Champagne Bucket trips, holidays

Well, it’s official. In two months, we’ll be in Yerevan…

I don’t remember where I found the featured photo– but it does appear to be a very clear photo of Yerevan. When I lived there, air pollution was so bad that we didn’t get to see Mount Ararat every day. I hope for many pictures of it this time…

Last night was interesting. Bill came home and got out his trusty computer, so he could do some administrative tasks for his job. I had floated the idea of maybe using credit card points to help pay for plane tickets to Yerevan and back for our anniversary in November. It costs a LOT to go to Yerevan– especially when you insist on flying in business class. ūüėČ So we tried doing that, but realized that while the points would make our tickets significantly cheaper, we’d rather just let them ride and use them for a really epic trip in the future.

With that settled, I booked our eight crazy nights in Yerevan in mid November. I am pretty excited about this trip. I lived in Yerevan for 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid 1990s and haven’t been back since August 21, 1997– the day I left. Things have changed a lot since my departure, although there are still a few people there who remember me from those days. I look forward to showing Bill around and getting to know the city again. If all goes well, I’d like to come back with Bill and show him around the country. There’s a lot to see– and since it’s the size of Maryland, touring the country is doable. We’ll just have to stay out of the dangerous areas near Iran and Azerbaijan.

For this trip, I mainly plan for us to stay near Yerevan. Maybe we’ll go to a couple of nearby spots like Garni/Gerhard and Khor Virap, which are definitely must see excursions. It’s taken me a long time to convince Bill to go… and it’s taken some time to convince myself.

When I left Yerevan, I was really ready to get out of there. I was burned out and depressed. But I’m better now… mentally and emotionally, anyway. Physically, maybe I’m worse. I don’t think I have the stamina I had when I lived in Yerevan and used to walk all over the city. Luckily, we have money now, so we can take cabs. And the cabs now have meters! ūüėÄ

In any case, I expect this trip will go fine, and we will be able to come back for more fun, as long as we’re still in Germany and it doesn’t take two days to get there. I am very proud of Armenia. It’s come a long way since I first arrived there in 1995. I have a feeling my mind will be blown by the difference.

Even during the time I lived in Armenia, it changed so much. When we got there in 1995, there was no power in the airport or running water in the public restrooms… By the time I left in 1997, we had 24 hour power, and many places had running water. Now, Yerevan is like a lot of European cities, and has most of what you might ever want or need. The Peace Corps is still there, but Volunteers all live out in the regions. That was becoming true as I left, too. Yerevan is much too fancy for Volunteers now.

In fact, what was once called Hotel Dvin, the hotel where we swore in, is now a super expensive five star resort. I thought about booking it, but decided I’d rather be closer to the center of town, in a place where I can chat up the bartenders. So I chose Paris Hotel Yerevan. I almost booked the Marriott— which was called Hotel Armenia when we arrived in 1995 and stayed on the “old side” of the hotel. It was extremely Soviet in those days, with matronly women sitting on each hall and collecting the room keys (with huge bulblike keyrings) every time we went out of the room. I remember the hot water only worked for two hours in the mornings, and the rooms were downright rustic. After I left, Marriott bought the hotel and fixed it up, but I’ve read a lot of middling reviews. It is significantly more expensive than the hotel I chose, and I prefer to avoid staying in an American corporate hotel… especially one with ties to Mormonism.

On the other hand, you can’t beat the location of the Marriott, as it’s right on Republic Square. But, Paris Hotel is also very close and will probably be quieter. I’ve noticed a lot of street names have changed, and some iconic places have either changed or closed. For instance, I read that the big historic shuka (Pak Shuka) on Mashtots Avenue was bought by an Armenian oligarch who completely overhauled it. What a shame that is! I would have liked to have shown Bill that bustling marketplace. Hopefully we can visit a different shuka in another part of town that hasn’t been turned into a western style supermarket. They are really unique and something special to see.

I look forward to trying some wines, brandies, and local cuisine– especially horovatz (Armenian BBQ)– if I can get it. And I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones! As hard as being in the Peace Corps was for me, it was a life changing experience on so many levels. I might not be living in Germany if I hadn’t joined the Peace Corps.

I’m also hoping that if this trip goes well, we can arrange a trip to neighboring Georgia. I have been in Georgia, but I haven’t had a proper stay there. Bill went there for work in 2008, but it was about a month after the South Ossetia crisis/Russo-Georgian War. I’d like to go there and try more wines. ūüėČ Georgian wines are wonderful! And I l’d like to sample wonderful Georgian food and take many photos.

Anyway… 2023 seems to be our year to visit the former Soviet Union. I’m excited about this trip, as well as the one we have planned for next month, to the Czech Republic. This blog is about to come alive again!

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Champagne Bucket trips, holidays

Anniversary number 21 will potentially be celebrated in…

Regular readers might have noticed that I didn’t write anything in the travel blog yesterday or Saturday. It was mainly because we didn’t do anything noteworthy until last night, when I reminded Bill that he’d wanted to take an anniversary trip in November.

Our anniversary is November 16th, and this year, we wanted to do something exciting. I would have wanted to do something special for our 20th anniversary, but our sweet Arran dog was dying of cancer and we didn’t want to board him. So we ended up taking him and Noyzi with us on a trip to our beloved Ribeauville, France, a beautiful town not too far away that is different enough to be a getaway. We love Alsace, but we’ve been there so many times… This year, we definitely wanted to do something different.

