booze tourism, Germany, shopping, Wiesbaden, wine

“Wining” away our Saturday in Wiesbaden…

A couple of weeks ago, one of Bill’s co-workers invited us to go to a wine tasting/market in Wiesbaden. She bought tickets for us, two of her other friends, and of course, herself. The event was held in the Colonnades near the Kurhaus in downtown Wiesbaden. To gain entry, we had prove we were fully vaccinated, but all other COVID related measures were dropped. We were supposed to be limited to two and a half hours, but fewer people showed up than were expected, so we could have stayed longer if we’d wanted to.

I really had a good time. I had forgotten how much fun these events are, even though I usually end up drinking too much. ūüėČ We met people representing wineries from around Germany, but there were also a couple of wineries from Italy and France in attendance. We also talked to a lady who runs a nut business out of Freudenstadt, which is very close to where we used to live when we were in the Stuttgart area. She had some really tasty cashews and other nuts that had complementary sweet and savory flavors. She also had salts, cheese breads, and granola.

We didn’t manage to hit every table. If we had, I would be in even worse shape this morning than I am… My liver really got a workout. But I did manage to get some photos. Lots of people were out and about, including a number of wedding parties. Springtime in Wiesbaden is a great time to see brides!

It’s so nice to have some normalcy again. I hope to enjoy it for as long as possible.

I enjoyed talking to some of the winery reps. One French lady bonded with us over a love for Georgian wines and the ancient way wines are made in the Caucasus. She said she did an internship in the Republic of Georgia, and since I lived in Armenia, we both knew about the region. ETA: It turns out the woman was actually from Germany, but she imports French wines. We found this out when Bill got the Rechnung!

Another winery was represented by the founder’s son, who said their winery was extremely tiny, with just one hectare of vines. Besides wines, they also made plum brandy and wineschorles (wine spritzers) that were refreshing. I think we came home with about 30 bottles!

I think we’ll take it easy today… enjoy the nice weather, and take care of some chores.

Here are a few shots of some of our neighborhood’s cutest residents. We ran into them on our walk the other day. Our neighborhood also has a bee feeding vending machine made from a repurposed gumball machine.

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Christmas, fests, friends, Germany, markets, Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden Christmas Market 2021

My friend Priya, her husband Ron, and our new friend, Heather, came up to Wiesbaden from Stuttgart yesterday. They asked Bill and me to join them at the Wiesbaden Christmas Market. The markets down near Stuttgart have mostly been cancelled, due to rising COVID-19 infections, but there are many towns in other states that are having smaller versions of their markets. Priya and Ron have been making their way to a number of them.

I was glad they invited us to join them. I had been wanting to to go the market, but was having trouble with motivation. The weather hasn’t been nice lately, and the COVID rules can be onerous. But thanks to our friends from Stuttgart, we managed to have a great time. It was quite a shock to hang out with people again. We were all laughing about the erosion of social skills that has happened since March 2020.

After a few hours and too much wine and beer, we said our goodbyes. Priya, Ron, and Heather went on to visit the market in Mainz. Bill and I went home to feed the dogs.

For some reason, the connection on this site is excruciatingly slow today. I’ll have to keep the commentary to a minimum. I also can’t delete the photos, so there are a few that look like repeats. I’ll try to fix these glitches later.

A good time was had by all!

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holidays, Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today, I received a package I had been eagerly awaiting. It came from County Clare, Ireland, and was decorated with stamps and stickers. The lady, name of Anne, who had sent me my order from Luka Bloom, had drawn little musical notes next to my name, which she had written in cursive that looked a lot like my own… especially after I’ve had a couple of beers.

The mailman asked me in German if we didn’t have a post office box. He was a young lad and I hadn’t seen him before. He’d also caught me off guard when he spoke German to me and I was standing there in a nightie with no bra on. I responded in English and he understood, just at about the time that I mentally translated what he’d said. No matter, since I wouldn’t have been able to speak German back to him. Isn’t it cool that my Irish music got to me on St. Patrick’s Day? Especially since I wrote to Anne to ask her to send it to Germany, even though I have a U.S. billing address and there was no way to add a different delivery address in their order form. It was no problem to make the change– and if I hadn’t, God only knows when the APO would have sent it to me.

