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Good intentions waylaid by a Stau…

We have nice weather today, and several fests are going on. I was thinking I might like to go to one in a town near us, since I knew there would be wine, food, and live music. But just after we got on A 66, we hit a Stau… that is, a traffic jam. We must have gotten to it pretty soon after a wreck, as a couple of ambulances passed us while we sat behind an endless processional of cars.

It was just after one o’clock when we hit the Stau, and about 1:45pm when we were finally moving again. We were both so irritated and hangry that we decided to just go to AAFES on post and pick up a few necessary items. I hadn’t been to the PX in many months… it’s probably been over a year. I needed to get some new makeup, because the stuff I’ve been using is probably from the pre-pandemic days. Bill also wanted to get shit bags for the dogs, and an Internet extender for the house.

By the time we were done shopping, we had spent well over $200, mostly on my cosmetics, because I don’t use cheap stuff. I usually buy Lancome, but there wasn’t any way to tell which shades things were, so I switched to Estee Lauder. Then we went to the Pizza Hut Express and got a pizza, which was pretty crappy. Pizza Hut used to be pretty good, back when you could go there and sit in the restaurant for dinner. Now, it’s kind of yucky. But it was handy to get it, since it was after 2pm, and we were both grouchy.

When we got home, the dogs were ecstatic. Noyzi goosed us both in the ass. Then I noticed a funny Carolyn Hax column in the Washington Post, about a woman who was pregnant and having to deal with her mother-in-law treating her like her grandchild’s vessel. For example, they’d go out for Thai food, and Grandma would say, “If that’s what Baby wants…”

My response was, “I’d tell her Baby would rather have a double gin martini.” For some reason, people thought that was a really funny quip. In honor of it, Bill made us gin martinis. See the featured photo for that. 😉

Below are a few photos from the highly annoying Stau. We were used to those in Stuttgart. They aren’t so common up here in Wiesbaden. Good thing we didn’t have our hearts set on doing anything special or having lunch anywhere good.

And no, I did not commit Beleidigung today, although the impulse was there. The martini was made from gin we bought from Vom Fass in Wels, Austria. We finally finished the bottle.

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part eight

On the morning of June 21, we got up and packed everything, and Bill took it to the car, which was buried deep under the hotel in their tiny parking garage. We went down to breakfast and enjoyed the other half of the delicious strawberry tart. It was even better the second day! I was sorry to leave De Witte Lelie, as it was such a welcoming and homey hotel. The staff is so friendly and helpful, and the accommodations are stylish and comfortable. Alas, we had to leave Antwerp and go home to our dogs. So, after we settled the bill and said goodbye, we got in the Volvo and took about half an hour trying to maneuver out of the garage, which has a steep incline to the door. Kudos to Bill and the many fancy sensors on the Volvo for getting us out of there unscathed!

We also had much less trouble leaving Antwerp than entering it, as Bill didn’t make any wrong turns. I was sorry to leave without a new diamond, but I think I’d rather get one at a place where I’m not a tourist. There were a couple of Trip Advisor horror stories that advised me against shopping for a new rock in Belgium.

First on our agenda was to stop at a Belgian supermarket to pick up some beers for home. We stopped at a little co-op market and loaded up a cart with suds, as well as a few other items. Bill went to pay, and it turned out they didn’t take Visa. They also didn’t have an ATM. So the cashier was kind enough to watch our cart while we searched for a cash machine. That took about an hour, even with a GPS… but eventually, we got our euros, gassed up the car, I unloaded the breakfast beverages, and we went back to the store to make our purchase. The cashier had kept the cart safe for us. Next time, we’ll bring cash.

Then, we headed eastward, stopping at a typical German Rastplatz for lunch at McDonald’s. I had to laugh when Bill ordered two Royales and one of them came with the bun that is usually reserved for plain cheeseburgers (no sesame seeds). I guess McDonald’s in Europe are also suffering from supply chain shortages.

Our drive home was completely uneventful, and we arrived in the mid afternoon. I got started on my blogging, and Bill went to get the dogs, who were very happy to come home after four nights away. I always worry about Arran on our trips now, as he’s an old guy and would rather hang out with us. Noyzi was also very glad to be back home in his bed.

