little America!  I hadn’t been there since our last Space A trip in 2014.  We had burgers from Johnny Rocket’s for lunch.  I think I can safely say I don’t need to have another one of those for awhile.

Our drive to Alveringem was mostly uneventful, though very long.  Just getting out of Germany seemingly takes forever.  We ran into the usual staus and had to stop a few times for potty breaks.  Like Germany, Belgium’s high speed freeways are apparently free (for now, anyway).  But the roads aren’t in the best condition in some areas.  I also noticed both on this trip and our last Belgian holiday that free rest areas aren’t as plentiful.  Lots of “rest areas” in Belgium are really just places where you can pull off on the side of the road.  If you have to pee, it seems you just do it outside.  We saw lots of men doing just that.  And if you go to a rest area, you’ll most likely have to pay for the privilege of peeing.  I actually don’t mind that, since it allows me to get rid of change and usually ensures that the toilets will be clean and stocked with toilet paper.

As we got closer to our destination, I noticed the aroma in the air.  It smelled of manure, then ripe cheese.  I said, “Ugh!  That really stinks!”

I looked over at Bill, who had a big smile on his face.

“You like that smell, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes!” Bill sighed.  He loves stinky cheese.  Maybe that’s why we’ve managed almost fifteen years together!  I am kidding, of course.  I don’t actually smell like stinky cheese… Do I?

The long trip was worth it…

Ten things we learned on our trip to Belgium…

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Whenever we take trips, I like to reflect on things we learned.  It’s become my custom to write blog posts about the new things I discover when I travel.  Since we just came back from Belgium, here’s a quick top ten list of things I learned in the land of waffles, frites, beer, and chocolate!

10.  Belgium might be even more dog friendly than Germany is.  Our dogs were well catered to on our trip and their occasional outbursts were patiently tolerated.

9.  You can find grocery stores open on Sundays!  Hours might be limited, but they do exist!

8.  Dinant, Belgium is the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone.  This is probably my favorite new piece of knowledge since I am definitely a music lover.

7.  Public defecation is apparently a problem in Belgium.

I saw this sign… I also encountered the most disgusting rest area I have seen in a long time.  A prior trip to Brussels also revealed an apathetic attitude toward shit cleanup in Belgium.

 

6.  Renting a house, even if there are just two of you, is a great deal.  We only paid slightly more for a whole house what we could have spent on a hotel room and we had the added benefit of privacy and the ability to cook our own meals.

5.  Speaking of rental houses, there are a whole lot of them in eastern Belgium.  They seem to be more plentiful than hotel rooms are.

4.  If you use the bathroom at the Autogrill in Belgium, you get a voucher for the whole 70 cents it costs to use the toilet, rather than just fifty cents.

3.  Belgian TV has lots of English channels.  I even got to watch part of Dr. Phil in Belgium and was reminded that I don’t miss his show that much.

2.  Some hot tubs require physical labor before the big payoff.  They aren’t all jetted tubs, either.

1.  Driving through France to get back to Germany may be a lot less stressful than driving through Germany.  You won’t hit Ramstein traffic and there seems to be less road construction going on.  On the other hand, I also noticed the roads weren’t quite as well maintained as they tend to be in Germany.  You also have to pay tolls.

Overall, Bill and I had a great, laid back trip to Belgium.  I think we’re going to have to go back soon.  I was reminded why I loved Belgium so much the last time we lived in Germany and chagrined that we haven’t made visiting again a priority.  I don’t know how much longer we’ll get to live in Europe, but I think more trips to Belgium are in order, with or without the pooches!

Our pet friendly Belgian Labor Day Adventure… Part five

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I’m going to combine the last two days of our trip into one final post.  The reason for that is because our Sunday plans got unexpectedly cancelled by driving rains!  Originally, we planned to either visit a French border town called Givet, or walk around Bastogne, which was another city that had been in the running for our Labor Day trip.

We tried Bastogne first, even though the skies were grey and looked like they might open up at any second.  Bastogne is well known among World War II historians.  Had we not had the dogs with us, I am pretty sure we could have seen some interesting museums.  It is where Liberty Road ends.

Unfortunately, Bastogne was not as inviting or dog friendly as Dinant was.  Since the weather was threatening, we decided not to stop and look around there.  So then we started heading toward Givet, which appeared to be a little more promising.  But as we were heading down the highway, the skies opened up and unloaded buckets of rain on us.  It showed no signs of letting up.  I told Bill that I thought it might be best to just go back to the chalet and have a quiet afternoon in.  He agreed and we headed back toward Barvaux.

Now… the next part of this story will not appeal to those with weak stomachs.  But, it was a memorable part of our trip, so I feel compelled to share it.  If you don’t like stories about body functions, now might be a good time to move on to your next Internet station.