So who is Luka Bloom (born Kevin Barry Moore)? He’s a fantastic indie folk musician and the brother of Christy Moore, another great indie folk musician. I was introduced to Christy Moore by an honest to God Irishman with whom I used to work at a Presbyterian church camp in Virginia. Funny thing is, my Irish friend, who lived near Belfast and most definitely not a Brit, was a Catholic. He ended up marrying one of the other counselors, a lovely Black woman from Stafford, Virginia. They have been together now for over twenty-five years and have six or seven children… I’ve lost count!

My Irish friend sent me a mix tape when I lived in Armenia and it had some of Christy Moore’s music on it. I liked it so much that when I got back to the States, I sought it out and stocked up my music collection.

Anyway, Christy Moore recently plugged his brother’s latest album, Out of the Blue. I am more familiar with Christy Moore’s music, so I decided to pre-order the new album, as well as a couple of others that looked interesting. As I’ve gotten older, I often find myself drunken downloading music or buying CDs from street musicians others I don’t know well. I’m very seldom disappointed in the results, but then I have very eclectic musical tastes. Luka Bloom’s new album, by the way, can be downloaded. I decided to get a CD because he was signing them. I also bought a CD that I couldn’t download, and another came with a download I got from the site.

Other than listening to my new CDs, I have no other special plans for today. I might not even have any whiskey or beer, because I’ve kind of been enjoying letting my body go booze free. I’m hoping Bill will be home sometime between tomorrow night and Friday night. After that, I suspect my teetotaling will conclude. I haven’t been totally faithful to the wagon during this latest marathon TDY, but I have found that I’ve not really wanted to drink alcohol so much… which is a relief, given my colorful family history.

I’ve found that I like Luka Bloom as much as I do his brother. Right now, I’m typing this and listening to one of the albums I bought, remembering when Bill and I took our cruise from Scotland to Northern Ireland with a stop in Carlingford, which is in the Republic of Ireland.

Our guide was a local guy named Dermott who bore a passing resemblance to Joel Osteen and had a charming Irish lilt. He told us about how Carlingford has an annual Leprechaun hunt (April 17th) to raise money for the town. Then, he started talking about Northern Ireland vs. the Republic of Ireland.

It turned out Dermott was Irish, but was born and raised in Newry, on the northern side of the border. He spoke of how in the 80s, the border checks were brutal. Guards would literally take cars apart, looking for bombs and contraband. Then he said he hoped one day Ireland would be reunited– it became clear that Dermott had Nationalist leanings. That got a rather disgruntled reaction from the elderly Brits who were on the cruise. Bill and I had no real skin in the game, except for our own Irish heritage. Turns out that other than the Irish surname I got from Bill when we married, I am actually more Irish than he is.

Then, Bill proceeded to annoy the Brits, who just wanted to get away from Dermott (I got the sense they thought he was an ingrate). Dermott was talking about Irish folk tales. Bill happens to love Irish literature and actually studied it in college. And then it seemed that he knew more about it than the guide did… The guide had heard the stories from his father, while Bill had studied it at American University and written papers on it… I got the sense that the other cruisers were irritated with both of them by the time that excursion. Luckily, there was a lot of booze on the boat.

Bill and I have been to Ireland a couple of other times. We went in 2016 for our 14th anniversary. One of my funniest memories from that trip was running into a bunch of 12 year old boys on a crowded train to Kilkenny, where we were going to tour the Smithwick’s Brewery. The kids were hilariously witty. When they found out Bill had been to Iraq and we were from America, they asked all kids of cheeky questions. The poor beleaguered “den mom” who was with them kept giving the look. But I swear, we about died laughing when one of the kids said, “Nobody vacations in Ireland! It’s AWFUL!” Then, a few minutes later, he asked us if we considered Canada our “goody two shoes neighbor to the north.”

The third time we went was to Dublin, to attend a marathon concert featuring Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. The six hour concert, in and of itself, was reason enough to love our visit. But we also stayed in a fabulous hotel– the Merrion– and we had high tea. It was a marvelous time. I really miss travel… especially carefree travel. Here’s hoping that COVID-19 will be arrested soon, so we can go back to Ireland and raise a pint with those lads who were on the way to Kilkenny, who are now closer to 18. Seems like whenever we go to Ireland, we make at least one new friend and many new wonderful memories. At the very least, I come home with new stories… perhaps more than I do in some of the other places we’ve been.