I was feeling okay… maybe there was a little scratchiness in my throat. I didn’t know that Wednesday, I’d be legitimately sick for the first time in several years and wondering if I finally got COVID-19. I have so far tested twice, and got negative results both times. I also feel a lot better today than I did yesterday. So… I’m thinking this was a cold. But, I will confess that this trip was maskless and restriction free. I might have gotten COVID-19, but so far, the tests say no… However, I don’t interact with people anyway, so I’m just riding it out at home. Today, I feel like I am about 85% normal. Yesterday, I was probably 60% normal. Wednesday night and Thursday were the worst, but even they weren’t as bad as the last time I had the flu. I haven’t had a fever, body aches, or exhaustion. I have had a runny nose, coughing, vomiting (from coughing), headache, sinus pressure, and mild fatigue. In other words, this sickness feels like a cold.

So ends my 50th birthday celebration. I must say, it was a lot of fun turning 50 in Antwerp. Belgium is a great destination for me, mainly because it has beer, frites, chocolate, and friendly, unpretentious people who are funny! I hope we can visit Antwerp again, and I would encourage you to visit, if you have the time and the means!

Stay tuned for my usual ten things I learned post… if you’re interested, that is. 😉

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part seven

At last it was Monday, June 20th… the big day. It was still cloudy and chilly in Antwerp, although it wasn’t like that in Germany. We went down to breakfast, where I was presented with a beautiful strawberry mascarpone tart and champagne. Bill also gave me a birthday card, which for once, wasn’t mushy. Bill and I managed to finish half of the tart; the rest was kept in the fridge for us. The hotel manager was very friendly, telling us about an upcoming trip she had planned to Africa. It sounded very exciting and exotic. I’m still not ready to brave airports, thanks to COVID-19, but I love to hear about other people’s trips to distant lands. Maybe we’ll get back into that at some point, if the fates allow.

After breakfast, we took another walk to the old town, this time to do some shopping. Whenever we travel, Bill likes to pick up little gifts for his grandchildren and his younger daughter. So we visited a tiny chocolatier near the church and bought a bunch of stuff. Bill picked up a pallet, incorrectly assuming it was a basket for putting stuff in. The shopkeeper laughed and explained the pallets were for the chocolates, and he was the first person who thought they were shopping baskets! We also bought some magnets, one of which I dropped and broke as I pulled it off the display. Bill paid for it anyway, and the cashier thanked him for being honest. I love being married to such a mensch.

We took the chocolate back to the hotel, since it’s June and the weather can get hot and sticky. The proprietor was kind enough to pack our goodies in an insulated bag. The gifts we got for my husband’s daughter are not meltable, but we did pick up some chocolates for home because, well, chocolate makes life worth living.

We walked around some more before stopping by a coffee store, where we found several pounds of coffees from different African countries. I still miss my Peet’s coffee, but it’s fun to try new beans from different producers. I also saw a magazine shop advertising “tasty and delicious” American candy, which seemed kind of crazy to me, given that we were in Belgium, where the very best chocolate in the world is made. We eventually went in there looking to see if they had an English version of A Dog of Flanders story. I had seen a cute children’s book in Flemish and thought it would be a great gift for Bill’s grandkids. Unfortunately, we were unlucky in our search, even on Amazon.

When it was time for lunch, we walked around a lot looking for the “right” place. One guy at a touristy looking Italian place tried to get us to come in, promising extra mushrooms. I turned to Bill and said, “Did he just say what I thought he said?” Bill answered affirmatively… and I said, “That’s the best way to get me NOT to come into a restaurant!”