Still with me?  Alright then…

As we were heading back to Barvaux, I started feeling an urgent call of nature.  The coffee, water, and orange juice I had at breakfast were ready to be expelled.  Of course, because I had been having an ongoing Facebook discussion with Europeans and Americans about public urination in Germany, Bill and I were sort of talking about that as we started hunting for a place for me to take care of business.  I spotted a sign for a rest stop with a WC, so we pulled off the road.  I noticed a man brazenly peeing right by the road, completely unashamed.  I must admit to having a brief moment of penis envy.

Anyway, I noticed that there were three port-a-potties in front of the dilapidated building.  I had a sense of doom, since I figured there had to be a reason those were sitting there in front of a rest stop.  Port-a-potties are usually not very pleasant places themselves, so I figured the rest stop must be especially bad.

I got out of the car and inspected… and was absolutely shocked by what I found.  The toilets in the Belgian rest stop were overflowing with shit, dirty paper, and assorted other filth.  There were vile epithets spray painted on the walls.  Of the four “rooms”, two had actual piles of excrement on the floor.  There were also piles of human shit outside of the rest stop, as if people had just gone behind the building once they saw how truly nasty it was.

I honestly couldn’t see how this rest stop could be rehabilitated.  I think they’d have to demolish the building.  It was that bad.  I briefly considered taking a photo for my Facebook friends who had been arguing about how gross German rest stops are.  Let me tell you, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I have seen and smelled some truly repulsive public restrooms.  This one in Belgium ranks right up there among the very worst.  It was the stuff of nightmares.

I should have thought about this as we visited the nasty rest stop.

I quickly took care of my needs and got back in the car to tell Bill about what I saw.  Ugh…  As an aside, as we were coming back the opposite way yesterday, I noticed that the rest stop on the other side of the road appeared to be very clean and functional.

We got back to the chalet in time for lunch and I slipped into my nightie and parked myself on the very comfortable sofa in the living room.  I wrapped myself in one of the very fluffy duvets and turned on the TV.  And then Bill and I spent the whole day watching a ridiculous show on MTV called Catfish.   I actually had to explain to Bill what catfishing is.  Given that we met online in the late 1990s, he probably feels like he dodged a bullet.

We had a nice lunch of rotisserie chicken and frites, which Bill managed to score fresh from a local snack bar.  We spent the day enjoying Belgian beer and chocolate.  It was restful and peaceful.  I think Bill especially enjoyed having the downtime.  The sun eventually did come out, but by the time it was out, we’d had a few beers and were neither in the mood nor condition to drive anywhere.  For dinner, we had what was left of the steaks Bill cooked on the barbecue the night before, along with more of the chicken from lunch.

Yesterday morning, we got up early and packed up our stuff.  The handyman showed up right on time to check us out.  He gave us back our 250 euros deposit and sent us on our way.  Bill stopped at the local chocolatier to get me a box of bon bons and some macaroons.

We decided to go back to Germany via France.  As it turned out, that was a pretty good idea.  I’m not sure if it was because of the time of day we were traveling or just that there’s less traffic on that route, but getting home was a lot easier and less stressful than getting to Belgium through Germany was.  We completely avoided Stuttgart traffic.

One thing I saw on our drive that sticks in my mind were highway safety signs in Luxembourg.  I saw two of them and they were obviously intended to shock.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared to get photos of them, but if you click this link, you can see what I write of…  Basically, it’s a picture of a young, attractive woman driving a convertible.  The front of her face is a bloody skull.

Another thing that sticks in my mind is seeing how the landscape changed as we drove back into Germany on B28.  That drive from France is absolutely beautiful and I was thinking we need to book a vacation in that “spa” area in Bad Peterstal and Griesbach at some point.  It’s not that far from where we live, yet fairytale like.

Our biggest challenge of the ride back to Unterjettingen was in the last minutes of our trip.  We were stuck behind trucks for most of the drive back.  We’d lose one truck only to have another one get in front of us.  Compounding our issues is the fact that there’s a lot of major road construction going on near where we live.  So, at one point, Bill got distracted by the GPS and almost rear ended the truck in front of us, which had stopped suddenly to turn into a small rest area.  Then, as we were passing the truck, it started backing up and almost broad sided us.

Then, when we were maybe four kilometers from our home, we had to take a detour.  The GPS sent us through Moetzingen, but that area also has closed roads.  It took some time to figure out a way to get around the construction and back to our neighborhood.  But… we are back, healthy and sound, and ready to plan the next adventure.  I will write one more trip to sum up what we learned on our trip to Belgium!

Borders!