Bill sent an email to our regular boarding facility and confirmed that they had space for Noyzi. Then I got out our trusty champagne bucket, which we often use when we want a little fateful help choosing a place to vacation. I went through the paper slips from past drawings, removing any that we’ve already done or will soon do, and any of those that would not be good for a visit in November. Then I had Bill draw from the bucket…

Bill does the honors…

And the winner was…

ARMENIA!!! And Georgia… but I don’t know if we’ll make Georgia on this proposed trip, because I think we’d need more than the week we’ll probably have for this journey.

Now… it’s not yet engraved in stone that we’ll be going to Armenia. Bill has to get the days off, first. And then I have to figure out the logistics of the trip. Also, I’m still a bit worried about my gallbladder exploding. But Armenia did finally win a drawing, and it’s time we visited. It would be special and different. Bill can finally see where I lived for twenty-seven crazy months of my young life, and if he likes it, we can come back and see the regions.

So, today I will be researching places to go, flights, and the rest…

I haven’t been to Armenia since I left in August 1997. It’s changed a lot! A lot of street names have changed; there’s been a lot of construction and demolition; and in all, it looks like a much nicer place. It also looks a hell of a lot more expensive than it was back in the 90s. I found one luxury hotel that is charging about 400 euros per night. Consider that my first apartment in Yerevan was $50 a month. My second was an unheard of $100. No Armenian would have paid as much for either place, but I got the American rate. ūüėČ

Anyway… wish me luck.

Below are a few photos from this week. See what I mean? Not much has been going on. Bill was away, and I had a cold. At least there are still some pretty flowers.

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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part four

I really had good intentions for getting away on Friday. I thought maybe we’d go to Riquewihr, if only so we could buy some macaroons. The wine route in Alsace is just so beautiful, and even though we’ve done it so many times, it never gets old. But the weather was kind of drizzly, off and on. We’d have sun for awhile, then it would start raining. The dogs were pretty good. We really only heard them throwing a fit once, and we waited about a minute before they shut up.

One of Bill’s co-workers was hoping for a photo or video of Bill tasting cheeses. Ribeauville actually has a wine and cheese bar, and it was open during our stay. However, it was only open for takeaway; the “bar” part was closed. Bill went there and brought home a few stinky selections, which he videoed himself tasting for his daughter, whom he’s just now getting to know again after many years of separation. That’s a long story, of course, which can easily be found in my main blog.

Speaking of Bill’s daughter… she is the mother of three very young children. I saw a shop with some cute stuffed toy storks. Alsace and parts of Germany are pretty well-known for the population of storks that live there. Their huge nests are easy to find on top of buildings. The locals even make it easy for the birds to nest. I made a note of the shop and, after lunch, we went there and picked up some toys for Bill’s grandchildren, as well as a a gnome for our own house.

For breakfast on Friday, Bill went to a different patisserie– one with a medieval theme. He picked up more croissants and an artisanal loaf of bread that he said tasted of sourdough. I don’t like sourdough much, so I left him to it.

We took another walk around the town, thinking maybe we’d taste wines at Louis Sipp, which has a couple of tasting rooms… but they weren’t open when we were in the mood. So we explored some other parts of town– areas we had never been to on previous trips. Ribeauville seems like a really small town, but there’s actually a lot to it besides the charming main drag. I love the way the village looks, and found myself taking many pictures. But I don’t think I’d want to live there, because everyone is kind of packed in. I don’t like sharing walls with people, and I enjoy having a yard. It’s nice to visit such a quaint place, though, if only to remind me of how much we enjoy our current “mansion” in Wiesbaden.

We had lunch at Schaal E’ Sucre, the cute little restaurant we had tried to get into on Thursday. It was crowded again on Friday, but there was a table for two open. There was one waiter working the entire room. He was very friendly and smiley, and he spoke English, which was nice. This little eatery has a very simple menu, with salads, pasta dishes, quiches, sandwiches, and soups. I was torn between the bacon and cheese open sandwich and another Quiche Lorraine. I decided to have the quiche, just so I could compare it to the previous day’s. I could probably eat quiche every day… although that wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do.

The quiche was a bit browner than the quiche I had at L’Ami Fritz. However, it definitely had more of a “professional” pastry look, like it was made by a pastry chef, rather than someone’s mama. It had a different flavor, too. I didn’t taste the “musty” cheese. I liked both quiches for different reasons. I preferred the cheese and the look of the quiche at Schaal E’ Sucre, but I liked the texture and bacon in the quiche from L’Ami Fritz. Bill ended up getting the bacon and cheese sandwich, which was also delicious! I could tell he had trouble finishing it, as it also came with a big salad, like my quiche did. We never even touched the bread, although we did enjoy an interesting Riesling/Muscat blended white wine.

Naturally, we were talked into having Quetsch (plum) tart, with chantilly (whipped cream). I noticed that Schaal E’ Sucre also offered a wide variety of waffles. We definitely left there satisfied, and although I loved that place when it was Chez Martine, I think it’s in good hands, now. When we left the restaurant, it was raining.

We decided to stop by a wine shop to get some vino for home. Sadly, that was not a good shopping experience. There was a lone woman running the shop, and she wore a sour expression on her face. Bill asked if she spoke English or German. She responded with a flat “No.” Okay, fine. I distinctly said, more than once, “No Gewurztraminer”. That should be translatable in French. She also had a list of available wine packages. We pointed to one that consisted of Rieslings and Pinot Blancs. She packed a box for us and pretty much didn’t so much as say “kiss my ass” to us as we left.