We finally noticed a mysterious looking door next to another big restaurant that appeared to cater to tourists. The people going into the door were obviously more local than we were, and I saw a tour group being told about this strange alleyway we encountered… where we also found a fabulous “secret” restaurant called ‘t Hofke. Somehow, we had stumbled upon the oldest alley in Antwerp, which is very well hidden and easy to miss if your eyes aren’t open. I love to explore alleys and alcoves, so that’s probably why we found ourselves there on my birthday, enjoying excellent shrimp croquettes for me and Thai inspired chicken pasta for Bill. I noticed everyone in the place was local, which is usually a good sign. And, once again, it appeared to be a family/couple run place, with food that was made with love and care, rather than a mind for profits. Bill’s only complaint was that we asked for water that we never received, and the charge showed up on the bill.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to drop off our second round of shopping and have a short rest. Then, as the afternoon continued, we found ourselves at Wijn Bar Bette, a little outdoor cafe run by an obviously gay friendly proprietor who had many local friends. Since it was my birthday, we decided to split a bottle of prosecco and people watch for awhile, which is always a treat. You never know what you’ll see… and that particular location was nice, because it was shady and unhurried. I really liked the relaxed ambiance and the obvious friendship the proprietor had with some of the locals. However, based on Trip Advisor reviews, we got lucky… apparently, a lot of people have gotten bad service at this place.

Finally, it was time for dinner, so we walked around to find the right place and eventually ended up at De Peerdestal. This place was obviously meant for meat lovers, as they had several different types of steaks and meat dishes available. They also served horsemeat and lobster. I like lobster, but we ended up sitting near the lobster tank. Seeing the doomed lobsters in there with rubber bands on their claws made me think of Leon the Lobster on YouTube (a guy rescued a lobster from the grocery store and turned him into a pet). I realize that it’s not much better to eat cow, but at least I didn’t have to see it before it died.

The waiter was curious about where we were from and what we were doing in Antwerp. I casually mentioned that we are Americans who live in Germany and we came to Belgium to celebrate my birthday. I should not have been surprised when dessert was brought out with a mini flamethrower. 😉 They also played a birthday song over the soundsystem, so everyone clapped. It turned out the husband of an American couple sitting near us was also having a birthday. I’m not sure if he told the waiter. Someone celebrating an anniversary got the same flaming dessert and a recorded rendition of “Love and Marriage” by Frank Sinatra. All in all, it was a pleasant celebration! The restaurant was cute and comfortable, though very heavy on meat choices and a bit touristy. However, service was friendly and kind, and the food was good.

In the next part, we head home.

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Unique wine barrel furniture from Bijan!

Last weekend, a guy in my wine Facebook group, name of Bijan, advertised an open house at his wine barrel furniture-wine sales shop. Although I think he sometimes goes to Stuttgart to sell wine and furniture at AAFES, his actual shop is in Igstadt, which is very close to where Bill and I live near Wiesbaden. Bijan has somewhat limited hours, or one can call him and make an appointment.

Many times, I’ve seen Bijan advertising his beautiful wine barrel creations in my group. His pieces are all made from French wine barrels from Bordeaux or riddling racks from the Champagne region of France. Until today, Bill and I have never managed to make it to his place to see his products in person. He usually only opens on certain Saturdays from 10am until 2pm. We tend to sleep in on Saturdays or get to doing other stuff… and by the time we remember he’s open, it’s too late. This week, we made a point of going to see him. He was also kind enough to post a reminder in my wine group.

One of the things I’ve been wanting for our home is more storage for our wine. I’ve also been wanting to put some more furniture in our living room, since until today, it was half bare. I didn’t want to buy another generic wine rack from Amazon. I was hoping for something more unique and interesting. Bijan’s shop fit the bill perfectly.

We were greeted at the door by Marco Polo, the adorable canine ambassador, and I immediately saw what I wanted. There was a wine barrel cabinet that had racks for up to 8 bottles of wine, racks for wine glasses, and a shelf. On top of the barrel was a wooden table top with a glass insert in the middle, which turned the barrel into a pub table. There were several barrels to choose from, each one unique. Most had once held red wine, but there was at least one white wine barrel. Some barrels were light colored, while others were darker. And they each had unique bands around the barrel. We ended up choosing a barrel with black bands, only because it had the wine glass rack in it. The others didn’t have that.

I also wanted a riddling rack to hold some of my wines. The racks were originally used to produce champagnes, but are great as temporary storage for wines at home, too. We selected a dark stained rack with three rows on each side– it opens like an easel, and can hold up to 60 bottles. We never have that much wine in our house, because we drink it constantly. But right now in my basement, we have a bunch of wine in boxes, because we didn’t have enough wine racks. Now we can put the wines away and get rid of some of the boxes.

