blog news, France

Why “I Ain’t Been Nowhere” and ten more things I learned in Alsace, France…

It’s time for me to write another one of my “ten things I learned” posts. This one is coming a bit later than usual. I’m going to preface the post with a bit of an explanation for the people who still follow my travel adventures.

I’ve held off on writing my usual “ten things I learned” post for our most recent trip to France. I’m sad to say that I’ve kind of lost some of my desire to produce travel blog posts. There are a couple of reasons for this development.

Ever since I moved my blogs to WordPress, I’ve been struggling with lagging morale, particularly regarding the travel blog. Part of the reason I’ve been struggling has to do with people who were following me on Blogspot and decided to cause trouble. That situation was what led me to move my blogs in the first place. I suspect they just didn’t like me personally, for whatever reason, and decided to stir up some shit. It all ended badly, and ultimately, not in their favor, but it left me with some significant psychological angst that has taken some time to overcome.

I spent a year struggling with feeling really violated and angry, mainly because the people who were causing issues were being creepy, dishonest, and toxic. I’ve written quite a lot about that situation, mostly on my main blog, so I don’t want to rehash it here. I do think it’s really sad that some people feel the need to meddle in other people’s business and try to sabotage something like a personal blog. What those people did caused real damage on many levels, and there was absolutely no reason for it, other than their need to be destructive and creepy.

The second reason I’ve been less enthusiastic has a lot to do with the pandemic, and how difficult and annoying travel has been since COVID-19 became part of life. I was finally starting to feel better about writing in early 2020, only to have everything fall apart due to a deadly novel virus. The below song by Rhonda Vincent is pretty much a good summation of my feelings about COVID… If you haven’t heard it, I highly encourage you to listen. I promise it’s good, unless you just can’t abide bluegrass.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to go back to the USA, just so I can see Rhonda Vincent perform in person. Even if you aren’t a bluegrass fan, this song is awesome. Those harmonies make me want to cry! (in a verklempt way)

I am happy to report that Europe really is FINALLY opening up again, and COVID measures are becoming less obnoxious. This is happening, even though COVID infections are on the rise again in Europe, and I was actually exposed to COVID on our latest trip (though I haven’t been sick). I’m hoping the “red tile” on my Corona Warn app will go back to green today. Bill and I had a wonderful time in France, and now we want to travel more. So, I’m hoping we can move back into our former lifestyle, and I will recapture the joy of travel and experiencing new places and things. And now, on to the ten things I learned…

10. COVID-19 measures in France are currently much less annoying than they’ve been in Germany.

One of the reasons Bill and I went to France in the first place is because we didn’t want to be bothered by strict COVID rules. France doesn’t require FFP2 face masks, and if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to bother with masks in public indoor areas of restaurants and hotels. You do still need to wear a mask in shops, because they don’t check for vaccinations at the door. This was true during our visit, but as we know, rules are always subject to change.

9. Soufflenheim is French pottery heaven!

We have been to the Alsace area of France many times, but we’ve always stuck to the Wine Route. This was our first time exploring the area above Strasbourg, and we decided to go there because we knew Soufflenheim was where Alsatian pottery is made.

8. But there isn’t that much else going on in Soufflenheim…

Or, at least that was our impression during our visit. It’s a great place to go pottery shopping, but I wouldn’t say the town is particularly picturesque. However, nearby Sessenheim, where we stayed, is very cute!

7. There’s more to Alsace than the Wine Route.

On our previous trips to Alsace, we stayed in pretty, tourist friendly towns like Riquewihr, Colmar (Bischwihr), Ribeauville, and, of course, Strasbourg. We have visited the picturesque hamlets around Riquewihr and Ribeauville, and even made a point of stopping by Kaysersberg, where Anthony Bourdain took his life in 2018. If you go north of Strasbourg, you’ll still be in Alsace, but it feels different… and it’s well worth seeing.

6. Auberge Au Boeuf is a really cool place to stay!

I think the main reason we enjoyed our trip so much is because we discovered Auberge Au Boeuf, which is a wonderful, historic restaurant. But it also has four really cool bedrooms that can be rented. We were delighted by how thoughtfully designed and beautiful the hotel was. The little town of Sessenheim is also notable for its historic connection to Johann von Goethe, a very famous German poet, playwright, novelist, and statesman.