When we got home the next day, and unpacked the box, we found three bottles of Gewurztraminer. I guess that will teach us to trust a salesperson with a sour disposition to pack wines for us before we check labels. Fortunately, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we’ve been invited to someone else’s house. Guess we’ll bring over some wine for them. ūüėČ And yes, Bill did tell his friend/co-worker that we got the wrong wine, and he was fine with us bringing the Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Someone at the party will surely enjoy sweet French wine.

Once again, we were too full for dinner, so went hung out with the dogs as I watched James Taylor’s Facebook page to see if the show would still be going on in Frankfurt Saturday night. Yes, it was a very “chill” break in Alsace, and we could have done more with our time, but really, it was just nice to be with Bill and the dogs, enjoying a different country. And, even though we had a disappointing experience with the wine lady, Ribeauville is still so beautiful…

I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of Ribeauville.

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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part three

Arran’s medications make him hungry. They also make him need to go potty more often than usual. Consequently, on all three nights of our stay, Bill got up in the wee hours of the morning to take him and Noyzi out for walks. Then, he’d come back to bed, and try to go back to sleep. The apartment where we stayed was easy to keep dark, so on Thursday, we slept until 8:00 AM. We almost never do that anymore!

Our morning habit, whenever we visit France, is to get baked goodies from the patisseries. I am a big fan of FRENCH croissants– and yes, they are different to me than the ones we can get in Germany. Kugelhopfs are also very popular and prevalent in Alsace, as well as in parts of Germany and Austria. Personally, I can take or leave the Kugelhopfs, although I will admit to thinking they look very pretty. They usually include raisins and almonds, though, and I generally prefer my baked goods without fruit and nuts. One can also score delightful Pain au chocolat– flaky pastries filled with semi sweet chocolate– which are very decadent. I love chocolate, but again, the one must do French breakfast treat for me is the lowly croissant.

Bill went to one of the nearby patisseries and brought back the usual, then scrambled some eggs. We bought some clementine juice, ham, and cheese, at the local Carrefour grocery store, located very conveniently about a five minute walk from our gite. Once again, I was marveling at how flaky and delicious the croissants were, and kind of wishing we had more of them. But the last thing I need is a plentiful supply of baked goods!

After breakfast, we all took a walk around Ribeauville. It’s a very pretty little village, not unlike other pretty villages in Alsace. Riquewihr, which is only two miles from Ribeauville, is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. However, I prefer Ribeauville, because it feels more lived in to me. It’s obvious there are a lot of locals in Ribeauville, even though it’s a tourist destination. Riquewihr feels a little more touristy to me, and it has a lot more tourist oriented businesses. For that reason, I like to stay in Ribeauville, and visit Riquewihr and some of the other, more famous towns, like Kaysersberg, which is where Anthony Bourdain, sadly, took his life in June 2018. Of course, I also like Ribeauville, because we know Yannick, and he’s very cool with our dogs.

I took lots of pictures of the town, as usual, because even though we’ve been to Ribeauville so many times, it’s always a pretty town. We usually go there in the winter, rather than the fall. We’ve only managed one visit in the late spring, when everything is open, but crowded. Once the dogs were sufficiently exercised, we took them back to the gite and went looking for lunch.

As I mentioned before, only a few restaurants were open during our visit. The ones that were open had plenty of business. We were wanting to go to a little lunch spot that was once called Chez Martine, but now has new owners and a different name. Schaal’√Č Sucr√© offers a menu that is very similar to that of what Chez Martine used to have, only now it’s open later and is run by men instead of women. On Thursday, it was clear that it was every bit as popular as its predecessor was, as the dining room was completely full when we stuck our heads in, looking for a bite.

We ended up eating at Caveau de L’Ami Fritz, a restaurant that is affiliated with the hotel of the same name. We have eaten at L’Ami Fritz before, and I remembered that the dining room is in a very charming “cave”. I also remembered liking what I had there the first time we tried it. The dining room was full of people when we arrived, but everyone looked very happy. Bill and I sat down and enjoyed some local specialties.

I had Quiche Lorraine, while Bill went for pork and Baeckaoffa, basically cheesy potato casserole made with Munster. The quiche was delicious, although it was made with a slightly “musty” cheese. I am very particular about cheese, and this one just bordered on “offensive” to me. Still, I managed to eat the whole thing, anyway.

We also enjoyed a local Riesling. Bill had asked for a 28 euro bottle, but when we got the bill, it turned out they had given us a 55 euro selection. Oh well. I suppose he could have complained, but we enjoyed the wine and we could afford it. And of course, we had dessert, too… Chocolate mousse for me, and a myrtle tart for Bill. He had leftovers from the Baeckaoffa, so we had that packed up and brought it to the apartment. I probably should have done the same with the mousse. It was a very generous portion.

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was early afternoon and a bit drizzly. I decided to have a rest and try to read more of my latest book. Naturally, that led to a two hour nap. ūüėČ

Our lunch was so filling that we ended up staying in for the night, eating a light snack at dinner time and, of course, enjoying more wine. It’s a lovely thing to go to France to recharge! I liked the French weather lady’s dress, too. I also notice the fine for not cleaning up after your dog has gone up a bit.

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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part two

On Wednesday afternoon, Bill and I loaded up the car with a couple of small bags and lots of supplies for our two dogs, Noyzi and Arran. Both dogs were excited at first, because they enjoy going places. But then Arran got decidedly sullen. I could see that he was upset, because he noticed Noyzi was in the car with us, and probably figured we would be taking him to the Hundepension. There was a time when Arran didn’t mind being boarded. Bill and I have noticed that lately, he’s a lot more interested in hanging out with us. So, he looked pretty sad at the beginning of our trip. Depressed, even. Noyzi, on the other hand, was barking and carrying on. He likes car rides, and loves going to the Hundepension. Last time we took them there, Noyzi actually banged on the gate to be let in!