I’m thinking we’ll get a couple of stools for the new table/cabinet, and then on chilly winter nights, we can sit by the fireplace. Bijan makes stools, or maybe we’ll find a couple locally. It may be worth it to have him make us a couple of them. I’ll probably fill the glass insert with corks. The lady who sold us the cabinet said the wine that was stored in our cabinet was very nice… it’s stamped 2017.

Bijan takes cash and credit cards, and he also accepts the VAT form from Americans, so we don’t have to pay 19% tax. We got a ten percent discount, and ultimately paid just under 1000 euros for everything. Bijan knew exactly how to fit everything in our Volvo so it got home safely. I thought it was going to be hell getting the barrel into our house, but it worked out fine, after a few grunts and heaves from Bill and yours truly. Below are some photos of our new treasures. I forgot to get a picture of the building itself. They really have some unique stuff in there. We may have to go back!

Bijan also sells French wines and ports, and he was kind enough to throw in a couple of bottles for us.

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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. 😉 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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Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part eight

How great the art….

One of the reasons Bill really wanted to go on this trip to Italy, besides to indulge his love for fine wines and good food, was the chance to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. When we visited Florence in 2013, we were only there for two nights. We stayed in a hotel outside of town. For some reason, we didn’t make time to go to the Uffizi Gallery during that trip. I think it was because he hadn’t booked ahead, and either couldn’t or didn’t want to stand in line at the ticket office. So, on this trip in 2022, we made a point of seeing the art gallery.

Bill loves to look at art. I am less interested in it, although I will admit that some of the paintings I’ve seen in art galleries amaze me. One would think I’d love to look at art, since it’s been such a big part of my life. I have a sister who is an artist, and after his career in the Air Force, my father made a living selling and framing art. But when it comes to museums, I tend to find interactive ones– science and natural history museums– more interesting. During the COVID era, I’ve not been that interested in going to many indoor activities at all. We did go to the Lindt Chocolate Museum in Zurich last year, and that was fun. Especially since tasting chocolate means taking off the damnable face masks. 😉 Below are some photos from breakfast and our walk to the museum.

The Uffizi requires booking a time in advance. Bill got us an appointment for 10:00am. After a simple continental breakfast at Hotel Firenze Capitale, we walked to the gallery. On the day of our visit, the Uffizi was still requiring everyone to wear face masks. I’m not sure if that’s still required as of May 1. There were a lot of people there when we were there, so I would imagine that anyone who is very concerned about contracting COVID-19 would want to wear a mask, even if they aren’t required. On the other hand, my guess is that people will get the virus whether or not they wear a mask, especially if they don’t cover their eyes. That is one thing I did notice in Italy. Many people in Italy wore glasses with their masks, which would make it less likely that they would get the virus.

We picked up our tickets, stood in line, and went through security. Then, we walked up several long flights of stairs that left me breathless and lightheaded at the top. I did notice that some people used the elevator. Before I knew it, I was among hundreds of people walking through rooms of beautiful art… with many depictions of mothers and babies, Madonnas, and marble statues of naked men with small penises. There were exhibits featuring Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as many lesser known, but very impressive, artists. I took a lot of photos.

At one point, Bill wanted to walk into a very crowded room. I demurred and said I would see him later. He thought that meant I was leaving the museum altogether, but I meant I was going to go to a less crowded place. I don’t like crowds, even when COVID isn’t a thing. Later, Bill sent me a private message on Facebook, asking if I was still in the gallery. Yes, of course! And I did enjoy my visit. I went back later to see the paintings I missed when the rooms were full of people. Uffizi has a cafe, for those who need a moment with some coffee to process everything.

All in all, I found the Uffizi more manageable and less overwhelming than the Prado in Madrid was, when we went there in 2014. I haven’t been to the Louvre yet. Bill and I didn’t go there when we were last in Paris, back in 2009. We’ll have to fix that at some point. Below are many photos from the Uffizi.