dental, trip planning

Our next trip is shaping up…

So, in my last travel post, I mentioned that I was planning our next dental side trip. If you are a regular follower and actually care about my posts (I don’t like to assume), you might already know we’ve done a few of these trips. Basically, they entail going down to Stuttgart, seeing our fabulous dentist down there, then taking a few days off to explore.

Bill and I love planning these breaks. These dental side trips give us a much appreciated break from Wiesbaden, and provide content for my travel blog… which is not as popular as it used to be. Of course, thanks to the pandemic, and the fact that we both had to get some work done last time we went to Stuttgart, we haven’t broken much new ground on the last few excursions.

We moved to Wiesbaden in late 2018, so prior to that, we had no need to do “excursions”, since we still lived in the Stuttgart area. In May 2019, we went down to Stuttgart to get cleanings and see Elton John perform, supposedly for the last time, but I believe he came back to Stuttgart again after that show. We never got around to coming down for cleanings in the fall of that year, because Bill was very busy at work. Then came the pandemic…

Our next journey to see the dentist occurred in August 2021. I got the bright idea to book a few days in Baiersbronn, which is a small town near where we used to live, famous for its many excellent Michelin starred restaurants. We stayed in a nice resort, but that only made me curious about an upgraded experience at the Bareiss Hotel, which is where we went last fall. We spent lots of money and ate wonderful food, but what really sticks out to me, besides the friendly goats and ponies, is the Bareiss Hotel’s incredible pool complex. I’d go back there just for that!

In the spring of 2022, we visited Sessenheim, an area of Alsace, France we had not seen on our many prior visits to the area. We stayed in an awesome little hotel that had its own Michelin starred restaurant, and we bought lots of new French pottery. We mostly decided to go to France because its COVID rules were much less obnoxious than Germany’s, but that was a great trip, anyway. I love Alsace!

Now that the pandemic panic has somewhat passed, it’s time to branch out a bit, and go further afield. As I revealed in the previous post, the Czech Republic won the coin toss. Folks, I think it’s going to be a really great trip. I think we’ve got a good itinerary shaping up.

Although Esslingen won the coin toss for local lodging in the Stuttgart area, I couldn’t find a hotel that was particularly exciting. I ended up booking us at Hotel La Casa, which is a boutique hotel in Tübingen. If you search this blog, you will see that we’ve spent a lot of time in Tübingen. We lived near there during our first Germany tour (2007-09), and visited often when we last lived in the Stuttgart area (2014-18). We have also dined at Hotel La Casa on three occasions.

Even when we lived down that way, I was keen to stay at the hotel one weekend. I actually thought about putting our dogs up and just doing a weekend at Hotel La Casa, even though we lived about 20-30 minutes away from the town. I liked the staff, the restaurant, and the hotel’s interior design. Now that we live in Wiesbaden, we have the excuse to book a stay. Plus, Tübingen is just a really cool town.

One of many iconic shots that can be taken in Tübingen… It’s a very beautiful city!

Once I booked that hotel, though, I realized we might have a slight problem. In retrospect, I should have listened to my friend, Susanne, who had suggested a visit to Schwabisch Hall, a very beautiful town about an hour north of Stuttgart. I decided against it, because traffic around Stuttgart is a nightmare, and I didn’t want to be stressed about getting to our appointment. But Schwabisch Hall is actually more conducive to getting to the Czech Republic, as it’s just off Autobahn 6, which is the route we’d be taking under normal circumstances. Staying in Schwabisch Hall would have been more convenient (and I do plan to stop there sometime– maybe in the spring!).

Tübingen is south of Stuttgart, so to access A6, we’d have to drive about an hour north, and that might involve dealing with more traffic. It would definitely require backtracking, which I wanted to avoid if I could.

But then I got to thinking… We really have no agenda. The one place I do want to visit in the Czech Republic is Brno, which is pretty far east. There’s nothing to say we have to access it via A6. We can always get there using a different route.