From Luka Bloom’s latest album, Out of the Blue. I’m listening to this as I type this.
And one by Luka Bloom’s brother, Christy Moore. Believe it or not, this was the first version of “Fairytale of New York” I ever heard. It’s a cover… but it’s a damn fine cover!

Well, that about does it for this wistful post. I sure am ready to fast forward to our next trip. But barring that, I’d just like to fast forward to seeing Bill again. I have really missed him.

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Beastie BESTIES!

Another week has passed of Germany’s lockdown. I do my best to get my entertainment wherever I can find it. Nowadays, it seems my best chances for live entertainment are in the backyard. As you can see, Tommi the lab puppy still enjoys being a “peeping Tom”. He looks in on Noyzi and Arran all the time.

A few days ago, we ran into my neighbor’s mom, who also lives in the neighborhood. She looks after Tommi while my neighbor works. Noyzi and Tommi had an adorable meeting. It was obvious they wanted to play. Arran, of course, was very cranky and wanted no part of the shenanigans.

Below is a video of a couple of Tommi’s visits. People seem to like the Noyzi videos, even though they’re pretty similar. I would like to make some music videos soon. I just have to decide what I want to try. I’ll have plenty of time undisturbed, since Bill has to work TDY for three weeks. I hate it when he goes away for long stretches, but it does give me the opportunity to do some creative stuff without interruption. I’ll probably practice more guitar while he’s gone, too.

Noyzi and Tommi are confirmed pals… and Tommi still loves to visit under the fence.

I might also add some travel posts, since this lockdown just HAS to end soon. I read a really sad story about German hoteliers trying to keep going while people aren’t allowed to stay for leisure purposes. They must be very scared about the future and trying to survive. Bill is giving the hotel in Grafenwoehr three weeks worth of business, but it sure as hell isn’t a pleasure trip.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to keep Arran going as I also try to teach Noyzi that he doesn’t have to be afraid of everything… like the television. Today’s featured photo is of Noyzi, who until a few days ago, had never been to that part of the bedroom. In fact, I don’t think he’d ever really come into the room. He’s afraid of the TV. He seems to think the people in them will get him. Meanwhile, Arran has had some tummy troubles lately, so he went to the vet the other day. I have to drop off a sample of his poop on Monday so we can see if he picked up a parasite. The joys of mundane, monotony… and I get to do it all alone throughout March. I’ve already told Bill I’m probably going to buy some new toys while he’s gone.

Hopefully, it won’t be much longer before we get vaccinated and things might be a bit more normal. I am so ready to travel. My poor car keeps dying because I never drive anywhere.

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When neighbor dogs don’t want to social distance…

The soggy weather continues here in Germany. We’ve had nothing but rain and snow since the new year. The weather is a bit of a bummer, especially since everything is still locked down here. We’re running short on fun lately, which is why it’s so great to have a new rescue dog around. Especially one from Kosovo!

Ever since Noyzi, the Kosovar street dog, and Tommi met a couple of weeks ago, Noyzi has been obsessively watching the fence that borders our neighbor’s yard. I see him sniffing the air, as if to catch a whiff of his new friend, Tommi the Lab. I let him and Arran outside for a pee break yesterday, and they both went nuts at the far corner of our little yard. I kept seeing little flashes of movement under the fence. I have seen mice, hedgehogs, birds, and the odd cat or squirrel on or in that fence. I thought maybe there was a cat or something there, making the dogs react…

Bill is not too pleased about having to upgrade the fencing. He was in the middle of something work related when this excitement happened. Party pooper!

But then I saw a blond doggie face and the happy eyes of our German neighbor’s cute little puppy. It turns out he’s been as interested in hanging out with Noyzi as Noyzi has been interested in hanging out with him! He was trying to wriggle under the fence. I wasn’t able to get the best video, since Bill came out and broke it up before I was able to catch the scene. But later, we let them out again, and Tommi tried again.

Noyzi and Tommi are desperately trying to find a way to be buddies, even though they are separated by a tall fence!

Pretty soon, I reckon Tommi will be too big to even try to go under the fence. And Bill will probably fortify it with something to prevent a breach. It was still pretty cute to see Tommi’s little face. He was very happy to try to come play.

Later, Noyzi came up to me while I was sitting at the table and I started scratching his butt. I have now created a monster. Now, not only does he show up like a silent canine taxman whenever I’m eating something, but he also wants butt rubs. Every time I rub, he drops a ton of hair. But it’s worth it, because look at the big smile on his face in the featured photo.