I noticed that Arran’s countenance was decidedly less dour when he realized we weren’t on the familiar road to the Hundepension. He knew that he was going on a trip with us, something he and Noyzi’s predecessor, Zane, used to do fairly regularly. Zane was a lot smaller than Noyzi is, so it was easier to take them on trips. We could even get the two of them in my Mini Cooper. Noyzi won’t fit in my Mini by himself, let alone with Arran. He takes up the entire back of our Volvo. So traveling with the dogs is more challenging than it used to be, and, for that reason, we don’t do it as often.

When we got to Ribeauville, Arran knew EXACTLY where we were, even though it had been about 4.5 years since his last visit. We used to go to Ribeauville fairly often, but we didn’t bring Arran on our last visit, back in January 2020 (before we had Noyzi), because we had Bill’s mom with us, and we wanted to be free to take her to different places without worrying about Arran making a fuss. I watched in amusement as Arran pulled Bill toward the Riesling Gite, where we always try to stay when we visit Ribeauville. I had to remind myself that it was our 20th anniversary, as I played Keb’ Mo’s song, “France”.

This could be our theme song when we go to France…

Noyzi had never been to France before, so he was a bit bowled over by everything. I let our host, Yannick, know that we had arrived, and he said he’d be coming over in about an hour. We set up in the apartment, and fed the dogs, as it was time for them to eat. Yannick came over with treats, which impressed both dogs. He told us that he loves dogs, but his wife doesn’t like them because their hair gets all over everything. I can see why that would be annoying, but I don’t think I could be married to someone who didn’t let me have a dog. ūüėČ They are the best company, as far as I’m concerned.

After Yannick left, Bill and I went looking for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant we had never tried before. The Cheval Noir is at the edge of the main drag, and while the outside of it is very cute and quaint, it has a decidedly unromantic ambiance. We ate there because there were only a few restaurants open in Ribeauville, as many places closed in preparation for the upcoming Christmas market. They had space for us, although there were lots of people dining there on Wednesday night who had made reservations. We sat in a corner, where we perused the very Alsatian menu. They had all of the usual stuff one finds in Alsace– Choucroute Garni, pork knuckles, potatoes with Munster cheese, and faux filets. Alsatian food is a lot like German food, just with a French accent. I ended up ordering one of the specials, a salmon fillet with Beurre Blanc sauce and roasted potatoes. Bill had a faux fillet with Munster sauce and roasted potatoes. Both dishes came with side salads.

We ordered a bottle of local wine, giggling that it was our 20th anniversary. The waitress, who spoke English, promptly wished us a “happy birthday”, which only made me giggle more. The food was good, but very basic stuff one can find at a lot of the local places. It wasn’t the kind of special dinner I expected to have on our 20th anniversary, but I found that I wasn’t upset or disappointed about it. Maybe that was the point. We’ve had a pretty wonderful 20 years, with many special evenings and occasions. It somehow made sense to have a somewhat run of the mill 20th anniversary. At least we were together, which is more than I could say about our 19th anniversary, which Bill spent alone in Poland.

We did opt for dessert, which was also nothing special. We’re big on desserts, as one can tell just by looking at us. I had profiteroles, which are ice cream filled pastries with chocolate sauce. Bill went with, torche aux marrons, a local speciality we never saw before, but saw twice on this trip. Basically, it’s a dessert that is support to look like a stork’s nest, as storks are very prevalent in Alsace. Or maybe it looks like a torch. Nearby Colmar is the birthplace of Fr√©d√©ric Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who created the Statue of Liberty.

Torche aux marrons consists of meringues topped with chestnut cream squeezed out as if through a grinder. Bill said it was interesting, but he probably wouldn’t order it again. I enjoyed the profiteroles. I think we spent about 70 euros, which is pretty reasonable.

When we got back to the gite, we found that Arran had raided the trash can. Yannick’s treats came in packages, which we threw in the trash and forgot to lock in the bathroom. We cleaned up the mess and went to bed, as we were both tired. Of course, Arran needed potty breaks and snacks in the night. Below are some photos from our first night. As you can see, 20 years of marriage leaves a mark on the ol’ ring finger.

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Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part one

I’ve been looking forward to November 16, 2022 for twenty years. That’s the day Bill and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. As some readers already know, I am Bill’s second wife. On some levels, I would say he and I have had a fairly easy time of marriage. We get along very well, and we genuinely love spending time together. We aren’t just husband and wife; we are best friends. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dramas.

All year, I’ve been thinking about what we should do to celebrate our big milestone. Normally, I would come up with a fancy vacation of some kind, or at least a trip to somewhere we’ve never been, even if it’s not a luxurious destination. But then in September, I discovered that our beloved dog, Arran, had swollen lymph nodes. The diagnosis was B-cell lymphoma. We are now in our last days with Arran, who is a very special family member, and has a particularly close bond with Bill.

Originally, we thought it would be best to ease Arran into palliative care, but he‚Äôs repeatedly showed us he wants to fight. So he’s now undergoing chemotherapy, which has been kind of miraculous. He started treatment October 13th, and on November 20th, he’s still happy and spunky. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to board him. For one thing, we’ve come to realize that Arran doesn’t enjoy being boarded anymore. He’d much rather be with us. For another, I didn’t want to burden the Hund Pension with dealing with his medications, which aren’t that complicated, but do involve some risk. He takes a drug that requires gloves to dispense safely, and it’s not safe for his poop to be accessible to other dogs.