Then I remembered that in 2008, we went to Passau, Germany for my 36th birthday. I had been there before, in 1997, when I was coming home from my Peace Corps stint and spent a month hopping trains all over Europe. I knew nothing at all about Passau in 1997, and just got off there because I was tired of being on the train. I ended up loving the city. It’s very pretty… and it happens to be exactly halfway between Tübingen and Brno. Below are a few shots from our 2008 trip to Passau. I love the cathedral there, and it’s mighty pipe organ! And I love the confluence of three rivers: the Inn, the Ilz, and the Danube.

Then I remembered that October 3, which is the day we’d be traveling, is a German holiday. And I wanted to get out of Germany for the holiday, because things tend to be closed on German holidays, although restaurants, tourist attractions, and hotels aren’t. I’m as excited about German Reunification Day as anyone is, but I’ve been here for nine years (this time), and I already know how Germans celebrate that day. Besides, what better way to celebrate that day than going to a former Eastern Bloc country? Why not cross back over the eastern border for a chance of pace?

In the late 1980s, Bill actually used to help guard the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. When we visited there in 2008, he got visibly nervous as we approached the border, which, of course, was wide open! I remember stopping to change money and get a vignette, and two sexy Czech girls started cleaning the windshield of our Toyota RAV 4. I said to Bill, “I think you are expected to tip them”. He did, and we were on our way to a very memorable exploration of southern Bohemia.

The Czech border circa 2008. Bill was so nervous, even as two pretty teenaged girls cleaned the windshield for us.

I briefly considered maybe staying in Austria. I stayed in Linz back in 1997 and found it kind of boring, but we went back in 2008 and discovered a great Biergarten there. But other than the Biergarten, on our last visit, I still found Linz kind of boring. Other travelers’ reports confirmed that it wasn’t just me; there are more exciting places to be. So then I remembered Cesky Krumlov, which is a VERY charming town east of Passau.

Bill at said Linzer Biergarten… I’d love to go back to that place, but October is kind of when a lot of Biergartens tend to close, anyway. And I’m sure there are things to see in Linz, but there are more exciting cities nearby.

Funny story about Cesky Krumlov. We visited there in 2008, too. The owner of the hotel where we stayed in Passau had recommended it. The day we were there was my birthday, and it happened to be when they were having their annual Five Petalled Rose Festival. We ran into many locals dressed in medieval garb, and there were games going on. I took an awesome photo there that remains one of my favorite pictures of all time. I thought we’d stumbled into a theme park! I had no idea the festival was happening. I remember thinking the town was very charming, and I would have liked it even if the festival hadn’t been happening. The fact that it was going on only added to its charm.

From Cesky Krumlov, we went to nearby Cesky Budejovice, which is where the Czech Budweiser is made. 😉 I remember having lunch there and thinking I’d like to stay in that town. Below are a few shots from our 2008 trip. I wasn’t as much of a shutterbug in those days. I also used Microsoft computers, which aren’t compatible with my Mac.

For our upcoming visit, I found us a cute hotel in Cesky Krumlov that gets excellent reviews. We’ll stay there for two nights, then move on to Brno, which is maybe three hours away. I found another hotel in Brno that isn’t quite as cute as the one in Cesky Krumlov is, but has a lot of amenities. It’s located on the outskirts of town, but from what I’ve read, a lot of Brno’s charm is found outside of the city itself. Since we’ve never been to Brno, we’ll stay three days there, then move toward home.

At this point, I’m tentatively planning our last stop to be two nights in Prague. We last visited Prague in November 2008, as part of a trip we did to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. In those days, we had a lot less money, but thanks to Hilton Honors Points, we were able to score two free nights at the Hilton Old Town Hotel. I remember they brought us sparkling wine and strawberries because we were there on our actual anniversary. I also remember they had an awesome old school pool that was DEEP. But I think this time, we’ll stay somewhere different.

I still came home with tons of cool souvenirs from Dresden, Poland (Bolesławiec), and Prague. I’m hoping we can find some art for the house. Last time we went to Prague, I bought a painting at an art gallery with an Armenian proprietor! I got to speak some crappy Armenian with him. I had (and have) forgotten a lot. Below are a few shots from Prague. It was COLD during our visit!