We’re seeing that silly grin more and more often, since he’s joined us from Kosovo. In four months, he’s gone from being so scared he’d pee on himself whenever Bill took off his jacket or belt, to begging for butt rubs, table scraps, and walks around the neighborhood. Maybe he’s not the best behaved dog around, but he sure is enjoying life. And he’s made this COVID-19 nightmare easier to bear. I have never regretted taking in any of the dogs we’ve rescued… even the tragedy of Jonny last spring ended up doing some good. But Noyzi has been especially rewarding to watch. And I’ve even made a couple new friends in the process.

Tomorrow, Arran will get his stitches out, having had a mast cell tumor removed on his left hind leg. Maybe the vet will be able to tell Bill the results of Noyzi’s DNA test, too.

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Parker goes to France, part five…

Prior to Monday, I had never heard of Soultzmatt, another cute town in Alsace where wonderful locally produced wines are turned out every year. My friend, Ellen, said that she’d been buying wines from Klein Ren√© et Michel for years. As I mentioned in my previous post, I knew Ellen from Facebook. Before Monday, I had never met Ellen in person, though we have been interacting for a few years now. She and her friend, Louise, were about a half an hour behind us, so we had originally planned to visit Eguisheim. But the lure of wine was too strong to resist, and we soon found ourselves on the was to 5 Rue Ingold in Soultzmatt.

Bill was a little confused at first, once we found the winery. We weren’t sure where to park, or where to go. As luck would have it, another couple pulled up at about the same time we did, only they were French and spoke no English. Ellen had asked us to wait, but since the lady was already opening the tasting room for the French couple, we decided to go ahead… We knew we’d still be tasting wines when Ellen and Louise showed up. Sure enough, we were!

The lady who was running the tasting didn’t speak any English at all, so things were a little awkward at first. But then Bill told her he speaks a little German and, lo and behold, she spoke German, too! We’ve found that a lot of people in Alsace speak German, especially among the older folks. There’s a guy in Ribeauville who sells liqueurs and wines who speaks no English, but has happily carried on conversations with Bill, despite Bill’s limited German proficiency.

By the time Ellen and Louise showed up, the French couple had left with three boxes of wine– probably about 18 bottles worth. And Bill, Parker, and I had already tried about three… Ellen speaks French and German, so things got a lot easier after that! We left with twelve bottles of wine ourselves.

Ellen did manage to get a nice shot of us enjoying our wine…

This was a very successful stop!

It’s always a pleasure to meet online acquaintances offline. After all, that’s how Bill and I came together. We used to be strictly online friends. Ellen and Louise were delightful company. It turns out we have some things in common, too. Louise is a horse person, and I was a horse person for years before I grew up… and out. Louise lives in Mobile, Alabama, which was where my horse lived after his very first owner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana sold him with his mom. Louise is also the name of my former riding instructor. ūüėČ And Ellen was especially great company, especially since we lived in the same community and have husbands who do somewhat similar work. I was most impressed by her ability to speak French and German. Time for me to get back on the stick, I guess.

After we tasted and bought our wine, we headed back to Ribeauville. Parker stayed in while Bill and I went searching for dinner. We found only one open restaurant, though it was one we’d never tried before… Restaurant Le Ribeaupierre. I see it gets pretty low Trip Advisor ratings, although I can honestly say I have legitimately had worse dining experiences in Ribeauville. We were the only ones in the restaurant, but the waiter was still very pleasant and the food wasn’t bad.

Restaurant Le Ribeaupierre is quaintly decorated and seems like a somewhat popular lunch spot, despite its low ratings on Trip Advisor. It looks like they mostly serve pizzas. I had some trouble choosing what I was going to have, mainly because the presence of mushrooms pretty much spoil my meals (not that I can’t afford to have some spoiled). Lasagne is one of those items that is hit or miss. Sometimes people use mushrooms in them. Sometimes they don’t. Anyway, this meal was alright. The Irish Coffee made up for it, and Bill enjoyed his “colonel”– lemon sorbet with a shot of vodka. We noticed that the waiter locked up right after we left, at about 8:00pm. Like I said, Ribeauville is dead in January, but plenty of fun can still be had if you look hard enough.