Finally, when we were celebrating our tenth anniversary in Scotland, Arran’s predecessor, MacGregor, had an undiagnosed cancerous spinal tumor that caused an emergency while we were traveling thousands of miles away. I didn’t want anything similar to happen this time. We lost MacGregor a week before Christmas 2012, just a couple of weeks after our return from our big anniversary trip. Arran, who joined our family on January 12, 2013, is named after a Scottish island we saw on that first trip to Scotland.

I decided we’d spend our big day in Ribeauville, France, which is about a three hour drive from us. We have been there half a dozen times since 2017, staying in apartments owned by Yannick Kopff, a Alsatian native and excellent host. Yannick is extremely dog friendly, and since our favorite of his apartments, Riesling, was available for our dates, we decided that was a good place to celebrate. I booked four nights– from Wednesday, November 16th until Sunday, November 20th, at Yannick’s Gites au Coeur de Ribeauville.

Meanwhile, we were also looking forward to seeing and hearing James Taylor perform a concert. Originally, the show was supposed to go on in February 2022. But COVID-19 numbers were too high at that time, and there were many restrictions in place. So James decided to reschedule his European Tour dates for later in the year. In our case, the Frankfurt show was rescheduled for November 8th. Perfect– a Tuesday night, over a week before our anniversary trip.

On November 7th, we got the news that James had to postpone several concerts, including ours. He finally got COVID, and was advised to rest in Zurich, Switzerland for a few days. We watched anxiously, as four shows were eventually canceled because they couldn’t be rescheduled. However, Frankfurt’s venue was open for November 19th… last night. We were supposed to be in France last night, but we decided to come home a day early to catch James’s show… and I’m really glad we did that, because it was a great show, in spite of James’s brush with COVID.

I don’t have a lot of exciting stories to tell about our most recent trip to Ribeauville. November, just before the Christmas markets, is the “off season”. A lot of places were closed in preparation for the frenzy that is about to hit the village. I don’t know how big their market was in 2021, but I’m pretty sure it was canceled in 2020. I have a feeling this year’s markets will be bigger, and I could see that people were preparing. But, in terms of having a lot to do while we were there… I can’t say that we did. On the other hand, we did try a couple of restaurants we had never tried before, and Bill tried a dessert that is a local speciality that we never had before.

This was also Noyzi’s very first trip with us, aside from when we went to Slovenia to pick him up in 2020. Ribeauville was a good choice, because it wasn’t too far away, and because Yannick is so good with dogs in his properties. It was a fruitful trip for Noyzi, too, since he finally learned to poop while on a leash. This is a big deal, because it will make traveling with him much easier and less worrisome. Eventually, we may have to take him back to the States, which means for his own health, he needs to know how to relieve himself when he’s not frolicking in the backyard. He did seem to learn the lesson on our trip.

Aside from taking pictures of the always beautiful village of Ribeauville, binge watching Netflix and cheesy French game shows, eating lots of French comfort foods, drinking Alsatian wines, and being together, we didn’t do much on this trip. It was a good opportunity for Bill to sleep. We also picked up some gifts for his daughter and grandchildren. The beauty of Ribeauville is that we’ve been there so many times that not doing anything doesn’t seem too much like a hardship. By now, the village feels like a second home, even if our last visit was in January 2020.

So… over the next couple of days, I’ll write up this trip and James Taylor’s concert. I don’t think I’ll binge write today, because frankly, I just don’t feel like it. The weather is kind of crappy and I feel like hibernating. But we had a great time, and I’m grateful we could do it. I hope we can do it again.

If you’re interested in reading about our latest trip to France, I hope you’ll watch this space for updates… Meanwhile, here’s a video I made a few days ago in honor of our anniversary and James Taylor’s show. He didn’t do “Secret O’ Life” last night…

This song has really grown on me over the years. It seemed like a good one for 20 years of marriage…

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“Be welcome here…”

Tomorrow, Bill and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Normally, we travel for our anniversary. This year, we can’t go anywhere, thanks to COVID-19. I decided to buy a few new attachments for the air fryer I purchased at the beginning of the pandemic. We don’t use it very often, in part, because the noise from it seems to bother Arran somewhat. But we have discovered that we can use it in the laundry room and Arran doesn’t mind.

Last night, Bill made air fryer brownies that turned out great. This morning, we had a sausage, egg, spinach, sun dried tomato and cheese casserole made in the air fryer. Noyzi is getting braver and now hovers near me at mealtimes, hoping I’ll share with him. I don’t mind doing that because he’s so polite, and it does help him be less fearful.

After breakfast and starting another load of laundry, Bill and I put leashes on Arran and Noyzi and started on our walk. The sun is shining and the temperature is mild. It’s the perfect day to enjoy fall weather. As we were heading down the “Weg” to the main drag, a tall, slim, older German woman approached. She was wearing black slacks, a purple blouse, and a big black sweater. I noticed she also wore black gloves. Bill and I had just been talking about how Germans seem to bundle up a lot more than we do, even when the weather is nice.

I noticed the woman’s face as she looked at Noyzi, who is a very handsome and striking specimen. Noyzi was shying away from her noticeably. He was nervous enough that he dropped a single nugget of poop, but then he calmed down while Arran hung nearby, eager to keep walking. I fought the urge to pick up the poop as the German woman started talking to Bill. She quickly ascertained that we weren’t German when Bill opened his mouth to speak. She switched to careful, halting English, asking if we were the “new Americans”. It so happened that we were standing right next to a house that reportedly contains Americans. I guess native Breckenheimers talk about who’s who, and who’s new.