I can’t book the Prague hotel yet, though, because we have to make sure Noyzi can stay an extra night at the Hundepension. I don’t expect it to be a problem, but you never know. I gave some thought to stopping at the Chodovar Beer Wellness Land in Chodova Plana (very close to the German border), but recent reviews of the place make it sound less than enticing. I’d like to go there, though, if only to pick up some beer and their awesome flavored mineral water. Last time we were in the Czech Republic, we found some at a grocery store, but there wasn’t much of it to be had.

Chodova Plana isn’t far from Karlovy Vary, which is a great spa town overrun with Russians (last time we were there, anyway). We bought two paintings from a talented Russian artist, last time we were there. The town of Chodova Plana itself, though, is pretty desolate, other than the brewery, beer spa, and hotel. Prague offers a hell of a lot more to do, plus they’ve now got beer (and wine) spas, too. That wasn’t the case in 2008.

From Prague, we can reach Wiesbaden in about six hours, barring terrible traffic. I think it’s doable… If it turns out Noyzi can’t stay another night, maybe we’ll stay somewhere a little bit closer to home. Brno isn’t super far from Prague. I think it’s only a couple of hours’ drive.

Hopefully, we can finalize these plans over the weekend. Bill is coming home from his latest trip today. I look forward to seeing him, as it’s been a very quiet, boring week here in Wiesbaden. On the other hand, my liver has gotten a break, as I have mostly been teetotaling. I had two beers last night, but they were my first since Saturday.

Anyway… I love trip planning. I hope to do more of it… at least until the next war or pandemic sidetracks everything. Maybe we’ll even get a chance to stop by the border of Slovakia, so I can get a new mug to replace the cracked one we bought in 2015. 😉

Baden-Württemberg, Sundays

Stuttgart, Germany… it’s as lovely as ever in the springtime… part four

Sunday morning, we woke up to more wind and rain. Naturally, that made me decide it was perfect weather for visiting Hohenzollern Castle. Actually, we took some time to decide where to go. I checked the Ausflugstipps für Baden-Württemberg Facebook page again, and saw a couple of possibilities. But I don’t think we felt like driving too far afield, and Hohenzollern is not that far from Stuttgart. It’s near a town called Hechingen, which is just south of Tübingen, a really cool college town Bill and I know very well.

We had been to Hohenzollern before, back in the spring of 2008. Bill’s coworkers at the time had recommended it, so we went there and were mightily impressed by the castle’s beauty and imposing presence on top of a mountain. I remember on that trip, we stopped at the cheesy tourist restaurant near the castle. It was obviously intended for busses, as there was a large parking lot that could accommodate them. On that 2008 trip, we ate some pretty terrible German style Mexican food, served in virtual “troughs”. Well, it probably wasn’t as bad as I remember it, but it was definitely missing something in the translation.

This time, we skipped the tourist trap and drove up to the large parking lot near the castle. Bill used the free WC, and bought our tickets. As of April 1, summer tickets will be available, which means the museum will be open. But, when we visited on March 26th, it was still considered “winter”, which meant we could only visit the grounds. Our tickets were seven euros each. Summer tickets are 22 euros, but include entry to the museum. I seem to remember that when we visited the first time– also in early spring– we had a choice of getting a ticket for just the grounds or one that included the museum/tour. Since we were financially poorer, and didn’t speak German and/or understood a lot less back then, we got the cheap tickets and stuck to the grounds. Now, we would opt for the museum/tour tickets.