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Vienna, Austria Part 4… Friendship investment

After checking out the cathedral, I decided I was very tired and my feet were killing me.  It was the perfect time to reacquaint myself with Vienna’s easy to figure out metro, which I used quite a bit when I visited in 1997.  Bill and I quickly determined our hotel was near the U4 line.  The Stephen’s Dom cathedral was on another line, but we only had to go one stop to Karlsplatz to switch trains.  Before we knew it, we were just a couple of minutes away from the hotel.  While I was on the train, I noticed quite a few young people gloriously free of adult interference.  I couldn’t help but think how Americans would react had we been in the United States.  A couple of the kids appeared to be about ten years old, yet they were doing just fine on the U bahn, all by themselves!

We went to the hotel room.  I took off my shoes and started watching crappy 70s and 80s TV shows dubbed in German.  I never thought I’d see CHiPs on regular TV again.  I was never a Knight Rider fan, but I did watch an episode and realized why David Hasselhoff was so popular in the 80s.  We had plans to meet Herbert and Susanne at 6:00.  We went back to the coffee house we’d visited earlier in the day for a snack.  I had chicken soup and a Gosser beer, which I used to drink all the time when I lived in Armenia.  Bill had an open faced sandwich and a beer.  The same guy waited on us.

Quite a nice Austrian lager.

A little snack.  We thought we’d be going to the concert and didn’t want to get hangry.  I had a bit of an upset stomach, so I went for something mild.  The soup reminded me of Lipton Cup O’Noodles, only it was much better tasting and obviously homemade.  The noodles were similar, though.

Bill thought we were supposed to meet them at the opera house, a massive, centrally located structure.  Actually, we were supposed to go back to the cathedral.  Bill ended up having to call Herbert to connect with them.  By the time we met Herbert and Susanne, it was about 6:20.  We were supposed to go to the concert at 8:00pm.

Herbert and his girlfriend strolled with us around Vienna.  Susanne was born and raised there and Herbert has lived there for 15 years.  They pointed out a TGIFriday’s and seemed rather surprised when I said it was a popular American chain restaurant.  Susanne was a little self-conscious about her English, but it was way better than my German.

We eventually got on the tram and went near the Rathaus, which is a very beautiful building.  We strolled around Vienna’s rose garden, which we were told would be in full bloom the following month.  And then we stopped for a drink.  Herbert and Susanne were worried about us missing the concert, but we repeatedly told them it was okay.  Yes, Bill spent about 80 euros for tickets, but I had read the reviews and had low expectations.  We probably would have spent that on dinner Thursday night if we’d had it.  Besides, while I might have liked the concert well enough, I figure an investment in a friendship is more valuable.  We were hitting it off with Herbert and Susanne, who confessed they’d only been together for a couple of months.

It was great meeting locals and talking with them about life in Vienna.  It made the city more personal and, I think, will make it a more welcoming place when we visit again.  I think we will, too. It’s amazing that all I knew about Herbert was hearing his voice on SingSnap.  Now I can put a face to the name.  He is a very interesting guy, too.

Nighttime shots.  I remembered the above from last time I visited in ’97.  Seems like these are in other Austrian cities, too.  I remember seeing one in St. Polten.  ETA: My friend Susanne posted this…  basically, this was erected to commemorate the plague.  They are all over Austria and Germany.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a Wienerwald, a local chicken chain.  Bill and I ate at one in Boeblingen back in 2007 or so and we liked the food alright.  We wanted to have something to eat before bed.  The restaurant was absolutely teeming with kids… again, all unsupervised.  But all they were doing was being loud.  They otherwise functioned just fine on their own!  It was refreshing!

I couldn’t eat much of this, but it kept me from getting really hungry.

A little fun with Viennese ads in the metro…

 

The Viennese U-Bahn is pretty great.  It’s easy to figure out and they even offer magazines to read if you’re lucky enough to sit down.  Ticket machines offer English translation and there’s a flat rate for all destinations within the city–  2.20 euros a ride.  You can also buy in bulk or get multiple trip tickets for less!  Next time, we’ll do that.

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Vienna, Austria Part 2… karaoke time!

I had been itching to do some karaoke in front of a live audience for some time.  I do a lot of karaoke on SingSnap.com, which is an online karaoke site.  But there’s nothing like performing live.  Babuder’s is a nice place located on a side street called Tiefer Graben.  When we arrived at about 7:00pm on Thursday night, the place was just opening up.  Bill and I selected a table and ordered a couple of local beers.  Herbert was already there, but we had never met in person before.  I only knew him from comments and private messages on my recordings.  Sometimes Herbert joins me in duets and I’ve come to enjoy his witty observations.