Bill explained that no, we weren’t “new” here. We moved to Breckenheim in late November 2018, and we live at the top of the hill. The woman wore no makeup. Her straight, silver hair was pulled into a ponytail. I don’t know how old she is. She appeared to be older than we are by some years, but she was very fit looking. In her hand, she held a bundle of some type of herb– perhaps thyme. I’m not sure, because I stood farther away from her than Bill did.

The woman didn’t wear a face mask. Neither did we. It’s probably a good thing, as she was very soft-spoken and I’m not sure we would have been as able to hear and understand her. She was very intent on sharing a message with us. She told Bill that today is a special worldwide holiday. She didn’t know how to say it in English. Bill thought maybe she meant it was like Remembrance Day, but having looked up holidays for November 15th, I don’t think so. I have no idea what she was talking about. She said it was a worldwide holiday, but is especially recognized in Europe. It was the first I’d heard of it after living here for several years.

Edited to add: My German friend Susanne tells me that today is Volkstrauertag (people’s day of mourning), and the lady was probably on her way to the cemetery or church, both of which we have in our area. I kept thinking maybe she was referring to Advent, but it’s a bit early for that. Volkstrauertag happens two weeks before Advent starts, and it commemorates members of the armed forces of all nations and civilians who died in armed conflicts, to include victims of violent oppression..

Regardless, of what the actual holiday is today (now I know– Volkstrauertag), she seemed very keen to talk to us about world peace. She spoke about how there’s no such thing as an enemy. We’re all people and we all deserve peace. Bill told her that he’d been to Iraq. I heard her say, “And you survived.”

She went on some more about having regard for our fellow man, avoiding war, and remembering those who died at war. And then, as she started to walk away, she said “Be welcome here.”

Bill turned to me and I could see the tears in his eyes. He was clearly moved. He said, “Well… that was a message.”

It’s not the first time we’ve run into someone who has imparted a message to us in an unusual way. Five years ago, I was stunned into peace and calm by a Buddhist monk we happened to run into at an Italian restaurant near Munich. It turned out he was a famous Japanese peace crusader named Toyoshige Sekiguchi. He was traveling the world, promoting peace and nuclear disarmament. I didn’t even speak to him, and yet he had a profound effect on me just by being who he is and being in my presence.

We lost Bill’s father a week ago and, naturally, Bill wasn’t able to attend his dad’s funeral on Friday. He was emotional about that last night. We spent some time talking and I was doing what I could to assuage his guilt and soothe his grief. He was still pensive and a little moody this morning. Perhaps that’s why got our special message as we walked the dog.

Bill is normally a very approachable person, but he was especially open-hearted today, which may have been why that woman felt the need to speak to us. Or maybe she stops everyone to talk about peace and loving everyone. It was a good message, though, and seemed kind of appropriate under the circumstances. Maybe she wanted to tell us her message because we represent Americans and most Americans around here are with the military. She might have thought Bill was a war monger, although he’s definitely not your stereotypical military man. In fact, I’d say Bill is not even like the typical guy. He’s unusually in touch with his feelings about most things. Maybe she figured we support Trump, though we definitely don’t.

I think a lot of people, with good reason, think that everyone in or affiliated with the military is a war monger. Most servicemembers I know want war less than anyone does. And anyone who knows Bill knows that he’s a gentle, caring, considerate, and kind man. I, on the other hand, graduate of social work and public health master’s programs and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, tend to be a bit feisty. Go figure that!

Anyway, we had a good walk. Noyzi has really come to love the daily walks. He still won’t let Bill put his leash on him, but he will let Bill walk him. And today, since I came along, I got a special treat in the form of butts. As I was putting on my shoes, Noyzi came up behind me and stuck his big nose right in my ass, as if he was greeting a new canine friend. Then, he came around as I was tying my laces, stuck his butt in my face, and backed up, swinging it side to side as if he wanted to use my nose to scratch his behind. He didn’t actually reach my nose, thank goodness, but he did seem to offer me his butt for sniffing. I guess he’s getting more comfortable here. I may have to teach him not to goose me in the ass when I’m tying my shoes, though.

A couple of nights ago, we ordered Greek takeout from Akropolis Restaurant in nearby Delkenheim. Bill wasn’t feeling like cooking, probably because he’d lost his dad and couldn’t go to the funeral. I was tickled because they sent him away with a small bottle of ouzo! I’ve had better gyros, but the rest of the food was pretty good. We had plenty leftover for lunch yesterday, too.

I wore my favorite dog walking shirt today. On the back, it says in German “Life is too short to drink shitty beer.” I was kind of glad it was covered up with a sweater today, after talking to that very deep and spiritual lady.

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I’ve got the lockdown blues…

It’s November, and in November, Bill and I typically plan a Veterans Day weekend trip. Our wedding anniversary is November 16th. This year, it’s number 18, which is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, this year we aren’t going anywhere because we’re in lockdown lite status, thanks to the stupid coronavirus.

Before everything shut down again, I had been toying with the idea of going somewhere local. Actually, months ago, I bought tickets for Keb’ Mo’, who was scheduled to play in Mainz on our big day. Mainz is only about twenty minutes from where we live. But Keb’ Mo’ rescheduled for April, thanks to the pandemic. Hopefully, the show will go on, because I miss live music and I’ve been wanting to see Keb’ Mo’ for ages!

I think of this song as our theme… especially when there isn’t a pandemic.