5. Michelin starred restaurants are not the end all, be all…

I do enjoy eating fancy food on occasion; but I’m really much more of a comfort food fan. We ate at the Michelin starred Auberge Au Boeuf twice. I’m not sorry we did that, but we did learn that “fancy food” should be special, or the magic wears off. On the other hand, it had been so long since we last indulged!

4. Speaking German often, but not always, comes in handy in Alsace.

We kind of already knew this from other trips, but we did run into a number of people who didn’t speak German or English. It made me wish I had studied French, in school, instead of Spanish.

3. The town of Bitche, which is in Lorraine, is very close to Kaiserslautern and Ramstein.

I did not realize how accessible this town, with its impressive and famous citadel, is to Germany’s largest military community. Maybe if Bill had worked in K-town, we might be slipping over the border more often.

2. Saverne is a cute town I’d never heard of!

We visited Saverne on a whim after we got bored in beautiful Obernai. Seriously, Obernai is a very pretty town, but it reminded me so much of other wine route towns. It was a treat to discover Saverne, which was about 45 minutes away. It had a very different feel. I wish we’d had time to explore more of it. Maybe we can go back.

  1. It’s time to get back to enjoying Europe… for as long as possible.

One of our biggest regrets during our first time living in Europe is that we spent too many weekends at home. We completely missed out on the Black Forest and Alsace during our Army tour. In fact, I don’t even remember any visits to Stuttgart Mitte during those two years. When we came back to Germany in 2014, we were determined to explore more. For four years, we were able to do that, and we did it to great success.

But then, once we moved, we dealt with harassment and COVID-19, which knocked us off track somewhat. As we’ve learned from COVID, life is short and tomorrow is never guaranteed. Putin is making things in Europe a bit tense. Add that to COVID, and things can seem mighty grim. The truth is, every day there are risks to be faced. It’s time to face more risks and get back to living. I hope that’s what we can do more of in 2022.

And to those who want to cause trouble and see me fail…

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France

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part nine

Sunday morning, we woke up more than ready to head home to Germany. I missed Noyzi and Arran, even though I generally enjoy it when we have a chance to take a break from the dogs. I saw so many cute dogs in France, including a couple of European styled beagles that made me want to get one of my own! Of course, I won’t be doing that until we are down to one dog again. Arran doesn’t share well, and even after about 18 months with Noyzi, he only barely tolerates him. And Noyzi is a very kind and considerate dog.

We went down to the Stammtisch to find our usual breakfast. The day prior, the breakfast lady had thought we were leaving and asked us if we wanted to pay. We had to remind her that Sunday was our day of departure. I got the impression that maybe people don’t typically stay at the Auberge au Boeuf for several nights, as we did. But actually, there’s a lot to do in the area around Sessenheim. It’s not too far to get to Strasbourg. Nancy and Metz aren’t as close as Strasbourg is, but we could have visited there if the mood struck. Of course, the Alsatian wine route, south of Strasbourg, isn’t far, either. Neither is Baden-Baden, the great German spa town.

As you can see by my posts, we did manage to find several cute and diverse eastern French hamlets. It occurred to me that north of Strasbourg is more diverse in appearance than the southern area is. Over the past few years, Bill and I have visited Alsace more than anywhere else in Europe. We almost completely missed Alsace the first time we lived in Germany together. I’m so glad we’ve had the opportunity to explore this unique, historic, and beautiful part of France. We really enjoyed visiting Sessenheim, Soufflenheim, Haguenau, Bitche, Obernai, and Saverne! Each place was different and had its own special vibe and history.

It’s not lost on me that my unexpected and unplanned lifestyle as an “overeducated housewife” has come with certain perks. If I had done with my life what I had planned to do, I might have managed a visit to Paris or Lyon… or maybe to Nice again. Those are all lovely cities, but they tend to be teeming with Americans. Thanks to Bill’s work with the Army, I’ve had some great opportunities to see “the real France”, as it was put by a British man who owned a wine shop in Cluny, France, which we visited in 2017. Cluny is a very nice city in Burgundy and we loved our time there. But I would not expect too many Americans to go, especially not from the United States. That was where Bill ate pig intestines! Talk about a typically FRENCH experience!