Anyway, I was feeling a little shy.  Karaoke at Babuder’s is a little different than what I’m used to.  Instead of looking through books of available songs and handing the KJ slips of paper with requests, you just go up to him and ask him for songs.  They have a database with over 30,000 songs, so chances are good they’ll have what you want.  But not being able to browse through a book means you have to think of something to sing rather than have something suggested.  You also have no idea what version of karaoke song you’ll get.  They are not all created equally.

I started with “Blue Bayou”, which I’ve done hundreds of times.  I got up on the little stage, feeling oddly nervous in front of all the Viennese locals.  There weren’t actually that many people there, but I was jittery anyway.  I eventually relaxed and enjoyed the rush.  I spotted the resident Queen Bee in the corner.  She was very cute and probably at least twenty years younger than me.  She had a couple of girlfriends with her and one of the guys who worked there, a young guy with muscles, appeared to be hitting on her.  I have to admit, the Queen Bee had a good voice.  Fortunately, our styles were different.

As the night wore on, Herbert and Bill started bonding.  Herbert is a very interesting guy.  He’s in his early 60s.  His parents were Czech, but he was born and raised in Ludwigsburg, which is a town very close to Stuttgart.  He speaks English, German, Polish, Russian, and, based on one of his karaoke performances, French.  He has three master’s degrees and a voice that reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s.  He and Bill really seemed to hit it off and they talked a lot while I got up and sang stuff by Alison Krauss, Kate Bush, The Carpenters, and more Linda Ronstadt.  To my knowledge, no one filmed me… I’m glad of that!  One thing I did notice was that most of the people at Babuder’s could sing quite competently.  It also appeared to be a very gay friendly place, though most everyone was subdued.  One guy started speaking rapid fire German to me and I answered that I speak no German in German.  He switched to English.  It turned out he was a Brit.

Bill is unimpressed…

Decent beer.  They had peanuts and pretzels, but I didn’t notice any other food.

The party was winding down.

Not the best photo of the sign outside.

 

Herbert wanted to get together on Friday night so we could meet his girlfriend and they could show us around Vienna.  We left Babuder’s at about 11:00 and caught a cab back to our hotel, where we both promptly crashed.  I would have liked to have gone back to Babuder’s, but there was a lot of other stuff we wanted to see and do.  Herbert says Thursday nights at Babuder’s are good because it’s not too crowded.  If we get back to Vienna, we will have to visit again.

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France and Germany… a send off from the ArmyРPart 6

I have a good friend named Audra who lives in Nimes, France.  I first met her at the high school in the small town where we grew up.  She is a year younger than I am, but we had classes together.  I used to chat with her during our journalism class, which turned out to be one of my favorite high school classes.  For some reason, I didn’t take the second year of journalism.  I probably should have.  My friend also graduated from Longwood University, which in our day was called Longwood College.  We didn’t really hang out when we were in college, so I hadn’t seen her in many years.  Facebook got us reconnected.

Since we were in France, Audra invited Bill and me to come down to Nimes and help her and her family celebrate her son’s 11th birthday.  I had never been to Nimes before.  It turned out to be a wonderful city, famed for its bullfights and Spanish feel.  We got off the train and walked right into a great farmer’s market that included displays, exhibitions, animals, and agricultural goods.  One native said to us in English that this market thing they had going on was not something they had every day.

The air smelled of livestock and the fecal by-product that comes from livestock.  There were goats, pigs, horses, rabbits, birds of every kind, and sheep.  Kids were taking donkey rides and adults were tasting wines, cheeses, and beers.  It was a fun scene.

I booked us at the Majestic Hotel, a two star establishment near the train station.  This hotel is very quirky and there’s no elevator.  We had kind of a funny incident with the lady who checked us in, who spoke no English.  I asked for the WiFi password.  She said what sounded like “D O’s.”  I tried several combinations.  It never occurred to me that what the lady had actually said was that we had to type ten zeros.  “Dix” is French for ten!