So then I thought maybe we could do what we did last year. Last year, we booked a really nice room at the Jumeirah Hotel in Frankfurt and had a nice dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Then, the next day, I accompanied Bill on a TDY trip to Wroclaw, Poland. I hadn’t actually wanted to go on that trip because when I tag along on TDYs, I tend to get kind of bored. But since it was our anniversary and I do like Poland, I relented. And we flew to Wroclaw and had a pretty good time there. I’m now really glad I tagged along. Wroclaw is a cool city, and I didn’t know then that this year would end up being such a cluster fuck.

Frankfurt does have nice hotels and restaurants. We could have stayed in another one this year and given Noyzi the chance to meet the people who take care of our dogs when we travel. But COVID-19 has ramped up so much in Europe that restaurants aren’t allowed to do dine in service and hotels can’t accept travelers for tourist purposes. Shops are open, but everything is stricter than it was a month ago, and if the infection numbers don’t go down, they will lock down even more.

I think about how I wanted to move to Germany because of the travel opportunities. I have to admit that we’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of them over the past six years. Prior anniversary trips included Baden-Baden, Ireland, cruising in Scotland, the southern Caribbean, and even an amazing meal at the Alte Post in Nagold, which was a town near where we lived before we moved to Wiesbaden. Unfortunately, the Alte Post is now closed, but it was a wonderful place for food. This year, we’ll have to make do with each other.

Oh well. We have a lot to be grateful for, especially in 2020. Germany has been so good to us. We have gotten to see and do so many things, most of which I’ve chronicled in this blog. And now we have a new dog who is rewarding us every day by being awesome and sweet. I’m sure we’ll get to travel and eat good food again someday.

Thanksgiving is coming up, too. I was thinking this year, maybe we’ll order a meal from a restaurant. Cem Klein, which Bill and I tried before it moved locations, is offering a Thanksgiving deal this year. And we like to do our part in keeping the restaurants going. In fact, I think I’m going to nag Bill into getting some takeout today or tomorrow. I’m getting tired of his cooking, anyway. ūüėČ

I’m kidding… This week, he got really daring and made injera, a type of east African sour bread. Here are a few photos and a link to the recipe. Bill likes exotic stuff more than I do, and his time working for AFRICOM really introduced him to new cuisines. Of course I’m grateful that I have a husband who cooks and does it so well. But I do miss the dining out experience and trying new and exciting dishes. I especially miss the desserts.

Well… maybe instead of planning a fancy trip, I’ll buy an electric guitar. That’s the next big purchase I’d like to make in my quest to be a pandemic era guitarist. We’ll see what happens. One thing is for certain, though. This year, we’re going nowhere fast.

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Big business in Poland, part one

Hi folks. Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post, but Bill was away for most of last week and this week, we are in Wroclaw, Poland (otherwise known as Breslau to Germans). Bill and I visited Wroclaw for a few hours back in 2008. We were impressed by it then, but it’s come a long way in eleven years. In fact, Poland as a whole seems to be in better straits than back in 2008.

I hadn’t actually wanted to come with Bill on this trip, mainly because when I tag along on his business trips, I usually spend a lot of time bored. I don’t enjoy dining alone in restaurants and I’m kind of hesitant sometimes to visit local attractions by myself. I’m not sure why I’m like this, since I was single for a long time. Wroclaw is a pretty great city… It’s much underrated and you get a lot of bang for your buck here, since it’s Eastern Europe. I should probably be more adventurous, too, since so many people here speak English. Seriously, eleven years ago, Poland was NOT like this… One thing that has not changed, however, is the wonderful, whimsical artistic spirit here… so many great musicians, artists, dancers, and performance artists. We really need to spend more time in Poland if we can manage it.

Anyway… our trip began on November 16th, which was our 17th wedding anniversary. Since we had to put Arran in the “hunde pension” on Saturday anyway, we decided to spend a night in Frankfurt and have a nice dinner. I chose the Jumeirah Frankfurt Hotel, located in the big shopping district downtown. And because we’re old and don’t feel like wandering around the city, we opted to have dinner at Max On One Grillroom, which offers excellent beef, lobster, and other dishes. I was curious about this hotel chain, since it’s based in the United Arab Emirates and only has three hotels in Europe– Frankfurt, London, and Mallorca.

Before I get too cranked up with a review, I’ll just say that Jumeirah is a lovely place in Frankfurt. I booked us in a gorgeous skyline king room that offered views of the city that didn’t disappoint. Service was mostly impeccable; the food was outstanding; and we had a very nice evening at the hotel, though definitely not without a price. After we left the oasis of Jumeirah, we had to deal with the hellish Frankfurt Airport. Wroclaw is a great city and we like this week’s business hotel, the Sofitel, but it kind of pales in comparison to Jumeirah. If we can swing it again in another city, we definitely will.

I will start writing up this trip very soon… perhaps starting tomorrow or the day after. For now, I need to sleep off the beery lunch I just had at the Doctor’s Bar across the street. Like I said, Wroclaw has come a long way in the beer department since 2008. I also never knew about the 600 gnomes in this city… and I have managed to spot a bunch of them so far. Stay tuned for more in the coming days, after I’ve had a nice nap.

Part two

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Things aren’t bad in Baden-Baden… Part one

Bill and I have just arrived home after our latest and last trip from the Stuttgart area. ¬†One week from today, the movers will come and pack up our stuff. ¬†I recall the last time we moved out of the Stuttgart area. ¬†It was September 2009, and we were set to move on September 15th. ¬†The weekend before our departure, we took advantage of the long Labor Day weekend in Budapest, Hungary. We had an amazing time in that spa town, where Bill had his very first deep tissue massage. ¬†On that trip, we stayed in the beautiful Hotel Corinthia, which at the time, was probably the most luxurious hotel we’d ever experienced.