One other thing we did differently this time was choosing NOT to walk up the steep path to the castle. This time, we took the shuttle bus, which was seven euros round trip. I gotta say, after having had the mountain goat like experience of climbing the hill, the shuttle bus is so worth it. Especially when the weather is as crazy as it was on March 26th. Bill and I are probably still capable of walking up the mountain, but I remembered it to be pretty exhausting when I was 35 years old. I’m 50 now, and only have so many spoons. 😉

The weather on top of Hohenzollern can be pretty wild. I remember writing about our visit in 2008 and advising visitors to make sure to bring a jacket, unless it’s just the dead of summer… and even then, it’s not a bad idea to have one. I don’t think I brought a jacket during our first visit, and I got pretty cold. This time, I was better dressed, but we experienced quite an array of weather conditions during our visit– everything from rain to wind to sun… and it was noticeably chillier up there, too.

I’m pretty sure our visit in 2008 must have happened in April, because I distinctly remember having a beer in the Biergarten, which wasn’t open during our most recent visit. We did visit the restaurant in the castle and had a nice lunch. I had very hearty Maultaschen, while Bill had the veggie bowl, which was attractive, but kind of bland. I liked my dish a lot, but I didn’t really need food again for the rest of the day! 😉

The current incarnation of Hohenzollern is the third. The castle as it is now was built in the 19th century, so it’s pretty modern as castles go. However, there’s been a castle on Mount Hohenzollern since the 11th century. It’s currently privately owned by the House of Hohenzollern, “with two-thirds belonging to the Brandenburg-Prussian branch, and the balance to the Swabian branch.” Family members still occasionally stay in the castle, with each branch flying their respective flags whenever either is there.

I would like to go back to Hohenzollern again sometime and visit the museum. I actually like this castle more than the much touted and unfinished Neuschwanstein, built by Mad King Ludwig. Hohenzollern is beautiful, and offers impressive views of the surrounding terrain. I’m not sure, but I think Bill and I could even spot the elevator test tower near Rottweil, which we visited in 2018.

I was surprised to see a number of people bringing their dogs to the castle. It’s totally allowed, as long as the dogs stay on their leashes. I’m guessing they walked up the mountain, too. I know I’m no paragon of fitness, but that walk up the mountain is not for slouches. I seem to remember there was a sign after the first stretch near a bus stop, for those who changed their minds and wanted the bus. But maybe they just walked along the road, which takes longer, but isn’t as steep. I remember we walked down the road when we came back down from the castle in 2008. In 2023, we were happy to take the bus.

Here are some photos…

The below photos were taken in 2008. Check out the difference! I kind of wish I’d brought my digital camera. It looks to me like cameras rather than phones produce pictures that look less computer generated.

We went to the gift shop on the way out of the castle, because I saw some souvenirs I thought Bill’s grandchildren might like. We bought a wooden sword and shield for the eldest, a fairy tale princess dress for the middle, and a stuffed hedgehog for the baby. I had to laugh when I noticed the princess dress was made in Canada. It’s now going to be shipped to Utah. I also bought a new jigsaw puzzle for myself.

After our visit to the castle, we decided to drive to Tübingen, as it’s always a good time. However, when we got to our usual parking garage, it was closed! It looked like they were renovating it. So we decided to go to Panzer for. a pee break and to see if the rug guy was there. I wanted to buy a new rug to replace the one Arran repeatedly used as a toilet.

We were in luck! The rug guy was there– but he didn’t have the rug I wanted to replace. We chose a different one. As the guy was folding it up for us, I said “I think we might need the bigger version of that rug.” Bill said he thought I was mistaken… Well, it turned out I was right, so the new rug went in the dining room instead of the living room. But, the rug guy said he was coming to Wiesbaden in three weeks, so maybe we’ll try again then.

We also ran into one of Bill’s old work colleagues from Stuttgart. And… while we were rug shopping, Mother Nature treated us to a nice hail storm! March weather in Germany is absolutely batshit nuts!

After we bought our new rug, which is currently clashing in the dining room, we went back to the hotel and enjoyed another evening of libations. I ended up having a chicken Caesar salad for dinner. Bill had a cheese course. We tried several local wines, too… Below are some miscellaneous iPad photos I took, starting with breakfast. Our poor waitress forgot to put in our orders for egg dishes! Luckily, they were worth the wait. All in all, I’d say Sunday was a great day.