Anyway, we enjoyed our last breakfast, but it was time to go home. We loaded up the car and I paid for everything with my credit card– about 1600 euros ($1800 approximately) when all was said and done. That was for four nights in a beautiful suite, breakfast for two every morning, three bottles of wine, four apéritifs, and two nights of sumptuous dinners for two. Parking was free. I feel good about stimulating the local economy.

On the way out of Sessenheim, we stopped at a nearby Boulangerie/Patisserie to get some French pastries. Bill got several beignets, two pain au chocolats, and a kugelhopf. It was a lot for just the two of us. Fortunately, the kuglehopf has kept well in the fridge. I wish he’d gotten some croissants, too. French croissants are better than the locals ones we can get.

The drive back to Wiesbaden was totally uneventful and took about two hours. We had no traffic issues at all, and the weather was fine. I had to laugh on Sunday night, as we dined on Popeye’s Fried Chicken from the food court on post. It’s crazy that we went from five star dining to fast food in less than 24 hours.

I would not hesitate to book Auberge au Boeuf again. Next time, I hope we can try their Stammtisch at lunch or dinner, and if the menu has changed, I would definitely be up for another grand gourmet experience at their restaurant. We’ll see what the future holds! Below are are few last photos from our most recent adventures in France.

If you’ve been following along with this series, thank you so much for reading. My travel blog has been dying, thanks to the pandemic and moving to a new platform. I hope this series will be the first of more to come in 2022! Wish us luck!

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France, restaurant reviews

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part eight…

At seven o’clock on Saturday night, Bill and I got dressed for our second gourmet dinner at Auberge au Boeuf. Having seen the menu on Friday night, I was a little nervous about what we would be having. Besides the tasting menu we had, there was also a truffle menu… and, well, I don’t do truffles. But I figured I’d find at least one item I hadn’t tried on Friday night that didn’t include the dreaded fungus.

Actually, I’m kind of glad we had two dinners at the restaurant. It gave us a chance to experience one of the other dining rooms. Saturday night was also a lot busier, with a very different crowd. There were a lot more French patrons on Saturday. Friday night, it seemed like there were more Germans.

We were waited on by the same trilingual waiter. He was a bit busier on Saturday night, so there were a couple of hiccups in the service. We ordered a beautiful bottle of Pommard to go with the a la carte items we chose. And, just as it’s been in all of the excellent restaurants we’ve visited, as well as a couple of crappy ones, our wine was “held hostage”. By this, I mean the wine was to be poured by our waiter or the sommelier. It was kept on a nearby mantle, within our line of sight.

I don’t mind having my wine poured by the wait staff, as long as they are attentive. Unfortunately, the waiter was so busy on Saturday night, we were left waiting to be recharged for several minutes. Finally, Bill discreetly made a move to get our wine, which was, again, next to our table and within sight. The waiter came over and stopped him, which I thought was kind of awkward. I mean, it was our wine… we paid over 90 euros for it. We don’t have broken hands. The waiter was clearly busy. He should have just let Bill pour the wine.

The second hiccup involved our water. We ordered a large bottle of sparkling water from Ribeauville. Somehow, a huge black fly found its way into the bottle, where we saw it doing the crawl. I stared at the bottle for several minutes before we were able to flag down the maitre d’ and ask her to take the bottle away. One would assume that in a situation like that, someone would bring us another bottle of water… or at least offer it. But no, I ended up having to ask our waiter, after we explained what had happened. I asked him for another, smaller bottle, for which we were probably charged.

As for the food, Bill and I both ordered one entree that we didn’t try on Friday. And we also had our favorite courses from Friday night, plus dessert. The meal came with the same hors d’oeuvres and amuse bouche we had on Friday night, as well as the fresh bread, sorbet, and candies at the end of the meal. Below are some photos from our second dinner. The food standard was, of course, outstanding.