It seems only fitting that we’d do our last trip from Stuttgart in another famous spa town, Baden-Baden. ¬†I had been meaning to visit this splendid German town for years, but never managed it because we’ve lived so close. ¬†On a normal day, meaning with no construction or traffic, we could get to Baden-Baden in about 90 minutes taking the scenic route. ¬†Since there’s always the threat of having to move back to the United States unexpectedly, we’ve always opted for trips further afield.

As I was planning our 16th anniversary celebration, I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to fly to an exotic place for our four night trip. ¬†I’ve been itching to get to a more exotic location that I haven’t yet seen. ¬†But when I asked my well-traveled friends on Facebook where we should go, more than a few recommended Baden-Baden. ¬†Both one of my former English professors from Longwood University and another friend, who loves historic, stylish hotels, recommended Brenners Park Hotel and Spa.

The truth is, I had been eyeing that hotel myself.  The many times I thought about taking a trip to Baden-Baden, I considered booking a room at Brenners.  But then I checked out the prices, which are eye-wateringly expensive, and thought again.  Indeed, even when I had made the final decision to visit Baden-Baden, I originally planned to book a room at the ever popular Aqua Aurelia Hotel, which seemed more modern than Brenners, but was also less expensive.  But then when I went to book, the room I wanted, upgraded from their basic room, was not available.

So then I went back to Brenners, and realized you only live once.  I booked us a deluxe double room via Expedia.com for four nights, cringing a bit at the final cost.  We made the reservation through Expedia, but paid at the hotel.  Luckily, my husband is very indulgent and has acquired a taste for luxury after sixteen years with me.

Fast forward to November 15th… ¬†

A few shots from the road.  For most of our drive, we had lots of clouds, but there were a few sunny spots. 

Since we didn’t know where we’d be going for our trip, Bill arranged to drop our dogs off with Max early in the morning. ¬†That left us with plenty of time to make the relatively short drive to Baden-Baden. ¬†Check in at Brenners Park is at 3:00pm. ¬†I thought maybe we’d stop somewhere on the way have lunch. ¬†However, we ran into some road construction on B28 ¬†that forced us to take a couple of detours. ¬†One detour took us on a somewhat scary mountain pass with a pretty bad road. ¬†By the time we got to the other side of the mountain, it was about 1:00pm and Bill was a bit shellshocked.

We reached Brenners Park at just after 1:00. ¬†Bill attempted to park the car in the hotel’s garage (26 euros per day), but was blocked by a truck that was unloading. ¬†Frustrated, he pulled out of the garage and was quickly met by a valet, who happily unloaded the Mini and parked it for us. ¬†We approached the check in desk, where a handsome young man greeted us. ¬†I mentioned that we were in town to celebrate our anniversary. ¬†He congratulated us and upgraded our room.

I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard him right when he told us we were getting a junior suite. ¬†That was quite a leap in the rack rate. ¬†But then he escorted us to our palatial suite, where our bags were delivered and set in an enormous changing room. ¬†I was absolutely shocked at the opulence. ¬†It really set the tone for a marvelous stay.

A hallway inside our 70 square meter suite.

The alcove where our bed was. 

Sitting area.

Beautiful writing desk and armoire with a television.

Huge dressing room with wardrobes.

Bathtub. ¬†The bathroom was also huge. ¬†I didn’t do it justice with these pictures.

The mirror had a lamp and its own light.  There was also a beautiful marble shower.

Balcony overlooking the park.

Bill collapses on the royal bed.  

Well stocked minibar.  Water and soft drinks were included in the room rate.  Alcohol and snacks were not.

A daily fruit plate with macaroons, also included.

Turn down service.

Another desk and TV.

 

A handy doorway from the bedroom through the changing room to the bathroom.  

After the shock of the upgrade wore off, we decided to go to the Wintergarten restaurant in the hotel and have some lunch. ¬†Brenners Park has two restaurants. ¬†There’s the Wintergarten, which is in a really pretty solarium, and Fritz and Felix, which is their new restaurant concept of “casual fine dining”. ¬†We didn’t have a chance to try Fritz & Felix, but really liked our experience in the Wintergarten restaurant.

Bill enjoys a glass of Riesling.

Bread with pistachio spread and butter.  I liked the pistachio spread!

For lunch, I had a salad made with greens, cherry tomatoes, and huge sea scallops, seared to perfection.

Bill had a citrus cured lobster salad with melon. ¬†This was the first time either of us had ever had lobster that was cooked without heat. ¬†Instead, it was “cooked” chemically with citrus juice. ¬†I really liked the tangy dressing that came on this salad and, I must admit, raw lobster has an interesting texture. ¬†It reminded me of jelly.

For dessert, I had a Black Forest cream puff with chocolate, vanilla, and cherry.  It came with a scoop of cherry ice cream.

Bill had a lemon tart with basil ice cream and meringues.  This lunch set us back about 159 euros.

 

I grabbed a shot of these desserts on display.

After lunch, we took a short walk around Baden-Baden to get a feel for the place. ¬†It’s quite a ritzy town. ¬†I couldn’t help but notice how international it is, too. ¬†We heard lots of French and British English spoken, but most of all, we noticed Russians. ¬†Russians are everywhere in Baden-Baden! ¬†Quite a lot of them were staying at Brenners Park, too.

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