We got in touch with Audra, who came with two of her three kids to pick us up at our hotel.  We drove to a very cool village about an hour outside of Nimes where there was a great bar.  Audra, her boyfriend, Cyril, and Cyril’s parents had arranged for “charcuterie”, which is basically a huge pile of meat and bread.  The guy who ran the bar had a great selection of beers and played great music.  Audra and I wasted no time getting caught up while the birthday boy and his friends hung out.  Audra’s younger son and daughter were also in attendance, along with Cyril’s friend– whose name I can’t remember now!  It was a great time and Bill and I were so grateful to be included, especially since we never would have found that great bar on our own!

Big pile of meat!  I actually tasted a couple of sausages that required some bravery‚Ķ I was rewarded for the effort!

 

Besides the cool bar, this town was very fortified…

The next day, Audra invited us to spend Mother’s Day with her family.  That, too, was a great treat, since Cyril’s family lives just outside of Nimes on a beautiful tree lined plot of land.  Audra and Cyril are building their own house next to Cyril’s parents’ house and, I have to say, Bill and I were very envious of what they’re about to have!

I think this may have been my favorite part of our trip.  Not only was it wonderful to see Audra and meet her kids, boyfriend, and his family, but we really got an authentic taste of France.  Had we not caught up with my old friend, we would have done the usual tourist things or just wandered around town (which is really more like what we tend to do on our trips).  Thanks to Audra and Cyril and Cyril’s parents, we got to see how the locals live‚Ķ and from what I can see, they live quite well!

We might have wanted to stay an extra day in Nimes, but my eye was on the calendar and we knew we needed to start thinking about getting back to Germany within a few days so we could get a flight back to the USA.

My new scarf!

After Audra dropped us off during the afternoon, we wandered more around Nimes and I bought a scarf at the farmer’s market that was handmade by a local lady.  We saw a pair of Mormon missionaries who seemed to be having trouble finding things to do.

These three pieces of meat mysteriously fell before us as we walked around Nimes…

Then, for dinner, we stopped at a very charming little bistro that seemed to be a one woman show.  We were the lady’s only guests at about 7:00pm and she served us a fine meal.  I had dorada, which is one of my favorite fish dishes.  Bill had steak.  Then, when it came time to pay, he tried to use his credit card and it didn’t work.  So I had to sit in the restaurant and wait for Bill to get cash to pay the lady for our meal.  She was very gracious about it‚Ķ I’m sure she’s run into this issue with American patrons more than once!

Awesome French dinner at this restaurant in Nimes…

Our next stop was Nice‚Ķ but getting to Nice wasn’t all that nice!  Stay tuned!

Bill and the bull fighter! 

Scenes around Nimes…

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And finally, how my late beagle Flea helped break down barriers in Germany…

We lost our beagle, Flea, in November 2009, right after we moved back to the States from Germany. ¬†While we lived in Germany, Flea ended up being both a hinderance and a help to us. ¬†Most of the adults didn’t like him because he was really loud and obnoxious. ¬†Kids loved him, though, and he did help break the ice between us and our German neighbors.¬† The featured picture is of MacGregor, who also helped us meet people.¬† Below, is Flea when we still lived in Germany the first time.

Flea

Flea, canine ambassador, helps us break cultural barriers in Germany!

Sep 12, 2008 (Updated May 9, 2012)

The Bottom Line If you live in a German neighborhood, it’s good to have dogs.

It’s hard to believe that on September 17, 2008, my husband Bill and I will have been living near Stuttgart, Germany for an entire year. The time has gone by fast and, after just a little bit of a culture shock and six weeks spent in a hotel, I find that I actually really love living here.

Bill and I have been very lucky since we arrived in Germany. First off, we didn’t get stuck living in a stairwell apartment on any of the local military installations. Bill is an Army officer and, as such, is subject to strict rules regarding housing. The biggest rule is that if there is housing available on a military installation, the servicemember must accept it unless he or she has a very compelling reason not to. As it turned out, when we first arrived in Germany, a lot of the housing was being renovated or was otherwise occupied. That meant that we were allowed to live in German housing on the economy. We ended up finding a huge house in a charming little town about twenty miles south of Stuttgart. The area is beautiful and authentic. Better yet, we have quiet and privacy.

A lot of people prefer the stairwell apartments on post because they are convenient. After all, people who live in those quarters are surrounded by their fellow Americans. Work, school, and shopping are closeby and the area is certainly secure, since armed guards man the entrances. If Bill and I had children, perhaps living on post would have been worthwhile for us. However, living off post and out in the country has turned out to be great… mainly because after ten months, I’m finally starting to get to know and like my German neighbors!