When all was said and done, the total cost for Saturday night was about the same as it was on Friday night… roughly 300 euros. We don’t usually splurge that much on subsequent nights, but it had been so long since we’d last indulged in excellent food. If we visit Auberge au Boeuf again, we will make a point of trying Stammtisch.

Tomorrow, I will post about checking out and going home. See you then!

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France, restaurant reviews

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part seven…

Saturday morning, after breakfast, we decided to visit a couple of other towns in Alsace. One of the places we visited is the quaint and picturesque hamlet of Obernai. I wanted to go there because many of the times we’ve stayed in Ribeauville, I’ve noticed that our WiFi signal pings from there. A woman I knew from Stuttgart also happened to visit Alsace back in January 2020, when we were also visiting. We met up with her at a winery and had a tasting, and I noticed that after we parted, she went to Obernai. I remembered thinking the photos she shared made Obernai look like a very inviting place.

So we went to Obernai, which was every bit as cute as I thought it would be. The town has a large parking lot, complete with a very nice looking public restroom facility, which was closed due to COVID-19. As I walked around Obernai, I was thinking that it reminded me a lot of Ribeauville, except it was a lot bigger and busier. I noticed there is a shit ton of new construction going on there. It looks like a lot of people are moving to Obernai, or businesses are relocating there. The old town area is very charming and adorable. We mostly just walked around there, but got bored before it was time for lunch. It looked like a good place for eating, tasting Alsatian wines, and shopping, and I did notice a lot of places of interest, complete with informative signs in French, German, and English. But I still got the urge to move on fairly soon after we arrived. We visited the free public restroom, where donations were being accepted for the people of Ukraine.

Bill and I ended up getting off course on our way back to the car, so we were a little “lost” for a short while. It suited me fine, since I got the chance to take more pictures. We did eventually find ourselves back on the right track to getting to the parking lot. Obernai is definitely a cute town, but I think I prefer Ribeauville, because it’s smaller, quieter, and less “peopley”. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be up for a return visit someday. Below are some photos from Obernai.

As lunchtime got closer, we decided to head to Saverne, a town Bill discovered and was curious about exploring. Saverne is about a 45 minute drive from Obernai, but it’s kind of in the right direction for getting back to Sessenheim. That was important, since we had reservations at seven o’clock for our second gourmet dinner at the Auberge au Boeuf restaurant.

We easily found another free public parking lot in Saverne, although there was a two hour time limit. The lot was right next to the Presbytère Protestant, which was inaugurated in 1897. It is a very beautiful church, but we didn’t take time to visit it, because we were on a mission to find lunch.

As soon as we walked into the little town, which is situated on the Rhine-Marne canal at the foot of a pass over the Vosges Mountains. It has a very different feel than Obernai does. The main drag is on kind of a steep hill that actually reminded me more of the Alpine town of Chamonix than Alsace.

Licorne Beer!

I had never heard of Saverne before we visited there, but I was impressed by what I saw during our short trip. For one thing, Saverne is home to the Brewery La Licorne. Licorne is the French word for unicorn. We didn’t stop in for a visit there, but we did pick up a six pack of their brews to bring home with us. We also visited Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité, a beautiful old Catholic church that dates from 12th century. Bill was in a hurry, because he was worried about the time limit on our parking. Of course, no one was standing there with a stopwatch when we arrived, and I doubt people were chalking tires. He’s still big on following rules, though.

Saverne is also home to Rohan Castle, which is known as the “Little Versailles of Alsace”. It really does look like Versailles! And we almost had lunch at Taverne Katz, which is in a beautiful, historic building built in 1605 on the main drag through the town. We decided not to eat there when I noticed how many people were having lunch at that time. Instead, we dined at a place called Le Bistronome. Le Bistronome gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but we had a good experience there. Curiously, the complaints on Trip Advisor seem to be about a “lazy, inappropriate, and grumpy boss/waitress”. We didn’t have that impression of the service at all.

During our visit, a very pleasant lady was handling all of the tables. She kindly suggested a table to us, and I noticed everyone in there appeared to be a local. I heard one woman even murmur “American” when she saw Bill and me. A large French family, complete with the obvious matriarch, sat kitty cornered to us. She gazed at us, looking either grumpy or curious. I couldn’t tell, but she did seem to be much beloved by the people she was with.

Below are some photos from Saverne and our lunch at Le Bistronome, where we enjoyed the musical stylings of Billy Paul and Barry White. I swear, it’s not a trip to France if I don’t hear the song “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once! That restaurant is where I heard it on this trip to France. It also occurs to me that it looks like Bill and I only eat beef, fish, fries, and chocolate mousse. That’s not true at all, but that was how it worked out during our trip. Lunch ran us about 70 euros. The waitress was clearly very pleased when Bill tipped her generously.

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was mid afternoon. Bill was also worried about the parking lot time limit. So we headed back to Sessenheim, where I took a nice nap before our second big dinner. Bill went to the store and picked up some beer and wine. Stay tuned for the next post…

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France, restaurant reviews

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part six…

Before we came to Sessenheim, I booked dinner in Auberge au Boeuf’s restaurant for Friday and Saturday nights. If I had it to do over again, I would have booked one of those nights for the Stammtisch. Not only does the Stammtisch offer different choices, it’s also considerably less expensive and formal. But this isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy both of our dinners in the one starred Michelin restaurant. In fact, going twice gave us the chance to try a couple of different items, and have repeats of our favorites from the tasting menu we had on Friday night.

I wasn’t going to dress up for the experience on Friday, though I brought two dresses. I changed my mind when Bill decided to put on a jacket. It was a good decision to do that. I noticed that people were dressy at the restaurant– casually elegant attire was the norm. That’s definitely one difference between France and Germany. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to nice German restaurants and people were wearing jeans.

We arrived at the dining room promptly at 7:00pm, which is when service begins. On Friday night, most everyone there, except for us, was speaking German. One family brought their two dogs, who were making adorable grunting noises the whole time. Our waiter was the same young man who checked us in on Wednesday night. He spoke English just as well as he spoke German and French, which was very impressive to me. I used to work in a nice restaurant, and it was all I could do to remember the specials every night. But here he was, seamlessly flitting from table to table, speaking three different languages.

Bill ordered a nice local bottle of Riesling from the sommelier, who was also trilingual. We were invited to use our phones to scan the menu, which was on a QR code on a glass square that was affixed to a metal stand. I guess the QR code is one innovative way of getting around printing menus, which can apparently be vectors of diseases. It probably also makes it much easier to change the menus. No need to print anything. For those who don’t have capable smartphones, a tablet can be borrowed. The menus were in German and French. No luck for us English speakers. 😉

We decided on the tasting menu, which was called “Confession d’un Cuisinier”. Priced at 105 euros per person, this was a seven course tasting menu designed and created by Chef Yannick Germain, whose family also owns the hotel. It was quite adventurous for me, and the waiter was shocked when I told him I don’t eat mushrooms or truffles. Actually, I only had six courses, because one of the courses had mushrooms in it. The course count doesn’t include the extra goodies. I think the waiter might have worried that I would be a picky eater, but I did okay. Below are some photos from our first dinner.

This was definitely a very impressive dinner… although it wasn’t my favorite Michelin starred meal. Bill said he liked it better than the dinner we had at the Schwarzwaldstube at the Traube Tonbach Hotel in Baiersbronn last August. All told, we spent about 300 euros, not including the wine we had during our “afternoon pause”, which we got at the hotel. Was it worth it? I’d say yes, it was. It had been so long since our last night out. Service was excellent, yet unpretentious, and the quality of the food was outstanding. I got to try new things. We didn’t have to drive anywhere. And we did it again the following night. Stay tuned for that post.

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France, restaurant reviews

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part five…

Friday morning, after yet another excellent and much smaller breakfast, we decided to visit the town of Bitche. I first hear of Bitche when an Army friend visited there with her family. My friend and her husband are both retired Army officers who were still on active duty when they were living in Stuttgart. We met them years earlier, when we were neighbors at Fort Belvoir, an Army post in Virginia. It’s always funny to run into people on military installations worldwide!