Even though Bill and I first moved into our house in November 2007, it’s only been very recently that we’ve started talking with our next door neighbors. Their household consists of an older couple and their daughter, her husband, and their adorable little two year old boy. When we first moved into our house, I immediately sensed that the family patriarch next door didn’t trust us. He seemed to gaze at our unkempt lawn with contempt, while his lawn and garden were kept pristine. Once, when my dogs were barking at him through the window, I saw him yelling back at them… of course, I couldn’t hear what he was saying because he was in his glass enclosed patio area. Even if I could hear him, I wouldn’t have been able to understand him. But his facial expressions and body language said a lot.

Ironically, it was our dogs that eventually got us talking to each other. My older dog, Flea, is a beagle who sort of behaves like a little canine ambassador. He loves children of all ages and is especially enchanted by little ones. The little boy next door, an adorable tyke with blond curls, is certainly worthy of enchantment. Every time we took Flea outside and he heard the little boy, Flea would start to whine. The little boy seemed equally intrigued by Flea and MacGregor (my other beagle). He would stand at the edge of his lawn and gaze at the dogs as if he longed to pet them.

One day, Flea saw the boy and let out a pained, eager yelp, which made the boy’s parents laugh. Bill took the dogs to the edge of the lawn and starting using his very basic German skills. It turned out the younger couple spoke some English. They chatted for a bit while Flea eyed the two year old, who shyly backed away. But it wasn’t long before the boy finally started to pet Flea, who was as gentle as a lamb.

After that, I noticed the family was a lot friendlier. We would trade “Guten Morgens” in the mornings and wave cordially. Flea would continue to fret whenever the boy was outside, amusing everybody.
One day a few weeks ago, the boy’s mother stood at the edge of our yards with a small bucket and asked me in German if we liked raspberries. Apparently, they’d had a bumper crop! With that invitation, Flea dragged me over to where she was standing, eager to visit with her little boy, who was hiding behind her. She apologized for her English skills, which I thought were pretty darn good. We ended up chatting for awhile and she confessed that her son had developed a fascination for dogs.

A couple of weeks later, when Flea demanded to have a chat with the toddler next door, the boy’s mother said that she and her husband had bought the boy a toy dog. He had named it Flea and slept with it every night! Also, the boy had taken to using the word English word “dog” instead of the German word, “hund”. We both had a big laugh when I asked her if she knew what the word “flea” means in English. I soon found myself describing what a flea is and telling her that Flea’s rescuer had been the one to name him! Her little boy presented me with a little branch full of cherry tomatoes he’d helped his dad grow in their green house. The boy’s mom said she hoped they were sweet enough.

The other night, Bill was working late and I found myself chatting with the neighbors again. The family patriarch had joined us. I was a little worried about how he would react to Flea and MacGregor being nearby, since they had seemed to annoy him when we first moved in. But when Flea went up to him, he seemed happy to give him lots of attention. Apparently, he’d had dogs as a boy, though he was not familiar with beagles… for which I finally learned the German word. I haven’t seen many beagles in Germany and have actually been stopped a couple of times by neighbors who have asked me if Flea and MacGregor are beagles. I get the feeling they aren’t common here, though people seem to think they’re pretty cute. On the other hand, I’m not sure that many Germans understand that beagles bay when they get on a scent. I’ve gotten a lot of surprised and annoyed looks at times…

Since we’ve been in Germany, my dogs have helped me break the ice with my German neighbors all around. I also get the feeling that they provide some entertainment for the local children. A couple of months ago, we were victims of repeated “ding dong ditching”. A local prankster would ring our doorbell in the early evening, then run away. Of course, it would get the dogs going, which I’m sure was the purpose for the prank. We ended up disconnecting all of our doorbells. In a way, that’s not a bad thing. Most of the people who ring our doorbell nowadays are people trying to sell something… including religion.

It’s true that getting our dogs to Germany and taking care of them here has been, in some ways, a challenge. And goodness knows we’d be able to travel more if we didn’t have our dogs to consider. On the other hand, I doubt I’d be getting to know the neighbors if it weren’t for Flea and his affection for kids. I think having our dogs is going to really enrich this whole international experience for us. And MacGregor, as shy as he can be, is even getting in on the act!

 

MacGregor is looking at the camera while Flea looks off to the side…

 

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