My friend, who is now living in Hawaii, had a habit of taking road trips with her children, and one of the places they visited was Bitche, which is of particular interest to military enthusiasts. The town, which is located very close to the German border in the Moselle department of Lorraine, features an enormous citadel that dates back 800 years. I knew Bill would be interested in the citadel, but I wanted to go there because of the name of the town. I’m immature like that. 😉 Remember, I also made a point of visiting Fucking, Austria, before its name changed to Fugging, thanks to obnoxious American tourists. We even made a pilgrimage to Fuckersberg, Austria, which is basically a big field. You can easily search for and find my blog posts about those adventures from September 2015.

Bitche has the distinction of having had its Facebook page erroneously and unceremoniously shut down. It was probably because of the name, and what “bitch” means in English. Maybe some Facebook bot thought Bitche was a bullying page. The page was later reinstated, and the mayor got an apology. Anyway, Bitche is not pronounced the way we pronounce it in English, just as Fucking, Austria was not pronounced the way it was spelled. Below is a video with the pronunciation of Bitche.

It sounds kind of like “Beet’sche”

Bitche is about an hour’s drive from Sessenheim. It’s also about an hour away from Ramstein and Kaiserslautern, so it probably gets a lot of American visitors from there. We didn’t do much more in Bitche than walk around the charming village, where I saw yet another adorable European beagle. He looked like he could have been the brother to the one we saw in Sessenheim. I didn’t get a picture of him, since he was being walked by his human, who noticed me admiring his pooch. He said “Bonjour!”

I did notice a nice looking restaurant on the main drag of the town. It was called Aux Gourmand ’10. We happened to be passing it just as it was about to open for lunch. I looked them up on TripAdvisor and noticed they got encouraging reviews. Plus, regular readers of my blog may know that Bill and I have a bad habit of putting off eating for too long. I’m glad I made a point of looking on TripAdvisor with the restaurant’s actual name, since typing in “Bitche” and “Gourmand” got me porn results. Below are some shots of the village.

Aux Gourmand ’10 is clearly a popular place in Bitche. It’s very stylishly decorated, although it’s not a very large establishment. A lot of locales were dining there and appeared to be enjoying themselves and the food very much. The menu changes daily, and was presented on chalkboards on the walls and on little easels that were placed on the table. Bill and I knew we would be enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel on Friday night, so we were a little hesitant in ordering too much. We didn’t have to worry. The portion sizes were just right, and the food and service were very good. I had a faux filet with frites and a simple green salad (which I actually finished). Bill had a salmon filet with creamy risotto and grilled vegetables. His dish was great, except the vegetables included the dreaded mushrooms. I’m glad I avoided ordering that– I have learned that a lot of “vegetable medleys” include mushrooms.

I think our waitress was a little surprised by us, though. When we came in, Bill spoke German to her. And, like a lot of French citizens who live in that area, she spoke fluent German. It wasn’t until after we ate, and she asked if we wanted dessert, that she heard us speaking English. It turned out she spoke English, too, but she didn’t seem to know what language to use with us. I think she might have actually had Bill pegged as German! He does speak restaurant German pretty well, although I’m sure he has an American accent. But maybe it’s not as obvious to a French speaker. Or maybe I’m just humoring myself.

We did indulge in dessert and espresso. I had chocolate mousse, and Bill had creme brûlée, which was excellent, because it was very fresh. Bill said he liked that it didn’t taste like it had been sitting in a fridge for hours. I think the total bill for a sumptuous lunch with wine and dessert was about 70 euros. It was money well spent. We could have gotten out of there cheaper, though. The restaurant offers plates of the day (plats du jour) that are three courses for a low price.

After lunch, we drove up to the citadel to have a look around. It was closed, although that didn’t stop some people from walking around in it. According to a sign I saw, the citadel will reopen until December 11th on March 13th. We were just a little too early! Oh well. It really isn’t very far from where we live. Maybe we’ll visit again. The citadel is massive, so I know there would be many pictures taken during a proper visit. I did enjoy the views of Bitche from the hillside on which the citadel sits. It’s worth going up there for the views alone. There’s plenty of free parking, and a garden to explore.